Book Review: The Dinner Party

Finished Reading: The Dinner Party
by R.J. Parker

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Thriller

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

Four couples attend a dinner party as friends, but dark secrets are boiling just beneath the surface. A trust game pits husband and wife against each other, and the next day, two of the guests are dead, while the other guests are left to figure out why.

For a book that is meant to be “an addictive and twisty psychological thriller,” it didn’t provide many thrills. If the book had not started with the main character, Ted, fighting for his life, I don’t know if I would have gotten through it nearly as quickly as I did. As it was, I did want to know how it got to that point, but it was quite a chore to get there. And more than once, I got to the end of a chapter and had no real compulsion to continue immediately, like I’d expect to have in a good book, especially a good thriller.

All four of the couples came across dull and lifeless to me–not necessarily as individual people, but in their relationships. Ted and his wife probably showed the biggest spark of life, but that was likely just because he was the main character. As such, I had a difficult time connecting with anyone in the book.

After the first murder victim appeared, most of the suspense seemed to be attempted through Ted questioning things repetitively–like why the victim had died, if the person they’d suspected to be the murderer had really done it, and if “the game” was responsible.

And that brings me to one of my biggest gripes. This trust game that they played was silly at best, yet became far too pivotal in the book. Everyone but Ted basically decided that the police shouldn’t know about it, or they’d all be blamed for the death…I mean, just far too much emphasis was put on this party game. And worse yet, it turned out to be a big part of the underlying cause for everything.

In the end, the reason behind each death was weak and, frankly, boring. I had theories of twisty goodness that would be revealed at the end, but when it ended, and no exciting twists had occurred, I basically was left with my mouth hanging open, and not in a good way. No, I didn’t guess at the motive behind the killings, but that didn’t make it good. A few surprises and betrayals did come up in the second half, especially relating to Ted’s wife, but none of them delivered on the punch they set up.

For those who want to know about how clean a book is before reading–there are no sexual situations and no language whatsoever that I can recall. The violence and bloodshed does get a bit much near the end, but nothing more than I could handle (and my threshold is fairly low).

I really wanted this book to deliver on its twisty promises, but it was unimpressive. It wasn’t terrible, though, and I think there are those who will enjoy it. It just really wasn’t for me.

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter for providing me a copy of this book to review.  

Find out more about The Dinner Party

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Weekly Writing Update: October Week 3

My first proof copy of “Pithea” came last Monday. Not gonna lie, it brought tears to my eyes to see the story I’ve worked on for over 6 years as a tangible, full-length book for the first time. Then I couldn’t see well enough to examine the cover, so my husband looked at it, and sadly informed me that it didn’t look good.

Pithea proof 1

It’s really blurry, which was disappointing, but I’ve already identified a possible reason for this issue and remade the cover. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to know if it’s good enough until I get another proof copy. I’ll chalk this up to a learning experience, because if the next cover comes out good, I know how to make the cover from the get-go next time. If it’s still blurry…I’ll have to troubleshoot further.

I’ve been working furiously on the final full revision of “Pithea”, most of what I’m changing being awkward wording that I discover by reading the text out loud. I am 2/3 of the way through this revision, after which I’ll put changes into the computer, make sure the formatting is still good, and order another proof copy.

Pithea proof 3

Pithea proof 2

Blurry or not, it looks great on the shelf with other books!

I haven’t done much more prep for NaNoWriMo. I keep carrying around the notebook in which I wrote some character interviews in preparation of writing the outline for the book I plan to write, thinking reading back through those interviews will help get prepared for writing the story. But “Pithea” has taken all of my free time. If I keep the pace I’ve been on, I’ll be done with the final revision of “Pithea by Wednesday, and then I’ll be waiting for another proof copy. Hopefully that will give me the last week of Preptober to focus on my NaNoNovel (working title: “Ophaela”).

Book Review: The Battlemage

Finished Reading: The Battlemage
Summoner
Trilogy #3
by Taran Matharu

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA Fantasy

Battlemage

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the trilogy, The Novice and The Inquisition.

The Battlemage picks up immediately after the previous story’s end, with the main character, Fletcher, and what’s left of his unit jumping into the otherworldy ether to escape the enemy. They must find a way to return home, and then deal with the aftermath of their mission in the jungle, which ended in treachery and betrayal. Meanwhile, the orcs are poised to invade Fletcher’s country with an army that might be too large to overcome.

