Look Beneath the Surface: Reviewing The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Hi everyone! I’m back sooner than ever with another book review. It has been a while since I read a book in day. I haven’t done that since I was a kid. Thankfully, I found the perfect book to breeze through. In undergrad, I discovered Good Mythical Morning and it has been part of my morning routine ever since. I watch way too much Youtube, by the way. When I saw Rhett and Link were coming out with a novel (and a mystery one at that) I was pretty excited. Normally I am rather hesitant with debut novels but I am always willing to give them a chance and I was glad I gave this one a chance. Now, let’s talk about it.

Bleak Creek is a quaint little Southern town where incoming freshman, Rex McClendon and Lief Nelson spend their days trying to film their magnum opus, PolterDog. With the help of their friend, Alicia, the boy are determined to make history with their film. After an accident happens while filming during the church barbecue, Alicia is sent off to the infamous Whitewood reform school. Rex and Leif decide to take in upon themselves by teaming up with Janine, a film student looking to film her own documentary. As the group investigates, they begin to uncover the dark secrets that lie beneath the unassuming town of Bleak Creek, one that may put their lives in danger.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I started reading this novel but I was certainly (pleasantly) surprised by what I got. The novel is way darker than I assumed, with plenty of twists that kept me reading onward. The town of Bleak Creek feels perfectly real as well as shockingly terrifying. There were parts were my jaw dropped from how dark the book became but that was the best part. The novel also had just the right amount of nostalgia that didn’t overpower the scarier elements. It definitely filled the Stranger Things void in my life. You don’t have to be a fan of Good Mythical Morning, either, to enjoy this book. It was a swift read with plenty of twist, turns, and shocks to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Warning: There are instances of blood and violence. It’s pretty PG – 13, though.

Rather die than doubt: Reviewing Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Hello everyone! I was finally able to knock a book off my TBR list! As much as I don’t like isolation or quarantine or whatever you want to call it, it gives me a good excuse to lock myself in my room and read to my heart’s content. This book is also one that has been on my radar for quite some time now. It was one of those books I picked up, read the description, and thought “This is right up my alley.” Now let’s talk about Ninth House (not The Ninth House).

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is a survivor. After finding herself in the worst of circumstances, including being the sole survivor a multiple homicide, she is given the chance to join Yale’s freshman class, but this new opportunity comes at a price. Alex is paired up with the charming but arrogant Darlington who is tasked with guiding her through Yale’s secret societies. These societies thrive on magic and are home to many powerful figures. When a girl is murdered and Darlington goes missing, Alex must delve deep into the Eight Houses where she learns of the forbidden magic they use that brings back the dead and preys on the living.

Lately, I have had a fascination with the dark academia genre of novels and Ninth House is a perfect fit for the category. I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of mystery and magic, all wrapped up in the politics of higher education. The main character, Alex, initially annoyed me but she becomes more sympathetic and charming, while still maintaining a deadly presence about her. I enjoyed the way that Bardugo set up her magical world with clear rules among the sensory rich and disturbing acts of magic. This book wasn’t too graphic or gory but did have just enough to make the stakes higher. Overall, I did enjoy this novel and would recommend it, whether you enjoy dark academia or not. (Note: I have not read any of Leigh Bardugo’s books so I can’t make a fair comparison there but let me know if they are worth checking out. I have plenty of time.)

Warning to readers: This novel does contain scenes of sexual assault and violence.

The world must bow before the strong ones: Reviewing Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

Hello everyone! I hope you all are doing well and staying healthy during this time. My university is moving to online classes at least until the end of March. While it is scary, I prefer caution over anything else. The only bright side I am finding is that I can do some catching up on my TBR pile. Why not combat scary with something scarier? I have mentioned previously that Dracula is one of my all time favorite novels so I was very excited to find this gem amongst the other spin-offs. Let’s talk about Dracul.

As a child, Bram Stoker was bedridden with a mysterious illness and his only company was his nanny, Ellen Crone. Ellen Crone, though, is not what she seems. When mysterious deaths begin to happen around town, Bram and his sister Matilda begin to put together a pattern but their nanny disappears. Years later, Matilda reveals her ongoing investigation into Ellen to Bram. Now, as an adult, Bram must confront the mystery of his childhood and the deeper, darker secrets that put everything he knows and loves in dangers.

