Thursday, May 30, 2024

Review: The Hungry Dark by Jen Williams

by Jen William
Release Date: April 9, 2024
2024 Crooked Lane Books
Hardcover ARC; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1639106172
Audiobook: B0CPTG92GN
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

As a child, Ashley Whitelam could often see odd things nobody else could: quiet, watchful figures she called the Heedful Ones kept a strange vigil wherever she went. As an adult, she keeps these visions to herself, but she’s turned her taste of the beyond into a career as a “psychic”­ – parting people from their money with a combination of psychology and internet research. When the Lake District is gripped by a series of grisly child murders, Ashley offers her services to the police for the free publicity. But as Ashley leads the police on a fruitless search around the small town of Green Beck, she catches a glimpse of those old ghosts of her childhood and, following them into the woods, she finds something she never expected: the corpse of the latest missing child.

My Thoughts
The Hungry Dark had a great premise and set in an area of stunning natural beauty, there was so much potential for this book. I tend to enjoy creepy stories where authors make a lot of use of the outdoor elements, especially where there were some amazing contrasting elements such as the natural beautiful elements with the darker side of the woods and the dangers that lurked within those woods, both natural and man-made.  I don't scare easily, but a hike in the woods at night can render me absolutely senseless, as they seem to take on this otherworldly and sinister vibe as soon as the sun sets. The author provides the reader with some spooky natural elements, making you question what you actually saw, blending the natural beauty with sinister in an amazing way that I enjoyed.

With that being said, I wasn't crazy about the main character, Ashley, and even though she grew on me as the book progressed, I felt like her character needed more development.  Actually, the whole family dynamic thing didn't work for me, coming across as very dysfunctional, but it didn't feel very authentic. A lot of their behaviour was baffling to me, not because it was dysfunctional, but because I felt the author was using this tactic as a way of trying to convince the reader why Ashley was still living at home in her thirties and why she had no control over her own life. She is often trapped, needs permission to drive her own vehicle, actually needed to sneak out to get driving lessons, has her father take her keys from her, sneaks out to meet people, and I felt like I was reading about someone who was sixteen, not thirty plus years old.  It just felt like the author couldn't come up with another reason as to why Ashley was living at home and why she continued to be the main support for her family.  Oh yes, my eyes were rolling quite often during their interactions as they just didn't seem authentic.

I did enjoy the parts that discussed the psychic world and the background information that made up that world, especially the fraudulent parts of it.  Ashley started to question her actions concerning what she was doing and whether fooling people was the right choice in her life.  She was feeling conflicted about taking advantage of those who were vulnerable and I liked the discussions around that area of the profession, and it definitely should open up discussions about how much of your life you should be sharing on FB, Insta, and TT. 

The plot had a lot of potential, but I felt it got bogged down on too many plot threads which made it seem more superficial and shallow. I enjoyed the overall story, but none of the threads were fleshed out enough to really draw you into what was happening nor were they explained very well. There was just enough information to keep you from screaming.  And because nothing was fleshed out enough, I didn't feel a connection between Ashley and the podcaster, so honestly the romance could stay or go.  

The Hungry Dark had a lot of potential, but lack of character development and very loose plot threads created a story that meandered and was a bit on the slow side. And while the setting was amazing, and I liked the contrast of beautiful and dark in nature, the actual supernatural aspect to this book verged on the minimal and I didn't find it creepy or all that suspenseful.  If you like mysteries with a touch of supernatural, this one is probably for you. 


Saturday, May 25, 2024

Review: Sweet Nightmare by Tracy Wolff

by Tracy Wolff
Release Date: May 7, 2024
2024 Entangled: Teen
Ebook ARC; 554 Pages
ISBN: 978-1649377012
Audiobook: B0D235PM7C
Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy / Paranormal

2.75 / 5 Stars 

The scariest school on earth
Is about to experience real fear…

Most schools are about being the best. This school? It’s about being the worst. Calder Academy is where the rogue paranormals go. The ones who break the rules or lose control. And when that happens for vamps, werewolves, witches, and dark fae? It gets pretty freaking scary.

