Categories
Suspense Thrillers

Near Dark (book thoughts) by Brad Thor

I love books with international spy intrigue.  I have wanted to try a Brad Thor thriller and Near Dark was available.

I swear I am 100% impulse reading – not even mood – just pure impulse reading this month.  I saw the famous French cathedral on the cover and said “ok, that will be cool”!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Near Dark
  • Series: Scot Harvath #19
  • Author: Brad Thor
  • Publisher & Release: Atria, July 2020
  • Length: 349 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⚡ I’m willing to talk but it didn’t work as a standalone

Here’s the synopsis:

Scot Harvath returns in the newest thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Brad Thor.

The world’s largest bounty has just been placed upon America’s top spy. His only hope for survival is to outwit, outrun, and outlast his enemies long enough to get to the truth.

But for Scot Harvath to accomplish his most dangerous mission ever—one that has already claimed the lives of the people closest to him, including his new wife—he’s going to need help—a lot of it.

Not knowing whom he can trust, Harvath finds an unlikely ally in Norwegian intelligence operative Sølvi Kolstad. Just as smart, just as deadly, and just as determined, she not only has the skills, but also the broken, troubled past to match Harvath’s own.

– from GoodReads

So who put a 100 million dollar bounty and a pool of assassins after Harvath?

I have heard that the Scot Harvath books are excellent international spy thrillers.  Unfortunately Near Dark is #19 in the series  and while usually these types of books can be read as standalones, this one just didn’t work.

It is based very heavily on the events of the past few books, with TONS of recap. I think if I had read the prior books, the recap would be boring, and since I hadn’t, I had no clue what they were talking about.  Also since I don’t know the characters that had died, all the grief and past recollections didn’t affect me.

Having read a few other reviews from long time series readers, I’m not too far off the mark there. Either way there was tons of intrigue and I think it would be worth trying prior novels in the series.

It also took a long time for Harvath to do anything exciting since he spent much of the book reeling from prior events and in hiding.

Once the action got going it does seem like Thor can write a good spy thriller. I liked Harvath and Sorvi, the Norwegian spy. These characters just kick ass and have some Bond-like qualities and sometimes that’s what books need.  I liked that he went there with the torture and murders too. 

My favorite side character was Nicholas the dwarf.  A real dwarf isn’t something I see often in books and he was hilarious plus a brilliant hacker.  Would love to go back and read the history there.

In short … I would start back at the beginning  and try the first book in the series before judging too harshly. The recapped action sounded awesome but I can’t recommend these as standalones based off Near Dark.

Categories
Dystopian Science Fiction Young Adult

Thunderhead (book thoughts) by Neal Shusterman

Happy Presidents Day! In the spirit of historical figures and Shusterman’s many nods to obscure ones from across world history, who is one of your favorite lesser-known historical figures?

The OpenlyBooked Book Club read Thunderhead earlier this month to continue the ARC OF A SCYTHE series. I think Scythe should have been left as a standalone – it had a Printz nod and wrapped up so nicely.  Thunderhead felt way too long and the new points of view weren’t very interesting to me, detracting from the overall reading experience.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Thunderhead
  • Author: Neal Shusterman
  • Series: Arc of a Scythe #2
  • Publisher & Release: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers – Jan, 2018
  • Length: 512
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ it will be hit or miss with the sequel, but a good series for YA readers

Synopsis (from Amazon):

Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the chilling sequel to the Printz Honor Book Scythe from New York Times bestseller Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

The Thunderhead cannot interfere in the affairs of the Scythedom. All it can do is observe—it does not like what it sees.

A year has passed since Rowan had gone off grid. Since then, he has become an urban legend, a vigilante snuffing out corrupt scythes in a trial by fire. His story is told in whispers across the continent.

As Scythe Anastasia, Citra gleans with compassion and openly challenges the ideals of the “new order.” But when her life is threatened and her methods questioned, it becomes clear that not everyone is open to the change.

Will the Thunderhead intervene?

Or will it simply watch as this perfect world begins to unravel?

