Saturday, September 30, 2023

Review: Heart of the NIle by Will Thomas

by Will Thomas
Release Date: April 11, 2023
2023 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250864901
Audiobook: B0B64F9L7M
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.75 / 5 Stars

London, 1893 - deadly doings are afoot in the British Museum and private enquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn must unravel a mystery involving a mummy, a giant ruby and a murder, in Will Thomas's Heart of the Nile .

In 1893, a volunteer at the British Museum makes a startling discovery. When examining a mummy in the museum's collection, he discovers there is a giant ruby in the shape of a heart buried in the chest of the mummy. Even more startling, the mummy might well be Cleopatra. The following morning, the volunteer is found floating in the Thames and the ruby has gone missing. Hired by the victim’s wife to learn the truth behind his death, Barker and Llewelyn find themselves in the crosshairs - now they must avoid a violent street gang, a ruthless collector, and the British Museum itself in order to find the killer and safeguard the gem.
My Thoughts
Heart of the Nile continues the adventures of Barker & Llewelyn, and while I wasn't crazy about the last book in the series, this one picked up what was magical in this series and brought it back to life. What follows is a fun trek through London as the two chase down a killer, with interesting archaeological tidbits from this time period thrown in to spice up the adventure. 

Having read all the previous books in this series, I am quite familiar with the characters so I don't really feel as if anything new was added in this book or any of the characters really developed. What I did notice, and this is something that has bothered for several books now, is the lack of female characters, and when we do come across them, they are poorly developed or are usually in hysterics.  I think we have learned as much as can about our two main characters, and would love to see more of Barker's wife involved in the stories, or perhaps some mysteries where the female villains have some depth and character to them, something I feel Anne Perry does well in her books.  I think it is easy to become too comfortable with your characters and forget how important the secondary characters are in one's stories. And there has to be a way of showing Llewelyn's strength of character other than through these side wisecracks of his as I feel they are getting silly at times and make him seem dismissive.
The plot itself was interesting and I enjoyed the archaeological element that was included.  The British did have a fascination with anything relating to Egypt during this time period so I was quite happy to see a book focusing on this obsession and the stakes that were involved with the museums to keep the populace happy and interested.  The story moved rather quickly, but I did feel like there were too many moving parts for such a short book and this definitely had an effect on the ending as it felt rushed, as if the author realized they still had one more thread to complete and tidy up.  
Heart of the Nile was an enjoyable read, but the pacing was off and there were a lot of threads to follow for such a short book, possibly too many, something that affected the overall ending. Barker and Llewelyn do make a good team and I did enjoy their banter and their camaraderie, but the lack of diversity is growing to be a problem.  Overall, I did find this fund to read, and I will definitely be continuing this series. While the backstories of the main characters will shed some light on why they do certain things and their relationship, I don't think it is necessary to start with the first book to enjoy this series. 


Monday, September 25, 2023

Review: Death From Beyond by Sharon Linnéa

by Sharon Linnéa
Release Date: September 2, 2023
2023 Arundel Publishing
Audiobook Edition (7h12m); 268 Pages
ISBN: 978-1933608396
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

1.5 / 5 Stars

It's Halloween and Avalon is on the outs with her boyfriend, her cop friend and her best friend. When she ventures into the ruins of an old lodge above the town, she uncovers evidence of murders that have haunted the locals for decades. Then a new friend, in town for a high school reunion, vanishes and she must battle the deadly danger that continues to stalk Tranquility to this day. Some things are called spooky for a reason. And sometimes, those who are alive are most frightening of all.
My Thoughts
Death From Beyond was honestly a bit of a disappointment. I listened to the audiobook version and I have to admit there were times when I had to rewind as I found myself drifting off as I had difficulty engaging with the story line.  I don't think it's the narrator's fault as I just feel there wasn't enough material for the story itself to be engaging.
First of all, the actual story definitely does not live up to the premise of the story as there was an implied paranormal element that was supposed to be included.  Unfortunately, there was a definite lack of ghosts in this book and while I normally would not have minded, it bothers me when something is touted in such a fashion, and then ... nothing.  
The plot itself actually had a lot of promise and I would have liked it a lot better if the reader was allowed to think and conjecture without being led along by the nose.  The book pretty much tells you the story rather than show you what's happening, trying to lead you down a certain path, rather than letting the reader figure things out as they go. Considering there were some sensitive topics in this story, this is definitely not the way to approach this as it becomes more suggestive of being preachy rather than showing the problematic nature of the issues and allowing the reader to decide for themselves wherein the problems lie. Personally, I have an issue when I am led by the nose, especially when subjects such as sexuality, abuse, and bullying are being presented, even if I agree with the side of the author. That's not the point, the point is to be able to think clearly about the issues on my own and make up my own mind.  Furthermore, the mystery itself was fairly predictable with few twists and turns so it was fairly easy to figure out what was happening and who was involved.
I didn't read the previous books in the series, but I don't think it really mattered. While I would have perhaps understood the relationships between the main characters a bit better, I didn't actually find them to be that distinct from each other in this book as they all seemed one-dimensional in nature. I just didn't care for any of them as a result, and had a difficult time connecting with their issues and feeling any empathy for their situations. And while I like the recipes included in the book, I also found them distracting as they were intrusive and did not seem to fit the narrative.  
Death From Beyond suffered from a lack of character and plot development and I had a difficult time getting through this book.  This was touted as a ghost story, but ghost stories tend to actually have ghosts in them, and this...didn't.  At this point, I have no desire to read the first three books in this series.  It's too bad as the there was a lot to like in the premise. 


Sunday, September 24, 2023

Review: The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson


by Laura Shepherd-Robinson
Release Date: September 5, 2023
2023 Atria Books
Kindle Edition; 528 Pages
ISBN: 978-1668031124
Audiobook: B0BY3LCKYH
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery / Magical Realism
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Cornwall, 1730: A young girl known only as Red travels with her father making a living predicting fortunes using the ancient Cornish method of the Square of Sevens. Shortly before he dies, her father entrusts Red’s care to a gentleman scholar, along with a document containing the secret of the Square of Sevens technique.

Raised as a lady amidst the Georgian splendor of Bath, Red’s fortune-telling delights in high society. But she cannot ignore the questions that gnaw at her soul: who was her mother? How did she die? And who are the mysterious enemies her father was always terrified would find him?
My Thoughts
The Square of Sevens follows Red, who is left in the care of an antiquarian after her ''cunning-man'' father passes away from an illness when she was seven-years-old. Having learned an ancient method of card-reading that had been passed down through generations, Red's heritage must remain a secret, along with a document containing the secret of the Square of Sevens technique. Personally, I thought this book was quite cleverly plotted and although a lot of people complained about the slow pacing of the book, I am a huge Dickens fan and enjoyed the highly descriptive prose the author tried to emulate in this book.

The story is set in Georgian England, and with The Witchcraft Act having been passed in 1735, it is very dangerous to practice anything to do with fortune-telling. When Red's fortunes change after the death of her benefactor, she has to rely on her cartomancy skills to survive which puts her in incredible danger. I loved the descriptions of London and Bath during this time period and was quite content to just read along and immerse myself in the time period. There was this level of tension that existed throughout the pages as Red tries to figure out who her parents were and what she discovered could alter the lives of two very prominent families.  And while the search was interesting, I actually preferred the scenes when Red was at the fair and interacting with the various different people who were there as I found that much more interesting. It was also refreshing to learn how dangerous it was for so many people simply trying to make a living and the danger of being put in the stocks was a constant threat to people's livelihoods.  So often history books focus on the lives of the wealthy, but I actually prefer to read about the less fortunate as I sometimes find it much more fascinating.

The plot itself, while interesting, did take a long time to get going, and if you are not one to enjoy descriptive prose, this may have proven challenging to get through. I enjoyed the Gothic vibes included through the atmospheric and descriptive writing and I liked how cartomancy was incorporated throughout the book, even used as headings for each chapter.  If you paid attention to the chapter descriptions, it gave you clues as to what was happening in the story and to each character, even perhaps their significance to Red and her life. 
With all of that, I did think the story could have been more tightly woven as the main mystery didn't really start until about a quarter way into the book.  The pace of the book was somewhat uneven, and if not for the fact that I like descriptive writing, would have been annoyed by the really slow pace of the story in many of the sections.  I also found the actual mystery predictable, but I really enjoyed the ending and how it got there, and I especially like how it made you think about the main character and what you actually knew about her as well as the assumptions you make along the way.

There was a large cast of characters in this book and naturally Red was the most developed being the MC. I wasn't always thrilled with the choices she made as she could be quite impulsive and seemed to be led by this idea that her unknown family would welcome her no matter what. And although I wasn't thrilled by this impulsivity, I'm glad it was written this way as it showed how sheltered she actually was, even though she lived quite roughly on the road with her father until he passed away,  She was constantly telling people how she wasn't naive, but then she would go and trust the oddest people.  It wasn't until about halfway through the book that I started to become suspicious of her motives and really started looking at her behaviour in a much different way that I began to realize what was really going on. That AHA moment, of which I will say nothing more so I don't give away any plot points.  I enjoyed the rest of the characters as well and thought they rounded out the story quite well, even if there were some I wished to know a bit better as they were so interesting.
The Square of Sevens was well-written and well thought out, with more of a descriptive and lyrical type of style.  The unique plot and the wide range of characters made for some interesting twists and turns and I really enjoyed the use of cartomancy woven throughout the narrative. But because I paid so much attention to that, I also think it gave away some interesting plot points that I may have otherwise missed.  If you enjoy descriptive historical details, this may be right up your alley.


Sunday, September 17, 2023

Review: The Girl by the Bridge by Arnaldur Indridason

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

2 / 5 Stars

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

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

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



Saturday, September 16, 2023

Review: The Darkness Surrounds Us by Gail Lukasis

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

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

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


Sunday, September 10, 2023

Review: The September House by Carissa Orlando

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

Margaret is not most people.

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

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

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

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


Thursday, September 7, 2023

Review: The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

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

2 / 5 Stars

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

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

But then the women begin to die.

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

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

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


Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Review: Everything She Feared by Rick Mofina

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

3 / 5 Stars

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

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

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

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


Monday, September 4, 2023

Review: The Only Survivors by Megan Miranda

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

3 / 5 Stars

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Review: The Wayward Haunt by Cas E. Crowe

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

4.25 / 5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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