Monday, August 31, 2020

Review: Muzzled by David Rosenfelt

by David Rosenfelt
Release Date: July 7th 2020
2020 Minotaur Books
Hardcover Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250257116
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Andy's friend Beth has found a stray that seems to have belonged to a murder victim--in fact, the man and two of his colleagues died in an explosion a few weeks ago. But when the murdered man contacts Beth, asking for his dog back, Andy knows there must be more to the story. The man claims his life is in danger, and that's why he disappeared. As much as Andy doesn't want to get involved--anything to avoid a new case--he can't help but come to the rescue of a man who'd risk everything, even his life, to reunite with his dog.
My Thoughts
Muzzled is the next book in the Andy Carpenter series, and while this was a fun, entertaining book, I did find it incredibly predictable and it didn't have that usual wit and sarcasm that you would expect from this author.  Perhaps, as this is the twenty-first book in this series, it needs something to shake up the series a little bit, or maybe to shake up Andy just a little bit as I felt it was a bit flat compared to his previous books.  It's not to say that it wasn't enjoyable, it just wasn't as much fun as his previous books.

First of all, look at that cover!!! Isn't it amazing? I would have picked up this book, even if I was not familiar with this series, based off that cover alone.  Personally, I think it's a great marketing technique to have a dog featured on the front cover of a murder/mystery novel, especially one that does feature canines so much.  

I love Andy as a character; his sarcastic sense of humour is enjoyable and I love how he pokes fun at himself in this self-deprecating sort of way.  However, he can be downright serious and focused when he needs to be which is why he has earned a reputation as a lethal defense attorney whom a lot of people fear and loathe in equal measure.  It's really hard to reconcile the humourous laid-back Andy though, with the sharp attorney as it almost seems like he has this split personality.  

I have read every single one of these books, and while they are easy reads, they typically are full of twists and turns.  I didn't find that to be the case with this one.  I thought it was lacklustre and predictable.  That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, but not as much as I normally enjoy these books.  I commend the author for trying to do something involving possible pharmacological fraud and the local mafia, but it didn't quite work . I just thought it wasn't as compelling as normal.

Muzzled is always a fun read if you enjoy dogs.  The author, David Rosenfelt, runs a dog rescue foundation and has rescued over 4000 dogs, and I like how he incorporates his knowledge into his books; he uses very subtle techniques to initiate people into the world of dog rescue and adoption.  I would read these books just for that knowledge.  However, I did feel like the mystery in this one fell a bit flat, so maybe Andy and company need a bit of a shakeup in the next book which is due in October.  Will I read the next one? Yes, definitely.  It's like comfort food, I will never miss one of these books; even if this one didn't quite reach the mark, the others were really good. 


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Review: Revolver Road by Christi Daugherty

by Christi Daugherty
Release Date: March 10th 2020
2020 Minotaur Books
Hardcover Edition; 293 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250235886
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publsiher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Even in the chill of February, no place touches Harper McClain’s heart like Savannah. She should be walking beneath the historic city’s towering oaks, surrounded by graceful mansions. Instead, she’s hiding miles away on Tybee Island after a mysterious voice on the phone warned her that someone wanted her dead. The call was too specific to ignore. The caller knew everything about her. But that was months ago, and she’s getting tired of being scared.

Her only escape is her work at the newspaper, where the hottest story in town is the disappearance of Xavier Rayne. The singer had a hit album on his hands, and was about to go on tour, but then he walked out of his beachfront home and vanished. The police believe he drowned, but Harper suspects his disappearance may be more ominous than that. Something doesn’t feel right about it.

His bandmates and actress girlfriend say he’s run away before. They expect him to come home. Until a body washes up with two bullet holes in it. Now everyone in Rayne’s life is a suspect. As Harper digs deeper into the case, though, the threats against her own life return. The phone call she received was very real. A killer from her past is coming for her.

Now she must solve two murders, or end up dying on Revolver Road…
My Thoughts
Revolver Road is the third book in the Harper McClain series and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I haven't read the first two books in this series, but I didn't feel like I was missing too much as the author gave a credible job at fleshing the important background information needed for the reader without giving away any plot points from previous books.  And while the actual mystery was flimsy, at best, I did enjoy Harper's personality and her interactions with a variety of unique and interesting characters which made the read fun.  

I really enjoyed Harper as a main character and liked her spunky personality.  A lot of the story revolves around her personal life and the choices she has made, and while I didn't fully understand the relationship she had with a couple of people simply because I had not read the previous books, the complexity of Harper's decisions and choices she has to make were clear.  

