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review 2017-08-04 11:48
Review: Lost Girls
Lost Girls - Merrie Destefano

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

Oh dear. This was a bit of a train wreck of a book for me. It started off quite good, fairly intriguing mystery. Can’t say I cared much about the characters really, but there was enough of a what the hell happened mentality to keep me interested in the plot. Rachel wakes up with no memory and finds out she had been kidnapped and managed to escape. She only remembers up to about a year before this happened. Only to find when she gets home with her family she’s ditched her best friend, and the ballet she loves, got a new boyfriend and become a really mean bitchy goth.

 

The novel centres around Rachel trying to figure out what happened to her. She has flashes of memory and learns she can fight like a pro but has no idea how she learned. She has a whole set of new friends including some of the most popular kids in her school. A hot boyfriend she doesn’t remember getting together with. And learns she’s been sneaking out fighting and getting high.

 

As Rachel gets used to going back to school and being at home, she finds secrets about herself in her room connected to a load of other missing girls. The mystery deepens. The problem I had with the characters was they were all kind of flat. I didn’t really care about any of them, it was only curiosity on the mystery aspect that kept me interested. But as the plot progressed and secrets were unravelled, the more ridiculous the plot became.  

 

It was trying to be a dark gritty thriller and it did deal with some rather dark themes – dead girls, assault, underground fight clubs, drugs, criminal activity, all involving teens. At some point near the end there was a bizarre twist that could almost suggest human trafficking. The problem I had with it was the story line became so farfetched and ludicrous it was more eye rolling than shocking. It was certainly uncomfortable in parts. The writing was weird as well, it was trying to be deep and intense and at some points became almost waxing and poetic.

 

The main character was a ballerina and there was a lot of references to Swan Lake, which just got annoying.

 

At the start of the novel I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not, but by the end I definitely didn’t like it at all. Not for me.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Entangled Publishing LLC for approving my request to view the title.

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review 2017-07-31 11:48
Review: When I am Through With You
When I Am Through with You - Stephanie Kuehn

I received a copy from Penguin First To Read

 

I really loved the last book I read by this author, and was really looking forward to this new one. After reading it, initially I gave it a four star rating, I really liked the main character, but found the twist in the novel quite disappointing. And after thinking about how to review it for more than a week after I finished, I realised I just didn’t like it that much at all. So I’ve lowered the rating to a two star.

 

The main character Ben is in jail for killing his girlfriend Rose. There’s something really compelling about Ben’s voice. He makes no apologies for his actions. He’s quite blunt in some respects, but in others almost quite passive and pessimistic. Calls himself a realist, but it’s almost quite depressing. He’s from a small town he never sees himself getting out of. He spends most of his time taking care of his mother who suffers from injuries from a car wreck and depression. He doesn’t see much prospect of ever getting out of his small town, thinking he’ll be stuck taking care of his mom for the foreseeable future and being stuck with minimum wage jobs.  Though you do get the impression he could be quite intelligent if he puts his mind to it.

 

When he meets a girl called Rose who decides she’s going to be his girlfriend, things change for him. Can’t say I really liked Rose much. She’s a drama queen who has to have things her way. When this book started I had plenty of ideas for how he may have killed her and the why was almost understandable.

 

The bulk of the story is a camping trip gone wrong. Ben and a group of other students heading up to a local mountain range. Ben suffers from debilitating migraines as a result of the same car accident that injured his mom. There’s also hints of something he did to cause the accident, also that he killed his step-father. This is all explained in context as the novel progresses. It goes to explaining some of his pessimistic personality.

 

There’s a handful of other kids on the camping trip, two stoners/drinkers, Rose and her brother, a girl Ben is sort of friends with, a few others and a nice teacher who seems to be the only adult encouraging Ben to do something with his life. At some point while separated from the main group Ben, the other girl and the two stoner/drinkers stumble across another group of campus. A creepy old man and two weird women with him. Someone’s heard a story about escaped convicts and boat loads of hidden cash. The weather is getting worse.

 

And things start going wrong very quickly. But it takes an incredibly long time (or it seems like) for anything to actually happen. It’s very slow and when things finally start happening, it’s…like…eh. The actual killing of Rose was nothing like I had been picturing when thinking of the start of the novel. It felt rather anticlimactic.

