Sunday, October 2, 2022

Review: Black Tide by KC Jones

by KC Jones
Release Date: May 31, 2022
2022 Nightfire
Kindle Edition; 245 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250792693
ASIN: B09C4FXXXQ
Audiobook: B09NF2PCMF
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Science-Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher
 
3 / 5 Stars
 
Summary
Mike and Beth didn’t know each other existed before the night of the meteor shower.

After a drunken and desperate one-night-stand, the two strangers awake to discover a surprise astronomical event has left widespread destruction in its wake. But the cosmic lightshow was only a part of something much bigger, and far more terrifying. When a set of lost car keys leaves them stranded on an empty stretch of Oregon coast, when their emergency calls go unanswered and inhuman screams echo from the dunes, when the rising tide reaches for the car and unspeakable horrors close in around them, these two self-destructive souls must find in each other the strength to overcome past pain and the fight to survive a nightmare of apocalyptic scale.
 
My Thoughts
Black Tide definitely had a lot of potential, and there were a lot of moments in the book that I really liked. I did think it would have worked better as a novella as certain scenes tended to drag and I did not see the purpose of adding a kid, Natalie, to the story, except as a way of getting them off the beach which seemed like a weak plot point to me.  I really enjoy seeing authors put a different twist on cosmic horror so it was nice to read about something that is not the usual, typical zombie apocalypse fare.  
 
I thought the characters were actually the weakest part of the book.  Beth did grow on me towards the end, but that isn't saying much as I found her very annoying for the first half of the book; it was difficult to develop empathy for her when you listened to her whining inner monologue. I don't mind it when the main character is a bit of a mess as they can be very interesting to read about and makes room for a lot of character development, but I felt like the author tried too hard to make her seem that way and it came off poorly. I did like Mike and thought his job as a film producer was interesting, but he was sort of lost in the maelstrom of Beth's emotions and thoughts so I never really felt like I got to know his character very well.  Jake, the dog, my favourite character!!

I did think the plot was interesting, and I like the fact that neither Mike nor Beth had any idea about what was happening, therefore the reader had to learn with the characters.  Both Mike and Beth were dealing with personal issues (Mike grieving the loss of his wife, Beth just being Beth), so when they arrived at the beach, they were completely taken unaware and caught unprepared.  I personally loved it that Beth didn't pack very well for a picnic which left the two of them in a difficult situation when they finally realized they were in a dangerous position.  No super hero main character to MacGyver the situation in this book.  I liked the reason for which the world ended and liked learning about the aliens as the characters learned about them. To be honest, I am still not sure I understand anything about them.

That being said, there were definitely some things that I don't think added to the tension. The addition of Natalie, the young girl, felt like the author couldn't think up any more unbelievable ways to get the couple off the beach so this solution was the only viable one.  In a book full of unbelievable events, why does this one matter? I can't explain it other than it made me roll my eyes and just didn't seem to fit into the story.  And the sex scene stuck right in the middle here? Really? You are injured, with little water, stuck on a beach with aliens, and that's what you are thinking about?  Sure, makes sense.  

Verdict
Black Tide had some good moments that were full of tension; having two people trapped on a beach with the rising tide and a bunch of aliens can definitely be tricky.  There were quite a few unbelievable moments, but I went with it because it was interesting. It did seem like the author changed focus partway into the book and decided upon a different course of action and the ending definitely feels like there could be potential for a sequel.  I would definitely be interested in learning more about these aliens and following Mike and Beth on further adventures. 
 


Saturday, October 1, 2022

Review: Castle Deadly, Castle Deep by Veronica Bond

by Veronica Bond
Release Date: July 5, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593335901
ASIN: B09FPJKDF5
Audiobook: B09JBJ4DQ5
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher
 
2.25 / 5 Stars
 
Summary
Autumn has arrived at Castle Dark, and Nora Blake has settled into her role as an actor in Derek Corby's castle murder-mystery troupe. She is troubled, however, by the setting of Derek's fall mystery: the catacombs in the depths of the castle. Yes, these catacombs are part of a set, the skeletons and cobwebs mere props, but Nora feels uneasy in the shadowy passages beneath Castle Dark. When a man is killed during one of their first shows, the eerie catacombs become a place of terror.

