Review: Blood is Blood by Will Thomas (Barker and Llewelyn)

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: November 2018
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 308 pages
POV: 1st person, past
FTC: review copy courtesy of the publisher

I haven't read a lot of historical mysteries in 1st person, so this was a bit of a change for me. This book is also in the middle of a series, so I'm not sure I'd have had the same reading experience if I'd been following the series all along.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I really liked the overall mystery and the setting and characters. On the other, I felt like it was missing some emotional depth, which is likely because I'm a character-centric reader. I want their thoughts and feelings on the page, and the emotions in particular were largely absent here, which I found weird considering the emotional events that form the focus of the book.

I have never read Will Thomas, nor had I heard of this series before, but I love historical mysteries and decided to give it a chance. The book begins with a bit of the Monday blues and an absentminded groom-to-be not listening to his fiance, then promptly devolves into chaos as the office of Barker Private Inquiries is blown to smithereens.


Review: Fast Falls the Night by Julia Keller (a Bell Elkins novel)

Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: July 2018, copyright 2017
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 286 pages
POV: 3rd alternating past
FTC: review copy courtesy of the publisher
CW: drug overdose

I read this months ago, and posted a brief mini review on Instagram here, but I felt like I hadn't really covered what I wanted to cover about this book. I read a lot, I mean A LOT, and I'm still thinking about this book six months later. Partly because my region just experienced a smaller version of what happens in the novel, and partly because it was such a unique and timely book which was sadly, inspired by a real 24 hour period of mass overdoses in West Virginia.

The novel takes place over the course of 24 hours, and while I was never a fan of the series, 24, I can see the appeal of using that time constraint to serve as a narrative structure. It works incredibly well here, as we watch events unfold through a variety of points of view: Bell Elkins, a prosecutor, the EMS and hospital staff, the families of those saved and those lost. Each chapter begins with a time, and as the novel progresses, the reader feels Bell's growing horror over the escalation of deaths as more and more overdoses happen on her turf.

Also mixed in is some back story about Bell's childhood, which (probably because I haven't read any other books in the series) feels a bit disconnected from the rest of the narrative. But the events of the past mix with the events of the present to add further stress to an already overwhelmed Bell.

This isn't a long book, but Keller manages to squeeze a lot of tension into it and a lot of nuance about life in poverty. I was very impressed by how even secondary characters are fleshed out and felt believable. Even if they didn't spend a lot of time on the page.

My only quibble, and this comes 100% from my personal preference, is that the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger. The primary mystery is solved, sort of, but the threads are left hanging in an obvious sequel baiting way that I found unsatisfying. 

I wish we saw more authors like Keller who avoid using cliches about the poor and really dig deep into what drives people to make the decisions they do. I was very impressed with the nimble way she switched from character to character while making the reader care about all of them. No shortcuts, no easy fall back onto tired stereotypes. It's not often that I read a mystery with written with such obvious care. For that, and for the timely topic, I recommend this book!

My Grade: A-

The Blurb:
Based on a real-life event, Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Keller’s latest Bell Elkins novel Fast Falls the Night takes place in a single 24-hour period, unfurling against the backdrop of a shattering personal revelation that will change Bell’s life forever.
The first drug overdose comes just after midnight, when a young woman dies on the dirty floor of a gas station bathroom. To the people of the small town of Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, it is just another tragedy. It is sad—but these days, depressingly familiar.
But then there is another overdose. And another. And another.
Prosecutor Bell Elkins soon realizes that her Appalachian hometown is facing its starkest challenge yet: a day of constant heroin overdoses from a batch tainted with a lethal tranquilizer. While the clock ticks and the bodies fall, Bell and her colleagues desperately track the source of the deadly drug—and engage in fierce debates over the wisdom of expending precious resources to save the lives of self-destructive addicts.


Review: Hot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis

Format: ebook
Pub Date: September 25, 2018
Publisher: Avon
Length: 384 pages
POV: 3rd Past
FTC: Purchased myself
Disclosure: I pretty much enjoy everything Jill writes

I'm a character-centric mood reader. Which means that I quite often pick up books that I know I'd enjoy if I were in a different mood, only to set them down after 20 pages. I never do that with Jill's books, because even if I'm in a shitty mood (more often now given the state of things nationally and the fact that I'm raising teens) Jill's books comfort me, make me smile, make me laugh, and in general give me the book equivalent of a cookie. Or three.

I truly don't know how she does it, but her books have the right blend of emotion (without ripping out your heart) humor (without turning the book into a comedy) and heat (without making me skim the sex scenes). They're my comfort reads.

That's not to say this book was perfect. I had some issues with one section in particular, either because of my poor reading comprehension skills these days or because of continuity errors.  I literally could not figure out whether the power was off or on during one pivotal scene where it truly mattered. 

Lucas and Molly are both great characters, and I really enjoyed their reluctant romance. I also loved that Lucas is 100% supportive of Molly's attempt to become a more active part of the investigation team. It's internal emotional scars, rather than asshat sexism that provides the conflict.

