Sunday, January 31, 2021

Review: The Bourne Evolution by Brian Freeman

by Brian Freeman
Release Date: July 28th 2020
2020 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 410 Pages
ISBN: 978-0525542599
ASIN: B08273SB5W
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

After the death of his wife in a mass shooting, secret agent Jason Bourne is convinced that there is more to her murder than it seems. Worse, he believes that the agency that trained him and made him who he is--Treadstone--is behind the killing. Bourne goes rogue, leaving Treadstone behind and taking on a new mission to infiltrate and expose an anarchist group, Medusa.

But when a congresswoman is assassinated in New York, Bourne is framed for the crime, and he finds himself alone and on the run, hunted by both Treadstone and the tech cabal who had hired him. In his quest to stay one step ahead of his enemies, Bourne teams up with a journalist, Abbey Laurent, to figure out who was behind the frame-up, and to learn as much as he can about the ever-growing threat of the mysterious Medusa group. As more and more enemies begin to hunt Bourne, it's a race against the clock to discover who led him into a trap...and what their next move may be.
My Thoughts
The Bourne Evolution was actually a pretty good addition to the Jason Bourne series and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I have long forgiven the makers for their movie version of The Bourne Identity as the film is actually pretty good, but there was a time I was pretty bitter about the movie as they changed so much and it is nothing like the book.  In time, I learned to appreciate the movie for itself, but it is not the original Bourne, it is the Bourne of the book I just read.  The Bourne of the original trilogy is long gone, I think.

One of the things I really liked about the original books was Bourne's psychological progression as well as his misery trying to figure out whether he was a good guy or a bad guy.  This book sort of continues in that vein, although we now know that Bourne is one of the good guys; however, his continual torment for what he needs to do and how he needs to do it is still there. Doing what he does means he has to sacrifice personal relationships as that puts him in jeopardy and this aspect of the job continues to haunt him as he wants a life that is different, one that is safe for himself and for his loved ones.  I like how the author blends this aspect throughout the book without it becoming an obsessive part of the story.
The plot in this one is very modern compared to the original trilogy as the author brings Bourne into our technological era with themes surrounding tech privacy and manipulation using apps.  It was quite interesting and made me think a little bit about the potential for this type of infiltration in our modern world and the idea was pretty scary.  You continue to have the shadowy government conspiracies coupled with Russian spying merged with ground-breaking technology all mixed together with betrayals and possibly treason.  I didn't really buy into all of it, but it was fun nevertheless and I enjoyed the ride.  I could have done without Miss Shirley though; not sure why authors tend to feel like these female characters add anything important to the story.  Why can't a female character be strong, and just plain evil, without being the way she was? Just read the story, and you will see what I mean.  I think her character was supposed to incite fear in men, but I thought she was just silly and god-awful.
The plot moves rather quickly once it gets going, but I like how the author doesn't just focus on the action, but also the little things that make us interested in the characters; Ludlum did that as well and I appreciated that.  I also like that the book does not follow previous books in the series, but seems to be a complete reboot with original ideas and some original characters.  For those who have never read a Bourne novel, there are some hints as to his past and his amnesia so you get some idea as to his background, including his real identity. 
The Bourne Evolution is a fresh take on an old series, but leaves out all of the things that was starting to bog it down; the past, the anti-Bourne conspirators, the old grudges, etc... We already know that Bourne has been a threat to pretty much everyone out there for reasons that are both convincing and not very convincing, so while he was up against another conspiracy, at least it was a new one with new players and new threats.  One of the things I have always enjoyed in these books was reading about the new ways Bourne took to get himself out of difficult situations and this book didn't fail on that part.  I like this new Bourne, but please leave out those sexualized female characters and make them strong, even if they are evil.   

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Review: Shiver by Allie Reynolds

by Allie Reynolds
Release Date: January 19th 2021
2021 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593187838
ASIN: B087PK69G5
Genre: Fiction / Psychological
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
When Milla accepts an off-season invitation to Le Rocher, a cozy ski resort in the French Alps, she's expecting an intimate weekend of catching up with four old friends. It might have been a decade since she saw them last, but she's never forgotten the bond they forged on this very mountain during a winter spent fiercely training for an elite snowboarding competition.

Yet no sooner do Milla and the others arrive for the reunion than they realize something is horribly wrong. The resort is deserted. The cable cars that delivered them to the mountaintop have stopped working. Their cell phones--missing. And inside the hotel, detailed instructions await them: an icebreaker game, designed to draw out their secrets. A game meant to remind them of Saskia, the enigmatic sixth member of their group, who vanished the morning of the competition years before and has long been presumed dead.
My Thoughts
Shiver is the second book I've read these past few months that deals with a closed room type mystery taking place in the French Alps.  I have to say I enjoyed this a lot more than One by One by Ruth Ware (see review here), as I thought the character development was far superior and this author, through her experience, definitely knew her stuff when it came to skiing and snowboarding, something I appreciated far more than the other book.  
I really enjoyed the dual timeline in this book as it gave me a chance to compare the characters at two different periods of their lives.  First of all, you have the characters at the peak of their careers, enjoying elite competition and training at Le Rocher, and you get a glimpse of what it was like for them when they have sponsors and sponsorship deals, fans, and other projects on the go.  Then you see them ten years later, most no longer snowboarding, having given it up due to something that happened all those years ago while they were training.  I really enjoyed comparing the then and now personalities, and figuring out the how and why they all gave up their hopes and dreams.  I thought the dual timeline really effective in developing characters as well as being to contrast their personalities to the current ones we see later on.  
That doesn't necessarily mean I liked the characters though, but that doesn't bother me when I'm reading a book as long as I can empathize with them and I certainly can empathize with that 'win at all cost' attitude.  However, it does have its limits and when that means hurting people, absolutely not, so I really liked how the author wrote about that in this book.  When does an athlete cross the line? How do you perceive something to be deliberate or an accident? Interesting questions.  And how far can someone go before it is too far? By the end, I didn't really like any of them, but I didn't care as I was more interested in their motives.
I like these closed room mysteries when they are done well, and I enjoyed the plot in this book.  That's not to say it wasn't hard to figure out who it was as I did about halfway through the book.  However, I was curious as to the why as that I couldn't figure out and when it was revealed, it was probably the weakest part of this book.  I really feel like the author didn't build up enough character development for why this person would do something like this and the reasoning was kind of flimsy at best.   

