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

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

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: The Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

44084930The Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

Published on: March 10, 2020 by St. Martins Press

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

Synopsis: In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door – an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.

Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he’s made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn’t want to live in Oak Knoll? With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.

Told from multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today―What does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don’t see eye to eye?―as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.

Rating: 1 star

Review: I have been looking forward to this book for months. The synopsis  made me expect a thriller and a tragedy all wrapped up into one. I could not have been more disappointed. Not just disappointed but angry too. I was supposed to write this review on Saturday but it just turned into a non-coherent rant with language that would make a sailor blush. So I decided to give it a few days before I tried again.

Be aware, from here on out there will be all variety of spoilers. Mainly because I am hoping that after reading all of it, you won’t have the desire to read this piece of propaganda, masquerading as a novel.

This book was an agenda. The author has political views that she feels are very important. So she constructed a story around those political views in order to make her reader feel guilty about how they felt about the book. I despise it when an author feels they need to manipulate me into thinking their worldview is so superior to any other.

First off, for an author who gives such a long winded explanation in the Acknowledgements about how she researched African American culture in order to represent them properly in her book, she did a piss poor job. There are a total of two black characters, and the mother gets very snippy if you refer to them as African American because she’s Haitian American. But apart from the author telling me their race every ten pages or so there is absolutely nothing about them that gives me any indication they are other than white. Xavier has no personality whatsoever except for us to be told how smart he is, how asexual he is, how generous and kind he is. Frankly, she tried to make him a saint. And in doing so made him barely better than a cardboard cutout. She even has the character tell us how his friends thing he should act more like he’s from the “hood”. It was insulting.

Speaking of his mother, she is an awful human being. I could tell right from the start that I wouldn’t like her. I got the feeling that the author wrote herself into this character and then changed her skin tone. I could also tell that the author was setting her up to be as “perfect” as her perfect son, and that if I disagreed with her being perfect then I was a racist. I knew that’s where this was going, and in the end, it did go that way. But she isn’t perfect. She’s a horrible, racist, sexist bigot. She decides to sue her neighbor because in the process of building his home he inadvertently killed her tree. The tree had some deeper history and some story about the slaves who used to live on the property and such, fair enough. But then she goes to see her attorney and laments that she would have preferred to hire a person of color but the white guy has better environmental credentials. And then she speculates that he’s gay and it must be nice to be able to pass as straight, she can’t pass for something beneficial as a Haitian American, people just think she’s African American and that’s not beneficial at all. She approaches every white person in the book (which is apparently the rest of the neighborhood) with an air of “you’re looking down at me because I’m not white aren’t you?”. It doesn’t matter what the person does or says, she feels the same way. Later her son asks her if she’s suing both the husband and wife and she replies no, just the husband, she assumes that he is the one who made all the decisions. In the same conversation she berates her son for dating the white neighbor girl because she’s just “so very white” and that purity vow thing she did was bizarre.

But remember, you are told very clearly on every single page that she is the good guy. The fighter for justice! All the white people are horrible and just trying to ruin the lives of anyone non-white. Every single white person in this book was a pedophile, rapist, child abuser, sexual harasser, racist good ‘ole Southern boy. Literally every single one. And yet I found her just as offensive.

Also, pretty far fetched that anyone in North Carolina would be berating a teenage girl for a purity vow. Something like 80% of North Carolina residents are devoutly Christian. So that made absolutely no sense at all except to tell me that author thinks it’s weird and so it was weird to everyone else in the book too

So, then we come to the plot. Nothing actually happens until 75% of the way through. It involves Brad trying to set up Xavier for doing something awful, because then he can stop this nonsense of his step-daughter dating him and we all know everyone wants to pin it on the “black boy next door” right? Hell, even Xavier’s own attorney (who is an African American man) tells him that he’s just too non-white for it to matter that he’s basically a saint, he better plead guilty or he’s going to prison.

Brad is setting Xavier up for rape. Because his precious step-daughter (who he has disgusting sexual fantasies about) decided to have sex with her boyfriend. Brad calls the police and says, “OMG, this kid raped her!” And somehow everyone just goes along with it. Juniper tells everyone from the police, to the doctor, to the nurse, to the district attorney that she wasn’t raped. Every single one of them just pats her hand and says, “There, there dear, lots of rape victims don’t think they were raped.” Their basis for why it was rape is that he had a knife (for cutting up food since they were in the woods) and he brought alcohol (which they both drank). Now, as thousands of women can tell you, this is the exact opposite of any experience they ever had with reporting a rape to the authorities. But of course, Valerie has the answer for that too, it’s because her son is black…they want him to be guilty so they are all willing to set him up. I don’t buy it, not for a second. Many women can tell you that the average experience of reporting rape by a complete stranger is to be met with skepticism and even more so when it’s a romantic partner. “Come on honey, are you sure this isn’t about you being mad at him? Maybe he cheated and you’re upset.” The only circumstance in which rape accusations seem to favor the woman making the accusation is on college campuses. There you have insane laws, like in California, that if a woman has been drinking then it’s automatically rape, regardless of whether the male has been drinking or not. Men of every color are routinely run out of college campuses, with no criminal proceedings but their entire futures ruined over an allegation with zero evidence. But in the world of criminal prosecution the exact opposite is true. Yet, I’m supposed to believe that a “victim” can sit here and repeatedly tell everyone on the earth that she isn’t a victim and everyone just says “hush now dear, he’s black, of course it was rape.” Please. It was cheap and disgusting.

