Monday, July 6, 2020

Review: Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

Sisters by Choice (Blackberry Island, Book $4)
by Susan Mallery
Release Date: February 11th 2020
2020 MIRA
Kindle Edition; 367 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778310020
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

After her cat toy empire goes up in flames, Sophie Lane returns to Blackberry Island, determined to rebuild. Until small-town life reveals a big problem: she can’t grow unless she learns to let go. If Sophie relaxes her grip even a little, she might lose everything. Or she might finally be free to reach for the happiness and love that have eluded her for so long.

Kristine has become defined by her relationship to others. She’s a wife, a mom. As much as she adores her husband and sons, she wants something for herself—a sweet little bakery just off the waterfront. She knew changing the rules wouldn’t be easy, but she never imagined she might have to choose between her marriage and her dreams.

Like the mainland on the horizon, Heather’s goals seem beyond her grasp. Every time she manages to save for college, her mother has another crisis. Can she break free, or will she be trapped in this tiny life forever?

My Thoughts
Sisters by Choice is a really hard review to write as I typically love books by this author, but I have to admit this one didn't resonate with me at all.  Other than the writing style, and maybe Kristine's story arc, I couldn't for the life of me empathize with Sophie and really disliked Amber.  When someone gets rewarded for their bad behaviour, towards their daughter as well as in their job, it really leaves a bad taste in my mouth, family or not.

The book is told in multiple POV, following the lives of three women: Sophie, a woman returning home after her business was destroyed by a fire; Kristine, determined to open up a bakery despite resistance from her husband; and Heather, trying to escape the Island and go to school despite roadblocks from a bitter and nasty parent.   While I always enjoy this author's writing style, I just couldn't bring myself to like most of these story arcs and I think it comes down to character development.  Other than Kristine, none of these women really learned anything other than to whine and complain about their lives and it got old, fast.

Kristine was pretty much the only story line that I liked, despite a husband who was childish and insensitive.  And to be honest, even his reasons for running away were flimsy at best.  He's a grown man, and he runs away because of that?!?!  If I was married to him, I would need some serious counselling too.  But what I did like in this story arc was the approach taken about stay-at-home moms and the stereotypes, even how the children may view their moms who stay at home.  It's important for people to value the job that a stay-at-home mom does.  I liked how Kristine needed to find something to do for herself that was outside the home now that her boys were growing older.

Okay, Sophie.  Didn't care for her at all.  She was whiny, arrogant, and downright annoying.  Personally, I got a bit tired listening to her rant about problems when she never learned from any of her mistakes, and the little things she did to ensure people knew she was the boss were downright annoying.  I'm also not really sure why she really needed a love interest at all as I didn't like her romance with Dugan, and I didn't really feel any fireworks or anything.  And all of a sudden, he was holding out for her to love him, gosh help me.  Couldn't they just enjoy each other's company for a while and see how it went?  Plus, he was just as annoying as Sophie, kind of smug and condescending.  And I'm really not sure why the author had to really push the 'no kids' thing so much; I think having a simple conversation would have been so much more adult as it made Sophie look really silly.

And now the piece de resistance, Amber and Heather.  There is nothing good to say about Amber as a character.  And then she was rewarded at the end.  Awful stuff, which left a really bad feeling in my mouth.  No thanks!

Sister By Choice is one of those books I struggled to write a review as I typically love books by this author.  However, I have to say that neither the characters nor the story did anything for me and I was a bit sad over this.  However, the author's writing style was great as always and that was the strength of the book.  Will that stop me from reading another book by this author?  Definitely not.  Her previous books in this series were fun, and I am looking forward to future books in this series.  This one though, was not for me, but others may enjoy it more than I did. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Review: In My Attic by Lina Hansen

In My Attic (A Magical Misfits Mystery, Book #1)
by Lina Hansen
Release Date: July 1st 2020
2020 Literary Wanderlust
Kindle Edition
ISBN: 978-1942856511
Genre: Fiction / Cozy / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from author

4 / 5 Stars

Aunt Eve is dead - murdered - and Myrtle has inherited the Witch’s Retreat, a Bed and Breakfast in the idyllic British village of Avebury. As Myrtle bumbles along in search of a murderer, she uncovers secrets more shocking than death: a hidden magical relic, a coven of amateur witches, and modern witch hunters on the prowl. 

My Thoughts
In My Attic is the first book in a brand new cozy paranormal series set in Avebury near the ancient standing stones.  Once I discovered the setting, plus knowing this was going to be paranormal in nature, I was hooked; I mean you can't go wrong when you have amateur witches, secrets, a treasure, witch hunters, and a main character who has no idea what is really going on.  Oh, and don't forget a magical plant, and a cat!!

First of all, you can't go wrong with an inn named the Witch's Retreat.  The whole town has this cozy atmosphere that lends itself well to a cozy paranormal mystery and when you combine the setting with a bunch of quirky characters, well, it was a lot of fun.  Myrtle finds herself out of her depth when she returns for her aunt's funeral and discovers that not is all as it seems; while the police were quick to call is a misadventure, things begin happening around Myrtle and in the inn that make her wonder if her aunt's death was possibly something more sinister.  Unfortunately, her cousin Daisy is not a lot of help as she has problems of her own so Myrtle needs to rely on people she doesn't know very well to discover the truth. Throw in a couple of housekeepers, some quirky guests, police officers, townspeople, a cat, and a plant, and now you have a situation just waiting to escalate as well as some interesting plot points.  I developed a huge fondness for the cat, Tiddles, as well as the plant.  

Myrtle develops quite nicely as a character, and I like that her mind is more 'scientific' rather than 'romantic' as she questions the paranormal activity around her and doesn't necessarily take everything at face value.  It's only when Myrtle decides to really learn more about her aunt that she discovers this other side to her and in the process, learns more about herself and her family.  Secrets, gotta love those family secrets.  The paranormal wasn't in your face, but was really subtle and I liked that about the book.  

The plot, especially in the beginning, was rather slow, but never plodding.  The author does make use of self-reflection and self-talk, mainly from the main character with regards to her behaviour, but it was funny and meant to be humorous, which it was.  It also gave the author a chance to give the reader some extra insight into her character and things that were happening around her.  The first book in a series can be a bit slower simply because the author is introducing the characters and the setting, and I appreciate that.  I was never bored and I read the entire book in one sitting.  Even though I figured out the murderer fairly early on, it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book.

In My Attic was a fun introduction to a new paranormal series.  I enjoyed the characters and thought the plot was enjoyable.  Yes, the characters don't feel as developed as they could be, except for maybe Myrtle, but that doesn't bother me as I am hoping to learn a lot more about them in future books.  I enjoyed how they seemed to pop up at random times in the book which made me think there was actually a purpose behind it.  The actual mystery was entertaining and definitely led one on a merry chase, full of secrets and mysteries, wrapped up in a cloak of magic that didn't detract from the story. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Review: Krewe of Hunters by Heather Graham

Seeing Darkness (Krewe of Hunters, Book #30)
by Heather Graham
Release Date: May19th 2020
2020 MIRA
Kindle Edition
ISBN: 978-0499055706
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

It was supposed to be a fun girls’ weekend in Salem, but when a past-life regression session instead sends a terrifying vision of murder to Kylie Connelly, she’s shaken and doesn’t know what to think. Worse, later she identifies the attacker from her vision: he’s a prominent local politician.

