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Teen SRC 2020- A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder - Jackson, Holly

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson seemed like an interesting read (the cover is amazing, and i judged the book by it, fight me 😉 ). But then, the synopsis ended up disappointing me. It sounded like the book was a mash-up of literally every other YA murder mystery. We have our usual ‘good’ white girl protagonist, our suspect from a marginalized community, with a name like ‘Sal Singh’ to make it extra obvious. We have the popular/mean girl murder victim (Andie) and the lazy/racist reporter. Then, of course, Ravi. The younger brother of previously mentioned murderer that killed his girlfriend then himself (Sal Singh). Of course, Ravi is the cute but very reserved and intense love interest.

The first quarter of this book made me want to chuck it at a wall. But I kept going and… it improved. BY A LOT.

The characters stayed flat. Only Pippa (protag) had some sort of character arc, and even that was half-hearted. No, the only thing that redeemed this book was the mystery. It was SHOCKINGLY well-planned and thought out. I didn’t guess the murderer and wouldn’t have in a thousand years, but IT MADE SENSE.

The romance ended up growing on me, and the relationships between the characters are okay. I don’t have much else to say, so the rating: 8/10. Boring and stereotyped characters, but BRILLIANT mystery. Enjoyable, and suspenseful, but seriously– too many cliches.

Teen SRC 2020- Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

Appointment With Death

For this week’s dose of Agatha Christie, we’ve got Appointment with Death, and Hercule Poirot on vacation in Jerusalem! Is it just me, or do detectives NEVER get a vacation off without having somebody going and getting murdered? I mean, there wouldn’t be a story if they actually got a proper vacation, but… I digress. Hercule Poirot is shutting his window to the night air when he overhears a most peculiar sentence. “You see that she’s got to die, don’t you?” a male voice says. He smiles, and dismisses it as an author or playwright discussing their work, but imagines how ‘funny’ it would be if the words were taken out of context.

Also vacationing in Palestine are the Boyntons. They, as two separate doctors note, are a nerve-wracked and peculiar family. The matriarch, Mrs. Boynton has a strange hold over the rest of her family: two step-sons, a step-daughter and a birth daughter. The only one who seems free from her force of will is the daughter-in-law, but even she hates the ugly old woman. Mrs. Boynton is manipulative, cruel, and takes immense joy in other people’s–and especially her family’s–pain. Then Mrs. Boynton is found dead.

Her heart, obviously, gave out, but… why is there then a small needle mark on her wrist? And who, out of all the people that had motive, committed the murder? Poirot, entrustred with the job, shockingly recognizes the voice he heard outside his bedroom window. It belonged to none other than Raymond Boynton, the younger son.

This book’s beginning plot was very strangely similar to ‘A Caribbean Mystery’ (it’s almost like they had the same author or something LOLLL) but I found it considerably better. I am not biased because of Poirot vs. Miss Marple, though, because the plot of this book turned in a different direction. I also didn’t guess or even suspect the murderer at all. :0 Secondly, there was more action in this book, more interesting conversations, and Poirot subtly (and annoyingly) pointed little details to guide us. There was some romance, some complex relationships and it was all brilliant. And there was only one repetitive thing in all of it (compared to A Caribbean Mystery’s twenty!) and it was about how ‘sadistic’ and how ‘evil’ the step-mother was.

Okay, so I may be a little biased, and I’m so sorry Miss Marple, for that I’ll read more of your books soon!

The ending wasn’t WHOLLY satisfactory, but it was terrifically written and even my critical little heart can appreciate the epilogue!! Because epilogues!!! All in all, another great Christie. 8.5/10

Teen SRC 2020- The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos

The Girl They Left Behind - Veletzos, Roxanne

The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos is the most moving, heartbreaking and beautiful book I’ve read in a long time. Set in World War II Romania, the book tells the life story of two families joined despite war, boundaries, and suffering, by the daughter they share.

Natalia is four years old when the knock comes on her door. The police is here to arrest her father and take her and her mother away. It is only by sheer luck that the family runs away in the cover of the night. Fearing for their lives, and that of their daughter’s, Natalia’s parents have to make the worst decision of their lives. Leave Natalia behind, and give her the chance at a better life, breaking their own hearts in the process, or risk taking her with them, where death is an almost certain possibility.

Enter Despina and Anton. In every way except one, they are the perfect young couple. She is rich and gorgeous, he is charming and happy. But after four miscarriages, the sadness that hangs on Despina is too much for Anton to accept. At the orphanage, Despina and Anton are shocked to meet Natalia a silent, broken girl, and not the joyous bundle they expected. But something stirs deep inside her heart and Despina knows she needs Natalia’s love just as much as Natalia needs hers.

