Review: Death on the Nile

Beloved detective Hercule Poirot embarks on a journey to Egypt in one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries, Death on the Nile.

The tranquility of a cruise along the Nile was shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway had been shot through the head. She was young, stylish, and beautiful. A girl who had everything…until she lost her life.

Hercule Poirot recalled an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: “I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.” Yet in this exotic setting, nothing is ever quite what it seems.

It has been a while since the last time I read a Poirot mystery, so reading this book felt like slipping on my favorite pair of fuzzy socks. Since the success of the movie Murder on the Orient Express, a friend told me that they were going to make Death on the Nile next. So naturally, I wanted to read it before the movie came out. I knew nothing of the plot aside from what I read on the back going in, but I was optimistic.

The story starts with a glimpse into the life of the aforementioned Linnet Ridgeway. We get to see what she is like on her home turf, where she is the most comfortable and the most in control. We get to see what her relationship looks like with her friend Jacqueline, a girl with less fortune who has recently fallen in love. And we get to see her initial reaction upon meeting her friend’s new fiance. It’s an interesting glimpse into the life of a woman who always gets what she wants.

Fast forward a few weeks and we find a rather unique cast of characters coming together on a Nile River cruise. I won’t spoil the whole cast, but I will share that it contains the characters I mentioned above.

It also contains a certain Detective Hercule Poirot who is trying to take an honest to goodness vacation from all of the mysteries and murder he deals with on a regular basis. You can probably guess from the title how well this plan goes.

There is one character who, beforehand, had shown an understandable leaning towards murder. Poirot connected with the poor girl and tried to help guide her away from the path she was on to one where she could have a brighter future. I found the whole thing incredibly touching and couldn’t help but feel for the girl.

I also found myself identifying with several of the other characters. The cast was so well crafted and, as per usual, the mystery of who did it had me wondering and bouncing from suspect to suspect. I felt the other officer’s frustration as Poirot sorted out a few smaller mysteries instead of dealing directly with the murder(s). I also found the endings to be rather satisfying. 

One of my favorite things about Agatha Christie is she is the queen of my favorite kind of twist. The kind you never see coming but it makes perfect sense once you get there. This book absolutely did not disappoint.

Review: Endless Night

When penniless Michael Rogers discovers the beautiful house at Gypsy’s Acre and then meets the heiress Ellie, it seems that all his dreams have come true at once. But he ignores an old woman’s warning of an ancient curse, and evil begins to stir in paradise. As Michael soon learns: Gypsy’s Acre is the place where fatal “accidents” happen.

I have decided to take a break from the fantasy world and delve straight into mystery. Agatha Christie, to be specific. She has been my favorite mystery author for a long time now, and one of the few I have read (aside from Robert Ludlum). I look for her books any time I go into a used bookstore and so, had a stack of six that I haven’t read yet.

So I grabbed the first book off of the stack and started reading.

One of the things that first struck me about Endless Night was that it is not one of her typical mysteries. Agatha Christie has three main detective series: Hercules Poirot, Mrs. Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence. I have read more Poirot than the others, but I do enjoy them.

This book falls into neither of these categories. It is told from the perspective of Michael Rogers (Mike), a young man who has bounced from job to job, never really settling down into anything. He gives off this feeling of someone who is looking for something but has no idea what. All he knows is he wants more.

When he first sees Ellie at the sale of Gypsy’s Acre, it is love at first sight. We follow them through their whirlwind romance and their clandestine marriage as Ellie tries to keep her family as out of her affairs as possible, with the help of her best friend and confidante, Greta.

I found the story of their marriage to be rather quaint, even with his lack of understanding when it comes to finances. He has only ever had enough money to get by, naturally. And she is a rich heiress who is well acquainted with the finer things in life. I could understand some of his hesitancy when it comes to immersing himself in that world. It can be a strange and intimidating one for sure.

There is also the strange gypsy woman who pops up every now and then warning Mike and Ellie about the dangers of living on that particular plot of land. She hints to a curse, something about a burial ground, but nothing concrete. It is very unsettling, but not quite threatening.

It took longer than I expected to get to the death, but then I am more used to her detective novels. It definitely snuck up on me though. There was no build-up. It just happened and we were left to deal with the aftermath. That is when things really start getting interesting. But I won’t spoil the ending.

I found this story delightfully different with a very unexpected twist at the end that was executed masterfully.

Next, I am diving into a Poirot mystery, Death on the Nile. One down, five to go.

