The Hazelwood – Review

“My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.”

The Hazel Wood is a remarkable creative blend of urban fantasy and twisted fairy tales with a touch of mystery added for flavor. This combination is incredibly creative and takes you deep into not just a fairy tale, or it’s retelling, but something far better.

We begin this tale through the eyes of Alice, a teenager who has spent most of her life running with her mother. What they’re running from is less clear, and only really referred to as bad luck.

“When we traveled I kept an eagle eye on the cars behind us, like bad luck could take human form and trail you like a minivan. But bad luck was sneakier than that. You couldn’t outsmart it, you could only move along when it had you in its sights.”

Alice, in true child form, becomes obsessed with her grandmother, a woman she’s never allowed to meet, and the book she wrote. Tales From The Hinterland thrust Althea into the light, but the book itself is rare, obscure and impossible to find. (Side note: I would adore this collection of fairy tales released, because oh how dark and delicious these tales would be!)

And this is where the mystery comes to light. Because in the beginning we get glimpses of this bad luck. We see Alice’s obsession with these tales and with her grandmother. Her life has the vague sparkle of something mystical lingering on the edges, but nothing defined. Is it simply Alice and her perceptions? Or is something else at play?

Whether it’s the bad luck finally catching up, or simply fate stepping in, forces conspire to drive Alice to the Hazel Wood, the mysterious estate her grandmother has hidden in. Alice finds herself learning all about these mysterious fairy tales and the woman who wrote them. More than she ever wanted to know. But once you fall down the rabbit hole, Alice learns the only way out is through. If the fairy tales will let her, that is.

“Most books’ power is in the abstract, but occasionally you’ll find one with very physical abilities.”

The first half of this novel is very much building the mystery. The mystery of the bad luck. The mystery of Althea herself and this elusive book of fairy tales. The mystery of Alice, her deep tendency to rage. The mystery of her mother and what she is so terrified of.

The mystery is what baits us. It sets the trap so that we are entangled into the core of the obsession with Alice. We feel her desire for knowledge. For something more. And once we are entwined, guaranteed to not be able to leave, the mysterious edges of what could be paranoia or fantasy begins to sharpen and reveal itself.

“Her final words had an extra resonance to them, a blur. Like they wore a mask to hide their true intentions.”

Beyond the world of murderous and violent fairy tales, this book is about so much more. I love how through this journey of fairy tales, this book really is a look at how to control your own story, to take back your voice and create your own narrative.

Alice runs because her mother tells her to. Because she is a child growing up, and children have no choice but to embark on the life their parents set out on. But when she is older, when forces plot to remove her mother from the equation, Alice has to figure out which path to set herself on. She has to decide where to go, and what to do.

A lifetime of warning from her mother, never talk to fans, never read the book, all culminate with a final warning: stay away from the Hazel Wood. Within hours she betrays the first rule, turning to fan Ellery Fitch for help. And while the book remains as elusive as ever, Fitch once owned a copy and could retell the stories with chilling accuracy.

Alice decides that even though her mother warned her, action is the only way forward. That she is the only one who can reclaim her story, who can face the bad luck and vanquish it.

“I did it because a girl doing nothing in a fairy tale ends up dead or worse, but a girl who makes a decision usually gets rewarded.”

Sometimes as children we can feel voiceless. We can feel lost in a world we don’t understand. Where our parents make rules that feel arbitrary and unclear. And while most of us don’t wake up to find our mothers missing and our world a blur between fantasy and reality, often we do find that we understand our parents only by defying them. We see their rationale and reason only after we make the mistakes they attempt to protect us from.

Fairy tales are told to teach us lessons. To help us understand the world at large in a way that will stay with us. This book does the same. It helps us understand the helplessness we feel as both children and as parents. How being an adult can sometimes lead to a reality less than we once imagined. It teaches us that we each have a voice of our own, and can choose to use it, even if someone more powerful tells us we can’t.

I loved this book for the dark and twisted path it led me down. But I loved it even more for the empowerment it quietly taught me.

Thank you NetGalley and Flatiron Books for approving my request to read and review this book!

Cut – Review

“Because of an organ shortage, most of the patients were at death’s door before they received a liver, and many died waiting.”

Cut is a medical mystery novel diving into the murky world of organ donation. Sarah Golden is a transplant nurse who loves her job. She is confident that people cannot manipulate the organ donation system and travels around the country assisting the top transplant teams. But a run-in with a wealthy patient and her boyfriend during her stay at a Miami hospital leaves her with a bad feeling, and a lingering question: can you buy a liver?

