Off the Shelf: A Review of We Know it was You by Maggie Thrash

I picked up a copy of BookPage this week at the library, and in it, someone had reviewed We Know it was You. You could tell from the review that the author wasn’t such a fan but was trying to spin the review on a positive note. The part that stuck out to me most was that, when reading We Know it was You, you may find that “the satire may not resonate with all readers”. I’m not sure if that was meant to be an understatement, but I can tell you one thing, nothing about this book actually resonated with me, and that’s including the satire.

I received an ARC of We Know it was You from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I emphasize “honest” here because as much as I WANTED to like this book, I just didn’t, and I think it’s important to discuss why.

weknow
Release Date: October 4, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
It’s better to know the truth. At least sometimes.

Halfway through Friday night’s football game, beautiful cheerleader Brittany Montague—dressed as the giant Winship Wildcat mascot—hurls herself off a bridge into Atlanta’s surging Chattahoochee River.

Just like that, she’s gone.

Eight days later, Benny Flax and Virginia Leeds will be the only ones who know why.

Things I Liked:
It’s a fast read. Something moderately lighthearted that you can read quickly in a matter of hours. I had a night where I couldn’t get to sleep, so I picked this one up and had it finished well before my alarm for work went off. As much as I didn’t enjoy it, I can say that you will want to follow through to the end, just to solve the mystery.

Things I Didn’t Like:
First off, I didn’t like ANY of the characters. They are so offensively stereotypical that it was just painful to read about them. You’ve got your gossip, your socially awkward Jew, your jocks, your cheerleaders, your strange foreigners, etc. And guess what? None of their actions make any sense whatsoever. Was there a real motivation for any of them? If there was, I couldn’t find it. Perhaps it was buried somewhere under all of the irritatingly pointless plot lines. I really thought at first that I was just irked because they sounded like annoying high schoolers. I thought, well, I sounded pretty annoying when I was in high school. But NO. It’s just that the author is forcing so many cliched tropes down your throat that the whole story is hard to digest.

Second, and this is the part we really need to talk about – I am so grossly offended by the way the topic of rape is treated in this story. If you’re looking for a book that spreads an unhealthy message about rape and sexual assault, well, you’ve found it. I won’t spoil all of the details, but I was actually intrigued that a book finally tackled the subject of a female rapist. That intrigue didn’t last long. Whenever it’s discovered that a character is essentially being raped, it’s like everyone just brushes it off as no big deal. No, we shouldn’t report that to authorities. No, the abuser shouldn’t be punished – she’s so pretty and rich! Let’s just keep her victim in the dark and do nothing about it. I’m sure that will work out just fine. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! No. Just no.

Speaking of problematic sexual scenes, I think I almost lost my cool over one scene in particular. *SPOILER WARNING*
At one point, a secondary character…someone who really doesn’t do much in the story overall…sits in his car with a bayonet in one hand and is masturbating with his other hand. Yes, it’s graphic from start to ‘finish’. No, it did not add ANYTHING to the story. I’m still clueless as to why it was included. What purpose did it serve to the story? I don’t think it had one. I feel like the author included it solely for the shock value, thinking that sexually frustrated teenagers are going to think this story is automatically ‘cool’ because it included some detailed masturbation. Trust me though, the descriptions are cringe-worthy at best.

My biggest problem with this book though? Nothing gets resolved. The killer rides off into the sunset, never to be punished. Another victim will never see justice for being raped. Law enforcement is never informed – actually, no, worse than that. Law enforcement is INTENTIONALLY not informed. Not even when one of the main characters sits in a cop’s car just shortly after uncovering a child pornography ring. Does she tell the police about it? Nope! That might somehow impede the work of her teen detective club. I’m sorry, but that was just ridiculous.

Overall Rating:
According to Goodreads, this is going to be a series. I somehow doubt it though, because although nothing was resolved at the end, it had a certain sense of finality to it.  Either way, if there is a sequel, I don’t think I’ll be picking it up.
Some books can make you uncomfortable and challenge you in an exceptionally good way. This is not one of those books. It just leaves you uncomfortable, and that’s it. I’m giving it a 1.5 on the sole fact that I actually wanted to finish it and see how it all turned out. Disappointing as it was, it was a quick (although not painless) distraction.
I’m still not sure if it was really meant to be satire, or if that’s just what people are going to say to defend it. Me? I love satire. I did not love this.

