Thursday, May 31, 2018

Review: The Inquisitor's Key by Jefferson Bass

The Inquisitor's Key (Body Farm #7)
by Jefferson Bass
Release Date: May 8th 2012
2012 William Morrow
Hard Copy Edition; 353 Pages
ISBN: 978-0061806797
ASIN: B0068M2K5M
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

The Inquisitor’s Key takes forensic investigator Dr. Bill Brockton to Avignon, France, and embroils him in a deadly religious mystery that could shake the Vatican itself to its very foundations.  

My Thoughts
Imagine my surprise when I received a large package of books from the publisher of older books asking me if I'd be willing to take a look at them and review them.  Included was the four newest Jefferson Bass books, books I haven't actually read in a long time, so I was intrigued as I remembered really enjoying the Body Farm books.  And while The Inquisitor's Key was an easy read and quite fun, it didn't quite live up to its predecessors.

What I had really enjoyed about the previous Body Farm novels was the uniqueness of the stories, and to be honest, while this was a fun romp, it wasn't really unique.  I like the historical lessons through Avignon's past as I'm a history buff and teach history, but what I've always loved about these novels is the forensic stuff, so fascinating.  There wasn't a lot of that going on in this novel. The central mystery involves a set of bones discovered in an ossuary and whether or not those bones belong to Jesus, something that would be quite controversial.  It also deal with the lengths to which people, both in the modern and fourteenth centuries, would go to cover up truths or perpetuate lies all in the name of the Catholic Church.  And in the name of money.  

To be honest, the biggest problem I had with this book is that it's not overly interesting and I lost interest about halfway through.  The chapters alternate between past and present, and while I usually look forward to the historical stuff, I was more interested in reading about the descriptions of the buildings and the city that I was in the story, which is quite telling.  I didn't really empathize with any of the historical figures which is quite unusual for me.  One of the things I did find interesting was the information about the Shroud of Turin, especially as one of the specialists used in the book is actually read and you can find her articles online, something I did look up to get more information.  I have never really been interested in the Shroud but I did find the facts quite interesting.  

There is one aspect of the story though, which just drives me nuts and that has to do with Dr. Bill's obsessive infatuation with Miranda and his weird jealousy whenever she shows an interest in anyone else.  His possessiveness towards her just made me want to shake him, especially since she's half his age and is one of his assistants and students.  Wrong on so many levels.  I thought with the introduction of Plutarch and his unrequited love towards Laura that we might see some resolution to this, but to no avail and it seemed like a plot point that really went nowhere and made poor Laura seem like she had something wrong while Plutarch looked like a hero. Today, his actions would be called stalking.  

The Inquisitor's Key is one of those books that is meant to read just for fun, although I think it was intended to be a type of controversial religious book that was so popular a few years ago, but failed in its intention.  Overall, the premise was okay, and there was some attempt to make it interesting with parallel story lines, but lackluster storytelling and character development didn't help.  I also felt like some things were conveniently written off without explanations, like the story line about Isabella, as it made me feel like I was missing something big.  I normally enjoy these books, and with the next three books in the series, I am not giving up on Dr. Bill.  I sincerely hope they are more like the usual fare and not quite like this one. 
Thursday, May 24, 2018

Review: To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear

To Die But Once (Maisie Dobbs, #14)
by Jacqueline Winspear
Release Date: March 27th 2018
2018 Harper
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062436634
ASIN: B0722N61XC
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Spring 1940. With Britons facing what has become known as "the Bore War"—nothing much seems to have happened yet—Maisie Dobbs is asked to investigate the disappearance of a local lad, a young apprentice craftsman working on a "hush-hush" government contract. As Maisie’s inquiry reveals a possible link to the London underworld, another mother is worried about a missing son—but this time the boy in question is one beloved by Maisie.

My Thoughts
To Die but Once is the fourteenth entry into the Maisie Dobbs series, and it definitely doesn't disappoint.  You'd think that once the series got to this point that the mysteries would get rather thin, but the author set herself up nicely for this next entry as we're just at the point where things are getting rather interesting, historically wise, in England during WWII, as things begin heating up in France and the boys need to be rescued in Dunkirk.  And Winspear asks the question: How does this affect everyone at home?

