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by Kate Quinn
A suprisingly tense spy tale set during World War I
Who doesn't love a good World War story? In this case, it is two separate stories, one taking place in the chaos of World War I and the recruitment of Eve as a spy for the British. The other a tale of a woman, Charlie, looking for her cousin in the aftermath of World War II.

Charlie will stumble into Eve's life right when she needs her to wake up from her drunken stupor. With a simple name, Rose on the lips of Charlie's mouth, it will be the spark needed for Eve to confront her past.

This was a pretty intense book. This is not a light-hearted spy tale. It's brutal and it's very much a realistic look at the horrors of both World Wars and what it took for women to be a part of it or to endure it.

Both characters are headstrong, very independent woman who find themselves manuevering their way through a male-dominated world.


Killers of the Flower Moon
by David Grann
A fascinating tale of betrayal of a whole race of people
Wow. From the moment this book starts, it doesn't stop with its moments of shocking stories of how a tribe of wealthy, Native American citizens went from being in control of their future to being slowly killed off. It's nothing short of agonizing and frustrating. The story encapsulates the story of how we as a country have and continue to treat Native Americans as second-class citizens and even worse.

The other part of this tale is the role the federal government played in investigating the murders of the Osage tribe and the emergence of the FBI. The novel does a fantastic job of chronologically playing out the story while weaving in different threads.

Grann, who wrote one of my favorite books ever, The Lost City of Z, holds nothing back in his exhaustive research and the extent to which the details are notated and references show the scope of his own investigation. There's a lot to unpack here and Grann is the perfect voice to bring this story to life.

Read my final review here.
The Essex Serpent
by Sarah Perry
A truly authentic gothic novel
A modern take on the Victorian Gothic novel, The Essex Serpent is brimming with unseen horrors, romance and morals. It's at times very open and warm but also can be distant and cold with it's strict adherance to a lot of gothic tropes.

In this tale, a very modern-thinking naturalist, Cora, is drawn to Essex, where new fossils have been recently discovered. Finding herself enamored with the countryside, she meets the local pastor, Will, who is having his own crises of faith. There's a powerful connection between the two and the story slowly works its way into figuring out what these two mean to each other, despite Will being married and his vocation clearly at odds with Cora's own ideas of the world.

The novel is slow and meandering, but beautiful There's a palpable sense of horror skimming the surface every once in a while in this book and Perry does an excellent job of creating a very vibrant countryside with a lot of interesting characters.

Read my final review here.
The Strange Case of
the Alchemist's Daughter
by Theodora Goss
A better version of Universal's "Dark Universe"
What if the daughters of Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Moreau, Dr. Frankenstein, Rappucini and Sherlock Holmes all got together to solve a mystery? Well, this book is the answer. It's at once a great homage to all those Victorian horror stories and a fun, feminist-bent young adult adventure with its own sense of quirky humor.

Narrated by Catherine Moreau, with frequent interruptions by all the characters, the story revolves around how Mary Jekyll finds herself caught up in a mystery that involves all the other daughters and with the help of Sherlock Holmes, uncovers her family's past as well as finding some monstrous friends along the way.

This is very much a light-hearted tale more akin to Harry Potter than any of the gothic horror novels it draws inspiration from. But where the novel lacks in serious tone, it makes up for some great character writing and a sense of Scooby-Doo mystery that drives the plot forward in entertaining ways.

Read my final review here.
Sleeping Beauties
by Stephen King and Owen King
A fairy tale only King could write
I have never managed to read any Stephen King books besides his Dark Tower series. And I'm really obsessed with those books - I re-read them all this summer and avoided the movie adaptation altogether after reading reviews. So this is my first official King book (although it's also written by his son, Owen as well). And it probably won't be long before this book is picked up by HBO or Showtime I'm sure.

The book takes place pretty much right now or the near future where a mysterious virus infects ALL WOMEN by putting them to sleep and "cocooning" them in a weird cobwebby-substance. If anyone attempts to bust them loose, the woman inside will get violently mad and attack anyone in her vicinity. With this backdrop, the book focuses on a little town in Appalachia called Dooling and all the locals dealing with this phenomenon. Specifically the women's prison outside of town and the local police force.

The book opens with a 2 and a half page list of all the characters and if that doesn't just get my blood boiling, I don't know what will. I mean, it's a pretty long list and it comes across as a bit pretentious. Plus it's intimidating (as if the thickness of the 700 pages isn't enough). But you know what? I never once flipped back to look at the character list. Both Kings are good enough writers of characters that it's pretty easy to know who's who and what's going on with them.

