Monday, January 27, 2020

Review: The Secrets we Bury by Debra Webb

The Secrets we Bury (The Undertaker's Daughter, Book #1)
by Debra Webb
Release Date: April 30th 2019
2019 MIRA
Kindle Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778308300
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Doctor Rowan Dupont knows death. She grew up surrounded by it in her family’s Victorian funeral home, and it’s haunted her since the day her twin sister drowned years ago. Between her mother’s subsequent suicide and the recent murder of her father, coming home to run the funeral home feels fitting—even if it leaves her vulnerable to an obsessive serial killer.

Rowan refuses to let fear keep her from honoring her family. But the more time she spends back in Winchester, Tennessee, the more she finds herself questioning what really happened that fateful summer. Had her sister’s death truly been an accident? And what pushed their mother to take her own life? The dark lake surrounding Rowan’s hometown holds as many secrets as the bodies that float in its chilling depths. But Rowan is running out of time if she’s going to uncover the truth before somebody sinks her for good.

My Thoughts
The Secrets we Bury is the first book in a planned trilogy, featuring Dr. Rowan Dupont, a profiler for the Nashville Police Department, who becomes embroiled in a case that sends her home to lick her wounds and recover from some serious downfall.  This case is featured in a novella called The Undertaker's Daughter; I suggest you read it before reading this trilogy as it gives some much needed background information that isn't fully explained in the first book.

First of all, I am not a fan of weak, insipid female characters, but I am also not a fan of stupid either and while I liked Rowan at times, there were times when I could have happily called her out on a few things.  Being such an experienced profiler, working for the Nashville Police Department all those years, you would have thought she would have learned a thing or two.  When things go bump in the night over and over again, when things go missing or are misplaced all of the time, you can't just chalk it up to a faulty memory and shrug it off.  Dumbest suspense trick in the book.  People tend to be creatures of habit and I know that if I put my keys in the drawer every night, like clockwork, and every night, they ended up somewhere else in my house, I would not be questioning my sanity, but something else.  And getting some good security cameras.  And when things go seriously awry for Rowan, and she needs security detail to keep her safe, what does she do? She ditches them to go investigating.  Smart move.  Apparently being extremely well educated and growing up around death doesn't give you an advantage when it comes to making better decisions as I found myself shaking my head a lot over her actions.  I didn't dislike Rowan as a character though, I just wish the author wouldn't use some of the old tactics to create suspense as I didn't think they were necessary; the story itself had a great premise and could easily have been suspenseful without the gimmicks.

So, let's talk about the actual plot line. Like I've already mentioned, it really helps to have read the novella that opens up this trilogy.  And while I wish the novella had been a full book just to flesh out the characters a bit more, there was enough in there to get a really good idea of Julian's character and how dangerous he could be.  I thought the plot moved along quickly enough, but it was rather easy to figure out who the murderer was in this book.  Therefore, I did find it a bit predictable and there were so many coincidences. Not a big fan of those either.  I really liked the premise of the book, but I don't think it liked up to its full potential.  What did intrigue me were the secrets in that old house. I like secrets and I love watching characters search for clues to hidden pasts and secrets they didn't know anything about, and there seems to be a big secret in Rowan's past.  Big hints were given and this is what intrigues me.  Not the silly things that Rowan does that gets good people killed.  I have no sympathy for her in these situations.  Billy, though, I liked a lot. In case you're wondering, Billy is the possible love interest, the police office, of course. Could you have predicted that one?

The Secrets We Bury was not one of the best books by this author, but it was strong enough that I will probably read the next book in this trilogy as I am intrigued by secrets.  Because it is part of a trilogy however, the conclusion is not exactly what you would expect and a lot of things are not yet revealed. This is not something I mind, but I know it does bother some readers. Would I recommend this one? I think this is one you really have to read for yourself and see what you think.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Review: Froggy Builds a Snowman by Jonathan London & Frank Remkiewics (Illustrator)

Froggy Builds a Snowman
by Jonathan London
Illustrator Frank Remkiewicz
Release Date: January 7th 2020
2020 Viking Books for Young Readers
ARC Edition; 32 Pages
ISBN: 978-1984836366
Genre: Children / Picture Book
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

It's Winter Carnival day, and Froggy can't wait to build a snowman. But school principal Mr. Mugwort says there is a lot to do first. Skating! Sledding! A snow fort! Finally it's time to build a snowman, but Froggy builds a snow dinosaur instead. And of course the day wouldn't be complete without a wild snowball fight. 