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Off the Shelf: A Review of One Was Lost by Natalie Richards

Do you ever get really excited when you read a book, and it mentions someplace you are familiar with, maybe even someplace you call home? While reading Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series, I bombarded my friends with photos of every mention of West Virginia, particularly when she talked about I64 and Charleston (which happens to be about 30 minutes away from my library). Well, I had the same excitement when I found out that Natalie Richards and I have something in common – we’re both from Ohio. I live in the southern half of the state, but I like to go camping around the areas that Natalie writes about. The teens are students from Marietta (a great little place to visit that’s right on the Ohio River and full of history). There’s also a hospital in Columbus that is mentioned, and I’d say most every Ohioan has visited Columbus at least a time or two. Let me tell you though, when you’re reading a story as frightening as One Was Lost, you don’t exactly get excited that you know the places the author is describing. You get creeped out. You start questioning visiting that part of the state again, especially to camp. You know it isn’t some made up fictional city. Knowing that makes every aspect of the story more real, and when things start to get scary, it makes your fear more real. One was Lost is a fast-paced, thrilling adventure about fighting to survive, and one that you will probably want to read from the comfort and safety of your own home.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Are they labels or a warning? The answer could cost Sera everything.

Murder, justice, and revenge were so not a part of the plan when Sera set out on her senior camping trip. After all, hiking through the woods is supposed to be safe and uneventful.

Then one morning the group wakes up groggy, confused, and with words scrawled on their wrists: Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Their supplies? Destroyed. Half their group? Gone. Their chaperone? Unconscious. Worst of all, they find four dolls acting out a murder—dolls dressed just like them.

Suddenly it’s clear; they’re being hunted. And with the only positive word on her wrist, Sera falls under suspicion…

I received an ARC of One was Lost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The current publication date for One was Lost is October 4, 2016.

Things I Liked:

This isn’t some cut and dry murder mystery. There’s a killer on the loose, and he/she is toying with a group of teenagers that wouldn’t exactly refer to each other as “friends”. Add to that, mysterious words have been drawn darkly onto their wrists which call into question the nature of each character. Damaged, Deceptive, Dangerous, and  Darling can all be heavy labels to bear, but there is a special reason why these words in particular were chosen for the group. Natalie Richards does a great job only revealing what she absolutely has to at any given moment, and she effectively builds the rising tensions. There may be a few moments where readers will feel like something was predictable, but it won’t be in regards to who is hunting the group nor will it be that person’s motivation behind the hunt. It will keep you guessing from cover to cover.

One was Lost has a great core group of characters. I felt attached to each of the four main campers, even when I didn’t trust them. I think this story would have benefited more if it included multiple points of view and still maintained the suspicions and possible unreliability of the narrators, something similar to what Laurie Stolarz does in the Dark House series. If we could have seen the situation from Lucas, Jude, and Emily’s points of view, I think we would have learned a great deal more about their characters and personalities. Sera is the soul narrator, we only receive her outlook, and so it’s hard to be 100% invested in her when she is surrounded by so many character’s with backgrounds that are more rich than her own. The other great thing about these characters is the fact that there’s an actual depth to each of them, one that as you can probably tell, I wish had been explored more…but that depth keeps them from coming across as corny or overly stereotypical teenagers.

The most important thing that I liked – the big reveal. So many thrillers cop out on an ending. It’s like they spend the whole book building up to it, and the second the bomb drops, everyone cleans up the debris neatly, and it’s all over. Not here. This was what I needed in an ending for this book. I needed it to be messy. I needed to know not only who but also why. I needed a motive, and I needed a thrilling confrontation between hunter and hunted. Not only that, but I also needed the characters that I spent the whole time getting close to to have a consensus about what happened between them and what the aftermath would be in the wake of their terrifying ordeal. This ending hit the mark and gave me everything I was looking for.

Things I Didn’t Like:

Honestly, I feel like the references to Sera’s mother slowed down the story. I loved the Sera and Lucas young love angle, but I kinda felt like I should make a drinking game out of it. Take one drink for every time Sera thinks about her mom in relation to her feelings about Lucas. No winners in that game. These mommy issue monologues felt very forced, and I just couldn’t get interested.
Beyond that, I feel like the built up animosity towards Lucas, especially in the beginning of the story, was unwarranted, and the slow-to-reveal reasons behind it didn’t really provide an acceptable explanation in my eyes.  This was the only real let down I had with this book.

