[Ren] Arsenic For Tea (Wells and Wong #2) by Robin Stevens

Arsenic For Tea (Wells and Wong #2) by Robin StevensReview copy badgeTitle: Arsenic For Tea (Wells and Wong #2)
Author: Robin Stevens
Published: October 27th, 2014
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 teacups

Once again we travel back to 1930s England, land of murders and bunbreaks, where schoolgirl detectives Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are spending the hols at Daisy’s ancestral home. There’s also some family members and friends staying over for Daisy’s birthday party, and everyone knows what happens every time a group of Englishmen have a party in an isolated country house: someone’s going to get offed. Predictably, Hazel isn’t too pleased with having to deal with yet another murderer while Daisy is jumping at the change to solve the mystery before the adults… at least until she realizes that there’s a very good chance that someone in her family is a killer.

So I was going to do a serious (aka boring) review as usual, but then this happened:

…Okay then. This is going to be easier for me since I only have muddled, incoherent thoughts about this book. Usually when I read there’s a part of me that’s dissecting the plot and the characters and filing everything away for later. In this case however my train of thoughts was more like HAZEL IS MY BABY! OH LOOK BUNBREAKS!!! IS THAT UNCLE FELIX??? YAY DAISY!! OH NO DON’T CRY!!!! LET’S SOLVE THE MURDER!!!!!! FRIENDSHIP!! WHO DID THE MURDER?????? YAY TEATIME AGAIN!

An accurate representation of the reviewer reading the book.

First books are a gamble because I don’t know if I’m going to love or hate a series until I start it. But second books are the real test, especially when the bar has been set pretty high. “Murder Most Unladylike was pretty much perfect, how is it possible to top that?” I wondered as I perused the book’s page on NetGalley. This is totally what I told Isa at that time, and not “oggjhfjfnmas[expletive] i’m gonna request it and then cry when they reject me because our blog is not popular”.

Reviewer’s reaction on receiving an advance copy of the book.

It hadn’t occurred to me at first that not all Wells & Wong books could be set at a boarding school. I do love boarding school books, but yeah, it’d get a bit implausible in the end if they just kept killing off the Science mistress every schoolyear like they did with DADA teachers in Harry Potter. So while I got the change of setting, and I loved Fallingford, also like Hazel I felt a bit homesick for the familiar background of the school from the previous book. Reading about Daisy’s family was just like meeting someone you’ve heard a lot about. Especially Dashing Uncle Felix (yep I’m pretty sure that’s his full name) whom I’d be dying to learn more about since Isa pointed out that he’s the mysterious uncle who taught Daisy how to break into a car and told her that dead bodies are heavy.

In my mind Dashing Uncle Felix looks a lot like Rupert Everett with a monocle.

Everything is very British, including the fact that Daisy’s birthday party is a “children’s tea party”, whatever that means. From what I gathered, it means that there are children around and people serve themselves (shock!) instead of needing a butler to hand them the scones. Obviously it doesn’t take long before one of the guests drops dead… no, wait, it does take a while because apparently arsenic doesn’t work instantly like in the films. Anyway. Eventually one of the guests drops dead, which is very sad.

All that wasted tea and cakes. A tragedy.

Who ruined the tea party?? Hazel would like to go back to a time and place when it was safe to have tea without having to wonder if it was poisoned. If she read more of Daisy’s books she’d know that it’s too late by now: if you solve a murder, you’ll spend your life stumbling into dead bodies. Well-known cosmic law. Just look at Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher, it’s a wonder there was anyone still alive in their village!

But let’s have a cuppa anyway, poison’s no excuse to miss tea.

So Hazel and Daisy are investigating the crime, but (obviously) the house is isolated and (obviously) this means the murderer must be one of the guests. Usually, you know, who cares. The detectives are usually guests themselves, the reader has only just been introduced to those characters. HOWEVER! This time the moment when Daisy realizes “whooops is Mummy or Daddy a possible murderer?” is also the moment when I realized “whooops I’m too emotionally invested in those fictional characters”. So I have my list of suspects, and I’m trying to guess the culprit as usual, but my thoughts are all skewed because I DON’T WANT THEM TO BE GUILTY, DAISY WILL BE SAD!