Overall: this was a much longer book.  I liked the Scythe and Thunderhead history and world building.  Faraday and Curie brought a lot to this second installment.  Tyger and … Uh … Grayson? Not so much. It was fun to get a better look at the Tonists too.  Thunderhead was the true star!

Although I do not require devotion, am I not deserving of it?

The last 25% picked up in pace again and  finished on a truly dramatic and apocalyptic note.  I appreciate Shusterman’s willingness to be brutal.  Some parts were truly brutal too with more political scheming, injustice, and murder overall.

If we were judged by the things we most regret, no human being would be worthy to sweep the floor

❤❤My favorite part was the Thunderhead’s little chapter segues, when it was meditating on divinity and responsibility.  It reminded me of Aidan having to make some tough choices in Illuminae.  It was also interesting to see all the random scythe names that Schusterman was plucking from world history, it would be a fun classroom activity to have kids pick a name and research the person❤❤

How ironic, then, and how poetic, that humankind may have created the Creator out of want for one. Man creates God, who then creates man. Is that not the perfect circle of life? But then, if that turns out to be the case, who is created in whose image

I liked the character arcs of Citra/Anastasia and Rowan, i just don’t think they have one bit of chemistry. Not. One. Ounce. I lost a chunk of respect for the way he ended the book with the two characters. Overall he could have done much worse and it was a closed door scene – but still – like just why.   Authors need to stop throwing in what they think people ‘expect’ in books.

That’s exactly what the scythedom is: high school with murder.

I’m not too keen on reading The Toll, after this one, but I probably will finish the trilogy.  I would 100% still tell teens to read Thunderhead. There’s a lot of good food for thought there and compared to a lot of modern YA, these are excellent books.  I am probably just bitter that the author caved to what he thinks people want to read but I  respect Thunderhead‘s many great qualities

Categories
Science Fiction Thrillers

Dark Matter (Book Thoughts) by Blake Crouch

I can’t believe February is more than half over already! I took a little break from ARCs recently and spent some time catching up on books from the late 20-teens by popular authors.  I almost always have a physical, ebook, and audiobook going at all times, and without a digital ARC due soon I have been taking advantage of the Libby app to try some new authors.

Recursion by Blake Crouch was hugely popular on bookstagram when it came out, but I thought the synopsis for Dark Matter sounded more interesting and grabbed that one first.  What an absolutely thrilling book, a mix of sci-fi, thriller, multiverse, and love story without being a romance. I would fully recommend the book to pretty much anyone interested, and definitely want to pick up more books by Crouch.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dark Matter
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Blake Crouch
  • Publisher & Release: Ballantine Books, July 2016
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Rate & Recommend:  Yes for fans of thrillers, multiverses, and thinking about life’s big questions

Here’s the synopsis (taken from Amazon:

A mindbending, relentlessly surprising thriller from the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. Hiswife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

Take another look at the last paragraph of the synopsis, because it is absolutely 100% accurately what the book is about.  Jason is put against impossible odds to get back home to his family.  Travelling through dangerous alternate universes, getting closer and closer – he must discover what exactly HOME means to him in order to get back to that place

Dodging freezing storms, a deadly plague, murderous versions of himself, watching his wife die over and over in other universes . . . then as he gets closer, and closer, Jason must truly reconcile the choices he has made to come home.

I liked the Daniela character too, she doesn’t get that much page time but projects a confidence and determination no matter which life she is living.

I can’t say much more without spoilers but the pacing is FAST.  There is only one place where the science gets a little deep, and otherwise it is a very accessible sci-fi thriller.  There is plenty of danger and real stress on the characters, I never really knew who was going to live or what the outcome would be.

It was impossible not to read this one over the course of a long weekend!

I definitely recommend for adult fans of thrillers, multiverses, and hard life questions!

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

Fate’s Ransom (Book Review) by Jeff Wheeler

I was lucky enough to be invited to read Fate’s Ranson, the final installment of The First Argentines series as an ARC.  While normally I would drop my TBR and jump on it, I knew what was coming … and I put this one off for a few weeks. 

My apologies to the publisher but even in a better state of existence the end absolutely ruined me!! Ruined! Not ugly crying but more the silent streaming tears of ruination kind!

