Again, But Better – Christine Riccio Full Review

Again, but better cover
Again, but Better – Christine Riccio Full Review

Author – Christine Riccio

Publisher – Wednesday Books

Publish date – 7th May 2019

Genre – YA

POV – First person, Present tense

Rating – 3/5

Summary

From one of the most followed booktubers today, comes Again, but Better, a story about second chances, discovering yourself, and being brave enough to try again.

Shane has been doing college all wrong. Pre-med, stellar grades, and happy parents…sounds ideal — but Shane’s made zero friends, goes home every weekend, and romance…what’s that? 

Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time’s a ticking, and she needs a change — there’s nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She’s going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure! 

Easier said than done. She is soon faced with the complicated realities of living outside her bubble, and when self-doubt sneaks in, her new life starts to fall apart. 

Shane comes to find that, with the right amount of courage and determination one can conquer anything. Throw in some fate and a touch of magic – the possibilities are endless.”

Full Review

(Avoid spoilers – read the Quick Review)

 

A semester abroad in London is 20 year old Shane’s chance to fix her college mistakes. Binging Netflix, remaining friendless and unkissed, Shane is unsatisfied with her choices in life. London is her chance to push herself out of her bubble. A redo. But the reality of turning around her life is a difficult and complicated journey. One that will take all her will, some personal growth and a dash of magic.

Again, but Better is Christine all over from the moment it begins. Told in very personal first person, present tense, the plot follows Shane in 2011 as she goes to London on a semester abroad and spans through years of her life journey. All of it giving a sense of nostalgia and reminding me of myself in my teenage years.

The book is told in a slice of life style following Shane day to day through school, work etc on a loop and it could be a little mundane at times. Some parts of the book I really just wanted to flip past until something new happened, though, I think, Christine did well spicing things up and keeping things relatively tight. Another minor downside I saw with the plot was its sometimes obviously formulaic nature. There were times where it was blatant that something was being set up and I found myself guessing the why’s and resulting events before it was played out in the book.

Just when you start to feel deflated in the plot Christine utilizes a well used time skip. Things are fresh as we catch up with Shane again, and though she’s still thinking about Pilot in 2017 and still not following her dreams of writing, she has evolved somewhat from the 20 year old we first met at the beginning of the book. And then the time travel. God was it cathartic to see Shane regain that lost time and opportunity, that chance at her lost love and lost dreams.

The magic/fantastical element felt a bit, you know, so this is here and works, whatever, onto the romance! But its not really about the magic,so I sort of forgive the lack of details there.

The themes of self discovery, first love and self love were discussed with an authentic quality and progressed through the growth of characters. I could really feel for Shane through her struggle of figuring out what she could do with her life and struggling to give her passion of writing any legitimacy in the eyes of her parents who expect her to have a stable career and future. Her social anxiety and self doubt a running theme for most people. I appreciated that despite the magical redo, there was no quick fix. Everything she wanted to accomplish took work and continuing to push herself out there, and we see that, even if it didn’t all result in immediate success.

Shane (and I almost wrote Christine) is funny, insecure, naive, a little dramatic and a dash clumsy though in a way that resonated as endearing and relatable. Pilot is charming though he has some legitimate faults. The romance is sweet, warm, a little goofy (in a good way). I was quite convinced and taken with their chemistry.

I had no major qualms with the slight/but not really/but definite emotional cheating. Relationships and people are complicated, these things happen and I am the last person that’s going to berate an author for not creating picture perfect characters who either only make palatable mistakes or are made to be positive role models and influences rather than just fictional characters who in ways reflect us and the sometimes shitty choices we make.

Besides which I found Shane to be a positive influence anyway, if that’s what you’re looking for in a book. I was surprised by her growth and her ability to think of herself and her own life, needs, aspirations and relationships outside of her romance with Pilot. That feels sad to say but YA characters can be a little overly involved in their romances. It was a wonderfully surprising growth in the character that emphasized living life first for yourself.

I will say though that personally I found Pilot a little difficult to like at points. Some of his actions toward Shane and his girlfriend felt cold, a little cowardly and a little indecisive. Still, 16 year old me would be into Pilot. 28 year old me was put off.

The rest of the characters were interesting and a diverse group (perhaps for the sake of being diverse) but since so much of the plot does end up being romance and Shane’s issues with herself and her parents, we don’t see them develop or too much of them at all.

For a debut I felt like the book was decently written. I was prepared for and dreading disappointment but I, well, wasn’t. There was an authenticity and bright, engaging feel to the whole book that screamed Christine, and if you’re a fan of Christine that’s a plus. The ending is positive and fluffy and feel-good. Everything wraps up nicely, and I was left contented and entertained. While there were some minor hindrances for me on the way to that end, ( I have to mention the over-stuffing of pop culture references that felt a little ‘how many of Christine’s favorite books, shows, musicians and authors can we mention in every chapter?’) I have to hand it to her, the girl can write a decent book. I am already anticipating her future works and improvements.

