4 star, YA

Review: People Like Us by Dana Mele

people like us -dana meleKay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple.

The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive.

Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.


4 Drink Me Potions


With a boarding school setting similar to Truly Devious, whodunnit suspect scenarios such as One of Us is Lying, and the cruelty of a popular it girl group likened to the popular Pretty Little Liars series, People Like Us feels both psychologically familiar yet carries a darker, more messed up undertone.

I don’t know what’s been floating around in the air lately but I’m really digging the dive into (psychological) thrillers and mysteries in YA. This book is part of that ongoing trend that should deservedly get more attention.

The novel starts off with a group of seemingly popular girls without a care in the world. They’re just leaving a party and BAM they find a dead body.

From there, it leaves your typical, simple whodunnit mystery. Our protagonist, Kay, is seemingly blackmailed by the dead girl. What a strange twist, huh?

I would love to feel more bad for her, but she’s not the most lovable person. She’s a pretty flawed, human girl with a secret past that we don’t know about. And that’s what makes it more fun to read and follow along what may happen next.

I flew through this book in almost one sitting. I wanted to know who’s next on this hit list created by the dead girl. I loved the artistry behind the tasks that Kay was forced to do in order to keep her secret. It was poetic and hauntingly cruel. You never knew who was next (and what did they do *gasp*) and who to trust. I sometimes could barely trust Kay’s own perspective because who knows if she’s hiding something huge from us?

Yet I found myself underwhelmed with other elements of the story.

Including the ending.

Yes, everything – and everyone – was kind of messed up. The culprit wasn’t unguessable but the reasoning behind it all wasn’t amazing. The whys matter to me, not just the whodunnit anymore.

Kay’s secret that pushed her so far to protect was…interesting but the delivery to us, the unknowing readers, wasn’t the best. Maybe I’m just being picky, but there was something in the execution that prevented me from loving it wholeheartedly.

Oh by the way, you romance lovers, there was something present in the story for you too. Though at times I wasn’t sure it was all that necessary to force it in.

Kay’s bisexual so throughout the book, she was torn between her ex-boyfriend and her girl best friend. They made for great suspects with motives, no doubt about it, but it was a lot of drama that felt like it just filled in the empty gaps around the main mystery instead of adding to the story itself as an important point.

So as mysteries go, it was an immediately satisfying rollercoaster spin that couldn’t be stopped once it started – for the most part – but after getting off of it, there’re a few mixed feelings thrown in there. People Like Us definitely wasn’t quite what I expected.

Overall Recommendation:

A YA thriller that gives you a glimpse into the secrets at an all girls boarding school, People Like Us was a fast-paced read that took some weird turns along the ride. With a bisexual protagonist (full of romantic angst and drama) and her hidden secret propelling her on a task list sent from a dead girl, lies get unfolded and intrigue hits its max. Although it was a fun journey, the ending came somewhat abruptly that left a strange, but lasting, impression. If you’re one for mysteries (and boarding schools!), definitely give it a shot.

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4 star, YA

Review: Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

Series: DC Icons #2

batman nightwalker -marie luBefore he was Batman, he was Bruce Wayne. A reckless boy willing to break the rules for a girl who may be his worst enemy.

The Nightwalkers are terrorizing Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne is next on their list.

One by one, the city’s elites are being executed as their mansions’ security systems turn against them, trapping them like prey. Meanwhile, Bruce is turning eighteen and about to inherit his family’s fortune, not to mention the keys to Wayne Enterprises and all the tech gadgetry his heart could ever desire. But after a run-in with the police, he’s forced to do community service at Arkham Asylum, the infamous prison that holds the city’s most brutal criminals.

Madeleine Wallace is a brilliant killer . . . and Bruce’s only hope.

In Arkham, Bruce meets Madeleine, a brilliant girl with ties to the Nightwalkers. What is she hiding? And why will she speak only to Bruce? Madeleine is the mystery Bruce must unravel. But is he getting her to divulge her secrets, or is he feeding her the information she needs to bring Gotham City to its knees? Bruce will walk the dark line between trust and betrayal as the Nightwalkers circle closer.


4 Drink Me Potions


Out of the many superheroes out there, I must admit, Batman is by far a character I struggle with. His vigilante-ism and need to do everything on his own because he thinks he can do it better? Yeah, that totally rubs me wrong.

Yet, Batman: Nightwalker showed me a side of young Bruce Wayne – before he was the Dark Knight who embodied certain characteristics I admire less of – that I actually loved.

Marie Lu created a version of Gotham City that yes, still crawled with bad guys and corruption, but seemed redeemable with a couple of hardworking good guys protecting it. Here, young Bruce – oh my goodness, teenager Bruce – seemed almost human. Not your deep voiced, not-scared-of-anything Batman yet.

The Nightwalkers are a mysterious gang that’s threatened the rich of Gotham City. Much like the kinds of people Bruce’s family associated with. It may seem like the story is your simple stop the bad guys at whatever cost campaign, but the intriguing antagonist (OR IS SHE?) Madeleine definitely delivered a whomping punch that left me wanting more and more.

My favourite parts were definitely the conversations between Bruce and Madeleine. The way she read him, while he in turn tried to figure her out in order to stop the madness that’s happening to his city. Oh, and the subtle underlying (romantic) tensions were absolutely delightful!

“We’re not a very smart match, are we? I can’t think of a story where the billionaire and the murderer end up happily ever after.”

I find romance doesn’t have to always be explicit – this isn’t your regular love story either – and this was the perfect amount to include in a story that focused on a step in Bruce’s journey to becoming a strong protector against a corrupt city.

