Saturday 27 June 2020

Book Review - Two Can Keep A Secret

Title: Two Can Keep A Secret
Author: Karen McManus
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: 10 Jan. 2019
ISBN-13: 978-0141375656

A perfect town is hiding secrets. Secrets that somebody would kill to keep hidden.

Ellery's never been to Echo Ridge, but she's heard all about it.

It's where her aunt went missing at age sixteen, never to return. Where a Homecoming Queen's murder five years ago made national news.

And now she has to live there with her estranged grandmother, after her mother lands in rehab.

Malcolm grew up in the shadow of the Homecoming Queen's death.

His older brother was the prime suspect and left Echo Ridge in disgrace.

But now he's back- just as mysterious threats appear around town, hinting that a killer will strike again.

Then another girl disappears.

As Ellery and Malcolm race to unravel what happened, they realise every secret has layers in Echo Ridge.

My Review

After finishing the 'One of Us...' series, I was desperate for more by McManus and I knew this book was out there so I had to read it! Whilst searching for it online I did see some very mixed reviews but I was still determined to try it for myself. Then on my once a week shopping trip (the only time I was ever really venturing out during this crazy lockdown) I ended up in the supermarket and they had this book on offer - right there in front of me, it was almost too perfect for words, so I snatched it up and raced home with it.

I wasn't really sure what to expect, but i definitely know that I like her style of writing and think she can weave an excellent story so I was excited to see what would happen. We start with twins Ellery and Ezra who are having to move to Echo Ridge and stay with their Grandma after their mother has been taken to rehab. It's a town they have heard a lot about, at 16 years of age their mother's twin sister mysteriously disappeared and was never seen again, and their mother never got over that loss. The only time she went back to Echo Ridge herself was 5 years ago, when another young girl disappeared and then was found murdered. Both girls were taken after Homecoming, but were on the Homecoming Court - nominated for Queen. Could there be a link? Ellery is excited to find out, she is obsessed with True Crime novels and the workings of the criminal brain, she is hoping that she might be able to work out something to help finally solve these mysterious cases, but then things start to happen around the town. Creepy things that suggest history may be about to repeat itself, and Ellery has to be careful that she isn't caught in the middle of it.

I really liked Ellery as a character, she is very upfront and tends to say what she thinks before thinking it through which gets her into some rather awkward situations but you know she doesn't mean any harm by it. Her relationship with her twin brother is really sweet, we don't see as much of Ezra throughout the book but the two of them are always there to back each other up and help each other out.

We also meet Malcolm who has grown up in Echo Ridge, but is now just seen as Declan's brother - the brother of a potential murdered. Although his brother was never convicted, he was dating the girl that got killed and as he is the strong, silent type - the blame was easy to place. Whether he did it or not, he has left town to try to escape, leaving Malcolm and his mother behind. Malcolm now lives with his step-dad Peter and step-sister who is one of the queen bees at school. Something neither of them is happy about!

The book starts off well, introducing the  characters and a bit of background, but it's not too long before some action starts to pick up the pace. From the very first page I was intrigued, then I was hooked.

Karen McManus is super talented at being able to build tension and make you second guess yourself, throughout this whole book I had no idea who was responsible for the disappearances, murder or new threats - or if it was even one person. The story is so well paced that you just keep turning pages and with each turn you feel your heart beat faster in anticipation until you know that you won't be able to look away. I read this book in one sitting and barely moved during that time. I was absolutely absorbed within the story and the plot twists kept me firmly on my toes. Then the ending came in with a bang and had me totally surprised. I had not seen that coming at all!

The very last pages leave the story a little bit open- i know what I am supposed to believe, and I can see it happening, but I want to know what the next consequences would be - but maybe she will write another one sometime and carry it on.

Overall, I actually really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it as a gripping read. I will be looking out for anything else by McManus in the future.

My Rating

Monday 22 June 2020

Book Review - One of Us is Next

Title: One of Us is Next
Author: Karen McManus
Series: One of Us is Lying (Book 2)
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: 9 Jan. 2020
ISBN-13: 978-0241376928

Welcome back to Bayview High . . .

It's been a year since the events of One Of Us Is Lying.

But nothing has settled for the residents of Bayview. Not now someone has started playing a sinister game of Truth or Dare.

Choose truth? Your darkest secret will be revealed.
Choose dare? Well, that could be even more dangerous. Even deadly.

When the game takes an even darker turn, suddenly no one at Bayview High knows who to trust.

