Sunday, July 31, 2022

Review: A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear

by Jacqueline Winspear
Release Date: March 22, 2022
2022 Harper
Kindle Edition; 358 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063142268
Audiobook: B09HL42Y5B
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

October 1942. Jo Hardy, a 22-year-old ferry pilot, is delivering a Supermarine Spitfire--the fastest fighter aircraft in the world--to Biggin Hill Aerodrome, when she realizes someone is shooting at her aircraft from the ground. Returning to the location on foot, she finds an American serviceman in a barn, bound and gagged. 
At the suggestion of one of her colleagues, Jo seeks the help of psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs. Meanwhile, Maisie's husband, a high-ranking political attachée based at the American embassy, is in the thick of ensuring security is tight for the first lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, during her visit to the Britain. There's already evidence that German agents have been circling: the wife of a president represents a high value target. Mrs. Roosevelt is clearly in danger, and there may well be a direct connection to the death of the woman ferry pilot and the recent activities of two American servicemen.

My Thoughts
A Sunlit Weapon is the next instalment of the long-running Maisie Dobbs series, and because it seemed to focus on women pilots, I was really hoping for the magic of the earlier books and some interesting details into the historical details and political issues that existed for the women who risked their lives, sometimes facing some serious family fallout, in order to follow their dreams.  After all, they were the first women who were close to achieving pay equity and even though they didn't necessarily fly combat missions at this point, they were able to fly all sorts of different planes in some dangerous situations.  However, the overall story got bogged down by a convoluted plot, repetitive actions, and some rather unbelievable coincidences.  

I am one of those people who would have preferred Maisie to have remained unmarried.  While I like Mark, I am not a fan of the relationship as it just seems forced and it always seems like there has to be some aspect of Mark's job involved in the plot.  Personally, I really enjoyed the plot with the women pilots and I think the book would have been just fine if it had simply focused on that mystery; however, now we have the added bonus of Eleanor Roosevelt's visit with all of the shenanigans revolving around that as well as Anna's bullying at school.  While I can handle convoluted plots, too much can bog down a book, which this does.  It also takes away from the importance of the women pilots and their job, something with which I was not happy as I wanted to learn more about them. I felt like the author was downplaying their roles, and while I don't think it was intentional, it certainly felt that way, just to include Mark.  Why is it so wrong to put Mark on the back-burner and just highlight Maisie's activities? After all, we did just fine for many books without him.  It also seems to take away from the importance of Maisie's job, and her constant reassurances that she will look after her own safety gets repetitive after a while.  

My favourite character has always been Billy, and I would like to see him developed even more.  I was happy to see him promoted, but not necessarily happy by how it was done.  Although there is no doubt Maisie cares for him and is worried about him, the cavalier way she makes decisions for him rather turns me off. What happened to discussing important things like adults? With negotiations involved?

And the bullying and racism in the story? I was quite happy to see that included as it was an important aspect of WWII, but I am not sure I liked the way the author went about doing it in this story, through Anna's difficulties in school.  I am not opposed to the bullying itself as that definitely happened, but Maisie's confrontation with the headmistress kind of turned me off as it just seemed unrealistic.  Creating drama just for drama's sake. However, I thought the discussions about racism within the American military stationed in Great Britain were quite informative, and although they didn't go into as much detail as I would have liked, highlighted some social aspects of the war that are not necessarily discussed. 

A Sunlit Weapon had the potential to reach the level of mystery and suspense of earlier books, but the focus on too many convoluted plot threads ruined that with too many unbelievable coincidences and a lack of focus on any particularly aspect or theme.  This idea that Mark's job needs to be included in every book is a turnoff for me as I would like the mystery to be on Maisie and her investigations which would have meant more effort and energy developing the women pilot story line, something that would have been extremely fascinating and would have highlighted a fascinating piece of history.  Unfortunately, adding Mark to the story line has not strengthened this series.  I do like this author's writing style and would like to see her develop the social prejudice story lines in future books, but without all the added drama, just tell the story.  Overall, the author's historical research is really good and the writing style is interesting, but the mystery was weak. It was still an overall interesting read.


Friday, July 29, 2022

Review: The Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird

by Kristen Bird
Release Date: February 8, 2022
2022 Mira Books
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778332107
Audiobook: B099GX54HH
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.25 / 5 Stars

Emily, a popular but bookish prep school senior, goes missing after a night out with friends. She was last seen leaving a party with Alex, a football player with a dubious reputation. But no one is talking.

Now three mothers, Catherine, Leslie and Morgan, friends turned frenemies, have their lives turned upside down as they are forced to look to their own children--and each other's--for answers to questions they don't want to ask.
My Thoughts
The Night She Went Missing had a pretty interesting synopsis, and I was intrigued for the first third of the book, but it went completely downhill from that point on and I struggled to finish it.  I wish the author had taken a chance and really messed up her characters and the story line as there was so much potential for it to be something interesting and well...quite deceitful.   

