Monday, December 12, 2022

Review: All the Broken Girls by Linda Hurtado Bond

by Linda Hurtado Bond
Release Date: August 23, 2022
2022 Entangled: Amara
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-1649372147
Audiobook: B0B223575G
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Crime reporter Mari Alvarez was never able to solve her mother’s murder ten years ago. But when a woman is gunned down on the doorstep of her West Tampa neighborhood, Mari can’t shake the eerie sense of connection.

Now there have been two murders in two days. Each crime scene awash with arcane clues—and without a trace of DNA from the killer. And for each victim, a doll. The first is missing an eye. The second is missing a heart. But are these clues leading to the killer…or messages for Mari?

Caught up in a maelstrom of Old-World superstition, secrets, and ties to her own past, Mari has only one option. Put the puzzle together before someone else dies—even if it destroys her career. But there’s no escaping the hungry spider’s web when it’s been made just for you…
My Thoughts
All the Broken Girls is one of those books in which I entered with a bit of trepidation as I am really not that interested in romantic suspense type books.  Luckily, the romance is not front and center of this book, which allowed me to focus on some of the other interesting things I was learning about, like the Cuban-American culture and Santeria. But while I thought the book started off pretty strong, there were some parts that could have used some tighter editing, plus I wasn't always a fan of Mari as she could be abrasive and pretty rude at times.  

First of all, Mari.  While I loved how Mari cared about the girls and wanted to help them, pushing authorities to do more, there was this abrasiveness about her character that bothered me constantly throughout the book. As a reporter, she was pushy, but sometimes she stepped over the line and was a bit rude to people when it was not necessary and unfortunately, it did get on my nerves after a while.  The author tried to compensate by giving her these vulnerable moments, but for me, they didn't really work all that well as it made me feel like Mari was being more manipulative than real. 
I don't really feel like any of the other characters had any development and were rather one-dimensional.  However, I did like the focus on family and difficult family relationships as well as the religious aspects of the Cuban-American culture as I don't know a lot about them so I found them enlightening.

While the plot was interesting and somewhat complex, the pacing is a bit erratic with this subplot that keeps interrupting the main plot.  I almost wondered if the author was going in a different direction at one point and decided to change the plot and not go there at this time which is why we have this main plot with another subplot running through it.  So, while some parts moved rather quickly and were quite interesting, other parts dragged on and were bogged down by meaningless details; this is often where characters were introduced for no reason that I could see or little purpose, adding to the confusion. Or where family drama erupted, again for reasons to just fill space, but added little to the actual plot, or had to do with the subplot that went nowhere.  Does that sound confusing? Because it was.
All the Broken Girls left me feeling a bit in the middle with regards to this book.  There were actually some really interesting aspects to the story and I did like the overall mystery, even if it took a while to muddle through it.  And while I wasn't a fan of the main character, I did like some of the relationships I could see forming and am invested enough to want to learn more about her family.  I did think the plot was all over the place and could have used some tightening up, but the ending makes me wonder if the author changed direction for the book and has now decided on a sequel?  Unfortunately, I was not a fan of the ending as I thought this was a standalone, but that ending was a bit of a disappointment.  It was strong enough overall though, that I would probably read another book if it was released. 


Sunday, December 11, 2022

Review: Clown in a Cornfield 2: French Lives by Adam Cesare

by Adam Cesare
Release Date: August 23, 2022
2022 Harperteen
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063096912
Audiobook: B09MZR992B
Genre: Fiction / YA / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Set a year after the first book, it looks at how the surviving characters are dealing with fame and infamy when a new threat, wearing an old clown mask, reaches out to upend their lives.
My Thoughts
Clown in a Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives definitely had an interesting premise. Famous from the attack the year before, Quinn, Cole, and Rust want only for life to return to normal so they can continue on with their lives and try to heal from the horrifying events through which they survived.  However, social media attacks have turned people against them, manipulating the information and creating chaos.  And while I loved the ideas and definitely believed there is some truth to it in our current world situation, I did feel like this book suffered a bit compared to the previous one in that the tension and suspense just wasn't there and that crazy action that was in the first book was also missing. 
Quinn is one of my favourite characters in this book; she is tough, devious, and just a lot of fun to read about.  Her father is now the town mayor and spends the majority of his time trying to get the town back to normalcy, despite its growing attraction for those tourists searching for all things macabre and horrifying, wanting to see where all the killing occurred.  Naturally, some members of the town obliged by creating a tourist attraction for those to purchase tickets and visit the cornfield where the 'event' happened a year before, to the disgust of some of the other townspeople, setting up an interesting scenario of us against them making the reader wonder how all of this was going to reach a boiling point and spill over. 
When attacks started happening all over the place, Quinn, Rust, and Cole were forced to head back to Kettle Springs.  This was a bit predictable as naturally, the three would need to be back in the same town in order for them to face down the cyberattackers who were actually heading to their town to take matters into their own hands.  This is also where things gets a bit muddled.  I really enjoyed the first half of the book, the setup, the attacks, and wondered how the author was going to set them up again for some disaster.  Unfortunately, I felt like all three of these characters changed and I was left trying to figure out what had happened, when suddenly the action started.  For whatever reason, I found it a bit more difficult to connect with the characters and believe me, with Cole behaving the way he did, I was rooting for Rust to find someone who was worthy of him.  It was interesting to learn the perspectives of a couple of other characters and what they thought about the events the previous year and how it affected their lives, something I wished the author would delve into a bit more deeply.  So, while the author did try to examine the affects of a community shattered by loss, I don't think he went far enough or deep enough into the psychological effects and consequences of such an occurrence.  

Clown in a Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives was a solid book, with an interesting group of characters at its core, although I would like to see more character development within those characters.  I did like how the author tried to use social media as an explosive tool for creating chaos as I think it's definitely relevant in our day and age. There was a bit of an exploration about ethics and morals for some of those wearing clown suits and how they regretted their actions, but I am begging the author not to go down that route.  They brutally killed teenagers with machetes, etc..., should there be a redemption arc? Hell, no!!  And this is where I absolutely loved the end of this book, the best chapter if you ask me, which makes me hopeful that book three will be a beautiful chaotic mess.  I can't wait!!


