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Written Among The Stars

I love to read, I love to write, and I love to talk about all things that are the written word.

Currently reading

The Last Wish : Introducing the Witcher
Andrzej Sapkowski, Danusia Stok
A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones / A Clash of Kings / A Storm of Swords / A Feast for Crows
George R.R. Martin
Progress: 139/834 pages

Review: The Return by Rachel Harrison

The Return - Rachel Harrison
The synopsis of this book was just intriguing enough to make me pick up this book without actually giving me any idea what it would entail. I liked the idea of a girls trip that uncovers something sinister about what happened to their friend. I did not realize before I was reading it that there would be some horror aspects in this one. I figured that out while I was reading in bed at midnight, everyone else in the house sleeping soundly. Needless to say I did not sleep much and devoured this book in about 48 hours. 

This book focuses on the friendship between four women; Mae, Molly, Elise and Julie. Two years ago, Julie went hiking and vanished. Mae and Molly presumed that Julie was dead when she had not surfaced after a year, but Elise never let go of the feeling that their friend was alive. On the second anniversary of when Julie disappeared, she is found by her husband sitting on their porch with no recollection of the last two years. Her friends all go out for a weekend getaway to reconnect. Everything is going fine, Julie is back and she's acting just like herself. Except when she isn't acting like herself. Elise is uneasy about her friend but also about the hotel itself, everything is setting her on edge. But it's just her imagination right? Julie is still Julie, isn't she?

Elise was the perfect narrating character. She was the closest to Julie and has felt left behind by her friends. She views herself as the hanger-on of the group. Her friends are all successful while she works a pathetic job and still lives in a studio apartment. She is sure they do not approve of her choices and probably talk about it amongst themselves when she leaves the room. She was so relieved when Julie was found because now the dynamic between the friends would be restored. I empathized with her and identified with a lot of her feelings of unworthiness and anxiety. 

The plot was super creepy. It was set in a mismatched hotel that sets Elise on edge, and set me on edge too. The author did a very good job at playing on the fears and anxieties that plague all of us. How many times have we sworn that we saw a shadow moving in our peripheral vision? But then we look and nothing is there and we chide ourselves for being scared, we're adults after all! Or how many times have we averted our eyes at the gap in the curtains, convinced that if we look someone will be standing there? No one ever is, but we all feel the thrill of fear in our gut just the same. That is the type of horror at play in this novel. I recommend reading it in daylight only.

Review: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth - Sarah Gailey

I downloaded this audiobook because I was hoping for a fun ride. I mean, how could it not be? Feral hippos have overtaken parts of the Mississippi and there is a gang of gunslingers running around on hippos. This should have been like a B-movie creature feature! I wanted blood and revenge and dismemberment by hippo! Unfortunately that is not what I got. 

 

This is a pretty short novella, the audiobook was only 4 1/2 hours. But honestly it felt like I was listening for 45 hours. The first three hours are a long and tedious introduction to the members of Houndstooth's gang. One or two of the characters also use non-binary pronouns for some reason. I am not opposed to this being used in a book but since it wasn't explained or introduced it was very confusing. And the character's name is Hero, which isn't really a name at all. I had a really hard time following that because you have a not-name and a not-pronoun being used constantly. The history was tedious, I really want to get to something interesting and it seemed like it was never going to happen. It took three hours just to find out what job the gang had been hired for!

 

When we finally did get to the action it was abrupt and didn't make much sense. The author shows a very strong lack of knowledge about how dams and rivers work. The lack of knowledge about hippo physiology I can excuse since it was a creature feature. But you don't know that water naturally runs downhill? And that dams are built upstream to create larger, still bodies of water? Dams don't have gates for boats to travel through, that is a loch. All of these questions quickly took me out of the story. It all ended with not much blood, not much gore, and a shocking lack of hippos. This was supposed to be about hippos and I feel like we hardly saw them in action.

 

Also, there was a short history of how hippos came to be so rampant in Louisiana at the end of the book. It explained what "The Harriet" was, which frankly I was not able to piece together through the whole novella. It might have been better to have that at the beginning. This history says that in this alternate history that Lincoln never got around to the Emancipation Proclamation because he was busy with hippo legislation. So, if the Civil War never happened and the slaves were not freed, then how did you have so much acceptance of such a wide array of people in Louisiana (which was a slave holding state)? We have Hispanic people, African American people, non-binary people, bisexual people, feminists...all in this gang and everyone accepts it, doesn't mention it, and remembers everyone else's pronouns flawlessly. That is a head-scratcher right there. Slavery is still a thing but we're embracing non-binary pronouns. It was weird and nonsensical. The best alternate histories need to make sense.

Review: Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Darling Rose Gold - Stephanie Wrobel

Now this is the kind of debut novel I have been wanting to read lately! It seems that a lot of the books I've read have been hit or miss. Either very good or very bad. But this was absolutely wonderful! It made me deeply uncomfortable, which was the point. I compare it to watching a slow motion car crash, you know that only bad things are coming but you can't bear to look away either.

