Sunday, January 30, 2022

Review: The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

by Jennifer McMahon
Release Date: April 6, 2021
2021 Gallery/Scout Press
Kindle Edition; 319 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982153922
Audiobook: B08DG5DQW8
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

When social worker Jax receives nine missed calls from her older sister, Lexie, she assumes that it’s just another one of her sister’s episodes. Manic and increasingly out of touch with reality, Lexie has pushed Jax away for over a year. But the next day, Lexie is dead: drowned in the pool at their grandmother’s estate. When Jax arrives at the house to go through her sister’s things, she learns that Lexie was researching the history of their family and the property. And as she dives deeper into the research herself, she discovers that the land holds a far darker past than she could have ever imagined.
My Thoughts
The Drowning Kind is one of those novels that I enjoyed reading, and the atmosphere was amazing, but I really didn't connect with any of the characters and thought the overall plot was weak.  To be honest, I think the swimming pool almost took on a personality of its own and I was fascinated by its descriptions and haunting stories.  

The main character in this novel, Jax, returns home for her sister Lexie's funeral and learns that her sister had been researching the history of their home and the legends that surround their family and the curse that has whispered about the springs on their property for years. I didn't really connect with any of the characters simply because of the way they were written; it was more of an info-dump with lots of explanations rather than allowing the reader to figure things out as they went.  This takes away from the suspense of the story, something that is crucial in a horror novel. Instead of making the family's compulsion to be near the springs and the pool mysterious and creepy, it just seemed silly at times because you knew too much.  

While I know the 1929 timeline is important so that we understand a bit of the history of the family, I didn't particularly enjoy it, and I didn't like Ethel.  Honestly, I think if I read, "And I am Mrs. Monroe..." one more time... I understand her desperation, but I don't understand her choices, considering her knowledge of the springs and the price you have to pay.  

While I did enjoy the overall story, I did find it repetitive and I definitely did not find it creepy or very suspenseful.  Yes, there were the occasional creepy sounds and the occasional sightings, but horror? No. Jax was a bit frustrating as well; I am not a big fan when a character absolutely refuses to even consider the paranormal when something happens, even for a couple of seconds.  Furthermore, all of her sister's research was sitting in the house, and all of the characters were questioning what was happening, yet no one goes and looks in the boxes to see what Lexie had already uncovered? I can't stand it when the obvious is right there in front of you, but is ignored as if the reader won't notice.  

And that ending? I read it twice just to make sure I understood what I read. Nope, nope, nope. I really thought the author took the easy road out.

The Drowning Kind is one of those novels that I did enjoy, but it was a also a slow burn as I wasn't a fan of the characters and the ending just didn't work with the rest of the story.  While there is no question that this author can write eerily atmospheric novels with mounting dread, something was just missing in this one. I definitely think this is one you need to check out for yourself.


Sunday, January 23, 2022

Review: The Orphan of Cemetery Hill by Hester Fox

by Hester Fox
Release Date: September 15, 2020
2020 Graydon House
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1525804571
Audiobook: B087QM6Z6X
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Paranormal / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
2.75 / 5 Stars
Tabby has a peculiar gift: she can communicate with the recently departed. It makes her special, but it also makes her dangerous.

As an orphaned child, she fled with her sister, Alice, from their charlatan aunt Bellefonte, who wanted only to exploit Tabby’s gift so she could profit from the recent craze for seances.

