Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Back Door of Midnight by Elizabeth Chandler

Note: This is the fifth in the Dark Secrets series, but the books are more companion novels that are linked by being set in the same town. The characters, the plots, the stories--they're all different, you could read them in any order. So, this summary/review won't spoil the others.

The Back Door of Midnight
by Elizabeth Chandler

Summary: Psychic...or psychotic?

Anna knows her family is crazy. But when she goes to visit her aunt and uncle for the summer and learns that her uncle’s charred body has been found, her life reaches a new level of insanity. Her erratic aunt’s “psychic” abilities are exaggerated by her grief, and have become borderline violent. Alone in an unfamiliar town, Anna struggles to pick up the pieces and establish any sense of normalcy. She desperately wants to trust Zack, the cute boy next door, but even he might know more about the incident than he is letting on.

But when Anna starts feeling an inexplicable pull to the site of her uncle’s murder, she begins to believe that her family’s supernatural gifts are real after all. Torn between loyalty and suspicion, Anna is certain of only one thing: she must discover who killed her uncle or she could be next....
There are certain types of books that I can always come back to. Books that I can read no matter what mood I'm in or how bad my reading slump is. The Back Door of Midnight (and the whole Dark Secrets series) is one of these types of books.

I've realised that books in this series are always just enough. Like the romance, it's present but it's not the focus...it's just enough to keep me interested. And each book makes me care just enough about the story and about the characters to want to finish it, but doesn't make me feel so invested in the story that it'll feel like my emotions have been put through a shredder by the end of it. And the books are predictable, but there's just enough mystery to stop them from being boring.

The thing about this series is, if you've read one book then you'll be able to predict how all the others are going to play out because they all follow the same formula. It becomes easy to spot the bad guys and the red herrings pretty early, and you know there'll be a Scooby Doo scene where there's a confrontation with the bad guy, and you know how the romance is going to play out because it's pretty much the same each time... and yet, five books in, I'm still not bored of it.

So it's the perfect kind of book for me to read between heavier books or when I'm in a reading slump and just want something quick and simple to entertain me. They're fast reads, and I can happily sit down and read them in one go without ever feeling bored.

And this review isn't very specific about this book, it's more about the series in general. But basically, I really enjoyed the book and I really recommend it if you want to read some YA murder mystery type books that aren't too long or emotionally draining.

Later.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
by Jesse Andrews 

Summary: Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.

Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.

Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.

And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.
I didn't really have any desire to read this book until I saw a bunch of booktubers gushing about it, saying it was awesome and they loved it. Well, I didn't love it. It really didn't live up to the hype for me at all.

It wasn't a bad book, far from it. I read it pretty quickly and while I didn't like it, I didn't hate it either...it was just kind of - average.

I will give it credit for managing to talk about cancer without ever becoming one of those Cancer Books (you know the ones--the ones that get very Lifetime movie). But, I think that may have been part of my issue? I mean...I liked that it didn't go there, but it did that by making me really not like or care about any of the characters and by trying way too hard to be funny. Some books go OTT and try to make you care too much, this one went too far in the other direction.

Seriously, I didn't like the main character at all. He was whiny and annoying and self-absorbed and just...I didn't like him. I can see how some people might end up liking him or his sense of humour, but I just didn't. There was so much of the book that felt like it was supposed to be funny but it didn't even manage to make me crack a smile--maybe if I'd clicked with the humour in the book I would've liked it more (I think I only sort of laughed once).

Anyway, because we see the world through his eyes, it's hard to give a damn about any of the other characters either. Told differently, I think maybe Earl and Rachel would've been pretty good characters and their friendship was more interesting to me than the one either had with the main character but we barely get to see that (I'd probably have loved the book that was simply "Earl and the Dying Girl").

The writing style was distinctive, but I didn't really enjoy it much. And the plot...well, it was really dull, it didn't feel like much was going on and even the ending felt very flat. Like, "That's it?" and I get it, I get that it was probably intentional, to avoid the sappy Lifetime movie cancer story trap, but at the same time it just made it seem like a story not worth telling, a book not worth reading.

I'll probably have forgotten I even read this within a few days and will only remember it when the movie adaptation is released. It just tried too hard (to be funny, to be different, to avoid cancer book tropes, etc.).

So...yeah. I'd rate it 2.5 stars out of 5. It was just an okay read to me. But, don't let that put you off, because like I said, the reason I read it was because so many other people said how great it was, so you might enjoy it as much as they did.

Later.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Open Road Summer
Emery Lord
Walker Children's
[April 15, 2014]


After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

Oh Open Road Summer, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways, though they are as numerous as the stars. 

