Book Review: Closer Than You Think by Lee Maguire

Closer Than You Think

Closer than you think book cover

Title: Closer Than You Think
Author: Lee Maguire
Series:
Broken Minds Thriller #1

Genre: Psychological Thriller
Date of Publication: October 22, 2018
Publisher: TCK Publishing


Synopsis:

In the first instalment in this “Broken Minds” mystery series, we’re introduced to Dr. Bryce Davison, a psychologist with his own broken mind.  His marriage is on the rocks, his insomnia is threatening his livelihood, and now he has a stalker. Someone who’s been watching him for a long time and is determined to destroy his marriage, his career, and his mind…

Plot

Dr. Bryce Davison is a mental health professional.  When he realizes that he has a stalker, the list of potential suspects is quite long.  This makes for an interesting mystery. I could immediately tell that the author works or has worked in the industry, because the writing has an authentic feel that permeates through the setting, the plot, and the way that Bryce talks about his career and his patients.

Maguire jumps right into the story with little explanation as to who the characters are. This made it a little difficult to get into and to understand. (For instance, it took me a few pages to figure out that “Max” was his dog).  That said, it’s definitely worth pushing through those first few chapters, because the excitement starts up pretty quickly and doesn’t let up for the whole book.  There are many twists and turns that make this book a one-sitting read.

There are quite a few matter-of-fact-style descriptions of Bryce’s conversations and his work day. This book might not appeal to those who aren’t at all interested in the daily struggle of psychologists.  I genuinely enjoyed Bryce’s interactions with coworkers and the “disturbed” youths that he deals with.  Although, I did think that the author could have skipped some scenes to get to the juicier stuff. It reminded me a little of Patricia Cornwell’s early Scarpetta books. You get a peak into what it’s like to work in that profession, even when some of the things being mentioned don’t directly relate to the plot. That said, Maguire ingeniously takes these opportunities to casually insert clues as to who Bryce’s stalker is, which makes these chapters even more interesting to me, a self-proclaimed amateur couch sleuth.

There are quite a few flashbacks throughout the novel. It’s not immediately clear how they’re relevant, but Maguire ties them into the overall character arc quite nicely.

Characters

Dr. Bryce Davison strikes me as highly paranoid right from the get go. I was surprised by how quickly he figured out that he was being stalked.  I find strange smells in my apartment on the regular, and I never assume that it means that someone was in my apartment. (Although, now I’m starting to worry about that! I mean, I know that I don’t smoke cigarettes. Who’s been coming into my apartment to smoke cigarettes?!).

That said, Dr. Davison is very smart and does all the right things that he should have done when being stalked, i.e. Call the police. That’s really the most important thing to do, in my opinion.  He also keeps a record of all the things that are being done.  While the stalker clearly wanted to put his personal life and job at risk, I was never too worried about him losing his job, because of the way he was meticulously keeping the police informed of what was happening to him.

Language

The writing style is a little stilted at times, particularly in the way that the teenagers talk. It pulled me out of the story a little bit, but the plot was so darn compelling that I kept reading anyway.

Closer Than You Think

I recommend this book to anyone looking for an intriguing psychological thriller featuring a psychologist whose mind is just as broken as those he’s sworn to help.

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*Thank you to TCK Publishing for the review copy*

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Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood

the hazel wood book cover

Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Flatiron Books


Synopsis:

Alice has never met her grandmother, infamous fairy-tale writer Althea Prosperine.  Althea earned her fame decades ago by penning a single collection of fairy tales about a strange place called the Hinterland.  Afterwards, she isolated herself in her enormous estate, the Hazel Wood, cutting herself off from the rest of the world.  Alice has spent her seventeen years of life on the road; her mother moves them from place to place as mysterious bad luck seems to follow them wherever they go.  But when Althea dies, Alice’s mother is happy. Ecstatic, even. She says they can finally settle down and place roots in New York. But this decision might have been a tad too hasty.  Alice’s mother is kidnapped by someone who claims to be from the Hinterland.  Now Alice must team up with a fellow classmate–Ellery Finch–who just so happens to be an expert on the stories that her grandmother wrote. Together they will go to the Hazel Wood and uncover the truth about the Hinterland

Plot 

The Hazel Wood reads like a fairy tale, but set in a gritty, modern world with iPhones, baristas, and high school classes.  Melissa Albert writes with a beautiful, lyrical style that is quite unique. Because of this, I was able to get into the head of the protagonist, Alice, quite quickly. I found myself understanding her and her predicament almost immediately.   

