Red Queen

Hoooo, boy. I just don’t even know what to say here. That’s not true. I know exactly what to say, but it’s not good. I really REALLY wanted to like this book. A friend recommended this one to me after learning about my frustration with recent YA books.  So many of them are just awful. Terribly obnoxious main characters, uncreative plots, etc. I was expecting this one to be great. However, I was so disappointed.

Mare is a Red, meaning she has red blood, an is poor and looked down upon, as all Reds are. She is trying to avoid being drafted by the army, so she conconts this crazy plan which doesn’t work. She’s caught by the Silvers, so named because they have silver blood and are wealthy, but in the process she learns she has powers, as many Silvers (but no Reds) do. Here’s the big gaping plot hole: The Silvers decide to tell people she’s a Silver, but didn’t know her true identity and was raised as a Red. Do you see the hole? If she had ever cut herself as a kid, she would immediately know what color her blood is. Assuming she is raised as a Red, wouldn’t one cut to see silver blood make her think “hm, this isn’t what I was expecting…” and then she would have confronted her parents? Because NO ONE wants to be a red when they are really a silver…..

The rest of the book was okay. Mare poses as a Silver for awhile, crazy things happen where the secret Red Guard tries to overthrow the government, Mare is betrayed by someone, then doubly betrayed by another. It’s just ridiculous. Once again, another YA book is hyped and doesn’t live up to the expectation. Once. Again.

Please, readers out there, find me a good series. I’m begging you.

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A Study in Charlotte

I’ve been listening to this book for a couple of months, so I’m going to do my best to remember it well enough to give it a review, but I will simply say this book was so much fun. The premise is a clever one, imagining that Sherlock Holmes and his assistant/caretaker Watson were real people and have modern-day descendants. The story is told from the perspective of James Watson, a new student at a private school in the Northeast. He runs into Charlotte Holmes and the chemistry begins. They strike up an uneasy friendship but are forced into trusting each other due to some unpleasant events that happen on the campus.

Charlotte is stubborn, an addict, but brilliant. Jamie is just trying to figure out what is happening, how involved Charlotte is, and what has happened in Charlotte’s past with the Moriarty family since Charlotte refuses to talk about it at all.  And as Sherlock has his brother, Mycroft, Charlotte has an older brother, Milo, who is smug and annoying, but a fun character.

Charlotte uses her keen sense of perception to follow the clues and solve the crimes. The author, Brittany Cavallaro, wrote a tight plot that kept me guessing. Of course, there were red herrings, as to be expected in a story as this, but the chemistry between Jamie and Charlotte, not romantic, but more like one between the actual Sherlock and Watson was the best part. I had no idea what to expect with this book but really loved it.

Menagerie

Every now and then I read a book that I downloaded from Amazon for free. I’ve found some really great ones like the books by Todd Travis Creatures of Appetite and Trophies The Hail Mary and the Starborn Uprising series (these aren’t currently free, but worth the $5. If you buy the books individually, they may be cheaper) and the first Henry Binns book, 3am, by Nick Pirog. I’ve also read some really horrifying ones like the 314 trilogy and the After the Cure books. In any case, there some really great free books out there. I recommend signing up for Bookbub and Bookscream and Book Riot. Each of these services will email you links to free or deeply discounted books, some of which are current bestsellers!

Menagerie by Kristy Tate is the story of a girl who can talk to animals. This isn’t nearly as bizarre as it sounds. This plot point is woven in fairly well. Lizbet and her mother live on an islolated island and a mysterious visitor arrives. Lizbet wakes up to find her mother near death, bleeding from her head. She’s able to get help, but Lizbet has nowhere to go. Her mother’s true identity is quickly revealed at the hospital, and Lizbet finds an aunt and grandmother she never knew she had. There are parts of the plot involving a romance with a friend of the family, uncovering who her father is, why her aunt hates her so much, selling her grandmother’s ranch, and of course, still being able to talk to animals.

This book was okay. I didn’t love it, but I have read worse when it comes to free books. I think with some editing and fleshing out of the plot and characters this book would be better. If you stumble across it for free, you might as well download it, but don’t get your hopes up.

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson

I’m a bit of a true crime junkie. I really don’t know what this says about me, but I’m not going to dig deep into my psyche to figure it out. I do know that I’m not alone in this fascination. One day, I was listening to my local sports radio station, and they were interviewing a local author named Jeff Guinn. (Yes, I realize this isn’t sports, but they do other stuff to, like win several Marconi awards, so I give them a pass) about his new book about the Jonestown Massacre. During the interview, Guinn mentioned he had also written a book about Charles Manson. I hopped over to Amazon, put both those books on my Kindle wish list, bought the Manson one when it dropped to $1.99, and found a spot for it on the 2018 book challenge in the “book about a villain” category.

I’ve seen prison interviews with Manson and some of his followers. The followers have clearly learned their lesson, ashamed and remorseful, but Manson remained a lunatic. I was intrigued as to how he got to the point of delusion, and this book was a great place to start. Manson had a terrible childhood. Absent father, absent mother, being shuffled around, in and out of trouble, had very little love given to him, on and on. He left home at a young age, trying to make it on his own. He ended up in California with a mission to be a famous songwriter/musician. He was able to latch onto one of the Beach Boys for awhile, but that didn’t work. He got hooked up with a record producer, but that didn’t work, either. Mostly because Manson’s music was awful. However, Manson was a charmer. During the 1960s, everyone was free, using drugs, wandering around, especially in Cali. Manson was charming and persuasive and clever, so he gathered a “Family” and bid them to do his work. Mostly, he had them steal food from dumpsters, but they also sought out wealthy kids with credit cards to join the Family. Charlie was emotionally abusive, especially to the women, but they couldn’t leave him. They were essentially verbally beaten into submission.

