Monthly Archives: September 2015

ARC Review – A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

24376529Title: A Madness So Discreet

Author:  Mindy McGinnis

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Grace Mae knows madness. She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of going to an event at the Harper Collins Canada offices. Although I had already received an ARC of this book before the event, I learned a lot more aboutA Madness so Discreet than I realized through the discussion of the publisher. The book takes place in an asylum, it questions who is truly mad, and it also has a Sherlock-esque style mystery afoot. All these little aspect made me realize that I was going to have a fun, if disturbing read on my hands.

And it was everything I had hoped it to be!

I’ve never read Mindy McGinnis before, but she’s an author a lot of my friends absolutely adore. After reading this book, I totally understand the Mindy McGinnis love fest — A Madness So Discreet has wonderful and rich world building, ripe with gorgeous description, detailing the chronicles of Grace’s madness, who she wants revenge on, and why mental illness is such a tough topic to tackle, especially given that this is a period piece as well.

I loved Grace as a protagonist, and I loved the way in which she is developed throughout. A lot of this book asks the reader to question who is truly insane, and it’s done exceptionally well with how the characters in the asylum are developed. I was a huge fan of Nell, and I found her to be quite creepy and humourous at the same time. Falsteed was just such a great and misleading character, and Thronhollow is just… he’s insane. If there is anyone truly insane at times in this story, it’s him all the way through. And I adore him for it.

The cast in this book is stellar, and they are all such wonderfully developed individuals. They keep the mystery and murder elements in the story fresh and engaging, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t find this book predictable in the slightest. I found myself constantly wanting more information, more deductions on the case at hand, and the final forty pages of this book are so mind blowing, that I found myself gasping aloud because while I had a hunch that this event would happen, I didn’t think it would happen in the way that McGinnis took it. Seriously, the ending is brilliant.

A Madness So Discreet is complex, intense, and delightfully creepy. It’s a book that will keep you on your toes and ask you to ponder some tougher issues, while also presenting a fast-paced adventure in a true Sherlock style manner. If you loved Mindy McGinnis’ previous books, or you want a wonderful, creepy historical novel, then look no further.

ARC Review – Dreamland by Robert L. Anderson

23245337Title: Dreamland

Author: Robert L. Anderson

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Odea Donahue has been able to travel through people’s dreams since she was six years old. Her mother taught her the three rules of walking: Never interfere. Never be seen. Never walk the same person’s dream more than once. Dea has never questioned her mother, not about the rules, not about the clocks or the mirrors, not about moving from place to place to be one step ahead of the unseen monsters that Dea’s mother is certain are right behind them.

Then a mysterious new boy, Connor, comes to town and Dea finally starts to feel normal. As Connor breaks down the walls that she’s had up for so long, he gets closer to learning her secret. For the first time she wonders if that’s so bad. But when Dea breaks the rules, the boundary between worlds begins to deteriorate. How can she know what’s real and what’s not?

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this for review!

River’s Review:

Sadly I didn’t really enjoy this book as much as I had hoped, which was really upsetting because I was SO looking forward to this! I just spent a lot of time while reading this book thinking “really…?” because there was just a lot of stuff that made me either side eye it or roll my eyes at it. Basically I just can’t believe half the stuff the people in this book believed! And the lack of explanation of anything just frustrated me to no end.

Dea wasn’t a bad character but she didn’t really do anything for me. I thought her friend’s nickname was stupid and her instant connection with Connor was a little too convenient. And the dreamwalking thing, which seemed SO cool, was just so flat and boring and never really made any sense to me.

Other things that bugged me where the “rumors” that the people believed about Dea and her mother. Vampires, zobmies, witches? Really? Maybe like, in elementary school. And this is so stupid, but when she went to the post office and had to get let in to access her PO Box… I kinda thought the whole point of a PO Box was so that you could go anytime to access it (I know the one at my post office is outside of the main lobby so you can still use it after the main lobby has closed). And it drove me INSANE when she was choosing to leave safety and security for someone she’d known for less than a few months! There were just all kinds of bad YA choices happening and I didn’t like it at all.

But the writing wasn’t bad and I was able to finish it, so two stars.

ARC Review – This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee

22811807Title:  Never Always Sometimes

Author: Adi Alsaid

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis:  In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

HUGE thank you to HarperCollins for sending me an ARC of this book!

River’s Review:


end of review.


