The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude

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Genres: Young Adult, Thriller, Mystery, Horror, Romance
Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 3rd 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“In nature, ivy and heather never grew together. They couldn’t because ivy liked shade, whereas heather required sun. They did better apart because, side by side, one withered.”

In a small town called The Glen, people have their own ways of doing things. They’re simple folk. They grow their own food, care for their animals and look out for their neighbours. And they never go in the woods. Everyone knows that Birch Markle has been hiding in the woods ever since he killed that girl – and he might just kill again.

The characters of this book were sort of a mix. Milo and Emmie Entwhistle are complex and fascinating characters. I’m in love with them and their relationships with other characters. Rook, Briar, Ivy’s parents, Violet and Dahlia are similarly interesting. On the flip side, I didn’t really find Ivy or Heather particularly good characters. They both fit a rigid archetype and sort of stick to it. They are perfect opposites, Heather is a sun and Ivy is cloudy. Unfortunately this doesn’t make them really interesting.

This book is creepy, and atmospheric. Jude has done a fantastic job at really detailing the little community that Ivy lives in. It’s absolutely vivid. The romance, while not the main focus of the book, is surprisingly well done. The sex scenes were written with care while not being explicit, something YA rarely accomplishes.

The superstitions Ivy has, the relationship between the townsfolk and the outsiders, and the mystery all pile on to make the meat of this book deliciously juicy. It was definitely not a fast-paced mystery, but it kept me guessing. Milo’s plotline was definitely the one I enjoyed the most and I feel he was a bit underused for such an interesting character.

The ending of this book is a bit of a mess to be quite honest. That’s not to say that it isn’t exciting and full of emotion, it’s just that so much is suddenly thrown at you. So many secrets revealed all while the characters are fighting for their lives. It’s quite a lot to take in during the last fifty pages and it left me reeling.

There were certainly a few unexpected twists which is always nice, but I think the ending being so convoluted dampened my enjoyment of the book a little. It had such good build up that a single twist ending would have worked brilliantly and satisfied readers. The multiple twist ending just feels like it’s trying too hard to shock you and some of the reveals had little to no foreshadowing which is always a disappointment.

This book is a slow burn and a true southern gothic, but the ending didn’t need to be quite as dramatic as it was.

 For Fans Of: We’ll Never Be Apart

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Optimists Die First by Susin Neilsen

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication Date: February 21st 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through LibraryThing Early Readers in exchange for an honest review.

Petula is sixteen and terrified of life. Freak accidents happen every day so she must always remain vigilant. She doesn’t cross without looking both ways, walk near construction sites, or eat ground beef. When Jacob joins her art therapy group, Petula begins to open up, but she isn’t the only one with secrets.

This book is quirky, cute and fun. From cat-lovers, crafters, record collectors, film geeks and bookworms this book has something for everyone. There’s plenty of good representation from gay to amputees. It’s a very diverse read that has laughs and cries throughout.

The romance is the issue. It’s fluffy and slow and a nice portrayal of sex, but it’s a little love as the cure-all drug. Love doesn’t make mental illness better. Throughout this book, several therapist type things are bashed and the real cure is a cute boy. No.

The other slight issue is FULL OF SPOILERS. LOOK AWAY TO AVOID SPOILERS. The love interest does something very bad. He deserves to feel guilty. He deserves to not enjoy life ever again. However, this book compares it to a tragic accident. That he’s been punished enough and people should still be friends with him. No. There are things that you don’t deserve forgiveness for and this is one of them. I was very unhappy with how this was dealt with and made to seem like he was even sort of a victim.

I want to love this book. Susin Neilsen has written things I love. She’s Canadian. I love cats and books. There are so many good things going on. I cannot, however, give this book the five stars I was hoping to when I began reading.

The story is good. There are so many cute moments with family, friends and lovers. There are cats. I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a fun time and quite a quick read. However, the issues with the romance and how certain things were dealt with left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

For Fans of: All the Bright Things

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: April 7th 2015

3  OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Kristin Lattimer is popular, pretty, athletic and newly voted homecoming queen. After a botched attempt at sex leads her to the gynaecologist she finds out she’s intersex. Kristin is full of questions. Does this make her a man? How will this affect her future? And most importantly what will everyone think? When her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school Kristin is tossed into turmoil struggling to deal with her identity while navigating a hostile environment.

