Saturday, October 26, 2019

Review: Shadow School: Archimancy by J.A. White

Archimancy (Shadow School, Book #1)
by J.A. White
Release Date: August 27th 2019
2019 Katherine Tegen Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062838315
Genre: Fiction / Supernatural / Juvenile
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Cordelia Liu knew Shadow School was going to be different. Black gates and ivied walls. Long hallways lined with old paintings. A tower with a window that looks like an eye. Different she expected; different she could handle. Still, Cordelia can’t shake the feeling that something’s not right—and that she’s being carefully watched.

The answer isn’t just in front of her eyes—it’s in her gym, next to the bulletin board, even in the cafeteria. The school grounds are filled with ghosts. Cordelia soon realizes she’s not the only one who can see them; her new friend Benji can too. Together with supersmart Agnes, the trio are determined to find out why the ghosts are there, and whether there’s a way to set them free. But the school was created with more sinister intentions, and someone is willing to go to extreme lengths to ensure that the ghosts remain trapped forever.

My Thoughts 
Shadow School: Archimancy was a solid, middle-school ghost story that I found quite enjoyable. Now, if you are going into this book expecting a great puzzle and complicated plot, that you will not find, but if you are looking for a solid ghost story, this has that in abundance.  This has a simple plot, easy outs for everyone, uncomplicated characters, and a lot of action.  Perfect for those just looking for a fun, but light read.

First of all, I really wasn't too impressed with Cordelia at the start of the story as I found her a bit whiny and annoying.  I understand that she had to move away from California and leave her friends and she is only 11 years old, but she was annoying.  She did however, grow on me as the story developed.  I did like her friends however, but I did feel like there was too much emphasis on the kids' descriptions and their ethnic differences as if the author was trying to point out the inclusiveness of the characters.  Inclusiveness is good, info-dump however, is bad.  Besides, kids are pretty smart and can figure things out on their own, you know?

I actually thought the same thing about the plot.  Although it was enjoyable, there was little in the way of cryptic clues and puzzles that allowed a reader to try and figure things out.  Again, middle grade readers have the ability to read between the lines and figure things out on their own, everything does not have to be fed to them and it does feel a bit condescending when this is done.  The whole concept of the book had this amazingly rich background and setting that would have been a perfect setup for a variety of clues and puzzles for kids (and for adults) to work through but I felt this was not maximized at all.  I personally like to discover things and work through things and as a kid, one of the best things was figuring out the puzzles as I read.  So I felt kind of cheated, even as an adult.  Gosh, haunted house that is a school?  What more could someone ask for?  Best line in the book:

""Plus there's an honest-to-goodness secret passageway in my school," she thought.  And there's no reality where that's not super cool."

Isn't that a great line?  As a kid I would have loved to find a secret passageway.  Giving kids the opportunity to explore, puzzle things out, and solve clues is awesome and I have high hopes the author will include some of that in the next book.  

Shadow School: Archimancy definitely has a lot of potential and I had high hopes going into the book.  While it was an interesting read and the characters definitely grew on me, I was disappointed in the plot in that it was way too linear which drastically lowered the suspense in my eyes.  Too many outs for the kids kind of takes away from the suspense.  I really do feel that there is a lot of potential in this series and I am looking forward to some more adventures by these kids with a lot more twists and turns in their stories for me to try to figure out.  Hopefully!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Review: The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

The Chestnut Man
by Soren Sveistrup
Release Date: September 3rd 2019
2019 Harper
Kindle Edition: 528 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062895363
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

A psychopath is terrorizing Copenhagen.

His calling card is a “chestnut man”—a handmade doll made of matchsticks and two chestnuts—which he leaves at each bloody crime scene.

Examining the dolls, forensics makes a shocking discovery—a fingerprint belonging to a young girl, a government minister’s daughter who had been kidnapped and murdered a year ago.

A tragic coincidence—or something more twisted?

To save innocent lives, a pair of detectives must put aside their differences to piece together the Chestnut Man’s gruesome clues.

Because it’s clear that the madman is on a mission that is far from over.

And no one is safe.

My Thoughts
The Chestnut Man is one of those books I wanted to read simply because I thought the title was interesting and I wanted to know what it was all about.  Plus, I knew this author was the scriptwriter for a television series I really liked, The Killing, so I was intrigued. And I was not disappointed.  With interesting characters and a fascinating plot, I was pretty much hooked from the start.

Chestnuts always make me think of holidays and skating parties and good times, but there was none of that in this book with regards to chestnut men.  Unfortunately, the little chestnut men were a killer's calling card for some pretty gruesome murders whereby the killer tended to focus on mothers who either abused their children or knew their children were being abused and did little to stop that abuse.  I am really grateful that the descriptions in this book only went so far as the ones that were given were enough to make me squirm and feel incredible sympathy for the women involved.  I know they have optioned this book for a tv series, but there are some scenes I think I may have to close my eyes if they actually film them.  I liked the themes that ran through this book as they were pretty powerful ones dealing with abuse, neglect, consequences, and vengeance.  The book also highlighted a system that is definitely overburdened and needs help. 

