Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

Dangerous GirlsDangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

“Wouldn’t we all look guilty, if someone searched hard enough?”

Why, hello there, awesome book. You managed to take me straight out of this whole Goodreads censorship/deleting reviews fiasco and plant me right inside another time and place; many brave books have tried and failed this past week to do what you have done. So, thank you.

Dangerous Girls is in danger. It’s in danger of being underread. It’s in danger of being given a quick once over and then dismissed as something vapid, senseless and probably crap. It isn’t, my friends. It’s damn good. Dangerous Girls is one of those multi-layered books that does several different things at once and still manages to do each one equally well. Haas does what, in my opinion, all good mystery writers should do: she doesn’t hang everything precariously-balanced on her reveals. The ending is fantastic but it doesn’t matter because the book is also about so many other things. It is a satisfying story from start to finish that took me through so many different emotions.

So, what is this book? It’s a mature YA mystery. I use “YA” with some hesitation here because it’s full of all the kinda stuff that will make some parents clutch their rosary beads – sex, alcohol abuse, drug use… oh yeah, and there’s that whole murder thing too. It’s about a teen summer vacation gone wrong. Anna, her best friend – Elise, her boyfriend – Tate, as well as others, all go to party hard, get laid and have fun. Then, one day, Elise is discovered stabbed to death in her bed and Anna and Tate are the prime suspects. From there, we are taken on a journey through a murder trial that seems to paint Anna in a worse light with every piece of “evidence” provided. The story of the present is also broken up with flashbacks into how Anna and Elise became friends.

This is a dark story that takes you through the many nasty corners of teen girl friendships but it also shows the other side, the importance of friends to one another and the complicated psychology behind it all. Elise is such a wonderfully complex character. I think most people know an Elise. That reckless, volatile person who is always the life of the party, so confident, often overtly sexual and looking for a new adventure at every turn. But underneath there’s something a bit different, a sadness or an anger or loneliness, that hides beneath the mask they’ve created.

My knowledge of the law and judicial system is limited to one year at AS that I hated, so I’m far from an expert on what is realistic or not. But I’ve always been fascinated by the portrayal of court trials as a kind of show or circus where everyone plays their parts. Where it isn’t about guilty/not guilty, but about the performance you put on and how convincingly you deliver the script. Like in the musical, Chicago. Anna’s trial resembles a circus and it horrifies me at the way each little piece of a person’s life can be taken out of context and manipulated to mean whatever the prosecutor chooses. Scary.

I honestly loved everything about this wild little gem and I’m now going to recommend it to everyone I know. That means YOU too.


The In-Between by Barbara Stewart

The In-BetweenThe In-Between by Barbara Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

I’m going to discuss the plot in depth, but the nothing more than what the synopsis already tells us, though it might be slightly spoilery, it won’t be enough to hide the review. Quotations subject to change as this is an uncorrected copy from Netgalley. I finished this a few of days ago, and I’m still struggling to figure out how to explain this book. Here goes nothing.

The story is about Ellie, and basically, her descent into madness. We never know if it’s mental illness she suffers from, something paranormal, or just exacerbated hormones. I realize how that sounds, but I still have no idea, even though I feel as though her issue was mental health related. Is she schizophrenic, bipolar, multiple personalities, anxiety disorder, head trauma, or perhaps a combination of several of these? It’s hard to say because Ellie is an extremely unreliable narrator; she’s supposed to be, the entire story is told by means of her journal entries, so limited information is the way it goes.

We know right away that she is suffering from some sort of mental illness because she tells us about her attempted suicide, and how her parents are moving so they can all have a fresh start. Before they can make it to their new home they are involved in a fatal car crash, though who dies isn’t clear for some time, if ever really. At first it was her mother that died, and her father is completely unable to move forward. Was it severe depression that was affecting her, because we find out that her father was depressive as well.

Worse even than when I tried to die. It’s like all those other bouts of depression were just tremors, little quakes. Losing Mom is too big. The world is crashing down and all he can do is stand and watch, alone and terrified, powerless to go on living.

I’m here, but I’m not Mom. I can’t talk to him the way she talked to him.

