Sunday, September 20, 2020

Review: The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell

by Laura Purcell
Release Date: June 9th 2020
2020 Penguin Group
Softcover Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0143135531
Genre: Fiction / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher
2 / 5 Stars
Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft's family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.
My Thoughts
The House of Whispers, also released as Bone China, is the latest Gothic book by Laura Purcell.  While I enjoyed her previous book, The Silent Companions, I was not a big fan of some of her other work, and this book, despite its sweeping timeline and its eerie setting, left a lot to be desired.  The author tried very hard to convey this eerie atmosphere with the isolated house, the dark secrets, the 'adopted' strange daughter, the mysterious past, and the strange behaviour of its owner, but the whole thing was a mishmash of nothing and I only finished it because I..., and I hesitate to say 'was curious, wanted to see how the author was going to pull it all together.  And I'll be honest in admitting it just didn't work for me.
What I did like: The atmosphere and the writing.  I will admit this author can write really well and create an atmospheric story.  She was able to take a lot of the local folklore and weave it into her story and I did find that part of it quite interesting.  Typically, her work will take this atmosphere and weave it around the tensions and personalities of her characters to create an interesting story line and lots of tension.  However, in this book, the characters were quite weak and I didn't really enjoy the story line as I found it to be quite disjointed and by the midpoint of the book, I was still searching for the whole point of the book.  Dual timelines have never bothered me, but for the life of me, I just couldn't figure out the point of them in this book.  The way it was done left me feeling uncertain as to which person the author wanted me to focus on and therefore, neither story line felt developed.  Personally, I would have focused on Hester, developed her story line, give her a personality, and used that amazing atmosphere to really create something interesting and mysterious.  Unfortunately, the way it was done became a crutch that I just couldn't get through.  
As for the characters, they were definitely under-developed.  I personally didn't like Hester as a character, but if more time had been devoted to her story line, perhaps I would have been able to empathize with her a little bit more.  However, she came across as so needy and selfish, trying to ensure her mistresses really needed her to the point of being obsessive and while I think I was supposed to be sympathetic, it actually turned me right off her character.  While the author described her being strong during a time period where women were not treated equally to men, she certainly didn't come across that way.  Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with a character being unlikable, but there usually is a reason for it, whether through a character's thoughts, deeds, actions, and so on, but there was really nothing given to the reader for her behaviours.
The House of Whispers, as a whole, did not work for me.  I hated the ending simply because the author did not pull all the plot lines together and simply left them creating a disjointed mess at the end.  I don't have a problem with ambiguous endings, however I do have a problem with endings that are left so loose you can't find the threads floating in the wind.  And if you are going to create a spooky atmosphere, you really need to use it and exploit it, not use familiar tropes to do so, especially ones that don't develop the plot or the characters.  As usual however, I always encourage people to read a book and judge it for themselves, and while I am really sad to say it, I think it may be quite a while before I read another book by this author.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Review: The Grim Reader by Kate Carlisle

by Kate Carlisle
Release Date: June 22nd 2020
2020 Berkley/Penguin Publishing House
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451491435
Genre: Fiction / Cozy mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Brooklyn and her new hunky husband, Derek, are excited to be guests at Dharma’s first annual Book Festival. The entire town is involved and Brooklyn’s mom Rebecca is taking charge. In addition to all of her other event related duties, she’s got Brooklyn doing rare book appraisals and is also staging Little Women, the musical to delight the festival goers. If that wasn’t enough, she and Meg—Derek’s mom—will have a booth where they read palms and tarot cards.

Brooklyn couldn’t be prouder of her mom’s do-it-all attitude so when a greedy local businessman who seems intent on destroying Dharma starts harassing Rebecca, Brooklyn is ready to take him down. Rebecca is able to hold her own with the nasty jerk until one of her fellow festival committee members is brutally murdered and the money for the festival seems to have vanished into thin air. 

