Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review: Questions I Want to Ask You by Michelle Falkoff

Questions I Want to Ask You
by Michelle Falkoff
Release Date: May 29th 2018
2018 HarperTeen
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062680235
ASIN: B072BFJ5JK
Genre: Fiction / YA / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Patrick “Pack” Walsh may not know exactly where he’s going in life, but he’s happy where he is. He’s got a girlfriend who gets him. His single dad is his best friend. After graduation, he has a desk job lined up at the local crossfit gym, maybe he’ll even work his way up to trainer. He can’t see himself ever leaving the small town of Brooksby, MA. And he’s fine with that.

Then, on his eighteenth birthday, a letter from Pack’s mother changes everything.

Pack hits the road, searching for a mother he’s never known and a family he had no idea existed until now. His journey unearths questions about both of his parents that he never saw coming. And by the end of the summer, Pack has a whole different understanding of his past—and most importantly, where he wants his future to lead.


My Thoughts
Questions I Have to Ask You is quite different from what I was expecting, but that was quite fine with me as I enjoyed the exploration of Pack's personal demons and how he developed as a character quite a bit.  When I first picked this one up I thought it was going to be solely about Pack's search for his mother, but surprisingly, it became more a search for who he wants to be and how he got to be the way he currently is, questioning everything and anything around him, and I quite enjoyed the journey he took to get from point A to point B.

When I first met Pack, while I liked him, he was quite annoying as well.  He was very set in his ways, even at eighteen years old, with everything in his life planned out in front of him, including his girlfriend's life, and it was quite easy to tell that his girlfriend wasn't quite buying into his plan, thank goodness.  I would have thought less of her if she did.  Having spent a lot of his younger years being teased because he was fat, he decided to change his life by following an extremely strict Paleo diet and fitness regime, something his girlfriend also followed.  However, the pendulum swings both ways, and while he had no control with his eating habits early in his life, his control of his eating habits is pretty much borderline obsessive.  Trust me, I get the lifestyle as I follow a pretty strict Keto diet myself due to my gluten intolerance, but I don't allow my life to be ruled by my eating habits and will indulge once in a while without worrying if I'll develop eating issues.  I also think we should be very careful about using the diet as an excuse however, and looking at the real reason why Pack was so obsessed with his diet, as the Paleo diet really has nothing to do with his issues, it's just something he chose to use to help give himself some control and focus.  Pack is so uptight about reverting to old habits that he's wound up so tight he's forgotten to have fun and let loose once in a while and this is affecting his relationships; in fact, the only real relationship he has is with his girlfriend and even there, he wants to be in control of everything.  So, naturally, everything starts to fall apart for him and he has to learn to deal with life's curveballs.  And this is where I actually began to like Pack so much better as he grows and develops and tries new things, and realizes there is more to life than clearly set paths from which one can never.  As he begins to understand the lure of learning and curiosity, his character becomes so much more interesting, which made me want to learn more about him and where he was heading.  

While the letter from his mother set Pack on this learning curve, it was not really central to the plot; it was just a means of helping Pack realize what he may be missing from life and what he may want to do with his life, which I found interesting.  I felt pretty connected to the characters and thought they were all interesting in their own way. I really liked Maddie and thought she was quite intriguing, with a clear view on how things were and what she wanted; she didn't really let people push her around and was looking forward to leaving town and exploring the world as a university student. I remember how that felt and I was so glad she didn't cave into Pack's wishes and needs. On a different note, I'm not quite sure why the author skirted around the issue of actually using the word autistic with regards to Matt's sister though, but it was previous obvious.  Is there something wrong with actually labeling a character as autistic?  I feel like it made it look less authentic the way it was done, as if there was something wrong with it.  I don't know, but it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth.

Verdict
Questions I Want to Ask You is a tale about relationships, growing up, self-discovery, and friendship. It's about realizing you are more than you thought, but you also have a lot of things to learn about yourself as you navigate the world outside of high school.  And while we never stop learning and growing, I've always felt that I learned the most about who I was and who I wanted to be while I was at university, and while the lessons were sometimes painful to learn, they were definitely necessary.  This novel shows some of that learning curve for Pack as he navigates the world after high school, learning more about himself, and learning to open himself up to possibilities he never imagined for himself.  Written with an interesting sub-story about his mother, this novel is sure to please anyone interested in a tale about friendship and growing up.
Monday, May 14, 2018

Review: Jinxed by Thommy Hutson

Jinxed by Thommy Hutson Tour Banner

Jinxed

by Thommy Hutson

on Tour March 12 - May 11, 2018

Synopsis:

Jinxed by Thommy Hutson
"Thommy Hutson is the ultimate authority in nostalgia-driven storytelling."
~ Clive Barker, Bestselling Author of Books of Blood and The Thief of Always

High School Can Be a Real Killer

Break a mirror
Walk under a ladder
Step on a crack

Innocent childhood superstitions …

But someone at the secluded Trask Academy of Performing Arts is taking things one deadly step further when the campus is rocked with the deaths of some of its star students.

