Book Review: Before We Were Strangers, Brenda Novak

Author: Brenda Novak
Book Name: Before We Were Strangers
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance/Suspense/Thriller
Overall SPA: 2.5
2.5 Stars




Five-year-old Sloane McBride couldn’t sleep that night. Her parents were arguing again, their harsh words heating the cool autumn air. And then there was that other sound—the ominous thump before all went quiet.

In the morning, her mother was gone.

The official story was that she left. Her loving, devoted mother! That hadn’t sat any better at the time than it did when Sloane moved out at eighteen, anxious to leave her small Texas hometown in search of anywhere else. But not even a fresh start working as a model in New York could keep the nightmares at bay. Or her fears that the domineering father she grew up with wasn’t just difficult—he was deadly.

Now another traumatic loss forces Sloane to realize she owes it to her mother to find out the truth, even if it means returning to a small town full of secrets and lies, a jilted ex-boyfriend, and a father and brother who’d rather see her silenced. But as Sloane starts digging into the past, the question isn’t whether she can uncover what really happened that night…it’s what will remain of her family if she does?

Cover: 3 Stars
One of the things that caught my interest on this book was the cover. I thought it was interesting and pretty. But… I don’t think it really fits the book as far as tone since this book really landed on a darker, uglier side.

Blurb: 4 Stars
The blurb is interesting and fits the story for the most part.

Characters: 2 Stars
Pretty much every single character in this book danced all over my peeve button.

Plot/Themes: 2 Stars
It is really had to separate this out from the character group, because that aspect kind of overwhelms everything else. If you take them out of the equation, the plot is really convoluted.

Uniqueness Factor: 2 Stars
Again, difficult to separate out, but I honestly don’t see much that hasn’t already be done before and what is there isn’t handled in any kind of uniqe way.

Problem Free/Editing: 4 Stars
Nothing jumped out at me for this.

World Building: 3 Stars
This ties in too closely with the Believability group to separate.

Believability: 2 Stars
There was so little I felt realistic and believable in this.

Peeve Factor: 1 Stars
Where to start. Not a single character in this entire book had a single redeeming quality. You get the trope of “true loves” being separated for years, come back together everything between them is exactly the same (more below). Grown adults that come across as hormonal teenagers rather than mature adults. Truly awkward sex scene. Oh and the random kid that is used as a prop and doesn’t actually play a real part.

Personal Opinion: 2 Stars
I really didn’t like this book, which was sad because I was really hoping for something… entirely different than what I got.

Every single character in this book was written in a way that makes them ridiculously impossible and mostly horrible. No, seriously! If there had been a postman, he would have never delivered the mail on time so you’d be late with the bills or a sacker at the grocery store that made sure to sack the bananas on top of the bread after dropping your eggs on the floor, every single time. If a character could be terrible in one way or another, they would, and that would be pretty much all they were.

The two main characters, adults, acted like hormonal teenagers with a maturity level to go along with that. Originally, Sloane wasn’t too bad, but the farther into the book you get, the less adult she seemed. When pared with Micah, there is an attempt to portray them both as the good guys, but this falls flat because they still act like stupid teenagers.

Paige’s character… holy crap! I don’t think I’ve ever truly hoped a bad guy would come along and take out a character that wasn’t the actual bad guy, but her character certainly did just that because she came across as such an ugly, hateful personality. Hell, even the missing mom comes across as somewhat ugly and vengeful when you do get glimpses of her.

I get it. There are bad people and ugly people and crazy selfish people in the world, but every single one of them lived in this town at the same time. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone wants to either do bad things to other people or are willing to do bad things to other people for some pretty lamely selfish reasons. The characters alone killed any ounce of believability for me because they are more caricatures rather than actual people which makes it impossible to get emotionally involved in the story, unless you count despising every character being emotionally involved.

Every bit of what happens in this is also over the top. Sloane just leaves at 18 without a word to anyone. There is no explanation anywhere in the story that gave any justification for why she had to do it that way. She wasn’t in immediate danger. There were no indications that she should have walked away in silence without talking to anyone, especially Micah to explain what she was doing and why she needed to do it. She just up and left, it never made any sense. It was unnecessary drama that could have been written in a way that did make sense, but wasn’t.

