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Troubled Blood

I am well aware of the controversy JK Rowling has created. Why she feels the need to double down on this subject is beyond me. However,I I separate artist and work. I always have. A celebrity’s personal life has no bearing on what I read, watch, or listen to. That said, TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN.

This book is the fifth in the Cormoran Strike series. The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, Career of Evil, and Lethal White are the others. I have really enjoyed these books and rarely see the ending coming. Troubled Blood was no exception. At 900+ pages, I flew through this book because it was excellent.

From Goodreads:

Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough — who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974.

Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike.

As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .

The cold case aspect was really interesting, given that many of the people surrounding the case were either dead or near impossible to find. Rowling does an excellent job leaving you hints along the way that become important by the end. Something you think is just a one-off sentence or conversation ends up leading to a major revelation.

If you are turned off of Rowling from this point on, I understand and respect that. However, if you are okay with continuing to read her work, then I highly recommend this series.

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Craven Manor

Once again, this book was recommended by the Books in the Freezer podcast. I’m way behind, but this book was mentioned by a guest on an episode about Indie horror. The premise sounded good, and I like a good haunted house/ghost story, which don’t scare me at all because I don’t believe in ghosts but these are still fun, creepy books to read, especially this time of the year.

From Goodreads:

Some secrets are better left forgotten…

Daniel is desperate for a fresh start. So when a mysterious figure slides a note under his door offering the position of groundskeeper at an ancient estate, he leaps at the chance, even though it seems too good to be true. Alarm bells start ringing when he arrives at Craven Manor. The abandoned mansion’s front door hangs open, and leaves and cobwebs coat the marble foyer. It’s clear no one has lived here in a long time…but he has nowhere else to go.

Against his better judgment, he moves into the groundskeeper’s cottage tucked away behind the old family crypt. But when a candle flickers to life in the abandoned tower window, Daniel realizes he isn’t alone after all. Craven Manor is hiding a terrible secret… One that threatens to bury him with it.

This book was just okay for me, though. I thought the secret was good, the main character was fine, but it just didn’t come together. I felt like 100 pages were missing. I also didn’t understand the main character’s loyalty to anything. If a ghost is haunting me, no matter how sad the ghost is, I’m out. Plain and simple. I don’t need to “help” a ghost. That seemed a bit preposterous. The book is short, and I thought it could have been more developed, overall. The scare factor was minimal, but was sufficiently creepy. To rate as the ladies do on the podcast, this was a room temperature book for sure.

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The Regulators

Ages ago, I read Desperation by Stephen King. I remember it was about the desert and didn’t much like it. I have memories of reading it over the summer while floating around the pool, which might have been better than the book itself. I have also been listening to the Kingcast podcast, where “each episode would focus on a different Stephen King short story or novel and its resulting adaptation. Each episode’s special guest would get to decide which Stephen King adaptation we talked about.” This podcast is hosted by two King junkies who clearly know their stuff.

And in a recent episode, one of them mentioned that The Regulators was the same-ish story of Desperation, but written by Richard Bachman instead of SK. Bachman is SK’s pseudonym he created to publish more books. Back in the day, authors couldn’t publish more than one, maybe two books a year. So King created Bachman to get more books on the market. It was also a test to see if Bachman’s books would be received well without having the King name attached. Bachman’s books are notoriously more violent than King’s books, also.

From Goodreads: There’s a place in Wentworth, Ohio, where summer is in full swing. It’s called Poplar Street. Up until now it’s been a nice place to live. The idling red van around the corner is about to change all that. Let the battle against evil begin. Here come…The Regulators

The entire book, flashbacks aside, takes place in just a couple of hours. Poplar Street is under attack. As the story unfolds, you learn about the neighbors and why this attack is happening. In true King fashion, nothing about the attack is normal. Supernatural events are at play.

I’ve only read a couple of Bachman books, The Long Walk (which I loved) and Rage. My goal to read all of King’s works will include all the Bachman books, of course. I can attest to the fact that this one was really graphic, and the ending, man, Bachman did not mess around. This book was a great one.