I also really liked the setting.  As an avid skier, I wanted to be there (but in much nicer conditions, of course).  I love the fact the author was a former freestyle snowboarder so at least she understood how snowboarding worked and the conditions of the hill. I enjoyed all the little side notes of training and competition, but I really like the eerie atmosphere of a snow lodge being empty and creepy as the main characters had to navigate a dangerous situation using their wits.  
Shiver was so much more intriguing than I thought it would be, and the tension filled slowly throughout the book.  The dual timelines really helped give the reader information about the relationships between the characters as well as about the individual characters, plus you could compare them to how they were ten years later and see how they changed, for the better or worse.  I did think the weakest part of this book was the actual murderer as I didn't buy it, but the lead-up was certainly interesting.  There is enough suspense to keep you turning the pages.  

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Review: All the Colors of Night by Jayne Ann Krentz

by Jayne Ann Krentz
Release Date: January 5th 
2021 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1984806819
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

North Chastain possesses a paranormal talent that gives him the ability to track down the most dangerous psychic criminals. When his father suddenly falls into a coma, North is convinced it was caused by a deadly artifact traced back to the days of a secret government laboratory known only as the Bluestone Project. North knows his only hope of saving his father is to find the artifact. He is good when it comes to tracking down killers but to locate the relic, he's going to need help from a psychic who knows the shadowy world of obsessive collectors, deceptive dealers, and ruthless raiders…

With her reputation in ruins after a false accusation, antique expert Sierra Raines is looking for a fresh start. She turns to the murky backwaters of the paranormal artifacts trade, finding and transporting valuable objects with a psychic provenance. When North Chastain approaches her for help, Sierra takes him on as a client, though not without reservations. North represents the mysterious Foundation, the secretive organization established to police the underworld populated by psychic criminals and those, like Sierra, who make a living in the shadows of that world.

North and Sierra soon find themselves at the scene of The Incident that occurred decades ago in Fogg Lake. The town and its residents were forever changed by the disaster in the nearby Bluestone Project labs. The pair unearth shocking truths about what happened that fateful night, but they are playing with fire—someone in town knows what they’ve discovered and will do anything to make sure the secrets stay buried.
My Thoughts
All the Colors of Night is the second book in the Fogg Lake series, and though I didn't read the first book, it wasn't hard to figure out what was happening or to catch up on the characters and their situations.  Why? Because it was extremely predictable.  I have been a long time fan of this author, but this book is definitely not one of my favourites as the plot seemed to be a mishmash of previous plots, the characters were okay, and it was so predictable, I was able to pinpoint what was going to happen early on in the book.  What made me finish the book? Because it was a Jayne Ann Krentz book, of course. 
Is this book worth reading? I gave it the rating I did simply because overall the story is somewhat entertaining, and if you have never read a book by this author, you would have no idea how similar it is to previous books in her collection.  It does have all of the author's trademark paranormal tropes including a hero who does not let down his guard, a heroine who is gutsy and doesn't take any crap, a father who was attacked and is slowly dying but no one understands why, a secret weapon, plenty of paranormal stuff happening that naturally requires teamwork to solve, and secret societies who are searching for said secret weapon. And all of that requires some romantic suspense, naturally.  Done.  I feel like these books have turned into the Heather Graham books where you know exactly what is going to happen as they have become predictable, with nothing new added in to spice it up.  

For me, I really felt like the author focused so much on developing the story that the character development kind of fell to the wayside.  I wasn't overly empathetic to either of these characters, not particularly caring what happened to either of them.  It wasn't that they weren't likeable, I just didn't feel the chemistry between them.  And the visit to Fogg Lake seemed really contrived; there is only so much belief you can suspend before you go, Nope, I'm done. 
All the Colors of Night was a predictable read, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like the plot was one of the weakest aspects of this book as so much time and effort was spent explaining the paranormal elements rather than letting the reader figure things out as they went through the book.  The main characters lacked chemistry, and I blame that on the muddled mess of a plot as it didn't give the characters a chance to shine.   I really think new readers to this author will love this book, but I wonder if long-time readers will have the same reaction I did. This is one I can't really recommend although I do recommend her other paranormal books. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Review: The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths

by Elly Griffiths
Release Date: July 14th 2020
2020 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0358237044
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Everything has changed for Dr Ruth Galloway.

She has a new job, home and partner, and is no longer North Norfolk police's resident forensic archaeologist. That is, until convicted murderer Amyas March offers to make DCI Nelson a deal. Nelson was always sure that March killed more women than he was charged with. Now March confirms this, and offers to show Nelson where the other bodies are buried - but only if Ruth will do the digging.

Curious, but wary, Ruth agrees. March tells Ruth that he killed four more women and that their bodies are buried near a village bordering the fens, said to be haunted by the Lantern Men, mysterious figures holding lights that lure travellers to their deaths.