Joined by her castle companions, Nora attempts to find the motive for killing a seemingly innocent victim. With the help of her handsome boyfriend, Detective John Dashiell, Nora will have to go off-script to prevent a murderous encore. . . . 
 
My Thoughts
Castle Deadly, Castle Deep is the second entry in A Dinner and a Murder Mystery mystery series featuring Nora and the fun castle in which she lives and works.  The first book in this series was my favourite cozy mystery last year so I was looking forward to reading more about Nora and her friends,s, but I wasn't as crazy about this instalment as Nora's angst over her relationship with Dash frankly annoyed me to no end, and I thought the mystery was lacking the depth and the twists and turns of the first book.    

One of my favourite aspects of this book is the castle and the mystery dinner/theater idea. The hidden passageways are definitely intriguing and the word 'catacombs' just opens up a whole world of possibilities in my eyes. Unfortunately, there were few mystery dinner scenes as it was shut down almost from the beginning of the book due the 'murder', so what we get are extra-long scenes of the community theatre practices.  Yes, you learn a lot about the lives and relationships about the various people involved, but it seemed the focus was on trying to bolster Nora's self-esteem and to show the reader the brilliance of Derek as a director. And as I wandered in the sentence trying to explain how boring it was, that was exactly how it was done in the book; a whole lot of nothing just to explain a whole lot of nothing. 

The mystery itself was almost non-existent.  Someone got killed, very little investigation was done, but somehow Nora managed to figure out who the culprit was by witnessing a romantic attraction between two people, and then suddenly she is in grave danger and the hero comes to her rescue.  Nope, not a fan of how this all played out.  Very little sleuthing was done, with no twists or turns, so when Nora suddenly figures it all out, I spent my time rolling my eyes.  

There was a secondary mystery that looked to be pretty interesting, but unfortunately, that one too seemed to be more about Nora walking in during a fortuitous moment and putting the clues together while the actual culprit had already solved most of the puzzle.  I wish there had been more to this mystery, or this was the mystery the author had developed instead of the other one as it would have been far more interesting.  Naturally, Nora saves the day and the castle.  

I really enjoyed these characters in the first book, but I almost DNF this book about a third of the way in because Nora's jealous behaviour towards Dash drove me nuts.  I felt like I was reading a YA novel instead of about two mature people who could actually TALK to each other. All Nora whined about for pages and pages on end was how great her relationship was about a month ago and now Dash no longer has time to every minute with her.  And then stares longingly at Derek and his girlfriend, who naturally have a moment, EVERY SINGLE TIME, she moans and whines.  Nope, nope, nope!!!

Verdict
Castle Deadly, Castle Deep was not a worthy follow-up of the really amazing first book of this series.  I was incredibly disappointed in the characters, the plot, and the overall story.  I personally loved the secondary story line as I thought there was so much potential there to develop something really interesting, but the author chose to focus more on Nora and her whining.  And what I especially loved? THE KITTENS!!!  They saved this book.  I will happily recommend the first book of this series, and while I was not a fan of the second book, I am glad to see a lot of people were. I would definitely take a chance on the third book as I enjoyed the first book so much, just to see if the author can work the same magic again. 

 


Sunday, September 18, 2022

REview: Local Gone Missing by Fiona Barton

by Fiona Barton
Release Date: June 14, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1984803047
ASIN: B0B99M88GL
Audiobook: B09VMF28ZT
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
 
2 / 5 Stars
 
Summary
Elise King is a successful and ambitious detective--or she was before a medical leave left her unsure if she'd ever return to work. She now spends most days watching the growing tensions in her small seaside town of Ebbing--the weekenders renovating old bungalows into luxury homes, and the locals resentful of the changes.

