The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

The Waking DarkThe Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

I think it’s time to admit a sad truth: me and Robin Wasserman are simply not meant for one another. It’s tragic to have to acknowledge this when most of my GR friends seem to be in the middle of some epic love affair with her books. But I had my problems with The Book of Blood and Shadow – I tried my best to love it but felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall – and even this latest venture into the world of creepy horror and general mindfuckery couldn’t convince me to join the fan club. I don’t think it’ll be easy to explain why, because I do believe Wasserman is a strong writer on many levels… but I’ll do what I can.

Things always start good between us. I open the book and find myself immediately transported into the time and place where the story finds its setting. The author is a master of atmosphere – whether it be the dark, secretive streets of Prague or a creepy little American town that is evidently plagued by something more monstrous than we can even imagine. Her writing is solid and beautifully descriptive. Her characters are complex, driven by emotions that simultaneously scare us and earn our understanding. If you’re like me, then you begin a Wasserman novel believing it’s going to wind up on your all time favourites list. And then something starts to happen. I begin to notice it about a quarter of the way in and become sure of it by the time I’ve read a third of the book.

The descriptive style that was oh-so-lovely at the beginning becomes tiring. The in-depth exploration of the characters which you thought was really clever before starts to hurt your brain. “Plot!” I feel myself screaming “Where are you?” The writing style weighs down each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter and makes the story drag. The author spends SO MUCH time creating a setting and an atmosphere before the story starts to progress. She spends so much time building a complex portrait of the characters before any answers start to be given. And some of you will love this. I know some of you already do and, believe me, I can see why. But I like my stories as much as I like my characters and writing. There’s really only so long I can go without one. I personally prefer novels that integrate character development and atmosphere building with the main plotline, not those that set it all up at the beginning and only then proceed to tell a story.

I want to stress that my feelings towards books like this portrays my own personal dislike for novels that are told in a certain way. It’s affected my enjoyment of almost universally liked books such as The Book Thief and Code Name Verity. For that reason, you should probably disregard this review if you’re a fan of really creepy, small town horror stories. Wasserman owns the creepy in this story. I truly admire her for not easing up on the grit, gore and adult themes just because she’s writing for young adults – she’s not afraid to go there and, for me, that’s a big compliment to give to any author.


Champion by Marie Lu

Champion (Legend, #3)Champion by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

And… it’s over.

This series has come a long, long way from where it started and has managed to shatter boundaries and exceed expectations where, in my opinion, other series like Divergent and Blood Red Road have failed. It started out like almost every other piece of dystopian fiction released in 2011. Some random political facts thrown about, set in a future United States that was torn apart by war, oppressive government in power and, of course, a nice little side order of romance that could *almost* be described as instalove. I confess that the first installment didn’t impress me and it took some seriously positive reviews of the second book to make me try it. But I am so glad that I did.

This final book is brimming with action and suspense. The pacing doesn’t slow down for a second and it suits the high-stakes plot. The previous book left us with some shocking information about Day that will surely be at the forefront of most readers’ minds when picking up this conclusion – it doesn’t disappoint. It’s true that there were only a limited number of ways this could end but with Lu it doesn’t seem to matter because she has your mind constantly running through the options and wondering where she’ll take you next. The sense of constant uncertainty instilled in my brain throughout this book was terrifying and intoxicating. It’s been a while since I read a book so completely unputdownable.

I also really like the way Lu has developed her characters. For me, June and Day have come a long way and matured so much since book one. This kind of natural growth is realistic, important and perhaps one of the main reasons I enjoy reading young adult so much – watching the characters flourish, become wiser and deal with all the different pressures of life in this difficult period of growing up (doubly so when your country relies on you). Looking back, I have a certain respect for the author in the way she portrayed their initial meeting and the start of their relationship. What seemed like lazy writing, in hindsight, actually seems like Lu deliberately showed the difference in maturity between the relationships of hormonal teens and young adults who’ve experienced a bit of life. Day and June were far more likeable as a couple in this book than I’ve ever noticed before.

The last two or three chapters of this book literally had me on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t look away. It takes a skilled writer to have you questioning what will happen right up until the last page. And it takes an even more skilled writer to bring tears to my eyes. Sometimes I say books make me cry when I really mean they just get a sniffle and an “awww” out of me… because I’m a cold-hearted person. But this book made my eyes fill up at the end. An ending that I thought was perfectly ambiguous – full of both sadness and hope. Why? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.