In all seriousness, Emery Lord kind of killed me with the perfection that is her debut and I'm equal parts terrified and stoked for what her next book will do. Like, this was I-must-send-gushy-fanmail levels of love for this book. I swear, this summer is THE GREATEST for perfect contemporary YA.

I've talked before about the fact that I sang for most of my K-12 years. 8 years of choir, 3 solo competitions, 1 road trip to compete as a choir. This all started because when I was super young, I wanted to be a country-ish singer. The first song I ever memorized that wasn't a nursery rhyme was a Shania Twain song and I would sing it whenever I was asked to. But I was also a huge Britney Spears fan, so I didn't want to be TOTALLY country. This is why I got angry when Hannah Montana became a thing because man did I want to be that exact kind of artist. And now Taylor Swift exists and it's like these other people just STOLE my childhood dream.

...Anyway, the point is that country and singing are strong in my roots. And when I was reading Open Road Summer was one of the first really nice spring days, which is always a huge listen-to-country-walk-barefoot kind of thing for me when I'm at my parents'. So, I was a little mournful of not having singing in my life anymore and not being at my parents' to celebrate spring properly. Then I started reading Open Road Summer and cried twice within thirty pages. I had THAT much of an emotional connection to this book from the very beginning. It wasn't even sad, I just immediately bonded with Dee and Reagan.

And Reagan. Oh Reagan. She was just a three dimensional character. I worried a bit that she was going to be the stereotypical snarky "bad" girl, but nope. No way. She was so much more than that. She had dreams that she was striving toward and a past she was trying to forget and family problems and friend problems and I could identify with her in so many ways. The way she grew and changed and began to grasp what her life was was so familiar to me and it was incredible to watch her flourish into someone who was so solid and ready to go with life. She was so very real.

And Dee. Oh, Dee. I had that personal bond with her, but otherwise, her position was so difficult and seemed so much more mature than any high schooler should be dealing with, but she was. And she was just so good and didn't deserve any of it. It hurt my heart every time something else went wrong with her. 

The friendship between Reagan and Dee was phenomenal. A lot of friendships seem to run smoothly for years, then suddenly the problems erupt and this was the summer for them to hash things out. And it hurt but it was so good. I had like this secondhand emotional release watching them push out all the issues they've been having. They're so much better than I ever have been with my friends.

Now, it's time. It's time to talk about Matt Finch. I think there's almost this universal understanding that musicians? They do things for girls. I'm sure they don't for some of you, but it seems like they do for a LOT of girls. And you know what else? Bad boys can be fun every once and a while, but I'd MUCH rather have your genuinely nice guys (not Nice GuysTM, thanks) and your nerds and geeks. Bring me the genuine and the sweet with some backbone! And Matt Finch is a nice boy and a musician and a songwriter and he also has plenty of backbone. He could give just as good as Reagan could and tease her and fight back and be charming. And I love him so much that he has to always be called Matt Finch, not just Matt. Matt's not good enough for him. 

Since so many of my friends had already claimed Matt Finch and Emery has promised me a nerd for the next book, I went ahead and claimed this future-unnamed-nerd-boy. Because I have zero doubt that all the boys Emery Lord writes are going to be as wonderful and perfect as Matt Finch.

All this and I haven't even talked about the story or the writing which are equally incredible. Emery's writing is beautiful and confident and it's full of Reagan's voice. The story is a road trip and also about musicians and friends and family and relationships and it covers so much in this relatively average sized book without letting anything fall behind. It's such a fantastic balance and twisty and turny and romantic and hard and real, so very real for a lifestyle most of us will never experience.

I loved every. Single. Thing. about this book. I can't think of a SINGLE bad thing in it and I've gotten remarkably good at finding flaws in books since I took up this whole editing thing. Please, please go buy this. Today. Now. Tomorrow. Sometime this week. And talk about this book and push it on your friends. I believe in this book SO MUCH as evidenced by my never ending review. Just, seriously, if you don't like it, you can tell me and I will probably shun you for a little bit. So don't even tell me. Just go read it and love it and make others read it.

--Julie

Monday, 14 April 2014

Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue by Stephanie Laurens

Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue
by Stephanie Laurens

Summary: Determined to hunt down her very own hero, one who will sweep her off her feet and into wedded bliss, and despairing of finding him in London's staid ballrooms, Heather Cynster steps out of her safe world and boldly attends a racy soiree.

But her promising hunt is ruined by the supremely interfering Viscount Breckenridge, who whisks her out of scandal-and straight into danger when a mysterious enemy seizes her, bundles her into a coach, and conveys her out of London.

Now it's up to the notorious Breckenridge to prove himself the hero she's been searching for all along...
Let's start this review with some numbers.

