Saturday, January 27, 2024

Review: Bone Pendant Girls by Terry S. Friedman

by Terry S. Friedman
Release Date: January 30, 2024
2024 CamCat Books
Ebook Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0744307924
Audiobook: B0CP69K58D
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
Beware of jewelry that calls to you. Andi Wyndham has been able to communicate with spirits since she was a kid. When a bone pendant carved into the likeness of a girl’s face calls to her at a gem show in Pennsylvania, she can’t resist buying it and a sister piece. When she discovers the girls are missing runaways and the pendants made of human bone, Andi is drawn into a mystery that will force her to confront her gifts, her guilt, and the ghosts haunting her. 
Pendant Girls Mariah and Bennie urge Andi to find a man they call "Fisherman,” a master of disguise. Teaming up with a handsome P. I. and a South Carolina sheriff, Andi must find the girls’ bodies and put their souls to rest, before the Fisherman casts his deadly net to trap Andi.
My Thougths
Bone Pendant Girls is one of those books that intrigued me because of the interesting title and the fascinating cover page.  I am not usually one who is swayed by cover pages as I tend to choose books more about the subject matter, but I can appreciate beautifully done cover pages when I see them.  It was the ghost story that definitely drew me in and I found that aspect of the story to be both tragic and well-done at the same time.
Most of the story is told from Andi's POV, but several of the chapters are told from a couple of other characters POV as well.  I am still unsure if the multiple POV was necessary, but at least it didn't detract from the story in any way.  I enjoyed this author's writing style, thought the story was fun and interesting, and liked the twists and turns, some of them I didn't quite catch.  And while I appreciate it when an author shows you what happens through dialogue and through a character's perspective, I did feel like the author needed to tighten up a few things in the story as there were some inconsistencies.  There were times when I thought I missed something important and had to back track to double-check, only to find it wasn't me, but the way the story was written.  
The story moved along rather quickly, with a lot of things happening, and the tension level kept me turning the pages especially in the last 25% of the book.  One of the issues I did have with this book was the lack of knowledge about the actual serial killer as I felt the reader didn't fully get an understanding of their motivations or the reasons behind the killings and while this didn't lower the tension level, it did affect it as I couldn't relate to how they got where they did and how they knew what they did.  There was no closure in that regard. 

Andi was a great character and I liked her sense of humour considering she had to deal with both a serial killer and a crazy ex-husband on top of everything.  I loved her inner monologue when speaking to the ghosts and trying to figure out how she would impart information she received to the police and the P.I. without giving away how she got her information, and found it quite humourous. In all fairness, if I was investigation something and someone told me they go their information from ghosts and shadows, I'd be skeptical as well, and I believe in ghosts.  I also liked how she didn't do anything stupid when trying to gain information as that is the one things that always bothers me when reading some of these books, and she didn't information from the police as if she was entitled to it.  

Bone Pendant Girls was a great debut novel and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The story moved along quickly and the paranormal element was very interesting and incorporated quite seamlessly.  I did feel like there were some inconsistencies with the plot and character development, and I wished we knew more about the serial killer as there was little about their motives and reasons, but overall, it was full of tension and quite enjoyable.  I will definitely read another book by this author in the future.


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Review: Europea Halls 2: A Summer in Budapest by Alan Shivers

by Alan Shivers
Release Date: January 20, 2024
2024 Independently Published
Ebook ARC Edition; 246 Pages
ISBN: 979-8872174912
Genre: Fiction / YA Slasher
Source: Review copy from author

4 /5 Stars

When the survivors of Europea Halls' massacre go on a summer trip to Budapest, they are in dire need of a good time. However, when one of their new friends gets brutally killed, it seems like the past is still hunting them.Will the group be able to crack the code on how to bend the rules of a sequel or is  the killer one step ahead of them?
My Thoughts
Europea Halls 2 is the second book in a planned slasher trilogy, and this one follows the survivors to Budapest as they look to relax and finally try to leave the past behind them.  Dealing with the after-affects of what happened in Brussels, this book is at once an exploration of PTSD and the fight to take back their safety nets, and I enjoyed every conflicting aspect of that as they explored Budapest under a shadow of doom.

First of all, it is really difficult to talk about the main characters in this book as it gives away so much of the first book, so I will not be using names or identities. I really liked the exploration of the trauma the survivors were carrying as it would have seemed fake to do otherwise. One of the weaknesses of the first book was the character development, and I feel like the author very much improved on that in this book as I got to know them a bit better and felt so much more empathy for what they were going through. This adds another layer to what is happening as when you are empathetic, it adds to the tension so you are afraid that something might happen to one of the characters, and when it does, it is terrifying. This was missing in the first book, and I was so glad to feel that connection in this one.  

The plot in the first half was a bit slower, but I didn't mind too much as it gave the author time to explore character development and help the reader understand a lot of the trauma the characters were dealing with from the events in the first book. It also allowed for the introduction of a few new characters, something I enjoyed.  Once we got halfway through though, the action picked up considerably and didn't let up and so did the tension.  I like how the author uses his characters to discuss slasher films and the tropes in sequel films as it gives you some foreshadowing, but then throws it all upside down. It's kind of fun actually, and it reminds me of the film 'Scream' when one of the character discusses what you should do and not do in a horror film  Although I know this is supposed to a slasher film where things should be over the top, but sometimes some scenes were too far-fetched for me as I wondered how they would have this type of knowledge or be able to do some of the things they did.  

Europea Halls 2 was a fun, quick read, and I enjoyed it tremendously.  I loved the Budapest setting and how the architectural beauty contrasted with what was happening. It is definitely a type of over-the-top slasher book that is very much dialogue-driven, but that is what is so fun about it, it doesn't take itself too seriously while still having some serious things about it.  I am definitely looking forward to book 3 when it is released in May 2024 so I can finally find out what is behind everything.


Saturday, January 20, 2024

Review: Light Lost by Georgia C. Leigh

by Georgia C. Leigh
Release Date: July 11, 2023
2023 Georgia Leigh (CASK Publishing LLC)
Kindle Edition; 549 Pages
ISBN: 978-1958971062
Audiobook: B0CKG9V9G5
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy 
Source: Review copy from author
4.5 / 5 Stars
Separated from the love of a lifetime, Haven and Ryker are forced to endure a cruel trial that tests more than their bond. Though Haven is in Terra under simulation, blissfully unaware of the bonding trial, Ryker is left in Berinia, abandoned and stricken with a loneliness he’s never known. His choices test the limits of his relationship with his Triad and everyone he loves.

But time is not their only enemy. The Phoenix is the key to Praesia’s safety, and in Haven’s absence, those who set them on this path flourish, gain new allies, and set in motion a more permanent scheme to keep Haven and Ryker apart. Their ambitions reach for the throne and the very heart of Praesia.
My Thoughts
Light Lost is the second book in the Shadows and Light series, and I enjoyed it just as must as the first book, but for slightly different reasons. This one would have been much more difficult for the author to write as it spans over eighty years and a lot of it takes place on multiple worlds, introducing multiple new characters as well as developing a lot of characters that didn't get a lot of time in the first book. There was a lot more world development, something I really enjoyed, and I got a better grasp of the political system which helped understand some of the underlying issues and machinations that were going on. 
Haven, the main character in the first book, was more of a secondary character until halfway through this book, which was kind of refreshing as it gave the author a chance to develop Ryker's character, who played more of a secondary role in the first one. So, in effect, the roles were kind of reversed. Because Haven was in stasis, Ryker had to live without her for eighty years, continuing to do his job. It gave the author a great opportunity to display the difficulties of separation from a male perspective; Ryker suffered from depression, loneliness, anxiety, stress, and made reckless decisions as a result, and the consequences were severe at times. Because it not only affected him, but his entire family, the consequences shocked me at how serious they were and I loved how the author showed the ripple effects one person can have on a large group of people. This was so incredibly well done, and Silas is my hero.
Because Haven was almost non-existent for the first half, it gave the author plenty of time to develop other characters  so I was thrilled to learn more about Silas and Trinity as well as a hot of others. While I am definitely not a fan of Lilith, her chapters kept me on my toes and amplified my tension level.  And I did like learning more about her, what she up to, and with whom she associated. I was particularly interested in Ash, and boy did I completely miss the connection and hints about him.  Needless to say, I don't shocked very often, and this was one of them.  
While Haven and Ryker's affair was put on a back burner for quite a while, the story is quite deceptive. What seems like a slow burn actually has a lot going on, with so many political twists and turns that it kept me turning the pages.  I liked learning more about the alliances with other races and how that affected the seraphim, knowing some of what was happening when the characters didn't, realizing afterwards that the author was quite skilled at keeping the biggest secrets just that, secret, until they were revealed at the end.  One of my biggest complaints from the first book was the info dumping, and how the author gave away too many plot points as she switched POV undermining the tension and what was happening.  Let me say that this was fixed in this book and just when I thought I had a grasp of what was happening, it all got dumped on my head.  So while the book still had multiple POV, it no longer had that info dumping that spoiled things in the first book, but was used to move along the plot and the characters. 

Light Lost was a worthy sequel to the first book and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Both the character and world development were good, and the story was more fast-paced than it seemed at first because it is deceptive in its intensity and its development.  You don't even realize the tension is building until something happens, then you are dealing with the ramifications and consequences, moving along to the next episode.  I liked how the author used dialogue to give information and you don't even realize it's info dumping until afterwards, but it's far more effective than giving away plot points through the use of POV which was the case in the first book, as it kept the tension at a much more elevated level throughout the book. I am very much looking forward to book 3 when it releases in March 2024.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Review: The Four Revenants by Cas E. Crowe

by Cas E. Crowe
Release Date: February 19, 2022
2022 Cas E. Crowe
Ebook Edition; 332 Pages
ISBN: 978-0648876526
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Dystopian
Source: Review copy from author

4.5 / 5 Stars 

Zaya Wayward is a necromancer on the run. Pursued by the United League of Dissent and hunted by the Haxsan Guard, Zaya is uprooted from the Tarahik Military Base and sent into hiding in Scarmouth. Bordered by lush rainforest and golden sands, the coastal village should be a utopia, but a gruesome incident transpires on the beach one evening—a ritual that demands the sacrifice of many lives.

All Zaya wants to do is find her friends and rescue Captain Jad Arden, the man she loves, but something deadly is woken by the ritual. The Four Revenants—the bringers of the apocalypse—hunger for Zaya’s blood. Dragged into a nightmarish landscape, Zaya makes a perilous journey through dense jungle and forested mountains in an attempt to survive, but is she running away from danger, or straight into its arms?

My Thoughts
The Four Revenants is the second book in the Wayward Haunt saga, and in this one we see Zaya thrown into hiding, due to events in the first book, with little understanding of where she is or what she needs to do.  Unfortunately, she lands right in the middle of enemy territory and learns quite quickly the United League of Dissent, the one group she must avoid at all costs, has seized control of the area and is rounding up recruits to join their cause by any means necessary.  This was such a fun, fast-paced novel, and I enjoyed learning more about the political structure of this world as well as more about its history.

I love Zaya's character and it was intriguing to see her develop her necromancy powers in this book.  While she is brave and loyal, she is not without her faults, and I definitely enjoyed the little mind-games she plays when she is angry or upset with those around her as it makes her that much more relatable. I definitely would react the same way if I had to tramp through jungle with some of the people with which she was forced to rely on for her survival.  She is unquestionably a compelling character. And while I was happy to learn more about some of the other characters, I would have liked a bit more development with regards to them as so much focus was on Zaya that I felt sometimes the others weren't as fully developed. There are a couple of others who have some interesting stories to tell and while I don't necessarily need their POV, it would be nice to learn more about their backgrounds and it would help develop the social system in this world.

This story was action-packed, moving along so quickly you barely had time to take a breath between action scenes.  The things that happened were unexpected, and there were so many twists and turns coming at me that I had trouble putting the book down.  Descriptions merge so well with the action, and I amused myself trying to guess the names of the cities that were described in this book as this takes place in a far-distant Earth.  I like how the author integrates the political system into the story so you figure out what's happening as the characters learn about shifting politics and events that are happening. I don't have it all figured out, but I like learning about new worlds in this way as I find it more interesting.  The book is written from Zaya's POV, so you learn about what is happening as she learns about things.  

The Four Revenants was better than the first book and does not suffer from second book syndrome. The writing is sharp with good character and world development, and moves along at a swift pace. I highly recommend this series if you are looking for suspense, great action with good world development, and believable and relatable characters. Book three was just released and book four will be coming out sometime in 2024. 


Monday, January 8, 2024

Review: The Curse of Penryth Hall by Jess Armstrong

by Jess Armstrong
Release Date: December 5, 2023
2023 Minotaur Books
Ebook ARC Edition; 326 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250886019
Audiobook: B0CKCQXNY7
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

A foreboding fortress, Penryth Hall is home to Ruby’s once dearest friend, Tamsyn, and her husband, Sir Edward Chenowyth. It’s an unsettling place, and after a more unsettling evening, Ruby is eager to depart. But her plans change when Penryth’s bells ring for the first time in thirty years. Edward is dead; he met a gruesome end in the orchard, and with his death brings whispers of a returned curse. It also brings Ruan Kivell, the person whose books brought her to Cornwall, the one the locals call a Pellar, the man they believe can break the curse. Ruby doesn’t believe in curses—or Pellars—but this is Cornwall and to these villagers the curse is anything but lore, and they believe it will soon claim its next victim: Tamsyn.

My Thoughts
The Curse of Penryth Hall is an interesting murder mystery / gothic story set in the 1920s. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the book as well as the time period as I am always interested in post-WWI historical fiction writing as I don't think there is enough of it.  

I really liked the Ruby, the main character, as it would be very difficult to be an independent woman during this time period, but circumstances have led her to be leery of relationships and distrustful. Considering what happened to her and how families 'dealt' with problems during this time period, she came out rather lucky, so I totally understand where she is coming from and why she would not want to give up her independence.  I liked how the author made her life difficult because some of the things she did would have shocked people during this time period and she would have suffered consequences, even dangerous ones.  However, I don't feel the author managed to do the same with the other characters, except the cat?  Ruan actually drove me nuts as he seemed like two different people half of the time, his character development almost non-existent because the author couldn't seem to make up her mind as to how she wanted him to appear.  For example, he would be nice and friendly to Ruby one minutes, then the next time they would meet, he would be cruel and dismissive, almost as if he was putting on a show for those around him. Not a genuine person at all. And the other characters were written this way as well.

The writing itself was well done, and I enjoyed the atmospheric setting of the mansion and the lands. There were quite a few twists and turns I wasn't expecting which made the story intriguing as I wasn't sure if I was reading a simply mystery or a gothic suspense.  While some of the plot points were a bit silly, and Ruan sometimes ruined a scene for me, I thoroughly enjoyed Ruby's investigations because she often used logic and sense when seeking information.  It was also a bit of a slow burn, sometimes too much of one. 

The Curse of Penryth Hall seems to have more elements of a gothic mystery in it, but I would have to say also some elements of magical realism.  I thought Ruby's character development was interesting and I enjoyed learning more about her, but I thought the others could have been better and would have added more to the story. The overall plot was interesting, but did have a tendency to meander causing it to slow down and focus on things that I don't think were necessary to the story.  There was a lot of potential in this book and the writing was solid, so I will definitely read more from this author in the future.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Review: The Search Party by Hannah Richell

by Hannah Richell
Release Date: January 16, 2024
2024 Atria Books
Ebook ARC Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1668036068
Audiobook: B0C7YZKPGS
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Max and Annie Kingsley have left the London rat race with their twelve-year-old son to set up a glamping site in the wilds of Cornwall. Eager for a dry run ahead of their opening, they invite three old university friends and their families for a long-needed reunion. But the festivities soon go awry as tensions arise between the children (and subsequently their parents), explosive secrets come to light, and a sudden storm moves in, cutting them off from help as one in the group disappears.

My Thoughts
The Search Party is an atmospheric, destination thriller that was decent. A group of friends get together to check out a new glamping venture that is being started by one of the friends, and soon resentments, secrets, and tensions start to boil to the surface.  I always enjoy ''locked-room" types of thrillers and while in this one they all get stranded on a a bluff during a wild storm, it still has the same affect. You've got the missing person, the storm, the atmosphere, the secrets, the tension, the possible murder, being shut off from the outside world, and the investigation, all the elements of a good suspense novel.

The location itself was the best part of this book as I loved the atmosphere of the wilderness and the 'glamping'.  And I really enjoyed how so many elements of the landscape were revealed slowly to the reader in order to avoid giving away necessary plot points; and it would have been very easy to figure things out if the author had used more description. But you learned about the layout of the bluff along with the characters, something I thought was quite good.  This actually added to the atmosphere of the book as I never really knew what was going to be revealed about the land next. 

Unfortunately, the author didn't continue this type of writing with the characters although she did try. When you try too hard to make a character seem guilty or possibly dark, I don't think it necessarily works and in this one, it actually led me right to who it actually was quite early in the game.  It's not that I didn't enjoy the twists and turns the author employed, but I was able to see right through them.  I think it would have been better if other people had been targeted as well as it would have maybe made me think differently, especially when a certain comment was made with regards to Dominic. Now I am not giving anything away by revealing this, or who made the comment, but when that happened, I knew who it was.

One of the reasons I didn't give it a higher star rating had to do with certain treatment towards a younger character in this book. I get that the author was using the tactic to cause doubt in the reader, but the fact no one was more outraged over what happened bothered me. And why would you keep secrets about an adoption, especially in the circumstances in which Kip was raised? Weak plot point in my estimation and rubbed me the wrong way. For a group of friends who are supposed to be so close, it just didn't make sense.  
The Search Party started off quite strongly, and the author is very skilled as a writer. I did like how the atmosphere of the setting was used to drive the story, but wish it was used a lot more than it was as it would have added more depth to the tension and secrets running through the group.  While the characters were interesting, they were definitely not original, and the use of one of them to propel the story bothered me a great deal.  Overall, the ending was satisfactory as all the loose ends were tied up, but I did think it was easy to figure out who the villain was in this story. I do recommend this book to anyone who likes these 'locked-room' type of thrillers. 


Thursday, January 4, 2024

Review: The Fey Hotel by Vermilion H. Baine

by Vermilion H. Baine
Release Date: January 14, 2024
2024 Vermilion H Baine
Ebook ARC Edition; 459 Pages
ISBN: 979-8988814405
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Romance
Source: Review copy from author

4.5 / 5 Stars

Avalon, sent to restore the failing reputation of the Refuge on the Moor, carries a secret that could lead to her own destruction. A secret she’s kept since birth, and one that the grumpy, short-tempered innkeeper becomes the first to discover.

Elden is the unwilling manager of a once great, and magical, hotel—that is failing under his inexperienced hand. When he reluctantly requests the help of a hotel management company, he’s introduced to Avalon—someone that has more in common with him than either of them knows.

They fight their past and one another, but the pair must learn to work together—not only to save the inn, but to save everyone they love.
My Thoughts
The Fey Hotel did not disappoint and I enjoyed it thoroughly. There are so many things going for it, including a realistic romance, a cute giant dog, an intriguing political system (existing between the fey and the humans), sisterly loyalty and love, family dysfunction, dangerous creatures, and lots of unexpected action scenes. To be fair, I am not your typical romance reader as I gravitate more towards horror and thriller/suspense, but I was in the mood for some cozy fantasy and I am so glad I gave this one a shot.

Both Avalon and Elden were fun characters and I enjoyed learning more about them as the story progressed. Avalon was quite sassy and witty, and I liked how she held her own against the fey creatures she had to deal with as the story progressed. Elden, who sort of reminded me of Thor (at least that was the picture that kept forming in my head) because he wielded this huge axe and wore his armour all the time, being the warden to the portal of the fey lands.  Both characters were immensely relatable, were charming and were so much fun to read about.  
While I did like all of the other characters, even the enemies, I don't quite feel they were as developed as Avalon and Elden, and I especially had a beef with the way Odele was portrayed some of the time. It was revealed right from the beginning that Odele was a banshee and when the arrived at the inn, she craved her personal space and needed time to develop her own friendships. I found her interesting and wanted to learn more about her as she was the cause of one of Avalon's afflictions, but then one incident happened and suddenly, her personality shifted without warning, and I was baffled by the change. Although I understood the motives, I didn't like the change and the behaviour she exhibited because it was quite contrary to before and it didn't make sense to me. I get the author was trying to portray how close the sisters were and how they protected each other, but this came close to obsessiveness, possessiveness, and being cringe-worthy.

The story the author created was fun, full of banshees, witches, fey, will-o'-the-wisps, naiads, gorgons, humans, and other magical beings. I thought the writing was great, slowly revealing the world and its issues to the reader, letting us figure out things as we read, letting us explore with Avalon as she learned about the fey lands. There were lots of twists and turns, and I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the plot.  The pacing of the story was on point, and the big stories were given time to develop and expand while the smaller mysteries were solved quickly and efficiently. There is still some big mystery behind all the events happening in this book, but the overall ending is satisfying. 

The Fey Hotel was a fantastic read. The world building and character development were good, and the story moved along quickly with some interesting twists and turns. If you are a fan of portal fantasies, slow-burn romance, fantasy, some political intrigue, then this book is definitely for you. I can't wait to get my hands on the second book in this series.