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Review – The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson

SummaryWhen all hope is gone, how do you survive? 

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.

Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.

Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves—but the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected. 

This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.

Source: I received an Owlcrate exclusive hardcover in an Owlcrate box.

Owlcrate_June_2017.jpg

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Review:

The Sandcastle Empire was a strange book. I was confused for the majority of the story, but it was so interesting that I couldn’t help but turn the pages to see what would happen next. Because I was so intrigued and constantly surprised by the direct of the story, I enjoyed the book quite a bit.

The book definitely has a LOST feel to it, along with dystopian elements. Something happened to Eden’s world and it was under very strict rule, but her main goal was to find the Sanctuary her father wrote about in his survival guide. During a moment of chaos and confusion, Eden found herself traveling with three other girls headed off of the coast with only one way to go: towards Sanctuary.

There was so much going on with the plot. The island was really strange and it became clear that they weren’t on any ordinary piece of land. Also, the group dynamics were weird because none of them could really trust each other. And then one of them went missing and the girls attempted to find her and stumbled onto all sorts of messed up things. What WAS this place?! What was happening?

And then, suddenly, there was another group of people who showed up with characters some of the girls recognized, but not quite. Who were they? What were THEY doing here? 

I loved all of the craziness.

I have to admit, things did get a little over the top with the amount of strange twists and turns and shifting alliances, but I was so hooked. The end probably had more plot holes and rushed schemes than I would’ve liked, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. From the beginning, I knew I wasn’t reading a story that was realistic or had a tie to any world I’d recognize, so it was pure fantasy and chaos that never really needed to make sense to me. I suppose I understand if you are a stickler for realistic fiction how this book would be maddening, but I thought it was kind of fun and insane. 

I would definitely recommend The Sandcastle Empire to anyone who enjoyed Lost, enjoys being on the edge of their seat, and doesn’t have super high expectations for YA dystopian novels. This isn’t the next big hit, but it was definitely enjoyable and I had so much fun flying through the pages with a confused look on my face. No one can accuse the book of being predictable!

 Star 4

 

 

 

 

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Review – Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

 

Into the Water

By Paula Hawkins

SummaryA single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

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Source: I purchased a hardcover from BOTM Club

Review:

Into the Water was slightly disappointing. I feel like I had middle of the road expectations for it, too. The synopsis sounded like it would be intriguing and perfect for what I enjoy in thrillers, but I also knew that, while The Girl on the Train was decent, it wasn’t a novel I found to be deserving of the praise and hype it got. Often, the second book after an explosive hit can be kind of disappointing, so I mentally prepared myself for that, too.

The book was actually not very well executed. The plot was there and it was a good one had it been more of page turner, but there were way too many characters to keep track of from the very beginning. While all of them had a purpose in the end, I can’t help but feel like there could’ve been a better way to tie it together. It wasn’t that the characters were unlikeable, though they were, but they were all just sort of flat and difficult to care about. I didn’t hate them or like them enough. They were just.. pawns in a larger plot. 

It’s almost like the author wanted to expand on the theme of the first book and how memory can be tricky, but didn’t want to be accused of trying the same thing by creating an unreliable narrator, so she just made every character somewhat of a narrator in a way that seemed artificial. It probably would’ve been better if she’d stuck with a smaller cast of characters and created situations with strong dialogue to include the other characters and their motivations better. 

I realize I’m being a bit harsh, but I read a lot of thrillers with similar themes and typically can’t get enough. I think there are a ton of talented authors who grasp the small town with buried secrets in better ways than this book did. It was so disappointing that whenever I read the synopsis, I’m excited all over again and then realize the pages inside of the book just don’t capture any of the descriptions used. It wasn’t satisfying or urgent at all. It was slow, like trudging through mud just to get to the good stuff. 

Star 2

Review – Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

 

Dark Matter

By Blake Crouch

Summary“Are you happy with your life?” 

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. 

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. 

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.” 

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

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Source: I purchased a hardcover

Review:

Dark Matter was all the rage last year, so I gave into the hype and purchased a copy. As with most of my books, it took me a bit to finally get around to reading it. The science fiction mood hit me, so I picked it up. The book was very difficult to put down and entertaining to read. I flew through it and cared about Jason and his situation. He was a character you couldn’t help but root for and feel for throughout the novel.

The plot was interesting, but not nearly as unique as I expected. I found it a tad predictable for the first half of the book because so many movies and books explore the parallel universe theory and the beginning of Dark Matter set it up so obviously with a main character who alluded to his bright future and it seemed to hit a nerve for both him and his wife that they both gave up so much for each other. The plot was still fun because I wanted to see what the other universe would be like and what would happen.

The second half of the book was much weirder and less predictable, which should have meant it was better, but I was a bit disappointed by the way the book dealt with the science. It wasn’t afraid to throw out those intense and complicated theories, but it glossed over a lot of the science and I had hoped it would be more complex. It’s a great book for people who are new to the science fiction genre or not well versed in the theories about multiverses. But for a science fiction fan who watches many documentaries about science in my free time (there’s always something space or physics related playing in the background of my house), it felt like the book just rushed and glossed over a concept I wanted to spend more time admiring.

