Review – Red Rising

Red Rising by Pierce BrownDarrow is a driller, a Red — a member of the lowest class of humanity — living below the surface of Mars toiling in hot tunnels all for the greater good of human civilization. A displaced person of a conquered Earth, he’s among the settlers mining the precious minerals that will be used to make the surface habitable for future generations. He’s always stretching the limits of what he can do, knowing he’s the best driller in his group and wanting to prove it. What he really wants though is to win the laurel and be able to provide more food for his family.

Just when Darrow thinks he’s won the laurel, everything changes. His wife opens his eyes to another world — a world he didn’t know existed and one he wishes he could instantly forget. When his wife is sentenced to death for showing Darrow the surface world, and the truth about class distinctions, his life shatters. Sentenced to death days after his wife’s public hanging, Darrow finds death isn’t so easy to come by. Taken in by a rebel group, he becomes part of the revolution — transforming into a Gold, the highest class of society on Mars, to infiltrate and bring down the system from the inside. With his wife’s death as motivation, Darrow assimilates into Gold society learning to live among the decadent and immoral people he didn’t know existed, and couldn’t even imagine in his previous life. He’s physically changed through surgery, learns a new language, and becomes, for all purposes, a new person — a person who must now win a game to find revenge for his wife, and his family.

When children are of age, the Golds enroll their children in an institute where survival is more than just an academic term. In order to earn sought after positions in society, the Golds fight their way through a game of life and death, all striving to be at the top. Darrow understands very little about the people and situation he’s been thrown into but quickly takes to the game becoming one of the most conniving and fierce players the institute has ever seen. His unpredictable nature works for and against him propelling him to an end he seeks but doesn’t necessarily want.

Darrow understands the game better than any of the other students and has much more at stake. He’s also slightly unlikable and unreliable. He knows who he is at heart but he also knows he needs to be a killer to survive. He has no problem holding himself above the others believing that what he’s doing is for a greater good. Darrow is now a man with a purpose even if he’s a man who no longer recognizes himself. He’s internalized being a Gold — he’s dark, cold, and mysterious to those around him.

This game that’s being played among the students, and the Gold society in general, is just brutal. You quickly understand the players and what they need to do to survive and even though some are thoroughly unlikable, you like them anyway because the situation is absolutely vile. Reading this book is like watching a fight to the death cage match. Brown’s Mars is a dark and unforgiving place where death is always close, especially for Reds like Darrow.

It happens but I wish it wouldn’t — book comparisons. This book is a mix of things — The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and The Lord of the Flies. There’s a competition among the students, it takes place on Mars, and well, in the end, it is mass chaos; students killing students all in the name of winning a game that can’t be won. What that means for the reader is that time will disappear as soon as the first page is read, because once you start, you’re not going to put this book down until the end.

Red Rising is the first book in a planned trilogy.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Red Rising

Pierce Brown

Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345539786

 

Review – The Descent

The Descent by Alma KatsuThe Descent is the third book in The Taker trilogy. If you haven’t read The Taker and The Reckoning yet, you need to fix that in 2014. This trilogy is certainly one of the more interesting ones to come along. There are some great characters and plot lines that keep you guessing — even after you read the ending first, like I do.

Lanore McIlvrae, Lanny as she’s known, spent years living in fear of Adair, the man who made her immortal. Their relationship, while heated and insanely passionate, is not a stable one by any means. The things these two have done to each other — both mentally and physically — are horrific, and yet, they can’t seem to escape each other. Beyond the immortal bond the two share, there’s something else that keeps them returning to each other even after all the hurt they’ve caused.

After Lanny’s current partner, Luke, dies of cancer, she begins having nightmares about her former lover, and one could say, the great love of her life, Jonathan. Believing the nightmares are more than just guilt induced dreams, Lanny goes looking for the only man she knows who can help her — Adair. She knows he possesses the power to alleviate her nightmares and find answers to her questions. Unfortunately, she’s not sure how well she’ll be received, especially coming on business concerning Jonathan. While Lanny and Adair’s relationship has changed significantly over the intervening years, Jonathan is very much a sore spot between the two. There are things in life that are constant and Jonathan is that one thing for Lanny and Adair.

When Lanny finds Adair, she finds a changed man. He’s living on a deserted island in the Mediterranean and is a much calmer person but she knows there’s still much to fear from Adair and the power he can yield. She comes to an understanding of her feelings for him but knows she must still help Jonathan if possible and that’s when things get complicated.

