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Teen SRC 2021 – #murderfunding by Gretchen McNeil

#MurderFunding - McNeil, Gretchen

A fast-paced creepy book with many gory murders, #murderfunding by Gretchen McNeil makes up for its poor characterization and cheap tropes with action scenes and suspense. 6/10 for incredibly poor representation (POC especially, watch out) and cringe-worthy teenage slang. Seriously, I don’t know how editors approved the “teen” slang in this book–I’d rather hear teenagers speak like any regular adult than speak like they did in this book. “For reals” made an appearance, and an attempt to say that a character was “salty” (see: frustrated, annoyed) resulted in “less salted”. I LAUGHED SO HARD.

Anyway, I didn’t love this book much, but it was fast-paced and emotionally bland enough to get me out of a reading slump, which is great. There was some attempts to be political in this book, but they failed incredibly hard–resulting in an almost conspiracy-like feel. I did enjoy the formatting of discussion forums/articles on the Internet, but once the Russian meddling plot line was added, that began to feel cheap, too.

Overall, if you’re looking for a quick, creepy thriller, this is it. Otherwise, find something else.

P.S. This is the sequel to #murdertrending, which I read but then forgot mostly about. It is possible to read #murderfunding (2nd book) without having read the first (which got better ratings than this one, btw), but there is some confusing vocabulary to get through at the start. My suggestion: pick up #murdertrending first, then this one if you enjoy it. Happy reading!

Teen SRC 2021- Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen

In the book Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen, Ever Wong’s strict parents are sending her to Taiwan for a summer program before the start of college/medical school. Only when she arrives, Ever realizes that the “Loveboat” program is less about reclaiming her roots and more about partying all night–at least according to her classmates it is. As Ever breaks more and more rules set out for her by her parents, the future she doesn’t want looms at the end of summer. Will she deny the expectations of med school and follow her dreams of dancing or is the strength of her immigrant parents’ sacrifice too much to shed?

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t expecting to like this book. To me, it sounded like Ever, a rigid rule-following daughter goes to a fun summer camp, learns the taste of freedom (and goes crazy) which leads to her rejecting her future and her parents. This isn’t exceptionally original or interesting, as far as plots go.

In the end, I was right. I didn’t love this book very much. At Loveboat, Ever gets stuck in a love triangle (sigh). There is some cheating that is disguised as not-cheating, a lot of drama (most of it unnecessary), and girl hate. Like seriously, I do not understand the friendship–if you can call it that–between Sophie and Ever. There were some things that surprised me in a good way, though. The daughter of immigrants and the “your dream not mine” plot line was surprisingly well-written. Ever does not completely discount her parent’s perspective and admits that their sacrifice is not something she can ignore, even if a future of dancing means more to her than anything. For such a shallow novel, these type of discussions were surprisingly nuanced.

Unfortunately, most other discussions were not. Some heavy topics are brought up in the novel, like depression, gender stereotypes, and the stigma of dyslexia, but aren’t fully developed or discussed. Some plot points don’t add up (Sophie spending loads of money but her backstory being the fact that she’s poor, for example). We are introduced to some characters that don’t show up again, such as Meghan. Also I don’t want to spoil anything but the last couple of chapters were SO rushed and most of it didn’t logistically make sense…

Some plot lines show surprising depth and are fun to read but the shallow drama and emotional/romantic manipulation throughout the book makes it a very frustrating read. A fun setting with cultural nuances but flat characters and too much teenage drama. 7/10.

Teen SRC 2021 – They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman

They Wish They Were Us - Goodman, Jessica

Another YA mystery set at a prestigious boarding school! I seem to have a soft spot for those. Anyway, I had high hopes for this book because wow, what a cover. They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman gets a 7/10 because while I enjoyed the setting, and smaller details, the mystery just didn’t deliver.

They Wish They Were Us is about a group of elite students at Blackbrook Prep, called the Players. Being the elite of the elite means good grades, better parties, and the best drama. But it all comes at a cost. No one knows this better than Jill Newman, whose best friend was killed by her boyfriend during Player initiation. That’s all done and dusted, though, because it’s three years later and Jill is going to make the most of her senior year. But then she gets a text message, questioning what happened the day she became a Player… and when Jill looks deeper, she realizes not everything is as it seems.

There is a lot of your typical YA stuff in this book, like partying, pulling pranks and drinking…most of it I don’t enjoy nor find realistic. The only thing I feel this book did better than any other YA mystery is the character relationships which are complex and go deeper than labels. I also liked the premise of a boarding school with its unjust hierarchy system, as well as how Jill’s financial struggles played into the story. Still, like I said before, the mystery was too predictable and got frustrating as the book dragged on.

