A Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of the Allen House by Mark Spencer

A Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of the Allen HouseA Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of the Allen House by Mark Spencer

When Mark Spencer and his family moved into the beautiful old Allen House in Monticello, Arkansas, they were aware of its notorious reputation for being haunted. According to local lore, the troubled spirit of society belle Ladell Allen, who had mysteriously committed suicide in the master bedroom in 1948, still roamed the grand historic mansion. Yet, Mark remained skeptical–until he and his family began encountering faceless phantoms, a doppelganger spirit, and other paranormal phenomena. Ensuing ghost investigations offered convincing evidence that six spirits, including Ladell, inhabited their home. But the most shocking event occurred the day Mark followed a strange urge to explore the attic and found, crammed under a floorboard, secret love letters that touchingly depict Ladell Allen’s forbidden, heart-searing romance–and shed light on her tragic end. This haunting true ghost story includes several photographs of the Allen House.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Me thinketh thou doth protest too much–about people wanting to see your house and find out if it is really haunted. What an intrusion. Wait we could do ghost tours! Opinion stated. Okay, I’m done. Now on to the review.

Mark Spencer has written an interesting book with a lot of answers to questions the locals of Monticello, Arkansas have harboured for years. There is no doubt that many of the facts he relayed have quieted curious minds in the area.

I didn’t think this was a bad book at all. I appreciated that the author did not embellish everything to the tenth power and make the “hauntings” so unbelievable that the book seemed silly. I felt he was pretty down to earth about their various experiences there and really got the impression that he cared about the lives of the former owners as well.

The book is written in an easy going and conversational style that made it a quick and rather enjoyable read. His filling in of the gaps in between the letters between Ladell and her love interest were handled with charm.

What I did find, whilst reading this book, was that the author seemed to lose himself in his own feelings for the house and the past tenants occasionally, perhaps forgetting that we are not all in the same situation. Often times, the letters and his impressions of them came up a bit dry. I also thought it was interesting that he added his own speculation to the reason for the suicide of Ladell. The letters did not exactly confirm her reasoning and I found it a bit of a jump for the author to do so.

I felt closer to this tale than some others, as much of the letters have to do with being separated from someone you love, a feeling I know well.

Overall I thought this was good writing and an interesting inside look at one of “the most haunted houses” in America. If you enjoy ghost stories and are looking for something that will offer a glimpse of history at the same time, this would be a good one to pick up.

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Vibrant Food by Kimberly Hasselbrink

Vibrant Food: Celebrating the Ingredients, Recipes, and Colors of Each SeasonVibrant Food: Celebrating the Ingredients, Recipes, and Colors of Each Season by Kimberley Hasselbrink

The vivid colors of fresh produce inspire this artistic collection of whole foods recipes from the creator of the acclaimed blog The Year in Food.

Kimberly Hasselbrink, photographer and creator of the acclaimed blog The Year in Food, invites you to look at ingredients differently and let their colors inspire you: the shocking fluorescent pink of a chard stem, the deep reds and purples of baby kale leaves, the bright shades of green that emerge in the spring, and even the calm yellows and whites of so many winter vegetables. Thinking about produce in terms of color can reinvigorate your relationship with food, and in this collection of recipes, Hasselbrink employs aesthetics, flavor, and texture to build gorgeous yet unfussy dishes for every season.

Recipes take you on a journey through spring’s Pasta with Nettle Pesto and Blistered Snap Peas, summer’s Berry–Coconut Milk Ice Pops, fall’s Turkey Burgers with Balsamic Figs, and winter’s Sparkling Pomegranate Punch. Featuring photo pairings that celebrate not only the finished dishes but also the striking ingredients that create them—plus a photograph of each and every recipe—this book reveals an artistic picture of whole foods eating.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is no secret to anyone who has a familiarity with the work of Kimberly Hasselbrink that she is the master of food photography. She can pick up through a camera lens what most of us couldn’t see with the naked eye, which is why I was so excited to see this book.

The first thing you notice when you open the cover of this well organised and beautifully arranged book is the vibrant photos staring back at you. The colours of the four seasons are well represented in the many photos of vegetables, scenery and completed dishes.

I love that this book has quite a few vegan recipes in it and that it doesn’t follow the everyday variety of ingredients. If you are looking for something to do with your end of season veggies, this book will definitely give you some excellent ideas.

I was impressed by the variety and creativity in these recipes, but even more so by the presentation. These would be perfect recipes to serve for special events or out of town dinner guests if you wish to leave a lasting impression of culinary elegance.