 

I truly love a book that has a flawed narrator, not being able to fully trust the story they are telling you adds an interesting element to the story. But what happens when you can't trust any of the narrators? That makes for a fascinating story.

 

Reading Patty's narration was sort of like rolling around in mud. It sticks to you and makes you feel gross. Even though you tried to shower it all away, there's still the odd smudge of grossness here or there that makes you feel disgusting all over again when you discover it. You know that she isn't telling the truth. You know in your heart that she did all the horrible things that Rose Gold says she did. Part of you really wants to see her punished for it. As a mother, I was thoroughly rooting for her demise.

 

Then we have Rose Gold. Her anger and need for revenge is entirely justified. She found out that her mother permanently ruined her life. Her teeth are rotting out of her head, everyone knows too many details about her childhood, and she will forever be the girl that her mother created. I really rooted for her, but as the book went on I found it harder and harder to do that. More and more she was reminding me of her mother instead of her mother's victim.

 

I did not see the ending coming. Parts of it yes, but the thorough depravity of it surprised me. And it was wonderful to see how all the pieces played out. But this is also where the book lost a star for her. I found it hard to believe that the police would buy that Patty had forced Rose Gold to take a specific action a full month before she got released from prison. Surely they would have been ever slightly suspicious of the timing on that right? But apart from that, it was a wonderful book. I will be keeping an eye out for this author in the future.

Review: Has China Won? by Kishore Mahbubani

Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy - Kishore Mahbubani

***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Public Affairs!***

 

I stopped reading this book about 150 pages in, roughly halfway. I make an effort to not put down a book less than halfway through in order to be fair. Sometimes things start to look up after a rocky beginning. To be clear, I did not put this book away because it was poorly written. Indeed, it was excellently written. But I felt like the author has gotten it wrong when it came to his starting thesis. And unfortunately, if your starting thesis is incorrect, then some or all of your conclusions probably will be too.

 

The author has a very big bias in favor of China. This was evident throughout the Introduction when he basically said that China is the victim of cultural misunderstanding and that America was mostly afraid of powerful “yellow” people (his words, not mine) and mistakenly thinks that all Communism is the same as the Soviet Union was. But I carried on in spite of this obvious bias because the next two chapters were about the biggest mistakes so far that each of the world superpowers has made. I thought, maybe here is where we get a more evenhanded approach.

 

Unfortunately we did not. According to the author, China’s biggest mistake is that it gives too much power to local governments and Beijing is largely powerless to control them. For example, the author mentions that businesses are very wary of working in China because they feel that China takes advantage of them and threatens them with access to the Chinese market if they don’t comply to outrageous. His example is a business that states they had a contract with a Chinese company that they would utilize their services for a set number of years and then buy the company outright for X price at the end of that period. When that date came the company refused to sell. The business petitioned to the courts in Beijing and were told “well pay them more money then and buy the business”. The author attributes this to a lack of centralized leadership. That is blatantly false and biased. That is called extortion. If the courts had said “Sorry, this is an issue with the local jurisdiction” that would prove the author’s point. But they acted like a mob enforcer “Pay more money, then they’ll sell.” The author gives this kind of leniency to the Chinese government over and over again.

 

And still, I continued. I thought that perhaps when the author was describing the largest mistake by America that we would see the same leniency. We did not. The author spends the entire chapter demonizing President Trump and demonizing businesses for blaming it on American war culture. And then throwing in some demonization of America’s lack of social justice for good measure. Americans just want to believe that all Communism is bad, so that’s why we demonize China. Again, this is a flawed premise. The Chinese Communist Party is bad. They have upwards of 1.5 million people imprisoned in labor camps, another half million in re-education centers. Stories abound from survivors of these camps of the rampant abuse and rape that goes on. Defectors from the CCP are executed silently and immediately, potentially thousands of people per year. The CCP has  launched genocidal massacres on Tibetans, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims within the past decade. Don’t try and blow that particular sunshine about good Communism up my behind, thanks all the same!

 

In the end, this author thinks China is a great place and America is inherently racist with a psycho for a President. To me, that indicates that all conclusions that he draws will be flawed. So while the author asks a lot of interesting questions, the answers will likely be unsatisfying.

Review: The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

The Swallows - Lisa Lutz

I picked this audiobook up on a whim. I needed something to listen to while I was working and the synopsis sounded interesting. I saw some good reviews from people that I know and thought I’d give it a whirl. I have heard a lot of praise over the years for Lisa Lutz. In the end, hopefully this book is not indicative of her work in general or I don’t think I’ll pick up another.

 

To put it simply this was a book with a good idea that was made to be completely nonsensical. The story features approximately five narrators along the way and all of them are basically identical. I didn’t find anything that separated the characters from one another in personality or behavior. They also introduce us to too many other characters. Half the time I had no idea who we were talking about because they mention about fifty people but only ten of them are actually important so I have no idea who anyone else is.

There’s also a lot of filler in this book. Most of the first half of the book was loooooong conversations about teenagers hooking up, who was popular, and what everyone was wearing. I swear, if Gemma went on one more rant about her outfit I would have screamed. And it just went on and on and on. Literally nothing happened for several hundred pages except sex, clothes and parties.

