Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood

the hazel wood book cover

Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Flatiron Books


Synopsis:

Alice has never met her grandmother, infamous fairy-tale writer Althea Prosperine.  Althea earned her fame decades ago by penning a single collection of fairy tales about a strange place called the Hinterland.  Afterwards, she isolated herself in her enormous estate, the Hazel Wood, cutting herself off from the rest of the world.  Alice has spent her seventeen years of life on the road; her mother moves them from place to place as mysterious bad luck seems to follow them wherever they go.  But when Althea dies, Alice’s mother is happy. Ecstatic, even. She says they can finally settle down and place roots in New York. But this decision might have been a tad too hasty.  Alice’s mother is kidnapped by someone who claims to be from the Hinterland.  Now Alice must team up with a fellow classmate–Ellery Finch–who just so happens to be an expert on the stories that her grandmother wrote. Together they will go to the Hazel Wood and uncover the truth about the Hinterland

Plot 

The Hazel Wood reads like a fairy tale, but set in a gritty, modern world with iPhones, baristas, and high school classes.  Melissa Albert writes with a beautiful, lyrical style that is quite unique. Because of this, I was able to get into the head of the protagonist, Alice, quite quickly. I found myself understanding her and her predicament almost immediately.   

The plot and pacing of this book is phenomenal.  Albert lays out clues like bread bread crumbs, but I still didn’t know where they were leading until the twist smacked me in the face. That twist. Omg. Now I know why people were raving about this book last year. I’m doubly embarrassed for not reading this sooner. But how are you supposed to know what books are ‘must-reads’ until after they’ve already been out for a bit? 

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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: Sweet Cream Ladies, Ltd. by Flo Fitzpatrick

Sweet Cream Ladies Ltd.

Sweet Cream Ladies Ltd. book cover

Title: Sweet Cream Ladies, Ltd.
Author: Flo Fitzpatrick
Genre: Mystery, Comedy
Date of Publication: May 15,  2019
Publisher: Encircle Publications LLC


Synopsis:

Bootsie and Binnie are two average middle-aged actresses with ex-husbands and professional rivals that they love to complain about.  While getting drunk at a bar in Manhattan, they jokingly plan to create a hitwoman company–Sweet Cream Ladies, Limited–and off their enemies in creatively violent ways.  But if it was all a joke, then how come these people are dying off–in the exact same ways that the ladies humorously plotted?

Language

For this review, I put language first, because the way this book is written is what will make it or break it for a reader. Either you love it because of this writing style, or you hate it.

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Book Review: The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta

The Lost Coast book cover

The Lost Coast Book cover

Title: The Lost Coast
Author: Amy Rose Capetta
Genre: Fantasy, Literary, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: May 14,  2019
Publisher: Candlewick


Synopsis

The Lost Coast is a highly literary coming of age tale of a group of teenage witches, self-named the Grays.  Their leader, Imogen, has gone missing, and they’ve tried nearly everything to find her. But when Danny moves to town, she brings with her a unique type of magic that might just be what they’re looking for, in more ways than one.

~My Thoughts~

This book is beautifully written, and the words are like poetry on the page.  It reminds me a little bit of a literary version of an 80s movie, with a bunch of lost kids trying to find their place in the world, but in this book, they’ve found their place–with each other.

There are many different points of view expressed throughout the book.  We get a lot of chapters from Danny’s point of view, and others from the Grays’, but we also get the perspective of the other high school students, which provides context for why the Grays feel so out of place in their little, traditional town.  To reinforce themes of magic in the book, Capetta occasionally provides the point of view of the trees and the ravens, which could be groan-worthy, but it somehow works.

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Book Review: Your Life is Mine by Nathan Ripley

Your Life is Mine book cover

Title: Your Life is Mine 
Author: Nathan Ripley
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: June 4,  2019
Publisher: Atria Books


Synopsis

Blanche Potter is more than just a documentary film-maker.  She’s the daughter of infamous mass murderer and cult-leader Chuck Varner. Blanche wants nothing more than to leave her past behind her, but when her mother is murdered, she’s forced to return home.  She must go back to the place where it all began, and she fears that her father’s followers are only getting started…

Plot

This book is slow paced at the start. Ripley provides a lot of description of the setting and Blanche is quite introspective. The plot picks up as the story progresses, maintaining an even pace until the climactic finish.

There are excerpts from a true crime book scattered throughout the narrative.  They provide much-needed backstory that fills in the gaps in Blanche’s memory and let us know what was going on that Blanche hadn’t known about.  

While slow paced, there are leisurely twists and turns in the plot that kept me engaged in the story line. Despite the introspective nature of the book, it’s a quick read, and I gobbled it up in nearly one sitting.