Review: The Glass Spare

Wilhelmina Heidle, the fourth child and only daughter of the king of the world’s wealthiest nation, has grown up in the shadows. Kept hidden from the world in order to serve as a spy for her father—whose obsession with building his empire is causing a war—Wil wants nothing more than to explore the world beyond her kingdom, if only her father would give her the chance.

Until one night Wil is attacked, and she discovers a dangerous secret. Her touch turns people into gemstone. At first, Wil is horrified—but as she tests its limits, she’s drawn more and more to the strange and volatile ability. When it leads to tragedy, though, Wil is forced to face the destructive power within her and finally leave her home to seek the truth and a cure.

But finding the key to her redemption puts her in the path of a cursed prince who has his own ideas for what to do with Wil’s power.

With a world on the brink of war and a power of ultimate destruction, can Wil find a way to help the kingdom that’s turned its back on her, or will she betray her past and her family forever?

Fun fact: when I found this book, it was in the business section. Obviously, it was in the wrong section but it definitely caught my attention. So I read the back.

Me reading the back of a book is actually a pretty dangerous thing. It leads to me buying said book and adding yet another to my shelf. I just can’t help it sometimes. A girl who was basically raised to act as a spy who can suddenly turn people to gemstones through touch? I had to have it.

The king, Wil’s father, is a tyrant dead set on maintaining the old ways while the world around them embraces technology. He is also rather paranoid and power-hungry, determined to take over the world through war. He pressures the youngest and smartest of his sons to create weapons of unfathomable destruction. The oldest son is in training to be king. And the middle child is angry and jealous. 

When it comes to his daughter, she is nothing but a tool for him. A way for him to accomplish things that he doesn’t want people to know he is doing. We mostly see her going on missions to find specialized ingredients to help her youngest brother with his experiments, but there are hints of countless other missions. 

The relationship between Wil and Gertie (the youngest son) was something I very much enjoyed reading. It was so pure and so strong that it made me want to have a brother like that. Well, I have a guy friend who is like a brother, but my point still stands. I have always enjoyed stories that play with various family relationships, whether it is biological or adopted. This story plays around with these dynamics in a way that I very much enjoy.

I also really enjoyed the magic system. The world has an air of mysticism to it that I found to be a refreshing step away from the magic laden worlds I am used to. Those born with magic are few and they mostly deal in curses or blessings. Well, I assume there are blessings. We haven’t seen much of that yet as far as I can tell, but the two do tend to go hand in hand. Either way, these curses can only be given by incredibly powerful beings and cannot be broken unless by the one who gave it. 

Two of the characters we meet are cursed. We know where one came from, but not the other. This just adds to the feeling that there is more going on in this world that we have seen so far. There are mysteries yet to be solved, worlds left to be explored, and a war looming on the horizon. So many things that could go horribly wrong. 

The Glass Spare ends with the promise of more to come in The Cursed Sea. This is a fantasy duet that is worth reading. 

Review: American Royals

Two princesses vying for the ultimate crown.

Two girls vying for the prince’s heart.

This is the story of the American royals.

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

The duty. The intrigue. The Crown. New York Times bestselling author Katharine McGee imagines an alternate version of the modern world, one where the glittering age of monarchies has not yet faded–and where love is still powerful enough to change the course of history.

It was the title that grabbed my attention. American Royals. A look at what the world would look like had George Washington said yes to the crown. I couldn’t help it. I had to know where Katherine McGee was going with this. She has had a few other titles that caught my attention but this was the one I could not ignore.

Normally I get books out of the science fiction and fantasy section, but this is straight YA. And I loved every second of it.

It took longer than I expected to get my brain to accept the words ‘America’ and ‘monarchy’ being in the same sentence (probably because I never in my life expected to read them in the same sentence). Thankfully, it got a little less weird in time.

If you want to see what America would look like today if it had a monarchy, this book is pretty spot on. It doesn’t go as political as I expected it too, though there are some mentions of how most of the world’s countries have their own monarchy and nobility. I giggled a little when one of the characters had a snarky thought about how chaotic having a democracy would be, with all of the people fighting to have their party’s beliefs upheld. 

Most of the politics in the story involve the family maintaining their public appearances and keeping the goodwill of the people. They are essentially all celebrities, but celebrities who were born and raised in the lifestyle. They work hard to make sure they are living in such a way that they will not lose the trust of their people. It is actually really interesting to watch.

