Review: “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware

A review by Emily

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware is a New York Times Bestseller and is soon to be adapted to the big screen by Reese Witherspoon. This novel is a mystery thriller about a 26-year-old introverted, mystery writer (though this profession doesn’t seem to make sense to assign to a character described as having little life experience and naivete) named Nora who receives an invitation to a Bachelorette party weekend of a friend she hasn’t seen in 10 years. She is puzzled by the invite and hesitant to attend but gets roped into going by another friend of hers from high school with whom she has also lost touch.

Nora has tried for the last 10 years to put and keep her ex-best friend Clare and her ex-boyfriend in the past and she struggles with moving forward with her life and having to deal with past insecurities. We don’t learn of the deep connection between she and her ex-boyfriend until half-way through the novel, which could have been introduced earlier and been developed more to make the reader care more about her lost relationship and the events that follow. We never do learn about how Nora and Clare broke off their friendship; there had been a lead up to it the entire novel as if it were a big conflict that ended their friendship, which would have explained a lot of tension between the characters but this is not explored as thoroughly as I would have liked.

Throughout the novel, a lot of the characters motivations do not seem to add up or do not seem completely authentic. One character whom could have been implicated as the guilty party, is never explored as a suspect although there could have been a large, gleaming motive for murder that is never mentioned, which could have added more mystery and suspense to the story. The main stage of the whole novel is a mysterious large glass house in the middle of the woods. The author keeps alluding to its lack of privacy and the feeling of vulnerability of staying in it but it disappointingly doesn’t play as large of a part as you would expect it to besides adding an air of creepiness to the story. The development of the character of Clare, Nora’s best friend, leaves out certain key aspects that come out late in the novel. This novel is a quick read and a suspenseful page turner. It has a lot of twists that are unexpected and some that were kind of predictable. This novel is entertaining, however, and will leave you with chills.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars

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Review: “One for the Money” (Stephanie Plum #1) by Janet Evanovich

A review by Vanessa

This book is from my own personal library; this review takes a look at the popular novel through the lens of the major motion picture it became.

Stephanie Plum is no stranger to desperation. It’s not like she hasn’t been through the ringer before, but when she loses her job as a lingerie buyer and is forced to go to work for her perverted cousin Vinnie at his bail bonds office, she knows she has hit a new low. But when a big FTA (failure to appear) hits Vinnie’s desk, Stephanie thinks things might just be looking up. The FTA is the man who took Stephanie’s virginity, Joe Morelli, and she’s got a big score to settle with him. Tracking him down and dragging his ass back to jail is the perfect opportunity to do just that, and make some big cash as a bounty hunter. Of course she has no skill-set, no training, no tools, and no cash to get what she needs to get started. Blackmailing her cousin into letting her take the case is just the first step. If she wants to make a real go of this new career, she’ll have to get serious. Enter Ranger. The guy is big and scary to the max, with attitude, gorgeous eyes, and muscles for days; but he’s the real deal, and he’s willing to mentor Stephanie so she has a chance at catching Morelli. Now all she has to do is survive telling her traditional Italian family that she’s about the take on a job where she has to start carrying a gun.
Things get crazy, hilarious, and terrifying quickly when the case surrounding Morelli’s arrest turns out to be far more complicated than Stephanie thought. Luck is on her side when she finds Morelli fast, but doesn’t have the clout to bring him in. Her only option is to follow the evidence, and the trail of criminal activity that Morrelli is tracking to try and clear his name. Maybe she can catch him unaware and force him to bring himself in. But getting more involved means getting into the line of fire of a psychotic murderer, some big time drug runners, and her crazy grandmother who is unnaturally fascinated with Stephanie’s new line of work. She has got to get Morrelli to come in before someone gets really hurt. She just hopes it isn’t her. But maybe with a whole lot of dumb luck, a little strangely accurate intuition, and the right timing, she’ll get her man in the end.
This book is the first in a long series that got its start back in the mid 90’s, and was made into a movie in 2012. For a book series that now spans multiple decades, it’s no secret why it’s still going: Evanovich is a master of character writing. She weaves the story together in sometimes interestingly haphazard ways, but always the characters that drive the action are multi-layered, unfailing entertaining, and admirably lovable or the kind you love to hate. Stephanie Plum is the perfectly inept heroine of her own story; brassy, bold, unpredictable, totally independent, and completely unprepared for everything she gets herself into. And boy, does she get herself into some crazy stuff, often with her hilarious Grandma Mazur in tow. This book made me fall in love with Stephanie and all her wacky hi-jinks, so I was of course ecstatic to learn that it was being made into a movie. But as always when a favorite novel goes Hollywood, there is bound to be some disappointment.
Overall, I have to say I was impressed with how the movie was able to modernize so many aspects of the story, without ruining the essence of what made the original story so great. Throwing cell phones, modern technology, and an update to Stephanie’s iconic fashion habits into the mix could have played out of tune with a story that was written in the 90’s, but they did a good job. What was lacking was the backbone of what made Evanovich’s writing so great; the strength of the characters. Katherine Heigl is no slouch in the acting business, and I certainly appreciated the independence, determination, and attitude that she tried to bring to the Stephanie Plum character. But there is a certain element to Stephanie, an untenable unpredictable ability to bullshit her way through almost anything, that was lacking in her movie persona. Morelli, played by Jason O,Mara, was a bit more satisfying with his passionate anger, and lust filled attitude, but even he was bit too much fiery Irish-man and not enough smooth-and-simmering Italian.
But I was most let-down by Grandma Mazur. The lovely Debbie Reynolds is a wonderful actress, and her brashness on screen was entertaining, but her liveliness was no match for the Grandma Mazur of my imagination; the one who sports spandex shorts to match Stephanie’s coolness factor and somehow pulls it off better than she does; is innocently fascinated with Stephanie’s gun right up to and including when she shoots the gumpy off the chicken at family dinner; and is fiercely loved and protected by Stephanie who feels they are kindred spirits. I still enjoyed seeing the personification of my favorite characters on screen, but I do hope one day they bring it back as a TV series, and spend a lot of time picking out the perfect people to capture the fantastic essence of the characters.