My dilemma — how do I tell readers about this book when it’s the third in a series and I don’t want to give anything away? Instead, I’m going to talk about a larger theme in the series — love. I’m not one for love stories, especially ones that get wrapped up all nice and neat in the end. But, I liked that love had such a large and messy role in this story, and let’s not forget the mess the mere thought of the word brought to Lanny, Adair, and Jonathan and the catastrophe that is their relationship. Don’t get me wrong, for a long time I didn’t like Adair at all. He’s cruel, hateful, and isn’t much for honor or respect. Jonathan, while Lanny can’t help but love him, isn’t exactly a loveable person either leaving a trail of heartbroken women in his path. In fact, Lanny, while she obviously loves the idea of love, gets burned so many times it would be easier for her to just walk away from everyone. Maybe her willingness to keep believing that love can work is what makes her likable after all.

It’s always difficult to come to the end of a series especially one that was so good. Alma Katsu gave her characters immortality, beat them up and teased them with death, and in the end, threw in love and let everything fall to the ground in a gigantic messy heap of humanity. At certain points, you won’t like any of the characters — who can all be crazy, manipulative, sad, and demented — but you’re rewarded with a tale that’s full of the supernatural. What’s the good news about this series coming to an end? New readers get to read from start to finish getting wrapped up in Lanny’s strange and enticing world without being left to wonder what will happen next. For me, there’s a satisfaction in finally getting the chance to see what becomes of Lanny, Adair, and Jonathan.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Descent

By Alma Katsu

Gallery Books

ISBN: 9781451651829

Review – Circle of Shadows: A Westerman/Crowther Mystery

Circle of ShadowsLately, everything I want to read is a series and a suspense filled historical mystery at that. I want that back story, the intimacy between characters, rich historical details, and a strange murder to be solved of course. Luckily for me, I found all those characteristics in Robertson’s Circle of Shadows.

Harriet Westerman is home at Caveley with her family attempting to forget the sorrowful events of the past few months. Hurtful rumors have plagued Harriet and she’s done her best to pretend none of it has bothered her but it has. All she wants now is quiet but when a letter arrives from her sister, Rachel, the quiet home life Harriet longed for evaporates. Rachel’s husband, Daniel Clode, has been accused of murder and Rachel needs her help. Harriet calls for her close friend, Gabriel Crowther, who is just as bothered and dismayed by the news as Harriet. Crowther, a reclusive anatomist and Harriet’s partner in several investigations, accompanies her to Germany and the Duchy of Maulberg, a strange little court that prides itself on its opulence but is a place they will need every observance of etiquette to remain safe.

While traveling to Germany, Harriet and Crowther look over the facts of the case and find it all too strange to believe. Daniel had been found with the body of Lady Martesen, a favorite of the Duke of Maulberg, completely incoherent and bleeding from a cut on his wrist. The theory of the local district investigator is that Daniel felt remorse after killing Lady Martesen and tried to take his own life. A theory Harriet and Crowther adamantly don’t believe. Daniel remembers nothing of the evening; especially not the murder or how he even came to be in the room with the dead woman. Crowther, a man all too familiar with the details of murder from his anatomy work, knows that the woman wasn’t killed by Daniel because she was in fact drowned — a pronouncement that throws the entire investigation into upheaval on their arrival.

After their arrival in Maulberg, Harriet and Crowther, and their traveling companions, are quickly schooled in the court etiquette which is rather more complex than what they’re used to in England. It will take every bit of decorum not to be thrown in jail with Daniel in the eccentric court where asking questions seems to be a nonstarter.

Making the case even more dangerous is the appearance of a man Harriet hoped never to see again alive — Manzerotti — the man who ordered the death of her beloved husband. Manzerotti is a spy caught up in the same case as Harriet and Crowther although no one but Manzerotti knows the details and he isn’t sharing.

The dynamic between Harriet and Crowther is what makes this series for me. Harriet is an outspoken woman who has no trouble saying what’s on her mind and acting on impulse — an unusual trait for a woman of the 18th Century. Crowther, on the other hand, would prefer to be alone with a corpse shunning pretty much everyone but Harriet. Their relationship is odd but makes the cases they get involved in so much more interesting for their personalities. The appearance of Manzerotti shakes Harriet’s rather stable emotions in this case, and while Crowther isn’t the most effusive of men, he is when it comes to protecting and helping Harriet, or at least keeping weapons out of her sight when Manzerotti enters a room.

