Monday, March 20, 2023

Review: Murder at Black Oaks by Phillip Margolin

by Phillip Margolin
Release Date: November 8, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250258465
Audiobook: B09Q767L58
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

Defense Attorney Robin Lockwood is summoned by retired District Attorney Francis Hardy to meet with him at Black Oaks, the manor he owns up in the Oregon mountains.  Hardy wants Lockwood's help in a legal matter - righting a wrongful conviction from his days as a DA. 

Successful in their efforts, Hardy invites Lockwood up to Black Oaks for a celebration. Lockwood finds herself among an odd group of invitees - including the bitter, newly released, Alvarez. When Hardy is found murdered, with a knife connected to the original curse, Lockwood finds herself faced with a conundrum - who is the murderer among them and how to stop them before there's another victim.
My Thoughts
Murder at Black Oaks, the sixth entry in the Robin Lockwood series, was supposed to be an homage to Agatha Christie's locked room mysteries, but definitely fell short in my opinion.  While the actual material of the book was interesting, the execution was lacking and all over the place, from courtroom drama to Gothic elements that were not really convincing nor did they seem to fit the spirit of the story. And some of it was not believable, including the courtroom stuff. 
First of all, while I don't have an issue with multiple plot lines in a story, I do have an issue when they are not cohesive.  I actually felt like I was reading a series of short stories that the author decided at the last minute to tie together into one larger plot. As a result, the overall plot didn't flow very well and was jarring in quite a few places, but, I thought, maybe I could overlook all of that.  Nope, as suddenly, there was mention of a curse, a legend, and suddenly, I was in the middle of a Gothic novel.  Throw in a thunderstorm and no electricity, and yes, you can see where I am going with all of this.  It wouldn't have surprised me if someone was actually bitten by a werewolf and turned.  And trust me, I love Gothic and horror as it's my preferred genre to read, but not like this. Unfortunately, the plot was sort of painful to get through, and there were quite a few instances where I just rolled my eyes and thought about how short this book was and how easy it is to read, so I just powered through it.  

If I had not read the previous novels, I would not have any knowledge of any of the main characters. The character development was not that great and if you changed the names of any of the people, it wouldn't have mattered as no one, not even Robin, had distinct personalities.  I was really disappointed in Robin's character as she seemed so different compared to previous novels, this one almost making her seem silly and out of sync with what is happening. 

Murder at Black Oaks is definitely not one of my favourite novels by this author.  Lack of plot and character development interfered in what could have been an intriguing locked room drama in a spooky mansion. The author did not make use of of his characters nor was there an intertwined plot that was intriguing or interesting.  Unfortunately, this one failed on a multitude of levels.  However, as the previous novels were half-decent, I'm not quite ready to give up on this series yet. I do recommend that if you haven't read anything by this author, you do not start with this novel, but start with the first one in the series.



Sunday, March 19, 2023

Review: Exiles by Jane Harper

by Jane Harper
Release Date: January 31, 2023
2023 Flatiron Books
Kindle Edition; 356 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250235350
Audiobook: B09YJ1 692Y
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
At a busy festival site on a warm spring night, a baby lies alone in her pram, her mother vanishing into the crowds.

A year on, Kim Gillespie’s absence casts a long shadow as her friends and loved ones gather deep in the heart of South Australian wine country to welcome a new addition to the family.

Joining the celebrations is federal investigator Aaron Falk. But as he soaks up life in the lush valley, he begins to suspect this tight-knit group may be more fractured than it seems.

My Thoughts
Exiles is the third entry in the Aaron Falk series, and unfortunately, this was my least favourite of the series. This one is more personal for Aaron, but in a different way as it involves his current friend group, a group that grew up together and has intimacies and ties that go back decades.  Aaron, as an outsider, has a unique viewpoint to examine those relationships and find out what actually happened to Kim a year ago. And while I found all of that interesting, it was a slow, slow burn, something I don't normally mind, but the denouement had little excitement and that level of tension the author was able to keep up in the previous two books was missing from this one. 

First of all, I loved the setting of this book. The wine country and festival descriptions were interesting and I could definitely picture myself there, walking amongst the rows of grapes, or by the reservoir. I also liked learning about some of the conflicting traditions that currently exist, such as the teenagers drinking spot on the first night of the festival.  And while it seems all in good fun, the author interweaves the darker aspects of those traditions into the story, something I liked.  We also get a glimpse of the what the adults think of these traditions now their kids are doing them and I find that quite fascinating, having gone through the teenage years with my own kids and the challenges that posed.  

The weakest aspect of this book was the mystery. The story didn't seem to have the same level of tension or sense of urgency of the previous books, and at first, I was okay with that.  But as the story progressed and the level of tension never seemed to grow, I had a hard time continuing the story, even putting it down and finally picking it back up just to see if I was right as to who the murderer was several weeks later.  The story got stuck on the relationships between the characters, and while this was interesting, the mystery itself got stuck within all of that, and then the author would realize this and try to pull the story back to the mystery creating this dissonance.  The story never really delved into the mystery or went into full policing mode, and while I understand some of the reasons why, it did affect the overall story, the tension, and the ending.  

Exiles was a slow-burn mystery that never seemed to really raise the tension level as it focused more on Falk's relationship issues rather than the crime and the mystery.  Personally, I missed the darker tones of the previous novels and higher level of tension and excitement; this one seemed much cozier in nature with too many coincidences that made me grit my teeth.  The descriptions of the setting and the well-developed characters saved this book, but the overall mystery was weak and while many readers may have enjoyed the focus on the romance and the convenient denouement that entailed, I like my books to be grittier and more realistic. Aaron Falk is a great character and I enjoyed the conflict he was going through, but he deserved a better path to his denouement than he got.  

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Review: Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi

by Ronald Malfi
Release Date: July 19, 2022
2022 Titan Books
Kindle Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-1789098655
Audiobook: B0B3NGMJQS
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

For nearly two decades, Jamie Warren has been running from darkness. He's haunted by a traumatic childhood and the guilt at having disappeared from his disabled brother's life. But then a series of unusual events reunites him with his estranged brother and their childhood friends, and none of them can deny the sense of fate that has seemingly drawn them back together.