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Review: Die Around Sundown by Mark Pryor

by Mark Pryor
Release Date: August 16, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250824820
Audiobook: B0B5FMHJQB
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Summer 1940: In German-occupied Paris, Inspector Henri Lefort has been given just five days to solve the murder of a German major that took place in the Louvre Museum. Blocked from the crime scene but given a list of suspects, Henri encounters a group of artists, including Pablo Picasso, who know more than they're willing to share.

With the clock ticking, Henri must uncover a web of lies while overcoming impossible odds to save his own life and prove his loyalty to his country. Will he rise to the task or become another tragic story of a tragic time?
My Thoughts
Die Around Sundown is the first book in a new series by this author.  While I did find the overall story enjoyable with two separate mysteries to unravel, I found I was not as engaged in the story as I thought I would be.  That being said, this is the first book where the author is setting the scene, the characters, the atmosphere, and so on, and I do think there is a lot of potential here for some really interesting story lines to develop.  
First of all, I did find the main character to be quite engaging. Detective Henri Lefort is an interesting character, a wise-cracking older detective who served in WW1 and struggles with shell shock. Angry at the German invasion into his city and the subsequent subjugation of the French people, Lefort has to temper his prejudices and learn to deal with the Germans and their growing crackdown on his people. Although the author doesn't directly state he has shell shock, Lefort has trouble dealing with everyday loud sounds so the reader understands what is happening without it being discussed.  Personally, I like how his quirks were introduced as part of his personality and the reader slowly gains an understanding of his past through learning about those 'quirks' and realizing how serious they really are. The more I learned, the more I developed empathy for him.  
The rest of the characters were nicely developed as well and I look forward to learning more about them in subsequent books.  I particularly enjoyed Mimi Bonaparte, a descendant of Napoleon; she was known for her interest in psychology, a new and somewhat scary field during this time period, a study which women were not really encouraged to pursue so I was fascinated by the scenes in which she was involved.  I do know a bit about her background so I am really curious as to how the author will use her in future books.
The plot itself was somewhat predictable, especially the second one involving Lefort.  I did find it interesting however, even if I figured it out quite early on.  I wondered how the author was going to conclude the situation and I wasn't disappointed. There was one clue that I missed completely so I was a bit gobsmacked at learning that truth, something I appreciated.  It's always nice when you don't see a twist coming your way even thought the signs were there. 
I felt like the author did a really good job at describing the tense atmosphere during this time period.  Lefort is quite a complex character, but I did feel like the Germans were much more one-dimensional stereotypical characters with little depth to them. I hope as the series progresses, the author does pay more attention to all of the characters as it will definitely enrich the overall story.  I also thought the pacing of the story was somewhat uneven where the tension was quite high, but then it was broken completely by the other mystery.  While I did enjoy the two mysteries, I did feel like they interfered with each other and created the uneven feel to the book; it did affect the tension and the overall fel of the story.  
Die Around Sundown was a solid start to a new series.  I liked the fact the story is told from the point of view of the French police during this time period and I am looking forward to some real conflict as the war continues and sides need to be taken as they didn't have an easy time during the Occupation.  This was a quick read and I do think readers will appreciate the insights into life at the beginning of the Occupation and the start of the Resistance.  The mystery itself was a standard mystery, a bit predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless.  I am interested in seeing what is in story for Henri in the next book, The Dark Edge of Night.


Monday, December 5, 2022

Review: Do No Harm by Robert Pobi

by Robert Pobi
Release Date: August 9, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250793645
ASIN: B092T9F97Q
Audiobook: B0B61ZVLD4
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Lucas Page is a polymath, astrophysicist, professor, husband, father of five adopted children, bestselling author, and ex-FBI agent—emphasis on "ex." Severely wounded after being caught in an explosion, Page left the FBI behind and put his focus on the rebuilding the rest of his life.

Lucas Page's wife Erin loses a friend, a gifted plastic surgeon, to suicide and Lucas begins to realize how many people Erin knew that have died in the past year, in freak accidents and now suicide. Intrigued despite himself, Page begins digging through obituaries and realizes that there's a pattern—a bad one. These deaths don't make sense unless the doctors are being murdered, the target of a particularly clever killer. This time, the FBI wants as little to do with Lucas as he does with them so he's left with only one option—ignore it and go back to his normal life. But then, the pattern reveals that the next victim is likely to be...Erin herself.
My Thoughts
Do No Harm is the third book in the Lucas Page thriller series, and in this one Lucas is still recovering from the events of the previous book.  An astrophysicist by profession, he has this interesting way of looking at the world, almost disdainful and condescending, but something I though was hilarious, as people struggled to keep up with a mind so sharp as they struggled to see the patterns and thoughts that flitted through his mind so easily.  Missing an eye, arm, and leg meant that people who didn't know him often misunderstood him or underestimated him and I loved those interactions, as exasperating as they could be for a reader.
While Lucas has no interest in getting involved in another case, it inevitably find him when he attends a medical bash and discovers that a high amount of doctors have committed suicide or have died through natural causes the previous months.  As he begins to delve deeper, he begins to see patterns that no one else sees and this is where the action takes off.  Once it gets going, the author certainly knows how to keep up the tension and suspense and I had a hard time putting this one down.  Plus, I worried for Erin, being part of the medical community, and that something terrible was going to happen to her.  Having read the previous books, I know the author is not afraid to have terrible things happen to his main characters.  
The writing style was riveting as well, as the author blends action with humour and family life, but this actually adds to the tension as you develop empathy for the characters and start to worry that something might happen to one of them.  It was fast-paced, and as soon as I began to relax a little bit, something happened and sent the action flying along again. To be honest, this was a mixture of thriller, suspense, police procedural, and family life all rolled into one great story.  
Lucas is a bit difficult to get to know and I don't think I would have felt as much empathy for him if I hadn't read the previous books as he comes across as aloof and a bit snotty.  He doesn't connect very well with others and you only see the genuine person when he is with his adopted kids and his friend who watches them when he is working.  He and Erin work very well together as she is kind and compassionate and often tells him to play nicely with others; their interactions constantly make me smile and I believe are used as comedic relief from the high tension of the other scenes in this book.  We do get to see those rare moments when Lucas lets down his guard, and I have to appreciate the author's skill when he lets us get a glimpse of the real Lucas.   