My Thoughts
Froggy Builds a Snowman is a sentimental read for me as it reminds of the time when my kids were little and I would read them these books over and over again, and I think because I have one in university and another going next year, I am feeling a little sentimental so I am going through a phase where I am reading a lot of children's books and getting a lot of pleasure doing so.  The Froggy books were always a favourite series for my kids and by looking at the attractive bright colours and simple text, as a parent, you can definitely see the appeal.

First of all, the illustrations. I have always liked the illustrations in these books.  They are bright, eye-catching and fun.  I have never been a fan of children's books that are overwhelming, with so much going on that a child gets frustrated just looking at a page.  Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of value in those books and illustrations and as an adult, I love them, but for a child? Not so much.  There is so much to discuss through the illustrations with a child in this book. As a parent, I was itching to talk about the colours and have a child point them out and see if they knew their colours, and to talk about the different kinds of snowmen they could build and encourage them to go outside and play. In fact, I was itching to go outside and ski as the snow looked so bright and inviting.  I loved the bright blue sky that featured on each page with snow falling down.  In fact, I was a bigger fan of the illustrations than the overall story.

The story itself was cute, but I was getting so frustrated for Froggy, who wasn't allowed to build his snowman all day long.  Why not just let him build it right away? Then do the activities later?  As a kid, the first thing we all did in the snow was jump in it and make snow angels.  I don't think I was outside more than five seconds before being covered head to toe in snow.  So much fun!!   However, I do love the message in the book whereby Froggy was very patient and decided to go with the flow and do what was asked and scheduled and eventually he got to do what he wanted to do.  Definitely ample opportunities for reader participation in all sorts of settings and opportunities to discuss use of language techniques such as similes and onomatopoeia.   

Froggy Builds a Snowman will definitely appeal to younger children with its bright colours and simple message.  I am so glad the author decided to continue this series as I thought it was complete. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for something fun to read to their children as there is plenty of opportunities to discuss snow, snowmen, getting along, following instructions, and just winter in general. 
Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Review: A Cruel Deception by Charles Todd

A Cruel Deception (Bess Crawford, Book #11)
by Charles Todd
Release Date: October 22nd 2019
2019 William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers
Kindle Edition: 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062859860
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

The Armistice of November 1918 ended the fighting, but the Great War will not be over until a Peace Treaty is drawn up and signed by all parties. Representatives from the Allies are gathering in Paris, and already ominous signs of disagreement have appeared.

Sister Bess Crawford, who has been working with the severely wounded in England in the war’s wake, is asked to carry out a personal mission in Paris for a Matron at the London headquarters of The Queen Alexandra’s.

Bess is facing decisions about her own future, even as she searches for the man she is charged with helping.  When she does locate Lt. Lawrence Minton, she finds a bitter and disturbed officer who has walked away from his duties at the Peace Conference and is well on his way toward an addiction to opiates. When she confronts him with the dangers of using laudanum, he tells her that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies, as long as he can find oblivion. 

What is driving this man to a despair so profound it can only end with death? The war? Something that happened in Paris? To prevent a tragedy, she must get at the truth as quickly as possible—which means putting herself between Lieutenant Minton and whatever is destroying him. Or is it whoever?

My Thoughts
A Cruel Deception is the eleventh entry in the Bess Crawford series, and as we approach the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, I am left wondering what will happen to Bess and to the life she has known for the past four Years.  While this book doesn't quite answer those questions, there is definitely some foreshadowing happening that gives little hints that we will be in store for big things with Bess, and dare I hope, Simon? 

Bess has spent the last four years working as a nursing sister for The Queen Alexandra's and has learned to survive in some pretty stressful situations.  That this would change a person is unquestionable, but I thought the author did a fantastic job showing the difficulties people had after the war trying to return to pre-war mentalities once the war ended.  Unfortunately, you can't change the past and you can't change progress.  So while the world changed, so did women and their independence and I liked how the author highlighted the struggle that existed during this time period for women who have learned to be independent and the societal expectations that were being put back on them.  This left a lot of room for Bess and introspection throughout the novel as to whether she wanted to continue being a nursing sister or whether there could be much more for her out there.  I really enjoyed her thoughts about this as there really hadn't been a lot of this in previous books.  It is difficult to dream about a future in the midst of a war, not knowing if you will survive or not.

