Saturday, August 28, 2021

Review: Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

by Rivka Galchen
Release Date: June 8, 2021
2021 Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-0374280468
Audiobook: B08PW7GS24
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

Katharina is an illiterate widow, known by her neighbors for her herbal remedies and the success of her children, including her eldest, Johannes, who is the Imperial Mathematician and renowned author of the laws of planetary motion. It's enough to make anyone jealous, and Katharina has done herself no favors by being out and about and in everyone's business.

So when the deranged and insipid Ursula Reinbold (or as Katharina calls her, the Werewolf) accuses Katharina of offering her a bitter, witchy drink that has made her ill, Katharina is in trouble. Her scientist son must turn his attention from the music of the spheres to the job of defending his mother. Facing the threat of financial ruin, torture, and even execution, Katharina tells her side of the story to her friend and next-door neighbor Simon, a reclusive widower imperiled by his own secrets.
My Thoughts
Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch intrigued me because this was based on the true story of the mother of Johannes Kepler, and the trials and tribulations faced by the family when she was accused of witchcraft during the seventeenth century. While I know quite a bit about Kepler's contributions to the Scientific Revolution, I am always eager to read more about his mother so I was looking forward to an interesting story about intrigue and politics.  Plus, I thought the title was eye-catching. But the plot dragged and the way it was written kept the reader seriously detached from the characters and by the end I was relieved the book was finished.
My favourite parts of the books were the transcripts of the interviews with the various people from the village as well as some of the letters written to dispute, or to encourage, charges.  First of all, many of the transcripts were quite fascinating and allowed for an intriguing study of human nature and the goings-on of a small rural village during this time period.  Many of the petty squabbles that you would  think make up a village were evident, and I definitely enjoyed the thoughts behind why the villagers thought Katharina should be guilty, which ranged everywhere from the absurd to ones out of petty jealousy.  To the modern reader, the sarcasm behind these transcripts was quite evident, but done quite cleverly.  The letters were also interesting, and I especially liked the one listing the many reasons why Katharina was guilty.  I think there was something like forty reasons listed, some of them quite absurd to our way of thinking, but very relevant to the time period when certain scientific inquiry sent people to be burnt at the stake.   

The story though, while interesting, was a bit of a slog to read.  Unfortunately, the writing style made it difficult to empathize with the characters, and there were times I just wanted to wring Katharina's neck as she just didn't want to listen to anyone's advice.  I think the author was trying to show a woman ahead of her time period, especially with a son who was well-known, but she came across as silly and annoying at times.  I did like how she still looked at her son Hans (Johannes) as a little boy even though he was a famous mathematician by this point and even an imperial advisor. 

I get the book was written in this type of self-deprecating humour, but for me, it just didn't work.  The book was written as a type of journal: the main characters, Katharina, was illiterate, and her neighbour, Simon, wrote the journals for her.  I definitely enjoyed the thinking of the time period and could understand the humour and the irony when tackling a subject such as the witch trials simply because the reasons were absurd.  However, what happened to these women was serious and the fourteen months of imprisonment that Katharina suffered was glossed over: in fact, we learn of her financial difficulties through a letter written by the people who accused her as her jailors were burning too much fuel and wasting the money from her estate so there would be nothing left when she died. 
Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch is meant to have this dark, witty humour as Katharina Kepler is accused of being a witch and the story recounts the interviews with the villagers and goes to trial.  But the humour didn't quite work for me as it seemed to downplay the seriousness of what was happening, although the author did manage to show the absurdity of the situation quite well so the highlights were definitely the transcripts and the letters. However, I just didn't sympathize with any of the characters as the writing style kept you detached so it was difficult to empathize with their losses and situations.  If you are interested in Johannes Kepler and his mother, I do recommend this book (there is a LOT of information in it though and is not a light read) Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of his Mother

