The Winters


Review #44: Fiction

First to Read #3

The Winters by Lisa Gabriele


For the most part, this is a highly enjoyable book. It is equal parts romance, thriller, and suspense, though falls short by having small sparks of each, but never going fully in on any one of these.

The story we’re following is of a young woman (we never get her name, which becomes more and more annoying as it’s specifically mentioned several times throughout that she is either happy or irritated when people pronounce it correctly or incorrectly) who meets a widower in the Cayman Islands while working for a tourist boat company. They have a very quick romance – so quick that it never really feels believable. Their relationship is very one-dimensional and a lot of the plot relies on the believability of their relationship. This lack of chemistry between the two characters (Max Winter and our unnamed protagonist) weakens the book.

Max spirits her away to be married and the new head of his extravagant home – Asherley – on Long Island, and to be a stepmother to his teenage daughter, Dani. Dani is the spitting image of her deceased mother, and behaves toward our protagonist as we would expect a teenager to receive a new mother less than two years after her passing. Though, unchecked, Dani begins to go above and beyond normal rebellious behavior, and soon becomes someone to be feared.

The protagonist (I am also annoyed by having to write ‘protagonist’ rather than a character’s name; it was a weird and bad choice by author and editor to move forward with an unnamed protag) gets closer and closer to Max, thinks she’s making strides with Dani, but time and again finds herself on the receiving end of cruel jokes. As these pranks unfold, Dani becomes more unstable, Max becomes more exasperated, the protagonist begins to learn more and more about the secrets Asherley keeps, the truth behind the death of the first Mrs. Winter, and whether or not she’ll meet the same fate.

To get the thriller elements, Gabriele gives us a lot of unsettling moments, creates a truly scary character in Dani, and keeps us asking questions nearly throughout. She uses a lot of misdirection, and red herrings to try to turn the reader’s attention away from putting the pieces together. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well enough, and before the protagonist figures it all out, most readers will have already deduced the final twist. This leaves around 30 pages of the book where readers will be left waiting for her to catch up.

In the end, there’s not much to be surprised by, and some ill-advised elements (the protagonist’s lack of name, the random addition of a grandmother in Cuba the protagonist doesn’t mention until the very end of the book, the lack of believable romance) weaken what could be a chilling story about family secrets. Dani is the best written character in the book, and definitely moves the story along in ways the protagonist just can’t when she’s not even given a name, is very loosely fleshed out, and finds herself embroiled in this family soap opera based on a foundation-less romance.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I received access to an e-copy of this book for this review.


The Invisible Library


Review #37 Fiction

Blogging for Books #11

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Invisible Library

The premise of this book had me from the get go. It just jumped out as something that encompassed so many of the things I enjoy about reading: fantasy, adventure, literature, mystery, romance, escapism. And all of those things come through in Genevieve Cogman’s first installment of the Invisible Library novels. If you enjoy Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, The Librarian/ The Librarians, or V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, you will be pulled headfirst into Cogman’s world.

Irene works for a mysterious library. Tasked with finding a dangerous book from an alternate London, Irene must take a new library recruit, Kai, on his first field mission. Their mission becomes beyond complicated when they arrive to find the book has already been stolen by a deadly underground society. Along with the threat of a legendary enemy of the library, Irene and Kai may not make it out of the chaos-infested London with the book, much less alive.

Cogman weaves an intricate tale filled with an eclectic cast of mythical and fantastic characters, including werewolves, vampires, fae, and dragons. There’s an element of steampunk just light enough to mingle with the classic detective narrative and make something fresh and funky. The alternate London that the story inhabits is beautifully rendered by Cogman, incorporating the dark and gloomy, foggy, cobble-stoned streets and the air of mystery surrounding the city.

Throughout, we’re taken on a bumpy Great Detective story, with twists and turns that shock the reader as much as Irene and her cohorts. Though this case is eventually solved, we’re left with a bit of cliffhanger, a whetted palate, wondering just what Alberich (a notorious Library enemy) is up to, how the Library came to be, and how Irene fits into the puzzle.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Cover art from
*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Dark Matter


Review #33: Fiction

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch


This book is a complete and total sci-fi, multidimensional, breakneck mind f*** from start to finish. And I mean that in the best possible way.

