Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review: Wild Blue Wonder by Carlie Sorosiak

Wild Blue Wonder
by Carlie Sorosiak
Release Date: June 26th 2018
2018 HarperTeen
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062563996
Genre: Fiction / YA
Source: Review copy from publusher

4 / 5 Stars

Ask anyone in Winship, Maine, and they’ll tell you the summer camp Quinn’s family owns is a magical place. Paper wishes hang from the ceiling. Blueberries grow in the dead of winter. According to local legend, a sea monster even lurks off the coast. Mostly, there’s just a feeling that something extraordinary could happen there.

Like Quinn falling in love with her best friend, Dylan.

After the accident, the magic drained from Quinn’s life. Now Dylan is gone, the camp is a lonely place, and Quinn knows it’s her fault.

But the new boy in town, Alexander, doesn’t see her as the monster she believes herself to be. As Quinn lets herself open up again, she begins to understand the truth about love, loss, and monsters—real and imagined.

My Thoughts
I knew absolutely nothing about this book going into it having not even read the blurb and I was so glad I did it this way as it was a great and pleasant surprise.  I really think the only thing I knew was that it was young adult, but I was sincerely praying it wasn't another fantasy novel as I've really read too many of those for the year and wanted something a bit different. And different is exactly what I got in Wild Blue Wonder.

First of all, the characters.  There wasn't a character I did not enjoy, from wise Nana to Quinn's funny dad to her family members, it all seemed to work rather well,  I enjoyed the interactions between them and how they stood up for each other even when they knew the other person was doing something they shouldn't.  They were all quirky, yes, but the author made it work and I loved the interactions between all of them.  It kind of reminded me of my own family so I felt right at home amongst them.  And while I didn't comprehend the deeper nuances of what had happened the summer before and what had created the rift between Quinn and her brother and sister, I patiently waited it out and was rewarded at the end.  

Why the confusion, you may ask?  The story was told in alternating timelines, with the present happening six months after the first story line and you only get bits and pieces of what happened to Dylan and why and how this affects everyone in the present.  It may seem a bit confusing but it definitely works.  I thought the author did a great job connecting the two timelines in such a way that made things in the present so much clearer as time went by and as events happened.  And because I hadn't read the blurb for the book, I didn't even know who had died until several chapters in which made things even more interesting for me.  So I wasn't clear as to why Quinn kept referring to herself as a monster in the present even though she didn't come across that way in the book.  Nor did I fully understand why she was hiding from the world and her future.  But it definitely becomes quite clear throughout the book.

Friendship and family are the dominating themes of the book and resonate quite strongly throughout everything.  The book is beautifully written and the use of the sea monster really reflects Quinn's thoughts in terms of herself and how she views herself because of what happened in the past; she has to reconcile those sea monsters if she ever wants to have a future.  Her Nana is wonderful in helping her deal with what happened, so clever but unassuming, just there to help her.  I love her Nana.  The themes of grief also resonate throughout the book with Quinn's family trying to deal with the aftermath of dealing with Dylan's death as well as the misconceptions people can have in the midst of their grief.  It was quite poignant and so well done.  

Wild Blue Wonder is a fantastic novel dealing with the issues of grief, resiliency, and healing as well as family and misconceptions.  At the beginning, the whole family was a broken entity and throughout the book we see them heal and come together, but not necessarily in the same way they were before and I have to admire the author for that.  I highly recommend this novel to anyone who likes quirky characters and a beautifully written story.
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review: The Spook in the Stacks by Eva Gates

The Spook in the Stacks (Lighthouse Library Mystery, Book #4)
by Eva Gates
Release Date: June 12th 2018
2018 Crooked Lane Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1683319214
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher /Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours

4.5 / 5 Stars

Wealthy businessman Jay Ruddle is considering donating his extensive collection of North Carolina historical documents to the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library, but the competition for the collection is fierce. Unfortunately, while the library is hosting a lecture on ghostly legends, Jay becomes one of the dearly departed in the rare books section. Now, it’s up to Lucy Richardson and her fellow librarians to bone up on their detective skills and discover who is responsible for this wicked Halloween homicide.

Meanwhile, very strange things are happening at the library—haunted horses are materializing in the marsh, the lights seem to have an eerie life of their own, and the tiny crew of a model ship appears to move around when no one is watching. Is Lucy at her wit’s end? Or can it be that the Bodie Island Lighthouse really is haunted? 

