Review: The Roanoke Girls

The Roanoke GirlsThe Roanoke Girls
Author: Amy Engel
Publisher: Crown
Genre/Themes: Mystery, Contemporary
Release Date: March 7th, 2017
Format:Ebook

Synopsis

Lane Roanoke is fifteen when she comes to live with her maternal grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, at the Roanoke family estate in rural Osage Flats, Kansas, following the suicide of her mother. Lane knows little of her mother’s family, other than the fact that her mother ran away years before and cut off all contact with her parents. There is a darkness at the heart of the Roanoke family, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull she has no choice but to run, as far and as fast as she can.

Eleven years later, Lane is scraping by in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls with the news that Allegra has gone missing. Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to Osage Flats, determined to find her cousin and assuage her own guilt at having left Allegra behind all those years ago.

Review

When I first read the synopsis for this novel, I knew I was going to enjoy reading it. It has everything I look for in a novel – the mystery of a missing girl, dark family secrets, and a young woman forced to confront her past. Amy Engel is a new author to me, but after reading this book, I will be picking up all of her other works.

This isn’t an easy book to read. It has some really shocking and disturbing subject matter that made me feel squeamish and sick to my stomach for a lot of the book. It’s extremely dark and twisted, but in my opinion, this book is as close to perfect as any book can get. It’s one of my new favourite novels and that’s not an honor I give out lightly.

There are a lot of shocks in this story, but the first one is dropped about 11% through the book. It’s done without any preamble or preparation, and I was taken completely by surprise even though I knew something big was coming. I just didn’t know what it would be and that it would be done so quickly. I liked that the reader knows what the big secret is right away, but it’s not boring since there are still layers that are peeled back as the story continues. The plot moved at a great pace and even though the novel is quiet, it has moments of drama that keep the reader transfixed.

Additionally, the atmosphere of this novel suits the novel so very well. The oppressive heat of the Kansas summer and the beauty and desolation of the Roanoke house combine to create a setting that mirrors the experiences of the characters. Just like the beauty of Roanoke hides something evil and twisted, every beautiful Roanoke girl was hiding something as well. It’s a marvelously written parallel and handled with such grace and eloquence by Amy Engel.

Lane was one of the best characters I’ve ever read. Even though she’s beautiful and sought after, her experiences have left her a mess. She’s self-destructive, selfish, cruel at times, and yet you can’t help but love her. I wanted the best for her and for Allegra. I wanted the best for all the Roanoke girls, and I loved all of them. The secondary characters were also so well-developed and interesting. I also really enjoyed the writing and the layout of the book because we learned about all the Roanoke girls. We understood who they were and we learned some of their secrets too. The one thing I was unsure about was the romantic subplot. I didn’t think I would like it, but I really ended up loving the way it developed. It was everything I wanted for Lane, and the ending was hopeful, which is the best I think you can ask when it comes to a book this tragic.

This book isn’t going to be for everyone. There are going to be people that are so bothered by the subject matter that they won’t be able to get past it to the beauty within. The darkness of the novel will mar everything else, but I really recommend people try and read past it. I want people to read down to the heart of this book, which is about a damaged protagonist trying to find redemption and a little hope. It’s a beautiful story, and one worth reading.

I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: The Trophy Child

The Trophy Child
The Trophy Child
Author: Paula Daly
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
Genre/Themes: Mystery, Psychological Thriller
Release Date: March 7th, 2017
Format: Ebook

 

Synopsis

Karen Bloom is not the coddling mother type. She believes in raising her children for success. Some in the neighborhood call her assertive, others say she’s driven, but in gossiping circles she’s known as: the tiger mother. Karen believes that tough discipline is the true art of parenting and that achievement leads to ultimate happiness. She expects her husband and her children to perform at 200 percent—no matter the cost. But in an unending quest for excellence, her seemingly flawless family start to rebel against her.

Her husband Noel is a handsome doctor with a proclivity for alcohol and women. Their prodigy daughter, Bronte, is excelling at school, music lessons, dance classes, and yet she longs to run away. Verity, Noel’s teenage daughter from his first marriage, is starting to display aggressive behavior. And Karen’s son from a previous relationship falls deeper into drug use. When tragedy strikes the Blooms, Karen’s carefully constructed facade begins to fall apart—and once the deadly cracks appear, they are impossible to stop.

Review

This is one of the craziest books I’ve ever read. Paula Daly has already made a name for herself by writing these mystery/thrillers that follow a formula that I’m obsessed with. All of the characters are multi-faceted (often times unlikeable), and the plot always has a few twists.  From the premise of this novel, I thought this book was going to be a standard mystery/psychological thriller, but it was so much better than I was expecting.

