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: 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: His Secret Family, Ali Mercer

Author: Ali Mercer
Book Name: His Secret Family
Release Date: September 11, 2019 (ARC)
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life/Mystery
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars



Blurb: It’s a beautiful day for a wedding. White roses scent the air and the summer sunlight streams in. A spoon chimes against a champagne flute and the room falls silent. And there he is – my husband – getting to his feet to propose a toast. He’s still handsome. His new wife is next to him, gazing upwards, oblivious.

I’m not supposed to be here. All these years in the same town and I had no idea until I saw his name on the seating plan. He lived with me, once. Loved me. Small-town memories are long, but the people in this room don’t want to remember.

They say the healing is in letting go, but after what he did, he needs to know we haven’t gone away just because he’s shut his eyes.

So I take Daisy by the hand and step forward from the shadows. He notices us and his eyes widen. The champagne glass falls from his hand and smashes. Then he sags forward, making a terrible sound – a sort of strangled scream…

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Blurb: 2.5/5 Stars

Peeve Factor: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

*Potential Spoilers*

Looking at the name of this book. Reading the blurb and the first piece in the book (noted as the foreword in my copy) and you get the impression that you are going to get a pretty intense and potentially emotional book. I was really excited about this when I read the blurb. Getting it and reading that first section, which is sort of an expansion on the blurb, made me feel like I’d made a really good choice.

Once you get into the book, you get chapters that cycle through 4 different character perspectives. Ellie, Ava, Jenny, and Paula. None of which are the one name that was noted in that first piece that drew you in. I can see how this may create a deep sense of mystery for some readers, but for me, it was more frustrating trying to understand what that first bit had to do with anything at all as it seems completely unconnected to what is going on immediately after that.

I don’t mind the alternating character perspectives. That is something I normally enjoy, but with the 4 you get in this book it felt a bit too much. Ellie, Ava and Jenny’s timelines all run mostly concurrently with tiny bits of overlap in events here and there. Paula’s is more fluid and doesn’t run in line with the others, creating an additional level of confusion for the reader when attempting to make connections because you don’t know that her timeline isn’t running the same as the other characters. It takes a very long time before you see that and any of the pieces begin to fall in place.

There is this small thread through the story that runs more along the lines of paranormal. I really enjoy paranormal stories, but that isn’t what this story is about and it feels out of place.

Ellie and Paula’s characters were probably the most well rounded and interesting. Their perspectives were the pieces I liked the most throughout the story. I did not like Mark at all as he was a self-absorbed narcissist to the core and I have issues with characters like this (yes, they are realistic and human, but this is a personal thing for me). I didn’t see him as redeemable in any way. Getting his perspective for the final chapter bumped into one of my peeves as I’m not a fan of that kind of perspective inconsistency in a book. When you already have 4, you really, really don’t need one more at the very end. Ava wasn’t too far behind Mark in being the self-absorbed, often bratty teenager. The teenager thing being the only reason I was willing to overlook some of her personality, but she seemed to get worse as the book went along. Jenny was a character that I just couldn’t find much of interest in. While she wasn’t entirely selfish, she did seem to be the type that was easily blinded by materialistic things.

Overall, I didn’t feel like the book really lived up to the dramatic, intense blurb or the title. I love situational drama. I love emotional drama. I do not love manufactured drama and that is where most of the drama is derived from in this book, through those differing timelines and the dragging out of events followed by a 10 year time jump towards the end. The actual events weren’t that dramatic. The big secret isn’t really a secret, either to the reader or to the characters. What little bit you do get at the end feels anticlimactic because, as the reader, you see it all unfold. The character reactions to it compound that feeling as it ends up not being any kind of an issue for them either. The pieces of this story that should have been sort of emotional volcanoes for me, just weren’t. I don’t know if it was because of a lack of connection to the characters or if it was the way those pieces were written, but it sort of felt like even the characters were experiencing the events they were going through from a distance rather than directly.

I do think it should be noted that some readers may find they have problems with how some issues were presented and dealt with in this book. If you have problems with cheating, you may have issues with this book. If you have problems with how people on the Autism spectrum are sometimes viewed and treated, you may have issues with this book. If you have problems with how mental illness is sometimes viewed by some people or some of the ways it was treated historically, you may have issues with this book. These aren’t normally things that stick out for me, but I found I really disliked many of the situations surrounding these issues and how they were presented in this book.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.



Book Review: The Dead of Winter, Piper Blackwell Mystery – Book #1

Author: Jean Rabe
Book Name: The Dead of Winter
Release Date: July 1st, 2019
Series: Piper Blackwell Mystery
Order: #1
Genre: Suspense/Mystery/Crime
Overall SPA: 3 Stars
3 Stars



Blurb: In a deceptively peaceful county, a murderer hides in plain sight…

Fifty-eight minutes into her first day on the job, twenty-three-year-old Sheriff Piper Blackwell is faced with a grisly murder—the victim artfully posed amid decorations on his lawn. Drawing on former military training, Piper must prove herself worthy of the sheriff’s badge, and that won’t be easy.

