[Last Seen Leaving] Caleb Roehrig

 

Flynn’s girlfriend January has disappeared. Flynn has a secret. The cops think the two are connnected. Last Seen Leaving is a coming-of-age novel that is wrapped up in a mystery. Did January disappear or did someone take her? Feeling that the cops are looking in all the wrong places, Flynn embarks on an investigation of his own by talking to people that January was close to. Along the way he discovers that what she shared of herself with him was not what she shared with others. How can he know what she would do–this friend of years–when he’s discovering that he may not have even known her himself?

Last Seen Leaving was a quick, straightforward read. The mystery was a little light for me; I felt that it was rather obvious what was going to happen at several moments of the novel but it was still an enjoyable read. Honestly, even though this was a mystery, I felt like the bulk of the plot focused on Flynn growing up. Flynn had to deal with issues of identity while dealing with the larger problem of what happened to January. It made things really difficult for him and it was a nice way to have his character grow.

Although this book has many characters in it, it’s really only about Flynn and his various discoveries. Part of the problem and reason for this is that the book is written in first person. I didn’t feel that Flynn really looked beyond the surface at his friends, family, or the strangers that he interacted with. As a result, they were very flat and I didn’t much care for any of them. I wasn’t given a reason to. They existed for Flynn to have character growth or for him to uncover things about January, rather than for the characters to have their own growth.

The plot was primarily why I finished the book. Although I felt that parts were obvious, it wasn’t that much of a deterrent. I wanted to know if I was right about the secrets that weren’t immediately solved and I wanted to see what would happen to Flynn at the end. It had a readability that allowed me to read it quickly and enjoy it. It wasn’t slow at all. It was, however, very tidy. Everything was neatly tied up at the end, even though some of it was not entirely concluded. Another issue I have with the plot is the reactions of the characters. People are missing or possibly murdered, and I feel like no one really reacts loudly to that. They just seem to go about their normal days.

The thing I found strange about this novel is that it almost seemed to be for older teens, yet the protagonist was only 15. Flynn’s worries seemed a little more grown up than his 15 years. It could be that I ran with a different crowd than he did (mostly I kept to my books and hung out with my friends in their basements), but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around his age. It left me feeling disconnected from the story a bit because I couldn’t jump over that hurdle. I’m hoping that it’s because I’m older and therefore slightly out of touch with what it was like when I was 15, but I do suspect that readers around this age will enjoy this book. While this isn’t my favorite thing I’ve read this year, I do think that Caleb Roehrig’s technique was spot-on for what he wrote about in Last Seen Leaving.

3 stars.

I received a copy of Last Seen Leaving from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Last Seen Leaving will be available on October 4th, 2016.

[The Raven King: The Raven Cycle IV] Maggie Stiefvater 

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This is it. The final book of The Raven CycleThe Raven King finishes what was started in The Raven Boys. Finally on the last legs of their quest, Gansey hurtles toward Glendower as Blue tries desperately to think of a way to free him from the future that she knows is coming sooner rather than later. Darker things have come to Henrietta and the raven boys and Blue struggle to find a way to stop them before it’s too late. Everything they’ve known–about themselves, about Glendower and Cabeswater–will be tested.

As a conclusion to the series, The Raven King satisfied most of what I wanted from it. But not all. What I appreciated about the first three novels–namely the family dynamic, the psychics of Fox Way, the enigma of Cabeswater–was overshadowed in The Raven King by the growing relationship between Gansey and Blue, Adam learning how to best be a conduit for Cabeswater, and Ronan’s growing prowess as a dreamer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all of those parts. But I missed all of the other parts that made the novel whole. I thought they were brushed aside in this novel to make way for the bigger parts, and I could really sense their loss. There was something missing from The Raven King because these pieces were lighter than they were in the first three novels. Some of these things were completely dropped from the narration, as if they had served their purpose and didn’t need to be mentioned ever again. What happened to the psychics? What happened to Noah? What happened to Gwenllian? These are just a few things that felt forgotten. There were so many loose ends.

