Dirty Little Secrets (J.J. Graves Mystery #1) by Liliana Hart

Diving back into my TBR list sitting on my Kindle, I’m not sure if I picked up this book because I was hooked on Pretty Little Liars and the cover reminded me of the series so I thought it would be cool. There really are no reasons especially when its really a shot in the dark and hoping that its a good read. I’ve never read anything from Liliana Hart before so let’s check it out!

Dirty Little Secrets (J.J. Graves Mystery #1)
By: Liliana Hart

dirty little secrets

J.J. Graves has seen a lot of dead bodies in her line of work. She’s not only in the mortuary business, but she’s also the coroner for King George County, Virginia. When a grisly murder is discovered in the small town of Bloody Mary, it’s up to J.J. and her best friend, Detective Jack Lawson, to bring the victim justice. The murders are piling up. When a popular mystery writer shows up on J.J.’s doorstep with plans of writing his new book about the Bloody Mary Serial Killer, J.J. has to decide if he might be going above and beyond the call of duty to create the spine tinglers he’s so well known for. Passions are rising. J.J and Jack discover each victim had a shocking secret, and the very foundation of J.J.’s life is in danger of crumbling when it turns out she’s harboring secrets of her own—secrets that make her a perfect target in a deadly game. – Goodreads

Mystery/thriller/suspense are so hard to do well. I can tell you that this book has nothing to do with anything like the plot of Pretty Little Liars of course, as you can see in the summary above. The star of the show is J.J. Graves who is a doctor turned mortician who also shadows in this small hometown as the person taking care of autopsies which usually are just normal everyday natural or accidental deaths and nothing like murders until one murder after the next plague the town and it becomes apparent that someone from the town itself could be responsible and that the victims lead a much darker life than they lead on. Small towns are a great setting for murder mysteries because it keeps things confined whether in terms of relationships or just the possible suspects and gives it space to be easier to follow. For that, Liliana Hart did really good at setting up that stage. The mystery itself made sense and the big reveal also was logical and twisty enough to be a surprise.

Dirty Little Secrets is a pretty quick read because it keeps its length under control. It will have your brain wondering the whodunnit question. However, the book does have its downfall. One of the biggest ones is creating a character like J.J. who isn’t exactly someone we can care for. She is very human because of her imperfections however, she does have a generic personality as a mortician or even the big hidden secret reveal. Her conversations are uninspired especially as we step into the middle when she is infatuated by the stranger in the town while her best friend, the hunk and player of the town Jack fumes over her decisions. Now, what J.J. lacks, Jack’s character makes up a little for. He is still a little generic in his background but there are more layers to his personality and in the bits where he shows up, it leaves us wanting to know more about this character.

As the debut of a series, Dirty Little Lies does well to set up our characters and a look at the town setting. While there are some uncompelling and generic elements, there are still bits to retain it and if not that, the writing style here is a pleasure to read. It does leave me curious to see where the characters will go especially after getting through showing is the basics of this character in this first book that the next one will have more intriguing layers to work with. Maybe I will give it a whirl some time, just to see if its worth continuing to read the entire series, which seems to have ended at Book #4.5.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events Collection: Books 1-3 by Lemony Snicket

With the recent release of Netflix Originals series Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, I couldn’t help but feel really behind in not catching up with the books. In an effort to get the source material read before watching the series, here we go! I ended up getting the three book collection because it was a better deal. Plus, the first season of the TV show covers the first four books in the series.

Let’s check it out! 🙂

A Series of Unfortunate Events Collection: Books 1-3
by: Lemony Snicket

A Series of Unfortunate Events Collection

Book 1: The Bad Beginning

The start of anything can be tough but what always made this series fun is its dark tone and constant reminder that nothing happy is coming out of this story of the Baudelaire orphans. The introduction of all our key characters are all in this first book. We have the Baudelaire orphans: Violet, Klaus and Sunny who are although young, actually quite talented. Our villain Count Olaf gets his entrance as their first guardian and the always coughing but rather useless Mr. Poe who is responsible for the orphans well-being. And of course, our author Lemony Snicket may be the fun parts with his pocket full definitions and comparisons to better understand the vocabulary here. Absolutely a clever way to introduce children to new words and how to use them along with a group of whimsical characters. This theme carries forward to the future books in the series as well.

