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ARCs Book Reviews Books Fiction Mystery Thriller

The Family Friend by C.C. MacDonald

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Erin lives an idyllic life by the seaside with her baby boy and handsome Australian fiancée. She’s upbeat and happy – a natural mum. At least that’s what her thousands of followers on Instagram think. 

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Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Family Friend by C.C. MacDonald

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I loved the tension in this one. I would like to thank Random House UK, Vintage for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program. I think anyone looking for a modern read about social media with a bit of a unique twist on side story/pastime hobbies/dabbles you wouldn’t expect, will enjoy this one.

The Story
The overall premise was interesting. The story encompassed important issues of mother-child bonding, the waxes and wanes of having a public life on social media, and relational development, all of which I loved the insight, the perspective, the impact in the way it was portrayed.

I loved some of the social media effects pointed out in the story like forgetting that there are people in existence who don’t judge.

I really enjoyed how developmentally the story sparkled. This tension was kept tight in nature with good timing of reveal of the side stories, the peculiar elements, the intrigue of questioning if this was going to turn supernatural or stay within a realm of certain contextual, highly calculated, psychological play on the mind.

The slower pacing at the beginning however became too slow and content-wise, I would have liked to have seen signs of what was to come in a subtle way, hidden leads to red herrings, rather than focus on the plot as the driving force outright because when it was slow, it was really slow.

The Atmosphere
The atmosphere was driven by the plot but I think could have had a little more spark to tying into the personality of the characters and the world they lived it, how they perceived it as a defining characteristic unique to each character. There were parts that were spot on, others a little more safe and hesitant, that could have been enhanced, whether nuanced or overt, to bring out their personalities a little more.

Pacing
Page 72 is when it picked up for me, almost DNF’d it around 30. The beginning mettled around the slowest parts, drawn out, dramatizing the drama, extending the drama, dramatizing even more drama.

The Ending
The worst part for me was the ending. I liked certain aspects of how elements were tied together but then, spoiler alert, (view spoiler)[the coroner didn’t even request an inquest? All of that work to build a tight story and bam, no proper police procedural? It all came down to something that made a bit of sense, but when the end that would have been justified by the means, it concluded with a sloppy, overlooked police investigation? No satisfying remediation? OMG. #unsatisfyingendings. Too easy of a get away. It was a wiping of hands clean in a story for the amount of time I spent with the characters for it to end like that (hide spoiler)].

The Writing
Great at keeping the tension and chapter transition with good pick up sentences. Probably my favorite part of the writing.

The POV/tense felt inconsistent. I had often wondered if it might have been better served in first person/past tense perhaps. Times I connected with it, other times I had to think hard and I didn’t want to have to think that hard with this one. Especially with the interruptions of social media posts which I didn’t alway understand in their context/hashtag use.

It’s omnipresent action commentary but doesn’t dive deep enough into their thoughts and the separation is inconsistent. Some contrary to what I already thought and expected of the characters in my mind.

Descriptions
The beginning was rocky for me. It was pronoun verb, pronoun verb. Adjective noun, adjective noun.

I think there could have been a bit more creativity in the descriptions for a bit more something something. A bit more variety. Sometimes simple is great. Sometimes simple is boring. Example, instead of middle-aged man, something like beginning to gray, faint roots of gray, gray at the temples, peppered beard, or beginning of some sort of comment on facial lines or age spots, some sort of description to show rather than tell.

Atmospheric consistency in description was an issue for me. Like I imagine where this takes place in the hemisphere based off what I’m being told about the scene, but one day is described as cold January, yet descriptions of a grassy hill are noted. I just feel that if something is described in writing, it should reinforce the atmosphere. The feelings of a cold January were mentioned, but then to switch to a visual most would probably associate with summer was a bit weird for me. Grassy was unnecessarily mentioned again, no strength or purpose given to repeating this again. Would have probably been better served as withered lawn or tindered lawn or frosted fields or dusting of frost on the mountainside or the windy draft bit my cheeks. I don’t know, cold January, followed by grass (as in my visual of live, green, healthy, thriving grass), just didn’t put me in the scene very well.

