Posted in bloggers, Books, murder mystery, Reviews, Young Adult

Book Review: Two Can Keep A Secret – Karen McManus

I suck at keeping secrets.

I can count in one hand the number of times that I’ve truly kept a secret, including my own. Its my personal opinion that by its very nature secrets just demand to be told. The act of unburdening yourself to someone else, the knowledge that you are not the only person in the world to hold a particularly juicy or dangerous bit of information…I think it gives you relief like no other.

A secret is not a secret unless its been told after all.

Echo Ridge, the setting of Karen McManus’ new book is a town full of secrets. In 1995, a high school senior disappeared while walking home from the library, and no one has seen a trace of her since.

Then five years ago, a homecoming queen was found murdered underneath the ferris wheel (rollercoaster? I forgot which) of the town’s Halloween park, a place aptly called Murderland (like, who would name their business that?! Isn’t that just asking for trouble?).

And then the murderer claims to be back, and he or she is hoping to once again satisfy what is truly a creepy fetish for homecoming queens (Freud would have a field day with this one). And when a local girl disappears it sends everyone into a frenzy of nerves, anxiety and suspicion. Who can you trust? Is there a connection that ties all three victims together? What the bloody hell is going on?

The latter is something I asked myself throughout the five hours that it took me to finish this book. I love whodunits, especially since I consider myself pretty good at solving who actually done it. I go into my Sherlock Holmes mind palace and I can almost always identify the killer at about three-quarters of the way through any crime book, and I’m almost always right.

But this one stumped me. Just like this year’s Academy Awards, there was no clear-cut suspect. And I suspect that Karen McManus made me like her characters so much that I didn’t want the murderer to be any of them, just like I didn’t want to suspect any of the Bayview Four from  her first book , One of Us Is Lying.

So apart from the fact that I was so invested that I was no longer an unbiased observer, this book was so tightly plotted that the best thing you can do is to stop figuring out what in the world was happening and just go along for the ride. I told myself that, for once, I will allow myself to be surprised when the killer is finally unveiled. And until then I will just enjoy what truly is incredible writing and characterisation.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I love how Karen doesn’t resort to the usual cliches of band nerds and popular girls in this book. I like how she allows her characters to cross the divide of high school society. Sure, you still get the usual chumps who want to maintain the status quo, but its a world where the popular girl has feelings and problems just like anyone else, and she’s able to come down from her pedestal enough to be nice to her geeky stepbrother.

I like how the so-called losers find strength in their loserdom, and that there’s none of the usual aspiring to be in higher social circles trope that is prevalent in most YA novels. I mean, in my opinion,  as long as you have your circle of friends, and you’re having fun, and you love who you are, why in the world would you want to be anything or anyone else? Being a jock or a cheerleader is seriously overrated, and also, its so 90s.

I love how Karen was able to deftly manage all the subplots, and the subplots within the subplots. Even though it felt like she had too many balls in the air at one point, she was able to juggle them all very well. Every element of this story felt important, and made absolute sense especially as the story headed to its inevitable conclusion.

In fact, the only thing that didn’t make as much sense was the actual perpetrator himself or herself (wouldn’t want to give away spoilers!). I feel like that character could have been fleshed out more maybe, so that the big reveal would have been more like an ‘Ah, I see what you did there’ moment rather than “What the fuck? Huh?”.

Of course, this could just be me, and my total ignorance might have been because I wasn’t paying the required amount of attention to enable me to separate the real clues from the red herrings that have been planted throughout the book. But that’s okay, because that gives me a reason to re-read this.

This book is a true embodiment of the word “page-turner”. You will be hooked. You will be invested. You will end up reading it into the wee hours of the morning even though you know you have work the next day. Fans of Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars will be delighted by the similarities, although this actually felt to me more like a throwback to Carolina Moon by the great Nora Roberts, another fantastic novel that you should check out after reading this one.

Well done, Karen McManus. I salute your sophomore outing and I really hope you hurry up and write another book soon so that I can allow you once again to just take my money. I just want my book!

4 out of 5 stars!

Posted in Books, LGBT, Paranormal, Reviews, romance, Young Adult

Book Review: The Dark Artifices Trilogy – Cassandra Clare

All the potential in the world will not amount to anything if there’s a flaw in the execution.