 

I don’t mind a book that’s a slow burn but this was a snail’s pace. I didn’t even realize that the revenge plot was in motion until about four pranks into it, and Gemma blatantly calls it out. I remember thinking, “Oh, we’re already in motion with this? I had no idea!”

Ms. Witt was utterly useless. She acts like she stumbles on some deep, dark secret. But it must not be too big of a secret because eight different students tell her about it and at least half the staff knows about it too. This secret is also supposed to be indicative of an embedded institutional attitude of “boys will be boys”, but it’s only been going on for five years and when the rest of the staff find out about it they are horrified. So I would hardly call that an institutional issue.

 

Also, I have no idea why this was portrayed as some horrible abuse on women. Yeah, the boys are talking about their sexual conquests, pitting the girls in a contest that they don’t know about. It’s not right, it’s gross, but teenage boys are functioning at a maturity level of barely above caveman. You can force feed them as much feminism as you like, he’s still going to act like a rabid animal. Because he is. There was a single instance in the book of a girl being coerced into a sexual act she didn’t want to perform, the rest of the girls were either in a relationship (or thought they were, lying for the win) or were completely willing. So, shouldn’t the real lesson here be that randomly hooking up with boys gave them fodder to act like animals and girls should value themselves more than that? That’s the message I would want my daughter getting. The only valuable thing that Mr. Witt does in this book is tell the girls that they don’t have to perform sexual acts unless they want to, and all the girls act like this is some shocking revelation to them. That’s rather sad if that’s true of teenage girls these days.

 

Finally, the ending was completely ridiculous. It went to a place that made no sense at all. The girls had already won. They had made an end to the contest. They had punished the boys involved. But then we go to the absolute extreme anyway. Why? You already won. It’s not smart to keep fighting a war that has already been won. And in the end the girls complained a lot about the boys not taking responsibility, but they ended up doing something far worse and took no responsibility either. This book did nothing to further any conversation about bullying, feminism, or sexual relationships between teenagers. It was just bad.

Review: Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Deeplight - Frances Hardinge

 This book drew me in with its cover, as is often the case. I was intrigued by the synopsis. And several reviews of it called it a merging of Frakenstein, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde, and that left me even more interested. Normally with that much hype surrounding a book it is bound to disappoint, at least a little bit, but this book was fantastic.

 

Hark was a fabulous character. He was uncertain and timid but trying to find a foothold in the world. He could see that his friendship with Jelt was changing but admitting it to himself meant that nothing would be the same. He broke my heart and left me cheering him on. He had a great story arc. Through the course of the story he was forced from being a little boy running a small time con to a man who takes responsibility for his own story.

 

I had a hard time feeling too much sympathy for Jelt because he was pretty mean to Hark from the moment we met him. But, despite that, I felt tremendous sympathy for how Hark dealt with the changes in his friend.

 

The gods were presented as monsters first, deities almost by accident, and I liked that approach. The idea of monster gods is appealing to me and this was the perfect blend of monster and majesty to suit me. The world this book was set in was also beautifully detailed. I could feel the undulating waves of the Undersea. The permeating fear of it that fed the gods for thousands of years. It was a beautifully written story. My only complaint was that the ending when Hark is going after the heart dragged on for a bit too long. After about 50 pages my mind started to wander and I wished we could stop describing everything so thoroughly and move on with the action a bit quicker. But the ending was compelling, as was the epilogue. I read the last thirty pages or so with tears streaming down my face, my heart breaking and cheering for Hark all at the same time. In the end this was a story about the power of stories, and it had a profound power all its own.

SPOILER ALERT!

Review: The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag

The Sisters Grimm - Menna van Praag

***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Harper Voyager!***

 

The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. I mean, look at it. It is probably one of the most gorgeous book covers that I have ever seen. Then the title. The Sisters Grimm. Immediately my mind is drawn to fairy tales. I love fairy tales. And I love fairy tell re-tellings. But this book is a perfect example of a good idea that got beaten to death with poor writing and poor execution.

 

***SPOILER ALERT: Be aware, this is a spoilery review. The ranty ones typically are.

 

 

The basic idea of this book is that a demon (Wilhelm I think his name was) has fathered thousands of sisters Grimm on earth. I am not sure if this is metaphysical thing or a biological thing, but some of the daughters have mothers who are also Grimm sisters. So, ew, I imagine at some point in the history of this world we had some incest. As children, the Grimm sisters can come and go from “Everywhere”, a magical forest, as they please. But as they age they forget this place until about a month before their 18th birthday, which is when they start to remember and get their powers back. Wilhelm also has soldiers, who are transformed into babies from stars (WTF?), and their life’s mission is to kill Grimm sisters on their 18th birthdays. Then something about the Grimm sisters who survive have to choose good or evil and then their father kills them if they choose good and then….well, the author didn’t both to tell me what happens then.