I was mostly drawn to this novel as it was co-written by Bram Stoker’s great-great-grand nephew. I am normally hesitant with spin-off novels like these but I was thoroughly impressed with this one. It is equal parts creepy, gory, and suspenseful. The writing is great as it hops back and forth through time, increasing the mystery. The first part of the book does drag on a bit, if you ask me but the ending makes it worth the wait. The novel definitely harkens back to the classic horror I love so dearly. Dracul was thrilling and enjoyable for me and any fan of horror literature. I would definitely recommend giving this one a chance, if you are unsure like me. (Just a heads up, though: There is some serious gore in this book so be wary).

To devour what they left behind…:Reviewing The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Hi everybody! I know, I know. It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to finish this novel, but I’m super excited to share this with you. Lately, I’ve been on a historical mystery kick. I feel the genre is very under appreciated. Despite this book taking me forever to read (not because of length, but because I’m lazy), it was absolutely worth my time. Now let’s talk about The Shadow of the Wind.

Daniel Sempere was just a young boy when his father took him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He immediately found himself drawn to The Shadow of the Wind, written by the enigmatic Julian Carax. Being the son of a bookseller, Daniel uses his father’s connections to find more books by Carax. Soon, he finds out that all of Carax’s books have been destroyed and he may have the only remaining book of Carax. Daniel’s search for the truth reveals the dark and tangled web of Barcelona, full of murder, lies, and forbidden love.

Zafon’s twisted and intricate novel is worth the deep dive that requires to read it. Admittedly, it can be a bit of the struggle to keep up with the plot as so many characters are being introduced at every turn, but it all ties together in the end. There are points in this book that made me audibly gasp. Some people might say I’m spoiling the book by saying it has plot twists, but they are amazing plot twists. It is a mystery, after all. That is part of the genre. This novel is immersive, suspenseful, and thoughtful all at once. The atmosphere of Zafon’s depiction of Barcelona in 1945 is enough to pull the reader into the story. The novel has bits and pieces of many other genres, which is what makes it so interesting to read. I highly recommend The Shadow of the Wind to just anyone at all as it has something to satisfy every reader and will keep you hanging on until the very end.

This Is My Design: Reviewing Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Hi everyone! I hope you forgive my absences. I am bogged down with academic reading now that (obviously) has to be a priority. Thank you all so much for 400 subscribers! Wow, I still can’t believe any of you are interested in what I have to say. Since I have your attention, I will be giving you my review of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, which is the novel that first introduced the world to Hannibal Lecter. I am a huge fan of the television show, “Hannibal,” so I had to read one of these novels. Also, since we are creeping towards October, it felt appropriate to do a horror/thriller novel.

Will Graham risked everything in order catch the ingenious and dangerous Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Graham was ready to start a normal life when he was called upon to catch a killer called the Tooth Fairy, who has murdered entire families. In order to find him, Graham must first understand him. Only Hannibal can help him enter the killer’s mind. Will Graham must risk it all, once again, in order to catch this new monster

I had read this novel previously and, upon revisiting it, forgot how genuinely uncomfortable it made me. I mean that in the best way, though. Any good murder mystery novel should give the reader visceral feelings and Harris succeeds at that. Even though Lecter isn’t technically a threat, he still looms over every page of this novel. It feels as though we are watching Will Graham outrun him while still trying to catch the “Tooth Fairy.” Graham and the other “good guys” are relatable and sympathetic while still being morally grey. The novel is wonderfully suspenseful. It is not afraid to reveal the gruesome details. Even in a clinical language, the descriptions of the crimes still give you chills. The cat-and-mouse game keeps you hanging on until the end. I would then recommend Red Dragon as a good fall read for anyone looking for a thrilling and complex mystery.

If you want me to talk more about “Hannibal,” the television show, I will happily create a post about that where we can have a discussion.

The Masks We Wear Betray Us: Reviewing The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Hi everyone! I hope you all missed me. I have finally had some time to read and I am so happy to be talking to you all about this book. This is one of those novels that I picked up, read the back, and said “This is mine.” I have grown up on murder mysteries so I was drawn to this like a magnet. Needless to say, I’m excited to talk about Stuart Turton’s debut novel, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

Evelyn Hardcastle is a young and beautiful heiress who is returning home after nineteen years. She doesn’t know that she will be murdered again and again. Aiden Bishop must solve her murder in order to break this loop. Every time the loop begins, however, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Aiden must fight to save Evelyn and himself before time runs out.