The novel started off with an interesting premise. The author weaves in the reality of the transplant world within the pages of the first few chapters while introducing Sarah. You get a feel for not just the medical aspect, but the administrative as well.

Unfortunately, the rest of the novel was a miss for me.

Perhaps I was expecting this to be a mystery like so many that I read, where the reader is also unsure of what exactly is going on, so there’s a reason to continue to turn the pages. You want to solve the mystery. But, this is a case of too much tell and not enough show.

We are told the mystery from the very beginning, and there’s aren’t any plot twists or grand reveals to keep the reader involved. The writing relies entirely on your connection to the characters to drive the plot forward, and for me, they just weren’t that strong. I liked Sarah and Jackie, but their antics were a bit far fetched to be plausible. While Amanda and Sergio were very cliche villains. Rather than showing us a complex look at power and wealth, they are simply beautiful rich people who throw tantrums whenever their wealth doesn’t get them what they want.

This struck me as a good skeleton of a draft. The idea is good and the premise is interesting. It just felt like more of a draft than a finished product. The dialogue needed polished, and again, the mystery could have unfolded a bit more dramatically. Or at least with a touch more suspense.

I also found it difficult to keep up with the end. It felt rushed, things simply fell into place that wouldn’t. And I still am unclear what the legal issues were (outside of the obvious one, which I won’t reveal because of spoilers). It felt like a case of the author writing an ending, and the details of plausibility weren’t really taken into account.

All that said, the novel was a fast read and I can see why people enjoy it. This would be a good easy beach read. The characters are comedic, and if you find more enjoyment in character antics than a suspenseful mystery, I think this book would be perfect.

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review.

After Midnight – Review

“Alix knew she was in trouble.”

We open with that line, immediately pulling us into a story full of scandal and intrigue. Alix, blackmailed into impersonating her twin sister Lily, begins her misadventure by thinking Lily’s husband Nicholas to be an oblivious fool. Lily has assured her he pays no attention to her and will be completely unaware that she isn’t Lily. Alix agrees because she has to, and only hopes she can find the piece of paper hiding somewhere within the house that will free her of the ridiculous sham.

“It was not a dream that memory returned to her, but the deplorable act of the outrageous scheme that ensnared her.”

It’s difficult to unthread all the plots within this novel, without giving too much away. The base of the story, the blackmail, is very well done, and feels realistic when reading. It is easy to see the scandal Lily creates, the selfish person she is, and how she can corral Alix into participating in this scam.

“She was worse than a siren, simply devouring any man foolish enough to look at her.”

Nicholas, however, is far from dull, obtuse or unaware, and quickly begins to notice that things with his dear wife are not at all what they should be. It takes him quite awhile though to fully piece together what he thinks is happening. I really enjoyed how his disgust and contempt for his wife clouds his judgement and thinking. Not because it simply works to move the plot along, but also because I felt his struggle. What would it be like to live with someone you couldn’t ever trust, so much so, that you constantly second guess and are suspicious of every little thing they say or do?

“She turned to her minions and left him gazing after her in puzzled silence. He could barely stand to look at her, and yet he was as dazzled as if he had glimpsed the sun eclipsing clouds in her eyes.”

While impersonating Lily, Alix begins having nightmares, and her murky past starts to become somewhat clear to both us, and to Alix herself. Her uncle, Quentin, makes a journey to France in order to help uncover the secrets that Alix is desperate to remember.

There are a lot of side plots happening in this novel, and for the most part, they were easy to keep track of, and made the novel much richer for them. The one I didn’t quite understand was Robert’s role. I didn’t really understand role he played in the grand scheme of the novel, and within the specific plot he was written into. Most of the pieces with him felt unnecessary to me, and it felt like the pieces of the puzzle that he revealed, could have been more impactful through Quentin.

I also got frustrated with Quentin’s story. After all the time we spend with him, I felt like there still weren’t many answers of what actually happened that caused him to flee to England with his niece in tow, and live as a servant for two decades. It felt very vague, and everything in France wrapped up a little too easy for him to have been worried literally about dying if they came back.

The history, the touch of romance and all the scandal and intrigue made the book fun to read. I wanted to know what happened to Alix the entire time, and the pacing of that story unfolds nicely. I also really enjoyed Jenny, her maid. The relationship they develop, even knowing that Jenny has been in on it from the beginning, was quite lovely to read. In upcoming books, I hope that the tiny nugget of mystery that was written about why Jenny works for Lily comes out. That tiny detail drove me crazy. I wanted to hear more about that story!

“Times change.”

“And history remains.”

“It depends on who’s writing it.”

