Sixteen Horses by Greg Buchanan (2021) Snapshot

Intensively Dark

We follow Ilmarsh detective Nichols and Forensic Veterinarian Cooper as they called in when a farmer finds the heads of sixteen horses buried on his property. Each head posed with a single eye facing the low winter sun. They soon discover a pathogen within the soil, and many of those at the crime scene gets ill.

The little town is sent into panic and paranoia when a series of crimes follow the murder of the horses, and the detectives find themselves in a race to uncover the truth before things get worse.

I first read Sixteen Horses as an audiobook produced by Macmillan Audio from Flatiron Books and narrated by Louise Brealey. Not only is she one of my favourite narrators, I feel that she was the absolute best choice to tell this story. She is exceptionally talented, and her voice has this comforting quality. I am not sure I would have finished the book as fast if I was reading it. It would have taken me weeks, but her voice softened some of the darkness. Sixteen Horses is triggering, and her impeccably paced narration was a perfect balance. She managed to convey the grittiness of the story but alleviated a lot of the discomfort I would have felt if I was reading it with “my eyeballs.”

I had to take a break from the book a couple of times because animal abuse is a significant part of the plot. Sixteen Horses is a heavy read. That being said, it is honest about it. I knew what I was getting into, as should anyone who reads the synopsis. I recommend readers have a strategy lined up to balance out the darkness, though. For this reason, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have; there are too many triggers for me. I could compartmentalize the animal abuse, but I feel the other triggers could have been avoided. 

I am always fair in my reviews, so even though Sixteen Horses was too gruesome for me, Buchanan’s prose and character work were superb, as was the way he built the tension, atmosphere, and sense of foreboding. There was nothing happy in this book, but Greg’s writing is so compelling, I will pick up his next book (after looking up trigger warnings, though.)

Overall, This book is freaking dark. There are so many trigger warnings, and I highly suggest you check them. With that said, Buchanan delivered an intense, tightly plotted, suspenseful thriller that reads like a horror. If you can stomach dark narratives easily, you will freaking love Sixteen Horses.

wonder if it will work

Enjoyability     6

Characters       10

Ambience        10

Fairness          8

Plot                  10

Execution        7

My total rating: 4.25

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Greg Buchanan, Macmillan Audio, and NetGalley or providing me with a copy of Sixteen Horses.

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

A Gingerbread House by Catriona McPherson (2021) Review

Come see how I live

Why I picked up the book:

 Ivy is pretty lonely, vulnerable, and sad. All she wants is to belong and to be part of a family. Her prayers are answered when Kate mysteriously appears in her life, claiming to be her long-lost sister, and invites Ivy to come to stay in her cottage so they can get to know each other… Her isolated cottage. Ivy goes in and never comes out. The book promises us Ivy is the first, but not last!

The book through my criteria lens:

A Gingerbread House was one of my most anticipated 2021 books, and it did not disappoint. McPherson’s prose is so engaging. I just couldn’t put the book down. I needed to know what was going on! I feel it’s a book to go in blind as the story unravels slowly – kind of like one of those pixel puzzles that the image starts blurry and gets clearer as it goes. 

I do have to say that most characters were well developed. It’s hard to name them and not spoil the book, but I am impressed with Catriona’s character work. I think that is why I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get more of Kate and Gail’s background. 

The solution also got me conflicted. Usually, I care a lot about fairness, and A Gingerbread’s House wrap-up had some information previously not disclosed to the reader. Somehow, though, I did not mind. Since we knew the antagonist, I didn’t care much about the why as long as someone stopped them! For this reason alone, I will be picking up more books by the author. She made me not care about my number one pet peeve! I thoroughly enjoyed this book—bonus point for a primarily female cast of characters, including the serial killer.

My personal feelings:

 I am putting in the release date of my copy. I thought A Gingerbread House had been released on July 1, but now it says August 3, 2021. Either way, I find this will make a great summer read.

