Sunday, September 17, 2023

Review: The Girl by the Bridge by Arnaldur Indridason

by Arnaldur Indridason
Release Date: May 2, 2023 
2023 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250892607
ASIN: B0B5JSHZNR (March23, 2023)
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

When a young woman known for drug smuggling goes missing, her elderly grandparents have no choice but to call the retired Detective Konrád.

Still looking for his own father's murderer, Konrád agrees to investigate the case.

But digging into the past reveals more than he set out to discover, and a strange connection to a little girl who drowned in the Reykjavík city pond decades ago recaptures everyone's attention.
My Thoughts
The Girl by the Bridge had a really good concept, but the execution left a lot to be desired. I would like to say a lot got left in translation, but I have read quite a few Nordic Noir as I enjoy them tremendously and the translators are typically fantastic, so I think it's actually the writing style as well as the actual plot. I did read this author is one of the top Scandinavian crime fiction authors, so maybe it was the translation? It's hard to say.
Konrad is a retired police detective and is quite content to enjoy his retirement, away from the hustle and bustle of crime and solving mysteries. When his neighbour approaches him to help locate his missing granddaughter, he doesn't really want to get involved, but becomes interested despite himself. But the author makes a big deal about his need to stay uninvolved, and for me, this crept into the story and into his personality as I didn't find his character enjoyable. While I don't mind introspection, his rambling inner monologue was repetitive and went on and on, interrupting the flow of the story and making a rather slow plot even slower as a result.  I know that this character had been a character in multiple books, but that doesn't change the fact that he rambled, his inner dialogue was rather annoying, and the author went for way too long about how uninterested he was in crime.
While I did think the plot was interesting, I also thought it was a victim of overkill. There were so many things happening the author didn't have a chance to really focus or highlight any one of them so it appeared to a rambling mess.  However, the descriptions of Reykjavik were excellent, and I really got a sense of the place that the author knows very well.  I enjoy reading books set in places that I know little about and like comparing the justice and legal systems as I find it fascinating.  So many tourists only see the beautiful spots and don't see the heartbreak and the struggles facing many Icelanders on a day-to-day basis so I appreciated learning more about that.  The bleak atmosphere was really perfect for this story. 
The Girl by the Bridge had a great atmosphere, showing the world the real Iceland and the struggles faced by the people who live there. While I don't mind a slow-burn story, this one struggled to pique my interest because the characters were rather shallow and one-dimensional, the plot was humdrum and pretty predictable and suffered from too much happening syndrome. In the end, the author needed to pick one or two story lines, developed them, and save the others for future books.   



Saturday, September 16, 2023

Review: The Darkness Surrounds Us by Gail Lukasis

by Gail Lukasik
Release Date: September 5, 2023
2023 CamCatBooks
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0744302899
Audiobook: B0CBD4DQNP
Genre: Fiction / Gothic / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.5 / 5 Stars
Nurse Nellie Lester can’t escape death. Fleeing Chicago at the height of the 1918 Spanish flu, she takes a nursing job at a decrepit mansion on a desolate Michigan island. She’s convinced the island holds the secret to her mother’s murky past. The only problem? Her dead mother seems to have followed her there. Nightly she’s haunted by a ghostly presence that appears in her bedroom. But is it her mother or something more sinister? When the frozen body of the prior nurse is unearthed, Nellie suspects her family’s history and the nurse’s uncanny death are connected to a mysterious group that disappeared from the island twenty-four years earlier. As winter closes in, past and present collide resurrecting a lurid killer, hell-bent on keeping the island’s secrets. Will Nellie uncover her mother’s shocking past before the killer enacts his final revenge? 
My Thoughts
The Darkness Surrounds Us had all the elements of a lush, gothic mystery, with hints of a supernatural mystery, a mysterious group of people on the island who disappeared, an old decrepit mansion, and a secret about Nellie's past. With all of these elements, all of the things I love in a gothic mystery, what was it about this story that did not quite work?
First of all, let me start with the lush descriptions of the mansion and the world as they were definitely the strength of this novel. Taking place in winter, it was easy for the author to take advantage of so many natural elements to ensnare our heroine in many an adventure so I am glad to see this happen, everything from getting lost in the forest, to almost freezing to death, and so on. I would have been disappointed otherwise. The descriptions of the mansion itself were quite good, but for the life of me, I couldn't understand why a nurse of a newborn child would be placed in the attic and not next door. That doesn't happen during this time period as the nurse needs to be available twenty-four-seven in case of emergencies, not stuck away in an attic. And unfortunately, I just couldn't let that go and it became more bothersome as the story progressed.  
The plot itself contained all your usual tropes: the wary housekeeper, the unhappy groundskeeper, the secretive lord of the mansion, the unbalanced mistress, the missing previous nurse, the secretive villagers, and I could just go on and on.  It's not that I don't like those tropes, but if you are going to use them, you really need to up your ante and do something special so you stand out from all the other books that has been written using them.  And while the author tried, with the mysterious disappearance of a group of people and the implication of Nellie's mother and father being involved, I don't think it worked as intended.  For me, it was predictable, easy to figure out, and Nellie's personality destroyed any tension that was being built up every...single...time.  And because the plot was meandering in nature, the author tried to pull it together with mysterious happenings and characters that were acting strangely or with ill-will towards Nellie instead, it just seemed contrived and ruined the flow of the narrative. And while it wasn't hard to figure out the villain, there was little description given about the motives surrounding this person or what made this person do the things they did. I don't have to like the villains, but just having them do horrible things isn't the only thing that makes them a villain, sometimes you get creeped out because of their motivations, their desires, the heart and soul of a person.

And Nellie. Personally, I just couldn't root for this character. I found her abrasive and annoying, not paying attention to warnings and hints. She was told flat out the villagers don't like strangers and those who seek to find information about the past, but she constantly interrupted with personal questions about her mother, using little subterfuge. I just wanted to kick her at times, especially with some of the choices she made in whom to trust. Gosh, she was silly. And some of the other characters had the development of a wooden shoe, so much that a week later I can't even remember their names.  

