The Devil and the Dark Water

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Apologies for missing my regular upload date for a few weeks! This has been a hectic year for me, and my reading overall has suffered, but let’s get back to business, shall we?

I read, reviewed, and really liked Stuart Turton’s previous novel, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, so I planned to read his newest novel as soon as I saw it was in production. Stuart Turton has stated that one of his inspirations was Agatha Cristie, and I can definitely see that. This novel and his previous were both “closed mysteries,” meaning there is a limited number of suspects, often because of the setting. In this novel it is because we’re on a ship.

This mystery novel takes place on a ship in the 1600’s that is heading to Amsterdam. The ship is filled to the brim with interesting characters. There are some upper class men, women and children, crewmembers who may or may not be murderous criminals, and a famous investigator currently accused of a crime and his assistant/body guard to name a few. As the ship sets sail a leper warns everyone of something terrible (and possibly demonic) on board before killing himself. The leper event grabs the attention of Arent, the assistant to the famous investigator, and Sara, the inquisitive wife of the Governor-General. Together they try to get to the bottom of the possibly occult happenings before someone gets hurt or killed.

Arent is a very stiff character, especially in the first half of the novel, but I liked that he started to come out of his shell as an investigator and as a friend to Sara. I also liked Sara. She is a high class lady, but she is much more than that when the overbearing men in her life aren’t around. Sara is inquisitive, intelligent, and quite brave. She also has some interesting secrets of her own. There were a handful of side characters I also enjoyed, like Arent’s friend/boss the famous investigator and Sara’s friend and daughter. As for the suspects, there are quite a few, and many have decent motives for causing the (possibly demonic) mischief on the ship.

I’m really not sure if it was just me at this point, because many reviewers seemed to really enjoy this novel, but I was not very invested in the plot. I’ve read a few books set on ships, and I didn’t like them, so perhaps I have something against stories set on the high seas? (I need to read something pirate-y now to prove/disprove this theory, because I do like the idea of a pirate novel…) Setting aside, I didn’t feel as much urgency from the plot in the beginning as the story seemed to want me to. Arent and Sara have a limited amount of time to get to the bottom of things because eventually they will reach Amsterdam and leave the ship and/or the ship may be destroyed on the way if there’s really a dangerous presence on the ship. Eventually the pace ramps up and the stakes become higher, but I was a little disappointed in the ending. And, like with The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I felt like the world that the author built had a lot more to give. As with his previous novel, I wouldn’t mind seeing another book set in this world/time period.

The Devil and the Dark Water was a fun story with several twists and surprises in the mystery and a good cast of characters, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, I would highly recommend picking it up if you loved the author previous work or if you think it might be right up your alley instead.

My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Thank you to Turner Publishing for providing a free ARC for my review.

I was given this book for review several weeks ago, but I got a bit too busy, so I’m breaking my “every other Sunday” schedule to get this review out a bit sooner.

The setting is 1920 on Ellis Island. Immigrants are pouring into New York Harbor with just the clothes on their backs and dreams of a new life. World War I is over, but the world is still feeling the aftereffects, and as we all know, old hatreds and fears die very slowly. Stephen Robbins has a special talent for finding people, and when his mysterious contact shows up at his workplace with the story of a pregnant Irish girl gone missing, he somewhat reluctantly takes on the task of finding her because he is dealing with his life issues. Stephen stumbles upon not just one strange vanishing but several. He, along with Lucy Paul, one of the nurses on Ellis Island, work together to get to the bottom of the disappearances.

I’m not a big fan of books that deal with the World Wars, but this book focuses on the aftermath of WWI, which I found to be a more unique perspective. In the 1920’s (like now, and probably like always) racist, classist, ableist, and of course religious tensions divided people, and this tension is a major theme of the novel. Some of the characters working on Ellis Island have strong opinions about who should be considered an American. In many ways the book felt timeless because we’re still dealing with these prejudices today (which is also depressing– do we ever learn from history?). The antagonists in the novel are disturbing because their motivation is so realistic, especially considering the arguments regarding immigration we have seen in the past few years. I’ve always found that the most chilling “bad guys” are not fantastical monsters; instead they are regular people with monstrous motives.