I was surprised by this book. I will admit that I was confused about the Tasha chapters. In the beginning, they felt disjointed. Halfway through the book, the stories interconnect organically, and everything comes together. I will be lying if I didn’t admit that I loved the Fairytale Cottage chapters way more, though! Kate was a fascinating character, as was everyone who ended up falling for her trap. (Won’t name them all because, again, it might spoil the book). 

Even though I felt like the end was a bit rushed, I enjoyed it at the same time. McPherson tied up all the loose ends and offered a tightly closed book. There is still a part of me that wants to see Tasha again, despite knowing this is a standalone book!

Enjoyability     8

Characters       8

Ambience        10

Fairness          8

Plot                  10

Execution       8

My total rating: 4.33

I mention this book in this video: https://youtu.be/qlT8GRzOGTk

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

Come with Me by Ronald Malfi (2021) Review

Will death do them part?

Why I picked up the book:

 Aaron’s life is turned upside down when his wife, Allison, is killed. Missing her and still sensing her presence, Aaron is shocked to find a receipt for a motel room when he is sorting her belongings. He is determined to follow the trail and find out what Allison was hiding from him and why. 

His investigation will take him on a path of danger and dark secrets. Will the truth bring him closer to Allison or make him realize he never had her at all?

The book through my criteria lens:

 I first read Come with Me as an audiobook produced by Tantor Audio and narrated by Joe Hempel. I was delighted with this production. Hempel was the perfect choice for this book. His narration added so much depth and life to Aaron and the story. I felt the pacing was excellent, and the narrating style was very compelling. I also appreciate that the way Hempel told the story was easy to follow and focus on. I listened to it every second I was free until it was done. 

This is my first Malfi book, and what a punch in the face his writing was! I mean that in the best possible way. Now and then, you will read a genre book and feel every word written, breathe at each comma and bask in the literary sun you were just gifted with while being extremely entertained by the story. Such was my experience with Come with Me. The character work was superbly done, and the way we followed the story as Aaron shares his journey with Allison’s ghost/memory made me feel like I was immersed and invested in the outcome. It felt like being in both Allison and Aaron’s shoes, and oh boy, was that an emotional ride!

I have no words to describe how fantastic this book is. Speechless.

My personal feelings:

 Aaron’s grief really touched me. His journey for closure, juggling the fear that it will end with realizing he didn’t know Allison, and the hope that he will honour her by completing a mission that consumed her life, was absolutely relatable and touching.

Grief is a big part of my life, and the way Malfi handled it through Aaron was authentic, compelling, and emotional. And I think this visceral, raw, and vulnerable depiction is what kept me from thoroughly enjoying myself while reading this book. 

I am no genre expert, but Come with Me read more like a dark psychological thriller than a horror. Maybe I was so connected to Aaron and his grief that I overlooked the horror – grief tends to blur other feelings around it. At least it does to me. Regardless of how this book is marketed, it is an excellent read.

When I first started reading Come with Me, I thought it would go in a direction I didn’t want to go. I was so happy when it didn’t. There are no flaws in Malfi’s telling of Come with Me. With this one book, I have become a fan, and he became an auto-buy. I will be binging on his other books and highly recommend this to everyone!

Enjoyability     8

Characters       10

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        10

My total rating: 4.83

I mention this book in this video: TBD

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer: I  first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Ronald Malfi, Tantor Audio, and NetGalley or providing me with a copy of Come With Me

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

The Newcomer by Laura Elizabeth Woollett (2021) Review

Everyone deserves justice

Why I picked up the book:

Paulina is the titular newcomer on a small Australian island. After uprooting her whole life and moving to Fairfolk Island, Paulina has spent the past two days finding happiness and throwing it away. She was well known on the island for her antics and erratic behaviour, but that didn’t stop her from making friends who cared for her. Judy visits to celebrate her daughter’s 30th birthday, but Paulina is murdered before she gets the chance.