Do No Harm was a clever, action-packed suspense book with much needed levity thrown in through family interactions.  Personally, I can see this series on Netflix or Amazon Prime one day, and I was visualizing who would play the main characters as I read.  The plot was interesting and the character development was good, and I am happy to say the twists and turns led me down a merry path so I had difficulty figuring out the answer to this one, although I had my suspicions.  I really enjoy Lucas Page as a main character as he has such a unique personality, and I am curious as to what will happen to him next. Hopefully, there will be a book four in this series.


Sunday, December 4, 2022

Review: When Blood Lies by C.S. Harris

by C.S. Harris
Release Date: April 5, 2022
2022 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 355 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593102695
Audiobook: B09JY66TTC
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

March, 1815. The Bourbon King Louis XVIII has been restored to the throne of France, Napoleon is in exile on the isle of Elba, and Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife, Hero, have traveled to Paris in hopes of tracing his long-lost mother, Sophie, the errant Countess of Hendon. But his search ends in tragedy when he comes upon the dying Countess in the wasteland at the tip of the Île de la Cité. Stabbed—apparently with a stiletto—and thrown from the bastions of the island’s ancient stone bridge, Sophie dies without naming her murderer.

Sophie had been living in Paris under an assumed name as the mistress of Maréchal Alexandre McClellan, the scion of a noble Scottish Jacobite family that took refuge in France after the Forty-Five Rebellion. Once one of Napoleon’s most trusted and successful generals, McClellan has now sworn allegiance to the Bourbons and is serving in the delegation negotiating on behalf of France at the Congress of Vienna. It doesn’t take Sebastian long to realize that the French authorities have no interest in involving themselves in the murder of a notorious Englishwoman at such a delicate time. And so, grieving and shattered by his mother’s death, Sebastian takes it upon himself to hunt down her killer. But what he learns will not only shock him but could upend a hard-won world peace.
My Thoughts
When Blood Lies is the next book in the long-running Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series. This one resolves a long-running subplot, the search for Sebastian's mother, and the journey takes us to Paris after the fall of Napoleon.  I have always enjoyed these books for the rich historical details, and this one is no exception.  The books are always well-written, full of extensive research, but is there a point where the research overshadows the mystery? Absolutely, and this is exactly what has been happening with the latest books in this series, of which this one falls victim as well. 

Having a history background, I love the historical information, but there really is a point where too much is really too much.  There was just some information thrown in that was not necessary to the plot and actually bogged it down.  Fine for a historical novel, but not so good when reading a mystery novel that depends on a certain level of tension and ruins the emotional moments of the plot.  

Overall, the plot wasn't horrible, but I was incredibly disappointed with the death of Sebastian's mother simply because so many previous books had this subplot leading to their reunion and this is not how I imagined it would go down.  And while trying to work out the mystery, something that was not too difficult if you have any understanding of French history during this time period, I was fervently hoping it wouldn't go down the road that it did, but unfortunately, it did.  I was fervently hoping for something a little bit different, something less global. And to be honest, I get tired of Jarvis showing up everywhere as I don't think it's necessary.  And Sebastian and Hero's investigations are sort of repetitive to previous books.  He investigates while constantly being told not to intervene and ruffles some feathers, and naturally, at some point, he will be attacked. Hero will interview the destitute and magically come across some tidbit of information that will give a huge clue to solving the case, and Jarvis will threaten everyone if they continue investigating.  Same old, same old.  And now we are left with another mystery, details surrounding Sebastian's actual father.

When Blood Lies was a bit of a disappointment, but I have been too invested in Sebastian's story to give up at this point.  I would have liked a different solution for his reunion with his mother as I felt the mystery in this one was rather weak and rambling, solely to incorporate the historical events of the time into the book.  I also feel that a mystery that has had fans involved for sixteen books also deserved a much better reward than the one given in this book.  I did like the historical details sketched out in this book as it showed the extensive research by the author, but they did overshadow the mystery and made any attempt to develop empathy for the characters difficult.  And now we are left with another mystery, Sebastian's actual father. Who exactly is this man?


Saturday, November 19, 2022

Review: Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney

by Alice Feeney
Release Date: August 30, 2022
2022 Flatiron Books
Kindle edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250843937
Audiobook: B09PMQPRWR
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
2.75 / 5 Stars
After years of avoiding each other, Daisy Darker’s entire family is assembling for Nana’s 80th birthday party in Nana’s crumbling gothic house on a tiny tidal island. Finally back together one last time, when the tide comes in, they will be cut off from the rest of the world for eight hours.

Trapped on an island where someone is killing them one by one, the Darkers must reckon with their present mystery as well as their past secrets, before the tide comes in and all is revealed.
***Spoilers ahead.*** 

