I wasn’t sure if it would turn out that way but I ended up having a second half of September that was just as productive, reading-wise, as the first half (and a whole lot more productive work-wise! Which was nice).
The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas is the second book I’ve read by the author, having enjoyed her debut The Darkest Corners (reviewed here) for the writing, but having issues with some of the storyline, I was thrilled to find a definite improvement in her latest work. The Cheerleaders is the story of a small town where the cheerleaders have died. Two were killed in a car accident on a rainy day, two were murdered by the boy next door, and the last, Monica’s sister, killed herself. Now it’s five years later, and when Monica uncovers a cellphone with a link to the past, she’s determined to find out what really happened to the cheerleaders.
Once again, I really enjoyed Thomas’ writing, especially when it came to the voice of the main character, Monica. Thomas does an excellent job blending a realistic teen with unrealistic twists and drama, although this book is early inspired by true events that took place in Dryden, New York. Even though the focus on the book was on the dark mystery, there was a lot of emotion behind Monica’s experiences, and while it took awhile for the thriller intensity to pick up, my heart broke for Monica from the beginning. I also though that Thomas did a great job showcasing the Monica’s friendships. While I definitely suspected some of the twists, but The Cheerleaders easily managed to keep my interest as I devoured the audiobook over two days. After the growth Thomas has had in her writing so far, I’ll definitely be picking up whatever she publishes next.
Honestly, Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey was one of those books I could never seem to finish because it never seemed to end. I found Healey’s debut, Elizabeth Is Missing, quite powerful, but the issue is that her novels get promoted like they are thrillers but they are actually more like literary fiction–I actually checked back to my review of Elizabeth Is Missing from 3 years ago and found I had the exact same complaint. However, while Elizabeth Is Missing still worked for me because of the strong emotional connection I had with the narrator, this was definitely not the case with Whistle in the Dark.
Whistle in the Dark is told from the perspective of Jen, whose teenage daughter was found after going missing for 4 days, and nobody knows what happened but Jen is determined to find out. See–it sounds like a mystery! The novel is told in very short passages rather than chapters, brief moments in time and thought. It’s a quiet, fragmented story that moves so so slowly it took me almost 4 months to read. It’s not badly written, it’s actually quite poetic at times, but I just didn’t care about Jen, or any of her problems, and it seems like 99% of the book is her complaining and it got very repetitive. That said, if you are looking for a book with lovely writing about a mother-daughter relationship, Whistle in the Dark might interest you, but regardless I do recommend Healey’s debut, Elizabeth is Missing.
Have you ever waited a few years between reading books by an author you’ve enjoyed in the past, only to pick ups heir latest book and be blown away? That’s exactly what happened with me and Sadie by Courtney Summers. I’ve read three books (Cracked Up To Be, Some Girls Are, and This is Not a Test) all in 2012, and I enjoyed all of them, so I’m not sure why it’s been 6 years, but I’m so glad I returned to her writing in time for Sadie. Sadie is a powerfully written mystery about a teenage girl, Sadie, who goes missing not long after her little sister was murdered. The book is told in a combination of podcast excerpts and passages from Sadie.
Sadie is a very dark story, where I was simultaneously wanting to know how turned out but afraid to know. The story is realistic and painful, messy and complicated, and the writing is flawless. Sadie’s voice is so real. I already know this novel will make it on my top ten books of the year (and I’ve read over 100 so far). It’s an emotional and page-turning story. The audiobook, which I listened to, has an incredible full cast that really feels like listening to a podcast. The audiobook also includes my favourite narrator, Rebecca Soler as Sadie, and as much as I recommend this book which I am sure would be remarkable and memorable no matter what, I do highly recommend that format. After Sadie, I can promise it will not be another 6 years until I pick up another book by Courtney Summers.
And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness is my first book from the author, and it’s certainly a strange one. This is a retelling of Moby Dick from the whale’s perspective, interspersed with beautiful art by Rovina Cai. It’s very short, the audiobook is only 2.5 hours, but unfortunately I just couldn’t get into it. Maybe I would appreciate this story more if I’d read Moby Dick or was at least pretty familiar with that story, but while Ness did a good job creating a magical, mystical world of whales, I just found the whole thing boring. I have heard good things about Ness, so I’d be willing to give his writing another try and hope it was less dry with another storyline, but unfortunately And the Ocean Was Our Sky was not a good fit for me.