This book made me want to vomit. It was the single most racist piece of fiction I’ve ever read. The entire book was a lecture about how white people need to stop trying to intentionally ruin the lives of minorities. I can honestly say I will never pick up a book by this author ever again. I don’t need to be lectured when I read.

Review: Apeirogon by Colum McCann

50185600._SX318_SY475_ (1)Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Published: February 25, 2020 by Random House

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

Synopsis: Colum McCann’s most ambitious work to date, Apeirogon–named for a shape with a countably infinite number of sides–is a tour de force concerning friendship, love, loss, and belonging.

Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. Rami Elhanan is Israeli. They inhabit a world of conflict that colors every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on, to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attend, to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate.

Their worlds shift irreparably after ten-year-old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet and thirteen-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers. When Bassam and Rami learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss that connects them and they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace.

McCann crafts Apeirogon out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material. He crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature, and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. Musical, cinematic, muscular, delicate, and soaring, Apeirogon is a novel for our time.

Rating: 2 star

Review: I really wanted to love this book because I was so entranced by the first half of it. In the end though, this book made my brain hurt. It was physically exhausting to read. This is due solely to the style that it was written in. It seems like stream of consciousness more than anything else and when it was done I felt like I needed a very long nap.

The author has written this book as 1001 micro-chapters. Most of them are no longer than a paragraph. The author is referencing The Arabian Nights clearly because he frequently talks about this throughout the book. The idea is that you get little snippets of many different stories and through reading the whole stories of Bassam and Rami are slowly revealed. I liked this as it is a physical manifestation of the title. An apeirogon is a polygon with countably infinite sides (I googled that). Thus we have a book with numbered infinite chapters. I like that play on language and could picture in my head when we following on side of the story and then branched off into another, like creating a shape.

This book is also beautifully written. The prose is almost like a poem. Early on I was a bit confused at the sudden, jarring shift in narrative every few paragraphs but I learned to let it wash over me like a wave. And as we progressed further into the book the stories of the two men became more apparent. The stories were heartbreaking. I cried for Bassam and Rami. I agonized with them over their feelings about “the enemy” and their slow transformation into not seeing one another as “other” but as “friend and fellow father”. I loved it and was immersed in the beauty.

Unfortunately this book was just so long. While I was immersed in the story, I had to make a conscious effort to pull out the bits of the story about Bassam and Rami amongst the other detritus. In between relevant bits of narrative we talked about bird migration, history, ecology, biology, architecture, religion, politics, war, fiction, geography, Biblical studies, scripture, ancient weaving techniques, symbology in women’s clothing over time….honestly I could go on with this list for several weeks without running out of things to list. This audiobook was 15 hours, 20 minutes long. It was physically and mentally exhausting to continue to follow the actual bits of plot and after awhile it just became white noise. I was too exhausted to continue paying any attention at all.

I am saddened that I didn’t like this book more because it’s a wonderful story that is written in a creative, beautiful way.

Review: Problem Child by Victoria Helen Stone

46066517._SY475_Problem Child by Victoria Helen Stone

Published: March 24, 2020 by Lake Union Publishing

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

Synopsis: She’s cold, calculating, and can deceive with a smile. Jane Doe is back in the Amazon Charts bestselling series – and this time she’s met her match.

After a brutal childhood, Jane Doe has been permanently wired to look after herself and only herself. Now, looking next to normal, Jane has a lover and a job. But she hasn’t lost her edge. It sharpens when she hears from her estranged family.

Jane’s deeply troubled sixteen-year-old niece, Kayla, has vanished, and no one seems to care. Neither does Jane. Until she sees a picture of Kayla and recognizes herself in the young girl’s eyes. It’s the empty stare of a sociopath.

Jane knows what vengeful and desperate things Kayla is capable of. Only Jane can help her – by being drawn into Kayla’s dark world. And no one’s more aware than Jane just how dangerous that can be.

Rating: 3 star

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing!***

I really enjoyed this book and found it an easy read. It’s the second in a series but that didn’t hamper the story at all. I found that it wasn’t really necessary to explain how and why Jane got to this place, she did it for self-serving reasons because she’s a sociopath. She explained some of those reasons along the way and that was good enough for me. Her personality is what carried this book. I loved seeing her savage logic applied to situations that had me cringing as a normal human, but also cheering because it was well deserved even if I would shrink away from doing it.

The impetus for the book is a little bit thin. Jane’s niece, Kayla, is missing and no one seems to care. Jane doesn’t care either because she’s not capable but she’s interested because she thinks that Kayla might be a sociopath like her. For some reason that she doesn’t bother to explain, she decides to try and find her….she says it was for “fun.” That isn’t a great reason. Whose fun? Jane’s? Kayla’s? How exactly is this “fun?” It would have been more interesting if she wanted someone around who understood her, but she doesn’t even seem to care about that either.