Nor can they deny the memories of that summer, so long ago – the strange magic taught to them by an even stranger man, and the terrible act that has followed them all into adulthood. In the light of new danger, they must confront their past by facing their futures, and hunting down a man who may very well be a monster.
My Thoughts
Black Mouth had all the elements of a horror novel that I love: creepy house, eerie atmosphere, family secrets, messed up characters, and an unresolved situation from the past.  And yet, this book just didn't click for me. Yes, it definitely had its interesting moments, but so much of this book was character-driven, meaning we got to see the main character fighting with his demons most of the time, rather than focusing on the creepy story line. So much of the suspense was lost because of this and as a result, I had to force myself to go back and finish this book.  I think it took me about a month to get through this one.
First of all, I thought this book started out quite well.  The story was interesting, the characters when they were young were fascinating, and I was intrigued by their lives and why they would be attracted to such a figure known as the Magician.  I definitely understood the power of having a secret and how that can empower you to stand up for yourself when you are struggling with so much in your life. The four main characters had some major difficulties going on in their lives, so I liked learning about their struggles and the impact such a person would have on their lives. The Magician was creepy and mysterious and I wanted to learn more about him. So how did it go sideways?
First of all, the theme in this book has been done before, so to really make an impact it needs to have something new, something fresh.  Unfortunately, for a book that causes chaos for kids, there should be much more of a horror element and feel and this book just wasn't that scary or horrifying. whether it be psychologically or physically.
Furthermore, adult Jamie very quickly got on my nerves.  It's not that I don't understand where he was coming from, and alcoholism is a disease which I understand the author was trying to highlight in this book, but the constant focus on that and how it affects people's lives did take away from the overall suspense of the story, and I think there needed to be more of a balance.  Trust me, I'm not opposed to flawed characters, in fact I prefer them, but not when the book is so character-driven, the overall focus of the story gets lost in a character redemption arc.  The author did a great job with his brother Dennis though, and he was definitely my favourite character in this book.  He was a man of few words, but his perceptions were spot on.   While Clay and Mia were well done, I did wish the author had developed them a bit more and allowed the reader to learn more about them as I found them quite interesting.

Black Mouth had all the elements, but something was definitely missing.  For me, there weren't any real moments of dread or tension, and the focus on the main character, and his issues, didn't blend as well into the story line which didn't help the tension or the suspense.  The author is a really good writer however, and this is what kept me returning to the book in the end.  In the end, while there were some strong, interesting parts, the book was too drawn out, and the pacing was very uneven.  I do think fans of the author will enjoy this book. 


Monday, February 27, 2023

Review: The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

by Richard Osman
Release Date: September 15, 2022
2022 Viking
Kindle Edition; 413 Pages
ISBN: 978-0241512425
Audiobook: B09RTNYFDV
Genre: Fiction / Cozy / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.75 Stars

Trouble is never far away where the Thursday Murder Club are concerned. A local news legend is on the hunt for a sensational headline, and soon the gang are hot on the trail of two murders, ten years apart.

To make matters worse, a new nemesis pays Elizabeth a visit, presenting her with a deadly mission: kill or be killed...

While Elizabeth grapples with her conscience (and a gun), the gang and their unlikely new friends (including TV stars, money launderers and ex-KGB colonels) unravel a new mystery. But can they catch the culprit and save Elizabeth before the murderer strikes again?
My Thoughts
The Bullet That Missed is the third entry in this somewhat fun cozy mystery series featuring supposedly harmless pensioners.  And while I did enjoy the book, I have to admit that this one seemed to have some very loose plot lines, and I found the dialogue between the characters far more tedious than in previous instalments. And it also felt like the author didn't know what to do with some of his characters as they simply seemed to disappear for pages, without explanation, and then suddenly they were there again.  
First of all, although touted as a mystery, this is primarily a character-driven book, following the lives of four pensioners and a couple of police detectives as they work together to solve interesting crimes. Personally, I loved the focus on the four main characters, with glimpses into the lives of the police officers, but prefer the focus to be on our favourite pensioners, especially Joyce, who, I have learned, is the one we really need to watch.  Her journal entries are the heart and soul of the books, but they were a bit lacking in this instalment, something I missed quite a bit. 
Unfortunately, the number of characters has grown considerably, and I feel like the author doesn't quite know how to fit them all into his plot lines, and they are getting away from him, removing the charm that was in the first book from this one.  As I've already mentioned, some core characters disappear completely from the story, only to suddenly reappear without explanation as to where they have been.  Personally, I just found them a lot less interesting, and I wasn't as invested in learning more about these characters as I was in the first two books.  
There were moments that were really good in this book, but there were moments that made me cringe as well.  At first, I enjoyed the spy mystery involving Elizabeth, but it eventually turned into something a bit silly and I couldn't help rolling my eyes at some of the things that were happening in this book.  I know the book is meant to be satirical in nature, but there were points where it became farcical; it made me question whether I should continue or just call it quits. I can handle satire, but the silliness got to me after a while.  

The Bullet That Missed is one of those books where I love the main characters, but struggled to enjoy the plot and thought the author was trying way to hard to include information about his characters and the plot that weren't really needed, through additional boring dialogue that made the book feel sluggish and slow. The book included a number of extra characters that really took away from the charm of the first book, and I missed the simpler story lines featuring our main characters.  The characters no longer feel genuine, and everything seems to be working out for everyone. Just not for me as I don't think I will be continuing this series. 


Sunday, February 26, 2023

Review: Don't Open the Door by Allison Brennan

by Allison Brennan
Release Date: January 24, 2023
2023 MIRA
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0269720788
Audiobook: B09V98R2PJ
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.75 / 5 Stars

After their ten-year-old son, Chase, was senselessly murdered, Regan's life unraveled. Her corporate lawyer husband, Grant, blamed the death on Regan’s work as a US marshal. Unable to reconcile their grief, they divorced, and Regan quit her job and moved away.