My Thoughts
Daisy Darker is one of those books to which I was immediately drawn simply because I love books where the characters are trapped together, with nowhere to go for hours on end, the power goes out, and then creepy things start happening.  Throw in a couple of unsolved murders (or even better, some ghosts and horror elements) and I will dump any book I am reading to read something like that.  Unfortunately, while parts of the story were interesting, and the author does have a couple of interesting twists, the characters were so BLAND and one-dimensional that I almost didn't finish it.  Unfortunately, I was also watching Sixth Sense at the same time as I was reading this, and bam! there goes the surprise in the book as I made the connection right away.
Let me start with what I did enjoy. First of all, I did really enjoy the setting.  That house!!! As a kid I would have loved that house, with the tides blocking people out, and the clocks on the walls would have fascinated me to no end.  Even as an adult, I would have been mesmerized by a place like that and the descriptions of the turrets and the turquoise-tiled roof caught my attention right away.  And of course, you have to have a secret room in a setting such as this.  
Naturally, you know when you have a house that is isolated due to the tides, something is going to happen to block people from escaping and that is always something to which I am drawn.  I am fascinated by the fact that people have to live their lives around the tides like that.  And Daisy's stories about her childhood, most of which revolved around the house and the tides, were quite interesting. 
Unfortunately, the current-day story wasn't quite as interesting with repetitive story lines as well as plot points that just weren't believable.  The story dragged quite a bit, not necessarily due to a lack of plot development, but simply because the characters were so bland that they all just blended together after a while and I got to the point where I was hoping the murderer would do them all in.  Because of the situation with Daisy, the author had to tread very carefully with how she wrote the story and I do think that affected character and plot development.  It was a cool idea, but I don't think it worked here, at least not for me.  
Daisy Darker had a lot of potential; the setting was pretty interesting and I definitely like the locked-in atmosphere that was described, but there was a huge lack of character development which affected the overall plot development, leaving a story that was bland and unbelievable. And with a couple of plot twists that were quite easy to figure out.  This was supposed to be a nod to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, one of my favourite Christie books, but unfortunately, I don't think it held up to that book very well.   


Monday, October 17, 2022

Review: The Codebreaker's Secret by Sara Ackerman

by Sara Ackerman
Release Date: August 2, 2022
2022 Mira Books
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778386452
Audiobook: B09PQMNGVD
Genre: Fiction / Historical / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.75 / 5 Stars
1943. As war in the Pacific rages on, Isabel Cooper and her codebreaker colleagues huddle in “the dungeon” at Station HYPO in Pearl Harbor, deciphering secrets plucked from the airwaves in a race to bring down the enemy. Isabel has only one wish: to avenge her brother’s death. But she soon finds life has other plans when she meets his best friend, a hotshot pilot with secrets of his own.

1965. Fledgling journalist Lu Freitas comes home to Hawai'i to cover the grand opening of the glamorous Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Rockefeller's newest and grandest project. When a high-profile guest goes missing, Lu forms an unlikely alliance with an intimidating veteran photographer to unravel the mystery. The two make a shocking discovery that stirs up memories and uncovers an explosive secret from the war days. A secret that only a codebreaker can crack.
My Thoughts
The Codebreaker's Secret is the latest WWII novel by this author and I always look forward to her books as she usually tends to focus on aspects of war that are not as familiar to readers, on the people who played huge roles in the war effort, but didn't necessarily step foot on a battlefield and the stories are compelling. And her passion for Hawaii and its history is evident in every word she writes; I have always enjoyed learning about island life during WWII and how the people coped after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  And while I enjoyed this story, I didn't really find it as compelling as in the past and the dual timeline affected my overall experience of the book, and not in a positive way, unfortunately.
First of all, both Izzy and Lu are strong female characters and I related to both of them.  I can't imagine how difficult it would have been for Izzy to break into such a world, even during times of stress, and I'm sure she would have been questioned at all times.  I did find Izzy's story the more compelling of the two but that may simply be because I preferred her story line over that of Lu's. However, the first snag I hit with this book was the reason she felt compelled to go to Hawaii, and that was to retrace her brother's footsteps before he died.  For someone so committed to her work as a codebreaker, it just seemed flimsy at best.  And to send a codebreaker who has no knowledge of the Japanese language, especially a woman, also rubbed me the wrong way. 
I will admit I struggled a bit with the story line, and I definitely skimmed through the 1965 ones as I didn't necessarily see a purpose to them.  The book started off rather strong and interesting, even if I didn't quite believe in the reason for Izzy to head to Hawaii, or even if it would have happened, and I teach WWII history so I do have a background in the subject.  When Izzy started retracing her brother's footsteps, I enjoyed learning about the island, but there was something that felt off about the whole thing. I can't explain it, but it just felt weird.  And I couldn't understand the purpose behind any of it either except to maybe try to give a reason for Izzy and Matteo to become closer through memories of her brother? However, I did like the inclusion of Matteo's PTSD as such things were not really discussed during that time period although many men and women were suffering from trauma due to war-related events.  
While I enjoyed a lot of things in this book, like reading about the work the codebreakers did during this time period, I definitely struggled with the dual time line.  It's not that it wasn't interesting learning about Rockefeller and what he was up to, but I just didn't see the point.  Personally, the story lines just felt like they didn't work together and were strung together to come up with a way to have this sort of mystery involving Izzy's friend.  It wasn't hard to figure out who did the deed and who the person became in the future and to be honest, there were parts were I became a bit bored and was looking for something to happen.  I also thought there were too many coincidences in this book. It feels like every books makes use of a dual time line today. 
The Codebreaker's Secret was a bit disjointed and some of the story line didn't quite sit well with me, but the descriptions of the island during this time period are beautiful and it is still worth a read.  I definitely struggled with Izzy becoming a codebreaker, not because she is a woman, but due to her lack of knowledge of Japanese language and culture; however, I do know a lot about the topic so I can't just put that aside and go with the story.  The author is a beautiful writer and I love how she continues to write books that are unconventional during this time period which is why I will recommend this book despite some of the issues I had with it.  And I highly recommend her previous work as well. 


Sunday, October 16, 2022

Review: Zoomers vs Boomers by Sawyer Black

by Sawyer Black
Release Date: May 5, 2022
2022 Independently published
Kindle Edition; 218 Pages
ISBN: 978-8838903952
Genre: Fiction / Horror / YA
Source: Review copy from author

3.25 / 5 Stars


When the influencers and live-streamers of Jackson High are selected as the winner of the Operation Gen Z contest, Craig Boucher and his friends can’t believe their luck.The Zoomers think they’ve been chosen to compete in a secret competition to win a million-dollar scholarship. But when they get to the site – the rundown building that used to be the Oakridge Academy, an infamous school shut down after rumors of torture and brainwashing – they discover that they’re pawns in a brutal game of survival.

