Review - 'Fourth Wing' by Rebecca Yarros

"Decide, Violet. Are you going to die a scribe? Or live as a rider?"

Oh, this is good. I see now why y'all love it so much.

If Fourth Wing was a drug, I'd be an addict. It grabbed me so thoroughly from the very first moment and refused to let go. I was fully immersed, I didn't want to sleep, didn't want to eat. I just wanted to inhale it as fast as I could. And honestly, isn't this why we read, for this exact feeling?

The action begins right on the first page and never lets up. There was no onerous worldbuilding, no endless backgrounds or introductions. We just seamlessly slip into the world of Navarre and Violet Sorrengail. Every time I get the itch to read fantasy, the one thing that holds me back is how much worldbuilding I would have to endure just to get to the good parts. But no such issues here. The good parts start right at the beginning.

Is this the most original story? No. Is this the most well written? Also no. (Don't kill me for saying that, all you rabid fans.) In fact, the dialogue has me cringing at times, with its penchant for f-bombs as emphasis and its often basic but slightly pompous back-and-forth that only teenagers can pull off. I guess in that way, it is true to its characters since they're all not much older than teenagers.

But slight criticisms aside, this story is executed to perfection. It takes several well-trodden tropes and not only cohesively blends them together, but also manages to squeeze every ounce of entertainment out of them along the way. And I'm not above being entertained.

This is my first real foray into the romantasy genre that's got everyone aflutter. And I can see the appeal. Fantasy is a bit of an adrenaline rush and so is romance, so blending the two together is really the perfect symbiosis. Of course you'd want your hero to fight hard in a war between good and evil. And it totally makes sense that they would love hard too if they could die any day. And if the object of desire is one's enemy instead of one's friend? Even better.

I'm a little late to the Fourth Wing party, and there's good reason. I was certain this was a duology (don't ask me why I thought this), so I figured if I just held off a little bit, I could bam my way through both books without having to stop and deal with the inevitable anguish of waiting for the next book. Well, the joke's on me because this is actually a five-parter. So lots of waiting will be had by me. As a consolation, at least I can dive straight into Iron Flame.

Readaroo Rating: 4 stars

Review - 'The Last Devil to Die' by Richard Osman

"There's always something just out of reach. . . . Everyone chasing the thing they don't have. Going mad until they get it."

My favorite Thursday Murder Club to date, The Last Devil to Die gave me so many emotions and a riveting mystery to boot.

In this installment, murder hits close to home when a friend of Stephen's is killed. With their trademark forthrightness and humor, Joyce, Elizabeth, Ron, and Ibrahim stick their noses where they don't belong, and are soon caught up in the world of heroine dealers, antiques, and fake art.

I usually try to bam my way through murder mysteries like nobody's business. After all, I want to pick up clues as fast as I can, put it all together, and get to the whodunnit pronto. But this series feels like one to savor, and this installment is especially so. I read it slowly, immersing myself in these characters who over the course of four books now feel like friends rather than just characters on a page.

This was an entertaining mystery, with more chaos and mayhem (hehe) than you'd expect old people to get themselves into. We see Joyce really come into her own here, stepping in for Elizabeth who is otherwise indisposed. I feel like all the side characters were particularly charming, and I even started to like Connie if you can believe it. We also have a little side mystery going on to catch an online scammer, just to add a bit of extra zing to the whole thing.

I can't talk about the series without talking about its humor, and that's on full display here. Humor is subjective, and what one reader finds funny may not click with another. But for me, it completely works. Richard Osman has this gentle way of poking fun at the folly of human nature and growing old. It's cheeky and lighthearted, and it never comes at the expense of the characters' humanity.

I have to warn you though, this book feels like the series' most intimate and emotional one yet, so get the tissues ready. Osman doesn't shy away from talking about growing old and dying. In fact, couched in all that humor and sleuthing is the ever-present specter of death coming for everyone, especially when you are of a certain old age.

And yet, reading about these four friends who take life by the horns when it would've been much easier to just coast and fade out is so inspiring and invigorating. As Richard Osman puts it wisely via Joyce, "The urgency of old age. There's nothing that makes you feel more alive than the certainty of death."