Now she's back after a voice mail from her former boss Tommy said he had important news to share about Chase’s killing. Regan is stunned to learn Tommy is dead too. When she reaches out to Grant, his panicked reaction raises her suspicions. Then a lawyer with ties to her ex also turns up murdered, and the police make Grant their top suspect.

Unsure of his guilt or innocence, Regan risks everything to find Grant before the police do so she can finally get the answers to all that has haunted her since losing Chase. But the truth is not even close to what she imagines—and now she fears she has no one to trust.
My Thoughts
Don't Open the Door is the second book in this series, and I actually enjoyed it more than the first book.  While you could get away with reading this as a standalone, I don't recommend it as you will get a richer background if you take the time to read the first book as it discusses the reasons why Regan left Virginia and the difficulties she had with her husband.  One of the things I enjoyed about this book, which has been a criticism by others, is that it doesn't necessarily wrap up everything neatly at the end. Personally, while that is nice to see happen in cozy mysteries, I am not always a fan of things doing this when it comes to more serious issues, especially in longer running series as that is not how things work in real life, so this pleases my heart much more.
Personally, I felt the character development was the weakest part of this book.  It's not that I don't enjoy introspection, and I did think it was merited for Regan as well as Grant, but then it became repetitive, and it bogged down the story line and slowed down tension and overall excitement in the book. I enjoyed Regan's character, in the beginning, but thought the author did a poor job with Grant.  He was a top notch lawyer, used to handling stress, but his character turned into this whining mess you just wanted to slap.  I felt the author could have done better with him.  And the same complaint I had with the first book continues with this one - there is little character development with Regan as she just doesn't seem to grow throughout the book, learning from her mistakes.  She's the same one-dimensional character at the end as she was in the beginning. 
Thank goodness the plot was far better than the character development or this book would have been a disaster.  I don't mind the slower pace at times, as I enjoy police procedurals and like the actual police detective work.  Every page doesn't have to be action after action after action for me. In that case, I would read a Jason Bourne novel.  I liked the complex puzzle, trying to figure out who was who, and who was involved, actually hoping the story would continue into a third book.  Unfortunately, some of the introspection interfered at critical moments and lowered the overall tension of certain scenes, and this is something that needs to be resolved.  It's not necessarily about adding more tension, it's about not adding unnecessary details and dialogue that ruin the tension and suspense when it is happening, allowing the reader to follow along in a super alert state.  
Don't Open the Door starts out slowly, something I liked, as Regan searches for clues and evidence as to what is really happening, and then the story picks up quite a bit. I enjoyed the story quite a bit, but wasn't a fan of the lack of character development as I felt they were one-dimensional, for the most part. I liked the fact that not everything was tied up at the end, although there was still some type of denouement that did leave me feeling satisfied, even though I was happy there could be more adventures for Regan in the future.  When it comes to complex cases, I tend to feel disappointed when they are wrapped up nicely at the end, so this made me happy.  


Monday, February 13, 2023

Review: The Crime That Binds by Laurie Cass

by Laurie Cass
Release Date: October 4, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593197738
Audiobook: B0BGMKV4WM
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.25 / 5 Stars

Late March is prime reading weather in the small northern Michigan town of Chilson. Though snowfall and cloudy skies deter outdoor activities, life inside the bookmobile is warm and cheerful. As Minnie and Eddie make the rounds to deliver comforting reads, Minnie witnesses bookmobile patron Ryan Anderson speeding away. When Minnie discovers the police want to bring him in for questioning about a bank robbery and the murder of a security guard, she realizes she's one of the only people who thinks Ryan isn't morally bankrupt.

When an additional murder victim is discovered, the police immediately suspect her patron, but Minnie isn't convinced. And when she encounters Ryan hiding from the police, she decides to help him by investigating the crimes. But with multiple crimes comes the potential for multiple criminals, so Minnie and Eddie will have to fight tooth and claw to prove his innocence.
My Thoughts
The Crime That Binds is the tenth instalment of the normally fun and interesting Bookmobile Cat Mystery series, but I found this one more difficult to get through as I found Minnie seriously annoying. I just couldn't understand why she would get so involved in helping someone she's only met through the bookmobile, has no real idea who he is, but has convinced herself that he is innocent and requires protection, and involving herself in the investigation.  
First of all, Minnie and I have a love/hate relationship as it stands.  I have not always been fond of this character because I have found her annoying in the past, but it was always the cat, Eddie, as well as the story lines, that redeemed the books for me.  Because Minnie has behaved herself over the past few books, she has become a more interesting character, and I have liked her a lot better. Characters need a reason for what they do, and there is no reason for Minnie to take the risks she does in this book that are plausible.  With several other characters having issues, it also gave Minnie a reason to meddle, something that felt just off in this book.  I know that no one has a perfect relationship, but to make people miserable, like Ash and Chelsea, just to have a story line and to have Minnie give some relationship advice and make her seem the hero, seems like a plot stretch to me and felt off, like the author was searching for issues, but couldn't really find plausible ones.  By the time we found Chelsea crying in various places, I was almost ready to DNF the book. 

The plot of the book, while it had an interesting premise, dragged a bit.  Honestly, too much time was spent on the characters to the detriment of the story, and I think it was because the story line was a bit thin to begin with.  The author has Minnie doing some silly things and asking some silly questions, and this is the first book in this series where I was rolling my eyes constantly.  And then she goes and misses the biggest question of all, the one that was staring the reader (and Minnie) in the face and gave you the clue to who the murderer was, and crosses said murderer off her list. I remember thinking, Aren't you even going to ask the most obvious question? Nope, she doesn't and goes along her merry way. The type to be murdered first in a horror movie, honestly, because she's clueless. And how does someone manage to take off so much time from work to investigate? She's always leaving work to go do something.  This isn't to say there weren't some good moments in this book as I always love it when old characters return and we get to see what they are up to, but unfortunately, that doesn't make up for the murky plot and a main character who was irritating, to say the least.