The Bad Beginning itself is a fun and dark read. While it hangs on the point of the Baudelaire orphans misadventures after the death of their parents and the horrible Count Olaf after their immense fortune, it is quite the imaginative ride and a very dynamic read between both the recount of the story to the characters they’ve created. In many ways, Violet, Klaus and Sunny truly develop in the characters of them being incredibly smart kids even if they are still learning and doesn’t quite know everything but are quite the problem solver. As they work out their escape from the evil cluthes of Count Olaf, we grow to love each of these characters a little more.

Book 2: The Reptile Room

The second book, The Reptile Room, picks up after the first one as the orphans are sent off after Count Olaf’s plans are overturned. With him still on the loose, they head down Lousy Lane to Dr. Montgomery Montgomery’s care, a world renowned herpetologist. Mazes and reptiles and deadly snakes are lurk in this book. The Baudelaire orphans, despite all the bad, start to enjoy their stay with Uncle Monty as he lets them dive deep to build on their fortes. The Reptile Room is a fun one as well. The best parts usually go to the slightly eccentric characters that the books have created as the orphans’ guardians. However, the process of Count Olaf is also incredibly well thought out.

Book 3: The Wide Window

 No one quite beats Aunt Josephine as a little irrational and slightly nuts so far in the series. The Wide Window’s next stop is at Lake Lachrymose where the orphans stay with a very scared Aunt Josephine. In all her feat, she actually is a pretty colorful and entertaining character to read, especially with the Lake Lachrymose and the decoding. There’s quite a bit of mystery in this book and quite a bit of adventure and invention.

Overall, its hard to talk about these books. Each of these books are made up of thirteen chapters with a good pacing and some really fun characters. Count Olaf is a fairly sinister if not a little odd villain who is a master of disguise at least he is to everyone else but the orphans who usually sees through him right away. The narration is probably the best part of the novel. On top of that, the stories itself carry a great tone and dives in many educational things for the younger audience in a fun way like grammar (particularly in Aunt Josephine’s story), a lot of vocabulary and even anagrams (particularly  notice them for Count Olaf related characters either for his mischievous followers). The first three books are incredibly enjoyable. In fact, I pretty much read through them quickly. Although most of it was covered in the movie adaptation, it was nice to see the contrast of the two.

Have you read A Series of Unfortunate Events?

What We’ll Do For Blood (The Almost Human Series #1) by C.L. Mannarino

For some of you who are new here, I love supernatural and paranormal novels. More specifically, while the vampire genre has been wildly overused, I still remain intrigued by what else is showing up. This is where this next novel comes in. What We’ll Do For Blood is the first book in a series by C.L. Mannarino.

Before we start the review, I would like to send a huge thanks to the author for sending me the novel in exchange for an honest review!

What We’ll Do For Blood
by C.L. Mannarino

what we'll do for blood

In the sleepy town of Northam, Massachusetts, not everyone is who they seem to be. Take Scott Whitney, for example. A struggling high school senior, Scott wants nothing more than to have his much-divided, social-climbing family believe him when he comes to them with something important, no matter how often he disregards their rules. One night, Scott catches his father’s beautiful colleague, Maria, drinking his father’s blood in their office parking lot. When his father has no recollection of this event, and gets weaker the more he spends time with Maria, Scott turns to his mother and sister for help. When he realizes that Maria has captured their hearts and minds, as well, Scott has to find a way to believe in himself, and become more than anyone thought he was capable of, in order to stop her. But what will it cost him? – Goodreads

What We’ll Do For Blood is the first in the author’s series. For that, it definitely does set a decent stage to the characters and story. In particular, we learn quite a bit through his actions and decisions and thoughts about the person he is. Our main character is Scott and if not a little silly sometimes, because he lacks a bit of real life experience since he is only a high school guy, he definitely is brave. He emphasized the point that you can’t choose family no matter what happens. It never is too far-fetched in building up a scenario or a thought and that is especially with a genre like this one.