I will do the review without spoilers, although this is absolutely not a standalone and you need the first three books in order to read the ending.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Fate’s Ransom
  • Series: The First Argentines, #4
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, January 4th 2022
  • Length: 455 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐   I think this is an amazing series for those who like clean fantasy, knights and battles, medieval settings, are looking for an intro to fantasy, a little magic and a world of intrigue

Here is the synopsis (taken from Amazon)

Betrayal, war, and the risks of loyalty collide in the epic conclusion of the First Argentines series by the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Lady’s Ransom.

Ransom Barton has served three Argentine kings. The new successor to the throne is the ruthless Jon-Landon, a fallible strategist when it comes to war. After losing against the Occitanian armies, the king forces Ransom to bear the blame and removes him from the council. But Jon-Landon isn’t yet through with humbling the honorable knight of Ceredigion.

When a retaliatory battle succeeds, Jon-Landon invites Ransom back into his circle. Though Ransom’s Fountain magic is made stronger by his fealty, he’s once again forced to make a terrible choice. And this time, Ransom’s wife, Claire, and their sons could pay the price for Ransom’s loyalty.

But as tensions between Ceredigion and Occitania reignite and alliances at court begin to crumble, a desperate Jon-Landon discovers his only ally is the knight he betrayed. With the future of Kingfountain hanging in the balance, Ransom agrees to help. And as secret enemies reveal their endgame, Ransom knows that he may have to make the ultimate sacrifice for the survival of the Argentine dynasty.

The synopsis really says it all: Jon-Landon is an insufferable twat and his spy master is even worse.  Ransoms pays the heaviest price as petulance and jealousy destroy the kingdom from the inside, while opportunistic kings attack the borders. 

There is a little more magic in this book. The real history of the Wizr board is revealed with how this particular game began.  There are miracles of the fountain to behold.  Alix hints at having more abilities than anyone is aware of, and I really wish we had seen more of her and Estian’s motivations than what we learned at the end.  (I wonder if maybe in reading the two books about Ankorette, we learn these poisoner secrets so that Alix only had to give a nod to it in a later book? I skipped them but am going to go back for sure).

There was so much intrigue, as in every book, although I felt like this was more about Jon-Landon cutting off his own arms than having a good reason to conquer his own allies. Ransom stayed loyal to the Fountain above all else.  There were some parts that almost turned to dark fantasy, as in, children were murdered, graphic poisonings, etc, but even in the darkest times there was a way forward.

There was the typical dose of battles, strategy, reconciliation ,and heroism that I come to expect from these books.  The “Dex Aie” chapter was pretty much everything.  Ransom and Estian finally had their showdown, although I could have gone for an epic duel.

What else… oh yes, the family scenes.  I wish Wheeler would do families in more of his books, I just loved seeing the twins causing mayhem with the princess.  I think he’s got a strong sense of family and it shows in the pages, it surprised me that this isn’t something he has written before.  The twins were somewhat of the comic relief in some otherwise terrible situations. I have theories about how they will grow up and be married and further the realm for sure.

My only question was – so obviously some years had passed in the beginning of the book, but I don’t think everything else aged consistently.  Dappled would have been older too and probably not as strong and resilient as he used to be.  Ransom’s kids didn’t seem to age appropriately either, either that or there weren’t really that many years that had passed. 

Either way, let me close by giving Claire the spotlight – I think she deserved the protectorate position at the end, so much!! She was the most capable queen and saved the day so many times throughout the series.  While the devastation at the end did absolutely ruin me, I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome for Claire.  I don’t know how I feel about the fact that she more or less converted to the belief of the Fountain, although again, the ending, the ending, the ending.  I’m glad she affiliated herself with Constance and got to see the Deep Fathoms for herself. 

All in all – yes definitely recommend these books for those seeking an exciting medieval fantasy series.  I think they are great books for teens too, easy to follow plots and very clean content. I am interested in checking out the history and books that the series and Ransom character are based on.  There was a knight named William Marshal and his service to four kings (the Plantagenet line, predecessors of the Tudors) was a real piece of history.  There’s a fantastic author note about it all.

