Book Review: Scent of Death

Note: I got a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review, which reads as follows:

 

Synopsis:

James Goodwin uses his olfactory equivalent of perfect pitch to sniff out people’s emotions, from love to malice. He earns a handy living by uncovering corporate cheats, but he’s growing bored. When billionaire Garth Cotton asks him to cook up the world’s first love potion, James first smells a grand challenge, and accepts. But once on the high seas in Cotton’s mega-yacht, James smells treachery. He sniffs out secrets that land him and Cotton’s dazzling assistant, Samantha Heartgrave, on a timeline to death. To save himself and Samantha, James must exercise his gift of smell in ways he never dreamed possible.

My First Thoughts:

I’ve read another book by Mr. Ross, The Jubilee’s Daughter, and I thought that I would give this one a try too. At first, I was a little leery about the concept of a hero with a super sense of smell making a love potion, but I thought to give it a try anyways.

Overall Thoughts/Opinions:

This story was hard to get through and honestly, it just wasn’t for me. I could suspend my disbelief of someone with an overpowered sense of smell, but there were just other things in the story that I couldn’t get behind.

I can imagine that writing a character like James would be hard, and I applaud Ross with this attempt. Writing any kind of character with a special gift that no one has heard of or that not many have written about is hard. There’s a lot of creating that the author has to do, in this case Ross had to figure out just how to describe emotions using different smells. After figuring out what smell went with each emotion he had to find a way to easily describe how James came to identify those smell and emotion combinations, trying to make it as believable as possible to the readers. I think that Ross did a commendable job trying to figure out this special gift and write it in well enough for readers to understand and enjoy, it really did add in an extra layer to the story that you wouldn’t normally encounter. My only complaint is that the smells were too specific. Instead of saying something like ‘a sweet flowery smell’ for a certain emotion he specifically identified lilac. Instead of describing a scent as strong or putrid, he used oil and rotten meat. I found it a little hard to believe that emotions would be that specific and that everyone exhibiting that emotion would smell exactly the same. Humans and nature in general, follow basic guidelines but within those guidelines individuals vary—hardly anything is the exact same every single time. Also, not every reader is going to know what lilacs, raw oil, or sandalwood smell like. It would be hard to come up different ways of describing the various smells without giving them a specific label, but I think in the end it would have made the story a little bit stronger.

Ross’s writing has improved from the previous book that I’ve read. He has gotten better at mixing description with dialogue and inner character monologging. However, I felt like the flow of the story was a bit off. I believe that Ross spent too much time building everything up before the breaking point, the start of the climax, and it made the second half of his story seemed too rushed and underdone compared to the first. The introduction to the characters and the situation was fine and well done, but there were scenes during the experiments that could’ve been left out. I felt there was a lot of over explaining of the experiments done for the ‘love potion’, almost like trying to describe it to a child and not adults. Some of the scenes in the beginning need less time than they got and definitely less dialogue. If more time was spent on the latter half, maybe adding in longer scenes or longer sections of just descriptive information, and the first half was trimmed down a bit then the story would’ve been better balanced.

Unfortunately, I could not relate to any of the characters. I liked James for a while but I just couldn’t agree with his morality, I’m not saying he was a bad person, but his reasoning for not liking the love potion just didn’t sit well with me. He also felt a little too nonchalant about the whole business with the love potion until it was too late, even though throughout the whole story there were reasons to find it all very dangerous. Not once did I like Samantha, she was uninspiring and just down right flat as a character. There was no rhyme or reason for her personality or actions. One minute she’s a demeaning, bossy individual and then several chapters later she shows this nice ‘sensitive’ side. Her character just didn’t feel natural to me and I just didn’t care for her or her dilemma. The other main characters were even more unnatural and off-balanced as she was. The villains lacked complexity or drive, they just did horrible things and nothing more. I get that there are people out there that are just rotten to the core and most of it came from how they were raised or something, but I’m tired of villains that are just the caricatures of evil—they’re just boring. My favorite characters were the side characters that didn’t show up much in the story, but they still played important roles which was nice.