As mentioned before, vampire stories are overused. You don’t need me to tell you all the crazy ways they have been portrayed in books then adapted to movies and TV. For the most part, the vampires here stick pretty much to tradition. They feed and glamor and do what they have to to survive. They live in groups but hunt in solitude. They are ruthless and don’t eat human food and drink human beverages. I do appreciate sticking with the traditional portrayal. However, this story does also hit a lot predictable turns whether it is the choices or Maria, the vampire and adds in pieces that are just glimpses of supporting characters that are there.to serve a certain purpose only.

The aspect that saves it is that it is well-paced and well-written. Nothing beats a good reading like having a tasteful piece in front of us. What We’ll Do For Blood hits some super predictable plotlines and in the end, its really easy to see what it is setting the stage for. However, the setting itself is before modern times and I believe somewhere in the seventies perhaps. I cannot remember the time frame. It is mostly a vibe perhaps also because the characters themselves also live in a small community with even more small-minded people which makes Scott’s father’s recent promotion at his work so significant and why it becomes even harder to sidestep talking to the wrong people and even how Scott’s parents perceive what his son is doing.

Overall, What We’ll Do For Blood is a decent start as it is well-paced and well-written. While we can appreciate taking the traditional vampire route, it does have its predictable moments that do take away from it being exceptional. The extra of society ranking and community impressions and the likes add a little something extra to the story. It is an easy read and while does feature a high school main character, still will appeal to an older audience as it has some more violent descriptions but do note that this book seems to be intended for young adults (at least).

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave #1) by Rick Yancey

Depending where you are, The 5th Wave hit theatres either last week or today.  On first look at the trailer, it looks like it has a decent premise.  With it so quickly adapted into a movie that even casts Chloe Grace Moretz, who I personally think is a potentially great young actress, The 5th Wave had me intrigued.  Mind you, so far YA novels have been rather lacking at good alien invasion movies and the trailer has hints of some very teenage cliche romance that probably is way more sappy than it needs to be.  I am rather forgiving for YA novels, mostly because I’m not exactly their target audience anymore, yet I enjoy them from time to time because it is easy reading. Still, whatever the movie has to offer I don’t know and its definitely not going to be what is to be expected in the book.

I’m still on the fence on whether to go see The 5th Wave but let’s see if the book has convinced me, shall we?

The 5th Wave
(The 5th Wave #1)
by: Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave Book

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.
Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker.  Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up. – Goodreads

Goodreads score: 3/5

The 5th Wave makes me feel a little like watching The Host. The premise is there but the approach could have been a lot better.  But then, that isn’t even the issue.  You know, the troupes and the predictability and the heavy YA novel feeling. All those things was not a problem.  My biggest issue with this novel is the writing especially right at the beginning when I read this line, which probably might be a key line in the movie (who knows, right?).  Wait for it… embrace it, ok?

When you can’t trust anyone, then you can trust no one.-The 5th Wave

Writing: 10 out of 10… *rolls eyes* When I read that line, I dog-earred the page to remember where it was and closed the book. I took a little breather and found a reason to back up why I’m reading the main character’s diary and inner monologue, because the author wants us to remember that she’s an innocent high school student and reinforce that point eventually that this alien invasion has changed and toughened her up. With myself slightly convinced, I moved on with the story.

Forget the writing style, that can be adapted to. The premise is good.  It might be a little flawed at parts but I can buy that.  At least a part of it.  Not exactly how people survived 4 waves of disaster since those were pretty intense situations and somehow in all this, they got some tough-ass homes that remained standing but they do try to answer why the aliens are aggressive as they are and who they are.

