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.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Review: What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

by T. Kingfisher
Release Date: July 12, 2022
2022 Tor Nightfire
Kindle Edition; 176 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250830753
Audiobook: B09VVR6N9Y
Genre: Fiction / Gothic / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying, they race to the ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania.

What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife, surrounding a dark, pulsing lake. Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in strange voices at night, and her brother Roderick is consumed with a mysterious malady of the nerves.

Aided by a redoubtable British mycologist and a baffled American doctor, Alex must unravel the secret of the House of Usher before it consumes them all.
My Thoughts
What Moves the Dead is the retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher", and as one of my favourite short stories, I was interested to see what this author would do with the retelling.  Overall, I am glad the author kept it short, although I could have done without some of the additions that I don't think added anything of importance to the story.

First of all, you don't really have time to get fully fleshed character development in such a story, but that is not the intention of such a novel. That is why the pages of detail about one of the main characters, Alex Easton, were wasted on me, as interesting as I thought they were, because they added nothing of value to the story.  I did appreciate what the author was trying to do, but thought this was not the type of novel where it was necessary to detract from the story to give us a four-page lesson on non-binary characters and how they were to be addressed.  It would have been easy to do through dialogue and move on as it simply slowed down the story, especially when the story is so short to begin with. And I liked Alex's character and some of the things we learned were quite interesting and could have shored up the novel much earlier on. I did think the author captured the essence of the characters as well as their personal traits and quirks once the story got going though. 

The story was a fast and pleasant one, predictable in nature, especially if you have read the original story, but that didn't deter from the overall enjoyment of it. It did take a little bit to get going as it got bogged down in unnecessary details, but once it picked up, it was quite an enjoyable read. I was kind of hoping for some more twists and turns, something different from the original, such as maybe they learned to communicate with the entity that was affecting the house, but alas, the author went with the more boring route. However, the descriptions of the house and the grounds were engrossing and I loved reading about them.  I think I was just hoping I would be horrified when reading this book, and I wasn't.  

What Moves the Dead was a fun read, but could have been more. There was so much potential to add some twists and turns to this beloved classic without losing the essence of the story, but I don't think the author capitalized on that despite the great descriptions and good storytelling.  A bit more focus on the story would have highlighted the horror elements and made this story stand out and maybe would have elicited those chills that such a novel normally creates. 


Saturday, September 10, 2022

Review: Murder by the Shore by Gretta Mulrooney

by Gretta Mulrooney
Release Date: May 19, 2022
2022 Joffe Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1804052341
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.75 / 5 Stars

Welcome to Seascape house.
A beautiful family home by the coast. Where someone is hiding a terrible secret.

Lyra Pullman has been waiting for this day. Her fourth birthday party. But when her guests come knocking, she is nowhere to be found.

Little Lyra lies dead in the Wendy house at the bottom of the garden. Suffocated.

Her grandad couldn’t save her because he’s been murdered too. In a mess of blood and rainbow cake.

My Thoughts
Murder by the Shore is the fourth book in the D.I. Siv Drummond mystery series, and while extremely well-writen as well as interesting, the denouement just didn't seem to fit in the spirit of the overall story, as if the author was really looking for reasons for why someone would act as they did.  I mean, the person killed a child, so it had to be believable and for me, it didn't quite work.
I enjoyed the characters in this book and thought they were all interesting. DI Siv Drummond is my favourite character and she really carries the reader through the book as you learn a lot of the secrets, twists and turns, through her narrative. Though still dealing with her grief at the loss of her husband, she is attempting to enter the dating market again, something I find interesting as I can't even imagine having to do something like that after having been married for so long.  Siv is not an easy character to get to know, but I definitely empathized with her need to be alone and to experience that feeling of isolation, she is still grieving after all.  
The other characters were well-written as well, but the parents do seem somewhat stereotypical in nature, with the dad coming across as this unfeeling, self-absorbed person, and the mother coming across as a bundle of nerves with something to hide.  While well-written and interesting, there wasn't a lot of depth to them.  I was fascinated by the sisters' relationship as well and thought the author could have developed that a bit more.
The plot moved quite quickly, with some interesting twists and turns, some of them predictable. Personally, it didn't take long to figure out why the dad was so distant although I did think his reaction was a bit extreme.  I thought the author did a good job peeling away the layers of the story to reveal the information as the investigation progressed in such a way that allowed the reader to figure things out rather than lead the reader along. I hate being spoon-fed information and prefer to figure things out so this was more to my style.  I also appreciated the descriptions of the area as it seems like a beautiful location.  
Murder by the Shore was an interesting murder mystery, full of twists and turns, even if some of them were predictable.  With a host of intriguing characters, especially the DI, it made the reading experience that much more fun. I did have a problem with the actual mystery, in particular the ending, as I thought it was a bit far-fetched and didn't seem to match the overall spirit of the story and the characters, but it did make me think how past actions can affect future ones.  This can be read as a standalone, but I do recommend reading the previous instalments to get background information on DI Drummond.  


