3 star, YA

Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

Love hurts…

Makani Young thought she’d left her dark past behind her in Hawaii, settling in with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska. She’s found new friends and has even started to fall for mysterious outsider Ollie Larsson. But her past isn’t far behind.

Then, one by one, the students of Osborne High begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasingly grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and her feelings for Ollie intensify, Makani is forced to confront her own dark secrets.

For a horror book, this isn’t the worst I’ve come across (among the few I’ve touched). But in reality, this book could’ve been a lot better too.

Makani Young was a good protagonist to follow. Although we get the omniscient POV wherein we witness the last moments of each victim of the brutal killer in Osborne, there are still some things we don’t know. Like Makani’s mysterious past that led to her exile from Hawaii to the Midwestern US. Things like her secret definitely kept you on your toes and wanting to reach the end sooner than later.

I also really loved the pacing. This was such a fast read, and it doesn’t feel like a lot of time has passed to get through it. I read it in one sitting (late at night, unfortunately), and the flow kept me going when I otherwise probably would’ve set it down.

The mystery behind the slasher is also interesting enough. I absolutely had no suspects in mind. But the identity of the culprit is given away around the mid point of the book and that is either something you really like or don’t. There was a reason for it, but the book then morphed from a whodunnit to a manhunt. The suspense was still present – you never know when the killer would strike next regardless if you know the name/face – but the atmosphere of the book definitely changed.

I’m normally a girl who loves guessing the culprit in mysteries, but what kept me from getting bored (besides a still-active killer loose) was trying to guess the motive. To predict who could be a next potential target, one needs to think like a killer. *insert theme song of Criminal Minds*

There’s also romance in this! I’m not sure if that’s normal for this genre but I enjoyed the interactions between Makani and Ollie. Sometimes death and the scary stuff in life can show us what’s important to grasp now than save for later. At least these moments were great respites from all the death and chaos.

But in all honesty, horrors aren’t fully my thing, especially slasher horrors. The descriptions of the murders weren’t super graphic but they weren’t nothing either. Also, I don’t love the needless amount of slayings that occurred. Sometimes I reached a page and thought, noooo, not this person too.

The ending felt abrupt and unexpected. The climax delivered, I will admit, but the fall from that peak just cut off so quickly. I was so surprised to reach the Acknowledgement page because it didn’t feel like I had closure with these characters, especially Makani. How does one deal with the aftermath of such colossal tragedy in a small town like this? An epilogue here would’ve been great, you know?

Maybe I’m just not cut out for this genre and everything I’ve nitpicked was my own bias. My rating does reflect that it was enjoyable enough for a horror so if that’s what you’re purely looking for, Stephanie Perkins’ jump from cute and swoony rom-coms to slasher horrors was done well enough.

Overall Recommendation:

There’s Someone Inside Your House is your common slasher horror book with plenty of gruesome deaths and suspense dripping throughout. Our MC, Makani, has her own sordid past to unravel as we follow her through the aftermath of these tragedies. But with her own life potentially at risk of the killer’s path, it could be anyone who is out terrorizing this small town. Not to fear that it’s just endless killing, there is also a sweet romance between Makani and Ollie as they face everything together with her group of friends. There were too many unnecessary killings in my opinion at times, and we figure out the culprit earlier than I expected, but this wasn’t the worst of horrors that I’ve come across. It holds up in this genre if that’s what you like, so if that’s your thing or you want to explore the genre a little, I’d say this book isn’t a bad one to browse.

3 star, YA

Review: As Good As Dead by Holly Jackson

Series: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #3

The highly anticipated, edge-of-your-seat conclusion to the addictive A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series that reads like your favorite true crime podcast or show. By the end, you’ll never think the same of good girls again.

Pip’s good girl days are long behind her. After solving two murder cases and garnering internet fame from her crime podcast, she’s seen a lot.

But she’s still blindsided when it starts to feel like someone is watching her. It’s small things at first. A USB stick with footage recording her and the same anonymous source always asking her: who will look for you when you’re the one who disappears? It could be a harmless fan, but her gut is telling her danger is lurking.

When Pip starts to find connections between her possible stalker and a local serial killer, Pip knows that there is only one choice: find the person threatening her town including herself–or be as good as dead. Because maybe someone has been watching her all along…

Save herself to save herself.

Where do I even begin? If you’ve read my reviews of book 1 and book 2 in this series, you’d know how much I absolutely adored Holly Jackson’s writings. Both were a 5-star rating and I guess my expectations just soared too high in a way. Even after taking a day or two to process my feelings, I think this is the best way that I can articulate it all.

