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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Breathe by Dax Varley

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Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: Garden Gate Press
Publication Date: August 31st 2016

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Hayden McKaley is pretty and popular – and she’s been kidnapped. Who is her captor, and what does he mean when he says that Hayden killed his son?

This is thinly veiled torture porn. The characters are a pretty, nice girl and a very evil man. Also, there’s a son who may or may not exist and a doctor who’s personality doesn’t exist. It’s extremely short and other than torture almost nothing happens.

I want to categorize this book as a mystery, because who Hayden’s killer is is a huge part of the novel. The problem is that the book introduces us to no one but her kidnapper. The clues Hayden sees to his identity mean nothing to the reader. A mystery isn’t fun if there’s literally no way for readers to unravel it. It’s not satisfying to have to wait for the end to find out that some character you’ve never heard of is the criminal.

Let’s talk about alternate endings. They can be interesting, but your book should not be 30% alternate endings. It feels like the author got bored of the plot and didn’t quite know how to tie it off. Certain “clues” only lead to certain endings. Alternate endings are not a good choice for novels where the suspense and mystery are the drives. I want to know who did it. I don’t want three different options.

In a weird way, I sort of enjoyed the book. It was easy to breeze through in about an hour. I was sort of invested to find out what happened to the guy’s son. If the book had spent more time on a blend of the first and second ending it could have been interesting. If Hayden or her kidnapper had a personality outside of tiny boxes it could have been fantastic. They didn’t, and it wasn’t.

This novel is too short to develop anything interesting and it’s even shorter with the alternate endings taking up so many pages.

For Fans of: Follow Me Back

Rage by Richard Bachman

Genres: Thriller
Publisher: Signet
Publication Date: September 6th 1977

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Two years ago. To the best of my recollection, that was about the time I started to lose my mind.”

Charlie Decker is ready to get it on. After years of slowly descending into a disturbed mental state he murders his teacher and takes his class hostage. Over one tense afternoon Decker and his classmates examine their lives.

For a novel about a tense school shooting scenario there’s a surprising number of pages not devoted to the tense school shooting scenario. A majority of the book is anecdotes from Charlie and his classmates about their past experiences and most of those are only vaguely interesting. There’s a lot of focus on sex and masturbation just for the sake of being vulgar not actually advancing any aspects of the story.

It’s easy to see why this novel was pulled from print. Although it doesn’t really demonstrate a realistic school shooting scenario Decker is definitely who some school shooters would like to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stephen King, who wrote this novel under his Bachman alias, also pulled the novel for it’s less than stellar quality compared to his other works.

Decker fails to feel threatening or psychopathic. He doesn’t demonstrate any of the mental defects that school shooters tend to have and he just feels like a bit of a brat. The other students reacted in a very strange way to the horror and it all felt pretty low stakes for a thriller. It was mostly Charlie’s inner monologue sometimes interrupted by other people’s stories and very briefly stopped by an incompetent police force.

It’s shocking to read a bad novel by a great author, but it is what it is. There is nothing satisfying about reading this novel. There is no suspense after the first few pages. Charlie Decker is a dreadful protagonist and a lackluster villain. You can’t root for him but he’s not worth fearing. The plot doesn’t really go anywhere and essentially the story boils down to “no one understands me, what a cruel world, popular kids suck and my life sucks wah wah wah”.

It’s difficult to read a book where the protagonist is so unlikable and essentially monologuing his childhood throughout a supposed “thriller”. It’s one of King’s weakest works. Though its involvement in school shootings is regrettable, Rage being out of print is no great loss to the literary world and King has many better books in his collection.

For Fans Of: This is Where it Ends

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.

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

Unnatural Deeds by Cyn Balog

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Thriller
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: November 1st 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A copy of this novel was received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Victoria is quiet, she doesn’t have any friends at school. She suffers from anxiety and struggles through everyday – but her boyfriend, Andrew, makes everyday worth it. Victoria’s life is enough for her until her world is turned upside down by a handsome new kid, Z. She falls for him harder than she’s ever fallen before, but something terrible is going to happen and her connection to Z is the start of it all.