((Very lastly- these books are available on KU, with free audiobooks as part of that subscription. This is the case with most Jeff Wheeler books. This series is narrated by Kate Rudd and she is absolutely fantastic – very dramatic – but very good. As another way to check out his books I would highly recommend that route)

Categories
audiobooks Mysteries Suspense Thrillers

The Guest List (book thoughts) by Lucy Foley

I am about to dive back into another fantasy and sci-fi binge.  While I love reading indie, it’s been fun to try a few new and different popular authors this month, the last of them being Lucy Foley.

I see her novels on Bookstagram FREQUENTLY and figured I should give her a shot, even if her name makes me giggle as a nurse 😂

Anyway – Libby had The Guest List available and I tend to LOVE full cast audiobooks.  I don’t think I could have finished if it was a book – the atmosphere and location worked but the format and story was rough for me

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Guest List
  • Author: Lucy Foley
  • Publisher & Release: William Morrow, June 2020
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ for fans of the mystery genre

Here’s the synopsis:

wedding celebration turns dark and deadly in this deliciously wicked and atmospheric thriller reminiscent of Agatha Christie from the New York Times bestselling author of The Hunting Party.

The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner  – The bridesmaid – The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

I can definitely see where critics were comparing this to a Christie novel but it was very hard for me to not know the crime or victim up front. I’ve been spoiled by modern thrillers where, when it’s relevant, we almost always know who the victim is.  How am I supposed to guess who did it or why if I don’t know what I’m guessing at?

There was so much back story about the couple and the husband’s Uni and wedding plans and etc etc. These aren’t things I typically care to read about so I was honestly pretty bored. She kept hinting at some obviously dark events in the past – at least the reveals were pretty entertaining but the hints were so vague.

The best part was probably the descriptions of the island and the haunted atmosphere in Aoife’s chapters, but even that could have been amped up more. Irish folklore and legends always have a place in stories, and a few were mentioned in name only.

I think if we had known who died earlier on it would have been a lot more interesting.  The family drama was kind of entertaining but at the same time I just couldn’t bring myself to care.

Regarding the audio! I liked the female narrators but the men left something to be desired. Some of the female narrators really did not do convincing men either. I definitely didn’t like the present tense chapters where eventually the crime was narrated.

If you like this closed door mystery genre of books, I could still recommend this one, although I’ve read many better ones (personal opinion) recently that kept me on my toes and got exciting much sooner.

Categories
Science Fiction

Mercury Rising (ARC Review) by RWW Greene

Thank you so much to Angry Robot for the early access digital copy of Mercury Rising by RWW Greene! I feel bad for doing a terrible job reading it super early, but here we are anyway!

This is an alternate history, first encounter type story where Kennedy lived and the Earth ended up mobilizing a united space force against an alien race.  How is this really going to work out in the end? Read on for my spoiler free thoughts!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Mercury Rising
  • Series: (Author alluded to a sequel)
  • Author: RWW Greene
  • Publisher & Release: Angry Robot, 05/10/22
  • Length: 400 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend:  ⭐⭐⭐⚡ Yes for fans of military sci-fi, first encounters, snarky aliens and their *coughreproductiveneedscough*

Here’s the synopsis:

Alternative history with aliens, an immortal misanthrope and SF tropes aplenty

The year is 1975 – Robert Oppenheimer has invented the Atomic Engine, the first human has walked on the moon, and Jet Carson and the Eagle Seven have sacrificed their lives to stop alien invaders.
Brooklyn, however, just wants to keep his head down, pay his mother’s rent, earn a little scratch of his own, and maybe get laid sometime. Simple pleasures! But life is about to get real complicated when a killer with a baseball bat and a mysterious box of 8-track tapes sets him up for murder.

So, his choices are limited – rot away in prison or sign up to defend the planet from the assholes who dropped a meteorite on Cleveland. Brooklyn crosses his fingers and picks the Earth Orbital Forces, believing that after a few years in the trenches – assuming he survives – he can get his life back. Unfortunately, the universe has other plans.

Brooklyn is launched into a quest to save humanity, find his true family, and grow as a person – while simultaneously coping with high-stakes space battles, mystery science experiments and the realisation that the true enemies perhaps aren’t the tentacled monsters on the recruitment poster… Or are they?