This book did a great job of wrapping up the entire trilogy, while being a fully story on its own. I was a lot more excited going into this one than into the 2nd one, based on the cliffhanger at the end of the previous books, and the ether didn’t disappoint. The book was more distinctly 3 separate acts than any book I’ve really ever read, and the second act was also a lot of fun to read. By the third act, I knew what was coming, and it did end up being my least favorite part of the book. But that is purely personal preference, as I’ll explain further below.

It was great to see back some of the characters from the first book, and a little from the second. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see much more of Arcturus, and overall, he wasn’t in the trilogy as much as I would have hoped and expected, especially considering that the prequel is about his history.

I enjoyed the middle act, where we really get to see Fletcher grow as a leader, and where the race warfare throughout the trilogy comes to a head, a lot more than I would have thought I would.  But I knew what was looming–the big war with the orcs. I don’t personally care for large-scale, devastating wars in books, so that’s why the third act my least favorite. It was made better by getting to see Fletcher’s ingenuity though, plus I like the addition of the demons during the fighting.

The ending of the book had some moments I was really happy to see, but also failed to wrap up some storylines in a way I would have preferred. However, I wasn’t left with the feeling that anything was completely neglected, so I can’t really complain. For some reason, I was just left with this feeling of it being anti-climactic, but I can’t explain why. I think it’s just because I would have liked more in the series in general. Overall, this entire trilogy was a solid 4 stars for me.

After reading the first book, I described it as a mix between Harry Potter and Pokemon, even though at the time, I hadn’t read any Harry Potter. I have read the first 2 in the series now, and I stand by my assessment, but only of the first book. The second and third books could better be compared to Warcraft, or even LoTR somewhat. In general, though, I would recommend this trilogy to anyone who enjoys magical fantasy books.

Find out more about The Battlemage

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Top Ten Tuesday: Extraordinary Book Titles

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic this week was “Extraordinary Book Titles.” This topic is broad and undefined, so I went through my TBR and Read lists on Goodreads and picked 10 books with titles that stood out to me in some way. Whether they were comical, unique, or just perfect for the story, here is my list, in no particular order:

1. The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters
This title is ominous, and I have a feeling the actual book won’t quite live up to that. But it is initially what led me to check into the book request it on Netgalley. I’ll be reading it soon.

2. The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
It’s easy to explain why this title stuck out to me–I am an escape room enthusiast and worked at an escape room company for over 3 years. I know the actual escape room content in the book will be light, based on reviews, but I’ve still decided to give it a try at some point.

3. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
I love this book title, and I love the person who wrote it! The title kept her from being able to get it published traditionally, but it’s about dealing with PMS with humor, from a Christian perspective, so the title is perfect. I am looking forward to reading this when I have a chance to locate a copy.

4. How We Became Wicked by Alexander Yates
The title caught my interest quickly; otherwise, I likely wouldn’t have put much thought into this one. I am not really a zombie person in any medium, but I read the first few pages of this, and I’m planning to give it a go.

5. His Name Was Zach by Peter Martuneac
So again, I’m really not a fan of zombie fiction (books, movies, TV or games). So the fact that I have 3 zombie apocalypse books on my TBR, and 2 just on this list, probably makes no sense. Still, I’m going to give this one a try, hopefully by the end of the year, in support of a fellow new author. The name isn’t what initially drew me to this book, but I do think it has a nice ring to it.

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I read this for the first time in high school, and remember how interesting it was to learn that the title was a reference to the temperature at which paper burns. It’s perfect for the book, of course, and I’ve always really appreciated the title.

7. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
This is another book I read in high school. My English class had read Hamlet that year, and then later read this play. Everyone knows the sacrificial heroes are going to die, whether because they know Hamlet, or because of the title…but they do make it entertaining along the way.

8. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The title of this book is a clear indication of the mystery found within. It’s a little strange, though, that the question of whose murder the narrator is supposed to solve seems like a mystery, for at least the first quarter of the book, and then it’s a big reveal when it’s discovered…but the name is right there in the title. Other than that though, good title. (Note: the original title is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but had to be changed in the US.)