I have received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

– 3/5 A charming slice of life with a dash of magic.

Buy it – Again, but better

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The Hunting Party – Lucy Foley Review

the hunting party
The Hunting Party – Lucy Foley

Author – Lucy Foley

Publisher – William Morrow

Publish date – 12th February 2019

Genre – Mystery / Psychological Suspense

POV – First person, Present tense

Rating – 3/5

Summary

ALL OF THEM ARE FRIENDS. ONE OF THEM IS A KILLER.

“A ripping, riveting murder mystery — wily as Agatha Christie, charged with real menace, real depth. Perfect for fans of Ruth Ware.” – A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

DON’T BE LEFT OUT. JOIN THE PARTY NOW.

Full Review

(Avoid spoilers – read the Quick Review)

Nine, dysfunctional, thirty-something old college friends go on vacation together to an isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands. One of them is murdered.

This story, like One Little Secret, was a fun, gossipy, whodunit type psychological suspense. The dynamics of a group of dysfunctional friends with a long intertwined and messy history was utilized to build tension. Their slow but inevitable unraveling held interest in a kind of “crash you can’t look away from” style.

Foley was effective in hooking me in from the beginning. We are told someone is missing and later found dead. We alternate between past and present, playing catch up and trying to piece together the central mysteries; who, among these, at first, nostalgic old friends, was the victim, who the murderer and how it could all have happened. Starting at the present then returning to three days prior the incident, then two, then one, like a murder countdown.

Seeing how it all comes apart was entertaining enough to hold my interest, but it was never really something that had me on edge or creeped out further than a small scene or two. Most of the suspense and creep factor relying heavily on the backdrop of the story and the dangling of the major event and present P.O.V. dealings, with details handed out sparingly over time.

I had hoped there would be a little more than friendship/relationship/personal drama, one murder and one attempted murder. With the surroundings and poachers mentioned so frequently, I kept envisioning some sort of calculated hunting down of the rest of the guests. It turned out to be a murder created by a set of unfortunate circumstances at the wrong place and time, out of passion. It was really more character involved and the surroundings provided a sense of unease, making it feel creepier than it was in reality.

At first, there was a bit of confusion for me, trying to remember who was who and linkedimg_3811 to who. You’re sprung in the middle of all these names and histories and dynamics that can be a bit much at once, but I did get my head around it after a few chapters (and also a map of characters).

The P.O.V’s were well distinguished. Voice and characterization a strong point of the story and individualized to the point where I could recognize the person talking without having to see the name.

However, I didn’t find myself caring for any of the characters, either because there was not enough of them directly involved for so long that I couldn’t invest or they were just, well… unlikable. They were all a little irritating and shady and I found the way the friend group needed to pretend around each other and resume their college roles again unbearably immature.

I particularly hated Miranda but appreciated how Foley handled her, and the rest of the characters, with a quality of roundedness. We were given a fuller picture of the main characters than even the friends themselves saw at times. I hated Miranda but I saw her vulnerability. Her worse qualities rounded off and filled in with more detail which didn’t make her likable necessarily but real and occasionally someone you could relate to or sympathize with.

That was my favorite aspect of the story, characters rather than the major plot events. It was so interesting to see how they all saw each other. How much they thought they knew each other and about each other’s lives and at the same time to see the reality of it.

The things that sounded wonderful from one friend’s perspective, in reality, is not all it seems. Everything has its downsides. The real reasons we behave a certain way toward someone not necessarily as clear as it seems from the outside. The people we envy and think we know so much about, we don’t truly. Because we can’t know everything or because we aren’t allowed to see beyond that wall. And because life is complicated, and perspective limited.

In the end some aspects of the mysteries were kind of predictable. It was no surprise that what was happening at the Loch and the extra couple guest was a distraction from the main killer. It was no surprise to me that the killer was not Doug. It was no surprise when Katie and Julien’s affair was revealed. But some of it did surprise me.

I was a little surprised by all that was revealed to be going on at once. I was surprised by the revelation of the murderer and the history there. There was a lot of appreciated character drama and complication but not as much suspense as I was hoping for. Miranda ended up pushing the wrong person a little too far and there was a little poetic justice in that. I was surprised by how long it had all really been building up for and I enjoyed that it was all tied together quite neatly when unveiled.

-3/5 A dysfunctional friendship drama turned murder mystery.

Buy it – The Hunting Party

 

 

The Bone Keeper – Luca Veste Review

The Bone Keeper
The Bone Keeper

Author – Luca Veste

Publisher – Sourcebooks Landmark

Publish date – 5th February 2019

Genre – Mystery / Thriller

POV – Third person, past tense

Rating – 2/5

Summary

He’ll slice your flesh. Your bones he’ll keep.
The Bone Keeper’s coming. And he’ll make you weep.

What if the figure that haunted your nightmares as a child was real?

Twenty years ago, four teenagers went exploring in the local woods, trying to find the supposed home of the Bone Keeper. Only three returned.

Now, a woman is found wandering the streets, horrifically injured, claiming to have fled the evil urban myth.

And then a body turns up.”

Full Review

(Avoid spoilers – read the Quick Review)

When a woman is found injured, having escaped near death, a small community is shocked. But quickly after there’s a murder, then another and another. Louise Henderson and her partner Shipley wind through the urban myths they grew up with, surrounding the forest it all seems to link back to, to get to the all too real truth.

The story started strong and promising. Children in a forest investigating an urban myth. They’re right at the source. The tunnel that will lead them to The Bone Keeper. It’s creepy, exciting, mysterious. All the good things. It felt like the exact thing I was desperate to read, and I was so hooked.

What followed was a multiple POV police procedural surrounding a serial killer whose origin is a little too close to home for the main protagonist Louise.

I’ll admit, I set myself up for the exact wrong thing yet again. I mean, it literally said “police procedural” in the blurb (to be fair it doesn’t add that part in on amazon – where I bought it). I decided to focus on the former half that I interpreted to be some kind of supernatural horror and, big surprise, was disappointed when it was in fact not that, at all.

I want to give it some slack for that fact alone, but in all honesty even taking it for what it really was, I was still a bit disappointed. It’s obvious this story was set up to push that question and that line: Is the killer supernatural or is it real? It did do that well, but I felt it did it for a little too long at 416 pages.

I don’t have a problem with crime thrillers. Typically, they’re not exactly my favorite genre but when executed well they can feel like well-paced, fast and intriguing reads. However, once you leave the forest and the children the story feels like it adopts an almost mundane tone with only the parts that contained hints of the myth really sparking any interest.

It was just so much detective work. Then came the multiple POV’s. Victims, victims loved ones, the bone keeper himself, Caroline, Shipley, Louise, Mathew. It was a lot, and sometimes it added to the story. At first it was interesting to see the killings closer up. Caroline’s story line, toward the end, really tied everything together nicely. It was satisfying to hear from Mathew. But it also took away from the creep factor, from some of the mystery, some of the instances added layers of unnecessary confusion.

Close to the biggest revelation, what I struggled with most was: If the Bone Keeper is real, how was he depicted doing seemingly supernatural things? If he’s supernatural when if ever, from all the POV’s, will there come a point that we will explore his abilities, myth and origin deeper?

The revelations did surprise me in the end. But I was required to suspend my belief a lot. Which usually is not a problem for me but in this instance felt kind of deflating where I hoped it would pull everything up in an exciting finale.

The theme of people’s natures really was the highlight of the book. The question of whether everyone has the capacity for brutality within them. Do you have to be born evil or is everyone capable of doing terrible, monstrous things, given the right circumstances and taking the wrong paths.

The answer seems different for each of the characters in the book. Louise, different from her father, who is different from Mathew.

In Louise’s case we get someone who struggles against her brutal and violent nature but ultimately chooses and wants to be good. Not easily, not smoothly, not unwaveringly but finds her way through the darkness in the end.

It gave an interesting depth to the story. I felt a sadness and dread for the victims and their loved ones. I even felt a little for the loss of those pulled into the cult like group Louise’s father had founded. For their lost potential to be different. I especially felt sad for Caroline and Mathew.

Yet I struggled to like anyone in the book. Louise had a bit of depth and struggled with inner demons and her own nature. She was complicated, and I appreciated that, but I didn’t really feel much for her.

Caroline was not a character you could relate with or understand beyond her victimization until close to the end. Shipley was uninteresting and presented a dynamic and kind of romance I didn’t care for. And the rest were strangers and cold murderers.

Overall, I struggled to keep interest and remained passively, mildly curious. Never really feeling submerged in the story beyond the starting chapter. It had its moments of horrific scenes, creepiness, visceral descriptions and beautiful isolated settings but seemed to be overshadowed by all the elements of the story that let it down. The clustered multiple POV, the confusing, hard to believe revelations and the slow-going detective work stretched out for too long.

– 2/5 A slow burning crime thriller, psychological, horror mix that had promising moments but wasn’t quite the right mix and pace for me.

Come Find Me – Megan Miranda Review

Come Find Me - Megan Miranda Review
Come Find Me – Megan Miranda Review

 

Author – Megan Miranda

Publisher – Crown books for young readers

Publish date – 29th January 2019

Genre – YA/ Mystery

POV – First person, present tense

Rating – 4/5

Summary

“From the New York Times bestselling author of All the Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger comes a captivating thriller about two teens who connect when each discovers a mysterious radio frequency, which suggests their family tragedies are mysteriously connected.

After surviving an infamous family tragedy, sixteen-year-old Kennedy Jones has made it her mission to keep her brother’s search through the cosmos alive. But then something disturbs the frequency on his radio telescope–a pattern registering where no signal should transmit.

In a neighboring county, seventeen-year-old Nolan Chandler is determined to find out what really happened to his brother, who disappeared the day after Nolan had an eerie premonition. There hasn’t been a single lead for two years, until Nolan picks up an odd signal–a pattern coming from his brother’s bedroom.

Drawn together by these strange signals–and their family tragedies–Kennedy and Nolan search for the origin of the mysterious frequency. But the more they uncover, the more they believe that everything’s connected–even their pasts–as it appears the signal is meant for them alone, sharing a message that only they can understand. Is something coming for them? Or is the frequency warning them about something that’s already here?”

Full Review

(Avoid Spoilers – read the Quick Review)

Kennedy and Nolan have both lost family, they both feel alone and they’re both searching for something. A sign, a lead, an answer. When both their signals emit a strange frequency, the same one, they find each other. Come find me is an emotional mystery, with two wonderfully written protagonists, on a journey through loss and grief. It’s real, mysterious, clever, dark and a little funny. Unravelling in surprising twists and ending in hope.

For some reason when I picked up this book and read the blurb, I was convinced it was a YA about aliens. The cover made me think psychological thriller and as I was reading at some points I considered supernatural, thriller, mystery…

In some ways there are those different elements as you’re reading through and peeling back the different stages of the story but in its essence the uniting and constant theme felt like grief and the desperate search for closure.

And it did a wonderful job at depicting and exploring that in a real and encompassing, grounded way even though the circumstances felt surreal at times. The rest was an interesting mode to travel that main theme. Signals, premonitions and mysterious events, it even gets a little existential, made it all riveting and complex.

Though slow to pick up, you get a strong sense of Kennedy and Nolan from the first few chapters. Hints and details scattered throughout to give you some sense as to what’s to come. I found myself eagerly waiting for them to come together and see them interact and combine their viewpoints, and it pays off.

Kennedy and Nolan’s meeting is funny and cute. I loved watching them bounce off of each other. As a couple they’re easy to ship, which I found myself feeling before they’d even met. It holds off, really starting in at about 50% through and progressing slowly and gradually which felt natural for the story and the characters.

Once the story picks up it really grasps you. It is so easy to become absorbed in the two main characters as they try to make sense of their personal tragedies. Easy to feel invested with their goals and stakes.

The ending is wrapped up and satisfying. I’m not often surprised by mystery stories, but I hadn’t predicted much of anything in the ending of Come Find Me except a couple of threads here and there. Not because of the revelations being entirely out of the scope of possibility – it was all carefully wound together throughout the story. It was more how it was all presented by Miranda that made the outcome unpredictable. I think maybe the presumptions I’d made about the book’s genre added to throwing me off as well.

Miranda did well with providing the closure you really want for Kennedy and Nolan while making it clear it is still a journey ahead for them. There’s no resetting from loss and while both characters are left with their answers and finally able to heal, there is no getting back what they’ve both lost.

– 4/5 Intuition, premonition, satellite signals and strange frequencies combined into an emotional mystery.

Buy it – Come Find Me

Vivatera – Candace J. Thomas

Vivatera - Candace J. Thomas Quick Review
Vivatera – Candace J. Thomas Quick Review

 

Vivatera – Candace J. Thomas Quick Review

Vivatera is a young adult fantasy about Naomi, a young orphaned girl with no insight to who she truly is, her self-discovery, her magic and her importance to the world.

The premise is so, so promising.

And in some respects, it pays off. The magic is interesting, somewhat unique and beautifully described at times. Almost sentient, playful or moody things inside the wielders. The world building in places is full and interesting as well. There are a lot of intriguing mysteries laid out that pull you along.

However, the book just wasn’t what I’d expected.

The pacing is rushed rather than fast. So rushed it’s jarring and the story becomes entirely unbelievable and confusing.

The romance was lack lustre. No intensity, no build up. We are told they are in love but not shown. There’s no discovery or growth to it. No chemistry.

And unfortunately, while the characters were likeable and interesting at points, I just could not feel invested in any of them. It might have been the rushed, sometimes confusing amounts of characters pushed into the small amount of story or the fact that it was often difficult to picture them, get a sense of their age, their stakes in anything that happens around them. I left the book feeling like the characters were strangers and that, for me, is the worst part since I put a lot of weight on character and relationships – more so than plot oftentimes.

The story could have benefited better with some build up and increasing pace rather than jumping immediately into the thick of things, especially with the scale of the story and world Thomas seemed to be reaching for.

I have received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

– 1/5 Interesting premise and some beautifully written qualities let down by overly rushed yet overly full plot and unbelievable romance.