The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

girlbefore

This review was originally posted September 5, 2017

One Folgate Street is a very unique property. Built to be almost an exploration of the human psyche, to even be considered to rent it one must go through a long series of questions and interviews.

For Jane, this offers the perfect opportunity to start new. Moving in to One Folgate Street means leaving almost all of her old personal effects behind. It means living with a clean slate, both literally and figuratively.

Yet as soon as she has moved in, Jane learns of the apartment’s previous tenant; a young woman named Emma. Emma, who like Jane, was hoping to start anew but was instead met with tragedy.

The Girl Before is yet another of the psychological thrillers featuring women that seems the be popular recently. Playing with the trope of ‘walking in another’s footsteps’, it takes us through the lives of both Emma and Jane; two different women who have come to live at One Folgate Street.

On the surface, both Emma and Jane are alike. Both have had personal tragedies that they are trying to get through and are hoping by moving they have the ability to start over. And while there are several similarities, there are also a number of differences.

At first, I found myself sympathizing with both Emma and Jane. Both women had gone through a very trying event and were trying to return back to what they thought was normal. Yet, as the story went on, I found myself sympathizing less and less with Emma. She was no longer a sympathetic character and while what happened to her was unfortunate, I can’t say it wasn’t exactly unwarranted either.

To go much further would be to give spoilers about what happens and I have tried my best to not give those in my reviews.

With all that said, I found The Girl Before to be enjoyable. There is subject matter that some readers might find triggering, so more sensitive readers might want to skip this one. Otherwise, Delaney has given us a well written thriller. Decent pacing and interesting characters kept me entertained up to the last page. For those who are in to this kind of story, I recommend it.

Provided for Review: Highfire by Eoin Colfer

In the days of yore, he flew the skies and scorched angry mobs—now he hides from swamp tour boats and rises only with the greatest reluctance from his Laz-Z-Boy recliner. Laying low in the bayou, this once-magnificent fire breather has been reduced to lighting Marlboros with nose sparks, swilling Absolut in a Flashdance T-shirt, and binging Netflix in a fishing shack. For centuries, he struck fear in hearts far and wide as Wyvern, Lord Highfire of the Highfire Eyrie—now he goes by Vern. However…he has survived, unlike the rest. He is the last of his kind, the last dragon. Still, no amount of vodka can drown the loneliness in his molten core. Vern’s glory days are long gone. Or are they?

A canny Cajun swamp rat, young Everett “Squib” Moreau does what he can to survive, trying not to break the heart of his saintly single mother. He’s finally decided to work for a shady smuggler—but on his first night, he witnesses his boss murdered by a crooked constable.

Regence Hooke is not just a dirty cop, he’s a despicable human being—who happens to want Squib’s momma in the worst way. When Hooke goes after his hidden witness with a grenade launcher, Squib finds himself airlifted from certain death by…a dragon?

The swamp can make strange bedfellows, and rather than be fried alive so the dragon can keep his secret, Squib strikes a deal with the scaly apex predator. He can act as his go-between (aka familiar)—fetch his vodka, keep him company, etc.—in exchange for protection from Hooke. Soon the three of them are careening headlong toward a combustible confrontation. There’s about to be a fiery reckoning, in which either dragons finally go extinct—or Vern’s glory days are back.

This book was provided for review by the author and the kind people at NetGalley. Thank you!

The copy of Highfire reviewed was an Uncorrected Proof provided by NetGalley. Any changes done after distribution were done at the discretion of the author and the publisher.

Being from the state of Louisiana, I am always interested in books (and movies and TV shows) that are set in this state. I almost always find myself comparing the fiction with the truth. Sometimes the two are so far apart as to be laughable and sometimes the two are actually quite close. When this happens, it is always a pleasant surprise.

Highfire is one of those books where fact and fiction are fairly close. At least when it comes to South Louisiana. And while Colfer does take a few small liberties (dancing alligators) for the most part his portrayal of this little corner of the world is pretty accurate.

Thankfully, Colfer sets the scene in the bayou backwaters around the city of New Orleans. It is much easier to fudge things here since the waterways are constantly changing. What doesn’t change is how the people there live and Colfer seems to get this mostly right. He does not try to make any one character sound too ridiculous or have a bizarre accent that no one down here has. There is a certain cadence to South Louisiana speech that Colfer did try to capture in the first part of the novel and it did not feel natural. Thankfully, the prose shifted away from that later on.

