No visitors. No contact. No return.: A review of The Blinds

“There’s nothing special about this place, he thinks. We all forget. Then we forget what we forgot. And that’s how we survive.”

 —  The Blinds, Adam Sternbergh

I was very impressed with The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh. It was well-developed, well-written, and incredibly interesting.

The Blinds is a modern Western thriller that takes place in the town of Caesura. It is  populated with criminals who have been pulled from their lives and had their memories altered. These people were granted a second chance to live a quiet life away from the prying eyes of society. They are free to leave at any time, but, if they do leave, they’ll end up dead.

Caesura has been running smoothly for eight years thanks to Sheriff Cooper (I pictured him as Hopper from Stranger Things). However, after a murder and a suicide in quick succession, the town begins to question their safety. Not only does Cooper need to protect his residents, but he needs to protect his secrets. With a deputy that keeps prying and outsiders that are threatening to tear the town apart, Caesura is no longer the quiet escape from the world it once was.

I would say calling this book a modern Western is incredibly accurate. It has elements of a Western as well as a thriller. This book was a page-turner for me. I kept reading because I had to find out what in the world was going on in the town of Caesura and what Cooper was hiding.

I found the characters incredible interesting, especially when their backstories were revealed. It was obvious to me that Sternbergh put a lot of thought into his characters and the memories they wanted to forget. This book begs the question, if you don’t remember what you did and you are a completely different person, isolated from the world, should you still be held accountable for your actions? What warrants a second chance?

There were many interesting themes explored at a quick pace. There were surprises at every turn and I was kept guessing throughout most of the story. My only complaint (and it’s a small one), is that the ending wrapped up a little too neatly. After the huge reveals at the end, it seemed difficult for me to believe that things would have been that easy to wrap up.

All that being said, I give The Blinds a three and a half out of five stars. I really liked this book and was completely engrossed in the story. If you’re looking for an interesting, western style thriller, this book is for you!

How to Find Love in a Bookshop: A review

Have I got a book for all of you book lovers.

The whole premise of this book is love and, well, books.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry tells the story of all of the people who have had their lives impacted by a local bookshop and it’s owner. Most of the story focuses on Nightingale Books and Emilia Nightingale’s struggles to save the business after her father’s passing; however, stories of others are spread throughout its pages to give you an idea of just how much influence Nightingale Books had on the people of Peasebrook.

A great of this book was how the characters came to life throughout the story. I found myself feeling like I knew Emilia and her father, Julius, as if I lived in Peasebrook myself. I felt for Thomasina and found myself encouraging her to power through her shyness. I wanted to hug Alice and tell her what a terrible decision she was making with Hugh… Henry did an amazing job making me feel like I truly knew the characters in the world she had created.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop was a truly lovely read. Despite the sadness woven throughout, the book told a happy tale about love and human connection. I think that my favorite part about this book was its message about connection and how just one person can have such an impact on everyone, even in death. Although Julius was not physically present in the book (save for the exposition chapter about how Emilia came into his life), you could feel his influence through all of Peasebrook.

Henry’s writing style was lovely and got me lost in the book’s pages. In the story, the lives of the characters, the city of Peasebrook… everything. Everything in this book was so heartfelt and had me wishing I could experience the love created by Nightingale Books.

If you love books and find yourself happy when you’re surrounded by them, I highly suggest you lose yourself in the world of How to Find Love in a Bookshop. It tells the story of so many types of love (especially a love of books) and I don’t think you’ll regret reading this book.

His pride never deserts him: A review of Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe

Angry people are not always wise.

— Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

I received Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe as an ARC from St. Martin’s Press through a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

As evidenced by the Jane Austen quote above, I may not have been very wise in this review because this book made me incredibly angry and I still finished it. The only reason I finished it was to say, without a doubt, that I did not like this book.

Being completely honest, I hate giving one-star ratings to books, especially ones that I finish, but this book was fully deserving of one star.

I was really excited for the premise of this book. A gender-swapped, modern Pride and Prejudice? Count me in! Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz? No, I want nothing to do with this book.

This book follows a 29-year-old Darcy Fitzwilliam who is a self-made millionaire who works had and has a lot of money (don’t worry if you forget that part, she’ll remind you). Darcy returns home after eight years after her mother suffers a heart attack shortly before the Fitzwilliam annual Christmas party. It is at during the Christmas party where Darcy reconnects with the frustratingly handsome and, maybe, lazy Luke Bennet. They have a couple romantic encounters and Darcy is left wondering if Luke is the one for her.