The conflicts boil over when a newcomer wants to put the town on the map with a giant music festival, and two teenagers overdose on drugs. When a man disappears the first night of the festival, Elise is drawn back into her detective work and starts digging for answers. Ebbing is a small town, but it's full of secrets and hidden connections that run deeper and darker than Elise could have ever imagined.
 
My Thoughts
Local Gone Missing is one of those books that had all the elements of a good story, but unfortunately, totally missed the mark. Introducing a new character, DI Elise King, is always interesting, especially one who is coming back from a cancer diagnosis that completely derailed her career, and it sounds like the author is feeling her way forward for this character to become a series regular.  However, I felt like the author didn't quite know the direction in which she wanted to take the character, or the story, which left it feeling like a hodgepodge of different styles and characters who lacked development as well as interesting quirks which often can make or break a book.  
 
The plot had me wondering exactly what style the author was trying to achieve in this book. To be fair, I actually did enjoy some of the elements in the first half of the book as they had a more cozy mystery feel to them as the characters were introduced and we got to see the inside of some of the homes through the eyes of Elise as well as the housekeeper, Dee. However, the switch to a more procedural novel was jarring and while I appreciated what the author was trying to do, it didn't work for me and left me frustrated as solutions were due to coincidences and I find it to be a cop out when an author tends to overuse coincidence as a solution to problems when they can't come up with anything else.   

Except for Elise and maybe a a couple of other characters, I did not find any of the other characters likeable, at all.  I did develop a fondness for Elise's nosy neighbour just because she actually had some depth to her, while the others were pretty one-dimensional and forgettable.  It's only been a month since I've read this book and I had to refer to my notes to remember most of the characters which gives you any idea of the impression they made on me.  To be honest, I was hoping the annoying wife would be the one to disappear so I didn't have to read another conversation with her.

Verdict
Local Gone Missing was disappointing, with a messy plot and annoying characters that were left undeveloped so you didn't even get to appreciate their quirks.  Personally, I don't think the back and forth timelines helped the plot as it just added to the confusion, making a book that had a mixture of styles to begin with even more confusing.  The author did manage to tie in a lot of subplots, but had to use coincidence a lot as a tool for doing so, not something I really like, but at least it had an ending that was satisfying.  I did like Elise and thought her story line was interesting, and I loved her neighbour. I, personally, can't recommend this book, but there were a lot of people who did enjoy it, so you may like it more than I did.

 


Saturday, September 17, 2022

Review: Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron

by Ellen Byron
Release Date: June 7, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593437612
ASIN: B09FPJHVGK
Audiobook: B09J9ZJWJ1
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Twenty-eight-year-old widow Ricki James leaves Los Angeles to start a new life in New Orleans after her showboating actor husband perishes doing a stupid internet stunt. The Big Easy is where she was born and adopted by the NICU nurse who cared for her after Ricki's teen mother disappeared from the hospital.

Ricki's dream comes true when she joins the quirky staff of Bon Vee Culinary House Museum, the spectacular former Garden District home of late bon vivant Genevieve "Vee" Charbonnet, the city's legendary restauranteur. Ricki is excited about turning her avocation - collecting vintage cookbooks - into a vocation by launching the museum's gift shop, Miss Vee's Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware. Then she discovers that a box of donated vintage cookbooks contains the body of a cantankerous Bon Vee employee who was fired after being exposed as a book thief.
 
My Thoughts
Bayou Book Thief is the first book in a new series set in New Orleans, featuring a woman who is interested in collecting vintage cookbooks and using them to develop thematic cooking parties and celebrations as well as open her own store with other vintage items on display.  The setting is always a a huge draw for me, but the story was shock full of interesting tidbits about the city, had many twists and turns, and was fun, with a host of quirky characters.  