Is Amyas March himself a lantern man, luring Ruth back to Norfolk? What is his plan, and why is she so crucial to it? And are the killings really over?
My Thoughts  
The Lantern Men is the next book in the Ruth Galloway mystery series.  I have reviewed these book since the first book appeared all those years ago and I have always, always loved the archaeological aspects of these books and how they tie into the legends around the area, and this one was just as much fun to read as the previous entries when it came to interesting tidbits of information.  One of these days I am going to visit more of the areas mentioned.  What took me long to get to this book this time had nothing to do with the mystery or the archaeology, but was wrapped up in the bloody triangular affair that exists between Ruth, Nelson, and his wife, and it was driving me crazy.  I was hoping at the end of the last book we would have seen the end of it as Ruth was moving to Cambridge with a new man, but nope, right back in the middle of that mess, and frankly, we really need to move on.  

First of all, the actual mystery was fun and engaging and I enjoyed it tremendously.  I like the fact that Judy is now a DI and more focus seems to be on her investigations as I always thought she was an interesting character and more focus should be on her character development.  Judy was actually lead on the case that put the main suspect in jail a few years ago so I thought that was interesting.  

I have always enjoyed the way the author is able to weave a police investigation with local legends and folk tales; this story focuses on the lantern men legend of which I knew just a little so naturally I did some research.  Some fascinating stuff there.  As a kid I would have loved that legend, the creepiness of it, and even as an adult it fascinates me.  All the elements of a creepy ghost story there.  That being said though, I did think the ending was a bit far fetched and I'm not sure I quite bought it. 

I have always loved Ruth as a character simply because she is not your typical female protagonist.  Although she is brilliant and famous as an archaeologist, she suffers from self-esteem issues and constantly compares herself to other women and comes up short.  She is so relatable as her personal life seems to always be in shambles, while her professional life is always so together.  In this book, Ruth starts having panic attacks which tell us that not everything is perfect in her world; she is currently living and working in Cambridge, and while she appears to have the ideal job and home life, perhaps all is not as it seems.  Trying to figure out exactly what one wants in life is a journey and I have enjoyed Ruth's journey as she navigates what she thought she wanted with what she really wanted and hid from herself.  We have all done that on occasion.  

Where this book fails me, yet again, is the intrusion of Nelson and his jealousy where it concerns Ruth.  For so many books we have dealt with this issue and I personally am ready to move on from this menage-a-trois situation with Nelson, his wife, and Ruth.  Oh, I get the feelings and the emotions, but either resolve it, or just move on.  The constant pining that lies underneath everything does mar the really good mystery in this book and that's a shame.  

The Lantern Men was a fun and interesting mystery spun around a fascinating folk tale.  I enjoyed the twists and turns of the hunt for the killer, but did think the solution was a bit far-fetched and unrealistic. As always, I love the characters in this book, Ruth is one of my favourites which is why I come back to these books again and again, but the love triangle has got to go.  I am quite happy with Ruth's decisions at the end of the book, but quite sad for someone else as I liked his character.  Although not really necessary, I do recommend reading these books from the beginning as you get a better understanding of the relationships between the characters.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Review: The Last Seer King by S.J. Hartland

by S.J. Hartland
Release Date: July 4th 2019
2019 Dark Blade Publishing
Kindle Edition; 611 Pages
ISBN: 978-0648437222
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars


For centuries, Roaran sought redemption. Now he can vanquish a tyrant and save a realm in chaos. But only if he cuts his last ties to humanity. Only if he returns to the one place that he swore he’d never dare go again…

Slaver, raider, and warlord, Dannon wants to believe in something beyond killing. His yearning will take him on a deadly path to his destiny… that he’s fated to put aside all he believes in and fight a war he can’t win.

A prisoner in the Icelands, about to be auctioned to the highest bidder, Val Arques has just one chance to escape and find Kaell before it’s too late—win at his captor’s dangerous psychological and sexual game or reveal the secret that will destroy him.

As for Kaell… fate isn’t quite done with him yet.

For the darkness taking over the kingdom can’t be defeated by the sword, only with the heart.

My Thoughts
The Last Seer King is the second book in the epic Shadow Sword series whereby our heroes are desperately fighting a war against the Ghoul-God Archanin who is slowly, but steadily, encroaching on the last remaining kingdoms in this world and will soon overthrow them all through his gift to enthrall, using both bloodlust and sorcery.  It took me awhile to get to this book because I was busy, but like the first book, I read it in hours, staying up late to finish, and it's a big book, over 600 pages.  Like the first one, there are many twists and turns, and the action picks up right where the last book finished, and is relentless in its pacing.

First of all, the character development is awesome.  That's not to say that I was overly fond of all the characters, even the so-called heroes, but that's why I liked this book so much because even the heroes were so flawed, making a lot of mistakes, acting on impulse and emotion.  

Kaell and Val, the main heroes of the first book, were still font and center of this one, trying to figure where each of them stands in terms of their relationship, through the bitter misunderstandings and betrayals.  The focus is much more on Val, which I liked, as I have developed a huge fondness for him, but that doesn't necessarily mean I like him all of the time, if that makes sense.  We definitely learn a lot more of his background and his history and some of what he suffered which makes you more sympathetic to his character, but his love for Kaell also makes him impulsive and causes him to misjudge a lot of things, hence the many plot twists that occur.  However, I like that he is so flawed and makes mistakes as it makes him more human, even if I get really frustrated with him. 

The story is told in multiple POVs and the author has done a marvelous job at making the switch between characters seamless.  Some of the new POVs are characters of whom we heard about in the first book but didn't really know anything about so now we have stories about Roaran and Dannon; Roaran is this ancient king and I'm only just beginning to get a glimpse of the role Dannon will play in the story as his role is so new, but the introduction of these two POVs was quite interesting.  I've now read enough of this author to understand I will find out exactly their roles in due time.  We do know a lot more about Roaran as some of his story was explained in the first book, but not too much about Dannon so I am looking forward to learning more about him.  His role is going to be huge, I think. 
A lot of the plot occurs in the Icelands this time around so we got learn a lot more about Heath's twisted family, including Myranthe, Griffin, Velleran, and Judith.  Those are some twisted people, let me tell you, and some twisted lands.  Myranthe is...vile.  There is no other word to describe her as the ways she went about torturing Val was just horrendous.  I can't wait for the day she gets her comeuppance, and I hope it's Val who does it as she forced Val to reveal his most horrendous and shameful secret which is one of the reasons for his behaviour in this book as he grappled with how to deal with his shame and self-loathing.  And Heath...oh my, I'll just leave it there.   

