Mini reviews: The Perfect Stranger – Megan Miranda, Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day – Seanan McGuire

the perfect strangerIn the masterful follow-up to the runaway hit All the Missing Girls, a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?

Rating: 3/5

But suicide season is the spring. My theory: The world sheds its layers, life springs anew- but you do not. Or you do, and you don’t like what you find.

Unremarkable. Which is unfortunate, since this is the first book of the author’s that I’ve read and I was expecting great things based on the praise for All the Missing Girls, but alas, it left me fairly unmoved. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it, but it’s two weeks after I read it and it barely left an impression on me.

While I can appreciate books that aren’t all murderous action and take a more subtle approach, I felt that The Perfect Stranger went too far in the other direction – it was a little too underwhelming and understated.

I will say, however, that the author has a talent for evoking an extremely insidious, unsettling atmosphere in this novel, and showcases an extremely plausible case of just how easily an identity can be constructed.

Amazing how something that happened so long ago can feel so fresh. How it could come back to haunt you from nowhere – the innocuous ring of a telephone, the past come to call from the other end.

**

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.

**

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or DayWhen her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Rating: 3.5/5

This was a rather haunting book, no pun intended. It’s a poignant and sensitively done tale with a focus on the theme of suicide – the ones left behind, and the ones who follow.

As usual, McGuire’s creative worldbuilding is on full display; a world of ghosts who can turn themselves tangible at will, and work their way to the other side by ‘stealing’ the time from humans until they reach their death-due date, as it were.

It’s certainly one of the more unique ghost stories that I’ve ever read, but with an emphasis on the very real ideas of community, penance and basic human kindness. And there’s an undercurrent of sadness, but it ends on a hopeful note, and Jenna is someone who you can’t help but root for.

People aren’t so good at being good to one another. We try hard enough, but something essential was left out in the making of us, some hard little patch of stone in the fertile soil that’s supposed to be our hearts. We get hung up on the bad, and we focus on it until it grows, and the whole crop is lost.

**

ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.

Review: Radio Silence – Alice Oseman

On the subject of Radio Silence, the reason for mine (pardon the pun!) is that I fractured my ankle on a hike two weeks ago, pursuing my New Year’s resolutions of doing more hikes.  Hear that? It’s the sound of the universe laughing at me. Anyway, apparently life on crutches is more tiring than I anticipated, so it’s basically been a routing of work-come home-collapse in bed-repeat.

radio silenceWhat if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong?

Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.

But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.

Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down. Suffocating with guilt, she knows that she has to confront her past…
She has to confess why Carys disappeared…

Meanwhile at uni, Aled is alone, fighting even darker secrets.

It’s only by facing up to your fears that you can overcome them. And it’s only by being your true self that you can find happiness.

Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has.

Rating: 4/5

This book really spoke to me with regards to the subject matter. I so wish I’d had it to read when I needed it the most.

Academics were my strength when I was at high school, and it essentially became a crucial part of my identity, preparing for the next step of some kind of impressive, difficult university degree. Rocket science or the like. I ended up burning out because I gave too much when it really didn’t matter, and instead pursued a humanities degree.

But it was a long process to figure out what I was good at and what my strengths were outside the realm of school, where I was no longer the smartest person in the room. And while that sounds vain, academics were all that anybody, including myself, associated with me. It was dispiriting and disconcerting and I loathe the pressure and expectations put on high-performing students in the modern school system. (By far not the only thing wrong with the modern school system, and I fully realise that I had it better than the struggling kids for whom academic life was torture.)

Being clever was, after all, my primary source of self-esteem. I’m a very sad person, in all senses of the word, but at least I was going to get into university. 

For Frances, the protagonist, the closer the end of school approaches, the more she is in doubt about her future path. She too is mired in the expectations of being a top student, and everything she’s done this far in her life has been to prepare her for entrance to a good university so she can get that prized degree. Unlike me, Frances already knows what else she enjoys and is good at – so dubbed ‘Real Francis’ – art, funky clothing, geek culture, a mysterious podcast.

“Do you eat the same thing for lunch every day?”
“I’m very unimaginative,” I said, “and I don’t like change.”

I adored the relationships in the novel.

You probably think that Aled Last and I are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and I am a girl. I just wanted to say – we don’t.

Yes! A novel centered on an entirely platonic boy-girl friendship. A glorious friendship where they support each other and have shared common interests! It was beautiful to witness.