 

That was my first big problem with this book. Despite being 400 pages long, the author didn’t bother to explain anything to me. I have no idea how the world works, how the magic works, why things are this way, or what the rules are. I am not even clear on what the sisters’ powers are. Scarlet can start fires, Liyana can telepathically listen in on other people’s minds, Bea can transform things with her mind. And I have no idea what Goldie can do except mentally tell people what to do and they sometimes listen. And all of them have other powers that randomly appear and don’t seem to relate to anything else they can do, at all.

 

Since we’re talking about the girls, let’s talk about how utterly devoid of personality all of them are. I honestly could not tell the difference between any of them until someone used their name or until Bea or Liyana would occasionally throw in a non-English word into an otherwise entirely English conversation….seemingly in order to remind me that they were the book’s representation of other ethnicities and cultures.

 

Now let’s talk about the technicals of the writing. It was bad. It was the single most confusing book that I have ever read. There are SO MANY narrators. Everywhere (yes the forest is a narrator), Goldie, Scarlet, Bea, Liyana, Leo, Wilhelm, Liyana’s aunt….and I am pretty sure there were a few others in there that I’m forgetting too. Between these narrators, some of them are told in first person, some in second person, and some in third person. And the narrator changes approximately every page and a half. With me so far? Now let’s throw in some chapters in the past for some extra fun so that we have past tense, present tense, and future tense. It was so difficult to read. It gave me a headache when I actually tried to concentrate on who was speaking and what time period we were in.

 

I also don’t appreciate what the author did to poor Vali. He was a nice guy. And despite the book’s message of empowerment, all Bea did was belittle the poor guy. She called him fat, called him all sorts of other names, made fun of him for being a virgin and then ultimately killed him! Then she has the nerve to get upset about him dying because she didn’t mean to. Way to go Bea, you bullied him to death. The author did him dirty and I am still mad about it.

 

I finally gave up on this book after 245 pages. My brain couldn’t handle it anymore and I found that I really didn’t care how it ends. Leo is not going to kill Goldie, Goldie will probably choose good. Liyana and Scarlet will probably die because they were entirely expendable in the rest of the book so why not? And Bea will probably live and choose evil. Or maybe all four of them survive and choose good in order to challenge their father. But really, who cares? The author hasn’t made me care about their upcoming battle or told me why the outcome matters, so why should I spend any more of my time finding out?

SPOILER ALERT!

Review: Three Hours in Paris by Cara Black

Three Hours in Paris - Cara Black

The premise of this story was good, and I tend to like historical fiction, but this book just didn’t grab me. Full disclosure, I stopped reading about halfway through. It wasn’t interesting enough to make me keep reading.

 

SPOILER ALERT: Though this review will be brief, the reasons I stopped reading do contain spoilers.

 

Kate wasn’t a very interesting character. All I knew about her in the first half of the book was that she lost her husband and daughter and could shoot really well. Apart from that she displayed no other personality at all. The German detective who is hunting her down after her failed mission was the same. I have no idea who he is and he showed not a single glimmer of a personality.

 

The story also told me all the good parts by about page 70, when we have a chapter between Kate’s handler and some of the other spies when he basically just says that they expected her to fail and it was her mission to fail. The Fuhrer will be too busy trying to catch her after the botched assassination attempt to not see the real assassination attempt happening. Yawn. So I am supposed to sit though 230 more pages of Kate trying not to get caught when the only reason she was sent there is to get caught? Wait, I think I know how this ends…she uncovers the nefarious plot to throw her under the Gestapo bus and miraculously escapes.

 

Speaking of getting caught, in the portion that I read, Kate should have gotten caught at least three times. She gets stopped by German soldiers on three separate occasions (when they know they are looking for someone in the vicinity who shot at their leader) but no one searches her bag? They search her. They look under the bag. One of them even remarks on the heaviness of the bag….which contains the rifle she used to attempt the assassination. But no one actually looks IN THE BAG. No wonder the Third Reich was defeated, they had a bunch of morons working for them.

 

Also, why does Kate keep the rifle? Her handler was specific that she needed to keep it (you know, to properly frame her). But she realizes that it’s incredibly stupid to not ditch it. And yet, she still doesn’t ditch it. Why? Is she as stupid as the soldiers who should have searched her? She even says that she might have been abandoned by her handlers and still doesn’t ditch it.

 

I just couldn’t get into the story. It annoyed me more than it interested me. I had no desire to keep reading and so, I didn’t.

SPOILER ALERT!

Review: The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

The Age of Witches - Louisa Morgan

 This book started as a 4-star book, then dropped to a 2-star book and finally by the end is an “it was fine” 3-star. The writing of this book was lovely. I found myself entranced by the prose and would look up to find that several hours had passed. Just last night I was so enthralled with the plot and the writing that I stayed awake reading until 2 a.m. It’s not surprising that the book only took me 3 days to finish.

 

I love books about witches, probably because I am one. I love books that explore the role of witchcraft in history and how women have historically used this knowledge to empower themselves. The characters were rich and I enjoyed them all.