Overall, this book was very enjoyable. It ends rather abruptly, which felt less like a cliffhanger and more like hitting a brick wall, but there is a sequel coming June 2018, so at least there are answers coming! There are many, many things I need to know about. And if the book picks up where this one left off, I have no doubt that more scandal, mystery and intrigue is sure to follow!

If you enjoy historical fiction full of multi-threaded plots and mystery, this book is definitely for you. The added scandals of nobility make it even more fun to read! I look forward to reading the sequel next summer!

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review!

Seance Infernale – Review

“All those things you fear will reach from into the shadows and pull you down there with them.”

Seance Infernale is an intense thriller following Alex Whitman on his journey to find a piece of film, only rumored to exist. In America, Thomas Edison is credited with building the first camera known to capture motion pictures. In France, the Lumber brothers. But one year before Edison filed his patent, a man named Augustin Sekular is rumored to have built and filmed the world’s first motion picture camera. Conveniently, or rather inconveniently, one year before Edison files for his patent, Sekular vanished from a train, never to be seen or heard from again, taking all signs of the camera with him.

However, the man hiring Whitman to find this lost piece of film isn’t interested in any of the film strips by Sekular known and catalogued. He wants one so rare, it is only whispered about: Seance Infernale. A film only referred to in a letter by a man known in history to be a conman of sorts.

This book is more than a hunt for rare art. More than a historical mystery yearning to be solved. We learn that Whitman lost his daughter ten years prior. Abducted in a park in Edinburgh and never heard from again, she haunts Whitman. His acceptance of this job, and this hunt for Sekular’s film takes him back to the city filled with ghosts. Whitman will have to face his own ghosts, while searching for Sekular’s.

“Sources failed to indicate Sekular’s exact Edinburgh address, they stated that the family lived in a perilous region, full of seedy businesses, dark alleys, and run-down tenements, a place “where wickedness loses its seductive appeal by manifesting in all its depravity.”

Whitman isn’t the only perspective we get; however. In addition to his hunt for this mythical film, a Detective Sergeant, Georgina McBride is hunting an elusive creature of a different sort. A serial killer prowling the streets of Edinburgh, kidnapping children and leaving their bodies in alleys. Georgina needs to find his latest victim while there’s still a chance they are alive.

Two different people searching for two different things, and yet their paths cross in unpredictable ways. But the more each of them discovers, the more they realize their searches are more dangerous than either one ever anticipated.

“Because a murder investigation is first and foremost a hired investigation; your client may be silent and dead, but he is still screaming out for justice.”

This book shocked me! I was expecting a hunt through time to solve a lost mystery. But, the present day twists with McBride’s serial killer hunt kept me on my toes! It was easy to lulled into the mystery of this lost film, and what happened to Sekular. As soon as you got comfortable in that story, you were slammed into the present day with the hunt for this killer. In addition, we get some narration from Elliot, the killer himself, told in such a way that you aren’t sure who he is going to end up being, or why he is important to Whitman and this film.

There is graphic violence in this book, both in what Elliot does to his victims and some flashbacks of other scenes in characters lives. One particular scene of animal cruelty was two pages I skipped, it was that grotesque. So, if that sort of violence unnerves you or makes you queasy, this may not be the book for you.

As far as dark thrillers, this book is crazy dark and crazy intense. I was climbing the walls, reading between my fingers, and definitely leaving the lights on to make it through this book! The author does a fantastic job weaving characters in and out of the plot, and just when you’ve forgotten about someone, they pop back in to play. He has a talent for making you look to the left and then hitting you from the right. Every twist and turn was like plummeting down a roller coaster blind folded. It is exhilarating but also terrifying.

My favorite parts are when we are taken below ground into ancient and forgotten parts of Edinburgh. Areas simply entombed over in the name of progress. Skariton does an insane job bringing places to life. I could taste the dust and smell the stale air as crypts and catacombs were discovered and explored. And nothing says creepy more than underground houses, forgotten tunnels and old graveyards.

“You could have walked past it every day on the way to work and you wouldn’t have noticed it, padlocked behind doors or hidden underground. It was right there, for everyone to see, yet it was unknown. But that was Edinburgh, revealing itself only in the constant vigilance of dark, steady eyes.”

I did read this as an ARC, so there were some pieces that seemed incomplete. I don’t mean the writing, it’s more the presentation of the book. This is a book that has art within the book, and with those pieces missing, it felt a little confusing. Some were there, but notes at the bottom and the notes in the back seemed to not quite be finished, so I didn’t feel that I got the entire experience.

The hardest thing, and again, this may be fixed in a final copy, is there weren’t any years in the chapter headers. The book is divided into sections with the date (month and day) listed at the beginning of each section. But, the narration jumps between the years quite a bit and it can get confusing, especially as we are reading between multiple points of view. It isn’t overwhelming, but I did have to backtrack a few times to figure out where I was supposed to be.

