Sunday, August 1, 2021

Review: An Unexpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn

by Deanna Raybourn
Release Date: March 2, 2021
2021 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593197264
Audiobook: B08B45X5KW
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
January 1889. As the newest member of the Curiosity Club—an elite society of brilliant, intrepid women—Veronica Speedwell is excited to put her many skills to good use. As she assembles a memorial exhibition for pioneering mountain climber Alice Baker-Greene, Veronica discovers evidence that the recent death was not a tragic climbing accident but murder. Veronica and her natural historian beau, Stoker, tell the patron of the exhibit, Princess Gisela of Alpenwald, of their findings. With Europe on the verge of war, Gisela's chancellor, Count von Rechstein, does not want to make waves—and before Veronica and Stoker can figure out their next move, the princess disappears.

Having noted Veronica's resemblance to the princess, von Rechstein begs her to pose as Gisela for the sake of the peace treaty that brought the princess to England. Veronica reluctantly agrees to the scheme. She and Stoker must work together to keep the treaty intact while navigating unwelcome advances, assassination attempts, and Veronica's own family—the royalty who has never claimed her.
My Thoughts
An Unexpected Peril is the next entry in the Veronica Speedwell series, and while I definitely thought it was an improvement from the previous instalment, there were still some problems with the overall story as well as with the character development. This is a series that I really, really loved when it was first published, but this book, and the one preceding it, have been a bit disappointing both in terms of character development, especially with relation to Veronica, as well as plot.  
Can I just say that Stoker is still my favourite character in this series?  He is eccentric and quirky, but so fascinating as a character; I just look forward to what he is up to every time I open up a new book and have to laugh at his antics.  This is the first time though, where I questioned his relationship with Veronica as I just did not like her in this book.  Yes, they worked through their disagreements like adults, but  her inner monologue was all about having to give up her independence and about being shackled to someone else which came across as selfish and petulant and turned me right off .  Oh, I understand that she was scared as she was on the verge of entering a committed relationship, and as someone who values their carefree life this would be frightening, but unfortunately, it didn't come across very well and she was so annoying that I was at the point I was hoping they would break up. She doesn't deserve him, not by her actions in this book.
The plot was better than the previous instalment, but that edge-of-your-seat excitement of the first four books was definitely lacking.  I did have hope in the beginning that it would return to the usual deduction-type mystery of the earlier books, but lost that hope quite early on.  I sort of feel like the author is struggling between the mystery and the relationship between Veronica and Stoker and doesn't know quite where to put the importance, and it is showing as both areas were weak.  There were sections that I did enjoy, like the personal struggles of the princess and the descriptions of the climbers. The overall plot of the novel wasn't horrible; it's just that the author sets things up, but doesn't go anywhere with it so it gets boring, fast. 
An Unexpected Peril is one of those books long-time readers will want to read, but also may be disappointed as it lacks both plot and character development.  I wasn't a fan of Veronica and how she was portrayed in this book; if it was meant to show the struggles of a woman trying to keep her independence while entering a committed relationship during this time period, it didn't work as she lost my empathy quite early on with her behaviour.  Because this book focused a lot on women's rights, I also think the author lost an opportunity to highlight this because the focus seemed to get lost; I felt like the author changed direction about the plot partway through the book and didn't know how to get back on track by the end, or what track she really wanted to go, which was unfortunate.  That being said, I will read the next book in this series as I won't be able to refuse the foreshadowing the author dangled in this book about what could be in store for us in the future. 



Thursday, July 29, 2021

Reviw: The House of Always by Jenn Lyons

by Jenn Lyons
Release Date: May 11th 2021
2021 Tor Books
Kindle & Hardcover Editions; 544 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250175670
Audiobook: B08JG3PCVF
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
The Eight Immortals have catastrophically failed to stop Kihrin's enemies, who are moving forward with their plans to free Vol Karoth, the King of Demons. Kihrin has his own ideas about how to fight back, but even if he's willing to sacrifice everything for victory, the cost may prove too high for his allies.

Now they face a choice: can they save the world while saving Kihrin, too? Or will they be forced to watch as he becomes the very evil they have all sworn to destroy.
My Thoughts
The House of Always is the fourth book in the A Chorus of Dragons series, and I have truly appreciated this series for its character study as well as the story.  Being the fourth book, I am now more familiar with the way the author likes to tell a story, so I was not surprised to find the characters all locked together and forced to relive each other's painful memories as a means of continuing the story.  I actually found it refreshing, and while I had no idea where the story was going at the beginning, once it started to take shape, I thought the twists and turns were fascinating.
The characters find themselves locked in Shadrag Gor and while there is not a lot of plot development in the sense with which we are familiar in fantasy stories, the author takes the time to tell the POV of the characters, revealing new information to things that have already occurred, making you rethink what you already knew.  It was an exploration of actions and deeds that occurred after the events of the last book and I found it fascinating to learn what the other characters did and thought about it all.  It also gave me a chance to get to know some characters a bit better, and I have become quite fond of all of them.  And while at first it seemed like it was going to be repetitive, it was anything but as I learned things I didn't know and explanations were given that explained what was happening in greater detail.  Plus, I loved the concept of them all being stuck together, having to figure things out together, having to survive and help each other, and not really knowing exactly what was going on, learning as the memories were revealed to all of them.  
The book does advance the story, but it does it in a way that puts the story line second and puts the focus on the characters and their actions.  Because it was done this way, it allowed the author a chance to really explore the relationships between the characters and I enjoyed that tremendously.  The focus is not just on Kihrin, but on all of them, and I enjoyed learning more about their own personal relationships as well as the growing relationships that seem to be developing.  That being said, there was definitely some action towards the end as well as a twist I didn't see coming although I should have if I had paid more attention.  The ending was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it tremendously; it was a nice surprise considering so much of the book jumped back and forth between memories and what Kihrin was doing.  This book was definitely a lot easier to keep track of with regards to past lives and who was who; although I didn't struggle with that aspect in the previous book, I know a lot of people had trouble keeping all the lives straight.  The author did continue to explore the mythological aspect in this book as well, something I appreciated.  
I did start out reading this book through Kindle, but was so happy to get a hard copy as one of the devices the author uses is footnotes.  By this book, you know who is writing the chronicles so there are interesting, and sometimes sarcastic / humourous, footnotes added throughout the book.  I loved these footnotes and looked for them all the time, but my Kindle version had them at the end of the chapter so it was distracting; I actually preferred the hard copy edition just because of these footnotes.   

The House of Always is the fourth book in a series that I have enjoyed quite a bit and have been pleasantly surprised over the way it has been written.  I love character-driven books and this one definitely makes character development a driving force in its plot development.  There was lots of action, betrayal, twists and turns, but it is long, somewhat complex, and you have to pay attention to everything, what some would refer to a slow-burn.  I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something slightly different although I don't recommend jumping in at this point but starting from the first book.  Looking forward to the last book in this series, The Discord of Gods, when it publishes in April next year.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Review: A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver

by Ashley Weaver
Release Date: May 25th 2021
2021 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250780485
Audiobook: B08SRCG1HT
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical 
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Electra McDonnell has always known that the way she and her family earn their living is slightly outside of the law. Breaking into the homes of the rich and picking the locks on their safes may not be condoned by British law enforcement, but World War II is in full swing, Ellie's cousins Colm and Toby are off fighting against Hitler, and Uncle Mick's more honorable business as a locksmith can't pay the bills any more.

So when Uncle Mick receives a tip about a safe full of jewels in the empty house of a wealthy family, he and Ellie can't resist. All goes as planned--until the pair are caught redhanded. Ellie expects them to be taken straight to prison, but instead they are delivered to a large townhouse, where government official Major Ramsey is waiting with an offer: either Ellie agrees to help him break into a safe and retrieve blueprints that will be critical to the British war effort, before they can be delivered to a German spy, or he turns her over to the police.
My Thoughts
A Peculiar Combination is the first book in a new mystery series by this author, and like her previous series, I liked the main character and thought the overall story was fun, if light.  The story takes place during WWII so there is a lot of potential for intrigue and plot development in this new series, but you can tell this is the first book in a new series as the author needs to set up relationships and give us some information about the characters which does take away from the overall story at times.  I don't necessarily mind this too much as I enjoyed learning about the characters, but for me, it did take away from the overall suspense of the story.
I really liked Ellie as a main character; she was loyal, curious, independent, and brave, but she was also a bit stubborn, a trait that could get her into real trouble, I think.  The other characters were likable as well, but the book sort of has this weird twist to it as Ellie's family is technically a criminal family as they break into houses stealing jewelry and other valuables.  Throughout the book, Ellie does reevaluate her own actions, as well as that of her family's, as she works with Major Ramsey to solve the conspiracy and she is uncomfortable with the truth and with her family's criminal activities.  I like that she tries to justify her behaviour but can't really come up with a reason for her justifications to stick.  Criminal activity is criminal activity.  
And while I did enjoy the other characters and hope to learn about them in further instalments, please preserve me from the love triangle I see forming between Felix, Major Ramsey, and Ellie.  Why does there always have to be a story line where two men don't get along simply because they have feelings for the same woman?  And the two men are pretty stereotypical; the major is stiff and serious, but you get the feeling there are deep emotions running through him, and the other grew up with Ellie and is a childhood friend whose relationship is potentially blossoming into something more.  Predictable? Yes. And while I liked Major Ramsey and I can see where the author is pushing Ellie, I am really hoping she does something unpredictable, like in the Anne Perry books with Monk and Hester.  
The story itself was interesting, but it did have a tendency to move slowly as the author was setting up the setting, the back stories, and the characters.  I didn't personally find the mystery all that absorbing; maybe it was all the other WWII books I have been reading lately, but I did find the character development intriguing. That being said, I do think the author struggled quite a bit with Ellie's independence and the time period as having Ellie state multiple times that she was an independent woman, but needed men to constantly watch over her, got old, fast.

A Peculiar Combination is a good start to a new series.  The main characters were interesting and definitely likable, but the plot was a bit slow and I thought the author spent too much time trying to develop intrigue between Ellie and Major Ramsey instead of developing a suspenseful mystery.  I do think the series has potential so I will be taking a look at the next book when it is published.  If you are looking for something light and easy to read, then this book is for you. 


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Review: The Unforgiven by Heather Graham

by Heather Graham
Release Date: May 25th 2021
2021 MIRA
Kindle & Audiobook Editions; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778331896
Audiobook: B08S5KRJZ4
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars
Twelve years after the grisly murder of her parents, Kaitlyn Delaney has finally found peace. She has friends, a good job, a place to call home and a new life to live. But then a shadow creeps in from Katie’s past, reminding her that she will never completely escape its terrifying grip.

When private investigator Dan Oliver is called to the scene of a gruesome crime in New Orleans, he can’t help but hear echoes of the Delaney case, the unsolved murder that made him leave law enforcement. As he digs deeper, he unearths more chilling similarities—including mysterious letters connecting the killer to a string of murders that terrorized the Big Easy in 1919.
My Thoughts
The Unforgiven is the next entry in the long-running Krewe of Hunters series, and I will admit, is one of those series I turn to when I need something predictabl, but fun, to read.  By about the fifth book, this series has developed a familiar pattern whereby the hero of the story begins to see something supernatural due to something traumatic happening, the FBI comes in to help, the two main characters develop a relationship, and we are treated to some interesting tidbits of history along the way.  There is definitely something comforting when you know exactly how things are going to happen, but in a fun way.
First of all, why do I keep reading these books?  As a history teacher, I love the interesting tidbits that are thrown into every book that is written.  And it's not the usual stuff that everyone tends to know, but the small things that I absolutely love.  This book took place in New Orleans, one of my favourite settings, and even though I know so much about its history, I still learned a couple of things I didn't know before so I always find that interesting.  Unfortunately, the focus on the historical tidbits does tend to take away from the overall story line though, and some parts do seem to meander and lose focus. 
Katie and Dan were ho-hum characters; it's not that I didn't like them, but I definitely didn't feel that sizzle between them and unfortunately, did not buy into their romance.  They went from hating each other to all of a sudden becoming romantically involved, all because Dan decided he would keep an open mind about one of the suspects due to Katie's stubbornness.  I was totally on Dan's side in that scenario and could understand why this person would be considered a suspect and didn't understand why Dan would drop it so easily without really investigating.  Naturally, it all worked out in the end, but it left a bad feeling in my mouth and I almost wanted that person to be the suspect just so I could go, 'I told you so'.  
The case itself was interesting and I liked the link to the 1919 murders, in particular the axe-murderer, but I did feel like the story meandered quite a bit and tried too hard with its twists and turns.  I did figure out who the murderer was quite early on, and I didn't really buy into the reasoning for the murders as it felt forced and a bit silly.  I definitely enjoyed my time in New Orleans, and loved visiting with characters from previous instalments, and, as always, was entertained by the ghosts.  

The Unforgiven was fun, but predictable, with a slew of interesting information about present-day and historic New Orleans.  I liked the characters individually, but thought their romance was forced and didn't quite work.  I also thought the murder investigation meandered quite a bit as if the author couldn't decide exactly who the culprit should be which made the story less creepy and suspenseful than usual. This could be read as a standalone if you haven't yet read anything by this author, but I do recommend starting from the beginning simply because the earlier book are stronger in terms of plot and character development.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Review: Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard

by Victoria Aveyard
Release Date: May 4th 2021
2021 HarperTeen
Kindle Edition; 576 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062872623
Audiobook: B08RQZV275
Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

She is the last of an ancient lineage—and the last hope to save the world from destruction. But she won’t be alone. Even as darkness falls, she is joined by a band of unlikely companions:

A squire, forced to choose between home and honor.
An immortal, avenging a broken promise.
An assassin, exiled and bloodthirsty.
An ancient sorceress, whose riddles hide an eerie foresight.
A forger with a secret past.
A bounty hunter with a score to settle.

Together they stand against a vicious opponent, invincible and determined to burn all kingdoms to ash, and an army unlike anything the realm has ever witnessed.
My Thoughts
Realm Breaker is a new young adult fantasy by the author of the Red Queen books, and although I wasn't a huge fan of that series, I thought I'd give this one a try without knowing too much about it.  I really vacillated between liking the book and forcing myself to continue as there were times it was a slog to get through.  
First of all, finally a YA fantasy novel with little to no romance.  I am not personally against romance, but the whole love at first sight thing or the love-triangle thing gets me every time.  There were some hints at some possible romance in the future, but it didn't drive the story so I was thankful for that.  
I also tend to enjoy the 'chosen one' trope as it doesn't bother me at all, no matter how often it's done.  Corayne is the last of her lineage, that we know of, and is expected to save the world, but her skills are non-existent when it comes to battle and strategy so I found her character to be quite interesting.  I liked that she had no clue what she was doing and needed to rely on others to help her through difficulties, and there was no sudden magical gift that helps her save the world.
Which brings me to the characters in the book.  I liked the characters in the book and while some of them did some twisty things, there was not enough of that to really capture my interest.  Sorasa was the most interesting of the bunch, but I still felt like I knew little about her towards the end of the book.  So, character development wasn't in great supply throughout the story as the author spent a lot of time world building.  I have no problem with world building, something I love in fantasy novels, but there is a fine line and I think the author has to be careful so they don't lose the story line.  Unfortunately, the story line fell flat for me throughout the book simply because the author spent too much time trying to explain the background when I think it could have been incorporated through dialogue or in a different manner.  It became a slog to read rather than something fun and exciting.   With the variety of characters the author introduced, there was potential for a lot of excitement and a lot of plot building, but I didn't really feel that or get a sense of the characters. 

The story is written in multiple POV, but that is never a bother for me.  I even prefer it when one of the POV is from the villain's as long as not too much is given away so we never lose that tension or dread. The author uses the POV to try and add mystery to the characters, sometimes by backtracking and giving us backstories, but it doesn't always work, at least for me.  I just felt like the story was disjointed rather than seamless.  There were points where I was riveted, then it would get interrupted by something completely different and I would lose interest.  This story was supposed to be a quest, and although we follow the characters through many different lands and areas, the quest gets eaten up by the descriptions and nothing really exciting happens which is why the book was difficult to get through. Yes, they got in trouble a couple of times, but there was no risk, no heart-pounding risk, where you held your breath and wondered how they would get out of it.  And these are the scenes where character, as well as plot, development occur.  None. Nope. Nada.  Boring.

Realm Breaker had a lot of potential, with an interesting variety of characters and strong world-building. I thought the character development was one of the weakest points of this novel, and the author spent so much time on world-building that she sometimes lost track of the story line which made it seem disjointed and frankly, the quest was a bit boring. Would I read the next book in this series? At this point, I am not sure, to be honest.  I think you would have to read this book and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

by TJ Klune
Release Date: March 17th 2020
2020 Tor Books
Kindle Edition; 394 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250217318
Audiobook: B074BS795T 
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he's given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.
My Thoughts
The House in the Cerulean Sea was a heart-warming journey of transformation, but underneath that wholesome layer is a slew of other layers just waiting to be peeled, dissected, and examined.  I liken this story to an onion, where if you wish to go through the layers, you can, but if you don't, you don't have to.  While on the outside, this story presents as one of transformation, it does touch upon such themes as child abuse, negligence, family, hope, fear, loyalty, and perseverance.   