Special Agent Jon Dickson of the FBI’s Krewe of Hunters is on the trail of a suspected serial killer based on the scantest of clues and unreliable witness testimony. When he realizes Kylie’s vision might be his best lead, he must gain her trust and get close enough to guide her new talent. Though she doubts herself, the danger Kylie sees is all too real—and the pair will have to navigate a murderer’s twisted passions and deceptions to stop the killer from claiming another victim.

My Thoughts
Seeing Darkness is the next book in the very successful Krewe Of Hunters series, this time bringing us back to Salem, one of my favourite settings for this series outside of New Orleans.  This series is my comfort series. It is definitely predictable and formulaic: FBI agent has been seeing ghosts since childhood, other person has a traumatic event and suddenly starts seeing ghosts, murder happens, FBI called in to investigate, FBI agent and other person fall in love, murder solved, end of story. But gosh, these stories are FUN to read. And as I am in the middle of some heavy non-fiction hitters at the moment, this was a welcome distraction.

One of the things I have always enjoyed about this author and her writing, is her ability to convey historical fact through her characters and their actions.  I've visited Salem and I could literally picture it through the eyes of these characters as if I was there, and I enjoyed the historical lessons as much as the mystery.  I've always thought this was one the author's strengths in her writing.  

The plot was interesting, but I think having read every single one of her books, it is very easy to see through the red herrings she throws, even if they are pretty good.  Her books do follow a pretty predictable formula, but that formula definitely works, is enjoyable, so why change it?  

I wasn't as crazy about Kylie though. I'm not sure what it was but I just didn't empathize with her and didn't really see the connection between her and Jon.  One minute she was annoyed with him, then suddenly she was attracted to him?  This is one of those mysteries where I thought the romance was actually kind of flimsy, at best.  However, I did like the route used to open up Kylie's mind to ghosts; I had flashbacks to the movie Stir of Echoes throughout this book, and I am curious if this will be used in future books as a plot point.

Seeing Darkness does not disappoint, and I am always intrigued when characters from previous books show up to help, even if the reasons were pretty flimsy. I enjoyed the characters, even if I thought they were a bit much, especially Kylie's friends, and I'm not really sure a political wife, born and bred into that lifestyle, would actually behave the way she did, but there you have it.  The story was fun, and I don't think you will be disappointed with this instalment in the series.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Review: The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates, Book #1)
by A.K. Larkwood
Release Date: February 11th 2020
2020 Tor Books
Kindle Edition; 464 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250238900
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy

2.5 / 5 Stars

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard's loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

My Thoughts
The Unspoken Name is the first book in The Serpent Gates series, but I admit I struggled reading this one.  There were parts that were quite interesting and I couldn't flip the pages fast enough, but then there were parts that I just slogged though, and I had to put it aside and read something else for a while.  I really debated over my rating, as I really, really wanted to like this book.

The sense I really got from this book is the author may have been too ambitious in her storytelling and the story she really wanted to tell so it came across as jumpy and unconvincing to the reader.  I actually enjoyed the opening sequence and don't necessarily need everything explained to me about the world and its people all at once (reading Malazan has cured me of that! LOL!), but when I am halfway through the book and I still can't quite figure out what the main character looks like, other than knowing she is not quite human due to having tusks, I realize there is a problem.  And once it clicked, I felt so stupid.  But it shouldn't have been that way.  My mind shouldn't have wondered away from the story line because I couldn't figure out who the people were in the story. But it did and it totally distracted from the actual story.

I actually love world building and enjoy reading about it; I love it when an author takes the time to build that up, especially in a book I know is going to be part of a series.  There were some interesting worlds in this book and I really wish the author had taken the time to explain more about the people, but I really felt little was explained and I was left filling in the gaps myself.  I don't mind trying to figure out some things, but there were just too many holes to fill in myself. It was frustrating at times.

Thank goodness for Shuthmili as she was my favourite character by far.  Her growth and development was nice to see and gave me hope for some of the other characters in future books.  It also gave me hope that we will see some interesting magic in the future as she is a powerful mage.  When you read the description, it sounds like Csorwe would be involved in this huge conspiracy to grapple power and be involved in helping a powerful wizard take over what was once his, but I was so disappointed in that part of the book.  It was nothing like that and Csorwe, as a character, was BORING.  Yes, there were times when she would wave her sword and do some...stuff, but in reality, if her character had been written off, and it wouldn't have changed anything whatsoever. There was a lot of discussion about choice versus destiny, but while Sethennai's choices were pretty clear and you knew he wanted power, Csorwe's were not and I think the author did this character a big disservice by trying to give her a purpose although she was clearly Sethennai's puppet.  It made her motivations seem flimsy at best and definitely were not her own; as a reader, I came to question all her choices.  I actually preferred Shuthmili and would like her to be the main character as she is much more interesting.  And I don't even want to start with Tal.  Ugh!

The Unspoken Name definitely had some fans, but I was not really one of them.  The flow of the story seemed like it was lacking a soul, and the story line was quite fragmented.  The author was ambitious, I'll give her that, but I feel like she wasn't exactly sure what ethical point she wanted to make with her characters, and the story was kind of convoluted as a result.  Because of this, things were not fully explained nor were reasons given for certain actions which left a sour taste in my mouth. There is a lot of potential here however, and I am curious to see what happens next.  I do however, recommend you take a look at the book and judge it yourself as you may like it; it just wasn't for me.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Review: A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff

A Queen in Hiding (The Nine Realms, Book #1)
by Sarah Kozloff
Release Date: January 21st 2020
2020 Tor Books
Kindle Edition; 477 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250168542
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Orphaned, exiled and hunted, Cérulia, Princess of Weirandale, must master the magic that is her birthright, become a ruthless guerilla fighter, and transform into the queen she is destined to be.

But to do it she must win the favor of the spirits who play in mortal affairs, assemble an unlikely group of rebels, and wrest the throne from a corrupt aristocracy whose rot has spread throughout her kingdom.

My Thoughts
A Queen in Hiding was a solid start to The Nine Realms fantasy series.  Already knowing there were going to be four books in this series, I went into this book with the mindset that the first book would be setting up the story, the characters, the political systems, and the possible magic systems being used.  I don't actually mind a long, slow buildup where I get to know the characters and the world building; sometimes I think epic fantasies require a different mindset going into them than stand alone books do.  One of the big marketing pluses to this series is the four books in this series are being published just months apart, so you won't have to wait years for the next instalment. This way, you don't forget important plot points and have to re-read previous books just to catch up.  

The description of this book is a bit misleading as the bulk of it deals with Cerulia's mother, Queen Cressa, who makes a difficult decision to hide Cerulia and fight for her throne. Cressa is seen as a weak ruler, and because she made some poor decisions, gives up her throne and daughter, but needs to fight to get it back.  How she chooses to do that is quite interesting and I enjoyed those chapters. It was really nice to see her grow, both as a woman and a queen, and I liked that she wasn't so perfect and so powerful.  What I thought was going to be about Cerulia really wasn't, although some of the story dealt with her adjustment to life away from court.  The description is deceptive as it describes the whole series, and not just this book.  