But when a freak storm hits our isolated island, I'm stuck without a backup plan. The power is gone. The lights are out. And our worst nightmares are suddenly real―and out for blood.
Now the only way to survive is to align myself with one evil to avoid the other.

My Thoughts
Sweet Nightmare is the first book in The Calder Academy series and I did enjoy it quite a bit. However, there were pacing issues galore and the character development was almost non-existent. The premise of this book sounded quite interesting and I was looking forward to the journey and the reveals, but a lot of it felt rushed, included a lot of random stuff that may or may not be explained at a later time, and I just couldn't get into the romance as the backstory for their lust just wasn't explained all that well. 

To be fair, I did enjoy the characters but that's because I was fascinated by the monster aspect of their personalities and how quickly they could switch from being nice people to these terrifying monsters, especially since they couldn't control their powers when they switched or when their power came back to them.  But aside from this, the characters are not that developed at all. You have your typical FMC who does not get a break and needs to be rescued by the big, hulking, muscly, powerful MMC. Too many tropes there for me to unpack and not ones that I necessarily like either.  The relationship between Clementine and Jude is rushed and because the author doesn't give us a lot of backstory to explain their chemistry other than they were best friends for ten years, it's hard to really get the feels for their relationship.  Yes, there are some flashbacks and some explanations, but they are rushed and you don't really have a chance to absorb them because the action is non-stop and you are whirled into another problem. I rolled my eyes quite a few times.  I think I enjoyed the secondary characters more than the main characters. 

If you like plot-driven books, then this one should definitely be on your radar. The characters are thrown into one situation after another, with little time to breathe, and this gives little time for character development and leaves a lot of room for plot holes that are easily glossed over.  Personally, it didn't really flow all that well and felt quite chaotic. There were some aspects to the story I really enjoyed however, and I love secrets and mysteries of which there were plenty. 

What I did really love though, was the setting. The mysterious island, the academy, the secrets, the monsters, and the atmosphere are always things that I enjoy in novels and this one had it all. 

Sweet Nightmare had quite a bit of potential, but too much focus on the plot didn't allow much room for character development, and I need to feel something when I am reading. Characters die, there's a lot of fighting that happens, so I should have felt more than just...disappointment.  The author did manage to pick up some looser threads towards the last quarter of the book and weave them back into the story, and there were a few twists and turns I wasn't expecting, but there was still a lot of stuff that was glossed over and didn't make sense.  Overall, I did think the story was promising and I will be reading the next book when it releases next year. 


Sunday, May 19, 2024

Review: Kelly's Folly by T.H. Forest

by T.H. Forest
Release Date: September 1st, 2023
2023 Holdorf Press LLC
Ebook; 369 Pages
ISBN: 979-8987033043
Genre: Fiction / YA / MM Romance
Source: Review copy from author

4 / 5 Stars 

Kelly, 16, has just moved from England to Ohio. Kelly likes eyeliner, nail polish, and tall boys who smell nice. Kelly doesn’t like back-stabbing friends, controlling boyfriends, or being mistaken for a girl.

Lance is the star quarterback at Verity High School. He’s the broody son of a high-profile Republican senator, and not a fan of boys who like eyeliner. Noah is a senior in the music program at Verity. He’s the bad boy son of a famous music producer, and definitely a fan of boys who like eyeliner.
It doesn’t take Kelly long to discover that life in Mission Hill, a town his family moved to for its Olympic-level Aquatics Center and dive program, is a whole lot more complicated than the life he left in Reading. Especially when he finds himself torn between two loves and juggling friend groups.

My Thoughts
Kelly's Folly was a well-written book about the life of an elite diver and the ups and downs of navigating training, life, romance, relationships, and family. It was a fascinating look at the challenges young people face as they figure out their sexuality and deal with families and friends who don't accept them for who they are and the affect this has on their mental health.  