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The Other Side of the Door

Thanks Netgalley for this copy!

I’ve never read anything by Nicci French, who I’ve learned is really a husband and wife writing team. Cool! But something about this book make me request it on Netgalley. I wish I could say it was worth the read, but I was really disappointed.

From Goodreads:

Who is more dangerous? An enemy? A friend? Or a lover?

Bonnie Graham stands in the open door of her friend’s apartment. She is alone, except for the dead body lying in a pool of blood on the floor. What happened? What will Bonnie do now? Whom can she turn to? And what role has she played in the murderous events?

Bonnie is a music teacher who has spent a long, hot summer in London rehearsing with a band to play at a friend’s wedding. It was supposed to be fun, but the band members find the complicated knots of their friendships–some old, some new–unraveling as the days themselves unwind. What was meant to be a summer of happiness, love, and music turns deadly as lovers betray one another, passions turn murderous, and friendship itself becomes a crime. Everyone tells lies. But is anyone prepared to tell the truth to uncover a murderer?

Nicci French, the author of eleven internationally bestselling novels including Killing Me SoftlyCatch Me When I Fall, and Losing You, delivers a sexy, intricate thriller about the temptation of secrets, the weight of lies, and the price of betrayal and suspicion.

The story is told in alternating Before and After chapters, before the murder and after. In the before chapters, you get to know Bonnie, the band she has haphazardly put together, and her friends and relationships. In the After chapters, you learn about the murder, namely who and why, and the aftermath and impact it has on Bonnie.

The characters were obnoxious. Every single one of them was awful, aside from Bonnie’s former student Joakim, who was a bright spot. Every other character lacked any kind of conscience, self-awareness, or moral compass. Because of this, I didn’t care about them. I kept reading to see all the secrets revealed, but the reasoning behind the murder and aftermath was just ridiculous. I was hoping for an interesting thriller, but this one didn’t deliver.

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The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

As much as I love horror, I’ve never read a Grady Hendrix book. I admit that I judged his books by the cover (and title, really). I expected them to be campy and cheesy and ridiculous. What I found was quite the opposite, though. This book was awesome, simple as that. I cannot wait to read his others now.

From Goodreads:

Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.

I grew up in and currently live in the south. I know people that are exactly like these characters. Anything out of the ordinary is immediately rejected. Several of the characters are super religious, so anything they don’t perceive as Christian-like, isn’t given a second thought, which is a major plot point in this book as well. The gross factor was pretty high in places. There’s one scene (this isn’t a spoiler) where a cockroach climbs into a person’s ear. Ever since seeing Star Trek Wrath of Khan as a child where the thing crawls into the guy’s ear, I’ve had a phobia of this very event. The cockroach scene almost sent me over the edge. Gah. But I flew through this tightly-written, creative, excellent book. Highly recommend.

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Black House

As I’m making my way through SK’s back catalog, I learned that this one was a sequel to The Talisman, so I had to make sure and read them both this year. King doesn’t write many sequels, so revisiting old friends is fun. He has some series like The Dark Tower and Mr. Mercedes. And, of course, Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining. However, any student of his work knows that his books exist in a multiverse. Books crossover in seemingly odd ways. For example, there’s a tiny reference to The Stand in one of the Dark Tower books. Characters appear in other books, references to one book will be in another book. It’s like his own version of Easter eggs. This book is another example of that, although it’s not hidden at all. The connection is overt, and I loved it.

From Goodreads: Twenty years ago, a boy named Jack Sawyer travelled to a parallel universe called The Territories to save his mother and her Territories “twinner” from a premature and agonizing death that would have brought cataclysm to the other world. Now Jack is a retired Los Angeles homicide detective living in the nearly nonexistent hamlet of Tamarack, WI. He has no recollection of his adventures in the Territories and was compelled to leave the police force when an odd, happenstance event threatened to awaken those memories.