Overall, this was a quick and pretty engaging read.  I had trouble getting started with the alternate history portion since it was also super technologically advanced and that threw me off, I guess I am too used to these types of books occurring in the future.  Once the book got going with Brooklyn ending up in jail and then the military, I couldn’t put it down!

Brooklyn is an interesting character, one of those who doesn’t really want to be a hero at all but rises to the circumstances pushed upon him.  I also liked pretty much all of the characters on Venus – especially the doctor.  Throw in a medical mystery or two and this girl is on board!

Speaking of characters, there is an entirely gay spaceship and the astronauts are mostly pretty funny.  I liked seeing how they interacted with the straight guy (Brooklyn) and put him in his place without entirely dismissing his concerns. It was an eye opening experience for Brooklyn and his very gay roommate from military training.   I would have liked to know what happened to the ship and the rest of the crew after Brooklyn’s departure.

Plot wise – this one definitely kept moving.  It was interesting to discover the aliens and their motivation for initiating contact with the Earth and military.  The best part was that I really had no idea what was coming at the end.  The other best part was that Greene really focused on Brooklyn’s story, while letting the others be heroes at the end.

There is a bit of an open ending that I did like, although the author alluded to there being more writing coming in Brooklyn’s world.  With no spoilers – the book does absolutely work as a standalone, but there’s definitely room for a sequel too.

Overall – It took a while to get going for me but I can definitely recommend this one for fans of the genre!

Categories
Fantasy Literary Fiction Paranormal

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (all the things I learned) by Salman Rushdie

The only thing I knew about Rushdie going into this read was that 1) his eyebrows are terrifying and 2) about 30 years ago he really, really pissed off the Ayatollah enough to receive a death warrant. I knew that he was known for magical realism and I thought a book about Djinn would be a fun place to start – plus Ursula LeGuin plugged the book, and it pays tons of homage to Scheherezade and the 1001 nights (see title).

I expected a stuffy old idealist, which meant that while reading I was shocked by the humor and strangeness mixed in with the idealism and colorful characters, sex and profanity, giggles and terrible acts and general ridiculousness found on the same page as much more serious themes and topics.

I watched a talk and Q&A that Rushdie did, mostly about his new book at the time called Quichotte, and he is HILARIOUS.  Brilliant clearly but also giggling about not wanting certain presidents in his fucking book, and he actually joked that thirty years later, only one of the two men (Rushdie vs. the Ayatollah) are alive, so things must have worked out.  I was laughing truly, he is a delight to listen to.

So what did I learn? Don’t assume an author is a stuffy old dude until you read something they write and hear their thoughts on their work.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Salman Rushdie
  • Publisher & Release: Random House, September 2015
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ ⚡ I don’t think I would tell people to read this book of his first

Here’s the synopsis:

In the near future, after a storm strikes New York City, the strangenesses begin. A down-to-earth gardener finds that his feet no longer touch the ground. A graphic novelist awakens in his bedroom to a mysterious entity that resembles his own sub–Stan Lee creation. Abandoned at the mayor’s office, a baby identifies corruption with her mere presence, marking the guilty with blemishes and boils. A seductive gold digger is soon tapped to combat forces beyond imagining.

Unbeknownst to them, they are all descended from the whimsical, capricious, wanton creatures known as the jinn, who live in a world separated from ours by a veil. Centuries ago, Dunia, a princess of the jinn, fell in love with a mortal man of reason. Together they produced an astonishing number of children, unaware of their fantastical powers, who spread across generations in the human world.

Once the line between worlds is breached on a grand scale, Dunia’s children and others will play a role in an epic war between light and dark spanning a thousand and one nights—or two years, eight months, and twenty-eight nights. It is a time of enormous upheaval, in which beliefs are challenged, words act like poison, silence is a disease, and a noise may contain a hidden curse.

Inspired by the traditional “wonder tales” of the East, Salman Rushdie’s novel is a masterpiece about the age-old conflicts that remain in today’s world. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is satirical and bawdy, full of cunning and folly, rivalries and betrayals, kismet and karma, rapture and redemption.