I also enjoyed the protagonists. Stephen is certainly an interesting character. He appears in the novel with a specific job to do, but it is clear that he has development off the page that fleshes him out more. The same can be said for Lucy. Lucy and Stephen worked together well, and I liked that their respective talents were utilized throughout the plot. It felt like one could not have solved the mysteries without the other. There is a bit of a romance within the novel, and though it wasn’t a major point of interest to me, it didn’t take over the plot and it felt genuine if perhaps a bit quick for my taste. But keep in mind I’m not a big fan of romances in general, so your mileage may vary.

The plot was interesting, and though I saw a few events coming, I wouldn’t call it predictable. Even when I thought I knew where the story was going, I still had questions about exactly how these things would play out, and I was surprised by some of the answers. I wasn’t entirely on board with the plot’s pacing though. There was a very dramatic event around halfway through the book, and after it happened, I was surprised that there was so much of the book left because it felt like things could wrap up rather quickly afterwards. After this tense event there was a lull in the pacing and the book left the mystery/thriller genre and started to feel like a courtroom drama, which I’m not as into. However, there were a lot of reveals during this time. Then tension built up again, and the sort of “second climax” at the end of the novel wrapped up quickly.

I found My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black to be a very solid historical mystery that had me turning the pages fast once I got into it. I gave it three and a half stars out of five.

Sharp Objects

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Camille Preaker’s Chicago newspaper tasks her with reporting on a string of child murders happening in her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri. During her visit, Camille stays with her controlling mother, Adora; her quiet stepfather, Alan; and her beautiful and wild half-sister, Amma. As Camille seeks to unravel the mystery brewing in her small hometown she also battles her own demons, including her mental health and the memories of the death of her other little sister. The grisly details around the Wind Gap murders cast suspicion on many of the town’s residents, but the most puzzling detail is the removal of the victims’ teeth.

There are many female characters in this book, but they aren’t the stereotypical female characters you often see in these dark thrillers. Camille is headstrong, vulnerable, and flawed. I disagreed with many of her choices, but most of them felt realistic given her personality and history. Though at one point I was internally yelling at Camille, “Why would you do that?!” The book takes place in a small Midwest town before cell phones were widespread, and it isn’t surprising that the men in the story all seem to have an idea of what a lady should be, but very few of the female characters fit into this “box.” This is one reason why I really like Gillian Flynn’s novels. She knows how to write very complex and realistic female characters that defy tropes, and she doesn’t flinch away from portraying the dark or un-lady-like sides of life. Specially, I liked that her female characters used sex in ways that male characters often do; for example, as a sort of selfish release without strings attached and as a transactional act. The characters in this book– even the “good” ones– do morally questionable things. Many of the characters are morally gray, which adds realism to the cast.

Coming from a small Midwest town myself, I thought Flynn’s portrayal of the people and culture was mostly spot on. For example, the rich families get away with a lot, the residents are wary of outsiders, the kids are more wild than their parents realize, and though a small town may look charming on the outside, covered up crimes and hidden addictions are below the surface. I felt immersed in the story because of the mystery itself, the characters’ secrets, and the overall dark atmosphere.

A lot of messed up things happen during the plot of the novel. Aside from the actual murdering of young girls, there are many descriptions of sex, drug use by minors, self harm, child abuse, and prescription drug abuse to name a few. The pacing is fast and tense, with most of the events happening within a span of a few days, perhaps a week. Thrillers are known for their twists, but I could see some of the plot points coming. However, I believe this was Gillian Flynn’s first book, so it is clear that she has since made her writing even less predictable. Also, this book was published in 2006, so there have been many newer books that have overused some tropes and it may be a bit unfair to judge an older thriller for such things. Despite that, some of the twists near the latter half of the novel still took me by surprise.

