Book Reviews

Book Review: The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Berkley – Penguin Random House,  via Netgalley for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Horror/Mystery/Fantasy

Plot: When people go missing in the sleepy town of Smith’s Hollow, the only clue to their fate comes when a teenager starts having terrifying visions, in a chilling horror novel from national bestselling author Christina Henry.

When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in the town of Smiths Hollow, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won’t find the killer. After all, the year before her father’s body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids.

So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can’t just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the center. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.

Opinion:

 

“It’s Mrs. Schneider. She won’t stop screaming. There’s so much blood.”

“Help me.”

“Find them. All the girls, girls like us. Find them.”

“We aren’t the only ones.”

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Set in the mid 80’s in a small and seemingly perfect town, Smiths Hollow is far from a dreamland. Each year a girl is taken, killed and found dismembered in the woods. What would surely cause most residents and towns to rise up in anger and cry in fury, the people of Smiths Hollow do none of that. Somehow, these yearly horrors slip from their minds. Friends are forgotten. Sisters are no longer thought about. Daughters begin to be erased from existence. But Lauren can’t seem to forget. Not after her father was found with his heart ripped out one year prior, and the police refuse to do anything about it. But when the bodies of two girls are found in an elderly woman’s backyard, Lauren takes it upon herself to find the truth. Because something is happening in Smiths Hollow…and something is happening to Lauren.

“Meet me by the old ghost tree.”

The Ghost Tree is Sleepy Hollow on murdery crack, and there is truly nothing better.

As we all know, Christina Henry is the Queen of bloodbaths.

She is the High Priestess of YA Horror, the Goddess of fairy-tales gone dark, and the Villainous Hero of atmospheric tales of all that is sinister and poetic.

This book was everything my dark little soul has been craving! I felt transported to a town that feels jarring, creepy, strange and off, while also seeming vibrant, homey and alluring. It being set in the 80’s gave it the perfect vintage creepiness that one would find in Halloween, and an innocent yet rough depiction of teenage femininity that mirrors Carrie. It leaves you sweating in shivers and wanting to enter the trees. You can almost smell the iron scent coating dried leaves, or hear the warnings on the wind.

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It is truly the perfect Autumn horror.

“There’s something wrong here.”

“There is something wrong with this town…”

Smiths Hollow is almost like any other town. A small town where everyone knows everyone, you shop at the small grocery store in town, gossip with neighbors, and seemingly forget that girls are dying left and right.

You know, normal.

The story is told in many different perspectives of various residents of the town, each giving a different form of insight into what is really happening in the shadows. At first, I was so confused with the memory aspect of this story. Because in some ways the characters seemed to realize girls were being killed and could remember, but in every other situation…it was as if they didn’t. This type of mystery lends a hand to the truly bizarre and disorienting tale that this book is, and allows the reader to feel completely in the dark for most of the book. Just like the MC, Lauren.

“I don’t want to be alone. Please don’t leave me alone.”

Though this is told through many different eyes, Lauren is the main focus and who we find to be the most reliable narrator. Though only fourteen, she is a fairly mature and levelheaded young girl who seems to really know who she is (I give credit to the era she grows up in). Our story starts with Lauren meeting her best friend Miranda by the Ghost Tree in the woods, a place that scares most residents of Smiths Hollow, but also a place the girls have gone to since they were small. Lauren feels comfort and peace when she is in the woods, which is surprising given all that’s…happened…

Lauren is a little more on the quiet side and very methodical. She harbors deep pain from the gruesome and brutal death that her father suffered a year before, and deep confusion as to why so many have brushed it aside. Not only have the police done nothing to investigate his murder, but even her mother seems to harbor ill-will and resentment towards her late husband.

“You’d think they’d remember a man who’d been found with his heart torn out more clearly.”

But as the story goes on, and the murders of two new girls seem to again be brushed under the rug, Lauren can’t help but yearn for answers. Especially when a violent vision of the girls being killed attacks her one day in the woods.

“There was something inside her brain trying to get out, something with a chainsaw howling, but the howling wasn’t pain – it was the kind of howling that meant laughter, and the laughter wasn’t the kind that invited others to laugh but the kind that you ran from while your heart slammed against your ribs and your legs moved of their own volition.”

But let’s really talk about the weirdness of Smiths Hollow.

Ghost

Lauren’s best friend Miranda is less of a best friend and more of a bully who puts Lauren down, all while attempting to seduce boys so she can lose her virginity. An elderly woman, Mrs. Schneider, has a very unwarranted hatred for her Hispanic neighbors and thinks that they’re killing people. The mayor of the town has an oddly obsessive fascination with bringing a fair to the town, the police force seems fine with not investigating any crimes, an eighteen-year-old boy stares at Lauren a lot, and her four-year-old brother acts like more of an adult than I do.

And better yet, he seems to see and hear things no one else can.

“Everyone knows, but they don’t know they do.”

From the very beginning, the story grabs you into a feverish hunger to know what is causing these people to act so flippant and why girls are getting killed. It is a slow-burn mystery that I binged in a day, and one I was just wishing I could transport into. But the best aspect of all, is that I had zero idea where this story would lead. Even at the 75% mark, I had no idea who or what was behind these killings. Sure, we get a little morsel here and a crumb there to keep us feeling satisfied, but just enough to make us crave more.