Dark Matter would make a really good blockbuster movie that would appeal to many audiences. It was fun and entertaining with that layer of complexity that makes it different from your run of the mill action adventure.

I recommend Dark Matter

Star 4

Review – Till Death by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Till Death

By Jennifer L. Armentrout

SummaryIn New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout’s gripping new novel, a young woman comes home to reclaim her life—even as a murderer plots to end it. . . 

 It’s been ten years since Sasha Keaton left her West Virginia hometown . . . since she escaped the twisted serial killer known as the Groom. Returning to help run her family inn means being whole again, except for one missing piece. The piece that falls into place when Sasha’s threatened—and FBI agent Cole Landis vows to protect her the way he couldn’t a decade ago.

 First one woman disappears; then another, and all the while, disturbing calling cards are left for the sole survivor of the Groom’s reign of terror. Cole’s never forgiven himself for not being there when Sasha was taken, but he intends to make up for it now . . . because under the quirky sexiness Cole first fell for is a steely strength that only makes him love Sasha more.

But someone is watching. Waiting. And Sasha’s first mistake could be her last.

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Source: I purchased a kindle copy.

Review:

This is going to be an unpopular opinion and one that I hate to give considering how much I typically love JLA books, but Till Death was awful. Maybe it’s just that I do enjoy mysteries and thrillers and have a pretty high expectation for the writing, but the book was seriously lacking in just about every way. 

The writing felt very juvenile, which I never really notice in her YA books or NA romances. I typically like the quirky and funny characters and writing, but it was out of place in romantic suspense. It felt like in order to tone the quirkiness down, the author decided to make the main character very soft spoken and similar to a doormat to convey the serious nature and the fact that she was damaged. But seeing “…” in literally every line of her dialogue just made me want to throw the book.

I figured out who the killer was at the very beginning because, unlike the main character, I wasn’t completely naive or blind to the world around me.

The romance was perhaps the best part because that’s what JLA is good at, but I was already over the main character to appreciate any of it. I would expect an FBI agent to have a higher bar set for his love interest and just don’t understand what the appeal of a cowering and stammering girl could possibly be. I just feel like she reminded me of a deer caught in headlights, all wide eyed and unable to figure out how to move in life. 

I can’t say I’d recommend the book at all. I think there other New Adult and romance authors who tackle mystery and suspense much better. As a lover of thrillers, this book just made me roll my eyes. It wasn’t suspenseful or thrilling at all, but perhaps if you’re used to reading nothing but new adult romances, then it might seem better.

Star 2

 

Review – Visions (Cainsville #2) by Kelley Armstrong

 

Visions (Cainsville #2)

By Kelley Armstrong

 

SummaryAs #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong’s new Cainsville series continues, Olivia’s power to read omens leads to the discovery of a gruesome crime with troubling connections to her new hometown.

Omens, the first installment in Kelley Armstrong’s exciting new series, introduced Olivia Taylor-Jones, daughter of notorious serial killers, and Gabriel Walsh, the self-serving, morally ambiguous lawyer who became her unlikely ally. Together, they chased down a devious killer and partially cleared her parents of their horrifying crimes.

Their success, however, is short-lived. While Olivia takes refuge in the old, secluded town of Cainsville, Gabriel’s past mistakes have come to light, creating a rift between the pair just when she needs his help the most.

Olivia finds a dead woman in her car, dressed to look like her, but the body vanishes before anyone else sees it. Olivia’s convinced it’s another omen, a sign of impending danger. But then she learns that a troubled young woman went missing just days ago—the same woman Olivia found dead in her car. Someone has gone to great lengths to kill and leave this young woman as a warning. But why? And what role has her new home played in this disturbing murder?

Olivia’s effort to uncover the truth places her in the crosshairs of old and powerful forces, forces that have their own agenda, and closely guarded secrets they don’t want revealed.


Source: I borrowed a Kindle copy

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Review:

I really enjoyed Omens, the first book in the Cainsville series, and I loved that it was more supernatural mystery than urban fantasy, with just a hint of underlying supernatural abilities. I loved the strange friendship between Gabriel and Olivia and I couldn’t wait to pick up the sequel.

Visions had a great plot that moved forward affter the events of Omens, with a strange connection between her town and a missing girl. I enjoyed the journey and I definitely want more, but Visions was disappointing to some degree. Omens was not a romance, but there was a slow burn between Gabriel and Olivia as she slowly began to rely on him and his icy demeanor melted a bit for her. 

In Visions, the relationship was strained after Olivia was pursued by Ricky, a biker she met in book one. I like Ricky, don’t get me wrong, but I did not want that relationship to happen and the book was peppered with tons of romance between the two of them that just made me feel like banging my fist on the table. Not only do I not trust whatever Ricky is, because he’s definitely something, but I would really like to see more Gabriel and Olivia. Ricky just feels like a setback, a temporary distraction, and so I kind of felt like it was a waste of time. 

