The Lives of Desperate Girls by MacKenzie Common

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Publication Date: September 19th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

In a tiny community in Northern Ontario Chloe Shaughnessy goes missing. Not long after a native girl, Helen, is murdered. Chloe was Jenny’s best friend, and Jenny might know something about the night Chloe went missing. The cops are desperate to find out. They’ve put Helen on the back burner to focus on Chloe’s disappearance, an act that disturbs Jenny. She decides to investigate the murder herself while keeping her lips sealed about what she knows.

The Lives of Desperate Girls touches on the very real issue of police ignoring missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada. It also covers other serious topics, but this is its main focus. Almost no one cares that Helen is missing. She’s just a native girl. Chloe was special. Despite being Chloe’s best friend Jenny wants to help Helen too.

As a protagonist, Jenny is good, kind, brave and slightly bland. She’s almost too good and caring to believe while also doing terrible things. She does stupid, reckless things and never sees a consequence and they’re cast as the right thing to do. She does very wrong things but because she did them they were honourable. Everything she does is cast in a noble light even when it’s a shitty thing to do. Tom is much more interesting but the book would have been better off without the romance.

The romance in the book was thrilling and at least almost realistic. Tom and Jenny feel strange together, and they just sort of happen with no real rhyme or reason. The ending had the potential to feel real and good but that was tossed aside. Jenny and Tom meet in a dire situation in the heat of the moment and even then their relationship seems a little ridiculous. Nevermind how rare it is for high schoolers to appreciate those a grade beneath them, Jenny and Tom have never spoken before suddenly being in love.

Despite those two complaints I really did love the story. I was caught up in the mystery of what happened to Chloe and Helen. Wanting to know what secret Jenny knew. Were the two girls connected in some way? Common explores racism, rape culture, slut shaming and the indifference that surrounds them. It’s definitely nice to see these depicted in a Canadian setting when so many like to forget that there are issues in every country.

It was a bit slow-paced for a mystery, and the ending didn’t really satisfy me but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

For Fans Of: Vanishing Girls

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

Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Mystery
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: June 1st 2017

3  OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Trapped inside her house with agoraphobia, Tessa Hart doesn’t have much to do all day other than tweet. When she starts the #EricThornObsessed hashtag she has no idea how it will change her life. Eric Thorn is at the top of the charts, but he’s grown hateful and even fearful of his fans after a fellow popstar’s murder. When he’s commanded to follow one of them he does – from a secret second account @EricThornSucks. As Eric and Tessa continue to interact they start to form a relationship but when Eric arranges them to meet IRL he has no idea what’s about to happen.

Following the trends of many other social media books Follow Me Back is told through tweets, DMs and from two points of view. We get to know about both Eric and Tessa and watch the romance grow from both sides. Unfortunately, this works well for Eric but leaves Tessa feeling sort of hollow. Her anxiety is her only real personality trait and too many secrets are kept from the reader for too long for anyone to be attached to her. It also makes the ending rather confusing, there’s a difference between an unreliable narrator and just suddenly becoming out of character.

The book on a whole is very standard feeling. The romance is fluffy and has ups and downs but never anything spectacular. One antagonist is left with their story relatively unfinished while the other seems shoved in and dealt with too quickly. The ending really tips the book into a new territory. Spoiling the twist would be a terrible crime but the last few pages really change the game and leave the doors open for a sequel.

The reason this book is stuck at three stars is because it didn’t know what it wanted to be. It focused intermittently on both romance and the mystery/thriller elements and suffered for it. The romance feels cookie cutter while the mystery/thriller portion feels rushed and not well foreshadowed or incorporated into the other sections of the book. There are a few extra chapters on wattpad that apparently help but they are not in the book so my review will not consider them.

It’s an easy read that’s sure to suck you in, but in the end it’s nothing special. The whole story told from just Eric’s point of view might have been better as it would let Tessa keep her secrets and let us further connect with the better-written character. The ending was a shock, but because of Tessa’s writing and the neglect of foreshadowing it feels cheap rather than satisfying.

I enjoyed Follow Me Back and I read it quickly, but it’s definitely more of one-night stand than a soulmate.

