ARC review: Never Apart by Romily Bernard

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Grace and her boyfriend, Ander, are being hunted.  The worst part of it?  They’re used to it.  This is their 42nd time in this situation and it never gets easier.  Every time Grace Falls, she wakes up in a new life.  In every new life, she runs.  And whenever she runs, she Falls.  The cycle repeats itself time and time again.  Can Grace find her way out of this terrible loop?

This is one of those books that you really need to go into blind.  When I first started reading it, I was a little put off by the similarity to Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, but Romily Bernard takes this book in an entirely different direction.  And that’s all I’m going to say about the plot.  I wish that I could gush over the twists and turns and the connections between the characters, but that would ruin the story for you and I don’t want to do that.

I’ll just say that this book was really good.  Even better than I expected.  And I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would.  I actually hardly slept for two nights because these characters had burrowed their way into my mind and I needed to know what happened next.  I needed everything to be explained: why they Fall, why they act the way they do, what happened to all of their friendships.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

I received a free ARC of Never Apart from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

ARC review: We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards

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Paige and Theo have been best friends for years.  Both of them harbor secret crushes on each other, and Theo has decided that tonight is the night to let Paige know.  As the two head off to a party, Theo formulates his plan.  Unfortunately, thinking that nothing would ever happen, Paige has chosen tonight to try to get over Theo.  Theo watches as she flirts with one of their classmates, a jerk who knows that Paige has anxiety and a fear of heights and still badgers her to climb up an old, rickety bridge.

Theo’s been drinking, and he can’t take it anymore.  He tries to punch this guy but ends up missing and hits Paige instead.  There’s blood.  Sirens.  Screaming.  Crying.  Paige’s life changes in that moment.  Theo’s life is destroyed as he’s carted off in handcuffs.  They don’t see each other for months.  When they run into each other over the summer, strange, inexplicable things – tied to memories of that awful night – start happening.

First things first, this book has such a spooky vibe and I loved it.  Even the parts of the story before anything really happens, while Paige and Theo are just getting ready to go to this party, have this sort of uncomfortable undercurrent.  Everything is fine, but you can just tell that something horrible is going to happen.  As the story progresses, the author shifts the mood of the story while still maintaining that weird vibe.  I was impressed.

And now my second point. Theo. He broke my heart so many times and just thinking about him now is enough to make me want to cry.  This poor kid just wanted to tell his best friend how he felt and he ended up punching her in the face.  It would be funny if it wasn’t so awful.  Theo clearly feels terrible.  He never meant to do it and would never have done it on purpose.  Honestly, he was trying to help Paige by getting her away from a guy that was dragging her up a bridge even though she gets panic attacks from her fear of heights.  I just wanted Theo to be okay.

As for Paige, I liked her, but not as much as Theo.  Paige frustrated me a lot because she so often wavered between “it wasn’t his fault” and “he’s obviously trying to ruin my life.”  I appreciated the way her anxiety was presented because it was very realistic and not at all overdone, but I didn’t like the way that she kept blaming Theo for everything that went wrong in her life.

I thought that the haunting was very well done.  It was just spooky enough without being over-the-top and I couldn’t wait to find out what was causing it.  Having finished the book, I’m still a little unclear on how exactly it worked, but I’m more or less satisfied with the ending.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to call this book compulsively readable. I picked it up with the intention of reading a few chapters, and before I knew it, I’d read over 100 pages.  Twice.  I finished it in less than 24 hours because I just had to know what happened next.  This was my first book by Natalie D. Richards and, if this is what her books are like, it will not be my last.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

ARC review: You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando

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Seventeen-year-old Reagan is your typical teenage girl. She’s in high school, trying to decide where to go to college. She goes to parties and gossips with her friends. She’s got a crush on the boy next door. Oh yeah, and she’s also a highly skilled Black Angel operative-in-training. While most teenagers head home from school and watch tv, hang out with their friends, or do their homework, Reagan heads to intensive training sessions. She practices Krav Maga, runs several miles, and has target practice on a shooting range. Then she can go back to her normal life.

This has been Reagan’s life for as long as she can remember. Both of her parents are Black Angels, and they go where the danger takes them. One day they can be happily living in New York, and the next thing Reagan knows, they’ll be packing up to move to Ohio. But Reagan’s getting to a point where she no longer wants to put up with this constant inconsistency. She wants to live somewhere permanently. She wants to have long-term friendships. She doesn’t necessarily want to follow in her parents’ footsteps, but it’s not so much of a choice as an assumption that she’ll do just that.

I’ve read a few of these “secret teenage spy” books, and I think that You Don’t Know My Name is one of the better ones. It’s not perfect, for sure (see my three-star rating), but Reagan came across as believable and her actions, though annoying at times, seemed realistic for a teenage girl. As I would expect in a YA story of this nature, there isn’t a lot backing up the action. The reasons for certain tactical decisions aren’t really thought out, and it’s often up to Savior Reagan to rescue the pitiful adults from their incompetence. (I thought they were internationally-renowned secret agents!) I can’t really hold this against the book too much, though, because like I said, this is a 320-page YA spy thriller and not one of those massive 1000-page thrillers that patients are always leaving in my waiting room.