Despite the poor reasoning behind why Jane is look for Kayla it was an interesting ride. I don’t like that this book is being marketed as a thriller because it was anything but thrilling. It was not really even a mystery. It was an interesting character study and a fun journey. Jane was an engaging character and seeing a little mini sociopath that irritated her so much was good too. My only complaint about Jane was that she got a little preachy on the “society lets men exploit women every day, but not me, I’ll exploit them first.” I got the message the first three times we had the speech, I didn’t need it again after that.

This book did make me want to go back and read the first book, which I take as a good sign that I enjoyed it enough to want to see the character again.

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

26032825._SY475_The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Published: January 2, 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Readers

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

Synopsis: Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Rating: 5 star

Review: I admit that the only reason I picked up this book was because I keep seeing the cover for the upcoming third book in the series, and it is absolutely gorgeous. But I didn’t want to start with the third book in a series, so I started from the beginning. And it was glorious!

For the first half of this book it was a pretty typical YA book. A human girl who was spirited away to Faerie as a young child. She desperately wants to fit in and make it her new home, but gets relentlessly bullied by the other faerie kids because she’s human. She strives to be more than “just a human” but isn’t sure exactly how to do that. So far all of this is pretty typical and it was good. I enjoyed reading about Jude and the book was well written. I also loved that the world of Faerie was depicted in such a dark and cruel way, it was refreshing from how most faeries are portrayed in YA books.

Then, around the halfway point of the story, things took a drastic turn for the darkness. I was shocked. My jaw hung open and I proceeded to read the final half of the book in one sitting because I HAD TO KNOW! The deceit and deception got so much deeper and darker the longer I read. It was fantastic.

Just when I thought I had Jude’s plan all figured out, things took another turn that I did not see coming. I loved every second of this plot. I love that it lulled me into a false sense of security that this would be just like all the other YA books I’ve read and then yanked that dream away from me in a split second, and with no remorse.

Also, Taryn is possibly the worst person in the entire book. I knew I didn’t like her much from the beginning but she is just downright awful. At one point I just kept thinking “that #&U%(#, Jude stab her!” I know I would have.

This book was fabulous. I will be picking up the second book just as soon as I can, because I have to know what happens now.

Review: Becoming Wild by Carl Safina

51122634._SX318_SY475_Becoming Wild: How Animals Learn Who They Are by Carl Safina

Published: March 24, 2020 by Henry Holt and Co

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

Synopsis: Becoming Wild offers a glimpse into cultures among non-human animals through looks at the lives of individuals in different present-day animal societies. By showing how others teach and learn, Safina offers a fresh understanding of what is constantly going on beyond humanity. With reporting from deep in nature, alongside individual creatures in their free-living communities, this book offers a very privileged glimpse behind the curtain of life on Earth, and helps inform the answer to that most urgent of questions: Who are we here with?

Rating: 2 star

Review: This book turned out to be nothing like I expected when I clicked on the audiobook. I was hoping for a book that explores whether or how animals show a sense of cultural and belonging. Do animals recognize individuals in their community? Do different animal communities have differing cultures? How much of this can be chalked up to evolutionary learning versus active learning?

That is what the synopsis led me to believe I would be reading. But it wasn’t. Most of it was about the author’s personal agenda on how humans interact with animal culture. And the first 50% of the book talks almost exclusively about sperm whales. Then we had whole chapters that discuss the history of commercial and aboriginal whaling. And then whole chapters on the morality of whaling. And then we continued on the diatribe with a very long bit about ocean pollution. Very little of the first 50% of the book was actually about how and why whales experience culture and cultural learning. I was really bored. If I wanted a book about sperm whales, I would have read one.

We even got a long rant about how humans give names to whale species. The author spent a lot of time wondering why humans give whales “demeaning” or “diminutive” names like false killer whale or pygmy sperm whale. And he wondered if perhaps this was to lessen their value in our own eyes so we could more easily kill them. Well, that might be true, but I don’t think the whales really care what we call them.

Also, just for fun, I bring you this particular quote: “I’m not sure yet who these whales are but they sure have sexy flukes.”….yep, I was a little confused by that one too.

Finally, we moved on from whales to macaws and other birds. We got more of a discussion about animal culture here then before but not much. We got long winded rants about evolution, deforestation, and why certain animals evolved to be beautiful. Though beautiful is a human construct, so I doubt that the birds developed beauty for the reason of beauty.

Another problem was that the audiobook was voiced by the author. Naturally you would think that this would be a good choice, the author knows the inflection, tone, and rhythm of what they intended with their work. But this author seemed confused by his own material. He regularly mispronounced things or paused strangely in the middle of sentences. And then he tried to start putting on voices for excerpts from fiction books or for individuals he spoke with, which was equally strange. And almost all of it was delivered in a monotone. They should have gotten a different performer.

I think this book lacked an identity. The author couldn’t pin down his subject material and so he spent a lot of time roaming whatever came into his mind. This one had potential but it was mostly just confusing.