Sunday, July 31, 2016

Reviews: Dark Matter, and These Shallow Graves

Title: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Date: July 26, 2016
Recommended If You Like: Wayward Pines (the TV show or book trilogy), "The Road Not Taken", books that make you think, books that mess with your mind

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

In Dark Matter, Crouch looks at the questions that one might ask about a life lived. How do the choices we've made, big and small, truly impact us? What would have happened had you taken that job? Married that person--or not married them? Turned left instead of right?

Jason Dessen has woken up in a life that is not his own. Instead of his family, he has a prestigious science award and a highly advanced research laboratory. He's living the road not taken, and all he wants is to get back home.

How he's ended up in the lab, who has brought him there, and how he'll try to get back home are all amazing twists and turns that I do not want to spoil for you. What I will say is this is a book that will make you think, entertain you, and surprise you. I highly recommend it.

Title: These Shallow Graves
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Fiction/Mystery
Publication Date: Oct. 27, 2015
Recommended If You Like: young adult, historical fiction, mysteries, commentary on social/class/gender norms, strong female protagonists, forbidden romance, journalism

The protagonist in These Shallow Graves  is Jo Montfort, a young woman of high social stature in 19th century New York. Though her world is finishing schools, balls, and the promise of marriage, Jo longs to be an investigative journalist.

When her father is found dead, Jo sets out to discover what truly happened to him. Along the way, she is thrust into a world she never knew existed, the side of New York life her sheltered existence prevented her from seeing. And she meets Eddie, a young reporter who agrees to help her for the chance of a story, but ends up staying at her side for love.

I liked this book, but didn't love it. The characters were really interesting, and the historical setting was well-done. The mystery was definitely intriguing, but I found  myself able to call what was about to happen chapters before it actually occurred. And I did feel the book started out too slowly, to the point where I almost put it down.

I would say give this book a chance, but don't feel like you need to rush to grab a copy.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10

Title: The Woman in Cabin 10
Author: Ruth Ware
Genre: Psychological Thriller/Mystery
Publication Date: July 10, 2016
Recommended If You Like: In a Dark Dark Wood, (possibly) unreliable narrators, female narrators, twists and turns, isolated and claustrophobic locations, the classic killer is one of us trope

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

In In a Dark Dark Wood, Ruth Ware took her readers to an isolated cabin full of tension and secrets. In The Woman in Cabin 10, the setting is a luxury cruise ship, and the protagonist a female reporter who has just suffered a traumatic event.

Lo Blacklock is hoping that a trip on the Aurora will not only allow her to move up the ladder at her paper, but also provide a much needed respite from real life. But then she witnesses what she swears is a body being thrown overboard. All the passengers are accounted for, and the others on the boat seem to discount Lo's story, leaving Lo to question even herself.

Ruth Ware has found a niche in the recent upswing of psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators, and she is running with it beautifully.

This niche is isolated, claustrophobic settings, described so vividly that you feel as if you are trapped there with her characters. While this is not always the most pleasant of feelings, I think that's the point. What the characters are feeling and experiencing is not pleasant either, and Ware is an expert at making readers feel like every action and reaction is immediate and immensely important.

This does not mean reading Ware's books is an unpleasant experience, by any means. Ware has quickly become one of my favorite psychological thriller writers for the exact reason that she is so good at building up unbearable suspense. If you have any other plans, wait to pick up any of Ware's books. You won't be doing anything but reading once you start.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What We're Reading Wednesday: July 27, 2016

I'm just about to start this on my Kindle (which seems appropriate, considering Season 2 of Wayward Pines just finished tonight), and I'm really excited. I loved the Wayward Pines trilogy, and my dad recently read Dark Matter and highly recommended it.

This is my before-bed book, one of the top vote-getters on my blog for the Make Me Readathon. The writing style is absolutely gorgeous, and I'm looking forward to reading a few more chapters tonight.

I'm still really enjoying this bakery-themed cozy mystery. The murder has officially occurred, and suspects are starting to pile up.

I got this from the library, and am really excited to finally be reading it, as it's been on my TBR list for quite a while. It started out a little slow for me, but has since picked up, and I'm enjoying the lead heroine.

What are you reading this week?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Vacation Reading Review! All These Perfect Strangers and The Bone Garden

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

I love mysteries and thrillers set in schools, particularly The Secret History, one of my all-time favorite books, and a novel All These Perfect Strangers is itself compared to.

And All These Perfect Strangers more than holds its own in the tradition of on-campus mysteries.

