life can often feel like we're falling down a rabbit hole, into the unknown. it's a curious feeling. my name is annabel. i'm trying to navigate that rabbit hole, with the help of alice, who came before me.
Meow If It's Murder
A Nick and Nora Mystery
T C LoTempio
Nora Charles doesn’t believe in fate, even if she is a crime reporter who shares a name with a character from The Thin Man. In fact, she’s moving back to Cruz, California, to have a quieter life. But after finding an online magazine eager for material, and a stray cat named Nick with a talent for detection, Nora’s not just reporting crimes again. She’s uncovering them… Back in her hometown, Nora reconnects with old friends and makes some new ones, like Nick, the charming feline who seems determined to be her cat. But not everything about Cruz is friendly. Writing for a local online magazine, Nora investigates the curious death of socialite Lola Grainger. Though it was deemed an accident, Nora suspects foul play. And it seems that her cat does too. Apparently, Nick used to belong to a P.I. who disappeared while investigating Lola Grainger’s death. The coincidence is spooky, but not as spooky as the clues Nick spells out for her with Scrabble letters—clues that lead her down an increasingly dangerous path. Whether fate put her on this case or not, solving it will take all of Nora’s wits, and maybe a few of Nick’s nine lives.
I received a copy of Meow If It’s Murder by T C LoTempio in exchange for a review and my honest opinion.
I thought this book was great. Immediately, I was captured by the characters. Nora Charles, an investigative reporter turned sandwich shop owner, can’t quite put a life of snooping behind her. When she hears about the drowning of a woman who is deathly afraid of water, she immediately suspects that there’s more to the story than the initial investigation turned up. Then, she finds a handsome feline on the stoop of her shop – and he leads her to a missing PI, who just happened to be investigating the same drowning.
Naming her new sidekick Nick, Nora starts digging into the mystery with his help – it turns out he’s a bit of an investigative guru! Along with a sarcastic, but very good-looking detective and a taro-reading best friend warning her of danger ahead, Nora refuses to give up on her hunch that something isn’t right.
This mystery was one that I would’ve loved curling up by the fireplace with (unfortunately it’s 38 degrees here in Australia today, so I sprawled out under the air conditioner instead!). I thought LoTempio did a great job of bringing the characters to life, and I felt at home with them from the very beginning. The mystery was also intriguing – what really happened at sea? Where is the missing PI? Is the cat really spelling out clues with Scrabble tiles?
Rather than making Nick the Sleuth cat some kind of magical creature, Nora immediately took to the plump feline and took his help with the investigating in her stride. I liked the mix of fact and frivolity; Nora took her investigation seriously, but the story was made more lighthearted by her themed sandwiches and kooky bestie.
I’ll definitely pick up the next book in this series when it comes out, and would recommend it to anyone who loves a cozy mystery with a powerful female (or feline!) at the helm!
A Franki Amato Mystery
For Franki Amato, life in New Orleans is anything but “The Big Easy.” When she met handsome bank executive Bradley Hartmann, she knew she’d finally found a man she could trust. But she can’t say the same for his sexy new secretary, who is about as trustworthy as Mata Hari and every bit as seductive. Meanwhile, Franki’s best friend and employer, Veronica Maggio, has named her the lead investigator in the murder of a gorgeous cosmetics CEO who was found lying dead in the master bedroom of a historic plantation home.
Now the pressure is on Franki to figure out what a bottle of pink lip gloss and the legend of a pink diamond have to do with the bizarre killing. The problem is that the plantation is notorious for being haunted, and Franki is less than enthusiastic about the prospect of meeting a ghost. Adding to her stress, her Sicilian grandma is up to her usual meddling antics—this time planning Franki’s engagement to Bradley before he’s even considered popping the question. As Bradley grows distant and plantation employees begin dropping like Southern belles during a sweltering summer, Franki turns to a psychic with a phobia of ghosts to solve the mysterious murders and her own relationship fears.
I received a copy of Pink Prosecco by Traci Andrighetti in exchange for a review and my honest opinion.
When a book begins with a woman stalking her boyfriend and displaying some serious jealousy, you never know how it will turn out. Luckily, the second instalment of the Franki Amato Mystery series quickly threw in a cast of quirky characters and an unusual mystery, the likes of which led me to like the first book in this series so much. I reviewed Limoncello Yellow earlier this year, and enjoyed the unlikely mystery, so was pleased when the second book came out – and I wasn’t disappointed.
