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.