Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu

46158562._SY475_The Deep by Alma Katsu

Published on March 10, 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

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Synopsis: Someone, or something, is haunting the Titanic.

This is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the ship from the moment they set sail: mysterious disappearances, sudden deaths. Now suspended in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone during the four days of the liner’s illustrious maiden voyage, a number of the passengers – including millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, the maid Annie Hebbley and Mark Fletcher – are convinced that something sinister is going on . . . And then, as the world knows, disaster strikes.

Years later and the world is at war. And a survivor of that fateful night, Annie, is working as a nurse on the sixth voyage of the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, now refitted as a hospital ship. Plagued by the demons of her doomed first and near fatal journey across the Atlantic, Annie comes across an unconscious soldier she recognises while doing her rounds. It is the young man Mark. And she is convinced that he did not – could not – have survived the sinking of the Titanic . . .

Rating: 5 star

Review: ***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

35702241The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Published on February 25, 2020 by Feiwel & Friends

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Synopsis: Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

Rating: 4 star

Review: 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.

Review: Don’t Look Down by Hilary Davidson

45170307Don’t Look Down by Hilary Davidson

Published on February 11, 2020 by Thomas & Mercer

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Synopsis: Jo Greaver is a model of success. Young and ambitious, she’s built a thriving beauty business from nothing. But she has secrets she’ll do anything to keep buried. When her blackmailer offers to meet, Jo expects to pay him off—but gets a bullet instead. Bleeding and in shock, Jo flees with no one to turn to.

When NYPD detective Sheryn Sterling and her partner, Rafael Mendoza, find Andray Baxter murdered in his own home—shot through the heart—everything points to Jo as the killer. Her blood is at the scene, and so are disturbing photos of her taken as a young teen. But Sheryn has doubts. Was the kindhearted Andray really a criminal? Why did he repeatedly report finding spyware in his apartment? Was there something shady about Jo’s sister dying a year earlier?

Something’s not right, and it’s up to Sheryn to piece together the sinister puzzle, no matter the cost.

Rating: 1 star

Review: ***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

44218347._SY475_Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Published on January 14, 2020 by Feiwel & Friends

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.

Rating: 5 star

Review: 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.

Review: IM by Rick R Reed

50535319._SY475_IM by Rick R Reed

Published on February 10, 2020 by Nine Star Press

Buy this book at: Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: One by one, he’s killing them. Lurking in the digital underworld of Men4HookUpNow.com, he lures, seduces, charms, reaching out through instant messages to the unwary. They invite him over. He’s just another trick. Harmless. They’re dead wrong.

When the first bloody body surfaces, openly gay Chicago Police Department detective Ed Comparetto is called in to investigate. Sickened by the butchered mess of one of his brothers left on display in a bathtub, he seeks relief outside where the young man who discovered the body waits to tell him the story of how he found his friend. But who is this witness…and did he play a bigger part in the murder than he’s letting on?

Comparetto is on a journey to discover the truth, a truth that he needs to discover before he loses his career, his boyfriend, his sanity…his life. Because in this killer’s world, IM doesn’t stand for instant message…it stands for instant murder.

Rating: 2 star

Review: ***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: Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

36388243__SY475_Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

Published on June 5th, 2018 by Ballantine

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: If you could make one simple choice that would change your life forever, would you?

Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough, Mark a handsome investment banker with big plans. Passionately in love, they embark on a dream honeymoon to the tropical island of Bora Bora, where they enjoy the sun, the sand, and each other. Then, while scuba diving in the crystal blue sea, they find something in the water. . . .

Could the life of your dreams be the stuff of nightmares?

Suddenly the newlyweds must make a dangerous choice: to speak out or to protect their secret. After all, if no one else knows, who would be hurt? Their decision will trigger a devastating chain of events. . . .

Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave?

