Science Fiction, Suspense/Thriller

Review: Genius: The Game

Cover of "Genius: The Game" featuring an iridescent image of a brain above the word "Genius" spelled out in a connect-the-dots style
Image from Fierce Reads

Title: Genius: The Game

Author: Leopoldo Gout

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Trigger warnings: None (I think)

Back cover:

Trust no one. Every camera is an eye. Every microphone an ear. Find me and we can stop him together.

The Game: Get ready for Zero Hour as 200 geniuses from around the world go head to head in a competition hand-devised by India’s youngest CEO and visionary.

The Players:
Rex – One of the best programmers/hackers in the world, this 16-year-old Mexican-American is determined to find his missing brother.
Tunde – This 14-year-old self-taught engineering genius has drawn the attention of a ruthless military warlord by single-handedly bringing electricity and internet to his small Nigerian village.
Painted Wolf – One of China’s most respected activist bloggers, this mysterious 16-year-old is being pulled into the spotlight by her father’s new deal with a corrupt Chinese official.

The Stakes: Are higher than you can imagine. Like life and death. Welcome to the revolution. And get ready to run.


I picked this up on a whim, partially because the characters looked interesting and partly because my boyfriend and I are thinking about moving into the tech industry and for some reason I was thinking about that while I was at the library. (Also the book feels satisfyingly heavy in your hands despite being not thick, so that was a nice bonus.)

For as much action as there was in here, the book really didn’t feel long. It took me probably 1.5 hours of reading, total, to finish. And it was good.

The characters are pretty much what you get from the back cover: Rex, son of illegal Mexican immigrants, excellent hacker looking for his missing brother Teo; Tunde, Nigerian engineering genius; and Painted Wolf/Cai, Chinese secret activist with epic spy skills. They all had their own “thing” (Rex’s coding, Tunde building things from junk, and Cai’s leadership and spy cameras that solve every problem), and were all so brilliant that I often forgot how young they were. (Although the series is literally called “Genius,” so I don’t know what I expected.) The only bad part was all three were narrators and occasionally I lost track of who was speaking. (The transitions weren’t always obvious.)

As much as The Game features in the back cover, it actually wasn’t as big of a plot point as I expected. It was more of a means to an end. Rex went because he needed access to a quantum computer to find his brother. Tunde went because a corrupt general told him to win or watch his village be wiped out. Cai went to help Tunde and foil the plan of the Indian CEO/visionary who created The Game. The Game was epic and awesome, but it was more of a backdrop for the other plots.

There was also some fantastic tension – every chapter starts with a countdown to “Zero Hour,” the end of The Game, and there’s so much of a time crunch going on that it feels super fast-paced, even though it isn’t.

This book was very unique. Take the Hunger Games but make them a technological competition, add a cup of Mission: Impossible, throw in a tablespoon of hacking, a teaspoon each of riddles, conspiracies, and engineering, and a pinch of death threats, and you’ll get something close to Genius: The Game.

The surprising thing about it is that it wrapped up pretty well. Sure, there’s a lot of loose threads left, leaving a lot of interesting stuff for the sequel (Genius: The Con, releasing in August) to cover. But it also isn’t a bad stopping point on its own and wrapped up pretty satisfyingly. If I happen to run across Genius: The Con in the library, I’ll probably pick it up. But I won’t go out of my way for it.

The Genius series:

  1. Genius: The Game
  2. Genius: The Con (August 1, 2017)

Review: Dark Eyes by William Richter

DARK EYES by William Richter reviewed at
Image from William Richter

Title: Dark Eyes (Dark Eyes #1)

Author: William Richter

Genre: Thriller

Format: Hardcover

Back cover:

Wallis Stoneman was born in Russia and adopted by a wealthy family in New York City. Beautiful and rebellious, she trades a life of privilege for the gritty streets of Manhattan. She knows nothing of her childhood in Russia. Those years are lost forever.

Now Wally is sixteen and hardened, and she has just stumbled across a harrowing secret that will change her life forever: Wally’s roots are deadly She’s the daughter of Klesko, a notorious Russian gangster who’s just broken out of prison. Klesko is searching for the fortune Wally’s mother stole from him long ago, and he’ll stop at nothing to find it.

