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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.

Teen Book Review- The Cousins by Karen McManus

I’ve read every single one of Karen McManus‘s books, starting with One of Us Is Lying, so when I saw her newest–The Cousins, I knew I had to read it too. (It’s already been established from my other reviews that I like mysteries. 😀 )

Milly, Jonah, and Aubrey are the Story cousins, whose parents, along with uncle Archer, were disinherited by their grandmother, Mildred Story, twenty-four years ago (via a cryptic letter). Milly, Jonah, and Aubrey barely know each other, and have never even met their grandmother but that all changes when a letter from her arrives, requesting their presence back at the family island. Thinking this may be their chance to re-enter the Story will, Milly, Jonah, and Aubrey’s parents all force their children to accept.

But things are not what they seem at the island, and as clues start popping up around them, the cousins try to unbury their family’s dark history.

I had seriously high hopes for this book and I blame it on Agatha Christies’ And Then They Were None and on We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I expected the ‘creepy island where everyone gets murdered one by one’ trope, but McManus played it differently–the island is a tourist spot, crowded with other people. There also isn’t any thriller aspect to the story, which, I admit, disappointed me.

If examined as a mystery, however, it passes the bar. I did not see the end coming, like at all (in a good way), but once they had solved it, I found it a bit…lukewarm. It’s not bad or average, but it won’t knock your socks off, either is what I’m saying.

Something I do always appreciate with all her books, though (and it shone particularly well in this one) is the characters. Even with the multiple perspectives, we are given so much depth that I couldn’t help but falling a little in love with each of them! The side characters, too! Like no spoilers, but there is one side character in particular that was super well-written. In regards to the writing, I found the plot to advance at a very good pace, with a perfect proportion of description and dialogue.

All in all, if you enjoyed any of her other books, you will love this one too. 9/10.

P.S. See? I CAN write a normal sized review. 😀

Teen Book Review- Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen

Dangerous Alliance

TL;DR: 8.5/10. Romance and other relationships lacking, and some irritating tropes. Overall, fantastic historical detail, and good approach to abuse in the Regency period. Recommended for Jane Austen lovers!

Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen is a historical fiction with a dash of mystery which, if you know my favourite genres, is right up my aisle! Of course, the book is a romance too, which is less my thing… but! Jane Austen fans–this one is for you.

Lady Victoria Aston is living the idyllic English country life she always wanted. With her sister married in town, her parents give her mostly free reign of the estate. Best of all, here in the country, she doesn’t need to fit in with society’s rules of how a lady should behave. But one very eventful day later, Vicky’s life has completely changed. Aside from the fact that there might be someone out to harm her, Vicky finds out that sister was living in an abusive relationship. Long story short, Vicky has to marry soon… or she might lose her beloved Oakridge estate to that cad of a brother-in-law. Vicky knows her duty is to enter London’s society season and procure herself a husband, but her heart aches for a romance like found in her beloved Jane Austen stories. Will she find it, and with who? Also, who is behind all the strange incidents popping up around her?

Moving on to my thoughts! The plot is very Austen-like, which I can appreciate is no easy thing to do. The mystery and adventure aspects were my favourite, as well as the historical details. It is SUPER refreshing to see authors get historical things accurate! *swoon* The characters were wonderfully complex, and the different POVs–I’m a sucker for different POVs.

There were a few less wonderful parts, unfortunately. The romance, for one, but that might be my personal bias. I felt the couple well-written on their own, as characters. Together, though, I could barely see the chemistry. The love triangle was irritating, too, and although I rooted for who the author clearly wanted me to root for, I had no particular investment in it. In fact, all the relationships in this book were lacking. The ones I was most disappointed with (aside from the romances) were the sibling relationships. Vicky and Althea did have conversations, but they all lacked substance in my opinion. I also didn’t find the conclusions to either sibling conflicts very satisfying or sufficiently detailed.

