Review: The Stone Monkey – Jeffery Deaver

0

Lincoln Rhyme #4

SYNOPSIS: Famed criminologist Lincoln Rhyme and his beautiful protege Amelia Sachs have been recruited by the FBI and the INS to help perform the nearly impossible: track down a cargo ship carrying two dozen illegal Chinese immigrants and the notorious human smuggler and killer known as the Ghost. – via Goodreads

Meh. This one just wasn’t my cup of tea. I didn’t expect it to be, really, but it just didn’t work out. Guess I should have seen that coming, but still disappointing seeing how much I have been enjoying this Lincoln Rhyme run I’ve been on.

The story just had so many twists and turns, and this time the finale twist was super predictable, which was disappointing for me because I like how Deaver always keeps you guessing. This book had good intentions, sure, but just didn’t deliver the goods. The characters brought into this story were a solid mix of interesting and frustrating, so there is that.

Deaver returns a litany of characters to us that we enjoy – dear Fred Dellray, Lon Sellitto, Thom and Mel Cooper all take up space here again, and as always, the entertain. Some of the new characters, such as Sam Chang and Sonny are also pretty cool. Rhyme and Amelia continue to deal with the struggles in their relationship, pertaining to everything from children to operations to help Rhyme’s quadriplegia.

The Stone Monkey isn’t a bad read, it just felt a little lacklustre to me, especially compared to some of the earlier books. I wanted more Rhyme as we have come to know him. I am looking forward to reading more in the series, but I truly hope this doesn’t mark a crazy downturn in the quality of the work I have come to expect.

June Blind Spot Review: Vertigo (1958)

4

“Here I was born, and there I died. It was only a moment for you; you took no notice.”
– Madeleine

SYNOPSIS: A San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend’s wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her. – via IMDB

Ha, finally another Hitchcock off my list, and this was another one of the good ones. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, and will admit initially it was like just a little mystery, like what is going on, and then the last thirty minutes devolved into a nice, creepy type, so that definitely works.

I really likes James Stewart, and think he is a great actor. He definitely fits here and brings a lot to the table, and works really well with Kim Novak, who is truly beautiful and suits this strange role rather well, though her eyebrows are absolutely insane. There, I said it. I found them to be super distracting.

The story is not rushed, and is well paced. The movie doesn’t feel as long as it is, and gets things going from explaining John’s vertigo, and then moving on to his task of watching over a friend’s wife, and where an unhealthy obsession begins. I didn’t feel like the movie dragged anywhere, so that is cool. Vertigo features a pretty cool trippy scene, which is so old school, but it works so well with this. The music, too, works and succeeds at building tension.

I liked the friendship between John and Midge, though it was sad to know that she was so in love with him and his feelings certainly weren’t mutual, but they were close. I feel that the romance was rushed in the beginning (typical of these films, maybe people just feel in love different back in the day), but it grew into something else later, and watching John’s obsession and controlling behaviour later was certainly creepy.

Maybe not my all time favourite Hitchcock (and I still have many to see), but overall I thought it to be engaging and done really well. Stewart and Novak truly fill out this movie, and push that tense darkness through the whole time, never missing a beat. It is shot well and keeps you interested throughout, so all in all, well worth the watch.

Review: How to Hang a Witch – Adriana Mather

4

How to Hang a Witch #1

SYNOPSIS: Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?

If dealing with that weren’t enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with The Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it’s Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself. – via Goodreads

I stumbled on this randomly recently, thought it looked alright, bought it, let it languish. I mean really, isn’t that what readers do? Then I saw it in my library and was like “it’s time”, and man, I have no regrets. This book is absolutely fantastic! It is so much more than I thought it would be, and it really does tick like all my boxes. I think one of the blurbs was something like “Mean Girls meets the Salem Witch Trials”, and dammit, it really is just like that.

I need to back up a minute and find a way to articulate myself. There is just so much going for this book that had me thrilled every step of the way. Uhm, let’s see… I really enjoyed the characters. They are not super deep characters or anything, but they all have their little quirks and things, and they really give the story some oomph. The author gives a great, authentic vibe throughout the book, too. The story flows and doesn’t ever feel forced or unnatural.

I was super swept up by this, as you can tell. Everything just worked in it, and I particularly enjoyed Elijah’s character, and Sam, too, is a fun protagonist to follow. Mrs Meriwether is a lovely lady, and Jaxon (despite that spelling) is worth reading about. The book is steeped in history, but not like historical fiction. It has most definitely been modernised, and you can tell the author has put a lot of research and time into the history (not surprising when you see she is a fourteenth generation Mather).

