*spoiler free, so may be a little strange if you have read it, but it’s hard to talk about without spoilers so.... here we go*
Final Girls by Riley Sager comes off my TBR pile after a long time to an unimpressive 3 stars. It took me a long time to get into this one. I only kept going because I had heard so many good things about it, and its twists. For the first half I kept finding myself thinking of twists that it may be that would really piss me off, but I pressed on. The pace picked up some after the two-third mark, but at that point I was more finishing it to see it through rather than because I was into it. I found I didn’t like any of the characters: Quincy annoyed me, Sam was kind of a bitch, Jeff was bland, Coop was kind of creepy with his ‘helpfulness’ and so on.
In the end, I supposed I didn’t *quite* see the twist(s) coming exactly. I had a good idea where it was going with the killer, and it got a bit of an eye-roll when we got there. Sam’s surprise was a welcome relief, but after the whole book, it didn’t feel like it was worth it, and felt kind of forced in the speedy wrap-up. Am I glad I read it? I suppose. Was it what I expected? No, I wanted more into the final girls; I wanted the story, not the conspiracy. Maybe I had too high hopes for it since it was littering my thriller pages for such a long time, and it was unfair to start with. Although my always-gripe, I know there was some mystery at first as to the authors gender, but without any research I can tell you Riley Sager is male. I did get one or two of those eye-roll moments where you basically get ‘ she breasted boobily’ please, men, for gods sakes please stop. That always tears me right out of the story. I can’t find the line right now, but maybe a few more early female readers could help.
So, I know other people really like this one, and don’t run off on my account. But maybe reel in your expectations—it may be a perfectly fine book, if that’s what you are looking for. If you think it’s the next big thing—I suspect you will be a bit disappointed like I was. If you can justify a whole book for a couple of final-final act twists, go for it.
I give Thief River Falls by Brian Freeman 3 stars, it should have been a book I loved. The promise of mystery, suspense and a twist ending got me excited to start it. I was interested, the main character Lisa Power is a writer and well known in her small town. A mysterious boy with no memory appears at her house.... I'm totally sold. Police are looking for him, but something is off, they seem hostile. She lies. She hides him and tries to find the truth. I'm still sold, although as I go on the waterfall of metaphors and the like are cascading off the page and getting in the way a bit. But I press on, I want to know what is going on!
Lisa keeps running around her home town trying to find allies and answers, but it seems that both are in short order. A few more things pop up that annoy me, I had to look back to see that the book was written by a man; it is- and it isn't anything big but there are a few times where it just screams off the page (Native Americans are referred to as Indians - something I wouldn't expect from the MC, and at one point he refers to getting an introvert o come out of their shell- sorry but no.) Lisa and her boy run all over town, blocked in and hunted. He remembers bits and pieces and she starts to figure his story out - it is eerily close to the plot of her famous book! What a coincidence!
Still, I'm on board, waiting for this ending that is promised to be amazing... I'm still trying here. We start getting bits from other character perspectives and things are starting to get hazy - I'm getting the idea that it isn't all Lisa thinks it is. I think I have a clue as to what is going to happen and I'm starting to get let down.
In the end I did not see the ‘twist’ coming, but I wouldn't register it as a twist personally. I'm sure lots of people were thrilled with it, but I found it almost as cliche as the ‘it was all a dream’ endings. The only thing that made me go ‘OK, alright’ were the two words that she mentions throughout. They are not the two words you think they are, but the reveal of that is too late to have enough impact. So it gets three stars, I finished it, it wasn't full of typos or anything. But I wouldn't pass it along to a friend.
XOXO, Piper by Ginger Li was a super cute, sweet high school romance, and I give it 5 stars. Generally light and fluffy, but not without depth. Piper is thrown into a completely new life after being home schooled and her brothers caretaker in New York when she moves in with her grandmother in California and goes to a public school for her senior year.
One of the first people she meets is Asher, the popular, smart, driven guy in her class. He doesn't want anything to stop him from his self-made goals and pushes away his attraction for her with rudeness, in turn making her dislike him. When they are forced to work together, they get to know each other and we get to see their relationship change through both their POVs.
Despite following a typical enemies to lovers route, the author gives them plenty of back story to make them both feel like real people, and we get to know just enough about the side characters to make me want to pick up the next book in the series when it comes out and see what is going on with them on a deeper level.
If you want a sweet, clean, (spoiler?) happy ending this is the book, and likely series, for you.
