Sunday, December 5, 2021

Review: Beyond by Mercedes Lackey

by Mercedes Lackey
Release Date: June 15, 2021
2021 DAW Books
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0756417338
Audiobook: B09FCNH8S8
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Kordas has lived his life looking over his shoulder. The signs in the Empire are increasingly dire. Under the direction of the Emperor, mages have begun to harness the power of dark magics, including blood magic, the powers of the Abyssal Planes, and the binding and "milking" of Elemental creatures.

But then one of the Duchy’s mages has a breakthrough. There is a way to place a Gate at a distance so far from the Empire that it is unlikely the Emperor can find or follow them as they evacuate everyone that is willing to leave.

But time is running out, and Kordas has been summoned to the Emperor's Court.
My Thoughts
Beyond is the long-awaited story of the founding of Valdemar, and while it was a bit slower than I expected, it was still a delight to read.  And what it also did, was create a longing to re-read the entire Valdemar series of books that I haven't touched in many years and sent me hunting through my book stacks to find them all.  
I enjoyed the many characters introduced in this book, but did think a couple of them were far more developed than others.  I like the fact that Kordas was a duke at the beginning, and was quite impatient to find out how he would become a baron, or if the author conveniently forgot that about his status in previous books mentioning him.  Kordas himself didn't disappoint as he was intelligent, compassionate, and quite sly, using his wiles to play the emperor and the system into thinking he was a simple country bumpkin so his backwater dukedom would be ignored and he could go on planning for the day when he could leave the machinations of the court behind.  I loved how he finagled his way through the politics of the court and the descriptions of the events and the whole system just gave me the creeps.  
If you are familiar with the series, you will recognize a lot of the names and other important things from these books, such as Beltran. I found myself looking for these little pieces of information and was disappointed when more didn't come to light; however, considering this is simply book one of a planned trilogy, I am sure there will be more to come, including the companions.  
The plot was a bit slower than I expected, but it didn't really bother me too much as I enjoyed all of the planning that took place in order to get Kordas' people to safety.  I can't even imagine the amount of planning that was involved to undertake such a thing, and we got to witness some of it in the book.  I definitely liked how Kordas showed compassion during the planning and was willing to take chances as things developed and plans had to change as more knowledge became available. I know this sounds vague, but I don't want to give away any surprises, and there were a few that came up in this book that I was not expecting, all of them interesting.  And they are also ones to which I am wondering how they are going to play out in future books.  
The book does have a satisfying conclusion even if it is the first book of a trilogy as the author is known for ensuring each book concludes in its own right.  And while I definitely enjoyed the story because I was interested in another Valdermar story, I was also deliberately looking for links from previous books to see if I could find any.  And the discrepancies, of course.  I don't see how you cannot. I had to remind myself to read it for itself as the plots and subterfuge were great, and I loved all the spying that went on.  And what Kordas discovered when he went to the palace is probably my favourite part of the book, something I looked forward to reading about every time we returned to his POV.   

Beyond was a good start to a new trilogy and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  And while I thought the overall plot was a bit weak, I definitely enjoyed the subterfuge and the spying that went on as Kordas was planning his greatest deception.  The magic system wasn't very well described however, and the legendary companions have yet to make an appearance, although I can't wait until they do.  I honestly don't know how this book will come across to someone who has no knowledge of the previous books, but for me, it was useful to have read them. I can't wait until the next book, Into the West, is released next year.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Review: We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

by Lena Nguyen
Release Date: July 6, 2021
2021 DAW Books
Kindle Edition; 355 Pages
ISBN: 978-0756417291
Audiobook: B097S6DLZ1
Genre: Fiction / Science-Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher
2.5 / 5 Stars
Misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park is placed on the Deucalion, a survey ship headed to an icy planet in an unexplored galaxy. Her purpose is to observe the thirteen human crew members aboard the ship—all specialists in their own fields—as they assess the colonization potential of the planet, Eos. But frictions develop as Park befriends the androids of the ship, preferring their company over the baffling complexity of humans, while the rest of the crew treats them with suspicion and even outright hostility.

Shortly after landing, the crew finds themselves trapped on the ship by a radiation storm, with no means of communication or escape until it passes—and that's when things begin to fall apart. 
My Thoughts
We Have Always Been Here had such great potential.  I actually really enjoyed the first third of the book and sped through it rather quickly as there was a lot going on, there was mystery, and I thought the conflict between the crew members rather interesting.  I love the thought about being on a spaceship almost as much as being in a haunted house so the creepy ambiance was right up my alley; I also have no problem with a story where I have no idea what is happening. Then, it was as if I had a bucket of water thrown in my face; everything started going downhill from that point and I really struggled going forward and I stopped counting the number of times I rolled my eyes. 
First of all, I didn't have a problem with the characters in the story, but I also never really felt like I got to know them either. The writing style made me feel disconnected from them, their true feelings, and because of this, I didn't empathize with any of the characters and as a result, I didn't really care what happened to any of them.  I think there is a really fine line between keeping things mysterious and creating connections with your audience and I feel like the author maybe struggled with this aspect of her characterization.  I can completely dislike a character, but feel empathy for them at the same time. Not the case in this book. The author was trying to make the main character, Park, feel isolated from the rest of the crew, which she succeeded quite well at doing, but the way it was done made it difficult for me to feel a connection to her as well. 
The plot was on the weaker side, with a writing style that seemed to emphasize description rather than allowing the reader to try and figure things out.  Unfortunately, this made both the story, and the themes, feel rather disjointed, something that really became noticeable about one-third into the book.  The author even threw in some flashback episodes, and while they were interesting, they were really irrelevant to what was happening in the book.  I think there were better ways the author could have shown Park's affinity to androids rather than through these long flashback episodes.  I do think they were there to make the reader show empathy for androids, but all it did was slow things down and take away from the story.  What I did find interesting in the flashbacks though, was the relationship between Park and Glenn; now that would have contributed to the whole sympathy for androids thing for me much more than how it was done.
I love space opera and read them quite a bit, and I don't generally have a problem when an author downplays some of the scientific principles as they are not necessarily hardcore science, but sometimes there are some things that you just can't ignore.  Sending two psychiatrists on a scouting mission with only what, 13 crew members? Problematic. The whole time-space time warp thing? problematic. The ship itself? Problematic. I think there was only one person on board who could fix anything mechanical so if anything happened they would be stranded.  Some of it just didn't jive with the overall description and it bothered me throughout the book.   