That isn’t to say there isn’t drama, though. Because there is quite a bit of drama going on behind the scenes. One person is fighting to earn their place among the royals. One is struggling to find their place in a world where they feel like they are the spare, the backup plan. One is suffocating under the weight of the burden placed upon them by their birth (thanks to a law changed years before then). And yet another is trying to figure who they are and how to stand for themself. 

It’s the characters that really won me over, with their intertwining plot lines and complicated history. Normally I am not that into celebrity drama, but the way this was all portrayed was so captivating. It felt so totally and completely human while also appealing to the part of me that secretly enjoys that kind of emotional/political drama. I had to keep reading to see who was going to win the day and in the end, I was left absolutely floored.

This was an impulse purchase that left me with no regrets (aside from the fact I now have to wait for the sequel to see what happens next). It would make a great vacation read, or if you are looking for something a little different to spice things up. I honestly cannot wait to see what happens next. Katharine McGee did a fantastic job of setting up different plot threads tied to different characters who are all complex in their own right. It leaves you not sure who to root for, while also hoping that everyone gets their own different happy ending. Then the story ends with a jaw-dropper that throws all of those endings into jeopardy.

Needless to say, I am counting down days until we get a sequel.

Review: Dorothy Must Die

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado—taking you with it—you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a road of yellow brick—but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm—and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I’ve been trained to fight. And I have a mission:

Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart. 

Steal the Scarecrow’s brain. 

Take the Lion’s courage.

 And—Dorothy must die.

Moment of truth: I have been working on a Wizard of Oz retelling for a few months now. It will likely end up being a five-book crime series, so lots of room for references. I promise to share more details later, but that is not what this blog post is about. 

This book is about another Wizard of Oz retelling. Or, more accurately, a tale of what happened when Dorothy came back to stay. It follows Amy Gumm, a girl from a broken home with an addict for a mother. Her life is definitely not pretty and she would do almost anything to escape. 

Then a tornado comes through and takes her to a very different Oz than the ones in the stories. The land is dying, the people are trapped under the thumb of a dictator, and the Wicked have banded together to return balance to Oz.

I did not expect this book to revolve so much around addiction and neglect, but I can appreciate the way it was handled. My parents divorced when I was little, and my dad was very much an addict when I was going over to his house every other weekend. I experience some of that loneliness that Amy was dealing with on a regular basis. Thankfully, I had my mom and my grandmother. She has no one. 

The world-building is rather bleak, which makes sense in context. Oz, an inherently magical place, is being drained of its magic and so is being drained of life. There are a few places left that retain their magic, mostly because they are harder to access, and that is where the Wicked hide. 

The real beauty of this story is found in the characters. The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked is led by some dynamic, powerful women, all with their own stories. They all have secrets to hide and are not afraid to resort to turning victims into weapons when necessary. War is a messy thing, especially when it is between Wicked and Good.

Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion have all changed drastically as well. Their descriptions feel so artificial that it is uncanny. These are not the same people as you met in the original story. They have grown drastically, not only in their power but in their corruption.

This story blurs the lines between good and evil in a way that I really enjoyed. Things aren’t as straightforward as you might think. The stakes are high. Actions have consequences. Both sides are not afraid to do things that would normally be considered unthinkable. 

There is also a lot more going on behind the scenes than anyone person realizes. Even the most powerful beings do not have the full picture. They only have guesses, assumptions as to what the underlying causes might be. It leaves for a lot of questions, especially as Amy takes up a new quest in the last few pages. It is the same quest mentioned on the back cover.

To remove the tin woodman’s heart, steal the scarecrow’s brain, and take the lion’s courage.

Then, and only then, she can kill Dorothy and save Oz. 

Or so they think.

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic, from #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antarimagicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in ArnesRed Londonand officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

I’ve been following V.E. Schwab on Twitter for some time now. Her life revolves around writing and being an author, and I enjoy the peeks she gives us into that world. I also, if you haven’t guessed by now, really enjoy fantasy. 

Picking this book up, I was first intrigued by the idea of multiple Londons. I have seen multiple worlds done before (this isn’t quite a multiverse) but something about this particular iteration caught my attention. There is a finite number of worlds, each with its own level of magic. 

One world has none. One world is teaming with it. One world is tearing itself apart to find more of it. And a fourth that fell to a fate that no one wants to talk about, but you know it had to do with magic. 