Although the blurb reads like a holiday novel, the holiday aspects are confined almost exclusively to a Christmas village fraud case that Molly and Lucas end up working on. There are a few references, here and there, but this didn't feel like a book you'd only want to read during the winter holiday season.

I'm bummed I read this book in two days, mostly sitting in the car waiting on kids, because the next one isn't out until February.

Grade: B

The Blurb:

Who needs mistletoe?
Most people wouldn’t think of a bad Santa case as the perfect Christmas gift. Then again, Molly Malone, office manager at Hunt Investigations, isn’t most people, and she could really use a distraction from the fantasies she’s been having since spending the night with her very secret crush, Lucas Knight. Nothing happened, not that Lucas knows that—but Molly just wants to enjoy being a little naughty for once . . .
Whiskey and pain meds for almost-healed bullet wounds don’t mix. Lucas needs to remember that next time he’s shot on the job, which may be sooner rather than later if Molly’s brother, Joe, finds out about them. Lucas can’t believe he’s drawing a blank on his (supposedly) passionate tryst with Molly, who’s the hottest, smartest, strongest woman he’s ever known. Strong enough to kick his butt if she discovers he’s been assigned to babysit her on her first case. And hot enough to melt his cold heart this Christmas.


Man of the Month series by J. Kenner

I didn't post at all last month. School started and with it, all of the obligations and chauffeuring. I did, however, read in those few blissful hours of peace and quiet I regained after a summer filled with KIDS IN MY SPACE.

For anyone wondering if the free books given away at reader events lead to sales, this is a good anecdotal case study. I received the first book in the Man of the Month series, Down on Me, as a freebie at the last RT held in Reno in May. It sat, unloved, for a few months in my pile of books, but I picked it up on a whim.

I read the entire series last month. All 12 of them. Just one-clicked myself into a stupor. Part of that is that these are all connected stories with a really cute hook: a calendar contest held in a bar. And each book is relatively short (around 250 pages) with a very obvious (and popular) trope. We have secret baby, best friend's sister, second chance at love, friends to lovers, and lots of other favorites. J Kenner is smart as hell with the marketing and planning on this series, because it worked for me. As soon as I discovered I liked her voice, it was over.  My book budget was toast.

Not all of these books were equally good. Some were As, some were Cs, but they all were character-centric, hot, and hit just the right tone for my scattered, back-to-school brain to absorb between drop off and pick ups. The first book is free on Kindle still. Just make sure you set aside a week, or month, to read them all. The distilled trope-yness was exactly what I needed.


Review: Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone (thriller/mystery)

Format: ebook, hardcover, trade paperback
Pub Date: August 1, 2018
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (Amazon)
Length: 282 pages in the trade ARC
POV: 1st person, present tense
FTC: review copy courtesy of the author/publisher at RT18

For those who don't know, Victoria Helen Stone is the alter ego of romance novelist Victoria Dahl. Jane Doe is NOT A ROMANCE. It's also written in first person, present tense, which yes, I know, I usually avoid like the plague. But if you read mysteries and thrillers, and if you follow Victoria Dahl on Twitter or have read her romances, you will probably enjoy this delicious book of revenge.

Reading this book was almost therapeutic for me. It’s like Victoria took all of the rage I’ve felt since Nov 2016, all of the disgust I’ve felt for mansplaining dudes on the internet, all of my frustration watching people make excuses for abusive dickwads, and made an outlet for it in the form of a book.

If you've ever watched her toying with the birth control trolls on Twitter, this book is a lot like that, but taken to a darker extreme. Jane, our narrator, is a sociopath, manipulating an emotional abuser while on a quest to ruin his life the way he ruined hers. She's used to analyzing other people's emotions in an attempt to mimic them, so she can parse every abusive manipulation Steven tries to use. The negging. The control. The digs about her appearance.

It's incredibly creepy watching as Steven tries to manipulate her. It's spelled out. But it's also kind of satisfying watching as Jane pretends to react the way he expects while also plotting how to use each and every one of his abusive tactics against him. She's dissecting his game in real time. It's one of the reasons why present tense works so very well. Because the reader is following along as Steven is attempting to manipulate her with Jane explaining what he's doing as he's doing it. It's incredibly effective.

For me, the suspense was wondering just how far Jane was going to go. Not even she is sure until the end exactly what she's capable of.

Hats off to the author for putting together such a raw and powerful book. Honestly the best book I've read in ages.

My grade: A

The Blurb:
A double life with a single purpose: revenge.
Jane’s days at a Midwest insurance company are perfectly ordinary. She blends in well, unremarkably pretty in her floral-print dresses and extra efficient at her low-level job. She’s just the kind of woman middle manager Steven Hepsworth likes—meek, insecure, and willing to defer to a man. No one has any idea who Jane really is. Least of all Steven.
But plain Jane is hiding something. And Steven’s bringing out the worst in her.
Nothing can distract Jane from going straight for his heart: allowing herself to be seduced into Steven’s bed, to insinuate herself into his career and his family, and to expose all his dirty secrets. It’s time for Jane to dig out everything that matters to Steven. So she can take it all away.
Just as he did to her.