It pains me to say it, because I am a huge fan of the ShadowWorld and all things connected to it, but this trilogy did not quite live up to my expectations.

Maybe that’s my fault. I’ve been looking forward to Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs‘ story ever since they were introduced in The Mortal Instruments series.

I’ve wondered for so long about the secret behind the parabatai bond and why those who have undergone the ritual were forbidden to fall in love, which is the basic premise of this trilogy.

But while the relationship between these two was explored and discussed ad infinitum, I feel like Cassandra literally lost the plot about halfway through the second book.

I feel like she lost sight of why she was writing this book in the first place and the series took on a life of its own.

And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and while I did love discovering the world of the Faerie and the existence of other dimensions, the overall plot got too cluttered in the end.

That’s not to say that this series was bad.

I think the problem was that she tried too hard to please fans both new and old. There was a massive inclusion of characters from previous books, and I get that she was trying to tie all her past series in some way, but it all just got a little bit much.

The first book started out okay, I thought the main plot of that was interesting and really rich in Shadowhunter history. But then it all slightly veered from the road that I thought it was going to go and it never quite totally got back on track.

There was a little too much focus on the romantic elements, especially in the latter half of the second and most of the third book. Even in the midst of the apocalypse, people still found the time to worry about their love life. Go figure.

So the book wasn’t brilliant, but there were elements of it that were beautifully crafted.

I like how Cassandra Clare continues to preach the importance of inclusion and acceptance in her books. The tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders could almost be a parallel for the current state of the world, prejudice and all.

I love how there’s no shortage of diverse couples in this book. For Cassandra, love is love is love is love. She’s always been a big supporter of the LGBT community and that shines through in her book.

FURTHERMORE, there’s an added element in this book that I thought was absolutely RISQUE for what is essentially still a YA book. I wasn’t sure whether it was entirely appropriate but I have never advocated author censorship, and that part was so beautifully done that I think it might actually end up sending the right message to teens.

Intrigued? Read the book to find out more.

The characters were well-developed. I love the tight-knit relationship of the Blackthorn family and how their love for each other evolved over time as a result of trials and heartbreaking loss.

I like how this series showed that the world is not black and white, and that no one is all good and all bad. I love how it showed that, despite all the evil in the world, everyone is still capable of doing good things in the name of love and family.

I understand that this review is probably not that coherent. To be honest, I’ve yet to decide whether I loved it, liked it or regretted it. And may I just say that the books were a whopper? The last one was nearly as thick as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix!

This series is a far cry from The Infernal Devices trilogy, which will remain forever my favourite, but ultimately, and I’ve literally just decided this, its still a good series. And I look forward to the next one, and the continuation of the Blackthorn saga.

Rating: Solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Posted in Books, murder mystery, relationships, Young Adult

Book Review: One of Us Is Lying – Karen McManus

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I freaking love being right!

So I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a while now and I bought it because its meant to be like a retelling of one of my favourite films in the world: The Breakfast Club.

But apart from the fact that five people who could not be any more different from each other, and who come from different high school cliques, suddenly find themselves in detention one afternoon, this book is NOTHING like that touchy-feely, feel-good 80s classic. Because five people go into detention and only four people make it out alive.

No one’s dancing on the library steps in this movie. Except for me, because I freaking solved this mystery halfway through the book. I dismissed it at first because it seemed far-fetched, and things kept cropping up that made me think another person did it, so I got a little bit sidetracked and confused. So when I got to the inevitable twist and the big ending, and it turned out I was right on so many levels? HAPPY DANCE.

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I am very selective about the YA books I read because I find that the older I get, the less patience I have for the unnecessary, pointless and ridiculous teenage angst that seems to make its way into a lot of these books. The cliches really push my buttons, and I feel like some of these books don’t give teenagers the credit they deserve.

This book sets itself apart from the rest by tempering the adolescent drama with humour, wit and most of all, intelligence. The main characters were really likeable. It heightens the sense of dread you feel when you’re reading the book because you really couldn’t imagine any one of the Bayview Four killing their classmate. I really felt like my heart would break if it turned out one of them did it.