 

Despite Ben’s shifting personality from pessimistic to passive aggressive, I did find his tone of voice incredibly compelling. Even though the story was gloomy and rather boring, there was something about Ben’s telling of it that made it a quick read to want to know what happened but in the end it was all rather disappointing.

 

Looking forward to the author’s next book, but didn’t really like this one much.

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review 2016-10-18 11:40
Review: As I Descended
As I Descended - Robin Talley

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I pre ordered this one, as it had been on my wish list for ages and then jumped at the chance as soon as it was on Netgalley, and had a happy dance when I got approved. (Though it did take me shamefully long time actually finish). I’m not sure what it was – but I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I was hoping to.

 

Great cast of characters and double plus points for diversity, but there was just something missing from this one for me. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was. The plot was interesting, and I could pick out the Macbeth parallels. I didn’t study Macbeth in school, so I can’t say how accurately it related, but looking from a few reviews I’ve read it’s a really loose retelling.

 

I think I struggled with it towards the end because it got very weird and very confusing, at least for me. Though I was fairly surprised by the ending, it certainly wasn’t what I expected, but on reflection I suppose it suited the Shakespearian tragedy feel.

 

The novel tells the story of Lily and Maria, who attend a very posh boarding school on what used to be a planation. There have been stories and rumours of ghosts on campus for many many years and more than a few tragedies and deaths. Lily and Maria are a couple, even though they are both still in the closet. They want to be done with high school and go to college together. Lily has her ticket to Stanford set, but Maria doesn’t. Maria believes her only option is to win the Cawdor Kingsley Prize scholarship. There’s just one problem in their way – golden girl Delilah Dufrey also head of the line for the Cawdor Kingsley Prize.

 

Delilah is the most popular girl in school – she appears to be friends with both Maria and Lilly. The opening scene is them all hanging out with some other kids doing a séance where weird things start happening right away, there may be a ghost in the room and there’s hints that Maria has some sort of understanding or communication powers with spirits which she is in deep denial of. So Lilly and Maria plot to get Delilah out of the running so Maria can win the prize.

 

It’s an interesting take on how far would you go to stay together and go to be the best you can. With a lot of morality issues as well – which at first seem non existent in this school setting. But some as things progress and the plot gets twistier –there’s that underline attack of conscience and nagging doubt as things quickly descend into darkness and madness.

 

There’s lots going on with ghosts and spirits and something to do with the history of the plantation where the school was built on. Spanners thrown into Maria and Lilly’s happiness when other students start to realize what’s going on – namely Maria’s best friend Brandon and his boyfriend Mateo start putting the pieces together.

 

(The other thing this book has going for it is there isn’t a single hetro couple that gets any focus – which was awesome – it’s all about Lilly and Maria and Brandon and Mateo).

But as the novel goes on and things get creepier, it seems the effect of guilt with the atmosphere in the school and the ghosts takes its toll on everyone’s mind. And this was where it got very confusing, (for me anyway).

 

But it was certainly a gripping read, even if it was weird towards the end.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Mira Ink UK for approving my request to view the title.

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review 2016-07-27 11:44
Review: The Smaller Evil
The Smaller Evil - Stephanie Kuehn

I received a copy from Penguin's First to Read.

 

I didn't actually like the last book I read by this particular author, the writing was beautiful but the characters were abysmal excuses for people. I have a weird fascination with cults. So I figured I'd give this one another shot, I had some points available over on Penguin's First Reads programme so I was able to secure a review copy of this book. As it turned out, it was one of the most nonsensical weird things I've read in a long time, yet I just couldn't put it down, and I kind of loved it.

 

I didn’t actually like any of the characters, though there was something compelling about the writing and the plot, even if at the same time there was an underline tension and something quite uncomfortable that I couldn’t put my finger on.

