Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Review: Tell Me I'm Worthless by Alison Rumfitt

by Alison Rumfitt
Release Date: January 17, 2023
2023 Tor Nightfire
Kindle Edition; 263 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250866233
Audiobook: B0B1JKM1PL
Genre: Fiction / Horror / LGBT
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

Three years ago, Alice spent one night in an abandoned house with her friends, Ila and Hannah. Since then, Alice’s life has spiraled. She lives a haunted existence, selling videos of herself for money, going to parties she hates, drinking herself to sleep.

Memories of that night torment Alice, but when Ila asks her to return to the House, to go past the KEEP OUT sign and over the sick earth where teenagers dare each other to venture, Alice knows she must go.

Together, Alice and Ila must face the horrors that happened there, must pull themselves apart from the inside out, put their differences aside, and try to rescue Hannah, whom the House has chosen to make its own.
My Thoughts
Tell Me I'm Worthless had a very interesting beginning, one that I thought would set up this novel quite nicely, but unfortunately, it went seriously downhill from that point on.  I felt like I was reading an entirely different book; the only reason I kept going was because I wanted to actually find out if the haunted house played a bigger role in this book.
The actual horror stuff was few and far between, and although I get that the haunted house is a symbolism of fear and oppression and how easy it is for those things to control your world, that can also be a metaphor for what happened in this book.  I admire and respect the author for trying to use horror, in the shape of a haunted house and the events that occurred there, as a way to show oppression in a different light, but I feel like it got away from them and instead of a good story became more of a series of weird rants that made the story disjointed.   The messages/themes within the book become confusing because these rants are also confusing, dealing with things such as fascism and so on, trying to push their own political beliefs on the reader, something I wasn't having any part of. As someone who can think for herself, I would rather the ideas be there so I can think about them and form my own conclusions.  In some ways, it can feel demeaning, as if a reader can't think for themselves.  
The characters themselves were pretty one-dimensional and by the end of the book, I didn't feel like any of them had shown any growth.  Unfortunately, the political aspects of this book took away from the overall potential of character development.  If you took out a lot of those rants, this book would read really well as a short story; I thought the part with Hannah, in particular, in the haunted house was superbly done, despite the political tone to it, although I still feel like the author tends to give too much to the reader rather than let them figure things out on their own.     

Tell Me I'm Worthless suffers from some editing issues as well as marketing issues. Touted as a haunted house novel, I went in expecting that and what I got was a political novel using haunted house metaphor to explore political beliefs. Normally, this wouldn't be an issue as I don't typically mind that, but it's the direct writing/ranting that turned me off this story as I don't feel it contributed much in terms of plot or character development, but served more to explore the author's personal political views/angst. Yes, the message is important, but so is the delivery, and the delivery turned me right off this book.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Review: The Suffering by MJ Mars

by MJ Mars
Release Date: February 24, 2023
2023 Wicked House Publishing
Kindle Edition; 382 Pages
ISBN: 978-1959798064
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publsiher
3.5 / 5 Stars
Recreating the séance that led to the infamous Victorian Suffering massacre seems like a good idea at the time. But Kyle Birbeck soon discovers that the ghosts his distant ancestor banished into the walls of Brackenby House in 1876 have been lurking, waiting for a chance to come out.

One by one the 5 terrifying ghosts latch onto each of the students who reside at Brackenby, preying on their deepest fears. They soon come to realise it isn’t Brackenby House that’s haunted. They are. And the ghosts will stop at nothing to continue The Suffering…
My Thoughts
The Suffering has everything that I love in a horror/paranormal novel; a spooky house with a chilling history, a seance that didn't quite work the way it was intended, ghosts, secrets, and so on. I enjoyed the overall story as it was interesting and the descriptions did manage to keep up a certain level of tension.  I did like the ghosts as well the action surrounding them, but felt it got bogged down by the author using lack of communication and secrets to move a plot point along which just made me shake my head.