In all, this book was perfect for October reading and for the #spookathon. It will leave your heart racing and your stomach churning as you hold your breath waiting to read the outcome. If you like dark, if you love thrillers, and you don’t mind some intense violence, this book is definitely for you!

I won this in a giveaway from AA Knopf, and was not required or obligated to review.

The Party – Review

“The interview room is small and square.”

We begin The Party with the definitions of the word. A social gathering. A political group.  A guilty person. The wording of the title and placing these definitions in the beginning deliciously brilliant, as we know going in that this novel will be an experience on a multidimensional level.

We begin with Martin being interviewed by the police. Voluntarily. An event happened at a party weeks earlier. But we don’t get the whole story right away. We get thrown into the beginning of the night in question. When Martin and Lucy first arrived at the hotel.

Each chapter gives us insight into the characters. Told from Martin’s perspective, Lucy’s journal and the police interview, we get an alternating recount of events. Martin goes further back, explaining his friendship with Ben, the host of the party. We see into Martin’s childhood, his dysfunctional relationship with his mother and his obsessive friendship with Ben.

“I think my mother’s obsessive love for me co-existed with contempt for her own vulnerability. She was dependent on me for affection and yet she denied that she needed it. I never met her standards because I never knew what they were.”

Martin quickly shows himself to be someone not very likable. His view of the world is warped and self-centered. He is the picture of narcissistic. This is a man who uses ‘The Art of War’ to tackle personal relationships and not corporate takeovers. He is precise and controlled and unwilling to see anything but what he wants.

I found some of the most interesting parts of the book when Martin would recount an event, and then Lucy would take us through her version of events. Rarely did the two match, although Lucy seems far more reliable. This comparing of memories gives us a glimpse into how blind Martin can choose to be. How stubbornly he clings to an internal narration, despite any evidence to the contrary.

We do see moments where Martin lets the control slip. Or, rather, moments when he doesn’t understand why his version of events is abhorrent or unreasonable. These moments are just as important to understanding Martin as Lucy’s perspective. Since we are watching the night of the party unfold mainly through his eyes, we need to know if we can trust his version of events. Mostly we can, but we also know that there will be a slant to his version. Or a blunt honesty that makes us flinch.

“It strikes me as far too much effort to nurture a social conscience. Hearts were never intended to bleed.”

Lucy is hands down the most likable character in the book. She is kind and patient, and has much more depth than anyone gives her credit for. She is seen as frumpy and having no fashion sense. Yet we learn that Lucy does things just as deliberately as Martin, or Ben, or even Serena (Ben’s trophy wife).

“I knew Serena thought I had no taste – so did Martin for that matter – but it was done on purpose. I didn’t want my clothes to be the most remarkable thing about me.”

This book is written with the mystery of what happened at the party building with each page. We don’t even know who is hurt, let alone what happened, until the very end. The effect to that building mystery makes the novel read as a character examination. Rather that a who-dun-it, it becomes a who could have done it? Each memory revealing more pieces to the puzzle that are necessary to trying to solve the mystery.

The possibilities seem endless as we read, learning about the financial power of Ben’s family, the Fitzmaurice’s. Martin more than a best friend, but nearly an adopted brother. Yet there is distance between Ben and Martin. Or is it a rising tension?

Whatever happened, we know that it must have been one hell of a party. Someone in the hospital. Police investigating. Lucy separated from Martin and in treatment. Our imaginations run wild with horrific possibility over what could have transpired.

“Sometimes the entire course of your life can change because of a single second, because that single second doesn’t exist in isolation: it is connected to an infinite chain of minutes, days, weeks, months and years that have gone before.”

The examination of past and present becomes necessary to understand the moment at the party that culminated into these mysterious consequences. We need to understand the character of all parties involved in order to assess the outcome.

The Party is a lesson in social conformity and expectation. We all want to be seen and heard by our peers, by our spouses, by our families. We want to be accepted and lauded for our accomplishments. We are attracted to the rich and the famous for their ease in all of social settings, and for the ease in which they gather achievements. Martin is no different, though he is a bit more sociopathic about it. Ben is wealthy and charming, and Martin is drawn to his flame. It is Lucy who gives us the grounding we need.

“That’s the problem with charm. It means you get away with stuff. It means you never have to develop a real character because no one remembers to look for one. They’re too busy basking in the glow of your attention. They’re too busy being impressed.”