Private Investigator Franki’s jealousy turns out to be well founded, as her boyfriend’s new secretary isn’t what she seems to be. But Franki can’t focus on unveiling this woman’s true colours, because she has several other mysteries on the go – involving historic plantations, a moon-loving medium, poisonous plants, and a best friend (and boss) who is definitely keeping a secret. I like they layers of mysteries in this book; they add intrigue, and keep the story moving quickly.
I felt the first book in the series was a little better at giving life to Franki’s best friend, ex-stripper land lady, and unusual co-workers. While Prosecco Pink did bring to life some unususal characters, and did a great job at describing the weird and wonderful New Orleans, I did miss the detail in some of the main characters.
That said, the unexpected mystery kept me guessing until the end, and the underlying mysteries had me hooked too – and that’s really what you want in a mystery novel! Definitely check it out if you prefer your chick lit with a side of crime, or your mysteries with a hint of girl power!!
The Beauty of a Second Chance
Sixteen years after their European adventure, ex-fashion models Star, Joanne and Casey reunite over lunch and realize they have a lot to talk about.
On Star’s wedding day, her mother-in-law drops a bomb that threatens her marriage and future security. Joanne becomes a reluctant volunteer out to protect a park against development while hesitant to lower her guard for love. Casey struggles to find a job while trying to be her daughter’s friend instead of enemy, and wonders how she can get her son’s Little League coach to play fair.
Now, older and wiser, will these three women use this second chance at friendship to help one another find success and happiness.
I received a copy of The Beauty of a Second Chance by Lori Jones from the author herself, in exchange for a review and my honest opinion.
Star, Casey and Joanne are three grown women who have been a little beaten down by life; be it vengeful mothers-in-law, piggish baseball coaches, or smarmy politicians. When these three ladies cross paths after years without seeing one another, their days of modelling in Italy seem very far away. However, they soon pick up where they left off, and together they face their battles and come out stronger on the other side.
Individually, I really liked the characters and their stories. I felt they were very relatable, particularly Casey’s. I think I understood her the most; difficult teenager, a run of bad luck, not enough money, and some dreadful men in positions of power… all things I could understand. I felt each woman’s story started from a place that didn’t leave me hanging if I hadn’t read the first book (Growing Up Beautiful, about the girls when they met in Italy, during their modelling careers), and came to a satisfying conclusion.
I did feel, however, that their stories could have overlapped a little more. Jones didn’t go into much detail about exactly how they rekindled their friendship; they sort of just bumped into each other one day, and were besties again the next. They also only occasionally turned up in each others stories, to add a line or two of advice. It didn’t kill the book, but I would have loved a little more detail there, to add some more depth!
Overall, I’d say this would be a great beach read. It was definitely good to see some happy endings for these down-trodden ladies!! Even though it made total sense as a stand alone, I’d like to read the first book too, just to see what the ladies were like as teenagers!
My Own Mr Darcy
Chick Lit, Young Adult
After being dragged to the 2005 movie Pride and Prejudice by her mother, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth's life changes when Matthew Macfadyen's Mr. Darcy appears on the screen. Lizzie falls hard and makes a promise to herself that she will settle for nothing less than her own Mr. Darcy. This ill-advised pledge threatens to ruin any chance of finding true love.
During the six intervening years, she has refused to give any interested suitors a chance. They weren't Mr. Darcy enough. Coerced by her roommate, Elizabeth agrees to give the next interested guy ten dates before she dumps him. That guy is Chad, a kind and thoughtful science teacher and swim coach. While she's dating Chad, her dream comes true in the form of a wealthy bookstore owner named Matt Dawson, who looks and acts like her Mr. Darcy. Of course she has to follow her dream. But as Elizabeth simultaneously dates a regular guy and the dazzling Mr. Dawson, she's forced to re-evaluate what it was she loved about Mr. Darcy in the first place.
I received a copy of My Own Mr Darcy by Karey White in exchange for a review and my honest opinion.