The Darkness Surrounds Us did have a nice mystery at its core, but the plot meandered quite a bit and the characters were one-dimensional in nature and could have been developed much more to show their motivations and their desires. I did enjoy the setting and thought the descriptions of the eerie woods and the creepy house were quite good, but there were too many anomalies from this time period that just didn't work. That being said, there were enough good things in this book that I really hope the author writes another gothic historical mystery as I would definitely read another. 


Sunday, September 10, 2023

Review: The September House by Carissa Orlando

by Carissa Orlando
Release Date: September 5, 2023
2023 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593548615
Audiobook: B0BR8L2F14
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
When Margaret and her husband Hal bought the large Victorian house on Hawthorn Street—for sale at a surprisingly reasonable price—they couldn’t believe they finally had a home of their own. Then they discovered the hauntings. Every September, the walls drip blood. The ghosts of former inhabitants appear, and all of them are terrified of something that lurks in the basement. Most people would flee.

Margaret is not most people.

Margaret is staying. It’s her house. But after four years Hal can’t take it anymore, and he leaves abruptly. Now, he’s not returning calls, and their daughter Katherine—who knows nothing about the hauntings—arrives, intent on looking for her missing father. To make things worse, September has just begun, and with every attempt Margaret and Katherine make at finding Hal, the hauntings grow more harrowing, because there are some secrets the house needs to keep.
My Thoughts
The September House was a really fun book to read. I have always loved haunted house books so I was definitely drawn to this book for that reason, but this book was so much more than just about a haunted house, it was about Margaret and her life; and the way the author unpeeled her character and the goings-on kept me riveted to the story from the first page.  

The story is quite unique, and I have read a large quantity of haunted house books. Because the story doesn't start when Margaret and Hal move into the house, this is already different as they have been dealing with the goings-on for almost four years and September is always the worst month of the year. The story starts at the beginning of September and we have learned that Hal has had enough and has left Margaret to fend for herself, and that who situation is absolutely strange.  But the writing style grabs hold of you right from the beginning and you just want to stick around and find out what is happening. And I honestly wavered from one thing to another as the story unfolded and the twists kept coming. There was one point where I really hoped the story wouldn't go where it seemed like it would go as I would have been extremely disappointed if it did, but suddenly, whoomp, another twist, and it went into another direction, thank goodness.  

Margaret was such a fascinating character, and I just loved her. Yes, there were times when I wondered if everything was okay with her mentally, but as the story progressed and the author opened up those onion layers into her life and into her personality, things slowly started making sense.  However, because of the focus on Margaret, except for Frekricka, I didn't think the secondary characters were as well-developed, so I didn't really have a lot of sympathy/empathy for their plights.  And even Margaret was so nonchalant about everything and took everything that happened in stride, sometimes with a lot of humour (which I did appreciate), that it actually lessened the overall impact of the book. It does take quite a lot to scare me as I read a lot of horror novels, but because of this, I felt like the book sort of slipped into really ''light horror" and wasn't scary at all.  There were some disturbing elements, to be sure, but sleep with the lights on? No, I slept like a baby.

The September House is highly entertaining, with a jaded main character, and a haunted house with all the elements you could want, including that creepy basement no one should ever enter.  Margaret was so entertaining as a main character that she kind of outshone the other characters, but I loved her take on the paranormal happenings around her and the way she dealt with the ghosts. I would have liked there to be creepier elements to the book, but I think the author was going for campy as opposed to really creepy.  Nonetheless, the eerie vibe just was not there for me throughout the book.  However, it was still a fun read and I do recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun haunted house read.  If you are looking for something scary and creepy, this may not be the one for you. 


Thursday, September 7, 2023

Review: The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

by Julia Bartz
Release Date: February 21, 2023
2023 Aria/Emily Bestler Books
Kindle Edition; 313 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982199456
Audiobook: B0B51Z1HG9
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

Five attendees are selected for a month-long writing retreat at the remote estate of Roza Vallo, the controversial high priestess of feminist horror. Alex, a struggling writer, is thrilled.

Upon arrival, they discover they must complete an entire novel from scratch, and the best one will receive a seven-figure publishing deal. Alex’s long-extinguished dream now seems within reach.

But then the women begin to die.

My Thoughts
The Writing Retreat had a neat premise whereby five women (why just women?) are selected to stay for a month-long writing retreat hosted by an award-winning author. I anticipated a book about rivalries, exploring book writing, female drama, etc..., but this was not that. Instead, we set foot into something completely different, and while I normally wouldn't have minded, it did not work for me.
First of all, I could not develop any empathy or sympathy for the MC. Alex was constantly whining about everything, complaining about everything, and wouldn't take responsibility for any of her actions, including all the past ones we learned about.  And all because she was maybe confused about her sexuality? Sorry, doesn't give one a pass for poor and sulky behaviour.  I did like how she was suffering from writer's block and would have liked to have that theme explored a bit more rather than solved the way it did. I just didn't buy into why she started writing again.
And Roza, what's up with her? Why do we always have to treat horror writers as such eerie characters? This bought right into the typical stereotype and I wasn't buying into it. You've got this famous writer who has all of these character quirks (ok, I forgive those as who doesn't have them), but to give your writers LSD and to mock them in a very hurtful way thinking the person will tap into their emotions so they can writer better is not something we want to encourage as a positive thing.  And don't even get me started on the hallucinations and sexual encounters, not knowing whether you've actually had sex or if the encounter was a dream.  

I was actually hoping for a cut-throat writing competition, but that's not what the plot was about.  There were some interesting moments in the first half as I learned about the various contestants and about the house, but all the characters seemed to be full of angst, and the MC was the most annoying one of all, constantly whining about how no one likes her and no one wants to hang around her, talking about how she needs to get the women on her side first, as if they are in freaking high school.  The story asks the reader to overlook too many things and I just can't do that when you have to do it all the time throughout the book. So, the story starts to go downhill about halfway through and that's pretty much where you lost me.  