** I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review **
I found We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson on a list of ‘great short novels’ I write short, and so was struck by this list. I wanted to see how the best do it, and Shirley Jackson is certainly among the best. I think though, my expectations were off going into it. The Haunting of Hill House has been on my TBR list since the series came to Netflix, and the spoiler-free reviews I read of Castle were intriguing—lots of ‘OMG that twist!’ So I was quick to pick up a compilation of this, along with her other short stories and Hill House.
First thing that threw me was the book itself. It is a literal conglomeration of her works, Castle is the last story in the book, and 300 pages into the volume, it starts back on page 1. Very strange, but anyway, back to content.
The first half of this was drawn out- I realize now that this short novel was not a novel written short but more of a novella written long. It’s atmospheric for sure, you are pulled into the daily life of the sisters, along with their monotony, and what we would call today some OCD and agoraphobia. They hide from the townspeople after Constance is accused of poisoning the family; she is deemed not guilty, but it still throws a dark shadow over her and her sister.
About halfway through, we get a shake up when cousin Charles visits and threatens to uproot their existence. The pace picks up and the sisters double down on their enclosed life. We see Constance give in even more to her sister’s rituals and fanciful imaginings. We do get the ‘twist’ but it doesn’t really hit. It was fairly unexpected, but the realization has very little impact on the story so, for me, it hardly mattered. I spent the last third of the book waiting for something that felt minor in the end, and that left me disappointed.
I’m not saying it was bad by any means. It is definitely an older style of writing, but I can see how she wanted us to feel the closeness of their lifestyle and almost make it seem normal until we realize just how not-normal it is. To join in their mental instability, I suppose. But it wasn’t what I had expected from other reviews. I’m all about correctly set expectations, and I missed the mark on this one. I'll give it three and a half stars- I was certainly engaged for the latter half of the book, but I don’t think that this is the work of hers to write home about. I still look forward to exploring the other stories in the book.
Mixing it up this time with a short story collection. I stumbled across a list of best horror while procrastinating on FB (surprise) and 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill was on it. My library had a copy, so I dove right in. I’m a slow reader, so I always start off collections with the shortest stories to get a feel for the author if I haven’t read anything else by them before.
The one page flash Dead-wood was an obvious choice—but it wasn’t a good opener. It was more style than substance, which is fine if it’s not all there is, so I ignored that venture and moved on. Last Breath, the next shortest, was right up my alley. A quick dive into a creepy setting with a ‘scientific’ bend and I knew this would be my thing. I can’t say much without giving it away, but the museum features a collection of ‘last breaths’ from people famous and not, and the doctor is always ready to show you around, or to keep collecting. Even so short there were a few different places I could have seen the story go and it did not disappoint. It was plenty to get me ready to pick my next victim.
Another of my favorites was Pop Art; it wasn’t horror by any means or even a thriller, but a strange alternate universe tale. In this world, some people are born inflatable. At first I tried to understand it in an earthly way; is this a ‘Bubble Boy’ type situation? But no, he is literally a plastic blow up person, filled with air instead of blood. Art can’t talk or make much for expressions, but he makes a best friend and they bond closely. Art often thinks about death and loves outer space. He’s eccentric beyond his plastic skin. It was a strange story, but one I couldn’t put down even once I realized it was not the genre I expected.
I finished, but probably didn’t need to, The Widows Breakfast. Another story that wasn’t particularity horror; maybe aside from the creepy last line. A homeless person is riding the rails after the death of his lover and stumbles upon a cabin in the woods with a widow and her children. She feeds him, gives him her husband’s old clothes and her kids play a creepy game.
The more of the book I read, the more I see Ray Bradbury influences and realizing that made me like the stories more. They are simply supposed to be odd; not necessarily all horror. I think having found it on a horror list set me up to dislike it, and it took quite a few stories to realize the better categorization.
Overall, it was a worth-reading collection, and I give it 4 stars. As always, some were stronger than others, but the range makes it so there is something for everyone who likes to venture outside the norm. Your faves might be some I skimmed, that’s what I love about shorts; they are an easy way to dig into lots of different styles and tropes.
After going hard with a few thrillers in a row I needed something lighter and this YA choice popped up in my amazon first reads and I jumped at it. It's not something I would usually pull; if I'm reading YA it's usually supernatural or dystopia or something other than a sweet tale about kids at camp.
Camp Padua is a special camp for teens with issues and we quickly meet a cast of characters that run the spectrum from eating disorders, self harm and potential mental illness. Zander, our MC doesn't reveal why she has been sent to camp. But we know that something bad happened at her last swim meet. She meets a boy; Grover Cleveland - yes after the president- who is insistent that he loves her. Zander hates feelings.