Kaell's fate was equally intriguing, but this is all I'll mention about him as there are too many spoilers around his story. All I'll say is that it was the last thing I was expecting, but the journey was quite intriguing and fascinating. The author definitely felt that Kaell's torture in the first book was not enough though. I really empathize with Kaell the most as I am never sure if he is going to make it while I am more sure about Val for some reason.  I always have this feeling like I just want to give him a big hug and tell him it's going to be okay, which is weird considering his a warrior of renown as much as Val.

The plot itself moved so rapidly I couldn't put the book down.  With an ancient prophecy about to come to fruition, many of the people in this story are trying to manipulate it for their own ends, so there is a lot of action and a lot of things going on, including manipulation and betrayal.  What it really does is make you question what is really going on, who is really involved in this prophecy, who the real heroes are, and is the prophecy even real. So many of my favourite characters had to go through some real challenges in both of these books so I can't imagine that what is coming will be easy for anyone and I am guessing the whole world will be turned on its head.
The Last Seer King was a fabulous sequel to the 19th Bladesman, and I enjoyed learning so much more about the world and its characters.  The writing is great, the character development is superb, and while a lot of my questions from the first book were answered, so many new things happened, I now need to read the next book in order for those questions to be answered.  The author definitely puts her characters through hell, and after one incident, I am now afraid they may not all survive, but that is part of the excitement of reading this book.  I am excited to learn there are five books in this series, and will soon be starting book 3, The Sword Brotherhood, but I will need to make sure I have a whole evening dedicated to the book set aside if they are anything like the first two books.   I highly recommend you read the first book before reading this one, and definitely read both of these before tackling the third, or a lot of things will not make sense; the books are highly connected and the author doesn't waste time explaining what happened in the first books, which I like. 


Saturday, January 16, 2021

Review: Domesticating Dragons by Dan Koboldt

by Dan Koboldt
Release Date: January 5th 2021
2021 Baen Books
Kindle Edition; 345 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982125110
Genre: Fiction / Sci-fi
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

Noah Parker, a newly minted Ph.D., is thrilled to land a dream job at Reptilian Corp., the hottest tech company in the American Southwest. He’s eager to put his genetic engineering expertise to use designing new lines of Reptilian’s feature product: living, breathing dragons.

Although highly specialized dragons have been used for industrial purposes for years, Reptilian is desperate to crack the general retail market. By creating a dragon that can be the perfect family pet, Reptilian hopes to put a dragon into every home.

While Noah’s research may help Reptilian create truly domesticated dragons, Noah has a secret goal. With his access to the company’s equipment and resources, Noah plans to slip changes into the dragons’ genetic code, bending the company’s products to another purpose entirely.
My Thoughts
Domesticating Dragons caught my attention simply because the word 'dragons' was in the title and I was curious as to how a science-fiction book was going to handle a subject that you would typically find in the fantasy genre.  I was definitely not disappointed as I found myself enjoying this book quite a bit, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the main characters and the dragons.  It was just pure fun.
Noah is one of those characters that really grew on me as the story progressed.  I wasn't a huge fan at the beginning as he was so consumed with his own agenda; I was sympathetic to the fact that he was trying to help his brother receive gene therapy, but was refused because they couldn't get an official diagnosis, and Noah was going to use the dragons to help, but it was more his attitude and his way of going about things that wasn't so endearing.  However, he definitely grew on me as the story progressed and I came to like him more and more.  I thought the author did a great job unveiling his personality and making him likeable, especially once the dragons came into the picture and he began to care for something other than his own agenda.  Noah did have a pretty good sense of humour as a main character, and I definitely appreciated his self-deprecating attitude. 

As a counterpoint to his days spent coding, Noah was a geocacher, and I really enjoyed those chapters devoted to his searches for those treasures. Here he runs into an old acquaintance, his ex-girlfriend's roommate, and together, they try to beat some of the more difficult geocache locations which are out in the Arizona desert. Summer was a really fun character to get to know, and if I have any criticism in this book, it's that I didn't get to learn as much as I wanted about her as she was  a really interesting character. And she could kick butt too!! There is definitely a lot more that happens with this side of the story, but there are spoilers here and I don't want to give anything away.  

I particularly enjoyed some of the added chapters from sales representatives or I guess they would be more like dragon help-lines.  They were pretty funny and added a lot of comedy/hilarity to the story; I couldn't help laughing out loud at some of the them.  Unfortunately, I could actually see some of these scenarios actually occurring.

The story itself moves rather quickly, especially in the second half of the book where most of the action really takes place.  And although there is a lot of talk about the funny types of dragons, and the cuddly ones, the author never lets you forget how dangerous they can be through certain scenes and certain scenarios.  It took everything in me not to check the last page of the book to make sure a certain dragon survived as I was more attached to it than to the main characters. 
Noah has a PhD in genetic engineering, and the book spent a lot of time talking about coding and genetics, something I appreciated.  The company for which he works, Reptilian, has created dragons to replace dogs which were wiped out several years ago due to a viral pestilence that has no cure. Noah's job was to help find the genetic markers that would turn the instinctual nature of a dragon to eat you into one that is domesticated, playful, and relatively tame.   The whole coding process and the types of dragons they created was pretty cool, and I even started longing for one myself.  Even one of Noah's previous programs was incorporated into the program at Reptilian and the coders all competed trying to create the perfect domesticated dragon, all within company parameters, of course, because the coders' agendas and the agendas of the CEO are not necessarily compatible. And this is where a secondary plot line comes into play. And this is where I will leave it as it's better not knowing what will happen.

Domesticating Dragons was a lot of fun and I devoured the book.  I do have a science background as well as history background, but I have no experience with genetics and coding so, to be honest, I have no idea if any of this is even remotely feasible.  I really enjoyed reading about the scientists' process as they discovered the domesticated dragons as too many science-fiction books tend to focus on the end result and not the process.  The plot moved quickly, especially in the second half, and the characters were interesting. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something a little different. And it involves dragons!!


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Review: Thieves of Weirdwood by Christian McKay Heidicker

by Christian McKay Heidicker
Release Date: April 7th 2020
2020 Henry Holt & Company
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250302885
Genre: Fiction/Juvenile/Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

Twelve-year-old thieves Arthur and Wally are determined to steal their way up the ranks of the notorious Black Feathers gang. With loan sharks chasing after Arthur’s father and Wally’s brother’s hospital bill due, they’re in need of serious cash. Fast.

When Arthur spots some wealthy strangers exiting a seemingly deserted mansion, he smells an opportunity for a big score. Little do the boys realize, they’ve stumbled upon Weirdwood Manor, the headquarters of a magical order who protect the Balance between the Real and Imaginary worlds. When Kingsport is besieged by nightmarish creatures, it’s up to a pair of thieves to save their city. Filled with giant tentacle monsters and heroes literally ripped from the pages of adventure stories.
My Thoughts
Thieves of Weirdwood is the first book in a new juvenile fantasy series, and I have to say, this was definitely not what I was expecting.  As a kid I would definitely have loved this book as it was a lot darker than I expected and I was definitely drawn to those types of books.  Gosh, what's not to love? You have magic, mystery, ghosts, dragons, monsters, heroes, fantasy, heroes, friendship, family, hope; in fact, there is everything in this book.   

I was actually thrilled when the publisher sent me a physical copy of this book as well as the kindle edition as the physical copy is just wonderful, with lots of beautiful drawings and illustrations.  As an adult, I really appreciated the illustrations and I know, as a kid, I would have loved them, and even tried to copy them myself.  And I just love the cover of this book.  Would it have drawn me to it as a kid? Oh, definitely, and I am not one to usually pick up a book just because of the cover.  However, there is always something unique about juvenile fantasy covers which also includes this one.  

I really enjoyed the characters in this story as well.  The two main characters, Arthur and Wally, each had their own issues, both having loan sharks threatening them and both need money, now.  The two have very different ideas on how to do this, but Wally tends to be more of a follower and we see his character develop throughout the book into one who is more confident and trusting in his abilities.  Arthur tends to be more impulsive, using fantasy/action novels to escape the terrible conditions in which he lives, and as a result, gets into a lot of trouble.  However, his character also develops quite a bit throughout the novel and as a result, he actually becomes ones of my favourite characters.  And then there is Breeth, the ghost.  I adored her character and the author was so creative in how he developed her that I don't really want to give too much away.  I love ghosts, but she is unique and so interesting.  

The plot moves along rather quickly, and you barely have a moment to catch your breath before something else happens.  I like that in these novels as I think younger children need this type of action so they don't get bored.  There is enough background information given about the characters interwoven throughout the plot that you get a really good handle on the personalities of the characters and what motivates them.  The POVs do change from chapter to chapter, but it is clearly laid out and easy to follow.  And while it could sometimes be a bit predictable, that didn't bother me one bit.  However, just because something is predictable does not mean it isn't complicated, and this plot could be very intricate at times, enough that a young child may have to read it more than once. I remember loving to read books over and over again that I loved as a child so I don't think that would necessarily be a problem. 

I really enjoyed the themes running throughout this book; friendship, perseverance, determination, family, and death.  Oh, yes, there is a lot of talk about death.  This is not a criticism, but there are some rather dark elements in this book, and if your young kiddo prefers something lighter, this book is very weird and downright creepy, and yes, death.  I thought the author dealt with all the creepy elements very well, but again, I was the type of kid who thrived on this kind of thing, but not everyone does, so beware.  That being said, the themes are developed in a positive light and would be great discussion points.

Thieves of Weirdwood was a wonderful book and I really enjoyed it, actually devouring it in one evening.  I really enjoyed the messages/themes interwoven throughout the book of friendship, loyalty, determination, perseverance, and hope, and thought the author did that extremely well.  The book had a satisfying ending, but did set it up for the next book (April 6th 2021) in the series, Ghosts of Weirdwood, which I can't wait to read (it's already sitting in my TBR pile, and it has another beautiful cover with a DRAGON!). While the book can be dark at times, I thought the author handled it extremely well, but some readers may be sensitive to those themes.  Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Review: Dreamng Death by Heather Graham

by Heather Graham
Release Date: September 29th 2020
2020 MIRA
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778310105
ASIN: B0813579TL
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Ever since she was a child, Stacey Hanson has had strange dreams—and sometimes they come true. Her skills and experience led her straight to the FBI’s Krewe of Hunters. Now a serial killer is stalking Washington, DC, and people are scared. And it will be Stacey’s first case.

Special Agent Keenan Wallace isn’t exactly thrilled to be teamed up with a rookie, but they’re going to have to get past their mutual friction if they want to stop a brutal killer. The victims are all vulnerable women, though the clues lead to suspects from DC’s powerful elite. Stacey can’t escape her nightly visions, but in trying to prevent them from occurring in real life, she might come face-to-face with a nightmare.
My Thoughts
Dreaming Death is the next book in a long line of Heather Graham books that I have reviewed and I think my reviews are all starting to sound pretty similar with regards to this author.  Either woman or man FBI agent meets other man or woman who gets involved with a murder, one or both of them have paranormal abilities although one of them is usually shocked by it, they get together to solve a case, they fall in love, everything works out great at the end.  Predictable, formulaic, done.  And I guess that's why I continue to read these books, because I know exactly what I am getting myself into and I use them to take a break from the heavy-hitters that I read.  
One of the things that has always drawn me to these books is the research and historical tidbits mixed in with the story line.  In this case, accounts of Jack the Ripper are intertwined with a slew of recent murders in Washington, D.C., and while I am familiar with the Ripper stories, I know a lot of people who aren't so the parallels would be quite interesting.  
The plot line is the usual however, this time a rookie FBI female agent paired with an experienced FBI agent, both of whom have special gifts.  I think it's this paranormal part that always draws me back to these books as well as I am always curious as to how the author will introduce a new concept of paranormal activity which can be quite entertaining.  This time it's through dreams. Ok, I'll bite.  
At first, the murder scenarios were believable, but then we descend into the 'suspension of belief' part and that I just couldn't do.  Unless every police office, FBI agent, forensics team member are all inexperienced, there were so many things they missed that I just couldn't buy into it.  How do you miss an entire body? Especially when there is pool of blood?  Nope, can't do it.  
And where I have had difficulties for a few books now is the romance between the main characters.  For whatever reason, it just wasn't believable in this book either.  And it has nothing to do with people falling for each other in difficult situations, or rather lusting for each other, I just feel like the author has lost that special magic when it comes to the romantic suspense side of things. There just seems to be something missing that used to be there in abundance.  
Dreaming Death was an entertaining novel, but is full of blatant coincidences, to the point where suspension of belief is just no longer possible and I just shook my head at the silliness of it all.  I did like the main characters, but no necessarily together and I am intrigued by the different ways the author has been introducing some paranormal elements into her stories lately.  While this book can be read as a standalone, I do recommend starting from the beginning as there are some good stories that started the whole thing, plus I love Angela and Jackson.   


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Review: The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson

by Erik Larson
Release Date: February 25th 2020
2020 Crown
Kindle Edition; 464 Pages
ISBN: 978-0385348713
Genre: Non-Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

On Winston Churchill's first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally--and willing to fight to the end.
My Thoughts
The Splendid and the Vile was the perfect book to read during a pandemic.  During the Blitz, the British people endured day after day of unrelenting bombing that killed tens of thousands of people and left a like numbered of peopled maimed and injured.  How were they able to endure such a thing and face it with courage and stoicism? Ever since I first learned of the Blitz at the tender age of nine years old, one of the questions I have always wondered was: How were the people able to go on day by day with their daily lives while bombs obliterated their cities, destroyed their food sources, and killed their loved ones? Larson provides a poignant look at those days and attempts to answer some of those questions in this book by focusing on the human aspect behind the government and the throne.
First of all, much credit has been given to Churchill and his war cabinet, and despite the things that didn't go quite so well, there is no doubt that his courage, his optimism, and his eloquent speeches gave his people hope during such dark days.  I have listened to some of his speeches many times and I am in awe of what he was able to do and how he was able to inspire hope in people.  I think part of it had to do with the fact that he was never afraid to tell his people the truth, but with that truth always came optimism and hope and the conviction that his people would succeed in the end.  Because he believed it, his people did, and they never gave up, despite Hitler's frustration otherwise.  
What I really enjoyed in this book was the portrayal of Churchill's idiosyncrasies and his flaws.  Larson made this larger than life figure human, and I really enjoyed that aspect of this book, even laughing out loud a couple of times at some of the uncomfortable scenarios in which his advisors found themselves. I can't imagine anything more uncomfortable than having to advise your prime minister and finding him stark naked in his room, smoking a cigar, while you have to give him news.  And Churchill was known for doing work in his bathtub and spending long hours in there for rest and relaxation.  
The story follows Churchill's first year in office, through the Blitz, portraying his desperate plea for Roosevelt's aid against Germany, especially after France fell in June 1940.  Larson, using extensive research through personal journals, archival notes, documents, intelligence documents, diaries, and other primary and secondary sources, gave the reader an inside look at his daily life, both personal and public, as well as his family and the people who surrounded him on a daily basis.  The stories of his daughter Mary (which I personally loved), his wife Clementine, his daughter-in-law Pamela, his personal assistant Colville, and others, provided a more personal look at the events during this time period.  While I have read a lot of biographies and non-fiction books about this time period, they can be a bit dry and focus so much on the political nature of this time period, while Larson really focused on the human interest stories and how the daily bombings affected people's lives.  Yes, the subject matter can be grim as they were in the middle of a war and desperate, so I really appreciated those stories that demonstrated the courage it took to survive almost two years of struggling alone in a desperate situation.
The Splendid and the Vile was a wonderfully researched book about the struggles Churchill faced during his first year at PM during World War II and the unflinching courage he took to face Hitler and encourage his people to never give up during such desperate times.  I loved how the author told the story from the perspective of those around him, never flinching from the realities of what happened, but showing the human interest stories that existed that really made this time period come alive.  I really savoured each moment; Larson certainly has a gift for making history seem alive and I could picture everything in my head so easily.  Do I think the book has too many details and should be edited more to get rid of those details?  Hell no, it is those details which make this book so great to read and Larson truly has a gift for making you empathize with what was happening rather than just writing descriptions about the events.  I have an extensive knowledge about the war (I teach it) and enjoyed this book tremendously.  I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in Churchill and the Blitz.  


