Sunday, May 8, 2022

Review: The Letter from Briarton Park by Sarah E. Ladd

by Sarah E. Ladd
Release Date: March 1st, 2022
2022 Thomas Nelson
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0785246725
ASIN: B09831LP11
Audiobook: B09886RVJ6
Genre: Fiction / Historical Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.25 / 5 Stars

Cassandra Hale grew up knowing little about her parentage, and she had made peace with the fact that she never would. But Cassandra’s world shifts when a shocking deathbed confession reveals a two-year-old letter from Mr. Clark, the master of Briarton Park, with hints to her family’s identity. Stung by betrayal, she travels to the village of Anston only to learn Mr. Clark has since passed away.

The more time Cassandra spends in Anston, the more she begins to suspect not everything—or everyone—is as they seem. As details emerge, the danger surrounding her intensifies. Using wit and intuition, she must navigate the treacherous landscapes between truth and rumor and between loyalty and deception if she is to uncover the realities of her past and find the place her heart can finally call home.
My Thoughts
The Letter From Briarton Park was a light, easy historical mystery.  This book was a mix between some light romance, family secrets, and a murder mystery, and while I enjoyed it, I did find it predictable and felt that really nothing new happened in this book. 

Cassandra was a fairly strong woman and I enjoyed her search for her family's identity. She was a bit trusting of others, believing they all had her best interests at heart, but her sheltered upbringing hadn't really taught her how to be wary of people. James was a lonely widower with a deep sense of family and I liked how he interacted with his daughters and his sister. He had nothing but patience with his demanding mother-in-law as well.  I did feel like all of the characters were stereotypical, including the antagonists, and I while I enjoyed them, I didn't feel particularly empathetic towards any of them and I didn't really notice any development in them throughout the story.  They just were.

The plot was fairly predictable, with Cassandra discovering a letter written to her with information about her family.  It was fairly easy to figure out what that information was and who her father was, but I did think the search was interesting.  I like this kind of intrigue so that part of the story was something I enjoyed, even if the story was more about telling and explaining than about figuring it out.  And while I really liked James, I didn't really buy into their relationship as the chemistry simply wasn't there.  You can't build a relationship simply on shared experiences over a secret and that's what I felt this was.  To be honest, I kind of liked the mom-in-law as she seemed to see clearly the situation that actually existed during this time period.  

The Letter from Briarton Park was a fairly predictable read.  I did enjoy the mystery, but thought the characters were a bit shallow and one-dimensional. There were hints of Gothic overtones, but the plot  focused more around Mr. North and James and their pursuit of Cassandra as well as the mystery of Cassandra's parentage without going too deeply into any of it, so it felt fairly superficial. I did like the author's writing style, so I will try another book in the future; if you are looking for a light, fluffy read, you may enjoy this one.  


Saturday, May 7, 2022

Review: Mickey7 by Edward Ashton

Mickey7 (Mickey7, Book #1)
by Edward Ashton
Release Date: February 15, 2022
2022 St. Martin's Press
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250275035
ASIN: B092T7R689
Audiobook: B094DTWPNV
Genre: Fiction / Science-Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Mickey7 is an Expendable: a disposable employee on a human expedition sent to colonize the ice world Niflheim. Whenever there’s a mission that’s too dangerous—even suicidal—the crew turns to Mickey. After one iteration dies, a new body is regenerated with most of his memories intact.

On a fairly routine scouting mission, Mickey7 goes missing and is presumed dead. By the time he returns to the colony base, there’s a new clone, Mickey8, reporting for Expendable duties. 
Life on Niflheim is getting worse. The atmosphere is unsuitable for humans, food is in short supply, and terraforming is going poorly. And the native species are growing curious about their new neighbors. 
My Thoughts
Mickey7 had a very interesting premise, and when I first started reading this I had pretty high hopes for a unique and interesting read.  We have this man who decides to become an Expendable, something I don't think has been explored very much in the sci-fi world, at least not to my knowledge, so I thought the author could have a lot of fun with this concept.  The first few chapters were intriguing, with fast-paced action and some interesting character interactions, but then, all of a sudden, it just ...stopped.  
I actually liked the characters and thought Mickey7 was interesting. But even though I liked them, there wasn't a lot of depth or development to them and I was wishing for more emotion, even some conflict. I understand the crew were having difficulty with food and were rationing, but a lot of Mickey7's inner dialogue seemed to center around his stomach and his lack of food. There were also a lot of flashbacks to the difficulties other colonies had during settlement and other issues, and while they were intriguing, it didn't really have anything to do with what was happening in the actual story.  Some of the flashbacks as to how Mickey7 chose this job were a bit more relevant, but when we returned to the story, it didn't really add anything other than to give more information about Mickey7.  
The plot had a pretty interesting concept and I did enjoy the first few chapters of the book. But after the first few chapters, the conflict just seems to be about what to do with Mickey8 and the fact that Mickey7 is no longer willing to be used so callously, even though it is his job.  The intention was to make the character sound cheeky and sarcastic, but the flippancy kind of wore on my nerves after a while as it just didn't work the way I think the author intended.  Don't get me wrong, the story was okay, and it moved along quickly and easily with good transitions between the flashbacks and the current time period, but there was little conflict and the story just plodded along with very little happening.  I was quite intrigued by the sentient life that was discovered as well as the difficulties the colonists were having with their food supply and other issues, but the author just glossed over a lot of that to focus on Mickey7 and Mickey8 and their empty stomachs as well as a commanding officer who always seems to make poor decisions.  

