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Book Review: Dark Places

Dark Places Book Cover

Rating: 2 stars

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice” of Kinnakee, Kansas. She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

I know a lot of people won’t be too pleased about my thoughts and feelings with this book. But I didn’t enjoy reading this book as much as other people did so I’m sticking by that.

However, before I get into all of my criticisms with Dark Places, let me start by saying that there are some aspects of this book I did enjoy. For one, I think the storyline was fascinating to read. A story about a woman whose whole family was murdered in their home and the surviving family member points to her brother being the murderer is a story that interested me. Especially as she begins feeling doubtful about her original statement to the police and investigates to find the truth. I usually enjoy stories like this where the protagonist goes undercover to find out what really happened. But there are several factors with this story that lead to me not enjoying it, which I’ll talk about shortly.

I also enjoyed the writing in this story. In particular, the different points of view in the story where the author shifts from present day Libby to Ben’s perspective before the murders happened. I found that it helps supply the reader with more information about what actually happened as well as introduces the reader to key characters who play a crucial role in the events leading up to the murders. You learn what life was like for Libby before these events happen and how this moment changed her life completely.

However, I still didn’t enjoy reading Dark Places despite the interesting storyline and alternative points of view. While I admit I did enjoy the storyline, I did also find it lacking in depth as well. What I didn’t enjoy about it was the mystery surrounding the murders and how the truth was revealed. I was hoping that the story would provide a twist that as a reader would make everything I read in the story click together and everything I didn’t like about this book would make sense. Instead, once the truth was revealed, I was left feeling disappointed in the story I was reading.

What didn’t help was that I found myself disliking all of the characters in the story. Especially the character whose supposed to be the protagonist in this book Libby. But she’s actually an unreliable narrator who admits that she lies, and as a reader you witness her stealing from people as she’s investigating the death of her family members. I also found her unlikeable because she came across as being a very selfish person throughout the story. When she met the various members of the Kill Club, all she cared about was knowing if a lot of the members were really interested in what happened to her and her family instead of asking whether they actually had any good theories on who killed her family. There’s also the fact that she’s upset when people pay attention to other cases instead of hers and she doesn’t want to do any sort of work to help herself get money until she’s asked by the Kill Club to uncover the truth of her family’s murder. But she only does it in the first place because they offer to pay her for talking to certain people.

I was hoping Dark Places would redeem her character by making her be the murderer because that would’ve at least made this book more enjoyable for me to read. Instead, we have other characters who play a role in her family’s death and the reasoning behind it all is completely senseless. I was also hoping to have at least one character in the story that I actually liked, but wasn’t too surprised when that didn’t happen either. While I found Libby being an unreliable narrator an interesting choice for the story, I felt like it didn’t really go anywhere to make this book a worthwhile read. I also felt the same way about the mystery surrounding her family member’s deaths because nothing worthwhile happened in this story that resulted in them dying.

As a result, I wasn’t particularly fond of Dark Places. There was just too much disappointment with everything for me with regards to this book for me to even give this book a higher rating. In fact, I would’ve given this book a one star rating if I hadn’t finished reading it. Nonetheless, I finished this book and am disappointed by what I read because I was expecting more from the story than was given.

 

 

Book Review: The Blackbird Papers

The Blackbird Papers Book Cover

Rating: 3 stars

A rainy night . . . A stranded motorist . . . A Good Samaritan passerby … a Nobel Prize–winning professor . . . The setup for a shocking murder designed to cover up an even more sinister crime . . . 

The Blackbird Papers marks the debut of Ian Smith, a major new talent in crime fiction, and of Sterling Bledsoe, his smart and occasionally combative sleuth. 

World-renowned Dartmouth professor Wilson Bledsoe is returning from a party celebrating his latest honor when he encounters a broken-down pickup on the secluded country road to his home. The next day, the discovery of his body with a vicious racist epithet carved into his chest leads to the quick arrest of two loathsome white supremacists. The local authorities seem ready to accept the case at face value as a racial hate crime. But the murdered professor’s brother, FBI agent Sterling Bledsoe, has inserted himself into the investigation and isn’t ready to buy into this pat solution. A look around his brother’s lab and brief interviews with his students and colleagues pique Sterling’s curiosity about Wilson’s pet project: a nearly completed paper on the mysterious deaths of hundreds of local blackbirds. 