Characters
I don’t think you have to like every character, but spoiler alert, (view spoiler)[she’s kind of mean (hide spoiler)]. And that would be ok, except I’m not sure if that was the intent. There were certain disconnects between the characters, their actions, and dialogue. Especially toward the end. The two ladies became so squirrely with their trajectory. It became a game of I love you, I love you not. I love you, I love you not. The main, contempt for her son, there was this sort of this misplaced character arc where I wanted to be satisfied in my mind rather than this moral obligation to wrap it all together neatly at the end. And then the end, my thoughts already said, but characters didn’t match or counter the strong emotion I wanted to see restitution with.

Kind of disconnections with interactions, it was hard to gauge where characters stand with each other. It was hard to make the connection of how the characters came to know each other from the beginning. It was more of a telling review style over hints of showing readers the information the author wanted us to have.

A lot of over-explanation and pointing out rationales of behavior and back story. Kind of come to know things about the characters a little too late.

Sometimes I felt like I was diving into a conversation I didn’t know anything about. There was quite a bit of repetition in the beginning, like Ground Hog’s Day movie repetition of activity.

Dialogue
And it was hard to follow the dialogue. Certain tensions of example argument suddenly jolted into a jovial conversation. Even in the dialogue the characters switched opinions during the middle of the conversation. I thought one was thinking/leading to a certain way, the it’s suddenly they were contradictory.

Overall I think the suspense elements could have been strengthened by a few bits that would have made this story and the writing move from ok to fantastic. Plenty of the it factor was there from a creative aspect, but not executed as strong as it could have been for me. I’ll be curious to read more by this author.

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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Romance

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist (Agatha Raisin #6) by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin’s marriage was put off when her ex-husband showed up, unfortunately alive. Fortunately, he was murdered and Agatha solved the crime.

Now she is off to Cyprus to track down her ex-fiance. Instead of enjoying their planned honeymoon, however, they witness the murder of an obnoxious tourist. Two sets of terrible tourists surround the unhappy couple, arousing Agatha’s suspicions. And, much to James’ chagrin, she won’t rest until she finds the killer.

Unfortunately, it seems the killer also won’t rest until Agatha is out of the picture. Agatha is forced to track down the murderer, try to rekindle her romance with James, and fend off a suave baronet, all while coping with the fact that it’s always bathing suit season in Cyprus.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love this series so much! They are such a joy to listen to. Brightens up my mood no matter what. The perfect in-between books and I don’t want them to end. 19 more to go. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Penelope Keith, always so good. I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for a plot that unfolds like an adult version of Scooby-Doo. Amateur sleuthing that’s set in semi-reality, a little love intrigue, some character frustration, and always hilariously entertaining.

The Story
Loved the comments on the socio-economic climate. Certainly insightful and relative to today, even for having this book being written in 1997.

The murder reveal, like always, a little late in the book. I’m sort of getting used to it. Though at least this time there was a little tail end of them getting settled into their lives again.

Everything else read like intriguing gossip you’d overhear at the dog park and can’t help but tune your ears to.

The Characters
I didn’t remember Charles. The ones that we met were a little dry. I sort of hoped there would be a typical Mr. and Mrs. Howell type character during the encounter. There just wasn’t a whole lot of development to set them apart. Back stories were kind of just thrown in there. Which sort of makes sense when meeting other tourists. That initial meetup, that sometimes turns into a divulging of saturated personal story. But somehow I wanted a stereotypical and distinguishable personality that made me say “Aha, I’ve met that one before.”

The Setting
Loved that it took place in Cyprus. I was absorbed in the setting, everything from historical tidbits to the brochures Agatha read along the way as a tourist.

The Writing
M.C. Beaton even called her own characters out. Hilarious. Along with so many good reading the room observations and discourse.

Always looking forward to the next in series.

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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Thriller

A Caller’s Game by J.D. Barker

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“I’m going to offer you a choice.”

Controversial satellite radio talk show host, Jordan Briggs, has clawed her way to the top of the broadcast world. She doesn’t hold back, doesn’t spare feelings, and has no trouble sharing what’s on her mind. Her rigorous pursuit of success has come at a price, though. Her marriage is in ruins, she hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, and she’s distanced herself from all those close to her. If not for her young daughter, Charlotte, her personal life would be in complete shambles.