Wonder no longer. Catherine Steadman’s enthralling voice shines throughout this spellbinding debut novel. With piercing insight and fascinating twists, Something in the Water challenges the reader to confront the hopes we desperately cling to, the ideals we’re tempted to abandon, and the perfect lies we tell ourselves.

Rating: 3 star

Review: I know I rated this book as a three star, but I am conflicted and feel like it’s more of a 3.5 stars. It certainly isn’t a four star book, but it was a bit better than the “okay” that a three star rating implies.

This book was fun. It was a good ride and an interesting story told by a flawed narrator. I love a good flawed narrator. I struggled a lot with this book for about a hundred pages though. The first chapter was irritating to me. It was told in the 1st person and after the fact. Basically the first chapter was “Here’s how things ended up, now I’ll tell you how I got there.” I don’t like this for several reasons.

First, it tells me at minimum one individual who lives to see the end of the book to a certainty. By using a first person narration then I know the narrator is going to see the end of the book. I really don’t like that. It means that for the remainder of the book I can’t become concerned when that character is in danger. It’ll be fine, they have to narrate the rest of the story. This is supposed to be a thriller book about a couple that ends up in a potentially deadly chain of events, but I know that your narrator will be just fine so it lacks an edge to the story.

Second, if I already know how the story ends then why should I care overly much about the journey? Unless the journey is really something amazing, it doesn’t matter too much right?

So those two factors made it hard to me to get invested in the book early on. I didn’t really care about the characters, because I knew how it ended up. And I didn’t really care about the story because I knew how it ended. But then somewhere about a hundred pages in I found myself swept up in the adventure. The next thing you know I’ve read 140 pages in one sitting. It got really fun. The narrator was much more interesting in the back half and the adventure was great.

There were several layers of story that seemed unconnected in the first half that all wove together in the back half. I didn’t know which part interconnected and which didn’t. Some things I guessed, partly because of the first chapter. Other things I didn’t guess.

Overall, this book was a lot of fun and a great use of my weekend but it had some flaws.

Review: Day Zero by Kelly deVos

9781335008480.inddDay Zero by Kelly deVos

Published on November 1st, 2019 by Harlequin Teen

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: If you’re going through hell…keep going.

Seventeen-year-old coder Jinx Marshall grew up spending weekends drilling with her paranoid dad for a doomsday she’s sure will never come. She’s an expert on self-heating meal rations, Krav Maga and extracting water from a barrel cactus. Now that her parents are divorced, she’s ready to relax. Her big plans include making it to level 99 in her favorite MMORPG and spending the weekend with her new hunky stepbrother, Toby.

But all that disaster training comes in handy when an explosion traps her in a burning building. Stuck leading her headstrong stepsister, MacKenna, and her precocious little brother, Charles, to safety, Jinx gets them out alive only to discover the explosion is part of a pattern of violence erupting all over the country. Even worse, Jinx’s dad stands accused of triggering the chaos.

In a desperate attempt to evade paramilitary forces and vigilantes, Jinx and her siblings find Toby and make a break for Mexico. With seemingly the whole world working against them, they’ve got to get along and search for the truth about the attacks—and about each other. But if they can survive, will there be anything left worth surviving for?

Rating: 2 star

Review: 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.

Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch

42046112Recursion by Blake Crouch

Published on June 11, 2019 by Crown Publishing

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

Rating: 3 star

Review:

WARNING: This review will contain spoilers. Mild ones, epic ones, tiny ones, big ones, and even gigantic ones. This is your one warning. Okay, I might give you another warning before the biggest one, maybe.

This book was quite an endeavor for an author to take on, the concept of it is intimidating. So I have to give the author a lot of credit in trying to tackle such an immense idea. A lot of it worked. The last 150 pages didn’t.