Also, without spoiling anything, I still have a few unanswered questions about some of the circumstances leading up to this trip and an unexplained link between two characters, but maybe I just need a good reread. I could have possibly missed a small detail somewhere while playing the mommy issues drinking game.

Overall Rating:

I’m giving this one a solid 4/5. It had some predictable moments, and I wasn’t a fan of Sera’s fixation with not being like her mother, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book the whole way through. It was a thrilling ride from start to finish, didn’t seem overly corny, and had characters that I wanted to personally know. I raced through the pages because the tale gets very twisted, and it kept me anticipating how the ending would play out. You’ll definitely want to get your hands on this one come October and read it on your next camping trip.

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Waiting on Wednesday #9

What if you could take part in dangerous and thrilling activities without ever truly being at risk? What would you do? Skydive? Chase tornadoes? The Running of the Bulls? Is it still just as exciting even if the danger element is taken away? In Paula Stokes’s upcoming release, Vicarious, we are introduced to Vicarious Sensory Experiences (ViSEs) – where, for a price, you can experience any enticing activity without the danger thanks to neural impulse recordings of digital stunt girls who are willing to take on the risks. For me, I wouldn’t be keen on experiencing some death defying exploit, but I have a feeling this book itself is going to be an adrenaline rush.

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Release Date: August 16, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)

Winter Kim and her sister, Rose, have always been inseparable. Together, the two of them survived growing up in a Korean orphanage and being trafficked into the United States.

Now they work as digital stunt girls for Rose’s ex-boyfriend, Gideon, engaging in dangerous and enticing activities while recording their neural impulses for his Vicarious Sensory Experiences, or ViSEs. Whether it’s bungee jumping, shark diving, or grinding up against celebrities at the city’s hottest dance clubs, Gideon can make it happen for you, for a price.

When Rose disappears and a ViSE recording of her murder is delivered to Gideon, Winter won’t rest until she finds her sister’s killer. But when the clues she uncovers conflict with the neural recordings her sister made, Winter isn’t sure what to believe. To find out what happened to Rose, she’ll have to untangle what’s real from what only seems real, risking her life in the process.

Why I’m Waiting

As if the concept of ViSE isn’t enticing enough, now there’s a murder thrown into the mix! And can you imagine having a recording of the brain activity of the person being murdered? It’s already making my skin crawl just thinking about it. I’m especially looking forward to finding out the history between these two sisters and what led to their employment as digital stunt girls. Some advance reviews praise the twist ending, so I’m going to go ahead and predict that the killer definitely isn’t Rose’s ex-boyfriend turned employer, but this futuristic whodunit already has me on the edge of my seat waiting to find out the truth.

Add Vicarious to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights highly anticipated upcoming releases.

Off the Shelf: A Review of Shutter by Laurie Stolarz

I’ve always revered my father as a master of foreshadowing. It never failed – we’d go to see a movie in the theater, and no later than fifteen minutes into the film, Dad would lean over and whisper to me how it would all end. Not because he knew any spoilers, but because he could pick up on the tiniest of details and already be five steps ahead of the plot. Now, it’s become somewhat of a game I play with myself whenever I go to see a movie or pick up a good mystery – I immediately start looking for those little ‘tells’. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten as good as Dad at my predictions, but then I happened to receive an ARC of Shutter by Laurie Stolarz…

28963881Summary (via Goodreads)
THE FACTS
• Julian Roman, age sixteen, is an escapee from the Fairmount County Juvenile Detention Facility.
• His parents, Michael Roman and Jennifer Roman, are dead.
• Julian is wanted for murder.

THE QUESTIONS
• Why is Julian Roman on the run?
• Just how dangerous is he?
• And who did kill Michael and Jennifer Roman, if not Julian?

Seventeen-year-old Day Baker views life through the lens of her camera, where perspective is everything. But photographs never tell the whole story. After Day crosses paths with Julian, the world she pictures and the truths she believes-neatly captured in black and white-begin to blur.

Julian is not the “armed and dangerous” escapee the police are searching for, but his alibis don’t quite add up, either. There is more to his story. This time, Day is determined to see the entire picture . . . whatever it reveals. Did he? Or didn’t he?