Fast-paced and cleverly constructed, The Blackbird Papers introduces a major new talent in mystery and crime fiction.

I found this book to be an immensely interesting read. It was fast paced and mostly kept me interested to find out what happened to Sterling’s brother. But near the end of The Blackbird Papers, I slowly found myself losing interest. Especially near the end when you find out who kills Sterling’s brother and why.

What made this murder mystery book so interesting to me was going through the process of uncovering the mystery. You have Sterling’s brother who is missing at first until they discover his body. Then when they find Wilson you see the whole process of them examining his body to find out how he was killed and try to find out why. From there, you see Sterling going through his brother’s research, trying to uncover more clues.

I found this part of the story especially to be interesting whenever he uncovered that his brother was trying to discover why an alarming amount of blackbirds were being killed. It made the story that much more interesting because it showed that Ian Smith did a little bit of research to add detail into this book. It also made me want to continue reading The Blackbird Papers to find out who killed Wilson.

I also found Sterling as the main character interesting. Especially since this whole case involved the murder of his brother. I thought the story would be a little different since Sterling was trying to uncover the murder of his brother. But if anything, he seemed more determined to find out who killed Wilson than anything else. I know a lot of that had to do with some emotional problems of his own when it came to his brother, and I appreciated that this book included those details within its pages. While you wish Sterling could’ve gotten some reconciliation with his older brother, you also see his character grow as a result of this case.

I also like that Smith ended the story by Sterling respecting his brother’s last wishes. I found that to be a very touching scene because he goes through a lot in order to solve his brother’s murder and he is finally able to feel peace that his brother is no longer there.

While I enjoyed these aspects of The Blackbird Papers, there was a lot missing from it for me to enjoy the story as much as I wanted to. For starters, while the pacing of the plot started off really wonderful for me, it soon was at a point where it slowed down completely and became predictable. The plot reached this point near the end of the novel when those who didn’t want Wilson’s research to get out tried to frame Sterling for his brother’s murder. Each time Sterling found himself unraveling another piece of the puzzle, he’d have to run away from law enforcement. For me, that started slowing down the storyline because I knew he was close to getting the information he needed. It also felt like Smith added those moments into the story so there’d be action and conflict for Sterling while he’s trying to get to the bottom of the case.

I also found the person responsible for the death of Wilson to be predictable. I don’t know if it’s because I already had a feeling whenever his character was introduced that he was responsible or if the plot in the story was just that predictable for me. The only thing surprising about that part of the story was that more people were in on it than I was expecting. But that overall doesn’t really change the way I feel about the suspect because I still had those feelings from the beginning that this person was responsible.

The Blackbird Papers is an interesting murder mystery novel. I enjoyed it because the overall story kept me wanting to find out what happened next, but I was also disappointed that the killer was too easy for me to predict. I also found the pacing of the novel close to the conclusion to be lacking, but also really enjoyed the ending because Sterling finally found some peace when it came to his own conflict with his brother. It was overall an enjoyable read that I would’ve liked more if the killer wasn’t so predictable to me and if the ending of the story didn’t move so slow.

Book Review: The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2)

The Silkworm Book Cover

Rating: 4 stars

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…

Wow. I really enjoyed reading this second book in the series more than The Cuckoo’s Calling, which wasn’t at all a bad read, but was missing something The Silkworm had for me: suspense. It was a page-turner, from start to finish because I really wanted to know who killed this writer. I was also curious about the world Strike immersed himself into in order to find the killer and figure out why this person went after Owen Quine. The world of publishing has never been a world I’ve been a part of, though I hope for that to change one day. But I was curious about Quine and this mysterious book he wrote about the people in his life so I was ready to dive in.