 

The novel tells the story of Arman, an LA teen who is taken in by an enigmatic older man, Beau, who runs some sort “social wellness” camp (reading immediately to me – some sort of hippie cult). Beau is very soft spoken, and just seems to understand Arman in a way no one else does. Arman is passive to the point of pathetic. He has a crappy home life, equally passive sounding mom, step dad who’s a drug dealer, real dad in prison. Arman has all sorts of social disorders – ADHD, GAD, GERD to name a few, is constantly popping pills, he has some sort of anxiety disorder. I get the impression he could be very intelligent, just doesn’t really make any effort to be. He seems to be resigned to getting through the day as best he can. He makes very little conversation with the other people travelling to this cult. It’s understandable, but even when people try to talk to him he hardly says anything.

 

The novel starts with the Arman on the bus with others heading off to this camp. He knows two of the people from school, Kira and Dale. You also get an uncomfortable vibe that Arman is getting some sort of special attention from Beau when he makes an appearance fairly early on. Arman isn’t hurried into the group social activities nearly as much as the others. He seems to be allowed to go at his own pace.

 

He has a weird connection with the female cook on arriving, there’s nothing remotely romantic about it, a physical connection that just seems to happen for Arman when the cook’s around. The cook turns out to be quite an interesting character. As the other characters are introduced into the cult setting, it starts getting weirder and weirder. At one point, Arman decides enough is enough, it’s not for him and tries to leave.

 

After that is when the novel hits the crazy sauce and the narrative becomes really bizarre. Something bad happens and Arman races to get help, but when he does, and tries to take others to the scene of the incident, there’s nothing there. It goes on from there and as Arman gets involved deeper and deeper the novel becomes more and more confusing. Is this really happening? Did anything happen? Is he being set up for something?

 

Though in spite of the weirdness and confusion and unlikeable strangeness of the place and the people involved, it was in a way, very compelling. Once I sort of got used to Arman’s tone, even though I can’t say I particularly liked him much, there was something understandable about him that made me want him to be okay throughout when things got fucked up and strange. Bottom line with this guy is after all, he’s just trying to find somewhere to fit in and this “social wellness” thing is supposed to help. (The whole cult dynamic and ideals are all explained). It doesn’t.

 

It’s a quick read, but not a light one. It is in parts at least for this reader, uncomfortable. But I did kind of love the strangeness of it all.

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review 2016-04-02 18:53
Review: Burning
Burning - Danielle Rollins

I received a copy from Netgalley.

Different and intriguing. My initial worry with this one was it would be too similar to Nova Ren Suma's The Walls Around Us which was also a paranormal mystery with a juvenile detention centre setting. Pleased to say this one was very very different. The story focuses on Angela who is counting down the days to her release from the detention centre when a strange new Doctor comes in with what appears to be a new opportunity for getting the girls into a science based programme. There's also a strange new inmate - a little girl named Jessica who appears to be very weird and dangerous. No one really knows anything other than rumours. Angela's brief encounter with the girl was not a pleasant one.

The new Doctor, Dr Gruen knows there is something off about Jessica and claims that her group SciGirls is in a position to help and if Angela can get close to Jessica, Dr Gruen can make things run more smoothly for her. Simple enough. Jessica is a very intriguing character. Clearly a very scared little girl and you want to know what she did - it's clear she has some abormal ability to do with fire. Is she as scary as everyone is making out?

The more Angela gets to know Jessica, the more things start changing in the prison facility. It's a hard one to go into detail for without being too spoilery. But everything revolves around Dr Gruen's SciGirls programme. Some changes appear to be good, others for lack of a better phrase - not so good. A lot of Dr Gruen pushing Angela in regards to finding out something from Jessica, the little girl.

It was certainly very atmospheric, very creepy and very compelling in its narrative even if the plot was getting weirder and more twistier by the second. Excellently written, though Jessica and Angela seemed to be the only ones with a lot of character depth. A couple of the side characters, Angela's two roommates and friends had some interesting background stories, but there seemed very little elaboration on anyone else. They were just there for the purposes of forwarding the plot. Though granted, even though it was a juvenile detention centre the main characters (apart from Dr Gruen) and Angela's friends were actually pretty likeable characters, even though they were criminals and bad girls. You want them to come out of the mess unscathed and okay.

The end was a bit weird and felt a bit rushed, that being said, the style of the storytelling was pretty consistent with the rest of the story.

Certainly a fun creepy read with an interesting take on a paranormal theme.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for approving my request to view the title.

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