All posts by Annette

Review: From the Woods (Charlotte Greene)

It all starts innocently enough: a group of friends decide to go hiking/camping in an area of a national forest that is only open to a small number of people each year. Then it all goes spectacularly wrong.

Before that happens, though, Fiona has to be prodded into joining her friend Jill and her married friends Sarah and Carol. Fiona and Jill have the usual sort of non-assertive/almost bully relationship that is fairly common in fiction.

But talk her into it they do, and the four head out to meet their guides and Roz, the leader of the guide company. Of course Fiona is drawn to her immediately, and Roz to her, even with the rather brash Jill acting like a twelve year old.

At first, it’s a pleasant ride on the horses, but they hear what sounds like someone chopping down a tree – which means someone else is on the trail who should not be there. When Roz and two guides scout up ahead on the trail, they come back a bit skittish. When asked what’s wrong, they don’t say and the group keeps going until they reach the first camping area.

Fiona and Roz are in that scoping out phase of one another, and it’s one part sweet and one part trope. There’s lots of staring, the “accidental” brush of hands, etc. Meet cute in the middle of a forest.

It turns out that Roz and the guides had found runes carved into trees, and when Fiona and one of the others go to the latrines, they find more. The group now has a decision to make: do they continue, or turn back? Continue it is, even with the awareness that someone is in the forest an carving weirdo runes into trees, setting bear traps, and digging pits. This is the part in movies where someone realizes there’s a killer on the loose, and instead of barricading themselves in their house with a shotgun, they’ve left a sliding door open and hear noises in the basement, so they go down into the basement, without turning on any lights, to see what it is while you scream, “Are you out of your mind?

That should give you an idea of what happens next. People vanish from the camp site. Someone falls into a bear put. Another gets a big chomp from a bear trap.

There’s a mystery to solve, and solve it they do, although I had a hard time believing the ending, it was still an okay book. Everyone finds that well of strength within themselves, pushing themselves into doing things that in their other, “real” world they could never see themselves doing, and I think that’s a very good thing that people as a rule should be doing in their part of the world, even if it seems to them o be inconsequential: those small steps add up.

If you’re looking for sexytimes scenes, there are none in this book – something I kind of enjoyed after reading two other books with what seemed like one per chapter. Nothing against the sexytimes, but if you’re not writing erotica, where those scenes are the point of the story, throwing in too many scenes of that type in genre fiction really is a detriment to the story.

I’m giving this a four out of five, as the book is written well enough, the bad guys sufficiently creepy, and someone finds their strength that they didn’t even realize they had.

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

Review: In Cold Blood (Jane Bettany)

In Cold Blood is a mystery with quite a bit of social commentary on the route between the discovery of a skeleton buried in someone’s back yard and the ultimate apprehension of the perpetrator(s). If you have issues with the pronouns people apply to themselves, you should move along.

For everyone else: DI Isabel Blood (nice name for a detective) and her team are called to the site where a skeleton has been unearthed by a brother and sister rehabbing a house in which she used to live. DI Blood has some anxious moments where she considers if the bones could belong to her long-missing dad, and the teeniest thought that her mother may be a murderer.

Fortunately, that turns out not to be the case, but it raises another question: whose body is in this shallow grave, and what, if anything, do all the neighbors remember about the woman who lived there?

Most have no idea about Celia, the woman who lived in the house, what she did, or who she was. The next door neighbor and her autistic son are about the best witnesses, but they also track down Celia’s niece, who was in Australia during the timeline reconstructed by DI Blood and the forensics team.

The investigation continues, with some lines of inquiries trailing off into nothing, which is not very exciting when it happens, but it’s realistic.

This is a debut novel, but doesn’t read like one. – the story is well told, and the twisting, winding road to the truth and the perp is an interesting one.

Solid four of five stars.

Thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for the review copy.

 

Review: Bulletproof (Maggie Cummings)

This is the second book by Maggie Cummings I’ve read (Brooklyn Summer is the other). this popped up as recommended for me since I read boatloads of mystery/crime/police procedural/thriller novel. This is a romance with police procedural elements. If that is not your thing, this is not the book for you.

