Monday, June 6, 2016

Mini-Reviews: A Girl Without a Train, Brain Candy and a Historical Western

It's time for another round of mini-reviews!  This go-around Wendy, once again, succumbed to hype, revisited her favorite writer of "brain candy" and tackled a historical western romance written by an author who has published scads of Regencies.
I cannot remember exactly now why I put my name on the wait list for the audiobook version of The Widow by Fiona Barton - especially since the PR for it is heavy on the references to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.  Stylistically it reminded me of The Girl on the Train - with multiple narrators and to be honest, it's pretty heavy on "tell over show."  Flashbacks are employed, and the time line jumps anywhere from 2006 to 2010 to years in between.

It's a Bad Things Happen to Kids story.  A toddler girl goes missing.  A woman's husband is accused.  The story is told from the point-of-view of The Widow, The Mother, The Detective, The Reporter and eventually (for one chapter), The Accused Husband.  I wouldn't say this was overly graphic (I've read WAY more graphic) but the crime is pedophilia, and that's an automatic NOPE for a lot of readers.

Did I like this?  Meh.  I'm not going to lie, it's compelling as all get out.  The wait list was such at work that I couldn't renew the title, so I had to burn through the last couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon.  It kept me engaged, but as a suspense story? I kept expecting it to get all twisty (Hello? The PR is selling me on this being the next Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train!), but it never really twists let alone turns.  I guess I would call this "psychological."  You get deeply inside the heads of the characters, namely The Widow.  But suspense barreling down on you like a freight train?  Biting your nails compulsively towards the end?  Yeah, not so much.  I finished it and my immediate reaction was torn between "That's it?" and "Holy heck, parents everywhere should be terrified."  For lack of a better word?  I'd say this was a disquieting read.  You'll also never want to go on the Internet ever again.

Final Grade = I'm torn between a B- and a C+

Laura Levine is the only cozy mystery author I'm reading these days and her latest Jaine Austen book, the 14th in the series, Murder Had Nine Lives, is set to drop on June 28.  I'll be honest - this series fills the hole left behind when I finally got fed up and quit Stephanie Plum.  Levine definitely has her formula down cold now.  Jaine is a freelance writer, unlucky in love, with wacky parents, and a demanding kitty named Prozac.  There's always a dating disaster.  Her father always gets up to hijinks in his retirement village (this go around it's a Scrabble tournament) much to the horror of her long-suffering, Home Shopping Channel addicted mother.  Prozac destroys hosiery and sweaters while demanding to be fed, BFF Khandi always has a new love of her life and fabulous neighbor Lance takes a swipe at Jaine's personal grooming and dietary choices.

This is all a long-winded way of me saying that this book is more of the same.  It delivers exactly what I've come to expect and it didn't disappoint.  This time out Prozac has been plucked from obscurity (the vet's office) to star in a commercial for a diet cat food. But before you can say "That's a wrap!" - there's a dead body on the set, Jaine is a suspect, and Prozac's dreams of kitty stardom go up in smoke.

Levine is writing the cozy mystery equivalent of a TV sitcom.  They're fast and fun but I don't take them seriously.  I keep reading them because 1) I like them 2) Everyone needs quality Brain Candy now and then and 3) The mysteries tend to be solid.  These are category-length books (around 250 pages) and there's always, at least, half a dozen suspects and motives.  I'm not sure how it will play for newbies, but fans should enjoy this.

Final Grade = B

Julia Justiss has written a western!  The same Julia Justiss who has written numerous Regency historicals for Harlequin Historical and HQN.  It is exceptionally rare for an author to leave behind the Regency (even temporarily) to write a western, so of course I was going to read Scandal with a Rancher!

You can read a more in depth review over at The Good, The Bad and the Unread - but here are some quick hits:

This is a digital release from small press, Tule Publishing and is a prequel to the contemporary Whiskey River series by Eve Gaddy and Katherine Garbera.  I haven't read any of the contemporaries, so I can attest this historical stands alone well.  It did get a bit heavy on the mental lusting for my tastes, and I felt the heroine was too trusting of the hero (especially early on), but this was a solid read.  It didn't jump out as being OMG AMAZEBALLS! but the author handles the change in setting well, it's a readable story, and I liked it.  Trust me, I've read westerns that made my eyeballs bleed, and this isn't one of those.  If you're a Justiss fan, I think this is worth a look.  If you're in the mood for a western - also worth a look.

Final Grade = B

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