Now a young woman and tragically separated from Alice, Tabby works with her adopted father, Eli, the kind caretaker of a large Boston cemetery. When a series of macabre grave robberies begins to plague the city, Tabby is ensnared in a deadly plot by the perpetrators, known only as the “Resurrection Men.”
My Thoughts
The Orphan of Cemetery Hill is a Gothic historical mystery that was a bit of a disappointment.  While I enjoyed the setting and loved the atmosphere of the cemetery, I was not a fan of the romance as I didn't like one of the main characters, and I thought one of the plot points was really pushing it.  I get that this book has a paranormal element to it, but it still has to be believable.
Tabby was a lot of fun as a main character.  I liked her spunk and resourcefulness even as she was trying to lie low and hide from an aunt and uncle from whom she had to flee when she was little. Although she didn't have much, she lived a quiet life with her adopted father who took care of the local cemetery, who took her in when she was little.  It was the perfect place for Tabby to develop her abilities as she could communicate with the dead, a secret she learned to keep to herself at a young age.  However, I was not a fan of Caleb, her love interest.  Yes, he was selfish and self-absorbed, but characters like that can be developed and show growth throughout a novel; Caleb didn't really impress me with his growth and I felt like he was still selfish, even at the end.  I couldn't, for the life of me, understand what Tabby saw in him, and I just didn't buy into their romance, which was a huge fail for me in this book.  Oh, don't get me wrong, I like a good rogue, but Caleb just seemed silly.  
The plot was interesting in the beginning, and I did enjoy it, but it definitely slowed down towards the middle as it got bogged down in the so-called 'mystery'.  I loosely called this a mystery as there was no mystery simply because the reader knows who the culprit was quite early on which took away a lot of the suspense and intrigue, at least for me.  I think knowing who it was was supposed to add this fear element for the characters as they tried to figure out what to do, but it didn't really work.  The author spent too much time telling the reader what was going on as opposed to letting the reader figure things out themselves, a writing style of which I am not a fan.  Unfortunately, what ended up happening is that I had to dig in and force myself to finish the book, which was disappointing.  
The Orphan of Cemetery Hill was a bit of a disappointment, but the potential was definitely there.  I wasn't a fan of the romance as I didn't like Caleb as a main character, and I thought the plot slowed down too much in the middle as the author spent too much time telling the reader how things were going rather than letting the reader figure things out.  It's a shame as I really enjoyed the atmosphere and I always love settings that have to do with cemeteries and ghosts.   Unfortunately, the atmosphere, ghosts, and an interesting concept are not always enough.


Saturday, January 15, 2022

Review: The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan

by Allison Brennan
Release Date: December 28, 2021
2021 Mira Books
Kindle Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778311683
Audiobook: B094PJMBQ3
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.75 / 5 Stars
A popular sorority girl. An unsolved murder. A campus podcast with chilling repercussions.

Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found after two weeks, but the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the medical examiner's, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.

Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle. He just isn't sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace's last hours. Then he encourages listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer Regan Merritt, a former US marshal, to come on and share her expertise.
My Thoughts
The Sorority Murder had an interesting concept in that it was focused on a student podcast that was used to shake up facts in a three-year-old cold case of a popular sorority girl.  It was the podcast idea that drew me to the story as I thought the concept was interesting, and crime podcasts are certainly popular, so I was intrigued by the way the author would use it in the story.  While the story was somewhat repetitive, there was definitely a lot to like as well.
I really liked Regan, a former US marshal, as she always seemed so cool and collected while working, but during her down time, when she was with her friends and family, you got to know her story and understand her motives a bit better.  After suffering a personal loss, she has returned home to figure things out and is currently living with her dad, but I love how her dad doesn't crowd her and gives her space. She is an adult and it is refreshing to see a relationship that is respectful and loving.  She looks to him for advice, but still makes her own decisions.
I wasn't a huge fan of Lucas however. It has nothing to do with the fact that he was hiding something, or that we don't understand his motives for doing the podcast (this is a mystery novel, after all), but I just felt like his character needed more development so that we could empathize with him and understand his behaviour and his reactions.  I think it would have made him seem more sympathetic to others and how they were feeling. 
The plot itself was interesting, and I was curious about the missing girl, Candace, and what could have happened to her.  It did take quite a while for things to get going though, but once it did, there were quite a few twists and turns. I didn't quite buy into the red herrings however, and one of the characters changed so much that I didn't find it believable. However, I really liked the podcast idea, and thought that was interesting. Having people call in to give information is a nice little twist as well. I could be biased there though as I listen to podcasts myself.   

The Sorority Murder is a decent book, and I thought the plot was interesting. However, the plot is a slow burn and it takes a while for things to really get going; however, once they do, they pick up rather nicely even if the ending does require some suspension of belief. I did feel that Lucas needed more development as a character although I did enjoy a lot of the other characters in this book.  Overall, a solid read.


Sunday, January 9, 2022

Review: A Secret Never Told by Shelley Noble

by Shelley Noble
Release Date: November 16, 2021
2021 Forge Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250750457
Audiobook: B09J6HPHYD
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.5 / 5 Stars
Fate obliges when Phil is called upon to host a dinner party in honor of a visiting Austrian psychologist whose revolutionary theories may be of interest to the War Department, not to mention various foreign powers, and who may have already survived one attempt on his life. The guest list includes a wealthy industrialist, various rival scientists and academics, a party hypnotist, a flamboyant party-crasher, and a damaged beauty whose cloudy psyche is lost in a world of its own. Before the night is out, one of the guests is dead with a bullet between the eyes and Phil finds herself with another mystery on her hands, even if it’s unclear who exactly the intended victim was meant to be.

