Everyone is a potential murderer…

Today’s review: Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case

Cover of Agatha Christie’s Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case

Author: Agatha Christie

Publisher: HarperCollins

Released: 1975 (originally written in the 1940s during the Blitz)
Number of pages: 224
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/ Thriller/ Classic
Series: Hercule Poirot (#39)

The house guests at Styles seemed perfectly pleasant to Captain Hastings; there was his own daughter Judith, an inoffensive ornithologist called Norton, dashing Mr Allerton, brittle Miss Cole, Doctor Franklin and his fragile wife Barbara , Nurse Craven, Colonel Luttrell and his charming wife, Daisy, and the charismatic Boyd Carrington. So Hastings was shocked to learn from Hercule Poirot’s declaration that one of them was a five-times murderer. True, the aging detective was crippled with arthritis, but had his deductive instincts finally deserted him?

The novel features Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings in their final appearances in Christie’s works. It is a country house novel, with all the characters and the murder set in one house. Not only does the novel return the characters to the setting of her first, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but it reunites Poirot and Hastings, who last appeared together in Dumb Witness in 1937. It was adapted for television in 2013.

Goodreads

It seems that age and a life of crime and thrills has finally caught up with the great Hercule Poirot. Reduced to a wheelchair and grievously ill, Poirot returns to the guest house at Styles, wherein he solved his first murder with Captain Arthur Hastings, apparently in order to rejuvenate his health. Hastings arrives to visit Poirot upon his request, and would for the next few weeks share accommodation with his daughter Judith Hastings, her boss Doctor Franklin and his unwell wife Barbara, the wealthy Sir William Boyd Carrington, the reserved and secretive Elizabeth Cole, the quiet and observant Norton, the intelligent Nurse Craven, the handsome and dangerous Mr Allerton, and the meek Colonel Luttrell and his overbearing wife Daisy.

It soon becomes obvious to Hastings, however, that Poirot’s visit to Styles is more than a mere health retreat. Once alone, Poirot tells Hastings that one of the guests is a five-times murderer… and they are planning to kill again. With very little clue as to who it could be, Hastings begins to observe all of the guests at Styles, acquainting himself with each of them and learning what he can about their connections to the other guests. Tensions begin to arise when Judith begins to become overly familiar with Allerton, a man to whom Hastings took an instant disliking. Boyd Carrington’s unrequited feelings for Barbara Franklin and her fluctuating moods and state of health begin to create a rift between her and her husband. Daisy Luttrell’s command over her meek and submissive husband makes for an uncomfortable experience for all parties. All the guests tiptoe around each other and interact with carefully-selected words and all the while from his wheelchair or his bed, Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells” are hard at work, making connections, doing everything he can to stay on-par with X, Styles’ mystery murderer.

It is here, during his final days, that Poirot is faced with the greatest challenge of his career as he uses all of his power and experience to bring down, in his mind, the perfect murderer. His only hope is that he can do so before another body drops…

If I were to say that I absolutely loved Agatha Christie more than anything else, that would be an understatement. As an avid reader of her Poirot and Marple series’ for years (Poirot being my favourite), Curtain was both brilliant and heart-wrenching. The story was wrought with memories, with frequent references to The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first murder that Poirot and Hastings ever solved together. It was clear that memories of the past is a major theme of this novel, as reflected in the story’s solemn conclusion.

This book was also great for Hastings’ character development. In almost all of the previous Poirot novels, there is particular focus, of course, on Poirot’s methods and actions, with Hastings being a mere observer and re-counter of events as they occur. Seeing as Poirot is essentially out of the picture for much of this book due to his inability to move, Hastings is given a chance to grow and develop as a character. We are given much more insight into his own thoughts and feelings, and his own thought-out observations of certain situations. We get much more information about his relationship with his daughter, who,  the reader discovers, is almost nothing like her father in nature. That said, it is sweet to learn of his protective nature of his youngest daughter, even if his love for her clouds his judgement (quite significantly) at times.

Agatha Christie’s Curtain is a compelling and rather saddening trip down memory lane as we follow the great Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot on one last riveting, edge-of-your-seat, whodunnit mystery. Rich in high class, scandals, and tense undertones, it makes for a perfect lazy weekend read, but fair warning, Poirot fans may want to get the tissues ready.

Rating- 9/10

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WWW Wednesdays- March 11

WWW Wednesdays is an event hosted by Sam at SamAnneElizabeth that asks three questions:

What are you currently reading?

I have just started reading Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons for my English class assignment. The only other Brown book I’ve read before is Inferno, which was absolutely fantastic, so I have high hopes for this one. So far, the book differs quite significantly from the movie (which was a good movie until the ending ruined it), but both are equally as engaging at this point. I’m deliberately leaving The Da Vinci Code until later, because I know that book is Brown’s best and I feel as though it would be unfair to compare it to the rest of the series, which doesn’t quite meet Code‘s standards.

What did you finish reading?