Kelly was definitely one of my favourite characters in this book, even if he was the main character. I appreciated his sarcastic look on life, and loved his internal monologues at what was happening around him, comments that actually made me laugh out loud at times. Many of those comments were references to 80s movies and as someone who was a teen during that time period, I found it completely relatable and loved the comparisons.  I thought Kelly's character development was great; he was confident, but vulnerable at the same time, loyal to his friends, and focused on his diving.  And while the other characters weren't quite as developed, which is to be expected as they were secondary characters, they still had their own distinct voices, and I enjoyed learning more about their lives and their motivations. I was able to connect with them and empathize with their choices as I was able to understand their feelings and their motivations.

The pacing was great and the author has this ability to draw you into the story and into the characters' lives.  The author skillfully navigated the world of competitive diving with Kelly's personal life so neither of them overshadowed the other, something I really appreciated. As an elite athlete, I really enjoyed learning more about the diving world, I didn't want it to be the main focus of the book. The author managed to balance both worlds quite well and I liked learning about how Kelly dealt with the pressures of diving along with the pressures of school and relationships, with all of them sometimes colliding.  One of the things I will mention however, being the fact this is a YA novel, is the lack of trigger warnings with regards to sexual content. And before anyone jumps on me, I would have been uncomfortable reading about heterosexual descriptions like this in a YA novel, so it has nothing to do with MM Romance. Maybe it's just me, but he was only 16 at the beginning of the story. 

Kelly's Folly was a great exploration of a young man dealing with the pressures of the competitive world as well as the pressures of school and relationships. While his sexuality was known to his friends, it was not known in the diving world, and he was trying to deal with the best time to open himself up to revealing that to fans as well as trying to be supportive to friends who did not have support groups at home.  I thought the author did a great job developing the characters and the pacing of the story kept me glued to the page. Like I already mentioned, I did feel the sexual content was a bit much for a novel geared for the ages of 15-18.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Review: Chasing Tails by R. Lindsay Carter

by R. Lindsay Carter
Release Date: June 10, 2023
2023 Rock and Flower Press
Ebook Edition; 334 Pages
ISBN: 979-8985907278
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Cozy
Source: Review copy from author

4.5 / 5 Stars

Cressida Curtain has gone from hunting bad guys to being hunted, and she’s been forced into hiding for safety. She yearns to dig her claws into a new assignment to alleviate the boredom of her current lifestyle. The thrill of the chase calls to her. She never expected adventure to land, quite literally, on her doorstep in the form of two strangers. Both seek help from Cressida to further their own agendas. One is trustworthy. One is not. A wake of death and destruction seems to follow them. Her chosen family is relying on her to make the right choice. And making the wrong one could have dire consequences—for her loved ones, for her personal safety, and even for her world. Nobody told her that being the legacy bearer would be this difficult.

My Thoughts
Chasing Tails is the third entry in this series and I thought i was just as much fun as the first two entries. In this entry, Cressida chafes while she hides from those who are hunting her down, spending this time training and learning to control the new powers she didn't know she had as well as trying to figure out how to break the curse she received in the first book.  Frustrated, she decides to take matters into her own hands. And while I could understand her frustration, after what she has been through, you would think she would have given a moment of reflection when she embarked on this next journey.

For the record, I love the characters in this book and have enjoyed their character development. Naturally, Cressida's development is the strongest as she is the main character, but I am happy to see more of the secondary characters play a stronger role in this book and we get to learn a bit more about their pasts and their motivations.  Grimm is definitely my next favourite character after Cressida and I was happy for him to play a more central role in this book.  It did lead to some interesting revelations and I am really curious as to how the author is going to continue the story line that developed with Grimm in the next book. There were also several new character introduced and I liked how smoothly the author integrated them into the story; they should play pivotal roles as the story moves forward so I can't wait to learn more about them. 

I don't think the plot moved along as quickly as the second book, but it was still interesting and there were a lot of threads from the previous books that were resolved.  The writing style is engaging and the dialogue continues to be witty, drawing you into the story and the plot.  Because Cressida is a shape-shifting cat, she can use that ability to get herself out of difficult situations, except when her opponents know about her abilities, so it was fun trying to see her get out of those situations where she was trapped. I have always liked how Cressida relies on her friends and family for help and the author doesn't make her out to be this big heroine, even though the is supposed to be the one to save the world. The author makes great use of other characters to help Cressida, as family and friendship continues to be a running theme throughout this series. 

Chasing Tails is another fun entry into this series, and it is just as compelling as the first two books with great storytelling and good character development. With some unexpected twists and turns, this book had me turning the pages quickly, but I enjoyed every moment of it. If you are looking for a fun, fantasy series, then I highly recommend this series.   


Friday, May 10, 2024

Review: Crimson at Cape May by Randy Overbeck

by Randy Overbeck
Release Date: July 20, 2020
2020 The Wild Rose Press
Ebook Edition; 414 Pages
ISBN: 978-1509231638
Audiobook: B09D5Z9XQW
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from Cozy Mystery Review

3.75 / 5 Stars

No matter how far you run, you can never really escape a haunted past. Darrell Henshaw-teacher, coach, and paranormal sensitive-learned this lesson the hard way. Now, with his job gone and few options, he heads for Cape May to coach a summer football camp. The resort town, with gorgeous beaches, rich history and famous Victorian mansions, might just be the getaway he needs. Only, no one told him Cape May is the most haunted seaport on the East Coast. When a resident ghost, the Haunted Bride, stalks Darrell, begging for his help, he can't refuse, and joins forces with Cassie, another sensitive. As Darrell and the street-wise teen investigate the bride's death, they uncover something far more sinister than a murder. Can Darrell and Cassie expose those behind the crimes before they end up becoming the next victims?

My Thoughts
Crimson at Cape May is the second book in A Haunted Shores Mystery series and features Derrell Henshaw, who has recently been let go from his high school teaching position, coaching at a football camp in Camp May. The reasons for him being let go featured in the first book, but the consequences carried into the second book, issues with which I had no problems understanding or sympathizing. I actually thought the author did a credible job merging the two stories without taking the focus of the story being developed in this book. While I did enjoy the overall story and characters, I did find it a bit slow in some parts, it was easy to figure out the actual villain, and there were some inconsistencies, especially for those of us who grew up in the nineties, that I just had to ignore.  

For the most part, the characters were rather interesting and distinct. Things weren't going so well for Darrell at the beginning of this book as he had lost his job and his girlfriend and was in Cape May working at a football camp to earn some money. The stress was creating anxiety and affecting his OCD, so when he again starts seeing ghosts, he doesn't react very well to those sightings and it takes a lot of persuasion for him to help them.  Considering the ghosts got him into a lot of trouble in the previous book, I understood his reluctance as I think it was consistent with his life at the moment.  When things started to go better for him in his life, he was more receptive to the ghosts, and that made a lot of sense. I really enjoyed Cassie as a character and liked how realistically she was portrayed.  Some of her life was definitely downplayed to keep the book clean, but you got enough to read between the lines and understand how difficult it is for kids on the street when their home lives are terrible.  

The pacing was a bit slow at times, but the story essentially had three mysteries woven into it: first, there was the problem with Derrell and why he lost his job, events from the previous book; two, the ghost that kept appearing to Derrell, the mysterious bride, presented the next mystery; and three, the issue with one of Derrell's students whose older sister had gone missing which led into a sex trafficking scenario. I really appreciated the fact the author dove into more serious issues in this book as it's very relevant today. Sex trafficking is definitely not new and I liked how the author was pointing out that everyone who turns their head when noticing something is wrong is part of the problem, and allowing influential people to get away with criminal behaviour is problematic. It was done subtly, and in such a way that we should always be on the lookout for odd behaviours and talk to our children about being wary; you know if a thing sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and you should run as fast as you can.  I find comments about sex trafficking in the nineties quite interesting, especially from those who say they had no idea because as a uni student in the late 80' and early 90's we knew to avoid those jobs where you went to a 'warehouse' for an interview as they were probably for porno and these types of things. So yes, it was definitely around.  And those 'job advertisements' were everywhere. 