Every character in this book is extremely well-written and well thought out. All of them are so deeply flawed that there really aren’t any good or bad characters. They’re all dealing with their own issues and trying to find a place in their family where their main goal is to not disappoint each other. Paula Daly writes the complexity and the problems of a blended family really well. She forces the reader to examine the typical idea of what a family is, and also the many ways a mother can love her child. Even though Karen is a typical “tiger mom”, these mothers love their children and want them to be successful and they show it in a slightly different manner. There’s so much competition between mothers that perhaps they end up showing their love inappropriately. I tried to understand this side of Karen, and a part of me could do so, but it was really hard to like her. It was hard to like any character fully because they all acted selfishly. That was the beauty of the characters though.

The plot was so fast-paced and intriguing that it was almost impossible to stop reading. I thought I knew exactly what this story was going to be about, but there were so many twists and curveballs that the plot was completely different than what I thought it would be. I really liked the whole investigation aspect and how everyone was a suspect, but I was disappointed by the ending. I really hoped for a longer resolution and for the motives to be a little clearer. This is also a British novel so there were slight differences in how they ran their police investigation. Apparently, British police officers don’t carry guns, which I find a little strange.

Overall, this was a nearly perfect mystery novel and I was so addicted to the plot and the wonderful characters. I’m so interested in all of Paula Daly’s future books. She is definitely one of my new auto-buy authors.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: The Dark And Other Love Stories

The Dark and Other Love Stories
The Dark And Other Love Stories
Author: Deborah Willis
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
Genre/Themes: Contemporary, Short Stories
Release Date: February 14th, 2017
Format: Ebook

Synopsis

The characters in the thirteen stories that comprise The Dark and Other Love Stories exist on the edge of danger, where landscapes melt into dreamscapes and every house is haunted. A drug dealer’s girlfriend signs up for the first manned mission to Mars. A girl falls in love with a man who wants to turn her into a bird. A teenage girl and her best friend test their relationship by breaking into suburban houses. A wife finds a gaping hole in the floor of the home she shares with her husband, a hole that only she can see.

Full of longing and strange humor, these subtle, complex stories about the love between a man and his pet crow, an alcoholic and his AA sponsor, a mute migrant and a newspaper reporter—show how love ties us to each other and to the world.

Review

These stories all revolve around the theme of love. They’re about love in all shapes, but they all have the same melancholy air. Some are rooted in our contemporary world, and some have a little tinge of magical realism. I was really excited to dive into this short story collection mostly because this is a book from a Canadian author, but I found myself extremely underwhelmed.

I only had one story that I actually liked, Last One to Leave, because it was a form of love that I could connect with. I liked both the characters and the narration style and I understood it from beginning to end. There was something resonant about the story, but I had a really hard tie with all of the others. I never fully connected with the characters or the plot, and I just didn’t like where they went.

Overall, I found myself really disappointed with this collection. There was very little substance and nothing noteworthy in the stories. I may or may not read another book by this author.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
The Glorious Heresies
Author: Lisa McInerney
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Genre/Themes: Contemporary, Ireland
Release Date: April 9th, 2015
Format: Ebook

 

Synopsis

One messy murder affects the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society. Ryan is a fifteen-year-old drug dealer desperate not to turn out like his alcoholic father Tony, whose obsession with his unhinged next-door neighbour threatens to ruin him and his family. Georgie is a prostitute whose willingness to feign a religious conversion has dangerous repercussions, while Maureen, the accidental murderer, has returned to Cork after forty years in exile to discover that Jimmy, the son she was forced to give up years before, has grown into the most fearsome gangster in the city. In seeking atonement for the murder and a multitude of other perceived sins, Maureen threatens to destroy everything her son has worked so hard for, while her actions risk bringing the intertwined lives of the Irish underworld into the spotlight . . .

Review

I tried really really really hard to get into this book, but I just couldn’t do it. There’s nothing inherently bad about the writing or the plot, I just felt no connection to the characters and no desire to know how the story would unfold.

I usually really enjoy stories that are about a multitude of characters all linked together, but this one just couldn’t draw me in fast enough and it felt like a chore to keep reading. I think the fault is completely mine though because everyone else seems to love this book.

I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: The Valiant

The Valiant (The Valiant, #1)
The Valiant
Author: Lesley Livingston
Publisher: HarperCollins Canada
Genre/Themes: Historical Fiction
Release Date: February 14th, 2017
Format: Ebook

Synopsis

The youngest daughter of a proud Celtic king, Fallon has always lived in the shadow of her older sister Sorcha’s legendary reputation as a warrior. But when Fallon was a young child, the armies of Julius Caesar invaded the island of Britain and her beloved older sister was killed in battle.