She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

She Is Not InvisibleShe Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

I honestly think that Marcus Sedgwick is one of the most underrated writers that I’ve ever read. His books often leave me feeling mesmerised long after I’ve left the final page behind. He doesn’t care about trends or pleasing people. He delivers unique stories and interesting narratives – each of which is nothing like the last. He writes in different genres and isn’t afraid to cross the lines of them and make you wonder exactly what you’ve let yourself in for. I have a lot of admiration for him. From the beautifully written historical fiction of Revolver, to the strange but compelling fantasy of Midwinterblood, he has always seemed to deliver. Which, I think, makes She Is Not Invisible doubly disappointing.

This book tries. You can see it trying from page one. Maybe, you might say, it tries too hard. I was initially delighted by the introduction of a blind teen protagonist – not something I am too familiar with – and the engaging opening that presents us with a bizarre mystery. In this story, Laureth Peak’s father is a famous writer who appears to have gone missing. He is supposed to be doing research in Europe but all is apparently not what it seems when someone contacts Laureth informing her that her father’s notebook has been found in New York. Afraid for her father’s safety and perhaps even his sanity, Laureth runs away with her brother on a mission to locate their missing parent after the other one seems unconcerned. Even inexperienced readers will find themselves mentally working through the possibilities of what could have happened – good news is, you’re all probably wrong.

But there’s bad news too. Or there was for me. Firstly, there’s a lack of believability in everything that happens in this novel. I can suspend disbelief quite a lot, I really can. But not only does Laureth manage to fool numerous airport staff into letting a blind sixteen-year-old girl leave the country with her kid brother, she also manages to sufficiently distract the security at the New York airport enough that they simply wave her through. That’s right. The security staff at an airport were like “oh well, we’re a bit distracted with this other thing over here so go on through”. The book was already losing me by this point.

The problems I had with the believability were a real shame. More so in this than other books because I really appreciated the author trying to realistically portray the way a blind person perceives the world. Through Laureth, I had the opportunity to think about things I don’t normally consider and understand a bit more about the difficulties facing people with little to no eyesight. It made for some sad and terrifying scenes in the book. But it still failed in the end, if you ask me. The book became a joke with every ridiculous turn it took and this detracted from what had started as something really special.

Though perhaps the thing I disliked most were the attempts to make this book deeply philosophical. This is what I mean when I said it tried too hard. Unlike the other novels I’ve read by this author, the book set out to convey a message, not to tell a story. And it didn’t work. The slow build-up was manageable only because it seemed to promise a wow factor somewhere down the line… it was anticlimactic, to say the least. The main story is split up with pages of Laureth’s father’s notebook which talks about coincidence, patterns of the universe, Einstein (amongst other scientists) and the general meaning of it all. It asked big questions but seemed to end with a shrug of its metaphorical shoulders that left me feeling like I’d just wasted the last couple of hours. Very disappointing.


Gated by Amy Christine Parker

GatedGated by Amy Christine Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

I don’t know what I was expecting from Gated. My first bet was on zombies but, if not that, my second guess was Mormons. Turns out I was wrong! This is a book that starts mild and entertaining. It paints you a picture of the protagonist – Lyla – and introduces the reader to her life which, though strange, seems peaceful and pleasant. But then, like a hidden monster crouching beneath the surface, the dark creepiness starts to be unveiled to us. The community where Lyla lives might not be the sanctuary she’s always believed. And the man who leads them might be hiding secrets Lyla never imagined.

Gated completely took me by surprise; from the plot to the characters to the way I felt myself getting more and more hooked as the story went on. This is one of those times when I really appreciate a creepy realistic thriller instead of something more supernatural. There’s something deeply chilling about the knowledge that – not only could this happen – but it actually does in many places around the world. I’ve always been a bit fascinated by cults and their many forms. What does it take to convince people to give up their lives and join you in believing something that, more often than not, is completely bizarre? It amazes me even further the way these small communities tend to reject national law in favour of placing all power in the hands of their own dictator. It amazes me that some people actually have the charm and influence to make this happen.

It’s weird to think that these aren’t all crazy people or those who’ve been born into this life and know nothing else. Cults also recruit people who have your standard, 9-to-5, average lives and make them believe something other than what they’ve always known. It’s scary. I don’t know about you, but it makes me question my own susceptibility. As much as I’d like to say a very firm “no”, is it possible that I could get caught up in something like this? I mean, judging by the half-empty tub of Ben&Jerry’s in my freezer, I wouldn’t say I’m about to win any willpower awards. Who knows? The psychology of cult behaviour is both fascinating and terrifying.