For Fans of: Gena/Finn

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 22nd 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Given enough time, everything changes.”

Kate Weston isn’t the most popular girl in school, but her life is still pretty great. A spot on the soccer team, close friends and a certain childhood friend she’s falling for. Everything changes when the picture of Stacey turns up online. Seeing her former friend passed out and slung over a guys shoulder make Kate uncomfortable but when rape accusations start surfaces her whole world starts to shift.

What We Saw tells an all too familiar story. A book that calls to mind Steubenville and the numerous other high school athletes involved in sexual abuse stories. It’s a particularly poignant read when it seems like a new case is appearing in the papers every week.

The choices to tell the story from a classmates perspective, instead of the victim’s is a powerful one. Kate isn’t directly involved, but she knows the people who are. Her whole town is up in arms about the case because of how it affects their pride and joy – the basketball team. I wish that I could say the story was told over-dramatically or that this would never really happen but it’s painfully real. Everything described could happen and often it already has.

The thing I particularly love about this book is that while it does not excuse the perpetrators, it does examine the culture that led them to decide to commit their crime. Various objectifying song lyrics are quoted, the victim is shamed for what she wore, boys will be boys, and even negative connotations in certain films and musicals are brought up. These are all dealt with. Most strikingly is the way it showcases all the boys as beloved athletes and because they’re talented and good for the town the girl must be lying.

Putting the brilliant message aside all the characters are well-rounded and believable. They all have several interests and different beliefs. The romance is organic and feels exactly as a high-school love story should. There is a particularly well-written sex scene that is absolutely honest and doesn’t use any of the usual romance novel cliches.

I did find the start a little slow, and Hartzer’s writing style wasn’t quite my cup of tea. There were times when Kate’s long monologues had me zoning out but I believe that this book is important. The message and story in this book are powerful because it lets you see this story on the inside. A story that happens again and again in the media. Yes, there are bits that are cheesy or ridiculously preachy – but this is a story that people need to read.

What We Saw is a haunting portrayal of how a rape rocks a small town and how quickly people can turn on a victim when justice might inconvenience them.

BUY THE BOOK

For Fans Of: The Truth About Alice

White Cat by Holly Black

Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: May 4th 2010

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“The easiest lies to tell are the ones you want to be true.”

Cassel has always felt like an outcast in his own home. For one, he’s the only member who isn’t a curse worker, he doesn’t have any powers at all. Also, he killed his best friend Lila a few years back. When a white cat starts to plague his dreams the memories of Lila begin to resurface and Cassel begins to question everything he knows about himself and his shady brothers.

As with any of Black’s books the real strong point in White Cat is worldbuilding. The novel takes place in a world where certain people are born “workers” – people with abilities to perform different kinds of magic. Black weaves society around the premise, politics, crime and even fashion all twist around the power of curse workers.

The mystery was a bit clumsy. Despite having a semi-unreliable narrator the book somehow always gave away enough that it was easy to know the outcomes before they happened. There was very little suspense and, in fact, it was on occasion frustrating to watch Cassel fail to string together the obvious conclusion. The story started with a strong premise and an interesting world but it felt almost wasted on the cast of characters and the eventual mystery that unravels.

The protagonist is sort of bland made more frustrating by the fact that Holly Black can and has written rich and interesting characters. The girl from his past is described as sort of a bully but so beautiful with different coloured eyes. She is just as boring. The rest of the characters are either bland or bland and unlikeable.

The concept is strong enough to save this book from being a total flop. The mystery is interesting, at times, despite its predictability. Aside from the characters and some terrible pacing problems – the chapters felt years long – it wasn’t terrible.

White Cat comes out solidly in the average pile for young adult fantasy while being on the lower end of Holly Black’s work.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Iron Cast

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Genres: New Adult, Thriller, Mystery
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: January 13th 2015

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“There’s nothing so painful, so corrosive, as suspicion.”

Rachel has an unshakeable routine. She rides the same train every morning, stops at the same light, stares at the same house. She’s gotten used to admiring “Jess” and “Jason”’s lives from afar. Until one day changes everything. Rachel knows something, and now she can finally become part of the lives she’s known for so long.

