Tag Archives: suspense

Review of With Malice by Eileen Cook

As if often the case I received this book free for the purposes of review. Despite that kindness I’m absolutely candid below.

The summary on this one is pretty typical; we open with our protagonist unsure of where she is or what has gone on for the past six weeks. Her friend is dead and she stands accused. Yet she can’t remember a thing. The novel unfurls as everyone around her tries to figure out what exactly came to pass.

This is a YA novel and I tend to judge those somewhat differently than I do others in the adult genres. The first question to be asked is whether there’s anything in this novel that I wouldn’t want my own kids to read. On that note, it’s a bit rough in the language department. There is a fair amount of profanity and some reference to sex but it’s nothing major or hard core. It’s just something to watch out for. It should be also noted that the overall arc of this story is NOT a lesson that I would want my children to internalize. It’s hard to be more specific without accidentally creating a spoiler but suffice to say that if my kids behaved this way I’d have to shake my head and walk away.

Secondly, is there anything in this book that’s positive that I would consider a positive message for kids. The book demonstrates the creation of a great friendship built between two people in very different layers of society. That is good to see, but unfortunately the rest is a spiraling maelstrom of jealousy and deceit and people just generally being jerks to each other. So there’s not much positive in that.

Lastly, the question is, will readers find it enjoyable. On that count, they just might, mostly on the basis of the complete deficiency of anything positive to say in question two. If you like them dark and beyond any redemption then this is a book for you. It is a very easily consumed little novel that you could swallow in several hours but the question is will you like the taste in your mouth once you eat it?

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Book Reviews: Dead of July (***)

As is usual, I received this book from the author in exchange for a review. Despite that kindness I give my absolutely candid opinions below.

The high-level summary of this book is pretty straightforward. Our main character finds herself in a new city and almost immediately embroiled in trouble just because she tried to help out a child in need. What ensues is a mixture of violence, suspense and the paranormal.

On the positive side, our author has taken great and obvious care with her work. Seldom has an independently published novel come across my desk that is so well edited and free of grammatical and spelling problems. Thompson also has a knack for creating characters that pop with realism; these are the sort of folks I’d like to invite out for a drink sometime. They are candid, real and well-formed almost as if the author knows them in real life. I also enjoyed the way the author wove the supernatural and mundane aspects of the world together. Yes, our protagonist has contact with the spirit world but it’s not the center of the story but put forth as a sometimes casual aside. This attitude lends a great deal of believability to the supernatural aspects of the story.

To the negative, I asked the author specifically what genre she was targeting because at times the book seems to drift between suspense and memoir. She replied that it was intended to be suspense and that didn’t surprise me but it did reveal that she has a fairly steep hill to climb from a writing standpoint. The novel is written in the first person and includes a wealth of very specific anecdotes that in no way add to the suspenseful aspects of the novel. That, coupled with the first-person point of view, tends to squash any attempts at really building tension from one page to the next. We know a lot about the character and we can relate to her. She’s very real to the raeder but it’s hard to build much suspense when the protagonist seems to spend so much time doing unrelated unsuspenseful things.

In summary, I like what the author’s done with this book and it has great potential but it does need some tightening up. As a reader we can see the action very vividly but the story does seem to lack the dark and grimy aspects necessary for a true suspense novel. I’d suggest that potential readers perhaps bookmark this author and wait for future installments when she has had a bit more of a chance to perfect her craft as I am confident she will. You may not be on the edge of your seat with this novel but you may well be with the next one.

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Friend Me – A book you might soon see in a theatre (4/5)

Firstly, and as is usually the case, I must provide a disclaimer that I didn’t really buy this book. Instead, I received it directly from the author who just happens to sit a scant 10 feet from me at work each day. Despite this kind consideration, and the fact that anything I say might cause my cubicle to be set aflame before I arrive at work tomorrow, I will review this title with absolute candor. Anything less would be a violation of my personal integrity, which is worth more than a few flaming cubicles. It also bears revelation that this novel is fairly rife with Christian themes and while I am an upstanding and sometimes outspoken “secularist” I will in no way hold that fundamental disagreement against the book, even at the risk of a burning bush appearing to accompany the ashes of my office chair.