If you’re looking for romance and sexytimes, the story of Dylan Prescott, NYPD detective, and Briana long, US District Attorney will be a good read. The two meet (sort of) on the basketball court, as Briana watches two teams play from the stands with her friend and roommate Stef. They meet for real at a bar, later. There is, of course, the instant attraction. The fire starts to burn, they exchange some innuendo, and they part for the night after telling one another they were not looking for anything serious,.

Neither of them told the other what they do for a living, but they find out the next day at the office, where Dylan’s team is tracking a drug operation, and Brianna is the USDA assigned to the case.

This flirting in the office and at the bars continues, and we get scenes from Dylan’s side and Brianna’s side until finally the two get together in bed. If you are not a fan of explicit sex scenes, this is not the book for you, unless you want to skim past those pages – if you do, you’ll be skimming a number of pages here. If you don’t know what packing is…well, you’ll figure it out.

There isn’t a ton of character development going on here, but to be fair, that isn’t really why people read these sorts of books, and most lesrom revolves around jealousy anyhow – which is exactly what happens here, when Brianna leaves the Fed for a job with a well known defense attorney with whom Dylan has some history.

The book does have police work in it – probably enough to justify classifying it as a police procedural and having readers of the genre (like me) pick it up. That portion of the book is fine, and is actually one of the handful off books in the genre that show the more tedious side of police work. It isn’t all car chases and busting down doors. Still, that part of the book is thin, story-wise, and the two main characters could have been in any profession, and the story wouldn’t be harmed by it.

Overall, a solid three out of five stars.

Thanks to Bold Stroke Books and Netgalley for the review copy.

Review: Fallen Angel – DI Gaby Darin #3 (Jenny O’Brien)

Fallen Angel is the third book in the DS (now acting DI) Gaby Darin series. While it is not necessary to have read the first two books in this series, I think it would have helped immensely if I had. Although I did grok much of the backstory via the author dropping in some details here and there. Even with those details, it took awhile to get the feel of the room, as it were.

Acting DI Darin is assigned to the North Wales office, and since there isn’t a lot going on as the story opens, Darin Goes through several cold cases, selecting a few to review for possible followup. One of her staff, DS Owen Bates, ifs ahead of her, and presents to her the case from 25 years earlier: the death of Angelica Brook, and 18 year old who seemed to have simply vanished from her room one night only to be found dead later, dying of hypothermia, her body staged. Angelica also happens to have been the sister of Bates’ wife.

This is my first small quibble: involving family members in an investigation of this sort is a no-no, because they’re emotionally involved and that could be a bonanza for a defense attorney. Since this is a sideways adjacent kind of situation, I let it go. The team reopens the case and starts running down all the clues and the scant evidence from that case – but now, of course, there is a lot more information available, better testing, and so on. Still, nothing seems to be coming to fruition for the team.

While this is going on, there’s also the story of a local family, the Eustaces. A young woman and her husband take care of her mother who has dementia. One night, their house explodes in what looks to be a terrible accident. But things are definitely not what they seem.

I won’t go further than that, as even though the plot is very complicated. revealing more would take some of the fun of unraveling the clues and teasing out the murderer(s). I will say that the internal thought of Di Darin annoyed me from time to time, as she seemed, to me, to be spending an awful lot of time thinking about two men in her orbit: what they thought of her, and if she would sleep with them.

The ending wrapped up a tad too neatly, but it did come together nicely.

Other than these minor things and Darin making moonfaces at some guys, it was a good read, and while I didn’t get the exact relations between some people and families at the end, I did pick out the murderer(s).

Overall: 3.5 stars out of five, rounded down to 3 for the reasons above. Sitting inside while the snow flies and reading this wouldn’t be a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Your Life for Mine (Karen Clarke)

Your Life for Mine opens well: a text to a woman, on her birthday, saying this was the last birthday she would ever be alive to celebrate.