As they search for a way out of the booby-trapped campus, Craig and his friends are hunted by three fanatical Boomers determined to prove that Generation Z embodies everything that’s wrong with the modern world. 

My Thoughts
Zoomers vs Boomers was actually a fun, fast read and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I loved the satirical commentary on both generations with regards to social media and thought the use of a live audience watching everyone get killed was interesting; it actually reminded me of Bachman's book, The Running Man, a book I read as a teenager, but definitely made an impression on me.  
The concept of this book isn't new: you take a bunch of teenagers, throw them into a situation where they think one thing is going to happen but suddenly something else happens, the killing starts, and wait to find out the purpose behind it all.  Every story with this format simply has its own twist and I would say the twist is that all of the players are social media influencers and the killing is live-streamed.  To be honest, I thought the reason behind it all to be rather weak as it was your typical boomers hate all zoomers and think the younger generation need to be raised with more discipline and are all spoiled brats.  However, I did think the game was fun, although the players themselves were ridiculously easy to pick off because they were all silly.  And I guess you could say that you should never annoy a boomer as you won't know how they will react? But, on the other hand, never underestimate the resilience of a zoomer and their will to survive? 
It did take a few chapters before the action started, but when it did, it didn't let up until the final chapter. And when the first major thing happened, it actually caught me by surprise as I wasn't expecting it so I liked the twists and turns that happened.  The book was an easy read, short compared to other books, so I read it in one sitting, but I think I would have even if it was longer as it was good fun.  Because it was so short, there wasn't a lot of time to really develop characters, so other than Craig, and maybe one or two others, I didn't really develop any empathy for them.  This made it difficult because when they did die, it was hard to feel empathetic although I did wince a time or two.  I would have liked to have known more about who set up the contest and how it all came together, but that was left purposely vague so I was a bit disappointed about that.  The ending was satisfactory, and the overall story was tense and exciting.  
Zoomers vs Boomers was quite fun, and definitely had a lot of twists and turns that kept my interest throughout.  I do think it would have benefited from some type of prologue as the beginning was a bit slow, but when the action started, it didn't let up.  There really wasn't a lot of character development, and a bit more of that would have helped the tension as you would have felt more empathy towards the characters when they died.  Overall, a fun book and I do recommend this one to anyone who is looking for a quick, entertaining read. 


Monday, October 10, 2022

Review: The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin

by Madeline Martin
Release Date: July 26, 2022
2022 Hanover Square Press
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-1335426918
Audiobook: B09SK56G8T
Genre: Fiction / Historical / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Ava thought her job as a librarian at the Library of Congress would mean a quiet, routine existence. But an unexpected offer from the US military has brought her to Lisbon with a new mission: posing as a librarian while working undercover as a spy gathering intelligence.

Meanwhile, in occupied France, Elaine has begun an apprenticeship at a printing press run by members of the Resistance. It’s a job usually reserved for men, but in the war, those rules have been forgotten. Yet she knows that the Nazis are searching for the press and its printer in order to silence them.

As the battle in Europe rages, Ava and Elaine find themselves connecting through coded messages and discovering hope in the face of war.
My Thoughts
The Librarian Spy was an interesting story told from the perspectives of two women, one gathering intelligence in Lisbon, and the other becoming more involved in the Resistance after the disappearance of her husband.  I thought the author did a good job showing the different lives of the two women as they worked to bring down the Nazi machine, and I thought the contrasting perspectives, one starving while one has plenty of food, was extremely well-written.  And as there are not a lot of stories focusing on women in Lisbon during this time period, having a story set in neutral Lisbon is always welcome. However, I did feel like Ava's story lost its strength as the story progressed, and I actually preferred Elaine's story line.  
First of all, I did enjoy the character development of both these women, but I will admit that I think Elaine's development was much stronger. However, I must qualify this by saying that character development is not one of the strengths of this book, and it was sometimes hard to distinguish between the two women, so when I say I enjoyed their growth it means they went from being completely naive to at least having some semblance of common sense. Elaine was actually the worse one of the two in the beginning, having little to no knowledge of the Resistance and how much was involved, especially considering how many people in her life were involved.  And to be honest, she was a bit entitled and selfish, only caring about her husband and what was happening to him, often asking people to put their lives on the line without really understanding what that meant. In short, I could have done without the melodrama. I just wanted to smack her at times, but I also wanted to smack those around her for not really making her understand the danger she was in as well as those people with which she was now involved.  It took quite a while for her to really realize how dangerous things were around her and the awful situations from which people had escaped.  And then she goes against orders to do something dangerous, and while it worked out for her and what she was hoping to accomplish, it put everyone else in danger.  And though I still didn't fully like her in the end, I did admire her for her courage, and her work ethic, even if some of it was foolish.

I did have high hopes for the Ava story line; and although I liked her character, I did feel like there wasn't as much growth involved. It amazes me that the US Military would send people with so little information or so little training to do a job like this.  I liked the contrast of Lisbon to Lyon as it really makes it clear how much the people in France are suffering, although there were some moments that showed how challenging it was for people in Lisbon as well.  I did think it didn't quite go far enough to explain the difficulties in Lisbon and instead of focusing on Ava's growth as a spy, it seemed to focus more on her being rescued all of the time by a mysterious stranger, naturally a man.  If the US Military didn't have a problem sending Ava to Lisbon, I would imagine she would have some skills or be capable of learning some espionage on her own, but that was kind of glossed over.

Which leads me to the plot. The author covers a lot of material in this book, jumping back and forth between Lyon and Lisbon. To be honest, I think this was one of the weaknesses as there was enough material here to have two separate books as Lyon, gosh, the story there is awful to begin with, a lot of which was overlooked.  And the human suffering in Lisbon was glossed over as well, except for a couple of incidents, while the author focused more on the glamorous part of the espionage, a world in which our heroine was totally out of her depth.  The overall impact of the story was lessened because of this.  I should have been horrified by the events in Lyon as I know what the 'butcher' did to the Resistance fighters there, but I wasn't. 

