BOOK REVIEW: Off the Grid, by Robert McCaw

BOOK REVIEW: Off the Grid, by Robert McCawTitle: Off the Grid by Robert B. McCaw
Published by Oceanview Publishing
Published: July 2nd 2019
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 304
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A scrap of cloth fluttering in the wind leads Hilo police Chief Detective Koa Kāne to the tortured remains of an unfortunate soul, left to burn in the path of an advancing lava flow. For Koa, it’s the second gruesome homicide of the day, and he soon discovers the murders are linked. These grisly crimes on Hawaiʻi’s Big Island could rewrite history―or cost Chief Detective Koa Kāne his career.

The dead, a reclusive couple living off the grid, turn out to be mysterious fugitives. The CIA, the Chinese government, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, attempt to thwart Koa’s investigation and obscure the victims’ true identities. Undeterred by mounting political pressure, Koa pursues the truth only to find himself drawn into a web of international intrigue.

While Koa investigates, the Big Island scrambles to prepare for the biggest and most explosive political rally in its history. Despite police resources stretched to the breaking point, Koa uncovers a government conspiracy so shocking its exposure topples senior officials far beyond Hawaiʻi’s shores.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blog, and that’s because I recently moved across the country! I did set aside all of my review copies and books I’m really excited to read, so expect updates about those on my blog and Instagram! I’m still in between places, so to speak, and I decided to try updating my blog from my phone for a bit to see how this works! I hope to get back in the regular swing of things soon as I really miss blogging and posting!

While traveling, I read Robert McCaw’s Off the Grid! It’s a mystery set in Hawai’i and I loved the setting of it so much! I feel like I’ve read so few titles set in Hawai’i, and this one really showcased the island’s culture and natural surroundings. I loved the insights into Hawai’ian culture MaCaw gave. The story definitely made me want to read more about Hawai’i and maybe visit some day!

It’s a well-constructed and well-crafted mystery that kept me engaged, and I didn’t feel as if I missed any of the story as it’s the second in a series. While a lot of stories I’ve read or watched about Hawai’i seem magical and perfect tourist places, McCaw shows us the darker underside to the beautiful islands, and that really adds dimension to the novel’s setting, especially the juxtaposition of island life and the broader scope of US and international politics. If you like mysteries and want to read a mystery in an island setting, look into this one!

Many thanks to Oceanview Publishing and FSB Associates for sending me a complimentary copy to review! All opinions are my own

BOOK REVIEW: The Unquiet Heart, by Kaite Welsh

BOOK REVIEW: The Unquiet Heart, by Kaite WelshTitle: The Unquiet Heart by Kaite Welsh
Series: Sarah Gilchrist #2
Published by Pegasus Books
Published: February 21st 2019
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Kaite Welsh's thrilling THE UNQUIET HEART is the second in the gothic Sarah Gilchrist series, following a medical student turned detective in Victorian Edinburgh.

Sarah Gilchrist has no intention of marrying her dull fiancé Miles, the man her family hope will restore her reputation and put an end to her dreams of becoming a doctor, but when he is arrested for a murder she is sure he didn't commit she finds herself his reluctant ally. Beneath the genteel façade of upper class Edinburgh lurks blackmail, adultery, poison and madness and Sarah must return to Edinburgh's slums, back alleys and asylums as she discovers the dark past about a family where no one is what they seem, even Miles himself. It also brings her back into the orbit of her mercurial professor, Gregory Merchiston - he sees Sarah as his protegee, but can he stave off his demons long enough to teach her the skills that will save her life?

I read the first Sarah Gilchrist book last year? The year before? And I fell in love with it. Sarah Gilchrist is a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, and in this second installment of the series, Sarah is trying not to marry her fiance Miles. In the midst of the drama surrounding her upcoming wedding, Miles is arrested for a murder Sarah is sure he didn’t commit, and she becomes his ally in trying to clear his name while maintaining the delicate balance of her own reputation.