Personally, I liked learning about Cressa and the political situation at court.  It was good to get an understanding of the political players that Cerulia would eventually have to deal with when she returns one day, and gives the reader an idea of how difficult her job will be. And yes, I did have a problem with Cressa at first because I couldn't understand how someone who was raised from birth to rule a country could not manage to deal with her Council and let them run all over her.  I wasn't happy with the decision she made, but there it is.

The story line weaves back and forth between several POVs, and although I am still not quite sure how all them will play a role in Cerulia's life, I am sure it will all come together at some point.  It was definitely interesting to get a feel for some of the other kingdoms and to learn a bit of the political situations surrounding Cerulia through the eyes of other characters.  At first, I wasn't overly fond of Cerulia, but she did start to grow on me as she grew older and began to recognize the value of those around her and the hard work they put into their daily lives.  For reasons I can't explain here, Cerulia was really alone in her grief at being separated from her life and her parents, so it would have been really difficult for her to adjust.  I am a huge fan of Cerulia's foster dad however, and hope to see much more of him in future books.  And I am really looking forward to seeing Cerulia play a more active role now that she is older and starts to fight to take back her throne.  With the political situation changing around her, there should be some interesting times ahead.

One area I did have an issue with is the use of the magic system. I did find the magic wasn't really explained very well, and that it was used more as a convenience or plot point. In fact, I think a lot of things that weren't explained very well were one of the author's way of just using convenience to continue the story, and it sometimes left a bad feeling behind it.  Convenient plot points are never a way to continue a story. 

A Queen in Hiding was interesting and I did enjoy it quite a bit.  I particularly enjoyed the sections about Cressa and her fight to keep her throne, and then her fight to take it back.  We see a woman grow into her own and I liked watching her character develop into someone pretty interesting.  I do think the book could have used a bit more editing; it's not the length that bothered me, but the rapid changes in POV where nothing really happens, or are used just to show time marching forward.  I think some of it could have been done a bit differently as it seemed a bit...sloppy.  However, I totally enjoyed reading this book and will definitely be reading the entire series to find out what happens. 
Friday, June 19, 2020

Review: The Treadstone Resurrection by Joshua Hood

The Treadstone Resurrection (Treadstone, Book #1)
by Joshua Hood
Release Date: February 25th 2020
2020 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 375 Pages
ISBN: 978-0525542551
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars


Operation Treadstone has nearly ruined Adam Hayes. The top-secret CIA Black Ops program trained him to be an all but invincible assassin, but it also cost him his family and any chance at a normal life. Which is why he was determined to get out. Working as a carpenter in rural Washington state, Adam thinks he has left Treadstone in the past, until he receives a mysterious email from a former colleague, and soon after is attacked by an unknown hit team at his job site.

Adam must regain the skills that Treadstone taught him--lightning reflexes and a cold conscience--in order to discover who the would-be killers are and why they have come after him now. Are his pursuers enemies from a long-ago mission? Rival intelligence agents? Or, perhaps, forces inside Treadstone? His search will unearth secrets in the highest levels of government and pull him back into the shadowy world he worked so hard to forget.

My Thoughts
The Treadstone Resurrection brings the reader back into the world of Jason Bourne (without Jason Bourne, of course), and we have a new hero, Adam Hayes, front and center this time around.  I can't tell you how huge a fan I am of Jason Bourne, at least the orginal trilogy, but I am glad to see some new faces in this world.  The action pretty much kicks it up in high gear right from the beginning and rarely lets the reader catch a breath throughout the entire book.  And while I loved every minute of it, the element of suspense, that is he good or is he evil suspense that was in the first Jason Bourne book, was lacking a bit in this one.  

Adam Hayes is a former operative for the Treadstone project, a highly secretive CIA project that was Bourne's former haunt, when his world is shattered when a hit team goes after him in the quiet neighbourhood he has chosen for his retirement, and his next egg.  Having little information as to why this is happening, he is forced to rely on his instincts and his skills to escape and discover some answers.  And this is where things get interesting.  The book pretty much takes off from here and doesn't let up for a minute.  I think I would have preferred just seeing things from Adam's POV rather than switching to different POVs as I really feel this was one of the things that lowered the suspense and gave too much away.  One of the strengths of the earlier Jason Bourne books was not knowing if he was a good guy or a bad guy throughout the book, hoping for the best, but that suspense kept me up all night reading.  Because we learn early on who the players are in this book, I really feel a lot of the suspense was lost. 

I am definitely limited in my knowledge of guns and weapons (despite being married to a guy in the military as my eyes roll to the back of my head during these discussions), so I am one of those people who appreciated the descriptions of the weapons and how they were used.  I liked knowing how the pilots sit in a helicopter versus a plane as I didn't know about these things, and I found it very informative.  For readers who have this knowledge, they might find these parts a bit lengthy and annoying, but not me.  

Adam himself is a great character and I really liked how he swings from psychologically confused to focused machine as needed.  The constant psychological fight he has within him is interesting and I look forward to learning more about him.  He is gritty, doing whatever it takes to fight for his life, and for others, but fights hard to not cross that path into being a killing machine.  The flashbacks give a lot of insight into his character and I liked how the author used them to allow us to get to know him better. 

What I have to admire in this book is the author's writing style as well as his "refusal" to just build on previous books.  What he has done is take a concept, mold it, and create something new and different.  What he has also done is lay a foundation that could lead to some very interesting times ahead for our hero.  So while this book was solid, with a lot of action, it was also setting Adam up for some pretty interesting times ahead.  Treadstone was at the point where it was going to be replaced with drones and other technological devices, with the director almost out of a job, and the author has pretty much thrown a curve ball into the whole Treadstone project and I am excited to see what is going to happen next in The Treadstone Exile.  

Monday, June 15, 2020

Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

by Melissa Albert
Release Date: January 30th 2018
2018 Flatiron Books
Kindle Edition; 359 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250147905
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Fairy Tale
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away-by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

My Thoughts
The Hazel Wood is one of those books that I tried really, really hard to like, but just didn't, in the end.  I hadn't read any of the reviews for this one until after I had finished it, but after seeing the variety of different review, I wasn't surprised.  It literally took me three tries to get into it, and the only reason I persevered is because I was offered an ARC of the second book in this series and thought I should read the first book before diving into the sequel.  There were some things I did like though, enough that I will consider trying the sequel to see if it redeems itself.

Part of the problem with this book, I think, was the marketing.  When I got the packaging, it was touted as a fantasy-type book, almost like a twisted fairy tale, and that is where I think everything went wrong.  Because as soon as you begin reading, you are in contemporary U.S.A., nothing fairy tale-like about it.  Once I understood what was happening, I actually didn't mind this part of the book as there were a lot of interesting elements, and it was intriguing trying to figure out who was who, and what was what.  What I didn't like was Alice herself; she was irritating as hell.  I can't tell you how annoying she was unless you've read the book.  And her anger issues, even when you realize why she has them. don't really work all that well into the book. In fact, it got to the point where I actually cringed at her behaviour and the way the author excused it; her behaviour almost hurt someone and all we got were excuses and poor little me behaviours that were just disgusting.  No, thank you.  I feel like the author lost a few threads of her story as she was developing Alice as a character which made that development seem all over the place.  Unfortunately, what it did was make Alice unlikable.

