Archive | thriller

Review: THE FIXER by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick has spent her entire life on her grandfather’s ranch. But when her estranged sister Ivy uproots her to D.C., Tess is thrown into a world that revolves around politics and power. She also starts at Hardwicke Academy, the D.C. school for the children of the rich and powerful, where she unwittingly becomes a fixer for the high school set, fixing teens’ problems the way her sister fixes their parents’ problems.

And when a conspiracy surfaces that involves the family member of one of Tess’s classmates, love triangles and unbelievable family secrets come to light and life gets even more interesting—and complicated—for Tess.

Sometimes I can only describe reading books in food terms. When a book is good enough, I can feel my hunger to keep reading in the back of my throat like a gulp of hot chocolate. When a book is good enough, my inability to quit is like eating only one kernel of popcorn—impossible. That’s what this book was like. I read the entire thing, from beginning to end, in less than one work day, because I just couldn’t stop. Continue Reading →

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Review: LIES I TOLD by Michelle Zink

What if, after spending a lifetime deceiving everyone around you, you discovered the biggest lies were the ones you’ve told yourself?

Grace Fontaine has everything: beauty, money, confidence, and the perfect family.

But it’s all a lie.

Grace has been adopted into a family of thieves who con affluent people out of money, jewelry, art, and anything else of value. Grace has never had any difficulty pulling off a job, but when things start to go wrong on the Fontaines’ biggest heist yet, Grace finds herself breaking more and more of the rules designed to keep her from getting caught…including the most important one of all: never fall for your mark.

Something went wrong. We don’t know what or how, but from the beginning of this book, we know that something went wrong with Grace’s last job. Something that put her in danger. Something that shattered her family. I’m usually not one for prologues, but this one sets the tone fantastically. As great as the rest of the book is, it wouldn’t have been the same without the underlying suspense. Continue Reading →

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Review: ENDANGERED by Lamar Giles

The one secret she cares about keeping—her identity—is about to be exposed. Unless Lauren “Panda” Daniels—an anonymous photoblogger who specializes in busting classmates and teachers in compromising positions—plays along with her blackmailer’s little game of Dare or . . . Dare.

But when the game turns deadly, Panda doesn’t know what to do. And she may need to step out of the shadows to save herself . . . and everyone else on the Admirer’s hit list.

Some of you may remember that I read Mr. Giles’s Fake ID a year or two ago and wasn’t too pleased. There were a good number of things I liked, which is why I picked up Endangered, but I was still wary over my disappointment in the female characters. Hooooo-ly cow, does Mr. Giles take care of that concern in Endangered. Continue Reading →

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Mini-Reviews: I’M GLAD I DID and THE THIRD TWIN

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and songwriting legend Cynthia Weil’s extraordinary YA debut opens the secretive doors of the Brill Building-the hit factory that changed history. Part Mad Men, part Grace of my Heart, part murder mystery, I’m Glad I Did is a coming-of-age story at an unforgettable cultural tipping point: the summer of 1963.

JJ Greene, a gifted 16-year-old songwriter, defies her lawyer parents by secretly applying for a job in the famed Brill Building-the epicenter of songwriting for a new genre called rock-n-roll. But their warnings about the evils of the music industry prove far darker than she imagined when she finds herself at the heart of a cover-up that involves hidden identity, theft, and possibly murder. 

This book is such a sad trombone. It started beautifully, packed to the gills with 60s flavor and music business lingo. I felt like I had legitimately traveled back in time! But oh, how this book dragged. The writing really needed a couple more edits, the pacing was really wonky, the love interest liked the heroine because she wasn’t “like other girls,” and the plot… Let’s just say the plot wasn’t much of a surprise, and it certainly didn’t deliver what the cover copy promised. If you’re going to hype a book set in the “cultural tipping point” of America, give me some culture that’s tipping! The consequences in this book were at next to nothing, both on a societal and an individual level. I wanted something with bite and instead felt like I was being gummed to death.

Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.

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Identical twins. Identical DNA. Identical suspects. It’s Pretty Little Liars meets Revenge in this edge-of-your-seat thriller with a shocking twist.

