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

Summary
 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.

Verdict
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

Summary

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. 

Verdict
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

Summary
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.

Verdict
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
ASIN: B071RJPG32
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
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. 

Verdict
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
ASIN: B071KT2S8M
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Partners in Crime Tours

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
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!!

Verdict
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.
Friday, March 2, 2018

Review: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Red Clocks
by Leni Zumas
Release Date: January 16th 2018
2018 Little, Brown and Company
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0316434812
ASIN: B07281JNQK
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro's best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or "mender," who brings all their fates together when she's arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.


My Thoughts
Red Clocks is one of those books that I think was supposed to be controversial and a good source for some great discussion, but I don't think it quite succeeded in its intent.  There seemed to be quite a lot of questions being asked such as: If a young woman became pregnant, what are her options in a society that has banned abortion? For a single mother, what are her options in a society that allows only two-parent families to adopt? For a physician who believes it is a person's choice regarding abortion, what happens to them if they are caught? And if a person chooses to use alternative medicine, what are the repercussions for both practitioner and client?  And while the questions are great, I don't really feel as if the consequences that came about in this book really made much of an impact on me.

First of all, abortion is still such a touchy subject in a lot of countries and is outright banned in quite a few, so the real impact of this Personhood Amendment in this novel guaranteeing the right of embryos was not as strong as it could have been.  I think I was more upset of the loss of in-vitro fertilization than I was over the other issue and very much empathized with Ro who was trying to have a baby despite some medical issues.  As a single mother, she would have been excluded from being to adopt on her own as the new law coming into effect bans single parents from adopting, and apparently is a jailable offense to do it under the table.  There was even, at one point, an attempt from a doctor to suggest that Ro go abroad and adopt but he could have been jailed if he recommended that outright.  

The whole concept in this novel was brilliant considering the political climates surrounding the issues, and even the idea of a Pink Wall between Canada and the U.S. was brilliant as it also echoes some of the political climate.  The Pink Wall was an agreement between the two countries that Canada would return any U.S. citizen attempting to have an abortion or IVF treatments in Canada, where it was still legal.  Where the concept really failed in my opinion, was in the writing.  I couldn't get past some of the structures as they were written which made me lose my interest and then my empathy towards the characters.  While the author was trying to be really creative, I do think one can go too far, and this is a good example of  a story being lost in the format.  Which was a shame as the concept was intriguing.  I also really think that such a personal topic needs to involve the reader as much as possible and to invest in the characters.  Unfortunately, even the titles of the chapters, titled "The Wife", "The Daughter", "The Mentor", and "The Biographer" didn't help the situation.  While I do think the idea was on purpose, I think it was a mistake as this is not a topic where you want to be distant and apathetic towards the characters, which is how I felt.  I wanted to be embroiled in their turmoil, their disgust, their panic and so on, but I wasn't.  And I really disliked The Wife who was lazy, self-centered, and really, really annoying, and who was a character that really didn't fit into the story line. If she had been removed from the story, I don't think it would have made any difference to the story.

Verdict
Red Clocks had such a fantastic premise that I was excited to read this.  Unfortunately, it didn't live up to what I think it was trying to get across.  First of all, due to the way it was written, I didn't feel much empathy for any of the characters and didn't really care what the consequences of their actions were; in other words, it had no real heart and soul.  I should have felt deeply troubled by this new law, but there wasn't anything really revelatory in this story, so while it did make me think, there was no shock value.  I'm not sure I would recommend this one, but as always, you need to judge for yourself.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Review & Giveaway: The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend by Nicole Evelina

The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend
by Nicole Evelina
Release Date: November 21st 2017
2017 Lawson Gartner Publishing
Kindle Edition; 278 pages
ISBN: 978-0996763226
ASIN: B076B6TYJC
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Review copy from author via HFVBT

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Literature tells us painfully little about Guinevere, mostly focusing on her sin and betrayal of Arthur and Camelot. As a result, she is often seen as a one-dimensional character. But there is more to her story. By examining popular works of more than 20 authors over the last one thousand years, The Once and Future Queen shows how Guinevere reflects attitudes toward women during the time in which her story was written, changing to suit the expectations of her audience. Beginning in Celtic times and continuing through the present day, this book synthesizes academic criticism and popular opinion into a highly readable, approachable work that fills a gap in Arthurian material available to the general public.

My Thoughts
The Once and Future Queen is a great companion to Nicole Evelina's Daughter of Destiny and Camelot's Queen as she explores the legend of Guinevere from its earliest beginnings to current literature, and how the change in societies has had an impact on her story and on her personality. I am very familiar with the tale of Arthur and Guinevere and have found the various legends and stories to be quite interesting, so I was quite thrilled to read this author's thoughts on the various tales and how they might have developed over time.  

