Monday, December 12, 2022

Review: All the Broken Girls by Linda Hurtado Bond

by Linda Hurtado Bond
Release Date: August 23, 2022
2022 Entangled: Amara
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-1649372147
Audiobook: B0B223575G
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Crime reporter Mari Alvarez was never able to solve her mother’s murder ten years ago. But when a woman is gunned down on the doorstep of her West Tampa neighborhood, Mari can’t shake the eerie sense of connection.

Now there have been two murders in two days. Each crime scene awash with arcane clues—and without a trace of DNA from the killer. And for each victim, a doll. The first is missing an eye. The second is missing a heart. But are these clues leading to the killer…or messages for Mari?

Caught up in a maelstrom of Old-World superstition, secrets, and ties to her own past, Mari has only one option. Put the puzzle together before someone else dies—even if it destroys her career. But there’s no escaping the hungry spider’s web when it’s been made just for you…
My Thoughts
All the Broken Girls is one of those books in which I entered with a bit of trepidation as I am really not that interested in romantic suspense type books.  Luckily, the romance is not front and center of this book, which allowed me to focus on some of the other interesting things I was learning about, like the Cuban-American culture and Santeria. But while I thought the book started off pretty strong, there were some parts that could have used some tighter editing, plus I wasn't always a fan of Mari as she could be abrasive and pretty rude at times.  

First of all, Mari.  While I loved how Mari cared about the girls and wanted to help them, pushing authorities to do more, there was this abrasiveness about her character that bothered me constantly throughout the book. As a reporter, she was pushy, but sometimes she stepped over the line and was a bit rude to people when it was not necessary and unfortunately, it did get on my nerves after a while.  The author tried to compensate by giving her these vulnerable moments, but for me, they didn't really work all that well as it made me feel like Mari was being more manipulative than real. 
I don't really feel like any of the other characters had any development and were rather one-dimensional.  However, I did like the focus on family and difficult family relationships as well as the religious aspects of the Cuban-American culture as I don't know a lot about them so I found them enlightening.

While the plot was interesting and somewhat complex, the pacing is a bit erratic with this subplot that keeps interrupting the main plot.  I almost wondered if the author was going in a different direction at one point and decided to change the plot and not go there at this time which is why we have this main plot with another subplot running through it.  So, while some parts moved rather quickly and were quite interesting, other parts dragged on and were bogged down by meaningless details; this is often where characters were introduced for no reason that I could see or little purpose, adding to the confusion. Or where family drama erupted, again for reasons to just fill space, but added little to the actual plot, or had to do with the subplot that went nowhere.  Does that sound confusing? Because it was.
All the Broken Girls left me feeling a bit in the middle with regards to this book.  There were actually some really interesting aspects to the story and I did like the overall mystery, even if it took a while to muddle through it.  And while I wasn't a fan of the main character, I did like some of the relationships I could see forming and am invested enough to want to learn more about her family.  I did think the plot was all over the place and could have used some tightening up, but the ending makes me wonder if the author changed direction for the book and has now decided on a sequel?  Unfortunately, I was not a fan of the ending as I thought this was a standalone, but that ending was a bit of a disappointment.  It was strong enough overall though, that I would probably read another book if it was released. 