The story was written from different POV and although you tend to develop empathy for characters this way, I actually thought this was a disadvantage in this book as the shorter chapters didn't really give me a chance to develop connections with any of the characters.  To be honest, some of them I skimmed through because the dialogue seemed to be pointless and wasn't necessarily developing the characters or the story line.  The adults really had no depth to them despite their individual issues as they seemed more concerned with their appearance and keeping their secrets than they did with finding Emily. And the author's constant justification for Catherine's behaviour and the reason for losing her job was a complete turn-off and made me dislike her more throughout the novel.  I can't stand it when characters don't own up to their own behaviours and take responsibility for their actions. And the author writes their characters as if the reader should feel sorry for them.  No way!
The first part of the novel was interesting and I was intrigued enough to want to know what was going to happen to Emily. Then, for a multitude of reasons, the story took a nosedive and became something that was more about how all women are victims and the men are all evil in some capacity type of scenario.and it was just reading through to discover which bad man actually did the deed. Now, what a twist it would have been otherwise.  And in a book that focused quite a bit on women's ambitions, I was disappointed in the ending when one of the main characters gave up an Ivy League dream to go to community college for certain reasons.  I just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that all strong, capable women would be so ambitious as to jeopardize everything in their lives as this book seemed to highlight, then try to justify the actions because of things that happened to them in their earlier lives, and try to get readers to empathize with their current behaviours as if its okay just because something happened to them in the past.  To be honest, I'm still kind of seething over it.

The Night She Went Missing had a lot of potential, but completely missed the mark.  There were alot of things happening, but nothing that really enhances or moves the story along.  I didn't really have empathy for most of the characters, except maybe Morgan, and wasn't really invested in what happened to them, especially as I felt like the author wanted me to feel sorry for some of their past transgressions, and some of it just made me roll my eyes.  However, I would probably try another book by this author as there were some things I liked, but this one was definitely not what I expected. Disappointing second half and even more disappointing ending.


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Review: Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak

by Jason Rekulak
Release Date: May 10, 2022
2022 Flatiron Books
Kindle & ARC Hardcover Editions; 373 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250819345
Audiobook: B09GCKQGYG
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Fresh out of rehab, Mallory Quinn takes a job in the affluent suburb of Spring Brook, New Jersey as a babysitter for Ted and Caroline Maxwell.

Mallory immediately loves this new job. She lives in the Maxwell’s pool house, goes out for nightly runs, and has the stability she craves. And she sincerely bonds with Teddy, a sweet, shy boy who is never without his sketchbook and pencil. His drawings are the usual fare: trees, rabbits, balloons. But one day, he draws something different: a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s lifeless body.

My Thoughts
Hidden Pictures was an interesting book, and I will definitely say that I thought the pictures were the highlight of the story.  I started off reading this in Kindle format, but then switched over to the Hardcover ARC edition because the quality of the pictures was better and wanted to spend time going over them in more detail.  The overall story was enjoyable, but this was definitely not a horror novel, more of a mystery, and I did have some issues with plot and character development.

I rather liked Mallory as a main character. Having come out of rehab a few months before, she was still unsure of what life held for her and still unsure of her resistance to temptations, so a job like this seemed perfect. She wasn't silly or naive, and she took the time to question odd behaviours and worked with her bosses on how best to deal with things which showed thoughtfulness on the part of the author as so often the main character does something stupid and you just shake your head and wonder why the author would make a main character do something like that. Overall, I don't think any of the characters were fully fleshed out, and the dad's behaviour towards the end of the book made no sense to me whatsoever as there was no build up, no development, not even minute signs, for what happened. Just turned completely 180 and I was not impressed.

For the first half of the book, I was completely immersed in the story and thought the pictures added this lovely, eerie feel to the story.  To be honest, the pictures were the only creepy thing about the book and even then I don't think they were horrifying, not enough to call this book a horror novel.  I loved them though, and went back over them a few times to see if I missed any clues inserted in the pictures that were vital to the story.  But then, Mallory questioned one little thing about Teddy about half-way through and for whatever reason, it flipped something in my brain, and I figured out the story.  And then the episode with the dad, and that was it for me. What was a really good story took a turn and suddenly, I felt like I was in a completely different story with different characters.  It was not a good feeling.

Hidden Pictures definitely had potential, but the ending was disappointing as the character development, especially in the parents, was extremely weak, and the plot development, especially the denouement, was a bit thin.  I did think the first half was much stronger than the second half, and had this delightfully creepy vibe, and the pictures added a nice supernatural element that added just the right atmosphere.  Unfortunately, this atmosphere did not carry through to to the second half, and the ending left me disappointed; this was definitely not a horror novel, but more of a mystery novel despite the very brief supernatural element.  However, there was enough potential in this book that I would be interested in reading an actual horror novel by this author.