The Writing Retreat was a more superficial book as both the story line and the characters never really showed any depth. The MC's struggles with both her writing and her sexuality were shallow and mad her character come across as whiny rather than someone who is truly struggling.  The other reveals were not that much better, as the author makes use of a lot of stereotypes and a lot of tropes to create drama and angst and it comes across as campy.  I wish I could have liked this book better than I did as the premise was interesting, but unfortunately, I just couldn't warm up to the characters or the story line.


Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Review: Everything She Feared by Rick Mofina

by Rick Mofina
Release Date: April 11, 2023
2023 MIRA
Kindle Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778333401
Audiobook: B0BF17WWKN
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

When a teen falls off a cliff while taking a selfie, the last thing she sees before plummeting to her death is Katie Harmon, the nine-year-old girl she was babysitting, looking down at her. Investigators gather at the scene, and Katie’s mother, Sara, rushes to comfort her daughter, yet there’s a small, secret ping of alarm in Sara’s heart that she cannot share—though rookie detective Kim Pierce senses it. For years, others have tried to unravel this secret, from true-crime podcasters to a haunted journalist searching for a killer who vanished after being released from prison. And now, with detectives tightening the focus of their investigation, Sara is consumed by her darkest fear—that the babysitter’s death was not accidental.
My Thoughts
Everything she Feared was a very fast read, and overall, it was entertaining. The premise drew me into the story instantly; was it possible a nine-year-old child committed murder? I liked the philosophical question surrounding that concept and hope the author would go in-depth into that thought.  And while I liked the story and the concept, I did think the author didn't go deep enough into the theme but some people just can't imagine that a child could do such a thing even though history has shown otherwise.

The plot had three different story lines and you have to pay attention to how the characters and the events are connected.  All the story lines were interesting, but this format also allowed me to figure out quite easily who the culprit was and also to guess Sara's secret. The first third of the book deals with this secret, even if you aren't supposed to know what it is, and these little hints as to what would happen if the media ever discovers Sara's true identity. Can you hit the reader any hard over the head with who she was? So, that took out a lot of the tension and suspense for me as a reader, and mostly left me pondering the question over Sara and Katie and whether violent tendencies are a genetic predisposition, one of the themes running through this book. And while the author asks the question, I think it was skirted around rather than delved into, which was a shame as that would have been much more suspenseful and terrifying.

I wasn't really a fan of the Katie story line and how she was written. Even Sara was getting suspicious, and I get that she was written this way to act as a red herring, but as for trying to think she was guilty and feeling horror over the situation, all it did was made me shake my head and wonder if there was a better way this could have been achieved.  That being said, the writing style was addictive, even if it was predictable, but you did have to pay attention to all the little details from each story line and what the characters actually said and did. 

Everything She Feared was an interesting read, but while the multiple plot lines did connect and merge into a satisfying conclusion, it was predictable and many parts did have a tendency to drag on.  Exaggerating a character's behaviour is also not one of my favourite tropes to advance a plot line as I find it an easy red herring to spot, but I also find it interferes with story flow and story immersion.  And while the author introduced he nature versus nurture question, I don't think there was enough philosophical depth to the question in this book.  Overall, if you like multiple POV and serial killers, you will find this book interesting.


Monday, September 4, 2023

Review: The Only Survivors by Megan Miranda

by Megan Miranda
Release Date: April 11, 2023
2023 Marysue Rucci Books
Kindle Edition; 978-1668010419
Audiobook: B0B4ZQ9LV4
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

A mystery about a group of former classmates who reunite to mark the tenth anniversary of a tragic accident—only to have one of the survivors disappear, casting fear and suspicion on the original tragedy.
My Thoughts
The Only Survivors was a pretty slow burn, and although there were some good twists and turns and definitely some interesting moments, I found the characters and their motives to be unclear due to poor character development, something that made this book sometimes a chore to get through.

Ten years ago, a group of classmates was in a serious bus accident while on a school trip, and most of them did not survive. Every year, the survivors get together to remember the tragedy, to reflect and remember those who lost their lives. When one of the survivors disappears, the other survivors become fearful, wondering if one of the other survivors is responsible. 

Honestly, I liked the setting as it was desolate, with neighbours who are secretive, but also concerned with who comes to stay in their lonely part of the world.  I like these type of settings as I think the author can do quite a bit with isolated houses, and while she did, I felt like some of it just didn't make sense. One of the other survivors just disappears because the reunion is too difficult for her, doesn't leave a note other than a secretive one, and this doesn't arouse too many suspicions? I get the author needs to adds secrecy and puzzles to a story, but this one just didn't work for me. And then when they all went looking for her? Seemed like it was for just a way to add drama to a story.

The book does alternate between present day events and events from the past, the past being told from each survivor's perspective. I actually found those sections to be far more interesting than the present-day stuff as it gave you a greater picture of the dynamics between the people and an overview of what drew these people together. In the present day, I just didn't feel any connection between them and that had to do with poor character development as each character felt so one-dimensional.  The present-day scenario is told only from Cassidy's POV as well, which I didn't think helped.
The Only Survivors is enjoyable overall, but it is definitely not a memorable one as I had to refer to my notes to write this review. There were some good twists and turns in this story, but I don't think that was enough to rescue it from a slow burn beginning as well as having characters that just don't have enough time on the page to develop any empathy for them.  I didn't really care for Cassidy as a character and would have preferred to learn about one, or more, of the other characters instead.  In the end, if you like slow-burn mysteries, this may be something for you. Personally, I don't mind slow burn, and it was definitely atmospheric in nature, but I do like there to be some meat to the story and the characters, and there just wasn't enough.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Review: The Wayward Haunt by Cas E. Crowe

by Cas E. Crowe
Release Date: June 20, 2020
2020 by Cas E. Crowe
EBook Edition; 379 Pages
ISBN: 978-0648876500
ASIN: B08BKM1391
Genre: Fiction / Dystopian / Fantasy / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from author

4.25 / 5 Stars

In the middle of the centuries-fought war, teenager Zaya Wayward is sentenced to the filthy coal mines of Gosheniene. Accused of a murder she didn't commit, the true identity of the killer must remain secret-the black-veined woman, a cursed, sadistic wraith fuelled by violence and rage.