The last thing I’m going to criticize is very nit-picky, but if it bothered me this much, it might bother someone else too. This book played the “strong female MC” trope well, but also felt quite sexist in some other aspects. (Bear with me.) Vicky compares herself to other girls, and says that–unlike them–she doesn’t like idle chatter about fashion or whatever. She mentions that many women would be eager to marry a (unnamed for spoiler reasons) man, in a critical way… almost as if she were better than those women because she wouldn’t. In the scenes where we are in Tom’s POV, he mentions SEVERAL times that debutantes are waving their fans and giggling at him, which I found extremely arrogant. We don’t get a broad diversity of main female characters, either. Susie is a ‘Mary Sue’ (stock character with no flaws), and Althea is uncomfortably demure.

Now that I’ve wasted two whole paragraphs on criticisms, let me give you the rating: 8.5/10.

That high, you ask? Well, I have a soft spot for well-written character arcs. The backstories were good, too, and original (for once). The rich historical details, as I mentioned before, gave me life, as did the old English dialogue. Something that I haven’t mentioned, but that I especially loved: how this book touched on marital violence, and abuse. It highlighted the fact that the Regency period wasn’t all balls and gowns, and demonstrated that certain characters’ views and personality were the way they were because of the trauma they faced. I liked how Althea, for example, wasn’t all healed after escaping her abusive household. The fact that she still fears for her safety on the daily, hesitates to talk about it, and fears the divorce won’t go through is realistic.

I recommend Dangerous Alliance for anyone who wants some 19th century drama!

Teen Author Interview: Joelle Anthony (J.M. Kelly)

I recently had the privilege to interview author Joelle Anthony, along with fellow Teen Ambassador Dorothy. Joelle Anthony is a playwright, actress, writing teacher, and author of three novels for teens, Restoring Harmony, The Right & the Real and Speed of Life (published under the pen name J. M. Kelly.) She is currently also an audiobook narrator. We discussed everything from writing advice to the process of audiobook recording, to even our favourite flavours of ice cream! Here are some of my highlights from the interview:

Dorothy: “How do you choose your topics for your books? Is it inspiration, and does it come suddenly, or do you have start with a basic idea?

Joelle: It’s a collection of different small things that all of a sudden come together.  For Speed of life, for example, I used to ride the bus a lot when I lived in the city. I saw these teen mothers with their babies and they got on the bus, and they had these strollers and groceries and they just looked so exhausted. The looked so young, too and I thought… these girls are well past the point of “Oh my God I’m pregnant” and they’ve made the decision that “I’m going to keep my baby” and now they’re living with that. It struck me that nobody ever talks about what it’s like to live with the baby afterwards. There are books about the big decision, there’s the upheavals of family, but nobody ever really gives them their little moment for people understand like OK you’ve made the decision and now you can’t go back on it. I thought, this is what total exhaustion 24-hours-a-day looks like, taking the bus because you haven’t had a chance to go to University, or learn a trade, and buy a car.

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Teen Book Review- I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

I Killed Zoe Spanos

It almost took me longer to write this review than it did to read I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick. Which is less a complaint about my writing speed and more a testament to how awesome this book was–I truly could not put it down. Contemporary YA murder mysteries are an untapped gold mine, and this book proves it.

It’s told in two timelines: Now and Then. In the “Then” timeline, teenager Anna Cicconi travels down from Brooklyn to the rich Long Island neighbourhood called Herron Mills where she has been hired as an ‘au pair’ for the summer. Anna is ready to leave her old life of partying and drinking behind. She can and she will be responsible, even with the expensive booze around her, the mysterious boy living next door, and an increasingly failing memory. But then Anna learns of her resemblance to Zoe Spanos, a local girl that disappeared months ago. The longer she lives in Herron Mills, and the deeper she delves into Zoe’s life, the more Anna is convinced that she is somehow connected to the case.