I think the last line of the synopsis says everything.  The main issue for me is that the book was set another 1000 years in the future, so the first and last parts of it read like a historical textbook on the Djinn and an old war.  Not that this is a bad thing, but it caused me to switch over to the audio as that kind of literature gets into my brain easier when someone else is telling the story.

After a history of the Djinn, we meet Dunia, and then generations later we meet the descendants of her children. Many of these are described in the synopsis.  This was the highlight for me as things got quite strange.  For example – how does someone floating higher and higher off the ground take a crap once things start getting too splashy? Is a gardener capable of being a hero? Will the power destroy or drive mad or save it’s recipients when their Djinn blood is awakened?

“Bawdy and satirical” is an understatement an overall I liked those parts.  I didn’t love how he made religion the scapegoat of the dark Djinn, he pretty much dismissed a ton of people as sheep and clowns, but there were also some interesting ideas about God so who knows where he is really coming from.

The 1001 night war was a good idea, and I liked that he kept circling back to the storytellers.  Other themes obviously included repressed idealism, common heroes, how good and bad can originate much from the same place, and … right at the end there is a great piece on how history chooses it’s heroes and writes them accordingly

He also echoed a sentiment I have been feeling recently where people are so focused on immediate results (including in stories) that longer books and journeys aren’t appreciated so much anymore

One quick note on the narration – I love Indian accents, and Robert G. Slade did an awesome job.  The cackling comic book Djinn roughly quoted as saying “come get me mothafuckaaa” was one of the many, many things I thought he did well.  A large portion of the book also took place in America, and I think he has a great range of accents and voices to offer.  It was a no-frills audio and I think it was the right move for me to switch over

Overall: I think everyone should read at least one Rushdie book at some point, but the historical text parts of this one were a lot less interesting than the present tense chapters.  I would not recommend starting with this book.  I am personally going to try Quichotte next, but Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses (the one the sparked the Fatwa) I believe are his two most popular.

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Crime

Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases (ARC Review) by Paul Holes

Thank you so much to Celadon Books for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

I am a newer true crime reader and Unmasked is interesting on many different levels.  I think Paul Holes is a face/name that most Americans recognize. I was surprised at the depth in his memoir and so glad to read his book!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases
  • Author: Paul Holes (with Robin Gaby Fisher)
  • Publisher & Release: Celadon Books , 4/26/22
  • Length: 288
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for true crime fans!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

From the detective who found the Golden State Killer, a memoir of investigating America’s toughest cold cases and the rewards–and toll–of a life solving crime.

I order another bourbon, neat. This is the drink that will flip the switch. I don’t even know how I got here, to this place, to this point. Something is happening to me lately. I’m drinking too much. My sheets are soaking wet when I wake up from nightmares of decaying corpses. I order another drink and swig it, trying to forget about the latest case I can’t shake.

Crime solving for me is more complex than the challenge of the hunt, or the process of piecing together a scientific puzzle. The thought of good people suffering drives me, for better or worse, to the point of obsession. People always ask how I am able to detach from the horrors of my work. Part of it is an innate capacity to compartmentalize; the rest is experience and exposure, and I’ve had plenty of both. But I have always taken pride in the fact that I can keep my feelings locked up to get the job done. It’s only been recently that it feels like all that suppressed darkness is beginning to seep out.

When I look back at my long career, there is a lot I am proud of. I have caught some of the most notorious killers of the twenty-first century and brought justice and closure for their victims and families. I want to tell you about a lifetime solving these cold cases, from Laci Peterson to Jaycee Dugard to the Pittsburg homicides to, yes, my twenty-year-long hunt for the Golden State Killer.

But a deeper question eats at me as I ask myself, at what cost? I have sacrificed relationships, joy―even fatherhood―because the pursuit of evil always came first. Did I make the right choice? It’s something I grapple with every day. Yet as I stand in the spot where a young girl took her last breath, as I look into the eyes of her family, I know that, for me, there has never been a choice. “I don’t know if I can solve your case,” I whisper. “But I promise I will do my best.”