When Zaya is conscripted into service life at the Tarahik Military base, the ghost is waiting. Zaya's ability to see the dead is the key that could annihilate human existence-and sinister forces will go to unstoppable lengths to get it.

One thing the wraith does ensure-the wrong choice will cost Zaya her life.
My Thoughts
The Wayward Haunt was a completely different novel from what I expected.  To be fair though, I think I just looked at the cover, saw a spooky old castle, and didn't even bother reading the blurb to see what the book was about, thinking this would be another haunted house book. So, imagine my surprise when the main character, Zaya, is a prisoner in a labour camp, on a future Earth that has undergone a catastrophic environmental disaster far in the future? I was like, boy did I ever read this one wrong. Then, I was hooked. I devoured this book, enjoyed the world building, and liked the interactions between the characters.
Zaya was a formidable main character and I enjoyed her tenacity, strength, and daring. But I also liked her vulnerability, something the author built into her character very well without making her seem pitiable. Having lost her parents at a very young age for reasons she can't remember, Zaya struggles with the possibility they may have been dissenters in the centuries-long war destroying her world. Conscripted into a ten-year service for the opposite side, she constantly questions her loyalties and the choices being made for her as well as the loyalties of those around her. Can they be trusted? And as she learns more, she beings to question where to put her own loyalties. This is the kind of emotional struggle I like as I want to see characters deal with difficult decisions and choices as very few things we deal with in life are black and white. Zaya is dealing with multiple traumas and betrayals, so the emotional roller coaster she is on makes her so much more relatable as a character.

The plot itself is definitely a science-fiction dystopian novel, an Earth far in the future, destroyed by cataclysmic events.  The science and the magic balanced each other out so you've got the futuristic transport systems and weapons mixed in with lycanthors, magic, and necromancers. And I wasn't too disappointed as we also had the ghosts. Written in rich detail without leading the reader, but allowing the reader to discover the world along with the characters, I enjoyed the world-building and thought it was well done.  The balance of fun and clever dialogue with sharp and poignant scenes of death and destruction made this book hard to put down.  The author also gave us clever hints built into the prose about Zaya and her family as well as some of the other characters, enough to be tantalizing and making you want to learn more.  And personally, I am so glad there was love triangle, no insta-love, or any of those other tropes that destroy this kind of book for me.  There is possibly something starting to happen between Jad and Zaya, but at this point we'll have to see where that leads.

The Wayward Haunt was a pleasant surprise featuring a dystopian landscape of war, destruction, and darkness, but also magic, mayhem, fantasy, ghosts, friendship, secrets, and betrayal.  There is a complex backstory to the main story, and all the threads fit together even if you don't quite understand all of them at this point.  Because there are a large amount of characters, only a few of them seem more than one-dimensional, but there are two more books in the series, so we'll see what happens in those books. In the end, this was full of action, fast-paced, and Zaya was a great character to get to know. I definitely recommend this book to those of you who enjoy a mix of fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian fiction.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Review: I Have Some Questions For You by Rebecca Makkai

by Rebecca Makkai
Release Date: February 21, 2023
2023 Viking
Kindle Edition; 438 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593490143
Audiobook: B0B622Q8G4
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.25 / 5 Stars

A successful film professor and podcaster, Bodie Kane is content to forget her past—the family tragedy that marred her adolescence, her four largely miserable years at a New Hampshire boarding school, and the murder of her former roommate, Thalia Keith, in the spring of their senior year.

But when the Granby School invites her back to teach a course, Bodie is inexorably drawn to the case and its increasingly apparent flaws. In their rush to convict Omar, did the school and the police overlook other suspects? Is the real killer still out there? 
My Thoughts
I Have Some Questions For You had an interesting premise, and I was intrigued by the fact that Bodie was a podcaster, but unfortunately, the story did not live up to its premise.  The story was extremely slow, and the mystery was thin, to say the least. I also think it was way too long, filled with secondary plot lines that added very little to the overall story.  
First of all, Bodie was super annoying. I don't have to like the main character, but I need to understand the motives and feel some type of connection to what they are going through. All Bodie did was try and bring everything back to her and what she went through, whether it was at school at in life. Personally, I found her whiny, self-centered, and extremely selfish.  The author spends so much time trying to convince the reader that Bodie wasn't the one who developed the idea for the podcast and the murders, making sure you understood it was solely her student's idea that is grew superfluous to the story. Really? 
There were a lot of characters to keep track of, something that is normally not a problem, but when there is little character development to distinguish all the characters, this becomes an issue. After a while, I couldn't tell them apart, they were all so one-dimensional. All it did was lesson the overall impact I think the author was going for.  
The story itself could have been very interesting, but what I find sometimes is this tendency to what to discuss multiple issues within the same story, something that overwhelms both the story and the characters.  The themes themselves were quite good, things such as SA, grooming, predatory behaviour, racism, sexism, and so on. The problem is there were way too many issues and I think the author was overwhelmed sometimes with which issue should be highlighted so both the characters and the story suffered as a result. If a couple of these issues had been chose and allowed to develop, I think we would have had a much better story overall, something that would have allowed for better character development as well.  
I Have Some Questions For You is classified as a literary ...something, but I can't quite figure out what it was. Mystery?  I found the writing to be simplistic, and the character development was non-existent, with a main character that was poorly written and frankly, annoying.  I think it was trying to be deep and contemplative, but it missed the mark completely.  Upon completion of this novel, I am still trying to figure out its purpose and what I was supposed to take away from it.  Unfortunately, this book did not live up to its expectations for me.   


