Friday, April 19, 2024

Review: Malevolent Nevers by Tom Rimer

by Tom Rimer
Release Date:December 3, 2021
2021 Independently Published
Ebook Edition; 345 Pages
ISBN: 9798775728113
ASIN: B09K389W8R
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from author

3.5 / 5 Stars

Abel Ward just wants to reconnect with his son.
Simi Ward wants his dad to leave him alone.Sometimes you really can't make up for lost time.

And when a mysterious midnight call summons them both to an old family estate in New England, neither could have expected what would be lying in wait. An ancient evil so rooted in the story of their ancestors, it'd be impossible to dig up.

Will the secret remain buried, or will Simi and Abel finally learn the truth?

My Thoughts
Malevolent Nevers was a really fun book to read, once I got over the fact that I wasn't necessarily reading a ghost story, but a haunted house story. The mix-up is entirely mine as I read the blurb incorrectly and thought the dad was a ghost who was coming back to make things right with his son when his son moves into the house he haunts. Not quite sure how I got there, but it definitely took a few chapters to get this sorted in my head. Once I did though, I enjoyed the story quite a bit.

Abel and Simi are the two main characters in the story, and we learn about them through their alternating POV. I like the fact the relationship was difficult, and I didn't mind that Simi was quite difficult at the beginning because someone can't just return after a 17 year absence in someone's life and expect the relationship to be perfect. I probably would not have continued reading if that was the case. I wasn't crazy about the girlfriend showing up out of the blue, without discussion between the parents, considering it was a 1000 mile travel destination for her. She was a nice addition to the story, but it definitely didn't ring true as a parent to a daughter.  I would have been on the phone, wanting all the details, and I probably would have driven her there myself.  

As far as horror plots go, this one was quite enjoyable, but it definitely is on the milder side. I don't mind that however, as I don't need every book I read to be blood and guts; in fact, I often prefer the milder ones as they are different and a palate cleanser. The story was quite gripping, and the author definitely knows how to create tension and suspense; I read the second half of the novel so quickly because I couldn't put it down. The atmosphere of the house and the town was eerie, and I always enjoy a good atmospheric novel. 

There were a couple of things however, that didn't quite resonate once I finished reading. First of all, despite the people Abel met in town and the ominous warnings he got about his house and that it was his responsibility to fix things, no one stopped to tell him how or why, not even the sheriff.  Why not? This always bothers me when this happens as you can give people information without reducing tension. Instead the author chose to make Abel stubborn and seem incapable of reasoning to create tension instead of him just knowing the truth. He did grow up in that house after all, so he must have suspected something was off. And it would have been nice to learn something about the curse: Why the Wards? What was the bargain? Why didn't the family benefit from it as there is usually a bargain involved? I think more of the background could have enriched the overall story. 

Malevolent Nevers was a fun read and overall, I did enjoy it. I liked Simi's character development, but thought Abel's was a bit uneven where he would be portrayed as stubborn to moved along the story. While the plot was slower at the beginning, it picked up quite a bit and the last quarter zipped along to the point I couldn't put it down. The tension and suspense were really good and I thought the author's writing style was gripping. I will definitely be reading another book by this author.


Thursday, April 18, 2024

Review: Ghost Station by S.A. Barnes

by S.A. Barnes
Release Date: April 9, 2024
2024 Tor Nightfire
Kindle & Audiobook ARC; 377 Pages 
ISBN: 978-1250884923
Audiobook: B0C3NMSG2C
Genre: Fiction / Sci-Fi / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.25 / 5 Stars

Psychologist Dr. Ophelia Bray has dedicated her life to the study and prevention of ERS—a space-based condition most famous for a case that resulted in the brutal murders of twenty-nine people. When she's assigned to a small exploration crew, she's eager to make a difference. But as they begin to establish residency on an abandoned planet, it becomes clear that crew is hiding something.

While Ophelia focuses on her new role, her crewmates are far more interested in investigating the eerie, ancient planet and unraveling the mystery behind the previous colonizer's hasty departure than opening up to her.

That is, until their pilot is discovered gruesomely murdered. Is this Ophelia’s worst nightmare starting—a wave of violence and mental deterioration from ERS? Or is it something more sinister?
My Thoughts
Ghost Station is the new entry in space horror by this horror and I definitely liked it better than the first book. I am fascinated by the concept of space travel and exploration, and love the idea that we are not alone out there and those who are out there are not always welcoming and may be far superior to us. Space exploration can be deadly, yes, but it can also be lonely as well as exciting. You have to depend on others to survive so what happens when you don't necessarily have confidence in others on your team? 
The story revolves around Ophelia, the ship's psychologist, who is sent to assess the mental well-being of the crew on an isolated planet where one of their crew mates has died. Wanting to do good, she is surprised when she is given the cold shoulder as the crew understands that a poor evaluation could get them sent home and make them unemployable. Ophelia is a bit of a mess during this book and I enjoyed her journey as she explored the impact her past had on her choices and her behaviour, but the fact she is ignorant of the impact she could have on the crew mates blows me away. She constantly talks about how different she is from her family, but doesn't really consider the implications of why she is sent there in there in the first place.  
The first half of the book is quite slow as it deals a lot with Ophelia and her family and the secrets she has kept from everyone; there is so much going on in her head that it sometimes becomes repetitive. It's not that the introspection wasn't interesting, but it has to balance more with the action and this didn't happen until the second half of the book.  A lot of the information was important to the second half of the book, but you had to be really patient for the action to start happening.
As mentioned previously, the plot was quite slow in the beginning, but I did enjoy the build-up of the tension. It revolved mainly around Ophelia's issues and whether what she was seeing was real or not as well as the issues she was having with other crew mates. I listened to the audiobook as well as read an ARC kindle version, and I really enjoyed the audiobook. Zura Johnson did a great job narrating the book and the other crew members were easily distinguishable. Personally, I preferred the audiobook. 

