Tag Archives: mystery

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head (The Curiosity House #1) by Lauren Oliver & H.G. Chester

Title: The Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head (The Curiosity House #1)

Author: Lauren Oliver & H.G. Chester

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The book is about, among other things: the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. Philippa is a powerful mentalist, Sam is the world’s strongest boy, and Thomas can squeeze himself into a space no bigger than a bread box. The children live happily with museum owner Mr. Dumfrey, alongside other misfits. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events.

When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I recognize this book has been out for two years already, but I always feel obligated that when I get an ARC from a publisher, even if I haven’t read it right away that I always give it a review. I LOVE Lauren Oliver’s middle grade books, and I would argue that those are her better works over her YA offerings. The Spindlers was imaginative, Lisel & Po has remained a favourite to this day, and then there is The Curiosity House series, which is unique to say the least.

What I enjoyed about The Shrunken Head is that it has this old timey vibe to it, from how the murder mystery elements are set up, to even the whimsical side of the narrative. It also builds of the old circus tropes from a bearded lady, to mind readers, and even a talking bird. There’s a lot of weird and whimsy in this book, and I will argue that that is what makes it so engaging. The Shrunken Head takes so many crazy twists and turns for a middle grade story that it easily keeps the reader engaged.

I will say that the kids took awhile to grow on me. I feel like they just weren’t as fleshed out compared to characters in Oliver’s other novels. This isn’t a bad thing, but it did damper my enjoyment at times because I found it so hard to connect to the children. On the opposite end, I loved how ridiculous the adults were in this story. They were extreme and utterly crazy.

While I wasn’t in love with this first installment to the The Curiosity House series, I still want to read the rest of them. I feel like this series has the potential to grow into something that is truly special, and I look forward to reading on and seeing what the next adventure has in store.

ARC Review – The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks

Author: Emily Barr

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I feel very torn when I think about The One Memory of Flora Banks. On one hand, it’s a very compelling story about a young woman who has been in a near vegetative state who is unable to make new memories, but on the other side of it there is something very frustrating on a whole as to how this book presents itself.

First of all, this book is compulsively readable. The writing isn’t anything spectacular, but Barr does this great job of making the read want to turn pages and keep going. The repetition, though I understand why it was there, drove me kind of bonkers at times and I found myself going “Yes, be brave, Flora. We know this already!” many times. Again, this book is like a YA version of Mr Robot or Momento, but it lacks the visual cues and punch that those stories provide because it’s in text form.

I won’t lie, I did feel sorry for Flora through the entire story, but I also found myself annoyed and angry how the story moved or progressed. Sometimes it felt like it was meandering, and sometimes it would go at a rapid pace. I’ll be frank in that I hated the Drake parts of this book (up until the end any ways) given that Flora repeats and repeats and repeats how she kissed “Drake” and we’re supposed to take that at face value from an unreliable narrator. When I got to the twist, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest because I had figured it out pretty quickly, so I think that also hindered my enjoyment a lot as well.

I will say, I did like the ending to a point. Learning about Flora’s brother, Jacob, was actually some of my favourite bits in the story. When Flora was thinking about or trying to understand Jacob’s motives, I found that’s when the story hit its stride with me and I constantly wanted to know more about what was happening and why Flora’s family behaves the way they do. When the book was about Flora trying to find Drake to get her memory back, it fell into that trope I hate which is that “boy fixes girl.” I hate that trope, and while I understand why it exists in this story, I still found myself angry by it. There are better ways to give characters agency, and in YA, the boy shouldn’t always be that factor.

I love unreliable narrators, and I adore books when I need to put my thinking cap on to try and put pieces together. Sadly, The One Memory of Flora Banks left me more annoyed than satisfied. I feel like there will be readers out there who will gobble this up and it be their jam, but for me personally, I struggled to find any connection with this story.

ARC Review – 100 Hours (100 Hours #1) by Rachel Vincent

30653906Title: 100 Hours (100 Hours #1)

Author: Rachel Vincent

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: A decadent spring break getaway on an exotic beach becomes a terrifying survival story when six Miami teens are kidnapped and ransomed.

Maddie is beyond done with her cousin Genesis’s entitled and shallow entourage. Genesis is so over Miami’s predictable social scene with its velvet ropes, petty power plays, and backstabbing boyfriends.

While Maddie craves family time for spring break, Genesis seeks novelty—like a last-minute getaway to an untouched beach in Colombia. And when Genesis wants something, it happens.

But paradise has its price. Dragged from their tents under the cover of dark, Genesis, Maddie, and their friends are kidnapped and held for ransom deep inside the jungle—with no diva left behind. It all feels so random to everyone except Genesis. She knows they were targeted for a reason. And that reason is her.

Now, as the hours count down, only one thing’s for certain: If the Miami hostages can’t set aside their personal problems, no one will make it out alive.

Huge thank you to Miss Print’s ARC adoption for this review copy.