Monday, August 28, 2023

Review: Who Haunts You by Mark Wheaton

by Mark Wheaton
Release Date: September 2, 2023
2023 Limits Press
Kindle Edition; 170 Pages
ISBN: 979-8987925010
Genre: Fiction / YA / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

High school senior Rebecca “Bex” Koeltl is just trying to make it to graduation. But when her fellow seniors begin dying in seemingly unrelated incidents, Bex uncovers disturbing connections between their deaths, including that the teens believed they were haunted by long-dead relatives their own family members swear never existed. After Bex is visited by a malevolent specter of her own, she realizes she has to get the bottom of this horror before she’s its next victim...
My Thoughts
Who Haunts You is a fast-paced book that made me think back to my university psychology courses with a pang of nostalgia.  I loved the main character, thought the story was really engaging, and enjoyed the overall story. 
My favourite thing about this story was Rebecca. Autistic and neuro-divergent, Bex's character and her development was far from stereotypical, and I appreciated the research he put into his character. She attends a competitive high school, but keeps to herself and hides away in the library.  It is rare to see autistic characters as the MC and this is the second book in recent weeks that has happened, so I was glad to see more diversity in the characters.  Because I am not autistic, I liked seeing things through Bex's eyes and how she views the world.  Gosh, she was so fascinating, and I loved going along with her on this journey as she was trying to discover what was happening with her schoolmates.  
Because we get the story from Bex's POV, the story is naturally twisty and convoluted, and it took me awhile to figure out who was guilty.  I loved how the author threw in those red herrings and took you down one rabbit hole after another, until I actually had difficulty wondering what was real and what wasn't. The writing style was compelling and fast-paced, and because it was so engaging, I read it in one sitting. Looking back, it was hard to believe it only came in at 170 pages.
The one issue I did have was the ending. It's not that I have an issue with the way it went, it's mostly due to its ambiguous ending, like the author was working so hard to be mysterious. While it did have quite an impact, I felt like it took such a one-eighty turn that I was a bit disappointed. I should have seen it coming though, as there was a lot of talk about Bex becoming too obsessed with what was happening. 
Who Haunts You was a fascinating look at the power of psychological persuasion. It was thought provoking, with interesting twist and turns, and had a great main character that I enjoyed tremendously. While I wasn't a fan of the ending, the author manages to pack in so much to this short novel, that I recommend it to anyone interested in a psychological mind bend.  


Friday, August 25, 2023

Review: Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six by Lisa Unger

by Lisa Unger
Release Date: November 8, 2022
2022 Park Row
Kindle Edition; 396 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778333234
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

What could be more restful than a weekend getaway with family and friends? An isolated luxury cabin in the woods, spectacular views, a hot tub and a personal chef. Hannah’s generous brother found the listing online. The reviews are stellar. It'll be three couples on this trip with good food, good company and lots of R & R.

But the dreamy weekend is about to turn into a nightmare.

My Thoughts
Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six definitely had an interesting premise, but that is where it stops.  I wish that I could have liked this more than I did, but I struggled to get through it and looking back, I don't know why I didn't DNF it. Too lazy to get out of my chair and pick out another book, perhaps? Unfortunately, this book had a timeline that didn't add anything to the story, superfluous characters, and a storyline that really pushes the boundaries of believability. 

There were a lot of different characters, but I think the author concentrated so much on the story line that much of the character development necessary to pull this off didn't really happen. You need to understand the motivations behind the characters and you need to feel sympathy for their actions and behaviours even if you don't necessarily agree with them, but all I wanted to do was shove both Mako and Hannah's faces deep into a snowbank.  Most of the characters are cliched characters, one-dimensional, with little emotional depth.  

The plot was unnecessarily convoluted, adding timelines and characters that didn't need to be there, just to add red herrings to an already bloated situation.  I think authors sometimes forget that cleaner plots can be quite tricky and hard to figure out.  I'm still trying to figure out why we needed the perspective of the owner of the house.  And the jump in timelines wasn't seamless; in fact, it was quite jarring. None of this meshed together very well, leaving me rolling my eyes in frustration and annoyance.  

It's a shame however, as the setting was amazing, and I could imagine all sorts of things going on in a secluded area such as this. The author definitely didn't make use of the elements that were available.  

Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six actually suffered from a story that really tried to do to much, creating a convoluted story line and characters that were not really developed and a conclusion that was really not believable.  It's a shame as the setting was pretty cool and secluded, somewhere where I could see a lot of interesting things happening. There were some good themes that were explored, but overall, I think the story missed the mark.


Thursday, August 24, 2023

Review: Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle

by Chuck Tingle
Release Date: July 18, 2023
2023 Tor Nightfire
Kindle & Audiobook Editions; 256 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250874627
Audiobook: B0BFFKNHV3
Genre: Fiction / Horror / LGBT
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.75 / 5 Stars
They’ll scare you straight to hell.

Welcome to Neverton, Montana: home to a God-fearing community with a heart of gold.

