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.

Thoughts On TWO GIRLS DOWN

Howdy, howdy!  Happy Halloween!  I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful evening filled with lots of candy (whether you trick or treat or just hide from the doorbell and watch scary movies).  It’s time for another book review.  For this week, I decided to take a look at Louisa Luna’s Two Girls Down.  It’s a mystery/thriller that was released in January by Doubleday.  I read it as a recommendation from some of the ladies in the book club I’m part of.  So, let’s get down to it.

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Decent cover.

Two Girls Down revolves around the disappearance of two girls (surprised yet?), Kylie (10) and Bailey (8).  Alice Vega, a kind of professional child finder, comes all the way across the country at the family’s behest when the police begin to prove useless.  She teams up with ex-cop/current PI, Max “Cap” Caplan.  They both have issues of their own to work through while conducting a search with few leads.  Basically, it’s one of your average mystery scenarios.

Let’s start at the beginning.  We’re in Jamie Brandt’s (the mother’s) head during the first chapter, which was kind of neat.  I was looking forward to seeing her progress through the story and seeing how she dealt with everything.  But nope.  We jump from her to a story that flops back and forth between Vega and Cap.  That would have been fine, but it made the opening chapter feel more like a prologue.  Why did I even bother reading that part?  Yes, it set up the case.  But that was just as easily done throughout the rest of the story.  I just felt kind of robbed that we never got to go back in Jamie’s head.

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Me when I realized we weren’t going back to the initial POV at any point.

The characters were all pretty cool.  Cap was jaded yet optimistic, which was an odd combo, but it worked.  Vega had a lot of eccentricities and some emotional disconnect.  I kind of wondered if she was supposed to be on the autism spectrum, but it wasn’t addressed in the story, so who knows.  Nell (Cap’s daughter) was a little too good to be true.  And the bad people were pretty damn creepy.  Though I will say that a lot of Vega’s characterization made the story feel like the second or third book in a series.  Like I was supposed to understand references to her past cases.  But it’s the first (only?) book, so it was super disconcerting.

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Me throughout the book.

The plot was slow and repetitive, which isn’t as uncommon in mysteries as it should be.  I didn’t particularly understand the bad guy’s partner, but I know people like that exist.  It took a hard turn towards gritty when everything pointed towards pedophilia (not really a spoiler since the possibility is there all along).  My only issue was that the bad guy’s preferred age range seemed to vary a lot.  Pedophiles usually stick to a pretty limited age range, so it made me wonder if something else was going on.  Apparently not.

Ultimately, I had problems with Two Girls Down.  It left me unsatisfied.  I don’t need a happy ending, but the one I got was lukewarm and just kind of there.  Some people loved the book.  I wasn’t one of them.

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Overall, I gave it two stars.  It was okay, but not something I’ll go out of my way to get sequels of, should they come out.  If you like average mysteries, give it a shot.  If you’re more into fast-paced thrillers with something new on every other page, skip this one.

Thoughts On SHATTERED MIRROR

Hello, hello!  It’s that time again.  Time for another book review!  I got another Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from NetGalley, so I must thank them and St. Martin’s Press for allowing me access to the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  This month, I requested access to Shattered Mirror (An Eve Duncan novel) by Iris Johansen, which was released on the 24th (yesterday).  It’s a thriller/mystery; genres I seem to be drawn to lately.  What I didn’t realize when I requested the book was that it’s the 23rd in a series.  That means I’m coming into a bunch of established characters and relationships that I know nothing about, which is always a little difficult no matter how well the author explains existing situations.  With that in mind, I’ll get into the review now.

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Interesting cover.

Shattered Mirror opens on a lake cottage where Eve Duncan (one of the top forensic sculptors in the world), her husband Joe Quinn (ex-SEAL, current cop, and who knows what else), and their six-year-old son Michael (basically a wise old man in a kid’s body with a touch of ESP or something) live.  The scene is serene until a gold box containing a burnt skull and a two-sided mirror shows up in the passenger’s seat of their jeep.  As Eve starts the reconstruction, she and her family are drawn into a psychopath’s trap.  Throw in some family members that were sort of adopted along the way (Cara, an eighteen-year-old violin prodigy with a tragic past, and Jock, a retired assassin) and a Russian mafia leader (Cara’s grandfather, Kaskov), and things get volatile pretty quickly.

First, let’s talk about the plot.  It’s a pretty standard revenge plot, and a portion of the story is from the psychopath’s (Norwalk’s) perspective, which I liked.  The story actually starts in his POV, which threw me a bit because I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to know him from previous books or not.  When I figured out what was going on, that it was going to be told from multiple points of view, I settled into the rhythm quite nicely.  In the end, I would describe it as Criminal Minds and Bones meets *insert any ‘over-the-top action film with lots of explosions and a hero who fails to take the kill shot just to extend the action’ of your choice*.  In other words, it’s fun as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

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We’ve all seen this scene in action flicks, the kitty just does it better.

Then, there were the characters.  I actually found myself focused on Cara and Jock more than on Eve and her immediate family.  You have this young girl who was saved as a child by this super attractive ex-assassin with a Scottish accent and they’ve been best friends ever since.  Well, now she’s older and totally in love with him.  Except he’s kind of a manipulative dick.  I mean, the guy ignored her for three months then showed up and expected her to drop everything and talk to him because he was ready to talk.  And she did.  The mysterious bad boy routine would probably have intrigued me when I was younger, but now I just keep hoping she runs away from that crap (spoiler: she doesn’t).  And, if I’m being honest, all the men in this book were jerks to some extent.  On the flip side, the women felt a little flat until the last third of the book when they seemed to finally come alive.  Maybe if I had read the series from the beginning, I would feel different, but coming in at this point left a lot to be desired on the character front.

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Except Cara is too sweet to be sarcastic with Jock.

As far as the writing goes, I enjoyed it.  Johansen introduces the characters and gives new readers all of the pertinent information without it feeling heavy handed or like an infodump.  She’s wonderful at manipulating the pace through sentence structure (something I need to study and work on).  I found myself reading this book like a writer and noticing useful techniques that I can try out later.  I also really liked how she wove a supernatural thread through the story by giving Michael and Eve a kind of spiritual connection.  It didn’t feel awkward or forced like those things sometimes do.

Ultimately, it’s not my favorite series and, since I didn’t connect to the characters, I don’t really have any desire to hunt down book one to start there.  But it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

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Overall, I would give it three stars.  It’s kind of corny and over-the-top, which was fun, but the characters just didn’t draw me in.  If you like thrillers and mysteries, give it a shot.  If not, you’re not missing anything spectacular.