Okay no sorry I lied. I am just OLIVER.

Okay, so this book! I have a little story behind this book. Back when the cover came out (I think I was still in Japan? idk) I was like ‘wow, monsters, clockwork men… sounds like my kinda book! (I’m a closet monster/cyborg fan. They’re HOT.) and I followed the author on twitter. Then I moved to Boston and I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW SHE LIVES HERE OKAY. I was at an event for Lori Goldstein’s book and I heard someone whisper behind me “That’s Mackenzi Lee… author of This Monstrous Thing!” and I was like say what? I have an eARC of that!!!! And like an hour after the even ended I got up my courage to said hi and we fangirled about Maggie (Ganseyyyy) and now we’re friends so it went from being a book that hooked me with monsters to being a book written by a friend and I was all OMG about reading and reviewing it because I AM SO SCARED TO READ BOOKS WRITTEN BY FRIENDS.

But I loved this. Lately I’ve been in the mood for fantasy (to balance out all of the contemporary I like to read in the summer, and the winter, and the fall… okay…) so this was just perfect for me (as I was in between two super summery contemporary books). I loved the setting, the dark atmosphere, the fact that it was set in the winter, the liberties taken with the real history it was based on and… Oliver.

This is a book about two brothers and the monstrous things they do. Oliver is dead and then Alasdair brings him back to life and hides him in a castle. Alasdair is a Shadow Boy; he works on clockwork body parts that replace the missing limbs of war veterans, and he’s damn good at it. His brother’s mentor, Giesler, was working on reanimation, and Alasdair figured out how to improve it and make it better, make it work. So when Oliver ends up in pieces, Alasdair puts him back together.

I loved the world that Lee creates. I loved the tension in the streets, the very real prejudices against the clockwork men. A lot of it can be related to our time, to ten, twenty, fifty years ago. Politics and segregation, police brutality… all pretty timeless stuff. I loved how Alasdair and his family ran a toy shop to cover up the fact that they were making mechanical body parts! The creep factor in this book was high and I LOVED it.

As I mentioned, I am all hearts in the eyes of Oliver. Give me monsters, give me vampires, give me shapeshifters, give me broken men, give me cyborgs. I loved how sassy and mean Oliver was and I loved how he played off Alasdair, their banter was the best. I loved how Oliver questioned himself and how both brothers though themselves monsters despite appearances.

I also adored Clemence. She really won me over and I had a few OMG NOOOO moments when it came to her well being. Mary was horrid, and I loved how horrid she was. I wanted to off Giesler from page one, and Alasdair was a perfect narrator. It was easy to slip into his mind and to feel what he was feeling.

Overall this book was awesome and I feel like fans of steam punk, historical fantasy and even gothic horror will enjoy this!

ARC Review – Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

23310699Title:  Crenshaw

Author: Katherine Applegate

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Huge thank you to Raincoast Books for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read Crenshaw in an afternoon. It’s one of those books that does a great job of sucking the reader into a story that is about family, childhood, homelessness and big kitty cats. Jackson is a boy who thinks he’s too old for an imaginary friend, but when his family falls on rough times, a large, loveable cat named Crenshaw comes to his aid.

The story itself is quite simplistic, but very sweet in nature. Jackson and his sister Robyn are trying to comprehend their parent’s financial situation. Their parents work so many jobs and can barely make ends me. This book is quite relevant in a lot of ways to the economic situation in the world — there’s more part-time work being created, but the money is never enough to support a whole family, let alone a single person. It made me so sad in a lot of ways, especially when Jackson would describe how they would all sleep in the van every night, dreaming of a place to call home.

What I loved in this story was Crenshaw himself. Crenshaw would appear in a lot of humorous ways, my favourite being the bathtub incident at the beginning of the story. I love the message that he represents as well, that people in times of need turn to something else as means to survive, to keep living. Imaginary friends, as Crenshaw puts it, will always be a part of who you are, and that’s regardless of age. Especially because Jackson thinks at age twelve, that am imaginary friend is just a silly concept.

It’s heartbreaking that homelessness is just such a common problem that people choose to ignore. This book looks at both the consequences of being homeless, and how hard people must work to at their lives and family to keep things afloat. While I did think the story wrapped up too easily, I appreciate the simplicity in the story, because it felt like a warm blanket. Reading this book didn’t make me feel alone, it made me feel a sense of love. The book has a beautiful message about life and family, and I think it’s definitely worth checking out for lovers of gentler middle grade stories.