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

by Andy Weir
Release Date: May 4, 2021
2021 Ballantine Books
Kindle Edition; 476 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593135204
Audiobook: B08GB4FH52
Genre: Fiction / SF
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission--and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn't know that. He can't even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he's been asleep for a very, very long time. And he's just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that's been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it's up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.
My Thoughts
Project Hail Mary certainly had a gripping opening, one that had me hooked, and kept me reading way longer into the night than I should have.  I certainly found it intriguing how a biologist with a PhD who was teaching grade 8 would end up in a spaceship light years away from Earth tasked to save his planet. And the result was fascinating. 
While at first I had the feeling I was in the same setting as The Martian, that soon wore off as there were quite a few differences, as you would expect in a completely different novel.  The same sarcastic sense of humour was there, but that is what I enjoyed so much in the other novel and I was happy to have that back in this book.  I even found myself chuckling quite a few times at some of the situations in which Ryland found himself, and then that self-deprecating humour would come through, and I would think What would Mark Whatney do?  Oh year, science the sh&^ out of it!!  And that is exactly what Ryland did. 
Ryland Grace is one of those characters I just couldn't help liking.  While he understood the seriousness of where he was and what he was doing, it didn't let him down and he just got to work to try to figure out how to solve the problem he was given.  I liked his overall positive attitude, and while he might have been self-effacing on Earth, he had no choice but to take on tasks that were out of his comfort zone on the spaceship as he was the only one left.  And the conditions were harsh.  And this is where the math and the science comes in.
Best thing about this book? Rocky, hands down.  I'll leave it up to you to discover who or what that is. 
I have a background in science, but my background is biological science, not math and I remember distinctly swearing an oath that once I left university I would never touch another calculus or physics textbook again in my life unless I had to transport it somewhere.  Luckily, I remember enough that I actually found the science quite fascinating and liked the really heavy scientific discussions that were occurring on almost every page.  Some of them almost, and that's a big almost, made me want to delve into a physics journal again so I did the next best thing: I asked my son who is a mathematical physics major instead.   For someone who has little science background though, the scientific overload may be a little too much.  Personally, the balance between the science, the ethics, the dialogue, the plot, and everything else was quite good.

The story itself was quite intriguing and I did spend a lot of time reflecting on our planet and how things would go if we were in a similar situation.  The story jumps back and forth between his current situation and how he actually got  there, and there are a lot of ethical considerations that would make for some great discussions, something I think the author was trying to highlight. 
Project Hail Mary was a delight, one full of intrigue and surprising twists, especially since I went into having avoided any and all discussions on it that I could.  I thought it was intricately plotted, with some major underlying themes that would make great discussion points, interesting characters, and a very satisfying ending.  I loved the intricate scientific details and thought the author did a great job blending the story and the science together.  If you enjoyed The Martian, I feel you would enjoy this book as well. 


Sunday, August 22, 2021

Review: Murder in the Cookbook Nook by Ellery Adams

by Ellery Adams
Release Date: April 27, 2021
2021 Kensington Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1496729460
Audiobook: B08SFKFD8Z
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Six chefs are preparing to compete in an outdoor tent at Storyton Hall in Virginia for prizes that will boost their careers—but is there someone who can’t stand the heat? It looks that way when one of the contestants is found dead in a pantry packed with two centuries’ worth of cookbooks, among other treasures and rarities.