I’ve read previous books in the Westerman/Crowther series and if you have as well, you’ll be happy to know this one lives up to the others. While the setting is interesting, it’s also slightly creepy, the way a murder setting should be. If you’re a fan of Robertson and the Westerman/Crowther series, this one is a good addition and one to be read.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Circle of Shadows: A Westerman/Crowther Mystery

By Imogen Robertson

Pamela Dorman Books/Viking

ISBN: 9780670026289

Review – The Black Country

The Black CountryA small English village sustained by coal mining and strange superstitions is slowing sinking into the mines that crisscross under the village. It’s a rather bleak place. When a child and his parents go missing, the local constable, knowing his limitations and resources, asks Scotland Yard to help. He wants to uncover what happened to the family and figure out if the eyeball found by a young girl in a bird’s nest belongs to one of the missing.

When Inspector Day and Sergeant Hammersmith arrive from Scotland Yard, they are stunned by what they find and it’s not just the eyeball that has them confused — no one in the village will talk about the family or anything else for that matter and there’s a strange sickness taking over the place. Some are willing to blame it on superstition and others seem happy to pretend everything is normal. Day wants answers but meets a solid wall of silence in the form of Blackhampton’s residents. Hammersmith has the same luck when questioning people and unfortunately seems to be coming down with the same strange illness afflicting almost half the village. Calvin Campbell, a visitor to Blackhampton that no one knows, but oddly everyone seems to trust, becomes a focal point for Day’s investigation but he can’t pinpoint any connection and Campbell, like the rest of the residents, won’t talk.

The Black Country is Grecian’s follow-up to The Yard, the first book in the Scotland Murder Squad series. Even though this is the second book in a series, it stands on its own just fine. Grecian creates an eerie atmosphere from start to finish, and I have to say, and without giving anything away, the killer here is creepy and unexpected. I didn’t want to believe it but there it was fitting in perfectly with the dark overtones of the book. In fact, I like when that happens and I find myself surprised. Grecian didn’t let his characters off easy and as a reader I appreciate that.

The village of Blackhampton is the perfect setting — far away but not completely uncivilized yet cocooned enough to hold tight to old superstitions. The coldness of the people is much like the weather and the aloof way they deal with the disappearance of a well-known family is telling. Even the offhand way they think of the mines and the fact that the village is slowly sinking into the very thing that sustains the place and is slowly killing its residents tells you what sort of place it is. Day and Hammersmith aren’t prepared for the living in this place and yet it’s the dead that brought them there. Something is very wrong with not only the place but the people.

Then there are the secrets. Everyone in Blackhampton has something to hide be it an affair, a past, or a murder. People go missing in Blackhampton and there’s always a reason given and a reason accepted by the residents. It’s interesting to see how the village manages to block out change and progress yet holds dearly to old beliefs that no longer hold any ground.

Grecian’s first book made my to be read list when it came out. I didn’t get to it but jumped at the chance to read his second. I’m glad I did because it’s a satisfying read and I plan to go back and follow-up on the first book. It defiantly deserves a look. If you enjoy dark mysteries, The Black Country is worth a read.

 In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Black Country

Alex Grecian

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

ISBN: 9780399159336

 

Review – Palisades Park

Palisades ParkToday, something different — me gushing about book outside my normal reading habits.

I tend to read heavily in the fantasy and historical fiction genres but every once in awhile I like to step outside of my reading habits and try something new. Palisades Park was that something new. Let’s just say that stepping out of routine is a very good thing, because if I hadn’t taken that chance, I never would have found this book.

Eddie Stopka is a kid with dreams. Looking to escape an abusive step-father, he runs away as a teenager but he can’t stay away from his little hometown on the New Jersey coast for long. When he returns, he finds a job at the Palisades Amusement Park, a place that holds very happy childhood memories for him, and it’s there he meets the woman who will become his wife. Taking a chance, the two buy into a French fry stand at the park, start a family, and live a life. However, it’s their oldest child, a daughter named Toni, who is the true dreamer in the family. Having seen a woman high diver at the park, Toni immediately knows that’s what she wants to do when she grows up.

Even with her mother telling her women can’t be high divers, Toni persists. Her mother gives in enough to get her and her brother swimming lessons, but beyond that, doesn’t give much encouragement to her diving dreams. Toni, however, knows her heart and it sits at the top of the high platform in front of an audience.

I’m a character driven reader. Yes, plots are nice and I like when they stick together for a story to play out properly, but when characters are wonderful, I’m in for the duration. The Stopka family, well, even for all their faults and problems, they are a pleasure to be with. Also, Brennert manages to evoke such a sense of time and place in this story that I felt right at home with the characters and setting.

