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Wealthy businessman Jay Ruddle is considering donating his extensive collection of North Carolina historical documents to the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library, but the competition for the collection is fierce.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.
Monday, May 14, 2018

Review: Jinxed by Thommy Hutson

Jinxed by Thommy Hutson Tour Banner


by Thommy Hutson

on Tour March 12 - May 11, 2018


Jinxed by Thommy Hutson
"Thommy Hutson is the ultimate authority in nostalgia-driven storytelling."
~ Clive Barker, Bestselling Author of Books of Blood and The Thief of Always

High School Can Be a Real Killer

Break a mirror
Walk under a ladder
Step on a crack

Innocent childhood superstitions …

But someone at the secluded Trask Academy of Performing Arts is taking things one deadly step further when the campus is rocked with the deaths of some of its star students.

Layna Curtis, a talented, popular senior, soon realizes that the seemingly random, accidental deaths of her friends aren’t random—or accidents—at all. Someone has taken the childhood games too far, using the idea of superstitions to dispose of their classmates. As Layna tries to convince people of her theory, she uncovers the terrifying notion that each escalating, gruesome murder leads closer to its final victim: her.

Will Layna’s opening night also be her final bow?

Book Details:

Published by: Vesuvian Books
Publication Date: March 13th 2018
Number of Pages: 244
ISBN: 978-1944109127
Series: This is the first in a new trilogy, each is a stand alone but with a teaser for the upcoming book you won't want to miss!!
Get Your Copy from: Amazon & Barnes & Noble! Plus add it on Goodreads!

My Thoughts
Jinxed is one of those books that intrigued me because of the concept. You've got a bunch of teenagers trapped on an island with haunted ghost story swirling around them, a nice atmosphere created by thunder and lightning storms and descriptions of eerie sounding buildings, and one by one they are being picked off by a killer.   What more could you ask for? Sounds so Agatha Christie or Scream. And then, for me, the whole effect was ruined by the addition of one line, the last line in the prologue, something I wish the author had left out as it effectively gave away the whole game in the story.

First of all, I do want to say that I did enjoy the story though and thought the death scenes were quite effective.  However, because I didn't really connect with any of the characters, while the death scenes were interesting in the way the characters tried to escape and flee, I was disconnected from what happened and that didn't sit well with me. Death scenes should resonate with people, and I really felt like even the other characters were disconnected from what happened.  I think the author was maybe trying to show they were in shock but it didn't come across that way and it left me a bit discombobulated, wondering about the exact nature of the friendship between these people.  And some of the comments between them weren't always very nice either.  It's a murder-mystery, I get it, and I wasn't necessarily looking for major character development, but when a friend of yours dies, don't you expect to see a bit more emotion amongst your friends?  And when there was finally some drama, what do we get? Teen love triangle - no thanks, not for me.  It just didn't fit in, especially after a great death scene.  Left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

That being said, the murder scenes were probably my favourite part of the book, away from the silly teen drama. And you get to experience the deaths at different POVs. If you don't really like these things, then you shouldn't be reading horror, it is what it is.  And all I could picture was the movie Scream and how this book could be made into a cult movie like that one, with the cheesy cliches and comments, but put together somehow all work.   The pace was good, the action was good, and you've got the girl leaving her room to check on scary noises thing happening which makes you want to shake your head and shout at her, like you would at the movies if you were watching. Unfortunately, some of this campy stuff would come out better in a movie than in a book and I had to visualize it in order to get through it. I really think the author and I have an affinity for the same horror movies, but sometimes what works in movies doesn't quite come across the same in books. And like I said, while none of the characters really stood out and made an impression, none of them were horrible either; I just didn't really care who lived and who died. 

Which leaves me with the actual reason and the ending for all this gore.  The actual ending was good, and although I was expecting something to happen, it didn't quite happen the way I thought, which is good.  If you are a fan of horror though, you will find this a bit predictable and cheesy, the reason for all this gore being rather the usual stuff, nothing overly original. 

Jinxed definitely had an interesting concept that would draw many people to it, especially those who love slashers and horror films.  People love stories about superstitions and things like that, but I felt the story could have been better and related better.  Some things just didn't make sense.  Some of the petty drama surrounding the students made them feel insincere, immature, and selfish, and really hard to connect with, especially in a novel where you don't really expect a lot of character development to begin with in the first place, as it's about the horror.  But you do want to feel empathy for the characters when they die.  It's very clear that Hutson knows his horror movies extremely well, and I would love to see him weave his magic and turn this into a film or something as I think it would be very good as it has all the elements there; it just didn't quite work in a novel. And would I be willing to read the next book in the trilogy? Oh, definitely. Just for the death scenes alone. What can I say? I love horror, both on and off the screen.