Day digs deeper into the case while Julian remains on the run. But the longer her list of facts becomes, the longer the list of questions becomes, too. It’s also getting harder to deny the chemistry she feels for him. Is it real? Or is she being manipulated?

Day is close to finding the crack in the case. She just needs time to focus before the shutter snaps shut.

 

Things I Liked:

A lot of folks find their way to Laurie Stolarz care of the Blue is for Nightmares series or the Touch series, but for me it was the Welcome to the Dark House series. It was fabulous, frightening, and haunted my nightmares for weeks after I closed the covers. What really got me hooked is that Stolarz truly gets inside the minds of her teenage characters and brings out voices that are wholly believable as well as engrossing. While Shutter isn’t a book that will occupy my nightmares, it is one that has now spent several days occupying my thoughts. I’ve been turning over the mysteries of the story and the intricacies of the characters in my mind, and I am still rocked to the core that I didn’t see such a fitting yet shocking ending coming.

Julian (I have to just love that name, don’t I? I’m named after a Julian, after all.) is a teen on the run, escaped from juvie with the clothes on his back and a story full of holes. Day is a young girl taken in by his shy demeanor and mysterious circumstances, and her determination to find the answers in Julian’s case leads her to ask questions others might not. She’s desperate to prove herself, not only for Julian’s sake, but also for her own. Day is constantly trying to live up to her justice-seeking, do-gooding parents who seem to make everything work… except for a marriage and having time for their daughter.

Day also has a passion for photography, hence the name, and it doesn’t feel at all like a superficial character trait. Some authors might add it to make their characters seem more artistic but never really follow it up with much depth… Not here. Day has some beautiful concepts for projects detailed within the story that actually had me aching to see the photographs, however fictional they may be. Day’s photography helps to weave the story together and evoke some of the heavier themes, especially in relation to her feelings towards her mother and father.

I love the format of this book, told in alternate points of view between Day in the present and Julian writing in his journal. Julian’s journal entries are especially powerful because you glimpse more of his past, his relationship with his family and the tragedy that changed them forever, and also snippets from what really happened the day Julian found his mother’s body in the bathtub and was accused of murdering his father. These were my favorite parts of the book, the journal entries, because you really begin to feel for Julian and want to fight right alongside Day to vindicate him.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I’ve seen an early review or two that have mentioned some aspects being unbelievable. I’ll tell you what, the only part I found unbelievable was this:
“I must say, I’ve never had a customer take photos of items they purchased in the past. What is this really about?”
“A school project. Photography class.”
Come on! You know she wanted to say she was a writer doing research. This is actually how I feel anytime someone questions my Google history. I promise that “gruesome ways to kill a person” was totally just my research for something I was writing.
By the way, I am JUST KIDDING! It’s so hard to pick out things I didn’t like in a story that I really did love. I was so engrossed by the story that I didn’t really find anything about it unbelievable. Society can be pretty screwy, and I know plenty of kids that come from rough backgrounds. I also know plenty of intelligent kids with chips on their shoulders. For me, this story totally works.

If you really want me to nitpick and find something that I didn’t care for, I’d say Day’s friends. Well, mostly just Tori. I think the real reason she annoyed me is that we all know a Tori, and she’s just as annoying in real life as she is in fiction. Tori’s the taunting friend, the one that gives you a hard time about the things you like to do or a boy showing interest in you. She’s also the one that’s too preoccupied with her flavor of the week to really have any interest in anything else. Tori’s got her own issues going on, but that’s discussed briefly before she’s off to the next boy. Totally a believable aspect, but I did find myself trying to read faster through any part with her in it.

Overall Rating:
5 stars for getting the better of me! I thought that I had this one figured out at least halfway through, only to be completely, totally, utterly wrong. You’re going to race through the pages trying to piece together the truth, and meanwhile that little DUN-DUN sound clip from Law & Order is going to play on repeat in your head… I mean, at least it did for me. Laurie Stolarz has quickly become one of my favorites in the genre. She is masterful with chilling atmospheres, concealed mysteries, and characters that truly feel like people you would want to get to know (or in the case of some Welcome to the Dark House characters, I’d rather not meet them…not in a scary, horror house, nor anywhere else). She’s definitely an author you’ll want to check out!

The current release date for Shutter is October 18, 2016, and I definitely recommend picking it up before Halloween for a good, chilling mystery.

