Review: Hawley Book of the Dead

The Hawley Book of the Dead, Chrysler Szarlan


Hardcover, 352 pages

Published September 23rd 2014 by Ballantine Books

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley


From the Publisher:

An old house surrounded by acres of forest.

A place of secrets, mysteries and magic.

This is where Reve Dyer hopes to keep herself and her children safe.

But a mysterious figure has haunted Reve for over a decade. And now Reve knows that this person is on her trail again.

In Hawley, where the magic of her ancestors reigns, Reve must unlock the secrets of the Hawley Book of the Dead before it’s too late…

It’s not often that you find yourself actively rooting for a character who has shot her loving husband, but Revelation Dyer is a different story.  Reve and her husband are Las Vegas illusionists working together when he is tragically killed during a show.  While living under police scrutiny in the aftermath, Reve remembers the childhood story her grandmother told her of the Fetch who chased her ancestors to their deaths.  Reve fears her own Fetch is onto her and spirits her family out of Las Vegas to family property at Hawley Five Corners, Massachusetts.

Reve’s magic is more than mere illusion you learn, as is that of her youngest daughter.  This magic goes back generations through the women in her family-women who lived in Hawley Five Corners before all of the townspeople disappeared one day.  Just poof! Disappeared.  So yes, after Reve’s husband is murdered she moves her kids to an uninhabited town in the middle of the woods.  Creepy.  Spooky as it sounds, this was Reve’s safe place as a child and her family is all nearby, so she believes they can stay hidden from the Fetch.  In this house in the middle of the woods Reve finds a book that has belonged to all of the Revelations before her and tries to turn to it for help.  I loved the creepy setting which surprised me as I don’t usually love scary things.  I loved digging into the story of what had happened in Hawley and how Reve’s family factored into that.

The Hawley Book of the Dead had my name all over it.  Generations of strong women, magic- not a ton but just enough to keep things interesting, and a mystery to solve.  However, I liked this book, but I just couldn’t love it.  The book jumps a bit from Reve’s perspective to that of her Fetch, as well as jumping back in time to the events that set him on her path. I liked this way of getting the path of the history across, but I still feel like somehow I missed something that would have made me love this more.  While the book read quickly for me in the beginning it slowed down in the second half – maybe due to all that jumping?  I also really didn’t like that her childhood love was thrown into the story – great that he shows up as a friend, but complicating things with a possible love connection did not work for me.  I think she could have dealt with the Fetch without that complication.

I am going to have to reread this one and see if I feel more into it. I see that Szarlan is working on another Revelation book and I would absolutely read it.  The stories of the other women in her family sound have a ton of potential.

3 stars!

Thank you Ballantine Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Trigger Warning: Short Stories and Disturbances

Trigger Warning: Short Stories and Disturbances, Neil Gaiman


To Be Published: February 3rd 2015 by William Morrow

Hardcover 352 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


From Goodreads….

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion.

I’ll be honest and say that Neil Gaiman could publish his grocery list and I’d read it.  American Gods is pretty much my favorite book in the world.  I reread it once a year and I always find something new. So I basically stood up and danced around my office when I received an early copy of these short stories.  I know I just said last week I don’t really do short stories, but people, it’s Neil Gaiman.  I would rather have a full length novel, but I really enjoyed these overall.

To begin, I actually loved the lengthy prologue.  Gaiman goes through each story and describes why it was written or who it was written for.  I really liked that extra personal touch and I felt it made for richer reading-despite the short format.  I loved the female pirate in “A Calendar of Tales” and “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” touched my heart.  There’s even a story of an igloo built of books-what booklover wouldn’t be drawn to that?  “The Sleeper and the Spindle” was a fantastic fairy tale twist and definitely gave me the shivers while I was reading.  “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” was deliciously creepy.

My issue often times with short story anthologies is the tie-ins to other books or series that I might not have read.  Two stories in Trigger Warning reflect two of Gaiman’s own books, American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  “The Case of Death and Honey” is Gaiman’s Sherlock Holmes story but also with a nod to Laurie King’s Mary Russell and Holmes series.  Though that series is still on my lengthy to be read list, I still found that story to be one of my favorites.  I’ve never read a Doctor Who book, despite the fact that I’ve been watching the show since I was 3.  While I doubt I’ll seek out a full length book, I did still like “Nothing O’clock”, the story featuring the Doctor.

In the past when I’ve read short stories I find my mind wandering trying to figure out how much is left-because its not usually enough.  The best praise I can give Trigger Warning is to say that I was completely immersed in most of the stories.  I was intrigued, entertained and even a bit rattled by Gaiman’s words.

