Review: Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten

Publisher: Hot Key Books
Release date: February 27, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 352
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Kate O’Brien has always been known as the scholarship kid, running away from a terrible past and overcoming obstacles, some more sinister than others. She’s determined to make a better life for herself. She deserves it. And at the elite Waverly school, Kate is willing to do whatever it takes to climb the social ladder and land her spot at Yale.

There’s one girl in particular that catches Kate’s eye. Olivia Michelle Sumner, all born blonde and rich and just messed up enough for Kate to latch on to. As for Olivia, she’s a damaged girl, looking to be mended. She finds something promising in Kate. A study buddy. A best friend. A sister she never had. But even a vulnerable girl like Olivia has her own dark past to contend with.

When the handsome and whip-smart Mark Redkin joins the Waverly administration, he manages to woo the whole student body, paying particular attention to Olivia – an affair she very much wants to keep to herself, especially from Kate. And as a man who knows just how to get what he wants, Kate realises that Mark poses a huge threat, in more ways than she is willing to admit.

MY THOUGHTS

Thanks to Allen & Unwin for providing a review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Teresa Toten’s The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B is one of my all-time favourite books and I was extremely excited to check out Beware That Girl, even though it falls in a genre that I don’t typically gravitate towards. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with Beware That Girl. I found it to be a bit confusing and wasn’t really what I expected.

The book starts off with two girls in hospital – one as patient and one as a visitor- and it’s unclear who is who or what happened. If it wasn’t for this mystery aspect of the book, I’m not sure that I would’ve stuck with it until the end. But it kept me intrigued as I pushed through the novel and I’m glad that I finished it but I do have to say that the ending felt a little bit unresolved for my liking. Beware That Girl is about Kate, a scholarship kid, social climber and master manipulator, who has zeroed in on Oliver Sumner as her new target to take her to the top of the social ladder and to her end goal of attending Yale. Olivia, who has battled with some demons and secrets in the past year, is happy to rely on Kate for friendship and company. But when an older man comes between them and becomes involved with Olivia, things turn dark and the two have to rely on their friendship and honesty to get out of trouble.

My main problem with the book was that for the majority of it, I didn’t really know where it was going. It wasn’t until I got past the 200 page mark that I was able to get into the book and stick with it until the end. The first two-thirds of the novel was a little bit boring and I felt like nothing was really happening. I expected a little bit more build up and suspense to keep me intrigued and invested in the story and it was kind of lacking for me. The plot itself was slightly predictable, in my opinion, and some of the things that happened in the novel made me feel quite uncomfortable. I did like that there was a focus on psychopathy, which is something that I personally don’t see a lot of in YA, and I found it to be quite accurately represented in the book. But as a whole, the narrative left me uncomfortable and disappointed.

The novel jumps between Kate and Olivia’s perspectives and I can’t say that I really enjoyed either of them at the start. I found Kate to be very manipulative and dislikable at the start of the novel and it took quite a while to get used to her character. I did start to enjoy her a little bit more as the book progressed and we got to learn about her past and who she is as a person. Olivia was a bit of an enigma throughout the novel and I felt like I still didn’t really know her by the time I reached the end. This might have been because her chapters were written in third person narration, instead of first person like Kate’s. It was just a bit hard to relate to her and understand where she was coming from. Overall, I felt like the characters in the novel were kind of stereotypical rich girls and I would’ve liked a bit more depth in their characters.

Beware That Girl wasn’t the thrilling and engaging story that I expected but there were some great mental health elements in the book. I just found the plot to be slightly confusing and uncomfortable to read and I couldn’t really latch on to the story or the characters.

Beware that Girl was released on 27th February, 2017 and is available at all Australian retailers for $19.99.

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Review: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

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Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release date: May, 2011
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 228
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In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart-wrenching summer before Cullen Witter’s senior year of high school, everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town vanishes. His cousin overdoses; his town becomes absurdly obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker; and, most troubling of all, his sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, suddenly and inexplicably disappears.

As Cullen navigates a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young, disillusioned missionary in Africa searches for meaning wherever he can find it. And when those two stories collide, a surprising and harrowing climax emerges that is tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, and above all, hope.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

I’m having a hard time putting to words what this book was about. On the surface, When Things Come Back is an emotional mystery about a boy dealing with grief and the strange disappearance of his brother but the novel is about so much more than that. It explores religion and the meaning of life in an intricate and complex way.