Could there be a connection to other recent events in town, like tampering with the costume of a local mascot? Jane isn’t sure, but after someone serves a second course of murder, the kitchen must be closed and the killer must be found . . .
My Thoughts
Murder in the Cookbook Nook is the latest entry in one of my favourite cozy mystery series, the Book Retreat Mysteries.  I was so happy when I learned there was going to be another entry in this series as it really felt like it was all over after the events of the previous book, and I wondered where the author was going to take these characters next.  I enjoyed this story, and particularly liked that it was more of a traditional cozy murder mystery story although there is a part of me that would like the intrigues of Jane and the Fins to continue as well.
I have always thought the character development in this series to be one of the greater strengths, and this continues in this book.  The author spends time developing an interesting array of diverse characters and I find all of them intriguing in their own ways, even the ones meant to be boorish, or downright annoying.  I always enjoy the chapters where The Cover Girls are involved, and I like the diversity of Jane's friends.  And if you have read this author's other book series, you will recognize the name Olivia Lemoges in this book, a really nice surprise, and one I wasn't expecting. (Check out her mystery series, Books By the Bay Mysteries, if you are interested.)
One of the main themes always running through these books is family, and I love the importance the author puts on that theme, through Jane's love of her twin sons and the fierce protectiveness she feels when they are in danger, but also through the witty dialogue and interactions she has with her family members.  It plays such a huge role in Jane's decision-making and it's one of the things I love about this series.
The mystery was pretty solid as well, and as usual, there was a much darker side to what was happening, something I really like about these books, and something that made me go do some research to discover more about it.  While the book is supposed to be lighter than a regular mystery, the themes, and social issues, running through it are definitely not that light and I appreciate the author highlighting them in her book.  I was just so glad to see Jane and the Fins back in action, and it was nice to see them work on something that was a bit different than previous books, even if the subject material had some major themes underlying it.  I did figure out who the culprit was fairly early on in the book, but the author's ability to discuss uncomfortable social issues in such a format makes for an interesting read despite having figured it out. 
Murder in the Cookbook Nook was a solid entry in this series and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I thought the characters continued to evolve, especially as their roles were changing after the events in the previous book, and I liked reading about how they were adjusting.  The mystery was solid, with some major themes running through them that make you look at cooking shows in a different light.  And while you could start the series with this book, I do recommend you read from the beginning in order tolearn about Jane and the Fins. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Review: Dance With Death by Will Thomas

by Will Thomas
Release Date: April 13, 2021
2021 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978 -1250624771
Audiobook: B08BJD36QP
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

In June of 1893, the future Nicholas II travels to London for a royal wedding, bringing with him his private security force and his ballerina mistress, Mathilde Kchessinska. Rumored to be the target of a professional assassin known only as La Sylphide, and the subject of conspiracies against his life by his own family who covet his future throne, Nicholas is protected by not only private security, but the professional forces of both England and Russia.

All of these measures prove inadequate when Prince George of England is attacked by an armed anarchist who mistakes him for Nicholas. As a result, Barker and Llewelyn are brought in to help track down the assassin and others who might conspire against the life of the tsesarevich.
My Thoughts
Dance With Death is the next entry in the Barker & Llewelyn mystery series and this one focuses on their ability to defend a spoiled tsarevich from being assassinated.  While the interaction between our two main characters continued to be interesting, with some intriguing politics thrown in, it was quite a bit slower than previous books.

Thomas Llewelyn has always been a character with whom I could empathize, and I have always enjoyed his slightly sarcastic spin on events and people.  His humour is what I would call deprecating, but it is never snarky or condescending, which I appreciate.  He is a bit bumbling at times and seems to catch the intentions of his partner, both politically and personally motivated, almost two seconds after everyone else, which still makes me laugh, but he is not portrayed as less intelligent than his partner, just that he doesn't think the same way, something I find interesting psychologically.

