Bradstreet Gate

Graduating from Harvard often means that you will be starting a life of wealth and high pillars. The 1%. For the last four years, you’ve worked hard, studied hard…and of course, probably partied a little hard too. Graduation should be a celebration, you’ve done it! Life can begin.

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However, for Georgia, Charlie, and Alice…things didn’t quite go that way. Bradstreet Gate is the story of how their graduation year at Harvard went very wrong, when a classmate was murdered, allegedly by a professor they trusted.

My first thought when I started reading this book was, “Ok…this sounds an awful lot like How to Get Away with Murder.” And since I love that show…I was ok with it. Really though, it’s not at all the same plot, except the creepy teacher/student love affair thing.

Robin Kirman is going to be an author to watch–she writes characters brilliantly, on the same level as Gillian Flynn. There are two people here that I want to open their brains and just rummage around, to see what is going on. One is a textbook novel sociopath. That person is perfection–one that you love to hate immediately. The other will have you guessing the entire book. I am not going to tell you which is which because the kicker of these two characters is…which one actually committed the murder?

Bradstreet Gate‘s subtle creep factor just nails it the whole time. The story itself is wonderful, and then interwoven is this nagging feeling that you are being watched and studied. I kept thinking, “Why is this called a thriller? It’s really not that thrilling?” And then a chill would run down my spine out of nowhere. Oohhh, there it is.

Great debut, Robin Kirman. I’ll be looking for more from you!

 

Blogging for Books sent this to me for an unbiased review.

 

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The Deerslayer

Did you know that The Last of the Mohicans is actually a series? We see series all the time now, but we don’t think about them much back in the 1800s. Maybe they happened more than I realize. I’ve seen books with multiple volumes and one title, but this is the first I’ve seen in an actual series like this.

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James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Leatherstocking Tales about an adventurer called Natty Bumppo–a white man who was raised among the Delaware Indians in the what is now New York. Even though he was raised among the Native Americans, he loathes the idea of harming his own kind. He hunts (giving him the nickname of Deerslayer), but he does not like the idea of war. He crosses paths with two white men, Hurry Harry and Floating Tom who have taken up scalping for trade, and try to convince him to do it with them. He tries to convince them to stop, but they don’t listen and are trapped by the dangerous Huron tribe.

This book…I just…have really mixed feelings.

I liked Bumppo’s character. He’s a good man, and he just wants to be left alone in the woods. Also, he’s asexual. He has a chance to marry the beautiful girl, and he says, “Meh…no thanks, I think I’ll go back and head off back in the trees, but thanks. Let’s just be friends, k?” He joins the fight because he has to get the idiots out of danger, but I got the idea that it was really really complicated and was just messing things up for him. Towards the end, Judith asks him if he wanted to fight and he tells her that while he can now claim the title of Warrior, he hates it and fights only out of necessity.

Also, the descriptions of the land are beautiful. This is written by someone who has spent a great deal of time in upstate New York. My Coursera professor added this to our historical fiction syllabus–which is why I am reading it now–and he showed us a picture of the lake Cooper references. The details are perfect, down to the exact spherical boulder on the shoreline.

However, I struggled a great deal with the racial context. I think sometimes it is hard for me to remove myself culturally from what I know now about the struggles/pain white men have caused in this country. I’m not even sure if that sentence made any sense. But even though I know in my head that Cooper was using the terminology that his characters would have called “injins” and “red men,” it still just makes me cringe. Bumppo and Hurry Harry have a pretty heated debate about the differences between white men and red men–Bumppo is trying to convince Harry that all men are equal, even if culture and tradition is different–and it just gets really ugly. It hurts my heart to know that I could pick that conversation up, take out “red” put in “black” and drop that conversation pretty much anywhere in the US right now, and it would still fit exactly.

I don’t talk about that subject much, mostly because I don’t know what to say, and what I mean will never come out right. But that part of the book really got to me, and I couldn’t leave it out.

There isn’t much else–the book is a little hard to follow at times. It is pretty chaotic. People have multiple names and there isn’t a whole lot of setting buildup. This is one that I read Wiki before I reviewed to make sure I understood what I read. I’m not ashamed to admit it, people!