I suspect I come back to this series again and again because it fills me with hope that I can still have a life worth living when I reach the twilight of my years. To have it be filled with friendship and intrigue and purpose, what more could I ask for?

I am a little bummed that Richard Osman is taking a break from this series to start another one (though I'm excited to see what he comes up with). Visiting these septuagenarians has become a highlight of my fall every year. But don't worry, for whenever the next book comes out, I'll be right here waiting to be reunited with my old friends.

Readaroo Rating: 5 stars!

Review - 'Heart Bones' by Colleen Hoover

I've read quite a few Colleen Hoover books, some I've loved and some I've hated. Heart Bones lands right in the middle of the pack for me.

Beyah comes from a life of poverty and neglect. When her mother dies of an overdose, she goes to live with the father she barely knows. Once there, she feels an immediate attraction to Samson, the handsome guy next door. Beyah recognizes something in him that makes her think they are kindred spirits. Before the summer is over, all their secrets will be revealed to each other.

Even with the main character's unusual backstory, this feels more like a regular new adult romance than anything else. And to be fair, that's really what Colleen Hoover does best. She has this way of pulling you into the romance and keeping the book firmly glued to your hands until the very last page, even if the main couple does come across as somewhat cringey and angsty.

Still, I need a little bit more than just a straightforward new adult romance in order to really enjoy it, and this didn't have that. Colleen Hoover's books usually elicit such strong emotions in me, melting me into a puddle of snot and tears. But not this one. It lacked that all-important emotional punch. I didn't cry, my heart remains unbroken, and my tissues are dry.

Maybe I'm finally outgrowing the new adult genre. (Say it ain't so!) At the risk of dating myself, it's been almost two decades since I was the age of the characters in this book. And even though I'd like to think I remain young at heart, I suppose there is a limit. My reading preferences can only remain that young for so long, especially when it comes to angsty romances.

Readaroo Rating: 3 stars

Review - 'The Last One' by Will Dean

I know fiction is called fiction for a reason. But this is so far from reality that it's almost bordering on science fiction.

Caz is on board the luxury cruise liner RMS Atlantica for a well-deserved vacation with her new boyfriend, Pete. When she wakes up after a night of fun and delicious food, Pete is not there. She steps out of her cabin to investigate and soon realizes that everyone is gone. There is not another soul on board, and that is only the start of her nightmare.

Dun, dun, dun!

Ah, that premise is so good. It makes it seem like this is a locked-room mystery/thriller, and I love those! So of course I dug in with gusto. And the initial 100 pages were exactly what I wanted. I was on the edge of my seat, turning the pages as fast as I could, trying to figure out what happened to Caz. Could it be aliens, or ghosts, or interdimensional visitors?! What could it possibly be?

But then we reach a turning point about a third of the way through, and it took all the wind out of my sails. (See what I did there? Sorry, couldn't resist.) I thought I was reading a thriller, but it turned into a survival/gory horror story, which I'm just not into.

And from then on, it became more and more bizarre, to the point where it wasn't believable anymore. The more I read, the more incredulous I became. Sure, I didn't see the developments coming, but that's because they don't really jive with reality. I had a hard time investing in the story because it felt like someone was pulling my leg the whole time.

Also for a thriller, this really dragged on. Every time there is an action scene, we take a detour inside Caz's mind as she ponders about her parents and sister, their problems, and how that follows her around everywhere. It feels like 100 pages could've easily been cut out and we would still have the same story.

Oh, and right when I thought it was over, we were smacked with one last parting shot at the very end. Talk about pulling someone's leg. Not only did it not make sense, but it felt like the biggest troll of all.

I'm so disappointed. The beginning of this book was amazing, and I thought I had a 5-star thriller on my hands. But as I read on, slowly but surely, I came to enjoy it less and less. It feels like I was deducting a star for every 100 pages, until I arrived at the ignominious 2 stars.

Still, I applaud the author for trying something different. Just because it didn't work for me doesn't mean it won't work for you. In fact, this is one of those books that's so crazy, I hope everyone reads it just so we can all talk about it.