4 stars!

Thank you William Morrow and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

On New Releases

Blogging about books has certainly changed the way I read. I read more, and pay more attention to details about each book so that I can have something (hopefully) interesting to write about. I keep better track of what I want to read soon, and what books might compliment one another. I have a better awareness of what books are out there, and what is getting good reviews, so I can choose more deliberately. Don’t get me wrong – I read always and only because I find it enjoyable, but blogging has made me a bit more systematic in my approach to books.

However, one thing that has not changed is that I just.don’ about reading new books right as they’re released.

Recently, I read this great round-up of books that will be adapted for TV and film in 2015 from River City Reading. I had a moment of panic about all the books I haven’t read yet (but mean to): The Casual Vacancy, Me Before You, The Maddaddam Trilogy, The Martian, and so on and so on! Ahhhh!

And then I remembered that in addition to rarely getting around to new release books (and yes, I realize that there are books on that list/link that are not at all new releases), I am also non-committal about seeing TV/movies when they’re released. I am currently (slowly) watching season 3 of Big Love, and just finished season 3 of Justified. I’m clearly okay with being behind the times.

I understand that there is some benefit of weighing in on cultural conversations when a new book/TV/movie is released. I also understand that many of those conversations take place on the Twitter these days, which is another area I just can’t keep up with. Maybe that’s why I don’t like Twitter – it’s too current. I should probably start reading backlist Tweets to see how that feels.

What do you think? Are you up-to-date on new releases? Or trying to finish books you’ve had since 1996?

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books to Read with My Sister

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday from the Broke and the Bookish was Ten Books I’d Love to Read With My Book Club, but since we are an exclusive book club of two here at Gun In Act One, we’re changing it up for a list of ten books we’d like to read together. If you want to see what books we’ve read and blogged about together already, may we direct you to this post here for a list.



  1. Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers.  Must finish the Assassin Nun story.
  2. Parasite by Mira Grant.  Yes I am a tad obsessed with Seanan/Mira’s books.  I don’t care and I’m taking Holly along with me.
  3. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh.  Retelling of the Arabian Nights-yes sign me up and I’ll bring Holly whether she’s ready or not. Maybe I am a bit of a book pusher
  4. Persuasion by Jane Austen.  I think our high school English teacher, Brother Ruhl, would be proud! We both have this on our 2015 TBR Challenge list so it must be read!
  5. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon.  I think its time to try some nonfiction together.  This will be a good spring read!


  1. Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein – Code Name Verity was my jam.
  2. The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Page – follow-up to the very funny Dorothy Must Die, so we’ve got to find out what happens next.
  3. The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johnson – okay, I still have to read #1, but I know Amanda is chomping at the bit for this one! (Chomping at the bit is being really polite-thanks sister)
  4. Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson – hmm, this is the only author of my list who will be new to both of us. Maybe we need to think outside the box more. Maybe.
  5. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta – author of our beloved Lumatere Chronicles. We obviously need to check out her other work!

Review: Rodin’s Lover

Rodin’s Lover

Heather Webb

320 pages

Publication Date: January 27, 2015


Rodin’s Lover is a historical fiction novel about the relationship between French sculptor Auguste Rodin and his student/muse/partner, Camille Claudel, in Paris in the late 1800s. Admittedly, I knew nothing about these two artists, though I do love historical fiction about art. After finishing the novel, and reading the author’s end note, I was blown away by how much of the [heartbreaking] story was based in fact.

The novel begins with an adolescent Claudel struggling in her provincial home, with aspirations of artistic greatness and a mother who withholds her affection and approval. Claudel and her family then move to Paris, where she comes into her own as a talented young artist, despite a number of challenges – including her tumultuous relationship with mother, societal expectations of women, and her struggles relating to other people socially. Enter Auguste Rodin, who takes Claudel on as a student, which of course, turns into more. I loved Claudel’s passion about being taken seriously as a woman artist. She recognized the difficulties in front of her, and refused to be treated as less because of her gender. At the same time, Claudel’s character was extremely unlikable at times. Webb does a great job of building Claudel’s character through the novel, as her behavior goes from passionate to frustrating to bizarre and tragic.

I am trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid comparing Rodin’s Lover to The Girl with the Pearl Earring, but I can’t help myself. As a well-crafted novel about artists and muses, I couldn’t help being reminded of TGWTPE. However, I realize that is pretty unfair. TGWTPE is a totally fictionalized attempt to create a backstory for a Vermeer painting. In Rodin’s Lover, Webb has woven the known details about Rodin and Claudel’s relationship into a novel that covers French politics, complex characters, and the creation of sculptures.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and found myself getting lost in it. If you have, like me, an affinity for historical fiction about artists and their muses, this is definitely worth a read.