In a place where outsiders are frowned upon, and islanders protect each other, Judy will fight to make sure her daughter’s killer is brought to justice.

The book through my criteria lens:

I had to adjust my expectations not long into the book. Based on the description, I was expecting a fast-paced, intense thriller. The Newcomer reads more like a contemporary/character study. The mystery is there, but the focus is on the victim and her mother’s grief. The characters were so well-drawn, and the atmosphere was so compelling that I had no problem adjusting my expectations and enjoying the book.

Even though it is not typically what I go for, Woollett’s prose is stunning. The focus of the book is Paulina, the victim, and her mess of a life. She is such an interesting character – not likable at all, but at the same time so vulnerable and sad. If I am honest, though, I wish that the focus on the murdered had been more significant.

I fell in love with the way Woollett described Fairfolk and its inhabitants. I knew nothing about life in small Australian Islands, and the way Woollett described the setting and the culture of the place was so vivid, it felt tangible.

My personal feelings:

Woollett did not waste any time introducing the reader to Paulina, Judy, and their relationship. In the first chapter, we get a clear feeling for who they are. Paulina is a force, and as such, she leaps through the page. She is one of the most real characters I have met. She is complex, intense, vibrant, annoying, magnetic, and detestable.

Through flashbacks, we slowly learn how much of a mess Paulina really is. She seemed to be on a very destructive path of binge drinking and self-sabotaging. She always tried so hard to rub people the wrong way, as if she was terrified of being vulnerable and being rejected. She seems to favour projecting an unbearable version of herself- it’s easier to be rejected or disliked for something you know you can change than to risk people not liking who you are. Leading this life took its toll on Paulina, though. Unspeakable things happened to her, and she never took the time to fight back because she believed she deserved it. Her downward spiral got dark fast.

My heart broke for Judy the whole way through. Even though Paulina treated her like garbage, yet she returned it with nothing but kindness. She was a great mother and wanted nothing more than happiness for her daughter. As a mother, I cannot imagine what it must feel like to know that while you were so angry with them, your child was killed. Judy dealt with it much better than I would.

Some people win the life lottery; Paulina lost hardcore. Self-fulfilling prophecy and self-destruction tendencies made it impossible for her to be happy – she looked for misery and found it until her bitter end.

Enjoyability     9

Characters       10

Ambience        10

Fairness          5

Plot                  10

Execution        9

My total rating: 4.42

I mention this book in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS5SMq4FegE&t=68s

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to  Laura Elizabeth Woollett, Scribe UK, and NetGalley or providing me with a copy of The Newcomer.

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

Just Married by Kiersten Modglin (2021) Snapshot

How well do you know your partner?

Grace and Ryan have been married for six months and planned to go on their honeymoon for their first anniversary as money is tight! Out of the blue, Ryan surprises Grace with this Cabin in the woods he found and thought it’d be the perfect getaway for them. Grace is apprehensive as she isn’t sure if she knows her husband that well, but is ultimately thrilled.

Their first day is perfect! Until things are not – starting with a note left on their doormat that says, “She’s dead, you’re next.”

Ryan starts gaslighting Grace, saying she’s overreacting and doesn’t need to go to the cops. What does Grace do? Tell Ryan that she has known his secret for a while and will keep it forever. Before they know it, things escalate, and it’s clear someone is out to get them. Ryan remains calm, but Grace is starting to panic. I mean, wouldn’t you?

I will preface my opinion by saying that maybe it is because I am a heartless private person who gets uncomfortable with a highly affectionate display of intimate feelings. I show my emotions in actions more than words. For that reason, I was let down by Ryan and some of the dialogues; in parts, the conversations were onedimensional, so affectionate, and felt like one person was writing them all – I can’t explain it well, but it’s like when characters have their unique voice, a reader feel like it’s the character speaking and not the author putting words in their mouth! I do not mean to diss the author, because overall I had a lot of fun reading this book. I think it’s a matter of expectation and preference; I was expecting a grittier, darker thriller. Just Married read lighter (which is not bad) like it could be a Hallmark movie. I feel this would be great for Cozy Mysteries fans who want to start reading darker thrillers.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the positives, shall we? First of all, what a solid first chapter! The tension and suspense were also so well done throughout the book. Most of all, Modglin played fair with her solution, which you all should know by now is my number one thing when reading mysteries. The book was well-plotted, and other than dialogues in some of Ryan’s and Grace’s chapters, the writing was terrific. We have a third POV in some chapters (like the first), and I felt that the author’s strength really shone in them. I wish more of that narrative style could be found throughout the book.