There were actually two mysteries going on simultaneously in this book, a current one featuring the death of a musician and one reaching way back into Harper's past.  I think sometimes an author chews off more than they should when there are multiple story lines as one almost becomes an annoyance, as in the case of the musician which was a rather weak and boring story line.  I couldn't figure out why exactly the other band members would trust Harper when they wouldn't even speak to any other journalist.  What made her so trustworthy?  No reasons given, just that she was there first.  Very flimsy, and no, the reader just won't always accept that it happens.  I thought it was weak so I am sure others would too. And it was quite easy to figure out who did what as well.

The other story line featuring her mom was way more interesting and the ending was quite fun to read.  I would have preferred the whole book to be about that mystery.  I think if the author had focused on one or the other, there may have been a lot more meat to the story lines and I definitely preferred this one over the other. 

The author's writing style is very descriptive, and having visited the area, I could definitely picture the setting in my mind.  The author easily draws the reader into the story and sets up a very atmospheric story.  

Revolver Road is a quick, interesting read and I enjoyed the main character very much.  I did think one of the story lines was a bit flimsy, but I definitely liked the descriptive writing style and enjoyed the secondary characters.  If you are looking for a quick, easy read, then this one is for you.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Review: The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons

by Jenn Lyons 
Release Date: October 29th 2019
2019 Tor Books
Hardcover Edition; 589 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250175533
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publsiher
3.5 / 5 Stars
Kihrin D'Mon is a wanted man.

Since he destroyed the Stone of Shackles and set demons free across Quur, he has been on the run from the wrath of an entire empire. His attempt to escape brings him into the path of Janel Theranon, a mysterious Joratese woman who claims to know Kihrin.

Janel's plea for help pits Kihrin against all manner of dangers: a secret rebellion, a dragon capable of destroying an entire city, and Kihrin's old enemy, the wizard Relos Var.

Janel believes that Relos Var possesses one of the most powerful artifacts in the world―the Cornerstone called the Name of All Things. And if Janel is right, then there may be nothing in the world that can stop Relos Var from getting what he wants.

And what he wants is Kihrin D'Mon. 

My Thoughts
The Name of All Things is the second book is A Chorus of Dragons series, and I enjoyed it quite a bit more than the first book simply because I thought it flowed a lot better. Furthermore, I think I got used to the writing style and picked up a lot more quickly on the way it was written to it was quite easy to follow; and I enjoyed the sarcasm and humour of the comments as well.  What I didn't particularly like was the way it was organized from book to book which I will explain.

First of all, I truly did enjoy the plot and the characters in this book.  It wasn't quite as confusing as the first book simply because I was familiar with the way it was written and understood who the narrator was from the beginning while it took me a lot longer to figure that out in the first book.  The novel had a lot of action scenes, twists and turns, all nicely spaced out throughout the book, so I enjoyed the pacing.  It was nice to come back to the inn to catch up with Kihrin and other at the beginning of every chapter to catch your breath while at the same time, furthering the story. 

The characters in this book were quite interesting and I developed a huge liking for Qown who is currently my favourite character.  There were a couple of things that he did that were quite surprising and I am looking forward to seeing his character develop and grow throughout the series.  

The magic system developed throughout this book and I got a better understanding of how things worked in this world which I definitely found interesting.  I could have done with a bit less of the sexual orientation stuff as I don't think that was necessary to really have to keep explaining it; there are some things that should be left to the reader to figure out and just go with it.  I, personally, never really cared about that as long as the story is interesting.  

Now this brings me to where I had some issues.  One of the biggest disappointments was learning the story wasn't continuing, but that we were going back in time and learning about Janel. I wonder if this could have been written in a different format where there were dual story lines about Kihrin and Janel rather than two story lines about Kihrin in the first book.  I didn't dislike the format, but I didn't really like the fact that Kihrin was reduced to such a minor role in this book and Talon was completely missing.  I understand that there is a lot going on, but the format kind of put me off a little bit.

The Name of All Things was definitely a more interesting book, and I thought the pacing and action sequences were just right.  And while I was frustrated that Kihrin and Tyentso were reduced to minor roles in this one, I did find Janel, Qown, Relos Var, and other characters to be quite intriguing, and I am curious as to what happens next.  I have very mixed feelings regarding Relos Var and I always enjoy it when an author can make me feel sympathy for a character who is supposed to be a villain.  I am definitely looking forward to reading The Memory of Souls

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Review: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

by Simone St. James
Release Date: February 18th 2020
2020 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 327 Pages
ISBN: 978-0440000174
ASIN: B0751K42R2
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn't right at the Sun Down, and before long she's determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…
My Thoughts
The Sun Down Motel wasn't a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, but I did find it predictable, and I didn't really find it all that creepy, to be honest.  I guess the real issue I had with this book is that there was really no meat or guts to the story as most of it was so strongly based on the paranormal element that the mystery just kind of fell flat. 