Once the Beatles came out with the White Album (side note, not its real name, but universally referred to as such, also my favorite Beatles album), Charlie knew they were speaking directly to him. It was his job to create “Helter Skelter” in the world. As punishment for the record producer not signing him, Charlie sent his followers to the producer’s former residence to create chaos. This is where Sharon Tate (8 months pregnant with Roman Polanski’s baby) lived. She and some friends were brutally murdered. The next murder was of a business owner and his wife. They weren’t famous, but Charlie wanted the police to think the Black Panthers were behind them, so he had them stage the crime scenes.

After much confusion, the Family was discovered after having left evidence behind, and trials were a circus. Some members turned on others to get immunity, but there are still a few in prison. Overall, this was a very well researched, fascinating book. I’ve never read anything about Manson, so I was pleased at how well documented his life was. I highly recommend this one for anyone interested in Manson’s life.

The Outsider

Is it just me or is Stephen King knocking them out of the park as of late? A few sketchy endings aside, some of King’s best work has been in the 2000s.  I loved the Bill Hodges trilogy, 11/22/63, and Sleeping Beauties. He finished the Dark Tower series and gave us a sequel to The Shining. And he puts out a book every 6 months. It’s insane! I’m to the point where I just preorder all his hardback books on Amazon. I own them all, though only a handful of them are first editions, but I don’t care. I’m going to keep buying as long as he keeps writing.

The Outsider starts out as a regular murder mystery with a young boy as the victim. Eyewitnesses identify the local baseball coach and teacher as the murderer. The setting is a small Oklahoma town (albeit fictional, but realistic…trust me) where everyone knows everyone else, so these eyewitnesses are pretty reliable. The problem is that the accused, Terry, has an air-tight alibi. He wasn’t in the area at the time of the murder, corroborated by other teachers and video evidence. However, Terry’s DNA is all over the crime scene. DNA doesn’t lie.

Thankfully, there are some detectives in this town that are determined to make sense of this mess. Terry is a good guy, but something isn’t adding up, so they call in some out-of-town reinforcements to help. This is a good place to say that reading the Bill Hodges trilogy is *strongly* recommended before reading this book. It’s not required; you will still understand what is happening, but you won’t have the full picture unless you’ve read the entire trilogy.

This book takes some crazy twists and turns, but I never felt like the ending was just tacked on randomly like I did with Revival or Under the Dome. The entire plot was headed towards this ending, and as crazy as it was, it made sense to me. Yet again, King has written another hit.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home

Let me preface this by saying I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority on this book. But I didn’t love it. The premise is great. June is 14 and adores her uncle Finn, who happens to be a world-renowned painter.  He’s also dying of AIDS. As his last painting, Finn wants to make a portrait of June and her sister, Greta. After Finn’s death (not really a spoiler, it’s in the Goodreads summary), Finn’s boyfriend, the love of his life, reaches out to June. They are both mourning and need each other.

June and the boyfriend, Toby, form an unlikely bond. All of this is perfectly fine. The plot really didn’t bother me. My big issue with this book is the overused “people keeping secrets” trope. It. Drives. Me. Insane. I just don’t think quality writing should use this as a major plot device. It’s too easy and not very creative. And this ENTIRE book is just people keeping secrets from each other. June and Greta keep secrets from each other. Their mother (Finn’s sister) keeps secrets from them. Finn keeps secrets from everyone. June keeps her friendship with Toby a secret. It is just exhausting. I would much rather read a book about people dealing with grief and being able to lean on each other rather than alone in their grief, not communicating, suffering more.

I know this trope doesn’t bother everyone, but it is a pet peeve of mine. The one books that used this trope and got it right was Everything I Never Told You. And I can’t give you a good reason why it worked in this book. Possibly the writing was more elevated than in most books. Possibly the character’s nationality lead them to keep quiet. Or maybe I was just in the right mood for this book. In any case, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is still worth reading. The story itself is really beautiful.

Horns

We all know how much I love Stephen King. My goal is to read everything he has written. Since he’s so prolific, I’m reading his new ones when they come out, and then trying to catch one or two old ones each year. This year I read The Stand, am currently reading The Outsider, have Insomnia to read next month, and then another new one in the fall, Elevation. When I heard his kid was publishing under a pseudonym (kinda… his name is Joseph Hillstrom King) I was skeptical. However, I appreciated that he kept his real last name out of the picture so he could be judged on his own merit. He has four novels and two short story collections out. Horns is the third book of his I have read. I started with NOS4A2 and that book scared the crap out of me. I recently read The Fireman and enjoyed that a lot. So, when I needed to read a book with a cover I hate, I opened up my kindle, changed it to picture view instead of list view and found Horns. For some reason, my Kindle version has the movie cover. Now, I love Daniel Radcliffe and I’m sure he’s great in this movie, but I really dislike movie covers on books.

Ignatius Perrish wakes up one morning with Horns growing out of his head. He quickly realizes people can see the horns, but quickly forget they are there. He also realizes people tell him their deepest darkest secrets. A year ago, Ig lost his girlfriend. She was raped and murdered, Ig was accused of it but evidence was destroyed, so the police had no choice but to let him go. Ig professed his innocence, but people still think he is guilty. Now that everyone confesses their secrets, Ig realizes some truths from his own family, including who killed his girlfriend. Ig makes it his mission to bring the killer to justice.

Joe Hill does some great writing. He has one novel that I haven’t read, and I will definitely make a point to get to that one. I wouldn’t say Horns is graphically scary, but it is psychologically scary. You really get sucked into Ig’s revenge plot.