My favorite characters in this were Ronan and Adam. Their arcs were really fascinating. Adam’s growth in particular was really well done. From being afraid of his father to being able to extend a hand to his family even after they had basically disowned him (although he should have disowned them ages ago in the first place because of how horrible they were to him), he became so much stronger. Out of all of the characters, I think he changed the most. But only marginally more than Ronan. Ronan’s growth was different than Adam’s. As he became more adept with his dreaming, I think that he also became more happy with himself. He found the things that he loved and that came out in how he interacted with the other characters. He was still surly at times, but there were more moments where I was able to see why he fit in with the other raven boys and with Blue. Blue and Ronan were able to come to an understanding and their growing Sis/Bro-mance made me laugh a lot. They’re so similar, even though I think they’d both hate being compared to one another. I loved that both Adam and Ronan were connected to Cabeswater in unique ways.

Blue and Gansey, however, seemed kind of stuck. They didn’t change as much as I expected them to. The changes they went through were less exciting and slightly predictable. Blue was (understandably) obsessed with changing or stopping the combination of her curse and what she had seen at the church back in book one. It was too bad that her character was mostly slimmed down to that. Gansey too, was slimmed down to his obsession, although I couldn’t tell you if that was Glendower or Blue; at this point one only won over the other by a margin. There needed to be more done with them in this book because my interest in them waned. I sometimes preferred the secondary characters over them.

Even so, this book is very much about Gansey. The revelation about him in the previous book was something that seemed a little deus ex machina-ish–a way for Stiefvater to give us the lesson that your powers come from inside–and they came out in full-force in The Raven King. For someone who cares so much about his family and friends, Gansey’s actions in The Raven King read as a little selfish. It seemed out of character for him.

The writing, which I loved in the first three novels, was something that caused the ending to be more ambiguous (even though there was a clear enough ending) than I would have liked. The poetic nature of Stiefvater’s writing really made Cabeswater and Henrietta seem real and surreal. At the end, however, it just seemed half-worked. I wanted a little more clarity on the final events of the novel. It was a little too open-ended, particularly on the things that were brushed aside after they’d been useful à la Noah.  As a result, while I’m happy with the ending of The Raven Cycle as a whole, there are things that faded away and were not addressed. It didn’t really seem like this was an ending ending.

Overall, I would recommend this series for readers who like that blend of fantastical in a contemporary setting. I normally don’t like novels with paranormal features in them because I’ve been burned, but what Stiefvater does with The Raven Cycle is subtle and mysterious enough that it really seems like it could be happening down the street from my house. There’s no obvious, outward indications that we’re not in reality, it’s just four boys and a girl on the trail of something more. They all want so much, but sometimes what they want isn’t always what they expect it to be.

4 stars.

 

[Dandelion on Fire: Greene Island Mystery I] Sherry Torgent

I recently became a reviewer for a small publishing company located in North Carolina called Blue Ink Press. Dandelion on Fire is the first novel I’ve received to review from them. Blue Ink Press was founded in 2015. Their aim is to represent and publish young adult authors, but they also represent local authors from their area. I’m very excited to work with them!

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Hardy only wants one thing: to make it through his senior year of high school unscathed so he can escape Greene Island for college on the mainland. Unfortunately for Hardy, things never go the way he plans. When a mistake lands him in community service with a strange new girl named Darcy, things begin to unravel. Darcy has a secret. And suddenly, that secret connects Hardy and Darcy in ways that begin to spiral out of control. Everyone says that Greene Island is cursed. Hardy is starting to believe it.

The plot of Dandelion on Fire was steady throughout the novel. Unfortunately, steady doesn’t always make for quick reading. I felt very relaxed while reading this, even during the moments that were meant to be fast-paced and nerve wracking. There was a calmness to the writing style. The plot did pick up toward the end of the novel, but because of the earlier meandering of the plot, it didn’t feel very balanced. All of the action was clustered at the end. As a result, I ended up being a little surprised at the conclusion because it seemed so sudden. I expected more pages.  The action at the end made me excited about what Sherry Torgent was doing with the story. It was just unfortunate that it hadn’t been included earlier.