Worse yet, the police’s prime suspect is a mystery man who Phil happens to be rather intimately acquainted with. Now it’s up to Lady Dunbridge, with the invaluable assistance of her intrepid butler and lady’s maid, to find the real culprit before the police nab the wrong one . . .
My Thoughts
A Secret Never Told is the next book in the Lady Dunbridge Mystery series, and I think one of the reasons I keep reading this series is for the historical descriptions. This one featured some aspects of Coney Island as well as delving into the early fields of psychology, something that fascinated me.  
I am a huge fan of historical mysteries so I really loved the descriptions of the time period. Coney Island was hugely popular in the early 1900s so I was intrigued about it being used as a setting for a murder as it was chock full of those things; I didn't want to learn about the rides and the fun stuff, I wanted the underbelly, the wheelings and dealings of the criminal world.  And while the story definitely alluded to that, and the characters did come across some shady stuff, I really felt like all they did was touch upon it and didn't really delve into it.  

The author's writing style is great though, and has this way of drawing you into the story.  I definitely enjoyed her descriptions of the time period and thought the character development (from the first book) was good.  Phil, to be honest, is the most annoying of the characters, but her heart is in the right place and she wants to do well by her friends and her servants, whom she considers friends.  Personally, she drives me crazy. And I am not a fan of her relationship with Mr. X.  I don't know who this man is, but I have my suspicions; I don't have any objections to the teasing and flirting, etc...but I can't put my finger on why the whole thing makes me uneasy. Maybe it's because Phil also flirts with the detective and finds him attractive as well, and I have never been a fan of those love triangle things, not that this is what it is, but I am really hoping it doesn't go there.  That being said, I am fascinated by both Lily and Preswick, her servants, and their skill set, and know there is a story there to be told and am waiting patiently for the day it happens.  

I did enjoy the mystery and thought there were plenty of twists and turns; however, it was kind of easy to figure out if you paid attention.  I am not a psychology major, but I did have to take a few classes in uni and I was always fascinated by the development of the field so I found the arguments between the various characters, who were split into various fields and followers, quite interesting.  I also know it was very political, especially considering the state of world politics during this time period as various countries were building their military forces and looking at many different things to augment them.  I was a bit disappointed that we didn't discover more about the reasons why Phil's boss wanted her involved, but I guess that will be revealed in future books.  The lack of knowledge about the War Department's involvement is starting to get on my nerves though.  And this is where I do have knowledge, considering the time period, as we head into WWI. I want to know more about the political stuff, about Mr. X., and about the War Department. 
A Secret Never Told was a quick and fun read, chock full of interesting facts about Coney Island and the development of psychology in the early 1900s.  I thought the author had a great writing style and I found her characters interesting, but I am not a huge fan of the main character and some of the things do require some suspension of belief.  I am intrigued by Mr. X and the War Department's involvement and look forward to learning more about them in future books.  Recommend if you are looking for a fun historical mystery series.  


Sunday, January 2, 2022

Review: Warrior's Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

by Jeff Wheeler
Release Date: May 18, 2021
2021 47North
Kindle Edition; 363 Pages
ISBN: 978-1542027380
Audiobook: B08L9LXYX3
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

After a pilgrimage to the East Kingdoms seeking a blessing from the Fountain, source of the land’s magic, Sir Ransom Barton returns home in search of two dreams: Claire de Murrow, the heiress he loves, and a patron for his warrior skills. Unexpectedly, Ransom finds himself in the favor of Devon, the notorious Elder King. Brought into the ruler’s mesnie and given two wards of his own, Ransom is devoted to his privileged new position. He’s also privy to the running of the realm and to all its courtly intrigues—notably, the machinations of the king’s three remaining sons, all engaged in a manipulative battle to become heir to the throne.

As Ransom is thrust into the middle of poisonous family conspiracies and betrayals, allegiances are shattered, and Ransom fears he may end up serving his worst enemy—or worse, face exile for demonstrating loyalty.
My Thoughts
Warrior's Ransom is the second book in The First Argentines series, and I enjoyed it even more than the first book.   Ransom continues to struggle finding a master worthy of his loyalty, and I have to admire his earnestness and his steadfastness as I am not sure I would be able to do the same in his shoes.  This second book explores that theme of trust and loyalty and the dilemma it imposes on men when the people they serve make poor decisions that put many lives in jeopardy.  

