Book Review: The Forgotten Girls

review-cover-the forgotten girlsTitle: The Forgotten Girls [Stevens & Windmere 6]

Author: Owen Laukkanen

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

She was a forgotten girl, a runaway found murdered on the High Line train through the northern Rocky Mountains and, with little local interest, put into a dead file. But she was not alone. When Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere of the joint FBI-BCA violent crime force stumble upon the case, they discover a horror far greater than anyone expected—a string of murders on the High Line, all of them young women drifters whom no one would notice.

But someone has noticed now. Through the bleak midwinter and a frontier land of forbidding geography, Stevens and Windermere follow a frustratingly light trail of clues—and where it ends, even they will be shocked.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I wanted to like The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen more than I did, but honestly, I’m not sure I was the right audience. The cover was gorgeous, the description sounded interesting—the plot kept me involved with the story… but I tend to prefer character-driven fiction, and even though I do enjoy thrillers and mysteries, I had a hard time connecting to the characters in this story.

The first part of the story was built around Mila, a girl who’s best friend has gone missing, and then part way through the book, the majority of the story switches to the killer. It was a strange dynamic to get so involved with one character and then switch to another. That aside, there wasn’t a lot of time put into getting to know any of the characters deeply, and because of this, I found them rather interchangeable. I didn’t feel upset over any of the deaths, I was only mildly irritated with the killer, and by 70% into the book, I’d completely lost interest. I did finish the book, but it was a slog to get through the ending, because I just didn’t care about the characters, and the murders were so briefly touched upon that I didn’t have a macabre fascination to keep me interested in what was happening.

Was it a bad book, though? No. It was well edited and well written. I didn’t get hung up on the sentence structure, vocabulary, or any other sort of technical error. The story moved smoothly and cleanly from one event to another, and I never got confused or lost—but there was a lack of tension that I felt should have been present, and because of that and my lack of interest in the characters, I found it hard to push through the slow pace of the story.

I think if you like mystery books that aren’t too complicated and don’t have too much gore, you may enjoy this book quite a bit—like I said, it was well written, but if you’re like me and prefer character driven fiction or gripping thrillers, this may be a little bit off the mark for you. I gave this book 3 stars because it was a bit of a “meh…” read for me. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful either, it just didn’t interest me as much as I’d hoped.

Book Review: Caged

review-cover-cagedTitle: Caged [Caged 1]

Author: D.H. Sidebottom

Genre: Suspense, Thriller, Erotica, Ménage, Dark

Rating: 2 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Judd Asher was taken from his front garden when he was just four years old. After an extensive search he was never found.

Twenty-one years after a random call out, Judd is found chained and beaten in the basement of an old rundown farmhouse where he has lived the life of an animal for the last twenty-one years.

Kloe Grant is assigned as Judd’s personal therapist. It’s her job to rehabilitate him, to guide him back to normal life. But as Judd’s only emotion is rage, Kloe finds it both heart-breaking and challenging mending a soul that’s not only broken but caged inside him by the demons of his past.
However, when Kloe’s relationship with her patient raises some eyebrows, Kloe can’t fight against the powers that want to see her fail, and with an arm behind her back, she walks away, leaving behind a man who has come to live life again for her.

Four years later Judd, now known as Anderson Cain, the darkest and most formidable cage fighter in a world where violence and crime are the only way to keep breathing, Judd finds there’s not a lot in life that can abate the rage that still twists and prowls beneath his skin.

Not until a chance encounter brings him to her door. To the woman with the bluest eyes and the most stunning smile, the woman who took his hand in the darkness and led him through the door into the sun.

But Kloe Grant left him when he needed her the most. She took the only shred of hope and trust he had left and annihilated it. She starved his belief, and she fed his fury.

She owes him. And he’s going to make sure that this time, she pays. In blood. In lust. In pain. And with her soul.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I should have done way more research on my reading choice before I picked up Caged by D.H. Sidebottom. It looked like a bit of a dark romance when I picked it up and based on the description, I had hopes of an interesting if somewhat dark read. This went far beyond that.

Technically speaking, the book was well edited. There weren’t a lot of noticeable typos, grammar issues, or sentence structure problems. The writing was easy to read and follow, and I sunk into the story easily. Does that mean the book was written well? No—but we’ll get into that.

The book was dark—some would say depraved. So if you need a trigger warning, this is it: There is a lot of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in the book. There is torture, murder, stalking, kidnapping, dog mutilation, and rape. There are M/M/F, M/M, and M/F explicit sex scenes which for the most part includes anal, both consensual and nonconsensual to the point of actual bloody harm. This is not going to be a book a lot of people will enjoy.