Thommy HutsonAuthor Bio:
Born and raised in Upstate New York, Thommy graduated from UCLA and launched his career co-writing the story for the Warner Bros. animated hit SCOOBY-DOO IN WHERE’S MY MUMMY? He followed that with co-writing the concept and additional material for CHILL OUT, SCOOBY-DOO!
His career then took a thrilling turn when he wrote and produced several definitive genre film retrospectives for television and home entertainment: SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY, MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD and HIS NAME WAS JASON: 30 YEARS OF FRIDAY THE 13th.
He was also a staff writer on Hulu’s daily web series “The Morning After,” a smart, witty, pop culture program aimed at getting viewers up-to-date on the latest entertainment news and celebrity interviews.
Thommy also produced the critically acclaimed feature THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH, an insightful relationship drama starring Lea Thompson and John Shea. He also produced DREAMWORLD, a quirky, romantic dramedy.
He co-wrote and produced ANIMAL for Chiller Films and Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films. The project debuted in iTunes’ top ten horror films (reaching #1) and became the network’s highest-rated original movie.
Continuing his passion for uncovering the stories behind the story, he went on to produce CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th, which is the most comprehensive look at the popular film franchise.
As an author Thommy crafted a limited-edition coffee table book detailing the making and legacy of Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A trade version distributed by Simon & Schuster reached number one in Amazon.com’s Movie History & Criticism category. He also has a deal with Vesuvian Media to write a YA thriller trilogy with the first book due out spring 2017.
He produced and made his feature directorial debut with THE ID, an independent psychological drama/thriller. Filmmaker Magazine stated it was “a deeply unsettling thriller that’s as moving as it is frightening…with skillful, provocative direction that has echoes of early Polanski.”
Most recently, Thommy wrote the screenplay for CineTel Films’ supernatural horror film TRUTH OR DARE. He is also directing, writing and producing a documentary with Clive Barker’s Seraphim Films in addition to developing other film and television properties with the company.
As an author, he is currently writing another book that definitively details the history, making and legacy of another fan-favorite genre film from the 1980s.
A member of the Producers Guild of America, Thommy continues to develop unique, compelling and provocative projects across multiple genres for film, television, publishing, and home entertainment through his company Hutson Ranch Media.

Catch Up With Thommy Hutson On thommyhutson.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Review: The Queen's Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

The Queen's Poisoner (Kingfountain, Book #1)
by Jeff Wheeler
Release Date: April 1st 2016
2016 47North
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503953314
Genere: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.

Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth—through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.

My Thoughts
The Queen's Poisoner is the first book int he Kingfountain Trilogy and really lays down the foundation of the story from the world-building, to the political intrigues, to the characters and their many good qualities and flaws.  It was somewhat different from preview books by this author but that's one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much as it was different.  And while it did draw a lot on the War of the Roses and King Richard 11, freely admitted by the author himself, it was definitely not a retelling of that story, but its own unique story.

The main character eight-year-old Owen, thrust into the political intrigues because of his family, who must survive court the court and all its challenges when he is taken from his family as a hostage by the king.  Forced to learn very quickly whom to trust and whom not to, he learns to surround himself with people who are stealthy and can help him win the game.  He learns to make alliances, but also learns when to keep things to himself and when to give up important information in order to help his cause.  It's an interesting thing to read something from the perspective of an eight-year-old as you are left trying to figure out the political machinations from the bits and pieces that an eight-year-old would have understood rather than get the whole picture right away.  And everything is definitely not as it seems, with fine lines drawn between good and bad, and every character seeming to cross that line from time to time in order to do what they must to keep a kingdom running.  Basically, this story is about the characters, not about the magic, and I am curious as to how it will all play out in future books.  