Let’s get some negatives out of the way…

First things first, the pacing in this book is terrible. Their love story (including two make-out sessions, countless fights, what I think was a break-up, and engagements to other people) all take place in about 5 days. This alone makes the book so frustrating. I even tried to participate in some suspension of disbelief, but couldn’t make it happen for this. None of these events would happen in real life. Not even something close to that would happen.

Another thing that killed me while reading this book were the constant reminders of Darcy’s wealth. It was like de la Cruz never wanted you to forget that Darcy was independently wealthy. Ever. In almost every chapter there was some line that either explicitly talked about her wealth or hinted at it. There was designer name brand dropping for day and really cheesy dialogue with her family about how much money she has made.

All of the characters (especially Darcy) were selfish and childish. The dialogue was one of the worst parts. Nobody actually speaks the way these characters do. The romantic scenes seemed forced and some lines of dialogue came out of nowhere. At one point Luke actually calls himself a gentleman for not having sex with Darcy when she’s drunk (not raping someone does not make you a gentleman). Darcy has a lot of internalized misogyny moments which made me cringe… This book was just utterly disappointing.

The one good thing was the relationship between Jim and Bingley. I thought they were a positive addition to the story, but they were never focused on. If this book was all about them, it might have been better!

Personally, I do not recommend this book. It has a lot of negatives and not enough positives to balance it out.

The book that melted my heart… and by melted I mean utterly destroyed.

“You know where the name hell came from.” He crossed his hands on his lap.

“After I fell, I kept repeating to myself, God will forgive me. God will forgive me. Centuries of repeating this, I started to shorten it to He’ll forgive me. Then finally to one word, He’ll. He’ll.

“Somewhere along the way, I lost that apostrophe and now it’s only Hell. But hidden in that one word is God will forgive me. God will forgive me. That is what is behind my door, you understand. A world of no apostrophes and, therefore, no hope.”

— Sal, The Summer that Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel

I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Tiffany McDaniel for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I am so glad I had the experience of reading this book.

I mean this so seriously, if you’re looking for a new book to pick up this holiday season please make it The Summer that Melted Everything

I am so broken-hearted by this book. It absolutely wowed me and wrecked me. Tiffany McDaniel is an incredibly skilled writer. Not only did the plot have me hooked from the beginning, but so did the prose. It was beautifully written which I think made the events of the book that much more tragic.

The summer of 1984 is the summer that changed the course of Fielding Bliss’ life. It’s the summer a heatwave ran through his town, Breathed, and the summer he became friends with the devil. Fielding’s father, Autopsy, invited the devil through a letter in the paper. What Autopsy didn’t know is that the devil was a thirteen-year-old boy named Sal. Fielding meets Sal first. Sal shows up in town with dirty overalls and asks for ice cream. Sal looks suspiciously like a runaways from a nearby towns who definitely aren’t the devil.

Not everyone in Breathed is happy about Sal’s arrival. As the heat rises, so do tensions in the town. Fielding and his family are convinced Sal is just a boy. Others in town believe Sal is exactly who he says he is as strange accidents start to occur throughout town. The accidents are blamed on Sal. The heat is blamed on Sal. And it’s all because he is a young black boy who claims his is the devil. While the Bliss family deals with their own personal demons, the town is dealing with its own and slowly pushes itself toward catastrophe.

The best part of this book is its characters. McDaniel is an expert at character creation and development. Each character from Fielding to Sal to Grayson Elohim were human and developed as humans do. What made their development beautiful was that some characters developed forward and for the better and others devolved. It was utterly human.

The characters were flawed and beautiful and (most) were lovable. I felt for almost every character. I think my favorite characters were the Bliss family. While reading their story, I felt like I had become part of the family. They were quirky and fun an, until the summer of 1984 and even throughout it, there was so much love in that family. The relationship between Fielding and Grand reminded me a bit of the relationship I had with my younger sister. McDaniel’s characters came to life on the pages of this book. Their struggles came to life.

Another thing McDaniel excelled at was creating humanity within her pages. Each of the character’s struggles (including side characters) and how they dealt with it was so human. They didn’t always handle things perfectly or rationally. Some characters acted out and others withdrew. In addition, the topical issues addressed in her book were incredibly relevant. McDaniel dealt with topics that humans still struggle with today. Homophobia, mob mentality, the criminal justice system, and racism. By including these issues, but not hitting you over the head with it, McDaniel made her book relevant in 1984 and today. She made me sit and think about how the citizens of Breathed dealt with these issues and how the citizens of America today are handling them. The Summer that Melted Everything really made me sit and think about what is means to be a good human in the face of these issues.

The ending was heartbreaking and disturbing and as much as I wanted to say, “That wouldn’t happen in 1984, let alone 2017…” and dismiss the events as far-fetched, they do happen. When telling my boyfriend about the ending and how I had that initial reaction, he raised an eyebrow and, without missing a beat, said, “But they do.”

Events as disturbing as the end of this book did happen in 1984 and do happen today, as much as I want to pretend they don’t. I think how rooted in truth this book was is what made it so much more heartbreaking and beautiful. McDaniel didn’t shy away from honesty in this book. It was brutal and disturbing, but one-hundred percent honest.

This book was wonderful in that each chapter revealed more and more about the characters struggles of what is bad and good. While the ending was where most of the revelations were, the book slowly introduced to the ideas and events that happen later on.  All of the events at the end of the book shocked me, but one in particular completely broke me. I had truly come to love the Bliss family and having them torn apart in the way they were tore my heart apart.

The Summer that Melted Everything is compelling and strong and a must-read. It gets five out of five melted stars from me. In today’s current climate it is incredibly timely and so important. It is definitely one of the better books I’ve read this year, I think it may even be one of my favorites. It is definitely heavy and heartbreaking, but as a reader and as a human, everyone should pick up this book.

 

Come one, come all to Caraval.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval… beware of getting swept too far away.

— Caraval, Stephanie Garber

This book was a wild ride. The last 50 pages or so gave me moderate whiplash.

That being said, it was a pretty standard young-adult fantasy novel. I went into it expecting to be blown away because I had seen a lot of hype surrounding it. I was not blown away, but I did have fun.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber had a really interesting premise. From a young age, Scarlett, the main character, and Tella, her younger sister, are desperate to escape their father and explore the world of Caraval. Caraval was created by a legendary magician, appropriately called Legend.  Shortly before her arranged marriage, Scarlett receives an invitation to Caraval from Legend himself. Scarlett is hesitant, but is “convinced” by Tella to go. By convinced I mean kidnapped and taken against her will by Tella and a sailor named Julian. Upon arriving at Legend’s private island, Scarlett and Julian realize something is wrong and Tella is missing. It is revealed through riddles that Tella is the puzzle and has been taken captive by Legend. Scarlett only has five days to solve riddles and explore Caraval to find her sister. She enlists the help of Julian to guide her through Caraval and help her save Tella.

The world of Caraval is magically written and Garber creates place that I really wanted to visit. Garber did a fantastic job with her imagery and the infusion of magic in the world; however, it has a huge downside.

The riddles and puzzles to solve are painfully obvious to everyone except Scarlett. She has so many people around her giving her hints to the clues and game, but she barely listens to them. Scarlett, in fact, only relies on her feelings. She barely listens to the facts that are laid out in front of her and goes exploring things based on a sense she had.

I also found Scarlett very hard to keep up with at times. She was kind of like the character in a horror movie who is going to check out the weird noise in the basement even though you know there’s a monster down there. All you want to do is yell at them and tell them not to be so dense!

Julian is another one of those hard to keep up with characters. Julian is Scarlett’s mysterious companion who she falls in love with almost instantly. You think he’s a sailor, but he might not be a sailor and, wow, why does he know so much about Caraval? In addition, I love a good love story. Even instant love stories don’t bother me, but this just didn’t do it for me. However, I can see why Julian would appeal to a younger audience though. He’s brooding, handsome, and would do anything to save Scarlett. He’s definitely way too perfect and easy to have a crush on, but he’s not my kind of guy.

I really, truly loved the world creation in this book. I wanted to place myself in Caraval and watch the game be played out, but I didn’t want to watch the characters we were given. Scarlett was wishy-washy. Julian was too brooding. Tella was way too selfish. There wasn’t really any point to Scarlett’s fiance, except to give her an internal conflict about falling in love with Julian…

And yet, as I say all of these things, I find myself really wanting to read the sequel. This book was ridiculous, but fun and entertaining. Garber described things well (except the whole feelings as colors and tastes thing… that was a little strange) and created an interesting story. My hope for the sequel is that Garber sharpens her characters and makes them stronger. I think with that, the series could be something really special. I am looking forward to the sequel because I do enjoy light and quick reads very much and Caraval was exactly that.

‘Cause females are strong as hell

Let me tell you about my favorite female character this year.

Audrey Rose Wadsworth.