First of all, while this wasn't a real in-depth overview of Guinevere, in the sense of a deep scholarly study, I really enjoyed the lighter touch to her well-researched book as it was easy to read and to follow. I remember reading some more scholarly things about Camelot while taking some history courses and they were not easy to read nor follow, so I definitely appreciated the effort to keep it light but also be very informative.  I don't want to make light of the amount of research that would have gone into this book though, so when I say it's light, it just means that it was written in such a way as to make it easy to understand who the characters were that people Guinevere's world.  You don't have to have a huge background knowledge of Guinevere and her court in order to understand this book. There are no assumptions made that you have read material about Camelot before, so anyone could pick this up and enjoy the discussion about her.  

What I did find fascinating is the trends that took place over the centuries regarding Guinevere and her personality and how it is shaped by the societies in which each story was written.  I am not especially surprised by this, but to have it laid out in a format that discusses each story as they were written makes it easy to follow the historical routes and ideas that conceived each novel. Was Guinevere a saint, a sinner, a martyr, a queen, a feminist, a mother, a slut, or a simply a representation of what should have been like during each time period in which she was written.  Naturally, being born in the modern time period, I prefer her when she is strong and independent, but flawed through bad choices and pressures that were put upon her.  I know when I read Le Morte d'Arthur, I wasn't overly impressed with Guinevere (or Arthur either for that matter), so reading Sharan Newman's Guinevere series (Guinevere, The Chessboard Queen, and Guinevere Evermore) was very enlightening, with a much stronger queen that I liked, even if I had issues with the overall stories.

Verdict
The Once and Future Queen is an engrossing and detailed rendering of Guinevere through the ages, and is a welcome addition to the works about Guinevere.  As someone with a background in history, I definitely enjoyed the simplicity of what I read, but there is definitely a plethora of research notes that you could check out if you were interested in going deeper and into even more detail.  I definitely like the stories of today whereby Guinevere is from a Celtic descent with overtones towards pagan worship as opposed to Christian worship and the conflicts that must have ensued.  It's evident that every author wants to put their own on her life and I definitely appreciate that, but I really like the fact that her character has grown to be a more trusted and powerful one, almost a warrior queen.  The author makes Guinevere's evolution easy to understand and provides very detailed reasons for why these shifts occurred over the years.  I am glad to know that Mistress of Legend (the third book in the Guinevere's Tale) will be released this year as I highly recommend the other two books in the series, as well as this non-fiction book of Guinevere's development through the ages.  Anyone with an interest in Camelot should pick up this book.

Giveaway


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The Once and Future Queen
Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review: The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd

The Gate Keeper (Inspector Ian Rutledge, Book #20)
by Charles Todd
Release Date: February 6th 2018
2018 William Morrow
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062678737
ASIN: B0713W4784
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Hours after his sister’s wedding, a restless Ian Rutledge drives aimlessly, haunted by the past, and narrowly misses a motorcar stopped in the middle of a desolate road. Standing beside the vehicle is a woman with blood on her hands and a dead man at her feet.

She swears she didn’t kill Stephen Wentworth. A stranger stepped out in front of their motorcar, and without warning, fired a single shot before vanishing into the night. But there is no trace of him. And the shaken woman insists it all happened so quickly, she never saw the man’s face.

Wentworth was well-liked, yet his bitter family paint a malevolent portrait, calling him a murderer. But who did Wentworth kill? Is his death retribution? Or has his companion lied? Wolf Pit, his village, has a notorious history: in Medieval times, the last wolf in England was killed there. When a second suspicious death occurs, the evidence suggests that a dangerous predator is on the loose, and that death is closer than Rutledge knows.


My Thoughts
The Gate Keeper is the 20th entry in the Ian Rutledge series, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, although I may be a bit biased as I really like this series, and its inspector and have been reading these books since the debut was published.  The mother-son writing duo certainly know how to keep one's interest despite the longevity of the series; and for those of us who are invested in these characters, I really like how they have developed over the series as well.

I have truly enjoyed watching Rutledge's journey throughout the years as he battles with shell shock and the horror of the Battle of the Somme.  What I really like is how the horror is not glossed over and rears itself over and over again throughout the series, showing the reality of what things were like for the brave men who fought in that war.  The glimpses of the aftermath and people trying to get their lives back together is rather remarkable and I can't but feel empathy for these people and what they have suffered.  To learn more about Rutledge and how he gets through his day despite the ever-present guilt is something I adore; he's definitely not without flaws, being a loner and sometimes working again the wishes of Scotland Yard, but it is his daily routine that I find interesting and how the author helps him transition to another, and then another, day.  He embodies exactly what I think a Scotland Yard Inspector is all about during this time period, and I love that. 

