2.5 star, YA

ARC Review: Someone Is Always Watching by Kelley Armstrong

Blythe and her friends—Gabrielle, and brother and sister Tucker and Tanya—have always been a tight friend group, attending a local high school and falling in and out of love with each other. But an act of violence has caused a rift between Blythe and Tucker . . . and unexpected bursts of aggression and disturbing nightmares have started to become more frequent in their lives. 

The strange happenings culminate in a shocking event at school: Gabrielle is found covered in blood in front of their deceased principal, with no memory of what happened. 

Cracks in their friendship, as well as in their own memories, start appearing, threatening to expose long-forgotten secrets which could change the group’s lives forever. How can Blythe and her friends trust each other when they can’t even trust their own memories?

Overall Recommendation:

Someone Is Always Watching is more of a dystopian than a mystery as we dig into the secrets buried inside of a group of teenagers who start noticing disturbing behaviour among themselves. It’s different than what I would have thought the story would be about initially. While that’s not inherently a bad thing, I didn’t connect well with any of the characters, and the overall mystery was less central to the plot than expected. I think the world of Kelley Armstrong but this wasn’t among my favourites from her.

**Someone Is Always Watching comes out April 11, 2023**

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review

I’ve been a Kelley Armstrong fan for a long time now, having the pleasure of meeting her when I was in high school when she started writing YA novels. With that said, I thought I had a fairly good understanding of her writing styles and genres.

This book changed things. And I’m not entirely certain how I feel about it even after waiting a little while to write this review.

We follow mainly one girl, Blythe, in this story, but we’re immediately immersed in this friend group that grew up together in a small town due to their families’ connections to the organization that employs them all. I’m not sure about you, but immediately that raises all sorts of red flags in my head. Perhaps I’ve read far too many dystopians, but this is precisely more the genre this book lands in than the mystery of what is happening with these teenagers.

I won’t say that the “mystery” relating to what’s been going with Blythe and friends, their loss of memory of strange occurrences and direct involvement in suspicious deaths/behaviors, was all too hard to guess. The only thing that may have took me slightly by surprise is the identity of who has been leaving Blythe cryptic messages about her and the others’ past. It definitely got more predictable as the story went along but that was one intriguing aspect of the story.

For a shorter length book, the pacing did leave me wanting more. It wasn’t as suspenseful as I had hoped because the mystery wasn’t all too hard to predict. But what makes a book beyond its plot are the characters, especially if the plot didn’t drive the story as much as one would expect. Would I say the characters were beloved in any way then? No, unfortunately I really can’t.

Right off the bat we are introduced to Blythe and Tucker, their younger selves, as individuals with a darker side who wants to cause a little destruction. Fast forward to their older selves, Blythe has tried hard to rein in her darker side and Tucker has a reputation for being dangerous, even from the grown ups around him. I’m all for having well-rounded morally gray characters but it was hard to find the sides of Blythe and Tucker to love.

The others in the friend group we follow sometimes but not in depth. Tanya doesn’t display much emotion, and is even characterized to have sociopathic tendencies. The only person she can fathom loving is her brother, Tucker. Sure, that’s great at least, but doesn’t inspire me to want to know her better. Gabrielle was the first one of them to display a loss of control and acting erratically so knowing her normal self wasn’t really something that was explored.

Then it seemed that a romance was being pushed between Blythe and Tucker. I’m sorry, but this forbidden relationship felt too forced in some ways. Sure, they may have both loved one another since they were young but could not be together because Tucker was “dangerous”. However, making their love more of a central piece of the story didn’t make one difference to me. So much of the focus was on what is currently happening to them and their search for the truth that having this romance appear felt disconcerting. I love romances in stories but this was more of an add-on. And all I could feel was apathy.

All this being said, I love Kelley’s stories regardless of my lack of enthusiasm for this one. Perhaps my expectation coming in was for the mystery to be more central and shocking. If you’re new to Kelley’s writings, I will say you should come in open minded, and this book is just one among the breadth of her stories in the YA sphere.

3 star, YA

Review: Nothing More to Tell by Karen M. McManus

From the internationally bestselling author of Netflix’s hottest new show, One of Us is Lying, comes a new, page-turning thriller . . .

True crime can leave a false trail.

Four years ago, Brynn left Saint Ambrose School following the shocking murder of her favourite teacher. The case was never solved, but she’s sure that the three kids who found Mr. Larkin’s body know more than they’re telling, especially her ex-best friend Tripp Talbot. He’s definitely hiding something.

When Brynn gets an internship working on a popular true-crime show, she decides to investigate what really happened that day in the woods. But the further she dives into the past, the more secrets she finds.

Four years ago someone got away with murder. Now it’s time to uncover the truth . . .

Overall Recommendation:

Nothing More to Tell is a solid enough standalone mystery – if you haven’t read any of Karen M. McManus’ other stories. The mystery itself was intriguing (death of a teacher *gasp*) but the pacing felt a little off as we focused more on Brynn and Tripp’s history and individual struggles. There was also nothing particularly outstanding about either protagonist. Ultimately, this is a fine mystery to read, relatively, but one that unfortunately is not super memorable.

Continue reading “Review: Nothing More to Tell by Karen M. McManus”
5 star, adult

Review: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life. 

Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.

In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarlyspinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.

Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.

Overall Recommendation

Jennette McCurdy’s memoir is heartbreaking and consequently empowering to read. From trauma instilled from childhood, her story to where she is now is beyond her celebrity status but the very real journey towards finding herself amidst the experiences she survived. I wished this wasn’t all true half the time but it’s worthwhile to read at the end of the day. She deserves all the success in the world, and it’s really no wonder this book is a #1 seller.

TW: eating disorders, emotional abuse by a parent, alcoholism

Where does one begin to review a memoir, especially to such a calibre as Jennette’s? I’m Glad My Mom Died was eloquently written, taking us with Jennette from her childhood to her young adulthood, and showed the trajectory of recovery for someone who went through so much to get to where she is now. While the title may scream shocking for “wow” factor or something, I won’t deny its attention-grabbing ability but in reality, it seems like a fitting title for everything that transpired within its pages.

I don’t know about you but I grew up watching iCarly. It was one of the few childhood shows I was allowed to watch that wasn’t deemed “educational” by my parents. In part, I wanted to watch it for Miranda Cosgrove but I really liked what I saw of Jennette. Little did we (and even her costars) knew, things are rarely as they seem on the surface level.

I love how the writing is in present tense, like we’re seeing and feeling all of it with her in the moment without the hindsight knowledge. Each scene or moment that Jennette takes us to in her life are contained within the chapter it’s in and never crosses over midway to another chapter. There were many chapters but each was short and digestible in that way. I mean, most chapters took a while to even fully comprehend and process just what happened to her, so the short chapters (all 90 or so of them) helped me get through the hardest chapters to read.

My heart broke multiple times at the experiences and ways she bent over backwards to fulfill what was broken in adults (!!) around her when she was still just a child in every sense of the word. To say she is a strong person is not worded strongly enough. Seeing her document parts of her recovery hopefully gives hope to others who faced/currently faces similar demons or circumstances.

Most importantly, and I will end with this, the overall theme in this memoir to me is about finding yourself. It may seem callous to say her mother dying was the best thing for her, but in all honesty, it was the only way for her to truly become the woman she wants to be. And I’m so darn happy for her because she’s deserving of figuring out what is best for her based off of what she wants alone. That is worth celebrating.