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.

Alice Isn't Dead

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.

crimeinsports_300

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.

Harry-Potter-and-the-Sacred-Text

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.

spirits

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.

stuff they don't want you to know

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.

 

 

 

We Never Stop Burning: Reviewing Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

Hello everyone. As I am soon heading back to college, I am using as much time as I have left to do some leisure reading. This particular novel as been on my TBR list for a while now and I even managed to get a signed copy. I’ve become more of a Krysten Ritter fan after watching Marvel’s Jessica Jones, which I highly recommend. Celebrity written books tend to be looked down upon as they are either hit-or-miss unless it’s an autobiography of some kind but I let my bias for Ms. Ritter guide me to this novel. So, I will now tell you about her debut novel, Bonfire. 

Environmental lawyer Abby Williams had spent a decade trying to escape from her small town and reestablish herself. She is forced to confront the past when a case involving a big company, Optimal Plastics, takes her right back to where she came from. The case becomes deeper and stranger when Abby finds a connection to the disappearance of her former best friend, Kaycee Mitchell. Abby finds her self struggling to keep her mind together as she is sucked back into her not-so-quiet hometown. With the weight a conspiracy on her shoulders, Abby Williams must solve these seemingly serrate mysteries in order to fix her small town.

You all know at this point that I’m a sucker for a good mystery novel and Bonfire definitely fulfilled this. Ritter’s prose is realistic and vivid with hints of snark and sentiment. The way that all of the mysteries tie together is satisfying, as well as how the main character’s arc is completed. Ritter doesn’t hold back on the emotional side of this story but balances it out with the technical, legal aspect. Sometimes the conversations of legal jargon can weigh the story down but it’s not enough to throw off the pacing of the story. Some of the side characters were a little flat but, again, it didn’t throw off the story. If you are a fan of Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins, then I definitely recommend Bonfire for you. Krysten Ritter’s literary debut is a strong one with plenty of twists, turns, and suspense that will keep any mystery novel-lover turning the pages.

Very Few of Us are What We Seem: Reviewing Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Hi everyone. I am back and I’m going to give you my first book review of 2018. The only benefit of the freezing cold weather is it gives me more motivation to read. I have mentioned in the past that I am a big fan of mystery novels so I was very excited to read my first Agatha Christie novel. This one seemed appropriate as a movie adaptation came out last month/year. Anyways, before I ramble on, I will give you my thoughts on Murder on the Orient Express  by Agatha Christie.

The famous Orient Express was making its usually journey when it is stopped by a snowdrift. In the morning, one of its passengers, the millionaire Edward Ratchett is found dead with over a dozen stab wounds. Detective Hercule Poirot must take matters into his own hands as he tries to uncover which of the other passengers in the murderer. Surrounded by Ratchett’s enemies, Poirot must work quickly before the murderer takes another victim on the Orient Express.

Being that this is my first Christie novel, I was not entirely sure what to expect. Now, that I have read it I must say that I enjoyed this a lot more than other mystery novels I have read. The pacing of the novel was steady and rarely stopped for anything other than the main plot. This focus is beautifully woven into the character of Poirot, who was refreshing to read compared to more fast-thinking or gritty fictional detectives. As a reader, I felt that it gave me an opportunity to “solve” the crime myself. It reminded me a lot of a giant riddle but I enjoyed that aspect as I love solving complicated riddles and puzzles. I didn’t feel as though I was just waiting to the end for the conclusion but that I was able to come up with at least part of the conclusion myself. (No spoilers, I promise.) In the end, I really enjoyed Murder on the Orient Express and I will definitely pick up another Christie novel in the future.

Note: There is a really good Doctor Who episode about Agatha Christie that I recommend you watch.

From the Beginning and into the Unknown: Reviewing Origin by Dan Brown

Hi everyone! I didn’t think I would be posting so soon but I managed to get a hold of a book that I’d wanted to review for a while now. Since I have read (a majority of) Dan Brown’s latest novel Origin, I decided to post an unconventional review. This won’t be my standard format as I decided I want to highlight some of the issues I took with the novel and tell you about how I think certain aspects of the novel could have been different. I have read the other novels in this particular series (I don’t think this series has a name so I’m just going to call it the Robert Langdon series) and I wanted to talk about how this one separates itself from the others. Just a note, I’m not going to debate the ethics or themes of this novel. I am simply going to talk about the elements of the novel itself that worked or didn’t work. Without further ado, here is my list of grievances with Dan Brown’s Origin. 