When we first meet Finch, I thought, finally, a character I could like, one that could maybe balance Alice and her awful development.  Unfortunately, the author wasted a golden opportunity here for some meaningful conversation and treated Finch as if everything could be pushed under a rug because he was rich.  And yes, you probably guessed it, he was the only coloured character in the story, too, at least the only one the author thought worth commenting on, several times.  Not impressed with how his character developed, and the only really good part, which could have developed into some meaningful conversation about racism, was disregarded as unimportant just because he was rich.  I should have counted the amount of times Alice told Finch to 'Shut up!' in this book.  That would have been more interesting. 

And then we get to the second half, and I'm like "What? What is this place?"  Something that could have been really cool turned into something that was...not.  And boy, it could have been sooooo cool.  I have to say the ideas were interesting, it just wasn't fleshed out enough.  And I really wish more of Althea's fairy tales had been included in the story as they were actually interesting, and I enjoyed them.

I found a lot of the story really hard to read, and I had to push myself to finish this book.  It's a shame as there were some good elements and this book had the potential to be really good.  I just couldn't connect to any of the characters, and the story was so disjointed it came down to something bad is chasing them, but if you keep running, it may never catch you, although if you yell at everyone, you may survive the gloaming.  The story was lacking in depth and complexity, relying too much on random strangeness to keep the plot going.  Unfortunately, when you put it all together, it just didn't work.  But, while this definitely wasn't for me, there are probably a lot of people who will enjoy this book and its twisted telling.  

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Review: Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris

Who Speaks for the Damned (Sebastian St. Cyr, Book # 15)
by C.S. Harris
Release Date: April 7th 2020
2020 Berkley Books
ARC Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0399585685
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Eighteen years before, Nicholas Hayes, the third son of the late Earl of Seaford, was accused of killing a beautiful young French émigré and transported to Botany Bay for life. Even before his conviction, Hayes had been disowned by his father. Few in London were surprised when they heard the ne'er-do-well had died in New South Wales in 1799. But those reports were obviously wrong. Recently Hayes returned to London with a mysterious young boy in tow--a child who vanishes shortly after Nicholas's body is discovered.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is drawn into the investigation by his valet, Jules Calhoun. With Calhoun's help, Sebastian begins to piece together the shattered life of the late Earl's ill-fated youngest son. Why did Nicholas risk his life and freedom by returning to England? And why did he bring the now-missing young boy with him? Several nervous Londoners had reason to fear that Nicholas Hayes had returned to kill them. One of them might have decided to kill him first.

My Thoughts
Who Speaks for the Damned is the next entry in the wonderful Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries, and I have to say, despite there being fifteen books in this series, it hasn't let down in suspense or interest as of yet.  I love how the author explores this age period through her mysteries as well as gives vivid descriptions of life for all different types of people.  I have been especially fond of Hero and her work cataloguing the poor, and trying to fight her peers to make them see what life is really like for everyone.  

Viscount Devlin has this uncanny ability to hunt down murderers and is often asked to help in a case by his valet, Calhoun.  Going on fifteen books, and I still don't feel like I have a grasp of Calhoun and his background, so I am anxiously awaiting the day when I do discover a lot more.   However, to this point Calhoun's shady background has really helped Devlin navigate the shady underworld and he has used those connections to track down murderers and other people needed in his investigations.  

If you have read any of this author's previous works, you will know the answer to the murder will not be so simple, and will involve many layers as well as have political and social implications.  And when Hero gets involved in an attack on Sebastian, it infuriates him to the point that he will no longer stop at nothing to stop the murderers.  It also gives him insight into his own own past and how easily he had escaped the same fate held by the victim, Nicholas Hayes.  

I really enjoy the way this author writes, and I love the attention to historical details.  The author will often mention buildings that used to be there, or the previous uses for them and I really enjoy that.  The plot itself is pretty twisty and turny, and if you are new to this series, it would be easy to get caught up in all the red herrings thrown in your path.  It would also be hard to understand some of the nuances as well as some of the subplots are books in the making and are still going on and a reader would have needed to read previous books in the series to understand those nuances.  To really get a feel for the relationships between Sebastian and his father-in-law as well as Sebastian and his dad, you would have to know about events in previous books.   

Now you may be wondering why I didn't give it five stars as I seemed to enjoy it so much, but here is the thing. It wasn't the mystery that was the main problem, it was those little subplots I mentioned.  While I get that those things can go on into infinity, I really wish some of them would turn into something, and not just drag on from book to book.  I get that Sebastian and his FIL don't get along, but it's been that way forever, so with events happening the way they did in this book, I am really hoping something shakes loose in the next one and we get going on those and they don't keep dragging on.  

Who Speaks for the Damned was a sad historical mystery, but definitely had its roots in the reality of the day.  The justice system during that time period was a mess, and too often the crown would look to anyone handy as a suspect just to close a case, and I am glad the author chose to highlight that issue in this book. I do recommend starting from the beginning of this series, and I think you will be satisfied with this latest instalment.  It definitely has all the hallmarks that fans expect.    
Monday, June 8, 2020

Review: The Wtiches of Willow Cove by Josh Roberts

The Witches of Willow Cove
by Josh Roberts
Release Date: May 26th 2020
2020 Owl Hollow Press
ARC Kindle Edition; 260 Pages
ISBN: 978-1945654497
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal / Juvenile
Source: Review copy from publisher

5 / 5 Stars

It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Seventh grader Abby Shepherd is just getting the hang of it when weird stuff starts happening all around her hometown of Willow Cove. Green slime bubbling to life in science class. Giant snakes slithering around the middle school gym. Her best friend suddenly keeping secrets and telling lies.

Things only begin to make sense when a stranger named Miss Winters reveals that Abby isn’t the only young witch in town—and that Willow Cove is home to a secret past that connects them all. Miss Winters, herself a witch, even offers to teach Abby and the others everything she knows about witchcraft.

But as Abby learns more about Miss Winters’ past, she begins to suspect her new mentor is keeping secrets of her own. Can Abby trust her, or does Miss Winters have something wicked planned for the young witches of Willow Cove?

My Thoughts
The Witches of Willow Cove was such a fun book that I had a hard time putting it down.   Six teenage girls find out they have magical, witchy powers on their thirteenth birthdays and all sorts of fun, interesting things start to happen.  It would have been exactly the type of book I would have read over and over again at ten years old, wishing I was was one of those girls, preferably Abby.  