Just married is a fast-paced page-turner that I feel many people will love.

wonder if it will work

Enjoyability     7

Characters       7

Ambience        8

Fairness          10

Plot                 10

Execution        6

My total rating: 4

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer:  I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Bookouture, Kiersten Modglin, and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of Just Married.

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

The Hunted by Roz Nay (2021) Review

Hell in paradise

Why I picked up the book:

Stevie Erickson is looking for a fresh start. Losing her grandmother has turned her life upside down. When her boyfriend Jacob is offered a job on an island off the coast of Tanzania, she decides to go with him, despite her reservations. 

They start their new life in Tanzania in a hostel, where an incident leaves Stevie freaking out and fearing she is being watched. The one good thing to come out of that incident was meeting golden couple Leo and Tasmin, with whom Stevie and Jacob became fast friends. 

Their friendship, and Stevie and Jacob’s relationship, are put to the test when they all make it to Raffiki Island. Innocent flirting escalates, secrets are revealed, a killer is exposed, and Stevie is in the centre of it all. 

The book through my criteria lens:

The Hunted is told through the perspectives of Stevie and Leo, with some flashbacks when necessary for context. Nay did something with one of the perspectives that I freaking loved! I’m not mentioning it because I want you to have that first experience like I did! But from that moment on, I couldn’t put the book down! I enjoyed the characters, they all had their unique voices, and all but one of them are people I would love to meet and hang out with! All four main characters are on different morality scales, and I really enjoyed the nuanced personalities. Even though Leo occasionally would do something that confused me, he was my favourite character, and his development remained consistent for most of The Hunted. 

I feel that Nay nailed the suspense, tension, and setting description. While they were in the city, I could clearly picture the characters’ surroundings; I just wish that we had spent more time on the island and explored the diving world, probably because I have been physically distancing since March 2020 and want to live through my novels, lol! Most people will not care about this, but fair play is the one criteria I am the harshest one, and I feel that Nay mainly played fair with her solution; I was able to guess who – but the motivation came slightly out of the left field. That being said, the whodunnit plotting was well executed! 

My personal feelings:

Reading The Hunted, I immediately liked Stevie and felt protective over her. She has had the worst luck, losing people she has loved and finding herself surrounded by assholes! To follow her arc and see her coming into her own was worth the whole reading experience for me. 

On the topic of an asshole, we are supposed to have a killer, but still, the one character I couldn’t stand was Jacob. Stevie was so much better than him, and I don’t care what his motivations are – he was pretty close to being emotionally abusive and clearly loved the idea of Stevie, but not her. He was toxic, emotionally unavailable, predatory, and selfish. Can you tell I did not like him? Hahah, Kudos to Nay; in my book, any visceral reaction to a character means the author gave them a strong voice. 

I also always love when a book makes you reflect on your choices, and The Hunted did that for me. I adored how a character made use of social media to stalk. It was such a subtle and interesting way to evoke reflection on how much we share online with strangers – is our social media footprint intentional? Do we ever consider what we’re sharing? I know I try to keep my personal life as private as possible and try not to post anything that can be traced back to me or my life, but a simple hashtag can give it all away!

Overall I recommend The Hunted to everyone looking for a fun summer read!

Enjoyability     7

Characters       9

Ambience        8

Fairness          6

Plot                  10

Execution        7

My total rating: 3.91

I mention this book in this video: TBD

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Simon & Schuster Canada, Roz Nay and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of The Hunted.