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Considering the subject matter of this book, and the extreme 80s & video game references, the title of this book is perfect. I don’t actually have more to say about this one.

10. Blessed Are the Misfits by Brant Hansen
This book for those who struggle with feeling like an outcast in the American church culture is perfect for introverts and socially awkward people like myself. And the title, borrowing from a section of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is clever.

Have you read any of these? What would you add to the list?

Weekly Writing Update: October Week 2

I got the interior of “Pithea” formatted for paperback with minor difficulties, and after some real frustrations with the cover, ordered my first proof copy. It’s set to arrive tomorrow!! Once I have it in my hands, I’ll start reading through it with an eye for final details that need changed while also making sure the formatting is good. Visually speaking, I’m more concerned about the cover coming out good, so I’m really anxious to see it for the first time.

After I ordered the proof copy on Tuesday, I tried to turn my attention to prepping for NaNoWriMo. But that was when I realized that I only had a week until my next writers group meeting at my local library. Last month, I volunteered to lead a talk on writer’s block this month, and I hadn’t done any prep for that. So I spent a couple of evenings making notes and preparing a handout. I think I’m basically set for that now.

I have done a little of the prepping I had planned for NaNo, but I need to make sure to focus on that more in the coming weeks. There are just over 2 weeks left of Preptober, and I still need to go over the outline I made 4 months ago for the story I’m writing this year and flesh it out. Also re-read the first draft and new plans for the story that comes before. And read a couple of character interviews I wrote as part of the planning stage for this story. I’ll have to find a way to balance my writing time between “Pithea” and my NaNoNovel (working title: “Ophaela”).

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Finished Reading: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Book #2
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP2

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve now read #2. As a reminder, my reviews will likely contain spoilers, as I’m not too worried about avoiding that, with as long as these have been out, and as well known as they are.

After the first book that set up the fantasy world and introduced us to Hogwarts, Harry’s 2nd year at the school was more comfortable and a smoother read. The plot was clearer and the danger more real. I also didn’t notice the grammar issues like I did in the first book, so either there were less of them, or I was engrossed enough not to notice (either way is a good thing).

There was a lack of characters that were established in the first book, though, which was a little disappointing. And some of the new characters were mostly just annoying. Colin was apparently just there to point suspicion at Harry. Lockhart was annoying, but at least there was a decent payoff. When he lost his memory, he became quite amusing to me. I was a little confused by Dobby. I guess he really did do everything he did of his own accord (rather than at the behest of his master, like they originally suspected), but his reasoning for it was weak.

My husband had warned me that there would be a possible spider-related issue for me in one of the books, but he couldn’t remember which one. I have fairly severe arachnophobia, so I’m going to have to be careful when watching the movie. At least I’ll know when to look away.

I’ve noticed that I seem to be in the minority of liking this book more than the first, but what can I say? It went in almost the opposite direction of my biggest gripes of the first one. And I liked the idea behind the antagonist being a memory, and even moreso, a memory of the big villain of the books. All in all, it was a fun read, and I’m looking forward to the next.

Find out more about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Mother Knows Best

Finished Reading: Mother Knows Best
by Kira Peikoff

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Drama, suspense

Cilka's Journey: A Novel

Eleven-year-old Abigail has a semi-normal life, except that her parents (especially her mom) are reclusive, she has absolutely no extended family, and she’s not allowed to have a smartphone or social media like her friends. She discovers through a DNA mapping site that she actually has a lot of distant relatives and even tries connecting with one, which she thinks will make her parents happy. It has the opposite effect. This sends her mom into an emotional tailspin, and before long, her life begins to unravel. Then she finds out that her parents are not who they claim to be, everything they’ve been hiding from is revealed, and it turns out that the danger is very real.

I had my ups and downs with this book, and wasn’t sure what to rate it, even while writing this review. The writing was clear and concise, and even the science presented in the book wasn’t difficult to follow. There were some specific moments in the last third of the book that I anticipated and enjoyed when they came to fruition. And there were a few small twists that I wasn’t fully expecting. Outside of that, though, the book was a bit of a miss for me.