While an engaging book, the story didn’t move quickly enough for me. I would have preferred for this to have been balanced with more twisted introspection, but the characters were quite tame compared to other books about serial killers.

Characters

The most intriguing part of this book is the main character. Blanche Potter is the daughter of a murderer and cult-leader.  She always knew who and what her father was, which makes for interesting backstory.

I was particularly fascinated by her friendship with Jaya. They’re best friends, and there are intriguing parallels in their histories. Blanche’s father was a murderer. Jaya’s father was murdered.  Their friendship is unlikely and compelling, and it was beautiful to see how much Blanche relied on that relationship, how much she leaned on Jaya in times of distress (which was basically this entire novel).

Your Life is Mine book

I recommend this book to any fan of serial-killer fiction. It puts more emphasis on character and atmosphere than on convoluted plots, which will appeal to those looking for a character study of the daughter of a mass murderer.

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*Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: Social Misconduct by S. J. Maher

Social Misconduct book cover

Social Misconduct book cover

Title: Social Misconduct
Author: S. J. Maher
Genre: Thriller
Date of Publication: April 23, 2019
Publisher: Simon Schuster


Synopsis

When Candace Walker starts a job at a marketing company in Manhattan, she’s thrilled about the perks, which include a brand-new company iPhone.  But someone should have told her not to click on attachments in texts from strangers. Her phone is hacked and her personal photos are shared with the world, threatening her career and her sanity.  A week later she’s on the run, accused of murder, and terrified for her life…

Plot

This book is a cautionary tale about social media and internet security. Have strong passwords, people! The story line is timely, especially in an era where privacy is almost entirely nonexistent.

The chapters of Social Misconduct plunge forward with very little break in between the action.  The chapters are short, and I often found myself thinking the cliché of “oh, well, I’ll just read one more chapter before bed”. That said, I sometimes thought the chapters were a little too short, since alternating chapters are in different timelines, and the transition between these two timelines often felt abrupt.  I was just learning about another incident of sexual harassment that had happened to Candace at her workplace in the past, and I’m already launched back into the present, where she’s in hiding and peeing into a bucket in a storage locker.

The novel has quite a few intriguing twists, although the final twist was a little obvious.

Language

As I said before, the story is very fast-paced, and there isn’t much time devoted to setting the scene or long-winded physical descriptions of characters, which I greatly appreciate in a thriller. However, the language Maher uses is a little too on-the-nose.  The protagonist is a millennial who works in marketing, and she talks exactly how you would expect a millennial stereotype to talk.  I understand that he’s going for authenticity, but how many times should he say “lame” before it comes across less “genuine”, and more “lazy writing”?  At times it was cringe-worthy, and resulted in an unintended lessening of the suspense of the novel. How frightened can a reader be about a psychotic stalker when the main character is saying “FML”. That made me LOL. (See what I did there?)

Character

I know quite a few vegans, and it’s characters like Candace Walker who give vegans a bad name. I wanted to slap her more than a few times.  She’s self-righteous, even though she gives up her values in an instant for the opportunity to do marketing for a cheese company.  *Insert eye roll here, please.*

I already talked a little bit about her character in the language section, but it became quite evident to me that Candace was two-dimensional. This is fine—since this is a primarily plot-driven book—but I would have been able to increase the number of stars in my rating if the character had been more believable to an actual human female millennial who does communications and marketing as a part of her job (me).

Also – Candace’s career is in shambles, yet she’s worried about her sister moving in on her crush? Seriously? She’s ambitious enough to give up her morals (veganism) in order to get ahead, yet when her future is on the line, she’s more worried about a guy she just met liking her sister more than he likes her. To be honest, I don’t blame him.

Another thing that really grated on my nerves was Candace’s casual considerations of committing suicide. This could be a legitimate character development for someone going through this type of experience; HOWEVER, it was not reflected in Candace’s outlook on life.  It was too casual.  It’s unsettling, how she flippantly mentions that suicide’s a possible way out.  Again, the way this came across might be because it’s a primarily plot-driven book, and Maher didn’t have a chance to delve very deeply into her psyche. But since it’s written in her point of view (in first person), I feel that if she was truly suffering from depression, it should have manifested itself in other aspects of her personality and inner dialogue.

Social Misconduct book cover

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a timely, rocket-ship-paced thriller about internet security.  It’s primarily plot-driven, and meant for those who want a quick thriller to read, not an in-depth character study of a millennial on the run.

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*Thank you to Simon Schuster and OLA Super Conference for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Girl, Wash Your Face

Girl Wash your Face book cover

Title: Girl, Wash Your Face
Author: Rachel Hollis
Genre: Nonfiction, Self-help
Date of Publication: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Thomas Nelson


Full Title: Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be

Rachel Hollis is the founder of the lifestyle website TheChicSite.com.  She shares lies that she (at one point) believed about herself, and talks about how she worked to overcome them. This book is a “How To” guide on becoming your best self.

