Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer, #1)The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Oh my goodness.
That was a good time.

I had no idea what to expect going into this. It is a series I hear about all the time. One of those, ‘everyone has read it but me’ series.

For 2019, I created a TBR jar for myself to help me clear off some of my backlist titles and this was the first book I pulled. I knew that I would either love it or hate. Luckily, I truly enjoyed it!

Upon waking up in the hospital, Mara Dyer, has no idea how she got there. In fact, her whole recent memory seems to have been wiped clean. Before long, she discovers that she was involved in some sort of terrible accident that killed her best friend, two other kids and left her in a coma.

Her parents, focused on Mara’s recovery, decide to uproot the family to Florida feeling that it would be harmful for her to continue living in a town where she had suffered such trauma.

Once in Florida, Mara slowly begins to remember bits and pieces of what went down that infamous night. Some of it floods back to her in nightmares and some, more disturbingly, during the day as vivid hallucinations.

Guys, some of this stuff was DARK and it took me completely by surprise. The first big spooky hallucination, I was like, ‘okay, we doing this. I like this!’.

Then, to up my enjoyment levels even more, we meet Noah.
Noah Shaw.
Now, seriously, I am not one to get all swoony, professing love to book boyfriends, but…

I’m swooning. Something about him. His witty banter, his English accent, his clothes, his swagger. Yep. I could read about him all damn day but I digress.

Watching the relationship grow between Mara and Noah was so much fun. She tries to resist his MANY charms but eventually comes to rely on him. He becomes the only person she trusts to help her figure out what is wrong with her.

She hasn’t felt right since the accident and throughout the course of the book the true events of that night are pieced together for the reader. Even at the end, it wasn’t what I expected. I knew it was a paranormal romance but I didn’t know what the ‘paranormal’ elements entailed. I did a good job keeping myself in the dark on that one…

…and I like what is happening with this story. I am definitely planning to continue on. Hoping to read book two this month!

P.S. I love you, Noah. Forever and Always.

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Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

The Lost Girls of ParisThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Vivid.
Inspirational.
Poignant.

I had zero issues with this book.
I was sucked in from the very beginning and that feeling never let up.

Following three perspectives, this historical fiction novel weaves together a beautifully intricate story of women who worked in special ops for the UK during WWII.

Following the development of the SOE’s Women’s Unit, we follow the founder and head of that unit, Eleanor, along with one of the women recruited to go undercover in Paris, Marie Roux.

The third perspective, Grace, is a young woman living in NYC in 1946. After a night she would just as soon forget, Grace discovers an abandoned suitcase in Grand Central Station. Unable to quash her curiosity, she opens the case and discovers photographs of young women. Who are these women? Who does the case belong to? Why was it abandoned here?

Grace begins to investigate the mysterious photographs and discovers so much more than she bargained for.

Loosely based on true events, this story brings history to life. Although this is fiction, it made me think about and appreciate what these women, and others like them, went through and sacrificed (spoiler alert: EVERYTHING) for their country and what they believed was right. Despite the fact that this is a heartbreaking story, it is also an inspirational story and I hope other people draw from it what I did.

Jenoff did such a great job telling this story and I think, again, although the women in this story are fictional, she did a great service to the ACTUAL women of the SOE, and their memory, by bringing their existence into the light. I hope they turn this into a film. I think it could translate to that medium really well and it could help to bring this story to a wider population.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Park Row Books, for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and am absolutely in love with this book. I can’t wait for more readers to get their hands on it so we can discuss!

Prediction: This will win Goodreads Choice Award 2019 for Best Historical Fiction. I know it’s early but it WILL get my vote!

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Review: Hell: The Possession and Exorcism of Cassie Stevens by Tom Lewis

Hell:  The Possession and Exorcism of Cassie StevensHell: The Possession and Exorcism of Cassie Stevens by Tom Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

High schooler, Cassie Stevens, is a bit of a loner. Especially after the death of her father, she struggles to connect with people at school, and even her mother. She begins to hang out with a trio of friends, ‘goth kids’, and they start doing goth type things together.

For example, attending ceremonies worshipping Satan.

The main event Cassie attends, Black Mass, is a drug and alcohol fueled orgy to Satan. Unfortunately, Cassie goes home from the Mass with a lot more than a hangover.