As a side note to those he are actually avid superhero fans (I’m sorry to admit I’m not the hugest one), fun (and younger) versions of familiar Batman universe characters made appearances too. Just to name a few to get your blood boiling, Harvey Dent and James Gordon may be familiar to most of you.

Equal parts hopeful (I never thought I’d say that about anything related to Batman) and thought provoking, Batman: Nightwalker delivered a brilliant story of a boy on the cusp of manhood and heroism that may have changed his life’s path forever. Full of action scenes and witty conversations with intriguing characters, I loved this book more than I could’ve imagined and raced through it in one short sitting. I’m so glad you don’t even have to read all the books in this series in order either! Jump right in to the world of the Dark Knight, before he has fully figured himself out. I dare you.

Overall Recommendation:
As superhero stories go, I generally stay pretty far away from Batman but Batman: Nightwalker surprised me with its intelligently crafted characters – both heroes AND villains – and excellent pacing that drove my heart racing as I flipped through the pages. This shorter novel was the perfect prequel into Bruce Wayne’s life, and perhaps some events that led him down the road of heroism/vigilante-ism. I couldn’t put it down! Whether you’re a DC superhero fan or not, I think this book is worth checking out for anyone familiar with the name Batman.

4 star, YA

Review: Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton

Series: Heart of Thorns #1

heart of thorns -bree bartonIn the ancient river kingdom, touch is a battlefield, bodies the instruments of war. Seventeen-year-old Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood.

Not women. Demons. The same demons who killed her mother without a single scratch.

But when Mia’s father suddenly announces her marriage to the prince, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Only after the wedding goes disastrously wrong does she discover she has dark, forbidden magic—the very magic she has sworn to destroy.


4 Drink Me Potions


**Heart of Thorns comes out July 31, 2018**

Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

Hatred will only lead you astray. Sometimes love is the stronger choice.

Heart of Thorns took me by surprise. While it was predictable in some sense of where the plot was going, the overall story just worked for me.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Mia, our lovely protagonist, thinks of herself as a rational, logical scientist. She experiments and studies anatomy, a collector of knowledge, priding herself on not just knowing the subjects she chooses to understand but also mastering them. Have you read of protagonists such as these before? I mean, I sure have. Some worked (see Long May She Reign) whereas others feel like talking boxes of facts with no emotional depth.

I was very conflicted as to which side Mia landed for me initially. Especially when there are passages such as the following littered throughout the book.

Eight carpal bones in the wrist: the hamate, capitate, scaphoid, pisiform, lunate, triquetral, trapezoid, and trapezium.

OR

He brushed a curl from her cheek and her zygomatic bones thrummed in their sockets.


Like, what?? I’m the kinda girl who appreciates anatomical terms better than the average person, but even I couldn’t help but laugh a little reading these sentences. Especially the latter.

Then how could I possibly connect with a protagonist like Mia? And that was something I struggled with in the first say 30% of the book. But there was something that kept drawing me in and kept me entertained.

The plot wasn’t the fastest you’ve ever seen, but an adventure following a map to some unknown destination has always been a formula that I can’t help but continue down. After a disastrous wedding ceremony, Mia and her betrothed/fiance/technically husband Quin escape the kingdom with a map that unravels towards their destination as they move along.

The world building in this sense was better formed than other fantasies I’ve read recently. It felt more organic than just a load of information dumping upon our shoulders at the beginning of the book. As they travelled and the 4 kingdoms of this world came closer to Mia, things were explained in a relevant manner.

One thing that some people may not love is the little “screen time” (page time?) that most secondary characters have in this book. For the most part, this story centres around Mia and Quin as they run away from whatever danger they were exposed to. Other people do appear but I never felt like I really knew them very well just because they weren’t present all that often.

HOWEVER, this still in a way worked for me. With so much time given to these 2 characters, we really get to see how Quin and Mia struggled, changed and grew from their circumstances. Especially Mia. I mean, in a matter of a day, her whole life changed. Her whole perspective on who she was changed permanently.

This is why I found her an amenable protagonist. From this logically-driven girl who thought with her brain, she had to learn – and very much struggled through it at times – to think with her heart as well. Let the emotions and feelings guide her. Even when I didn’t connect with her initially, I understood her in the end. That human nature to subdue the overwhelming emotions we feel at times and just distance ourselves with our brains. But life is rarely ever lived fully without the heart.

So yes, there were things that I thought would totally ruin this book for me. But somehow, all together, it worked for this story. The plot wasn’t all that extensive or had too many developed characters, yet that wasn’t the point. These things were enough to drive home the themes of love, family, heart and mind.

And boy, Bree Barton could sometimes write in such a profound way. Like what was love.

FROM

What was love if not a rippling bunch of nerves and valves misfiring? An equation with no known variables? An incalculable contraction of the heart?

TO

Love was a feeling. Love was an action. Love was a partnership, a fiery union of body, mind, and soul.


And love wasn’t just purely romantic love with Quin. It covered familial love and other really strong emotions. Hate. Fear. Rage/anger.

So what if the other things weren’t amazing on its own? Knit together, Heart of Thorns was a beautiful story of learning to listen to the heart, and to choose love no matter how hard that choice may be at times. I believe that’s something everyone can connect with.

Overall Recommendation:
Heart of Thorns started off on a bit of a rocky note, but it landed in a dear spot in my heart. Following a scientific and logically-driven main character, Mia goes on an unintended adventure with Prince Quin as they escape danger and dive into the unknown world, with uncontrolled magic thrown in the mix. Dealing with themes of what it means to love, the ties of family, and listening to the heart, this novel may SEEM predictable but it packed a more lasting impact after the last pages were turned.

Note: all quotes are subject to change