When they were little, Lexi and her identical twin, Ava, made up a third sister, Alicia. If something broke? Alicia did it. Cookies got eaten? Alicia’s guilty. Alicia was always to blame for everything. The game is all grown up now that the girls are seniors. They use Alicia as their cover to go out with boys who are hot but not exactly dating material. Boys they’d never, ever be with in real life.

Now one of the guys Alicia went out with has turned up dead, and Lexi wants to stop the game for good. As coincidences start piling up, Ava insists that if they follow the rules for being Alicia, everything will be fine. But when another boy is killed, the DNA evidence and surveillance photos point to only one suspect: Alicia. The girl who doesn’t exist. As she runs from the cops, Lexi has to find the truth before another boy is murdered. Because either Ava is a killer…or Alicia is real.

I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, it’s a thriller, and I have a hard time with thrillers because I guess EVERYTHING in advance. It’s a blessing and a curse. Also, I had a hard time getting engaged because Alicia and Lexi are pretty awful people for much of the book. “Oh dear, you might die? Sorry, dearie.” I also think the plot would have been much cooler as a New Adult novel.

On the other hand, once the plot really ramps up, I was feeling sufficiently tense. The consequences of this book stretch far beyond death. Death is a one and done type of threat, but Lexi faced being jailed for horrific crimes that she didn’t commit. Her life would have been RUINED. Honestly, there was a point where I was convinced she’d never be able to clear her name, so points to you, Ms. Omololu!

Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.

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Review: MASTERMINDS by Gordan Korman

Eli Frieden lives in the most boring town in the world: Serenity, New Mexico. Only thirty kids live in the idyllic town, where every lawn is perfectly manicured and everyone has a pool and a basketball hoop. Honesty and kindness are the backbone of the community. There is no crime in this utopia.

Eli has never left town…. Why would he ever want to? But everything changes the day he and his friend Randy bike to the edge of the city limits. Eli is suddenly struck with a paralyzing headache and collapses. Almost instantly, a crew of security—or “Purple People Eaters,” as the kids call them—descend via helicopter. Eli awakens in the hospital, and the next day, Randy and his family are gone.

As Eli convinces his friends Tori and Malik to help him investigate Randy’s disappearance, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems in Serenity. As the clues mount to reveal a shocking discovery, the kids realize they can trust no one—least of all their own parents. So they hatch a plan for what could be the greatest breakout in history—but will they survive? And if they do, where do they go from there?

Mark this book down to the power of a good title. I’d never read a Gordon Korman book before, but honestly, there are few words that are better Shae-bait than “mastermind.” (“Thief” is probably #1, in case you were wondering.) Continue Reading →

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Review: SOULPRINT by Megan Miranda

Alina Chase has been contained on an island for the last 17 years—whether that’s for the crimes of her past life, or for her own protection, well, that depends on whom you ask. With soul-fingerprinting a reality, science can now screen for the soul, and everyone knows that Alina’s soul had once belonged to notorious criminal, June Calahan, though that information is supposed to be private. June had accomplished the impossible: hacking into the soul-database, ruining countless lives in the process.

Now, there are whispers that June has left something behind for her next life—something that would allow Alina to access the information in the soul-database again. A way to finish the crimes she started.

Aided by three people with their own secret motivations, Alina escapes, only to discover that she may have just traded one prison for another. And there are clues. Clues only Alina can see and decipher, clues that make it apparent that June is leading her to something. While everyone believes Alina is trying to continue in June’s footsteps, Alina believes June is trying to show her something more. Something bigger. Something that gets at the heart of who they all are—about the past and the present. Something about the nature of their souls.

Alina doesn’t know who to trust, or what June intends for her to know, and the closer she gets to the answers, the more she wonders who June was, who she is, whether she’s destined to repeat the past, whether there are truths best kept hidden—and what one life is really worth.

If you want to get technical, I actually read Soulprint in the waning days of 2014. However, as the book won’t be released until February, I claim it as a 2015 book and already anticipate it showing up several times on my End of the Year Survey. Yes, it was that good. Continue Reading →

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Review: BLACKBIRD by Anna Carey

This twisty, breathless cat-and-mouse thrill ride, told in the second person, follows a girl with amnesia in present-day Los Angeles who is being pursued by mysterious and terrifying assailants.

