Friday, April 24, 2020

Leigh Bardugo: Ninth House

Leigh Bardugo takes the reader to Yale where the secret societies will do anything to achieve power:

Galaxy Alex Stern is not quite the same as the rest of the freshman class at Yale, as Alex never even finished high school, lived a life of shady drug dealer boyfriends, was a druggie and has survived a horrific event, but Alex is nothing but a survivor. She gets a second chance to have a different life and it includes a full ride to Yale, but the second chance has some extra work that Alex will have to do. Alex is tasked with monitoring the activities of the secret societies of Yale to make sure the rituals do not go wrong from paranormal forces. Alex is the perfect for this job as she has a special ability, one that she has tried to run from most of her life, but now she needs to embrace it to help keep everyone safe.

Alright I'm just going to lay this out there, I LOVED this book, I can see why it was getting so much hype last year and is one of my favourite reads so far this year. I have never read a book by Bardugo before (I know this may be shocking to some but I don't venture into YA that often) and this book was simply amazing, blew me away. It it dark, gritty, has a very grey world feel to the words and doesn't shy away from any of these traits. There are some disturbing instances and scenarios in this book that involve drug use, rape, murder and Bardugo does not simplify them or sugar coat them either, which I applaud. I will admit that it is a bit slow to start and it can seem a bit confusing especially where and how the book starts and you try to keep all the houses straight, but it does all make sense, you just have to get past that first initial bit. It also at times feels a bit pretentious but lets admit that this book is based in Yale, so I think a bit of pretentiousness is expected. However, as we get to know more about Alex, her past, her abilities and when she stops trying to fit in at Yale and be herself the book really takes off.

Alex has a troubled past and this stems from her ability to see ghosts and have unforgettable and unforgivable encounters with them when she is young. Alex turns to drugs to numb everything, not just her pain but her ability to see them. One day she wakes up in a hospital bed supposedly OD where she gets an offer she cannot refuse. Alex does try to adapt to this new prestigious role that she is given, but I love when she just says fuck it and does it her own way. Alex is smart, resilient and turns out to be a good friend, which is not a trait you are expecting when you first meet her. I like her ability to get things done, she doesn't like authority and goes ahead with what she believes is right even if it is against "orders". Alex's past has truly shaped her, from her experiences to drug use she is a strong ass woman that is for sure.

This is a contemporary set novel novel with paranormal set into our day and age. So the technology, current events and Yale feel like they are very now. I think that Bardugo did a good job of mixing the contemporary and paranormal and if you like the skull and bones type of aspects/conspiracies then you will like this book too. It really takes the secret societies or houses to the extreme, as people are willing to really do anything to achieve power and I mean anything.

I'm extremely excited to read the next book in this series, and cannot wait to see where Bardugo takes it as there are many things left unsolved with this one. I hope that Bardugo continues along with the darkness she created in this book. For me this book deserves the hype that it has been given, and if you haven't had a chance to check it out you should.

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Friday, April 17, 2020

Riley Sager: Lock Every Door

Riley Sager takes readers to New York City, where if something seems too good to be true it normally is:

June Larsen has a new job opportunity, she is to become the newest apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattans greatest and most mysterious landmarks. But the mysterious, tall tales and legends do not scare June, she is just happy to have a fairly easy job to help get her back on her feet. Sure there are a few odd rules like no guests and you must spend every night in the apartment, but who would want to leave this beautiful building. However, when June starts to get to know one of the other apartment sitters, something seems off and all she wants to talk about is the Bartholomew's dark history. The very next day she goes missing and June knows this is not a coincidence. Now June needs to put together Ingrid's reasons for disappearing and she finds that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing.

Sager's books seem to be popping up on all of my social media feeds these days and all of them have had rave reviews so I knew that I was going to give him a try, as his books seemed right up my ally, and lets just say it did not go quite as I expected in both good and bad ways. But I will say my review is probably in the minority of this book.

I'll start with the good, Sager uses one of my favourite formats to have the story unfold, with having two timelines getting closer and closer to each other, as you want to find out why Jules is what seems to be running for her life into the street. I love this type of format as it always piques my curiosity and having just tidbits from the "future" to keep me reading. Plus it was like June was telling her story of how things came to be which I liked as well. I also think that Sager did a great job with the setting of the book, you felt like you are in Manhattan and experiencing everything with Jules. I also likes Jules as a character, she is caring about everyone, whether she knows them or not, smart and is constantly dealing with her problems the best she knows how. You understand why she needed to take the apartment sitting job at the Bartholomew.