Back to the book. As I touched upon before, the pace of the novel seems to slowly increase as you move along. One minute I thought I was safe and then suddenly I’d gotten to the climax of the novel and my pulse was pounding. It’s a book that will make you angry, then sad, then scared for Lyla, then angry again. More than anyone in this book, I felt such a huge sense of outrage towards Lyla’s parents. They let her down, put her in danger and stood by while she was physically abused. I don’t know if this is really a spoiler but I’ll tag it just in case: (view spoiler)

Possibly the thing I like most about this book is the way the author isn’t afraid to go there. Not many YA authors are brave enough to put their characters through several levels of hell. I don’t like situations in books (or movies, tv, etc.) where the tension is sapped out of the moment by the knowledge that the writer(s) will never dare kill the good guys or just, you know, go there. I don’t even know why the Vampire Diaries writers insist on having those scenes where Damon nearly dies with dramatic music in the background. No one actually believes they’re going to kill off Ian Somerhalder’s character – they’d lose at least half their viewers! Okay, I will stop digressing.

There is one thing I take issue with in this book. And it’s Cody. I didn’t mind the touch of romance between him and Lyla because it was kept on the sidelines but I would question her decision to trust him in the first place. Lyla has never trusted anyone from the outside because she believes they’re damned and evil and yet, despite this, she trusts Cody. Why? I’ll tell you: because he is SO HOT. It didn’t bug me in this anywhere near as much as it did in Hopeless, but I keep seeing this whole thing where girls trust male strangers/people they’ve been specifically warned about because of their pretty faces. It’s kind of a dangerous message, even if Lyla was right to trust him. But the positives outweigh the negatives by a lot.

I really enjoyed this book and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more by Ms Parker.


World After by Susan Ee

World After (Penryn & the End of Days, #2)World After by Susan Ee
My rating: 3.5 of 5 teacups

World After ticks a lot of boxes but it simply isn’t as strong a story as we were given in Angelfall. I don’t know how many books are planned for this series but it seems to fall prey to what would be called “middle book syndrome” in a trilogy. The story plods along, giving the novel a weighted feel which made it easy to put aside at times (something that could never be said for the previous book). My rating leans towards the positive because I did enjoy this sequel – Ee has a talent for balancing gory, gritty action scenes with playful and hilarious banter – but I admit that I was expecting something more from possibly my most anticipated book of this year. Still, the last fifty pages exploded with flashes of everything I love – action, humour, unexpected plot turns and romance – and I adore Penryn enough to know I will be returning for more.

Readers will surely recognise the author’s delightfully sarcastic touches of humour straight away – I found myself laughing aloud multiple times, even when I’d been cringing in horror and sat tense on the edge of my seat just moments earlier. I think this is what I like most about Ee’s writing: she somehow manages to make it both creepy and funny at the same time. This rarely works for me; I almost always find the humour draining the scary atmosphere out of each scene or the jokes falling flat amid the descriptions of gore… but Ee makes it work perfectly. Penryn is as badass as ever, always in the centre of the battle and fighting for the ones she loves. Raffe also returns (though not often enough if you ask me) for hilarity and sexual tension.

My main issue is the lack of progression in this book. Angelfall took us on a wild journey that presented us with so much fascinating information, angel lore and complexly-woven characters and relationships. World After, on the other hand, takes baby steps and reminds us of many things we already know: that Penryn feels conflicted about her newly monstrous sister, that she and Raffe have the hots for one another, etc, etc. While it wasn’t a bad read, I felt like it could have all happened in a few chapters rather than spread over an entire book. The greatest progress made by this sequel is in the character development of Penryn’s mother. She becomes more than the token crazy person in World After and we see her for what she really is: a confused but intelligent woman who loves her children very dearly. This aspect of the book was fantastic, IMO.

A good sequel that could have been better with more careful plotting and pacing – perhaps the author intends this series to be longer than it needs to be (as is often the case). But I enjoyed World After a lot and I’m not surprised to see other reviewers expressing their continued love. I just hope the third book doesn’t take so long!


