Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review: The Spook in the Stacks by Eva Gates

The Spook in the Stacks (Lighthouse Library Mystery, Book #4)
by Eva Gates
Release Date: June 12th 2018
2018 Crooked Lane Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1683319214
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher /Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours

4.5 / 5 Stars

Wealthy businessman Jay Ruddle is considering donating his extensive collection of North Carolina historical documents to the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library, but the competition for the collection is fierce. Unfortunately, while the library is hosting a lecture on ghostly legends, Jay becomes one of the dearly departed in the rare books section. Now, it’s up to Lucy Richardson and her fellow librarians to bone up on their detective skills and discover who is responsible for this wicked Halloween homicide.

Meanwhile, very strange things are happening at the library—haunted horses are materializing in the marsh, the lights seem to have an eerie life of their own, and the tiny crew of a model ship appears to move around when no one is watching. Is Lucy at her wit’s end? Or can it be that the Bodie Island Lighthouse really is haunted? 

My Thoughts
The Spook in the Stacks is the fourth book in the Lighthouse Library Mystery series and I have enjoyed every single one of them.  What I truly love about these books is the setting as the lighthouse is such a perfect place for an author to go wild with her imagination and the author certain makes use of the setting to set up mysterious events and community outings that are perfect.  It makes me wish there was such a library so that I could go visit as I'm sure I could spend hours in such a place.  And for Lucy to be able to live at such a place?  Lucky!!

This installment is set during Hallowe'en and while I'm not a fan of trick or 'treating, I definitely love the idea of Hallowe'en, with all of the ghost stories and the hauntings.  I really think what draws me to this series are both Lucy, the assistant librarian, and her cat Charles, whom I adore, and I am not normally a fan of cats.  But cats, for whatever reason, belong in a lighthouse and a library, and Charles definitely adds both nuance and character to the story, often helping Lucy sort out her thoughts.  Lucy's character feels so normal as she doesn't really try to manipulate the cops or try to do their job, she just happens to be in places where she hears things and then immediately passes on the information.  I like how she respects the detective's job and doesn't think about them condescendingly, one of my pet peeves in some cozy mysteries.  So, the story is not necessarily about Lucy doing a lot of detective work, but she does find out a lot of information by just being who she is and listening to people's conversations, something that I really like.  And because so many of the events take place at the lighthouse, you do learn a bit more of the history of the area which is definitely a bonus.  Lucy is also just a regular woman struggling with her emotions in a new relationship which makes her seem more real, someone who is questioning her choices and decisions. Her struggle is very real and something anyone can relate to.

The author has definitely written a novel that draws you into the lives of the characters and I was happy to learn more about them; this is one of those series where I enjoy every single character, even the annoying ones.  The plot was entertaining and events moved along rather quickly, with quite a few twists and turns.  I didn't have a problem figuring out who the murderer was, but it was still fun figuring it out along with Lucy with the help of her trusted cat Charles.  I'm not sure if people are aware that Eva Gates is actually Vicky Delany, Canadian author of many other cozy mystery series, and that Crooked Lane Books saved this series for which I'm eternally grateful.  

The Spook in the Stacks was a fun and delightful read and I couldn't be happier discovering this series was to continue as there was quite a long wait between books three and four.  The plot was interesting and so were the characters and I can't wait to see what this author has in store for Lucy and Charles in the next installment.  For anyone who loves fun and interesting cozy mysteries, I highly recommend this series.
Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: Murder in the Locked Library by Ellery Adams

Murder in the Locked Library (Book Retreat Mysteries, Book #4)
by Ellery Adams
Release Date: April 24th 2018
2018 Kensington Publishing Corporation
Kindle Edition; 289 Pages
ISBN: 978-1496715830
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Welcome to Storyton Hall, Virginia, where book lovers travel from near and far to enjoy the singular comforts of the Agatha Christie Tea Room, where they can discuss the merits of their favorite authors no matter how deadly the topic . . .

With her twins, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, back in school, Jane Steward can finally focus on her work again—managing Storyton Hall, and breaking ground on the resort’s latest attraction: a luxurious, relaxing spa named in honor of Walt Whitman. But when the earth is dug up to start laying the spa’s foundation, something else comes to the surface—a collection of unusual bones and the ragged remnants of a very old book. The attendees of the Rare Book Conference are eager to assist Jane with this unexpected historical mystery—until a visitor meets an untimely end in the Henry James Library. As the questions—and suspects—start stacking up, Jane will have to uncover a killer before more unhappy endings ensue . . .