Safe to say, I didn’t figure out the culprit before Hazel and Daisy solved the case. I guessed some things, and I might have put some of the pieces together if I stopped to think about it, but I couldn’t stop because for the last few chapters I was glued to my kindle and crossing all my fingers that everything would end well. In between there were a lot of shenanigans that mostly I didn’t mention because I didn’t have suitable gifs on hand, I’ll just say that my favourite scene was probably the one with Daisy under her bed. I think I liked Daisy a lot more in this book (which means I liked her lots and lots, since I already liked it a fair bit in MMU).

I miiight like MMU a little bit more because of the setting (boarding schools yay) but overall: THIS BOOK, I LIKE IT!

So, now that I’m done being excited about the awesomeness that was this book, FIRST CLASS MURDER (WELLS & WONG #3) IS GOING TO BE SET ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (DURING THE HOLS??) AND THAT’S PRETTY MUCH THE BEST SETTING EVER SO GO READ ARSENIC FOR TEA, AND IF YOU’VE READ IT THEN READ IT AGAIN. Or idk go back to Deepdean and the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Regular reviews will resume as soon as I stop flailing, in the meantime you can communicate with me through gifs of British actors and biscuits. Bye.



[Ren] Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Horrorstör by Grady HendrixReview copy badgeAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: Horrorstör
Author: Grady Hendrix
Published: September 23rd, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazongoodreads

This is a horror story with a cover that looks like an Ikea catalog. I don’t know about you but that caught my attention right away. I’m not usually a fan of horror because I’m a scaredy cat, but sometimes it’s nice to read outside my usual genres. As such I don’t know if this story is original or if it’s full of tropes, I only know that I enjoyed it a lot.

The story is set in the Orsk store which (even the characters admit) is an Ikea knockoff. Someone has been vandalizing the store, so some employees decide to spend the night patrolling the show to catch the culprits in the act. This is obviously a Very Bad Idea because the vandals are not human.

I’ll leave it at that, because part of the fun for me was not knowing just what exactly was wrong with the store — was it ghosts? monsters? a curse? — and I liked the shift from normal slice-of-life account of a day in the life of an Orsk employee to the really creepy stuff going on at night. It helped that I read this book as I was travelling to visit Isa: if you’re alone on a train before dawn you can really appreciate the creepiness of usually crowded spaces when they’re empty and silent.

As for the characters, the story is told from the POV of Amy and I really like her. She avoids most of the usual pitfalls, such as suggesting to split up, and I was really rooting for her. I also rather liked Basil, and the Big Bad is suitably creepy. Some of the characters left me indifferent though, and there was at least one death when I thought, oh well, one less character to keep track of.

There is death, and creepy things, and bloody gory bits that I really hope I won’t dream about at night. Like I said, I’m squeamish. And then the chapter headers that look like pages from an Ikea catalog make a really jarring counterpoint. For me, it works really well.

Again, horror is not my genre so I couldn’t predict the ending at all. I really liked it though, it solves the plot but leaves a couple of things open-ended so I can wonder what’ll happen next. (Not in a baiting-for-sequel wait though, just… I can imagine those characters living on after the end of the book. And I always like it when an author does that.)

I haven’t been converted to horror and I doubt I’ll read other similar books in the future, but I think Horrorstör is an experiment that works and I’d happily recommend it to anyone, though if you’re like me you might feel tempted to keep the lights on at night afterwards.

[Ren] Precious Metals by L.A. Witt

Precious Metals by L.A. WittReview copy badgeAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: Precious Metals
Author: L.A. Witt
Published: October 27th, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

I was not a huge fan of the previous book in this series, but I do like L.A. Witt so I immediately requested Precious Metals when I saw it on NetGalley. This book is set in the same universe as the other, in a kind of steampunk gold rush era. The characters are all different though; the protagonists are Joseph, who’s chasing after his kidnapped brother, and Paul, a mountie tasked with escorting him north. I really liked their story.

It’s difficult to talk about just this book, because I keep drawing comparisons with Noble Metals when I think about what exactly I liked. For example, the steampunk element is much more marked here. In the first book there were just the mechs, which are a kind of mechanical cart that gold diggers use to haul stuff around. Now there’s mechs and airships and a gold-digging machine and Joseph’s prosthetic leg, oh my! It’s way more steampunkier now, if that makes any sense.

The relationship between Joseph and Paul was also engaging. There still was some insta-love, given that the book is rather short and only covers a timespan of a few days, but I felt like it was handled in a more realistic way, as in “we almost died so I’m going to make a move NOW because life is short”, etc.