Not only did I have some issues with the characters in general, but I had issues with character interactions as well. Specifically, I had trouble seeing the chemistry between James and Samantha. When you meet Samantha she is a Grade A b***h to James and she stays that way for most of the book, except for a few pockets of breaking character in the middle and her ‘change’ towards the end. I get it, extreme situations can change someone for the better but it just felt wrong for her character. James spends most of the book telling himself and the reader that he’s not interested in Samantha, a few times saying he had a girlfriend already who was so much better. However, by the end they’re in love and the girlfriend (who was given a name but you never meet) magically drops off the radar with no further comment. I couldn’t see this all it takes is one week to love kind of romance, and I even had a hard time labelling it as a romance too. All around the romance felt like a last minute addition that was slapped onto the book before publishing. There was little chemistry between the two characters and the romance was plagued with in consistencies from both James and Samantha. The faceless girlfriend was also another thing that bugged me about James because he would only think of her when Samantha tempted him, no other time and then was just discarded without any sort of mention or reason. Yea, great job there James.

The last thing that bugged me about this book was the characterization of the animals mentioned. For the experiment they used lab mice to test out the love potion, which is fine I guess? I’m not sure when it comes to various forms of experimentation which set of animals is best used to simulate what for humans, so I can’t critique that. But I can critique the fact that the experiment relied on the anthropomorphizing of lab mice and their behavior. Animals don’t act like people and in science we often have to remind ourselves and others that any action you see that is human-like isn’t actually real. So in this case the experiment relied on the lab mice to show very human-like displaces of love and affection. Why would this bug me? Because there is no proof that mice show affection toward each other, there are some rodents that do but there is a very clear evolutionary reason as to why and they’re the odd man out. If the experiment was done using prairie voles, which do mate with the same female more than once and might show affection toward each other, then it would be a bit more believable and less flawed. Another thing about testing for human emotions is that we know what it looks like in humans, but we can’t accurately record or gauge them in other animals because they can’t actually tell us if we’re right or wrong in our observations. The other animals mentioned were sharks, which were never identified and to my knowledge and that of my shark enthusiast friend don’t actually exist. The closest I could find was the smallest shark known to man, the dwarf lantern shark which can be as small as 8 inches. However, they are found within deep dark waters and therefore can’t be kept in an ordinary tank, especially not one where you can throw a severed arm into. Also, the description of the sharks in the book don’t match those of the dwarf lantern shark. Instead, they’re described as being 6 inch versions of the shark from Jaws, and they pretty much act like it too. That characterization of sharks annoys and angers me because it’s not a true description of their normal behavior and it only adds to human hysteria and blood thirst. Sharks are not ruthless killing machines always trying to eat everything, especially humans. Ross would have had a better time selling it if he replaced the sharks with very starved piranhas, but they would have to be extremely starved to act the way the sharks did in the book. And I wouldn’t make such a big deal if they didn’t play a big role in the story, but they did so I am.

Rating:

2/5

Overall the story wasn’t my cup of tea. The characters weren’t very likable or relatable and there was no real character development or depth to most of them. The flow of the story was messed up by an overdeveloped beginning and an underdone ending. There were elements of romance, but it felt cheap and slapped on. And the characterizations of the animals used in the story were just too incorrect to keep me rooted to the story, many times actually angering me. However, Ross’s writing has improved from his previous books and I found that he handled this overpowered sense of smell rather well. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants an easy read or loves suspenseful stories.

Related Reviews/Books:

Details:

Title: The Scent of Death

Author: Jonathan Ross

Publisher: Amazon

Release Date: June 15, 2017

Genre: Adult, Action, Suspense, Romance (???)

Pages: 194

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Book Review: Soft on the Devil

soft-on-the-devilNOTICE: We were given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, which reads as follows:

Details:

Title: Soft on the Devil

Author: Robert Lampros

Publisher: CreateSpace

Release Date: December 8th, 2016

Genre: Christian, Murder Mystery, Suspense

Pages: 134

Synopsis: When Cindy Myran doesn’t return home one night, within days everyone in her neighborhood assumes she’s dead, but Ian Phillips isn’t so pessimistic. She shows up at his door a week later, in need of help and running for her life. What happens next draws him into a labyrinth of murder, corruption, and danger, where nothing is clear and sinister secrets lurk in the shadows. Only Ian’s courage, faith, and determination can uncover the mystery and deliver him and those he loves out of darkness and into the peaceful light of safety.