None of the Above was definitely an interesting read. Learning about AIS and seeing how Kristin deals with her diagnosis kept me turning pages. Diversity is important and this book casts a main character that I’ve never personally seen before in young adult literature. This book has an important message, and the facts are interesting, but this isn’t a great book outside of that.

The characters are mostly flat. Kristin is naive and sort of dull. Faith is too good to be true. Vee is a bitch who’s only sort of nice to her friends. Sam is the classic jock. Darren is a loveable nerd. It’s hard seeing these characters interact when so few of their relationships are believable. How did Kristin not know her long-term boyfriend was a homophobe? Why is she so quick to forgive Vee when she’s said such cruel things?

The plot is pretty obvious, nothing surprising happens. The ending could use some work. It feels very abrupt. SPOILERS: There’s very little build-up. Terrible things happen and then boom, book over. Kristin deals with something terrible, is saved by a white knight, falls in love and is cured of her anxiety and depression. She’s ready to face the world again because the right boy wants her.

In short, this book covers important topics. It’s full of interesting facts, but it’s not a good story. A good read to learn some basics about AIS but not a book with rich characters or plot.

For Fans of: Holding Up the Universe

A Chosen War by Carly Eldridge

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: REUTS Publications
Publication Date: April 25th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Maia is struggling, her father is terminally ill and she can’t go to the university she wants. When she realizes she has a weird effect on plants and explodes electronics her problems become a lot bigger. Maia is a replacement for an elemental guardian – but the current guardian won’t go quietly.

This is a vast world, and Eldridge has clearly put a lot of thought into building it. Elemental guardians, mates, the core – there’s a lot to build. Most of it is pretty well covered, but there are still things left a little unexplained. Certain things just happen with very little explanation of how/what it means and the story just plows on. Other times the world-building just comes in a sudden dump that doesn’t have much to do with the plot, usually just the characters talking and explaining. We are told instead of shown how things work all at once and even then I still feel the info was a bit confusing.

The plot was pretty standard. A chosen one, a big bad villain, all the well-meaning friends. It didn’t move as quickly as I would like largely because Eldridge often seems to get distracted from her story with descriptions. Of course, readers want to know what characters look like and what sort of environment they’re in. However, not every outfit for the protagonist needs to be described in detail.

The characters themselves were interesting, even if they lacked much depth. Their mates are their world essentially so we don’t have to see any romance build because it has always been there. Maia herself is bland. She’s good, kind and slightly snarky. Prime chosen one fodder. She almost never struggles with tasks and is the most powerful of all the characters.

The intro felt really intriguing, but after that, it sort of spiralled into a run of the mill fantasy story that I didn’t really feel was special. There was too much information being thrown at readers without much happening. While the plot is a little intriguing it doesn’t move fast enough and the characters are slightly charming but not complex.

The most interesting character was introduced as the novel ended, clearly positioning it for a sequel, but I don’t think this series is quite for me.

For Fans Of: Snow like Ashes

Shattered Sky by Erin Hunter

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Genres: Childrens, Xenofiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: April 11th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“All the cats. All the clans.”

Darktail’s terrifying reign continues and it seems like the clans are helpless. Alderheart is positive that SkyClan is the answer, but how can they help another clan when things look so bad? ShadowClan is torn apart and Violetpaw is still trapped with the rogues, will StarClan tell them how to recover?

Like most books in the series, Shattered Sky is fast-paced, action-packed and full of adventure. Also like most books in the series, there are a few too many characters to handle and s most of them get very little characterization. Fans of the series will adore it, but new readers might find it impossible to ignore the thousands of little flaws longtime readers are accustomed to.

I was really pleased with Darktail actually having motivation. It’s a refreshing change from the previous arc where the villain was bad just because he was evil. Onestar also gets a nice taste of redemption after a few arcs of being the absolute worst. And for once I didn’t actually guess the plot twist!

The battles were exciting, some of the deaths were actually tragic and overall the Hunters did a good job in keeping the ball rolling. Unlike The Apprentice’s Quest this book didn’t feel long and drawn out even though there were travel scenes. Although the background characters, and even the protagonists, are beginning to bleed together a bit personality-wise I really enjoyed the read.

The ending is actually surprising, and leave me wondering where the rest of the arc will go. It feels like the series might actually take a bit of a fresh direction, which is great. The plot has felt a bit stagnant (aside from the prequel arc) for a while and it would be nice to see something new.

I think the rest of this arc has potential, I just hope they don’t flub it.