Though it may not be Gillian Flynn’s best novel, it still had me hooked from the first chapter, and especially if you’re a fan of hers and haven’t read this one, I would recommend it as long as the darker parts don’t bother you too much. This is certainly a solid mystery/thriller for those who enjoy the genre. I’d give Sharp Objects somewhere between 3.5 to 4 stars.

The Turn of the Key

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It has been a quite while since I read a thriller, but I usually get in the mood for them around this time of year. A couple of years ago I read Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. I certainly didn’t hate that novel, but I thought it had some imperfections that bothered me. Since then I have heard many people rave about Ware’s other books, so I thought I would take a second look at the author’s work by reading one of her newer books that appealed to me.

The Elincourts purchased Heatherbrae House, an old home in the Scottish countryside with a violent and mysterious history. They have used their architectural and technological knowledge to make it into a “smart home.” All they need now is a reliable nanny to take care of their four children while they are busy with their demanding careers. They have actually had several nannies, but each one has made a hasty exit after experiencing odd, possibly supernatural, experiences within the home. With the high salary and a chance at a new life, Rowan Caine decides to apply to be their newest nanny. What could possibly go wrong?

The novel opens with Rowan writing to a lawyer who might be able to get her out of prison. She is in prison because she has been accused of killing one of the Elincourt’s children, but she claims she is innocent. Throughout the novel she narrates her tenure as the family’s nanny. If you do not enjoy an epistolary format, don’t worry. It is very easy to forget that Rowan is writing the story for someone else. She only addresses the lawyer by name a few times in the beginning and a handful of times throughout the rest of book.

I love a good haunted house story, and not only does Heatherbrae House have a mysterious history but it being a smart house makes for even more unsettling situations. The rooms being filled with security cameras, everything being controlled by a phone app, and being able to talk to people in different rooms via the speaker system all lead to many crazy and creepy happenings. In my opinion, the best parts of this novel were the atmospheric and suspenseful scenes. The author is talented at drawing you in and making you question everything, including the narrator herself.

However, as with The Woman in Cabin 10, I sometimes got annoyed at the main character’s decision making. Admittedly, Rowan isn’t nearly as frustratingly stupid as The Woman in Cabin 10‘s lead, but there were still a couple of instances that made me angry at Rowan. I also noticed that both main characters in Ware’s novels turned to alcohol or made mistakes because of alcohol, which sometimes felt like a lazy plot device in my opinion. Maybe just don’t drink on the job?

Anyway, one other thing I disliked was the way the novel wrapped up. I’m a big fan of thrillers where it is unclear if a supernatural force is really there or not, and I actually love when the novel doesn’t answer whether it is there or not at the end. This novel makes a clear distinction about the cause of the strange occurrences, which is fine, but the twist is somewhat easy to guess and wasn’t a twist I particularly liked. I didn’t quite understand Rowan’s motivation for taking the nanny position by the end, and I felt that the conclusion wasn’t as interesting as the journey. I know that is rather vague and subjective, so I definitely encourage you to pick up the novel and form your own opinions.

Despite my gripes, this was a fun, atmospheric, and fast-paced book that I ultimately enjoyed reading. Three and a half stars out of five for The Turn of the Key.

Big Little Lies

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I will be moving across the country soon, so I have begun to really look at my bookshelf, book buying habits, and the books that have been on my To Be Read list for ages. All this led to me reading Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty because it has been on my shelf for way too long. This book got a lot of buzz a handful of years ago when it came out, but since then the hype has died down. Is it still worth a read? In my opinion, sure it does, but I don’t think it is anything particularly special.

