Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows Book Cover

Six of Crows Book Cover

Title: Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Six of Crows #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy 
Date of Publication: September 29, 2015
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company


Synopsis

Six teenage criminal outcasts in the bustling city of Ketterdam come together to pull off an impossible heist. The result could change the world they live in forever. But do they all want the same thing?

World-Building

I never read the Grisha series, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this new book set in that same world. It was easy to jump into this elaborately created world.  Bardugo provides just enough information about the world for readers to understand how it works, but not so much that it feels like an info-dump. She interweaves this information into the plot, revealing what we need to know as we need to know it.  Perfectly done!

Plot and Characters

There are a lot of critical characters in this book, and many of them get their own point of view chapters. For any other book, this would bog down the pace, making the story unnecessarily complicated and hard to follow.  Yet somehow Bardugo manages to propel the plot line forward while delving deep into every single character. She even integrates flashbacks to provide such depth to these characters. There isn’t a single two-dimensional, uninteresting character in the bunch. Even Wylan, who, at the beginning, I thought might be the one dud, has an interesting character-development, and I absolutely loved his interactions with Jesper.  

Having this many three-dimensional characters should result in a less-interesting plot. That’s not the case. The heist they plan and pull off is intense and compelling at every corner.  

I did find that the characters weren’t quite like teenagers. This is one thing I enjoy about books like these. The characters are mature beyond their years because of the situations they’ve had to survive, yet they still have some small resemblances to the teenagers that they actually are. There might be a hint of naivety or a touch of teenage narcissism. But this gives each character some growing to do, even though it already seems like they’re grown up.

Language

This is touched on in the plot and characters section.  How can you develop such intriguing characters and a compelling plot without being an expert at the English language? Bardugo selects every word carefully. There’s no extraneous paragraphs that should have been cut at the chopping block. Everything she writes has its purpose and is elegantly written. I suspect this is another reason why this book is so dang popular.  

Six of Crows Book Cover

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good high fantasy novel, even if they’re not necessarily interested in young adult fiction.  This is a perfect gateway book into the young adult and fantasy genres, as it’s strong in all four major appeal elements of reading – setting, language, fictions, characters, and plot.  There are some surprisingly gory scenes, which is why I wouldn’t recommend this book to younger readers.

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Book Review: The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis

The boy in the suitcase picture

The Boy in the Suitcase book cover

Title: The Boy in the Suitcase
Author: Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis
Series: Nina Borg

Genre: Thriller 
Date of Publication: November 8, 2011
Publisher: Soho Crime 


Synopsis

Nina Borg’s old friend Karin gives her a key and tells her to follow her vague instructions, to go to the train station to pick up what’s in a locker, no questions asked. When Nina does this, she finds a suitcase with a tiny three-year-old boy inside. He’s still alive.  Nina hurries back to Karin to demand answers, but she discovers that her friend has been brutally murdered. Nina knows that her life–and the little boy’s–are also in danger.

Plot

The book begins by providing the points of view of several seemingly unconnected characters in quick succession. It was confusing, and not at all representative of the rest of the book, which was much easier to follow.  One of the characters that we follow from the beginning is Sigita, the mother of the little boy who was abducted.

The book is very fast-paced, but there are quite a few (quick) flashbacks that bog down the storytelling. The story probably could have been told in a hundred fewer pages.  There is one twist in the novel, which is revealed towards the end; however, it’s quite predictable, with the clues clearly laid out so that I saw it coming less than halfway through the book.  That said, the storytelling is intriguing and it’s a very quick read.

Characters

I did find that the characters were hard to relate to.  Told in third-person perspective, we never truly get into the heads of the characters–not even Nina, the main character.  I didn’t quite find that the emotions that different characters were feeling were carrying through in the writing.  For example, Sigita wasn’t panicking enough for my liking. If my child was kidnapped I’d probably spend about twenty minutes rolling on the floor in pure terror. Especially considering the circumstances surrounding her child’s abduction. She didn’t really think her husband had taken him. She knew from the start that he was taken by strangers.

