Tag Archives: suspense

ARC Review – Thornhill by Pam Smy

Title: Thornhill

Author: Pam Smy

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: 1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2016: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Thornhill is easily the creepiest middle grade book I’ve read. Hands down. It’s a book that is spooky, unnerving, and heartbreaking. It’s a story from two perspectives, Mary Baines who is writing a diary in 1982 while living in Thornhill Institute, and in present day we have Ella, who has moved next door to the historical site and becomes entranced by the idea of uncovering the mystery behind the building.

What makes this novel even more interesting is that Mary’s sections are written as a diary, and Ella’s are fully illustrated without dialogue. Mary’s sections are difficult to read given they focus on her lack of friendship, her deeply rooted abandonment problems, and that she has been bullied her whole life. Her diary entries are dark and uncomfortable to read. You really feel for her even though towards the end of the book you see that her sanity and emotions are deteriorating. I really felt for her.

Meanwhile, Ella continues to see Mary from her window, which is why she becomes fascinated by Thornhill. She even breaks in the abandoned building because she is convinced she has seen a young girl from her window. She leaves Mary messages and gifts. She wants to befriend her. What I loved in Ella’s sections is that Smy’s illustrations do a great job of capturing the emotions and intent behind the story. You get a sense that Ella has empathy for Mary and wants to gain a sense of understanding so many years later. The art is mostly great, though it has some awkward moments as well.

Thornhill is a book that is very dark and comes from a deeply emotional place. It’s not for reader’s looking for a whimsy time, and that’s where I’d recommend this to older middle grade readers who can understand concepts such as bullying and death. The ending hurts, and there’s no other way to describe it. Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a unique but difficult read. Reader’s need to be in a particular headspace to really grasp how loaded this story truly is.

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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 – The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

24396858Title:  The Dead House

Author: Dawn Kurtagich

Rating:  ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Over two decades have passed since the fire at Elmbridge High, an inferno that took the lives of three teenagers. Not much was known about the events leading up to the tragedy – only that one student, Carly Johnson, vanished without a trace…

…until a diary is found hidden in the ruins.

But the diary, badly scorched, does not belong to Carly Johnson. It belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, a girl who shouldn’t exist Who was Kaitlyn? Why did she come out only at night? What is her connection to Carly? The case has been reopened. Police records are being reexamined: psychiatric reports, video footage, text messages, e-mails. And the diary. The diary that paints a much more sinister version of events than was ever made publicly known.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me an advanced copy of this book for review!

River’s Review:

Sooooo two major issue with this book. First issue… it wasn’t scary. At all. Creepy OH YES. Scary, not even close. I… do not do horror anything. I can’t even watch the trailers on TV for horror movies. ON TV! That’s bad guys. I got to the burning lady on the ceiling part of the first episode of Supernatural and now I wont be able to sleep tonight because I reminded myself of it. SO when this book was all IT IS SO SCARY YOU CAN’T KEEP IT IN YOUR HOUSE I thought I was going to have to put it in the freezer. But nope. Not scary.

Second… was it paranormal? Did she have an actual mental disorder? I really feel like the line between the two was way too close and I just couldn’t get a grip on what exactly it SHOULD have been! And that bothered me. Half the time I wanted to think that it WAS all in her head and then the other half of the time there was stuff about demons and I guess it’s supposed to be ambiguous but I would have liked a little more leaning one way or the other. And OMG the part about the parents. You CANNOT just throw out a tiny little tidbit like that and NOT elaborate! Ugh, I really needed more on that.

So this is the story of two girls in one body. But are the two souls or a case of dissociative identity disorder? In the day Carly comes out. Carly is quiet, timid, shy, and anorexic. At night Kaitlyn comes out. She’s wild, daring, loud and loves to have fun. The two share a body, their parents knew about this and just told them to hide it, even their little sister grew up believing that there were two girls sharing a body. So is this real? A mental disorder? It’s never clear.

The parents die in an accident (we later get details that make you go WTF!!!!) and doctors believe that the DID that Carly is suffering from was caused by the accident. But Carly knows that it’s been going on long before then. She spends time in a hospital with a pretty incompetent doctor and then goes to a boarding school where she makes friends with a girl who’s basically a witch. Sadly we don’t learn too much about the craft that Naida practices and deals with and a lot of it’s just glossed over. So I would have liked more depth in that because I thought that if we’d gotten more info it might have made all of the demon stuff more realistic. But the mystic and paranormal start to crash into the girls and suddenly Carly stops appearing in the day and Kaitlyn takes over.

In the meantime Kaitlyn meets a boy named Ari and they fall in love. This romance did not work for me. I liked Ari as her friend but it just never felt like they’d really fallen in love. I liked how they bonded in the night and would email, but love? It just didn’t really seem like it was there. There were a couple of other boys in this who were never really fully developed, which was sad because the Viking character had a lot of potential. And when we found out more about him, we, sadly, never got the full backstory.

