Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Review: The Lying House by Rick Mofina

The Lying House
by Rick Mofina
Release Date: November 26th 2019
2019 Mira Books
Kindle Edition; 512 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778308881
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Lisa Taylor had friends, family and a job she loved back in Cleveland. But when her husband, Jeff, lands the promotion of a lifetime, she gives it all up to stand by him. Their whirlwind move to Miami feels like an adventure, their idyllic new neighborhood the perfect place to start a family. But their dreams are shattered when a stranger breaks into their house, holding a knife to Lisa's throat before Jeff can chase him off.

Suddenly, every sacrifice Lisa made is like a loss she'll never recover from. But Jeff makes it clear there's too much at stake to return to Ohio. Isolated and afraid, Lisa becomes a hostage in her own home. She can't shake the feeling she's being watched. And with the man she married growing increasingly unrecognizable, she's starting to wonder whether their hasty move was to pursue a better life--or escape a chilling past that won't be outrun.

My Thoughts
The Lying House was a light, enjoyable read, but I definitely don't think this was one of his best works.  I love this author and always look forward to his new novels as I love the suspense he creates with his characters and the way he lays out his chapters, usually giving little away to the reader.  For whatever reason, I thought this one was very predictable, even if well-written, and I easily figured out who the culprit was very early on.  This is not the usual case with this author and I was kind of disappointed by this.

The first third of the book moved along quite quickly and I have to admit the first few chapters were quite explosive and interesting, and I had high hopes the story would continue with that sense of suspense and evil hanging over the main characters.  The author always manages to infuse his writing with this sense of foreboding that makes you tense, just waiting for something unexpected to happen.  And while this writing style was definitely evident at the beginning, something...changed.  I can't quite put my finger on what it was as the writing style was still quite good, but that sense of foreboding was simply...gone.  And then I wasn't as invested in the story or the characters.

And while I sort of liked the characters, I didn't find them extraordinary.  Their childhood issues were quite easy to figure out, especially Jeff's, and Lisa's childhood trauma was also easy to figure out if you really thought about what happened.  Unfortunately, if I say more I will gave away some plot points and I don't want to do that here.  To be honest, I couldn't really figure out what importance that had on the present day other than to find some type of conflict between the two characters but that conflict seemed a bit contrived to me.  And my, the neighbour was annoying.  

The Lying House was quite predictable from very early on and did not quite live up to this author's usual standards of suspense.  I was not the biggest fan of the main characters as I thought they were whiny and self-entitled.  The ending was okay, but a bit too pat.  I really think I would have preferred a twist or something to make it a bit more interesting.  Overall, a light, enjoyable read but if you have read his previous works, you may be a bit disappointed by this one. If you have never read a book by this author, I highly recommend the Tom Reed and Walt Sydowski series as well as the Jason Wade books.
Sunday, February 23, 2020

Review: The Bromance Book Club by Lissa Kay Adams

The Bromance Book Club (Bromance Book Club, Book #1)
by Lissa Kay Adams
Release Date: November 5th 2019
2019 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978 -1984806093
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / Romance
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

The first rule of book club: You don't talk about book club.

Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott's marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him.

Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.

Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville's top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it'll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.

My Thoughts
The Bromance Book Club was definitely not what I was expecting.  While it was a bit preachy at times and somewhat contrived, man, it was a lot of fun to watch baseball players read romance novels and give each other relationship advice about how to 'woo' their ladies. I had quite a few laugh out loud moments during this book and I appreciated the humour and the witty dialogue between the characters a lot.

Basically, the story is about Gavin, a Major League Baseball player, who, despite being a pretty famous baseball player, actually suffers with confidence issues due to a stutter.  One night he discovers that his wife has been faking the big 'O' and decides to leave, although his relationship with Thea has been on the outs for months.  Gavin gets relationship help from a rather unlikely source, his buddies who all belong to a secret romance book club whereby they use romance novels to help resolve relationship issues.  I have to say it was an intriguing idea and I really loved the idea of men reading romance novels and trying to use the information to help them resolve their issues.  

I really wanted to read this as I was interested in how the author would tackle a problem that is quite common: how do you rekindle a relationship when there are kids involved and you have been together for quite a while?  I think it's a trope that hasn't been fully explored and I would like to see more of it done.  While it should be super romantic and all, Thea and Gavin had some serious issues to work through and I liked that the author didn't play down those issues at all, acknowledging that those issues would have to be worked on every day for the rest of their lives.  

