Review: Dark Circles (Caite Dolan-Leach)

Synopsis? Great! Title? I like it! Story? Not terrible, but convoluted and I don’t think yet another entry into NXIVM or other batshit cults was entirely necessary. I could forgive this if the book was better written, but it just didn’t do it for me. It is slow – VERY slow – to start, and while it does get some giddyup going about half-ish way through before barreling on to the end, some of the supposed secrets are just so weird and silly that by that point I just cared about getting through it, having decided that 2022 was going to be my year of zero DNFs.

Young actress gets shipped to rehab after doing bad-but-not-terrible things. While there, she stumbles on to a “this place ain’t right” vibe, and when she gets out, decides to become a podcaster (at least it wasn’t “become a youtuber”) in the true crime arena. First out of the box: the cultish rehab, where women have died under mysterious circumstances. By the way, Editor, whoever you are: leaving the ads in a printed representation of a spoken podcast? What in the world were you thinking?

The main character was really, really difficult for me to care about. At all. When the meat of the story got going, I managed to put her aside, but authors, please: you don’t have to have a character who is entirely unlikable. It’s very hard to care one way or the other whether they meet their goals or not, or if they die after ten pages or three hundred. There’s middle ground there. Find it.

Two out of five stars. Sorry, author. Not this one, not for me.

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Inconvenient Heiress (Jane Walsh)

Famine to feast. Friends to lovers. What more could one ask?

A tad more chemistry, perhaps, but it isn’t difficult to believe that two women, lifelong friends – one a painter, one unexpectedly in charge of all her siblings after their parents died – who have always been close would be able to inch that “close” gap to nothing.

Arabella is the artist, living with er brother and his very pregnant wife, painting and selling a bit here and there, and generally fine with life,if starting to chafe a bit at what else may be out there in the world for her. Caroline, riding herd on her siblings, can only imagine what her life could be once all the kids are grown and gone on to their own lives.

Enter a courier, with good news: the Reeves have inherited not a vast fortune, but certainly more than they’ve ever sen in their lives. Caroline, ever the worrier, frets that someone will turn up, laying a greater claim to the monies than her little clan has. This turns out to be unfounded, although she now finds herself the unwelcome spot of attention in a pool of fortune hunters. She’s more concerned about getting her sisters properly married – without allowing them to tarnish their reputations in the process.

It’s a fun read, and if you know the typical arcs of these stories, you’ll find no surprises, really. It was fun watching Caroline saving her siblings from themselves, often with help from Arabella and others. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

Three and a half stars, rounded to four.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Doomed Legacy – Rick Cahill #19 (Matt Coyle)

We’ve known for awhile that things are going downhill for poor Rick Cahill. A title with the word “doomed” in it – well, things aren’t looking good.

PI Rick Cahill, previously diagnosed with CTE thanks to all the various head injuries he’s sustained over the years, is not getting much better. He isn’t dead – not quite yet, anyhow – and this leaves him some time to work, be there for his family, and all those things in life people wish they did more of when they lay dying.

But he isn’t doing much in the way of working beyond doing mundane, routine things that keep him of the streets, behind his desk, and bored out of his mind. That includes things like background checks on new hires for various companies.

A business acquaintance contacts him, requesting a rather secretive meeting at an out of the way location. Why? Cahill isn’t sure, but agrees to it anyway. He humors her, as she talks to him about – what else? – background checks for her company, something they’ve always done through him, but she’s found a couple of irregulars: employees whose checks were done through another company with whom she’s not familiar and never heard of.

Cahill doesn’t think much of it, and tells her he can look into it, but it’s probably nothing. He can tell she isn’t happy, and when she ends up dead – the presumed latest victim of a violent, serial rapist in the area – he isn’t very happy either, especially when he’s explaining to the police (again) why he’s on the scene, discovering another dead body (again).

With guilt weighing on him, Cahill accepts a contract from her mother to look into her death.

Thus begins Cahill as we know him: obsessed with the case,he goes up against cops, what seems to be the evil company now doing those background checks (and who may very well be doing much more, sinister things), threats, attempts to pay him of the case, and all the things that put strain on his already strained marriage – and put his family in danger, again.

There really are two stories here, both equally good, both devastating: the actual investigatory job, at which Cahill excels, and the fallout there is to his family and how to deal with it, at which he does not. While he’s capable of unwinding the former, the latter seems beyond his grasp, and it’s rather sad, really.

Another excellent entry into the series, which makes its inevitable end, whenever that may be, sadder.

Five out of five stars.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Lucky Hitler’s Big Mistakes (Paul Ballard-Whyte)

First thought: terrible title. Each time I returned to the book, I disliked it more.

Second thought: history is not just something that happens *to* people. Everyone exerts a force, no matter how small, on history, which in turn reacts in some fashion. Taken over a long enough span of time, we could construe any number of events in our own lives we could deem as “lucky” – and thus beyond our control, as the author seems to think some of Hitler’s “luck” was. Certainly there are some elements he could not control: the end of WWI, for instance. Other things, though, like the Reichstag fire, which the author seems to lie down at the feet of “luck”, Hitler having nothing whatsoever to do with it, ignore that it’s quite possible Hitler had a hand in it, as well as other things. It’s easy enough to point at events well after the fact and deem them luck.

I would accept instead of “luck” that Hitler (and Stalin, and Mao, and [insert other dictatorial names through history here]) benefited from a confluence of events that served to propel him to the top of the Germanic mountain. However, we must never forget that he willingly took advantage of these things. A lax prison sentence, which came with his own personal secretary, for instance, Hitler used to polish off his horrific screed Mein Kampf. Hindenburg’s ill health? Vaulting into the Chancellor’s office and from there to dictator. Terrible penalties assessed on Germany following WWI? Stoked ultra-nationalism and decrying anyone “foreign”. And so forth.

It’s also terribly simple to look back in hindsight and see the big blunders Hitler made. Simpler still to use those as stepping stones to decide how Germany could have won WWII, even though, as I said, history is not made in a vacuum. There are times when the author sounds quite bullish about Nazi chances to dominate and conquer all of Europe and much of Asia, if only Hitler had done XYZ instead of ABC. If Hitler had ordered the destruction of the soldiers at Dunkirk, he could have invaded Britain. If Hitler had listened to his generals, he could have taken Moscow. Could he? Really? While I agree that wiping up the beaches at Dunkirk would have gone a great deal of the way in securing the western front, equating that with an automatic W on invading Britain is not a step I would take as a given. Ditto taking Moscow as a death knell for Russia. Make no mistake, Hitler made a great number of blunders, some incredibly large – but again,we’re looking at it in hindsight. We could say the same about any time, any place, any conflict.

Third thought: the author spends a lot of time on the same points, over and over. In one instance (the exact memory of which escapes me, as I just did tick marks on the repetition) I saw the same point repeated five different times. We get it. ABC was a mistake, undoing the “luck” Hitler had back in year YYYY. The point was made, move on.

The result is a book that at times reads a bit like a student giving a presentation. Fair play to the author for writing the thing, but it could have done with some editing.

And a much better title.

Two out of five stars. Sorry, author, not for me.

Thanks to Pen & Sword Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Tastes Better From Scratch Cookbook (Lauren Allen)

I picked this up because I absolutely agree with the title: things do taste better from scratch.

I’d say this would be a fair cookbook for someone just learning to cook (or who says they don’t like to). The recipes are basic, and there isn’t a lot that would be out of range for people who are new to or don’t like cooking: familiar recipe names, nothing terribly challenging, and they’ll know what it should taste like when they’ve finished cooking.

There are plenty of images, but unfortunately, many of them I just didn’t find that good. In the Kindle edition, the images are also flattened and stretched, both in portrait and landscape view. In landscape, I found that at times, the text would be over the image, but the color of the text versus the image made the text impossible to read. Those were the descriptive parts of the recipes, but the recipes and instructions themselves were fine.

I would not recommend this for moderately skilled or advanced cooks.

Three out of five stars.

Thanks to Greenleaf Book Club and NetGalley for the reading copy.