“Now”: Anna Cicconi is under arrest after confessing to killing Zoe Spanos. But considering Anna was never even supposed to have met Zoe, and that her confession doesn’t completely add up, teenager ‘investigative journalist’ Martina Jenkins/Green decides to get to the bottom of this complicated mystery.

Okay, so. As you can probably tell from the blurb, this book is going to be twisty, and that’s not just an expectation–“I Killed Zoe Spanos” completely delivered. The setting, pace, and writing are all very well-done. I loved how most of the book was status quo prose, with an occasional “podcast” or different perspective chapter . I also appreciated that that even though the timeline could have butchered the suspense aspect completely, it didn’t! We learned little by little about what had actually happened, which is how a mystery should be. The only aspect of the book I would’ve improved on was the romance (ugh, I know). And maybe the resolution could have gone a bit longer… I wanted to see Paisley (the 8-year old Anna was looking after) again!!

All in all, I Killed Zoe Spanos is a welcome relief from my slew of not-quite-for-me book reviews. 10/10

Teen Book Review- Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove - Mahurin, Shelby

TL:DR: 7/10, not my genre. Enjoyed it overall, but won’t be picking up the next one in the series. 14+, mature scenes present.

Before reading Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin, I didn’t believe that a 495 page book could float only on witty dialogue and cliched tropes. I stand corrected.

Premise:

Lou is a witch in hiding. Ever since she fled her coven two years ago, she steals, lies, and tricks others to get by. Which is no easy feat considering that Cesarine is a place where her kind are hunted. If she is ever found out, she will be burned.

Reid is an orphaned witch hunter. The guiding principle of his life is to kill witches. Oh, and follow the Church’s teachings through his father figure, the Archbishop.

Their fates collide when a cruel trick forces them into the holiest of all bonds: matrimony.

Yup. They get married. And normally, I’m a sucker for that ‘fake marriage for convenience’s sake’ trope. But if you’re not going to do it like “My Lady Jane” then honestly, why bother?

Before I get further into my commentary, let me explains why I am reviewing a fantasy book, (and one whose main theme is romance?!) in the first place. This is not my usual kind of book, I admit, but…The cover. HAVE YOU SEEN THE COVER?! *contented sigh* I was also trying to be more open-minded about my preferences, and decided to give Serpent and Dove the benefit of the doubt.

Unfortunately it just proved that the fantasy/romance genre is not for me. Let’s get into why.

From the start, the world building was done poorly. Characters spoke French at odd intervals and Christianity was present throughout (as well as the Bible) but in all other aspects, it was a different world. So why not make up some other religion/language or simply set it in France–why one foot in this world and one in the other? I don’t know, but that irritated me.

The characterization was average, and sadly stereotypical. We have the petite but fiery female MC. She is ‘selfish’ because she puts her life before the lives of others. Noble and muscular male MC. He is judgemental and has some anger issues but is really just a nice guy. Let’s not forget the Black best friend who is beautiful and supportive with no apparent flaws of her own. The Archbishop, regular ‘father-figure’ baddie.

What about the plot? Slightly better. There were some twists and surprises which were pleasant, but did it completely redeem the book? Not for me. The romance was passing, but it felt like a stale version of Nina and Matthias from Six of Crows. Which is not to say the romance was bad, by the way. Just not amazing.

Okay so now we come to the good parts. (yes, there are good parts). The humour. Maybe that’s what’s so attractive about these types of books, they have the ability to be light-hearted. The witty banter, the jokes and heart-felt scenes… even when the plot darkens, the drama of life and death adds feeling to the relationships.

This might sound like a complete plot twist of my own, but I did enjoy reading Serpent and Dove. It was fun and suspenseful but I just didn’t find it a good book in the ways that matter to me. (In addition to the minute scenes/details I found irritating)

Teen Book Review- Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Allegedly - Jackson, Tiffany

TL; DR: This is the first book I am at a loss on how to review. 4 or 9 /10.

So. I don’t know how to start the review for Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson and that’s a first. I usually have a million of things to say (notice the average length of my reviews, hahaha) but for this one, I am still grappling.