I have never read Blake Crouch before and didn’t make the connection between this and the Wayward Pines books/show until after I got the book. This was an impulse buy. I was drawn in by the interesting cover, read the blurb and thought “Hmm, this is an intriguing idea.” I really enjoyed the way Crouch writes. It is engaging and informative without dragging the story down in extraneous details. This is a difficult balance to maintain. Especially if you are trying to explain (and probably failing to explain, because who actually could understand this stuff except a super genius) complex things in a way that makes sense to the masses, while knowing that you will have to alter any basis in science that it has in order to keep your narrative intact.

I recognize that the “science” in the book is overly simplistic, but for a novel it needs to be. I was not looking for a scholarly paper on the theory of reactivating memories in Alzheimer’s patients. So yes, I totally understand the complaints that “curing” Alzheimer’s isn’t as simple as just memory. The brain degradation goes much beyond just memory. But for the purpose of the story, this is what Helena was trying to do. Trying to find a way to recover the memories that these patients lost and then reactivating them to fight the disease. Simplistic notion? Of course. But it’s enough to get our story going.

I really enjoyed the cat and mouse game between Helena and Slade, and then later between Barry and Slade. Basically, Slade discovers that’s Helena’s memory reactivation program actually sends the consciousness of the person back to the memory they were re-living. It was interesting because it takes place over several timelines. And the idea is that if you get shuffled back into a memory of the past anything that you’ve already lived becomes a “dead” memory and on the date you originally made the jump all those dead memories come flooding back. Not just for you, but everyone involved in those other memories. Naturally this leads to chaos as people suddenly find their brain filled with memories of a life they didn’t live. I was rooting for Helena and Barry to succeed and I was excited to see how they might accomplish this monumental task. How do you stop a man who can jump back into time to get another chance at stopping you?

Things took a turn for the worse when it becomes like something out of the movie Inception. Multiple people making multiple jumps back in time, over and over and over. And expansive descriptions of memories that no longer exist and new ones that do, until the next page when those “new” ones are now dead and overwritten. I had a really hard time following any of it. Then we come to the end game. Helena and Barry hide out, working on solving the problem of the returning “dead” memories so that world doesn’t end, and then Helena going back to her teen years to try again when they fail. This portion got incredibly repetitive. The two of them having the same conversations, doing the same things, as they realized they failed and had to try again.

Here’s where my biggest problem came in. and here’s your SECOND WARNING:  This is the big spoiler. It literally spoils the entire ending.

The logical way to end this is to go back to the event that precipitated the first timeline shift and change it, right? Apparently, no one in the book has figured out how to do that. Because that timeline is now a dead memory and they can’t figure out how to send people back to dead memories. Barry confronts Slade about it, because he heard that Slade might have a solution, and Slade basically says “Go back to the original memory. The day I killed Helena to steal her invention.” Barry says he can’t, that’s a dead memory. And all Slade says is “I did.” Barry runs to tell Helena and finds she’s already made the jump and he’ll have to wait until this memory returns to his mind the next time to tell her so they can try. Problem if, the next time Helena has died. So by the time Barry remembers, she is already gone and he’s on his own. Then he just figures it out apparently. No seriously, that’s what happens.

Barry is lying next to Helena’s grave, taken a bunch of pills to end his life, and then decides that he has to try to reactivate a dead memory and fix things once and for all. So, with dwindling time until those pills kick in, he runs to the lab and tries to map a dead memory. It succeeds, he goes back in time and stops the original event and everything is set right again. All in about 5 pages. And it made me mad.

We just spent an entire book with you telling me it’s impossible to go back to a dead memory. Then you find out that, maybe, it’s not impossible after all but you have no idea how to do it. And then figure it out in five minutes? But Helena who had literally been working out a solution to this for over a hundred years couldn’t figure that out? It reminded me a Stephen King ending. Blake Crouch got tired of this book, wanted it to be over and was just like “And so, there was a giant spider, the end.” I felt pretty ripped off and it lowered the rating of the entire book for me. It didn’t pay off. So even though I largely enjoyed the book, the ending tainted it for me.

I will probably read other books by Blake Crouch, I find his ideas and execution interesting. Hopefully his other books have a decent ending.