Bold Tricks by Karina Halle

Bold Tricks (The Artists Trilogy, #3)Bold Tricks by Karina Halle
My rating: 3 of 5 teacups

***NO SPOILERS***

The Artists Trilogy has been one of my favourite series of all time. Really. It has broken all my rules about contemporary romances, love triangles, “bad boys”… everything. I have loved Ellie, Camden and Javier; they have made me sad, frustrated and angry at times, but damn, have I loved them. As soon as this third and final installment was made available to me, I snatched it up with an eagerness that will only be understood by those people who have truly fallen in love with a series and waited desperately for the next book. And I want to give this book five stars. Or four at least. I want to rate it higher to express my love for the whole series, for the characters and for this author who’s given me such a crazy story to love. But I’d be lying. Because Bold Tricks, though not enough to kill my love for the trilogy as a whole, was a real disappointment for me.

The primary strength of this series has always been, in my opinion, its ability to break my own rules. I have always been highly critical of the romance genre and love triangles; so, for this series to come along and give me both of those at once but make me love them, well, that’s really quite an achievement. And one of the main reasons that this love triangle works so successfully is because of the way the author keeps the two men on equal footing. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, they both fulfill an important role in Ellie’s life so that the reader is genuinely unsure which one she will be able to live without. I finished the second book wondering how it would be possible for Bold Tricks to take me from where I was (having no clue who Ellie would pick) to cementing my love for one of the men over the other (or at least convincing me of Ellie’s cemented love). The answer: it didn’t.

Halle has never had any problem putting her characters through several levels of hell. I knew that. I loved that. I expected to be taken to hell in this book and possibly have my heart ripped out along the way. But – and perhaps this is the most disappointing thing of all about this final installment – things were too easy. Ellie’s decision was too easy for her. She’s spent such a long time being tortured by her conflicted feelings for Camden and Javier that it felt like something of a cop-out to turn it around so quickly, so easily and so early on in the book. The characterisation of the man she didn’t pick began to unravel too quickly; everything he did felt like an excuse as to why Ellie shouldn’t pick him and at odds with the multifaceted character we’ve come to know and love. It would have been more realistic and far more satisfying to have Ellie choose between the two men who were on equal footing (even if our hearts were broken by it), than for her to face a choice suddenly made easy and obvious by the actions of one of the men.

Then we come to the issue of the choice she makes. I was willing to accept either and prepared myself to deal with whichever man Ellie ended up with. But I did not expect this book to take such a cheesy turn. “Cheesy” is a word I never thought could be applied to the Artists Trilogy. So imagine my surprise when Ellie’s decision was quickly followed by the dialogue dissolving into the usual romance-y sweet nothings and cringy metaphors. While this book wasn’t a complete disappointment, the romantic side of it was. And, for once, this is a series where the romantic aspect has been my favourite part, so it was doubly disappointing.

Still, there are a lot of positive things to say about Bold Tricks. The writing has the author’s addictive signature all over it, the characters are witty and hilarious as usual, and the action is at a series high. The drug cartel subplot plays an even bigger part in this book and it makes for a number of heart-stopping scenes of tension. The demons Ellie has been battling for most of her life finally surface for one last fateful showdown and a number of unexpected truths are revealed. I can’t say that I wasn’t wildly entertained by this conclusion and I know that I’ll be looking out for everything Ms Halle writes in the future.

And I can’t help but feel guilty about my rating and reaction to this book.


Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

Sea of Shadows (Age of Legends, #1)Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

It’s official: I prefer Kelley Armstrong so so much more when she’s writing for adults. I appreciate that this book won’t actually be released for another six months and I wouldn’t usually post a review so far in advance, but Sea of Shadows was so meh that I doubt I’ll be able to remember anything I want to say if I wait any longer.

Compared to other paranormal/urban fantasy authors, Armstrong’s pacing is generally on the slow side. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I thought it worked wonderfully in Bitten, Stolen and her latest adult book – Omens. But the success of Armstrong’s slower pacing varies. Sometimes it builds up a slow picture of the characters and world in such a way that you’re desperate to find out more. Sometimes it dangles a temptation for more in front of your face and guarantees you’ll pace frustratedly until the sequel comes out. But sometimes it can also mean that nothing seems to happen for the majority of the book. It’s been a while since I read it but I recall having such an experience with The Calling. That book ended with me feeling like I’d read a few hundred pages of filler.

While my experience with The Calling could be attributed to middle book syndrome, my experience with this latest series-starter cannot. At least the first two thirds of Sea of Shadows feels like the characters have no purpose or direction. Much of this portion of the novel is spent wandering around being lost and having love/hate flirtations with the book’s two love interests (one for each girl, not a love triangle). And while there was, for me, a very distinct turning point after these first two thirds, it was still mostly due to an increase in the novel’s grittiness and a couple of well-placed, shockingly-violent scenes. Not to mention it was all just too little too late.