The plot and pacing of this book is phenomenal.  Albert lays out clues like bread bread crumbs, but I still didn’t know where they were leading until the twist smacked me in the face. That twist. Omg. Now I know why people were raving about this book last year. I’m doubly embarrassed for not reading this sooner. But how are you supposed to know what books are ‘must-reads’ until after they’ve already been out for a bit? 

Characters

Alice isn’t like your typical protagonist. She’s sarcastic with anger issues and she isn’t against dropping the occasional F-bomb.  She isn’t what you’d expect the main character of this type of book to be like. She’s been raised on the run–from the “curse” that seems to follow her and her mother–and her relationship with her mother is an interesting one. She loves her, while at the same time she resents her for keeping her away from her infamous grandmother and her legacy.  

Ellery Finch is a perfect love interest.  Their romance isn’t in-your-face, like you usually get in fairy tales. Ellery and Alice spend a lot of time getting to know each other, particularly while on the road trip to rescue her mother, and Albert provides so much intricate detail that it felt like I was in the car with them. As I mentioned in the Plot section, Albert has a way with words, and this is especially evidence in how she gets us invested in these characters within mere pages of their introduction.

The Hazel Wood

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a modern-day fairy tale that’s like the original Grimm, not at all like the sweet and disarming Disney adaptations.  While there’s some romance, the focus is on the mysterious Hazel Wood, the Hinterland, and the ethereal fairy tales that may or may not be fiction…

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Book Review: The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta

The Lost Coast book cover

The Lost Coast Book cover

Title: The Lost Coast
Author: Amy Rose Capetta
Genre: Fantasy, Literary, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: May 14,  2019
Publisher: Candlewick


Synopsis

The Lost Coast is a highly literary coming of age tale of a group of teenage witches, self-named the Grays.  Their leader, Imogen, has gone missing, and they’ve tried nearly everything to find her. But when Danny moves to town, she brings with her a unique type of magic that might just be what they’re looking for, in more ways than one.

~My Thoughts~

This book is beautifully written, and the words are like poetry on the page.  It reminds me a little bit of a literary version of an 80s movie, with a bunch of lost kids trying to find their place in the world, but in this book, they’ve found their place–with each other.

There are many different points of view expressed throughout the book.  We get a lot of chapters from Danny’s point of view, and others from the Grays’, but we also get the perspective of the other high school students, which provides context for why the Grays feel so out of place in their little, traditional town.  To reinforce themes of magic in the book, Capetta occasionally provides the point of view of the trees and the ravens, which could be groan-worthy, but it somehow works.

Capetta doesn’t only jump points of view frequently, but she also jumps in time. We get to see what the characters were doing and feeling years earlier, weeks earlier, days earlier.  Capetta takes the “show, don’t tell” approach quite literally with these flashbacks, and it works well in this story. While it could have been hard to follow, the transitions between timeline jumps are seamless.  I almost feel like this style would have been better suited to a novel that has an element of time travel, but the back and forth really works to create a mystical, surreal feeling to the entire book.  

You have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy this book.  It’s literary, not a plot-driven romantic-mystery.  While it is a mystery and a romance, the emphasis is on the language, and Capetta effortlessly elicits strong emotions from readers with her careful word selection.

One complaint I do have is that the book didn’t quite feature enough magic for me.  I love books that have a strong theology that the author has created, a way of magic that just is, but Capetta didn’t spend much time on this.  It would have been acceptable if the magic of this world was simple, but Imogen, for instance, is highly powerful, and it would have been a stronger story had the limitations of magic been explained, or at least demonstrated for the readers.  