I really enjoyed the setting (Denmark) and thought the characters were a lot of fun.  I think I would liken this book as both a police procedural and psychological thriller in one.  The plot is actually quite complex, interweaving both the personal and professional lives of the detectives, Thulin and Hess, as they attempt to solve a very political case.  There are many twists and turns and I thought the author did a great job at leaving those red-herrings that leads a reader in different directions which makes it a lot more difficult to figure out the murderer.  I enjoyed both of the detectives, if for very different reasons, and liked how complex both of their characters were.  I didn't figure out who the killer was although I did have the right idea.  This actually made me happy as I like it when I get stumped by an author.  Plus, it makes me want to read more books by them.  I think if I had any complaints about the book, it would be the interactions between Thulin and Hess as I'm not really sure how and when she began to trust him, but it seemed kind of forced to me.  Don't get me wrong, I love their partnership, but a few more sparks would have been nice.  What was there was really good and I really enjoyed the way they fed off each other.  Besides, they both have secrets that have not been ferreted out as of yet and I am curious.  

The Chestnut Man was a gritty mystery novel that moved very quickly and had a lot going for it.  With many twists and turns, and many revelations, the plot moved rather quickly and I enjoyed it tremendously.  The characters were interesting and I am looking forward to learning more about Hess and Thulin in future installments.  There are some instances of graphic violence however, so this many not be everyone's cup of tea.  I do recommend this book to anyone who likes dark police procedurals with interesting characters and a great plot. 
Thursday, October 17, 2019

Review: Read and Buried by Eva Gates

Read and Buried (Lighthouse Library Mystery, Book #6)
by Eva Gates
Release Date: October 15th 2019
2019 Crooked Lane Books
Kindle Edition: 325 Pages
ISBN: 9781643852331
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from Great Escapes Book Tours

4/5 Stars

Librarian Lucy Richardson unearths a mysterious map dating back to the Civil War. But if she can't crack its code, she may end up read and buried.

The Bodie Island Lighthouse Library Classic Novel Book Club is reading Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne while workers dig into the earth to repair the Lighthouse Library's foundations. The digging halts when Lucy pulls a battered tin box containing a Civil War-era diary from the pit. Tucked inside is a hand-drawn map of the Outer Banks accompanied by a page written in an indecipherable code.

The library is overrun by people clamoring to see the artifact. Later that night, Lucy and Connor McNeil find the body of historical society member Jeremy Hughes inside the library. Clearly Jeremy was not the only one who broke into the library--the map and the coded page are missing.

My Thoughts
Read and Buried is the sixth entry in the Lighthouse Library Mystery series and I really enjoyed returning to Lucy Richardson's world as she uncovered another mystery yet again.  I really think the setting is part of the appeal for me with this series as a library situated in a lighthouse whose main character lives on the fourth floor of said lighthouse sends shivers down my back as to the possibilities of murder, secrets, and mayhem that can ensue in such a setting.

I really enjoy Lucy as a main character as she is curious without being reckless and if she just happens to discover information that is relevant to whatever murder is currently being solves, just happens to be coincidence if she decides to investigate a little further than she should.  What I do like however, is her healthy respect for the law and how she divulges everything to the police when she does discover something she thinks is useful.  I also like how the police treat her with respect while, at the same time, keep her at a distance while they are investigating.  A few snide remarks from the police chief had me laughing out loud wishing I could picture Lucy's face during those moments having she was put back in her place and her role as librarian and not detective. I also really like the secondary characters and their interactions in such a small town, especially with how they treat 'outsiders' and the small jokes and history they share.  And I really liked Louise Jane in this one, especially her actions towards the end.  Interesting times! I can definitely see her playing a larger role in future books.

The plot was interesting and definitely piqued my curiosity right away.  Gosh, as a kid I lived for books about treasure maps and codes and this one seemed to have both plus a mystery.  Although it was quite easy to figure out how it would all play out in the end, it was definitely entertaining to read as the characters all fell over themselves trying to solve the clues and discover who did the deed.  I have to say, this series continues to entertain and impress me.  The author's writing style has a way of drawing you in and although I had figured out the ending, I did read with bated breath as the characters searched for a missing treasure.  What fun!

Read and Buried is another fun entry into a really great series.  While it can be read as a stand alone, I do recommend you start from the beginning just to get a feel for the characters and the setting.  Some of the animosity might be more apparent if you have read the previous entries as well.  With quirky characters and a lovely setting, I highly recommend this book.  In fact, I want to move there and live in that lighthouse.  What a perfect setting!!

Author Information

  Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than thirty books:  clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing four cozy mystery series: the Tea By The Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Year Round Christmas mysteries for Penguin Random House, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series and, as Eva Gates, the Lighthouse Library books for Crooked Lane.

Vicki is a past president of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It crime writing festival. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

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