The Carpathian Assignment by Chip Wagar

The Carpathian Assignment: The True History of the Apprehension and Death of Dracula Vlad Tepes, Count and Voivode of the Principality of TransylThe Carpathian Assignment: The True History of the Apprehension and Death of Dracula Vlad Tepes, Count and Voivode of the Principality of Transyl by Chip Wagar

Kalvary Istvan, widower and former Hungarian cavalry colonel, hopes for a quiet life when he accepts the position of chief of police in the Carpathian city of Bistritz. It’s no less than a man deserves after years of service to his Kaiser and king. Sadly, Istvan’s going to be disappointed. Someone or something haunts the streets of Bistritz and the surrounding Transylvanian mountains. Ask Istvan’s new colleague, Gabor Kasza of the Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie, and he’d say evidence points to a well-established serial killer, possibly hidden among the oppressed and reviled Roma, who call the nearby Borgo Pass home. Ask Freudian devotee Baron Krafft-Ebing and he’d agree, although his interest lies more in studying the psychopath’s mind than bringing him to justice. Ask the mountain people of the Carpathians, however, and they’d disagree. They’d point to the long history of killings and disappearances in the region, which stretch back longer than any one man’s lifetime. They’d speak in hushed voices of the Roma’s supposed master, and an abandoned castle where he lives with his demonic wives. The bravest residents might even risk whispering a name: Dracula. Kalvary Istvan, like Kasza and Krafft-Ebing, considers himself a modern nineteenth-century man, with little time for legends and superstitions, but as he and Kasza pursue their investigation, reason and deduction begin to give way to dark, ancient truths and local belief. At once a thrilling detective yarn and intriguing backstory to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Carpathian Assignment immerses readers in the rich setting of the Hungarian kingdom at the end of the nineteenth century, a nation in which science and logic clash with centuries of cultural conviction and superstition.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So…this is possibly the best sort-of-Dracula-like-book I have ever read. It is also possibly the worst ARC copy that I have ever bloody seen. Through no fault of the author, there are large chunks of text missing and most of the beginnings of each paragraph. The Final copy, of course will not look like this, so it is of no real concern to the final book readers, but I would have felt bad if I didn’t mention that there were parts of the book I did not get to read.

As far as the story goes, this is very well written and has the historical backing that most books of the sort completely lack. It is obvious that Chip Wagar is familiar with the geography of the places he writes about as well as the historical matter. This was a nice change from many books that simply have Dracula featured as a bloodthirsty vampire.

This story progressed nicely and at a good clip, with lots of mysteries to be solved and a villain that did not simply skulk off into hiding or get defeated at the drop of a….wooden stake. I liked that the historical angle was used to back up the story and flesh it out.

The only thing that irked me about this novel, were the sex scenes. It wasn’t that they were poorly written, but they seemed misplaced, as though they were an afterthought. People have been dying for years due to this monster, we should have sex! Really, it just didn’t work for me.

An entertaining romp into the remote Carpathian wilds, exciting for a girl from Romania. If you are interested in the historical Dracula, then you will likely enjoy this novel.

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

The Mathematician’s Shiva

It isn’t often that I feel the need to recommend a book to a specific person, especially not fiction novels, but in this case, Chris McMullen, I thought of you.

 

 

The Mathematician's ShivaThe Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer

A comic, bittersweet tale of family evocative of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Everything Is Illuminated

Alexander “Sasha” Karnokovitch and his family would like to mourn the passing of his mother, Rachela, with modesty and dignity. But Rachela, a famous Polish émigré mathematician and professor at the University of Wisconsin, is rumored to have solved the million-dollar, Navier-Stokes Millennium Prize problem. Rumor also has it that she spitefully took the solution to her grave. To Sasha’s chagrin, a ragtag group of socially challenged mathematicians arrives in Madison and crashes the shiva, vowing to do whatever it takes to find the solution—even if it means prying up the floorboards for Rachela’s notes.

Written by a Ph.D. geophysicist, this hilarious and multi-layered debut novel brims with colorful characters and brilliantly captures humanity’s drive not just to survive, but to solve the impossible.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m going to keep this review short so I’m not tempted to give away parts that you need to read for yourself. I loved this book, plain and simple.

This is a book that will make you laugh out loud, make you smile and keep turning pages long into the night. It is the kind of book you want to talk about with the neighbour you’ve never spoken to or the guy on the bus next to you, because it is so good you just want people to know.

Read it.

The characters are so vibrant and alive and the family dynamics are wonderful. If you are a maths geek, you won’t be able to resist.

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

The Accidental Alchemist

The Accidental AlchemistThe Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian

A modern tale of ancient intrigue from a USA Today bestselling author

When Zoe Faust–herbalist, alchemist, and recent transplant to Portland, Oregon–begins unpacking her bags, she can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stow away: a living, breathing, three-and-half-foot gargoyle. Dorian Robert-Houdin is no simple automaton, nor is he a homunculus; in fact, he needs Zoe’s help to decipher a centuries-old text that explains exactly what he is. Zoe, who’s trying to put her alchemical life behind her, isn’t so sure she can help. But after a murder victim is discovered on her front porch, Zoe realized she’s tangled up in ancient intrigue that can’t be ignored.

Includes recipes!

Praise:

“The Accidental Alchemist is a recipe for a great read. Gigi Pandian’s pen never disappoints.”–JULIET BLACKWELL, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE WITCHCRAFT MYSTERY SERIES

“A magical, whimsical cozy that will delight readers who enjoy Juliet Blackwell and Heather Weber mysteries!” –AVERY AAMES, AKA DARYL WOOD GERBER, AUTHOR OF THE CHEESE SHOP MYSTERIES

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First of all, is this not an awesome cover? Immediately drew me to the book.