Overall, I would recommend this book as a contemporary drama/coming of age more so than a mystery. It’s fun, shocking and you’ll enjoy the character relationships in spite of the lukewarm plot. 7/10

Teen SRC 2021 – The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson

I loved the Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson trilogy, so I was very ready to read this spin-off featuring teen-detective Stevie Bell and all her friends. There are very few spoilers for the trilogy in this book so if you want to read this without having read the first three other books first, then please do!

Read the description of the book here.

I really don’t have much to say except that I enjoyed this book tremendously. The mystery was well-written, the character growth was impressive (especially as you don’t expect it after three whole books), and I loved the small town summer camp setting. I didn’t enjoy the romance in the Truly Devious trilogy but in this book we see another side to David, who is the love interest, which is fun. The side characters also each get their own little arc, and I especially loved Nate’s! The last thing I’ll say is that The Box in the Woods also has interesting social commentary sprinkled throughout, so if you like satire and political humour, you’ll enjoy this too.

All in all, a captivating summer mystery with an unexpected ending and lovable characters. 9/10

Teen SRC 2021 – Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali

TL;DR 8/10. Misfit in Love was a beautiful and heart-warming read that touched on unexpectedly deep topics without ever subtracting from the fun of, as Janna puts it, the “big fat Muslim wedding” at the heart of the story.

Misfit in Love is the sequel to Saints and Misfits written by S.K. Ali, but can also be read as a stand alone. The description of the book can be found here.

Okay, I have to admit that I wasn’t super excited by the premise of the love square/triangle thing. As I’m already not a huge romance fan, a book centered around one girl’s search for love with three possible love interests sounds like the last possible thing I’d read. BUT!! S.K. Ali is a Canadian-Muslim author and being as desperate for good Muslim rep as I am, I simply had to give this a chance. Without getting too serious (this is a summer wedding story after all!!) I have to say that I am always personally disappointed with how Muslims are usually portrayed in fiction, whether it be in books or TV. To see a hijab-wearing MC who loves her religion, who isn’t afraid to quote the Qur’an or practice what she believes in, be the main character of her own story is so refreshing and beautiful to me. Too often Muslims are either vilified or victimized in the media, and that can translate into acts of hatred in real life. Still, Misfit in Love is NOT about Islamophobia–the only time Muslims get to have a voice should not be when they have been attacked. Instead, this book is simply about Muslim characters living their lives as they ought to, eating ice cream, preparing for a wedding, and feeling safe (although a little lovelorn). Simply put (as if I haven’t gone on long enough) the representation in this book is so heart-warming and beautifully integrated that it didn’t feel preachy or informational at all, and instead felt as if S.K. Ali had personally written this book to me.

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Teen SRC 2021 – These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is a 1920s retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in Shanghai, China. If that sentence doesn’t already say enough, this book also has a strange (possibly human created) plague, an enemies-to-lovers plot, many heart-breaking betrayals, AND a rich historical setting. The thing that clinched the deal for me, however, was the multiple POV way of writing. We don’t just see Juliette’s story or Roma’s (the star-crossed lovers) but also the story of side characters like Kathleen (Juliette’s cousin) or Benedikt and Marshall Seo (Roma’s cousin and friend respectively).

You can read the description of the book here but I’ll jump straight into my review. At first I was afraid this book was going for too much; gang rivalry, Romeo/Juliet, a mysterious plague that needs to be solved, and the backdrop of 1920s Shanghai with all its political history… not to mention the side characters who also have their own thing going on… But I was wrong. All of this is what made the plot complex and full of twists. The characters are also lovable with each their own rich inner thoughts and lives. As you can maybe tell from this being my third time of bringing it up, the most unique thing about this book, I found, was the setting. For starters, not many YA books being published in English are set in China or include any words in a foreign language. Chloe Gong not only managed to weave in many threads of Chinese culture to her story, but also political plots relating to the time period. As a history student, I found they added a lot to the story and as a reader, I was simply fascinated. On top of that, of course, the gang rivalry atmosphere added a lot of cloak-and-dagger feel to the story, which is something I love.

As usual, I have some criticisms and as usual, they are related to romance and are nit-picky. This may sound like my very own betrayal to this beautifully written book, but I found myself indifferent to Juliette and Roma’s romance side-plot. The backstory and enemies-to-lovers betrayal was written astoundingly well but I didn’t find much banter or friendship between them, which is what I usually look for. (Not to spoil anything, but I did find the type of romance I was looking for within one of the side plots so…it’s not all bad!) 🙂 Aside from that, I found the ending of These Violent Delights horrific (I say this lovingly) and will not rest easy until I have the second book in my hands. All in all, this book has a gorgeous setting, an amazing plot, and lovable characters. The only downside is a less than satisfactory ending. 9/10

TAMBA Author Interview – Joel Sutherland

Image of book page. Click to open preview.

