Thursday, January 26, 2017

Pendulum by Adam Hamdy

Title: Pendulum
Author: Adam Hamdy
Publisher: Headline
Publication Year: 2016
Pages: 496
Genre: Thriller
My Ratiing:4/5

Synopsis (from the back)

You wake. Confused. Disorientated. A noose is round your neck. You are bound, standing on a chair. All you can focus on is the man in the mask tightening the rope. You are about to die.

John Wallace has no idea why he has been targeted. No idea who his attacker is. No idea how he will prevent the inevitable. 

Then the pendulum of fate swings in his favour. He has one chance to escape, find the truth and halt his destruction. The momentum is in his favour for now. But with a killer on his tail, everything can change with one swing of this deadly pendulum...

You have one chance. Run.


This is not the type of book I'd normally pick up. I like my mysteries golden-age, fair play and cozy. Miss Marple is basically who I want to be when I grow up but when I saw that Janel from the amazing blog and Instagram Keeper of Pages was starting a book club I knew I was in for a treat! I am so glad that I picked up the book! Not only was it AH-maze-ing, but it made me want to branch out into other types of crime/mystery/thrillers. If I enjoyed this book so much what else is out there waiting for me to discover?

Pendulum is a straight-up action-thriller. It starts out with the attempted murder of John Wallace, a photographer who wakes up to a stranger in a mask tying a noose around his neck. A lucky break gives him a chance to escape with the killer hot on his heels. The police do not believe his story, thinking it was a suicide attempt gone wrong, but the killer won't stop until he is dead.  

This book starts with a bang and then continues into an adrenaline filled, transatlantic game of cat-and-mouse. The book itself it quite hefty at 481 pages but I tore through it in a couple of days. Wallace's fight for survival, incredible action-packed sequences and slowly unraveling mystery of why this mysterious and deadly serial killer is determined to kill Wallace all make for an extremely addictive and vivid read that at times made it feel more like I was watching a Jason Bourne film rather than reading a book. Seriously, someone should make this a movie, I would love to watch it!

As consequence of this cinematic feel, story line at times feels like it leans a bit on action movie tropes, from the cop with underground ties to the plucky FBI agent with a dark past and even the revelations at the end seem familiar but Hamdy's fresh writing, adrenalined-filled plot and one of the most terrifying villains I've read in a long time take this book to the next level and make this book a must-read for anyone looking who loves a good thriller or wants a novel that they will not be able to put down until the end. I can't wait until the next book in the series comes out! I will definitely be picking it up!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Author: Colson Whitehead
Publisher: Random House
Publication Year: 2016
Pages: 417
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
My Ratiing: 5/5
Goodreads challenge book #1 

Synopsis (from back cover)

 Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
     In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.     


I first heard about this book on the All the Books Book Riot Podcast and then soon everyone was talking about it. It won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2016 and was named as an Oprah Book Club pick, it even come out in advance of it's release date to much buzz and speculation. I kept hearing about how good it was, and how it was going to propel Whitehead into future Nobel Laureate candidacy.

One things kept me from rushing out and buying it right away was that every list proclaimed THE book of 2016 and I have a big fear of over hype. This happens a lot when the novelty and pre-release publicity whip up a storm of attention around a new release title and everyone seams to be talking about the book, reading it and then gushing about it. Personally, I've found that this is a set-up for disappointment. I've found that reading a book in the midst of it's hype period often leads to disappointment. The bar is set so high ('its the BEST book ever!!") that the book inevitably falls short and I end up liking the book less than I would have done so if I hadn't been set up to expect a perfect book. In the case if I really want to read a buzz book, I'll wait for the paperback release when the hype has died down and I don't have to pay $35 for a hard back new release.

Then, the book was gifted to me and I had no excuse. I finished it yesterday and although I feel like it will take me a while to fully digest the book, here are my thoughts: 

The book is excellent both in content and crafting. The main narrative follows Cora's story from the atrocities she experiences  on the Georgia plantation she was born in and eventually escapes to each part of her journey north hopping from state to state, each offering a different face of the evil faced by black slaves and free men in pre-civil war America. Each time Cora finds a town in which to settle and make her life a new obstacle arises pushing the narrative forward in alternative waves of hope and despair. 

The story itself is not strictly chronological, often teasing at future events and then going back to explain gaps in the narrative. The story explores perspectives apart from Cora's, including the perspective of the slave who convinces Cora to run away, a white woman who assist Cora on her journey and the slave catcher on an obsessive hunt to capture her. The writing abounds in short sentence fragments that pack a punch mixed with longer, more abstract musings where they author's voice seems to overtake the protagonists',

The book takes liberty with historical facts and timelines to create a captivating story that directly addresses today's racial, social and political issues. Overall it was a beautiful, heart wrenching book that captivated me and that I highly encourage everyone to pick up. It was not an enjoyable book to read, like a thriller or a romance is enjoyable, and many times I had to put down the book and take a break even though I was dying of curiosity to find out  what happened to Cora next. Ultimately, I think this is one of those rare books that calls for a re-read. Although the language was simple, the story haunted me days after I had turned the last page. I am still digesting it and have a feeling that it will offer something new each time I pick it up

Winter West Coast Bookish Vacation/Bookstores

I hope that everyone is enjoying the winter/holiday break! This year, I thought I change of scenery might be refreshing for the holidays (still love you NYC!) and headed over to the West Coast for some vacation time in Seattle, WA and San Francisco, CA. Needless to say, between touring the local attractions, I went on a bookstore romp because yay bookstores! Here are some of the highlights definitely check them out if you are in the area!