One of the things that I feel adults tend to forget is kids LIKE spooky stories, even really scary ones.  I loved really scary stories as a kid and didn't really find them scary enough which is why I tended to read more adult novels even as a young kid, drifting towards authors like Stephen King at quite the young age. I don't believe in those criticisms as I think kids can think for themselves and just close the book if they are too scared to read further, and for those kids, like myself, who want scary stories, they can still find them.  The one is a nice blend of spooky, creepy, and normal.  There is a lot of mystery in it, tunnels for kids to creep through, old spooky houses that have been abandoned, and oh yes, don't forget the fog and strange lights.  All balanced nicely between every day things like school and getting grounded.  Throw in old secrets, centuries-old journals, and other things like this, you have the makings of a book that will just draw kids in, never mind adults like myself who couldn't put down the book.

The characters were quirky and worked well together.  I liked all of them, even the ones who were more on the meaner side as there were reasons for their behaviour that were explained rather well in the book.  I really liked that the story didn't necessarily revolve around the 'witches', but included another threesome who did some investigating on their own and helped the girls discover the truth to what was happening.  It was nice to see the kids work together, even if they didn't realize it until the end, using different means to get there.  So, while the story was about the witches, there was so much more to it and the non-magical kids got their chance to prove that they could discover important information and help despite the fact they were not witches.  I think that is really important for kids to see.  

The plot was fun, interesting, and literally took off from the first page of the book.  I have a hard time putting it down and got invested in Abby and her friends quite quickly.  However, this does not blind me to the fact that the story, while fascinating, was somewhat predictable and the conflicts were easy to spot a mile away.  This did not take away from the enjoyment of the book though as I didn't really care.  

The Witches of Willow Cove, so far, is my favourite juvenile fiction book this year by far.  I loved the atmospheric setting, and truly appreciated the equal balance of magical and non-magical kids to have their moment in the sun, so to speak.  The characters were intriguing, and the plot was fun and action-packed.  I liked the parent involvement and was glad to see the kids get in trouble, even get grounded, for some of the things they did.  And boy, was I happy to learn the author was currently working on a sequel to this book as he definitely left it wide open for some more amazing adventures to happen next.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves magic.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Review: Sword of Shadows by Jeri Westerson

Sword of Shadows (Crispin guest Medieval Noir, Book #13)
by Jeri Westerson
Release Date: April 7th 2020
2020 Severn House Publishers
ARC Kindle: 224 Pages
ISBN: 978-0727889218
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Revew copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

London, 1396. A trip to the swordsmith shop for Crispin Guest, Tracker of London, and his apprentice Jack Tucker takes an unexpected turn when Crispin crosses paths with Carantok Teague, a Cornish treasure hunter. Carantok has a map he is convinced will lead him to the sword of Excalibur - a magnificent relic dating back to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table - and he wants Crispin to help him find it.

Travelling to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall with Carantok and Jack, Crispin is soon reunited with an old flame as he attempts to locate the legendary sword. But does Excalibur really exist, or is he on an impossible quest? When a body is discovered, Crispin's search for treasure suddenly turns into a hunt for a dangerous killer.

My Thoughts
Sword of Shadows is the thirteenth in the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir mystery series and I will be perfectly honest in saying that it was my least favourite Crispin Guest novel so far.  I have been following this series since the first book, Veil of Lies, was published back in 2008 and have enjoyed Crispin's journey from traitorous knight to renowned Tracker. I thought the plot was far weaker than in previous books and unlike many others, I was not necessarily happy to have a certain previous character return.  

When I learned that this book was the second last book in this series, it made a lot more sense to me as it really felt like this book was leading up to something else considering all the self-reflection that Crispin was going through.  Because of this, I felt like he was 'off' his game and missed important things in his investigation that would have been easy for him to spot.  I have always like how the author included relics in her stories and the search for Excalibur definitely caught my interest.  Gosh, who hasn't gone through a King Arthur phase in their life?  And then a second one?  Just mention Cornwall and my heart starts beating faster.   

I did think the plot was quite a bit weaker than in previous novels.  I usually flip through pages because the suspense is so high, but not in this one.  Now that doesn't mean there wasn't a lot going on, but while it was convoluted, it didn't mesh as well as it usually does.  And figuring out the murderer was quite easy, not something I am used to with these books so I was a bit disappointed as I was looking forward to some good red herrings and didn't quite get them.  

But, this author has an amazing ability to describe life during the fourteenth century in vivid detail and pays attention to small details which I appreciate.  And I love the fact she focuses on everyone while so many novels focus on the wealthy and the nobility.  There was quite a bit of focus on Crispin's past in this one, much more than usual, which makes me wonder what she has in store for our Crispin in the last book of the series.  

Sword of Shadows was an okay read, but definitely not as good as previous books in this series.  The mystery was not as tight as usual and I was not really excited to have a certain character from the past re-appear, but it is what it is.  It was interesting take on Arthur's story and as always, the author includes little tidbits of historical information in her books about treasure hunting and the laws from the time period, which is always fascinating. I will definitely be sorry to come to the end of this series.  For those of you who are new to Crispin Guest, this book could be read as a stand alone, but I do highly recommend you start from the beginning to really flesh out the main characters and understand what drives Crispin Guest.  It is an interesting tale.
Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Review: Ship of Destiny by Frank Chadwick

Ship of Destiny (Sam Bitka, Book #2)
by Frank Chadwick
Release Date: March 3rd 2020
2020 Baen
Kindle Edition; 480 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982124434
Genre: Fiction / Science-Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

When a mysterious alien probe materializes from Jump Space and remotely reprograms The Bay's star drive, Sam and his crew begin an involuntary voyage that takes them three thousand light years out of known space, across the galactic rift to the Sagittarius Spiral Arm, and into the heart of an ancient, previously unknown civilization—the first encountered by Humans and the other five races of the Cottohazz—Stellar Commonwealth—in over a century. The genetically altered immortals known as The Guardians, a race so old they do not remember their own origins, soon turn murderously violent.

Now Sam and his crew must elude capture by the Guardians, find some means of reprogramming their own star drive, and then return to the Cottohazz with the news of a powerful new civilization bent on their destruction. But they may also be carrying the secrets of the origin of their own star drive and of the path to immortality.

My Thoughts
Ship of Destiny is the second book in the Sam Bitka series, and I really enjoyed this book.  This is the first book I have read by this author, but I have become a huge fan and plan to read his other books as soon as I can.  And while this book is the second book in a series, I had no problem jumping into these alien worlds and understanding what was happening.  I also have to admit to a bit a fangirl crush on Sam Bitka.  He actually reminded me a bit of Captain Picard so if you are a fan of Star Trek, you will understand the draw that Sam can have others.  

While this book apparently picks up not long after events in the first book, the reasons for Sam's promotion and eventual tasking to "USS Cam Ranh Bay" are loaded in political warfare between two brothers and a nephew, something of which I only got a taste.  But it was enough to understand the deep undercurrents that were going on and to realize that Sam must have annoyed some important people; however, being a hero, they just couldn't ship him off to nowhere as how would that look?  Unfortunately for Sam, he ended up on a ship that was remotely reprogrammed by an alien probe which hurtled their ship thousands of light years away from their known space.  And this is where I loved Sam; he was able to keep control of a crew that could have gone ballistic, but his leadership ability and his tactical genius kept everyone alive.  They meet up with the immortal Guardians, aliens who behave like gods to their own people, and not necessarily like benevolent gods either.  

