LGBT, Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: Ace of Spades: by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Publish Date: June 1st, 2021
Number of Pages: 432 Pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Genre(s): YA Contemporary Fiction, Mystery, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 2.5 Stars

I hate how they have the power to kill my future, kill me. They treat my Black skin like a gun or a grenade or a knife that is dangerous and lethal, when really it’s them. The guys at the top powering everything.

– Faridah Àbíké-Íyídé, “Ace of Spades”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Gossip Girl meets Get Out in Ace of Spades, a YA contemporary thriller by debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé about two students, Devon & Chiamaka, and their struggles against an anonymous bully.

When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

With heart-pounding suspense and relevant social commentary comes a high-octane thriller from debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.

~~~

Ace of Spades is a whirlwind of a story once you really get into the thick of things…it’s about two black students who are being targeted by an anonymous online presence who goes by the name “Aces” at a prestigious private school. They have no idea why this faceless enemy is targeting them specifically, but what they do know is that they know all their dirty secrets and aren’t afraid to put it all out there for the world to see, thus putting their futures in grave danger…

This book has gotten a lot of praise and exposure on bookstagram and all over social media ever since it came out over the summer of 2021, and I’ll admit that the comparison of “Get Out” meets “Gossip Girl” really had me interested to see what the hype is all about. Plus, I’m a strong advocator for how representation matters and wanting to hear different voices in books and expanding my perspective of other people’s lives that are different than my own. I am a white CIS male, and while I know I will never fully understand the struggles of being black in America, especially a black queer male, but I can honestly say I felt like this book gave me a good idea! The social issues that are explored in this story are a definite highlight that a lot of us can definitely relate to in some way, shape, or form and the characters feel much more fleshed out and dynamic as more is revealed to their character and personal sense of morality.

While the initial set up and beginning of the book were good enough to draw you in, I felt the midpoint really dropped the ball and really slowed down for me…I mean, I really struggled to stay interested through a good chunk of it and even considered putting this book on my DNF stack on several occasions. Heck, I even tried bribing some of my coworkers at the bookstore to read it for me and just spoil it all for me! Not exactly a good thing for any book, lesbehonest…however, my curiosity to find out who was behind it all was what kept me going to be able to finish the story. It obviously won out in the end, and I can’t say it disappointed me either!

While the midpoint was slow, once I got to page 200 I think, that was when the mystery really began to get juicier and it was a much faster and engaging book. The whole situation begins to be revealed as something much bigger and sinister than anyone could imagine, and even I found myself with freakin’ chills running up my arms when certain things happen to the characters, like with certain students or even faculty members. I found the ending to be very satisfactory even if it also felt a little rushed, but I also think that’s okay because by then the authors message and lesson for the reader is loud and clear about issues like systematic racism, classism, and even the struggles of being a POC LGBT+ youth in America today.

Like I said, when you get further into the book where the plot becomes more significant and characterization moves to the passenger seat; sex, lies, murder, secrets, white supremacy, and the ongoing battle of taking down racism make this quite a wicked ride of a story that somehow even has some heartwarming softer moments of both family, friendship, and love that make this even a more well rounded story!

~~~

All you need to know is… I’m here to divide and conquer. Like all great tyrants do.”

– Faridah Àbíké-Íyídé, “Ace of Spades’

What I Liked:

  1. The Representation! One reason I picked this book up was because it’s not a bad thing to broaden your horizons and try to listen to different voices in literature. We all know the argument that representation matters, and I can say this book provides someone like me a great visual on what it’s like to be black and dealing with racism, and even to be black and queer and dealing with the system being against you just because of the color of your skin. It’s not the type of story I usually go for, and for that is why I wanted to try something new.
  2. The Character Development! Chiamaka and Devon both have such amazing character development as the story progresses and they deal with other issues besides a cyber bully. I especially liked Chiamaka’s chapters and her as a character in general because she,at start off as the typical queen b, Blair Waldorf HBIC, but she becomes so much more as you get closer to her.
  3. The Social Commentary/Theme! It’s been said already in this review, but I thought the author showed the struggles of dealing with racism, classism, and even homophobia all incredibly well, and it certainly helped someone who’s not facing the same struggles as they face to better understand it and hopefully learn from it as we move forward!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Extremely Slow Midpoint…I’m sorry, but that midpoint almost killed the book for me! I was just so bored, and I kept putting this book down for others because I just couldn’t get myself to read it most days. I almost put it in my DNF stack, but I hate doing that and really did want to find out who was behind it all.