We Have Always Been Here has a very interesting concept, and the last quarter of the book does pick up quite a bit and is different from the middle of the book, but the disjointed story line and the lack of character development definitely had a huge impact for me.  And while I liked the ending, I didn't feel like it was resolved, as if the author wasn't quite sure how she wanted it to end. I'm still not sure if the author understands the scientific principles she was describing, but the descriptions did make me roll my eyes a few times. Although I like to explore new authors in this genre, this one just didn't work for me.  


Sunday, November 28, 2021

Review: The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths

by Elly Griffiths
Release Day: June 29, 2021
2021 Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0358237051
Audiobook: B08YM44JDZ
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists, are searching for buried treasure when they find a body on the beach in North Norfolk. At first Nelson thinks that the dead man might be an asylum seeker but he turns out to be a local boy, Jem Taylor, recently released from prison. Ruth is more interested in the treasure, a hoard of Bronze Age weapons. Nelson at first thinks that Taylor's death is accidental drowning, but a second death suggests murder.

Nelson is called to an apparent murder-suicide of a couple at the isolated Black Dog Farm. Local legend talks of the Black Shuck, a spectral hound that appears to people before they die. Nelson ignores this, even when the owner's suicide note includes the line, 'He's buried in the garden.' Ruth excavates and finds the body of a giant dog.
My Thoughts
The Night Hawks is the next entry in the long-running Ruth Galloway mystery series and I definitely enjoyed it a lot more than the previous entry for several reasons.  The mystery was solid, the author didn't focus as much on the relationship between Ruth and Nelson, and Ruth was back home.  I love the setting of North Norfolk and the legends, and always look forward to the way the author incorporates those legends into her stories.  
First of all, I have always loved Ruth and her fierce desire to remain independent.  Yes, she might be lonely at times and yearns for companionship, but her relationship with Frank has taught her not to just settle for something just because she yearns for it.  Which is why she back home where she belongs.  Ruth can also be a bit snarky, but those are her inner thoughts we hear and I love how those thoughts often conflict with how she has to behave.  It makes her so much more real and I can definitely relate to how she is feeling a lot of the time.  Nelson, naturally, yearns for what he cannot have, and I am looking forward to the day when this whole thing finally rears its ugly head and erupts.  It has gone on for so long, and has been such a central focus of the books, that it has actually mired down previous books in my opinion.  Luckily, it was not really the central focus of this book. I really enjoyed Nelson's mother and would love to see more of her in future books.  What can I say? Mothers are definitely full of wisdom and surprises.  

And Cathbad, dear Cathbad.  I will always be a huge fan of this character and love the scenes when he appears.  He is so full of local legend and knowledge, and always seems to know exactly what to say to those around him.  And then there is a new character, David Brown, an archaeology lecturer who works with Ruth.  Abrasive, nosy, and totally annoying, but someone I really warmed up to by the end of the book.  I am looking forward to learning his story and seeing more of him in future books.

The writing style and plot were good, and the character development was great.  I like that the author doesn't sacrifice character development for plot, and vice versa, all are equally balanced.  There were some things that did bother me, things the police overlooked, but this was to further plot development.  It was jarring though, and didn't quite sit well with me.  It made no sense that the police would not search the entire premises when a murder has occurred, including all files, and discover some of the things that Ruth discovered.  There were a couple of other things as well, but to mention them would be spoilers so I will leave it to you to figure them out.  But, as I mentioned, it did niggle at the back of my brain, and I didn't quite buy into the fact these things would be overlooked.

The Night Hawks was a solid entry into the series, and I enjoyed the introduction of a new character to the mix.  I love how the author manages to mix local legends into her stories so we learn more about the background historical details which are quite interesting.  I am glad to see that Ruth and Nelson's relationship didn't take central focus and allowed the actual mystery to be the main feature and strength of this book, allowing her other characters to have the limelight as well. I am definitely looking forward to the next book, The Locked Room, in this series which releases June 2022.


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Review: The Halloween Moon by Joseph Fink

by Joseph Fink
Release Date: July 20, 2021
2021 Quilt Tree Books
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063020979
Audiobook: B08N2ZSXMT
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
Esther Gold loves Halloween more than anything in the world. So she is determined to go trick-or-treating again this year despite the fact that her parents think she is officially too old. Esther has it all planned out, from her costume to her candy-collecting strategy. But when the night rolls around, something feels . . . off.

No one is answering their door. The moon is an unnatural shade of orange. Strange children wander the streets, wearing creepy costumes that might not be costumes at all. And it seems like the only people besides Esther who are awake to see it all are her best friend, her school bully, and her grown-up next-door neighbor.
My Thoughts
The Halloween Moon is a cute and fun book, but there is not a lot of depth to it. The main character, Esther, is rather obsessed with Halloween and pretty much lives her life thinking about how to celebrate the next Halloween once the previous one has passed.  I don't have an issue with it, thought it was rather cute, until I discovered her age.  I love Halloween as well, but I enjoy the creepy and macabre to begin with, and it's those aspects of the holiday that I enjoy, the stories, the movies, the fright, etc... Going trick-or-treating just to collect candy that you don't really want to eat just seems sort of silly. But if that's what you like, then why not?
First of all, I liked the characters in the story. Esther Gold was not always a likeable character, but that suits me just fine as there is potential to develop a character like that which is exactly what happened.  There were times the author allowed Esther to reflect on her own behaviour towards others and she realized she was not always the victim in a lot of situations; many times she could have handled things differently or looked at things from a different perspective.  I do wish the author had taken the time to develop these reflections a bit more, especially in terms of the two relationships that developed in the story as they would have felt more real with that development.  When enemies become frenemies then friends, you have to buy into it, and you have to believe in it as well.  I liked Esther's friends and thought their growth, along with hers, would have been a lot of fun. Her parents though? They must hate Halloween. The author never did give a good reason for their behaviour however, and the 'you are too old' argument didn't really work in this story. It was a bit jarring. Mr. Gabler though, was the best thing about this book.