The Librarian Spy had plenty of action, and there were a lot of moments that I enjoyed, but it was also full of cliches and melodrama, something I could have done without. I did appreciate the amount of research that went into this book, and could feel the hunger and despair of the people during this time period, especially in Lyon, but I don't think the author went deep enough to describe the fear in Lyon during the reign of the 'butcher', nor do I think it was complex enough.  To be honest, I think I was expecting more depth to the characters and to the story, but in reality there is nothing that really made it  stand out in a field that is completely saturated with this type of work. 


Sunday, October 9, 2022

Review: The Paris Showroom by Juliet Blackwell

by Julie Blackwell
Release Date: April 19, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593097878
Audiobook: B09B82NCNB
Genre: Fiction / Historical / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.75 / 5 Stars

Capucine Benoit works alongside her father to produce fans of rare feathers, beads, and intricate pleating for the haute couture fashion houses. But after the Germans invade Paris in June 1940, Capucine and her father must focus on mere survival—until they are betrayed to the secret police and arrested for his political beliefs. When Capucine saves herself from deportation to Auschwitz by highlighting her connections to Parisian design houses, she is sent to a little-known prison camp located in the heart of Paris, within the Lévitan department store.

Capucine’s estranged daughter, Mathilde, remains in the care of her conservative paternal grandparents, who are prospering under the Nazi occupation. But after her mother is arrested and then a childhood friend goes missing, the usually obedient Mathilde finds herself drawn into the shadowy world of Paris’s Résistance fighters. 
My Thoughts
The Paris Showroom was a fascinating look at the not-so-well known prison camp located in the middle of Paris, where prisoners worked extremely long hours sorting out furniture, works of art, and other paraphernalia confiscated from the homes of those who were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Knowing that prisoners were kept in Paris, I am glad to see the spotlight put on those people who were forced to work countless hours sorting plundered items, often recognizing items from friends and family, helpless to do much about it.  Furthermore, the prisoners were requested to clean and repair the items so they could be sold to German soldiers to furnish their confiscated apartments while in Paris. 
The story alternated between Capucine and Mathilde's POV, and while I enjoyed both of them, I did prefer Capucine's simply because I was fascinated by the inner workings of the Lévitan prison camp while Mathilde's story led her in the direction of the resistance network in Paris, something with which I was much more familiar.  
Capucine has quite the backstory, and she is quite the character.  A wild and free spirit who embraced the liberties of the 1920s and 1930s, she was definitely unconventional, preferring the night clubs, jazz bars, and artistic pursuits that were available during this time period, but all of this came at a great cost as she lost her precious daughter to her prim and conventional in-laws who didn't approve of her behaviour.  She has an intense love affair an American jazz pianist during this time period, but refuses to marry him, but you figure it out easily enough when she gets arrested although it takes a long time for it to be said on the page.  I did have a hard time putting the Capucine who worked in the concentration camp together with the free-spirited one, as they were so different.  The war has definitely broken more than one spirit, and you can see how much of an affect it has on Capucine as she reflects on her earlier days and more carefree ways.  I did like the way she encouraged the prisoners to rebel however, in their own ways, and I found it interesting to learn about the many ways prisoners would go about trying to sabotage things and protect things the Nazis tried to destroy. 
I really enjoyed Mathilde's character development, but I have to say that I did not like her at all for the first two-thirds of the book.  Reflecting the conservative views of the grand-parents who raised her, you got to see the other side of the affect of Nazi occupation in Paris during this time period; the focus was on those who got wealthy by helping the Nazis, and their subsequent falls from grace when the war ended.  Mathilde was quite naive in the beginning, but as she learned, she grew on me.  And she soon learned that her grand-parents' viewpoints did not necessarily have to be hers.
As much as I enjoyed learning about the showroom concentration camp and the intertwining lives of Capucine and Mathilde, I did feel like the plot lost focus and there was a lack of real drive / purpose to the story.  There were times when the story fell flat, or relied on coincidence to further a plot point, something of which I am not a fan, no matter how well-written or how beautifully descriptive the scene may have been.  And while I love good resolutions to books, when you learn about the relationship between Capucine and her new husband, and the fact they are returning to the United States to live, there was a small part of me that wondered how that was going to work out.
The Paris Showroom was a very enjoyable book, and I loved learning about the fans and the artistry that went into them as I don't think I've ever given it a thought before.  I was glad the focus was on the department store concentration camps as there aren't too many books that mention them, so I was fascinated by the men and women who laboured and suffered there for years, with few people knowing they were there.  The character development in this book was good, although I'm not sure a reconciliation subplot was needed here, and I did think the plot fell flat at times, and sort of meandered around. That being said, if you are interesting in learning more about the Paris prison camps, this book may be of interest to you.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Review: Black Tide by KC Jones

by KC Jones
Release Date: May 31, 2022
2022 Nightfire
Kindle Edition; 245 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250792693
Audiobook: B09NF2PCMF
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Science-Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
Mike and Beth didn’t know each other existed before the night of the meteor shower.

After a drunken and desperate one-night-stand, the two strangers awake to discover a surprise astronomical event has left widespread destruction in its wake. But the cosmic lightshow was only a part of something much bigger, and far more terrifying. When a set of lost car keys leaves them stranded on an empty stretch of Oregon coast, when their emergency calls go unanswered and inhuman screams echo from the dunes, when the rising tide reaches for the car and unspeakable horrors close in around them, these two self-destructive souls must find in each other the strength to overcome past pain and the fight to survive a nightmare of apocalyptic scale.
My Thoughts
Black Tide definitely had a lot of potential, and there were a lot of moments in the book that I really liked. I did think it would have worked better as a novella as certain scenes tended to drag and I did not see the purpose of adding a kid, Natalie, to the story, except as a way of getting them off the beach which seemed like a weak plot point to me.  I really enjoy seeing authors put a different twist on cosmic horror so it was nice to read about something that is not the usual, typical zombie apocalypse fare.  
I thought the characters were actually the weakest part of the book.  Beth did grow on me towards the end, but that isn't saying much as I found her very annoying for the first half of the book; it was difficult to develop empathy for her when you listened to her whining inner monologue. I don't mind it when the main character is a bit of a mess as they can be very interesting to read about and makes room for a lot of character development, but I felt like the author tried too hard to make her seem that way and it came off poorly. I did like Mike and thought his job as a film producer was interesting, but he was sort of lost in the maelstrom of Beth's emotions and thoughts so I never really felt like I got to know his character very well.  Jake, the dog, my favourite character!!

