She’s Missing, by K.E. Heaton

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to K.E. Heaton for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

There is nothing like the rivalry of two siblings, particularly sisters who are always trying to outdo one another. In this quasi-thriller by K.E. Heaton, the sibling rivalry is like no other, with a decades-long mystery to add a little intrigue to the tale. Susie and Sally Fraser never much liked one another, spurned on by always trying to succeed and leave the other to fail. As the older sister, Susie carved out her niche and laid the groundwork for being the ‘good daughter’, while Sally was hopelessly left to fill shoes she could never fit. Sally became a tad more devious and, even at sixteen, was well on her way to wreaking havoc for her sister. After a night with the town’s rich boy, Susie has a blackout experience and is left unsure what might have happened. Keen to capitalise on this, Sally holds it over her sister and takes every opportunity to cause a stir. Sally seeks nothing if not to ruin her sister’s life and takes things to a whole new level. Seducing Susie’s husband and agreeing to a night of her own with playboy Tom Smith, Sally creates quite the reputation for herself. Sally disappears after her night with Tom, leaving no trace of where she might have gone. The police are called in to help with the missing person report and, using their 1976 technology, work the scene as best they can. Oddly enough, another young woman goes missing that same night, leaving some to wonder if a spree killer or kidnapper might have targeted this bucolic English town. As time passes, three suspects remains on the list for the police: an abusive father, Susie’s easily seduced husband, and the aforementioned Tom Smith. Months turn to years and the case goes from tepid to cold. However, Susie is forever curious and when an ex-cop knocks on her door four decades later, he has quite the story to tell. Whatever happened to Sally Fraser is sure to cause a stir, though the truth might be more than anyone expected. A great piece by Heaton that kept me turning pages and devouring it well into the night. Recommended to those who need a quick read with plenty of twists, as well as the reader looking for a mystery full of suspects with plenty of motive.

When the author reached out to me, I was not sure what to expect. I have had some success with peddled books, though there have also been some real doozies. Thankfully, K.E. Heaton’s piece was well-crafted and kept me wanting to learn more. The presumptive protagonist, Susie Fraser, is one whose character development begins from the opening pages. With a peppering of backstory, the reader learns about the struggles this elder sister had with Sally. Trying to forge a reputation all her own, Susie is stuck trying to cover-up the foibles Sally places before her, true for any rebellious younger sibling. Weaving quite the web for herself, Susie proves to be less than innocent, but steers clear of anything too outrageous. As the years pass, her curiosity surrounding Sally’s disappearance dissipates, but when the knock comes with news, she is is keen to find a final resolution to the entire drama. A number of other characters prove to be well placed throughout the story and offer their own influence on their quick paced quasi-thriller. The three aforementioned men who become suspects have ample reason to want Sally out of the way, though it will be up to the reader to determine which of them has the deadliest motive. I told a friend of mine about this book and could only call it a ‘tarty soap opera’, as Heaton creates something of this nature in the first half of the book. Between the competitive sexual escapades between the Fraser girls and others who dabble simply to get their own thrills, I was not sure how things would progress. In hindsight, I could see that Heaton was paving the way for the disappearance and motives to best explain why Sally Fraser might need to be made to disappear. The story was strong and flowed well, with chapters that left me wanting to read a little more. While things were going so well, I will admit that the book was a minefield of grammatical and typographical errors that, as a self-appointed Sheriff of the Grammar Police, left me wincing and has cost this review one full star. I cannot stomach poorly edited work, as it shows a great disrespect for the reader. While I would read more of K.E. Heaton’s work, I will need a formal disclaimer that his editor has been sacked and a new one found, properly vetted.

Kudos, Mr. Heaton, for a successful journey into the world of crime thrillers. Now then, use the profits you make and find an editor who will give your work the attention it deserves.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Our Little Secrets, by Peter Ritchie

As I marked this book as DID NOT FINISH, I will not offer a star rating.