I enjoyed most of the other characters as well and enjoyed seeing how the author intertwined the real historical figures with his invented characters to being Nicholas' personality and difficulties to light.  I personally would have liked to have seen some more emphasis put on Nicholas' mistress, Mathilde, as even a star such as she would have had a difficult life during this time period.  I've seen some grumblings about the author talking about her weight, but during this time period, this is a valid thing to talk about as many of these ballerinas were starving and often were forced to prostitute for the company for which they were working to keep the donations coming in and were paid very little for the hard work they did. We all know the outcome of Nicholas' actions and behaviours today, but I could definitely understand her ambition and her fear.  
The overall story was its usual laidback format, but I did find it a bit slower than usual and I was also a bit irritated by Rebecca.  I don't want to give away any plot points, so I'll just say that I just rolled my eyes and thought it was so out of context and didn't fit with her personality and the story.  Was the author just trying to create some drama? Hard to say, but but for me, it didn't sit well.  Too much talk about how men will never understand women; I just felt like the author was trying to create some tension between certain characters for whatever reason and it sort of fell flat.  Tension that is believable, okay, but tension just for the sake of creating tension, no.
Dance With Death had some very interesting historical concepts and I definitely enjoyed reading about Nicholas' visit to London for the royal wedding as well as about the attempts on his life.  I know the attempts were fictionalized, but so much else actually happened and it is evident the author did a lot of research for this book.  I didn't really notice a lot of character development in this one though, and I did think the plot was a bit slower than usual, with some repetitive elements.  I also thought the mystery was a bit weaker than usual as it focused far more on the historical aspects and was quite easy to figure out.  While you could jump into the series with this entry, there is a lot of information you may miss as the author doesn't really explain the relationships as there is an expectation you are already familiar with the characters.  


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Review: Million Dollar Demon by Kim Harrison

by Kim Harrison
Release Date: June 15th 2021
2021 Ace Books
Kindle Edition; 464 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593101445
Audiobook: B08
Genre: Fiction / Urban Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

The new master vampire of Cincinnati has arrived . . . and she wants Rachel Morgan out. No matter where Rachel goes, Constance is there--threatening Rachel's allies, causing city-wide chaos, and, to add insult to injury, even forcing Rachel out of her current quarters. Ever since Rachel found a way to save the souls of vampires, the old undead's longtime ascendancy has been broken. Now Constance sees eliminating Rachel as the key to consolidating her own power.

Rachel has no desire to be enthralled or killed--and she's terrified of what may become of the city if Constance forces a return to the ancient ways. But even a witch-born demon can't stand against the old undead--at least, not alone. And if Rachel refuses to claim the role of Cincinnati's master demon, the city will tear itself apart, taking her and all those who stand beside her with it.
My Thoughts
Million Dollar Demon is the next entry in the The Hollows series featuring Rachel Morgan and I definitely liked it a lot more than the previous entry.  I felt like Rachel was more like her usual kick-ass self, and was much more willing to lay it on the line, so to speak.  Maybe having Trent in the background for most of the book played a role in this, or having Rachel back in her beloved church, I don't really care the reason, it was nice to have the kick-butt Rachel Morgan back.   

There were a host of characters in this book, and it was nice to see long-time favourites make an appearance, even if it was for only a chapter.  Like I've already mentioned, the Rachel Morgan I've come to appreciate was back.  I don't know what happened to her in the previous book, but she was so dependent on Trent and what he thought that it really got on my nerves: in this book, Rachel asked Trent for his opinion, but if she didn't agree, she made her own plans and made them work.  It's also nice to the see the more vulnerable side of her along with that tougher side, and I have to admire the author for making that work as I can't imagine it's easy to do.  I definitely empathized with her fear and the responsibility she was going to have to take on if she did what she knew she had to do, and I liked that her doubts were intertwined throughout the story in such a way that it didn't make her seem weak, but actually made her seem stronger and not power hungry. 

I love Trent as a character, but there is a part of me that still misses the 'evil' Trent of previous books as his character was just so much fun.  His character is actually getting on my nerves at the moment as the author keeps hinting about his financial business without giving any information, and while it was interesting at first, now it's just getting annoying.  I am hoping the author finally picks up his story line in the next book because I don't necessarily want to read another book of 'is he' or 'isn't he' broke and I would like to learn more about his leader status and what is happening with that. 

The writing style is great as always, with a good combination of action and character development.  I don't mind the slow-burn sections as I find them interesting and they allow me a chance to really get to know the characters and the world.  There are actually a lot of threads in this book, and only a few of them were completely developed, and completed, in this book, so I am expecting some interesting things to happen in the next future.  And Rachel's interactions with Pike? My favourite parts of the book, hands down.  