Then, because he was so overwrought by her leaving, Micah immediately sleeps with her best friend and they end up married with a kid out of the deal? Something said “friend” orchestrated? Even with all that and the fact that they are divorced by the time Sloane returns, Micah and Sloane are still perfectly in love. Everything is forgiven without even a single honest conversation about everything that happened over 10 years. Apparently neither one of them grew as people and became something different as an adult to what they were at 18. This is kind of a major peeve of mine in writing. People CHANGE. To portray them as having not at all other than in appearance, which is apparently so much better and not worse, is kind of taking the easy way out as a writer because you don’t have to deal with that kind of character growth as an issue you need to overcome.

The fact that Micah and Paige share a kid, but neither one of them ever really interacts with that kid or, at least in Paige’s case, considers that kid in the things they do is another massive peeve of mine. The few times they do, it is to add a little something to a scene rather than to show any kind of actually relationship or character depth. Kids shouldn’t be used as a prop.

The way every single person in town did what Ed said without question, without push back was just straight up messed up and so over the top EVIL VILLAIN level yet he could get any woman in bed with him, no matter how horrible of a person he was. Again, so many ways you may have made this work, but didn’t is astounding.

I need to point out that if you are going to write a sex scene… holy crap! DO NOT make it something completely awkward unless you are attempting to go for humor or to make it clear that the people having sex aren’t actually compatible. The one attempt to bring a semblance of reality to this book and you do it in the sex scene? Talk about yanking a reader out of a story in a really bad way. It was awkward to read and I just wanted it to be over.

I won’t give away the ending, but lets just say… Nope. Convoluted, crazy, so completely unrealistic and unbelievable and tied with so many twists and turns and coincidence that I call BS even though the reader could see at least one part of it a mile away. It was the cherry on top of an unbelievably ridiculous sundae.


SPA Note: If I had to give this an overall rating instead of an SPA, this would have been a solid 2, so I definitely need to figure out a way to tweak the new system.


Book Review: The Year of Fog, Michelle Richmond

Author: Michelle Richmond
Book Name: The Year of Fog
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life
Overall SPA: 2.8 Stars
3 Stars



Blurb: Six-year-old Emma vanished into the thick San Francisco fog. Or into the heaving Pacific. Or somewhere just beyond: to a parking lot, a stranger’s van, or a road with traffic flashing by. Devastated by guilt, haunted by her fears about becoming a stepmother, Abby refuses to believe that Emma is dead. And so she searches for clues about what happened that morning—and cannot stop the flood of memories reaching from her own childhood to illuminate that irreversible moment on the beach.

Now, as the days drag into weeks, as the police lose interest and fliers fade on telephone poles, Emma’s father finds solace in religion and scientific probability—but Abby can only wander the beaches and city streets, attempting to recover the past and the little girl she lost. With her life at a crossroads, she will leave San Francisco for a country thousands of miles away. And there, by the side of another sea, on a journey that has led her to another man and into a strange subculture of wanderers and surfers, Abby will make the most astounding discovery of all—as the truth of Emma’s disappearance unravels with stunning force.

Cover: 4 Stars
This did fit the story sets a good tone for what is inside.

Blurb: 3 Stars
The blurb for this is absolutely what convinced me to read this. Sadly, while it is factually accurate, I feel like it is somewhat misleading in that it makes this seem like a much more intense, adventure kind of a book and this really isn’t.

Characters: 2 Stars
I am really kind of on the fence with the characters in this. Abby is a struggle to identify with as, for me, she really does not come across as being emotionally connected, just more obsessive. I struggle to feel grief or loss from her. Jake is there as a character, as what should really be a more important character, but you honestly do not get enough of him on the page to really get a sense of him. All the remaining characters come across as slightly odd and weird in ways I struggle to pinpoint, but they all behave in ways that make them slightly distasteful.