A thrilling mystery, a cast of unlikable characters topped off with a perfect unreliable narrator. What more could a reader want? It’s true that the start of the book is rather slow, but the second half will more than make up for any boredom near the beginning.

Rachel is a fantastic narrator; she’s a drunk and barely remembers plenty of events. This means that the reader gets to stay in the dark as Rachel herself struggles to remember. The writing style was sort of diary-esque and it worked well. Rachel was the main narrator, with several chapters by both the missing girl (pre-missing) and Rachel’s ex-husband’s new missus.

Even in their own chapters none of the women are likeable, and the men even less so. Usually this is a detriment to a novel but Hawkins makes it work. When every character is awful it’s impossible to guess who might be legitimately evil. Fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl will absolutely love this read.

As with any popular book, there have been mixed opinions, but I found it far more enjoyable than not. Perhaps I enjoyed it because I am easily ensnared by mysteries and not very good at figuring out whodunnits. Indeed if the twist hadn’t shocked me at least a little it wouldn’t have received five stars.

There’s not a lot to dislike about this novel for me. There are a few very convenient occurrences but it’s such a fast and fun read that I can barely be bothered to note them.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: Gone Girl

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti

Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Romance
Publisher:  Sourcebooks
Publication Date: January 3rd 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Lizzie Lovett is missing. Hawthorn Creely never cared much for Lizzie until she disappeared while out camping with her boyfriend. Suddenly Hawthorn can imagine a hundred interesting scenarios – and she needs to be involved. She finds herself working Lizzie’s old job and befriending Lorenzo, Lizzie’s boyfriend, to try and figure out what really happened to Lizzie Lovett.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett is a fantastically unique young adult novel debut. It was easy to read, the dialogue and narration felt natural. Unfortunately, the “mystery” part of the book was not as important as the blurb would have you believe. For the most part, it’s just Hawthorn chasing a ridiculous theory that’s obviously not true.

Sedoti has managed to create a realistic teen, but it’s hard to support Hawthorn as the hero. Hawthorn has a fantastic voice, she’s annoying, lonely, selfish and rash. Sedoti has managed to make her memorable but she feels poorly used. Hawthorn is unlikeable because even while this is her story it isn’t. It is Lizzie’s story. Hawthorn is obsessed with some missing girl she briefly hated in high school. It is okay for a narrator to be unreliable/unlikable but when Hawthorn’s motives are so flimsy it’s hard to want to continue reading her story.

It’s almost like Hawthorn is too realistic. No one wants to read a story about a self-obsessed whiny teenager who barely learns to grow out of it by the end of the book. On the other hand, it can be argued that Hawthorn is ridiculously childish for a seventeen-year-old. She’s old enough to think she can date people over the age of twenty but still thinks it’s appropriate to make up and publically announce theories about werewolves while people are grieving.

Near the end of the novel a more realistic explanation is found and the plot sort of screeches to a stop. Everything it was building towards falls flat. Burgeoning romance suddenly cut off. A new empty romance forced in. Hawthorn just barely growing up. I feel the need to point out here that it is fine to believe in things, to want magic – but Hawthorn can barely distinguish reality from fiction even at the end of the novel.

Sedoti had a premise with promise, but an immature narrator wasting hundreds of pages with playing pretend makes this less of a magnificent mystery and more just mediocre.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: 13 Reasons Why

One was Lost by Natalie D. Richards

Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher:  Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: October 1st 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Waking up drugged with labels on their wrists was not part of the camping plan. To make matters worse their teacher is out cold, all their equipment is destroyed and they can’t see the other girls across the river. People die in the woods all the time, but when you’re being hunted by a psychopath things are a little more urgent than usual.

Richards has woven a suspenseful and spooky tale that reads like a campfire horror story. It was thrilling trying to put the pieces of the mystery together while worrying about what might happen to the characters next. There was so much to be worried about and the pacing kept up through the whole book. There were very few moments of rest before something new happened.

The characters were good. It was hard to care about them until a while into the book when they got a little fleshing out. In the beginning it’s hard to get a feel for anyone but Sera who’s narrating. The relationships between the character were…alright. There was very little bonding outside of the romance – which felt unnecessary. The parts where Sera is remembering her brief romance or thinking about how she doesn’t want to be like her mother are definitely the weakest parts of the book, aside from the conclusion.

The ultimate ending felt a bit weak. All the suspense felt like it was leading to something bigger and more dangerous. Richards had set out a lot of pieces, but only some actually felt like they fit in the end. It felt like the little things should have had so much more meaning to make this book perfect. Richards’ messy ending throws away a lot of the work that went into making the story as clever as it was.

It’s a solid mystery, and some of the twists are generally shocking and satisfying. However a shoehorned romance and a climax that didn’t fit the vuild up left it feeling more average than anything.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Unspeakable

Cheating Lessons by Nan Willard Cappo

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
Publisher: Tadmar Press
Publication Date: May 10th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Bernadette wants only one thing: to beat Pinehurst. Wickham High has never beaten them in anything. When Wickham makes it into the Classics Bowl – with the highest scores – Bernadette is thrilled. But maybe some things are too good to be true. How has Wickham suddenly improved? Did someone cheat?

A classic coming of age story. Despite being originally published over ten years ago it holds up entirely. I never felt like the book was too dated. It deals with themes that are timeless; although the moral is a little direct.

There are quite a few things that kept me from loving this book. The first is that the book is so caught up in it’s complex mystery plot that it forgets about the characters. Each character feels flat despite numerous attempts to give them depth. Bernadette most of all. As our protagonist she should be connecting us to the story but she always feels distant. Even her relationship with her best friend and the terrible last minute romance don’t feel as though they bring Bernadette any closer to the other characters. As well Bernadette is just fairly unlikeable. She’s judgmental and superior and although she SAYS she’s learned a lesson by the end of the book it’s never really shown.

Secondly we have the pacing. The book feels extremely slow. Random unrelated events are tossed in to try and spice things up, instead of using the plot gaps for character development. There’s a weird crush on the teacher which makes everything a bit unsettling. The main issue of the book is…solved but not satisfyingly. There is no justice the conflict just ends and everyone moves on.

There were certainly moments of drama and humour that were enjoyable, but it wasn’t and A+ title.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Only Thing Worse than Me is You

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Genres: Childrens, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 30th 2008

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“It is neither fair nor unfair, Nobody Owens. It simply is”

After his family is murdered a babe is adopted by the spirits of a graveyard. He is christened Nobody Owens. The book follows his adventures while growing up in a graveyard and facing the dangers of the world outside.

The book covers a large portion of Bod’s life. It starts when he is an infant and follows him throughout his childhood. It might seem like this would mean the book is fast-paced and focuses on only Bod’s most exciting moments; but unfortunately the book is aggravatingly slow. It was especially hard to get through the first half.

The chapters are excruciating. Chris Riddell drew very few images for this book because there are very few chapters. It is a shame that we do not get to see more of his fascinating imagery. At one point a chapter dragged on for 73 pages, and keep in mind the entire book is not quite 300. A few more chapter breaks might have made the book feel a bit quicker and less like a slow trudge.

Aside from Silas, Nobody and Jack. the characters feel a bit tossed together. Scarlet in particular feels misused. She pops in and out of the story whenever it is convenient. I suppose real life is like that but in the novel it just feels a lot like she was rushed and Gaiman wasn’t quite sure where to end her.

The book could have been much improved if things were a little more explained. It feels as though Gaiman has this wonderful world in his head, but didn’t bother to put it on paper. The nuances of the world are barely touched upon, things seem to happen with no explanation. There are monsters and different sorts of people but Gaiman barely brushes over that and by the end of the book it’s still not quite clear what’s what. The world-building was weak despite the fact that the ideas were obviously there.

It is a book about growing up and moving on, and in that respect it performs quite well. It does have a slightly nostalgic feeling and touches on what it’s like to grow up. It’s whimsical and at times fun but overall it just is. It’s not outstanding or terrible. It’s unremarkable and inoffensive, a slow start but a good enough read. Not Gaiman’s best work but certainly not his worst either.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Darkest Part of the Forest