As always, I love the meticulous research that goes into these books and I have always felt like I was right there when reading these authors' books.  They are very descriptive, but there are some things I am really, really glad they leave up to our imagination.  The description of the daughter, for example, didn't need to be graphic for you to understand she had been brutally raped by German soldiers for over a week, and she was just a young girl.  Nope, there are some things that just don't need descriptions. 

While I found the descriptions of Paris during the Peace Conference talks to be riveting, I did find the mystery to be a bit ...slow.  It wasn't that I didn't find it interesting, but there was more about Bess flitting here and there than there was about the mystery.  This has been one of my concerns in some of the previous books as well where you get huge descriptions about her travels by car or by train. Yes, they are interesting, but they do take away from the overall feel of the novel as a mystery. That being said, it was never boring. Ever. And I particularly liked the nursing aspects of the story even though I have no nursing background.

A Cruel Deception is an interesting story but I don't think it quite lived up to some of the previous entries in this series.  If you have never read a book in this series though, I don't necessarily recommend starting with this one as the authors assume that the reader is familiar with the characters and has an understanding of the past stories.  Simon is mentioned a lot in this book but he never appears and if you had never read a previous book, you would have no idea of the importance of this character to Bess.  Nevertheless, there are quite a few hints as to what may happen in future books and I can't wait to find out what is in store for Bess.  Please, please, please, let it be about Bess and Simon!! We have waited a long time for this to happen.
Sunday, January 5, 2020

Review: The 19th Bladesman by S.J. Hartland

The 19th Bladesman (Shadow Sword, book #1)
by S.J. Hartland
Release Date: November 21st 2018
2018 Dark Blade Publishing
Kindle Edition; 642 Pages
ISBN: 978-0648437208
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

His duty is to die young, but fate has something far more lethal in mind

If Kaell breaks, the kingdom breaks with him. And prophecy says the 19th Bladesman will break ...

The Bonded Warrior ...

Kill. Die young. That's what a swordsman bonded to the ancient gods does. Without expecting praise from the man who trained him to survive this centuries-old, malignant war against the inhuman followers of an invincible lord. But Kaell wants more. More of Val Arques' attention, his approval. Just more.

The fire dancer ...

Ice lord, spy, Heath never loses a fire dance. Yet he longs to know that thrill of danger down his spine as he kills for his god, to fight a warrior who might, just might be better than him.

The broken ...

Val Arques is a bladesman of formidable power entrusted not only with Kaell's life but with the truth that will destroy him. Banished to a grim outpost of this doomed kingdom of sorcery, poetry and treachery, he cannot afford to care about the young warrior. For love means loss. And Val Arques has a shameful secret ...

A kingdom on the edge of chaos ...

As a vengeful god escapes his ancient prison and Kaell is drawn into his web of deception, even Val Arques can't protect him from the dark prophecy awaiting him. Because you can't flee fate unless you're willing to do the unthinkable.

My Thoughts
The 19th Bladesman has been on my to-be-read list for quite a while so when I received the second book in the series, it was definitely time to give it a go and I am so glad I did.  I love reading massive fantasy books and luckily, I had hours on a plane to indulge and this book kept me riveted the entire time.  While there were some issues with the book, I loved the world building and I enjoyed the characters; plus, there was enough betrayal and twists and turns to keep me happy.

First of all, the world building was fantastic and I thought the author did a standup job at keeping a brisk pace between the events and explaining some of the back stories of the characters.  What I particularly liked was the way the information was given; it was explained as if you were already familiar with the legends and folk lore, like you had grown up on it, and if you hadn't, just needed to fill in the blanks yourself.  I really like that approach as I like to figure out things for myself and if I am confused for part of the book, I just accept I will figure it out and keep on going.  I wouldn't have survived the Malazan books otherwise.  Plus, I feel like I am being talked down to, as if I can't figure things out, you know?

The book in told multiple POV which can sometimes detract from the momentum of a story, but not in this case.  I could see all the threads being manipulated and being pulled and it's one of the things I love about fantasy novels.  The more threads and the more complicated things are, the more I enjoy what I am reading.  And while at first I thought the plot was more about this young boy who would be a big hero after he learns all his skills, and maybe is defeated a time or two, I learned pretty early on that this book would not be like that.  The characters are way more complicated, with pasts and gray areas that will cause betrayals and twists and turns, and it turns out there was a lot going on behind the scenes.  Every character has depth and their own motivations, even if those motivations are not quite clear, and people I thought were more ethical did some pretty unethical things.  And treachery abounds. There was one character's death I mourned for part of the book only to find out he actually betrayed one of the main characters very badly, and I didn't even see it coming.  Love it when that happens.  Luckily I was on the plane so I couldn't throw the book (not that I would have as I might have destroyed my tablet or worse, hit someone on the back of the head, but that was how I felt when reading that part). The story was definitely character driven, each with their own conflicts to work out, each seeking approval from something or someone, and because of this, vulnerable to great betrayal. 

The author has a way of writing that just draws you into the story.  Looking back, the story is actually more complex than I first thought, and I love how she uses humour to lighten up some of the scenes, even poetic elements.  These lighter moments are definitely needed as a lot of the book was more brutal, involving torture, fight scenes, sorcery, battle elements, all done very cleverly.  I found myself holding my breath through a few of them, wondering what was going to happen for as I learned quite early on, nothing was as it appeared and good guys could become bad guys in a heartbeat.  

The 19th Bladesman was a solid entry into the fantasy field, one that I enjoyed quite a bit.  And don't let the number of pages fool you, the author's writing style is captivating and you will rip through the book without noticing the pages.  For those who like more traditional fantasy, this book has it all: battles, castles, magic, prophecy, ancient kings, folk lore, and treachery.  If anything, perhaps a list of who is who at the front of the book might help.  Otherwise, I highly recommend this book. Now, on to the next book in this series, The Last Seer King, and then hopefully book three, The Sword Brotherhood., July 2020.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Review: How the Dead Speak by Val McDermid

How the Dead Speak (Tony Hill & Carol Jordan, Book #11)
by Val McDermid
Release Date: December 3, 2019
2019 Atlantic Monthly Press
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0802147615
Genre: Fiction / Murder
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

With Tony behind bars and Carol finally out of road as a cop, he's finding unexpected outlets for his talents in jail and she's joined forces with a small informal group of lawyers and forensics experts looking into suspected miscarriages of justice. But they're doing it without each other; being in the same room at visiting hour is too painful to contemplate. Meanwhile, construction is suddenly halted on the redevelopment of an orphanage after dozens of skeletons are found buried in the grounds. Forensic examination reveals they date from between twenty and forty years ago, when the nuns were running their repressive regime. But then a different set of skeletons are discovered in a far corner, young men from as recent as ten years ago.

When newly promoted DI Paula McIntyre discovers that one of the male skeletons is that of a killer who is supposedly alive and behind bars--and the subject of one of Carol's miscarriage investigations--it brings Tony and Carol irresistibly into each other's orbit once again.

My Thoughts
How the Dead Speak is the eleventh entry in the Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series, a series I have been following since the very beginning.  After the explosive ending of the previous book, I was wondering where the author would go from there and I really liked what she did with the characters and the setup for future novels.  However, this is still a murder mystery, and while the development of the characters was fascinating, I thought the mystery was rather weak. So I thought I would separate my review into two sections.  Unfortunately, if you haven't yet delved into this series, there will be spoilers.

Like any series, there comes a point where something so shocking happens the author has to kind of regroup with the readers to try and figure out a way forward.  For so many years, we were treated to brilliant cases and watched as Carol slowly descended into alcoholism and Tony felt helpless watching Carol struggle through something with which he couldn't help.  I'm sure every fan was wondering the same thing: How could a series survive knowing its two stars were out of the game? One in prison, the other forced to retire.  

Unfortunately, this book is more of a filler rather than a mystery novel.  Rushed, disjointed, with a lackluster mystery, it seemed to be more about the characters and their reactions to what was happening rather than about the mystery and the job. One of the things I typically liked about these books is learning about the killer and their motivations as well as the relationships amongst all the players.  Because we learn quite early who the killer is in this book, I really feel it takes some of the edge away from the book plus we don't learn anything about the person other than they were 'really nice'.  There is really no impact on anything or anyone.  And while this was sad, it should have been a lot more emotionally than what we got.  

Rather, the author focuses more on Carol's attempts at therapy and Tony's doings in jail, but these are really backstories and should not have been major story lines.  Yes, it was definitely important to learn what the two were up to but at the forefront of a story? No.  And using Vanessa, Tony's mother? Not a fan of that little sideshow.  

Now, the story line about the buried children in the convent area was quite fascinating and I really wish the author had taken that event much further than she did.  This was more Paula and Stacey's story and I feel like the author missed a golden opportunity to capitalize on this case and really make it something.  Struggling to adapt to a new boss and new teammates, the intricacies involved in the new relationships could have been really intriguing but came down to 'she's my equal so I can't say anything about that' situations.  I almost felt like I was reading about a different Paula and Stacey and the two had been body-snatched. They still manage to come up with some of the best dialogue in the book though. But I definitely missed the fire-cracker Paula and was not impressed with what happened at the end of the book. And Rutherford? Cliche new boss.  That path really had to be taken.