I did think the plot was interesting, and I like the fact that neither Mike nor Beth had any idea about what was happening, therefore the reader had to learn with the characters.  Both Mike and Beth were dealing with personal issues (Mike grieving the loss of his wife, Beth just being Beth), so when they arrived at the beach, they were completely taken unaware and caught unprepared.  I personally loved it that Beth didn't pack very well for a picnic which left the two of them in a difficult situation when they finally realized they were in a dangerous position.  No super hero main character to MacGyver the situation in this book.  I liked the reason for which the world ended and liked learning about the aliens as the characters learned about them. To be honest, I am still not sure I understand anything about them.

That being said, there were definitely some things that I don't think added to the tension. The addition of Natalie, the young girl, felt like the author couldn't think up any more unbelievable ways to get the couple off the beach so this solution was the only viable one.  In a book full of unbelievable events, why does this one matter? I can't explain it other than it made me roll my eyes and just didn't seem to fit into the story.  And the sex scene stuck right in the middle here? Really? You are injured, with little water, stuck on a beach with aliens, and that's what you are thinking about?  Sure, makes sense.  

Black Tide had some good moments that were full of tension; having two people trapped on a beach with the rising tide and a bunch of aliens can definitely be tricky.  There were quite a few unbelievable moments, but I went with it because it was interesting. It did seem like the author changed focus partway into the book and decided upon a different course of action and the ending definitely feels like there could be potential for a sequel.  I would definitely be interested in learning more about these aliens and following Mike and Beth on further adventures. 

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Review: Castle Deadly, Castle Deep by Veronica Bond

by Veronica Bond
Release Date: July 5, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593335901
Audiobook: B09JBJ4DQ5
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher
2.25 / 5 Stars
Autumn has arrived at Castle Dark, and Nora Blake has settled into her role as an actor in Derek Corby's castle murder-mystery troupe. She is troubled, however, by the setting of Derek's fall mystery: the catacombs in the depths of the castle. Yes, these catacombs are part of a set, the skeletons and cobwebs mere props, but Nora feels uneasy in the shadowy passages beneath Castle Dark. When a man is killed during one of their first shows, the eerie catacombs become a place of terror.

Joined by her castle companions, Nora attempts to find the motive for killing a seemingly innocent victim. With the help of her handsome boyfriend, Detective John Dashiell, Nora will have to go off-script to prevent a murderous encore. . . . 
My Thoughts
Castle Deadly, Castle Deep is the second entry in A Dinner and a Murder Mystery mystery series featuring Nora and the fun castle in which she lives and works.  The first book in this series was my favourite cozy mystery last year so I was looking forward to reading more about Nora and her friends,s, but I wasn't as crazy about this instalment as Nora's angst over her relationship with Dash frankly annoyed me to no end, and I thought the mystery was lacking the depth and the twists and turns of the first book.    

One of my favourite aspects of this book is the castle and the mystery dinner/theater idea. The hidden passageways are definitely intriguing and the word 'catacombs' just opens up a whole world of possibilities in my eyes. Unfortunately, there were few mystery dinner scenes as it was shut down almost from the beginning of the book due the 'murder', so what we get are extra-long scenes of the community theatre practices.  Yes, you learn a lot about the lives and relationships about the various people involved, but it seemed the focus was on trying to bolster Nora's self-esteem and to show the reader the brilliance of Derek as a director. And as I wandered in the sentence trying to explain how boring it was, that was exactly how it was done in the book; a whole lot of nothing just to explain a whole lot of nothing. 

The mystery itself was almost non-existent.  Someone got killed, very little investigation was done, but somehow Nora managed to figure out who the culprit was by witnessing a romantic attraction between two people, and then suddenly she is in grave danger and the hero comes to her rescue.  Nope, not a fan of how this all played out.  Very little sleuthing was done, with no twists or turns, so when Nora suddenly figures it all out, I spent my time rolling my eyes.  

There was a secondary mystery that looked to be pretty interesting, but unfortunately, that one too seemed to be more about Nora walking in during a fortuitous moment and putting the clues together while the actual culprit had already solved most of the puzzle.  I wish there had been more to this mystery, or this was the mystery the author had developed instead of the other one as it would have been far more interesting.  Naturally, Nora saves the day and the castle.  

I really enjoyed these characters in the first book, but I almost DNF this book about a third of the way in because Nora's jealous behaviour towards Dash drove me nuts.  I felt like I was reading a YA novel instead of about two mature people who could actually TALK to each other. All Nora whined about for pages and pages on end was how great her relationship was about a month ago and now Dash no longer has time to every minute with her.  And then stares longingly at Derek and his girlfriend, who naturally have a moment, EVERY SINGLE TIME, she moans and whines.  Nope, nope, nope!!!

Castle Deadly, Castle Deep was not a worthy follow-up of the really amazing first book of this series.  I was incredibly disappointed in the characters, the plot, and the overall story.  I personally loved the secondary story line as I thought there was so much potential there to develop something really interesting, but the author chose to focus more on Nora and her whining.  And what I especially loved? THE KITTENS!!!  They saved this book.  I will happily recommend the first book of this series, and while I was not a fan of the second book, I am glad to see a lot of people were. I would definitely take a chance on the third book as I enjoyed the first book so much, just to see if the author can work the same magic again. 