Before I begin, I just want to say I’m going to be pretty vague as I really don’t want to spoil this book. I was absolutely enthralled from page one. I had such a hard time putting this book down. Turton does an amazing job inserting twists and turns that will make you stop in order to put together the puzzle he presents. It’s also very interesting to have a main character who has to rely on the character traits of others. Aiden Bishop is somehow personable protagonist with no discernible personality traits. It’s a wild ride, needless to say. If I were to best describe this novel, it would be a combination of Groundhogs Day, Freaky Friday, and an Agatha Christie novel. The novel is so full of surprises that I’m afraid to talk about it anymore. I highly recommend reading The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle as you will get whiplash from the plot. I absolutely love this novel and, as a huge murder mystery fan, this was definitely an exciting new take on the genre.

Outlast the Truth: Reviewing In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Hi everybody! I’ve been on one hell of reading kick lately. I did a full KonMari on my bookshelves recently. While it was difficult to let go of my precious books, I was able to make room for some new ones, including this one. It is also perfect timing since today is International Women’s Day. Ruth Ware has been getting a lot of hype lately so here in my review of her novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood.

Nora Shaw is an up and coming crime writer living a quiet life in London. One day, she gets an odd email. It ends up being an invite to the bachelorette party of a former friend she hasn’t seen in years. Nora, to her own surprise, decides to go. She arrives upon a glass house in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by one friend and five strangers. Soon, the group find themselves in the middle of a shocking and violent tragedy. Nora must then piece together her fractured memories in order to save herself and solve the case.

Like I mentioned before, Ware has been getting a lot of hype recently and I can definitely see the reason why she is so liked. She definitely falls into the same writing style as Gillian Flynn. In a Dark, Dark Wood has a good amount of suspense. I did enjoy the main character, Nora, as she felt imperfect in a realistic way. I liked how the novel was paced as the chapters went back and forth between the weekend and what happened afterwards. There were some interesting plot points but others that felt a little shaky to me. I didn’t find this novel “scary” by any means. I mention that because a lot of the reviews talked about how it was so “scary” or “creepy.” It did kind of feel like a slightly less intense version of a Gillian Flynn novel. That, however, did not make it any less entertaining. I still wanted to find out what happened at the end, even if it was a tiny bit obvious. The writing is solid and the plot is well thought out. If you are a fan of mysteries and thrillers, I would go ahead and say to try out In a Dark, Dark Wood.

It’s Growing Something New: Reviewing Annihilation (Book One of the Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff Vandermeer

Hi everyone! It has been a hot minute since I have actually done a book review. I finally sat down and just powered through this particular novel since it is shorter. I will now tell you all about Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer.

Area X sprouted from the ruins of a civilization and has been steadily reclaiming the land over the years. Many expeditions have tried to explore this mysterious new biosphere but have ended in death and disaster. The twelfth expedition, made up of four women, have set out to find the answers that the others couldn’t find. As they venture deeper and deeper into Area X, they come to realize that there is something thriving and it has deadly intentions.

This short and fast-paced novel offered an interesting mix of science fiction and mystery. Vandermeer’s writing style and narrative choices are certainly intriguing. Told through the eyes of a character only known as the biologist, her telling of the events is scientific and precise but also vague and ominous. Every step of her journey only offers more questions than answers. As a reader, I found myself exploring along with her. I wanted to put together the puzzle pieces of why Area X was so strange. The novel definitely reminded me of The Martian. I loved the eerie and beautiful descriptions. The plot was full of suspense that made you want more. If you’re a fan of science fiction and/or adventure, then I would definitely reckoned Vandermeer’s Annihilation. I am certainly interested in reading the rest of the Southern Reach trilogy.

Bookish Mysteries and Conspiracies

Hi everyone! I’m heading out of town this week so hopefully I’ll get some reading done. Since it is October, however, I decided to compile a list for you all about real life crimes and mysteries surrounding famous authors and/or their novels. I’ll leave links with more information if you find yourself intrigued. Let me know if I missed any or if you have a favorite. I love true crime as much as I love fictional crime.