Also as usual, I begin with the positive. When the author described the premise of this novel to me months ago I was mightily impressed with the novelty of the overarching story-line. Faubion’s central idea in this novel, social networking run amok, is not only original but timely and at its kernel, very believable. John also has a way of describing tense scenes with great vividity that pulls the reader along quite against their will. It was an act of willpower to put the book down at times and only the threat of having the author beat me into the office the next morning was sufficient to get me to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Touching briefly on the religious aspects of the novel, Faubion’s characters are clearly Christian and they’re not afraid to show it. Despite that, their appearance in the novel is at no time preachy or obtrusive even to one who isn’t exactly in the book’s target demographic.

Moving to the negative side of the review, while the main theme was strong, much of the small-scale execution left me scratching my head. The characters seem to flit into and out of situations with little regard for reality. The whole narrative seems rather whitewashed and devoid of any real detail about what’s going on. In general, and as you will no doubt notice from my other reviews, I am a fairly punctilious reader and lack of detail is a serious bother to me in this book. At many points, particularly the last third, the novel seemed rushed and more like a hurried summary of events than a meticulously planned out work of literature.

In summary, this book revolves around a truly inspired premise but seems to fail in the details. What it lacks in literary merits it makes up for in concept. This reads like a screenplay or movie novelization and I fully expect to see this adapted to the screen, perhaps with Tom Cruise playing the role of the author.

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Pillow Stalk – Soft and sympathetic multiple murder mystery (4/5)

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As usual I received this book free for the purposes of review. This time it was from NetGalley and despite that kindness I give my scrupulously honest thoughts below.

The book can be summed up pretty simply: a 60s-obsessed interior designer finds herself unwittingly embroiled in a murder mystery in which her petite pastel pillows become the center of the investigation because they just happen to be the murder weapon of choice.

On the positive side, this one pulls you along quite nicely. The characters are unique and stand out wonderfully as they’re primarily caricatures of the sort of people you might see in a movie from the 60s. Nobody is terribly over-developed and the plot skips along quite easily; you could read the whole book in a long afternoon and feel refreshed and somewhat rewarded afterwards. There’s nothing terribly complicated even at the end when the whole thing comes together; just like the cover this is pink and blue cotton candy that melts in your mouth. It should be noted too that even though this is a murder mystery the grittiest thing about it is the bloody knife on the cover. There is action but it’s very soft by the standards of the genre. Those looking for real hard-boiled noir will be disappointed but I tend to doubt anyone looking for that will bother to pick up this book in the first place.

To the negative, the book does tend to wrap up in a furious hurry. Avoiding spoilers, when finally confronted the antagonist goes into a long and unnecessary revelation of his motives and methods that seems very misplaced. The concluding action is rather soft and implausible and doesn’t quite leave you with that satisfied “wow!” that one tends to hope for in a ending. At the very end we’re left with an even less compelling cliff-hanger designed to move us along to the next book that just doesn’t catch my attention. It may very well for a feminine crowd but personally I didn’t really come away with a grand desire to read the second book in the series.

In summary, this one has lots of relateable and sympathetic characters and is a very soft and likable read if you’re not looking for grit and grime in your murder mystery. This is the archetype of the bubbly 60’s suspense novel.

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Pale Horses by Jassy Mackenzie

Pale Horses (Jade de Jong, #4)Pale Horses by Jassy Mackenzie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book via a GoodReads giveaway and therefore paid nothing for it. Despite that very kind consideration by the publisher, I give my candid opinions below.

Placing this book in a tidy nutshell, this is a classic ‘who-dun-it’ set in South Africa. A woman is dead, ostensibly killed in a base jumping accident. The worried boyfriend has engaged the services of the esteemed Jade to find the real killer before the cops come along and pin it on him.

The setting adds somewhat to the novel as we get a small smattering of local color and culture one wouldn’t expect in a more western-focused novel. Our author does a great job of misdirection and the ending is anything but the typical. I’m not a particularly regular reader of this genre but this veered off in a direction I didn’t really expect at the outset. Mackenzie’s rendering of character is vivid and her descriptions of violence or wonderfully graphic, though tasteful and used only when necessary.