The ending to this novel is satisfying and yet still disturbing. I don’t want to ruin the mystery, as part of the fun is trying to picture what horrific event could have transpired at a party for the rich and famous. It is shocking, and not shocking. It makes you feel vindication and satisfaction, but then you pull back, because maybe you shouldn’t.

A very interesting examination into social status and relationships. You’ll consider how we view the wealthy. How their choices are so different from people outside of that social stratosphere. And how that desire to be a part of that social circle can become twisted and all-encompassing. Can that obsession change who we are? Can it change what we do?

You won’t be able to stop reading until you find out: what happened at The Party?

Thank you Little, Brown for sending me a copy to read and review.

Trapped in Silver – Review

“There was a time I was afraid of the dark.”

From the very first moments of this book, I fell in love with Ava. A girl who dresses as a boy so that she can keep the family farm afloat while her father goes away on extended trips. It was love at first sass.

Ava is a normal seventeen year old girl. Well, normal-ish. Normal if you don’t count the silver necklace around her neck that cannot be removed, (and believe it, she’s tried!). Normal to pretend to be a brother who doesn’t exist. Normal to not want to be “matched to a narcissist who saw me as little more than a live-in cook and vessel for his seedlings”, (she means married). Normal to fall into blackout dreams. Normal.

Small things like dressing as a boy and not wanting to get married may not seem fiery, or fiesty, or even rebellious. Until you consider that she lives in a town where it is illegal for women to even use certain hairpins, lest they be used as weapons. A town where a woman helping on any level that would make them equal to a man is looked down on, if not outright forbidden.

Yet despite her deep yearning to be allowed to run the farm and be left alone, strange things are happening around Ava. Shadows that look like monsters lurk behind window panes. Animals are slaughtered in the barn while the doors are locked. And when a handsome stranger with eyes of fire and smoke saunters onto her land late one night, things will never be the same.

Against the rules set out by her father and older brother (real, not imaginary), Ava attends a town ball with her friend, Kaela. Immediately she gains the attention of a dark stranger with darker eyes. But rather than being whisked off her feet, she is lured to a trap and nearly dies. Injured and confused, she wakes in a strange bed surrounded by strange people.

Not quite a prisoner, but not quite free, Ava finds herself in the middle of a war she doesn’t understand. Creatures and stories that should only exist in stories are suddenly alive in the forest and trying to kill her. Ava will have to learn who to trust, and more importantly, find out who she wants to be, in order to survive.

“A person with as many scars as you can be one of two things: a man that fights for justice or a man that fights for power. My question is: which one are you?”

Trapped in Silver reads like a fairy tale. There is magic and mystery, but the layers within the novel unfold slowly, refusing to plunge too fast. I suspect that the pacing is done so that we get a solid foundation for the story to take off in later books. World and character building are important, and sometimes can be lacking for the sake of a “fast plot”. Snowden doesn’t succumb to that pressure, and instead lets us unravel the mystery with Ava. It made Ava much more relatable, and also lets the reader learn important details without giving us tediously boring info dumps.

Of course, we do get some information before Ava does, so one of the plot twists was an easy guess. However, the twist at the end was shocking and only made me want to turn more pages, only to find I had reached the end. I need to know what happens! It also made me wonder if Snowden deliberately made the twist obvious knowing she was going to sucker punch us later.

This book is filled with action, and adventure, and mystery. It is enchanting and fun! Ava is not just a sassy heroine, but headstrong and flawed. She tends to find herself going against what people tell her, but this is also a girl who created an identity to circumvent society. We shouldn’t be surprised. And often, her impulsive nature is the right one. Even if it a bit more troublesome.

“Well, I figured it’s been at least a week since someone’s tried to kill me, so I wanted to shake things up a bit, you know,” I said, sheathing my dagger. “I’ve never been one to back away from a fight.”

This sass, her brash refusal to cower and back down is part of what makes Ava such a good character. She is flawed, and reckless, and sometimes a bit naive. But, she is unflinchingly herself throughout it all. There is nothing that drives me battier than a waffling heroine, so I adored Ava and her feistiness.

Snowden has built an intriguing world full of mystery and nefarious plots. She has written characters that are full of hidden depths and surprises. Ava doesn’t become a master swordsman, or miraculously save the day on her own, or any other standard heroine tropes we usually see. Instead, she finds herself, and realizes that she isn’t alone. She opens herself to the people around her, choosing to fight with them, to push herself more and to protect them the only way she knows how. That is my idea of a strong female lead.

I am very much looking forward to the next book in this series! If you like sass, adventure and a dark mystery, this is the book for you!

Thank you to OfTomes Publishing for sending me a copy to read and review!

 

 

The Salt Line – Review

“The burn was the first rite of passage.”

