Review: The Secret History – Donna Tartt

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SYNOPSIS: Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil. – via Goodreads

I absolutely adored The Goldfinch. I was so complete hooked on that when I read it a few years ago. I should give it another read, I would love to. I saw The Secret History recently and decided to give it a go because, years ago, I ended up reading The Goldfinch because a fellow blogger, Joseph, loved this book and we decided to read her latest together, and I said I would get to this someday. Well, that was years ago, but I can finally cross this one off my plate. And honestly, I didn’t love this one, and I had high hopes for it.

That is not to say that The Secret History is a bad read, per se, but I felt that it was way longer than necessary and filled with hateful characters. Also, the first half of the book is filled up wonderfully and keeps you reading, keeps you hooked, but after that fateful fall of Bunny, the story sort of starts falling apart, and the writing doesn’t come across as as genuine as before. Wow, so much”as” in that sentence.

Anyway, Bunny is a truly horrific character, so I almost struggled to feel bad about how it ended. It’s like Tartt tries to bring you around to him a few times, and I just couldn’t. He was cruel and insufferable. Not that the rest of that twisted friends group was really any better, but for real. Ugh. Henry is an odd character, and so is Francis, and eventually you are reading about these people in a confused kind of way, because where, exactly, is this story going? Well, nowhere, really. It is just a story about a crappy thing that happened which led to another crappy thing happening, and the whole affair is cold and calculated but still completely devoid of reeling you in completely.

There is also the issue of “under the influence of their charasmatic professor” – I expected a totally different type of story. I thought Julian would be involved up to his neck in the goings on of this group, and instead he hardly appears in the book at all. Anyway, while The Secret History is not a terrible read, it certainly isn’t The Goldfinch. It’s just a really long read for an okay book, though the first half is really good.

Review: Good Me, Bad Me – Ali Land

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SYNOPSIS: How far does the apple really fall from the tree?

Milly’s mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school.

But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother’s trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all.

When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother’s daughter. – via Goodreads

Well, I remember seeing this book and thinking it looked like it was a decent read, and then just never getting to it. It happens, don’t even judge me! Then I stumbled across it the other day quite a while back now on an Amazon deal and figured I might as well give it a shot, it looked interesting and like something I might like, what with my affinity to the darker elements of books.

Good Me, Bad Me is a decent read. The content is something that you are drawn to reading about, something that is dark and messed up, something that makes you want to see the larger picture to understand the extent of just how despicable Milly Annie’s story is, because that is human nature. You go for all of this and instead you get a relatively generic read.

The sentences are staccato and short, making it frustrating to read. Yes, I understand why this was written the way it was, but that doesn’t make it any better. It is also extremely difficult to pick apart when Annie is thinking something or when she is remembering something or if something is happening right now and it is her interpretation of the current issues. But still, all that being said and done, it doesn’t save this.

The story is winding and rather interesting, even while it is annoying and not enough answers are ultimately provided, though there is a lot of hinting. I saw a lot of rave reviews for this book, so I thought it would be better. Good Me, Bad Me is not a bad read, but it won’t linger with you long after, and it is rather forgettable.

Review: Dead Weight – T.R. Ragan

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Lizzy Gardner #2

SYNOPSIS: Private investigator Lizzy Gardner knows a thing or two about living in the past. As a teenager, she was terrorized by a serial killer, an ordeal that haunted her for more than a decade before the maniac was finally stopped. So when terminally ill Ruth Fullerton begs Lizzy to reopen the cold case into her daughter’s disappearance, it’s hard to say no. More than twenty years have passed since Carol Fullerton vanished, abandoning her car by the side of a California freeway. The police wrote her off as a runaway, yet something tells Lizzy the truth isn’t so simple…

Carol’s cold case has barely begun to thaw when Andrea Kramer shows up at Lizzy’s door. Andrea’s sister, Diane, has been missing for months, and she’s convinced a charismatic weight-loss guru—part Tony Robbins and part Richard Simmons—is responsible. Diane was obese, but could her obsession with losing weight have led to her disappearance?