Taking the readers on a twisting journey back and forth in time, All These Perfect Strangers tells the story of Pen. She has fled her past to enroll in university, but now three of her friends are dead.

Through flashbacks, journal entries, and therapy sessions, readers learn the tale of Pen's past and present. But Pen is our only narrator, and one must constantly question just how much we can trust her.

Clifford builds suspense until it is almost unbearable. This is a book you won't be able to put down.

I will admit, I wasn't completely sold on this book at first. There was a time during the first few chapters I thought about putting it down. But The Bone Garden was one of the top vote getters during the Make It Read Readathon, and I trust all of your judgement wholeheartedly. 

I am so glad I did, because you guys did not steer me wrong. This ended up being an excellent read.

Part historical mystery, part modern day investigation, The Bone Garden begins with the discovery of a skeleton, and takes off from there. Gerritsen spins the tale of The West End Reaper, and caught in its web are a young woman trying desperately to survive the streets and protect her infant niece, and a young medical student just trying to stay afloat.

Once I got into the story, the book absolutely flew by, despite being hundreds of pages. This has me wanting to pick up more of Gerritsen's work.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Vacation Reading!

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Early tomorrow morning, I am leaving with my family for our annual summer trip. We spend a few days visiting my grandfather, and my aunt and uncle will be there also, as well as my brother. I get to bring my beloved pup Sherlock too, which is always wonderful.

I'm not bringing my computer, but I am bringing a lot of books, as it's a couple hours car ride each way--as well as lots of nice downtime to read while there. So while I won't be posting for a few days, I will be doing lots of reading, and posting about it when I get back!

My vacation TBR (I know I won't get to all of these, but I like to have a wide selection with me--and I will be going to Barnes and Noble while I'm there too!):

I'm of course bringing my Kindle too, to keep up on all my eARCs!

I am currently reading:

Next in the queue are:


Looking forward to chatting about my reads with you all when I get back!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

I have a confession to make.

I love reality shows. Over the years, my interest in some have come and gone, but I still watch quite a few of them. I even own The Mole on DVD.

And I love shows and books about fictional reality shows. I'm still upset that Siberia got canceled after only one season. I loved that show so much that my tweet professing my love for it got used in an official ad campaign.

So when I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. I absolutely could not wait. And this book, unlike the network's decision to cancel Siberia, did not disappoint.

In The Last One, Oliva has created a fictional reality show, and readers immediately know from the first pages that something goes horribly wrong. Whether it is with the show, or the world, or even what that mysterious something is, we have no idea. But we do know this is not a show, or book, that will run a typical course.

As a reality show fan, I loved all the little details Oliva put in-from the way the editors and producers manipulate situations and footage to fit their decided narrative, to the nicknames the contestants are given, to the challenges themselves. Oliva's protagonist fully believes that all the insanity that is happening around her has been produced by the show, and having been allowed that inside look at the behind the scenes machinations, readers can understand why--and even wonder along with her. What is real? What is manufactured?

Oliva's decision to alternate chapters between her protagonist "Zoo"'s current situation, and the filming of the show, peaks and keeps readers' interest, creating almost unbearable tension at times. The reality show lover in me could not get enough of the Challenges and Confessionals, and the thriller lover in me was metaphorically biting my fingernails in suspense at what was happening to Zoo in the present.

Read this book. I wouldn't be surprised if it made some Top Books of 2016 lists. I would certainly put it in mine.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale and The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is one of my all-time favorite true crime books. I was beyond excited when I heard she was writing The Wicked Boy, and while it didn't quite live up to Mr. Whicher (I'm honestly not sure most could for me), it was a good, well-written, well-researched read.

The Wicked Boy tells the true tale of Robert Coombes, a young boy who murdered his mother, a crime he and his younger brother hid for days. Summerscale expertly explores not only the crime itself, and the purported motives behind it, but a wide range of other historical, social, and cultural themes: boyhood in the 1800s, the rise of penny dreadfuls and their possible influence on young minds, mental illness, asylums, war, and redemption. 

Trust Summerscale as a writer and researcher. While this may not be her best work ever, it is very good, and keeps her among the best true crime writers of our time.

(This was the book that received the most votes for my participation in the Make Me Read Readathon, and it was a great pick! I'm planning to start The Bone Garden next, which got the second-most votes.)

I was first introduced to Moriarty's writing with Big Little Lies, and what impressed me most about her storytelling was her ability to lure you into thinking you knew exactly where things were heading, then hit you with a twist that you never saw coming but makes total sense looking back.

