Saturday, March 19, 2022

Review: Riley's Ghost by John David Anderson

by John David Anderson
Release Date: January 11, 2022
2022 Walden Pond Press
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062985972
ASIN: B09292B6LX
Audiobook: B095PYJ3ZC
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile / Ghost
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

It feels like she's been on her own since sixth grade, when her best friend, Emily, ditched her for the cool girls. Girls who don't like Riley. Girls who decide one day to lock her in the science closet after hours, after everyone else has gone home.

When Riley is finally able to escape, however, she finds that her horror story is only just beginning. All the school doors are locked, the windows won't budge, the phones are dead, and the lights aren't working. Through halls lit only by the narrow beam of her flashlight, Riley roams the building, seeking a way out, an answer, an explanation. And as she does, she starts to suspect she isn't alone after all.
My Thoughts
Riley's Ghost was a slow-moving ghost story that deals with Riley's tribulations through middle school.  Although she is being bullied at school, she does have some anger issues and her behaviour towards other students as well as her parents and I was interested to see how this would be dealt with by the author.  I did feel like the things that happened to Riley were quite realistic, but I wanted to see how the ghost story would figure into all of it, and this is where I was somewhat disappointed.  
First of all, I wasn't sure what to think about Riley throughout the story.  That she was prickly didn't bother me as she was being bullied and that can so often be a defence mechanism, but I really feel like her issue with Emily wasn't resolved in a satisfactory way as we never learned why Emily chose to hang out with a different group of friends.  Riley did demonstrate some poor behaviour and I was worried that this would not be taken seriously in the book. So I did appreciate Riley's growth as she reflected on some of her actions throughout the book and how she caused some of the problems, especially the arguments with her parents.  I also liked how the author put an emphasis on how hurtful words can be to children, especially when used thoughtlessly. 
I normally love this author, but I did find this book to be somewhat slow, and I wasn't a huge fan of the ghost story as I felt it was 'preachy'.  You know, the kind where it was all your fault because you abandoned me, and the lesson was to always stick by your friends no matter what was happening. I get the message, and I think kids will as well, but not sure I like the delivery.  However, creepy was always my thing, even as a kid, so being locked in school after hours would have definitely been creepy for me.
Riley's Ghost was a pretty good portrayal of middle-school kids and their behaviours, and I definitely liked the added bonus of a ghost to teach lessons.  I did find the overall ghost story to be somewhat slow and the overall theme, while good, did not necessarily address the issues: it was more of a lesson about sticking with your friends no matter what happens and there is always more to the problem than that.   Personally, as a kid, I would not have found this creepy enough, but I probably would have liked it quite a bit.  For those readers who are looking for something that is not too creepy, this one is probably for you. 


Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Review: The Last Daughter of York by Nicola Cornick

by Nicola Cornick
Release Date: November 16, 2021
2021 Graydon House
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-1525806452
ASIN: B08RW464N7
Audiobook: B09584WPTM
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

In the winter of 1483, Francis Lovell is Richard III’s Lord Chamberlain and confidant, but the threat of Henry Tudor’s rebels has the king entrusting to Francis and his wife, Anne, his most crucial mission: protecting the young Richard of York, his brother’s surviving son and a threat to Henry’s claims to the throne.

In the present day, Serena Warren has been haunted by her past ever since her twin sister, Caitlin, disappeared. But when Caitlin’s bones are discovered interred in a church vault that hasn’t been opened since the eighteenth century, the police are baffled. Piecing together local folklore that speaks of a magical relic with her own hazy memories of the day Caitlin vanished, Serena begins to uncover an impossible secret that her grandfather has kept hidden, one that connects her to Anne, Francis and the young Duke of York.
My Thoughts
The Last Daughter of York was a fun, easy fantastical read about what could have happened to young Richard of York.  I have always been fascinated by the disappearance of the boys, and enjoy reading some of the theories that exist about their possible fates. This book explores the fate of young Richard in a fantastical way, and although not the slightest bit believable, was quite enjoyable.  And although I don't think the boys survived, there has always been a part of me that hoped that someone whisked them to safety and one day we would learn they actually lived their lives in obscurity, having escaped tragedy.
To be honest, I may be doing this book a disservice as I am getting a bit tired of the dual time line thing. It could also be where my interest lies as well as I just wasn't as interested in the present-day story line as I thought it was fairly repetitive and didn't have the tension that is necessary in a mystery.  Plus, the whole Caitlin thing just kind of petered out in the end, and I was somewhat disappointed in the solution considering the story that was set up.  Unfortunately, I did kind of rush those sections to get back to Francis Lovell's story as I thought that was the more interesting of the two, especially as his story is not one that is usually discussed so I wanted to learn more about him.  And I don't know how others feel, but I also think that memory loss is sort of a weak plot strategy, especially one that suddenly returns because you see the man of your dreams again. Umm, no!  