4.5 out of 5 stars for the book
3 out of 5 stars for the movie

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Review: “Nephilim” by Jeb Kinnison

A review by Niraja

An electronic version of this book was supplied to the reviewer by the author in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Mt. Hermon, Utah, is the small Mormon town, that Sara is moving to. Jared is a local kid with a few addictions he is working to overcome. The two meet, become friends, and begin to fall in love. Meanwhile, near the abandoned Zion Mine that was once thought to contain treasures of lore, young people begin to disappear. Sara and Jared must fight for their lives and the fate of humanity, as dark angels plot and evil forces arise.

Nephilim, by Jeb Kinnison is a book chock full of US and Mormon history, religious ideology, and mythology. Surrounding this history is a story of two modern day teenagers who must fight evil with faith and love. Mr. Kinnison does a great job showing how the power of love and the power of faith can lend strength to overcome obstacles of daily life as well as the greater forces of evil. His writing is simple and straightforward, yet he is able to create clear pictures of people and places in the reader’s mind. Through Mr. Kinnison’s writing, one can also understand and empathize with his characters’ thoughts and feelings. Even so, there was a lack of depth to the characters; they felt a bit one dimensional. As a result, I was never totally drawn to any of the characters and never fully invested in their struggles. Their struggles, resulting in the final action scene was exciting however, and I appreciated the imagery and creativity of how Mr. Kinnison uses the characters’ connection to online games in their fight against the evil forces.

At the beginning of the story, I appreciated the tidbits of US history as well as the history of Mormons (and a bit of those of Jewish faith). I also appreciated the sections of the book where it describes Mormon religious scripture and how the faultings of men who wrote scripture can account for its clash with some findings of science science and yet the basic tenets of faith still apply. As the story continued however, full chapters of history and religious teachings slowed down and interrupted the story, for me personally. I felt myself wanting to skip and skim some of these chapters in order to get back to the story. As a result I may have missed if there were any significant bits that would have added to the sorry.

Overall, I think that the story had some interesting ideas and plot lines. However, I also feel that the story structure and character depth could have been improved or changed to allow the reader a greater connection and investment in the story.

