Tag Archives: Murder

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Review by Alysa S. ’22)

The Secret HistoryThe Secret History by Donna Tartt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

TW for The Secret History: references to alcohol and substance abuse, self-harm, murder

In many ways, The Secret History was one of the most baffling, difficult, and frustrating books that I’ve ever read in my entire life. I’ve never read anything quite like this.

First, I’ll start with the good: Donna Tartt is a beautiful, sophisticated prose writer with a distinct style. The vocabulary used only serves to emphasize the academic, intellectual university setting of the novel and the exclusive, Classics-educated group of students that protagonist Richard Papen so desperately wishes to assimilate into. As a fellow Californian used to the fast-paced craze of the West, I see quaint New England as a fascinating wonderland through Richard’s fresh perspective: all falling autumn leaves, dusty and antique libraries, and elite, old-money academics.

However, the rest of the novel immediately takes a dark turn, exploring bacchanal, unthinkable concepts of evil in human nature. First of all, I consider myself sufficiently patient when it comes to arduously long books, but the sheer page count of this book became increasingly difficult to get through as each page revealed yet another shocking truth about the ostensibly perfect characters that grudgingly accepted Richard into their group: twins Camilla and Charles, Francis, and Henry (Yes, he is an enigma. Yes, I find his dark and brooding, extremely intelligent, unofficial leader of the group qualities extremely appealing).

Along with the dense chapters, I also think the emotional baggage is extremely heavy. This is not a book for light reading, nor does it have a definite beginning and ending that follow your usual story arc. As much as I enjoyed the detail and the moments of surprise, the evolving relationships of the six characters that catalyze a downward spiral of events dragged on too long for me, and the psychological thriller aspect of the book left me extremely depressed and upset with our reality. For anyone considering this book, I would probably ask you to reconsider. But if you’re into dark academia and extensive analysis of the depths of evil in the human soul, well, all I can say is brace yourself. —Review by Alysa S. ’22

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Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Review by Anika F. ’21)

Cemetery BoysCemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are looking for an emotional young adult story with paranormal elements, Cemetery Boys is the perfect book for you. Cemetery Boys follows a teenaged transgender male named Yadriel who is trying to prove his identity to his family. After a string of murders, Yadriel decides to summon a ghost with his brujo powers, but ends up summoning the wrong spirit.

The strong points of the book include (but are not limited to) the characters and the culture. When I initially read that the ghost summoned would be the “high school bad boy,” I was convinced that I would not like the character. However, as I read more and more, I found Julian’s personality to be so much more than the synopsis gives him credit for: He is loyal, brave, and accepting while also being funny and sarcastic. Similarly, I found Yadriel’s character to be a delight to follow. His journey with identity is so wonderfully done; you can see his struggles and successes as he proves to his family that he truly is a brujo. Latinx culture is also seamlessly mixed with the story. There are some beautiful scenes about Día de los Muertos, where Yadriel is able to communicate with his ancestors who have passed on. In particular, this book thrives when discussing the intersection of Yadriel’s gender identity and his cultural background.

My main complaint with this book has to do with the predictability of the plot. In essence, the story is a murder mystery where a few men end up dead. I guessed the murderer at around page 50 and was not surprised at all by the ending. My second plot critique does involve some spoilers, but to keep it vague: I like when decisions have consequences. Some of these characters seemed to make tough calls, but not face adequate repercussions.

Do I think these criticisms break the book? Absolutely not. Cemetery Boys is much deeper than the plot. Rather than being about a murder-mystery, this story is about love, identity, and family. And in those aspects, this book truly shines. –Review by Anika F. ’21

For those who enjoyed this book, Anika has recommended Felix Ever After for you to check out!

