Well this is really late! But I’ve working to review/share books on my instagram and then I need nice photos and then I am a perfectionist and just behind on life (or at least book reviewing). So, enough of that, here are the books I read in March.
* * *
When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry [Amazon US–Amazon Canada] [PR Copy]
I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but I was pretty excited to read When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry, since her last book, A Million Junes, was pretty close to the top of my list of “books I meant to read in 2017, and then in 2018, but didn’t”. This novel takes place in a small town, Splendor, Ohio, where the local steel mill exploded and a group of teens, all impacted by the tragedy, have banded together. The group calls themselves The Ordinary, and investigate weird occurrences for their YouTube channel. Then something really weird happens–a bright light hurdling towards them from the sky–and this time when they investigate, their lives change forever.
Prior to reading When the Sky Fell on Splendor I saw it compared to Stranger Things and that’s a pretty perfect comparison. All the teens in this group are a little weird, and even though there’s a big creepy sci-fi element, this is ultimately a story about friendship and family. Unfortunately, I found myself confused by the book and honestly kinda bored at least for the first half of the book, so even though there were aspects I enjoyed it wasn’t as amazing as I was anticipating. I did like Henry’s writing style and I though the characters were all unique and interesting and there were some good twists by the end. That said, I have seen a few reviews saying they preferred A Million Junes so I think I’ll probably still aim to pick that one up eventually, even if I was a little disappointed by When the Sky Fell on Splendor.
Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong [Amazon US–Amazon Canada] [PR Copy]
The Rockton series is absolutely one of my favourites, so I could not wait to dive into the latest book, Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong. The series begins with City of the Lost, continues with An Absolute Darkness, and then last year’s edition was This Fallen Prey. I don’t want too spoil the specifics of Watcher in the Woods, but the basic premise of this series is that a young detective, Casey Duncan, travels with a friend to an isolated community in the Yukon where people go so that others can’t find them. Unfortunately, while this town, Rockton, is supposed to be a sanctuary, bad things keep happening and it’s up to Casey and the town’s sheriff, Dalton, are left to solve them.
In Watcher in the Woods, a US Marshall looking for somebody actually finds the town, and the novel is spent dealing with the fallout of his arrival. Before this series, I had only read paranormal books from Armstrong, but while there’s nothing supernatural about these books, they have the same intensity as her other series. I love the characters, especially Casey, Dalton, and the town butcher, who all have complicated backstories and engaging personalities. Armstrong perfectly balances plot and character, and her writing is just so easy to devour. Watcher in the Woods is a riveting story with twists and turns. I also adore the Northern setting–I think these are the only books I’ve ever read set in the Yukon. I cannot wait for the fifth book to be released in 2020 and if you like mystery-thrillers, I highly recommend picking up the Rockton series.
Dear Heartbreak edited by Heather Demetrios [Amazon US–Amazon Canada] [PR Copy]
I am trying to get better about DNFing books I don’t enjoy, but because Dear Heartbreak edited by Heather Demetrios was a collection featuring various authors, I kept thinking that the next essay would be the one that sold me on the book. Unfortunately, after nearly three months reading this collection, my main takeaway is that it just wasn’t for me. It’s filled with anonymous letters from teens to/about heartbreak, and young adult authors–many of whom have written books I really like–respond with their own personal experiences. But the letters often just felt like an excuse for the writer to tell a specific and generally not very inspiring story from their own life. It’s hard to do self-help well, and I just don’t think Dear Heartbreak manages it. That said, I’ll definitely continue to pick up books by the authors contained within this collection, I’ll just try to be pickier about my next anthology.
Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M. McManus [Amazon US–Amazon Canada]
I couldn’t resist picking up Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M. McManus because her first book, One of Us is Lying, was fast-paced and a lot of fun to listen to. This is another young adult mystery, this time about a teenage girl, Ellery, who moves to a small town to live with her grandmother while her mother is in rehab. It’s the same small town where her aunt went missing, and then, five years ago, a homecoming queen was killed. The town becomes even more dangerous when another girl disappears–and Ellery is intent on finding out what happened, to her aunt, to the other girls, but she’ll have to do it before whoever is out there comes after her.
Unfortunately, I just didn’t feel like Two Can Keep A Secret had the same tension and easy-to-devour quality that McManus’ debut had. It probably didn’t help that I started off listening to the audiobook and one of the two narrators was absolutely terrible. It was actually the same narrator as Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami, and his monotone voice certainly didn’t work for a teenage boy. The story got better after I switched to print, but it took so long for the mystery to become clear that it left me with very little time to develop theories or be surprised. There were certainly some surprises, and I really enjoyed the ending, but I thought there could be more clues or development to get there. That said, despite the slower pacing, I still enjoyed the writing and I’d certainly be willing to give McManus another shot.
When by Victoria Laurie [Amazon US–Amazon Canada] [PR Copy]
I have a bunch of old books I previously received as e-galleys on Netgalley to review–sometimes up to 10 years ago–and I’m trying to make an effort to go back and read and review them, which, in combination with the Buzzword Readathon, is what lead me to finally pick up When by Victoria Laurie. Also, my library had the audiobook, although I switched between that and the e-copy when reading. When is the story of a teen girl, Maddie, who sees numbers above peoples foreheads which let her know when they are going to die. She can even see it when she looks at a photo of somebody. Unfortunately, she didn’t recognize her ability until after her father died. Years later, Maddie becomes entangled with the police when somebody whose date she read ends up dead (as predicted).