“Everyone has their own story – their own version of the truth, a rationale for how they act.”
“Because everyone has a unique perspective,” I say, thinking about my photo project.
“Exactly. In most cases, your mother’s political escapades aside, I’d say that people act out when they’ve lost their way, or when they aren’t getting the support that they need. They’ve fallen through the cracks and gotten desperate. I’m not saying that what they do is justified, but you have to wonder: if those same people were given different opportunities -“

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Off the Shelf: A Review of The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” he said, chest contracting as he caught his breath. “How beautiful the world becomes when you think you might have to leave it?”

I remember when I first became familiar with the very creepy concept of family annihilators – those that will kill their families to “save” them.  My exposure was all thanks to an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Binge watching Law & Order is a guilty pleasure of mine, and the episode “Family Values” had the detectives tracking down a father who went on a killing spree of his daughter’s drama teacher, his former boss, and most importantly – his entire family – before kidnapping his daughter so they could leave this world together. Why? Because he was disturbed that his daughter wore a low cut costume in a school play and would soon be performing in another play written by a homosexual. He wanted to make sure his family got to heaven, so he killed them to save their souls. It was incredibly disturbing, and at the end I kept thinking, “There can’t really be people in this world that believe that way, can there?” Unfortunately, there are.

You’ve got to hand it to Eliza Wass. She picked one heck of a topic to tackle for this novel, and she delivers a well written narrative with insight into a disturbing family dynamic.

I received an advance read copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass will be available on June 7, 2016.

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Off the Shelf: A Review of Sweet Madness by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Curie

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“The house I was working in was filled with crazy people, and everyone in Fall River knew it…including me.”


Funny that I just said in my review of Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin that I’d always considered myself not such a fan of alternate history/historical fiction, and here I am reading yet another young adult historical fiction novel so soon.

I don’t know what drew me to Sweet Madness. I’ve always thought the Lizzie Borden murders were an interesting mystery, and sure, I’d watch a documentary or two about it if it was on… But I wouldn’t say that I’d go out of my way to learn more about Lizzie and her family. So, picking this book out of the many new arrivals at the library to start reading at lunch made me surprise myself. This somewhat long description from Goodreads did peak my interest though and is worth the read:

“Seventeen-year-old Bridget Sullivan is alone in Fall River, a city that sees Irish immigrants as nothing more than a drunken drain on society. To make matters worse, she’s taken employment with the city’s most peculiar and gossip-laden family—the Bordens. But Bridget can’t afford to be picky—the pay surpasses any other job Bridget could ever secure and she desperately needs the money to buy her little sister, Cara, passage to the states. It doesn’t hurt that the job location is also close to her beau, Liam. As she enters the disturbing inner workings of the Borden household, Bridget clings to these advantages. However, what seemed like a straightforward situation soon turns into one that is untenable. Of course Bridget has heard the gossip around town about the Bordens, but what she encounters is far more unsettling. The erratic, paranoid behavior of Mr. Borden, the fearful silence of his wife, and worse still…the nightly whisperings Bridget hears that seem to come from the walls themselves. The unexpected bright spot of the position is that Lizzie Borden is so friendly. At first, Bridget is surprised at how Lizzie seems to look out for her, how she takes a strong interest in Bridget’s life. Over time, a friendship grows between them. But when Mr. Borden’s behavior goes from paranoid to cruel, and the eerie occurrences in the house seem to be building momentum, Bridget makes the tough decision that she must leave the house—even if it means leaving behind Lizzie, her closest friend, alone with the madness. Something she swore she would not do. But when Bridget makes a horrifying discovery in the home, all that she thought she knew about the Bordens is called into question…including if Lizzie is dangerous. And the choice she must make about Lizzie’s character could mean Bridget’s life or death. SWEET MADNESS is a retelling of the infamous Borden murders from the point of view of Lizzie’s Irish maid, Bridget Sullivan.”

Have you ever had someone take an unnatural interest in your life to the point it made you uncomfortable? The skin still prickles on the back of my neck when I think of my personal experience with that, and I had that same feeling for the main character Bridget as Lizzie’s true colors started to show. Normally, I don’t like historical fiction because playing around with actual people as characters seems almost intrusive. No one actually knows what happened at the Borden home when Andrew Borden and his wife were murdered, but it’s clear that the authors have done a fair amount of research to set the scene and make their theory of how it all went down plausible.

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