I’m not going to lie when I say part of my enjoyment of this book is because the case involved an author. I wanted to learn more about his book, and what about it was so terrible that it couldn’t be published. But what I got from that caught me off guard, but also made me laugh at the same time. So I was surprised about the type of books Quine typically wrote, but was also intrigued as to what this revealed about his character. I like that his book was connected to his death. I like that being incorporated into the case because it eliminated a lot of people being responsible for his murder except for the characters we were introduced to.  The only problem I had when it came to this case is that Galbraith made Quine seem like the stereotypical author. His character sounded very cocky and arrogant, yet still eccentric at the same time, which is pretty normal to the way I’ve seen authors being described in books. This is a problem for me because people see authors this way already and was hoping his character would be described differently.

I also enjoyed seeing Strike and Robin’s friendship continue to blossom. I like seeing the way the two of them work together to investigate because you can tell that they trust each other. But at the same time, I worry that Galbraith is going to try and get them together as a couple. While I wouldn’t necessarily mind that, I really like seeing them work together and just being friends outside of the job. I also like seeing Robin’s character continue to develop as she stands up to her fiancé because she really enjoys her work. I feel like as she continues helping Strike with cases, she comes into her own and is becoming the person she’s meant to be.

I also enjoyed this book in the series more than The Cuckoo’s Calling because there was a lot of buildup when it came to finding Quine’s killer. The killer was revealed to us in a surprising way, which made us even more interested in finding out why this person killed Quine.

My biggest problem with The Silkworm is the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. I usually don’t mind when books have quotes, but the ones in this book felt like they didn’t belong to me, and I would’ve been fine reading the book without them.

I also felt that most of the characters who knew Quine were too similar. I don’t know if it’s because they all worked in publishing or were authors, but it annoyed me because I didn’t really like any of them. They just seemed too similar to me so when the killer was finally revealed, I wasn’t quite as surprised as I thought I’d be. I felt like any one of them could’ve killed Quine, it was just a matter of which one Galbraith decided on.

However, neither of these problems for me made me enjoy The Silkworm any less. It was overall a very suspenseful, intriguing read that made me continue turning the page. I can’t wait to continue reading this series to find out what happens next.

Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1)

The Cuckoo's Calling Book Cover

Rating: 4 stars

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a 2013 crime fiction novel by J. K. Rowling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

A brilliant mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel’s suicide.

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.

When I first began reading this book, I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of it. I’d attempted to read The Casual Vacancy a while back, but never really got too far into it. As a Harry Potter fan who hadn’t really read any other work by the author who wrote one of my beloved favorite series, I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this book. But after giving it a read, however, I found myself really enjoying it.

The main storyline in The Cuckoo’s Calling is about a famous supermodel whose death everyone believed to be a suicide. However, her brother John Bristow thinks differently and hires private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into her case. What he discovers investigating her death is a labyrinth of twists and turns to get to the truth of how she died.

What I enjoyed when reading The Cuckoo’s Calling is the characters. I enjoyed hearing in detail about Strike’s personal life, learning more about him and his relation to the world of the famous he was searching for answers. He’s a rough character I wasn’t expecting to be introduced to in this book, but I found his roughness to be quite alluring. It also helped explain certain details that came up as we learned more about him. I also liked Robin’s character quite a bit. She’s a very resourceful woman and I loved reading her interactions with Strike as these events unfolded. She’s also a character I could find myself relating to in this story because I’d probably react the same way as her if I found myself working for a private investigator. I’d want to get myself entangled into the investigation, want to find some way of helping solve the case or providing much needed information to help find the suspect. I wouldn’t want to accept a job somewhere else because the job I’d have would be exactly where I want to be. I liked the relationship the author gave between Strike and Robin. It was very cordial and friendly without being too intrusive. Robin allowed Strike to live his life without interfering, but was supportive of him whenever he needed it.

I also enjoyed the details Robert Galbraith put into the storyline. It’s a story full of richly deep plot that’s not too complex for any reader to enjoy. But it also has enough new vocabulary for the reader who wants a challenge when reading. The writing style is also unique because Galbraith tells us what happens throughout as Strike begins to investigate Lula’s death. You see the crime scene in front of you and hear the dialogue between Strike and all of the characters who were involved. You see how Strike uncovers evidence to the crime and find out how he knows who killed Lula. It’s such a good read that I couldn’t wait to find out how it unfolded.