For some odd reason, my library has the rest of the series except for book three, so I had to make a decision about what I would do next. While I like the premise and want more, I wonder if the author will distract me with more romantic adventures I don’t want. I just don’t want to pay $10 to read the next book, so I think I’m going to take a break and maybe read some reviews and see what to expect from the book. 

The story has a lot of potential to be great, but part of the reason I loved book one was the fact that it wasn’t full of romance. It’s weird, because I love romance, but I just wanted something different I guess.

I definitely recommend the Cainsville series, though, and I’m sure I’ll return to it at some point. 

Star 4

 

Review – Omens (Cainsville #1) by Kelley Armstrong

 

Omens (Cainsville #1)

By Kelley Armstrong

Summary: Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.

But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens.

Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past.

Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.

Source: I purchased a hardcover

Review:

I loved Omens. It was not at all what I expected, yet it felt very similar to the urban fantasy style that I’m used to. It was more of a supernatural mystery than an urban fantasy, not focused on romance or supernatural creatures at all. The book was set in a normal world, but Cainsville itself was a strange town that Olivia ended up in. She could also read omens, but didn’t really know why. 

Olivia thought she knew who she was, but she discovered she was adopted and her real parents were convicted serial killers. Her adopted father passed away and Olivia really only connected with him in her family, so the news was shocking and it left her feeling like she had nowhere to go. Her life was turned upside down, so she decided to find out more about her real parents.

Gabriel is one of my favorite characters. He was weird, untrustworthy, icy, and incredibly interesting. Olivia and Gabriel began this weird working friendship in which he assisted her, but they both clearly wanted something from each other and it was the only reason Olivia chose to work with him. It was strange, but I was drawn to their relationship. 

Omens didn’t really contain any romance, but I could sense a slow burn between Gabriel and Olivia and I loved watching their friendship unfold. There also seemed to be people in the town of Cainsville rooting for their friendship, which was also interesting. The town itself was supernatural, I think, but couldn’t be sure. The rest of the book seemed like a regular mystery, so I liked the underlying weirdness that set it apart from regular mysteries and urban fantasies because it straddled the line. 

I definitely recommend Omens, especially if you like urban fantasies, but want something different. 

Star 4

 

 

Review – The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

 

The Shining Girls

By Lauren Beukes

SummaryThe Girl Who Wouldn’t Die Hunts the Killer Who Shouldn’t Exist

The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own.

Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.

Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times. 

At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He’s the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable-until one of his victims survives.

Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins the Chicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth . . . 

The Shining Girls is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.

Source: I purchased a hardcover.

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Review:

 The Shining Girls was a strange mixture of crime thriller and time travel. Harper, a killer, found a house that led him to other periods of time in the same city of Chicago. He was urged by himself and the house to search for the shining girls and snuff them out. Kirby, one of his victims, survived her attack, grew up, and worked as an intern for a newspaper. She had an obsession with piecing together her case and figuring out who attacked her. 

Part of me feels like the book was lacking and it left me feeling strangely empty despite being long enough to have given me more than I felt it gave me. Another part of me feels like the book was perfect and very well done. It was strange, mysterious, quirky, and thought provoking. The shining girls seemed to be random girls that somehow sparked an interest in Harper, but they were kind of linked in that each of them were ahead of their times, important to a cause, passionate about something, and truly shined as women in fields that did not necessarily invite women. But it’s not a super obvious connection, nor is the book focused on that aspect.

Kirby was a quirky and likable heroine with a strange fashion sense and a dark sense of humor. I enjoyed watching her banter with Dan, the sports writer she interned under at the newspaper. She didn’t let her circumstances turn her into a broken version of herself, so she threw out spots of humor in subjects others wanted to tip toe around. She didn’t want to be a statistic, nor did she want to see pity in the eyes of everyone around her.

Harper was an interesting character and I liked watching him go through the different time periods and find his victims, though I don’t feel like I got into his head enough to figure out what truly motivated him. Despite getting his parts, I don’t feel like the novel ventured into who he was as a person, which would’ve been interesting. 

The Shining Girls would make a fantastic movie. I would aboslutely love to see the concept on screen because I think the jumps through time would be a lot neater if we could see it all unfold instead of having to keep track of the headers to discover what POV and what time period it was.

I would also recommend it for a book club book, though not for the faint of heart as it was a tad violent and dark. But the fact that the women were all ahead of their time and the way the House targeted and allowed entry with a “ticket” are all interesting points that could definitely be explored further if readers have the opportunity to discuss all of that. It was definitely thought provoking and strangely haunting. The end left me unsatisfied, but I wonder now if that wasn’t the whole point. I think I read another book of hers that left me feeling the same way at the end, so I think maybe that’s the goal. 

Star 3