Upgrade by Blake Crouch

When the SWAT team gives the all-clear and Logan Ramsay steps into the basement, he has no idea that everything’s about to change. Then there’s the hiss of aerosol. The explosion. The shrapnel punctures his hazmat gear. Logan wakes up to find himself in a hospital bed, attended by doctors in their own hazmat suits, his wife and daughter looking on from behind the glass. The doctors say he’s been infected by a virus–one designed not to make him sick, but to modify his very genetic structure.


Upgrade is Blake Crouch’s latest novel. It revolves around Logan Ramsay an agent from the Gene Protection Agency (GPA). The story takes place in an undetermined future. A future where the GPA has outlawed all gene editing and gene modification, so it tracks the development and use of all genetic research to prevent it from being used against humanity.

In this world, private and university-based research has been banned, so scientists who insist on following this line of research are forced to work illegally.

The book starts with Logan in the process of raiding an illegal lab when an explosion exposes him to a gene-modifying virus.

When Logan wakes up from the accident, he realizes that something is different in his body. His memory, cognition, and overall intelligence seem to have drastically improved. Under suspicion of having self-injected the gene-modifying virus and facing imprisonment, Logan sets out to look for answers.

I have read several of Blake Crouch’s books, but I have to admit that this one just didn’t do it for me. It is a very fast-paced thriller and the premise is interesting, however, the techno-jargon felt a little overdone and could potentially turn off some readers.

Upgrade is scheduled to be published on July 12th, 2022. I want to thank Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Format: Kindle- Advanced Reader’s Copy
ASIN: B09R21165T
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller

Before the coffee gets cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café that has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.


Before the coffee gets cold is the story of a café in Tokyo that has one special chair that allows people to time travel. The process is a bit of a mystery, but one that has existed for over one hundred years. Customers come into this magical café with hopes to travel to the past as well as the future.

This time traveling process comes with several rules. First, one can only time travel while inside the cafe. The time travel process does not alter the present circumstances and the duration of the time travel must last for as long as the coffee remains warm.

As soon as a customer sits in the special chair, they are poured a mug of freshly brewed coffee. The customer has the choice to travel either to the past or the future, but they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold or they will turn into a ghost.

This book was very different from what I expected going in. I loved how Kawaguchi interwove several stories into one beautiful tale of love, regret, and hope. There are some nostalgic and some very sad parts in this book, but I loved the symbolism in the story. The idea that if you are “stuck” too long in the past or the future will turn you into a ghost is a great message to the importance of visiting the past and thinking about the future for a short time, but how our lives must be lived in the present.

Ultimately, Kawaguchi asks the reader “At the end of the day, whether one returns to the past or travels to the future, the present does not change. So it raises the question: ‘just what is the purpose of that chair?'”

I invite you to grab a cup of your favorite warm beverage and find out the answer for yourself.


Format: Paperback, 213 pages. Original Title: コーヒーが冷めないうちにPublished: September 19th, 2019 by Picador (first published December 6th 2015)
ISBN: 1529029589
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Fiction, magical realism

Empire Of The Vampire by Jay Kristoff

It has been twenty-seven long years since the last sunrise. For nearly three decades, vampires have waged war against humanity; building their eternal empire even as they tear down our own. Now, only a few tiny sparks of light endure in a sea of darkness. Gabriel de León is a silversaint: a member of a holy brotherhood dedicated to defending the realm and church from the creatures of the night. But even the Silver Order could not stem the tide once daylight failed us, and now, only Gabriel remains...


Empire of The Vampire is probably one of the most anticipated and talked about books in the last 12 months or so. I waited over a month to get a copy from my local library, so needless to say I was more than excited to start reading this super hyped book.

The story follows Gabriel, a teenage boy who lives with his mom, dad, and sisters in this fantasy realm. The world that Gabriel lives in is plagued with vampires. As Gabriel reaches puberty he starts to realize that he is not quite like other people, so after the death of his sister and a very explicit incident with his girlfriend, Gabriel joins this sacred brotherhood.

The book starts with Gabriel shortly after he’s been captured by vampires and forced to tell his life story to a vampire chronicler. Jay Kristoff called this book a mix of Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire meets Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of The Wind. So let me start by saying that the only thing about Empire of The Vampire that could relate to these two novels is the format of a story-within-a-story and the fact that the main protagonist is telling the story to a chronicler.

I really went into this book thinking I was going to absolutely love it. Not only because of the hype surrounding it but because I love vampires. I love Anne Rice and The Name of The Wind is one of my favorite epic fantasy books.

So let’s start by talking about the elements that work in this book. Although the plot in itself is fairly simple. The world is dominated by vampires and a small group of people is out to destroy these vampires and restore peace to the world. I have to say that Kristoff’s choice to not write these vampires as boyfriend-like, cute vampires was a huge bonus for me. I also appreciated the fact that these monsters are brutal and there is no real, significant romance in this story. Although I love romance in a plot, I appreciated Kristoff’s different approach to the vampire genre. The illustrations in the book are brilliant and certainly a bonus to the story.