A girl wakes up on the train tracks, a subway car barreling down on her. With only minutes to react, she hunches down and the train speeds over her. She doesn’t remember her name, where she is, or how she got there. She has a tattoo on the inside of her right wrist of a blackbird inside a box, letters and numbers printed just below: FNV02198. There is only one thing she knows for sure: people are trying to kill her. 

On the run for her life, she tries to untangle who she is and what happened to the girl she used to be. Nothing and no one are what they appear to be. But the truth is more disturbing than she ever imagined. 

The Maze Runner series meets Code Name Verity, Blackbird is relentless and action-packed, filled with surprising twists.

Sometimes being willing to try new things really bites a reader in the butt. Take second person narratives, for example. Unless it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book, I really don’t do second person narratives. They irritate me. I decided to try Blackbird anyways because I thought the synopsis sounded interesting. Try new things, Shae! Branch out! Explore outside your comfort zone! Also, any book that compares itself to Code Name Verity deserves a second look, in my opinion. So I downloaded Blackbird and gave it a whirl. That was a poor life choice, my friends. Continue Reading →

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Mini Reviews: BLAZE and I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER

Today on the blog, I give quick reviews of books I read over the summer. Be warned, they are ranty to the max. Also, some spoilers ahead.

Blaze is tired of spending her life on the sidelines, drawing comics and feeling invisible. She’s desperate for soccer star Mark to notice her. And when her BFF texts Mark a photo of Blaze in sexy lingerie, it definitely gets his attention. After a hot date in the back of her minivan, Blaze is flying high, but suddenly Mark’s feelings seem to have been blasted by a freeze-ray gun, and he dumps her. Blaze gets her revenge by posting a comic strip featuring uber-villain Mark the Shark. Mark then retaliates by posting her “sext” photo, and, overnight, Blaze goes from Super Virgin Girl to Super Slut. That life on the sidelines is looking pretty good right about now…

Ah, Blaze. You tried so hard and still managed to make me so grumpy. For much of the story, I had fun. I liked Blaze’s attitude and her talent at drawing comics and her determination to count the most cows. I especially loved the nerdery that permeated every page. All the chatter about comics and superheroes made me so happy.

However, all that had changed by the end precisely because nothing changed. My main issue was that (in my opinion) the characters experienced zero growth. None. Nada. By the end of the book, Mark is still a jerk, Dad is still a jerk, Mom is still overworked and acting jerky, Blaze’s friends are still a jerk, Comic Book Guy is still a jerk, and Catherine Wiggins is still being bullied. Blaze has a changed perspective, but what good will it do her when literally everyone around her is still the same and the only person she’s bothered to call out is Mark and Dad? GIRL, YOUR FRIENDS ARE STILL MAJOR JERKS AND NOW YOU WANT TO DATE A SNOBBY NERD BOY. LOOK AT YOUR LIFE. LOOK AT YOUR CHOICES.

For real, I cannot possibly consider Comic Book Boy as a valid romantic alternative. He falls victim to the classic nerd boy blunders by testing Blaze’s nerd cred by asking her a bunch of super-specific comic book questions. Listen, jerkface, even if she couldn’t answer a single one of those questions, that doesn’t make her a poser fan. IF SHE LIKES THE THINGS, SHE’S A FAN, CAPISCE? And Blaze, by joining in Comic Book Boy’s haughty mockery of customers, you are contributing to the elitist drivel perpetuated by the very fanboys that so angered you. Also, talk about bad customer service.

I also had a big problem with how this book treated Cathy Wiggins, the school’s resident “slut.” After Blaze herself is unfairly maligned, she finds a sympathetic soul in Wiggins, who confides that she is—despite the rumors—a virgin. Blaze is rocked by the injustice of Wiggins’ situation, and… does absolutely nothing about it. Absolutely. Nothing. Blaze goes on to have a Hollywood-worthy confrontation with her father and reclaim her own self-worth, and that’s fab. But there’s zero indication that anything changes for Wiggins, who has been suffering under the same pariah status as Blaze since middle school. MIDDLE SCHOOL. Say “it gets better” all you want, Blaze, but I won’t believe you until you actively work to make it better for other people rather than just worrying about yourself. So much for girl power and self-respect.