 

Review: The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

45046552The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

Published: February 11, 2020 by Tor Books

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

Rating: 2 star

Review: I must say it has been a long time since I was as disappointed in a book as I am in this one. My expectations for this book were sky high. I had seen a lot of good buzz about it and the premise sounded amazing. A high fantasy with orcs and elves, mages and assassins? And brought to me by Tor Books? Sign me up! Here just have my money!! Then, in the end, it was just a giant feeling of “whomp whomp”. That makes me sad. Especially because this book had a ton of potential.

Csorwe had the potential to be an amazing character. She was raised her entire life to know that she will be sacrificed to her god on a specific day and that is her only purpose. And then, at the last moment, she is offered an alternate destiny. A chance to become an assassin, a sword hand for a wronged wizard who wants his power back. And she just so happens to be an orc priestess too. Unfortunately, she was also incredibly boring. I had no emotional connection to her at all. Probably because we only see her in action packed moments. We only see her in the moments preceding battle, the midst of battle and the immediate aftermath of battle. Characters are created in the little moments. The moments that the character spends training, planning, preparing, and theorizing about what is to come. There was absolutely none of that in this book. We go from Csorwe leaving behind her destiny to several years later when she’s already largely trained. We are told that she really enjoyed training with a mercenary group, but we never actually see that happen. We are told that she is a remarkable fighter and assassin. Except she only does this actual task one or two times, neither of which could be considered wildly successful. Mostly she gets her ass kicked. To the brink of death. Seemingly every day.

Tal’s character was slightly more fleshed out but I got the feeling that he was there purely as an adversary for Csorwe and occasional comic relief. That was a shame because I felt like there was untapped potential there. Shuthmili was a good character and I found myself connecting with her at times, but since she isn’t a major factor in a lot of the book it was hard to develop any lasting feelings about her.  And her romance with Csorwe was very sweet.

The most memorable character was Oranna. I had some deep feelings about her and thought she was the best character as a whole. She actually felt like a real person instead of a cardboard stand-in for a real person. She was wonderful although I don’t think that I ever completely grasped her motivation behind everything that she did. I know what she told us her motivation was but it seemed hollow and shallow. I suspect it wasn’t entirely the truth.

The writing was technically solid and I found myself reading large swathes of pages at a time without realizing the time was going by. That was the good part. The problem was the disjointed nature of the narrative. We start with Csorwe at 14, then we jumped a few years to about 17 or 18, then jump again to her at around 22. Every time we arrive in a new time period, things are already figured out and a plan is already well underway for what needs to happen. It was confusing. I never got a chance to get invested in a particular narrative before it was over and we moved on to the next thing. There was also absolutely no showing in this book, just telling. We are told that people felt a certain way. We are told that things work a certain way. We are told that this is the answer to the entire thing. We are told that this is what will happen next. It made things very boring and without a connection to the story.

I am not sure why the author tried to make different races of beings. I forgot that Csorwe was an orc for most of the book because it is never mentioned and it doesn’t influence how she behaves, speaks or her interactions with others. Similarly, I completely forgot that Tal was an elf until I was writing this review and remembered some tidbit about his ears and skin color. I don’t need Tolkien levels of race building here. Frankly I am glad it wasn’t because Tolkien’s 4 page narratives about a tree bore the bejesus out of me (I know, I pronounced myself a heretic on that one, haha!). But you need to give me something because these characters were painfully human.

Because of all this showing and not telling, I also have no idea how this world looks or how it works. I got some vague stuff about gates that remind me of Stargate and some kind of ship. It is alternately described as a wooden ship or a barge, and has an “alchemical engine” which gives me steampunk airship vibes. But I have no idea if any of these interpretations are correct. The world itself was not fleshed out well. So as interesting as a Maze that eats dead worlds is, unless you can describe it for me then it’s just an interesting idea and nothing else.