The boy in the suitcase picture

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to dip their toes into a Nordic Noir mystery, but doesn’t know where to start. It isn’t as dark as others I’ve read, and it’s much easier to follow–both because of the writing style and because there aren’t quite as many different characters to keep track of.

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Book Review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Orange is the new black

orange is the new black

Title: Orange is the New Black
Author: Piper Kerman
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: 
Tantor Media
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Date of Publication: 2010


Synopsis

Ten years ago, Piper Kerman made a mistake. She fell in love and became a criminal–transporting a suitcase of drug money across borders.  Now she has to pay the price:thirteen months imprisonment in a women’s minimum security prison. This book is her memoirs from this time.

My Thoughts

I came into this book expecting it to be like the TV show. I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t.  It isn’t an over the top or blatantly exaggerated or stereotyped version of what prison is like.  

While reading this book I had to keep in mind that it’s memoirs.  The odds are that Kerman is fudging the truth a little. This became apparent a few times. She talks a lot about overcoming adversity in the prison, and her relationships with the other women.  She doesn’t dwell on the negatives, which tells us a lot about her as a person, but weakens her message. Towards the middle of the book she mentions that it’s a ghetto, and that society has left people in this prison to rot.  I think this is ultimately the message that Kerman is trying to get across, and it becomes more obvious as the book progresses. The government and corrections workers were doing nothing to help these women reintegrate into society after they’ve finished their time. It’s the reason why so many ex-cons re-offend–because they aren’t able to succeed in the outside world. There’s one scene where the inmates are going through training on how to survive on the outside. Someone is giving them  a lecture on the type of roofing to have in their new homes. A woman raises her hand and asks how to find a place to rent. The lecturer coughs and says something about using the internet before continuing to talk about roofing. I hope to God this is an exaggeration, but I’m willing to bet it’s the truth. Prison (especially minimum-security prison) is supposed to be about rehabilitation, not retribution, but it’s clear that a lot of the people working in the prison don’t feel this same way.

Throughout the memoirs, Kerman talks about how privileged she is because she’s blond-haired, blue-eyed, has a huge support network on the outside, money to help her through, etc.  Life on the inside wouldn’t be considered “easy” for her, but it was a lot easier than it was for anyone else, and Kerman does a good job of acknowledging this. Hardly a chapter goes by where Kerman doesn’t acknowledge this privilege.  

The fact that this book got published itself is quite telling. Would a book about a hispanic or black woman going to prison have been published in 2010? Would it have become a bestseller? Probably not.  Especially since this story, while well-written, doesn’t have any of the drama or the pizzazz of the TV show. It’s quite bland. She didn’t get into any fights or nary a scuffle.

Orange is the new black

I recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in finding out what goes on in those minimum-security prisons.  It’s a heartfelt story of making up for her mistakes, and a woman discovering that society has failed so many of its people.  

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Book Review: When it Will Rayne, It Will Pour by S. C. McCormack

When it will rayne book cover

when it will rayne it will pour book cover

Title: When it Will Rayne, It Will Pour
Author: S. C. McCormack
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Romance
Date of Publication: October 4, 2018
Publisher: Self-Published


Synopsis

Rayne Slater is a private investigator with a mysterious past. When she’s hired to infiltrate a lion-shapeshifter colony and isolate one of their members, Reese Donovan, she agrees, but only for the big paycheck.  She’s hesitant to be thrown back into a world that she escaped years ago, but this case forces her to face her demons.  When she develops feelings for her target, she has to make a big choice: and it’s not just between her client and her feelings, but about what she wants the rest of her life to look like.

Language

When it will Rayne, it will Pour is written in a noir-like style that I enjoyed immensely.  The text needs editing (at least, the version I read), but it didn’t trip me up too much.

McCormack employs seamless transitions between present day and flashbacks that flesh out the story.  The author provides just enough information about Rayne’s past to leave the reader eagerly anticipating more.

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Book Review: Lady Killers by Tori Telfer

Lady Killers book cover

Lady Killers Book Cover

Title: Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History
Author: Tori Telfer 
Genre: True Crime 
Date of Publication: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Harper Perennial 


Tori Telfer has compiled this compelling compendium that features female serial killers throughout history.  Each murderess is illustrated with an absolutely gorgeous pen-and-ink portrait done by Dame Darcy.

