Tag Archive | family

Review: To Catch a Killer by Sheryl Scarborough

to catch a killer -sheryl scarboroughErin Blake has one of those names. A name that, like Natalee Holloway or Elizabeth Smart, is inextricably linked to a grisly crime. As a toddler, Erin survived for three days alongside the corpse of her murdered mother, and the case—which remains unsolved—fascinated a nation. Her father’s identity unknown, Erin was taken in by her mother’s best friend and has become a relatively normal teen in spite of the looming questions about her past.

Fourteen years later, Erin is once again at the center of a brutal homicide when she finds the body of her biology teacher. When questioned by the police, Erin tells almost the whole truth, but never voices her suspicions that her mother’s killer has struck again in order to protect the casework she’s secretly doing on her own.

Inspired by her uncle, an FBI agent, Erin has ramped up her forensic hobby into a full-blown cold-case investigation. This new murder makes her certain she’s close to the truth, but when all the evidence starts to point the authorities straight to Erin, she turns to her longtime crush (and fellow suspect) Journey Michaels to help her crack the case before it’s too late.


3 Drink Me Potions


To Catch a Killer left me second-guessing my whodunnit culprit while still making it exciting with real science, albeit lacking a bit in the “scare” factor.

I am always up for a good mystery, and lately I’ve been in a funk craving a good, suspenseful story to gush and pour over. There aren’t many YA novels that I find does justice to a good crime story. It could be ’cause I read and watch many crime fiction and shows.

This novel captures the essence of forensics in a YA context, so watch out for any skeptical scoffing over the fact that young teenagers do better police work and evidence collection than the ACTUAL police. Erin was an interesting protagonist. She wasn’t deterred so easily by adult figures who kept telling her that she should “just get over” her past and forget the emotions in the aftermath of her mother’s violent death. Sometimes these secondary characters, particularly her guardian Rachel and Erin’s two besties Spam and Lysa, really annoyed me. I get they want to protect her, and it adds to the whole main character versus the world kinda trope but it honestly just got on my nerves after a while. Both sides had decent points for why they were doing what they thought was best, but better communication would’ve definitely gone a long way.

The current mystery surrounding the bio teacher, Ms. P’s death was intriguing, especially once it was linked to her mother’s death. I enjoyed the Erin’s thought process and planning as she set about connecting the dots through her evidence. Although it may not be for everyone, I found the strongest point in this story was the cute little quotes taken from her FBI Uncle Victor that was oddly quite accurate. The story does go more into detail about genetics (aka simplified to just DNA) and how to extract it – ahem, my fav scene was when they made a homemade gel electrophoresis for separating the DNA bands (the bio nerd inside of me is rejoicing at seeing an experiment I do in real life pop into a YA novel!) – but I find they add to the story instead of detracts from it. Erin’s character revolves around wanting to solve murders, particularly her mom’s. And good evidence collection and testing are the forefront of determining how a case may go.

What I thought wasn’t so great or as realistic was the romance. Yep, you heard me. The ROMANCE. Journey Michaels was the love interest for Erin and although he seems like a rather nice guy, I don’t feel we get to know him very well in this story. He’s there to help connect the dots with Erin by providing info that they don’t already know, and maybe to make the story more interesting. But ultimately, he didn’t really need to be a part of this book, which says a lot when it comes to one of my FAVOURITE things I find normally essential in a story. I didn’t set any ships for them, not really. And it felt a bit fast for them to fall for each other in a non-platonic way. Sure, emotions are rampant when you feel like you’re in danger, but I suppose their path to romance wasn’t depicted as well as it potentially could’ve been.

Last comment: what’s with the names in this story? Spam, which is short for SAMANTHA, was an oddball name I’ve never come across a story before. And the only way I figured out her real name was Samantha instead of actually Spam was ’cause someone called her by the full name wayyy later in the book. Also, Journey’s not such a hot name either…It was just very interesting.