Once the action picked up in the second half, it was good and there was a big secret to be revealed, something I already suspected.  I wish the author had kept up this kind of tension and pace throughout the novel as the last quarter was the best of the book. 

Ghost Station was an improvement for me as I DNF the last one, but it did get bogged down in the first half with too much introspection. With such an intriguing narrative, I wish the author had balanced the mental health aspects of doing such a job with the action a bit more as I felt like they were two separate things in this book.  I definitely enjoyed it, and am looking forward to reading more by this author in the future. And I will also be searching for more by this narrator as well.


Monday, April 15, 2024

Review: Everyone is Watching by Heather Gudenkauf

by Heather GudenKauf
Release Date: March 26, 2024
2024 Park Row
Ebook ARC; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778310792
Audiobook: B0CGCCCY5M
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Five contestants have been chosen to compete for ten million dollars on the game show One Lucky Winner. The catch? None of them knows what (or who) to expect, and it will be live streamed all over the world. Completely secluded in an estate in Northern California, with strict instructions not to leave the property and zero contact with the outside world, the competitors start to feel a little too isolated.

When long-kept secrets begin to rise to the surface, the contestants realize this is no longer just a reality show—someone is out for blood. And the game can’t end until the world knows who the contestants really are…
My Thoughts
Everyone Is Watching is another of those books that is jumping on the reality-show concept, one that live-streams the action to TT or Instagram and relies on twists and turns and unexpected timings to draw followers. I admit to being a wee bit interested in this phenomenon and would probably watch one of these shows if it did occur, although I would draw the line at violence, like one of the horror novels I read about this. It does make me fascinated about our culture, and this is really nothing new when you consider the gladiators and so much more in history, and why we are so drawn to this type of thing.

There are five main characters in this story and I really wish they had been better developed. I liked the background stories about the characters and thought they way the author introduced them slowly was quite well done, and you could eventually see how they were relevant to the story and why they were brought to the villa. Each character was given a nickname and it wasn't hard to figure out why this was done, but how this related to each other took a while to figure out. Unfortunately, I didn't really empathize with any of the characters and couldn't find it in myself to root for any of them. Personally, I didn't really care who won or lost.  I think this would have been far more interesting if I was invested in one or two of them, and then something happened to them or was worried about something happening to them which would have elevated the tension for me. For me, I couldn't care less who won or lost. 

I did really enjoy the plot however, but in the same way I enjoy a good bucket of buttered popcorn. It was good fun to read (eat), but there was nothing really fulfilling (filling) about it.  I'm all up for a more horror-type game, but if you are going to go there, you need to commit.  All the tools were there, but it was written in such a way that made it confusing for the character as well as the reader. When things started to go downhill and the characters realized they could possibly die in this game, I'm not sure there was enough fear or questioning involved, too much emphasis was just on the money rather than the reasons they were there.  I do love a locked-room mystery thriller though, so I am always down for discovering the reasons why people would stay over choosing to leave the minute something serious happens.  

Everyone is Watching had a very interesting concept, was fun to read, but with such a dark concept, didn't take it where it needed to go. There are some things that happen in here that make you go 'hum', and I don't know why authors always have this need to have 'happy' endings for their books. It makes for a very predictable ending, something you've read before. Sometimes it would be nice to read something different where you go 'I didn't see that coming!', and maybe the villain actually wins? Or maybe the villain is not always the bad person?


Friday, April 12, 2024

Review: Ghost Island by Max Seeck

by Max Seeck
Release Date: February 27, 2024 (First published September 1st, 2022)
2024 Berkley
Ebook ARC: 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-059343882
Audiobook: B0C6YKFP92
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Jessica Niemi is put on leave after a violent altercation between her and a belligerent man makes headlines. Three elderly visitors have arrived at the inn for their yearly sojourn. Jessica learns that they are the remaining ‘birds of spring’, former refugees who fled Finland as children during World War II and lived together for a few months in an orphanage on the island.

When one of the ‘birds of spring’ is found dead, and Jessica learns about two other deaths from the past, also connected to the orphanage, she has no choice but to try and put the pieces of this terrifying mystery together.

My Thoughts
Ghost Island has a lot of elements that I love in a thriller; an eerie atmosphere, an unreliable narrator, a locked-room type mystery, secrets, and cold cases that have a profound effect on people in the present. And for whatever reason, there is something about nordic noir mysteries that just seem to have this extra feeling of menace and tension to them that I can't explain. 

Jessica is not an easy character to like, but I love the way the author writes her personality. Suffering from schizophrenia, the reader constantly has to decide whether what Jessica sees is actually there or created from her mind, something that adds an extra element to the story, and you have to really pay attention to what you are reading. Because this book is so atmospheric, it just adds layers to what is already a pretty layered book.  Unfortunately, Jessica felt like the only character that was developed in this book and I would have liked to have seen some development from the other characters as well, considering this is the fourth book in the series.  One of the 'birds of spring' was angry at Jessica all the time, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why as it was never explained.  Just being a nasty person isn't enough for a book like this.

The chapters were short and written in a choppy way, but I interpreted it as a stylistic choice to showcase Jessica's instability and mental illness. I will acknowledge that it could simply be translation issues.  Because the chapters did jump around quite a bit, I did think it took away from the tension of the story as well as the character development.  I did enjoy the story however, and I like it when it focuses on emotions rather than difficult political situations as so many murders are emotion/self-preservation based. I wasn't crazy about the ending though, as it did rely on a certain suspension of belief for some things to actually happen the way they did, and I couldn't do it.  I did like how the author turned Jessica's personal life upside in a way she never expected, and I am curious as to how this will propel her life forward in future books. 