Brennert knows how to draw a reader in and keep them in the pages of the book. Palisades Park spans over 50 years and the characters are not immune to the world around them — WWII, Korean War — as well as smaller scale problems pertaining to family life and work. Even with all the years in between, the story doesn’t falter and the characters feel very genuine.

Palisades Park is what I think of as a soft-spoken book. There’s not always a great deal of happiness in the lives of the characters, and we are reminded that bad things do happen to even the best of people, but somewhere in all the mess that is life, there is a wonderful story. The laughter is tinged with a bit of bitterness, sometimes even sadness, but the dreams that are held dear, can sometimes come true. I like leaving a book with that kind of ending.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.
Palisades Park

By Alan Brennert

St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 9780312643720

 

Review – The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the JinniOtto Rotfeld is a lonely man who wants a wife. Knowing his chances are nearly impossible with the women of his Polish village, he turns to an outsider to fulfill his request. A man who practices dark magic agrees to make him a wife of clay, a golem. The request is difficult to fill but the strange old man manages the creation, and shortly after, the golem and her master board a ship for America. Rotfeld wakes the golem on the ship but dies soon after leaving her to fend for herself in a world she doesn’t understand with no one to watch over her. After arriving at Ellis Island, the golem runs, inundated by the wants and needs of those crowded around her. Rabbi Meyer, a widower making his way in New York, spies the golem. Knowing what she is and fearing for not only the golem but those around her, he takes her in and names her Chava.

Maryam Faddoul is the heart of her Syrian neighborhood. One day, she takes an old copper flask, a family heirloom, to the local metal smith, Arbeely, to be repaired. While fixing the flask, Arbeely unknowingly releases a jinni. The jinni, now named Ahmed, has trouble living by the strict rules that govern human form. Chained by the spell that captured him hundreds of years ago, he can no longer take his true jinni form. He struggles to accept what little he can experience of life as a human. While roaming the dark streets of New York City he attempts to find a bit of freedom. It’s on one of these explorations that he meets Chava and becomes fascinated by her and what she is.

Mythical creatures struggling to fit into the daily life of 1890s New York City, Chava and Ahmed want to stay hidden but chafe at pretending to be human. Taking to the night, the two explore the city, grow close, and begin accepting that life will always be this way for them. When they are involved in a tragic event, their lives, and the lives of those around them, change forever. Choices are made, lives move forward, and the golem and jinni once more find ways to survive.

How can you not love a story about mythical creatures set in 1890s New York City? It’s such a rich story and I enjoyed how Chava and Ahmed fought to fit in. The Syrian and Jewish neighborhoods that take them in are full of incredible characters and their lives become mirror images of the immigrants around them.

Chava is particularly interesting in the way she fights not to fulfill every want and wish she is mentally bombarded by. Built to obey a master, but living without one, she learns to control the impulse to help everyone and fix everything. It’s painful and troubling but she endures. Ahmed, on the other hand, steeps himself in sorrow and self-pity longing for a former life far out of reach. It’s Chava who teaches him there’s more to being human than what he believes. It’s the limitations of these mythical creatures that make them human.

Wecker does a fine job of pulling strings in this story. What might feel like several story lines is really one very long tale that twists and turns but never tangles. It’s an incredible web that draws people together in ways never imagined. There’s nothing better than a story like that. This may be a story of mythical creatures, but in the end, it’s a story of people adjusting to new lives and learning how to fit in. The simplicity of that is what makes this wonderful.

I don’t usually go in for book trailers, but why not, here’s the trailer for The Golem and the Jinni.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Golem and the Jinni

By Helene Wecker

Harper

ISBN: 9780062110831

 

Review – The One I Left Behind

The One I Left BehindI’m going to confess right up front — I read the ending of this book first. That happens often with me but I’m religious about reading the ending of a thriller before even getting 20 pages in. It’s my thing. This isn’t my first McMahon book and she has a way of creeping me out early on so I need to find that strand of sanity to hold onto while she pulls me through the story with my eyes half closed. Knowing the ending didn’t make this any less exciting. McMahon doesn’t take a straight path to the end, and even knowing still made it nerve wracking.

Reggie Dufrane’s life has never been easy. Born to a former beauty queen, she always idolized her mother, wondering at her beauty but never really knowing the woman beneath the veneer she created for her daughter. Having lost her ear when she was attacked by a dog at a very young age, Reggie grew up with one real ear and one fake one, never to be the beauty her mother was. In the summer of 1985, a serial killer begins terrifying the residents of Brighton Falls, Connecticut. When the severed hands of the victims begin appearing on the front steps of the police station, every resident in town waits, waits for the body to appear next. And each time a hand appeared, a body soon followed. When Reggie’s mother disappears, she knows the killer, dubbed Neptune by the local press, must have her. When her mother’s hand, recognizable by the scars she suffered rescuing Reggie from the dog attack, everyone waits for the body. It never appears. Days pass and months go by but the body of Vera Dufrane never appears.