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (2018) Review

Wasted potential

Rear Window is one of my favourite movies, so when I saw a book that promised to give me the same vibes, I was down!

In the woman in the Window, we follow Anna fox, the quintessential unreliable witness – she is an alcoholic and agoraphobe who lives alone. Out of boredom, she spies on her neighbours and soon starts to suspect something sinister is going on at their house. 

When the cops don’t believe her, Anna starts doubting herself. But what if someone is in danger?

 The best thing about this book is the pacing. It was a page-turner with so many twists, your head spins for hours. But that was it; this book, to me, was a compilation of tropes thrown randomly on the page without much care for plotting or character development. The depiction of mental disorders was appalling, as the author used them more than once as a plot device without much consideration for how harmful and wrong he was being. 

The female character read as if clearly written by a man, and the twists were absurd. Also, as you guys know, my pet peeve is when an author doesn’t play fair with the solution, I felt that the last twist relied on a fact that was neither on the pages nor necessary. It would have worked the same without that choice. (sorry, I am vague! But I am still trying to avoid spoilers). The Woman in the Window is one of the few books I have read since last year. I felt compelled to use my deduction criteria, but mental disorder depictions were atrocious, tone-deaf, and misrepresented.

 I can’t recommend this book. Unfortunately, it was entertaining, but it was a cliche mess that read as if it was written by a man who hasn’t checked his privilege and thinks too highly of himself.

Is my opinion of the book strong? Yes, but it is heavily coloured by my opinion of the author. I’ll just leave what I know and let you draw your conclusion.

Things Finn were caught lying about are:

  • Having earned a Doctorate from Oxford
  • Being a cancer and brain tumor survivor
  • Losing his mother to cancer and his brother to suicide
  • Blaming his lies on a mental disorder. Finn says he suffers from Bipolar II Disorder 

Usually, I feel bad giving a bad review, but not this time.

Enjoyability     8

Characters       5

Ambience        5

Fairness          1

Plot                  10

Execution        5

Deduction 4

My total rating: 2.5

The Push by Ashley Audrain (2021) Review

Nature x Nurture

Why I picked up the book:

Blythe Connor’s biggest fear is that history will repeat itself, and she won’t be the warm, kind, loving mother she wants to be. When Blythe gives birth to her daughter, Violet, her worst fears come to life when she starts thinking that there is something wrong with her.

To Blythe’s despair, her husband is both protective of Violet and dismissive of her feelings. When Blythe has a second child, she feels that instant bond she has always yearned for. Even Violet comes around, and Blythe begins to think that things will be alright. That is until an unfathomable tragedy happens, and the Connor’s lives change forever.

The book through my criteria lens:

 The book is mainly told from Blythe’s perspective through a long letter she has written to Fox, explaining her side of their tragic story. Blythe’s mother and grandmother were not the maternal kinds, and Blythe has always worried that this would be her fate. To explain this trauma, we get glimpses into the different mother-daughter relationships throughout the book for context. 

I feel the flashbacks were very helpful and enhanced the story, but The Push would have been as impactful with just Blythe’s letter. Her voice is one of the most powerful voices I have read in a long time. This book is a slow burner, psychological thriller, and it reads almost as a literary novel. So I think that going in with the right expectation will allow the reader to appreciate the beauty of this book.  

The women in The Push are superb. Maybe because they were all so strong, I felt that the male characters weren’t as good. I wish I had seen a few chapters from Fox’s perspective, but I understand that is me nitpicking. The Push is a fantastic novel, just the way it is.

My personal feelings:

This book has a few content warnings, so I suggest looking them up with the understanding that you might have some of the book’s intensity spoiled.

As a daughter and a mother, I could empathize with Blythe. The Push makes you think about motherhood and how traumas can be passed down through generations until someone breaks the cycle. It also invites the reader to think about the possible damage societal pressures can do to mothers.