“And I’m platonically in love with you.”
“That was literally the boy-girl version of ‘no homo’, but I appreciate the sentiment.” 

Frances’ mom was a gem. Supportive, wonderful, lenient when it matters, aware of the fact no one can put more pressure on Frances than Frances herself. A plus parenting, Mom!

“Don’t let him escape!”, said Mum. “This could be your only chance at securing a spouse!”

The supporting cast – Daniel, Raine and Carys. All of whom come together in their own way.

And there were so many other wonderful aspects:

  • I loved the Night Vale-inspired podcast with a terrible punny name – Universe City. Haunting, poignant, mysterious.
  • The humour was light but wry and I’m young enough to enjoy it.

They were playing indie rock on this floor, and it was a lot quieter too, which I was glad of, because the dubstep was starting to make me feel a bit panicked, like it was the theme music for an action film and I had ten seconds to save myself from an explosion. 

  • It also perfectly captures online fan-culture. I had to smile at some of the Tumblr references – Oseman gets it down to a T. Indeed, what impressed me was that while she has a distinctly teenaged voice in her narrator, it’s not bogged down in text speak, for example, and is accessible while still remaining authentic.

An all-round excellent YA novel with great representation, characters you can root for, and an internet mystery.

I couldn’t quite believe how much I seriously loved Aled Last, even if it wasn’t in the ideal way that would make it socially acceptable for us to live together until we die. 

***

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.

Review: Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) – Sylvain Neuvel

sleeping giantsA girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

Rating: 4/5

I think I had a completely different impression of what this book would be like, so while it popped up on my radar, I didn’t actually take much notice. But I saw it in the bookstore one day, recalled a couple of good reviews, and thought I’d take a chance. Don’t you love it when a hesitant decision pays off?

I was expecting something really dense, for some reason, but I found it easy to follow the flow of the story. The book follows an epistolary format, consisting of interview transcripts and diary entries. And while there is certainly a lot of technical information included, it didn’t feel overwhelming. I suppose it’s a difficult balance, between providing the neccessary technical info but risk hurting the brains of your readers, or just being hand-wavey with the details and have us questioning ‘but how would that work?’.

But this thing…it’s different. It challenges us. It spits in the face of physics, anthropology, religion. It rewrites history. It dares us to question everything we know about ourselves…about everything.

The premise of the tale really fascinated me. Firstly, finding a random statue of a body part in the field. Where do you possibly go to from there? And then the real crux of the matter – other species out there, waiting to make contact with us, but only when we’re reached a certain point in evolution and aren’t still living in caves waving sticks at each other. Humanity is really young, in comparison to the planet, and indeed, everything else contained in the universe.

I won’t go into any further detail, but it certainly had me hooked, and there is an ending that will have you anxiously counting down the days until the sequel is released.

I was somewhat less impressed with the characters – the worldbuilding, mystery and plot are the strengths of the novel. Rose comes across as deified by the other characters, the two males on the project were fairly one dimensional, and Kara, the fiery pilot, has a lot of personal issues that obviously are pushed to the background in favour of the science-ing. (Yeah, I’m making up words left, right and centre today.)

Something that really struck me was the sheer amount of wry humour that the author incorporated. It had me smirking and shaking my head at the audaciousness of the narrator. Indeed, the central figure of the novel, and the one conducting all the documented interviews, is a mysterious one.

-North Korean troops gathering…inside North Korea. That is unheard of.

-They were massing very close to the border.

-North Korea is the size of Ohio. It would be geographically challenging for them to gather very far from the border.

Overall, the tone of the novel is slightly menacing. We know exactly what humanity and governments are like in the face of a potential threat and powerful weapon, and there is some astute commentary on the way we tend to doom ourselves, without any help from outside influences.

Bluffing doesn’t mean what it used to. No one wants an all-out war, and everyone knows it. Both sides know the other doesn’t want a fight, so we push each other against the wall, a tiny bit further every time. It’s all about saving face but, basically, we’re playing chicken, and both sides think they can do whatever they want because the other guy will never use its nuclear arsenal. It probably won’t be today, but someday…someday one of us is gonna be terribly wrong.

Review: Girl in Pieces – Kathleen Glasgow

girl in piecesCharlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.

Rating: 4/5

TW: self-harm, abuse

Girl in Pieces is a harrowing but sensitively told portrayal of a girl who self-harms and finds herself at rock bottom, ending up in a rehabilitation centre, and having to claw her way back to being a functioning human being, putting her life back together – piece by slow piece.