It is a promise I know I can keep

First off, it’s extremely personal. I can relate to how seeing horrible things at work kind of ruins your mind after a while. I’ve got nothing on a crime scene investigator but WOW, some of his mental and interpersonal struggles resonate. Especially when he said he was afraid of not being able to give love as others need it – right at the end – he won me over as a person too. The personal vs professional struggle for Holes is an ongoing issue even after retirement and I hope he was able to save his second family

He also wrote about some truly grisly crime scenes, things that they definitely don’t show on TV. Scraping maggots out of dead flesh, yuckkkk I would die, I can’t even imagine how anyone in the profession does it. Holes definitely doesn’t skirt over details and it always shocks me what these monsters are capable of.

The cases were fascinating too, especially how after years and years of obsession he finally tracked the Golden State Killer. I have grown up seeing some of these cases in the news and the inside look was some mix of cool and terrible. So many casualties.

Speaking of casualties – I think it’s awesome that Patton Oswalt got the featured review, that story was 💔

Lastly, there was some dense but interesting info on the progression of DNA testing and using genetics (I always wondered if those ancestry websites were an FBI DNA grab lol) to solve cases and profile killers. Interesting stuff overall.

I definitely recommend this for true crime fans and anyone interested!

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Fiction

The Magician King (book thoughts) by Lev Grossman

Well I definitely couldn’t stop reading at the end of The Magicians, so here are my thoughts on The Magician King! So many series have a second book slump and I was absolutely floored that this sequel was even better than the first.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Magician King
  • Series: The Magicians, #2
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher & Release: Viking, August 2011
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for fans of modern/contemporary fantasy

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the cutting edge of literary fantasy

I will do my best to keep this spoiler free.

So you guys know that I loved The Magicians. There was no sophomore slump in this series as Quentin, Elliot, Josh, and newish characters Julia and Poppy now have to save Fillory (and the entire multiverse) from the end of all magic.

First off – I loved Poppy.  I would have paired her up with Quentin any day and she taught him a lot about optimism and perspective.  Quentin finally identified “home” and was willing to fight for it.  I loved when he embraced his sorcery and role. He learned what it takes to not only be a King, but a hero, and was willing to sacrifice everything for Julia at the end.  Even if he had known the price I think he would have said yes.

That said, I am probably the only one but I don’t sympathize with the Julia story.  She had it rough but she should have dropped it after failing the Brakebills exam.  When she got a second chance to return to normalcy and rejected that too – she made her choice.

The book got absolutely brutally grimdark towards the end as the hedgewitches essentially got what they asked for when knocking on the gods’ door. They endangered magic everywhere and were just idiotically out of their league.  I would have liked to know more about why the Free Trader Beowulf clan members weren’t chosen for magic school to begin with, what was the test really looking for?  They were so smart yet didn’t seem to consider the consequences of their actions

Their journey was interesting both  philosophically and from a religious standpoint. It was fascinating to follow their train of thought on religion as an objective study, translating to magic ….. but … I have to wonder what exactly they were thinking, to go from not trusting anyone to setting up a huge summoning which a total stranger presented! For being such geniuses they really did not think their plan through, and then the world went grimdark.

No spoilers but it takes a lot to make me cringe, and I was cringing.  I read an interview where Grossman stated that he thought the most broken people made the best creative works, and translated that into magic for the story.  The characters make so much more sense now.

All in all: I loved this one.  I liked the hedgewitch magic theory vs. religion, even if their levelling system was stupid.  I liked Quentin’s character growth.  I liked the humor.  I liked Josh’s comeback.  The magic was huge, dark, and wild in this one.

Mark Bramhall is once again a fantastic narrator as well.  I think with the humor and swearing and inflection, so much inflection, the audio narration brings a lot to this book.  I liked closing my eyes and envisioning Quentin storming the watchtower.  The end was wonderful too.  I think he does a great voice for Elliot, Josh and Quentin, and brings a lot of excitement and sorrow where appropriate.

Here are a handful of my favorite quotes:

“You didn’t get the quest you wanted, you got the one you could do.”

Grossman took a bit of time exploring what it is to be a hero

“Maybe this was one of those times when being a hero didn’t involve looking particularly brave. It was just doing what you should.”