ARC Review – The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

24885634Title:  The Scorpion Rules

Author: Erin Bow

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis: A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace – sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals – are raised together in small, isolated schools called Prefectures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Prefecture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace — even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.

Enter Elián Palnik, the Prefecture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Prefecture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.

What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Last year at the INSPIRE Bookfair held in Toronto, I met Erin Bow. We got into a conversation about her novels when I asked if she had anything new in the pipeline. She grinned at me and said, “Wait and see.” The Scorpion Rules might actually surpass Plain Kate as my favourite book by her, which is hard to believe because I am a mad fangirl for Plain Kate.

The Scorpion Rules drips a unique premise: royal children held hostage, if there country goes to war, they die. Bow does an amazing job crafted the rules of the world, while providing a unique blend of futuristic world-building with medieval ideologies. It’s really a unique blend, and the book does an amazing job of pushing the boundaries of the world-building further and further as you read on. Can I just say I squealed because Greta is a Canadian princess? I did squeal over that.

This book is disturbing on so many levels and that’s what makes it a compulsive read. There’s brainwashing, torture, and I swear I cringed any time the cider press came up. Greta takes an absolutely beating in this story, and yet she is such a strong individual who attempts to accept the circumstances and challenges them. She makes some tough decisions and I easily found myself so nervous for her. The tesnion in this novel is insane, and I found myself so uncomfortable at times.

The characters in this novel have their limits tested and pushed, and I found them all to be characters I could sympathize with. Except for Talis. Talis scared the crap out of me. Smarmy, intelligent, full of himself, he is an AI who totally will kill you if given the chance. My co-blogger kept picturing James Spader’s Ultron voice when reading Talis’ character and I 100% totally see what she’s talking about, because after she said that I found myself picturing it as well. I just found him so creepy and freaky and any time he made an uncomfortable suggestion, I found myself shuttering.

Of all of Erin Bow’s works, this might be my favourite. It left me emotionally wrecked, uncomfortable a good chunk of the time, and I found myself panicking and worrying for the safety of the characters. This book was so much more than I was expecting and wanting, from the complex relationships, to the romantic elements even. I loved everything about The Scorpion Rules and it’s totally worth the emotional torture it will put you through.

River’s Review:

This book was perfection! This is my second book by Bow and just wow. I read Sorrow’s Knot last year and really loved it. I love Bow’s writing, I love how she just pulls you under and then rips you apart before you even know it because everything is so damn beautiful and horrifying at the same time.

I went into this book with high expectations and they were met and then some. I was not prepared for the evil AI, or the complex relationships. I was not prepared for Greta’s strength and the choices that she would make.

My husband is an AI research scientist getting his PhD at MIT currently. I constantly ask him to NOT create terminators. To not created THIS type of AI. He’s given me many many lectures and reassurances on how robots wont take over, but damn. I’ve read about and watched videos about Transcendence. And the AI in this book is way more on the transcendence side than the ‘evil robots take over’ side. It’s less Skynet and more Ray Kurzwell style crazy. The machines wont take over, they’ll just stop us out unless we join them. And a future like this, a future where an AI that was not even a machine to begin with, but a MAN, is terrifying. And to know that this is real life research makes the intentions behind this book even more terrifying.

I loved the characters in this book. I loved that even the secondary characters had depth and surprising strengths. I almost cried multiple times and the ending was so bittersweet. Greta’s love for her friends and family was so strong, and I loved the complex relationship between her, Xie and Elian.

And let me take a moment to talk about the goats. Evil AI and GOATS?! I loved how essential the goats were to this story. They added comedy, they were catalysts for pivotal moments and they were just damn cute!

This book is getting a lot of buzz and I’m glad for it. Check it out, and make sure to check out Bow’s other books. I know that I’m going to have to hunt down a copy of Plain Kate ASAP!

ARC Review – Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales

23310761Title: Tonight the Streets Are Ours

Author: Leila Sales

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley is recklessly loyal. Taking care of her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose in her life and makes her feel like she matters. But she’s tired of being loyal to people who don’t appreciate her—including her needy best friend and her absent mom.

Arden finds comfort in a blog she stumbles upon called “Tonight the Streets Are Ours,” the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter. When Peter is dumped by the girlfriend he blogs about, Arden decides to take a road trip to see him.