Despina, Anton, and Natalia’s story is told in gripping scenes and chapters, time passing as Natalia slowly grows up into a young woman. With the war ending, and the Soviets taking control, the family’s fortunes are reversed. They lose everything, and come close to losing each other. Victor, a young man Anton took under his wing years ago, returns later in the story as a powerful Communist leader. He becomes, even as they begin a secret affair, Natalia’s only chance at freedom.

With the devastation of war and the power of love, comes the pain of sacrifice. What will Natalia choose: staying with the only people she’s ever loved, in an ever-shrinking world, or leave behind everything to seek freedom, and answers to a past she thought buried?

Wow, okay, so the description went a little long (sorry! and believe me, there were no spoilers in it). The book itself includes so much more, and every bit of it is raw, and riveting. The passage of time was discreet, and well-written, and the subplots/ change in perspectives were amazing. The only thing I didn’t like in the book was the romance between Victor and Talia, and the fact that sometimes a scene would start in the middle, telling us what happened before instead of showing it. That glossed over some things should’ve been more important.

Anyway, the book shook me to my core. It made me cry, both from sorrow and happiness. Each character is complex, none of them perfect (having well-written characters in historical fiction is a must!!) The Girl They Left Behind matches to the likes of The Book Thief. 10/10, no regrets.

Teen SRC 2020- A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie

A Caribbean Mystery

While my respect and admiration for Agatha Christie‘s work is unwavering, I found A Caribbean Mystery to be disappointing. The problem, in my opinion, starts with Miss Marple. The prospect of an old lady solving mysteries by listening, knitting, and thinking, is interesting, but it also becomes stale and boring very quickly. Miss Marple has little personality herself, and except for her sharpness and intellect, she is nothing like Hercule Poirot. (Of whom I am a die-hard fan.)

Let me first tell you about the book before I continue my opinions on it.

Miss Marple’s loving nephew has arranged a vacation for her in the Caribbean. Her rheumatism will benefit from the pleasant weather, and at her age, she should really be seeing more of the world. But while Miss Marple is grateful for her nephew’s kindness, she can’t help but feel discontented with the fact that nothing exciting happens in the Caribbean. But a little while later, as she sits knitting and listening to a talkative old Major on the beach, something interesting does happen. The Major, having launched into a story about a murder, asks her “would you like to see a snapshot of a murderer–” when he suddenly stops talking. Interrupting himself, he loudly starts on another topic. Miss Marple notices the fact but doesn’t pay it much attention… Not until the Major is found dead in his room (high blood pressure, apparently) and the snapshot he boasted about nowhere to be found. Is it all just one big coincidence, or is something more nefarious at play?

Okay. To continue on my criticism, the mystery part of the book isn’t very good either. Ms. Christie’s red herrings are usually fun but in this book, I simply found them irritating. There isn’t much work for the readers to do, and every time something new is discovered, we are told in simple plain English. The characters are flat and stereotypical. Worst of all, I managed to guess the murderer, by pure luck, and also because nothing pointed towards her/him, and that’s who it usually is. (kind of SPOILER**** and in far too many mysteries I’ve read, it’s the spouse/romantic partner. too many. SPOILER ENDED**)

I’m not saying the book is bad, all I’m saying is I definitely wouldn’t choose it as the first (or second) Agatha Christie book to recommend. 7.5/10. Enjoyable, but there are better.

Teen SRC 2020- We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars

Having read Genuine Fraud (also by E. Lockhart) I started We Were Liars happily expecting to have my socks knocked off. And it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Welcome to the Sinclair family. Tall, proud, and rich. Golden-haired, freckled, and most importantly: perfect. There are no Sinclair addicts, drop-outs, or failures. And every summer, the prestigious family meets on their very own island. But one summer, when the Liars (Cadence, her cousins, and a family friend named Gat) are fifteen, something goes horribly wrong. Cadence has an accident and now, at seventeen, she’s still suffering from constant migraines and selective amnesia. She doesn’t remember a thing of what happened. But after having skipped summer sixteen to travel Europe with her dad, Cadence finally returns to Beechwood Island, desperate for answers.

We Were Liars was absolutely brilliant. The idea of a perfect and rich family with their own island is fascinating, and E. Lockhart pulled it off impeccably AND realistically. The flashbacks, Cadence’s pain written in fanciful poetry, and yes, even the romance, was enjoyable to read. It beautifully conveyed the reality that no family is perfect, and there is an overall message in the book about dealing with family problems, money, expectations, pain, loss, and guilt…

And then there’s the plot twist. OH BOY, what can I say about the plot twist? My heart skipped a beat and I had to read the page again and again when I got to it. And the best part: it was entirely believable. (I mean, it took some time but I eventually came to terms with it.) Seriously, the plot twist is amazing.

