Book Review: The Mentor by Lee Matthew Goldberg

The Mentor

The Mentor

Title: The Mentor
Author: Lee Matthew Goldberg
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: June 14, 2017
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books


Synopsis 

When Kyle earns a prestigious position as an editor at a large New York publishing house, he’s surprised and delighted to hear from his favourite professor from his college days.  Apparently, Professor William Lansing has been writing a novel these last ten years, and he asks if Kyle would consider publishing it.  Kyle is thrilled to be the first to read this novel, but that excitement is short lived. It’s a thousand pages of horribly written depravity.  Kyle tries to let his professor down gently, to tell him that the novel can’t be published, but his mentor won’t take no for an answer…

Plot 

The Mentor starts off slow, but the writing was compelling enough to keep me engaged until the novel’s hook was revealed. There are quite a few hair-raising twists throughout this thriller.  A couple were somewhat predictable, but there were enough surprises to keep me on my toes.  The ending (no spoilers!) is downright chilling. 

This book is quite a psychological thriller, as it becomes clear that Professor Lansing isn’t exactly the stereotypical concerned teacher.  He has a dark side, which is gradually revealed as the story progresses. There are times when Kyle questions his own sanity, and the reader can’t help but do the same.  That said, there are other horror elements, such as the “depravity” of the professor’s novel, which are revealed to the reader in snippets.  These excerpts were never too extreme, but definitely not something you’d want to read with the lights off.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Mentor by Lee Matthew Goldberg”

Book Review: Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Fierce Kingdom cover

Title: Fierce Kingdom
Author: Gin Phillips
Genre: Thriller
Date of Publication: July 25, 2017
Publisher: Viking


Synopsis

When Joan takes her four-year-old son to the zoo for a day of frolicking with the wildlife, of course she doesn’t expect to be staying at the zoo later into the night, fearing for her life while a killer hunts her down. Joan must keep her son out of the clutches of this psychopath–no matter the cost. 

Plot 

This novel is what the publishing business calls “high concept”. The idea behind the story is really quite simple: Joan is trapped in the zoo with her son and there’s a shooter on the loose. While it’s a very intriguing concept, it quickly becomes clear that the author didn’t have any other ideas when she wrote up this story. The plot is quite formulaic, without any real twists in the story. The decisions that Joan makes are at times understandable, but often they’re quite infuriating. Sure, your cell phone glows when you receive a text message, but getting rid of it is not a good idea, Joan. You will need it later. There were some plotholes like this – if you’re carrying a bag around with you, just put the phone in your bag! Put it on airplane mode. Check out the settings and turn off notifications! There were so many better ways that she could have handled that.

Anyway, I’m nitpicking on one plot issue, but honestly, the entire novel was full of these. 

While the book is primarily told from Joan’s perspective, we do get brief scenes from the points of view of some of the other survivors, but that wasn’t consistent. We were, however, consistently provided POV scenes from the shooters. 

The story really lags in the middle, but it picks up again towards the end. There wasn’t much going on in terms of twists and turns in the plot. Everything carries out the way you would expect, although, I would have expected the police to show up a lot earlier. Turns out the explanation for them not showing up is somewhat satisfactory. Somewhat.

Characters

Joan is the typical overprotective mother. One thing that I did enjoy about the story was how insensitive she was to the needs of the other survivors. She finds the talkative girl annoying – and even though it’s clear to the reader that the girl is jabbering on because she’s nervous and it’s her coping mechanism–Joan doesn’t realize this until later, because she’s so wrapped up in her own coping mechanisms.

Joan’s son is really quite adorable at first, but it starts to get laid on too thick when Phillips hounds the reader with one cute anecdote after another. Every parent thinks that their child is a special snowflake, but as a non-parent, I started to find this grated on my nerves. I understand that Phillips was doing this to make the reader invested in the outcome of the story, and that the true story is about how much this woman loves her child, but it definitely wore on me after a while. 

