Review: The Holdout by Graham Moore

The Holdout by Graham Moore

Published: February 18, 2020 by Random House

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: In this twisty tale from Moore, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game, young juror Maya Seale is convinced that African American high school teacher Bobby Nock is innocent of killing the wealthy white female student with whom he appears to have been involved and persuades her fellow jurors likewise. Ten years later, a true-crime docuseries reassembles the jurors, and Maya, now a defense attorney, must prove her own innocence when one of them is found dead in Maya’s room.

Review: This book was both very good and also very average. The author is clearly a skilled screenwriter, this comes through in the depth of the dialogue and characterizations throughout the book. I had zero complaints with either of these aspects. The characters were all unique and likeable/unlikeable in entirely different ways. The dialogue between them painted the picture of their relationships in a real and meaningful way.

The plot was well structured and I enjoyed the pacing too. We alternate between the present, where Maya is being accused of the murder of one of her fellow jury members, and flashbacks of the original trial from each of the jury members POV in turn. This gave a really good view on how each of the different people had viewed the case and the individual reasons why they ended up being swayed to vote not guilty. It was also interesting to hear the snippets of testimony from the Bobby Nock trial and I could not help coming to my own conclusions. Obviously the plot touches on racism and classism a bit, but it was well balanced and not heavy handed.

I have two complaints with this book that kept me from rating it higher than three stars. First, I don’t understand why the not guilty vote was so hard to convince everyone of. From what we were presented about the testimony there was multiple reasons for reasonable doubt. All of the jury members were intelligent people, how exactly did only one of them come to the conclusion that the prosecution hadn’t made a compelling case? The defense thought they had made their case so thoroughly they didn’t even call a witness. That was the right call because they shredded the prosecution’s case every time we heard testimony. I found it hard to believe that Maya was the only one with doubts and that she had to convince everyone else.

The other part I was thrown off by was the ending. I knew that there would be a twist from the fact that the author wrote about admiration of Agatha Christie plot twists (so much admiration that he spoiled the twist to three different Christie novels). But this one came out of left field. There wasn’t even a tiny hint that this person could have been the killer of the juror. There were several very good suspects so I am not sure why we went that route except for the “twist”. The resolution to where Bobby Nock was actually guilty was not surprising, I knew it would be something to that effect early on.

Overall this book was very compelling, I found that I couldn’t stop listening to it. I wanted to know what came next and listened to the whole audiobook in about 27 hours. But I wasn’t completely satisfied with the answers I got.

Review: Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

Published: March 3, 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis:

The world is not tame.

Ashley knows this truth deep in her bones, more at home with trees overhead than a roof. So when she goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying, the falling dark and creaking trees are second nature to her. But people are not tame either. And when Ashley catches her boyfriend with another girl, drunken rage sends her running into the night, stopped only by a nasty fall into a ravine. Morning brings the realization that she’s alone – and far off trail. Lost in undisturbed forest and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must figure out how to survive despite the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.

Review:

I have never read a Mindy McGinnis book before this one but from reading reviews she seems to be a love it or hate it author, often from the same reader. A huge fan might love one of her books and hate the next. I looked forward to reading it based on the synopsis but I didn’t know quite what to expect.

Most of this book is narrated in Ashley’s head, because she’s alone in the woods for most of it. I worried that this might be a bit overplayed and turn out boring. Girl alone in the woods, we’ve all read it and seen it plenty of times. But I liked Ashley. We had some tropey “I’m not like all the other girls” going on. She doesn’t care about makeup or her hair, she hunts, she lives in a trailer, she drinks beer. But apart from the tropes, I liked her. She was funny and very frank, even in her own head. There was no sugarcoating going on from herself or anyone else. That was great, it make the novel feel very gritty. Although I do have to note that Ashley made some pretty rookie mistakes. Anyone who has gone camping knows that if you get lost the first thing you do is stay still, because people coming to look for you are going to start at the last place you were seen. And Ashley is a very experienced woodsman. But no, Ashley chooses to wander off, thinking she’ll find her own way. Rookie mistake. But without that mistake, we wouldn’t have had a book so I can forgive that.