The Crime That Binds did not work for me, and is my least favourite of the books in this series.  Unfortunately, the plot rambled on, Minnie's reactions and actions were not believable, and Minnie's meddling wasn't interesting. It felt like the author was scrambling to come up with some interesting plot points, and when you put them all together, unfortunately, it was not cohesive. The only thing I did like was Eddie, especially when he stomped all over Minnie's clues. That about sums it up. 


Sunday, February 12, 2023

Review: The Nightmare Man by J.H. Markert

by J.H. Markert
Release Date: January 10, 2023
2023 Crooked Lane Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1639101702
Audiobook: B0BQRV7FD7
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Blackwood mansion looms, surrounded by nightmare pines, atop the hill over the small town of New Haven. Ben Bookman, bestselling novelist and heir to the Blackwood estate, spent a weekend at the ancestral home to finish writing his latest horror novel, The Scarecrow. Now, on the eve of the book’s release, the terrible story within begins to unfold in real life.

Detective Mills arrives at the scene of a gruesome murder: a family butchered and bundled inside cocoons stitched from corn husks, and hung from the rafters of a barn, eerily mirroring the opening of Bookman’s latest novel. When another family is killed in a similar manner, Mills, along with his daughter, rookie detective Samantha Blue, is determined to find the link to the book—and the killer—before the story reaches its chilling climax.
My Thoughts
The Nightmare Man had a really good premise, and reminded me of some of the older school horror novels from my earlier days. With a fairly intriguing story line that got off to a strong start, fairly strong character development for the first half of the book, and some campy dialogue that I rather enjoyed, what could go wrong? Unfortunately, while the book started off rather strong, it didn't finish that way, and I found myself struggling to push through to the end.  
While I expected the story to be focused more on Ben Bookman (even the names are cheesy, something I loved), the actual main characters were Detective Mills and his daughter Detective Blue who had something of a complicated relationship due to Mills struggles with alcoholism and insomnia throughout the years.  And while the character development of these characters was very well done, I don't think the author took the opportunity to address the issues as well as he could.  I did like how the author showed how complicated a relationship can be, and how there are always more than one side to an issue.  I did feel like Ben's character wasn't as developed as the others which made him come across as unlikable and troubled, suffering from trauma due to his brother's disappearance all those years ago.  I am not saying that that does not define one's life, I am saying that it is more complicated than it appears in this book, and I felt like it did a disservice to Ben's character.  To me, it felt like the author was using Ben as a red herring, something that didn't quite work.  
The first half of the book was quite intriguing, and I found myself flying through the pages.  There was a lot going on and I found myself constantly flipping from one character to another as the guilty party, trying to figure out who could have done such a thing.  While there were definitely some paranormal elements, they were superseded by the mystery and the horrible deaths and I enjoyed the investigation as that is something I like.  I devour police procedural novels as fast as I devour horror novels so to have both of these in this novel was a treat.  Unfortunately, when the book took on more of a paranormal element and focused on the nightmares, which was interesting, the whole plot went sideways for me and I started to lose interest.  It's not that there weren't intriguing elements, it's just that the story became bogged down with too many plot lines and became muddled which made the great tension and overall spookiness of the first half disappear.  And honestly, I just didn't see the point of some of the plot lines, such as the Jennifer/Julia one as I don't think all of them were necessary to the story. 
The Nightmare Man is well-written and has an intriguing story line, but too many plot lines in the second half of the book muddled up the story to the point where I started to lose interest and had to push through to the end.  I did like the character development and enjoyed the idea behind this novel as I know I would not want my nightmares coming alive, but felt the author didn't use the ideas as well as he could have.  However, there was so much potential in this book that I am definitely looking forward to his next book in this genre, and hopes he writes more.  


Saturday, February 11, 2023

Review: How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix

by Grady Hendrix
Release Date: January 17, 2023
2023 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 419 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593201268
Audiobook: B09LK9S2WL
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

When Louise finds out her parents have died, she dreads going home. She doesn’t want to leave her daughter with her ex and fly to Charleston. She doesn’t want to deal with her family home, stuffed to the rafters with the remnants of her father’s academic career and her mother’s lifelong obsession with puppets and dolls. She doesn’t want to learn how to live without the two people who knew and loved her best in the world.

Most of all, she doesn’t want to deal with her brother, Mark, who never left their hometown, gets fired from one job after another, and resents her success. Unfortunately, she’ll need his help to get the house ready for sale because it’ll take more than some new paint on the walls and clearing out a lifetime of memories to get this place on the market.

But some houses don’t want to be sold, and their home has other plans for both of them…
My Thoughts
How to Sell a Haunted House has everything I would expect from a Grady Hendrix novel,  but while the previous novels seemed to be missing that little something, this one seemed to capture a lot of the things I like about haunted houses, even if it didn't really fit the bill of what I consider a haunted house mystery as it focused more on object possession.  It was fun, with a bunch of quirky characters that I enjoyed, even if I didn't really like all of them, witty dialogue, and a bunch of creepy dolls and puppets. I don't really have too many triggers when I read, but honestly, dolls and puppets could be at the top of a very short list.
For the most part, I enjoyed the characters as I thought they each had their own distinct personalities so it was easy to figure out who was who and how they fit into the story.  I wasn't a huge fan of either Louise or Mark, but preferred Mark as I felt sorry for him.  Louise just turned me right off as she was so judgmental of everyone, very condescending.  I think I was supposed to garner sympathy for her when I learned more about her background, but unfortunately, the damage was done, and I just couldn't, although I did understand the reasons behind her behaviour as I read. For whatever reason, I was rooting for Mark, and I honestly was on tenterhooks only because I didn't want him to bite it.  

The story itself was fairly predictable, but the author definitely included some twists and turns I wasn't expecting which made it fun to read.  The witty dialogue, and the dolls and puppets made it easy to get lost in the story line, and I decided to just enjoy it for what it was, even if I was, for a quick moment, disappointed that it wasn't necessarily a haunted house story, but more of a possession story. I did think the author was really good at showing how there are always two sides to a story, and how easy it is to form a judgment when you only have the one side.  There were a few times I had to adjust my thinking and understood how I was being manipulated by the author. The author doesn't re-invent the scary puppet or scary doll trope, but I am super fascinated by how people change behind a mask, or when they assume a different persona, and I think the author showed this very well in this book.  Personally, 'Pupkin' was very annoying, but I was also fascinated by this puppet as well, wondering how you separate the doll from the actor.  

How to Sell a Haunted House was a campy, fun horror mystery focused more on possession than on a haunted house.  While I did think it was predictable, and the pacing was sometimes off, there were some great moments that were fun and enjoyable to read, which made it even more startling when the scarier stuff started happening, something I really enjoyed as I want to be scared.  However, I didn't find this book particularly frightening or scary.  If you do get scared easily, or get creeped out by dolls or puppets, this one will probably be scary for you.  I do prefer my haunted house stories to be creepier, but this was a lot of fun, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for some good, campy fun.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Review: Little Eve by Catriona Ward

by Catriona Ward
Release Date: October 11, 2022 (First published July 26, 2018)
2022 Tor Nightfire
Kindle Edition; 271 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250812650
Audiobook: B09WJDLYCD
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

On the wind-battered isle of Altnaharra, off the wildest coast of Scotland, a clan prepares to bring about the end of the world and its imminent rebirth.

The Adder is coming and one of their number will inherit its powers. They all want the honor, but young Eve is willing to do anything for the distinction.

A reckoning beyond Eve’s imagination begins when Chief Inspector Black arrives to investigate a brutal murder and their sacred ceremony goes terribly wrong.
My Thoughts
Little Eve is the third book I've read by this author, and it's definitely my least favourite of the three.  While House on Needless Street and even Sundial had some intriguing moments, with some half-decent character development, this one left me shaking my head and wondering if it was even written by the same author.  Unfortunately, the story line was quite muddled, jumping from time line to time line with no apparent purpose that I could see, and for the life of me, I couldn't understand the huge importance the author put on Chief Inspector Black in this story.  What this book did show me is how much an author can develop their writing skills as this one is an earlier book, published before the aforementioned ones, and I hope she continued to write more in the vein of Needless Street rather than this one.

First of all, I really wanted to connect with the characters as I found them intriguing.  However, that never did happen as they were never developed in such a way the author made you care for them.  Even Eve, through whose eyes you witness a lot of the events, there was a distance that kept you from caring about what happened. When a couple of events happened, I should have been shuddering, but I was more upset over the horse than I was over the children and that is poor character development in my eyes, and even then I should have been in tears as I have an issue with any animal death in books, even humane ones. I think the author was trying so hard to be mysterious and to show how the children were in this 'cult', being descriptive without actually giving too much information to the reader, that it took away from the empathetic connection I wanted to feel.  

Which leads me to the story line, one that bounced around and didn't seem to have a clear focus.  I felt like the author was trying to show what it is like to be trapped in a situation, to understand they are trapped, the growing awareness and horror of their situation, and the risks and dangers of trying to be set free. And while that was definitely interesting, it just didn't work very well in this book, and what we got was a bit of a muddle, with characters that were one-dimensional at best, time lines that jumped around, and secondary characters that often served no purpose and felt like a cheap way to advance a story line because the author couldn't think of another way to do so, hence Inspector Black.  By the time I was three quarters of the way in, I felt like I had been reading the book forever.  That being said, I did like the atmospheric setting as I am always intrigued by old houses and I definitely love it when books are set in Scotland.  It's a shame the author didn't make use of some rather intriguing secondary story lines in this book to really up the horror element, such as Elizabeth's story, as I feel she lost the opportunity to really give her readers some scares and shocks.  

Little Eve had promise, but unfortunately, fell flat for me. I wasn't a fan of the story line as it felt too underdeveloped for me to feel connected to the characters; I should have felt really chilled and unnerved by their situation, but I didn't really know what to think as the muddled story line kept pulling me back from any connection I would have made with them and left me wanting to just finish the book and get it over with.  And while the book was definitely atmospheric, with creepy moments, I don't feel like the author handled the themes in this book very well, using various forms of abuse to shock the reader, but not really addressing the issues and the horrors as many other authors do, something that left me feeling unsettled.  I read a lot of horror novels, but I think this author may not be for me.


Sunday, January 22, 2023

Review: The Stars Did Wander Darkling by Colin Meloy

by Colin Meloy
Release Date: September 13, 2022
2022 Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063015517
ASIN: B09N9391SK
Audiobook: B09NF1Q4JN
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Maybe Archie Coomes has been watching too many horror movies.

He keeps telling himself that this is Seaham, a sleepy seaside town where nothing ever happens. Or at least nothing did, until his dad’s construction company opened up the cliff beneath the old—some say cursed—Langdon place.

Soon, though, he and his friends can’t deny it: more and more of the adults in town are acting strangely. An ancient, long-buried evil has been unleashed upon the community, and it’s up to the kids to stop it before it’s too late. . . .
My Thoughts
The Stars Did Wander Darkling is a good, fun-filled read for those who are looking for milder horror elements, but who are still looking for spooky elements. There were some nice spooky elements in this book and I definitely appreciated the 1980s nostalgia having grown up during that time period, but the long build-up and the disappointing ending as well as a meandering story line made me lose interest in what was happening and I really had to push myself to finish the book.  

First of all, I do think the atmosphere and level of creepiness were fine for this level. I loved reading horror novels at this age and would have loved more of this stuff available when I was young so I dabbled a lot in adult horror at a young age.  The author did manage to create a setting that had a lot of atmosphere that focused on family and friendships and what happens when something suddenly changes within one's world at that age. The exploration of maturity and friendship was good, and I thought the author did a good developing a bit of story line around the concept of what happens when friends discover they no longer have anything in common and start drifting apart.  Personally, I don't think he delved far enough into those themes of friendship and family.

The story line started off fairly strong and I did think it was rather interesting.  Halfway through, something changed and a lot of tropes were introduced, something I don't typically mind in a juvenile fiction book, but there were a lot of things glossed over and forgotten about as well, like injuries miraculously cured and events that weren't fully explored or explained.  It made for a disjointed reading experience and I started to lose interest in the meandering story line. Unfortunately, I didn't care for the ending as it was too neatly wrapped up without a lot of detail, details that would have enriched the reading experience. I think it is easy to underestimate the reader at that age and their quest for answers, but they can see through the gaps in the story lines quite easily and ask a million questions that were not answered in the book.

I did enjoy the characters, but they were mostly one-dimensional without a lot of development, not overly complex.  I did like how the author explored the friendships, but it is hard to really delve into those friendships if you don't really delve into character development, so I felt like the exploration was done on a superficial level so there was a lack of empathy on my part with regards to how they felt as a result.  So and so might be moving away? There should have been a bigger impact on my emotions, but I personally didn't really care.  Move on.  This is due to the writing style.

The Stars Did Wander Darkling had a great cast of characters and a good story line, but the ending is abrupt and most of the consequences to what happened were just brushed over as if nothing happened. I get that there was supposed to be some questions with regards to the ending, but all it did was leave me feeling bewildered and confused.  Overall, while I do think this was a fairly solid piece of writing with some nice horror elements within it, there were definitely things that missed their mark.


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Review: The Hollow Kind by Andy Davidson

by Andy Davidson
Release Date: October 11, 2022
2022 MCD
Kindle Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-0374538569
Audiobook: B09Q77WZSC
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.75 / 5 Stars

Nellie Gardner is looking for a way out of an abusive marriage when she learns that her long-lost grandfather, August Redfern, has willed her his turpentine estate. She throws everything she can think of in a bag and flees to Georgia with her eleven-year-old son, Max, in tow.

It turns out that the estate is a decrepit farmhouse on a thousand acres of old pine forest, but Nellie is thrilled about the chance for a fresh start for her and Max, and a chance for the happy home she never had. So it takes her a while to notice the strange scratching in the walls, the faint whispering at night, how the forest is eerily quiet. But Max sees what his mother can't: They're no safer here than they had been in South Carolina. In fact, things might even be worse. There's something wrong with Redfern Hill. Something lurks beneath the soil, ancient and hungry, with the power to corrupt hearts and destroy souls. It is the true legacy of Redfern Hill: a kingdom of grief and death, to which Nellie's own blood has granted her the key.
My Thoughts
The Hollow Kind definitely had an intriguing description, and I always gravitate to those stories about houses where something creepy is going on or has an evil legacy.  I also tend to like ambiguity, where you are not exactly sure what is happening, but go along just for the simple pleasure of reading a good story. But sometimes, that ambiguity can be a negative thing as this book just took for granted that you would get what happened without often giving enough descriptions of the event, then other events would go on for pages and pages.  And personally, I feel like some really important events fell within the ambiguous and glossed over sections.
The characters were okay, although none of them really had any distinct personalities, not even Nellie, I did like her character though, but preferred Max, her son, and wished the story had revolved more around him.  I didn't find the characters that difficult to keep track of, but did feel most of the secondary characters were one-dimensional and wished the author had spent a bit more time developing them so they had more distinct personalities. And character introductions were a bit of a misfire.  Suddenly, there was discussion about Agatha, and although I get it was supposed to be mysterious, the way it was thrown in didn't fit the narrative and threw me out of the story.  It was a struggle trying to piece together who she was, the role she played in the book, and how everything fit together as everything was so ambiguous.  In the end, I found her to be the most intriguing character without being give a chance to shine, if that makes sense.
While the writing style was a bit slow, I actually didn't mind the descriptive writing as gothic horror needs to be soaked up and absorbed, to really seep into your skin.  And the slower pace didn't really bother me, but the pacing was a bit much for me, as things that really needed development were glossed over and other events just dragged on and on, where I started losing interest and began skipping paragraphs and even pages.  It was laborious reading at times as events and people were just dropped as if you were aware of them; I had to re-read a couple of sections just to make sure I hadn't missed something important. There were some creepy moments in this book, and I do think Mrs. Redfern had the best story arc; I just wish the author had developed both of these more which would have added more tension, creepiness, and terror.  

The Hollow Kind had some creepy moments as well as some great potential, but the story itself suffered from pacing issues, lack of character development, and ambiguous writing tactics that made it difficult for me to be fully invested in the story.  It did redeem itself somewhat with the ending, but by then, I was struggling to finish the book, and honestly, the ending was predictable and didn't offer anything new to the genre.  Overall, I feel like this was a miss for me, but I did like the writing style, even if the pacing was off, and would like to see what the author writes next. 


Monday, January 9, 2023

Review: Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison

by Rachel Harrison
Release Date: October 4, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593545829
Audiobook: B09S2JP43Q
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Rory Morris isn't thrilled to be moving back to her hometown, even if it is temporary. There are bad memories there. But her twin sister, Scarlett, is pregnant, estranged from the baby's father, and needs support, so Rory returns to the place she thought she'd put in her rearview. After a night out at a bar where she runs into an old almost-flame, she hits a large animal with her car. And when she gets out to investigate, she's attacked.

Rory survives, miraculously, but life begins to look and feel different. She's unnaturally strong, with an aversion to silver--and suddenly the moon has her in its thrall. She's changing into someone else--something else, maybe even a monster. But does that mean she's putting those close to her in danger? Or is embracing the wildness inside of her the key to acceptance?

