Friday, August 7, 2020

Review: The Prettiest by Brigit Young

The Prettiest
by Brigit Young
Release Date: April 14th 2020
2020 Roaring Brook Press
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-1626729230
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

THE PRETTIEST: It’s the last thing Eve Hoffmann expected to be, the only thing Sophie Kane wants to be, and something Nessa Flores-Brady knows she’ll never be . . . until a list appears online, ranking the top fifty prettiest girls in the eighth grade.

Eve is disgusted by the way her body is suddenly being objectified by everyone around her.
Sophie is sick of the bullying she’s endured after being relegated to number two.
And Nessa is tired of everyone else trying to tell her who she is.

It’s time for a takedown. As the three girls band together, they begin to stand up not just for themselves, but for one another, too.

My Thoughts
The Prettiest is one of those books that every teen girl should read.  The author takes a good, long look at sexual harassment and the way females are perceived and uses those concepts in a powerful book about female objectification that really hit home.  It really made me understand and realize how much we actually do this in our society; think of the lists that come out every year in our magazines, such as "50 most handsome men in Hollywood" and the "100 most beautiful women of the year" and the lists just go on and on.  This book is definitely a powerful novel about how we dehumanize people and the value we put on how people look.  I enjoyed every page of it and it definitely made me think a lot about the words and actions that are used every day.

This story definitely is on trend with what is happening in the world today, and I think the author tackled the subject with great sensitivity and humour.  Through her characters, Young was able to capture the many different viewpoints regarding the subject, from Eve's father who thought there was nothing wrong with the list and was happy his daughter was #1, to Eve's brother who help Eve understand why there was so much wrong with the list and helped her understand her worth lies not in how she looks but in how she behaves.  Through parent meetings as well as meetings with the principal, there is plenty of fodder for the author to explain different viewpoints and to show how this objectification and harassment is harmful to everyone. 

I loved that Eve was Jewish, but that it didn't play a huge role in the book; it was just part of who she was without minimizing the fear that still existed when she revealed her religion to people and was afraid of how they would react.  Very well done!  But the book wasn't just about Eve, there was also Sophie and Nessa.  Told in multiple POV, the reader got to see how other girls reacted to the list and how it affected them.  I actually think Sophie grew the most in this book as a character and I loved her development from popular queen to confident young lady who really valued her friendships and her strengths as well as appreciated the strengths of those around her.

The story moved rather quickly and I easily read this in just a couple of hours; honestly, I had a hard time putting it down.  As a teacher, it really made me reflect on quite a few things, and I definitely see some things quite differently.  I would have liked to see more involvement from the school counsellor with regards to helping the students deal with the aftermath of the list, but I was really glad the revenge didn't quite happen the way it was intended. 

The Prettiest is definitely a quick read, but it was very thought-provoking.  I liked how the author chose to allow the girls to work together rather than have them fight against each other, and I definitely was a huge fan of Eve's brother for his insightful comments.  I don't necessarily agree with his assessment of high school as I teach at that level and I think we have a lot of work to do there as well, but this book is a great way to start opening eyes to some of the problems that exist and maybe we can start with some of the things we take for granted in our society, like listing people.  I highly recommend this book to anyone, not just juvenile fiction readers.  I think adults would highly benefit from this read as well. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Review: A Bad Day For Sunshine by Darynda Jones

by Darynda Jones
Release Date: April 7th 2020
2020 St. Martin's Press
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250149442
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Del Sol, New Mexico is known for three things: its fry-an-egg-on-the-cement summers, its strong cups of coffee—and a nationwide manhunt? Del Sol native Sunshine Vicram has returned to town as the elected sheriff--an election her adorably meddlesome parents entered her in--and she expects her biggest crime wave to involve an elderly flasher named Doug. But a teenage girl is missing, a kidnapper is on the loose, and all of it's reminding Sunny why she left Del Sol in the first place. Add to that trouble at her daughter’s new school and a kidnapped prized rooster named Puff Daddy, and Sunshine has her hands full.

Enter sexy almost-old-flame Levi Ravinder and a hunky US Marshall, both elevens on a scale of one to blazing inferno, and the normally savvy sheriff is quickly in over her head. Now it’s up to Sunshine to juggle a few good hunky men, a not-so-nice kidnapping miscreant, and Doug the ever-pesky flasher. And they said coming home would be drama-free.

My Thoughts
A Bad Day for Sunshine was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I will admit I had a hard time getting Charley out of my head and focusing on this new heroine, but I was finally able to do that around the halfway mark as Sunshine was able to find a voice of her own, a quirky, interesting voice to boot.  I enjoyed the characters very much, but I did think the overall mystery was a bit weak. 

First of all, I loved the characters in this book.  The author has a way of developing her characters that make each of them quite interesting and unique, and this was one of the things that definitely kept drawing me back to her other books.  That same development continues in this book, and Sunshine absolutely grew as her own personality, and so did her daughter, Auri.  I found myself chuckling quite a bit as I was reading from Sunshine's inner monologue as it was highly entertaining.  The dialogue between the characters was a lot of fun as well.  It took me awhile to orient myself through the characters as the author doesn't give away a lot of information and you have to kind of figure things out as you go along, but I prefer this type of writing anyways as I find it extremely boring when the author gives away too much information and you don't get a chance to figure things out on your own. 

I have always enjoyed this author's writing style, but I did find the actual mystery to be a bit flimsy, to say the least.  What I did really enjoy was the secondary mystery underlying this book, and this is what is going to keep me coming back book after book as there is a big story here that I can't wait to discover more about.  Although Sunshine deals with the mortal world rather than the paranormal one, like Charley, she has a big secret, and it creeps in everywhere in the book.  While it hasn't affected her personality as she is outgoing and flirty, it is something that has still consumed her life for the past fifteen years and I think we are in for quite a ride in upcoming books.  Sunshine has not been home during that time period, but has made a name for herself in law enforcement, and somehow she has been named sheriff of her home town.  Her first few days were not quite what she was expecting, but the action moved quickly and you met a lot of quirky characters throughout Sun's investigation.  There is definitely a dark side enmeshed throughout the story, even if it didn't really impact this book, but it was enough of a tease to make me wish the next book was being released tomorrow. 

A Bad Day for Sunshine had all the elements you could want from Darynda Jones; it was funny, quirky, and highly entertaining, but with an underlying dark side that you know will rear its ugly head in the follow-up novels, and I can't wait to see how everything plays out.  I enjoy this author's writing style, and highly recommend this book.  If you are looking for more paranormal writing with this book, you will be disappointed though, as the author has taken a different path with her new series.  However, I don't think you will be disappointed if you give it a chance.  I am really looking forward to A Good Day for Chardonnay when it is released in April 2021.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Review: The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brooks

by Maggie Brooks
Release Date: May 26th 2020
2020 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593197752
ASIN: B09191G4GJ
Genre: Fiction / Historical / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

In the dead of night, a Czech farm girl and a British soldier travel through the countryside. Izabela and prisoner of war Bill have secretly married and are on the run, with Izzy dressed as a man. The young husband and wife evade capture for as long as possible--until they are cornered by Nazi soldiers with tracking dogs.