My Thoughts
The Spook in the Stacks is the fourth book in the Lighthouse Library Mystery series and I have enjoyed every single one of them.  What I truly love about these books is the setting as the lighthouse is such a perfect place for an author to go wild with her imagination and the author certain makes use of the setting to set up mysterious events and community outings that are perfect.  It makes me wish there was such a library so that I could go visit as I'm sure I could spend hours in such a place.  And for Lucy to be able to live at such a place?  Lucky!!

This installment is set during Hallowe'en and while I'm not a fan of trick or 'treating, I definitely love the idea of Hallowe'en, with all of the ghost stories and the hauntings.  I really think what draws me to this series are both Lucy, the assistant librarian, and her cat Charles, whom I adore, and I am not normally a fan of cats.  But cats, for whatever reason, belong in a lighthouse and a library, and Charles definitely adds both nuance and character to the story, often helping Lucy sort out her thoughts.  Lucy's character feels so normal as she doesn't really try to manipulate the cops or try to do their job, she just happens to be in places where she hears things and then immediately passes on the information.  I like how she respects the detective's job and doesn't think about them condescendingly, one of my pet peeves in some cozy mysteries.  So, the story is not necessarily about Lucy doing a lot of detective work, but she does find out a lot of information by just being who she is and listening to people's conversations, something that I really like.  And because so many of the events take place at the lighthouse, you do learn a bit more of the history of the area which is definitely a bonus.  Lucy is also just a regular woman struggling with her emotions in a new relationship which makes her seem more real, someone who is questioning her choices and decisions. Her struggle is very real and something anyone can relate to.

The author has definitely written a novel that draws you into the lives of the characters and I was happy to learn more about them; this is one of those series where I enjoy every single character, even the annoying ones.  The plot was entertaining and events moved along rather quickly, with quite a few twists and turns.  I didn't have a problem figuring out who the murderer was, but it was still fun figuring it out along with Lucy with the help of her trusted cat Charles.  I'm not sure if people are aware that Eva Gates is actually Vicky Delany, Canadian author of many other cozy mystery series, and that Crooked Lane Books saved this series for which I'm eternally grateful.  

The Spook in the Stacks was a fun and delightful read and I couldn't be happier discovering this series was to continue as there was quite a long wait between books three and four.  The plot was interesting and so were the characters and I can't wait to see what this author has in store for Lucy and Charles in the next installment.  For anyone who loves fun and interesting cozy mysteries, I highly recommend this series.
Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: Murder in the Locked Library by Ellery Adams

Murder in the Locked Library (Book Retreat Mysteries, Book #4)
by Ellery Adams
Release Date: April 24th 2018
2018 Kensington Publishing Corporation
Kindle Edition; 289 Pages
ISBN: 978-1496715830
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Welcome to Storyton Hall, Virginia, where book lovers travel from near and far to enjoy the singular comforts of the Agatha Christie Tea Room, where they can discuss the merits of their favorite authors no matter how deadly the topic . . .

With her twins, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, back in school, Jane Steward can finally focus on her work again—managing Storyton Hall, and breaking ground on the resort’s latest attraction: a luxurious, relaxing spa named in honor of Walt Whitman. But when the earth is dug up to start laying the spa’s foundation, something else comes to the surface—a collection of unusual bones and the ragged remnants of a very old book. The attendees of the Rare Book Conference are eager to assist Jane with this unexpected historical mystery—until a visitor meets an untimely end in the Henry James Library. As the questions—and suspects—start stacking up, Jane will have to uncover a killer before more unhappy endings ensue . . .

My Thoughts
Murder in the Locked Library is the fourth book in the Book Retreat Mysteries series, and while this was the first book I had read in this series, I am definitely familiar with her work through such series as Books By The Bay Mysteries and Novel Idea Mysteries, all of which I've liked.  I don't know why it took me so long to read one of the mysteries in this series but I am so glad that I did, and I will definitely go back and read the three earlier novels.

Jane Steward is the owner of Storyton Hall and is the main character in this series.  She's also the Guardian of a secret library hidden away in the depths of the hall, a library that must be protected at all costs, and to which other groups are constantly searching and trying to steal.  It actually sounds a bit like the Librarians or the Magicians without all the time traveling and magic, although you never know if something like that could show up, just not in this one.  I also couldn't get the image of fairy tales out of my head and once I went down that route all I could picture was the show Once Upon a Time; after that I started expecting characters to change into something else, and not be who they were.  

