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.

To Russia with Lust: Reviewing The Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Hello everyone! I finally have a book review to give you and I am so happy to share another nerdy side of me. I have mentioned before that I love mystery/thriller novels but I have never mentioned that I love spy novels. In fact, I love the spy genre in general. I’ve seen almost all of the James Bond movies and I do have a few of the original novels but I haven’t gotten to reading them yet. I had a bit of a phase when I was younger where I was really into spy stuff. It kind of stuck with me after all of these years. I will now talk to you about The Red Sparrow, the first book of the Red Sparrow trilogy.

Dominika Egorova, wanting to become the perfect spy for Russia, finds herself in the infamous “Sparrow School” where she trains in the art of seduction. Nathaniel Nash, wanting to break away from his family’s legacy, decides to join the CIA and is caught in the middle of a new kind of Cold War. The two promising young spies are pushed into the dangerous world of sexpionage, double agency, and secret alliances. Dominika and Nate must find a way to survive their missions and save their countries.

Spy novels have somewhat fallen out of trend but Matthews brings a new angle to the genre as he worked for the CIA. This knowledge certainly shows in the writing and I found it fascinating. I enjoyed the character of Dominika. She has synesthesia, which plays in really well with her skill set. I definitely found myself rooting for her throughout the book. Nate was also an enjoyable character. He was charm but he isn’t meant to just be James Bond knock off. Some of the pacing in the book was a little off when it gets to chapters that are solely about different government officials meeting but I guess that is where some of the realism plays in. Spying is not that glamorous of a job. I do feel obligated to give a warning that there are a few scenes of sexual violence in this novel that were a bit hard to read at times. There’s also a lot of jargon that I didn’t quite understand but I appreciated the use of it. Other than that, I really enjoyed this novel and definitely enjoyed unravelling all of the mysteries. I’m going to go ahead and recommend The Red Sparrow if you are interested in spy novels. I will definitely try to read the rest of the trilogy as I cannot get enough of this stuff.

Note: I haven’t seen the movie yet. I’ve heard mixed reviews, though. If you’ve seen it, let me know if it is worth it.

 

Current Favorites: Movie Edition

Hi everyone! I currently don’t have any new books to read and a sprained ankle. But you know what I do have? I have passion for movies. I’m actually currently taking a class called Hollywood Heroines: Women in Film for my senior seminar. This got me thinking and I wanted to share with you some of my favorite mainstream and/or indie films. While I do have a ton of movies I love, I’m just going to talk about five more recent films I’ve seen that struck me in a particular manner. I hope you enjoy this list. Let me know if you have seen any of these and what you thought about them.

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The Shape of Water – (Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, 2017)

A good majority of you readers have probably heard of this movie as it has been picking up plenty of award show buzz. If you haven’t, then I will give you a quick synopsis.

A young mute woman named Elisa works as a cleaning lady at a secret government lab. When she encounters a mysterious humanoid fish creature who is being studied, she and the creature form an intimate bond. Elisa decides she must save him from the sinister government agency who have bigger plans.

Now I am a huge fan of Guillermo Del Toro’s work. I was certainly interested by the bizarre and intriguing premise. Also, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I had read a lot about the sex scenes in this movie. Regardless, it is still a fairy tale-like and romantic movie with plenty of beautiful visuals. With a balance between the otherworldly and the realistic, The Shape of Water is certainly an experience that the viewer can lose themselves in with its romance and fantasy.

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Colossal – Directed by Nacho Vigalondo, 2016

I stumbled across this movie after reading a review in Entertainment Weekly. It sounded interesting but I didn’t think I would get around to watching it. I ended up getting a hold of it and decided to watch it on a whim. I certainly didn’t regret it.

Gloria, an unemployed party girl, is kicked out her apartment by her exhausted boyfriend and decides to return to her hometown. Once she returns home, a monster appears in Seoul, South Korea. Gloria begins to realize that she is more connected to this phenomenon than she thought.

I know that a lot of people are not fans of Anne Hathaway but I have a feeling you might change your mind. She portrays probably the most messy and realistic character I’ve seen. The movie does an excellent job reworking the classic monster movie. It’s a nice balance of dark comedy, drama, and sci-fi. Give this one a try if you get a chance.

