Sunday, April 28, 2024

Review: Murder Road by Simone St. James

by Simone St. James
Release Date: March 5, 2024
2024 Berkley
Kindle ARC & Audiobook Editions; 341 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593200384
Audiobook: B0CB99YKLY (9h10min)
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
 July 1995. April and Eddie have taken a wrong turn. They’re looking for the small resort town where they plan to spend their honeymoon. When they spot what appears to be a lone hitchhiker along the deserted road, they stop to help. But not long after the hitchhiker gets into their car, they see the blood seeping from her jacket and a truck barreling down Atticus Line after them.

When the hitchhiker dies at the local hospital, April and Eddie find themselves in the crosshairs of the Coldlake Falls police. Unexplained murders have been happening along Atticus Line for years and the cops finally have two witnesses who easily become their only suspects. As April and Eddie start to dig into the history of the town and that horrible stretch of road to clear their names, they soon learn that there is something supernatural at work, something that could not only tear the town and its dark secrets apart, but take April and Eddie down with it all.
My Thoughts
Murder Road had a lot of the elements that I enjoy in murder mysteries, but I was somewhat disappointed in this latest book by this author. When I first started reading this author, I loved the mix of mystery / suspense / paranormal that could be found in the books, and found them creepy and gripping.The book did start off rather strong for me so I was hopeful at first, but then it got bogged down towards the middle and I started to lose interest. And the thing is, it wasn't that the source material was uninteresting, I think it was the way it was presented.

Newlyweds Eddie and April are the main characters in this book and I did enjoy their backstories. Both of them had some struggles in their lives and I found their perceptions of current events based on their backgrounds to be quite interesting; the whole concept that we can never leave run away from who we were is a running theme throughout this book and we have to accept that those experiences have shaped us into the people who we are today. There were a lot of repetitive thoughts and concepts though, and I got tired of April reminding us how beautiful she was even though it wasn't important to her.  Really? I think the author was hung up on this concept and used 'the beautiful woman must be lying because she is beautiful' thing to the point of nausea.  There really couldn't be any other reason why the police officer thought April was lying? Of course it had to do with the fact she was beautiful and was hiding something.  Eddie's story fascinated me more than April's simply because I am married to a vet and understand the impact PTSD and being posted overseas can have on someone. I personally don't think enough is done for our vets so I liked that story line very much. I am definitely biased in that regard.

The story itself was actually interesting, but I wish the author had included more of the paranormal element to it, something that was very much lacking in this book.  I think I was expecting something much more creepy, something with much more of a twist, but I didn't get that. I don't mind the police procedural aspect of the book as I like that kind of thing, but something paranormal thrown in would have been so interesting.  I mentioned that I lost interest about halfway through the book, but I think it was the writing style, not the material, that was the cause. 

Murder Road definitely had some interesting elements to it, and there were some themes running through it that I liked. None of these things were fully developed or used in such a way to create that creepiness factor that is necessary to this type of book.  There was little to no twist; in fact, I felt like there wasn't much of a denouement at all.  Overall, while I didn't hate it, I didn't really like it either. If you are interested in reading this author, I recommend The Broken Girls.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Review: Tea With a Minotaur by Adrienne Hiatt

by Adrienne Hiatt
Release Date: April 24, 2024
2024 Independently Published
Ebook Edition; 277 Pages
ISBN: 979-8322046172
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Fantasy
Source: Review copy from author

4 / 5 Stars

Sometimes, the best adventures come in the form of a good book and the perfect cup of tea.Mahkai, a neurodivergent, bookish minotaur, has never quite fit in with his battle loving clan. He much prefers drinking tea in peace and sketching his ideas and discoveries in his notebooks. After missing an important family event and nearly destroying a neighboring clan's camp in his pursuit of answers to his never-ending questions, he embarks on a journey to gather honey for his tea rather than face his family's ridicule.Caught in a storm while out gathering supplies, he stumbles into the cave of an ancient librarian dragon, unleashing a chain reaction of unexpected events. With the help of the dragon, a quirky fairy, a shifter, and a tiny tea-drinking owl, Mahkai learns sometimes family is not what you are born into, but who you choose.Under mounting pressure from his family to return home, Mahkai must choose to accept himself as he is or give up his love of learning and tea and return home to be his father's son.
My Thoughts
Tea With a Minotaur follows a neurodivergent minotaur who prefers tea and learning over the battle-training preferred by his brothers and his clan-chief father. Struggling to find his place in the world, he embarks on a journey to find honey for his tea only to encounter much more than he would have thought possible. This was a sweet exploration of family, friends, and how much you are willing to fight for what you want. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am fast becoming a huge fan of cozy fantasy.
Mahkai is the main character in the story and is very different from his minotaur brothers who prefer to train and fight in simulated battles to prepare for invasions. The memory of past battles is still fresh in everyone's mind and being prepared is a huge motto of the clan. The problem: Mahkai wants nothing to do with battles and training. He gets in trouble constantly for asking too many questions, always seeking answers to problems and to things he doesn't understand. Because of this, his brothers and other family members don't understand him, so he doesn't feel like he fits in with his baattle-loving clan.  Mahkai's character development was very well done, and it was fun to see him grow into a more confident person, one who appreciated his own talents, one who stood up for himself and his friends.  I loved how he was always asking questions as the author used this concept to give the reader some insight into the world, something I thought was quite clever.  

One of my favourite characters was Gwen, a little owl companion that Mahkai rescues during one of his adventures. She was so sweet and I loved the descriptions and interactions between them. In fact, I enjoyed all of the characters and thought they had distinct voices and personalities of their own. 

The plot was decent and I definitely like the themes in this book. Delving on the topics of friendship, loyalty, family, self-confidence, and self-worth, there were some moments that really made you think about your own family and your place within it. Both Hartley and Mahkai were struggling with family members who didn't understand them and didn't appreciate them, and their heartwarming talks and support of each other actually brought tears to my eyes.  The story did struggle with some pacing and transition issues however, as there were times when I thought the author was setting up a certain scene only to shoot you a couple of days into the future with the event being completed and you didn't get to see it.  I actually wondered if my book was missing a scene or two. The book is interspersed with tea recipes and they actually matched what was happening in the story and gave hints as to the personalities of the characters as well. I thought they were a nice addition to the story. 

Tea With a Minotaur was a sweet story about a minotaur who finds his way in the world through some misadventures and I was happy to be there for his journey.  I enjoyed all of the characters and thought the development was good. Despite the pacing and transition issues, I still enjoyed the overall story. If you are looking for a fun cozy fantasy novel, then I highly recommend this book for you. 


Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Review: The Wickedest of Things by Russel Barrie

by Russel Barrie
Release Date: September 30, 2023
2023 Independently Published
Ebook Edition; 441 Pages
ISBN: 978-1739060718
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from author

4.5 / 5 Stars

Reid Sheraton is a man in search of a challenge, designing games to keep his haunted mind busy to avoid his past. But when his company is bought by the Horizon Corporation, the mysterious Esin has other plans. At Horizon, the greatest event is their Labyrinth, a vast maze of puzzles and trials meant to test their people and push them beyond their limits. Esin wants to win, and in Reid she sees her chance.With that, the two are swept up in Horizon, a world of dazzling technology, corporate intrigue and a drive to change the world. But as the Labyrinth approaches, sinister things are in motion at Horizon. One man’s ruthless maneuvering corrupts their technology with a betrayal so deep nothing will be the same.As Reid, Esin and the players enter the Labyrinth, something will go murderously wrong…
My Thoughts
The Wickedest of Things was a really fun read, but it does have a somewhat slower build up so you can get to know the characters, the company, and some other important pieces of information that play a huge role later on in the story. It takes patience, but the payoff is worth it. The author's writing is so engaging though, that I didn't really mind. And to be honest, I needed some time to organize my thoughts around some of the concepts/themes in this book. 

It says a lot about an author's writing strength when my favourite character happens to be AI. ACESO was developed as a leading-edge medic, capable of withstanding bombs, artillery fire, and other such attacks in order to save people in very dangerous situations. She was compassionate and caring, and wanted to really learn how to interact with people. I absolutely fell in love with her character. So, when everything when bust, and I still felt so much compassion for this AI machine, I have to give credit to the author's writing skills. 

The character building is quite exceptional. While most of the book is from Reid's POV, the author doesn't neglect his secondary characters, so you really appreciate their strengths and weaknesses and root for them all. I especially developed a fondness for Aster, the engineer who created ACESO; he really showed strength when it was needed and was always there for his team mates. And even though Reid has an eidetic memory, it wasn't used to further along the story and get them out of difficult situations, but more as a personality trait, useful when needed, but not something used as a overused plot device, something for which I was grateful.  

While the plot did start off slowly, I still found it really interesting. The whole concept of AI and how it should be used came up constantly in this book, with the owner of the company having more a pacifist bent while one of his vps longed to take the company into a more offensive mode.  And there were some players willing to pay a lot of money for this developed technology. So when the vp decides to take matters into his own hands, things take a turn to the nasty side and this is where the book picked up and literally took off.  The whole point of this story was for the company to challenge this labyrinth again, something they do every year, and the prizes for the winning team are huge, including grant money for their departments. Made up of a series of locked-room puzzles, it's meant to challenge the players; it was the perfect scenario to unleash a devastating machine on the players and to see how everything would play out.  There were so many twists and turns, it left me dizzy. But I couldn't stop turning the pages and stayed up late to finish. 

And while the book was great, the ending...just ended. While there was a bit of a conclusion, and I wasn't disappointed with what happened, there were a lot of threads left dangling and I wanted to know what happened.

The Wickedest of Things was both heartbreaking and visceral, flipping back and forth between aggressive behaviour and tenderness, showing the complexity of AI technology and what could happen when technology is capable of showing human understanding and empathy. It's both frightening and compulsive at the same time.  And while I love science-fiction, I am definitely not ready for this in my real world. Full of well-developed characters and a complex plot, I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the complexities of artificial intelligence and what that could mean for humans.


Sunday, April 21, 2024

Review: Born Upon a Curse by M. Kane

by M. Dane
Release Date: May 1st, 2024
2024 Independently Published
ISBN: 978-0645520989
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA
Source: Review copy from author

3 / 5 Stars

When a handsome stranger reveals she’s not an ordinary nineteen-year-old, but a demon, everything she thought she knew about herself is turned on its head. 

After an elemental battle to secure her passage, Alina steps into Astaroth Academy, a prestigious school for demons. Here, Alina seeks the academy’s arcane knowledge, hoping to permanently silence Machina once and for all.

But a brazen other self isn’t her only concern. Aran May, the brooding captain of the Flag Fall team, is as alluring as he is untouchable. As their forbidden desire intensifies, Alina uncovers a sinister plot that threatens not only her stay at the academy but her very life. 

My Thoughts
Born Upon a Curse is an interesting read and overall, I rather enjoyed it. That does not mean that I didn't have issues with the plot and character development, but there was enough to keep me engaged and interested in the story and the characters. I particularly liked Alina's inner conflict with Machina, what she though it was, and what it actually meant. It was a bit of a twist I wasn't expecting and I was rather intrigued by the concept.

First of all, Alina. She is the only character I could honestly say got some character development in this story.  While I didn't necessarily like her all the time, and I didn't care for how she treated people at times, I did like her growing realization that the reason she has a lot of problems is because of her own behaviour and attitude. It totally turns me off when an author places all the blame on others for one's own actions, and while this did happen at times, Alina's friends weren't so complacent with her and let her know when she was a problem. To be honest, I don't think it went deep enough as Alina could be horrible at times and deserved a lot of what she got.  When she realized she wasn't necessarily suffering from associative disorder, I would think the mental games that would play on you would be difficult, especially when you believed one thing all your life only to be told it was something completely different. When she asked her friend to help her with her problem, I definitely understood where she was coming from, but being so new to magic and all it entailed, perhaps doing some more research yourself and making sure everyone would be safe should be your main concern. Unfortunately, Alina acted very selfishly quite often, getting people around her hurt or killed.  

The other characters were quite cliched, including the love interest. I wish more time had been spent developing some of the secondary characters, but except for Raven and Oliver, I didn't really develop any empathy for any of them, even her best friend CJ. I actually thought the author treated CJ terribly in this book, having her party and seem only interested in boys, so when an incident happened, I could see why Alina reacted the way she did. Maybe develop CJ's character instead and the whole thing would be more satisfactory than it was. 

Now the love interest. Not a fan AT ALL And why, for the love of whatever, when Alina is first escorted to the chateau, would a teacher take her to a male's room for her to shower and get ready for the selection, or whatever it was called.  Honestly, there would be dozens of FEMALE rooms for her to do so and be more comfortable. That whole scene left a bad taste in my mouth.  And naturally, what happened next was so predictable. Enter the....gasp....girlfriend.  Let's just say I wasn't a fan of the romance and the book would have been fine without it. I should probably mention that I am not a fan on insta-lust either. Let's just leave it there.

The plot itself though, was fine. While a bit slower at the beginning, I thought it was interesting to learn about the new world and the academy as well as the people.  Yes, it had similiar feeling to Harry Potter, but so many boarding school books that I have read, so nothing new there. I even loved the game they played.  What I didn't like was the constant parties and alcohol sessions. And where were the supervisors? Some of these kids were 12 years old.  And it was constant. Play a game, have a couple of beers. Go to class, have some beers. Win a game, have some alcohol. Have a bad day, drown your sorrows in alcohol. Alcohol everywhere. Even the teachers show up drunk, smoking cigarettes. What? 

Born Upon a Curse had a lot of good things going for it, things that I hope the author will continue to focus on in the next book. There was some interesting world building, even if it is only in the infancy stages, and I would love to learn more about the other cities and people that inhabit the world.  And while the ending was satisfactory, there are definitely a lot of threads that need further development in the next book. I am still waiting to find out exactly why all the demons want Alina and there were some cryptic allegations made during the battle that made me curious enough to want to read the next book it is released. If you enjoy books about demons, then this book may be for you. 

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.