Another issue I have with the book is that there are too many fascinating characters that don’t get enough attention because there are just so many of them.  For instance, there’s a character named Emma Hart, and we meet her halfway through the book. Her storyline is heart wrenching and beautiful, and I wish that Capetta hadn’t included her in this book and instead written an entire book dedicated to her story. Instead, her backstory gets glossed over in a quick chapter.  Even with other characters, Capetta barely has a chance to scratch the surface of who they are.  There better be more books coming in this series!

2019-06-10 20.18.17

I recommend this book to anyone looking for an exquisitely literary take on queer witches.  

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*Thank you to Candlewick and OLA Super Conference 2019 for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

Beautiful Bad Photograph

Beautiful Bad book cover

Title: Beautiful Bad
Author: Annie Ward
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Date of Publication: March 5, 2019
Publisher: Park Row Books


Synopsis:

Maddie and Ian meet in southeastern Europe, fall in love, and move to suburbs in Kansas to raise their son, Charlie.  After a mysterious camping accident, Maddie starts going to therapy, where she gradually reveals to her therapist what her life is really like.  Told in three timelines, the events of Beautiful Bad lead up to the horrifying events that occur on “The Day of the Killing”…

Plot

Beautiful Bad is at its heart a psychological thriller, but it does have elements of military fiction and drama thrown into the mix. At times the book is set in different parts of the globe, giving the book an international feel that is uncommon in typical domestic suspense novels.

Annie Ward uses three plotlines across three different timelines to tell this story.  One is set years before the main events of the book, when Maddie and Ian first meet.  Maddie, who is living in Bulgaria, writing for Fodor’s travel guides, frequently visits her best friend, Joanna, in Macedonia, despite the political unrest in the region.  She meets Ian at a bar, and they gradually fall in love.  This is my least favourite storyline, which, unfortunately, makes up the bulk of the book. The “will they or won’t they?” dance goes on a little too long for my liking.

The second plotline is set in the months and eventually the days before “The Killing”.  Maddie is seeing a therapist who is helping her with her issues.  Not long ago, Maddie fell while on a camping trip with Ian and their son, Charlie, and she doesn’t remember what happened. She has a horrible scar down half of her face, and the police at the time were convinced that this couldn’t have been an accident…

The third plotline is set on “The Day of the Killing”, and we follow police officer Diane as she answers a call to a potential domestic violence case. These scenes are the least frequent in the novel.  They provide readers with the reminder that something horrible is going to happen in this beautiful home in the dreamy suburbs of Kansas…

Beautiful Bad has lots of twists and turns.  The ending is downright shocking.  I love a good book that lays out all the clues for you in plain sight, yet you still don’t see the twist coming until the very end.

Characters

Maddie is an intriguing main character.  When she hit her head on the camping trip, there was some brain damage, causing her to forget what had happened. Ward takes the amnesia and unreliable narrator tropes seen so frequently in psychological thrillers, and she puts a new spin on them. In the months before the killing scenes, Maddie’s therapist has her do writing therapy.  Maddie’s answers to the writing prompts provide a peek into her past and tell us why Maddie is the way she is.  Her therapist accuses her of “catastrophizing”, which is all too apparent in the answers that Maddie provides to the questions.  This personality ‘quirk’  makes for a fascinating protagonist.

Maddie’s former best friend, Joanna, is also a compelling character. While Joanna has dedicated her life to aid in Macedonia, doing whatever it takes to ensure that much-needed supplies make it across the border of a country in turmoil, she isn’t quite what you would expect. She doesn’t come across as a stereotypical do-gooder, who’s sweet and caring and willing to always do what’s best.  She parties a lot and the author hints that she’s partially in it for the danger, not just to help people.  Although we don’t get any chapters from her point of view, Joanna is a well-fleshed-out, unique, and interesting character, which is uncommon in secondary characters in psychological thrillers.

While most of the book is from Maddie’s perspective, we do get some pivotal scenes from Ian’s. His chapters contribute significantly to the narrative, revealing his thoughts, motivations, hopes, fears. Without them, we would only have seen Ian from Maddie’s point of view, and the story would have been severely lacking. These scenes add something special to the book, and at the risk of spoiling any twists, I’ll leave it at that.

