Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Mini Reviews: YA Contemporary

The Art of Not BreathingThe Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story of grief, and a family’s inability to deal with it, really drew me in. Elsie’s twin brother drowned five years ago, and she starts free diving because she can remember that day more clearly when she’s holding her breath on the sea floor. There are some really great aspects of this novel – Elsie’s brother Dillon’s eating disorder and the free diving, specifically – that made me want to love The Art of Not Breathing. However, the issues I had with this story were troubling enough to sour the entire reading experience. As our protagonist, I found Elsie annoying at best, insufferable at worst. I wanted to shake her more than I wanted her to succeed. Also, there was a bullying subplot that felt very disconnected from the main story line and therefore came across as forced. Why does your MC HAVE to be bullied? I cannot overstate how much I HATED the love story in this book. Word to the wise: when a college-aged boy shows interest in a 16-year-old girl, he is bad news. Not only was a romantic subplot completely unnecessary in this story about grief, but the direction it took was infuriating: it became an even cheaper plot device. Oh my god now I can’t stop thinking about this shitty male character and insipid MC who allowed it like Jesus Christ. I need to get back on track. Aside from the “love” story and Elsie herself, I did enjoy the part of the story that was actually focused on this family’s collective and individual grief. But the aspects I disliked ruined the rest for me, so I can only rate this as a (generous) 3 stars, even though the parts that were actually about the loss of Elsie’s brother I found to be really captivating.

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Wild SwansWild Swans by Jessica Spotswood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t know what it is with recent YA contemporaries and me, but oh man I am unimpressed. Once again, this book had an intriguing premise that sounded promising: Ivy comes from a long line of brilliant yet seemingly cursed women, and the pressure to develop an outstanding talent of her own is overwhelming. Then, the mother who abandoned her after birth shows up – with the two daughters she’s actually raised, turning Ivy’s life upside down. Dun dun dunnn, exciting drama right? No. Every character in this book was either outright heinous or annoyingly cliché. Seriously, I cannot point to a single character that I genuinely liked. My biggest problem was Ivy’s mother. She is hands-down one of the worst characters I’ve read in recent memory. We never get any real excuse for her actions, which perhaps pisses me off even more. I don’t like to throw this word around lightly, but Ivy’s mother is a straight up bitch. And! She forces everyone to act as if Ivy is her sister, not daughter. SERIOUSLY?! There’s also a romantic subplot that of course becomes a tiresome love triangle between Ivy, her life long best friend, and the tattooed hipster poet. Pass. I could appreciate what Spotswood did by including characters like Ivy’s radical feminist friend and a transgendered child, but in execution it just felt so heavy handed. All of this ranting and I haven’t even commented on the plot or writing…probably because they were both so underwhelming. In terms of a rating, this book fell somewhere between 2 and 2.5 stars.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

ARC Review: The Darkest Corners

Title: The Darkest Corners
Author: Kara Thomas
Publication Date: 4/19/2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House)
Format: eARC*
Goodreads | Book Depository

“For fans of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places and Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars, The Darkest Corners is a psychological thriller about the lies little girls tell, and the deadly truths those lies become.
    There are ghosts around every corner in Fayette, Pennsylvania. Tessa left when she was nine and has been trying ever since not to think about it after what happened there that last summer. Memories of things so dark will burn themselves into your mind if you let them.
    Callie never left. She moved to another house, so she doesn’t have to walk those same halls, but then Callie always was the stronger one. She can handle staring into the faces of her demons—and if she parties hard enough, maybe one day they’ll disappear for good.
    Tessa and Callie have never talked about what they saw that night. After the trial, Callie drifted and Tessa moved, and childhood friends just have a way of losing touch.
    But ever since she left, Tessa has had questions. Things have never quite added up. And now she has to go back to Fayette—to Wyatt Stokes, sitting on death row; to Lori Cawley, Callie’s dead cousin; and to the one other person who may be hiding the truth.
    Only the closer Tessa gets to the truth, the closer she gets to a killer—and this time, it won’t be so easy to run away.”

I’m not a big fan of thrillers – I don’t do scary movies, I’m not the type to watch murder mysteries all day. So I was very hesitant to read The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas. A YA thriller about a girl who returns to her hometown years after her testimony sent a serial killer behind bars, only for the case (and her memories) to be blown open when another girl is killed in the same way.

While I’m not a convert yet, The Darkest Corners was an exceptional first foray into the thriller genre for me. Thomas’ writing kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and for all of the twists and turns in this book, I was riveted. Even the ending of this book, in which Thomas continues to drop huge bombs of knowledge on the reader, was incredible. Just like the end of a Criminal Minds episode, you’re left seeing the connections, but with questions that will keep you up for hours afterward. Wait, I’m already at the end, let’s rewind.

My preference is almost always for books that are character or world driven, instead of plot. Thrillers, and especially The Darkest Corners, are understandably plot driven. This really worked for me within the context of this story, because I found that while I liked Tessa enough as an MC and found her familial relationships and friendships interesting, I did reach a point where solving the mystery became way more important to me than the cast of characters. The characters felt a bit underdeveloped, and I never felt connected to any of them. This is especially true of the secondary characters, who were largely interchangeable and static. I found the cast of characters and their interactions to be the weakest part of the story.

There were lots of red herrings in this story, which I’m sure some people may have issues with, but it honestly didn’t bother me. The murders are the main mystery, so to speak, but they open up so many other unknowns that the last few chapters of the book were one crazy reveal after another. I actually enjoyed this, realizing just messed up the situation was with each subsequent plot twist. It was certainly entertaining. The Darkest Corners also touches on the idea that you never really know what someone is capable of, including the people you think you know best.

After reading The Darkest Corners, I’m definitely intrigued to pick up more thrillers, so any recommendations are appreciated! While I definitely had some issues with this story, The Darkest Corners was a crazy, twisted ride of a thriller that will certainly keep you guessing until the last page.

Rating: 3.5 stars

*I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.