Before I go into that, the premise.

Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say. Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home. There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

Just from that you know that this thriller is going to be intense. And it really was.

First of all, why is this a YA novel? The protag is 16 years old but the topics in here are HEAVY and well… don’t open it expecting your typical YA stuff. Although that isn’t exactly fair either, because it does have a bunch of your typical YA stuff.

To give (some) structure to the review, I’ll break it down like this. Characters: 9/10. The arcs are strong, and the main characters are EXTREMELY complex and well-written. The side characters on the other hand are lacking, and stereotypically so. Writing: 7/10 Some lines catch you off-guard with their beauty but the overall style was just average. Romance: 8/10. I am still iffy about the romance, but oh well, it’s YA! Importance/Issues Discussed: 10/10. Now that’s one thing I can’t criticize Allegedly for. It takes the most uncomfortable, least-discussed, nitty gritty of the world and forces you to grapple with it. Just… astounding.

Notice how I didn’t rate the plot. Because the plot is *continuous screaming*. Without any spoilers, this is my plea to authors everywhere: DO NOT INCLUDE A PLOT TWIST IF THE ONLY THING IT’S ADDING TO THE BOOK IS SHOCK VALUE.

The ending felt incomplete and it was a long way for me to go to end up unsatisfied. I can’t give the book an overall rating because it’s either a 4/10 or a 9/10. Take from this review (which ended up being long despite what I said at the beginning, super sorry!) what you will and go forth with indecisiveness on whether to read Allegedly or not. 🙂 You’re welcome.

Teen Book Review – I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak

I Am the Messanger

TL; DR 8.5/10 only because it’s not my style of book (like The Book Thief was), but do give it a read just in case it is yours.

I’ll be honest and say that I only started I Am The Messenger because Markus Zusak is the one that wrote The Book Thief. I wasn’t expecting the books to be completely alike, but considering they have the same author, I did expect some similarity. In that regard, I was disappointed.

I Am The Messenger is very different from The Book Thief. The Book Thief’s beauty is apparent and classy, it’s like a stunning painting on the wall. I Am The Messenger has beauty, too, but it’s inconspicuous and not obvious at all. To continue my metaphor, if the Book Thief is a revered masterpiece, I Am The Messenger is a patch of graffiti, but like… talented graffiti.

Awkward metaphors aside, here’s the disclaimer: DO NOT PICK THIS BOOK UP EXPECTING “THE BOOK THIEF” 2.0

Now that we’ve got that settled… Ed Kennedy is the main character in this book. He is an underage cab driver, hobbyist card player, and completely in love with his best friend Audrey. He lives in a shack (his words, not mine) with the Doorman (foul-smelling but beloved dog). In other words, Ed Kennedy is a deadbeat at the ripe old age of 19.

But then Ed Kennedy stops a robbery. Which isn’t much of a feat, really, since the bank robber was almost as incompetent as Ed himself, but it does end up changing his life. Because that’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.

On the cards, there are simple codes. Sometimes addresses, sometimes the names of movies or places… but the goal is obvious, at times even simple. Ed has to make an impact. Doing good (or bad when needed) Ed becomes the Messenger.

The question remains… who is behind Ed’s mission?.

My review, finally: This book is the kind of good that slaps you in the face five pages from the ending. There are pieces of gold comedy in there– it made me laugh out loud. There are also some very ugly scenes, scenes that are uncomfortable and seem to serve no purpose than making the reader insane. But like I said, it’s really good. (I can think of no other way to describe it, sorry!!) The romance is shockingly well-written, and doesn’t take up too much of the book, which is always a plus. I’d definitely recommend it, but with some pointers: you’ll be confused. You’ll want to stop reading, and send an email to the author involving a lot of question marks. You’ll wonder at the slang. But at the end, if you stick with it, you’ll appreciate it for the gem it is, and the message (pun intended) it carries.

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