This isn’t really a book I’d recommend, unless you really like old adventure stories. But, I know I’m going to have to read The Last of the Mohicans at some point for the Boxall 1001, so I stuck it out.

Seriously though, I am going to make someone else write my TBR for September. Why did I do this to myself? WAR WAR WAR DEPRESSED WARWARWAR DARK WAR

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The Banished of Muirwood

I don’t know if you have noticed but I have been reading some pretty HEAVY stuff lately. Four of the reviews I’ve done this month have had the word “dark” in them. Two of the others have been about war. Whoa, Haley. I think it’s time to back read something lighthearted, and soon.

You guys ok, out there? Sorry for all the doom and gloom! It wasn’t on purpose, I promise!

I’d love to tell you this review is better…but, it’s another book of war. *grimaces* Sorry….but it is a magical war, so that has to count for something. Stick with me.

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Jeff Wheeler apparently woke up from a dream one night with a girl in his head. He luckily had paper in his nightstand and ferociously began scribbling about her evil father and the man hired to protect her. Since then, he’s written stories about his world of Muirwood, but is finally releasing Maia’s story.

Maia is born princess to a king who doesn’t quite know how to handle his own power. He’s almost a Henry VIII kind of guy, and banishes her mother so he can take on another queen and thus another kingdom. In doing so, he must banish Maia and disown her, even as he claims he loves her. Along her path, Maia finds herself with a great deal of magic, and even greater trouble.

While this is definitely fantasy, Wheeler built his world of Muirwood upon a base of real ancient history references. Or, at the very least, references to places from real authors. There is a character, “the kishion,” which when I Googled, pointed to Kadesh in Galilee. Another reference, “aurichalcum” is a metal Plato references when he talks about Atlantis (obviously that one is more about the author than the place). There’s a few more things that build upon ancient Greek culture or works. I mention this because while the premise for the story came from a dream, and there were certainly made up places, names, and language in the book–it was obvious to me while reading that Wheeler had done quite a bit of research before sitting down to write. I would be so interested to see his notes. It fascinates me how authors create and build their ideas and from where they pull inspiration.

I will say, that at first I was unsure about the writing. Maia was banished, running, in obvious danger. Then she just shows up at a random inn and the hunter she needs is at that exact place (very Strider from LOTR), and she just gives him her full name, title, problem, all of it. And he agrees to help her with no suspicion or confirmation whatsoever. Well, ok then! There were a lot of holes in the first 10% of the book. It made me a little weary.

However, shortly after I made that note in my journal, the book picked up and I started getting answers pretty quickly. Maia is still pretty naive, really throughout the whole book. But, I think that’s more of a character flaw than a writing issue, once I got into the meat of the story. Give it a chance past the first 20%, it’s a slow starter, but it does become a valid fantasy after that. I’ve added the rest of his Muirwood history to my TBR–I am wondering if those would help the beginning holes at all. Sounds like he’s also working on a second book to Maia’s story, woot!

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. To be released on August 18.

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People Who Eat Darkness

Note to Self:  Don’t read true crime on Mondays.

Mondays are hard enough to get through in one piece anyway, and then I added one of the darkest books in recent memory to my it. Good job, Haley. National Day of Laziness, what?

I could give you a trigger warning list, here, but it would be really really long. Suffice it to say–if you are easily triggered…don’t read this book. Seriously, just don’t.

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21 year old Lucie Blackman–tall, blonde, beautiful–travels to Japan with her best friend Louise. The girls are looking to earn quick, easy money to pay off debts, so they take jobs as foreign “hostesses”–a type of waitress that lure wealthy businessmen in to clubs. These clubs charge exorbitant fees by the hour (not to mention the hefty bottle fees too), so the more friendly and captivating a hostess is, the better her bonus. Sounds like great money to the two outgoing girls, but the trip turns dark when Lucie goes on a dohan (a sort of sponsored date with one of the clientele) and does not return.

Richard Lloyd Parry tells the story of Lucie’s terrifying case–the search conducted by her friend and family, the frustration with a foreign police force, a profile on the suspect, and the resulting trial.