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My favorite part, by far, is when the “legend” is told. I LOVE that the story went into a fantastical direction, even if I wasn’t expecting it or seeing it as a plausible trope that could work with this plot. But alas, it made it SO much better! I love a legend and a dark fairy-tale even more, so naturally I was drooling at the mouth over the secrets and history that it revealed. And though I can’t give anything away without ruining the story, I will say that this trope being woven into the story was done flawlessly and didn’t take away from any of the eerie horror.

“And all the while, the hill and the house upon it watched.

And all the while, the tree waited for the signal from the hill.”

By far my favorite book that I have read in a while. It is PERFECT for those Autumn TBRs that so many of you readers have been crafting since January, and one that I HIGHLY recommend. For those who are afraid of Horror, don’t worry. It really isn’t as scary as my gifs and mood boards would lead you to believe. Christina Henry has a knack for setting a scene of foggy depths and bloody secrets, and that is exactly what The Ghost Tree is.

“And in time we’ll forget.”

4.5 Stars

 

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Book Reviews · New Releases

Book Review: Dalton Highway by Freddie Åhlin

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the author, Freddie Åhlin, for an honest review.

Genre: Adult/Psychological Thriller/Horror

Plot: Forty-five-year-old truck driver Tom Richards is on the verge of losing everything. To save his marriage, and find a way out of crippling debt, he takes on the dangerous job of trucking across Dalton Highway, a 414-mile (666 km) long isolated passage through the Alaskan wilderness. By his side is his beloved five-year-old German Shepherd, Presley. It doesn’t take long before Tom realizes something isn’t right out on the road. First, he discovers a bulletin board filled with missing person posters, and later, he meets an elderly man who warns him about the powers of darkness. But desperate for the money, he refuses to turn back. When a storm erupts, Tom loses control of the truck and crashes in the middle of nowhere. Presley escapes into the deep forest, and Tom is forced to follow, only to discover the place is haunted by something more sinister than he could ever imagine. In a tense struggle against the clock and the wild nature of Alaska, Tom is forced to find his dog and a way out, before whatever is out there finds them.

Opinion:

“The fiery tongue licked after them.

The lights on the road were now in front of them.

Tom’s body collapsed, and all sounds faded to darkness.

The world silenced.”

“You’re going to die, Trucker.”

Tom Richards is hard-pressed for money and about to lose everything he holds dear. His wife is fed up and ready to leave him, and their money woes aren’t the only reason for the strain on their marriage. But Tom hopes that his job across the Dalton Highway will bring back enough money to invest in their happiness…so long as he makes it back alive. 414 miles is nothing for a trucker, but this highway that borders the vast and dangerous wilderness of Alaska can be daunting for any traveler. While Tom and his German Shepherd Presley start their journey, they quickly discover the abundance of disappearances that surrounds this vast and haunting area. But when they crash in the woods, they realize something else might be out there besides your standard predator.

Something is coming for them…

…and it might not be what it seems.

 

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“He slapped away the flies. They fell to the ground and made the piles of discarded bones shake with false hope.”

Dalton Highway was a quick read and a great debut novel by author Freddie Åhlin. It’s a chaotic tale of a man and his dog trying to escape the horrors and predators of the Alaskan wilderness. One where reality quickly begins to morph into a conflicting state of paranoia and horror, causing the reader to question fact from fiction even after the story fades to black.

What the F just happened?

This psychological thriller is perfectly categorized, in that my brain is positively reeling from the cluster of wild and disorienting events I found myself engulfed in. If there’s one thing I love in any type of mystery/thriller, it’s a completely unassuming and totally unreliable narrator. These mysterious characters are always presented in a way that feels so genuine, so authentic. And by the time things start to shift around them, the reader is drowned in the slight thought of “is this character crazy…or did we just step into the Twilight Zone?”.

Tom Richards is your typical driven and hardworking middle-aged man who only wants to provide for his family. Throughout the story we are given more detail and looks into his personality, home life and even a bit of his childhood. As pieces start to unfold about who he is and his experiences, the reader can easily find themselves gravitating towards him. In most instances, Tom seems to be totally naive and easily worked up about missing persons posters or his slight isolation within just an hour of driving. He comes across as a good guy, but one that is easily rattled and who has an overactive imagination. I quickly found myself deciding that Tom was a bit of a drama queen. That he was reading far too into every tiny instance and trying to make little details into epic signs of impending doom.

Well…color me shocked when I reached the end.

But EVEN with this ending, I am still wondering what the actual truth is! WHO IS TOM?! How much of this was real? Was it all real?

Did this REALLY happen?

Or is this another one of those ‘Lost‘ situations?

Because the reader never really finds out. Even after you read that last sentence and close the book, you are still caught between an even line of plausible reality and solid fiction. The line doesn’t even blur. It is cut right down the middle, and this book rests smack dab in the middle. And though I love not knowing the truth of what really happened, I still find myself wishing I had gotten more than just one flashback into Tom’s childhood and a bigger sense of what that entire situation entailed. Because I LOVED it. But of course, every time I find myself wishing for more information on this book, I find myself preferring to be left in the dark.