My First Thoughts:

After reading the synopsis of this book and doing a little bit of research about the author I was excited to read it, but rather apprehensive. I’ve found in the past that Christian fiction can go one of two ways: either Christianity is mentioned and used as an effective tool to further the development of characters or the book smacks the reader in the face with ineffectively used bible phrases and unnatural levels of piousness. However, the synopsis was good and drew me in. Plus, this book is only 134 pages, which I can normally finish in about a day.

Overall Thoughts/Opinion:

I am devastated to say that I found this book incredibly disappointing. This book is narrated by the main character, Ian Phillips, who is a 24-year-old, independent, and pious man but is written in a style that is quite juvenile. Sentences were all similar in length, making the writing boring and choppy in my head. Nothing seemed to flow, and references to adult topics like relationships, sex, drugs, and alcohol all felt like a teenager trying to sound like an adult. The choices that the characters made throughout the story also made very little sense, which pulled me further out of the story. I was just frustrated that I couldn’t understand any of the motivations for the characters.

In addition to the juvenile vocabulary and sentence structure, the author also commits one of (in my opinion) the worst crimes an author can commit: every piece of information I was given in the story was told to me. The entire time I was reading this story, I found myself actively begging the author to, for once, just let me see what was going on. I find it hard to call to mind any defining traits about the other characters in the story, or any of the events, or even how the story was semi (not really) resolved in the end because it felt as though every piece of information was put into a list for me, and that was the entire book. The last two sentences of the book are “End of story. Good-bye,” which is not only telling me the end instead of just concluding, it’s doing so in a way that is both lazy and borderline offensive as an avid reader. At one point, rather than letting me read an article that the narrator was reading in the book, he summarized it and added it to the list of things that he was telling me. However, the summary didn’t seem like it was any shorter or clearer than just writing the fake newspaper article would have been. If you’re going to summarize something, it needs to make the material clearer, not more confusing. Plus, reading the article would have been a nice break from the monotony of Ian Phillips thoughts and would have been an opportunity for the author to show me some of the world he had created.

I also found that the dialogue in this story was handled very poorly. Several times the conversations were unnatural and made no sense, and the author would just have a chunk of short dialogue with no attributes, leaving the reader to try to interpret which characters are saying what. There was even a point where an entire argument was written in a summary style, but it wasn’t summarized (once again, if you aren’t going to make something shorter and clearer by summarizing, just put the entire event in. Show the reader and allow them to make their own inferences and form their own thoughts about the material they have been presented with!).

Now, I knew before I started reading that this book was a Christian novel. As I said in my initial thoughts, I knew it could go one of two ways: either Christianity is mentioned and used as an effective tool to further the development of characters or the book smacks the reader in the face with ineffectively used bible phrases and unnatural levels of piousness. Unfortunately, I feel as though this book attempted to beat me into submission with Christianity, but fell apart before it could even give me a paper-cut. Anytime a character would mention God it seemed forced and unnatural. Additionally, there were several times where the main character would mention a specific verse of the bible and think about how truly it applied to his situation, but I always found that the verses themselves were quite irrelevant, or taken out of context to try to make a connection.

Final Thoughts:

I genuinely found this book to be upsetting, and it is so upsetting to me that my very first author-requested review is so negative, but I honestly don’t think I have anything positive to say. This book was only 134 pages long, something that should only have taken a couple of hours for me to read, took me two weeks to finish. I kept avoiding the book with anything and everything else that I had on hand to read because I found it so distressing to read. I was intrigued by the synopsis, and there were times where I thought the plot was about to get somewhat exciting, but that storyline ended up being completely ignored.

Rating(s):

1/5

I genuinely wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. Maybe as an example of why it is so important to show your readers what is happening in your stories rather than telling them, but I don’t personally know anyone who would enjoy it. I found it boring, confusing, and overall just disappointing. It’s possible that this book could entertain someone, somewhere, but that person is not me.