The pacing of the book was just right for me. We had a lot of flashbacks and Ashley going over her life in her head, and I liked that. It took me away from the gritty grossness long enough to see another side of her and then get plunged back into the grossness. I can also honestly say that the author left me wondering if Ashley would make it out of this alive. Most of the time you can intuit that the single narrating character must live to the end because without that character then the narrative is over. But the way it was written, I could imagine Ashley giving us a posthumous play by play of her final days. That left me not knowing what to expect for the end of her journey.

This was a good book, I enjoyed it. And I will likely pick up the author again in the future. My only complaints is the minor tropes and some rookie mistakes that didn’t make sense from the character.

Review: Master Class by Christina Dalcher

Master Class by Christina Dalcher

Published: April 21, 2020 by Berkley

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis:

Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.

And she will do the unthinkable to make it happen.

Review:

I went into this audiobook with only mild expectations. The synopsis caught my attention and sounded like it could be a great dystopian novel. Then I noticed that this was from the same author that wrote Vox, which got very mixed reviews. As many people loved it as hated it. This one just wasn’t that good, but at least it was pretty short at only 8 listening hours.

The book started off well. We were introduced to Elena, who is married to the guy who came up with the Q system. Anne is her oldest daughter and exactly like her father, whom Elena hates. And then Freddy, who has always been an anxious child that struggled to keep up to the high demands of the Q system. Elena tells us how much she hates her husband all the time, it’s the main thing we hear about besides the history of their courtship and marriage.

I soon realized that I was not going to like Elena. She does nothing but complain, about everything. She also does absolutely nothing about anything else. She hates her husband, but doesn’t do anything except complain. She has concerns about the Q system, she complains. People tell her disturbing things about the system, she complains that she doesn’t think it’s that bad. She complains about feeling like a bad mother. She complains about the tests. She complains about someone offering to help her with a heavy bag, because he’s male and while she didn’t want to carry it she doesn’t need his help. But then she also complains when men don’t treat her as a piece of ass either. She actually says that most women want a husband who loves her for more than her body, but she just wants to be wanted for her body. Elena and I did not get along.

I also don’t buy how an educated woman (she has a doctorate degree) wasn’t suspicious of this system that she helped put into place. It never struck her as odd that the Q rating is supposed to be a combination of IQ, test scores, attendance, attitude, participation, etc but you could have a test of your baby’s Q rating before they were born? It never struck her as odd that the company who administers those tests is named Genics (Genix, however it’s spelled)? It didn’t strike her as odd that she kept seeing kids who were highly intelligent all of a sudden drop to the lowest rating and get shipped off to the state schools? It didn’t strike her as odd that her husband wan’t desperate to help their daughter when she failed her test? She must not be very bright, because I knew where these things were going immediately.

None of the characters in this book are nuanced at all. The bad characters do bad things all the time, seemingly just to be evil. They aren’t even doing bad things out of good intentions. Good characters do only good things all the time. That is boring and lazy writing at its best.

This book also didn’t know who it wanted the scapegoat to be. From everything I’ve heard her first book, Vox is a complete demonization of Evangelical Christian men. But at first this seemed to go the opposite way. Once Elena starts questioning the true nature of the Q system (only after it affects her of course) she talks at great length about how this all started with the liberal intellectuals in places like California, New York and Connecticut. Which makes sense when you know the country’s history of eugenics. But then she randomly throws in bits about how men are always favored over the wife in this system, and all of Washington DC has a day off on Sunday for church. So, I have no idea what she was going for.

The ending was completely inexplicable. We’re expected to believe that no one else in government has sussed out the problems with this Q program except the ones who are in on it. It’s entirely a secret operation being borne out by the Department of Education and once the rest of government hears about it they are shocked and appalled! That is just so nonsensical. You are running a eugenics program on America’s youth and sending some of them to labor camps and no one knows about it. No one from the President, the House, Senate, state governments? No one. Sorry, I don’t buy it.