Sunday, December 11, 2022

Review: Clown in a Cornfield 2: French Lives by Adam Cesare

by Adam Cesare
Release Date: August 23, 2022
2022 Harperteen
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063096912
Audiobook: B09MZR992B
Genre: Fiction / YA / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Set a year after the first book, it looks at how the surviving characters are dealing with fame and infamy when a new threat, wearing an old clown mask, reaches out to upend their lives.
My Thoughts
Clown in a Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives definitely had an interesting premise. Famous from the attack the year before, Quinn, Cole, and Rust want only for life to return to normal so they can continue on with their lives and try to heal from the horrifying events through which they survived.  However, social media attacks have turned people against them, manipulating the information and creating chaos.  And while I loved the ideas and definitely believed there is some truth to it in our current world situation, I did feel like this book suffered a bit compared to the previous one in that the tension and suspense just wasn't there and that crazy action that was in the first book was also missing. 
Quinn is one of my favourite characters in this book; she is tough, devious, and just a lot of fun to read about.  Her father is now the town mayor and spends the majority of his time trying to get the town back to normalcy, despite its growing attraction for those tourists searching for all things macabre and horrifying, wanting to see where all the killing occurred.  Naturally, some members of the town obliged by creating a tourist attraction for those to purchase tickets and visit the cornfield where the 'event' happened a year before, to the disgust of some of the other townspeople, setting up an interesting scenario of us against them making the reader wonder how all of this was going to reach a boiling point and spill over. 
When attacks started happening all over the place, Quinn, Rust, and Cole were forced to head back to Kettle Springs.  This was a bit predictable as naturally, the three would need to be back in the same town in order for them to face down the cyberattackers who were actually heading to their town to take matters into their own hands.  This is also where things gets a bit muddled.  I really enjoyed the first half of the book, the setup, the attacks, and wondered how the author was going to set them up again for some disaster.  Unfortunately, I felt like all three of these characters changed and I was left trying to figure out what had happened, when suddenly the action started.  For whatever reason, I found it a bit more difficult to connect with the characters and believe me, with Cole behaving the way he did, I was rooting for Rust to find someone who was worthy of him.  It was interesting to learn the perspectives of a couple of other characters and what they thought about the events the previous year and how it affected their lives, something I wished the author would delve into a bit more deeply.  So, while the author did try to examine the affects of a community shattered by loss, I don't think he went far enough or deep enough into the psychological effects and consequences of such an occurrence.  

Clown in a Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives was a solid book, with an interesting group of characters at its core, although I would like to see more character development within those characters.  I did like how the author tried to use social media as an explosive tool for creating chaos as I think it's definitely relevant in our day and age. There was a bit of an exploration about ethics and morals for some of those wearing clown suits and how they regretted their actions, but I am begging the author not to go down that route.  They brutally killed teenagers with machetes, etc..., should there be a redemption arc? Hell, no!!  And this is where I absolutely loved the end of this book, the best chapter if you ask me, which makes me hopeful that book three will be a beautiful chaotic mess.  I can't wait!!


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Review: Die Around Sundown by Mark Pryor

by Mark Pryor
Release Date: August 16, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250824820
Audiobook: B0B5FMHJQB
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Summer 1940: In German-occupied Paris, Inspector Henri Lefort has been given just five days to solve the murder of a German major that took place in the Louvre Museum. Blocked from the crime scene but given a list of suspects, Henri encounters a group of artists, including Pablo Picasso, who know more than they're willing to share.

With the clock ticking, Henri must uncover a web of lies while overcoming impossible odds to save his own life and prove his loyalty to his country. Will he rise to the task or become another tragic story of a tragic time?
My Thoughts
Die Around Sundown is the first book in a new series by this author.  While I did find the overall story enjoyable with two separate mysteries to unravel, I found I was not as engaged in the story as I thought I would be.  That being said, this is the first book where the author is setting the scene, the characters, the atmosphere, and so on, and I do think there is a lot of potential here for some really interesting story lines to develop.  
First of all, I did find the main character to be quite engaging. Detective Henri Lefort is an interesting character, a wise-cracking older detective who served in WW1 and struggles with shell shock. Angry at the German invasion into his city and the subsequent subjugation of the French people, Lefort has to temper his prejudices and learn to deal with the Germans and their growing crackdown on his people. Although the author doesn't directly state he has shell shock, Lefort has trouble dealing with everyday loud sounds so the reader understands what is happening without it being discussed.  Personally, I like how his quirks were introduced as part of his personality and the reader slowly gains an understanding of his past through learning about those 'quirks' and realizing how serious they really are. The more I learned, the more I developed empathy for him.  
The rest of the characters were nicely developed as well and I look forward to learning more about them in subsequent books.  I particularly enjoyed Mimi Bonaparte, a descendant of Napoleon; she was known for her interest in psychology, a new and somewhat scary field during this time period, a study which women were not really encouraged to pursue so I was fascinated by the scenes in which she was involved.  I do know a bit about her background so I am really curious as to how the author will use her in future books.
The plot itself was somewhat predictable, especially the second one involving Lefort.  I did find it interesting however, even if I figured it out quite early on.  I wondered how the author was going to conclude the situation and I wasn't disappointed. There was one clue that I missed completely so I was a bit gobsmacked at learning that truth, something I appreciated.  It's always nice when you don't see a twist coming your way even thought the signs were there. 
I felt like the author did a really good job at describing the tense atmosphere during this time period.  Lefort is quite a complex character, but I did feel like the Germans were much more one-dimensional stereotypical characters with little depth to them. I hope as the series progresses, the author does pay more attention to all of the characters as it will definitely enrich the overall story.  I also thought the pacing of the story was somewhat uneven where the tension was quite high, but then it was broken completely by the other mystery.  While I did enjoy the two mysteries, I did feel like they interfered with each other and created the uneven feel to the book; it did affect the tension and the overall fel of the story.  
Die Around Sundown was a solid start to a new series.  I liked the fact the story is told from the point of view of the French police during this time period and I am looking forward to some real conflict as the war continues and sides need to be taken as they didn't have an easy time during the Occupation.  This was a quick read and I do think readers will appreciate the insights into life at the beginning of the Occupation and the start of the Resistance.  The mystery itself was a standard mystery, a bit predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless.  I am interested in seeing what is in story for Henri in the next book, The Dark Edge of Night.