In the end, all I can really express is what a feverish and chaotic blend of reality and psychosis this story is. It has an unhinging sense of time that is practically nonexistent, and characters that may not even be real.

To be honest, this book might not even be real.

I really can’t be sure.

But what I do know?

Dalton Highway is a fever dream.

4 Stars

 

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Book Reviews · Netgalley · New Releases

Book Review: I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

I killed Zoe Spanos

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing,  via Netgalley for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Contemporary/Mystery/Thriller

Plot: What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth? 

Opinion:

“𝑾𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝐝𝐨 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒓𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒎𝒃𝒆𝒓, 𝑨𝒏𝒏𝒂?”

“𝑰 𝒓𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒎𝒃𝒆𝒓 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒘𝒂𝒕𝒆𝒓. 𝑰𝒕 𝒘𝒂𝒔 𝒈𝒓𝒂𝒚 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒅𝒖𝒍𝒍, 𝒍𝒊𝒌𝒆 𝒂𝒏 𝒐𝒍𝒅 𝒄𝒂𝒓 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒑𝒂𝒊𝒏𝒕 𝒘𝒐𝒓𝒏 𝒐𝒇𝒇. 𝑰 𝒓𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒎𝒃𝒆𝒓 𝒌𝒏𝒆𝒆𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒐𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒃𝒂𝒏𝒌, 𝒔𝒕𝒂𝒓𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒂𝒄𝒓𝒐𝒔𝒔 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒔𝒖𝒓𝒇𝒂𝒄𝒆 𝒂𝒇𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝒔𝒉𝒆 𝒘𝒂𝒔 𝒅𝒐𝒘𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓𝒆. 𝑰 𝒓𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒎𝒃𝒆𝒓 𝒉𝒐𝒘 𝒄𝒐𝒍𝒅 𝒊𝒕 𝒘𝒂𝒔 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒏𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕, 𝒉𝒐𝒘 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒘𝒊𝒏𝒅 𝒘𝒂𝒔 𝒔𝒉𝒂𝒓𝒑 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒘𝒆𝒕 𝒂𝒈𝒂𝒊𝒏𝒔𝒕 𝒎𝒚 𝒄𝒉𝒆𝒆𝒌𝒔.

𝑴𝒐𝒔𝒕 𝒐𝒇 𝒂𝒍𝒍, 𝑰 𝒓𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒎𝒃𝒆𝒓 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒈𝒖𝒊𝒍𝒕, 𝒉𝒐𝒘 𝒊𝒕 𝒄𝒓𝒖𝒔𝒉𝒆𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒂𝒊𝒓 𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒐𝒇 𝒎𝒚 𝒍𝒖𝒏𝒈𝒔.”

Damn.

What a whirlwind of wild this little beauty turned out to be.

I Killed Zoe Spanos is told from two POVsAnna Cicconi, the main lead and prime suspect in the disappearance and murder of Zoe after a shocking confession, and Martina Green, a friend of Zoe’s younger sister with aspiring journalistic dreams and a promise to find out what really happened. The story flips between the present and two months prior, before Anna confesses to killing Zoe. It documents Anna’s time in the Hamptons working as a nanny for the summer for a prominent family, how she discovers and learns about the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, and how she eventually confesses to killing her.

Confused?

As you should be.

“𝑴𝒂𝒚𝒃𝒆 𝑰 𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒊𝒕’𝒔 𝒘𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒔𝒉𝒆 𝒘𝒐𝒖𝒍𝒅 𝒉𝒂𝒗𝒆 𝒘𝒂𝒏𝒕𝒆𝒅. 𝑴𝒂𝒚𝒃𝒆 𝑰 𝒘𝒂𝒔 𝒕𝒓𝒚𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒐 𝒎𝒂𝒌𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒔 𝒓𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕.”

Anna is from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn where she has spent way too much time drinking heavily and taking party favors, in the hopes that her mother might pay attention to her. But Anna wants to change. She wants a break from the relentless fog and partying, so she takes a summer job in the Hamptons. But upon arriving to this new place, she learns of the odd disappearance of a girl named Zoe Spanos. On New Years Eve, Zoe vanished without a trace. With little clues as to what had happened to her, and even less motive for foul play.

But what Anna quickly learns upon arriving in the Hamptons, is that she bares a striking and eerie resemblance to Zoe. Some would say, an almost identical resemblance.

“𝑴𝒂𝒌𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒔 𝒓𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕?” 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝒅𝒆𝒕𝒆𝒄𝒕𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒓𝒆𝒑𝒆𝒂𝒕𝒔 𝑨𝒏𝒏𝒂’𝒔 𝒘𝒐𝒓𝒅𝒔 𝒃𝒂𝒄𝒌 𝒕𝒐 𝒉𝒆𝒓.

And as Anna begins to learn more about Zoe through locals who mistake her for the missing girl, friends and news articles, Anna begins to fall deeper and deeper into the intricacies and mysteries surrounding the case. And to a point where secrets, truth, lies and blurred lines begin to reveal themselves.