This was a story with so much promise but it was poorly executed and poorly constructed.

Review: The Making of a Marquess by Lynne Connolly

The Making of a Marquess by Lynne Connolly

Published: March 31, 2020 by Kensington Books

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Rating:

Synopsis:

The Society for Single Ladies is a crime-solving club founded by the wealthiest woman in London. Yet even Miss Angela Childers’ charming detectives are not immune to the forces of love…

Dorothea Rowland attends a country house party to investigate a long-lost heir—not to find a husband. But when the dashing American claimant discovers her prowling for clues, she is startled—and then seduced—by his provocative kiss. It’s all Dorothea can do to remember her mission. Especially when a series of accidents adds up to something far more dangerous…

Benedict only meant to silence lovely Dorothea—not find himself enamored. What’s a gentleman to do but join forces—and propose to the clever beauty? Yet as Ben and Dorothea pursue the truth about his inheritance, their faux betrothal threatens to become the real thing. Soon, Ben’s plan to return to his life in America is upended—not only by his deepening bond with his bride, but by someone who wants his fortune badly enough to jeopardize his future—even end it. And Dorothea can’t let that happen. Not for the title, but for Ben…

Review:

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

This book was a fun ride and Dorothea was a delightful leading lady. Ben was an interesting bloke too but he was often times too serious and seemed to be blind to obvious things. Dorothea was sharp and didn’t miss a beat in contrast. I liked the fact that Dorothea being present when her former betrothed comes home is incidental. She was there on behalf of his cousin’s banker who wanted her to find out if he was good for the loans that had been given to him or not. The fact that Ben showed up was entirely unexpected and naturally throws her emotions through a loop.

I enjoyed the mystery that surrounded the pair, but honestly it felt like it took a long time to get going. I enjoyed all the slow burning romance that we had in the meantime, because Dorothea and Ben are fabulous together, but it seemed like we went from one incident that could have been an accident to murder all of a sudden. And there was not too much that happened in between. I did fall for the red herring though. I admit it, I did not suss out who was the real culprit.

The only drawback to the book was that I have no idea what the connection was to the Society for Single Ladies. I mean, that sounds fantastic. A group of society women who use their status as single women to investigate mysteries. And Dorothea was on assignment for the SSL. But all of that got sidetracked by an attack and romance. So, in the end, it didn’t seem to have much connection at all. I was rather looking forward to that part and it was more of an afterthought by the end. I might pick up the first book though and see if that quenches my desire for single society ladies solving crimes.

Overall this was a great romance and a decent mystery, but I wished for a bit more.

Review: The Warehouse by Rob Hart

The Warehouse by Rob Hart

Published: August 20, 2019 by Crown

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

Rating:

Synopsis: Cloud isn’t just a place to work. It’s a place to live. And when you’re here, you’ll never want to leave.

Paxton never thought he’d be working for Cloud, the giant tech company that’s eaten much of the American economy. Much less that he’d be moving into one of the company’s sprawling live-work facilities.

But compared to what’s left outside, Cloud’s bland chainstore life of gleaming entertainment halls, open-plan offices, and vast warehouses…well, it doesn’t seem so bad. It’s more than anyone else is offering.

Zinnia never thought she’d be infiltrating Cloud. But now she’s undercover, inside the walls, risking it all to ferret out the company’s darkest secrets. And Paxton, with his ordinary little hopes and fears? He just might make the perfect pawn. If she can bear to sacrifice him.

As the truth about Cloud unfolds, Zinnia must gamble everything on a desperate scheme—one that risks both their lives, even as it forces Paxton to question everything about the world he’s so carefully assembled here.

Together, they’ll learn just how far the company will go…to make the world a better place.

Set in the confines of a corporate panopticon that’s at once brilliantly imagined and terrifyingly real, The Warehouse is a near-future thriller about what happens when Big Brother meets Big Business–and who will pay the ultimate price.

Review: This book was a mixed bag. I listened to the audiobook and it was an enjoyable listen, but the ending got a bit too unbelievable for me. The narrators of the audiobook were great, I really liked both of them.