During one crazy night out in NYC filled with parties, dancing, and music—the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does—Arden discovers that Peter isn’t exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn’t exactly who she thought she was, either.

Huge thank you to Macmillan/Raincoast Books for letting us read an advanced copy!

River’s Review:

First off I want to say that the only reason I read this so soon is because it was one of those ‘will expire in 60 days’ deals and I didn’t want to forget about it and have it expire and have to re-download it or whatever cuz then I would have just skipped it. And I did not want to skip this book. This Song Will Save Your Life is a favorite of mine and I was really excited to see another book coming out by the same author.

Sadly this just didn’t do it for me like TSWSYL. Everything was just a little flat for me and I had trouble connecting with or liking anyone. The writing was tight, but lacked the emotion that TSWSYL did. I wasn’t able to connect to Arden or Lindsey at all. The little brother annoyed the crap out of me, the dad needed a good dose of reality (which he got) and the mother… I was torn on her. I wanted to be mad at her and tell her to wait until her kids were older to run off to try and get her shit together, but as an adult woman I could understand her need to get out of the situation she was in.

In Tonight the Streets are Ours Arden tells us a love story. About her friends and family and a random boy she met online. Now, when I read the synopsis of this I thought that she’d formed a relationship (friendship, whatever) with Peter, the author of the ‘Tonight the Streets are Ours’ blog that Arden finds and becomes obsessed with. But they never communicate at all. Arden just reads about his break up with his girlfriend, decides that Peter needs here and takes off to New York City (which is 300 miles away) in her shitty car (srsly, it’s a piece of junk) and her super unreliable best friend Lindsay.

I’m gonna stop right here and say that maybe I’m too old or this book. Because all I could think about was WHAT HAPPENED TO INTERNET SAFETY 101?! Are we no longer teaching teens that it’s NOT OKAY TO MEET STRANGERS FROM THE INTERNET?! Now before you yell at me about how ppl meet online all the time, I grew up with the internet. I was in middle school when regular old people could connect their Gateway desktops to their phone lines and sit there for ten minutes while it dialed up the World Wide Web. My parents watched all of the Dateline episodes about child predators lurking in chat rooms. TV told my parents that THE INTERNET IS DANGEROUS and they listened. That said I did meet TONS of people from the internet later on in life. When I was older. Or supervised by an adult. I met my college roomates and best friends on livejournal. I used to travel across the state to stay the weekend with a girl I met online. I met my husband from the Japanese equivalent of Facebook. I’m all for meeting people online IF YOU KNOW THEM IN SOME CAPACITY BEFOREHAND. So when I say that I did not approve of what Arden did it’s because she DIDN’T KNOW PETER. And as a blogger if some random person read my blog and then drove over 300 miles to meet me WITHOUT HAVING COMMUNICATED WITH ME I would not be pleased. And that was when this book really lost points with me.

Also Adren knows that Peter works at a bookstore in NYC and on their way down Lindsey calls all of them asking if Peter is working and one store is like ‘yeah he’s in today’. And that also scared the crap out of me because I just went through security training at my new job and you’re NEVER supposed to give out personal information over the phone to an unknown party ESPECIALLY SOMETHING LIKE IF THE PERSON IS AT SAID LOCATION. It could be ANYONE calling. A stalker (case in point), an angry family member, an armed psychopath. So yes it’s supposed to be clever on Lindsey’s side, but the actual safety of it made me cringe so much.

Anyway, Adren and Lindsey make it to NYC and they find Peter and meet him and go off with him to a party. ALL THE SAFEST THINGS IN THE WORLD. Arden seems SO proud that she knows all of this stuff about Peter from his blog and he doesn’t find it creepy at all (because Peter turns out to be an asshole), and I don’t know why Arden didn’t feel weird about it (I guess because she felt like she was entitled to Peter from reading about him). Now I’m pretty active on Twitter and I follow some of my friends that I see pretty often on there and once a friend of mine and I were talking and I mentioned something that I’d written on twitter and she was like ‘oh yeah I saw on Twitter’ and then we realized how fucking WEIRD it was and decided that even if we’d already known something from reading it on twitter that we wouldn’t say anything about it because IT IS WEIRD.