Conclusion:

Overall, Ace of Spades was crazy and twisted YA thriller that also has an incredibly interesting take on systematic racism, white supremacy, and plenty of other social issues that are so incredibly important, ESPECIALLY with all that has happened in the last year and a half pertaining to those specific issues and what plenty of POC citizens still deal with today.

I will never fully know the struggle of being black in America, that is a privilege that I am aware of, but I wanted to read this as a way to help spread the message of how important it is for stories like this to be heard, and for writers of color who are willing to put this sort of material out there for us to read, to enjoy and hopefully also to learn and understand from their perspective. Those are their stories, and we should want to hear them!

I would’ve rated this book higher, but the slow midpoint is why I’m not giving it a higher rating. None of the social importance is really revealed until later in the story, and I really did struggle and almost not bother to finish this book, but let’s also take into consideration that this is also the author’s debut novel, which that in itself makes it an impressive story too! I also usually don’t read this type 0f story, so I’m sure there are plenty of others who will especially enjoy this one!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: Two Can Keep a Secret: by Karen McManus

Publish Date: January 8th, 2019
Number of Pages: 329 Pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre(s): YA Mystery, Suspense/Thriller

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Okay lesbehonest…who else is shook that the quote we hear so much now is actually missing someone from the original quote? Maybe one of them really is dead?…

One thing we do know is that secrets never fully stay buried for long, they always have a way of revealing themselves, whether or not we want them to be or not. Like insects, they like to find a way to sneak through the cracks and infest themselves…But I can’t lie; they sure do make things interesting…

When I’d read Karen McManus’s debut novel, One of Us is Lying (see my other book review by clicking the link in the text), I was kind of impressed that someone had stepped up to give YA readers something different, which was a Mystery/Thriller genre title. The section is filled to the brim on either Contemporary Romance or Fantasy (usually with romance too), and I’ve got to admit, they all are starting to bleed together…they’re just becoming spinoffs of each other, and less and less titles are beginning to feel original. One of Us is Lying felt different! It was something semi new to the table, and sure, it had the stereotypical characters that we’d all seen before…but that was only a base that she profusely deviated from in a fun and entertaining fashion! They developed and changed and completely turned around on their original expectations and it was enjoyable to grow with them as I read the mystery surrounding their story!

I’ve heard that while the debut novel of an author can be a huge success, it’s the sophomore novel that can be more of a challenge in terms of a good story or whether the author learned from their first and can keep up the momentum, but I admit that the former may be called into question because I regret to inform you guys that I wasn’t all that impressed with this title. The author’s craft continues to improve, there’s no doubt about that, but this book just wasn’t as much fun as her previous work for me. It was unpredictable and left me guessing who was behind it, but it never got me too excited or fully invested.

To sum it all up: it wasn’t terrible, but it was just an okay read.

It explores the idea of a seemingly pristine town that is riddled with a violent and mysterious history, and is infected with many dark secrets underneath the surface. It’s people on the outside appear darn-near perfect, but we all know things are never as they seem.

What It’s About:

When their mother is sent to rehab after a brutal car accident, Ellery and her twin Ezra are sent to live with their grandmother in the town that their mother grew up in but has the dark history of not one, but two missing girls were mysteriously murdered: Echo Ridge. The twins are used to not drawing too much attention to themselves along with taking care of each other with because of their troubled mother, but they learn the night they get into town that they’re connected to the towns troubled and murky history more than they’d ever expected.