My Thoughts
Such Sharp Teeth had the potential to be a really great story, but I really think it fell short of being a horror novel.  I did enjoy the changes Rory experiences as she turns into a werewolf and the horror she feels over everything that is happening, and I thought the secondary characters were interesting and well thought out, but I want my werewolves to be scary and bad, and this was definitely not it.  In fact, this read more like a paranormal romance than a horror novel.

First of all, I really liked Rory as a main character. I liked her sarcasm and witty comments as she dealt with all the changes that were happening to her body.  It made me wonder what I would have done in that situation, and she handled everything with a lot more grace and dignity than I think I would have.  However, she was turning into a werewolf. You know, a big, bad, kill people, I want meat, werewolf, So, other than the fact she was slightly concerned about the full moon and what that would entail, I was the one freaking out, wondering why she was not freaking out, considering she was living with her pregnant twin sister, knowing she would be a great meal if she suddenly turned.  And I would have been so disappointed if the big bad werewolf could distinguish between her sister and everyone else for dinner.  I mean, there should be high fear, and consequences. My pulse should have been racing. But nope. That was as far as it went. 

Except for maybe Rory's concern over what Ian, her newest love interest, may now think. And that was her big concern, that he may not want her because she couldn't have children. Wait, what? Considering big bad wolf might eat said children, probably for the best, don't you think?   Naturally, he's the perfect guy, so any issues they have will be resolved quite easily. 

I did like the subplots and themes in the book although I don't think they went far enough or explored them in enough detail.  Themes of sexual abuse and grooming were mentioned in the book, but I wasn't a fan of how they were glossed over and liked how Rory wasn't so forgiving with her mother about them despite others wanting her to just close the episode and find everlasting peace.  The lack of control over the changes that are happening when she changes into a werewolf kind of reflect the angst she has with her mother over what happened during her childhood. Interesting stuff.  

Such Sharp Teeth could have been great, but unfortunately, it went into the paranormal direction rather than in a horror direction and became more 'cutesy' than frightful.  As a horror novel, I wanted dread and suffering and terror. There was none of this. And when the wolfsbane came out, I knew it was game over.  However, I did like the characters and thought the dialogue was witty and fun. I also enjoyed the scenes where Rory transformed or had to deal with werewolf stuff as I found it interesting and comical. Notice that word, comical. Shouldn't I have been feeling dread? So, if you like a light paranormal romance read featuring a werewolf, this one is for you. As for me, I was somewhat disappointed in this book. And horror fans, if you are looking for the dread and suffering, this is not for you.


Sunday, January 8, 2023

Review: Lavender House by Lev A.C. Rosen

 by Lev A.C. Rosen
 Release Date: October 18, 2022
 2022 Forge Books
 Kindle Edition; 274 Pages
 ISBN: 978- 1250834225
 Audiobook: B09QB3YN7W
 Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical / LGBT
 Source: Review copy from publisher

 3 / 5 Stars

 Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well guarded secret—but it's not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they've needed to keep others out. And now they're worried they're keeping a murderer in.

Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept—his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand.

Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He's seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn't extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy—and Irene’s death is only the beginning. 
My Thoughts
Lavender House follows Andy Mills as he accepts a private investigator job after being fired from his detective job with the local police force after being caught in a compromising position in a gay bar.  Being set in the early 50's, I was looking forward to learning more about the scene during that time period, but I found the book to be somewhat bland and conservative in its dealings, with a cast of characters that were pretty one-dimensional and a mystery that was quite predictable.  
I definitely like the setting as the idea of a group of people living together who can feel free to express themselves sexually was intriguing and I liked how they were able to keep this secret from the outside world while building up a huge soap company.  It did set up this nice in-house mystery and yes, I tend to gravitate towards those type of scenarios.  But I also want a twist to my mysteries, and this one was very predictable.  The author tried, but the twists and turns were more about isolating the main characters and relying on angst and resentment than clever plot twists that are witty and charming, along the lines of Agatha Christie or even Knives Out.  In those works, you have these eccentric detectives, and although the author tried to present Andy this way, it didn't work out.  I would have liked Andy to have found his own voice as I found him interesting.
The plot itself was fairly predictable, as I've already mentioned.  I just felt like the author wanted to delve much more into the politics of the time, but was afraid to do more than skim the surface of what was really happening during this time period, and I was a bit disappointed in this. I don't think this book was supposed to be a cozy mystery, but it gave off those vibes.  I don't necessarily think it was lack of research as the author seemed to have a pretty good grasp of things during the time period, but was maybe afraid of alienating his readers? I don't know, but I would have liked a more in-depth understanding of what it was like for people who identified as LGBT during this time period. I did appreciate the growth of the main character, Andy, as he dealt with the loss of his job and the struggles he faced with trying to figure out what to do after being fired from a job he liked and excelled; however, he never really formed any real friendships with the men with whom he worked for fear they would discover his secret and not accept him.  
Lavender House is the start of a new series, and I do think it has potential. I did find the mystery to be fairly predictable, and except for Andy, the characters were pretty much one-dimensional, but there were some moments that did grab my attention and gave me hope that the author would delve more deeply into the complexity of the LGBT community in the 1950's.  If you are looking for an okay mystery, characters who have good intentions but tend to struggle with communication issues, and you are looking for a focus on queer relationships without explicit scenes, this one may be right up your alley. However, I wanted more. I was looking for something grittier, juicier, something that had more of an emotional impact and that is why I was left feeling a bit disappointed. 

Friday, January 6, 2023

Review: Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

by Megan Goldin
Release Date: August 9, 2022
2022 St. Martin's Press
Kindle Edition; 340 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250280664
Audiobook: B09GH25Z67
Genre: Fiction / Mystery Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Liv Reese wakes up in the back of a taxi with no idea where she is or how she got there. When she’s dropped off at the door of her brownstone, a stranger answers―a stranger who now lives in her apartment and forces her out in the cold. She reaches for her phone to call for help, only to discover it’s missing, and in its place is a bloodstained knife. That’s when she sees that her hands are covered in black pen, scribbled messages like graffiti on her skin: STAY AWAKE.