My Thoughts
Murder in the Locked Library is the fourth book in the Book Retreat Mysteries series, and while this was the first book I had read in this series, I am definitely familiar with her work through such series as Books By The Bay Mysteries and Novel Idea Mysteries, all of which I've liked.  I don't know why it took me so long to read one of the mysteries in this series but I am so glad that I did, and I will definitely go back and read the three earlier novels.

Jane Steward is the owner of Storyton Hall and is the main character in this series.  She's also the Guardian of a secret library hidden away in the depths of the hall, a library that must be protected at all costs, and to which other groups are constantly searching and trying to steal.  It actually sounds a bit like the Librarians or the Magicians without all the time traveling and magic, although you never know if something like that could show up, just not in this one.  I also couldn't get the image of fairy tales out of my head and once I went down that route all I could picture was the show Once Upon a Time; after that I started expecting characters to change into something else, and not be who they were.  

The story revolves around an old book discovered in Storyton's gardens and since I'm a book lover, the whole back story to its provenance was quite intriguing, so much so that I almost forgot this was a cozy mystery.  When the death occurred, it kind of threw me for a loop as I was so caught up in the book's story as well as what was happening at the inn with the book conference; the descriptions of the food and the decorations just made me want to head there and partake.  The overall pace of the novel was quite good, with a lot of twists and turns interspersed with action that made you want to keep reading and keep turning the pages.  There were a lot of suspects, but it wasn't so overwhelming that you felt lost; there were just enough so that some red herrings were thrown in for good measure to try and trip you up.  There is also an interesting side story that is going to lead into the next book and I am intrigued about that as well.  

Murder in the Locked Library was a fun read with a lot of intriguing and quirky characters.  I really liked the setting to the story and was thinking it would be a great place to visit if it were real.  And while I hadn't read a previous novel in this series, it didn't affect my understanding of the Hall or any of the characters in this book, although I will go back just to get a bit more background information that would be in those books.  Plus I always like a book where I didn't correctly guess the murderer or the motive.  I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series when it is released. 
Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review: Hair of the Dog by Carlene O'Neill

Hair of the Dog (Cypress Cove Mystery, Book #3)
by Carlene O'Neill
Release Date: April 23rd 2018
2018 Carlene O'Neill
Kindle Edition; 300 Pages
ISBN: 978-0999270301
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Amateur sleuth Penny Lively is working her tail off trying to keep her family winery afloat. For the first time in her life she's too busy to go looking for trouble. But when drugs are stolen from town veterinarian Annie Moore, Penny is there to help. After all, Annie is her cousin and best friend.
When Annie is later found over the body of her business partner, Penny knows it doesn’t look good. The police dig up a motive for Annie and she quickly becomes the primary suspect. Penny knows Annie is no murderer, and is determined to find the real culprit. When a second body turns up, Penny knows she needs to find the killer before anyone else is muzzled, permanently. 

My Thoughts
Hair of the Dog is the third book in a Cypress Cove Mystery series, and although I haven't yet read the first two books in this series, I didn't feel like I was missing anything with regards to the setting or the characters.  The author was pretty good at laying out who the characters were without giving away too much information from previous novels and I had no trouble understanding who was who.

The main character, Penny Lively, is a hoot.  I love her personality and found myself laughing out loud quite a few times at her irreverent thoughts about those around her - nothing ever really rude, just really funny, the kind of thing to which most of us as women would really relate.  Sometimes her inner voice would be echoing my inner voice and I couldn't help but laugh.  Despite all of that though, Penny is really quite nosy, but has this way about her that endears her to people and they open up to her even though they realize she can be quite abrupt and really shouldn't be asking the questions she does.  There are definitely some people who can get away with that and some people who should never open their mouths in public, you know?  I like how loyal she was to her friend, despite the fact that Annie was caught standing over a dead body with a knife in her hand, also discovering later about a huge insurance payout in Annie's name should anything happen to her partner.  And being caught with said knife and body in front of the person whom you fired just hours ago definitely didn't look good.  So, Penny definitely had her work cut out for her.

