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: Hometown Boys by Mary Maddox

Hometown Boys

Hometown Boys book cover

Title: Hometown Boys
Editors: Mary Maddox
Genre: Horror, fantasy
Date of Publication: January 21, 2019
Series: Kelly Durrell # 2

Publisher: Cantraip Press


Synopsis

Kelly Durrell returns home twenty years after escaping the monotony of small-town Morrison.  Her aunt and uncle were brutally murdered by her high school boyfriend, Troy Ingram, and he claims that he did it because she broke his heart twenty years ago.  Convinced that he’s lying, Kelly takes it upon herself to investigate the murders. Some things have changed in the last twenty years, but others have stayed the same.  The townies are still vindictive and look down on outsiders, which she herself has become.  Will Kelly she be able to find whoever she believes coerced Troy to kill her aunt and uncle before it’s too late?

Plot

This is the second instalment in the Kelly  Durrell series, but it isn’t necessary to read these in order. There was a brief mention of the climactic events in the last book, but I didn’t feel like I was missing any critical information.

Hometown Boys has a solid start, with a lot of action and intriguing plot elements, but it does lag a little towards the middle.  However, every time the story pace slows significantly, a surprising and seemingly random event occurs that propels the plot forward, sending jolts of excitement down my spine.  These twists and turns kept the pages turning, transforming the story into a compelling read.

Continue reading “Book Review: Hometown Boys by Mary Maddox”

Book Review: I Invited Her In by Adele Parks

I Invited Her In Book Cover

I Invited Her in book cover

Title: I Invited her In
Editors: Adele Parks
Genre: Domestic Psychological Thriller 
Date of Publication: September 20, 2018
Publisher: MIRA


I invited her in… and she took everything…

Synopsis

Melanie hasn’t heard from her college best friend, Abigail, in over twenty years. But when Abigail calls her up to ask for a place to stay as she divorces her cheating husband, Melanie is thrilled.  She invites her in with open arms, which–as you can probably tell from the book’s title and its assigned genre of “domestic suspense”–isn’t a good thing…

Plot

I was surprised by how slow this book started. I’m used to psychological and domestic suspenses starting with a bang – in the form of a prologue or a little taste of what’s to come – and then go through the monotony of introducing the main character and her humdrum life, easing the reader into the plotline, etc. While the “suspense” element wasn’t immediately apparent (and by “immediate”, I mean not even within the first 100 pages), the writing was compelling.  I found that I was curious to uncover what would happen next. However, the book is very slowly paced and character driven.  Not a lot of anything happens in the first half of the book.

As I said before, there aren’t  a lot of thrills in the first half of the book, and you have to really want to find the “thriller” aspect to even feel the slightest bit of suspense. Some chapters are from Abigail’s point of view, and she doesn’t come across as ominous or unhinged, especially in the first few chapters with her POV.  It might have added more suspense to not know what she was thinking.  Especially since it can be difficult to write someone’s point of view without revealing their motives or what their plans are.  That said, the end of her chapters tended to have a single line that made me itch for more. A single line that could be interpreted as innocuous or foreboding.  I chose the latter, because that made it a more interesting read.

There are a few plot twists, but they’re all quite obvious from the very beginning.  I won’t spoil them here, but if you are reading the book carefully enough, the twists aren’t even twists at all, but more like a natural progression of the plot.

I found the story line somewhat infuriating.  While Melanie is quite a normal person, I couldn’t relate to how she dealt with some of the things going on, especially later on in the book.  The plot grew more and more exasperating, which was partly because the twists were obvious, but also because of how slow paced the story was in addition to how nonsensical some of the characters were behaving.  And it wasn’t infuriating in that fun “Oh, gosh, why can’t they see what’s been in front of them all along!?” kind of way, more in the “Dammit, why are you so stupid!?” kind of way.

Continue reading “Book Review: I Invited Her In by Adele Parks”

Book Review: Wolfgang by F. D. Gross

Wolfgang

Wolfgang book cover

Title: Wolfgang
Editors: F. D. Gross
Genre: Horror, fantasy
Date of Publication: October 23, 2018
Series: Wolfgang #1
Publisher: Independently published


Synopsis:

Wolfgang is a nobleman who spends his days and nights purging the countryside of the undead.  But when he returns home after killing a nest of vampires, he discovers his wife dead, his town in ruins, and his son is missing. Desperate to find his son alive, he must fight a race against time, all the while killing the hoards of undead that are trying to keep him from his goal.

Plot

The book opens with a little preamble setting the stage for the story. It sort of reminds me of the sliding words on the screen of the beginning of Star Wars movies.  I think this will be very useful in follow up books in the series, so that readers can be quickly reminded of what happened in the previous books, so the the author can jump right into the plotline in the first chapters.