“𝑰𝒏 𝒔𝒐𝒎𝒆 𝒔𝒎𝒂𝒍𝒍 𝒘𝒂𝒚. 𝑨𝒇𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝒘𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝑰’𝒅 𝒅𝒐𝒏𝒆. 𝑰𝒕 𝒘𝒂𝒔 𝒂𝒏 𝒂𝒄𝒄𝒊𝒅𝒆𝒏𝒕, 𝒃𝒖𝒕…

𝑰 𝑲𝒊𝒍𝒍𝒆𝒅 𝒁𝒐𝒆 𝑺𝒑𝒂𝒏𝒐𝒔.”

This shit gets a liiiiiittle crazy.

From the beginning, Anna starts dropping little hints about her life back home. It consists of a lot of partying and activities that fuzzy up the mind, and gives the reader an overwhelming sense that she is running from something. Murder, you say?! Hmmm…maybe so. But what’s really interesting about Anna’s character is that you never really get a solid read on her. She’s a bit of an enigma shrouded in hazy darkness, and it seems as if only the top few layers of her are pulled away. She’s like an onion…you know the saying.

But what really started to intrigue me about Anna, besides her need to leave her past behaviors behind, was her constant forgetfulness.

Here is a girl who obviously isn’t a hardcore drug user, and sure…she seems to have a bit of a pull towards the bottles of alcohol that she notices, but nothing to suggest she has a serious problem with substances. Which is the only reason I was coming up with for why she would be forgetting things randomly, to the point where the little girl she was nannying was constantly reminding her of conversations and clearly exasperated for having to do so. Obviously there’s a rhyme and a reason for this odd behavior, but the way it is executed had me swooning.

Kit Frick was meant to write mystery thrillers. She knows how to create an eerie yet familiar personality in a character that feels authentic, but has ever so slightly had sprinkles of slight paranoia and hysteria woven in to make the reader question the sanity of the MC. And not only does she make the reader both trust and question Anna, but she adds in other multiple characters that feel innocent and guilty all at once.

“𝒀𝒐𝒖 𝒔𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒍𝒅 𝒈𝒐,” 𝑪𝒂𝒅𝒆𝒏 𝒔𝒂𝒚𝒔 𝒂𝒔 𝑰’𝒎 𝒂𝒍𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒅𝒚 𝒕𝒖𝒓𝒏𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒐𝒘𝒂𝒓𝒅𝒔 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒅𝒐𝒐𝒓, 𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒅𝒚 𝒕𝒐 𝒍𝒆𝒂𝒗𝒆 𝑾𝒊𝒏𝒅𝒆𝒓𝒎𝒆𝒓𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒏𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓 𝒓𝒆𝒕𝒖𝒓𝒏. 𝑴𝒂𝒚𝒃𝒆 𝑷𝒂𝒊𝒔𝒍𝒆𝒚 𝒘𝒂𝒔 𝒓𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕. 𝑻𝒉𝒊𝒔 𝒑𝒍𝒂𝒄𝒆 𝐢𝐬 𝒉𝒂𝒖𝒏𝒕𝒆𝒅. 𝑵𝒐𝒕 𝒃𝒚 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒅𝒆𝒂𝒅, 𝒃𝒖𝒕 𝒃𝒚 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒇𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒕𝒚 𝒔𝒆𝒄𝒓𝒆𝒕𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒍𝒊𝒗𝒊𝒏𝒈.”

I’ll be honest, I had no idea who in the hell the murderer was until the murderer was actually revealed. And even then, I didn’t believe it. There are SO MANY characters who are perfect suspects and have clear motives. SO MANY characters who act strangely and suspiciously. Who seem to always be covering things up or sweeping clues into a rolled up rug and throwing it into the ocean.

Its all.

Very.

Suspish.

But isn’t that what we love? To be hit at the knees and have a bag pulled over our heads? And in true murder mystery form, we get to play detective alongside the characters. Throughout the story the POV switches over to Martina Green and her podcasts episode transcripts where she is trying to find out what happened to Zoe. She discusses police reports, insider information from the family, possible suspects, and even points the finger at the boyfriend.

Because it’s always the boyfriend.

“𝑻𝒉𝒊𝒔 𝒃𝒐𝒚 𝒊𝒔 𝒂 𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒆𝒓, 𝒃𝒖𝒕 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒂 𝒔𝒍𝒊𝒑𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒚 𝒎𝒐𝒎𝒆𝒏𝒕 𝑰 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒔𝒆𝒆 𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒍𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒔 𝒊𝒏𝒕𝒆𝒓𝒕𝒘𝒊𝒏𝒊𝒏𝒈, 𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒅𝒂𝒓𝒌𝒆𝒔𝒕 𝒔𝒆𝒄𝒓𝒆𝒕𝒔 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒅𝒆𝒆𝒑𝒆𝒔𝒕 𝒇𝒆𝒂𝒓𝒔 𝒍𝒂𝒊𝒅 𝒃𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒔𝒕𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒏𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒂𝒊𝒓.”

Though of course, nothing is ever as it seems, is it?

And without giving anything away, I just need to comment on the ending. Sure I was totally blindsided, but do I realllyyyyyy believe that ending?

Meh.

It’s questionable.