The Overall Plot: I have always been a fan of treasure hunting stories. That is what got me into Dan Brown’s novels in the first place. With this being the fifth book in a series based on historical scavenger hunts, you would think that Brown would select a different era of history to focus on in a different part of the world. Instead, he gives this weird match-up of hypermodern settings with ancient symbols thrown in. Along with that, the overall plot revolves around a literal face-off between an ultra-conservative bishop with a grudge and a billionaire futurist with the secret that will change religion forever. Brown has taken any subtlety with his “science versus religion” subplot and decided to make it front and center as the main plot. With the book’s title, I assumed that maybe the book would have to do with very early history and that might have been interesting to solve a mystery dating to the time before Christ.

The Characters: Overall, I enjoy the character of Robert Langdon. Where he could have easily been overly manly or annoying, Brown chose to make him more reserved and humble. My problem with his character is that Langdon never seems to change that much throughout the novels. While he is still a stable leading character, he lacks the development that I would like to see. Any of Langdon’s trauma stems from his childhood fears as opposed to anything that happened in the latest novels. It would have been interesting to see how Langdon handles any of his unintentional fame but, instead, he mentions these past events in the same way a person remembers a weekend vacation. The female lead, Ambra Vidal, is a passable female lead but she is kind of an amalgamation of the previous female characters who only sort of made an impact on the novels. It would have been nice to see at least one of the previous female characters brought back in some interesting way. Honestly, even if that female character was a love interest, I would still accept it because I need more female characters in these novels that don’t just hang around for the adventure then split with no explanation. The billionaire futurist, Edmond Kirsch, just comes across as arrogant for the sake of arrogance. The “villain,” Bishop Valdespino, is pretty forgettable as is his main lackey, Admiral Avila. The characters in this novel just seem to represent the furthest extremes with Langdon there to bridge the gap.

The Writing/Dialogue: Brown’s writing is good but it doesn’t exceed above good in this novel. Reading this book felt more like reading a text book with how every other chapter seems to begin with some long paragraph of history and statistics. The history no longer feels as integrated into the novel as it once did. The prose wasn’t nearly as smooth. The dialogue also felt as though Brown was trying to hard to be topical. Characters reference “fake news,” the Frozen movie, Uber, and other modern day topics in ways that just feel cheesy and awkward. The writing struggles to combine fact and prose in a cohesive manner.

Themes: I know I said I wouldn’t knock on the themes of this novel but I do have some thoughts. With the title of the novel being Origin, I was under the impression there would be an overall theme of beginnings that would help round out the plot. Unfortunately, the only beginning that matters in the novel is the beginning of religion or humanity or something really far-reaching like that. Instead of exploring a more narrow “origin,” Brown wants to tackle the complicated question of “where did people come from and how far are we going to go?” While the other novels focuses on slivers of history, this once wants to discuss the history of history. Everyone is going for meta these days and Brown seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. The whole idea of challenging your beliefs is also thrown in the most extreme direction.

Conclusion: All in all, this was not the installment I wanted to see in the Robert Langdon series. It is not that I consider this book “unreadable” but I felt it could have been done differently. You can read this book but I wouldn’t recommend putting this on the top of your TBR list. Those who like Brown are not going to enjoy this novel as they enjoyed the others. If you are looking to read a Dan Brown book in this series, I would recommend The Da Vinci Code or The Lost Symbol. Angels and Demons and Inferno are both good as well but they aren’t my favorites.

Note: The picture I’ve used for the feature image is an actual statue from the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain where the novel takes place.

Counting Stars, Cars,and Prime Numbers: Reviewing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

Since Thanksgiving is approaching soon, I decided that I wanted to tell you all something I’m thankful for. I’m thankful that we live in a world where more and more people are getting the representation that they deserve in the media. Mark Haddon’s novel is one example. This is the last book I have to read for my YA Literature class and I was surprised by how much this novel sucked me in. I will now tell you my thoughts about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. 

Christopher John Francis Boone sees the world differently than everyone else. He can count all the prime numbers, he knows all the capitals of every country, and he wants to be an astronaut. He has a hard time connecting to people but loves dogs. When his neighbor’s dog is found dead, Christopher decides to take the case into his own hands like his favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes. Soon, Christopher finds more secrets than he bargained for as he explores the world in his own unique way.