Mickey7 had so many concepts that could have been explored and developed, ones in which I was extremely disappointed were overlooked in this book: the lack of food and the problems the colonists were having with cultivation; the sentient beings, known as the 'creepers', who were an intelligent race; Mickey7 retiring as an Expendible now that Mickey8 was here; and, the ethics behind the 'Expendible' program.  While the author chose to focus on the conflict between having a Mickey7 and a Mickey8, he did overlook some necessary character and plot development to do so.  However, I did think the overall book was decent, so I do recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Review: The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf

by Heather Gudenkauf
Release Date: January 25, 2022
2022 Park Row
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778311935
Audiobook: B093FC4J1J
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 Stars

True crime writer Wylie Lark doesn’t mind being snowed in at the isolated farmhouse where she’s retreated to write her new book. A cozy fire, complete silence. It would be perfect, if not for the fact that decades earlier, at this very house, two people were murdered in cold blood and a girl disappeared without a trace.

As the storm worsens, Wylie finds herself trapped inside the house, haunted by the secrets contained within its walls—haunted by secrets of her own. Then she discovers a small child in the snow just outside. After bringing the child inside for warmth and safety, she begins to search for answers. But soon it becomes clear that the farmhouse isn’t as isolated as she thought, and someone is willing to do anything to find them.
My Thoughts
The Overnight Guest had an interesting premise and I would have liked it a lot better if the dual timeline didn't give away so much information and lower the overall suspense and mystery of the story. It was quite easy to figure out Wylie's connection to the town as well as figure out who actually did it and I pretty much continued reading as I enjoyed the setting and the atmosphere of the story.  Who doesn't like it when your heroine is trapped in a cabin during a snowstorm with no power and few options? 
Wylie was an interesting character and I still wish the entire book had been focused on her, her reasons for returning to the town, her research into the book, and let it slowly unfold that way as I think it would have been far more suspenseful.  There was a lot of untapped potential in this character. Because of the way she handled herself in certain situations, it showed that she was smart, capable, and able to think her way through a problem which makes her likeable right there. It bothers me when people make stupid decisions just to advance a plot because the author just can't think of an alternative way to write about a situation.  
Unfortunately, the dual timeline gave away too much information for me and while I did enjoy it, it became pretty formulaic and predictable. If the story had simply been about Wylie, that would have been so much more suspenseful as the reader would have had no idea what was happening which would have upped the level of suspense.  Like I mentioned, it was interesting, but in no way suspenseful or shocking, and because this novel is meant to be a mystery, not a literary novel, I would have liked a bit more suspense.  
The Overnight Guest had a lot of potential, but I think the author missed the mark by using a dual timeline which gave away far too much information and destroyed any sense of suspense for me.  While this author does have a way of drawing you into the story and making you care about the characters, focusing on Wylie would have kept the eeriness of the setting and upped the level of suspense.  While this one was a bit too predictable and formulaic for me, I will recommend it, and I will definitely continue to read this author in the future. 


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Review: The Exiled Fleet by J.S. Dewes

by J.S. Dewes
Release Date: August 17, 2021
2021 Tor Books
Kindle & Softcover Editions; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250236364
Audiobook: B08H8W8NZ7
Genre: Fiction / Science-Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher
4.25 / 5 Stars
The Sentinels narrowly escaped the collapsing edge of the Divide.

They have mustered a few other surviving Sentinels, but with no engines they have no way to leave the edge of the universe before they starve.

Adequin Rake has gathered a team to find the materials they'll need to get everyone out.