I do have to mention that I took an immediate dislike to Stephen Wentworth's mother. There was nothing truly to like about this woman and I really hoped to see something happen to her. You could look at her situation as someone who probably needed a psychologist/psychiatrist to help her deal with her obvious dislike of Stephen as that behaviour was not normal.  For those reasons, I couldn't come up with a shred of compassion for her, not one bit.  I don't usually react so strongly to a character, and even tend to like difficult characters, but this was definitely not one those times.  Kudos to the authors for exploring that little bit of motherhood, though. I'm sure it was difficult to write.

I really enjoyed the mystery in this one as I had a hard time figuring out who was exactly guilty and those are the mysteries I like.  Having those subtle red herrings thrown at you is quite complicated to do, and I have to admire the authors for being able to do that, especially after so many books when you get to know the writing.   Even if the plot was a bit slow, that didn't really bother me as I know after reading so many of their works, how explosive the endings can be, so I was really patient and paid attention to the clues that were given through interviews. And I love the descriptions of tea time and sweets that were included, so much a part of this book.  And the writing: the authors have an amazing ability to convey a lot through dialogue, rather than just through description, so you have to pay attention to every little detail.  

Verdict
The Gate Keeper is one of those murder mysteries in which I felt a lot of sadness as the victims seemed to be genuinely nice people who didn't deserve the fate they were dealt.  I haven't always felt sympathetic so it was a nice surprise.   The mystery was a bit slow, but not boring, and the red herrings were quite interesting as I had a hard time figuring out exactly what might have happened. The writing was excellent and there was some good investigative work that I really liked. And while I absolutely recommend this book to others, and it could be read on its own, perhaps starting at the beginning would give readers an insight into Hamish and Rutledge and their relationship with which the authors assume you are already familiar.
Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes

The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1)
by Jessica Fellowes
Release Date: January 23rd 2018 (First published September 14th 2017)
2018 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 420 Pages
ASIN: B073NZCGKF
ISBN: 978-1250170781
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
It's 1919, and Louisa Cannon dreams of escaping her life of poverty in London, and most of all her oppressive and dangerous uncle.

Louisa's salvation is a position within the Mitford household at Asthall Manor, in the Oxfordshire countryside. There she will become nurserymaid, chaperone and confidante to the Mitford sisters, especially sixteen-year-old Nancy - an acerbic, bright young woman in love with stories.

But then a nurse - Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of her famous namesake - is killed on a train in broad daylight, and Louisa and Nancy find themselves entangled in the crimes of a murderer who will do anything to hide their secret . . .


My Thoughts
The Mitford Murders is the first book in series featuring the Mitford sisters.  When I first started reading the book I thought one of the Mitford sisters would be the main character and I was looking forward to that. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and I couldn't help but be disappointed. Luckily, that disappointment only lasted for a couple of chapters as the main character, a nursery maid, was actually quite interesting and I grew to really like her character and personality. 

First of all, I had no idea that this story was based on true events until I reached the end of the book and read some of the historical background to the events. Naturally, I went and looked it up on the Internet and what I discovered was quite interesting. As in the book, the real Nightingale Shore was traveling on the train in broad daylight and to this date, they still have not discovered the murderer's identity. Considering she was the goddaughter the THE Florence Nightingale made it that much more fascinating. 

As I mentioned previously, the main character, Louisa, grew on me throughout the story and I really enjoyed her transition from a scared and timid young girl to one who has discovered her sense of worth and who she can be. When she began working for the Mifords, she was afraid of being discovered by her wayward uncle who only wanted to use her to settle gambling debts. As her friendship with Nancy Mitford developed, she also seemed to develop her own identity and became more determined to discover the truth whether she wanted to hear it or not.  I really enjoyed her friendship with Nancy as they struggled with class differences even as they became quite good friends. I was a bit disappointed by the fact that I didn't really discover all that much about Nancy Mitford, but when I did get glimpses of her personality, it seemed to go in line with what I'd read about her; her stubborness, her jealousies regarding her sisters, her temper. Yet despite all of this, there was kindness and loyalty as well.  Despite the fact that history has portrayed her as quite intelligent and witty, it has also portrayed her as being silly, vain, and extremely jealous of her sister Pamela, and I liked that the book kept faith with that character.  While we did see a lot of the temperament happening, we didn't really get to see her budding wit and how people adored that aspect of her. 

I really enjoyed the friendship that developed between Louisa and Guy Sullivan, an employee of the train company on whose train Nightingale Shore was murdered.  Both Louisa and Guy are flawed characters; one was escaping her home life while the other was trying to learn how to stand up to brothers who tended to bully him, and together, they made a good team.  I enjoyed their interactions with each other, and was glad to discover this book wouldn't be another love story where everything works out in the end. 