Sunday, July 24, 2022

Review: Sierra Six by Mark Greaney

by Mark Greaney
Release Date: February 15, 2022
2022 Berkley
Kindle Editiion; 528 Pages
Audiobook: B09B46LBYT
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Before he was the Gray Man, Court Gentry was Sierra Six, the junior member of a CIA action team.

In their first mission they took out a terrorist leader, but at a terrible price--the life of a woman Court cared for. Years have passed and now The Gray Man is on a simple mission when he sees a ghost: the long-dead terrorist, but he's remarkably energetic for a dead man.

A decade may have gone by but the Gray Man hasn't changed. He isn't one to leave a job unfinished or a blood debt unpaid.
My Thoughts
Sierra Six is the next entry in the Gray Man series and I really enjoyed this one, far more than the previous entry, probably because I finally got to learn more about Court Gentry's past and how he became involved in the program.  And while I have become disenchanted with dual story lines lately, this one worked rather well and was actually necessary in order to understand the present day circumstances in which Court finds himself implicated.  
While I don't think this was my favourite Gray Man novel at this point, it was still entertaining. As mentioned above, I do think the dual story line worked rather well, and I actually found the earlier one to be rather more interesting than the present-day one as I was fascinated by Court's learning process and his integration into the 'team'.  Both story lines also had really good action scenes where I was literally flipping the pages, detailed descriptions which made me feel like I was right in the midst of the action, and some good moments between the characters that actually became rather emotional, something that I find lacking in some thriller novels. And I am always happy to have Zach Hightower in any shape or form so it was fun to learn more about his and Court's early days and how they interacted.  I do wish the author would develop the female characters a bit more in his novels however; I think it's time for some bad-ass female characters to make an appearance who are not necessarily evil or sketchy.  And I do think it's time for Court to wrangle with Susanne Brewer; I've been looking forward to that book for a long time.

I have always enjoyed Court as a main character and over the course of the series, he has definitely grown a lot.  It was a lot of fun to learn more about his early days and some of the mistakes he made trying to fit in as a team member rather than work solo.  The author makes no punches when it comes to the fact that Court is guided by his own moral compass, and make his decisions because of that compass, having little to do with anyone else.  It is always interesting to see him flip at a moment's notice from this kind and attentive person to a killing machine with one goal in mind, his target, at a moment's notice, and I always look forward to those moments when it happens as the author is so skilled at doing it.  This is where Greaney is at his best, writing those action scenes where Court is hunting down and doing what he needs to do to get the job done.  

Sierra Six is a solid entry in the Gray Man series. It's fast-paced, action-packed, and weaves Court's early days in to the present day rather seamlessly as it explores the effects of earlier missions on present-day activities.  While I do think some of it could have been edited for a tighter story, it was still a fun and interesting read, and I liked learning more about Court, what makes him who he is. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series, and recommend it to anyone interested in the thriller genre. 



Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Review: The Shadow House by Anna Downes

by Anna Downes
Release Date: April 5, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 309 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250264848
Audiobook: B094DZVBZP
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Horor
Source: Review copy from publisher
2 / 5 Stars
Alex, a single mother-of-two, is determined to make a fresh start for her and her children. In an effort to escape her troubled past, she seeks refuge in a rural community. Pine Ridge is idyllic; the surrounding forests are beautiful and the locals welcoming. Mostly.