Ghost Island definitely had atmospheric feeling to it that I enjoyed, and I really liked the inclusion of Meija's story into the narrative. I don't think this book was as good as previous entries in this series and while it did have a tendency to drag on more than usual, there was still enough in it that I enjoyed.  I do recommend reading the previous entries though, to get a feeling for Jessica's life prior to what happened and her leave of absence.  The story had good momentum in the beginning, but seemed to lose steam towards the end, to the point where I don't think I could coherently give an account of that ending a week after finishing. But it did leave off with enough to make me curious about Jessica and where she is headed. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Review: Hemlock Island by Kelley Armstrong

by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: September 12, 2023
2023 St. Martin's Press
Ebook Edition; 295 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250284198
Audiobook: B0BVKT6YSJ
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.75 / 5 Stars

Laney Kilpatrick has been renting her vacation home to strangers. The invasion of privacy gives her panic attacks, but it’s the only way she can keep her beloved Hemlock Island, the only thing she owns after a pandemic-fueled divorce. But broken belongings and campfires that nearly burn down the house have escalated to bloody bones, hex circles, and now, terrified renters who’ve fled after finding blood and nail marks all over the guest room closet, as though someone tried to claw their way out…and failed.

There are tensions and secrets, whispers in the woods, and before long, the discovery of a hand poking up from the earth. Then the body that goes with it… But by that time, someone has taken off with their one and only means off the island, and they’re trapped with someone—or something—that doesn’t want them leaving the island alive.
My Thoughts
Hemlock Island had such an interesting premise, and I love the locked-room type mystery that presents itself in this book, but although there were some intriguing twists and turns and I loved the setting and atmosphere of the story, it just didn't live up to the tension that was set up at the beginning and I was a bit let down by the ending.
Laney is the main character in this book, but none of the characters are that well-developed simply because the tension and the secrecy between them all is what drives the story. Because this story is much more character-driven than plot-driven, I would have liked the tension to be much higher than it was. Laney and her ex, Kit, drive the narrative as we discover what drove them apart (something rather silly, actually), Laney's niece, Kit's sister Jayla, and another friend, Sadie, and her brother. When you strip away whatever plot twists there were, there is actually very little behind the characters and their stories, nothing that gives them any depth. In fact, the characters were very stereotypical as you have the mystery writer who apparently knows everything because she writes mysteries, but then does everything she says not to do. Then you have the typical bad guy who does something terrible when he was younger, but his behaviour is justified because he was young at the time (no, it's NEVER justified). 
The plot itself wasn't bad, but I wish the author had focused more on a plot-driven narrative rather than a character-driven one. There is an atmospheric blend of horror and mystery, relying largely on the fact the setting takes place on an island and using whatever effects (fog, rain, etc...) to create difficulties for the characters. When you strip all of that away, the plot is rather simple, focusing more on the tension between the characters and their relationships. I did wish the author used the island and its effects a bit more to create even more tension as I didn't find what was happening with the characters to be that emotional.  I simply think there was nothing new that hadn't been done before, so in order to shock people, there needed to be something more, and honestly, better character development would have elevated the story and created more tension.
Hemlock Island had a lot going for it and for the most part, is successful at what it aims to do. For me, I found it familiar and predictable, and needed a bit more to be completely invested. Considering this is the author's first attempt at horror, I hope she will write more as there was a lot of potential here and I usually enjoy her writing style.  The atmospheric setting was written very well, and I, for one, would not want to step foot on this island. 


Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Review: March Hair by Stephanie Erickson

by Stephanie Erickson
Release Date: March 1st, 2024
2024 Pickles Press
Ebook ARC; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1944793326
Genre: Fiction / Romance / Magical Realism
Source: Review copy from author

3.5 / 5 Stars

March Wilson doesn’t take no for an answer. So, when a man she assumed was homeless wandered into her salon, she didn’t even listen to what he had to say. She just plopped him down in her chair and transformed him. 

Robin Heart knew the transformation was only on the surface, and he couldn’t let himself get close to March. But she’s so maddeningly easy to be around. And his daughter loved her. It’s a problem he doesn’t know how to fix.

All March knew is Robin was mysterious, maybe a little too grouchy, and his daughter, Alice, was an absolute joy. Can March allow her life to be transformed by him? Or was she destined to sit on the sidelines while someone else walked a path she cleared for them?
My Thoughts
March Hair is a fun romantic comedy with a touch of magical realism floating throughout its pages. I enjoyed the story, thought the characters and the plot were fun and interesting, but to be honest, found it simplistic and fairly predictable.  
While March was an interesting character, there was nothing that really stood out about her, even her hair. Although I loved the concept that everyone has a little magic in them, the fact that her hair would change constantly must have raised some questions from the people in her life and those around her. If the hue changes from one hour to the next because of your emotions, how do you explain that? Her hair would be falling out from the number of dye jobs she supposedly would have had.  I felt like I needed more insight into her character, who she was, and why she would be attracted to someone like Robin.

Alice was my favourite character in the book, but she was ten going on twenty. I loved her insights into other people, but for someone who was in hiding, she was certainly very trusting. I also didn't mind Robin too much, but the grumpy male lead is something that is overdone in romance novels and can get quite tiresome. You can be worried about what is happening to you and your child without being slotted into the 'grumpy' box. I just find it somewhat immature sometimes and as a trope, it's not one of my favourites.  There is surely a better way to get across to people that you are a private person without being grumpy. 

The plot itself was fine. Personally, I didn't really feel the connection between March and Robin, or why she was so drawn to him in the beginning. So, while I empathized with both of these characters, I didn't really empathize with their relationship even if it was fun to see it develop. I can't even pinpoint the reason why. I'm not opposed to slow-burn romances because life is difficult and challenging, but I do have a problem when someone keeps probing into someone's life as if they are entitled to know everything about them. People reveal information about themselves when they trust someone, it's not an instantaneous thing, especially if you've been burned once or twice before. I did like the inner monologues from both of them questioning whether it was a good idea to push for a relationship. 

March Hair was an enjoyable romantic novel about two people who needed to figure out what they really wanted in their lives. I thought the plot was fun, if predictable, and I liked the characters, even if I would have liked to have seen more development. Overall, if you like slow-burn small-town romance, this one is definitely for you.


Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Review: The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard

by Scott Alexander Howard
Release Date: February 27, 2024
2024 Atria Books
Kindle ARC; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1668015476
Audiobook: B0C&YM2Z5P
Genre: Fiction / Sci-fi / Magical Realism
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Sixteen-year-old Odile is an awkward, quiet girl vying for a coveted seat on the Conseil. If she earns the position, she’ll decide who may cross her town’s heavily guarded borders. On the other side, it’s the same valley, the same town--except to the east, the town is twenty years ahead in time. To the west, it’s twenty years behind. The towns repeat in an endless sequence across the wilderness.

When Odile recognizes two visitors she wasn’t supposed to see, she realizes that the parents of her friend Edme have been escorted across the border from the future, on a mourning tour, to view their son while he’s still alive in Odile’s present. Edme––who is brilliant, funny, and the only person to truly see Odile––is about to die. 
My Thoughts
The Other Valley is a speculative fiction novel where you can travel either forwards or backwards in time if you decide to leave your home in the valley, to see loved ones if the current ones have passed away.  This has a really interesting premise, and if you love philosophy, this opens up a lot of 'what if' questions. Naturally there is a governing body who decides who gets to visit the other towns and there is a gendarmerie that protects the boundaries of the towns which are outlined by tall fences to discourage the townspeople from questioning things and leaving. 
The main character, Odile, is a shy, introverted girl who is being pushed to join the governing body as an apprentice by her mother. For the first half of the book we learn about her school experiences as well as her relationships with her peers. I almost had Divergent vibes during this part of the book as the teenagers were trying to figure out the rest of their lives, discovering their career paths, and who would take them on as apprentices.  Odile is a very passive character and seems to be one of those people who gets things simply because she is at the right place at the right time. We see Odile twenty years later in the second half of the book, and I really liked seeing what happened to her and the consequences of one's choices had on one's life. It shows you how you really need to fight for what you want in life because if you just settle, you can be content, but not necessarily happy.  
The secondary characters were very under-utilized however, and it's a shame as there were a couple that were quite intriguing. The author used them to forward Odile's story line rather than use them to forward the plot, and there is a huge difference.  
The plot itself was more philosophical in nature, and once you stop trying to understand how the timeline works, especially with the villages to the east and west, it works so much better. My scientific brain was going crazy at the beginning trying to work it all out, knowing how the butterfly effect works, knowing that you just can't wipe out whole timelines of people, so there had to be so much more to the stories the students were given. Once I relaxed and just went with it, the experience worked so much better. Now, in hindsight, the gaps are still there and I just can't let them go.  In the book Odile finally understands the consequences to knowing more than she should, but I don't feel the author went far enough with those consequences.  It asks the question: Is it worth the risk to change something from the past? And what are the consequences to the future if one does? These questions are not really explored. While I understand the author wanted to put the emphasis on Odile and her life and her choices, pushing the importance of world-building to the background as something that doesn't need to be explored hurts the overall story as the actions of the characters within that world don't always make sense because we don't fully understand it. 
The Other Valley was quite original and I really enjoyed the speculation behind it, but that's my thing. However, Odile is the only one who really got any character development, and the pacing was uneven throughout the book, as if the author wanted to explore other avenues but wasn't sure if that was a wise route to take.  Personally, I felt the ending was too predictable in such a world, too perfect, and would have like something more...philosophical.


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Review: Granite Harbor by Peter Nichols

by Peter Nichols
Release Date: April 30, 2024
2024 Celadon Books
ARC Paperback; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250894816
Audiobook: B0C3PBR8H7
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

In scenic Granite Harbor, life has continued on―quiet and serene―for decades. That is until a local teenager is found brutally murdered in the Settlement, the town’s historic archaeological site. Alex Brangwen, adjusting to life as a single father with a failed career as a novelist, is the town’s sole detective. This is his first murder case and, as both a parent and detective, Alex knows the people of Granite Harbor are looking to him to catch the killer and temper the fear that has descended over the town.

Isabel, a single mother attempting to support her family while healing from her own demons, finds herself in the middle of the case when she begins working at the Settlement. Her son, Ethan, and Alex’s daughter, Sophie, were best friends with the victim. When a second body is found, both parents are terrified that their child may be next.
My Thoughts
Granite Harbor had an interesting premise, and I thought the murder concept was intriguing, but neither the plot nor the character development lived up to the potential inherent in those ideas.  Definitely being atmospheric in nature, I found the pacing to be quite slow and I grew quite frustrated with the police procedural stuff.

First of all, I didn't mind Alex as a main character, but honestly, he doesn't really stand out from any other police procedural that I have read except for the fact that he was more inept than most. I get the author was trying to show that not all detectives are tough, seasoned, knowledgeable, have superman instincts, etc..., but it didn't quite work as it made Alex seem silly and passive more than likeable and inexperienced. And frankly, I was skeptical that such a small town would even have a detective. And it was the little things that bugged me the most. Being shocked at people using tracking devices in phones to locate someone? Even I used that with my daughter when she was a teenager. Who doesn't?  I think there is a fine line when you develop a character, to make them seem likeable, not necessarily inept, but inexperienced, and I don't think it quite worked in this book.

I actually liked Sophie and Ethan, the teenagers, the best and would have preferred their perspectives over anyone else's. And in the case of Isabel, the author went where I was hoping he wouldn't, the paranormal element, a trope I despise in these types of books to propel a story forward when doing investigative work would have done the job.  

So, that brings me to the plot. I actually thought the mystery was interesting and I liked the reasons for which the killer did what they did. It doesn't have to be political or huge, just personal, and it was.  I don't have to understand it, but it does have to be plausible. What I had reservations about was the way we got to the solution. The investigation was almost non-existent, using so many red herrings that anyone could see through them with a brain, and the writing style gave away too many clues to who it actually was.  No tension, no shock, no surprise.  

Granite Harbor was a fast read, the plot had an interesting premise, but the overall execution did not quite work and fell a bit flat. There just seemed to be a lack of everything, character development, plot development, twists and turns, tension, mystery, use of paranormal element to drive forward the story, that made the overall experience not quite work. The author tried very hard to take an overused formula and make something new, but I don't think it worked.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Review: The Puzzled Heiress by Lyndsay Consable

by Lyndsay Constable
Release Date: December 13, 2023
2023 Lyndsay Constable
Ebook; 263 Pages
ISBN: 979-8988182023
Genre: Fiction / Historical Mystery
Source: Review copy from author
5 / 5 Stars
 Pomona Moriarty, the artistic, quirky, half-American daughter of the notorious Professor James Moriarty, finds herself on the trail of clues, puzzle pieces, and artwork that taxes her mind and creativity to the limit. Her journey exposes her to danger at every turn throughout Victorian England as old confederates of her father attempt to steal her inheritance. Can Pomona utilize her knowledge of art to unravel the mystery and prevent her father’s last, most dastardly crime being committed from beyond his watery grave? With her faithful lady's maid and the distractingly fascinating Inspector Liam Lestrade to aid her through her worst scrapes, Pomona doggedly pursues each clue to complete the puzzle and prevent her father from executing his final, most vicious deed.
My Thoughts
The Puzzled Heiress intrigued me simply because of its ties with Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes, one of my great passions as a kid.  Because I tend to read anything relating to Holmes, I was happy to have this one fall into my lap, and even better, it was a fantastic read.  Pomona was an intriguing character, I loved the puzzles woven into the story, and I enjoyed the intrigue as Pomona raced around Great Britain searching for clues, trying to evade her father's confederates.
Pomona was a quirky character, one who actually has a lot of independence for a woman during this time period.  After her father's death, she receives a package of puzzles, and this is where she shines as she tries to figure out the clues to the puzzles and gets into all sorts of scrapes doing so. While one could argue that she enjoys breaking the rules of the time period, I also think there is a limit as to how far she will go as she also puts in an effort to dress and behave appropriately when she has to go out into society.  It's only when she is with those with whom she feels comfortable that she abandons those restrictions and does what she pleases.  Her faithful lady's maid, Agnes, is there to hold her back from doing anything too silly in public and I liked the relationship between the two, one who wants to flaunt the rules, one who tries to hold the other back, and I think there was a nice balance woven between the two, with a healthy dose of respect from both sides.  Again however, a subtle snub at the conventions of the time as one did not really become friends with one's lady maid. 
Honestly, I didn't know to think of Pomona at the beginning as we have a woman trying to cry over the death of a father she barely knew, in such a comical way, that I knew I would like her immediately. The plot pretty much picked up from there and had me in its grip right until the end.  Twists and turns galore, some I figured out easily, some completely caught me off guard although the clues were there. I am not a fan of conveniences, and they were used in this story, especially in the case of Inspector Lestrade and his saving the day (and Pomona), but the writing was so engaging, I was actually able to forgive those transgressions, just this once though.  And while the ending was satisfying for this book, not all the threads were complete, so it looks like Pomona will be off on another adventure.  
The Puzzled Heiress was an enjoyable first book and I had a hard time putting it down. If book 2 was out right now, I would have grabbed it immediately, but alas, I need to wait a few months until its release.  If you love stories about Holmes and Moriarty, especially ones that feature hypothetical progeny, then you will love this entry into their world. 


Sunday, March 17, 2024

Review: The Misery House by David Kummer

by David Kummer
Release Date: July 7, 2023
2023 David Kummer
Ebook Edition; 232 Pages
ISBN: 978-1088059364
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from author

3 / 5 Stars

This rural town has never seen a string of tragedies like this. A local store burns to the ground with two bodies inside. A newlywed couple goes missing, and all signs point to the abandoned house. With no answers, the townsfolk grow more and more worried.

The Woods family has lived here forever. But when their friends and their own children are put in danger, the threat hits home. This close-knit family must risk everything to find answers, but time is running out.
My Thoughts
The Misery House is the first book in a planned trilogy, and I thought this one set up the story quite well, even if it was a quite slow at times. And by slow, I mean it took a very long time to get to the house and even now, I won't even pretend I understand anything about it.  The author did have a very descriptive writing style that drew you into the lives of the characters, but upon looking back, that's exactly what the story was about, the lives of the characters. And while I don't mind descriptive writing, I would have liked to have seen more build up of the atmosphere, some more horror, some tension, but it was a bit lacking overall.
At this point, I'm still on the fence about the use of multiple POV in this book, at least from the whole family. I enjoyed learning about the Woods family and their different perspectives on things, and I definitely enjoyed the author's writing style when it came to the characters, but the way it was written left some gaps in the story line. Because of this writing style, it was left to the reader to assume the sheriff believed certain things because the characters said so, not because you actually got to witness his behaviour through the story. Or Malaki, we just assume he is this horrible person because of someone else's POV, but never really see anyone else's POV or hear his side of things.  I am not a fan of assumptive story telling as I would prefer to draw my own conclusions about characters, not be led around by the nose.  Now Malaki has this association with the house, we hear all these rumours about it through other characters, but where is the investigation or where are the dialogues about this behaviour? Nowhere.
I did enjoy this book quite a bit, but that doesn't mean I was oblivious to the plot holes.  The author has a great writing style that I enjoyed, he has a way of drawing you in, but he does make use of assumptions way too much. When Kaia's best friend Allison goes missing, a witness saw her in that creepy abandoned house, but the sheriff doesn't go looking for her asap? Why not? Why does he arrest someone else in the community instead? We don't even get to see that part of the story, it's all told through other characters and how angry they are.  And personally, it doesn't really make sense. As a reader, we are just told this is what happened, but the why is glossed over and we are expected to just accept it without motivation or cause.  Uh uh, not me.  And Kaia? The minute she got that text from Allison, why would she not report it or at least text her back?  And then get all upset because nothing is being done.  What?! The author was trying to build up suspense, but honestly, the scene with Nate and Naomi when they were cycling past the house is the way to go as that scene had me rushing through the pages.  Withholding info, never a good way to create tension or to create a way for someone to go investigating on their own.  
The Misery House had a lot going for it, definitely enough that I will be grabbing the second book when it is released in June (The Silent Forest).  It does have a lot that I love in a haunted house book, and the author's writing style does draw you into the story and the characters' lives. There were a lot of gaps however, that were not explained or covered up through assumptions, and the ending definitely lowered my rating as the book simply...ended. And honestly, there is just so many times you can read about a character having an 'ick' feeling about something, but do nothing about it, before you start rolling your eyes. That being said, I am curious about that dang house, so I have to read book 2.


Friday, March 15, 2024

Review: The New Couple in 5B by Lisa Unger

by Lisa Unger
Release Date: March 5, 2024
2024 Park Row
Ebook ARC; 382 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778333340
Audiobook: B0C798PQC5
Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

Rosie and Chad Lowan are barely making ends meet in New York City when they receive life-changing news: Chad’s late uncle has left them his luxury apartment at the historic Windermere in glamorous Murray Hill. 

At first, the building and its eclectic tenants couldn’t feel more welcoming. But as the Lowans settle into their new home, Rosie starts to suspect that there’s more to the Windermere than meets the eye. Why is the doorman ever-present? Why are there cameras everywhere? And why have so many gruesome crimes occurred there throughout the years? When one of the neighbors turns up dead, Rosie must get to the truth about the Windermere before she, too, falls under its dangerous spell.
My Thoughts
The New Couple in 5B had an interesting premise, and I definitely love stories about older apartment buildings that tend to have shadier pasts. The story moved along rather quickly and there were parts that were engaging, but I felt like it tried too hard to be spooky, adding in paranormal elements that really had no relevancy to the story. 
First of all, I wasn't a fan of the character development in this book. Rosie is described as this big researcher, having written a non-fiction book that has sold moderately well, and is currently doing research on, you guessed it, the apartment building to which she is moving.  While I didn't dislike Rosie, I can't stand it when an author makes a character so stubborn they can't see the roots for the trees, and this is the case with Rosie, as in my husband is so kind, loving, perfect with me, therefore there is no way he can be mean, nasty or whatever to anyone else.  It's not the blind devotion that bothered me, but the fact she didn't do any research about any of those people who are in her life that bothered me. There is a mention about her hesitancy over the keyboard, but that's as far as it goes.  Really?  I'm a researcher and I research EVERYTHING!!!  
And Max. His story line didn't make sense either.  Just trying to throw some controversy in this book, but that whole story line bothered me so much, from the lawyer right down to Rosie's reaction. It gave me such 'ick' feelings, I didn't want to read any more about it. Do better. Same with Willa's story.  I really hope the author wasn't expecting me to feel sorry for someone who pretty much cheated and threatened everyone around her.  That's how it felt coming across the pages, but I am totally on the husband's side and the young boy's.

And the rest of the secondary characters, while I enjoyed them, I do like some development when something happens or when they do something unexpected. Which leads me to plot development. Because this story revolves around the characters' motivations, it is more character led, than plot led, but I definitely need to really understand their motivations and reasons, something I don't really feel came across well in these pages.  There were a lot of coincidences and assumptions used to move the plot along, both of these I think are weak tools to use when trying to move the plot forward.  

The New Couple in 5B suffered from a clear lack of motivations from most of the characters which left me feeling somewhat disconnected from both the plot and the characters.  It was a quick read however, and there were parts that I did enjoy.  However, the plot is somewhat predictable, the characters lack depth, and some of the plot points don't actually go anywhere, like the paranormal stuff. Overall, one that was full of potential, but definitely fell short of the mark for me. 


Thursday, March 7, 2024

Review: Listen for the Lie by Amy Tintera

by Amy Tintera
Release Date: March 5, 2024
2024 Celadon Books
Paperback ARC: 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250880314
Audiobook: B0C3PCKQGX
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.75 / 5 Stars

After Lucy is found wandering the streets, covered in her best friend Savvy’s blood, everyone thinks she is a murderer. Lucy and Savvy were the golden girls of their small Texas town: pretty, smart, and enviable. Lucy married a dream guy with a big ring and an even bigger new home. Savvy was the social butterfly loved by all, and if you believe the rumors, especially popular with the men in town. It’s been years since that horrible night, a night Lucy can’t remember anything about, and she has since moved to LA and started a new life.

But now the phenomenally huge hit true crime podcast "Listen for the Lie," and its too-good looking host Ben Owens, have decided to investigate Savvy’s murder for the show’s second season. Lucy is forced to return to the place she vowed never to set foot in again to solve her friend’s murder, even if she is the one that did it.
My Thoughts
Listen for the Lie features a women who has returned to her hometown five years after a scandal hoping to discover some answers as to who killed her best friend. Because she is the main suspect, she is skeptical about coming home, and I was hoping to see the sparks fly when she did, but it was a lot tamer than I would have expected.  I enjoyed the podcast slant to this story, even if it is no longer original, but I am not necessarily a fan of the amnesia trope, especially when memories start to come back at convenient times.
Lucy at first was too sarcastic and cynical for my liking, especially in the first half of the book. I am a sarcastic girlie myself, but even this was over-the-top cynicism and it didn't endear her to a lot of people, including her family. I understand that sarcasm can sometimes hide a host of feelings and sentiments as I do that myself, but it can also go too far and make a person downright unlikable. Luckily it did subside halfway through and you got to see a more vulnerable side to Lucy. Although I understand the author's intentions, using sarcasm and snarkiness as a character trait as a red herring doesn't really work, in my opinion.  
Except for Ben and Grandma, the other characters kind of all blend together into one harmonious whole as they didn't really have their own personality traits other than everyone was sleeping around.  I guess fidelity isn't a thing in this town.
I rather enjoyed the plot and didn't figure out who actually committed the crime until about two-thirds of the way in. I don't mind a slower burn, but then I am a huge fan of police procedurals and those are not known for their quick plots, so I like the slower burn and the tension the author created in this book. Don't get me wrong however, I was definitely not turning pages like a maniac, just enjoying the ride.  And there were a couple of surprises in this book, ones that I liked, because it makes you realize that you never really know someone or what they are capable of or what their situation is.  Lucy points that out to her mother when she says that she lived just down the road and her mother had no idea what was happening behind closed doors, partly because she didn't want to see.  I don't feel the use of the amnesia trope was a strong part of this book however, as it can be used too conveniently, which is exactly how it was used. Conveniences are not appealing for readers. 

Listen to the Lie had a lot going for it and I think the author is very talented.  The voice in Lucy's head, while at first entertaining, got rather annoying as it didn't really go anywhere, so I would have liked that device to be used a bit more to build up tension in the story. I would be lying if I said I wasn't invested in the story as it was immensely readable, but I do think having some likable characters and maybe easing up on the cynicism would be helpful in the future.  And I am still not sure what I think about that ending. I do look forward to reading another book by this author.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Review: Relative Truths by R. Lindsay Carter

by R. Lindsay Carter
Release Date: November 17, 2022
2022 Rock and Flower Press
Ebook Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 979-8985907261
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Mystery
Source: Review copy from author
5 / 5 Stars
Cressida Curtain doesn’t let much get under her skin when it comes to bounty hunting. In fact, there’s only one person who can really ruffle her her work nemesis, Gavin St. Cloud.

Still, she’s a natural at her job, and she’s been offered an exclusive high-stakes bounty to prove it. Now it’s a race to find the truth before any other hunters find the bounty first. And the truth may be messier than even Cressida imagined. She might need some help from the last person she’d ever ask–if he’s trustworthy enough.
My Thoughts
Relative Truths is the second book in The Familiar's Legacy series, and while I really enjoyed the first book in this series, I absolutely loved this book. This book has everything I love in a cosy-fantasy type story; secrets galore, a mystery to solve, great world building, good character development, and enough new threads built in to the story, continuing into the next one, without being overwhelming or left so unfinished you get frustrated.  
Cressida is a really fun main character. A shape-shifting cat, I loved her personality and her reactions to all things human. While she is spunky like a cat, she also gets spooked, and I was trying to imagine her with her tail all puffy while in human form. Too funny.  Her escapades as a cat were some of the best pasts of the book.  I really enjoyed the Gavin as a secondary character and the growth we saw from him throughout the book. Although there is potential here as a love interest for Cressida, the way things went in this book, I am not sure what is going to happen, but I am enjoying how things are playing out for the moment. Gavin was not fond of cats at the beginning of the book and I really enjoyed his reactions to some of the scenarios in which he found himself with Cressida. Also, without giving too much away, the end of the book had me sputtering with laughter as Gavin took on his next task, something I bet he thought he would never do.
While the series is interconnected, the actual books could be read as stand-alones. The plot moved rather quickly, with Cressida jumping from clue to clue, tracking her father to figure out what was happening. Because she didn't know him at all, and she wasn't sure of his guilt or innocence, she still had to be careful. Realizing there was a lot more going on than she though, she had to team up with Gavin in order to get more information and to figure out who was involved. I enjoyed the banter and the competitiveness between them as they searched for clues, loved the witty dialogue, and thought the way Cressida used her cat identity to sleuth was downright fun.  There was definitely a lot going on, and while the focus was on her father, there were clues to the curse that has involved Cressida's family for generations twisted around everything as well.  
Relative Truths has everything from ballroom scenes to prison breaks to a scene straight out of the musical CATS, at least that was how I kept picturing it in my head.  There were a lot of adventure and great creativity in this book. Highly recommend this series to anyone who is looking for a fun read with lovable characters and a great story. 


Sunday, March 3, 2024

Review: The Twelve Books of Christmas by Kate Carlisle

by Kate Carlisle
Release Date: October 24, 2023
2023 Berkley
Ebook ARC; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593637692
Audiobook: B0C21DZP73
Genre: Fiction / Cozy / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

1.5 / 5 Stars

In the middle of a wonderful Christmas holiday in Dharma, Brooklyn and Derek receive a frantic phone call from their dear friend Claire in Loch Ness, Scotland. The laird of the castle, Cameron MacKinnon, has just proposed to her! They plan to be married on New Year’s Day, and they want Derek and Brooklyn to be their witnesses. And while they’re visiting, Claire hopes that Brooklyn will be able to solve a little mystery that’s occurred in the castle library—twelve very rare, very important books have gone missing.

My Thoughts
The Twelve Books of Christmas is definitely not like the books at the beginning of the series, books I absolutely loved. Those were full of mystery, mayhem, complicated plots, and interesting twists and turns. This one is about beautiful and rich people who fly around the world at a moment's notice on a private plane, stay at fancy castles, do things on a whim, and maybe solve a mystery or two while they do all their other stuff in between. And everyone calls Derek ''commander", never investigating him or Brooklyn, simply because of who he was, even though he was right there when everything happened.   Not the same at all as the earlier books.
First of all, Brooklyn's independent character was something I enjoyed, even if she was somewhat whiny throughout the books. I mean her life got upended numerous times because she happened to come across dead bodies and it was natural that she would become a suspect, so I enjoyed those interactions she had with police officers and other people as she tried to solve the mysteries. Now, she just has Derek make a phone call and everything is good as he "pulls his magic strings" and suddenly, everything is taken care of. This despite the fact that he was one of the most suspicious people at the beginning. I get they are married now and I get that he would support her, but I would like to see them be a bit more suspicious of those around them.  
The plot itself was so thin you can't even see the wire in the trees.  For the first two thirds of the book, there were a lot of discussions about the missing books and how they were related to each other, but honestly, not big mystery came out of them simply because there was little to no investigation.  And I don't necessarily need a murder in these books, just a good mystery, but neither was actually interesting. Both just seemed thrown into a plot that was weak, at best.  Motives didn't make sense, the behaviour of certain characters made no sense, plot points were 'developed' and then discarded for no reason that I could see, so overall it was just a big mess.  And pages of descriptions of the food. Ugh!

The Twelve Books of Christmas was my least favourite entry in this series, and I was so disappointed over the plot and character development as well as the ending. It was a mish-mash of stuff thrown together in order to give the author an excuse to send Brooklyn and Derek to Scotland over the holidays, one of the only things I liked about the book.  Unfortunately, this series has been going downhill for a few books now. I will probably give it one last shot, but after that, if it doesn't go back to the magic of the earlier books, I may have to call it quits. 


Saturday, March 2, 2024

Review: That Night in the Woods by Kristopher Triana

by Kristopher Triana
Release Date: October 1st, 2023
2023 Cemetery Dance Publications
Ebook Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1587679032
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

When Jennifer receives a message from Scott Dwyer after twenty years without contact, her first reaction is one of excitement. Scott invites Jennifer to his house in Redford, the very same town she grew up in. It’s a place she’s made great effort to put behind her, for not all her childhood memories are sunny. 

Scott invites three other people from their past to honor Steven’s memory—Corey, Traci, and Mark. But the group is more than old friends. They share a dark secret that has troubled them for decades. Together, they must unravel the mystery of what happened that night in the patch of forest behind Scott’s house, a place once known as Suicide Woods. 
My Thoughts
That Night in the Woods is built around a trope that I really like, trauma that occurs in your teens and you get together twenty years later to finally confront what happens. Because this is written by the author of one of my favourite horror novels, I thought, what could possibly go wrong with this book? It turns out that even a really good author can have a one-off.
First of all, the characters were so stereotypical they just made me want to drop them all off in the middle of that forest and hope whatever was in there got them all. And I am not generally a violent person, but they sucked the living energy right out of me.  I get their behaviour when they were teenagers, but to continue that same behaviour as 40-somethings just did not work.  I get the author was trying to show how traumatized they were from what happened, but...there had to be a better way to do it. We have Mark, the out-of-work construction worker with two kids from two separate moms who has been in jail a couple of times, who smokes and drinks and ALL he thinks about is sex.  Jennifer, newly divorced, has no personality although the other boys apparently all had something for her as a teenager. She can't make decisions if her life depended on it, especially when lover-boy Scott is around, and this is as a teen and as a 40-something-year-old. Corey, the character I liked best, constantly talked about what a nerd he was because he liked comic magazines. What? And Traci? I get her alcoholism, but not her lies.  Together, it was hard to tell who was who at times.  
The build-up at the beginning was slow, something I didn't actually mind, as I like it when the tension builds up this way and then becomes explosive and you can't put down the book.  Unfortunately, the tension never really builds in the way it was meant to. The characters are given bits and pieces of information through Scott, and none of them questioned this at all, didn't even ask for paperwork or anything, especially with Traci being a lawyer? This would have sent my spidey senses tingling right away.  They are given mysterious journals, pieces of information about Steven's life and death, all being doled out bit by bit by Scott. Instead of questioning this behaviour, they react like a bunch of teenagers, squabbling and making stupid decisions, forgetting they are adults who can decide for themselves what they can do or not do.  I found I just had to suspend belief way too much during all of this and I kept shaking my head in disbelief.  And there was no blasted way you would have got me back in that forest after what happened all those years ago. No *^%%* way!!  And when we finally got to the part where it was supposed to get scary, I was like, Are you kidding me?  
That Night in the Woods had so much potential, but I was so deflated by the end. And speaking of the end, what was that? The one character who fought and fought decides to just give up, just like that, with no explanation? Overall, there were a couple of moments that were chilling and horrific, but the overall experience left me shaking my head and feeling so disappointed, especially after the last book by this author.  It wasn't badly written by any stretch of the imagination, and I do think a lot of people will enjoy this book, I just wasn't one of them.