What I couldn't get past was the development of the mystery; while it was fascinating, it was still slow and it was definitely easy to figure out where it was heading.  I actually think the author was trying too hard to make the book seem historically authentic which made some of the scenes actually worse as it just didn't always work.  There is also this tendency to view women as weak and in need of saving all of the time, and I quite doubt that all women of this time period were like that.  Just think; the marches and parades and other such things to allow women to vote took place during this time period so I wish more voice was given to them.  Or to the fact that women's place in society was changing.  There was some allusion to this with descriptions of women with short hair and dresses that were inappropriate but not enough.  That being said, the author can definitely write well, and you get a good glimpse of life during this time period, even if some of the things said or events being described, were a bit jarring.  

Verdict
I thought The Mitford Murders was a good book with a solid mystery, even if the mystery was slow to take off and it was quite easy to figure out the murderer.  For whatever reason, the solution didn't quite ring true to events, and I thought the murderer's character actually changed throughout the novel in a way that didn't quite sit true with me.  I did enjoy Louisa and Guy's characters and liked how they communicated with each other, developing a friendship rather it being forced on the reader. Nancy is quite young in this novel and there must be allowances for that as she would develop and hone her writing skills in France in the years to come as she tried to break away from her father's control to become more independent.  I did like how she tried to assert her independence only to have it broken down by her parents' strict rules and punishments.  They weren't cruel but they were definitely trying to hone down her impulse for adventure and fun.  Would I read the next book in this series?  Oh, yes, definitely, and I hope to see much more of the Mitford sisters as well.  There are definitely some interesting times ahead. And for anyone interested in the Nightingale Shore murder, I recently got this book as I thought it would shed some light on the murder: The Nightingale Shore Murder: Death of a World War 1 Heroine by Rosemary Cook.
Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review & Giveaway: The Swedish Girl by Alex Gray

The Swedish Girl (DCI Lorimer, Book #10)
by Alex Gray
Release Date: January 9th, 2018 (first published January 1st, 2013)
2018 Witness Impulse
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062659255
ASIN: B062ZYG3XK2
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Partners in Crime Tours

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
Eighteen-year-old Kirsty Wilson can't believe her luck when she lands a room in a luxury Glasgow flat owned by the beautiful Eva Magnusson, a wealthy fellow student from Stockholm. But her initial delight turns to terror when Kirsty finds the Swedish girl lying dead in their home and their male flatmate accused of her murder. Kirsty refuses to accept that he is guilty and, inspired by family friend Detective Superintendent Lorimer, sets out to clear his name.

Meanwhile, Lorimer calls on his trusted colleague, psychologist Solly Brightman, to help unravel the truth behind the enigmatic Eva's life and death. But it is not long until another woman, bearing a marked resemblance to Eva, is brutally murdered in Glasgow. Horrified, Lorimer and his team realise that Kirsty could be right. Is it possible that Glasgow's finest detective has put the wrong man behind bars? And is there a cold-blooded killer out there orchestrating the death of their next innocent victim?


My Thoughts
The Swedish Girl is the tenth entry in the DCI Lorimer series and was originally published in January 2013. Although I had read most of the other books in this series, for whatever reasons that I can't think of at the moment, this one fell through the reading cracks for me, so I was happy to have a chance to review it. It is written in true Alex Gray style which means that it was enjoyable, easy to read, has a few twists and turns that are easy to see through if you are familiar with her work, but with an ending that I wasn't overly crazy about, and characters who were much blander than I remember.

What I really enjoyed about this book are the main characters, except one, as they are comfortable without this drive to be dramatic or overly histrionic.  Don't get me wrong, I do like my characters to be somewhat flawed as it makes the story that much more interesting, but sometimes it's nice to have a msin character, like DCI Lorimier, who is comfortable, happy with his life, and always eager to return home to a loving wife.   In this book, he has been promoted to Detective Superintendent and I do have to admit I kind of miss his major involvement in following up crime incidents rather than just delegating his officers to do what he used to do.  I think he misses it too as he was always looking for an excuse to go out and interview people, sometimes getting involved in things he should have let his detectives do for themselves.  I definitely get it, and it was nice to see him out and about, but I did wonder how that would play out with his team.