Monday, December 5, 2022

Review: Do No Harm by Robert Pobi

by Robert Pobi
Release Date: August 9, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250793645
ASIN: B092T9F97Q
Audiobook: B0B61ZVLD4
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Lucas Page is a polymath, astrophysicist, professor, husband, father of five adopted children, bestselling author, and ex-FBI agent—emphasis on "ex." Severely wounded after being caught in an explosion, Page left the FBI behind and put his focus on the rebuilding the rest of his life.

Lucas Page's wife Erin loses a friend, a gifted plastic surgeon, to suicide and Lucas begins to realize how many people Erin knew that have died in the past year, in freak accidents and now suicide. Intrigued despite himself, Page begins digging through obituaries and realizes that there's a pattern—a bad one. These deaths don't make sense unless the doctors are being murdered, the target of a particularly clever killer. This time, the FBI wants as little to do with Lucas as he does with them so he's left with only one option—ignore it and go back to his normal life. But then, the pattern reveals that the next victim is likely to be...Erin herself.
My Thoughts
Do No Harm is the third book in the Lucas Page thriller series, and in this one Lucas is still recovering from the events of the previous book.  An astrophysicist by profession, he has this interesting way of looking at the world, almost disdainful and condescending, but something I though was hilarious, as people struggled to keep up with a mind so sharp as they struggled to see the patterns and thoughts that flitted through his mind so easily.  Missing an eye, arm, and leg meant that people who didn't know him often misunderstood him or underestimated him and I loved those interactions, as exasperating as they could be for a reader.
While Lucas has no interest in getting involved in another case, it inevitably find him when he attends a medical bash and discovers that a high amount of doctors have committed suicide or have died through natural causes the previous months.  As he begins to delve deeper, he begins to see patterns that no one else sees and this is where the action takes off.  Once it gets going, the author certainly knows how to keep up the tension and suspense and I had a hard time putting this one down.  Plus, I worried for Erin, being part of the medical community, and that something terrible was going to happen to her.  Having read the previous books, I know the author is not afraid to have terrible things happen to his main characters.  
The writing style was riveting as well, as the author blends action with humour and family life, but this actually adds to the tension as you develop empathy for the characters and start to worry that something might happen to one of them.  It was fast-paced, and as soon as I began to relax a little bit, something happened and sent the action flying along again. To be honest, this was a mixture of thriller, suspense, police procedural, and family life all rolled into one great story.  
Lucas is a bit difficult to get to know and I don't think I would have felt as much empathy for him if I hadn't read the previous books as he comes across as aloof and a bit snotty.  He doesn't connect very well with others and you only see the genuine person when he is with his adopted kids and his friend who watches them when he is working.  He and Erin work very well together as she is kind and compassionate and often tells him to play nicely with others; their interactions constantly make me smile and I believe are used as comedic relief from the high tension of the other scenes in this book.  We do get to see those rare moments when Lucas lets down his guard, and I have to appreciate the author's skill when he lets us get a glimpse of the real Lucas.   