Cloud is obviously based on Amazon. The world has gone to waste with global warming, gun violence and increasing influence in government by corporations. Like any good dystopian fiction it takes real life challenges and extrapolates them into a worst case scenario. Most of the world is unemployed and surviving by the skin of their teeth, but for around 30 million people Cloud is a haven. They work and live on a climate control property. They have their own currency system and police force. All you have to do is show up for your assigned job (chosen for you by some algorithm) and achieve high ratings. If you get rated a one-star employee then you are terminated on cut day and asked to leave. This was an interesting world that is obviously extrapolating the steps that Amazon is taking in our world. Though I did have to wonder, if the entire world is in ruins, who is buying all the stuff that employs 30 million people?

The two main characters were pretty good. I liked Zinnia a lot more than Paxton though. At least Zinnia was very clear in who she is. She is a spy. She is willing to use people to achieve her goal because ultimately that’s the only thing that matters to her. I was never very clear on Paxton’s goals. We are told that he used to be the CEO of a small company that was forced to go out of business by Cloud, forcing him to work for the beast that killed his dream. But then later we find out that he didn’t even have a patent yet for the thing his company made, so it couldn’t have been a very long standing dream. Then he vacillates between hating Cloud, then being pro-Cloud, then hating Cloud again throughout the book. It was kind of confusing because the things that made him switch sides seemed arbitrary.

The plot was interesting and made sure to keep a good flow of things happening, otherwise it would have been too repetitive to be enjoyable. It was fairly predictable but the ending really threw me. It seemed like an attempt to make things so ludicrous that it would convince anyone sitting on the fence about Cloud immediately take the the side of Cloud being evil. It was strange and stretched the limits of my belief.

Overall it was a solid book that I liked reading.

Review: Rain Will Come by Thomas Holgate

rain will comeRain Will Come by Thomas Holgate

Expected Publication: March 10, 2020 by Thomas & Mercer

Pre-order this title: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: A thrilling, page-turning debut about a twisted killer and a broken cop—both with nothing to lose.

Paul Czarcik, the longest-tenured detective in the Illinois Bureau of Judicial Enforcement, puts the rest of the team to shame. Ruthless and riddled with vices, Czarcik always gets his man. And fast. Until now…

A double slaying isn’t the open-and-shut case of urban crime he’s used to. Connecting it to a high-profile Texas judge, Czarcik realizes something bigger is going on. It’s the work of a serial killer for whom Chicago is just the beginning. Now he’s inviting Czarcik to play catch-me-if-you-can on a cross-country murder spree.

Going rogue, Czarcik accepts the challenge. But as the bodies pile up, he must come to grips with the fact that nothing—not the killer, the victims, or the rules—is what it seems in this bloody game of cat and mouse.

Rating: 3 star out of 5 stars

Review:  **Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Please note, changes to the manuscript may take place after publishing. Thank you Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer!**

I love a good cat & mouse story. A jaded, surly detective pursuing a psychopath story. In some ways this was a good fit, in other ways it didn’t live up to expectations. I feel it’s important for me to note right up front that this book is not breaking any new ground in the genre. Czarcik is like so many other surly over-the-hill detectives in detective novels. He likes booze, cocaine and hookers and doesn’t like following the rules. Nothing new to see here. The killer styles himself an avenging angel, a vigilante bringing justice to the helpless victims. Again there is nothing new here. So, if you aren’t bringing anything new to the table, you really need to give me a good chase.

Ultimately that is where this book failed for me, the chase. We find out who the killer is in the 3rd chapter and find out his whole plan about 40 pages after that. Once we know those two things, there’s not much left to do except chase him down and stop him, right? That was a very slow process, it seemed to take a long, long time. We spend about 275 pages on the first 3 victims, then rush through the entire last 2 victims and finally stopping the killer in less than 75 pages. We spent way too much time on the first half, not early enough time on the second half.