To do that they're going to need new allies and evade a ruthless enemy. Some of them will not survive.
My Thoughts
The Exiled Fleet was a great book. The second book in the series, the Sentinels were on the verge of starvation with little to no hope of escaping their situation.  Honestly, I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading this book as I devoured it pretty much in one sitting and thought it was better than the first book. While the stakes were just as high as the first book, the danger was now much more political in nature as they now had to manoeuvre within an empire in which they had been used as pawns in a much bigger game; Rake and company now had to learn exactly what was going on, who they could trust, and what their role would be.   

I love Rake, Cavalon, and Jackin as main characters, and was so glad to see them developed in this book. Adequin Rake is a Titan, formerly part of an elite military group, tough and experienced, and now in charge of a rebellion for which she feels inadequately prepared. Rake is barely holding herself together due to events in the last book, and has to put aside her grief and feelings in order to deal with the current problems.  While I did get tired, at times, of Rake's self-sacrificial whining, I definitely appreciated learning a lot more about her and how her formative years influence her current choices. I did wonder though, how her impulsive nature and emotion-driven choices might affect future events that could have negative consequences for everyone.
Cavalon has been a favourite of mine since that opening line in the first book. His character is one with which I empathize the most and worry about the most as well.  In this book, he is struggling with the person he wants to be with the person he was and trying to reconcile the two. I think the author is doing a fabulous job developing this character, and with one amazing twist I never saw coming, am quite interested to see what she will do with Cavalon in future books.  
The plot was a more all over the place in this book, but not in a bad way, as there was a lot more going on, and in different places.  It definitely upped the tenseness for me, and I was worried a lot of the time that something was going to happen to the characters, especially after the first book.  The story was a bit more bleak however, as things were not going well the the Sentinels and you could feel the desperation throughout the book. This also explains a lot of the risks the crew took without a lot of planning; when you are desperate, you just have to act, but the results were not often what you wanted, which led to a few twists and turns I wasn't expecting.  The author did manage to pull most of the threads together at the end, but naturally left a few nuggets dangling for the next book in the series.  I was especially thrilled however, by the introduction of the Viator lore and insight in this book and can't wait to learn more about them.  
The Exiled Fleet was an entertaining and fascinating sequel.  The first part of the book was a bit more uneven with regards to tenseness and action, but the second half just kept them coming and I had a hard time putting down the book.  I enjoyed the characters and thought they were well-developed, and am looking forward to learning more about them.  And I haven't even had a chance to discuss the cloning issue in this book, one that I think is going to play a huge role in future stories. Can't wait to have some ethical discussions about that topic.  I would definitely recommend this one to anyone who loves sci-fi. And the author has officially announced that book 3 will be coming sometime in 2023. 


Monday, April 18, 2022

Review: This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi

by Tahereh Mafi
Release Date: February 1st, 2022
2022 HarperCollins
Kindle Edition; 512 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062972460
Audiobook: B0971G537V
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.75 / 5 Stars

To all the world, Alizeh is a disposable servant, not the long-lost heir to an ancient Jinn kingdom forced to hide in plain sight.

The crown prince, Kamran, has heard the prophecies foretelling the death of his king. But he could never have imagined that the servant girl with the strange eyes, the girl he can’t put out of his mind, would one day soon uproot his kingdom—and the world.
My Thoughts
This Woven Kingdom was an enjoyable book about Alizeh, the long-lost heir to the Jinn kingdom, and her fight for survival in a world that sees her as a dangerous enemy.  Because this is the first book in a trilogy, I was expecting it to be more about world-building and less about dark magic, but I was hoping there would be more about the Jinn. I know a lot of people like the love-triangle trope and the insta-love thingy, but I have never been a fan and I tend to roll my eyes when I see a good author use these as plot devices in their work, something that is definitely in this book.
First of all, I thought Alizeh was a great character.  She definitely had a lot of common sense and thought about what she was doing all of the time, thinking her way through problems and coming up with solutions. It doesn't mean she doesn't get frustrated and has to be alert to what she says so she doesn't lose her job and position. I definitely like a heroine who puts some thought into her actions and understands the consequences of what she is doing.  I completely empathized with her loneliness as she was ostracized for who she was, desperate to talk to another person, and loved how she was able to use what she had to comfort herself.  But she never seemed to lose her empathy towards others, and while she could be quite formidable, she was still loving and compassionate.  She didn't use a lot of her magic in this book, but I could understand why as she was supposed to be in hiding. I can't wait to see how the author develops this character.
I also really liked Kamran, although I disliked the insta-adoration trope that went with it.  Kamran is privileged, the heir to the throne, but while he is somewhat immature because of his privilege, his dealings with Alizeh open his eyes somewhat to what is happening and he begins to question his political alliances and orders from the king.  He is an interesting character because you can see the growth happening as he questions why a servant might have an extensive education, why his grandfather does certain things, and other whys.  His character had the most growth and I am particularly interested in how he develops in future books. What will a character like that do when his whole world is turned upside down and he now has to question beliefs and truths with which he grew up?
The pace of the book was probably the weakest point for me.  If you take a really good look at the world-building, the politics, the romance, and the magic, they were pretty formulaic and predictable. The insta-love thing just didn't work for me, and I would have preferred the author spent the time building up the story line rather than a possible love triangle.   The first half of the book was much slower than the second half as the author spent some time building up her characters, but the second half, especially the last hundred pages or so, were much quicker, and a newer, more interesting character, who finally created some interesting political chaos, joined the mix.  It is this character who is my new favourite in this book.