Not only do I enjoy this book because it’s a crime mystery novel, but also because you get to see the underbelly of being a celebrity. Galbraith takes us into the world of being a celebrity by allowing us to see what they deal with on a daily basis. You see this whenever Strike interviews Evan about his involvement with Lula. You get to see him and Ciara being hounded by paparazzi whenever they leave a building and being followed home. In this book, you get to see both the good and the bad about being famous and how anyone is capable of murder.

There are two things with The Cuckoo’s Calling, however, I didn’t particularly enjoy. For one, I didn’t like how the chapters were divided. Galbraith divided the book into separate parts, and then had chapters in each part. The reason I didn’t particularly like this is because it felt completely random how it was done. I also felt like the story could’ve continued without it. While I don’t necessarily mind books being divided into sections like this one, I just didn’t feel like it made sense to do it.

My other criticism with this book is I felt like there was more telling in this story than showing. For example, whenever you find out who kills Lula, Strike explains it to you how he came to this conclusion instead of showing all of the details that made him get there. While I don’t mind being told what happens, it killed the suspense in the story for me.  It took away the element of surprise because I was told who killed Lula instead of being shown how that conclusion was made. And I felt like this happened a lot throughout the book, which at times seemed a little too much for me. There were times in the story where I wanted to be shown certain details instead of being told about them later on.

But despite these two criticisms I had with this book, The Cuckoo’s Calling was such an enjoyable read to me. It was full of interesting characters, intriguing mystery and details about being famous that really made me flip the page to find out what happened next. I can’t wait to continue reading this series to find out what happens with Strike and Robin next. Hopefully, The Silkworm will be as much as an enjoyable read as The Cuckoo’s Calling was for me.

Book Review: In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1)

In the Woods Book Cover

Rating: 3 stars

A gorgeously written novel that marks the debut of an astonishing new voice in psychological suspense.

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children. He is gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a 12-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox (his partner and closest friend) find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

As a crime scene novel, this book perfectly depicted how investigators solve crimes. There was just enough mystery and suspense to keep me interested in finding out what Ryan and his partner Cassie discovered. The writing was the perfect tone, adding to the suspense when needed, and describing the setting of the world around Ryan in perfect detail. It made me engaged, wanting to know more about what happened. Also enjoyed that the setting took place in Ireland because I haven’t read too many novels that take place in other countries. So it’s always interesting reading books like this where the setting isn’t somewhere I’m familiar with.

I also enjoyed hearing more about Ryan’s past. While he’s definitely not my favorite detective in this book, I loved learning more about the trauma he went through and understanding how that shaped him into the character read about in the book. I also enjoyed his friendship with Cassie, my favorite character in the book. I found both of them together as partners to be very amusing when solving crimes because they had amazing chemistry.

But while I enjoyed these aspects of In the Woods, there were so many things with this novel too that left me criticizing it. For one, Ryan’s character wasn’t great. When I first started reading this book, I didn’t mind him all that much. But the more I read, the less I liked him. I think my disdain for him is because of the way he acts with Cassie and the way he talks about his past. After everything they’ve been through together and Ryan saying Cassie is his best friend, he lets their friendship go without a fight over the dumbest thing. He ruins his friendship with her instead of trying to talk things out like responsible adults are supposed to do. And she tries to set things right, but he wants nothing more to do with her until it’s too late. That really bothers me because she was his best friend, yet he doesn’t act like it after what happened. I also don’t like the way he talks about his past because he’s never let go of the one mystery surrounding his childhood, the one he has the opportunity of solving only to let it slip through his fingers. I get his memory of events is skewered, but when he’s given the chance to solve the crime that has literally changed his life, he doesn’t put his best effort into it. He starts remembering some of the events that came before, but doesn’t even push himself to figure out what happened.

I also don’t like how the main case in this story was solved. There were so many mistakes made during the investigation that it took a lot longer for them to solve the crime if they’d looked in certain places at the very beginning. I also didn’t like who they chose as the scapegoat for the crimes because the person who actually came up with the idea got away with it completely.