Audrey Rose is the protagonist in the Stalking Jack the Ripper series (made up of Stalking Jack the Ripper and Hunting Prince Dracula) by Kerri Maniscalco. Audrey Rose is a 19th century badass who refuses to listen to what is expected of her and pursues her own passion: forensic science. Audrey Rose spends her time avoiding the responsibilities of being a high-society woman and apprentices under her uncle. It is in her uncle’s lab, whese books begin to follow Audrey Rose’s story of uncovering gruesome murders (of Jack the Ripper and Prince Dracula, respectively) and how she uses forensic science to discover the true identity of the murderers. Unfortunately, because Audrey Rose is a high-society woman, there are people in her life that do not approve of her interests and while she is trying to stop these terrible murders, there are people in her life trying to stop her.

Here’s why I love Audrey Rose so much: She is a headstrong, intelligent woman who is determined to break the mold society has set for her and make a life for herself. I really think that Maniscalco did an amazing job writing such a strong female character with all of the intricacies of humanity woven throughout. Audrey Rose is not just a Mary Jane or a cold-hearted, stereotypical “strong” girl.

While Audrey Rose is my favorite character in this series, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention her infuriating and handsome companion, Thomas Cresswell. Thomas is also an apprentice of her uncle’s who has made it his personal mission to help Audrey Rose solve the murders and to get her to fall in love with him. The really great thing about Thomas, though, is that when Audrey Rose tells him to stop and respect her space… he does! Not only is he intelligent and handsome, but he is respectful and truly seems to believe in Audrey Rose and what she is capable of.

Moving on to the books themselves, Maniscalco is incredible at mystery and horror writing. You would not have guessed this was a YA novel based on her writing and her creation of the plot and characters. I was blown away by her work in both books. She keeps the books light and fun where it needs to be and cranks up the intensity when it’s the right time. She also does a great job of infusing humor and romance in the story as well without taking away from the plot or Audrey Rose’s independence.

I vote that these books are a must read for pretty much everyone. These books have strong characters (male and female), humor, romance, mystery… everything that makes for a really entertaining read. Both of these books I could not put down and had such a strong desire to read one right after the other. I honestly cannot recommend these any more than I am. They are just that good!

Whenever the sequel comes out, you can bet I’ll be grabbing it as soon as possible. Read these books, you won’t regret it!

Feel the Rain [under] your skin…

Oof.

I really wanted to like Rules of Rain by Leah Scheier… I did, but I just could not. I almost fell into a reading slump after this book, but luckily I was able to pick something up that was interesting enough to keep me from slumping.

This book was really so-so for me. Rules of Rain tells the story of Rain and Ethan, who are twins. Rain feels an immense responsibility to take care of Ethan partially because he’s family and partially because he’s autistic. Rain feels that she has to be the one to take care of her brother through everything that life throws at them. Their parents divorce, their mother’s illness, bullies at school… it doesn’t matter. Rain is there for Ethan. That is until Ethan starts to want his independence. It is then that Rain realizes that the brother she’s spent her entire life protecting may not need her anymore, but she needs him more than ever.

First, I do want to go over some positives about this book because it does have them! The characters (with the exception of one which I will be getting into later) were interesting and likable. I think the side characters were the most interesting and if there had been some more focus on them, this book would have been way better. I also think that the character development from beginning to end was good. Both Ethan and Rain developed nicely by the end of the book. I also really enjoyed reading about how hard Ethan worked throughout this novel so he could achieve his dream. It can be hard to make the characters change for the better in only 300 pages, but I applaud Scheier for making it happen!

Another positive is the topic of this book. It features a main character with autism which isn’t something you see often in popular media. I am really glad that there are more books and media that feature autistic characters as of late (The Good Doctor on ABC as well as Atypical on Netflix are just a few recent examples). I want to read and see more media that features characters who aren’t neurotypical and Rules of Rain delivered on that.

Here’s where I’m going to get a bit negative. Rain. Rain got under my skin in the worst way at the beginning. I did not enjoy her as a character and while she did have great development, her point-of-view earlier in the novel really soured her for me. The biggest issue I had was that Rain was the narrator and the entire book went through her lens. Seeing things from Rain’s perspective really hampered my enjoyment of the other characters and development of this novel.

This book really did have a lot of promise for me. I truly that if it wasn’t told from Rain’s perspective (maybe third person, maybe from another character?), it would have been great.

I had to give it two and a half out stars because it did have some saving graces, but I just can’t stop thinking about how much I want to shake Rain in the beginning and tell her to cut it out.

I received a copy of Rules of Rain from SOURCEBOOKS Fire through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.