Dandelion on Fire is a mystery with slow pacing. There weren’t enough moments where Hardy and Darcy discovered something that gave answers toward the larger mystery; instead, I felt that it focused on the mundane moments of Hardy’s day-to-day life too much. Something exciting would happen, and I would think “this is it, this is when we find out– –” but then it would seem to backtrack. Hardy would be concerned about a senior picnic instead of being worried about the murder that had taken place on the island. The book also  has a supernatural element to it. For some reason, the Curse of Viola has given certain individuals powers. Throughout the novel, these supernatural things are mentioned, but never really focused on. I hope that a more solid explanation is given to us in the next novel.  Like much of the action, the supernatural points of the novel were clustered at the end. Because of that, the ending seemed abrupt. There’s no return journey to “normality” with a greater understanding of what has happened to Hardy.  There were a lot of questions, both about the supernatural and the mystery, but few seemed to be answered. It’s a good start to a series because we’re not given the complete answers in this first book. It pushes readers to check out the next book in the series.

The book focuses on Hardy and Darcy, with a few side characters that come in and out of the action. It’s a novel about them as much as it’s a mystery. Hardy was a straightforward, very simplistic character. He longed for a return to normality and often had to be dragged about by Darcy. Gradually this began to change, but as a result of his initial actions I felt that he was kind of boring. He didn’t want to take charge of his protagonist status. Contrasting him we have Darcy, who was far more interesting and engaging. It’s really too bad that she wasn’t the one telling the story. Darcy has a bit of a mystery surrounding her, and we weren’t given any answers about her. Not really. I hope that the next novel goes into more detail about her. She went headfirst into possibly dangerous situations because she was curious; that curiosity drove much of the story and plot for me. I liked how the friendship between Hardy and Darcy progressed. At first, the difference in their ages bothers Hardy. I remember feeling that way as a senior in high school when looking at the new faces of the freshmen. But then Hardy, like everyone at some point after they’ve graduated from high school, realizes that the age doesn’t matter. As soon as he decides that, their friendship really bloomed as they became more engaged with the mystery around them.

It may not have been as fast-paced as I would have liked, but I have to admire what Sherry Torgent did with Dandelion on Fire. Namely, the fact that it’s clean. Granted, that’s not something I’m overly concerned about because I tend to read a variety of young adult novels of varying content. It was interesting to read a novel that didn’t have sex as an underlying tension. Dandelion on Fire reminded me of a wholesome family movie: good for everyone. While it may not be something that older readers will scramble to read, I do think that it will be really good for the younger side of young adult readers. It’s interesting, has a mystery, romance, and supernatural elements, and ends in a way that is hopeful and moderately well-rounded (to the extent that you could maybe read it as a stand-alone novel). It’s possible that the mystery started in Dandelion on Fire is not quite concluded and will continue in the second book, but it’s also possible that an entirely new mystery will start.

3 stars.

I’d like to thank the publisher again for providing me with a copy of Dandelion on Fire in exchange for an honest review. Dandelion on Fire was first released on January 31st, 2015. A sequel, The Curse of Viola, was published March 13th, 2016.

[The Killer in Me] Margot Harrison

26095500The Killer in Me is an upcoming debut young adult novel by Margot Harrison. Nina Barrows is a normal high school senior. She goes to class, suffers from occasional bad choices, and is trying to get into her college of choice. Oh, and she sees the actions of a serial killer every time she goes to sleep. For as long as she can remember, Nina has been connected to a boy who she sees when she sleeps. At first, it’s innocent; but as he ages, the events of his childhood shape who he becomes as an adult. He names himself The Thief and carefully constructs his second identity as a killer. He will never be caught, because he knows it will destroy the small family he has created. And he’s too careful.  When Nina gets a chance to confront him, she and her friend Warren travel to the deserts of New Mexico to find a man who may only be a product of her imagination.