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Review: Bunheads by Misty Copeland and Setor Fiadzigbey (Illustrator)

by Misty Copeland, Setor Fiadzigbey (Illustrator) 
Release Date: September 29th 2020
2020 G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
PDF Version; 32 Pages
ISBN: 978-0399547645
Genre: Fiction / Children
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Misty is so captivated by the tale of Coppélia and its heroine, Swanilda, she decides to audition for the role. But she's never danced ballet before; in fact, this is the very first day of her very first dance class!

Though Misty is excited, she's also nervous. But as she learns from her fellow bunheads, she makes wonderful friends who encourage her to do her very best. Misty's nerves quickly fall away, and with a little teamwork, the bunheads put on a show to remember.
My Thoughts
Bunheads is a charming tale of two friends who support each other as they try out for the leads of the ballet Coppélia their ballet school is putting on for their yearly show.   The story does touch on self-doubt, friendship, determination, and perseverance, but there were some elements over which I was perplexed as well.

What I really liked: I liked how excited the girls were to go to dance class every day and how everyone supported each other and pushed each other.  The story was charming from that perspective and showed that if you worked hard you could achieve your dream. I also really liked how the story included a famous ballet and summed it up so succinctly for young readers to enjoy and understand.  Coppélia is one of my favourite ballets so it was nice to see it included in this book.  

The illustrations were charming and fun to look at and I think a young reader would enjoy looking at them.  They are bright and colourful, and I especially liked the ones depicting the ballet Coppélia.  I was bothered a bit by the fact that all the girls portrayed in the book were one body type, especially at that young age, and I do think a better representation of a ballet class would be better served.  

And while I enjoyed the story, I couldn't get over the fact that the main character, Misty, was attending her FIRST day of class.  And while I know Misty herself was exceptional, even she didn't go on pointe shoes her first day of ballet class.  I don't think it would be possible for someone to understand and do all of these complicated steps no matter how talented on the first day of class, and then suddenly be up for the lead in a major ballet at their studio, especially Coppélia.  I'm not really sure this is a realistic introduction to young children into the world of ballet and might even give them the wrong idea; ballet is incredibly hard work and you will not be able to do these things the first day of class.  I thought at first I misread the timeline of the book, but nope, I didn't.  
Bunheads had really gorgeous illustrations and demonstrate energy and enthusiasm, although I wish they were more representative of a ballet class at younger ages; I mean this wasn't a dance academy, at least by the book.   I did think the book ended a bit abruptly though, and I thought it missed a golden opportunity to inspire young girls to be ballerinas through a realistic portrayal, not a fantastical one. 


Friday, January 8, 2021

Review: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

by Richard Osman
Release Date: September 3rd 2020
2020 Penguin
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0241425442
ASIN: B0755D5TH7
Genre: Fiction / Murder / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves The Thursday Murder Club. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?
My Thoughts
The Thursday Murder Club was a delightful murder mystery set in a retirement village that was about to undergo some major new developments. With a plethora of local committees to keep the residents active, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron form their own club, The Thursday Murder Club, a club that delves into old murder cases and tries to solve them.  Each of them is equipped with a unique skill set that enables them to look at the crimes with fresh eyes to see if the police missed any clue.  Naturally, their club is interrupted when a modern day murder occurs before their very eyes.
I adored the characters in this book.  They are each delightful in their own way, but the author was pretty clever as he didn't really reveal as much about them, and their pasts, as I would have liked.  I loved how each of them used their age to their advantage, pretending to forget or to be feeble when necessary in order to get what they needed or wanted.  It was actually quite funny to watch all of them manoeuver their way around the police detectives as well as other people, especially when you, as the reader, were getting a pretty good idea as to how smart these four people actually were, and were also getting more and more glimpses as to what their professions were before they retired.  It made me think about my own parents and grand-parents, and if they ever used that trick on us.  
The enterprising Elizabeth was my favourite character, and she was definitely the leader of the group, organizing the activities, including who to interview.  She apparently has this huge network of sources on whom to call, a network that even the police seem to envy, and I am really curious to learn more about her in future books.  There are tantalizing glimpses, but they are only teases; I just loved how she switched from strong, independent woman to manipulative older lady. It was pretty hilarious how she worked the police and I laughed out loud a couple of times.
Joyce is the newest of the compatriots to join the club, and it is through her journal that we learn more about the club's activities and their thoughts.  An ex-nurse, she seems to be the quietest, but you can never underestimate the quiet ones, as she also has connections in the world, just in a different way than Elizabeth. 
Ibrahim, a retired psychiatrist, is one in whom I am most interested simply because less information about his past was given and I am simply curious.  Apparently he's famous, but how and why, I don't know.  Ron is also famous as he's known as Red Ron in the media; again, not as much information is given about him so I am hopeful more will be forthcoming in future books.  The two of the together play off each other and they are pretty funny.  I love how Ron, for example, drinks beer just to appear the strong man in front of his son, but actually prefers wine.  Something my husband would do.
This book is far more character-driven than plot-driven, but it was fun nevertheless.  I think the only negative thing that happens when a plot is more character-driven is the real suspense of what happens takes a back seat, so I wasn't really flipping pages anxiously trying to find out what happens.  I did figure out who the culprit was of the main crime fairly early on, although the author did work quite admirably at throwing some pretty good red herrings and I did second-guess myself as couple of times. I did really like how the author included other things in this story other than just focus on the mystery as when you write about the elderly I really feel you should include the other issues that go along with that, and the author meshed those into the story seamlessly.  

The Thursday Murder Club was a thoughtful and intelligent murder mystery and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I thought the author developed his characters quite a bit, but left the reader also wanting to learn more about them, teasing them a bit too.  The mystery is definitely different and offbeat, but that is why I liked it so much.  Happy to learn there is a second book coming in this series.  I think this book will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading murder mysteries. 


