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.

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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”

Book Review: Delivering Virtue by Brian Kindall

delivering virtue book cover

delivering virtue book cover

Title: Delivering Virtue
Author: Brian Kindall
Genre: Fantasy, Literary
Date of Publication: November 7, 2015
Publisher: Diving Boy Books


When Didier Rain, a broke scoundrel, is approached to fulfill a prophecy foretold by the The Church of the Restructured Truth, the offer is too good to pass up. He must transport the baby Virtue, the church’s prophet’s child bride, over a thousand miles across the western pioneer trail.  During his journey, he meets many peculiar and interesting characters, and he just so happens to learn something about himself along the way.

Delivering Virtue is an 1854 Western historical fiction, a fantasy, an adventure, an allegory. It’s definitely a genre-bender.  Readers need to approach this book with an open mind. I have to admit there were a few times I was taken aback, because I thought I’d known where the story was going (and I’d clearly had no idea).  This is a book that you can’t read too literally. There are quite a few WTF moments, but you just have to remember it’s allegory and try not to be too traumatized by what Didier does.

Continue reading “Book Review: Delivering Virtue by Brian Kindall”

Book Review: Ashes of Retribution by L. J. Andrews

Ashes of Retribution book cover

Title: Ashes of Retribution
Author: L. J. Andrews
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Date of Publication: June 28, 2018
Publisher: 4 Arrows


Adira lives in a dystopian world where people have been divided in two groups: the “Pure” and the “Impure”. The pure have no deformities, no marks on their bodies, no scars. The “Impure” could be anyone–from someone who has eyes that are two different colours to someone with a little scar on their left hand.  When Adira was a child, her maid was an “Impure”, and Adira ridiculed her for it. But when her maid was killed while protecting her, Adira realized that the impure are not that different after all. Now that she knows this, what is she willing to do about it?

It took me a bit of time to get into this book. I didn’t fall in love with Adira immediately, and I wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going. About fifty pages in, things got interesting, and I started to understand why Adira was the way she was.  Then, once she’s kidnapped by the Shadow Assassins, the book becomes unputdownable.

Continue reading “Book Review: Ashes of Retribution by L. J. Andrews”

Book Review: Madame Victoria by Catherine Leroux

Madame Victoria

madame victoria book cover

Title: Madame Victoria
Author: Catherine Leroux
Genre: Literary
Date of Publication: November 13, 2018
Publisher: Biblioasis


In 2001, a skeleton was discovered in the woods behind the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Quebec.  The remains were never claimed.  The mystery woman was lovingly referred to as Madame Victoria by those who sought to identify her.  Her case was eventually set aside, replaced by more urgent matters. But Catherine Leroux won’t let Madame Victoria be forgotten.  In this compelling novel, Leroux has crafted twelve possible backgrounds for Madame Victoria.

Each individual history is equally breathtaking and heartbreaking.  The stories are framed by the tales of the people affected by Madame Victoria’s discovery.  Their realization that she will never be identified and the impact that this has on their lives complements the mystery woman’s possible histories in a tragically beautiful way.

The stories are connected by common imagery and the theme of invisibility.  Through each story, Leroux reveals a kaleidoscope of emotion and human experience.  Each version of Madame Victoria was forgotten for different reasons.  A few of the stories towards the end became fantastical – with a little science fiction and fantasy thrown into the mix.  This added to the complexity and sheer uniqueness of the book, although my favourite stories are those based in realism.

Leroux uses captivating imagery in her writing, and the words drip off the pages like liquid sugar.  She could write about filing your taxes and turn it into a poignant piece that leaves the reader in tears.  I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Madame Victoria

I recommend this book to those who want to read a modern Canadian literary gem, and for those who don’t mind a little tragedy in their leisure reading.  That said, I can see Madame Victoria becoming an assigned book in high school French language classes across Canada.

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*Thank you to Biblioasis for the advanced reader copy!*

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