Monday, October 17, 2022

Review: The Codebreaker's Secret by Sara Ackerman

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

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


Sunday, October 16, 2022

Review: Zoomers vs Boomers by Sawyer Black

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

3.25 / 5 Stars


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

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

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


Monday, October 10, 2022

Review: The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin

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

3 / 5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, October 9, 2022

Review: The Paris Showroom by Juliet Blackwell

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

3.75 / 5 Stars

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

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

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Review: Black Tide by KC Jones

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Review: Castle Deadly, Castle Deep by Veronica Bond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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