Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #95: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

This was such a great novel! I was very impressed with the story and how much research the author incorporated into the book. The novel begins with the written confession of “Verity,” or Queenie as she refers to herself, a British agent captured in France by German agents. After being tortured, she has agreed to give the Germans the information they want and has already revealed codes. Given her status, she knows she has very little time left before she dies, and realizes that once they have her confessions she will likely die or get sent somewhere even worse than the Gestapo headquarters. As a result, her confessions may seem a bit long, chronicling her friendship with Maddie, an English pilot, before she finally reveals more about herself and her mission, but her captors are both impatient and oddly tolerant of her tangents. The commander of the Gestapo frightens Queenie but often surprises her with his knowledge of literature, even stating that she is a student of the novel, and writing her story in that way. Queenie does an amazing job of telling her and Maddie’s story while interspersing her present day predicament and the fear she faces.

Full Review.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #94: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The concept behind The Maze Runner is intriguing but unfortunately, I became less interested in the novel as it went on due to poor pacing and characters that were rather lacking in development. Thomas arrives in the Glades one day with no memory of his past though he feels like the place may be vaguely familiar. He joins a group of fifty or so very well organized boys ranging from 11-17. None of them remember who they are, either, beyond their names, and they have arrived a month apart at the Glade for the past two years.
Thomas tries to get answers the first day he is there, and while I understand his desire, I’m not sure if I was more annoyed with him or the other characters when they told him he would get his answers on a tour of the Glade on his first full day. I understand Thomas wanting answers before then but maybe he could have been a bit less obnoxious about it given that they promised him answers on their own time line. The area is surrounded by a maze, and a group of the boys are maze runners, who chart and run through the maze daily, looking for clues or an exit. Every night the walls to the maze close, keeping the boys locked in the Glade and the monsters (things called grievers) outside in the maze. Despite these creatures and the danger they pose, Thomas develops a feeling early on that he is meant to be a maze runner.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #93: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

I’m actually surprised I haven’t read this earlier since it is a fairly well known novel dealing with the Holocaust, a topic I always tend to gravitate towards. Perhaps it was the fact that it seemed to be very much marketed for a younger audience (not that this prevented me from reading and loving The Book Thief). Upon completing the novel, I thought this felt like a fairy tale of the Holocaust until I flipped back to the front and noticed the title page actually read as “The Boy in Striped Pajamas: A Parable.” Boyne mixes realism with events that could maybe have happened because some crazy unbelievable things happened involving the Holocaust, but mostly feel like something that never could have taken place, at least not for a prolonged period of time. As a result, I think adding that word parable to the title helps – Boyne isn’t trying to give his readers an entirely accurate impression of the Holocaust but wants to tell a small personal story involving the Holocaust.
Bruno, the main character, is nine years old when his father gets a promotion, and the family has to move from their large home in Berlin to a smaller house in “Outwith.” His father has been placed in charge of a camp, and Bruno has a view of this camp from his bedroom window, where he can see lots of people in striped pajamas. While Bruno hates his new home, the lack of friends and the soldiers that are constantly in and out of the house to speak with his father, he eventually decides to explore and walks the perimeter of the fence around the camp until he sees a boy in striped pajamas on the other side. Bruno and Shmuel strike up a conversation, and continue to meet every day, each on their side of the fence.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #92: Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong

Picking up a few months after Dime Store Magic, Paige, Lucas and Savannah are living in Portland, Oregon. Lucas continues to do pro-bono lawyer work in defiance of his father, the CEO of the Cortez Cabal (think head of the most important mob but run by sorcerers and employing supernaturals), while Paige attempts to start a coven of her own. However, she is rather lacking in success, and part of it is due to her boyfriend being a sorcerer (sorcerers and witches are portrayed as enemies in this series) and her ward being the daughter of a witch with a reputation for practicing dark magic.
While Lucas has been trying to protect Paige from family politics, she gets pulled in when his father Benicio visits their apartment in Portland. Someone is targeting the children of Cabal employees, and Benicio would like to hire Paige or Lucas to investigate, and is also concerned for their safety. Despite initial hesitations, Paige and Lucas are drawn into the investigation, and spend a large part of the book in Miami, the Cortez headquarters. Cortez is not the only Cabal that has been targeted, and working with the other Cabals raises some issues, especially since one of them played such a prominent role in the previous novel, and Savannah’s custody case.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #91: The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen

I’ve really liked both of the Jussi Adler-Olsen novels I’ve read so far. While a lot of mystery novels clue the readers in on more things more quickly than their detectives, Adler-Olsen takes a whole different approach here. There is no question in this novel about who committed the crimes. There may be some questions in the middle about other things that are slowly uncovered, but instead the tension comes from wondering when the various parties will figure things out, and more importantly, when and if they will be able to prove anything. His previous novel also had a slightly different set up than the normal mystery thriller though in that case the connection was with the victim, and the reader too was left wondering who was behind the crime.
This novel takes place only a few months after the case from The Keeper of Lost Causes. Carl’s old partner is still in the hospital as a result of the shooting that led to Carl’s placement in the Q Department, and he has suggested that something may have been fishy about that afternoon’s events. While Carl wonders about this, he doesn’t investigate or act on it, instead focusing on a case file that has mysteriously appeared on his desk. While Carl’s supposed to handle cold cases, this file refers to a shut case. Two siblings were found beaten to death in a summer cabin, and the perpetrator turned himself in nine years later. During the original investigation, the perpetrator was part of a gang of teens from a boarding school, and the entire gang was questioned at one point. The guy who took the fall was the least well off of the group but the rest were rich and privileged, and are now influential members of society. Still, Carl’s interest is peaked, and he begins to pursue some leads until he launches a whole new investigation, and discovers that this could very well solve several other cases on his desk.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #90: The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley

Considering how much luck I had with books at the beginning of the year, I really feel like I’ve been striking out lately. I haven’t read any books that I’d rate as a 1, but I’ve definitely had a lot more 2s in the last month or two than before. I was actually looking forward to reading this one, expecting something along the lines of Kate Morton, and I guess technically there are some family secrets but it’s just so boring. Even when I’m getting irritated with Morton’s characters, I’m still riveted with the narrative. I just wanted to throw this one across the room when it wasn’t putting me to sleep.
 
