Saturday, March 30, 2019

Review: The Book Artist by Mark Pryor

The Book Artist (Hugo Marston, Book #8)
by Mark Pryor
Release Date: February 5th 2019
2019 Seventh Street Books
Kindle Edition; 272 Pages
ISBN: 978-1633884885
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Hugo Marston accompanies his boss, US Ambassador J. Bradford Taylor, to the first night of an art exhibition in Montmartre, Paris. Hugo is less than happy about going until he finds out that the sculptures on display are made from his favorite medium: books. Soon after the champagne starts to flow and the canapes are served, the night takes a deadly turn when one of the guests is found murdered.

Hugo lingers at the scene and offers his profiling expertise to help solve the crime, but the detective in charge quickly jumps to his own conclusions. He makes an arrest, but it's someone that Hugo is certain is innocent. Meanwhile, his best friend, Tom Green, has disappeared to Amsterdam, hunting an enemy from their past, an enemy who gets the upper hand on Tom, and who then sets his sights on Hugo.

My Thoughts
The Book Artist is the eighth installment in the Hugo Marston series and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  There is something really solid about this series that draws me back into Hugo's world time and time again; interesting characters, good story lines, and intrigue that is rather intriguing.  These are also the type of books you can finish in one sitting which is nice if you're just finished something daunting and challenging and want something easy and quick to read.

Hugo has been a favourite of mine for quite a while now and he has been through a lot, this book being no exception.  I enjoy his personality and of course, the fact that he loves books has absolutely nothing to with it. ☺ He has also developed quite a bit and seems more relaxed in his personal relationships; he also doesn't take them for granted and appreciates the time he has with everyone, which is kind of nice.  Hugo is also a former FBI agent who is head of security for the local American embassy in Paris, so naturally, there is a lot of interesting things happening.  I continue to enjoy the dialogue between the embassador and Hugo as well as their developing friendship; it's also interesting to follow Hugo and learn more about what his job entails and some of the things he has to do.  Unfortunately, there is one nasty twist I wasn't expecting, and really didn't like, only because it was a bit upsetting.   While these books are interesting, I don't usually find them to be unpredictable so I wasn't expecting this little twist and it caught me off guard.  

The plot therefore, was quite predictable and it was fairly easy to figure out the culprit in this mystery.  While the author really does try to set some red herrings for the reader, I don't think they worked very well, but it didn't stop me from enjoyed the book.  The rather nasty twist didn't have anything to do with the actual mystery in this book but actually had to do with something that happened in a previous novel so if a reader wasn't familiar with that situation they may be a bit confused as to the seriousness of what was happening. The author did mesh the two story lines together just fine towards the end, although at first I was a bit skeptical they would work as they were completely different things.  There was this feeling though, that the author was just using this previous character as a way to fill up space in this book because there wasn't enough material for the mystery that was happening in Paris.  Just a thought.

The Book Artist is a book that will entertain you, but if you are looking for an in-depth, complicated mystery, then this may not be for you, even if the events are not necessarily light-hearted.  I really enjoy the characters in these books which is why I return to them and have read every book, but I do read them because they are easier to read.   That is not necessarily a bad thing, and I recommend this book, and series, to anyone looking for something lighter to read, but still want something enjoyable.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Review: The Witch Elm by Tana French

The Witch Elm
by Tana French
Release Date: October 9th 2018
2018 Viking
Kindle Edition; 464 Pages
ISBN: 978-0735224636
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who's dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family's ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden - and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

My Thoughts
The Witch Elm totally caught me off guard as I didn't really care for it at all; I think the only reason I read it through to the end was because it was a Tana French novel, and I was waiting for it to get better, but it never really did.  It saddens me to say that because I look forward to her novels, for the intricacy of her characters, and for the police procedural work involved, but not a lot of that was evident in this one.  The only reason the rating is three stars is because of her exemplary writing skill, still very much in evidence.

