Book Review: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room

the escape room book cover

Title: The Escape Room 
Author: Megan Goldin
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Date of Publication: July 30, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press


Synopsis

Four Wall Street finance hot shots are invited by their company to an escape room.  How bad can it be? The rules are simple: Solve the puzzles to escape. They quickly discover that this escape room is unlike any other: it’s in a cramped elevator.  The puzzles are also different from typical escape rooms. The questions are personal… and the stakes are high. There’s also one puzzle that’s up for the reader to solve. Which one of them is a killer?

Plot

The Escape Room is gripping from its very first page.  The writing is fast-paced and engaging.  While characters are fleshed out quite nicely and there is a lot of description and introspection, the plot never lags. Every word serves a special purpose, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the pages.

There are two timelines in the novel. There’s the one with the escape room. Sylvie, Jules, Sam, and Vincent all work on the same team at Stanhope, a top-tier finance company.  The company has lost some big clients in the last quarter, and all four of them are worried about losing their jobs. And when they receive a strange invitation to an escape room, how can they to refuse?  

The second timeline follows Sara Hall as she gets her first job out of her MBA at Stanhope. She had wanted to become a doctor, but her parents are sick, and she needed a job that would pay right away so that she could cover their medical bills.  Once she arrives at Stanhope, she’s assigned to work closely with Sylvie, Jules, Sam, and Vincent…

Both timelines are engaging and fit seamlessly together. There are many little cliffhangers at the end of chapters that left me reading way past my bedtime.  The novel also has a lot of commentary on sexism in the workplace.  The world of finance is a particularly bad culprit for this.

My only complaint is that the escape room clues are a little on the nose. I found it a little unrealistic that these high-flying finance geniuses couldn’t solve the puzzles with a quick glance.  The first puzzle made sense–they wouldn’t expect it to be personal.  But after that?  One of the clues was a riddle that I heard and thought was clever in elementary school. The fact that it was a clue for adults made me chuckle.

Setting

As mentioned before, the novel is set at a top-tier finance firm on Wall Street.  Everything that Goldin writes emphasizes this. She does a lot of designer brand name dropping, which accentuates this quite nicely. She also does something that a lot of books don’t do–by putting price tags on everything.  Salaries, the cost of designer suits, etc. is all spelled out for the reader. For the average person like me, the cost of things was slightly stressful, which I think was the author’s purpose. Sara doesn’t have much money, and a lot of what she’s making has to go back to pay her parents’ medical bills and their rent, this writing technique instills the anxiety that Sara Hall feels about money into the reader.  Also, it made me think that maybe I should go back to school for an MBA.  

Characters

Sara Hall gets the first-person POV scenes.  She’s clearly the main character. She has quite a bit of character development, and she is a likeable and relatable protagonist.  Goldin shows the deterioration of her relationship with her family as Sara becomes more and more caught up in the world of finance.  The four people trapped in the elevator, on the other hand, are not at all likeable, which is clearly the point that the author was trying to make.  Vincent, Sam, Jules, and Sylvie are each loathsome in a unique way that has nothing to do with the fact that they’re money-grubbing and ambitious to a fault. This should have made each of the characters interchangeable (aren’t all Wall Street types the same?), but Goldin distinguishes them quite nicely in their flaws, with their complicated pasts, intriguing presents and uncertain futures.

The Escape Room

I recommend this book to anyone looking for an intense and quick read.  If you’re a slower reader, you shouldn’t pick this up too close to bedtime, or you’ll never get to sleep.

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*Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the end of the Lane

the ocean at the end of the lane book cover

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane 
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Date of Publication: June 18, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Books


The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a haunting and riveting tale of a man who returns home for the funeral of his father.  When he’s there, he’s compelled to go to the house at the end of the lane, where the most peculiar girl, Lettie Hempstock, once lived. While he doesn’t remember much about her, the story of what happened when he was a child is revealed through a flashback…

This is novel is like a dark and slightly twisted version of A Wrinkle in Time There’s a strange magic surrealism to the story from the very beginning, all the way through until it becomes very clear that there’s something supernatural going on. Written from a child’s perspective, Gaiman effectively provides the impression that the world is viewed through a child’s eyes without sacrificing quality of language or the impact of the story.