Alas, the rest of the book does not quite live up to the promise of this opening. There are likely spoilers galore here.

Beth, the birthday girl and recipient of the message, is a walking ball of anxiety. Her boyfriend therapist is annoying when she relays the message to him. She wonders if this has anything to do with “what happened to her” when she was a child – and that “something” isn’t laid out until we’re a third of the way into the book.

I found this book VERY annoying, mainly because of Beth, who seemed to need intensive therapy, and because the author holds back the good details until halfway through the book and then in the last 20-ish pages. No one acts like a real person would act, and the impetus behind the would-be murder is not credible at all. Nor is the end, for the would-be murderer.

Didn’t like it, wouldn’t recommend it unless you had nothing else at all to read. The only good thing about this book is that it is a fast, fast read: 80 minutes for me, even without skipping Beth spiraling into yet another meltdown about something like a spoiled child.

Two out of five stars: one for writing and another for there at least being some cohesiveness in the story, despite the ridiculous motives.

Thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Ring of Spies – Richard Prince #3 (Alex Gerlis)

Richard Prince is back in this third installment of his eponymous series. While it is not necessary to have read the first two books, it certainly does help.

The book opens with an English officer describing the debacle at Arnhem (Operation Market Garden, for those into the European theater of operations during WWII). He’s insistent that the Germans knew the plans for the operation.

One of the issues with series characters is giving the reader some backstory so they know enough to agree to go along on the ride the main character is about to take, but aren’t overwhelmed to the point that they miss that bus. Generally, it’s a good idea to drizzle in the backstory like you’re making your own aioli: slowly. Doing infodumps isn’t a good way to go, just as dumping all the oil in at once into your aioli isn’t: in the case of the latter, it causes the mix to break, and in the case of he former, it breaks the reading experience. Unfortunately, Ring of Spies starts with a lot of infodumping. There are also numerous “As you know, Bob” moments where one character is telling another character something they already know as a way to get that information to the reader.

Once past all this, the story picks up, and we find out the Germans have placed numerous agents in England. Prince is back in Lincolnshire, having recovered his lost son (book two) and basically policing an area that has no huge issues with crime, and almost zero serious crimes. He’s approached again, just as he was in the first book, to join the intelligence service to help root our the German moles.

While he resists at first, he also acknowledges that he is a bit restless, having grown accustomed to the action of being a spy, where any misstep could be the last one. He agrees, and we’re off into skullduggery within England itself.

There are scenes from the German side of the war, as there have been previously in this series, and we get infodumps on this side as well, but the positioning of the agents in England, how they are insulated from one another (to make them more difficult to detect, and to make it more difficult for them to give up the entire ring), and how they communicate with the Germans was quite interesting.

The ebb and flow of the war – even though we know that in the year of book, 1944, victory in Europe is coming sooner rather than later – and the danger war brings are still very real for the participants. The book continues at a good pace through the machinations of ally and foe alike. The ending, though, feels a bit rushed, even with the buildup of action as the Allies move ever forward to victory.

Even with that, however, it’s a worthy entry to the series. I didn’t find it as good as the first book in the series, but I did like it more than the second. It’s well worth a read for thriller fans and history buffs alike.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Canelo and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Complex (A.D. Enderly)

Complex is a complex (get it?) work. based on the premise that in a dystopian world set sometime in the future. Civilization has basically collapsed, and now corporations have formed their own city nations called Complexes, which have their own “citizens”, akin to serfs toiling away and being used for the corporations’ purposes, assigned to whatever job the corporation deems fit for the citizen to have. Anyone not attached to a Complex and who does not have a high enough social score lives in Legacy, a remnant of the loss or degraded civilization.On the Legacy side, people rarely work, and receive money each month to enable them to buy food and do whatever else they need to do.

On the Complex side, forces are working to generate a war between the Complexes and Legacy, as they believe, cynically, that recruitment for the Complexes.. There are conspiracies galore, double crossing, many fights, and an epidemic that threatens to run out of control.