When a series of gruesome murders occur in western Wisconsin that are reminiscent of those committed several decades earlier by a real-life madman named Albert Fish, the killer is dubbed “The Fisherman” and Jack’s buddy, the local chief of police, begs Jack to help his inexperienced force find him. But is this merely the work of a disturbed individual, or has a mysterious and malignant force been unleashed in this quiet town? What causes Jack’s inexplicable waking dreams, if that is what they are, of robins’ eggs and red feathers? It’s almost as if someone is trying to tell him something. As that message becomes increasingly impossible to ignore, Jack is drawn back to the Territories and to his own hidden past, where he may find the soul-strength to enter a terrifying house at the end of a deserted track of forest, there to encounter the obscene and ferocious evils sheltered within it.

I liked The Talisman, but I didn’t love it. Jack was a great character, but the secondary characters annoyed me. This book, however, was fantastic. The secondary characters were even better than Jack (who was still great). The plot moved quickly, and I didn’t have to force myself to pick the book up, like I did with The Talisman. This book is set in the Dark Tower world. Jack’s regular world is ours, but when he travels to The Territories, it’s really mid-world. Roland and his ka-tet, The Crimson King, and the tower and beams are all mentioned. I looked at the publication of this book and it was after Wizard and Glass (book 4) but before the rest of the series. I imagine when it came out, Dark Tower fans were beside themselves with joy at seeing the references, showing them that SK hadn’t forgotten the series and would be returning to it. You really do need to read The Talisman first, but it’s worth it to get to this gem.

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The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell

These days, reading an uplifting “feel good” story seems more important than in the past. And, to be honest, I don’t read much of this type. Give me a good dystopian, thriller, or horror book any day. However, this one kept coming across my radar and had rave reviews, so when I saw it on Prime reading, I went ahead and downloaded it.

From Goodreads:

Sam Hill always saw the world through different eyes. Born with red pupils, he was called “Devil Boy” by his classmates; “God’s will” is what his mother called his ocular albinism. Her words were of little comfort, but Sam persevered, buoyed by his mother’s devout faith, his father’s practical wisdom, and his two other misfit friends.

Sam believed it was God who sent Ernie Cantwell, the only African American kid in his class, to be the friend he so desperately needed. And that it was God’s idea for Mickie Kennedy to storm into Our Lady of Mercy like a tornado, uprooting every rule Sam had been taught about boys and girls.

Forty years later, Sam, a small-town eye doctor, is no longer certain anything was by design—especially not the tragedy that caused him to turn his back on his friends, his hometown, and the life he’d always known. Running from the pain, eyes closed, served little purpose. Now, as he looks back on his life, Sam embarks on a journey that will take him halfway around the world. This time, his eyes are wide open—bringing into clear view what changed him, defined him, and made him so afraid, until he can finally see what truly matters. 

Some chapters are about Sam’s childhood, while some are his adult life. Between these two perspectives, you really get to see how Sam has evolved. And no spoilers, but Sam’s a good person surrounded by a handful of good people, but mostly terrible people who bully and judge him. No matter the bullies, Sam’s ability to remain a good person is unshakable. Bullies aside, this book really is uplifting and makes you have faith in humanity, simply because Sam is so great. I definitely recommend this one, especially these days.

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The Future is Yours

Big thanks to Netgalley for this advance copy! I love books that are told in a non-traditional way. I’m not a fan of reading a sentence then flipping to a footnote or endnote, but books like S. and Night Film and Attachments (and Rainbow Rowell in general) are really interesting reads because they are epistolary in nature, but also tell the story through multiple media forms. The Future is Yours is exactly same.

From Goodreads: Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry are outsiders struggling to find their place in Silicon Valley. But when Ben reads Adhi’s graduate dissertation about an obscure application for quantum computing, he has a vision of a revolutionary new technology: a computer that can see forward through time by communicating with its future self.

The two friends quit their jobs and team up to form a business, building a company that will deliver their groundbreaking device to consumers around the world. Rival tech giants try to steal their innovation, while government agencies attempt to bury it–but Ben and Adhi are helped by their own cutting-edge technology, staying a step ahead of the competition and responding to challenges before they arise.