Thursday, January 7, 2021

Review: Hidden by Laura Griffin

by Laura Griffin
Release Date: August 25th 2020
2020 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 328 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593197325
ASIN: B08274GMW4
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

When a woman is found brutally murdered on Austin's lakeside hike-and-bike trail, investigative reporter Bailey Rhoads turns up on the scene demanding access and answers. She tries to pry information out of the lead detective, Jacob Merritt. But this case is unlike any he's ever seen, and nothing adds up.

Bailey has a hunch the victim wasn't who she claimed to be and believes this mugging-turned-murder could have been a targeted hit. When she digs deeper, the trail leads her to a high-tech fortress on the outskirts of Austin where researchers are pushing the boundaries of a cutting-edge technology that could be deadly in the wrong hands.

As a ruthless hit man's mission becomes clear, Bailey and Jacob must embark on a desperate search to locate the next target before the clock ticks down on this lethal game of hide and seek.
My Thoughts
Hidden is the first book in a new series, but it was definitely not my favourite book by this author.  I have enjoyed many books by Griffin, and usually love the blend of romance and suspense she creates in her stories.  I thought the storyline was fine, but just didn't feel that connection between the two main characters that elevated this story into romantic suspense that usually takes her books into a whole other level.  
Jacob and Bailey, the two main characters in this new series, are quite interesting in their own way.  Bailey is a firecracker of a reporter, demanding answers to questions she has about the crime and about the safety of the community.  I liked her personality and enjoyed her spirit as she definitely doesn't give in to those around her and is quite persistent.
Jacob, the lead detective in the case, is the opposite personality wise, much quieter and deeper, but I liked him quite a bit as well.  He is also very persistent and determined to get to the truth no matter what his higher-ups prefer.   I enjoyed learning more about what made him tick.
What I didn't like was the two of them together romantically, it just didn't work for me.  I thought they worked really well as a 'team', but it seemed like the author suddenly remembered she was writing romantic suspense and would add these scenes between them to add spark and sensuality between them, but it fell completely fall in my estimation.  I started to just skip over those scenes as I didn't believe in their 'romance'. Sorry, but the connection just wasn't there. The author just didn't flesh out her characters, and the story line, enough for me to believe they would find romance with the other. 
The other issue I had with this book was the investigation.  Usually I am caught up in the story line to the point I can't put one of Griffin's books down, but I had to force myself to continue reading this book.  I found it predictable (I even looked at the cover page to make sure I was actually reading a Laura Griffin book), and to be honest, a bit boring.   Don't get me wrong, the police procedural aspect is solid, with plenty to sink your teeth into, but it's simple, and sort of 'light' when I usually expect something dark and heavy and complicated. Maybe that's the problem as I wasn't expecting something like this from this author.

Hidden is one of those books that stays on the light side of some pretty dark issues without fully exploring the ramifications of those issues, something over which I was disappointed as I expected more.  I liked the two main characters, but they were definitely not fully fleshed out or developed and the romance between them didn't make a lot of sense.  Hopefully the next book in the series will be more up to her usual standards, but this one definitely fell a bit flat for me.  It was still interesting and I think a lot of people will enjoy it. 


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Review: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

by Riley Sager
Release Date: June 30th 2020
2020 Dutton Books
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1524745172
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.
My Thoughts
Home Before Dark is one of those books where my review is going to differ from more popular opinion, but I have to say, for the last half of this book, I was honestly disappointed about where I could see this story was headed.  I was hoping fervently that I was wrong, but when it ended, there it was. Having read this author before, I was expecting a bit more than what I got. 
What I liked: Well, you always get me with creepy haunted houses, and this one definitely had that.  I love old houses with secrets, lots of secrets, hidden passageways, things that go 'boom' in the night, stories of hauntings and previous misdeeds, lights that mysteriously turn on and off, creepy rooms, and so on.  The town itself was set in the Vermont hills and I am always down with small towns with mysterious circumstances, ever since I was small.  There is something deliciously creep about that type of setting, with old haunted houses, surrounded by creepy woods, and things that go bump in the night.
I even liked the way the book was written, with alternating POVs, The author is a strong writer and has this ability to sweep you in, even if you are suspicious as to the direction the book may be going.  This is probably the only reason why I kept reading as I was hoping there was going to be this big twist at the end and scare the pants off me.  Didn't happen. But even with the strong writing skills, the subject matter itself got a bit boring by the middle and I found myself drifting off and had to re-read some paragraphs which is why I had to put the book away, read something else, and come back to it later.  I think part of the problem is that I wasn't invested in the characters; there wasn't a lot of character development and I just didn't empathize with any of them. Which is too bad because I thought the book had one of the strongest starts compared to his other books. 

And now I come to the actual plot.  Unlike a majority of the reviews I read, I wasn't scared witless.  I have read a huge amount of horror and scary books as well as watched a huge array of horror films,  and this one just didn't do it for me.  For me, the whole Gothic feeling of the big, creepy, haunted house just wasn't there and I didn't get that 'hair on the nape of your neck' feeling when I am scared as I am reading and rushing through the pages to find out what is happening. I really wish it had and was disappointed that it didn't happen as I was looking for a good scare.  So many of the 'scares' used in this book were pretty standard haunted house tropes and I was really looking forward to something new and different, but it didn't happen. I think I could sense where this book was heading, hoping fervently it wouldn't go there, but that ending was ridiculous.  

Home Before Dark was a fail for me in the suspense/horror department although I still do think this author is a strong writer and the potential is there for a really good scary Gothic book.  The book started off quite strong and I had high hopes which were dashed by the middle of the book.  And that ending was ridiculous, to say the least. This book didn't wow me at all, and I would recommend reading something else by this author first before tackling this one.