I felt like some conversations and relationships weren’t tied up. I wanted a convo between the murderer and…a prominent character to take place, but it didn’t. I wanted to see the TRUE feelings and thoughts of the murderer, but all I got was the confession and facts. But then again…that is the most authentic way to end a story like this, isn’t it? When do we ever really get the full details on murders and heinous crimes?

Maybe if it involves Ed Kemper, but he’s a unicorn.

Anyways.

This mystery kicked ass and finally got me out of my reading slump. It may be because there was murder in it, which seems to be my happy place lately (don’t you fucking judge me) and the only genre to keep me interested. But I will say, that little situation with Star and the conclusion of that was a bit…anti-climatic, no? Like realllyyy? That’s how that ties up? With a slapped on band-aid and a shrug?

Oh okay.

 

4 Stars

 

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Bloomsbury · Book Promo · Book Reviews · New Releases

Book Review: Accidental by Alex Richards

Accidental

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Contemporary

Plot: Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.

Then he comes back: Robert Newsome, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares. A tragic car accident didn’t kill Mandy–it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.

Now Johanna has to sort through it all–the return of her absentee father, her grandparents’ lies, her part in her mother’s death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?

In a searing, ultimately uplifting story, debut author Alex Richards tackles a different side of the important issue that has galvanized teens across our country.

Opinion:

“𝑨𝒍𝒍 𝒘𝒆𝒆𝒌 𝒍𝒐𝒏𝒈, 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑨𝒎𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒇𝒍𝒂𝒈 𝒐𝒏 𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒇𝒓𝒐𝒏𝒕 𝒍𝒂𝒘𝒏 𝒇𝒍𝒂𝒑𝒔 𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒓𝒊𝒍𝒚 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒘𝒊𝒏𝒅. 𝑾𝒆𝒊𝒓𝒅 𝒉𝒐𝒘 𝑰 𝒏𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓 𝒖𝒔𝒆𝒅 𝒕𝒐 𝒏𝒐𝒕𝒊𝒄𝒆 𝒊𝒕 𝒖𝒑 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓𝒆 – 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒔 𝒉𝒖𝒈𝒆, 𝒅𝒖𝒓𝒂𝒃𝒍𝒆 𝒂𝒅 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒑𝒂𝒕𝒓𝒊𝒐𝒕𝒊𝒔𝒎.
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𝑰 𝒘𝒐𝒏𝒅𝒆𝒓 𝒊𝒇 𝒎𝒚 𝒈𝒓𝒂𝒏𝒅𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒔 𝒐𝒘𝒏𝒆𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒇𝒍𝒂𝒈 𝒃𝒆𝒇𝒐𝒓𝒆 𝒐𝒓 𝒂𝒇𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝑰 𝒔𝒉𝒐𝒕 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒌𝒊𝒍𝒍𝒆𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒊𝒓 𝒅𝒂𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕𝒆𝒓.”

“𝑩𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒌 𝒕𝒘𝒊𝒄𝒆 𝒊𝒇 𝒚𝒐𝒖’𝒓𝒆 𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒑𝒑𝒆𝒅 𝒊𝒏 𝒂 𝒉𝒐𝒔𝒕𝒊𝒍𝒆 𝒔𝒊𝒕𝒖𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏.”

Johanna has been raised by her grandparents for most of her life, due to her father bailing and her mother dying in a car accident when she was almost three. But at sixteen, Johanna feels like she’s beginning to forget her mother entirely and it doesn’t help that her grandparents refuse to talk about her. But life for Johanna isn’t so bad. She has two amazing best friends who are more like sisters, and the new kid at school seems to have his eye on her. But when Jo gets a letter in the mail from her father who is wishing to reconnect, her seemingly ordinary life implodes. With her father’s sudden reappearance in her life comes the truth of her childhood and the real cause of death of her mother. Because it wasn’t a car accident that killed Johanna’s mother…

…it was her.

Deep breath, baby angels.

It’s a heavy hitter.

“𝑾𝒐𝒓𝒅𝒔 𝒇𝒍𝒚 𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒐𝒇 𝑹𝒐𝒃𝒆𝒓𝒕’𝒔 𝒎𝒐𝒖𝒕𝒉 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒃𝒐𝒃 𝒂𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒓𝒐𝒐𝒎 𝒍𝒊𝒌𝒆 𝒃𝒂𝒕𝒔. 𝑻𝒉𝒆𝒚’𝒓𝒆 𝒇𝒂𝒎𝒊𝒍𝒊𝒂𝒓 𝒘𝒐𝒓𝒅𝒔 – 𝒅𝒊𝒄𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏𝒂𝒓𝒚 𝒘𝒐𝒓𝒅𝒔 – 𝒃𝒖𝒕 𝒏𝒐𝒏𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒎 𝒇𝒊𝒕 𝒕𝒐𝒈𝒆𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒊𝒏 𝒂 𝒘𝒂𝒚 𝑰 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒖𝒏𝒅𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒕𝒂𝒏𝒅. 𝑰𝒕’𝒔 𝒂 𝒔𝒕𝒐𝒓𝒚 𝒃𝒆𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒐𝒍𝒅 𝒕𝒐 𝒎𝒆 𝒊𝒏 𝒂 𝒏𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕𝒎𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒐𝒓 𝒔𝒐𝒎𝒆 𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒂𝒍𝒍𝒆𝒍 𝒖𝒏𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒆, 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒎𝒚 𝒗𝒊𝒔𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝒔𝒆𝒆𝒎𝒔 𝒕𝒐 𝒃𝒍𝒂𝒄𝒌𝒆𝒏 𝒊𝒏 𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒑𝒐𝒏𝒔𝒆.”