The magic of the Fountain is hinted at, but in no way dominates this book; as I mentioned before, this book is about the development of the characters and is more plot-driven than magic-driven.  I think what it shows the reader is that kings and nobles must lead their countries without the use of magical power; there are so many other powers out there that are just as strong and just as useful and how you use them is what makes you powerful.  It was definitely an interesting thought.  For someone who loves magic in books, I was quite happy for magic to take a back seat as it worked in this book quite well.  Mancini, the Espion, has also developed into a favourite character of mine; he is so different from what I would expect from a spy and I really enjoyed his personality.  However, I imagine he would be quite deadly although I have yet to really see that aspect of his personality at this point and look forward to seeing how his character develops.

The Queen's Poisoner is well-written and enjoyable, and I have to say it, fairly clean in that the graphic violence of other fantasy novels is not present in this one.  Sometimes it's just nice to read a good story without all the torture and graphic war scenes in every chapter, you know?  However, the story is still good and interesting, and I am invested in the characters.  Looking forward to reading the next book in this trilogy, The Thief's Daughter.
Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review: The Study of Silence by Malia Zaidi

The Study of Silence (Lady Evelyn Mystery #3)
by Malia Zaidi
Release Date: February 27th 2018
2018 Bookbaby
Ebook Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-1543916384
ASIN: B077Y71C67
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Pump up Your Book

3.5 / 5 Stars

 Lady Evelyn Carlisle has returned home to England, where she is completing her degree at St. Hugh's, a women's college in Oxford. Her days are spent poring over ancient texts and rushing to tutorials. All is well until a fateful morning, when her peaceful student life is turned on its head. Stumbling upon the gruesome killing of someone she thought she knew, Evelyn is plunged into a murder investigation once more, much to the chagrin of her friends and family, as well as the intriguing Detective Lucas Stanton. The dreaming spires of Oxford begin to appear decidedly less romantic as she gathers clues, and learns far more than she ever wished to know about the darkness lurking beyond the polished veneer. Can she solve the crime before the killer strikes once more, this time to Evelyn's own detriment?

My Thoughts
The Study in Silence is the third book in the Lady Evelyn mystery series, and while the first two books in this series were amazing, I have to admit that this entry was somewhat unsatisfying.  I really felt like Lady Evelyn spent way too much time thinking about her life and what was happening around her, slowing the story down to the point where I actually started flipping through the pages to get to the story.  And while I really enjoy Lady Evelyn, and like her thoughts about independence, her actions in this one make her seem foolish and naive.  

In this installment, Lady Evelyn has returned to England after spending time in France and Crete and seemed to be adjusting to life back at home. She has been working hard on finishing her degree in classical studies and enjoys working with the people around her. And while a wealthy woman from that time period would probably not be living on her own at Oxford, it did fit quite well into the story so I just went with it and enjoyed it as it was.  Evelyn was an unusual woman for that time period anyways, and I did enjoy her spirit and her independence.  I also really liked how she stood up for her friends and put others in place who were a bit more selfish.  It was kind of interesting to see Evelyn go from being really nice to biting all in one conversation, all within the strict bounds of society.  I also liked the little nuances she mentioned about her upbringing and how if she was a proper young lady, she would have been doing this or doing that, as well as her discomfiture when having to use a knife and fork to eat a meal with which she was having trouble.  All little things described in such a way to explain strict societal rules from which she was trying to break.  I really feel this is where the strength of this novel lies, but this is also where I have a problem with this novel.

It is always interesting to learn more about the personal past of a beloved character as well as the secondary characters in a novel, but I really felt as if the author went too far in this one.  There is nothing wrong with introspection, but when half the book is spent in it, it gets tedious and monotonous, especially in a mystery novel, and really does take away from the overall feel of the novel.  I honestly felt like the author kind of lost track of the purpose of the novel trying to give voice to Evelyn's thoughts and lost the thread of where she was going.  Don't get me wrong, I loved learning more about Evelyn's family, adored her cousins and Daniel, and the other new characters introduced along the way, but also felt the author had a difficult time finding that fine line between mystery novel and women's lit.  It also made me want to throttle Evelyn by the end of the novel which I doubt is something the author wanted me to feel.  I think she was trying to show how difficult it was for a woman during this time period to be independent and make choices that would allow them to keep that independence.  But it didn't really work out that way for me.