Kyle and his friends live in a Victorian house that has been in his family for a very long time. Despite the sordid background and the tragedy that occurred there, the five students are overjoyed to be living in something that is cheaper than the usual student accommodations, and decide to have a seance on Halloween. Okay, this I totally buy as college students do silly things all the time and even I played around with this kind of stuff when I was younger. Unfortunately, they do release something horrifying and five ghosts attach themselves to the five of them feeding off of their self-doubts.  I did find this interesting in the beginning and liked what was happening, even if I didn't find it very terrifying. This could be my fault though as I went in thinking it would be scarier than it was, but it wasn't.  
Things kind of went sideways for me about one-third into the book as I got tired of the lack of communication between the characters and the big secrets.  Kyle wasn't very forthcoming with information and I just couldn't figure out why he wouldn't tell the others where he had been and why.  And why would he not have brought back protection charms for the rest of them?  And when things did start happening, why would you not call the police to check things out to make sure there were not pranks happening? And when things ramp up, do the kids try to split and run? No, not really. I would have been out of there in a flash.  
While the author can write, and there were definitely some interesting moments, I don't feel like I really got to know the characters very well. To me, they were pretty bland and I wish the story had focused on one of them rather than all of them as it would have added depth to the story.  I did like hearing about the ghosts, but the characters and their foolish decisions kind of pushed that to the background regularly and I found myself jolted out of the story.  It made me focus on the plot holes and lack of character growth a bit more than I normally would have.  
The Suffering had a lot of potential and I did enjoy the story, especially the parts where the ghosts were involved.  I did feel the characters were one-dimensional and bland, and their lack of communication and decision-making skills got on my nerves after a while.  There really wasn't anything particularly spooky about this book, but there were a lot of fun elements, so I would definitely pick up another novel by this author in the future.


Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Review: Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

by Travis Baldree
Release Date: November 8, 2022
2022 Tor
Kindle Edition; 296 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250886088
ASIN: B0B3755RV9
Audiobook: B0B3G97QY1
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

After a lifetime of bounties and bloodshed, Viv is hanging up her sword for the last time.

The battle-weary orc aims to start fresh, opening the first ever coffee shop in the city of Thune. But old and new rivals stand in the way of success — not to mention the fact that no one has the faintest idea what coffee actually is.

If Viv wants to put the blade behind her and make her plans a reality, she won't be able to go it alone.

But the true rewards of the uncharted path are the travelers you meet along the way. And whether drawn together by ancient magic, flaky pastry, or a freshly brewed cup, they may become partners, family, and something deeper than she ever could have dreamed.
My Thoughts
Legends & Lattes is one of those fantasy novels I really needed to read at this time. A lot of fantasy that I usually read tends to be dark, vicious, emotional, bordering on grimdark, the type of fantasy that takes a toll on you after a while, so reading this was a breath of fresh air and I enjoyed it tremendously, realizing how much I really missed the more lighthearted and fun fantasy. 

Viv is the main character and I thoroughly enjoyed her development as she retired from her work as a bounty hunter and decided to open up a coffee shop. Just the thought of a warrior wanting to do this type of job made me giggle throughout the book and as the gems kept pouring in, I enjoyed her transformation from battle-orc to coffee-orc.  Due to a lifetime of bloodshed though, trusting people didn't come easily, and watching Viv learn to navigate friendships was interesting and it made me think a lot about retirement, especially as that is in the near future for myself.  Viv is joined by a multitude of interesting secondary characters, Cal, Thandri, and Thimble, all of whom I developed a fondness for, and I was glad to see the lightness continue throughout the book, with the various characters having to overcome trust issues and learn what it really means to be a family. And oh my, the descriptions of the food Thimble cooked up! All I wanted was a latte and a cinnamon roll as I read, and not just a cinnamon roll, but a big, gooey one, like they talked about in the book. How can you not smile when you read those descriptions?