And were there some sexy moments? Oh yes!! Gavin is a baseball star and quite fit so the author's descriptions of him with a towel around his!! If you are looking for some steamy scenes, they were there.  Steamy, yes, erotica, no.  Just two people rekindling their love for each other and the joys of the bedroom.

I really enjoyed this author's writing style and I loved the whole Bromance Book Club idea. I definitely was laughing out loud during the scenes when the guys were discussing the books as they were funny.  And the scene when they discovered Pinterest? Priceless.  I do wish however, the author had kept some of the feminist preachy things out of some of the conversations as I don't think they were needed and kind of ruined the flow  or mood of some of the scenes.  I just don't think it was necessary in order for Thea to prove she was an independent woman and could make her own decision about going back to school.  And the men going on about feminism just didn't sound authentic.  You know they care about their wives and partners just by how they treat them, having them spew about feminism made them sound silly. Just an opinion.

The Bromance Book Club was very enjoyable and I liked it a lot. I tend to really like romance novels that feel more authentic and this one dealt with some real issues that needed to be delved into on both sides, issues that both people need to continue working on long after the book is finished.  And I like how the author made that so clear, that a relationship is a work in progress.  This book had the perfect balance between sweet, romantic, and confronting issues.  I am really looking forward to the next relationship the Bromance Book Club will assist and the way this book ended, there are a couple of contenders.    
Thursday, February 13, 2020

Review: Cezanne's Parrot by Amy Guglielmo and Brett Helquist (Illustrator)

Cezanne's Parrot
by Amy Guglielmo, Illustrated by Brett Helquist
Release Date: February 11th 2020
2020 Putnam/G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 40 Pages
ISBN: 978-0525515081
Genre: Juvenile Nonfiction / Children
Source: Review copy from publisher

All Cezanne wants is to be a great painter like his friends Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir. But when he shows his works, the professors, the critics, and the collectors all dismiss him: "Too flat!" "Too much paint!" "These are rough and unfinished!" Even his own pet parrot, Bisou, can't be brought to say, "Cezanne is a great painter!" And who can blame them? Cezanne doesn't care about tradition, and he doesn't follow the rules. He's painting in a way no one else has done before, creating something completely new--and he's destined to change the world of art forever. Cezanne's Parrot is a spirited celebration of creativity, determination, and perseverance--and the artist who would become known as the father of modern art.

My Thoughts
Cezanne's Parrot is a fun and simple story featuring the famous French artist, Paul Cezanne, at the start of his career as he was trying to find his niche in the difficult and critical art world.  Known as the father of modern art, his early years were rather challenging as he was trying to find his place and figure out his strengths as an artist.  

Personally, I really enjoyed the message this book was trying to present. As a struggling artist, Cezanne had many setbacks, but he persevered and eventually discovered his strengths as a painter. Using his pet parrot, Bison, to illustrate his challenges was a fun way to highlight his journey as the author used the parrot to indicate when Cezanne painted something really great, or not. I can imagine a child breathlessly turning the pages, waiting for that magical statement when Bisou finally says, "Cezanne is a great painter!"  Even myself, knowing this painter's background, found myself waiting for that statement.

I loved the illustrations in his book and recognized quite a few of them. "Fruit and Jug on a Table" is definitely one that I recognized and loved the idea of the paintings being included in the book. Plus, Cezanne interacted with several famous painters as well such as Gauguin, Monet (one of my personal favourites), Pissarro (who was a great friend to Cezanne), and Renoir. As an educator, I couldn't help but think about the lesson plans I could create around this book and the discussions to be had on each page.  It is too bad though, that Cezanne's son wasn't featured in this book as well. That could have been interesting.

Cezanne's Parrot is full of bright, colourful illustrations that feature a variety of artists and paintings. Chronicling Cezanne's journey from frustrated artist to successful artist, it teaches that one should never give up one's principles in order to be successful. It is definitely a fun introduction to the world of art and to Cezanne.  Highly recommended.
Saturday, February 8, 2020

Review: The Secret of Cold Hill

The Secret of Cold Hill (House on Cold Hill, Book #2)
by Peter James
Release Date: October 3rd 2019
2019 Macmillan
Hardcover Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-1509816248
ASIN: B07N686496
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars


Cold Hill House has been demolished to make way for a new housing estate. Luxury-living at its best with high specification gadgets all thrown in – part-exchange available for the right buyers.

The first two families move in, and as soon as they do, the unearthly residents of Cold Hill begin to make themselves known.

Nobody who moves into Cold Hill reaches their fortieth birthday, and the old couple that have just arrived . . . let’s just say their days are numbered.