And while the initial premise is very captivating, the book does take a while to find itself because the first 100 pages have to set up so much. Halfway through and you'll be wanting to finish this sucker in one sit-down.

Read my final review here.
The Lost City of the Monkey God
by Douglas Preston
Indiana Jones IRL
I've always been fascinated by ancient civilizations. The mystery and legends have always been a draw and if I had enough courage and money, I'd probably have ended up as one of these scientists documented in this book. There's another similar book about another ancient lost city in the Amazon - The Lost City of Z, where the author re-tread the same path as Percy Fawcett, the ambitous explorer obsessed with finding pretty much what we call El Dorado.

Douglas Preston goes to great lengths to tag along with a bunch of crazy, rich folks and their scientists to find evidence of a massive lost civilization. The real star of the book is Lidar - a technology that allows for a very precise mapping of the jungle floor just by flying over the canopy. This tech allowed these guys to uncover real scientific evidence. 

But all of this tech can only go so far - they would have to set their boots on the ground to get up close to confirm what they think is real.

Preston is a very methodical writer and you won't necessarily get drawn into this story until a third of the way through. It's a chronological tale from the very first time Preston got involved to where the team is now.

Read my final review here.
The Merciless
by Danielle Vega
Mean Girls and The Exorcist walk into a bar...
Yes, I was drawn to this book simply by it's neon pink cover. And yes, I will use the excuse that I had a coupon for a "young adult" book and so I ended up with this book. But I love Mean Girls and the book was trying really hard to sell itself on this fact. And the brutal imagery conjured in the book jacket was compelling enough.

Sofia is the new girl in town. She's enamored with the cool and beautiful popular girls in the school and Riley is the queen bee. When they befriend her, she thinks she's finally found her place in the world. But she's also been friendly with the enemy - Brooklyn, a girl whom Riley finds repulsive and has actually decided she's possibly possessed by a demon.

So yeah, the book actually does go there and for the final two thirds of the book, it all takes place in one night at an abandoned house where Sofia finds herself torn between being popular and doing the right thing. Although doing the right thing might involve supporting the local demonically-possessed cool girl.

It's all a bit too much and I had a hard time getting through this book without rolling my eyes several times.

Read my final review here.
Magpie Murders
by Anthony Horowitz
The Heart of Darkness Meets Sherlock Holmes
I'm not one to shy away from a good murder mystery book. Hell, those Bryant and May series is all about them. I usually need some sort of hook in order to be reeled in (see what I did there?) and Magpie Murders has got a beautiful set up:

The story is about a book editor named Susan who oversees the successful crime novels by Alan Conway about a Holmesian detective named Atticus Pünd. In his latest manuscript, Susan begins to suspect there's more to the story than just another Pünd mystery, but a true story of greed and murder.

This book was a bit stiff to get into - there's one brief opening chapter where Susan implores the reader to read Conway's latest book and that he's a bastard that ruined her life. And it quickly jumps into the Pünd story, set in a quaint English village, Saxby-on-Avon in the 50s. The problem is that each beginning chapter is dedicated to a prominent figure (and possible suspect) in the story and there's at least half a dozen, if not more. So it's really just a dreg to get through the exposition and set up.

I still don't know how this all ties to the present day and Susan's troubles, but I assume once I finish the manuscript, I'll get to know more.

Read my final review here.
Lovecraft Country
by Matt Ruff
A vignette of horror stories from a black perspective
When it was announced that Get Out's Jordan Peele was adapting Lovecraft Country for HBO along with J.J. Abrams, it immediately caught my attention. Despite H.P. Lovecraft's awful real life, his work is seminal in the horror genre. Modern horror owes a lot of it's psychological thrillers and unknown terrors to H.P.'s work. I didn't really know that much about the book, just that it was praised as being really, really good.

And so far, it's been quite a shock to read. Not that the stories are shocking, just the format. I was expecting more of a straight-up novel, but the book is a series of short stories that all center around two black families living in Jim Crow America during the 50s. The first story shares a lot of similarities to Get Out - a young black man goes to a white man's cult manor to rescue his captive father. But from there the story spins out into a haunted house story, a supernatural heist tale and a science fiction adventure and other bizarre tales.

The book is sublime as it puts these characters in fantastic situations but never strays from the idea that America is the more horrifying place for a black family. It's refreshing to see these genres from a different perspective - that of a black family that includes strong women and geeky, sci-fi loving nerds.