Rating 2.5/5 stars

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Review: “Final Girls” by Riley Sager

Final Girls by Riley Sager

A review by Amanda.

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter and five friends rented a cabin in the woods for a birthday party getaway. Quincy is the only one who survived after a deranged killer savagely murders her friends. Surviving made her a “Final Girl”, so called by the media, as a reference to the horror movie trope where the only person to make it to the end alive is the lone female character. Lisa, who barely lived through a massacre at her sorority house; and Sam, who survived a brutal attack at the motel where she worked, are also Final Girls, grouped together despite having never met in person. Quincy has done her best to move past that horrific event. She runs a successful baking website, has a solid relationship with a lawyer boyfriend, and maintains regular contact with the officer who saved her life. A Xanax prescription keeps her anxiety at bay, and her mind has protected her further by firmly repressing her memories of the attack. Everything that she has worked for is turned upside down when she gets the call— Lisa, her Final Girl mentor of sorts, has been found dead in her bathtub in an apparent suicide. Sam shows up out of the blue, the press starts harassing Quincy again, some of her memories start to return, and things are not lining up. Is someone coming after the Final Girls? What are Quincy’s memories hiding?

Final Girls is a rollercoaster of misdirection and plot twists. Readers will question everything and everyone by the time the explosive finale is revealed. Quincy is a ball of anxiety in denial. Her reactions after the massacre seem expected for someone who has experienced trauma; she absolutely has PTSD. Her relationship with her mother is strained and Quincy is encouraged to pretend like everything is fine. Shoving those feelings away instead of dealing with them in a healthier manner may work for a short time but eventually will backfire – which is exactly what happens, in surprising ways. The story is told in alternating perspectives, going from present day and first person from Quincy’s point of view, to flashbacks to the events leading up to the cabin massacre, told in third person omniscient. This adds to the suspense, especially as readers start to wonder if there is a connection to the present day. Readers will not want to put this spooky book down, particularly if they are reading at night. It does drag a bit in the middle, but the mystery keeps going and unraveling until the very end.

There is some sexual content, graphic violence, and strong language.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

A review by Emily.

The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwood in 1985, is a story that eerily parallels events in our world today… but goes a step further to describe our worst nightmares turned reality. In the tale, the United States is at war with Islamic Radicals who have laid out chemical attacks leaving 25 percent of the population sterile. The new regime of the U.S. ironically decides to oppress its women in order to propagate the human race by making it illegal for them to read and hold jobs or property. The fertile women called “Handmaids” are ordered to be clad head to toe in red puritan robes and bonnets and are assigned households to serve a master. They are abused and submitted to servitude by putting the fear of God in all of them. It is a dystopian society where the women are forced to be suspicious of each other so they can never unite against their oppressors. Their identities are anonymous, being named after their household’s master and are renamed when their ownership is exchanged.

The tale is written as a stream of consciousness that jumps back and forth between story plot and its main character Offred’s ruminations. This makes the main character relatable and underscores her loneliness and isolation but leads to a storyline with no real momentum. The story lacks backstory which would have helped to explain the main character’s motives and emotions. A more in-depth backstory also would help us feel perhaps a little less disappointed in a character that is less than a heroine and at times seems pathetic; character development that would have added tremendous value to it as a way to contrast and highlight the main character’s present suffering.  Also, character development of the people she interacts with would have added another layer to the story and may have led us to feel the true depth of Offred’s helplessness as those close to her disappoint and betray her.

Atwater’s work lays the foundation for the abysmal and intriguing new world order which MGM/Hulu’s TV series The Handmaid’s Tale adapts. It satisfies the character building and backstory that the book lacks and casts Offred in a more heroine-like role that we can admire. The MGM series takes us on a more fulfilling journey into her world and moves us beyond the stage that Atwater has set.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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Review: “The Sight (Devil’s Isle #2)” by Chloe Neill

A review by Amanda.