The gun control topic is a controversial one, and with this being a book that centers around gun violence, be prepared for moments that may differ from your personal opinions. But for those of you who are weary that this will be a “preachy” YA Contemporary, rest assured that both sides to this debate are represented and it’s dealt with in a delicate manner that doesn’t take away from what this story really is – a coming-of-age tale about trauma, forgiveness, growth and self-love.

Accidental is an emotional and surreal story that centers on how common it is for children to come across easily accessible guns in their homes. At two and a half, while her father was out of town, Johanna and her mother were taking a nap when Johanna awakens and begins to wander. She finds her father’s gun under her parent’s bed, and ends up pulling the trigger and shooting her mother in the chest – killing her.

But upon the reader meeting Johanna, we learn that she has no idea of what took place when she was a toddler. At sixteen, Jo is a typical teenager living in Santa Fe and going to a prestigious high school. She has two quirky, spirited and vivacious best friends and she spends her time sewing her own clothes and slinging sassy comebacks at idiotic guys in her class. She’s a lively and charismatic character from the start, describing the pains of living with her very religious grandparents, but also expressing a deep love for them both.

But the ease in Jo’s life quickly changes with the reemergence of her estranged father, and his confession of Jo and Amanda’s truth.

“𝑻𝒘𝒐 𝒄𝒚𝒎𝒃𝒂𝒍𝒔, 𝒄𝒓𝒂𝒔𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒐𝒏 𝒓𝒆𝒑𝒆𝒂𝒕 –

𝑭𝑨𝑻𝑯𝑬𝑹!
𝑭𝑨𝑻𝑯𝑬𝑹!
𝑭𝑨𝑻𝑯𝑬𝑹!”

The reason this story packs such a punch, is because the situation could have happened to any of us. It was incredibly easy to slide into Jo’s shoes and understand the confusion, sadness, regret, hurt, horror and anger she felt when the truth of her mother was revealed. How devastating it is when something so horrible can become your reality, and the hurt that comes with it when you don’t have a support system at home to guide you through it.

“𝑺𝒐, 𝒊𝒏𝒔𝒕𝒆𝒂𝒅, 𝑰 𝒈𝒐. 𝑾𝒊𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒔𝒂𝒚𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒈𝒐𝒐𝒅𝒃𝒚𝒆, 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒕𝒆𝒍𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒎 𝒘𝒉𝒆𝒏 𝑰’𝒍𝒍 𝒃𝒆 𝒉𝒐𝒎𝒆. 𝑰 𝒔𝒊𝒎𝒑𝒍𝒚 𝒔𝒑𝒊𝒏 𝒂𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒏𝒅 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒔𝒕𝒂𝒍𝒌 𝒂𝒄𝒓𝒐𝒔𝒔 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒌𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒍𝒐𝒕 𝒕𝒐𝒘𝒂𝒓𝒅 𝒎𝒚 𝒄𝒂𝒓, 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒘𝒉𝒐𝒍𝒆 𝒕𝒊𝒎𝒆 𝒕𝒓𝒚𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒕𝒐 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒌 𝒕𝒐𝒐 𝒉𝒂𝒓𝒅 𝒐𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒇𝒂𝒄𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝑮𝒓𝒂𝒏 𝒔𝒐 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒍𝒚 𝒍𝒆𝒕 𝒎𝒆 𝒈𝒐. 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝒇𝒂𝒄𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒎𝒂𝒚𝒃𝒆 𝑰’𝒎 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒘𝒐𝒓𝒕𝒉 𝒇𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒂𝒏𝒚𝒎𝒐𝒓𝒆.”

 

When Jo reveals to her grandparents that she knows the truth about her mother, they still refuse to speak about it. They brush it under the rug, preferring silence and forced indifference. And though it is shocking that they lied to her about how her mother died…I don’t blame them for the decision they made in protecting her.

But the way they handle Jo’s trauma and their own is…suffocating.

There are no pictures on the walls or in photo albums of Jo’s mother. None of her mementos are displayed and she is never brought up or talked about. So Jo is left feeling as if she cannot speak about this woman she has so much love for, but is starting to forget. This woman she so desperately craves was in her life and guiding her through her teenage years.

This woman who she believes she murdered.

