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Review – Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

 

Incarceron 

By Catherine Fisher

SummaryIncarceron is a prison so vast that it contains not only cells and corridors, but metal forests, dilapidated cities, and wilderness. It has been sealed for centuries, and only one man has ever escaped. Finn has always been a prisoner here. Although he has no memory of his childhood, he is sure he came from Outside. His link to the Outside, his chance to break free, is Claudia, the warden’s daughter, herself determined to escape an arranged marriage. They are up against impossible odds, but one thing looms above all: Incarceron itself is alive . . . 

Source: I purchased a paperback

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Review:

Incarceron has a gorgeous cover and a thrilling synopsis, so I couldn’t help but pick it up at the bookstore once I saw it. It has great reviews and seemed to be a great mixture of dystopia and steampunk, which sounded pretty awesome.

The book was about Finn, a prisoner inside the awful machinery world that was Incarceron. He was sure he came from outside and had visions of stars and lakes. To everyone else, he was likely cell-born, as Incarceron was said to create life in some instances. It was an ever changing machine and the entrances had been sealed for centuries. No one could go in or out, but there were legends of Sapphique, a man who escaped. Claudia was the Warden of Incarceron’s daughter on the Outside. In the Outside, Protocol demanded that there be no progress. Only a small portion of technology was allowed to be used; everything else was Era. They said the world got too out of hand and progress was to blame. She was betrothed to a prince she was fond of until his death. His stepmother, the Queen, had a son of her own who would be heir to the throne and Claudia was betrothed to him after the death of Giles. But when she found a key and spoke to Finn in the prison, she recognized him…

The plot of the novel seemed really interesting, but it was actually very slow going for me. I wasn’t engrossed in the characters whatsoever. I think the book has so much potential, but the execution was disappointing in just about every way. Claudia was the innocent daughter of the villain in the story, yet despite her fear of her terrifying father, she wasn’t afraid to do just about all things illegal behind his back and somehow think she could save the day and help prisoners escape from a prison she wasn’t fully capable of understanding. The Queen was an even worse villain, though I’m not really sure why.  Incarceron suffered from the same old YA tropes that took away from the unique premise. The story was mainly action based, which I would’ve enjoyed had the world building and character building been more present. All of the action felt like it was done with no real understanding of the consequences. Claudia just knew people were evil or awful without really having much proof, acted on her own biased whims, and yet it all worked out in her favor. The story just seemed too simple for such a complex world and I’m still not any wiser as to the how’s and why’s of the world I was just visiting.

This is one of those times when I own the sequel and am torn between just trudging through it or letting it sit for decades on my shelf, unread. If you’re a younger teen, this book might be just what you’re looking for. It’s fun, action packed, and full of mystery and plots. But for older teens and adults, it just fell short of my expectations. I think there comes a point when the whole “adults are evil with plots of their own and I, a teenage girl with no background about ANYTHING, know exactly what I’m doing” plots just don’t work for me. 

Star 2

 

Review – The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

 

The Casual Vacancy

By J.K. Rowling

Summary: A big novel about a small town…

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity, and unexpected revelations?

A big novel about a small town, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. It is the work of a storyteller like no other.

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Source: I purchased a paperback

Review:

The Casual Vacancy was the first book J.K. Rowling released after the Harry Potter series. As a result, it is a book with plenty of mixed reviews. Even still, J.K. Rowling has also written mystery thrillers under a pseudonym that was later revealed to be her, and The Casual Vacancy still doesn’t quite fit in with anything else she’s written. It was most certainly not a fantasy or anything remotely like Harry Potter, nor is it a mystery, despite it beginning with a death. 

With that being said, if you were picking it up because you wanted more Rowling after loving Harry Potter, I suggest you reread the synopsis and decide whether a book about small town politics is your type of thing. No amount of love for Rowling as an author will matter if you don’t like the subject matter of the book. It is NOT Harry Potter. There is no magic in this novel. If you are picking the book up because you think it will be a fun murder mystery and you enjoy her other thrillers, I also advise you to reread the synopsis. If you do not enjoy small town politics and social issues between a community of people, you WILL NOT enjoy the book. It’s a bit unfair for people to not enjoy the subject matter, yet pick up the book and then suddenly cry “this isn’t what I thought I’d get!” 