This review may contain spoilers for book one, The Veil. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book two picks up a few weeks after the events of book one. Claire has been dividing her time between running the Royal Mercantile, learning the bounty hunter trade with Liam, and getting lessons in using her magic from Malachi. The tension between Liam and Claire is heavy since Liam has made it clear that his honor won’t allow him to be with her romantically; if she is discovered as a Sensitive he would be the one to turn her in to live on Devil’s Isle, which would break both of their hearts. Claire’s single-minded goal of staying busy to keep her mind off of her non-existent love life gets a boost when someone starts murdering Paras without care for human casualties.

A magic-hating human has developed a following. Calling themselves Reveillon, this cultish group blames magic, Paras, and Sensitives for the Zone’s troubles. Their leader has convinced them that the answer to all of their problems is to eradicate all traces of magic by any means necessary. The violence escalates even further and Claire, alongside her friends and allies, must act quickly to save those who have been targeted by Reveillon.
The Sight moves at a slightly faster pace than the previous book and makes for a quick read. The plot is a bit predictable, but it still manages to be interesting. While Claire still does not stand out amongst all of the urban fantasy heroines (see my review of The Veil), the supporting characters gain more depth. The romantic tension kicks up a notch and things get nice and steamy. Claire continues to hold her own against whatever life throws at her, with one or two exceptions. I imagine book three, The Hunt, will challenge her ability to roll with the punches. This series is great for those readers looking for a fun, quick read, with a classic urban fantasy feel. Fans of Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series, Kim Harrison’s Peri Reed books, and Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series will likely enjoy these books. Make sure to pick up book one, The Veil, and look for book three, The Hunt, to be released on September 26th.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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BOOK TOUR Review: “The Brightest Fell (October Daye #11)” by Seanan McGuire

BOOK TOUR Review:

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

This review may contain spoilers from previous books in the series.

October’s night started with happiness and fun. Her Fetch sister May insisted on throwing a bachelorette party to celebrate Toby’s upcoming wedding to Tybalt, King of Cats. Many of Toby’s friends, including some unexpected guests, have come to drink, celebrate, and sing karaoke in her honor. It isn’t long after they arrive back home in the wee hours of the morning that things take a turn for the worse. Toby’s reclusive mother, known to other fae as Amandine the Liar, shows up on her doorstep with insults and a request; she wants to hire Toby to find her older daughter, August, who has been missing for more than 100 years. In a horrific act of magic, Amandine ensures Toby’s cooperation by capturing Tybalt and Jazz, May’s Raven-maid girlfriend, trapping them in their animal forms and taking them away with her. Now October has no choice but to do as her mother commands. To make matters more complicated, she must enlist the help of someone who knew August well; she must wake Simon Torquill, the man who turned her into a fish and left her that way for fourteen years, and trust that his love for his daughter is stronger than his hatred of Toby. Their search will lead them in unexpected directions and may bring them more questions than answers.

The Brightest Fell is the eleventh book in the October Daye series and it is the strongest yet, both in plot and in character development. Emotionally, Toby and friends are put through the ringer. The writing is beautifully done and captures the emotions so clearly that readers can’t help but empathize. The plot takes several strides forward in this book, heading determinedly towards the presumed end goal. A few long-standing questions are finally answered, but more arise to keep the reader guessing. There is also a strong sense of adventure throughout Toby’s quest to find August, with several exciting and harrowing moments. Overall, this is another fantastic book in the October Daye series, and each book seems to be better than the last. If that trend continues, I cannot wait to see where the next one leads!

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Brightest Fell Blog Tour banner

THE BRIGHTEST FELL

October Daye #11

Seanan McGuire

IBSN:9780756413316 | DAW Hardcover| $26.00


Contains an original bonus novella, Of Things Unknown!

Things are slow, and October “Toby” Daye couldn’t be happier about that.  The elf-shot cure has been approved, Arden Windermere is settling into her position as Queen in the Mists, and Toby doesn’t have anything demanding her attention except for wedding planning and spending time with her family.

Maybe she should have realized that it was too good to last.
                
When Toby’s mother, Amandine, appears on her doorstep with a demand for help, refusing her seems like the right thing to do…until Amandine starts taking hostages, and everything changes.  Now Toby doesn’t have a choice about whether or not she does as her mother asks.  Not with Jazz and Tybalt’s lives hanging in the balance.  But who could possibly help her find a pureblood she’s never met, one who’s been missing for over a hundred years?
                