Telfer opens the book with a well-researched discussion of female serial killers. In 1998, it was infamously stated by an FBI profiler that female serial killers simply do not exist. This is clearly not the case. Telfer talks about how men in power have carefully constructed their own narrative around each of these female killers. Uncomfortable with the idea that a woman could kill in cold blood, they rewrite the story. For instance, infamous Erzsebet Bathory was a “vampire” or a “seductress”, when in reality she probably just enjoyed murdering people.  Even the names given to certain killers, like Nannie Doss, the “Giggling Grandma”, is meant to lessen the impact of what they did.  Telfer provides a critical analysis of why humanity is tempted to reason away the acts of female killers, and it’s really quite fascinating a read for those interested in sociology and psychology.

Telfer doesn’t just write about the murderesses, what they did, and the punishment they may or may not have faced for it. She delves into the historical context, providing information about the world that the women grew up in, which in more times than not, greatly impacts the decisions each killer made. Telfer dives in to the potential motives for each of the killers.  Some of the killers were trying to survive economically, and others could have been simply sadistic. This is likely the case for certain murderesses, like the aristocratic killers Erzsebet Bathory and Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova.

Some reviews complain about the book having excessive amounts of detail, but I must argue against this point. The detail provides critical information about what could possibly have motivated these women to kill.  It gives us the full picture. It’s what makes reading a book like this different from scrolling through a Buzzfeed article.  Readers can come to their own conclusions, because they know more than just a cursory amount of information about the situation. I personally enjoyed the little tidbits of information about each time period. For instance, how aristocratic women living in Erzsebet Bathory’s time period plucked their hairlines, so that they would have high foreheads. This little detail is something that will stay with me for a while, as a woman in 2019 with an unusually high hairline.  I would have been aristocratic back then. Sigh.

Some parts of this book got a little grotesque.  Telfer does not shy away from describing what some of the more disturbing murderesses were accused of doing.  She does not mute the effects of arsenic on the body. I’d had no idea how painful it was, having grown up watching movies like Arsenic and Old Lace, which romanticize a horrible poison so commonly used by women throughout history.

 

Lady Killers Book Cover

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in true crime, but wants to know more about female serial killers.  As I said before, it’s highly detailed, so if you’re not interested in learning about the time periods that each murderess lived in, this might not be the book for you.  There’s a broad selection of women throughout history, including infamous killers like Elizabeth Bathory and Mary Ann Cotton, to lesser known killers, like Raya and Sakina, sister killers in 1920s Egypt.

*Thank you to Harper Perennial for the book for review*

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Book Review: Carrie by Stephen King

Carrie book cover

Carrie book cover

Title: Carrie
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: April 5, 1974

 


 

Carrie has had a difficult life.  She’s chubby.  Her mother is extremely religious. The girls at school bully her.  But Carrie isn’t like these other girls. She’s different, and on prom night, when her bullies take things too far, that’s when she’ll have her revenge…

This book review includes spoilers! Read on at your own risk!

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Book Review: Two Little Girls in Blue by Mary Higgins Clark

Two little girls in blue

two little girls in blue

Title: Two Little Girls in Blue
Author: Mary Higgins Clark
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: 
Simon & Schuster Audio
Narrator: Jan Maxwell
Date of Publication: 2006


When Margaret and Steve Frawley return home from a fancy dinner, they discover that their twin daughters, Kelly and Kathy, have been kidnapped.  The kidnappers are demanding a ransom far too high for them to afford. This novel follows the kidnappers, the investigators, and the Frawley family in the events that follow.

*Please note, I am reviewing the abridged audiobook version. I wasn’t aware it was abridged until partway through!*

This is my first ever Mary Higgins Clark book, and I have to say that I was surprised. It wasn’t what I expected.

We know from the very beginning of the novel who the kidnappers are. The novel follows them and the investigators searching for them.  While we know who the kidnappers are, we aren’t told who they’re working for. There’s still some mystery to it all. I really like this approach. We get to follow both sides of the investigation, while there’s still an unknown for the reader to try to guess.