As we watch father and daughter struggle to come to terms with their loss, Ellie meets Madeline Torus, and instantly has a connection with her. Madeline just waltzed in to Ellie’s room wanting to listen to music and hang out, but Ellie didn’t find this odd, no, in fact she basked in the attention from this girl. She admired the way Madeline dressed, the way she could dance, the way she held herself, and most importantly Ellie loved the way she felt when she was with Madeline. The line between friendship, lover(?), and obsession is blurred between these two for the entire book even when (view spoiler). Let me share a sampling of quotes to give you an idea of what I mean here:

My purpose is clear. There’s a reason why I survived the accident. Her name is Madeline Torus.

But she’s safe now. I would never hurt her, not in a million years. Not my Madeline. My stone angel. I will always be hers. She will always be mine. Forever and ever.

[…] I’ll do my homework and watch TV and then take a pill so Madeline and I will become one.

Madeline kisses me on the lips. Not like a boy. Closer. We are meant to be forever.

After she met Madeline and tried to deal with the fact that her father is unable to care for her, or himself, suddenly things change, and it’s not her mother who had died in the crash, but rather her father. She was suffering from head trauma. I had a hard time believing that this was “real” life because I couldn’t tell what was real and wasn’t anymore, or ever really.

Regarding her mental illness, if that is even what’s wrong with her, there was no healthy resolution. She was forced into therapy when her mom found her after she had been cutting, apparently severely, but the help didn’t seem to really help her. I didn’t feel that Ellie went through any kind of change, or ever recognized that she had a problem. I think the story worked the way she left it, other than the very end, but it would have been nice to see Ellie become healthy, well, healthier, in the end. I was left wondering if that’s what it felt like to suffer from extreme psychotic disorders, and it was frightening and depressing.

The strangeness in this book was both an asset and a hindrance for me. I generally like my answers, but I also really like creepy and dark, and that’s part of what has held me back from trying to review this. On one hand it’s everything I look for in a book: grey, creepiness, dark, twisted, and uncomfortable. On the other hand it’s ambiguity was almost too much for me.

I think this is a really strong debut; the writing captured the voice of a disturbed girl with perfection, and the subject was fascinating, if a bit hard to suffer through. If you like a story that makes you uncomfortable, and has a serious dose of creepy, then you will probably like this.


The In-BetweenThe In-Between by Barbara Stewart
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

Sometimes a great idea is not enough.

Let me ask you: do you rate logically after weighing up all the literary pros and cons of a book and assessing its creativity and originality? Or do you rate emotionally based on your own personal reaction to a book? You see, I find it difficult to do anything but the latter. And I do appreciate that this book has a lot to offer. It’s crept rather quietly onto the goodreads scene out of nowhere and is already making waves on Kirkus and in the early GR reviews. I can see why. The idea is genius and, as I became more aware of what the author was doing, I found myself pleading with the book at every turn to become a new favourite. Sadly, though, I think this is a fantastic idea that fails on the execution. Only time will tell if I’m in the minority.

The real question is: how many points do you earn for originality? Especially when enjoyment was scarce? I found this story to be incredibly dry in its telling, lacking any depth of emotion to keep me invested in the journey of the characters. I like my characters. They are possibly the most important thing for me in a novel and my interest quickly dies if I don’t care about them. And this book more than most relies on the reader’s desire to find out what is going on. The ambiguity of the novel should be a driving force, pushing you onwards on your quest for answers, and yet it was a barrier for me that prevented me forming a connection to any of the characters. Or perhaps it was a lack of character connection that made me uninterested in finding out the answers… who knows? Chicken or the egg.

But the idea. WOAH, the idea. This book does something I love. It questions the nature of reality, mental illness and the supernatural. It makes you unsure of what is real and unsure of who is alive and who is dead. Is Madeline a ghost? Or a product of Elanor’s imagination? And, in the end, what’s the difference? It suggests the possibility that mental illness could actually be a blurring of worlds – is “crazy” merely what happens when people straddle the line between this world and the next? Ellie’s story is nothing if not creative. It all starts when Ellie, her parents and her cat are in a car accident. They were moving to a smaller town for a fresh start after Ellie suffered from depression and eventually attempted suicide. The car accident is just the start of this bizarre story that leads us to question pretty much everything that happens afterwards, including the arrival of Madeline and whether or not she even exists.

