Sunday, May 2, 2021

Review: On Deadly Tides by Elizabeth J. Duncan

by Elizabeth J. Duncan
Release Date: November 10th 2020
2020 Crooked Lane Books
Kindle Edition; 280 Pages
ISBN: 978-1643854687
ASIN: B084V85BT8
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

With a picturesque black and white lighthouse, pebble beaches and stunning views of sea and mountains, the island of Anglesey off the coast of North Wales is the perfect place for an idyllic mid-summer painting holiday.

And watercolour artist, businesswoman, and amateur sleuth Penny Brannigan is enjoying the retreat enormously - until she discovers the body of a New Zealand journalist on a secluded beach just as the tide is going out, threatening to take the body with it.

The post mortem reveals the victim died from injuries "consistent with a fall from a great height," and the death is ruled accidental. But Penny thinks there's more to the story. Curious how the victim came to such an untimely end at this most inhospitable spot, she uncovers a link to a mysterious disappearance several years earlier.
My Thoughts
On Deadly Tides is the next entry in the Penny Brannigan mystery series, and I always return to these books for their settings as well as their simple, but engaging, mysteries. Cozy mysteries are my guilty pleasure reading in between the heavy-hitting fantasy, historical fiction, mystery/thrillers, and non-fiction that I usually tend to read and I love them because I can still get emotionally invested in the characters while the story lines tend to be on the lighter side of the spectrum.
What I especially love about this series is that the main character is in her early fifties rather than the usual twenties; she just seems to be quite different from the usual cozy mystery heroines, and I really enjoy that about her.  She is single so her priorities tend to be somewhat different and romance usually play a huge role in these books, although it sometimes happens.  However, unlike some of the books, it isn't a main feature which is something I really liked.  An independent woman who is enjoying her life, has many activities and hobbies, has many friends, is active in the community, travels, and is having fun is definitely someone with whom I can identify.  
I did find this book a bit different than the others and there was a reason for this.  I don't want to go into that in detail as it would sort of spoil the fun of the book, but long-time readers will be happy for Penny.  However, it did take away from the usual suspense and it was very easy to figure out the mystery and the culprits.  I do think the author balanced out Penny's private life quite well with her investigations, and I have always liked how she never interfered with the police or their investigations.  She also doesn't tend to do stupid things like some of the characters in some of the cozy mystery books, something that often makes me cringe.  For example, if she is going to interview someone, she usually lets someone else know where she is and what she is doing, and she doesn't usually tend to go anywhere without telling people.  Yes, she makes mistakes, but owns up to them afterwards. Like forgetting to lock her back door because she let the cat out.  
On Deadly Tides was a slower book than usual, focused much more on Penny's personal life rather than the mystery, but it was still interesting. There were a couple things I couldn't quite believe, for example about the tides and the GPS coordinates , as if the RCMP would not be familiar with those and the Welsh police would not have checked the tides.   The story was well-written, and I was able to read it in one sitting, but there still felt like there was something missing that was in the earlier books.  It also sounds as if this may be the last book in the series, and if that is the case, I will be sad to say good-bye to Penny and company. It is possible to read this book as a stand alone, but I don't recommend it.     


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Review: Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz

by Gregg Hurwitz
Release Date: January 26th 2021
2021 MInotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250252289
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

As a boy, Evan Smoak was pulled out of a foster home and trained in an off-the-books operation known as the Orphan Program. He was a government assassin, perhaps the best, known to a few insiders as Orphan X. He eventually broke with the Program and adopted a new name – The Nowhere Man―and a new mission, helping the most desperate in their times of trouble. But the highest power in the country has made him a tempting offer - in exchange for an unofficial pardon, he must stop his clandestine activities as The Nowhere Man. Now Evan has to do the one thing he’s least equipped to do—live a normal life.

But then he gets a call for help from the one person he never expected. A woman claiming to have given him up for adoption, a woman he never knew—his mother. Her unlikely request: help Andrew Duran—a man whose life has gone off the rails, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, bringing him to the deadly attention of very powerful figures. Now a brutal brother & sister assassination team are after him and with no one to turn to, and no safe place to hide, Evan is Duran’s only option. But when the hidden cabal catches on to what Evan is doing, everything he’s fought for is on the line—including his own life.
My Thoughts
Prodigal Son is the sixth book in the Orphan X series, and while I really enjoyed the book, it definitely had a different flavour from the earlier books.  In this one, Evan is sort of retired and is searching for meaning in his life, trying to enjoy everyday activities, trying to achieve 'normalcy'.  While I don't have a problem with this, and enjoyed Evan's blundering attempts at socializing, it was the author's constant repeated reminders of what he was doing that sort of got annoying.  Trust me, we get it, and to be honest, while I like the more human side of Evan, I LIKED the Nowhere Man and his missions.  So, in essence, what this novel really felt like, was a transitional novel where Evan realizes that maybe he is not cut out for the conventional life and NEEDS to be helping others, despite the government and despite the president of the United States.
Evan Smoak is one of the reasons why I read these books as I love his character.  He is definitely flawed as he lacks social graces and doesn't know how to handle normal situations with people; part of the enjoyment in this series is his interactions with the people in his apartment building when he comes home full of blood with his clothing ripped and torn and has to explain away what happened.  And then he is invited to birthday parties and wedding celebrations, but has no idea what to do at these things or how to interact with people when he is there.  His character has grown so much over the books and I really look forward to more development as he continues to interact with Mia, her son, and of course, Joey.
For me, one of the highlights of this book was his interactions with Joey, and the way he realized his feelings were so much more than he thought , especially when he understands that Joey's transformation is due to a BOY.  As a reader, you've known those feelings have always been there, but in this book, they finally exploded and I was thrilled to see the two of them acknowledge their relationship and how much they mean to each other.  And I have to say, an author who can mix real emotions with big thrills is a win-win for me.   