Haunted by the past, their grandmother reveals to them one of the murdered girls was actually their mother’s twin sister, the aunt they never got to meet. Ellery becomes engrossed into what really happened all those years ago, and as a self-professed true crime aficionado, she’s up to the case and starts digging, despite not entirely sure she’ll like what she finds.

But like secrets, past events never stay fully buried, and the very night they arrive and learn the startling family reveal, a body is discovered in the road. A beloved teacher is found dead after a hit and run with no known suspect. More mysterious occurrences begin to happen, and threatening notes are found all over town, threatening the girls on the Homecoming Court and that they will all soon be dead. It’s exactly like what happened with the other girls many years prior, and the town is put into a terrified uproar over the past coming back to haunt them, history doomed to repeat itself.

To make matters worse, before anyone can do anything about it, a girl does go missing.

Ellery must work faster than ever to save a fellow classmate, and must work with local fellow high school student, Malcom (who’s family also has a bad history involved with the murders), in order to solve the mystery and rid the town of a possible killer on the loose.

What I liked:

  1. It’s Unpredictable! The author can really craft a great mystery, anyone who reads her novels I hope can see that! She expertly weaves red herrings, scapegoats, and other subplots together in order to keep you guessing and not have a clue as to who the killer could possibly be. I admit I had no idea who it was until the climactic final showdown.
  2. Great Minority Representation! The main character is Latina with a gay male twin, and there’s two asian side characters with one of them being bisexual! Instead of sticking with stereotypical characters as a basis for her main cast, Karen mixed it up and made the characters for this title much more diverse, which is a huge plus for the YA market. If not Game of Thrones-esque Fantasy, representation has been a huge selling point for contemporary titles, which is so great to see in recent years!
  3. The Final Line of the Book! The only thing that made me feel something was the very final line of the book as it left quite a chilling impression. It was a great way to end a suspense/mystery!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Title Sounds Like A Sequel…I feel like it’s confusing that this was titled Two Can Keep a Secret when her first novel was titled One of Us Is Lying, and yet they’re completely unrelated to each other. This isn’t the sequel even though the title suggests otherwise; it’s a complete standalone…Something about that feels disappointing to me.
  2. There’s Less Points of View…One aspect of One of Us Is Lying that I loved was how we heard from four different characters as you read that book. I love to get inside the minds of completely different characters and see how they operate with a different perspective, but we only got two characters for this title, much to my disappointment. I was also bummed that among the voices we heard the most of, none of the cast really stuck with me. They were fine, but nothing too special or memorable.
  3. This Was Too Character Driven…It sounds odd for a mystery, but a lot of the novel moves based off the characters and how they react to stuff that happens, which is what made this a slower read than I liked. I know it contradicts what I usually say about that style of story, but I think a murder mystery shouldn’t be so character driven. What’s also lacking is that the characters didn’t really develop or change all that much as time went on. They just learned more secrets and reacted to them.

Conclusion:

It wasn’t a terrible book by any means, but I must say that for me, it was a lackluster sophomore murder mystery novel. Other readers, maybe younger and/or newer ones, can immensely enjoy this title. I blame the personal hype I gave this book from how much I did enjoy her first book, along with how many other books I’ve read which has raised my standards over the years. I recommend this title to anyone who’s a fan of teen thriller TV shows Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars (Karen can certainly write content better than both of those comparisons)!

Luckily, Karen has shared on her Twitter that she will have 2 books come out in 2020, including the actual sequel to OOUIL, One of Us is Next, which is expected to come out January 7th, 2020! I can say I’m still a fan of hers, so ya know I will check her other titles out and see what she comes up with next. Her craft can only go up from here!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Horror, Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: Project 17: by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Publish Date: December 18th, 2007
Number of Pages: 248 Pages
Publisher: Hyperion
Genre(s): Young Adult, Paranormal, Mystery, Horror

Total Star Rating: 3.25 Stars

Who hasn’t had the urge to break into an old building that’s probably haunted? Imagine talking this over with your friends:

Let’s go film a movie, make some creepy scenes, put the hot girl right in the main shot to get views, and maybe ignore those footsteps we keep hearing, the shadows that keep moving, or maybe the bloody graffiti that spelled “GET OUT” back there…nothing can go wrong, right?

