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.  


Monday, August 7, 2023

Review: Magdalena by Candi Sary

by Candi Sary
Release Date: July 11, 2023
2023 Regal House Publishing
ARC Kindle Edition; 218 Pages
ISBN: 978-1646033348
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher / Blog Tour
2.5 / 5 Stars
In a small, secluded town that thrives on gossip and superstition, Dottie offers plenty of both when the scandal breaks about a missing girl, a ghost, and the affair that started it all. Having suffered a history of miscarriages, reclusive Dottie develops a strange motherly interest in her 15-year-old neighbor, Magdalena. Somewhere between fantasy and reality, Dottie finds new life in her relationship with the mysterious girl. But Dottie’s entanglements with Magdalena, a curious centenarian, a compelling stranger, an ex-mobster, and a murder of crows thrusts this once cloistered woman into a frenzy of public scrutiny. To quell the rumors, Dottie puts pen to paper and discovers something as frightening as it is liberating—her voice.
My Thoughts
Magdalena is one of those books that intrigued me because of the paranormal aspect and it was touted as a horror novel, one of my favourite genres.  Thing is, what I got was more of a literary fiction, something that touched on relationships and emotional discovery and really didn't have a whole lot of horror or paranormal aspects to it.  Yes, the whole town was supposed to be enveloped in this environment where ghosts try to stay and develop relationships with their loved ones, but the book didn't really focus on that too much.
First of all, I had a lot of difficulty connecting with Dottie as a main character.  Yes, she's a very sympathetic character and you can't help but feel sorry for her, but there comes this certain point when I just started to feel annoyed and wanted to give her a good shake because she was kind of apathetic as well, doing little to improve her circumstances or her relationships.  Dottie's husband was in a terrible accident and her parents left the town a long time ago looking for a cure for her mother's mental illness, something that haunts Dottie to this day, but while the author gives us some background information, it isn't enough to really develop enough empathy with Dottie to forgive her for her other actions.  
The plot of the story doesn't put Dottie in a good light as the author has her make some pretty poor decisions.  Why in heaven's name would you follow a 15 year-old girl around town and not expect anyone to notice your behaviour? She was stalking this girl, almost believing this girl was one of her lost children, and for a while I thought the story was going to delve into mental illnesses, but a golden opportunity was definitely missed here. As for some of the other things she does, they're just downright creepy, such as sitting in her backyard and staring through a fence hole for hours at a young girl.  Honestly, who does that? And to believe that all these other things are signs of the divinity? Like birds hanging around your house? Well, if you don't want an animal hanging around, don't feed them meatloaf everyday. I just felt like there were better ways to show something was creepy or paranormal.
To me, I feel like the author didn't do justice to this character and as I've already mentioned, missed a golden opportunity to develop her and delve into mental health issues.  I think some of the things she does are supposed to make you feel sympathetic, but all it did was make me wonder why no one was helping this woman, no one was encouraging her to seek help.  There was a nun who had been helping Dottie for years, so why didn't she encourage her to talk to a psychologist, get therapy, get some help? When the accident happened to Dottie's husband, why did no one encourage her to get a job, join a committee, further her education, etc.... So, what does she do all day? 
Now the plot. I tried to give it a chance, but it was more about Dottie and her lack of relationships than anything horror or paranormal. She latches onto this 15 year-old kid as if she's her lifeline and develops this unhealthy fantasy about being her mom and creates scenarios where she is hers. And then we have Magdalena, the 15 year-old, a character I also didn't care for as she seemed pretty selfish from the get-go, lying to get her way, and always sneaking around.  To be honest, I had a hard time trying to figure out the plot as there were so many different threads looping around and I don't think the author knew exactly which way she wanted to take this novel either; therefore, at times we would get scenes that would hint at paranormal stuff and mysterious goings-on, then we would get these familial scenes without really developing either one.  The setting itself was intriguing as I like it when you have a town that is eerie and perpetually covered in fog, but that is where the intrigue ends as the other plot lines kind of meandered all over the place.  I couldn't actually tell the time period as Magdalena had a cell phone, but Dottie's house had an old tv that didn't work and everything that was described seemed like it came from the 70s.  There was no mention of computers or the internet or anything remotely technological.  I think the author was trying to show the town was secluded, but didn't quite know how to give off that vibe so it came across as confusing. 

Magdalena just didn't work for me as a horror or paranormal novel.  I struggled to empathize with any of the characters and there were so many things that happened in the story that just didn't make sense.  I thought Dottie's behaviour was creepy, but that doesn't make this a horror novel. There were a lot of aspects that I did like about this novel, but when you put them all together, they did not work and it was difficult to understand the point of the plot as it didn't fully make sense.  It's not that loose ends were not tied up or anything, it's just that it left me feeling unsatisfied at the end.  This is not a spooky book by any stretch of the imagination; my recommendation would be to try it and judge for yourself.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Reivew: The Key to Deceit by Ashley Weaver

by Ashley Weaver
Release Date: June 21, 2022
2022 MInotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 272 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250780508
Audiobook: B09V9K6QVG
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publsiher

4 / 5 Stars

London, 1940. After years of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor—well, to themselves, anyway—Ellie McDonnell and her family have turned over a new leaf as they help the government’s war effort.

So when Major Ramsey turns up unannounced with another job, she can’t say no. A woman’s body has been found floating in the Thames, with a bracelet locked onto her wrist, and a cameo locket attached to it. It’s clear this woman was involved in espionage, but whose side was she on? Who was she reporting to? And who wanted her dead?
My Thoughts
The Key to Deceit is the next book in the series and it definitely doesn't suffer from second-book syndrome. I thought it was delightful and well-plotted, with an interesting cast of characters.  I did read the first book and I liked how the author wove necessary information into the narrative without beating you over the head it with every few lines.  
Major Ramsey, Ellie, and Uncle Mick are the main characters and they could not be more opposites in character. The major is rather stiff and formal, but as we get to know him, there is definitely a softer side to him, one that is whimsical as well as funny.  He definitely likes his rules,  but we are in the middle of a war, so the seriousness of his tasks do lay on his shoulders, especially as we get into the Blitz era.  Ellie can be quite serious as well, and wants to be known for her skills. She takes chances because she wants to be treated as an equal and this can put her into danger at times as she can be impulsive and rash.  I love the family atmosphere and the way they all support each other, even when they are being chastised for doing something idiotic, and Ramsey is slowly being included in this family.
The story line was interesting and moved along a rather fast pace, with one thing happening after another.  I like how the author has included some secondary plot lines that I think will grow into major plot lines later on, but it all works as you are not really left hanging, just left rather curious.  And while the hunt for spies was rather fun, it was actually one of the secondary ones that I particularly enjoyed, the hunt for information about Ellie's mother.  There was a lot of historical information included in this book and it was evident the author did a lot of research. I have always been fascinated by the whole spy business during this time period, so this was something I particularly enjoyed. 
The Key to Deceit had a lot of elements that kept me interested: an interesting plot, fascinating characters, great historical details, and even some twists and turns to keep me guessing.  Although I figured out the mystery early on, I was still entertained by what was happening and I enjoyed the banter between the characters.  I recommend this series to anyone who has an interest in mystery during WWII featuring a sassy heroine.


Review: A House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher

by T. Kingfisher
Release Date: March 28, 2023
2023 Nightfire
Kindle Edition; 247 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250829795
Audiobook: B0B64HH4YG
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.75 / 5

"Mom seems off."
Sam brushes the thought away as she climbs the front steps to her mother's house, excited for this rare extended visit, and looking forward to nights with just the two of them. But stepping inside, she quickly realizes home isn’t what it used to be. Gone is the warm, cluttered charm her mom is known for; now the walls are painted a sterile white. Her mom jumps at the smallest noises and looks over her shoulder even when she’s the only person in the room. To find out what’s got her mom so frightened in her own home, Sam will go digging for the truth. But some secrets are better left buried.
My Thoughts
A House With Good Bones should have been an eerie as it had all the makings of a scary story, but in reality, it was a slow burn for the first eighty percent of the book and most of the action actually takes place in the last quarter.  I did enjoy the archaeological details as Sam is a forensic entomologist and it's not too often you get information regarding that profession (coming from a person who played with bugs as a kid and even scared her mom rather badly by putting them in her pockets regularly). This fascinating career doesn't make up for a rather slow plot as well as a major lack of character development.

Sam was meant to have a lot of sass, but most of it went overboard due to the descriptions of her sitting on her couch, eating, drinking, and binge-watching tv.  With all of that, we get numerous descriptions of her inner thoughts as she tries to figure out what is in front of her and while at first I thought her self-mockery was amusing, it actually got old pretty fast simply because it never changed or developed.  As far as protagonists go, she wasn't very memorable and I think she was a large reason why the tension didn't really have a chance to build up.

The plot was definitely on the slow side, with most of the action occurring in the last quarter of the book.  I did enjoy some of the history that was mentioned in the book, but it didn't compensate for the eye-rolling and the somewhat absurd story line.  The author's trademark wit didn't really work in this story and I didn't really mind the slow start to the story; it was the time spent in Sam's head that was annoying as it didn't really add anything to the plot.  Slow burns can be fine as they an ratchet tension up to an insane level, leaving you on the edge of your seat throughout, but this did not happen.  The eerie moments were few and far between, and the tension was broken up by nonsensical things that drew you out of the story.  

A House with Good Bones did not really deliver although it certainly had all the elements it needed to be spooky.  I think more interactions with mom would have helped the story; the mysteriousness of everything didn't really help as nothing was explored or developed which didn't up the tension level. For those who want something spooky or scary, that didn't happen.  It's a shame as this book definitely had an interesting premise, but didn't live up to its promise.  I am a huge fan of this author however, and will continue to check out her work.  For those of you who have never read anything by her, I recommend starting with The Hollow Places

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Review: How I'll Kill You by Ren DeStefano

by Ren DeStefano
Release Date: March 21, 2023
2023 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593438305
ASIN: B0B4R71G46
Audiobook: B0B622M43T
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher


Sissy has an...interesting family. Always the careful one, always the cautious one, she has handled the cleanup while her serial killer sisters have carved a path of carnage across the US. Now, as they arrive in the Arizona heat, Sissy must step up and embrace the family pastime of making a man fall in love and then murdering him. Her first target? A young widower named Edison—and their mutual attraction is instant. While their relationship progresses, and most couples would be thinking about picking out china patterns and moving in together, Sissy’s family is reminding her to think about picking out burial sites and moving on. It becomes clear that the grave site she chooses will hide a body no matter what happens; but if she betrays her family, will it be hers?
My Thoughts
How I'll Kill You had an interesting premise and I was anticipating a wild ride. But that was nothing like the reality. Sigh! Unfortunately, I couldn't even make it halfway through this book.  By the time I called it quits, nothing had really happened and I was getting frustrated by the annoying dialogue and the lack of plot.  
At first, I thought I could just plow through this, but in reality, there were just too many plot holes for me to keep going.  The girls deliberately picked a small town to try to fit into, but that whole concept made me frustrate and I wondered if the author had ever lived in small town.  I have, and believe me, it is not easy to go unnoticed in such a place where everyone know everyone and their business.  You can't just walk into such a place and go "My Aunt Sophie who lived on such and such a street died and left me a fortune and we are trying to work out things with a lawyer", as everyone will know who Aunt Sophie is.  But that is exactly what happened in this book.  No one ever questioned Sissy's story.  Really? Not buying it. 
The biggest problem I had was developing sympathy for the characters.  I don't necessarily have to like them, but understanding why they do the things they do and what happened to them often develops sympathy even if you don't agree with their actions.  The way the story was told actually left me feeling detached and I wasn't feeling very empathetic towards any of them.  In fact, by the time I DNF the book, I was visualizing Aron Beauregard showing up and sending them to play in the town's Playground to finish them all off.  That's how annoyed I was.  

How I'll Kill You didn't live up to the tension and suspense that was promised.  Unfortunately, the story is full of prose that meanders all over the place and characters that I didn't find that interesting or memorable, were actually kind of shallow and one-dimensional.  I did think the author had a great idea and would like to see what kind of work is produced in the future, but for me, this one ended up being more of a love story rather than a thriller, but one that was shallow and didn't really have any emotional depth.  I really tried to give this one a shot, but I just couldn't.


Review: Reconstructing a Relationship by Micah Castle

by Micah Castle
Release Date: August 5, 2022
2022 D&T Publishing LLC
Ebook Edition; 68 Pages
ISBN: 978-8843926960
Audiobook: B0BZ8YTJX6
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from author

4 / 5 Stars

Drew and Terry while out on a date suffer a terrible car accident. The boyfriend dies, but the girlfriend survives. Desperate to be with her love once more, Terry steals Drew’s brain from the morgue and escapes the hospital. She’s determined to bring him back, by any means necessary.

Through years of reading ancient books, learning forgotten languages, and drawing symbols she cannot comprehend, Terry successfully gets what she wants… And, what she deserves.
My Thoughts
Reconstructing a Relationship was definitely more than I thought it would be. This body horror novella was a fast-paced twist on Frankenstein, and I loved how the book was written, revealing the horror one piece at a time.  There was little gore, violence, or sex, but I could feel the tension mounting in my body as I read, something I enjoyed and savoured.  
Both characters were well-written. At first, I had sympathy for Terry's character, but the author was skilled in making me realize the true depth of her depravity and I slowly realized how deplorable she really was.  She was selfish and really gave no thought to anyone other than herself. I enjoyed the contrast of Terry to Drew, whose greatest purpose in life was to escape. You get to understand what really happened through his eyes and slowly your whole perspective changes.  It was brilliantly done. 
The story and plot was fast-paced and while at first I thought it would be about grief, a couple of twists quickly put that thought to rest.  Told from both Terry and Drew's POV, the story was wild as the story shifted quite a bit halfway through, but only for the best of reasons.  For me, that shift really propelled the story and I thought it was quite clever.
Reconstructing a Relationship was a clever novella, well-written, fast-paced, that essentially grabs you from the first page and never lets go.  What a ride! Highly recommend this to fans of body horror.