I did enjoy the premise of a protagonist who has a connection to the killer. It’s especially interesting that she can see what he does; that she literally gets into his head. Margot Harrison does a good job of showing how that has affected Nina’s mentality, so there’s a little bit of an unreliable narrator aspect there. It was cool to read how straightforward she was about knowing how he operated as a serial killer, something that made her pretty creepy to me. By watching him, she has intimate details of how he goes about planning and committing each crime. Because she’s aware of how he sets up a crime, she’s learned to avoid sleep when he’s preparing in order to avoid seeing the murder, something that has affected her health.  The reasoning behind her connection was not explained at first, so I was curious how this was possible. I ended up being disappointed when the reason behind it was revealed because I couldn’t help but feel that it was a bit of a cop-out. I had hoped it would have gone a bit deeper than it did. I think this is a result of it being a contemporary novel. Nina’s ability couldn’t be explained in a fantastical way because it was occurring in the real world, so instead we are given a flimsy medical reason behind it.

Unfortunately, I feel like the full synopsis of the book (I’m going off of the one found here on goodreads) gave far too much away. Readers go into it knowing that The Thief may not actually exist. Because of that, I naturally assumed that any possible twists in The Killer in Me would occur later in the novel and only be vaguely related to the synopsis. That sort of happened, but I think that most of the shock impact of the novel was taken away before I had even started reading it. We were given too much of the surprise to make the book a thriller. To me, it ended up being more of a discovery-type novel à la coming of age without actually being a coming of age story. It was odd.

I think that is why The Killer in Me‘s conclusion fell pretty flat. While the prose was engaging, the plot just sputtered along until it completely fizzled out. As things were revealed in the novel, I was able to predict where the plot would go next. It made it very difficult to see this as a thriller when nothing really made me nervous the way that other thrillers have. I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t really stand as a strong novel to me.

2. 5 stars.

I received an uncorrected proof copy of The Killer in Me from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Killer in Me will be released on July 12th, 2016.

Break time! A review for [A Murder in Time] by Julie McElwain

While I primarily read and review young adult novels, I do occasionally take a break and read adult fiction novels. I’ve decided that I’ll sometimes post about them here, especially if they’re recently released like this one. A Murder in Time was released this past April.

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I absolutely adore this cover. So simplistic yet beautiful.

Kendra Donovan is a woman who has focused on her career at the FBI–rising through the ranks as one of the best profilers, she’s on track to being one of the most successful agents. When a mission goes all kinds of wrong, Kendra switches that focus to justice and goes after the man who orchestrated the events of that botched mission. Her private mission is cut short when she is threatened by an assassin herself. Her flight leads her into the secret passageways of the castle, and when she comes out, she finds herself in the same place–but not the same time.

The strengths of this novel lie in the chapters where Kendra is in the past. They’re more vivid and interesting as she navigates living–and keeping the fact that she’s a time-traveler a secret–in a world where women were considered the softer sex. For the gentry of the Regency era, a woman like Kendra is something they’re not used to. She’s brash, speaks her opinion, and doesn’t stick to the conventions of the time. At first it causes a little bit of tension in the house, but as she continues to prove herself, they gradually accept–to them–her eccentricities.

Eventually Kendra believes that her slip into the past was not random; when a young girl is found murdered on the estate, she suddenly finds that she has a reason to be in 1815. Kendra has to go back to the basics of solving a crime because she’s far ahead of the time when DNA and fingerprinting has become the norm. She realizes that she needs to depend on the people around her to help her solve the crime–and that even though they may not have the technology, they certainly have the skills.

I really enjoyed reading how Kendra’s perception of the people around her changed. At first, she trusts no one. It’s natural, because she fears that if she does too much, she may change the future. She’s frustrated with the lack of technology used to solve crimes and takes that out on the people around her. When she accepts that they may not have the tools but they have the intelligence, solving the mystery of who the murderer is becomes easier, but the clock is winding down for the next victim as the serial killer hunts among them. Reading as she adapted, I really grew to like Kendra. She seemed to fit in 1815 better than she fit into the present day, and the relationships she built were realistic.