But Alex finds that she may have disturbed barely hidden secrets in her new home. As a chain of bizarre events is set off, events eerily familiar to those who have lived there for years, Alex realizes that she and her family might be in greater danger than ever before. And that the only way to protect them all is to confront the shadows lurking in Pine Ridge.
My Thoughts
The Shadow House had a lot of interesting elements: a spooky house, an isolated community, a woman on the run, secrets, unexplained events, and a local legend.  And while I enjoyed the overall story and thought there was a lot of potential, there was way too much telling rather than letting the suspense build up. I did have high hopes when I first started reading it, but that fizzled rather quickly and I was assaulted with mundane romance tropes that took the thrill right out of the thriller novel.
First of all, I'll start with Alex, a character I sort of grew to dislike throughout the novel.  On the run from an abusive husband, she also has no relationship with the father of her teenage son, so it made me wonder about the direction of the story when she began to develop an interest in the 'leader' of the Pine Ridge community.  The author made a big deal about her relationship with her son and how she prefers her baby daughter because she is much easier to manage, to the point where it was turning me off the book and the character.  Maybe she should listen to her son once in a while?  But then her daughter would start screaming and the focus would be on that aspect of being a parent.  I get that being a parent is difficult as I have two children, but I think it's the way it was written that turned me off.  Was the author purposefully trying to make Alex look like a bad mother because that's how it came across.  
Personally, I preferred Renee's story, just for some relief.  However, it was quite jarring to realize the story lines were only a few years apart as I kept thinking they were very far apart and I had to stay focused on the short time difference.  What was going on with Renee's family was far more interesting, and that's saying a lot, but I liked the family dynamics, even if there were some major issues going on.
I did find the overall story to be weak, and while there were some nice moments at the beginning of the book with some good, creepy supernatural vibes happening, it unravelled pretty quickly.  Instead of trying to keep that nice eerie tension going, with more creepy stuff and more happenings, it kind of simmered into a lot of mom issues with complaints about their teenage children and a lot of winging about crying babies and so on.  I also felt the timelines were very misleading as it felt like years between them, and I was kind of wondering how such a community could be built in such a short time line when it takes years to even get a local high school built in my area.   And don't even get me started on the ending as I felt like I was reading a woman's literary fiction novel instead of a mystery/horror novel. That epilogue was a doozy, and not in a good way, with nothing dark, creepy, or supernatural about it. 
The Shadow House had a lot of potential, but definitely did not live up to it.  While it started strong, with some nice creepy, supernatural happenings, it jumped rather quickly into a women's literary fiction with some mystery thrown into it, with a lot of mom angst and romance, not quite what I was expecting. It was predictable, so I figured out quite early on what had happened although it did take me a while to figure out the witch legend.  The time line did not do this book any favours though, and while I just went with it, as I am writing this, it still bothers me.  I was not a fan of the ending, and that epilogue was an even bigger disappointment.  For horror fans, I do not recommend this book, but those of you who like a more literary mystery, this might be your cup of tea.


Sunday, July 17, 2022

Review: The Echoes by Jess Montgomery

by Jess Montgomery
Release Date: March 20, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250623423
Audiobook: B094DRRR1N
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

As July 4, 1928 approaches, Sheriff Lily Ross and her family look forward to the opening of an amusement park in a nearby town, created by Chalmer Fitzpatrick—a veteran and lumber mill owner. When Lily is alerted to the possible drowning of a girl, she goes to investigate, and discovers schisms going back several generations, in an ongoing dispute over the land on which Fitzpatrick has built the park.

Lily's family life is soon rattled, too, with the revelation that before he died, her brother had a daughter, Esme, with a woman in France, and arrangements have been made for Esme to immigrate to the U.S. to live with them. But Esme never makes it to Kinship, and soon Lily discovers that she has been kidnapped. Not only that, but a young woman is indeed found murdered in the fishing pond on Fitzpatrick's property, at the same time that a baby is left on his doorstep.
My Thoughts
The Echoes is the fourth instalment of the Kinship series, and I thought this was an enjoyable, if not quite as suspenseful entry, as the previous entries. While the writing was excellent and I love the author's descriptions of the time period, I did feel like there was a lot going on, and while that is not typically a problem, it made me feel as if the author didn't quite know which story line on which to focus, so neither was as developed as they could have been which left me feeling a bit dissatisfied. 

Lily is a great character, and as one of few women sheriffs during the 1920s, I enjoy the way she has to navigate between her professional and personal life when women were not taken very seriously in such a role.  As someone who teaches history, I find this time period quite interesting as there were so many changes for women and love seeing that dichotomy explored in novels.  I was particularly interested in the dialogues and frustrations of women who wanted to continue working after they got married, but had difficulties in doing so and how they found solutions that worked for everybody.  I thought all of the characters were unique and had something to offer and I did enjoy the way they interacted with one another; the author definitely use the dialogue between them to highlight important concerns and issues in a way that made you think about social issues and problems that existed during this time period.

Although I did enjoy the overall plot, I did feel like the author may have cut off more than she could chew in this book.  There were a number of different threads going on, and yes, they were all interesting, but I didn't feel like any of them were fully developed.  To me, it felt like the author had all of these ideas but didn't really know on which one to focus so lost sight of the overall concept of the book. What it did is make the overall mystery seem weak, especially in terms of Esme's situation.  Personally, I would have liked the focus to be on the mysterious baby as I found that story line quite fascinating and a reflection of the social issues during the time period.  While I did enjoy Lily's brother's story line, Esme's situation just seemed jarring so I wish it had been more of a secondary story line, without the big disappearance.  I also didn't really buy into the secrecy thing and why it was kept a secret for so long, seemed a bit far-fetched to me.

The Echoes was an enjoyable book, and as part of a series, I do recommend you read the first books to get an overall sense of Lily and her family, although it's not strictly necessary.  I always like the character development in these books and enjoyed learning more about Lily, her family, and the community, and it was fun to learn some interesting facts about these amusement parks that opened in the 192s as well. I do like this author's writing style and her descriptions of the 1920s give you a good sense of the time period, but I did find the overall plot a bit jarring as I feel like the author wasn't quite sure where she wanted to go with the plot, and which aspect of the plot she wanted to highlight.  This is touted as a mystery, and while the overall story was interesting, the mystery was predictable, easy to figure out, and the weakest part of the book.