The book begins with the knowledge that someone has been murdered. We follow Madeline, Celeste, and Jane through the events leading up to the death. Madeline is an outspoken woman who lives in the same town as her ex-husband and his new, younger wife. Coincidentally, Madeline’s youngest daughter is attending the same kindergarten as her ex-husband’s daughter. Celeste is a beautiful woman who appears to have a perfect marriage to a very rich man. Celeste and her husband have twin boys who also attend the same kindergarten. Lastly, there is Jane. Jane is the new and mysterious single mom whose son is attending the same school. During the kindergarten orientation, Jane’s son is accused of assaulting another student, which turns nearly all of the other kindergarten moms, except for Celeste and Madeline, against her. The drama intensifies as Madeline, Celeste, and Jane deal with the residents of their small town and their personal issues within their families.

It was a nice change to read something other than fantasy or science fiction, and this was a very fast read for me, but it also didn’t capture my interest that much. The book opens with a murder at an after-school function, and the rest of the novel covers the events that led up to that fateful night. It deals with themes of motherhood, family, domestic abuse, identity, and feminism, but it is very focused on middle to upper class white moms and their often petty problems. I am of course not belittling the domestic violence in the book, but most disagreements except the domestic abuse felt shallow and trivial. I kept picturing all of these “Karens” squabbling over misunderstandings that could be solved with communication, and they often spent their time inventing their own crusades and drama to get caught up in. However, the descriptions and inner monologues of the characters impacted by domestic abuse resonated with me. I feel as if I have recovered from my own experiences with domestic abuse, but I still found myself becoming emotional at times. If you’ve recently been through trauma, it could be a little upsetting.

Despite how much I might have disliked some of the pettiness of the characters, the main three women were well developed, if not always likable. And even if I disagreed with them, the decisions made by the characters aligned with their personalities and motives. I can see real-life competitive moms act the same way as these characters. The kids were also written well. It was clear that the children were often unconcerned about their parents’ drama and cared about only what applied to them, but the kids were also not as blind to their parents’ actions and feelings as their parents might have believed, much like real children. One thing I really liked about the characterization and multiple perspectives was that, for example, Character 1 might wear something she thought was beautiful, but Character 2 in the next chapter would make a passing comment that what Character 1 was wearing was ridiculous or that they were secretly jealous of Character 1’s style. Throughout the novel there are also short interviews with other moms and townspeople who all have different perspectives of the same event. This gave the reader hints, provided more characterization, and it was often funny.

So, my verdict is 3 out of 5 stars. Big Little Lies was like reality TV. It wasn’t extremely deep, but it was entertaining and easy/fast to consume. It certainly isn’t a diverse read, which makes it feel a little dated by today’s standards, but it does offer some good discussion on female camaraderie and how domestic abuse can be hidden very well by those involved.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

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Each night Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered, and each morning Aiden Bishop wakes up in a different body. Aiden is tasked with solving the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle in order to escape this time loop. He cycles through eight different party guests’ bodies at Blackheath Manor, but if he cannot solve the murder after spending 24 hours in each of the eight hosts, Aiden forgets everything and starts the cycle anew. There are also a few other “competitors” who are intent on solving the mystery so they can escape instead. Aiden does not know how long he has been stuck here or why he is here. All he wakes up remembering is a name on his lips: Anna.

Yes, this is a mystery with a fantasy-ish twist. That might sound awesome already, but if I could give everyone who picks up this book one warning, it would be this: as long as you are okay not knowing exactly what is happening for most of the novel and as long as you are okay not knowing all the hows and whys for this plot even happening, then you’re on the right track to like this book. I say this because just like Aiden the reader is dropped into the middle of the action without knowing anything. The book is from Adien’s first-person perspective. We only know what Aiden knows and sees around him, so this takes the already claustrophobic atmosphere up another notch. As I mentioned, Aiden isn’t alone in this “competition,” and his competitors are ruthless. So, there’s lots of intrigue, action, secrets, twists, and timey-wimey stuff to confuse and delight you if you can stand being in the dark for a while.