I also really really hate when authors use mental disability or mental illness to make a villain seem scarier. No. Just don’t. 

Language

This novel is very a very easy read, which makes me think of the Mark Twain line, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” It’s a favourite line for me, as a writer, and I do think this applies here. I can critique the story and the characters until the cows come home, but it’s clear to me that Phillips has a talent for getting the words on the page to depict exactly what she means. Her writing style bumped my rating up from two stars to three. The novel is also quite short, and so while some parts drag (as mentioned in the Plot section), these parts are over rather quickly and then it’s on to the next plot point.  

Fierce Kingdom

I recommend this book to those looking for a quick yet linear thriller that focuses on the relationship between a mother and her infant son. 

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Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red

All Systems Red

Title: All Systems Red 
Author: Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1

Genre: Science Fiction
Date of Publication: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Tor


Synopsis

Set in a distant future, a team of scientists are sent to a planet to conduct surface tests,  and they are required to bring along a Company-issued droid. They’re utterly unaware that this droid has hacked its AI, effectively enabling it to do whatever it wants. “Whatever it wants” means that it spends its free time watching cheesy soap operas.  The droid refers to itself as the Murderbot–though it would never say that to the humans it was sent to protect. When danger is afoot, the Murderbot feels compelled to continue to protect the scientists no matter the cost.

Plot

I don’t usually read hard science fiction, but one of the categories for the PopSugar Reading Challenge is “A book set in space”, so I was thrust into this category, whether I wanted to explore it or not. I decided to read this book because it’s short–only a novella, it had an interesting premise, and very positive reviews on Goodreads. Boy am I glad I picked this book. 

At only 89 pages, this book packs a lot of action and adventure between its covers. The plot never lags, and Wells does a fabulous job of balancing all four appeal elements, which, of course, is likely why this book has appealed to so many readers. The plot is engaging and fun, and Wells resolves the plotline while hinting at the possibilities of what’s to come with the followup books in this series. Books which I’ll be definitely checking out.  Hard science fiction books, here I come!

Characters

The Murderbot is a dynamic and relatable character, despite not even being a human being. It’s funny and socially awkward, which is something that many bookworms such as myself can relate to.  It has a heart, which becomes evident as the story progresses.

Given that this is a novella and the focus is clearly on the Murderbot, I haven’t marked Martha Wells down for not developing the other characters quite to my liking. That said, each of the teammates had a unique personality so that I didn’t have a difficult time telling them apart. They each had their own way of viewing and dealing with the Murderbot, which coloured its perception of these characters in interesting ways. 

Setting & Language

Set in a science fiction world, Martha Wells does a fabulous job of making it easy for me to follow, which is no easy feat considering I rarely read in this genre. All the science fiction-y words were understandable within context. She doesn’t spend reams of pages describing how the world works, but reveals things as they are needed to be known by the reader. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you would know that this is something that I value in a book.  Books with info-dumps automatically receive fewer stars, even if the rest of the book is up to my standards of reading. 

All Systems Red

This is a perfect gateway book into the hard science fiction genre. It contains all four appeal elements, so even if you aren’t interested in reading science fiction, you should give this one a shot, because it might just surprise you.

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Book Review: The Spirits of Six Minstrel Run by Matthew S. Cox

The Spirits of Six Minstrel Run

The Spirits of Six Minstrel Run

Title: The Spirits of Six Minstrel Run
Author: Matthew S. Cox
Genre: Fantasy
Date of Publication: January 18, 2019
Publisher: Division Zero Press


Synopsis 

When Mia’s husband buys a beautiful old house at a bargain, she can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with it. She doesn’t have to wonder for long, because it quickly becomes obvious that the house is haunted.  Her husband is delighted–he’s a university professor who’s looking for proof of the paranormal. Mia quickly discovers that she’s psychically sensitive to the spirits in this house. While one of them is a harmless little girl Mia would do anything to protect, there is something else that is much more sinister lurking the halls of Six Minstrel Run…

Plot 

This novel fights a lot of tropes in the paranormal activity subgenre.  First off, Adam, a professor at the university, bought this house because he knew it was haunted. He wanted to see if he could capture evidence of the existence of ghosts on camera.  This automatically sets this novel apart from others like it–where there is that inevitable first third of the book where the protagonists are in denial that supernatural beings exist.  Even Mia, the skeptic, believes that there is a ghost in this house within the first few chapters.