I wasn't a big fan of Constance and how she was portrayed though.  I understand the author was trying to show her as this deranged, dangerous, vicious vampire who was essentially having major self-esteem issues, but I just felt like her character wasn't developed enough for me to get that evil, scary vibe that is so essential to a story like this.  Everyone was so frightened of her, but I just...didn'  Some of the things she did, one in particular, were not so great, and she definitely tried to stop Rachel from gaining a power base with some tactics I thought were interesting, but big bad scary wasn't it, at least for me.

Million Dollar Demon was an enjoyable entry in The Hollows series, and I am really glad I continued the books, especially after the last one.  The story was interesting and I definitely enjoyed Rachel's interactions with both old and new characters.  I've always thought one of the strengths of these books is the fact the author spends time developing her characters so that you care a lot about them, even the ones who are up to no good.  If you are new to this series, I do recommend you start at the beginning in order to get a full understanding of the world and the characters.  I am looking forward to the next book as there are some interesting times ahead for Rachel. 


Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Review: The Kobalt Dossier by Eric Van Lustbader

by Eric Van Lustbader
Release Date: June 1st 2021
2021 Forge Books
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250751218
Audiobook: B08H8VNH4R
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

After thwarting the violent, international, fascist syndicate known as Nemesis, Evan Ryder returns to Washington, D.C., to find her secret division of the DOD shut down and her deceased sister’s children missing. Now the target of a cabal of American billionaires who were among Nemesis’s supporters, Evan and her former boss, Ben Butler, must learn to work together as partners – and navigate their intricate past.

Their search will take them from Istanbul to Odessa to an ancient church deep within the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. And all along the way, an unimaginable enemy stalks in the shadows, an adversary whose secretive past will upend Evan’s entire world and everything she holds dear.
My Thoughts
The Kobalt Dossier is the second book in the Evan Ryder series, and while I enjoyed it, there was definitely much less suspense and edge-of-your-seat thrill to this instalment than in the previous one. This one focused quite a bit on Evan's family background and because of this, the thriller portion of the novel seemed to take a backseat and got lost in the background story line. This had a huge impact on the book as a whole as I felt like I was reading a book about relationships rather than a thriller novel.

Evan is one of those characters where is must be really difficult for an author to create as you want a reader to be empathetic towards them, but also make the reader realize they are cold-blooded assassins at the same time.  While the first book was able to achieve this balance, I don't think this book was able to do so as it went too far to the emotional side as Evan learned more about who were her parents and what happened to her as a child.  It's not that this information wasn't important, but it did take away from the overall impact of the novel and Evan did not seem like the same character from the first book.

Benjamin is still my favourite character and I was glad to see him out in the field in this one.  There was a bit of relationship-issue stuff I could have done away with, but for someone like him to survive in this world, he has to be a little bit bad-ass so it was nice to see that side of him.  I also like that he was not quite so trusting of the information that Evan received and questioned her sources all of the time.  Thank you Mr. Ben! You would think Evan would be more careful considering what happened in the first novel.

By the end of the book, I could see the manipulations of one of the characters to both Evan and Kobalt, but I still don't know why and for what purpose.  A lot of the book seemed to be set up to set the stage for the next book in the series as the author needed to set up Evan and other characters for something that is going to happen.  Unfortunately, this book felt more like a filler to me and was not as interesting, from a thriller point of view, as the first book.  I definitely liked the background information we learned about Evan and her family, but thought the actual action was boring.  I didn't buy into the reason for the kidnapping and I definitely did not buy into the conflict in this book as I thought it was silly and the explanation was both unbelievable and brushed over. Overall, the whole Kobalt story line frustrated me: I just can't buy into glossed over reasons for why people do things.  
That little twist at the end though, is interesting. Written in alternating POV, the chapters are short and you do have to pay attention to all the nuances, which I like. 
The Kobalt Dossier focused quite a bit on Evan's background in order to set up the next book in this series.  And while the psychological part was intriguing and I liked learning more about Evan, unfortunately, doing this put a damper on the thriller portion of the novel which I didn't really find all that interesting nor believable.   However, a little twist in the ending makes me hopeful things will pick up quite a bit in the next book.  While you could read this one as a standalone, I do recommend you pick up the first book in the series to get some background information on our characters and what is happening. 


Sunday, August 8, 2021

Review: Sisters of the Resistance by Christine Wells

by Christine Wells
Release Date: June 8, 2021
2021 William Morrow Paperbacks
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063055445
ASIN: B08K91S244
Audiobook: B08P2DVLLG
Genre: Fiction / Historical / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.75 / 5
France, 1944: The Nazis still occupy Paris, and twenty-five-year-old Gabby Foucher hates these enemies, though, as the concierge of ten rue Royale, she makes it a point to avoid trouble, unlike her sister Yvette. Until she, like her sister, is recruited into the Resistance by Catherine Dior—sister of the fashion designer, Christian Dior.

Gabby and Yvette are both swept into the world of spies, fugitives, and Resistance workers, and it doesn't take long for the sisters to realize that their lives are in danger.
My Thoughts
Sisters of the Resistance intrigued me as I was interested in reading more about Catherine Dior and the spy network she ran during WWII.  While I know there is not a lot of information about her activities, or at least any information that is available to the public, this is a fiction novel and it sounded like the author has created a story about her life, her arrest, her time in the camps, and what happened afterwards, all based on the information that is available.  However, that is not what this novel is all about. I have a huge problem with marketing techniques that lure you in thinking the novel is going to be about one thing and then you discover that person is only a secondary character which actually puts me right off.  I've been seeing this more and more lately, especially in WWII fiction, and I am at the point where I would prefer to read non-fiction as at least I know what I am getting into.
The author usually doesn't have control over marketing tactics, so once I realized Catherine Dior played only a minor role, I actually did enjoy the novel.  Yvette and Gabby were interesting characters and I thought they developed quite a bit throughout the story.  Yvette is the one who drove me crazy at first as her actions put so many people in jeopardy through her naivety and her thoughtlessness.  She just couldn't seem to understand that ignoring people's advice put a lot more than just herself in danger and I just wanted to smack her sometimes.  And I just couldn't understand why Yvette would not read letters from home? Especially when you learn the reason for why she had to leave home. Didn't make sense. Gabby was much more level-headed, although I will admit I am not sure of her motivations as I don't think the author was very clear about that and maybe could have developed that a bit more.  She was milder, always putting others before her own needs and I loved seeing her grow into someone who took control of her life and realized she had needs that were just as important as everyone else's.  The interactions between the two sisters was intriguing as well, especially during times of stress and danger.  I would have loved to learn more about their mother though as I felt she just got shunted into the background, but as we learn, Maman knew about everything that was going on so I wanted to know how and when she found out.

The story was told through both Yvette and Gabby's viewpoints, and through two timelines, 1944 and 1947. I found the shift between characters and timelines was pretty good, although I preferred the 1947 one better simply because so many books don't deal with the aftermath as much. And while this one dealt with Yvette's return to France and huge sensational trial, I still don't think it went deeply enough into how troubled things were in France during the years after the war and how much people still struggled to deal with the knowledge of the camps, the betrayals, the shortage of food, and so much more.  There was a mention of the world entering the Cold War which I did appreciate, and how things were going to get dicey and much more difficult, but in a different way.  And I really liked how Yvette was going to play a role in that new warfare; it almost seemed like there might be another book coming. 

The writing style was good and the author really tried to show how tenacious and strong people had to be during this time period.  One didn't know whom to trust, whom to depend on, and the wrong word to the wrong person could land you in a prison being tortured for weeks on end.  The level of fear was palpable and I liked how the author showed how resilient the characters could be during these tough times, doing whatever they could to resist in their own unique ways.  I did feel like Yvette's story line was stronger though, and wished that the book had been developed around her; her story line was just so much more interesting.

Sisters of the Resistance was an interesting story about two sisters who took two different paths to resistance during WWII. I did think Yvette's story line was the stronger of the two and wished the book had been written about her.  I also thought the marketing was misleading as Catherine Dior was a secondary character and although we learn about her fate, that's all we really learn.  I did think building a novel around the fashion industry was fascinating and I liked learning how the fashion greats kept their business in Paris during this time period.  Overall, I did enjoy the book, and I look forward to seeing what it coming next from this author. 


Friday, August 6, 2021

Review: Ocean Prey by John Sandford

by John Sandford
Release Date: April 13, 2021
2021 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 431 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593087022
Audiobook: B08L8F4B2J
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

An off-duty Coast Guardsman is fishing with his family in the Atlantic just off south Florida when he sees, and then calls in, some suspicious behavior in a nearby boat. It's a snazzy craft, slick and outfitted with extra horsepower, and is zipping along until it slows to pick up a surfaced diver . . . a diver who was apparently alone, without his own boat, in the middle of the ocean. None of it makes sense unless there's something hinky going on, and his hunch is proven correct when all three Guardsmen who come out to investigate are shot and killed.

They're federal officers killed on the job, which means the case is the FBI's turf. When the FBI's investigation stalls out, Lucas Davenport of the U.S. Marshals Service gets a call. The case turns even more lethal and Davenport needs to bring in every asset he can find, including a detective with a fundamentally criminal mind: Virgil Flowers.
My Thoughts
Ocean Prey is the next book in the Lucas Davenport series, and I was really excited to learn that Virgil Flowers would be featured in this book as well.  These two characters are so different on so many levels that having them work together is always a treat.  Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way as Virgil was paired with Rae, another US Marshall, and the two of them didn't really interact personally.  I'm not really sure what the author is planning in the future with his two lead characters, and I don't object to the two of these characters working together, but I think it will be interesting to see how he merges these two worlds.
I have always enjoyed both Lucas and Virgil as main characters, but I have to say that Lucas' character didn't quite ring true to me in this one.  If you are a long-time reader of this series, you will be familiar with what happened in the previous book so will understand what I am talking about. And some of Lucas' struggles should have continued into this book, but there was nothing about it in this book; and when something major did happen, you only get a backhanded report of how Lucas dealt with the situation.  And how Rae dealt with it as well.  This actually bothered me as I wanted to be much more empathetic after a shock like that than I was, and believe me, I was shocked and saddened by what happened.  But Lucas came back clinical and cold, which I get, but I would have liked to have seen some emotion, you know? 

Personally, I was a bit disappointed when I learned that Virgil and Lucas would not actually be working together, but would be working on the CASE together.  Again, I think the author is trying to merge the main characters into a single series, but it won't happen in a single book.  This didn't actually impact my overall rating for the book, it was just my own disappointment.  Lucas worked to basically keep Virgil and Rae alive while they went undercover.  Some of that usual banter you expect to see from Virgil is definitely present in some of his scenes, and I couldn't help but laugh out loud at some of the antics.  Gotta love Virgil!

The pace felt a bit off in this book compared to previous books.  I can't explain it unless you've read the previous books, but it just felt...fragmented.  The pace was fine, and I didn't mind the technical descriptions of the diving as I find the information quite interesting never having done a dive myself.  I'm not always crazy about how Lucas is used to come in and save the day as I feel this is getting to be an overused trope, especially when Lucas and Bob come in and find a clue so quickly, one that the FBI agents would have been capable of finding themselves.  It's just not that believable anymore. Plus, there were a few things that were a bit puzzling throughout the book, like the crime blokes not frisking RAe and Virgin on a regular basis to ensure their own safety, and one of the ringleaders developed this trust in Virgil for no reason that I could see.  It just didn't make sense.  These guys are long-time mafia ruffians; they wouldn't suddenly make mistakes like this.

