Mini Reviews: Sadie + A Room Away From the Wolves

MiniIn October, I did my best to pick up as many thrillers/mystery novels as I could. I usually go for more horror-themed novels during this time of year, but I heard such great things about the following two books, I just had to check them out myself. I read Sadie, but after hearing everyone praise the audio book, I kind of regret not listening to it. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll at least check out the podcasts the publisher made available to readers. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Sadie
Author: Courtney Summers
Series: N/A
Pages: 311
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: September 4th 2018 

      “Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.
      But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.
      When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.”

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“I live in a place that’s only good for leaving, is all that needs to be said about it, and I don’t let myself look back. Doesn’t matter if I want to, it’s just better that I don’t.”

Courtney Summer’s Sadie cleverly alternates between two timelines. In the first, Sadie Hunter’s little sister Mattie has been murdered and although the police have run out of leads, she hasn’t. She’s determined to find the person responsible and make them pay. A year after Mattie’s death West McCray, radio personality who focuses on small towns, receives a phone call from May Beth Foster, the girls’ surrogate grandmother. Sadie’s been missing for months and she’s hoping that he may be the one person out there who cares enough to look for her. As Sadie moves from one town to another, in search of her sister’s killer, she leaves behind a trail of blood and uncovered secrets. As a reader you’re drawn into Sadie’s story, her traumatic past and the rage that bubbles underneath every decision she makes. She’s never been an open person and Mattie has been her whole life since the day she was born. When their mother left them years ago, it was Sadie who picked up the pieces, but the girls’ relationship hasn’t always been easy, especially when they have such stark views of their mother. For Sadie, Claire Southern has never been the kind of mother she needed her to be. Her alcoholism, drug addiction, and compulsory need to always have a good-for-nothing man in her life, has made it impossible for Sadie to not resent her. But for Mattie, Claire was her mother and whatever flaws she might have had, she never questioned her mother’s love for her. Though Sadie and West’s timelines are separated by months, Summers has a way of writing that makes it feel like West is only two steps behind Sadie. So in the moments where Sadie is in real danger, you can’t help but hope West can be fast enough in his search to help her before it’s too late. Sadie is not a pleasant story, it’s incredibly violent and heartbreaking. It has a lot of triggering content, mostly due to with mentions of sexual abuse of children, but if you can handle the heavy-heartedness of the story, Summer’s has written a compulsory mystery that will leave you contemplating Sadie and her story long after you close the book.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: A Room Away From the Wolves
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Series: N/A
Pages: 315
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: September 4th 2018

      “Bina has never forgotten the time she and her mother ran away from home. Her mother promised they would hitchhike to the city to escape Bina’s cruel father and start over. But before they could even leave town, Bina had a new stepfather and two new stepsisters, and a humming sense of betrayal pulling apart the bond with her mother—a bond Bina thought was unbreakable.
      Eight years later, after too many lies and with trouble on her heels, Bina finds herself on the side of the road again, the city of her dreams calling for her. She has an old suitcase, a fresh black eye, and a room waiting for her at Catherine House, a young women’s residence in Greenwich Village with a tragic history, a vow of confidentiality, and dark, magical secrets. There, Bina is drawn to her enigmatic downstairs neighbor Monet, a girl who is equal parts intriguing and dangerous. As Bina’s lease begins to run out, and nightmare and memory get tangled, she will be forced to face the terrible truth of why she’s come to Catherine House and what it will take for her to leave…”

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“I hear myself cry out and stand to take it, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. The girls have grown countless arms in the dark. The trees themselves have joined in. I can’t fight them off, can’t keep them away”

Nova Ren Suma is one of those authors whose books I go into thinking I’m going to enjoy them more than I actually do. I love how strange and eerie her stories are, but always find them more than a little confusing. A Room Away From the Wolves is beautifully written with an interesting protagonist at its center, but I found myself scratching my head more than once trying to figure out exactly what was going on. When Bina is basically thrown out of her own home, she goes to the only place that makes sense to her: Catherine House, where her mother once sought refuge. But almost immediately upon her arrival, she notices something strange about the place and the other young women who are renting rooms. Part ghost story and part mystery, A Room Away From the Wolves, like its protagonist, keeps its secrets close, revealing only a little at a time. Although I enjoyed the writing in this one, I’m still left with a lot of questions. Bina isn’t the most reliable narrator, but I was still hoping to get a full picture of what her life was like before she leaves her home. There are a few flashbacks, but I often felt that Nova Ren Suma was only giving us a few pieces of a puzzle and we as readers have to accept that we’ll never see the full picture. I did like how atmospheric this one was. There are a few creepy scenes that made me sit up in my seat, but I wanted a more complete understanding of who Bina was and wanted to know more about the mysteries of Catherine House.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

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ARC Review: Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson

Title: Undead Girl Gang
Author: Lily Anderson
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: May 8th 2018
*I received a free copy of this book through Penguin’s First to Read program which does not influence my review*

      “Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There’s not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.
      So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.
      Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again.”