There is a lot of paranormal activity right off the bat, which also sets this book apart. Usually in novels like this the author plays with shadowy figures in the corner of your eye, mysterious noises in the dead of night, and other events that can be attributed to the imagination or natural phenomenon.  But this book escalates things a lot more quickly. The plot isn’t about whether or not the protagonists believe there is a ghost. It’s about Mia getting to know the ghost of the little girl that lives there, all the while questioning if she’s truly a little girl at all, or if she’s something insidious…

The book also has religious undertones, as there is a priest who makes regular appearances at Six Minstrel Run, warning Adam and Mia that they need to leave before its too late.  He fears for their souls, though Adam and Mia find him more annoying than the ghosts inhabiting their home. This theme is carried throughout, as Mia was raised Catholic but turned against her religion for slightly spoilery reasons. 

Characters 

I had to suspend my disbelief just a tad when reading this book. Some of the plot points that I lauded in the “Plot” section make for unrealistic main characters.  Mia is supposedly a skeptic, yet the first time she has a paranormal encounter in this book, she instantly believes. Both Mia and Adam are invested in keeping the house, but as the paranormal events escalate, they remain oblivious to the danger they’re truly in.  Even someone who was desperate to prove the paranormal exists would have run for the hills after some of the events that take place early on in this story.  The main characters’ lack of relatability can be countered by saying that the novel isn’t meant to be horror, and that it at times takes a sardonic tone, but whether that was intentional or not is unclear.  The writing style is a lot lighter than you would expect a book with this type of plot to be.  I talk a bit more about this element a little more in depth in the Language section below.

There is a lot of cutesy back and forth banter between Mia and Adam, which serves to make me as the reader truly invested in their relationship.  They love each other, and there’s never a point in the novel where I questioned that even for a moment. 

I was particularly invested in the strange yet beautiful relationship between Mia and the ghost girl.  It’s clear that Mia has motherly instincts despite not being a mother, and she worries for the safety of the little girl, what with the other spirits that inhabit this house. She wants to protect her, despite not truly knowing if she isn’t dangerous, and the relationship is quite tender and refreshing.  It also adds to the horror element, as there’s nothing scarier than a child that might just be homicidal.  The little girl ghost is adorable yet incredibly creepy, a beautiful dichotomy that makes this book truly unique.

Language 

As mentioned earlier, the tone of the book is light. It reminded me a little of Jay Ansen’s “The Amityville Horror”, as it has that sense of the author calmly relaying the facts, no matter how disturbing they might be.  Many books rely on language to instill that fear in the reader, yet in this case (and in The Amityville Horror’s case), the language was a mere medium for relaying the horror of the events that unfold.  

The Spirits of Six Minstrel Run

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a refreshing take on an old subgenre–the ghost story–with a unique twist.

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*Thank you to Blackthorn Book Tours  for ebook for review*

Author Bio:

Originally from South Amboy NJ, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Since 1996, he has developed the “Divergent Fates” world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, The Awakened Series, The Harmony Paradox, the Prophet of the Badlands series, and the Daughter of Mars series take place.

His books span adult, young-adult, and middle-grade fiction in multiple genres, predominantly science fiction, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, and fantasy.

Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, developer of two custom tabletop RPG systems, and a fan of anime, British humour, and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of humanity, reality, life, and what might happen after it.

He is also fond of cats, presently living with two: Loki and Dorian.