Molly’s Review:

This book was like watching an early 2000-esque action movie. Lots of complicated ugly pretty people, random almost faceless “bad guys”, a tropical location, some vague references to political unrest & explosions.

So naturally I loved it.

The writing in this book isn’t spectacular, nor are the characters, but it was very fast paced and I flew through the first 250 pages in one sitting. I didn’t really care about anyone, but I did want to see what was going to happen.

A lot of this is pretty unbelievable. One of the characters is diabetic and she’s able to jump off a cliff, hike MILES through the jungle, and make out with the cute boy she’s known for a full day without having any problems. And no, I’m not saying a diabetic couldn’t do that, I’m saying that pretty much nobody could do that, let alone a teen girl with a disease that is affected by lack of food and too much physical exertion.

There is A LOT of teen drama in this, which I also found to be a little over the top because really, I feel like most teens that were kidnapped by Colombian terrorists in the middle of the jungle would be a WHOLE LOT LESS WORRIED about who’s hooking up with who. But then again it wouldn’t be an early 2000-esqu action movie without the main character hooking up with the beautiful strange they just met (hello every single Jason Statham movie EVER).

So yeah, this book was okay. It tried hard to be something more than it was, but didn’t quite make it. And it ends on a cliff hanger so I guess there’s going to be a second book. I might pick it up if I’m in the mood for some mindless action.

ARC Review – The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

28260589Title: The Great Shelby Holmes

Author: Elizabeth Eulberg

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She’s nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen—always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes.

When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that’s eluded her up till now: a friend. Easy-going John isn’t sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that’ll take both their talents to crack.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

What a refreshing surprise The Great Shelby Holmes was! This is one of the best homages I’ve encountered when it comes toSherlock Holmes, and making his work accessible to younger audiences is even better! Plus it’s written by Elizabeth Eulberg? I believe we have a winner.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when The Great Shelby Holmescame through my mail box. I love a good mystery, and I also loved that this mystery focused on dogs. I am a sucker for dog stories too! I also think it’s wonderful that Eulberg decided to have Watson be a young black boy who had recently moved to Harlem, and I found his voice to be utterly delightful. I think this story does a great job of capturing the personalities of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and transferring them into the souls of two eleven year old kids.

I also loved the way that Watson constantly debated between being a part of the mystery and trying to make friends. While the dognapping in the book is the main mystery, there’s a larger mystery looming in regards to Shelby’s character not actually having friends and Watson trying to make friends being the new kid in town. This larger aspect of the book was completely well thought out and done, and I loved how Shelby and Watson’s relationship is so organic from the start. I think Eulberg also did a great job with the main mystery as well, and for middle graders in particular, she offers some good twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. And the dog show at the end of the story? Easily the most hilarious part.

I absolutely loved Shelby and Watson’s first adventure, and I can only hope Elizabeth Eulberg writes more for this and turns it into a series. It’s just such a joy to read, and I loved the characters and the mystery that can in this book. If you love middle grade mystery, you need to check this little gem out.

And can I say that I loved that Shelby’s English Bulldog was named “Sir Arthur”? As an English Bulldog owner that gave me way too much joy.

ARC Review – Smash & Grab by Amy Christine Parker

27272262Title: Smash & Grab

Author: Amy Christine Parker

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: LEXI is a rich girl who loves a good rush. Whether it’s motorcycle racing or BASE jumping off a building in downtown Los Angeles, the only times she feels alive are when she and her friends are executing one of their dares. After her father’s arrest, Lexi doesn’t think twice about going undercover at his bank to steal the evidence that might clear his name. She enlists her hacker brother and her daredevil friends to plan a clever heist.
 
CHRISTIAN is a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The local gang has blackmailed him and his friends into robbing banks, and he is desperate for a way out. When the boss promises that one really big job will be the last he ever has to do, Christian jumps at the chance for freedom. In fact, he’s just met a girl at the bank who might even prove useful. . . .
 
Two heists. One score. The only thing standing in their way is each other.

Huge thank you to the publisher for letting me read an advanced copy of this book!

Molly’s Review: 

I REALLY enjoyed this book! After falling into a little bit of a reading slump I needed something fun that would really drag me into the story and not let go. I didn’t want anything TOO heavy and this was just the perfect balance. I LOVE heist movies and books, so I went into this with high hopes and was not disappointed.

Lexi and her crew are thrill seekers. They’re young rich LA kids who have issues with their families and they all deal with these issues by doing crazy and wild stunts. The book starts out with them jumping off a building. I really loved how Lexi and her gang had actual problems and not just rich kid problems. Lexi’s dad is in jail and her mother is falling apart. Lexi’s friends (while not the MOST fleshed out group of side characters) are all personable and facing their own issues. We see glimpses of things that all people face: abusive parents, un-accepting parents, etc. This made the book feel real.