Maisie had been hired by a neighbour to look for their missing son who had been apprenticed for a company going around the countryside painting fire-retardant chemicals on important government buildings as well as military buildings.  A trained nurse, and now a psychologist / investigator, Maisie is the perfect person to look for a missing boy; she can use her rather lengthy connections to gain access to some places that others may not be able to access.  

This series, and not just this book, is so well-written and well-researched, which is why I keep returning to it time and time again.  As a history teacher, I love learning some of the finer nuances of WWII that I didn't quite know, or know as well as I would have liked.  This book explores the early days and the use of fire-retardant and its effects on the painters and those exposed to the fumes.  Very interesting reading.  It is important to remember that Great Britain, like many other countries, was slowly coming out of its own depression, and many people were willing to take on jobs and they couldn't afford to be picky.  

The mystery isn't really the central part of the story and I really enjoyed that about this novel; it's really about family and the struggles that people had to survive during this time period.  There are young men who grew up on tales of WWI and want the chance to prove themselves against Hitler, not fully realizing the implications of what that really means; the challenge of a single female trying to adopt; the challenge of a man trying to keep his family from falling apart when his son goes missing in Dunkirk; a mother who is worried sick about her three boys; and the list just goes on an on.  It is definitely a fascinating period in British history, and it would be hard for anyone to write a story during this time period without including all of the havoc and turmoil that was happening as it would make it seem less authentic.  So while there was a lot happening in this one, and the mystery does kind of get lost at times, I don't know how it could be done in any other way because of the main events that were happening around them. The point being that smaller tragedies aren't any less real than bigger tragedies, they just hit people at different levels of suffering.

To Die But Once is the novel that finally enters WWII, one of my favourite historical time periods and I was so looking forward to this entry, which did not disappoint.  The author does assume some familiarity with the characters so if you are new to the series, there may be some confusion with regards to previous events. My recommendation is to read the novels in order as the characters' backstories will make a lot more sense.  I was also wondering how the author would introduce WWII, and I was not disappointed at all.  Because this is labelled a mystery novel however, I did feel like the mystery took a backseat to what was happening around them and every so often the author would remember the job that Maisie had to do, but I do understand why it had to be this way.  I am looking forward to seeing what the author has in store for Maisie next as you never know where she might end up or why. And we are now in the midst of WWII.
Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review: Questions I Want to Ask You by Michelle Falkoff

Questions I Want to Ask You
by Michelle Falkoff
Release Date: May 29th 2018
2018 HarperTeen
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062680235
Genre: Fiction / YA / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Patrick “Pack” Walsh may not know exactly where he’s going in life, but he’s happy where he is. He’s got a girlfriend who gets him. His single dad is his best friend. After graduation, he has a desk job lined up at the local crossfit gym, maybe he’ll even work his way up to trainer. He can’t see himself ever leaving the small town of Brooksby, MA. And he’s fine with that.

Then, on his eighteenth birthday, a letter from Pack’s mother changes everything.

Pack hits the road, searching for a mother he’s never known and a family he had no idea existed until now. His journey unearths questions about both of his parents that he never saw coming. And by the end of the summer, Pack has a whole different understanding of his past—and most importantly, where he wants his future to lead.

My Thoughts
Questions I Have to Ask You is quite different from what I was expecting, but that was quite fine with me as I enjoyed the exploration of Pack's personal demons and how he developed as a character quite a bit.  When I first picked this one up I thought it was going to be solely about Pack's search for his mother, but surprisingly, it became more a search for who he wants to be and how he got to be the way he currently is, questioning everything and anything around him, and I quite enjoyed the journey he took to get from point A to point B.