The In-Between will appeal to readers who appreciate it when authors do something different. This book explores several interesting concepts and raises numerous questions. But I think it lacks a spark. A spark that interests me in the characters and the story. I feel it is not so much a novel as it is a genius concept and I’m not sure that “different” can always be called “good”. Though I finished feeling it was necessary to compliment the author’s originality, I never once experienced excitement at what the next page might hold.


Hurt by Tabitha Suzuma

HurtHurt by Tabitha Suzuma
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

There are now three years and over five hundred books between me and my completion of Suzuma’s Forbidden. The last three years have seen my reading tastes change a lot; books I used to love often start to pale in comparison to newer treasures who do similar things but do them far better. So I don’t know how I would feel if I read Forbidden now but, going on memory alone, I recall liking it a lot. I thought the author was brave to tackle such a controversial and edgy subject. And I thought it was sad, emotional, moving, powerful… you get me, I’m sure. Basically, all the usual adjectives applied to teen “problem books” that are done well. Well, whether it’s me who has changed or the author, I can’t say without doing a re-read but I can say that I found Hurt to be painfully melodramatic. So much so that the very important subject it focuses on felt like nothing more than fuel for cheap shock tactics.

The book started reasonably well, even if the third person present tense took some getting used to. My memory is fuzzy but there seemed to be a lot more attention paid to detailed descriptions of people and surroundings in this than there was in Forbidden. It’s not a complaint; I actually found myself admiring Suzuma’s pretty writing in the first couple of chapters. The story opens with a confused Matheo Walsh waking up in his destroyed bedroom. He knows that something isn’t right, that there’s a memory he can’t quite recall of something… something really bad. We then get a flashback to bring us to up to speed with who Matheo is. He’s a popular, good-looking, diving champion who seems headed for Olympic gold. He has good friends and a girlfriend who loves him. So the question is: what could have possibly happened to this boy who has everything to turn his life upside down?

I’m not going to come out and say what this book is about – even though I don’t think it’s particularly hard to guess – but I do think it’s something that more needs to be written about. Only recently I was thinking how very few books seem to address this subject after I read another book that touched upon it. I will spoiler tag the name of this other book because, if you’ve read it, it will obviously give a big part of the story away. It’s up to you if you want to know what I’m referring to – (view spoiler). Anyway, in my opinion, the approach of this other book worked much better for me. It was more subtle and the build-up to the reveal didn’t feel quite so melodramatic and cringy. I couldn’t shake the feeling that every emotion portrayed in Hurt was over the top and disingenuous.

There’s a lot of drama in this novel that feels like a plot tool to stretch out the length of the book. A lot of Matheo’s feelings are repeated constantly. Every other paragraph seems to include a metaphor for his emotional state, like him jumping from a plane without a parachute or something equally trite. It also focuses a lot on the romance between Matheo and his girlfriend (Lola) and how this is affected by what happens. I understand why it was important, in part, but I got tired of Matheo and Lola’s conversations going around in the same circles of “Are you okay, sweetheart?” “No, but I can’t tell you why” “Yes you can, I love you” “No I can’t” *storms off dramatically* A lot of Hurt seems to be about the characters wandering around in the same cycles of conversation and thought until Matheo eventually admits what’s wrong.

Lola also annoyed me the more the book went on. She is an astonishingly under-developed character despite having such a central role to play in the story. She exists in this book solely as Matheo’s girlfriend; she seems to live for him and not have a thought for anything beyond him and their relationship. Who is she? What does she want other than Matheo? What does she care about? She stands by waiting to tell Matheo she loves him when the occasion calls for it. Other than that, though, she is nothing more than a throwaway character.