Still with me? Good. So here’s the issue with this book: if you like horror and dark thrillers, you may get some sort of perverse pleasure out of reading this book. It’s a bit like watching a train wreck because you’re curious to see the dead bodies. It is an interesting book if you in any way enjoy the dark thriller tone. It is not, however, a well-written book. The characters are unrealistic and shoddily slapped together. Kloe was supposed to be a personal therapist for heavily damaged people, and at first she was set up to be just that, but not too long into the book she clearly steps over the line with her patient, Anderson, and it seemed totally at odds with how her character was set up until that point in time. Anderson functioned too well, too quickly for a man that spent 20 years abused, raped, and chained in a basement. Halfway through the book, the story changes into an entirely different one as four years have passed, and Kloe suddenly becomes the kidnap victim of Anderson, and Anderson is now a fairly well-adjusted cage fighter. It’s like the author wrote two books with the same characters, mildly tied together and decided to just make it one. It was weird and clunky, and I didn’t like it. The book was a mess.

Overall, it wasn’t a book I can easily recommend. If you enjoy very dark thrillers or horror, you may enjoy this book, but it certainly isn’t going to be for everyone, or even most people. Read the trigger warning beforehand.

Free Fiction Friday #66

Hello ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Free Fiction Friday #66! For those of you who are new to this blog, or who may have missed out on the previous Free Fiction Fridays, every Friday I post an article containing 10 fiction e-books that are 100% FREE on Amazon at the time of posting, and an additional 5 that are roughly of the same genre and on sale for less than $5. I try my best to make sure they are all 4+ stars, have over 40+ reviews, and are 100 pages minimum—so that you can get a hand-picked list of the best-of-the-best to choose from and enjoy over the long weekend (while I do more important things, like laundry). I try to switch up the genres every week, and this week our theme is: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense!

THE FREE

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Free Fiction Friday #58–HALLOWEEN EDITION

Hello ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Free Fiction Friday #58! For those of you who are new to this blog or who may have missed out on the previous Free Fiction Fridays, every Friday I post an article containing 10 fiction e-books that are 100% FREE on Amazon at the time of posting and an additional 5 that are roughly of the same genre and on sale for less than $5. I try my best to make sure they are all 4+ stars and over 40+ reviews and 100 pages minimum—so that you can get a list of the best-of-the-best to choose from and enjoy over the long weekend (while I do more important things than post, like laundry). I try to switch up the genres every week, and this week our theme is: Suspense/Horror!

THE FREE

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THE BARGAINS

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Book Review: Last Alpha

cover-review-last alphaTitle: Last Alpha

Author: Ruby Fielding

Genre: Romance, Suspense, Fantasy, Paranormal, Werewolves

Rating: 3 (2.5) Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

He never wanted to fall in love. She never planned to let him. Jenny Layne has made a career out of investigating werewolf reports, but every case has only confirmed that shapeshifters are the stuff of legend or madness. Until now. Lured to a remote Scottish estate to meet a researcher working on the science behind the werewolf phenomenon, Jenny finds steadily mounting evidence that something strange is running wild in the hills.

Billy Stewart has traveled the world in pursuit of stories of shapeshifters and other strange phenomena, but the last thing he ever expected to find was love. Billy is not a man who falls easily, but when he does, it is a force of nature. When he meets Jenny he knows immediately that she is his soulmate, but Jenny is not so sure. Are his intense feelings for her just some kind of insanity, or is Jenny turning him away because that’s exactly what she always does when a guy gets interested?

By turns passionate romance and gripping paranormal thriller, Last Alphatells the story of two people whose paths collide with earth-shattering consequences. As love boils over and the dark secrets buried away in Jenny and Billy’s past rise to the surface, a night of murder raises the stakes yet higher.

And as she fights for her own survival, Jenny must face perhaps the biggest question of them all. In matters of life, death and love, can Beauty ever really hope to tame the Beast?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I wanted so very badly to like this book. Parts of it, I found exceptionally well written… and other parts, lacked. As far as the technical side of the writing went, it was nearly flawless. I spotted less than a handful of noticeable errors throughout the text. For the most part, the writing was spot on. There wasn’t an overabundance of awkward sentences, misspelled words, or formatting errors.

The plot was interesting and packed full of suspense. It was obvious that the author put a lot of thought into the details of the plot and the character development. The world building was spot on… I found it fascinating. The problem is… I was also bored. The pacing of the story dragged on at a pace that made it hard to keep my interest. The tension was missing for me, and the romance, with the exception of some pretty steamy  sex scenes, was lukewarm. The characters barely knew each other and fell in love at a pace that seemed unrealistic given the obstacles to their relationship.

Overall, the book was a bit of a mixed bag. I loved the characters, the suspense, and the mystery. I loved the world building, the detail, plot, and setting… I just wasn’t enthralled by the writing. This didn’t feel like a romance. It felt like a dark suspense/mystery with a side element of romance thrown in as an afterthought—and that’s wonderful if that’s what you want to read, but it’s not what the book promised. I ended up giving this book  3 stars. I didn’t really like it, and, to be honest, I could have put it down several times and been okay with that decision. It wasn’t an awful book, it just wasn’t what I thought I was getting, and in the end, it just wasn’t to my tastes.

If you’re a fan of dark, suspenseful paranormal plots, you’re probably going to like this book. If you’re looking for a paranormal romance though, you may not enjoy this book as much as you were expecting.

Book Review: Remnants of the Damned

cover-review-remnants of the damnedTitle: Remnants of the Damned [Abyssal Sanctuary 1]

Author: Gavin Hetherington

Genre: Horror, New Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Suspense

Rating: 1 Star

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Description/Synopsis:

There has always been something wrong with the sinister and secluded town of Lakefield View. For one, people get murdered on the streets and nobody does anything about it. Even if they hear their screams curse the night skies, the number of saints has diminished. But it isn’t the sick and twisted residents of Lakefield View that are the ones who you should avoid… it’s the killers, the psychopaths, the witches and the monsters you should watch out for.

Five unsuspecting workers of a picturesque café get the shock of their lives when a family member is killed before their eyes. A chain of events ensue and they are all catapulted down a spiraling road of mystery and magic, each struggling to overcome constant obstacles that threaten their lives and the safety of their families. As the mystery progresses and the secrets get darker, the friends find it harder and harder to keep their heads above water.

The only thing worse than being alone in the dark, is finding out you’re not!

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

Did not finish. I hate not finishing books, and I hate writing reviews for books I don’t finish—because I know that people are going to harass me over it. It happens every single time…. but I’m going to write this review anyway because I believe that any time a reader can’t get through a book, there’s usually a good reason. As a reviewer, it is my obligation to give my opinion to other readers out there and let them know the pitfalls and triumphs of the books I review. You may agree with me, you may not, but this is my personal opinion.

To be frank, this book, in my opinion, was awful. How awful? I gave up  2 1/2 pages in—that may literally be the quickest I’ve ever given up on a book. Go ahead, take the time to cry foul and argue that it’s not fair of me to say a book sucks without having read the whole thing. I’ll wait. Here’s the thing… whatever the plot was, however wonderfully written the characters may have been, I couldn’t get past those first 2 1/2 pages. The sentence structure was convoluted, and littered with both run-on sentences and fragments. The wording was odd and had a disjointed feel to it, and the words used were often misused and ill-placed.

I am a firm believer that narrative should practically disappear. It should be effortless and flow from one idea to the next in such a way that you forget you’re reading a book. Instead, you become part of the story for a few short hours. I didn’t get that with this book. You don’t have to take my word for it—I have some quotes to share.

The stories began when the town was first founded one thousand years ago. One particular urban legend is that once you leave the town and return, you’re doomed to die. In fact, just stepping foot in Lakefield View is enough to curse a soul to a promised home in the ground.

There is a monster. It cloaks itself with a human identity. There are many monsters that live in the shadows, but only one is solely responsible for the fate of this abyssal sanctuary.

The moon descends a haunting glow on the spacious town that is locked in by miles and miles of evocative trees.

With gorgeous houses lining the street, the residents milk the opportunity to brag about their homes. Not all of the people who live there are smug and condescending, but the majority have a death wish.

These are just a few lines from the first two pages. It’s hard to explain exactly why the narrative feels so off to me—perhaps because it’s hard to understand what the author was trying to tell us. The paragraphs contained several disjointed thoughts at once, often without anything to tie them together. Attention was drawn to certain aspects of the story (like the monster) only to be glossed over and ignored further down the page. I guess the word I’m looking for to describe the narrative is CHAOTIC.

There are probably people out there that will be able to get through this book and thoroughly enjoy it far more than I did. Speaking only for myself, I couldn’t stomach it. After 2 1/2 pages I had no interest in reading on to the third page, let alone the rest of the book, and I’m not going to waste my time forcing myself to read a book I obviously have no interest in. If you’re interested in reading this story I would suggest taking a look at the preview on Amazon first to determine if it’s something your interested in. As for me, well, this just wasn’t my cup of tea, so I’m going to move on. I honestly wish I had liked it more than I did, but you know, not every book is for every person.

Book Review: Empath

cover-review-empathTitle: Empath [Flawed 1]

Author: Becca J. Campbell

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Suspense, New Adult

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Supernatural empathy isn’t a gift, it’s a curse. Anywhere she goes, Jade’s emotions are replaced by those of the people around her.