When Evelyn goes to a professor's dinner party, little does she know that said professor will be found dead the next morning.  While the mystery is somewhat interesting, I really did have to stretch my concepts of believability.  Not on the part of the actions of the professor, but for the reasons why the murder was committed in the first place and by whom. I get that society viewed women very differently during that time period, and certain actions are definitely not seen the way back then as they are today, but something just felt off about the whole thing.  And a lot of it had to do with Evelyn's interest in the murder investigation as I just couldn't see why she was so interested in getting herself involved or why people would be interested in her involvement when she ddidn't really do much.  She was just one of the professor's students and had no real involvement in any of their lives.   And I know that while she was supposed to come off as interested and independent in these scenes, to me, she actually came off as a bit bullyish and annoying in her dealings with the Inspector, and yes, I did roll my eyes a few times. I couldn't help it.

The Study of Silence is a well-written book that really touches upon a lot of issues during this era and women's rights, or lack thereof.  Her descriptions of 1920s Oxford are really great and I could picture myself there easily walking the streets or having a hot chocolate at one of stores.  I really like Lady Evelyn, but I thought the novel was somewhat too long and too much time was spent on her thoughts and turmoils which actually caused the novel to drag, making me wonder when we were going to get back to the mystery.  I highly recommend that readers pick up the first two in this series before reading this one; you will get some background information and a lot of fun. 
Saturday, March 24, 2018

Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly, Devious (Truly Devious #1)
by Maureen Johnson
Release Date: January 16th 2018
2018 HarperCollins
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062338051
ASIN: B07252X6ZH
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Young Adult
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars


Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. "A place" he said, "where learning is a game."

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

My Thoughts
Truly, Devious is the first book in a planned trilogy, and I really enjoyed it. I did go into it knowing about the trilogy and I think that helped as having read this author before I expected her to set up things slowly and build toward a climax.  What I wasn't sure of though, is whether this would be a standalone with a separate mystery in each story, including one thread that continues throughout all the books.  It became very apparent quite early on that it would be the latter case so I wasn't too worried about the mystery and just enjoyed the world-building.

First of all, I really liked the characters, including the secondary ones.  There were quite a few quirky ones, including one of Stevie's roommates, and I liked learning about them and the mysteries that surround them as you can't have a mystery novel without having characters with deep secrets.  Stevie is a true-crime aficionado and so am I so I could identify with her quirks quite easily as well as her interest in everything that was happening around her.  I could also understand her fascinating with the crime that took place at the academy in the 30's and how it would draw her to study at a place like that. I would have been poking my nose into as many places as I could have within the first couple of days as well as looking for archives and other materials to get my hands on. 

The pacing in the story is good, and while some people may find it a bit slow, I liked the building up of tension and events, knowing that more would come in future books.  I tend to have this thing for boarding school thrillers and although it didn't have a supernatural element in it that I also love, there were enough secrets and interactions to keep my happy.  The narrative does switch back and forth from the present to the past, the past one from differing points of view as well, but it was done quite seamlessly that it flowed nicely and didn't really interrupt the present-day narrative.  It also helped give insight into the current mystery if you paid attention. 

Truly Devious is a solid book overall and I am looking forward to continuing Stevie's adventures in the next book (The Vanishing Stair). And while the ending did not clear up the mystery, and I'm still not sure what I think about certain revelations, I did expect it to end somewhat this way so I wasn't expecting any great revelations at the end.  I do think that mentality helped though as some people wanted closure on their mystery and weren't happy with the ending.  But not me.!!  If you prefer books that have neatly wrapped-up endings then I do not recommend this one (and I would also stay from Karen Marie Moning books as well if you do); however, if you like suspense and expectation, with a nicely written story, with some cheeky nods to past mystery writers, then this one is for you.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Review: As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

As Bright As Heaven
by Susan Meissner
Release Date: February 6th 2018
2018 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 387 Pages
ISBN: 978-0399585968
ASIN: B072HS2J83
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters--Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa--a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without--and what they are willing to do about it.

My Thoughts
As Bright as Heaven is the poignant story of a family poised at the end of the Great War, a time of promise and hope, until a deadly disease, the Spanish Flu, strikes with determination and deadliness, causing the Bright family to re-evaluate their priorities and their dreams.  As a history teacher with a fascination for this time period, I was enveloped into this time period by some great descriptive writing and could feel the pain and hope that people experienced during this time period.

