Saturday, September 22, 2018

Review: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

An Unwanted Guest
by Shari Lapena
Release Date: August 7th 2018
2018 Pamela Dorman Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978- 0525557623

Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

It's winter in the Catskills and Mitchell's Inn, nestled deep in the woods, is the perfect setting for a relaxing--maybe even romantic--weekend away. It boasts spacious old rooms with huge woodburning fireplaces, a well-stocked wine cellar, and opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just curling up with a good murder mystery.

So when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and a blizzard cuts off the electricity--and all contact with the outside world--the guests settle in for the long haul.

Soon, though, one of the guests turns up dead--it looks like an accident. But when a second guest dies, they start to panic.

Within the snowed-in paradise, something--or someone--is picking off the guests one by one. And there's nothing they can do but hunker down and hope they can survive the storm.

My Thoughts
An Unwanted Guest is one of those books that I tried really, really, really hard to like, and it did have some good elements to it, but in the end, just didn't. I stuck with it because I was curious to see if I was correct with regards to the ending, but I kind of wished I had chosen another book to read instead of this one.

What attracted me to the book was the setting.  I tend to be a sucker for story lines set in conditions such as this: snow storm, isolated hotel, guests who are supposed to be strangers, mystery, secrets, and complications.  And because I have read so many books with this premise, I think I expect a lot from an author - the premier book obviously being that by Agatha Christie, whom I think the author tried to emulate.  Unfortunately, I don't think anyone should try to emulate Christie as they just won't succeed; they need to find their own formula and make it work for them.  And this author tried to make it 'Christie'-like and it just didn't work.  

The guests start dropping off one by one and with the power off, no one can call the police or ask for intervention of any kind.  Soon the guests realize (hello?) that it must be one of them so they decide they must stick together in order to prevent the murderer from having an opportunity and to prevent anyone else from dying.  Naturally, they all become quite bored staying in the living room as there's nothing to do other than drink and talk, but how do you talk to someone you think may be a killer?  

The biggest problem for me with this book was the multiple POVs.  Typically, I don't tend to have a problem with that, but it just didn't seem to work in this one and made everyone so removed from each other, and from the reader.  I got to the point where I didn't care who died and who didn't.  In fact, I didn't really care for any of the characters, except maybe David, as he was the most interesting one, and even that is stretching it.  Beverly and Henry? I just wanted to bang my head against the wall every time their POV came up.  And Riley? It made me seriously wonder how much the author knew about people with PTSD. I feel bad but I just couldn't feel anything for any of these characters and I really feel that it was because of the way the book was written. 

There was a lot of internal monologue from the different characters and you did get to find out some of their backstories because of this but I'm not really sure I liked the way it was done, not in a murder mystery story.  Not enough time was spent on the actual mystery and I feel like so much time was spent on the author trying to give us these backstories so we could figure out who the murderer was but all it did was distract from the story.  And I didn't care for the ending at all. Not one bit.

An Unwanted Guest is one of those books that should have been right up my alley but really didn't do anything for me.  I actually grew frustrated as I read and thought about giving up about three-quarters of the way in.  I should have.  It was a quick read though, for which I'm grateful, but I just didn't like the story or the characters and I definitely didn't like the ending.  I really wish it could have been otherwise as I love stuff like this and the atmosphere was great.  I really feel that you should judge this one for yourself though. This is the second book I've read by this author and neither book has been favourable for me so I don't think I would read another one by this author.  I feel badly about it, but that's the way it is. I am really glad that so many other people enjoyed this novel and appreciated it, but I am not one of them.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review: Letters From the Dead by Steve Robinson

Letters From the Dead (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery, Book #7)
by Steve Robinson
Release Date: August 14th 2018
2018 Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Edition; 348 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503903104
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars


When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is hired to prove the identity of a black sheep in his client’s family tree, he unwillingly finds himself drawn into a murder investigation with nothing more to go on than a 150-year-old letter and a connection to a legendary ruby that has been missing for generations.

As more letters are mysteriously left for him, Tayte becomes immersed in a centuries-old tale of greed, murder and forbidden love that takes his research from the wilds of the Scottish Highlands to the colour and heat of colonial India.

A dark secret is buried in Jaipur, steeped in treachery and scandal. But why is it having such deadly repercussions in the present? Can Tayte find the ruby and prevent the past from repeating itself before it’s too late?

My Thoughts
Letters From the Dead is the seventh book in the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery series and is rather intriguing; Tayte accepts an invitation to research the lineage of a client's patriarchal line, but must go to Scotland and reside in an old castle in order to do so as all of the family's papers and research history resides there.  Naturally, put the words 'old castle' and 'mystery' together and you've already got me hooked as I love that kind of thing.

The story is actually told in two alternating story lines; one in the present featuring Tayte, his research, and the current mystery and then you have the second story line taking place in the early 1800s in India, the story behind the letters that Tayte kept receiving in order to help with his research.  I love alternating story lines, if they're done well, and these two meshed seamlessly, woven into the story quite brilliantly.  I don't want to mention how as it is part of the mystery of the story, but it worked rather well and I enjoyed the way it was done.  While the story line from India was rather predictable and easy to figure out, it was still enjoyable.  It was the present story line, featuring Tayte, that I thought was predictable, but turned out to have one rather huge twist that actually caught me off guard, pleasantly so.  I love it when an author can do that to a reader.  

As always, Tayte is a favourite of mine and I have enjoyed his personality and character through all of the books, including this one.  He is married now, with a child, which adds a different element to his life, although neither really featured much in this novel.  Sinclair, the owner of the castle, was a bit mysterious, but was an enjoyable character, one I had a hard time figuring out.  But it was Murray, the live-in companion/helper/do-it-all person to Sinclair that I really enjoyed.  He was mysterious, but in a nice way, and I really enjoyed his personality and his quirks.  I understood how Tayte became suspicious of both of them during his investigation, and became rather guarded in the information he shared; he did have to protect himself, after all.  It just added another element to the story and made it that much more interesting.  After all, who do you trust when there is a big ruby in the mix of the investigation and people keep getting murdered around you?  I think I would have felt the same way as Tayte.

Letters From the Dead was another enjoyable entry to this series.  The book was dramatic, there was a rather intriguing puzzle to solve with clues left for Tayte in rather mysterious circumstances, intriguing and likeable characters, and a double story line that I rather liked. As always, the author has a way of drawing you in to the story and I stayed up way too late finishing this book.  To be honest though, compared to the other books in the series, I did think it was one of the weaker ones, but that didn't make it less enjoyable.  And while it could be read on its own, I do recommend you start at the beginning just to get an idea of why Tayte is in the position he is in as it is not explained but assumed.  I recommend the series to anyone who is interested in genealogical mysteries.