Book Review: The Empty Nest – Sue Watson

Author: Sue Watson
Book Name: The Empty Nest
Release Date: November 1, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Psychological Thriller/Suspense/Mystery
Overall SPA: 2 Stars
2 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Kat remembers the days when her only daughter Amy wouldn’t leave her side. Amy was the baby who cried when you walked out of the room, the toddler who was too shy to speak to strangers, the small child who clung to Kat’s legs in the school playground.

But now Amy is grown up, and Amy is gone – to university in a town several hours away. Kat’s house – which once felt too full, too noisy, too busy – is deathly quiet, and Kat awaits the daily phone call to tell her that her beloved daughter is thriving and happy.

Until the day Amy doesn’t call, sending Kat into a panic. Her husband and friends say she’s being paranoid – surely Amy is just out, having fun? But Kat feels sure something is very wrong – she knows her daughter, and she would never just disappear.

As the hours turn into days, her fears are confirmed: Amy is missing. But there are secrets about her daughter that Kat doesn’t know about yet. And the truth about Amy’s whereabouts may be closer to home than Kat could ever imagine…

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Believability: 2/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

I really wasn’t a fan of this one. You spend the bulk of the book inside Kat’s head with very little actually going on. The emotions she expresses go from one extreme to another, from one sentence to the next, enough to give the reader whiplash. This is basically a story about extremely unhealthy relationships, relationships between mother and daughter, between friends, and even between husband and wife.

I couldn’t find anything in any of the characters that made me feel much sympathy towards what they were going though because they all had some pretty horrible traits. I did feel something towards Amy, but that kind of gets killed when you get a good glimpse into her personality as well.

The specifics of the plot just felt really overblown and extreme from all aspects. The struggle with believability along with the lack of connection to  the characters made this not a good book for me.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

 

Book Review: Good Girls, Amanda Brookfield

Author: Amanda Brookfield
Book Name: Good Girls
Release Date: October 8, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Overall SPA: 2 Stars
2 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Everyone that meets Kat Keating is mesmerised. Beautiful, smart and charming, she is everything a good girl should be.

Her sister Eleanor, on the other hand, knows she can’t compete with Kat. On the awkward side of tall, clever enough to be bullied, and full of the responsibilities only an older sibling can understand, Eleanor grows up knowing she’s not a good girl.

This is the story of the Keating sisters – through a childhood fraught with secrets, adolescent rivalries, and on into adulthood with all its complexities and misunderstandings.  Until a terrible truth brings the sisters crashing together and finally Eleanor begins to uncover just how good Kat really was.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2/5 Stars
Blurb: 2/5 Stars

Believability: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

I struggled to get through this one. The blurb on this simply does not match the story at all, giving you the sense at least that Kat is something of a perfect favorite and there would end up being some sort of intrigue or suspense surrounding that. It isn’t.

Instead you get an incredibly slow and drawn out story about a variety of people living miserable lives and being kind of horrible to each other while they do it. There wasn’t a character in the entire book that was appealing to me. For the most part I was either bored or trudging through some rather depressing material with no real sense of things improving. I spent most of the book waiting for something interesting to happen or for the overall mood of the book to lift and it never really did, unless you consider the last maybe 10% of the book as a lift. I didn’t, so I really was not a fan of this one.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: The Oysterville Sewing Circle – Susan Wiggs

Author: Susan Wiggs
Book Name: The Oystervill Sewing Circle
Release Date: August 13, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Romance
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: At the break of dawn, Caroline Shelby rolls into Oysterville, Washington, a tiny hamlet at the edge of the raging Pacific.

She’s come home.

Home to a place she thought she’d left forever, home of her heart and memories, but not her future. Ten years ago, Caroline launched a career in the glamorous fashion world of Manhattan. But her success in New York imploded on a wave of scandal and tragedy, forcing her to flee to the only safe place she knows.

And in the backseat of Caroline’s car are two children who were orphaned in a single chilling moment—five-year-old Addie and six-year-old Flick. She’s now their legal guardian—a role she’s not sure she’s ready for.

But the Oysterville she left behind has changed. Her siblings have their own complicated lives and her aging parents are hoping to pass on their thriving seafood restaurant to the next generation. And there’s Will Jensen, a decorated Navy SEAL who’s also returned home after being wounded overseas. Will and Caroline were forever friends as children, with the promise of something more . . . until he fell in love with Sierra, Caroline’s best friend and the most beautiful girl in town. With her modeling jobs drying up, Sierra, too, is on the cusp of reinventing herself.

