Sunday, October 31, 2021

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Review: Death in Castle Dark by Veronica Bond

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

4 / 5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, October 16, 2021

Review: Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 11, 2021

Review: Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan

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

4 / 5 Stars

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

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

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

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Review: Little Black Book by Kate Carlisle

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

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

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


Sunday, October 3, 2021

Review: The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes

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

4 / 5 Stars

The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

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

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

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

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