You Will Know Me – Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott is scary. It’s not usual for me to be scared of a writer—a person—after reading their work, but Abbott has such a way—a natural way—of creating an ominous atmosphere in her novels that I have no idea how it would feel to be in her presence and that’s scary. I’d probably be super nervous and still and captivated… and more.

Abbott is also scary because she doesn’t care about doing what is expected, making her characters feel what would be socially acceptable for them to feel—or say, or do. The good thing about this is that she cannot be predicted, and her stories make you a little obsessed. Not the kind of obsessed that makes you feel like you simply have to read this in one sitting, and cannot let go of it, but the kind of obsessed that, whether you’re reading it or not, you’re thinking about it still.

I have this theory that the best way to create atmosphere in your stories is to try to feel yourself what the characters do and picture in your mind the sort of vibe you want any scene to have and really feel it, conjure it inside of you in some way. So, if I’m happy, I won’t write about unhappy characters, or if I’m self-conscious I’m not going to write about confident heroines. Maybe there’s no correlation between our own mood, personality, demeanour and the characters we write about, but if there is then let’s just say that if I’m ever in the same room as Megan Abbott, I’ll seriously take note of the nearest exit. Just in case.

This is my second book from her – after Dare Me – and I am very excited about reading more. Thank goodness there is more! The good thing about being familiar with someone’s writing style is that you know what to look forward to (and not) and when is the best time for you to pick up their books. For instance, if I’m feeling particularly nervous about something in my life, perhaps I would do best to pick up a light contemporary romance from Kasie West. Megan Abbott’s books are for when you want to feel, when you don’t mind being in a sort of trance and when you’re okay with being aware of your blood crawling inside of you.

I mean, Stephen King blurbed this book, what did you expect? Have fun.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

DNF Review: The Lying Woods – Ashley Elston

I am not with the majority here. Ashley Elston is a beloved author from what I’ve seen, with many praising her. I can too, I’ve certainly enjoyed her This Is Our Story and 10 Blind Dates, both of which I recommend. I also certainly commend Elston for being able to switch between genres, though she does seem to have a preference for mysteries.

But The Lying Woods was just… disappointing. It’s one of those books that has high ratings and praise… but a low readership. On Goodreads, at least, and the blogosphere too. I’ll tell you why I think that is. First of all, the premise is good but not great. Owen’s father commits a felony, and now they’re the enemies of the town. Owen wants to figure out what happened and where his father is, searching for clues inside of his memories and around himself.

It’s exciting in the beginning, and certainly I believe I read close to 80 pages in one shot because things moved pretty fast. The number of pages read is not necessarily an achievement for the bookish girl that I am, but I remember doing so while being in somewhat of a book slump, so that’s good overall. The problem is that the pacing is uneven. While it’s fast at first, it slows down when Owen starts working for this guy who is not unfamiliar with his family. There is back and forth—jumps in time. Usually, I am not a fan of those but sometimes they are done well and can truly be thrilling. Not in this case.

It’s not bad, insomuch as it’s meh. Bland. Not good enough. Maybe if it had been a debut, I would have been slightly more forgiving but it’s Elston’s fourth or fifth book and the truth is that she could have done so much better. I personally did not care for the romantic scenes. Even the cover is kind of… not enough. That summarizes the novel pretty well actually: not enough. Not exciting enough, mysterious enough, thrilling enough. It’s, I guess, decent if you’re new to the YA mystery world and have low expectations to begin with, but I’m not and I don’t. If you think I’m being hard on Elston, then so be it. I just know she can do so much more with her writing skills and creative mind.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

The Last Beautiful Girl – Nina Laurin

After reading Horrid by Katrina Leno (whom I’ll be interviewing soon on my blog) I was ready for more gothic stories. Unfortunately, Nina Laurin has nothing on Katrina Leno. There certainly are gothic elements in this story, such as a dark, secluded mansion, ghosts, creepy hidden rooms, disappearances and deaths. BUT, one cannot solely rely on elements pertaining to a theme or genre to make the latter come alive. The main reason why, even though there is creepiness in this story, it never truly feels CREEPY to the reader (or to me) is because there is very little atmosphere.

