From award-winning male/male author Josh Lanyon: a librarian finds himself in a plot right out of one of his favorite mystery novels.
Librarian Carter Matheson is determined to enjoy himself on a Scottish bus tour for fans of mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Sure, his ex, Trevor, will also be on the trip with his new boyfriend, leaving Carter to share a room with a stranger, but he can’t pass up a chance to meet his favorite author.
Carter’s roommate turns out to be John Knight, a figure as mysterious as any character from Vanessa’s books. His strange affect and nighttime wanderings make Carter suspicious. When a fellow traveler’s death sparks rumors of foul play, Carter is left wondering if there’s anyone on the tour he can trust.
Drawn into the intrigue, Carter searches for answers, trying to fend off his growing attraction toward John. As the unexplained tragedies continue, the whole tour must face the fact that there may be a murderer in their midst—but who?
Length – 60k
Cover – Perfect!
POV – 1st person, one character
Would I read it again – Yes!
Genre – LGBT, Murder Mystery, Crime, Romance, Adventure
Triggers – historical murder, contemporary murder, brief violence
** COPY RECEIVED THROUGH NETGALLEY **
Reviewed for Divine Magazine
This is my first book by Josh Lanyon, only because I'm constantly prioritizing my review books over those I've bought for myself. I'll be bumping those books up on my priority list, after this.
Now, just an FYI – I've watched every episode of Midsomer Murders, CSI: Vegas, Murder She Wrote, Columbo, Vera, everything Agatha Christie. I've read every Sherlock Holmes, historical mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. I've watched more true crime shows than I can count. I generally – about 85% of the time – get it right. Be forewarned, that I went into this hoping it would be a mystery and it was. I still figured out who the killer was before the halfway mark, but I hadn't quite figured out all of the who or the why. And I can say that I was thoroughly impressed by how it was all put together, how it was laid out, when it all came together, and the final big reveal. It was a brilliantly done mystery, by someone who lives them every day vicariously through TV and books.
The main character, who provides the POV, is Carter – and he's everything I could have wanted in a main character. He's a librarian, so has a vast wealth of knowledge on multiple subjects; he's a murder mystery buff, who loves the books that the tour follows, so knows what signs to look for; he's smart, instinctive, and just logical enough to second guess the more ludicrous ideas, the question everything, even himself, and to provide all the snarky I could want in a disillusioned romantic.
I love that the recent break up of Carter and Trevor wasn't just glossed over, but was a pivotal used throughout the book, adding distractions, an extra air of mystery, and another suspect that he kept a naturally close eye on. I also love how it played into Carter's mindset – he was instantly doubtful of his feelings and thoughts, because he'd just discovered that he'd been wrong about Trevor for years.
The rest of the cast were brilliantly written, and not shoved to the side as some secondary characters can be. They all had their part to play. From the manipulative and myster-buffs Rose and Sally, to the enigmatic Ben and his mother, Yvonne, the constantly-disappearing and mysterious John. There were the secretive foursome of teachers who knew each other before the tour, Trevor and his new boyfriend, secret-keeper Alison who was the tour guide, and the understated pairing of Nedda and her husband Wally, and finally the assistant Elizabeth. All of whom could easily have been in on the plan.
The vast array of characters made for interesting reading, a lot of speculation, and a lot of innocent innocuous goings on that might not mean anything at the time, but couldn't be important later. Which is exactly what you want in a mystery; lots of suspects, lots of potential clues, and lots of intrigue.
I love that the tour bus of people – Tours to Die For – were recommended to sit with a different person for each meal, despite having a stable room mate. It meant that Carter could get to know everyone independently, without it feeling forced or too coincidental. I also love that they were all massive fans of the fictional author, Vanessa, which meant they often discussed her, her history, and her works, which allows us readers to get a deeper feel for the person who had brought them all together. I loved the amount of detail that was put into Vanessa's character and how it wove the plot together.