Beautiful Bad Photograph

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a thrilling psychological thriller with a lot twists and turns and a surprising conclusion.  Set in exotic locales like Macedonia, Iraq, and Kansas (just kidding on the last one), Beautiful Bad is a unique take on the genre, which should not be missed by seasoned fans and new readers alike.

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*Thank you to Park Row Books for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: The Women’s War by Jenna Glass

The Women's War

The Women's War book cover

Title: The Women’s War
Author: Jenna Glass
Series: The Women’s War #1
Genre: High Fantasy
Date of Publication: March 5, 2019
Publisher: Del Rey


Synopsis:

In this patriarchal, high-fantasy world, women are used by royals as bargaining chips and are valued only for their ability to reproduce.  But the tables have finally turned. A curse has been cast, one that allows all women to choose whether or not they want to bear a child.  Women have finally regained some control over their lives, but the battle has just begun.  Many men will do whatever they can to keep their power.

Plot & Characters

Touted as a feminist high-fantasy, The Women’s War does not disappoint in this regard.  This curse that is cast upon all the kingdoms gives women some semblance of power, but of course, men still seek to control them.

The novel follows several women over the course of the months following this curse that befell all the kingdoms.  Each of the women is in a different stage of life – whether eighteen or the ripe old age of forty, and each of them experiences different levels of oppression. Each woman is controlled (to varying degrees) by the men in her life. These women’s journeys, while quite different in plot, are also eerily similar.  It’s fascinating to watch their characters develop over the span of this 550-page book.  However, because there are so many different characters living in different kingdoms, they can be hard to keep track of, which does slow down the pace of the book.  The individual chapters are a tad too short, giving you a taste of what is going on with one character before switching over to the next, which can add to the confusion. Although a lot happens in this book, this is not a quick read.

While there are several main female characters in this story, I will focus on three: Ellin, Alys, and Jellin.  When her family is tragically killed, Ellin becomes the new Queen of Rhozinolm.  Having a female sovereign has precedent in her land, but the men of the council seek to manipulate her and seize the throne for themselves.  Alys is a forty-year-old widow with a gift for magic, which before now she was unable to use.  She hopes to use magic to make the world a better place for her children.  Jellin is Alys’s eighteen-year-old daughter who must use her wits to avoid marriage to an unsavory man.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Women’s War by Jenna Glass”

Book Review: The Huntress by Kate Quinn

The Huntress Book cover reading

The Huntress book cover

Title: The Huntress
Author: Kate Quinn
Genre: Historical Fiction,Thriller 
Date of Publication: February 26, 2019
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks


Synopsis

Nina Markova was a female bomber pilot in World War II.  Badass, reckless, and a little crazy, Nina was a member of an infamous regiment called the Night Witches, which comprised solely of women fighter pilots.  But when Nina crosses paths with a Nazi murderess, The Huntress, she barely manages to escape with her life.  After the war, she joins forces with Nazi hunter Ian Graham to hunt down the elusive Huntress…

Plot

The Huntress follows three seemingly disparate storylines across the length of the book.  Told from three unique POVs, the three stories are also set at different times – one before and then during World War II, one that begins a year after its end, and one set in 1950.

Nina is a Russian pilot, and, according to the book’s blurb, the main character. The novel follows her in the years before joining the Night Witches, revealing to the reader just how harsh it was to grow up in an isolated rural region in Russia. But when she joins the Night Witches, she finds her true love – the sky.

Ian Graham is a former British war correspondent turned Nazi hunter. He works with his partner Tony to find and capture Nazi war criminals. After taking down numerous bad guys, he decides to target the one he’s really after–the Huntress–the woman who murdered his brother.

Jordan McBride is a Bostonian teenager whose father falls madly in love with a secretive German woman with a mysterious past. Her father marries this woman, Annelise, adopting her child as his own, but Jordan can’t fight the sneaking suspicion that Annelise isn’t quite what she seems. A burgeoning photographer, Jordan is always looking to snap pictures of her family. But why won’t Annelise let her take her picture?

