Review: Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters

Alexis:

Synopsis: Ghost Wood Song follows Shady Grove, a teenage girl living in rural Florida. Like her father before her, Shady can call ghosts from the grave by playing her father’s fiddle. When her brother is accused of murder, Shady decides to play the fiddle to figure out what really happened, straight from the mouth of the dead.

I really enjoyed the overall Southern gothic vibes of this book. It’s creepy and haunted, dealing with ghosts, an evil figure that rises from the dark, a haunted house, and plenty of death. But in between the dark sections, Waters writes about a teenage girl trying to figure out her feelings for one of her best friends, Sarah, and a boy named Cedar. While I’m not one for love triangles, I found that this one didn’t bother me too much. 

I also enjoyed how Waters wrote about music. All of Shady’s friends play music, too, and I liked hearing about their playing styles; I felt like I learned a lot about bluegrass music. Waters’ love for music shone on the page and through Shady’s character.

My one main critique is that I feel like I didn’t get to know some of the secondary characters as much as I wanted to. We’re told that Orlando is Shady’s best friend, but I feel like he rarely shows up in any scenes. Near the beginning, we’re told what Shady is like from Sarah’s mouth, before I felt like I really knew Shady as a character. Throughout the book, a lot of the characters are kept at a surface level, which is a shame, because I enjoyed all of the characters and wanted to get to know them better.

Despite this, I like Water’s writing style. I enjoyed her imagery and descriptions, and the way she writes about the setting really allows it to come alive on the page. 

If you’re looking for a murder mystery with themes of family, grief, love, and music, with LGBTQ representation, then pick this up!

VERDICT: 👻👻👻👻/5

Review: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas

Alexis:

“Through love, all is possible.”

Maas has a way of writing worlds that suck you in and make you want to keep reading. While this world is pretty similar to the one in ACOTAR, I loved how the world in Crescent City blends modern technology with magic; we don’t get enough fantasy with modern technology, and it was really interesting and fun to see the characters use both cell phones and magic. It was also loosely based off of Ancient Rome, which was cool.

I really enjoyed all of the characters. I liked reading from both Bryce and Hunt’s perspective. They both have a great mix of admirable traits and flaws. And, as usual, Maas is great at writing characters who have suffered from trauma with care.

The first half of this book did a great job setting up the world, the characters’ backstories, and establishing the main plot, while the second half was more fast paced and action packed. While a lot of readers find Maas’ build up slow, I enjoy how she spends time establishing the world and letting us know the characters before diving deeper into the plot. And I thought the plot of this book was intricate. Honestly, even though this book is so heavy on the details and it took me a while the get all the worldbuilding details straight, it was just so much fun to read!

My cons are pretty small. First, let me just say that if you don’t like Maas’ writing style, just don’t pick up the book? A lot of people seem to be giving this book bad reviews without even reading it because they aren’t fans of Maas’ writing.

I will say, thankfully, this book has considerably less drawn out sex scenes; it still has a decent amount of people flipping each other people off, and a lot of f-bombs, which didn’t bother me. I’m still not a fan of her character name choices (Bryce and Hunt? And I never got over Tamlin’s name from ACOTAR) but honestly, that’s such a small bone to pick, and it boils down to personal preference.

Even though I loved reading the ACOTAR series, I thought this book was far better written. I still don’t think her writing is the absolute best, but what she IS good at is writing characters you will want to root for, and writing worlds that you will become obsessed with. And despite the fact that this book is over 800 pages long, I barely wanted to take any breaks from reading it.

Bottom line: this was so much to fun to read! And considering the fact that the plot centers around a murder mystery, apparently murder mysteries are my new definition of “fun.”

VERDICT: 📚📚📚📚📚

 

Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Alexis:

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy. I’m currently on an extended Spring Break, and my classes have all been moved online for the rest of the semester. While I’m bummed about that, it means I have more time to read and post on here. Without further ado, let’s start the review!

A dark, gothic fairytale retelling? Very up my alley!

Annaleigh lives in Highmoor, a manor on an island by the sea where the people worship a sea god. She used to be one of twelve sisters, but four of her sisters have died tragic deaths. When Annaleigh’s younger sister begins seeing ghosts, she believes that her last sister to die was actually murdered. In between dancing in myserious balls with her sisters, Annaleigh works to uncover the dark truth.

I really enjoyed this book! I it had a lot of twists and turns, and while I guessed two of the major plot points, the rest, particularly at the end, were great and surprising.

I loved the cast of sisters. They felt very Jane Austen to me, especially when they prepared to go to the balls. Craig’s descriptions of Highmoor and the world around them brought this fantasy world to life. I loved the octopus imagery and the descriptions of the sea. While most of this book was dark and gothic, there were fun ball and festival scenes in between. I also enjoyed learning about the gods and mythology of this world.

I should’ve known from the book’s description, but this book is full of (in-depth) murder and death. So if you’re not into any type of horror, then this isn’t for you.