Friday, July 15, 2022

Review: The Starless Crown by James Rollins

by James Rollins
Release Date: January 4, 2022
2022 Tor Books
Kindle & Audiobook Editions: 560 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250816771
ASIN: B092T873GC
Audiobook: B095567YVZ
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
A gifted student foretells an apocalypse. Her reward is a sentence of death.

A broken soldier, who once again takes up the weapons he’s forbidden to wield and carves a trail back home.

A drunken prince, who steps out from his beloved brother's shadow and claims a purpose of his own.

An imprisoned thief, who escapes the crushing dark and discovers a gleaming artifact - one that will ignite a power struggle across the globe.

On the run, hunted by enemies old and new, they must learn to trust each other in order to survive in a world evolved in strange, beautiful, and deadly ways, and uncover ancient secrets that hold the key to their salvation. 
My Thoughts
The Starless Crown is the first book in a planned four-book series, and I really wasn't sure what to expect from an author whose work usually tended to focus on the thriller genre. I like it when authors branch our and explore other genres as I don't think most of them are one-genre writers to begin with.I do think fantasy, and horror, can be quite difficult to write in order to avoid those repetitive tropes which tend to annoy readers a lot. I did enjoy this novel quite a bit, but did think it fell into some of those tropey traps that can be quite annoying, and for whatever reason, I had difficulty actually reading the book. Once I switched over to audiobook format, I zipped through twenty-two hours with little problem and thought the narration was better than reading the book. 

There are multiple main characters and multiple POV, and although I don't usually have trouble tracking characters, the author kept adding characters and plot points without fully developing previous ones. And while I can be patient and wait to figure out where everything is headed, some of it was confusing as the writing style seemed to switch from being character-driven to plot-driven and I don't think that works very well as you have some sections where you are being told what is happening rather than trying to work it, then in other sections, you have no idea what is going on because the author doesn't give enough information.  I did feel like a lot more insight into the characters' thoughts and feelings was needed as some of them I had no clue and didn't really care what happened to them. Rhaif's chapters didn't interest me at all because he wasn't written in a way that made me empathetic towards him and frankly, I tuned out a lot during his parts and had to rewind and listen to it again.  I did like Nyx and thought her connection to the bats was quite interesting. It would have been really cool for her to keep her disability however, and maybe use the bats to be her eyes. Not really a fan about that whole situation as I think the author was onto something quite fascinating and let it slip through his fingers.

I did like the concept of the story, the mix of fantasy and science,and the whole atmosphere had this very unsettled feel about it which worked for me considering the 'doom and gloom' prophecies about the moon throughout the story. And while the author could go on and on describing things, I don't think he focused necessarily on the things he should have as there were aspects to the world-building I thought were quite interesting that I would have liked to learn more about. And as we learned more about the prophecies, I kept trying to piece things together into what I thought would happen. And what it does contain is every single trope you can think of with regards to fantasy literature: the chosen one, the second son of the king who is out to prove himself, the knight who was banished and exiled for trying to do the right thing, the weak academic who always tries to do the right thing, and the list just goes on and on.  Maybe the author will take that bag of marbles he's got for tropes and actually shake it up in book two and a beautiful agate will tumble out and something we didn't expect to happen with leave us gobsmacked.  We can only hope, right?

The Starless Crown definitely had an interesting concept and I enjoyed the world-building and wanted to learn more about it.  The story did meander quite a bit and I felt like the author lost track of his characters at times as their personalities and distinct voices were lacking.  I also thought the pacing was off as there wasn't a lot of build up to the finale; however, I did like a lot of the creatures introduced in this story and am particularly interested in the Myr bats as I thought they were fascinating.  This one of those books you have to read for yourself to see if you will like it, but there was enough to convince me to continue on to book 2, The Cradle of Ice, when it is released next February.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Review: Sundial by Catriona Ward

by Catriona Ward
Release Date: March 1st, 2022
2022 Tor Nightfire
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250812681
ASIN: B0927D374F
Audiobook: B092NWVT5C
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

All Rob wanted was a normal life. She almost got it, too: a husband, two kids, a nice house in the suburbs. But Rob fears for her oldest daughter, Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. Rob sees a darkness in Callie, one that reminds her too much of the family she left behind.

She decides to take Callie back to her childhood home, to Sundial, deep in the Mojave Desert. And there she will have to make a terrible choice.

Callie is worried about her mother. Rob has begun to look at her strangely, and speaks of past secrets. And Callie fears that only one of them will leave Sundial alive…
My Thoughts
Sundial is one of those books I went into blind, but that is something I prefer when it comes to horror.  There was quite a bit on which to reflect in this book, and I definitely enjoyed the setting, but I wasn't a fan of the main character and I thought the author tried way too hard to throw in those red herrings to throw you off that some discrepancies arose in the story line.  