I really liked Linus Baker as a main character.  When we first meet him, he is living in London and everything around him is grey and dull, kind of like his life. When he is assigned  a highly classified assignment, the orphanage is bright, full of colour, and also, full of what society would term as monsters.  The contrast sort of reminded me of the movie The Wizard of Oz, and I kept comparing it to that.  Linus' character is very well fleshed out and he learns to open his mind, and his heart, to new possibilities, rather than constantly following his rule book.  To be honest, I found his constant references to his rules quite hilarious.  As he learns about the children, and becomes less afraid of them, his heart opens more and more to other possibilities, and especially as to what may have been hidden from him or what ha has chosen to ignore over his career.  I enjoyed watching his progress and his growth as a character.  I also liked that he wasn't the usual character in a physical sense as well.  I've read so many comments about how the author has gone overboard when it comes to Linus complaining about his body, but if you have never been overweight, you have no idea what it is like, the constant justification and the constant self-reassurance one does.  I personally thought the author got it spot on.

The children were a delight and I enjoyed all of their personalities.  There were many times I laughed out loud at their antics and thought it was just pure fun; but underneath that fun there often an element of seriousness that addresses a lot of the issues the children had dealt with in the past and it is sad, things from child abuse to neglect to being told they are monsters.  

And while the book is warm and hopeful, with a good dash of fun, there are definitely some things that don't make sense.  While Linus was fully fleshed as a character, I don't feel like the other adult characters were treated with the same character development, and I would have loved to learn more about Zoe.  And while some of the characters were a bit suspicious at the beginning as Linus was there to observe them on behalf of Extremely Upper Management, I did think the reactions of the rest of them were a bit off and weird.  I just didn't understand why everyone had such high hopes in him as there was nothing to suggest that he would report in their favour.

The House in the Cerulean Sea was a lovely book with some great underlying messages.  The concept isn't a new one, but I thoroughly enjoyed following Linus as he grew and discovered there was more to life than rules and regulations, and was willing to open his mind to other possibilities.  The other characters were a lot of fun, and the themes running through the book were subtle, but profound, and I thought about them for a few days after I was finished the book.  I would definitely recommend this book if you are looking for whimsy, comfort, and colour!!


Monday, July 12, 2021

Review: I Don't Forgive You by Aggie Blum Thompson

by Aggie Blum Thompson
Release Date: June8th 2021
2021 Forge Books
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250818454
Audiobook: B08JD3PBMK
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

It all starts at a neighborhood party when a local dad corners Allie and calls her by an old, forgotten nickname from her dark past. The next day, he is found dead.

Soon, the police are knocking at her door, grilling her about a supposed Tinder relationship with the man, and pulling up texts between them. She learns quickly that she's been hacked and someone is impersonating her online. Her reputation--socially and professionally--is at stake; even her husband starts to doubt her. As the killer closes in, Allie must reach back into a past she vowed to forget in order to learn the shocking truth of who is destroying her life.
My Thoughts
I Don't Forgive You had such an interesting premise,  but that was quickly lost for me about three chapters into the book.  I feel like there are so many books out there that feature this so-called innocent person who gets accused of doing something sordid, and then something shocking happens to them (like in this book) whereby they have no idea why this is happening or how.  And then you get this story line where the author tries to drop this bombshell on the reader, the one where no one has called the main character by that name in years and the poor character has no idea how their carefully hidden past has been discovered.  Yeah, that one.  This book so went there.
First of all, the main character in this story, Allie, who has the nefarious job of being the poor innocent who is accused of all sorts of things, was not very well-developed nor very likeable.  This device is getting used a lot in recent books and I am fast becoming tired of this being a central focus to drive character development.  I think it is meant to derive sympathy for a character, but for me, all it did was make me shake my head and wonder what Allie was really thinking at times as she did some really silly things.  And surrounding Allie is the usual group of suspects who can be trusted to have secret pasts, to be mean, to accuse her, and to be downright terrible people so that Allie looks like the good person.  It didn't work as I really didn't empathize with any of the characters in this book, except maybe for Allie's son Cole.  When you try to set up too many accusers and make everyone look suspicious, it can backfire on you, which is exactly what happened in this book.  I don't have to 'like' the characters in the book, but I do need to understand their motivations; this was definitely not made clear in this book.
To be fair, the book is actually well-written, and the author does a great job of creating tension and suspense, making you wonder what will happen to poor Allie next.  It was quite easy to figure out who the culprit was if you paid attention, and I think I kept reading just to validate my choice.  And the author used Allie's insecurities quite well to create more tension and problems in her marriage and in her life, but that really had nothing to do with what was happening and some of it felt forced and didn't always make sense.  Plus, her relationship with her husband and his family felt downright toxic.  Considering that relationship, perhaps it is not so shocking she hid so much from him, but to use that to create tension didn't quite work.   And why would you ever make your sister, who is clearly not stable, power of attorney over your mother who is suffering from dementia? 
I did like how the author highlighted some of the risks and dangers of online security. However, for someone who works with computers as a photographer, you would think she has a better knowledge of computer security than what she shows in this book.  Which brings me to another issue I had with this book.  If you knew you were being hacked like this, why wouldn't you go immediately to someone who specializes in this kind of thing?