There are quite a lot of tropes in the story, but let’s be honest: I love tropes. Sharing the only bed roll? Huddling together for warmth? Give that to me. And the author does write steamy scenes, which is always a plus. If I had to complain about something, it’s that both sex scenes were from Joseph’s POV and I was hoping to get one from Paul’s POV instead. Then again, I did like Paul better so I was always looking forward to his chapters. (Not because Joseph is a bad character, mind, it’s just personal preference.)

I’m glad I read this because it definitely redeemed the series for me, and I wouldn’t mind reading more stories in this universe. And the good bit is that this book is a standalone, so you can skip Noble Metals and enjoy this excellent adventure through the snow.

[Ren] Black Dog (Bannon’s Gym #1) by Cat Grant

Black Dog (Bannon's Gym #1) by Cat GrantReview copy badgeAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: Black Dog (Bannon’s Gym #1)
Author: Cat Grant
Published: April 1st, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblegoodreads

Ever since Isa called it the “dog book by cat author” this book makes me giggle. It’s actually a pretty sad book about a runaway kid with an abusive father who is taken in by the owner of a diner. Then the kid starts training with the same boxing trainer who used to go out with the diner owner, but of course there are Issues and Emotional Baggage to deal with before everyone can get their happy(ish) ending.

What threw me most about this book is the three different POVs, one of which is in first person POV for whichever reason. That bothered me so much because it was like it made Eddie the protagonist in a way, while overall it felt as if Tom’s narrative was the most important. Even though at the end Eddie and Danny are together so by M/M romance standards this is “their” book. I don’t know, I felt as if my attention was being pulled in different directions without a clear focus. The ending too felt unfinished, like this is just a piece of a bigger story rather than a standalone book.

Character-wise, though, I liked all three protagonists and quite a few of the secondary characters. I actually got emotional towards the end because I was so invested in Tom’s story. To be honest I’m basing my rating almost only on feelings here; I might complain that the ending was predictable but it still had me worried sick over the fate of the protagonists.

I’m definitely going to check out the next book, and hopefully with a longer page count every character’s storyline will be tied together in a more cohesive way. For now I don’t feel like recommending this book to everyone, but if you’re looking for a quick read that first sucker-punches you in the feels and then pats you lovingly, this book is your book.

[Ren] The Circus of the Damned by Cornelia Grey

The Circus of the Damned by Cornelia GreyReview copy badgeAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: The Circus of the Damned
Author: Cornelia Grey
Published: November 3rd, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

The summary of this book ticked all my boxes — steampunk, m/m romance, set in a circus! And written by an author who’s from the same corner of the world as me. I was very curious to read this, and happily it did not disappoint. The Circus of the Damned is about magician Gilbert Blake, who has to skip town in a hurry after he’s caught using his magic to cheat at cards. He joins the titular circus to have a place to hide, but he realizes too late that all the performers are cursed never to leave the circus, not even after death.

I flip-flopped for a long while on the rating, because while I did enjoy the story a lot there were also some parts that made me roll my eyes. I even made a list of pros and cons. The pros were that it was a quick read, despite the 300+ pages I finished it in two days. I liked the minor characters (Humphreys!) and the setting was great, I loved the atmosphere of the circus. The reveal about the devil Farfarello was completely unexpected and I enjoyed that very much. Also, that sex scene with magic.

The pacing was mostly good: the book started off in the middle of Gilbert trying to cheat some guy at cards and then things kept happening one after the other. Unfortunately that made it even more noticeable when the action lulled. I felt like a couple of chapters could have been skipped entirely because nothing at all happened and they felt like padding. Some of the minor characters also felt like padding, there were so many people in the circus that I couldn’t keep all of them straight in my head. Is the bear Mildred or Matilda? And who the hell is Ramona again?

The cons were that I’m not completely sold on the two leads, there was a bit too much instalove and I much prefer UST and pining. For being as old as he is, Jesse acted like a fucking teenager who didn’t consider the (obvious) consequences of his actions. Also, I expected a little more out of the ending; after all the build-up to the final confrontation, everything was tied up too neatly. Gilbert’s mouse was completely useless: she’s mentioned often in the beginning, and then less and less, until I kept forgetting she was even around. I didn’t get the point of the mouse. Also, there was some weird phrasing here and there. My biggest pet peeve is that I have no idea where the story is set. The only city mentioned by name is Shadowsea so I’m thinking fictional universe with magic. But then the author mentions Italy and Asia, so… I got nothing.