My Thoughts
The Secret of Cold Hill is the second book in this series, and while you don't necesssarily have to have read the first book to enjoy this one, it does give you some helpful background information to some of the events mentioned in this one.  

The main characters in this book, Jason and Emily Danes and Maurice and Claudette Penze-Weedell, are polar opposites to each other. Jason is an up-and-coming artist, known for superb animal paintings and drawings and his wife, Emily, is a chef, so they were looking for a bigger house with a large kitchen and a studio for Jason.  I enjoyed both of these characters as they were intelligent and thought about things and the possible reasons they came up with for the events that occurred were plausible and well thought out.  The Penze-Weedells were simply awful as Claudette spent her time comparing her house and everything in it to the Danes, constantly complaining that theirs just didn't live to the other, wondering why they didn't get something bigger and more expensive, despite the fact that Maurice had lost his job a few months prior.  And while Maurice is definitely more likeable, he often gives in to his wife and her poor behaviour. I suspect the author had quite a good time creating these characters and I had a lot of fun reading about them. 

Both couples have moved into houses that were built on the site of an old house known for its paranormal activity as well as its stream of bad luck.  Neither Emily nor Jason knew anything about the history and to say they were a bit shocked at learning some of the history of the area once they'd moved in is an understatement.  The plot moves rather quickly here as events escalate and soon, both couples start to question what they are actually witnessing.  Unfortunately, this is where the author kind of lost me a bit for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I am not a fan of giving away too much information to a reader as if they can't figure out things are weird on their own.  During one scene in particular, one character talks way too much and gives away too many context clues in the book where I knew exactly what was going to happen.  It really took the element of surprise out of it for me and I was disappointed.  Although I didn't know exactly how it was going to happen, because of this, the ending was sort of destroyed and I was deciding at that point whether to continue reading.  I am glad I did as I enjoyed what happened, but I was not shocked or surprised as that element was taken away from me.  I don't know why authors need to do that as readers can read between the lines and figure out things for themselves.  The other thing that kind of got in the way was Jason.  He had this tendency to go over and over everything in his mind, and it got really repetitive after a while. 

I have read many books by this author (the Roy Grace books are a favourite of mine), and I have always liked this author's writing style. He often uses multiple POVs and does in this book as well. The chapters are short and the events move rather quickly from one to the other.  All of the events tie in rather well together and I like how they were linked to events in the previous book as well, although you don't really have to have knowledge of them to understand this one. 

The Secret of Cold Hill was a fun book and I liked the characters and the setting very much.  I wish it was a bit scarier than it was, and I really wish the author would just let us readers figure things out without having to insert well-meaning conversations they think increase tension and suspense but actually can ruin endings.  The build-up was there, and then it just deflated.  It is a bit repetitive in comparison to the first book, so I am hoping the next book in the series will have a fresher take on the ghosts and the events will be a bit scarier.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Review: Murder Off the Page by Con Lehane

Murder Off the Page: A 42nd Street Library Mystery
by Con Lehane
Release Date: November 19th 2019
2019 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1974986934
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

A note from bartender Brian McNulty, Raymond Ambler’s friend, confidant, and sometimes adviser, sets the librarian sleuth off on a murder investigation, one that he pursues reluctantly until a second murder upends the world as he knows it. The second victim is a lady friend of McNulty’s—and the prime suspect is McNulty himself.

As Ambler pursues his investigation, he discovers that the murdered woman had a double life. Her intermittent visits to the city—a whirlwind of reckless drinking and illicit liaisons with men she met in the cocktail lounges—had their counterpart in suburban Fairfield County Connecticut where, as Dr. Sandra Dean, she practiced dermatology and lived in a gated community with a doting husband and a young daughter.

While Ambler looks into the past of Dr. Sandra Dean to understand the murder of Shannon Darling in the present, NYPD homicide detective Mike Cosgrove investigates the men in Shannon Darling’s life. She might have been murdered because she frustrated the wrong man. It could have been a jealous wife. In fact, any number of people might have murdered Shannon Darling. Or, as Ambler suspects, did someone murder Dr. Sandra Dean?

My Thoughts
Murder Off the Page is the third book in the 42nd Street Library Mystery series, and in this one, Ambler and Adele are dragged into a couple of murders due to their bartender friend's involvement.  I have always found Ambler's job quite interesting (he's in charge of the crime fiction division at the library), which is one of the things I've loved about these books, but I had a hard time being convinced of his involvement or of the events in this book.  And while the psychological aspects to this mystery were quite fascinating and I read them with great interest, McNulty's involvement in the events just seemed a bit too much for me to be credible.  I think it would have helped if I had known a bit more about McNulty, and his past, for it to be more believable.

