The Last to Die by Kelly Garrett

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Sixteen-year-old Harper Jacobs and her bored friends make a pact to engage in a series of not-quite illegal break-ins. They steal from each other’s homes, sharing their keys and alarm codes. But they don’t take anything that can’t be replaced by some retail therapy, so it’s okay. It’s thrilling. It’s bad. And for Harper, it’s payback for something she can’t put into words―something to help her deal with her alcoholic mother, her delusional father, and to forget the lies she told that got her druggie brother arrested. It’s not like Daniel wasn’t rehab bound anyway.

So everything is okay―until the bold but aggravating Alex, looking to up the ante, suggests they break into the home of a classmate. It’s crossing a line, but Harper no longer cares. She’s proud of it. Until one of the group turns up dead, and Harper comes face-to-face with the moral dilemma that will make or break her―and, if she makes the wrong choice, will get her killed. (taken from Amazon)

This was an oh dear book for me. The premise – a small group of friends, and the murderer is one of them – seemed interesting, but it lacked something in the execution. I’ll try to put my issues with this book into words, but please bear with me. My train of thought often jumps its track.

I will say that the author made a gutsy choice: not a single character is remotely likeable. I’m pretty sure that was deliberate. It was tough to read a book filled with horrible people, though. The closest thing to a decent character is the main character’s sister, Maggie. Unfortunately, she was side character who wasn’t in the book nearly enough to balance the feeling of ick the other characters ooze.

As horrible as the characters all are, the main character is the absolute worst. Her internal dialogue is filled with scathing insults of her “friends,” she starts fights, frequently thinks about ways she can make people mad, and is flat-out horrible. One line in the book reads, “Nah, she wouldn’t kill herself. No way. She’d find some other way to get revenge.” How flipping awful is that? I think that line was the breaking point for me. I can’t stand when books imply suicide-as-revenge. That trope needs to go. I kept reading in the hope that one of the characters would grow a moral compass, but it never fully happened.

In this book, a group of privileged, bored teens take turns breaking into each other’s houses on a dare. They steal from their rich parents and get a rush out of it. Eventually, that starts to bore them too, so they decide to steal from someone outside their clique. That leads to murder, and suddenly anyone in the group could be next. The final motive felt a little forced to me. I couldn’t figure out what the impetus was, everything switched up so quickly.

I will say that the author’s idea was an interesting one. It just really didn’t work for me. As much as I can understand why this book might be enjoyable for many people, there were too many things that rankled at me. I won’t go out of my way to read anything else by this author, although I wish her the best of luck with this book and her writing career.

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

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Be careful of the dark, dark wood…

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why. (taken from Amazon)

Here’s what I thought the book was going to be: an old, misunderstood woman rescues a boy and nurses him back to health. As she does so, she comes to care for him as a son, leading her to try to solve the mystery of what happened the night he went missing. I was WAY off. This is about two teens who have one of those “instant connections.” You know – the kind where they both think they’re destined to be together forever, despite not knowing anything about each other. Oh – and ignoring the fact that there’s a possibility that one of them is a murderer. So, you know. It’s your usual boy-meets-girl – meets weirdness story.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know this sort of book is not my thing. It’s on me; I completely misunderstood the plot when I bought this book. I’m going to do my best to proceed as though this is something I’d normally read, and review it accordingly. Please bear with me and wish me luck!

Firstly, let me say that Shea Ernshaw did an excellent job of describing not only the setting, but the feel of the story. It takes place in an isolated, snowed-in area, near a forest that’s known to be haunted. There’s a boys’ camp across the lake, but that’s it. It was very well communicated that if anything were to happen, the few people up there would have to fend for themselves. It’s an interesting way to raise the stakes and one that she put to good use here.

The characters, while not what I expected, were likable. Oliver, in particular, was a fascinating character. He started out with a spotty memory, which turned into secrets as he slowly began to piece things together. I liked that he was an unreliable character. He clearly couldn’t be trusted but the question is: are his secrets harmless?