As always though, the different threads do connect. And while I enjoyed the character development and loved learning what the different characters were doing, I missed the thrill of an explosive novel and a great mystery that is typical of this author. 

How the Dead Speak is one of those books I was a bit unsure about reading simply because the previous book had such an explosive ending I was not sure where the author would take the characters and the story line.  That being said, this book is definitely not the place to start for someone new to this series.  There is way too much history between the characters and the author does not explain what happened in previous books so you really do need to read them.  And while this book is not my favourite in the series, it definitely sets up a new direction for the characters and new possibilities.  I just have no idea where the author is heading but I am curious to find out.  Hopefully though, the mystery will return to the main focus as I really missed the excitement and thrill of the police work in this novel.  It just wasn't the same. 
Thursday, January 2, 2020

Review: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Sorcery of Thorns
by Margaret Rogerson
Release Date: June 4th 2019
2019 Margaret K. McElderry Books
Kindle Edition; 456 Pages
ISBN: 978-1481497619
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars


All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

My Thoughts
Sorcery of Thorns is one of those books to which I would be immediately drawn: it is about magical books, the setting takes place in buildings that are mysterious and are pretty much libraries, and there is a system of magic that is unique and different.  While I am not a huge fan of YA literature, I truly did enjoy this novel from beginning to end, and was somewhat disappointed to learn this was a standalone as I became quite involved in the lives of the main characters and would love to read more about their adventures.  But it is what it is.

First of all, I thought Elisabeth was a great character and really enjoyed her personality.  She was tough, but not mean, going after what she wanted, but still thought about others and their needs.  She has grown up in a library and has always wanted to be a warden, someone who protects the kingdom from the power of books if they are provoqued into transforming into monsters that could destroy entire towns or villages.  Some of the books are very much alive and could do some very bad things, which is quite an interesting concept in this book.  When an attack one night goes badly, Elisabeth is sent away, under the protection of Nathanial Thorn and his demon Silas, and a host of new adventures happen to this trio who eventually work together to discover what is actually happening at the libraries and what was behind the attack that sent Elisabeth away.  Silas is by far my favourite character in this novel and I love how the author developed his personality as she explained the bond between Nathanial and Silas and how the magic system worked.  Nathanial is part of an old magical family who pass down their demons from one generation to the next which helps keep the bond between the family and the demon intact.  Having a demon loose upon the world would not be a good thing for the people.  And the author gives the reader a good glimpse as to the chaos that could arise if such a thing were to happen.  Anyhow, the characters were complex, interesting, sarcastic, fascinating, and intriguing, and I was invested in all of them but for different reasons. 

The plot was extremely fast which didn't really bother me too much except that you didn't really get to absorb a scene before you were thrust right into the next one.  Right from the beginning Elisabeth is defending her library against an evil book monster and someone who betrays them, and is then sent away to prove her innocence and is thrust right into some major conflicts in the city so the action just keeps right on going.  The author does a great job explaining the magic system as well as the people involved so there is little confusion as to who is who and what is what. I think the only issue I really had was the lack of world-building. I really felt there should have, and could have, been more details given about the world as they were a bit disjointed and murky which is why when the plot slowed down towards the middle, it also seemed a bit disjointed and murky. Luckily, there were only a couple spots where this happened and the plot and flow picked up rather nicely again. I began to root for Nathanial and Elisabeth right away, but not necessarily as a romantic couple, just as friends as she desperately needed someone on her side who believed in her and who believed that something terrible was happening.  I thought all of the twists and turns worked out rather well, and I liked how the author faced the dark pasts of the characters without flinching and allowed them to explore their feelings and what they were dealing with on their own terms, some of which I don't think is quite fully resolved, leading me a very faint hope there may yet be a sequel to this book.

Sorcery of Thorns was a well-written book about two people who needed to help each other discover what they could truly be and who they really are.  I enjoyed the twists and turns and thought the action was a lot of fun. The idea of magical books and libraries was interesting and I liked how the author treated the books.  (I was actually getting sentimental over a book sacrificing itself towards the end.) I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves books (!!) and a fun tale involving a boy, a girl, and my favourite demon, Silas.  To the author, please, please, please write a sequel!!