I absolutely loved the way that Neil Gaiman implemented little asides and anecdotes within the narrative, which served to flesh out the main character and give us insight into his personality through showing and not telling. For example, no one came to his childhood birthday party, and there was a comment about fifteen empty folding chairs. That line and the sheer loneliness of it has stuck with me for weeks after finishing the book.

This is my first non-Sandman graphic novel series Neil Gaiman book, and it did not disappoint. I read other reviews indicating that he’s writing about a theme (growing up) he’s apparently visited and revisited numerous times, as if this is a valid criticism of the quality of the story on its own. While I haven’t read his other books, I do know that this one definitely has literary merit.  I might just have to check out these other stories.

My only criticism is that while the protagonist has ample character development, secondary characters aren’t given as much attention.  However, this could be an artifact of the nature of seven-year-old boys and how they perceive the world.  While he’s fascinated by the mysterious girl who lives at the end of the lane, he doesn’t bother to analyze his family and what they themselves are going through.

Neil Gaiman book

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a darkly beautiful story of a boy growing up in a world that’s like our own but not quite right. It’s lyrically written, but the plot moves quickly.

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Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer book cover

Title: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Author: Amy Schumer
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Date of Publication: August 8, 2016
Publisher: Gallery Books


Prior to reading this book, I didn’t have strong feelings for Amy Schumer. I thought she was hilarious in her movies Trainwreck and Snatched, but I thought she could be a little crass in her stand-up comedy.  I didn’t have any strong opinions about her otherwise. I was neutral.  This has changed with this book.

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Book Review: #Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil

#Murdertrending

#murdertrending

Title: #Murdertrending 
Author: Gretchen McNeil
Genre: Young Adult, Horror
Date of Publication: August 7, 2018
Publisher: Freeform


Dee Guerrera is innocent of killing her step-sister, but this doesn’t stop her from being convicted of first-degree murder and sent to the country’s top prison – Alcatraz 2.0.  However, Dee doesn’t spend the rest of her life trapped in a tiny cell. Instead, she becomes one of many stars of a sick reality TV show. Everyday she goes to work at an ice cream parlour on the island called “I Scream” and returns home to her house in the barracks.  But this isn’t an idyllic, peaceful existence.  She—along with all the other convicted criminals—are always in danger. Because on Alcatraz 2.0, there are serial killers who hunt down the prisoners, and the killings are live-streamed for the millions of fans watching from the luxury of their homes.

I absolutely devoured this book in one sitting.  It is a fun, campy, thrilling read with lots of relevant references to pop culture.  However, there aren’t any pop culture references that would date the book. McNeil limits herself to mentions of things like Disney princesses, and classic movies like Rambo and Die Hard. It’s definitely a good idea to stick to the classics, because if you focus too much on a movie that’s a passing fad, the book will lose its relevance in a few years.

Continue reading “Book Review: #Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil”

Book Review: The Last by Katherine Applegate

Endling

The Last Book Cover

Title: The Last (Endling #1)
Author: Katherine Applegate
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Date of Publication: May 18, 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books


What a book! I was a HUGE fan of the Animorphs book series, so when I saw this book on the shelf at OLA, I just knew I had to pick it up. I typically don’t review middle-grade books, but I might have to reconsider. Bear in mind that my review won’t be discussing how appropriate this story is to a younger audience, but focusing on the sheer brilliance of the plot and its characters.

I bet you can tell that I loved this book just from my previous sentence. When Byx’s family is killed, she fears that she is an ‘endling’, the last of the species of dairnes, which are doglike creatures that have human qualities, can speak, and can identify when others are lying to them.  Armed with nothing but a map she drew based on stories she heard when she was just a little pup, Byx is joined by other misfits on her journey to find others like her.  But it is quite possible that Byx is the endling, and that she will never find this mysterious land where other dairnes are said to have escaped.

Endling is set in a dynamic and unique world that Applegate has created. While we see some animals that we’re already familiar with—dogs, horses, and even humans—there are new species introduced, like the aforementioned dairnes, as well as wobbyks, felivets, and raptidons.

