4 star, adult

The Witch Elm by Tana French

Image result for the witch elm

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are.



4 Drink Me Potions


‘I’ve always considered myself to be, basically, a lucky person.’

Going into this book, I had expected some sort of existential, philosophical discovery kind of journey, but that is really not what I got. Instead, it was a murder mystery sort of novel (my favourite!) with a large twist. In The Witch Elm, Toby is a well-rounded, generally deemed good person, who suffers a life-changing event and is seemingly never the same after. Struggling with his head injury, Toby rapidly finds himself in a state of constant confusion, with muddled memories adding to his paranoia.

Having escaped to the Ivy House for refuge with his dying uncle, things quickly turn around when a skull is discovered inside a large elm tree in the garden. Again Toby’s life is plunged into mystery, with detectives and police at every corner. Who around him can he trust, when he can’t even trust his own memories and character?

The Witch Elm follows the main protagonist, Toby, who starts off high and mighty (though not too haughty) but quickly falls to rock bottom. Even we ourselves as readers are not sure if we can trust Toby with his disjointed memories. This made for a very interesting read as usually a whodunnit novel doesn’t involve yourself as a prime suspect. Everyone appears suspicious, but we also can’t rule out ourselves as a possible suspect either, making this story an exciting journey from the beginning all the way to the dramatic climax and denouement.

I really enjoyed that this book explored a lot of aspects of identity and self-awareness. How much does who you are as a character really play into your actions? Also, how strongly do people judge your actions by how closely it matches your perceived character? There is a very interesting exploration of this whole reality versus perception of character and actions that is a motif found throughout the whole book.

The beginning did start off a little bit slow for me, and the lucky nature of Toby was a little bit irritating. But as I got to about half-way through the book, I actually found myself really entranced in the whole scenario, not unlike how Toby must have been feeling in the book himself. Each persona in the book was well thought out and developed in such a way that even though everyone’s character was clear as day, it was difficult to pin down any incriminating evidence. Just when you think that things are about to be resolved, things take another tumble and whirl around until the very final resolution. It was definitely an exciting roller coaster of a journey that was gripping all the way to the very end.

Overall Recommendation:
A haunting story of rediscovering yourself on the backdrop of a murder mystery. Toby is a classically lucky guy up until he slides right to the very bottom. The story follows him as he struggles to remember what might or might not have been, and who he can trust when a human skull is found in his garden. The Witch Elm is a gripping tale that explores how the perceived reality versus the actual truth might differ. What we discover about our true selves might sometimes be better left unknown. If you enjoy a thrilling murder mystery where literally everyone is a suspect, you will probably enjoy this book. If you like that idea with the addition of a self-(re)discovery journey layered on top, then I would definitely recommend this book.

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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.

4.5 star, YA

Review: Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

broken things -lauren oliverIt’s been five years since Summer Marks was brutally murdered in the woods.

Everyone thinks Mia and Brynn killed their best friend. That driven by their obsession with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn the three girls had imagined themselves into the magical world where their fantasies became twisted, even deadly.

The only thing is: they didn’t do it.

On the anniversary of Summer’s death, a seemingly insignificant discovery resurrects the mystery and pulls Mia and Brynn back together once again. But as the lines begin to blur between past and present and fiction and reality, the girls must confront what really happened in the woods all those years ago—no matter how monstrous.


4.5 Drink Me Potions


**Broken Things comes out October 2, 2018**

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

The problem with fairy tales isn’t that they don’t exist. It’s that they do exist, but only for some people.

I’ve been in a book slump for a while (actually, for quite a bit of this year, really), but Broken Things has definitely been a wild journey that spun me breathlessly through the lives of our protagonists, Brynn and Mia.

While I love a good thriller/mystery, what sets this novel apart in its genre is also the element of a story within a story. The girls were accused 5 years ago of murdering their best friend in the exact same way that was depicted in the fan fic sequel they were writing on an imaginary place called Lovelorn. Already sounds kinda good, doesn’t it?

The pacing was just the right amount. Alternating between Mia and Brynn’s POV – both in the present and in the past around the time of the murder – the pieces of what happened that day slowly unfolds while we try to understand who these girls are now in the aftermath of what happened. The town gave them a name: the Monsters of Brickhouse Lane. And the question that haunted me sometimes while reading this was this: did one of them actually do it and earn that name? Or are they really victims?

As mysteries go, it was the perfect blend of slowly unfolding clues and unique character story arcs to fill the in-between. And oh boy, were there some amazing characters here. I felt I knew Brynn and Mia by the end of it. Brynn, the girl who wants to appear all strong and tough on the outside but really was tired of the world calling her a monster. Mia, the dancer whose thoughts were in beautiful dance moves and poses, struggled to find the right words sometimes but in doing so showcased her underlying strength all this time.

Supporting characters such as Mia’s best friend eccentric Abby and Brynn’s cousin Wade who was dead set on proving her innocence were just the icing on top of the cake. Romance was interweaved into the story yet I found it wasn’t the most important thing. So I was VERY glad for its presence but happy it was kept more on the sidelines to allow the focus on the heart of the mystery.

And the world building of Lovelorn.

Oh my.

In between chapters, there were gorgeously written excerpts of the original story the girls loved, Return to Lovelorn as well as the sequel they wrote in the past. For a contemporary story, this felt like it had something lovely to add for fantasy lovers. Like it’s the best of both worlds put into one.

And the beautiful prose doesn’t just stop at these story excerpts. Lauren Oliver has outdone herself in her writing. I’ve read her past books before (and not all of them were particularly amazing) but I just really couldn’t put this book down largely in part ’cause of how she worded ideas or even the mundane events happening with Brynn and Mia.

So that is where I’ll end this review with. If this were a list to check off, then Broken Things definitely has it all: a gorgeous air of mystery/suspense, good pacing, realistic and fun characters that felt 3-dimensional, and beautiful prose.

And that ending was definitely perfect. You’ll know what I mean.

All these people, these hundreds of thousands of people, have stories. Fascinating, ever-unwinding stories. I am just one of them. And I am still midsentence.

Overall Recommendation:
Broken Things ties together elements that make for an exceptional mystery, whether in YA or otherwise. With good pacing and unique characters, there was always this air of intrigue hanging over me as I wonder who really killed Brynn and Mia’s best friend all those years ago. Beautiful prose by the one and only Lauren Oliver catapults us quickly to an ending that explodes with a culprit we may not have guessed, and it leaves me wanting more from these characters and the world of Lovelorn within their story. You definitely should check it out!