So I will be honest, I have not read this book in quite some time. In fact, the last time I ever opened the pages was probably 2009-2010, and even then it was purely for nostalgia, because this book holds a special place in my heart. As cheesy as it sounds, it was a key that opened up a time of my life that I look back on rather fondly. You’re really interested and want to hear the story???

I know you don’t, but screw it, here it goes:

It’s 8th grade, and me and my classmates get into groups for a big english project in making a short film. There’s groups of 5-6 students, and one of my partners, Shelby, introduced this book to our group when we were still figuring out what to do. None of us had ever read it, but it inspired us to make our own version of it, which was basically a cheap, god-awful Blair Witch Project knockoff with no plot other than random kids walking a dark hallway and things pop out and scare the crap out of them. I can say though, we got creative and ripped a doll’s head off, hung it by a string and shined a strobe light on with a creepy recording of a girl saying “Baby Debbie come to play, Baby Debbie come to DIE,” the last word going demonically low, which got quite a few laughs from the classmates that watched it.

The point of this story is what it did, which was surround me with a group of girls: Vy, Jenna, Melodi, Shelby and Rachel; it had us hang out a lot outside of school, and helped make some great memories that made me feel like I’d found a small group of actual friends for the first time in my life. Unfortunately, I lost contact with pretty much all of them thanks to high school and then moving away for college, but It was still one of the best parts of my life! Thanks girls! I doubt you’ll ever read this, but from the bottom of my heart and to quote Fall Out Boy, Thanks for the memories!

I apologize to everyone else; there was just a lot of backstory with this book as it’s got a lot of sentimental value to me, but now onto this actual book itself!

What It’s About:

This story is about Danvers State Hospital, an abandoned insane asylum atop Hathorne Hill just off the edge of Boston. It was rumored that the lobotomy was created there, and hundreds of unmarked graves littered the grounds of those that perished away within the cold, hard walls; their spirits haunting the dark and ominous halls. The building is about to be torn down, and all the memories and restless souls lost forever.

This story is about six teenagers who make one last appearance before the building is demolished, and they all have their own reasons for being there:

Derik is the popular guy with the less-than-stellar reputation when it comes to girls, and has been an underachiever because he knows he’s pretty much trapped into taking over the family diner unless he makes something of himself past graduation. He falls upon a film competition with prize money; it may be his last chance at a better life.

Liza is the smart, gorgeous, unattainable overachiever who has perfect grades, her transcripts for college all spick and spam, shiny and perfect except for one thing…she never really did any extracurriculars. Colleges look to see how students get involved; it’s not just about good grades and test scores anymore; maybe a student film being made is her chance to beef up her resumé?

Mimi is a rebel, an outsider, someone who doesn’t belong, and has people look at her funny because she wears all black and has lots of makeup and piercings on her face. She tries to hide it, but she has a personal reason for wanting to get into Danvers before it’s demolition, and despite the company, she volunteers to join Derik’s project.

Chet is the class clown, can’t take anything seriously, and usually makes just about everything into a sexual innuendo, but if he has to go back to that house where his father hits him almost every night, he might just hit his breaking point…whats another night out of that house and away from his drunken father’s fists?