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Book Review: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

The Last Time I Lied

The last time I Lied Book Cover

Title: The Last Time I Lied
Author: Riley Sager
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Date of Publication: July 3, 2018
Publisher: Dutton


Fifteen years ago, thirteen-year-old Emma was sent to Camp Nightingale for the summer, where she joined a cabin with three older girls.  Vivian, the ring-leader, instantly took her under her wing, treating her like a younger sister and showing her the ropes. But not long after summer camp begins, the three older girls vanish without a trace. In present day, Emma is still having a hard time letting go of the fact that the three girls were never found.  An artist, she paints the three girls into all of the paintings in her forest series, hiding them behind gnarled branches and thick foliage. When she’s invited back to Camp Nightingale to teach art to the first cohort of girls since the terrible incident fifteen years ago, she jumps at the chance. Can she find the truth about what happened that night, or is history just going to repeat itself?

I could not put this book down! It is an incredibly atmospheric, creepy read. I love books and movies set at camp (Camp Crystal Lake, anyone?), and this book does not disappoint! Sager paints a vivid picture when setting the scene. The trees seem to come to life, and I soaked up every word he wrote. The whole story has an Agatha Christie-type of mystery feel to it –where readers suspect everyone of hiding a sinister secret.  Anyone could be responsible for what happened to the girls fifteen years ago.  Emma herself isn’t exactly the most trustworthy of narrators, as it is revealed early in the book that she suffered a mental breakdown shortly after camp fifteen years ago.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager”

Book Review: Whisper by Lynette Noni

Whisper

Whisper by Lynette Noni

Title: Whisper
Author: Lynette Noni
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Date of Publication: May 1, 2018
Publisher: KCP Loft


Jane Doe has been held captive in a secret government bunker for over two years. She’s been experimented on, she’s been tested, and she still doesn’t know why she’s held there.  But she refuses to answer any of their questions.  She refuses to say anything at all.  And for good reason…

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Past Tense by Star Spider

Past Tense

Past Tense Book Cover

Title: Past Tense
Author: Star Spider
Genre: Young Adult, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: April 10, 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins


Julie Nolan is just another teenager who’s madly in love with her best friend, Lorelei.  She’s obsessed with her and spends a lot of time hunting down the perfect opportunity to come out and profess her undying love.  Once she does, she knows in her heart that Lorelei will reciprocate this love and they will live happily ever after.  But Julie’s home life is getting in the way with her grand plans. Her mother, who just gave birth to Julie’s younger brother, has started to act strangely.  Her mother has become meek and muted.  At night she takes Julie to the graveyard, where she asks Julie to bury her and give a eulogy.  She’s nothing like the vibrant, full-of-life person she once was.  She’s convinced that she doesn’t have a heartbeat, that she isn’t breathing, that she’s dead.

Past Tense

At first Julie’s singular obsession with her best friend was a tad tedious.  But do you remember when you were that age? A crush, or “being in love” would often demand all of your attention. Star Spider does a fabulous job of replicating the teenage experience, and manages to craft Julie into a three-dimensional character. Sure, she’s obsessed with her best friend, but she has other personality traits that she demonstrates and gets to develop over the course of the novel. She shows compassion for her teacher who she thinks is in love with her. She demonstrates maturity and a deep love and concern for her infant brother when her mother starts to act strange.

This brings me to the title. “Past Tense”. How clever! At the graveyard, Julie’s mother asks her to give a eulogy.  She corrects her when she starts – saying that it has to be in past tense. “Past Tense” aptly describes all the themes in this book.  Julie is evolving into a new person, and by the end, she’s nothing like the person she was in the beginning of the book.

As the novel progresses, Julie starts to develop more self-awareness. There’s an event that’s a turning point for Julie, but her evolution is gradual and beautifully conceived.  Julie becomes able to evaluate her relationship with her best friend.  She develops a friendship with a boy in her school, Henry. It’s refreshing to see that her new relationship isn’t insta-love, like what she had with Lorelei.  Julie has grown and evolved into a person who can see beyond looks and superficial charm, and she develops a true connection at a deeper level.  This self-realization is also demonstrated in her relationship with her mother.  While giving the eulogy for her mother, she says that her mother was “wonderful”. Julie ruminates over this term, the shallowness of it, and how she should be able to probe deeper. If nothing else, when Julie’s mother truly does die, Julie will be able to give a fabulous eulogy.

Julie’s relationship with her mother is fascinating.  From the beginning of the book, her mom is already suffering from some sort of mental illness, yet we know that Julie and her mother were very close before the events of this book begin.  Instead of just telling us that they were close, Star Spider demonstrates this with absolutely heart-wrenching little anecdotes at the beginning of each chapter.  They’re short, yet powerfully demonstrative of the relationship they once had.  In the past, her mother was dynamic and full of life and absolutely attentive to her daughter, which makes it even more painfully obvious that she’s suffering in the present.