The story revolves around an old book discovered in Storyton's gardens and since I'm a book lover, the whole back story to its provenance was quite intriguing, so much so that I almost forgot this was a cozy mystery.  When the death occurred, it kind of threw me for a loop as I was so caught up in the book's story as well as what was happening at the inn with the book conference; the descriptions of the food and the decorations just made me want to head there and partake.  The overall pace of the novel was quite good, with a lot of twists and turns interspersed with action that made you want to keep reading and keep turning the pages.  There were a lot of suspects, but it wasn't so overwhelming that you felt lost; there were just enough so that some red herrings were thrown in for good measure to try and trip you up.  There is also an interesting side story that is going to lead into the next book and I am intrigued about that as well.  

Murder in the Locked Library was a fun read with a lot of intriguing and quirky characters.  I really liked the setting to the story and was thinking it would be a great place to visit if it were real.  And while I hadn't read a previous novel in this series, it didn't affect my understanding of the Hall or any of the characters in this book, although I will go back just to get a bit more background information that would be in those books.  Plus I always like a book where I didn't correctly guess the murderer or the motive.  I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series when it is released. 
Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review: Hair of the Dog by Carlene O'Neill

Hair of the Dog (Cypress Cove Mystery, Book #3)
by Carlene O'Neill
Release Date: April 23rd 2018
2018 Carlene O'Neill
Kindle Edition; 300 Pages
ISBN: 978-0999270301
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Amateur sleuth Penny Lively is working her tail off trying to keep her family winery afloat. For the first time in her life she's too busy to go looking for trouble. But when drugs are stolen from town veterinarian Annie Moore, Penny is there to help. After all, Annie is her cousin and best friend.
When Annie is later found over the body of her business partner, Penny knows it doesn’t look good. The police dig up a motive for Annie and she quickly becomes the primary suspect. Penny knows Annie is no murderer, and is determined to find the real culprit. When a second body turns up, Penny knows she needs to find the killer before anyone else is muzzled, permanently. 

My Thoughts
Hair of the Dog is the third book in a Cypress Cove Mystery series, and although I haven't yet read the first two books in this series, I didn't feel like I was missing anything with regards to the setting or the characters.  The author was pretty good at laying out who the characters were without giving away too much information from previous novels and I had no trouble understanding who was who.

The main character, Penny Lively, is a hoot.  I love her personality and found myself laughing out loud quite a few times at her irreverent thoughts about those around her - nothing ever really rude, just really funny, the kind of thing to which most of us as women would really relate.  Sometimes her inner voice would be echoing my inner voice and I couldn't help but laugh.  Despite all of that though, Penny is really quite nosy, but has this way about her that endears her to people and they open up to her even though they realize she can be quite abrupt and really shouldn't be asking the questions she does.  There are definitely some people who can get away with that and some people who should never open their mouths in public, you know?  I like how loyal she was to her friend, despite the fact that Annie was caught standing over a dead body with a knife in her hand, also discovering later about a huge insurance payout in Annie's name should anything happen to her partner.  And being caught with said knife and body in front of the person whom you fired just hours ago definitely didn't look good.  So, Penny definitely had her work cut out for her.

The twists and turns leading up to the big conclusion were quite lively and fun, even if it was easy to spot who the murderer was from the beginning; I only had trouble trying to figure out the motive as it was not what I initially thought even though it was there in front of me the whole time.  I have to commend the author for that one as she did keep me guessing as to the motive.  Although the book is a slow starter, it picks up rather quickly and moves along rather nicely.  I didn't find it bogged down with too many suspects, and could keep track of their whereabouts and actions quite easily.  What I truly enjoyed about the book though, is that it wasn't just about the mystery; there was a number of winery events thrown in with good food, good company, and fun, kind of showing you what a winery does although that grow grapes and create different kinds of wine.  I also like how this book showed how the weather can really affect a winery as it was constantly raining and it showed the effects the water had on the grapes and vines.  Even though I grew up close to wine country, I was never really involved in a winery, other than to go to tastings and weddings, so it was interesting to see the inner workings of one.

Hair of the Dog was a fun cozy mystery and I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in reading this genre.  The characters were interesting, and there was even a touch of romance between Penny and Connor, Penny's estate manager, which I hope to see develop in future books.  And even though I knew who did it early on, it didn't take away from the fun of the novel and I enjoyed following the twists and turns, and I definitely did not figure out the motive, did not even suspect what it was.  Cypress Cove is a place I would definitely love to visit.
Sunday, June 3, 2018

Review: A Death in Live Oak by Jack Swyteck

A Death in Live Oak (Jack Swyteck, Book #14)
by James Grippando
Release Date: February 6th 2018
2018 Harper
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062657824
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

When the body of Jamal Cousin, president of the pre-eminent black fraternity at the Florida's flagship university, is discovered hogtied in the Stygian water swamps of the Suwanee River Valley, the death sets off a firestorm that threatens to rage out of control when a fellow student, Mark Towson, the president of a prominent white fraternity, is accused of the crime.