Can wall find – and save – her mother before Klesko kills them both?


I’m not sure exactly what made me pick up this book. Dark Eyes is one of those books that I saw a while ago, thought, “that looks interesting,” and promptly forgot about. Then during my last trip to the library, it somehow ended up on my pile.

Wally was okay, as far as characters go. She was tough and smart and a great leader with a pretty big stubborn streak, which are traits I love in a character. But she was also a trespasser, thief, and seller of stolen goods, which put her a few notches lower in my estimation.

The rest of her gang – Tevin, Ella, and Jake – were okay characters. They had their good points (Ella, especially, was really sweet), but since they didn’t have a lot of page time, the bad (thievery, breaking and entering, and Ella and Jake sleeping together) outweighed the good.

The plot was honestly what made me finish this book. There’s so many bits and pieces to it, it was like a giant puzzle that I wanted to figure out. (There were even some scenes showing what Klesko was up to, which kept me hoping Wally would stay ahead of him – not because I particularly liked her, but because I hated him.) Wally finding her mother doesn’t sound hugely complicated, but considering how many dead ends, criminal acts, and murders it takes to get there, it was.

A tiny little detail that bugged me, and really shouldn’t have been that much of an issue, was the whole Russian thing. Wally was adopted from Russia. Her family is Russian. And it seemed like every other page, it was Russian this and Russian that. Personally, I didn’t think the family’s nationality should have been that big of a deal.

What really killed it for me was the ending. There was far too much unnecessary violence in the climax, but what I really hated was that Wally ended up in a worse place than when the book started. I realize this isn’t a happy-go-lucky story, but I had hoped her situation would be at least slightly improved.

Considering how harshly this book got graded, I probably shouldn’t have even finished it. But I did, mainly out of a mild curiosity to find out how Wally came out of it, and was disappointed. I didn’t know this going in, but there’s a sequel to Dark Eyes, Tiger – which I do not intend to ever read.

The Dark Eyes series:

  1. Dark Eyes
  2. Tiger

Report Card

For more on my grading system, check out this page.DARK EYES scored a 2.2 (D) and a final verdict of "don't read"

Mystery, Suspense/Thriller

Review: The Smiley Killer

Cover of "The Smiley Killer," featuring the face of a woman staring towards the viewer and the face of a man turned towards the woman; both faces are superimposed over the image of a city in the evening
Image from Julia Derek

Title: The Smiley Killer

Author: Julia Derek

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Back Cover:

Seventeen-year-old Riley has been fascinated with crime investigation since she discovered CSI on TV. So, when it’s announced a serial killer is loose in the city, hell-bent on killing girls like Riley’s little sister, Riley’s on full alert. Not even Mark, the super hot college boy pursuing her, can get her mind off the case.

A victim found near the research lab where Riley’s friend Alyssa volunteers makes Riley think she’s found a lead: The killer’s signature—sad smileys—appears in the lab, so it seems the killer could be someone working there. Riley alerts Alyssa and the two notify the NYPD. But the police dismiss their claims.

Convinced she’s onto something, Riley embarks on her own investigation together with Alyssa. When another victim is found near the lab, it seems they’re close to finding the killer. Problem is, their prime suspect is a scientist’s younger brother—who happens to be Mark…


Though you wouldn’t know it from the genre counts in the sidebar, I love YA thrillers. I just have a hard time finding good ones. So when The Smiley Killer showed up in my inbox, I trusted my reader’s instinct that said this one is good and said yes.

Riley was interesting. She was a little like a bulldog – small-ish, but fierce and stubborn. It’s established early on that she’s a black belt in karate, and I expected that to play a bigger part than it did. (And as a fellow martial artist, I wanted more karate butt-kicking). She was actually pretty normal.

I don’t want to mention any other characters for fear of revealing who the killer is. The culprit is the last person you’d expect, unless you’re like me, in which case your suspicions will bounce between a likely suspect and the real culprit.

I do feel a need to mention, though, that I would have liked the romance between Riley and Mark better if Mark wasn’t so perfect.

I haven’t read a lot of murder mysteries/hunting serial killers books, so I don’t have much to compare The Smiley Killer to. But it was excellently done. All the important little details were woven seamlessly into the story without actually looking important.

At some points there were details that I thought could have been removed, but then I got to the end and they were actually essential. Someone who was meticulously analyzing every detail could figure out the killer, but a reader who’s just devouring a good story would be taken by surprise – which is the way a good mystery should be.

The Smiley Killer was an awesome serial killer mystery/thriller. And just when I thought everything was wrapped up neatly, a twist is thrown into the works, the book ends, and now I want book two. But Unnatural Born Killers isn’t out yet …

Update: According to Julia Derek’s website, The Smiley Killer is a standalone companion to her Girl Undercover series. There is no sequel to The Smiley Killer.

I received a free review copy of The Smiley Killer from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.




Review: I Am The Weapon (Boy Nobody)

Boy Nobody book cover
Image from Alluring Reads

Title: I Am the Weapon (formerly titled Boy Nobody)

Series: The Unknown Assassin #1

Author: Allen Zadoff

Genre: Thriller

Back Cover:

Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school in a new town under a new name, makes a few friends, and doesn’t stay long – just long enough for someone in his new friend’s family to die of “natural causes.” Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody moves on to a new target. But when he’s assigned to the mayor of New York City, things change. The daughter is unlike anyone he’s ever met, and the mayor reminds him of his father. And when memories and questions surface, his handlers at The Program are watching. Because somewhere deep inside, Boy Nobody is somebody: the kid he once was, a teen who wants normal things like a real home and parents, a young man who wants out. And who might want those things bad enough to sabotage The Program’s mission.


This is one of those books that sounded pretty good – the teenage assassin part, anyway – so when I found it at the library, I threw it on my pile and didn’t think much about it. I actually didn’t start reading it, though, until I was reading Dualed and asked my sister to grab “the book with a person and some city buildings on the front.” I didn’t realize how close the covers of Boy Nobody and Dualed were until she brought me this one.

Boy Nobody was a very different kind of first-person narrator. He was conditioned to be a killing machine with no emotions and no remorse. And not to ask questions. It was somewhat strange, and definitely different, to be inside the head of a boy with no emotions. And while I liked him, I think his lack of emotion kept me from connecting with him as much as I could have.

Sam, the mayor’s daughter, had strong opinions about everything, especially political matters. Her personality was very strong, sometimes confrontational. Okay, frequently confrontational. I didn’t like her quite as much as Boy Nobody. I’ll just blame that on my reader’s instinct, because I can’t think of anything in particular that didn’t sit right…something just didn’t.

The plot itself, despite Boy Nobody having no emotions, was mostly an emotional plot. The assassination part was, at least. He would maneuver himself into a position to kill the mayor, but then have second thoughts. Then there was a plot with getting close to Sam, which evolved into a romance of sorts.

And there was the trying to fit into school, where Boy Nobody analyzed the situation and used his extensive knowledge of human psychology to react in a way that made the impression he wanted to make. That was my favorite part – it almost made me want to retake psychology class and see what I missed.

My biggest problem with Boy Nobody was the ending. I realize this kind of story can’t handle a happily-ever-after ending without coming across as fake. But, and I’m trying to avoid spoilers, I expected something better from the ending. I expected some closure from certain plots, or at least a little more from Boy Nobody himself.

There’s room for a sequel, I think, but I’m not sure I’m interested. I liked the book, but as for how it wrapped up – I expected more.

The Unknown Assassin series:

  1. I Am the Weapon
  2. I Am the Mission
  3. I Am the Traitor

Review: How to Lead a Life of Crime

How to Lead a Life of Crime book cover
Image from The Book Owl

Title: How to Lead a Life of Crime

Author: Kirsten Miller

Genre: Contemporary

Back Cover:

Meth dealer. Prostitute. Serial killer. Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re prodigies. New York City’s most exclusive school has been training criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless graduate – the rest disappear. Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits Joi, a fierce new student who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. Only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. They must find a way to save each other…before the school destroys them both…


I was interested in this book even before I made the connection that this is the same Kirsten Miller who wrote the awesome Kiki Strike books. So I was doubly excited to read it, despite being a little leery about the romance angle.

When I started the book, I thought Flick was a common pickpocket. Actually, not so much. His past is revealed little by little. And it’s not a common pickpocket’s past. He had some anger issues, which were understandable, and some trust issues, also understandable. Overall, though, I seriously wanted him to succeed.

Joi (pronounced Joey) wasn’t a major character until halfway though the story. And honestly, when she first showed up at the Mandel Academy, I wanted her to leave again. I’m not sure exactly why – maybe because her presence messed with Flick’s emotions so much – but I did not want her there. But as the story went on, I grew to admire her.

Mandel was an excellent antagonist. Brilliant, heartless, manipulative, and mildly insane. (That last one is my personal opinion, because there’s no hard evidence one way or the other.) He was the kind of guy who made a pickpocket main character look like a hero.

The plot was excellent. I loved how the characters interacted – criminals, psychopaths, and sociopaths on various levels, which gave the whole plot a brilliantly dark air. I think Mandel was part of what made the plot so good. He was purely evil, and he seemed unbeatable. I absolutely loved it up until Joi arrived.

I didn’t enjoy it quite so much when Joi first arrived. But after she and Flick got on the same page about what they were going to do, I liked it much better. I still didn’t like the half with Joi as much as the half without her, though.

How to Lead a Life of Crime had a dark, gritty, urban vibe, even in the “prestigious” Mandel Academy. I cannot name a character who wasn’t a criminal, but I honestly didn’t mind. Kirsten Miller did such a brilliant job evoking the tone of the story that a non-criminal character would have come across as an annoying goody-two-shoes.

In certain cases where the situation demands it – as it did most of the time in How to Lead a Life of Crime – I don’t mind milder swear words. I can understand the f-bomb used for realism’s sake, but it was written as f—. As someone who doesn’t like swear words in her books, I appreciate this.

How to Lead a Life of Crime was long, but it was worth every page. As far as I know, this is a standalone. But even tough I’m disappointed that I won’t be reading more of Flick, a sequel would drag it out far too long. How to Lead a Life of Crime wrapped up neatly, without much sequel room.

Now I want to go find out what Kirsten Miller’s writing next.


Review: Downsiders

Downsiders book cover
Image from

Title:  Downsiders

Author:  Neal Shusterman

Genre:  Adventure

Back Cover:

Talon lives Downside – in the network of tunnels below New York City.  Lindsay is a Topsider – someone who lives above ground.  But when Lindsay’s book falls into the Downside, Talon returns it, sending the two worlds careening towards collision.  The punishment for Talon’s indiscretion is death…and if the Topsiders discover the Downside, the entire Downsider community will collapse…


After reading Neal Shusterman’s Unwind, I looked up every book he ever wrote and added them to my TBR list.  And when I found this one at a used-book store, I snatched it right up.

I have a suspicion that I’m going to fail at accurately describing this book, but I’m going to try.

The characters weren’t really a major factor in the book – at least Lindsay wasn’t.  She wasn’t in nearly as much of the book as Talon, and when she was, it was either with Talon or as set-up for meeting Talon.  I really didn’t get much of a feel for Lindsay.  It seemed more like she was just there because the plot required a Topsider.

Talon, as what I would consider the only main character, was the only character I really got a feel for.  He was impulsive, had a rebellious streak, and wasn’t afraid to be a little different.  He was also pretty accepting of different people and ways of life.  He wasn’t a highly interesting character, but his Downside quirks at least kept me interested.

The Downside was really what kept me enthralled in the story.  The idea of tunnels under New York City made me think of the Kiki Strike books (a series that I really enjoyed).  And then there were ideas like herds of cattle in the sewers, tagging – like graffiti, but with a point, “catching” people who want to leave the Topside and making them Downsiders, and the cavern with walls covered in old subway tokens.

I also loved the quirks of the Downsiders – leaving socks as payment, for instance – and also the historical elements of how the Downside came to be.  And I was definitely glad for the author’s note in the back, which separated historical fact from fiction – because there are historical facts in the book.

Despite the length (my copy is almost 250 pages) and the vast amount of plot contained in it, the whole book was a quick read.  It was quirky, fascinating, sad, beautiful…even a little unsettling, although I couldn’t tell you exactly why.

Even though I didn’t really love the characters, I loved the book.  It just confirms my reasons for wanting to read everything Neal Shusterman wrote.