I thought the story was interesting, and I really wanted to find out more about Eva Magnusson, as when a person is described as being 'perfect', it really makes you wonder what is going on insider her head. And when other similar murders occurred, there was the question of a deranged serial killer on the loose. There were some entertaining twists and turns, but if you are already familiar with Gray's work, it is easy to spot the red herrings and see what is going on. That being said, I could tell where the story was going with regards to the murderer, and I was really hoping it wouldn't go in that direction, but alas, it did, and I was really disappointed. For all the build-up, it was a bit of a let down. And to be honest, although I really enjoyed Kirsty Wilson as a character and liked the big decision she made in the end (although it was not a surprise), I did question the fact that Kirsty was used to search and discover information for Lorimer. I am not a police officer, but I do question it when a civilian is used to do searches and interviews as I thought it would compromise the evidence.  I just didn't buy her involvement in the case, and I didn't buy Lorimer's instincts to use her as it went completely against character; he seemed a lot more indecisive that the Lorimer that I remember. Who I really didn't like though, was DI Jo Grant, and it's not her fault, it's the author's. She is the stereotypical female cop, arresting people even when the evidence is scarce, and getting upset when her decisions turn out to be wrong.  Haven't we come a lot further than this? To arrest someone because he cried in the interviewing room seems like a lousy excuse, and I was really disappointed by her character. Any good lawyer would have had Colin released ASAP, but for some reason that didn't quite happen. She is also quite insubordinate and bland, and I just couldn't warm up to her.  She is someone I would be happy to see gone from these books.

Verdict
The Swedish Girl was an okay story, and although I really enjoyed the previous novels in this series, I am wondering if maybe, after reading countless other crime novels, that I may have lost interest in DCI Lorimer and his crew as I found him boring.  I would have to go back and read her first novel to see if there is a difference in the writing, but perhaps I've just outgrown them? Anyways, I would suggest you read it for yourself as you may have a different opinion that I do, and I do think fans of her work will be happy with this one. It just wasn't for me although I am willing to give another book a shot. We'll see!!



Thursday, February 8, 2018

Review & Giveaway: Clairvoyant and Present Danger by Lena Gregory

Clairvoyant and Present Danger (Bay Island Psychic Mystery, Book #3)
by Lena Gregory
Release Date: February 6th, 2018
2018 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0425282779
ASIN: B071L5C99M
Genre: Fiction / Cozy / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Great Escape Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Whoever said that dead men tell no tales has never met Cass Donnovan...

Cass has always relied on her abilities to guide her, but after communications with a ghost land her in the middle of a murder investigation, she has to wonder if her gifts are really more a curse.

Cass knows she is meant to help track down the killer--much to the chagrin of local law enforcement--when the apparition leads her to a dead body on the beach near her psychic shop, Mystical Musings. But the police are not the only ones who wish Cass would stick to reading palms. Someone is trying to scare her off, and it will take all her powers of premonition to catch the killer before Cass herself becomes the next victim...


My Thoughts
Clairvoyant and Present Danger was a fun cozy mystery, with just the right touch of paranormal for me. And a big bonus: a lovable dog who gets into a lot of trouble, making for some interesting times for the main character and her friends. What's not to love?

First of all, the dog. I am not ashamed to admit that Beast was my favourite 'character' in this book. Although he is supposed to be a big dog, he comes across as lovable, oh so cuddly, and mischievous,  and I certainly enjoyed his antics throughout the story.  He made the story fun and interesting, and I was definitely curious as to what he would be up to next.

Cass and Bee are certainly interesting characters as well. I adore Bee and love how he treats his friends, especially Cass, which makes the book all warm and fuzzy.  I would definitely love to see more of him in future books, and look forward to knowing more about him. He just has that right touch of friendliness and sarcasm that warms my heart, but he's definitely not a pushover; his scenes whenever he thought Cass was interacting with a ghost were endearing and I liked him even more during those scenes.  It's really nice to read a book where the main characters aren't always in conflict with each other.

I really enjoyed the story, even if I thought the plot was a bit predictable.  The writing was good and I certainly enjoyed the vivid portrayal of life by the beach, sitting in my cozy chair as it snowed yet again. It made me feel like I was right there, feeling the breezes on my face. I did enjoy the mystery, but I did think it was a bit slow as there was quite a bit of character development going on.  I really liked the paranormal elements as they weren't overdone, and quite believable.  I really liked that Cass doesn't quite believe in her own abilities, and is always startled and afraid when a ghost does show up at her door.  Running out of her own house because she got spooked made me laugh and like her even more. There are quite a few moments I wasn't expecting which made the book fun to read; I definitely appreciated those twists. I just wish the twists were related more to the mystery than to Cass's life, but they were still fun to read.

Verdict
Clairvoyant and Present Danger is the third book in the series, and although I haven't read the first two, it certainly didn't matter when it came to the main story line and events.  There is probably some background stuff I didn't fully understand, but I plan to read the others to discover a bit more about Cass and some of the situations in which she's been involved.  I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a lighter, interesting mystery with great and intriguing characters.  And I look forward to seeing more Beast antics in future novels!!!