Overall, though, I think this book is better than the sum of its parts. There are books where after a week I remember only the bad bits, while with this book what I remember most is that it was fun! So, four full teacups, and I’d definitely read a sequel or another story set in the same world, wherever that may be!

[Ren] Jewel of the Thames (Portia Adams #1) by Angela Misri

Jewel of the Thames (Portia Adams #1) by Angela MisriReview copy badgeTitle: Jewel of the Thames (Portia Adams #1)
Author: Angela Misri
Published: March 23rd, 2014
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblegoodreads

I really wanted to like this book. On the surface, it’s got it all: in the 1930s Portia Adams moves from Toronto to London on her mother’s death, and she discovers she inherited the famous apartment at 221B Baker Street. With the help of her guardian, the ~mysterious~ Mrs. Irene Jones, Portia starts investigating her ~mysterious~ grandfather… I’m using the term very loosely here, since the solution of this mystery is immediately obvious thanks to the anvil-sized hints that everyone keeps dropping. In fact, I was almost surprised by the predictable plot twist because I’d started to think that it was too obvious and her grandfather couldn’t possibly be… well, spoilers.

In this case, my reading history works against me. I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, I’ve read all the stories and watched my fair share of adaptations. Sometimes there are books that offer a fresh take on the Arthur Conan Doyle canon. In this case, though I couldn’t buy into Portia’s connection to the canon characters. It’s like with Robert Downey Jr: I enjoy his films but he’s not Doyle’s character.

Moreover, Portia has a rather bland personality, and the secondary characters have no personality at all. There’s the constable with “future love interest” stamped on his forehead, the Scotland Yard inspector who’s suitably impressed by the 19yo detective, the ~mysterious~ Mrs. Jones and… not many others. The book is divided in four parts: the first is about Portia leaving Toronto, the others are three different mini-mysteries. Unfortunately, the book’s sluggish pace and the lack of interesting characters made it a chore to finish it.

The second case (the mysterious illness) was by far the most interesting. The gothic atmosphere reminded me of the canon stories and the plot was ingenious. Unfortunately it was also the case most riddled with mistakes, such as “reticule” (a small purse) used to mean… a cupboard, I think?

Given the amount of beta readers cited in the acknowledgements, I would have expected to find way less grammar mistakes, plot holes, or stray Americanisms.

Overall, while I’m not thrilled by this book or its heroine, I think it might appeal to people who are less of a Holmes fanatic and prefer light mysteries.

[Ren] Noble Metals by L.A. Witt

Noble Metals by L.A. WittReview copy badgeAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: Noble Metals
Author: L.A. Witt
Published: July 14th, 2014
Rating: 3 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

The book is set during the Klondike gold rush, but with a steampunk twist: instead of using sleds and horses, people use steam-powered machines to carry their supplies across the frozen trails. The protagonists are two somewhat unlikely travelling companions. Robert lost his money gambling and had to resort to prostitution to get enough money to continue towards the gold fields. John is a scientist and he’s looking for platinum rather than gold, because he’s trying to develop a new technology with semiconductors.

I’m a fan of Jack London, so the setting immediately appealed to me, but if I had to sum it up my experience with this book in one word it would be “disappointing”. I’ve read other books by L.A. Witt and I enjoyed them very much, so I had high hopes for this one, but it just fell flat for me. One of my issues with it is that it was labelled as sci-fi/fantasy which gave me certain expectations. I thought there would be more adventures, and we would really get into the steampunk aspect, but the setting was really just a backdrop and the book was 95% romance.

It wasn’t a very compelling romance, either. The problem is that the characters get together too easily, they fall in love almost at first sight (mostly based on physical attraction) and there are no obstacles to them getting together. But since there’s still 150 pages to go before the end of the book, conflict is forced to happen for a bunch of stupid reasons. I can’t believe that John is this super-smart scientist who’s competing with Tesla and Edison, because he’s so painfully naive when the plot demands it. He insists on secrecy, and then he’s the one who reveals that he’s got a gold detector in front of dozens of gold searchers, so we spend several chapters with John and Robert worried that other people will try to steal the device, and it’s all for nothing anyway because the book forgets about the other gold searchers after a while.

That’s sort of an overarching theme: the book does set up conflict, but this conflict is resolved largely by ignoring it. At the end I felt that the whole journey described in the book had been a waste of time. Sure, John and Robert were together, but it was very much a case of “we’re together so nothing else matters”. Even though, you know, you spent half of the book complaining that you can’t be together because of those very pressing problems. It doesn’t feel like resolution, it feels like something unfinished. There were other issues here and there with editing (the same conversation was repeated twice, with two different outcomes) but this was the most glaring.

