Review: #Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil

#Murdertrending (MurderTrending, #1)#Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Gretchen McNeil’s futuristic YA Dystopian novel #Murdertrending drops you straight into a world where the federal government has privatized part of the prison system.

After that decision was made the Postman app was launched.

Essentially the app turns capital punishment into a lucrative business by broadcasting death row as the ultimate reality show. Survivor has nothing on this, trust.

In addition to following the inmates, viewers can also follow their favorite executioners, collectively known as the Painiacs. There’s fandoms involved. It’s a whole thing.

The executions are also broadcast, with each executioner coming up with their own creatively brutally ways of taking someone out.

We follow Dee, who after being convicted of killing her step-sister is sent to Alcatraz 2.0, the most famous prison island, to serve out the last of her term. She is set to be executed, but you never know when it will happen.

That’s half the fun, am I right?

The inmates in Alcatraz 2.0 live fairly freely on the island itself. They have jobs and can socialize with one another. Because of this, Dee ends up making some friends.

The friend group is dubbed DRBC, the Death Row Breakfast Club, through social media. Since they all claim to have been wrongfully convicted, they desire to uncover the truth behind Alcatraz 2.0.

But what is the truth?

#Murdertrending is a unique and interesting read. I enjoyed the themes explored regarding the criminal justice system and social media’s effect on society.

It did take me a wee bit to get my bearings with this one because you are literally plopped down in the middle of Dee’s world. I just had to relax into it and trust that McNeil would ultimately reveal everything I needed to know about the world and she did.

I enjoyed learning about the inmates and executioners. The executioners all had special names that reminded me of the type of punny names people use in roller derby, which added to the air of over-the-topness. It was fun.

I also enjoyed the mystery surrounding the Postman app. You can tell there is some sort of conspiracy happening, but how far does it reach? I tend to enjoy evil corporation vibes and this one definitely channeled that.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t crazy about the final reveals. I really wish it had gone in another direction, but that is simply personal taste.

With this being said, even though it lost me a bit in the end, I am so happy that I finally made time for this one. I don’t think that I will be continuing on with this series, but am still happy to have read this one.

Thank you to the publisher, Freeform, who actually provided me of a copy to read and review back in 2018. My apologies for not getting to it before now. I should have because honestly, I had a lot of fun with it!

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Review: Skyhunter (Skyhunter #1) by Marie Lu

Skyhunter (Skyhunter, #1)Skyhunter by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Skyhunter is a YA-Dystopian novel set in a world ravaged by war. Mara is the last nation to remain out from under the rule of the Karensa Federation. It’s literally the last outpost of freedom.

The Karensa Federation has conquered each nation one by one, using modified human-monsters, known as Ghosts, as their front-line fighters.

The horrific imagery conjured by the descriptions of these Ghosts within the first few pages had me hooked!

Refugees fleeing the Federation’s rule flock to Mara’s borders in the hopes of finding safety.

Talin Kanami is one such refugee, who fled with her mother from nearby Basea as a brutal Federation attack left her father dead. Talin was injured during the attack, leaving her mute.

Some years later, Talin has joined the legendary fighting force of Mara, known as the Strikers, where her muteness is seen as an asset. Ghosts are attracted to sound, therefore, Strikers use sign language when in the field to communicate with each other.

At a low point in Talin’s life, a prisoner gets brought before the Strikers, said to be a solider for the Federation. There’s something about him that calls to Talin. She doesn’t believe he is guilty of what they say he is.

She puts her life on the line for this mystery man. Strikers are paired together in groups of two and as punishment for Talin speaking up on the man’s behalf, she is paired with him. Talin must then train him in the ways of the Strikers and trust him to have her back in the field when it counts.

The man, Red, turns out to be much more powerful than anyone could have guessed, but whose side will he ultimately come down on?

As Karensa pushes closer to Mara, it looks like the nation may finally fall. Talin and her friends must buckle down for the fight of their lives before all they love is lost.

Marie Lu has proved her talent again and again. Skyhunter was such an intensely-gripping story, with well developed characters. The entire history and functioning of the world was also very well-imagined.

I enjoyed getting to know Talin. She had a fascinating backstory and her refugee status reflected that of refugees living in our world. It was an interesting examination of the difficulties that they face; I felt that aspect was very respectfully portrayed.