Author links:

Goodreads | AmazonFacebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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Book Review: A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh

A Madness of Sunshine

A Madness of Sunshine

Title: A Madness of Sunshine
Author: Nalini Singh
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: December 3, 2019
Publisher: Berkley


Synopsis

When Anahera’s husband dies, she decides to return home to Golden Cove, a little town in New Zealand where she grew up. But soon after her arrival, a popular young woman goes missing, and it’s up to Anahera and the town’s sole cop to figure out what happened to her.  Nothing is as it seems, and this little town has more than its fair share of suspects…

Plot

A Madness of Sunshine is an engaging read from its very first line. While engaging, it is a slower read, and Singh puts an emphasis on building the town and its characters prior to introducing the overall mystery.  The plot takes on the characteristics of an Agatha Christie mystery.  Whatever happened to Miriama, it’s clear from the beginning that someone in town knows what happened to her. It becomes evident that we already know the character responsible for her disappearance, and it’s up to Anahera and Tom to find out who.  While reading the book, I wrote the note “these people are all assholes”, and that’s true. There are so many potential murderers/psychopaths, that it seems like anyone could be responsible for Miriama’s disappearance. 

Continue reading “Book Review: A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh”

Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians

Title: Crazy Rich Asians
Author: Kevin Kwan
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Series: Crazy Rich Asians # 1

Date of Publication: June 2013
Publisher: Doubleday


Synopsis

When Rachel goes to Singapore to meet her boyfriend Nicholas’s family and attend a wedding, she’s looking forward to a fun and relaxing vacation.  Never in her wildest dreams did she expect to find out that he’s from one of the wealthiest families in China, and that his family and their friends are incredibly manipulative, conniving, and shallow people.  Meanwhile, Nicholas’s mother isn’t happy that he’s dating an American with no wealth of her own, and she’ll do anything to make sure that her son doesn’t put a ring on that gold-digger’s finger.

My Thoughts

This book is a gem in the romantic comedy genre.  Riddled with numerous laugh-out-loud moments, this is a must-read for anyone looking for a fun read.  I listened to this story as an audiobook, and the reader was fantastic. There were times when I finished my commute or ran out of chores to do, but I still wanted to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and listen to what would happen next.

Written in the third person, the novel follows a few different characters, catching a glimpse into the perspective of the rich and famous, as well as how they look from those on the outside.  We primarily follow Rachel, as mentioned in the synopsis, but we also follow Astrid.  Astrid is extremely wealthy and experiencing marital problems.  However, I would have been happy just following Rachel’s storyline. While Astrid’s chapters were funny at times, the plot wasn’t particularly compelling to me, and the “twist” at the end fell flat.  It was a little too far-fetched, and I wasn’t really sure of its point.

I hadn’t seen the movie prior to reading the book, but I’ve heard (shocker!) that the book is better than the movie.

Crazy Rich Asians

I highly recommend this book to those who want a modern-day romantic comedy that feels like it was written in the golden era of the genre.

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Book Review: Every Time He Dies by Tara East

Every Time He Dies

Every Time He Dies

Title: Every Time He Dies
Author: Tara East
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Date of Publication: November 5, 2019
Publisher: Self-Published


Synopsis

When Daphne’s cop fiance dies in an accident that she feels responsible for, she gives up her career dreams of becoming a toxicologist and instead becomes an embalmer. A year and a half later, she finds a wristwatch on the ground at the beach, and she is suddenly haunted by the ghost of a man who doesn’t remember who he is or how he died. Daphne is forced to confront the grief of losing her fiance while helping this man to find peace.  Meanwhile, her estranged cop father is investigating a brutal murder, and Daphne unknowingly finds herself caught in the killer’s crosshairs…

Plot

Every Time He Dies is a gripping read from its very first pages.  Told in the third person, there are multiple perspectives shown throughout the novel, including those of Daphne and her father.  It isn’t clear right away where the story is going to go, and there are several seemingly disconnected subplots. Tara East expertly weaves from one to the other, so that the two subplots do not actually seem all that disjointed.  All the subplots tie together quite nicely in a climactic end to a thrilling read.  There are no plot holes in this thrill ride.

