The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What drew me to this novel was that it was a historical fiction based on a real murder case. And let me tell you, this is a VERY unique murder case. Especially since the accusation was made by the murder victim! Anyways, let me not ruin all of the details. Here is my review:

Lakin, West Virginia, 1930
After a failed suicide, attorney James P. D. Gardner is placed in an insane asylum, where he is under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Dr. Boozer has just come out of medical school and is eager to try a new talking cure for insanity, instead of using the current treatments. As such, he encourages Gardner to talk about his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in 19th-century West Virginia, where Gardner’s most memorable case was the one where he helped defend a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride. The interesting part? The prosecution based their testimony on a ghost.

Greenbrier, West Virginia, 1897
Zona Heaster has always known she is beautiful, but her willfulness and arrogance have caused many a heartache. Despite her mother’s warnings, Zona marries Erasmus Trout Shue, a handsome blacksmith new to the area. However, as soon as they married, Zona was whisked away and no one was able to come and see her at her new home. After weeks of silence, riders come to the Heasters’ place to tell them that their daughter Zona has died after an unfortunate tumble down the stairs. But Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother, knows this is not an accident and she is determined to get justice for her daughter. A month after the funeral, she informs the county prosecutor that Zona’s ghost appeared to her, saying that she had been murdered. An autopsy, ordered by the reluctant prosecutor, confirms her claim.

It cannot be denied that the author has put in a lot of work to research every aspect of this case and present it from all sides. We read from Mary Jane’s perspective as she struggles to find justice for her daughter, even as her own husband refuses to help. We read from Gardner’s perspective as he recounts the investigation and his own impression of his client. While the case itself was interesting, I think that the writing was not executed as well as I might have liked. The beginning was very intriguing and had me hooked. However, the story started to drag on towards the middle until about the 90% mark of the book. I think this may have been because of the perspective of Mr. Gardner. Most of the information mentioned in that section was not very useful and could have been omitted. Maybe it would have been interesting to someone who wanted to know more about the historical scene at that point in time but for me, I just wanted to get into the crux of the matter, which was Zona’s case. The trial itself was interesting and the different facts that were brought up were also presented well. Overall, this was a novel that had a premise that I really enjoyed but was perhaps not executed as well as it could have been. I would give this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

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The French Girl by Lexie Elliot

Thank you to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Every time I see a book with “Girl” in the title, it makes me cringe. There have been so many of them and I know there will be more still. And it’s not like they’re all amazing. But I always decide to give them a chance. Because it’s all about that “what if” scenario. What if this book is unlike the rest? What if this book is actually super awesome and I’m missing out by not reading it? It is this hypothetical train of thought that made me decide to take the plunge and try this book. So here is my review:

6 friends studying at Oxford were spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer – until they met Severine. For Kate Channing, Severine was an intruder, someone whose beauty undermined the close-knit group’s loyalties to each other. And after a huge fight on the last night of the holiday, Kate knew nothing would ever be the same. It was also the night that Severine disappeared.

Now, a decade later, the case is reopened when Severine’s body is found in the well behind the farmhouse. As Kate is questioned alongside her friends, she stands to lose everything she has worked so hard to achieve. Desperate to clear her name, she tries to remember exactly what happened all those years ago. But as she digs into the past, she finds her present days to be filled with paranoia and madness. No one can be trusted.

When this novel began, I found it a bit boring because nothing really happened. However, I was very excited about the premise and was waiting for when things would speed up a bit. It didn’t take too long for the author to bring about the murder aspect of the story, which was good. I also liked all of the characters that the author introduced; while they were all flawed, they were well developed and easy to understand (for the most part). One thing I was really intrigued by was how Kate was constantly seeing Severine’s ghost. I definitely thought the author could have done more with it than she did, and when I got to the ending and nothing happened with those hallucinations, it made me quite disappointed. The author kept building up the tension, which I really enjoyed, delving into the different connections between all of the characters. It was very interesting how the author decided to portray the story and it captured my attention. But I felt like nothing was ever resolved. Nothing was ever revealed about what exactly happened that night. On top of that, the actual solving of the crime was very abrupt and rushed and didn’t give me any satisfaction at all. Everything ended up being so anti-climactic and that is really such a shame because it had all the works to be a good novel. Based on all of this, I would give it a 2/5 stars – and the 2 stars is because I liked the characters.

Happy reading ~

The Lives of Desperate Girls by Mackenzie Commons

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was intrigued by both the premise and the location of this novel. I really like novels where teens are dealing with something difficult and take it upon themselves to find out what’s really going on. I also wanted to see how the author portrays Northern Ontario; as a Torontonian who has never really gone up north, I was excited to read about what life is like there. Anyways, here is my review:

When 16-year-old Helen Commanda is found murdered just outside Thunder Creek, no one pays any attention to it. All her death does is shed light on the earlier disappearance of Chloe Shaughnessy. Chloe is everything Helen isn’t: beautiful, wealthy, and white. The fact that Helen was from the reservation only seems to make it easier for people to dismiss her. Only Jenny Parker, Chloe’s best friend, seems to think it is important to look into Helen’s death, and so she takes it upon herself to look for answers about Helen’s life and death. But what can a teenage girl really accomplish where adults have failed? And how much is Jenny actually complicit in a conspiracy of silence?

I have mixed feelings about this novel because there are a few things that the author does that I like but an equal amount of things that I don’t like. I really liked that the author highlighted the problems of the First Nations people of Canada. Not many people are aware of their struggles and the things they have endured – and continue to endure – are heartbreaking. And the author really does do justice to them: she tells it like it is. I only wish it had been told from the perspective of an actual Native and not just from that of a white teenage girl. While Jenny is definitely trying to understand and be aware of the oppression and racism that the Aboriginal people face, I don’t think she is necessarily the best spokesperson for it since she really isn’t a part of their community or culture. I wish there had been more emphasis on the way life is on the reserves and the traditions that the First Nations value, as that would have allowed the reader to see some of the wonderful aspects of their culture. However, the idea that a Native girl’s death is not as important as a Caucasian girl’s disappearance was an interesting one and I think the author did a really good job of bringing that to the forefront. I actually found the writing style compelling, even if it was confusing to follow at times what with the various jumps in time that Jenny took; it was hard to tell if something was happening in the present or if it was just a memory. I did not like the love angle that the author tried to force into the situation; it didn’t add anything to the novel and it was not well planned or executed. It was literally just two teenagers hooking up and doing drugs and drinking, none of which screams romance or bonding. I didn’t like the incompetence of the cops, and I’m not just referring to their dismissal over the case of Helen. I’m referring to the almost comical way they question and interrogate Jenny over Chloe’s disappearance; you would think adults would know how to run an investigation and ask the right questions but clearly, that is not the case in this novel. The author also takes on another topic: slut-shaming. While I think this is an important topic to discuss, I don’t really like Jenny’s role in that aspect and I wish the author had made her more … sensible or intelligent. I also didn’t really like how things were resolved in the novel because, well, it didn’t really feel resolved. I understand that not everything can have a happy ending but this just felt messy and unfinished. Overall, I think the author chose 2 very important topics to center her novel around. While the writing was compelling, the main character’s decisions as well as the actual ending of the novel left me disappointed. For those reasons, I’m giving this novel a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

Inherit the Bones by Emily Littlejohn

I’ve got a whole slew of mysteries and thrillers to catch up on, so I thought this novel would be a good place to start. It’s gotten quite a lot of positive reviews, and it has a female protagonist so I thought it would be right up my alley. Here is my review:

Detective Gemma Monroe knows that secrets and lies don’t stay buried forever. One of her first cases involved finding the bones of two teenage boys who had gone missing years ago. To this day, she doesn’t know what happened to them, and this is something that has always haunted her. In a place like Cedar Valley, most cases are easy to close. Like the case 3 years ago where the mayor’s son died in a tragic accident, slipping off of a cliff while hiking with friends. But when a recent murder victim is identified as the mayor’s son, Gemma must question everything she knew. Her investigation takes her from the seedy grounds of a traveling circus to the powerful homes of the Cedar Valley elite. Pregnant, and with no one she can trust, Gemma must track a killer who will stop at nothing to keep those secrets hidden forever. 

This was quite an interesting story that attempted to connect 2 different crimes. I really liked the main character, who had a lot of spunk and had a really good backstory. There were a bunch of other characters that were also introduced, but I wish the author had spent more time in developing relationships between them and Gemma; most of them were pretty well explained but some (like the one with her boyfriend) were really not developed at all, which was a shame. The story itself had a good pacing and I found myself intrigued as to how everything would come together. I also love everything to do with circuses, so having that be a part of the story was a little treat for me! The story itself was going really well but the ending was a bit rushed, and clichéd. As usual, the perp spills the beans on everything, but the explanation wasn’t as well formed as I liked. Overall, this was an interesting story that had good pacing and a strong main character so I give this a 3.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The House by Simon Lelic

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was very excited to read this thriller because its premise seemed to hint at a haunted house type of story. And I’m a sucker for anything to do with houses with a past. I was super happy to receive an ARC but because of my vacation, I wasn’t able to get to it until now. Anyways, here is my review:

What if your perfect home turned out to be the scene of the perfect crime? When Jack and Syd find the perfect house, they can’t wait to put in an offer. They never thought they would get it – but they did. They moved in, excited to make it their forever home. When they made a gruesome discovery in the attic, they decide to ignore it. They’re willing to put anything in the past so that they can continue to live in their dream home. But that was a mistake. Because someone was murdered right outside their back door. And now the police are watching them…

So the story is written for the most part as journal entries between Syd and Jack. They are recalling the events that led them to a certain point in the novel. At first, I found this a cool concept. They keep hinting at some bad thing that happened to them, and every time they hinted at it, I became more eager to find out what it was. It was also weird/interesting how they responded to each others’ entries. However, that was probably the only thing I really enjoyed about the story. The themes that this story revolved around were sad but common ones in this genre so I wasn’t really blown away by anything. I also found the plot to be a tad bit predictable. I never felt connected to the characters, and I pretty much lost interest around the 30% mark. I kept reading because I didn’t find the writing style terrible and I just wanted to make sure that my predictions were correct (and they were). There was a lot of hype around this book, and quite a few people liked it. However, I wasn’t one of them. This really wasn’t much of a thriller for me. And the house didn’t play as much of a central role as I had hoped. This novel gets 2/5 stars from me, and only because I liked the writing style.

Happy reading ~

Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

I love weird stories. The wackier, the better. It’s one of the reasons I love Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles series. While I’ve never heard of this author before this book, I read that she had a reputation for coming up with wild stories. So I decided to get started with this one. Here is my review:

Eva grew up watching her father, Miles, invent strange and wonderful things in the small workshop behind their house on the river that runs through their old mill town. But the most important invention that Miles every made came from the mind of Thomas Edison: a machine that lets you talk to the dead. The bluepritns for this machine has been passed down to Miles and he’s been using it to protect his family. But one night, when a fierce storm is raging and there is the threat of a flood, the machine comes to life and delivers a single message: you’re in terrible danger. The next thing Eva knows, she is waking up by the river and only her mother is there. Her father and brother are dead, the house is gone, and there is an evil man out to get them. Eva changes her name to Necco and tries to forget about her past as she and her mother live life off the grid. But when her mother dies and her boyfriend is murdered, Necco is convinced that her past is catching up to her. What really happened that night? As Necco tries to discover the truth, she connects with 2 other women who are on their own desperate quests. And as the trio follow the clues, they discover that sometimes it’s the smallest towns that hold the strangest secrets.