When a subdued man calls into the show and asks to play a game, she sees it as nothing more than a way to kick-start the morning, breathe life into the beginnings of drive-time for her listeners. Against her producer’s advice, she agrees, and unwittingly opens a door to the past.

Live on the air with an audience of millions, what starts out as a game quickly turns deadly—events long thought buried resurface and Jordan Briggs is forced to reconcile with one simple fact—All decisions have consequences.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Caller’s Game by J.D. Barker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such a solid read. I would like to thank Hampton Creek Press and author J.D. Barker for providing me with an advance readers copy for free. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for an action-packed, escape read. Anyone who favors thrillers will really enjoy reading this book.

The Story
From a good opening line, paragraph, scene, the tension identified early on that created this sort of intrigue for both short term and long term, very satisfying. A unifying relational dilemma, character attributes that are set apart, voices distinct enough to just sit down and enjoy the ride.

All the elements of what I want in an entertaining book were there.

Though still working out in context, I was initially a little bit less sure about some scene plausibility for such an intricate set up, for such a short time frame. However I also realized it made enough sense anyway and ultimately maybe it didn’t matter because the scenes were so tightly written, like scenes in a movie, where it’s best not to over-analyze and be nit-picking over that of which keeps the storyline afloat and just enjoy it, of which I most certainly did.

So I’d say pages 300-350 were just about my threshold for plenty of volley for my mind. Intense, fast-paced, action scenes, complete with a countdown which I found was perfectly laid out with chapter length, change in scene/POV, and character distinction in both narrative and dialogue. Amusement that builds, depth and breadth, multi-dimensional, elements that made for a complete read.

I’m also finding I’m not as keen on action scenes in urban settings with buildings, offices, stairwells, elevators. I much prefer the setting/atmosphere of suspense with eerie mansions, iron fences, the countryside, beachfront, weather changes, seasons, those things of the sort. Just personal preferences though, things I’m learning about myself as a reader.

The Writing
Always well-written and this one was no exception. Affirming and interesting. The reading experiences are always so trustworthy. I didn’t have the urge to cross-check which is always a reading bonus. I like books that I can just settle into.

Loved the end notes. It’s interesting to think back to March 25, 2020. I was just coming into country from service as the borders were closing, crazy to think about, so many unknowns, a lifetime ago, yet just one year next month. I still can’t wrap my mind around it all.

The Characters
A creepy antagonist done well again. This villain, exactly that type that gets under your skin in a psychological way.

I was a little less sure about the daughter, an 11-year-old that sounded so intelligent at times but emotionally not so much with quite the sleeping habit of newborn baby naps. But I also didn’t mind too much, just something I noted as I read along.

Loved the agency banter.

Looking forward to reading more, like the satisfying cheese pull on pizza. You just know it’s going to be good, the anticipation always is there and is maintained consistently throughout the books. Satisfying, versatile, and well-written stylistically no matter the subject matter.

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Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Romance

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage (Agatha Raisin #5) by M.C. Beaton

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The morning of Agatha’s longed-for marriage to James Lacey dawns bright and clear. But her luck runs out in the church when Jimmy, the husband she had believed long dead, turns up large as life and twice as ugly. Agatha has a go at strangling him.

It’s all too much for James, who breaks off the engagement. So when Jimmy is found murdered the next day. Agatha and James are both suspects.

And they’ll have to work together in order to clear their names…

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh Agatha! You’ve gone and done it again! I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Penelope Keith, always amazing. I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for a light-hearted, good time, appreciate a bit of snickers as it reads like a bit of juicy gossip you’d overhear at a dog park.

The Story
I loved the commentary on the world situation. It was amazing how relevant to today and this book was written 25 years ago.

The Writing
One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve read along is how the author only really gets into physical descriptions when describing what people are wearing and they’re hilarious at that, really captured the whole essence of the person.

I love this series so much!

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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Mystery

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

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Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was exactly the book I’ve been craving. I enjoyed it as audiobook, narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was amazing. His tone and voice inflection was where I anticipated it to be, even when the characters were self-reflective, asking questions, or talking amongst themselves. Never mundane or fizzling out. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially for readers who like meandering around, experimental literature, metafiction, and especially because it is rather short and inviting, visionary and puzzle-like.