Plot/Themes: 3 Stars
I obviously really liked the concept that this story was based on, but there were several things that kept pulling me out of the story. The first was the random time jumping that went on, either between chapters or even within the same chapter. It felt really disorienting as a reader to constantly try and figure out where in the timeline the story was at. Then there were all of these random bits of side stories dealing with various pieces of history and facts about memory or photography, some ranging into scientific information. In the end, they really weren’t needed and came across more of a distraction. If there had only been one or two of these, I don’t think it would have been an issue, but you could very easily have cut every single one of those specifics and still had a completely cohesive story. I understand some of their purpose, but it was way over done and did not work well. If anything, it contributed to the lack of emotional connection.

Uniqueness Factor: 3 Stars
While I can’t say that I’ve read a lot of books with this theme exactly, it isn’t unique. The one really unique factor was the perspective of a future step-parent being the central figure. That was part of what drew me to this story because it was a different take and a different perspective, but I think there were a lot of opportunities to go places with this emotionally that this book never did.

Problem Free/Editing: 4 Stars
I didn’t run into any problems in this area. At least nothing that jumped out and yanked me out of the story.

World Building: 2 Stars
You get an inordinate amount of geographic references to both the San Fransisco area and Costa Rica. After a while, it just became too much, especially when all throughout this book I was really looking for a much deeper emotional impact, something that I don’t feel I ever got.

Believably: 2 Stars
The lack of that emotional impact made this whole thing so much harder to believe in the story. When you are talking about a book surrounding a missing child, I cannot see how you can manage to avoid those really strong, extreme emotions. The idea that any parent reacts in a set of scripted rules when their child goes missing is ridiculous, so it really should have been easier for me to fall into this story, but I just never completely bought the actions, or thoughts in Abby’s case, of the characters. Abby really felt like she was going through the motions and doing what she thought was expected more so than because she was compelled. There were some issues with feelings of guilt, but most of that is what the reader is told rather than what is actually demonstrated.

Peeve Factor: 3 Stars
The timeline jumpiness throughout this isn’t a major peeve of mine, but it is an annoyance. The purpose of a book is to compel a reader to follow along, not jerk them from one point to another in an effort to get them lost along the way.

Personal Opinion: 2 Stars
I was just overall disappointed in this. I was expecting a much more emotionally charged book with a lot going on. Instead, this came across as something more along the lines of a person’s extremely dry philosophical debate with themselves that dragged on and on. All the pieces of this story that I would have thought should have been front and center felt kind of as if they were shunted to the sidelines of the bigger story of Abby’s personal search for Emma, which really did feel like it was something done more out of guilt and the need to fix something rather than true loss.

More time was spent on the many, random outside issues that really had no impact on the story overall than on the parts I really expected to see. The impact of Emma going missing on the relationship between Abby and Jake is not really addressed directly on the page. You only see small glimpses along the edges of the story when that really should have been one of the focuses. The other important parts, such as the initial investigation into her disappearance is handled only with small snippets of actual events followed by vague acknowledgements that it was going on in the background.

Instead, you get too many listings of the locations where Abby was, went, or was going at all times. The bits of her personal history and childhood, which didn’t have any relationship to the events in the rest of the story. And, no matter how different loss and grief may work for different individuals, I just could not connect to the characters because I just couldn’t find any of those expected emotions or reactions.

Book Review: Eric Carter Series – Books 1 – 4

As usual, I can’t do things the easy way. Instead of my first book review under the new system being… oh, I don’t know, a single book? I have to do a review on a series. Or at least the first four books in the series so that is going to make this interesting, but I’m gonna just go with it.

Author: Stephen Blackmoore
Book Name: Dead Things, Broken Souls, Hungry Ghosts, Fire Season
Series: Eric Carter
Order: #1-4
Genre: Paranormal Urban/Fantasy
Overall SPA: 2.7 Stars

2.5 Stars




Normally, I’d post the blurb here, but since this is 4 books I’m going to just do my best to summarize them as a group (fair warning, I suck at general summarizations). These books are set in the modern world with the added bonus of magic. Ghosts and gods are real. Magic casters are mages and there are different types. All those types are apparently all arrogant assholes, including the main character. It pretty much actually says that in the books, this isn’t just my opinion. The main character, Eric Carter, is a necromancer. While there are a handful of supporting characters, they don’t really move much from book to book. They are there for a book or two and then they are done. Eric spends all of his time in all these books constantly trying to stay alive from all the various different people or beings that want him dead.