Continue reading “Book Review: The Huntress by Kate Quinn”

Book Review: Missing Daughter by Rick Mofina

Missing Daughter Book

Missing Daughter book cover

Title: Missing Daughter
Author: Rick Mofina
Genre: Mystery
Date of Publication: February 19, 2019
Publisher: MIRA


Synopsis

It starts off just like any other night.  Karen and Ryan come home after date night, pay the babysitter, check on their children, then go to bed.  The following morning, twelve-year-old Maddie is missing.  This novel details the investigation that follows this horrific discovery.  Everyone has their secrets, from Karen and Ryan to Maddie’s friends.  But will the police be able to sift through all the lies and deception and find out whatever really happened to Maddie Lane?

Plot

Missing Daughter has a lot of police procedural content, yet it still manages to be fast paced.  Some aspects of the investigation might not be for everyone, but I recommend this book to those who are fascinated by following how a police investigation like this unfolds.

Missing Daughter occasionally came across as repetitive. We follow one character making a phone call and informing someone of something, and then we follow that someone making a subsequent phone call informing someone else of said thing.  However, this rang true of what would really happen in a case like this, and this realism make the book so much more engrossing.  Mofina wasn’t cutting out information that might not be of interest to the reader, and as a result, any innocuous little detail felt like it could be a clue.

Sometimes this repetition was very effective. For example, towards the beginning of the book, the father, wife, and son are all put through polygraph testing.  It was repetitive in the sense that Mofina describes each one of them being set up with electrodes and answering the baseline questions.  But this effectively jacked up the tension in the scene.  Despite any repetition in the story, the plot was still incredibly fast paced, so it did not slow down the story telling at all.

After reading this book, I now feel intimately familiar with the inner workings of a missing child investigation. While Mofina says that he has taken some creative liberties to the actual process taken, his experience has a court reporter is quite clear in how genuinely he portrays the investigation.

There is quite a bit of detail in the plot, which made the read much more intriguing. There were so many little seemingly inconsequential elements that could lead to nothing or could crack the whole case wide open.  I love having so many clues to sift through, because uncovering the twists before they happen becomes far more difficult.

Characters

There are a lot of characters introduced in this book in a short period of time, and it isn’t immediately evident who is important and who isn’t.  Mofina names many family friends and family members in the first few chapters of the book, which slowed down the reading slightly, as I wasn’t sure which characters would become important as the story progressed. However, this in itself is true to real life. Most people have more than two or three friends to call on in a crisis.

The story follows the all the characters in third person POV that doesn’t quite allow us to get into the heads of the readers. This is a good thing, because I probably would have been sobbing the entire time if I was truly feeling what the parents were feeling when their daughter goes missing.  That said, towards the end the raw emotion started to break through—particularly when the parents are watching Maddie’s home videos.

Mofina uses flashbacks to flesh out a few of the main characters, and it’s well done, as these flashbacks sometimes came into light with the current storyline that was playing out.

Missing Daughter Book

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone looking for a mystery with lots of twists and turns, a fast plot, and a focus on the investigation of the crime itself rather than delving deeply into characterization.

*Thank you to MIRA and the author for the book for review!*

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Book Review: Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose

Say You're Sorry book photo

Say You're Sorry Book Cover

Title: Say You’re Sorry
Author: Karen Rose
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: The Sacramento Series book 1

Date of Publication: February 12, 2019
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group


Synopsis

When a serial killer targets Daisy Dawson, he doesn’t expect her to fight back. But she does, and she manages to grab the locket he wears around his neck during the struggle.  This locket connects to a cult that Agent Gideon Reynolds of the FBI escaped when he was only 13 years old.  He is driven to find that cult and expose them, saving the women and children from their psychotic leader’s tyranny.  This serial killer is Gideon’s one tangible connection to the cult.  He’s assigned to Daisy to protect her from the killer and hopefully draw him out.  Daisy and Gideon have undeniable chemistry, and Gideon quickly realizes that Daisy isn’t as helpless as he thought she was…

Language

First off, I want to say that Karen Rose is an excellent writer. Everything she writes is wrought with tension, and she creates such dynamic and realistic characters that it’s hard not to grow attached to every single one of them, even minor characters.  This is the primary reason why I gave Say You’re Sorry a 4 star rating, even though I had several issues with the plot, pacing, and characters.