Man! Strap in when you open this novel, because you are in for an intense ride! The Salt Line is everything a solid dystopian novel should be.

We learn that the burn referred to in the first sentence, is the burn of a Stamp. A small device that kills the lethal female miner tick and any disease or eggs she has implanted in your body. Kills it, as long as it is administered in time.

This is presented to us through a class, given by an outdoor extreme trainer, getting ready to take a small group of wealthy adventurers beyond the Wall and out of their safe zone. Exciting right?

As the training unfolds, we get to know the characters and through them a picture of the society we are in begins to emerge. We know that what was once America is now divided into zones. Currently, we are in the Atlantic zone, one of the more stable and thriving zones. We learn that other zones are not faring as well. These zones were put into place after this miner tick and the outbreak of a deadly disease began to run rampant.

“The thing was, you hoped like hell to be in a zone as clean and safe as Atlantic, and if by birth or luck or talent you got in one, you stayed put — because the rules kept changing, the quarantines and security measures kept getting revised.”

There is an art when writing dystopian, to drawing your reader into the new world while also giving them some idea of why it emerged. Sometimes books can get too bogged down in the history, making them feel clunky and bloated. And other times, we don’t get enough of a sense of the past to make sense of the future. This novel; however, gets that balance absolutely right.

Jones gives us the history of the society while also introducing us to each character. And some pieces of information are done within dialogue, so the effect is so subtle, I found myself flipping back to make sure I didn’t miss these details. While I can appreciate that perhaps this isn’t a style some readers enjoy, for me, it added a rich texture that made the novel completely suck me in. Each character was able to add context through their own experiences, and so Jones was able to really provide a lot of depth to not just their individual past, but the overall zones as well.

The other thing I loved about this novel is that there are so many strong women! Evie and Marta are the first main characters we meet, and though they are presented as a rockstar’s girlfriend and a mobster’s housewife, their strength and vibrancy go far beyond their societal descriptions. We also meet Wes, a young CEO, arguably the wealthiest and most influential man in the Atlantic zone. He seems to be at odds with himself to participate in this excursion, and yet is driven to succeed. It is through their eyes that we see the training and the initial moments of the excursion unfold.

This isn’t simply a dystopian where a group of adventurers has to survive the harsh wild. It isn’t a typical things go wrong and they have to make it through. Even though they deliberately set out beyond the Wall to attempt to survive a three week adventure, the things that go wrong are all provoked and planned by humans. The group is taken hostage by a group of people who have been waiting for a group like this to fall into their hands for a long time.

The political undertones written in the plot are very smart, and add a touch of realism. It is easy to imagine a group of people operating like this, both in zone and out. And as each hostage faces shifting alliances and new information, they have to decide which truth they believe, if any.

“There’s this assumption that most people, if you strip society and its laws away, are capable of evil.”

If I had a complaint, it would be in June, leader of Ruby City. I wish I had gotten to see a little more of her and what she was capable of. We saw glimpses, but never the in depth reveal that would have made her character more satisfying. She was a complicated character, impossible to tell if she was a victim of circumstance caught up in a game she lost control of, or a very tightly controlled manipulator who knew exactly what she was doing. I have my opinions, but they are built on shaky ground, and I would have really loved to have been given more in either direction.

In all, there is so much to like about The Salt Line. In all directions, there is danger lurking. You get the sense that there is more to the story in any direction you look. And, for a dystopian, thats exactly how you should feel. Uneasy. A society that has changed for logical reasons into something illogical. And we get that here.

Beyond Marta and Evie, we get June and Violet, all strong female characters that are so varied in not only age, gender and race, but in personality and motives as well. We are given things to like and things to dislike in each of them, but they are true to themselves throughout it all. And yet, it isn’t a book that forgets the men. We get to know Wes, and Andy, their guide and betrayer. They are just as flawed and varied and diverse as the women. In all, each character, no matter how large or small their role, is balanced and real.

I don’t know if there is a sequel to this book. The ending was satisfying as a stand alone, but could lead to future books. I would really enjoy more from these characters and this society. In fact, I will be reading previous books from this author, I enjoyed her writing so much.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves dystopian fiction. There is intensity and mystery and suspense, and refreshingly, no romance or other silly distractions to take away from the heart of the plot. Very enjoyable.

The Salt Line goes on sale TOMORROW!!! Don’t miss it!

Thank you to Penguin Random House and Putnam Books for approving me through the First To Read program in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

 

The Readymade Thief – Review

“What do you do when the one true thing in your life turns out to be a lie?”