Izzy's disguise works. The couple are assumed to be escaped British soldiers and transported to a POW camp. However, their ordeal has just begun, as they face appalling living conditions and the constant fear of Izzy's exposure. But in the midst of danger and deprivation comes hope, for the young couple are befriended by a small group of fellow prisoners. These men become their new family, willing to jeopardize their lives to save Izzy from being discovered and shot.

My Thoughts
The Prisoner's Wife is one of those books that I thought would be really interesting as I had the belief it was based on a true story; however, the story was based on a supposed true story with no facts, names, places, or anything to really back it up so really, it was based on an idea given to the author on hearsay and is a bit misleading in its description.  While the author did do a lot of great and interesting research for this book, something that I really enjoyed, I was not a fan of the main character and the accompanying marketing material put way too much emphasis on this being based on a true story, which is misleading.

First of all, the author did very meticulous research for this novel and definitely appreciated that.  Because of this, the long march during the last third of the novel was probably my favourite part as it gave very good descriptions of the suffering the men faced during this terrible time period.  The author was able to capture the suffering and the misery of the soldiers as well as the fear they faced during their tribulations.  There are not as many books written about this episode, focusing more on the Auschwitz death march, so it was nice to see a book focusing on some of the other marches that happened as well.

There were some complex, interesting characters in this book.  I really took a liking to Ralph, Max, and Scotty, and enjoyed learning about their backgrounds and how they ended up where they did.  However, I was not a fan of the main character, Izzy, and this is probably why I gave the book the rating that I did.  For a woman growing up in occupied Czechoslovakia, she was incredibly naive about a lot of things, and did some really stupid things.  Running away to get married, hoping her father and her brother would just magically find her has got to be one of the dumbest things in this book.  For a girl who lived under German occupation for over six years, she would have known exactly what she would have been facing.  She was twenty years old, not six.  And her behaviour was all over the place, flying into a rage because her new husband had sexual relations before they were married? That whole conversation actually made me uncomfortable with the underlying preachy tones that accompanied it. And the author tried to make Izzy sound innocent but it actually made her seem stupid at times. You just have to read the book to see what I mean. 

The plot itself moved rather quickly, and for the most part was enjoyable.  Like I said, I did not like Izzy as a character and had to grit my teeth a few times during the book.  And I have never been, and will never be, a fan of instalust/love.  And while the marketing says this doesn't happen, yes, it does. However, the author has a gripping writing style which I enjoyed, and once I got past the Izzy-ness, I thought the descriptions of the POW camp and the work camps were really intriguing.  I would have actually like to have read more about the British POW camp. 

The Prisoner's Wife was actually an enjoyable book, but I was not a fan of the main character.  I thought she was annoying and though the author was trying to make her seem fiery and wilful, she came across as childish and silly half the time.  I did like how the author handled the multiple POVS as well the descriptions of the various POW camps and work camps though, and thought she did a great job at showing the suffering and misery, as well as the lives, of the prisoners.  I would definitely read another book by this author, and yes, I would recommend this book.  Other readers may connect and empathize with Izzy in a way I couldn't. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Review: Someone We Know by Shari Lapena

Someone We Know
by Shari Lapena
Release Date: May 12th 2020
2020 Penguin
Trade Paperback; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0525557678
ASIN: B07N5J2H92
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Psychological
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

In a quiet, leafy suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking into houses--and into the owners' computers as well--learning their secrets, and maybe sharing some of them, too.

Who is he, and what might he have uncovered? After two anonymous letters are received, whispers start to circulate, and suspicion mounts. And when a woman down the street is found murdered, the tension reaches the breaking point. Who killed her? Who knows more than they're telling? And how far will all these very nice people go to protect their own secrets?

In this neighborhood, it's not just the husbands and wives who play games. Here, everyone in the family has something to hide . . .

My Thoughts
Someone We Know was an interesting thriller with a couple of nifty twists that I didn't see coming.  I was not a fan of The Woman in the Window and The Girl on The Train (which drove me away from any books that even sounded like those), and I definitely did not like An Unwanted Guest (by this author) , so when I saw this was another book about bad neighbours, I was a bit apprehensive.  However, this bad neighbour book was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

First of all, I really enjoyed the characters.  Yes, they were all dysfunctional to some extent, but I thought they were all interesting in their own way. The voice you heard from the most was Olivia, and though I wanted to strangle her half the time as she was so oblivious to everything around her, it was fascinating to see things through her eyes as she became more aware of things that were going on in her own neighbourhood, and even within her own family dynamics.  A bit self-centred, she really needed to open her eyes to her neighbours and the shenanigans that were going on and I enjoyed the journey she went on.  It was interesting to see her realize the neighbourhood she thought was so perfect was anything but.  Many of the characters were annoying as hell, but fascinating because of that.  The whole, you never know what goes on behind closed doors, really fits well here.

The plot was told in multiple POVs, but we hear from Olivia the most and so many things are revealed bit by bit, like an onion peeling its layers.  It's actually quite skilfully done and I admire the author for her skill in doing so.  This isn't a difficult read, I read it in a few hours, but sometimes it's nice to sink your teeth into something that twists and turns like this and is fun.  It's one of those books where as soon as the police think they have a good lead and pull someone in for questioning, something major comes up, more secrets get spilled, and suddenly we have another reason for why someone else may have wanted Amanda dead.  Eventually you realize the entire neighbourhood is hiding things from each other, indiscretions are happening everywhere, and people are covering for others because they are afraid for them.  And people thought they lived a nice, quiet neighbourhood.  

Someone We Know is perhaps my favourite book by this author so far.  Lots of twists and turns with an ending I really liked.  I wish there had been more character development on a couple of characters as they were pretty interesting and we didn't learn a lot about them. I thought the writing pulled all the elements together at the end.  I definitely preferred this one over some of her other books. 
Thursday, July 23, 2020

Review: Death With a Dark Red Rose by Julia Buckley

Death With a Dark Red Rose (A Writer's Apprentice Mystery, Book #5)
by Julia Buckley
Release Date: February 25th 2020
2020 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451491930
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

Lena is starting to feel like having it all may actually be possible! She and suspense novelist Camilla Graham are busily plotting their next novel and she's got a brand-new diamond ring on her finger thanks to her fiancé, Sam West. The only blot on her Blue Lake life is a strange new corporation that has come to town called Plastisource. They seem to be intent on gobbling up prime real estate and changing the landscape of Lena's lovely adopted home.

When she and Sam get a call from their good friend (and Blue Lake detective) Doug saying that his girlfriend--and Lena's pal Belinda--isn't answering her phone and missed a date with him, they all head out to her home. The trio is shocked to discover that Belinda's purse and phone are at her house, along with a single red rose on her countertop--but Belinda herself is missing. Has she been abucted? Could the strange new corporation play a role in her disappearance? Lena is determined to find out and rescue her friend because she knows that the truth can be stranger and much more deadly than fiction....