My only critiques are that the romance was a little too underdeveloped and cheesy for my taste, and the dialogue in certain scenes felt a little flat. But if you’re looking for a fun fairytale read that doubles as a horror/murder mystery book, then pick this up! Its beautiful cover is never leaving my bookshelf.

VERDICT: 📚 📚 📚 📚 /5

In the Woods and mood reading!

Anna: It’s finally (slowly!) feeling a bit more like fall! 

As cooler weather approaches, I’ve been in the mood for crime fiction. This is the second Tana French novel I’ve read in a month. The first in her Dublin Murder Squad series, In the Woods follows Detective Bob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox as they investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl found dead in the woods…the same woods where Ryan’s two childhood friends went missing years before. I didn’t enjoy this as much as The Witch Elm, but I’ve heard this series only gets better, and I think it’s one I could easily binge this fall.

Are you a mood reader?

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5 star review: The Witch Elm by Tana French

Anna: New favorite book (and author?) alert! VERDICT: 5 stars

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Toby is the kind of guy who has always had it easy. He’s always been fairly popular, successful at his job, and has never had to worry about money. Until one night, when he’s beaten so badly in his apartment that he nearly dies. Afterwards, he experiences amnesia and some brain trauma. Following his accident, Toby learns that his Uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer. Toby and his cousins return to Uncle Hugo’s Ivy House, where they spent their summers growing up. When they find a dead body in the Witch Elm on the property, everyone in the family is a suspect–and Toby, it seems might be suspect number one.

I couldn’t put this down. The Witch Elm is the kind of book that rewards you the more you read, as the events in the beginning seem unrelated at first and slowly become more and more a part of the larger plot. What I really love about this book is that French’s characterization is fantastic. Toby is an often unlikable and undeniably realistic character who I’m pretty sure I would hate in real life. After Toby’s accident, he’s forced to examine how he’s treated others over the course of his life. 

There’s also the murder aspect of the book, which twists and turns the more you read. Because of Toby’s amnesia and other evidence, Toby is immediately one of the top suspects in the murder, and he graps at nothing as he tries to remember what he might have done. On top of it being a who-done-it-book, at its core The Witch Elm is a complicated family drama about the secrets families keep together and the ones they keep from each other. 

I’ve already put In the Woods, at hold at the library, the first book in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. I can’t wait to read her backlist!

Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry has been on my tbr for a long time, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading this one!

The Dry is crime fiction set in Australia. Federal Agent Aarron Falk returns to his hometown for a funeral of a childhood friend, Luke. Luke allegedly killed his wife and son before turning the gun on himself. Aarron hasn’t been back since he and his dad quickly left town after Aarron was linked to the death of a girl in town. The reader soon realizes that the past and present are more closely intertwined than they might seem.

If not a tiny bit predictable, this book had rich characterization and the parallel storyline captivated me from beginning to end. I would pick up the second book in this series at some point. I don’t recommend reading this book in the height of a hot and humid Virginia summer.

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VERIDCT: 3.5/5 stars

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Anna:

Welcome to my first audiobook review! As I mentioned in my last post, I recently moved. While I haven’t had much time to read physical books, I have been enjoying listening to audiobooks while I unpack.

I’ve heard so much buzz around Sadie by Courtney Summers since it came out last September. This is a YA thriller, and though it definitely deals with some heavy and difficult themes (sexual assault, child abuse, murder, etc.) I didn’t find it very explicit. I’d definitely say it’s genre/age appropriate.

Sadie has had to be a grown up for as long as she can remember. Abandoned by her addict mother, Sadie essentially raised her younger sister, Mattie. But when Mattie was 13, she was murdered. Sadie sets out to kill the man who took her sister away from her. Meanwhile, in a complementary storyline, a podcast called The Girls has been created to retrace Sadie’s path, as Sadie has since gone missing.

First off, I think including a point of view from a podcast is brilliant. Not only is this creative, but it captures the obsession in recent years with serialized murder podcasts. This book exposes society’s fascination with murder podcasts and dead girls while also praising the attention brought to poorly-investigated deaths. (The police are utterly useless in helping with Mattie’s death and Sadie’s disappearance in this story.) Summers criticizes the use of serialized podcasts to exploit murder and sexual assault victims for listener’s entertainment, which I applaud her for.

 

Sadie is a complicated protagonist. You kind of hate her because of how stubborn she is, and yet you can’t blame her because she’s wicked strong and had a terrible childhood. Her redeeming factor is the fierce and protective love she has for her sister.

Sadie has a stutter, and her relationship with her stutter and, subsequently, her own body, is fascinating. Other people’s reaction to hearing her speak is heartbreaking. I think this is important representation for people with stutters, who I have never before encountered in literature. (Besides Quirrell in Harry Potter, and that’s definitely not a positive representation of stuttering…ouch….)

I enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of this because of the way The Girls sounds like a real podcast. The fact that the podcast has strummy, haunting intro music makes it that much more realistic. The voice of the show’s host is also spot on of what you would expect (and of course a show about two girls disappearing is narrated by a man! This feels like pointed commentary on the author’s part).

However, there are multiple voice actors in this and some of them are REALLY bad. I could have read some character’s lines more convincingly. But for the most part, I think the audiobook is well done.

I love that YA thrillers are becoming more of an established genre, and Sadie did not disappoint!

BOOK VERDICT: 4/5

AUDIOBOOK VERDICT: 4/5

Review: The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

Alexis: Read 2/27/19

The Night Tiger is a fascinating blend of magical realism, historical fiction, romance, and murder mystery. It follows two main characters: Ji Lin and Ren. Ji Lin is the apprentice of a dressmaker who is also secretly a dance-hall girl. Ren is an eleven-year-old houseboy who recently switched masters due to his old master’s death. Their lives come together when Ji Lin finds a severed finger and tries to figure out where to return it.

I love that the book is set in 1930’s colonial Malay, now modern Malaysia. This makes for a rich and cultural setting, and I loved reading about the different languages spoken and the foods eaten. I loved Choo’s descriptions of clothing from Ji Lin’s point of view, and how she showed England’s rule and influence over the culture of Malay.

Throughout the book, Choo focuses on the superstitions based on chinese numbers, as well the folklore of weretigers. She even includes a section explaining these at the end of the book, which I wish were placed before the book as pretext, but I still appreciated her including them at all.

The first 30 pages were a little slow, and I had to get used to Choo’s writing style and tone. But then I was hooked. This isn’t a fast-paced book, and the mystery is revealed slowly. Though the main plot is fairly slow, there were enough subplots to hold my attention.

I loved Ji Lin as a character. She’s a classic modern day heroine in 1930’s Malaysia, yet she also fits in perfectly in the time period. She’s intelligent and clever and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Yet, unlike where a lot of strong female characters seem to fail, she is still feminine and caring. I also really enjoyed Shin, her step brother’s, character. I found he and Ji Lin to have a lot of chemistry, and I found their relationship moved in a natural direction.

What I didn’t like about the book: the switching POVs. Ji Lin’s chapters were first person, past tense, while Ren’s chapters were in third person, present tense. And every once in a while, I was thrown into William Acton’s POV (Ren’s new master). It would have served the book better if both Ji Lin and Ren’s chapters were in first person, or, honestly, if the whole book was in Ji Lin’s perspective. Sometimes Ren felt like an afterthought.

I really enjoyed The Night Tiger’s setting, atmosphere, and characters. I wish the ending had tied up some of the loose ends, but overall, this was an interesting and unique read. Just don’t read it if you get queasy at the mention of severed fingers!

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books

 

SPOILERS BELOW:

I’m not really even sure how to address the twin issue. Why do authors always feel like one of the twins has to be dead? I enjoyed Ren’s “cat whiskers” sense, but Yi’s role in the story was kind of “eh” for me.

I actually really liked the fact that Ji Lin and Shin fell in love. Their relationship, and the progression of their relationship, felt very real to me, and I loved the dynamic. I didn’t find it weird because they were so close and important to each other and not actually related.

However, I wasn’t a fan of how Shin’s character progressed. He professed his love for Ji Lin, only to beg her to have sex with him…? It felt completely out of character, as Shin was nothing but respectful towards Ji Lin, and even though he was portrayed as a womanizer, I knew from the beginning that it was obviously just a front. I felt like their almost-bedroom scene could have gone very differently. But, in the end, I was glad Ji Lin stood up for herself and decided to wait on marriage and pursue a career. It felt true to her character.

 

Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Alexis: Read 2/4/19

“There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly when at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too.”

The Lie Tree is both about revenge and finding yourself. It manages to be a murder mystery book while exploring themes of science vs. religion, paleontology, family, and, of course, lies.

The book follows Faith, the 14-year-old daughter of a reverend/scientist, who moves to an island with her family. Throughout the story, she struggles with being a complacent girl in 19th century England while battling her desire to be seen and heard as a person with a brain and scientific ambitions. This was my favorite part of the book. I loved reading about Faith’s navigation through 19th century society and ideals. I felt and understood her frustrations as she dealt with being called useless. I also appreciated that Hardinge explored how her petticoats and corset always got in the way; it just felt very real to me. And, as the book progressed, I loved reading about her showing off her cleverness and proving to her mother, and the men in the book, what she can do.

Faith’s character was a little hard for me to like. I rooted for her to win, even through her ill-fated motives and her willingness to lie. I thought that the unlikability of the characters served the dark nature of the story and the Lie Tree well. However, at times, I found the story hard to get through because of this, and also because the plot was a little slow. Despite this, Hardinge is still a poetic writer and I enjoyed her descriptions and the murder mystery storyline.

VERDICT: 3 ½ out of 5 books