The book isn’t perfect. (Duh, nothing’s perfect. Not even the Sinclairs!) The switching timelines were confusing: I didn’t know half the time when Cadence was talking about summer fifteen or seventeen. It could have been improved with chapter headings or something like ‘before’ and ‘after’. Cadence is okay as a character– not enough personality in my opinion, and not very likable, either. There were also some overdone metaphors that cut the quality of the writing, and and abrupt ending that needed more and slower falling action.

But please, don’t let my harsh criticism put you off. (that’s just me being me, really.) We Were Liars gripped me from the start and I finished the book in hours. I sacrificed sleep for it, and I don’t regret a thing. It’s the best of the best of contemporary suspense novels and I can’t wait to read it again. 9.5/10.

Teen SRC 2020- Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Murder in Mesopotamia

With Agatha Christie, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. So I take the person least likely to have committed the murder and expect them to have done it. But there’s a lot of reverse psychology involved so what if the person that looks good for the crime… actually is the one who did it? Every, every, every single time, the Queen of Mystery makes a fool out of me, and it leaves me in complete and utter awe.

There are some good Agatha Christie books and some GREAT ones. Murder in Mesopotamia, for me, is amongst the GREAT. So without further ado:

Nurse Leatheran, a bright young woman, has been hired by archaelogist Dr. Leidner to look after his wife. Mrs. Leidner has been having ‘fancies.’ But the truth of it is, she’s downright terrified “I fear someone is going to kill me,” she confesses to the nurse (who is our narrator) later on. There have been threatening letters from her late husband, who might in fact not be so dead, strange faces in the window, and odd scratching at the walls. The Nurse dismisses these sightings as paranoia (the letters are written in her own hand!) but then Mrs. Leidner is murdered. Is her ex-husband alive and did he kill her, or is it someone closer, someone from her own household?

With the help of Nurse Leatheran, Hercule Poirot sets himself the task of unmasking the killer… before they strike again.

I give this book a 9/10. It was the most enjoyable read but there were a couple of lines here and there that irritated me. For example, general stereotypes about what women are like, and about what men want. Perhaps more specific to this book: the description of Arabs. All the so-called foreigners (why in the world they are called foreigners when the story is set in Iraq, I have no clue) are all background characters, and the cultural landscape is used only as a backdrop, with no real significance. The ending of the book does, however, patch up some prejudiced opinions of the narrator, and there is nothing in the book I found unforgivable.

Teen SRC 2020- Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay

Kiera Johnson leads a double life. Being one of the few Black girls at her school, she behaves the way she needs to: smart, helpful, and unproblematic. Even Kiera’s family and her boyfriend, Malcolm, expect her to act a certain way. The only time Kiera is truly herself is when she’s Emerald, the queen in a virtual reality game called Slay. Keira made Slay to celebrate Black excellence, and her multitude of players come from across the globe. Of course, no one in Kiera’s real life knows she made the game, or even that she plays it.

But when a Black boy is murdered for game money, for SLAY money, Kiera’s two very separate lives come crashing together. Kiera is filled with guilt for having created a game that took a boy’s life, but she doesn’t have time to grieve. Media outlets, and the internet has pounced on the game, on HER game, calling it racist and exclusionary. Everyone now has an opinion on SLAY, but Kiera doesn’t know what to do. Not saying anything, she might become complacent to the injustice, but speaking up could risk exposing her identity. Worst of all, Kiera now risks losing SLAY to Dred Scott, a racist troll. Emerald would fight for justice, Kiera knows. Emerald wouldn’t bow down to anyone. But will Kiera?

Slay is an absolute masterpiece. I have to admit to having an aversion to video-game related books, but Slay has dispelled that notion. The world-building in this book is amazing, the details exquisite, and I wished I could see a game like SLAY in real life. Kiera is a well-developed character, but some of the side characters are more likable, at least to me. We are also told how SLAY has impacted people’s lives by having a few chapters told in another perspective, a technique I will always love.

Slay by Brittney Morris gets 9/10. The ending was a bit too unrealistic for my taste, and there were some unnecessary scenes. (and i’m sorry, but the cover!! A portrait cover, *sigh*, and far too much pink, which doesn’t match with the story’s vibe.)

Overall, Slay opens up many important discussions about safe spaces for minorities, identity, and what Black excellence looks like at an individual level. That might sound preachy or way too serious, but I promise you, it’s not. The story itself is captivating and there is a mystery aspect to it as well (yayyy!!). Coming from a minority background myself, Slay feels like a hug after a tiring day, a hug that says “I see you and I feel you.” 100% recommend, whoever you are and whatever you like reading.

Teen SRC 2020- The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager - Philippe, Ben

When I first started reading The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, I didn’t expect much from it. I was wrong. So, so, so wrong. It’s an amazing book but before I start telling you exactly why, let me tell you what it’s about.