The plot and pacing

The writing (at least for the first half of the book) was just as splendid and well thought out as I’ve come to expect in Holly’s previous books. It was definitely darker than the first two books as now Pip, our favourite amateur detective, is potentially a victim of a crime than just objectively investigating one.

Likewise, this made the pacing go by quite quickly as she tries to outwit the stalker who first made a minor appearance in book 2. I particularly loved how so many little things that popped up in her first two cases can be somehow linked back to this most personal case yet. Things that made sense in the course of her investigations for the other crimes can still create new mysteries for this current one. Talk about full circle moments! Pip is always going on about that, but it’s so true. Everything that has brought her to this point in her life is tied to what is happening to her now, and I absolutely loved it. Holly Jackson is a genius plotting this.

The format is more like a regular book instead of the cool texts and interview formats that were more present in her other cases. Regardless of this, the writing was excellent here and I was on edge to find out what’ll happen next.

Then the second half of the book hits and it’s…different. The suspense immediately dies down because, well, the story isn’t a whodunnit anymore. That’s my favourite part in mysteries, by the way, and the previous books in the series didn’t show their hand so quickly.

The rest of the story drags a little in my opinion. It’s a lot of Pip’s meticulous brain planning and all of this clearly marks the end of the series since it’s so different from how her other cases resolved. A part of me even wanted to take a break from this book because it was dark and conflicting.

Characterization of Pip

This brings me to Pip herself. I loved her as a protagonist. She’s brilliant for an 18-year-old and carries herself like she’s on equal footing with all the adults she interviews. She’s confident and bold, loyal and empathetic. She’s a good girl who loves her family and works hard in her studies.

Now, I know some people really enjoy morally grey characters in their books. I’m not necessarily opposed to that. It’s interesting to dive deep into a morally grey character’s thoughts up front. But I think it’s different when the trajectory of the character arc goes from “good girl” to morally grey without it turning into a villain arc. And here is where I’m conflicted.

I understand in the aftermath of the 2 previous cases how that unsettled her, changed her, and left her rather traumatized. In fact, she’s hiding a lot of her PTSD from her family, friends and even Ravi. I get her motivations, I get where she’s coming from.

So do I see how her character arc turned this way? Yes. But do I think it had to be the only way her story could’ve gone in order to end this series realistically? Not necessarily, but for the most part, I accepted it as I continued along.

Romance with Ravi

Let’s take a little breather to talk about romance! Like the other books, it’s definitely not a focal point by any means but sometimes less words is more. I love the secret way Pip and Ravi communicated that they loved each other. They understood each other. Even though so many bad things had to have happened to bring them together, they were meant to be.

This third book showcases maybe even more so than the others the lengths their love for one another goes. I personally LOVE Ravi. He’s sarcastic, uses humor as his fear tactic, and is loyal to a fault. He wears his emotions on his sleeves and loves Pip with all he’s got. Who wouldn’t want a Ravi in their life? And As Good As Dead doesn’t ruin this one beautiful thing.

Now onto the ending (without spoilers, of course)

I don’t have many words to share without spoilers except that I was disappointed in some ways. I shed a tear or two. I thought Pip’s decisions were just driving things towards a pretty sad ending.

While I don’t think it is necessarily a sad ending by any means, it is a bit open-ended so I don’t feel like I have the closure I would want for Pip and co. I loved following her, Ravi, her family, Cara, the Reynolds brothers, even Nat throughout all the books. These were the people she helped, the ones she fought for, the ones impacted by the cases she followed. Do I feel like I got to see how this final case impact everybody? No, I don’t.

Do I feel like Pip dealt with all the baggage her cases dropped onto her? Heck no.

If I was a tiny bit upset at the mid point, the ending didn’t make it better. I’d like to imagine what would happen after the actual ending because I still feel frustrated that I turned the page and there was no more. I normally enjoy open endings if they’re done well, leaves things up to the imagination of the reader. This is more about closure and not receiving much of any.

Final words

Kudos to Holly Jackson. She took a creative idea and really took it to such great heights. What a feat! There is so much imagination and creativity in here, the depths of research to write some of the subject matter, the well-thought out plot points across THREE books.

I will always point people to this series, even non-readers. It’s just that good. I may not have agreed with everything she chose to end in this book, but I can understand the vision she had for it and at least accept that. Because I love the art of it, I kept my rating a little higher than I initially thought I would go.

This may be more of an unpopular opinion and you may end up loving Holly’s vision. If so, even better. As Good As Dead may not have been the conclusion I had envisioned, but it’s a remarkable enough finale to keep readers thinking (and discussing) about it for ages to come.