Ricki James, recently moved from L.A. to escape the spotlight of her husband who died while filming himself doing a stunt, finds herself as the new owner of a vintage bookstore in one of the spectacular museum houses in New Orleans.  She had always been a fan of the former owner, Genevieve Charbonnet, a legendary restauranteur, and is excited to join the staff celebrating her life and family legacy.  I thought she made a great investigator because she was discrete and didn't do anything stupid. And the revelations, with Ricki being in the right spot at the right time, made sense. No silly coincidences or absurd stuff happening.  The focus was more on Ricki than on some of the other characters, but being the first book in a series, that is to be expected. The secondary characters were not neglected however, it's just that there wasn't enough time to really allow their personalities and quirks to really shine, something that I expect will be done in future books.

I thought the actual mystery was quite intriguing, and it did take me a little while to figure it out as the person I thought it was didn't turn out to be the culprit so I had to re-evaluate.  The red herrings were nicely laid out and there were a couple of times when I paused, simply to reflect on how easy it is to judge someone without knowing the full truth of something.  I was also mesmerized by the setting and the details around the new bookshop, so perhaps I missed a couple of things while focusing on those details. I did have one quibble about the name of the place as Ricki mentioned a couple of times that Le Bon Vee was named after the French expression to have a good life and then proceeded to call it "Le bon vie", but being French, it is actually "La bonne vie". This nagged at me just a little bit.and I couldn't let it go.  Other than that, I thought the twists and turns were great, loved the descriptions of the food (I would love a Po'boy right now), and enjoyed Ricki's shopping expeditions. So much fun!

Verdict
Bayou Book Thief was a great first book in a new series set in New Orleans.  With some good twists and turns and lovely descriptions of New Orleans combined with a writing style that keeps you interested in the characters and the setting, it had everything you would want in a cozy mystery.  Luckily, just as I was finishing this one, I was gifted an ARC of Wined and Died in New Orleans, the next book in this series which releases February 2023.  If you are an avid cozy mystery reader, I  highly recommend this book.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Review: What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

by T. Kingfisher
Release Date: July 12, 2022
2022 Tor Nightfire
Kindle Edition; 176 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250830753
ASIN: B0BCYRZ1Q9
Audiobook: B09VVR6N9Y
Genre: Fiction / Gothic / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher
 
3 / 5 Stars
 
Summary
When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying, they race to the ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania.

What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife, surrounding a dark, pulsing lake. Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in strange voices at night, and her brother Roderick is consumed with a mysterious malady of the nerves.

Aided by a redoubtable British mycologist and a baffled American doctor, Alex must unravel the secret of the House of Usher before it consumes them all.
 
My Thoughts
What Moves the Dead is the retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher", and as one of my favourite short stories, I was interested to see what this author would do with the retelling.  Overall, I am glad the author kept it short, although I could have done without some of the additions that I don't think added anything of importance to the story.

First of all, you don't really have time to get fully fleshed character development in such a story, but that is not the intention of such a novel. That is why the pages of detail about one of the main characters, Alex Easton, were wasted on me, as interesting as I thought they were, because they added nothing of value to the story.  I did appreciate what the author was trying to do, but thought this was not the type of novel where it was necessary to detract from the story to give us a four-page lesson on non-binary characters and how they were to be addressed.  It would have been easy to do through dialogue and move on as it simply slowed down the story, especially when the story is so short to begin with. And I liked Alex's character and some of the things we learned were quite interesting and could have shored up the novel much earlier on. I did think the author captured the essence of the characters as well as their personal traits and quirks once the story got going though. 

The story was a fast and pleasant one, predictable in nature, especially if you have read the original story, but that didn't deter from the overall enjoyment of it. It did take a little bit to get going as it got bogged down in unnecessary details, but once it picked up, it was quite an enjoyable read. I was kind of hoping for some more twists and turns, something different from the original, such as maybe they learned to communicate with the entity that was affecting the house, but alas, the author went with the more boring route. However, the descriptions of the house and the grounds were engrossing and I loved reading about them.  I think I was just hoping I would be horrified when reading this book, and I wasn't.  