Making the most out of an opportunity to start over, Reggie moves far away from Brighton Falls and puts as much distance as possible between her future and her past. A well-known architect, she celebrated in her industry but she’s never escaped Neptune and he haunts her till the day her mother re-appears — alive.

I knew how this was going to end but I still wanted to have every light on in the room I was sitting in and all the doors locked in the house. With most thrillers, I love the crazy ride, and you do get that here, but there’s the psychological element that McMahon does so well. It’s the cruel way she plays around with the characters letting you see every picked scab and dirty secret long-held onto in the dark.

Reggie is damaged goods, both mentally and physically. Her mother, a woman more damaged than her, is not one to look up to but she’s all Reggie ever had. The summer of her disappearance and supposed murder becomes an eye opener to Reggie who learns that her mother and the woman known as Vera Dufrane are two very different people.

McMahon doesn’t let anyone off easy and sometimes I did long for one person without any crazy skeletons in the closet beyond the embarrassing moments in high school that we all have. Those people don’t exist in her books and that’s what makes them so readable and difficult to read at the same time. Her characters are so flawed they become believable and unbelievable all at once and because of that you can’t stop reading. By the time you want out, you’re too far in and you need to know how it’s all going to turn out — good or bad.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The One I Left Behind

Jennifer McMahon

William Morrow

ISBN: 9780062122551

Review – City of Dark Magic

City of Dark Magic

I have a soft spot for urban fantasy. I don’t know if it’s the paranormal haze that overtakes the story or if it’s the ridiculous quality that some stories take on when fantasy and paranormal mix, but in this book, it’s the latter. That ridiculous quality is the draw for me.

Sarah Weston is a talented music student in Boston but a student with few lucrative prospects in her path. When she’s offered a very profitable summer job in Prague cataloguing Beethoven’s manuscripts for a new museum, she jumps at the opportunity. Sarah arrives in Prague and is immediately hit with bad news — her mentor, the man who most likely recommended her for the position, is dead of an apparent suicide. She has trouble believing the story which gets even stranger when odd things begin happening to her. Weird symbols start appearing in unlikely places, she accidently stumbles on a Cold War conspiracy involving a very prominent U.S. Senator, and then there’s the time travel inducing drug she takes without knowing what it does. Throw in a romance with a prince and you’ve got a very busy summer that also includes putting together an exhibit on Beethoven.

A standard rule I have when reading a book such as this — remove all sense of reality then enjoy at will. City of Dark Magic is a fast read, silly, yet entertaining. It’s campy and you want to keep reading because it’s compelling in its strange way. I wanted to know what else could be thrown in the mix. This book is a huge mashup of genres: paranormal, mystery, thriller, time travel, and romance. Prague, with its long and sometimes dark history, is a good setting for it all but I do wish the city itself had played a larger role in the story. It’s a location and not much more.

Sarah’s the center of everything weird going on but she’s not the most interesting character for me. There are two others: Pollina, a blind musical prodigy who keeps warning Sarah with cryptic references about Prague, and Nicolas, a little person with a penchant for stealing valuable objects and who hints at being alive for close to 400 years. Pollina and Nicholas play scant parts in the story but they also made it for me. You don’t know much about either but each time one of them shows up, something interesting happens. I like characters like that.

Then we have the romance, which is more like sex in weird places rather than a straight forward romance. Sarah falls for Max, the heir apparent of the Prague royal family and also heir to an enormous fortune. Frankly, I had no idea what Sarah saw in him. He gets slightly more interesting as the story goes on but he’s sort like a light bulb — on one second, off the next but the two work as a couple.

I gravitate toward books with any time travel element. Here, it’s a bit different, less actual travel to the past and more watching the past thanks to a drug that allows users to see the remnants of history but not interact with it. Think of it as watching a movie. The concept is cool. In fact, it works extremely well and is one of the best parts of the book. Points for creativity need to be awarded for this.

Sometimes you want a book that simply entertains and City of Dark Magic does that. There’s a bit of everything and when one scene seems impossible, know that the next will top it. Go with it. It’s a good ride and a great way to escape reality for a bit.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

City of Dark Magic

Magnus Flyte

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143122685

3.5 stars