Blurb Book Review: I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells (spoilers ahead)

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This novel is classified as YA because the protagonist is a teenager. While I don’t read a lot of YA, this one was quite good.

John Wayne Cleaver has a specific set of rules to stop himself from becoming a serial killer. It doesn’t help that his mom and aunt run a mortuary out of their home. John likes to help with the embalming process and get up close and personal with dead bodies. They feel normal to him, demanding nothing of him, and he can be himself around them.

A person is killed behind a laundromat and this body has something different about it – it seems to be part of a calculated kill. John believes this is the work of a serial killer. John knows all the signs because he’s studied them thoroughly.

He investigates, even though it breaks one of his rules to do so. What he finds shocks him and thrusts him into a new world, one where the danger is outside himself instead of lurking within.

The novel ends in a way that I felt was a bit too easy, but then I saw it’s YA and yeah, that makes sense. There are four other books in the series. I may check them out. I liked the narrative style and the internal dialogue of this one, so I might like the others.

Blurb Book Review: And There He Kept Her by Joshua Moehling (spoilers ahead)

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This debut novel is tightly written, so much so that I’ll keep my eye out for more books by the author.

Two teenagers go missing in the small town of Sandy Lake, one of them is Sheriff Ben Packard’s cousin’s daughter. Packard is new to town, having moved from the big city to start anew after the death of his boyfriend, and has history in Sandy Lake. Long ago, his brother Nick went missing while his family was there during summer vacation.

Emmett Burr caught the teens breaking into his house and took action. His own life is dreadful; a failed marriage, chronic pain, and bad health. He had dreams of having a girl who would do his bidding like Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie and took steps to make that happen.

The story alternates points of view, giving the reader the opportunity to be fully immersed in both characters. This helped keep the tension nice and tight, which never wavered. There were no sagging spots in the plot, no extraneous details, no red herrings.

I especially enjoyed the descriptions of each character as they were introduced. Each one was vivid and interesting. If a fair amount of time had passed, the author made sure to remind the reader of who the character was and/or the relationship of that character to the current ones on the page.

The disappearance of Nick was never answered, which bothered me a bit. There’s a hint as to who was involved and a nugget of mystery surrounding the evidence, likely to be foreshadowing for the next book in the series.

Other than that tiny nitpick, I enjoyed this novel immensely. Highly recommend to people who like small town mysteries with interesting characters.

Blurb Book Review: Stories From the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana (spoilers ahead)

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Banneker Terrace is a building in Harlem. Everyone seems to know everyone else, or at least know of everyone else. The area is undergoing gentrification, adding stress to the tenants’ already stressful lives.

The eight stories are intertwined beautifully and examine the realities of being pushed out of your home while you struggle to make ends meet and get on with life. While I’ve never personally been to Harlem, I felt like the novel transported me there. I do have some experience in poverty and I must say the author represented it well. Money is a main concern and dreams of making it big fuel the day.

The narrative style was a bit jarring at first but I was engrossed quickly. I adored how each story’s style spoke to the main character as well. I could hear the people talking and feel their personalities come off the page.

This is a though-provoking novel of hardship and human connection. The author did a wonderful job in making this book feel like a private peek into neighbour’s lives. Highly recommend.

Blurb Book Review: Semiosis by Sue Burke (spoilers ahead)

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A group of people travel to another planet to live in harmony and peace. They encounter sentience in ways they hadn’t predicted.

The first generation of people live a hard life of eking out an existence on this new planet. One of the members of the second generation finds a settlement left by another species; a village of glass blocks and rainbow bamboo. The first generation people believe the bamboo – who provided delicious fruit – is trying to trap the humans there and argues against living in the settlement. A small battle ensues and many of the humans go to the village to begin a new life that includes less hardship and more time for pursuit of pleasure.

The bamboo is sentient and knows these new humans will provide gifts in terms of fertilizer (poop) and water. This information was garnered from moths that bit the humans and brought the little chunks back to the bamboo to analyze. The bamboo helps the humans by providing enzymes and nutrients that aren’t available otherwise. It also helps them with medical concerns and in return, the humans cultivate seeds of the bamboo and plant them where indicated.

The worldbuilding in the book is fascinating. I was engrossed throughout as the novel switched perspectives from humans to this bamboo. Both wanted to live a comfortable life and both assisted each other, sometimes reluctantly. The animals and plants were fantastic and richly described so that I was immersed in this new planet every step of the way.

The novel is told over seven generations. Each chapter is like a peek into a new generation or character and references events that happened off the page but are still relevant, like the computers failing and deaths from accidents. These references were a bit frustrating – I’d have liked to read about them – but I understood they’d make the book tediously long.

The conflict is gentle, for the most part. It’s the struggle of humans living with each other and dealing with differing opinions on important matters. One huge difference of opinion is tracking down the ones that originally made the settlement – the Glassmakers – and how to interact with them.

I almost didn’t want the book to end. I really enjoyed reading about the new creatures and how the humans dealt with petty squabbles amongst themselves, all on a colourful backdrop of a rainbow bamboo and glass village. I’d actually like to see this book made into a TV series.