The story
I liked the life reveals and philosophical questions. This riddle-like presentation, matching the cover of this half man, half beast, was intriguing. I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, so this was long awaited publication from Susanna Clarke. This book is a bit different in content and style. I love C.S. Lewis so the ties to the story through certain characcatures were on an another level for me.

The writing
The descriptions, atmosphere, and innocent perspective was where it was at. These rooms, sometimes described so bluntly with obvious purpose, other times more lyrical with deeper meaning, evoked mystery, playing on emotion, making me think there was hidden mystery lurking around every corner, sometimes more complex than what I could understand at times.

Like if a brick was pushed, it would reveal a hidden staircase leading you into a completely different world.

It got me to thinking of Narnia of course and this movie called Labyrinth I watched as a child. Putting lipstick on a brick, marking it with an arrow, and after turning away, hidden creatures would reposition it, making the girl lose her way. Then it got me to thinking of the weird but awesome David Bowie concert at the end. David Bowie, George Lucas, Jim Henson, what a creative trio for a movie. I’d like to see this book as a movie.

Characters
Anyway, the strong visuals were there and I really enjoyed the trajectory of the characters, Piranesi especially. The timeline, the personal documentation with diary keeping, each piece titled out, The Year of the Albatross. Sometimes monotonous parts hovered around a little longer than I wanted for the moment. But the fantastical elements kept it intriguing and the unacquainted lessons with the world kept it in check with human experience and nature.

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Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery

Christmas Cupcake Murder (Hannah Swensen #26) by Joanne Fluke

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Featuring over a dozen cookie and dessert recipes from The Cookie Jar—Hannah Swensen’s famous bakery, this festive new Christmas mystery from the Queen of Culinary Cozies is just the holiday treat you need this season!

Christmas Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this one more than I did. Loved the cover, definitely drew me in! Very adorable, the beautiful contrasting icy blue and red color scheme, cute graphic, that extra reflective pearl which looked so pretty in person!

However something about it overall just didn’t work for me. The writing style seemed so incredibly different compared to other books I’ve read by the author.

My favorite part of this book was the recipes. The recipe font, placement, instructions, hints, and preferences were easy to read and very accessible. I’m not as keen on powdered sugared icing and boxed cake recipe variations though. I prefer traditional buttercream and cake from scratch myself. I’d pick my own grain and ground it into flour by hand if I could. Not completely ragging on the recipes, they certainly have their place in life (I will say readers and bakers who love simple recipes with ingredients they may already have on hand will absolutely love them), but for myself, I became so much happier to see there were others to choose from that were a little more what I would consider to be closer to homemade. And when I get some pickles, I will be looking forward to trying out the Rainbow Pickles recipes. So weird, made with unsweetened Jello, I really want to try it. That and the eggnog.

What I wasn’t keen on was that this book so incredibly slow! Read like a middle grade chapter book with loads of overly detailed plot filler. The plot, character development, barely trudged along. Oh my. It took a lot of effort to get through the first 30 pages. Then I skim read through the rest, stopping mostly at the recipes.

Every littlest action by the characters took was documented. Dialogue was flat and overly detailed. A lot of telling without much interesting nuance or subtle expression of intent or deeper connection and purpose. There was not a lot of thinking involved on my behalf. The characters didn’t show their personality, they hardly went anywhere physically, mentally, or emotionally. They were just there, doing day to day things in the most detailed way.

Nothing really mysterious either unfortunately. I was expectantly waiting for the stranger in the cafe to die off or someone to fall off the ladder with a cupcake in hand.

A bit disappointing, a big deviation from what I’ve known in the past books. I’ll have to check out the others.

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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fiction Mystery

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet (Agatha Raisin #2) by M.C. Beaton

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Former London PR agent, Agatha Raisin still hasn’t adjusted to village life, where the only prospect for a hot evening out is a meeting of the Ladies Society.

And since her overtures toward James Lacey, the retired military man next door, have failed, Agatha jumps at the chance to visit the new vet, who is single and good-looking. Although Agatha’s cat hasn’t a thing wrong with him, Hodge endures having a thermometer shoved up his bum in the name of romance.