Additionally, I loved Talin taking a huge risk and standing up for Red. Then as their relationship developed, I just became so invested in it. Their connection to one another ran deep.

The culminating scene of this book was super intense. Everything was on the line for our characters. It left off in a very key spot, as far as setting up the second book.

I’m super stoked to keep going with this, to see how the duology wraps up!

Overall, this was a great reading experience and I’m very glad that I finally made the time for this one. Lu is so gifted. Her stories never fail to impress me!

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Review: Dustborn by Erin Bowman

DustbornDustborn by Erin Bowman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Dustborn the world has been reduced to a desert wasteland. Danger lies around every corner and humans are forced to travel in packs just to up their chances of survival.

Delta of Dead River has lived her whole life in this world. Delta is very special, for she is the keeper of a map that could lead to the Verdant, a Garden of Eden of sorts, and a place that many people want to find.

The tricky part is the map is tattooed on Delta’s back. She’s never even seen it clearly and couldn’t read it anyways, as it’s drawn in old hand that she is unable to decipher.

When her village gets attacked by a band of raiders lead by a man known as the General, Delta believes they may be looking for her and the map.

Delta’s pack is taken by the General and his people, therefore Delta must go on a quest to get them back. Along the way she runs into old friends and makes some new ones.

Let’s cut to the chase, this wasn’t my favorite from Bowman. I can definitely admit it is a good story, it just never captured my attention like I was hoping. Not once!

The thing I appreciate the most about the story was the setting. I love a dusty, dangerous post-apocalyptic wasteland. Who doesn’t?

What I was never able to care about was the main character and her mission. I got to the very end and was like, what’s this girl’s name? Her entire story was forgettable for me.

There were aspects of the story that had some promise for me, but ultimately I just couldn’t get behind it. Also, there was the unnecessary slaughter of an animal about halfway through that completely turned me off. The narrative was never able to grab me back after that.

Overall, while I completely understand why a lot of Readers love this one, the content just wasn’t a fit for me. Bowman’s writing is strong and I have enjoyed other novels from her; specifically, the Contagion duology.

Thank you to the publisher, Clarion Books, for providing me a copy to read and review.

While this one wasn’t quite to my tastes, I look forward to picking up more from Erin Bowman in the future.

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Review: The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk ManThe Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eddie lives a quiet life in the same sleepy village in which he grew up. His day-to-day is fairly mundane. He’s a school teacher, who lives in a big house with a younger roommate and maybe he drinks too much.

That’s pretty much Eddie in a nutshell. Like many of us, his life wasn’t always quite so boring however. It just kind of evolved into its current repetitive state.

Little does Eddie know he’s about due for a good old-fashioned shake-up when a blast from his past returns.

His old friend Mickey is back in town and he wants to chat about a certain unresolved murder case from 1986. Eddie, who has been haunted by the events of that year, doesn’t really want to discuss it, but when Mickey tells him he may have the answer, Eddie can’t resist.

The conversation unsurprisingly stirs up all sorts of dark memories and emotions in Eddie. It’s tense. He and Mickey have been estranged for years. It’s not a warm and fuzzy reunion.

Mickey’s sudden reemergence in his life isn’t the only thing tied to the horrific events of 1986 though. The chalk men have also begun to mysteriously appear. Now Eddie must confront his fears and buried secrets head-on if he is ever going to be able to lay the past to rest.

I originally purchased The Chalk Man when in released in 2018, but then I sat on it for years. Honestly, I became apprehensive after reading some of the early reviews which basically alluded to this being a knock-off version of Stephen King’s masterpiece, It.

When my niece mentioned she wanted to Buddy Read The Chalk Man though, I threw caution to the wind and willingly jumped in.

I will say initially I was surprised by the number of similarities to It. I thought to myself, oh no, this could be bad.

However, I am happy to report that after that slightly frustrating start, this one really came around for me. I found it to be interesting as heck and loved the short chapters with their many mini-reveals. It made for a great Buddy Read and we had such a fun time discussing it along the way!

I believe this was Tudor’s debut and if so, I think it definitely sets the stage for her style. She brings a lot of creepy atmosphere in her stories and I loved the back and forth between past and present timelines in this one.