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Peter Ritchie, and Black & White Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

There are times when books grab certain readers and leave others behind. An author can craft a great series and yet one book sticks out as a sore thumb, leaving many to praise the collection while perhaps wincing at a single book buried in the series. I tried twice to get into this book, making it into double digit completion percentages, but I could not find any connection to the characters or the plot. With so many books to read and little time to waste on those who are not able to captivate me, I will leave Peter Ritchie to his adoring fans and those who find something herein that excites them. I choose not even to try summarising what I did read, as it was all nonsensical and I prefer not to skew those who want to go in with a fresh look at what could be an interesting Scottish police procedural.

Kudos, Mr. Ritchie, for making it five books (apparently) into this series. I’ll leave it to others to laud you with praise.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Weight of a Moment, by Michael Bowe

First and foremost, a large thank you to Michael Bowe for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Thankfully, for all involved, I will not rate this book, as I could not stomach its completion!

I was contacted not too long ago by Michael Bowe to read and review this book. Interestingly enough, my GR feed and daily emails had been flooded with excellent reviews of this book, so it seemed almost as though fate were shining down upon me. When the book arrived, I tucked in, thinking that I could magically devour this book, as I do with many well-structured pieces that I enjoy. I faltered soon after beginning and thought to put it aside. When the arrival of COVID-19 gave me more time to read, I thought about this book and chose to pick it up again. Again, I faltered and had to put it down. At a time when we are to distance ourselves from things that could make us ill or cause distress, I felt I had no choice but to stop while I was still feeling well. Isolation should not be about reading pieces that do not interest the reader.

So, here is where we stand. A book that was promised to be “the best you will ever read, or I will return your money” by the author. Alas, mine cost me nothing, so I cannot even be recompensed for the time utilised trying to make sense out of the opening pages. While I know I am in the minority here, I must say to anyone who is offered this book, do not let the money back guarantee hook you. Run away, for the weight of the moment you will enjoy this book is counteracted by the colossal pain of trying to spin something positive in your review, knowing the minions and trolls will attack you.

Kudos, Mr. Bowe, for the lovely cover jacket drawings. Perhaps, as well, for fooling many others into finding praiseworthy comments to cobble together!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Killer’s Bible, by Calvin Loch

As I did not finish this piece, I will not offer a star rating!

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Calvin Loch for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to try new authors, I had my eye on this one for a while. Calvin Loch, who chose to write as anonymous, pens this piece that seeks to lure readers in, as he describes his life of a killer who is able to mask his identity. While that may work for some, I made it 25% in and could not handle it. I tried a second time and made it to the same point before I chose to toss in the towel. While some would say that I ought to give it an ‘old college try’ for an Advance Reading Copy (ARC), I have always told myself that if I cannot get hooked after trying it twice, I will admit defeat.

In a story that opens with a recent interviewing by the FBI on the grounds of a US Embassy in a foreign country, the reader is expected to be wowed and impressed that Calvin Loch is being questioned. How could people have apparently died innocently and yet the forensics say otherwise? Loch tries to spin the story away from him, knowing the entire time that he was to blame? From there, a rewind and flashbacks to when Loch first got a taste to kill and how he sought to use that as an alcohol of sorts to sate him. For as far as I got, Loch played big man on campus as he sought to chill the reader with his blazé nature. It did not work for me and I was highly disappointed.

This novel could and should have been much more in my eyes. I did not find the writing to be poor or even the structuring. I just could not link myself to anything on the page and felt it was a little too vapid for me. While Reedsy expects 400 words in a review, I am not sure if I will get there, as I have been left with such little impact. And, perhaps he is trying to be cute by penning the piece as anonymous and then using his name (I understand it could be a pseudonym) seems cocky to the max. Use a fake name on the author line if that is your ploy. I am sure others will love it, but it was not for me and I am thankful I received a free ARC, as I would surely be queuing up to return this, had I paid anything.

Kudos, Mr. Loch for your efforts and apparent awesomeness for being an active killer. To me, you come off as a tool.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Re-Read: Empire of Lies, by Raymond Khoury

Five stars

After having quite the hard time with this book as an ARC and marking it as unfinished, I felt as though I ought to at least try it in an audiobook format once it had been published. This is my re-read review, with some new sentiments, though I still struggled quite a bit.