But they need to find out who is behind the game, before it's too late.

My Review

After racing through book 1 and really enjoying it, I was excited to get started on this one. I wasn't sure what to expect or where the author could take it as the first book wrapped up quite nicely, but I was invested and ready to find out so I had some time yesterday to sit and read so I started. Within 3 hours, I had finished - I basically devoured this book in one sitting, reading quite fast because I had to know what was going to happen next, I was totally absorbed that I couldn't stop for a second.

This book starts off a year after the first, we have some new characters and the reappearance of some of our original four. Maeve (Bronwyn's sister) is now one of the main narrators, along with a girl named Phoebe who works in a local coffee shop where Maeve and Addy like to hang out. We also now have Knox - who is Maeve's best friend and ex-boyfriend. I loved getting to see more of Maeve and seeing  her develop as a character in her own right. Knox is so sweet and a bit of a nerd, always just on the outskirts but still caring and thoughtful and willing to help others. Phoebe is sassy and funny but also sweet, we also see her sister Emma and find out about her background which helps her to be relatable.

Of course we have appearances from Bronwyn and Nate, Addy is around a lot with her sister Ashton and the lawyer Eli, and Copper makes start appearances but isn't a full focus of the story.

I was nervous how the dynamics would be different with new characters and old ones going off to college but it worked really well, I liked the new groups and found myself wanting to know all I could about them.

Simon has been gone for a year now, but some people are trying to keep his gossip alive, there have been some copycat blogs and messages, but most of those have been shut down - but then a text goes out. The biggest game of Truth or Dare in history is going to be played. Everyone in Bayview High is glued to their phones - who will be the first to pay? If you text back Truth, your worst secret will be revealed, if you text back Dare, you will be given a task to complete. If you don't reply - your worst secret is revealed anyway.

The pace of this book is perfect, the perfect mix of action, dialogue and information. Considering the most tragic part is about halfway through, you think it would then drag, but then things start to get even more serious and our group have to find out who is behind it all before something else blows up in everyone's faces. Hopefully no one else will get hurt, but this player is very clever and he has revenge on his mind.

In my opinion this book was even better than the first and I wish there were more from this series. I haven't been this absorbed in a book for a long time, something that can just grip me and carry me away.

The only thing I didn't like as much was that the ending was a little bit open ended, I wanted to know what would happen next and if there would be anything further, but overall I can see why she ended it this way, and it didn't destroy my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

A definite must read!

My Review

Sunday 21 June 2020

Book Review - One Of Us Is Lying

Title: One of Us is Lying
Author: Karen McManus
Series: One of Us is Lying (Book 1)
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: 1 Jun. 2017
ISBN-13: 978-0141375632

Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule.
Sports star Cooper only knows what he's doing in the baseball diamond.
Bad boy Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime.
Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life.
And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won't ever talk about any of them again.
He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online. Investigators conclude it's no accident. All of them are suspects.
Everyone has secrets, right?
What really matters is how far you'll go to protect them.

My Review
I'd heard a lot of good things about this book but wasn't sure that it would be my sort of read. Then sometime last year I went to buy a book and there was a deal, not sure what else to pick I decided to go with this one. But as usual its sat on my shelves ever since and not been touched.
Once again I have had more time to read during lockdown so I decided to pick this one up. I wasn't really sure what to expect so was pretty open to reading it.
At first I found it quite hard to differentiate between the characters. We have 4 main narrators - the suspects in Simon's murder who were all present in detention. When I first started reading I had to really take focus of the name at the start of the chapter and struggled to tell them apart. However by the 5th or 6th chapter I was able to tell them apart better and as the book progressed they developed more of their own personalities and characteristics.
I enjoyed the set up of the story and was intrigued by who might have done it, I couldn't see any obvious way but was prepared to be surprised. I am usually quite good with figuring out who is responsible for crimes but with this book I just couldn't decide. The more I read, the more I was convinced it wasn't any of the four of them but was ready to be shocked at a reveal. I decided to look wider and had a couple of suspicions - one of which was actually involved, just not in the way I expected. But the actual reveal did surprise me and I was annoyed I couldn't figure it out.
I really liked that the book is a sort of crime mystery, but also crosses as a high school drama, you get to know the characters and the troubles they face in wider life, their backgrounds and their hopes for the future. I found myself coming to like the characters, especially Nate and Addy who I feel grow the most throughout the story.
The story is fast paced and keeps you hooked and wanting to read on. I finished this book in one sitting and didn't want to put it down at all, I had to pause briefly to eat dinner and was desperate to pick it back up. I'd finished it later that evening.
I am excited to read the follow on book, I'm not sure where they can go with this now, but I certainly want to find out.