Overall Recommendations:

As Good As Dead concludes the trilogy with a conflicting and darker story as Pip now deals with a personal crime of her own. The formatting is more like a regular story, but the excellent writing and pacing still shines through. I was so tense throughout the first half of the book! When the story took a different turn, I can’t say I loved the morally grey character arc Pip was given, but I understood why it happened this way. I might’ve preferred a different second half, particularly the ending, but I can appreciate the full circle moments Holly Jackson incorporated from all the books in this series. Regardless of my personal feelings on this last book, I highly recommend A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series to anyone looking for a good read.

My copy of As Good As Dead (@downtherabbithole_blog)
3 star, YA

Review: Sunkissed by Kasie West

Will the stars align?

Avery has always used music as an escape. But after her best friend betrays her, even her perfectly curated playlists can’t help her forget what happened. To make matters worse, her parents have dragged her and her social-media-obsessed sister to a remote family camp for two months of “fun.” Just when Avery is ready to give up on the summer altogether, she meets Brooks—mysterious, frustratingly charming Brooks—who just happens to be on staff—which means he’s off-limits.

What starts as a disaster turns into . . . something else. As the outside world falls away, Avery embarks on a journey of self-discovery. And when Brooks offers her the chance of a lifetime, she must figure out how far is she willing to go to find out what she wants and who she wants to be.

Fan favorite Kasie West is back with another unforgettable summer romance that reminds us falling in love is full of wonder, heartache, and—most of all—surprises.

With the last rays of summer making its descent, what better way to end it off with a Kasie West book? Set in a remote camp getaway (that means no internet!) for literally the whole summer, Sunkissed follows affable, peace-loving Avery as she figures out what it means to step outside one’s own comfort zone to chase her own wants and dreams.

I thought the premise was cute and perfect for summer. Camp is always a great book setting at this time of year, with the descriptions of the fun camp activities like watersliding and trail hiking that makes me wish I was actually enjoying a summer-long getaway. I’m not sure I’d be down for the “no internet” part of it, but who knows? Maybe I’d surprise myself if I had less distractions.

With every camp story comes the perfect set up for a cute romance. Kasie West is remarkable for her romances, but I will say, something fell flat for me here. Brooding musician Brooks immediately did not like Avery after mistakenly thinking she was a fellow camp worker instead of a privileged camp guest. (Also, the book never dives in deep as to WHY Brooks thought guests were super privileged to have that kind of visceral response? I don’t like this loose thread!). I was okay with this set up. I mean, he wasn’t nice to her AT ALL, but hey, this could be a great enemies to lovers book.

Wasn’t true to that at all, so don’t get your hopes up, friends. In fact, it’s probably more of a forbidden love trope since workers shouldn’t date guests, but this could’ve been better too.

While Avery and Brooks figure out things after communicating better (yay for better communication?), the focus on the story really falls on an upcoming music festival that hosts a band competition with a generous grand prize. Brooks, along with his band of fellow camp workers, are hoping to compete and win that prize. But, as we all know, things can’t and won’t be easy, because what YA romance would be described as easy or simple?

Without saying too much, I just felt this particular romance formula was overdone and way too predictable. Maybe it’s just the whole camp setting and I’ve moved beyond that romance trope (if it was a mystery at a camp, now THAT’s another story). Maybe it’s the heroine arc where they once were aimless and then “something” brought them to realizing their dreams. I don’t know, but either way, I couldn’t love this book. At most, it was okay.

Because it’s Kasie West, I haven’t rated this too poorly as there are markers of her brand of writing and romance throughout. I liked the portrayal of familial issues Avery also faced so it wasn’t just a boy who changed her (thank God!). However, this is definitely not one of her greatest works in my opinion, though it should satisfy enough fans, particularly those in her age-appropriate audience she actually caters to (not old people like me).

Overall Recommendation:

Sunkissed is a decent summer read set in a remote family-style camp that boasts of its “no-internet” policy. With cute camp workers around and less distractions than usual, of course a budding romance comes alive. Whether you’d call it an enemies-to-lovers or forbidden romance, either way, the romance fell a little flat to me while the focus of the story centred on a band competition Avery’s crush, Brooks, wanted to enter and win. I didn’t particularly love the predictable formula the book took, especially in shaping Avery as a character from someone with almost no backbone to risking big things for her dream. It may be that I’ve read too many books following this same path, or that camp books just aren’t for me anymore. Regardless, if you love this romance and character growth formula, then this novel is a great one to end off your summer.