Reading Junkie

Books are my crack.

A satisfying end to the series

The City of Mirrors - Justin Cronin

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

This was a great ending to The Passage trilogy.  This review may be vague, but that's a necessary evil to keep it spoiler-free.  Seriously though, if you haven't read the first two books, stop here and come back when you've read them, because this review is NOT spoiler-free for the whole series to date.

 

The City of Mirrors picks up where The Twelve left off.  The viral horde has been vanquished at Homeland where eleven of the Twelve were killed after Amy went viral to save humanity, and the people left in Iowa and Kerrville, Texas appear to be safe to rebuild.  Alicia, still half viral, has a different mission however, to track down the Zero and kill him, ending the viral threat forever.  Amy has vanished, leaving Peter, Sarah, Hollis and Michael to return to Kerrville.  Carter, the twelfth of the Twelve, remains a wild card, ensconced in his bunker in the wreck of the Chevron Mariner.  Will he continue his silence or will he use his power to unleash a new horde of the virals called "Dopeys"?

 

The book, as usual, is extremely well written.  Justin Cronin is a talented writer who pays great attention to detail and writes in flowing, engaging prose.  The language he uses draws the reader in, making scenes that could be dry or turn into a boring info dumps really interesting.  He can ratchet up the tension when needed, whether it's a slow burn to a major plot point, or a shorter build up to a sneak attack.  He also resolves the plot in this book, something I really appreciate, since I've seen quite a few trilogies get bloated with side plots and become never-ending slogs, either because the writer has lost sight of the ending and just doesn't know what to do, or because the series was successful, and the writer wants to keep the book sales gravy train rolling.

 

Overall, I thought this was an excellent end to the series and well worth waiting for.  I'm very interested to see what Justin Cronin writes next, but in the meantime, I'll be rereading this series from the beginning.

Abandon - Blake Crouch

I received a free copy of this book through the GoodReads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

I liked the plot and pacing of Abandon, but I really hated Abby, so this book lost a couple of stars. The story is told in two pieces, the first taking place in 2009 as a group of ghost hunters, an historian, his writer daughter and their guides hike into the mysterious ghost town of Abandon, CO. Abandon is a former mining town, famous for the disappearance of all of its residents on Christmas day 1893. The second piece tells the story of the 1893 residents of Abandon and the events leading up to the mass disappearance.

Then there's Abby. Abby is the skeptical writer, along for the trip to write an article about the ghost hunter couple. It appears that Abby had zero hiking/backcountry experience prior to coming on this trip (at one point, she asks the guide where the bathroom is - in the wilderness... yeeeaahhh, there isn't one honey.) Every time she has to make a decision, she picks the dumbest option possible.

 

 

For example: at the end, when she's being chased and shot at by Quinn, she makes it to the car parked at the trailhead. Does she jump in and drive away? Nope, she sits down to rest before getting in the car to make her escape, you know, just to give Quinn time to catch up with her and take a couple more shots in her direction. UGH.

(show spoiler)

 

 

She also has daddy abandonment issues, like this is supposed to make her interesting or unique. Sorry, nope - it just makes her another overdone cliche'. It got to the point that I just rolled my eyes every time the story shifted to her POV.

Overall it's a decent book and an interesting story. I just wish the main character was not such a total dud.

Disclaimer: A Novel - Renée Knight

A twisty suspense story with plenty of surprises along the way. This is a fast read and entertaining if you like mysteries.

Awesome!

The Martian - Andy Weir

How good was this book? Well, I started reading it on Thursday night and finished on Friday.  That's right, I finished all 369 pages in 24 hours.  Total reading time was about 5 hours, since I had to do annoying things like sleep & work.  There are mild spoilers in this review, so if you don't want to know anything about the details of the book, go no further - just take my a word for it that this is excellent and run out to buy a copy right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still with me? Ok, let's get into specifics.

 

What makes this book so good? The main character, Mark Watney, is sarcastic, funny and doesn't take anything too seriously while moving the story along, which keeps the story from becoming either a dry, boring, technical science-y, snooze-fest for us non-scientists or an overly serious downer given the long odds he faces.