Related Reviews/Books:

COMING SOON!!!

 

Book Review: The Jumbee’s Daughter

NOTE: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review!

Details:the-jumbees-daughter

Title: The Jumbee’s Daughter

Author: Jonathan Ross

Publisher: Amazon Create Space

Release Date: June 14th 2016

Genre: Adult, Romance, Suspense,

Pages: 184

Synopsis:

Anika Hegner, of Danish heritage, has Jumbee blood in her veins, straight from the Dark Continent. Since childhood, she has delighted in shape shifting to a black cat and scaring the unwary. Now, as she struggles to reconcile her dual heritage, she discovers the added distraction of a taciturn veteran who insists on camping on her family’s abandoned estate.

Ex-Army Ranger Mike Stiles, haunted by the loss of a comrade in combat, can’t settle into civilian life. When his best friend asks for help to break-up a drug-smuggling ring on St. Thomas, Mike rushes to his aid. Mike figures the danger will do him some good and settle in to catch the smuggler, in spite of a beautiful woman ordering him to leave his post.

Ambitious, young drug lord Santiago Morales is expanding the family business from Puerto Rico to backwater St. Tomas. Smuggling, fast cars, and beautiful women are his passions. To celebrate his arrival on the island, he plans to romance a certain local girl and kill a nosy ex-soldier.

My First Thoughts:

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this book! I was really interested in the settling, since I have been to St. Thomas before, and I’ve never really read a ‘summer romance’ book. So feel like this will be an interesting book to read!

Overall Thoughts/Opinion:

I wasn’t wrong about the book, it really was interesting! At times, it was really hard to put down and the pages just seemed to fly by. Now, that could have also been because the chapter were really short.

I really enjoyed reading from Stiles’s perspective, just because he thought of things a little differently than everyone else. I wish that you could read more of his struggles with the loss of one of his comrades. However, you could argue that once he starts something very little distracts him while he’s on the job. Either way, he didn’t feel as haunted as the synopsis made him out to be. He was still fun to read about, I just felt like the author missed out on some really interesting character development with him.

Anika was also interesting to read about. I’ve read and heard of stories about shape shifting individuals from all over Eurasia, but I’ve heard/read very little from Africa. So it was really neat to read about the Jumbees and their trickster characters, and I wish there was more to read about them in the story. Anika’s character was a little hard to sympathize at first, but as she started opening up she became more and more likable! I really enjoyed the development she had in the story, especially when she had a little bit of an identity crisis because not many books with similar characters think to include such things. And as I think about it, not every character should be likable at first, because a lot of people aren’t really likable when you first meet them. It’s only after they open up to you that you really start to like them.

The one thing I could not stand about this book was when the story was told from Morales’s perspective. I find it really interesting when a novel decides to tell from the villain’s point of view, readers can gain insights on the actions and characteristics that they might not have when reading from the hero’s side. However, it’s really hard for an author to pull it off, especially if they write from the villain’s side for a good chunk of the book. I know you’re not supposed to like the villain, but the novelty of reading about Morales’s story wore off very quickly. He had no redeeming qualities and sometimes it just felt like wasted paper. In fact, I feel like this novel would have done much better if it had less of Morales’s narration and spent more time developing Stiles and Anika. He did have some important scenes that really defined his character, but after a while I felt like Ross was trying way too hard to get the readers to hate the villain and demonize him.

While the characterization of the villain was a bit rough, the world that the book was set in was extremely detailed. I often felt like the book took me out of the school library and teleported me to St. Thomas! There were details in the story that only someone who had lived there for years would have thought to add. The scenery was wonderfully described and painted for the readers. My imagination had no trouble at all translating the author’s words, which were rather concise, into beautiful images or coral beaches and grassy hills.