Norris Kaplan is a Black kid from Montreal and he is moving to Austin, Texas. Being an only child of divorced parents, living with his dad’s new family is not an option. And Judith (immigrant, professor, all-around cool mom), doesn’t have many options when it comes to a job. So Texas it is. Norris knows he will hate it. If you ignore the fact that it is TEXAS we’re talking about (and the tiny little detail of Norris’s skin colour), there’s the heat, the lack of hockey, and perhaps even more glaring than the Texas sun, his lack of friends.

Norris promises his mom that he will try. And trying means reigning in his sarcastic and often caustic tongue, limiting his thoughts to the pages of his counsellor-given notebook. Enter: Maddie, kind (?) cheerleader, Liam, budding hockey enthusiast (rich, too), Aarti, beautiful and witty photographer (Norris is in love). Even Patrick “Hairy Armpits”, school bully, is given a chance in Norris’s new Texan life.

But then things start to go awry (see: Norris’s inability to keep his mouth shut and general tendency to be a jerk) and soon he has as many enemies as friends. Seems like his sweat glands had the right idea… Texas isn’t the right place for him and might never be.

I know what you’re thinking. This is just another new-kid-finds-his-tribe type of book. And it is, (kind of), but not so cliched. (arrogant Black French Canadian protagonist might have given that away.) There are the usual party scenes, and quirky date scenes, of course, but there are also other more poignant plot lines. Norris’s relationship with his parents, for example, the complexity of which I loved. There’s also discussions about depression, racism, and what it means to be yourself. Best of all, there’s no preachiness in the book, or lines stolen from a therapy/parenting book. The characters feel real, and they act like real, flawed teenagers. The wittiness of the dialogue alone is a feat. Norris’s character development is WONDERFUL and gosh, this book really is a feel-good story that will break your heart and make it whole again.

Alas, I am but a judgemental critic and The Field Guide to the North American Teenager gets a mark shy of a 100: 9/10. Why? The chapter headings (you’ll have to read the book to understand) were off-putting and a hassle. There were also some stereotypes in the book I could have done without (see: Indian girl with strict parents, Black absentee dad) but the plot lines did okay with them in the end.

Overall, this is a book I would recommend to everyone, and if you’re looking for your next read, you’ve just found it. (P.S. Isn’t the cover just GORGEOUS?)

Teen SRC 2020 – The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl

A historical fiction mystery with a witty protagonist not afraid to speak her mind. You can’t go wrong with a book like this, but adding proper POC representation, unconventional family troubles, and career goals is just icing on the cake.

Introducing: Jo Kuan. She lives with her stand-in father, Old Gin, in the basement of a print shop, in 1890’s Atlanta. Having just been fired from a millinery (apparently customers are uncomfortable with her directness. Or maybe it’s her Chinese features. Probably both.) Jo has no choice but to take up position once again as a maid for Caroline Payne, the downright cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the city. If memory serves right, Jo is going to have her work cut out for her, especially now that she’s started anonymously penning the column “Miss Sweetie.” She started the column so that the newspaper shop (also secretly serving as her home) can stay in business.

But as each article starts voicing more and more progressive ideas, the elite of Atlanta pick up pitchforks. How could someone so openly write against segregation, encourage women to ride the bicycle, and–gasp!– promote a future for women that ISN’T marriage? Jo knows that if Miss Sweetie is unmasked as a Chinese commoner, it could mean her life. But having had a taste of the freedom words can give, Jo isn’t ready to give up so easily.

I absolutely adored this book. The summary I (tried to) give above is just a fraction of the plot, all of which is completely riveting. Stacey Lee’s writing style is unique, and honestly, at first, I didn’t know what to think about it. The funny expressions grew on me, though, and I ended up loving her style. Don’t let the cover put you off (the potential wasted on portrait covers is a hill I will die on)– this book is worth a read.

Teen SRC 2020- Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

Dry

Living in a time where dystopian books are common and overdone (the more apocalyptic and doomsday-ish, the better) it’s truly rare to find a book that will leave you with chills running down your spine. Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman does exactly that.

The idea behind this book is also unusual but not entirely unimaginable; what if the taps were to suddenly go dry? What if there was no more running water, and what if everyone around you suddenly became a thirsty water-zombie that would stop at nothing to get a few drops of the stuff? I know what you’re thinking. No running water, the end of the world, and ZOMBIES? Not another apocalypse book!

And while I don’t consider myself an expert on sci-fi or dystopian novels (not really my genre), I think this book did some things differently that changed it from an overused cliche doomsday book to something special.

First: This novel is narrated by a multiple person perspective. The first few characters stuck throughout the story, but others were just here to offer ‘snapshots’. I found it interesting because we didn’t just see what the Tap-Out meant for Alyssa, Kelton and their friends but for a whole host of different people. Living the apocalypse isn’t really fun when you don’t get the whole experience, am I right?

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