In the other book I mentioned before, the big reveal doesn’t matter so much. It matters only in that we care about the main character and want him to be okay (well, I did). The problem with Hurt is how everything is built up around the mystery of what happened to Matheo and who was responsible for it. So if, like me, you manage to figure out (from a bunch of clues that were totally obvious, if you ask me) exactly what is going on, then there’s little else here for you. Everything about this book felt contrived and full of melodrama that left me cold and unmoved. There’s also a nice big tragedy at the end that only made me angry and annoyed at the stupid characters and the book itself. Very disappointed.

Two stars for writing about an important issue and not completely boring me. But no more because of everything I’ve said above.


Tampa by Alissa Nutting

TampaTampa by Alissa Nutting
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

Believe me, I can easily understand all the negative reactions to this book but I can’t help but find it absolutely fascinating.

In fact, since putting the book down, I’ve given myself a while to think about it and, the more I do, the more I find myself acknowledging how clever and brilliant it is. And even feminist in a way, but I’ll get to that later. You should be aware, if you haven’t already gathered from other reviews, this book is full of vile descriptions and crude language. Being inside Celeste’s head makes you feel like you need a good long shower afterwards and if you’re not ready for graphic descriptions of the female anatomy and masturbation methods, then you’re not ready for this book. No details are spared here: you have been warned.

The story is about eighth-grade teacher, Celeste Price, who on the outside appears to be everything anyone would want to be: attractive, intelligent, happily married… but underneath the surface lurks a secret she has kept hidden since she was fourteen years old. A secret desire for fourteen year old boys. It plagues her every thought, every step, every move. In private, all she can think about are ways to act upon her longing. She wants to set herself up in a position to engage in an affair with one of the objects of her desire. And eventually, an opportunity arises. Celeste begins a sexual relationship with the fourteen year old Jack. She pursues him, seduces him and uses him to fulfill her sexual needs. There is no love or romance in this story. The only one fooled is Jack. Celeste is not another Humbert in that she never attempts to convince the reader or herself that what she does is for love. It’s all about sex.

What this book does, above everything else, is make us question the gendered view we have of sexual relationships. We are inside Celeste’s mind, getting a good look at how perverted, depraved and even sociopathic she is, so we experience outrage at the way society and the law allow her to escape justice because she is an attractive young woman. There’s an assumption still often being made that women are the passive gender in a sexual relationship and that men are natural predators/aggressors. It’s hard for us to imagine a woman sexually abusing a man. This question is even asked in the book: “If you were a teenage male, would you call a sexual experience with her abuse?” A teen girl with a male teacher is considered a victim of his evil manipulation – a passive victim without a sexuality of her own coming into play. But a teen boy with a female teacher is victim of nothing more than the perfect teen male fantasy. Can attractive women really be rapists? Isn’t Celeste just giving the boys what they want? Doesn’t that make it okay? These are the questions one might ask if they weren’t living inside her mind.

While the disgusting and graphic language left me feeling uncomfortable at times, I also felt it was completely necessary to make the point effectively. The point being that a woman can be as much of a sexual predator as a man and that teen boys can be as much of a victim as teen girls. If we’d been treated to something akin to Humbert’s narrative in Lolita, if it was our sympathy that Celeste looked for, I think the important message would be completely missed. We needed Celeste to be a monster and a sexual predator to show that women can be. And to show how female monsters often go unpunished because of their gender. It reminded me of Gillian Flynn’s characters and the way she creates such fantastically evil women. It’s strange, I suppose, to consider that creating female murderers and rapists is a form of feminism but I think it serves to break down ideas we hold about gender. I also think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge male abuse by females because it does happen and nowhere near enough is written about it. It’s such a taboo subject that male victims often feel ashamed of it and unable to get help.

I have to confess: I quite liked the language. Well, okay, perhaps “like” is the wrong word but I really appreciate crude honesty in books, particularly when the author utilises language the way this author does. I’m not sure we needed such a graphic description of Celeste’s vagina and her masturbation methods but, what the hell, it certainly achieved it’s purpose with me. And, strange as it may sound, there was an odd beauty to the author’s writing that gave a certain artistry to such descriptions. They were gross, naturally, but weirdly poetic.