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In Undead Girl Gang, Lily Anderson takes four very different female characters and has them challenge one another, coalescing in an unlikely and bittersweet friendship. Mila Flores is used to being the outsider. She’s one of only two practicing Wiccan witches at her school and one of the few POC students in the very small and very white town of Cross Creek. Things couldn’t possibly get anymore isolating, that is until her best friend’s body is found in a creek. Everyone but Mila is convinced Riley died by suicide. Wracked by grief, Mila does the only thing that makes sense to her, she casts a spell to bring her dead best friend back. The spell doesn’t exactly go as planned and Mila suddenly finds herself the caregiver of not one, but three dead girls. When Mila discovers their deaths may all be linked, the four girls set off on a mission to solve their murders while also hiding their resurrection from the rest of town. Easier said than done.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel is how Anderson handles her female character. Mila, Riley, June, and Dayton are deeply flawed characters. Mila has never been the most friendly and she likes it that way. It’s a way to protect herself, but she doesn’t bother to make an effort even with people who could be her friend. Riley is in many ways selfish and needs to know she is more capable than her friend Mila. This becomes apparent when she comes back to life only to discover that Mila managed to work magic when she never could. June and Dayton can only be described as mean girls. They never missed on opportunity to make Mila and Riley feel like outsiders. Though Dayton is more clueless in her cruelty, this doesn’t excuse her. June’s sense of entitlement is without parallel, her wrath like no other. Despite these shortcomings, Anderson still manages to make these characters sympathetic. They are more than their ugly aspects and by the end of the novel, I felt the need to gather them all in my arms and protect them.

Solving these girls’ murders is easier said than done. Riley, June, and Dayton may have risen from their graves, but they aren’t exactly all intact. For one, if they are too far away from Mila, their rotting corpses become impossible to hide. For another, their memories are all a bit fuzzy. None of them remember what led to their deaths. I found myself guessing pretty early on who I believed was responsible and I’m actually happy to say that I was wrong. The reveal ended up being surprising and really impactful to me as a reader.

Undead Girl Gang is just as much a comedy as it is a mystery. Anderson once again shines with her wry humor, her characters feel real even when they’re dead, and the unabashed openness of her protagonist makes you root for Mila from beginning to end.

4/5

★★★★

Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: Bad Blood
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals, #4
Pages: 384
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: November 1st 2016

      “When Cassie Hobbes joined the FBI’s Naturals program, she had one goal: uncover the truth about her mother’s murder. But now, everything Cassie thought she knew about what happened that night has been called into question. Her mother is alive, and the people holding her captive are more powerful—and dangerous—than anything the Naturals have faced so far. As Cassie and the team work to uncover the secrets of a group that has been killing in secret for generations, they find themselves racing a ticking clock.
      The bodies begin piling up, the deaths hit closer and closer to home, and it soon becomes apparent that this time, the Naturals aren’t just hunting serial killers.
      They’re being hunted themselves.

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“The smell of burning flesh never really leaves you. Ash scatters. Skin scars. Pain subsides. But the smell is always there.”

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s The Naturals series coalesces into a thrilling conclusion with Bad Blood. Cassie Hobbes’s world turned upside down with her mother’s gruesome murder. Years later, recruited by the FBI to be a part of a team of gifted teens that assist in the investigation of unsolved murders, Cassie has forged a new kind of family for herself. But the past refuses to let go and Cassie’s world is once again turned upside down when she discovers her mother is alive. Cassie will do anything to find the people who have kept her mother captive all these years including going toe to toe with a dangerous organization of serial killers who’ve be wreaking havoc across the country for decades. The hunt for answers will brings Cassie closer to her mother, but will also bring her and her team into the crosshairs of a group of killers who will do anything to keep their secrets buried.

What I’ve enjoyed most about Barnes’s series is how well she balances plot and character development. Hunting serial killers means the stakes are always high and sometimes they become personal. Much of Cassie’s motivation stems from guilt for having failed her mother in some way. These cases bring out the best in Cassie’s ability to profile the killer and sometimes even the victim, but they also have an emotional toll. In Bad Blood, Cassie is desperate to find her mother, but it may turn her into someone she no longer recognizes and cost her the people she’s found a home with. Of the five members of The Naturals, Dean Redding, son of an infamous serial killer, may be the most well-adjusted. The earlier novels focus more on his story and him having to constantly prove to everyone that he isn’t like his father. His relationship with Cassie is one my favorites in the series as the two of them play off each other so well. I missed seeing more of this dynamic and would have liked the author to show how both characters are learning to be vulnerable with the other despite their pasts.