Before this novel, I would never have thought that so many mismatched parts could come together to create a cohesive and interesting story. But they did. And I loved every minute of it. There is a paranormal aspect, with visions and psychic abilities and machines that let you communicate with the dead. There is a mystery element where people keep dying but you don’t know why. There’s a thriller aspect where the main character is being hunted by a man wearing a chicken skin mask. In all, it’s a crazy mess. But it worked on so many levels. There was not a single boring moment in this story. And the author managed to run so many different storylines at the same time! There are 3 main female characters and they each got their moment in the spotlight, which I really loved. The way it all got tied in was unexpected but it worked with the weirdness of the premise. I’m still shocked by how everything was put together … but I definitely enjoyed this read! This is not a traditional book in any way so I would recommend this to people who enjoy crazy stories with super interesting and zany plots! I can’t wait to read more by this author!

Hapyp reading ~

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

I received this novel as an advanced copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I wasn’t aware that this novel was part of a series but decided to read it as a standalone. Luckily, this novel doesn’t necessarily require one to read the previous book to understand what’s going on, so I was able to focus on the story and writing. Here is my review:

Even though Detective Manon Bradshaw is five months pregnant, she is still determined to focus on her career, where she is stuck in a cold case corridor – the price she paid for a transfer back to Cambridgeshire. Manon tries to look at this positively; after all, this gives her time to raise her adopted son Fly Dent and prepare herself for the new baby.  But when a wealthy businessman is found stabbed, Manon can’t help but get involved. The victim is a banker from London – who was once in a relationship with Manon’s sister, Ellie, and is the father of Ellie’s son. As the case begins to circle in on Manon’s family, she finds herself pitted against her colleagues and friends. Can Manon separate what she knows about the people she loves from the suspicion hanging over them?

For me, this novel was just okay. I was hoping for something sarcastic with some high stakes drama. However, that wasn’t really what was delivered. To those who, like me, haven’t read the previous book in this series, it would probably be good to have read it before reading this one; it would give the reader a better connection with the characters in the story. For me, it was hard to connect with the main characters and they ended up not mattering to me, which really sucked. The story was told from various different perspectives, which I really enjoyed because it made me keep guessing on how everything would tie in together. This novel had a really slow start that made it a bit of a chore to stick through, and for the most part, it felt like Manon’s personal life took precedence over the murder itself. However, when the story finally took off, it was pretty intriguing. I’m not sure I really liked the way everything ended… it just didn’t feel that satisfying to me. Overall, this was an interesting mystery but it felt lackluster to me. There was too much of a focus on the main character’s personal life and the solving of the mystery itself didn’t have the energy that I would have liked. This may be more enjoyable for fans of Missing, Presumed, the first book in this series.

Happy reading ~

 

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

And here we are with another thriller with “Girl” in the title. But I decided to ignore that when it came to this book, in an attempt to not be biased in my opinion. This book has been getting a lot of attention and I’ve been recommended it multiple times. So I finally decided to give it a go! Here is my review:

Emma
After a traumatic break-in, Emma is desperate to move into a newer, safer place. But nothing seems perfect – until she comes across One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece with its minimalist design…. but it also comes with many rules. The architect who built this house retains full control of it and only his word goes. The space is meant to transform its occupant completely – and it does.

Jane
After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start – and she finds it at One Folgate Street. But it isn’t just the house she’s fallen for; the seductive creator keeps coming into her mind. Once she moves in, Jane soon learns of the untimely demise of the previous tenant, a woman who resembles Jane. As Jane tries to make sense of the truth, she unwittingly begins to make the same choices and experiences the same terror as the girl before.