I’ll be honest, I initially had mixed feelings about this book. It’s premise was that protagonist Elizabeth fell for Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcy on the big screen – and then refused to settle for anything less than a carbon copy in real life. I know that everyone loves the dashing Darcy (I prefer the Colin Firth version myself), but there’s a difference between wanting someone who ardently admires you, and refusing to entertain the idea of anyone who isn’t tall, dark, and brooding.
If the intention of the book was to illustrate that what you think you want isn’t aways when you need, then I can understand it a little better… I grew up thinking I’d end up with a certain type of man, based on what my parents expected, what the movies showed me, and the men I’d been raised with. In reality, the guy I’ve ended up with is nothing like I expected, in great ways, but it still took some adjusting to! So, I guess I could emphasise with Elizabeth after all.
I was frustrated that Elizabeth would fall for a man based solely on the fact that he was tall, dark, and aloof. His physical and superficial similarities to Darcy seemed to blind her to the fact that he was actually snobby, condescending and, frankly, a bit of a douche! Meanwhile, even though her roommate forced her to go on ten dates with a guy, she dismissed him immediately because of his sandy-coloured hair and easy-going disposition – crazy!
As the book went on, and Elizabeth started to realise that maybe she had taken her Darcy-obsession to ridiculous heights, the story became much more enjoyable. As her design career and supportive relationship with Chad progressed, I started to root for her! I also enjoyed the role the secondary characters played; I was appropriately appalled by the bitchy ex, fell in love with the kind-hearted couple who gave Elizabeth her first job, and felt the energy of the indie bookstore (even if it was owned by the not-so Darcy love interest).
In the end, I did find myself enjoying the story, it just took awhile for Elizabeth to get me onside. For Pride and Prejudice lovers out there, particularly those who have an unhealthy obsession with finding their own Darcy/Macfadyen, this book could definitely be worth checking out!
I’ve been lucky enough to review a number of Michele Gorman’s chick lit books this year, and have been super impressed with each of them, and their unique style. So, I was quite excited when Notting Hill Press contacted me about interviewing Gorman, to aid in spreading the word about her latest book, Perfect Girl! Keep reading to get the scoop on this author’s inner workings…
Which book(s) has/have particularly inspired you in life?
MG: The book that pops immediately to mind is the Barefoot Doctor’s Handbook for the Urban Warrior. A great friend of mine passed it on to me not long after I’d moved to London. You know that lovely peaceful feeling that you get on holiday? Maybe you’re staring for hours at the sea or walking through a beautiful forest. The book is about having that feeling no matter where you are. I still remember two pieces of advice: Walk on the grass whenever you can (preferably in bare feet, although this may raise eyebrows if you’re doing it in front of your office building). And when confronted with negativity, invoke the ‘psychic egg’, which involves imagining an invisible protective force field around you. When my husband tees off about politicians in the news (a topic that never fails to boil his blood, even first thing in the morning), I shout ‘Psychic Egg!’, which usually shuts him up. So you see, it works
Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer? Did anyone ever try to push you in the direction of a more traditional career path?
MG: My background is financial rather than literary and I spent more than 20 years working in financial services, so becoming an author was a conscious decision I made in my thirties rather than a lifelong dream fulfilled. I decided one day that I wanted to make a living without having to go into an office or have a boss, and figured that since I loved to read, I ought to be able to write. I was wrong! It took many years to learn to write well, but eventually I got there, and my first novel (Single in the City) was published by Penguin in 2010. It turns out that I absolutely love writing and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Your characters are all so different! Where do you find your inspiration for them? Do you base them on people that you know?
MG: Nope, I never based characters on people I know. For me, the story idea comes first and then the characters appear, and they have to be able to handle the storyline. Once I have the idea and the characters, I write a detailed character study so that I know how they’ll behave in just about any situation (because I don’t know at the start where the story will go). Most of this initial research never appears in the book. For instance, I have to know what they’re upbringing was like, whether they were good in school, started dating early or late, etc.
Sometimes the character that appears isn’t right for the storyline. That happened in Perfect Girl. The original character was called Lucy and no matter how I wrote her, she just wasn’t right for the part. She was a pushover without being likeable, and a bit blah. Then I met Carol, who’s the protagonist in Christmas Carol (the novella I wrote last year) and I knew she’d be, well, perfect. So I got rid of Lucy, put Carol in her place and the story flew!