First of all, let me start with the setting as I really enjoyed that part of the story.  The history of the place, set deep in the Mojave Desert, has a creepy atmosphere; one of the first things you encounter is a ghost town as Rob takes Callie to Sundial which sets up the atmosphere rather nicely. I love these kinds of things so I soaked up the eeriness and enjoyed the author's descriptions of the place.  Now add in animal experimentation, drug abuse, murder, and family secrets, and you have all the markings for a creepy story line. For me, the creepier you go, the better.

The plot does twist and turn, but it was quite easy to figure out.  Unfortunately, the author got caught up in the descriptions and seemed to lose track of the story line at times, so I did find some discrepancies and some things that didn't quite add up. The story was told from Rob and Callie's POV, and a lot of Rob's story line was malignant memories of her time growing up with her twin sister, Jack.  While some of it was convoluted to the point where it broke the overall tension of the story, it wasn't hard to see where the story was going.  I did enjoy the author's descriptive prose, but it says a lot when I felt more sympathy for the animals than I did for the humans in the story. The philosophical nuances about nature versus nature were quite interesting, and it did make me think about what happens when man plays around with something they shouldn't be touching.  

To be honest, the weakest part of the story was the main characters as they were all toxic, I was not a fan of Rob, who lives with her husband, Irving, and her two daughters, Callie and Annie.  Their whole family is toxic and the way the two adults treat each other is just awful, especially as they include the kids int heir squabbles.  Irving has some mysterious hold over Rob, and when the reason was revealed, I wasn't overly impressed.  There is something incredibly disturbing about Callie, so Rob decides to take her to Sundial to see if the two of them can bond, to see if her suspicions about her are correct. I felt like the author spent so much time developing the creepy atmosphere that she forgot to develop her characters so they all felt the same, pretty one-dimensional.
Sundial did not have that spine-tingling feeling and tenseness that I would have liked.  The overall setting was fascinating and was creepy, with a lot of thought put into it, but I felt like the actual story line and character development were sacrificed due to that reason.  I just wasn't a fan of the main characters and I wasn't as invested in what happened.  However, this is still a good overall read and I will recommend it to anyone who likes horror.


Sunday, July 10, 2022

Review: The Deepest of Secrets by Kelley Armstrong

by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: February 15, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250781734
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

It’s not always easy to live in the hidden town of Rockton, something Detective Casey Duncan knows firsthand. Tucked away in the Yukon wilderness, the community survives—and thrives—because the residents' many secrets stay just that—secret.

But what happens when these secrets start to come out? Overnight, no one is safe. It’s not a question of if your secret will come out—but when.

The threat of exposure is reaching its breaking point, and no one knows what’s going to happen next.
My Thoughts
The Deepest of Secrets is the next book in the Rockton series, and while it at first appeared to be the last book of the series, the way it ended tells a different kind of story, and I have since learned most of the characters will appear in a spin-off series, Haven's Rock. I have enjoyed the Rockton books, and while I do think this is one of the weaker books in the series, it was still fun to go back to Rockton and see how everyone would be dealing with the demise of their town.
In this one, everyone is in an uproar as a major secret has come out about one of the townspeople; this puts enormous stress on Casey and Eric to keep the town from exploding and developing a bunch of vigilantes who want justice and want all of the secrets exposed.  Casey and Eric have worked incredibly hard to create a harmonious relationship within the town, but fear has people turning on one another and even Casey and Eric don't quite know who they can trust.  In such a small community, and one that is so isolated, this last of trust can have devastating effects, and naturally, this explodes into a murder case.  
I have always wondered what would happen when that secrecy breach would happen, so I was happy to finally have a novel that dealt with the issue. The isolated community was supposed to be a haven for those who needed to leave society for a while, but wasn't supposed to house killers or murderers, everything controlled by a council; throughout the books, the council has been revealed to have another agenda, and I've been waiting for the book where the community of Rockton and the council clash, where Rockton outgrows the council and realizes it can survive on its own terms.  The realization that Rockton was really coming to an end impacted people on very different levels and I liked seeing how the author would have certain characters react to the situation.  
Personally, I couldn't imagine living in Rockton, without my technology and my link to society, but there's another part of me that wonders what I would discover about myself if I had the chance to really explore in a world without all of it.  The author definitely spends a lot of time on character development as well on plot development and as a result, I really feel a connection to most of the characters I run across in these books.  I felt Casey and Eric's desperation when they finally learned the truth about Rockton and the choices they would have to make for their future.  I did think the overall suspense of this book wasn't quite the same as the previous books simply because it was the last book of the series, and it focused more on Rockton's shut down, but there was still a lot of interesting things going on that propelled this story.  
The Deepest of Secrets was an interesting book as it revealed what would happen if secrets about community members and the council that runs the town were revealed.  I thought the ensuing chaos and fear was very well done and the transition into a new series was quite interesting.  Because of this though, I did feel some of the suspense that we experienced in previous novels was a bit lacking, but the overall mystery was interesting and I enjoyed visiting with old characters as well as learning more about older ones.  I was excited to learn many of the character will appear in her spin-off series, Haven's Rock, the first book, Murder in Haven's Rock, to be published in February 2023. 