 

The basic premise is that Harriet and Francis are descended from a witch named Bridget Bishop. Bridget was executed in the 1600’s for witchcraft. Harriet’s side of the family tree has adopted the gentler side of the craft, using it mainly for herbalism and assisting locals with their various ailments and ills. Francis’ side of the family tree had adopted the “bad” side of the craft, manipulating and magically forcing others to do their bidding in order to gain power for themselves. Annis is a young girl from the family tree who is just coming into her powers and for whom Francis has nefarious plans. Harriet endeavors to stop this plot and it culminates in a clash between the two witches with Annis as the prize.

 

This book was a slow burn with not a lot of action to it, and I was fine with that. The information being presented was largely interesting and once we did get the showdown between Harriet and Francis it was really refreshing and exciting. That portion is what kept me up most of the night.

 

***Spoiler alert:*** From this point on there will be spoilers.

 

The biggest problems I had with the book are the ending and that this book didn’t know what it wanted to be.

 

Is it the story of Annis? A girl ahead of her time, bucking the norm, and determined to make her own way with her newfound powers. Is it the story of a 200 year old battle between two sides of a family to ultimately decide if they are bad witches or good witches? Is it a story of the temptations of good and evil and the blurry gray area in between? Unfortunately it could have been all of these things, but ended up being none of them. None of these things are explored in any depth and I was really disappointed by that.

 

The ending was very plain. James and Annis decide that they didn’t just have feelings for each other because of magic, they actually do love each other and want to get married. How boring. How predictable. And then we are subjected to a very long lecture about how James might seem like a good man, but we should keep his manikin around just in case he decides to start behaving like an ass later. Because he’s a man after all, so you just never know and a woman can’t be too careful. Why can a novel not show us strong women without equaling telling us about how all men are asses? Even ones who aren’t asses but they might decide to be later because….well they’re a man. I am weary of it. It is possible to tell a story about strong, empowered women without demeaning men. I promise it is.

 

There was also an unintended moral problem in the story. We are told early on that good witches use their powers to help, bad witches use their powers to compel. Bad witches will always succumb to darkness and be lost to a lust for power. But on at least 3 occasions the “good” witches use their magic to persuade people to give them things. A horse, money, and then more money. All for their own benefit. So while those people may not have been harmed, the man was reimbursed for the horse and the money was plentiful and wouldn’t be missed, does that make it okay? What is the difference between magically persuading someone to give you something and just outright forcing them to give you something? Unfortunately, I don’t think the author intended for this issue to be presented and so we never get the answer to that question. In the end, even evil magic can be tucked away in a corner for safekeeping…just in case, and one will still be a good witch.

Review: The Silent House by Nell Pattison

The SIlent House - Nell Pattison

***I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Avon Books!***

 

There are not many books out there that feature main characters who are deaf or hearing impaired. That is what initially drew me to this book. I took a few years of American Sign Language in my younger years and had interest in becoming an interpreter at one point, so I spent a lot of time within the community. It’s a completely unique perspective on the world so I was interested to see a murder mystery done from this viewpoint.

 

The author did not disappoint. It was very apparent that she is highly familiar with the deaf and hearing impaired community. She is aware of how the community is viewed in society and the ways that people believe they might be helping butthey are actually hindering communication. I was very impressed with how well the author translated those ideas into the book..

 

The story was also very well told and nicely paced. I enjoyed the alternate viewpoints of various suspects prior to the murder followed by some chapters in the present with the investigation. This helped me to start coming to some conclusions about what I thought happened, while progressing with the investigation too. All of the suspects were given plausible reasons for why they could have been the murderer. Frankly, even though I had my own idea about who it was, I would have found any of the suspects believable if I had been wrong. I did end up guessing the murderer correctly, but not the twist. That shook me. I was stunned. I stayed up far later than my bedtime to finish the book because I had to know the rest. That’s how much it shocked me.

 

The only flaw with the story is that I felt we paid too much attention to Paige personally. Following her difficulties with men and her personal struggles with the investigation hindered the rest of the story at certain points.

 

Overall it was an engaging story that is told from a unique perspective. I loved it.

Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu

The Deep - Alma Katsu

 ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons!***

 

I loved this book. I really, really loved this book. Anyone can tell you that I am a sucker for a story about the Titanic. I am one of those people that went and saw the movie fifteen times and cried just as much the last time as the first time, who still cries at the thought of the movie. And I have read pretty much every book written on the topic and watched every documentary I can get my hands on. Titanic holds a very dear place to my heart. That is what drew me to this book in the first place and I was not disappointed.

 

Annie was a very good character. She was charming, humble, smart, if a bit naive. I felt like I was seeing the Titanic from a fresh view, one that hasn’t been explored often. Her character also did a lot of changing and growing over the course of the book. She went from being a naive girl running away from home to a woman set on discovering the truth of her past trauma and confronting it without blinking. That was a wonderful transformation.

 

The story is told from Annie’s viewpoint in both 1912 and 1916, from both the Titanic and Britannic, in alternating chapters. The two storylines were seamless next to one another. You covered the journey of the two ships almost simultaneously. Annie boards Titanic in one chapter, Britannic in the next. Disaster strikes in one chapter and then again in the next. I liked that method of telling the story. For someone like me who already knows the fate of both ships intimately it left me on the edge of my seat. I knew what was coming, but I also knew the story would be different since we were adding the paranormal aspect.