Definitely a great fan of alternate history and keen when I see Raymond Khoury’s work pop up on the various book sites I use, I hoped to find great interest in this novel. That being said, things began to fall short from the beginning of this piece and remained troublesome for me. The premise, that the Ottoman Empire continued to gather strength and overtook much of Europe into the present day, sounded good on paper, but as Khoury wove his story, things never seemed to connect for me. A mysteriously tattooed man lurks in the shadows, only to be loosely revealed as a time traveller from ‘our history’, who sees the rise of America and the destruction of the Ottomans. He seeks to tweak history to further strengthen the Islamic influence in the world and to create a worldwide Islamic Empire—one that present-day ISIS would envy. However, when the secret to his abilities is revealed to two characters who have only ever known a Europe under Ottoman rule, they try to change their own history to ensure Vienna was truly the weakening of the Ottomans. Travels through time create much strain for them and the reorganisation of time comes with its own perils, but if it saves the world, why not?! Even this second time around, I found it hard to grasp onto themes that kept me intrigued, save for the promise to myself and fellow readers to write a review of the entire novel.

I am by no means the greatest reviewer or most lax Goodreads wordsmith. I hoped for some injected excitement, but even the information Khoury revealed left me wanting more and unable to find something upon which I could hang my proverbial cloak. While I hated to leave a book unfinished—particularly an ARC—and now return to offer little insight into the full novel recited to me by an audiobook narrator, I owe it to myself and others not to spruce up something that made me somewhat miserable. While some will surely love it, I cannot offer frilly comments. I did enjoy a little more about the premise of WHAT IF surrounding the Ottoman Empire and how a world under Islamic control might differ greatly from what we know today. That being said, there are a few dictators in countries that espouse democracy, that we might not be that far off from leaders drunk off their own power and Tweet abilities. I can only hope this was but a blip on the Khoury radar, not the new norm after a fairly lengthy time away from full novels.

Kudos, Mr. Khoury, for dreaming up an interesting premise. Delivery was off for me, so I hope others can see the empire for the castle walls, to poorly mangle a cliché!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

I Heard a Romantic Story, by Lee Child

Five stars

I stumbled across this short piece completely by accident, nothing like any Lee Child work I have read to date. Told in a single (rambling) paragraph, Child introduces a faceless narrator who speaks of a hit that he is asked to complete, in the heat of an Indian day. Through this ramble, the reader learns that the target is a prince, one of a large family, who has committed something that had led to his required extermination. What makes this a love story is that a woman has been sent in a honey pot type situation, to appease the prince and lull him away from having his defences up. All the while, the reader waits as the narrative builds until the moment arrives and a bomb’s detonation is required…Not too sure how I feel about this one, though if anyone could attempt such a feat, it would be Lee Child.

I have read a lot of unique pieces over the years, but this has got to be one of the oddest. Literally a multi-page narrative blob of facts, as if the Return key were broken on a computer keyboard, Child tosses a great deal of information at the reader, forcing them to process it without a ‘literary breath’. While I am used to the Jack Reacher rambling type of story, this was an entirely different experience and not one I hope to repeat. I am left sitting here, trying to think what to say. I chose not to subject others to the Child style and type without paragraphs, but maybe there was something intuitive about the entire writing project that I missed. I might as well end here, before I sour anyone to Child in general and call this a miss after many hits in his writing career.

Umm, Mr. Child, not your finest hour.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution, by Yuri Slezkine

Three stars

It is truly a rare time when I will admit defeat and label a book as DNF (did not finish). However, after completing 22% of this piece, I have decided that I cannot continue, lacking the ability to affix sufficient attention to the narration or glean much of the author’s message. Some of this surely lays at my own feet, but as many have said on Goodreads, life is too short to be burdened with a book that leaves you feeling miserable as you trudge along.