 

The pacing is excellent and I felt like the things that happened were realistic. Even though Mark encountered a lot of problems during his 18 months on Mars, it never felt like the author was just throwing another disaster at him for the sake of a cheap thrill.  He was allowed triumphs 

like the successful potato crop and creation of water from rocket fuel

(show spoiler)

and the boredom and monotony of being stranded on Mars alone.  The problems were never too devastating, thanks to his gallows humor and ability to recover from mistakes and/or events outside his control, which requires a SERIOUS balancing act to keep his recoveries believable.  He's resilient.

 

I also liked that the science was explained in a way that was easy to understand.  A lot of books fall into the trap of being too technical for non-science people, which, while correctly analyzing scientific problems & solutions, leads to boredom or skimming.  The author, through Mark, broke the science down in a way that makes it easier to understand why he's doing what he's doing without making it patronizing.  That's tough and I commend him for it.

 

The supporting characters are also great, especially considering the fact that they don't get a ton of page time individually for their development.  We learn a lot about the other members of the Ares 3 crew from Mark rummaging through the items they left behind.  Later in the book you get their perspectives to fill in the gaps in Mark's perceptions.  The NASA staff feel like real people you'd expect to work for NASA - crazy-smart, a little nerdy, and full of individual quirks.

 

Overall, I can't say enough good things about The Martian.  I hope Andy Weir keeps writing for a long time, since I'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

In a Dark, Dark Wood - Helen Ruth Elizabeth Ware

I won an ARC of this book from GoodReads.

This was a really good thriller featuring an unreliable narrator.  The first part of the story is told in alternating fashion - going back and forth between the hospital and previous events at the hen do (bachelorette party for Americans).  The final third unravels Nora/Lee's memory holes once she's awoken in the hospital.

This is very well written and it's definitely a page turner.  I had a hard time making myself stop reading to go to sleep last night because I was far enough in that I REALLY wanted to know what was going to happen.

So why does this lose half a star? The ending.  The very. last. sentence. 

WTF with the last sentence! Does Nora delete Matt's email to be forever alone with James' ghost? Does she open it and go out for coffee with him? WE'LL NEVER KNOW!!

(show spoiler)

So frustrating.  I'm not the kind of person who needs all of my stories to be wrapped up with a neat little bow, but come on man.  Still, it was very good and I think that anyone who enjoys mystery/thriller novels will enjoy.

The Dragon Factory - Jonathan Maberry

The follow up to Patient Zero is pretty solid, but I did miss the zombies. Our villain this time is a mad scientist using weaponized genetic diseases to destroy the world. He's creepy and the reveal of his identity

he's Josef Mengele

(show spoiler)

is pretty good. There are multiple threads and sub-plots in this installment, along with suspense and plenty of action.

Overall it's a good thriller - the type of book that's well plotted (no huge, obvious holes), interesting characters and lots of action. Basically, the type of book that often gets turned into big summer blockbuster-style action movies. There was only one thing that made me roll my eyes -

when Grace is locked in the Chamber of Mysteries with Cyrus/Mengele, the twins, Otto, the assassin and the genetically modified Berserker bodyguard, she has the drop on them but doesn't shoot. No, instead, she stands up and tells them to do what she wants. Who does that? I'm pretty sure elite military training includes shooting the gorilla-man and assassin holding a gun as quickly and quietly as possible to neutralize the immediate threats, not popping up to say "hey everybody, drop your guns and do what I say."

(show spoiler)

and for that, it loses half a star.

Ever After - Jude Deveraux

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

I had a hard time with this book because I didn't realize it was #3 in a series, so I felt like I was missing some pieces of the puzzle from the previous books.  It seemed like there were some pretty significant character developments from the supporting characters that would have made this book more enjoyable.

I also had a really weird feeling throughout the book that it was written by someone other than Jude Deveraux.  I've read a LOT of her books and for some reason, this one just didn't strike me as having the same voice.  Maybe it's because it's been a while since I read them, or maybe it's that the ones I've read in the past were historical romances instead of contemporary romance, but it just didn't feel like the same person was writing them.  I'll have to re-read some of her older books to see if my memory holds up (or if I'm just a little crazy here ;) .)