Greta and Tony are the theater nerds who don’t know the boundaries of PDA…They are looking for any chance to get their made-up crowns onscreen in some way, and this project that Derik has started may or may not be their ticket to fame…

They all come from different social circles, but they all come together and break into the abandoned hospital on the eve of its demolition and film their adventures. Maybe they’ll get a few souvenirs to bring home, make a fun movie, but things quickly take on a darker, twisted and more ominous tone as strange occurrences keep happening: cold spots in the basement, film and audio equipment malfunctioning, doors locking on themselves, and the feeling that they may not be alone…

Soon, they find themselves trapped in a deadly scavenger hunt as they unravel some of the terrible secrets this hospital had kept locked and hidden until now, and a mystery that surrounds a specific inmate and the importance of the number 17 that keeps showing up all over the place. Together, they will work together to try and help one lost soul hopefully find their way, and have the night change them all forever…

What I Liked:

  1. The Research Done About Danvers! So fun fact, but Danvers was actually a real place! It was an insane asylum that was fully constructed in 1874, opened in 1878, then eventually closed down in 1992. It was actually demolished like they talk about in the story, and was also the setting in the horror flick, Session 9, which filmed on the actual ruins of the building. I never watched it, and I hear it’s much more gruesome than this novel, but remains of the very few visual pieces that showcases the actual site of the hospital. The author really seemed to have done her research on the building and its tragic history, including its well…questionable methods of therapy, and implemented it incredibly well into her story. She touches on the horrific past of malpractice of the patients that were admitted to places like Danvers and plenty of others back in the day.
  2. “The Breakfast Club” Trope! Some could argue that it’s played out, boring, and overdone, but I always appreciate books that have a cast of characters that normally don’t interact with each other, but are somehow forced together by some sort of force or plot point, whether it be in after-school detention, or you know…illegally breaking into an abandoned asylum to make a short student film. The cast of characters are nothing original (The popular jock, the theater nerds, the clown, the princess, etc.) but they make for reading the book to be enjoyable while touching on the issues of rumors and reputation while trying to survive high school in a more modern setting than a John Hughes’ 80’s teen classic.
  3. The Mystery Around Christine! So while they explore the hospital (collecting files, souvenirs, graffiti from over the years, gathering footage, and even discover a bathtub with bars enclosed over the top), they discover the diary of one of the patients from many years ago, a young girl named Christine. Through the diary, the dark secrets of Danvers comes to light and the teens find themselves on a hunt through the whole hospital of finding out what happened to her and if they can possibly put her spirit to rest.
  4. It’s A Quick Read! This book is lighter in volume, so it’s a good choice for more beginner level readers, or someone who just needs a quick, fast read that’s somewhat entertaining. For the speedier readers, you may even be able to finish this book in one setting! The ending is also quite satisfying and ties everything together quite well, especially for Mimi.
Danvers State Hospital, circa 1893, image credit to owner

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It’s Not Creepy Enough…If you’re looking for something to really scare the crap out of you, make you afraid to walk into any dark room or make you need to leave the light on while you sleep, this book is not for you…It’s pretty basic and safe in terms of violence, gore or any other sort of horror aspects. There are some creepy moments, sure, but nothing that really seems too shocking for someone who’d consider themselves a veteran of the horror genre.
  2. Too Much Plot Convenience…While I can excuse the cliché characters, one thing that irked me was how easy and convenient it was for the characters to find patient’s files, equipment, props, etc. especially when it was integral to the plot. Like, it felt so choreographed that important documents just happened to be lying around on the floor, conveniently waiting to be discovered by them when they popped into the room, and it had classified information towards the malpractice of the doctors and nurses… The building’s been closed for quite some time by the time they get there, shouldn’t the place be leached out by then? Or the Documents have been shredded or something?