My Thoughts
Death With a Dark Red Rose is the fifth book in the Writer's Apprentice Mystery series, and while I really enjoyed the previous entries in this series, I did not enjoy this one for a variety of reasons.  I had to push myself really hard to finish this book, and something that should have only taken a couple of hours to read actually took a few weeks because I stopped to read other stuff in between and had a hard time coming back to it.  

Normally I love this author's writing style as she is usually expressive and interesting, with a lot of good wordplay and dialogue between her characters.  I found this book to be quite repetitive and for the life of me, couldn't figure out why there was so much information given about past and previous cases.  If this is the first book you read in this series, forget about reading previous books as she gives away a lot of serious plot points from previous books.  

What actually begins as a promising abduction case turns out to be something completely unrelated to the title: I know sometimes the publisher has the final say when it comes to choosing titles, but could they have chosen a worse one for this book? There is nothing that relates to the story whatsoever, and I wasn't able to just let it go.

Which brings me to the plot.  I have really enjoyed the previous stories by this author, and loved the mysteries that Sam and Lena had to solve, but this one was perplexing as it seemed like the author didn't really know in which direction she wanted to go.  I was really disappointed as there was one plot point in here which had a lot of potential if it had been exploited to its fullest, but it wasn't.  And there is only so much a reader can take before they shake their heads and go, No way!  I get the author was trying to keep the reader engaged and interested, but for me, it didn't work, and I found myself skipping pages as well as putting the book down for long periods of time and going off to read something else. 

Death With a Dark Red Rose didn't work for me at all.  I think I may be in the minority however, but I thought the plot was really weak, and I didn't connect to the characters the way I usually do.  I feel like she was trying to engage her readers by adding suspense that just didn't work well, like abductions. I get that this is a cozy mystery genre, but that doesn't mean you relax your standards and settle for 'trope' stuff hoping the reader wouldn't notice, especially when her previous books were so much better.  Upping the suspense by adding more twists and turns, and maybe leaving out the repetitious character stuff would be a better way to go.  I highly recommend the previous books in this series, but really feel you should skip this one entirely.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Review: The Forgotten Home Child by Genevieve Graham

The Forgotten Home Child
by Genevieve Graham
Release Date: March 3rd 2020
2020 Simon & Schuster
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982128951
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

Fifteen-year-old Winny has never known a real home. After running away from an abusive stepfather, she falls in with Mary, Jack, and their ragtag group of friends roaming the streets of Liverpool. When the children are caught stealing food, Winny and Mary are left in Dr. Barnardo’s Barkingside Home for Girls, a local home for orphans and forgotten children found in the city’s slums. At Barkingside, Winny learns she will soon join other boys and girls in a faraway place called Canada, where families and better lives await them.

But Winny’s hopes are dashed when she is separated from her friends and sent to live with a family that has no use for another daughter. Instead, they have paid for an indentured servant to work on their farm. Faced with this harsh new reality, Winny clings to the belief that she will someday find her friends again.

Inspired by true events, The Forgotten Home Child is a moving and heartbreaking novel about place, belonging, and family—the one we make for ourselves and its enduring power to draw us home.

My Thoughts
The Forgotten Home Child really hits close to home as many of the events occur in locations close to where I currently live, and I am familiar with some of the current memorials to these children having a friend who works ardently to keep their memory alive in Canadian minds.  This is not an event that is typically taught in Canadian history classes, although I do mention it in mine, so I can see why many people are not familiar with it. It is definitely heartrending hearing the stories of these children and the treatment they received, and I am glad it is getting the attention it so richly deserves.

First of all, I have to give kudos to the author and her meticulous research in this book.  There were approximately 100 000 children shipped to Canada over a hundred year span starting in 1869 between the ages of 3 and 18, children taken off the streets in Great Britain, many of whom had parents still alive, sent to work on farms, expecting better lives than the ones they left behind.  Unfortunately, there was this mistaken belief they were orphans, and with the mentality that existed towards orphan children during this time period, many were treated horribly.  It is estimated that around 75% of these children suffered abuse, sexual assault, and became indentured farm workers.  Many farmers did not fulfill their obligations to send the children to school during the winter.  The stories are heartbreaking.

I thought the author did a fantastic job showing the conditions the children faced through her main characters.  Winny, Jack, and Mary suffered terribly at the hands of their employers.  The book was told in alternating POVs which meshed beautifully together to tell their stories.  To say it was sometimes hard to read is an understatement.  Mary and Winny find themselves living fairly close together as their employers are sisters, but Mary's fate was so much worse than Winny's as at least Winny's employer had a heart, even if she showed it a little late. Watching them struggle and suffer was hard to read about and the abuse was definitely appalling.  

What I found remarkable about this book was the shame that Winny lived with her entire life because she was labelled a Home Child, and the author's ability to portray this through her characters.  I thought the author did a great job showing the consequences of that shame through Jack as he struggled with addiction and anger issues throughout his life; his bitterness definitely affected a big part of his life and was a direct consequence of his experience as a teenager.   

The Forgotten Home Child is a wonderful book about the British Home Children and their plight as they were transported across the Atlantic to live on farms in Canada and other countries. Unfortunately, many were mistreated and abused and this book reflects many aspects of that abuse and the repercussions for these children.  The only thing I found jarring was the situation with Winny's son and what happened as it didn't really ring true to me, especially considering their relationship throughout the years; I just felt like the author was looking for a way to have some type of discord between them and it didn't quite work for me.  This novel is a powerful statement to those children and a history that should never be forgotten.   
Friday, July 17, 2020

Review: The Copycat by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

The Copycat
by Wendy McLeod MacKnight
Release Date: March 10th 2020
2020 Greenwillow Books
Kindle Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062668356
Genre: Fiction / Children / Middle Grade / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Ali and her parents have moved at least once a year for as long as Ali can remember. She’s attended six different schools, lived in dozens of apartments, and never really felt at home anywhere. But Ali’s parents say living in Saint John, New Brunswick, will be different. They’ve moved in with Ali’s great-grandmother—a spunky 99-year-old with a quirky old house that has room for all of them. Ali wants to believe this will be their last move, but everything seems too perfect to be true.

To Ali’s surprise, things are different this time, but not in the way she hoped. She’s finally inherited the Sloane family powers—the ability to change her appearance into any living thing. Ali is a Copycat. Literally. And being the new kid at school is hard enough without worrying about losing control of your powers and turning into your teacher. Luckily, Ali’s new friends are eager to help her use her newfound power. But as Ali soon learns, being a Copycat is no substitute for being yourself.

My Thoughts
The Copycat was a fun, magical story about a young girl who finally moves back to her family home to look after her great-grandmother.  Ali has spent her short life moving from one place to another, never settling down or feeling like she belongs anywhere; she really hopes that this will be the place where she can make good friends and finally discover more about her family.  There were so many things about this story that I really enjoyed: the setting (I am Canadian and although I am not from New Brunswick, I have been there and am familiar with the setting), the mysterious family feud, the way the author wove things into the book, and the friendships.  