Overall, I was really impressed with this book and would definitely recommend it for those who want to see some different and enticing dishes on the table.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the blogging for books program. All opinions are my own.

The Summoning: Mary, book 1 by Hillary Monahan

MARY: The Summoning (Bloody Mary, #1)MARY: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan

There is a right way and a wrong way to summon her.

Jess had done the research. Success requires precision: a dark room, a mirror, a candle, salt, and four teenage girls. Each of them–Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna–must link hands, follow the rules . . . and never let go.

A thrilling fear spins around the room the first time Jess calls her name: “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. BLOODY MARY.” A ripple of terror follows when a shadowy silhouette emerges through the fog, a specter trapped behind the mirror.

Once is not enough, though–at least not for Jess. Mary is called again. And again. But when their summoning circle is broken, Bloody Mary slips through the glass with a taste for revenge on her lips. As the girls struggle to escape Mary’s wrath, loyalties are questioned, friendships are torn apart, and lives are forever altered.

A haunting trail of clues leads Shauna on a desperate search to uncover the legacy of Mary Worth. What she finds will change everything, but will it be enough to stop Mary–and Jess–before it’s too late?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book initially creeped me out a lot. If you have ever played this game as a child then you will instantly be reminded of the terror of the unknown and that feeling of suspense waiting for the image to appear in the mirror.

What I loved about this book was that the author didn’t wait forever for the excitement to begin. She did a good job of building an interesting story with believable characters and yet kept the suspense level high. There were some spots in this book that made me question my everyday activities. I don’t recommend reading this book late at night and then going to take a solo shower. Yikes.

If you love books where the drama and tension never cease and you have that fearful feeling (the one all good horror books and films give you) then this is a book you will probably enjoy.

I liked the main character and a couple of the secondary characters quite a lot, but I wish that the story of Mary herself would have been focused upon more, especially during the end. She is mean, vengeful and filled with hatred, but the reasons why are not 100 percent clear. Yes, she was mistreated, but there seems to be a missing element between that and her nature as a ghost.

This was a fun book with a lot of shivers and unexpected events. I think anyone who likes horror would have fun with this, regardless of whether they are young adult or older.

Definitely worth a recommendation and a read.

*Note to self. Buy salt.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley.

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

Five Days LeftFive Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

“A beautifully drawn study of what is at risk when you lose control of your own life.  Unique, gripping, and viscerally moving — this impressive debut novel heralds the arrival of an extremely talented writer.” —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of The Storyteller and Lone Wolf

Destined to be a book club favorite, a heart-wrenching debut about two people who must decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice for love.
Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, and devoted wife and adoptive mother, has recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most. Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance, the power of relationships, and that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not one of those books that I want to run around yelling to everyone that they should read. It isn’t a bad book, but rather an emotional one where the characters spend a lot of time reflecting on their own lives, the choices they have and will make and ultimately, it is kind of sad.

Still, the author put a lot of effort into creating characters that anyone could identify with and feel something for, and I was glad I read this book. I learned a lot about a disease that I formerly knew little if anything about. I came away with a sense of being better informed, even though this novel is fictional.

I had mixed emotions about this book. For the most part it was clean writing, other than some repeat phrases, and the story made perfect sense. Watching the world of the characters crumble was difficult to handle, wishing the entire time that life was not so cruel. The author achieved her goal of making the reader feel something, and yet I wasn’t sure I “enjoyed” reading this book. At times it made me feel rather hopeless.

This is a book that I think some people will love and others (those who enjoy more lighthearted fiction) will not like as much. I’d recommend it if you enjoy stories that come from the heart, but are not all sunshine and daisies.

I think Julie Lawson Timmer has a lot to offer the writing world and look forward to seeing what else she comes up with.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and was provided through Netgalley.

Hamlet’s Ghost by Jane Tara

* If you haven’t read any of Jane’s books yet, then you have been missing out. Jane Tara is an author that is well on her way to becoming a household name. I love her works and strongly encourage you to check them out. This latest book is one of my favourites of the year and I am so happy I had the chance to read it.

 

Hamlet's Ghost (Shakespeare Sisters, #3)Hamlet’s Ghost by Jane Tara

Rhiannon Dee, a gorgeous witch, moves to a country town to reopen a theater and finds herself torn between the man who owns it, and his father who haunts it.

Kip Daniels has been haunting the Hamlet Majestic for thirty dull years, ever since the stage roof collapsed on him during what was meant to be his piece de resistance: his performance of Hamlet. All he really wants is to get to the end of the play, but that won’t happen while the theater stands abandoned and boarded up. He’s resigned himself to an endless limbo … until Rhiannon Dee moves to town to bring the theater back to life.