The plot itself was pretty generic, although I think I am basing this more on the author's other works which are a bit more creative and original.  While interesting, I just felt like there was something missing, some major excitement, and I wasn't as invested in the outcome as I should have been.  It's not that there weren't elements of creativity and originality, because there were, and there were some really good parts.  It's just when you put the whole thing together, it doesn't seem to work and I can't seem to put my finger on exactly what it was. Perhaps my biggest issue is with Esther and her age as she doesn't really feel like a 13-year-old and I had to keep reminding myself she was older than I thought. I'm also not against exploring puberty and feelings and whatnot, but it just seemed so out of place in this book as well.

The Halloween Moon is one that I thought would be interesting simply because there are not a lot of Halloween books for this age group.  Unfortunately, the writing style used was more descriptive rather than dialogue based which made the reader feel detached from the action and the characters.  And the book didn't really have the creepy factor that I think some young readers would like in a book like this; the villains were more silly than creepy.  While I would not necessarily recommend this one, I would recommend his Welcome to Night Vale Episodes. Overall, while this definitely contained some of the author's writing that I love and I enjoyed the concept, I do think he struggled with that fine line between adolescent and child which made the writing style awkward and disjointed.


Thursday, November 25, 2021

Review: The Boy Who Drew Auschwitz by Thomas Geve

by Thomas Geve, Charlie Inglefield
Release Date: July 27, 2021
2021 Harper
Kindle Edition (& Hardcover Edition); 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063061996
Audiobook: B08TPB88VM
Genre: Non-Fiction / WWII / Holocaust
Source: Review copies from publisher
5 / 5 Stars
In June 1943, after long years of hardship and persecution, thirteen-year-old Thomas Geve and his mother were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Separated upon arrival, he was left to fend for himself in the men’s camp of Auschwitz I.

During 22 harsh months in three camps, Thomas experienced and witnessed the cruel and inhumane world of Nazi concentration and death camps. Nonetheless, he never gave up the will to live. Miraculously, he survived and was liberated from Buchenwald at the age of fifteen.

While still in the camp and too weak to leave, Thomas felt a compelling need to document it all, and drew over eighty drawings, all portrayed in simple yet poignant detail with extraordinary accuracy. He not only shared the infamous scenes, but also the day-to-day events of life in the camps, alongside inmates' manifestations of humanity, support and friendship.

My Thoughts
The Boy Who Drew Auschwitz is the story of a young Jewish lad in Germany who was deported to Auschwitz at the tender age of thirteen-years-old.  While it may not have gone as in-depth as some other books I have read, it had a poignancy and rawness to it that touched me very deeply.  And because this was written from the point of view of a young teenager, the perspective was somewhat different, moving from naivety to maturity as Thomas learned to adapt and survive in the midst of horrors that were inexplicable.  The author provided insights into many different aspects of camp life and explained quite a bit about the children's labour force which is not usually told from this perspective.  

One of the highlights of this book is definitely the drawings.  Childlike and colourful, they are deceptive in nature as they show the stark nature and the harsh reality of what life was like in the camps.  The pictures of people being hurt, tortured, hung, shot, and so on, was utterly heartbreaking.  There is something incredibly sad in these pictures: the lives of so many innocent people lost to a war machine that didn't care about what they destroyed, the lives and families they tore apart, and the innocence of childhood that was lost.  

The writing style seems simplistic at first, but when you really examine the words and think about them, you realize how profound a lot of the statements really are.  Sometimes its the simplicity of things that make the most impact and there were so many times I just had to stop and dwell on what Thomas revealed, in this sort of childish manner, but was in fact quite full of horror.  Just the way he wrote about even the roll calls and how those people were never seen from again, all the while looking at the smoking chimneys of Birkenau.makes me shiver.  Thomas was very observant and the amount of detail in this book is quite astounding.  

The Boy Who Drew Auschwitz has become one of my favourite books about the Holocaust, and I teach History and WWII so I am widely read in this subject having read some amazing non-fiction books.  Thomas manages to show the hardship and brutality of the camps, but he also shows the humane side through his friendships; there is also this feeling of hope that flows through his words.  So many people suffered horribly during this time period, and Thomas has dedicated his life into ensuring that his words, and his experience, as well as others, would never be forgotten. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Review: All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

by Kendare Blake
Release Date: September 21, 2021
2021 Quill Tree Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062977168
Audiobook: B08VZH2WBT
Genre: Fiction / YA / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

Summer 1958—a string of murders plagues the Midwest. The victims are found in their cars and in their homes—even in their beds—their bodies drained, but with no blood anywhere.

September 19- the Carlson family is slaughtered in their Minnesota farmhouse, and the case gets its first lead: 15-year-old Marie Catherine Hale is found at the scene. She is covered in blood from head to toe, and at first she’s mistaken for a survivor. But not a drop of the blood is hers.