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Review: Pretty Girls Dancing by Kylie Brant

Pretty Girls Dancing
by Kylie Brant
Release Date: January 1st, 2018
2018 Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Edition; 370 Pages
ISBN: 978-1542049955
ASIN: B06XGFQ23J
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5/5 Stars

Summary

Years ago, in the town of Saxon Falls, young Kelsey Willard disappeared and was presumed dead. The tragedy left her family with a fractured life—a mother out to numb the pain, a father losing a battle with his own private demons, and a sister desperate for closure. But now another teenage girl has gone missing. It’s ripping open old wounds for the Willards, dragging them back into a painful past, and leaving them unprepared for where it will take them next.

Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent Mark Foster has stumbled on uncanny parallels in the lives of the two missing girls that could unlock clues to a serial killer’s identity. That means breaking down the walls of the Willards’ long-guarded secrets and getting to a truth that is darker than he bargained for. Now, to rescue one missing girl, he must first solve the riddles that disappeared with another: Kelsey Willard herself. Dead or alive, she is his last hope.

My Thoughts
Pretty Girls Dancing was actually quite engrossing, and I pretty much read it in one sitting.  It had an interesting plot line, some intriguing characters, and the writing was well done. I think the only issue I really had with it was the ending as it just felt...wrong. No other way to explain it.

First of all, I liked the alternate POV as you got to see the events unwind from a variety of different angles, and it allowed the author to try and develop some characters. From the beginning, I couldn't wait to get to either Janie's, Mark's, and especially, Whitney's point of view as they were the more interesting and developed characters. I especially developed a liking for Whitney's story as you got a great sense of her strength and power as well as the horrible things her captor was willing to do to get her to submit to him; it's pretty scary actually, and I seriously doubt I would have handled it as well as she did.  I rooted for her throughout the book and really hoped her ending would be a good one.

Janie was another interesting character, suffering from selective mutism and extreme social anxiety most of her life, and I really thought her story was fascinating, especially with the focus on mental health out there today. Dealing with students who have severe social anxiety, it gave me an insight as to what those students are dealing with any moment of the day and I appreciated that insight.  I thought Janie was an incredibly powerful character and I was thrilled with her development throughout, without seeming like her anxiety was gone, something I would have been disappointed over as I know it's something you have to live with all your life.  I wasn't particularly fond of Janie's mother Claire, and although I was sympathetic with the crushing blows with which she was dealing, I did find her somewhat selfish at times, as if she was the only one going through anything. I won't pretend to even understand what she was going through, but it was always about her and her issues, kind of neglecting her husband and her child, which is why I understand some of her husband's actions.  The book tried to make Claire more sympathetic in the end, but for me it failed, and I was rooting for Janie's dad, despite his obvious flaws.  And I find it weird that I'd be thinking this way, but the author tried to make Claire so weak and vulnerable that it just turned me off her character.

The plot, except for the ending, I enjoyed tremendously.  I liked Mark as a detective and hope to see more of him in the future in other books.  I thought the mystery was quite compelling and I have to admit that I didn't see the ending coming the way it did. I want to stress that I liked the ending, but it also felt contrived and too pat at the same time.  Does that make sense? Probably not.  I just felt the author was looking for a major, major plot twist and tried a bit too hard.  However, it did leave a bad taste in my mouth and I can't stop thinking about it even now.  Unfortunately, you will just have to read the book to know what I am talking about.

Verdict
Pretty Girls Dancing was definitely not what I was expecting, and that's a good thing.  With some interesting plot twists, some intriguing characters, the overall story was good; even though I had a problem with the ending and thought the perp was the least interesting character, I think this is one book that you will just have to decide for yourself if you want to read it or not. Like I said, while I found it engrossing, the ending turned me right off and spoiled the overall book for me.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists
by |Chloe Benjamin
Release Date: January 9th, 2018
2018 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0735213180
ASI|N: B071D3D2ZX
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Literary
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 Stars

Summary
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.


My Thoughts
The Immortalists is one of those books where I really liked the concept / idea, but have really mixed feelings due to the fact I thought the story line felt a bit preachy and other than one story, I really couldn't get into the life of the other three siblings. 

First of all, I really thought the concept was neat although it certainly has been done before.  This one focuses on the lives of four siblings who decide to visit a fortune teller in order to find out their futures and are told the day they will die. The idea behind the book is to tell their stories and how knowing the date of their deaths would shape their future lives and how it affects their relationships.  I thought it would be interesting to see how the family dynamics change over the years having this knowledge, and how each of the siblings would react.  I really enjoy stories about families and their dynamics so I thought this would be interesting.  I was somewhat wrong on that account.