The twists and turns leading up to the big conclusion were quite lively and fun, even if it was easy to spot who the murderer was from the beginning; I only had trouble trying to figure out the motive as it was not what I initially thought even though it was there in front of me the whole time.  I have to commend the author for that one as she did keep me guessing as to the motive.  Although the book is a slow starter, it picks up rather quickly and moves along rather nicely.  I didn't find it bogged down with too many suspects, and could keep track of their whereabouts and actions quite easily.  What I truly enjoyed about the book though, is that it wasn't just about the mystery; there was a number of winery events thrown in with good food, good company, and fun, kind of showing you what a winery does although that grow grapes and create different kinds of wine.  I also like how this book showed how the weather can really affect a winery as it was constantly raining and it showed the effects the water had on the grapes and vines.  Even though I grew up close to wine country, I was never really involved in a winery, other than to go to tastings and weddings, so it was interesting to see the inner workings of one.

Hair of the Dog was a fun cozy mystery and I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in reading this genre.  The characters were interesting, and there was even a touch of romance between Penny and Connor, Penny's estate manager, which I hope to see develop in future books.  And even though I knew who did it early on, it didn't take away from the fun of the novel and I enjoyed following the twists and turns, and I definitely did not figure out the motive, did not even suspect what it was.  Cypress Cove is a place I would definitely love to visit.
Sunday, June 3, 2018

Review: A Death in Live Oak by Jack Swyteck

A Death in Live Oak (Jack Swyteck, Book #14)
by James Grippando
Release Date: February 6th 2018
2018 Harper
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062657824
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

When the body of Jamal Cousin, president of the pre-eminent black fraternity at the Florida's flagship university, is discovered hogtied in the Stygian water swamps of the Suwanee River Valley, the death sets off a firestorm that threatens to rage out of control when a fellow student, Mark Towson, the president of a prominent white fraternity, is accused of the crime.

Contending with rising political tensions, racial unrest, and a sensational media, Towson’s defense attorney, Jack Swyteck, knows that the stakes could not be higher—inside or outside the old Suwanee County Couthouse.  The evidence against his client, which includes a threatening text message referencing "strange fruit" on the river, seems overwhelming. Then Jack gets a break that could turn the case. Jamal's gruesome murder bears disturbing similarities to another lynching that occurred back in the Jim Crow days of 1944. Are the chilling parallels purely coincidental? With a community in chaos and a young man’s life in jeopardy, Jack will use every resource to find out.

My Thoughts
A Death in Live Oak is the fourteenth book in the Jack Swyteck series and I thoroughly enjoyed this entry into this series.  Sometimes in a series as long as this one, you get that book that doesn't quite fit into the series and wonder if the series is starting to go downhill, but this hasn't happened yet with Jack and company and I am so glad.  And what's even better, if you haven't read any of the previous books, reading this one doesn't depend on reading any of the previous ones - you can just jump right in and read the others at your leisure.

Now the topic is quite a controversial one and I was actually surprised the author decided to tackle such a sensitive issue as racism in the south, but he definitely did it remarquably well.  The novel deals with historical lynching, racial tensions on university and college campuses, and the after-effects when a white student (Mark Towson, the president of a famous white fraternity) is accused of murdering a black student (Jamal Cousin, the president of a black fraternity).  And all hell breaks loose, literally.  I do have to say I felt sorry for Mark as he was hounded by a lawyer famous for winning cases based on racism, someone who was definitely looking to make this case look like it was only something to do with racism.  And it certainly didn't help when it was discovered that Mark's phone contained incriminating text messages against Jamal.  I liked Mark as a character and liked his perplexity in the face of being slammed with racist charges and his responses to all of the claims.  I'm not sure how I would have reacted, but I don't think I would have handled it as well as he did.  It's really hard to say much more without giving away more of the plot, but it was definitely difficult to read the scenes where Mark has to face the university council to decide his fate and their reaction to his charges.  

Jack was a bit reluctant to get involved as he knew how badly it could blow up in his face, but his dad was a good friend to Mark's dad and he found it difficult to diplomatically refuse the offer to defend Mark.  Getting caught up in the ever-increasing violence on campus and elsewhere, Jack became very conflicted over the case and was worried about his own family, especially when some of the violence actually did reach his front door.   I felt very sympathetic towards Jack and really had no idea how I would have dealt with such a delicate situation - one the one hand you don't want to let a friend of your dad's down in such a serious situation, but on the other, you own family's safety comes first. 