Overall Recommendation:
To Catch a Killer isn’t some scary book that’ll keep you up at night, but it does sufficiently for the mystery that is the heart of the story. Erin Blake is an easy to follow protagonist with a love of forensics (that actually dives into real forensics), although it sometimes felt like no one else understood why she needed to do this for her mom’s case. Family and friendships are other things that’re portrayed here, but ultimately this is a story about a killer who needs to be brought to justice (by apparently teen CSIs). However, it falls a bit flat in the romance category with Journey, but all in all, the ending wasn’t the most predictable and closes on a happy note that should satisfy most readers.

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

before i fall -lauren oliverWith this stunning debut novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver emerged as one of today’s foremost authors of young adult fiction. Like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why and Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, Before I Fall raises thought-provoking questions about love, death, and how one person’s life can affect so many others.

For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


Before I Fall definitely has that extra something that propelled it into fame when it was first published, where at the heart of it is a girl who learns more about herself and others in death than maybe she ever did in life.

I will be honest with you. I had many chances over the years to read Lauren Oliver’s debut but there was something that always made me hesitant to pick it up. In lieu of the movie that was released not too long ago, I thought it was finally time to do it.

And frankly? I wasn’t disappointed. But at the same time, it was exactly what I thought it would be like and why I was always hesitant in reading it.

Sam Kingston is no nice girl. Not like Mean Girls where the protagonist just kinda fell into the machinations of the popular group but she thrived in this setting for so long. The way she acted towards those she deemed not part of her group, she didn’t think twice about laughing it up with her besties. Now, those girls were all sorts of messed up too. Lindsay’s your typical alpha, although the others seemed to have more say than other stereotypical cliques. Ally isn’t particularly bright but rich, and Elody just seems desperate with the boys. The book is broken down into 7 parts aka 7 repeats of Sam’s last day. The first day was dreadfully long, although I understood the necessity of setting the foundation of what the original day was like.

If the slow pacing wasn’t a killer to get through in the beginning, Sam’s attitude was just a huge turn-off. From wanting to just get it over with, she submits to her unworthy boyfriend Rob to lose her V card that night, to being completely rotten to sophomores and her childhood friend Kent who just wasn’t cool enough for her now. Honestly, I wanted to tell Sam to cut it out half the time.

As the story progresses, I will say that Sam’s character development does slowly change, and at a proper pace. She doesn’t miraculously decide to become an angel after the first time she re-woke on Valentine’s day again. It took looking at these different “days” from different perspectives to start to grasp just how little she really saw of her world. Her classmates’ lives weren’t as simple as she thought they were, or how absent she’d become in her own family. I really enjoyed that part.

It’s a good story when you start feeling for your characters. Even the horrid ones. Although Sam’s group of friends don’t technically change from each rewind, you still see beyond the stereotypical mean girl persona they put up. Each one has their own story and struggles that they hide behind their popular status at school. Everyone had their own fears. And at the heart of it all, Sam was trying to figure out how to move on (or was this how the afterlife should be?).

I will say the friendships and Sam’s strong narrative held the story. Each day and rewind got better. She became braver and less selfish (slightly). She started understanding what her actions led to, and how things should’ve been while she was alive. Even though it took a while, I couldn’t hate Sam even at the start. She wasn’t nice and she wasn’t someone I connected with at first, but I understood she was human and she had her own insecurities, though I’m not condoning how she put down others to lift herself up. I even understood why Sam couldn’t hate her friends after seeing what their summed up actions could lead to in others’ lives. That’s a marker of a true story that resonates with the audience. When you can’t even hate these two-dimensional fictional characters because they’re real enough to you, and you get that people make mistakes, albeit some worse than others.

The romance, if you can even quite call it that, was bittersweet. It’s a part of why I dreaded reading this novel. She finally got to the point where you know that she’s a better person ’cause of the days and moments that passed, but no one remembers it but her after each rewind. Her sweet moments with Kent were erased each time, and of course, she couldn’t stay like this forever. She couldn’t spend more time with her family, or truly find a love that would last. Her moments were now limited to just the one day, repeatedly. And hopefully, that wouldn’t be the sum of her afterlife.