Caroline returns to her favorite place: the sewing shop owned by Mrs. Lindy Bloom, the woman who inspired her and taught her to sew. There she discovers that even in an idyllic beach town, there are women living with the deepest of secrets. Thus begins the Oysterville Sewing Circle—where women can join forces to support each other through the troubles they keep hidden.

Yet just as Caroline regains her creativity and fighting spirit, and the children begin to heal from their loss, an unexpected challenge tests her courage and her heart. This time, though, Caroline is not going to run away. She’s going to stand and fight for everything—and everyone—she loves.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3/5 Stars
Believability: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

I had a really hard time trying to rate this as I went into it expecting to love it, but I really didn’t.

There were three very distinct pieces to this book. The piece of the story that inspired the title and is the support group that Caroline creates. The piece that is Caroline’s relationship with Will. And the piece that is Will’s relationship with Sierra. Each piece, when completely separated from the other pieces are all really compelling and emotional stories that I would have probably been in love with if they had stood on their own.

I would have loved this emotional story about a group of women getting together and working through their struggles with abuse. I would have even really enjoyed it if this had been layered in with even one other portion of this book.

Will and Sierra’s story, on its own could have been this amazing story about a loving, married couple coping with life and all the changes that brings even when those changes mean that the marriage isn’t working anymore. It also could have been really compelling to see where they both ended up after things fell apart.

But, for me at least, the way all three of these pieces tied together really didn’t work for me. The support group piece kind of gets lost in the background behind the other two pieces. The final piece, Will and Caroline’s story, feels tainted by Will and Sierra’s story. It puts Caroline in this sort of ugly position of being the second choice, second place, runner up kind of person and I just really didn’t enjoy that. Especially when you add in the piece that, through it all, Caroline and Sierra were best friends. None of those pieces play well together. I’m not normally a huge fan of the old flame trope in the first place (some work for me, many don’t), but the whole, “the guy falls in love with the best friend but the odd girl out maintains that crush for years and years when a simple conversation could have made things entirely different” are even less appealing to me.

None of these things are made any better by the time jumps back to when the three were teenagers. If anything, it made me just not like any of the characters all that much. I could have done without almost all of those parts of the book. On the flip side of that, most of the opportunities to develop a relationship between Caroline and Will organically later in the story never actually happens on the page. They are glossed over through huge time gaps forcing the reader to just make big assumptions about what has and hasn’t happened.

I’m going to skip over the whole kids part of this as it is a massive peeve of mine, but I will mention it was another, smaller piece that made it hard to enjoy this one. I really loved the different pieces for what they could have been, but I just didn’t like how they were all woven together. It really did kind of feel like 3 different stories all at different levels of being complete were tied together in an attempt to create a whole, but there are big gaps left in all of them and the ties are weak and distort the shapes of what should have been.

 

Book Review: Caged, Agent Sayer Altair – Book #1

Author: Ellison Cooper
Book Name: Caged
Release Date: July 10, 2018
Series: Agent Sayer Altair
Order: #1
Genre: Suspense/Mystery/Crime
Overall SPA: 2 Stars
2 Stars

 

 

Blurb: FBI neuroscientist Sayer Altair hunts for evil in the deepest recesses of the human mind. Still reeling from the death of her fiance, she wants nothing more than to focus on her research into the brains of serial killers. But when the Washington D.C. police stumble upon a gruesome murder scene involving a girl who’d been slowly starved to death while held captive in a cage, Sayer is called in to lead the investigation. When the victim is identified as the daughter of a high profile senator, Sayer is thrust into the spotlight.

As public pressure mounts, she discovers that another girl has been taken and is teetering on the brink of death. With evidence unraveling around her, Sayer races to save the second victim but soon realizes that they are hunting a killer with a dangerous obsession…a killer who is closer than she thought.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2/5 Stars
Believability: 2/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

This was a decent book but it skirts all kinds of believability edges for me. When you start to cross those edges, I really start to lose interest.

Well over the first half of this book I was frustrated with this glaringly obvious thread that had me banging my head over the fact that everyone that should have seen red flags never did. It wasn’t until I was about 3/4 of the way through that I started seeing that for what it was and was kind of excited about where this was going to go. I’ll admit, there are some interesting twists that took me way too long to see. At the same time, it took way to long for this to pull itself out of that frustrating thread and into something I could really get into.