I found People Who Eat Darkness intriguing. I had found this book a while back on a “If you like Hannibal” shelf, and while I don’t normally read true crime (mostly because it can sometimes read like a report instead of a story), this one was very well written. Parry keeps a plot-like story line going throughout, so it doesn’t get too mundane. As I mentioned at the beginning, though, it is EXTREMELY dark, and it never recovers. There is no happy ending. I had to take breaks every chapter to read brown girl dreaming just so it did not consume me.

My other major note on this book is that there does seem to be a pretty heavy bias against Japanese culture, and not just against the rapist. I am unsure if Parry is just trying to convey the disdain that the family had against the situation Lucie was in, or if it was an overall bias against the culture itself. But the whole time I was reading, I almost felt like there was a nose-crinkling subtext. To be fair, Lucie was not in a great neighborhood or situation, maybe that’s all it was. She herself called her living situation “The Shithole.” The narration just felt a little off to me, that’s all.

While I am critical of that last part, and while the book was very dark, it was a captivating story. I can’t call the people characters, because they are real. However, Parry has given us such a illuminating picture of each that we almost know them. Even some of the “good guys” aren’t all that good, but the bad guy, you will need a shower after meeting him. He positively drips with slime.

I will agree with the bookstore–if you are a fan of Hannibal, add this one to your list. Just proceed with caution. And maybe have something a little mellow standing by that you can easily pick up between chapters. Or maybe Tumblr. It’s easy to get caught up turning pages here, but you will need a break. Otherwise, the darkness might just eat you, instead.

 

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Cyropaedia

Have you guys checked out Coursera yet? If not, you definitely should. It’s a website solely devoted to providing quality online college courses from real professors from real colleges for free (you can pay for certificates if you want/need them). I’m on my second class now–a class about historical fiction called “Plagues, Witches, and War.” Sounds super interesting, right?

Because it’s a class on fiction, there’s a pretty substantial reading list, and the class is “Go At Your Own Pace.” Now, the professor told us we don’t have to read everything on the syllabus but…come on, you guys know me well enough to know I’m sure as hell gonna try. Or at least the ones I can get for free on Kindle and Google Books.

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First on the list is Cyropaedia, an ancient book written by a student of Socrates. Composed around 370 BC, it is supposedly the first historical fiction novel–a political romance.

The eight books follow Cyrus the Great of Persia from his early beginnings as a rambunctious teenager until he is old and dying. During his lifetime he builds a magnificent empire in what today is the Middle East. He did this not just by conquering nations, but by also gaining the love and trust of his people and soldiers, and thus made many allies.


Image credit:  http://syria.ewas.us/

I never quite understood the “romance” part of the book, though I’m sure it’s buried in there somewhere. However, this book is very much a war epic. I kept wondering if this was required reading at West Point or during any Officer’s Training, because if not, it should be. The military strategy discussed is probably ancient and outdated for use with our technology now, but the motivational speeches made by Cyrus and his generals are some of the most epic I’ve ever read. I did run out of steam towards the middle because of the battle descriptions, as I tend to do with this sort of thing, but otherwise, the characters are absolutely captivating.

Xenophon is not an author we hear about much (ok, at all) in the literary world today, at least for those of us average folk. Plato, Socrates, Cicero, Homer, sure. Xenophon is never mentioned. But this book was excellent, for what it was. Perhaps not to my usual tastes, but it was captivating from beginning to end.

 

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Half a King

High fantasy. Seems like it’s everywhere now, since Game of Thrones became popular.

I dunno, maybe it was everywhere before that, but it’s one of those things where you don’t notice it until you do, and then it’s everywhere.

Either way–I’m glad, because I love it. I mean, I don’t foresee anyone writing as hardcore and complicated a world as George RR Martin’s, but there is a lot of great stuff out there.