Being Scottish – half Edinburgh area and half Glasgow area, and a regularly holiday-goer to Argyll and Bute – I was worried that I'd read this book and be bogged down by the horrible inaccuracies that are so often made. I've read books written by non-Scottish people that focus far too heavily on the stereotypical, even going so far as to write the accent, which becomes tedious, especially when done wrong. This one didn't even make me stop to consider the acurateness – everything was recognisable, relatable, understandable and as far from stereotypical as possible. The author really did their research (as explained at the end, by a real life tour of Scotland) and made it possible to feel like we, the reader, were taking the tour along with the characters. There was a perfect amount of attention to detail, description, and scenery that made it possible to follow the dips and flows of even the briefest tourist stop. It was an added benefit that the author chose to show it all from an American tourists POV, accounting for the strange and unknown, the unpronounceable or non-understandable, without making it sound or feel stereotypical or insulting.
I'm not going to say too much about the plot, because there's a lot I can't say without ruining it for anyone about to read it. And you all should. It's great fun, with suspense and intrigue all throughout, a dash of romance, drama and mystery laced in between. The romance is a slow-burn, but also insta-love in some ways. I loved how it was done – slowly easing from strangers to acquaintances, then moving Carter and his beau through circumstances that bring them closer and closer. Despite how short the actual time is between strangers to lovers, the progression feels natural and Carter is smart enough to question it, his beau is smart enough to question whether it's just a rebound. It's natural and relatable.
What I can say is that I loved Carter from the get-go. He was brilliantly sceptical and curious. I liked that he used his librarian resources and instinct, logical reasoning, and didn't become the stereotypical busybody shoving his way into everyone's business, while trying to solve a crime all by himself. He was basically dragged into the position of crime-solver, reluctantly, so, and did it because his curiosity wouldn't let go, which was great. I loved that people naturally gravitated towards him, because everyone knew his motive for being on the trip from the first day, and he was a source of safety and security to the others, in a sea of strangers they couldn't trust.
It was also really nice to see that the cast weren't your stereotypical 20-something stud-boys. These were real men, with all characters 40+. Carter mentions that he's forty and probably the youngest of the tour, but you never really know the actual ages of everyone else involved, but it's suggested that they at least 60+, especially when the possibility of one of them dying naturally while on the tour is presented. At times, I often forgot that fact, because they were all spritely and well written characters, not your typical cranky old men or women with zimmers. These were realistic men and women in their later years, who were just like anyone else's mum or dad, gran or grandad.
This was a roller coaster of classic murder mystery who-dun-it. Full of twists, turns, and misdirects, it can stand up there with some of the best in the genre. I can't wait to read more.
There were a lot of great one-liners in this book, which made it even more enjoyable.
““Was that or was it not a sinister look?” I whispered to John.
“I can't tell. She always looks that way to me. If she had fangs, she'd have bared them at you. That I can confirm.”
“He broke off as the sound of a gong reverberated from below. “What the hell was that?”
“The dinner gong, you barbarian.”
“The dinner gong? That sounded like we just declared war.”
I put in about an hour and a half on the rock saw Friday afternoon. The usual clean-up takes 45 minutes to an hour, but I skimped because I was hoping to put in some more time this morning. Given that we're getting close to really warm weather, when even the early morning heats up quickly, there was a good possibility today would be my last chance on the saw until next fall.
BF left for his umpiring gig a few minutes before 6:00 a.m. I was up and out to the studio by 6:20. The mess out there is sooooo discouraging, but I resisted the temptation to start cleaning things. I changed into my rock cutting clothes, grabbed the tray of rocks-to-be-cut and the bowl of kitty litter, and headed to the workshop and the saw.
The weather was cool, with just a touch of a nice breeze. The saw blade was holding out -- I run them until they are completely worn down and won't cut at all -- and I was getting some nice pieces. But after about 90 minutes, I had to quit. The oil was too dirty and I could no longer see the stones well enough to cut even slices.