Verdict
What Moves the Dead was a fun read, but could have been more. There was so much potential to add some twists and turns to this beloved classic without losing the essence of the story, but I don't think the author capitalized on that despite the great descriptions and good storytelling.  A bit more focus on the story would have highlighted the horror elements and made this story stand out and maybe would have elicited those chills that such a novel normally creates. 

 


Saturday, September 10, 2022

Review: Murder by the Shore by Gretta Mulrooney

by Gretta Mulrooney
Release Date: May 19, 2022
2022 Joffe Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1804052341
ASIN: B09XY2NB9N
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.75 / 5 Stars

Summary
Welcome to Seascape house.
A beautiful family home by the coast. Where someone is hiding a terrible secret.

Lyra Pullman has been waiting for this day. Her fourth birthday party. But when her guests come knocking, she is nowhere to be found.

Little Lyra lies dead in the Wendy house at the bottom of the garden. Suffocated.

Her grandad couldn’t save her because he’s been murdered too. In a mess of blood and rainbow cake.


My Thoughts
Murder by the Shore is the fourth book in the D.I. Siv Drummond mystery series, and while extremely well-writen as well as interesting, the denouement just didn't seem to fit in the spirit of the overall story, as if the author was really looking for reasons for why someone would act as they did.  I mean, the person killed a child, so it had to be believable and for me, it didn't quite work.
 
I enjoyed the characters in this book and thought they were all interesting. DI Siv Drummond is my favourite character and she really carries the reader through the book as you learn a lot of the secrets, twists and turns, through her narrative. Though still dealing with her grief at the loss of her husband, she is attempting to enter the dating market again, something I find interesting as I can't even imagine having to do something like that after having been married for so long.  Siv is not an easy character to get to know, but I definitely empathized with her need to be alone and to experience that feeling of isolation, she is still grieving after all.  
 
The other characters were well-written as well, but the parents do seem somewhat stereotypical in nature, with the dad coming across as this unfeeling, self-absorbed person, and the mother coming across as a bundle of nerves with something to hide.  While well-written and interesting, there wasn't a lot of depth to them.  I was fascinated by the sisters' relationship as well and thought the author could have developed that a bit more.
 
The plot moved quite quickly, with some interesting twists and turns, some of them predictable. Personally, it didn't take long to figure out why the dad was so distant although I did think his reaction was a bit extreme.  I thought the author did a good job peeling away the layers of the story to reveal the information as the investigation progressed in such a way that allowed the reader to figure things out rather than lead the reader along. I hate being spoon-fed information and prefer to figure things out so this was more to my style.  I also appreciated the descriptions of the area as it seems like a beautiful location.  
 
Verdict
Murder by the Shore was an interesting murder mystery, full of twists and turns, even if some of them were predictable.  With a host of intriguing characters, especially the DI, it made the reading experience that much more fun. I did have a problem with the actual mystery, in particular the ending, as I thought it was a bit far-fetched and didn't seem to match the overall spirit of the story and the characters, but it did make me think how past actions can affect future ones.  This can be read as a standalone, but I do recommend reading the previous instalments to get background information on DI Drummond.  

 


Monday, September 5, 2022

Review: The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker

by Sarai Walker
Release Date: May 17, 2022
2022 Harper
Kindle Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-0358251873
ASIN: B08NWSCYQY
Audiobook: B09G56HL5B
Genre: Fiction / Literary / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher
 
2 / 5 Stars
 
Summary
New Mexico, 2017: Sylvia Wren is one of the most important American artists of the past century. Known as a recluse, she avoids all public appearances. There’s a reason: she’s living under an assumed identity, having outrun a tragic past. 