Enter Simon Torquill, elf-shot enemy turned awakened, uneasy ally.  Together, the two of them must try to solve one of the greatest mysteries in the Mists: what happened to Amandine’s oldest daughter, August, who disappeared in 1906.
                
This is one missing person case Toby can’t afford to get wrong.

Seanan McGuire lives and works in Washington State, where she shares her somewhat idiosyncratic home with her collection of books, creepy dolls, and enormous blue cats.  When not writing–which is fairly rare–she enjoys travel, and can regularly be found any place where there are cornfields, haunted houses, or frogs.  A Campbell, Hugo, and Nebula Award-winning author, Seanan’s first book (Rosemary and Rue, the beginning of the October Daye series) was released in 2009, with more than twenty books across various series following since.  Seanan doesn’t sleep much.  

You can visit her at seananmcguire.com.

BLOG TOUR EXCERPT:

October 9th, 2013

Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell. — William Shakespeare, Macbeth.

THE FETCH IS ONE of the most feared and least understood figures in Faerie. Their appearance heralds the approach of inescapable death: once the Fetch shows up, there’s nothing that can be done. The mechanism that summons them has never been found, and they’ve always been rare, with only five conclusively identified in the last century. They appear for the supposedly significant—kings and queens, heroes and villains—and they wear the faces of the people they have come to escort into whatever awaits the fae beyond the borders of death. They are temporary, transitory, and terrifying.

My Fetch, who voluntarily goes by “May Daye,” because nothing says “I am a serious and terrible death omen” like having a pun for a name, showed up more than three years ago. She was supposed to foretell my impending doom. Instead, all she managed to foretell was me getting a new roommate. Life can be funny that way.

At the moment, doom might have been a nice change. May was standing on the stage of The Mint, San Francisco’s finest karaoke bar, enthusiastically bellowing her way through an off- key rendition of Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to My Window.” Her live-in girlfriend, Jazz, was sitting at one of the tables closest to the stage, chin propped in her hands, gazing at May with love and adoration all out of proportion to the quality of my Fetch’s singing.

May has the face I wore when she appeared. We don’t look much alike anymore, but when she first showed up at my apartment door to tell me I was going to die, we were identical. She has my memories up to the point of her creation: years upon years of parental issues, crushing insecurity, abandonment, and criminal activities. And right now, none of that mattered half as much as the fact that she also had my absolute inability to carry a tune.

“Why are we having my bachelorette party at a karaoke bar again?” I asked, speaking around the mouth of the beer bottle I was trying to keep constantly against my lips. If I was drinking, I wasn’t singing. If I wasn’t singing, all these people might still be my friends in the morning.

Of course, with as much as most of them had already had to drink, they probably wouldn’t notice if I did sing. Or if I decided to sneak out of the bar, go home, change into my sweatpants, and watch old movies on the couch until I passed out. Which would have been my preference for how my bachelorette party was going to go, if I absolutely had to have one. I didn’t think they were required. May had disagreed with me. Vehemently. And okay, that had sort of been expected.

What I hadn’t expected was for most of my traitorous, backstabbing friends to take her side. Stacy—one of my closest friends since childhood—had actually laughed in my face when I demanded to know why she was doing this to me.

“Being your friend is like trying to get up close and personal with a natural disaster,” she’d said. “Sure, we have some good times, but we spend half of them covered in blood. We just want to spend an evening making you as uncomfortable as you keep making the rest of us.”

Not to be outdone, her eldest daughter, Cassandra, had blithely added, “Besides, we don’t think even you can turn a karaoke party into a bloodbath.”

All of my friends are evil.

As my Fetch and hence the closest thing I had to a sister, May had declared herself to be in charge of the whole affair. That was how we’d wound up reserving most of the tables at The Mint for an all-night celebration of the fact that I was getting married. Even though we didn’t have a date, a plan, or a seating chart, we were having a bachelorette party. Lucky, lucky me.

My name is October Daye. I am a changeling; I am a knight; I am a hero of the realm; and if I never have to hear Stacy sing Journey songs again, it will be too soon.

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