The premise is a good one, and the story is well told. There are a lot of characters introduced right off the bat. The point of view shifts between these characters with every chapter, and keeping track of all of them can sometimes be tough, requiring flipping back to recall just who everyone is. The world itself is done *very* slowly and does take some getting used to. Likewise, as the end rushes toward all the characters, the world is quite disorienting, and sometimes comes so quickly, it’s difficult to understand how the various levels interact with one another.

Beyond that, I liked the book. All of the POV characters were drawn out nicely, and their various motivations were not difficult to understand. The tech – it is an SF dystopia, after all – was good, and the fact all citizens had AIs iimpanted in them was intriguing. The ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel, something that isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea, so just be warned on that point.

Three and a half stars, rounded up to four.

Thanks to Luminary Media an NetGalley for the review copy

Review: War of Shadows (Gershom Gorenberg)

If you’re interested in WWII, and specifically, the North African Theater battles between the Desert Fox himself and British forces, this is a book for you.,

Gorenberg helpfully provides a listing of all the players at the front of the book, so if you’re not intimately familiar with everything that was going on in the chaos of North Africa, you’ll find that handy, The story, at its heart. is about people: their victories, but also their great failures. Both are abundant here – it is a war, after all.

It’s a dense book, and requires attention. Here and there, it strays a little outside the lines (and it is clear the author is both very familiar with and very passionate about the period examined during these periods). However, it is a worthy read, an these occasional ramblings are worth it in the overall scheme of things.

Four and a half stars out of five, for the rambles, rounded up to five for a well-written and entertaining (as entertaining as war can be) book.

Thanks to Perseus Books/Public Affairs and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Good Sister (Sally Hepworth)

The Good Sister starts off slowly – to be perfectly honest, it starts out slowly for the first third of the book. However, if you hang on, the rest of the book will definitely be worth your attention.

Rose and Fern, fraternal twins, grew up with a sociopathic abuser of a mother. Fern, who clearly is autistic (most likely Aspberger’s) is protected both in her youth and in her adulthood, by Rose. Fern of course lives a fairly regimented life until she finds out that Rose cannot get pregnant. Fern decides she’ll show her love for her sister by having a baby for her. The narrative is provided from the point of view of Rose, via her journal, and Fern, via her simply living her life.

That’s the basic storyline, and it doesn’t really take off until Fern has to start varying her routine, given that her routine has not thus far allowed her to do things like go and dates and such. We also find out that Rose is not quite the doting and caring sister we think her to be based on the opening of the book.

There’s a lot to like in this: it’s a psychological thriller, without a doubt, has some good twists, and has one of the main characters afflicted with a condition without taking that character into some weird place, which happens all too often. The writing is good, and there are no major plot holes. If the front end was a tad speedier, I’d give it five stars, but it still is a solid four star read.

Thanks to St, Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: 13 Days to Die (Matt Miksa)

Sometimes, I don’t mind if a book doesn’t quite know what it wants to be when it grows up.

This is not one of those times.

13 Days to Die spreads itself across several genres – thriller (political, medical), mystery (hunting an ID to attach to a person), flat out political commentary, conspiracy theories, etc.

The basics: a man comes out of the forest in Tibet, looking like Patient Zero of a new bug that could easily become a pandemic, which will look pretty familiar to anyone living through 2020. An American intel officer impersonating a journalist, Olen Grave, is sent off to investigate this, and teams up with a Chinese medical doctor, Dr. Zhou, also investigating it.

It doesn’t spoil anything to say that Patient Zero is not just some random dude, but is more than he seems to be. Grave (it isn’t necessary to telegraph what’s going on by naming someone Grave, author, unless you want to add pulpy fiction to the list of genres) and Zhou get caught up in a (shocker!) conspiracy involving their respective countries. They have to figure out what is going on before the planet gets nuked into oblivion.

There are some unnecessary afterwords about characters at the end, and it’s at this point where the train really goes off the rails.

The story is okay, but the book could have been better if it decided whether to go into full-on conspiracy theorist ground.

Two out of five stars.

Thanks to Crooked Lane and NetGalley for the review copy.