The last book I was reading, I didn’t actually finish. I’ve taken a break from it and I hope to return to it later. I was reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre. I had also been reading this for English, but seeing as I hadn’t read any previous books in the series, I found it hard to follow and there was just so much jargon that would obviously make more sense if I had read the other books. When I have the time, I will return to it, because it is regarded as a modern classic in the crime genre and there’s no way I’m missing out on reading that.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Most of my books will be crime-oriented for the time being, as my focus for English this year is the crime and mystery genre. Next, I’m hoping to look at something like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, or a classic Agatha Christie murder mystery.

What have you guys been reading? Any suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

-Christie 🙂 xx

The Game’s Afoot…

Today’s review: The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes novel

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Cover of The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

Publisher: Orion Books

Released: 2011
Number of pages: 389
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/ Thriller/ Historical
Series: Sherlock Holmes by Anthony Horowitz

In freezing London, November 1890, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson receive a man unnerved by a scarred-face stalker with piercing eyes. A conspiracy reaches to the Boston criminal underworld. The whispered phrase ‘the House of Silk’ hints at a deadly foe. Authorized by Doyle’s estate.

Goodreads.com

Years after Sherlock Holmes’ death, Doctor John Watson once again puts his pen to paper and begins to write; one final story about his adventures with the great Sherlock Holmes. In November of 1890, London is gripped by a winter colder than any before. Through the snow and the bitter winds, a man hurries to the threshold of 221B Baker Street. Art dealer Edmund Carstairs with him a tale of stolen art and a stalker with a scarred face. In essence, this case seems to be no different to many of the others that Holmes and Watson have worked on together. But when one of Carstairs’ clients is found murdered and one of the Baker Street Irregulars disappears, the case takes a turn for the mysterious and extraordinary.

Suddenly, it seems as though Holmes and Watson are working on two different cases, each as deadly and intriguing as the other. As Holmes and Watson unravel the clues of each case, they find themselves delving deeper into London’s dirty underbelly, where the opium trade has ensnared some of London’s most influential figures and the enigmatic House of Silk is a name mentioned in whispers and cautious glances. As the mystery unfolds, Holmes and Watson must tread lightly, for they find themselves becoming entangled with some of the most dangerous characters in England, and the only way to successfully solve the cases is to proceed with utmost caution and utilise all of the deductive powers available to them… otherwise, they may find their own lives to be in terrible danger.

I have never read Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series and, unlike so many of my friends apparently, I hadn’t actually head of it before (whoops). But I did recognise, with great delight, that Horowitz was the creator of two of my favourite murder mystery shows, Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. So when I read in the newspaper that Horowitz was releasing a series of new Sherlock Holmes novels, my reaction was a little mixed. Part of me was delighted. After over 125 years, we’re getting more Sherlock Holmes! And Horowitz’s murder mystery shows are genius, so his books must be awesome!!
But another part of me had it’s trepidations. But… this is Arthur Conan Doyle’s series. This was his legacy. Perhaps it isn’t wise for someone else to touch it…
But despite my conflicting emotions, I knew that I just had to read it and luckily enough, my mum had bought me it for Christmas. Unfortunately, I’ve only gotten round to writing the review now, due to many other school commitments, but I knew I had to get this out before I moved on completely. The next month is going to be especially hectic for me, so I’m going to try and do my best.

I enjoyed Horowitz’s use of imagery and descriptions of the settings within the story. Horowitz was true to the original landscape of the Holmes novels, with plenty of mist-shrouded streets and long dark alleys. There was a good contrast between the class of wealthy Victorian society, and the grimy, dirty lifestyle led by the Irregulars and the poverty of those living in the rougher parts of the city. Horowitz was also successful in displaying how one class was no more better off than the other, a point indicated by the conflict that unfolds within the novel. It was a good, diverse, realistic approach to life in Victorian London.

I felt that the characters were quite well-written, and I could detect a hint of the old Doyle Holmes within Horowitz’s version of the great detective. Watson, I also felt, was given a bit more life than I had felt even in the original series. When separated from Holmes, Watson did not appear completely helpless, as I sometimes felt he was in Doyle’s series. He displayed significantly more independence and initiative, with the ability to think quickly in desperate situations, instead of just being there to observe and occasionally throw in a “but Holmes, however did you deduce that!” where it was due. I was glad for this representation of Watson, as I always knew that his character had much more potential in the original series, and Horowitz reworked him to prove that my belief was true. It was also nice to see some cameos from other characters from the original series, such as Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard. He too seemed to display much more smarts and initiative than in the original series. Compared to Holmes, there was no chance that Watson and Lestrade could compete intellectually, but Horowitz recognised that this did not mean that they possessed no intelligence whatsoever. Lestrade was still subject to a few below-the-belt jibes from Holmes which were quite amusing, but he was able to prove himself as a capable and strong-willed detective.

In terms of the story, this was where I felt a little more let down. For a start, the book was far too long to be considered a reflection of Doyle’s writing, and there were parts where the pace was a bit slow and my interest would wane. As Doyle’s narrator, Watson was always sharp and to the point, more focused on narrating the events as they unfolded, whereas Horowitz’s Watson was more inclined to express his own thoughts and opinions on certain matters. There were also times when I felt that Watson’s monologues and reflections were a bit long-winded and robbed the story of its suspense in some places. Horowitz was however, quite successful in delivering what could be considered a classic whodunit story, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged for the most part and a conclusion that, as well as surprising the reader, ties up the story nicely.

Overall Anthony Horowitz has presented us with, in my mind, a rather satisfactory reboot of a series with a legacy so great that everyone still knows about it over a century after its conclusion. Doyle’s shoes are massive ones to fill, and although the novel doesn’t quite carry the essence of the original series, Horowitz has made a commendable effort to remain true to the the character of the great detective. The result is an enjoyable, mostly engaging story that salutes the legend that Doyle created, but to which Horowitz has added his own creative flair. If anyone were to write another Sherlock Holmes novel, I’m glad it was him.

Rating- 7/10

What happens when your worst enemy is yourself?

Today’s review: The In-Between

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Cover of Barbara Stewart’s The In-Between

Author: Barbara Stewart

Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin

Released: 2013
Number of pages: 256
Genre: Young Adult/ Contemporary/ Fantasy/ Paranormal/ Thriller
Series: Standalone

When Elanor’s near-death experience opens a door to a world inhabited by bold, beautiful Madeline, she finds her life quickly spiraling out of control.

Fourteen-year-old Elanor Moss has always been an outcast who fails at everything she tries—she’s even got the fine, white scars to prove it. Moving was supposed to be a chance at a fresh start, a way to leave behind all the pain and ugliness of her old life. But, when a terrible car accident changes her life forever, her near-death experience opens a door to a world inhabited by Madeline Torus . . . Madeline is everything Elanor isn’t: beautiful, bold, brave. She is exactly what Elanor has always wanted in a best friend and more—their connection runs deeper than friendship. But Madeline is not like other girls, and Elanor has to keep her new friend a secret or risk being labeled “crazy.” Soon, though, even Elanor starts to doubt her own sanity. Madeline is her entire life, and that life is drastically spinning out of control. Elanor knows what happens when your best friend becomes your worst enemy. But what happens when your worst enemy is yourself?

With her debut novel, The In-Between, Barbara Stewart presents a bold new voice in teen fiction.

Goodreads.com

Ellie Moss thought that moving house would give her a fresh start at life. Old Ellie was depressed, overweight, and suicidal. Her best friend had dropped her as soon as she found someone better. A razor blade to her wrist was the only way Old Ellie could ever feel anything. But the move was going to change everything. New Ellie would be smart, confident, in-shape. New Ellie would make loads of friends at her new school in her new life. But then came the car crash, and with it, Ellie’s new life crumbled around her. With a severe brain injury and the loss of a parent hanging over her, Ellie soon finds herself withdrawing back into the old shell that she was so desperate to escape.

But then came Madeline Torus. Moving into a new home with one parent in an urn on the study desk is enough to have Ellie’s fingers edging towards a razor blade again. But then, seemingly out of the blue, appears Madeline; the girl of Ellie’s dreams. Madeline is beautiful, intelligent, and best of all, she understand Ellie like no one ever has. She too is running from a dark past that is slowly catching up. Ellie’s life becomes more and more dependent on Madeline; she is her rock, her only source of comfort, and ironically, her only source of sanity. But soon, Ellie finds that the longer she spends with Madeline, the less control she has over her own life. Ellie begins to say and do things without control of her actions, and the deeper she is pushed into her friendship with Madeline, Ellie begins to realise the dangers of love, loneliness and obsession beyond control.

This was officially my first book for 2015, and it really started on a high! It is a little bit hard to review this book, due to the many crucial plot points that I will try to avoid, lest I spoil the book, but I will do my best!
Set in a quiet town where the nearest little big city is half an hour away, The In-Between is immediately effective in setting the quiet, eerie scenes of the book’s events. Isolation is a major theme of this book and whilst protagonist Ellie Moss is isolated within herself, the remoteness of the setting adequately reinforces this. I do have a soft spot for quiet little towns and forest settings, which I suppose made me enjoy it more, but I did think that the reclusive setting was very appropriate for the book’s story and themes.

I felt that the story moved at a good pace, the events and the narration moving just fast enough to keep it engaging, but not so slow as it dragged along. I was always motivated to keep reading, and I did, sometimes late into the night which was a nice feeling- I haven’t done that with a book in a while! As the plot marched along, the tension began to increase significantly. The book has you asking a lot of questions at the start, but don’t let that put you off, everything is explained in good time, and as the pieces of the puzzle began to come together, I found myself racing through the book, reading as fast as I could to find the answers. The book focused primarily on Ellie’s obsession with Madeline and the world of the “in-between”, and although Ellie did gain a love interest at one point, it didn’t distract from the tension and gravity of the main plot, for which I thanked my lucky stars.

I really liked Ellie as the narrator. She was observant, sincere, and honest. The book, written like a journal, has her recounting her days’ events, recording the events happening in the moment, and documenting all her thoughts and feelings about Madeline and her life. The book is rich in emotion, but it’s not so terribly angsty that it becomes boring to read. The reader also maintains a level of curiosity about Ellie throughout the duration of the book. For almost the entirety of the story, it’s unclear to the reader whether Ellie is mentally ill, still suffering from the car crash, or if there truly is something paranormal happening around her. As Ellie delves deeper into her complex relationship with Madeline, it becomes clear that there is a certain other-worldliness about the events that occur around them.

