Can’t Wait Wednesday – ESCAPING FROM HOUDINI by Kerri Maniscalco

 

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which encourages fellow bloggers to spotlight upcoming releases that we’re excited about.  It is a meme that I have  loved participating in for over a year now, but as Jill is no longer actively posting, from now on I’ll just be linking to Can’t Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa, which is a spinoff of the original WoW meme.

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My selection for this week is Escaping from Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco.  When I first started this series, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not. But man, I fell for it hard and fast.  I adore both Audrey Rose and Thomas and can’t wait to see what they get up to in the third installment of this series.  This one sounds especially intense with everyone being trapped on a ship with a killer on the loose.

 

ESCAPING FROM HOUDINI by Kerri Maniscalco

Publication Date:   September 18, 2018

 

 

From Goodreads:

In this third installment in the #1 bestselling Stalking Jack the Ripper series, a luxurious ocean liner becomes a floating prison of scandal, madness, and horror when passengers are murdered one by one…with nowhere to run from the killer. .

Audrey Rose Wadsworth and her partner-in-crime-investigation, Thomas Cresswell, are en route to New York to help solve another blood-soaked mystery. Embarking on a week-long voyage across the Atlantic on the opulent RMS Etruria, they’re delighted to discover a traveling troupe of circus performers, fortune tellers, and a certain charismatic young escape artist entertaining the first-class passengers nightly.

But then, privileged young women begin to go missing without explanation, and a series of brutal slayings shocks the entire ship. The strange and disturbing influence of the Moonlight Carnival pervades the decks as the murders grow ever more freakish, with nowhere to escape except the unforgiving sea. It’s up to Audrey Rose and Thomas to piece together the gruesome investigation as even more passengers die before reaching their destination. But with clues to the next victim pointing to someone she loves, can Audrey Rose unravel the mystery before the killer’s horrifying finale?

 

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I’d love to hear what upcoming book releases you’re waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me your link in the comments below and I’ll stop by and check out your CWW selection for this week. 🙂

Top Ten Tuesday – Top 10 Books I Can’t Believe I Read

 

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.  Top Ten Tuesday has been one of my favorite memes ever since I started blogging, so huge thanks to Jana for taking over the hosting duties!

This week’s TTT topic is Top Ten Books I Can’t Believe I Read.  I imagine there are lots of different ways I could explore this topic, but looking around at my bookshelves, I’m going to go with ‘I can’t believe I read these…because they’re literally the size and weight of bricks!‘  That’s not to say they were bad reads — most of them were incredible and didn’t feel like they were anywhere near as long as they actually were, but there were a couple (I’m looking at you, Moby Dick!) that I thought I would never finish.

 

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TOP 10 BOOKS I CAN’T BELIEVE I READ

 

1. LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo  (1,463 pages)

 

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2. A STORM OF SWORDS by George R.R. Martin (1,177 pages)

 

 

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3.  BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens (1,017 pages)

 

 

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4. MOBY DICK by Herman Melville 

(728 Pages, but felt like it was about 3,000 pages.  Way too many chapters about whale blubber for my liking!)

 

 

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5.  JOHN ADAMS by David McCullough 

(751 pages – I don’t even usually read Nonfiction, much less over 700 pages of it, but this was riveting!)

 

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6. GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell

(1,037 pages – As much as I complain about romance, I still can’t believe I read and adored this one, lol.)

 

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7. UNDER THE DOME by Stephen King (1,074 pages)

 

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8. MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot (904 pages)

 

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9. THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1,072 pages)

 

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10. ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy (1,008 pages)

 


 

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Question:  What are some books that you can’t believe you read?

Book Review: Into the Black Nowhere, An UNSUB Novel

Book Review: Into the Black Nowhere, An UNSUB NovelInto the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner
Also by this author: UNSUB
four-half-stars
Series: UNSUB #2
Published by Dutton on January 30th 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 384
Also in this series: UNSUB
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I read the first book in Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB series earlier this month and absolutely devoured it. It was a 5-star read for me that was filled with suspense, memorable characters (including a badass heroine), a disturbing yet riveting storyline, great action scenes, and just an overall fascinating look at the psychology of a serial killer.  Because I enjoyed UNSUB so much, I began reading its follow-up Into the Black Nowhere with very high expectations.  And thankfully, I wasn’t at all disappointed.  Just like its predecessor, Into the Black Nowhere hooked me from the first page and didn’t let me go until I reached the nail biting conclusion.  I think I’ve found myself a new favorite series!