On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her rightful place in her father’s royal war band. But she never gets the chance. Instead, Fallon is captured by a band of ruthless brigands who sell her to an exclusive training school for female gladiators—and its most influential patron is none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, Fallon’s worst enemy, the man who destroyed her family, might be her only hope of survival.

Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, chilling threats and the dangerous attention of Caesar himself to survive the deadly fights that take place both in and out of the arena—and claim her place in history among the Valiant.

Review

I’ve been a huge fan of Lesley Livingston ever since I read her Wondrous Strange and Starling series. She has an innate ability of writing really vivid characters that always feel like real people. I was really excited to read this book because even though I’m not a fan of historical fiction, I knew I’d enjoy her characterization, and I was right.

The idea of this novel was really interesting and unlike anything I’d ever read before. Taking the idea of female gladiators (gladiatrices) and creating a whole school for their training was brilliant. The whole purpose of this book was sisterhood and friendship, which is a really rewarding topic to read about. The plot was interesting and fast-paced, but there were parts that I found too rushed. It felt like everything happened really fast and there was never a real climax to the novel. The stakes weren’t as important as I thought they would be, and there was no sense of real urgency to the novel.

I also had a huge problem with the romance aspect to this novel. This wasn’t insta-love by any means, but it wasn’t much slower than that. Fallon had many suitors, and jumped from one to the other and I just didn’t find it charming or realistic. The whole romance storyline seemed a little too contrived.

Where this book shines is with the characters. Fallon is such a smart, strong character, but best of all, she’s not a special snowflake who can do everything. She fails, and is then forced to work hard to achieve her goals. Her abilities are realistic and not the product of some god-given special talent. Her relationships with her fellow gladiatrices are also very well-written. She’s not best friends with all of them, but there’s a level of respect and comradeship that’s really rewarding to read about. A lot of time female friendships in books are cutting, but not in this one.

While this book is the start to the series, this novel can be read as a standalone. However, I’m such a huge fan of Lesley Livingston that I can’t wait to read Book 2. I really enjoyed this book.

I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: The Edge of Everything

The Edge of Everything
The Edge of Everything
Author: Jeff Giles
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre/Themes: Fantasy, Paranormal
Release Date: January 31st, 2017
Format: Ebook

Synopsis

It’s been a shattering year for seventeen-year-old Zoe, who’s still reeling from her father’s shockingly sudden death in a caving accident and her neighbors’ mysterious disappearance from their own home. Then on a terrifying sub-zero, blizzardy night in Montana, she and her brother are brutally attacked in a cabin in the woods–only to be rescued by a mysterious bounty hunter they call X.

X is no ordinary bounty hunter. He is from a hell called the Lowlands, sent to claim the soul of Zoe’s evil attacker and others like him. Forbidden to reveal himself to anyone other than his victims, X casts aside the Lowlands’ rules for Zoe. As X and Zoe learn more about their different worlds, they begin to question the past, their fate, and their future. But escaping the Lowlands and the ties that bind X might mean the ultimate sacrifice for both of them.

Review

This was an enjoyable young adult fantasy novel with a lot of humour, romance, and warmth. The story was interesting and fast-paced and a lot of things about it were very unique. However, there were a few tropes included in this novel that I disliked.

I’ve seen a lot about this book on Twitter, which was why I was so intrigued by it. I liked the idea of a rogue bounty hunter, and from the synopsis, I was expecting a really dark story, but it wasn’t dark at all. Unfortunately, it fell into the trap of one of my least favourite young adult romance tropes, insta-love. I can’t stand it when someone falls in love with someone after barely speaking to them, and that was a big part of this novel.

I also have a problem with novels where the male love interest repeatedly “saves” the girl from harm. In this book, even though Zoe is strong and capable, she’s still saved by X multiple times. It’s such a common trope now, and it’s another one that really bothers me.

The story is extremely fast-paced and exciting, and the concept is really unique. The whole backstory of X and his friends from the Lowlands is something I’ve never seen done in a book before, and that’s truly the best part of this book.

The characterization and relationships in this novel (apart from the insta-love) were also spot on. Zoe’s relationship with her brother and mother was such a rewarding interaction because you could see they deeply cared for each other and were close to each other. In a lot of young adult books, the parents are absent for a lot of the time, but that wasn’t the case here. Zoe’s relationship with her family and friends is extremely important. Her relationship with her best friend was also really perfect.