Let's start with Ali: she is a bright, 12-year-old girl looking to make a fresh start, but she has had difficulty with friendships in the past so she has developed these rules.  Unfortunately, the rules don't really work out so well for her here, and the kids quickly realize that she is quick to agree to anything they say without really having an opinion of her own.  I enjoyed Ali's realization that she was being to accommodating to others and that she was coming of as fake. And while she could be frustrating at times, and you just want to tell her to be honest with her friends, it was nice to follow her on her journey of self-realization.  And I really think middle grade readers would enjoy the journey and be able to reflect on it and maybe learn something from it themselves.

The story line was a lot of fun, with a bit of a paranormal twist in it.  Ali is a copycat, and how she discovers her powers is a lot of fun.  I enjoyed the training and laughed along with her attempts to change into different animals and characters - the Incredible Hulk being one of my favourites.  The paranormal stuff didn't take over the story, but was just part of it and I liked that.  Sometimes books get too caught up in the paranormal, and then character development and plot sometimes gets shunted to the background.  This did not happen here as each character had their own issues, making them a part of the story, not just secondary characters.  The author threw in a lot of fun facts about The Bay of Fundy (something you really have to see for yourself as it's amazing), and other historical tidbits that fit in nicely with the story.  The little family feud was also interesting, and while I eventually figured it out and was happy about it, I also think young readers would enjoy the little twist.  It was just enough mystery that young readers would not be overwhelmed, but also engaging and intriguing.  

The Copycat definitely has many elements that I think will engage young readers; there is the new girl who has to learn how to make new friendships and learn about herself at the same time, plus there is the paranormal element that adds a bit of a complication to a young girl's life.  I enjoyed the setting as well as the characters and would love to see a sequel to this book. As a Canadian, I love it when I read books that are set in Canada, and in towns I have visited.  I highly recommend this book.
Thursday, July 16, 2020

Review: Lost Autumn by Mary-Rose MacColl

Lost Autumn
by Mary-Rose MacColl
Release Date: March 3rd 2020
2020 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 404 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593085059
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Australia, 1920. Seventeen-year-old Maddie Bright embarks on the voyage of a lifetime when she's chosen to serve on the cross-continent tour of His Royal Highness, the dashing Edward, Prince of Wales. Life on the royal train is luxurious beyond her dreams, and the glamorous, good-hearted friends she makes--with their romantic histories and rivalries--crack open her world. But glamour often hides all manner of sins.

Decades later, Maddie lives in a ramshackle house in Brisbane, whiling away the days with television news and her devoted, if drunken, next door neighbor. When a London journalist struggling with her own romantic entanglements begins asking Maddie questions about her relationship to the famous and reclusive author M.A. Bright, she's taken back to the glamorous days of the royal tour--and to the secrets she's kept for all of these years.

My Thoughts
Lost Autumn is the story of seventeen-year-old Maddie Bright who accepts a position to serve Edward, Prince of Wales during his tour across Australia.  When she arrives, she ends up with quite a different job, answering letters on behalf of the prince, setting in motion a tale of deceit that would cross generations.  While I really enjoyed the previous two novels by this author, it took me awhile to get into this one, and even then, I found my mind wandering quite a bit as I read.  I love stories about royalty, and since I was familiar with Edward and some of the events of this tour, I thought it would be a lot more interesting than it actually was.  

The story is told in three POVs and while I don't necessarily have an issue with alternate story lines, and these ones were not very complicated, I can't for the life of me figure out the use for the middle story line. Okay, it was somewhat interesting as it was about Princess Diana's engagement, but it really didn't go anywhere.  And while I definitely understand the connection in the book, it really has no relevance to the story, which are two very different things.  To be honest, I just skimmed through those pages. 

The story line set in the 1920s was the most interesting, but the major incident was predictable.  I actually think if the prologue had been left out, the story would have been more unpredictable, but as soon as I read it, knowing Prince Edward's reputation, it was quite easy to figure out. And I'm still unsure as to what I think about the ending; a bit far-fetched?

I think the only negative thing with multiple POVs sometimes is you lose that connection to the characters at times.  While I definitely had sympathy for Maddie as a young woman, I didn't really connect with Victoria in the same way.  It's definitely not due to lack of skill as a writer though, as this author definitely did a lot of research for this book, and the characters were interesting and intriguing.  I just felt there wasn't enough time given to Victoria to really get to know her in the same way as Maddie, which was too bad.  And again, while I understood the connection in the book to Princess Diana, her engagement and her death, the relevancy of it escapes me, and it was in these sections where the author sometimes lost me as a reader.

Lost Autumn is an easy book to read, told in multiple time lines, with an intriguing cast of characters. It's basically a story of friendship and the loss of innocence.  Personally, I enjoyed the parts set in 1920 far more than the 1981 and 1997 time lines as I really didn't see the point of them. I think I would have preferred reading more about young Maddie and then finding out what happened to her as an older woman in an Epilogue. The author has a great writing style, something I really enjoyed in her previous books, and I think she could have done something a little different in this book.  I think I am in the minority on this one, so my recommendation would be to read it for yourself.  
Sunday, July 12, 2020

Review: Gone by Midnight by Candice Fox

Gone by Midnight (Crimson Lake, Book #3)
by Candice Fox
Release Date: March 10th 2020
2020 Forge
Kindle Edition;372 Pages
ISBN: 978-1473563650
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

On the fifth floor of the White Caps Hotel, four young boys are left alone while their parents dine downstairs.

But when one of the parents checks on the children at midnight, they discover one of them is missing.

The boys swear they stayed in their room. CCTV confirms that none of them left the building. No trace of the child is found.

Now the hunt is on to find him, before it’s too late – and before the search for a boy becomes a search for a body...

My Thoughts
Gone by Midnight is the third instalment in the Crimson Lake series, and we return to world of Ted Conkaffey, wrongly arrested for child molestation and abduction charges years before in Australia.  In this book, he is contacted by a mother who is frantic over her missing child and reaches out to Ted to help her as she doesn't trust the police to tell her anything about the investigation.  It also turns out that Ted is finally given some time with his daughter, Lillian, and he struggles to balance his duties as an investigator with his duties as a parent.   

I am a huge fan of this series as it doesn't take the traditional approach we usually see in murder-mystery stories.  If you've been a follower of this series, then you will know about Ted's history and how he was forced out of his job as a police officer due to his wrongful accusations as a child molester and abductor.  It actually features two outcasts in society as Ted's partner, Amanda, also has a past that follows her around as well as an incident with a police officer last year that could be termed as 'troubling'.  I have really enjoyed the character development in these books as well as this author's ability to create two such interesting personalities, even if they can be somewhat aggravating at times.  In this book, Ted is learning to come to terms with his past and is starting to take risks in his life that he would not normally take for the sake of his child as he wants her to grow up being a normal kid.  I really enjoyed seeing Ted come out of his shell a little bit in this book and venture forth.