After you get past that part and the story really starts moving along, the entrance of the character of Evan Walker and the other narrative by Ben Parish really makes the story much more intriguing to read.  Cassie is supposedly the main character (according to the movie) but her character seems to never be built enough to captivate my attention.  She doesn’t seem like a girl caught in an invasion trying to get back her little brother. She just seems like a teenage girl that is insecure and doesn’t trust anyone because she lost her family but yet she wants to feel loved and fall in love but also find her brother and its a constant struggle because she doesn’t know how to put her priorities in place. Does it make a difference? It kind of does to me and I really don’t know how to explain it better. Maybe its the fact that I wished her character was more consistent but then it could be trying to make her more reflective of her age and lacking the experience to actually be a soldier in this situation. So no, Cassie makes some bad choices and she’s kind of naive and in the most random situation she’ll be a teenage girl who focuses on how hot Evan is and wants to touch him.  Her character is missing something that I can’t quite grasp.

However, Ben Parish’s narrative is much better.  Its because there is this comparison that makes me question the author’s writing for Cassie because with Ben, its much better. His character is really well written and there’s a pain and struggle in his story.  There’s growth and it feels real.  Its even the surroundings and the characters around him put together with the situation he is in that makes it more intense to read. Evan Walker also makes for that mysterious feeling.  Its pretty easy to guess how everything unfolds but yet, those characters are much better developed.

In all fairness, The 5th Wave is an easy read.  The writing style doesn’t always quite work for me and some lines were really…not so well-crafted. But, the idea is there. Maybe its not all logical or probable but for any YA novel, there is a certain level of suspending our beliefs.  Cassie’s character could’ve been better developed but it was balanced off with a much better alternate storyline narrated by the other main character Ben.  The insert of loner Evan Walker was also done well.  The 5th Wave isn’t an epic or even great read.  I’m still a little lukewarm on how I feel about it.  The completionist in me might want to read the rest of the trilogy just to see what happens because that ending kind of made me wonder about one of the character’s fate.  I haven’t quite decided on that just yet. I guess we’ll see…

Before we end this post, I should address the question before the little review here.  I’m actually on the fence about the movie.  It feels like it could be impressive as a movie if they decided to keep the meat of the alien invasion although I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t the route taken.  While I don’t particularly see an issue with Chloe Grace Moretz playing Cassie since she is a good young actress, I am a little skeptical of Nick Robinson playing Ben Parish, especially after what he goes through.  There’s a level of inconsistency of what I feel like his character looks like in the novel to in the movie.  Maybe I need to watch the trailers to see what renewed feelings I have. 😉

Have you read The 5th Wave? Any thoughts? Are you planning to see The 5th Wave?

The Death Cure (Maze Runner #3) by James Dashner

Wow! If anything, these book reviews are falling way behind. It happens when I had more time to read than to write (aka waiting in line for an hour before movies and overshot data on my phone).  I’m about two reviews behind so I’m working hard on getting things back to speed. After The Cuckoo’s Calling (a more grown-up book), I always like to fall back to some YA fiction.  My choice after looking for a while was the next book in the Maze Runner series by James Dashner.  If you missed it, you can check out my review for the previous two below:

#1 The Maze Runner
#2 The Scorch Trials

For a recap, I loved The Maze Runner and enjoyed the Scorch Trials but not quite as much. Not exactly sure what to expect for this one, The Death Cure.  Let’s check this out! 🙂

**If you have not read and finished up to The Scorch Trials, please stop reading as Book 2 reveals are mentioned a little.**

The Death Cure
(The Maze Runner #3)

The Death Cure

by: James Dashner

Thomas gets out of The Scorch Trials and wakes up to find himself locked up by himself in a dark cage.  His meals are delivered to him on time everyday as he loses track of time.  When they finally release him, he learns about WICKED and the lines between who is on his side or not is getting blurry.  Is WICKED good? While they took away all his memories, he starts remembering more about WICKED but this time, he is on the run outside of WICKED to track down his friends and get them out. Will he be able to do it?

Let’s start off with the basics here.  The Death Cure is not exactly as great as The Maze Runner but its definitely a lot better than The Scorch Trials.  It was a lot of fun to watch and it worked well because it went back to being how we know the first one.  It was fast-paced, lots of stuff going on to keep the amp up and Thomas wasn’t a whiny baby that didn’t know when he had to man up.  [Just a side note: Its sad because that’s the reason why I’m worried about The Scorch Trials.  While Teresa gets a bigger part, Thomas turns into this character that I really loathed reading about.  Where was all the courage and bravery he had in the Glades?]