Michael Jensen, son of the local sheriff, yearns to become a journalist and escape his small-town. He never imagined that the biggest story in the country would fall into his lap, or that he would be pulled into the investigation, when Marie decides that he is the only one she will confess to. 
My Thoughts
All These Bodies really had the potential to be great.  It had atmosphere, a pretty interesting mystery, a setting I loved, and some pretty quirky main characters.  And while I was engrossed for perhaps the first third of the book and thought this would be a pretty solid read, the threads pretty much slipped apart from this point until it became something disjointed and not that interesting.  I wasn't a fan of the ending, and not because of what happened, but it simply didn't seem to flow with the rest of the story, nor did it have a denouement that made sense.
First of all, I did enjoy Michael Jensen as a main character and I completely understood his fascination with Marie.  For a teenage boy who wanted to be a journalist when he graduated, this seemed pretty logical.  I could also understand his obsession with the story as Marie only gave him bits and pieces at a time and he was yearning to understand the reasons behind the story, and as a reader I wanted to learn them with him.  This is where things get a bit murky though, as the story was vague to say the least, and the reasons really pushed even my limits for suspension of logical belief.  Whether this was done on purpose or not, I couldn't quite figure out, but it made me lose interest in Marie's fate and I stopped being invested in Michael's fascination with her character.  It made me lose complete interest in what was happening.  So, if that was intentional, it had the opposite effect on me, which was a shame.
I love reading murder mysteries with an atmospheric setting, so this one had all the trademark aspects that I love; the bodies, the blood, the fog, the eerie setting, the creepiness factor, the mysterious girl, the secrets, etc...  And when I learned the story was loosely based on real-life events, I thought it would be fascinating material, but the story was too disjointed and I just couldn't relate to Marie.  I think I was supposed to feel sympathetic towards her, but the writing style, which tried to be mysterious and have the reader on tenterhooks, focused more on Michael's obsession and how it was affecting his life and his friends, and made me lose sympathy for her.  I just thought the information and how it was revealed was not fully explained; it made the last quarter of the book hard to get through and I was rapidly losing interest in what was happening. 
All These Bodies is one of those books in which I was really disappointed because I typically really enjoy this author.  Her writing style usually has this way of drawing you into an atmospheric world, and it was definitely this way in the first third of the book.  However, the later parts of the book were quite disjointed and didn't flow leaving you unsettled and feeling disappointed with the revelations and story line.  And while the setting was atmospheric, the ending just didn't flow well with the rest of the story and left you feeling unsatisfied. 


Saturday, November 13, 2021

Review: Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza

by Fabian Nicieza
Release Date: June 22, 2021
2021 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593191262
Audiobook: B08N5KSSXR
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
Andie Stern thought she’d solved her final homicide. Once a budding FBI profiler, she gave up her career to raise her four (soon to be five) children in West Windsor, New Jersey. But one day, between soccer games, recitals, and trips to the local pool, a very pregnant Andie pulls into a gas station - and stumbles across a murder scene. An attendant has been killed, and the bumbling local cops are in way over their heads. Suddenly, Andie is obsessed with the case, and back on the trail of a killer, this time with kids in tow.
My Thoughts
Suburban Dicks is one of those books where I did think the title was brilliant. You have these two people, one who should have been a profiler for the FBI and the other should have been a big-time journalist and neither has achieved their dream, so they team up, accidentally, to solve a crime in the suburban area where they currently live. This had all the ingredients to work, but unfortunately, the humour fell rather flat for me and I started to lose interest about halfway through the book and it was a struggle to continue. 
First of all, the humour.  At first, I thought this was going to be rather funny and the thought of a woman who was seven months pregnant with four children would be rather fun as an investigator.  I also really liked Kenny, the journalist, and his perseverance as he realized something fishy was going on.  Eventually though, the humour really got to me and I got rather tired of Andie's rather pointed comments about her husband, to her husband, and how much she hated him and her children.  Sarcasm only goes so far until it just...doesn't.  It may have worked in Deadpool, but it fell rather flat here.  Especially the continuous comments to the children about her husband, especially with him sitting right there.  I got to the point where I was totally on Jeff's side and really came to resent Andie.   I'm not a big fan of using body shaming as slapstick comedy either.  Was there ever a woman who didn't feel fat during some point of their pregnancy? No matter how good they felt?  That being said though, the constant emphasis on how Andie 'accidentally' got pregnant got on my nerves rather quickly as well. For a woman as smart as Andie, how in the world would she have accidentally gotten pregnant more than once?  I understand the slapstick humour in what is being revealed here, but again, it just didn't work and fell rather flat for me. 

One of the themes running through this book is stereotyping and racism, and I didn't have a problem with how the author approached those subjects.  In fact, I thought this was the strongest part of the book.

The story at the beginning was rather interesting and I was intrigued by what was happening, humour aside.  While I didn't quite believe it was possible that anyone could hold a secret like that, especially with who was involved, it was interesting enough for me to continue with the book.  But with the plot so immersed in that humour, I did struggle to continue as I just didn't like the main characters.  However, there were some very interesting and intriguing scenes in this book; if more focus had been on the plot and developing the characters, I would definitely have been more invested.

Suburban Dicks did have some things goins for it: there were some intriguing and memorable scenes, a relatively decent plot line, and a lot of creativity.  I wasn't a fan of the two main characters though, and the humour just didn't work for me.  And the ending? Not a fan.  This is one of those books you will just have to read for yourself and judge for yourself. 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Review: Target Acquired by Don Bentley

by Don Bentley
Release Date: June 8, 2021
2021 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 480 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593188132
Audiobook: B08MBBVNC7
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
Jack Ryan Jr would do anything for Ding Chavez. That's why Jack is currently sitting in an open air market in Israel helping a CIA team with a simple job. The man running the mission, Peter Beltz, is an old friend from Ding's army days. Ding hadn't seen his friend since Peter's transfer to the CIA eighteen months prior and intended to use the assignment to reconnect. Unfortunately, Ding had to cancel at the last minute and asked Jack to take his place. It's a cushy assignment--an all expense paid trip to Israel in exchange for a couple hours of easy work, but Jack could use the downtime after his last operation.

Jack is here merely as an observer, but when he hastens to help a woman and her young son, he finds himself the target of trained killers. Alone and outgunned Jack will have to use all his skills to protect the life of the child.
My Thoughts
Target Acquired is the nest instalment in the Jack Ryan, Jr series, and while I was unsure if the author transition would mesh seamlessly from Mike Maden to Don Bentley, I think the author did a great job picking up the nuances and personalities of the Ryan world.  Were there some issues? Of course. But the action was fun, and Jack certainly got into a world of hurt in this one.

First of all, I really liked that Jack Ryan, Jr was pretty much on his own in this one, relying only a few times on a couple of members of his team/friends.  I've always felt like Jack needed to break away from his father's legacy and show everyone exactly what he was capable of, and I think this is the book that is starting the wave of showcasing his immense talents.  I liked that he was a bit impulsive, but used his training and skills to get things done effectively.  Did this get him into trouble? Of course, or there wouldn't be a novel or story.  If Jack wasn't being tied up, beaten, interrogated, and so on, at least once in a novel, it wouldn't be Jack.  And I always look forward to seeing how he gets out of those scrapes he gets into. Don't get me wrong as I love Clark, Chavez, and Dom, but I read a Jack Ryan, Jr novel to see how Jack is growing and developing in his job.  