Nestled high up in the mountains is Camp Damascus, the self-proclaimed “most effective” gay conversion camp in the country. Here, a life free from sin awaits. But the secret behind that success is anything but holy.
My Thoughts
Camp Damascus had a terrific premise and overall, I enjoyed the story.  I do have to say that the lure of this book was definitely the author as having read some of his cosmic fantasy books I was interested to see what this book was all about, and this is about as different as you can get. I mean, we've gone from a sentient flying ass (yes, you heard that right), and all the raunchy stuff that goes with that, to a horror novel, so how could I not be interested?  So, while I enjoyed the story, and there were some very interesting elements in here, I did think the marketing was an issue and some of the overall elements needed to be tightened up. 
First of all, I did love the main character Rose. Being autistic, I thought the author did a great job portraying her idiosynchrasies and those things that are unique to autism, but making her a strong and powerful personality at the same time; it was something I definitely appreciated. She was able to see through the lies and what was happening, always questioning, which made the reader question along with her, but without being led by the nose.  That being said, I did think that she could have been developed even more.  For example, I would have liked to have seen more struggle trying to shake off the indoctrination she grew up with rather than just from 100 to zero and back to fifty percent without a lot of struggle.  Indoctrination isn't something you shake off in such a short time.  A little more exploration into that would have been beneficial.
Camp Damascus is a gay conversion camp and its success rate is known around the world.  The whole town revolves around this camp, and while I found the discussions around it quite interesting, and I love the subtlety the author uses in discussing the moral issues around it, it does come at the cost of character development of some of the main players in the book, other than Rose.  When the big denouement happens, I didn't really feel any of the horror, and that was toned down quite a bit, simply because we didn't learn too much about the motives, feelings, and emotions that drives these characters. Just labeling them as monsters is not really enough.

While I liked the writing style, I did have some issues with the pacing and the overall storytelling. It actually took me surprise when I discovered Rose was twenty years old as the book had the feeling of a YA novel throughout.  I don't know if the author was trying to portray how innocent the characters were by growing up in such a town, but I don't think it quite worked.  Furthermore, the marketing team put a great emphasis on the camp so I was a bit disappointed when I realized most of the book didn't actually take place at the camp, but was used as background for what happened to Rose. It made sense and worked rather well, but I have an issue when the blurb is misleading.  

Camp Damascus is a good start by this author, and I did have fun with this story.  I did think there needed to be more character development to really get a feel for what drove these people to do what they did, and more exploration into Rose's conflict would have been beneficial. However, that being said, there was enough here that was riveting, that I would happily dive into another horror novel written by this author. 


Monday, August 21, 2023

Review: Lemon Curd Killer by Laura Childs

by Laura Childs
Release Date: March 7, 2023
2023 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593200825
Audiobook: B0BP9Y5L9Z
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.75 / 5 Stars

Tea shop entrepreneur Theodosia Browning has been tapped to host a fancy Limon Tea in a genuine lemon orchard as a rousing kickoff to Charleston Fashion Week. But as fairy lights twinkle and the scent of lemon wafts among the tea tables, the deadly murder of a fashion designer puts the squeeze on things.

As the lemon curd begins to sour, the murdered woman's daughter begs Theodosia to help find the killer. Tea events and fashion shows must go on, however, which puts Theodosia and her tea sommelier, Drayton Conneley, right in the thick of squabbling business partners, crazed clothing designers, irate film producers, drug deals, and a disastrous Tea Trolley Tour.
My Thoughts
Lemon Curd Killer is long-running series featuring Theodosia and her fascinating tea shop. I have long been a fan of the interesting recipes and decadent desserts that have been mentioned throughout the books.  The mysteries have often been interesting, and while this one is interesting as well, I am having a lot of difficulty with this series as I am no longer a fan of the main character.
Theodosia, the owner of the tea shop, has slowly been changing throughout the books, and not in a positive way. I have commented about this over several books now and still don't like the way her character is being developed. From a person who was kind and caring, we now have this arrogant woman who is also reckless and somewhat overconfident, and thinks she knows better than everyone around her, including law enforcement, constantly putting everyone around her in danger.  She withholds relevant information as if it's her right and then gets upset when she is called out on her immature behaviour, which rarely happens, the author always trying to justify her actions. Honestly, the amount of times I rolled my eyes at the things she said and did...crazy. Now, if Drayton became the main character, that would make my day completely.  I don't care how this is done, but please!!

The mystery itself was actually interesting and I would have enjoyed it a lot more if the cavalier actions of said MC did not constantly interrupt the flow of the story. There were quite a few twists and turns and I did find them amusing. However, that being said, I do wish the author paid more attention to her characters and the relationships they had in previous books.  There was the issue with Bill Glass and Nadine in this one, acting as if they didn't really know each other, and I also wish the author would develop Riley's character a bit more as all it does it make me wish he would thump Theodosia once in a while (rhetorically, of course).  

Lemon Curd Killer seems to have lost its shine. While I didn't dislike the mystery, I was not a fan of the character developments happening for the past few books as I don't think it has been favourable.  There used to be quite a few historical facts about the area and about the tea which were a huge bonus, but lately these have been lacking so this rather charming cozy mystery series has developed into a weak oblong tea that is ready to be thrown out.  I gave it a few books when the changes started happening, but I think I am done with the series. 


Sunday, August 20, 2023

Review: Collateral Damage by J.A. Jance

by J.A. Jance
Release Date: March 14, 2023
2023 Gallery Books
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982189150
Audiobook: B09KYKPLKH
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

After spending twenty years behind bars, Frank Muñoz, a disgraced former cop, is out on parole and focused on just one thing: revenge. 

For Ali Reynolds, the first Christmas without her father is riddled with grief and uncertainty. But when Stu Ramey barges into her home with grave news about a serious—and suspicious—accident on the highway to Phoenix involving B.’s car, things reach a breaking point.