Lee Cuddy is used to being invisible. She isn’t seen by her father, who leaves without a goodbye or even a forwarding address. She isn’t seen by her mother, who quickly succumbs to her new boyfriends whims and wishes. She isn’t even really seen by her peers, until she becomes useful to them.

“It wasn’t that they teased her or ostracized her or thought her weird, but none of them seemed to see her, either.”

All of this invisibility makes stealing easy and she quickly graduates to shoplifting. This readymade ability quickly gives her a reputation and she finds a place in popularity as Edie takes her under her wing.

But, easy come, easy go, and betrayal follows when Edie finds her the easiest way out of her own troubles.

Lee quickly sees that it isn’t just Edie that is quick to dispose of her. Her own mother, guided by Steve, allows her to take the fall, refusing to even give her the money she stashed for her defense. Life in the Juvenile Detention Center is worse than anything thrown at her so far, and a nervous breakdown lands her in the psych ward. But lower security also provides the opportunity for a quiet and invisible girl to find a way out.

The Readymade Thief is a novel that is both fast paced and maddeningly slow. This combination doesn’t seem possible, and yet it is. Every page is written so that you know something is happening, but you aren’t quite sure what. The result is you feel as on edge and unsure as Lee.

Once Lee escapes from JDC we are introduced to even more subterfuge and intrigue. We are thrown into the world of secret societies and underground movements. The S.A. parties continue to pop up, inviting her to join their world, except her gut instinct screams to stay away. Fear for her friend Edie, even after her betrayal, compels her to go searching and almost leads to disaster.

Tomi, a mysterious young man, saves her and takes her in. He introduces her to life underground, the world of abandoned building hunts and secrets of the Subnet. She wants to trust him but every turn in her life has led to betrayal and lies. Still, it’s easy to fall into his earnestness, especially given her connection to him.

Lee discovers that S.A., a secret society devoted to uncovering the hidden puzzles and meanings behind the artwork of Marcel Duchamp. She unwillingly and unknowingly finds herself at the heart of their obsession. Somehow they think she is a key to their mystery, even though she has no idea how. No matter where she turns, or what she does, she finds herself a pawn in their games, time and time again. They are always one step ahead, always surrounding her, always controlling the circumstances of her life.

This secret society is obsessed with more than just art. They are also responsible for a chilling new drug that leaves its users docile and empty. Creatures willing to do anything suggested with little or no reaction. Unable to take care of themselves, many of them end up in JDC or worse; the Crystal Castle.

This book has a lot of layers going on in it. It is easy to get overwhelmed, or lost in the information. You want to keep pushing ahead to find out what is happening, but I found myself going back to reread portions at a slower pace to really understand what was being said. This is a book that needs more than one read through to really appreciate all the detail and nuance written into the plot.

One of the examples of the level of detail and intricacy is the title. Duchamp created artworks that he called ‘readymades’. Essentially, he viewed art of the time as ‘retinal art’. Easy to look at and pleasing to the eye, but there wasn’t anything more in depth than that. His response was to take everyday items and make minor changes to them, thus instantly turning them into art. Readymade art. The title, Readymade Thief, refers to Lee, already a shoplifter and petty thief, who has been repurposed for the societies use.

Usually, reading the line of phrase that uses the title of a book is a quick AHA moment. One that makes sense in terms of a character or event. In this case, the moment isn’t written out or explained by the author so much as hinted at. You are led to it, able to uncover it’s meaning as you read. I think it’s very clever.

There is a lot of art history, specifically to the work of Duchamp. I have no idea how much is based in truth and how much created for fiction. Some parts of this history lesson got very confusing for me. It was a lot of information given. Again, I think this is an example of why the book needs more than one reading. There is just so much to dissect at once.

Rose manages to pull off quite an elaborate story. There are clues placed at the very beginning that aren’t noticed until they are pointed out later. Things suddenly make sense, and the level of betrayal in Lee’s life is astounding. Everything in this novel is connected somehow, even if you can’t see how or why, you will in the end. The pure genius is that the end answers questions you didn’t even know you had.

This book will be enjoyable for anyone who loves mysteries and suspense novels. The art history is impressive and I can’t imagine the amount of research that went into composing this plot. It’s astounding! Weaving the art into a secret society will delight any conspiracy theory lover.

Thank you First to Read, Penguin Random House and Viking books for giving me an early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Block 46 – Review

There are some books where the synopsis cannot possibly prepare you for what you are about to read. Where the synopsis cannot begin to encompass the words contained within the covers. Where words like shocking and breathtaking are inadequate to describe the experience.

Block 46 is one of those books.

It’s been one week since I finished this book, and I am sitting here struggling to form words for this review. Everything I want to say feels inadequate. Or is full of spoilers. And this book should not be spoiled.