The story itself was just okay. I knew each twist before it happened, and the ending was a bit of a letdown for me. I’m not a huge fan of the deus ex machina trope (is that a trope?), and it just didn’t work for me. However, I have a feeling that I’ll be in the minority on this opinion. If you like stories where something random happens to suddenly save the day, this one’ll be right up your alley.

Over all, if you’re into supernatural mysteries with more than a hint of romance, this book will be one for you. It’s not my thing, but it’s a skillfully told representative of that type of story.

Devil’s Porridge Gang by Colin Garrow- Damp Pebbles Blog Tour

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1969. In a town where nothing happens, a gang of kids uncover a kidnapping plot.

In the days following the excitement of the moon landings, a group of criminals plan to kidnap the son of a Government rocket engineer – but they don’t expect a gang of kids to get in the way…

Sam Todd dreams of adventure and longs for something exciting to happen for him and his friends. When he and the gang try to add a touch of excitement to their lives by stealing empty bottles from a pop factory, they are easily caught. But the consequences lead them back to the factory where they begin to uncover a villainous scheme.

Thank you to Damp Pebbles and the author for providing me with a book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

This book was an interesting one to me. It took me a little bit to get into because the dialogue was very different than what I’m used to reading. Once I got the hang of it, however, I really enjoyed this book.

I loved the strong nostalgic feel of this book. I kept thinking of the Hardy Boys throughout. These kids are fun to read, and have more than a hint of danger-seeking. My favorite character was Sam. He was so loyal! He was just a great kid. The book switches points of view, though, so that each character is explored.

This is an entertaining romp, one that would be great for older kids, or adults who like good, nostalgic fun!

The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

This book was fantastic! Steeped in Norse mythology, and utterly creeptastic (add that to your vocabulary: if “fleek” can be a word,  “creeptastic” can be too), this was just what I needed .

Martha senses things about people just by touching their clothes. It started after she fell out of the twisted tree at her Mormer’s (grandmother’s) house, and became blind in one eye. Trying to get answers for this disturbing development from the one person she suspects might know something about it, she runs away to see Mormer- only to learn that she’s dead and that a teen boy has been living in her house.

The book quickly picks up an incredibly eerie atmosphere: out in the middle of nowhere with a huge storm coming, something outside (a wolf- or worse?), ghosts inside, and questions that need answering,  Martha has to face the truth of the Twisted Tree and who she is.

At less than four hundred pages, this is a quick read, perfect for an evening cuddled up with your warm drink of choice. Actually, the shortness of the book is the only thing that I felt even a little negatively towards, and that’s simply because I enjoyed it so much that I wanted it to continue.

The book builds to a crescendo, the mythology aspect is incredibly interesting (although a few liberties have been taken), and the relationship between the two main characters is one of the few I’ve read in a long time that didn’t annoy me. It was natural-feeling, and didn’t distract from the plot-line at all.

This is Rachel Burge’s debut novel, and I sincerely hope it won’t be her last. If you’re looking for an eerie read, this book is for you.

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Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

Five years ago, when they were thirteen, Brynn and Mia’s best friend was murdered. Everyone thinks they did it, obsessed over a fictional world called Lovelorn. The thing is, they didn’t. In this book, Mia and Brynn decide to “go back to Lovelorn”, face their past, and try to discover what really happened.

This isn’t the sort of book I normally read. I have a very vivid imagination which means that thrillers can easily get to be too much for me. However, this was done in such a way that I was able to handle it. Not only that, but I was hooked. It’s much more than a who dunnit; it’s a study of human nature, and an examination of the many different facets of a person that the world doesn’t see.

I loved the way reality and a made-up world collided in the book as Mia, Brynn, and a few other characters tried to figure out the mystery. I was on the edge of  my seat, wondering whether the author would actually choose to divulge the answer, or leave me forever wondering.

The writing was skillful, weaving a story that was more about the survivors and how their lives were affected than about the murder in and of itself. That being said, there were a few difficult parts that I had to rush through: mainly, brief mentions of self-harm in two separate places, and a vague allusion to harassment.