It started off decent enough, and part of it is just that I expect these types of novels to start off slowly before they dig into the past. Julia, the main character, is a pianist, and she has shut herself off from the world for the last eight months following the death of her husband and her two year old son. Despite her lack of interest in most things, her sister is able to convince her to attend an auction at Wharton Park, where her grandfather was once responsible for the hothouses and orchids. Julia’s mom died when she was young so she spent a lot of time with her grandparents at Wharton Park after this loss. In the modern day, the estate has become too expensive to maintain, so Kit, the heir to the estate, must sell it off though he plans to keep the small house Julia’s grandparents called home. While doing repairs on the house, he discovers an old journal, and returns it to Julia. Now in most Gothic fiction, Julia would become interested in the journal, read it and be inspired to look into some family history. Julia, however, is still too caught up in her grief to do even that, though she eventually takes a trip to see her grandmother and give her the journal, assuming it was her grandfather’s (that’s right, she didn’t even flip through it enough to realize who the author of the journal was). Elsbeth, her grandmother, corrects her, and tells her it was actually Harry’s journal, the heir to Wharton Park during World War II.
 

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #89: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

The novel begins with Percy Jackson being pursued by gorgons. Percy has had a rather bad week – he can’t remember anything about his past except for his name and a girl named Annabeth. He is being hounded by monsters from mythology, and he has to get Camp Jupiter for safety. When he finally arrives at Camp Jupiter, he still doesn’t know if he’s actually safe since he is met with suspicion. His abilities clearly mark him as a son of Neptune, who isn’t exactly a favorite among the Romans. He quickly makes friends with two of the other misfits in the camp – Hazel, a daughter of Pluto, and Frank, who is still unclaimed though his 16th birthday has passed. Hazel has secrets about her past that she is hiding, and Frank is still grieving for his mother, a Canadian soldier that died in Afghanistan.

Full Review.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #88: Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

I am pretty sure that my first introduction to Jim Gaffigan was his portrayal as Miranda’s boyfriend on Sex and the City. Like most guys on that show, he didn’t last beyond one episode, his character’s major issue being that not only didn’t he close the door when using the bathroom, but he left it wide open. Since then I have seen him around randomly, and I have of course seen his Hot Pocket routine from his stand up show. It’s on YouTube – you should check it out.
Since I seem to be a sucker for books by comedians, sometimes even ones I don’t even care about one way or the other, I of course had to get this one. As the title implies, this book is about parenthood. I had no idea that Gaffigan had five children, and lived in a two bedroom apartment in New York. The book is basically a series of vignettes about having children. It is definitely not a memoir, though it has personal stories, and in many cases reads like part of comedy stand up routine. The vignettes and anecdotes are roughly organized by topic and chronology, so that the first parts deal with him as a man without children interacting with parents, discussions on pregnancy leading into a chapter on birth, infants and so forth. It helps to already be familiar with Gaffigan’s humor to appreciate it this, but I personally enjoyed the dry wit.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #87: The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

This is the concluding volume of The Strain trilogy. Given the fact that the paperback copy has been out for over a year already, it is probably easy to tell that I wasn’t in a rush to finish this series. In fact, if I hadn’t found a bargain copy for $4 or $5 at the bookstore recently, I probably still wouldn’t have finished it. The second book was just incredibly disappointing to me, and while I figured I’d eventually finish the series because I was already two thirds of the way through, I certainly wasn’t seeking this novel out.
There were quite a few issues with this novel, but at least I now know how it ended. There were parts of the plot where the action picked up, but overall the biggest problem this book, and I would say the series as a whole, had was the pacing. It was much too slowly paced. I think if this series had been one stand alone novel divided into three parts, it could have been great, or at least not mediocre. It would have been easier to care about the characters because the people in book 1 were interesting. The people in books 2 and 3 weren’t very exciting even though they were technically the same characters, with the exception of Quinlan. That was actually one part of this novel I liked, the rest of the vampire mythology and lore that is revealed, especially in regards to Quinlan. There were a few parts of the origin story I could have done without, especially when they are presented as fact rather than myth such as the idea that the vampires are the result of a fallen angel from Sodom and Gomorrah times. I don’t mind allusions to biblical stories but straight up using the Bible? Let’s leave religion out of my vampire novels unless it’s a character holding a cross to ward off a vampire. Also, no visions! I’m okay with revelatory dreams because it could just be sold as someone’s subconscious but don’t make it a vision.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #86: Tell No One by Harlan Coben

Based on the description of his newest novel, Six Years, I decided to try this author out, and was told that this one would be a good place to start. If the description of that one and this novel are anything to go by, then Coben certainly likes stories about women that disappear. David Beck, this novel’s protagonist married his childhood sweetheart, only to see her kidnapped and murdered on their anniversary. Eight years later, he still has not recovered from her death. However, when two bodies are discovered at her kidnapping site, it begins to raise questions about what happened. Then David receives an email that makes him think that Elizabeth is still alive.

Full Review.