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Book Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic

Practical magic book cover

Title: Practical Magic (Practical Magic # 2)
Author: Alice Hoffman
Genre: Fantasy, Literary
Date of Publication: August 5, 2003
Publisher: Penguin

 


Practical Magic follows Owens sisters Gillian and Sally as they live their lives.  They grow up in a town in Massachusetts where their family is shunned by the entire town.  It is believed that the women in their household are responsible for every terrible (or even mildly inconvenient) thing that happens.  As adults, the sisters part ways, escaping the town to find better lives, but they’re inexplicably drawn back together. 

Practical Magic

I fell in love with the writing style within the first few lines.  Hoffman is both eloquent and tantalizing with each word that she has so carefully selected.  It begins with a narrative setting the scene, but around fifty pages in, I realized that the whole book was like this. It’s too much narrative. Pages after pages of long paragraphs, with very little action to move the plot forward. Every now and then there is dialogue, but the nature of the narrative pulls the reader away from what is happening. I couldn’t truly connect with what was happening.

Not only is the book beautifully written, but it is beautifully twisted. This is revealed early on in the story, and was one of Practical Magic’s saving graces for me. I probably wouldn’t have finished it if it hadn’t had that darkness seeping into an otherwise seemingly innocuous story.  

I love how Hoffman incorporated little tidbits of witchcraft into her descriptions of things:

“Never presume August is a  safe or reliable time of the year. It is the season of reversals, when the birds no longer sing in the morning and the evenings are made up of equal parts golden light and black clouds. The rock-solid and the tenuous can easily exchange places until everything you know can be questioned and put into doubt.”

If only the entire book had been passages like this, without any pesky plot to get in the way of my enjoyment.

I had a hard time relating to the characters. They’re all quite selfish (which, weirdly, is normally relatable for me ;)), but they had very unlikable characteristics attributed to each of them.  I didn’t appreciate how each one of them (aside from Sally) was preoccupied with their looks. Even Hoffman, in her describing of characters, never spent much time talking about their other traits. The way Gillian has literally every man falling head over heels in love with her was a tad tedious.  There was also too much of this “falling in love at first sight” nonsense. It was amusing with Gillian, because she did it a million times, but every character did it, which made it less amusing and more aggravating.

Mild spoilers between the glasses!

Spoilers between the Glasses!

There isn’t much to the plot, other than the characters falling in love many times. I did appreciate the character development between the younger sisters, Antonia and Kylie, but it didn’t quite make up for the irritating first nine tenths of the book.

When Gillian kills her boyfriend and buries him in the backyard, I thought, Finally! This is getting interesting! But not much of interest happened after that. Not even when someone came knocking on their door to investigate…

Spoilers between the Glasses!

I recommend this book to those who love an engrossing writing style, but aren’t expecting a lot in the form of plot.  The characters are a major appeal for this book, and it’s hard to determine who will like them and who will not. I suggest you give the book a shot if you’re wanting to read a book about witchcraft that isn’t a horror or a romance.

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Book Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

There's Someone Inside Your House Book Cover

theres someone inside your house book cover

Title: There’s Someone Inside Your House
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Date of Publication: September 26, 2017
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers


In There’s Someone Inside Your House, teenage Makani leaves her dark past behind in Hawaii and moves to a small town in Nebraska to live with her grandmother. It looks like her life is finally turning around.  She makes new friends and even has a budding romance with a mysterious loner named Ollie. But this Halloween brings a lot more than just dressing up and carving jack-o’-lanterns.  A serial killer is targeting students from Osbourne High.  Makani must find the murderer before he targets her or someone she cares about.

Book cover

I was disappointed in this book. Marketed as being like the next Scream, which is one of my favourite movies of all time, I was expecting something scary, funny, and self-aware. Unfortunately, There’s Someone Inside Your House was none of these things.