Don’t get me wrong. I was mildly entertained and I was certainly happy to be reading a novel by an author living in Montreal and who went to Concordia (whose Webster Library, by the way, is *chef’s kiss!). I really was looking forward to seeing what Nina Laurin had to offer and went into this book with the best of intentions and attitude. Nina Laurin has a very accessible writing style that I find appropriate for teens and engaging as well. She wrote here a fast-paced story that, despite lacking atmosphere, did include enough mystery content and drama to keep me want to keep reading. If you like super dramatic stories, this one can be for you.

I think one of the main reasons why it lacked atmosphere was because of the characters. They all pretty much seemed to be one-dimensional, and while that’s appropriate in this case when considering the storyline—a girl dying to be someone and have more attention creates an Instagram account with the help of an aspiring photographer and together they take lavish, glamorous, mature, sexy pictures that generate the account lots of followers—I think the author could have gone deeper. Could have made us understand the depth of Isa’s pain and Alexa’s skill better, so that even if they remain selfish and vain, we understand where those weaknesses come from better. I also think that this story could have benefitted from some slowing down. As I mentioned, it is pretty fast-paced and that’s basically always, even during moments that would have impacted me better if they had had more slow-burning intensity.

To recapitulate, I was entertained by this fast-paced novel that did have some engaging elements, but overall it’s a story that I will forget in a few weeks and whose characters have not managed to steal my heart in any way. If everyone had died at the end, I would not have shed any tears.

Thank you Raincoast Books for the copy in exchange for a review. On sale September 2021!

Scavenge the Stars – Tara Sim

I knew I needed to read this series when I noticed that it was written by Tara Sim, who also authored the Timekeeper trilogy and whom I had the chance to interview a few years ago. She’s one of those authors that inspire me to keep writing and keep trying. She got her debut novel published after winning a writing contest and, I for one, love those types of success stories.

Scavenge the Stars is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, and though I have not read that classic, I do know it deals with revenge, which is something equally present in this story. Amaya, a teenage girl, had her childhood stolen away from her a long time ago when she was basically sold to slavery on a ship. Now that she managed to get away from the debtor’s ship, she seeks revenge—it drives her as much as it consumes her.

What I liked the most about this book were its action scenes. One thing that I noticed early on with this author, from her Timekeeper series, is that she is good at developing a world-building. I really felt like I was in the city of Moray and a part of Amaya’s revenge journey. If I’m being honest, I read this book more for its action/adventure side than its characters. I do prefer when it’s the other way around, so I can’t encourage you to prioritize this dark YA fantasy if it’s on your TBR pile, but I can tell you that its secrets and intensity are worth experiencing.

When it comes to the characters, they did have their own respective personalities, but I never quite felt like I could reach them. It’s like there was always this thin-veiled curtain in front of them that never parted. I knew information about them and how they felt at times, but a huge part of them was still hidden from the reader. I don’t remember feeling this way, to this extent, when reading Tara Sim’s Timekeeper, so it’s unfortunate but not reason enough for me to not wish to see how the story ends.      

Thank you Hachette Book Group for a copy in exchange for a review.

B*WITCH – Paige McKenzie & Nancy Ohlin

To my slight surprise, I enjoyed this. I don’t typically expect to dislike a book, or even hate it, but this title in particular has few readers and few stellar reviews, so I really was not predicting love at first sight or love of any kind. At the same time, I do find myself usually excited about giving under-the-radar stories a try and I am a fan of witches and magic in general, so perhaps I should have had higher hopes for a positive reading experience.

In this world, there are various witches but these witches live among non-witches. This specific society half tolerates them and half wants to see them gone. So while Greta’s coven wouldn’t necessarily get executed if their witchy status was found, Greta and her friends still prefer to keep things on the low. Now more than ever, since an anti-witch president was elected and the girls fear for their lives. Their fear is tragically validated when one of their own is found dead.

The truth is that it’s not particularly well-executed. The writing is amateurish, the characters very immature (with the exception of Ridley I would say) and the world-building vague and not convincing. This means that I understand people who are turned off by this book. It’s okay—maybe even good—to have a specific criteria and look for reads that match that criteria as best as possible. I have criteria as well for ‘‘keep’’ books, those that I know I’ll want to forever preserve on my bookshelves. This is not one of them, but it is an ‘‘escape’’ book regardless. It has energy and the characters’ silliness and cartoonish personalities were entertaining. This may not be one of those stories I’ll be interested in revisiting in a few years, but it has served its brief purpose and I have no regrets.