The characters that inhabit Highfire are all unique. It is very easy to cheer for Squib and Vern. Likewise, it is very easy to jeer at Sheriff Hooke. There is one particular character I would have liked to see more of before their departure – not named here because of spoilers. They provided a good dose of humor in to what could have become a too heavy story.

I really enjoyed reading Highfire by Eoin Colfer. Because this is a fantasy with a dragon, the action does go over the top in some scenes. Yet it is done in a way that is also kind of believable. The end is also left open with the understanding that we might once again visit the bayous of South Louisiana and a vodka swilling dragon. I certainly hope so.

Steel Hand, Cold Heart by Rachel Menard

On the island of Helvar, women rule. Sixteen-year-old Carina has trained for most of her life to belong to the coveted Daughters of Hel, the steel-handed Viking warriors who provide souls to the Death Goddess in exchange for the prosperity of their island. Gaining her place hasn’t been easy. She was not borne of the island, but another spoil from another raid, raised by the island Chieftain. There are many who would see her fail, and on her first raid, she does. She doesn’t kill a priestess she should have.

Carina needs to prove her worth or risk losing her place. Before she can, her arch-nemesis drugs her wine and sends her off the isle as a captive of three foreign boys. But what is Carina’s greatest misfortune may turn out to be her greatest gift. The young men are taking her to the jewel of the Southern Isles – Fortis Venitis, a place no other Daughter of Hel can venture. Carina can place Hel’s claims on the Southern isle and return to Helvar with the spoils, a victor.

However there are many obstacles to pass before she reaches her goal. Like her rune stone that everyone keeps trying to steal, the mismatched pirates from a country that no longer exists, and the priest with his poison that melts flesh from bones. But the most dangerous obstacle of all are the odd feelings she’s developing for her victims, especially the knife-thieving captain Nik. That could make it difficult for her to kill him in the end.

Trigger Warning: Mentions of abuse, mentions of rape, assorted violence

Sixteen year old Carina the Unstoppable is one of the Daughters of Hel. The Daughters are a group of Viking warriors who provide souls to the Death Goddess in exchange for prosperity for their own island. Becoming a Daughter of Hel is not an easy task, for Carina it is doubly so as she was not born on the island. But Carina is determined to prove herself and prove worthy of the steel gauntlet she wears.

On the evening of her first raid, Carina is drugged by her nemesis and given to three foreign boys as a captive. She learns that the boys are taking her to Fortis Venitis, an island the Daughters of Hel have never been able to raid. If Carina can place a claim on the Southern Isle and return home with a ship full of spoils, she knows she be held in the highest regard and will have truly earned her place.

But the trip is difficult and fraught with danger – both known and unknown. If Carina is to make it home again she’ll have to fight hard to survive and somehow harden her heart against the emotions she is beginning to develop for her captors.

Steel Hand, Cold Heart is (I believe) the first full length novel for author Rachel Menard. And from the first few lines of the first chapter, it is a wild adventure.

The main character Carina is neither a hero nor is she a villain. She is a young woman who has trained her whole life to become a raider for her island. She believes that what she does is justifiable, that in the raiding and pillaging she does with the other Daughters of Hel, she insures a prosperous life for her home and those she cares for. Those who suffer from their raids aren’t given a second thought. This line of thinking – as well as Carina’s penchant for rushing blindly in to situations – made it a bit difficult to like Carina as a character in the beginning. Thankfully, she grows and matures some as the story goes on though she does continue to be rash.

The three young men that kidnap Carina – Nik, Flavian, and Mateo – I found it difficult to connect with any of them. It isn’t that they aren’t bad characters, it’s just that I felt there wasn’t enough time truly dedicated to any one of them to get a good feel. With the bits and pieces of information sprinkled throughout the story, we the reader do come to understand each young man a bit better but I still feel more could have been given. Also, one particular character revelation (not stated due to spoilers) felt tacked on unnecessarily and was provided so late in the story as to not lend much in the way of sympathy.

Like I said, they aren’t terrible characters, I just didn’t feel any kind of real connection with any of them.

The one thing that I truly did not like was the way Steel Hand, Cold Heart ended. It was so abrupt it left me wondering if perhaps I had received a faulty e-copy. I am assured that this is indeed how the book ends, it just left me with a feeling of “That’s it? What happens next?” Of course, leaving the ending open like this opens up the possibility for a sequel or even series. I personally hope this is true because while I enjoyed reading Steel Hand, Cold Heart I also want more.