Monday, July 4, 2022

Review: The Treadstone Transgression by Joshua Hood

by Joshua Hood
Release Date: April 5, 2022
2022 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 375 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593419793
Audiobook: B097CDSPYD
Gnere: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars
The most pressing issue on Adam Hayes' mind is planning his son's upcoming 5th birthday party. After years of operating in the world's most dangerous spots for Treadstone, he's ready to call it quits, but the feeling isn't mutual.
 Levi Shaw, Treadstone's director, calls Hayes back for one more mission. It's a walk in the park. You don't even have to go in with the strike team. I just need you to set up the safe house. You'll be home in time to pick up the birthday cake.
 But nothing is ever easy where Treadstone is concerned. When the mission is blown only Hayes is left alive, and everyone, it seems, is determined to correct that oversight.
My Thoughts
The Treadstone Transgression is the next entry in Robert Ludlum's Treadstone series featuring Adam Hayes, and while it was fast-paced and a lot of fun, I don't think it had quite the impact of the first two books.  This one has Adam in Haiti to extract a whistleblower, and naturally, not everything is at it seems and everything goes downhill for Adam the minutes he steps foot on Haitian soil.  There were a few things that did push the envelope and your belief system a bit too much in this one, and I think that's why I didn't quite enjoy it as much as the first two books.
First of all, Adam is a reluctant hero which is why I enjoy his character so much.  His only goal is to be reunited with his wife and child, but the powers-that-be in the government always seem to have other plans for Adam and push his aging body to the limits in one difficult assignment after another.  This fuels his anger so often his missions are full of angst as he drives himself to extremes in order to return home in one piece, both physically and mentally.  
For the most part, the story lines were believable, and although I appreciate the author trying to put a little of the Haitian culture into this book, some of it kind of pushed the limits.  With the masks? Yes, I get that as I know people who lived there, but would most people just stick around when bullets and guns are going off around them? I don't think there are too many places where bystanders would do that.  But I do think some of it was over the top which made it more of a struggle to read for me. 
I do think the plot was the weakest part of this book.  While the author's writing style is engaging and he definitely knows his way around technology and military terminology, I did feel like the some of the suspense that kept me flipping pages in the previous books was missing.  Maybe it was the over-the-top action that threw me out of the story or just some questionable actions, but something was lacking.  My sympathy for Adam did not lessen however, and I felt empathetic towards his situation and the people who keep using him to fight their battles, despite his insistence that he is through with Treadstone.  
The Treadstone Transgression was not the strongest entry in this series, but it was still enjoyable.  The author is knowledgeable, and I was happy when I saw the action was to take place primarily in Haiti as I think the place's struggles need to be more highlighted, something this book definitely does.  However, the overall plot was a bit over the top for me, and while the action was fast-paced, you do have to suspend belief at times and just kind of go with it.  But I am not yet through with this series, and plan to read the next book (The Treadstone Rendition, March 7 2023) in this series as I am invested in Adam and his desire to be with his family.  



Saturday, July 2, 2022

Review: Devil House by John Darnielle

by John Darnielle
Release Date: January 25, 2022
2022 MCD
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0374212230
Audiobook: B094DW38WN
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.75 / 5 Stars

Gage Chandler is descended from kings. That's what his mother always told him.

Now, he is a true crime writer, with one grisly success--and movie adaptation--to his name, along with a series of subsequent lesser efforts that have paid the bills but not much more. But now he is being offered the chance for the big break: To move into the house--what the locals call "The Devil House"--in which a briefly notorious pair of murders occurred, apparently the work of disaffected 1980s teens. He begins his research with diligence and enthusiasm, but soon the story leads him into a puzzle he never expected--back into his own work and what it means, back to the very core of what he does and who he is.
My Thoughts
Devil House is definitely not what I expected.  To be fair, the summary basically describes what the book is about, quite well actually, so the fault probably lies with me as I was expecting something more along the lines of 'creepy house' vibes and everything that goes along with that where I actually got a disjointed murder mystery that sort of looped around to something the main character wrote about when he was younger with a chapter thrown in the middle about a kingdom.  And if that didn't make sense, well, welcome to the club.