I think that How to Hang a Witch has it all. We have romance, fun, the supernatural, a mystery, magic, everything you would need. I really felt like a young kid reading this again. It’s awesome because while this is probably directed at young adults, it totally works for adults, too. The book speaks of bullying and alienation and other themes, too, but I am really not going to get smack involved with discussing the hell out of that. Know that there are a lot of themes in this and they are all handled really well.

The book is really well written with some super fun characters and a great story to sink your teeth into. I raced through this and was heartbroken when I got to the end because, well, then it was over. I can see how this is something I am going to revisit again in the future. I loved this and highly recommend it, and will calm down now and put a sock in it.

Review: Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager

7

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present.

And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.  – via Goodreads

You know, last year I read Final Girls by Sager and quite enjoyed it, though I didn’t quite love it like most people did. When I saw he had a new book, I thought I would definitely have to check it out, and boy, this time I loved it, not just like.

Last Time I Lied slowly (read: excruciatingly slow) reveals Emma’s story. The book constantly flips between Emma as an adult, returning to Camp Crystal Lake Camp Nightingale as an instructor, and fifteen years before when she was a gangly young teen who was present when something awful happened, something that coloured every aspect of her life. Now, this flipping between the past and the present totally sets up the reveals, but is also so gradual that it gets under your skin because you just want the damn story already. Clever, because even as the fingers of frustration claw at you, the atmosphere wins out and you can totally deal with the mystery unfolding painstakingly.

I won’t lie, I got a super Pretty Little Liars vibe while reading this. Like, something awful happened at this camp, something terrible, and it is laced in secrets and people incapable of just revealing something and dealing with the consequences. Vivian also made me think of Alison diLaurentis, which is a cruel but accurate description. I quite enjoyed reading about all the suspense, the theories, the conspiracies, as well as digging into this mystery with Emma, because soon I, too, needed to know exactly what happened to Vivian, Natalie, and Allison (no, that is not lost on me).

There are some snags along the way, but nothing that detracts too heavily from the experience. A touch of predictability tossed in here and there, but nothing that made this eye-rollingly obvious and cliché. I truly enjoyed the characters as well as some of the feelings that were conveyed successfully here – the guilt, the confusion, the childishness at times, the betrayal, the anger, it all worked quite well.

All I have to say when all is said and done is that I was so hooked while reading Last Time I Lied. Sager crafts a mysterious, suspenseful story that will take you hostage. I raced through this book, and even thought about it when I was denied reading it because I have to adult and hold down a job (speaking of, what utter nonsense is that?!). I would highly recommend this read, especially if you enjoy Sager’s work. It is solid, thrilling, entertaining, and this is something I might very well return to in future.

Review: Nora Roberts – Divine Evil

2

SYNOPSIS: A decade ago, sculptor Clare Kimball fled Emmitsboro, Maryland, to take the art world by storm. Now she’s celebrated as the artist of her generation. But no amount of success can eclipse the nightmares that haunt her—or the memories of her father’s suicide. Just as her star is shining brighter than ever, Clare leaves it all behind to face her demons.

Emmitsboro sheriff Cameron Rafferty loved Clare from afar all through high school. Now that she’s back, they form a bond that grows stronger each day—fueled by an attraction that’s been simmering for years. But Clare’s past soon rises up with a vengeance, rocking the town with a sinister murder that is clearly linked to her return. As an investigation gets under way, Clare and Cameron will learn that evil can linger anywhere—even in those you love and trust the most. But it’s a discovery that may come too late to save them.… – via Goodreads

Ugh this book. I honestly don’t know what I expected, if we are being honest, but it wasn’t this. There was this whole Satanic aspect to it that had the potential to be so damn interesting, but instead comes across as Hollywood hysteria. So the Satanic section fell totally flat, but this is a romance, so there might have been something to salvage it, right?

Wrong.

This whole aspect of the book peeved me, too. So there wasn’t much to save this book. Clare and Cam fall into each other’s arms and beds within like… ten minutes of meeting each other. Within a week he is talking about her moving in and marrying her. He is super controlling, she is such a bitch to him all the time, constantly mad (read: stereotypes galore). I mean love and marriage and all that after sex a few times within days of meeting each other. Damn. The romance is unrealistic (which is to be expected), but I resent this thing of the woman not wanting a white knight but needing one, and some man needing a woman and stepping in to take over her life because she, har har, needs saving.