I enjoyed the writing for the most part. Jeff Giles made the decision to include recent social media trends in his novel (Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram), and that’s not something I’d ever do if I wrote a book because it dates a novel, but I understand why he chose to do it and it didn’t bother me a lot. The writing is simple, but some of the descriptions were lovely.

Overall, this is a really solid start to a series. I think it will do well, but I will most likely not be continuing with the series because I never felt any strong connection to the characters or the story. However, if you’re a fan of young adult fantasy/romances and the premise sounds interesting, I definitely recommend you read it.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: Swimming Lessons

Swimming Lessons
Swimming Lessons
Author: Claire Fuller
Publisher: House of Anansi
Genre/Themes: Contemporary, Mystery
Release Date: January 28th, 2017
Format: Trade Paperback
Swimming Lessons

 Synopsis

In this spine-tingling tale Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but she never sends them. Instead she hides them within the thousands of books her husband has collected. After she writes her final letter, Ingrid disappears.

Twelve years later, her adult daughter, Flora comes home to look after her injured father. Secretly, Flora has never believed her mother is dead, and she starts asking questions, without realizing that the answers she’s looking for are hidden in the books that surround her.

Review

This is a beautiful, heart wrenching, infuriating, and completely incredible novel. It’s hard for me to describe how much this book made me feel, but I loved every moment of it. I knew that I’d enjoy this novel because the premise of this book is exactly what I like to read. Not only is it a book about books, it’s a contemporary novel with a missing woman that had secrets that led to her disappearance. I knew I’d be swept up in the mystery, but I wasn’t expecting to feel so many emotions along the way.

This is one of those rare novels that is both about the plot and the characters, and both are developed beautifully. This book alternates between chapters in the present and the letters that Ingrid wrote to her husband and hid, relaying the story of their marriage.  The plot is one I’ve read before, but there was such subtle hints that I still didn’t see it coming., and even after I learned the truth, I still didn’t know what sort of impact it would make for all the characters.

However, the true beauty of this novel is due to the characters and their stories. Even though Ingrid is missing, she was such an integral part of the novel and we learned so much about her and her husband, Gil, through her letters. I was furious with Gil throughout the majority of the novel, and I despised him by the end of it. Even though in the present timeline, he’s a different and broken man, I still didn’t feel any sympathy toward him. I’ve never hated a character so much in a very long time, and I think it’s a mark of a talented writer to elicit such emotions toward a fictional person.

I loved Ingrid so much, and I felt so terribly for the life she was forced to live, and I felt a lot of sympathy for her daughters, Flora and Nan as well. I felt such a deep connection to all of them even though my life doesn’t mirror theirs in any way.

This is a quiet novel, but it’s devastating all the same. It’s beautifully written – descriptive, atmospheric, and completely refreshing. I’m a huge fan of Claire Fuller, and I will be reading all her future novels.

I received this book through the Goodreads Firstreads program. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: Little Heaven

Little Heaven
Little Heaven
Author: Nick Cutter
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre/Themes: Horror
Release Date: January 10th, 2017
Format: Ebook
Little Heaven

Synopsis

A trio of mismatched mercenaries is hired by a young woman for a deceptively simple task: check in on her nephew, who may have been taken against his will to a remote New Mexico backwoods settlement called Little Heaven. Shortly after they arrive, things begin to turn ominous. Stirrings in the woods and over the treetops—the brooding shape of a monolith known as the Black Rock casts its terrible pall. Paranoia and distrust grips the settlement. The escape routes are gradually cut off as events spiral towards madness. Hell—or the closest thing to it—invades Little Heaven. The remaining occupants are forced to take a stand and fight back, but whatever has cast its dark eye on Little Heaven is now marshaling its powers…and it wants them all.

Review

Nick Cutter is a Canadian author known for his previous horror novels, The Troop and The Deep. Even though I haven’t read his previous works, I’ve heard very good things about his books, which is why I was so interested in picking up Little Heaven. Additionally, the synopsis for this book was very intriguing, mostly because it involves a lot of my favourite tropes in a novel – three mercenaries, a religious cult, and something dark and mysterious. I was expecting to be really impressed by this book, and while I was in no way let down, it still didn’t live up to my expectations.

It was really hard to get invested in this book. It’s really difficult to understand what’s going on at the beginning. I understand why there’s such a build up and that we need to understand the three main characters a little better, but it’s really hard to want to read a book with such a strange introduction to the world. It took a long time for me to fully understand what was going on and what the story was going to be about.

