Thoughts on BLACK ROCK BAY

Hello, hello!  Tomorrow is Halloween, so guess what that makes this post!  Yup.  Welcome to October’s book review.  This month, I decided to try something a little darker, set on an island off of Maine.  It’s called Black Rock Bay and it’s by Brianna Labuskes.  It was released yesterday (October 29th), so of course I got an ARC.  Therefore, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher, Thomas and Mercer (an imprint of Amazon Publishing), for giving me access to the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, let’s get onto the fun part.

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A simple cover that actually has something to do with the story.

Black Rock Bay follows Mia and her newest detective partner, Izzy, as they get sent to Mia’s old home in order to investigate a suspicious death.  It’s an unusual assignment since they handle cold cases, but the islanders are secretive and only warm up to their own.  Granted, Mia hasn’t been back in fifteen years due to a mysterious suicide attempt gone wrong, but her boss hopes being born and raised there will earn her some good will.  As Mia and Izzy dig into the suspicious death, they uncover something far more sinister than the average murder and it takes Mia right back to the time of her life she most wants to forget.

Sounds cool, right?  And it is, to a point.  I think I’m just going to jump right into my issues with the story.  The plot is interesting and plausible, but at the end there are a few loose ends that are never adequately explained.  Normally, this wouldn’t be so bad, but it affects the believability of key parts of the story.  For instance, why is Ellen so easily manipulated?  Yes, people in trouble do weird things, but we never really get to know her motivation which makes her flat and seem like she was added specifically as a tool for the baddie.  But my biggest issue was what Sammy did.  He had absolutely no legitimate reason for that.  And the excuse we get was a vague mention that the baddie might have had something on him.  It was a really weak spot that made the whole story less believable.  And it was a twist that was completely unnecessary.  Even the author couldn’t come up with a better explanation than “psychopaths do things for shits and giggles.”  Like, yeah, but this is fiction.  There needs to be a reason for all the major plot points or things start to fall apart.

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Something all writers should ask themselves.

That being said, I really liked the core characters.  Mia was strong and a good lead.  She had her own issues to face, but fought against them until she absolutely had to deal with them.  Izzy was a nice foil, but she could have been more.  Lacey was a fun character that was a little hard to read.  And Cash was a bit neurotic.  I’m not entirely convinced he was supposed to be, but it made him more interesting.  The whole reclusive islander thing worked really well.  Izzy’s ostracization was entirely believable.  No one was overtly rude to her, but they effectively shut her out.  That dynamic was probably my favorite part of this book.  And Izzy breaking down barriers with some of the islanders was artfully done.

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Me as I was trying to figure out who I was supposed to be in the mind of: Mia or Izzy?

The writing itself flowed nicely and made for an easy read.  It was interesting how the point of view swapped back and forth between Mia and Izzy; however, the narrative voice never really changed enough to differentiate the two, so if I didn’t note who each chapter was focused on (it tells you at the beginning of each chapter), I admit I got confused.

Ultimately, I found Black Rock Bay to be so-so.  It’s not bad.  In fact, the beginning is pretty good.  But it doesn’t hold up.  It’s not something I’ll read again and it doesn’t make me want to hunt down other books by the author.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars.  Probably closer to 2.5 if I’m being completely honest.  It just didn’t work for me, but maybe you’ll like it.

Year-End Reading List

Hello, hello!  It’s the beginning of October and I have nothing useful to ramble about.  Confession: this year has been far less productive than I had hoped.  But I have been continually submitting despite not writing as regularly as I should.  I’ve written a few short pieces, am slowly revising one of my novels so I can start the agent hunt again, and have read pretty much every day that I wasn’t sick this year.  It’s nowhere near what I should have accomplished, but that’s life.  It’s my own fault.  I’ve decided that over the next three months, I will stop procrastinating and hit the revision as hard as I can, so that I can submit to agents again starting in January.  I will keep submitting my short pieces every Monday.  And I’ll keep reading, which brings me to the point of this post.  Here’s my planned year-end reading list in no particular order.

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As usual, I plan to read at least two books each month, one for my book reviews and one for fun.  I currently only have one of the book review choices picked out, so here is that one and my three “for fun” books.  I might try to squeeze a couple of others in if I have time.

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1. Black Rock Bay by Brianna Labuskes.  This will be October’s book review.  I was missing Maine and looking for something a little darker than a cozy, so I picked this one up from NetGalley.  Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads (where you can also find links to preorder it):

Detective Mia Hart never planned to return home. One terrifying summer night, Mia lost two of her closest friends to suicide. Scarred and broken, she fled St. Lucy’s, a small island off the coast of Maine.

Now fifteen years later, when the body of a journalist is fished out of the bay near St. Lucy’s cliffs, Mia is forced to help with the case—and face all she’s been running from. As she approaches the island, the wintery winds of Black Rock Bay usher Mia home again.

When Mia digs into the reporter’s death, she finds he left behind a written clue: It wasn’t suicide. Mia soon discovers it’s her own tragic past he was referring to. Now, as she tries to untangle a web of lies, Mia realizes that solving this case means becoming the next pawn in someone’s blood-chilling game of truth or die.

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2. The Missing Ones by Edwin Hill.  This is the second in his Hester Thursby mystery series.  I reviewed the first one here, and enjoyed it enough that I’m looking forward to this one.  It’s another one that seems to be on the darker side, but it actually falls in the cozy realm.  Also, I had no idea it was going to be set in Maine, so that’s just a bonus.  Here’s the GoodReads synopsis:

Hester Thursby has given up using her research skills to trace people who don’t want to be found. A traumatic case a few months ago unearthed a string of violent crimes, and left Hester riddled with self-doubt and guilt. Caring for a four-year-old is responsibility enough in a world filled with terrors Hester never could have imagined before.

Finisterre Island, off the coast of Maine, is ruggedly beautiful and remote—the kind of place tourists love to visit, though rarely for long. But not everyone who comes to the island is welcome. A dilapidated Victorian house has become home to a group of squatters and junkies, and strangers have a habit of bringing trouble with them. A young boy disappeared during the summer, and though he was found safely, the incident stirred suspicion among locals. Now another child is missing. Summoned to the island by a cryptic text, Hester discovers a community cleaning up from a devastating storm—and uncovers a murder.

Soon Hester begins to connect the crime and the missing children. And as she untangles the secrets at the center of the small community, she finds grudges and loyalties that run deep, poised to converge with a force that will once again shake her convictions about the very nature of right and wrong…

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3. The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss.  The third and final tale of the women in the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series.  I fell in love with them from book one.  What’s not to love about the daughters of a bunch of villains and madmen running around saving the day?  Here’s the GoodReads synopsis:

Life’s always an adventure for the Athena Club… especially when one of their own has been kidnapped! After their thrilling European escapades rescuing Lucinda van Helsing, Mary Jekyll and her friends return home to discover that their friend and kitchen maid Alice has vanished— and so has their friend and employer Sherlock Holmes!

As they race to find Alice and bring her home safely, they discover that Alice and Sherlock’s kidnapping are only one small part of a plot that threatens Queen Victoria, and the very future of the British Empire. Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine save their friends—and save the Empire? Find out in the final installment of the fantastic and memorable Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series.

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4. Wonton Terror by Vivien Chien.  It’s the fourth in her Noodle Shop Mystery series.  A true cozy series.  It’s just a fun bunch of books and I enjoy them.  Here’s the GoodReads synopsis:

The Asian community is kicking off summer with the return of its popular Cleveland Night Market festivities, and Lana Lee is excited to represent the Ho-Lee Noodle House booth with her favorite chef, Peter Huang. Lana is confident that the evening marks the beginning of a great season to come. Not only is she looking forward to the warm temperatures, but her birthday is only weeks away, her handsome boyfriend, Detective Adam Trudeau, is planning a romantic get-away. Life couldn’t be better.

But before she can get too accustomed to the idea of a carefree summer, an explosion involving a nearby food truck, Wonton on Wheels, kills one of the proprietors and injures several others in the nearby vicinity.

When the authorities discover that this was no accident, the family members of the dead man become the number-one suspects in a front-page murder story. Lana and her best friend, Megan Riley, fall back into detective mode. But as they uncover family secrets of abuse and angry costumers, Lana’s own family drama raises its head. Will Lana be able to juggle everything the universe is throwing at her, or has she jumped from the frying pan to the fire? 

What about you?  What’s on your year-end reading list?  Feel free to share your list here or on my social media pages!