I Don't Forgive You had potential, but was caught up in a story line where the author tried to make every neighbour sound guilty in an attempt to make Allie feel like the victim.  It didn't actually work for me and I ended up not liking most of the characters.  The author is a solid writer though and she was able to keep the tension and the suspense at a pretty good level.  However, work does need to be done with character development because there were so many times I couldn't believe Allie just said, or did, something that was silly. And I would have liked a bit more focus on the neighbourhood dynamics rather than just on Allie.  All in all, a quick, easy read.  And although it was just an okay book for me, I would definitely be willing to read another by this author to see how she develops her story lines and her characters in the future.  


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Review: The Executive Order by David Fisher

by David Fisher
Release Date: May 26th 2021
2021 St. Martin's Press
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250183453
Audiobook: B08WJTZ65V
Genre: Fiction / Political Thriller 
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
In a post-Trump and Biden world, an independent senator, Ian Wrightman, is elected president to heal a nation frayed by extreme partisanship. After years of reporting chaos in the White House, digital journalist Rollie Stone and his colleagues embrace the normalcy. But after the country is rocked by a series of devastating terrorist attacks, the new administration springs into action and begins rolling out executive orders that claim to protect the American people--while slowly chipping away at their constitutional freedoms.
My Thoughts
The Executive Order is one of those books where I went from flipping the pages and enjoying myself thoroughly to grimacing and having to pick up something else.  For one, I needed to think about what was going one, but also because the author spent time building up the tension only to lose me in a long political digression that could have been done in a different way.  Trust me, I love my politics and I have a good knowledge of what is currently happening, but I wish the politics had been incorporated into the dialogue and into the story in a different way as there were times it felt preachy and condescending, as if I couldn't figure out what was happening by myself, or on whose side I should be. 
I really enjoyed the main character, Rollie Stone. A digital journalist, a former wounded Special Ops soldier, he thought something was suspicious about the attacks almost from the get-go and was a fierce protector of American fundamental human rights.  I enjoyed his interior monologue about what had happened during the Trump years as well as his political insight.  He was insightful, loyal, intelligent, and he was a fierce defender of the Constitution and Human Rights.  I totally felt his frustration as he was thwarted in his attempts to get information out to the people about what was happening as censorship from the government slowly tightened.  He was also frustrated with those around him who couddn't, or wouldn't, see what was happening around them.  Rollie was an interesting character and I would have liked to learn more about him.  
A couple of other characters I liked were Jenny and Laura.  Both of these women seemed like strong women, the first trying to slowly deal with the truth, the second, helping Rollie discover the truth.  Unfortunately, I felt the author really did a disservice with these characters as they were relegated to secondary roles that were truly underdeveloped when they could have played a much bigger role or had a much bigger impact.  
I am going to say the story does have a big impact and does make you think about the current political situation, not just in the US, but in the world.  I am not American, so I think I have a less biased viewpoint, but even I felt the author's disdain towards Trump in this book and thought it was excessive.  Got the point the first couple of chapters.  That being said, it does make you thankful for our freedom of speech and our other liberties, and I hope that if anyone takes anything out of this, that we remain forever vigilant to keeping them. 
The book is well-written, but while it can be gripping at times, it did lose me when it became more preachy sounding rather than a novel about a man trying to deal with his loss of liberties.  Because of this style of writing, the action was downplayed quite a bit and for some people, I can see why it would be somewhat boring.  For some of the scenes, I should have been full of rage and anger, but while I read in horrified fascination, the way it was written sort of robbed me from the rage.  Realistically, I should have been scared for these people, angry, frustrated, ashamed, and just plain furious, wanting people to fight back, do anything.  Unfortunately, the rambling took the edge off these emotions, at least for me.
The Executive Order is definitely a book that makes you think about our current political situation and how easily it could end up an authoritarian rule.  And for anyone who says it could never happen, I would think the German people felt the same way when Hitler took power in 1933.  While the book is definitely well-written, I did feel the tendency to go on about the political situation took away from the suspense, the action, the character development, and the shock value of the book, which is too bad as there was a lot of potential here, and Rollie is a great character.  Do I recommend this book? Yes. If anything, it will open your eyes and make you more protective of our human rights.  


Monday, July 5, 2021

Review: Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

by Mary Kubica
Release Date: May 18th 2021
2021 Park Row
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778389556
Audiobook: B08PDWGPSB
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.

Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find…
My Thoughts
Local Woman Missing certainly had a suspenseful and intriguing start, and I was hopeful that would continue throughout the book.  And while the first two-thirds was pretty solid, with an interesting, and suspenseful, story line, when the 'incident' occurred, and I suddenly had to switch gears about a character, it didn't sit well with me, nor did it feel realistic.  And unfortunately, I didn't buy into the ending and the events toward the end of the book.  

First of all, I enjoyed the whole 'child gone missing' trope in this book, until the end.  The author's use of this stylistic suspense was quite well done throughout the first half, and it did make me question and wonder as to what happened, how, when, where, and why.  And I really wanted to know more about the psychological aspects of how the police would deal with what was happening, but the book was not a police procedural, so you learned about it more through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old.  However, that was pretty effective as well as that 15 year old was the Delilah's younger brother who was only four when she went missing, and I loved reading his viewpoint; trying to grasp his struggles, his pain, his wonder, his confusion, and his grasping of memories of an older sister he doesn't really remember, except through videos and pictures, was fascinating.  I actually thought his chapters were some of the strongest in the book. I personally went through a variety of emotions while reading his chapters.