I really enjoyed all of the characters. I have always enjoyed science fiction for its political intrigue and this one was no exception.  And while the political stuff was interesting, I did feel that it didn't quite go deep enough for my liking which is why I didn't quite give it five stars.  However, the space battle scenes are quite amazing and they feel so realistic.  I am not a scientist, nor do I have a background in physics, but I was engaged in the scenes and could feel the tension right to my toes.  I like how the author showed some of the thoughts from the alien POV as well.  In fact, I would have liked a bit more of their POV as it was interesting.  

The plot moved at a good pace, a nice balance between action and calmer periods.  I have never read this author before so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I have to say I was shocked a couple of times in this book over events and even yelled out a "What?! No!!!"   After the first shock, I read with a bit more trepidation as I wasn't sure I could handle any more shocks.  Science fiction can sometimes get bogged down with too much technical details, but the author was able to explain a lot of the stuff in layman's terms so the reader wouldn't get lost, something I appreciated.  

Ship of Destiny was a lot of fun to read and I definitely enjoyed the whole 'space opera' feel of this book.  The characters, especially Sam Bitka, were interesting, and flawed, something that I like as it makes them more empathetic.  While I can't say for sure how accurate the science was in this book (my science background leans more towards biological sciences), it sounded good and I could understand a lot of it so I have to give credit to the author for his ability to explain things really well. I highly recommend this book and I will be reading the first book in this series at some point as well. I am looking forward to more books in this series as I have a lot of questions for the author. Who exactly is Te-anna? 
Friday, May 29, 2020

Review: The Absolution by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The Absolution (Children's House, Book #3)
by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Release Date; February 11th 2020
2020 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-9250136305
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

The police find out about the crime the way everyone does: on Snapchat. The video shows a terrified young woman begging for forgiveness. When her body is found, it is marked with a number "2".

Detective Huldar joins the investigation, bringing child psychologist Freyja on board to help question the murdered teenager's friends. Soon, they uncover that Stella was far from the angel people claim, but who could have hated her enough to kill?

Then another teenager goes missing, more clips are sent to social media, and the body with a "3" is found. Freyja and Huldar can agree on two things at least: the truth is far from simple. The killer is not done yet. And is there an undiscovered body carrying the number "1" out there?

The Absolution is the third book in the Children's House series, and I have to say I am a huge fan of Huldar as well as these types of police procedurals.  I thought the book was well-plotted, with lots of twists and turns, and I definitely liked how it all came together in the end.  What actually did turn me off this one was Freyja; I wasn't fond of her before and this one didn't endear me to her either.  

The main theme of this book was bullying, something that is quite near and dear to me, especially as a teacher.  It quite literally permeates the entire book, from the main characters to the victims, from in-school bullying to online bullying, it covers the whole gamut of the horrible effects of bullying.  Personally, I am glad to see a book like this come out as I don't think there are enough discussions about bullying and the devastating consequences, some that affect people for the rest of their lives.  Freyja herself had been affected by bullying during her teenage yesrs and this case brought back memories she thought she had left behind.  

The plot itself moves rather quickly, jumping from one event to another, with one plot twist after another, in this author's classic style.  While it is always best to start at the beginning of a series, this book can definitely be read as a stand alone as there is nothing revelatory in previous novels you need to know.  I enjoy this author's style of writing and because I've read so much of her work, can easily separate the red herrings from what is truth.  
I did have a problem with a couple of things however, one being Freyja herself.  For whatever reason, I just can't seem to empathize with this character.  She seems rather selfish to me, and I am not a fan of how she uses Huldar for her own purposes. Can't get a date to her school reunion?  Other boy toy turned out to be unreliable, so let's ask Huldar to jump in, but then offer no explanations for her behaviour at said reunion.  I think we call that using someone in my world.!!  The other issue I had was with the character development, in particular, with the victims and the ones who did the actual bullying.  I really felt like the author used some pretty stereotypical modelling here and really tried to make the 'bullies' seem like 'bad guys'.  Oh, don't get me wrong, what they did was horrible and should never have happened.  But I would have liked to see the author write a broader outline of the bullying and not make it seem so narrow, or so black and white.  There is so much between in these cases that was not explored.   And I think the author is a better writer than that.

The Absolution was an interesting book about the effects of bullying and the consequences of that bullying.  I thought the plot moved rather quickly, leaving the reader rather breathless as they moved from event to event, and while I liked most of the main characters, I just could not get a handle on Freyja, something over which I felt badly, but there it is.  Do I recommend this book? Yes. I am a huge fan of this author and love that the setting is in Iceland.  She also has another series, the Thóra Gudmundsdóttirseries, that I would recommend.  If you are looking for some Icelandic crime fiction, this may be one for you.
Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Review: Buried Angels by Patricia Gibney

Buried Angels (D.I. Lottie Parker, Book #8)
by Patricia Gibney
Release Date: May 26th 2020
2020 Bookouture
Kindle ARC: 451 Pages
ISBN: 978-1838886615
ASIN: B085471N18
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Police
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

When Faye Baker discovers a fragile child’s skull behind the walls of her new home, Detective Lottie Parker is called to investigate. The house has been owned for years by the family of Faye’s boyfriend Jeff, so when Jeff starts acting suspiciously, Lottie wonders what he might be hiding…

Lottie doesn’t have long to dig deeper before a child’s bones are found by eleven-year-old Gavin on nearby railway tracks. The bones don’t match the small skull behind the walls, but Lottie can’t ignore the coincidence. Someone out there must be missing their loved ones and it’s up to her to put right a terrible wrong.

Unable to shake a feeling of foreboding, Lottie goes to speak to Faye, and discovers that she hasn’t turned up for work. When Faye’s body is found stuffed in the back of her car, Lottie needs to find out who wanted her to keep quiet.

As Lottie hunts for Faye’s killer, the case takes a darker turn when Gavin goes missing. Faye and Gavin are connected only by the grisly body parts they discovered. But who are these little victims and why has their killer come back? Can Lottie find the answers before another precious life is taken? 

My Thoughts
Buried Angels is the eighth book in the D.I. Lottie Parker series and is just as strong and twisty as any of the previous books featuring the Detective Inspector.  I have read every single book in this series, and have become quite invested in Lottie's ongoing struggles with her family, Boyd, and her job.  Each book has ended on a bit of cliffhanger and this one is not exception, although the endings to the mysteries themselves are nicely solved.  It's Lottie's personal life that is always in shatters at the end of each book and it is definitely that which keeps me coming back.

I have to say that 451 pages goes quite fast when you have so many twists and turns, and there is so much action happening all of the time.  As soon as you take a deep breath to absorb the new information, all of a sudden you are thrust into a new situation with new information and it is a lot to digest.  I usually pick up on the threads quite early in a book, but it took me until halfway through to really pinpoint who I thought was the killer and that is pretty good.  What I couldn't figure out was the motive.  The author really delved into dysfunctional family units in this one, and some of it may be uncomfortable to read.  I don't want to say too much as it will give away some of the plot, but there are some people who do not believe in fidelity.  Abuse also was a strong theme in this book so there are definitely some triggers of which to be careful.  