Back on The Death Cure, we now have a label for the virus called The Flare.  We know what its about and in this one, Thomas tracks his friends back to one of the cities as we see how the normal people are coping with it.  There’s more outside world than the WICKED but if its anything we learned in The Scorch Trials, even when it feels like there is no control, WICKED is control of everything.  Trust and loyalty is taken in to the grand scheme of things here.  Who can Thomas trust? Who is looking out for the greater good? They even get the option from Janson, who has a much bigger role, to move to the next phase which includes getting back their memories.  Is getting the memories back a good thing? Are they even their own memories? WICKED is all about finding a cure for the future but to what ends?

Its a lot of questions that we’ve had rumbling around in our heads through the last two books to this one and demands answers.  The Death Cure does a decent job at doing it.  In the end, it makes you question: is WICKED good or bad?

I don’t have much to say about The Death Cure.  The ending was meant to be a surprise that kind of took me by mild surprise because a lot of people like to do this sort of ending nowadays in movies or books.  It was a little apparent at a certain point. I can’t say that this ending wasn’t a possibility that popped in my head but still, points for making this work for the most part. What makes The Death Cure feel more intense is again we have a time limit in place so things need to proceed faster and it pushes the plot along.  Also, it puts some of our favorite characters that we’ve grown to know in the last two books into iffy situations that take the ethical and emotional turn.  Its always better to have that sort of test especially with the friendships bonded over the rest of the trilogy.  Honestly, that is the big thing for me.  I never thought the love bits were a necessity and Thomas and his lady friends really don’t interest me all that much.  Although it was still apparent in this one, it was enough to not overshadow the main goal and the urgency of the entire situation.

Overall, The Death Cure was a quick read.  It wasn’t exactly a page turner but it was easy and thrilling.  I like it more than The Scorch Trials and less than The Maze Runner.  The ending worked hard to add that twist in, although used frequently in the last few years, it seemed to be the only outcome that would be kind of a surprise and would apply here.  The setting being outside of WICKED controlled headquarters is a good one because it lets us see what the Flare is and how the world has been fallen.  Thomas being more like the one in Book 1 definitely was a plus.  In the end, it does wrap up the main questions we have: Is WICKED good? Is there a cure for the Flare?  While I’m not totally behind whether the ending was great or not, the intentions are good.  It ties up The Maze Runner trilogy decently.

Have you read the Maze Runner trilogy? What are your thoughts on it? 

The Scottish Bank of Surabaya (Ava Lee #5) by Ian Hamilton

Its been a while since I’ve dived into the Ava Lee series.  I really love the whole Chinese-Canadian roots for this intelligent, brave and tough forensic accountant.  I’m still thinking this series would be prime for TV but then, maybe not for various reasons that don’t bother me but might bother other viewers.  Without being too offensive, if you’ve read it and know the character, you might know what I’m talking about.

I have reviewed all the previous books if you missed it.  You can find it here:

#1 The Water Rat of Wanchai
#2 The Disciple of Las Vegas
#3 The Wild Beasts of Wuhan
#4 The Red Pole of Macau

Now, let’s check it out! 🙂

The Scottish Banker of Surabaya (Ava Lee#5)

By: Ian Hamilton

scottish banker of surabaya

After the events of The Red Pole of Macau, Ava has slowed down to heal from all the physical damage (if not a little, her mindset about her business as well).  That is until her mother introduces her to a woman in need who has a bunch of Vietnamese investors that fell for an investment scam and lost a lot of money.  Being forced into taking the business, Ava flies to Vietnam and then Surabaya hoping to figure out and trace back the money. This leads her to a Scottish banker in Surabaya who runs Bank Linno who ends up having a rough clash with her and takes it to a more personal issue.  While Ava has finally figured out where the money has gone, the situation gets more complicated when she realizes that its related to one of the biggest Italian mobs and their grand scheme of money laundering. Faced with difficult decisions and dangerous situations, Ava must try to make the best choice while things also get more personal as she realizes that there is something Uncle (her partner) is hiding from her about his health.