That is exactly what Moriarty does in The Husband's Secret. The secrets hit hard and stay with you, and have immense repercussions that reverberate in unexpected ways throughout the book. Especially powerful is the last chapter, which (without giving anything away) is an emotional gut punch that perfectly rounds out what has been a taut, emotional tale.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday (Late!): Ten Facts About Me

Sorry this is a day late! The internet in my apartment building was down, and they just got it fixed.

As always, Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the wonderful The Broke and The Bookish.

This week's theme is ten facts about ourselves, so here goes!

1) I have a dog named Sherlock. He is a miniature poodle, my first dog ever, and the absolute love of my life. He is a rescue dog, and we think he's about 8 years old.

2) I am a preschool teacher. This school year will be my sixth year of teaching, and to me, it's the best job in the world.

(actual drawing by one of my students)

3) My best friend and I have been friends since we were six years old. Next year we will have been best friends for a quarter of a century.

4) My favorite TV show is Lost, and my favorite movie is Dirty Dancing.

5) I have one tattoo, but really want more (especially bookish tattoos!)

6) I just turned 30 at the end of May. My parents and best friends threw me this really amazing party, and it was one of the best nights ever.

7) I love to travel. So far, I've been to England, Spain, France, Italy, Scotland, Ireland, and Australia. I really want to go back to Italy next and visit the cities I didn't get to go to the first time around.

8) I'm really close with my family. I live about a ten minute walk away from my parents, and talk to my brother whenever I get the chance (he lives in a different state now, but I got to visit him for my spring break, which was awesome).

9) My favorite spot in my apartment is my reading corner.

10) One of my dreams is to someday have floor to ceiling bookshelves (preferably a whole room that is just a library) with a rolling ladder. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Five Friday: Five Good Books That Start With G

I'm picking back up my Alphabet Series with five books I recommend whose titles start with the letter "G"! I tried to stay away from books that are already immensely popular (such as Gone Girl), and books that I've already talked about at length on this blog.

This is an absolutely brilliant suspense thriller with an expertly plotted twist that will absolutely have you flipping back through the pages, to see just how Harris pulled it off.

I've loved Nancy Drew since I was a little girl, and this book is an absolute must read for fellow fans.

This is one of those books that not only meant a lot to me personally, but is a fascinating and expertly written read.

This is a meticulously researched true crime book that lives up to its promising subtitle.

I read this for my Japanese Horror: Literature and Film class in college, and the class as a whole was unable to put it down. It is a dark and depressing read, but a compelling and gripping one as well.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Creed by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie

The first third of this book was exactly what I was hoping it would be. Dee, her boyfriend Luke, and his brother Mike set off on a road trip, heading towards Dee's surprise for her and Luke's anniversary. But when their car runs out of gas, they find themselves forced to hole up in a small, mysterious town.

This town has all the makings of a horror movie, a cult, or possibly both. There are identical books in each house full of terrifying rules, sirens that won't stop sounding, and absolutely no sign of another living soul. The graveyard has a freshly dug grave, and there is a stockpile of Welcome to Purity Springs signs where the population number keeps going down by one.

Where the book started to lose me was when it was revealed what was happening in the town. The explanation just didn't seem to live up to the build up. And even more than this, was the book's unrelenting bleakness. After the beginning of the book, there was not a single spark of lightness, or even a smile. This made it very difficult to power through and finish the book. I think I only finished it because I was already far enough into it that I felt like I should, and because I was hoping there would be some sort of happiness, even if the resolution was tragic.

I wanted to like this book so much more than I did, which is probably another reason I was determined to finish it. I know there are a lot of readers out there who enjoyed it, and I can definitely see why. It's a scary, interesting young adult thriller that is well-written in many parts. If I had known going in just how dark it would be, and how far it would veer from the thriller it began as, I might have liked it more because I would have lacked such high expectations. Then again, had I known, I might not have picked it up at all.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Enjoyed That Have Under 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads

As always, Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the wonderful The Broke and The Bookish !

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is ten books you enjoyed that have under 2,000 ratings on Goodreads.

1)  New Year Island by Paul Draker (648 ratings)

How could I not love this book? It has echoes of And Then There Were None (ten strangers trapped on an island with secrets from their past, and one of them is not who they seem to be), and a fictional reality show.

2) Orient by Christopher Bollen (1,181 ratings)

This is a beautifully written book, part mystery, part character study, with an incredible twist at the end.

