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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 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 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- 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 – Bone Crier’s Moon by Kathryn Purdie

Bone Crier's Moon - Purdie, Kathryn

Bone ​Criers have a sacred job. Them alone can keep the dead from preying the living. But their power to ferry the spirits of the dead into goddess Elara’s Night Heavens or Tyrus’s Underworld comes with a great sacrifice. The gods order a promise of dedication to their duty. And that promise includes the life of the Bone Criers’ one true love. Ailesse has been molded since her first breath to become the matriarch of the Bone Criers. But first she must successfully complete her rite of passage and kill the boy she loves. Bastien’s father was slain by a Bone Crier which he wasn’t supposed to wittiness, and now he seeks revenge. Along with his companions’ whose family has also been taken as sacrifice by Bone Criers. But when he finally kidnapped one, his craving for vengeance will have to wait. Ailesse’s ritual has begun and now their fate has already been tied. Sabine, Ailesse’s best friend, never had the guts to take part of the Bone Crier’s work. But when Ailesse had been caught, Sabine will do whatever it takes to save her, even if it means breaking their traditions or acting against their matriarch just to break the bond between Ailesse and Bastien. And to just make circumstances even worse the matriarch seems to be harboring dark secrets and Sabine only has one year to save Ailesse, or they will all die.

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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.