My Thoughts

Prior to reading this book, I had no idea who Rachel Hollis was.  Turns out, this didn’t matter. The messages she shares are universal, whether you’re a fan of lifestyle websites or not.  She has a witty and light sense of humour, and she only occasionally comes across as preachy as she talks about overcoming obstacles, bad habits, and the lies she believed about herself.  

I did appreciate the disclaimer that she has at the beginning of the book. This book is meant to help those who are unhappy in life. It is not meant to help people who are clinically depressed, or people who are suffering from grief.  Girl, Wash Your Face is targetted to women with goals and dreams that they don’t think they’ll ever accomplish and they’re unhappy because of it.  

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Book Review: Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly

Stone Mothers

Stone Mothers book cover

Title: Stone Mothers 
Author: Erin Kelly
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Date of Publication: April 23, 2019
Publisher: Minotaur Books


Synopsis

Marianne left her hometown a long time ago, only returning for brief visits with her family.  But when her husband buys a surprise gift–a condo in a refurbished mental institution–she’s forced to come back and face her past.  A past that involves the once abandoned insane asylum and a decades-old secret that’s clawing its way back into the light…

Plot

The book begins with a very fast-paced, intense scene that’s wrought with tension. It’s not at all characteristic of the rest of the book, which is very slow and drawn out.  The novel opens with Marianne returning to her hometown outside of London to live in a condominium her husband bought (without consulting her, despite the fact that they can barely afford it).  The condominium is in a renovated mental institution that stood abandoned during Marianne’s teenage years.

Unfortunately I can’t go into detail on the best parts of the plot, because they took place two thirds of the way through the book.  I will say that the book is divided up into parts, and one of the later parts deals with the asylum historically, talking about themes of feminism and mental illness that were engaging, fascinating, and, quite frankly, horrifying.  

Continue reading “Book Review: Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly”

Book Review: The Hiding Place by C. J. Tudor

The Hiding Place book photo

The Hiding Place book cover

Title: The Hiding Place
Author: C. J. Tudor
Genre: Non-fiction
Date of Publication: February 5, 2019
Publisher: Crown Publishing


Synopsis

Joe Thorne never thought he’d return to Arnhill, the little northern England town where he grew up, but he finds himself taking a job as a teacher at the local school.  But he doesn’t take the job because he’s desperate for an income, or even because he’s driven to help the students.  Something terrible happened in this town when he was a child, and he thinks that it might be happening again.

Plot

I was enthralled by The Hiding Place from cover to cover.  This is one of the most engaging books I’ve read in a while.  Giving it 5 stars was a no-brainer.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes that feel of Gothic horror without it being too terrifying to be able to sleep afterwards.

While insanely atmospheric, C. J. Tudor keeps the plot moving forward.  There are numerous extended flashbacks to Joe’s schoolboy days, slowly revealing what really happened twenty years ago.  The book is incredibly creepy, but I wouldn’t quite classify this book as a horror, although towards the end things definitely turn… horrific.

There are quite a few twists in this story. A few of them I saw coming a mile away, but I didn’t mind.  The tumultuous journey towards these twists was so damn appealing.  

Characters

While I’m beginning to tire of the trope of the main character being incredibly flawed and unlikeable, this book is an exception. Joe Thorne is a liar. He’s a coward.  He’s a tad narcissistic.  He even has a limp and a gambling addiction which contribute to the myriad of problems he faces in the book.  But he still has a spark of likeability, and I think it’s because of a combination of two things. He’s got a great sense of humour—that dry sarcasm that I greatly appreciate in a protagonist. He also feels terribly about how he handled things when he was child, and he’s hoping to make up for his mistakes.  All these characteristics make for a dynamic and fascinating main character.

Language

This book wouldn’t be so mind-blowing if it weren’t impeccably written.  C. J. Tudor has a gift for language, and she had more than a handful of lines that gave me chills. That said, occasionally the book bordered on pretentious.  Joe Thorne has a lot of observations about the world, and occasionally I would cringe at how ostentatious he was coming across.  That said, I really didn’t notice this too much until towards the end, and by then I was so invested that it would have taken a sledgehammer of prose to get me to quit reading.

The Hiding Place book photo

While this book has supernatural elements, it shares a lot in common with the typical psychological thriller that it would appeal to everyone, except for people who detest anything remotely fantastical with every ounce of their bones. I recommend this who wants to read a spooky story set in a small town that’s rife with a dark history, muddy present, and unclear future.

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*Thank you to Crown Publishing and Netgalley for the ARC for review*

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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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