This book isn’t particularly frightening.  The murders are gory and creative, but that isn’t the reason why I read a horror book. I read for the characters. I want to get lost in the story and genuinely fear for the lives of the people I care about. After reading this book, I realized that Perkins could have killed off every single character and I wouldn’t have cared. In fact, that would have possibly made it more enjoyable, if only in the sense that it would have been unexpected and deliciously disturbing surprise.

I’m a huge fan of Perkins’ other works – particularly Anna and the French Kiss.  I would have forgiven this book for not having a great plot and not being scary had I been invested in the romantic plotline.  Perkins spends so much time developing it, yet it fell flat to me. I did not care one way or the other if Makani and Ollie ended up together. It seemed like Perkins was trying too hard to make Ollie a lovable outcast, and he just ended up being a stereotype.

I wanted more about Makani’s friendships. I wanted to see more of her relationship with family. I wanted to see her go to school, interact with her friends and teachers, before the murders started.  I think Perkins needed to spend more time building who Makani is on a personal level, and less time building what her romantic relationship with Ollie was.

One thing about slasher books and movies is that the main character is supposed to be relatable. She’s supposed to be the voice of reason.  However, there’s a serial killer on the loose and Makani barely notices. All she cares about (at first) is her romance. This is all well and fine, yet she’s the main character. This is acceptable behaviour in a zany best friend, but not in a main character.

Spoilers between the glasses!
Spoilers between the Glasses!

 

The killer ended up being someone that I only remembered being briefly introduced earlier. We found out who the killer was fairly early on, so I assumed there would be a twist or two before the end of the book. But there wasn’t one. I’d thought, since the book was compared to Scream, that maybe he had a partner, and that the partner was someone that the reader knew more intimately.  Nope.

Also, the reason why the killer was killing everybody was a little murky.  They had a few explanations as the story progressed as Makani and her friends tried to figure out why he was murdering people, but the explanations got more and more ridiculous. The final rationale was just as silly. Essentially, he didn’t want people moving on with their lives and leaving town after they graduated.  This explanation is unsatisfactory for me, and Perkins didn’t spend much time supporting this in the text.

 

Spoilers between the Glasses!

The main strength of this book is the language. Perkins has a unique and engaging writing style, which unfortunately wasn’t quite strong enough to make up for the unlikable characters and uninteresting plot.

I honestly don’t think I can recommend this book.  The romance is unimpressive, and the mystery itself is not very engaging. This book is quite short and is a very quick read, so I will let you decide for yourself.

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Book Review: Tomorrow’s World: Darkly Humorous Tales from the Future by Guy Portman

Tomorrow's World

Tomorrow's World Book Cover

Title: Tomorrow’s World: Darkly Humorous Tales from the Future
Author: Guy Portman
Genre: Science Fiction, Satire
Date of Publication: November 22, 2018
Publisher: Self-published


Set in the not-too-distant future, Tomorrow’s World is filled with little snippets of what reality could look like.  This novel is a clever satire that projects current socio-political trends into a future where technology plays an even more critical role in societal function.

Tomorrow’s World features many time jumps throughout the narrative. Sometimes there’s just a paragraph for one year, and then there’s a leap to the subsequent year. This makes for an entertaining read. We get to follow one potential future and see how culture, politics, and everything else could evolve (or maybe devolve) over time. This novel is quite clearly a satire, making sardonic statements about the world we live in.

While one of the book’s strengths is that it spans over the course of a long period of time, it still follows two main characters.  However, the characters are not the focus.  This book is heavily setting-driven.  That said, its strength is also its weakness. We spend so little time in one year before jumping to the next that we don’t really get to follow Terrence or Walter as closely as I would have liked. The reader is disconnected from these main characters. While I understand who they are on a superficial level, we don’t get to delve deeper.  However, with a satire, maybe this is the author’s point. With an increase in superficiality and religions like “rampant consumerism” emerging (LOL), maybe having protagonists that don’t have much going on beneath the surface is the author’s intent. Nevertheless, I didn’t mind the two-dimensional characters as much as I do with other books, because, as I clearly stated before, the strength of this book lies in the writing and the elaborate tomorrow’s world that Portman has painstakingly crafted.

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