Things get really crazy after a car accident leaves Cassie technically ‘dead’ for a few minutes. After that, her fate seems sealed. She now feels a presence around her; a dark and evil presence lurking just in her periphery. She begins to cause noticeable disturbances while at school and at home.

Cassie needs help and it quickly becomes apparent that main-stream medicine is not going to ‘cure’ what ails her.

You guys, this is a really fun possession story that I have no problems recommending to my horror-loving friends. Was it perfect? No. There were a couple of things that I picked up on that I think could have been improved upon; repetitive phrasing, things of that nature, but overall, this was creepy AF and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

For me, it did offer up a unique take on possession. The way it was described, and viewing it through Cassie’s perspective, made it different from your standard tale where you exclusively follow people on the outside. The non-possessed characters. I liked seeing things from Cassie’s perspective. What it felt like for her. What she saw and how confusing and desperate it was for her.

The story really drew me in as well. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about reading it and therefore got through it rather quickly. Lewis excels at building up suspense and there were parts that definitely got under my skin. I tried not to read it directly before bed without a palate cleansing Contemporary or Fantasy to read for a bit after.

Thank you so much to the author, Tom Lewis, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I always appreciate the opportunity to provide my opinion on a book. I 100% would pick up more books from this author and look forward to doing so!

Original: …”for fans of The Exorcist and Stephen King…”

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Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1)Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m in love with this book.

First of all, that ending. I cannot express how happy I am that I actually put off reading this until now. The 2nd book is about to be released ((TOMORROW)) and I will be picking it up as soon as my preorder arrives.

It was truly devious of Ms. Johnson to leave off on such a cliffhanger!

Ellingham Academy, set in the remote mountains of Vermont is a small, private school for gifted students. Founded by the wealthy industrialist, Albert Ellingham, at the turn of the 20th Century, Ellingham Academy offers up an environment where learning can be fun. Students are allowed to pursue their own individual interests with barely any boundaries.

For Stevie Bell, her number one interest is crime investigation. After she is accepted to Ellingham as a true crime aficionado, she is anxious to solve the Truly Devious cold case. You see, decades before, Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and held for ransom. His wife’s body was eventually found but his daughter, Alice, was never recovered. Soon thereafter, Albert died under mysterious circumstances in a boat explosion.

Adjusting to school life is tough for Stevie. She suffers from an anxiety disorder that makes things a little more challenging for her than it would for a kid who doesn’t have the same issues. I found this very relatable and thought that the rep for this was some of the best I have seen in YA; at least based on my own personal experiences. I truly enjoyed the character of Stevie and am very excited that we are getting more books with her as the main protagonist.

Not only did I relate to Stevie because of her anxiety disorder but I also am most interested in crime and criminal investigation. I know what it is like for people to find that a little odd. Particularly parents. As a child researching and clipping articles on killings, mass murders, cold cases, etc., that can seem a little strange, I suppose. Perhaps that contributed to my love for this book.

I also found the set-up of the Ellingham kidnappings interesting in that in reminded me of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932. The wealthy industrialist. The missing child. The ransom. The notes. There were a lot of similarities and I found it easy to follow along with the intrigue because of that. I am curious if the author was at all inspired by that case. There are other similarities as well but I don’t want to reveal too much.

Overall, I just think this was a perfect book for me. It catered so well to all of my interests. I loved the cast of characters. The writing was fun and engaging and I cannot wait to pick up The Vanishing Staircase!!!!

Original: I preordered The Vanishing Stair months ago. I guess I should actually pick this one up before it arrives…

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Review: Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sawkill GirlsSawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

A girl with incredible strength.
A girl who can vanish.
A girl who burns.


There are always three.

When Marion moves with her older sister and mother to the island of Sawkill Rock, she looks at it as a place for them to recover, to move on. After the death of Marion’s father, her world feels empty, yet she is left to hold the family together, a weighty responsibility.

But once on Sawkill, it doesn’t take Marion long to realize this island isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Something ominous lurks here and it feeds on the blood of young women.