One aspect that I loved was the pantheon of gods, how they are worshipped and the magic system of this world. That was all completely stellar. I am always on board with some good ole fashioned god worship, complete with sacrifices. I also really enjoyed the rules for using magic in this world. Magic comes with a price, exacting a physical toll on the user. So there is a delicate balance that must be struck and maintained. That was all fabulous and one of the big things that kept me going on this book.

My final issue is that I have no idea why this book was called The Unspoken Name. We have the Unspoken One, Csorwe’s patron god. But they are only referred to as the Unspoken One. Never as anything else. The term unspoken name weren’t actually in the book until page 435 and it seemed to be mostly used as an exasperated expletive. “We need to think. We need to – Oh, by the twelve hundred Unspeakable names, what in hell is that?” This probably shouldn’t get on my nerves but it did.

In the end, this book was okay. It shows some signs of brilliance and I can see that the author is very talented. But that brilliance was not curated properly and so the final result ends up being messy and disappointing.

Review: Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

49525302Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

Published on February 25th, 2020 by Gallery Books

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Everyone wants new followers…until they follow you home.

Audrey Miller has an enviable new job at the Smithsonian, a body by reformer Pilates, an apartment door with a broken lock, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to bear witness to it all. Having just moved to Washington, DC, Audrey busies herself impressing her new boss, interacting with her online fan base, and staving off a creepy upstairs neighbor with the help of the only two people she knows in town: an ex-boyfriend she can’t stay away from and a sorority sister with a high-powered job and a mysterious past.

But Audrey’s faulty door may be the least of her security concerns. Unbeknownst to her, her move has brought her within striking distance of someone who’s obsessively followed her social media presence for years—from her first WordPress blog to her most recent Instagram Story. No longer content to simply follow her carefully curated life from a distance, he consults the dark web for advice on how to make Audrey his and his alone. In his quest to win her heart, nothing is off-limits—and nothing is private.

Kathleen Barber’s electrifying new thriller will have you scrambling to cover your webcam and digital footprints.

Rating: 3 star

Review: ***I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Gallery Books!***

Up until the last 30 pages or so, I would have rated this book as a solid four star. I struggled really hard to decide if I could keep it at a four star but I just can’t. That ending was bad. Really bad. The kind of bad that gets worse the longer I think about it. Almost Stephen King, giant spider bad. Okay, I’m being facetious now, it wasn’t giant spider bad.

This was a very compelling book. It starts with an introduction on how the author stumbled onto Reddit threads about installing remote access onto someone’s computer so that you can cyber stalk them without them knowing about it. That’s super creepy. And so this gave the author an idea and away we go. The complexities and problems presented by social media are interesting fodder for the fiction world. It’s unknown enough that you can really delve into the dark part of the human psyche and prey on the terror that lurks there. But it’s commonplace enough that millions of people seem to be okay with sharing every moment of their existence to an online audience that feels like a group of friends, but is in reality a bunch of strangers. It’s an interesting dilemma and this book told it well.

I did not particularly like Audrey, it is my one big complaint apart from the ending. She wasn’t very likeable. She is narcissistic, naive, self absorbed and more than a little bit stupid. The entire book is about her almost never doing her actual job and occasionally posting on Instagram. But most of the time she complains to her friends about her endless list of woes and vehemently denies that she has a stalker problem. She doesn’t come around to the idea that someone is stalking her until she literally catches someone peeping in her window. And even then she dismisses it rather quickly as just a creep, doesn’t bother to call the police, and goes about her day. She was a moron and I hoped (a little bit) that her stalker might end up killing her because she was too stupid to continue living. She proved this to me in the ending, which I will get to in a minute.

The stalker’s narrative is okay. It’s creepy at times but mostly just really pathetic. This guy comes across as so socially awkward that he might vomit on a woman’s shoes if she spoke to him. Once things started ramping up, however, I enjoyed his narrative quite a bit.