Do No Harm was a clever, action-packed suspense book with much needed levity thrown in through family interactions.  Personally, I can see this series on Netflix or Amazon Prime one day, and I was visualizing who would play the main characters as I read.  The plot was interesting and the character development was good, and I am happy to say the twists and turns led me down a merry path so I had difficulty figuring out the answer to this one, although I had my suspicions.  I really enjoy Lucas Page as a main character as he has such a unique personality, and I am curious as to what will happen to him next. Hopefully, there will be a book four in this series.


Sunday, December 4, 2022

Review: When Blood Lies by C.S. Harris

by C.S. Harris
Release Date: April 5, 2022
2022 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 355 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593102695
Audiobook: B09JY66TTC
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

March, 1815. The Bourbon King Louis XVIII has been restored to the throne of France, Napoleon is in exile on the isle of Elba, and Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife, Hero, have traveled to Paris in hopes of tracing his long-lost mother, Sophie, the errant Countess of Hendon. But his search ends in tragedy when he comes upon the dying Countess in the wasteland at the tip of the Île de la Cité. Stabbed—apparently with a stiletto—and thrown from the bastions of the island’s ancient stone bridge, Sophie dies without naming her murderer.

Sophie had been living in Paris under an assumed name as the mistress of Maréchal Alexandre McClellan, the scion of a noble Scottish Jacobite family that took refuge in France after the Forty-Five Rebellion. Once one of Napoleon’s most trusted and successful generals, McClellan has now sworn allegiance to the Bourbons and is serving in the delegation negotiating on behalf of France at the Congress of Vienna. It doesn’t take Sebastian long to realize that the French authorities have no interest in involving themselves in the murder of a notorious Englishwoman at such a delicate time. And so, grieving and shattered by his mother’s death, Sebastian takes it upon himself to hunt down her killer. But what he learns will not only shock him but could upend a hard-won world peace.
My Thoughts
When Blood Lies is the next book in the long-running Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series. This one resolves a long-running subplot, the search for Sebastian's mother, and the journey takes us to Paris after the fall of Napoleon.  I have always enjoyed these books for the rich historical details, and this one is no exception.  The books are always well-written, full of extensive research, but is there a point where the research overshadows the mystery? Absolutely, and this is exactly what has been happening with the latest books in this series, of which this one falls victim as well. 

Having a history background, I love the historical information, but there really is a point where too much is really too much.  There was just some information thrown in that was not necessary to the plot and actually bogged it down.  Fine for a historical novel, but not so good when reading a mystery novel that depends on a certain level of tension and ruins the emotional moments of the plot.  

Overall, the plot wasn't horrible, but I was incredibly disappointed with the death of Sebastian's mother simply because so many previous books had this subplot leading to their reunion and this is not how I imagined it would go down.  And while trying to work out the mystery, something that was not too difficult if you have any understanding of French history during this time period, I was fervently hoping it wouldn't go down the road that it did, but unfortunately, it did.  I was fervently hoping for something a little bit different, something less global. And to be honest, I get tired of Jarvis showing up everywhere as I don't think it's necessary.  And Sebastian and Hero's investigations are sort of repetitive to previous books.  He investigates while constantly being told not to intervene and ruffles some feathers, and naturally, at some point, he will be attacked. Hero will interview the destitute and magically come across some tidbit of information that will give a huge clue to solving the case, and Jarvis will threaten everyone if they continue investigating.  Same old, same old.  And now we are left with another mystery, details surrounding Sebastian's actual father.

When Blood Lies was a bit of a disappointment, but I have been too invested in Sebastian's story to give up at this point.  I would have liked a different solution for his reunion with his mother as I felt the mystery in this one was rather weak and rambling, solely to incorporate the historical events of the time into the book.  I also feel that a mystery that has had fans involved for sixteen books also deserved a much better reward than the one given in this book.  I did like the historical details sketched out in this book as it showed the extensive research by the author, but they did overshadow the mystery and made any attempt to develop empathy for the characters difficult.  And now we are left with another mystery, Sebastian's actual father. Who exactly is this man?