 

The horror part of this book was creepy without being too scary. It didn’t really have any traditional jump scares. It was much more psychological. Your brain starts putting the pieces together and you delve deeper into horror and dread. And I loved speculating on what was going on. Was it something in the sea, like mermaids or sirens? Was it a ghost? Was it someone on the ship who was possessed? I enjoyed watching the pieces fall into place with ever greater dread as we went deeper into the mystery.

 

I am trying really hard to avoid spoilers, so I should probably leave it at this before I sink into a spoiler-laden fangirling over this book. Read it. It’s fabulous!

Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

The Shadows Between Us - Tricia Levenseller

This book was so much fun! I have never read the author before but I enjoyed her style very much, so I think I might pick up some of her other books after this one. This one had a bit more romance than I expected but it had a lot of adventure and twists and turns that kept me entertained.

 

Alessandra is delightfully scandalous. She is witty and funny but also slightly sociopathic. She delights in using men and bucking the patriarchal system she lives in. She figures that if men can have a thousand lovers then the women must not be being very chaste either so why not. She killed the first boy who broke her heart and is determined to not make herself vulnerable ever again. Instead she has a mission to seduce the king and then kill him and take over his kingdom. She finally sees her opportunity with the engagement of her older sister, since she was not allowed to attend court until that time. She catches the Shadow King’s eye immediately and away we go.

 

I fully expected for the plot of the story to be a romance. I knew going in that Alessandra would fall in love with the king, and he with her, and she would no longer want to go through with her plan. So, I didn’t really mind when the story started taking me that way. Especially since the romance was handled with a lot of snark and lots of nefarious plotting and teasing. There was so much sexual tension in this book and it was delicious. Kallias set my heart pitter pattering and I hoped beyond hope that he was getting through to Alessandra too. He’s just so delightfully bad!

 

The only downside I had with this book was that I found the rules of the world building to be a tad inconsistent. We are told from the outset that this is a very Victorian world. Women are expected to be demure, chaste, and never be found in a compromising situation that could ruin their opportunities for a good marriage. Women cannot go to court to attempt to woo a husband until all of their older sisters are married off. The males of the family make the marriage arrangements. All of this is extremely typical. But then, it’s also okay for the nobles to be engaged in homosexual or bisexual relationships. Openly and at court. That certainly does not fit with the world you have built. At all. I am okay with either world. I am okay with a very straitlaced Victorian world. And I am okay with a slightly more liberal world encompassing people of all sexualities. But the two things don’t work well together.

 

This small gripe aside, I loved this book. It was wonderfully wicked and very sexy. I was sad it was over.

SPOILER ALERT!

Review: Don't Look Down by Hilary Davidson

Don't Look Down - Hilary Davidson

***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer!***

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I did not read the entire book. I read to 150 pages and I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. Reading it was painful and I just couldn’t do it. And since I am about 98% sure I know how it’s going to end, there really wasn’t much to keep me reading any further.

 

This book is just not good. It’s not a good character story nor is it a good police procedural. I am not an expert in the law or police procedure, by any means, however I have read enough books and watched enough Law & Order that I know how these types of books should work. I have a basic understanding of the law and how it works and this was not even close to being accurate. This case would get thrown into the nearest paper shredder and the detectives would be berated in open court to handle a case this way.

 

Also, consider this your ***SPOILER WARNING***

 

Three prime examples that the author has zero idea how the police actually function:

 

- The detectives go to the office of a suspect and state that they need to speak with said suspect, the fill-in receptionist advises that the suspect is not there but her office is that way so feel free to wait. Apparently this is a good enough cause for the detectives to search the suspect’s office. They do not have a warrant. They have not obtained permission unless you count the receptionist and yet they snoop through everything and decide to obtain a warrant for the suspect’s home once they find something. That is called an unlawful search and any evidence obtained in said search is automatically inadmissible in court, except in this book.

  • - They go search the suspect’s home and find her boyfriend there, they do not escort the boyfriend outside or to a specific place while they conduct the search. He just follows them around from room to room, offering an opinion on what they find and being asked leading questions about their investigation. Apparently in this book a search warrant also means that you get to search anything in the home and seize anything you feel like. That isn’t how search warrants work. Typically search warrants indicate exactly what sort of evidence you believe that you will find or that you believe is relevant to the investigation. For example, a murder weapon, belongings of the victim, etc. You don’t just get to snoop and seize things on a whim because they might pertain to your investigation. Also, one of the uniform police officers is asked to crack open a safe. Which he does, in just a few minutes. Is safe cracking a typical skill for a beat cop?
  • - When they find the suspect they are unconscious from blood loss. The suspect is taken to the hospital for treatment after being placed under arrest. The detectives then literally have a conversation of “Do you think we have to Mirandize her again? I don’t think it counts if they’re unconscious.” No, it doesn’t count. But apparently this is also a book that a suspect is taken into custody after suffering a gunshot wound that has left them unconscious from blood loss and they are expected in court the next day to be arraigned.