As in UNSUB, Into the Black Nowhere follows Caitlyn Hendrix, only now, instead of working as a police detective in California, she has taken a job as a rookie FBI agent in the Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Virginia.  Caitlyn is still adjusting to her new job and life in Virginia, as well as trying to make a long distance relationship work with Sean, whom we met in UNSUB, but ultimately she is dedicated to her career and ready to catch a predator.

Caitlyn’s team is called to a town in Southern Texas where blonde women have been disappearing – one from a movie theater, one from a car that was stopped at a traffic light, and one from her own home.  Local law enforcement suspects they have a predator on their hands and so Caitlyn’s team is called in to help build a psychological profile of the UNSUB so that a suspect can hopefully be identified before any other women go missing.  When the bodies of two of the women are found in the woods, dressed in white nighties with heavily made up faces and slashed wrists, it becomes clear that they are looking for a serial killer, one that was likely inspired by Ted Bundy.  What’s even more disturbing is that not only has the UNSUB posed the bodies of these victims, but he has also surrounded them with Polaroid photos of other blonde women, potential victims that law enforcement hasn’t identified yet.  It becomes a race against the clock for Caitlyn and her team to catch this UNSUB before he hurts anyone else.

They are quickly able to get inside of their killer’s head and build a profile of the suspect, and with the help of a phone tip, they actually think they’ve found their guy.  This guy is a piece of work too. He’s arrogant, cunning, and manipulative, but is also charming enough to get almost anyone around him to let their guard down so it makes sense how he’s so easily able to accumulate so many victims.  Even though Caitlyn and her team are sure they have the right guy, the problem is that all they have on him so far is a lot of circumstantial evidence and so he keeps eluding them.

It seems like it’s almost a game to him, like he thrives on this game of cat and mouse, trying to stay one step ahead of law enforcement, but then he even manages to get inside of Caitlyn’s head. He finds and exploits her weaknesses, bringing things from her past up that she had hoped would remain buried and leaving her feeling vulnerable and exposed.  This of course makes her all the more determined to bring him down.

Can Caitlyn keep the UNSUB out of her head so that she can effectively do her job?  And can she and her team find the evidence they need in order to stop this monster once and for all?

 

I’m still loving Caitlyn Hendrix in this second book.  She’s just as fierce and focused on tracking down killers as she was in UNSUB, but still has that slightly vulnerable side as the killer manages to get inside of her head and make her face some demons from her past.  I like for the characters I’m reading about to have those layers of complexity so they don’t just come across as cardboard cutouts, which can often happen in thrillers because the characters take a backseat to the case at hand.  Not Caitlyn, she is fully-fleshed out and shows a lot of growth from the first book to the second, and even within the second.

In addition to adoring Caitlyn, I also thought her partner, Rainey, was amazing.  Rainey is the other female agent on her team, and Rainey is even more of a badass than Caitlyn.  Together the two of them make a formidable team and so I loved every scene that paired them together.  I hope to see them work together a lot more in future books in the series.

Gardiner not only writes fantastic characters, she is also a master at writing suspense.  I love following along with Caitlyn and the other agents as they uncover detail after detail about the killer and get ever closer to nailing him.  I was literally on the edge of my seat watching them frantically search for any clues that could help them take him down.  The added detail that he only takes his victims on Saturday added an extra layer of suspense and tension because the agents know they’re on a race against the clock and know exactly what their deadline is before another woman goes missing. The tension and sense of unease is so real in this book that I found myself looking over my own shoulder while reading.  It was just that creepy.

With all of that tension and suspense building up, I guess it goes without saying that this is a fast-paced book.  I read it from cover to cover in two days and found myself irritated every time I had to put the book down because I was so invested in the story.

 

My only real issue with Into the Black Nowhere was that rather than address the cliffhanger that we were left with at the end of UNSUB, Caitlyn and her team instead move on to a new case, and it’s one that doesn’t appear to be at all related to the case from the first book.  In my mind, it does makes sense not to immediately revisit that case. Based on the way the first book ended and how soon the second book seems to follow the first, it’s probably too soon, but I’m just impatient and really want to know how that cliffhanger is going to play out!

I also would have liked a little more interaction between Caitlyn and her boyfriend, Sean.  They worked the first case together and I loved their chemistry together, both personally and professionally, so I missed that this time around since their relationship was relegated to the occasional phone call.  There were some hints along the way in this book, however, that lead me to believe they may end up working together on a future case, so I definitely look forward to that possibility.

 

Considering that I’m already anxiously awaiting the third book in this series, it’s safe to conclude that I recommend Into the Black Nowhere just as highly as I recommended UNSUB earlier this month.  Meg Gardiner has blown me away with the first two installments of this series and is now on my list of auto-buy authors.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Inspired by real-life serial killer Ted Bundy, an exhilarating thriller in which FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix faces off against a charming, merciless serial killer.