This book is all action, and I appreciated that.  It's not that I don't mind the cultural aspects of the other books as I find them interesting, but I really felt like they were more predictable whereby Jack would meet a woman, they would travel around, some action would occur, and then back to the idyllic stuff.  A bit boring.  This book was different as the action picked up right from the beginning and didn't let up until the last page.  While I did enjoy that, it didn't leave much room for character development so I had no empathy for the people kidnapped as I didn't really learn much about them.  There needs to be more of a balance so you have sympathy for the characters when something happens to them.  

Target Acquired was a fun book, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I loved Don Bentley's Matt Drake books so I had high hopes when he took over the Jack Ryan series, and he definitely lived up to expectations especially considering he has to work within the rules and regulations of the Clancy estate.  While the action was non-stop, it did not leave a lot of room for character development, and some things from previous books were deliberately omitted.  I also felt the ending was rushed so it wasn't quite satisfactory.  Otherwise, a good book, and I am looking forward to the next entry. 


Monday, November 1, 2021

Review: The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

by Jacqueline Winspear
Release Date: March 23, 2021
2021 Harper
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062868022
Audiobook: B08BWWZQC7
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery 
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
September 1941. While on a delivery, young Freddie Hackett, a message runner for a government office, witnesses an argument that ends in murder. Crouching in the doorway of a bombed-out house, Freddie waits until the coast is clear. But when he arrives at the delivery address, he’s shocked to come face to face with the killer.

Dismissed by the police when he attempts to report the crime, Freddie goes in search of a woman he once met when delivering a message: Maisie Dobbs. While Maisie believes the boy and wants to help, she must maintain extreme caution: she’s working secretly for the Special Operations Executive, assessing candidates for crucial work with the French resistance. Her two worlds collide when she spots the killer in a place she least expects. She soon realizes she’s been pulled into the orbit of a man who has his own reasons to kill—reasons that go back to the last war.
My Thoughts
The Consequences of Fear is the latest in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, and unfortunately, it was not one of my favourites in this series.  I have been reading this series since the first book was published, and it definitely hurts me to give this book a lower rating, but I just didn't find the story, and mystery, as interesting as usual.
First of all, I thought with WWII and most of the able-bodied men on the front lines, the story would finally focus on the heroic efforts of those left behind as there is so much fodder for the author to draw on for her characters in war-torn London.  Having Maisie work on her cases, with Billy, during this time period would have been so fascinating and she could have still done her work for the SOE, on the side.  However, the author has chosen to make that work the forefront of the story, put Billy in the background yet again, and created this convoluted story that, while interesting, just doesn't fit well into the Maisie Dobbs world.  Frankly, I am surprised that, out of all the stories that existed during this time period, that was the one that was chosen.   

I normally love Maisie, but I loved her when she was independent and wasn't afraid to make her own decisions and take risks because she thought those risks were worth it.  This Daisy was different, and although I understand she now has a child to take care of, and is in a romantic relationship, and is struggling between those two worlds, having her sit in her office while others do the work will be rather boring and why would I read about that? I've never understood why romance always needs to be included in a woman's life for a character to feel fulfilled.  I also thought the author tried to hard to make Mark sound American which made him sound foolish. 

The author's writing skills are never in doubt, but Maisie was a mess of emotions in this one, and frankly, I was on Robby's side when it came to decision-making: Maisie was using her emotions rather than her common sense to make important decisions and frankly, I am not sure why she would have been chosen for such an important role in the first place.  I have read all the books, and I must have missed something important, but how did Maisie suddenly become a factor in who gets chosen to go as a spy for the Resistance in France?  What qualifications does she have to be able to do so just by reading a file and doing an interview?  I feel that was pushing historical details just a bit too far in my opinion. And for whatever reason, I also thought the author spent a lot of time recapping previous cases when Maisie has to rely on old acquaintances for help.  Personally, I think this is lazy writing and isn't necessary, especially if it happens frequently in the story as it bogs down the overall plot and makes it hard to read.  

And as a Canadian, one of my biggest issues is the author's constant reference to Great Britain fighting alone during this time period when Canada definitely declared war on September 10, 1939 against Germany. Australia, New Zealand, and India declared on September 3.  I think the author made a huge mistake by constantly mentioning the fact they were waiting for their American saviours and ignoring the heroic efforts by these other countries during this time period.  

The Consequences of Fear is probably my least favourite Maisie Dobbs novel.  While I enjoyed the interactions between Maisie and her family and friends, and I absolutely adore Billy, I really feel like this novel has taken a turn in a direction I was hoping it wouldn't. The focus used to be on cases centred around London, with Billy and Maisie investigating, and their dynamics were quite interesting and fascinating as they worked together in an intriguing historical setting.  The mystery took a backseat to her relationships in this one, and in the previous one as well, and this is the first time I actually had to stop reading and read something else for a while.  One conversation between Brenda and Maisie almost made me DNF the entire book.  I am really hoping that in the next one, Maisie and Billy will go back to their investigations as they were so much more interesting. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Review: A Terrible Fall of Angels by Laurell K. Hamilton