Two years ago, Liv was living with her best friend, dating a new man, and thriving as a successful writer for a trendy magazine. Now, she’s lost and disoriented in a New York City that looks nothing like what she remembers. Catching a glimpse of the local news, she’s horrified to see reports of a crime scene where the victim’s blood has been used to scrawl a message across a window, the same message that’s inked on her hands. What did she do last night? And why does she remember nothing from the past two years? 
My Thoughts
Stay Awake had a premise that was definitely entertaining as well as intriguing; a woman wakes up in a taxi with no idea who she is, how she got there, and in her possession is a bloodstained knife. Definitely got my attention.  And then she notices she has written notes to herself on her hands to "Stay Awake", all very cryptic. So, definitely an interesting start to a novel, and my brain was already heading in a million different directions (I definitely read too much horror, fantasy, and science-fiction) as what happened didn't quite conclude the way that I thought. Is that a bad thing necessarily? No, not really, but it didn't really deliver either. 

The main character is where the story fell short for me. Most of it revolved around Liv, and while I get that she was terrified and afraid to trust people, you would think that in those moments when she was capable of writing messages to herself, she would also be able to write messages of whom to trust as well? And maybe tell herself what is going on? At first I was sympathetic to her situation. Who wouldn't? She was confused, scared, missing several years of her life, unsure of what was happening, worried she may have done something awful, and then news comes down the pipe about something awful.  But for someone who was supposed to be so smart, she didn't really ask a lot of questions about what was happening, and after a while, I got tired of her antics and started losing empathy.  And this is also where the plot goes somewhat sideways at the same time.

The plot was pretty intriguing at first as I didn't really know what was going on.  I had my suspicions, but they were way off, again a product of reading too much horror and sci-fi, but we won't go down that road. While Liv was the main character, there were other POV and other timelines involved, and this is where I had a problem due to the repetitiveness of the the story lines. I did enjoy the detective work by Halliday and Lavelle and thought they showed the most sense when it came to the case as they looked at the clues rather closely and followed up on them.  Out of all the people in the story, they seemed to be the only ones to actually ask anything that was relevant, and I don't recall rolling my eyes once during their scenes.  Oh, and thank goodness there was no romance between the detectives.  

I did think the pace was a bit disjointed, especially towards the middle half of the book, and I wasn't a big fan of the conclusion, but I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I had little sympathy for the main character by that point. I also thought the killer's motivation was a bit on the thin side.

Stay Awake was both intriguing and frustrating. I did find the premise compelling and I was rooting for Liv despite wanting to bash my head against the wall anytime she made a poor decision.  The story line was somewhat repetitive, with Liv just doing the same thing over and over again, and many of the secondary characters were poorly developed, none of whom asked questions or seemed to want to help Liv with her situation.  Overall, there was a lot that was commendable and I was definitely glued to the book for the first half so I can see why this author is so popular. Unfortunately, the book did lose me halfway through, and I had to push to finish it to a somewhat disappointing ending.  That being said, there was enough of interest in it to make me want to read another book by this author. 


Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Review: Quarter to Midnight by Karen Rose

by Karen Rose
Release Date: August 2, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Books: 594 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593336298
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Romantic Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.75 / 5 Stars
Gabe Hebert saw the toll that working for the NOPD took on his dad and decided instead to make a name for himself as one of the best young chefs in the French Quarter. But when his father's death is ruled a suicide after a deliberately botched investigation by his former captain, Gabe knows his dad stumbled onto a truth that someone wants silenced.

Gabe goes to his father's best friend, Burke, for help. Burke assigns the toughest member of his team, Molly, to the case. Molly can't believe she's being asked to work with the smoking hot chef whose chocolate cake is not the only thing that makes her mouth water. Sparks fly as they follow the leads Gabe's dad left them, unraveling a web of crimes, corruption, and murder that runs all the way to the top.
My Thoughts
Quarter to Midnight was an amusing contemporary romantic suspense romp through New Orleans. There was danger, a lot of action, secrets and betrayals, romance, and suspense, all thrown into one long week of hell for our heroes. However fun this was, it was still too long and I think it could have been shortened up as some parts of it dragged on and interfered with the suspense and tension.
First of all, I did enjoy the diverse set of characters in this book.  I like how Gabe and Molly are attracted to each other, but want to keep all of their dealings professional, so when Molly is hired to help Gabe solve his father's death, you learn more about them as people rather than just jump into the romantic side of things.  Gabe is a local celebrity so trying to do her job was quite difficult for Molly, and it was fun watching her navigate that whole minefield trying to keep him safe. Most of the characters though, were quite likeable and I enjoyed them for different reasons. I thought the author did a great job giving them distinct voices so you could keep them straight. However, no matter how much I wish otherwise, I didn't feel any chemistry between Molly and Gabe, none. Felt forced.

I thought the plot was interesting, but there was nothing really new to it. The themes of dirty cops has been around for a while so it was just a matter of waiting to see who else would be involved. Unfortunately, the many and varied POV created a problem with the tension and the secrecy, creating a disjointed story line that did impact the overall suspense of the story as well as gave away the identity of the top culprit which irked me quite a bit.  And then there was the body count, so high. I just couldn't believe that that many people would disappear, or that many people would die around a certain someone, and no one else would be suspicious?  The book was long for a romantic suspense novel, and while this slow-burn thriller has some great moments, I do think it has some moments that could have been edited out to enable a faster pace and keep the tension going.  

Quarter to Midnight has good character development and overall, I thought the story was fun. I did find the plot to be predictable under all of that drawn-out character development and action, and think the book is way too long with too many bodies that were overlooked without explanation as if people going missing are unimportant, or readers won't pay attention to such details.  This is really a mystery with a forced romantic suspense thrown in between the two main characters simply because the genre is labelled romantic suspense.  When you separate it all, it looks really good, when you put it all together, something was missing and it just became ok. I think if you are looking for a half decent mystery that is somewhat predictable, but has good character development, you will enjoy this, but if you are looking for steamy romance, pass.