It’s hard to even describe how insanely interesting this book is. Much like the brand new ideas filling its pages, the right words are not yet available to praise it enough. The best I can do is tell you I read the whole thing in one day. Every time I stopped, I just couldn’t manage to do something else. I HAD TO KNOW what was going to happen.

Blake Crouch begins with the story of an everyday guy, in an everyday world, doing everyday things. Then BAM! Something not-so-everyday happens and everything goes off the rails. Jason Dessen is kidnapped, given a strange drug, and wakes up to a life that is not his…or so he thinks. Dessen then spends possibly lifetimes attempting to figure out where he is, who he is, when he is and how to get back to the where, who, when he remembers. The always-hard-to-comprehend idea of alternate realities, different versions of ourselves, splitting into someone(s) different after every decision we make is surprisingly easy to follow in Crouch’s story.

I have never been so completely engrossed in a story and world that is so impossibly possible. Crouch sets a new bar extremely high for any alternate reality sci-fi novels that come next. Literally spirally into infinity Dark Matter is a roller coaster ride with unimaginable twists and turns. You won’t see them coming and you’ll eagerly await the next.

My recommendation is to not read this all in one sitting, as I did, in order to enjoy the thrill of it longer, though I don’t think you’ll be able to restrain yourself.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from

The Secret Place


Review #14: Fiction

The Secret Place by Tana French

Secret Place

*I received this book as an advanced reader’s copy from the Book Expo America convention in New York in May. The hardcover publication date is September 2nd, 2014.

At St. Kilda’s, an all-girls boarding school in Dublin, a boy from the neighboring Colm’s, an all-boys boarding school, was found dead somewhere in the wide lawn surrounding the school. He had been struck in the back of the head and found with nothing on his person but four hyacinths and a condom. The killer was never found.

One year later—Holly Mackey fakes sick from classes and instead walks into Detective Stephen Moran’s office. He’s working Cold Cases, but has been waiting for his shot at Dublin Murder Squad. Holly shows him a picture of the boy who was found dead a year ago, Chris Harper, from when he was still alive, the words, “I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM” cut and pasted across the image. She explains about “The Secret Place,” a board in a hall at St. Kilda’s where the girls write their secrets and pin them anonymously. This is where Holly has found the card. She had been a witness in a trial when she was younger, and Detective Moran had been working with her through it all. Because of that she thought of him when she found the card. And just like that, Detective Moran has his shot at Murder Squad.

He immediately brings the card to the murder detective that was on the Chris Harper case, Detective Conway, who is a badass, no nonsense woman. She allows Moran to continue to work with her, basically on the condition that if she ever feels he’s in her way, or not helping, etc. he gets the boot. Their working relationship plays a big role throughout, but pretty obviously enough they hit a few snags, though each is grateful for the other in the end.

They go up to the school and have to deal with a head mistress that is not too happy to see them and teenage girls who are easily spooked and manipulated. They’ve narrowed down who pinned the card on “The Secret Place” to eight girls: Holly, Becca, Selena, and Julia—Holly’s group of friends and roommates at the boarding school, and a group of four others—Joanne, Gemma, Orla, and Allison—a group that is essentially the arch nemesis of Holly and her friends. The detectives figure they can find out who killed Chris by finding out who posted the card, but this proves to be as hard to figure out as it was to find the killer a year ago. They have to navigate through girls who want to get each other in trouble for the fun of it, girls who are lying to protect themselves, girls who are lying to protect their friends, and those who are being manipulated into doing someone else’s dirty work. Needless to say, it gets real complicated real fast, and the detectives are running out of time. With an angry head mistress trying to keep the girls from leaking any information about Moran and Conway showing up again to any parents, and Holly’s father, another detective who is not too happy to find his daughter caught up in this investigation, in addition to them not really getting the okay to work the case, they need weave through all the lies and figure out who did it before they lose Chris’s killer for good, and possibly their jobs.

There’s a lot of interwoven events in this story. It’s a great mystery, one that had me guessing the killer was someone else probably 3 or 4 times throughout (along with the detectives). But the great thing is that this story is not only about the mystery of who killed Chris Harper, but also why they did it, and how they got away with it (for a year at least). It’s also a heartwarming and heart-wrenching story about friendships, how they change and evolve; how they sometimes fall apart or get brought back together. It’s very deep, has many, many levels and takes you back to those teenage years when all that mattered were your friends, and the real world wasn’t a thing.

We’re also invested in Detective Moran. Will he or won’t he help with this case? Will Conway send him packing? Will he be the one to figure it out? Will Conway acknowledge his help if they figure it out together? Will they both get demoted to a desk job for the rest of their careers for not exactly going by the book in their investigation?

I love that this story was so multifaceted. I cared about everyone: the St. Kilda’s girls and their friendships, Chris Harper and who killed him and why, Detective Moran and his shot at Murder Squat, and Detective Conway and her lost case. I think French was brilliant in making that possible.

I don’t want to talk too much about plot, because I think this is one story where every little detail brings you into the story and moves you along from page one, and I don’t want to be the one to give away even a spec of evidence if you’re like me and trying to play along at home with the investigation. The one thing I will say, and this is the only area that turned me off just a bit, is that there’s a strange sub-plot that brings in some supernatural happenings. Holly’s group of friends have found a way to sneak out into the glade at night. The first night they do this, Julia tells them about a boy from Colm’s who groped her without her consent, and then and there they all make a vow to not get involved with any guys from Colm’s or anywhere else, until they’ve left St. Kilda’s. They make some sort of pack that feels like it involves more than just the four of them, somehow taking into account the moon and the mysterious, hidden location of the glade (which they have claimed as “their place” from then on, a location that gives the title a double meaning). After this happens, the girls are able to do things with their mind, they are essentially becoming telekinetic; they can turn lights on and off, make light bulbs burst, levitate objects in their hands, heat things, and spark fire, etc. Not that I’m against supernatural story lines, this one was just not fleshed out enough for me. It came up every so often, softly, just little hints of it, though it didn’t play a major part in the story. It affected a few things, but I think I would have rather seen it expanded upon exponentially and been a main focus of the story, or had it removed altogether and had another way to have certain things happen. Like I said, it was a small grievance, and really didn’t make the story worse, just made me wonder and therefore pulled me out of the narrative sometimes.

Tana French writes this from both the past and the present, alternating every other chapter. The way she sets up the story, the present is at one end of a line while the past is at the other, and each chapter brings the reader closer and closer to the middle where the answers lay. The most impressive part is that the present is told from Detective Moran’s view point, written with attention paid to the adult world, the Murder Squad world of the story, while the past is written from the POV of various girls from St. Kilda’s – mainly Holly, Becca, Selena, and Julia. The way French writes, it is easy to slip back and forth from past to present as well as from adult mentality to teenage mentality. She gets the dialogue exactly right, especially with the teen sections. She includes some text talk, using the OMGs and the WTFs and the Amazeballs here and there, sometimes seriously, sometimes in a mocking sort of way, but also gives the girls’ intelligent and complex conversations and thoughts. She really captures that middle ground between childhood and adulthood and uses the dialogue perfectly to do it. She does not make them all stereotypical boarding school bratty airheads, but makes each of them their own character, well-rounded and unique.

Overall, I really liked the story. It kept me guessing and interested, and wasn’t at a break neck pace, trying to fit too many clues and twists in constantly. It was relatable from all points of view, and the writing was beautiful. Tana French has a way with words, setting scenes and creating characters and scenarios like very few authors I’ve read can do. I am looking forward to checking out the other books in her Dublin Murder Series (this is the 5th, though they do not seem to need to be read in order).

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from