However, I wouldn’t be giving a fair and honest review if I didn’t mention the several elements that did not jive well with me, and might not with you either. This book has a strong start but it is way too long. This is a story that could’ve easily been broken into 2 books. At times the story drags on and on. Gabriel, the main protagonist is a self-absorbed a-hole, and I could not relate to him at all. The fact that every female character in this book is depicted as either a whore or a bitch was also annoying. I like to consider myself a quite open-minded person who reads all sorts of books and I don’t get easily offended by politically incorrect topics, but I have to say that all that misogyny eventually started to get to me. I’m also not going to talk about triggers because, honestly, if you are someone who gets triggered don’t even bother to pick up this book as I guarantee you will find something to get triggered about.


Format: Hardcover, 739 pages
Published: September 14th, 2021 by St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 1250245281
Source: Library loan
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Adult Content

Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies by Misha Popp

cover236344-mediumDaisy Ellery’s pies have a secret ingredient: The magical ability to avenge women done wrong by men…The first time Daisy Ellery killed a man with a pie, it was an accident. Now, it’s her calling. Daisy bakes sweet vengeance into her pastries, which she and her dog Zoe deliver to the men who’ve done dirty deeds to the town’s women. But if she can’t solve the one crime that’s not of her own baking, she’ll be out of the pie pan and into the oven.


Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies is a book that seems to have all the elements of a great cozy mystery. A cute cover, an awesome title, and an interesting premise.

Daisy is our main protagonist and she has this amazing power of infusing magic into her pies. This magic renders her pies deadly and once she found out she could kill someone with them after accidentally killing a man, she decides to make that her calling and goes on avenging women who suffered in the hands of evil men.

She soon starts a word-of-mouth free service she calls Pies Before Guys, calls herself an avenging pie maker, and goes on with her business of killing men who she deemed have done their share of evil in the world. Until one day she finds an anonymous letter threatening to expose her killer business, so she sets out to discover the owner of the letter.

I have to say that when I read the synopsis of this book I was really intrigued. I figured this was going to be a cozy and funny story with some mystery element in it. Unfortunately, the final product was quite different from what I had in mind.

The concept of being able to infuse pies with magical powers was a very interesting start. But as you read the story, you soon realize that there is nothing really cute about that and that in fact, Daisy is no better than any other gun for hire or even a serial killer. Although Popp tried really hard to make us sympathize with Daisy and her struggles growing up, I had a real hard time connecting to her or any other character in this book, except for Zoe, the dog.

Another thing that did not work out for me was the misrepresentation of the book genre. The synopsis, title, and book cover lead you to believe that you are embarking on a cozy mystery adventure, but the reality of the story is a lot darker than that. Once you get past this initial annoyance, the story does get a little better and the pie recipes at the end of the book are a nice addition, but not enough to pull off a 3-star rating from me.

Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies is scheduled to be published on May 10, 2022. I want to thank Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Format: Kindle edition
Published: May 10, 2022
ASIN: N/A
Source: Free copy provided by the publisher, Crooked Lane Books, and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review
Rating: 2 stars
Genre: Mystery

Tender Is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica, Sarah Moses (translator)

tenderHis wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.

 


Tender Is the Flesh, original title Cadáver exquisito, by Augustina Bazterrica is an Argentinian dystopian novel. The book takes place in a not-so-distant future when animal protein is no longer available for human consumption because it has been infected by a virus fatal to humans. After what has been termed the transition, humans quickly come up with an alternative substitute for the lack of animal meat.

“After all, since the world began, we’ve been eating each other. If not symbolically, then we’ve been literally gorging on each other. The Transition has enabled us to be less hypocritical.”

Tender Is the Flesh is a bleak and disturbing story with a very strong agenda. Although the novel was the recipient of several awards, including the Premio Clarin de Novela in 2017 and Goodreads Choice Award for Horror in 2020, at times I felt this novel was part of PETA’s shock-value animal rights campaign to promote a vegan lifestyle. What would happen if the tables had turned and now humanity had to treat their fellow humans with the same disregard as it treats other animals? Argentina is the world’s fifth-largest beef exporter, behind countries like Brazil and the United States, and the world’s second-highest meat consumer. It is no surprise that a novel with such a strong stance on the future of humanity as it relates to meat consumption came from a place glorified by its high-quality beef.

Unfortunately, although the premise was an interesting one, from a literary perspective, this novel falls short. In parts, probably due to being a translation from Spanish. This is one of the worst books I have ever read and one of the few 2-stars ratings I bothered to write a review. 