Anyway, so I did like that Arden slowly pieced together that most of Peter’s blog was a one-sided version of what he wanted people to know and that he’d actually just been writing in a way that made him look cool/the victim/desirable. That he’d left out entire portions of what was really going on and the real reason why his brother ran away and his girlfriend broke up with him. How he’d used his family’s issues to make him seem unloved when really he was the cause of a lot of the problems! Adren began to see that was someone wrote down on their blog didn’t necessarily mean that’s how they were like in real life and her image of him was shattered.

So if you’re expecting this to be a love story about Arden running off to NYC to find her blogger soulmate, it’s not.

There are also a few moments where Arden finally speaks her mind to her mother, father, Lindsey and her boyfriend. Those were well done and Arden needed to finally speak her mind, but they all seemed a bit canned and didn’t necessarily flow as well as they could have.

Overall this is not a bad book and I’m sure it will work for some people, but alas it just wasn’t meant for me.

Sam’s Review:

One of my favourite books in 2013 was This Song Will Save Your Life. I found the novel moving, something I could relate to in a strong way. Needless to say, I was thrilled that Leila Sales was putting out another novel, one I was hoping to have a much stronger emotional connection towards. I have to admit, however, that while I enjoyed parts of this novel, I struggled to suspend my disbelief in some situations.

I will concede that I loved the idea of this novel being an unexpected love story, and I loved the exploration around this concept. I think Sales does a great job of grabbing the reader’s attention to show obsessed Arden becomes with the blog and the man behind the words. It’s easy to become infatuated with someone else’s words or the way in which they tell their stories, but I admit, I disapproved of Arden’s actions in going to NYC and seeking Peter out in real life.

I just had such a hard time suspending my disbelief for that, and I feel uncomfortable with the idea that someone would go that far to stalk someone’s blog. I recognize that it happens, but my discomfort comes from the fact that it at first comes across quite unwelcomed? Perhaps there’s just a part of me that was confused by how this was supposed to be a romantic gesture of sorts — and like my co-blogger said, there’s that part of me that felt out and questioned how Arden could be so damn trusting towards Peter. I understand that she feels like she knows him, but on the other side of the coin does she really? Again, the level of trust and lack of discomfort really threw me for a loop, and admittedly, I’m surprised that Lindsey as her friend would go along with this (mind you, she’s the more adventurous type compared to Arden). I really enjoyed the reveal in regards to Peter, and I loved that Arden learns how one-sided everything is after confronting him about his relationship with Bianca. I kinda wish Arden had been more upfront with Chris, but I do like how Sales shows cheating as a learning experience, though I still wish she hadn’t done that!

I will say, I actually loved the friendship between Arden and Lindsey. For me, that was the best parts of this novel — the way they had each others back, the way they could call each other on their crap, the way in which they took care of each other was pretty admirable. I also loved Arden’s growth in terms of her family problems and how she eventually is able to speak out about it to her parents and others. For me, those were the more interesting parts of the novel since I struggled to buy into the Peter relationship and the blog stalking. I just found those aspects so hard to connect with mostly because I was screaming STRANGER DANGER every few seconds.

I think Tonight the Streets Are Ours is definitely an engaging read, especially if you can suspend your disbelief with how easy a lot of aspects fall into the place. I found I liked the novel, but was just also very disappointed in how simple and easy a lot of the situations were. I wish there had been more to the consequences, because that really did frustrate me. I’m disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this book the way I did This Song Will Save Your Life, but I do recommend it to those who can suspend their disbelief and enjoy the narrative for what it is.

ARC Review – What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

20922826Title:  What We Saw

Author: Aaron Hartzler

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis:  Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.

But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question: Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?

Huge thank you to Harper Teen/Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

River’s Review:

This book scared me. It gave me chills and after I finished it I had a nightmare about it. It’s THAT good. And that raw. Rape culture scares the shit out of me and as an adult, knowing that teens are dealing with this shit, and getting away with it, scares me even more.

I read Courtney Summers All the Rage a few months ago and that book made me so furious at the world. This book made me sick with the world. If you liked ATR pick this up in September.

Hartzler’s writing is solid and his truths are frightening. Kate, our narrator, goes to a party and gets wasted. Her and pretty much half the junior class from her school. A popular basketball player holds the party and everyone shows up. Kate wakes up the following day and can’t remember much about the party. She remembers her crush, a long time childhood friend, drove her home. Her best friend sends her a drunk photo of herself and Kate makes her delete it. There’s a ton of shit floating around on twitter and facebook with some questionable hashtags, one, #r&p, a mystery.

