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: “SINthetic (The New Lyons Sequence #1)” by J.T. Nicholas

cover of SINthetic (The New Lyons

A review by Amanda.

I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Detective Jason Campbell has been called to investigate a gruesome murder. A young woman has been found, murdered and disemboweled. She isn’t the first, and she isn’t human. Synthetics are human-like beings who are “born” in a lab and raised for the sole purpose of doing any number of less than desirable jobs. They are expensive, and have no rights under the law. Synthetics bleed, feel, and think but they are programmed to follow instructions and are incapable of hurting humans or other synthetics. They are property and nothing more. Detective Campbell should dismiss this case as destruction of property, at best, and move on. A mysterious source calls the detectives attention to the previous murders of other young, synthetic women, and Campbell knows that he cannot let it rest. His own history informs his decision to investigate these as serial murders, without the knowledge of his superiors, and with only a unique synthetic to offer limited assistance. His life is on the line, as he sniffs out corruption at the highest levels of society.

This book has the feel of an old detective noir film, but without the rampant sexism. Detective Campbell is an individual with layers and depth, which come to light at a steady pace. Supporting characters are few, but reasonably developed and well-rounded. Hopes for more depth and background on these characters in future books are high. Even so, the limited knowledge of these characters works with the story, as readers see it from Campbell’s perspective. He’s a bit of a loner and wouldn’t know too much about the people around him, so this makes sense. While this hampers the readers’ ability to connect to other characters, it does enhance the story to be so ensconced in the main character’s point of view.

SINthetic’s plot is primarily a wonderfully twisted mystery, with decent action sequences, and moral quandaries that will raise ire and make readers think and question what they know about humanity. The story moves quickly and makes for a fast read. There are descriptions of violence and sexual assault but they come across as detached, more like a police report, and details are scant.

Book one is available now, with the second due in March 2018.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Returning the Golden-Eyed Girl” by S.G. Meine

A review by Amanda.

A copy of this book was provided for free by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Amelia Pritchett, seventeen-year-old, has accidentally set off a chain of events that could have devastating consequences. She has accomplished something that no one has been able to do in thirty years. The floating city of Ixus, populated by some of the world’s wealthiest and well-connected citizens, has been silent since one of the worst pandemics swept the Earth’s surface three decades prior. There has been no communication and no sign of life on Ixus, despite the development of a vaccine and subsequent recovery from the disease. Those who attempted to travel there via shuttle have disappeared. Amelia’s friend and neighbor, Lars, is incredibly intelligent and gifted in engineering. He believes that he has found a way to take a shuttle to Ixus and find out what happened there. Amelia has promised to keep Lars secret, but something goes wrong. Amelia soon finds herself stranded on Ixus, all alone, and in more danger than she knows.

Novels with futuristic floating cities are not terribly uncommon, but this one stands out. The writing style flows easily and moves the story along quickly. Amelia is a teenage girl who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. With several brothers, she emphasizes on multiple occasions how capable she is of taking care of herself. For such a strong young woman, however, Amelia is placed in the role of damsel in distress a bit too often. There could be more depth to her character as well, but this was a good first introduction. The supporting characters have nuanced histories and well-rounded personalities. The villains of the story are not as complex and don’t appear to have any redeeming traits; it is made quite clear who the bad guys are and their motivations are transparent.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Amelia is in need of rescuing on multiple occasions which is quite frustrating. It seems to be a common theme in many books, shows, and movies to build a woman up as strong and powerful and then break her down to be saved by someone else (usually a male). This book has good bones and is the first in a trilogy. Hopefully, we will see the characters grow and the author will allow Amelia to be the heroine that she should be. I look forward to the next book.

Content warning: attempted sexual assault, violence, gun violence

This is the debut novel from author S.G. Meine and was released in May 2017.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Killman Creek” (Stillhouse Lake #2) by Rachel Caine

Killman Creek (Stillhouse Lake #2) by Rachel Caine

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this ebook from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

This review may contain spoilers for book one in the series, Stillhouse Lake.

Gwen Proctor, formerly Gina Royal, is on the run with her kids yet again. Her ex-husband, convicted serial killer Melvin Royal, has escaped from prison. He has help from Absalom, Gwen’s ally-turned-betrayer. Gwen has help this time as well, from someone she knows she can trust. Sam Cade, whose sister was Melvin’s final victim, is running with Gwen and the kids (fifteen-year-old Lanny and eleven-year-old Connor). Their partnership is beginning to blossom into something more, but at a glacially slow pace. Absalom continues to help Melvin track Gwen, calling to threaten and taunt her regularly, despite their vigilance with disposing of phones and staying off the grid. Eventually, Gwen decides that they need to go on the offensive and hunt Melvin before he finds them. She and Sam send the kids to stay with trustworthy friends, and the hunt is on.