The story flips back and forth in time, which is an interesting way of telling the story, but it seemed a little unnecessary and took a lot of the suspense out of the novel since we knew what was going to happen to the main characters. Understandably, the book isn’t about the suspense, but about the stomach churning, horrific things that happen at Little Heaven. While this is classified as a horror novel, it’s an old-school type of horror – more Lovecraft than anything else. I’m sure that a lot of people would really enjoy a book like that, but I just didn’t find it scary at all. The writing was incredibly detailed and there was some extremely graphic scenes and a lot of vivid, disturbing imagery, but it was really gory. I prefer slow burning horror books instead of gory ones so it wasn’t very entertaining for me.

There are some great things about this book though. My favourite part of the novel was the chemistry between the three main characters. I loved all three of them deeply and even though they started off together in a really strange way, it was rewarding to see how they ended up trusting each other and looking out for each other.

I don’t think this was the best way for me to be introduced to Nick Cutter’s works, but I’m still interested in his previous novels. While I didn’t love this book, I still think it’s a solid horror novel that has an audience out there. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant for me.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: Everything You Want Me To Be

Everything You Want Me to Be
Everything You Want Me To Be
Author: Mindy Mejia
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Genre/Themes: Thriller, Mystery, Suspense
Release Date: January 3rd, 2017
Format: Ebook
Everything You Want Me to Be

Synopsis

High school senior Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good citizen. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death on the opening night of her high school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of her small town community. Local sheriff Del Goodman, a family friend of the Hoffmans, vows to find her killer, but trying to solve her murder yields more questions than answers. It seems that Hattie’s acting talents ran far beyond the stage. Told from three points of view—Del, Hattie, and the new English teacher whose marriage is crumbling—Everything You Want Me to Be weaves the story of Hattie’s last school year and the events that drew her ever closer to her death.

Review

This book has one of those intriguing premises that hooks me immediately. When I see that a book is a multi-perspective novel about a murder that takes place in a small town, I’m always going to want to read it.

Since this is a mystery, there’s very little I can say without giving the story away, but I will say that I absolutely loved this book. I raced through it because I was so desperate to find out what happened to Hattie. This book alternates between Hattie and two men that are very important in her life, Del, the sheriff who is tasked with solving her murder, and Peter, her English and drama teacher. My favourite part of this novel was the incredible way each character was developed. All three of these characters were interesting to read from and I loved each of them, especially because they were flawed and they felt like real people.

Hattie was the perfect character for this book to be centered around. She was a master manipulator, a fantastic actress, and full of secrets. As a reader, you always want to be drawn in by the protagonist and even though it’s her murder that starts her novel, she was still a fully fleshed-out character and it hurt to know what was going to happen to her. She was intriguing and exciting and you wanted better for her life.

This book takes place over the course of a year, and jumps back and forth in time between the three characters. The past and present timelines come together seamlessly and while the plot of this novel is by no means unique, it’s still fast-paced and entertaining to read. It’s full of twists, but I did see a lot of them coming. However, I don’t think the main point of this novel was the murder-mystery aspect of it, but the fact that it was a really interesting character study.

The writing in this novel is also one of the best things about it. Mindy Mejia is gifted at coming up with beautiful metaphors and sentences that forced me to re-read and really think about what was being said. Using Jane Eyre and Macbeth as important literature in this novel was perfect (and the reader will fully understand why these two were chosen as they understand Hattie better).

Overall, this was a great start to my reading year in 2017. I expect this novel to do really well, and I can guarantee I’ll be reading all of Mindy Mejia’s future works.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of GrayLina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives.

This book takes place during a time of history that isn’t widely written about. Before I read this novel, I wasn’t really educated about Stalin’s atrocities and I didn’t know about the terrible conditions that Lithuanian people had to live in or about how some of them were deported to work camps at the Arctic circle.

I thought this novel was completely eye-opening. Through the story of Lina and her family, I learned so much. It reminded me a lot of Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. In both novels, the main characters live in deplorable conditions and struggle to survive. Both books made me so angry and horrified that these events are a part of our history.

I loved the characters of Lina, her mother, and her brother Jonas. They were the best kind of family. They kept their hope alive and loved each other very deeply. They were always there for each other and their strong bond was really rewarding to read about. Ruta Sepetys also created really well-developed supporting characters. She even managed to make me feel pity for for some people I ordinarily wouldn’t have.

The only place this book really fell short for me was with the writing. There isn’t anything wrong with the writing style, but it was very simplistic. A novel like this could have been very moving and powerful, but it wasn’t. The writing was never poetic or beautiful and I think it was the reason why I didn’t fully connect with the book. I went into this novel fully expecting to cry (like I did with Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire), but I never did.

This book is still a really well-researched, heartbreaking account of the Lithuanian annexation. It’s a really important novel, and I’m really glad I got a chance to learn more about this period of history. I think anyone interested in this era would enjoy the book.