You can read my final review here.
Persepolis Rising
by James S. A. Corey
The start of a new trilogy in The Expanse Series.
If you're a science fiction fan, you owe it to yourself to read The Expanse books. Persepolis Rising is the seventh book in the series about the near-future of humanity. It has fairly humble beginnings looking back after 7 books, but you wouldn't know that when you start to read the first book, Leviathan Wakes. Humanity has conquered the solar system and hasn't quite figured out how to reach beyond.

Scientists uncover a strange, living alien artifact dubbed the protomolecule and this proves to be the spark for all sorts of drama - war between the Earth and Mars and the Belt colonies (a loose collection of space stations and colonies on moons beyond the asteroid belt) and corporate conspiracies. Suffice to say, there's a lot going on and it's quite epic.

And just when you thought that the series had done everything, Corey (a pseudonym for authors Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck) flashes forward nearly 30 years and sets up a conflict that's just as engaging as the rest of the stories. I didn't think I would enjoy seeing these characters age, but after throwing the crew of the Rocinante into the fire, it's good to cozy back up Holden and his posse. This time around, they have more experience and aren't learning any lessons here - this story is more about the politics and jockeying for humanity's soul and the book is a great set up for the final trilogy.

Read my final review here.
Bryant & May Series
by Christopher Fowler
Finishing up the oddball detective series.
I happened upon one of the Bryant and May mysteries at the library about 10 years ago. And I read about 5 or 6 of them, out of order. I decided I wanted to catch back up with these characters and stories, so I've been reading and re-reading all 13 books so far (there is a 14th, but won't be released in the US until next year). I'm finally on my last stretch of books (taking 4/5 at a time) and I think this series has gotten a lot better with time.

Bryant and May are two very old, archaic detectives in London who run the Peculiar Crimes Unit - a police force tasked with solving crimes that no one wants and are oddities. Which is great - Arthur Bryant is this idiosyncratic curmudgeon who consults witches and psychics and old books for help in solving his cases. The books are enamored with London's rich history and the off-beaten paths of the city. May is his faithful companion, a more by-the-books man who is the yin to Arthur's yang.

I will say I think Memory of Blood was treading water with the series, but Invisible Code felt like a big leap forward (much like the 7th installment which shook things up). This time the writing and characters and story felt much more important and serious. Things from past novels come to a head in this story and it feels like the Unit is more integral to society than ever, whereas past novels I felt the PCU was seperated from present-day London. I'm halfway through the books and I cannot wait to finish these books.

Read my final review here.
All the Birds in the Sky
by Charlie Jane Anders
Magic and science collide in a bizarre story.
Patricia and Laurence had some really messed up childhoods. Abusive parents and harassment at school by bullies, they find each other in school and their bond helps them get through the hell that is their lives. After drifting apart, they both find their respective niches in life - Patricia, a witch and Laurence, a scientist - but also find themselves fighting each other when it comes to the fate of the world.

I don't know if I could classify this as a young adult novel, but it certainly plays out like one. I'm not a huge fan of books about magic users and witches, but so far the more fantastical parts are more fun than fleshed out. I don't know if the author intended to be mysterious when it came to describing how magic worked in the world, but it's a good hook nonetheless.

The characters have been really good. They both can be assholes and hurt eachother and some of the inner dialogue happening feels real. It's an emotional story more than I thought. If you're looking for a hard science fiction book, this is not it. This is more about the two characters and them colliding and drifting together over and over throughout their lives.

Read my final review here.
S. by J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst
Sleuthing it out amongst the margins.
S is a wholly unique experience. I say experience because it's not just reading a book. You have to get involved. And if that's off-putting to you, then you should just avoid this book at all cost. I'm about half-way through reading the book and I still have no idea exactly what I'm reading. S. is at once a 1949 book titled Ship of Theseus written by an elusive writer named V.M. Straka. And within that book's conveniently wide margins lies another narrative - one of correspondence between Eric and Jen who find themselves caught up in the mystery of the book and author itself. Two scholars who become obsessed with finding out who V.M. Straka really is. The book comes with an assortment of letters, postcards and paraphernalia to help to guide you along the modern story.

And it's fascinating. I know the ending will leave me with more questions than answers (thankfully the internet has got that covered), but damn if I'm not enjoying trying to figure things out. The original story - Ship of Theseus - is a weird time-traveling tale of a amnesiac protagonist and his inevitable encounters with revolutionary figures. And Jen and Eric see the novel as a metaphor with coded/hidden messages that reveal who Straka is and the mysterious and secret "S" organization. 

This is going to take several read-throughs to fully form a picture of what's happening, so I don't know how I'll feel after I close the book for the first time. It's an astonishingly grand endeavour for the writers and I cannot help but admire their ambition.

Read my final review here.