The author has a real talent for mixing spectacular thrill scenes with normal day-to-day scenes.  There is definitely the usual hacking, the explosions, the fight scenes, and the other high adrenaline scenes you would expect from an Orphan X book, but I do feel they were tamed down a bit from previous books as the author focused a lot more on Evan's struggle to be a normal human being.  Throughout the book, Evan was trying to reconcile himself with the fact that he enjoyed doing these things and that he was good at them with the fact that he could get into a lot of trouble from the powers that be. That being said, Evan was up against drone warfare in this book, and I am really curious as to where this is heading in the next book as it clearly wasn't finished in this one.  A hugely fascinating topic!! 

Prodigal Son seemed to be more of a transitional novel as Evan grappled with the concept of retirement and what to do with the rest of his life.  The character development is really good and for that reason, I do recommend that readers begin with the first book in the series as a lot of the elements do tie together. There is a spectacular ending to this book, but if you really paid attention, you will know exactly how Evan will probably be able to save himself in the next book.  This is probably one of the best thriller series I have read where I really care about the characters and what happens to them, so I find the scenes where Evan grapples with his humanity and his relationships so fascinating.  Highly recommend this series.


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Review: What the Devil Knows by C.S. Harris

by C.S. Harris
Release Date: April 6th 2021
2021 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593102664
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

In 1811, two entire families were viciously murdered in their homes. A suspect--a young seaman named John Williams--was arrested. But before he could be brought to trial, Williams hanged himself in his cell. The murders ceased, and London slowly began to breathe easier. But when the lead investigator, Sir Edwin Pym, is killed in the same brutal way three years later and others possibly connected to the original case meet violent ends, the city is paralyzed with terror once more.

Was the wrong man arrested for the murders? Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for assistance. Pym's colleagues are convinced his manner of death is a coincidence, but Sebastian has his doubts. The more he looks into the three-year-old murders, the more certain he becomes that the hapless John Williams was not the real killer. Which begs the question--who was and why are they dead set on killing again?
My Thoughts
What the Devil Knows is the next entry in the long-running Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery series, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  This series has been a favourite of mine since the first book was published and I have been an avid fan ever since, following Sebastian's story as he negotiated the treacherous politics of Regency England.  What I have always like about these books is the way the author manages to insert real-life events into her story lines, and this book is no exception, this time incorporating the Ratcliff Highway Murders into this story.  The stories are believable, solid, and interesting, with good character development from both the main and secondary characters, witty dialogue, and subtle political entanglements and power plays.  I thought this book was a solid entry, but didn't quite have that excitement and tension of previous books; it had a good plot, but I felt like it was setting the reader up for some future plot lines to come.
I love Sebastian St. Cyr as a character, but I love his wife, Hero, even more, and wish more of the plot centred on her doings.  Sebastian is still struggling to solve the mystery of his mother and his true paternity, so I feel like this aspect of the book slowed the book down a bit.  I do have to give the author credit though, as it could so easily have gone off course here, but she managed to keep the search for Sebastian's mother a secondary plot line even though you had this sense it would soon become something big in the future.  I do however, miss the more fiery Hero and her passion for helping those in need.  She really seems to have calmed down quite a bit and I feel like this is a weakness in the book. I also really missed Paul Gibson as we only got a few glimpses of him in this book.  
The mystery itself was quite solid, and I liked how the author inserted a real-life mystery, the Ratcliff Highway Murders, into this book, as well as other historical details and people.  It has always been one of the things I really liked about these books, the research and historical detail.  The plot was more of a police procedural-type mystery, with Sebastian going around investigating and interrogating a lot of people, there were an unusual amount of deaths in this one, and a plot twist I actually didn't see coming.  I did feel like Sebastian was going through the motions though, and I wasn't as invested in the story like I usually am.  Part of the problem is I felt like the author was setting up the book for future stories surrounding Sebastian's mother and Hero's father.  

What the Devil Knows was a solid historical mystery, but I don't think it was necessarily the best one of the series.  The characters were interesting as always, but I didn't really see a lot of development.  I did feel like this was a transitional book, a filler, to set up future plot lines.  The mystery itself was fascinating though, as the author uses a blend of true and invented stories to create a story that kept me guessing until the end, with plenty of twists and turns.  While you don't have to read the books in the series to understand this one, I do recommend you start from the beginning to get a sense of the underlying story lines that are being set up for future books and to understand some of the tensions between the characters.


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Dead Doubles: The Extraordinary Worldwide Hunt for One of the Cold War's Most Notorious Spy Rings by Trevor Barnes

by Trevor Barnes
Release Date: September 8th 2020
2020 Harper
Hardcover Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062856999
ASIN: B082J3G7K6
Genre: Non-Fiction / Cold War / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
The dramatic arrest in London on January 7, 1961 of five Soviet spies made headlines worldwide and had repercussions around the globe. Alerted by the CIA, Britain's security service, MI5, had discovered two British spies stealing invaluable secrets from the highly sensitive submarine research center at Portland, UK.  Their controller, Gordon Lonsdale, was a Canadian who frequently visited a middle-aged couple, the Krogers, in their sleepy London suburb. But the seemingly unassuming Krogers were revealed to be deep cover American KGB spies—infamous undercover agents the FBI had been hunting for years—and they were just one part of an extensive network of Soviet operatives in the UK.