What led to you making Carole an analyst? Is that something that you’ve experienced yourself, or did you have to hunt someone down to tell you about the ins and outs of that cutthroat work place?
MG: Remember when I said I worked in financial services? My first job was on a trading floor in a bank, with a boss who made Gordon Gekko look like Father Christmas. Carol’s experiences are all fictional but it was easy to imagine them because I knew what it was like to work in such a pressurized environment.
Are you a ‘perfect girl’ like Carole tried to be? You wrote so well about how it feels to live with that pressure (trust me, I know it!), that I felt you must’ve had some experience with it yourself!
I think everyone has a bit of Carol in them, including me. I like to do things well, though I don’t have that urge to make other people happy. Carol’s feelings in the book are imagined, and come from the character study I did at the beginning. The fun thing about writing romcoms is that you get to take a situation and exaggerate it. That’s part of where the humour comes from. A good narrative throws roadblocks in the way of the characters, roadblocks that they must either go around or burst through. That “How is she going to get out of this??” feeling when you’re reading is what builds the tension in the story.
What are your must haves, when you sit down to write?
MG: Strong coffee and a view. A lot of my writing involves staring into space. It’s nice when that space is pleasant. I also always have a writing notebook to hand (I start a new one with each book) so that I can write down ideas as I get them.
What’s next for you? Will we be seeing a return of any favourite characters?
MG: My next two books have completely new characters, although as I mentioned, Carol is the main protagonist in Christmas Carol, so readers can continue her story there.
Now I’m writing my next book for Avon/HarperCollins. The working title is Boyfriends Recycled and it’s about three friends who upcycle their exes through their local boyfriend recycling centre, but haven’t bargained on the consequences of the exchanges they make. It will come out in January 2016.
Thanks so much, Annabel, for having me on the blog! xo
I’ve loved learning a little more about Gorman’s writing process, and her upcoming projects. In fact, I’m going to be reviewing The Reluctant Elf in December, so keep your eyes peeled for that! You can check out my reviews of Perfect Girl, The Curvy Girls Club, and Single in the City if you’d like to know a little more about some of Gorman’s great books.
Denying the past proves deadly for BK Hartshaw and Trevor Mayhew in this gripping noir novel where nothing is as it seems.
BK is a rising star at a public relations firm, and tonight's charity ball should be a high point in her career. But a closely guarded secret threatens to destroy her chance for happiness with the only man she's ever loved... a man who is also hiding a deadly secret.
Trevor has tried to put the past behind him, pretending it never happened. But the conniving father he's been running from for years has finally found him--and is determined to settle the score once and for all.
BK and Trevor's deeply buried secrets are about to catch up with them--and everyone they know and love. Who will pay the ultimate price for their dangerous denials?
I received a copy of Dangerous Denial by Amy Ray, from TLC Book Tours, in exchange for a review and my honest opinion.
Dangerous Denial dealt with some fairly serious issues that, unfortunately, affect far too many young people growing up. Domestic abuse, neglect, body shaming, teen pregnancy, abandonment… Trevor and BK share no connection throughout their childhood, other than their both having to deal with things that no child should have to. My heart ached, particularly for Trevor, as their parents slowly destroyed their innocence.
As the story progressed, Trevor and BK were freed from the clutches of their parents – but the damage had already been done. The teens struggled to trust others, and strove to control all that they could. Although they were far happier than they had been in their childhood homes, they were never free of their pasts.
The story picks up the pace midway through; where the first half of the book focused more on things from Trevor’s perspective, the latter half is mainly written from BK’s point of view. Lives are in danger, and it’s unclear exactly how their childhoods have really affected the characters. Has the damage been too great to overcome, and can a person who has suffered at the hands of someone so evil ever grow up to be anything other than evil themselves?
I found it interesting that Ray included the story of Trevor’s parents, and how they became who they were, but nothing was said to explain why BK’s mother acted the way that she did. That said, knowing how Trevor’s father had manipulated his mother even before he was born just contributed to my hatred of the man – he really was despicable.
The book escalated slowly, and the lives that the characters are trying so hard to build are threatened by the darkness they’ve tried to escape. Everything comes to a head with a sudden twist, which of course I won’t give away! That said, I did guess the twist ahead of time… to be honest, it frustrated me a little, and the ‘red herring’ of the book could have been incorporated little differently.