Blurb Book Review: Haven by Emma Donoghue (spoilers ahead)

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Set in the seventh century, this is a novel about a priest who receives a dream from God telling him to set up a monastery in a remote location so he may leave the sinful world behind. Artt takes two monks with him, young Trian and older Cormac. They set off and find a craggy island untouched by humans. There, Artt determines they are to serve God.

The story is told from all three character’s pov in alternating passages and is engrossing enough to keep me reading. The hardship these three men faced was incredible, eking out a bare existence with little food and no readily available shelter. Artt, in his religious wisdom, decides things like altars are more important than building a shelter. The work of building and hunting goes to Trian and Cormac where Artt simply directs them and copies religious texts.

Their fellowship crumbles, mostly due to Artt’s leadership, and the book ends in a way that satisfies.

A quick and easy read, this novel was surprisingly interesting. Honestly, I don’t think I would have read a book about three monks in the seventh century had it been written by someone else.

Blurb Book Review: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig (spoilers ahead)

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Clocking in at 780 pages, this novel is weighty. So weighty I almost passed on it. Thankfully, the narrative style made this an easy read.

Nessie doesn’t exactly wake up one day. Instead, she sleepwalks out the door and down the road. Soon, she’s joined by others in a similar state. Nothing can wake them. Nothing can pierce their skin. If you try to hold one back, that person expands like a balloon and pops in a most gruesome manner.

In the midst of this is a pandemic. A fungal infection has entered humanity and is killing them, first slowly, then a cascade reaction takes out most of humanity pretty fast. This was a bit eerie to read as the novel was published a year before COVID became a household name.

The novel is told in alternating points of view and reveals who created these wanderers and why.

Overall, the novel kept my attention. The author was excellent at reminding the reader of the characters’ motives, attitudes, and physical descriptions. At first I found this bothersome but as the pages turned I was grateful for the small reminders because otherwise I’d have too much information to hold in my head all at once.

One nitpicky bit: there was a love storyline between two people, Benji and Sadie, which felt clumsily written, like someone was writing about a fantasy love story rather than a depiction of how two people behave.

Otherwise, this novel was decent. I enjoyed it enough to read the sequel. The characters were diverse and interesting enough to hold my attention, and the plots of the wanderers and the pandemic were well enough written (if a bit gory and gross in parts) that I never lost the thread.

Would I read more by the author, other than the sequel? Maybe, if they aren’t quite so large, or if I have nothing else pressing to read.

Blurb Book Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (spoilers ahead)

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I put this book on hold because I thought it was written from a non-human point of view. I was partially correct.

Marcellus is an octopus in an aquarium. He was captured when young and has spent his life in a glass tank.
Tova is an elderly woman who cleans the aquarium to keep busy. Her son died under mysterious circumstances thirty years ago.
Cameron is a man in search of his father. His mom gave him up when he was nine and never told him who his father was.

The three of them develop a kind of friendship. First is Marcellus and Tova, who communicate enough to understand each other. Marcellus keeps leaving his tank in search of tasty alternatives to his daily meals (and finds those alternatives in the other tanks). Tova catches him and keeps his secret. She talks to him as she cleans, tells him bits of her life, enough that he understands that her son is at the bottom of the ocean.

Cameron rides into town on a hot lead about his dad. While in Sowell Bay he takes a job at the aquarium to make enough money to survive while there. He’s a bit of a petulant man, I’d think of him as a man-baby, who is pissed off at the world for not giving him what he feels is his due. With a drug-addicted mother and absent father, he was raised by his aunt.

Gradually, Cameron opens up to Tova’s tutelage on how to properly clean the aquarium and learns Marcellus isn’t as stupid as he’d thought.

Marcellus draws a line of connection between Cameron and Tova, and works hard to let her know.

Overall, this book was entertaining. I felt like the author re-iterated information unnecessarily, but that just made it for an easy read. I didn’t have to think or try to work anything out, I could just enjoy the scenes as they unfolded. I didn’t particularly like Cameron’s character, but did see some growth toward the end.

If you like soft novels about family and friendship, this might be a good book for you.

Blurb Book Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch (spoilers ahead)

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I’m just blasting through books! I have a stack of five more that I want to get read before they’re due back at the library.

I’ve read two other books by this author and I must admit, this one was easier to follow even though it was science-heavy. But easy to follow doesn’t necessarily mean good.

The novel is about upgrading human DNA to improve both physical and mental aspects. The narrator’s mother was a geneticist who tried to improve crops but ended up killing around 200 million people. Genetic engineering became outlawed and the narrator, Logan, is arrested for his part in the massacre. He serves time and gets hired by a government agency intent on locating anyone participating in gene editing.

When Logan is the victim in a bombing, his genes become altered via a virus. He becomes a kind of superhuman. The government captures him and observes him to track the extent of his changes. While the changes are setting in, a mysterious figure breaks him out. This mysterious person turns out to be his sister – also upgraded – who wants to follow in their mother’s footsteps and upgrade all of humanity. He believes he must stop her at any cost.

I had no connection with the main character. I didn’t care about him at all, which made it hard to care about the story. I also found the author’s style to be a bit distracting. This novel was definitely easier to follow but I had a sense of general misogynic threads. As an example, Logan was seeing a psychologist named Aimee. Not “Dr. –“, but Aimee. Also, Logan’s wife, for no reason at all, gets into a bathtub with Logan while he’s in pain from the upgrade. Why would she do that except to have the reader imagine her naked? A regular bathtub barely fits two people, which made this whole scene just a bit distasteful.

The author also used nouns as verbs. The character ‘glassed’ the area (looked through binoculars), and ‘badged’ in (used a security badge to electronically open a door), and ‘broomed’ the area (swept it). While I can accept these, they did pull me out of the story a bit.

Overall, it was entertaining enough to finish. I was curious about how Logan would save the world, but I admit I rolled my eyes at the solution. While it was good, it was also a bit hokey.

Blurb Book Review: City of Orange by David Yoon (spoilers ahead)

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This book left me thinking about loneliness, being alone, and survival.

Adam wakes up in some sand surrounded by cement, with a head injury and no idea who he is, where he is, or what’s happened to civilization. He finds a strange key in his shoe and a bottle of pain relievers in his pocket.

Assuming the world has ended somehow and that he’d been attacked by someone, he begins to figure out how to survive until he can remember things. He finds a few tools in the flotsam of the dried up river and a faucet with running water. After a short time he also finds someone’s shelter under a bridge. Inside the shelter is a camping stove, matches, and some canned food.

Anything that brings memory back is pushed away. Can labels are removed and he pulls himself out of memory as quickly as possible. He knows that whatever is lurking in his head is bad and he’s just not ready to face it yet.

While surviving, he encounters a young boy, Clay, who becomes a sort of friend while Adam tries to navigate this new world.

What got me was how Adam was alone and nobody seemed to be looking for him. He had no phone and no thoughts of one, except that they were things people had Before. Before what? The reader isn’t told until near the end.

Everything is explained, slowly, in little bits, in a way that satisfied my curiosity.

This novel made me think of our online world and how if we simply stop posting something, we just disappear. If we have no contacts in real life, our disappearance is barely noted. Some may wonder where we are or what happened, but our attention is quickly taken away by some other tidbit of information swirling around us.

It also made me think of how alone we are even when surrounded by people. Sometimes an event will shatter our world and even though we’re reeling, others are carrying on with the mundanity of life.

Excellent book, highly recommend it.

Blurb Book Review: The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd (spoilers ahead)

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It’s been a while since I finished a book. I’ve been busy planning for my first ever vacation and that’s taken up most of my brain power. I did finish this one, though.

When maps are made, the cartographer will often add a town that doesn’t exist as a way of copyrighting the map. These tows, in real life, are called Paper Towns and sometimes a town will sprout up in that location. In this novel, extra rooms or towns are called ‘phantom settlements’ and they can only be accessed by viewing the map as you go to the location.

I thought that was a really cool concept. Rooms that don’t exist unless you have the map? Fantastic! But the book’s focus was heavily romantic rather than magical realism. So heavily romantic that I think the book should be shelved under romance, not mystery.

The constant hand-wringing of the main character, Nell, got really annoying really fast. Sure, she had a relationship with another character, Felix, and when they were both fired from New York Public Library their relationship ended….but could there be more? Could they be together again? Could they ever love again? If you like romance, you’d appreciate this far more than I did. I just wanted to get on with the story about magic rooms.

In addition to my irk about romance, the author overused several phrases to the point where I was rolling my eyes by the end. You don’t need to tell me the ‘lion statues flanked the stone steps’ more than once. I can remember where the lion statues were once I’ve been told. I don’t need to hear about how Nell was so tiny that she drowned in her oversize cardigan more than once. Please use a different method of describing her, thank you. But for romance, this fits I guess.

The plot was a bit weak. Nell finds a bunch of maps in a dusty storage area of NYPL and brings them to her father, who heads the department. He pitches a fit over them. She fights him on them. Felix backs her up. Her dad has them both fired and shunned in the industry.

That seemed over the top. I mean, wouldn’t the father find a better way of dealing with these maps – one of which holds the secret to a missing town – than making a big stink about it? His insistence that it’s worthless only makes Nell investigate the map.

We find out later that Nell’s mom was in that magic town when all the maps to it burned. She died as a result. And since you can’t go to the town without the map, it was lost forever. The group of friends mapping the place out all go their separate ways and live their lives.

But then Nell investigates and discovers not all the maps were lost. One of them was in that bunch she found at NYPL.

I felt like the book took a long time to get where it was going. A lot of stuff could have been edited out as it was just repetitious. The climax was interesting but not particularly shocking.

Again, if you like romance, this might be an interesting mystery/romance for you. For me, I just wanted more action and focus on magic rooms and towns.