The sections from 1986, of Eddie and his friend group, had the heaviest It vibes, but I became so intrigued with the characters and all that was happening to them, that I eventually was able to overlook all the Itness.

I thought the mystery element was very well done and it definitely kept me guessing. I have also read The Burning Girls from Tudor and really enjoyed that one as well.

I would say, comparing the two, that her writing has matured a bit since this earlier release. I definitely look forward to picking up more from this author. I’m so glad that I finally gave this one a shot. Overall, a fun reading experience!

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Review: Apart in the Dark by Ania Ahlborn

Apart in the Dark: NovellasApart in the Dark: Novellas by Ania Ahlborn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Apart in the Dark contains two chilling novellas from one of my favorite voices in the Horror space, Ania Ahlborn.

The first, The Pretty Ones is set in 1977, New York City and follows mousey underdog, Nell Sullivan.

Nell’s life is very contained. She lives in a dingy apartment with only her brother and a teddy bear for company. She goes to work and comes home; that’s about the extent of it.

At work, she is part of a secretarial pool where she is mostly ignored, but sometimes bullied, by the other girls. They’re pretty, polished and definitely look down on Nell. She doesn’t fit in.

It’s the Summer of Sam and a monster lurks in the city, murdering pretty girls. For once, Nell is happy to be flying so far under the radar. She’s clearly not the killer’s type.

When girls in her office start being killed, Nell begins to wonder if it is just a coincidence, or if it actually has something to do with her.

I liked this story. If I were rating it on its own, I would have given in 3-stars. It was subtle, but it did keep me interested.

There was one major reveal, which I felt was pretty clear from the start, so I wouldn’t say it was particularly suspenseful. However, it does display how great Ahlborn’s writing is. She can hold your interest even when not a lot is happening plotwise.

The atmosphere she created in this was very well done. It felt like 1977-NYC. It had texture and grit. I could picture everything in regards to Nell’s apartment, her commute, her workplace, the grime and desperation. I could feel it.

The second story, I Call Upon Thee was B-Horror on the page. It was great and for me, really amped up the pace in comparison with the first story.

Please keep in mind, when I say B-Horror, I do not say that with shade. I love B-Horror. The vibe of those movies is what this story brought me and frankly, I was living for it!

We have Maggie Olsen returning to her childhood home after the tragic death of her sister, Brynn.

This isn’t the first tragedy to strike the family. Both of Maggie’s parents have also passed away under mysterious circumstances at their house.

The narrative alternates between the present and the past, showing Maggie and Brynn’s relationship when they were kids and how some of their actions then may have actually shaped their present.

We have a local cemetery they like to visit, the legend of a dead girl, a creepy-ass porcelain doll and a Ouija board. What could go wrong, am I right!?

Basically, this story is a cornucopia of Horror elements that I love to see!!

This story was fast-paced, gripping and had some genuinely terrifying scenes. I really enjoyed this one. I would give it a 4.5-star if I were rating it individually. It was a very strong story for me, one I will remember for a long time to come.

I have had this book on my shelves for years. I am so happy that I finally made the time for it. I would definitely recommend this to Horror Lovers.

I think it perfectly showcases the range of Ahlborn’s writing; so well done!

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Review: Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Eight Perfect MurdersEight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Years ago, when he first started working at a local bookstore, Malcolm Kershaw, running the store’s online presence, wrote a blog post titled, Eight Perfect Murders.

The mystery aficionado made of a list of what he considered to be the genre’s most unsolvable murders. Little did he know that one seemingly inconsequential post would come back to haunt him.

Presently, Malcolm owns his own Boston bookstore and while he still loves books, he hasn’t been reading as many mysteries as he used to.

After suffering the loss of his wife, a lot in Malcolm’s world changed.

On the day of a terrible snow storm, Mal is in his shop alone when an FBI agent arrives. According to her, she’s investigating a serial killer who appears to be using Mal’s list to commit his crimes.

Mal’s shocked to hear this. How would the killer have even found that old post?

When it starts to appear that the killer not only found the list, but is keeping an eye on Mal as well, Mal begins to think it’s personal. So, he takes matters into his own hands and starts to look for suspects.

Y’all know I love an amateur sleuth trope, and a book seller main character! What a fantastic set-up for a Mystery!