Also, on to another rant. This felt like a social justice rant. Every other page you have the African American detective making some observation about how awful things are for minorities in New York City and how wonderful white people have things. For example, “That’s assuming that the DA will arraign a wealthy white woman for possession of an illegal firearm, which isn’t likely.” Spare me. In case Ms. Davidson hadn’t noticed, she is white. And lecturing the reader about racial injustice. Personally, I am so white that I practically glow in the dark so I understand that I have very little perception of what minorities in this country experience on a day to day basis. I found it condescending for a white woman to be lecturing about the plight of another race. A plight that she does not understand.

 

Finally, this story is predictable. I knew how this was going to go by page fifty. All it took was one line (not a direct quote, I can’t be bothered to find it again), “If I had to pinpoint my blackmailer I would have said Lori in a second, but Lori had been dead for eighteen months.” Well there you have it folks. Two possibilities. Either Lori is not really dead and exacting revenge for some past slight. Or Lori is actually dead and someone close to her is exacting revenge for some past slight. I really don’t need to slog through 300 more painfully bad pages to find out that the ending is exactly what I think it is.

Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Dark and Deepest Red - Anna-Marie McLemore

I believe this book earns the distinction of my first 5-star book of 2020. It was phenomenal. I have not read a book by this author before, but if this is any indication then I am going to have to read some of their other offerings. I honestly don’t have enough good things to say about it.

 

The contrasting stories were so expertly woven that when the two were merged in the final chapters I just sat in wonderment at the dichotomy and similarity of the two narratives. I found both of them enchanting. The world presented by the 1500’s France era of suspicion and fear at things the people did not understand and, as a result, were more than willing to blame the “other” people for. And the present day world of Emil and Rosella in which strange happenings are accepted as part of the culture but that the “other” group of people is still to be considered with suspicion for other reasons.

 

And through all of it you have two women, Lala and Rosella. Both of them struggling with the roles assigned to them by the society they inhabit. And there was also a lesson in these pages, but not quite the one the author explained in her Author’s Note. Personally, I found that a bit annoying. I don’t like being told by anyone what the point of the story is supposed to be. Their bottom line may not be my bottom line. And, to me, it treads dangerously close to telling me how to “properly” read the story. But since it was at the end of the book, I could only get mildly annoyed because I had already formed my own opinion about the book by that point.

 

Anyway, back to the message that I took from the story. This is a story about women. The roles that are assigned to them by the various people in their life; family, lovers, friends, and society as a whole. All women are told by the world who they ought to be. But the message of the story is that you can either accept that role or craft a new one. That it is within your power to take all the things that people tell you that you are and embrace them to a new end like Lala, or spit in the face of them and use their power to fuel your own like Rosella.

 

Frankly, this is a book that I would pass on to my daughter when she’s older as an example of the power she inherently has as a woman and the ways she can use that power to whatever end she desires. I loved it.

SPOILER ALERT!

Review: IM by Rick R Reed

IM - Rick R. Reed

***I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and NineStar Press.***

 

This book has an interesting premise, one that is becoming more relevant as the idea of social networking and hook up culture gains ever more steam. It plays on a lot of fears that people have. One side is spurring you on a hormonal rush to an anonymous lover, the other is wondering just how do you know the person you’re meeting isn’t a psycho?

 

Ultimately, the book had it’s good points but it wasn’t done very well. The characterizations had a lot of inconsistencies, the story had gaping plot holes and the entire ending was written in a way that confused me as to what was going on.

One of the good things in this book was Peter. I really enjoyed him. I found him funny, sardonic and at times wise beyond his years. His romance with Ed was very sweet. I was rooting for the two of them because they were both nice guys that desperately wanted a relationship more meaningful than just hooking up.

 

I also really enjoyed that this book didn’t shy away from the depravity within its pages. Sometimes when an author feels uncomfortable writing something dark they tend to do a “fade to black” just when things are getting serious. I always admire an author that has the courage to see the depravity through. As an amateur writer myself I have written scenes that made myself feel ill and they are really hard to write. I was uncomfortable reading this book, so well done to the author.

 

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get over some big things with the book. The first problem was the ever growing cast of narrators. Virtually every other chapter was “Meet Guy 2, he’s lonely and wants to hook up with a dude from online. He is wary that the person won’t be anything like they described themselves. Ahhh, he’s going to kill me.” Then the killer kills them and we move on to a chapter about Ed being frustrated with finding a killer. It got repetitive and boring, and the constant shuffling of narrators who were subsequently killed made it difficult to connect with the story emotionally. It’s hard to get an emotional investment in a character who is only around for ten pages.

 

There was also a very huge problem with the characterization of the killer. Sometimes he is portrayed as a victim of abuse and neglect, getting back at the homosexual world that had so richly abused him over the years. Then other times we’re treated to narratives about him being a psychopath and torturing animals as a child, or torturing lovers because the pain is a turn on. Those two things don’t really mix very well. Which one is he? I had a hard time reconciling both in my head as being the same person. Violent psychopaths typically don’t make for very easy victims.