This only takes a brief detour into being more interesting before veering off into a pretty extreme level of unbelievable topped with a classic bad guy monologue. This is only slightly mitigated by the fact that police work and following evidence finally leads you to said bad buy, but you only get a point in that direction with zero reasons behind it before you get that monologue.

It is one thing to have multifaceted characters that have interest and depth. It is another to have a character that feels like an amalgamation of a wide range of disparate parts that don’t seem to fit together making them this incredibly, unbelievably complex person. It just seems like it is overblown and unnecessary. It feels like there is such an unbalance with all the other characters when you have one like that, making it even more glaring.

I spent too much of this book frustrated or even bored and the remaining small fraction in “Oh, come on!” mode over how unrealistic this was and how it was resolved. Toss in a random, slightly unrelated (at least to the main plot) cliffhanger and this manages to only graze okay for me.

 

Book Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, Abbi Waxman

Author: Abbi Waxman
Book Name: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
Release Date: July 9, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance/Women’s Fiction

Blurb: The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.

1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

Let’s do this one a little differently, shall we? All the normal review pieces to follow.

10 Things I Learned Reading The Bookish Life of Nina Hill:
(Please read the below with extreme levels of sarcasm and snark; in a shrill excited tone if you prefer)

1) It is absolutely just awesome to have a “gay guy” as a fun accessory. This isn’t seen as offensive at all because it is just so cute and adorable and trendy! This amazingness is magnified when you find out you are actually related to one of THEM!

2) Being pretentious and judgmental is so THE thing and it makes a person unique and quirky and oh so funny!

3) When meeting previously unknown family members, it is like running into a copy of yourself. You will have this amazing, instant connection and have EVERYTHING in common all because of genetics. Having that blood tie means you are instant besties. Even the nasty ones turn around eventually.

4) Don’t you know? Women are ONLY irritable when their period is impending or they have a brain tumor, silly! The brain tumor is preferable.

5) If you have any feelings at all that aren’t perfectly positive, then you just need to get over it. No need to sit and dwell on those things as they are unimportant and get in the way. Besides! It is just SO easy to do!

6) Of course millennials are drunks! Don’t you know that wine fixes absolutely EVERYTHING!?

7) Who DOESN’T relate to the most instantly recognizable and common smell ever? Hasn’t EVERYONE smelled the inside of dogs’ ears?!

8) If you want to fit into the Pompous American crowd, you must say things like “properly” to describe nearly everything and use phrases like “Fancy a cup of tea?” You aren’t properly Pompous if you don’t.

9) Women expecting men to want to actually get to know them for what is between their ears is so last year! It is absolutely okay to fall in love with a guy who can’t bother to listen to the words coming out of your mouth because they are so lost in their heads dreaming about anything and everything BUT what is coming out of your mouth. It is also okay to let go of any and all standards if they give great sex. *vigorous head nods*

10) Here is just the best!! (Feel free to drop the snark) Apparently it is okay to still write books in this day an age that disparages nearly every single subgroup that could in any way shape or form be considered “different” by dragging out the extreme levels of stereotypes and mocking them for being who they are.

Okay, that last may be a tiny bit of an exaggeration when I say every group, but it is still very applicable here. I’m not sure I’ve read a book that tried so exceptionally hard to be unique and quirky only to land as an extreme cliche’ instead. I also don’t think I’ve read a character that has come across as nearly so pompous and judgemental and disparaging of others, which is quite a feat as she had enough of her own issues, the last thing she should have been doing was pointing fingers at anyone else’s faults.

To summarize, I did not like this book. I didn’t find the humor funny, nor did I find the character the least bit cute or quirky. Even if I could take those things away (which was a huge chunk of the book), I wouldn’t have cared one tiny bit about the romantic aspects because they very nearly didn’t exist. A couple of conversations that contain less than a dozen words each and suddenly you “know” the other person. Uh, nope. Doesn’t work for me and made worse by the truly awful “make-up” ending.

I was only at about the 20% mark when I began really wondering what all the fuss was about and why on Earth so many people love this so much. I was ready to put it down, but I really wanted to figure it out so I finished it. I still haven’t figured it out. I get sometimes needing to just laugh at the world around you, but this really missed the mark for me.