Zoey sees Marion as the opportunity to have a new friend who doesn’t suck. Zoey is also a transplant to the island and with her father being a police officer, she is all too familiar with the little problem of disappearing girls plaguing Sawkill. In fact, she lost her best friend to the monster’s clutches and she has never been satisfied with the community’s response. She befriends Marion and together they begin to work on discovering the secrets of Sawkill. When Marion’s older sister, Charlotte, goes missing as well, things really start to heat up.

Val Mortimer. The Queen Bee. The Regina George of Sawkill Rock. She’s beautiful, she’s popular, she’s rich, she’s possibly evil and she’s got her eyes on Marion.

I went into this book with the mistaken belief that this was YA Contemporary with some Magical Realism elements. WRONG. This book is YA Horror. I was so happy. Dark secrets, urban legends, a monster feeding on the blood of girls, a uncoordinated band of kids coming together to defeat evil, a female / female relationship, humor, mystery, danger – seriously – this book has it all!

The atmosphere of this is dark and full. I was completely drawn into the girl’s lives on the rock. As a person who also lives on a small island, 30-miles out to sea, I can say the ‘island life rep’ was strong.

This would be a great book to pick up in October. I am actually a little sad I didn’t get to it then. My one negative is that I would say it was a little too long. I started getting anxious toward the end and just wanted a conclusion already! I think the same story could have been told, and perhaps better served, if about 50-pages had been shaved off. But that is 100% my opinion and it could be completely wrong. What the heck do I know anyway?

I would recommend this to all my horror-loving friends, or even just friends who like a dark, creepy atmosphere. Definitely worth a read!

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Review: The Lonely Dead by April Henry

The Lonely DeadThe Lonely Dead by April Henry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

On a short-cut home through a local park, 17-y.o. Adele, comes across her estranged friend, Tori, crying and distraught. After talking to her for a while, trying to figure out what is wrong, Adele notices a very important fact about Tori. She’s dead. She’s dead and sitting atop her recently buried remains.

That’s right. Adele sees dead people but not in the way you would think. She only sees them in the location where their remains are. The spirits, if you will, are attached to their earthly remains via a cord of mist that extends from the backs of the their heads. Therefore, they are tethered to that location and do not necessarily bandy about haunting different places.

Adele knows that Tori has been murdered and she needs to report the body to the police. Fearing she will be considered a suspect she makes an anonymous call from a payphone and returns home to her life.

Turns out there are things called security cameras and the cops figure out it was her that made the call. This and the fact that everyone witnessed a big fight between Adele and Tori on the night of her death makes Adele a prime suspect. She therefore realizes she needs to pair with Tori to figure out what happened to her so she can clear herself and bring the real killer to justice.

This book and I did not get along. As you can most likely guess from the tone of above-mentioned gifs.

The synopsis sounded promising. A paranormal mystery and I guess, in a way, that is what it was except it wasn’t super mysterious and the paranormal elements were a bit simplistic. I think maybe this book would work better for a younger age group who is perhaps just getting into paranormal mystery stories, as someone new to the genre wouldn’t have much to compare this too.

This being said, while I think the writing works best for a Tween category, the topics don’t really mesh well with that age group. There is a lot of drinking, binge drinking, talk of binge drinking, sex, party scenes, etc.

So, yeah, maybe not the best thing to buy your 12-year old. Additionally, the overall feel of the book made me uncomfortable. This could completely be me, a personal preference or what have you, decide for yourself but the mental health rep…

I wasn’t crazy about it. Adele has been diagnosed with schizophrenia for which she has been prescribed medication. She takes this medication up until the time our story starts when she admits to secretly stopping and hiding the pills. She goes on to say on numerous occasions how much better her life is now that she is off it even though now she is seeing things again whereas before she wasn’t. The medication had been dulling her gift to see these dead things.

This is a topic returned to over and over again in the book and I’m just not sure if glorifying going off prescribed medications for serious mental health issues in a teen book is a good thing?

Seriously, though, I don’t know. Maybe I was reading into it wrong or I am taking it too literally. I don’t know. I have never suffered from a hallucinatory disorder personally so may not be the best judge on this. Besides this overriding issue, however, I did have a few other problems with it. The ‘mystery’ was pretty apparent from the beginning. The build-up was too long and the conclusion too rushed. There was a lesson in a health class about binge drinking that just got brought up over and over again that was sort of lame. Things got really wacky at the end. Meh. Just not for me.