Unfortunately his sacrifice is all for naught when the vet is soon found dead next to a high-strung horse. The police call the vet’s demise a freak accident, but Agatha convinces the hard-to-get James Lacey, who is also bored in the Cotswolds, that playing amateur detective might be fun.

Unfortunately, just as curiosity killed the cat, Agatha’s inept snooping is soon a motivation for murder.

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

She’s ornery, dismissive, curious. I’m reading them all out of order depending on what is available from my library and loving every bit.

I listened via audiobook, narrated by Diana Bishop, who was great, though I do love the extra edge of snarkiness that Penelope Keith brings out in the character to match.

I keep coming back to this series because they are such great in-between, hearty, make me laugh books with lightened life lessons of daily life to also satisfy those aspects when choosing a book worthwhile.

I did think it got a bit complicated in the manner of which a character was taken out, became quite over-layered in attempt to maintain the mystery, but all in all I enjoyed it and will keep on in the series.

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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fiction Mystery

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley (Agatha Raisin #4) by M.C. Beaton

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After six months in London, Agatha Raisin returns to her beloved Cotswold village-and her dashing neighbor, James Lacey. Well, sort of. James might not be so interested in Agatha. But soon enough, Agatha becomes consumed by her other passion: crime solving.

A woman has been found dead in a lonely field nearby. Her name is Jessica Tartinck, a hiker who infuriated wealthy landowners by insisting on her hiking club’s right to trek across their properties.

Now it’s up to Agatha, with James’ help, to launch an investigation. Together, they will follow no shortage of leads-many of Jessica’s fellow Dembley walkers seem all too willing and able to commit murder. But the trail of a killer is as easy to lose as your heart-and your life. So Agatha and James had better watch their every step.

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m really loving this series more and more.

I listened via audiobook, narrated by Penelope Keith, who was amazing. She brought to life the saucy, almost snarky, yet fun and lively aspect to Agatha’s personality.

And in this book I learned a lot more of Agatha’s personality. I loved the introspection, the bluntness. These books are becoming my go-to in-betweens to lighten up my reading experience and make me laugh. This was just hilarious.

The writing style itself matches the scene and characters. The writing is clear, direct, and it makes for an easy jump back into the story if your mind just so happens to wander away.

I loved the variation in the expression of emotion.

I felt this one to be more of the resolution I’ve wanted from the series. Though it was a jump around in series for me, perhaps realizing it probably spoiled the progression in the main character relationships, I don’t mind because I go along based on what is available at my library and I’m caring enough about the characters to go wherever they want to take me and this one was just fun.

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Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Horror Mystery Thriller

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

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Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was really drawn into this one. I think it was because there were so many moving parts and it had all the mysterious elements that make for an interesting story. There were some issues with the writing and the story itself, however I was along for the ride anyway.

I read this one for the Literally Dead Book Club. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Cady McClain and Jon Lindstrom which I enjoyed.

The story.
I liked the build up. I liked the atmosphere, the setting, the elements of backstory and going back in real time with changing POVs to meet somewhere in the middle. I couldn’t decide whether it was going to be based on my lack of information, or psychological, or supernatural, or a simple thought-experiment, it kept me on my toes. I also like to go in blind with books, barely skimming the descriptions, looking for themes and key words that either turn me on or off to a story and diving in from there and this book was easy for me to get into based on just a few interests of mine, mostly having to do with a Victorian estate.

I liked how it played heavily on the emotions of scare tactics. There were unmentioned assumptions which were well played. Assumptions that people freak out over snakes, startled by creeps of hidden floor boards, flickering lights, music, appealing to a multitude of senses, creating a frightening scene and letting the reader play on those emotions and reactions, indulge in risking that readers would respond in such a way author intended without drawing unnecessary attention to itself as a thriller and doing more of the show instead of tell which went a long way.

This book was great, it definitely got super messy though. Mostly related to the composition of the plot which left loose ends, relied on convenient amnesia, question of plausibility, underlying lack of communication which created a sort of drama fatigue with ever-changing new leads and secrecy that started off convincing, yet only to a point.