The Push is not a light read; at least it wasn’t for me. It made me question my idea of motherhood, childhood and some of the places Audrain took me were raw, painful, and hopeless. I started crying around chapter 80 and didn’t stop until well after finishing the book—what a powerful, compelling, intense, emotional book. Don’t think that this is a book about motherhood; it is also very much a mystery, superbly written and plotted. I was on the end of my seat until the last page, hoping to get an answer.

Blythe is a woman let down by life, unsupported by those who should love her. Above all, she is a mother who gave everything she had, tried her best, and sacrificed her happiness trying to break a cycle of traumatic relationships. I would be proud to have her as a friend.

Enjoyability     10

Characters       9

Ambience       

Fairness          10

Plot                 

Execution       

My total rating: 4.92

This book is mentioned in this video: https://youtu.be/bS5SMq4FegE

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

The Omen by David Seltzer (2021) Snapshot

Careful what you wish for

When the United States Ambassador and his wife finally get the child they had wanted for so long; they had no idea they were about to play critical roles in the most terrifying prophecy ever made.

It seems like Seltzer wrote both the book and screenplay at the same time. Although I enjoyed the movie more than the book, the book has some things to offer that the film couldn’t. Mainly characters motivations and inner thoughts. Some supporting characters had bigger roles in the book, which added to my overall enjoyment of The Omen.

In my opinion, the novelization cost the atmosphere and pacing, though. The movie is one of my favourite horrors of all time. Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, and Harvey Stephens brought such personalities and lives to the characters; I kept thinking of them when reading the book. The story, however, is very visual. The tension is on the expressions, silence, paranoia, sense of foreboding, and lack of evidence. After reading the book, I also realized how much of the tension also came from the soundtrack and effects. I wonder if I feel this way because I watched the movie first, and Donner’s direction was superb!

These are minor things, and I still recommend the book!

Enjoyability     10

Characters       8

Ambience        7

Fairness        10 

Plot                  10

Execution        8

My total rating: 4.41

Review for this book is mentioned in this video: TBD

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Website: Unknown

Twitter: Unknown

Instagram: Unknown

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz (2018) Snapshot

When alcohol goes straight to his head

Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery #2

 Richard Pryce is a famous celebrity divorce lawyer with a respectful winning record who happens to be a teetotaler. When he is found murdered in his home, nothing makes sense: The last person to talk to them heard him say, “You shouldn’t be here. It’s too late…” to what might have been his killer; He was bludgeoned to death by a very expensive bottle of wine and painted on the wall is a very enigmatic message. 

 I think it’s a disservice to Horowitz to deny his talent. And also a lie. This man can do anything – and well! He is a screenwriter, writes many different genres, and is a journalist. Not only that, but he has been commissioned by the Doyle’s and the Fleming’s state to write Holmes and Bond novels. He can do anything, and his technical writing is flawless (in my opinion). He has a sense of timing, pace, tension, and dialogue that is just superb. Reading his novels is like playing a movie in your head, and I just love this about his prose!

The Hawthorne and Horowitz series is also filled with wit, sense of humour, meta quality, and a quintessentially British cheekiness. No wonder I fell in love with this series from the first word. Hawthorne reminds me of Holmes because he is extremely smart and observant, quite moody and reserved, and arrogant – but unlike Holmes, I find him highly likable. Horowitz is the perfect ying to his Yang – He brings so much personality to the story; I am just in awe. 

In The Sentence is Death, we find them getting to know each other more and starting to build a stronger partnership. Horowitz is coming into his own, and you can see his confidence and a sense of purpose increase from the previous novel. I enjoyed the debates on a writer’s merits and the comedy of errors surrounding the victim’s life.  

I wish more people talked about this series. I feel it deserves more hype than it gets.

Enjoyability     10

Characters       10

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        10

My total rating: 5

This book is mentioned in this video: https://youtu.be/bS5SMq4FegE

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Until next book, be the hummingbird!