Continue reading “Book Review: Every Time He Dies by Tara East”

Book Review: Catfishing on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer

Catfishing on Catnet

Catfishing on Catnet

Title: Catfishing on Catnet
Author: Naomi Kritzer
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Date of Publication: November 19, 2019
Publisher: Tor Teen


Synopsis

This book is marketed as a dark thriller. I mean, look at that cover (Which, by the way, is not the cover it had when I requested it through NetGalley. That cover had cute cyber-kitties on it). Doesn’t this cover make the book look dark and spooky? Even the description and the initial reviews made it sound like a dark thriller about an AI that goes off its rocker.

On the contrary, this is a light book about a girl who’s always been on the run with her mother. They always have to move to different towns, so Stephanie doesn’t have any friends–in the real world. She has friends in CatNet, a chat room where pictures of cats and other adorable animals are like currency.  It’s quickly revealed that one of these friends is an artificial intelligence, and this AI wants to come out of the closet.  Meanwhile, Stephanie will do whatever it takes to keep from having to move to another town, because there’s a girl in her class who she isn’t ready to leave.

Plot

This book has a lot of great ideas, but I was disappointed in the execution. I’ll start with one of my favourite parts. In school, the students are expected to learn sex education from a robot, because adults find that topic uncomfortable. This part had me laughing (and a little angry, because it’s so darn accurate), and every time students would ask an unsanctioned question (about LGBTQ+ issues, for instance) the robot would tell them to ask their parents.  This was a hilarious and interesting projection of the current political climate, and I do wish this book had had more of these types of funny (yet upsetting) insights.

I absolutely loved the metaphor of the AI coming out as an artificial intelligence. However, for a book that is very Social Justice Warrior-y, the characters were often insensitive, and a lot of the metaphors really didn’t work. Stephanie should not have been running around telling everyone that [spoiler] was an AI, because that ruins the metaphor.  It was the AI’s choice to tell people, not Stephanie’s.  *Sigh*

I enjoyed the main story arc of the novel, but again, it wasn’t particularly suspenseful or dark. I would have liked for there to have been a few twists or turns in the storyline, to keep me asking questions.  Maybe I’ve been reading too many psychological thrillers, but I usually expect a twist or two in my books. At least one. (And that twist can’t be the one in the first chapter that reveals that one of the main characters is an AI).

Characters

I didn’t particularly like Stephanie, the main character. I felt for her plight, particularly the fact that her mother had lied to her her entire life, and her inability to make real-life friends–because she knew that these relationships could only be temporary. However, there were a few times when I really couldn’t stand Stephanie. In particular–when her mother is in the hospital, and Stephanie doesn’t know what’s wrong with her or if she’s even dying–and she doesn’t check on her for a very long time. Her mother has been essentially her only real-life friend her entire life, yet she doesn’t come across as particularly worried. She’s more concerned about her budding romance–which may be authentic for a teenage character, but this doesn’t make for a sympathetic character.

The saving grace for this book Stephanie’s relationship with Rachel. It was gradual, not insta-love, and they had cute interactions. However, I don’t understand why characters in non-fantasy YA books need to be so quirky these days. Why can’t the main character’s love interest be a normal girl who doesn’t draw on people and who has a normal number of birds waiting for her when she gets home (And for those asking, I’d say a normal number of birds would be 1-4).  

Catfishing on Catnet

I recommend this book to those who are looking for a YA quasi-thriller about artificial intelligence and contemporary social justice warrior issues. Just don’t think about the metaphors too much, and you might enjoy this book.