I love this Ava Lee series a lot.  I stumbled on this book completely be accident and honestly, its one of the series that has a lot to love.  The adventure and the wit in all the stories are great.  The cases themselves are unique and feature a whole travelling adventure just to track it down with compelling characters each time.  What the previous few books did lack was diving a little more into Ava’s personal life and her relationship with Uncle.  We saw signs of her personal life being a part of the picture in the previous book and when things get more personal, the stakes get higher, making the story even more intriguing.

At this point, after 4 books, jumping into this one, Ava Lee is a character I know fairly well of.  She’s connected with me and I look forward to what she’s up to.  This time, Ava Lee is given a much more dangerous situation and she even gets into a few bad tangles herself.  Those tangles are the turning point for her character and I think that is the game changer here.  One that is tough to swallow but also one that shows us what Ava is capable of.

I still struggle a little to understand why branding is a such a huge thing in these books.  I wonder if its to show the class that Ava is or the type of person she is or its just brands that stick out.  I don’t think that talking about Adidas workout gear or Brooks Brothers shirts or Cartier watches are details that matter so much.  They don’t quite bother me as much as it did in the earlier books but its still something I have a hard time wrapping my head around the reasoning of choosing that.  It feels like meticulous unnecessary details.  Still, thats not enough to pull away from just how awesome this novel is.

For a series to run for so long and after 4 books, still manage to drag me right into the story and craving for what will be next in the following novel.  It definitely something that I never expected when I spontaneously picked up this book after the bookstore shelf.  I love pleasant surprises and this fifth book is one that you don’t want to miss! 🙂

Have you read the Ava Lee series? What are your thoughts on it?

Book Review: The Fall of Five (Lorien Legacies #4) by Pittacus Lore

I love monthly book recaps.  Its been working so well until the last few months where I was focusing on the independent writers and then those deserve their own posts to share all the talent in our little blogosphere alone.

BUT, the Lorien Legacies deserve its own post.  Most book series (even movies) kind of taper off and lose the original greatness to it as the books and the story build up.  Lorien Legacies is fantastic at keeping the pace, developing the characters and I just keeping this whole Loric business in check the whole time. Even after Michael Bay took up the project and turned into a hopeless effort with his signature stamped over it, this series has such a great potential for the big screen, if not, a TV series based on this would pretty much kick-ass.

Wait I’m getting ahead of myself…

THE FALL OF FIVE (LORIEN LEGACIES#4)

by Pittacus Lore

the fall of five

I didn’t review I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacy#1) on here but if you do happen want to check out #2 The Power of Six and #3 The Rise of Nine, you could find them HERE and HERE respectively.

Much like the rest of the series, The Fall of Five is a really fun read.  Its action-packed and with so many books, this one is where the Gardes are finally all reunited, after finally finding Five.  The Mogadorian fights are more and the creatures are bigger and badder.  There are a few additions back into the story.  This time around its narrated by John (Four), Marina (Niine) and Sam, one of the earlier characters.

The beginning of The Fall of Five took me a little while to catch again since the last time I read this series was back in January.  Its not a lack of desire to read it that I’ve waited this long but rather, I have to sit patiently and wait for paperback versions to come out.  I lug these books to and from work along with a bunch of other stuff so for the sake of my shoulders and my back, I try to choose the lighter option, that being paperback but those apparently now take forever to come out.  And with exciting books, I very much prefer having it in my  hand than on my tablet.  I’m going off topic again.

The Fall of Five is so much fun to read.  At the same time, it goes a little more personal.  Why? As much as its about saving Lorien and eventually being able to go back once they get everyone together, everyone has their own story.  There’s a few unexpected twists that really bring everything to perspective.  Thats the key to what makes these books fantastic reads.  Sure, they are for teens but I don’t really care because it does a whole lot better in pacing than a lot of more adult books that I read.

That last few chapters was like heart attack intensity. I think I held my breath through it all.  Exciting stuff, my friends.

I highly recommend it and thats why I’m avoiding revealing too much of the plot itself. Its worth your time.  Trust me! 🙂