Four Stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penguin’s First To Read program.

Review (and Giveaway!): Dirty Chick

The very first post I wrote for this blog was a review of a historical fiction set in colonial New Zealand, which I read because a) it was $1.99 and b) it was set in NZ. I recently read Dirty Chick: Adventures of an Unlikely Farmer, a memoir about an American ex-pat living in a small farming community in New Zealand because a) the publisher offered me a review copy and b) it is set in NZ. The publisher also offered to give a copy of Dirty Chick to a reader, so leave a comment at the end of this post to win!


I know, I sound a bit like a crazy person, but NZ is essentially my personal Shangri-La. I spent a summer there on an internship in college, followed by a few weeks of traveling around with my BFF/sister/co-blogger Amanda, and we had the best time ever. Besides, if anyone is going to judge me for being a crazy person, I’m pretty sure that it won’t be Antonia Murphy, author of Dirty Chick, because she sounds a bit like a crazy person as well.

Dirty Chick is Murphy’s personal account of the first year she and her family spent living on a farm on New Zealand’s North Island. She lists and details her and her husband’s reasons for going to, and staying, in NZ as:

  1. The ocean
  2. George W. Bush (“This was 2003 and 2004, the height of the Bush years, and Peter and I were unnerved by the wartime zeal in our country. Most of our fellow liberals were threatening to emigrated to Canada or New Zealand, but as it turns out, we were the crazy ones who did.”)
  3. Hobbits; and
  4. DNA (in the form of their developmentally delayed son)

There are surely many people who may be annoyed by this book. For instance, if you are annoyed by any of the following, maybe don’t read this:

  1. Educated, middle-class liberals on soul-searching journeys
  2. The discussion of home fermentation and cheese making
  3. Gross stories about farm animals, sometimes in the house.

I, however, can deal with all of the above, and I definitely found this an enjoyable read. In addition to the stories about racist zombie alpacas, seedy goat impregnation, and addiction to baby lambs, this is also Murphy’s story about parenting, and the trials of raising a disabled son. In those sections, you see the true struggles of life on the farm. As Murphy says on the subject, “compared to that, an angry rooster was a breeze.” Murphy brews a lot of fruit wine, and inexplicably wears animal ear headbands all the time, but she also proves that she will (literally, in fact) go to the ends of the earth to give her son a fighting chance at a healthy existence.

If you want a fun, quirky look into a life that is unlike your own (unless YOU are also living on a small farm in NZ raising two kids and a score of animals, drinking quince wine and aging cheese in your garage), check out Dirty Chick.

And, the giveaway! To enter, simply leave a comment below! What’s your personal Shangri-La? We’ll randomly select the winner on 1/29!

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher for review consideration. Quotes taken from an advance uncorrected proof.

Updated with the giveaway winner on 2/1: Congrats Kristi! Your book will be in the mail shortly!

Review: Almost Famous Women

Almost Famous Women, Megan Mayhew Bergman


Hardcover, 256 pages

Published January 6th 2015 by Scribner

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


I rarely choose to read short stories so I surprised myself at being drawn to Almost Famous Women, a short story collection by Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise.   I am so glad that I requested this book!.  I was intrigued by the concept of stories about women who had brushes with fame and were then somewhat lost to history.  The stories bounce between a painter and a racially integrated swing band travelling the American south; and from Africa to England.  As I read I was bouncing between Google and my kindle trying to learn more than the stories could give me. I certainly wasn’t familiar with Oscar Wilde’s niece Dolly or conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton.  While I know of Butterfly McQueen of course, thanks to Gone with the Wind, I hadn’t given much thought to her life after the movies.  I loved the photos that came with each story.  Even though the stories were fictional I felt they were enriched with an image of who each woman was.

Some of these were too short for me- I have a hard time with stories that are basically a page long.  But most of these stories both fulfilled me as a reader and left me wanting more -in a good way!  The stories range in perspective, in time period, from toddlerhood to those at death’s door.  The experiences ranging from a child living in an Italian convent to a private island off the U.S. coast kept each story fresh and fascinating.  The writing was beautiful throughout and I really felt the longing and the sorrow, as well as the hope and love.  Without always being in first person Bergman really me feel that I knew each woman and made her more than an almost famous name. I will definitely be checking out Bergman’s past book.

4 Stars!

Thank you Scribner and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.