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.

3 star, YA

Review: You’re So Dead by Ash Parsons

A hilarious Agatha Christie-inspired YA thriller-comedy about three best friends who sneak into an influencers-only festival event (gone wrong), only to discover a killer is in their midst–and they have to uncover the truth and solve the mystery before it’s too late. Perfect for fans of One of Us Is Lying and Truly Devious .

Plum Winter has always come in second to her sister, the unbelievably cool, famous influencer Peach Winter. And when Peach is invited to an all-expenses paid trip to a luxurious art and music festival for influencers on a private island in the Caribbean, Plum decides it’s finally her time to shine. So she intercepts the invite–and asks her two best friends Antonia and Marlowe to come along to the fest with her. It’ll be a spring break they’ll never forget.

But when Plum and her friends get to the island, it’s not anything like it seemed in the invite. The island is run-down, creepy, and there doesn’t even seem to be a festival–it’s just seven other quasi-celebrities and influencers, and none of the glitz and glamor she expected. Then people start to die…

Plum and her friends soon realize that someone has lured each of them to the “festival” to kill them. Someone has a vendetta against every person on the island–and no one is supposed to leave the island alive. So, together, Plum, Antonia, and Marlowe will do whatever it takes to unravel the mystery of the killer, and fight to save themselves and as many influencers as they can, before it’s too late.

Let’s set the night on fire!

When you didn’t think there was such a book that existed like this, You’re So Dead produced a satirical, suspenseful story that seems like it could really be a thing in this day and age of social media obsession.

Plum Winter, our dear protagonist, has always felt like second-tier, especially with a famous influencer older sister who left her behind for fame and status. When a invitation letter for her sister comes for a prestigious, influencer-only festival on a paradise island, Plum is all for taking her sister’s place (along with a few of her closest friends).

A parody of the infamous Fyre Festival, little do Plum and her friends know, they’re stepping not into a wild 3-day music festival but…a sinister plan that will lead to casualties.

I loved the premise of this. It was strange yet very believable. Why wouldn’t some deranged person/persons go to the ultimate length to deceive some potential targets to come to this isolated island for fun, masking their evil motives? I most definitely enjoyed seeing how the group of semi-influencers that ended up on the island slowly understand that this was never about music and rubbing elbows with more influential people. It was a lure to bring them to their deaths.

For no one is meant to survive Pyre Festival. (Yes, Pyre Festival is the name…)

The suspenseful aspect definitely built up well. You knew someone was going to die. Sometimes you knew it was going to occur within a certain time window (thank you, chapter titles). Yet I didn’t know who, when or how it was going down and that left me on my toes! It’s part of my favourite element in thrillers. The wait. The drop of the shoe. Turning around and seeing a friendly face that…isn’t actually your friend.

That’s right, folks. Because at Pyre Festival, there are a number of victims who want to escape the island.

But there is a killer among them.

*dun dun dun dun*

Okay, that was me trying to insert scary music. Now, the things I didn’t enjoy as much was the lack of enthusiasm I had for Plum and her 2 best friends who were dragged into this misadventure with her. They were nice girls who were never meant to be a part of this murderous mayhem. Plum, in particular, always felt so guilty for putting them all in this place. But she was so focused and obsessed on being seen, on being special, that is as the whole reason why she stole the invite from her sister in the first place. I understand, believe me, but there was just so much guilt in that girl.

Oh, and she happened to be in love with her best friend. Who may die on this island with her. The romance bits felt a little out of place (you know, amidst all the trying-not-to-die parts), but it was a nice bit of LGBTQ representation there so I can’t fault it.

To be honest, a lot of the people stuck on the island were not very enjoyable. I suppose that’s what made it entertaining. Who would want to target all these people in particular? Was it just one of them that set a killer off, or did they all have an enemy in common? So yes, they were an interesting bunch but not always great people to be around. I only liked poor, naive streamer Jude. But mostly because he reminded me of a lost puppy dog trying not to get kicked.

All this to say is, if you’re looking for some satirical, island-trapped murder plot, then look no further. You’re So Dead is the book for you!

Overall Recommendation:

You’re So Dead is a great combination of comical satire, suspense and thriller as we follow a group of semi-influencers trapped on an island under the premise of an epic music festival that would elevate their popularity. With a killer among them hunting one target at a time, no one knows who or when another one of them might fall victim to whoever meticulously planned such an elaborate farce. While this means the characters may not be the most likeable (they’ve all done something that makes them a little mean), they’re realistic and you can’t help but hope the ones you like don’t turn out to be the devil in disguise. A quick and suspenseful read, it’s definitely an interesting book to pick up if you don’t know what you’re feeling at the moment for your next read.