This Woven Kingdom had a lot of potential, and in the end I did enjoy it. There were definitely some issues with plot and pacing, but I liked the characters and think there is a lot of room for growth and development.  I do think the world building was decent, but the mythology behind it was lacking as we really don't know a whole lot about the Jinn or some of the things that were mentioned.  The last hundred pages or so were quite interesting though, and it was enough to make me want to read the next book in the series. 


Sunday, April 17, 2022

Review: Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

by Rachel Hawkins
Release Date: January 4, 2022
2022 St. Martin's Press
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250274250
Audiobook: B0934BF9B9
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.50 / 5 Stars

When Lux McAllister and her boyfriend, Nico, are hired to sail two women to a remote island in the South Pacific, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. Stuck in a dead-end job in Hawaii, and longing to travel the world after a family tragedy, Lux is eager to climb on board The Susannah and set out on an adventure. She’s also quick to bond with their passengers, college best friends Brittany and Amma. The two women say they want to travel off the beaten path. But like Lux, they may have other reasons to be seeking an escape.

My Thoughts
Reckless Girls had so much promise; an idyllic setting, a horrifying history, people with dubious backgrounds trapped on an island, a remote paradise, an attraction for adventure seekers, and a sinister feeling. Unfortunately, a story with major plot holes and lack of suspense made for a story that I just didn't find compelling or interesting.  

One of the best things about this novel was the setting. One of the things I always dreamed about as a child was finding a beautiful, idyllic island that I could visit, but it had to be one that had a creepy background to explore and learn about. So this one pretty much fits that bill.  It is idyllic yes, but also haunted with stories of cannibalism and destruction that were intriguing, ruins slowly being swallowed by the jungle show how quickly nature takes over.  I loved the danger that seemed to simmer below the events in the story, and personally I don't think the horror of it was utilized as well as it could have been.

Unfortunately, I just didn't connect with any of the characters and found myself disliking them more and more as the story progressed. Typically, I can really dislike a character, but can feel empathy towards them; this one, I just didn't feel anything towards them.  I think it was because a lot of their choices just didn't make sense to me, even when I learned more about their backgrounds.  I expected there to be secrets, fear, and violence, but I need substance behind it.  I look forward sometimes to hating a character as that is the fun in a book like this, just to see exactly what a character can do to someone else. The main character annoyed me the most and the author kept putting in these scenes about her being this great survivor, but all I saw was this whiny person who latched on to this rich boyfriend and hounded him when he refused to use his family money to make their lives better. 
I did like the premise of the book, but the actual story was kind of ...absurd?  I do think the author was trying to show that wealth and privilege can ruin lives, and the lengths people will go to for revenge. However, it took a long time for the story to really get going, and a lot it simply was unbelievable.  The plot holes were a mile wide and it took forever to get going so you get treated to a ton of beach party scenes of the characters partying, etc...
Reckless Girls certainly had an interesting premise, but didn't live up to any of it. I wasn't a fan of any of the characters and thought a lot of the plot was pretty fat-fetched.  I think I kept reading as I was hoping for the story to pick up and have this big plot twist, but it didn't.  I am hoping that other people enjoyed this more than I did, but I can't recommend it.


Saturday, April 16, 2022

Review: Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose by T.A. Willberg

by T.A. Willberg
Release Date: February 1st, 2022
2022 Park Row
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778311942
Audiobook: B09K4KQKL6
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

It's 1959 and a new killer haunts the streets of London, having baffled Scotland Yard. The newspapers call him The Florist because of the rose he brands on his victims. The police have turned yet again to the Inquirers at Miss Brickett's for assistance, and second-year Marion Lane is assigned the case.