I listened to this audiobook on my drive home from Christmas holiday and it kept me thoroughly entertained. It was a great way to pass the hours.

I loved the narration. It had a sort of film noir quality to it that I felt really fit this story. I would definitely recommend the audio if you are planning to read this yourself.

This was my first Swanson novel and I appreciated how he didn’t hold back. This was completely wild and over-the-top. It was full of unbelievable things, but that’s what made it so fun.

I would definitely be interested in reading more of his work. I know this one had some mixed reviews, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. I think Swanson and I could turn out to have a beautiful friendship.

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Review: Seafire (Seafire #1) by Natalie C. Parker

Seafire (Seafire, #1)Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars heavily rounded up**

As Caledonia and her best friend, Pisces, are on an island searching for provisions, everyone aboard the ship they call home is slaughtered by the corrupt warlord, Aric Athair, and his army of soldiers, known as Bullets.

After the tragedy, Caledonia and Pisces are left to fend for themselves. It’s a devastating loss, the one silver lining being that they still have each other.

Years later, Caledonia finds herself Captain of her own ship, the Mors Navis, with Pisces operating as her First Mate.

The two women head a crew of girls, who have also lost loved ones at the brutal hands of Aric Athair and the Bullets.

Together these women are hellbent on stopping Aric’s murderous reign once and for all.

But after Pisces gets briefly taken captive and then freed by a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia has to question all she thought she knew. Bullets are never to be trusted, right?

I’ve had Seafire on my shelves since it first released in 2018. As part of my effort to check off some of my backlist, I decided to pick it up in December 2021.

The Prologue was incredible and the first few chapters had me extremely interested, after that however, it completely went off the tracks for me.

I almost feel like I wish the beginning hadn’t been quite as strong because ultimately, I was let down.

The non-stop dramatic conversations between Caledonia and her crew just started wearing on me. I know you need drama in order to progress a plot and I’m the first to admit I love drama, but this seemed like Caledonia being stubborn and over-the-top for no reason.

Her character ruined this for me. I was becoming annoyed with everything she did. I barely even remember the second half because I just wanted her out of my life.

I can absolutely understand why some Readers may really enjoy this. It definitely had some great sea-faring vibes and I did enjoy the steampunk feel of the ships and technology they were using.

Who knows? Maybe I was just in a bitchy mood and I’m being dramatic and over-the-top about the whole thing.

I’m really glad that I gave it a shot. I would pick up more from Natalie C. Parker, as I believe she did a great job in creating the world for this story.

As far as this series is concerned, I am done for now and will be donating my copy of the first two books to my local public high school.

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Review: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Sometimes I LieSometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Waking in a hospital bed, Amber Reynolds quickly realizes that she cannot move, she cannot speak, she cannot even open her eyes.

She can hear everything going on around her, but has no way to make her consciousness known.

She can let the Reader know three things, however: 1. Her name is Amber Reynolds, 2. Her husband doesn’t love her anymore, and 3. Sometimes she lies.

Somtimes I Lie is a taut Psychological Thriller that kept me entranced from beginning to end. This was Alice Feeney’s debut novel. Stunning.

First, I can’t believe it took me this long to pick it up. Second, I can definitely see why there has been buzz about Feeney from the very start. This was such a well-executed debut.

The narrative is broken into three perspectives: Amber’s thoughts whilst in her coma, her remembrances of the events leading up to the accident that put her in the hospital, and diary entries from 1992.

Along the way, you meet the various players in Amber’s life: her husband, sister, an ex-boyfriend, work colleagues, etc. No matter how many people I met, or how much information I seemed to be getting, it took a long time for the fog to begin to clear.

The portions where Amber is in her coma are genuinely terrifying. Just the thought of being in her shoes in those moments, it made me feel claustrophobic.

Additionally, her memories seem so muddled. I felt like I was squinting trying to see past the hazy details. It reminded me of watching a movie where the scenes are mostly dark and your just trying to see what’s there.

The pace continued to increase, as well as the intensity, as more and more about Amber’s past is revealed. There were some truly shocking moments.

I listened to this audiobook while traveling over Christmas holiday and honestly, I don’t think I could have chosen a better way to pass the time. It was fantastic.

I was so pleasantly surprised when I discovered that this story is actually set during Christmas time. That small detail just gave it a little something extra that I needed during my long and slightly stressful journey!