 

Overall SPA: 2 Stars
2 Stars

 

 

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2/5 Stars
Believability: 2/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

 

 

Book Review: What Doesn’t Kill You, Willa Pennington, P.I.- Book #1

Author: Aimee Hix
Book Name: What Doesn’t Kill You
Release Date: January 8th, 2018
Series: Willa Pennington, P.I.
Order: #1
Genre: Romance/Crime Drama/Suspense
Overall SPA: 2 Stars
2 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Favors are for suckers, especially when they lead you straight to a dead body

Willa Pennington thought that becoming a PI would be better than being a cop. She thought she’d never have to make another death notification or don a bulletproof vest again. She thought she’d be safe.

But she couldn’t have been more wrong, because Willa’s real problem is that she’s always sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. And people really don’t like that.

Now, agreeing to do a simple favor has netted her a dead body, a missing person, and an old friend who just may be a very bad guy. If whoever is trying to kill her would lay off she could solve the murder, find the missing girl, and figure out if the person she’s trusted with her life is the one trying to end it.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Believability: 2/5 Stars
Peeve Factor: 1.5/5 Stars

Personal Opinion: 2.5/5 Stars

This one ended up being only an okay book, and just barely at that, for me for a couple of reasons. I really have a difficult time with crime/police drama books that disregard the most commonly known beliefs about police procedure and practices. This book seems to stretch, bend and break a lot of those. No, Willa isn’t a police officer, but she manages to get involved in this case and access to things that a non-police officer should never get. It doesn’t matter if she was a former police officer. She wasn’t even a detective, just a basic officer, which makes those breaches even worse in my opinion.

The other major issue was how utterly all over the map Willa’s character is. Is she a hormone driven idiot? Or is she this composed, put together professional? Does she have a moral core or does she have no compunction at all for breaking rules and laws to get the results she wants? Is she a bumbling amateur without two brain cells to rub together or is she a bit of a badass that knows her shit? All the different parts of her personality tended to contradict themselves, making her character seem flighty and difficult to like. I could never pinpoint how old she was supposed to be because her levels of maturity weren’t consistent. More times than not, she seemed like a willful, bratty teenager and not someone who was old enough to have ever been a police officer.

To add to the pile of peeves, you get this weird, annoying thing where everyone in any authority gives her whatever she wants because she is apparently brilliant. More so than the actual police and federal agents working on the case.  See the above comments about her coming across as a bumbling amateur and you will see why this was an even more annoying occurrence. And why I really wasn’t a fan.

 

Book Review: The First Mistake – Sandie Jones

Author: Sandie Jones
Book Name: The First Mistake
Release Date: June 11, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Overall SPA: 2 Stars
2 Stars

 

 

Blurb:

THE WIFE: For Alice, life has never been better. With her second husband, she has a successful business, two children, and a beautiful house.

HER HUSBAND: Alice knows that life could have been different if her first husband had lived, but Nathan’s arrival into her life gave her back the happiness she craved.

HER BEST FRIEND: Through the ups and downs of life, from celebratory nights out to comforting each other through loss, Alice knows that with her best friend Beth by her side, they can survive anything together. So when Nathan starts acting strangely, Alice turns to Beth for help. But soon, Alice begins to wonder whether her trust has been misplaced . . .

The first mistake could be her last.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Believability: 2/5 Stars
Peeve Factor: 2/5 Stars

Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

This book was told in three separate parts. The first part is the present with Alice. The second was from Beth’s perspective of her history. The final part is back in the present.

Part one of this book was interesting, but I didn’t get very far into that before I was already getting a pretty strong impression of where this was going. Nor did I get very far before Beth became annoying. I was still mostly enjoying this by the time I got to part 2. Alice came across as sympathetic at this point and I was interested in how her story was going to play out.

The second part with Beth didn’t do a thing to make me feel any better for her. This is where the story starts bouncing on my peeve button because Beth’s character starts shouting that she wants to be that Too Stupid To Live kind of character, being oblivious to things that are insanely obvious to the reader. While you do get a few bits and pieces that are essential to the overall story, the majority of this part of the book dragged for me and I was anxious to get to a point where it felt like the story was progressing.