Balog expertly crafts a story full of lust, love, thrills and mystery. Z is to die for. He’s a perfect blend of charm and good looks while maintaining an unscrupulous air. Victoria plays the innocent lamb role while hiding a more thrill seeking side and even the classic mean girls aren’t quite what they seem. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Z as Victoria does, in fact it’s hard not to feel all of Victoria’s feelings along with her.

The writing style was particularly unique. Written as a message being recorded by Victoria as she lies wounded to her boyfriend Andrew the book opens with the reader knowing something terrible will happen by the end. Each chapter opens with a newspaper clipping about the murder to come or an interview with a teacher, parent or classmate. It’s incredibly successful at building suspense towards the eventual crime. Who is the murderer? How did things go so badly? It’s hard to put the book down when you need to know so badly.

An absolutely shocking ending. There are a lot of ways I predicted the story could go but I never even considered the way it went. Despite going into the book knowing there would be a twist I didn’t manage to see it coming and that is a feat all it’s own. However the twist isn’t entirely satisfying. It leaves several parts of the story feeling wrong. There are certainly parts of the story that foreshadow the twist, but there are parts that barely make sense when reread with the twist in mind.

A nearly perfect thriller, although it could have done with either a slightly altered ending or better foreshadowing it’ll definitely hit home with mystery and romance fans alike.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Vanishing Girls

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Genres: Young Adult, Thriller, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: January 5th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Together we could be so strong, but the gun has made us individuals.”

Fifty-four minutes is all it takes. Told from four different points of view, This is Where it Ends tells a thrilling and tragic tale of a school shooting. Each of the four stories takes place in two to four minute chunks as they struggle to survive.

This is a review that is going to be extremely hard to write. To put it simply: I loved this book. It was exciting and fun to read, easy to finish in a single sitting. Above all books should entertain, but I’m not entirely blind to the issues that stopped it from being a complete masterpiece.

There were parts of this book where I could not suspend my disbelief. Where I realized certain things were just TOO ridiculous to be realistic. Three of the four main characters stare down the barrel of a gun while giving speeches. Two of these speeches read like prose from a John Green novel far more suited to a graduate of literature than a teenager. Courage does exist, but these characters spit in the face of death. They’ve crossed the thin line between brave and stupid. There are exchanges I cannot force myself to believe would ever happen between a teenager and someone who just murdered a dozen people.

It’s a novel that should have been about victims, but made itself about heroes.

I know that sentence sounds like it’s a good thing but it’s not. A lot of the trauma a shooting like this should create is lost because our protagonists are too busy giving speeches about their love or trying to save the whole school.  The protagonists are almost flawless caring for sick mothers, working hard, defending siblings; I could not give you a single flaw of any of the four main characters. Sure Tomás beats people up but only for good reasons. He’s lovably mischievous. The four protagonists barely even sound different in their narration; which doesn’t even cover that Claire is horrifically boring because she’s not even involved in the shooting or the rescue.

On the other end we have our shooter, what a twisted caricature he is. Tyler does at times speak like a school shooter would; but the entire affair has been made too black and white. Tyler is not a kid who snapped, he’s evil. Tyler is given a few good characteristics immediately swept away with more stories about how he was definitely pretty bad the whole time. It changes the situation from a tragedy no one could have seen coming to “yeah maybe you should have noticed when he did all this other evil stuff before this”.

He’s also a flawless murderer. The amount of set-up he does and the fact that almost nothing goes wrong for him is entirely unbelievable. Things only start to go wrong for him when it’s convenient story-wise and then they go so far in the opposite direction it’s still hard to believe.

it’s also very diverse, and diversity is a good thing; but Nijkamp chose to set this book in Alabama. We’re meant to believe that in Alabama an out-and-proud gay student has few issues and everyone loves him for standing up to bullying. Like discrimination against the LGBT+ community doesn’t exist in Alabama schools anymore. Not to mention that in this small town a shooting manages to last almost an hour while the police muddle around outside waiting – which is no longer something they do in school shooting scenarios.

I’m torn; I loved this book despite all the issues. It was a joy to read; but it is written with bare bones understands of school shootings and school shooter psyches. It puts good and evil hats on the characters and fine; we know school shooters are bad. What they are doing is bad; the interesting part is why. Tyler is given some very flimsy motivation and sent on his way.