Overall I’m giving it 3 out of 5 because it is well written and because I did enjoy the journey. But the conclusion is weak and lets down the whole book. I’m still a fan of L.A. Witt, just not a fan of this particular story.

[Ren] If It Drives (Market Garden #7) by Aleksandr Voinov & L.A. Witt

If It Drives (Market Garden #7) by Aleksandr Voinov & L.A. WittReview copy badgeTitle: If It Drives (Market Garden #7)
Author: Aleksandr Voinov & L.A. Witt
Published: March 31st, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

Okay, so, technically this isn’t an ARC because it’s been out for a couple of months already, but I still got it from NetGalley and I’m glad I did because Voinov and Witt are two of the best M/M authors I’ve ever read. Market Garden is a series of novels and short stories, all revolving around the titular gay brothel. As a rule I’m not a fan of stories involving rentboys or threesomes, but I made an exception for this series (and those two authors) and it was an excellent idea. Also, let’s get it out of the way, the book also revolves around BDSM and a D/s relationship.

There’s a few characters that show up from one story to the other, so that’s a bit of a bonus if you read all the books. James and Cal, this book’s main couple, showed up for a bit in book #4: James is Red Tie, one of Market Garden’s wealthy patrons, and Cal is his driver, who very obviously had a thing for his boss. Some books in the series are better than others, depending on who’s your favourite couple, and I think this one is one of my favourites. I liked the dynamic between the two protagonists. Often with romance there’s a conflict that could be solved easily if only the protagonists talked to each other, but here the barriers between the two of them (because of the age difference, because of the employer/employee situation) made it realistic that they wouldn’t talk and explain things.

Plus, lots and lots of delicious kinky fuckery. (I’m sorry, ever since I heard Charles Dance saying kinky fuckery, I feel the need to use the expression as often as I can, and then snicker.) If you’re into D/s, this is a great read: smoking hot but also realistic and showing that Cal’s priority is keeping things safe and sane for James. If I had a complaint to make, it’s that things seem to move too quickly at the end and suddenly they’re in love and together… I would have liked to see what happens next and how their relationship will work out. Can I hope there will be another book about them?

[Ren] Coin Heist by Elisa Ludwig

Coin Heist by Elisa LudwigReview copy badgeAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: Coin Heist
Author: Elisa Ludwig
Published: June 10th, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblegoodreads

When the headmaster of their prestigious prep school is arrested for embezzlement and the school risks closure if it can’t pay a debt of 50 million dollars, four teenagers gang together to rob the US Mint. Those kids are at first defined in term of high school cliques — the nerd, the slacker, the loner, the school diva — but obviously the moral of the story is that they’re not so different after all, and the only way they can pull off this heist is by working together and using everyone’s talents.

I was lured in by the pretty cover and by the fact that I love stories about heists. The problem was Alice: she’s a computer nerd, she’s on the math team, she plays D&D, she doesn’t have many friends… In short, she’s so much like me in high school, I knew from the start that I’d either love her or hate her. Unfortunately I ended up hating her in the first chapter, and I almost gave up on the book straight away, which would have been a crying shame. See, Alice likes to think that she’s so smart and knows so much about math, and she often makes comparisons between set theory and the cliques in her school. The problem is that what she says is so, so wrong. For example, to explain her status as social outcast she says: “If you want to get technical, that made me a null set. Which wasn’t even plain old nothing. It was immeasurable nothing.” Which, no, it’s not. Because the very definition of a null set is that it is measurable and its measure is zero. If it was immeasurable, it would not measure zero, it would literally have no measure. To put this in proportion, this is the math equivalent of saying that her blue eyes are the colour of the crimson sky at sunset: it doesn’t make sense, and it makes Alice sound like a poser who’s trying to impress the reader with words that she doesn’t know the meaning of.

Anyway, I’m glad I stuck with this book, because after I got past Alice’s stupidity it was a fun, quick read. There is a lot of suspension of disbelief involved, but it is after all a book about four teens who rob the US Mint so I knew from the start that it wouldn’t be 100% realistic. And the book follows some well-established YA tropes, such as pairing off the two girls with the two boys, and it’s obvious from the start who’s going to end with whom. Also, the big night of the heist? It ~casually~ just happens to be on prom night. But despite that, or maybe because of it, it made for a great light read. I was really curious as to how they would manage to pull it off!