Simon's story was by far the most interesting, and I am so glad the author started with him as I don't think I would have finished the book otherwise.  He was a rather interesting and intriguing character, and despite the wildness in him, I found him to be endearing.  Simon ran off to late seventies San Francisco to join in on the gay scene, and although there was very little interaction between the family member, I did enjoy his story and the secondary characters that were introduced, some of whom we'd see later on in other story lines.  What I did find disappointing was the lack of family interaction so we don't really know how Simon's story really affected his family as they weren't really there, except for Klara.  I did find the whole AIDS scare to be quite fascinating as I am old enough to remember when the disease became a news sensation and the affect it had on entire communities.  I think I was in grade 8 when AIDS became part of our health curriculum so as I was reading, I was reflecting back on that time period and how scary news of the disease was to many people. I wish more of that has been discussed in this novel, and I think that's part of the problem; too many interesting things were just glossed over and you never could really empathize with the characters to the point that was needed.

As for the stories of the other siblings, Klara, Daniel, and Varya, I found I couldn't really empathize with any of them, especially Daniel.  Except for Varya's research with the monkeys, I didn't find any of their stories interesting, and there really wasn't a lot of discussion about the impact Simon's death had on the others, except for passing remarks about police investigations and so on.  I would have liked to have seen a bit more in-depth study of the family members and what they really thought and felt.  Varya's research into longevity was probably the closest the author came to really exploring the impact that knowing their time of death had on them.  She was obsessive, having been diagnosed with OCD, and I would have liked a bit more exploration into that theme.  

I am not opposed to sex in novels, but it was the use that turned me off in this one, mentioning sexual stuff in the middle of scenes that had nothing to do with sex, and in descriptions of people.  Really?  There couldn't be a better way of describing someone, such as Varya in the first paragraph of the novel having a "dark patch of fur between her legs", made me wonder what the rest of the book was like.  The sex scenes were fine, it was just how it was sometimes thrown in a scene in order to show sexual feelings between people, and I don't think it quite worked out the way the author intended.

Verdict
While The Immortalists wasn't for me, I definitely think you should read this one and decide for yourself as you may get something out of it that I did not.  I really think the overall message was good: reaching out to people, especially family members, even if you are angry or upset is immensely important as well as helping them when needed.  That way, when something terrible does happen, you don't live with regrets for the rest of your life.  And while I think the author was trying to convey this, I don't quite think she succeeded in the way she meant.  I really feel the author missed an amazing opportunity to really explore fate and family dynamics, but in the end I thought the story was interesting but also boring.  Obviously, this book wasn't meant for me and many people seem to have adored it, so read it yourself and see what you think.
Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray

A Strange Scottish Shore (Emmeline Truelove, Book #2
by Juliana Gray
Release Date: September 19th, 2017
2017 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 9780425277089
ASIN: B01MT32RL8
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Time Travel
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
Scotland, 1906. A mysterious object discovered inside an ancient castle calls Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia, and his fellow researcher Emmeline Truelove, north to the remote Orkney Islands. No stranger to the study of anachronisms in archeological digs, Haywood is nevertheless puzzled by the artifact: a suit of clothing, which, according to family legend, once belonged to a selkie who rose from the sea in ancient times and married the castle’s first laird.

But Haywood and Truelove soon discover they’re not the only ones interested in the selkie’s strange hide, and when their mutual friend Lord Silverton vanishes in the night from an Edinburgh street, the mystery takes a dangerous turn through time, which only Haywood’s skills and Truelove’s bravery can solve…


My Thoughts 
I have to admit that I had no idea what the book was about when I first started reading it, and for some strange reason, I actually thought it was a mystery novel.  However, A Strange Scottish Shore was anything but as it turned out to be a time-traveling historical novel. Then I got really excited as I love history, and add a time-travel element to it with some mystery, and I should have been really hooked.  And although I did enjoy, there was something about it that never really sunk its hooks into me as I read.  

First of all, the book did have some really good things going for it.  The overall story was rather interesting and I definitely loved the mystery element to the time-travel as Truelove and Haywood had rather little idea as to what was going on and were kind of feeling their way through everything.  As there was a nice legend involving the ancient inhabitants of the castle, it really doesn't take much to figure out that Truelove or Haywood would have something to do with that legend.  So when the actual time-travel element did appear in the book, I wasn't really surprised at the events that transpired.  But it was fun to follow along as Truelove slowly figured it all out and realized what the legend actually meant.  The world-building, both the early twentieth century and the mid-fourteenth century, was really good and I enjoyed the descriptions of daily life that were mentioned.   I love that stuff so the more descriptions there are, the more I tend to enjoy it so I can picture it all in my head.  The author was really good at doing that here.

Unfortunately, I wasn't a big fan of Truelove as I found her to be a bit too straight-laced and I couldn't really empathize with her most of the time.  It's not that I didn't like her character, I just wish there was more to embrace.  Silverton however, I adored.  I liked his personality, the mix between serious and cavalier was very attractive and I was really hoping to see more of him in the novel when he disappeared.  I did have a hard time connecting the mid-fourteenth century Silverton to early twentieth century Silverton, but I just went with it.  