The plot moved rather quickly and there was a lot going on.  And while there is typically not a lot of horror in these books, the descriptions are enough to make you realize that Jamal's death was quite a painful one; who would actually do that to another person?  Although I did figure out who it was, there were quite a few red herrings that did make me wonder if I was right and I did second-guess myself a few times.  I think having read all of this author's previous books helped as I was familiar with his writing style.  The only thing I wasn't crazy about was Andie's story line although it did fit in quite nicely with Jack's, and I think that's why I didn't like it - it was too nicely and neatly done.  If the author was looking to find a way to get Andie into the story, I really think it could have been done differently as it just felt...wrong.  I can't explain it other than that it jarred with the rest of the story.  I would think that a group as organized as that would know who Jack's wife was, that's all I'm saying. When something feels fake and contrived, it's usually because it is.  I really think the author should have included more about Theo and Jack and how they would have interpreted the events in the story, and left Andie out of it this time.  There was really no reason to have her involved this time round.

A Death in Live Oak certainly makes you think, and the author is definitely not one to turn away from controversy or difficult topics, but I do think he handled it quite well.  The writing was fast-paced and I had a hard time putting down the book.  I think including Theo a lot of more and his reactions to the events and the development of Jack and Theo's friendship would have been a great addition to this book, and so much more relevant than Andie's involvement, which kind of lowered the overall rating for me.  That being said, I love this author and can't wait to see what his comes up with next.  I highly recommend you start this series from the beginning and enjoy each book. So much fun!!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Review : Daughter by Jane Shemilt

The Daughter
by Jane Shemilt
Release Date: August 28th 2014
2014 Penguin
Softcover Edition; 390 Pages
ISBN: 978-1405915298
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

Jenny is a successful family doctor, the mother of three great teenagers, married to a celebrated neurosurgeon.

But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn’t come home after her school play, Jenny’s seemingly ideal life begins to crumble. The authorities launch a nationwide search with no success. Naomi has vanished, and her family is broken.

As the months pass, the worst-case scenarios—kidnapping, murder—seem less plausible. The trail has gone cold. Yet for a desperate Jenny, the search has barely begun. More than a year after her daughter’s disappearance, she’s still digging for answers—and what she finds disturbs her. Everyone she’s trusted, everyone she thought she knew, has been keeping secrets, especially Naomi. Piecing together the traces her daughter left behind, Jenny discovers a very different Naomi from the girl she thought she’d raised.

My Thoughts
Daughter is one of those books I really tried hard to like, but the more I read, the more I just couldn't stand the main character, Jenny.  I don't know what it was about her, but I just couldn't warm up to her, even hoping at one point that she was the one involved in the kidnapping.  

I think one of the things that was quite disconcerting, right from the beginning, was the way the book was written.  Bouncing from the present to a year earlier, you already knew that Naomi was still gone, and the police were still searching, kind of taking away from the suspense of the whole story.  And what it actually became was not a mystery or a suspense story, but an introspective look at how much Jenny missed and didn't see, or chose not to see, at the events and family members surrounding her.  It got a bit old, quickly. It also meant that anyone I thought was a suspect was still free, or was not necessarily a suspect, which actually ruined the whole suspense thing for me.  I have to admit I skimmed through the modern sections as they gave away too much information about the back story and I was much more interested in the events surrounding Naomi's disappearance.  Because of the modern point of view, you also discovered what was going on with Naomi's twin brothers during the events surrounding her disappearance which made all of the suspense kind of drizzle away into nothing, to the point where I just wanted to finish the book.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE alternating story lines and time lines, but it just did not work in this novel, at least for me.  It would have been a lot better if the story had just continued along its course as it would have kept the tension and you would not have known the events before they happened.  I feel like a lot of the family dynamics were lost this way. 

Let's go back to Doctor Jenny.  I don't think I would like to have her as my doctor as she just seems so incredibly distracted and out of touch with what is happening around her.  Jade's symptoms were so blatantly obvious even I picked up on it, especially after having a friend's son go through it, and reading that whole chapter with Jenny missing all the clues just made me want to shake her.  Really? After twenty years practicing and the only thing you can account for those symptoms is what you came up with?  And her daughter?  How out of tune do you have to be not to realize something was drastically wrong with your own son and daughter?  First of all, the mood swings and behaviousr changes, the violent and explosive temper, the missing drugs from your bag, and Doctor Jenny still missed the clues.  And hubby, coming home smelling like perfume?  Okay!!  Yes, it's definitely easy to miss things at the beginning, but by this point, you could have slapped her with them and she still wouldn't have seen them.  I just found her so wrapped up in her own little world that I just couldn't empathize with her suffering or her regrets as most of them were her own fault.   

While the writing was good and the author definitely has this ability to draw you in despite the story line, I just couldn't get past the character development of some of these characters and I couldn't get past the confusing behaviour that some of them displayed, some of which made absolutely no sense. For example, I find it hard to believe that a fifteen-year old girl would leave bloodied sheets and wine glasses at her parents' cottage for anyone to find, but sneak around for six months without anyone knowing they were involved and having sex.  I also find it hard to believe that her brother Theo would have been allowed to enter paintings of his naked sister into a school portfolio without some consequences and repercussions, even if she was semi-covered with tree branches.  There at least I understood dad's anger.  And Ed, his anger didn't really make sense as his reasons were never fully explained; he just one day started exploding at Jenny and calling her neglectful.  So where did all this anger come from?  

Daughter is one of those books that, like I said, I really tried to like, but just couldn't.  One of the things that really bothered me was the hinted at explanation that Ed, Theo, and Naomi's problems were because Jenny worked long hours at the clinic and spent all of her time painting and was therefore neglectful of her children, but rarely was this hinted about her husband who spent longer hours away as a neurological surgeon.  When Jenny complained about his long hours, it was always in reference to HER missing out, never about the children, but in her case, it was always about the children.  Stereotypical or what.  So, while the author's writing style did keep me turning the pages, I did get frustrated quite a bit, and I read on, only hoping to finally come to some resolution about Naomi.  Don't even get me started on the ending.  It meant so many people lied to her and I was spluttering at the end.  All of this being said, this novel was an Edgar Award Nominee for Best Paperback Original, so even though I didn't really like it, there were many who did, and I think you need to judge it for yourself.
Thursday, May 31, 2018

Review: The Inquisitor's Key by Jefferson Bass

The Inquisitor's Key (Body Farm #7)
by Jefferson Bass
Release Date: May 8th 2012
2012 William Morrow
Hard Copy Edition; 353 Pages
ISBN: 978-0061806797
ASIN: B0068M2K5M
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

The Inquisitor’s Key takes forensic investigator Dr. Bill Brockton to Avignon, France, and embroils him in a deadly religious mystery that could shake the Vatican itself to its very foundations.  

My Thoughts
Imagine my surprise when I received a large package of books from the publisher of older books asking me if I'd be willing to take a look at them and review them.  Included was the four newest Jefferson Bass books, books I haven't actually read in a long time, so I was intrigued as I remembered really enjoying the Body Farm books.  And while The Inquisitor's Key was an easy read and quite fun, it didn't quite live up to its predecessors.

What I had really enjoyed about the previous Body Farm novels was the uniqueness of the stories, and to be honest, while this was a fun romp, it wasn't really unique.  I like the historical lessons through Avignon's past as I'm a history buff and teach history, but what I've always loved about these novels is the forensic stuff, so fascinating.  There wasn't a lot of that going on in this novel. The central mystery involves a set of bones discovered in an ossuary and whether or not those bones belong to Jesus, something that would be quite controversial.  It also deal with the lengths to which people, both in the modern and fourteenth centuries, would go to cover up truths or perpetuate lies all in the name of the Catholic Church.  And in the name of money.  

To be honest, the biggest problem I had with this book is that it's not overly interesting and I lost interest about halfway through.  The chapters alternate between past and present, and while I usually look forward to the historical stuff, I was more interested in reading about the descriptions of the buildings and the city that I was in the story, which is quite telling.  I didn't really empathize with any of the historical figures which is quite unusual for me.  One of the things I did find interesting was the information about the Shroud of Turin, especially as one of the specialists used in the book is actually read and you can find her articles online, something I did look up to get more information.  I have never really been interested in the Shroud but I did find the facts quite interesting.  