First of all, I do appreciate what the author was trying to do in this book and I did like his writing style which could be engaging, with this slight sarcasm to his style of voice.  The book was separated into their own unique little stories and as always, I just went along for the ride, expecting the threads would all come together at some point.  But they never did and all it did was leave confusion and disappointment behind them.  And for the life of me, I still can't figure out why this one section was included; and as an older reader, I had to abandon the ARC hardcover I got, switch to my Kindle so I could change the font to be able to read it, which left me quite annoyed as I realized I could have just skipped over it and saved myself a lot of grief as it was completely irrelevant.  

To be quite honest, up to a certain section of the book, I actually thought the book was interesting even if there was little to no horror elements in it.  The section about the young teacher was particularly interesting to me although I didn't really understand her actions no matter how sympathetic the author tried to make me feel.  But that one section with the boys just threw me right out of the book and I just couldn't get back into it no matter what happened, and the ending just cemented the letdown as I was, You've got to be kidding me!  

As mentioned above, there were some good elements in this book: the details about the home were quite interesting; the investigations into the various crimes were fascinating; and I especially liked the author's descriptions about crime and true crime story telling, the basis of this book, and the difficulties of doing so.  To be honest, I would have enjoyed received this message far more if the story telling in this book wasn't so convoluted.  I get what the author was trying to do in the end, but man, it was hard to get there.

Devil House was definitely not what I was expecting, but I think the fault was mine more than the summary of the book as I took far more meaning from the title than what we were given.  The writing style was quite interesting, but the actual plot was a bit convoluted and messy.  However, months later, I am still thinking about this book which makes me wonder what actually caught my attention (whereas other I have to look at my notes to remember them), so I may actually re-read it with a different mindset and see if my opinion changes.  It has given me a lot to think about. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

Review: A Perilous Perspective by Anna Lee Huber

by Anna Lee Huber
Release Date: April 19, 2022
2022 Berkley
Kindle & Audiobook Editions; 387 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593198469
Audiobook: B09V6YY21K
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.25 / 5 Stars

Argyll, Scotland. July 1832. After a trying few months in Edinburgh, Kiera and her husband and investigative partner, Sebastian Gage, are eager to escape to the Highlands with their three-month-old child.

But when Kiera is invited to peruse Barbreck’s extensive art collection, she is disturbed to discover that one of his most priceless paintings seems to be a forgery.

Matters turn more ominous when a maid from a neighboring estate is found murdered where the forged painting hangs. Is her death connected to the forgeries, perhaps a grisly warning of what awaits those who dare to probe deeper? 
My thoughts
A Perilous Perspective is the next entry in the Lady Darby Mystery series, and I am always excited when I learn a new book is about to be released as I have enjoyed every book. Following Kiera's journey throughout the years has been an absolute delight, and this book continues to amaze with strong character development and an interesting mystery.
The relationship between Kiera and Gage continues to develop in this book, and I love the addition of Emma, their daughter, as it certainly adds a new dimension to both their personal and working relationship.  As inquiry agents, they have often put themselves in danger more than once, but with Emma now in the picture, I enjoyed the discussions about the risks that that entailed.  Kiera still wants to investigate, but now has to think about more than just herself; it certainly puts a new perspective on things and I enjoyed the discussions around that topic.  The author definitely managed to convey the feelings a new mother would feel about her child as well as the anxiety and fear that makes one think twice about one's actions.  
The author definitely pays attention to character development without sacrificing plot development so I was happy to learn a lot more about Kiera's mother in this book.  Her story was worked into the plot quite well, even if it left Kiera quite unsettled, adding an extra layer of depth to Kiera's past..  Children always tend to view their parents in a certain light so I always like it when an author can twist all of that and reveal parents as flawed, who make mistakes, who love deeply, and are maybe sometimes quite different than who they thought they were.  I actually find it fascinating, and can admire an author who can do that well, with compassion and understanding, as characters struggle to see people in a new way.

The plot was quite interesting, and considering this is book ten, you would think the author would be running out of ideas, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.  Focusing on Kiera's knowledge of art and the way her education would be viewed by others during this time period was quite fascinating, with constant criticism from others who doubt a woman would have such knowledge.  And when there is a murder in the house, Kiera again has to use her medical knowledge to try to help.  While it's not blatant, the author is quite good at showing subtle skepticism which is one of the reasons I love her books as it makes you think about the time period and how women were perceived.  The investigation itself was quite methodical, which I enjoyed, but it's the characters that really make this book interesting.

A Perilous Perspective is a great addition to the Lady Darby Mystery series.  With an interesting, methodical investigation and a host of fascinating characters, plus a setting that I loved, this book had everything I come to expect from this series.  There were new revelations about Kiera's past as well as a new daughter to enjoy, and everything linked together nicely to a satisfying conclusion.  However, the whirlwind ending did set up the next book, A Fatal Illusion (April 1st, 2023), for some interesting twists and turns to come, and I can't wait.