SEATTLE - Lamplight Books

I actually came across this bookstore by accident when walking around Pike's Place Market. This rare and used bookstore is a cozy nook lit, as its name implies, by dozens of lamps scattered around the store. It boasts a large non-fiction and nature section which highlights the many beautiful natural parks in the area, as well as local flora and fauna. I didn't stick around too much as that day was particularly busy but I did notice that they had a substantial classics and modern/classics section which I would have liked to peruse with more time. This is the ideal bookstore to visit on a cold Seattle morning, proceeded by a long reading session at one of the local cafes with a latte and pastry in hand.

SEATTLE - Elliot Bay Book Co. 

Home to thousands of volumes and many literary/author events, Elliot Bay Book co. is Seattle's must-visit independent bookstore and is the quintessential perfect neighborhood bookstore. From the outside, it looks a bit like an abandoned cement warehouse, but once you step inside you get transported into a bookish wonderland. It looks and feels like someone crammed a cozy winter lodge full of books, a cafe, a second floor filled with even more books, and plenty of comfy chairs for reading. One of my favorite features was the Staff's pick and local interest/local authors shelf along with their sizable music and discount book section.

SEATTLE - Seattle Mystery Bookshop

What kind of a mystery fan would I be if I went to Seattle and didn't stop by their indie mystery store? Out of all the bookstores I visited this one was probably my favorite. The store it's is tucked away from the street and is only one room but it is amazing! they have bookshelves stuffed with every type of mystery book you could ask for. From noir to cozy, you name it, they have it. The only thing better than their selections were the booksellers who are extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and huge mystery fans themselves. They were down to chat, offer recommendations and put up with my endless questions and requests ( 'I want a fair play historical mystery set during the Klondike rush please!') This place won a special place in my list of favorites and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good whodunnit.

SAN FRANCISCO -  City Light Books

This bookstore is a landmark of the San Francisco literary scene. City Light Books is a bookstore and publisher that specializes in poetry, world literature, and progressive politics literature. It was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, and soon became a center of the city's beatnik scene. Today it boasts 3 floors of tall shelves stuffed with books and is particularly known for publishing the pocket poets series, and for its well followed podcast and blog. The store is dizzying in both its selections and the height of their bookshelves. 

SANTA CRUZ - Logos Books & Records 

This bookstore looks deceptively small from the outside but actually a huge two stories full of new and used books, and records. When you walk in you'll see some stairs that lead down to a 'pit' i.e. the lower level where the bulk of the books are and where you can spend hours browsing. My favorite part was the impressive selection of vintage fantasy and science fiction books with those wonderful weird pulpy covers from which I had to be dragged away from kicking and screaming. I apologize for not having a picture for this one. I was carrying an armful of books and couldn't hold my phone up, but take my work for it, it's great!

Friday, January 6, 2017

White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones

Title: White Sky, Black Ice  (Nathan Active Mysteries #1)
Author: Stan Jones
Publisher: Soho Crime
Publication Year: 2003
Pages: 284

Genre: Mystery
My Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Synopsis (from the back cover)

Born to a poor Inupiat girl in Chukchi, Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle, State Trooper Nathan Active was adopted and raised by a white family in Anchorage. Now, an unwelcome job reassignment has returned him to the stark, beautiful landscape of poverty-stricken Chukchi. Two suspicious suicides in the span of a week and rumors of trouble in the village and at the local copper mine lead Active to believe there is a killer at large. As a nalauqmiiyaaq, or someone regarded by the community as “halfwhite,” he must fight for every clue before the killer strikes again.


I picked this book up at an indie mystery bookstore on a recent trip to Seattle. One of the nerdy things I love to on vacation is look for locally set books or books by local authors to immerse myself in the location I am visiting. While this book is not set in Seattle, its atmospheric descriptions of rural Alaska matched the gloomy weather and were one of the most captivating parts of the story. While the mystery/twist of the story was not the most original, there are several aspects of this story which make it stand out in a positive way and made me look forward to continuing with the series. 

The first is the treatment of race, specifically, the interplay between indigenous Alaskan people and white Americans as a central element to the story and not just as a backdrop. The main character himself is an indigenous man raised by white parents. The author manages to paint an unflinching portrait of complicated race relations in one of the most remote corners of the United States. Alcoholism, poverty, identity, sex, intermarriage and community are all addressed and confronted by the characters in a way that feels authentic and sympathetic without feeling sugarcoated or preachy. While race issues are being portrayed more frequently in mysteries, this is the first mystery I've come across that centers white/Inuit relations and it does so very well.
The second is the main character himself, Nathan Active is a sympathetic main character. Born to an alcoholic teen Inuit mother and adopted by a white family, the last thing that he wants is to return to his small hometown where his is regarded as a nalauqmiiyaaq or half white. Nathan's struggles that come with his identity and his willingness to bend the rules to do the right thing make him a sympathetic character that you want to cheer on.
Lastly, the writing, while simple, manages to evoke a beautiful portrait of the Alaskan wilderness. It is a place I have never visited but Jones manages to paint a landscape you can almost see. The landscape feels like another character in the story; beautiful, wild and dangerous and it plays a part in the story as well, after all it's not possible to kill someone without leaving footprints in the snow, or IS IT? dun dun dunnnn.

In conclusion, although this is not the most mindbending of mysteries it is certainly a title worth picking up and I can't wait to continuing with the series.