Readaroo Rating: 2 stars

Review - 'Expiration Dates' by Rebecca Serle

I usually have a lot to say about a book (shocking, I know), but this one left me a bit befuddled. Did I enjoy it? I think so. And yet, I wanted more than what I got.

Daphne has an unusual quirk—every time she meets a new man, she gets a piece of paper with his name and the exact amount of time they will be together. Until one day, she gets a piece of paper with just a name: Jake. It seems all her waiting is over, and she has finally met the one. But as their relationship continues, Daphne starts to wonder what it means to be with someone she isn't entirely truthful with.

With a premise like that, I was expecting something, well unexpected. To know the future before it happens is a double-edged sword. Do you forge your own destiny or do you let yourself be steered by what you know your destiny to be? Ah, a subtle but important distinction and a quandary to be certain. So I settled in for what is sure to be an interesting read.

We follow Daphne as she meets Jake and their relationship grows. And through flashbacks, we see some of her other relationships in the past, including her three-month romance with her now best friend, Hugo. As time goes on, she can't help but be cynical as relationship after relationship ends, exactly as the papers predict.

But then as the story continues, I started to realize that it isn't what I was expecting. Or rather, it is, but I thought there would be more. For such an fascinating premise, this seems more like a romance or women's fiction rather than the profound read I was hoping for.

Yes, we do spend a little bit of time contemplating Daphne's unusual issue, but otherwise, this story unfolds along the same vein as any other fictional relationship. In fact, the story focuses a lot of time on another thing altogether, which while worthwhile, feels a bit like a bait-and-switch to me.

It doesn't help that Daphne and Jake lacked chemistry together. They feel rather bland, so it was hard to invest in their relationship or to understand what they saw in each other. The only chemistry was between Daphne and Hugo, which made this a somewhat confusing read because I wasn't sure who to cheer for.

But that isn't to sell the story short. There were definitely moments when it got ahold of me and I felt its emotional pull. And its message of living your life to the fullest because it's the only one you've got is a worthy one, even if it got a little muddled in the tale.

So yes, I did enjoy this, even if it didn't end up being as profound as I'd hoped for. The undeniably fascinating premise and little nuggets of emotional moments left me with some interesting food for thought. For that, I'll round it up to 4 stars.

Readaroo Rating: 4 stars

Review - 'My Murder' by Katie Williams

I can't count the number of times I go into a book with high expectations, drawn in by a heck of a premise, only to end up sorely disappointed. So imagine my surprise and delight when I encounter a book that's so much more than I thought it would be.

Lou is part of a serial killer survivors group. But she didn't really survive a serial killer, did she? Rather, she's a clone brought to life by a government program after her other self was killed. And she's grateful for this second chance at life with her husband and her young baby. But she's not really sure how she's supposed to feel, being a clone and all. And there seems to be mysterious circumstances surrounding her murder.

Going in, I really wasn't sure what to expect. On the surface, this seems to be a mystery/thriller, but Book of the Month put it in their literary fiction category. So whatever it was, I knew it wasn't just going to be your standard thriller. And indeed, it turned out to be something more.

If I were to put a label on it, I think it would be character-driven speculative fiction. Even though the book's title and blurb would have you thinking that the murder investigation was the focus of the story, it really was just a small part of it. Instead, the focus is on Lou and how she's doing and coping given her unusual circumstances.

You guys know me, I love anything science fiction related. And so of course I found the parts around cloning and what it means for Lou to be particularly interesting. This isn't the first time I've encountered the concept of cloning a person to bring them back from the dead, but it's the first time it's really made me think. If I were a clone of Yun, would I be Yun to others and myself? Or would I feel that the original Yun and I are actually two separate entities, and that I'm really an interloper in her life? It's quite fascinating to contemplate.

I also really enjoyed this book's portrayal of motherhood. I'm a new mom myself, and Lou's baby and mine are about the same age, so it particularly resonated with me. The feelings of uncertainty and wanting to run away, but also the fierce love and devotion, they all rang true to me. The only part that didn't ring true was how much time Lou had to meet with her survivor's group and nose around about her murder. But then we wouldn't have a story otherwise, would we?