The only positive note on this book is that this is a short novel of about 200 pages which provided me with only 2 hours of misery.


Format: Paperback, 211 pages
Original Title: Cadáver exquisito
Published:August 4th 2020 by Scribner (first published November 29th 2017)
ISBN:1982150920
Source: Library loan
Rating: 2 stars
Genre: Dystopian

One Night on the Island by Josie Silver

One nightSpending her thirtieth birthday alone is the last thing that dating columnist Cleo wanted, but she is going on a self-coupling quasi-sabbatical–at the insistence of her boss–in the name of re-energizing herself and adding a new perspective to her column. The remote Irish island she’s booked is a far cry from London, but at least it’s a chance to hunker down in a luxury cabin and indulge in some quiet, solitary self-care while she figures out her next steps in her love life and her career.

Mac is also looking forward to some time to himself. With his life in Boston deteriorating in ways he can’t bring himself to acknowledge, his soul searching has brought him to the same Irish island in search of his roots and some clarity. Unfortunately, a mix-up with the bookings means both solitude seekers have reserved the same one-bedroom hideaway on exactly the same dates.


One Night on the Island is my first novel by Josie Silver and one I’m struggling to review. At first glance, we have two strangers, Cleo and Mac, who luck will have it, happen to book the same cabin on an isolated Island. Neither of them wants to give up their reservation and seeing that this is an isolated island with only a weekly ferry boat, the couple is forced to spend the night together.

I’d like to start with the elements that worked for me in this novel. Silver did an excellent job at painting this picturesque, remote island off the coast of Ireland. I liked the depiction of a tight-knit community giving me Ballykissangel vibes. Cleo and Mac were overall good characters. Silver provided the reader with a good back story on the characters. Although, at times, Cleo got on my nerves I still really liked her. Mac’s story, on the other hand, was a much more complicated one. He was the most complex of the characters and that leads to the reason I find it so hard to properly review this book.

It is difficult for me to go into all of the reasons why ultimately this book didn’t work for me without giving out spoilers. Suffice to say that I struggled with some of the moral/ethical themes in this book. I am the first to admit that I was quite uncomfortable with the idea of this romance but that is by no means a reflection on the quality of Silver’s writing.

As far as romance goes, this book is a good romantic story that will have most readers experience feelings of sadness, happiness, excitement, and even surprise. I highly recommend it to fans of this genre.

One Night on the Island is scheduled to be published on February 15, 2022. I want to thank Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Format: Kindle edition
Published: February 15, 2022
ASIN:B0991XG4TY
Source: Free copy provided by the publisher, Ballantine Books, and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Romance

The Couple On Maple Drive by Sam Carrington

57652944Have you heard about the couple on Maple Drive?
Isla barely leaves the house after her brutal mugging. Her boyfriend Zach moved in with her after the attack. To look after her, but something else has happened now. Right on their doorstep.
I don’t want to say that someone’s out to get her…
I just hope they find out the truth before it’s too late.


The Couple On Maple Drive follows the story of Isla who has been suffering from PTSD and retroactive amnesia since being brutally mugged. Her dedicated boyfriend, Zach, moves in to help take care of her and soon Isla starts having flashes of memories from the night she was mugged. Determined to figure out what happened, Isla starts her investigation.

This is the first book I read by Sam Carrington and I was not very impressed. The narrative style alternates between Isla’s POV, her boyfriend Zach’s POV, and the transcript of a true-crime podcast, Christie’s Crime Addicts. This book managed to be a solid 2 ½ stars and I am sorry to say that even with all of the red herrings, I had the killer figured out by 20% of the book. I still managed to finish the book in hopes of a little redemption but as with any thriller, the moment you figure out the culprit there is not much you can do to carry on the story.

The Couple On Maple Drive is scheduled to be published on December 9, 2021. I want to thank Avon Books UK and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Format: Kindle edition
Published: December 9, 2021 by Avon Books UK
ASIN:000843638X
Source: Free copy provided by the publisher, Avon Books UK, and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review
Rating: 2 ½ stars
Genre: Mystery, thriller

Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance: Chronicles #1) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

259836Life-long friends, they went their separate ways. Now they are together again, though each holds secrets from the others in his heart. They speak of a world shadowed with rumors of war. They speak of tales with strange monsters, creatures of myth, creatures of legend. They do not speak of their secrets. Not then. Not until a chanced encounter with a beautiful, sorrowful woman who bears a magical crystal staff draws the companions deeper into the shadow forever changing their lives and shaping the fate of the world.


I absolutely loved it! I was told about this series by a good friend and honestly, I had no idea I was going to enjoy it as much as I did. I love D&D but even that didn’t convince me straight away. I went in knowing this book was written in 1984 and half expecting it to give off a Masters of The Universe nostalgic vibe. I found myself completely absorbed by this fast paced, jam-packed adventure. And yes, it is a bit cliche? Is it a tad cheesy and outdated? Is it full of overdone tropes? Absolutely! But it was also written 37 years ago, way before several fantasy books I love that have certainly also been inspired by this book. I’m so looking forward to continuing with this trilogy and oh, so happy for the recommendation.