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He Started It by Samantha Downing (Review by Anika F. ’21)

He Started ItHe Started It by Samantha Downing
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

October has officially begun, and it is finally socially acceptable to start sharing some mystery, thriller, and horror reads. To begin, here is a 2020 release: He Started It, by Samantha Downing, tells the recreation of a childhood road trip by adult siblings Eddie, Beth, and Portia, as instructed by their grandfather’s will. Although they oblige, their relationships reveal avarice, family tensions, and ongoing conflicts as the storyline progresses with the trip.

Personally, I have a criteria when it comes to thrillers. Firstly, and most importantly, the ending needs to be satisfying and make sense based off of the clues revealed along the way. Secondly, the plot leading up to the final twist needs to be captivating enough to hold my interest, maybe through small turns here and there that can introduce some shock value. And if I ever feel like putting the book down mid-read, it is not a good sign.

For these reasons, He Started It truly disappointed me. The events leading up to the final reveal were honestly underwhelming. I thought the ending might save the storyline, but once I reached it, I found myself slightly annoyed. The book provided me no way to piece together the preceding events and how each scene led to the resolution. Nothing made sense.

If you have the time to spare, I suppose you could give it a try. But if not, sit this one out and pick up My Lovely Wife, another one Samantha Downing’s works that will definitely be more worth your time. —Review by Anika. F ’21

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Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (review by Sofie K. ’20)

Long Way DownLong Way Down by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“People always love people more when they’re dead.”

In Will’s world, it’s kill or be killed. In this world, you don’t grieve or cry over deaths, you get revenge. That’s what he thinks as he steps onto the elevator, gun tucked in his waistband, ready to kill the man who took his brother’s life. And then the elevator stops, and someone he long thought to be dead enters the elevator and asks him to check if the gun is even loaded.

Long Way Down is not a story about love or happy endings. It’s a story about revenge, morals, and family. It’s about discovering truths hidden under lies, and discerning right from wrong.

It’s also poetry. You don’t see many books written through poetry in the YA genre these days.

In just a single elevator ride, Long Way Down managed to make me feel a myriad of emotions ranging from sadness to anger and shock. The characters were expertly developed, and the concept was gut-wrenchingly original. Each verse of the poems is laced with deep emotion and heavy messages and morals, and it just about makes you scared of what could come through those elevator doors. – Sofie K. ’20

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To Catch a Killer by Sheryl Scarborough (review by Sofie K. ’20)

To Catch a Killer (Erin Blake #1)To Catch a Killer by Sheryl Scarborough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s always that one kid in every high school that everybody knows for some reason, whether good or bad. That’s Erin Blake, found next to the dead body of her mother when she was just two years old, now obsessed with finding the culprit with the help of her two friends and biology teacher. But when another murder and some conveniently placed evidence that may or may not link her to the crime scene turn up, Erin finds herself of the other side of the Do-Not-Cross line as a suspect.

To Catch a Killer definitely appealed to the murder mystery loving side of me. It was a fast paced book with fairly likable characters, although the romance in the book was rushed to a point where it almost seemed like a separate story altogether. It was well paced for a short book, and the plot kept me engaged until the end. I would definitely recommend this book to someone who wants a quick read, or just a book to curl up with for fun. – Sofie K. ’20

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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (review by Fiona W. ’21)

NeverwhereNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Richard Mayhew is an average young man who lives in modern-day London with an average life and and average job. One day, he finds a ragged and bloodied girl dying on the side of the road that nobody seems to notice but him. He takes it upon himself to help her and learns that two assassins are chasing her, and a whole city resides underneath London that he never even knew about.

As I have been a fan of many of Neil Gaiman’s books, I hoped this book would not disappoint. And it didn’t. The character development of all the main characters was unique and fulfilling. The imagery of each scene made me feel like I was right alongside Richard. And the ending still had me in tears.