As for the mystery itself, I found it interesting, but I didn't focus on it. And when the reveal came, I really enjoyed the way the story chose to go. It was both surprising and thought-provoking. Based on all the upset reviews out there, I can see why it might be polarizing, but it totally worked for me. [view spoiler below]

I'm glad this didn't turn out to be a standard thriller. I've read so many of those, it's hard to distinguish one from the other. As soon as I've finished with one, it passes from my mind. This one though, this one I'm going to remember. I feel like it came into my life at the right moment and was exactly what I needed.

Readaroo Rating: 4 stars

This was a pick for my Book of the Month box. Get your first book for $5 here.

Spoiler past this point:
In fact, in the early days of motherhood when I was so overwhelmed and exhausted, wondering what I had gotten myself into, I remember thinking I could run away from this life if only there was another me who I could trust to love and raise my baby as I would. A clone would certainly do the job. But then don't all mothers think every once in a while about running away, even as we love our babies fiercely?

Review - 'The Fury' by Alex Michaelides

Is this the slowest thriller ever or what?

Our narrator Elliot Chase has a story to tell, and he invites you the reader to hear it. Pull up a barstool, pour yourself a drink, and settle in. This is a story about murder, or perhaps it's a story about love. Either way, it's sure to surprise you. Or at least that's what our narrator promises.

Of course I dove into this with gusto. The Silent Patient is one of my favorite books of all time—utterly unputdownable and that memorable twist—so I eagerly await anything from Alex Michaelides. My expectations are always sky-high when it comes to his books and I know that isn't really fair, so I try to tamp it down to a more reasonable level. But hey, the heart wants what the heart wants.

The first few chapters were full of potential. I absolutely love the prospect of murder on an island, with a limited number of suspects and all that remote isolation to give it ominous vibes. It's very à la And Then There Were None. And Michaelides's tendency to include a fair bit of psychology in his stories adds a fascinating slant to the whole thing.

But as I read on, I started to realize something. The story isn't grabbing me, not right off the bat nor even 150 pages in. There's so much setup to get through, not to mention what feels like excessive dangling of the proverbial carrot. We are told by the narrator over and over how we need to know this or that in order to understand what comes next—dangle, dangle. And that he promises the good parts are coming—dangle, dangle. And it's sure to surprise us—dangle, dangle. Honestly, it got a bit much.

All that dangling left me with anticipation fatigue. I know it's a fairly common technique used in modern thrillers, but I'm just not a fan. It feels like unnecessary fluff to me. I know the good stuff is coming—why else would I be reading this?—so just get on with it. Nevertheless, I persevered. I slowly trudged my way through and was ever so thankful when we finally reached the point when things started to happen.

And what crazy things they are. We are hit with one reveal after another, crafted to bamboozle the reader with amazement and delight. And I was definitely entertained. But the problem is that by then, left for so long with such a slow narrative, my brain had already used its free cycles to mull over all the possibilities and arrive at the conclusions. It's like an unwelcome guest, always ready to crash every slow-thriller party and ruin it. So yeah, no real surprises were had by me.

I can't help but feel disappointed. This book seems so far from The Silent Patient, they might as well be written by two different authors. Whereas The Silent Patient was tightly paced with a sparseness to the prose that just pulls you in, The Fury is fluffed out and meandering, taking all the time in the world to arrive at every little interesting part. The Silent Patient had the feel of a proper mystery with clues and red herrings, whereas this feels more like your standard thriller with twist upon twist added for shock value.

Gosh, that all sounds super negative, but it really isn't. I did enjoy this, especially the last 100 pages. At least after all that buildup, the story comes together and we get a fun payoff. It's just that in a crowded field of thrillers, this one doesn't really stand out, neither for the writing nor for the plot.

Oh and one last thing. If you haven't read The Silent Patient yet, don't read this book first. For some inexplicable reason, this story contains a spoiler for it. Maybe it's just my early copy and it will be removed in time for publication. I sure hope so. Because otherwise, you'll have read a fairly middling thriller at the expense of ruining an amazing one.

Readaroo Rating: 3 stars

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