While time travel can be something that is not done well, I feel that A Murder in Time was successful at showing how Kendra adapted to suddenly being in a time that was not hers. I liked the whole present day person in the past thing, although I do feel like the parts of the novel that were set in the present day were weaker. They seemed to drag on and I was glad that the vast majority of the novel took place in the 1815 setting. Overall, I was really pleased with A Murder in Time. It wasn’t one hundred percent a novel that engaged me (I didn’t lose any sleep to finish it, for example), but I certainly enjoyed it. While it is set up as the first novel in a series, I believe that the way the novel ends allows it to function as a stand-alone novel. However, because the series is set up as a historical fiction mystery, I’ll likely read the next novel.

3 stars.

[The Graces] Laure Eve

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The Graces is a story about one girl’s obsession. To fit in. To discover their secrets. To find her father. River and her mother recently moved to a small town where they can start over after River’s father left them. It is there that she first sees the Graces.  The Graces have perfected the art of appearing above it all. They’re friends only with themselves, their parents are mysterious, and all of them have odd behaviors. River knows that she needs to get in with them if she wants to have a chance at getting her father back. But things aren’t always what they seem. Everyone says that the Graces are witches; but are they? Obsession can lead you into dangerous places without you even realizing it.

It’s hard to review books like The Graces because I don’t want to reveal too much. So a lot of the wording in this review is going to be roundabout and vague intentionally. This novel follows the popular trend to have a thriller with an unreliable narrator. Unfortunately, the “thriller” aspect of this novel wasn’t there for me. I just didn’t find it very thrilling. If anything, the things that are meant to set it as a thriller just came off as a bit flat. This is because I didn’t feel that there was much or any set-up for most of the things that occurred in the novel, giving it a very disjointed feeling regarding the action. It just happened and I was expected to believe it. In retrospect, I do think I can pinpoint when and what were meant to be the “hint-hint-nudge-nudge” moments of the book, but I still don’t feel that it was strong enough. Because of that, I didn’t feel that there was much action in this book in the plotting sense.

The majority of the novel was viewed through the protagonist’s eyes, but it was like she wasn’t engaging, which was frustrating. Much of the novel was pure dialogue and the lack of action tags made it difficult to keep up with who was talking at times. River was an unreliable narrator, so while we knew that she was keeping things from the Graces, she was also keeping them from the reader. It sometimes works. I didn’t feel that it worked in the case of The Graces. I did enjoy reading River’s gradual slide into full on obsession. She manipulated the Graces by keeping things about herself secret and being a mirror for their feelings. By becoming the ultimate listener, River learned things about the Graces that other people hadn’t. Everything they told her only made her more obsessed with them. She felt that she found people who understood her. This happened right away in the beginning of the novel when River introduces herself. She’s never felt like her birth name describes her, something that Summer Grace understands. Because there’s a focus on being who the Graces expect her to be, the reader never finds out what River’s birth name is, making her more of an enigma.

Now we come to the thing that is the most difficult thing for me to describe as a reviewer. The overwhelming feeling of nothing that this book left me with. It’s rather odd; while reading this book I was fascinated with what was happening. I wanted to see what River would discover and if the questions that were being put forward about the Graces would be answered or not. The four of them run into some trouble in the book and it’s not easy to get out of trouble when people are watching you constantly and waiting for any misstep. But once I got to what should have been the climax of the story, it just fell short. There was a lack of proper buildup. Of course, I’m sure it will work for many readers. But it left me with the sense that although reading this was enjoyable and I do think Laure Eve can create characters that are interesting, I didn’t actually find the book itself that interesting. I don’t feel like there’s anything to rave about. Neither to I feel that there’s anything to talk about negatively. It just exists as it is.

I recommend The Graces for readers who like extremely unreliable narrators. However, I feel that the unreliable narrator aspect was done better in books like We Were Liars and Beware that GirlIf you’re intrigued by that and the fact that there may or may not be witches involved, give it a go. As for myself, I will not be continuing with this series. It didn’t leave anything memorable in my mind and I feel that it can work as a standalone novel.

2 stars.

I received a copy of The Graces from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Graces is coming September 1st, 2016.

