A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman

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A House at the Bottom of the a Lake
Josh Malerman
Goodreads

Both seventeen. Both afraid. But both saying yes.

It sounded like the perfect first date: canoeing across a chain of lakes, sandwiches and beer in the cooler. But teenagers Amelia and James discover something below the water’s surface that changes their lives forever.

It’s got two stories.

It’s got a garden.

And the front door is open.

It’s a house at the bottom of a lake.

For the teens, there is only one rule: no questions. And yet, how could a place so spectacular come with no price tag? While the duo plays house beneath the waves, one reality remains:

Just because a house is empty, doesn’t mean nobody’s home.

Review:

Like Bird Box, the other book written by Josh Malerman, this is a very atmospheric book.  It relies a lot on the sights, the sounds, the feel of the world around James and Amelia, the two main protagonists, to set the scene and drive up the tension.  It’s not entirely successful but it doesn’t fail either.  The concept of the book was supremely creepy and I was eager to get into it but it provided to be a little more bark than bite.

The book revolves around two teenagers, James and Amelia, discovering a perfectly pristine house at the bottom of the lake.  An impossible house where nothing is affected by the water surrounding it and no knick knack or item is out of place.  Everything is situated exactly as it should be in a house and thus, this is the atmosphere that we’re thrust into.  The darkness of the house, the impossibility of its existence and that nagging, creeping sense that it’s not right but it’s too fantastical to question.

James and Amelia become obsessed, spending all their time in diving gear, exploring the house.  They lose their virginity there, fall in love there and when the house is taken away, they lose each other.  They can’t exist with each other without the specter of the house.  It should be sad but I was more confused than anything.  Malerman has a penchant for doing this, making his books ambiguous so the reader can come to his own conclusions.  I would have liked to have a little more on the house but alas, it did not come true.

I think the crushing, horrible blackness of the dark was done better in Nick Cutter’s The Deep but this book wasn’t bad.  It was short, moved well, and was creepy in points but it just didn’t cross the line to really freak me out.  Still worth a few hours of time.

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This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston

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This Is Our Story
Ashley Elston
Goodreads

Five went in. Four came out.

No one knows what happened that morning at River Point. Five boys went hunting. Four came back. The boys won’t say who fired the shot that killed their friend; the evidence shows it could have been any one of them. 

Kate Marino’s senior year internship at the district attorney’s office isn’t exactly glamorous—more like an excuse to leave school early that looks good on college applications. Then the DA hands her boss, Mr. Stone, the biggest case her small town of Belle Terre has ever seen. The River Point Boys are all anyone can talk about. Despite their damning toxicology reports the morning of the accident, the DA wants the boys’ case swept under the rug. He owes his political office to their powerful families.

Kate won’t let that happen. Digging up secrets without revealing her own is a dangerous line to walk; Kate has her own reasons for seeking justice for Grant. As she investigates with Stone, the aging prosecutor relying on Kate to see and hear what he cannot, she realizes that nothing about the case—or the boys—is what it seems. Grant wasn’t who she thought he was, and neither is Stone’s prime suspect. As Kate gets dangerously close to the truth, it becomes clear that the early morning accident might not have been an accident at all—and if Kate doesn’t uncover the true killer, more than one life could be on the line…including her own. 

Review:

This is one of those books that you can’t really put down while you’re reading it but you probably won’t remember in a week or so.  It’s a good book, well paced, and interesting but nothing really stuck with me and there wasn’t anything hugely unique about it either.  It was a fun, popcorn-y book with some solid cliffhangers, decent twists and a satisfying ending.

This book is a basic whodunit revolving around Kate Marino, a high school senior, and five well to do boys who become four well to do boys when one of their group dies suspiciously.  And therein lies the mystery.  Which of the group show their friend?  What was the motive?  Why did it happen?  And will the boys group crumble or remain strong in the face of possible murder charges?

I’ll admit that the ending and the culprit weren’t who I guessed.  I’d been going down another route and had actually been waiting for some super duper twist because I’ve been burned by a lot of books that pull something nonsensical out of their hats to try and shock the reader.  This book didn’t do that and it has that going in its favor.  It doesn’t try and make the audience gasp.  One of the boys did it and that’s that.  The author sticks with that and makes the reveal at the end.

The love story between Kate and one of those well to do boys was a bit contrived and a little too candy sweet for me but it didn’t offend me.  I was actually waiting for the boy, Shep, to be the actual killer.  Was I right?  I won’t tell.

There were several plot points that were dangled but never resolved which irked a bit.  What was going on with Logan?  What was going on with Lori and Henry and Grant?  Who were the guys that Logan was in trouble with?  Did Stone ever hire Kate back?  So many.  Again, nothing too integral but after setting those things up, I would have liked to see them knocked down.

Overall, this is a good, quick read that kept me interested until the end.

Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin

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Blood for Blood
Ryan Graudin
Goodreads

There would be blood. Blood for blood. Blood to pay. An entire world of it.

For the resistance in the Third Reich, the war may be over, but the fight has just begun. Death camp survivor Yael, who has the power to skinshift, is on the run: the world has just seen her shoot and kill Hitler. But the truth of what happened is far more complicated, and its consequences are deadly. Yael and her unlikely comrades dive into enemy territory to try to turn the tide against Hitler’s army, and there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.

But in the midst of the chaos, Yael’s past and future collide when she comes face to face with a ghost from her past, and a spark with a fellow rider begins to grow into something more. Dark secrets reveal dark truths and one question hangs over them all—how far can you go for the ones you love?

Review:

In the conclusion of the Wolf to Wolf duology, we’re thrown right into a bloody, brutal, dark war right along with Yael and her Resistance.  We’re dragged through the mud and the gunk, we’re covered in the same blood that stains Yael’s hands and we hide behind the same walls that Yael stays behind to give herself a little more time to come up wit ha plan.

This book is great, plain and simple.  It’s not always the easiest read but it improves on so many things from the first book and doesn’t let up when it comes to pace and action.  Things never feel like they’re in a lull.  There is always something happening, always something going on and always some hook that got me to read more and more and more.

The character of Yael is one of the better ones I’ve been introduced to in a long time.  She’s a girl who doesn’t remember her own face, a girl who wants to right the wrongs that were done to her, a girl that lives by her own code, and is ready to die for her country.  She’s incredibly flawed and scarred but her ability to keep getting up and up and up when she’s knocked down is inspiring.  There were oftentimes that I expected her to die on the next page because Yael herself was ready to die.  She knew that her life would end and when it didn’t, I breathed out a sigh of relief.

This book did make me sad though in that it took one of my favorite characters from the first book, Felix, and twisted him up into a boy who did the wrong thing for what he thought were the right reasons.  He’s a boy who loves his family above all others and it leads him to make some terribly dumb, dangerous decisions.  It’s hard to forgive him when you see the consequences he has wrought but you can also put yourself in his shoes because he’s already lost one brother, he doesn’t want to lose the rest.  He makes mistakes, terrible mistakes, and I hated that he did what he did but I still loved him in the end.

Luka Lowe, oh Luka Lowe.  I didn’t care much for him in the first book but it’s amazing what a small novella and another novel can do.  Luka starts off as the boy who just wants his father to love him, respect him.  He ends the book as a hero who is gone too soon.  I was glad that he and Yael got to confess their love to one another before his end but I found myself wishing for more time for them.  Yael lost so much and I hated that she had to lose Luka too.

This is a really beautiful book.  It’s a quick read because things don’t stop moving and it’s a brutal book because the author is not afraid to do the messy thing.  I don’t want to give too much away but this comes with a high recommendation from me.

Iron to Iron by Ryan Graudin

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Iron to Iron
Ryan Graudin
Goodreads

Once upon a different time, there was a boy who raced through a kingdom of death.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Lowe has one goal in mind: Win the 1955 Axis Tour and become the first Double Cross victor. If he can accomplish that, maybe his father will finally see him as a worthy son. He’s completed the grueling trek from Germania to Tokyo before, but this time is different. Luka never expected to meet Adele Wolfe, another racer posing as her twin brother and with a singular dream–to live life on her own terms.

When Luka and Adele form an alliance, an unlikely bond forms, and even possibly love. But only one person can win the Axis Tour….Can everything Luka and Adele built together survive the race?

Review:

This is a short novella set before Wolf by Wolf that gives up some much appreciated backstory on Luka Lowe, one of supporting characters in the first book.  While Luka was mostly a shadowy, mysterious figure in the first book due to us seeing him through the eyes of someone who knows him only through files, this piece turns him into flesh and blood, a boy shaped by his cold father and the society surrounding him.

Luka starts off the book with one thing on his mind: winning.  He believes that by winning the Double Cross (basically winning the Axis Tour race twice), he will finally show his father that he’s weak.  Along the way, he meets Adele Wolfe and falls in love with her.  He struggles with trying to figure out if this means he is weak or if his father just hadn’t ever felt this before which made him the weak one.

But Luka is betrayed in the worst way, heart crushed, dream crushed, and left hollowed out by the book’s end.  He had everything he’d always wanted within reach and it was snatched away by the very person he was counting on to give him the life he always wanted.

Luka proves to be a very sympathetic, engaging character.  He’s flash and spice on the outside but wounded and sad on the inside.  He wants to be seen as good by his father and great by the Reich but he’s willing to throw it all away for a girl.  This novella, while fleshing out the character, gives light to what motivates Luka in Wolf to Wolf.  He’s a changed man, a harder man but there’s still that softness inside of him that yearns to be free.

Wolf by Wolf Ryan Graudin

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Wolf by Wolf
Ryan Graudin
Goodreads

Her story begins on a train.

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball in Tokyo.

Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move.

But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

From the author of The Walled City comes a fast-paced and innovative novel that will leave you breathless.

Review:

I picked this book up because it sounded like an interesting alternate history adventure and I was looking for something fast paced and exciting.  And while this book absolutely was what I thought, it was more too.  The story of the Third Reich, Hitler, and the atrocities committed against those who were not Aryan can be a tricky one to navigate but I though this book was both a great adventure, beautifully written, and handled with care topics that can be very, very sensitive.

The story centers around a young girl named Yael, who was put into a Jewish death camp as a child and experimented on by Nazi doctors until she was able to skinshift, change her appearance to anyone she set eyes on.  Once she escapes from the death camp, it makes her the perfect weapon in the fight against Hitler.

First though, she has to win a grueling cross country race to get close to the Fuhrer and that’s what the book mostly centers on.  It’s chock full of beautiful descriptions of the landscape that’s clearly been withered and torn to pieces in spots that the Reich doesn’t care about.  It’s gorgeous in New Delhi but ragged in small villages that go overlooked and uncared for.

The character of Yael is a difficult one to pin down because we don’t really know her just as Yael herself doesn’t know her.  She’s been stripped bare, opened up, hollowed out and changed into something so many times that she sometimes can’t remember who she is.  She is sympathetic and exhausting but in a way where you feel like you’re constantly running running running to figure her out and not in a way that you’re tired of her.  She’s a question mark and by the book’s end, you wonder if you know truly who Yael is or if you just know who Adele Wolfe, the woman she spent the book posing as, is.

Since this is the first in a series, I get another book to really dive into Yael’s character and to see how the big, twisty ending unravels in the next book.

You, by Caroline Kepnes

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Caroline Kepnes
Goodreads

When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

Review:

I’m so conflicted by this book. I’m upset at how much I enjoyed it. I hated that I got so into the main character’s narrative, to the point where I was feeling sympathy for a MURDEROUS STALKER.

Caroline Kepnes does some great writing here. It’s gross, to be immediately thrust into the mind of someone like Joe, but it’s not like he’s outright disgusting. He’s not immediately thinking about murdering people. His thoughts are a twisted snarl of fantasy and delusion, all turned on Beck from the moment they have their first interaction.

The worst part, THE WORST PART, is that there were moments I was on Joe’s side. This is half way through the book, when you know the depths of crazy to which Joe will dive. This is after he’s already killed someone. This is wincing and holding my breath, hoping Joe doesn’t get caught during a tense scene when he’s STALKING BECK.

I felt so dirty for devouring this book in a single day, and despite that I can’t wait for the Lifetime TV show. It’s going to be an amazing hot mess.

The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon

28260402 The Song Rising
Samantha Shannon
Goodreads

The hotly anticipated third book in the bestselling Bone Season series – a ground-breaking, dystopian fantasy of extraordinary imagination

Following a bloody battle against foes on every side, Paige Mahoney has risen to the dangerous position of Underqueen, ruling over London’s criminal population.

But, having turned her back on Jaxon Hall and with vengeful enemies still at large, the task of stabilising the fractured underworld has never seemed so challenging.

Little does Paige know that her reign may be cut short by the introduction of Senshield, a deadly technology that spells doom for the clairvoyant community and the world as they know it…

Review:

This is the third book in a planned seven book series and it’s certainly reads like a middle book as well.  It’s very, very much a book that’s going to set up the last half of the series and that’s okay!  Considering the breadth and reach that Samantha Shannon seems to want to reach with this series, there needs to be a book of setting things up, moving things into place and making sure everything is ready to go for a final four books.

It had been awhile since I’d read book two so it took me a few pages to settle back in with these characters and the world.  This is a book about clairvoyants, the unnaturals of Scion London who just want to be allowed to live their lives but due to their abilities, find that hard.  The regular folks want them eliminated, taken out and killed or sent to penal colonies away from them.

Paige Mahoney is the Underqueen, the leader of all the unnaturals and a greatly sympathetic character.  The girl takes a beating and gets up to keep going.  She is mentally and physically pushed to her limits and she’s still standing by the book’s end.  I think that were Paige a less well written character, the books would suffer because a lot of the story relies on her.  She’s very flawed, makes mistakes, and does all of this while she’s only nineteen!  I need to rethink some of my life choices.

My only minor quibble with this book and this series is the romance between Paige and Warden.  It’s so off and on that I’ve gotten bored with the will they/won’t they.  I know the point is to create tension but I’ve become far more interested in Paige separately and Warden separately than when they come together. Hopefully the author decides what to do with them in the next book or I fear this will get worse.