I also liked that Lexi was and wasn’t a stereotype. She’s a typical rich, blond, beautiful LA chick but she is also pretty bad ass. She holds her own and stays true to herself. She uses her looks and charm when she needs to, but she isn’t vapid and vain, nor a mean girl. I really liked that she didn’t quit fit any mold when she really could have.

Christian is the other voice in this book. It is a dual POV book, but the author does an AMAZING job with the two voices. I was never once confused as to who was speaking and that really helped me enjoy this book even more (because I do NOT like dual POV books with alternating chapters). Christian is from the hood and he and his own crew of friends are bank robbers. They were strong-armed into doing the robberies by the local gang which has ties to a much larger Mexican gang. Each friend is working the jobs to help their families/ save people they love. It’s all very tragic and makes them not really BAD guys. Christian was an interesting character; he’s smart, of mixed race so he doesn’t always feel like he fits in with the rest of his crew, and he cares deeply about doing the right thing even when he’s forced to do the wrong thing.

Christian and Lexi cross paths multiple times and sparks fly. They end up joining forces to rob the bank that Lexi’s dad used to work for… to help prove his innocence and to set Christian free. There’s a lot of double crossing, some kissing and swooning and some high action moments with crazy stunts. I very much enjoyed this book and would LOVE to see it as a movie.

ARC Review – Unrivaled (Beautiful Idols #1) by Alyson Noel

26116460Title: Unrivaled (Beautiful Idols #1)

Author: Alyson Noel

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Everyone wants to be someone. Layla Harrison wants to leave her beach-bum days for digs behind a reporter’s desk. Aster Amirpour wants to scream at the next casting director who tells her “we need ethnic but not your kind of ethnic.” Tommy Phillips dreams of buying a twelve-string guitar and using it to shred his way back into his famous absentee dad’s life. But Madison Brooks took destiny and made it her bitch a long time ago.

She’s Hollywood’s hottest starlet, and the things she did to become the name on everyone’s lips are merely a stain on the pavement, ground beneath her Louboutin heel.

Huge thank you to HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book for review!

Molly’s Review:

So I wasn’t going to read this book when I first heard about it. The author alone put me off it (I wasn’t a huge fan of some over her previous work) and then I saw the huge international deal that it got and I was like ‘whelp, here comes the hype monster”.

Yet somehow this book hasn’t really been all that hyped up? It arrived with a fancy VIP invitation attached to it and then I read the synopsis and I thought it sounded like the type of ugly-pretty-people stories that I like. So I gave it and try and I liked it.

But I still don’t get it. This book is another Pretty-Little-Liars-Gossip-Girl-The-Lying-Game types and there’s nothing really special or important about it. It’s a fun read about the seedy night life of LA and there’s little bit of a mystery to it and a lot of brand name dropping, but other than brain candy it’s not like AMAZING.

But I did like it?

I totally think that people who love Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars will really enjoy it. But much as with those books (oh I also think fans of the 90210 TV reboot would love this too) they aren’t much more than a beach read (but hey, summer is coming!!!)

So grab a copy and take it to the beach and enjoy it for what it’s worth.

ARC Review – The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry

23018249Title: The Girl I Used to Be

Author:  April Henry

Rating:  ★★

Synopsis: When Olivia’s mother was killed, everyone suspected her father of murder. But his whereabouts remained a mystery. Fast forward fourteen years. New evidence now proves Olivia’s father was actually murdered on the same fateful day her mother died. That means there’s a killer still at large. It’s up to Olivia to uncover who that may be. But can she do that before the killer tracks her down first?

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC for review!

Molly’s Review:

To be honest, if this book had been ANY longer, I would have DNFed it. Instead I’m giving it a generous 2 stars because I do think that maybe younger teens will enjoy this, and it is a quick throw-away of a read. I finished it in just a few hours and I’m glad I didn’t spend anymore time than that.

I love dark contemporary YA and I love it when there’s some type of mystery as well. I was hoping that this would be dark and twisty and it… was so flat and barebones. There is no character development at all. We get a cast of one-dimensional people who are supposed to be caught up in this horrific murder and… they’re all just so flat. Our MC is also supposed to be super traumatized by her past and there are a few flashes of trauma here and there, but over all she just seemed like a normal girl who’s just dealing with life.

There are also some really weird things that happen in this book that I didn’t think were very true to life. Like the MC literally abandons her apartment. She’s a 17 year old emancipated minor who rents her own place in Portland. And she decides to rent a new place and literally does nothing to cancel her old lease and she just leaves all of her stuff in the old place. There were a few other weird things like that too.

Everything pertaining to the mystery is also very one dimensional. There’s no red herrings, no false leads, just a bunch of people who maybe could have done it? And a few of them are a little suspicious? Despite the fact that the MC has only known most of them for a week? There’s no tension, no build, and when we do find out who did it and why it was all incredibly anticlimactic.

I feel like if you don’t read a lot YA or you don’t read a lot of well done mysteries then this could be enjoyable.