Now why would I think this of a beloved author's book?  For a couple of reasons.  Mainly, the main character was an ass, to put it mildly.  Typically, that doesn't bother me in main characters as they can be complex, flawed, and rather interesting.  Toby, however, was just...meh.  He's just one of those people who walks around convinced he's born under a lucky star, and that bad things shouldn't happen to him just because of who he is.  What this does is make him obnoxious, condescending, and very, very annoying.  Pair that with good looks and you've got the type of guy who thinks the world is just there for him, and owes him something just because of who he is.  What his girlfriend sees in him is beyond me.  Normally, Toby's complete ignorance of what is happening around him would make him interesting, especially when things start to get tough and he has to face reality, but even when that does happen, he takes on this affronted air as if he just can't believe anyone would dare accost him, or how dare they touch the almighty golden Toby.  His flaws don't actually make him interesting in this case, they make him seem petulant and childish.  Too bad, as this was a golden opportunity wasted on the author's part as she certainly has the writing skills to be able to sink her teeth into something like this, and do it well.

I actually preferred Toby's cousins to him and looked forward to their appearance in the story.  Flawed, yes, interesting, yes. annoying, no.  There was so much more meat to their personalities that I liked their stories and wanted to know more about what made them tick and why they had an issue with Toby, other than just wanting to clobber him for who he was, that is.  Whenever things got really interesting though, the author would turn it back to Toby and I would be left deflated and bored.  The author has this way of writing that makes you want to read pages and pages of dialogue, and the way she wove the cousins' disgust and mistrust of Toby throughout their discussions was quite fascinating, probably my favourite parts of the book.  I think she was trying to show that Toby was flawed so you would be sympathetic towards him, but all it did was make me like the cousins even more and detest Toby.  

The story itself was one of the weakest parts however, as the mystery didn't really get going until halfway through the book. I'm not even sure why the event at the beginning happened as it wasn't even necessary to the plot; I kept waiting for the big reveal and nothing happened.  If it was just to show that events could happen to Toby just because he was human and not born under this lucky start, well, it kind of failed on my part as it almost made me shut the book and DNF.  

The Witch Elm is not one of her books I would recommend to others. I get the point of the novel, how our actions, whether we realize it or not, have an effect on everyone around us, sometimes for years, and how people can hold resentment for a long time for something you did.  How you can go blithely along, completely unaware, wrapped up in your world, a kind of narcissistic world.  I think the problem is that it didn't quite succeed in this book.  Toby was not a likeable character, it took too long for the central mystery to appear, with another one throwing confusion along the way, and I really felt like the author kind of lost the main thread/theme of her book.  Would I read another of her books? Yes, but I will stick to procedural ones for now.
Monday, March 11, 2019

Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls 
by Simone St. James
Release date: March 20th 2018
2018 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451476203
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Vermont, 1950. There's a place for the girls whom no one wants--the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It's called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it's located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming--until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she's tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister's death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister's boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can't shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

My Thoughts
The Broken Girls was an interesting mystery with a bit of a paranormal twist that I wasn't expecting. While I love paranormal stories, I don't usually like them mixed into a murder investigation like this, but for whatever reason, it seemed to work without being tacky.  When rumours that an old, run-down boarding house about to be renovated actually become reality, it can't be helped that an old murder from twenty years ago is brought up in the media drawing further attention to the project because the old murder happened on the house's grounds.  Naturally, being old and run-down, stories persist about it being haunted. Now this is definitely my kind of thing to read. 

The story actually alternates between two time periods, 2014 and 1950.  The first is told from Fiona's point of view, which is kind of the one I found the most interesting simply because Fiona's sister was the one murdered twenty years ago and I found her story fascinating.  I liked how her grief wasn't pushed aside but rather acknowledged as real even though it's been so long. I also liked how it's woven throughout her friendships and in her relationship with her dad, a famous journalist himself.  The moments when they confront their grief as they discover new clues in their hunt for the truth are well-written.  I liked how the author doesn't just gloss over how difficult it was for everyone and how life was like when something like that happens.

The other story line, in 1950, was told from multiple perspectives, but it was woven quite seamlessly into the first which made the jump back and forth quite easy.  And while I found the first story line more interesting, that isn't saying much because I pretty much devoured this book in several hours. You were able to understand the points of view of the four girls who were friends and roommates and of course, their secrets were revealed as the story progressed, woven into the first story line, as clues were discovered.  Quite well done actually.  And there are a lot of secrets to discover, some of which I figured out and one main one which I didn't.  I still love that element of surprise, makes the reading experience so much richer.