I had really high expectations for this book and maybe if I had not read this book after Ruth Ware's The Turn of the Key, I might have felt differently, but I just felt that the creepy atmosphere that Sager was trying to achieve throughout the whole book just didn't occur. Yes, the last quarter of the book is disturbing and suspenseful but that was the first time that I felt that throughout the previous 3/4 of the book. This lack of suspenseful feeling or feeling of urgency really made the book feel rather slow. I mean we know something has to be up with the Bartholomew and really you're not going to predict what is going on there (which I totally appreciate) but it was super slow getting there. I mean the parts that were supposed to be suspense full just lacked luster. Even all the missing people/previous house sitters, I just never really felt the urgency or the overall threat, maybe that was the point? Maybe's it due to the fact that we only had June's point of view and her lack of wanting to share the burden of her thoughts and research with anyone else, I'm not sure, but there was just something missing there to create the creepy or suspenseful atmosphere/moments that I think that Sager was looking to create.

This book just didn't meet my expectations, and I will admit that they were set pretty high. I would try another book by Sager, as I think he has the ability to tell a story and to bring the suspense, chills and thrills that I was expecting from this book but didn't get. So overall, this book is a good read and the last quarter does make it worth the read.

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Friday, April 10, 2020

Kelly deVos: Day Zero

The clock was always ticking and Kelly DeVos takes us to Day Zero, once all the time has run out:

Jinx Marshall did not have a regular childhood. She spent all of her free doomsday prepping a drilling. Her Dad never let her have a days rest or a regular childhood it was all about being prepared. When her parents divorce and her mother remarries, Jinx thinks that she can take a break, have and easy normal life from now on. But all the training comes in handy when a building explodes right next to the one she, her brother and step sister are in, she is able to get them all out alive. However, this was not some random attack the world is about to go through a huge change, one that only a few saw coming, and Jinx just hopes that she has trained enough to help keep her family safe.

Wow, i'm not quite sure where to start with this book, there are quite a few things that I liked about it, the pace (super fast and right from the start), dooms day, some pretty good action scenes that I was not expecting and the overall plot in the story but I struggled with the main character and some of the political avenues. I get that she is a teenager and I tried to forgive that as I read the story but there were a few things about her that just irked me especially as she is really the key to everything.

With that said I am unsure whether I am supposed to like the main character, Jinx, or not. She has some great qualities like taking care of her younger brother, Charles and there are times when she's great to have in a stressful situation, seems to have some fighting abilities but for most of the story I found her to be whiny, selfish (which I guess can be good when the apocalypse is happening) and not smart most of the time aka being distracted by boys. There are multiple times she forgets what her Dad taught her and I feel like if you ran doomsday preps for YEARS of you life you would not forget so many things so easily. I mean when she is taking it easy after her mom and dad split and no longer having to do drill every day she is planning video game campaigns, I feel like that is something that is directly related to her dooms day prepping training. I actually thought that MacKenna was a more likable character (which I did not think would happen at first as she comes off as the spoiled rich girl with entitlement kind of vibe) as at least she stayed true to herself and her ideas and beliefs and wasn't afraid to question everything.

I found the political setting of the book a little confusing, and I don't think the full history of how the USA got to this state is fully explained. I get everyone is for Everyone’s for Rosenthal, but why? And why is it so bad to have a change in government. I mean Ammon Carver does start to sound like a nut bar  but it sounded like the people in the USA wanted to move back to a capitalistic market and away from a more socialist or communist one? I think? Honestly i'm not 100% sure at this point. I mean I like a political intrigue in a book but it needs to be well laid out and explained for me to get on board with it. I'm hoping maybe a bit more will be explained in book number 2. Maybe have Dr. Doomsday explain a few more things and what Carver was thinking as they used to be friends and why he had helped him before this point.

This was an interesting Doomsday, literally zero day, zero hour, type of book that basically start  you running from the beginning and you are looking to catch up about what is going to happen next. I think this is where deVos lost me a bit as I struggled to understand the political landscape of this book and where the USA was before a new president took over. That said I think that deVos has something here and I would check out the next book in the series.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Alice Blanchard: Trace of Evil

A small town is about to be rocked by a murder of one of their own, and everyone in town is a suspect:

Burning Lake is an interesting town that has connection a sordid past with hanging witches, and this fact means that witchcraft and forming a coven is something that the locals, mainly teenagers, drift towards. Natalie Lockhart is a rookie detective who handed the Missing Nine, nine people who have disappeared from Burning Lake over several years and with each new detectives who is promoted they give fresh eyes to the decade or older cases. However, Natalie is about to be handed one of the toughest cases that would fall onto any detective's desk, the murder of someone you know and the wife of a cop, Daisy Buckner. As the investigation deepens Natalie gets more suspects the more evidence that is found and the risks get higher and higher.