Just as a regular wood saw creates sawdust, the rock saw creates rock dust, but it gets mixed with the lubricating oil rather than flying into the air. After a while, the mixture of rock dust and oil creates an unholy sludge that has to be scooped out of the tank. I had reached that point, and I knew it was going to take at least another hour and a half to clean it all up.
It was 8:00 when I started. It was 9:55 when I finished. I was in gunk up to my elbows, and I had used almost a whole roll of paper towels. But the saw was all cleaned up, ready to rest over the summer until I'm ready to cut more.
As soon as I got myself cleaned up, I had to run errands. It's not that I'm a hermit or anything, but I really hate having to interrupt the fun stuff to take care of things like buying dog food and paying bills! By the time I was home again, it was lunch time. I fixed a quick sandwich and let the dogs out and put the groceries away and threw in a load of laundry . . . . and now it's 1:30! Where did the day go???
Before I sat down with the laptop, however, I went back over to the studio to take a couple of pictures.
One of the rocks I cut this morning was a chunk of stuff I had picked up at 4th of July Butte west of Phoenix years and years ago. It's part of the massive collection of . . . stuff . . . that fills dozens of plastic boxes in the workshop. I'm pretty good at spotting worthwhile chunks out in the desert, but then comes the issue of finding time to do anything with them. That's what I'm working on.
So I plucked this chunk out of one of the boxes and started slicing it this morning. Only one small end was visible, but it looked like the inside might be a brown moss agate. To my surprise, the first cut revealed a swirl of gold, orange, red, and purple moss in a white agate matrix.
This slice is only about 1 inch by 1 1/2 inches, but it's cut from the small end of the rock, so other slices will be larger. I think I cut three pieces, but this is the only one I've cleaned up and photographed so far. I'll probably trim it out to a "flame" shape before polishing.
And now my laundry is ready for the dryer, I still have inside chores to do, and frankly, I'm ready for a nap!
Broken Heart by Tammy Faith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Phoebe Stephen's life drastically changes when she awakes from an attack - an attack she can't remember. Giving in to the fear, to the emotional insecurities, she strives to keep it hidden from all who care for her. But such brutal violence takes its toll and can't remain hidden for long, especially when love is at stake.
(WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers.)
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Tammy Faith for giving me the opportunity!
Upon being given the opportunity to read this debut novel, I admittedly had to mull over whether it would ultimately capture my interest. Romance as a genre can be a very extreme hit or miss with me, but I almost always prefer it involving paranormal aspects or erotic content as a focus point. Despite these factors however, I finally decided to give it a go even though the blurb didn't particularly appeal; which had nothing to do with the implied delicate subject matter, I might add, it simply struck me as rather flat, as Contemporary New Adult often does. I was happy I finished it though, as I detest having to leave a book before it concludes.
The story of Phoebe and Crisanto could've been considered a relationship fantasied about by the young and naive - it was mind-numbingly perfect and a little ridiculous. Sure, they battled through some serious issues, broke up and got back together more than once, but their connection was formed in childhood and they essentially needed each other to properly function. Over and over I was reminded how they were meant to be, how their souls were joined; mostly tedious ramblings that repeatedly played on my nerves. Phoebe's life often revolved around Cris and his rise to fame (she moved twice, following him as he succeeded in his sports career), as it appeared "his dream" was the only one that mattered. I foresaw the happy ending, thus the numerous occasions they appeared to be in jeopardy failed to cause uncertainty or concern. A lot of romance material shares this very trait, but I've found it can still be done whilst successfully creating sense of edge-of-your-seat excitement. Unfortunately, this one fell quite short.
It wasn't all bad however, as I found myself impressed with some of the dialogue and narrative that related to life's habit of being unfair and difficult; it was truly quote-worthy at times and I appreciated the good writing (even though as a whole it was rife with spelling errors). The sexual abuse was also handled well, and added a touch of mystery amongst the awfulness of the situation - yet in the end the identity of the rapist made little sense. She was friends with Cris for most of his life and never, even once, met his father? I believe such a glaringly questionable plot-hole should've probably been addressed, but I assume Faith wanted to shock her readers, therefore who better than the parent of the beloved boyfriend?