I guess the problem with how loose and underdeveloped this felt was because of how it’s written. It’s told from Kaitlyn’s POV through her diary entries along with police reports, video and voice transcriptions and post-it-notes written between Kaitlyn and Carly. I do enjoy things written in this style (it reminded me of Illuminae a lot) but it’s very hard to develop a lot of things in this style as well. So that’s where a lot was lost.

Aside from the problems I had I liked the exploration of what was going on with Carly and Kaitlyn. I liked how Naida tried to help. I really enjoyed the creepiness of this, and it kept me up late and kept me flipping the pages. It’s just the more I think back on it the more I find issue with it. I was expecting a physiological horror story and when all of the paranormal got mixed in it just didn’t feel like it had mixed in as seemlessly as it should have.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan

23281652Title:  Daughter of Deep Silence

Author: Carrie Ryan

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: In the wake of the devastating destruction of the luxury yacht Persephone, just three souls remain to tell its story—and two of them are lying. Only Frances Mace knows the terrifying truth, and she’ll stop at nothing to avenge the murders of everyone she held dear. Even if it means taking down the boy she loves and possibly losing herself in the process.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I requested this book, I was super excited. I love Carrie Ryan’s prose, and while I often find faults in her storylines, I still adore how she illustrates them. Then the reviews poured in, and I was hesitant. I feel silly waiting as long as I did to read this, because darn it, I enjoyed the crap out of this book. It’s not without some issues, but this book read like candy, which is perhaps why I enjoyed it so much.

While this book is very much a romance novel, it has a really well described mystery component. Frances assumes the identity of a passenger of the of the luxury yacht Persephone, and is one of the only survivors after it sinks. She is forced to become someone she isn’t in order to uncover a mystery about what happened behind the tragic event. Let me tell you — Ryan does this bit very well, making it not confusing (which can sometimes happen in a story like this) and she makes Frances transformation very fun to read about. She gets to be a sort of double agent, but not quite. Admittedly, for the most part, I dug her character. I loved her strength and gusto, but I loved how she knew when to be herself, and then be her alter-ego. I love that she understands the importance of staying in character, but she doesn’t want to lose who she truly is either. Is she likeable? Not at all, but on the flipside, she makes for an interesting person to read about.

If I’m being honest, there’s no one who is actually totally likeable. Morales is kind of all over the place, Shepard is a tool, and yet… I couldn’t stop reading about these awful characters! There was something about them being horrific and unappealing that caused me to turn the pages. This is a rare case for me where the story was so much more compelling than the characters, and I found I just had to know where it was going to go and how it was going to end. Here’s the other thing: you REALLY have to suspend your disbelief for this novel to work, which is why I think the reviews are so polarizing. There’s huge chunks in the plot that feel utterly ridiculous, but so compulsively readable! I read this book in two train rides from my commute, and let me tell you: I didn’t tear my eyes from the pages because this book was just so fun, and turning pages was like popping candy.

Is there’s anything I will criticize, it’s the romance. Yes, there is a romance in the book, and yes it plays a larger role than I would have liked. Grey wasn’t the most exciting love interest, and if anything, he was kind of a push over at times. The romance in this book felt too puppy-loveish considering the mystery that is presented throughout the story. This element does come across problematic, especially towards the end of the novel when it feels less about the revenge plot and more about her hooking up with Grey. I mean, we go from 200 pages of crazy excitement, action, and just plain fun, to this weird sort of desperation for a guy who is totally connected to the murder of Frances family. I struggled to buy that sort of Hollywood plotline where enemies become lovers — it’s not a favourite of mine, and sadly it didn’t work here for me either.

But still, this book was bizarrely fun to read, and totally out of my comfort zone. Carrie Ryan is worth reading because her promise is gorgeous and her stories are just so compulsively readable. It’s ultimately why I enjoy her as an author, and while this book is utterly ridiculous at times, I seriously cannot deny the amount of enjoyment I had reading Daughter of Deep Silence. Carrie Ryan knows how to suck her readers in, and don’t let the reviews sway you, if you can suspend your disbelief, there’s is a fun story to be had here.

 

ARC Review – Lies I Told by Michelle Zink

20983351Title: Lies I Told

Author: Michelle Zink

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Grace Fontaine has everything: beauty, money, confidence, and the perfect family. But it’s all a lie.

Grace has been adopted into a family of thieves who con affluent people out of money, jewelry, art, and anything else of value. Grace has never had any difficulty pulling off a job, but when things start to go wrong on the Fontaines’ biggest heist yet, Grace finds herself breaking more and more of the rules designed to keep her from getting caught…including the most important one of all: never fall for your mark.

Huge thank you to HarperTeen and Edelweiss for this ARC!

River’s Review:

I LOVED this book and could not put it down! I was initially drawn to it because I love things with con artists (huge fan of the TV shows White Collar and Leverage). I was a little skeptical going into it because I was wondering how realistic it was going to be buuuuut it was awesome. It had a similar vibe to a book I loved last year, Kiss, Kill, Vanish so if you liked that book you’ll dig this one too.