Initially, the strong writing has me turning the pages and I did finish this book in one sitting. Written in dual timelines, and in multiple POV, this worked rather well in setting up an intricate, and detailed, story.  However, as I've already mentioned, about two-thirds into the book, things took a serious nosedive, and unfortunately, I just didn't buy into what happened.  It was just so out of character as to what was happening, that it didn't feel real or believable. I don't know if this was done to shock the reader or if the author just lost track of what the intention was for this book, but for me, it just didn't work.  A lot of work went into setting up a rather suspenseful, and enjoyable, story line, one in which I was quite invested, and exploded into what I consider as something completely unbelievable.  

Local Woman Missing had such a strong start, with enjoyable characters, and a strong, intriguing story line.  However, two-thirds into the book, it took a nosedive into the unbelievable and unrealistic, and I just didn't buy into the ending.  There were definitely some wonderful elements to this book, so I do recommend you check it out for yourself to see what you think.  Unfortunately, I just couldn't get past that ending. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Review: The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany by Gwen Strauss

by Gwen Strauss
Release Date: May 4th 2021
2021 St. Martin's Press
Kindle & Audiobook Editions; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250239297
Audiobook: B08KSJRXYR
Genre: Non-Fiction / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher

The Nine follows the true story of the author’s great aunt Hélène Podliasky, who led a band of nine female resistance fighters as they escaped a German forced labor camp and made a ten-day journey across the front lines of WWII from Germany back to Paris.

The nine women were all under thirty when they joined the resistance. They smuggled arms through Europe, harbored parachuting agents, coordinated communications between regional sectors, trekked escape routes to Spain and hid Jewish children in scattered apartments. They were arrested by French police, interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo. They were subjected to a series of French prisons and deported to Germany. The group formed along the way, meeting at different points, in prison, in transit, and at Ravensbrück. By the time they were enslaved at the labor camp in Leipzig, they were a close-knit group of friends. During the final days of the war, forced onto a death march, the nine chose their moment and made a daring escape.

Drawing on incredible research, this powerful, heart-stopping narrative from Gwen Strauss is a moving tribute to the power of humanity and friendship in the darkest of times.
My Thoughts
The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany was an emotional and haunting book about the lives of a group of women during World War II and their fight to survive. Told through the women's individual stories, it captures the hardships and suffering as the women were captured, tortured, sent to Ravensbruck, sent to Leipziz, and finally, their harrowing tale of escape during the death march.  A lot of research went into the book, and the tales were interspersed with many facts about the camps and some of the terrible things that happened.
I have read many books about the Holocaust, and I teach about it as well,  and while some books are definitely better than others, what always captures my interest is the strength and courage of these men and women during a shocking time of history.  The inhumane way people were treated and the abuse they suffered shocks me every time.  And while the author was quite frank in her telling, there were a lot of things that were not explained simply because it was too difficult for the women to go back and remember.  This is not a criticism, but one of the things I found quite compelling was the insistence of people during this time period to want to hide their experiences during the war; it was not necessarily the men and women who suffered who wanted to hide them, but those who were left behind who seemed to not want to hear about it.  The criticisms and the rebukes if men and women wrote about their stories were quite strong in the aftermath, and makes me wonder if a lot of that was guilt: guilt because they didn't suffer the same way these men and women suffered, especially as more and more information, and horrors, became known to the world.  
The author, a great-niece of one of the women in the book, writes about these women with compassion, but also highlights their courage and their fighting spirit.  And while some of the descriptions don't go into great detail, you get enough to understand the suffering and the misery these women experienced and how terrible it must have been.  You also understand how important these friendships were to their survival.  The author also includes many facts about life in the camps and these facts truly show the horror of what the women would have suffered, explaining things about rape, birth, treatment of children and babies, and so on.  Even though I know a lot about the Holocaust and am widely read, reading about it again doesn't ever get easy or less shocking, nor should it.  
One of the things I liked about this book was the aftermath, although I don't like using the word 'liked' because how do you like something about women who suffered so terribly?  In some of the fiction stories I have read, the characters emerge from their experiences and have fulfilling lives afterwards; they rarely mention how the war has impacted them, and I have always thought something was wrong with these types of books.  This book does not fairy tale the aftermath: many of these women suffered from depression and other health issues for the rest of their lives.   Furthermore, their children suffered as well, and the author does a great job explaining the impact and why this happens.  I found this quite poignant, and it made me look at the aftermath of the Holocaust in a new light.  

The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany was a well-written book about women who were courageous and who stuck together during a terrible time in their lives. The author writes about brutal subjects with great delicacy, but doesn't mince her words either, something I appreciated as I despise it when brutal and shocking things are sugar-coated and glossed over.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading more about the Holocaust and learning about the resistance in France.  Yes, there are some brutal sections, but the Holocaust was brutal and horrible things were done.  I, for one, am glad these stories continue to be written.


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Review: The Last Windwitch by Jennifer Adam

by Jennifer Adam
Release Date: April 13th 2021
2021 HarperCollins
Kindle Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062981302
Audiobook: B08LQX74HK
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Brida is content in her small village of Oak Hollow. There, she’s plenty occupied trying to convince her fickle magic to actually do what it’s meant to in her work as a hedgewitch’s apprentice—until she accidentally catches the attention of the wicked queen.

On the run from the queen’s huntsman and her all-seeing Crow spies, Brida discovers the truth about her family, her magic, and who she is destined to be—and that she may hold the power to defeating the wicked queen and setting the kingdom right again.
My Thoughts
The Last Windwitch was an enjoyable middle-grade fantasy that introduces us to a young hedgewitch apprentice named Brida, who, although quite comfortable with her life, has a million questions about the world in which she lives as she tries to master a magic system that just doesn't seem to quite work the way she wants.   I thought the story was very well-developed and enjoyed the magic system in this tale. And I have to say, the cover page is quite beautiful as well.

