Sunday, November 28, 2021

Review: The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths

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

4 / 5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Review: The Halloween Moon by Joseph Fink

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 25, 2021

Review: The Boy Who Drew Auschwitz by Thomas Geve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Review: All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

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

2.5 / 5 Stars

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

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

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


Saturday, November 13, 2021

Review: Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Review: Target Acquired by Don Bentley

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 1, 2021

Review: The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

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

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

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

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

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

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