“𝑯𝒆 𝒔𝒄𝒐𝒐𝒑𝒔 𝒎𝒚 𝒓𝒊𝒈𝒊𝒅 𝒃𝒐𝒅𝒚 𝒕𝒐𝒘𝒂𝒓𝒅 𝒉𝒊𝒎, 𝒕𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒊𝒏𝒕𝒐 𝒉𝒊𝒔 𝒄𝒉𝒆𝒔𝒕. 𝑺𝒐 𝒄𝒍𝒐𝒔𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝑰 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒉𝒆𝒂𝒓 𝒉𝒊𝒔 𝒉𝒆𝒂𝒓 𝒃𝒆𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈, 𝒆𝒂𝒄𝒉 𝒃𝒖-𝒃𝒖𝒎 𝒃𝒖-𝒃𝒖𝒎 𝒃𝒖-𝒃𝒖𝒎 𝒕𝒖𝒓𝒏𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒊𝒏𝒕𝒐 𝒂 𝒈𝒖𝒏𝒔𝒉𝒐𝒕. 𝑶𝒏𝒆 𝒂𝒇𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝒂𝒏𝒐𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓.

𝑩𝒂𝒏𝒈.

𝑩𝒂𝒏𝒈.

𝑩𝒂𝒏𝒈.”

Thankfully, Jo has two epic best friends that I wish upon all wishes and stars that I could have in my life.

“𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝒅𝒐𝒐𝒓 𝒄𝒍𝒊𝒄𝒌𝒔 𝒔𝒉𝒖𝒕. 𝑻𝒘𝒐 𝒈𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒍𝒆 𝒔𝒆𝒕𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝒇𝒆𝒆𝒕 𝒕𝒊𝒑𝒕𝒐𝒆 𝒂𝒄𝒓𝒐𝒔𝒔 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒓𝒐𝒐𝒎, 𝒎𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒐 𝒃𝒐𝒅𝒚 𝒎𝒊𝒔𝒕 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑫𝒂𝒊𝒔𝒚 𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒇𝒖𝒎𝒆 𝒘𝒂𝒇𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒊𝒏 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒎. 𝑳𝒆𝒂𝒉 𝒄𝒖𝒓𝒍𝒔 𝒖𝒑 𝒐𝒏 𝒐𝒏𝒆 𝒔𝒊𝒅𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒎𝒆, 𝑮𝒂𝒃𝒃𝒚 𝒐𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒐𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓. 𝑺𝒘𝒆𝒂𝒕𝒆𝒓𝒔 𝒘𝒂𝒓𝒎, 𝒔𝒌𝒊𝒏 𝒄𝒐𝒍𝒅. 𝑴𝒚 𝒕𝒓𝒖𝒔𝒕𝒚 𝑹𝒐𝒕𝒕𝒘𝒆𝒊𝒍𝒆𝒓𝒔 𝒅𝒐𝒏’𝒕 𝒔𝒂𝒚 𝒂𝒏𝒚𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈.”

These girls are the rocks that keep Jo from slipping down a river of depression and deep self-loathing. They are fiercely loyal and understanding, go out of their way to ensure that their friend is cared for and heard, and refuse to leave her side. Their love for one another had me hardcore tearing up and cooing throughout the story. These two girls make this story.

“𝑰 𝒔𝒒𝒖𝒆𝒆𝒛𝒆 𝒎𝒚 𝒆𝒚𝒆𝒔 𝒔𝒉𝒖𝒕 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒏 𝒐𝒑𝒆𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒎 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒂 𝒔𝒉𝒂𝒓𝒑 𝒊𝒏𝒉𝒂𝒍𝒆, 𝒏𝒐𝒕𝒊𝒄𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒂 𝒈𝒖𝒏-𝒔𝒉𝒂𝒑𝒆𝒅 𝒄𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒌 𝒂𝒃𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒍𝒐𝒔𝒆𝒕 𝒅𝒐𝒐𝒓. 𝑬𝒗𝒆𝒏 𝑴𝒊𝒍𝒐’𝒔 𝒄𝒆𝒊𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒌𝒏𝒐𝒘𝒔 𝒘𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝑰’𝒗𝒆 𝒅𝒐𝒏𝒆.”

“𝑴𝒊𝒍𝒐 𝒇𝒓𝒐𝒎 𝒉𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒐𝒓𝒚.”

Another big character in this story is Milo – the new boy in school and Jo’s new boyfriend. Their romance is sweet and their chemistry is sizzling, but more importantly, Milo is another person in Jo’s life that she can lean on for support. Though he doesn’t have as big a role as Leah and Gabby, and his personality doesn’t shine through as much as the girls, his own troubles with his father gives a level of understanding to Milo and Jo that can’t be emulated. And no matter how dark Jo’s life gets, Milo is always there to help her see the light.

“𝑰𝒕 𝒘𝒂𝒔 𝒇𝒖𝒏, 𝒃𝒖𝒕 𝑰’𝒎 𝒌𝒊𝒏𝒅 𝒐𝒇 𝒅𝒂𝒎𝒂𝒈𝒆𝒅 𝒈𝒐𝒐𝒅𝒔.”

“𝑵𝒐𝒕 𝒅𝒂𝒎𝒂𝒈𝒆𝒅,” 𝒉𝒆 𝒘𝒉𝒊𝒔𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒔. “𝑱𝒖𝒔𝒕 𝒈𝒐𝒐𝒅.”

For the first half of this book, the reader watches Jo slowly spiral into anger and a sort of manic state as she tries to cope with her past. And at sixteen, it’s not exactly easy to have control over your emotions. But the person Jo turns into in the second half of the book was irritating. She was aggressive and constantly throwing tantrums, stomping her foot and having explosive reactions to the littlest things. Of course, this does feel authentic to a young teenager going through some serious trauma – but it was still exhausting and a turn-off.