As far as the actual book went, I had mixed emotions. There were some great ideas in this story and some of them were expressed wonderfully, and some…well, not so much. I loved the gargoyle and the main character had her moments where she was highly likable and interesting.

The mystery angle of the book–for me at least–fell flat. The story was interesting as was the concept for murder, but the author spent a lot of time on minor characters and insignificant happenings, thereby killing the excitement of solving the crimes. Honestly, by about half way I was wondering if she was ever going to get to the actual point.

I will say, that the writing is good for the most part and that she has quite the imagination. I liked the way she included small details that became important later and kept the curiosity of the reader piqued with ever more possibilities that things would not go as one expected, I just wish we could have gotten there a bit sooner. I really don’t feel the need to know every time a character eats something.

There are some great recipes in the back of the book and an interesting bio of the author. The end of the story wasn’t terribly surprising, but put a smile on my face.

If you are looking for a nice fantasy/reality cross and have the patience for a book that does have some slow spots, this is a good one. I’m curious to see what else this author does.

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

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

This is a SheReads.org selected book. If you have not heard about She Reads yet, or about all the wonderful things the ladies do, please take a moment to check out the website. You will find great books, new friends and a lot more!

The House We Grew Up In

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children’s lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they’ve never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in — and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Told in gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the captivating story of one family’s desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To be completely honest, I was lost in the first third or so of this book. The author kept switching time periods and I really wasn’t sure what to think. The good news is that there was a point to all that switching around and the book eventually makes perfect sense.

I grow weary of family stories sometimes for the fact that they all seem to turn out the same way. This book didn’t do that, and as the story progressed, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it and just how original it was.

This book is one that once you get to know the characters, it is hard to let them go. I was simultaneously curious about the ending and dreading getting to the last page, as I didn’t want the book to end.

The author did a beautiful job of writing lovely prose that sets you in the scene and allows you to experience everything her characters do. Atmospheric, beautiful and descriptive writing is what this book is all about.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Lisa Jewell yet, you are missing out.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from shereads.org and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

The Bellingham Bloodbath by Gregory Harris

The Bellingham Bloodbath (Colin Pendragon Mysteries, #2)The Bellingham Bloodbath by Gregory Harris

After a captain in Her Majesty’s Guard and his young wife are brutally murdered in their flat, master sleuth Colin Pendragon and his partner Ethan Pruitt are summoned to Buckingham Palace. Major Hampstead demands discretion at all costs to preserve the repuration of the Guard and insists Pendragon participate in the cover-up by misleading the press. In response, Pendragon makes the bold claim that he will solve the case in no more than three days’ time or he will oblige the major and compromise himself.

Racing against the clock – and thwarted at every turn by their Scotland Yard nemesis Inspector Emmett Varcoe – Pendragon and Pruitt begin to assemble the clues around the grisly homicide, probing into private lives and uncovering closely guarded secrets. As the minutes tick away, the pressure – and the danger – mounts as Pendragon’s integrity is on the line and a cold-blooded killer remains on the streets…

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gregory Harris quickly became one of my favourite authors when I read the first book in this series. This book reinforced why I love his work, although I did find the lack of his dealings with the apparition of Sherlock in this book mildly disappointing. I thought the connections he made to the famous sleuth in the first one gave it a special quality that this one did not possess. Also, I missed Oscar.

Still, that being said, this was another witty, engaging romp through a dual mystery that kept me smiling and curious as I read. I love that he used pugs as the central stars of one mystery–my favourite dog breed.

The murder mystery (and the crime itself) was more detailed this time than the first go and I felt like the author was more comfortable in his skin. The homosexual angle of the book is still mild, although more prominent in this book and I think his two main characters work really well together and have the type of dynamic you want in a long term partnership–both professional and personal.

The thing that makes me love these books so much is the wit and charm of the characters. Ethan is full of wry observations and often makes me laugh out loud. Colin, seen mostly through Ethan’s eyes, is daring and crass, and often seems to pull clues out of thin air and make them work, and together they are an unstoppable force.

The mysteries are always intriguing and have lots of possible culprits at the heart of them, so it take a while to draw a conclusion. Overall, I just really like these books.

If you like mysteries that follow the Victorian England rules of proper gentleman and high society mischief, you can’t go wrong with these novels.

Recommended.

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

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.

The Blood of an Englishman by M.C. Beaton

The Blood of an Englishman: An Agatha Raisin Mystery (Agatha Raisin, #25)The Blood of an Englishman: An Agatha Raisin Mystery by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have not read any of the Agatha Raisin Mysteries yet, up to and including this one, you need to get caught up!

I loved this book. There is a healthy dose of humour all the way through it and the characters are not only memorable, but a lot of fun. I love unique mysteries where you feel as though you haven’t read it all before in one form or another. M.C. Beaton has a way of making everything that happens feel like it is original.

If you are a fan of the cozy mystery, this will satisfy you without being overly ‘precious’ or silly. I enjoyed watching the events unfold as the story was told and going through the process with the main character. The story takes plenty of unexpected turns and will leave you wanting the next book right now!

This is a fun book that will keep you guessing. I like characters with big personalities and Agatha Raisin is certainly one to fit in that category.

**Having an actual Englishman read this book aloud to you may also increase your chances of loving it, but is not necessary for enjoyment:)

Highly recommended, five stars well deserved.

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