Sunday, September 18, 2022

REview: Local Gone Missing by Fiona Barton

by Fiona Barton
Release Date: June 14, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1984803047
Audiobook: B09VMF28ZT
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
2 / 5 Stars
Elise King is a successful and ambitious detective--or she was before a medical leave left her unsure if she'd ever return to work. She now spends most days watching the growing tensions in her small seaside town of Ebbing--the weekenders renovating old bungalows into luxury homes, and the locals resentful of the changes.

The conflicts boil over when a newcomer wants to put the town on the map with a giant music festival, and two teenagers overdose on drugs. When a man disappears the first night of the festival, Elise is drawn back into her detective work and starts digging for answers. Ebbing is a small town, but it's full of secrets and hidden connections that run deeper and darker than Elise could have ever imagined.
My Thoughts
Local Gone Missing is one of those books that had all the elements of a good story, but unfortunately, totally missed the mark. Introducing a new character, DI Elise King, is always interesting, especially one who is coming back from a cancer diagnosis that completely derailed her career, and it sounds like the author is feeling her way forward for this character to become a series regular.  However, I felt like the author didn't quite know the direction in which she wanted to take the character, or the story, which left it feeling like a hodgepodge of different styles and characters who lacked development as well as interesting quirks which often can make or break a book.  
The plot had me wondering exactly what style the author was trying to achieve in this book. To be fair, I actually did enjoy some of the elements in the first half of the book as they had a more cozy mystery feel to them as the characters were introduced and we got to see the inside of some of the homes through the eyes of Elise as well as the housekeeper, Dee. However, the switch to a more procedural novel was jarring and while I appreciated what the author was trying to do, it didn't work for me and left me frustrated as solutions were due to coincidences and I find it to be a cop out when an author tends to overuse coincidence as a solution to problems when they can't come up with anything else.   

Except for Elise and maybe a a couple of other characters, I did not find any of the other characters likeable, at all.  I did develop a fondness for Elise's nosy neighbour just because she actually had some depth to her, while the others were pretty one-dimensional and forgettable.  It's only been a month since I've read this book and I had to refer to my notes to remember most of the characters which gives you any idea of the impression they made on me.  To be honest, I was hoping the annoying wife would be the one to disappear so I didn't have to read another conversation with her.

Local Gone Missing was disappointing, with a messy plot and annoying characters that were left undeveloped so you didn't even get to appreciate their quirks.  Personally, I don't think the back and forth timelines helped the plot as it just added to the confusion, making a book that had a mixture of styles to begin with even more confusing.  The author did manage to tie in a lot of subplots, but had to use coincidence a lot as a tool for doing so, not something I really like, but at least it had an ending that was satisfying.  I did like Elise and thought her story line was interesting, and I loved her neighbour. I, personally, can't recommend this book, but there were a lot of people who did enjoy it, so you may like it more than I did.


Saturday, September 17, 2022

Review: Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron

by Ellen Byron
Release Date: June 7, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593437612
Audiobook: B09J9ZJWJ1
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Twenty-eight-year-old widow Ricki James leaves Los Angeles to start a new life in New Orleans after her showboating actor husband perishes doing a stupid internet stunt. The Big Easy is where she was born and adopted by the NICU nurse who cared for her after Ricki's teen mother disappeared from the hospital.

Ricki's dream comes true when she joins the quirky staff of Bon Vee Culinary House Museum, the spectacular former Garden District home of late bon vivant Genevieve "Vee" Charbonnet, the city's legendary restauranteur. Ricki is excited about turning her avocation - collecting vintage cookbooks - into a vocation by launching the museum's gift shop, Miss Vee's Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware. Then she discovers that a box of donated vintage cookbooks contains the body of a cantankerous Bon Vee employee who was fired after being exposed as a book thief.
My Thoughts
Bayou Book Thief is the first book in a new series set in New Orleans, featuring a woman who is interested in collecting vintage cookbooks and using them to develop thematic cooking parties and celebrations as well as open her own store with other vintage items on display.  The setting is always a a huge draw for me, but the story was shock full of interesting tidbits about the city, had many twists and turns, and was fun, with a host of quirky characters.  

Ricki James, recently moved from L.A. to escape the spotlight of her husband who died while filming himself doing a stunt, finds herself as the new owner of a vintage bookstore in one of the spectacular museum houses in New Orleans.  She had always been a fan of the former owner, Genevieve Charbonnet, a legendary restauranteur, and is excited to join the staff celebrating her life and family legacy.  I thought she made a great investigator because she was discrete and didn't do anything stupid. And the revelations, with Ricki being in the right spot at the right time, made sense. No silly coincidences or absurd stuff happening.  The focus was more on Ricki than on some of the other characters, but being the first book in a series, that is to be expected. The secondary characters were not neglected however, it's just that there wasn't enough time to really allow their personalities and quirks to really shine, something that I expect will be done in future books.

I thought the actual mystery was quite intriguing, and it did take me a little while to figure it out as the person I thought it was didn't turn out to be the culprit so I had to re-evaluate.  The red herrings were nicely laid out and there were a couple of times when I paused, simply to reflect on how easy it is to judge someone without knowing the full truth of something.  I was also mesmerized by the setting and the details around the new bookshop, so perhaps I missed a couple of things while focusing on those details. I did have one quibble about the name of the place as Ricki mentioned a couple of times that Le Bon Vee was named after the French expression to have a good life and then proceeded to call it "Le bon vie", but being French, it is actually "La bonne vie". This nagged at me just a little bit.and I couldn't let it go.  Other than that, I thought the twists and turns were great, loved the descriptions of the food (I would love a Po'boy right now), and enjoyed Ricki's shopping expeditions. So much fun!

Bayou Book Thief was a great first book in a new series set in New Orleans.  With some good twists and turns and lovely descriptions of New Orleans combined with a writing style that keeps you interested in the characters and the setting, it had everything you would want in a cozy mystery.  Luckily, just as I was finishing this one, I was gifted an ARC of Wined and Died in New Orleans, the next book in this series which releases February 2023.  If you are an avid cozy mystery reader, I  highly recommend this book.