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Today’s selection was Half a King by Joe Abercrombie, and it did not disappoint. Yarvi, a second son, is set to take his minister’s test, when his father and brother are killed. Suddenly he is thrust into kingdom and all it’s responsibilities. He is quickly betrothed to his brother’s promised wife, and coronated. However, his uncle sees the opportunity to take the throne. I don’t want to give you any more, because, spoilers, but the book is essentially Yarvi’s fight for a kingdom he wasn’t supposed to have.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say this is based in Viking/Norse history. The names have sort of a Scandinavian feel to them, and the lifestyle is based around the sea and oarsman powered boats. Besides that, the world is fairly simple in it’s structure, at least in this first book. The characters are well written, and everything flows well.

I especially liked the banter between the oarsmen (and women). As you’d expect, they were an ornery, dirty lot, but good-natured and hearty. Once they got out of captivity, I loved how they banded together into a family group. Oh, and the author sneaks in a Homer-esque joke in there, so watch out for that. Definitely got a smirk out of me!

Something else important about this story–the hero of this book is disabled. While everyone else gives him a world of crap for it–like thinking him the lesser prince, for instance–he never lets it slow him down. If anything, it makes him smarter and stronger.

I just added the second book to my TBR, which is about as great a compliment as I can give any series. If it’s good enough for me to pick up the next one, you know you’ve got a winner in my heart! Now, let’s see how soon the library will take to get it to me.

Movie Adaptation: Dark Places

I haven’t done a movie adaptation in awhile, but I got to see a free pre-screening of Dark Places Tuesday night, so I felt I owed a review.

First things first, before I even get into the meat of it, I want to give a warning to those who need it, because there wasn’t one on-screen:  IF STROBE LIGHTS BOTHER YOU, DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. Or at least proceed with caution. There is a huge scene about a quarter of the way through, when she goes to The Kill Club with EXTREME strobing, so just be aware of it. Also, a lot of the flashbacks aren’t strobe, but they are a really funky black, white, sepiaish coloring. Almost negative filmy type effect, but whatever it was, it really hurt my eyes. I don’t have seizures but we were pretty close to the screen and I definitely left with a headache.

Ok, on with the review:

From what I understand, Dark Places was actually a French production, made before Gone Girl. But, even with the superb casting, they weren’t completely sure how it would go over in the US, so they held off on the release. Then, when Gone Girl became a smash hit, of COURSE they had to bring it out. I’ve seen nary a trailer for it though, which is sad because while I don’t think it would make near as big of a smash, I think a lot of people would go see this if they knew about it.

It’s a much different film than Gone Girl is, however. Instead of being so high impact drama, it’s more slow and steady. You get the present day plot mixed with the flash backs. Sort of a look this way while I show you something else, make you think one thing and actually the reality is something else entirely. Gillian Flynn is fantastic at this. Her sociopaths never look like sociopaths until the very end.

As I said before, the casting here, at least for the main characters, is superb. Charlize Theron was excellent…but, is she ever bad in anything? How can she be so goddamn gorgeous in greasy short hair and the same dirty shirt all movie long? Oh. Right. She’s Charlize freaking Theron. I did alter my vision of what adult Libby’s life looked like in my previous book review. I think the movie nailed what Flynn was going for–and not at all what I had imagined. It fits much more with who she would have been.

Christina Hendricks as Patty Day? I mean…yes. My friend, as we were walking out, made a comment similar to what I said about Theron. “I didn’t know they could make Christina Hendricks look so good dirty!”

But, in the end, it’s not about the beauty, it’s about the acting, and these two both got their characters down perfectly. We’ve seen them in extremely sophisticated roles, but here they are both in very raw, emotional ones, and the performances were really powerful.

At first, I wasn’t sure Nicholas Hoult was the right choice for Lyle. He’s very young next to Theron, and I balked a bit because in the book, she’s only 30. But, they expanded the time gap a bit in the movie, so it made more sense. Also, for once in, well, EVER, the writers did not make this movie about romance at all. There were plenty of openings for them to do that, and yet they refrained, and I was grateful they didn’t change that part of the story, especially in one where there was so much PTSD, pain, and recovery happening.

This movie is going to be released tomorrow, August 7. I’m unsure how broad of a release it will get, but if it’s showing near you, go see it, especially if you like brain twisters and thrillers. This one isn’t so much on the racing plot thriller type, but more of a plot twist type. Definitely worth a showing.