Killman Creek is a creepy, thrilling page-turner that may need to be consumed in one sitting, if only to stave off nightmares. Told from various perspectives, readers get most of the story while certain characters are left in the dark. Even with that extra knowledge, the author manages to pull off surprising plot twists left and right. Gwen and Sam’s journey takes unexpected turns, including new information about Absalom and new doubts about Gwen/Gina’s innocence. Readers also get a peek into Lanny and Connor’s thoughts, which provides plenty of emotional depth.

This book will be released on December 12, 2017. I look forward to the rest of the series, especially if it keeps the intense pace of books one and two.

My rating: 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: “Bring Her Home” by David Bell

Review: "Bring Her Home" by David Bell

A review by Amanda.

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

Tragedy has struck the small town of Jakesville. Fifteen-year-old Summer and her best friend Haley, who has been missing for two days, were found in a local park. Both girls had been severely beaten beyond recognition and only Summer is still clinging to life. Summer’s mother died a year and a half before and her father, Bill, has been struggling to raise his only child on his own. Relief that she has been found alive is mixed with anger at whoever has done this horrible crime, and guilt over mistakes he has made as a parent. The investigation into the girls’ disappearance has uncovered some surprising and troubling details about things that shake Bill to his core, and lead to more questions than answers.

Bill Price appears to be an average middle-aged man who has been thrown into some extraordinary and tragic circumstances. He is overcome with grief, shock, and occasional bouts of rage, and has some secrets of his own that he’d prefer to keep buried. His sister Paige is his only real confidante as he tries to find the truth about what happened to Summer on his own. The beleaguered lead detective, Detective Hawkins, has his work cut out for him with Bill’s attempts to find the person responsible alternately hindering and helping the investigation.

The story is told exclusively from Bill’s perspective, so readers only know what he knows as the investigation unfolds. Bill is not the most sympathetic of characters; at times he is downright unlikeable in spite of the circumstances. Readers will be drawn in through the mystery and the unexpected twists and supporting characters will keep them engaged. Getting to know Summer, Paige, and Bill’s late wife Julia, albeit through Bill’s eyes, gives the book depth and warmth and gives readers characters to connect with and root for. Aside from the unlikeability of the main character, the story is well written and intriguing. The unpredictable plot twists are a pleasant surprise amidst the oversaturated mystery genre. Violence and strong allusions to sexual assault are mentioned but not graphically described.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “The Smoke Thief” by Shana Abé

Review: “The Smoke Thief” by Shana Abé

A review by Vanessa.

This book was one from my personal library of favorites purchased some time ago. Always nice to go back and read a favorite.

Rue is a very good thief. She moves with impunity throughout 18th century London, because of course, no one would suspect a woman of being able to pull off such daring jewel heists as have been attributed to the infamous “Smoke Thief.” What the world at large does not know about the thief or the lady, is that she is something even more than anyone could suspect… she is drakon. They are a race unto themselves, hiding in the world of man as aristocracy, able to Turn to a form of smoke and mist, and then to their true dragon form at will. But Rue was not born into the welcoming embrace of the full-blooded family. She was born Clarissa Rue Hawthorne, a dark-haired half-blood outsider within the world of her fair-haired and inhumanly beautiful tribe, including the dashingly handsome young heir. On the morning of her 17th birthday, Rue took her own fate into her hands and faked her death so that she could leave her tribe behind and make her own life.

Christoff, the Marquess of Langford, is the Alpha. He was a bored young rake, but now he is a blindingly handsome and commanding man with his father’s title; and a real problem on his hands. The Smoke Thief is gadding about London, presenting a threat of exposure leaving stories about a thief who can transform to smoke. So he lures the thief out with a display of the Langford diamond and to his surprise he finds… Rue. A female. One who can Turn, as no other female has been able to for the last four generations. Her ability makes her the female Alpha, and by the laws of their tribe they are mates, but it’s her strength and beauty that make Kit want her for his own; before someone else can claim her. Rue doesn’t want a forced marriage of obligation based on tribe law. The Langford diamond has been taken by someone, and she knows who, so she works a plan to stay free of Lord Langford in exchange for helping to find it. But Kit has a plan of his own, and he is not above seducing Rue into his way of thinking. Can the famed Smoke Thief escape with her heart?

This book and series are one of my favorites, and I’m quite happy to have a reason to re-read. Not only because the storyline is fantastic, and the world building is impressive, but Shana Abé’s writing is just beautiful as well. Even the prologue is poetically and starkly beautiful, right from the beginning.  Her word choice and the flow of her prose is just masterful, and a great pleasure to read. Add to that her strength in creating dramatic, multi-faceted characters and you will see why I couldn’t put the book down. This series is an interesting mix of historical, and fantastical, where a race of dragons live their lives in 18th century London. The ancient history of their people comes into play as well within this book and throughout the series, and it never disappoints. Abé is amazing at weaving together all the best aspects of a great historical romantic fiction with the specific fascination that fantastic, magical, and legendary creatures bring to any story. I would highly recommend this book and the entire series to any readers. The romance is the main focus of the stories, but it is one among many great aspects, and it is utterly seductive in all the best ways. Worth the read, and the re-read.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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