I can't say I came to care for the characters, nor the story to a large degree. It was a quick read, with the timeline regularly racing ahead and skimming over a lot of time. I became confused at a point when one of the scenes from the past didn't quite add up in the scheme of things, but that could've been my own oversight or just another problem on the list.
In conclusion - Whilst I definitely believe this book held potential, it needs revision and editing. Also, the lovey-dovey definitely became a bit much, as it seemed to me to be rather unhealthy. Not my thing, I can say that for sure!
I'm glad we didn't give up when things got ugly, because maybe love isn't supposed to be easy. Maybe it's supposed to be tough, to make you prove to yourself that this person is worth fighting for, to hold on tight when everything seems to want to tear you apart.
© Red Lace 2016
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The Nightmare Room by Chris Sorensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
After a personal tragedy strikes Peter and Hannah Larson, they find themselves picking up their lives and moving house. Said house isn't what it seems - something lurks within, seeming to originate from the dark and gloomy basement. As the presence continues to focus upon the two, its determination only grows, causing obvious and damaging rifts between husband and wife. It appears to already know Peter in some intimate way, and shocking, deeply hidden secrets soon come to light.
(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Chris Sorensen for giving me the opportunity!
This turned out to be an extremely difficult book for me to form a solid opinion on and subsequently rate. After a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that I didn't really consider this one an outright horror novel, at least in regards to my own personal taste. When I instead thought of it as a supernatural tale with some horror elements, it made better sense in my mind. You see, in no way did I at all feel that uncomfortable, yet riveting unease that comes with something that ticks all the right boxes in the scary department. The typical tropes were there; the ghostly encounters, the ominous house, but something also felt missing and I had one hell of a time trying to figure out what. It could've been the absence of a sufficient build up, where time is given to properly establish a sense of dread, or maybe the haunting scenes merely didn't offer anything frightful. Essentially, it wasn't my sort of horror, I'd even go so far to say it was relatively tame in the scheme of things, yet I did appreciate the storytelling - twists included.
Peter and Hannah Larson were the sort of married couple you'd roll your eyes at - they were sickeningly perfect for each other. Their chemistry jumped out from the page, and despite dealing with the anguish of great loss, they found strength. They, of course, had their faults, which became evident throughout, but that only made them more relatable as people. I liked them, and I especially liked what Sorensen did with Peter. What revolved around Peter were secrets heavily linked to his past, and whilst the revelations kept coming, I too shared in Peter's shock. The two other characters that had a significant presence - that being Riggs and Ellen Marx, added a pleasant sprinkle of entertainment. I notably enjoyed Ellen's legitimacy at being an expert; she was no quack. If I could, I'd read a book all about her.
Despite the cleverness of some aspects, I can't deny that I felt that the story dragged at times. For me, there's nothing worse than feeling the onset of boredom, and there were moments that came dangerously close to that. I felt that the first half in particular could've used more time with the couple in the house, and less time in the Blind Rock bar for instance, which is where my interest really waned. I understand such scenes were for the benefit of character development, but my engagement primarily lay with Peter.
Sorensen's imagination certainly took me by surprise as I reached the end of Peter and Hannah's ordeal. Granted, the conclusion was all rather complicated, perhaps a little too complicated to understand right away, but it surely had a distinctive quality. It's rare that I come across an ending that changes everything so drastically, to the point where I need to pause and ponder over what I just read. I applaud the bold approach to implement such a memorable outcome.
In conclusion - Whilst the horror elements didn't do it for me, I mostly liked the story and background. It definitely had its ups and downs, but Sorensen is one author I'll be keeping my eye on.
The woman rushed toward him, and for a second he thought she was going to strike him him. Instead, she took his head in both of her hands and pressed her mouth over his. Peter felt her inhale abruptly - a reverse resuscitation.
© Red Lace 2018