The plot was interesting even if it was predictable, and by predictable I mean it was pretty easy to figure out what happened and who was responsible.  That didn't take away from my enjoyment of the investigation however, as the author created an interesting story and I enjoyed the interactions between the characters.  Amanda is a fun character and it is never boring when she appears in the story as you never know what is going to happen.  There were quite a few twists and turns, but because I narrowed in one person right from the beginning, I didn't really fall for them.  The story was very well-developed though, and some things from previous books were resolved in this one; however, enough back-story was provided so if you were not really familiar with the previous books you would still understand what was going on.  This author has a nice writing style which makes it really easy to get caught up in what is happening.  I definitely enjoyed the descriptions of Australia, and loved some of the witty dialogue, especially some of the expressions by Lillian.  I know I'll never be able to look at a crocodile again with hearing Lillian's voice whispering in my ear.  

Gone by Midnight was an enjoyable, if predictable, read.  It can definitely be read as a stand alone so if you haven't read the previous books in this series, you can jump right in here.  There is an interesting psychological discussion about whether you saw what you actually saw in this book or if you saw something because you were told you saw something and when.  These kinds of things make you think about witnesses and how accurate they really are.  The books has pretty much everything; humour, suspense, investigation, and some tense scenes.  I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery novel. 
Monday, July 6, 2020

Review: Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

Sisters by Choice (Blackberry Island, Book $4)
by Susan Mallery
Release Date: February 11th 2020
2020 MIRA
Kindle Edition; 367 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778310020
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

After her cat toy empire goes up in flames, Sophie Lane returns to Blackberry Island, determined to rebuild. Until small-town life reveals a big problem: she can’t grow unless she learns to let go. If Sophie relaxes her grip even a little, she might lose everything. Or she might finally be free to reach for the happiness and love that have eluded her for so long.

Kristine has become defined by her relationship to others. She’s a wife, a mom. As much as she adores her husband and sons, she wants something for herself—a sweet little bakery just off the waterfront. She knew changing the rules wouldn’t be easy, but she never imagined she might have to choose between her marriage and her dreams.

Like the mainland on the horizon, Heather’s goals seem beyond her grasp. Every time she manages to save for college, her mother has another crisis. Can she break free, or will she be trapped in this tiny life forever?

My Thoughts
Sisters by Choice is a really hard review to write as I typically love books by this author, but I have to admit this one didn't resonate with me at all.  Other than the writing style, and maybe Kristine's story arc, I couldn't for the life of me empathize with Sophie and really disliked Amber.  When someone gets rewarded for their bad behaviour, towards their daughter as well as in their job, it really leaves a bad taste in my mouth, family or not.

The book is told in multiple POV, following the lives of three women: Sophie, a woman returning home after her business was destroyed by a fire; Kristine, determined to open up a bakery despite resistance from her husband; and Heather, trying to escape the Island and go to school despite roadblocks from a bitter and nasty parent.   While I always enjoy this author's writing style, I just couldn't bring myself to like most of these story arcs and I think it comes down to character development.  Other than Kristine, none of these women really learned anything other than to whine and complain about their lives and it got old, fast.

Kristine was pretty much the only story line that I liked, despite a husband who was childish and insensitive.  And to be honest, even his reasons for running away were flimsy at best.  He's a grown man, and he runs away because of that?!?!  If I was married to him, I would need some serious counselling too.  But what I did like in this story arc was the approach taken about stay-at-home moms and the stereotypes, even how the children may view their moms who stay at home.  It's important for people to value the job that a stay-at-home mom does.  I liked how Kristine needed to find something to do for herself that was outside the home now that her boys were growing older.

Okay, Sophie.  Didn't care for her at all.  She was whiny, arrogant, and downright annoying.  Personally, I got a bit tired listening to her rant about problems when she never learned from any of her mistakes, and the little things she did to ensure people knew she was the boss were downright annoying.  I'm also not really sure why she really needed a love interest at all as I didn't like her romance with Dugan, and I didn't really feel any fireworks or anything.  And all of a sudden, he was holding out for her to love him, gosh help me.  Couldn't they just enjoy each other's company for a while and see how it went?  Plus, he was just as annoying as Sophie, kind of smug and condescending.  And I'm really not sure why the author had to really push the 'no kids' thing so much; I think having a simple conversation would have been so much more adult as it made Sophie look really silly.

And now the piece de resistance, Amber and Heather.  There is nothing good to say about Amber as a character.  And then she was rewarded at the end.  Awful stuff, which left a really bad feeling in my mouth.  No thanks!

Sister By Choice is one of those books I struggled to write a review as I typically love books by this author.  However, I have to say that neither the characters nor the story did anything for me and I was a bit sad over this.  However, the author's writing style was great as always and that was the strength of the book.  Will that stop me from reading another book by this author?  Definitely not.  Her previous books in this series were fun, and I am looking forward to future books in this series.  This one though, was not for me, but others may enjoy it more than I did. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Review: In My Attic by Lina Hansen

In My Attic (A Magical Misfits Mystery, Book #1)
by Lina Hansen
Release Date: July 1st 2020
2020 Literary Wanderlust
Kindle Edition
ISBN: 978-1942856511
Genre: Fiction / Cozy / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from author

4 / 5 Stars

Aunt Eve is dead - murdered - and Myrtle has inherited the Witch’s Retreat, a Bed and Breakfast in the idyllic British village of Avebury. As Myrtle bumbles along in search of a murderer, she uncovers secrets more shocking than death: a hidden magical relic, a coven of amateur witches, and modern witch hunters on the prowl. 

My Thoughts
In My Attic is the first book in a brand new cozy paranormal series set in Avebury near the ancient standing stones.  Once I discovered the setting, plus knowing this was going to be paranormal in nature, I was hooked; I mean you can't go wrong when you have amateur witches, secrets, a treasure, witch hunters, and a main character who has no idea what is really going on.  Oh, and don't forget a magical plant, and a cat!!

First of all, you can't go wrong with an inn named the Witch's Retreat.  The whole town has this cozy atmosphere that lends itself well to a cozy paranormal mystery and when you combine the setting with a bunch of quirky characters, well, it was a lot of fun.  Myrtle finds herself out of her depth when she returns for her aunt's funeral and discovers that not is all as it seems; while the police were quick to call is a misadventure, things begin happening around Myrtle and in the inn that make her wonder if her aunt's death was possibly something more sinister.  Unfortunately, her cousin Daisy is not a lot of help as she has problems of her own so Myrtle needs to rely on people she doesn't know very well to discover the truth. Throw in a couple of housekeepers, some quirky guests, police officers, townspeople, a cat, and a plant, and now you have a situation just waiting to escalate as well as some interesting plot points.  I developed a huge fondness for the cat, Tiddles, as well as the plant.  

Myrtle develops quite nicely as a character, and I like that her mind is more 'scientific' rather than 'romantic' as she questions the paranormal activity around her and doesn't necessarily take everything at face value.  It's only when Myrtle decides to really learn more about her aunt that she discovers this other side to her and in the process, learns more about herself and her family.  Secrets, gotta love those family secrets.  The paranormal wasn't in your face, but was really subtle and I liked that about the book.  