Rhi has fled a failed life in New York. She can’t find work as an actress. She’s overshadowed by her mother who has a hit TV show about witchcraft. Rhi is sick of being seen as a witch and intends to turn her back on the craft. But she quickly discovers she can’t escape her gifts, especially when she needs to use them to help one very sexy but sad ghost cross over. Surrounded by new friends and supportive townsfolk, Rhi breathes new life into the Hamlet Majestic, and helps Kip accept his death.

Hamlet’s Ghost is a story about those moments in life that define us, and how to truly move forward we must find peace with the past

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Much like Jane Tara’s other books, this is filled with magic, outstanding characters that are easily loved and quirky, fun writing. I love Jane’s stories for their ability to take you away from daily life and make you feel as if you are somewhere else. I also love her sassy writing full of quips that make you giggle.

What made me love Hamlet’s Ghost was not just the cast of unique and varied characters, but the setting. The connections between the name of the town and the goings on inside the theatre were brilliant and kept me turning pages. I loved the way she tied the past and familiar characters into this novel but still managed to make it feel new. This could easily be read as a standalone novel even without the primer of the previous books.

My favourite character was Crystal. She’s strong and independent and full of life and it affects the characters around her. I’d love to know even more about her story. This was a book that I was sorry to see go and it will be difficult to find something else to read after this–but this is the price you pay for reading Jane’s work.

If you are tired of reading books where the female characters are all perfect down to the last fake nail, then this is for you. This author values differences between her characters and they are not all cookie cutter shapes that have been done before. She uses real women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds to fill her pages. I love that.

The love story(ies) are charming and the romance scenes mild enough for those who don’t want to jump into the deep end too soon. You get a sense of each character’s personality and that of their match before they end up together and things don’t always go exactly as one would expect. Overall I thought this was one of the most delightful reads of the year.

If you like romantic stories with lots of twists and plenty of magic, you can’t go wrong here. Definitely a book that deserves recommendation.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

Of Monsters and MadnessOf Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.

Summoned to her father’s home in 1820’s Philadelphia, a girl finds herself in the midst of a rash of gruesome murders in which he might be implicated. She is torn romantically between her father’s assistants-one kind and proper, one mysterious and brooding-who share a dark secret and may have more to do with the violent events than they’re letting on.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

Right away, if you love Edgar Allan Poe, you may find yourself doing a bit of a head-scratcher at this novel. The basis of this book is interesting. There is a bit of Jekyll and Hyde, a feeling of Frankenstein in the sections that deal with reanimation, and a love story of sorts in between. The unusual main character which has a very mixed cultural background brought a lot to this story, in my opinion, making in unique in yet another way.

Impressive descriptions of the city and the especially the shops led the way to interesting connections with the family at the centre of this novel. I particularly liked the good vs. evil feeling of a character more or less struggling to gain control over their own demons.

I did feel that this book had steep drop offs where the every day actions of the characters took over the story for pages at a time. The novel redeemed itself whenever something exciting would happen, but there are some rather long stretches where nothing much is going on.

The author does a good job of painting a background for her characters that is both believable and enticing. She raises questions about them throughout this novel, never answering them all at the end. There is definitely room for another book, if one has not been written already.

Some liberties were certainly taken with the rearranging of facts and dates to accommodate the needs of the writer, but I think for the most part it worked pretty well.

Overall, I thought this was an intriguing story and a book that fans of Gothic literature will be happy to check out for themselves.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from Netgalley and the publisher.

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

The Fourteenth GoldfishThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What if someone truly discovered the fountain of youth? What if you could go backward in age and live life over again? It is these questions and many more that this book focuses on. That and fuzzy slippers. Can’t forget those.

I enjoyed this. There are a lot of unique and interesting concepts in the middle grade fiction genre, and this book explores them well. I liked the voice of the narrator and her views on life. I also appreciated the way the author approached the situation with the grandfather. This is written in such a way that it is almost believable that these things could really happen.

Jennifer L. Holm did a good job finding and pointing out the things that make us young and giving a direct comparison to those things which show our age. The way she explored the differences between the two was fascinating and often times laugh out loud funny.

The story flow was relaxed but the pace wasn’t slow. I enjoyed the humour throughout this title and think kids would have a lot of fun with it. There are few times when I read a book and then burn with curiosity about what happens to the characters after, but I hope, in this case we get to find out.

I’d definitely recommend this book and not just to kids.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.