Number of times I gave up reading this before forcing myself to pick it up again (I'm stubborn): 3
Numer of times I threw the book across the room: 2
Number of times I fell asleep trying to read it: Lost count.
Number of weeks it took me to finish it: 6/7
Number of things I like about the book: 0

Basically, this was one of the worst books I've read in a long time. The thing is, there wasn't really anything about it that was inherently bad, it was just really, really, really, mind numbingly, infuriatingly boring. So, so boring. I almost cried because it was so boring. Reading one chapter felt like ten and it didn't matter what the scene was--be it an argument or romantic scene or something else--it droned on and on in the same monotonous manner.

There were a few things I didn't like (beyond being boring). Like the POV changes--not just because I'm not the biggest fan of that in general, but because it was done so clumsily with no real transition between one to the next. And I thought the first 2/3 of the book were bad, but the last 100 or so pages were torture to get through--they literally had the same conversation over and over again, to the point where it went beyond the characters being stubborn and crossed into complete idiocy.

Also, I didn't like that certain things were left unexplained. Now, there's a lot of books in the Cynster series (15, I think? Plus a few spin off series), the reason I started with this one was because it was described as the first in a trilogy that could be read on its own (I think the characters in this were perhaps minor ones in the main series?). I assumed, being the first in a trilogy, that it could be read on its own. And to an extent, it can be, but we're barely given any back story for the characters and there are things implied about Breckenridge and about their past that are never really explained.

This is probably because it's explained in the other Cynster books and the author assumed that anyone reading this would read them, but it should have been properly explained in this book too--it would've literally only taken a page or two to explain, but she doesn't bother and it made it feel like I'd jumped into the middle of a series instead of the start of a trilogy.

I'm still quite new to the world of historical romance but I think this is the first of the genre I've actually hated. I think maybe I'll stick to the Sarah Maclean and Eloisa James kind of books whenever I'm in the mood for some regency romance.

I'd cross her off my reading list right now if I didn't already own two of her other books (a duology, also about the Cynster family). I got them assuming I was going to like this book because I'm very easy to please when it comes to this kind of story. I should have liked it--it had all the elements that appealed to me, it had the regency setting, it had a kidnap plot, it had romance...but the execution was so dull (and this is coming from someone who actually enjoyed The Old Man and the Sea--literally a book about an old dude in a boat trying to catch a fish).

I hate writing negative reviews, but I wanted to review this one because this was the book that sparked this discussion post. I'd rate the book 0.5 stars out of 5. But, even if it didn't work for me, you might have more luck with it than I did.

Later.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie
by Jaclyn Moriarty

Summary: Bindy Mackenzie believes herself to be the smartest, kindest girl at Ashbury High. Unfortunately, she is alone in that belief.

To prove her likeability, Bindy decides to document her life in transcripts, essays, and e-mails. What this reveals is a girl who's funny, passionate, hilariously self-righteous...and in danger.

Someone wants to kill Bindy Mackenzie. The clues are in the documents. The detectives are the very students who hate her most. And time is running out.
I loved the first two books in this series, but for some reason I've been really reluctant to read this one. I don't know if it was because I didn't like the character much (based on the small glimpse we got of her in the second book) or if it was the plot that just didn't sound appealing to me...but yeah, I didn't want to read it.

I only read it now because I want to read the next book--they're more companion novels than an actual series, I think maybe they could be read as standalones but I still thought it would be best to read them all in chronological order.

And I'm really glad I decided that, because I enjoyed it way more than I thought I was going to. I didn't think I was going to like it, but it totally proved me wrong.

Bindy is one of the least likeable characters I've read in a long time...she's so infuriating. She's snooty and pretentious and judges everyone like they're less than her. And yet, by the end of the book, I kind of did actually like her. She grows as a character without becoming completely different, and she grows on the reader too and it's so subtle that you don't realise it until you're near the end and realise that you actually do give a damn what happens to her.

It's quite impressive that Jaclyn Moriarty can write a character who starts out so horrible but still manages to make you like her. Also, some characters from the first two books were in this one and she reminded me all over again why I adored them.

The plot was a bit more ridiculous than the previous two books, but it wasn't bad. It kept me guessing and I'd be convinced I had figured out what was going to happen only to be thoroughly proven wrong. The story did feel kind of long, but by the end it all felt necessary and stuff I thought could've been cut actually turned out to be important.

Jaclyn Moriarty is a really great author. Stories like this...when you read the summary or even read a few chapters, you'd think it would be one of those books that are just cute/fun without much depth to them, but she manages to make them more than that. So much more. I'd pretty much read anything she writes at this point.

And that's enough rambling. I'd rate the book 4 stars out of 5 (maybe 3.5? I'm not sure...I didn't enjoy it as much as the first two, so it's being measured against them, but it's really good in its own right).

Later.

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