Moving on from the meh romance, I also didn’t like any of the characters. They are all messy caricatures of stereotypes, so they really have nothing working for them. I was a bit perturbed by the decent people (Jean Pierre and Blair, etc.) being overly invested in young high school girls/majorettes. I totally wanted to get a romance from this with an investigation into the occult, but my hopes and dreams were crushed man. It isn’t that it is a terrible book, per se, it is just such a generic, bland book and it is excessively long. It had no right to be that lengthy, and the drag in this is what changed the story from being a decent, fluffy read to being a schlep.

Anyway, Divine Evil is not the worst mystery/murder romance you could read, but it certainly leaves a lot to be desired (haha, yes, I am on a roll). Shallow, flat characters litter a tedious book that cannot decide if it wants to be useless erotica or a hardcore murder mystery, yet totally lacking the conviction to be either.

Review: Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

2

SYNOPSIS: “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. – via Goodreads

Man, a while ago Mettel Ray spoke of Dark Matter on her blog, and I decided it would be my next Crouch read, as I have a few on my Kindle and just didn’t know which one to go with, and man, I am glad I went with this one. I really don’t want to say too much about this book to avoid spoilers or to give away too much of the story, so I guess we will see how this review goes down.

Dark Matter is a super fun read. I was hooked essentially from the off. It took a few pages to get rolling, and I was wondering if I was sitting with another version of Crouch’s Wayward Pines trilogy, when suddenly it kicked into overdrive and built a truly fascinating story for itself.

The book might have been a tad too long, but that didn’t slow down the reading, just made it a touch more bloated than it should have been. The story is sharp and drags you in and really gets you thinking about a lot of things. Jason is a character you sympathise with and want to see succeed, but you are also not entirely sure exactly how he is supposed to emerge victorious, or what is really going on.

Okay, I don’t really want to say anything more, except that this is a great read. Dark Matter is smart, engaging, twisty and extremely entertaining. Without a doubt my favourite Blake Crouch  novel to date. It wasn’t missing anything, and delivered the goods in a solid fashion. I can highly recommend this one.

Review: Outrage – T.R. Ragan

2

Faith McMann #2

SYNOPSIS:  The happy life Faith McMann knew as a wife, mother, and teacher was destroyed when vicious criminals murdered her husband, kidnapped her children, and left her for dead. After paralyzing grief, fear, and despair, there was nothing left for her to feel…except fury. But striking a staggering blow against a brutal ring of human traffickers was just the beginning of her uphill battle.

Though her daughter remains missing and her son is lost in the wilderness, Faith’s relentless efforts have reunited some children with their families. They’ve also made her and the rest of her family the targets of a sadistic crime boss. But Faith has learned plenty about survival in the lawless underworld she’s storming. And she’s forged an unbreakable bond with two no-holds-barred allies in the war against evil. As they dodge assassins and take down predators, Faith travels deeper into the heart of darkness, determined to rescue her children at any cost. – Goodreads

So I blew through this one directly after having finished the first as I liked it that much. I thought that this was another solid read, and I quite liked it. There are a lot of things going on in this one, but it never gets messy in the way that it detracts from the story.

We get a closer look into the relationship between Beast and Rage, and especially with Little Vinnie in the mix, you have to appreciate it. It is also nice to get to know a little more about the characters and make them tick. Faith, too, grows a lot more and you can totally understand her frustration. Yeah, there are plenty “convenient” plot devices and things, sure, but it tells the story. Naturally you are not expecting a totally realistic story when going in for something like that. I still really like the family bond in Faith’s family, they truly do stand together.

This trilogy deals with a rather heavy concept – trafficking is not a light subject, and this book takes the horrors and weaves a fictitious story between it, but never minimizes the fact that the issues are real and truly despicable. The suffering is real and never undermined or forgotten. Miranda gets some more time and some payback in here, and I like that.

Outrage barrels along just as rapidly as Furious, never losing you along the way and keeping you hooked throughout. Again, it doesn’t feel like there is a lot of filler in this, which makes for another great read. As you guys can tell, I am highly enjoying this series of T.R. Ragan, and highly recommend it, providing you can deal with a heavier story than most authors are willing to tackle.

Review: The Woman In The Window – A.J. Finn

2

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems. – via Goodreads 

Uhm… I don’t really have an awful lot to say about this book. Not really much at all. It is not a bad read, at all. It is predictable – I mean we have all seen this plot in some book or some movie somewhere – someone housebound who sees something they should not and all the shenanigans that follow that.

The Woman In The Window had some interesting parts to it and some concepts that I enjoyed, and Anna’s situation is a quite fascinating – agoraphobic in the extreme, but a therapist helping others in a similar situation, and an alcoholic struggling to pull her life together. I thought at times this was overdone and other times it was underutilised. I feel that the only character that had any real depth is Anna, though that could truly be by design.

Anyway, the book is slightly longer than it strictly needs to be, though it is a pretty fast read. It’s decent but not fantastic, though I do think Finn writes quite well. I don’t really want to say too much because the book has some twists and turns, whether you expect them or not. I will certainly check out future works.

Review: Annihilation (2018)

6

“It’s destroying everything.”
– Dr Ventress

SYNOPSIS: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply. – via IMDB

Alright, so this movie seems to have a lot of people either super loving it, or totally hating it. I guess when I think back on it I can totally understand how one could end up in either camp, if I am being honest. There is a lot to like about Annihilation, but there is also a lot that is going to be annoying and can’t be overlooked.

I liked it quite a bit. It was ambiguous, but not in that unsatisfying way that It Comes At Night was. It raised a lot of questions and answered very few, and the few answers it did answer, I could have done without, and some that I wanted, I went without. Visually Annihilation is a beautiful film, and that cannot be denied. Strange shimmer, exotic everything going on behind the shimmer, this new world, all of it, and it works really well.

Then there is the cast. I think this is where the movie got hurt a bit. The characters are all really flat and lifeless, after all is said and done. Jennifer Jason Leigh is just angry and resentful and there. I could have done with more Oscar Isaac, too. Tessa Thompson and Natalie Portman are the only two that will remotely stay with you. The logic is also a little bizarre – for years soldiers have been going in and nobody has been coming back. Let’s send a group of all-female scientists. Like, I got the sending scientists in and all that, but… the definition of insanity? Nothing is changing, evidently. With this there were inconsistencies (lost time only happening and addressed once the whole time??).

There were moments of delicious creepiness (you all know what I am talking about), and the explanation took away some of that beautiful horror shine for both my husband and myself, but the conclusion for this makes up for some of the weaker parts, all while leaving us with another ton of questions, which I liked. I definitely think that this movie is worth a rewatch to pick up on more things.

I think that Annihilation is ambitious and visually stunning, with decent performances of flat characters, and has a score that works really well. I don’t necessarily need a movie spoon fed to me, but Annihilation took it’s ambiguity throughout a little too seriously, leaving a slightly unsatisfied feeling towards the end, though the ambiguity of that is not what left me unsatisfied. Yes, I know that all sounds crazy. Worth a watch, and a rewatch for sure. Not Ex-Machina, but not terrible, either. I look forward to more of Garland’s work.

I went into this blind. I read a lot of good reviews on it, but didn’t read too in depth or anything. Don’t even watch the trailer, just go watch the movie.

Review: The Fear – C.L. Taylor

2

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: When Lou Wandsworth ran away to France with her teacher Mike Hughes, she thought he was the love of her life. But Mike wasn’t what he seemed and he left her life in pieces.

Now 32, Lou discovers that he is involved with teenager Chloe Meadows. Determined to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself, she returns home to confront him for the damage he’s caused.

But Mike is a predator of the worst kind, and as Lou tries to bring him to justice, it’s clear that she could once again become his prey… – via Goodreads

You know, it rarely happens that a book makes me uncomfortable when I read it, but this was one of those that did. It just… I didn’t like that. It was weird. This book gives you a look see at how the victims of a paedophile feel about him and what is happening to them, and it makes me both sick and mad. Ugh.

Now let me get straight into the book – the story flips between Lou’s present and her past, so you get a look at her as she is now, scarred and emotionally broken, and then to the past, when she was kidnapped and groomed by a paedophile of note. Ugh. My stomach rolled reading about how she was so in love with him and how he understood her and loved her like nobody else, and to read how he preyed on her was absolutely horrifying.

I think with that being said, there will be triggers for some people, that’s for sure. I was both frustrated and disgusted reading this, and intrigued in other places (not the parts about the feelings of the victims that were preyed on, but the aftermath, and then there is the odd section featuring Wendy). I thought that it the story actually comes together quite well, and while making you queasy, keeps you interested enough to continue and see what happens.

There were so many unsavoury characters peppered throughout this book, but there were also some really nice ones, so the balance struck is decent. I don’t foresee myself rushing out to reread The Fear, and it is not necessarily a book that would be easy to recommend, but it isn’t a terrible read, but also didn’t strike the highs I was hoping for.