It’s not easy to read, from the state of mind that urges Charlie to cut, to the horrors of her life on the street. But for me, the portrayal never felt gratuitous. The author really captured that overwhelming need for release, when the thoughts and the feelings need an avenue to escape.

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Charlie. Not one thing. Can’t you see that?”

But that’s a lie, isn’t it? Because there are so many things wrong with me, obviously and actually. What I want Mikey to say is: There are so many things wrong with you and it doesn’t matter.

Some people have mentioned the slow pace of the book. For me, there were two mitigating factors – the chapters are very short, and secondly, I appreciate the detail of everyday minutiae when it’s relevant to the situation. For instance, as an underage girl fending for herself, I actually do want to know the practicalities of how she’s looking after herself, and her daily routines.

It should be noticed that there is also a relationship depicted between our underage protagonist and a late-twenties guy. It can come across as a bit romanticised at points, even though they both acknowledge that they are completely destructive and wrong for each other. The love interest’s sister does very clearly call him out on it, however, and places the blame firmly where it belongs.

I would have liked to have found out more about the girls in Charlie’s therapy group, as there were some fascinating characters there. However, the focus of the book was more on Charlie’s life as she tries to attain some sense of normalcy. She screws up plenty and often on her way to recovery, but she doggedly picks herself up time and time again. There are also unlikely supportive figures, all of whom are rooting for her to make it.

I appreciated the positive depiction of therapy, at least the focus on vital it is and how it can help, with Charlie continuing to rely on her therapist even after she leaves the facility. All too often treatment is demonised in these kinds of novels. And while it certainly isn’t depicted as a pleasant experience, it is shown that there are people who truly want to help.

Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Mini reviews: Every Heart a Doorway, Milk and Honey, The Leopard King

every heart a doorwayEleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Guests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Rating: 3/5

“I think the rules where different there. It was all about science, but the science was magical. It didn’t care about whether something could be done. It was about whether it should be done, and the answer was always, always yes.”

I really, really did want to love this one more than I did, but unfortunately, the chemistry was lacking. And I think this mainly has to do with the short length of the story, so that I simply wasn’t able to connect with the characters. You only really get a surface-level insight into their psyche, and the multiple perspectives near the end dilutes this further.

It is, however, deliciously and disturbingly weird. Just utterly bizarre. Seanan McGuire has a crazy-good imagination, and I can only wonder what it must be like to live in her head.

“I don’t wear these because I want to remember where I’ve been. I wear them because the Master liked it when I dressed in pale colours. They showed the blood better.”

The representation is, as many people have mentioned, excellent. An asexual main character, a transgender supporting character, and a cast of different ethnicities and origins.

And while this is a novella, the author still manages to pack a punch with a number of poignant and political passages.

Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.

***

milk and honeymilk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. milk and honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.

Rating: 3/5

I discovered this poet’s work on Tumblr, and was intrigued by what I read. Unfortunately, I think I encountered the highlights of this collection on the web, and the rest of it failed to impress.

I will admit to having a rather fraught relationship with poetry. I am fairly useless at trying to interpret it, and I hated the fact that at school, we were forced to pick it apart in search of interpretations instead of simply being able to appreciate it. Apparently, I’m still bitter.

There also appears to be a pushback against this style of poetry – sentence fragments dispersed over a few lines. However, I think poetry is one of the few written mediums that has prospered precisely because it’s experimental, and doesn’t have to adhere to the same kind of technical rules that prose does.

Overall, there were a couple of gems, interspersed with a few ‘meh’ offerings. But the tone is fierce, impassioned and feminist, which is right up my alley.

***

the leopard kingProud. Imperious. Impassioned.

Until three years ago, those words applied to Dominic Asher, the leader of Ash Valley. His family has ruled the feline branch of the Animari for hundreds of years, guiding the pride through perilous times. Unspeakable loss drove him into seclusion, a feral beast nobody can tame. Now he’s wrecked, a leopard king in exile, and he wants nothing more than to die.

Fierce. Loyal. Determined.

Fortunately for Dom, those words still apply to Pru Bristow, his dead mate’s best friend. She’s had her heart broken too, but she never quits. With the conclave approaching, alliances with the Pine Ridge pack and Burnt Amber clans on the verge of collapse, she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to drag their leader back, before his second can start a war.

At best theirs seems like a desperate alliance, but when their mate bond turns hot and fierce, there’s no end to the questions and the doubts. Neither of them expects to fall in love. But sometimes people don’t know what they’re looking for until they find it.