First of all, the story began on quite a sombre note as the family was dealing with the tragedy of dealing with the death of their baby brother at just a couple of months of age.  Needing to get away, Pauline Bright convinced her husband to finally accept his uncle's proposal to live in Philadelphia and become the heir to his business.  Filled with hope, they never would have guessed that Philadelphia would have been one of the hardest hit cities during the Spanish flu epidemic, and considering that Thomas' uncle owns what is considered an early form of a funeral home, would be right and center to the pain and suffering of Philadelphia's people.  I was actually quite fascinated by the business as I never really gave the matter much consideration before, especially as to how the business must have started and how the visitation idea began.  It was also a really neat idea for the epidemic to literally come right to the Brights' door, so to speak.

The story is told in alternating POVs and I didn't mind this in the least.  I didn't really enjoy Willa's POV in the beginning as she was only six years old and her story was kind of boring, but definitely thought the rest of them were quite interesting.  There was Pauline, the mother who was still dealing with her grief and a new life in Philadelphia, Maggie, the middle sister who was quite a spitfire, and Evie, the brilliant one who wanted to be a doctor.  The author definitely didn't gloss over how difficult life was during the last year of the Great War and how traumatizing it was for the men when they returned.  I liked the author's descriptions of the flu and the way it just crept in on you and how it must have caught the city unawares and how unprepared everyone must have been.  It made made me think how unprepared we would be today for such a thing if it ever hit again, and how devastating it would be.  Even after reading this, and reading about the hundreds of bodies piled up in the streets and outside the doors to the funeral home, I don't think we have any idea how bad it really was.  Over 50 million people died during this epidemic, and even though I teach this to students, the scope of it still astounds me. 

The only thing that jarred with me a little bit was Evie's marriage; it just seemed to happen so fast and I'm not sure I agreed with it, even if I understood it.  I won't give away any details other than this so you'll just have to read it for yourself to see what I mean.  Even the author questions Evie's decision through other characters, which I liked.  I am probably being a bit judgmental here, but it is hard not to be; given the time period and what these people survived, I can definitely understand the mentality of not waiting for your happiness, but taking it as it comes.

As Bright as Heaven is an interesting story told in the midst of the devastating Spanish flu and gives an insight as to how difficult this time period was for those who lived through it.  It is also a tale of hope though, a tale of spirit and energy, that humans can survive devastation and rise above it.  I really enjoyed this author's writing style and her descriptions made you feel like you were experiencing things as if you were there.  It is definitely a book about how the human spirit can triumph even in the midst of tragedy.
Saturday, March 10, 2018

Review: A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell, #3)
by Deanna Raybourn
Release Date: January 16th 2018
2018 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451476173
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. 

His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. 

Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

My Thoughts
A Treacherous Curse is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell series, and I enjoyed this one as much as I enjoyed the others, which is quite a lot.  Veronica is a funny characters and I definitely enjoy her quick wit and unconventional ways. 

One of the things I really like about Deanna Raybourn books is the way the author has of delivering authentic historical facts and descriptions.  Her beautiful writing style makes you feel like you are really there and brings to life the time period so well.  I have no problems envisioning what things looked like, what the people wore, their lifestyles, and their behaviours.  And combine this with two very likable characters, Veronica and Stoker, and you have a recipe for success.  And it is definitely because of these two characters that I keep returning to these books; their lives and histories are being slowly revealed one book at a time, and I am truly enjoying the journey of discovery.  In this one, it is Stoker's life that is the front and center and I finally discovered the truth about his marriage and his ex-wife.  Finally!!  These two characters are just so much fun, plus the interactions between them are quite hilarious.  She writes amazingly witty dialogues and I love the banter that exists; Veronica is rather good at quick comebacks and I always look forward to seeing what she is going to say next. I like the suspense that is also created and I will freely admit I am rooting for them to get together, but I am not sure if that is going to ever happen.  That is the only frustrating thing about this series, having to wait and find out what is going to happen next with these characters. If there is anything that rubs me the wrong way, it would have to be Stoker and his continuous pity-party. I get that he was grievously wronged by his ex-wife, and Stoker could be quite annoying at times.  I am so glad he got over it by the end of the book.

The other characters introduced in this book were quite interesting as well, and I enjoyed the various twists and turns that came about just because of their personalities.  Even the villains were quite likable and this is definitely not the case in many books.  If there is any weakness in this book, it would have to be the overall mystery as it was quite easy to figure out as I felt the author focused a lot on Stoker and his past grievances.  I do have to look at the whole picture, and while the characters were delightful, the pacing was a bit slow and did have a tendency to drag on a bit. 