The last thing that I’ll talk about is the romance. I’ve never been one for love stories that occur over a few days, it seems a little unrealistic to me. I understand that it actually happens to some people, but most of the time it’s a relationship that develops over several months. The romance in this novel isn’t terrible, just not my cup of tea. To me, it would have made more sense for the romance to take several months to grow and bud. However, I understand that for the sack of the novel’s timeline that wasn’t a luxury that the author had. That’s still not a great excuse, but it’s a seeable one. I wish that there was more time spent developing the romantic relationship of the characters, but it wasn’t the main point of the story, so either way it didn’t really have a lot of weight on what was going on. The only thing affected by the romance was the very end of the story, which was a little confusing to begin with. The overall story would not have changed drastically if the romance didn’t exist or was a little heavier than it was.

Final Thoughts:

I would recommend this novel to anyone looking for a free vacation that you can take with your mind! How the author describes St. Thomas and the locals may definitely transport you there. Absolutely beautiful and detailed descriptions, things that only someone who has lived on the island for years could write about.

I would also recommend this book to anyone who wants a quick summer read, something that you can read while on vacation or on the beach. The story reads quickly, but well-paced, and will keep you turning pages until the end. The romance may be a turn off to some people. At times, I got really frustrated with how the characters interacted with each other. I still believe that things developed too quickly, but then again I’m not one for fast romances. If you are, then you’ll really enjoy the book. However, if you’re like me, then you may still enjoy the book because the romance is more of an added flavor and not the main course.

And anyone who is into suspenseful summer stories like Into the Blue will definitely enjoy this story! Readers may find the thrill of the hunt too good to put down and the little sprinkle of magic enticing.

Rating(s):

With Morales’s perspective: 2/5

I honestly did not care for the story told from Morales’s perspective. I’m all for reading from the villain’s side of the story, but only when they are relatable. I could not relate to Morales and his actions made me sick. After a while, I didn’t really care to read from his side of the story. At first it was interesting, but it grew old and sour quick, and I dreaded reading his chapters at times!

Without Morales’s perspective: 3/5

I don’t want one character’s side to taint the rest of the book. So I’ve decided to give this book a second rating, about how the story reads without Morales’s point of view. Overall, the story was a quick read, and it was a good solid story. There was nothing super spectacular about the book, but it was still entertaining to read. It gave me a number of enjoyable hours of reading and was a nice send off to summer. The romance wasn’t something to write home about, but the overall feel, writing, and story made up for it. The Jumbee’s Daughter is a good average book. I enjoyed the author’s writing and I would love to see more from Jonathan Ross in the future, to see where his creative mind takes him!

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COMING SOON!!!

Book Review: Ghostlight

GhostlightDetails:

Title: Ghostlight

Author: Sonia Gensler

Publisher: Knopf Books

Release Date: August 4th 2015

Genre: Middle Reader, Suspense, Mystery

Pages: 247

Synopsis:

Nothing ever happens on Avery’s grandmother’s sprawling farm, where she and her brother spend their summers. That is, until Avery meets Julian, a city boy with a famous dad, whose family is renting a nearby cottage. When Julian announces his plans to film a ghost story, Avery jumps at the chance to join him.

Unfortunately, Julian wants to film at Hilliard House, a looming, empty mansion that Grandma has absolutely forbidden her to enter. As terrified as Avery is of Grandma’s wrath, she finds the allure of filmmaking impossible to resist.

When the kids explore the secrets of Hilliard House, eerie things begin to happen, and the “imaginary” dangers in their movie threaten to become very real. Have Avery and Julian awakened a menacing presence? Can they turn back before they go too far?

My First Thoughts:

So I came across this book while I was on tumblr, killing time before class. It was a prize for an online raffle and I thought that I would enter my name for kicks; the worst that could happen was not getting a free book. I honestly didn’t read the synopsis, I just wanted the book based on the cover and that it wasn’t a super scary book. I didn’t mind that it was for younger readers, I thought that it would be refreshing to read for Halloween week!

Overall Thoughts/Opinion:

In some ways, this book reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird. The similarities are not very deep, for they occur in different time periods and deal with separate issues. However, both books are set in the South with important sibling arcs, Coming of Age themes, and learning to find the truth about a person before passing judgement. While To Kill a Mockingbird dealt with racial prejudice, Ghostlight dealt with uncovering the truth of family history and the consequences of lies and miss guided hate.