However, if this synopsis sounds interesting to you, I want you to pick it up. I want to hear what other people think of this and the mental health stuff in particular. I seriously hope my review doesn’t stop anyone from picking this up. For me, it didn’t work, but I am sure some people out there will really enjoy it.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., for providing me with an e-ARC to read and review. I always appreciate the opportunity to provide my opinion.

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Review: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

The Winter PeopleThe Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1908: Sara Harrison Shea’s young daughter has died under tragic circumstances. Wracked with grief, seemingly unable to move forward, what would Sara do to bring her child back to her?

Present Day: Ruthie’s mom has gone missing. One night while Ruthie was out with her boyfriend it seems her mother simply walked out of their house and into the surrounding woods. With no note and no signs of a struggle, Ruthie is forced to care for her odd, little sister whilst investigating what happened to their mother.

What Ruthie doesn’t know is that she is living in the house once occupied by Sara Harrison Shea. When she discovers parts of Sara’s diary in secret hiding places in the old farmhouse, she discovers sometimes the past really can come back to haunt you.

Following both past and present, this haunting tale is filled with an overwhelming feeling of dread. Winter is the absolute perfect time to read this book. When it gets dark early, when it is cold, when the wind blows long and loud into the night. The atmosphere of this story was richly developed and absolutely my favorite part of this story.

I went into this book completely blind, only knowing that quite a few of my book friends have loved this one. I was impressed with McMahon’s writing. She has a very strong horror voice and I definitely look forward to reading more of her works. I actually received a copy of her next book, The Invited, that is being released at the end of April. I feel like with this one now under my belt, I know more what to expect from her, and I’m damned pumped for it.

There were a few issues I had with the story line. Nothing major but just things I wish would have had more information or context. Overall, I really enjoyed this one and would recommend it to anyone who wants to be creeped out for a bit. The use of diary entries was super well done and as always, I felt that made me feel more a ‘part’ of the story; like I was investigating it myself. If you like a ghost/monster story with an overriding, ominous atmosphere, you should definitely check this one out! Backlist BUMP!!

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Review: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Dragon PearlDragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Middle Grade Adventure at its BEST!!!

This rollicking space opera follows 13-y.o., Min, on her quest to find out what happened to her older brother, Jun.

When an investigator shows up at her house, accusing her older brother, Jun, of deserting the Space Forces, Min knows something must be wrong. Jun and Min have dreamed of joining the Forces their whole lives and going on great adventures together. Now that he is in, Min knows that Jun would never disgrace his family by deserting.

Forced to flee her home, Min sets out in search of the truth with the hopes of clearing her brother’s name and bringing him home. Very quickly, Min is forced to rely on her intelligence and quick wit, as she eludes security, works in a gambling den, stows away on a ship, impersonates a Space Forces Cadet and so much more. She discovers her own strength and makes some great new friends along the way.

Min is a really well-rounded, enjoyable character to follow along with. I grew attached to her and loved watching her development over the course of the book. The side-characters, as well, were great. Humorous and likable, they truly added to the story, particularly Sujin and Haneul. It was also great to see a non-binary side character play such an important role in a Middle Grade story.

The ending was fantastic, but really it was fantastic the whole way through. Nice, fast pace, smooth transitions from different scenes and a strong build-up to the end. I think it left off in an excellent spot to continue on with the story. I am definitely hoping for more books in this world and with these characters. It is my understanding that we will be getting more. (fingers crossed)

The bottom line is, I really had a blast (pun intended) reading this book which, to me, is what Middle Grade is all about. It should be a joy to read a Middle Grade adventure book and I was not disappointed with this one. The writing was very, very strong. I was swept up in the world and I thought the sci-fi elements were top-notch; no surprise considering the expertise and experience that Yoon Ha Lee brings to the table.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I truly appreciate the opportunity. I think RRP Imprint is providing a great service to our book community by offering a platform for diverse voices from around the world to share their myth, legends and folklore. I cannot wait to read more of Min in the future!

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Review: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

The Wicker KingThe Wicker King by K. Ancrum
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Original and hard-hitting.

Punch you in the gut and face. Mmmmm. This one, I felt it in my heart, my bones and my head hurt.

August and Jack. This is the story of their relationship but at its heart, it is so much more than that. The overwhelming emotion I had during this story was anger.