by Laurell K. Hamilton
Release Date: August 17, 2021
2021 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-1984804464
Audiobook: B091FTKXMX
Genre: Fiction/Urban Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
Meet Detective Zaniel Havelock, a man with the special ability to communicate directly with angels. A former trained Angel speaker, he devoted his life to serving both the celestial beings and his fellow humans with his gift, but a terrible betrayal compelled him to leave that life behind. Now he’s a cop who is still working on the side of angels. But where there are angels, there are also demons. There’s no question that there’s evil at work when he’s called in to examine the murder scene of a college student—but is it just the evil that one human being can do to another, or is it something more? When demonic possession is a possibility, even angelic protection can only go so far. The race is on to stop a killer before he finds his next victim, as Zaniel is forced to confront his own very personal demons, and the past he never truly left behind.
My Thoughts
A Terrible Fall of Angels intrigued me due to the focus on angels and demons, and I was interested to see what this author would make of the subject matter in a new, and different, series.  And while I was intrigued by the world she is building, I did have mixed feelings about the characters and the story line as well as the way it was written.  
Zaniel "Havoc" Havelock is an experienced detective who spent his formative years at the College of Angels; this gives him a unique perspective in his job as he battles both normal, and paranormal, foe.  Having left the angelic life, he spent time in the military then became a police officer, using his unique skills to solve cases that involve paranormal beings.  The current case in this novel actually forces him to finally confront his past as his former world and his current world are now colliding and he can no longer avoid the memories nor the people with whom he grew up.  I like this exploration of the past, and the trauma that Zaniel has to confront as I think it is realistic; you can only avoid the past for so long before it catches up with you and I found this aspect of the novel interesting.  However, I have always loved psychological stuff like this. 
I was not a fan of some of the characters however, and was indifferent to their plights. Is this due to poor character development, or does the author just not see how some of these characters are seen by her readers, I just don't know. But I was not a fan of Zaniel's wife.  Zaniel's job as a detective puts him in danger and she could not deal with that fact, so the two of them are separated.  Zaniel spends a lot of time ruminating on his marriage, and the conversations between him and his wife were my least favourite parts of this book.  Sorry, but she was just a poorly written character, and I didn't like her.  When Zaniel didn't look at her, she was mad.  When Zaniel looked at her, she was mad.  And it went on and on.  She controls everything, and he has to be so careful around her.  Sorry, that is not marriage.  When you can't be yourself around the person you love, then maybe it's time to move on. Luckily, he tends to stick to who he is and is not necessarily willing to compromise what he has worked so hard for, and his own job, just for her.  But there is a child involved, and Zaniel dearly misses his son.  I honestly hope this situation resolves soon so we don't have to read about it for books on end.

The early sections of the book were full of action, and I had high hopes the book would continue like that.  Nope. The book got bogged down by overly long explanations and dialogues between characters that lasted for entire chapters and, to be honest, I got bored, and needed to read something else in between. I don't need overly long explanations, just give me the story.  I had no issues with the religious elements in the story, in fact I found them quite interesting, and I am definitely looking forward to learning more about that world and some of the angels.  And there were a lot of little side stories that I think will set up future novels if you paid attention, some of which I was disappointed over as they weren't explained or developed, so I do really hope they are in future books.   And while I have nothing against political correctedness, there was an overabundance of it in this story. I like it when an author goes out of their way to be inclusive, but it has to flow within the novel not sound as if it thrown in to say, Look at me! I am being inclusive! And if the author was so worried about that, she wouldn't have mentioned Zaniel's abs on every other page and the way he stared at other women, but gosh, he was married so he shouldn't be doing that, and how he needed to slouch as women were just drawn to him like bees to honey!!  Yes, I got it. He's good-looking.  

A Terrible Fall of Angels does have a lot of things going for it.  There are a lot of mysterious elements that were introduced, but not fully explained; characters and their relationships that were not fully fleshed out; and, a new setting that is just being explored in terms of political structure, angels and demons, and humans, and how they are interconnect.  The actions scenes were interesting and definitely got my interest, but there were a lot of times when things got bogged down through pages and pages of dialogue, and nothing really happened.  There was enough in this book to make me interested in reading the next one when it is released.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Review: Death in Castle Dark by Veronica Bond

by Veronica Bond
Release Date: August 3, 2021
2021 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593335871
Audiobook: B08ZGDSYVJ
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Maybe it was too good to be true, but when Nora Blake accepted the job from Derek Corby, proprietor of Castle Dark, she could not see any downsides. She would sink her acting chops into the troupe's intricately staged murder-mystery shows, earn free room and board in the fairy tale-like castle, and make friends with her new roommates, which include some seriously adorable kittens.

But something sinister lurks behind the walls of Castle Dark. During Nora's second performance, one of her castmates plays the part of the victim a little too well. So well, in fact, that no one can revive him. He has been murdered. Not ready to give up her dream gig--or to be the next victim--Nora sets out to see which one of her fellow actors has taken the role of a murderous real-life villain.
My Thoughts
Death in Castle Dark is the first book in a new mystery series by author Julia Buckley under the pen name Veronica Bond.  I was intrigued by this book as it was set up as a Gothic mystery, featuring a castle and a troupe of actors who perform mystery dinners for their guests.  I thought the idea would be fun, and I always love the idea of castles, secrets, and hidden passageways.  
I really enjoyed the main character, Nora. The owner of the castle hires actual actors for his elegant mystery dinners and the guests actually become 'inspectors' during the dinner.  Nora, as one of the actors, gets to live in the castle as part of her salary. Although she wasn't sure about taking the job at first as she was hoping to score a big Broadway role, the appeal of the location and the different roles she could play convinced her to give it a shot.   And what I really liked about her character was her common sense.  One of the things that often turns me off these books is the lack of common sense in characters as well as the disregard for privacy and the actual police investigation.  While Nora was useful during the investigation, she didn't actively go nosing into places she shouldn't go and actually discovered information through listening to people, what they said and how they said things.   And, anyone who likes the movie 'Spy' , names her kittens after the Bronte sisters, and then picks up  Mistress of Mellyn (during a murder investigation) for pleasure reading is definitely my soul sister.

The secondary characters were quite interesting as well, and I like how the author took the time to flesh them out and develop their individual personalities.  I am looking forward to learning more about them in future books.  

The book itself was well-written, and Nora was not one of those main characters who frustrated me by being a super nosy person, but was someone who actually listened to what people had to say and paid attention to body language.  As an actor, that is something to which she would be familiar.  And while the mystery wasn't too difficult to solve, it was still fun, and I enjoyed the various interactions with the other actors as well as with the townspeople.  I thought the author did a great job writing about Nora's apprehension as she had to continue working with, as well as living with, people who could possibly be murderers. 

Death in Castle Dark was a fun first book in a new series.  I liked the story, the characters, and the setting was definitely appealing.  And while the ending was definitely the weakest part of the book as it lost some of its suspense through the story telling, I am intrigued as to what's in store for these characters in the next book, Castle Deadly, Castle Deep.  I recommend this book to anyone who loves a fun, cozy mystery.