Another odd point for me was the writing itself. Technically, there is nothing wrong with the writing. The grammar and spelling are solid. The narrative is enjoyable. But the author seemed to occasionally throw things in that were just strange. And because they didn’t make sense, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what he meant rather than enjoying the narrative. For example, in a single paragraph the author managed to change a single character’s eye color 3 separate times. First her eyes were described as deep blue, got it. A sentence later they were “more like opal than ice”. Um, okay, opal is generally iridescent though. I have seen blue opals, but they aren’t deep blue but then neither is ice. So is it deep blue? Or blue opal? Then two sentences later they were sapphire. Which again, is a totally different color than either deep blue or blue opal. So I spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out what color her eyes were instead of continuing to read. I think the author tried to get too fancy.

Two more minor gripes. First, can we stop giving people psychic powers but insisting they aren’t psychic? The not-psychic-but-kind-of-psychic “rush” that Czarcik gets was strange, never explained and didn’t make a lick of sense. At one point he is tipped off by someone mentioning how they wouldn’t want to be the insurance adjuster who has to come out to the murder scene. Although I have no idea why an insurance adjuster would be necessary at a murder scene but somehow this leads Czarcik on a long, winding path from insurance adjuster to….AH HA! Someone is keeping a secret from me….about insurance….sort of, but in the end not really. Very weird.

So, I know this sounds like a book I didn’t really like, and on the whole it was disappointing. But it did keep my interest. I did want to find out how it ended. I enjoyed Czarcik as a character. I enjoyed the writing. So overall, it was not a great book but it was entertaining and worth the read.

Review: The Gatherer by Colleen Winter

gathererThe Gatherer by Colleen Winter

Expected Publication: November 26, 2019 by Rebel Base Books

Buy this book at: Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Synopsis: Storm Freeman gave the world a miracle. She designed The Gatherer to draw electromagnetic energy from the air and disperse free and infinite electricity to rural and underprivileged communities. Her invention helped people but devalued power industries. Some revered Storm as a deity. Others saw her as an eco-terrorist.

Then the miracle became a curse. The Gatherer unleashed a plague that damaged the human electrical system, bringing pain, suffering–and eventual death–to anyone continually exposed to the technology. Stricken herself, Storm goes into exile, desperate to find a cure–and destroy her invention.

But there are people in the government and in the corporation that funded The Gatherer who refuse to publicly acknowledge the connection between the device and the spreading plague. And they will stop at nothing to find Storm and use her genius for military applications . . .

Rating: 4 star out of 5 stars

Review: 

***Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book for free on NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley!***

This book was a nice surprise for me. I read the synopsis and thought to myself, “Well, that sounds like just about every dystopian young adult book I’ve ever read.” But it wasn’t and that surprised me a lot. I found the plot intriguing and the characters were crisp and refreshing. I didn’t really mean to make them sound like apples, but there we are.

Really only to things got on my nerves and I hope they are rectified before publishing. 1. The plot moves back and forth in time quite a bit, and there is no indication in the text about when we’re in a particular time period. I found it rather confusing with no idea what time period we were in until I had read a page or two. Even a “X year” at the beginning of the chapters from the past would help. 2. Sometimes the text seemed a bit disjointed. For example, I would read something and then all of a sudden they’d be talking about a dead body and I’m thinking “wait, when did someone die? what happened?” So I went back and read those passages again and still can’t figure out what happened. This didn’t occur a lot, but it happened a few times.

Storm was a good character, though I found her assumed helplessness a bit annoying sometimes. This book was the time for her to harness the power she still has and step forward into action. I saw that a little bit at the end, but it was quite literally only in the last 2 chapters. Prior to that she was a passenger to the plot and I wanted more from her.

Maria is a great character, a real kick butt strong woman with a purpose. The only drawback to her character is that I felt she was a vehicle to the next book. She seemed a little irrelevant to this particular plot but she was the method of getting our characters to the next book.

The plot moved at a good pace and the writing is exciting. I really enjoyed the journey this book took me on as a reader and I look forward to the revelations we get in the next book. I wish I could come up with more great things to say about this book, but anything else will spoil the plot and I endeavor to keep this review spoiler free. But it is a good, fun read that you should check out.