I found this book very intriguing. It was a thriller based on a foundation of very serious issues, which created a background that thrillers often don’t give their readers. I’m excited to see what Ray comes out with next!
The Alexandria Connection
A New World Order is upon us . . .
In the shifting desert sands of Egypt, rumours abound of a lost papyrus that will reveal the true purpose of the Pyramids of Giza. Could these ancient monoliths be the source of a new kind of energy, one that comes at no cost to the planet? CIA agent Curtis O'Connor and archaeologist Aleta Weizman are determined to find out.
Close by, a shadowy and powerful group known as Pharos meets in Alexandria, its membership a closely guarded secret. Its first order of business: to orchestrate chaos on international financial markets with a series of spectacular terrorist attacks on the world's fossil-fuel supplies.
And in Cairo, amid the anarchy of Tahrir Square, thieves have broken into the famed Museum of Antiquities and stolen one of the world's priceless artifacts: the mask of Tutankhamun. Is the audacious theft linked to the Pharos Group?
Nimbly weaving politics, history and science through a rip-roaring plot, from Afghanistan to Washington, Sydney to London, The Alexandria Connection is a spectacular and stylish ride.
I received a copy of The Alexandria Connection by Adrian d’Hage from Penguin Books Australia, in exchange for a review and my honest opinion.
As a huge lover of any story involving ancient cultures, I’d actually had my eye on d’Hage’s books for quite awhile, but was never able to find hard copies (even online!). However, after agreeing to review The Alexandria Connection, the latest in d’Hage’s series featuring CIA agent Curtis O’Conner and beautiful Archeologist Aleta Weizman, all of the previous books came on sale on iTunes! Despite my book buying ban, thanks to being broke, I considered this coincidence serendipity and had to get them while they were so affordable! So, although the Alexandria Connection could be read as a stand alone book, I also read the Maya Codex andthe Inca Prophecy, and enjoyed the additional insight that the previous books provided.
D’Hage’s books all follow a similar formula; whispers arise about messages left for the modern world by destroyed ancient civilisations, and the good guys must race the bad guys to protect that knowledge – and help save the world from predicted disasters. Interestingly, many of the books in this genre were published before the famous date in 2012, when the Mayans predicted the end of the world. Since the world didn’t end, and people continued to write, I feel that it has created more of a challenge for authors to come up with new ways to explore the mysteries of our past – without relying on an armageddon that never actually came to pass.
To my boyfriend’s frustration, I believe that there is a kernel of truth in stories like these. Modern society knows an awful lot, but I’m not arrogant enough to believe that we have all of the answers. Many archeologists and scientists have found evidence of past global disasters and cultures, but everything hasn’t quite come together yet and we can’t see the bigger picture about how everything fits together!
Fast paced action defines these books and, 80% of the time, d’Hage has that down to an art. The characters flit across the globe, between archeological sites and capital cities, evading bad guys and dodging death again and again. However, occasionally d’Hage gets bogged down in over complicated explanations of missile functions, or car history, or political backstory. Given the complex interweaving of politics, religion, terror and history throughout the book, I do understand and enjoy the breadth of information covered, but think that it could perhaps be incorporated more smoothly and simply.
Overall, this book held up well against other books in the same category, and I’d definitely pick up another instalment of O’Connor and Weizman’s adventures! I look forward to seeing what conspiracies and mysteries d’Hage tackles next.
London Eyes is a collection of short stories set in London.
Written by Guardian Top London Blogger Frances M. Thompson, London Eyes is a compilation of thought provoking contemporary fiction inspired by the sights, sounds and souls of the world's most popular, and some say greatest, city.
Meet the Wizard of Elephant & Castle who stirs a secret ingredient into the cocktails he serves in his bar, follow newly-divorced Georgina in The Tourist as she goes on a bus tour of the city... after twenty-one years of living in London, and find out how and why one young woman uses the busy streets of the City of London to disappear in An Invisible Girl. In A to Zed two truanting teenagers find out more about a Shepherd's Bush gangster than they expect, and in Angel you begin to understand the lengths some people go to to avoid loneliness in London. Travel across the capital's vast metropolis as you learn the reasons why Mick is London's most flirtatious cabbie in Keep the Change, and discover what it is that keep The Ghosts of London Underground trapped in the abandoned Tube stations below us.