At the hospital, a groggy, post-op B. insists that Ali take his place at a ransomware conference in London, as troubles brimming around High Noon come to light. But questions remain: Who would go to such lengths to cut the tech company from the picture? And what if Ali and the rest of the team are also in danger?
My Thoughts
Collateral Damage continues the long-running series featuring Ali Reynolds, and honestly, I was not a huge fan of this book.  While there was definitely an interesting story line buried somewhere in there, it got lost within the excessive amount of character description given for each character and I grew very frustrated with the reliance on Frigg to solve every problem.  And the dialogue was supposed to be witty, but I found it excessively wordy and annoying.  
Let's start with the large number of characters, shall we? Because the story swings across decades and states, there are a number of people involved of which to keep track. This is not inherently a problem except the author went to considerable pains to give the reader background information on each one of them, trying to draw sympathy for people who may have not made good choices in their lives as adults and are now living in difficult circumstances.  There is only so much of this you can take before you start rolling your eyes, wondering what exactly is the purpose here.  Honestly, if that was her point, going overboard like that, and leading the reader on in this way, is not necessarily the best way to about it. Subtlety works a lot better, in my opinion. And to make a character unpleasant without motivation also leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

The plot itself could have been great, but too many threads seemed to be flying all over the place with little explanation or follow-up.  There were leaks that were not resolved, threads that were never explained, and the reliance on Frigg to solve everything drove me nuts.  So, we've got this AI source, both inadmissible and unlikely to be caught, digging up information, while everyone else runs around on his instructions, conveniently overlooking some of the characters first introduced.  And there is a clear delineation between those who are compassionate and those who are not.  Personally, I like my stories, and my characters, to be somewhat more complicated than this.  

Collateral Damage had a good premise, but got lost in too many story lines and characters. The plot itself seemed to be a jumble of threads whereby the author only connected the ones that were convenient, but overlooked some important details that made me roll my eyes.  I didn't feel any connection to the characters because the descriptions didn't allow me to, telling me they made poor choices as adults, rather than letting me feel how their choices affected them.  And for the love of everything, please get rid of the A.I. and the reliance on Frigg to solve anything the main characters can't do easily. If you want to try a book by this author, I recommend one from the Joanne Brady series before venturing into this series. 


Thursday, August 17, 2023

Review: The Only One Left by Riley Sager

by Riley Sager
Release Date: June 20, 2023
2023 Dutton
Kindle Edition; 385 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593183229
Audiobook: B0BJ17G933
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

At seventeen, Lenora Hope
Hung her sister with a rope

Now reduced to a schoolyard chant, the Hope family murders shocked the Maine coast one bloody night in 1929. While most people assume seventeen-year-old Lenora was responsible, the police were never able to prove it.  
Stabbed her father with a knife
Took her mother’s happy life

It’s now 1983, and home-health aide Kit McDeere arrives at a decaying Hope’s End to care for Lenora after her previous nurse fled in the middle of the night. In her seventies and confined to a wheelchair, Lenora was rendered mute by a series of strokes and can only communicate with Kit by tapping out sentences on an old typewriter. One night, Lenora uses it to make a tantalizing offer—I want to tell you everything.
My Thoughts
The Only One Left definitely had everything I love in a gothic story: family mystery, death, secrets, crumbling house, difficult family relationships, MC hiding from family and friends, missing staff members and servants, and a creepy atmosphere. And with a house tilting quite precariously at the edge of a cliff, I definitely enjoyed the eerie setting as I waited for the house to fall off the cliff and crash into the sea. But what I always find with this author, instead of keeping to the KISS principle, keep it simple, the story line got blown up, became way too convoluted, and suddenly, the nice creepy tension that was building up, was gone.  Blown up! Out of the water! And I found myself drifting out to sea not caring what happened to the characters anymore.

Kit, accused of manslaughter, is desperate for a job, so she is in no position to refuse when Lenora needs a new caregiver and no one else wants the job. I found her to be likable and sympathetic, and enjoyed learning about her difficulties and the choices she made while caring for her mom when she was sick. I found her to be creative when dealing with Lenora and I understood her bafflement when strange things started happening as I would have felt the same way.  I am glad she didn't do some of the silly things that some characters do despite her digging into everyone's business and checking out the house.  

The secondary characters were interesting, but I would have liked to see some of them more developed as I found their stories and their reasons for staying intriguing. There were some good explanations, but I wasn't quite satisfied.  Despite all of this, I couldn't quite connect with any of the characters, including Kit, as there were some things that just didn't make sense or were glossed over as being convenient, something that bothered me.

At first, I really enjoyed the plot and thought that maybe, this time, I would get through one these books, and be satisfied. But no, the plot grew convoluted, but not in a good way, and I found myself rolling my eyes and losing interest fast. When you have a good plot, and then add too many variables, and then expect a reader to just accept it, the whole thing loses tension and I grew mostly frustrated with the turn the story took and just wanted to finish the book.  The gothic feeling of the house was the one redeeming quality left in a disappointing conclusion. 

The Only One Left had a good premise and an eerie atmosphere, but with a plot that relied on way too many coincidences for my liking as well as a too-twisty narrative destroyed the tension that was being nicely built up in the first half. I had a hard time connecting to the characters as I didn't feel like they were developed enough due to too much emphasis on trying to out-twist the reader, which also left me feeling unsympathetic.  There were a lot of good elements to this book, and overall, I did like the story, but I do think the ending could have been reached without all of those twists, ramping up that delicious tension that makes you want to flip the pages even faster. 


Sunday, August 13, 2023

Review: The Audrey Hepburn Estate by Brenda Janowitz

by Brenda Janowitz
Release Date: April 18, 2023
2023 Graydon House
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-1525811487
Audiobook: B098QR24MP
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Romance
Source: Review copy from publisher
1.5 / 5 Stars
When Emma Jansen discovers that the grand Long Island estate where she grew up is set to be demolished, she can't help but return for one last visit. But once Emma arrives at the storied mansion, she can't ignore the more complicated memories. Because that's not exactly where Emma grew up. Her mother and father worked for the family that owned the estate, and they lived over the garage like Audrey Hepburn's character in the film Sabrina