The plot, especially in the beginning, was rather slow, but never plodding.  The author does make use of self-reflection and self-talk, mainly from the main character with regards to her behaviour, but it was funny and meant to be humorous, which it was.  It also gave the author a chance to give the reader some extra insight into her character and things that were happening around her.  The first book in a series can be a bit slower simply because the author is introducing the characters and the setting, and I appreciate that.  I was never bored and I read the entire book in one sitting.  Even though I figured out the murderer fairly early on, it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book.

In My Attic was a fun introduction to a new paranormal series.  I enjoyed the characters and thought the plot was enjoyable.  Yes, the characters don't feel as developed as they could be, except for maybe Myrtle, but that doesn't bother me as I am hoping to learn a lot more about them in future books.  I enjoyed how they seemed to pop up at random times in the book which made me think there was actually a purpose behind it.  The actual mystery was entertaining and definitely led one on a merry chase, full of secrets and mysteries, wrapped up in a cloak of magic that didn't detract from the story. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Review: Krewe of Hunters by Heather Graham

Seeing Darkness (Krewe of Hunters, Book #30)
by Heather Graham
Release Date: May19th 2020
2020 MIRA
Kindle Edition
ISBN: 978-0499055706
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

It was supposed to be a fun girls’ weekend in Salem, but when a past-life regression session instead sends a terrifying vision of murder to Kylie Connelly, she’s shaken and doesn’t know what to think. Worse, later she identifies the attacker from her vision: he’s a prominent local politician.

Special Agent Jon Dickson of the FBI’s Krewe of Hunters is on the trail of a suspected serial killer based on the scantest of clues and unreliable witness testimony. When he realizes Kylie’s vision might be his best lead, he must gain her trust and get close enough to guide her new talent. Though she doubts herself, the danger Kylie sees is all too real—and the pair will have to navigate a murderer’s twisted passions and deceptions to stop the killer from claiming another victim.

My Thoughts
Seeing Darkness is the next book in the very successful Krewe Of Hunters series, this time bringing us back to Salem, one of my favourite settings for this series outside of New Orleans.  This series is my comfort series. It is definitely predictable and formulaic: FBI agent has been seeing ghosts since childhood, other person has a traumatic event and suddenly starts seeing ghosts, murder happens, FBI called in to investigate, FBI agent and other person fall in love, murder solved, end of story. But gosh, these stories are FUN to read. And as I am in the middle of some heavy non-fiction hitters at the moment, this was a welcome distraction.

One of the things I have always enjoyed about this author and her writing, is her ability to convey historical fact through her characters and their actions.  I've visited Salem and I could literally picture it through the eyes of these characters as if I was there, and I enjoyed the historical lessons as much as the mystery.  I've always thought this was one the author's strengths in her writing.  

The plot was interesting, but I think having read every single one of her books, it is very easy to see through the red herrings she throws, even if they are pretty good.  Her books do follow a pretty predictable formula, but that formula definitely works, is enjoyable, so why change it?  

I wasn't as crazy about Kylie though. I'm not sure what it was but I just didn't empathize with her and didn't really see the connection between her and Jon.  One minute she was annoyed with him, then suddenly she was attracted to him?  This is one of those mysteries where I thought the romance was actually kind of flimsy, at best.  However, I did like the route used to open up Kylie's mind to ghosts; I had flashbacks to the movie Stir of Echoes throughout this book, and I am curious if this will be used in future books as a plot point.

Seeing Darkness does not disappoint, and I am always intrigued when characters from previous books show up to help, even if the reasons were pretty flimsy. I enjoyed the characters, even if I thought they were a bit much, especially Kylie's friends, and I'm not really sure a political wife, born and bred into that lifestyle, would actually behave the way she did, but there you have it.  The story was fun, and I don't think you will be disappointed with this instalment in the series.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Review: The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates, Book #1)
by A.K. Larkwood
Release Date: February 11th 2020
2020 Tor Books
Kindle Edition; 464 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250238900
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy

2.5 / 5 Stars

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard's loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

My Thoughts
The Unspoken Name is the first book in The Serpent Gates series, but I admit I struggled reading this one.  There were parts that were quite interesting and I couldn't flip the pages fast enough, but then there were parts that I just slogged though, and I had to put it aside and read something else for a while.  I really debated over my rating, as I really, really wanted to like this book.

The sense I really got from this book is the author may have been too ambitious in her storytelling and the story she really wanted to tell so it came across as jumpy and unconvincing to the reader.  I actually enjoyed the opening sequence and don't necessarily need everything explained to me about the world and its people all at once (reading Malazan has cured me of that! LOL!), but when I am halfway through the book and I still can't quite figure out what the main character looks like, other than knowing she is not quite human due to having tusks, I realize there is a problem.  And once it clicked, I felt so stupid.  But it shouldn't have been that way.  My mind shouldn't have wondered away from the story line because I couldn't figure out who the people were in the story. But it did and it totally distracted from the actual story.

I actually love world building and enjoy reading about it; I love it when an author takes the time to build that up, especially in a book I know is going to be part of a series.  There were some interesting worlds in this book and I really wish the author had taken the time to explain more about the people, but I really felt little was explained and I was left filling in the gaps myself.  I don't mind trying to figure out some things, but there were just too many holes to fill in myself. It was frustrating at times.

Thank goodness for Shuthmili as she was my favourite character by far.  Her growth and development was nice to see and gave me hope for some of the other characters in future books.  It also gave me hope that we will see some interesting magic in the future as she is a powerful mage.  When you read the description, it sounds like Csorwe would be involved in this huge conspiracy to grapple power and be involved in helping a powerful wizard take over what was once his, but I was so disappointed in that part of the book.  It was nothing like that and Csorwe, as a character, was BORING.  Yes, there were times when she would wave her sword and do some...stuff, but in reality, if her character had been written off, and it wouldn't have changed anything whatsoever. There was a lot of discussion about choice versus destiny, but while Sethennai's choices were pretty clear and you knew he wanted power, Csorwe's were not and I think the author did this character a big disservice by trying to give her a purpose although she was clearly Sethennai's puppet.  It made her motivations seem flimsy at best and definitely were not her own; as a reader, I came to question all her choices.  I actually preferred Shuthmili and would like her to be the main character as she is much more interesting.  And I don't even want to start with Tal.  Ugh!

The Unspoken Name definitely had some fans, but I was not really one of them.  The flow of the story seemed like it was lacking a soul, and the story line was quite fragmented.  The author was ambitious, I'll give her that, but I feel like she wasn't exactly sure what ethical point she wanted to make with her characters, and the story was kind of convoluted as a result.  Because of this, things were not fully explained nor were reasons given for certain actions which left a sour taste in my mouth. There is a lot of potential here however, and I am curious to see what happens next.  I do however, recommend you take a look at the book and judge it yourself as you may like it; it just wasn't for me.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Review: A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff

A Queen in Hiding (The Nine Realms, Book #1)
by Sarah Kozloff
Release Date: January 21st 2020
2020 Tor Books
Kindle Edition; 477 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250168542
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Orphaned, exiled and hunted, Cérulia, Princess of Weirandale, must master the magic that is her birthright, become a ruthless guerilla fighter, and transform into the queen she is destined to be.