Barbara Stewart’s The In-Between is a dark, twisted story of love and obsession. The writing is smart, poetic and insightful. The story is rich in imagery, the characters diverse, and the plot engaging and suspenseful. I would definitely recommend this book to lovers of YA fiction, and anyone with a taste for the thrills of the paranormal. This was a fun, if rather dark, read, and I’ll count it as a good start to my year in reading!

Rating- 8.5/10

Beautiful people can do terrible things

Today’s review: Black Ice

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Cover of Leah Giarratano’s Black Ice

Author: Leah Giarratano

Publisher: Random House Australia

Released: 2009
Number of pages: 323
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/ Thriller
Series: The Detective Jill Jackson series (#3)

Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson is working undercover in Sydney’s murky drug world. Living in a run-down apartment and making unlikely friends, Jill sees first hand what devastation the illegal drugs scene can wreak. Meanwhile Jill’s sister Cassie has a new boyfriend, Christian Worthington. He is one of the beautiful people, rich and good looking with a great job doing pro bono work. But he is also Cassie’s supplier, keeping her drawers filled with cocaine and crystal meth. When Cassie overdoses and is dumped at the hospital her life begins to spiral out of control. Now Jill must try to save her sister without blowing her cover and months of undercover work.

Goodreads.com

For Sydney Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson, life never has a dull moment. For her latest assignment, Jill is working undercover to investigate the city’s dirty underbelly, hoping to uncover a drug network that is aiming to supply street dealers with enough illegal substance to lead them to an early retirement. Posing as society outcast Krystal Peters, Jill is forced to distance herself from her family and friends, knowing that if even the slightest hint that she was an undercover cop got out, the entire operation would fall into ruins. The pressure begins to mount as Jill and her partner Gabriel, posing as Krystal’s boyfriend, work against the clock to gather evidence against notorious drug baron Kasem Nader and bring down his operation. As of this moment, the reputation of the Sydney police department and the future of the city’s drug world rest on their shoulders.

Cassie Jackson is living the high life. A rich, successful model, she surrounds herself with the company of only the highest in society. Her new boyfriend, Christian Worthington, is one of the beautiful people. He is a rich, successful lawyer with a glowing reputation by day, and Cassie’s cocaine and crystal meth supplier by night. But his handsome, friendly face is only a facade that conceals his ice-cold heart and when Cassie overdoses one night, he dumps her at a hospital, naked and afraid. Cassie finds herself at crossroads. She is torn between wanting to do right by her sister, working undercover in the world she lives in, and being forced deeper into the world of wealth and beauty and bags of sparkling crystals.

Seren is finally out of jail, on parole, and ready to start a new life with her son… but there’s one thing she has to take care of first. Working day after day at a slaughterhouse that she despises with every bone in her body, Seren saves every penny, using her wages to pay for a camera, laptop, and new clothes. Seren has a plan. One that involves blackmail. Tricked into carrying drugs by her ex-boyfriend, Seren was caught and spent the entirety of her jail time devising her plan for revenge against the man that landed her there in the first place- Christian Worthington. With her son needing taken care of and her parole officer breathing down her neck, Seren must use all her cunning in order to see her plan through. The future of herself and her son depend on it.

Damien is one of the smartest guys at the Sydney University. Studying for his degree in chemistry, Damien begins to explore his curiosity about just how smart he is- he wants to see if he can cook crystal meth. And he can. Very well. He and his best mate Whitey begin to deal to small groups of people on the university campus. Nothing big, just supplying enough to cover people’s parties or Saturday night outings. Nothing that would draw any attention. But soon, more people are asking, and Damien finds himself with more cash than he can find and excuse for. And then, he draws attention. Kasem Nader arrives at the door of his house wanting to recruit Damien as his new cook. Damien is stuck. He never wanted things to go this far, but he knows that if he backs out now, it will surely end badly for him. Little does he know, his trouble has only just begun.

From inside, outside and above, Leah Giarratano’s Black Ice delves into the dark, dangerous underbelly of the glittering city of Sydney and explores the devastating effects that illegal drugs have on the lives of individuals and those they love.

This book was officially the last one I read in 2014, and I thought it was a pretty good way to end! I haven’t read any of Giarratano’s books before, but when I read in her bio that she is a forensic psychologist with an extensive history of working with the psychologically traumatised and investigating some of Australia’s worst criminals, I knew that I had to give this a read! This book is the third in the Detective Jill Jackson series (which I didn’t know until after I finished the book), but I didn’t really experience much confusion about characters or storylines, as the book recounts a standalone event, and any information about characters in the previous books is touched on briefly.

I myself have been to Sydney a couple of times, and I enjoyed Giarratano’s descriptions of certain parts of Sydney, such as Darling Harbour, the park-lands near the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the shops on Dixon Street, all of which I have been to! I felt that Giarratano was colourful in her imagery and set her scenes very well. Perhaps it was because I had been there already, but I could picture the settings vividly. Giarratano pulls you into the bustling, dazzling life of Sydney, but she is also able to distinguish the lines between the Sydney glamour scene and Sydney’s dirty underbelly very well. As Jill Jackson works her way through some of the seedier parts of town (which, thankfully, I haven’t been to), Giarratano is effective in inducing an air of tension into the scenes. The reader knows that half of the people she talks to are high on drugs, and the unpredictability of their actions has you holding your breath at some points.

As for the story itself, I found it to be quite entertaining most of the way through. There are some books that I just never put down and race my way through them to the end, but unfortunately, this wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t boring as such, there were just some moments that I had to will myself a little more to get through. But the action really picked up during Seren and Jill’s action scenes, and it was those chapters I looked forward to the most. Both of them working on either side of the law to bring down the same people could get quite tense. All it would take was one wrong move to bring down the operation.

It was the characters in this book that I loved the most. I absolutely adored all the main characters, Seren in particular. From Giarratano’s writing, it is clear that psychology is incredibly effective when it comes to creating unique and believable characters. And all of those in Black Ice were exactly this. Perhaps because I haven’t read the first two books of the series, but I didn’t hold out much sympathy for Jill’s traumatic past, but in this book when she fought with her sister, I shared in her frustration, and when she was getting too close for comfort undercover, I felt her tense anticipation. I marveled at Cassie’s maturity. Although forced to be by his side, Cassie was still her own woman and wasn’t naive enough to remain constantly dependent on Christian. Although I became frustrated with her at some points, I did develop a level of respect and sympathy for her. Seren was my number 1 gal. I rooted for her the whole time, and I was impressed by her strength of will and her intelligence. She was meticulous in her planning against Christian, but she didn’t become so obsessed with her objective that she neglected her son or her parole terms. Her ability to juggle all of these factors and keep her cool with the risk of being caught by Christian was admirable and thoroughly entertaining to read. Giarratano even took the care to put an exceptional amount of effort into her minor characters such as Damien, with whom I expressed complete sympathy. It’s not every day you come across a book with a repertoire of such unique and realistic characters, and Black Ice is a gold mine.

Leah Giarratano’s Black Ice is a tension-filled, action-packed ride into Sydney’s dark, dirty underworld. It asks how far one would go to ensure the safety of their city, explores the importance of revenge and the price one must pay to achieve it, and highlights how for some, beauty is only skin-deep, and beneath the surface lies something black and cold and sinister.

I would certainly recommend this book to others, especially those who love a good crime thriller. It’s a fun, edgy read that will give you Sydney like you’ve never seen it before.

Rating- 8/10

Your body. Rented out. Used to murder.

Today’s review: Starters

Author: Lissa Price

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Cover of Starters by Lissa Price

Released: 2012
Number of pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult/ Dystopia/ Sci-fi/ Thriller
Series: Starters series (book 1)

HER WORLD IS CHANGED FOREVER

Callie lost her parents when the Spore Wars wiped out everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty. She and her little brother, Tyler, go on the run, living as squatters with their friend Michael and fighting off renegades who would kill them for a cookie. Callie’s only hope is Prime Destinations, a disturbing place in Beverly Hills run by a mysterious figure known as the Old Man.

He hires teens to rent their bodies to Enders—seniors who want to be young again. Callie, desperate for the money that will keep her, Tyler, and Michael alive, agrees to be a donor. But the neurochip they place in Callie’s head malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, and going out with a senator’s grandson. It feels almost like a fairy tale, until Callie discovers that her renter intends to do more than party—and that Prime Destinations’ plans are more evil than Callie could ever have imagined…

-Goodreads.com

Callie is young, orphaned, and desperate. Her younger brother Tyler is gravely ill, and Callie risks her life every day to keep them safe. A few years previously, a global Spore War eradicated the population of the world aged between twenty and sixty- only the adolescents and elderly who were immunized against the attacks first were spared. Since then, the elderly population, known as Enders, have assumed authority over those who remain and the adolescent population, known as Starters, are left to fend for themselves. Some fortunate Starters are able to live in the luxury provided by their surviving grandparents. Callie is not one of these. Instead, she and Tyler are forced to squat in abandoned buildings, fighting off renegades and running from the police in order to survive.

Callie has heard tell of an underground organisation called Prime Destinations that lets Starters rent out their bodies to Enders who are willing to pay volumes of money for the chance to feel young again. To do this, a neurochip is placed in the brains of each the Starter and the Ender, connecting their thoughts and allowing the Ender to inhabit the mind of the Starter for a period of time- be it hours or months. Desperate for the money to help improve her and her brother’s lives, Callie decides to go through with the operation and donate her body. At first, everything goes well; Callie is fed, given a proper place to sleep, and the employees at Prime Destinations give her a full body makeover in order for her to fit into the glamorous lifestyle of her renter. Then, during her third rental, Callie wakes up in the middle of her renter’s life. Callie is forced to improvise, masquerading as her renter and trying to find out what the hell is going on and why other renters are telling her ‘not to go through’ with something. As Callie bluffs her way through her renter’s life, she uncovers a disturbing secret and soon finds herself on the run from both Prime Destinations and the Ender police with huge gaps in her memory and the constant fear of once again losing control of her mind.

I was recommended this book by a friend and my god, I am so glad I read this (also, the cover is beauuuuuuuuutiful!). This book was a proper edge-of-your-seat, reading-until-three-in-the-morning-every-night kind of book and I relished every minute of it. The story was fast-paced, edgy and incredibly entertaining, and it touched on some really disturbing issues. The whole concept of these teenagers renting their bodies out to be used by old people for money was a really unsettling notion and, as the story explains, one that would lead to dire consequences. Admittedly, I did find the story a bit hard to follow at first. The story doesn’t go into much detail of the events prior to the present, and all we know is that a Spore War wiped out all of Earth’s middle-aged population and all those left were adolescents and pensioners who were immunised against the attacks first. It doesn’t specify the year in which the book is set either, but it can be deduced as in the near future, as technology is advanced somewhat (with hologram projectors replacing TVs, MagLites substituting as watches/alarm clocks/photo albums/torches, and DogBots apparently being a popular kind of toy). I would have found a bit more history about the Spore War to be helpful, and some of the new-age slang (such as referring to people as Starters or Enders or renegades) was a bit hard to follow in the beginning, and there were some moments wherein I found myself thinking, “what is going on?” This didn’t matter too much once the plot got underway though, because focussing on the present events proved to be more entertaining as the story picked up pace.

I really liked Callie as the protagonist of this novel. She was courageous, headstrong, incredibly smart and deeply caring. Her relationship with her younger brother Tyler was very sweet and quite believable, and her seeing him as her first priority for everything she did really emphasised their strong sibling bond. During the story however, Callie finds herself in a relationship with Blake, the grandson of an influential senator, and no matter what passed between them over the course of the novel, I just couldn’t find their relationship believable. There was no feeling involved and it felt forced and unnecessary, and really, I would have rather known more about Callie and Tyler’s past than read about her Blake woes.
I found myself quickly falling in love with the book’s minor characters such as Madison, another Elder renter, and I was captivated and entertained by her charm and her efforts to try and fit in with normal teenage society. Every so often, she would let a few words slip that reminded the reader that she was, in fact, an old lady in a young body, which was a rather amusing notion. I did, however, have issues with the convenience of some of the character traits. Some of the characters that Callie meets just happen to have certain skills, or just happen to know specific information, or just happen to be in the right place at the right time and all of these aspects just happen to be vital to the plot. I don’t know, sometimes it felt a bit too convenient to be realistic.

Lissa Price brings a whole new concept to the dystopian YA genre and presents a fresh, unexplored world to dive into. Its conceivable protagonist and twisty, intriguing plot make for a fast-moving, utterly entertaining story from start to finish. Aside from a few issues with the relationships and interactions between characters, Starters is well written, thought-provoking and completely compelling. I would definitely recommend this for fans of the dystopian and sci-fi genres, and for Young Adult readers in general. This story really presents something new and original, and I will definitely be reading the sequel to this book, Enders.

Rating- 8.5/10

Imagine what she could do with 100%

Today’s review: Lucy
Rating certificate: MA 15+ (Australia), R (USA), 15 (UK)
Director: Luc Besson

Movie poster for Lucy

Released: July 31, 2014 (Aus)

After being tricked into becoming a drug mule in place of her boyfriend, 25-year-old Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is forced to face her captors, who have surgically placed a bag of drugs in her stomach to be carted overseas for reception in various countries. Lucy is assaulted by her detainers and the bag breaks, the contents spilling out and entering her bloodstream. As it turns out, the drug, CPH4, was synthesised to provide its users with the ability to enhance their brain capacity for a period of time and was only intended to be taken in very small, carefully measured doses. And Lucy now has a whole bag of the stuff coursing through her veins. Lucy succumbs to the overwhelming power of the drug and her body begins to react violently, twisting and writhing, her veins burning blue. She takes on a super-enhanced strength. Her mind becomes sharper. She can feel her whole body; the blood and drugs coursing through her veins, each particle of air in the breaths she takes, the very weight of her skin. She uses her new-found super strength to escape from her captors and heads for the nearest hospital and, she hopes, answers to the problem she now faces.

The longer the drugs are in her system, the capacity of her brain that she can consciously utilise increases and she begins to unlock knowledge about the brain and the universe around her that no human has ever been able to before. Lucy’s escape has triggered a manhunt for her organised by the drug traders that captured her and she spends her days on the run, searching for answers about her condition and slowly losing control of her own body. Lucy tracks down Professor Samuel Norman, a neurologist conducting his own research into the capacity of the human brain. Norman reveals to her that the CPH4 has enabled her to exceed the 10% capacity use of normal humans and the capacity available to her is increasing every day. Lucy and Norman must find out how to contain or harness her power before she is captured or before the power of her own mind kills her.

I was so glad to have seen this movie. The issue discussed, what would happen if a human was able to use 100% of their brain power, was a question that has been pressing on my own mind for a while, and I was happy to see a movie that explored this question. Director Luc Besson presents just one of many possible theories as to the outcome of achieving full mental capacity, and he maintains an almost reasonable approach to the concept throughout the movie. There are, of course, many holes in the story and so much left unanswered and unexplained, but for a 90 minute action movie, it’s a commendable effort. Besson approached the subject rather tentatively and it seemed as though he was very aware that to become too in-depth with the concept of the movie would result in a product that would be both messy and unsatisfying, so in this case, simplicity was key.

The cinematography and visual effects of this movie were just AMAZINGGGG!!! With her enhanced mind power, Lucy is able to see each individual strand of DNA within each person, can visualise the electrical currents produced by every phone, computer and tv, and she can travel to the furthest reaches of time and space within her mind. The effects used to bring these aspects to life were absolutely stunning, and I was completely mesmerized during the scene wherein Lucy ‘travels’ across the universe. I have a thing for spacey-wacey things…

Scarlett Johansson was incredible as Lucy, and her portrayal of the altering of Lucy’s personality as a consequence of absorbing the CPH4 was pristine. You really became captivated by her acting, and it really made me love and respect her even more as an actress. To play such a difficult role wherein background research on her character would be minimal (due to, y’know, the lack of people being able to use more than 10% of her brain), so Johansson’s efforts are to be praised.

It is important to keep in mind before seeing this film that the issues it addresses are very grey, and with the information on the brain currently available to us, there is only so much we can explore by means of enhancement and only so far we can take it. As a result, I don’t believe Besson meant for this movie to be taken too seriously or in a literal sense. Even if it doesn’t present groundbreaking theories or provoke heated debate, it can still be enjoyed as a great action/thriller with a kick-ass main character and a load of stunning visuals.

Rating- 7/10

Not forgotten. And never forgiven…

Today’s review: The Stranger

Author: Camilla Lackberg

Cover of The Stranger by Camilla Lackberg

Publisher: Harper
Number of Pages: 381
Genre: Mystery/Crime/Thriller/Scandinavian Literature
Series: The Patrik Hedström Series

A series of tragic road accidents and the murder of a reality TV contestant mark the end to a quiet winter for Detective Patrik Hedström.

– Goodreads.com

The Stranger is the fourth instalment in the Patrik Hedström series by renowned Queen of Scandi-crime, Camilla Lackberg. After a predominantly quiet winter at Tanumshede police station, Detective Patrik Hedström and his colleagues are called to the scene of a car accident. The female driver reeks of alcohol and the case is destined to be written off as a tragic accident. After Patrik discovers a number of discrepancies around the case however, the team at Tanumshede are led to believe that there is more to this accident than meets the eye. On this same day, the station welcomes the newest member to their task force, Hanna Kruse, an officer with a wealth of experience and ambition who hopes to one day climb to a position of chief of police. Meanwhile, the small town of Tanumshede is alive with excitement; cameras are being set up all over town for the beginning of the filming of a new reality TV programme. When an unpopular cast member of the show is later found murdered, Patrik is forced to stretch his mind and his resources to the limit in order to tackle the two cases at once. In addition, his wedding is less than a month away…

If I could summarise this book in one word, it would probably be… comfortable. That’s a little odd for a crime novel, isn’t it? But that’s what it is, it’s comfortable. Which, admittedly, can be a little disappointing. I didn’t actually understand anything that was going on at the start of the novel, but I suppose that was my fault, because I hadn’t realised at first that this novel was part of a series, and so it probably would’ve made more sense at the beginning if I had read the first three books in the Patrik Hedström series. The story did, however, touch more on the background of each of the characters and previous events as the story progressed, so I was eventually able to understand where these people came from and what had happened previously.

I really liked the main characters in this novel, especially Patrik and his fiancee Erica. They are both warm-hearted, yet flawed people, each laden with their own emotional baggage. I loved Erica as the independent, smart, free-thinking woman who is almost like a best friend to Patrik, as well as a lover. What I find even better is that Patrik respects and admires her, and even though she is not a part of the police force, still values her opinions on the cases. I felt that this was a prime example of women treated as equals by their male counterparts in books, instead of just being add-on characters to complain about how their husband is never home, or to provide the cliche “troubled family life of a cop” scenario. Erica respects her husband’s work and understands that the weight of the cases require him to be at the station more often, and even though this is so, Erica is not just an object to be pushed aside when something big comes along. Erica is always a close thought in Patrik’s mind.

I did however find that this very focussed view on the lives and workings of each character took away the suspense and mysterious air of the plot. I mean, accidents that are more than they appear and reality TV-star murders sounds really intriguing, doesn’t it? Well, it never really came off that way in this book. There was so much focus on characters that at some points it’s almost as though Lackberg went “oh yeah, I forgot. I’m meant to be writing about a murder”. What I’m trying to say is that the main plot line of the story sometimes felt almost like an afterthought. I found it disheartening, because the outline of the plot in the blurb really got me interested. I also felt a bit disappointed because I managed to solve the case four chapters before Patrik did. At first I was pretty pleased with myself, then I was just sad, because for me, whatever mystery had been present had all but disappeared.