The characters.
Ali had some characteristics I had expected from a daughter but came off as then it is but then it’s not, the relationship with her family was this, then it wasn’t. Flipped back and forth. Emotionally expressive verbally with adoration for her father but emotionally absent in every other way. I wanted the personal threats to the female main character to feel a little more personal in a realistic way. For her to be very much in the headspace of denial with counter arguments that don’t hold much weight with her continued action to pursue sleuthing, then it kind of fell apart from that aspect.

Character roles.
Surprised at word choice of professionals such as the chief saying crime scene guys instead of detectives. Contradictory whether the old furniture had any value or obvious signs of water damage for someone who renovates houses, also no home inspection, no blue prints, even for a historic home were just some things that were amiss for me.

The ending.
And the ending? So unsatisfying. A cover up? No thought to age of reason?

But I liked this book anyway, go figure. I was just in the mood for a read like this and it delivered in ways that were outside of the shortcomings I felt it had and I really enjoyed it.



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Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Thriller

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

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On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom a rising television star. The bride 
a magazine publisher.

It’s a wedding for a magazine in a remote location. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. And then someone turns up dead.

Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was great!

The story. The story was so well thought out. I think the effect was there, an enjoyable thriller, winding tighter and tighter, chapters transitioning from back story, to real time action, shortening in length as they went on, the intensity increasing like a tether ball winding around the pole at 4th grade recess.

Weddings are stressful for everyone and all the elements of wedding bliss and actual outcome were captured in the most dynamic way. I liked that this was an isolated closed mystery story taking place on an exclusive island with a fitting topography and Celtic history that drove the plot forward.

And it’s one of those books I think, predictable or not, if you wanted to by all sleuthy, there’s enough satisfaction in the story and satisfaction in the writing that an early lightbulb moment would be just as fulfilling reading onward.

The writing. I loved the strategically placed words, hinting about what was to come related to someone not leaving the island the way they arrived. I liked the strategically placed red herrings, the foreshadowing with words like… well I won’t quote the phrases, but they were letting me know something very specific was going to take place.

I really liked the way the POVs were done. First person narrative was done well with quite a bit of varied sentence structure and presented with a style of foreknowledge and knowledge acquisition in a really fresh and interesting way, especially when it came to description of physical traits which aimed for unbelabored accuracy in just a few words.

It was not as linear as I had expected in the beginning. Parts felt like chapters were missing with the multiple POVs, foretelling mixed with current events. I realized though how much I dove in, speed mode, by the time I got to page 30, realizing I was finally starting to commit things to memory and so I decided to restart the book and then it all made so much better sense to me.

Characters. First off the character roles were perfect, the couple, the plus one, the single… A wedding party composed of friends and family, reminiscing over everything you see and experience from the social aspect at wedding festivities from shared memories, childhood crushes, deviant behavior, life successes and failures, talents, desires.

I thought it was all well done especially when it came to character distinction, partly in due because of the age range/generational similarities and the author made them all shine in their own way.

Personalities from dialogue to inner monologue, action, all following suit and each had attachments of deeper connectivity, defining life stories with hopes and dreams, insecurities, consistent with life stages, elements of what could have been and nostalgia of pasts relationships, regret, even down to the awkwardness of joining conversation, all interwoven in such a way I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. All of it nicely curated to fit perfectly within the story being told.

Some questions, but not deal breakers. I did want to know what happened to a certain character aside from the emotional response that was displayed. Was it a lost one? I don’t know. And I don’t know if it really mattered. I enjoyed reading the story so much anyway, but thought I’d mention it because it did linger in my head.

It did end sort of abruptly after the peak. I kind of wanted to see a bit more character reflection after the reveal, especially of a certain few. I didn’t expect to have full resolution or discourse, but just a little more internal dialogue or character interaction to bring situational awareness to everyone involved as a bit of closure to the post wedding festivities and relationships. Likely my feelings about this are because the greater first 3rd was more about building up character dynamic than action and I would have liked the story to have picked up a bit again from this angle in the end for full circle completeness.

Super good book nonetheless!

MY FAVORITE LINES:

“I look down at the spilled contents, shining gold tubes of mascara and lipsticks rolling in a bid for freedom across the floorboards, an overturned compact leaking a trail of bronzing powder.”