Gaiman mentions in the introduction that while he is not one to write a sequel, he would love to revisit the world of this book again one day. (And I hope he does, too). As someone who dislikes fantasy novels, this book changed my mind about the genre and I hope it may impact you, dear reader, as well. – Fiona W. ‘21

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The Golden Spiders by Rex Stout (review by Connie M. ’17)

The Golden Spiders (Nero Wolfe, #22)The Golden Spiders by Rex Stout
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Golden Spiders started out with an intriguing hook but it didn’t really follow through. The plot also dragged on and did not feel resolved at the end. Detective Wolfe accepts a case for a cheap price (one of the main factors that actually convinced me to read the book), but really he only does it because he is paid his usual high price by someone else who is also involved in the case. Thus, unlike other popular classic detective stories (e.g. Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple), the detective is investigating the case largely because of the payment and not because they love the job (which, in my opinion, makes them better detectives). Furthermore, Wolfe’s assistant, Archie Goodwin, often runs errands for Wolfe that are promising in terms of leading up to a plot twist, but when Wolfe finally explains the solution, little of the rest of the book seems to relate to the answer. Anyway, this book seemed promising, but really didn’t live up to expectations set by the summary.- Connie M. ’17

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The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (review by Daphne Y. ’16)

The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2)The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Da Vinci Code begins with a dramatic standoff between the curator of the renowned French museum, the Louvre, and a mysterious hooded figure. By the end of the first chapter Dan Brown is already leaving the reader with an insatiable hunger for more. Full of absolutely ingenious wordplay, puzzles, and riddles with one plot twist or cliffhanger following another, Brown manages to keep readers on their toes and dying to read the next chapter. He also switches points of views in each chapter from one main character to the next, and even includes the voices of the antagonists, thus providing a comprehensive and omniscient understanding of all the characters in the book. Overall, The Da Vinci Code is the kind of novel that is simply impossible to put down; riveting and genius from start to finish! – Daphne Y. ’16

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Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (review by Kshithija M. "17)

Angels and Demons (Robert Langdon, #1)Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first of several books following the adventures of famous Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon, Angels and Demons features a race against time as Langdon and his companions attempt to find a canister containing the explosive anti-matter before the Vatican City is destroyed. The book begins when an assassin sent by the Illuminati murders a CERN scientist researching anti-matter; the scientist’s daughter Vittoria Vetra accompanies Langdon as their investigation of the murder leads them to Vatican City. The plot thickens when anti-matter appears to have been placed at the Vatican by the Illuminati and several important cardinals are also missing. Angels & Demons leaves readers racing to keep up with the protagonists as they charge through the Vatican and questioning the truth as the plot twists and turns uncovering more details at every turn. This book is a perfect mix of a mystery and thriller, and both history buffs and action lovers will be left curious and excited for more of Robert Langdon’s adventures after reading this novel. – Kshithija M. ’17

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Snuff by Terry Pratchett (review by Andrew R. ’17)

Snuff (Discworld, #39)Snuff by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After starring in seven previous Discworld novels, it’s time for street urchin-turned-policeman-turned-nobleman Sam Vimes to take a vacation. But no reader will be surprised when Vimes uncovers a smuggling and trafficking business that’s thriving quietly in the countryside—after all, the policeman knows from years in the City Watch that everybody is guilty of something. Unfortunately, Snuff marks the degradation of some of the Discworld’s most complex characters. The city’s resident tyrant Vetinari, who in the past has embodied the role of the omniscient chessmaster, seems inexplicably to be losing his previously iron grip on his rule; meanwhile, Vimes’s butler Willikins, a nod to Jeeves from P. G. Wodehouse’s novels, has somehow morphed from the perfect “gentleman’s gentleman” to an unnecessary free-thinking, free-acting double of Vimes himself. And Vimes’s signature cynicism in believing that the policeman isn’t so very far removed from the criminal, while fresh six or seven novels ago, now feels stale and repetitive. So, while readers will recognize Pratchett’s style and wit in Snuff, those of us who have stuck with Vimes since Guards, Guards! so many books ago will find this novel uncomfortably familiar. – Andrew R. ’17

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