The one problem I had with this book, which makes it just very good instead of excellent, is that at times I had problems telling apart the different characters’ voices. The story is told in alternating POVs, all in first person, and sometimes in the middle of a conversation the current narrator would be like “and then I said this” and I’d be like “wait… which one are you again?” With four protagonists as different as those, I would have really liked to see some more difference in their speech patterns aside from Benny saying “yo” and Alice using stupid math metaphors. It’s a pity, because if they had been more fleshed out the characters would have been great. Jason especially had potential, with his desire to prove he wasn’t useless like his dad and his friendship with the lunch lady, but in the end I felt like that was kind of swept aside and never addressed properly at the end of the book, which is a shame.

I know that this review is 80% complaining, but really what I’m trying to say is that this would have been my ideal kind of book if it had fixed a couple of issues, and also I don’t want to talk much about the bits that I liked because that would be spoilery. So yes, I didn’t much like Alice and Jason, but I loved Dakota and Benny and the story. And I’d definitely want to read a sequel that delves into the characters’ personalities, possibly where they all run off to Europe to lead a life of crime. Pretty please, Ms. Ludwig?! I’d even fix the math metaphors for you. Coin Heist is out on June 10th and I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a summer read.


[Ren] Peacemaker (Peacemaker #1) by Marianne de Pierres

Peacemaker (Peacemaker #1) by Marianne de PierresReview copy badgeAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: Peacemaker (Peacemaker #1)
Author: Marianne de Pierres
Published: April 29th, 2014
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorybooklikesgoodreads

Virgin Jackson is a ranger in one of the world’s last natural reserves — Birrimun Park in Australia. Her troubles begin when she witnesses a murder in the park after hours and the incompetent police detective doesn’t believe her story. Moreover, the higher ups partner her with an US Marshall who’s investigating drug trafficking inside the park, and she keeps seeing an imaginary eagle that shows up to warn her of impending danger.

I have mixed feelings about this book. First off, I requested an ARC of Peacemaker because the setting and genre intrigued me: a futuristic urban dystopia mixed with a western. Just look at that cover. However it took me forever to finish the book because the beginning is just too boring. Yes, there’s the murder and everything, but it didn’t immediately spark my interest; I had to force myself to read a couple of chapters every evening to get through it. Only after one third, when we got a bit into the story and the characters, the book finally became interesting.

The main problem for me was the awfully dry prose. From the stilted grammar and poorly constructed sentences, I would have guessed that this was a debut novel. The setting was described too vaguely and never gave me the impression of being inside the story, so to speak. It reads like someone’s first draft rather than a finished novel, and that’s a pity because the ideas behind the story are good. But the story itself feels like a sequence of events strung together haphazardly, in which things happen just because they’re needed to advance the plot. Why didn’t Virgin read her father’s journal years ago, anyway? It makes no sense and doesn’t fit with what we know of her character.

Virgin herself was an okay protagonist. I liked her attitude and her friendship with Caro and her relationship with her stripper fuckbuddy-slash-boyfriend. But it felt as if the book was trying too hard to tell me how badass Virgin was (she has a gun! she shoots people!) instead of developing her character. Virgin is not a flat character, but she’s not three-dimensional either — two and a half dimensions, perhaps. There was a wide array of secondary characters; maybe too many, because none of them felt too memorable. Having two characters called Caro and Corah in the same scene is a recipe for disaster. Marshall Sixkiller, with his hat and (fake?) cowboy drawl, tries too hard to be tall dark and mysterious. And urgh, Totes. Totes was a creep and I wish other characters stopped making excuses for it. “Totes is a creep but he’s okay really!” “Good thing Totes bugged your flat without your knowledge or you wouldn’t have an alibi!” Just. No.

Overall, while I get the appeal for fans of thrillers and gritty urban scenarios, the whole book was underwhelming. It was the literary equivalent to a low-budget tv show pilot, trying to cram too many things into the first hour to make you tune in again next week. Because of course there are plenty of things left unexplained, from the imaginary eagle Aquila to someone saying “Virgin, you need to know…” and being dramatically interrupted before they’re able to finish. This book is definitely not a standalone, the end has very little resolution and a big To Be Continued, and that’s one of my pet peeves. I might pick up the sequel, I’m just not feeling like “omg this was so good I need the next book now”.