The premise of two dead bodies, mutilated in the same way but found in different countries sounded interesting. Then you add in the story of a young man struggling to maintain his humanity in Buchenwald during the Holocaust.

“Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?”

That one sentence from the back cover was enough to captivate me. However, the skill in which Johana Gustawsson draws the reader in, made me frantically turn the pages wanting to know what was happening and what would happen next.

How do you tie in current events with the horrors of the past? Each clue we are given doesn’t make sense. How can a survivor match the profile of a killer between 35-45 years old? How could we believe that someone who fought to live would then seek to take lives?

The art of suspense in this book is deeply psychological. Gustawsson takes us down a path, unveiling glimpses of the scenery around us, making us comfortable with where we think she is taking us. She allows us to form our own opinions and solidify our beliefs before she reveals the reality.

Profiling serial killers is already a plot line full of psychological suspense. I’ve always been fascinated with the skill behind profiling. How can you put yourself in the mind of a killer and maintain your humanity. To hunt, or be hunted. To take the clues from gruesome and horrific scenes where pain and terror taint every surface is impressive. And also terrifying.

But there is more than the psychology of a profiler or a serial killer lurking in these pages. There is the exploration of being a victim, of being a survivor.

I think alternating the story with scenes and descriptions from the Holocaust, makes this book especially haunting. She does not back away from the horror of a concentration camp. We are shown the brutality in a matter of fact narration, which serves to only drive home the harshness of that reality. There is no minimizing the horror, no glamorizing or softening the impact.

There is evil in this world and Block 46 doesn’t allow you to forget this.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am always surprised when a plot twist manages to actually shock me. This book didn’t feel predictable exactly, but I did feel comfortable with the direction it was taking me. Except, when the end came, I found that I wasn’t prepared at all for what the ending revealed.

The twist was unexpected, but the ending felt more like being in a fight. The hits continue to land from all around, leaving you gasping as you turn the final pages.

Block 46 is a book that will stay with you long after you put it down. I find myself picking it up, only to shake my head as I remember the journey it took me on. Johana Gustawsson artfully weaves suspense and mystery together. I am in awe of the final result.

Anyone who enjoys suspense, mystery and thrillers needs to read this book!

Thank you Orenda books for the amazing opportunity to read and experience this exceptional novel.

 

 

The Owl Always Hunts At Night – Review

The Owl Always Hunts At NightThe Owl Always Hunts At Night by Samuel Bjørk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit, I am always a bit nervous when sitting down to start a new crime thriller. I’m afraid it won’t be thrilling enough, or compelling enough, or shocking enough. I am especially nervous when reading an author I haven’t read before. However, with The Owl Always Hunts At Night, those nerves were unnecessary.

From the very first chapter, I was sucked in. This book kept me on my toes the entire time I read it. As soon as I thought I had a grasp on the plot, or a character, I would be proven wrong, again and again. Which I thought was absolutely brilliant.

One of my pet peeves in crime thrillers is how neatly things fall into place. Clues are conveniently uncovered by a brilliant detective. Sure there are missteps, but in the end the crime is solved and justice prevailed. What I really enjoyed about this book, is that the unfolding of the crime investigation felt very real. The detectives are flawed people, struggling with their own demons while attempting to solve this crime. Sure, they are brilliant, but it wasn’t one particular lead investigator taking charge and saving the day. It took the entire team to hunt down the murderer and take them down.

The way the investigation unfolded felt very real too. The false starts and dead end leads. It seemed like every new development faced a surprising obstacle, and that too felt real to me. Rarely do we uncover all the facts in life at the breakneck speed of fiction. The reader wants to be compelled into reading more, and dead end cases don’t make for good fiction. There is art in the way Bjork weaves the frustration of the investigation in a way that makes the reader want to continue turning the pages. When all the pieces finally did move together, the tragic twist felt even more real.

Throughout the entire novel, the sense of realism was maintained. I didn’t feel any standard plot tricks or cliched characters in order to move the story forward. The flow, the pace, the twists and turns, all were believable, even if they were disturbing. That sense of realism, of being able to lose yourself entirely to the novel without a sentence or quirk forcing you out, is very important to me, and was exceptionally done here.

In all, this novel was brilliantly done. My only complaint is that the end wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped. I was left, shocked and reeling with no real sense of closure. I was given an ending, but there were details left vague and obscure, that I felt a few paragraphs could have easily summed up.

I give this 4/5 stars and would recommend the book and the series to anyone who enjoys crime fiction, thrillers, suspense, mystery or police procedurals.

I received this book from Penguin as part of the First Reads program.

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