What I really enjoyed in particular about this novel is the authentic voice. The narrator, Christopher, has Asperger’s and has a particular way of viewing the world that makes you, as the reader, think more about how other people see things. I can’t speak for everyone but, in my experience, I have known people on the autism spectrum who are a lot like Christopher. Haddon creates a moving and heart-wrenching story that has poignancy and warmth. I found that I couldn’t put this book down. The voice feels so authentic in this day where things like autism are easily misunderstood. I recommend this book for anyone looking for such a unique narration and I hope it gives you some understanding of what the world is like for those whose minds work differently.

Dead Men Tell Tales: Reviewing Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

Hi everyone. First of all, I’m really proud of doing two reviews in one weekend. Since Thanksgiving break is coming up for me, I’ve had a little bit of time to catch up on my reading. This book stood out to me in particular because I remember watching the movie adaptation when I was pretty young. It was the first R-rated movie I had ever seen. It’s certainly not the most intense movie but, for an 11-year-old, it was wild. We can all just admit that we went through a vampire phase in the early to mid – 2000s. I remember being obsessed with Twilight for a time. Dracula is still one of my favorite novels.I decided I wanted to read something in between Dracula and Twilight so I will now tell you what I thought about Interview with the Vampire. 

A young man named Louis was riddled with guilt over his brother’s death when the mysterious Lestat appeared in his life. Louis soon falls victim to Lestat’s charms and finds himself transformed into a vampire. He is pulled down into a dark world of the undead and must navigate the dangerous society with the young Claudia by his side. After hundreds of years, Louis decides it is finally time to reveal his secrets to a young man and hold back nothing.

Like I said above, It’s been a while since I’ve read a vampire book and decided to give this one a shot. Anne Rice has written some of the most popular vampire novels. After reading this novel, I can see why. Louis makes for a great narrator as he is sympathetic and a bit of an underdog. He’s the closest thing to a protagonist in a book where there are little to no “good” characters. Normally, a book with one character talking would be boring to me but I found myself enjoying it more than I thought. Lestat is one of the more intriguing antagonists with his charismatic and intense nature. Claudia was even creepier in the novel than she is in the movie but it makes for a good horror element. While the book isn’t super violent or graphic outside of what you might expect with all of the blood drinking, it has enough to make it intense. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in a supernatural novel, specifically a vampire one. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and I would read it again.

Note: Anne Rice is a bit of a controversial figure but her life is pretty interesting so I’m going to leave a link to her wikipedia page if you’re interested in reading more about her.

As Above, So Below: Reviewing Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I bet that you’ve been waiting for me to talk about how much I love Neil Gaiman’s novels. Well, I’m back to tell you about another one of his novels. I meant to write about this one a while ago but I forgot. I have since re-read the book and will now share with you my thoughts on the strange world of Neverwhere. 

Richard Mayhew was doing pretty well for himself with a nice job and wonderful fiancee  in London. All of that changed when he stumbled across a dying girl on the sidewalk. Soon, Richard finds himself trapped in the bizarre and macabre world of London Below where he must fight to get his life back and reach the surface against all odds.

Neil Gaiman is the master of creating vivid settings and characters with just his words. Neverwhere is a wild and wonderful take on the classic “Alice in Wonderland”-type story. Gaiman’s wicked sense of humor shines through in this whimsical novel. Neverwhere is a testament to Gaiman’s world-building abilities. If you are looking for a thrilling and special tale, then I recommend Neverwhere in order to escape from this world to one below.

A Trick Worth Learning: Reviewing The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Wow, I’m posting something other than a book tag. It only took a while but I finally got around to finishing my leisure reading. I do have some required reading that I will be reviewing so keep an eye out for that. In the meanwhile, please enjoy my review of Donna Tartt’s third novel, The Little Friend. 

Twelve years ago, the murder of young Robin Cleve Dufresnes shook the small town of Alexandria, Mississippi. Harriet, his younger sister, decides to take matters into her own hands in order to solve the murder and bring her family closure. Armed with her insufferable stubbornness, keen wit, and favorite novels, Harriet and her loyal friend Hely set out to do what all of the adults failed to do. This coming-of-age story follows the precocious young girl as she explores the town’s dark history in order to solve her brother’s murder.

I thought that The Goldfinch would be my second favorite Tartt novel but The Little Friend took me by surprise. Tartt uses her childhood in Mississippi in order to craft a town that feels all too real. Her young protagonist, Harriet, deserves to be put among the other great female protagonists. The novel has a southern gothic feel with a hint of To Kill a Mockingbird, though it is not a novel about morals necessarily. The Little Friend combines a classic coming-of-age tale with a murder mystery that connects the entire town of Alexandria. Tartt maintains her unique style of writing with her strong characterizations and well-twisted story.