That being said, it is really easy to overlook the themes in this book. The book comes across as light and fun, but there were some very deep themes underlying everything; friendship, loyalty, deception, trust, self-confidence, family, etc... The author definitely focused on family and community, but he also subtly included the idea of growing out of your comfort zone, to try something new. Even when Viv had to deal with the harsher realities of owning a business, she showed us that there was another way to do business than the traditional way if you are willing to try, but you have to realize there are risks and there are hardships as nothing comes easy.  And while I am a huge epic fantasy reader, and I like by battle scenes, it is easy to dismiss a lighter fantasy novel thinking it lacks tension, but there was conflict and the author never really lets up on the action; it's just a different type of suspense and action, something I enjoyed. 

Legends & Lattes was a treat to read. I knew very little about it when I started the book, so I was pleasantly surprised as the story progressed, pretty much reading it in one session.  A feel good novel about a warrior who decides to take a chance on trying something new with her life, and I enjoyed every step of her development.  For readers looking for something a bit lighter than your usual fare, I highly recommend this one.


Sunday, April 30, 2023

Review: Gallows Hill by Darcy Coates

by Darcy Coates
Release Date: September 6, 2022
2022 Poisoned Pen Press
Kindle Edition; 377 Pages
ISBN: 978-1728220246
Audiobook: B0BHX841CX
Genre: Fiction / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

The Hull family has owned the Gallows Hill Winery for generations, living and working on the beautiful grounds where they grow their famous grapes. Until the night Mr. and Mrs. Hull settle down for the evening...and are dead by morning.

When their daughter, Margot, inherits the family business, she wants nothing to do with it. The winery is valued for its unparalleled produce, but it's built on a field where hundreds of convicts were once hanged, and the locals whisper morbid rumors. They say the ground is cursed.

It's been more than a decade since Margot last saw her childhood home. But now that she's alone in the sprawling, dilapidated building, she begins to believe the curse is more than real―and that she may be the next victim of the house that never rests...
My Thoughts
Gallows Hill has all the elements that I love in a Gothic novel; a spooky old house, parents who were killed under mysterious circumstances, bells that rings in the night, hallways that meander forever, major historical secrets, a town that looks at the main character suspiciously, things that go bump in the night, and atmosphere galore.  So why did it take so long for me to get through this one? And I had to force myself to read through to the end, wishing I had DNF'd it like I wanted to. 
First of all, the main character, Margot, drove me crazy. I didn't dislike her per se, but she really did some silly things. How is it that you go into a new house like this and not check things out? At least the poor girl could have found a bathroom in the first 48 hours she was there, but instead, the author had her getting lost in the same hallways and being mesmerized by a videotape for hours on end. And although I liked the atmosphere of the house, I really felt like I didn't get to KNOW the house through Margot's eyes as there was so much repetitive stuff going on that I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have.  I liked the bumps in the night and the scary stuff that was happening, but to make a main character sound so ditzy in order to further a plot point bothers me. How many times will the author have Margot forget to charge her phone in order to advance the plot? Have her fall in this hole without her phone to use to contact someone, have her be attacked in this scenario without a charged phone to contact someone, have her get lost here without a charged phone to do anything about it, and so on. See my point? 
While the first three-quarters of the book was repetitious and a bit boring, the ending was actually the best part, but by no means was it great. The author did up the ante on tension and suspense, but by then, I had lost interest and I had to force myself to finish. Furthermore, I felt like the author thought the reader wasn't capable of grasping the fine points of the historical events, and needed to reiterate everything again, something I actually resented. Readers are quite capable of reading between the lines, thank you very much.  I can't say the same for the MC, so maybe the retelling was for her benefit?
Gallows Hill had a lot of great ideas, but the execution left a lot to be desired.  I typically enjoy this author's books, so this was a big disappointment.  Unfortunately, while the author always has a great writing style, this one had very weak characters and character development, and a plot that was slow and pedantic despite the atmospheric horror elements that were included.  This one just didn't work for me and I struggled mightily to finish.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Review: Murder at Black Oaks by Phillip Margolin

by Phillip Margolin
Release Date: November 8, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250258465
Audiobook: B09Q767L58
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

Defense Attorney Robin Lockwood is summoned by retired District Attorney Francis Hardy to meet with him at Black Oaks, the manor he owns up in the Oregon mountains.  Hardy wants Lockwood's help in a legal matter - righting a wrongful conviction from his days as a DA. 