There is one aspect of the story though, which just drives me nuts and that has to do with Dr. Bill's obsessive infatuation with Miranda and his weird jealousy whenever she shows an interest in anyone else.  His possessiveness towards her just made me want to shake him, especially since she's half his age and is one of his assistants and students.  Wrong on so many levels.  I thought with the introduction of Plutarch and his unrequited love towards Laura that we might see some resolution to this, but to no avail and it seemed like a plot point that really went nowhere and made poor Laura seem like she had something wrong while Plutarch looked like a hero. Today, his actions would be called stalking.  

The Inquisitor's Key is one of those books that is meant to read just for fun, although I think it was intended to be a type of controversial religious book that was so popular a few years ago, but failed in its intention.  Overall, the premise was okay, and there was some attempt to make it interesting with parallel story lines, but lackluster storytelling and character development didn't help.  I also felt like some things were conveniently written off without explanations, like the story line about Isabella, as it made me feel like I was missing something big.  I normally enjoy these books, and with the next three books in the series, I am not giving up on Dr. Bill.  I sincerely hope they are more like the usual fare and not quite like this one. 
Thursday, May 24, 2018

Review: To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear

To Die But Once (Maisie Dobbs, #14)
by Jacqueline Winspear
Release Date: March 27th 2018
2018 Harper
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062436634
ASIN: B0722N61XC
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Spring 1940. With Britons facing what has become known as "the Bore War"—nothing much seems to have happened yet—Maisie Dobbs is asked to investigate the disappearance of a local lad, a young apprentice craftsman working on a "hush-hush" government contract. As Maisie’s inquiry reveals a possible link to the London underworld, another mother is worried about a missing son—but this time the boy in question is one beloved by Maisie.

My Thoughts
To Die but Once is the fourteenth entry into the Maisie Dobbs series, and it definitely doesn't disappoint.  You'd think that once the series got to this point that the mysteries would get rather thin, but the author set herself up nicely for this next entry as we're just at the point where things are getting rather interesting, historically wise, in England during WWII, as things begin heating up in France and the boys need to be rescued in Dunkirk.  And Winspear asks the question: How does this affect everyone at home?

Maisie had been hired by a neighbour to look for their missing son who had been apprenticed for a company going around the countryside painting fire-retardant chemicals on important government buildings as well as military buildings.  A trained nurse, and now a psychologist / investigator, Maisie is the perfect person to look for a missing boy; she can use her rather lengthy connections to gain access to some places that others may not be able to access.  

This series, and not just this book, is so well-written and well-researched, which is why I keep returning to it time and time again.  As a history teacher, I love learning some of the finer nuances of WWII that I didn't quite know, or know as well as I would have liked.  This book explores the early days and the use of fire-retardant and its effects on the painters and those exposed to the fumes.  Very interesting reading.  It is important to remember that Great Britain, like many other countries, was slowly coming out of its own depression, and many people were willing to take on jobs and they couldn't afford to be picky.  

The mystery isn't really the central part of the story and I really enjoyed that about this novel; it's really about family and the struggles that people had to survive during this time period.  There are young men who grew up on tales of WWI and want the chance to prove themselves against Hitler, not fully realizing the implications of what that really means; the challenge of a single female trying to adopt; the challenge of a man trying to keep his family from falling apart when his son goes missing in Dunkirk; a mother who is worried sick about her three boys; and the list just goes on an on.  It is definitely a fascinating period in British history, and it would be hard for anyone to write a story during this time period without including all of the havoc and turmoil that was happening as it would make it seem less authentic.  So while there was a lot happening in this one, and the mystery does kind of get lost at times, I don't know how it could be done in any other way because of the main events that were happening around them. The point being that smaller tragedies aren't any less real than bigger tragedies, they just hit people at different levels of suffering.

To Die But Once is the novel that finally enters WWII, one of my favourite historical time periods and I was so looking forward to this entry, which did not disappoint.  The author does assume some familiarity with the characters so if you are new to the series, there may be some confusion with regards to previous events. My recommendation is to read the novels in order as the characters' backstories will make a lot more sense.  I was also wondering how the author would introduce WWII, and I was not disappointed at all.  Because this is labelled a mystery novel however, I did feel like the mystery took a backseat to what was happening around them and every so often the author would remember the job that Maisie had to do, but I do understand why it had to be this way.  I am looking forward to seeing what the author has in store for Maisie next as you never know where she might end up or why. And we are now in the midst of WWII.
Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review: Questions I Want to Ask You by Michelle Falkoff

Questions I Want to Ask You
by Michelle Falkoff
Release Date: May 29th 2018
2018 HarperTeen
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062680235
Genre: Fiction / YA / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Patrick “Pack” Walsh may not know exactly where he’s going in life, but he’s happy where he is. He’s got a girlfriend who gets him. His single dad is his best friend. After graduation, he has a desk job lined up at the local crossfit gym, maybe he’ll even work his way up to trainer. He can’t see himself ever leaving the small town of Brooksby, MA. And he’s fine with that.