 

Disclaimer:  My friend got free tickets to see this screening at Angelika Theater Dallas from her work and was kind enough to share one with me.

A Room with a View

After a view distractions from my scheduled TBR, I am back on track. There’s nothing wrong with going off pace, especially for books people are talking about or movies I’m going to see. But, I always feel better when I go back to my list.

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EM Forster was up next with A Room with a View. This is a dramatic Edwardian romance with a love triangle–and a feminist heroine–something I wasn’t expecting for this style of book!

Lucy and her older cousin Charlotte visit Italy and meet George and his father. George becomes enamored with Lucy, but she finds him too immature. When they move onto Rome, she meets another man, Cecil, who is more sophisticated, and they get engaged.

However, the romance with George continues, and eventually she cannot ignore that she loves him more than Cecil. Cecil does not treasure her independence and sees her as more of a trophy to be won.

I have mixed feelings about this one. I wasn’t in love with it–I was easily distracted from the writing, and I didn’t get sucked in as much as I do some books from this period. However, I really like the plot and I did write down several quotes from the book. It’s a good concept, I’m just not not quite sure. May have to give it another go at some point.

 

Fulfills Boxall’s #93

Dark Places

Tonight, I have tickets with friends for a screening of Dark Places. Gillian Flynn’s second movie isn’t getting near as much fanfare as Gone Girl did, but anything with Charlize Theron has got to be good, right?

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I read Dark Places a long time ago, but I could not remember anything about it, so I made sure to pick it back up before tonight’s show. Libby Day is 30, broke, and unemployed. Up until now, she’s lived off the charity of crime obsessed philanthropists who years ago threw money at the little girl left broken-hearted and lost. Her family was murdered by her Satanist brother when she was young, and she was forced to testify against him as the only witness. Now, those charitable hearts have moved on in favor of other crimes and she has to find money quick.

Welcome Kill Club–a creepy organization of people who geek out over conspiracy theories. One favorite conspiracy circles around the Day family and the night Libby’s family was killed, and they are willing to pay her to track down information for her.

Dark Places is a very weird book. I wanted to say that I find Libby a very awkward, uncomfortable character, unbelievable in that she should be much more traumatized by what happened instead of just skimming money and using it for nice cars and clothes until it runs out. But, we all react in our own ways. The more I think about Libby and her, for lack of a better word, laziness to do anything with her life, I realize that just about everyone her world is that way–except maybe Patty. The town was full of excuses and poverty and drugs, the kind of small town where no one ever gets out.

My romantic reader brain wants her to be heroic–full of fight and power. And she does too–she even mentions it at one point to herself, when she thinks about how all she did was hide in the closet and that’s why she didn’t see the attacker. But, that’s not who Libby is. It was much easier for her to hide after the murders, to turn away from Ben and Diane and Runner, dye her hair blonde, and use all the donations she could.

The book itself is bit of a quiet start, but there is a crescendo of action at the end. In typical Flynn fashion, she keeps you guessing and fascinated right up until the end, when all at once you will connect every single dot she left for you with one big EUREKA moment.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the screening tonight!

 

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

For months I’ve been seeing this beautiful blue starry cover across Tumblr, and a gazillion Booklrs raving about (what I thought) was a pair of philosophers falling in love. I rarely read Goodreads reviews before adding a book to my TBR–I tend to just jump in to the story, preferring to discover along the way. My library never had it available, but they finally released the audiobook to me, and I am so glad they did. I think it was almost better in that format probably!

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I quickly learned that this wasn’t about the two ancient philosophers at all, but two teenage Mexican boys living in the desert city of El Paso. I generally can only read audiobooks while doing something–chores or walking–so falling in love with this story motivated me to walk more often! Except guys, it damned near broke my heart! Do you know how hard it is to keep pace while crying? I’m sure I got some weird looks on the trail.

Ari and Dante’s friendship is completely beautiful. For those of you who haven’t heard of this book before–it isn’t just a coming of age story, it’s also a coming out story. It’s powerful, sad, happy, scary. About every emotion you can have, you will have it while reading this book. A must read this year, absolutely.

And if you like audiobooks, definitely listen to this one. The narration is extremely well done!