I enjoyed The Casual Vacancy, but it was not without its flaws. 

My first issue was with the over the top crudeness of certain scenes. I am no stranger to crudeness and even enjoy when books are graphic or over the top, but with this book, it felt like a way for Rowling to shout “this is SO adult, look how crude I can be, look at the words I’m using!” I’m sure she wanted to prove her worthiness in an adult genre after being a children’s/YA author for so long, but there was just no need for the sexual scenes to use language like that when it wasn’t present in the rest of the book.

My second issue was the slowness of the plot. I was intrigued by the beginning and engrossed at the end, but there were entirely too many pages in which nothing happens and story shifted from person to person while they did things that were mostly not relevant to anything else. The events and the way everyone was interconnected was certainly interesting, especially as the residents of the town kind of turned on each other and were awful people, but I feel like, with a better editing process, the story could have been condensed and written in a more straightforward way. I think Rowling got a bit of a deal with her being a popular author and had she written this one under a pseudonym it might have been put through a more rigorous editing process.

Despite my two issues, the book itself was pretty good. The writing was great. It was sort of like reading about friends of the Dursley’s from Harry Potter, as some of the residents of Pagford were very awful and obsessed with their own self importance in the same way Vernon Dursley was. I liked the plot and getting into the personal lives of the residents and the issues that motivated them, while watching nearly all of them be awful people. But I can’t give the book more than three stars because it was quite boring for at least 50% of the book and there was just no need for that. 

Star 3

Review – Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

 

Luckiest Girl Alive

By Jessica Knoll

SummaryHER PERFECT LIFE IS A PERFECT LIE.

As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.

But Ani has a secret.

There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything.

With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.

The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?

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Source: I bought a hardcover.

Review:

 I’ve heard mixed reviews about Luckiest Girl Alive. While I was intrigued enough by the buzz and the synopsis to buy it, it has sat on my TBR shelf for a bit. Finally, the mood hit me and I grabbed it. I’m not sure what I was initially worried about because I really enjoyed the book!

Ani was a tough main character and I think how you feel about her will essentially make or break your enjoyment of the book. At first, she came across as just the worst sort of shallow and conniving person, manipulating the people around her, eager to be a success, measuring herself by the price of the clothes on her body and the age of the ring on her finger. It was a bit tough at first to care about her, but I still flew through the pages just to figure out why she was like that and what happened to her. 

Throughout the book, we got to know Ani. Something happened to her at Bradley, her high school, and the story switched from past to present to give the reader a bit more detail about whatever changed her from eager semi-poor girl with flashy wealth to someone who measures her worth by the age of the money she was surrounded by. It didn’t take long to realize that due to her childhood and the way she grew up, a lot of who she was in the present was a defense mechanism. Despite her narrating the book, she wasn’t even honest with herself about how shallow of a person she was.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit. I can see why other people didn’t like it, because Ani was a tad abrasive, but I liked her POV and I was eager to know what happened and how it shaped her, and what decisions she’d make in the present. I think, overall, she grew as a person as she participated in the documentary about her high school years and realized a bit more about herself.

I definitely recommend Luckiest Girl Alive, provided you aren’t the type of person who has to love or respect the main character and don’t mind if they are selfish and flawed. I think it has a lot of great points about what it’s like to be a girl growing up and trying to be cool or popular and the decisions you make that have an impact on the people around you. 

Star 4

Review – Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

 

Behind Her Eyes

By Sarah Pinborough

SummaryWhy is everyone talking about the ending of Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes?

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, but she also just happens to be married to David. David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then why is David so controlling, and why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong, but Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

Source: I received a hardcover as my Book of the Month Club February Pick

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Review:

Behind Her Eyes was a thriller guaranteed to have a twist I wasn’t going to see coming. I love mystery/thrillers, especially ones that aren’t so straightforward, so I couldn’t wait to dive in.

I enjoyed Behind Her Eyes a lot. The set up was one that seemed familiar, but one of those situations where any number of things could blow up in everyone’s face. Louise, a single mom, met a guy in a bar for the first time and actually made a connection. She completely and totally hit it off with the guy, shared a kiss, and left feeling pretty good about herself. Until she realized the guy was her new boss. Her new married boss. Shortly after, Louise bumped into a girl who was new in town, Adele, and they seemed to hit it off as friends. Except Adele was her new boss’s wife. 