When Things Come Back was beautifully written. It has wonderfully constructed prose that draws you into the story and the refuses to let you go. It was philosophical, emotional and, strangely, it also felt like magical realism even though this book is definitely realistic fiction. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the book and how writing set up the melancholy and stuffiness of this small, sleepy town in Arkansas. I also really loved the occasional third person omniscient narration, which is probably my favourite kind of narration in fiction. I really connected with it and highly enjoyed it. This book is however, mostly written in first person, from Cullen’s point of view. I loved his voice in the book and thought he was very honest and real. However, he did refer to himself in third person a lot and it really threw me off and made the book a little bit confusing. Other than that, I thought the writing was wonderful.

While the book is beautifully written and emotionally impactful, it’s really the last section of the novel that makes this book brilliant. The entire novel is written in alternating chapters, following Cullen and a young missionary called Benton Sage who is sent to Ethiopia at the beginning of the book. I have to admit that I was quite confused for a good 5 chapters of the book because Benton’s story was quite distinct from Cullen’s and I had no idea how they were connected. For a while, I thought Benton’s story was a story that Cullen was writing (because I obviously don’t read blurbs carefully enough) and I just had a hard time seeing how they were connected. However, these stories are connected and they are connected brilliantly. It doesn’t become clear what the connection is until the last 25% of the book, but I thought it was very well done and I definitely didn’t see any of it coming.

This book is definitely unexpected. It is extremely unique and doesn’t go in a direction that is obvious. But having said that, I did find that I couldn’t connect to a large part of the story. There’s a very strong religious component and being not religious at all, I couldn’t really get a grasp on some of the messages in the book. Or put more honestly, I couldn’t really bring myself to care enough about those religious aspects to try to put it all together. However, even with this gap in my knowledge, I still really enjoyed the story. It’s a great exploration of grief and second chances, and it also has some really great friendships and relationships in the book. I loved the friendship between Cullen and his best friend, and I especially loved the relationship between Cullen and his brother, Gabriel.

“To lose a sibling is to lose the one person with whom one shares a lifelong bond that is meant to continue on into the future.”

While this isn’t my favourite John Corey Whaley book that I’ve read (I’ve only read two and Highly Illogical Behaviour is my favourite of the two), I think it brings a very unique and intricately woven story that is full of honesty and emotion. I think this is more appropriate for a more mature YA audience but would definitely recommend it.

Review: The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

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Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Release date: May 1, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages; 468
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Imagine if you could see inside the minds of everyone around you – your best friend, your boyfriend, your enemies…?
Imagine how valuable you’d be…
Imagine how much danger you’d be in…
Imagine being an Outlier.

Wylie hasn’t heard from her best friend, Cassie, since their fight. That doesn’t matter when she gets a text from her, asking for help. But as Cassie’s messages become increasingly strange, Wylie has a growing sense that something is REALLY wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling her? And could finding her be just the beginning?

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

Thank you to HarperCollins Australia for sending me a review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Outliers is a new mystery/thriller series by Kimberly McCreight. In this first book, we follow Wylie, who receives some strange text messages from her missing friend, Cassie, asking for help. For the majority of the book, we follow Wylie and Cassie’s boyfriend, Jasper, as they go on a crazy and thrilling road trip in the middle of the night, in search for Cassie.

I don’t usually read thrillers but I decided to give this one a go because I read a sampler and was really interested in Wylie’s character and her anxiety problems in the aftermath of her mother’s car accident. Agoraphobia is something that I’m super interested in and I wanted to see how it was handled in this kind of a book. Sadly, the agoraphobia lasted for about 3 chapters before Wylie magically decided to leave the house and suddenly everything was okay again. I was pretty disappointed with how it was handled and how it was thrown to the side in favour of moving the plot forward. This is something that I see way too often in YA and I’m often left wondering why it’s even necessary for authors to incorporate mental illness into their books if it’s not going to be explored.

I also had a problem with the whole concept of the Outliers in this novel. They’re supposed to be a group of people who have heightened sensitivity to other people’s emotions – so much so that they’re able to read others’ emotions with blindfolds and headphones on. Despite the whole book centreing on this idea, it was hardly explained at all. I didn’t get the sense that the author had done a lot of research on the topic and it just didn’t seem like she had a good idea of where she wanted to go with this. Being that psychological research is my full-time job, I had lots of issues with the research that was mentioned in the book. There were lots and lots of holes and I couldn’t help but critique every aspect of the research design and cringe at how invalid some of it was. There were terms that have a very specific meaning in psychology that were misused and I had to try to ignore the whole concept of the Outliers to even enjoy the book.