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT: The following paragraphs contain some minor spoilers.

 

 

 

A few of the big plotholes took away from the story for me too. First, the circumstances that Ed finds himself in with his job were weird. It literally made no sense and was never explained. Ed gets fired for allegedly “fabricating” the witness who discovered the first body. They allege that he had no witnesses so he made one up to make it seem like he had a lead. But here’s the problem. The witness was seen by several people. Several other people talked to him before Ed even arrived. When Ed arrived, he is directed to the witness by one of those people. But then the person is just too upset about the crime scene to remember clearly? That was very weakly done. There are plenty of options for having Ed be terminated through crooked means but this was just dumb.

 

I had a big problem with exactly how the killer seemed to be a full head (or more) shorter than everyone he killed, but it wasn’t a problem. He is described as “elfin” about a thousand times. He’s so short that he sometimes can’t be seen through peepholes. But yet, he physically overpowers and kills multiple men who are larger, more athletic and stronger than him. How does that happen? I have no idea. All the book told me is that he does. It’s not explained how that happened at all.

 

The ending was really confusing. I was being told about a lot of things happening at once and the way it was written made it all seem jumbled. All of a sudden Ed would be jumping up to attack the killer and I was thinking “Wait, but wasn’t the killer over by the door? How did he get here all of a sudden?” I started to skim it for the high points because I just didn’t follow it.

 

I think there are a lot of good bones to this book. The writing shows a lot of talent and the idea is a good one. It really needs a good edit or two.

Review: Day Zero by Kelly deVos

Day Zero - Kelly deVos

To sum it up in one sentence, this book wasn’t very good but wasn’t completely without redeeming qualities. The writing was solid. A bit too much tell versus show at times but the narrative was engaging enough that it didn’t bother me. I liked the introductions to all the characters and felt that those early chapters gave me a really good handle on who everyone was. Except Toby, for the first few chapters I kept forgetting who he was and I am still not sure why I couldn’t remember him.

 

Jinx was a terrible main character. I could tell that she’s supposed to be smart but she really enjoyed acting like she wasn’t. Her father prepared her for the apocalypse for years, she knows what she should do in the situations presented in the book. She just decides not to do it. And then regrets it once everything goes horribly wrong. Just once I wanted her to follow the lessons of her father and go along with the disaster plan. But, alas, she did not. I tried really hard to like her as a character but I just couldn’t do it.

 

Charles was an absolutely delight as a character, which was completely unexpected for me. I did not expect to like him but he stole my heart. I wanted to protect him in his anxiety and fear. And to quite frank, he was a lot smarter than his older sister too.

 

My biggest problem with this book however was the political overtones. I don’t mind books that are commentaries on the current political climate. But, is it really so hard to disguise that a tiny bit? Somehow the current political parties have been replaced by The Spark and The Opposition. I have no idea how that happened because the author didn’t bother to tell me. The Spark is basically the Democrat party. Socialist, popular with “educated” folks who majored in political science, and the goal is take rich people’s money and spread it around so that everyone has a mediocre existence. They have been in power for about 10 years according to the book. Their leader is Rosenthal. Everyone in the book repeats the party catch phrase ad nauseum “Everyone’s for Rosenthal.” And if anyone in the book even hints that they might not be for Rosenthal they are immediately attacked with “so you just hate people? you just want to hoard your stuff instead of take care of people?!” Yawn. Boring. The Opposition is the Republicans, allegedly. Led by Ammon Carver, an enigmatic billionaire who owns the largest bank in the country and since “Everyone’s for Rosenthal” he obviously cheated in order to win. Is this sounding familiar at all? Oh yes, everyone in The Opposition wears red hats, carries shotguns, has a poor command of the English language, has a pickup truck, and obviously wants the world to descend into anarchy so they can keep all their stuff. Oh and every other character immediately labels them a Neo-Nazi seemingly without any evidence of that at all. Is this sounding familiar now?

 

I didn’t mind the political themes at first because after the first 20 pages or so they seemed to largely move on to other things. But then it comes back at the end in such a heavy handed way that I wanted to scream. It felt like the author was beating me over the head with a MAGA hat screaming “I’m talking about Trump and 2016!!!” I get it. Okay? Honestly. I get it. I am not so stupid that I didn’t see your glaringly obvious theme. I was so tired of it by the time we got to the big twist at the end that I mostly just wanted the book to end. I don’t mind politics in my books, but please refrain from beating me over the head with your own opinions. I don’t need the brain damage.

 

And then we come to the twist. It wasn’t that good either. I started figuring it out about halfway through the book. I was completely sure that I knew what was going on shortly after. It was so blatantly obvious that even another character basically says to Jinx, “Hey isn’t all this stuff weird and suspicious? Do you think there might be something odd going on here?” And Jinx just laughs and says “Of course not!”. Then she is oh so shocked when the traitor is revealed. Um, that other character literally told you all that stuff about 40 pages ago. Are you really that dense?

 

Overall, not a good book. I won’t be reading the next book but it gets some credit for the exciting middle portion and for Charles.