Interesting enough, the paranormal aspect to this story actually became my favourite part of the book.  It definitely gave it a gothic feel, making the whole thing feel spooky.  The atmosphere kept me immersed in the book and I loved the mystery feel of it.  However, I will have to say that I was kind of disappointed in the end  as I felt too many coincidences were happening, and it felt like the author was losing control of the story, like a runaway train with you trying to jump on.  I'm all for coincidences, but when too many are used as plot points, it gets old, fast, and then the writing gets all mixed up and confused.  

The Broken Girls is a good, entertaining story with a gothic feel. I enjoyed the characters and thought the story flowed quite nicely, until the end, with a nice paranormal aspect thrown in for good measure.  Definitely recommend this book for those of you who like dual story lines, good writing, interesting mystery, and an intriguing mystery.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Review: Tombland by C.J. Sansom

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, Book #7)
by C.J. Sansom
Release date: October 18th 2018
2018 Pan MacMillan - Mantle
Kindle Edition; 866 Pages
ISBN: 978-1447284482
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Revew copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars


Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos . . .

The nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Protector. The extirpation of the old religion by radical Protestants is stirring discontent among the populace while the Protector's prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure and threatens to involve France. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry. 

Since the old King's death, Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry's younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of the wife of a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth's mother, John Boleyn - which could have political implications for Elizabeth - brings Shardlake and his assistant Nicholas Overton to the summer assizes at Norwich. There they are reunited with Shardlake's former assistant Jack Barak. The three find layers of mystery and danger surrounding the death of Edith Boleyn, as a second murder is committed. And then East Anglia explodes, as peasant rebellion breaks out across the country. Barak throws in his lot with the rebels; Nicholas, opposed to them, becomes a prisoner in Norwich Castle; while Shardlake has to decide where his ultimate loyalties lie, as government forces in London prepare to march north and destroy the rebels. Meanwhile he discovers that the murder of Edith Boleyn may have connections reaching into both the heart of the rebel camp and of the Norfolk gentry . . .

My Thoughts
Tombland is the seventh book in an amazing series, but I don't think it was one of his better ones.  While I liked this book, I don't necessarily think it was his best. And as a reviewer I also have to look at it critically and as the book is listed as a mystery novel, not just historical fiction,  it needs to be evaluated as such.  And while the historical parts to the novel were great, the actual mystery did kind of take a back seat to the rebellion and kind of got lost a bit in the midst of what was happening.  However, the writing is mesmerizing and you feel like you are right in the midst of everything; the sweat, the fear, the blood, the misery, but also the excitement and hope people felt at fighting back.

What can I say?  I love Matthew Shardlake as a character and have since the first book.   I really felt like he got the short end of the stick on this one though, as how he could investigate the murder of a relation to Princess Elizabeth without rousing undue attention was utterly beyond me.  Of course he's going to attract the attention of the powers that be and get caught up in events of which he has no understanding as yet again, he was not being told the whole picture.  It does get frustrating at times because you would think, after everything he has done for them, that they would at least give Matthew some understanding of exactly what was happening and not just the undercurrents.  And then expect him to complete everything in a matter of days on top of it, frustrating.  So the nuances at play here are brilliant; you really do need some understanding of history though to be able to put it all together and understand a lot of the political intrigues that are happening here.  I really felt that Nicholas was the most developed character in this book, Barak just kind of got on my nerves, and you could tell that Toby would be the one who would cause problems later, just because there has to be that kind of character, you know?  A bit predictable. 