In southern Texas, on Saturday nights, women are disappearing. One vanishes from a movie theater. Another is ripped from her car at a stoplight. Another vanishes from her home while checking on her baby. Rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix, newly assigned to the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit, fears that a serial killer is roaming the dark roads outside Austin.

Caitlin and the FBI’s serial crime unit discover the first victim’s body in the woods. She’s laid out in a bloodstained, white baby-doll nightgown. A second victim in a white nightie lies deeper in the forest’s darkness. Both bodies are surrounded by Polaroid photos, stuck in the earth like headstones. Each photo pictures a woman in a white negligee, wrists slashed, suicide-style–posed like Snow White awaiting her prince’s kiss.

To track the UNSUB, Caitlin must get inside his mind. How is he selecting these women? Working with a legendary FBI profiler, Caitlin searches for a homology–that elusive point where character and action come together. She profiles a confident, meticulous killer who convinces his victims to lower their guard until he can overpower and take them in plain sight. He then reduces them to objects in a twisted fantasy–dolls for him to possess, control, and ultimately destroy. Caitlin’s profile leads the FBI to focus on one man: a charismatic, successful professional who easily gains people’s trust. But with only circumstantial evidence linking him to the murders, the police allow him to escape. As Saturday night approaches, Caitlin and the FBI enter a desperate game of cat and mouse, racing to capture the cunning predator before he claims more victims.

four-half-stars

About Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner is a bestselling, Edgar Award winning author. A former lawyer and lecturer at the University of California, she’s also a three-time Jeopardy! champion. Born in Oklahoma, she grew up in Santa Barbara, California, and lives in Austin.

China Lake won the 2009 Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Paperback Original. The Nightmare Thief won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense audiobook of the year. Phantom Instinct was named an O, the Oprah magazine, “Best Books of Summer.”

Meg’s latest novel, UNSUB, has been bought for development as a major television series by CBS.

Find Meg on Facebook: Facebook.com/MegGardinerBooks Twitter: @MegGardiner1 and Instagram: @Meggardiner1.

Weekly Recap #37: Week of 1/21 – 1/27

 

It’s time for another weekly recap post of all things happening on and off the blog. This week I’ll be linking to the Sunday Post, which is hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer and to Stacking the Shelves, which is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews.

Last week was a pretty good week all around. The drama at work has calmed down, and I was able to get a lot of blogging done.  I won’t say that I’m completely caught up, but I feel so much better about where I am right now versus where I was this time last week.  I also liked the feedback that I got from you guys regarding the mini book reviews for older books, so I’ll be trying those for the first time later this week.

I was checking out my progress on my challenges thus far and I’m feeling pretty good about all of those right now too, especially the Beat the Backlist challenge.  I’m reading Our Dark Duet right now, which is my 6th backlist book of the year.   I don’t know if I can maintain that pace long term since I do have quite a few ARCs coming up that I need to read and review first, but considering I only read about 25 backlist books all last year, I’m so stoked to have gotten off to such a good start.

It has also been a productive week for me on the series front. I don’t think I made it an official goal for 2018, but I have also been saying that I really want to finish up some series this year that have been lingering on my TBR for too long.  Well, I’m thrilled to say that I finally finished The Lunar Chronicles this morning and am already nearly halfway through Our Dark Duet so I’ll be finishing up the Monsters of Verity duology in the next few days too.  And because I’m on a roll, I also finished Nevernight too so now I just have to read Godsgrave to be all caught up in time for the third book in that series.

It wasn’t all reading for me this week either.  I also binge watched Season 4 of Grace and Frankie on Netflix.  Man, I love that show so much! I’m ready for season 5 already, which is the worst part about binge watching a series. You then have to wait FOREVER for more new episodes, lol. And with the news that Meryl Streep will be joining the cast for season 2, I also started watching Big Little Lies on HBO.  I’m only a couple of episodes in, but I’m completely hooked, which is kind of funny because I wasn’t the biggest fan of the book the series is based on.  It was just an okay read for me.

I think that’s it for me for now.  I hope everyone has a wonderful week!