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Arrival – Directed by Dennis Villenueve, 2016

This one is pretty well-known for being snubbed severely during the 2016 movie awards seasons. At first, I didn’t think much of it until I was given the opportunity to watch this movie. Afterwards, I also became angry that this movie got snubbed. I also don’t really remember what the movie was up against. Regardless, here’s the premise:

Twelve stranger spacecrafts land on Earth and no one can figure out why they are here. Linguistics professor Louise Brooks is recruited to figure out a way to communicate with the inhabitants of the space crafts. Soon, she discovers a message that no one was expecting.

This one isn’t your typical alien invasion movie. There isn’t any horror to be found, nor is it overly preachy about the self-destructive nature of humanity or something like that. Instead, this movie focuses on creating an understanding between humans and aliens. What if the aliens have something important to say? Why is language so important? Arrival explores these various themes with its excellent story telling. (There is also a really good plot twist at the end that I won’t spoil.)

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The Accountant – Directed by Gavin O’Connor, 2016

I’m a fan of action movies but they tend to get repetitive over the years. When I find one that stands out, I get excited. I do realize that Ben Affleck has been rather controversial recently so I don’t mean to promote him too much but, just hear me out about this movie.

Math savant Christian Wolff has made a career on cooking the books for crime families, mobs, and terrorists organizations. When the US Treasury closes in on him, he must undo the damage he’s done and save a new friend.

I have to give this movie props for having a unique main character. Christian has high-functioning autism and I felt that Affleck portrayed it in a realistic manner. It does somewhat perpetuate the myth that people with autism tend to be savants but it is not unrealistic by any means. It’s refreshing to see a protagonist who breaks the classic “Macho Man” role. If you are a fan of John Wick, then you will definitely like this movie. It is clever, action packed, and stands out in the action genre. I recommend you give this one a chance.

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Logan – Directed by James Mangold, 2017

I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a huge superhero fan. I love MCU and all of the DC tv shows. The DC movies have yet to completely win me over but Wonder Woman was fantastic. Anyways, I was definitely sad to see Hugh Jackman retire Wolverine but I was at least glad that they gave him and Sir Patrick Stewart such an amazing exit. This movie is currently getting some much deserved Oscar buzz.

In the near future, an aging and reluctant Wolverine is charged with taking care of Professor X, who is going senile. Their quite lives are quickly upended when a young mutant arrives with dark forces following close behind.

The first thing I love about this movie was that they made it R-rated which was perfect for the character of Wolverine. This movie has some great Easter eggs for X-Men fans and give the perfect finale for such iconic characters. It’s touching, violent, and profound. Logan is an experience for any comic book fan as it takes the genre in a different direction that doesn’t rely on heavy special effects or anything too convoluted. (Not that I have a problem with that.)

A New Kind of Human, A New Kind of Murder: Reviewing Lock In by John Scalzi

Hi everyone! I am very excited to be ticking off another book off of my TBR list with another Scalzi novel. If you are interested, you can check out my review of his other novel Redshirts. This novel also ends my mystery novel kick but this one is a bit different as it falls more in the sci-fi category. You will see in a moment when I talk more about this novel. The terminology is a bit confusing so bear with me but I will do my best to explain everything. Anyways, here is my review of Lock In by John Scalzi.

A dangerous virus, named “Haden’s Syndrome,” swept the globe and caused sufferers to become “locked in.” They were completely aware and alive but couldn’t move or respond. A quarter of a century later, sufferers of Haden’s Syndrome (now just called Hadens) have found ways to function in the world through Integrators – humans who can help Hadens experience the world – or “threeps” – humanoid robots. Rookie FBI Agent Chris Shane (a Haden himself) and his veteran partner Leslie Vann are assigned to the case of an Integrator who appears to have murdered his Haden. As Shane and Vann follow the trails, they come to realize that this is a bigger mystery that involves Hadens and non-Hadens alike. The two find themselves in the middle of a conflict between the “old” human culture and the rising human subculture created by Haden’s Syndrome.