The story is told from both Carly and Vivian's POV and this is sort of where the author lost me.  And if you read my reviews, you know that I am a fan of alternating POVs, but I think it sort of backfired in this case.  Vivian was a busybody, sticking her nose where it didn't belong, chasing this person whom she thought was a serial killer just because she had a 'gut instinct' about him, badgering the police.  And don't even get me talking about the police response to Vivian's disappearance and all of the conspiracy theories.  It's not that I didn't like Vivian as a character, I did, but as the story progressed, she was kind of annoying in this pestering sort of way, putting her nose in business that really wasn't her concern, and she caused all sorts of problems for people because of it.  I mean, wasn't what she did stalking?  I wish the author had come up with a slightly better way to get her story across than that. 

Carly was a bit more interesting, and I related to her a bit more.  Anyone who has this to say about libraries is a friend forever: "Libraries were my places. I was that girl who maxed out her library card every week, starting with The Hobbit and The Witch of Blackbird Pond and moving up from there. I could kill an hour by wandering into an unfamiliar part of the Dewey Decimal System and checking it out." (p102). Oh, boy, can I relate!!! The biggest problem with the story lines though, is that they overlapped, and were quite similar.  By the time I was halfway through, I was getting a bit bored and I had to push through to the end.  
While I typically enjoy this author's writing a lot more as her writing style is fun and interesting, this one felt more like one of those horror movies where you yell at the silly characters who goes outside to check on that noise and ends up dead.  There were some ghosts I just didn't see the purpose for while others showed up, and it became more interesting, only for it to go nowhere, or back to another alternating POV,  I just couldn't figure out why the author had her characters do some of the things they did, and one of them was a police officer.  It just didn't make sense to me.
I realize that lots of people loved this book and that is fine, but unfortunately, this was not my favourite book by this author.  I did really like some parts of it, but on the other hand, really disliked other parts of it.  The book was easy to read, it was spooky, it had all the elements of a good story, but I had no interest in the main characters and thought some of the things they did were silly, and the alternating story lines bogged down the plot.  While I would normally recommend a book, I think this one I would leave up to the reader to see as I am in the minority on this one.  Happy reading everyone!!


Monday, August 17, 2020

Review: Betrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the Cold War's Most Audacious Espionage Operation by Steve Vogel

Betrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the Cold War's Most Audacious Espionage OperationBetrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the of the Cold War's Most Audacious Espionage Operation
by Steve Vogel
Release Date: September 24th 2019
2019 Custom House
Kindle Edtion; 544 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062449627
Genre: Non-Fiction / Cold War / Espionage
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Its code name was “Operation Gold,” a wildly audacious CIA plan to construct a clandestine tunnel into East Berlin to tap into critical KGB and Soviet military telecommunication lines. The tunnel, crossing the border between the American and Soviet sectors, would have to be 1,500 feet (the length of the Empire State Building) with state-of-the-art equipment, built and operated literally under the feet of their Cold War adversaries. Success would provide the CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service access to a vast treasure of intelligence. Exposure might spark a dangerous confrontation with the Soviets. Yet as the Allies were burrowing into the German soil, a traitor, code-named Agent Diamond by his Soviet handlers, was burrowing into the operation itself. . .

Betrayal in Berlin is Steve Vogel’s heart pounding account of the operation. He vividly recreates post-war Berlin, a scarred, shadowy snake pit with thousands of spies and innumerable cover stories. It is also the most vivid account of George Blake, perhaps the most damaging mole of the Cold War. Drawing upon years of archival research, secret documents, and rare interviews with Blake himself, Vogel has crafted a true-life spy story as thrilling as the novels of John le CarrĂ© and Len Deighton.

My Thoughts
Betrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the Cold War's Most Audacious Espionage Operation was a fascinating inside look at one of the most daring espionage tunnels to be built in Berlin when events after the Second World War changed politics in the world forever.  With communism taking hold in the east, tensions mounted and the west needed some information to guide their movements during some very tense situations, but little information was coming out of Russia.  Berlin became a fertile ground for spies and the development of espionage networks and the recruitment of thousands began.  I found this book to be thoughtful and insightful and enjoyed the many hours of research that went into every aspect of it. 