I wasn’t angry at August and Jack though, I was angry at the characters we didn’t really know. The absent adults: the parents, the teachers, the counselors. Where were all the people who should have been helping, leading and influencing these boys lives?

Anyone?

The story closely follows August and Jack during the course of their increasingly codependent relationship.

Is that relationship good?
It’s powerful. I wouldn’t call it good.

Is that relationship confusing?
Darn right, it is.

Is that relationship healthy?
Definitely not.

Jack is suffering from hallucinations that are getting worse. He confides in August, his best friend and together they try to navigate this new and disordered world. We get a lot of insight into Jack’s world and it is chaotic and bizarre. It was very sad to me to consider how scary and desperate that must be.

August, who cares not only for himself but his completely useless mother, is used to the role of caregiver and he throws himself into that role in his relationship with Jack. You see, Jack’s parents are also missing in action, ALL THE TIME. Both boys have essentially been abandoned by their parents so it is not surprising that they turn to one another in their darkest hours of need.

While I think it would be easy to focus on the codependency of the boys relationship, I think it is important to see the details of what is going on behind the scene. What propelled the boys into the circumstances we find them in during the course of the book. The absentee adults are the real villains here and I think it is significant to recognize how their choices influence the kids around them.

The story itself, although not literally ‘stream of consciousness’, reminded me a lot of some stream of consciousness works that I have read, in that it was disjointed and muddled. I think that makes sense though as a way to tell this story. The story of Jack and August is disjointed and confusing. They are experiencing their life this way. Why shouldn’t the reader go along for the ride in the same vein?

I also found the format of the book itself, how the pages get increasingly darker the farther you get into the story (Hardcover Edition) contributed to my overall enjoyment while reading. It was a very unique way to experience a story such as this and I really want to applaud whoever was responsible for coming up with that concept. Whether it was the author herself or someone at the publishing house, I found it super effective and impressive.

Overall, I was very moved by this story. It felt so original and like it was an important (I feel like I have been using that word a lot in this review) story to tell. I was hovering somewhere around a 4-to-4.5-star rating throughout the course of the story but after reading the Author’s Note, I had to bump it up to a 5. I will definitely pick up anything else K. Ancrum writes. Very impressive.

Original: I am very excited to be picking up this beautiful book tomorrow as part of the Dragons & Tea Book Club

Anyone else joining in the fun??

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Review: She Lies in Wait (DCI Jonah Sheens #1) by Gytha Lodge

She Lies in Wait (DCI Jonah Sheens, #1)She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1983: Topaz. Coralie. Jojo. Benners. Connor. Brett.

Aurora.

When Aurora Jackson accepts an invitation to go camping with her older sister and her friends, she has no idea it will be her last night on Earth. The younger girl feels shy and out of place as the older kids get to drinking, drugs, dancing and more. The party goes late into the night and everyone basically passes out. In the morning, when they wake, the older kids find nothing of Aurora but her cold sleeping bag.

No trace of her is ever found and suspicions circle the group of friends for the next thirty years.

Present Day: A young girl on a camping trip with her family, stumbles upon the bones of a human hand in a small cavern at the base of a tree. Aurora has been found and so begins the cold case that may finally end up concluding what happened on that ill-fated night in the woods.

The small-town cop in charge of the investigation, DCI Jonah Sheens, knew the kids involved that night. In fact, when it happened, he was just a kid himself, at school with all the rest. Trying to keep his own past to himself, DCI Sheens and a great cast of fellow officers slowly unravel what happened to poor Aurora.

This gripping crime thriller is told in a format of alternating timelines. You get to see what happened on that camping trip in 1983 and the police procedural aspects of the current investigation. I thought the timelines were really well done and the pacing, for me, was perfect. I was so impressed with the fact that this is a debut novel. I hope that Lodge continues on with DCI Sheens character. I enjoyed him and the other officers he had on his team. I would absolutely continue on with this series, no question.

If you like police procedural and split timeline narratives, you should check this one out. Plus, it is always great to support new authors. Thank you so much to the publisher, Random House, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to getting my hands on more Gytha Lodge books in the future!

Trigger Warnings: Rape, sexual assault, drug use and emotional abuse.

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