I also don’t think I have ever had a book start off talking about the main character’s interesting jacket. Yet the whole thing is the perfect introduction for the main character, Kell. You quickly realize how and why he is different as he takes the reader on a literal journey through the three Londons. A great example of showing versus telling. It also does a great job of establishing the main cast of characters.

I found everything about these worlds intriguing and enthralling. When we finally got the story of the fall of Black London, I was in awe. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to read that story as well. A lot of time in fantasy worlds, authors don’t take the time to explain how their magic system works. This means in a lot of fantasy worlds, the magic system doesn’t really make sense. I am looking at you, J.K. Rowling.

Before you start yelling at me I would like to state, for the record, that I basically grew up on Harry Potter. I will always love the series. That said, my point is still valid. 

I will save my magic system rant for another day. Because it is going to be a doozy. 

I really like this one though. It feels natural and makes sense in all of the worlds. It is what is called ‘soft magic’, where magic has an organic feel to it. There are some spells and some rules to the magic, but most of it flows naturally. 

Everything about these worlds and these characters has me hungry for more. I want to see more of Lila and Kell, to learn more about their mysterious past and see their friendship grow. They are so engaging and dynamic. They are complex. They evolve. 

I had a coworker refer to this series as a poor man’s Mistborn. Honestly, I don’t see it. This story is great in its own right. I mean, there is a reason that V.E. Schwab is a best selling author. She knows how to weave a fantastic tale in a world unlike any I have encountered before. 

I am curious to see what happens in the future between the three Londons. I want to see more of Kell and Delilah as they find themselves and their place in this wonderfully strange world. I’m also curious to learn more about Black London. I feel like there is much more to the story than meets the eye. 

I guess we will have to wait and see in A Gathering of Shadows.

Review: Dune

Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for…

When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream. 

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

People have been telling me for years now that I need to read Dune. I think it started in response to me sharing one of my story ideas, but I honestly don’t remember which one. I ended up buying it during employee appreciation week (yay extra discount). 

I knew next to nothing about this story when I started reading it, other than a lot of people thought I would like it. I was definitely not expecting the sheer amount of made-up words. Not going to lie, I got so lost in the first two pages that I almost gave up. Half of the words looked like keyboard smashes. 

I kept going though. I decided I would give it until the end of the chapter, and if I still wasn’t following, then I would switch to another book.

Three pages later, I was totally hooked. There were still some things I did not quite get as first, and some that I am a little fuzzy on even now. But the world drew me in and the characters won me over.

The story revolves around the Atreides family. Duke Leto, his concubine Jessica, and their son Paul are preparing, in the beginning, to move from their paradise of a planet to the dangerous desert wasteland of Arrakis. There was far more political intrigue and machinations going on in the background than I expected. That is part of what had me so intrigued by the story. I simply could not put it down.

Considering how thick the book is, I tore through it pretty fast. It probably helped that I had to take my grandmother to the doctor’s office for a minor procedure, so I had 4 hours to sit around and read. Made some good progress too. 

The world-building of Arrakis is far deeper and much more intricate than I have seen in most other sci-fi novels. A prime example is how Herbert portrays the importance of water in this world. The people have designed these specialized suits to help with the preservation of water. The wealthy plant and maintain palm trees on their property to show off how much water they have. The natives view it with a reverence that seems befitting of a desert world.

And that is just on the surface. The further I read the deeper and more complex the world became, both on Arrakis and throughout the universe. There are pieces moving both in the empire and on the planet itself. 

There is also a taste of something that exists in a grey area between science and magic. I could not quite wrap my head around all of the details but I was able to understand the gist of it. It was fascinating, though, to see both the reactions of the characters who did understand what was going on versus those who did not. On my next read through I will definitely be paying more attention to the finer details of how these abilities work. 

If you want a good example of blurring the line between magic and science on a basic, human level, I highly recommend reading Dune. It does a fabulous job of this, as well as world-building. It also provides an interesting look at ecological and environmental issues. I am still fascinated by how the society of those native to Arrakis has evolved to help them not only survive, but thrive in what looks like a desert wasteland. It was very well thought out. 

Basically…

The end of the story had me hungry for more. The world is so rich and the characters have so much going on internally, that I just know there is so much more to come. More machinations. More intrigue. More of that grey area between magic and science to delve into and play around in. 

I know there are five books total in the series written by Frank Herbert, as well as a few more written by his brother Brian. I assume these were created in some sort of ghostwriting fashion. I will do more research on this when I get to them. For now, it is on to a new book. 

If you are looking for a thoughtful, immersive science fiction experience, this is the book for you.