Thanks Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

The Inheritance Games – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Try as I might, I can never predict Jennifer Lynn Barnes. You’d think that after reading between 300 and 500 mystery books, I’d become a pro at guessing who the ‘‘killer’’ is, or in this case, the attempted murderer (and other mystery-filled elements). This is, of course, a good thing, because it makes me think that I’m not ruined forever, regarding mystery plots, and it sure makes for enjoyable ‘‘wow, did not see that coming’’ moments.

Ah, Avery. She’s a tough one. She hasn’t had the best experience growing up and she’s pretty guarded. She’s especially reluctant to be involved with the Hawthorne family, the head of which has died and turned her into a billionaire, which no one saw coming. Now she’s got people following her around everywhere, and a couple of Hawthorne-signed daggers aimed at her back. Avery and most of the Hawthorne members think Tobias Hawthorne has made a grand mistake, and they are trying to figure out what crazy thoughts could have driven him to choose Avery. But for that to happen, they have to play by Tobias’s rules.

This is a relatively fast-paced mystery. Oftentimes, I prefer mystery-thrillers, because they just seem to have a little more intensity and to not be as slow, but although The Inheritance Games did not have a whole lot of ‘‘thriller’’ scenes, the author paced her clues and revelations so well that there is a lot of excitement throughout the storyline. I especially enjoyed Avery’s interactions with each of the Hawthorne brothers as well her reactions to being thrown into the spotlight. I do think that some scenes—most notably those regarding Emily—were over-the-top, so if you’re okay with characters who sometimes seem to ‘‘perform’’ for the reader, you will have a blast reading this. I personally did not particularly mind, but it does mean that I do not find this story, as enjoyable and curious as it is, all that believable.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review!

Girl in the Blue Coat – Monica Hesse

40726583. sy475 Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Received: Hachette Book Group Canada
Published: 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown BFYR
Recommended Age: 13+
Genres & Themes: Young Adult, Mystery, World War II, Friendship, Grief


REVIEW:

This book had more depth than I expected, without becoming too heavy or complex. Monica Hesse’s writing is very elegant and a pleasure to read. I have another book from here waiting on my desk – They Went Left – and now more than I ever I am curious and excited to see what new secrets it holds. Continue reading

Deadly Little Scandals (Debutantes, #2) – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

43661348Deadly Little Scandals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Received: Hachette Book Group Canada
Published: 2019
Publisher: Freeform Books
Recommended Age: 13+
Genres & Themes: Young Adult, Mystery, Family Drama, Sisterhood, Secrets, Thriller


REVIEW:

My head hurts. It’s like Jennifer Lynn Barnes is not okay with just one or two or three mind-fucking revelations. In her case, it’s the more, the better. And my brain is upside down. Don’t ask me to summarize this story for you because it’ll take me HOURS to explain these complex (and very messed up) relationships. Continue reading

Ali Cross – James Patterson

Ali Cross
Ali Cross by James Patterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Received: Hachette Book Group Canada
Published: November 2019
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Recommended Age: 8+
Genres & Themes: Middle Grade, Mystery, Friendship, Family, Gaming


REVIEW:

This is the story of Ali Cross – Alex Cross’ young son – who wants to become a detective, just like his father, and work towards protecting his community. He thought he would have to wait much longer to follow on his father’s footsteps, but after one of his friends disappears, he decides to investigate the disappearance and won’t stop until he finds his friend. Continue reading

A Castle in the Clouds – Kerstin Gier

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A Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Received: Raincoast Books
Published: January 28th, 2020
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Recommended Age: 10+
Genres & Themes: Tween, Mystery, Romance, Contemporary


REVIEW:

It has been a while since I last read a Kerstin Gier book. At least six years, really. But I do remember enjoying the magic in her Ruby Red Trilogy so I was hoping to be swept away by A Castle in the Clouds as well. Aside from having a really compelling title, it just seemed so mysterious. Continue reading