Successful in their efforts, Hardy invites Lockwood up to Black Oaks for a celebration. Lockwood finds herself among an odd group of invitees - including the bitter, newly released, Alvarez. When Hardy is found murdered, with a knife connected to the original curse, Lockwood finds herself faced with a conundrum - who is the murderer among them and how to stop them before there's another victim.
My Thoughts
Murder at Black Oaks, the sixth entry in the Robin Lockwood series, was supposed to be an homage to Agatha Christie's locked room mysteries, but definitely fell short in my opinion.  While the actual material of the book was interesting, the execution was lacking and all over the place, from courtroom drama to Gothic elements that were not really convincing nor did they seem to fit the spirit of the story. And some of it was not believable, including the courtroom stuff. 
First of all, while I don't have an issue with multiple plot lines in a story, I do have an issue when they are not cohesive.  I actually felt like I was reading a series of short stories that the author decided at the last minute to tie together into one larger plot. As a result, the overall plot didn't flow very well and was jarring in quite a few places, but, I thought, maybe I could overlook all of that.  Nope, as suddenly, there was mention of a curse, a legend, and suddenly, I was in the middle of a Gothic novel.  Throw in a thunderstorm and no electricity, and yes, you can see where I am going with all of this.  It wouldn't have surprised me if someone was actually bitten by a werewolf and turned.  And trust me, I love Gothic and horror as it's my preferred genre to read, but not like this. Unfortunately, the plot was sort of painful to get through, and there were quite a few instances where I just rolled my eyes and thought about how short this book was and how easy it is to read, so I just powered through it.  

If I had not read the previous novels, I would not have any knowledge of any of the main characters. The character development was not that great and if you changed the names of any of the people, it wouldn't have mattered as no one, not even Robin, had distinct personalities.  I was really disappointed in Robin's character as she seemed so different compared to previous novels, this one almost making her seem silly and out of sync with what is happening. 

Murder at Black Oaks is definitely not one of my favourite novels by this author.  Lack of plot and character development interfered in what could have been an intriguing locked room drama in a spooky mansion. The author did not make use of of his characters nor was there an intertwined plot that was intriguing or interesting.  Unfortunately, this one failed on a multitude of levels.  However, as the previous novels were half-decent, I'm not quite ready to give up on this series yet. I do recommend that if you haven't read anything by this author, you do not start with this novel, but start with the first one in the series.



Sunday, March 19, 2023

Review: Exiles by Jane Harper

by Jane Harper
Release Date: January 31, 2023
2023 Flatiron Books
Kindle Edition; 356 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250235350
Audiobook: B09YJ1 692Y
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
At a busy festival site on a warm spring night, a baby lies alone in her pram, her mother vanishing into the crowds.

A year on, Kim Gillespie’s absence casts a long shadow as her friends and loved ones gather deep in the heart of South Australian wine country to welcome a new addition to the family.

Joining the celebrations is federal investigator Aaron Falk. But as he soaks up life in the lush valley, he begins to suspect this tight-knit group may be more fractured than it seems.

My Thoughts
Exiles is the third entry in the Aaron Falk series, and unfortunately, this was my least favourite of the series. This one is more personal for Aaron, but in a different way as it involves his current friend group, a group that grew up together and has intimacies and ties that go back decades.  Aaron, as an outsider, has a unique viewpoint to examine those relationships and find out what actually happened to Kim a year ago. And while I found all of that interesting, it was a slow, slow burn, something I don't normally mind, but the denouement had little excitement and that level of tension the author was able to keep up in the previous two books was missing from this one. 