Nicola and I had the pleasure to interview author Joel Sutherland a few weeks back. Mr. Sutherland has written many of the Haunted Canada books, and other horror stories such as Summer’s End. He also told us in his interview about being on Wipeout Canada!

Here are some highlights about his writing process:

What do you think makes a good story? (Follow up: are there some genres you find easier to write than others?)

The most important thing for me is, although I write about monsters, the important thing is to ground the story in reality. I give my characters real-world problems to deal with, in addition to ghosts and monsters. I put a lot of issues in Summer’s End that I also dealt with in high school, for example. I thought back a lot to when I was that age, going through stuff like moving to a new place and wanting to make friends. Essentially, I added storylines to make the story more realistic and believable. I think it’s really important, no matter what genre, to do your world-building but still, ground it in reality. 

Your books fit pretty well into the horror genre, and we were wondering, what authors or books do you draw inspiration from, horror authors or otherwise? 

Stephen King is kind of a given. Also, I’m a big fan of any Canadian horror author, but there aren’t a lot of us, really. We’re all very nice friendly people… Marina Cohen, for example, who’s written The Doll’s Eye. And Adrienne Kress who writes in all kinds of genres… fantasy, contemporary but most recently is writing bendy books for Scholastic that are super creepy. Marty Chan as well, I’m a big fan of. He’s from Calgary, I believe. He just wrote a really creepy book, I believe it’s called Haunted Hospital. He’s a really good writer. Like I said, there aren’t too many of us, some others as well… We’re a small but creepy bunch. 

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Teen Book Review-Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco

Hunting Prince Dracula

*Minor spoilers for Stalking Jack the Ripper (Book #1) present in this review*

10/10. It has been a LONG while since I enjoyed a book so much, and it has nothing to do with the mystery and everything to do with Thomas Cresswell. Okay, and the mystery was good too.

Now before you think I’ve gone crazy, I’ll list some things Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco could have done better. (See? Critique-y Inshal still exists) For example, it was hard to keep track of the many Romanian folktales told throughout the book, especially since Audrey Rose already had background knowledge that I didn’t about Vlad the Impaler. Also, it was annoying how much Audrey Rose got bullied for being a woman…even by the headmaster who literally accepted her application? I understand the historical point the author was trying to achieve, and I am completely behind Audrey Rose’s determination to study medicine despite the bigotry of her classmates BUT almost every other scene was about the same thing, so it got annoying. The last criticism I found in this book is somewhat related to the first… the details of the mystery were too difficult to understand because of info-dumping. I just stopped trying to unravel what was going on.

Okay! So, why did I give it a 10/10? Well, there are many reasons. 1. Audrey Rose’s trauma. There are TOO MANY books where characters go through a life-changing event and live happily ever after when it’s over. But the Ripper case (from book #1) still haunts Audrey Rose, and she is still grieving heavily because of it. We see her try to overcome those emotions that come from working with cadavers again, the same emotions that make her want to push people away. It’s not easy! She gets flashbacks, triggers…Basically, we see her growth from book 1 to book 2 and I was overall very pleased with how that was portrayed.

2. Thomas Cresswell. I know I was very unimpressed with him in my first review, but he has ALSO gone through a lot of character development. And he is so FUNNY, oh my God, but it’s not only him as a character that makes this book so great. His relationship with Audrey Rose (if you can call it that…) also develops a lot in this book. We see how their personalities clash, and how their past traumas/insecurities cause problems for their budding romance. Even better than all of that, we see Thomas and Audrey Rose talk to about what they need from each other(communication, people!), we see them fight, apologize, and try to work things out. Basically, their relationships is one of the best (and healthiest) ones I have ever read.

3. Girl Friendships! I feel like this review is becoming all about characters, but seriously, the characters in this book are A+. This time, we get further insight into Audrey Rose through her friendships with other female characters and it is amazing!!

4. Details of the setting. Now, I know this isn’t plot, or mystery, which are very important elements in this sort of book, but I’ve already talked about that in my critique paragraph. The last thing I feel this book delivered flawlessly was the setting. The way the characters talk, the description of their surroundings, and even the things they eat… I was literally transported to an ancient castle in Romania.

Okay, I’ve gone on long enough. Basically, yes, go read this book!!