The story is generally pretty fast-paced, making it a fairly quick read. There are sections that fumble a bit in the middle, but overall, I had more desire to find out what happened next than I did to put it down. Kristen Orlando certainly didn’t dial down the drama and violence for the YA audience, with some pretty shocking scenes toward the end. Keep that in mind if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing.

I don’t know that I’ll read the next book in this series, but You Don’t Know My Name was a worthwhile use of my time.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

Thanks to Netgalley and Swoon Reads for the ARC.

   Goodreads   Amazon

Almost exactly two years ago, I read (and greatly enjoyed) Lisa Unger’s In the Blood. I loved the creepy ambiance of The Hollows and its residents who just seem to be a little bit off. So when I saw Ink and Bone show up on Netgalley, I knew that I had to request it. I liked it just as much as I knew I would.

Finley Montgomery is our main character, and I have to say that she was refreshing. Tattooed, with pink hair, and completely unsure what’s she’s doing with her life, Finley was a breath of fresh air. She escaped to The Hollows, the one place she knew her overbearing mother wouldn’t follow her, to learn more from her grandmother about her budding psychic abilities. The increase in her abilities happens to coincide with the disappearance of a young girl and her mother’s frantic search.

Abbey Gleason was a typical spunky eight-year-old vacationing in The Hollows with her family when she was kidnapped right in front of her father and older brother. The family shattered, their trust in each other and the outside world shaken. Months of searching brought no answers, so Abbey’s mother, Merri, turned to answers from the only people she had left: a private investigator and the town psychic.

The town psychic is Finley’s grandmother, Eloise. The combination of Eloise’s advanced age and her desire to help Finley build confidence in her skills lead her to push Finley into a leading role in the case. Does Finley have the skills to track down a lost child? Is the dark path of this abduction one she really wants to go down?

I can’t say that I enjoyed everything in this book, but I do understand that everything happened for a reason. The plot moved along nicely, and while there weren’t really any huge reveals, I certainly enjoyed coming to the conclusion. I’ve come to really enjoy The Hollows, and I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for future books by this author.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

Book review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins


The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
Source: Mysteriously found on my desk at work…

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

Rachel just knows that something terrible has happened.  She sees the same beautiful, happy couple every morning as she rides the train into London.  Every morning, they’re kissing.  Hugging.  Enjoying their breakfast.  Simply being beautiful and happy.  She feels that she knows this couple, she’s almost friends with them since she’s seen them so much.  She’s nicknamed them Jess and Jason.

One morning, Rachel sees Jess on the deck with someone who is most certainly not Jason.  The two are locked in a passionate embrace, and not long after, Jess’s face is plastered across magazines and newspapers.  She’s missing, and Rachel is 100% certain that it has something to do with the strange man she was kissing on her deck.  But should she say something? After all, she doesn’t actually know this couple.  She’s only a girl on the train.

I was a little slow to read this one.  If I’m being honest, I actually didn’t want to read it at all.  I’m always saying how I have this thing with hyped books.  I never like them as much as I should, or as much as I think I might have if I didn’t have sky-high expectations going in.  But I came into work one day a few weeks ago and this book was sitting on my desk, loaned by one of my coworkers.

So I read it.

And I didn’t hate it, but I can’t really say that I enjoyed it.  It was fine, I guess.  Just fine.

The Girl on the Train is often compared to Gone Girl, and I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t like it.  Because I, for one, really enjoyed Gone Girl, and I don’t think that it’s on the same level as The Girl on the Traini.  I could understand the motivations in Gone Girl.  Everybody was horrible, but they knew it.  In The Girl on the Train, everybody is horrible, but they don’t realize it. They all accuse each other of being awful but think of themselves as victims. I kept feeling like I was supposed to feel bad for Rachel, but I couldn’t.  She needed to get herself together.

The writing is fine, I guess, but the thing that upset me the most was how Rachel conveniently couldn’t remember the stretches of time that were vital to the investigation. Knowing that she’s an unreliable narrator, I almost thought that she was faking it at first – just pretending not to remember so that she could hide what actually happened that night.  But no, this is just a plot device so that she has a reason to see the psychologist or roam around her old neighborhood or feel bad about herself and spiral into another gin-and-tonic-induced blackout.

And then that ending – completely over-the-top.  I’m not convinced that any of these characters are better off.  I don’t think they’ve learned anything.  They haven’t learned any lessons or grown into better people.  They’ve just been dragged through the mud and left to fend for themselves. I need something at the end of a book.  Something to make the hours I spent reading worth it.

When I finished, I was left kind of puzzled about why this book is so popular.  It’s not bad by any means, but I didn’t think it was particularly good, either.  Overall, I think this book was too much it’s fine and not enough wow, this is amazing.

For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #27: a murder mystery.