I absolutely loved the interactions between the two pairs of siblings, because in many ways they reminded me of my older brother and I. One of the smaller arcs in this book deals with two of the siblings getting disconnected and the steps they take (and some growing) to make amends and understand each other better. I also loved the interactions between Avery and Julian. There was no love or attraction; they became friends because no other children were around and they both wanted to create something. In some ways, Julian acted as a mentor to Avery, allowing her to broaden her creative horizons and discover things about herself. At the same time, Avery helped Julian understand the consequences of his decisions and their effects on other people.

Family history has always been interesting to me. I enjoy tracing back my family’s history and figuring out who I’m related to, where they came from, what they did and some of the major events in their lives. So I was excited to see family history playing a role in the story, a plot driver and character development driver. Uncovering the family history really did add an element of mystery that I was not expecting when I started reading this book. However, this added element really did make Ghostlight a unique read for me. It was interesting to read as Avery uncovered some of the recent history, first for the movie and then for curiosity and finding the actual truth. I think it’s clear to say that tracing back the history and the steps that were taken to get to the big reveal really helped Avery, and even her grandmother, grow as individuals.

In many ways, this book was a few firsts for me. Ghostlight was the first book that I read that had a mixed family, character(s) created in test tubes, and a mother in a powerful, well payed position. Each of these elements added to the story, allowing the readers to learn more and understand some of the characters and their actions. It is also the first book that I have read in which one of the characters has a mental illness, but is still portrayed as a normal, functional individual with odd quirks.

I’m getting sick of books portraying people with mental illnesses as being crazy, destructive, and abnormal individuals that can’t function properly and are a danger to society. I see it all the time in the media; I don’t need to read that kind of ignorance in my literature too. Ghostlight really shows that while some people with mental illness can be a danger to other people and themselves, most others are normal people who just have to take certain medication and see a therapist occasionally. In fact, the other characters don’t know about the illness until later, they just assumed that the character had odd quirks. (Sorry for the tiny soap box…)

All this talk and nothing about the ghost yet! I enjoyed that this book didn’t follow the typical paranormal horror story. There were a couple scenes in the book in which I was expecting something along the lines of The Exorcist to occur, however most of the paranormal/horror parts of the story were just spooky or eerie (which I honestly prefer more)! Overall, it was a fun suspenseful mystery with enough spooky seasoning to get me into the Halloween spirit without making me want to sleep with my bathroom light on!

Final Thoughts:

For a story meant for younger readers, this book was pretty enjoyable. I would recommend it to anyone who loves spooky themes, but not full on demon possession and unleashing hell and damnation on the cast of characters. Even though the book may be intended for more of a 9-15 year old audience, I believe any age would enjoy Ghostlight. The themes and lessons in this story are ones that people of all ages need to learn, especially nowadays when society seems to be shifting so much because of discoveries in science and engineering. There were good lessons in letting go, learning to accept yourself and others, and the power that truth (or lies) has on a person’s life.

The list of characters was diverse and really did seem to model the people and families of current American society. This book had many firsts for me, like portraying a mixed family, character(s) born from test tubes, a mother who held a high paying, powerful job, and realistic character(s) with mental illness. I also enjoyed the Southern setting, because a lot of books that I have read with a ‘Southern’ setting just make it stereotypical and fake sounding. However, Ghostlight just drops little details here and there that remind you that the characters are in Tennessee.

Rating(s):

5/5

At first, it was a little hard for me to get into the story because I’m not usually one for spooky books. However, it wasn’t long before I was flying through the pages and immersing myself into the story! Overall, this wasn’t a really scary book, although there was one scene that almost got me going. The characters were likable and modern, and the children were definitely relatable. The interactions between the characters were realistic and insightful, especially between the pairs of siblings. I loved that the story was set in Tennessee. The author didn’t bother with writing cheesy accents; instead she used idioms and colloquialisms of the area to really bring that part of the South alive. If you’re looking for a suspenseful mystery with enough spook to get your kids (or yourself) into the spirit of Halloween, then this book is just for you!

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Coming Soon