Contending with rising political tensions, racial unrest, and a sensational media, Towson’s defense attorney, Jack Swyteck, knows that the stakes could not be higher—inside or outside the old Suwanee County Couthouse.  The evidence against his client, which includes a threatening text message referencing "strange fruit" on the river, seems overwhelming. Then Jack gets a break that could turn the case. Jamal's gruesome murder bears disturbing similarities to another lynching that occurred back in the Jim Crow days of 1944. Are the chilling parallels purely coincidental? With a community in chaos and a young man’s life in jeopardy, Jack will use every resource to find out.

My Thoughts
A Death in Live Oak is the fourteenth book in the Jack Swyteck series and I thoroughly enjoyed this entry into this series.  Sometimes in a series as long as this one, you get that book that doesn't quite fit into the series and wonder if the series is starting to go downhill, but this hasn't happened yet with Jack and company and I am so glad.  And what's even better, if you haven't read any of the previous books, reading this one doesn't depend on reading any of the previous ones - you can just jump right in and read the others at your leisure.

Now the topic is quite a controversial one and I was actually surprised the author decided to tackle such a sensitive issue as racism in the south, but he definitely did it remarquably well.  The novel deals with historical lynching, racial tensions on university and college campuses, and the after-effects when a white student (Mark Towson, the president of a famous white fraternity) is accused of murdering a black student (Jamal Cousin, the president of a black fraternity).  And all hell breaks loose, literally.  I do have to say I felt sorry for Mark as he was hounded by a lawyer famous for winning cases based on racism, someone who was definitely looking to make this case look like it was only something to do with racism.  And it certainly didn't help when it was discovered that Mark's phone contained incriminating text messages against Jamal.  I liked Mark as a character and liked his perplexity in the face of being slammed with racist charges and his responses to all of the claims.  I'm not sure how I would have reacted, but I don't think I would have handled it as well as he did.  It's really hard to say much more without giving away more of the plot, but it was definitely difficult to read the scenes where Mark has to face the university council to decide his fate and their reaction to his charges.  

Jack was a bit reluctant to get involved as he knew how badly it could blow up in his face, but his dad was a good friend to Mark's dad and he found it difficult to diplomatically refuse the offer to defend Mark.  Getting caught up in the ever-increasing violence on campus and elsewhere, Jack became very conflicted over the case and was worried about his own family, especially when some of the violence actually did reach his front door.   I felt very sympathetic towards Jack and really had no idea how I would have dealt with such a delicate situation - one the one hand you don't want to let a friend of your dad's down in such a serious situation, but on the other, you own family's safety comes first. 

The plot moved rather quickly and there was a lot going on.  And while there is typically not a lot of horror in these books, the descriptions are enough to make you realize that Jamal's death was quite a painful one; who would actually do that to another person?  Although I did figure out who it was, there were quite a few red herrings that did make me wonder if I was right and I did second-guess myself a few times.  I think having read all of this author's previous books helped as I was familiar with his writing style.  The only thing I wasn't crazy about was Andie's story line although it did fit in quite nicely with Jack's, and I think that's why I didn't like it - it was too nicely and neatly done.  If the author was looking to find a way to get Andie into the story, I really think it could have been done differently as it just felt...wrong.  I can't explain it other than that it jarred with the rest of the story.  I would think that a group as organized as that would know who Jack's wife was, that's all I'm saying. When something feels fake and contrived, it's usually because it is.  I really think the author should have included more about Theo and Jack and how they would have interpreted the events in the story, and left Andie out of it this time.  There was really no reason to have her involved this time round.

A Death in Live Oak certainly makes you think, and the author is definitely not one to turn away from controversy or difficult topics, but I do think he handled it quite well.  The writing was fast-paced and I had a hard time putting down the book.  I think including Theo a lot of more and his reactions to the events and the development of Jack and Theo's friendship would have been a great addition to this book, and so much more relevant than Andie's involvement, which kind of lowered the overall rating for me.  That being said, I love this author and can't wait to see what his comes up with next.  I highly recommend you start this series from the beginning and enjoy each book. So much fun!!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Review : Daughter by Jane Shemilt

The Daughter
by Jane Shemilt
Release Date: August 28th 2014
2014 Penguin
Softcover Edition; 390 Pages
ISBN: 978-1405915298
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

Jenny is a successful family doctor, the mother of three great teenagers, married to a celebrated neurosurgeon.