While I was reading this book, I was totally convinced that it was a debut novel, I was surprised that it was not. While the plot and main character seemed laid out there were some what I think basic details missed that would have changed this book from a good read to an amazing one, aka The Devil is in the Details. This book would have been such a stronger book and story if Blanchard would have done some extra research about police officers, their culture and some general forensic information. Even a google search would have helped her with these details. So I guess i'll deal with the no so good first and then get to the good.

First off, police do not carry pagers any more, everyone has smart phones and that is what they would use if you are on call. Police Department will issue the officers a work phone for this purpose so there would not be a rotating pager for whomever is on call that night. Can you think of how many times a rotating pager would get lost? Second, if you take a bullet in your vest you will have to replace that vest as it has been compromised, you would no longer be safe if you were to take another bullet to the vest. Sure you can keep it but it would have to be replaced as it would be no longer safe to wear it but it would probably have been needed to be taken into evidence first as part of the proof about the shot as well as to obtain the bullet out of it.

Thirdly, there is a lot of emphasis on time of death. Time of death is the least precise forensic out there, there are too many factors that can affect when a person was killed. Simply asking the coroner or pathologist when the person died shows a lack of research, they cannot narrow it down to hours, more like days. Additionally when Natalie enters the house and states that she could smell the dead body, this is not true, decomposition of the body where a smell occurs does not normally happen within the first few hours of death, it begins two to three days after as it takes a bit for the bacteria within your Body to start breaking it down for food which in turn releases gas. I was able to find most of this out with a basic google search so I feel that Blanchard could have done that as well. Blanchard did get more to the right track when she started to try and figure out what Daisy had done that day and who had seen her last but this is later in the book. Lastly, you as a police officer always always secure the suspect(s) and scene first, yes you can save a person if they need saving but once that is done after you secure your suspect(s), if you don’t there is still a risk to you and the victim that could lead to even more dire consequences. You don’t know what other weapons that may arise by you not securing them. I feel like this aspect is common sense.

Alright now to the good part. WOW, what a plot and story, I did not have everything figured out till the very end, there were too many suspects in this small town where everyone and everything and everyone are interconnected. God, I love small town books and Burning Lake is no exception. I appreciate that Blanchard kept this book to one murder, one who done it, with the historical cases also being investigated. i think sometime the plot and book becomes too muddied with so many homicides that all interconnected and even though there was only one recent murder to investigate that didn't mean I was able to figure everything out, it was a great twisty, did not see that coming ending, which is always amazing when that occurs.

Burning Lake is an interesting town and it has the reputation for burning (though the actually hung them) witches just like Salem did and the town uses this as their “claim to fame”. This also means that people dabbling in witchcraft is a common theme amount the youth and this creates a whole different avenue if investigation for the police department. This book is set in our time in our world so the whole witch thing is more wishful thinking but it does not mean that people, mainly teens, aren’t willing to try a spell or two, however, witchcraft needs to be considered with every crime that is committed. This adds an extremely unique perspective in this book and one that I have not read before outside of the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal genres. It appears that Blanchard did so research on witchcraft as she talks about symbols, knots, spells and what those spells hope to achieve and I found it all very fascinating.

Natalie is an interesting character, she’s smart, know how to play the game and really caring about her family and those who shew grew up with. Even the lady who had a psychotic break and ends up on the street, Natalie is there if she needs help. It never seems like Natalie gets exhausted with trying to juggle all her cases and family life, she just keeps going and going with little sleep, so maybe she is a super human detective. There is a hint of a romance to come, it kind of became redundant throughout the book (oh i've liked him forever, maybe now will be the time he makes a move ect) and I don’t think the book or plot needed it as it doesn't really add anything to the murder investigation or story.

Don't get me wrong, overall I enjoyed this book. I feel like Blanchard likes the idea of writing from the point of view of a rookie detective but lacked the knowledge or research about police, police culture and investigations to really pull some of this book off. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the plot and story that Blanchard laid out in this book and the small town setting. I would read another book from Blanchard and if she were to release another book featuring Burning Lake and Natalie.

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