Cat, Audrey’s best friend, is quite possibly the most interesting character. She seems like an intelligent woman who doesn’t easily dismiss that Audrey might have a stalker and urges her to protect herself. None of her suggestions are listened to, but she tried. She is horrified when Audrey begins dating a childhood acquaintance of hers, Max, who knows a secret about Cat that she desperately doesn’t want Audrey to know. I got the sense throughout the book that Cat was in love with Audrey. Although that was never confirmed, I still think there’s some validity to the theory. Why else would you put up with someone so woefully stupid and self absorbed? And not just put up with her but idolize her too.

Now we come to the ending. So I am going to make this plain. This is a huge SPOILER. A giant SPOILER. If you do not wish to be SPOILED!!!! then please read no further.

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Seriously, really big SPOILER ahead, last warning to jump ship!

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So, the ending. They teased me a bit with who the stalker was, but I figured that Max HAD to be a red herring. The author was hitting me over the head with him being a suspect way too hard. And it just simply makes no sense. The idea that he ramped up the stalking to scare Audrey into coming to live with him for protection makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that you then continue to escalate the stalking behavior until she is frightened of you. WTF? You wanted her to be with you, check. You wanted her to live with you, check. You wanted her to be afraid enough to turn to you, check. And then you continue? Why?

Then we have a whole scenario where Audrey gets hurt in a confrontation with Max and Cat comes into the room and believes Audrey is dead. She has a conversation with Max about how he can’t help her and needs to leave, he says that at least he isn’t like Cat. And we get a whole long story about how Cat tried to kill someone at summer camp, and he’ll tell everyone about it if she doesn’t help Audrey. That part wasn’t surprising, the author had been leading us to that for most of the book. But then Cat decides that she needs to kill Max to prevent this. In the process she discovers that Audrey is still alive, and then proceeds to think “Oh no, did she hear us talking about camp? Well, I guess I better kill her.”

Wait, hold on, what? None of this makes sense. All of a sudden two rational people are acting like psychotic killers? Where on earth did any of this come from? And isn’t it a bit too coincidental that the person stalking Audrey for eight years just so happens to know her college best friend, and just so happens to know said best friend’s deep dark secret? Nope. There were so many better options available and this one was terribly executed.

Then we get to my favorite part. Audrey recovers and we flash forward to her moving into a new apartment and having a conversation with the old college boyfriend, Nick. Cat is apparently in prison, rightfully so. Max isn’t in prison, just a restraining order. Despite the fact that he was stalking you for eight years, broke into your friend’s house, got into an angry confrontation with you in which you proceeded to almost die. I don’t know that sounds like an arrest-able offense to me. And here is where Audrey proved to me that she is, in fact, too stupid to live. Behold this exchange with Nick:

“Be fair,” I said softly, “Max isn’t a psychopath. He’s…well, he’s not wired right, that’s for sure, but he’s not a psychopath. It’s not like he was going to hurt me.”

“You don’t know that. Just because he didn’t hurt you doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have.”

“He never would have hurt me.” I said with certainty, “He’s not violent. And he loved me too much.” (Page 284 of the ebook version)

Well, isn’t that just so romantic!! He loves her so much that he almost got you killed. But he’s not violent. Isn’t that so sweet! This is worse than all the romanticizing of domestic violence that was prevalent in Young Adult fiction for a while. He literally stalked you for eight years. He took thousands of pictures of you without your knowledge. He broke into your apartment and watched you sleep (Hey Edward! We see you!). He watched you in your apartment for weeks at a time. He intentionally terrified you so that you would move in with him. He demanded that you continue being with him and terrified you so much that you tried to run out of the house and fell down a flight of stairs. But no, you’re right Audrey, he loves you too much to be violent. She’s one of those people who writes love letters to Charlie Manson because “well he never killed anyone”.

So that’s it. A great book, with so much potential to be amazing and the ending completely ruined it for me.