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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 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 – Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane is a great novel about Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule’s search for Rachel Solando who went missing from Ashecliffe island’s hospital for the criminally insane . It seems that Solando managed to escape from a locked cell completely undetected by some orderlies playing cards and slipped past two guarded checkpoints. Swimming back to land would be out of the question for anyone other than the best swimmers, which makes her disappearance even more intriguing. While Daniels jumps at the chance to solve this case it seems like there might be an ulterior motive behind his enthusiasm. The island is a very interesting setting, as it contains 3 wards in separate buildings and the ever mysterious lighthouse that is quarantined off by heavily armored guards and an electric fence. Daniel begins to doubt the reality of his choice to come to the island as events occur that suggest his life is in danger. Shutter Island is a great novel that will surely take you on a roller coaster of emotions. With great mystery, and an intense horror movie vibe it is sure to get your adrenaline pumping. I would recommend the novel and rate it 10/10

Teen SRC 2020 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Rowling, J.K.: 8601404281891:  Books - Amazon.ca

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

You’re probably wondering why I’m reviewing Harry Potter all of a sudden… and I can explain.

It took me almost 5 years to become a calm, hidden Harry Potter fan, and in about a month, TikTok has reversed all of that hard work. My entire FYP is Harry Potter edits and thus, I have been re-reading the books, and re-crying about how I’ll never get to go to Hogwarts. But, enough about that, let’s get on with the review.

Summary (Spoiler-Free): After another uneventful summer, Harry Potter has finally returned to Hogwarts for his third year. He has a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher: Professor Lupin, and Hagrid, his friend, has begun teaching Care of Magical Creatures. Oh, and did I mention a vicious Death Eater has escaped from Azkaban? Well, he has, and he goes by the name of Sirius Black.

Every single review I write for the Harry Potter series is going to be biased because I am in love with their world. In. Love. No other words for it. The plot lines are always amazing, full of mystery, suspense, and action. The characters are very well built as well, with Harry being an extremely likeable protagonist, and Ron and Hermione exceptional characters each on their own.

I believe though, that the true magic lies in the emotional aspect of this read. First, J.K. Rowling created a universe so real, so layered and magical and mysterious, that it’s impossible not to get lost in it. And, secondly, the characters are written so realistically that one feels they could very well pop out of the book, flesh and blood. These combine to create a story that leaves the line between fantasy and reality blurred, a feeling that I absolutely love experiencing. In addition to this, reading the series reminds me of my childhood, and I can relate to growing up, right along with the Golden Trio, which adds to the overall nostalgia, and hiraeth.

Hogwarts is my home, and I will laugh, cry, and grieve with Harry Potter, until the end of time.

I think it’s obvious what my rating is, and I’ll leave you with a quote from Dumbledore because although I talk about missing Hogwarts, you must remember that “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” So, go make the most of your life, and live it like you would as the main character of a story.

As well, here are a few songs that I recommend listening to, if you’re missing that magical feeling.

  1. Leaving Hogwarts – John Williams
  2. Welcome Home, Son – Radical Face
  3. Harry’s Wondrous World – John Williams
  4. Dragon Flight – Alexandre Desplat

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 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Rowling, J.K.: 8601418346777 ...

Wow, a double post?! I haven’t done that in a looong time. Anyways, I have been devouring the Harry Potter books for literally the 7th time recently, and I have just finished this one. The ending made me feel a lot of ~emotions~ so I am going to rant about it on here, because it makes me keep my thoughts in order!

To be honest, I expect all of you guys to have read this book already, so I am going to… *gasp*… include spoilers for the first time ever! So, if you have not read up to this book yet, what are you even waiting for????? I would give my soul to live at Hogwarts, you’re missing OUT! Go on, this review isn’t going anywhere… come back when you’re ready!

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Teen SRC 2020 – One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is Lying - McManus, Karen M.

Hiii again! Alright, this week, I’m reviewing One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus, a realistic fiction/murder mystery.

Summary (Spoiler-Free): Five students are in detention together: Bronwyn, the Yale-bound brainiac, Addy, the popular and pretty homecoming queen, Nate, the druggie, who is on probation, Cooper, the star athlete, and Simon, an outcast, who runs Bayview High’s most notorious gossip app. Only, Simon never makes it to the end of detention… he is dead by allergic reaction, but the authorities say it was no accident. Simon died on Monday, when on Tuesday, he was set to expose some dirty secrets about the students he was in detention with, which makes them all suspects in his case.

This story is told through alternating perspectives, and in first-person, which, initially, I found very risky of McManus to use, because this is a mystery, after all, and that could lead to the readers figuring out the culprit very early on. However, I later found out there was reasoning behind this, and it actually tied in very well with the ending. Overall, this book was pretty well written, and it’s hard to figure anything out, because red herrings are ALL over the place, which is good in a mystery. However, I did manage to guess the killer before the ending, even though it was supposed to be a plot twist, so it’s definitely not an Agatha Christie.

I wouldn’t say that there’s anything special about this book?? It was good, and interesting to read, but it didn’t shock me, or make much of a lasting impression. Therefore, it gets a 7.5/10. The extra .5 is for the cover, because it’s a very crisp, yet representative design, which I always appreciate 🙂

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.