As an adult reading young adult books I recognize that I am not the target demographic, but I generally really enjoy them and don’t find that I feel too old. That was not the case with When, which reads really young. Maddie has a difficult life, but she is also exceptionally whiny at times. She doesn’t think, and she keeps all kinds of secrets she shouldn’t. Basically, she is probably behaving like a teenage girl but it just made it frustrating to read at times. That said, the book was really fast-paced and easy to listen to, even though it was generally predictable and simplistic. The book also features some of the police-who-can’t-solve-crimes trope, and it’s a pet peeve of mine when police are unrealistically incompetent. Overall, I don’t regret not picking up When in 2015 when it was first released, but it was a quick listen with good pacing and I’m happy to cross one long-time book off my TBR.
Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay [Amazon US–Amazon Canada]
We all have our tried and true authors, and I’ve never met a novel by Linwood Barclay I didn’t enjoy, so when a friend I was visiting offered me her copy of Trust Your Eyes, a 2012 novel I hadn’t read, I immediately picked it up for the plane ride home. This is the story of two brothers–Thomas, who is map-obsessed and rarely leaves his house, and Ray, who is watch over his brother after their father passes away. When Thomas sees what looks like a woman being murdered while exploring the world through a computer program, he gets Ray to follow up it, sending them both into the middle of a conspiracy that could be deadly.
Barclay’s novels while often not ground-breaking are always just solid: well-written, good characterization, and smartly plotted, and some fun twists. Trust Your Eyes wasn’t my favourite novel by him, but I definitely still enjoyed it. This was a good read that I finished in a couple days, but months later, most of the details have faded. I especially liked the way that Barclay handled the complicated relationship between Ray and Thomas, it’s an excellent example of sibling relationships. I also enjoyed Ray’s perspective, his voice was well-written, sympathetic, but also, appropriately frustrating at times. Ultimately, I thought there were just the right amount of clues to make Trust Your Eyes page-turning, surprising, and a satisfying read. I’ll definitely continue to pick up books by Barclay in the future and I hope to read more of his backlist when I have the chance.
Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi [Amazon US–Amazon Canada] [PR Copy]
It seems like over the past couple years there have been a ton of YA short story collections compiled, and I keep wanting to give them a try, but often end up disappointed. Fortunately, Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi was not a disappointment–in fact, it blew me away. This collection includes contributions from 17 different authors, many of whom were new to me but whose longer works I’ll definitely be more interested in now. As the title says, these are all stories about being young and black in the United States, but they are incredibly diverse in their experiences. Each writer brings a different perspective, capturing a unique voice in their stories. Within any collection, there will still be some stories that I enjoy more than others, and one particular standout was “Oreo” by Brandy Colbert. I’ve now loved several Brandy Colbert short stories (she is also featured in Toil and Trouble) so I definitely need to pick up one of her novels soon! Ultimately, I’m so glad I wasn’t deterred from short story collections and decided to read Black Enough–it was a fantastic collection overall, and I highly recommend checking it out if you are looking to discover a new favourite author (or maybe even 17 of them).
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson [Amazon US–Amazon Canada]
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson is the first book I’ve read by the author in several years (with the exception of the Speak graphic novel) and it’s certainly one of her most powerful. I listened to the audiobook, which Anderson narrates, and it tells her own story–being raped as a young teen–which was the inspiration behind Speak. The book is written in verse, so some of that is lost because of the audiobook, but I think it was powerful to listen to the story in the author’s own voice, and the writing is emotional and vivid. While the first part of the book is personal memoir, the second part deals with the response to Speak and other stories of survivors. The second part is definitely the strongest, and it certainly feels like the rest of the book was written around it, but I’m so glad it was. There’s also a short third section about her Anderson’s parents. Ultimately, Shout is filled with courageous voices, gut-wrenching pain, and important messages. This is a very personal book from Anderson, and I’m so grateful she shared it.
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh [Amazon US–Amazon Canada] [PR Copy]
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh is a strange but compelling book. It’s the story of three sisters who live on an isolated island with their mother and father, who goes by the name King. King has taken his family away from society to protect the girls, and only he is allowed to venture back for supplies. Sometimes other women will seek shelter from the violence of men with their family, but other than that, they communicate with nobody else. One day King doesn’t return and soon, two men and a boy wash ashore and look to the family for help.
The Water Cure alternates between the perspective of each of the daughters, and it’s a very introspective book, focusing on thoughts and feelings as the story unfolds. It’s a quiet book, but I found the book mesmerizing, even if the plot itself is abstract at times. Mackintosh’s writing is poetic and lush, but keeps the characters as a distance when I wish I’d been able to get a bit closer to them. Still,The Water Cure is filled with beautiful symbols and intrigue and I’d certainly pick up another novel by Mackintosh in the future.
* * *
Well, I’m so behind on these posts I don’t quite know what their future is, but there’s my March reads. Let me know if you’ve picked up any of these books and what you think of them if you have!