But to do it she must win the favor of the spirits who play in mortal affairs, assemble an unlikely group of rebels, and wrest the throne from a corrupt aristocracy whose rot has spread throughout her kingdom.

My Thoughts
A Queen in Hiding was a solid start to The Nine Realms fantasy series.  Already knowing there were going to be four books in this series, I went into this book with the mindset that the first book would be setting up the story, the characters, the political systems, and the possible magic systems being used.  I don't actually mind a long, slow buildup where I get to know the characters and the world building; sometimes I think epic fantasies require a different mindset going into them than stand alone books do.  One of the big marketing pluses to this series is the four books in this series are being published just months apart, so you won't have to wait years for the next instalment. This way, you don't forget important plot points and have to re-read previous books just to catch up.  

The description of this book is a bit misleading as the bulk of it deals with Cerulia's mother, Queen Cressa, who makes a difficult decision to hide Cerulia and fight for her throne. Cressa is seen as a weak ruler, and because she made some poor decisions, gives up her throne and daughter, but needs to fight to get it back.  How she chooses to do that is quite interesting and I enjoyed those chapters. It was really nice to see her grow, both as a woman and a queen, and I liked that she wasn't so perfect and so powerful.  What I thought was going to be about Cerulia really wasn't, although some of the story dealt with her adjustment to life away from court.  The description is deceptive as it describes the whole series, and not just this book.  

Personally, I liked learning about Cressa and the political situation at court.  It was good to get an understanding of the political players that Cerulia would eventually have to deal with when she returns one day, and gives the reader an idea of how difficult her job will be. And yes, I did have a problem with Cressa at first because I couldn't understand how someone who was raised from birth to rule a country could not manage to deal with her Council and let them run all over her.  I wasn't happy with the decision she made, but there it is.

The story line weaves back and forth between several POVs, and although I am still not quite sure how all them will play a role in Cerulia's life, I am sure it will all come together at some point.  It was definitely interesting to get a feel for some of the other kingdoms and to learn a bit of the political situations surrounding Cerulia through the eyes of other characters.  At first, I wasn't overly fond of Cerulia, but she did start to grow on me as she grew older and began to recognize the value of those around her and the hard work they put into their daily lives.  For reasons I can't explain here, Cerulia was really alone in her grief at being separated from her life and her parents, so it would have been really difficult for her to adjust.  I am a huge fan of Cerulia's foster dad however, and hope to see much more of him in future books.  And I am really looking forward to seeing Cerulia play a more active role now that she is older and starts to fight to take back her throne.  With the political situation changing around her, there should be some interesting times ahead.

One area I did have an issue with is the use of the magic system. I did find the magic wasn't really explained very well, and that it was used more as a convenience or plot point. In fact, I think a lot of things that weren't explained very well were one of the author's way of just using convenience to continue the story, and it sometimes left a bad feeling behind it.  Convenient plot points are never a way to continue a story. 

A Queen in Hiding was interesting and I did enjoy it quite a bit.  I particularly enjoyed the sections about Cressa and her fight to keep her throne, and then her fight to take it back.  We see a woman grow into her own and I liked watching her character develop into someone pretty interesting.  I do think the book could have used a bit more editing; it's not the length that bothered me, but the rapid changes in POV where nothing really happens, or are used just to show time marching forward.  I think some of it could have been done a bit differently as it seemed a bit...sloppy.  However, I totally enjoyed reading this book and will definitely be reading the entire series to find out what happens. 
Friday, June 19, 2020

Review: The Treadstone Resurrection by Joshua Hood

The Treadstone Resurrection (Treadstone, Book #1)
by Joshua Hood
Release Date: February 25th 2020
2020 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 375 Pages
ISBN: 978-0525542551
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars


Operation Treadstone has nearly ruined Adam Hayes. The top-secret CIA Black Ops program trained him to be an all but invincible assassin, but it also cost him his family and any chance at a normal life. Which is why he was determined to get out. Working as a carpenter in rural Washington state, Adam thinks he has left Treadstone in the past, until he receives a mysterious email from a former colleague, and soon after is attacked by an unknown hit team at his job site.

Adam must regain the skills that Treadstone taught him--lightning reflexes and a cold conscience--in order to discover who the would-be killers are and why they have come after him now. Are his pursuers enemies from a long-ago mission? Rival intelligence agents? Or, perhaps, forces inside Treadstone? His search will unearth secrets in the highest levels of government and pull him back into the shadowy world he worked so hard to forget.

My Thoughts
The Treadstone Resurrection brings the reader back into the world of Jason Bourne (without Jason Bourne, of course), and we have a new hero, Adam Hayes, front and center this time around.  I can't tell you how huge a fan I am of Jason Bourne, at least the orginal trilogy, but I am glad to see some new faces in this world.  The action pretty much kicks it up in high gear right from the beginning and rarely lets the reader catch a breath throughout the entire book.  And while I loved every minute of it, the element of suspense, that is he good or is he evil suspense that was in the first Jason Bourne book, was lacking a bit in this one.  

Adam Hayes is a former operative for the Treadstone project, a highly secretive CIA project that was Bourne's former haunt, when his world is shattered when a hit team goes after him in the quiet neighbourhood he has chosen for his retirement, and his next egg.  Having little information as to why this is happening, he is forced to rely on his instincts and his skills to escape and discover some answers.  And this is where things get interesting.  The book pretty much takes off from here and doesn't let up for a minute.  I think I would have preferred just seeing things from Adam's POV rather than switching to different POVs as I really feel this was one of the things that lowered the suspense and gave too much away.  One of the strengths of the earlier Jason Bourne books was not knowing if he was a good guy or a bad guy throughout the book, hoping for the best, but that suspense kept me up all night reading.  Because we learn early on who the players are in this book, I really feel a lot of the suspense was lost. 

I am definitely limited in my knowledge of guns and weapons (despite being married to a guy in the military as my eyes roll to the back of my head during these discussions), so I am one of those people who appreciated the descriptions of the weapons and how they were used.  I liked knowing how the pilots sit in a helicopter versus a plane as I didn't know about these things, and I found it very informative.  For readers who have this knowledge, they might find these parts a bit lengthy and annoying, but not me.  

Adam himself is a great character and I really liked how he swings from psychologically confused to focused machine as needed.  The constant psychological fight he has within him is interesting and I look forward to learning more about him.  He is gritty, doing whatever it takes to fight for his life, and for others, but fights hard to not cross that path into being a killing machine.  The flashbacks give a lot of insight into his character and I liked how the author used them to allow us to get to know him better. 