But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn’t come home after her school play, Jenny’s seemingly ideal life begins to crumble. The authorities launch a nationwide search with no success. Naomi has vanished, and her family is broken.

As the months pass, the worst-case scenarios—kidnapping, murder—seem less plausible. The trail has gone cold. Yet for a desperate Jenny, the search has barely begun. More than a year after her daughter’s disappearance, she’s still digging for answers—and what she finds disturbs her. Everyone she’s trusted, everyone she thought she knew, has been keeping secrets, especially Naomi. Piecing together the traces her daughter left behind, Jenny discovers a very different Naomi from the girl she thought she’d raised.

My Thoughts
Daughter is one of those books I really tried hard to like, but the more I read, the more I just couldn't stand the main character, Jenny.  I don't know what it was about her, but I just couldn't warm up to her, even hoping at one point that she was the one involved in the kidnapping.  

I think one of the things that was quite disconcerting, right from the beginning, was the way the book was written.  Bouncing from the present to a year earlier, you already knew that Naomi was still gone, and the police were still searching, kind of taking away from the suspense of the whole story.  And what it actually became was not a mystery or a suspense story, but an introspective look at how much Jenny missed and didn't see, or chose not to see, at the events and family members surrounding her.  It got a bit old, quickly. It also meant that anyone I thought was a suspect was still free, or was not necessarily a suspect, which actually ruined the whole suspense thing for me.  I have to admit I skimmed through the modern sections as they gave away too much information about the back story and I was much more interested in the events surrounding Naomi's disappearance.  Because of the modern point of view, you also discovered what was going on with Naomi's twin brothers during the events surrounding her disappearance which made all of the suspense kind of drizzle away into nothing, to the point where I just wanted to finish the book.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE alternating story lines and time lines, but it just did not work in this novel, at least for me.  It would have been a lot better if the story had just continued along its course as it would have kept the tension and you would not have known the events before they happened.  I feel like a lot of the family dynamics were lost this way. 

Let's go back to Doctor Jenny.  I don't think I would like to have her as my doctor as she just seems so incredibly distracted and out of touch with what is happening around her.  Jade's symptoms were so blatantly obvious even I picked up on it, especially after having a friend's son go through it, and reading that whole chapter with Jenny missing all the clues just made me want to shake her.  Really? After twenty years practicing and the only thing you can account for those symptoms is what you came up with?  And her daughter?  How out of tune do you have to be not to realize something was drastically wrong with your own son and daughter?  First of all, the mood swings and behaviousr changes, the violent and explosive temper, the missing drugs from your bag, and Doctor Jenny still missed the clues.  And hubby, coming home smelling like perfume?  Okay!!  Yes, it's definitely easy to miss things at the beginning, but by this point, you could have slapped her with them and she still wouldn't have seen them.  I just found her so wrapped up in her own little world that I just couldn't empathize with her suffering or her regrets as most of them were her own fault.   

While the writing was good and the author definitely has this ability to draw you in despite the story line, I just couldn't get past the character development of some of these characters and I couldn't get past the confusing behaviour that some of them displayed, some of which made absolutely no sense. For example, I find it hard to believe that a fifteen-year old girl would leave bloodied sheets and wine glasses at her parents' cottage for anyone to find, but sneak around for six months without anyone knowing they were involved and having sex.  I also find it hard to believe that her brother Theo would have been allowed to enter paintings of his naked sister into a school portfolio without some consequences and repercussions, even if she was semi-covered with tree branches.  There at least I understood dad's anger.  And Ed, his anger didn't really make sense as his reasons were never fully explained; he just one day started exploding at Jenny and calling her neglectful.  So where did all this anger come from?  

Daughter is one of those books that, like I said, I really tried to like, but just couldn't.  One of the things that really bothered me was the hinted at explanation that Ed, Theo, and Naomi's problems were because Jenny worked long hours at the clinic and spent all of her time painting and was therefore neglectful of her children, but rarely was this hinted about her husband who spent longer hours away as a neurological surgeon.  When Jenny complained about his long hours, it was always in reference to HER missing out, never about the children, but in her case, it was always about the children.  Stereotypical or what.  So, while the author's writing style did keep me turning the pages, I did get frustrated quite a bit, and I read on, only hoping to finally come to some resolution about Naomi.  Don't even get me started on the ending.  It meant so many people lied to her and I was spluttering at the end.  All of this being said, this novel was an Edgar Award Nominee for Best Paperback Original, so even though I didn't really like it, there were many who did, and I think you need to judge it for yourself.