One thing that is true most of all about Tampa: it makes you think. I put it down and literally spent about an hour sat there, just going over everything in my head. I thought about the way we view relationships, what this means for both men and women, victims and rapists; I thought about the judicial system and the way the law isn’t about guilty/not guilty but the show you put on (which admittedly made me sing Razzle Dazzle from Chicago); I’m still thinking about it all now. One thing I can say for certain – I’m really glad I picked this up.


The Scourge by A.G. Henley

The Scourge (Brilliant Darkness, #1)The Scourge by A.G. Henley
My rating: 1 of 5 teacups

This book was given up at 20% into it, and I’m surprised I made it that far. Instead of writing about an overall take on the book, I’d like to break it down piece by piece as I had highlighted parts that made no sense. Wow, for not making it very far in the book, I’ve got 19 pages of notes on the kindle. Shall we begin?

“I grew up in the forest. I know every path, and the position of every tree and bush.” (7%)
“I wrap my hand around Eland’s sapling-thin arm–roots and creeping weeds on the forest floor have sent me sprawling more often than I want to remember.” (1%)
“I might be terrified and disoriented, but I don’t need a Lofty to give me directions in the forest.” (8%)

I didn’t really care for Fenn by the time I stopped, and it all started with those examples. She was born Sightless, and at first I was in complete understanding of her having fallen in the woods (even though it wasn’t clear about when in her life falling was an issue), but then she goes on to be a jerk about knowing everything, and I’m like, oh-you’re spechul, that’s right. She flipped from being nervous about not having a guide in the woods, to being some kind of pace counting baddass. My first thought when she mentioned the falling, was how in the hell are you supposed to be the only person capable of getting water if you can’t keep from falling?

She talks about how there are a million thoughts in her head (when she first goes to get the water) about sounds, smells, scary stories, memories of the creatures screams, all while apparently keeping the pace count in her head, and then adds singing to all that. And keeps count. Because it’s the counting that she uses to navigate; which I’m not saying isn’t logical, just that the cacophony in her head makes it harder to believe she wouldn’t lose count.

Moving on!

“When a boy asks a girl my age, seventeen years, to dance at the Summer Solstice celebration, it usually means he’s singled her out as his partner–for life, not just for the dance.”(2%)
(Talks about her lifelong friend and then) “But…maybe I’m just not ready to partner.”(2%)
(talks about her hair) “–and a thrill runs through me. I wonder if I’ll be asked to dance tonight.” (2%)
“It can’t hurt to look my best”(2%)
“”I don’t want to be the only one not asked, you know?”” (Callie)(2%)
“I do know, although I think I’m more willing to suffer the humiliation of not being asked than to agree to partner for life with whoever might feel like asking me today.”(2%)
“”Maybe it’s time for a new tradition.””(4%)(Fenn says–as she goes to greet the Lofties that come every year to the Solstice Celebration)
“There’s no rule against dancing with them, but that’s only because no one has ever tried. Aloe–not to mention the rest of my people–might be furious with me. I decide I don’t care. At least I’ll have made my own choice.”(5%)
“”Peree? Would you like to dance?” He doesn’t say anything. I bite my bottom lip. “You know, dance? I’m not bad, really. I won’t even step on your feet much.”(5%)

Sigh. So many things about this annoy me that I almost don’t even want to talk about them. If she didn’t want to partner with her friend, who was hinted at being the guy to ask her to dance, then why would she ask her new Keeper and make it sound like it was only a dance?! How did anyone learn to dance at all since the dance equaled marriage, lol. The whole thing was just too much of a contradiction to satisfy me, and Fenn wasn’t a baddass in asking Peree with the information we’re given. I wasn’t impressed.

Now for information on those horrifying Lofties.