Lottie has a new boss in this one, but we don't really hear a lot from her until the very end but all of that drama is going to lead us into the next book.  I like that no all the detectives get along, but each of them is interesting in their own way.  I am not a fan of Lynch and I didn't really like what she was doing in this book, nor do I like where this is heading with her.  However, knowing the author and how she twists things, the end result should be quite interesting and fun.  I hope. As for Lottie herself, I will say it again, love that woman.  I like how the author lets her show her human side during the investigation, her tears, and her emotions over the bodies and the loss of life.  The author makes it so easy to connect with her, even when you think she is being silly.  

Buried Angels takes place about six months after the last book, and nothing has really changed for Lottie: her children are still rebelling, where she will live is still upside down, she has a new boss with which to deal, and a disgruntled detective.  And I loved all of it simply because the author has a way of hooking you in with all of the action and the suspense.  Plus, she has this way of connecting all of the characters in a way that makes perfect sense, connecting all of the random clues, until everything comes together towards the end.  This is definitely one of my favourite series, and I can't recommend it enough. 
Sunday, May 24, 2020

Review: Pumpkin Spice Peril by Jenn McKinlay

Pumpkin Spice Peril (Cupcake Bakery Mystery, Book #12)
by Jenn McKinlay
Release Date: April 28th 2020
2020 Berkley Books
Kindle Books: 272 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451492654
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Life is all sugar and spice for the Fairy Tale Cupcake bakers--Melanie Cooper is engaged to the delectable Joe DeLaura, Angie Harper and her husband Tate are savoring married life, and the bakery is bustling with happy customers. Until one of their most valued cupcake connoisseurs ends up dead.

Local glass artist and cupcake lover Rene Fischer-Klein has always suffered from a wide variety of health issues. In an effort to cheer her up, her doting husband, Peter, brings her a four-pack of her favorite cupcakes every week. But when the police discover that Rene has been poisoned, there's no sugarcoating the fact that the last things she ate were the bakery's signature pumpkin spice cupcakes! With their lives and bakery at stake, it's up to Mel and Angie to find out who poisoned their artist friend and why, before their future is frosted for good.

My Thoughts
Pumpkin Spice Peril is the twelfth entry in the Cupcake Bakery Mystery series, and while it was a fun addition to the series, I don't actually think it was the best entry.  In this one, Mel is experiencing some big life changes, with her engagement and her best friend going through some life changes herself, which makes the characters much more interesting.  I do really like it when an author gives her characters a chance to grow, change, and explore. 

One of the things I have always like about these books, and it is definitely one of the main reasons I keep coming back to them as well, is the character development.  While I enjoyed Mel's continuing development and the exploration of her relationship with her fiance, I'm not quite sure I bought into the mystery in this book.  Having been friends with Peter and Rene for many years, when Mel hears that things aren't going too well between her friends, she worries about them and their relationship, as well as struggles with what she may have missed during the years as she thought they had the perfect relationship, and looked up to them.  I enjoyed the philosophical thought that came with this whole thread, especially considering Mel's upcoming nuptials, but thought the author had to work quite hard to make it sound believable.  I didn't quite buy into it though.

That brings me to the plot: a predictable murder and a quite-easy-to-figure-out murderer.  I even figured out the weapon, no brainer.  And while I usually give these books a four star or higher, I just couldn't this time because I couldn't get into the story the same way as usual, and I just didn't buy into it.  Yes, it was fun and enjoyable, but there was no uncertainty or tension at all.  Very light cozy mystery that was easy to figure out.  And while I usually love Angie's brothers, they got on my nerves in this book; she is married after all, and what used to be funny and cute was just downright irritating.  And for whatever reason, every time Joe used the term, "Cupcake", to talk to Mel, I winced, don't know why.  

Pumpkin Spice Peril is not my favourite book in this series, but it was still light and fun.  The writing and character development was still strong and present, and it is always fun to come back to a group of characters you have followed for quite a while to see what they are up to and how they are doing.  I did feel like the mystery was very predictable and it seemed like the author was really reaching for red herrings that didn't quite work.  Overall, there was a lot going on, which is fine, but the mystery kind of got lost in all the chaos. I don't actually mind change, and there will be some changes in upcoming books, so I really curious as to what the author is going to bring into Mel's world.  There is definitely a wedding in store, so I am looking forward to that.  While this was not the strongest entry, I do highly recommend the other books in this series as they are wonderful and a lot of fun.
Thursday, May 21, 2020

Review: The Last Passenger by Charles Finch

The Last Passenger (Charles Lenox Mysteries, Book #13)
by Charles Finch
Release Date: February 18th 2020
2020 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250312204
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

London, 1855: A young and eager Charles Lenox faces his toughest case yet: a murder without a single clue. Slumped in a first-class car at Paddington Station is the body of a young, handsome gentleman. He has no luggage, empty pockets, and no sign of violence upon his person - yet Lenox knows instantly that it's not a natural death.

My Thoughts
The Last Passenger is the third and final volume in a set of prequel novels featuring Charles Lenox.  To be honest, this is the first book I've read by this author although I have most of his books, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I don't know why it's taken me so long to dive into these books as I love a good historical mystery, but after reading this one, I will definitely take the plunge and read the rest as I am now intrigued. 

I have to say that I found the concept of this one quite intriguing and it wasn't what I expected.  What I first thought was going to be a nice procedural and investigation actually took a turn in a quite different direction and suddenly I was in the midst of a world of abolitionists, slavery, and human rights.  Now, this was fascinating stuff and the entry of the Americans was interesting and unexpected.  I like how the British and American worlds kind of collided here and we got a glimpse of the political world surrounding Charles and his family during this time period.  Personally, I don't feel like the author went deep enough, kind of erred on the safe side, and made the characters seem a little too...nice.  I can't think that anyone who has dealt in slavery can have an ounce of compassion in their bones.   

The author has a great writing style and I enjoyed his quirky sense of humour, through Charles Lenox, as well as his criticisms of London during this time period.  And even though the main character thought he was an abolitionist, the whole experience made him re-evaluate exactly what that meant as he came into contact with a former slave and heard some of his experiences first-hand.  It was interesting as it makes you realize that anyone can BE something, but you also have to PROVE you are that something, through your actions as well as your words.  And when it comes to crunch time, can you act on those words.  At this point in time, just before the Civil War in the United States, slavery was still a controversial topic both in the U.S. and in Great Britain.  And it made and broke many political careers.  

On a more social level, I enjoyed learning about Charles and his family as well as his special friendship with his neighbours, Lady Jane Grey and her husband.  Considering his choice of profession was not highly regarded in society, I commiserated with him when he was snubbed at social gatherings and such, and felt for him as he navigated the social world looking for a possible wife.  The perspectives on women and their lot in life was quite interesting as Charles was nursing a broken heart in this one, and I liked learning about that perspective about women from a woman.  Charles is an interesting character who thinks about others, but is determined to do things his way. I like that about him.