Everything wraps up the way you would think it would/should. It’s as bittersweet as I predicted, but at the end of the day, I can see why it got so popular and won awards, even optioned for a movie. The beauty lay in Sam’s transformation and the everyday lessons she learned along the way. And at the heart of it, it was about friendship and family, and not knowing when that last day will be.

Overall Recommendation:
Before I Fall is everything as I imagined it would be ever since it first came out. Poignant and bittersweet, it follows Sam’s story as she navigates the last day of her life over and over again, picking up on the consequences of her actions and how things didn’t have to be the way it was if only she had made different choices and saw things differently. With a romance that doesn’t take away from the main story, ultimately we get to follow Sam’s journey as she tackles final moments with friends and family in order to move on. It’s a story that transverses the contemporary YA boundary and should resonate in some way with readers.

Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Series: Caraval #2

caraval -stephanie garberRemember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.


5 Drink Me Potions


Caraval is everything you can imagine from that beautiful synopsis. From a sweeping mystery to the beautifully described world of the once-a-year Caraval, my heart was pounding in excitement to the very end.

I heard that this book has been gushed over since before it came out. It makes me wary sometimes as that puts on really high expectations which could actually do the exact opposite by disappointing me in the end. That was NOT the case with this book.

Caraval is essentially about two sisters who apparently would do anything for each other. Tella’s the more reckless and headstrong sister, while Scarlett is more thoughtful in all her actions. It comes with being the older sister. I loved Scarlett. She was so understandable and her devotion to her younger sister was admirable. She would do anything to get them out of their abusive father’s hands, even by marrying a complete stranger who offered to take in Tella too.

But, the magic and mystery surrounding Caraval and its mystery hunt during its week-long performance was the one thing Scarlett had always dreamed of attending. When things turned and the sisters found themselves entering Caraval to join in on this year’s game, my heart was literally so ecstatic. Even when the “real” plot hadn’t officially started yet, I was already so wrapped up in these characters and what would await them in Caraval.

I didn’t love Tella as much as Scarlett. In part, it was due to the fact that the sisters were separated so early on and everything’s in Scarlett’s POV. But it always seemed like Scarlett was the one to be making the sacrifice. I learned to appreciate Tella a bit more over time, but any more of her presence might’ve annoyed me more. Thankfully, the other protagonist and love interest for Scarlett was surprisingly amazing.

Julian was the PERFECT guy for Scarlett. Not only was he mysterious, confident and very hot, he pushed Scarlett beyond her comfort zone in a way no one else could. And even though there always seemed to be an aura of secrets around him, he was dependable when push came to shove for Scarlett. And I thought she was good for him too. As his secrets untangled over the course of the plot (which by the way were deliciously unpredictable as I kept second-guessing what his purpose was for being at Caraval and what his connections to this place were), I felt all these emotions collide in me. Happy, sad, surprised, relieved, you name it. The chemistry between these two were literally tangible. It was such a beautiful, slow-burn romance. They didn’t necessarily want to fall for each other – after all, Scarlett was technically still engaged to some stranger. But they did and it just worked! *fangirl sigh*

As for the world of Caraval, its mysterious characters that Scarlett met along the way, and the weird rules were all fascinating. Everything was well-described and the oddity of some of the things that went on here reminded me a lot of the imaginative detailing and world of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. Of course, that only added to my joy in reading this. On top of that, the mystery game at the heart of Caraval that its contestants could join in to solve for a prize was amazing. It was well-paced, with fun clues that kept Scarlett (and me) guessing for its meaning.

Honestly, Caraval has it all. Whatever you want in a book, it should have it within its pages. Whether you believe the hype or not, I suggest you read it for yourself with no expectations and just maybe, you’ll find yourself as surprised as I was at how much I enjoyed this.

Overall Recommendation:
Caraval is one of those rare books that just makes you believe in the world that you’ve stepped into, and makes it so hard to leave it. With a loyal and empathetic protagonist as Scarlett and a mysterious love interest such as Julian, the romance department here was just HOT. And the additional mystery that they needed to solve while at Caraval with the highest stakes possible only added to the pulse-pounding experience. A well-paced and overall imaginative story, Caraval hasn’t made it to many reviewers’ good graces for no reason. A definite recommendation.