Month: October 2019

Book Review: The Look-Alike by Erica Spindler

This just might be the best thriller I’ve read all year (and I read a LOT of thrillers). Why, you ask? For a number of reasons:

1. The main character, Sienna Scott, is a genuinely likeable person. She was handed some major negativity early in her life (a mentally ill mother, stumbling across a murder victim in college), and is working hard to move past these events. It’s nice to see this lovely young woman making an effort to reconnect with her family and achieve her dream of owning her own restaurant. Of note, events cause Sienna to worry that she may have inherited her mother’s mental illness.

2. The secondary characters, notably Jonathan, Randy, Bradley, and Mrs. Scott, are also drawn realistically and distinctly. Some are likable, some are not, and some are to be pitied, but they are all unique and interesting characters. Even minor characters, like the already-deceased Mr. Scott and Mrs. Scott’s doctors, are presented clearly enough that they seem like real people.

3. Author Erica Spindler keeps you guessing about what is real and what isn’t. The nature of Mrs. Scott’s (and possibly Sienna’s) mental illness means that she perceives people and events in a certain way. While she fully believes things are as she sees them, the reader is left unsure as to what is reality and what is delusion.

4. My favorite part of a thriller is trying to figure out who the “bad guy” is. Ms. Spindler gives the reader three solid suspects, and develops each one, along with their motives, as the story moves along. A couple of less-solid (but still plausible) suspects are also thrown into the mix. I honestly suspected multiple people at different times as I read. By the end, I had a pretty good idea, but only because some suspects are gradually eliminated. Also, since I had suspected virtually everybody at some point, I was bound to have been right. This element of multiple truly legitimate suspects really made the book stand out for me. The suspense element was handled perfectly, and I was obsessed with reading on to see what happened. I had to make myself put the book down for little things like “sleeping” and “going to work”.

5. The final reveal made perfect sense in the end. One extra-awesome bit….there was a clue I picked up early on. However, I thought it might have been an editing oversight, since I read an ARC (not a final version) of this book. As it turns out, it wasn’t an oversight at all, but a critical clue that tied everything together. The novel also gets bonus points for having the culprit be a character who was part of the book all along. I really hate thrillers that bring a character into the story late, and that person ends up being the bad guy.

All in all, five out of five slices of the freshest American cheese. I really loved this book, and it will be making my “Best of 2020” list. Bravo, Ms. Spindler!

Book Review: Unscripted by Davis Bunn

“Unscripted” is a standalone novel by Davis Bunn. It tells the story of a wrongfully imprisoned filmmaker, a lawyer dissatisfied with her job (and her life), and what happens when they are drawn together to try to make a made-for-tv movie.

This story drew me in immediately. The plight of filmmaker Danny Byrd seemed to be hopeless at first, but circumstances quickly changed as unseen forces began to intervene in his life, and the reader begins to experience hope along with Danny. I had trouble putting the book down, as I was so eager to see what happened next. This seldom happens with non-thrillers, and is a testament to Mr. Bunn’s ability to keep the reader engaged in the lives of his characters.

The story was fabulous. I learned quite a bit about the filmmaking process, including the on-set aspects, the behind-the-scenes aspects, and some of the legal/contractual aspects I had never considered before. I found all of this fascinating, as it was explained as the story (and the film in question) progressed. I almost felt like I was right there with the characters, trying to create something magical in a very short time frame.

There were plenty of characters, and all were well-drawn and distinct. Watching Emma bloom before my eyes was lovely, as was watching Danny open up to Emma and learn to trust in the general goodness of people again. Through the characters, the author subtly explores such themes as forgiveness, hope, and second chances. Personally, I would love to see a sequel covering Emma’s continued career in film and music, and possibly a redemption storyline for actor Alex Cross. A prequel about Jennie Finch’s life and early career would also be fascinating.

The romance between Danny and lawyer Megan was, for the most part, enjoyable and believable. I would have liked a bit more conversation between them to show how they were drawing closer to each other. It seemed that there was an initial mutual attraction that was beginning to grow, and should have been allowed to continue on its course. After all, both characters were under a lot of stress, were working insanely long hours, and had only limited time to get to know each other. Instead, Megan delivers an ultimatum that doesn’t seem organic to the story up to that point. I think the reader should have been shown some of Megan’s frustration prior to her outburst. Despite this odd interlude, the relationship deepens as both characters mature and come to terms with things about themselves. Overall, I liked their dynamic; I would simply have omitted the odd bump in the road in the development of the relationship. Enough was going on in the book that this was not needed, and did not help the flow of the story.

I rated “Unscripted” a bit lower due to his issue with the romance, but immediately bumped it right back up due to that fact that, this one small thing aside, I absolutely LOVED this book. It is my favorite of my recent reads, and I highly recommend it. So…read it for yourself, and come back to comment with your thoughts. I’d love to discuss the story with other readers.

Five out of five wedges of the always-popular Gouda!