As for the plot, I did find it to be exciting and thrilling but there were things that happened that were a little bit predictable. The blurb on the back of the book gives some things away and it’s definitely better to go into it not knowing anything at all. I also thought that there were some things that were kind of unrealistic and I kept finding myself being jerked out of the book because it was so hard to believe that these things were happening. Overall, even though the plot was exciting and kept me reading (in fact, I read this in two sittings), I didn’t think that it was the most amazing and exciting plot. It was honestly a little sub par. There isn’t a lot that actually happens, and a huge chunk of the book is just about Wylie and Jasper driving on the highway.

There isn’t a lot that I have to say about the characters. I disliked almost every single one of them because I didn’t know if I could trust them. I didn’t feel a connection to any of them because as soon as I felt like I knew them, there would be some sort of twist or change in attitude that would make me feel as though I never knew them in the first place. I did think Wylie was a good protagonist that I could get behind as the series progresses but I’m not sure that I’ll be continuing on with the series after this. I have no idea where the sequel is going to go but I think this book could have easily been a standalone novel if it had been better conceptualised and developed.

Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

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Publisher: Walker Books
Release date: May 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
Pages: 512
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Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a constant, overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets.

Then, just one month away from the birthday that will make Todd Hewitt a man, he unexpectedly stumbles on a spot of complete silence. Which is impossible.

Breathtakingly exciting and emotionally charged, The Knife of Never Letting Go is a compelling original story of fear, flight and the terrifying path of self-discovery.

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

Holy moly. I’m going to keep this review short so that I can jump straight into Book 2: The Ask and the Answer, because this book ends on the most unbearable cliffhanger. The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy and I need to preface this review by saying that if you plan on reading The Knife of Never Letting Go, you should have the other two books on hand! Warning: I just finished reading this novel so this review probably won’t make too much sense.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a sci-fi, dystopian novel, set in New World, where everybody can hear everybody else’s thoughts, or their Noise. In this world, animals and living things also have Noise. 12 year old Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown with his two guardians and his dog, Manchee. There are no women in Prentisstown and Todd is the only boy left in his small town. One day, Todd stumbles finds a spot of complete silence and discovers that things in Prentisstown, and on New World, aren’t as he’s been told. His new discovery leads him to have to pack up his belongings and run away from Prentisstown.

It’s probably best to go into the book not knowing anything because it’s a thrilling and suspenseful story about survival and self-discovery. We follow Todd as he escapes from Prentisstown and makes his way around the New World. Along the way, he is hunted by an army from Prentisstown and a crazy preacher who seems to be out to get him. I enjoyed the suspense in this novel quite a bit. We were left in the dark from the very beginning and things are only revealed to us as they are revealed to Todd. I didn’t find myself speculating very much, simply because everything was complex and unpredictable and I was happy to just go along for the ride. There were some scenes that were quite violent and gruesome, and the suspenseful tone of the book made these even more bloodcurdling and horrific. This plot was definitely a rollercoaster ride for me. It gave me multiple heart attacks and ripped my heart out. There were lots of feels and a bit of crying.

The uniqueness of the writing style hits you straight away. The book is written in first person narration, in an almost stream of consciousness manner. It’s something that might take a while to get used to but the style of it definitely enhanced the story for me. I felt completely immersed in the world and Todd’s story, and the writing flowed beautifully because of its stream of consciousness nature.  I found myself just flying through the book because of how well the writing flowed and how everything had its place. I thoroughly enjoyed Todd’s voice and thought it suited his character very well. There are intentional grammatical and spelling issues to showcase Todd’s background and his lack of education that might irk some readers but I didn’t have any issues with it, even though I’m a big grammar Nazi.

I really liked the characters in this book a lot. Todd was a protagonist that I didn’t always love, but his actions and his thoughts were realistic, and it was easy for me to forgive his bad decisions and shortcomings. He’s definitely an isolated boy who wants to belong but doesn’t conform to society’s expectations. I was amazed by the strength in his character. It’s hard to remember that he’s just a child because he’s doing all these incredible things to survive. I appreciated that we got to witness his inner turmoil and his efforts to maintain his innocence when the rest of the world is trying so hard to break him. I loved the development and growth in his character and thought it was the most noteworthy aspect of the book. His mental strength and willpower amazed me. However, my favourite aspect of this book was the beautiful relationship between Todd and his talking dog, Manchee. Manchee was by far my favourite character and I had a lot of Manchee feels. Cue tears.