While I did think the overall plot was weak, I did enjoy the descriptions and felt like I was there with the characters. I won't say I was crazy about the present-day characters, but I certainly enjoyed the characters from the past, especially Anne Fitzhugh, about whom little is known in reality.  She is related to the Nevilles, another fascination of mine, as well as the Earl of Warwick.  Ok, I am just fascinated by this era, period.  And I am much more sympathetic towards Richard III than I used to be so I was curious as to how he would be portrayed in this novel.  The book doesn't really deal with Richard III, nor does it discuss exactly who the real threats are politically, and while it doesn't make light of it all exactly, I don't think it really does a good job explaining how serious the situation was either. However, I do like how the author showed how important women were to the cause and the role they played.

The Last Daughter of York was exactly that, fun, light, easy.  If you are looking for a more in-depth learning experience about this time period, you will not get it in this book. The plot holes are actually quite big, and there was little discussion about how Richard and Francis fared when they actually did time travel.  However, I did enjoy the book enough to pretty much read it in one sitting, once I got past the implausibles and improbables of the story lines.  Personally, I wish the whole book had been about Anne and Francis. 



Saturday, March 5, 2022

Review: The Torqued Man by Peter Mann

by Peter Mann
Release Date: January 11, 2022
2022 Harper
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063072106
Audiobook: B095PYQV79
Genre: Fiction / Historical / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.75 / 5 Stars

Berlin--September, 1945. Two manuscripts are found in rubble, each one narrating conflicting versions of the life of an Irish spy during the war.

One of them is the journal of a German military intelligence officer and an anti-Nazi cowed into silence named Adrian de Groot, charting his relationship with his agent, friend, and sometimes lover, an Irishman named Frank Pike. Meanwhile, the other manuscript gives a very different account of the Irishman's doings in the Reich. 

The two manuscripts spiral around each other, leaving only the reader to know the full truth of Pike and De Groot's relationship, their ultimate loyalties, and their efforts to resist the fascist reality in which they are caught.
My Thoughts
The Torqued Man had an interesting concept, which I really liked. Tell the same story from two different perspectives and let the reader try to figure out what was really going on during a time of espionage, manipulations, double crossings, and war. I've always liked the journalistic style of storytelling, which is the approach taken in this book, so I thought it would be interesting to be led around by the nose, so to speak, and try to figure out what was really happening. And while there were a couple of things that did catch me off guard, and I really wanted to fully immerse myself in the story, there was something off about the way it was written that didn't make me feel empathetic towards the characters or allow me to get fully involved in the lives of these people.
First of all, the book was well-written, a mix between historical fiction and political thriller, but it did feel sluggish at times.  I don't usually tend to mind when books move slowly, especially historical fiction, as it gives me a chance to really absorb the atmosphere of the time period and what was happening.  However, some of the sluggish points were on things that I don't think were really necessary to the story, and I will admit I put the book down to read something else for a while before picking it back up again.  The dual POV can be useful or it can create problems in a book, and for me, I think it affected the suspense / tension in the story line; however, the fact the story lines weren't aligned was not an issue and I actually thought that was fascinating. I started realizing quite early on not to take anything literally and understood that every action would have another side of the story that would be quite different. I got to the point where I stopped trusting anything I read and wondering what was really going on.
I really enjoyed Piked as a main character and thought De Groot was quite annoying.  Pike was rough around the edges and could be quite crass, but I found him to be a lot more interesting while Adrian spend his time whining about socialism. This was definitely the author's intention, to give us these two characters, one who spent time in a Spanish prison cell, and the other, a German official, whose job was to oversee Pike, who does not see himself as working for Hitler, but still works for the Nazis in Nazi Germany and has all the comforts that that entails. Nobody could be trusted as you just didn't know if anyone was a spy or what their purpose was in being there.  Unfortunately, I felt like there was so much subterfuge going on that the story got sluggish, and I just didn't empathize with any of the characters towards the end of the story. 

The Torqued Man had an interesting concept, and I liked the dual story line as they overlapped each other so you got both sides of the same story which made you wonder exactly which one was true, or what exactly was going on.  However, these same story lines also took away from the suspense and bogged down the story, plus they made me less empathetic towards the characters.  I had no issue understanding the story, but I do wonder if someone who is not familiar with WWII time lines might struggle with the somewhat out of sync story lines.  I was also disappointed with the ending as it just didn't feel satisfying; I think maybe I wanted more of a confrontation? A good lesson here though: There is always another side to the story.