London Eyes is a collection of short stories for the Londoner, the London-obsessed, or the one time visitor who dreams of arriving or returning.
I received a copy of London Eyes by Frances Thompson from the author, in exchange for a review and my honest opinion.
London Eyes was a collection of short stories that exposed the real London, and it’s quirky inhabitants; magic bartenders, eccentric single women, the elderly, taxi drivers, and even a cat. Each story showed a different angle to one of the many aspects of the bustling city, be it a new neighbourhood, the iconic red bus tours, or an out of the way pub.
Rather than writing about a tourist’s London, I feel Thompson deliberately avoided any clichés, and stuck to slightly more obscure stories – perhaps at times too obscure – the finer details of which hinged on things unique to London, like the cyclists battling the congested traffic, or it’s signature public transport. I think locals would enjoy reading about the neighbourhoods that don’t usually feature in London stories.
I liked the wide variety of perspectives covered in the stories. The characters covered such a huge range – including that of a cat, which I enjoyed! The use of such different characters clearly reflected the bustle of London. Personally, I loved the sweet story of an elderly couple who regularly leave their nursing home to attend the weddings of strangers in churches that they admire – and check them off their bucket list of wedding churches to experience.
My problem with short stories is often that I’m left wanting more information about the people I’m reading about. In this case, I was usually happy with the little snapshots that I was receiving – however, there were a few stories that I felt need another tiny bit of information, just to complete them. That said. I feel that they were written to be ambiguous on purpose, perhaps to illustrate that not everything is as it seems in London, but it was still a little frustrating.
On the whole, I enjoyed Thompson’s take on a collection of short stories celebrating London. Each story was so different, and at times even bizzare, that I never knew what to expect. The creativity in coming up with so many different vignettes was great, and I really appreciated the different perspectives on London. It was a collection that I think avid travellers would appreciate as much as London locals would.
For Franki Amato, life in New Orleans is anything but “The Big Easy.” When she met handsome bank executive Bradley Hartmann, she knew she’d finally found a man she could trust. But she can’t say the same for his sexy new secretary, who is about as trustworthy as Mata Hari and every bit as seductive.
Meanwhile, Franki’s best friend and employer, Veronica Maggio, has named her the lead investigator in the murder of a gorgeous cosmetics CEO who was found lying dead in the master bedroom of a historic plantation home. Now the pressure is on Franki to figure out what a bottle of pink lip gloss and the legend of a pink diamond have to do with the bizarre killing. The problem is that the plantation is notorious for being haunted, and Franki is less than enthusiastic about the prospect of meeting a ghost.
Adding to her stress, her Sicilian grandma is up to her usual meddling antics—this time planning Franki’s engagement to Bradley before he’s even considered popping the question. As Bradley grows distant and plantation employees begin dropping like Southern belles during a sweltering summer, Franki turns to a psychic with a phobia of ghosts to solve the mysterious murders and her own relationship fears.
Franki Amato is back! Earlier this year, I reviewed Limoncello Yellow, by Traci Andrighetti – a quirky, cozy, chick lit/mystery. Now, she’s back! The second book in the series has just been released. The author has been kind enough to send me a copy to review – so keep your eye out, because as soon as it arrives, I’ll be letting you know what I think.
Andrighetti and Chick Lit Plus have also teamed up to offer a Kate Spade wallet giveaway, to celebrate the launch of this book. Enter via the Rafflecopter below!
Free stuff! I love it. My general rule is to never turn down something offered for free. Seeing as my week is going crappily, I’m rather excited to be giving you a chance to brighten your week with a freebie. Check out all the details:
Enter to WIN a $120 Target Giftcard!
I’ve teamed up with all of these wonderful ladies to bring you a chance to win $120 Target giftcard!
It may seem like I'm a strange mix of creative and straight-laced. I'd probably have to agree with you. Not knowing quite who I am, or what I'm doing, makes me feel like I'm stumbling headfirst into the unknown.
It reminds me of a girl named Alice, tripping down the rabbit hole. So, I'm taking inspiration from her: keep moving, keep dreaming, and always take advice from giant caterpillars smoking shisha.