I thought the villains in this book were also exceptional. They were so evil and terrifying that I was actually scared by how insane and crazy they were. It was also incredibly horrifying how persistent these villains were in their pursuit. One guy literally has half his face bitten off (there’s a hole in his cheek and he’s missing a nose) and he’s still alive and chasing after Todd. It was scary and horrific, but also perfectly executed and I need to start The Ask and the Answer now.

Goodbye!

Review: The Lake House by Kate Morton

the-lake-house

Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release date: October 21, 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN13: 9781742376516
Pages: 608
Goodreads || Book Depository || Booktopia (RRP: $AU32.99)

A missing child…

June 1933, and the Edevane family’s country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much anticipated Midsummer Eve party. Alice Edevane, sixteen years old and a budding writer, is especially excited. Not only has she worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she’s also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn’t. But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night skies, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great that they leave Loeanneth forever.

An abandoned house…

Seventy years later, after a particularly troubling case, Sadie Sparrow is sent on an enforced break from her job with the Metropolitan Police. She retreats to her beloved grandfather’s cottage in Cornwall but soon finds herself at a loose end. Until one day, Sadie stumbles upon an abandoned house surrounded by overgrown gardens and dense woods, and learns the story of a baby boy who disappeared without a trace.

An unsolved mystery…

Meanwhile, in the attic writing room of her elegant Hampstead home, the formidable Alice Edevane, now an old lady, leads a life as neatly plotted as the bestselling detective novels she writes. Until a young police detective starts asking questions about her family’s past, seeking to resurrect the complex tangle of secrets Alice has spent her life trying to escape…

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

I won a copy of The Lake House from Allen & Unwin in a Goodreads giveaway. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

This is the first Kate Morton book I’ve had the pleasure of reading and I’m now kicking myself that I’ve never picked up any of her earlier books, even though I’ve been walking past them at the bookstore for years and years! This book was mysterious, thrilling, endearing and just fantastic! I am also a big fan of historical fiction, and this book definitely doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

I very rarely read mysteries because I’m not very good with suspense – my heart just can’t handle these things – but The Lake House had me captivated. There is so much mystery in this novel, but there wasn’t anything that gave me a feeling of wrongness. Everything felt like it was in the right place. There are countless twists, turns and misunderstandings, and a constant sense of suspense and mystery, but everything fit together perfectly like a puzzle. I loved how clever the plot was, and every time I thought I’d figured it out, I would learn something new. The Lake House just never ceased to shock and amaze me.

The plot had me guessing the whole time. It was expertly created and it kept prompting me to think for myself. I did eventually guess what had happened, about 30 pages before the big reveal, but this wasn’t because the book was predictable. It was because the great plot and writing really made me try to solve the puzzle for myself, while the characters were doing the same thing. The reveal of what happened that night made complete sense and I thought the ending of the book was so heartwarming and I felt such a sense of closure that I couldn’t help tearing up a little. Everything was tied up neatly.

I thought the pace of the book was perfect. The mystery unravelled at just the right pace for me. It gave me enough time to digest what was happening without being too slow. I thought the pace of the book gave it a very historical and peaceful feel, which was perfect for the setting of the novel. I also thought the writing style really complemented the story and was just a joy to read. The flow of the writing is amazing and very comfortable to read. I’ve watched a couple of interviews with Kate Morton in the past, and as I was reading The Lake House, I could almost hear her voice narrating the book to me.

I was incredibly intrigued by all of the characters. I was fascinated by the story of the Edevanes and I wanted to know more and more about each of the characters and their stories. I loved all of the secrecy and the message that everybody has their own secrets to hide. I felt like I was there with each of the characters and I felt their sorrow, pain and anger along with them. It’s been a while since I’ve connected with the characters in a book as much as I did with the Edevanes.

There is romance in this book and there were so many scenes that made my heart flutter. There are many instances of insta-love but I didn’t really mind it. For me, historical fiction almost has this magical, unknown quality to it, and insta-love has the same magical feeling to it. Because of this, I didn’t mind the instant connections at all.

I highly recommend The Lake House to readers who enjoy historical fiction, mysteries and romance. But I think anybody who enjoys fantastic writing should pick this up, because The Lake House is 600 pages of the best writing.