Connecticut, 1950: Iris Chapel is the second youngest of six sisters, all heiresses to a firearms fortune. They’ve grown up cloistered in a palatial Victorian house, mostly neglected by their distant father and troubled mother, who believes that their house is haunted by the victims of Chapel weapons. The girls long to escape, and for most of them, the only way out is marriage. But not long after the first Chapel sister walks down the aisle, she dies of mysterious causes, a tragedy that repeats with the second, leaving the rest to navigate the wreckage, to heart-wrenching consequences. 
 
My Thoughts
The Cherry Robbers definitely had an interesting premise, and touted as a Gothic mystery, it had certainly piqued my interest. It didn't take long to realize this wasn't Gothic in the slightest and execution-wise, was a bit of a mess. Personally, I don't mind a slow burn novel as long as the suspense is there, but when the so-called foreshadowing takes away from the suspense, you've lost me.  This novel tries hard to be mysterious, but for me, it simply didn't work.
 
The novel focuses on the complicated relationship between the six sisters, something I did like. Having grown up with a couple of sisters myself, I could relate to their issues, dreams, and, desires, especially living in such a cloistered household with a father who has such rigid rules of decorum and a mother who is dealing with mental health issues.  I could understand their need for escape, and I did feel empathy for them as they realized their only way to escape would be through marriage rather than through education and learning.  I loved how they were named after flowers, a double-entendre, considering flowers wilt and die if not nurtured and watered, which seems to be very symbolic in this situation.  I'm not going to bore you with symbolism here, but I did enjoy the use of language conventions the author used to describe the sisters.  However, I don't think the author went far enough as I still felt they were one-dimensional, to a point, and would have loved to learn more about what they really felt. When the girls started dying, I definitely wasn't as horrified as I should have been because of this lack of deeper empathy. I also felt the LGBTQ representation was pretty stereotypical, although I did like the discussions around feminism, freedom, women's rights, gender discrimination, patriarchy, etc... that existed in the 1950s as well as mental health issues,  It's too bad the author felt the need to include this whole 'ghost' thing to make the book sound more Gothic which is a huge misrepresentation of what is actually going on.  
 
I didn't really find the book spooky at all, but then I am a voracious horror book reader so my POV might be a little skewed in this regard.   I did find some of the scenes interesting, but I wasn't convinced by any of them as they just didn't make sense within the book at all.  So, what we've got here are scenes of magical realism thrown into this book where you have to just kind of suspend your belief and accept that these women just died. Nope, not going to happen.  Yes, there are deeper themes within the deaths, like neglect and despair plus the shunting of women into background roles, but you are supposed to accept the illnesses represent these things and come through the women in this way? I get that marriage was the evil in this story as well as the lack of opportunities for women, but I'm not sure I like the way the message was delivered.  Unfortunately, the author bogs down the reader with a lot of filler, and while I normally wouldn't mind it if it built up the suspense, the foreshadowing doesn't help built it up because the reader is already given all the pertinent details which takes away from the suspense and thrill.  

Verdict
The Cherry Robbers is one of those books that was way too slow for me, whereby all the information and foreshadowing are given to the reader which destroys the suspense and the chill of a novel such as this.  When everything is spelled out for you, including the foreboding elements, it draws you out of the story and makes it challenging to return as you are not invested in the characters nor the action. Unfortunately, there was nothing ghostly or Gothic about this book.  I am glad to see there were a lot of people who enjoyed this book, but I was not one of them. 

 


Sunday, August 28, 2022

Review: Ashton Hall by Lauren Belfer

by Lauren Belfer
Release Date: June 7, 2022
2022 Ballantine Books
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593359495
ASIN: B09G97M5G8
Audiobook: B09HVCVBLC
Genre: Fiction 
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.25 / 5 Stars
 
Summary
When a close relative falls ill, Hannah Larson and her young son, Nicky, join him for the summer at Ashton Hall, a historic manor house outside Cambridge, England. 