1.5 star, YA

ARC Review: All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

Sixteen bloodless bodies. Two teenagers. One impossible explanation.

Summer 1958—a string of murders plagues the Midwest. The victims are found in their cars and in their homes—even in their beds—their bodies drained, but with no blood anywhere. 

September 19- the Carlson family is slaughtered in their Minnesota farmhouse, and the case gets its first lead: 15-year-old Marie Catherine Hale is found at the scene. She is covered in blood from head to toe, and at first she’s mistaken for a survivor. But not a drop of the blood is hers.

Michael Jensen, son of the local sheriff, yearns to become a journalist and escape his small-town. He never imagined that the biggest story in the country would fall into his lap, or that he would be pulled into the investigation, when Marie decides that he is the only one she will confess to. 

As Marie recounts her version of the story, it falls to Michael to find the truth: What really happened the night that the Carlsons were killed? And how did one girl wind up in the middle of all these bodies?

**All These Bodies come out September 21, 2021**

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

TW: extreme violence, potential abuse from a father figure

I’m as shocked as anyone that this is how it went for this book, but it just did not agree with me. All These Bodies is less of a thrilling mystery than it is an ill-conceived horror. With little plot that comes to the actual crimes themselves, it solely relies on the paranormal nature of these murders to create an air of suspense and thrill.

I came into this book thinking it would be a (rather gruesome) mystery. Unfortunately, it was less a mystery than a wild chase for a story from the girl left at the last crime scene.

Michael Jensen is a solid protagonist to follow. He has a good head on his shoulders and learned to deal with the consequences of being the sheriff’s son a long time ago. With his fascination for journalism and plain ol’ being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he is roped into the string of serial killings that has swept the few states around his hometown.

The girl, Marie, sees him once and is instantly fascinated. Maybe it’s because he is around her age, against the backdrop of lawyers and police officers that are insistent on her story. Or maybe, as Michael himself believes, it’s because he’s the only kind of person who would potentially believe the story that she has to tell.

If you’re looking for some supernatural criminal and are oddly excited to read about the ramifications of explaining such a thing to rational minded people, then you’re luck because this is the book for you! But if you’re not interested in these things, then I don’t know what you’re left with in this novel.

Was it creepy? Yes, I will admit that. Kendare Blake knows how to set the environment and write with vagueness around this mysterious killer. Did I think the paranormal aspect added to the story? No, not really. I would’ve thought it could be as interesting without a paranormal angle.

At the heart of this book, it is trying to challenge belief and how people see the world, but I find that the characters were either on one side or the other the whole time. They weren’t persuaded to think otherwise no matter what “truths” were uncovered during the investigation. Which left me feeling frustrated for Michael who is the only one on the fence with belief and is therefore isolated in his struggle to make sense of everything.

In fact, I was frustrated during most of this book. People can be so awful and hypocritical. The townspeople were upset at Michael and his family for keeping the “criminal girl” in their town for questioning and investigation, so they harassed the poor family incessantly, even those who were once considered friends. But when the investigation took a turn, they were the very first to say (in a super sexist manner) that they didn’t believe she could’ve committed such crimes because she was a girl. So not a lot of warm fuzzy feelings in this book at all.

I will contend at least that I blew through this book super quickly. It’s rather short and in a manner, I just wanted to get to the end to see how it would all turn out. Would Marie tell Michael the whole story for how she came to be in that house with the murdered family? Would we, as readers, fully believe what she has to say?

However, any warm fuzzies I hoped to gain from a good ending was also shattered. I am not adverse to open endings where much is left to one’s interpretation and scope of the imagination. But, this was more than just open-ended. It was abrupt and lacked closure. It was the precipice of a reckless choice. I half couldn’t believe it ended there, but then when I thought about the set up of this whole book with its supernatural aura, I suppose that’s the only kind of ending that would work. But this is a fair warning to you all that this is DEFINITELY not for everyone.

It definitely was not for me.

Overall Recommendation:

All These Bodies comes across as a true crime mystery in its synopsis but is most definitely classed as a paranormal horror. With a fascinating premise about a serial killer on the loose and a girl left behind at the last crime scene, I came into this book thinking one thing and leaving with something else entirely. While the protagonist, Michael, was rather enjoyable to follow (I totally agreed with most of his thoughts), everything else was a let down. From the lack of plot surrounding the crimes to the lack of closure in its ending, it was hard to invest in. What little I did invest emotionally, I was left with disappointment. This book isn’t for the faint of heart, or those with high expectations. But if you enjoy paranormal horrors, then I suppose you are the exact audience this novel is meant for.