First of all, I had a hard time connecting to the murder victim, Shannon.  Her behaviour was quite dramatic and strange and although I understand the psychological aspects of it, there were things that were quite weird about her behaviour that didn't really ring true.  I'm not really sure what the author was trying to achieve with all of this.  If it was sympathy, I don't think it really worked.  While her behaviour didn't bother me, but  I do think it was the author's use of the character's behaviour that was so out of odds with other things about the character that just didn't quite mesh.  

Personally, I preferred Mike Cosgrove and his actions in this one over Ambler's. Ambler was in his head quite a bit, worrying about this and that, which is not really a problem, but it got to be a bit repetitive. I like how Cosgrove told Ambler he wasn't really helping him much on this case; his blunt style and honesty is something I really like.  Ambler himself is an interesting character and I do like that he is far from perfect: he was far from being a perfect dad, his PhD was not accepted due to political infighting, his son is in jail, his relationship with Adele is a mess, and he is not the most astute person when it comes to reading signals from other people.  The last is a bit endearing and I like watching him stumble his way around Adele, but man, she can be a bit touchy too.  

The plot is very character-driven rather than plot-driven.  I really didn't feel a lot of sympathy for the murder victim and that would be the author's fault.  I do think it could have been handled a bit differently though, to make her a bit more sympathetic to the reader as she was in a tough situation.  I did feel a lot of sympathy towards the two children involved in the story as they were caught up in their parents' / caregivers' issues and both have enough instability in their lives.  But, the hero in this book was definitely Cosgrove.  And possible his daughter Denise for having to put up with all of the extra babysitting duties?

Murder Off the Page is one of those books where I thought the best things about it was the police detective, Mike Cosgrove and Johnny, Ambler's grandson.  The plot was more character-driven, and this isn't saying a lot considering I didn't really empathize with any of the characters in this one as I thought Ambler was a bit annoying, and Adele was too touchy.  I am also one of those people who wondered about whether Ambler and Adele had started to work part-time considering they were never at work.  The book did mention they used up a lot of their vacation time but this was such a poor reason I just shook my head at the excuse.  Like any book when I give it a three-star rating, I leave it up to the reader to decide if they wish to try it or not.  I'm not really sure if I will continue with this series or not, but I will definitely not be rushing out to buy the next book.
Saturday, February 1, 2020

Review: Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison

Good Girls Lie
by J.T. Ellison
Release Date: December 31st 2019
2019 MIRA
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778330776
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond.

But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder.

When a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

My Thoughts
Good Girls Lie is one of those books that I would immediately find intriguing simply because it takes place in a boarding school. Doesn't matter if it's historical, mystery, YA, paranormal, etc... I would read it simply because I am fascinated by stories that take place in big, historical buildings that have secrets, secret rooms, and secret tunnels.   Gets me every time. The story itself was interesting, but I did find it predictable and very easy to figure out.  

First of all, I have always liked this author's writing style.  She has this way of creating spooky, exciting atmospheres that just draw the reader into her stories, atmospheres full of secrets, secret rooms and secret tunnels and secret societies, things I just love about these stories.  To be honest, I wish there had been more information given about the spooky stuff that had happened as I found it quite interesting and it could have been woven into the story line to create an even greater effect.  I mean you've got this rich, privileged, private school located in the Virginia mountains with a century of history behind it, so there could have been so much rich history intertwined in the story. These girls are taught that their Honour Code is the most important thing, but don't think twice about bending the rules if necessary.  This leaves the door open for so much mischief and mayhem.

Unfortunately, I thought the plot was quite predictable and as soon as I read this one specific chapter about the main character's background, I pretty much had the whole story figured out which really ruined the twists and turns in the rest of the book for me.  I really wish the author hadn't given us so much information as it's much more interesting to figure things out for ourselves.  The beginning of the book was quite interesting, with a lot of disturbing incidents as well as some interesting moments between the girls, but then...bam, the scene that I mentioned.  And then things got really predictable, although the writing style still draws you in. But I got a bit bored because I knew where things were going and nothing was surprising.

Good Girls Lie is not one of my favourite books by this author as it doesn't make you think too much about what is happening; in fact, if you are good at puzzles, you pretty much have the whole book figured out one-third of the way in.  I wasn't overly impressed with any of the characters and definitely didn't empathize with any of them.  And while the story is not overly boring, it's not overly memorable either.  Would I recommend it? Hard to say at this point. I guess it's one of those books you'd have to read and judge for yourself.