Overall it was ok.  I had a hard time liking with Hallie, though (having married a Marine) I ended up understanding and liking Jamie a lot.  Hallie's thought processes and decisions seemed to come out of nowhere so she felt a little flat to me.  I did like the house and the matchmaking ghosts.  That was a really cute element to the story.

I will probably read the first two books to see if that fills in some of the pieces for me, and I'll definitely keep reading Jude Deveraux's books, even though this one wasn't her best for me.

Circling the Sun: A Novel - Paula McLain

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book was pretty good, but it just didn't grab me the way that The Paris Wife did. I think it's because the story starts out with Beryl leaving for her record breaking trans-Atlantic flight, then skips back to tell her life story growing up in colonial Kenya. It felt disconnected and it made it hard for me to get into her early life because I kept wondering when we'd get back to the story of the flight. I also found it hard to connect with Beryl and I'm not really sure why.

Overall, the writing was still excellent, this book just didn't speak to me in the same way as The Paris Wife did. I'd still recommend it to people who liked Paula McLain's other books and anyone who loved Out of Africa

The Cake House (Vintage Original) - Latifah Salom

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book starts out with a literal bang. Rosaura and her mom are on the run from her dad, who finds them and commits suicide in front of her mom. After these shocking events, the story takes on a surreal quality as Rosaura processes the events and her new situation with her stepfather and stepbrother.

The jacket copy says this is a reimaging of Hamlet, but I have to admit, I've never actually read Hamlet, so I don't have a basis for comparison. I know the gist of the story and The Cake House roughly tracks with that.

Overall, I liked this book. The beginning draws you in with the shocking death of Rosaura's father, and the surreal life she lives afterward keeps you interested. I liked that Rosaura isn't a shrinking violet, even though she's a teenage girl who's been traumatized. She still manages to be smart and tough while her mom falls completely apart. I'd definitely recommend this book to people who have read Hamlet (which I should now probably do) and mystery/thriller fans.

Who still pays for these?

Jason (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter) - Laurell K. Hamilton

Meh. More filler about poly relationships, and Anita's "issues" and therapy process. Boring. I skimmed most of it. Thank god this was another library book.

At the Water's Edge: A Novel - Sara Gruen

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I loved Water for Elephants, so I was REALLY excited when I got the ARC of this book.  I really like Sara Gruen's prose, which continues to be very good here.  I did, however, feel like a few things kept this from being a 5 star book.  I really wanted to know more about Mairi and Angus.  Most of the characters were well developed, but Mairi (who plays a pretty big supporting role,

despite being dead after the prologue

(show spoiler)

) really gets short shrift.  Angus, who ends up being a pretty major character, is only really developed through Anna telling Maddie his history.  We don't really get to learn a lot else about Angus, just small glimpses here and there.

I also would have loved more info about <i>their</i> marriage, like why Mairi was so despondent that she killed herself when she thought he was killed in action.

(show spoiler)

Finally, the love story between Maddie and Angus was a little bit of a head scratcher.  Don't get me wrong, I liked that they got together, it was just a little puzzling how Maddie fell in love with him (and Angus with her) because they don't actually interact with each other all that much.  They mostly interact with the other characters and sort of circle & observe each other from afar.  So, when Maddie finally decides to leave Ellis, it was like "huh" when she does so to start a relationship with Angus.

(show spoiler)

    

That being said, I did like Maddie's growth as a character throughout the book.  I also liked the development of the the strange relationship with Ellis, Maddie and Hank as the situation strained the trio along the way.

I also liked that Maddie figured out that she was their mutual beard, as the real romance was between Ellis and Hank, who obviously couldn't be out and proud in the 1940's.

(show spoiler)


Overall, it's definitely worth reading and highly enjoyable. 

Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life - George Monbiot, George Monbiot

This book was only sort of what I was expecting.  I would have liked a lot more detail on how governments and private groups are successfully rewilding areas in the UK, Europe and the US, since those seemed to be the author's main frames of reference.  The author eventually got into the heart of the subject matter about 3 or 4 chapters into the book; the first several chapters really don't go anywhere, so it's a very slow start.