I purposely chose to make this a mini-review to limit the ranting that I could do, so I’m stopping here. It’s a pity that such a fun-looking book ended up being so rage-inducing.

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John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it. He’s spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential. He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation. Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t demand or expect the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there’s something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat—and to appreciate what that difference means. Now, for the first time, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can’t control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

John Wayne Cleaver is one mixed-up kid. He’s the son and nephew of morticians and grew up around dead bodies. He’s tied to serial killers through names (John Wayne Gacy, the tool cleaver, and the Son of Sam—John’s dad name is Sam), and he’s obsessed with their “craft.” More than anything, John is worried that he’ll become a serial killer.

This book is craaaaaazyyyyyyyyy. Dan Wells has clearly done his research. The depictions of serial killers and sociopathology are so on point, I nearly squealed out loud while reading. I LOVE it when I can trust the text to know what it’s talking about, especially when it concerns a subject that interests me. Everything from the steps to properly embalm a body to the psychology of a killing spree was laid out with precision and—dare I say it—charm. I was certainly entertained. I Am not a Serial Killer is a story in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope. John isn’t the most likable protagonist, nor even a character you want to succeed, but you can’t help rooting for him.

I think this book would have been just about perfect for me if it hadn’t been for the twist. [SPOILER]Halfway through, we find out that the serial killer in question is actually a paranormal creature. That’s right. This hardcore murder mystery thriller just took a sharp right turn into fairytales. Rather than pitting John against a wily old human serial killer, our main character goes toe to toe with an ancient beast who replaces his dying parts with those of his victims’—a sort of self-made Frankenstein’s monster. What am I supposed to do with that?[END SPOILER]

Without that twist, I think this book would have been a four or even five star. With it, I’m left vacillating between a two and a three, and I will proceed with caution when reading the sequels.

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Review: NEARLY GONE by Elle Cosimano

Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother’s job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone’s skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn’t trust: the new guy at school—a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her.

Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn’t figure it all out soon—she’ll be next.

I read the bulk of Nearly Gone during a perfect day. I was at the beach with my family. It was maybe 75 degrees out, the temperature kept in check by a light sea breeze. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the air was filled with the lulling roar of the surf. It was, as I said, a perfect day, and I spent a good three hours completely oblivious to it all. Guys, I read Nearly Gone from cover to cover, then looked up and had to remind myself what day it was and why my toes were covered with sand. Continue Reading →

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Review: DEAR KILLER by Katherine Ewell

Rule One—Nothing is right, nothing is wrong.

Rule Two—Be careful.

Rule Three—Fight using your legs whenever possible, because they’re the strongest part of your body. Your arms are the weakest.

Rule Four—Hit to kill. The first blow should be the last, if at all possible.

Rule Five—The letters are the law.

Kit takes her role as London’s notorious “Perfect Killer” seriously. The letters and cash that come to her via a secret mailbox are not a game; choosing who to kill is not an impulse decision. Every letter she receives begins with “Dear Killer,” and every time Kit murders, she leaves a letter with the dead body. Her moral nihilism and thus her murders are a way of life—the only way of life she has ever known.

But when a letter appears in the mailbox that will have the power to topple Kit’s convictions as perfectly as she commits her murders, she must make a decision: follow the only rules she has ever known, or challenge Rule One, and go from there.

It’s been a long while since I’ve been the black sheep in the blogging community. It’s been even longer since I’ve been the black ship for LIKING a book that everyone else seems to dislike. Of course, with the black sheep status comes fears and insecurities. What did everyone else see that I didn’t? Am I deluding myself? I don’t quite know how to answers those questions, because I refuse to read other reviews until my own is complete. What I do know is that I’m very pleased with my current status, because while Dear Killer isn’t a perfect book, it did several things that delighted me to no end. Continue Reading →

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