Jade grew up in a suburb of Colorado Springs, protected from other people by her parents. Now she faces college—and the world—with nothing to shield her from unwanted feelings.

When Cam, a classmate with a major crush on her, unintentionally hijacks her emotions, Jade struggles to keep from being carried away in feelings of attraction. When Ethan, a psychopath with a thirst for fear, fixates on her, the emotional impact could be lethal.

Caught in a deadly trap, Jade must untangle the emotions and find a way to use her empathic curse to overcome this killer or be overcome by him.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I really had to debate with myself over how many stars to give Empath by Becca J. Campbell. It wasn’t easy to settle on three stars, so try to keep an open mind when I explain why—this was not a light decision.

Technically speaking, the story was well-written. There were very few noticeable typos, the narrative was easy-to-read and flowed well, and the dialog seemed natural. All good things. My only gripe about the technical aspect of the story is that the structure didn’t work for me and wouldn’t have worked in any other way at the same time. Let me explain:

The POVs in this book switched between that of the main character, Jade, to some of the lesser characters (like Cam and Logan), but at the end of every chapter also switched to Ethan. Here’s the problem: Ethan is a psychopath. It wasn’t fun to see the timeline from his point of view. He was creepy (as well he should be) but I wasn’t able to sympathize with him or understand him. His particular motives for being a serial killer weren’t clear, nor was his obsession with Kelsey. Frankly, I didn’t like reading his POV, but the story wouldn’t have carried on had his POV been absent.

Other than one mention where Jade felt Ethan close by in a parking lot, she didn’t interact with him until the very end of the story. From her POV, it didn’t feel like she was being stalked. There was no threat. Had Ethan’s POV been left out, the story would have completely fallen apart. For me, the structure didn’t work. I felt like I should have been fascinated or in some way compelled to read Ethan’s POV. I kept hoping that he’d give me some insight into why he stalks women, or why Kelsey was so important to him, but the answers were vague at best. Most of the time I wanted to skim his POV.

That aside, the other characters were pretty interesting and easy to like. I liked Cam and his siblings. I liked Logan. More importantly, I liked Jade. Her story was engaging and fascinating, and I liked seeing the world from the POV of an empath. The romance and friendships were convincing, and for the most part, the characters actions were believable. Honestly, minus the story’s few flaws, I really enjoyed it.

Here’s the problem—aside from the structure, I had one other major problem with the story. It was just a little too absurd to be believed, and the author didn’t do a good job of convincing me otherwise. From the very beginning, when it was explained that Jade was an empath, the author threw around buzzwords like “rape” and “violation” and explained and re-explained how horrific being an empath is. I get it. I really do—being an empath is not fun… but it seemed like the narrative was trying too hard to convince me without showing me evidence. I wanted to see how Jade’s power affected her life. I didn’t want to be told about it, and it felt melodramatic and overdone.

To make matters worse, it wasn’t just Jade who had supernatural abilities. Cam, Chloe, Logan, Ethan… all of them had some weird quirk or ability—which would have been fine had the story been about a group of supernaturals or there had been some explanation for why this group of young adults all had strange powers. Instead, it was explained away rather vaguely and hodge-podgy with medical conditions and random supernatural coincidences that were never explained.  There was no supporting world building or lore to make the abilities stand up on their own. It felt as if the author was throwing supernaturals into the story willy-nilly and said “these are here because I want them to be” rather than offering any feasible explanation. It didn’t feel cohesive. I’ll admit—I rolled my eyes and cracked up laughing when Jade met “Bigfoot”.

It wasn’t until the very end that it became clear –why- all the characters had supernatural abilities… but it wasn’t an explanation so much as a band-aid slipped over a major plot fault. It felt like the end of Signs (the movie about the alien invasion) when it suddenly becomes clear why all these awful things (one kid’s asthma, another kid’s tick about water, the brother’s problem with swinging at every baseball no matter the outcome) suddenly lead up to the realization that it was all fate leading up to this one moment of clarity and triumph for the family… except in this case it just felt kind of silly. It didn’t have the same emotional impact, and in the end, felt like more of a patch job to wrap everything up before the story ended.

Ultimately, it felt like the story could have been put together a little better. It wasn’t a bad story—I quite enjoyed it overall… but I don’t think it was keeper-shelf worthy. I just wish it had been put together a little better. If you don’t take the plot too seriously, you may really enjoy Empath. Like I said, it wasn’t a bad book. I quite liked it. Was it great? No. I personally think it could have been handled better—but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. If you enjoy paranormal fantasy and suspense/thrillers, you may really enjoy this book. If you’re looking for a lot of world building and a smart, well-crafted plot… you may want to pass on this one.