I love Sarah’s voice. She’s a strong-willed individual who finds it difficult to balance what she wants in her life while trying to balance what’s expected of hers by others. She knows she’ll never be able to live up to those expectations, and her professor Gregory Merchiston encourages Sarah to find her own way. Welsh weaves in traditional mystery tropes with historical fiction and feminism, and the writing and the story is fresh, engaging, and wonderful. I also loved the weaving in of what happened in the first book without it feeling like an info dump, because there were some details I had forgotten or was glad to be reminded about. The hint of romance near the end is swoon-worthy, because who doesn’t love a quietly-pining, broody someone?

If you’re interested in feminist historical fiction with strong characters with a setting that feels like you’re completely immersed, definitely check out this series.

Thank you to Netgalley and Pegasus Books for the digital advance copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: A Knife in the Fog, by Bradley Harper

BOOK REVIEW: A Knife in the Fog, by Bradley HarperTitle: A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper
Published by Seventh Street Books
Published: October 2nd 2018
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 288
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Physician Arthur Conan Doyle takes a break from his practice to assist London police in tracking down Jack the Ripper in this debut novel and series starter.

September 1888. A twenty-nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle practices medicine by day and writes at night. His first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, although gaining critical and popular success, has only netted him twenty-five pounds. Embittered by the experience, he vows never to write another “crime story.” Then a messenger arrives with a mysterious summons from former Prime Minister William Gladstone, asking him to come to London immediately.

Once there, he is offered one month’s employment to assist the Metropolitan Police as a “consultant” in their hunt for the serial killer soon to be known as Jack the Ripper. Doyle agrees on the stipulation his old professor of surgery, Professor Joseph Bell—Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes—agrees to work with him. Bell agrees, and soon the two are joined by Miss Margaret Harkness, an author residing in the East End who knows how to use a Derringer and serves as their guide and companion.

Pursuing leads through the dank alleys and courtyards of Whitechapel, they come upon the body of a savagely murdered fifth victim. Soon it becomes clear that the hunters have become the hunted when a knife-wielding figure approaches.

As someone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes pastiches and nearly anything revolving around Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life outside of those stories, I was incredibly excited to see a new mystery (or mystery series, perhaps? Goodreads says it’s a series starter!) involving Conan Doyle, Bell, and Margaret Harkness. Bradley Harper’s A Knife in the Fog is incredibly well-researched and well-rounded. It’s difficult to get the tone and language of the time period to be believable without feeling as if it’s forced, and Harper manages to bring the style of the time forward to modern ears.

A Knife in the Fog follows Doyle, Bell, and Harkness as they try to deduce who calls himself “Jack the Ripper” and his motives for attacking the working women of Whitechapel. There are numerous theories of the identity of Jack the Ripper, and Harper’s theory ties in believably in the scope of his novel. Margaret Harkness is a lively figure in history brought to life in the novel in such a way that charges the trajectory of the narrative. As a reader, I thought the addition of Margaret Harkness into the dynamic duo of Bell and Doyle was a necessary and wonderful addition to the story. While I won’t go into spoilery details, Harkness is one of the two women in this story who forces each Bell and Doyle to reconsider their assumptions and prejudices about women and women’s work. And given the traditional nature of these boys’ club mysteries, I was pleasantly surprised to see two women.

I also liked the nods to various literary figures and future Sherlock Holmes stories scattered throughout the book as well. It was like hunting for literary clues. Overall, this is a well-paced, well-researched, and well-crafted mystery with just the right amount of flair and atmosphere. If you enjoy historical fiction/mysteries, Jack the Ripper stories, and Doyle/Holmes pastiches, I highly recommend you check out A Knife in the Fog!

Thank you to Seventh Street Books for sending me a complimentary review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Not Her Daughter, by Rea Frey

BOOK REVIEW: Not Her Daughter, by Rea FreyTitle: Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
Published: August 21st 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Emma Grace Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes. Brown hair. Missing since June.

Emma Townsend is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Abandoned by her mother. Kidnapper.Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal--and when a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her, far away from home. But if it's to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure she wants her daughter back.Amy's life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now she's gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But her real mother is at home, waiting for her to return--and the longer the search for Emma continues, Amy is forced to question if she really wants her back.