Saturday, October 16, 2021

Review: Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko

by Ally Malinenko
Release Date: August 10, 2021
2021 Katherine Tegen Books
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063044609
Audiobook: B08
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile Fiction / Ghost
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.5 / 5 Stars
Zee Puckett loves ghost stories. She just never expected to be living one.

It all starts with a dark and stormy night. When the skies clear, everything is different. People are missing. There’s a creepy new principal who seems to know everyone’s darkest dreams. And Zee is seeing frightening things: large, scary dogs that talk and maybe even . . . a ghost.

When she tells her classmates, only her best friend, Elijah, believes her. Worse, mean girl Nellie gives Zee a cruel nickname: Ghost Girl.

But whatever the storm washed up isn’t going away. Everyone’s most selfish wishes start coming true in creepy ways.
My Thoughts
Ghost Girl is one of those books to which I was drawn simply because I loved the title.  Who could refuse a title like that? There is also something really appealing about juvenile fiction cover titles as well, and this one is really effective as the more I looked at it, the more I saw.  I am not one to be drawn to a book by a cover title as I usually tend to chose them by the content, but I do admire the artistry and the talent that do go into them.  As someone who can't draw anything more artistic than stick figures, I have a huge respect for the effort that goes into a lot of these cover pages.  
Zee is a fun character, but I can't honestly say that she stands out from any other middle-grade character that I have read in this genre.  As usual, she is the one who stands out in school for telling odd stories and coming from a family that has some issues so the other students don't quite know what to make of her situation.  Because she doesn't follow the societal rules, she doesn't really fit into any social group at school and is the target of the usual group of popular girls.  Standard stuff, really.  I didn't always root for her character as she had a tendency to be mean and spiteful at times, which in a funny way, I kind of liked as it reflected more the reality of the situation of someone who is being picked on a lot of the time.  She definitely had a chip on her shoulder and I do wish the author had developed this a bit more through her relationships with her peers.  
I thought the writing style was fine for a juvenile fiction novel as there is a fine balance between detail and story, and you don't necessarily want to bog down young readers with too much detail.  While I thought there were a lot of gaps in the story, and some of it left holes that were not fully explained, I'm not sure a young reader would necessarily pick up on those.  The story was not original by any means, but it was fun, and the author took the time to place the importance on family and friendship, running themes throughout the book.  And while Zee could be spiteful, she did get called out for her behaviour, and there were definitely consequences to her actions, which I liked.   

I will be honest and say that I am a terrible judge of creepiness in a book as I have always loved creepy, even as a kid.  The story does revolve around a trickster who promises people whatever their hearts desire and Zee is one of the few people who is immune to his tricks.  I have years behind me reading horror, fantasy, and ghost stories, so this premise is not original but for a kid who is seven or eight? This might be right up their alley if they are looking for something that is creepy, but won't send them to mom and dad's room for the next month.  

Ghost Girl was a solid tween entry, and I did enjoy the book.  Yes, there were gaps in the story, and some young readers may pick up on the lack of development or the brushing over of those ideas, but I think for the most part, young readers will enjoy the characters and how they eventually worked together to save their town.  I definitely think this book will appeal to those young readers who are venturing into this genre as it's not too scary and the story, and the characters, are relatable. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Review: Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan

by Allison Brennan
Release Date: March 30, 2021
2021 MIRA
Kindle Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778331469
Audiobook: B08HSP5TST
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Something mysterious is killing the wildlife in the mountains just south of Tucson. When a college intern turned activist sets out to collect her own evidence, she, too, ends up dead. Local law enforcement is slow to get involved. That’s when the mobile FBI unit goes undercover to infiltrate the town and its copper refinery in search of possible leads.

Quinn and Costa find themselves scouring the desolate landscape, which keeps revealing clues to something much darker—greed, child trafficking and more death. As the body count adds up, it’s clear they have stumbled onto much more than they bargained for. Now they must figure out who is at the heart of this mayhem and stop them before more innocent lives are lost.
My Thoughts
Tell No Lies is the second book in the Quinn & Costa series, a series featuring a mobile FBI unit that deals with cases in more remote areas where they can help with the more difficult cases if needed.  This was very different than the first book in the series, and I liked the environmental focus in this one.  It did start out a bit slowly, but certainly picked up as the story progressed and everything started falling into place.  
Matt and Kara continue to be my favourite characters in this series.  Having read the previous instalment, I am familiar with Kara's background, so I was interested in how she would be dealing with the fallout of what happened and trying to find a new place on a very different team and in a very different job from which she was familiar.  I am glad that she struggled with adapting and hadn't yet come to terms with the fact that her job in LA may be over as it can be very difficult to let go of something you loved.  Plus, the fallout of that is still happening.  I find her relationship with Matt to be quite interesting as well as Kara is used to being in charge of her actions and making her own decisions, and has to continuously remind herself that Matt is her boss; therefore, she does need to take direction and instruction from him on a continuous basis, something that is very different from the undercover work she has done.  I find her struggles to be a team player to be quite fascinating.  It's not that she can't work in a team environment, it's just that working undercover is so very different from what they are now doing.  Plus, Matt has difficulty letting Kara do the job that she has been trained to do.  I think there will be more conflict there in the future and I am curious as to how it will all play out.  
The author also spends time developing her other characters, and it's a real skill when an author can create a sympathetic character, but slowly twist their personality so you eventually see this whole other side to them through their actions, or what they choose not to do until eventually you feel nothing but contempt.  
I thought the plot had plenty of twists and turns, and it certainly went in a direction I thought it might go. I was king of hoping the main focus would be more on the environmental side of things, which was fascinating, while the other, while heartbreaking, was a bit predictable. The suspense does start rather slowly, but eventually the author managed to tie in all the loose ends into a satisfactory ending.  