Cover: 3 Stars
Again, discussing these as a whole, they have a similar style, but aren’t very consistent with regards to the look of the main character. There is not a lot going on that applies to the books outside of that central figure. While the art is nice, I don’t feel like any of them are spectacular or particularly eye grabbing.

Blurb: 3 Stars
This is kind of a non-issue here as, obviously, the first book was enough to bring me in. I didn’t actually pay much attention to the others after that.

Characters: 2 Stars
I had a particularly hard time with this as I never really liked any of them. I kind of went back and forth on Eric, but the farther into the series I got, the less there was to make him appealing.

Plot/Themes: *
I’m not using this one in this rating because I feel like it is covered in the other areas. Besides, doing this as a series makes this one a little too broad overall.

Uniqueness Factor: 3 Stars
While many of the basic concepts in this were in line with a lot of other books in this genre, this focused more on the necromancy and brought in a lot of Aztec mythology, which was new for me.

Problem Free/Editing: 5 Stars
All four of these were really clean. Nothing jumped out at me as problematic or annoying.

World Building: 3 Stars
This was a tough one to call as there was a lot going on in these books. A whole lot of thought and planning absolutely went into them. The one thing that bothered me, and it cropped up multiple times, is that the author never really gets into the meat of the magic system and how it works, yet this is a prominent aspect of all of these books. The system just apparently works if the person wants it to. You do get a few little bits here and there with the character doing some specific things to get a specific outcome, but then they were often counteracted by the character being able to do the same or similar things without those actions. That aspect felt a little unfinished to me. I also wasn’t a fan of the extreme level of arrogance that was part and parcel of the mage group. The lack of structure for their society or their concern for anyone other than themselves was pretty off-putting.

Believably: 2 Stars
I’d have to say that if I were just rating the first book, this would probably be a bit higher, but as I got through the later books the less I was feeling it because of the above peeves. There is only so much constant chaos and dumb mistakes a character can make before that believability switch gets shut off.

Peeve Factor: 1 Star
These books smashed the ever loving hell out of my peeve button on a couple of fronts. One is the main, male character being pretty much an unemotional prick when it came to his interactions with the female characters, especially the couple of times there was any kind of intimate interaction (very few of these). Another is this never ending, constant battle plot line. Basically when a character stands up, they get knocked back down again before they can even get their balance, repeatedly. Continuously. So much so that it is unrelenting and never gives the reader a chance to breathe. These kinds of hopeless books drive me up a wall and I really dislike them. You also have the issue with the main character not just being a prick, but one that would qualify for a “Too Stupid To Live” award. Every single situation, he would run head first into, trip up somewhere ending up in some kind of epic shitstorm that the only reason he survives is mostly dumb luck with a side of requisite Super Mage Skills. There are only so many times a character can continue to make truly stupid mistakes that cause all kinds of drama and chaos before this starts to push my peeve button. These books tried really hard to break it. Oh, and spoiler altert! Everyone mostly dies. Except Eric, of course.

Personal Opinion: 2 Stars
I honestly wasn’t a huge fan. I read the first book, was intrigued by the interesting storyline, but didn’t love it. I wanted to read the second to see where it would go. I honestly caught myself a couple of times wondering why I was still reading because this hit several of my peeves, but I still picked up the next book anyway. I finally called it quits about a 1/3 of the way into book 4 when I convinced myself that just because this was in a series and I’d read the first few books, that didn’t mean I had to finish this.

I can absolutely see how others would really like these because I do honestly think that for the most part, the writing is really good. These just weren’t for me and I decided there are other things I’d much rather be doing or reading other than a book that left me feeling frustrated and kinda hopeless about anything happening other than dumb luck, Super Mage Skills, and people dying.