I wanted to flip through the ending just to put myself out of my misery, but I resisted. 

This isn’t a lighthearted book, my friends. It has murder in it, but more than that it exposes all the ways that people can be so thoughtless of how they treat other people, and the devastating consequences that follow. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: teenagers are some of the most cruel group of people in the world, and high school can be a very dangerous place.

Think about it. An entire population of hormonal, confused and angst-ridden kids all gathered in one place? Its a disaster waiting to happen. Who ever thought that this was a great idea? I’ve lived through high school, and while I made it through unscathed, you could not pay me enough to go back there again.

I guess, apart from the incredibly riveting murder-mystery that is the central plot of this book, this is also a social commentary of what happens when we insist on using labels to identify people: the jock, the brain, the princess, the rebel and the outcast. Why does it have to be so definite and one-dimensional?

Why can’t the princess be smart? Why can’t the jock be rebellious? I think that human beings are capable of having so many different facets to their personality and doing so many things at one time, that putting them in the tight confines of a box that’s labelled with just one thing is the real crime.

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Social media just adds fuel to the fire too. I mean, back in MY day (God, I feel so old), you only have to worry about people whispering about you in the hallways of school. Now, any thing you do could be all over the internet in an instant, with one click of a Submit button. And it will be there for the world to see.

Sometimes I think technology, and certainly Facebook, has made a profit off making our lives miserable. And yet there we are, most hours of the day, logged on and being willing slaves to Mark Zuckerberg’s invention.

Anyway, the book does end on a positive and redemptive note. It was a very satisfying read for me even though I figured out most of the plot twists. It was good writing and good storytelling, and this isn’t a book that I will forget any time soon. Well done, Karen McManus.

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Posted in Books, Politics, Reviews, Self-Discovery, Young Adult

Book Review: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

I once had a friend who called me out for posting a flippant comment on Facebook about a social issue that was being raised 2-3 years ago.

At the time I think I told her to mind her own damn business. I didn’t think it was wrong of me to try and focus on the good things, and to try to make light of the situation, because there’s nothing I can do to change the bad things anyway.

To this day I still remember her answer to that, which was to say that that was completely the wrong attitude to take. She said that as someone who’s met, been and stayed in contact with so many young people (I was a teacher in the Philippines) and who’s so active on social media, I have a responsibility.

I have a responsibility to raise awareness about important issues, and to encourage people to think about things like equality and justice. I have a voice, and the ability to influence opinions through my words. I should use it for more than just making witty comments.

I’d like to take this opportunity to tell my friend Jerah that after reading this book I finally understand why she was so upset with me, and I’m sorry that I didn’t get it at the time. I get it now.

To make light of something is to diminish its importance, and its important that people raise social awareness in any way they can. The people who have been victims of hate crimes are not laughing at my witticisms because they’re too busy fighting for their lives.

That’s why books like these are so important. They give a voice to the people who don’t often have the courage to speak up for themselves. Through Starr, an ordinary teenager who proves that she’s capable of extraordinary things, Angie Thomas sends out a powerful message: that every one and every life matters.

Starr is a very strong heroine. Having been a witness to not one but two of her friends’ brutal murders she’s understandably scared, but she finds a way to turn that fear into strength, making her a worthy role model for teenagers everywhere.

It helps that she’s also so damn relatable, and that her family – even in the midst of all the violence – is able to retain a sense of normalcy for Starr and her siblings. They stick together and they protect each other even when they disagree with each other’s opinion. Or even if they’re fighting over whether Lebron James is or is not a complete and utter fraud (I personally am not a fan. Laker girl all the way!).

This book offers a social commentary on equality, diversity, the justice system and police brutality. However, its the way it portrays racism in ALL FORMS that really got me.

Its not just the blatant and overt things like treating someone differently because they’re black or Asian or any other minority. Sometimes the small snide comments, (often meant to be humorous) comments that show a lack of understanding about other people’s culture or beliefs, that hurt even more than any form of outright racism.

This book made me think about the many ways I may have disrespected people who come from a different background just by throwing out a careless comment or two, and how I really have to be more careful about drawing the line between banter and just plain being rude.