So many things could’ve gone wrong and kept me guessing, but the characters themselves were just as captivating as the obviously precarious ledge their situation was teetering on. David seemed so cool and down to earth, but he had fits of rage and pure coldness radiating off of him at times. He seemed to have a drinking problem. Adele was so sweet and encouraging, helping Louise get some of the life back she lost after losing her husband. But she freaked about missing David’s daily calls, seemed scared and behaved like a battered wife. Louise grew to care for them both and couldn’t seem to lose either one of them.

There were a few twists and few things I wasn’t quite sure about. Louise suffered from night terrors and Adele was in a facility for sleep issues and shared some of her tricks for controlling dreams, which seemed to help, but cause Louise other problems. What happened to Adele in that facility? What happened to her friend? Why couldn’t she sleep?

I don’t want to give too much away, but I completely understand why some people didn’t like the end. I loved it, but I love reading books that aren’t straightforward and hover in between genre lines. I think that’s as much as I’ll say so I don’t give too much away. There are people who won’t enjoy the end, but I think, with an open mind, it’s actually a pretty interesting book that surprised me in a lot of ways. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to end the way it did whatsoever and it completely gave me a chill!

I highly recommend Behind Her Eyes! It was my first Book of the Month Club book pick and I think I chose well. 

Star 4

 

Review – P.S. I Like You by Kasie West

P.S. I Like You

By Kasie West

SummarySigned, sealed, delivered…

While spacing out in chemistry class, Lily scribbles some of her favorite song lyrics onto her desk. The next day, she finds that someone has continued the lyrics on the desk and added a message to her. Intrigue!

Soon, Lily and her anonymous pen pal are exchanging full-on letters—sharing secrets, recommending bands, and opening up to each other. Lily realizes she’s kind of falling for this letter writer. Only, who is he? As Lily attempts to unravel the mystery and juggle school, friends, crushes, and her crazy family, she discovers that matters of the heart can’t always be spelled out…

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Source: I borrowed a Kindle copy from the library

Review:

I skipped the August 2016 Owlcrate box and missed out on this book, so I decided to borrow it from the library. I’m a huge fan of Kasie West novels and I couldn’t wait to dig in!

P.S. I Like You was such a cute contemporary story. It featured a quirky guitar player and songwriter and her awkwardness. Her best friend kept trying to set her up with people and double date. She couldn’t seem to talk to her crush at all. Her family life was a whir of chaos. And she had weird taste in music that no one in her immediate circle seemed to identify with.

In chemistry class, she somehow bonded with a stranger over desk graffiti and started passing letters. She knew the person had chemistry before her and sat at the same desk, but she didn’t know anything else. She thought it was a girl and it was revealed later that her mysterious pen pal was a guy. They had the same taste in music and Lily started to think maybe she was falling for the stranger. But who was he? Was he the guy her best friend kept setting her up with on double dates? Was he Lucas, the hunky boy she kept her eye on and had a massive crush on? Or someone else? 

I loved not knowing and I loved watching the whole thing unfold. 

I figured out who the letter writer was long before Lily and I was right, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment at all, in fact, I think it might have been more entertaining because I wanted to know if I was right and what Lily would do when the truth came out. 

Kasie West writes adorable contemporary novels I can’t help but love. Most of my go-to contemporary authors are deep and dark and make me cry, but Kasie’s like a breath of fresh air and I know I’m going to sink into a well written and cute romance instead of something designed to torture my soul. I highly recommend the book and if you haven’t read her other books, just grab them all. I have yet to be disappointed!

Star 4

Review – Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Wolf by Wolf (Wolf by Wolf #1)

By Ryan Graudin

SummaryHer story begins on a train.

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball in Tokyo.

Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move.

But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

From the author of The Walled City comes a fast-paced and innovative novel that will leave you breathless.

Source: I purchased a paperback

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Review:

Wolf by Wolf was such a great book! The premise is what hooked me at the bookstore. I don’t read a lot of alternate history, but the idea intrigues me, especially when it comes to WWII. I love stories about Hitler, the Holocaust, and the various assassination attempts. 