I am so glad this author wrote about this period of time as he did it wonderfully, bringing to light the English Rebellions, a time period where there were many violent responses to land enclosures against the rich and wealthy landowners.  And while I do agree that this was a time of great importance, and the story was engaging, the author did lose sight of the main issue, which was to find the killer of Edith Boleyn.  It was quite easy to figure out what happened to Edith, but I could see how the reader might have got lost amid all of the events surrounding the rebellion and the events that occurred because of it. And if you aren't interested in history, and the day-to-day workings of what happened, this book could have a tendency to drag on. Half of the book is devoted to the rebellion so people may not find that interesting if you are looking for a mystery novel.  And while I was glad that Matthew got what he deserved in the end, I wasn't actually too impressed with the how; was it really necessary? And yes, it felt a bit contrived.  When you read the book, you will know what I am talking about as I don't want to give too much away.

Tombland is one of those books that I enjoyed tremendously when it came to the historical aspect, but was a bit disappointed in when it came to the mystery and the character development.  I adore Matthew as a character, but really felt that, although he was in the midst of a lot of events, he also seemed to take a back seat to a lot of things too.  By that, I mean that he seemed to wait for things around him to happen which is not the character with which I am familiar in previous books, one who took charge and made things happen.  In other words, it seemed like he just couldn't make a firm decision on anything and it was a bit frustrating.  And although I understand the context in which he found himself, I am pretty sure he could have done more to stand up for himself and those he cared about.  Overall, the story was interesting, but definitely not on par with some of the author's previous novels, and the character development was a bit flimsy at best. Will I read another book by this author? Oh, yes, simply because I enjoy his writing style and I love Matthew, so hoping for a better mystery next time.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

The Lost Girls of Paris
by Pam Jenoff
Release Date: January 29th 2019
2019 Park Row
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778308614
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

My Thoughts
The Lost Girls of Paris definitely had a lot of potential: the story of young women during WWII, recruited to spy on the Germans in France simply because they (the powers that be) thought the Germans would not pay as much attention to them and their actions.  Also loosely based on true events, this should have been great. Unfortunately, the novel did not live up to its potential and I although I enjoyed aspects of it, overall I was somewhat disappointed in this one.

First of all, I really preferred the parts about Marie and Eleanor and felt the author should have focused on their story.  To be honest, I'm really not sure why she included the alternating story lines as there was really no purpose to Grace's; her story just got in the way and I felt it was irrelevant.  If it was just to show how a woman could be independent after the war years if she worked hard, in my opinion, it failed.  I found Grace to be rather annoying as a character, more concerned about her reasons why she slept with her dead husband's best friend.  And this is not really a spoiler as it pretty much happens on the second page of the book, another reason why I should have stopped reading at that point..  I guess I just really wished the author would have come up with a better reason than 'compuslsion' for Grace wanting to pursue the matter of discovering the identity of the girls when she discovers Eleanor's suitcase New York. It kind of meandered and was somewhat unnecessary.

And while I said I liked the chapters about Marie and Eleanor better, that is not really saying much considering I disliked the chapters about Grace.  While I enjoyed what happened in Occupied-France, I just couldn't for the life of me accept that they (the powers that be) would put someone, who had so many issues during training, in such a key position.  And then Marie's behaviour when she actually landed in France? As the leader, I would have slapped her.  She pretty much put everyone in danger by her indignity.  Hello?  It's war?  What part during training did you miss that this was dangerous and everyone's life depended on you and your training?  I just didn't buy it.  Oh, I know that all countries used all types of people for their missions.  I teach History.  But to specifically train someone for a job, and then have them act as if they've been put out because they had to land in the middle of the night and then sleep somewhere other than in a nice comfortable bed blows me away.  Bothered me to no end.  I began to wish that we could follow more of the others' stories as they seemed so much more interesting.  And to throw in a love story on top of this?  You've got to be kidding me!! Why does she need to fall in love to make her story interesting? I was actually somewhat insulted by this turn of events.

The Lost Girls of Paris is not a book I would recommend to anyone who knows a lot about WWII. As a history teacher, there were so many things I just could not swallow in this one.  The way Eleanor recruits Marie is not that unusual as they would have been searching for those women who spoke fluent French, but to send someone in the field who is inept? Somewhere else maybe, but not in France.  And while I know the author has an extensive background in history, I just felt she missed the mark on this one.  Perhaps those who don't know anything about WWII might enjoy this, but for those of us who do, I should never have continued past the first chapter.  This was definitely an opportunity wasted.