Layna Curtis, a talented, popular senior, soon realizes that the seemingly random, accidental deaths of her friends aren’t random—or accidents—at all. Someone has taken the childhood games too far, using the idea of superstitions to dispose of their classmates. As Layna tries to convince people of her theory, she uncovers the terrifying notion that each escalating, gruesome murder leads closer to its final victim: her.

Will Layna’s opening night also be her final bow?

Book Details:

Genre: YA HORROR/THRILLER
Published by: Vesuvian Books
Publication Date: March 13th 2018
Number of Pages: 244
ISBN: 978-1944109127
Series: This is the first in a new trilogy, each is a stand alone but with a teaser for the upcoming book you won't want to miss!!
Get Your Copy from: Amazon & Barnes & Noble! Plus add it on Goodreads!

My Thoughts
Jinxed is one of those books that intrigued me because of the concept. You've got a bunch of teenagers trapped on an island with haunted ghost story swirling around them, a nice atmosphere created by thunder and lightning storms and descriptions of eerie sounding buildings, and one by one they are being picked off by a killer.   What more could you ask for? Sounds so Agatha Christie or Scream. And then, for me, the whole effect was ruined by the addition of one line, the last line in the prologue, something I wish the author had left out as it effectively gave away the whole game in the story.

First of all, I do want to say that I did enjoy the story though and thought the death scenes were quite effective.  However, because I didn't really connect with any of the characters, while the death scenes were interesting in the way the characters tried to escape and flee, I was disconnected from what happened and that didn't sit well with me. Death scenes should resonate with people, and I really felt like even the other characters were disconnected from what happened.  I think the author was maybe trying to show they were in shock but it didn't come across that way and it left me a bit discombobulated, wondering about the exact nature of the friendship between these people.  And some of the comments between them weren't always very nice either.  It's a murder-mystery, I get it, and I wasn't necessarily looking for major character development, but when a friend of yours dies, don't you expect to see a bit more emotion amongst your friends?  And when there was finally some drama, what do we get? Teen love triangle - no thanks, not for me.  It just didn't fit in, especially after a great death scene.  Left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

That being said, the murder scenes were probably my favourite part of the book, away from the silly teen drama. And you get to experience the deaths at different POVs. If you don't really like these things, then you shouldn't be reading horror, it is what it is.  And all I could picture was the movie Scream and how this book could be made into a cult movie like that one, with the cheesy cliches and comments, but put together somehow all work.   The pace was good, the action was good, and you've got the girl leaving her room to check on scary noises thing happening which makes you want to shake your head and shout at her, like you would at the movies if you were watching. Unfortunately, some of this campy stuff would come out better in a movie than in a book and I had to visualize it in order to get through it. I really think the author and I have an affinity for the same horror movies, but sometimes what works in movies doesn't quite come across the same in books. And like I said, while none of the characters really stood out and made an impression, none of them were horrible either; I just didn't really care who lived and who died. 

Which leaves me with the actual reason and the ending for all this gore.  The actual ending was good, and although I was expecting something to happen, it didn't quite happen the way I thought, which is good.  If you are a fan of horror though, you will find this a bit predictable and cheesy, the reason for all this gore being rather the usual stuff, nothing overly original. 

Verdict
Jinxed definitely had an interesting concept that would draw many people to it, especially those who love slashers and horror films.  People love stories about superstitions and things like that, but I felt the story could have been better and related better.  Some things just didn't make sense.  Some of the petty drama surrounding the students made them feel insincere, immature, and selfish, and really hard to connect with, especially in a novel where you don't really expect a lot of character development to begin with in the first place, as it's about the horror.  But you do want to feel empathy for the characters when they die.  It's very clear that Hutson knows his horror movies extremely well, and I would love to see him weave his magic and turn this into a film or something as I think it would be very good as it has all the elements there; it just didn't quite work in a novel. And would I be willing to read the next book in the trilogy? Oh, definitely. Just for the death scenes alone. What can I say? I love horror, both on and off the screen.

Thommy HutsonAuthor Bio:
Born and raised in Upstate New York, Thommy graduated from UCLA and launched his career co-writing the story for the Warner Bros. animated hit SCOOBY-DOO IN WHERE’S MY MUMMY? He followed that with co-writing the concept and additional material for CHILL OUT, SCOOBY-DOO!
His career then took a thrilling turn when he wrote and produced several definitive genre film retrospectives for television and home entertainment: SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY, MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD and HIS NAME WAS JASON: 30 YEARS OF FRIDAY THE 13th.
He was also a staff writer on Hulu’s daily web series “The Morning After,” a smart, witty, pop culture program aimed at getting viewers up-to-date on the latest entertainment news and celebrity interviews.
Thommy also produced the critically acclaimed feature THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH, an insightful relationship drama starring Lea Thompson and John Shea. He also produced DREAMWORLD, a quirky, romantic dramedy.
He co-wrote and produced ANIMAL for Chiller Films and Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films. The project debuted in iTunes’ top ten horror films (reaching #1) and became the network’s highest-rated original movie.
Continuing his passion for uncovering the stories behind the story, he went on to produce CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th, which is the most comprehensive look at the popular film franchise.
As an author Thommy crafted a limited-edition coffee table book detailing the making and legacy of Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A trade version distributed by Simon & Schuster reached number one in Amazon.com’s Movie History & Criticism category. He also has a deal with Vesuvian Media to write a YA thriller trilogy with the first book due out spring 2017.
He produced and made his feature directorial debut with THE ID, an independent psychological drama/thriller. Filmmaker Magazine stated it was “a deeply unsettling thriller that’s as moving as it is frightening…with skillful, provocative direction that has echoes of early Polanski.”
Most recently, Thommy wrote the screenplay for CineTel Films’ supernatural horror film TRUTH OR DARE. He is also directing, writing and producing a documentary with Clive Barker’s Seraphim Films in addition to developing other film and television properties with the company.
As an author, he is currently writing another book that definitively details the history, making and legacy of another fan-favorite genre film from the 1980s.
A member of the Producers Guild of America, Thommy continues to develop unique, compelling and provocative projects across multiple genres for film, television, publishing, and home entertainment through his company Hutson Ranch Media.

Catch Up With Thommy Hutson On thommyhutson.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Review: The Queen's Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

The Queen's Poisoner (Kingfountain, Book #1)
by Jeff Wheeler
Release Date: April 1st 2016
2016 47North
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503953314
ASIN: B013UVNZ2K
Genere: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.

Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth—through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.


My Thoughts
The Queen's Poisoner is the first book int he Kingfountain Trilogy and really lays down the foundation of the story from the world-building, to the political intrigues, to the characters and their many good qualities and flaws.  It was somewhat different from preview books by this author but that's one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much as it was different.  And while it did draw a lot on the War of the Roses and King Richard 11, freely admitted by the author himself, it was definitely not a retelling of that story, but its own unique story.

The main character eight-year-old Owen, thrust into the political intrigues because of his family, who must survive court the court and all its challenges when he is taken from his family as a hostage by the king.  Forced to learn very quickly whom to trust and whom not to, he learns to surround himself with people who are stealthy and can help him win the game.  He learns to make alliances, but also learns when to keep things to himself and when to give up important information in order to help his cause.  It's an interesting thing to read something from the perspective of an eight-year-old as you are left trying to figure out the political machinations from the bits and pieces that an eight-year-old would have understood rather than get the whole picture right away.  And everything is definitely not as it seems, with fine lines drawn between good and bad, and every character seeming to cross that line from time to time in order to do what they must to keep a kingdom running.  Basically, this story is about the characters, not about the magic, and I am curious as to how it will all play out in future books.  

The magic of the Fountain is hinted at, but in no way dominates this book; as I mentioned before, this book is about the development of the characters and is more plot-driven than magic-driven.  I think what it shows the reader is that kings and nobles must lead their countries without the use of magical power; there are so many other powers out there that are just as strong and just as useful and how you use them is what makes you powerful.  It was definitely an interesting thought.  For someone who loves magic in books, I was quite happy for magic to take a back seat as it worked in this book quite well.  Mancini, the Espion, has also developed into a favourite character of mine; he is so different from what I would expect from a spy and I really enjoyed his personality.  However, I imagine he would be quite deadly although I have yet to really see that aspect of his personality at this point and look forward to seeing how his character develops.