This book rolled all of those ideas into one. In Wolf by Wolf, the year was 1956 and the Nazis won World War II. The Axis powers were ruling most of the world. Each year, the motorcycle race celebrated their victory. The year before, Victor Adele Wolfe stole her brother’s racing papers and entered the race as him and won. Instead of being mad, the Third Reich celebrated her victory. This year, Adele would compete again, but not as herself. Yael, a death camp survivor and experiment, had the ability to change her appearance. She studied Adele, practiced everything she’d need to know and do, and took her place in the race. If she won, she would be close enough to Hitler to execute him. 

The book took history and fact and morphed it into a thrilling alternate history story involving a little bit of fantasy, since Yael had such a unique ability. I loved the mixture and I loved being thrown into the chaos of the race. Yael occasionally thought about her past and we learned a lot about her as a character, her mission, and the importance of it all. We also got to know Adele, despite her not actually being in the race, because of the interpersonal connections between her and her brother, her and Luka, and even some of the other racers. Yael was a little out of her element because no amount of studying prepared her for the possibility that there were unreported incidents between her and the other racers and she had to struggle to maintain her identity and be believable as Adele.

I thought Wolf by Wolf was the perfect blend of history and imagination. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I can’t wait to pick up the conclusion, Blood for Blood. I highly recommend Wolf by Wolf. It ends in a satisfying way so that I crave the sequel, but don’t feel like I got a cliff hanger ending or anything, which is always a plus. It was imaginative in a realistic way. Despite Yael’s ability, it felt like a believable story. I could tell the author was well researched based on the setting he weaved. And while it wasn’t the first book to pull off a What if the Nazi’s won the war train of thought, it was unique. The motorcycle race was fast paced and ruthless, giving a little grit to the story. It was well done and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Star 4

Review – In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

 

In a Dark, Dark Wood

By Ruth Ware

SummaryWhat should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend deep in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.

Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (Lee?) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?”, Nora (Lee?) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (Lee?) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

Source: I purchased a hardcover.

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Review:

In a Dark, Dark Wood kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. It bounced from the past, the invitation to the cottage for a bachelorette/hen party, to the future, where Nora woke up in a hospital bed with a fuzzy memory. What happened at the hen party? Why were the police talking about murder outside Nora’s hospital room? Did she do something wrong?

I loved the suspense of In a Dark, Dark Wood and it was unlike a lot of thrillers because it didn’t feel like an over the top, this cold never happen type of scenario, nor was it the type of situation that made me feel like the main character made dumb decisions. I liked how realistic it seemed. It started with an invitation to Clare’s hen party (which seems to be the UK version of a bachelorette party) hosted by Flo, Clare’s best friend. Nora hadn’t spoken to Clare in a long time and it didn’t seem to end well, but the reader wasn’t privy to the details about what happened. Nora felt like the invitation might have been a mistake, but it only went to a handful of people. She was still in contact with one mutual friend, Nina, who said she’d also go. It seemed like a decision anyone would’ve made, especially out of curiosity.

The cottage was secluded, the cell reception was shoddy, and the dynamics were off between everyone, but it was from Nora’s POV, so that was to be expected. She was the outsider. I loved seeing her notice everyone’s interactions. The whole event seemed so weird, but not in a way that screamed “thriller novel” so it was believable to me. I notice dynamics between friends all of the time and it is sometimes super awkward to bring people together. And some people have friends who act like different people with different friends, so it just makes you feel weird being around your friend and watching her act like someone else. But Nora hadn’t seen Clare in years, so she was trying to figure out who everyone was and who Clare had become over the years.

It was obvious that something happened between Clare and Nora, and we slowly got a little bit more of the story. I couldn’t figure out why Nora was invited in the first place. And in the present, when Nora was in the hospital, I wanted to figure out what happened, who died, and why Nora was being guarded by police officers. What happened? How could this somewhat low key hen party turn into a nightmare for everyone involved?

I loved the book. It had me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what was happening. I loved that there wasn’t any info-dump, so I craved more pieces of Nora’s past. I wasn’t sure if I could trust Nora as a narrator, trust her friends, or trust the strangers in the house. It was nice not knowing what to expect and I was thoroughly surprised by the turn of events. I definitely recommend In a Dark, Dark Wood for any fans of thrillers!

Star 4