“All the Lofty men are named for birds, while the women have ridiculous names like Sunbeam, Dewdrop, and Mist.”(5%)(view spoiler)
“The Lofties usually give us more warning when the Scourge is near. It’s their part of our uneasy bargain.”(6%)
“And what about Peree? He’s kind. Concerned. Funny, even. Things Lofties aren’t supposed to be. I’m not supposed to like him.”(10%)
“We don’t talk much about the Exchange, either. It only reminds us why we hate the Lofties.”(11%) –“Generations ago”–is when it all happened I guess.
“People with dark coloring were arbitrarily forced to the forest floor to become Groundlings.”(11%)
“The fair-haired, light eyed children are taken by the Lofties to live high above the ground, in the sunlit warmth and security of their tree-top aeries. The dark babies are taken by us, to live in fear of the Scourge.” (view spoiler)

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I don’t like anything about this caste system, and there isn’t any other explanations up to the point that I gave up. It doesn’t make any kind of sense! We have no idea what the year is, we don’t know how MANY generations ago shit went to hell, and the way they have divided the people lacks all logic!! On top of that, to make it sound as though those the people wouldn’t have fucking revolted pissed me off! Who in their right mind is going to think that if you’re left on the ground with zombies, while your neighbor is safely away from their reach, that you wouldn’t fucking change things!! We’re told that the Scourge leaves, and when they’re there, they only stay for a few days at a time (a week once), so what the fuck prevents the Lofties from getting their own damn water, or for that matter, why haven’t either people created a damn storage system?! This chick is using bags, and a fucking sled, to gather water. Making multiple trips with the Scourge surrounding her in order to get water, and meanwhile, her Keeper is killing them but she never once trips over a dead body (he does warn her two different times about stepping to the side, but it was after she’d been standing still. There are times when she’s walking and he’s shooting, but magically nothing unexpected ever comes in contact with her).

I mean really. I just can’t even.

The Scourge, or Fleshies, or flesh-eaters:

“They roam the forests, reeking of festering flesh, consuming anything living. People who survive the attacks become flesh-eaters themselves. Death is better.”(3%)
“They only move on when they’ve exhausted their food source, the animals–and humans–who rely on the fresh water to survive. Groundlings have tried over the years, but we’ve never been able to find another source of water. It’s risky to explore very far from the caves, because we never know when the flesh-eaters will come. So we’re stuck, with the Lofties, with the Scourge.”(6%)
“The caves are safe. The flesh-eaters don’t come in…”(6%)
“The Scourge typically stays for two or three days, but they could stay longer. Sometimes even a week or more. The elders didn’t speak of those times.”(10%)

Tell me why the Groundlings wouldn’t have just started living in the caves if that’s one sure-fire way to stay safe?! Seriously?! They say they can’t leave the caves until the Scourge has left, but yet the arrows that Peree shot them with kills them, so why the fuck don’t the groundlings make some fucking weapons!!! Or, better yet, why haven’t they made some fucking boats and taken to living on the lake since the Scourge can’t swim?!

Furthermore, this bit about Fennel’s protection from them made no sense to me.
“I’
m supposed to be safe from the Scourge, like Aloe, but I haven’t been tested. I will be soon.”(3%)
“For a moment I wonder if my protection will hold, but I push the thought away.(7%)
“My protection from the creatures was confirmed, and it gave them a new respect for me.”(10%)

And

“I’m not sure I’ll live to see the morning after the Three discover my duplicity.”(16%)
“…serious lapse in judgment that may have contributed to the deaths of several Groundlings.”(18%)
“And you will spend the night in the forest, among the Scourge, as a reminder that you can either stand together with your community…or you will stand alone.”(18%)

Let me get this straight–testing Fennel to see if she wouldn’t be EATEN was simply finding out if…they wouldn’t eat her on her way to get water the first time?! I had assumed they’d captured one and would see if it shrunk away from her or something, but no, it was ‘hey girl, it’s your duty now to provide water to the whole tribe, so get going, and I hope you don’t die.’ Dumb! Then I start wondering, well I wonder all over again, why she would be the only one to get water as a Sightless (other than Aloe, who is her foster mother, and just stepped down from water duties to become a member of the council I guess), and they clearly have no qualms about her safety. In fact, they decide to punish her having given the Lofties their water rations against their wishes, by possibly condemning her to die outside the caves while the Scourge is there?! NO FUCKING SENSE! In fact, the whole issue of them not wanting to give the Lofties their water that day was stupid. Why in the name of gawd would they want to antagonize the people they admit gives them protection from the zombies?! Fennel does ask this, which was good, but still. It didn’t make sense.

To sum up my feelings in pictures…

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