Emotionally powerful and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother--and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.

Rea Frey’s Not Her Daughter is a well-paced domestic thriller in which Sarah Walker, a successful entrepreneur, kidnaps Emma Townsend, a five year old girl. Amy Townsend, Emma’s mother, is worried about her daughter’s disappearance, but she also feels some kind of secret relief in not having to deal with the personality clashes she has with her own daughter. That secret relief Amy felt was one of the most interesting parts of the book for me.

While I felt like I did have to suspend disbelief a little bit while reading this novel, I really enjoyed how this was formatted. Not Her Daughter is divided into the perspectives of Sarah Walker and Amy Townsend, each with subsections of “before,” “during,” and “after.” The way each of these glimpses into the lives and minds of the two women added such depth to the story and kept me turning the pages because I wanted to know how this would be resolved and how everything would turn out in the end.

Some of the issues I had with the novel were the body-shaming and a few logistic issues near the end. I am tired of the trope that the “bad” women are fat and not very pretty, while the protagonist is fit and conventionally attractive. The traveling scenes at the end of the book seemed farfetched in terms of distance and time as neither seemed very clear, and that’s where some of the suspension of disbelief tied in.

However, I did enjoy Frey’s writing. I found it engaging and well-constructed. And I loved the dynamic of Sarah and Emma’s mother/daughter bonding.

Not Her Daughter brings into question what is right and wrong in terms of a young child’s life, and Rea Frey deals with the difficult subjects of abusive and neglectful children, the children of parents who were neglectful, and how each of those circumstances tie together everything a person does in their present and future.

If you enjoy domestic thrillers and are looking for a new writer to add to your reading lists, definitely pick this one up!

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a complimentary copy to review!

BOOK REVIEW: Bannerless, by Carrie Vaughn

BOOK REVIEW: Bannerless, by Carrie VaughnTitle: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Bannerless Saga #1
Published by Mariner Books
Published: July 11th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

A mysterious murder in a dystopian future leads a novice investigator to question what she’s learned about the foundation of her population-controlled society.

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.  Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn't yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?  In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.

What happens when you mix a post-apocalyptic dystopian with a bit of detective fiction? You’ll get Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless. I really enjoy traditional, structural genre stories mixed with a fantastic setting, and this one didn’t disappoint. Bannerless takes place about a hundred years after a series of events destroy society. It’s a little like taking a peek into our future if we aren’t careful about our relationships with other countries and if we aren’t careful with our planet. Instead of being another post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, Vaughn uses this vision of the future as a twist in her traditional mystery and that twist adds a dimension to the story that I found really enjoyable.

In this futuristic world, the population has dwindled, birth control is mandatory, and people live in tight-knit communities in which everyone knows everyone else’s business. People group together in family units called houses, and they work together to provide enough materials for themselves and for their families, and once their quotas are met or consistently exceeded, these families can apply to get a banner which allows that household to have a baby.

Enid of Haven is an Investigator, a role that combines the roles of police, detective, and judge. Crime doesn’t really exist in this future world, and most of it ends up being bannerless pregnancies or unauthorized food and material production to try to game the system. She is called up with her partner to investigate a suspicious death of a bannerless person in a neighboring community, and she is forced to confront someone with her past as she and her partner Tomas figure out the mystery. I also really enjoyed Enid’s self-discovery as she investigates the suspicious death. She goes from being a little insecure of herself as an individual to growing more and more confident in herself, and to me, that’s entirely relatable. Told in alternating chapters of Enid’s past and present, Bannerless explores a future in which our very society is regulated on the local level and how our actions, even with good intentions, can be devastating for entire families.

If you enjoy traditional mysteries, dystopian futures as imagined in books like Station Eleven, and speculative fiction, you’ll probably enjoy this one! It’s short, yet well-crafted and well-paced. And I’ve just read she’s working on another post-apocalyptic murder mystery, so I’m hoping that the next one will continue following Enid’s investigations!

This book was provided to me for review by Netgalley and Mariner Books. All opinions are my own.