Conclusion:

While it’s pretty basic in terms of horror and creepiness, it’s still a quick and fun read for someone who’s looking for something along the lines of creepy, paranormal fiction. The characters are nothing new or original, but they make for a familiar and funny little escape for those that’d open the pages and give this book a try. It’s a good starting point for those that hate to read, but still need something to read for whatever reason, like an easy book report. It’s not deep and meaningful, it’s just fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Horror, LGBT, YA Fantasy

My Review: Sawkill Girls: by Claire Legrand

Release Date: October 2nd 2018
Number of Pages: 450
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Genre(s): Young Adult (YA), LGBTQ, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror

Total Star Rating: 3 Stars

One of the worst things of being an avid reader is that it ruins a lot of other books for you. You’ve read so many amazing stories with rich, complex worlds and memorable characters that you followed with along their journey, and seeing anything that either feels like a copy of that or isn’t possibly up to the same standard as that last book that made you fall in love with reading just falls flat in your mind…

This title was recommended to me by a friend, and we’ve read a lot of the same titles and enjoyed them for the most part, so of course I snagged a copy of this when it arrived into the bookstore one day. I had high hopes that I’d found something spooky that would keep me up late into the night and make me jump at every shadow that I thought even slightly moved, but this one just didn’t do quite that.

It’s by no means a bad book at all; any book that has any sort of fanbase with those that are able to explain what they liked about it can be considered a great book to read. Certain writers, of course, are better than others, but thats another topic to get into some other time. The point I’m trying to make from earlier is that I didn’t connect with the book as much as I’d hoped.

Everything about it led me to believe that it would have everything necessary for me to absolutely love it: the beautiful cover design, the exciting blurb, and the personal recommendation from my friend. Unfortunately, for myself at least, it just wasn’t fully able to live up the hype.

What It’s About:

Marion Althouse moves to Sawkill Rock with her mother and older sister, Charlotte, as a way for them to hopefully move on in life after the unexpected death of her father. Sawkill Rock is an island town off the East coast (I believe), and the very day she steps foot on the island, Marion discovers that beneath the seemingly perfect, pristine town hides a deep, dark, terrible secret that goes centuries back into the past, a malevolent presence thats infiltrated the land from its wide trees to the stones and decay. Any sort of hope that Marion had for her and her family is swiftly taken away through the night when Charlotte goes missing, just like the others…

Zoey Harlow, the police chief’s daughter, is continuously haunted by the sudden disappearance of her best friend, Thora, that happened a year ago. Determined to find out what happened exactly happened, she makes the startling discovery that there have been disappearances of girls from the island for many years, and somehow it’s overlooked and covered to the point that hardly any of the townsfolk seem to notice. Somethings not right, and Zoey starts to suspect the elite Mortimer family who may know something, or even be involved…

Val Mortimer has been brought up in wealth and privilege with the generations of women in her family, but beneath the luminescent pearl necklace, the flawless hair, sharp smiles and the spotless, silky exterior hides a secret that they’ve kept hidden that could not only threaten their welfare, but the fate of everyone should it escape…

Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep. He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.”

– Claire Legrand, “Sawkill Girls”

The mysterious, hungry presence has preyed upon the young women of the island for so long, devouring them in its long, scythe-like claws, and it’s been slowly gaining strength to untether itself from its willing host and be able to freely walk on this world in which it doesn’t belong in. It’s a campfire story, a child’s folktale, a myth of an insidious monster that lurks in the shadows of the trees and is always watching, and is always hungry…

What I Liked:

  1. The LGBTQ+ Representation! The three main characters are on the queer spectrum of sexual identity! Zoey is ace (asexual for those not with the lingo) along with being black, so she’s representing multiple groups within the story, and it’s revealed that both Marion and Val become openly queer as well and develop feelings for each other. Their mutual attraction felt somewhat out of the blue, but was still satisfying nonetheless.
  2. The Mortimer Reveal Right Away! So there’s an actual big reveal of Val and her dark family secret rather early on in the story, and part of me was questioning as to why the author would have something like that not wait until later to make a shocking reveal, but as you read the story, it makes more sense for how it develops and Val’s character evolution, which is actually pretty amazing because I felt like her character had the most development within the story, even with her interesting initial position.
  3. The Connection of the Three Girls! They didn’t know it at first, and neither did we to a degree, but the girl’s fates were all connected in a strong way that grew along with the story as more and more happened. All three of them have an initial connection– having lost something close to them from the monster (Marion – her sister, Zoey – her best friend, and Val – her freedom), but also learn that they’re connected in other supernatural forces that play a huge part in how things play out. A theme that sticks out is female friendship amongst these diverse characters, and the author illuminated that in a beautiful, if unorthodox way.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Book Unraveled Along with my Interest…The book started off with a bang; it brought up the main conflict almost within the first couple of chapters of the story, but really became a slow burn towards the middle, and I found myself struggling to keep going on for a lot of it. It’s not exactly a long story, but it took me so much longer than expected to actually finish it. I think honestly that it was because that most of the twists were revealed so early on in the story, and some were kind of predictable too. Everything after that, up until the climax, felt more like repetitive filler. I hate to say it, but part of me was considering to add it to my DNF (Did Not Finish) pile on several occasions. I just lost so much interest in it; it was like how I felt whenever I was assigned a book back in school. Somehow the required reading assignment always made me subconsciously want to read the book less.

Conclusion:

Overall, It wasn’t my favorite book, but it does hold quite a bit of potential, and my lack of excitement about it doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, or not worth checking out! The author’s style of writing is gorgeous and so well done in some areas, but this story just felt like it was missing something, like Claire Legrand needed to go another step further with it. I wish I could say what that was exactly, but unfortunately I can’t. All I can say is that I just didn’t connect with it as much as I’d hoped, which makes sense since it doesn’t exactly fall under what I normally read.

I recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a thriller with strong diverse female lead characters, anyone wanting to add to their LGBTQ stacks of books, or those looking for a great feminine read.

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: One of Us Is Lying (One of Us Is Lying #1): by Karen McManus

Publish Date: May 30th 2017
Number of Pages: 361 Pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre(s): YA Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

It’s John Hughes meets Agatha Christie: The Breakfast Club meets And Then There Were None in this angsty, YA murder mystery debut novel from Karen McManus.

To be honest, I was intrigued to read this title as soon as I’d heard about it because it feels like the mystery genre has been untouched upon for the YA/Teen reading level over the years, and not many titles have been released for Young Adult/Teenage readers. I could totally be wrong on that, but if so, no other mystery titles have had the publicity this book received!

I’m always up for a good whodunnit-style murder mystery, and adding teenagers and modern technology of the 2010’s was something that I hadn’t read really before and wanted to see how it’d be portrayed. The only comparison I could think of that also did it in a really creative and fun way was MTV’s TV show version of the Scream franchise, but that’s more in the horror side, so there’s still a little bit of a gap there to be honest.

As I read this title, I was drawn into the whole mystery that drives the story and how the characters develop as secrets get revealed, unrequited feelings arise, and relationships of all kinds are tested as four students at Bayview High become the prime suspects in another student’s unexpected murder! Sure, the characters start off as the stereotypical character archetypes we’re all familiar with: the brainiac, the bad boy, the jock, and the prom queen. This is where the John Hughes inspiration stops however, because as you read on, the characters continue to prove they are so much more complicated than just the categorization we can’t help but compartmentalize them into.

I had to say that as the big reveal presented itself, I didn’t expect it coming! I truly didn’t know who was behind it the entire time I was reading this story; was it someone else, or was it one of the four main characters who were behind it? The unpredictability of the story was a major plus!

What It’s About:

The story starts out like a familiar 80’s teen flick; five high school students are on their way to detention, but the story really starts when one of them never comes back out alive. The victim, Simon, ran a website of scandals that involved everyone who goes to their school, Bayview High (Yes…it’s very much like Gossip Girl, except everyone actually knows it’s him), and it turned out that the very four others he was in detention with were going to be the topics of his next post, revealing all their darkest secrets to the public. Sounds too good to be a coincidence, right? Well, the cops sure think so, and very quickly, all four of them become the prime suspects in this case. Who could it be?