Standout character for the second book in a row goes to Lia Zhang. Probably the most well-rounded character in the series, Lia isn’t always open to sharing who she is. In those rare moments of vulnerability, we see a girl whose been emotionally manipulated and who had to make tough choices at very young age. She’s adopted the art of lying as a means of survival, but this often means that even those closest to her don’t know her entire story. Michael comes from an abusive home and is more likely to hide behind a cocky smile than give any indication of what he might really be feeling. I wasn’t a big fan of the Lia and Michael dynamic, not because I didn’t think they were compatible, but because they quarreled more than they built each other up. I think it would have gone a long way to see these two take things slow (their history aside) and learn how to communicate in an open and honest way–not just for their relationship’s sake but also for their individual development. Sloane is used to being the odd one out and after the events of the last book, it becomes vitally important to her to feel like part of the team. Not just as someone who can crunch number or hack into an FBI secured laptop, but as a valuable member of this makeshift family. It is Sloane who I see as making the most strides when it comes to expressing her emotions in a group rapt with dark pasts.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s Bad Blood is just as compelling as its predecessors with dark twists that will keep the reader on their toes from start to finish.

4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: Woman in Cabin 10 + Wesley James Ruined My Life

MiniI have one more mini-review from my July reads to share plus another book I picked up in August. You probably won’t see another set of mini-reviews until the end of September, possibly October. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Woman in Cabin 10
Author: Ruth Ware
Series: N/A
Pages: 340
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Pres
Release Date: July 19th 2017

      “In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

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“A hand grabbed at my wrist, the grip far stronger than mine. Blind, mad with panic, I groped in the pitch black with my free hand, searching for something, anything, to use as a weapon, and my hand closed over the bedside lamp.”

Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 did not have as many thrills as I would have liked, but is still the kind of novel that reminds me that I need to give this genre another go. The novel opens with a bang as the protagonist undergoes a traumatic experience with a burglary. Ware does a great job of showing the aftereffects of Lo’s experience as she tries to regain a feeling of security. Still in an emotionally fragile state, she boards The Aurora, an upscale cruise liner, on its maiden voyage. Lo never gets a chance to catch her breath as she stumbles upon what she believes to be a murder, but with everyone on the boat accounted for, no one is taking her seriously. Lo’s growing sense of isolation is what drives the story forward as she is determined to find answers. She doesn’t know who to trust and begins to doubt herself. There are plenty of suspects in this one and I would have liked the author to have given more time to different players beside Lo. With mysteries, I always feel like as a reader I need to be a part of the unraveling portion of the story, so would have appreciated knowing more about the other people on the cruise. Overall, The Woman in Cabin 10 was a decent psychological thriller that has me contemplating what other books from the genre I need to pick up. Give me your book recommendations in the comments!

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: Wesley James Ruined My Life
Author: Jennifer Honeybourn
Series: N/A
Pages: 256
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: July 18th 2017 

      “Sixteen-year-old Quinn Hardwick’s having a rough summer. Her beloved grandmother has been put into a home, her dad’s gambling addiction has flared back up and now her worst enemy is back in town: Wesley James, former childhood friend—until he ruined her life, that is.
      So when Wesley is hired to work with her at Tudor Tymes, a medieval England themed restaurant, the last thing Quinn’s going to do is forgive and forget. She’s determined to remove him from her life and even the score all at once—by getting him fired.
      But getting rid of Wesley isn’t as easy as she’d hoped. When Quinn finds herself falling for him, she has to decide what she wants more: to get even, or to just get over it.

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“Unfortunately. I will never not see him because he’s everywhere. And that has to change, because I just can’t take it.”

I wanted to enjoy Jennifer Honeybourn’s Wesley James Ruined My Life so much. It had all the makings of a really entertaining, fast-paced contemporary, but as soon as I got more acquainted with Quinn’s animosity for former friend Wesley James, it lost me. In truth, the only reason I ended up finishing this one instead of setting it aside was because it was so short. Quinn hatches an immediately plan to get rid of Wesley from her life as soon as he reenters it. He may be over their falling out that took place five years ago, but Quinn isn’t. While I can buy into an eleven-year-old Quinn hating Wesley for revealing a secret that ended up being the last straw for her mother, ending her parents’ marriage, I found it really silly that a sixteen-year-old Quinn would still use the same kind of flawed logic. While I understand that Quinn needs someone to blame and for her it’s hard to see her father as the catalyst for the disintegration of her parents’ marriage, it still bothered me that she needed this spelled out before she could even begin to forgive Wesley. I will say that I enjoyed both the complicated and rich familial relationships in this book. Quinn is incredibly close to her grandmother and has been struggling to come to terms with her Alzheimer’s diagnosis and what it means for their relationship. Quinn’s father has a gambling addiction that the protagonist isn’t always sure how to deal with. I do think it would have been nice to see her mother take a more active role in helping Quinn cope with having a father with an addiction, but she was mostly absent.

Rating: 2/5

★★