First of all, if you are looking for a book about George Blake, this is not the book for you, and I could recommend other books for you to read instead.   The reason I was so interested in this book is that I wanted the step by step detailing on the Berlin tunnel and what went wrong, and that is exactly what I got.  I was fascinated by the descriptions of the details that went into building it and the coordination of effort that it took from the architects to the engineers to the translators.  I wanted the nitty-gritty of the operation and this was it.  However, I am a history teacher and very familiar with politics during this time period as well as the various players so I do think that helped a lot.

Let's face it, the Cold War was a very stressful time for everyone involved, but gosh, there are a lot of interesting stories that are coming out of this time period, and so much has come to light in recent years.  Spies, gadgets and devices used, codes, operations, and so much more have been revealed to the public as secret documents have been made available and researchers are tapping into these resources to shed light on some interesting moments in time.  And while George Blake certainly played a vital role in the destruction of the Berlin Tunnel, the Americans and the British were still able to gain valuable information from its use.  The author used his research and writing skills to explain a complicated story that was interesting, and although I knew the outcomes of some of the Russian spies, I still held my breath as I read about their demises.  I especially like how the author just lays things out for you and lets you come to your own conclusions, but reminds you time and time again that these men spend their lives deceiving others and are perhaps not so trustworthy and to take their accounts with a grain of salt, so to speak.  It's a very subtle warning to be careful when you read interviews with Blake, Philby, and some of the others.  

Betrayal in Berlin was less a story about George Blake than it was a comprehensive account of an espionage project doomed from the very beginning, but still managed to provide some good information to the West despite what happened.  Some interesting information provided on some very fascinating people during this time period: Eisenhower, Blake, Dulles, and hundreds of others are mentioned.  The author is quite skilled at explaining the different story lines of the all the people involved and bringing it all back together so it makes sense.  Even if you have limited knowledge of this time period, you would enjoy this book as the author explains things very well, but you do have to be patient.  There is a lot of stuff to go through and a lot of things that went into this operation.  I am definitely looking forward to reading more from this author.  
Friday, August 7, 2020

Review: The Prettiest by Brigit Young

The Prettiest
by Brigit Young
Release Date: April 14th 2020
2020 Roaring Brook Press
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-1626729230
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

THE PRETTIEST: It’s the last thing Eve Hoffmann expected to be, the only thing Sophie Kane wants to be, and something Nessa Flores-Brady knows she’ll never be . . . until a list appears online, ranking the top fifty prettiest girls in the eighth grade.

Eve is disgusted by the way her body is suddenly being objectified by everyone around her.
Sophie is sick of the bullying she’s endured after being relegated to number two.
And Nessa is tired of everyone else trying to tell her who she is.

It’s time for a takedown. As the three girls band together, they begin to stand up not just for themselves, but for one another, too.

My Thoughts
The Prettiest is one of those books that every teen girl should read.  The author takes a good, long look at sexual harassment and the way females are perceived and uses those concepts in a powerful book about female objectification that really hit home.  It really made me understand and realize how much we actually do this in our society; think of the lists that come out every year in our magazines, such as "50 most handsome men in Hollywood" and the "100 most beautiful women of the year" and the lists just go on and on.  This book is definitely a powerful novel about how we dehumanize people and the value we put on how people look.  I enjoyed every page of it and it definitely made me think a lot about the words and actions that are used every day.

This story definitely is on trend with what is happening in the world today, and I think the author tackled the subject with great sensitivity and humour.  Through her characters, Young was able to capture the many different viewpoints regarding the subject, from Eve's father who thought there was nothing wrong with the list and was happy his daughter was #1, to Eve's brother who help Eve understand why there was so much wrong with the list and helped her understand her worth lies not in how she looks but in how she behaves.  Through parent meetings as well as meetings with the principal, there is plenty of fodder for the author to explain different viewpoints and to show how this objectification and harassment is harmful to everyone. 

I loved that Eve was Jewish, but that it didn't play a huge role in the book; it was just part of who she was without minimizing the fear that still existed when she revealed her religion to people and was afraid of how they would react.  Very well done!  But the book wasn't just about Eve, there was also Sophie and Nessa.  Told in multiple POV, the reader got to see how other girls reacted to the list and how it affected them.  I actually think Sophie grew the most in this book as a character and I loved her development from popular queen to confident young lady who really valued her friendships and her strengths as well as appreciated the strengths of those around her.