Then, on his eighteenth birthday, a letter from Pack’s mother changes everything.

Pack hits the road, searching for a mother he’s never known and a family he had no idea existed until now. His journey unearths questions about both of his parents that he never saw coming. And by the end of the summer, Pack has a whole different understanding of his past—and most importantly, where he wants his future to lead.

My Thoughts
Questions I Have to Ask You is quite different from what I was expecting, but that was quite fine with me as I enjoyed the exploration of Pack's personal demons and how he developed as a character quite a bit.  When I first picked this one up I thought it was going to be solely about Pack's search for his mother, but surprisingly, it became more a search for who he wants to be and how he got to be the way he currently is, questioning everything and anything around him, and I quite enjoyed the journey he took to get from point A to point B.

When I first met Pack, while I liked him, he was quite annoying as well.  He was very set in his ways, even at eighteen years old, with everything in his life planned out in front of him, including his girlfriend's life, and it was quite easy to tell that his girlfriend wasn't quite buying into his plan, thank goodness.  I would have thought less of her if she did.  Having spent a lot of his younger years being teased because he was fat, he decided to change his life by following an extremely strict Paleo diet and fitness regime, something his girlfriend also followed.  However, the pendulum swings both ways, and while he had no control with his eating habits early in his life, his control of his eating habits is pretty much borderline obsessive.  Trust me, I get the lifestyle as I follow a pretty strict Keto diet myself due to my gluten intolerance, but I don't allow my life to be ruled by my eating habits and will indulge once in a while without worrying if I'll develop eating issues.  I also think we should be very careful about using the diet as an excuse however, and looking at the real reason why Pack was so obsessed with his diet, as the Paleo diet really has nothing to do with his issues, it's just something he chose to use to help give himself some control and focus.  Pack is so uptight about reverting to old habits that he's wound up so tight he's forgotten to have fun and let loose once in a while and this is affecting his relationships; in fact, the only real relationship he has is with his girlfriend and even there, he wants to be in control of everything.  So, naturally, everything starts to fall apart for him and he has to learn to deal with life's curveballs.  And this is where I actually began to like Pack so much better as he grows and develops and tries new things, and realizes there is more to life than clearly set paths from which one can never.  As he begins to understand the lure of learning and curiosity, his character becomes so much more interesting, which made me want to learn more about him and where he was heading.  

While the letter from his mother set Pack on this learning curve, it was not really central to the plot; it was just a means of helping Pack realize what he may be missing from life and what he may want to do with his life, which I found interesting.  I felt pretty connected to the characters and thought they were all interesting in their own way. I really liked Maddie and thought she was quite intriguing, with a clear view on how things were and what she wanted; she didn't really let people push her around and was looking forward to leaving town and exploring the world as a university student. I remember how that felt and I was so glad she didn't cave into Pack's wishes and needs. On a different note, I'm not quite sure why the author skirted around the issue of actually using the word autistic with regards to Matt's sister though, but it was previous obvious.  Is there something wrong with actually labeling a character as autistic?  I feel like it made it look less authentic the way it was done, as if there was something wrong with it.  I don't know, but it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth.

Questions I Want to Ask You is a tale about relationships, growing up, self-discovery, and friendship. It's about realizing you are more than you thought, but you also have a lot of things to learn about yourself as you navigate the world outside of high school.  And while we never stop learning and growing, I've always felt that I learned the most about who I was and who I wanted to be while I was at university, and while the lessons were sometimes painful to learn, they were definitely necessary.  This novel shows some of that learning curve for Pack as he navigates the world after high school, learning more about himself, and learning to open himself up to possibilities he never imagined for himself.  Written with an interesting sub-story about his mother, this novel is sure to please anyone interested in a tale about friendship and growing up.