I particularly loved the parallels between the two prominent plotlines in this story.  The storyline of her best friend and what’s going on with her mother intersects quite beautifully with a life lesson that we all should learn.  (Spoilers are between the glasses!)

 

Spoilers between the Glasses!

Julie learns that sometimes the best thing you can do is to ignore the wishes of the person you want to help.  Being brave sometimes requires a simple telling of the truth.  Sure, she’ll never run into a fire to save a life (like her mother did), but she can still have an incredible impact on the lives around her.

She tells her father about what her mother is going through, which helps her to get the medical treatment she needs. She tells another teacher about Lorelei’s highly-disgusting relationship with the teacher.  By the end of the novel Julie is glad with the decisions she’s made, and she has no guilt or regrets.

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This is a fast-paced, easy-to-read book recommended to young adults (and adults!) of all ages.  While it deals with some intense themes, the book itself isn’t too dark.  The end is uplifting, which makes all the feelings that you had while reading worthwhile.

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*I received a copy of this ARC from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.*

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Sleight by Jennifer Sommersby

Sleight

Sleight Book Cover

Title: Sleight
Author: Jennifer Sommersby
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Date of Publication: April 3, 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins


What a book! Sleight captivated me from its first page, with a fairy tale-like prologue that introduces a unique mythology which, of course, proves to be essential to the plot of the story. Genevieve is a strong and relatable seventeen-year-old, and her witty repartee is refreshing. I wish all teenagers were this eloquent.

Sleight book cover
I absolutely adore the setting of this novel. I’m sure nearly everyone had a point in their childhood where they wanted to run away to join the circus. This book makes me wonder what I missed out on by staying home. The atmosphere is mysterious, with just a splash of magic, but it’s still our world. It feels foreign and ethereal. At the first mention of modern technology I was taken aback.

I particularly love how Sommersby handles the delicacy of animal rights issues. Not only are the animals in this circus well treated, but Sommersby takes this opportunity to show how a teenager can be a leader in activism. Genevieve starts her own charity called Loxodonta, where she demonstrates transparency about the circus’s treatment of their elephants, and she donates the money she earns through this venture to relevant charities.

Sleight does an excellent job of introducing tiny elements that prove to be critical plot points later in the book. There are some genuinely surprising twists, and they’re the best kind—the ones that you feel you should have seen coming, because the clues were all in place.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the mystical surrealness of books like The Night Circus with some modern-day teenage romance thrown in the mix.

I can’t wait for the next installment in this series, and this book hasn’t even come out yet!

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*I received a free copy of this ARC from the publisher*

Sleight

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The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont

Feminist Saints
The Little Book of Feminist Saints Book Cover

Title: The Little Book of Feminist Saints
Author: Julia Pierpont
Genre: Nonfiction
Date of Publication: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Random House


The Little Book of Feminist Saints is quite the treasure and I’m thrilled that I had a chance to read it before it was published. Modelled after the format of the Catholic little books of saints, Pierpont chose an interesting format that works well for the content. While reading this book, I sometimes recognized the well-known male counterparts in the bios of women that I hadn’t even heard of. This is evidence enough of how much a book like this was needed. 

Feminist Saints

Rather than providing a dry biography of each saint, Pierpont chose to focus on something they did that was of significance. She tells anecdotes that I wouldn’t have otherwise come across. Some of the feminists are well-known icons, and others are women who should be recognized for what they did. I also greatly appreciated the diversity of the women. She includes women of colour, women with disabilities, women from around the world and throughout history, and those who identify as LGBTQ+.

The little nods to the inspiration for the format are adorable. Pierpont calls each feminist a “matron saint”, and their illustrations depict a halo around each and every woman’s head. The bite-size write-ups for each feminist makes this book much more approachable for those who might otherwise find a non-fiction book like this intimidating. You can’t argue that you don’t have time to read when each saint is merely a page. You can put this book on your nightstand and read about one feminist icon before bed every night. While I do wish that some of the lesser-known saints had a little more information about them, this book provides the perfect introduction to each person, so the reader can research whomever they’re interested in learning more about.

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*Thanks to Random House for a copy of this ARC for an honest review*

Feminist Saints

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