I am not the most socially aware person in the world. I tend not to read the news anymore because it just depresses me. I do, however, read books. Like, a lot. So it helps when they publish books like these because it gets people to stand up and take notice of the things that are happening in front of our very noses.

Kudos to the author for not mincing words even though she knows her main demographic will be young impressionable teenagers. In fact I think the point IS to reach as many young people as she can. This, THIS is the kind of books that they should be reading, not books about sparkly vampires.

The Hate U Give is not a book that will give you a lot of closure. Even towards the end there is a sense that there is still so much more to be done, so many more battles to fight before the war against racism can be won. If you’re expecting a happy ending all tied up in a neat bow I suggest you move on to the romance section of your local bookstore.

But if you want a book that will inspire you and make you think, feel and HOPE, this is the book for you. Absolutely brilliant.

4 stars!

Posted in Books, Dystopia, Fantasy, Reviews, Young Adult

Book Review: Ready Player One

So, there are three things you should know about me:

One. I have always loved quests. It doesn’t matter if it involves treasure hunts or a race to a predetermined finish line, if it involves jumping through hoops and solving riddles in the process, I am all for it.

When I was a young and idealistic clinical instructor, I used to organise an Amazing Race Velez College Edition for my nursing students at the end of each placement as a fun way of testing their knowledge and skill as well as, you know, using my powers to get them to do silly stuff like put their faces on a bowl of flour to find the clue hidden underneath. It was awesome.

Two. I love the 80s. I mean, I was only alive for three years of it but my dad and uncles were all 80s aficionados. The three of them had a combined and impressive collection of CDs of artists from the 80s and DVDs of films from that decade. My favourite uncle especially was really into 80s new wave so from the age of 8 and beyond, I had Billy Joel singing Uptown Girl and Kate Bush longing for Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights‘ as the soundtrack of my childhood.

Three. I am a big geek. There is no way anyone who knows me will fail to realise this. I did well in school, I was into books and music and film and I cannot play a sport to save my life (unless Scrabble counts as a sport).

Growing up this gave me a lot of insecurities and for a long time I probably pretended to be a lot cooler than I was, but I’ve reached the age where all you can really do is just be yourself and realise that who you are is awesome simply because ITS YOU.

This is what this book celebrates I guess: quests, the 80s and geekdom. Honestly, this book is like manna from heaven for every geek and gamer out there (of which there are many I’m sure). The number of pop culture references that Wade and company used to solve the quest, get to Halliday’s egg and save the world in the process is so ubiquitous it nearly made my head spin.

I have to admit I did not get most of them, especially the ones relating to video games. But there’s plenty of things that I did get: John Hughes films, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, to name a few. I also loved the Marty McFly reference because the Back To The Future trilogy are among my favourite films of all time.

I know that just like any book that’s reached a certain level of popularity, this one is already getting a lot of backlash and criticism from people who think the references are self-serving, self-referential and complete and utter nonsense. To that I say:

I really don’t get why people feel the need to take a book so personally. I’ve given negative reviews about a book before but I’d like to think I’ve always had something positive to say about it rather than just tearing it to shreds. As someone who aspires to be a writer someday, I appreciate how hard it is to string together a coherent paragraph that will somehow convey the stories that are in your mind, let alone have the commitment to actually get it published.

I think the premise and the plot of this book is stronger than it gets credit for. I loved the more sinister undertones lurking behind the exhilarating quest and the subtle message of the dangers of OASIS, the super-immersive virtual reality program that has enthralled the masses in this dystopian future. It also amazes me that for a book that celebrates all things techie and geeky, it still somehow manages to convey a very human story of acceptance,friendship and love.

Okay so its not without its faults, but overall I find the writing to be so superb that it had me in its hooks even though I have no idea how to tell the difference between an Atari and a Nintendo PS, and though I’ve never played a game of PacMan in my life. The narrative moves forward in an exciting pace and ultimately ends in a triumph that leaves me wanting to do this:

I can’t wait to watch the Steven Spielberg-directed film adaptation and watch as Steven Spielberg pays homage to 80s pop culture and, well, Steven Spielberg.