I really enjoyed Brida as a main character.  Although naturally inquisitive, which sometimes got her into trouble, she was kind, loyal, smart, and very capable, all qualities that would definitely appeal to younger readers.  She is also very curious, and you know that that curiosity will take her to places she should not go and to see things she should probably not see, which is exactly what happened.  I thought the author allowed Brida's character to grow and develop throughout the story in a way that was interesting, but also felt very realistic; never for a moment did the author forget that Brida was only twelve years old, something I appreciated.

The supporting characters were also a lot of fun, but I took a special liking to Hugh and company. Brida meets a lot of people during her 'quest', and I liked that the characters weren't as they seemed at the beginning, being a lot more complex, with their own stories to tell.  And I liked how Brida didn't immediately classify everyone into bad and good, but took the time to understand what was happening to them, even to those who were hunting her down.  

The story itself was quite engaging, and I pretty much finished it in one sitting.  It does start a bit slowly, but that didn't affect the overall story as it set things up nicely for what was to come and it allows the reader to empathize with the characters and their lives.  Once it takes off though, it doesn't let up until the end, with an ending I loved, with one little twist I wasn't expecting but thought was perfect for the book.  

The writing style itself was captivating, and even as an adult reader, I found myself immersed and absorbed by the characters and the events.  I even found myself reading slower so I could picture the world in my mind. The descriptions of the storm horses probably captured my heart the most though. As a kid, I would have loved that concept.  

The Last Windwitch was an engaging middle-grade novel that will appeal to anyone who loves a story about secrets, magic, family, loyalty, and hope.  I thought the characters were delightful and the author definitely spent time developing them as much as the story.  There are some important themes running through this book that can be explored as well.  If you enjoy middle-grade fantasy, then I highly recommend you add this to your reading list.  I am really hoping for a sequel. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Review: Relentless by Mark Greaney

by Mark Greaney
Release Date: February 16th 2021
2021 Berkley
Kindle & Audiobook Editions; 496 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593098950
Audiobook: B08HDN9JVQ
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher
4.5/5 Stars
Intelligence operatives around the world are disappearing. When a missing American agent re- appears in Venezuela, Court Gentry, the Gray Man, is dispatched to bring him in, but a team of assassins has other ideas. Court escapes with his life and a vital piece of intelligence.

Meanwhile, CIA agent Zoya Zakharova is in Berlin. Her mission: to infiltrate a private intelligence firm with some alarming connections. The closer she gets to answers, the less likely she is to get out alive.

Court and Zoya are just two pieces on this international chessboard, and they're about to discover one undeniable truth--sometimes capturing a king requires sacrificing some pawns.
My Thoughts
Relentless is the tenth book in the Gray Man series, and if I thought this series was going to lose momentum at some point, this book definitely proved me wrong by the fifth chapter.  I don't know how he does it, or where he gets his ideas, but this book was intricately plotted; there was so much going on you needed to pay attention to everything.
* Some small spoilers, but only if you have not read the previous entry in the series.* 
I really enjoy the characters in this series, including Court, Zoya, Hanley, and Zack.  I do read in fear sometimes, that one of them is going to die, but it doesn't stop me from reading these books.  What I particularly enjoy about these stories are the vulnerabilities of the characters.  Court is not afraid to admit that someone else is better at something and allows that person to take the lead, if necessary.  As we know, Court was injured quite badly in the previous book, but Matt is desperate for his help so sends him out in the field injured. I like how the book shows his limitations due to his injuries and the interactions between Court and the doctor as she makes him realize he is not a robot, but a human with limitations.  And it is this human side that definitely draws me to this series as much as the action.
And there was plenty of action.  This one was more team-oriented rather than solo-oriented, and I am definitely at a loss as to which one I like better.  All of the agents were in play in Berlin, and because of this, secondary story lines also came into play which could be a bit confusing if you are not familiar with previous story arcs, although the author described the situations enough for a newbie reader to at least grasp what was happening.   
And the plot was relentless, using a term used frequently in the book.  It pretty much exploded from the beginning and didn't let up until the end, with twists and turns where you thought this was happening, then realized it was actually this happening.  So many underlying threads.  And this is brilliant writing by the author who managed to pull all those threads together.  And with one story arc sort of finished in this book, another one is now set up to get us going for future books. And this is where this author excels as he has turned everything upside down and basically changed the rules of the established order.  I don't think I was prepared for what happened at the end.  
If I have one criticism about this book, it has to do with Suzanne Brewer.  For a bunch of brilliant people, and a bunch of super spies/assassins/agents, they really have no idea what she is up to?  This has been a story line that has been building for a while, and I would love to see it come to fruition at some point, hopefully with her dumped on her ass.

Relentless was a great addition to the Gray Man series.  With the team together, there was an additional layer of intrigue added that I particularly enjoyed.  And then I learned that Netflix was making a film based on the first book in this series starring Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling (Court) and I was thrilled. This should increase exposure to the series, not that it needs it, but any attention will hopefully allow Mark the luxury of continuing this great series.  For now, I am looking forward to the next book in the series, Sierra Six, when it releases in February 2022. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Review: Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

by B.B. Alston
Release Date: January 19th 2021
2021 Balzer + Bray
Kindle & Audiobook Editions; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062975164
Audiobook: B087RTHPSC
Genre: Fiction/Juvenile/Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher
4.5/5 Stars
Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?

Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate. 

My Thoughts
Amari and the Night Brothers was a fantastic juvenile fiction fantasy book, probably one of the best ones I've read so far this year.  I ended up with both an audiobook and a kindle edition to review, but ended up listening to the story as the narrator was too good to put down.  I even worked on my garden for much longer than I intended so I could continue listening to the story.  This book is pretty much why I still indulge in juvenile/middle grade fiction; secrets, fantasy, magic, friendship, and lots of competition type stuff that I would have loved as a kid, and still enjoy as an adult.