For Fans Of: Survivors

Welcome Home by Eric Smith

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Genres: Anthology, Young Adult, Short Stories
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: September 5th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A collection of stories from contemporary to science-fiction all connected by adoptions. Families created through love, the pain of giving up a child, and the struggle of trying to find the right family are all covered.

Like most anthologies there were good stories and bad ones. Several had strong enough plots and characters to be full books. Some were barely holding on for the few pages they got. That said the anthology was strong together. Adoption isn’t a subject I see covered in a lot of young adult novels and with the wealth of different stories here it really is a shame.

While many of the stories focus explicitly on adoption and the bonds it creates, some stories follow other plotlines just centering on adopted characters. An adopted girl who has super powers etc. It’s incredibly diverse including POC characters and LGBT+ characters all while keeping the focus on adoption.

There are treasures in this book, but there are just as many stories that I feel were sort of flops. It’s definitely a worthy pick up for someone who wants to see adopted characters in fiction. I only wish some of these stories would see full length adaptations featuring the adopted characters. All in all, it’s a decent read but the stories are too mixed for it to be amazing.

Here are the stories that really stood out for me: Webbed by Julie Esbaugh, These Broken Stars by C.J. Redwine, Tunneling Through by Shannon Parker, A Lesson in Biology by Sammy Nickalls.

For Fans Of: Spirit Level

Columbine by Dave Cullen

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Genres: True Crime, Non-fiction
Publisher: Twelve
Publication Date: March 3rd 2010

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“The final portrait is often furthest from the truth.”

Considered the definitive book on the tragedy that shocked America. The script other tragedies hoped to follow. Cullen paints a vivid portrait of the events of April 20th, 1999 and the months after. How the even was handled by the law and the press. How the victims grieved and recovered. Most importantly Cullen tries to destroy the various myths and really look at the biggest question: Why?

The most important thing Cullen does is try to set the record straight. Even nearly twenty years after the tragedy many people still believe the myths of the Trenchcoat Mafia or Goth Culture. People paint the killers as tragic victims, or mastermind killers. Neither of which are entirely true. They also tend to lump them together when the killers were vastly different people with incredibly different potential motives.Unfortunately Cullen ties his bows a little too neat on the killers.

The focus on the victims was also a breath of fresh air. Hearing about their lives, their grief, or their recovery is an incredibly important part of the narrative. The focus is all too often entirely on the killers because people are morbidly fascinated, but Cullen depicts the entire story as accurately as he can while casting a wide net.

So why not give such an important book a perfect score? Aside from the simplistic view of Harris and Klebold I do have a few other nitpicks here and there. There are two huge ones: pictures and the structure. Cullen does explain why he doesn’t want to include pictures throughout the book, but I didn’t feel the reasoning was strong enough. A true crime book is always improved by the inclusion of images. It would have been far easier than describing the appearances of all the people involved. Cullen’s descriptions are, while accurate, a little romanticized. Most of them read like a description of a charming male lead instead of a killer or a 14 year old victim.

The structure is understandable, the story was never difficult to follow – but it could have been done better. It jumps all over the timeline from before the incident to victim recovery never entirely finishing a thread before jumping around again. This might be more personal but I would have preferred a story structured around time than general concepts jumping from story to story.

Cullen’s book is considered the most in depth look at Columbine, and I think that this is true when focusing on the victims. However, though he dispels some myths his painting of the killers is simplistic. He doesn’t present the journal entries or testimonies that disagree with his conclusion. He presents the school as angelic, with Harris and Klebold as the only ssues, which cannot be true.

The is an excellent portrait of the victims and the legal side of things, but with the wealth of knowledge available about the shooters his conclusions are disappointing. There is obvious misinformation that he uses to support his conclusions that differs from some journal entries and eyewitness testimony.

However, as far as everything outside the portrait of the killers Cullen has been remarkably in depth. He exposes the law and showcases as many victim’s stories as he can. In those aspects it is excellent.

For Fans Of: A Mother’s Reckoning

We’ll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean

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Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 6th 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Grief is a powerful thing, and sometimes, if it’s ignored, we can become lost in it.”

Currently in a mental hospital, Alice is still devastated by her boyfriends murder. He died in a fire that injured her as well, a fire set by her twin sister Celia. As Alice works towards recovery she meets Chase – another patient with dark secrets. He promises to help her.

Told in the present with flashbacks through Alice’s journals We’ll Never Be Apartis a fast-paced and compelling thriller. One mystery after another as the reader is forced to unravel Alice’s past through her writings and learn that things aren’t always as they seem.