The downside here is that at times her novel seems a bit preachy and struggles to make a political point. While I agree at least in part with her assertions, the tactic she uses is at times overly blunt-force.

On the whole, for fans of the suspense genre, this is a reasonably amusing series. The unique geography sets the book apart from most and the storyline doesn’t fall into the usual predictable track. This is no Agatha Christie, but it’s a fair start towards that standard.

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The Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hansen

The Butterfly SisterThe Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hansen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual I paid nothing for this book but also as usual I’ll review it candidly anyway. I received this book through the kind consideration of a GoodReads giveaway just as I have so many others.

Our protagonist is a broken woman, the victim of a spurned and ill-advised love. She revolves in her sad and wounded orbit until one day a suitcase shows up on her doorstep that belongs to an old acquaintance from her former college. From there the story twists mercilessly and unexpectedly to its whiplash-inducing ending.

Hansen’s novel is certainly full of surprises. I expected a romance (I never read the back of the book) but instead ended up with a full-fledged murder mystery. The author is masterful at painting characters in a way that makes them easy to relate to and gets the reader attached. They have lives of their own with histories that jive well with their actions in the here and now. She spends three quarters of the book building up background like a roller coaster tick, tick, ticking its way to the top of the hill. When finally the last quarter arrives the whole thing comes together in an almost dizzying hurry that is full of surprises and rushes by in what is guaranteed to be one sitting. Once the last 70 pages or so are begun, do not expect to put them down for any reason not related to Emergency Medical Services.

For all the drama of the last part, however, the author does seem to take her time. I found myself skimming mercilessly through the middle third of the book and when the end arrived I didn’t really felt like I’d missed much. Our author paints a wonderfully vivid picture of her protagonists but it can wind on for almost too long and tread on the reader’s patience. Ultimately though a well-crafted, if wordy, story.

In summary, this is a grand and very timely (ripped from the headlines as it were) murder mystery full of intrigue. Fans of the mystery genre should be advised, however, that this is one from the emotional side rather than the clinical one. No forensics, no evidence, no blood splatter patterns, just surprising twists and turns and eventually lucky cops. That said, it’s still entertaining.

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The Suicide of Kate Evers by Eugene Kaster

The Suicide of Kate EversThe Suicide of Kate Evers by Eugene Kaster

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this novel for the ripe and familiar sum of nothing due to the kind consideration of a GoodReads giveaway. Despite that generosity my candid opinions follow.

Kate Evers is dead and given the title of the book this should come as no surprise whatsoever. The San Francisco police have ruled her death a suicide but her estranged husband isn’t buying that for a minute and he’ll do anything to prove she was murdered.

“The Suicide” is a novel that appeals most strongly to those who like to untangle large and complicated knots. The bulk of the book centers on the protagonist become widower as he picks apart a million tiny clues that lead him to the truth he seeks. Featuring everything from blood splatters to handwriting analysis to autopsy techniques this is a police technophile’s dream. It can, at times, be somewhat laborious and at at others gratuitously graphic but it’s a well composed journey through a dogged police investigation.

On the negative side, the author has a rather fearsome writing tic that can be very distracting. The majority of the novel is straightforward enough but periodically Kaster slips into what I can only describe as Yoda-speak and words in odd order they are suddenly. This rather disrupts the flow of the book but can be largely ignored if one is sufficiently persistent.

In summary, “The Suicide of Kate Evers” is a meticulous and detailed novel of a cuckolded husband’s quest to figure out what really happened to the wife that ran away to sleep around. The main draw is all the technical and investigative detail. Our author really knows what he’s talking about and weaves a great story for his readers. One does wish for just a bit of editing to counteract his tendency to channel the long-dead spirit of Yoda, however.

PS: It is my endeavor to provide reviews that are succinct, honest, balanced and above all help the potential reader to answer the simple question, “Do I want to read this or not?” Any feedback you can provide about how you feel I have accomplished those goals (or not) is immensely appreciated.

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