Being a lover of history and revolutionary events steeped in politics, I was intrigued when I came upon Yuri Slezkine’s book. It was said to depict the intricacies of the Russian Revolution and told a strong story about it. While I know some publishers choose to spice things up with an eye-catching blurb on the dust jacket summary, I was led into something I was not expecting, much like the Tsar and his family. Slezkine spent a great deal of time in the portion of the book I read depicting the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik takeover of the Soviet State as something akin to a new religion. Surely those familiar with the ideological underpinnings of the Bolsheviks and communist foundations will find some humour in this, but Slezkine does a decent job with the argument. While some may find it hard to find a comparison between Jesus, Moses, Joseph Smith, or Mohammed with the likes of Marx and Engels, the reader may see some interesting parallels found within the book. The struggle and clash of communism (youthful ideals) with well-established state ideologies (the old guard) shows how the Russian State was ready for a change and how easily it caught on with the masses. That said, much like the other major religious reformations over time, blood and violence preceded any change and it took a long time for the acceptance of this change. Slezkine reiterates his argument and pushes the reader to accept it through a form of inculcated repetition, much as the leaders of the Bolsheviks would have been able to instil this new means of thinking to the population. By this point of the book, I had tossed in the towel, as I was lost, both with the constant explosion of muddied facts, literary comparisons, and general circular arguments. While some who love Russian literature and writing style may love this piece, I cannot count myself as one of them.

I will be the first to admit that Russian literature is usually beyond my abilities. Be it the mindset or the dense style as thick as pea soup, I cannot be entirely sure, but I am sure that it is not simply something lost in translation. Slezkine does a masterful job at tying together history, politics, and literature, finding parallels between them all to sell his argument in favour of the revolutionary movement. I must applaud him there and can only hope that much of the remaining pages of this massive book continue to sell the details of the rise of the Bolsheviks. I could not find a thread to grasp as the narrative kept sinking deeper and deeper into a repetitive argument. The early religious parallels were truly interesting for me, but they lost their lustre quickly and I expected something more all-encompassing. For some reason, I entered this book thinking that it would be a piece of detailed fiction, whereby Slezkine would sell the idea of the Russian Revolution through his characters. Or perhaps a piece of non-fiction that would tie together some of the key happenings that led up to the fall of the Empire and arrival of Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks to take control of the House of Government, the heart of the Russian State. I do hope some find solace in his massive tome, educating themselves with the details and the literary references. I’ll stick to my biographical pieces and educate myself with pieces more in line with my personal likes.

Thanks for the chance to try this, Mr. Slezkine, but I will steer clear of your work for the time being.

Wholeheartedly attempting to read this book fulfils Topic #3 (Book Set During a Revolution) of the A Book for All Seasons (Equinox #2) Book Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Diary of a Succubus, by James Patterson and Derek Nikitas

Four stars

Not all BookShots are created equal. Surely, with a huge cast of collaborative authors, James Patterson’s name will be attributed to numerous genres, which will appeal to different reader bases. While I steer clear of certain genres when perusing BookShots (namely, the ‘flames’ series of romances), on this binge month, I am trying to keep my options open and reading a great deal of Patterson’s collaborative efforts. Derek Nikitas crossed my path in this piece, which seems to have more of a supernatural/fantasy flavour to it. As the story opens, the reader learns that the female protagonist is trying to lure a rich and powerful man back to his home and into bed. However, it soon becomes obvious that both are trying to kill the other. After Mark Norman Harper falls to his death, the hunt is on to find the group who are out to kill this collective of succubi, the undead who have had their souls bartered to the other side. For the rest of this painfully confusing piece, Patterson and Nikitas try to hold the reader’s attention with a cat and mouse game between the succubi and the hunters that seek to banish them once and for all. I admit that I was lost early on and could not find myself as I flailed through the piece. Fantasy and supernatural BookShot lovers, unite. The rest of us will have to see if this pair did any better when they plotted the death of Stephen King in another piece of fiction.