This novel reads like a rocket-fast paced version of Dracula (minus the epistolary style).  The story itself is quite different from Dracula, but the writing has a similar language and tone.  The plot plunges forward from the very first pages, and things are explained just enough so that the reader can follow along for this wild ride.  There are quite a few twists and turns in the plot, some which were predictable, and others were not.  

Characters

Because of the fast pace of the story, there is not much opportunity for scenes that are crafted solely for the purpose of character development. However, every scene is carefully planned.  F. D. Gross does an excellent job of giving us a clear understanding of who Wolfgang is, what his motivations are, and even showing some vulnerabilities. For instance, in the very beginning of the story, he has to kill an undead woman.  He does so, because it’s his duty, but he wavers at the thought of killing her child, even though the little boy is no longer technically living. This tells us so much about not only the nature of the undead in this world, what the plot will be like for the story, but it also tells us bucketloads about the main character.

Side characters are a little less developed, and I would have liked to have had some more scenes with simple conversations between the characters, to get a better sense of who they are.  Wolfgang’s wife dies very early on in the book, but we didn’t have much opportunity to grow attached to her. However, F. D. Gross does provide some flashbacks later in the book, which allow the reader to better understand how greatly Wolfgang loved his wife.

Worldbuilding

While the plot is fast-paced, every word is carefully selected and F. D. Gross crafts a well-developed and elaborate world.  He even describes what the undead smell like – cloves and burnt leaves, in case you were wondering.

Wolfgang

Overall, I highly recommend this book if you’re a fan of fast-paced plots, effortless worldbuilding, and old-fashioned vampire killing.

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*Thank you to the author for the ebook for review!*

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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.

Continue reading “Book Review: When it Will Rayne, It Will Pour by S. C. McCormack”

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: Lipstick Voodoo by Kristi Charish

Lipstick Voodoo

Lipstick Voodoo book cover

Title: Lipstick Voodoo
Author: Kristi Charish 
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Kincaid Strange # 2

Date of Publication: January 8, 2019
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada


Kincaid Strange is back in this dark and adventurous follow up to “The Voodoo Killings”.

Since this is the second in the series, there are spoilers for the first book in this review!

Synopsis:

Voodoo practitioner Kincaid Strange is invited by her ex-boyfriend, a cop, to consult on a cold case that just might have been a paranormal murder.  The case is connected to her roommate, Nathan Cade, the ghost of a 90s grunge rock star.  Meanwhile, Kincaid must also navigate a new relationship with her new mentor, the ghost of a psychopath sorcerer who used nefarious means to coerce her into becoming his apprentice. Everyone has their secrets, but who can Kincaid trust?

World-Building

This book is captivating from its very first page. I absolutely adore the detailed world that Charish has created.  It’s similar to real-life Seattle, but very dark and swarming with ghosts, zombies, ghouls, and other mysterious creatures from the Otherside.  The amount of detail that Charish has put into engineering this world is praiseworthy. As a health sciences librarian, I almost died from excitement when she mentioned “PubDead”, the paranormal version of PubMed. Let’s be friends, Kristi.

A major part of the world-building is the scientific way that Otherside works in this series.  Discussions of binding ghosts and setting mirrors all have a very matter-of-fact tone, with detailed nuances.  Some pages read like a paranormal textbook, but with a little more sass, since it’s all coming from Kincaid’s point of view.

Plot

There are several plot lines in this story that are seamlessly interwoven.  I love how Charish blended effortlessly from one to the other, and they’re so interconnected it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. Excellent storytelling.

Characters

Side characters in this book are also well-developed. Gideon, the mysterious ghost of a sorcerer, is quite intriguing.  This book gives us just enough information about his past to  give us a better sense of who he is, but he’s still an enigma.  

Since Nate is a ghost, he isn’t expected to grow as a person, which is something Kincaid comments on in the book. However, I noticed that he had a little development of his own, which I won’t reveal here, because it’s a spoiler!

I did find the character development for her love interest, ex-boyfriend Aaron, to be lacking. It seems like Kincaid makes a revelation about their relationship (or lack thereof) during the latter half of the book, but it isn’t quite addressed fully enough for my liking before the final pages. I suppose I’ll have to wait for the next book for this.  

Lipstick Voodoo

I recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in a dark fantasy with a badass female lead.  It has a very detailed world, but it’s not presented in a monotonous way.  It’s very similar in feel to Kim Harrison’s Hollows book series.  

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*Thank you to Vintage Canada and Netgalley for the ARC 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!

Continue reading “Book Review: Carrie by Stephen King”

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.

Continue reading “Book Review: Two Little Girls in Blue by Mary Higgins Clark”

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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