Overall it was still interesting and pretty good.  I definitely agree that more wilderness needs to exist in the world, both on land and in the seas, so it was kind of preaching to the choir. 

Reaching Lily - Vivacia K Ahwen

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book was so uneven for me.  There are parts I really liked, but other details I really had trouble with.  

Let's start with the good stuff.  I expected this to be a fast, smutty read.  In this respect, it did not disappoint.  Lily is your typical "doesn't know she's beautiful/diamond in the rough" heroine, while Dorian is the all-powerful, gorgeous dude that sees her potential.  I liked that we begin at the end, with Lily taking off after Dorian has obviously broken her heart.  I also liked that Lily isn't all virginal and naive when it comes to some kinky stuff.  It's good to see a character that embraces her kinks.

The biggest downer for me were the British-isms.  Both Lily and Dorian pepper their speech with British slang and phrases like "snog" and "I've rung you..." instead of "kiss" or "I called you..." which is the American terminology. Also, common words are spelled with the British spelling (ex. storey vs. story).  None of this would be a problem if the book were set in England or the characters were ex-pats living in the US, however, it's set in Boston with American characters.  Oops.  I also disliked the use of "wicked".  It's tossed in a couple of times like "wicked sorry" or "wicked smart", but it's so out of place with the way that the rest of the dialogue is written that it's really jarring.  It feels like the author is trying too hard, like "See, see! We're in Boston!"  Also, I know 50 Shades is the template for this (and a million other books), but please, PLEASE never type the words "inner goddess" again.  Anyone.  EVER.

The plot started out well, but toward the end it got jumbled and I had to re-read several sections to figure out what was going on.  It felt like the author and/or editor got tired of checking to make sure the plot was clear and internally consistent somewhere around chapter 12 and just called it good enough.  For example, in Chapter 15, Lily gets home to her apartment and kicks off her shoes.  A few pages later at the beginning of Chapter 16, she sits down on her futon and takes her shoes off again while talking to her mom on the phone.  The same shoes she already took off, no more than 10 minutes ago.  There's really no reason that detail (among others) should have slipped through.  

This is also the point in the book where the plot starts to really rush together. I really don't understand what the rush is, because there's a cliffhanger "ending" and there are clearly more books on the way.  No need to cram some of this info into book one if you're writing several of them.  The whole thing with Dorian taking Lily's mom to the ballet, then having dinner at her house? Weird.  That needed a LOT more set up and development to fit into the story and should have been moved to a later installment if it was going to work.  Not to mention the cliffhanger "ending" itself.  Most cliffhangers bring you to a point where a decision needs to be made or a significant event has just occurred in order to set up the next book.  This book just ends at the end of a chapter where nothing significant has happened with "to be continued". 

The Rose Master - Valentina Cano

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was a really good Victorian Gothic ghost story.  It loses a star because I though the ending felt rushed and I would have liked more detail and information about the magical abilities of the characters.

Especially Lily! She shows up at the end, when it's revealed she's the person controlling the wraith, but other than that, you learn nothing about her.

(show spoiler)

I don't know if this will be a series or not, but the end was definitely left open.

Overall, the world building is solid and the author steadily ratchets up the tension throughout the book.  I really liked it in spite of the open ending (or series beginning?) and my desire for more background on the magic on display here.

The Bullet - Mary Louise Kelly

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What would you do if, at 37 years old, you discovered you'd been adopted after your parents' murder, and that the bullet that almost killed you was still lodged in your neck?

I really liked this book. The main character, Caroline, is a little naive and definitely sheltered, which makes the discovery of her past more shocking. It's well written, and the pacing is good and keeps you reading through the turns of the story. Caroline is a pretty good character, even though there were a couple of points where I rolled my eyes over her actions or total lack if understanding of the criminal justice system. I mean, come on, has she never seen an episode of Law & Order?

Overall it was a really solid mystery, definitely a page-turner.

A Wolf at the Gate - Mark Van Steenwyk, Joel Hedstrom

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really liked this book! It's obviously intended for a younger audience, but I loved the message, that humans have to learn (like the Blood Wolf) to live with and take care of each other and nature, instead of pillaging the earth.

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