In the wake of the spies' sensational trial, the FBI uncovered the true identity of the enigmatic Lonsdale—Konon Molody, a Russian who had lived in California before being recruited by the KGB. Molody opened secret talks with MI5 to betray Russia, but before he had the chance, the KGB blackmailed Britain into spy swaps for him and the Krogers.
My Thoughts
Dead Doubles was a fascinating look into the sensational capture and trial of the Portland Ring spies, spies who had been stealing sensitive secrets from the submarine research center at Portland, and it would be discovered, at other important areas as well.  The original focus was on Konon Molody, known as Gordon Lonsdale in the U.K., but soon switched to the Krogers as well as Houghton and Gee. I really enjoyed how the author detailed the information about the spies and how they were all connected.
First things first though. I went into this book with quite a detailed knowledge base about espionage and as a result, did not struggle with the names or the people involved. Having read quite a few books about Kim Philby, the Rosenbergs, Klaus Fuchs, George Blake, the Cohens, Rudolf Abel, and so on, I was already familiar with many of the leaders of the FBI, CIA, M15, etc... While the author was really great at explaining a lot of things, he definitely wrote this book for those who have an interest in espionage and who already have a foundational knowledge about the people involved.  A list of people and their jobs is listed at the front of the book to help those who may be lost or struggle with the amount of information.
I really enjoyed how the author set up the various chapters in this book, focusing on specific subjects at a time, slowly incorporating new ones, until you could see the pattern developing and how they all fit in together. A lot of the information regarding how much damage the 'Krogers' and 'Lonsdale" actually did was not revealed until the last part of the book, but I certainly thought the process was fascinating.  The amount of work and surveillance that went into discovering what they did was immense.  I particularly loved the politics at play between the various countries and how relationships shifted and changed as deceptions were uncovered.  Gosh, the Cold War was fascinating on so many levels.
The author was limited in how much he could tell us however, as many of the documents surrounding the trial and arrest are still classified, both in the U.K. and in Russia.  Things are slowly being released, so it was a real treat to read some of the reports from the time period to see who was actually to blame for the espionage, and how lack of security led to a lot of the problems.    

Dead Doubles is a meticulously researched novel about Konon Molody and the Portland Spy Ring that had a huge impact on so many levels.  When they set out to capture 'Lonsdale', they really didn't know what the end result was going to be, and it was shocking how deep the clandestine operations went, and how much information actually made its way across the border.  I enjoyed the way the novel was written and appreciated the descriptions of the spy-tech stuff that was used at the time.  Do I recommend this book to everyone? No. I really think you need some knowledge of the time period as well as knowledge of the people involved before investing in this book.  Once you do, it is definitely worth checking out.


Sunday, April 18, 2021

Review: Phantoms & Felonies by Lucy Ness

by Lucy Ness
Release Date: April 6th 2021
2021 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1984806796
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

When a local theater troupe puts on a new play at the club, manager Avery Morgan is excited. This is just the sort of event that's destined to bring in potential new members. Okay, millionaire banker Bob Hanover has more bucks than talent and has used his position to grab the lead role, but that seems like a small price to pay...until Bob is found dead backstage.

Bob rubbed many people the wrong way, but would anyone want him dead? The short answer to that is: Who wouldn't want him dead? His long-suffereing wife had to put up with years of womanizing. The show's playwright has been tricked out of his one great idea by Bob, who claimed it as his own work. And Bob bankrupted one of the town's small businessmen. The choices are many and the time to find the killer is running short.
My Thoughts
Phantoms & Felonies is the second book in the series, and while I didn't read the first book, I definitely had no problem understanding the relationships between the characters and what was happening.  In fact, this book was a lot of fun; so much so that I will be picking up the first book to find out how some of the characters originally met.  
The title of the series is what initially drew me into reading this book, and then I discovered there was a ghost involved as well.  Well, consider me hooked.  I am not acctually giving away anything by mentioning the ghost as it's in the book's description, but combine mansion and ghost...yup, hooked.  
Avery decides to throw a murder/mystery evening to raise money for the mansion she is running as well as the women's club.  Things go awry right from the beginning as the lead actors in the play don't seem to get along; in fact, they have this tendency to get on the wrong side of anyone with whom they come in contact.  I love how Avery tries to deal with the situation as manager, but it's definitely a tough position in which to be.  
Avery was a fun character though.  I loved how she just took everything in stride, trying not give away the fact that she could see the ghost who haunts the mansion from her Aunt Rosemary who has this supernatural gift to feel spirits.  The relationship with her aunt was a lot of fun as her aunt was quite quirky, and tried very hard to push Avery and her police officer 'friend' together. My favourite character was the ghost 'Clemmie'.  I liked how Rosemary tried to discover more about her final resting place and more information about her as it was a nice secondary story line; I have grown very curious about Clemmie and what actually happened to her and I feel like this will be material for a future book. 
The actual mystery was interesting, and I enjoyed following Avery as she searched for clues to help solve the mystery.  She didn't go out of her way to involve herself in police work or to avoid mentioning important information to the police, something I liked.  She was also very careful when asking questions; it drives me crazy when amateur sleuths pay no attention to their personal safety, but just go barging into situations without a thought.  Avery was not like this as she was careful and shrewd, and she knew when to back off and involve the police.  The way she took advantage of situations to ask questions was quite cleverly done. 
Phantoms & Felonies was a fun read and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I thought the characters were intriguing and diverse, and took a particular liking to Clemmie and Aunt Rosemary.  Clemmie's flapper-style ghost is original and I love the witty dialogue that happens whenever she shows up.  The plot was engaging, and while I did have the suspect in the back of my mind, the author used quite a few clever twists and turns to try and get me to change my mind.  I am looking forward to the next book in this series.      


Friday, April 16, 2021

Review: Tom Clancy Firing Point by Mike Maden

by Mike Maden
Release Date: June 9th 2020
2020 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 480 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593188064
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars
During a well-earned break, Jack Ryan Jr runs into old flame Renee Moore in a scenic Barcelona café.

But Renee is not so pleased to see him. Distracted, she says she's waiting for someone and can't talk. She promises to call him later, and sends him out onto the street.

Which is when the bomb goes off.

There's nothing he can do to save Renee. But as he cradles her, she utters one last word with her final breath: 'Sammler'

Who did she mean? What did she know? And what trouble had Renee got herself into?