The final part is noted as being both Alice and Beth but you only get it from Alice’s perspective. While you get a little bit of an unexpected twist in here, the overall end game is what was given away in the first part of the story. That end game was also incredibly and inexplicably convoluted. There was no reason for the setup other than to create drama and just didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The reasons behind the various motivations and character actions, given in an overly dramatic info dump, were completely unbelievable and based entirely on petty cruel motives that just seemed unbelievable.

By this point, Alice has also fallen into that TSTL category that Beth owned earlier in the story. I had a couple of moments as parts of her story were revealed where I couldn’t help but think “Really? THAT is how this is being played? WHY?” Mostly because it turned what was a decent story into one that really wasn’t anymore.

And for the final note to make this not a book I could enjoy, it had to end in a really, unnecessarily ridiculous way that was completely unsatisfying as so much was left just hanging out in the open, which is a rather big peeve of mine. While I don’t always need everything perfectly tied up, I cannot stand vague, especially when it is intentionally vague and only for the purpose of attempting to create a high level of drama that doesn’t do a thing for the story.

When it is all said and done, this fell between the okay and didn’t like range for me.

Other areas of note (not included in the SPA rating):

Cover: 3/5 Stars
This is getting only a 3 star mention because, while it is an attractive cover, it really has no relation to the story itself. The images of the broken apart pieces of roses evokes a sense of a broken relationship which isn’t what the bulk of this story is about. That is also a little offset by the bright colors, so you lose the feeling you should get of this being a darker story. For me this cover has more a feeling of sadness rather than the actual emotions this story is designed to generate, so I don’t feel like it fits the book all that well.

 

 

Book Review: Chasing Shadows, South Shores – Book 1

Author: Karen Harper
Book Name: Chasing Shadows
Release Date: November 29, 2016
Series: South Shores
Order: #1
Genre: Romance/Suspense
Overall SPA: 2 Stars
2 Stars

 

 

Blurb: The dead still talk if you know how to listen… 

Every case that Claire Britten cracks is a win, not only professionally but personally. The forensic psychologist has spent a lifetime fighting a neurological disorder, and her ability to conquer it is a testament to her razor-sharp intuition.

Nick Markwood is used to winning in the courtroom, so when his latest case is overthrown by Claire’s expert testimony, he can’t help being impressed by her skill. He needs her on the team of his passion project—investigating unusual cases involving mysterious deaths. Her condition doesn’t deter him, and neither does the attraction that sparks between them…even if it should.

As they join forces to investigate a murder in St. Augustine, Florida, Claire is thrust into a situation far more dangerous than she’d anticipated, pushing her disorder to a breaking point. Just when she fears she can’t trust her own mind, she discovers Nick’s personal connection to the case—and wonders whether she can trust anyone at all.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2/5 Stars
Believability: 2/5 Stars
Peeve Factor: 2/5 Stars

Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars
While reading this, I was smacked repeatedly with the lack of believably, both in the plot and the characters. You kind of get hit over the head with the abundance of truly ignorant characters. This is made worse when the main characters, those that are supposed to be professional, at least in some capacity, come across as though they are completely incompetent and ignorant. I’m not sure a single character wasn’t one of those Too Stupid To Live types, unless you count the child prop that is Claire’s daughter.

There are only so many times you can turn a character that is a potential suspect in a crime into someone that is worthy of suspicion and then attempt to twist them back into being obviously innocent before then going back to being suspicious before you stop being clever and just become annoying. And yet, every single character was both suspicious and obviously innocent numerous times throughout this book.

While all of those did a fun little jig on my peeve button, I was still resigned to finish this on a relatively decent note of being okay with this book. But what was an oddly placed side plot line got yanked at the last minute and turned this into utter ridiculousness. Not only are you given one hell of a cliffhanger, and one that is completely unrelated to the majority of the plot for this book (an attempt to drag readers into other books in this series), but you are given one hell of a level of crazy, over the top, unbelievable “what the hell?” kind of stupid. Sorry, but it was just way too much and pushed me straight into the “Nope!” range for me.

If you are okay with extreme levels of totally unrealistic (as in the author didn’t do much to make the reader believe the story), clumsy and unprofessional behavior from supposedly professional characters, hints at a really odd and potentially abusive love triangle, slightly clunky dialog, side characters that have zero set personality, or you are one of those people that loves the really bad scary movies so you can yell at the dumb characters, then this may be the book for you. If not… might want to skip this one.