Bronwyn: The scholar who’s never late and always has perfect grades, but is tired of the weight of the pressure to succeed?

Cooper: The star athlete who suddenly got a little extra swing into his batting average?

Nate: The rebel with an illegal side job, but it’s secretly for a noble cause?

Addie: The prom queen with a spot free reputation, but can barely hide the cracks that threaten to shatter everything?

What I liked:

  1. The Story Is Told From Multiple Perspectives! The story is told from each of the surviving four teenagers and their take on what happened. Each had their own distinct voice and personality that helped the reader get to know them and see them develop as the mystery moved forward. Yes, all of them have dark secrets that they hoped would never see the light of day, but honestly, who doesn’t? The secrets made each character have flaws that make them feel more well rounded and authentic, and anyone who wouldn’t like them because they made less than noble choices is seriously kidding themselves.
  2. There’s Stereotypes, But With a Twist! The author does rely on the stereotypical teen character tropes as a starting point for the book: the outsider, the brainiac, the jock, the criminal, and the princess, but makes them all do a big 180 spin and completely drops the cliché tropes like a trapdoor.
  3. The Mystery! It’s quite simple; I love a good whodunnit kind of mystery, and this one was an interesting addition.
  4. The Author’s Writing Style! Karen wrote in such a way that I know the younger generations that these characters fall under can understand and enjoy within the story; she really gets how their minds work, how they’d react, what they care about; she really understands her characters, their motivations and uses that knowledge to create a vivid and believable dynamic amongst them.
  5. The Romance! I don’t care what anyone says, I’m a sucker for romance! A relationship develops in the story, and it was indeed one of my favorite parts of the whole story. They say a good romance is when the characters shouldn’t have to kiss in order to prove that they have chemistry, and I think that was done exceptionally well. Their interactions were a big high point for me.

What I didn’t Like:

  1. Back to the Clichés…While I did enjoy the obvious stereotypical characters that completely change as the story progresses, I felt like falling back on those as a base for the characters and introducing them in that manner meant that the author could only go so far with their development, thus limiting herself to anything extremely extraordinary. Some could argue that she tries to stretch away from the stereotypes that towards a point, they seem to not even seem all that realistic of characters? Personally, I didn’t feel that way, but I can see how others could give this criticism.
  2. There’s Nothing Learned…While the book was entertaining to read, that just about the only thing that really drove the story: the entertainment factor. I didn’t feel any different after reading it, nor did I have a deep, meaningful lesson or theme that stuck after I finished other than the typical mystery theme of “everyone has secrets”. It’s almost a guilty pleasure in a way: it’s juicy, exciting and you keep reading to see what happens next, but if it doesn’t do any of that, it could start to feel like soda that’s gone flat compared to a freshly cracked open can. There might not be enough substance for more experienced readers to really consider it incredibly worthwhile.
  3. Cheaters…The author does seem to gloss over the fact that two characters, one of them a main character, are caught cheating on their significant other. Some could complain that it wasn’t called out enough to be considered a worry from the author’s standpoint, and I know that cheating girlfriends/boyfriends is a touchy subject.
  4. The Climax…Maybe I’m just too evolved of a reader for much of YA now, but honestly, the big reveal for the climax fell a little flat. Honestly, *mild spoiler alert*……………….but the reveal of a character turning out to be gay felt like a bigger twist.

Conclusion:

Personally, I did greatly enjoy the story, even as someone in the 18-24 age range when I read it. For me, the main cast of characters and their developing group dynamic was the main factor keeping me interested in reading on. I liked the characters immensely, and really became emotionally involved as I got to know them better, and how they came together in order to solve the mystery.

The only question is, how great can a murder mystery really be when it’s mainly character driven? I will leave this review with this: if you’re newer to reading or YA/Teen centric books, beginner level mysteries, or for anyone who was a big fan of TV shows like Pretty Little Liars or Riverdale, it’s probably a great choice but maybe wouldn’t be enjoyed as much for more advanced readers.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell