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!

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 LITTLE COMFORT

Hello, hello!  Welcome to the last Wednesday of August.  That means it’s time for another book review.  This month, I’ll be looking at Edwin Hill’s debut novel, Little Comfort.  It came out on August 28th.  It’s a new cozy mystery series that I actually forgot I had requested from NetGalley until I received the approval notice.  I must thank them and Kensington Books, the publisher, for sending me an Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Without further ado, let’s get to it.

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A nice, simple cover.  But I don’t remember a bird in the story.

Little Comfort introduces us to Hester Thursby.  She lives with her partner (but refuses to marry him) in Boston, though she maintains a separate apartment area above his for when she needs time alone.  They have recently been saddled with taking care of his niece because his sister/Hester’s best friend took off.  So, Hester took some time off work until they could find a new life rhythm.  When things seem to be quieting down, a woman contacts Hester and asks her to track down the woman’s brother.  Since finding people had been Hester’s side business for a while, she agreed.  From there, things went very wrong.

This book was a little different from the cozies I’ve been reading because it shifted POVs.  We start out with Hester (an interesting character), then jump to Sam, Gabe, and a couple of other characters (all interesting in their own right).  The story shuffles back and forth around them.  I, personally, like that method.  I mean, following one character throughout the whole book as she figures out the crime is fine, but it wouldn’t have worked here.  This way, we not only get to figure out what’s going on, but we get better insight into the minds of the bad people.  The story isn’t really about whodunit, but how they ended up in that position and why they chose to do what they did.  That’s why the rotating POV works here.

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Who doesn’t love being in the mind of a sociopath every now and again?

As far as the plot itself goes, there are plenty of twists and turns to keep it intriguing.  My only complaint would be that the climax felt a little rushed.  Normally, I’m all for a quick “end it while cutting off the villain’s monologue” type thing, but considering the person who actually ends it, I wanted more.  More struggle, more explanation, more conniving on the bad guy’s part.  I wanted the niece to have a bigger part because I didn’t believe the guy would just let her loose.  That whole scene just felt too quick and easy.  Granted, there’s some stuff after the climax that kind of makes up for it, but I expected a little more.

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Pretty much.

The writing was a little shaky at times.  A lot of it was tight and pulled me along.  But sometimes, especially in the beginning, there was a lot of focus on tits.  Like, a lot.  It was borderline comical/annoying.  Don’t get me wrong, tits are great, but it felt like the author was overcompensating for something and I couldn’t decide what.  Mostly, though, things either went along at a really nice pace or they went too fast.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Little Comfort enough that I’ll look for future Hester Thursby books.  Hester was a great character and I’m interested to see what happens with the kid and the partner.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  My issues with the story weren’t big and could be attributed to the fact that it’s the first book.  If you’re into these kinds of stories, give it a shot.  However, I’d say if you’re legit sensitive to certain kinds of topics or just have a tendency to say things need “trigger warnings,” this book probably isn’t for you.

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.

Thoughts On THE WIFE BETWEEN US

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday in January, which means it’s time for another book review.  This time, I decided to go for something I wouldn’t usually pick up.  It’s called The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, and was released on January 9th.  It received a lot of hype and a friend recommended it to me as she had also been able to pick up an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC).  Yes, I got another 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.  Let’s get to the reason you’re here now!

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The Wife Between Us is a domestic suspense novel that follows a woman, Vanessa, as she stalks her ex-husband’s (Richard’s) new fiancé and tries to prevent their marriage.  Sounds simple enough, right?  It’s not.  The blurb on the book tells us all the things we’re supposed to assume as we’re reading, then tells us to assume nothing.  That was a huge red flag for me, basically saying “hey this book is going to be convoluted and annoying!”  But I chose to read it anyway.

I admit that by the end of Part One, I was really disappointed.  I had figured out the big reveal within the first few chapters and kept telling myself I couldn’t have guessed it that easily.  The book promised twists and turns and unimaginable things.  So, when I turned out to be on the right track, the book became less fun, because the “aha” moments became “yeah, and?” moments.  Part Two was a little better with the twists, but it was still pretty easy to decipher what was going to happen.  Though, I admit that the last big reveal was something I didn’t see coming.  But at that point, I had stopped caring about the characters I was supposed to care about.  I mostly wanted to know what was going on with Richard and his sister (the one connection the authors didn’t over-explain).  That was the creepiest relationship in the whole book.

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Pretty sure that was the face I was making the whole time.

Even though I mostly figured things out ahead of time, I admit that it was a fun, quick read.  The writing style was able to draw me in and the conversational tone allowed me to stop and let the narrator know she was being an idiot (yes, I talk to other people’s characters too) without interrupting my reading flow.  So, I’m not say it was bad, just predictable.

The major thing that I didn’t care for about the book was that it felt like two different stories mashed together.  It was as if one author wanted to write about a woman escaping an abusive relationship while trying to prevent her ex from abusing anyone else (a good premise), and the other author wanted to write about a woman whose mistakes in college haunted her the rest of her life (another good premise).  But, instead of trimming things away to make a nice, cohesive story, they just stuck everything together and hoped it worked.  Most of the time, it was okay, but there were parts that I kept looking at and asking myself what the point was.

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Not an uncommon reaction while reading this.

Ultimately, The Wife Between Us was an okay book.  I’m not upset I read it or anything, but I’m not going to rush out and look for everything else by these two authors.  It simply wasn’t my cup of tea for the reasons listed here.

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Overall, I’d rate it a 3 out of 5.  If you’re into books like that, you will probably love it.  If you’re not, skipping it isn’t going to hurt your reading list.