Chief Deputy Oren Rosenberg, Piper’s opponent in the recent election, doesn’t like her and wants her to fail. She doesn’t like him either, but she needs Oren to help catch the killer before another victim is discovered. Too late!

As Piper leads the manhunt, another crisis hits close to home. Her father, the previous sheriff, is fighting for his life, and she is torn between family and duty. Facing personal and professional threats, Piper has to weather a raging storm, keep the sheriff’s department from crumbling around her, and reel in a killer during the most brutal winter sleepy Spencer County, Indiana, has experienced.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Believability: 2.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 3.5/5 Stars

The bones of this story was good, but that was pulled down drastically by the characters. When your characters represent every stereotype of the small town, small minded, ignorant and egotistical police officer ever known, you’ve made it nearly impossible to enjoy the story beyond those characters.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the somewhat stilted and choppy writing style, especially when it got applied to the dialog. It made most of the characters voices sound exactly the same. The number of characters that had the same weird habit of repeating themselves, and not just phrases, but individual words back to back, amped up that feeling of sameness.

I did enjoy the ending of this, but that was mostly because you finally get to see Piper with a spine and lose the bland, wet noodle feel she’d had through the rest of the book. Even with the ending being a bit better than the rest, this was just an okay read.


Book Review: The Place on Dalhousie – Melina Marchetta

Author: Melanie Marchetta
Book Name: The Place on Dalhousie
Release Date: June 6, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars



Blurb: ‘You look the type to break your father’s heart.’
‘Yeah, but he broke mine first.’

When Rosie Gennaro first meets Jimmy Hailler, she has walked away from life in Sydney, leaving behind the place on Dalhousie that her father, Seb, painstakingly rebuilt for his family but never saw completed. Two years later, Rosie returns to the house and living there is Martha, whom Seb Gennaro married less than a year after the death of Rosie’s mother. Martha is struggling to fulfil Seb’s dream, while Rosie is coming to terms with new responsibilities. And so begins a stand-off between two women who refuse to move out of the home they both lay claim to.

As the battle lines are drawn, Jimmy Hailler re-enters Rosie’s life. Having always watched other families from the perimeters, he’s now grappling, heartbreakingly, with forming one of his own . . .

An unforgettable story about losing love and finding love; about the interconnectedness of lives and the true nature of belonging.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3/5 Stars
Believability: 2.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2.5/5 Stars

How do you write a review for a book when you aren’t entirely sure how you feel about it?

The characters were okay, but I don’t feel as though I learned enough about them to care one way or another about their story, though I feel I learned more about Jimmy than any of them. The story had an interesting premise and I wanted to read more about it, but… overall the entire thing kind of just felt… placid. That it was slightly interesting, but didn’t really go anywhere or do much of anything. I wanted to love this, but I didn’t.

When it comes to books in this genre I really want a strong emotional reaction and/or connection and I didn’t get that at all with this book. The characters are emotional, but those emotions never really spill over onto the reader. There is a slight vagueness to the writing style here that sort of acted like an emotional filter for me.

The weird part for me is that normally those things would trip a peeve button and irritate me. I didn’t dislike this book. Instead it is just… there. There is a book. It has a decent story. I read it. The end. Placid.




Book Review: Sister Dear – Laura McNeill

Author: Laura McNeill
Book Name: Sister Dear
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Family Drama
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars



Blurb: Convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, Allie watched a decade of her life vanish – time that can never be recovered. Now, out on parole, Allie is determined to clear her name, rebuild her life, and reconnect with the daughter she barely knows.

But Allie’s return home shatters the quaint, coastal community of Brunswick, Georgia. Even her own daughter Caroline, now a teenager, bristles at Allie’s claims of innocence. Refusing defeat, a stronger, smarter Allie launches a battle for the truth, digging deeply into the past even if it threatens her parole status, personal safety, and the already-fragile bond with family.

As her commitment to finding the truth intensifies, what Allie ultimately uncovers is far worse than she imagined. Her own sister has been hiding a dark secret—one that holds the key to Allie’s freedom.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2/5 Stars
Believability: 2/5 Stars

Personal Opinion: 3/5 Stars
The overall storyline in this is good, but I really struggled with both the lack of depth in the characters and with believability. Probably because the two are pretty closely tied together.