The Life, Death, and Drama of Edgar Allan Poe: Poe, my favorite author lived a life that was just as macabre as any of his stories. Did he predict a real life ship wreck? Was his death a suicide, an accident, or a murder? Who paid tribute to him years after his death? To this day, we may never know the real story behind the godfather of gothic fiction.

The Disappearance (and Discovery) of Agatha Christie: In December of 1926, famous mystery author Agatha Christie disappeared in the early hours of the morning for eleven days. She remembered absolutely nothing and was found in perfectly good health. Many have speculated as to what happened but no one knows the answer except Christie herself. (Note: Doctor Who did an episode about Christie’s disappearance called “The Unicorn and The Wasp.” I highly recommend it.)

Did Shakespeare Even Exist?: This is quite possibly of one the oldest and most famous author related-mysteries. Is it possible that the greatest playwright of all time never actually existed? Theories range from Shakespeare being a collective group of people, a single female author, or even the pseudonym of Sir Francis Bacon. The topic is still up for debate.

The Voynich Manuscript aka The Most Mysterious Book Ever Written: Named after its discoverer, the Voynich Manuscript is a codex written in an unknown language and filled with illustrations that seem to be of an alien planet. Many have tried to decipher this book but no one has been successful. Who (or what) wrote the Voynich Manuscript?

The Disappearance of Ambrose Bierce: Years before Christie disappeared and reappeared, Ambrose Bierce took a trip to Mexico and never returned. Most known for his psychological horror stories, Bierce captured America’s imagination during the Civil War then he vanished into thin air. No one knows what happened to him and his body was never found.

Was Albert Camus Killed by the KGB?: Albert Camus, author of The Stranger and a Nobel Prize winner, was killed in a car accident on his way to visit his family, or was he? A new theory has emerged that Camus was killed by the KGB after publishing an article that criticized Russia’s military. Is there more to Camus’ death or was it simply a tragic accident?

The Book Sent by the Angels Themselves: John Dee, famous mathematician and occultist, found the Book of Soyga. This manuscript consists of 40,000 randomly distributed letters and, when decoded, reveals magic spells, astrological charts, and alchemy. Dee claims to have contacted the archangel Uriel in order to reveal the secrets of the book. Also, legend has it that anyone who decodes the book will perish in two-and-a-half years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Build God, Then We’ll Talk: Reviewing Sleeping Giants (Book One of the Themis Files) by Sylvain Neuvel

Hi everyone! First of all, I want to congratulate myself for posting two days in a row. Second of all, the title is stolen from a Panic! At the Disco song (which they probably took from something else) and I’m not ashamed because it works really well with the review. I am really excited to talk about this particular novel. A lot of reviews compared it to The Martian and World War Z, two books which I love. It pretty much hit all of the marks on something I would be interested in. Now I shall tell you more about Sleeping Giants. 

When she was a child, Rose Franklin stumbled across a giant metal hand in her town of Deadwood, South Dakota. Years later, Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist who dedicates her life to finding the mystery behind the origin of the hand and how it works. Dr. Franklin and her team must work against powerful forces stronger than any government in order to learn whether the world will ever be the same after discovering that we are not alone in the universe.

The first thing I want to say about this novel is I love the narrative style. Like The Martian and World War Z, it is told through things like interviews, articles, and journal entries. Some people don’t particularly like this style of story but I really enjoy it as it makes me feel immersed in the story. Sleeping Giants felt like diving down a rabbit hole of conspiracies. It felt so real and unreal at the same time as the story navigates between the science fiction elements and the global political crises caused by the discovery of the hand. I find conspiracy theories fascinating so this really piqued my interest. The writing itself felt very real. The transcripts of the interviews helped to develop the characters as well the story itself. I liked the balance between the forces driving the plot. Neuvel doesn’t sacrifice character development for the sake of the alien element. There’s more than enough humanity in this novel. What is also nice about the novel is it doesn’t get involved with jargon to the point that you don’t even know what anyone is talking about. Since most of the characters are involved in science, the military, and the government, it can get overwhelming at times but the unnamed interviewer helps to serve as the one who clarifies all of it. Speaking of that, the book has an overall suspenseful feel as everyone has their own agenda and it makes the story even more interesting. I found myself not wanting to put the book down at all. If you couldn’t tell by my long review, I am absolutely going to recommend Sleeping Giants and I look forward to getting my hands on the rest of the series.