 

Format: Mass Market Paperback, 444 pages
Published:Published February 1st 2000 by Wizards of the Coast (First published November 12th 1984)
ISBN:0786915749 
Source: Purchased
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy

A Head Full Of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Paul TremblayThe lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.
To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight.


A Head Full Of Ghosts had been on my TBR for about five years since I read and reviewed Paul Tremblay’s book Disappearance at Devil’s Rockso I was glad to see it displayed at my local library as suggested reading for Halloween.

I have to say that it took me a moment to recollect my thoughts before writing this review. I went into this book completely cold. I never read any reviews on it or even a complete synopsis of the book. I highly advise you to read this book with as little information as possible, which makes writing a review about it even more difficult. 

Head Full Of Ghosts is a book divided into three parts and told from the POV of Merry, the Barretts’ eight-year-old daughter, and her interpretation of the events.

The first part of the book starts fifteen years early by giving us a glance at the Barretts, a fairly normal Massachusetts family composed of dad John, mom Sarah, and the two daughters, Marjorie, fourteen, and Merry, eight. Since the book is told from Merry’s perspective, we get to see the close relationship the two sisters shared with each other. Tremblay overlaps the story by introducing present-day scenes of Merry, now twenty-three, being interviewed by an author who’s writing a book about the events that happened with the family, in particular with Marjorie who started to display signs of acute schizophrenia. As the family’s life starts to crumble apart and Marjorie’s mental illness progresses, John decides to seek the help of a local priest who is convinced that Marjorie’s problems are not mental health issues at all but rather the product of demonic possession and that they should perform an exorcism. 

Without going too much into the plot, it suffices to say that the Barretts not only agree with the exorcism but also allow for the process to be televised in a reality tv show called The Possession. 

So, let me stop right here to tell you that what made this story worthwhile for me was not the concept of exorcism–and that alone might turn off some readers. 

Don’t get me wrong, this book is sheer horror. Not that in-your-face sort of horror, but more like building up tension and suspense. I actually found this book a mixture of terrifying and sad at the same time. 

What I absolutely loved about this book was how Tremblay handled a delicate subject such as mental illness and the pitfalls of today’s society, the internet, misogyny, and the role of religion in the treatment of mental health.

Although this book was written six years ago, Tremblay’s social criticism on this topic is still relevant, especially on a day like today in honor of World Mental Health Day.

 

Format: Hardcover, 286 pages
Published: Published June 2nd 2015 by William Morrow
ISBN: 0062363239 
Source: Library loan
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Fiction, horror

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

death-jane-lawrencePractical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town.Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to.


The Death of Jane Lawrence is a gothic/horror novel very much in the style of The Haunting of Hill House, Crimson Peak, and Rebecca. I have to admit that although I loved those stories, I was not very impressed with the beginning of this novel. Jane Shoringfield is this logical accountant who reaches a point in her life where  she sees the need for marriage. Not necessarily for the romantic aspect of it, but for convenience. She sets her sight on recluse, albeit good-looking, Dr. Augustine Lawrence. After convincing him that the marriage would be beneficial to both of them, they get married with the condition that she is never to set foot in Lindrige Hall, Lawrence’s family manor.

Needless to say, after a series of “unfortunate events” Jane finds herself at the entrance of Lindrige Hall, and instead of finding her dashing, and sharp new husband, she finds a weak and paranoid man who believes Jane is nothing more than an apparition and hallucination. 

From that point, we embark on the more gothic portion of the novel and the mysteries that surround Augustine and his manor. At about 50% of the book, the story takes a turn, and elements of the supernatural and the metaphysical come into play. 

I have to admit that I came into this story knowing this was primarily a horror/gothic/ghost story. What I initially thought set this story apart was the use of logic and the paranormal together. So when you take this novel for what it is, it’s certainly an interesting read, especially during the Halloween season.

The reason I couldn’t give it more than 3-stars was the fact that at times I felt Starling was trying too hard. This novel felt as if it wanted to be so many things at once and in the end, failed miserably. In terms of character development, there was none. All the characters were pretty 2-dimensional, but the novel is pretty gory with strong elements of the macabre which suits the genre.

Possible triggers include descriptions of miscarriage/infant death which may be a sensitive topic for some readers.

The Death Of Jane Lawrence is scheduled to be published on October 5, 2021. I want to thank St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 
 

Format: Kindle edition, 352 pages
Published: October 5th 2021 by St. Martin’s Press
ASIN: B08R2JKC2V
Source: Free copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Horror/Gothic
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