As if two active missing persons cases weren’t enough, Lizzy is also trying to manage her two teenage assistants, including one as wounded and haunted by her past as Lizzy. – via Goodreads

Decided to check out more of the books in this series (I bought almost all of them on a monthly special on Amazon). I was maybe not the biggest fan of the first, but Lizzy’s past was an interesting enough motivator for me to check out more. Well. Well. Well. Uhm, yeah. This wasn’t bad, but it was essentially more of the same.

The romance that was so hugely built between Lizzy and Jared in the first book is dragged up time and time again in this without actually going anywhere, and then we also  need to deal with Lizzy’s fear of so many things. Then there is Hayley, who is not adjusting to her new life and carries a lot of bitterness and resentment and is incredibly unlikable here, even though I liked her well enough in the first. I understand her anger, just got over reading about her silly inward fights. The competition and edginess between Jessica and Hayley was something I liked.

I didn’t like the pacing for this – it was messy. Lizzy is working two cases, and yet neither case feels like anything as the book is just all over the show. The one case definitely took precedence, but they both felt hollow. The saddest thing about that is that both cases are actually rather interesting, just not handled really well.

Well, considering I have all the others to check out, I will go ahead with that at some stage. I don’t think these are the worst books, and they are decent filler reads that zip along and don’t require too much investment, and that’s decent at least.

Review: I Know A Secret – Tess Gerritsen

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Rizzoli & Isles #12

I received this in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: The crime scene is unlike any that Detective Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles have ever before encountered. The woman lies in apparently peaceful repose on her bed, and Maura finds no apparent cause of death, but there is no doubt the woman is indeed dead. The victim’s eyes have been removed and placed in the palm of her hand, a gesture that echoes the terrifying films she produces. Is a crazed movie fan reenacting scenes from those disturbing films?

When another victim is found, again with no apparent cause of death, again with a grotesquely staged crime scene, Jane and Maura realize the killer has widened his circle of targets. He’s chosen one particular woman for his next victim, and she knows he’s coming for her next. She’s the only one who can help Jane and Maura catch the killer.

But she knows a secret. And it’s a secret she’ll never tell.  – via Goodreads

As you all probably know, I am a long time reader of Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles series, and I was pretty excited to be granted an advanced copy of the latest novel in this series, and I got to it as soon as possibly. I Know A Secret is a relatively fast read, but this is truly one of the novels in this series I found to be rather flat. Hear me out…

For starters, I Know A Secret never hits the heights you expect it to. It starts off running, but doesn’t ever go anywhere. Some grisly deaths, to be sure, but nothing special, not on the death scene, but the investigation. It just feels like it never goes anywhere, like there are moments it wants to break out and go somewhere, but instead it just gets stuck. All the material comes across as a rehash of sections of the previous novels and offers up nothing new.

There is no real character development here, either. Twelve books down, you would expect some more development coming in, because so many situations have been set up in previous books, and instead all just feels tired. Gerritsen explores nothing new, and instead just falls back into old patterns – Angela leaves Frank (thank goodness), Barry Frost returns to his ex-wife, Alice, and Maura and Daniel run right back into each other’s arms. Just like that, we are back to where we were a couple of books ago – no real growth or change, unfortunately. I thought there would be some major changes, especially with Amalthea Lank passing on. On that note, it also felt like she was forced into this, and I honestly thought she would have more to do with the book, especially after the way the novel opened.

I was quite pleased to read about Gabriel once again, though my (constant) wish is still that he would feature more prominently in the books, he is a great character, and he and Jane work really well together when we go get to read about them. I did like the concept of this book – kids being hunted down and butchered after all being involved in some heavy witch hunt as kids, and one that seems to be rather flimsy as the novel progresses. Holly Devine, too, was a character I never warmed to. She sort of felt like a caricature of a dangerous character, not someone who was actually dangerous. She had the potential to be more, but just like the rest of this novel, she just felt a bit tired

I Know A Secret is not a terrible read, and there were aspects I enjoyed, I just felt that it was quite a flat affair when all was said and done, an idea that never really spread its wings and took flight. It was uninspiring all round, and I am hoping that the next instalment proves to be a worthier addition of the series.

Review: The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

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the-girl-on-the-train-cover

SYNOPSIS: EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good? – via Goodreads

Uhm. Yeah. This. Why? Why was this so hyped? I disliked it within the first few pages (and not just because I am still bitterly missing 11/22/63 or anything like that). I kept reading. The jumping around of time grated on my last nerve. Seriously. It didn’t even jump around and make sense. It only made sense by the end. That doesn’t help man! I was left frustrated the whole way through. Forget the time skipping for a moment, and just look at the characters. They were hateful!

Hateful characters don’t help. There is nobody to root for. There is nobody you support, that you want to see win, come out tops, nothing. Rachel, our main main lead, grated on my last nerve. Alcoholic, broken, whiny, sorry case, pathetic. Which was fine, but she was also completely unstable. I mean completely. The things she did, the way she thought? Rachel was the pits. Like, I felt sorry for her on one hand, but on the other, come on. Then there is Anna, another unlikable character. A cheat with no integrity and the gall to be the bitch that she was. Then there was Megan, too. I just… the whole book is about these upset, depressed people playing games, and that would have been okay, except the book dawdled around and around in circles and really didn’t feel like it went anywhere. It could easily have been shorter.

The book also requests you suspend belief way too much (I mean just look at the crap that Rachel gets up to). The police investigation is another thing that just annoyed me. Ugh. None of the characters worked for me. I also had major issues with the fact that if you don’t read who is guiding the chapter at the beginning and stick to it, you cannot pick up a voice and be like “oh, this is Rachel/Anna/Megan”, which is criminal, in my minds.

The pacing didn’t work for me. This book was excessively long-winded for the story it told. It dawdled. It didn’t build tension. It didn’t reel me in. I just don’t get why people loved the heck out of this? It just wasn’t my cup of tea at all. I can’t recommend it, but my opinion is in the extreme minority on this one.

Rapid Review: Die Hard 2 (1990)

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die hard 2 poster

“Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”
– John McClane

SYNOPSIS: John McClane attempts to avert disaster as rogue military officials seize control of Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. – via IMDB

die hard 2

GRADE 6.5Well, here we are, at it again. John McClane lives in the wrong place, wrong time scenario forevermore. Anyway, we are back at Christmastime, and things are just not good over the holidays for the McClanes like… ever. Bruce Willis is back and kicking as the ever-sarcastic McClane, and I still reckon he was an awesome pick for the role. Al appears in here, though only momentarily, and I did miss the banter between McClane and Al, but it was to be no more. Pity. The story wasn’t very in depth or revolutionary, and at the end of the day, while entertaining at the time, it is rather forgettable (I can hear those torches being lit and pitchforks being hauled out, but it is true). Die Hard 2 is one of those action movies that has the explosions and gunfire and all those aspects, so it ticks the boxes, but it isn’t exceptionally memorable or smart. There were interesting characters and annoying characters, but the plot itself was so thin at the end of the day, and isn’t quite as entertaining as the first. The villains are also completely bland, but then topping Hans Gruber will be no simple task. A big part that makes Die Hard 2 work is how Bruce Willis embraces his role of John McClane. Just to see him having some goofy fun is alright. It takes a really long time for anything to actually start happening, so that already counted against it. It wasn’t a slow burn, it just wasn’t doing anything, then went for over the top overkill. It was a little bit too obvious about things, which also detracted. While not a terrible sequel, it is certainly not as great as it was ultimately hoping to be. I don’t really have much more to say about it, as I will just continue to repeat my sentiments.