To be honest, I was completely disappointed by the end of the story. There was so much buildup that I was expecting things to end differently. But that wasn’t the case at all. Instead, things change for the worse and the mysterious crime that occurred during the narrator’s childhood is never solved, despite the flashbacks in the past he experienced.

So while I enjoyed reading In the Woods, there were a lot of things in the story that left me disappointed, wanting more than what was given. Nonetheless, I plan on reading the second book in this series The Likeness in hopes that it’ll be a better read.

Book Review: Hunting Shadows

Hunting Shadows Charles Todd Book Cover

Rating: 3 stars

A dangerous case with ties leading back to the battlefields of World War I dredges up dark memories for Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge in Hunting Shadows, a gripping and atmospheric historical mystery set in 1920s England, from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd.

A society wedding at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire becomes a crime scene when a man is murdered. After another body is found, the baffled local constabulary turns to Scotland Yard. Though the second crime had a witness, her description of the killer is so strange it’s unbelievable.

Despite his experience, Inspector Ian Rutledge has few answers of his own. The victims are so different that there is no rhyme or reason to their deaths. Nothing logically seems to connect them—except the killer. As the investigation widens, a clear suspect emerges. But for Rutledge, the facts still don’t add up, leaving him to question his own judgment.

In going over the details of the case, Rutledge is reminded of a dark episode he witnessed in the war. While the memory could lead him to the truth, it also raises a prickly dilemma. To stop a murderer, will the ethical detective choose to follow the letter—or the spirit—of the law?

When I first started reading this book, I was really excited because the premise sounded very promising. And for the first couple chapters, Hunting Shadows had me hooked. However, this book overall was a big disappointment for me.

Normally, I really enjoy reading books like this. I love murder mystery novels. I love these reads because they take a look into the justice system and how the law works. And while these books aren’t an accurate representation of what our system is like, they do paint an interesting picture and give the reader a better understanding of the process investigators have to go through in order to catch the bad guy. They move quickly, leaving no question unasked.

But this book just didn’t sit right with me. Having not read the first fifteen books in the series might have something to do with it. However, I think the pace of the novel was another problem I had with it. I just couldn’t get into reading this book because it was too slow. It started off climatic and then dropped the reader down to a slower pace. The reader briefly gets an insight into the killer’s head only to be dropped into the story where they don’t get to see the killer until the last few pages of the novel. And when the killer is introduced, the reader becomes disappointed because he isn’t what the reader expects.

Another problem I had with Hunting Shadows was the time period. I know the novel was supposed to take place in the 1920’s, but I really didn’t like the time period in this story or the setting overall. It was just okay. Didn’t add anything to make this book any more interesting for me and want to continue reading.

I also didn’t like the main character Rutledge. Not having read the rest of the books in this series might have something to do with it, but I also think part of it is because I just couldn’t connect to his character. For a Scotland Yard inspector, he wasn’t too bright. Some of his actions throughout the novel didn’t make sense to me. For example, the man he suspects to be the killer he takes him along with him while he continues his investigation into these murders only to discover that he actually isn’t the killer. And even after the guy is obviously in the clear, he still suspects him until he is able to find the murder weapon. Rutledge isn’t the inspector I was expecting to be the main character in Hunting Shadows and that really disappointed me and made it harder for me to continue reading this book.

However, there are some aspects of Hunting Shadows I did enjoy. The beginning of the story really got me interested in continuing to read this novel, despite how it all turned out. The reader gets to see into the killer’s head as he spots his first victim and sees how he reacts to seeing that character.

Another aspect of this book I enjoyed was how descriptive Todd is of the setting. While I didn’t enjoy the time period in this story, Todd definitely knows how to create atmosphere in a novel. The reader sees this throughout the book starting with when Rutledge gets lost to when Rutledge goes to find the murder weapon.

Even though I was overall disappointed in how Hunting Shadows turned out, I still give it three stars because Todd knows how to get the reader hooked at the beginning of a story and can create atmosphere that can mess with the reader’s emotions. This book was an okay read, but not one I’ll be reading again anytime soon.

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