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*Thank you to Tor Teen and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy for review*

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Book Review: The Hellbound Heart

Hellbound Heart

The Hellbound Heart

Title: The Hellbound Heart
Author: Clive Barker
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: November 1986
Publisher: been republished numerous times


My Thoughts

I remember when I was a kid, hanging out at the movie store, trying to decide what age-appropriate film to rent.  I always found myself back in the horror section, staring at the covers in fascination. Hellraiser was one of the covers I often returned to. It mesmerized me. I eventually saw the movie years later, and it quickly became a favourite.

I finally read the novella this brilliant movie was based on this year.  Being a novella, it is quite fast paced, and the horror begins within the first few pages. Despite the short length of it, we get to delve into the motivations of the main characters with a remarkable amount of detail.

This is my first Clive Barker book, and it definitely won’t be my last. His writing style is unique and beautiful and horrifying. I want to explore another world he’s created with his brilliantly twisted mind and unrivaled talent for putting words to the pages.

Before reading this book, I was warned that it’s quite similar to the movie, and that I might be disappointed because of this. To the contrary. I was in the mood to rewatch the movie, so I read the book instead. It is a terror-ride from cover to cover, and recommended reading for any horror lover.

Hellbound Heart

Recommended for those who love the movie, or for those who are looking for a bite-sized horror novel to read before a sleepless night.

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Book Review: Her Crown of Fire by Renee April

Her Crown of Fire

Her Crown of Fire

Title: Her Crown of Fire 
Author: Renee April
Series: Molten Fire # 1

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: November 1, 2019
Publisher: Write Plan


Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Rose Evermore is just a normal teenager who has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up. That is, until she suddenly discovers her magical affinity for fire and develops dreams that predict the future.  Before she knows it, she winds up in a fantasy realm called Lotheria—with her best friend, Tyson, who has no magic. She is taken to the mysterious Academy to learn to use her magic, while Tyson must hide from the authorities—at the risk of death.  Rose needs to find a way to get them back home, before Tyson becomes the next target of the headmasters’ frightening wrath.

My Thoughts

This book is a real page-turner! I had a hard time putting this book down at bedtime.  From the first page I could tell that this was going to be different from other books like this. I kept expecting it to fall into common tropes.  While it’s still a book about a girl who discovers her magical powers and is torn away from her life and forced to live in a magical world where she must attend a school for magic, the individual plot points are quite unique from other similar books.

The atmosphere of this story is quite dark, darker than expected, and the Headmasters of the school are far from warm and cuddly. Punishments are severe, and they come with even the teeniest, tiniest of infractions.

At the risk of spoilers, I want to be super vague when I talk about the romance in this story. Rose does not fall for who I was expecting her to fall for, which was a pleasant surprise.  I was fully expecting April to write the more obvious of the romances (there are quite a few potential love interests), and she went with someone else entirely.  That said, the romance felt rushed towards the end of the book, and I would have preferred if Rose had interacted with her love interest a little more earlier on, had some longing glances and whatnot to build up to their passionate love affair.

I did find a few parts of the book confusing, especially earlier on. When Rose first shows up in this unique world and is taken to the Academy to study magic, she experiences a strange magical… something. Was it a test? A hazing ritual?  I’m still not entirely sure what I had read, and it happened early enough in the book that it left me worried that I would experience that level of confusion again. Fortunately, it’s the only part of the book that really left me scratching my head, as everything else was quite easy to follow.  If you experience the same while reading this book, I encourage you to push through it, because this read is quite rewarding!

One part of the book that I absolutely adored is the use of Runes. April has created a unique type of magic that leaves me aching for more. You know that a writer has created an interesting type of magic when I long to read a textbook on the subject. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but I want to read a textbook on Runes written by Renee April. (I am a librarian and researcher, after all! It shouldn’t be so hard to believe). Other aspects of the magic in this world are just as interesting, especially the unique take on soulmates, and I’m eager to explore this world more in the next instalment in this series.

Her Crown of Fire

I recommend this book to anyone looking to get lost in a dark, magical world.

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*Thank you to Write Plan for the advanced reader copy for review*

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