Grace and her family are con artists. They find a target, work the mark and then take them for all their worth. I was SO worried that this was going to be crazy fake and that I’d have to suspend my belief A LOT or just roll my eyes a lot. I did neither. Grace and her brother, Parker, are adopted. When they were introduced to the grifter life they were both coming from horrible foster care situations and this just seemed SO much better. Money, glamour, power. What scared, lonely, poor, abused pre-teen wouldn’t want that? This set up just worked for me. And trust me their parents, awful people.

But to Grace, they’re her parents and this life is MUCH better than the one she left. Parker is dark and broody and has scars that he doesn’t talk about. It’s quite obvious that he’s doing it to make sure that he’ll never have to want for anything ever again. He’s saving his money so that he can get out. And Grace, she does it because she’s good at it. And it’s all she’s ever really known that makes her happy. She loves her parents (despite them being really awful people, they are good-ish parents) and doesn’t hate their life.

After having pulled off a number of jobs as a family, Grace and Parker are moved to Southern California where their mark is a wealthy man who has over 20 million in gold hidden on his estate. Grace has to get close to the son to infiltrate and find the gold, but she doesn’t count on falling for him. Making real friends, and enjoying living a “real” life. She starts to question if what she’s doing is right or wrong, and who it’s hurting. Parker is getting darker and darker, more unstable and he’s begging Grace to get out with him.

I loved Grace’s character growth. She really does evolve in this book and at the end when things fall apart she’s left questioning everything that she’s learned and ever known.

Things I loved about this: the writing and the pacing. It snaps along and I found myself instantly drawn in. I couldn’t put this book down and found myself FLYING through the last 40% because I had to know how things were going to go down. The characters: Everyone was so real. They were flawed, loveable, hateable, and at times I even felt really sad (especially for the guy they were robbing) for some of them. This so easily could have been a story about cookie-cutter California stereotypical rich kids, but it wasn’t. And they weren’t.

The ending was left pretty open and there are a lot of things that didn’t get resolved so there BETTER be another book because I NEED to know what happens!!!!

ARC Review – Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

22465597Title: Vanishing Girls

Author:  Lauren Oliver

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it’s too late.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Lauren Oliver’s works seems to be really hit and miss with reviewers as of late. For me, I’ve always been a huge fan of her writing — there’s a quality to it that just sucks me in and keeps me turning the pages, wanting to know more. Vanishing Girls is a mystery and it keeps you guessing throughout.

Part of what I love about Vanishing Girls is the relationship between the sisters Nick and Dara. It’s a very screwed up relationship, one that was once strong and loving. Then everything is shattered and Nick is, in her own way, trying to understand and pick up the pieces. The best parts of this novel was going back and forth between the sisters and piece together what had happened between them. Oliver pulls no punches, she feeds you pieces at a time. The book weirdly reads like a blur, you are given information, parts vanish, and then it reappears in another way. I really enjoyed that aspect of the writing.

A lot of what makes Vanishing Girls such a gripping read is the fact that the reader is left to their own devices. Neither Nick nor Dara is a reliable narrator and sometimes you’ll find yourself wondering why certain information is being dropped. The book completely messes with you, and it’s haunting and suspenseful. Whenever I put the book down, I wanted to keep reading, keep guessing.

Weirdly, I was less interested in now Madeline Snow fit into the whole equation. I understood the parallels being used by Oliver, but those sections never kept me as well gripped the way Dara’s diary entries and sections did. I also like that Nick as a heroine is not entirely innocent in her behaviour, and she’s actually quite unlike-able. Yet, she and Dara have such a passionate and catastrophic relationship — they love each other and it’s completely apparent when you read it. When you see the tension between them, it’s like the reader is falling into a spiral, the same feeling Nick is feeling throughout.

Vanishing Girls is a tough book to describe, but it’s a wonderful and gripping read. It’s much better than Panic, and the suspense throughout will keep you guessing and engaged. It’s not my favourite book by Lauren Oliver, but I feel like if you love a good mystery that messes with your mind, Vanishing Girls likely won’t disappoint.

ARC Review – The Fever: A Novel by Megan Abbott

18822308Title: The Fever

Author: Megan Abbott

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.

As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town’s fragile idea of security.

Huge thank you to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss for this ARC!

River’s Review:

I FLEW through this book. I really wanted to know what was causing all of the girls to get sick and in the end it wasn’t what I expected. I went back and forth between an actual virus/bacteria and the supernatural.

Basically, this book drags you in with it’s intrigue and holds you close with the tension. Why are all the girls dropping like flies? What’s causing it? Is Deenie the common factor? The lake? Something more?

I kept reading to have all of these questions answered and the answers were satisfactory, but just not what I was expecting.

Also, a lot of the reviews claim this is a ‘mean girl’ book but it doesn’t even really get like that until the very end. And even that wasn’t very ‘mean girl’-sh. I expect mean girl books to be like Courtney Summers books. THOSE are mean girl books.

The writing in this is dense, and sometimes I didn’t jive with it too well. I love beautiful writing, metaphors, similes, what have you. But sometimes the ones in this book just hit me at odd angles and didn’t work with me.

Overall I liked this book, but it didn’t quite deliver what I was hoping it would.