I want to say in advance that the terminology is a bit confusing at first. Scalzi was kind enough to create a little “cheat sheet” in the beginning of the novel in order to clarify his world building. It took me about four chapters before I became familiar with the slang but, after that, I could read the novel with ease. That’s also a good warning for any readers who may not be too familiar with science fiction and the world building in there. However, if you are an avid science fiction reader, then this novel should definitely go on your shelf as should any Scalzi novel. The world he creates is very intricate but cleverly crafted. Scalzi’s characters seem to thrive on their own in this strange world where one percent of the population must rely on other humans or robots in order to lead a normal existence. His main characters, Shane and Vann, have good chemistry and character development. As the story is told through Shane’s point of view, it gives the reader a better change to become familiar with the world of Haden’s. The dialogue is witty and realistic, with all of the new terms flowing seamlessly. There’s something a little cyber-punk about this novel that I enjoyed in particular. If you like murder and technology, then Lock In is the novel for you. Scalzi strikes again with his unique and hilarious writing along with his mashup of mystery and science fiction.

All My Soul Within Me Burning: Reviewing The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

Hi everyone! I am so glad to be bringing you another book review so soon. I practically raced to finish this book today. As you might know, I am a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe and I have been absolutely fascinated with his odd life as well as death. I saw the title of this book and could not resist. I promise not to be biased in this review but it does combine a lot of my favorite elements. I will now tell you my thoughts on The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl.

Quentin Hobson Clark, a young lawyer living in Baltimore, is devastated by the death of his favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe. Clark decides to take it upon himself to clear Poe’s name and solve the mystery behind the bizarre death. Quentin soon realizes that there is much more to Poe’s death than he imagined as it leads him to international police agents, assassinations, and the horror of the Baltimore slave trade. Clark finds soon that he must solve the mystery of Poe’s death or else he may befall the same fate.

At first, when I was reading this novel, I was afraid that it may simply lead back to the factual evidence of Poe’s death, which is still unsolved to this day. Instead, I found myself enthralled with the twists and turns that the plot took me on. The pacing is slow to begin with but I soon began to realize it was the beginning of a roller coaster. The novel avoids getting too convoluted but still provides enough suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat. I was surprised by how intense this novel got but I absolutely love that. This novel is most definitely in the vein of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories with its gothic elements and atmospheric writing. I am so glad I stumble upon this novel. You don’t need to be a Poe fan but, if you are a Poe fan like me, then I highly recommend Matthew Pearl’s The Poe Shadow as your next mystery/thriller novel.

Current Favorites: Podcasts Edition (Part 2)

Hi everyone! I realized that it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts. Therefore,  I decided to do another blog more of the podcasts I’ve discovered. Personally, I like to listen to podcasts while I’m working and I’m sure some of you like to do the same. Here are some suggestions if you’re looking for a new podcast or two to enjoy.

Alice Isn’t Dead – From the creators of Welcome to Night Vale, “Alice Isn’t Dead” follows the journey of our unnamed narrator as she decides to become a truck driver in order to find her wife Alice, who she once presumed to be dead. If you’re looking for a perfectly twisted and weird serial then this podcast is for you. I really enjoy this one, as I am a mystery junkie. You don’t have to be a fan of Night Vale in order to enjoy this series but it definitely holds up to the same level of weirdness if that’s what you’re looking for.

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Crime in Sports – Are you a sports fan? Well I’m not but this one definitely peaked my interest. Created by the same hosts as “Small Town Murder,” this podcasts explores the lives of athletes from various sports who fell from grace so hard that it’s mind boggling. You don’t need to know anything about sports in order to enjoy this podcast but, if you do have sports background, then this podcast is definitely for you.

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Harry Potter and the Sacred Text – I had to include a Harry Potter related podcast on this list and this is the one that appeals to my inner English Major. Join Vanessa and Casper as they delve into the series and analyze it chapter by chapter. This podcast provides a meaningful and thoughtful conversation about the magical books we all know and love.

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Spirits – It’s time for some boozy talk about mythology, legends, and folk lore. For you fans of all things paranormal, supernatural, and alcoholic, then I recommend this podcast. It’s fairly light-hearted but still informative. Grab some wine and sit back as your hosts discuss legends from all over the world.

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Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know – Get your tin foil hats ready before you listen to this podcasts that explores the strangest and most interesting conspiracies. Whether it’s a government cover up, alien invasion, or questionable death, this podcast covers it all. You might be just a little more paranoid after listening to one of these episodes but, I guarantee, you will be fascinated the entire time.

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That’s my part two. There are some more podcasts coming out in spring that I’m looking forward to that I might do individual reviews on. In the meanwhile, let me know if there’s any podcasts you enjoy that I might not know about or if you like any of these ones.