When every thread Jack pulls threatens to make the situation ever more dangerous, he realises he's stumbled into an international conspiracy that might be more than even he can handle.
My Thoughts
Tom Clancy Firing Point was a solid entry in the Jack Ryan Jr. book series, and I did enjoy the ride.  There were a lot of things going on, but it was definitely formulaic: villain invents weapon intent on world domination, plot discovered by being at the right spot at the wrong time (who believes in coincidences, right?), good guys blow up everything, and all is resolved in the end.  Yes, formulaic, but except for a few things, I did manage to read this book in one night so something captured my attention.
There were a lot of secondary plot lines going on in this narrative, but that never bothers me as long as they come together in a cohesive ending, one that makes sense and doesn't take five chapters to explain at the end.  To be honest, I expect that in a thriller and I expect there to be a lot of moments where I don't necessarily understand what is going on or who to trust.  The original Tom Clancy novels were famous for his plot twists and confusing narrative threads, but it always came together.  With fifteen percent left of this book, I wasn't sure it was all going to come together in this one.  A lot of the book was spent explaining technology and how it worked; and while I appreciated that knowledge, it definitely took a lot of the suspense and edge away from the plot.  So, instead of sitting at the edge of my seat, I got...bored? 
Jack Ryan Jr. spends most of the book in Spain, and when he is in action, it is interesting and I really enjoyed his scenes.  However, a lot of the time was spent discussing Catalonian Independence, to the point where the obvious red herring stopped working. I think the word I am looking for here is overkill. I appreciated the knowledge and thought it was interesting the first time it was mentioned, but by the tenth, I was rolling my eyes.  And then the pages with all of the cargo ships sinking? And I wish more information regarding RAPTURE / TRIBULATION had been included as the reader would have learned more about the characters involved and maybe developed some understanding as to their motivations.  I have no problem being sympathetic to villains as I think that is when they are the most interesting.  In this book, I didn't really care what happened to most of the characters as they weren't really fleshed out.  And I'm not talking about recurring characters, such as John Clark or Mary Pat Foley, as most of them barely rated a mention.  
Tom Clancy Firing Point was a fun read, but there was really no depth to this book.  It took a while to really get going with the narrative, the differing plot points were kind of jumbled together, and I wasn't sure the author was going to be able to pull it off in the end.  There was a lot of technological discussion, which I appreciated, but I felt took away from character and plot development, as well as the suspense.   Would I recommend this book? Like always, you should judge for yourself.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Review: Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper

by Elspeth Cooper
Release Date: February 28th 2012
2012 Tor Books
Hardcover Edition; 467 Pages
ISBN: 978-0765331656
ASIN: B0079XQ55K
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Gair is under a death sentence.

He can hear music - music with power - and in the Holy City that means only one thing: he's a witch, and he's going to be burnt at the stake. Even if he could escape, the Church Knights and their witchfinder would be hot on his heels while his burgeoning power threatens to tear him apart from within.

There is no hope . . . none, but a secretive order, themselves persecuted almost to destruction. If Gair can escape, if he can master his own growing, dangerous abilities, if he can find the Guardians of the Veil, then maybe he will be safe. Or maybe he'll discover that his fight has only just begun.
My Thoughts
Songs of the Earth is the first book in The Wild Hunt series, and while I thought it was a solid first entry, there were still some issues as it tended to lean quite a bit towards more conventional fantasy tropes rather than to the promise of its jacket cover.   Don't get me wrong, I LOVE conventional fantasy. I still love reading series about a hero who is prophesied to save the world, who develops powers that he didn't know he had, who would be joined on a quest to save the world, etc...I am all for conventional, if it done well.  When it lacks substance though, it can so easily fail. 

Let me start with the strongest part of this book, the writing style.  The author definitely knows how to tell a story, and I found myself particularly enthralled with the fighting scenes, or pretty much any action scene.  She has this way of describing things to make you feel as if you are right there with the characters and can see and feel things the way they do.  The dialogue could be a bit stilted at times though, and even I felt awkward for some of the characters.
Which brings me to the characters.  I liked the characters, but feel as if I need to read the next two books immediately or I will forget who they are as they were kind of bland.  There was a lot of potential for these characters to develop into unique, and distinct, personalities, but they were truly one-dimensional.  The one character who grew on me towards the end was Tanith as I felt like there was a huge backstory just sitting there, waiting to be discovered.  Whether the author can do that remains to be seen.  Every once in a while, one of the characters would do something that was so out of character that it didn't make sense as they weren't developed enough for the author to go down that route.  A more subtle development was needed.  Perhaps we will see that in the second book.
One of the things I did think was interesting, but more in the first half of the book, was the magic system.  It seemed kind of unique as the characters had to draw on music to be able to access the magic.  However, that kind of changed halfway through and I felt like the author just wasn't sure what she wanted to do with the magic system, and what kinds of limits she wanted to put on it, and for whom.  So, instead of developing it, the characters all of a sudden could do these things, like change shape; and while it was interesting, it wasn't logical.  And yet, the scenes where Gair was flying are some of the best in the book, in my opinion.  I don't mind spontaneity in certain things, but it should fit into the plot. 

Songs of the Earth is a well-written book that sort of suffers from lack of substance.  The setting itself is lacklustre in the sense that I would fail any test that requires me to understand the difference between the various people and kingdoms as the author put so little emphasis on them, and yet, world building is hugely important in a fantasy novel.  The characters were a bit one-dimensional so it would be fascinating to see them develop their own unique personality traits, and not just as something to move the plot.  However, the overall story was interesting, and there was certainly a lot going on in this book, enough secondary plot lines, that I am curious about the second book, Trinity Rising.


Monday, April 12, 2021

Review: On Cold Ground by D.S. Butler

by D.S. Butler
Release Date: March 25th 2021
2021 Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1542017596
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Police Procedural
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

When Detective Karen Hart hears a scream echoing out of beautiful Lincoln Cathedral one snowy evening, she is the first officer on the scene. In the chapel a man lies murdered, a bloody cross carved into his forehead.

The twisted killing sends this close-knit community into shock. And a note to the police from the murderer, signed by ‘The Cleanser’, confirms their worst fears: this sadistic slaying is the first of many. The ritual killings will never stop until Hart uncovers the murderer’s ungodly motive.
My Thoughts
On Cold Ground is the fifth entry in the DS Karen Hart series, and I enjoyed it as it completed a secondary arc that began with the death of her husband and daughter a few years ago.  I don't mind it when a story continues for several books, but I do have an issue when it drags on and on, and I was worried that something like that would happen in this series.  Luckily, it all merged rather well, even if you have to kind of suspend your belief in what happened a little bit and just go with it.   

I, for one, am glad that this book dealt with the police corruption far more openly that in previous books. When Karen's boss comes in the cross hairs of a killer, a new boss is brought in to deal with the situation, and unfortunately, the cliches began as soon as the man entered the building, the red herrings being so obvious I was sort of chuckling my way through them.  This is such a common trope that it's getting old, fast.  However, I do like the support that Karen gets from her various superiors as well as from other people as she tries to investigate the current case she is working.  

Karen, herself, is far from perfect, and I usually tend to prefer my main characters flawed as it makes them more interesting.  She is growing on me as a character and I think I am finally seeing some growth although I do feel there is still a lot more the author can do with her character.  That being said, Karen did lose her family a little while ago, so it's understandable that she has trust issues and doesn't want to be pushed into doing things she is not yet ready for; grief is not something that ever goes away and I am grateful the author has taken this into consideration.  

The other characters have a lot of potential that has not yet come to fruition, but the series is still developing and I am hoping they will have their moment to shine.  I have always liked Sophie and I would like to see her become something more than someone who is portrayed as a 'yes man' and only interested in how she is perceived by others, someone who will stand up for herself and be more confident in her abilities.  

The mystery itself wasn't too complicated, but I did find it interesting, and I like how it was interwoven with the corruption scandal.  If you are someone who reads a lot of police procedurals, you will probably figure this out quite early in the book although the author does try to lay out some interesting twists and turns.  It was more the motive that took me bit longer to figure out.  The author has an easy style of writing that does tend to draw you in although some of the dialogue does tend to make me cringe.  

On Cold Ground was one of those books that overall, I enjoyed very much, but when you take it apart, does have some problems.  There were some plot lines I just had to grit my teeth over and go with them, but it made it easier to enjoy the book.  I do think the characters need some development as they can be a bit one-dimensional and while I enjoy this author's writing style, the dialogue can be a bit stilted. Overall, a good book and one I would recommend. 


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

by Shirley Jackson
Release Date: February 21st 2021; October 31st 2006 (This edition. First published: September 21, 1962)
2006 Penguin Books
Kindle Edition; 146 Pages
ISBN: 978-0143134831
Genre: Fiction / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 /5 Stars

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise, I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead...
*Spoilers Ahead*
My Thoughts
We Have Always Lives in the Castle is one of those books I read as a kid and always wanted to read again, so when the publisher contacted me and offered me an updated copy, I grabbed the chance to read it as an adult.  I remember being a bit afraid of this book when I was younger, but I definitely had a different reaction reading it again; and it had nothing to do with knowing the story as I remembered very little, it was more to do with this great build up, then,,,nothing.
This book definitely did have the creepy atmosphere down to perfection though, and I think that is what I remember the most from this book and what I afraid of the most as a kid.  I loved the nature of the unreliable narrator and how psychotic she was; the way she wished for things to happen, but in such a simplistic way, was chilling.  I could almost feel my toes curl as the narrator spoke, especially when she referenced her sister, Constance, as you could almost feel the invisible ropes around her, binding her to the narrator, never letting her go, and the way the author wove the story was spellbinding.  I was very afraid for Constance and what could happen to her if she wanted to simply live her life away from the 'castle'.  
All of the elements were there for a really good and scary story.  So, what happened? Well, it ended up simply being a story of a psychotic sister who wanted her older sister to always be by her side; so, we have these two sisters who live in an isolated mansion amidst the scandal of a huge tragedy whereby the older sister was acquitted of killing her entire family by arsenic.  The uncle survived the tragedy, but due to his 'dementia', wasn't able to quite piece the story together although he was trying to write a book about the tale.  You learn a bit of information through his dialogue, but it was quite well done and I found those sections of the book to be quite eerie. Uncle Julian was a treasure of a character.

And this is where I now have a problem.  The entire story is built up to this climax, and then...nothing really happens.  It was not hard to figure out the truth of what happened to the family members, although I did find the scene with Mary 'talking' to her family members in the summer house to be especially chilling, as you get an idea of how they treated her.  I wish the author had kept up that kind of spooky for the entire book as it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, you know?  

And then you have Cousin Charles Blackwood.  He was supposed to be the catalyst that set everything off, but I'm not sure why as it was very obvious he was only there to look for the 'hidden' fortune.  He was portrayed as being sinister, but in the end, he came off as just another glory seeker looking to find fame and money where he could.  Personally, I found the attempts at making him sinister laughable.

What I was fascinated by as a child, and still am today, is the village.  Part of the mystery, it's where the story begins and Mary spends a huge amount of time thinking about how she would like to poison the lot. There's a detailed description of the buildings, especially the one that used to belong to the Blackwood family, the finest house in the village.  But no answers are given.  The author gives us all this information without really giving us important information, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks ourselves, without really knowing the truth.  This is genius writing and I love it today as much as I loved it back then.  What it reinforced for me as an adult was how little we should trust the narrator, a voice of an eighteen-year-old who still behaves as a child, which makes you question her maturity and her development as well as her ability to really see what is in front of her.  What is real and what is her imagination? It's so interesting!!

We Have Always Lives in the Castle wasn't as scary for me as adult as it was for me as a child, but I was definitely more fascinated with Mary's narrative and her ability to tell fact from fiction as she doesn't necessarily live in the same world as the rest of us.  I love the psychological build up and the eerie atmosphere of this novel, but feel the letdown at the end took away from the overall feel of this book.  As an adult though, I did tend to focus on different things than those of a child, so some things were a bit more chilling than I realized while others not quite so much.  Overall, an okay book, but the ending was a bit of a letdown.


Monday, April 5, 2021

Review: Haunted Hibiscus by Laura Childs

by Laura Childs
Release Date: March 1st 2021
2021 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451489691
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

It is the week before Halloween and Theodosia Browning, proprietor of the Indigo Tea Shop, and her tea sommelier, Drayton, are ghosting through the dusk of a cool Charleston evening on their way to the old Bouchard Mansion. Known as the Gray Ghost, this dilapidated place was recently bequeathed to the Heritage Society, and tonight heralds the grand opening of their literary and historical themed haunted house.

Though Timothy Neville, the patriarch of the Heritage Society, is not thrilled with the fund-raising idea, it is the perfect venue for his grandniece, Willow French, to sign copies of her new book, Carolina Crimes & Creepers.

But amid a parade of characters dressed as Edgar Allan Poe, Lady Macbeth, and the Headless Horseman, Willow's body is suddenly tossed from the third-floor tower room and left to dangle at the end of a rope. Police come screaming in and Theodosia's boyfriend, Detective Pete Riley, is sent to Willow's apartment to investigate. But minutes later, he is shot and wounded by a shadowy intruder.
My Thoughts
Haunted Hibiscus is the next entry in the long-running Tea Shop Mystery book series and I usually tend to really like them. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the rest of the characters, and I liked the actual mystery, it was Theodosia who really turned me off this book and at one point, I actually debated whether to continue or not.  I have never experienced this with one of these books so I decided to continue to see if she changed, but unfortunately, she didn't get any better. And it took two other books in between to get me through this one.  
So, let's start with what I actually liked and what made me give it three stars rather than one star.  DRAYTON CONNELLY all the way!! I love that character.  He is a tea sommelier, an older southern gentleman with manners and taste, who with one look can quell the misbehaved into behaving. His knowledge of teas is outstanding and I love how he delights in the simple things, like reading Poe to a crowd of people who appreciate his knowledge.  
And what can I say? Haunted houses has always been my weakness. Any book that has even an inkling of snooping in a haunted house will get my attention.  Can we say mysteries, secrets, hidden rooms and tunnels? Yup, I'm hooked.  And when Theodosia and Drayton go snooping, I'm with them all the way.  
The mystery itself was interesting, but I thought the ending was rather weak and I didn't buy it.  For a while, there were so many interesting possibilities and I was quite interested to see where the author may take this one.  But nope, it went in a direction I didn't think was plausible.  Too bad because there was an opportunity for some exciting stuff here.
This leads me to where I had the most difficulty with this book: THEODOSIA.  Holy crap, was she annoying!!!!  I should have counted the number of times I rolled my eyes while reading this book, or lifted my eyebrows because she was just so entitled and abrasive.  Despite repeated, and I mean repeated, warnings to stay out of the investigation, she decided to snoop and interfere.  And ironically, she gave crap to a journalist, yes, a journalist, for asking questions, the same thing she was doing herself.  And that is his JOB!!  And I almost choked when she invited herself to a police task force meeting.  WHAT?!?! If she had gone, I would have been done with this series right then and there.  And the way she just accused people, right in their faces, of murdering people, too bad she wasn't sued for slander.  And don't even get me started on how much information she withheld from the police.  And her boyfriend is a detective. Their relationship was also annoying, but that is for another time.  Seriously, I felt like the author was writing about a completely different character.
Haunted Hibiscus was definitely not one of my favourite books in this series, and that was entirely due to Theodosia herself.  I understand this is a cozy mystery book and the main character is not a police detective, but an amateur sleuth;  however, her entitlement and the uppity behaviour towards others turned me right off.  On the other side, I enjoyed the other characters, especially Drayton, and thought the mystery was pretty good until the end. I am really hoping this was just a fluke and Theodosia will not be as annoying in the next book or sadly, I will be parting ways with this series.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Review: Knight's Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

by Jeff Wheeler
Release Date: January 26th 2021
2021 47 North
Kindle Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-1542025294
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

When the Argentine family finally rules, Ransom must make his own way in the world. Opportunities open and shut before him as he journeys along the path to knighthood, blind to a shadowy conspiracy of jealousy and revenge. Securing his place will not be easy, nor will winning the affection of Lady Claire de Murrow, a fiery young heiress from an unpredictably mad kingdom.

Ransom interrupts an abduction plot targeting the Queen of Ceredigion and earns a position in service to her son, the firstborn of the new Argentine dynasty. But conflict and treachery threaten the family, and Ransom must also come to understand and hone his burgeoning powers—abilities that involve more than his mastery with a blade and that make him as much a target as his lord.
My Thoughts
Knight's Ransom is the first book in a planned four book series featuring Ransom as he searches for his path in the world as well as answers questions he has about powers he has developed over the years.  I have been reading and following this author for years, ever since I happened upon a book called The Wretched of Muirwood, and have been hooked ever since.  It's not too often I re-read books, but I think I may actually go back and re-read, and review, that trilogy.   

This book is a bit different from the previous books, but I really enjoyed that aspect as it shows the depth of this author's writing ability as well as his development.  This one seems to take inspiration from the Arthurian Legends which made me happy; Is there anyone as a kid who wasn't inspired by King Arthur and his knights?  

The story is told entirely from Ransom's perspective, with Claire's perspective told through chronicles, a format this author has used in former books.  Ransom grows up to be a happy and well-adjusted boy despite the fact that he was separated from his family at a young age by the king and held ransom to keep his family in line, which is how he earned his nickname.  After being rejected by his father in brutal circumstances, Ransom understood that he would have to make his own way in the world, so he was sent to a relative's castle to learn how to be a knight, something in which he excelled.  He tended to look for the best in people and trusted far too easily, which set him up for betrayal, something we will see a lot of in the book.  One of the things I really liked about Ransom however, was his sense of honour.  Even though he struggled with making the right choices throughout the book, he ever wavered once the choice was made and his loyalty was absolute.  He really seemed like this glowing light while everyone one around him was plotting and being deceptive.  And yes, we know how the story ends in the legends of Arthur, don't we? Which is why I am afraid to find out what happens to Ransom in future books.

I really enjoyed the other characters in the books although I don't think they were quite as developed as Ransom.  I especially felt like the 'romance' between Claire and Ransom felt off simply because there was not enough time to really explore their feelings as they didn't spend a lot of time together for reasons you will understand when you read the book.  Yes, they spent a lot of time together as children, but people change a lot as adults and for the most part, when Ransom was at Kingfountain, Claire was not really around.  I am really glad that the author is not afraid to kill off characters if necessary though, as some of the fighting was brutal.  

The plot itself was twisty and fun.  There were betrayals aplenty, some coming out of nowhere that I didn't even suspect; I love it when an author can catch you by surprise and turn an experience on your head.  The entire Argentine family is plotting against each other and are quite the dysfunctional family, but that is what makes them so interesting.  Devon and his younger brothers all plot against their father, Devon the Elder, all while plotting against each other, fighting for the Hollow Crown, determined to take it on their own terms.  There is also a secondary mystery twisting through all of this plotting and betrayal involving Ransom, but at this point the reader is left hanging and guessing as to what it is.  The author has only given a teasing glimpse into the possibilities in this book.

Knight's Ransom is set in the Kingfountain world and I am so glad to be back in that world.  I enjoyed Ransom as a main character and loved the medieval setting of this world, with the knights, the battles, the betrayals, and the loyalties constantly changing. I did think the character development of some of the secondary characters was a bit weak so I am hoping for a bit more on that end in future books.  There is a mystery intertwined throughout the story involving Ransom that has not yet been resolved which includes a quest (just seeing that word gives me a huge thrill!!), and I can't wait to find out more about Ransom and his abilities.  Although you do not have to be familiar with the Kingfountain world to enjoy this book, I do recommend you read his other books at some point, especially The Kingfountain Series, as it will give you interesting background information about the world. I'm off to dive into book 2, Warrior's Ransom, to be released May 18.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Review: Murder in Pembrokeshire by Gretta Mulrooney

by Gretta Mulronney
Release Date: March 23rd 2021
2021 Joffe Books
Kindle Edition; 243 Pages
ISBN: 978-9789317398
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Detective Tyrone Swift is invited to stay with Afan Griffith, an old friend living in a small community in rural Pembrokeshire. Cut off from the rest of the world, with no mobile signal or Wi-Fi, something’s got Afan worried.

But Afan isn’t there to greet Swift when he arrives. The next day, Swift discovers Afan’s body on a lonely stretch of the nearby coastal path — stabbed to death.

Secrets run deep beneath the surface of this idyllic spot.

And someone’s willing to kill to keep them.

Will Tyrone uncover who murdered his friend? Or will the murderer strike again?
My Thoughts 
Murder in Pembrokeshire is the eighth book in the Tyrone Swift murder mysteries and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I particularly loved the setting, Tir Melys, near Holybridge in Pembrokeshire, a remote spot whereby the victim has retreated from the world to live a calmer and much more simple life, tending to his bee colony and selling honey and honey mead.  It's touted as an idyllic spot, but Ty soon learns there is nothing idyllic in the remote community.  

I really enjoyed the main character, Tyrone Swift.  He's a private investigator, but he used to work for the Metropolitan Police as well as Interpol so he obviously has a lot of experience working cases and doing investigative work.  Although I have not yet read the previous books in the serious, it sounds like he has a very interesting past, one that is very different from the one of his friend, Afan, who was more of an analyst while working at Interpol.  Swift proved himself to be a loyal friend, hunting for his missing friend despite the primitive conditions in which he lived as well as enduring some of the company of the community that surrounded him.  He was constantly baffled by this however, as he couldn't understand how suave Afan, a man who enjoyed his comforts and his luxuries, chose to live in such a place, a place without even wi-fi and television.  

I thought the mystery was quite interesting and at first, I thought it was going to be this big international thing, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Swift is quite a determined character though, very tenacious and thorough, going out of his way to get along with the local police and share information, someone who definitely doesn't scare easily.  The more I learned about him, the more I really became interested in reading the earlier books in this series.  

The writing itself is quite engaging and I was quickly engrossed in the story. I have always wanted to visit Wales, and this book just makes me want to go even more so.  The interactions between the characters was a lot of fun, and there were definitely some good twists and turns that kept me guessing along the way although my earliest hunch was pretty accurate.  

Murder in Pembrokeshire is a good story with lots of twist and turns to keep you guessing.  Ty Swift is a great character and his search for truth was a lot of fun, meeting interesting characters, in a remote part of Western Wales.  I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery, and like myself, you can jump right into this one without having to read the previous entries.  I will, however, take a look at the earlier books as my interest has been piqued and I am curious to learn more about Ty Swift.  Happy reading everyone!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Review: The Diabolical Bones by Bella Ellis

by Bella Ellis
Release Date: February 16th 2021
2021 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593099155
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

The Bronte sisters-- Anne, Emily, and Charlotte--are busy with their literary pursuits. As they query publishers for their poetry, each sister hopes to write a full-length novel that will thrill the reading public. They're also hoping for a new case for their fledgling detecting enterprise, Bell Brothers and Company solicitors. On a bitterly cold February evening, their housekeeper Tabby tells them of a grim discovery at Scar Top House, an old farmhouse belonging to the Bradshaw family. A set of bones has been found bricked up in a chimney breast inside the ancient home.

Tabby says it's bad doings, and dark omens for all of them. The rattled housekeeper gives them a warning, telling the sisters of a chilling rumour attached to the family. The villagers believe that, on the verge of bankruptcy, Clifton Bradshaw sold his soul to the devil in return for great riches. Does this have anything to do with the bones found in the Bradshaw house? The sisters are intrigued by the story and feel compelled to investigate. But Anne, Emily, and Charlotte soon learn that true evil has set a murderous trap and they've been lured right into it...
My Thoughts
The Diabolical Bones was an intriguing look at the treatment of children, especially orphan children, during the time period.  When a child's skeletal remains are found hidden in the walls in a local house, the Bronte sisters become devoted to discovering the identity of the child as well as to finding out how they ending up being hidden and why.  This led to some interesting discussions focusing on the plight of children and the abuse so many suffered in these homes.  Unfortunately, I felt the mystery kind of fell to the wayside in the midst of all this telling, focusing quite a bit on what the Bronte women may have been up to before they wrote their famous novels.
One of the strengths of this novel is the descriptions of the lives of the Bronte family.  While definitely impoverished, suffering from various illnesses, including their father's failing eyesight, the Brontes have an unshakable bond that makes them strong despite the hardships.  I enjoyed the witty dialogue, the interactions, the arguments, as it made them feel alive.  I read Jane Eyre when I was 13 years old so to have these women come alive in this way is still exciting for me as those books still hold a special place in my heart and I love how the author incorporates ways in which the Bronte women may have developed their ideas for their books.  
The story is told in different POV and I liked learning the different perspectives of the Bronte women. It would be kind of interesting to have Branwell's POV as well as he plays a role in a lot of the sisters' activities, but you never really know what he is thinking.  That he is suffering is evident, but to know more would be intriguing.  There is also a little ache in my heart as I am familiar with their stories and know what happens to all of them, and it is tragic. This story is set around 1846, so those of us familiar with the Brontes know the ending is coming soon. 
The mystery itself was probably the weakest part of this book.  It was quite easy to guess who was the culprit and I find it interesting that it was one that one simple thing that clued me in about one-third of the way in, otherwise I think I would have been left guessing.  Knowing doesn't usually bother me however, as I always find the details so interesting, but the actual 'detecting' was slow, especially in comparison to the previous book.  Those scenes dragged on and got wrapped up in the descriptions, as interesting as they were, dampening the tension and drama that should have been there. 
The Diabolical Bones was a solid entry in the Bronte Sisters Mystery series, if not quite as interesting as the first book.  The author has done a great job researching the lives of the Bronte sisters and it is well worth reading just for that alone.  Readers of the Bronte novels will enjoy reading about the locations that have appeared in their works and their poems which makes it double the fun. The mystery however, was a little thin in this one, but for the most part, it was still entertaining and I definitely appreciated the focus on children and their terrible treatment in orphanages.  I do recommend this book, especially if you are a fan of the Bronte sisters. 


Saturday, March 27, 2021

Review: The Faceless Man by Helen H. Durrant

by Helen H. Durrant
Release Date: February 25th 2021
2021 Joffe Books
Kindle Edition; 224 Pages
ISBN: 978-1789317169
Genre: Fiction / Mystery 
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

A teenage boy is found murdered in a local park. Stabbed to death and set alight to destroy the evidence.

Detectives Harry Lennox and Jess Wilde soon learn his identity and find his bedroom wall decorated with photographs of the victims of unsolved murders.

There are images of three people who appear to be the next victims. One of them is the faceless man, a blank cut-out with no features.

Jess and Harry must find the killer before the next target dies. And Harry is guarding a secret that could destroy everything he’s built.
My Thoughts
The Faceless Man is one of those books that I actually had to stop reading and double-check the front cover as I really thought I had opened the wrong book and was reading something else at first.  I have read many books by this author and have enjoyed them tremendously, but this one was different right from the get-go.  And I don't mean the story, as of course that would be different, but the whole tone as well as the whole writing style  I really felt like I was reading a book by a completely different author.
I will admit that I did not read the first book in this series so I did feel at a disadvantage, but at this point I am in no hurry to read it as I wasn't invested enough in this one to do so.  While I was intrigued by the mystery presented by Harry and his twin, Paul, and what that might represent, I just didn't connect with him personally and his struggles.  Usually when a character is harbouring a big secret, I get invested in what is happening as I love secrets and look for those clues that may give it away.  However, his character was a little blah and didn't really grow or progress throughout the book and I thought the focus on this 'big secret' was a little much.  It should have been woven throughout the story rather than thrown in your face so much, with characters even from his past showing up to threaten him with the truth being outed as if the reader couldn't figure out there was a big problem.  
I love police procedurals and tend to gravitate towards them like bees to honey.  Although it was quite easy to figure out who was the culprit, which is often the case for me, I love to follow along and see how the police / detectives / investigators get to the truth as I find it interesting.  While the race to find the killer is always fun, there were times when I felt the author was trying too hard to build up a mystery that was thin at best by putting in filler stuff that was, quite frankly, useless.   And while I am not against characters who are awful as I find them intriguing, I am against using them just to create angst in a book which doesn't usually work all that well.  
The Faceless Man is one of those books I wish I could have liked a bit more than I did.  While some of the aspects of the case were intriguing,  I thought the actual mystery was quite thin and very easy to figure out.  I also thought the characters were quite one-dimensional, with little growth to them.  I do recommend you try one of the books in another series (Calladine & Bayliss is a great one) by this author however, as I did enjoy them very much and it would be a great place to start if you are not familiar with her work.