Chase and Alice are both lovable characters, but a little flatter than I would like. Chase is loving, supportive and willing to do anything for Alice because love at first sight. Alice is much more interesting and seeing the world through her eyes, always second-guessing, wondering when her sister will come for her, wondering about what she and Jason could have been or who Jason actually was is fascinating.

It’s hard to say a lot without spoiling the book’s twist (though I saw it coming miles away) but it was definitely an exciting read that didn’t overstay it’s welcome. The twist should have had some better and more concrete foreshadowing, but that might have made the mystery painfully obvious.

It’s a fun read but leaves too much unexplored. I think for the book to truly be enjoyed the twist needs to shock you but it’s been used in far too many young adult novels for me not to guess it. Knowing he twist really kept me from fully appreciating all the build-up the book was doing – but if you can’t figure it out you’re almost guaranteed to love it!

I didn’t dislike this book, in fact, I found myself unable to put it down but I wish it had been a little more original or not relied so heavily on the “shocking” reveal.

For Fans Of: Unnatural Deeds

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: May 24th 2011

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Because ‘You’re perfect just the way you are,’ is what your guidance counsellor says. And she’s an alcoholic.”

A plane full of beauty pageant contestants crash lands on a deserted island. The girls must find a way to survive while keeping up their pageant training for when they are rescued. After all, there can only be one Miss Teen Dream!

The beginning of this novel is a fascinating satire, full of misogynistic tropes, fake brands, fake ads, and fun fact sheets about the girls. The Corporation informs the reader about the world the novel is set in, about what a good girl is like and what products they have to use to stay desirable. It’s a set-up for a very interesting story that parodies our world – but it loses itself along the way.

There was a cheesy action movie subplot that was more than the book needed. At some point, the book stops being about girls finding themselves, humour and feminism and turns into a very bad action movie. The book becomes TOO ridiculous in its attempts to be silly satire it just becomes over-the-top and more boring because of it. Evil lairs, ridiculous dictators and a ship full of hot boys all clash together in a huge mess.

The ending is a huge mess of an action scene, several convenient coincidences and just unsatisfying. The book tells the girl’s futures…which don’t seem much changed after a harrowing experience for the most part and bam happy ending even though the world isn’t changed for the better.

That’s not to say I disliked the book entirely. The premise is strong, and it does feature some good representation.Bray did make her main cast a little too large for her to handle, and the main ones were a fairly stereotypical (gun-loving Texan, dumb blondes etc.) but the thought was there. The fault is that this book just has no idea what it is or where it was going. It has elements of several potentially successful stories and tries to shove them all down the reader’s throat at once.

The highlights of this book are the “commercial breaks” and footnotes that build the world these girls live in. Period Pets, Lady Stache Off and other fun brands pepper the pages with good humour and great satire. I only wish these elements had been better explored instead devolving into a cheesy spy novel.

For Fans Of: Only Ever Yours

Who Killed Christopher Goodman by Allan Wolf

Genres: Young Adult
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: March 14th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that Christopher Goodman is kind. Who would ever want to hurt him? The events leading up to his murder leave everyone in town feeling at least a little guilty. Told through vignettes and different points of view the story explores the lives Christopher was involved in and the moment when he was ripped out of them.

This book is not so much about a crime or the murder, but about the events leading up to it. About how everyone deals with guilt and grief and imagines if things had only gone slightly differently. However, even in that aspect, it uses too many of its pages on the build-up and not enough on the effect.

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? is too short to really accomplish what it sets out to. The six different points of view are too many for so few pages and none of the characters receive proper development. It’s hard to get attached to so many characters in so few pages, and with a book like this one attachment to the characters is paramount.

The characters are reduced to a few tropes. Pretty girl who is shy. Farm girl who is bold. Classic coming of age boy character who is awkward. Weird kid. Redneck. Troublemaker. The attempts to give them depth are there but they ultimately feel forced and we’re left with cast of characters that we’re not really invested in.

I don’t feel there is a sense of mystery leading up to Christopher’s death – it’s clear from the opening who killed him. The focus is more on how they all feel as though they killed Christopher in a million small ways. How maybe if they had said this or done that he would be alive.

Inspired by a true crime the story is still mostly fictitious, it had a strong concept and the theme could be powerful but with too many characters for its page count, it falls a little flat.

For Fans of: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett