Sunday, September 26, 2021

Review: Bottle Demon by Stephen Blackmoore

by Stephen Blackmoore
Release Date: May 4, 2021
2021 Daw Books
Kindle Edition; 295 Pages
ISBN: 978-0756412982
Genre: Fiction / Urban Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
After being attacked by a demon in the one place he thought he was safe, Eric Carter has been killed, his soul sent to take its place as a stand-in for the Aztec god of death Mictlantecuhtli. But somebody on Earth isn't done with him, yet. Somebody with the power to bring him back from the dead. He doesn't know who, and worse he doesn't know why.

Between an angry death goddess, family secrets steeped in blood, a Djinn who's biding his time, and a killer mage who can create copy after copy of himself, Eric's new life looks to be just as violent as his last one. But if he doesn't get to the bottom of why he's back, it's going to be a hell of a lot shorter.
My Thoughts
Bottle Demon is the next entry in the Eric Carter series, and I was immediately intrigued by the premise (and the ending in  the previous book) as I wondered how the author was going to pull off a miracle resurrection and make is plausible.  And..., he definitely managed it.  I thoroughly enjoyed Eric's confusion as he navigated a world that was both the same and quite a bit different from what he was used to, and attempted to piece together what happened and how he was going to solve this mystery.  Personally, I think this might actually be my favourite book by this author.

Eric Carter is such a fascinating character: he comes from a world that is run by wizarding families who seem to have lost their empathy over the years, which requires some tough-love on Eric's part to keep the world from imploding.  Being a Necromancer certainly doesn't help matters as he is looked upon with suspicion just because of what he can do.  I really thought it was interesting that Eric didn't want to come back and actually mourned the fact that he was resurrected: from pretty much the first page Eric is chased, shot at, attacked, etc...., with little knowledge as to what is happening, but through it all, his humanity still shines and we have this guy who mourns the peace he had when he was dead.  Although he is not the kind of person who whines about his fate, I did appreciate the interesting dialogue about what may be waiting for us on the other side, or at least on Eric's other side.  For a guy who has not had a lot of peace, it must be comforting.  There was one scene, in particular, that showed how much Eric cares about the people around him and I would be lying if I said it didn't being a small tear to my eye.  The author is able to capture many different sides of his characters which is something I really enjoy about his writing. 

The plot was full of twists and turns, but I definitely think the author's strength is exploring thematic devices by giving us flawed characters who are just trying to make the world a better place in which to live.  Naturally, some of the decisions these characters make go badly wrong, which creates some interesting scenarios and these plot twists. 
Bottle Demon is well-written and certainly contains a number of surprises that I wasn't expecting.I really do feel like there is a different vibe to this book which makes me think the author is planning on shaking things up for Eric and the rest of the characters and that we may see things go in a very different direction than in previous books.  I like a good shake-up in books and although certain characters didn't make an appearance in this one and others were relegated to more minor roles, there are some characters that seem to be taking centre stage, so perhaps something new is coming.  I am looking forward to seeing what happens to Eric and company next.  

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Review: Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena

by Shari Lapena
Release Date: July 27, 2021
2021 Pamela Dorman Books
Kindle Edition; 349 Pages
ISBN: 978-1984880550
ASIN: B08R1CZ966
Audiobook: B08SQ1ZM92
Genre: Fiction /Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
2.5 / 5 Stars
In this family, everyone is keeping secrets--especially the dead. Brecken Hill in upstate New York is an expensive place to live. You have to be rich to have a house there. And they don't come much richer than Fred and Sheila Mercer. But even all their money can't protect them when a killer comes to call. The Mercers are brutally murdered the night after an Easter Dinner with their three adult kids. Who, of course, are devastated.

Or are they? They each stand to inherit millions. They were never a happy family, thanks to their capricious father and neglectful mother, but perhaps one of them is more disturbed than anyone knew.
My Thoughts
Not a Happy Family is one of those books that missed the mark for me.  I usually enjoy a Lepena novel and look forward to reading them, but couldn't empathize with any of the characters and thought the story line was kind of repetitive.  

The main characters, the three children, are pretty messed up.  I don't normally mind it too much when I don't like the main characters as long as I can empathize with them, but I couldn't even do that in this book. I can't even put my finger on why as the author didn't deliberately do anything to write them as completely dislikable, but I just couldn't find it in myself to feel any sympathy towards any of them, even after learning about their childhoods.  A character can make a lot of wrong choices, and even make questionable decisions, and as a reader, you still root for them and hope they are not the one that did anything.  In this case, I actually hoped they were all involved so they would all end up in jail.  

The plot was fun at the beginning as I found it intriguing how the siblings all seemed to turn on each other and wonder what the others were actually up to the night of the murders.  All of them seemed to have different motives and they all definitely have their own secrets.  I also thought that Fred's sister was the most interesting character, in the beginning, simply because she was the odd person out and everyone seemed to vilify her.  I was definitely curious about the dynamics of this family and their respective motivations.

Unfortunately, the plot simply turned repetitive, and I didn't find the twists and turns to be that interesting, more predictable and plodding.  I thought both the characters and the plot were underdeveloped.  The motives didn't necessarily make sense, and while I liked the ending, I really wasn't sure about the motivations for the actual culprit as there wasn't a good explanation.  

Not a Happy Family was a bit of a disappointment.  Both the story line and the characters were underdevelopped which made the book repetitive.  It was difficult to really know the motivations of the characters and to empathize with them.  This book definitely missed the mark with me.  

Monday, September 6, 2021

Review: Shadow Target by David Ricciardi

by David Ricciardi
Release Date:  June 15, 2021
2021 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 3223 Pages
ISBN: 978-1984804693
Audiobook: B08KWLH4BX
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
When his small plane crashes in the Alps, Jake is the only survivor. A rescue helicopter soon arrives, but the men inside are not there to save anyone. They are determined to complete the murderous job they started.
Jake escapes from the mountainside deathtrap, but it won't be the only attempt on his life. If he's to have any chance at surviving, he'll have to find out who's behind the killings. But the circle of people Jake can trust is distressingly small as he suspects that someone inside the Agency is feeding his every move to the very people who are trying to end his life.

Jake's quest takes him to the candle-lit cathedrals of Paris and the rain-slicked streets of London. He makes contact with old friends and new enemies along the way—but his true nemesis may be closer than he imagines.
My Thoughts
Shadow Target is the next entry in the Jake Keller series, and I enjoyed it tremendously.  I find this series is deceptive in its storytelling as it seems simple in its concepts and in its story lines, but there is an underlying depth and deception that has been there since the first book and I am curious as to how it will all play out in the end.  If you've read the previous instalments, this one is a bit different, and although I was a bit skeptical at first about where it was headed, it soon picked up and I read the rest in one sitting.  
I enjoy Jake as a main character and this book really picked up on his character development as we learned a lot more about his past and how it has affected his present as well as his psychological state. There was a lot of introspection about his personal life and how so much was stolen from him because of previous situations and while I wasn't sure how to take all of this, it definitely worked in the end.  Seeing this side of Jake made you much more empathetic towards his character and some of the hard choices he has to make while doing his job and the impact those choices have on his psyche.  It was rather interesting.
One of the strengths of these books is Jake's willingness to work with other people and I always like it when previous characters show up in these books.  I think part of this is the author's way of showing that everyone needs to feel connected to someone else no matter the job they do and I found this kind of intriguing, this exploration of human connection and the toll the lack thereof can have on a human body.  Very subtle piece of writing, but it did make me think about a lot of things.
At first I wasn't sure about the plot as it didn't seem the same as in previous novels; it felt much more like a suspense novel with a huge mystery twist to it rather than a full-on thriller.  Despite Jake's having to avoid a few attempts on his life, the first half was more contemplative. But then, bang! It picks right back up, with a twist I should have expected but didn't (probably because I was paying too much attention to the relationship issues), and things were right back into what I would expect from this author and a thriller novel.  There was also a lot of subtle intrigue, some of it carrying over from previous books, ones that I don't know if a reader new to the series would pick up on unless familiar with the earlier books and the situations that created them, intrigues that will continue in future books.  

Shadow Target is definitely one of my new favourite thriller series (right up there with the Orphan X books), and while this one started a bit differently than the previous instalments, it was still as strong as previous entries.  I like that the author can be versatile in his writing style and still write intricate plot twists and relatable characters.  While this could be read on its own, I do recommend reading them all in order to get a good understanding of the relationships and political goings-on that were only lightly explained  And while this book does have a satisfactory ending, there are some intrigues that will definitely be continuing in the next book and I can't wait to see how it all plays out. 

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Review: A Duke in Time by Janna MacGregor

by Janna MacGregor
Release Date: June 29, 2021
2021 St. Martin's Paperbacks
Kindle Edition; 366 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250761590
ASIN: B08FZ8B348
Audiobook: B08YLDWC75
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Romance
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
Katherine Vareck is in for the shock of her life when she learns upon her husband Meri's accidental death that he had married two other women. Her entire business, along with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a royal supplier, is everything she's been working for and now could be destroyed if word leaks about the three wives.

Meri's far more upstanding brother, Christian, Duke of Randford has no earthly clue how to be of assistance. He spent the better part of his adult years avoiding Meri and the rest of his good-for-nothing family, so to be dragged back into the fold is…problematic. Even more so is the intrepid and beautiful Katherine, whom he cannot be falling for because she's Meri's widow. Or can he?
My Thoughts
A Duke in Time is the first book in The Widow Rules series, and I have to say, the first chapter really does open with quite an interesting scene. I thought the concept was intriguing, and I did like the characters for the most part, but remove the trappings of regency England, and you could just as well be reading a contemporary romance.  There is historical leniency in a lot of these romance novels, but I did feel like this one pushed it a bit too far.

I definitely liked Katherine as a main character, even if I thought she was way too modern for this time period.  She was kind-hearted, tough, determined, and loyal, but there were moments where I actually rolled my eyes.  I couldn't help it.  Empowering women is one thing, but convincing them they can do anything they want during this time period is modern thinking, not Regency thinking, and it bothered me when I saw this, not once, but over and over again. No, women could not do whatever they wanted, and telling children they can grow up to be whatever they wanted is definitely not something that would be common during this time period, especially for children who didn't know who their fathers were.  And it completely contradicted the other story line running through this book; women who now desperately needed a husband, or whatever, so they wouldn't be ruined when the truth came out.  
There always has to be this big 'secret' that comes between our lovers, and naturally, this book had one as well.  I did feel like the author was really stretching it here though as I didn't buy it.  And Katherine had a witness, so it just didn't work for me.  When a secret works, it can create some rather interesting dialogues and story lines, and some interesting times for the reader, but when it doesn't, it just seems silly, and I'm sorry, but this one was silly.  I was also frustrated by the whole Meri situation and would have loved to get an answer for what happened there; after reading this book, I just don't understand how Katherine would have married him.  

I didn't mind the plot too much, but I will never be a fan of insta-love.  I have read some of this author's work before and prefer the slower-burn of her other books.  I also thought the duke's introduction didn't match the personality she developed for him later on.  I get that he was confused over his brother's actions and that he didn't want anything to do with him, but he was also a duke and family responsibility is drummed into you from childbirth. He slowly grew on me though, but I'm not really sure I bought completely into their romance.  And while they did have chemistry, it needed to be developed and grown. The steamy sections kind of covered up the lack of relationship growth, but I have to say, the author definitely did a great job discussing the types of linens that were available during this time period during these scenes without taking away from the 'steam'.

A Duke in Time is a well-written romance: the so-called secrets and the issues with Meri made the book a bit tougher to get through than I would have liked, and I just didn't buy into some of the story line and some of the reasons for why the characters behaved the way they did.  I'm not a fan of using miscommunication, or lack of communication, as a plot device, especially for grown adults who are so organized in other facets of their lives.  I did however, lover the other two wives and am looking forward to reading their stories in future books.