Every once in awhile I read a mystery novel with a lot of promise that totally lets me down at the end, and unfortunately that’s what happened with When The Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica. This story takes places after Jessie’s mother dies, and Jessie, having applied to college, finds out her social security number does not exist, which leads her down a rabbit hole to solve the mystery of who she really is. The book is interspersed with passages from Jessie’s mother’s journal, 20 years earlier.
Reading When The Lights Go Out requires that you are the kind of reader who can suspend disbelief so that it doesn’t bother you that somebody can last until applying to college before they realize there’s a problem with their identity, because they never applied for a driver’s licence, got a job that didn’t pay under the table, had a cellphone, filed taxes, left the country, etc. If you’re willing to not let that bother you, and it definitely annoyed me, I actually thought Kubica’s writing was pretty good and that the book had good pacing which could have made it a great thriller. Unfortunately, it’s all let down by a BIG TWIST that was incredibly dissatisfying. I also didn’t find Jessie to be that interesting/sympathetic of a main character, and the romance storyline was an unnecessary write-off. Even though I enjoyed Kubica’s writing I am hesitant to pick up another one of her books after When The Lights Go Out, but for the right book I’d give her writing another try.
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James is one of the books I’ve read this year with the most unusual premise, but somehow it doesn’t manage to come across as gimmicky, and that made it really a pleasure to read. It’s the story of Romy, the daughter of two deceased astronauts who was born on a spaceship and for the last 5 years has been the only one it. She’s lonely––one might even say, the loneliest girl in the universe–so it is great news when she learns another ship will be joining hers. It’s even better news when she starts communicating with the other captain, J, and the two become quick friends. But it turns out that J is keeping secrets, and maybe Romy was better off alone after all…
I listened to the audiobook of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, which I have no complaints about, but it was clear from listening that the writing is pretty simplistic. Romy is supposed to be almost 20, and even though she’s been raised by herself on a spaceship, she definitely reads more like a young teen than a grown woman. That said, I still had a lot of empathy for her, it just made the interactions with J come across even creepier because she seemed like she was actually 13 years old. I really enjoyed the premise of the book, and I thought there were some fun, both predictable and not predictable, twists to the story. This was a really easy book to listen to and James did a great job keeping up the intrigue and tension despite telling a story that is basically one person aboard a space ship. I actually got really stressed about what might happen to Romy.
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is fast-paced science-fiction, and just a really enjoyable read, so even if this isn’t a genre you normally reach for, I’d consider making an exception for this novel. I will definitely be picking up future books by James.
I don’t read a ton of graphic novels, but it is a genre I enjoy every once in awhile, and I was excited to pick up The Broken Vow written by Scott Westerfeld and illustrated by Alex Puvilland, after adoring the first volume in the duology, Spill Zone (reviewed here). The Broken Vow picks up where Spill Zone left off, and features all the same characters plus a lot of answers to questions left at the end of the last book. It’s still creepy and strange, but some of the novelty has worn off, and I was missing the impactful emotional story from the first book. I feel like this volume was more about clarifying lingering questions, and it also had a lot less mystery and intrigue. Still, I really love the world Westerfeld and Puvilland have created, so while I am pretty sure that The Broken Vow is the last book in this series, if any future books were released I’d definitely pick them up as well.
I really love reading dark mystery thrillers these days, so I’m happy that so many are being published, but unfortunately that means I end up picking up quite a few that I don’t particularly care for, and that’s definitely what happened with The Exes’ Revenge by Jo Jakeman. I’d never even heard of this book before a copy showed up in my mailbox, but while that sometimes lead to a new surprise favourite, this was not one of those books. The Exes’ Revenge is the story of Imogen, who takes revenge on her ex-husband while going through a messy divorce, only to have his other ex-wife and current girlfriend get tangled up in the plans.
Based on the synopsis, I knew that Jakeman’s debut was going to be over the top, and it definitely has a soap opera quality to it, where bad just keeps getting worse. That said, while it includes a lot of thrilling elements, it’s just kinda messy and boring to read. It starts off with a funeral and then goes back in time, which should be thrilling but it ends up taking a lot a lot of the mystery of the book and resulting in an underwhelming ending. The book drags and moves really slowly. I wanted more passion, more vengeance, especially for the exes’ besides Imogen–I never really felt like the book even lived up to its title. I felt like The Exes’ Revenge had a strong start and premise, but as somebody who reads a lot of thrillers, this one was a disappointment for me.
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And that’s it for my September reads. A pretty good reading month overall! I even passed the 100th book mark for the year, which means I’ve officially read more books than last year. And it’s not even over yet! Now time to see how much I can read in the last 3 months…