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Okay, so that is probably a little too self-congratulatory for my taste but you can’t blame the guy for having had such a heavy influence on most of the films released during that period. He IS one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Let’s not hold that against him and this book.

If you haven’t got a copy already, go buy this book. Solid 4 stars!

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance, Young Adult

Book Review – Turtles All The Way Down

So there’s this saying about books that we’ve all heard that says we’re not to judge it by its cover. Yes, I get that its not meant to be taken literally, as in we’re not really talking about books when we spout that overused statement. But because I’m actually reviewing a book and finding myself unusually unsure about where to start, I’ll start with that. We don’t judge a book by its cover; we judge a book based on how much it makes us think and how it makes us feel.

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John Green’s latest offering has me baffled, to be honest. On one hand, there are bits about it that I really really like and which I’ll get to later. On the other hand, a part of me found it really difficult to get through the book especially towards the end when things start to spiral out of control for our main character.

Aza Holmes is a teenager who is trying, really trying, to co-exist with the thoughts that live in her head. She tries to lead a normal life with her fearless best friend Daisy and even finds the time to dabble in a little mystery: the mystery of where billionaire Russell Pickett has hidden himself to avoid getting arrested for corruption. She also makes a connection with said billionaire’s son, Davis, whom she met at “sad camp” years ago and this connection slowly leads to – what else – the sweet sweet bloom of first love.

First of all, I think John Green did a really good job of not just describing what mental illness feels like but really getting the readers as close to the real experience as one can get while reading a fictional novel. The scenes where Aza becomes a helpless victim to her thoughts, to the point where she can’t even kiss a guy she likes without freaking out, were really painful for me to read. In that moment, I was as fully invested as Aza to the outcome of that situation and that speaks to John Green’s talent as an author.

I mentioned that I found it difficult to get through the book. I think what I meant to say is that it hit a little too close to home. Aza gets anxious about her health, specifically about getting an infection. I’ve already admitted in a previous post that I’ve always been a little bit of a hypochondriac. At one point in my life, I was so convinced that I had brain tumour because I found a lump at the back of my head. I remember crying in the dark in my room, crying in church and thinking about all the things that I will never get to do because I was going to die of brain tumour. I think I must have been about 12 or 13.

After a week, I managed to rid myself of these irrational thoughts and correctly concluded that I did not have brain tumour. Studying Nursing made my anxiety about my health both better and worse. Better because I can usually reason myself out of my worries by reciting the signs and symptoms of my imagined illness – signs and symptoms that I didn’t have – and worse because whenever I do have symptoms, my brain goes to the worst possible scenario there is.

I can usually laugh it off and make a joke about it. But reading this book makes me realise that its not a laughing matter when these thoughts start to take over your life; when you can’t even kiss a guy without worrying that his microbes will forever be a part of you; when you actually ingest a dangerous substance just to make yourself clean; and when you find yourself pleading for someone to just take you out of yourself so that you can stop having these thoughts. Yes, in some respects this book is really really dark.

The moments of levity come from Aza’s friendship with Daisy and of course, the romantic connection with David. I think that the friendship between the two girls is one of the strongest points of the novel. In fact, the novel can be mostly summed up by this line that Daisy tells Aza:

You know I love you right? My whole life I thought I was the star of an overly earnest romance movie, and it turns out I was in a goddamned buddy comedy all along.

The friendship takes a little bit of a back burner to the romance but I’m glad that it was made clear towards the end that it was one of the constants that helps Aza get through life.

And what about the romance you ask? Come on, this is John Green. You can bet your ass that there will be instagrammable and quotable quotes that the more emo half of the population will just devour. There is also the ever-present, ever-so-deep (and slightly pretentious) existential conversations that makes me ask whether teenagers really talk that way these days.

However, I think John Green made the right call by not making this seem like another book where love cures all but rather, the romance almost seems like a bittersweet postscript, a small but significant ode to the magic of first love:

You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.

If I could make a small criticism, I thought that bit with the mysterious disappearance of the billionaire was not only irrelevant and useless, it was also weird. Honestly, it did not add to the story except as a plot device for the MCs to re-connect with each other again. And also, who leaves all their money when they die to their pet lizard? It was just ridiculous and the reason why I only gave this book 3-stars on Goodreads. Apart from that, really good book for both fans of the YA genre and just readers in general.