Ocean Prey was a bit of a disappointment for me, but there were some highlights as well.  Some of the comedic moments that I loved in earlier books did, at times, make an appearance, and I definitely admired the technical descriptions in this book.  The pace was a bit slow and bit disjointed as if the author couldn't quite figure what he wanted to do with his characters and his story, but while I was disappointed because it didn't feel up to his earlier efforts, it was still an okay book.  Would I read another book in this series? Yes, because I am curious as to what the author is planning with regards to Lucas and Virgil.  For new readers, I do recommend you start at the beginning as the earlier books are better, but you could read this one with no problem. 


Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Review: Big Little Spies by Krista Davis

by Krista Davis
Release Date: April 13, 2021
2021 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451491701
Audiobook: B08W2C6K7N
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publsiher

4 / 5 Stars

The ladies of the Wagtail Animal Guardians, WAG for short, are in town for a pet adoption charity ball, and Holly is making sure to roll out the red carpet for her special guests. She and her furry best friend Trixie are busy keeping the WAG ladies happy and preparing for the ball when they learn that a retired judge has lost his prized pup.

The venerable citizen has hired a pet detective who has some personal ties to Holly's new guests. His presence ruffles some feathers, and when the PI is found DOA not long before the ball, Holly wonders if one of the WAG ladies had a motive for murder. To make matters worse, some pet-loving guests of the ball nearly suffer the same deadly fate. Holly and Trixie will have to sniff out the clues and leash a callous killer before they strike again....
My Thoughts
Big Little Spies is such a fun cozy mystery series, and I definitely enjoyed this latest entry.  In this one, people are coming for a major event, a charity ball, aptly named the "There's No Place Like Home" event. Gosh, how can you not love an event with a double entendre like that?  With a slew of quirky characters, this was a nice, light-hearted mystery to delve into.
I enjoy all the characters in this book and love how the author goes out her way to give them all their own quirks and personalities.  Holly and Trixie are the main characters, and yes, I know Trixie is a dog, but she is so adorable I can't help thinking of her as a main character.  There is actually a lot going on with certain characters and I am happy the author takes the time to develop secondary characters as well as main ones.  I also love the fact that Holly's relationship is not the central focus of the book, but just seems to fit in nicely with the story line - no drama, no angst, no other tropes that authors seem to always want to throw into books which can be so annoying.  It doesn't mean they don't have disagreements or they don't get annoyed with each other, but they deal with it maturely.  Enjoyable to read.
The plot was interesting and it took me a while to figure it out; the fact the author can still do this by the seventh book is impressive.  Keeping things fresh and intriguing must be so hard to do, but the author does it so well.  There are multiple things going on and the author uses those things as red herrings to throw you off the scent, so to speak, so you really have to pay attention to what is going on.  
I have always enjoyed this author's writing style, and really enjoy the witty dialogue.  Holly's inner monologue is a lot of fun too, and the sarcasm as she deals with certain people is priceless.  She is never mean though, but I did have a few laugh out loud moments when she was dealing with her aunt. 
And the animals.  It would definitely make me feel better if there were more misbehaved animals in this book as they are all so GOOD.  I have two cats and while they are great animals, they tend to do their own thing and would never obey me like the cats in this book.  I would get this weird look, then they would turn their back on me to say 'whatever'.  I definitely love the idea of this town and how the tourism is marketed to animal lovers though; it's a cool concept.  
Big Little Spies definitely kept you guessing which is why I enjoyed it so much.  With a host of quirky and fun characters, I enjoyed returning to this town and learning more about them.  There are a lot of recipes included at the back of the book, for human and animal and sometimes both. I do think long-time fans of this series will really enjoy this book and while it's always nice to start at the beginning of a series, I do think you could actually read this one without having actually read the previous entries. I am looking forward to the next one when it is released. 


Sunday, August 1, 2021

Review: An Unexpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn

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

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