In the following days the popular basketball players are arrested for sexual assault and child pornography. Everyone in their small midwestern town rally’s behind the boys because they come from good families, get good grades, and THEY’RE STAR BASKETBALL PLAYERS. Nobody believes that the girl, Stacey, was actually hurt. They brush her off as being a slut, “asking for it”, and crying wolf after regretting hooking up with the guys. The way that Stacey and her claims are brushed off sickens me. And the reaction from not only the students, but the adults, was terrifying. The teens immediately start to slander Stacey online, tweeting some of the most horrific things I’ve ever read in a book. And the school principal and the basketball team coach start to cover it up. Kate’s parents make offhanded comments about how it might not be true and hopefully it’s just “a misunderstanding”. Kate’s dad tells her to stay out of it and keep her head down. Townspeople can’t believe that “That Stacey girl” is going to ruin the lives of boys who have their whole lives ahead of themselves. The basketball player girlfriends rally behind the boys, and Ben, Kate’s crush turned new boyfriend, is hiding something.

Kate feels like this is all wrong though. Her group of friends is divided: one girl is religious and thinks that if you “follow the rules” then you wont get raped. And Stacey was obviously not following the rules because she was drunk, wearing a short skirt, and was generally from a bad part of town. Another girl thinks that it’s just “boys being boys”. Thankfully Kate has one friend who thinks that what happened to Stacey was wrong and that the worship the boys are receiving is also wrong. The two start to ask questions and eventually uncover a video from that night that is horrific. And tells more of the story than anyone ever knew.

Stacey wasn’t just raped. She was brutally assaulted. And at one point Stacey says that she learned what happened to herself by looking online.

And that frightened me.

I loved that there were some good adults. The guidance counselor takes Kate seriously. The science teacher opens up a discussion on what to do BESIDES rape. The reporter who was trying to just get the truth despite the roadblocks she faced as people tried to cover up what had really happened.

I think one of the saddest things thought is the aftermath when Kate comes forward with what she knows and what she saw. The way that she becomes a pariah for telling the truth, for revealing what a horrific crime had gone down, is just mind-boggling.

This book took my breath away and made me think a lot. I hope that this book is well received because it is powerful and needed.

Sam’s Review:

What We Saw was a book that nearly made me vomit. I’m not joking when I say that. It’s a book that focuses on issues of sexual assault and rape culture, and it’s a powerful read on that front. Aaron Hartzler presents a story of what happens when we don’t necessary know all the details of an event, and how easily lines can be blurred by guilty parties.

I loved how seedy a lot of this story felt. Other than Kate, our heroine, no one in the story felt trustworthy, every character had their own version of the event in question, and lots of red flags were constantly being raised as I read the novel. I admit, I called the plot twist in terms of one character’s involvement, but I loved the way in which Hartzler doesn’t make this character’s actions as obvious or in your face compared to others.

If I’m being frank, I really loved the way Kate is portrayed in the story. She’s inquisitive, constantly trying to put all the pieces to together even though parts of them don’t necessarily add up. I appreciate how she recognizes her own mistakes in her involvement and attempts to atone for her wrong doing, even if Stacey can’t actually forgive her. I liked that they were friends before all this, and I appreciated the way in which their backstory is woven into the narrative — it felt very genuine and sincere.

On one hand, I wish the author had made Stacey feel like more of a character. I understand why this technique was employed in the novel, but part of me wishes I knew her more and understood her a lot better. However, I also feel that the use of distance enhanced her in a lot of ways — I may not have known her personality, but boy do you learn how others saw her, and the results are not pretty. In fact, a lot of the social media maliciousness is stuff I know I’ve dealt with personally in my games journalism career. That creepy, malicious behaviour made me sick to my stomach, tying it in knots simply because what they were calling this poor girl was so hateful and disgusting. I found myself screaming “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” meanwhile realizing that likely parents wouldn’t know it’s their children acting as the bullies and perpetrators.

I think what upset me the most was how it’s the victims fault. Like All the Rage by Courtney Summers, this idea of the victim being at fault is such a sick mentality, one that just makes you want to slap some people and make them understand how wrong and unacceptable this behaviour truly is. What We Saw is one of those books that will make you uncomfortable and make you question your own abilities to potential help someone in need. It reminds us how often people turn a blind eye or choose to blatantly ignore issues within society. This book will make your stomach crawl and turn, but it also will give you a rather informed look at what is really the issue in rape culture.