Rating: 3/5

Not ashamed to say I enjoy me some paranormal romance. And having enjoyed some of Aguirre’s previous series, I was interested to see what she’d do in this genre. I gotta be honest though, she doesn’t bring anything new to the standard set-up.

However, one thing that did stand out for me was the honest communication between the love interests. It’s pretty rare to find, since drama in romance generally depends on miscommunications. While there are certainly personal obstacles for both hero and heroine to overcome, they really do make an effort to talk about things before they become a big issue, which I think is incredibly refreshing.

“Is there anything else I should know? So I don’t hurt you again with good intentions.”

“Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything. I appreciate that your heart was in the right place…I’m sorry I started out scolding you.”

“Don’t apologise. If you don’t tell me, how will I learn?”

Furthermore, while the standard trope is for the alpha he-man to put his nice delicate lady friend in a safe place while the fighting is going on, here our protagonist says “You can’t live in a cage, just to ease my mind.”

***

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful start to 2017, barring the global political sense of doom. Goodreads is reassuring me that I’m on track for my reading goal, so let’s hope I complete my challenge this year!

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay – JK Rowling

fantastic beastsJ.K. Rowling’s screenwriting debut is captured in this exciting hardcover edition of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay.

When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. Featuring a cast of remarkable characters, this is epic, adventure-packed storytelling at its very best.

Whether an existing fan or new to the wizarding world, this is a perfect addition to any reader’s bookshelf.

Rating: 3/5

Confession time – I haven’t seen the Fantastic Beasts movie – and I think I would have probably enjoyed this book a lot more if I had. After all, it’s in script format, which means that the content is meant to be performed. And without a visual reference, we’re fairly short on background detail, and it will naturally be a tad underwhelming.

That said, I was still curious about this one, the second Harry Potter-related release of 2016. I suppose part of what spoiled this for me, however, is my disenchantment with the author, in terms of her appropriation of Native American elements on her website, and her support for Johnny Depp in the movie sequels. I am a consumer reviewer, not a critical one, and therefore I don’t feel the need to separate the creator from their work.

With that in mind, the book was an enjoyable romp, but it didn’t blow me away. With a similar ‘meh’ reaction to Cursed Child, along with the aforementioned issues, I guess it’s now time for the author and I to part ways.

What I liked:

-The creativity and imaginative scope of all the magical animals

-Newt, badass Hufflepuff with a spine of steel and a heart of gold – although not always too considerate of the consequences for others

-Queenie, who is sunshine personified

-The moral of the story, if you can call it that. The fight against bigotry and ignorance, couched in the magical universe, has always been a staple of the HP world

-The sinister atmosphere that is evoked and simmers underneath the madcap hijinks that occur, coupled with creepy nursery rhymes and cults. *shivers*

Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Most anticipated books for 2017

No explanation needed, yes? So let’s dive right into it.

YA:

most anticipated 2017

When I Am Through With You – Stephanie Kuehn The author is the queen of mind-fuckery and mystery.

The Love Interest – Cale Dietrich A love triangle where the two dudes end up hitting it off? Count me in.

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The Song Rising – Samantha Shannon Because this richly detailed series is well worth the wait. Pity about the cover redesigns though!

Our Dark Duet – Victoria Schwab The world introduced to us in This Savage Song has me eager to see how she resolves things.

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The Inexplicable Logic of my Life – Benjamin Alire Saenz I’ve read two of the author’s books thus far, and they’ve blown me away.

Honestly Ben – Bill Konigsberg Openly Straight was a delightful read, and I’m so hoping for a happy ending for Ben and Rafe.

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Caraval – Stephanie Garber I’ve heard incredible things about this one

Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor Better late than never. Laini’s imagination is a thing of wonder.

Urban fantasy:

  • The Brightest Fell (October Date #11) – Seanan McGuire
  • Etched in Bone (The Others #5) – Anne Bishop
  • Silence Fallen (Mercy Thompson #10) – Patricia Briggs
  • White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2) & Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3) – Ilona Andrews
  • The Ippos King (Wraith Kings #3) – Grace Draven

Contemporary:

The Comfort Zone – Sally Thorne

Fantasy:

The Stone Sky (Broken Earth #3) – N.K. Jemisin

***

So there you have it, folks. It’s not the wildest list out there, but I’m not too in tune with 2017 debuts, so I’ll be relying on fellow bloggers for recs!