What I have to admire in this book is the author's writing style as well as his "refusal" to just build on previous books.  What he has done is take a concept, mold it, and create something new and different.  What he has also done is lay a foundation that could lead to some very interesting times ahead for our hero.  So while this book was solid, with a lot of action, it was also setting Adam up for some pretty interesting times ahead.  Treadstone was at the point where it was going to be replaced with drones and other technological devices, with the director almost out of a job, and the author has pretty much thrown a curve ball into the whole Treadstone project and I am excited to see what is going to happen next in The Treadstone Exile.  

Monday, June 15, 2020

Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

by Melissa Albert
Release Date: January 30th 2018
2018 Flatiron Books
Kindle Edition; 359 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250147905
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Fairy Tale
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away-by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

My Thoughts
The Hazel Wood is one of those books that I tried really, really hard to like, but just didn't, in the end.  I hadn't read any of the reviews for this one until after I had finished it, but after seeing the variety of different review, I wasn't surprised.  It literally took me three tries to get into it, and the only reason I persevered is because I was offered an ARC of the second book in this series and thought I should read the first book before diving into the sequel.  There were some things I did like though, enough that I will consider trying the sequel to see if it redeems itself.

Part of the problem with this book, I think, was the marketing.  When I got the packaging, it was touted as a fantasy-type book, almost like a twisted fairy tale, and that is where I think everything went wrong.  Because as soon as you begin reading, you are in contemporary U.S.A., nothing fairy tale-like about it.  Once I understood what was happening, I actually didn't mind this part of the book as there were a lot of interesting elements, and it was intriguing trying to figure out who was who, and what was what.  What I didn't like was Alice herself; she was irritating as hell.  I can't tell you how annoying she was unless you've read the book.  And her anger issues, even when you realize why she has them. don't really work all that well into the book. In fact, it got to the point where I actually cringed at her behaviour and the way the author excused it; her behaviour almost hurt someone and all we got were excuses and poor little me behaviours that were just disgusting.  No, thank you.  I feel like the author lost a few threads of her story as she was developing Alice as a character which made that development seem all over the place.  Unfortunately, what it did was make Alice unlikable.

When we first meet Finch, I thought, finally, a character I could like, one that could maybe balance Alice and her awful development.  Unfortunately, the author wasted a golden opportunity here for some meaningful conversation and treated Finch as if everything could be pushed under a rug because he was rich.  And yes, you probably guessed it, he was the only coloured character in the story, too, at least the only one the author thought worth commenting on, several times.  Not impressed with how his character developed, and the only really good part, which could have developed into some meaningful conversation about racism, was disregarded as unimportant just because he was rich.  I should have counted the amount of times Alice told Finch to 'Shut up!' in this book.  That would have been more interesting. 

And then we get to the second half, and I'm like "What? What is this place?"  Something that could have been really cool turned into something that was...not.  And boy, it could have been sooooo cool.  I have to say the ideas were interesting, it just wasn't fleshed out enough.  And I really wish more of Althea's fairy tales had been included in the story as they were actually interesting, and I enjoyed them.

I found a lot of the story really hard to read, and I had to push myself to finish this book.  It's a shame as there were some good elements and this book had the potential to be really good.  I just couldn't connect to any of the characters, and the story was so disjointed it came down to something bad is chasing them, but if you keep running, it may never catch you, although if you yell at everyone, you may survive the gloaming.  The story was lacking in depth and complexity, relying too much on random strangeness to keep the plot going.  Unfortunately, when you put it all together, it just didn't work.  But, while this definitely wasn't for me, there are probably a lot of people who will enjoy this book and its twisted telling.  

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Review: Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris

Who Speaks for the Damned (Sebastian St. Cyr, Book # 15)
by C.S. Harris
Release Date: April 7th 2020
2020 Berkley Books
ARC Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0399585685
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Eighteen years before, Nicholas Hayes, the third son of the late Earl of Seaford, was accused of killing a beautiful young French émigré and transported to Botany Bay for life. Even before his conviction, Hayes had been disowned by his father. Few in London were surprised when they heard the ne'er-do-well had died in New South Wales in 1799. But those reports were obviously wrong. Recently Hayes returned to London with a mysterious young boy in tow--a child who vanishes shortly after Nicholas's body is discovered.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is drawn into the investigation by his valet, Jules Calhoun. With Calhoun's help, Sebastian begins to piece together the shattered life of the late Earl's ill-fated youngest son. Why did Nicholas risk his life and freedom by returning to England? And why did he bring the now-missing young boy with him? Several nervous Londoners had reason to fear that Nicholas Hayes had returned to kill them. One of them might have decided to kill him first.

My Thoughts
Who Speaks for the Damned is the next entry in the wonderful Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries, and I have to say, despite there being fifteen books in this series, it hasn't let down in suspense or interest as of yet.  I love how the author explores this age period through her mysteries as well as gives vivid descriptions of life for all different types of people.  I have been especially fond of Hero and her work cataloguing the poor, and trying to fight her peers to make them see what life is really like for everyone.  

Viscount Devlin has this uncanny ability to hunt down murderers and is often asked to help in a case by his valet, Calhoun.  Going on fifteen books, and I still don't feel like I have a grasp of Calhoun and his background, so I am anxiously awaiting the day when I do discover a lot more.   However, to this point Calhoun's shady background has really helped Devlin navigate the shady underworld and he has used those connections to track down murderers and other people needed in his investigations.  

If you have read any of this author's previous works, you will know the answer to the murder will not be so simple, and will involve many layers as well as have political and social implications.  And when Hero gets involved in an attack on Sebastian, it infuriates him to the point that he will no longer stop at nothing to stop the murderers.  It also gives him insight into his own own past and how easily he had escaped the same fate held by the victim, Nicholas Hayes.  

I really enjoy the way this author writes, and I love the attention to historical details.  The author will often mention buildings that used to be there, or the previous uses for them and I really enjoy that.  The plot itself is pretty twisty and turny, and if you are new to this series, it would be easy to get caught up in all the red herrings thrown in your path.  It would also be hard to understand some of the nuances as well as some of the subplots are books in the making and are still going on and a reader would have needed to read previous books in the series to understand those nuances.  To really get a feel for the relationships between Sebastian and his father-in-law as well as Sebastian and his dad, you would have to know about events in previous books.   

Now you may be wondering why I didn't give it five stars as I seemed to enjoy it so much, but here is the thing. It wasn't the mystery that was the main problem, it was those little subplots I mentioned.  While I get that those things can go on into infinity, I really wish some of them would turn into something, and not just drag on from book to book.  I get that Sebastian and his FIL don't get along, but it's been that way forever, so with events happening the way they did in this book, I am really hoping something shakes loose in the next one and we get going on those and they don't keep dragging on.  

Who Speaks for the Damned was a sad historical mystery, but definitely had its roots in the reality of the day.  The justice system during that time period was a mess, and too often the crown would look to anyone handy as a suspect just to close a case, and I am glad the author chose to highlight that issue in this book. I do recommend starting from the beginning of this series, and I think you will be satisfied with this latest instalment.  It definitely has all the hallmarks that fans expect.