And when the house reveals a shattering secret about her own family, she’ll have to decide what kind of life she really wants for herself now and who she wants to be in it.
My Thoughts
The Audrey Hepburn Estate is one of those books I thought I would like as I love Audrey Hepburn as well as the original Sabrina movie, but man, was this a difficult book to get through.  In hindsight, I should have just called it a day about halfway through as Emma, the main character, just grew more annoying as the book progressed and the plot was one hot mess.  I guess that teaches me to read a romance novel when I typically read thrillers, fantasy, and horror novels.
Unfortunately, no matter how much I tried, I just could not connect with the main character, Emma. I felt she had little character development as she still behaved exactly the same way she did at thirty that she did at eight years old.  Her decision-making skills just made me want to scream and I was constantly shaking my head at her choices. Personally, I couldn't care less which man she chose (as they had not personality either), but it was her reasoning behind it that bothered me to the nth degree.  Maybe I am being too tough on this character, but I am getting increasingly frustrated by authors who write female MC who are...pathetic. Of course we all make dumb choices in our lives, but Emma lives in a fairy-tale world, and because there is some supposed loose connection between this estate and Audrey Hepburn, we are supposed to accept her decisions based on this world? No way. Open your eyes and see what is in front of you. Also, get off your high horse and be gracious when someone does something nice for you. That one scene where Emma walks out on Henry when he takes her out for dinner, but it's not a high-end one so she takes it personally? I just wanted to slap her.  Yes, he did some stupid things as a teenager, but you are now ADULTS!!!

So, now we come to Henry and Leo.  I was supposed to root for Leo, I think? The author went out of her way to make us feel like Henry was the awful person when the whole time I was thinking, drop her ass Henry and find someone else.  And Leo has his own long-time girlfriend, someone who was supposedly really nice?  I should have counted to number of times I rolled my eyes. 

The plot was actually interesting in the beginning, but the execution deteriorated from about the twenty-five percent mark.  The timeline threw me off as well as Emma's father was supposedly a cook in a concentration camp so the math just didn't seem to work for me, especially as she mentioned technology that has only existed in the past ten years.  Using Emma's failed relationships with both men to propel the story was weak at best, and the way she treats these men as a grown-up, using what she suffered as a child as her excuse, was annoying to say the least.  There were so many themes that were left unexplored in this book, but to ignore Henry and Emma's relationship as teenagers, the exploration of that, was wrong on many levels.  
The Audrey Hepburn House was disappointing, to say the least.  The title is deceptive as it has nothing to do with Audrey Hepburn other than inspiring a house from one her movies, Sabrina. Emma was such a weak character that I could not connect to her at all and I thought her behaviour was childish and immature.  She was taken advantage of by Henry as a teenager and I wish the author had explored that theme in this book rather than overlook it, but most themes went unexplored in this book and you were just supposed to accept that Emma wanted this fairy-tale world no matter her behaviour. Unfortunately, I struggled throughout this book, hoping it would get better, but it never did.


Saturday, August 12, 2023

Review: Wined and Died in New Orleans by Ellen Byron

by Ellen Byron
Release Date: February 7, 2023
2023 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593437636
Audiobook: B09X8#GVHQ
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Repairs on the property unearth crates of very old, very valuable French wine, buried by the home’s builder, Jean-Louis Charbonnet. Ricki, who’s been struggling to attract more customers to Miss Vee’s, is thrilled when her post about the discovery of this long-buried treasure goes viral. She’s less thrilled when the post brings distant Charbonnet family members out of the woodwork, all clamoring for a cut of the wine’s sale.

When a dead body turns up in Bon Vee’s cheery fall decorations, the NOPD zeroes in on Eugenia Charbonnet Felice as the prime suspect, figuring that as head of the Charbonnet family, she has the most to gain. Ricki is determined to uncover the real culprit, but she can’t help noticing that Eugenia is acting strangely. Ricki wonders what kind of secret her mentor has bottled up, and fears what might happen if she uncorks it.
My Thoughts
Wined and Died in New Orleans is the second book in this series and I thought ti was a fun read.  It picks up soon after the first book, and Ricki continues to work hard building her new business, a vintage gift shop in one of the local museums.  Repairs on part of the old house lead to a discovery of very old and valuable French wine buried by the original owner, a discovery that leads Ricki into an interesting mystery and to meeting many members of the Charbonnet family who are now coming out of the woodwork wanting a claim of the new fortune.  
Ricki is a likeable character, someone who makes friends easily, but also tends to question herself quite a bit due to her history and her previous marriage that ended in disaster.  Her gift shop features vintage cookbooks and I find this aspect of her job quite fascinating as I remember looking through my grandmother's old cookbooks when I was younger and laughing at some of the recipes, so I get the appeal.  Both of the books made reference to her parentage and as she is adopted, there is a mystery that is developing as a secondary story line, one that I find quite interesting, but has not yet taken center stage.  
The secondary characters are just as interesting as the main character. The witty dialogue and banter between them drew me into their world and I thought the author captured the cultural traditions of New Orleans very well through their interactions and their commentary.  I have only been there once, but I could visualize the places and sights through their eyes and I enjoyed revisiting the city in my mind as I read.  I enjoyed how the characters responded to situations as the story unfolded; yes, there was drama, but it wasn't silly and the characters had smart discussions about how the various situations would affect them, their jobs, and their businesses.  
The plot itself was fun and enjoyable.  The tension slowly built throughout the book, and though I had guessed who was the culprit, I amused myself by playing around with other possibilities, just in case I was wrong.  The author was good at throwing some red herrings along the way, and the twists and turns were interesting.  I always find it intriguing how one little comment can give away the whole plot of a story unintentionally, and that is what happened to me with this story.  It didn't take away from the fun of the book though as it allowed me to reflect more on the themes being presented in the book rather than just the mystery; death, grief, friendship, family relationships, family history, secrets, greed, trust issues, and regret all played a role in this book.  
Wined and Died in New Orleans was an engaging novel with a diverse set of characters and a story line that was interesting and intriguing.  It continued some of the themes from the first book, but was also contained its own mystery so could be read as a standalone, although I don't recommend it being read that way.  If you like to cook, there are also some vintage recipes to try out throughout the story that look interesting.  The writing style was engaging, the mystery was fun, and I definitely recommend anyone who is interested in cozy mysteries check this one out.