Probably Quentin’s single biggest moment of character growth. Gosh I loved his protectiveness towards Eleanor and Benedict

“You’re saying the gods don’t have free will.”

“The power to make mistakes,” Penny said. “Only we have that. Mortals.”

An amazing bit on the gods – what is greatness if they can’t love their creation? Magic!  Quentin loved magic, he deserved it! He would fight for it!

“It’s true,” Eliot said. “Statistically, historically, and however else you want to look at it, you are almost never right. A monkey making life decisions based on its horoscope in USA Today would be right more often than you. But in this case, yes, you were right. Don’t spoil it.”

Elliot’s story ARC warmed my cold little soul in this one too. He’s found his place, his assertiveness, he’s taken charge of his home, and he’s as hilarious as ever.

The only other thing too is that I really love both alternate cover editions, I don’t just like TV covers but look at Julia! It’s beautiful

Screenshot_20220131-191503

That’s enough rambling, in a few weeks I’ll have my thoughts posted on the final installment of the trilogy!

Categories
Dystopian Science Fiction Young Adult

Scythe (or themes for teens) by Neal Shusterman

I finally got the time and chance to read another book with the OpenlyBooked Book Club, and really enjoyed Scythe!

I liked it well enough as an adult and I also think it’s a fantastic book for teen readers.  There are lots of good themes, ideas, and what-ifs for discussion fodder and there’s a discussion and classroom guide in the back of my edition! Honestly I think I’d have gotten more out of this as a teen than I did, say, trying to understand Brave New World at the time so that’s something teachers are hopefully looking at.

In one sentence: one of the more unique and interesting YA books I’ve ever read

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Scythe
  • Series: Arc of a Scythe #1
  • Author: Neal Shusterman
  • Publisher & Release: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers – November  2016
  • Length: 448 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⚡ for anyone interested

Here’s the synopsis via Amazon:

I don’t read many utopian sci-fi books and was definitely happy with this one.  What the heck would the consequences be when humans are immortal, there’s no government anymore, everyone is provided for, and life is one big neverending run of mediocrity?

There are so many great themes and ideas for teens to consider in these books. What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a world like this? Is the Thunderhead better than individual governments? How do you feel about turning back the clock?

Is cultivated random death better than the old method of natural selection? My favorite question is, without suffering, how does one’s life and the world at large change?

I tried hard to poke holes in the world building as well and it seemed extremely solid.  There were lots of sci-fi and utopian ideas but not enough technology and science to bog down the book.  It was more there in ideology. I was thinking quite a.bit about cultivated random death vs old-school random death, is one or the other really better? The whole idea of disease, accidents, crime, government being rendered obsolete was fascinating.

I think this is a unique plot with a thoughtful look at humanity.  The scythes hold a LOT of power, and therefore of course is the source of corruption as well.  Seeing how different scythes operate, the good and bad, new vs old, and how they essentially preserve the age of mortality was interesting to me.

The characters all had their unique aspects too.  It’s rare that a book is equally plot and character driven.  Rowan and Citra didn’t want to be scythes, therefore they are perfect candidates – but how do you ease people into taking life? How do they react to this? I liked their different strengths and weaknesses, and how each of their famous Scythe mentors had different approaches to the gleaning

My only negative thought was how the two teens ended up romantically inclined towards each other. I get that the author thinks people “expect” “romance” but the characters had zero, absolutely NO chemistry, and nothing except proximity.  This should have been a friendship, as proximity romances are stupid and the characters only had one brief physical encounter.  I honestly don’t think that teens want or expect romance in every book and it was so obviously forced into Scythe.  1/2 star docked for the author being silly

Overall: I thoroughly recommend this one and consider it a wonderfully appropriate teen read too.  Confirmed by the fact that it won a Printz honor, it definitely reads as a standalone but I’ll be reading book 2 asap.  This could easily be read and discussed in schools.  The language was clean, the worst anyone did was kiss, once, and while there was violence and death it was usually well compensated.

Likely one of my lifetime top 10 YA reads but I would have to think out a list to confirm