I also had a few issues with the plot.  Overall, it was enjoyable and fun, but when you really look at it, there were too many loose ends that just didn't make sense.  And I'm not talking about those ends that lead into the next book as those I get, but just some things that were glossed over and not really explained, but were integral to the book.  I think I would have enjoyed the plot more if it was a bit more organized and more tightly woven.  And there was the paradox involved in time-travel; the author kind of glossed over it all, but the questions are still there nonetheless, without the answers. 

Verdict
A Strange Scottish Shore definitely had some very interesting elements as well as some intriguing characters.  I did find the plot to be a bit loose as if the author wasn't quite sure where she was going with it, but otherwise I did enjoy the story.  I haven't yet read the first book in this series, and right now it's up in the air as to whether I will or not, I haven't decided.  For those who like time-travel and romance with a little bit of mystery thrown in however, this book is definitely for you. 
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review: Insidious Intent by Val McDermid

Insidious Intent (Tony Hill & Carol Jordan, Book #10)
by Val McDermid
Release Date: December 5th, 2017
2017 Atlantic Monthly Press
Kindle Edition; 424 Pages
ISBN: 978-0802127167
ASIN: B06XWH8SFW
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
In the north of England, single women are beginning to disappear from weddings. A pattern soon becomes clear: Someone is crashing the festivities and luring the women away--only to leave the victims' bodies in their own burned-out cars in remote locations. Tony and Carol are called upon to investigate--but this may be the toughest case they've ever had to face. Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Paula McIntyre and her partner Elinor must deal with a cruel cyber-blackmailer targeting their teenage ward, Torin.

My Thoughts
Insidious Intent is the latest thriller featuring Tony Hill and Carol Jordan as they negotiate the emotional terrain of the previous year.   I am a huge fan of this author and her books, and I was looking forward to discovering how Carol would deal with the aftermath of her brother's death and her alcoholism.  I was definitely not disappointed as I thought the author wove an interesting mystery despite the heavily invested character development of her main characters.  I, personally, really like the way the books are going and I have to say, I was definitely not prepared for the ending in this book.

The REMIT team is finally being tested in this book as the previous one dealt more with the recruiting and development of the people who were to be part of this new centralized force.  When a car was found engulfed in flames, the police were not prepared to find the body of Kathryn McCormick in the interior.  Although a lot of evidence had been destroyed in the fire, the coroner was able to confirm that Kathryn had been strangled before being placed in the car.  With very little to go on, the REMIT team looked for clues and leads.  When a second and then a third victim died in very similar situations, the REMIT team was under a lot of pressure to find a killer before he killed anyone else, but the team was stumped and looking for that one lead.  I really enjoyed the characters in this novel, and I thought they fit in well together, but it was almost too seamless and perfect.  The suspense of previous novels was not there as the tension was missing.  Sometimes you need that antagonistic character as it makes things so much more interesting.  

DCI Carol Jordan receives a lot of attention in this novel, and I was definitely not unhappy with that. A recovering alcoholic with plenty of pressure on her back for the REMIT team to be successful, it was interesting to see how the pressure got to her and how she dealt with it.  To be honest, I was glad to see a bit of human frailty in her character these past few books as she always seemed to indomitable.  I enjoyed the way her character developed in this book as she tried to deal with having her drunk driving charge eliminated and the ensuing chaos that ruling created in her life.  With the weight of several deaths on her shoulders, and a serious case, Carol spent a lot of time thinking about her goals and the consequences she had to deal with because of her actions and those of others.  However, I wasn't as crazy about Tony in this book as I felt his character development was off and he didn't seem like the same person.  I did like how he dealt with Carol as well as the situation with Torin, but still something didn't sit well with me.  I just can't quite put my finger on it though.  

Although the author writes her books with the intention of being standalones, I really feel that one needs to begin at the beginning in order to really understand the motivations of the characters in this book.  I like McDermid's style of writing, and although you know who the killer is because she tells you, a technique I normally dislike, it actually worked in this novel and I found myself wondering what the clue/lead would be when it finally came.  And I can tell you that I was not prepared for the ending of this book.  No more can be said as it would ruin the book, but I was almost disappointed knowing I would have to wait for a while before finding out what comes next.  

Verdict
Insidious Intent is interesting with a lot of dark humour, some character development in long-standing characters, and a clever narrative, but somehow it didn't seem to capture that magic of the previous books.  While I find the antagonist more interesting than the main characters, I have to ask myself why and the answer is simply because nothing really new was added in this novel.  The team kind of plowed their way through the investigation and there was none of the suspense and intensity that is usually present.  However, the author still writes a good novel and I have come to trust her ability to make unbelievable scenarios believable, so I am really hoping the ending of this book, while a bit out of place for the characters, leads to a whole different level of intensity in the next one.