 

[The Darkest Corners] Kara Thomas

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The Darkest Corners is a young adult thriller/mystery novel about how returning to the places you’ve been running from can drudge up memories you’d rather forget. Tessa comes back to her hometown, the place she left when she was a child, in order to say goodbye to her father. A father that had been convicted for murder and has been out of her life ever since. One day. That’s all it will take. Then she can get the hell back out of Fayette, Pennsylvania. When something from her past becomes a present problem, Tessa knows that she can’t disappear from Fayette this time. She needs answers. And this time, she won’t be so easily manipulated.

Tessa is an unreliable narrator. She hides things from the people around her and the reader and only reveals them when she absolutely has to. Coming from a bad family makes it really hard for her to trust and rely on anyone but herself, and after the events of that summer when she and Callie were eight, it only got worse. It was a definitive part of growing up and affected her accordingly. Although when I started reading the novel I liked her voice, there was some point in the novel where she became kind of blah. I think it coincided with the point when I felt the novel became more telling than showing, and that reflected badly back on her.

Something that The Darkest Corners does well is the issue of identity. Tessa lost her father to prison at a young age, so her memories of him are slightly different than his rosy ones of her. Escaping to Florida and her grandmother meant that she didn’t have to grow up with this hanging over her head. What’s even better for her is that she can escape the knowledge that she and Callie testified at the trial of a killer, which was key to putting him away when they were only eight. She’s been able to shape herself into someone who isn’t the white-trash girl with a criminal daddy that Fayette knows her as.

When she goes back to Fayette, she no longer can avoid her past and who she was; everything that she has been avoiding is in direct conflict with this new self she has created. Tessa and Callie’s friendship fractured as they both tried to deal with what they saw and said. Both changed. At Tessa’s return, the lies they told themselves start falling apart. Identity is shown as something that is fluid, yet not, in this novel. It questions how much of your identity is formed by your surroundings and the people around you and how much you have the control of it.

Tessa and the friendship she has with Callie is also something I really enjoyed. Initially, they had grown so far apart that I though this was going to be one of those novels where the protagonist girl-hated the entire time. There was a bit of that, but not enough that I felt it was abnormal behavior. As they followed the threads of the mystery, they repaired their relationship and atoned for what they had done. Gradually, the multiple mysteries of the novel started pulling together with varying success.

Parts of the novel became very information heavy as mysteries were progressing.  It became very telling, which detracted from the story itself. Oddly enough, all of that telling didn’t give the reader everything that was needed in order to back up some of the things revealed in the novel. Because of that, they often seemed like they were coming out of nowhere. Many of the things that were brought up later became loose ends with no satisfying conclusion. After reading all about this investigation, I had a very “that’s it?” attitude at the end because I was expecting more.

I would describe The Darkest Corners as more of a mystery, despite it being labeled a thriller. The plot was pretty good, although there were parts that were less successful due to the desire to create plot curves. One of my favorite things that was included was actually the letter to the reader at the very beginning of the novel. It lent a bit of realism to the story because I was initially unsure if Wyatt Stokes was real or not.

The Darkest Corners did have dark themes and was dark, but I ultimately felt that it was a bit surface level. I felt that a lot of the dark stuff didn’t delve very deep; it was just enough to show us how “bad” things were, but it wasn’t enough to make us feel uncomfortable. Kidnappings and murder, underage drinking to forget, prostitution…they just felt like words on the page meant to garner some sympathy for the characters and their lives but it failed a bit for me. I think that The Darkest Corners could have benefited if the slight grittiness of the world had been expanded upon and gone a bit further into the darkness. The fact that it wasn’t may have been in order to keep the novel for young adults instead of older readers.

This novel was a fairly quick read and kept me interested the entire time I was reading; it was only at the end that I realized I was kind of bored with it. I liked it, but personally would not read it a second time. There were just tiny little things that didn’t go one hundred percent and gave the novel a less than satisfying feeling. I recommend this for people who enjoy novels where things aren’t always straightforward, slightly unreliable narrators, and gritty mysteries in broken towns.

3 stars.

I received a copy of The Darkest Corners from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Darkest Corners will be available on April 19th, 2016.