I also found the language and writing style of the book to be rather dry and bland. Perhaps this is because it has been translated from its original Swedish language, but at times it sounded like Lackberg was writing an informative essay instead of a novel. I think a bit more colour and variation in each of the characters’ speech would have been much more effective, as they all ended up sounding like the same person.

Overall, this book wasn’t incredibly exciting. It doesn’t venture too far out into the unknown, and the loose ends are tied up nicely, save a few to continue into the next book. Lackberg’s characters are enjoyable, and the story’s concept is interesting enough, but I felt that more appeal to senses would be needed in future novels to heighten the tension in scenes where it is necessary.

As I said previously, this is a comfortable novel, good for a bit of light reading, and perhaps for those new to the crime genre who aren’t quite ready for the heavier stuff yet (for those into that, I’d recommend the Kate Burkholder series by Linda Castillo), but I certainly wouldn’t class it as one of my favourite crime novels.

Rating- 6/10

What’s the most horrifying thing you can imagine? This is a hundred times worse…

Today’s review: Trapped

Author: Jack Kilborn (A.K.A Joe Konrath)

Front cover of Jack Kilborn's Trapped

Front cover of Jack Kilborn’s Trapped

Publisher: Joe Konrath (JK Publishings)
Number of Pages: 321
Number of Parts: 5
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Tagline: No One Here Gets Out Alive

It was supposed to be a harmless camping trip. Six wayward teenagers who’d run into trouble with the law, and their court-appointed guardians, Sara and Martin Randhurst. Three nights on a small, deserted island off of Michigan’s upper peninsula. A time to bond, to learn, to heal.
Then Martin told a campfire story about the island’s history. Of the old civil war prison hidden in there, and the starving confederate soldiers who resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Everyone thought it was funny. They even laughed when Martin pretended to be dragged off into the woods.
But Martin didn’t come back. And neither did Sara when she went in search of him.
Then the laughter stopped.
The group soon began to realise that this deserted island wasn’t so deserted after all, And perhaps Martin’s ridiculous story had more truth to it than anyone thought.

I don’t usually read many gory horror/thriller books, so the cannibalistic motif surrounding this book shook me to the core. It seems cruel and even inhuman that a person might have to endure the amount of pain and suffering that the characters of this book went through.

Trapped does not contain any chapters, but is sectioned off into five parts; Campfire Stories, The Frying Pan (probably not the kind of frying pan you’re thinking of), The Fire, Sowing, and Reaping. During each section, each of the characters takes their turn to tell the story from their eyes. These characters include Sara and Martin Randhurst, the guardians of the kids sentenced into their care by the courts to rehabilitate them, Cindy Welp, a recovering meth addict, Tyrone Morrow, an escapee from one of Motor City’s worst street gangs, jewellery store robber Laneesha Simms, Meadowlark Purcell, a Detroit street gang runaway, Tom Gransee, a high-speed driving carjacker with ADHD, and Georgia Dailey, a mentally disturbed girl who abused the children she was meant to be babysitting.
As well as telling the current events as they happened, each character delved into their past, revealing to the reader how they ended up at the rehabilitation centre and what drove them to commit the crimes that they did. By doing so, the reader gains a better understanding of each character and allows them to sympathise with the hardship that the characters had to endure previous to their arrival at the centre.

The story provokes questions related to what lengths ordinary human beings will go to when is comes to surviving the most dangerous and hostile of situations, and when danger presses in on all sides, how will they react?

Although Trapped was mostly very action-packed, the further I read, the more I felt like the story dragged. It seemed as though in some parts Kilborn was simply trying to pack as much gory details in as possible, instead of focussing more on atmosphere and audience impact where it was needed. Some of the slang that characters like Tyrone and Laneesha used did become a little annoying after a while, likeable as their characters were, and on the subject of characters, I think Kilborn needed to do some more research where babies are concerned. During times of great crisis and screaming cannibals, Sara’s baby Jack, instead of crying like any normal child, would doze off or “gurgle happily”. Also, although with his mother for the majority of the book, he wasn’t really taken care of properly. Babies of Jack’s age need to be fed every two or so hours and changed regularly. Over the timespan of the book, which amounts to a couple of days, feeding and changing occurred maybe twice tops. I still don’t actually understand why the baby was a character in the first place. He had no outstanding contribution to the story, past or present, nor did he draw any feelings out of me save for the fact that it would have been unfortunate for a baby to die.

I also hope that this book is never considered to be turned into a movie, simply because it would turn out to be a very obvious hit-and-miss. Trapped is  adequate as a gory and shocking horror story, but any attempt at a movie would just ruin the suspense and atmosphere that the story created.

Overall, Trapped indulged my curiosity about how ordinary people manage the extraordinary situations they are unwillingly thrust into. It explored the horrors of cannibalism and violence and the way certain people are drawn to the concept of death and pain. I ultimately enjoyed the book and it gave me a good two days’ worth of reading. I have gathered from other readers that, although Trapped was satisfying, it is not one of Kilborn’s best books; the preferred being Origin (published under J.A. Konrath) and Afraid. I think I will move onto one of these before forming a final opinion on Kilborn’s writing.

Rating: 7.5/10