But she's already dealing with a mystery of her own, having received an unsigned letter warning her that one of the three new recruits should not be trusted. She dismisses the letter at first, focusing on The Florist case, but her informer seems to be one step ahead, predicting what will happen before it does. But when a fellow second-year Inquirer is murdered, Marion takes matters into her own hands and must come face-to-face with her informer--who predicted the murder--to find out everything they know. 
My Thoughts
Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose is the second book in this historical mystery series, and while I loved the world, the interesting gadgets and inventions, the secret tunnels, and everything else that smacks of secrecy, I did feel like something was missing from the story. Parts of it did drag considerably and does everything have to have a love triangle?  

Marion Lane was an interesting main character and I do feel like there is plenty of room to develop her character in future books considering she is still an apprentice and not a full-blown investigator. I like how the author creates issues between her and her friends as she is asked to investigate certain activities under secrecy; I personally think the issues don't go far enough and the author missed a golden opportunity to really explore how important trust is in such a profession and how it can erode a working relationship.  

While I enjoyed the overall story, I couldn't overlook the plot holes that existed throughout. The choppy writing style didn't help and as I had not read the first novel, I was paying close attention to relationships and characters, so I did notice some inconsistencies which could be confusing.  And while most of the action took place at Miss Brickett's, I only have vague notions as to what anyone actually does outside of the institution. Considering this is the Cold War, the whole institution seems a bit simplistic to me, and very mismanaged, and I really feel like all of them would actually be killed quite easily if they were involved in some actual missions.  

Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose is one of those books over which I had mixed feelings. I thoroughly enjoyed the setting, loved the idea of it, but felt it lacked in actual reality especially if you have any good knowledge of Cold War exploits. However, taking place in 1959 does give the author plenty of scope to develop Cold War intrigue and conspiracies and having a heroine who is not a full-fledged investigator also allows for character development, but the author has not yet taken advantage of this as of yet.  There was enough interesting aspects to the plot to keep my interest, but there were sections that were slow and needed some development. As always, I recommend you check this book out for yourself, but at this point, I am not sure if I will read the next book in the series.


Sunday, April 3, 2022

Review: Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett

by Jennifer Fawcett
Release Date: February 22, 2022
2022 Atria Books
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982177157
Audiobook: B09MDM3GT9
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from publishr
2 / 5
Few in sleepy Sumner’s Mills have stumbled across the Octagon House hidden deep in the woods. Even fewer are brave enough to trespass. A man had killed his wife and two young daughters there, a shocking, gruesome crime that the sleepy upstate New York town tried to bury. One summer night, an emboldened fourteen-year-old Clare and her best friend, Abby, ventured into the Octagon House. Clare came out, but a piece of Abby never did.

Twenty years later, an adult Clare receives word that Abby has attempted suicide at the Octagon House and now lies in a coma. With little to lose and still grieving after a personal tragedy, Clare returns to her roots to uncover the darkness responsible for Abby’s accident.
My Thoughts
Beneath the Stairs definitely had an interesting concept and I am certainly drawn to things that go bump in the dark.  Horror books are my guilty pleasure, and while I don't tend to review many of them, I do read a lot of them.  Unfortunately, this one started pretty slowly, and although not usually a problem, never really picked up and I had to push myself to finish it.   

I am never opposed to dual timelines in a book as they can be very effective and create a lot of suspense when they are done well.  Unfortunately, I felt like the time lines in this book affected the suspense, and some of them didn't really add any value to the story as it was more about teenage angst and love than it was about building up good suspense. Does anyone want to read about these kinds of things in a horror novel? Unless unrequited love has to do with the actual story, goodbye. 
There was something creepy under the stairs and in the basement that was creating all of these issues with people, but at no time did I feel tension or that spine-tingling sense of danger as I was reading.  The plot was repetitive in the sense that what happened to the girls was told over and over again, yet there was never an explanation for what happened or why, just consequences.  Yes, I can read between the lines as well as anyone, but you have to have some meat to be able to do so and that 'meat' to the story was lacking behind Clare's musings over Mitchell and her failed friendship with Abby.  Frankly, this was a story about a basement whose door would only open for certain people, and when they went down the stairs they would see a creepy doll.  Pretty cliche, if you ask me.  

Beneath the Stairs had a lot of potential, but fell into the category of being simply a mystery without a thrill or a twist. Unfortunately, the characters were one-dimensional and lacked depth and the plot just limped along without any real focus or twist.  Personally, I just felt like it was about a haunted house that creeped out some kids for no apparent reason that I could ever divine as the explanations were weak or missing. However, as I mentioned, there is potential in this author's writing so I would love to try something again by her in the future. I really wished I had liked this one more.