And how Johanna works towards getting a mural painted at her school to shed light on gun violence was also…cringey. By this point Jo is full-blown immature and slightly ridiculous, so it was a bit harder to get through. And though this was a gut-flipping story, I was really wanting more emotion from Jo because I didn’t feel like I got a true sense of the chaos that was brewing inside her. She had huge reactions and panic attacks, but I wanted more description into how hurt and lost she felt inside.

But the real driving force in this story is obviously gun safety, but also self-acceptance and the need to work through trauma.

When Jo’s father renters her life, he brings a few secrets with him that he slowly reveals along the way, and they’re tragic. It broke my heart how Jo was constantly let down by these really big parental figures in her life. But, imagine it. Not only are you the cause for your mother dying, but you are also the spitting image of a daughter and lover that has been lost. Nothing about this situation is easier or less horrible for anyone involved.

Accidental is a powerful and heartbreaking story, but a necessary one.

No matter what stance you take on this topic, trust me when I say, you need to read this.

“𝑰 𝒍𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝒚𝒐𝒖, 𝒌𝒊𝒅𝒅𝒐. 𝑩𝒚𝒆.”

“𝑰 𝒍𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝒚𝒐𝒖, 𝒌𝒊𝒅𝒅𝒐.”

“𝑰 𝒍𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝒚𝒐𝒖.”

 

4.5 Stars

 

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Book Reviews · New Releases

Book Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Girl Serpent

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Flatiron Books, for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Fantasy/Retelling

Plot: There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

Opinion:

“I am both the Sleeping Beauty and the enchanted castle; the princess drowses in the castle of flesh.”

-Angela Carter, Vampirella

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a heavily Persian influenced mythology retelling with elements from classic fairy tales like “Sleeping Beauty“, “Rapunzel” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” It tells the story of a young Princess who was cursed with the touch of poison after her birth, and has since been hidden away in one of her family’s castles to keep her ailment secret. But when the royal family returns to her castle for the season, they bring with them a captured div – a demon who tried to kill the princess’s brother – whom they are keeping locked in the dungeons. For Princess Soraya, this is her only chance to find a way out of the curse that has caused her to live a life without human contact. But Soraya quickly learns that nothing is given for free, and consequences weigh heavily.

“There was and there was not.”

 

This unique retelling has been at the top of my TBR list for months. I originally found it on Goodreads while in one of a 3-hour book pit of browsing and knew it was going to be a top read of 2020. And though this story started out great, with rich culture spilling through the pages and a luscious world wrought with magic and danger, I felt myself begin to drift about 25% in.

It was an enjoyable read, but I was expecting an extra emotional punch and a little more excitement.

I hate to say it, but I was a bit bored for the middle and end of this book. I have been having trouble with YA Fantasy lately, so maybe it’s just me, but I just wasn’t as invested in the story as I wanted to be. I think a big part of this could be that the story went in a direction I wasn’t initially expecting it to. I guess I was expecting a “Throne of Glass” meets “Ash Princess“, and got more of a “Damsel” vibe that I wasn’t really feeling.

Soraya was an intriguing character at first, but her ‘doe in headlights‘ act started to get old pretty quickly. It bothered me how fine she was with her family practically shunning her and shoving her into a castle like Quasimodo, barely visiting her or even trying to communicate with her. I wanted her to show some semblance of anger or a grudge for her treatment, but it seemed innocence and being too trusting were her only major driving traits.

I also wanted her poisonous curse to be portrayed a bit darker.

Obviously this story is going to be written how the author wants and with their own preference to overall lightness or darkness in terms of overall theme, but I was hoping this was going to be a grittier and more raw tale. I wanted to really dive into the way this curse made Soraya feel. How the solitude and isolation has contributed to her personality and thoughts, and what flaws it causes her to develop. Yes, the girl is naive. But this book left her feeling like a Disney princess, rather than a relatable female who has been thrust into horrible circumstances.

The romance is a love triangle, and it was sweet and exciting in parts, but the original start between Soraya and Azad was…odd. I have a really hard time with insta-love and insta-intimacy. Upon their first actual meeting Azad basically professes his love and is shockingly not at all freaked out that one touch from Soraya will kill him instantly. He starts touching her hair (how did you know that her hair wasn’t also poisonous?!) and basically tells her how he’s always imaged being/rescuing/marrying her…? And Soraya instantly meets him halfway. What? This just felt so unbelievable for me.

I think the best part of this book is the world building and nod to Persian culture. Though this world isn’t as crazy outlandish and complex as some other YA Fantasies, it is perfectly detailed and the Arabian styled setting is described beautifully. Though of course more would have been so appreciated, the amount given is perfect for the reader to visualize and enjoy the tale.

By the end of Girl, Serpent, Thorn I was pleased with what happened, but I did find it a bit boring and somewhat predictable. I think I was just expecting a different story than what I got. It seems the majority of readers really loved this, so I would definitely read it and come to your own conclusion.

3 Stars

 

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