I had a hard time putting this one down. First, I wanted to know what the hell was going on, then I had to know who committed the crime. The twists kept me on my toes. I guessed very little of what happened, but I was able to piece together a couple things and that was very satisfying. The plot is very complicated, but I’m sure more attentive readers could do much better than me with predicting things. In my opinion, the ending wasn’t as satisfying as some of the other reveals, and the more I think about the ending, the more questions are actually raised. This book was heavily inspired by Agatha Cristie’s mysteries, but there’s much more to the mystery than just “who did it.” The author has stated that he spent 3 months just planning this novel out, and after finishing it, I don’t doubt that’s the true.

Reviewing the characterization is a bit hard for this book. There’s a large cast, but since many aren’t “real” and repeat their actions over and over, it was hard for me to feel for most of them. I wouldn’t even say that Aiden as a main character did anything for me, but that was probably because he was always in another person’s body. We are told, not shown, Aiden’s past, so this also made it hard to connect with him and his motivation to solve the mystery. I think Aiden’s thin personality made some sense though, because if he fails too many times at the mystery (the book tells us he has already failed a lot) he will lose his personality completely, and while he inhabits the guests’ bodies he also takes on aspects of their personalities. For example, one host has a quick mind but a slow body. (The way he is described is a bit gross and fat-phobic if that bothers you.) Another host is very sexual, while another is very timid. Hosts have talents and weaknesses. Some hosts have stronger personalities than others, which makes it hard for Aiden to always keep his mind to himself and stay on task. I loved how these aspects of the characters shaped how the mystery played out. There are also a few constant “competitors,” as I have called them, but I don’t want to say too much about them.

As with many complex and astonishingly unique novels, I am always afraid of how the author wraps things up. It’s one thing to love the journey, but I also want a satisfying end. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle‘s ending is pretty good, but I still want more answers. The mystery and murder stuff is tied up quite nicely, but the time-bending and the whole point of the time loop as well as the “supervisors” mentioned have me scratching my head. Are there other time loops out there like Evelyn’s murder? And most importantly, will we get these answers in more books?! Time will tell. I gave The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Real World

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As we get closer to fall, I get more in the mood to read mysteries and thrillers. I’m also craving some Gothic fiction, so this fall’s reviews might turn out to be very fitting for the season.

If you remember my review of Out, Real World is by the same author. In Real World, we follow four Japanese high school girls. The girls are all friends, but you can tell that there are some issues with their relationships with one another. As she is getting ready in the morning, one of the girls hears glass breaking and a scream from the house next door. After frantically calling her friends, she sees the neighbor’s son exit the house looking quite pleased with himself. The girls are soon tangled up in a murder investigation, and their differing personalities make them handle the situation in very different ways.

I liked this novel, but I would say that Out is a little stronger in both plot and characterization. In Real World, each chapter is written in first person perspective, but the narrator differs between chapters. The strongest part of the novel, in my opinion, was the characters and how in depth their narratives were. This is a very short novel (~200 pages), but each character is given a bit of backstory, and their pasts impact the current plot line. The reasons behind the decisions that the characters make and why they react to certain events in a specific way are all connected. It was interesting to see how the author pulled back each layer of the characters’ personalities and pasts to highlight their unique thought processes.

Despite all of that, I still considered some of the choices the characters made to be a bit dumb. All of the main characters are teenagers, so some questionable choices are going to be made, but I had a hard time understanding why anyone would make some of these very dangerous choices. Sometimes it felt as if the character made a choice simply to move the plot forward, which made some events near the end feel unrealistic. I also had some issues with the dialogue feeling a little stilted, which could be a translation issue. The author writes in Japanese of course, and the translator for Kirino’s other novel, Out, was different from the translator or Real World, so there could be some difference in translation quality.

I gave Real World three out of five stars. It was an entertaining and fast-paced read, but I felt some character choices and plot points were a little unrealistic. I will certainly read more from this author if I can find more translated works from her.