One of my biggest issues with believability comes into play with the utter lack of support that Allie has from her family. Supposedly a young woman who really plays by the rules and doesn’t rock the boat, with one exception and that exception does not translate into someone capable of or willing to commit murder. It just feels like every single person in her life just washed their hands of her as soon as she was convicted; friends, family, the entire community; with the exception of Emma and the rare moment with her parents. This does not work for me at all.

Allie herself is someone I struggle to connect with. With her history, you’d think it would be easy to create some emotional investment from the reader, but you never get that. For me it was partly because she is so willing to just accept the lines people are feeding her with regards to that lack of support. The fact that she just swallowed whole that her 5 year old daughter couldn’t visit her because she broke out in hives and had major panic attacks (which is later in the story somewhat contradicted) really bugged me. Same with every single time her daughter came up after she got home and it was always some sort of an excuse to keep Allie from working on rebuilding their relationship. This is exacerbated by her own parents not doing everything they could to keep that relationship in tact.

And why in the world would any loving, caring, intelligent parent be willing to turn over a 5 year old child to the care of the kid (adult or not) that was ALWAYS the one breaking the rules, getting into trouble and making pretty heavy mistakes? There is no discussion at all as to why Caroline ended up being taken care of by her aunt, Emma, and it is really a pretty huge hole in the story.

Emma’s character is nearly a cliche with the jealous, hateful sibling thing. The problem with this is that it just isn’t sold all that well. She comes across as lacking enough intelligence and too full of self interest to pull off the whole relationship with Caroline. That level of narcissism is rarely capable of making the supposed sacrifices she made.

The details of the crime Allie was convicted of along with all the reasons why a jury looked at that information and were able to come back with a guilty verdict are extremely thin, which was just one more mark against being able to fall into this story.

All of these character and plot issues could have been developed in ways that made at least some sense. ie: The adult parents weren’t actually loving and caring, but were very much absent. Emma having some specific, definable motivation for making the sacrifices she did. Or something, anything, that made the pieces of this story more believable or just work better, but those things are missing.

The ending was overly convenient and overblown. Couple that with the fact that you don’t get any hint at all of any kind of reparations to Allie for being wrongly convicted, not even a single line stating that her conviction has been overturned, just that the real bad guy was going to be prosecuted, and the story utterly fizzled out for me.





Sworn to Raise: Courtlight, Book 1

Sworn To RaiseAuthor: Terah Edun
Book Name: Sworn to Raise
Series: Courtlight
Order: #1
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Rating:  Okay


Blurb:  Seventeen-year-old Ciardis has grown up in poverty, a cleaner in a small vale on the outskirts of the empire. But beneath her empire’s seemingly idyllic surface lies a hidden secret. Whispers of an inept crown Prince are growing ever louder—intensified by the five year anniversary of the soulbond initiations.

Amidst scandalous whispers, Ciardis finds herself chosen to train for the Companions Guild. She leaves her home and sets off on a personal journey to become a Court Companion. A position she’d never thought possible for a lowly servant to obtain, she must prove that she has the skills to attract a Patron.

But she must master those skills quickly. If the legends are true, only Ciardis can harness the power to raise a Prince in an Imperial Court sworn to bring him down.

Review:  I don’t usually choose to read young adult books unless they are by an author that I already really enjoy, and often not even then, so picking up this book was unusual for me.  From what I could tell on Amazon, it isn’t actually classified as young adult, but based on the content of the story, it really can’t be considered an adult book.

The world this book was set in seems to be intriguing, but I didn’t feel as though there was really enough detail for me to really get more than just hints here and there of what could have been something incredible, which prevented me from really getting enveloped in that world.  There were even things that, on the surface, seemed a bit contradictory to what the world appeared to be.  In a magical, non-industrial type of world it is confusing to have mentions of things that lead the reader to think of modern or even steampunk types of things.  If those things are possible in that world, then it should be made clear, otherwise it is just confusing and difficult for a reader to imagine the world the characters live in.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of fantasy books that take advantage of the fact that since there is magic in the world that there are utterly simple solutions to complex problems, ie… the miracle, magical fix.  This books has that and to me, that is kind of like cheating.  You don’t really have to be creative to solve a problem, just introduce a character that can just magically make the problem go away without any effort at all.

Lots of bits and information in this book left me confused as to what, not only the world was supposed to be like, but the real end purpose of the storyline.  Since this is a part of a series, the overall plot seemed really thin, like there were lots of incomplete thoughts and ideas running around it in.  I’m not sure if it is because this was geared to a younger audience that it lacked depth (one of the reasons I tend to shy away from the YA books), but it felt like it was missing a lot that could have made it so much richer and more engaging.

Overall, this wasn’t a bad book.  I think that the series may have potential, but because there were enough things that bothered me and kept me from getting immersed in the story, I may not take the time to read more in the series.  If I do, it will be when I just don’t have anything else I want to read on hand.