Teen Book Review- Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Stalking Jack the Ripper - Maniscalco, Kerri

Dark historical fiction and mystery books are definitely my favourite genre to read, and I was so excited when I found Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco series. Don’t let the horrendous covers fool you! (I was wary at first, too.) But now that I’m two books in—with two more books to go—I’m completely in love with this series! By the way, I won’t be doing a synopsis thing, but you can look for that in the link above.

Now, onto what this book has to offer: When the first scene of a book is that of a Victorian lady cutting up a body in her Uncle’s lab, you know it’s bound to be interesting. I will say, however, that the gruesome details (such as how a liver feels like in one’s hand) can get unappealing… I actually enjoyed them, but included a disclaimer because this kind of thing depends on the reader. The scientific gore (for lack of a better term) isn’t overdone though, and the fact that the main character, Audrey Rose, can do things like autopsies and talk about them reveals stuff about her personality we might not have gotten otherwise. Basically, yes there is blood-related stuff in this book but not too much (for me, at least).

To expand more on my former point, Audrey Rose is a wonderfully written main character. She has her flaws, but is still very lovable and easy to relate to. I adore how scientific minded she is—most books that boast about an intelligent female character don’t actually show that. Another testament to how rounded of a character Audrey Rose is: she is allowed to have emotions. I find too much of the “strong and smart female mc” trope means the character isn’t allowed to feel much and… like what is up with that? A character should be able to feel heavy emotions and sympathy without that detracting from their ability to be professional.

The book was off to a great start…and then we meet Thomas Cresswell. His job as a love interest in the plot is too obvious from the start, and of course he acts mysterious and arrogant, too. I did warm up to him, however, by the end of the book. His dialogue is too funny and witty! (I cannot anymore with charming book characters.)

If it’s not obvious already, I loved this book a lot. I don’t usually do series because they tend to drag on and get complicated, but STJTR immediately made me want to pick up the next book. Spoiler: It was just as, if not more, amazing. (Review on that coming up next!)

There are some minor setbacks, of course, but I wouldn’t discount the whole book based on them. The writing, for example, gets a bit tiresome at points. Audrey Rose describes every step it takes for her to get from one place to another, which is especially annoying when it’s an action-packed scene and I want to get to the next important bit. Also, there were some scenes that repeated incessantly throughout the book, which dragged the plot. For example, if I have to listen to Nathaniel tell Audrey Rose not to worry their father one more time…

Still, the overall setting and plot of this book was great. The mystery aspect was good (although I guessed a little too early for me to be completely impressed). Plus, I fell in love with the characters and how they were written. A solid 9/10 from me.

Teen Book Review- Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea - Sepetys, Ruta

Ruta Sepetys is a tried and true author for me whenever I’m in the mood for some historical fiction, so I was really excited to pick up Salt to the Sea. The story follows four characters: Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred as they race to freedom on the doomed (but they don’t know it) Wilhelm Gustloff. Joana is a nurse with a past that haunts her. Florian is a spy with too many secrets. Emilia is a young girl hollowed by the brutality of war, and Alfred is a cowardly German soldier. Will they survive?

It isn’t much of a secret that the Wilhelm Gustloff is going to sink, so when I first started the book, I expected it to be rather fast-paced. It was not. The characters don’t board the ship until well past the halfway point, which was more frustrating than suspenseful. The other fundamental thing this book didn’t quite accomplish were the characters. I wasn’t expecting this from Sepetys either, because her characters are usually very well-developed (see: Fountains of Silence). But in this one, the four main characters were almost stock character material. For example, we have the dark and handsome brooding spy, the innocent ‘child’ with dreams, and the misguided immoral soldier. The worst character in my opinion, was Joana because she had NO flaws. (And no, being too kind is not a flaw!) I know it seems like I’m contradicting myself, but I did like the characters. They just weren’t well-written and had almost no complexity, but they were very lovable in general. Which sort of redeems them.

Moving on to the pros: Something that the book did irrefutably well was story-telling. The emotions Salt to the Sea brought me were intense, which is exactly as they should be in a good historical fiction. Some scenes are so disturbing I had to put the book down–don’t let the middle grade styling put you off, this book is definitely up there in age suitability.

On a brighter note, though, I appreciated how this book executed the multiple POV style writing. The romantic side plot was also well done (I guess I just like slow-burns). But maybe that is because romance comes easily enough when the characters themselves aren’t complicated. The plot of the book was adequate, but I found the backstories of some (no spoilers but I’m not talking about Emilia, hint hint) characters very shallow and disappointing. The ending absolutely ruined me, but in a good way. I would recommend Salt to the Sea to anyone searching for a simple but emotionally difficult historical fiction with a handsome side of romance. 9/10

P.S. Can I just say I hated all of Alfred’s chapters? Because yeah, I did.