I think a lot of what didn’t work for me about this book was personal preference, so keep that in mind as I continue. For starters, the book is told in 1st person, present-tense, which I thought was a strange choice, considering the POV changes, and that during the first half of the book, more than half of the story was showing what led up to the present time where the books starts. We see the story from 3 perspectives: Abigail, her mom Claire, and the antagonist Jillian, the threat from the past. The two time periods shown in the book are “present” time–Abigail is 11 and living with her mom and dad– and the past–the year or so before Abigail was born, right up until the point that she was born. It would have made a lot more sense to me if the book was at least past-tense during the past parts. And I don’t understand the reasoning behind 1st person if you want to head-hop as much as this book does. The only good thing I can say about it is that at least each time the perspective changes, it’s clearly labeled. But there were still times that, even with this, I would forget who the current “I” was and get confused.

My biggest disappointment was that I was unable to connect with any of the characters. I’m definitely a character reader and writer. An interesting, well-executed plot is important, but I am character-driven. I think the main character was meant to be Claire, but the story was told from Abigail’s perspective about as often, and I just couldn’t get into the right frame of mind to see things even a little bit from Claire’s perspective. Her single biggest driving point is the loss of her first son, due to a terrible genetic disorder, and her strong desire to have another child that is healthy, but her inability to do so, because of her genes. I have never experienced loss to this degree, and I’m not a terribly sentimental person, so I don’t think I would react remotely the same way as her if I did. Don’t get me wrong–I have 2 kids and I love them and would be devastated if either of them died! And perhaps I’d then discover that I would be the same as her. But in my current life, it’s difficult for me to connect with her reaction to her loss, and the fact that it drives literally everything she does. Also, she’s pretty terrible to her husband (Ethan), even calling him corrupt because of his ethical ideas about the genetic manipulation discussed in the story.

Abigail’s parts were generally my least favorite. For one thing, she didn’t come across as 11, but closer to 13 or more. Especially for someone who has been as sheltered as she has, she seems to understand and question a lot more than I’d expect. I get why she was written to be as curious and deceptive as she was, and without it, there would basically be no story, but again, my personal preference here, I didn’t like how she acted.

The antagonist is basically a big loon. I mean, Claire has some mental issues, but hers are understandable and addressed. Jillian is just delusional and psychotic, and I don’t know if that was on purpose, or if that was just how she had to come across in order to give the story suspense. Whichever the case, by the end, I just rolled my eyes at how stupid she had been.

For those who want to know about how clean a book is before reading–there are some sexual situations that are more detailed than I prefer, and a bit heavy on the language side (the f-word is used more than anything else, I’m pretty sure).

I don’t regret having read this book. It wasn’t terrible, it just didn’t hook me. Also, it is meant to be suspenseful, but I think that element is terribly done. The synopsis on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. gives away too much and I think the plot should have been structured differently to create more suspense. Too much of the backstory is told too soon, and the entire thing is just too predictable. I would recommend this book for those who enjoy drama and obsessive characters, but not for lovers of suspense novels.

Extra notes: If you prefer to read the book with a little more mystery going in, I suggest not looking for more information on this book before reading it. It really might have changed my opinion. Also, I thought this book was a bit sci-fi at first, then I did a little research. I found it interesting that the topic of this book has really happened, or at least is being seriously experimented with.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. 

Find out more about Mother Knows Best

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

Here’s today’s Writing Wednesday Prompt:

You’re avoiding yourself.

(Today’s prompt is a quote from the book Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren.)

If you write something from this prompt, by all means let me know! Feel free to share what you wrote, if you want!

**If you’re looking for more like this, you might want to check out the story seeds posts I wrote for NaNoPrep a few years ago. They are not specific to NaNoWriMo, and each contains a list of several different types of prompts or ways to generate story ideas. You can find them here: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4**

Weekly Writing Update: October Week 1

Last week, I finished making immediate changes to “Pithea” that I already knew needed made. My plan now is to format the updated draft for print, get a proof copy, and read through the book that way (probably reading it out loud), hopefully one last time, making notes for anything else that needs changed. I want to have the final draft as settled as possible before November.

This brings me to NaNoWriMo. October is what many of us call Preptober. I already have a preliminary outline for what I’m planning to write this year, which I wrote 4 months ago. But I need to re-familiarize myself not only with that outline, but also with the story that comes before it. I have a few areas of the outline to flesh out, too. I’ll have time to do this while waiting on my proof copy to arrive, I’m sure.