Reading should never be painful, nor should be it a chore that pushes the reader into areas of discomfort. Libraries, bookstores, Goodreads, and the internet are all places where the curious reader can take a plunge into most anything they find to their liking and run with it. Not everything will appeal to every reader. I have to remind myself of that sometimes, particularly when my reviewing can cut a little deep to those who have thin skin. However, Nikitas and Patterson surely have a following and for those people, this piece was surely just what they needed. Odd characters with backstories over three hundred years in the making, with both modern and antiquated perspectives to build solid characters. The story, while a dud for me, surely would have met the interest of those who enjoy supernatural phenomena and spirit haunting. I do, but this was just too odd for me and I could not find any literary handholds to keep me from sliding into an abyss of confusion. I cannot hold my nose and score it high for those who loved it, for it is the honest balance of YAH and NAY that makes a review stronger.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Nikitas, for doing your best with this. I’ll try another of your joint pieces (perhaps the aforementioned King murder) before passing final judgement. This was not my thing and I cannot sugarcoat it, but I am sure some will love it. To them, a hearty, ENJOY!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Tiger’s Prey (Courtney Saga #16), by Wilbur Smith and Tom Harper

Three stars

Wilbur Smith brings Tom Harper along with him to create the latest in the Courtney saga, returning to the high seas of the 18th century. Tom Courtney is the son of the master seafarer, Sir Hal Courtney. The entire Courtney clan are well known for having control of the seas and have planted many deep roots, especially along the African continent. Tom is rumoured to have turned on members of his family to save his own honour and is rumoured dead. This is the narrative that young Francis Courtney holds close to his heart. When the last remnants of his family are killed, young Francis goes in search of Tom, hoping to discover if he truly has been killed. If not, he will undertake to complete the task and ensure his own father did not die in vain. Francis discovers Tom is alive and well, though has been keeping a low profile in South Africa. Francis lets his bluster get the better of him and Tom is prepared to turn the tables on this young Courtney. Instead, they agree to work together and set sail for the East Indies, sure to find adventure during the journey. What follows is a collection of storms on the high seas and interactions with other swashbucklers as Tom and his crew seek assistance when they arrive on shore. With Francis at his side, Tom engages the locals in more adventure than any man could handle… any man but a Courtney. Limping through to the end, the reader will be lucky to keep their bearings in this addition to what might be the weakest of the three sagas, that of the seas. Many pardons to readers of the review, as I will be the first to admit, my summary of the story is poor, hampered by not being able to connect with the piece, as discussed below.

I have long had an issue when an author passes away or ‘retires’ and another takes over the reins of a series. Many a collection of books have gone down the drain when the original creator no longer has control of their master work. Wilbur Smith’s turning the Courtney series over to others has been a recipe for disaster and yet books continue to be published. Having devoured all of Smith’s past Courtney saga novels (attributed solely to him) and loving them, this was yet another let down for me. One must be careful where to point fingers. It might be Harper trying to slide into the massive literary footprint or the fact that I am not a fan of the ‘Courtneys on the seas’ branch, but this book grabbed me as effectively as marble tossed on a Velcro wall. There was obviously some character development and action peppered throughout, but I just could not find myself grasping onto what was going on. It may also have been that the story was not adequately divided into chapters, choosing instead to be a single blob of writing that continued to flow from page to page (or for us audio listeners, minute to minute). I felt myself lost and without any form of help as I tried to push through this book. The sole redeeming beacon ended up being that the book ended and I could move on to something else. Alas, I feel that my reading the saga may finally have come to an end. I have little interest in continuing if Wilbur Smith feels that he must allow others to trifle with his work. Surely, he has lost that burning desire to create high-caliber work and only seeks the royalties for something that has his name plastered to the cover.

Oh, Messrs. Smith and Harper, how you have disappointed Courtney series fans with this. I hope many readers will not use this book as a benchmark for the entire series, which has had moments of brilliance.