The Chalk Man

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The Chalk Man alternates between two time periods: 1986 in which the characters are young teens to 2016 when they are adults bordering on middle age. After Eddie’s friend received a large bucket of chalk for his birthday, the friends began to use the chalk to write secret messages and make rude drawings around town. It was innocent enough, but the fun ended quickly when the chalk drawings were connected to a string of murders. The quaint English town was quickly upended by salacious and bloody scandals. Now, in 2016, the past comes back to haunt Eddie and his friends when they become the targets of a new murder spree.

Since I’m still battling a reading slump, I wanted something fast paced and gripping. The Chalk Man definitely made me turn the pages, but by the end, I was slightly dissatisfied. The plot was the main draw for me, and I felt it was executed pretty well. There are a lot of twists, turns, and red herrings. I was hoping that the “bad guy” wasn’t the person that the book seemed to be pointing the reader toward in the beginning. Luckily, it wasn’t that predictable. Although, a couple “hints” toward the real bad guy were pretty heavy handed. As always, there are some overly convenient plot devices to move the story in the intended direction, and some parts of the plot could be more clearly explained to tie up lose ends. However, it was not bad. It was entertaining. The book is fairly short and the pace is quick, which could be a pro or con depending on what you’re looking for.

Eddie and his friends did not do much for me as characters. The story was told from Eddie’s perspective, so it is a little limited in what we know and see. Add to that, Eddie as a narrator was slightly unreliable, which made the book a bit more interesting. Still, if you’ve read a lot of the domestic thrillers with unreliable narrators, this is not something new. (This time at least it wasn’t a woman with a drinking problem…) Somehow, despite seeing everything from his point of view, I did not feel very connected to Eddie or any of his friends. Maybe I am spoiled from the mountains of character development in Stephen King’s novels, but I felt like The Chalk Man could have spent a little more time on the main characters and their relationships.

All in all, it was an OK read. For a debut novel, it was good. The writing has some personality, and it pulled me into the story well enough. The plot was unique to me, but the book as a whole could have used a little more polish and depth. I would still recommend The Chalk Man as a quick, entertaining thriller. If you consider some thrillers as “beach reads,” this one might qualify. I gave The Chalk Man a middle-of-the-road three out of five stars.

Every Heart a Doorway

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This book was everywhere a few years ago. Since then there has been about one new book in the series per year. If you know me, you know I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Inkheart trilogy, or anything where a kid finds himself/herself somehow in another world. “Portal fantasy” appears to be the term thrown around to describe these novels and Every Heart a Doorway, so we will go with that. Every Heart a Doorway is a portal fantasy with a boarding school setting, a murder mystery, a diverse cast, and some hints at romances to come. On paper, it sounds great. In reality, it was a bit of a disappointment to me.

Nancy arrives at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Nancy is under the impression that this is simply a boarding school her parents have sent her to because they do not believe that she has traveled into another world. However, the school is specifically for children who have traveled to other worlds. Their parents think that their children have ran away, been kidnapped, or abused, while the children all know that their experiences in various fantasy worlds were real. The Home for Wayward Children helps kids who have returned from their portal world either find their way back to their doors or come to terms with their lives in the “real world.” Nancy meets the proprietor, Ms. West, as well many of the other children staying at the school. While Nancy went to a world very much like the underworld, many others went to candy lands, nonsense worlds, rhyming worlds and worlds with vampires, goblins, insect queens, and the list goes on. Just as Nancy starts to understand her peers and the school, brutal murders begin happening, endangering all of the students. Nancy and her newfound friends must figure out what is going on in order to save their school from possibly closing down, which would leave all of the children without a place to call home.

The characters were probably the strongest part. Nancy and her friends were all good characters. Some of their banter was entertaining, and the cast was diverse with asexual and trans characters. I praise the representation, but some of the conversations about sex felt slightly forced. Especially when the book as a whole is so short, it feels odd to have characters take so much time to talk about sex, sexuality, and masturbation in a fantasy novel. Is it cool that we talk frankly about sex in a YA novel? Definitely! Is it cool that it takes up more time than other aspects of the plot and characters? Maybe not. Again, I truly appreciate that the author spends time on these topics (the author also writes about sexuality/gender issues very beautifully and with respect), but give me all of that in addition to more of the fantasy, magical, creepy school goodness I was promised in the blurb.