This book is a good thriller. It is not a good book dealing with school shootings. It’s not a good book about the moral complexity and why shooters become killers. It’s not even very good at creating the diversity it strives to feature. But it’s entertaining. I have to give it that.

It may have MANY flaws; but it was a good read and if you don’t think about it too much it’s a lot of fun.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: All the Bright Places

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

Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

Genres: Adult, Horror, Anthology, Thriller
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: November 3rd 2015

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

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“But there’s something to be said for a shorter, more intense experience. It can be invigorating, sometimes even shocking, like a waltz with a stranger you will never see again, or a kiss in the dark, or a beautiful curio for sale laid out on a cheap blanket at a street bazaar.”

Published 35 years after his last anthology Nightshift this book is long overdue. A collection of short stories by King, previously published and entirely new. Each is introduced with a short anecdote or explanation as to how the story came to be. A wonderful collected of 20 covering a variety of different genres, but all with King’s trademark sprinkles of horror.

I think that an essential part of horror is the strange and unfamiliar. Of course this doesn’t mean a proper novel can’t be good, I just find short stories more effective. Stephen King isn’t well-known for no reason. Each of the stories have well-fleshed out characters and a compelling premise.

These stories, like most of King’s work, are not clean-cut horror. They brush along several other genres. They look into human nature and are hilarious, tragic and sometimes even a touch romantic. Even the intros to each story are brilliant, and perhaps the best part of the book.

Ur was the standout story for me. That’s not to say that they other stories weren’t fantastic (they were), but Ur’s plot was absolutely brilliant. While it was definitely meant to be a short story I could have read an entire series of novels on the brilliant premise King presents.

Some King fans might be disappointed as the new content is definitely outweighed by older stories, but it works well as a collection. Many reviewers go through and rate each story individually but I believe part of an anthology is how the stories work together. In this book’s case it worked incredibly well. The themes of human nature, morality and mortality echo in every story. From the end of the world to the end of one life it is a collection that will make you think.

Well it may not be an absolute hit for every reader there’s at least one story in this book for everyone.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

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Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Contemporary, Thriller
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: March 10th 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Sometimes people stop loving you. And that’s the kind of darkness that never gets fixed, no matter how many moons rise again, filling the sky with a weak approximation of light.”

Nick and Dara were in an accident, neither of them quite remember how it happened, but Dara won’t speak to her sister.. On top of this their parents are divorcing. Their father has a pretty new girlfriend and drinks way too much. Their mothers takes pills and becomes completely absorbed in the case of missing nine year old Madeline Snow. Somewhere there’s an answer to all of this, what happened the night of the accident, where is Madeline and why is Dara acting so strange?

There is a lot going on in this book, but that’s not to it’s detriment. It does start a little slow and seems to roll painstakingly along for a bit. The ending is well worth it, it takes a lot for a book to shock me to my core, but Lauren Oliver struck hard. The foreshadowing is so subtle and lovely that you have to flip back after finishing to realize the answer was always there. It’s absolutely brilliant story-wise.

The start was slow though and more than anything I was so tired about hearing about eyes. Vivid, nearly yellow, warm grey-green-blue, it’s so dull. It’s such a cheap way to make a character pretty or handsome and it’s so overused. Especially eyes with in between magical colour shifting powers. The writing WAS compelling as a thriller should be but the descriptions of characters were mediocre at best and the quirks each had seemed A) mostly physical or B) entirely irrelevant and queer. Like a single odd obsession (with an amusement park or a video game) was enough to make a person feel real.

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READ THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN OF: THE LOVELY BONES

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Crime, Suspense
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Synopsis: On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River.

Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter–but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet? (source: Goodreads)

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”

The truth is no one needs me to tell them Gone Girl is good.

I saw the movie first and it sort of ruined me for the twist but that did not make the book any less enjoyable. It is worth noting to that the ending of the novel does differ from the film in a way that makes it much more satisfying.

I didn’t find either character likable in any version of themselves, but more importantly they were relatable. You don’t have to like either of them to see little pieces of yourself (hopefully not too much).

There is nothing to be said about this book that has not already been said. Even as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy crime novels I tore through this book excited to read every page. If you’re considering reading it, definitely do. There isn’t any reason not to.

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READ THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN OF: WHAT WAS SHE THINKING? [NOTES ON A SCANDAL]