The Last Passenger was an interesting mystery that focused on slavery and one's position on abolitionism which was quite controversial at the time.  I enjoyed the characters, but particularly enjoyed Charles and his issues with society and his choice of profession.  Because I was not familiar with the current books, there was one thing I wasn't expecting and it was quite a sad moment as I had grown fond of this character.  I definitely recommend this book, and look forward to reading the other books in this series. 
Monday, May 18, 2020

Review: The Mitford Scandal by Jessica Fellowes

The Mitford Scandal (Mitford Murders, Book #1)
by Jessica Fellowes
Release Date: January 21st 2020
2020 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 374 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250316806
ASIN: B07Q353P9Q
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

The year is 1928, and after the death of a maid at a glamorous society party, fortune heir Bryan Guinness seizes life and proposes to eighteen-year-old Diana, most beautiful of the six Mitford sisters. The maid's death is ruled an accident, and the newlyweds put it behind them to begin a whirlwind life zipping between London's Mayfair, chic Paris and hedonistic Berlin. Accompanying Diana as her lady's maid is Louisa Cannon, as well as a coterie of friends, family and hangers on, from Nancy Mitford to Evelyn Waugh.

When a second victim is found in Paris in 1931, Louisa begins to see links with the death of the maid two years previously. Now she must convince the Mitford sisters that a murderer could be within their midst . . . all while shadows darken across Europe, and within the heart of Diana Mitford herself.

My Thoughts
The Mitford Scandal is a really difficult book to rate simply because I feel like the author kind of lost track of what kind of book she was writing.  Don't get me wrong, the Mitford Sisters are extremely fascinating in and of themselves, and if this was a book just about their lives, I wouldn't have a problem becoming enmeshed in their lives and in their goings-ons, but the book is a mystery, one which spanned over four years, and I really feel like the mystery got lost amidst the daily lives of these interesting women.  

First of all, this time span is a long time to try and keep a reader's interest in the plot.  Oh, I know it can take years for a murder to be solved, but that is simply not the issue here.  The ultimate solution to what happened wasn't that mind-blowing and for those who read a lot of mystery novels, it was pretty obvious who the culprit was. I spent a lot of the time trying to figure out how the author was going to ever get around to her big reveal and it wasn't that exciting or mind-blowing as I think she meant it to be.  

I figured the author wanted to get Diana Mitford to the point where she met Sir Oswald Mosley, but I don't really see why.  I am quite familiar with her story and I really think it could have waited until another book for that to happen as her meeting him didn't really have any bearing on the mystery.  And then the author could have focused a lot more on the mystery and created much more suspense surrounding that event rather than focusing on Diana, whom I couldn't stand.  And if the author wanted to write a historical fiction book just about Diana Mitford Guinness, I wouldn't have a problem with that either, but mixing the two just didn't work.  I kind of felt like the author was playing a ping-pong game with herself as to what type of novel she wanted to write - mystery or fiction about Diana.  And because of this, both came up short.  

And honestly, having Louisa Cannon as a lady's maid just so she could be involved in the events didn't quite work for me.  I was trying to work out how that happened - how Louisa went from being almost part of the family, to having to enter the servants' door and being treated with disrespect.  I did like having Guy back in her life and was quite happy at the turn of events there though.  

The Mitford Scandal was an interesting book at its core, but being marketed as a mystery novel, I do have to evaluate it as such, and in that respect, it fell short for me.  However, the Mitford Sisters are such interesting people, and there is so much material there with which an author can work.  I don't quite feel the mystery worked in this book, but like I said, the lives of these women are fascinating.  And with Unity almost grown up, it will be interesting to see what this author writes about next.  Such interesting times ahead.  I would love to see this author tackle a historical fiction novel about these women that is not marketed as a mystery as I think she could do great things.  Gosh, these women were fascinating.  And with some of them developing an interest in Fascism, interesting times ahead.   
Thursday, May 14, 2020

Review: A Constellation of Roses by Miranda Asebedo

A Constellation of Roses
by Miranda Asebedo
Release Date: November 5th 2019
2019 HarperTeen
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062747105
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / YA
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Ever since her mother walked out, Trix McCabe has been determined to make it on her own. And with her near-magical gift for pulling valuables off unsuspecting strangers, Trix is confident she has what it takes to survive. Until she’s caught and given a choice: jail time, or go live with her long-lost family in the tiny town of Rocksaw, Kansas.

Trix doesn’t plan to stick around Rocksaw long, but there’s something special about her McCabe relatives that she is drawn to. Her aunt, Mia, bakes pies that seem to cure all ills. Her cousin, Ember, can tell a person’s deepest secret with the touch of a hand. And Trix’s great-aunt takes one look at Trix’s palm and tells her that if she doesn’t put down roots somewhere, she won’t have a future anywhere.

Before long, Trix feels like she might finally belong with this special group of women in this tiny town in Kansas. But when her past comes back to haunt her, she’ll have to decide whether to take a chance on this new life . . . or keep running from the one she’s always known.

My Thoughts
A Constellation of Roses is one of those books that I went into not really knowing anything about it, but then being pleasantly surprised by he characters, the setting, and the plot. Despite not really liking Trix at the beginning of the novel, she really grew on me, and I really rooted for her towards the end.  This is the kind of character development I like, plus it's a feel-good story, which is a plus during this time of pandemic shakedown.

I really, really enjoyed the character development in this book.  The entire McCabe family was quirky and interesting, and I really liked that the author didn't go into any detail about their 'gifts'; it was just kind of accepted that they all had them and they were part of their unique personalities.  I was really afraid the story would end up being a 'magic' story and I would probably have put down the book if that had happened.  Don't get me wrong, I love fantasy, but I wasn't interested in it here as it wasn't supposed to be that type of book.  The author did not let me down on that score.

Trix was a lost soul, living on her own, when she was caught by the police and given a choice: live with a family she never knew existed, or go to jail.  At first, she was a bit surly about the whole thing and didn't really treat those around her very well. That was to be expected as she was suddenly thrust into this loving family who made their living making 'magical' treats (pies); Auntie was a hoot, calling everyone out for their actions; Mia was the kind one, understanding  Trix' reticence to join the family; and Ember was happy to have a cousin close to her age with whom she could share her gift.  Slowly, Trix came to realize how important family was to her.  As Trix opened up to this new-found family, we also learned, through flashbacks, a bit of the horror of her life; just enough to give you an understanding of how awful it must have been and the abuse she must have suffered.  There may be some triggers in this book for people as they do discuss suicide, abuse, depression, and other things as well.  

The plot wasn't anything spectacular or original, but it was fun.  The action does move fairly quickly and I was very appreciative of the fact the romance wasn't overblown and didn't take over the story.  It was real, with some real issues, and I liked that.  And thank be, no love triangle.  It is very much a character-driven novel, but I definitely appreciated the growth Trix demonstrated throughout and I really liked her towards the end.  I am a huge fan of Ember as well and would love to learn more about her, like in a future novel? Hint!!

A Constellation of Roses was a fun, quirky book that really hit all the right spots with me.  There was good character development, a fun plot, interesting characters, and some drama, but not the overblown teen angst we see in some books.  I thought the Shane thing was a bit too much though, and was the only part of the book that didn't feel realistic; he changed way too much and way too fast to be believable.  Otherwise, this was a fun book to read and I would recommend it to anyone looking for something light at this time.