 

 

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance, Young Adult

Book Review: The Raven Boys Series – Maggie Stiefvater

Sometimes, you come across a book series that defies categories and genres, and is such a mishmash of storylines and plots, that you find yourself scratching your head and asking: WHAT THE HELL AM I READING?!

 

 

This is exactly the kind of reaction this book series evoked in me. There are four books in this series, and usually I expect to be confused and muddled for the first two books when the author is laying all the groundwork for the reveals, plot twists and payoffs that are sure to occur in the last book. HOWEVER. When you’re already reading the last book and you’re still not quite sure what it is you’re reading and what the point of the story is, I think that’s a different story altogether.

 

 

Every year on St Mark’s Eve, Blue Sargent stands guard with her psychic mum as a group of soon-to-be dead people walk along the “corpse road”. She herself has never seen them until this year, when one of them sees and speaks directly to her. Her clairvoyant aunt told her that there is only one reason for the dead to speak directly to a non-seer: either Blue is this person’s true love or she killed him herself. Now this is relevant because all her life, Blue has been told that if she kisses her true love, he will die (how tragic!). She doesn’t know who this guy is, all she has is a whisper of a name: Gansey.

 

 

Gansey (Richard Campbell Gansey III, to be more exact) is no stranger to dying. In fact, he’d already died once before after being stung by a hornet and he was brought back to life by the power of the “ley line”, which I imagine to be some kind of psychic force field. As he laid there dying, a voice whispered in his ear that he will be brought back to life because at that very same moment, someone else died on the ley line when they weren’t supposed to. This second shot at life led to an obsession over all things related to the ley line, specifically the quest to find ‘The Raven King”, whom legend supposes to be buried in the heart of this line. Legend also has it that whoever finds this tomb will be granted one favour by The Raven King.

 

 

Through a series of chance and twists of fate, Blue finds herself increasingly involved with Gansey and the rest of the Raven Boys: Adam, the poor scholar who struggles with jealousy, pride and the need to make it in the world in his own terms and without receiving any hand-outs from his rich friends; Ronan, a troubled kid who found his father bludgeoned to death and who plays a more central role to this story than I initially thought; and Noah, who’s just…always there…until he isn’t. In this already complicated mix of characters we add Blue’s family: her psychic Mom and her psychic friends who all live in 300 Fox Way.

 

 

I’m telling you, there are a lot of things that go down in this series. There’s the mysterious power of dreams; a subplot that to me is a metaphoric plea to save the environment; demonic activity; death and resurrection; romance. It is FULL ON. In the hands of any other author, I think this book would have been rubbish. However, Maggie’s prose is so extremely readable that I found myself just going along with it no matter how confused I became. I’ve taken some memorable quotes from Pinterest and included them in this blog post (all credits to the original users who posted them, none of these are mine!).

 

 

 

I enjoyed the story and I enjoyed the character developments. I enjoyed reading the strength of the friendship among the four Raven Boys, the kind that won’t let you go into the dark alone, and the kind that will save you even if what you need saving from is yourself. I loved that Blue is a sensible heroine and that I didn’t feel the need to smack her, and I love that the romance developed gradually and didn’t feel forced or rushed in any way. I also loved that the romance aspect never overshadowed the supernatural element of the story. There was also a surprising twist -and additional romantic entanglement – that I would not have seen coming but was unfortunately spoiled for me because I read the bloody Goodreads reviews (%#£!!!!) but which I think readers will enjoy.

 

 

Does Gansey die? Is he Blue’s true love? Will she ever get to kiss anyone? Does this ragtag group of misfits ever find The Raven King? All those questions will be answered after a lot of talking and reading and posturing. I warn readers that I am of the opinion that I finished this series only out of sheer curiosity and stubbornness, and that some readers may find it tedious and pointless (adjectives that I used at some point while reading the books). Nevertheless, YA fans may still want to check it out. I also just have to point out that the cover art is incredibly beautiful.

 

 

If you agree or disagree with the review, feel free to leave comments below. I would love to know what everyone else thought about this series!