Things get even more personal when one of Brooklyn’s nearest and dearest is nearly run down in cold blood. Brooklyn and Derek go into attack mode and the pressure is on to catch a spineless killer before they find themselves skipping the festival for a funeral.
My Thoughts
The Grim Reader is the fourteenth instalment in the Bibliophile Mystery series, and I will admit right off the top here that I am so glad that Brooklyn and Derek are back to normal in this one.  I wasn't a big fan of the previous book which made me sad as I have really enjoyed this series; I just felt like there was something off about the two of them as they didn't behave as they normally did and it drove me crazy.  People do not change that much after they get married.  So I was really hoping things were back to normal in this book, and happily, they were.
What I really enjoyed about this book is the setting.  I love Dharma and have always enjoyed every visit Brooklyn has made to this place; there are just so many interesting people to meet and get to know better that I always felt a little cheated when there were only snippets here and there.  So, to have the entire book set in Dharma was wonderful.  And to be there in the midst of planning for a book festival, even better.  
Brooklyn's mother, Rebecca, is in charge of the book festival, and naturally things are far from smooth.  Throw in a rare edition of Little Women, a belligerent wine owner who has ambitions to take over other wineries, a committee member who whines over everything, a committee member who may not be what he seems, and a few other mysteries, and now you have a whole lot of interesting developments happening in a town that will soon be hosting thousands of people.  
The action moved fairly easily, but not all that quickly. I did find it predictable and it was easy to figure out the culprit.  I will admit that I did find Derek and Brooklyn to be a bit 'quiet' in this book and not as much in the centre of things; I mean, Brooklyn didn't even find the body this time.  However, the author has an easy writing style that makes you want to visit Dharma and the people who live there, she makes you care about them.  I have always enjoyed the relationships that have developed over these books and it is always fun to revisit characters who appeared in previous books.
The Grim Reader is very enjoyable, and if you enjoy wine and books then you will definitely enjoy this book.  While you can read this as a standalone, I do recommend that you start from the beginning as the author writes in such a way that assumes you have read the earlier novels.  And while I find the mysteries are getting easier and more predictable, they are still fun and I do enjoy them a lot.  At least they are believable.  And as I've already mentioned, I love the community and the characters in Dharma, so I am happy to see that we will back there again and again.  Looking forward to the next instalment. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Review: Black Flag by David Ricciardi

by David Ricciardi
Release Date: May 19th 2020
2020 Berkley
Hardcover Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1984804662
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

After years of relative calm, piracy has returned to the high sea.

But the days of AK-47s and outboard engines are over. The new pirates hit like a SEAL team. Highly trained, and using cutting edge technology, they make sure their victims are never heard from again.

Ships and crews are vanishing at a staggering rate.

As the threat to international shipping grows, U.S. authorities become determined to find the source of this new danger.

Jake Keller has a plan—to lure the pirate mastermind out of hiding by infiltrating his organization—but it’s a dangerous gambit, made more so by Jake's personal involvement with the beautiful heiress to a Greek shipping fortune and an ulterior agenda coming out of CIA headquarters.

As the threats close in from all sides, Jake finds himself faced with a familiar choice: back off, or go on the offensive.
My Thoughts
Black Flag is the third book in the Jake Keller series, and I really enjoy this series as the author puts quite a bit of emphasis on current technology and how it impacts the work CIA analysts and field investigators are doing.  And as I've always enjoyed the personal elements in these novels and the psychological effects being out in the field has on agents, and this author definitely deals with that in his novels, I am able to empathize with the main character, even the so-called 'bad guys'. Jake Keller has grown into one of my favourite characters over these books, and would put him up there with Jason Bourne and Gabriel Allon.

I really enjoy Jake Keller as a main character.  Jake is more of an analyst with years of experience in the military, but tends to rely more on technology.  He is paired with Pickens, who has been in Somalia for years and tends to fit the mould of the old-school type of agent who relies on his connections as well as his personal sources for information.  It was quite interesting to see the dichotomy of the two ways of using information for a common goal, with the understanding that both ways of doing things are still relevant in today's world.  They both have to deal with CIA boss Graves who has his own agenda to push, usually contrary to what is best for those out in the field and Jake often has to make decisions that would get him in a lot of trouble with Ted Graves.  It is not hard to see where these books are heading when it comes to that relationship, and the warnings about how Ted deals with agents who don't listen to orders was pretty loud and clear in this book.  

Most of the action took place in Somalia, and although I know a little bit about the political situation in that part of the world, there is a lot that I didn't know so I appreciated the information the author shared.  It is obvious he spent a lot of time researching the area, the government, and the political events happening there.  He also spent a lot of time setting up the backstory, making sure the reader understood the political situation as well as the political implications of Jake's interference without making it mundane or boring.  

The plot moves rather quickly, and the author is adept at weaving a quick story with good explanations so the reader understand the political situation and the characters.  And there was a lot going on, from piracy to warlords to arms dealers to betrayal and the usual political intrigue in the CIA.  

Black Flag was a complex and fast-paced story that I enjoyed very much.  The plot moved rather quickly and there were plenty of twists and turns that made it interesting.  I really liked the personal element though, as I like to feel empathy for characters that I read about and like to see some character development.  This one was much more plot-driven than character driven so I am hoping to see a bit more character development in future books.  All in all, a fun, suspenseful read, and I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series.