Verdict
The Queen's Poisoner is well-written and enjoyable, and I have to say it, fairly clean in that the graphic violence of other fantasy novels is not present in this one.  Sometimes it's just nice to read a good story without all the torture and graphic war scenes in every chapter, you know?  However, the story is still good and interesting, and I am invested in the characters.  Looking forward to reading the next book in this trilogy, The Thief's Daughter.
Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review: The Study of Silence by Malia Zaidi

The Study of Silence (Lady Evelyn Mystery #3)
by Malia Zaidi
Release Date: February 27th 2018
2018 Bookbaby
Ebook Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-1543916384
ASIN: B077Y71C67
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Pump up Your Book

3.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
 Lady Evelyn Carlisle has returned home to England, where she is completing her degree at St. Hugh's, a women's college in Oxford. Her days are spent poring over ancient texts and rushing to tutorials. All is well until a fateful morning, when her peaceful student life is turned on its head. Stumbling upon the gruesome killing of someone she thought she knew, Evelyn is plunged into a murder investigation once more, much to the chagrin of her friends and family, as well as the intriguing Detective Lucas Stanton. The dreaming spires of Oxford begin to appear decidedly less romantic as she gathers clues, and learns far more than she ever wished to know about the darkness lurking beyond the polished veneer. Can she solve the crime before the killer strikes once more, this time to Evelyn's own detriment?

My Thoughts
The Study in Silence is the third book in the Lady Evelyn mystery series, and while the first two books in this series were amazing, I have to admit that this entry was somewhat unsatisfying.  I really felt like Lady Evelyn spent way too much time thinking about her life and what was happening around her, slowing the story down to the point where I actually started flipping through the pages to get to the story.  And while I really enjoy Lady Evelyn, and like her thoughts about independence, her actions in this one make her seem foolish and naive.  

In this installment, Lady Evelyn has returned to England after spending time in France and Crete and seemed to be adjusting to life back at home. She has been working hard on finishing her degree in classical studies and enjoys working with the people around her. And while a wealthy woman from that time period would probably not be living on her own at Oxford, it did fit quite well into the story so I just went with it and enjoyed it as it was.  Evelyn was an unusual woman for that time period anyways, and I did enjoy her spirit and her independence.  I also really liked how she stood up for her friends and put others in place who were a bit more selfish.  It was kind of interesting to see Evelyn go from being really nice to biting all in one conversation, all within the strict bounds of society.  I also liked the little nuances she mentioned about her upbringing and how if she was a proper young lady, she would have been doing this or doing that, as well as her discomfiture when having to use a knife and fork to eat a meal with which she was having trouble.  All little things described in such a way to explain strict societal rules from which she was trying to break.  I really feel this is where the strength of this novel lies, but this is also where I have a problem with this novel.

It is always interesting to learn more about the personal past of a beloved character as well as the secondary characters in a novel, but I really felt as if the author went too far in this one.  There is nothing wrong with introspection, but when half the book is spent in it, it gets tedious and monotonous, especially in a mystery novel, and really does take away from the overall feel of the novel.  I honestly felt like the author kind of lost track of the purpose of the novel trying to give voice to Evelyn's thoughts and lost the thread of where she was going.  Don't get me wrong, I loved learning more about Evelyn's family, adored her cousins and Daniel, and the other new characters introduced along the way, but also felt the author had a difficult time finding that fine line between mystery novel and women's lit.  It also made me want to throttle Evelyn by the end of the novel which I doubt is something the author wanted me to feel.  I think she was trying to show how difficult it was for a woman during this time period to be independent and make choices that would allow them to keep that independence.  But it didn't really work out that way for me.

When Evelyn goes to a professor's dinner party, little does she know that said professor will be found dead the next morning.  While the mystery is somewhat interesting, I really did have to stretch my concepts of believability.  Not on the part of the actions of the professor, but for the reasons why the murder was committed in the first place and by whom. I get that society viewed women very differently during that time period, and certain actions are definitely not seen the way back then as they are today, but something just felt off about the whole thing.  And a lot of it had to do with Evelyn's interest in the murder investigation as I just couldn't see why she was so interested in getting herself involved or why people would be interested in her involvement when she ddidn't really do much.  She was just one of the professor's students and had no real involvement in any of their lives.   And I know that while she was supposed to come off as interested and independent in these scenes, to me, she actually came off as a bit bullyish and annoying in her dealings with the Inspector, and yes, I did roll my eyes a few times. I couldn't help it.

Verdict
The Study of Silence is a well-written book that really touches upon a lot of issues during this era and women's rights, or lack thereof.  Her descriptions of 1920s Oxford are really great and I could picture myself there easily walking the streets or having a hot chocolate at one of stores.  I really like Lady Evelyn, but I thought the novel was somewhat too long and too much time was spent on her thoughts and turmoils which actually caused the novel to drag, making me wonder when we were going to get back to the mystery.  I highly recommend that readers pick up the first two in this series before reading this one; you will get some background information and a lot of fun. 
Saturday, March 24, 2018

Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly, Devious (Truly Devious #1)
by Maureen Johnson
Release Date: January 16th 2018
2018 HarperCollins
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062338051
ASIN: B07252X6ZH
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Young Adult
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. "A place" he said, "where learning is a game."

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

My Thoughts
Truly, Devious is the first book in a planned trilogy, and I really enjoyed it. I did go into it knowing about the trilogy and I think that helped as having read this author before I expected her to set up things slowly and build toward a climax.  What I wasn't sure of though, is whether this would be a standalone with a separate mystery in each story, including one thread that continues throughout all the books.  It became very apparent quite early on that it would be the latter case so I wasn't too worried about the mystery and just enjoyed the world-building.

First of all, I really liked the characters, including the secondary ones.  There were quite a few quirky ones, including one of Stevie's roommates, and I liked learning about them and the mysteries that surround them as you can't have a mystery novel without having characters with deep secrets.  Stevie is a true-crime aficionado and so am I so I could identify with her quirks quite easily as well as her interest in everything that was happening around her.  I could also understand her fascinating with the crime that took place at the academy in the 30's and how it would draw her to study at a place like that. I would have been poking my nose into as many places as I could have within the first couple of days as well as looking for archives and other materials to get my hands on. 

The pacing in the story is good, and while some people may find it a bit slow, I liked the building up of tension and events, knowing that more would come in future books.  I tend to have this thing for boarding school thrillers and although it didn't have a supernatural element in it that I also love, there were enough secrets and interactions to keep my happy.  The narrative does switch back and forth from the present to the past, the past one from differing points of view as well, but it was done quite seamlessly that it flowed nicely and didn't really interrupt the present-day narrative.  It also helped give insight into the current mystery if you paid attention. 

Verdict
Truly Devious is a solid book overall and I am looking forward to continuing Stevie's adventures in the next book (The Vanishing Stair). And while the ending did not clear up the mystery, and I'm still not sure what I think about certain revelations, I did expect it to end somewhat this way so I wasn't expecting any great revelations at the end.  I do think that mentality helped though as some people wanted closure on their mystery and weren't happy with the ending.  But not me.!!  If you prefer books that have neatly wrapped-up endings then I do not recommend this one (and I would also stay from Karen Marie Moning books as well if you do); however, if you like suspense and expectation, with a nicely written story, with some cheeky nods to past mystery writers, then this one is for you.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Review: As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

As Bright As Heaven
by Susan Meissner
Release Date: February 6th 2018
2018 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 387 Pages
ISBN: 978-0399585968
ASIN: B072HS2J83
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters--Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa--a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without--and what they are willing to do about it.


My Thoughts
As Bright as Heaven is the poignant story of a family poised at the end of the Great War, a time of promise and hope, until a deadly disease, the Spanish Flu, strikes with determination and deadliness, causing the Bright family to re-evaluate their priorities and their dreams.  As a history teacher with a fascination for this time period, I was enveloped into this time period by some great descriptive writing and could feel the pain and hope that people experienced during this time period.

First of all, the story began on quite a sombre note as the family was dealing with the tragedy of dealing with the death of their baby brother at just a couple of months of age.  Needing to get away, Pauline Bright convinced her husband to finally accept his uncle's proposal to live in Philadelphia and become the heir to his business.  Filled with hope, they never would have guessed that Philadelphia would have been one of the hardest hit cities during the Spanish flu epidemic, and considering that Thomas' uncle owns what is considered an early form of a funeral home, would be right and center to the pain and suffering of Philadelphia's people.  I was actually quite fascinated by the business as I never really gave the matter much consideration before, especially as to how the business must have started and how the visitation idea began.  It was also a really neat idea for the epidemic to literally come right to the Brights' door, so to speak.

The story is told in alternating POVs and I didn't mind this in the least.  I didn't really enjoy Willa's POV in the beginning as she was only six years old and her story was kind of boring, but definitely thought the rest of them were quite interesting.  There was Pauline, the mother who was still dealing with her grief and a new life in Philadelphia, Maggie, the middle sister who was quite a spitfire, and Evie, the brilliant one who wanted to be a doctor.  The author definitely didn't gloss over how difficult life was during the last year of the Great War and how traumatizing it was for the men when they returned.  I liked the author's descriptions of the flu and the way it just crept in on you and how it must have caught the city unawares and how unprepared everyone must have been.  It made made me think how unprepared we would be today for such a thing if it ever hit again, and how devastating it would be.  Even after reading this, and reading about the hundreds of bodies piled up in the streets and outside the doors to the funeral home, I don't think we have any idea how bad it really was.  Over 50 million people died during this epidemic, and even though I teach this to students, the scope of it still astounds me. 

The only thing that jarred with me a little bit was Evie's marriage; it just seemed to happen so fast and I'm not sure I agreed with it, even if I understood it.  I won't give away any details other than this so you'll just have to read it for yourself to see what I mean.  Even the author questions Evie's decision through other characters, which I liked.  I am probably being a bit judgmental here, but it is hard not to be; given the time period and what these people survived, I can definitely understand the mentality of not waiting for your happiness, but taking it as it comes.

Verdict
As Bright as Heaven is an interesting story told in the midst of the devastating Spanish flu and gives an insight as to how difficult this time period was for those who lived through it.  It is also a tale of hope though, a tale of spirit and energy, that humans can survive devastation and rise above it.  I really enjoyed this author's writing style and her descriptions made you feel like you were experiencing things as if you were there.  It is definitely a book about how the human spirit can triumph even in the midst of tragedy.
Saturday, March 10, 2018

Review: A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell, #3)
by Deanna Raybourn
Release Date: January 16th 2018
2018 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451476173
ASIN: B071RJPG32
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. 

His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.


But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. 


Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .


My Thoughts
A Treacherous Curse is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell series, and I enjoyed this one as much as I enjoyed the others, which is quite a lot.  Veronica is a funny characters and I definitely enjoy her quick wit and unconventional ways. 

One of the things I really like about Deanna Raybourn books is the way the author has of delivering authentic historical facts and descriptions.  Her beautiful writing style makes you feel like you are really there and brings to life the time period so well.  I have no problems envisioning what things looked like, what the people wore, their lifestyles, and their behaviours.  And combine this with two very likable characters, Veronica and Stoker, and you have a recipe for success.  And it is definitely because of these two characters that I keep returning to these books; their lives and histories are being slowly revealed one book at a time, and I am truly enjoying the journey of discovery.  In this one, it is Stoker's life that is the front and center and I finally discovered the truth about his marriage and his ex-wife.  Finally!!  These two characters are just so much fun, plus the interactions between them are quite hilarious.  She writes amazingly witty dialogues and I love the banter that exists; Veronica is rather good at quick comebacks and I always look forward to seeing what she is going to say next. I like the suspense that is also created and I will freely admit I am rooting for them to get together, but I am not sure if that is going to ever happen.  That is the only frustrating thing about this series, having to wait and find out what is going to happen next with these characters. If there is anything that rubs me the wrong way, it would have to be Stoker and his continuous pity-party. I get that he was grievously wronged by his ex-wife, and Stoker could be quite annoying at times.  I am so glad he got over it by the end of the book.

The other characters introduced in this book were quite interesting as well, and I enjoyed the various twists and turns that came about just because of their personalities.  Even the villains were quite likable and this is definitely not the case in many books.  If there is any weakness in this book, it would have to be the overall mystery as it was quite easy to figure out as I felt the author focused a lot on Stoker and his past grievances.  I do have to look at the whole picture, and while the characters were delightful, the pacing was a bit slow and did have a tendency to drag on a bit. 

Verdict
A Treacherous Curse is another fun entry into the series.  You do not have to have read the first two books in the series in order to understand this one, which is nice.  As always, the characters and their interactions are always interesting, and I truly do like the witty dialogues that are in this.  While the mystery was touted to be about Egypt and Egyptology, there really was little in the way of Egypt in here, unless you count the many references to expeditions and trips to that country.  But the action didn't take place outside of England and I was a bit disappointed by that as I was hoping they would have a fun trip to Egypt and all that would have entailed.  However, with an interesting story line, this one is a nice entry for this series, and fans will be happy with the continuing adventures of Stoker and Veronica. 



Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Look For Her by Emily Winslow

Look For Her (Keene and Frohmann, Book #4)
by Emily Winslow
Release Date: February 13th 2018
2018 William Morrow Paperbacks
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062572585
ASIN: B071KT2S8M
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Partners in Crime Tours

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
Just outside of Cambridge, Lilling seems like an unassuming idyllic English village, but it’s home to a dark history. In 1976, a teenage girl named Annalise Wood disappeared while riding her bike home from school. Though her body was later discovered in a shallow grave, the culprit was never found. Decades later, Annalise maintains a perverse kind of celebrity in the small town, and is still the focus of grief, speculation, and for one young woman, a disturbing, escalating jealousy.

When DNA linked to the Annalise murder unexpectedly surfaces, cold case investigator Morris Keene realizes he may now have the chance of his career. Morris and his former partner, Chloe Frohmann, hope to finally solve this perplexing mystery, and bring closure to a traumatized community. But the new evidence that should be the simple solution instead undoes the case's only certainty: the buried body that had long ago been confidently identified as Annalise may be someone else entirely, and instead of answers, the investigators face only new puzzles.

Whose body was unearthed all those years ago, and what happened to the real Annalise? Could she have had a secret child? Is someone interfering with the investigation? And is there a link to a present-day drowning with eerie connections?


My Thoughts
Look for Her is one of those books I tried really hard to like, but unfortunately, it fell a bit flat for me. It really had an interesting premise, and I was looking forward to some twists and turns as well as some interesting detective work on a cold case file.  

The novel starts off in a unique way, with a transcript of a therapy session, and you really do wonder quite a bit at first what is going on, but the session also leaves you with this feeling of unease, as if something's really wrong; I really enjoyed it and thought it was a great beginning.  I really did enjoy the author's writing style at the beginning as well.  However, the beginning seemed to drag on and on, and when nothing really happened, it began to lose interest in the characters and the story, and there were times I actually had to re-read parts of it to keep me interested and knowledgeable. I think the author tried too hard with character development that she included too many plot twists.  And while I am not opposed to plot twists, ones that don't have any bearing on the story do get annoying, especially if just thrown in to create a red herring that doesn't quite jive with the rest of the story. It really felt towards the end that while the author had a clear vision as to how she ended the novel, that vision wasn't too clear on how to get there.

I tried really hard to like the characters, but except for Frohmann and Keene, none of them really left an impression on my that was favourable.  I even got annoyed with the two detectives; I have read all of the previous novels so I am familiar with their background stories, and I have to say something felt a bit off.  I typically really enjoy these detectives and their stories, but found myself particularly annoyed with Keene for some reason.  I know the author wrote these characters to be sketchy, and she certainly succeeded in that area as I found them to be creepy and weird.  I took a particular dislike to Anna for some reason. Because the novel is told in alternating viewpoints, I couldn't wait to get back to Keene's or Frohmann's POV as they seemed the most normal of the lot; the rest just creeped me out.  The different POVs certainly helped with the plot twists though, and things sort of picked up around the middle of the novel. I did however, enjoy reading the therapist's point of view as that was the most interesting.  She was still dealing with her grief over her first husband even though she is remarried, and I found that story line to be quite interesting. 

I do have to say that while I expected the ending, it happened in a way that was the best thing about this novel.  Kudos for a great ending!!

Verdict
Look for Her had a great premise and story line that didn't unfortunately live up to itself.  Sadly, the book lost its focus for me after the first few chapters, and I had a hard time refocusing on the story and the characters. What I did really find fascinating in the novel though, is the effect the media had on the murder and how it was able to keep alive the name of a girl who died for so many years.  And how so many people remembered the events because of the media.  I definitely thought about this as I was reading and how we remember certain people because of the media, and how others disappear into obscurity.  I'm not sure if I would recommend this book to people I know who love good police procedurals, but as always, I do think you should read it for yourself and decide what you think.