Soon after their arrival, ever-curious Nicky finds the skeletal remains of a woman walled into a forgotten part of the manor, and Hannah is pulled into an all-consuming quest for answers, Nicky close by her side. Working from clues in centuries-old ledgers showing what the woman's household spent on everything from music to medicine; lists of books checked out of the library; and the troubling personal papers of the long-departed family, Hannah begins to recreate the Ashton Hall of the Elizabethan era in all its color and conflict.
 
My Thoughts
Ashton Hall was a bit of a disappointment as it was touted as a mystery, particularly a gothic mystery, and it was anything but.  It was more of a literary women's fiction where Hannah comes to Ashton Hall to escape from some devastating revelations about her marriage and her husband and to figure out her place in the world and what she really wanted to do with her life.  Honestly, there is little mystery, suspense or thrill in this book, and by the middle, I had to push myself to keep reading.  I enjoyed Nicky as a character as he was quite interesting, but I definitely did not like how his issues were dealt with nor with how they were portrayed. There were parts in which I winced, not against Nicky, but even things his mother would think and say in his defense. And for heaven's sakes, why would Hannah not tell his baby-sitter about his rages? That could be dangerous for both Alice and Nicky.

The plot moves quite slowly, and though it is touted as a mystery, there is really no mystery to Isabelle's death, no real search for clues other than Hannah's glimpses in the past as she hunts through ledgers written by employees from Isabelle's time period.  And while you have no idea who the woman is for a couple of chapters, I spent those chapters trying to reconcile the fact that a 9-year-old boy, no matter how precocious or nosy, would have discovered the remains the way he did, within the time frame of arriving at the castle while those who have worked there for years would have remained ignorant. There is an archivist who works on site, with research students, and no one would have asked about the ruins in all that time? And how easily the stuff was found, no one else would have been able to find it, in 500 years? And they would have asked a person who hasn't finished her degree, who specializes in a completely different field, to research material? So, I'm a little skeptical. 
 
I did find the search through the ledges quite interesting, but then I love history. It does show that historical research is not all Indiana Jones, but very methodical and while interesting to the researcher, can be quite boring for someone not interested in history. I also loved how the author mentioned anchoresses in this book as they are often overlooked in mainstream fiction and non-fiction. There was some irony in this though, as Hannah had difficulty believing that a woman would choose such a path during the 16th century, a time period when few options were open to women, a viewpoint that just didn't work for me considering she was working on her PhD in history. But I loved the setting, and as soon as you mention ruins and deep, dark secrets along with the words manuscript and discovery, you've got me hooked. However, I was also not a big fan of Hannah as she got on my nerves quite a bit, but at the same time, I was also not a fan of the way the author portrayed her whole situation. And to try to justify it upon learning of her uncle's situation in life bothered me a little bit. I don't care how people live their lives, but there were parts that made me a bit uncomfortable as it seemed to justify cheating.  While Hannah was somewhat conflicted, she did try to justify her actions by feeling she was not doing anything as badly as her husband, and that was the mixed message I was getting from this story line. I just couldn't figure out if the author was trying to promote the idea of open marriages or make them seem like a negative thing. But to make Hannah seem like this great person because she chose to sacrifice her career for motherhood, then make her husband seem so loathsome for his behaviours and actions, and then to twist it even further and have him blame her for everything that is wrong with their son, just makes me cringe.  So many tropes and stereotypes to unpack, it just isn't worthwhile doing.  

Verdict
Ashton Hall had an interesting premise, but was in no way a mystery.  I did like the author's writing style and would have liked to have seen more of Isabelle's story play a role in the book, but the parallels to Hannah's life were thought-provoking and provided a lot of room for introspection about one's role in life.  However, I wasn't a fan of the way the relationships were handled, nor did I like the way Nicky's issues and problems were discussed and handled. And the pace was pretty slow.  I really wanted to like this book, but there were too many things I just couldn't overlook. This one was just not for me.