Ransom is a character to admire and I love his growing development in this book.  I was a little disappointed that his journey/quest was only a small part of the book, but he did receive a gift during his journey that would certainly help him during his difficulties later on.  Even though he has many doubts and is not always sure his decisions are the right ones, he trusts in his loyalty and in his honour and his duty as a knight.  There are many who mock him for his ideals and urge him to break his bonds of loyalty, but I have to admire him for his steadfastness and sticking to his oaths, even when he is torn.  And having magic on his side to guide him doesn't hurt either.  A lot of his decisions are made with the Fountain's guidance and blessing, even if he doesn't understand the reasons behind those pushes and pulls he receives.

Although I do find the journal writing from Claire to be intriguing, I find it irritating at the same time. I feel like I don't really know her that well and wish we got her information through her point of view rather than through chronicles.  I think learning more about the machinations of the castle would have been interesting and it would have developed a few other characters that were kind of left in the background.  

The plot development is coming along nicely and there is certainly a lot going on.  Although the story focuses on Ransom, there is almost an innocence to him as he gets caught up in a lot of political intrigue that he only seems to sense at the last minute; I think his loyalty doesn't always let him understand how others can be so deceptive.  It's not that he is blind or naive or unwary, but still seems shocked when people do dirty, underhanded things.  And there is a lot going on. Ransom is constantly putting out fires or avoiding poisonous traps; the twists and turns were plenty.  I do wish that Ransom would take the time to explore the Fountain blessed magic, or the legends, and see how they could help him, as they did feature more prominently in this book.  I was hoping for a bit more of that in this book. 

Warrior's Ransom continues to focus on Ransom and in this one, he learns more about his fountain-blessed magic and how it can help him during his battles and with his decisions.  The writing, as always, is detailed and full of complex characters.  Highly recommend this series. 


Saturday, January 1, 2022

Review: The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

by John Gwynne
Release Date: May 4th 2021
2021 Orbit
Kindle Edition; 496 Pages
ISBN: 978-0356514185
Audiobook: B0942QJFMR
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of VigriĆ°.

Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave - or desperate - enough to seek them out.

Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn.
My Thoughts
The Shadow of the Gods is one of those books I couldn't wait to start reading, and I have to admit, while I am not one for cover art, that one is just astounding and I couldn't help but look at it over and over again.  And the descriptions of the world do not disappoint, full of nuggets and landscapes that are awe-inspiring, many based on Norse mythology.
The three main characters were fun and I enjoyed each of them for very different reasons.  I have to say that I probably enjoyed Orka's storyline the best, but I think it was because she wasn't part of a war band and her story was a bit different than the other two. Varg and Elvar were both part of warbands, if for different reasons, and while I found their individual stories interesting, I liked the more classic fantasy of Orka's.  All three characters were intriguing in their own right, and definitely had growth to them, but when the same tropes get used for the characters, vengeance and anger, it can get a bit old fairly quickly, and sometimes I'd like to see something else used as a reason for why someone does something.  That being said, the author definitely knows how to write great female characters, ones who are strong, with interesting backgrounds. How the three characters are all connected to each other, and how their story lines connect, is one of the best things about this book.
Because I have read this author's previous works, I am familiar with his writing, and I know to be patient.  I entered this book with the mindset that everything would be revealed in time, and just enjoyed the atmosphere and the setting and the worlds that were described.  And while the mythology definitely borrows from Norse mythology, there is a lot of originality within it to make it interesting. The author switched POV between the three main characters so the world was slowly revealed through each character's actions, something that I liked.  Yes, it was a bit tedious at times, but I didn't mind too much.  There is little info-dumping and you have to figure things out for yourself, which I like, but the world is full of mercenary war bands, jarls, politics, creatures, and other such things that made it quite interesting.  It could be brutal, as the people tended to be very superstitious, basing a lot of their beliefs on tradition.  There is a slave culture as well, entrenched in the society, which plays a huge role in this book, and which looks like it will continue to play a huge role in the next book as well.   

The plot was interesting, but I did feel like it was a bit predictable.  The descriptions more than made up for it however, as I loved the atmosphere and the setting and the mysticism of the story lines.  Although there were definitely some slower sections, there was enough action to keep me interested and invested, and I loved the ending.  There was this one moment when someone said something that made it all click, and I figured out the connection, but it didn't really matter as I was curious as to how the author would being it all together.  

The Shadow of the Gods was a fun and epic read, and I enjoyed the three main characters for very different reasons.  I should mention that the secondary characters were a lot of fun as well, and I hope the author develops a few of them in the next book as I would love to learn more about Rokia and Grend, fore example.  I did think the plot was a bit predictable, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and thought the ending was really good.  I am looking forward to reading the next book in this series, The Hunger of the Gods, when it is released in April.