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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fiction Mystery

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (Agatha Raisin #1) by M.C. Beaton

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“The irascible but endearing personality of Agatha Raisin is like a heady dash of curry. May we have another serving, please?”
DETROIT FREE PRESS
Agatha has moved to a picture-book English village and wants to get in the swing. So she buys herself a quiche for the village quiche-making contest and is more than alarmed when it kills a judge. Hot on the trail of the poisoner, Agatha is fearless, all the while unaware, that she’s become the next victim….

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ok now that I’ve read the first one, I’m starting to get it, as likely author intended, and will keep coming back to this series, though probably picking and choosing which themes I think I’d like rather than order in series now that the foundation has been set. There are just certain ones I want I’m more drawn to in both title and cover and want to read certain ones sooner than later. We’ll see though.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by Penelope Keith, who was just perfect for this book in both telling of characters quirks and the setting being in Cotswolds, but she just can tell a story with such enthusiasm, multi-dimensional, getting-into-my-thought-pattern type of story narration.

The main character was the perfect example of an unlikeable main protagonist that you just love to read about.

With the story, she fumbles through life, flaws and victories, predicaments self-inflicted but the plot ends up having other contributing factors to her embarrassing situations which kept it curious and more favorably complex than just frustrating character stupidity or poor character development.

There was enough life experiences or knowledge of certain topics built into the story to give credibility to baking and prize winning, a little less to poisoning and criminology, but I enjoyed it thoroughly nonetheless.

As with #3, the climax and character reveal was just so late. I don’t know if this is an ongoing, purposeful theme and writing style of every book. I don’t know. Everything else was just superb but this bit drove me nuts. The stories and characters are interesting enough that if you figure out “whodunnit” early, the story and characters have just enough substance to keep subsequent reading enjoyable and it would actually be more pleasurable to read more post reveal, but maybe the author didn’t know that about herself and perhaps wanted to play it safe and didn’t want the subsequent parts to become a post revelation slump for early sleuthers.

Anyway I’m looking forward to the rest in this series and may revisit my thoughts on them after I read a few more. And I’m actually wondering if it is the audio narration that is so well done that is compelling me to read more, which is something to think about and don’t mind at all because it is actually that enjoyable.

EDIT: I’ve skipped around in the series depending on what has been available at my library and I must say I am in love with this series. They are the perfect, quick, happy yet full of enough substance, type of read to fit in between anything else that I’m reading.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Historical Nonfiction Mystery Nonfiction Thriller

The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs

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Beneath the gloss of star chefs and crystal-laden tables, the truffle supply chain is touched by theft, secrecy, sabotage, and fraud. Farmers patrol their fields with rifles and fear losing trade secrets to spies. Hunters plant poisoned meatballs to eliminate rival truffle-hunting dogs. Naive buyers and even knowledgeable experts are duped by liars and counterfeits. 

This exposé documents the dark, sometimes deadly crimes at each level of the truffle’s path from ground to plate, making sense of an industry that traffics in scarcity, seduction, and cash.

The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


An absolutely fascinating account about everything the truffle has to offer. The story went into great detail about this delectable treat.

Satisfying the curiosity behind understanding and better appreciating the experience and taste, status and glamour, told as it relates to a symbol of class, wealth, and refinement, taking a journalistic approach into the cultivation, the industry, the demand, food culture, food fraud, organized crime, and the sense of identity, pride, and accomplishment around this highly-prized fungus that is unlike any other thing you could ever eat, much less grow to highly proper standards accordingly.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by Ari Fliakos, who spoke so clear, direct, well-paced. His delivery of the story, so well-suited for true crime in the most classic way, really made the story, I’d highly recommend the audiobook version.

The story. It covered it all, from the science behind the fungus to truffle hunting dogs. And I’m not at all ashamed to say I spent some time looking up photos of these little Ewok faces, breeders near me, how to train them properly. “Butterscotch” and “Macchiato” are the names I have picked out.

With that, the writing was excellent. It revealed like a thriller. Informative at times, a slow-burn then punchy when it needed to be. It took the approach to include the author’s realtime journalistic experience which made it all that much more personal and intriguing. It added to the depth as each product and the lore behind each truffle story was told without reservation with the goals outlining the fulfillment of culinary promises, insight into the mysterious inner-workings, and the network of people behind them.

I’d recommend this book to everyone.

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