A little boost if you will.

I’m so glad I took the time to pick this one up. If you haven’t picked this up yet and have been enjoying Feeney’s newer releases, like I have, you should definitely give this one a shot.

Highly recommend, particularly the audiobook!

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Review: Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries #4) by Martha Wells

Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries, #4)Exit Strategy by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Exit Strategy is the fourth novella in Martha Wells’ beloved Sci-Fi series, The Murderbot Diaries.

I have really enjoyed my time with this series so far. It’s hard to believe how attached I have become to the unconventional protagonist, an antisocial SecUnit, Murderbot.

I have read all of the novellas in this series via audiobook. Part of the reason for that is because they’re narrated by Kevin R. Free, who is the absolute perfect narrator for this series. He is Murderbot in my mind.

In this installment, we reunite with Murderbot, who continues on their galaxy-wide quest to find answers regarding their past, all while gathering info on the mysterious and sinister GrayCris Corporation.

After Milu, Murderbot chooses to return to HaveRatton Station, which may turn out to be a big mistake. It hopes to meet with Dr. Mensah, but it looks like Dr. Mensah may be in a bit of trouble.

Experiencing something that could be defined as a feeling ((yuck, says Murderbot)), it decides it will do what it needs to in order to help save Dr. Mensah; pairing up with some old acquaintances in the process.

I was pleased with this novella, although I feel like it didn’t quite capture my attention in the same way that the previous three have. I think for me, it felt like it wasn’t quite as humorous as the earlier books.

Perhaps, that’s because Murderbot didn’t have the same lovable AI characters to exchange witty banter with. Yeah, that is probably it.

I am loving how Murderbot continues to evolve, as far as its relationships with humans go. I am particularly into whatever is happening with Mensah; it’s quite intriguing.

The next book in the series, Network Effect, is the first full-length novel in this series, coming in at 350-pages. I am super excited to get into that one!

I highly recommend this to Readers who enjoy action-packed, light-hearted, often hilarious Sci-Fi stories. Look no further, Murderbot is where it’s at.

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Review: City of Lost Souls (The Mortal Instruments #5) by Cassandra Clare

City of Lost Souls (The Mortal Instruments, #5)City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

City of Lost Souls is the 5th-installment of Cassie Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. With this in mind, some minor spoilers may lay ahead in this review.

I actually have no idea what I am going to write yet, but just understand, it’s a possibility.

It’s been a minute since I have picked up any Shadowhunter books. I actually finished Clockwork Prince in February and had planned to continue on right away, however, I got distracted. New releases. You know how it is.

Luckily, Shadowhunter characters are like old friends. No matter how long you’ve been apart, once reunited, it’s like no time has passed at all.

In this installment, the main narrative revolves around the fact that the demon Lilith’s magic has bound Jace to Clary’s psychotic brother, Sebastian, who has full control in their newly formed relationship.

Meanwhile, the clave is still on the hunt for Sebastian, but there is no way he can be taken out without killing Jace as well.

As bleak as it sounds, Clary refuses to give up on Jace. She must figure out how to get him back, no matter the risk.

Clary isn’t the only one determined to save Jace, although she may be willing to go the furthest in order to do so. Alec, Simon, Magnus and Isabelle are also scrambling, trying to find out any way to break the bond of Lilith’s magic.

As Clary and Jace are reunited, it’s clear, he’s not the same boy she fell in love with, but can she trust this new Jace? Is he still worth risking her life for?

I will admit, my interest in this installment fluctuated throughout. Jace and Clary’s relationship isn’t my favorite and was a big focus in this one, obviously. With this being said, Clare definitely pulled it off in the end.

I love how she continues to build out this world. It’s really quite impressive. I’m super excited to finally be able to pick up Clockwork Princess next.

I think for me, I enjoy the The Infernal Devices just a bit more than this series, so I tend to kind of breeze through these ones in order the be able to return to Victorian London.

I’m still enjoying this series a lot, don’t get me wrong. It is a solid series, complex and fast-paced. The way this one leaves off, I am super excited to see what happens in City of Heavenly Fire.

Also, just as a side note, I was incredibly happy to get a bit more Magnus Bane in this one; quickly becoming my favorite character.

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