The story moved rather quickly and I easily read this in just a couple of hours; honestly, I had a hard time putting it down.  As a teacher, it really made me reflect on quite a few things, and I definitely see some things quite differently.  I would have liked to see more involvement from the school counsellor with regards to helping the students deal with the aftermath of the list, but I was really glad the revenge didn't quite happen the way it was intended. 

The Prettiest is definitely a quick read, but it was very thought-provoking.  I liked how the author chose to allow the girls to work together rather than have them fight against each other, and I definitely was a huge fan of Eve's brother for his insightful comments.  I don't necessarily agree with his assessment of high school as I teach at that level and I think we have a lot of work to do there as well, but this book is a great way to start opening eyes to some of the problems that exist and maybe we can start with some of the things we take for granted in our society, like listing people.  I highly recommend this book to anyone, not just juvenile fiction readers.  I think adults would highly benefit from this read as well. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Review: A Bad Day For Sunshine by Darynda Jones

by Darynda Jones
Release Date: April 7th 2020
2020 St. Martin's Press
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250149442
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Del Sol, New Mexico is known for three things: its fry-an-egg-on-the-cement summers, its strong cups of coffee—and a nationwide manhunt? Del Sol native Sunshine Vicram has returned to town as the elected sheriff--an election her adorably meddlesome parents entered her in--and she expects her biggest crime wave to involve an elderly flasher named Doug. But a teenage girl is missing, a kidnapper is on the loose, and all of it's reminding Sunny why she left Del Sol in the first place. Add to that trouble at her daughter’s new school and a kidnapped prized rooster named Puff Daddy, and Sunshine has her hands full.

Enter sexy almost-old-flame Levi Ravinder and a hunky US Marshall, both elevens on a scale of one to blazing inferno, and the normally savvy sheriff is quickly in over her head. Now it’s up to Sunshine to juggle a few good hunky men, a not-so-nice kidnapping miscreant, and Doug the ever-pesky flasher. And they said coming home would be drama-free.

My Thoughts
A Bad Day for Sunshine was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I will admit I had a hard time getting Charley out of my head and focusing on this new heroine, but I was finally able to do that around the halfway mark as Sunshine was able to find a voice of her own, a quirky, interesting voice to boot.  I enjoyed the characters very much, but I did think the overall mystery was a bit weak. 

First of all, I loved the characters in this book.  The author has a way of developing her characters that make each of them quite interesting and unique, and this was one of the things that definitely kept drawing me back to her other books.  That same development continues in this book, and Sunshine absolutely grew as her own personality, and so did her daughter, Auri.  I found myself chuckling quite a bit as I was reading from Sunshine's inner monologue as it was highly entertaining.  The dialogue between the characters was a lot of fun as well.  It took me awhile to orient myself through the characters as the author doesn't give away a lot of information and you have to kind of figure things out as you go along, but I prefer this type of writing anyways as I find it extremely boring when the author gives away too much information and you don't get a chance to figure things out on your own. 

I have always enjoyed this author's writing style, but I did find the actual mystery to be a bit flimsy, to say the least.  What I did really enjoy was the secondary mystery underlying this book, and this is what is going to keep me coming back book after book as there is a big story here that I can't wait to discover more about.  Although Sunshine deals with the mortal world rather than the paranormal one, like Charley, she has a big secret, and it creeps in everywhere in the book.  While it hasn't affected her personality as she is outgoing and flirty, it is something that has still consumed her life for the past fifteen years and I think we are in for quite a ride in upcoming books.  Sunshine has not been home during that time period, but has made a name for herself in law enforcement, and somehow she has been named sheriff of her home town.  Her first few days were not quite what she was expecting, but the action moved quickly and you met a lot of quirky characters throughout Sun's investigation.  There is definitely a dark side enmeshed throughout the story, even if it didn't really impact this book, but it was enough of a tease to make me wish the next book was being released tomorrow. 

A Bad Day for Sunshine had all the elements you could want from Darynda Jones; it was funny, quirky, and highly entertaining, but with an underlying dark side that you know will rear its ugly head in the follow-up novels, and I can't wait to see how everything plays out.  I enjoy this author's writing style, and highly recommend this book.  If you are looking for more paranormal writing with this book, you will be disappointed though, as the author has taken a different path with her new series.  However, I don't think you will be disappointed if you give it a chance.  I am really looking forward to A Good Day for Chardonnay when it is released in April 2021.