Continue reading “Book Review: Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose”

Book Review: Wolfgang by F. D. Gross

Wolfgang

Wolfgang book cover

Title: Wolfgang
Editors: F. D. Gross
Genre: Horror, fantasy
Date of Publication: October 23, 2018
Series: Wolfgang #1
Publisher: Independently published


Synopsis:

Wolfgang is a nobleman who spends his days and nights purging the countryside of the undead.  But when he returns home after killing a nest of vampires, he discovers his wife dead, his town in ruins, and his son is missing. Desperate to find his son alive, he must fight a race against time, all the while killing the hoards of undead that are trying to keep him from his goal.

Plot

The book opens with a little preamble setting the stage for the story. It sort of reminds me of the sliding words on the screen of the beginning of Star Wars movies.  I think this will be very useful in follow up books in the series, so that readers can be quickly reminded of what happened in the previous books, so the the author can jump right into the plotline in the first chapters.

This novel reads like a rocket-fast paced version of Dracula (minus the epistolary style).  The story itself is quite different from Dracula, but the writing has a similar language and tone.  The plot plunges forward from the very first pages, and things are explained just enough so that the reader can follow along for this wild ride.  There are quite a few twists and turns in the plot, some which were predictable, and others were not.  

Characters

Because of the fast pace of the story, there is not much opportunity for scenes that are crafted solely for the purpose of character development. However, every scene is carefully planned.  F. D. Gross does an excellent job of giving us a clear understanding of who Wolfgang is, what his motivations are, and even showing some vulnerabilities. For instance, in the very beginning of the story, he has to kill an undead woman.  He does so, because it’s his duty, but he wavers at the thought of killing her child, even though the little boy is no longer technically living. This tells us so much about not only the nature of the undead in this world, what the plot will be like for the story, but it also tells us bucketloads about the main character.

Side characters are a little less developed, and I would have liked to have had some more scenes with simple conversations between the characters, to get a better sense of who they are.  Wolfgang’s wife dies very early on in the book, but we didn’t have much opportunity to grow attached to her. However, F. D. Gross does provide some flashbacks later in the book, which allow the reader to better understand how greatly Wolfgang loved his wife.

Worldbuilding

While the plot is fast-paced, every word is carefully selected and F. D. Gross crafts a well-developed and elaborate world.  He even describes what the undead smell like – cloves and burnt leaves, in case you were wondering.

Wolfgang

Overall, I highly recommend this book if you’re a fan of fast-paced plots, effortless worldbuilding, and old-fashioned vampire killing.

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*Thank you to the author for the ebook for review!*

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Book Review: When it Will Rayne, It Will Pour by S. C. McCormack

When it will rayne book cover

when it will rayne it will pour book cover

Title: When it Will Rayne, It Will Pour
Author: S. C. McCormack
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Romance
Date of Publication: October 4, 2018
Publisher: Self-Published


Synopsis

Rayne Slater is a private investigator with a mysterious past. When she’s hired to infiltrate a lion-shapeshifter colony and isolate one of their members, Reese Donovan, she agrees, but only for the big paycheck.  She’s hesitant to be thrown back into a world that she escaped years ago, but this case forces her to face her demons.  When she develops feelings for her target, she has to make a big choice: and it’s not just between her client and her feelings, but about what she wants the rest of her life to look like.

Language

When it will Rayne, it will Pour is written in a noir-like style that I enjoyed immensely.  The text needs editing (at least, the version I read), but it didn’t trip me up too much.

McCormack employs seamless transitions between present day and flashbacks that flesh out the story.  The author provides just enough information about Rayne’s past to leave the reader eagerly anticipating more.

Continue reading “Book Review: When it Will Rayne, It Will Pour by S. C. McCormack”