Godforsaken, by Tarryl Janik

Two fizzled-out stars

First and foremost, thank you to Tarryl Janik (through a friend) for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

With a few independent books that have been offered to me by authors through Goodreads, I wanted to take some time and read them, before posting reviews. They may not get the publicity of other writers, but deserve some recognition. Jack Warren has little in life about which to be happy, explaining why he has a revolver pressed to his temple as the book begins. A deputy in the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department, Jack breaks from his suicidal thought processes to investigate the disappearance of Jessica Mills, a local teenage girl. With only a few clues, Jack must assess the scene and try to piece together her last moments with others. On a tangential narrative, an archeological expedition in Guyana uncovers some highly troubling discoveries with sacrificial elements of the most graphic nature, which seems out of place at the time, but finds its place as the story progresses. The narrative returns to offer the reader a glimpse into the last night of Jessica Mills’ freedom, full of sexual exploration and disappointment, before eventually leading to her capture by a silhouetted individual. When Jack comes across a friend he hopes will be able to offer some insight into Jessica’s disappearance, he is attacked by a mysterious woman in the shadows, maimed to the point of requiring medical attention. It is here that the story takes a turn, when a nondescript room tucked in the corner of the hospital reveals added alter sacrifices and medicinal reincarnations that perpetuate a zombie state. If the review reader is grasping at straws to collect some form of narrative thread, reading this piece is like blindly hanging from said threads in a torrential downpour. A troubled publication, the reader must take a gamble as they sacrifice their sanity, time, and mood to finish.

I have always been taught not to say anything if there is nothing good to be added to the discussion. With that in mind, let me dig and find something positive worth exploring in this book. The text is organised in coherent paragraphs and pages (lacking horribly inane columns), which is worth one star. One would presume this is a freebie star, but in some of the recent books I have come across, traditional text presentation is never a foregone conclusion. The second star is surely worthy for great use of the English language, showing that Janik has a grasp of how to weave the words together in any effective and comprehensive fashion that makes sense to the adult audience. With these two stars in the book’s quiver, we embark on what might be the miraculous search for a third star, or how we cannot lose the two previously ascertained praiseworthy traits this book possesses. Moving forward, things take a turn for the worse or at least inch towards literary disaster. While the words are clear, the story begs for an editor. If one was used, said person should immediately return the funds they were paid and march through the town as they are shamed for horrible work. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are haphazardly used and, on occasion, their disappearance ruin what might have been a passable plot. One might turn to me and ask that I cast the first stone if I am so perfect. I do not seek perfection, though I should expect some degree of clarity on the parts of both the author and editor to clean up the draft and show honour and respect in the published work. This is not Harper Lee’s resurrected second manuscript from a few years ago, whereby the world accepted it without a red pen touching the page. It is an insult to the reader to seek their money and time while not putting in the conscious effort to produce one’s best work. Janik seeks to provide that flashy distraction to the aforementioned abyss by opening a medical terminology text or thesaurus and peppering the narrative with fancy words, as if to beg for the literary equivalent of a golf clap. ‘Well done, sir!’ If the characters worked in the medical profession or counselled those with numerous philias, phobias, or isms, the reader might accept these words as useful, but it does little to distract the intelligent reader from what is going on. The gratuitous and seemingly inexplicable use of sex in all its forms to fill pages and bestow forms of orgasmic delight for the minor characters leaves the reader wondering if there will be some epiphany in the narrative that pulls all this ejaculatory blather to a head (pardon the pun). It occurs in almost every chapters and adds nothing to the larger story, save to promote disgust and ‘strokes’ (again, sorry for the pun) the author’s ego to have devised every euphemistic penile reference that a second-tier romance novelist would veto. Janik shows only that his academic success (discussed on the author blurb) is surely diluted as he remains trapped in the mentality of a sixteen year-old boy, giggling with the ways he can under-impress the reader. I am not Freud, so I will not draw cigar parallels. What began as a mystery quickly slips away and turns into something without a genre, though seeks to introduce sex to distract from its dissolving plot. Might this distraction attempt be a theme all its own in the book? The reader may prepare to celebrate the end of this short novel, only to be greeted with a TO BE CONTINUED final page. As if there is need to contemplate the next move. Most will rush for the closest door and run into the hills. Then again, might there be those with literary masochistic leanings?

Good luck, Mr. Janik. I do not pull punches and set the bar high for authors. You have a sequel and seem to have some followers, but do not fold up the tent on your academic endeavours just yet.