I was quickly wrapped up in the quick pace and emotional range from the kids at the camp. We follow them through various activities and watch them come out of their shells. Zander meets a girl named Cassie who is mean to everyone. She has attended camp before and is friends with Grover. Their group also includes a compulsive liar who calls himself Alex Trebek. I won't spoil anything as despite the fairly low stakes for the majority of the book, there's a lot of secrets held by these kids and they are teased out wonderfully as they open up to each other.
It's a sweet story, but not without tension and a great read for both lovers of the genre and anyone willing to take a quick vacation to Camp Padua.
I rate it four and a half stars.
I just finished The Friar's Lantern by Greg hickey, and would give it a solid 3.5 stars. I love the philosophy and science behind the idea. Thinking about what makes us make decisions and if we have control over it is a rabbit hole I am happy to go down. The choose your own adventure style of the book seemed aimed to drive that point home, and while I enjoyed making the choices I wish in some places there were more opportunities to do so.
I found myself connecting the the main character in the idea that the decision has already been made and no matter what choice I make regarding the boxes it doesn't matter. I did waver between options at times but liked this idea that our MC planted. It is or it isn't.
When we weren't being philosophical sometimes the scenes, especially in the court room, read a bit slow and I found myself skimming here and there to try to get to where we were going. Long descriptions and sentences added to that slow pace and at times felt a bit unseemly towards some females encountered.
Overall I enjoyed the experience that reading The Friar's Lantern provided and found myself hopping back to see what other choices may have brought me.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I've never been to Sydney but after following Kidman and Reid on their investigation I feel like I could navigate the streets on my own. The Death Investor by Ian Lomond felt so grounded in the setting that it almost became its own character. The pace was quick and kept me turning pages to see what would happen next.
The mystery of who killed software developer Peter Maher is full of twists and turns with the perfect level of deceit. It could be any number of people as the possible motives pile up against the tech genius. Peter Maher is never pigeonholed into his job, the way I find many people want to portray the uber-smart. Hes got a life outside the office too, one just as potentially damaging as having the next million dollar idea. Detectives Kidman and Reid have a great banter and make a nice team with a solid and realistic dynamic.
The novel stands alone but introduces characters that are worth getting attached to. I will be looking forward to more from this author. I rate it five stars.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I enjoyed the premise of Play For Me by CP White and give it four stars. The sociopath trying to 'teach people a lesson' versus the self-centered struggling musician. Its easy to see why LJ is willing to put herself in the position that she does. In her worldview its all about her. Even when red flashing lights should be going off at the invitation she receives its all about what it could do for her, trumping the clear danger of the situation.
At many times I wasn't sure who I was routing for, to be honest. At first LJ is such a good unreliable narrator that we don't see the issues of her personality because she doesn't see them. I think that was captured very well. The more we learn the more we see how she hardly sees beyond her own nose and at times I was sitting in the dark with the mystery person telling her off too. I don't know if its intentional but the nods to Seven really made my day. The movie is a running joke in my family... anytime there's a box, someone has to say: “What's in the box?” à la Brad Pitt.
At first I was disappoint with the ending. I'm not sure LJ learned all that much despite the other characters best attempts at almost literally killing her to make the case. Reading the afterward I understand the authors intent; it does show her change. I would have liked a bit more in that scene though to drive it home and I may have felt more connected to her characters changes then if she had shown her change from self-pity to empowerment.
Overall I definitely enjoyed this debut novel and look forward to whatever the author has next.
I grabbed The King Tides by James Swain as a Prime Read after forgetting to make a choice. I go back and forth on liking this kind of story but I couldn't put King Tides down. I was in the world from the first scene and it all felt grounded in reality in a way that many go too far to make their character 'the best in his field.' Its a Hollywood blockbuster of a novel; get your popcorn, suspend some disbelief and get ready for a fun ride.
I know; those two lines might seem contradictory— suspend your disbelief and grounded in reality? But it feels like you are there, it might be a bit 'Michael Bay' if you know what I mean, but its fun and once you're sucked in there's nothing to pull you out.
Its got a little mystery, plenty of suspense and a heavy dose of action. The location felt like its own character, and although I've never been to southern Florida I was on the streets as the tide rose with Lancaster. I love a book that brings me somewhere I haven't gone, that made it an especially good airport read.
It was tense, it was action packed and I'll be looking forward to more from Lancaster & Daniels!
I rate it four stars.