Crimson at Cape May was an enjoyable read, and if you love the paranormal as well as interesting characters, then this is for you. Personally, I prefer something a bit more gritty, but the themes running through this book were quite serious; they were also presented in a way that were not overly graphic or biased, but are definitely something that are relevant in today's world.  I did find that Derrell's character development was a bit inconsistent, and I had a problem with the whole cellphone thing in this book, not his purchase of it, but his use as he would definitely not have been able to make a call in the backwoods in 1999 as cell reception during that time was terrible. I was also not impressed with who the villain was in this book as I tend to need legitimate motivations and reasons and that was lacking in my estimation.  However, if you are looking for a book that is a mix of paranormal and mystery, and like deeper themes that aren't too explicit, then this book is definitely for you. 

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Review: The House on Biscayne Bay by Chanel Cleeton

by Chanel Cleeton
Release Date: April 2, 2024
2024 Berkley
Ebook ARC; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593440513
Audiobook: B0CBQR39L7
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Gothic / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.75 / 5 Stars

With the Great War finally behind them, thousands of civilians and business moguls alike flock to South Florida with their sights set on making a fortune. When wealthy industrialist Robert Barnes and his wife, Anna, build Marbrisa, a glamorous estate on Biscayne Bay, they become the toast of the newly burgeoning society. Anna and Robert appear to have it all, but in a town like Miami, appearances can be deceiving, and one scandal can change everything.

Years later following the tragic death of her parents in Havana, Carmen Acosta journeys to Marbrisa, the grand home of her estranged older sister, Carolina, and her husband, Asher Wyatt. On the surface, the gilded estate looks like paradise, but Carmen quickly learns that nothing at Marbrisa is as it seems. The house has a treacherous legacy, and Carmen’s own life is soon in jeopardy . . . unless she can unravel the secrets buried beneath the mansion’s facade and stop history from repeating itself.

My Thoughts
The House on Biscayne Bay has many of the elements that I love in a gothic historical mystery: an old eerie house with a secret, mysterious past; a housekeeper who knows more than she lets on; characters who don't get along, but seem to harbour these big secrets; a dual timeline; and an atmosphere that lends itself well to gothic literature. Yet, despite all of these elements, the story struggles from pacing issues and poor character development, and while I enjoyed the overall story, I just couldn't empathize with the characters and their plights.

The story is told in a dual timeline format, Anna from 1919 and Carmen from 1941. I actually preferred Carmen's storyline more as I found Anna to be a bit annoying. I understand that a lot of women from that time period do not have a lot of knowledge of their husband's business affairs, but she seemed especially oblivious to everything that was happening around her. Carmen had a bit more sass to her, and I liked that she went searching for answers when she started to suspect something was wrong. However, there was little depth to any of the characters and it was difficult to track their motivations or their feelings or to even care why they did what they did.  Carmen and her sister did not get along at all, and other than there being an age difference and Carmen wanting to tag along after her big sister all the time, there was little explanation given for the gulf between them other than petty jealousies so it was hard to muster any empathy for either of them, especially Carolina. 

Probably the strongest part of this book was the cohesiveness between the dual timelines and the merging of the stories. I tend to have ambivalent feelings about dual timelines, but these ones were so close together that there didn't seem to be much difference between them.  The sense of atmosphere and mystery were definitely there and there is nothing like a big house and a lush estate by the water to add eeriness to a story.  However, the timing and pacing were off and it took a long time to get to the crux of the story. I could see the twist coming a mile away and I was hoping it wouldn't go there, but it did. And while everything wrapped up nicely, I thought it was a bit forced. It's hard to say more without giving anything away, but let's just say, I didn't feel it. 

The House on Biscayne Bay had a lot going for it, but suffered from pacing issues and was really slow to get off the ground. Because of the lack of depth in the characters, I couldn't empathize with anyone as I didn't connect with their feelings or motivations. However, if you like historical fiction with a bit of a mystery and like slower mysteries, this one may be for you.