Monday, September 5, 2022

Review: The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker

by Sarai Walker
Release Date: May 17, 2022
2022 Harper
Kindle Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-0358251873
Audiobook: B09G56HL5B
Genre: Fiction / Literary / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher
2 / 5 Stars
New Mexico, 2017: Sylvia Wren is one of the most important American artists of the past century. Known as a recluse, she avoids all public appearances. There’s a reason: she’s living under an assumed identity, having outrun a tragic past. 

Connecticut, 1950: Iris Chapel is the second youngest of six sisters, all heiresses to a firearms fortune. They’ve grown up cloistered in a palatial Victorian house, mostly neglected by their distant father and troubled mother, who believes that their house is haunted by the victims of Chapel weapons. The girls long to escape, and for most of them, the only way out is marriage. But not long after the first Chapel sister walks down the aisle, she dies of mysterious causes, a tragedy that repeats with the second, leaving the rest to navigate the wreckage, to heart-wrenching consequences. 
My Thoughts
The Cherry Robbers definitely had an interesting premise, and touted as a Gothic mystery, it had certainly piqued my interest. It didn't take long to realize this wasn't Gothic in the slightest and execution-wise, was a bit of a mess. Personally, I don't mind a slow burn novel as long as the suspense is there, but when the so-called foreshadowing takes away from the suspense, you've lost me.  This novel tries hard to be mysterious, but for me, it simply didn't work.
The novel focuses on the complicated relationship between the six sisters, something I did like. Having grown up with a couple of sisters myself, I could relate to their issues, dreams, and, desires, especially living in such a cloistered household with a father who has such rigid rules of decorum and a mother who is dealing with mental health issues.  I could understand their need for escape, and I did feel empathy for them as they realized their only way to escape would be through marriage rather than through education and learning.  I loved how they were named after flowers, a double-entendre, considering flowers wilt and die if not nurtured and watered, which seems to be very symbolic in this situation.  I'm not going to bore you with symbolism here, but I did enjoy the use of language conventions the author used to describe the sisters.  However, I don't think the author went far enough as I still felt they were one-dimensional, to a point, and would have loved to learn more about what they really felt. When the girls started dying, I definitely wasn't as horrified as I should have been because of this lack of deeper empathy. I also felt the LGBTQ representation was pretty stereotypical, although I did like the discussions around feminism, freedom, women's rights, gender discrimination, patriarchy, etc... that existed in the 1950s as well as mental health issues,  It's too bad the author felt the need to include this whole 'ghost' thing to make the book sound more Gothic which is a huge misrepresentation of what is actually going on.  
I didn't really find the book spooky at all, but then I am a voracious horror book reader so my POV might be a little skewed in this regard.   I did find some of the scenes interesting, but I wasn't convinced by any of them as they just didn't make sense within the book at all.  So, what we've got here are scenes of magical realism thrown into this book where you have to just kind of suspend your belief and accept that these women just died. Nope, not going to happen.  Yes, there are deeper themes within the deaths, like neglect and despair plus the shunting of women into background roles, but you are supposed to accept the illnesses represent these things and come through the women in this way? I get that marriage was the evil in this story as well as the lack of opportunities for women, but I'm not sure I like the way the message was delivered.  Unfortunately, the author bogs down the reader with a lot of filler, and while I normally wouldn't mind it if it built up the suspense, the foreshadowing doesn't help built it up because the reader is already given all the pertinent details which takes away from the suspense and thrill.  

The Cherry Robbers is one of those books that was way too slow for me, whereby all the information and foreshadowing are given to the reader which destroys the suspense and the chill of a novel such as this.  When everything is spelled out for you, including the foreboding elements, it draws you out of the story and makes it challenging to return as you are not invested in the characters nor the action. Unfortunately, there was nothing ghostly or Gothic about this book.  I am glad to see there were a lot of people who enjoyed this book, but I was not one of them.