This is a novella-sized story that tries to fit in a lot in a short number of pages, and it does not work perfectly. The pacing feels odd. We start with Nancy arriving at the school, we get to know her, she gets to know a few students, then all of the sudden MURDER. The murder mystery consumes the plot from then on. I was looking forward to getting to know the fantasy aspect of how these portals or doors to other worlds work. I was looking forward to exploring the school building (What huge mansions and expansive grounds in a fantasy novel do not have secrets?), the classes, the students, the teachers, and the various worlds more, but there just wasn’t time to develop anything fully. Now, I know that there are several more books in the series, and you cannot expect everything to be explained in the first book of a series, but there was so little here that I do not feel inclined to pick up the next book. The ending also felt abrupt. The murder mystery is rather quickly and easily dealt with at the end. The author drops some hints about how the magic/doors work in the final scenes, but it is too late in the plot to get any actual answers.

I liked a lot of what Every Heart a Doorway had to offer, but it just needed more— more descriptions, more details about the plot/mystery, more character development, more information about the school, magic system, etc. Is this an incentive to read more of the books? Maybe. I am curious about the rest of the series, but I am not sure if I will read them all. If you’ve read any more of the series, let me know your thoughts in the comments. Am I complaining about things that get better in the next books? Tell me! As of now, I gave Every Heart a Doorway a rating of three out of five stars.

 

Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky

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I am back with another Two Dollar Radio book review. You know those “blind date with a book” things where you get a random book? The book might be wrapped up so you can’t see the cover, but a few details, like themes, setting, similar titles, are usually written on the wrapping. Anyway, I bought some surprises, and I was pleasantly surprised that I liked what I got!

Leah Shepherd’s life is rather mundane these days. Her job is to assist poor women and children at a nonprofit organization in Kentucky. She is not married and has no children, but she is active in her church and helps little old ladies. However, when Leah was a young girl, her brother Jacob went missing. His disappearance has haunted her for many years, but now she may have to confront her troubling past. A man contacts Leah at work claiming to be her lost brother.

There’s a mystery in this novel, but I am not sure if I would call it an actual mystery novel. The plot feels too quiet, too literary, and too experimental to appeal to readers who love traditional mysteries or thrillers. The prose in Ancient Ocean of Central Kentucky is very descriptive and very beautiful, but it is also a little on the experimental side because the author does not follow traditional grammar rules. There are incomplete sentences, run-on sentences, and though it is not written in verse, it at times reads like poetry. The feeling of the novel rests on the prose. Short, choppy lines make the plot hurried and urgent, while long, lazy lines evoke the slow, sticky feeling of a warm summer day. The author uses descriptions of people, places, and random objects to paint his settings. The description at times feel random in what is focused on or mentioned, but together, the lines paint a very realistic and lively sense of place.

The plot itself is realistic, but the writing gives the novel a surreal, dreamy quality. Much of the novel is in a kind of stream of consciousness style. Time periods, perspectives, and settings all come and go between paragraphs, but there are many page breaks between the paragraphs, so it does not feel too confusing. This is the kind of novel that you read less for the plot or character development and more for the feeling the words on the page evoke within you. The author gives a clear picture of the characters because he uses the same descriptive style. We may never find out exact answers about the characters’ lives, but we are given just enough details and scenes to ascertain who these people are and what drives them. Leah, of course, is the main focus, but even the nameless women who come into her office seem like real people.

This is a very unique novel in its writing and plot, but I wouldn’t say I felt confused during my reading experience. However, at times I felt like I was taking a peaceful but un-directed float down a lazy Kentucky river in the summer. If this sounds like your kind of thing, go for it. I had a great reading experience with this novel, and I hope other readers also give it a chance. I rated Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky four out of five stars.