I liked that the main reason the girls were suspects (aside from being the best friends) was that the murder matched one that they had described in a fan fiction they’d written; a fan fiction that no one else had read. I also thought the final few sentences in the book were flat-out brilliant.

All in all, while this isn’t a book I’ll reread, I did find it engrossing. I suggest it, but with the caveat that it does deal with some sensitive material. If you enjoy psychological thrillers, this is right up your alley.

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In the Shadows by Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo

I thought I knew what I was getting with this book. I was so very, very wrong; and it was perfect!

First mistake: This is a fun, lighthearted story. This book tends more toward horror than any other genre. The atmosphere is tense and creepy throughout the entire book, and the illustrations (more on those in a bit) only add to the mysterious goings-on.

Second mistake: The illustrations are just beautiful additions to the storyline. The illustrations- done in a graphic novel style- tell their own story. Basically, there are two separate stories being told, but they compliment each other and end up meeting up for the culmination of the book.

Third mistake: This book is intended for a young audience. While, reading-level wise, my ten year old could easily read this book in a week, the subject matter and the way it’s written would scare the snot out of him.

The characters were well-developed, the graphic story only served to add to the deliciously creepy vibe Kiersten White achieved, and the writing was incredibly detailed. I highly recommend this book for a spooky evening.

Jackaby by William Ritter

I read the Jackaby tetralogy, by William Ritter. I went back and forth on whether to review just one book, or the entire series. I’ve decided to just talk about the first book, to avoid accidentally giving anything away.

Think of a cross between Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, with a supernatural twist thrown in, and you’ve got R.F. Jackaby. Jackaby is a supernatural detective. He’s kooky, absent-minded, witty, and clever, sometimes simultaneously. How do you catch a murderer if you’re not sure if he or she is human? Told from the perspective of Abigail- this series’ Watson- this book is simply fun! 
Jackaby comes complete with a great cast of characters. They all add to the narrative. Jenny is the strongest, most well-written female character I’ve read in a long time. If William Ritter ever writes a side novel specifically about her, I’ll be standing in line to read it.

The mysteries aren’t mind-bending, but they are entertaining and well thought out. I love that there are clues scattered throughout the book. I can’t stand it when a mystery’s solution comes out of the blue, so I appreciate that you can go back through the book and follow the logic to get to the “whodunnit” correctly.

If you like entertaining, easy reads, give this series a go! You won’t be sorry. The pages fly by and there’s never a dull moment.

If you prefer your mysteries sans supernatural, read The Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters. It has a similar rip-roaringly adventurous appeal without the fairy tale critters. Amelia Peabody is incorrigible in the best possible way.

What should I read next? Comments? Suggestions?

My Book Suggestions: The Crocodile On the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters; The Screaming Staircase by Johnathan Stroud.


One of Us is Lying

             I recently read One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus. The premise of the book is interesting: The Breakfast Club meets the game Clue. I’d heard some positive buzz, so I thought I’d give it a go. 

It begins with five kids being stuck in detention: Cooper, the jock; Addy, the popular one; Bronwyn, the smartypants; Nate, the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks; and Simon, the admin. of a gossip site that is invariable correct. Five kids go in, but only four come out. The rest of the book revolves around solving the murder of Simon, the gossip. 

The book alternates between the point of views of the four protagonists. I thought the author’s idea of introducing the “locked house mystery” to the YA genre was a good one and I was intrigued because I love unreliable narrators. Unfortunately, this book did not deliver at all. 

The lies that the title of the book refers to are all uninteresting and I saw the resolution (which I’m trying really hard not to spoil) coming from a mile away. The characters were incredibly cliche and the best thing about this book was the idea behind it. 

I’m probably being harsher toward this book than I’d normally be because there’s a situation in this book that I feel is seriously harmful toward an already misunderstood issue: mental health. I’ll not go into that more here because, again, I’m trying not to give spoilers. Suffice it to say, I was disappointed. 

That being said, I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority in my negative viewpoints. Like Lavar Burton always said, “You don’t have to take my word for it!”. If you’ve read it, what did you think? 

If you’re looking for a good mystery, pick up And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie instead. 

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