When I first met Pack, while I liked him, he was quite annoying as well.  He was very set in his ways, even at eighteen years old, with everything in his life planned out in front of him, including his girlfriend's life, and it was quite easy to tell that his girlfriend wasn't quite buying into his plan, thank goodness.  I would have thought less of her if she did.  Having spent a lot of his younger years being teased because he was fat, he decided to change his life by following an extremely strict Paleo diet and fitness regime, something his girlfriend also followed.  However, the pendulum swings both ways, and while he had no control with his eating habits early in his life, his control of his eating habits is pretty much borderline obsessive.  Trust me, I get the lifestyle as I follow a pretty strict Keto diet myself due to my gluten intolerance, but I don't allow my life to be ruled by my eating habits and will indulge once in a while without worrying if I'll develop eating issues.  I also think we should be very careful about using the diet as an excuse however, and looking at the real reason why Pack was so obsessed with his diet, as the Paleo diet really has nothing to do with his issues, it's just something he chose to use to help give himself some control and focus.  Pack is so uptight about reverting to old habits that he's wound up so tight he's forgotten to have fun and let loose once in a while and this is affecting his relationships; in fact, the only real relationship he has is with his girlfriend and even there, he wants to be in control of everything.  So, naturally, everything starts to fall apart for him and he has to learn to deal with life's curveballs.  And this is where I actually began to like Pack so much better as he grows and develops and tries new things, and realizes there is more to life than clearly set paths from which one can never.  As he begins to understand the lure of learning and curiosity, his character becomes so much more interesting, which made me want to learn more about him and where he was heading.  

While the letter from his mother set Pack on this learning curve, it was not really central to the plot; it was just a means of helping Pack realize what he may be missing from life and what he may want to do with his life, which I found interesting.  I felt pretty connected to the characters and thought they were all interesting in their own way. I really liked Maddie and thought she was quite intriguing, with a clear view on how things were and what she wanted; she didn't really let people push her around and was looking forward to leaving town and exploring the world as a university student. I remember how that felt and I was so glad she didn't cave into Pack's wishes and needs. On a different note, I'm not quite sure why the author skirted around the issue of actually using the word autistic with regards to Matt's sister though, but it was previous obvious.  Is there something wrong with actually labeling a character as autistic?  I feel like it made it look less authentic the way it was done, as if there was something wrong with it.  I don't know, but it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth.

Questions I Want to Ask You is a tale about relationships, growing up, self-discovery, and friendship. It's about realizing you are more than you thought, but you also have a lot of things to learn about yourself as you navigate the world outside of high school.  And while we never stop learning and growing, I've always felt that I learned the most about who I was and who I wanted to be while I was at university, and while the lessons were sometimes painful to learn, they were definitely necessary.  This novel shows some of that learning curve for Pack as he navigates the world after high school, learning more about himself, and learning to open himself up to possibilities he never imagined for himself.  Written with an interesting sub-story about his mother, this novel is sure to please anyone interested in a tale about friendship and growing up.
Monday, May 14, 2018

Review: Jinxed by Thommy Hutson

Jinxed by Thommy Hutson Tour Banner


by Thommy Hutson

on Tour March 12 - May 11, 2018


Jinxed by Thommy Hutson
"Thommy Hutson is the ultimate authority in nostalgia-driven storytelling."
~ Clive Barker, Bestselling Author of Books of Blood and The Thief of Always

High School Can Be a Real Killer

Break a mirror
Walk under a ladder
Step on a crack

Innocent childhood superstitions …

But someone at the secluded Trask Academy of Performing Arts is taking things one deadly step further when the campus is rocked with the deaths of some of its star students.

Layna Curtis, a talented, popular senior, soon realizes that the seemingly random, accidental deaths of her friends aren’t random—or accidents—at all. Someone has taken the childhood games too far, using the idea of superstitions to dispose of their classmates. As Layna tries to convince people of her theory, she uncovers the terrifying notion that each escalating, gruesome murder leads closer to its final victim: her.

Will Layna’s opening night also be her final bow?

Book Details:

Published by: Vesuvian Books
Publication Date: March 13th 2018
Number of Pages: 244
ISBN: 978-1944109127
Series: This is the first in a new trilogy, each is a stand alone but with a teaser for the upcoming book you won't want to miss!!
Get Your Copy from: Amazon & Barnes & Noble! Plus add it on Goodreads!

My Thoughts
Jinxed is one of those books that intrigued me because of the concept. You've got a bunch of teenagers trapped on an island with haunted ghost story swirling around them, a nice atmosphere created by thunder and lightning storms and descriptions of eerie sounding buildings, and one by one they are being picked off by a killer.   What more could you ask for? Sounds so Agatha Christie or Scream. And then, for me, the whole effect was ruined by the addition of one line, the last line in the prologue, something I wish the author had left out as it effectively gave away the whole game in the story.

First of all, I do want to say that I did enjoy the story though and thought the death scenes were quite effective.  However, because I didn't really connect with any of the characters, while the death scenes were interesting in the way the characters tried to escape and flee, I was disconnected from what happened and that didn't sit well with me. Death scenes should resonate with people, and I really felt like even the other characters were disconnected from what happened.  I think the author was maybe trying to show they were in shock but it didn't come across that way and it left me a bit discombobulated, wondering about the exact nature of the friendship between these people.  And some of the comments between them weren't always very nice either.  It's a murder-mystery, I get it, and I wasn't necessarily looking for major character development, but when a friend of yours dies, don't you expect to see a bit more emotion amongst your friends?  And when there was finally some drama, what do we get? Teen love triangle - no thanks, not for me.  It just didn't fit in, especially after a great death scene.  Left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

That being said, the murder scenes were probably my favourite part of the book, away from the silly teen drama. And you get to experience the deaths at different POVs. If you don't really like these things, then you shouldn't be reading horror, it is what it is.  And all I could picture was the movie Scream and how this book could be made into a cult movie like that one, with the cheesy cliches and comments, but put together somehow all work.   The pace was good, the action was good, and you've got the girl leaving her room to check on scary noises thing happening which makes you want to shake your head and shout at her, like you would at the movies if you were watching. Unfortunately, some of this campy stuff would come out better in a movie than in a book and I had to visualize it in order to get through it. I really think the author and I have an affinity for the same horror movies, but sometimes what works in movies doesn't quite come across the same in books. And like I said, while none of the characters really stood out and made an impression, none of them were horrible either; I just didn't really care who lived and who died. 

Which leaves me with the actual reason and the ending for all this gore.  The actual ending was good, and although I was expecting something to happen, it didn't quite happen the way I thought, which is good.  If you are a fan of horror though, you will find this a bit predictable and cheesy, the reason for all this gore being rather the usual stuff, nothing overly original. 

Jinxed definitely had an interesting concept that would draw many people to it, especially those who love slashers and horror films.  People love stories about superstitions and things like that, but I felt the story could have been better and related better.  Some things just didn't make sense.  Some of the petty drama surrounding the students made them feel insincere, immature, and selfish, and really hard to connect with, especially in a novel where you don't really expect a lot of character development to begin with in the first place, as it's about the horror.  But you do want to feel empathy for the characters when they die.  It's very clear that Hutson knows his horror movies extremely well, and I would love to see him weave his magic and turn this into a film or something as I think it would be very good as it has all the elements there; it just didn't quite work in a novel. And would I be willing to read the next book in the trilogy? Oh, definitely. Just for the death scenes alone. What can I say? I love horror, both on and off the screen.

Thommy HutsonAuthor Bio:
Born and raised in Upstate New York, Thommy graduated from UCLA and launched his career co-writing the story for the Warner Bros. animated hit SCOOBY-DOO IN WHERE’S MY MUMMY? He followed that with co-writing the concept and additional material for CHILL OUT, SCOOBY-DOO!
His career then took a thrilling turn when he wrote and produced several definitive genre film retrospectives for television and home entertainment: SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY, MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD and HIS NAME WAS JASON: 30 YEARS OF FRIDAY THE 13th.
He was also a staff writer on Hulu’s daily web series “The Morning After,” a smart, witty, pop culture program aimed at getting viewers up-to-date on the latest entertainment news and celebrity interviews.
Thommy also produced the critically acclaimed feature THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH, an insightful relationship drama starring Lea Thompson and John Shea. He also produced DREAMWORLD, a quirky, romantic dramedy.
He co-wrote and produced ANIMAL for Chiller Films and Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films. The project debuted in iTunes’ top ten horror films (reaching #1) and became the network’s highest-rated original movie.
Continuing his passion for uncovering the stories behind the story, he went on to produce CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th, which is the most comprehensive look at the popular film franchise.
As an author Thommy crafted a limited-edition coffee table book detailing the making and legacy of Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A trade version distributed by Simon & Schuster reached number one in’s Movie History & Criticism category. He also has a deal with Vesuvian Media to write a YA thriller trilogy with the first book due out spring 2017.
He produced and made his feature directorial debut with THE ID, an independent psychological drama/thriller. Filmmaker Magazine stated it was “a deeply unsettling thriller that’s as moving as it is frightening…with skillful, provocative direction that has echoes of early Polanski.”
Most recently, Thommy wrote the screenplay for CineTel Films’ supernatural horror film TRUTH OR DARE. He is also directing, writing and producing a documentary with Clive Barker’s Seraphim Films in addition to developing other film and television properties with the company.
As an author, he is currently writing another book that definitively details the history, making and legacy of another fan-favorite genre film from the 1980s.
A member of the Producers Guild of America, Thommy continues to develop unique, compelling and provocative projects across multiple genres for film, television, publishing, and home entertainment through his company Hutson Ranch Media.

Catch Up With Thommy Hutson On, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Review: The Queen's Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

The Queen's Poisoner (Kingfountain, Book #1)
by Jeff Wheeler
Release Date: April 1st 2016
2016 47North
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503953314
Genere: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.

Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth—through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.

My Thoughts
The Queen's Poisoner is the first book int he Kingfountain Trilogy and really lays down the foundation of the story from the world-building, to the political intrigues, to the characters and their many good qualities and flaws.  It was somewhat different from preview books by this author but that's one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much as it was different.  And while it did draw a lot on the War of the Roses and King Richard 11, freely admitted by the author himself, it was definitely not a retelling of that story, but its own unique story.

The main character eight-year-old Owen, thrust into the political intrigues because of his family, who must survive court the court and all its challenges when he is taken from his family as a hostage by the king.  Forced to learn very quickly whom to trust and whom not to, he learns to surround himself with people who are stealthy and can help him win the game.  He learns to make alliances, but also learns when to keep things to himself and when to give up important information in order to help his cause.  It's an interesting thing to read something from the perspective of an eight-year-old as you are left trying to figure out the political machinations from the bits and pieces that an eight-year-old would have understood rather than get the whole picture right away.  And everything is definitely not as it seems, with fine lines drawn between good and bad, and every character seeming to cross that line from time to time in order to do what they must to keep a kingdom running.  Basically, this story is about the characters, not about the magic, and I am curious as to how it will all play out in future books.  

The magic of the Fountain is hinted at, but in no way dominates this book; as I mentioned before, this book is about the development of the characters and is more plot-driven than magic-driven.  I think what it shows the reader is that kings and nobles must lead their countries without the use of magical power; there are so many other powers out there that are just as strong and just as useful and how you use them is what makes you powerful.  It was definitely an interesting thought.  For someone who loves magic in books, I was quite happy for magic to take a back seat as it worked in this book quite well.  Mancini, the Espion, has also developed into a favourite character of mine; he is so different from what I would expect from a spy and I really enjoyed his personality.  However, I imagine he would be quite deadly although I have yet to really see that aspect of his personality at this point and look forward to seeing how his character develops.

The Queen's Poisoner is well-written and enjoyable, and I have to say it, fairly clean in that the graphic violence of other fantasy novels is not present in this one.  Sometimes it's just nice to read a good story without all the torture and graphic war scenes in every chapter, you know?  However, the story is still good and interesting, and I am invested in the characters.  Looking forward to reading the next book in this trilogy, The Thief's Daughter.