 

 

 

Book Review: A Killer Carnival by Jeannette de Beauvoir

I truly enjoyed reading “A Killer Carnival”, and can’t imagine how I haven’t discovered this series before now! First off, you absolutely CAN read this and follow everything without having read anything else in the series. I did, and didn’t feel like I was missing anything…the author did an AMAZING job of making sure I had all the information I needed.

I connected with main character Sydney immediately. She is the perfect amateur sleuth to headline this series! The book is set in Provincetown, a real place that the author obviously knows well. Her love of the area shines through during the entire book, and her descriptions of the town and its people/events made me want to visit. Who wouldn’t love a town so devoted to embracing diversity of all kinds?

This cozy gets bonus points for uniqueness in three key areas:

1. There is no murder! Instead, our heroine is trying to solve a different type of mystery.

2. It is edgy! There is a lot of discussion about diversity, racism, and the political and social ramifications of these issues. “A Killer Carnival” definitely provides much more material for discussion than the typical cozy, and gives the reader plenty to think about, both during and after reading.

3. There is character diversity! Unlike so many cozies, not everyone is young, beautiful, thin, white, and straight. I very much enjoyed reading about different types of people within the cozy mystery sub-genre.

All in all, WELL DONE, Ms. de Beauvoir! You have created a solid story set in a fabulous world that stands out from much of what is on the market today.

Five out of five chunks of delicious sharp cheddar!

Book Review: A Distance Too Grand by Regina Scott

“A Distance Too Grand” by Regina Scott is the first book in what promises to be a wonderful new series called “American Wonders Collection”.  This installment tells the story of Meg Pero, a young photographer who joins an Army Corps of Engineers mission to map and document the area around the Grand Canyon in 1871.

This book is definitely character drive. Both main characters (Meg and Captain Ben Coleridge) are incredibly well-written. The reader will feel like he/she is gradually getting to know real people as the story moves along and more and more about the characters’ pasts, families, and personalities are revealed. This is a historical romance, so it’s not surprising that feelings grow between the two. What makes this novel unique is that they had met years earlier, courted, and had genuine feelings for each other. After the passage of several years, plus hurt feelings, it is interesting to observe as Meg and Ben renew their acquaintance.

Although the romance is lovely, it is only one part of what this book has to offer. The relationship unfolds as the couple are part of a team surveying the Grand Canyon area. The reader will learn a lot about the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1870s, and what it was like to be part of an expedition to map new terrains. There is also plenty of information about daily life, religion, clothing, food, and the role of women during that time. Despite learning quite a bit, you will never be bored or feel like you’re sitting in a history lecture. All of this information is presented as part of the story, and is truly fascinating!

Since this is a Christian novel, I’ll address the role of Christianity in the story. Ben is a devout Christian, and lives as he believes. Meg has grown up popping in and out of various churches in different places, but doesn’t really have a relationship with the Lord. It is interesting to watch her discover her personal faith through witnessing the amazing majesty of God’s creation. Ben’s faith, and the subtle way he shares it with her, also helps in her journey. It is always nice to read about a Christian person (Ben) who lets his faith guide his actions without constantly announcing it and trying to force it onto others. I thought the religious aspect of this novel was handled perfectly.

5 out of 5 slices of thinly sliced, ultra-sharp Cheddar!

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Dark Ambitions by Irene Hannon

First things first….”Dark Ambitions” by Irene Hannon is book 3 in the “Men of Valor” series. I had not read either of the first two books, and had no problem jumping right in with this one. The author does a fabulous job of catching the reader up on everything you need to know without making you feel overwhelmed or confused.

Now, on to the substance of this book itself. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed “Dark Ambitions”. This is a Christian Romantic Suspense title, and it lives up to the genre in all three senses of the phrase. The two main characters are clearly Christians, and live their lives as such. However, they never come across as preachy in any way. They are just good people, living out what they believe. As such, both characters provide great role models for living out your faith in your everyday life.

Of course, there is a budding romance between the two, and it is written beautifully. I cannot express how much I appreciate the author writing a clean, believable, honest, trope-free romance between two people who are obviously meant for each other. There are no silly misunderstandings, no overhearing-something-and-misinterpreting plotlines, no hate-at-first-sight-leads-to-love unrealistic changes of mind. Two people meet, like each other, get to know each other, and fall in love. So refreshing!

As for the suspense part of the story….it’s excellent! What starts out as a simple missing persons case quickly grows into so much more. Multiple murders, old overseas crimes, stalking, and more all add to the complexity of the investigation without leaving the reader feeling overwhelmed. I was able to guess part of the end result, but part of it surprised me (which is always a good thing). To me this is optimal…it means the reader has been given enough clues to figure out part of the mystery, but the author still has a couple of surprises up her sleeve.

On a final note, the epilogue was lovely! I enjoyed learning more about what happened to Heather and Rick after the main story ended.

All in all, I highly recommend “Dark Ambitions”. It is the perfect mix of romance and suspense, with just the write tone of Christian undercurrent.

Five out of five chunks of nice, creamy Camembert!