I’m surprised by how much I liked this novel. The story was addictive and while I didn’t like everything about it, I can’t deny that it had the thrill and the twists that I was hoping for. The two perspectives were quite interesting and the author did a really great job of making them match up and integrate. Emma’s character gave me a lot of warning signs, and it became more and more clear that she was not what I expected as I kept reading – but that’s what I loved about the book. I love that the main characters didn’t conform to my initial assessment, and I liked to see how they acted in similar situations. This book is all about depraved characters, each who have their own mental issues. They’re very twisted and I like that the author kept them true to that trait throughout the book. I wasn’t very comfortable with some of the ways that the author handled sexual consent and rape … but it worked in the context of this story because the story itself is all about individuals who don’t really conform or believe in those norms. A lot of people are saying that this novel is a bit of a combination between 50 shades of grey and Girl on the train …. I kind of agree with the first part of that. There is a lot of sexual stuff going on in this novel and even though I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, I can see where people can draw the parallels. However, this aspect didn’t make me as uncomfortable as I expected, as I still quite enjoyed the story. Overall, this was a very interesting thriller that had me hooked from the start!

Happy reading ~

Bright Air Black by David Vann

Before reading this book, I knew nothing about Medea or Jason and the Argonauts. In fact, I did a quick Wikipedia search into the origins of these characters before delving into this book so that I could properly understand the content. Here is my review:

The story brings us aboard the ship Argo as it makes its epic journey back home across the Black Sea from Colchis – Medea’s homeland where she has fled her father with Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece. As Medea sails along with the man she loves, she must decide whether she is a sorceress or a monster. As the journey continues and reality hits Medea, we witness Medea’s humanity, her Bronze Age roots and position in Greek society, her love affair with Jason, and her tragic demise.

It definitely helped that I had a little background on the story before beginning this book because this novel starts at the point when Medea is on Jason’s ship, running away from her father. The story doesn’t really delve too much into the events that preceded this but you eventually do find out as you continue reading. Apart from that, the story is quite indepth in terms of storyline, giving a great amount of detail into the way the journey progresses. Having never read anything about Medea or Jason, I found the story fascinating. There was never a dull moment and with each page comes more violence, brutality, and treachery. If you have never heard of Medea, then you need to read this book and get to know her story!

Medea’s character….. was incredible. She is strong, ruthless, intelligent, and determined in a way that no other female protagonist I have each very read about has been. When she spoke, she voiced the thoughts of countless women over countless generations. She is the epitome of the struggles of a woman who does not fit into the mold created by men. In short, I loved her. She was violent and lacked mercy and yet shred he managed to exude femininity while acting completely unfeminine (according to our views on what a feminine person  is typically like). I cannot stress enough how well the author portrayed her and how mesmerized I was by her strength. She is definitely one badass female protagonist, even if I don’t support all of her violent actions.

At first, the writing style seemed unusual to me. It’s poetic but not in the typical way. It made me take note of every word being used, every transition being made. This was a beautifully written story and it demanded that you pay attention attention appreciate that beauty.

Happy reading ~

The Empress of Bright Moon by Weina Dai Randel

Awhile back, I read a book called Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel. It felt like I was watching one of my historical Asian dramas, and I was happy to discover that the story was based off of a real historical figure. Not only is it based off of a historical figure, the main character was the first female Empress of China! I really enjoyed the first novel so I knew I had to read the sequel and find out what happened to her.

When the Emperor passes away, Mei’s lover, Pheasant is crowned as the the new Emperor. But a power struggle begins between Pheasant and his uncle, who insists on becoming Regent. Mei also suffers from this backlash, as Pheasant’s wife, Empress Wang, goes to extreme lengths to destroy Mei’s life. As the political game becomes more dangerous, Mei realizes that she must defeat the bloodthirsty Empress and the sly Regent to save herself and also to protect her country.

I’m going to begin my review by saying that this is not a book you can read as a standalone; you absolutely have to read The Moon in the Palace before reading this one or you won’t understand what is going on. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, I really liked this book. Just like its predecessor, the novel reads like an asian drama, full of intrigue and political mind games. The author really made history come alive through this story! I really enjoy reading about constant manipulation and power struggles, which is why this book was so wonderful for me but if you don’t like either one of those things, then this novel probably isn’t for you. While this story may not be 100% historically accurate, the author really gave some depth to Mei’s character and made her actions believable and understandable. Overall, a really interesting novel on a prominent historical figure in China!

Happy reading ~