WHAT I POSTED LAST WEEK

 

 

 

WHAT I’M READING THIS WEEK

 

    
 

UPCOMING REVIEWS

 

      
  
  
     

 STACKING THE SHELVES

 

        

 

TOTALLY RANDOM

Backlist Review: Nevernight

Backlist Review:  NevernightNevernight by Jay Kristoff
Also by this author: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)
four-stars
Series: The Nevernight Chronicle #1
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on August 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 429
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight is one of those books that has received so much hype that I’ll admit I kept pushing it aside on my shelf, fearing that it couldn’t possibly live up to the extremely high expectations I was building up in my own head for it.  I finally picked it up this year for the Beat the Backlist challenge I’m participating in and despite a few hiccups that I had early on, I think it’s safe to say this book really does live up to the hype.  As I was reading, I kept getting the vibe that it was basically a Game of Thrones/Harry Potter mash-up and since I love both of those series, it made for a winning combo for me.

Nevernight follows the story of Mia Corvere, a young woman who has recently lost everyone she loves at the hands of a corrupt government.  Mia’s father was wrongly executed for treason, and as further punishment, her family was kicked out of their home and left to rot in a prison.  Somehow, Mia miraculously escapes and goes into hiding.  She is determined to avenge her father’s death and using a gift she has but knows little about, the ability to communicate with shadows, Mia manages to find a retired killer who is willing to train her in the skills she’ll need to master in order to achieve her goal.

Mia soon finds herself in a position she never imagined, as an apprentice in a deadly school for assassins, the Red Church.  Here, she will continue her education in hopes of being chosen to serve as a Blade of the Lady of Blessed Murder, which would put her a step closer to her ultimate goal of vengeance.  That is, if her fellow classmates don’t kill her first. The competition to become a blade is truly cutthroat, pardon the pun.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, there is also a killer loose within the Church’s halls potentially threatening all of them, Mia is also being haunted by secrets from her own past that have resurfaced, and there also appears to be a conspiracy afoot that could bring down the entire Red Church and everyone in it.

What has Mia gotten herself into and will she even survive to the initiation ceremony, much less live to exact her revenge?

Mia was my favorite part of Nevernight, and her storyline is what gave me the Game of Thrones vibe that I enjoyed so much.  Mia reminded me so much of Arya Stark, who is my favorite GoT character.  Mia is a badass character who is also fiercely devoted to her family and will stop at nothing to avenge them, even if it means making a dangerous journey to a faraway land to receive proper training in the deadly arts she needs to ensure she does not fail.

What I really loved about Mia though is the sense of vulnerability that was also there beneath the surface.  Once she enters the assassin school, she appears to be quite skilled in several areas that are being taught.  Her biggest weakness, however, is that she seems way too quick to trust and make friends with those around her.  Given this is a cutthroat competition where only 4 out of 29 students will be chosen as Blades, this seemed a bit naïve.  At the same time though, while I wanted her to be more vigilant and less trusting, I also just liked how human it made her seem in the midst of such a ruthless and potentially deadly environment.  It added a nice layer of depth to her character and made her more relatable because of course we all want to have friends and she has been on her own since her family was taken away from her.

Mia wasn’t the only character I liked either.  Kristoff did one of my favorite things with this book – he gave me a cast of secondary characters that I also fell in love with because they’re so well-developed.  Mia’s fellow students and competitors were a fantastic bunch and I ended up loving even the ones that I probably shouldn’t have loved.  I found myself giving all of them the side eye throughout the story, trying to figure out if Mia could really trust any of them or not, and I loved that the story kept me guessing throughout:  will they be best friends or will they try to kill each other? Aside from that, I also liked getting a little backstory on them, particularly why each of them had chosen to come to the school. I knew why Mia wanted to be there, but it was equally fascinating to find out the motivations of the others.

Kristoff’s worldbuilding in Nevernight is truly exquisite.  The details were so richly drawn that I felt like I could easily visualize Godsgrave and even more especially, the assassin school of the Red Church.  And this is where my Harry Potter/Hogwarts vibe came into place.  The students are schooled in the areas of weaponry, poisons, pickpocketing, and the art of seduction, all skills designed to make them of service to the Lady of Blessed Murder.  As in the Harry Potter series, we actually follow Mia and her classmates to these classes and watch them progress in their lessons.  The classes are taught by masters in each of these areas called Shahiids, which reminded me of the Professors at Hogwarts.  Every detail of the school was well thought out, down to the contests and point systems in place to help determine the top four students at the end of the term.

Mia’s shadow gift is also pretty brilliant and I love the air of mystery it adds to her character. I don’t want to say too much about it since I think it’s best to learn more about her gift as she’s learning about it.  But can I just say that I want a shadowy “Not Cat” of my own?  Daemon or not, I loved that little shadow cat and the way it talked to Mia and stayed with her no matter what.

 

Overall I loved Nevernight, but I did have a couple of issues, one of which were the footnotes.  Even when footnotes contain essential information, I don’t like them because I find it distracting to have to stop my reading, go down to the bottom of the page and read the footnotes (some of which were very lengthy), and then go back up and start reading again.  I’ll admit that some of the footnotes were humorous and I liked the sarcastic tone of those, but most just left me annoyed that I had stopped reading the main action of the story to get what felt like a tidbit of trivia that didn’t really add much to what I was reading.  I’ve come across plenty of other readers who love the footnotes though, so I’m going to chalk this up as a personal quirk of mine.

I also had a little trouble settling into the novel at the beginning.  The language felt a little stilted and for the first few chapters, I thought the book might end up being a DNF because I wasn’t feeling wholly engaged with the story.  Thankfully though, whatever was bothering me early on seemed to give way pretty quickly to a more natural flowing prose and then I devoured the rest of the books in just a day or two.

 

Nevernight isn’t a book for the faint of heart.  It’s full of bloody violence, coarse language, treachery, and it has its fair share of smutty sex, but if you’re into those things, it’s a wild and entertaining ride!

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

four-stars

About Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, THE ILLUMINAE FILES and THE LOTUS WAR. He is the winner of four Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, nominee for the David Gemmell Morningstar and Legend awards, named multiple times in the Kirkus and Amazon Best Teen Books list and published in over thirty countries, most of which he has never visited. He is as surprised about all of this as you are. He is 6’7 and has approximately 13030 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell.

He does not believe in happy endings.

Book Review: The Hazel Wood

Book Review:  The Hazel WoodThe Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
three-half-stars
Series: The Hazel Wood #1
Published by Flatiron Books on January 30th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood is not your average story about fairytales.  Instead, it’s an edgy, dark, creepy, tale that at times, reads like a horror story.  That said, it was also one of my most anticipated reads of 2018 because it sounded like such a unique storyline. While I don’t think The Hazel Wood will ultimately end up on my Best Reads of 2018 list, it was still a pretty solidly entertaining read for me.

The Hazel Wood follows the story of seventeen-year old Alice and her mother, Ella.  They have spent most of Alice’s life moving from place to place, never staying in one spot for too long.  Why?  Because everywhere they go, bad luck seems to follow.  Ella and Alice are also a close-knit pair.  For as long as Alice can remember, it has just been the two of them, even though Alice knows she has a grandmother. Alice’s grandmother, who lives as a recluse at her estate, The Hazel Wood, wrote a book of dark fairy tales called Tales from the Hinterland that became a cult classic. The book is now nearly impossible to find but it still has a loyal fan following.  When Alice’s grandmother dies, Alice and Ella’s luck goes from bad to worse, and Tales from the Hinterland seems to somehow be at the center of their troubles.  Ella is kidnapped by someone who claims to have come to them from the Hinterland, the supernatural setting of Alice’s grandmother’s book, and the only clue Ella leaves for Alice is “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has no idea what to do, but when she realizes that one of her classmates, Ellery Finch, is a Hinterland fanboy, she turns to him for help.  He knows more about the Hinterland than anyone she knows and because he’s so obsessed with Tales from the Hinterland, he is more than willing to offer up any assistance he can provide.  When creepy, inexplicable things start to happen all around them, all signs point to the Hinterland and Alice and Ellery quickly realize that the only possible way of saving Ella is to travel to the one place Alice has been told to stay away from, the Hazel Wood. Since it’s not exactly located on any map, will Alice and Ellery be able to even find their way to the Hinterland?  And if so, will they be able to find and save Ella?

 

My absolute favorite part about The Hazel Wood were the actual fairytales from Tales of the Hinterland.  Because the book is so rare, Alice has never had the opportunity to read the tales her grandmother wrote.  Because Finch is such a fanboy and has read them many times, he can basically recite them from memory and so he shares them with Alice whenever she asks.  And the tales are fabulous.  From Twice Killed Katherine to The Door That Wasn’t There, they’re dark, creepy, and just so delightfully twisted.  I think Tales from the Hinterland by itself would have been a 5-star read for me!

Another quality I loved about The Hazel Wood was how atmospheric and suspenseful it was.  The author drops us into a creepy version of New York with Alice where almost every time she turns around, it seems like someone is following her.  She keeps seeing a red-haired man that she remembers from her childhood, as well as a taxi driver who seems to mysteriously turn up where she is repeatedly.  Are these people really following her or is it a coincidence?  Then once she starts hanging around with Finch, he adds to the suspense and paranoid creepy factor as he thinks he recognizes some of the characters who keep turning up as actual characters from Tales from the Hinterland.  Talk about ratcheting up the WHOA factor!

Another interesting aspect of the story for me was that while I didn’t find the main character Alice an especially likeable character, I still felt myself drawn to her story and like her or not, I was determined to follow her as she unraveled the mystery of the Hinterland, her mother, and her grandmother.  Usually not liking a main character is enough to make me give up on reading a book, so I was intrigued that, in this case, it didn’t really deter me.  The Hinterland and its occupants were just that fascinating!

 

I think my biggest issue with The Hazel Wood was that the main characters felt a little flat and under-developed.  I’ve already mentioned that I didn’t especially like Alice, but I also didn’t feel like I really got to delve much into her character.  She clearly has some anger issues that she is dealing with, and while it gives her a little of that flawed, complex, realistic feel that I usually love in characters, I just didn’t really feel the love for Alice. I shared in her desire to figure out what the heck was going on and to find her mother, who has mysteriously disappeared, but otherwise, I didn’t feel like I connected with her much.  I found Ellery Finch a much more likeable character, probably because his fanboyish love of Tales from the Hinterland was so adorable, but I still don’t really feel like I ever got to know much else about him.  I guess the book was meant to be more plot driven than character driven, but I still just like to get to know the characters even if that’s the case.

One other issue, and this may just be me misreading the synopsis, but I went into the book with the idea that the entire book was going to basically be a giant twisted fairy tale, pure fantasy.  I was a little thrown when I started reading and it sounded like an ordinary contemporary novel set in New York. Even once we started getting glimpses of Hinterland characters, it still felt like magical realism rather than full-on fantasy until about the halfway point of the book.  I still enjoyed the read overall but was a little confused starting out since the story wasn’t what I was expecting and what had initially drawn me to the story.

 

The Hazel Wood would make a great read for anyone who likes the idea of dark, twisted fairytales with a supernatural twist.  Some of them are a bit violent and bloody, so I’d probably also recommend this to more mature readers.  It’s a dark and creepy ride that will keep you up late reading, and looking over your shoulder every time something goes bump in the night!

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

three-half-stars

About Melissa Albert

Melissa Albert is the founding editor of the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog and the managing editor of BN.com. She has written for McSweeney’s, Time Out Chicago, MTV, and more. Melissa is from Illinois and lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Hazel Wood is her first novel.

Lessons Learned: Blogging While Traveling (Discussion Post)

 

For me, and I imagine for most of my fellow bloggers, the key to enjoying your blogging experience is to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for you.  I’ll be celebrating my second blogoversary in a couple of months and I know so much of these first two years has been about finding my way – trying new things and discarding them if they aren’t working for me, sometimes tweaking them slightly along the way just to make sure I can’t figure out a way to make things work.

One of the areas where I think I’ve learned the most about myself as a blogger is when it comes to blogging while traveling.  When I first started blogging, there was no way I was going to go off and leave my blog sitting silently for days or weeks while I was traveling, so I would pack up my laptop, my planners, and anything I thought I might possibly need in order to blog while away from home.  I hadn’t mastered the art of scheduling posts ahead of time at that point (and I still haven’t, but let’s not go there right now, lol), so in my overly ambitious mind, I was going to vacation all day and then fit in a little blogging at night.

Source: Pinterest

I’m not even sure why I thought this would work because those who know me know that when I plan trips for myself, I pack them full of activities (tours, shows, shopping, museums, whatever) and rarely have much down time. I like to go, go, go and then crash and burn once I get back to the hotel at night, lol.  So there’s little chance I’m going to get any reading done while I’m traveling, much less write any blog posts.  So yeah, I lugged around my laptop and books that whole trip for no reason.

The second trip I took, I was determined to learn from my mistakes so I didn’t even pack my laptop.  I still had that fear of leaving my blog sitting quietly while I was gone though, so this time I did get my act together and scheduled some content to post while I was away.  So instead of packing a laptop, I just packed an iPad and decided I would confine my blogging time to the train ride and would just use that time to basically blog hop and keep up with comments on my posts as they went up.  Unfortunately that was a fail for me as well.  I fell asleep for most of the train ride in both directions and just never got around to even opening the iPad once I reached my destination.

While this was, in theory, much more practical for me than lugging my laptop all over the place, it ultimately still wasn’t the best course of action, especially since once I got home, I had days and days’ worth of comments to catch up on from the posts that had gone up.  Plus, because I’m still working on my procrastination and scheduling skills, and even though I had content ready for while I was gone, I had no content ready to go once I returned so I still managed to create stress for myself, lol.  My trip was in late October and I felt like it took me until nearly December to really get myself back on track.

Source: Pinterest

I’m not sure when I’ll be taking my next trip, but after these two experiences, I’ve finally come around to the idea that, for me anyway, it’s perfectly okay to let my blog sit for a few days.  It has taken me two years to get to this point, but I’m thinking the best course of action for me is going to be to just make a short blog post letting people know I’ll be traveling for a few days and that I’ll resume blogging once I return.  At the same time, I will be doing my best to schedule content ahead – not to post while I’m gone — but instead, to actually begin posting once I return home.  That way I have a few days to get re-settled and recover from my travels and have the flexibility to blog hop and return comments without feeling like I’m falling behind.

We’ll see how that plan plays out, but I feel like it’s the least stressful and most practical option for me based on my travel and blogging habits.

Source: kadampalife.org

 

And you’ll notice that all of this is self-inflicted.  I know the blogging community is totally cool with me taking a hiatus whenever I need to.  It has just been me putting unnecessary pressure on myself, which is apparently what I do, lol.

So what about you?  Is blogging while traveling a “do” or a “don’t” for you?  Have you learned any tips along the way that have made it possible for you to blog while traveling?  Or are you okay with taking a mini hiatus while vacationing?

Can’t Wait Wednesday – Spotlight on BRUJA BORN by Zoraida Cordova

 

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which encourages fellow bloggers to spotlight upcoming releases that we’re excited about.  It is a meme that I have  loved participating in for over a year now, but as Jill is no longer actively posting, from now on I’ll just be linking to Can’t Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa, which is a spinoff of the original WoW meme.

* * * * *

My selection for this week is BRUJA BORN by Zoraida Cordova.  Labyrinth Lost, the first book in this series, was such an amazing read that I just can’t wait to get my hands on the second book in the series, which follows one of the other sisters in the Mortiz family.  I remember reading last year that the author created this series because she wanted a Latina version of the TV series Charmed so I like the idea that each book will focus on a different sister.

 

BRUJA BORN by Zoraida Cordova

Publication Date:   June 5, 2018

 

 

From Goodreads:

Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.

Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister’s newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula’s bruja healing powers can’t fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.

Then a bus crash turns Lula’s world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn’t the only one who’s been brought back…

 

 

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I’d love to hear what upcoming book releases you’re waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me your link in the comments below and I’ll stop by and check out your CWW selection for this week. 🙂

Top Ten Tuesday – 10 Books I Really Liked When I Read Them…But Remember Nothing About Now

Created at canva.com

 

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.  Top Ten Tuesday has been one of my favorite memes ever since I started blogging, so huge thanks to Jana for taking over the hosting duties!

This week’s TTT topic is  Books I Really Liked but Can’t Remember Anything/Much About.  Scrolling back through all of the books I’ve read over the years, it was actually a little disturbing how many of them I have no recollection of reading.  Sure, there are plenty of books that I’ve read and re-read and could probably quote passages from memory, but there are far more that I just draw a complete blank on when I look at them and even when I read the synopsis.

The ones I decided to mention today were especially surprising to me because I rated each of them at least 4 stars when I read them and also saved copies of them for my library, which I never do unless I love a book. So I know I loved them when I read them, but if you were to ask me what any of these were about, I couldn’t begin to tell you.

 

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10 BOOKS I REALLY LIKED WHEN I READ THEM BUT CAN’T REMEMBER ANYTHING ABOUT NOW

 

ONE PLUS ONE by Jojo Moyes

MUDBOUND by Hillary Jordan

THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield

THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver

THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE by Thomas Hardy

DECEPTION POINT by Dan Brown

PAPER TOWNS by John Green

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman

CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by M.L. Stedman

 

* * * * *

Question:  Does it bother you when you can’t remember anything about a book you know you read and loved?

Book Review: NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland

Book Review:  NEED TO KNOW by Karen ClevelandNeed to Know by Karen Cleveland
four-half-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on January 23rd 2018
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

If you’re looking for a gripping thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat, look no further than Karen Cleveland’s debut novel Need to Know.  Not only it is an incredibly timely story with its focus on Russian operatives and sleeper cells in the U.S., but it’s also a well crafted one that takes us through one mother’s journey to see how far she will go to protect her family when she feels they are being threatened.  And as if that isn’t enticing enough, I’ve read that Need to Know is also being made into a movie with Charlize Theron in the starring role so there’s that as well!

Need to Know follows the journey of Vivian Miller, a counter-intelligence analyst at the CIA. Incredibly skilled at what she does, Vivian has risen through the ranks and has landed a coveted job in the department that investigates all things Russia.  When the novel opens, Vivian and her department have been looking for Russian sleeper cells in the U.S. and Vivian has developed an algorithm that can identify Russian operatives who handle the sleeper cells.

One morning, while remote accessing the computer of a suspected operative, Vivian locates a secret dossier containing information about deep-cover Russian agents who are currently living in the United States.  What she finds makes her realize that, if true, most of her life has been a lie, and it threatens not only her job but also her husband and even her children.  Vivian has taken a vow to defend the U.S. against all enemies, whether foreign or domestic, but now she finds herself in an impossible situation, one that could get her imprisoned and even charged with treason!

What will Vivian do? How far is she willing to go to protect her family? Is there anyone she can trust to help her or is she on her own?

 

This is another one of those stories where I feel like I’m going to be vague in what I say so as not to give away any spoilers.  Because giving away any spoilers at all would ruin it, please bear with the vagueness.

In a book like this, I need a likeable main character that I can relate to and I liked Vivian right away.  She’s smart, savvy, good at what she does, and she’s a great wife and a devoted mother to her four children as well.  I found her job at the CIA fascinating and so I enjoyed following her as she accessed the operative’s computer and sifted through his files looking for useful information.  That said, I think where I found her the most relatable was her reaction once she uncovers this threatening information and realizes her family could be in danger.  As a mom, I completely related to her need to do whatever it took to make sure her children were safe.  Even though I didn’t necessarily agree with what she did every step of the way, I understood that the information she found put her in a no-win situation. She was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t so the only course of action that made sense was to at least protect her children at all costs.

Need to Know is presented to the reader from Vivian’s point of view, which was probably my favorite part about the novel.  Seeing the story unfold through her eyes and having a bird’s eye view of what’s going on in her head as each new detail unfolded and the threat to her family grew just made the story all the more engaging for me.  Her thoughts and fears and her frantically trying to find a way to make everything in her life okay again are what really kept me turning the pages. Her desperation is palpable as is her growing paranoia as she doesn’t know who, if anyone in her life, she can trust.  I found myself right there alongside her, questioning everything and everyone and wondering if she would ever be able to find a way out of the mess she was in.

I also think having the story told from Vivian’s point of view added to the suspense and the tension in the novel.  As I mentioned, that’s what kept me turning the pages and unable to put the book down once I got started.  The suspense builds throughout and keeps the pacing of the story quick.  I was easily able to read the book in less than two days and even found myself getting ready for work with my Kindle on the bathroom counter trying to squeeze in a few more pages whenever I could.  That’s impressive for any book in my opinion but is truly impressive for an author’s debut novel, which this is.

A final area that really impressed me with Need to Know was how well researched the CIA portion of the novel seemed to be.  It felt like I really was watching the inner operations of a counter-intelligence department, and I realized that I basically was once I checked out the author’s bio and learned that she herself had actually worked as a CIA analyst for 8 years, 6 of that specifically in counterterrorism.  Karen Cleveland is definitely writing from experience here and I appreciated the authenticity it brought to the story.

I don’t want to say much about this, but if you’re a fan of “Long Cons,” you’ll love this story.  It takes the long con to a whole new level!

 

I did have one issue with the story and that was that I thought there was a little too much focus on the day-to-day family activities in Vivian’s life. I loved that she was a fierce mom who would do anything to keep her children safe, but I felt like I got a little bogged down a few times along the way while I was reading.  I’m dying to know what’s going to happen next on the Russia front, but instead I’m sidetracked reading about one of the kids running a fever and needing to be picked up from daycare.  As a parent I recognize that those kinds of things are part of life, but as a reader, I was just sitting there like “Hurry up and get back to the juicy stuff!”

 

Even if you don’t typically enjoy spy thrillers, I’d still highly recommend Need to Know.  Even though there is a heavy spy thriller element with the focus on the CIA and the sleeper cells, the story is still basically a story about how far a woman will go to protect her family.  That added layer is what really made this a phenomenal read for me, and as much as I enjoyed Need to Know, I look forward to reading more from Karen Cleveland. I’m hopeful that the way the novel ends has left the door open for a sequel because I would love to read more about Vivian.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, a CIA analyst uncovers a dangerous secret that will test her loyalty to the agency—and to her family.

What do you do when everything you trust might be a lie?

Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her—her job, her husband, even her four children—are threatened.

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

 

 

four-half-stars

About Karen Cleveland

Karen Cleveland spent eight years as a CIA analyst, the last six in counterterrorism. She has master’s degrees from Trinity College Dublin, where she studied as a Fulbright Scholar, and from Harvard University. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and two young kids.