First of all, I loved the setting of this book. The wine country and festival descriptions were interesting and I could definitely picture myself there, walking amongst the rows of grapes, or by the reservoir. I also liked learning about some of the conflicting traditions that currently exist, such as the teenagers drinking spot on the first night of the festival.  And while it seems all in good fun, the author interweaves the darker aspects of those traditions into the story, something I liked.  We also get a glimpse of the what the adults think of these traditions now their kids are doing them and I find that quite fascinating, having gone through the teenage years with my own kids and the challenges that posed.  

The weakest aspect of this book was the mystery. The story didn't seem to have the same level of tension or sense of urgency of the previous books, and at first, I was okay with that.  But as the story progressed and the level of tension never seemed to grow, I had a hard time continuing the story, even putting it down and finally picking it back up just to see if I was right as to who the murderer was several weeks later.  The story got stuck on the relationships between the characters, and while this was interesting, the mystery itself got stuck within all of that, and then the author would realize this and try to pull the story back to the mystery creating this dissonance.  The story never really delved into the mystery or went into full policing mode, and while I understand some of the reasons why, it did affect the overall story, the tension, and the ending.  

Exiles was a slow-burn mystery that never seemed to really raise the tension level as it focused more on Falk's relationship issues rather than the crime and the mystery.  Personally, I missed the darker tones of the previous novels and higher level of tension and excitement; this one seemed much cozier in nature with too many coincidences that made me grit my teeth.  The descriptions of the setting and the well-developed characters saved this book, but the overall mystery was weak and while many readers may have enjoyed the focus on the romance and the convenient denouement that entailed, I like my books to be grittier and more realistic. Aaron Falk is a great character and I enjoyed the conflict he was going through, but he deserved a better path to his denouement than he got.  

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Review: Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi

by Ronald Malfi
Release Date: July 19, 2022
2022 Titan Books
Kindle Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-1789098655
Audiobook: B0B3NGMJQS
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

For nearly two decades, Jamie Warren has been running from darkness. He's haunted by a traumatic childhood and the guilt at having disappeared from his disabled brother's life. But then a series of unusual events reunites him with his estranged brother and their childhood friends, and none of them can deny the sense of fate that has seemingly drawn them back together.

Nor can they deny the memories of that summer, so long ago – the strange magic taught to them by an even stranger man, and the terrible act that has followed them all into adulthood. In the light of new danger, they must confront their past by facing their futures, and hunting down a man who may very well be a monster.
My Thoughts
Black Mouth had all the elements of a horror novel that I love: creepy house, eerie atmosphere, family secrets, messed up characters, and an unresolved situation from the past.  And yet, this book just didn't click for me. Yes, it definitely had its interesting moments, but so much of this book was character-driven, meaning we got to see the main character fighting with his demons most of the time, rather than focusing on the creepy story line. So much of the suspense was lost because of this and as a result, I had to force myself to go back and finish this book.  I think it took me about a month to get through this one.
First of all, I thought this book started out quite well.  The story was interesting, the characters when they were young were fascinating, and I was intrigued by their lives and why they would be attracted to such a figure known as the Magician.  I definitely understood the power of having a secret and how that can empower you to stand up for yourself when you are struggling with so much in your life. The four main characters had some major difficulties going on in their lives, so I liked learning about their struggles and the impact such a person would have on their lives. The Magician was creepy and mysterious and I wanted to learn more about him. So how did it go sideways?
First of all, the theme in this book has been done before, so to really make an impact it needs to have something new, something fresh.  Unfortunately, for a book that causes chaos for kids, there should be much more of a horror element and feel and this book just wasn't that scary or horrifying. whether it be psychologically or physically.
Furthermore, adult Jamie very quickly got on my nerves.  It's not that I don't understand where he was coming from, and alcoholism is a disease which I understand the author was trying to highlight in this book, but the constant focus on that and how it affects people's lives did take away from the overall suspense of the story, and I think there needed to be more of a balance.  Trust me, I'm not opposed to flawed characters, in fact I prefer them, but not when the book is so character-driven, the overall focus of the story gets lost in a character redemption arc.  The author did a great job with his brother Dennis though, and he was definitely my favourite character in this book.  He was a man of few words, but his perceptions were spot on.   While Clay and Mia were well done, I did wish the author had developed them a bit more and allowed the reader to learn more about them as I found them quite interesting.

Black Mouth had all the elements, but something was definitely missing.  For me, there weren't any real moments of dread or tension, and the focus on the main character, and his issues, didn't blend as well into the story line which didn't help the tension or the suspense.  The author is a really good writer however, and this is what kept me returning to the book in the end.  In the end, while there were some strong, interesting parts, the book was too drawn out, and the pacing was very uneven.  I do think fans of the author will enjoy this book. 


Monday, February 27, 2023

Review: The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

by Richard Osman
Release Date: September 15, 2022
2022 Viking
Kindle Edition; 413 Pages
ISBN: 978-0241512425
Audiobook: B09RTNYFDV
Genre: Fiction / Cozy / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.75 Stars

Trouble is never far away where the Thursday Murder Club are concerned. A local news legend is on the hunt for a sensational headline, and soon the gang are hot on the trail of two murders, ten years apart.

To make matters worse, a new nemesis pays Elizabeth a visit, presenting her with a deadly mission: kill or be killed...

While Elizabeth grapples with her conscience (and a gun), the gang and their unlikely new friends (including TV stars, money launderers and ex-KGB colonels) unravel a new mystery. But can they catch the culprit and save Elizabeth before the murderer strikes again?
My Thoughts
The Bullet That Missed is the third entry in this somewhat fun cozy mystery series featuring supposedly harmless pensioners.  And while I did enjoy the book, I have to admit that this one seemed to have some very loose plot lines, and I found the dialogue between the characters far more tedious than in previous instalments. And it also felt like the author didn't know what to do with some of his characters as they simply seemed to disappear for pages, without explanation, and then suddenly they were there again.  
First of all, although touted as a mystery, this is primarily a character-driven book, following the lives of four pensioners and a couple of police detectives as they work together to solve interesting crimes. Personally, I loved the focus on the four main characters, with glimpses into the lives of the police officers, but prefer the focus to be on our favourite pensioners, especially Joyce, who, I have learned, is the one we really need to watch.  Her journal entries are the heart and soul of the books, but they were a bit lacking in this instalment, something I missed quite a bit. 
Unfortunately, the number of characters has grown considerably, and I feel like the author doesn't quite know how to fit them all into his plot lines, and they are getting away from him, removing the charm that was in the first book from this one.  As I've already mentioned, some core characters disappear completely from the story, only to suddenly reappear without explanation as to where they have been.  Personally, I just found them a lot less interesting, and I wasn't as invested in learning more about these characters as I was in the first two books.  
There were moments that were really good in this book, but there were moments that made me cringe as well.  At first, I enjoyed the spy mystery involving Elizabeth, but it eventually turned into something a bit silly and I couldn't help rolling my eyes at some of the things that were happening in this book.  I know the book is meant to be satirical in nature, but there were points where it became farcical; it made me question whether I should continue or just call it quits. I can handle satire, but the silliness got to me after a while.  

The Bullet That Missed is one of those books where I love the main characters, but struggled to enjoy the plot and thought the author was trying way to hard to include information about his characters and the plot that weren't really needed, through additional boring dialogue that made the book feel sluggish and slow. The book included a number of extra characters that really took away from the charm of the first book, and I missed the simpler story lines featuring our main characters.  The characters no longer feel genuine, and everything seems to be working out for everyone. Just not for me as I don't think I will be continuing this series.