3) Plumdog by Emma Chichester Clark (172 ratings)

This is one of my all-time favorite graphic novels, told from the perspective of Clark's little black dog, Plumdog.

4)  Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening The Case of The Hound of the Baskervilles by Pierre Bayard (264 ratings)

I love Bayard's books where he reexamines famous fictional cases from a new angle. His books are absolutely fascinating.

5) Pattern of Betrayal by Mae Fox and Amy Lillard (71 ratings)

This is a really fun cozy mystery series, set in a quilting-themed bed and breakfast.

6) I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Ian Reid (1,037 ratings)

This was a recent feature on my blog, and I continue to recommend it to people. It's an incredibly clever and eerie psychological thriller, with an amazing ending.

7) The Rich and The Dead by Liv Spector (301 ratings)

This is a really clever, fun mystery with a great surprise ending.

8) Visiting Hours: A Memoir of Friendship and Murder by Amy Butcher (330 ratings)

I've mentioned this book multiple times on this blog before, but I always feel it deserves another mention. It's an incredible true tale of friendship, mental illness, murder, and the reverberations of the past.

9) What Has Become of You by Jan Elizabeth Watson (471 ratings)

This is a dark and twisted thriller about a teacher whose lessons may be too inspiring for a particular student.

10) The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America's Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber (631 ratings)

This is one of my favorite true crime books. It's the fascinating story of how the internet has brought together everyday people who are trying to figure out the solutions to unsolved crimes.

Monday, July 4, 2016

American Girls by Alison Umminger

Anna, a fifteen year old fed up with her home life, steals her stepmother's credit card and buys a plane ticket to L.A., where her older sister Delia (an actress) lives. But once there, Anna realizes L.A. is no paradise, and the escape she seeks may be nowhere to be found.

To pay back her stepmother, Anna takes a research job for her sister's ex-boyfriend, a director who wants to be inspired by the Manson Family, but knows very little about them. So while gaining insight into her sister's real life, and spending time on the set of a popular television show, Anna reads everything she can about Manson and, more specifically, the Manson Girls.

The Manson plot line was what drew me to this book. As a true crime reader, I'm immediately interested in any fictional books that weave in true crime. And the parts centered around Anna's research were certainly interesting. In fact, they were the most interesting part of the book--which I think was actually a problem.

I feel like I should have been much more invested in Anna, and Delia, and their family, and their relationships. But instead, I found myself hoping when I turned the page, the focus would be on Anna's research again.

It's not that I didn't care at all about the characters, it was just that I found it difficult to like them. While we were certainly provided reasons the characters acted the way they did, they still came across, to me, as cynical and hard to connect with, and sometimes even especially cruel.

Thinking about it, though, maybe that was the point? Anna frequently highlights connections between herself and the Manson Girls, who I would certainly describe as hard to connect with and very cruel. Maybe the readers are supposed to view Anna and her fellow characters as almost-Girls, human beings who manage to find that scrap of humanity and hold fast, rather than falling pray to someone promising them the world.

I suspect I would have liked this book more if I hadn't recently read The Girls, a book I felt did a much better job at tackling a very similar subject. And while I did enjoy reading American Girls, I'm left wanting more from Anna and her fictional cohorts. I want them to achieve that growth that comes from truly learning from history's mistakes.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Trap by Melanie Raabe

Psychological Thriller/Mystery
Available for Purchase: July 5, 2016

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

In The Trap, Raabe spins a tension-filled thriller that examines the fine line between fact and fiction, truth and lies, and reality and fantasy.

The narrator, Linda Conrads, is a bestselling writer who has not left her home in over a decade, ever since she discovered her murdered sister's body. While she caught a glimpse of her sister's killer, she has never been able to identify him. Until now.

One day, she sees the face of her sister's killer on TV. Shocked, shaken, but determined, she sets out to lure him to her home to get a confession, and finally find out just why her sister had to die.

But is this man truly the murderer? And how much can readers trust Linda, whose newest book is purportedly the thinly-veiled fictionalized version of her sister's murder?

Linda is a fascinating unreliable narrator, one who frequently questions her own sanity. She purposefully imagines dramatic scenes that never actually happen, but doesn't reveal to the readers that these moments are false until after the fact. This leaves readers with no choice but to be unable to trust her completely, and thus unable to trust her identification of the murderer completely.

This is a brilliant choice by Raabe that constantly amps up the tension until readers are left unsure who to trust, sure only that they must finish the book and find out the truth.