I’m not one to get too picky over what we’re calling our genres but I feel the need to point out that it seems something of a stretch to call this book “high fantasy”. Or, if you insist on calling it that, then it must alternatively be admitted that there is very little managed in the way of world-building here. Some brief mentions of forbidden magic and a royal family aren’t enough – and they certainly aren’t original in a genre made up of forbidden magic and royal families. The history and culture of this world is barely touched upon; a fact which probably means Armstrong is saving it for future installments, but actually just made me feel like I’d read an extremely long prologue to what could be a good book.

I realise that I’ve been skirting around a plot summary but, to be honest, I don’t quite know what to tell you. Moria and Ashyn are twin sisters and also the Keeper and the Seeker. This means it’s their job to calm the souls of the damned in the Forest of the Dead. All sounds cool, right? Well… reading the GR description after reading the book makes me realise that it was telling the truth all along but I just couldn’t see the reality:


Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor.

Basically, in simple terms, the plot is a journey from one place to another. In my opinion? It’s a dull trek, punctuated by banter that foreshadows the inevitable romances. To make matters worse, Ashlyn’s character was far more boring than Moria’s, which added an extra layer of tediousness to her POV. Whereas I liked Moria most of the time but couldn’t stand her sexy hunk – Gavril. I like complex characters who make mistakes and don’t always do the right thing, but am I really supposed to find him attractive when he takes pleasure in insulting and humiliating Moria? I guess this is one for the teens who love the broody and volatile men who get a kick out of putting women down.

I guess you probably worked it out already but, just in case, I was disappointed with this book. I strongly recommend you pick up Omens instead if you’re looking for a new KA read. For me, Sea of Shadows failed on every level… characters, world-building, plot… even that twist at the end had absolutely no effect on me. I think that’s why I haven’t given this one star – I really don’t feel that passionately about it.


Vicious by Victoria Schwab

ViciousVicious by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”

I can’t remember the last time I had the pleasure of writing two consecutive five-star reviews. It’s been an exciting few days! I actually received an 100-page preview of Vicious a few months ago and picked it up with absolutely zero expectations. Then, suddenly, I was catapulted into a world that did more than keep the promises of the blurb – A masterful, twisted tale of ambition, jealousy, betrayal, and superpowers, set in a near-future world – but also introduced me to a memorable cast of characters, an exciting plot, and some of the most addictive writing I’ve ever read.

Schwab’s other books never appealed to me but I suddenly find myself wanting to see if all her writing is like this. Some books just have that spark. It’s a compulsive readability in the writing style; it demands to be read; it demands that you keep turning pages like a crazy person. You can’t really explain or define it, you can only point to examples of where it exists. And it exists here. Everything about this book draws you in: the characters, the plot, the way the book moves fluidly from past to present… everything. I can’t tell you how much Vicious surprised me, and I can’t find words to explain just how exciting, gripping and beautifully twisted it is. But I shall try.

Vicious falls into the adult/new adult category as opposed to young adult. To break it down simply, this is a story about superheroes and supervillains and how it isn’t always so easy to tell which is which. Victor questions at one point (paraphrased because I lost the quote): “people are calling Eli a hero. If he’s a hero and I want to destroy him, what does that make me?” It’s all about the ambitions, the betrayals and the jealousies of people who are far too clever for their own good. People who work together to obtain power but whose friendship is torn apart by said power. The characters – including the protagonist – all have dark sides hiding beneath their calm, collected exteriors. Perhaps this will put some readers off, but I was absolutely fascinated by the exploration of the fine line between the good guys and the bad guys.

The story is split between the present and ten years ago. The present tells of Victor, an escaped convict, who is determined to find his old friend-turned-enemy and deal out the revenge that is burning inside him. Flash back to ten years ago and Victor is a bright, young university student who is practically inseparable from his best friend – Eli. When Eli proposes a plan to discover whether EOs (Extra-Ordinaries) exist, he and Victor become partners in a scheme that will take them to hell and back and maybe, just maybe, grant them supernatural abilities. I adored the complex friendship between the two men that hovered somewhere between admiration and bitter jealousy and how this developed as they grew and became more obsessed with power and their own view of right and wrong.

I loved Vicious, I really did. I’d easily consider it one of my favourite novels of 2013 and probably the one that surprised me most. It’s just a wild and addictive story with no throwaway characters. Everyone in the book has their own problems to face, especially when it comes to some of the moral struggles that go with having godlike powers. I can’t wait for more people to read it.


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.