Tell No Lies was a satisfying second entry in this series.  I thought the author did a great job at developing both her main and secondary characters, and while I really loved the environmental story line, the entire plot was well done with plenty of twists and turns.  This book can definitely be read as a standalone, although you may want to read the first book just to get some background information on the characters.  I will definitely be reading the next book in this series, The Wrong Victim, when it releases in April 2022. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Review: Little Black Book by Kate Carlisle

by Kate Carlisle
Release Date: July 13, 2021
2021 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 374 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593201435
Audiobook: B08WR72JD7
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
Brooklyn has been happily settling into married life with her hunky husband, security expert Derek Stone, when a little black book arrives in the mail on a quiet Saturday afternoon. The book is a rare British first edition of Rebecca, and inside, Brooklyn finds a note from her old friend Claire Quinn, asking her to restore it to its former luster. 

The day after the book arrives, Claire shows up at Brooklyn and Derek's home--in disguise. She believes her life is in danger, and as soon as Derek sits her down and questions her, Claire reveals that in the last few weeks she has experienced two near-fatal attacks, along with weird notes left in her mailbox, hang-up phone calls, and one very scary car chase. She's afraid that her past is catching up to her. 
My Thoughts
Little Black Book is the next book in the popular Bibliophile Mystery series, and while I really think that cover is beautiful and was excited to have Brooklyn and Derek visit Scotland, I was a bit disappointed in this book overall.  Brooklyn is starting to really get on my nerves and I am getting a bit bored with the fact that everyone seems to be an 'expert' in everything.  Derek can just about call up anyone and voilĂ , problem solved.  You need a private plane? No problem.  You need a decoder? No problem.  You need this? No problem. For me, this aspect is getting a bit out of hand and I am having difficulty just focusing on the story.  
Let's start with Brooklyn.  I normally love her character and in the earlier books, loved how eccentric she was.  She was also smart and while she did jump into situations, it wasn't because she was silly.  I get that she is married and is worried about Derek, but being married doesn't mean you lose your brain or your common sense. She constantly ignores good advice from Derek and follows him into dangerous situations when she knows that he is quite capable of dealing with them and is only putting herself, and him, into danger by doing so. I rolled my eyes a few times in this book over Brooklyn.  Derek however, I still love as a character.  He was a lot more fun though, when he was mysterious and we didn't know a lot about him.    

The writing style is usually crisp, with a lot of twists and turns, and while I enjoyed the mystery, I did find it a bit muddled at times, as if the author wasn't sure where she wanted to go with an idea.  I loved the fact that part of the story took place in Scotland, but am also concerned that people are going to expect Brooklyn and Derek to have to go to all these places to make things more exciting.  I don't mind a trip here and there, but this is a cozy mystery novel, not a spy novel, you know?  And I feel like some of the elements I really enjoyed in the earlier books are missing from the past couple of novels.  And there were some things that both Brooklyn, and Derek, missed that were so obvious which didn't really ring true to their personalities.
Little Black Book is one of those books that I liked, but didn't love.  Something has been off  these past couple of books where both character and story development has been lacking.  I used to really enjoy Brooklyn's personality and her bookbinding experiences, but now feel they are overshadowed by other things happening around her, but those things are starting to slowly turn me off from these books.  Everyone is so perfect, everyone has money, everyone is paring off together, and it is starting to get cloying.  When done well, the writing is really, really good though, so I will probably read one more in this series to see what happens next. I really miss the feel of the earlier books in this series.   


Sunday, October 3, 2021

Review: The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes

by J.S. Dewes
Release Date: April 20, 2021
2021 Tor Books
Kindle Edition; 480 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250236340
Audiobook: B087K117GT
Genre: Fiction / Science-Fiction / Space Opera
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake, commanding the Argus, has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted.

They're humanity's only chance.
My Thoughts
The Last Watch is one of those books that caught me completely by surprise, but in a good way.  After that opening scene, I really didn't know what to expect, but I guess I was in the mood for a space opera as I really enjoyed this book and the characters.  While the initial part of the book felt a bit slow, it certainly picked up the pace and kept me entertained, and guessing, for the remainder of the book. 
Cavalon and Rake are the main characters in the book, and couldn't be more polar opposites.  Cavalon's attitude certainly set up the tone of the book as he was rebellious and cynical right from the beginning so you knew something was definitely up.  And, I have to admit, the first line of the book certainly sets up Cavalon's story arc perfectly as you will see when you read it.  Rake is as different from Cavalon as a human could possible be, but the two of them worked well together and their personalities meshed well together. The author uses these two characters to help develop the world-building, and it's often done through dialogue and interactions with others which can be a bit difficult at times.  Rake is the leader of this motley crew and does not tolerate disobedience, disrespect, or rebellious actions that can compromise the others on the ship.  At the same time, she also demonstrates compassion and a high level of intelligence.  She has an ability to read people and figure out what they need; however, she is not very good at seeing to her own needs and is often over-worked and tired.  
The secondary characters were a lot of fun as well, and I particularly enjoyed Griffith and Mesa, a savant.  To be honest, most of the characters were very well developed, and I think the author put a lot of thought into her characters and how she wanted them portrayed.  
I enjoyed the plot, and there were plenty of twists and turns.  In this one, you've got an old ship out in nowhere, and I mean nowhere, with old technology that is falling apart, and a bunch of soldiers, called Sentinels, who have somehow screwed up in their jobs, fighting against something called The Divide.  You know very little about the world at the beginning and slowly develop an understanding of the politics as the story develops, but I will admit, I still don't have a clear picture as to what is happening.  I am okay with that however as I feel I am learning with Cavalon and Rake as they piece together their two stories to try and figure out what is going on.  Rake is a bit of an idealist and I enjoyed watching her come to terms with what was happening as her illusions about her world started to crumble and she realizes she is going to have to rely on herself and those around her to solve what is happening.  I can't state it any better than that without giving away spoilers, but I found it fascinating.  One of the things I also found fascinating about this book was the use of something called imprints; they are tattoo-like characters that can change and protect the wearer, and they are different for everyone.  
The Last Watch definitely has a lot to recommend it; a group of ex-soldier criminals with the main character sticking out like a sore thumb, the end of the universe, politics, aliens, genetic modification, time disruptions, and so on.  It can be confusing as the world-building is explained through the characters and the story line so a lot of it is not yet clear, like the mention of previous wars and how the ex-soldiers actually ended up on the ship.  I definitely enjoyed the book, and recommend it to anyone interested in space opera.  I will be diving into book 2, The Exiled Fleet, shortly.