As the tension mounts, Ben and Adhi’s friendship begins to fracture under the weight of ambition, jealousy, and greed. Most frightening of all, they discover the dark side of the machine they’ve created–the ways in which viewing the future sets them on a path toward unavoidable disaster of epic, apocalyptic proportions. Unless they can disrupt the technological system they’ve created, there won’t be any future at all.

Told through emails, texts, transcripts, and blog posts, this bleeding-edge tech thriller chronicles the social costs of innovation and asks how far you’d be willing to go to protect the ones you love–even from themselves. 

This book was great. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It reminded me a Blake Crouch’s work, which is a huge compliment, because I’ve read almost all his books. The way the story is presented through the various documents is really creative and adds to the entire point of the book. This comes out in Feb 2021, and I will be recommending it to a lot of people at that point.

NOTE TO AUTHOR: The goodreads summary has Adhi’s name as Teddy….I fixed it here. And my favorite person on Twitter is mentioned, Lin-Manuel Miranda, but you have his handle as @LinManuel, but it’s really @Lin_Manuel. And there’s really a @BenBoyce on Twitter. Haha.

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The Collector’s Apprentice

This book is my second by BA Shapiro. I have also read The Art Forger and really enjoyed that. I’m not an artist in any way, but I do have a working knowledge of art, artists, periods, and have studied some important works through my education. And even if art isn’t your thing, these books are still excellent stories.

From Goodreads:

It’s the summer of 1922, and nineteen-year-old Paulien Mertens finds herself in Paris—broke, disowned, and completely alone. Everyone in Belgium, including her own family, believes she stole millions in a sophisticated con game perpetrated by her then-fiancé, George Everard. To protect herself from the law and the wrath of those who lost everything, she creates a new identity, a Frenchwoman named Vivienne Gregsby, and sets out to recover her father’s art collection, prove her innocence—and exact revenge on George.

When the eccentric and wealthy American art collector Dr. Edwin Bradley offers Vivienne the perfect job, she is soon caught up in the Parisian world of post-Impressionists and expatriates—including Gertrude Stein and Henri Matisse, with whom Vivienne becomes romantically entwined. As she travels between Paris and Philadelphia, where Bradley is building an art museum, her life becomes even more complicated: George returns with unclear motives . . . and then Vivienne is arrested for Bradley’s murder.

B. A. Shapiro has made the historical art thriller her own. In The Collector’s Apprentice, she gives us an unforgettable tale about the lengths to which people will go for their obsession, whether it be art, money, love, or vengeance.

This book was one that, even though it isn’t really a thriller, I couldn’t put it down and wanted to see how Vivienne manages this double life. The art descriptions are fantastic, the story moves quickly, and Vivienne is a great heroine.

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The Devil of Nanking

I’ve read a few of Mo Hayder’s books in the Jack Caffrey series, starting with Birdman, then The Treatment, then Ritual. I plan on finishing those, but when I discovered this one-off book that also was set in Japan (to fulfill a PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt), I was pretty excited. Someone I follow on bookstagram (here I am: https://www.instagram.com/being_fictional/) posted it, and thankfully it was 1.99 on Kindle, so I snatched it up.

From Goodreads: Like the thrillers of Thomas Harris and Philip Kerr, Mo Hayder’s riveting new novel animates the dark corners of modern history. The solitary Englishwoman Grey comes to Japan looking for a rare piece of footage that is said to document a particularly monstrous episode of the 1937 Nanking Massacre. Her quest will take her to a reclusive scholar and a wheelchair-bound gangster who clings to life with the aid of a mysterious elixir, and to a handsome American whose interest in Grey may be more sinister than romantic. The result is a work of spine-chilling suspense, masterful historical detail, and otherworldly beauty.

Fair warning that Mo Hayder’s books are graphic, and this one is no exception. My goodness. It’s definitely not for the weak-stomached. That said, it was a great story. I couldn’t put this down. Once Grey stumbles upon some answers, and secrets start being revealed, I was completely sucked in and couldn’t read fast enough to see what the “truth” was. If you can handle graphic content, I definitely recommend this one.