Amari is a wonderful character; strong, determined, gutsy, and vulnerable.  I loved her little sarcastic comments to herself throughout the book and laughed out loud a couple of times as I was listening.  And even though she was determined, especially when it came to searching for her missing brother, there was a vulnerability to her as well.  She had trouble fitting in with those around her and always seemed to be on he outs with other students which made her a bit defensive in her relationships.  It was a treat watching her grow and develop throughout the story and I thought the author did a fabulous job with her character development.  

Several strong themes running through this story revolved around friendship and family.  I liked how the author developed Amari's friendship with her roommate and how they encouraged each other to develop their talents and were so complimentary of each other.  Elsie was a wonderful character and I am looking forward to learning more about her in the next book.  Family was also a strong value in this book as well, and I like how Amari was encouraged to search for her brother and it was seen as am important thing even if she was too young to get involved.

The pacing of the book was excellent: there was enough action interspersed with other happenings to keep you interested without going overboard.  The fast-paced plot allowed the action to continue, but at a pace where the character development didn't suffer.  The twists and turns kept me interested and intrigued; however, I'm not quite sure I liked one certain twist, even though I was expecting it, which is why I didn't give it the five stars I was going to originally.  

Amari and the Night Brothers was an engaging and twisty read, full of fun characters and a main character who was sassy and determined.  The pacing moved rather quickly, and the fantasy elements were imaginative and fun.  I really do think a lot of young girls will identify with this book.  I was quite happy to hear two more books have been announced in this series, the next one will be published next year. In the meantime, if you haven't yet picked this up, get on out there!


Monday, June 14, 2021

Review: American Demon by Kim Harrison

by Kim Harrison
Release Date: June 16th 2020
2020 ACE
Kindle Edition; 473 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593101414
Genre: Fiction / Urban Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
What happens after you've saved the world? Well, if you're Rachel Mariana Morgan, witch-born demon, you quickly discover that something might have gone just a little bit wrong. That the very same acts you and your friends took to forge new powers may have released something bound by the old. With a rash of zombies, some strange new murders, and an exceedingly mysterious new demon in town, it will take everything Rachel has to counter this new threat to the world--and it may demand the sacrifice of what she holds most dear.
My Thoughts
American Demon is the next entry the The Hollows, and while I was excited to learn there would be another entry in this series, it did take a while for me to wrap my head around that fact as it was made pretty clear the last book would be that last book in the series and I was not really prepared for this.  And then when I did start it, I was somewhat disappointed and couldn't get into it.  It's not that I didn't remember anything from the previous books and I thought the author did a great job at explaining the important information in such a way that I wouldn't have to re-read previous books, the whole atmosphere just, in a way I can't explain.  It actually took me three tries to finish this, and this has never happened with a Rachel Morgan book. Ok, yes, I was a bit disappointed with the last book in the series, but that was for different reasons.  
First of all, while I love Rachel, this Rachel drove me nuts.  When did she lose her spine and her will and her spunk....well, I think you get it.  She spent so much time agonizing over whether Trent really loved her as well as second-guessing all of her decisions that I was ready to scream.  The tough-as-nails Rachel was nowhere in sight and I really, really missed her.  Every time something went south on her, she would look to others to see what she should do rather than take decisive action, afraid of creating bad publicity for Trent and his evil cadre of elves (something I will get to in a moment), to the point where I wanted some serious ass-kicking and some serious take downs just to know that she could still do them.  The author spent so many books trying to get Trent and Rachel together that she has turned Rachel into this 'does he really love me or should he get together with Ellasbeth' silliness to take forefront and it's driving me crazy.  I think I preferred it when Trent was evil as Rachel was much more interesting in those books.  
Ok, Trent.  Don't get me wrong, I love his character, but then I love badasses and that's exactly what he was.  I never really saw them together and I'm not really sure this relationship is working for me the way it is as Rachel just seems so...compliant.  To keep them together, I think there needs to be some major power shakeups in this world to make things more interesting.  Something big needs to happen soon. No more teenage angst relationship nonsense that is, frankly, boring. 
And now the elves.  When do the elves ever get their comeuppance?  They create so many problems, and have for books now, but  Why not?  When are they finally going to get their due?  Why is it that Rachel gets lynched all of the time, but nothing bad ever happens to them?  And not just the elves, but it seems like the vampires are going to take a bite out of her as well.   I am not a violent person by nature, but I would have happily cheered to see Rachel destroy Landon first, and then the Order next.  It's been a few books and I am still at a loss as to why they have so much power and can just walk in and do whatever the hell they want to whoever they want whenever they want.  Rachel keeps talking about how Cincinnati is her city to protect, but I am seeing none of it in this book.  

The author is a solid writer and I always look forward to meeting old favourites and finding out what they are up to; unfortunately, there was little of Al or Ivy in this book and I was somewhat disappointed by that. Jenks and Bis though? Always have been my favourites!!   There were a couple of newer characters that I did like however, ones that I hope will shake things up in future books as I think the power structure in these books needs a really good shakeup to make things much more interesting and to drive the story forward. 

American Demon was definitely not a story for which I was expecting or hoping; Rachel spent a lot of time moping after Trent, trying to fix her home, and trying to figure out who was spying on her and why.  The story moved a bit more slowly than previous books and spent a lot of time on explaining different spells. And while a lot of characters jumped in and out of the story, I didn't really see a purpose for some of them other than to remind us who they were so this story really felt a filler, setting up something for the future.  I am really hoping this is the case as both Rachel and Trent were irritating in this book, and I would like the see the annoying, but ballsy, Trent and the kick-ass Rachel back on these pages.  I will be reading Million Dollar Demon (releases June 15th) as I got it for review, but I think if it doesn't improve, this series and I will finally part ways which makes me sad.