A Treacherous Curse is another fun entry into the series.  You do not have to have read the first two books in the series in order to understand this one, which is nice.  As always, the characters and their interactions are always interesting, and I truly do like the witty dialogues that are in this.  While the mystery was touted to be about Egypt and Egyptology, there really was little in the way of Egypt in here, unless you count the many references to expeditions and trips to that country.  But the action didn't take place outside of England and I was a bit disappointed by that as I was hoping they would have a fun trip to Egypt and all that would have entailed.  However, with an interesting story line, this one is a nice entry for this series, and fans will be happy with the continuing adventures of Stoker and Veronica. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Look For Her by Emily Winslow

Look For Her (Keene and Frohmann, Book #4)
by Emily Winslow
Release Date: February 13th 2018
2018 William Morrow Paperbacks
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062572585
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Partners in Crime Tours

3 / 5 Stars

Just outside of Cambridge, Lilling seems like an unassuming idyllic English village, but it’s home to a dark history. In 1976, a teenage girl named Annalise Wood disappeared while riding her bike home from school. Though her body was later discovered in a shallow grave, the culprit was never found. Decades later, Annalise maintains a perverse kind of celebrity in the small town, and is still the focus of grief, speculation, and for one young woman, a disturbing, escalating jealousy.

When DNA linked to the Annalise murder unexpectedly surfaces, cold case investigator Morris Keene realizes he may now have the chance of his career. Morris and his former partner, Chloe Frohmann, hope to finally solve this perplexing mystery, and bring closure to a traumatized community. But the new evidence that should be the simple solution instead undoes the case's only certainty: the buried body that had long ago been confidently identified as Annalise may be someone else entirely, and instead of answers, the investigators face only new puzzles.

Whose body was unearthed all those years ago, and what happened to the real Annalise? Could she have had a secret child? Is someone interfering with the investigation? And is there a link to a present-day drowning with eerie connections?

My Thoughts
Look for Her is one of those books I tried really hard to like, but unfortunately, it fell a bit flat for me. It really had an interesting premise, and I was looking forward to some twists and turns as well as some interesting detective work on a cold case file.  

The novel starts off in a unique way, with a transcript of a therapy session, and you really do wonder quite a bit at first what is going on, but the session also leaves you with this feeling of unease, as if something's really wrong; I really enjoyed it and thought it was a great beginning.  I really did enjoy the author's writing style at the beginning as well.  However, the beginning seemed to drag on and on, and when nothing really happened, it began to lose interest in the characters and the story, and there were times I actually had to re-read parts of it to keep me interested and knowledgeable. I think the author tried too hard with character development that she included too many plot twists.  And while I am not opposed to plot twists, ones that don't have any bearing on the story do get annoying, especially if just thrown in to create a red herring that doesn't quite jive with the rest of the story. It really felt towards the end that while the author had a clear vision as to how she ended the novel, that vision wasn't too clear on how to get there.

I tried really hard to like the characters, but except for Frohmann and Keene, none of them really left an impression on my that was favourable.  I even got annoyed with the two detectives; I have read all of the previous novels so I am familiar with their background stories, and I have to say something felt a bit off.  I typically really enjoy these detectives and their stories, but found myself particularly annoyed with Keene for some reason.  I know the author wrote these characters to be sketchy, and she certainly succeeded in that area as I found them to be creepy and weird.  I took a particular dislike to Anna for some reason. Because the novel is told in alternating viewpoints, I couldn't wait to get back to Keene's or Frohmann's POV as they seemed the most normal of the lot; the rest just creeped me out.  The different POVs certainly helped with the plot twists though, and things sort of picked up around the middle of the novel. I did however, enjoy reading the therapist's point of view as that was the most interesting.  She was still dealing with her grief over her first husband even though she is remarried, and I found that story line to be quite interesting. 

I do have to say that while I expected the ending, it happened in a way that was the best thing about this novel.  Kudos for a great ending!!

Look for Her had a great premise and story line that didn't unfortunately live up to itself.  Sadly, the book lost its focus for me after the first few chapters, and I had a hard time refocusing on the story and the characters. What I did really find fascinating in the novel though, is the effect the media had on the murder and how it was able to keep alive the name of a girl who died for so many years.  And how so many people remembered the events because of the media.  I definitely thought about this as I was reading and how we remember certain people because of the media, and how others disappear into obscurity.  I'm not sure if I would recommend this book to people I know who love good police procedurals, but as always, I do think you should read it for yourself and decide what you think.