My Rating

Monday 15 June 2020

Book Review - Stolen

Title: Stolen
Author: Melissa De La Cruz & Michael Johnston
Series: Heart of Dread (Book 2)
Publisher: Orchard Books
Release Date: 18th November 2014
ISBN13: 9781408334423

Months after Nat and Wes said goodbye on the shores of the Blue, Nat is learning how to control and use her new power. She and her drakon are the last of their kind—and she’s risked her life for their reunion. When she receives a mysterious distress call, she races to help, soliciting the guidance of her new friend, the beautiful and aloof Faix Lazaved of the Blue.
Still heartbroken over losing Nat, Wes is racing cars on a New Vegas racetrack while his team is scattered and lost. When he finds out that his sister, Eliza, is being held in the golden domes of El Dorado, he does what he’s best at—running to her side—and gambles on luck to see him through one more time.
They soon discover that the answer to both their quests lies in the same question: Who is Eliza Wesson—what is she capable of, and why was she stolen from her family so long ago?

My Review
I approached this book with a sense of caution and not much hope for what I was going to get. I was still left feeling torn about the first book and read this more out of curiosity than desire. However something with this book clicked a bit more with me and I found myself a lot more easily absorbed. I think book 1 is slow because it is essentially setting up the world and people for the series, now everything is established and I knew a bit of background for the characters and situation they were all in, I found it a lot easier to get on board and I read the first 50 pages really quickly.
This one takes off just after the first one ended. Nat is in 'The Blue' and learning to work with her drakon to defend the land, whilst Wes has returned to New Vegas, still hoping to find news of his sister.
I was still a little bit unsure of what to think but decided to just go with it and see where it takes us.
The fight scenes are well described and I love the drakon - even if he is quite moody but I'm hoping we will learn more about him. I still find Nat quite annoying, she is full of self-doubt and prone to just give up if things seem too difficult, she can be a bit of a whiner. Whilst Wes is reckless and prone to ignore sense and feelings, he comes across stubborn and sometimes I would like to bash their heads together and tell them to get a grip! Especially when they are reunited but can only bicker with each other then secretly lament that they are still hopelessly in love. Very frustrating.
The pair meet up and set off to try and track down both Liannan who has been captured by someone and Eliza - Wes' sister who is rumoured to be in El Dorado. There are lots of twists and turns, some that I saw coming and one major one that I definitely did NOT predict - that was quite a revelation!
The book has a lot more excitement and is a much faster pace than the first and I found myself enjoying it more. In the end it only took me 2 sittings to read the whole books and I've already gone straight in and read the first 5 chapters of the next one.
It seems that once this series has warmed up it certainly gets a lot better. I still wouldn't say it is the most epic thing I have ever read and it has it's share of flaws, but it is an enjoyable read and great for lovers of fantasy and dragons. Definitely worth a read and I am looking forward to seeing how it all concludes.
Lets hope it keeps getting better.

My Rating

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Book Review - Frozen

Title: Frozen
Author: Melissa De La Cruz & Michael Johnston
Series: Heart of Dread (Book 1)
Publisher: Orchard Books
Release Date: 2nd October 2014
ISBN: 9781408334

Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice. Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing. But some things never change. The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.
At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out. Like many, she's heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.” They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise. More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.
But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson to take her there. Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other. But can true love survive the lies? Fiery hearts collide in this fantastic tale of the evil men do and the awesome power within us all.

My Review
I love dragons, always have so when I saw these books in the shop at 3 for £5 (yes i got the whole trilogy) I had to have them, plus the books are cool, the first one has blue pages to match the cover, the second red and the third yellow. They looked interesting and well presented and the blurb sounded pretty intriguing so I was sold on it straight away. However, once again they were relegated to my shelves and have been there for the last couple of years.
I was looking for my next read last week and hoping for something that would grab me as my last read was disappointing (Looking for Alaska). So I picked this one up with high hopes. And overall I have to say that I'm a bit torn about it, I didn't absolutely love it, but I didn't actually fully dislike it either. I'm going to try and sort out what I feel for this book with this review.
So to start, the premise is good, I had high hopes about the futuristic dystopian world covered in ice and a mystical land called 'The Blue' that could be a myth but you know is going to be real.
We start off meeting an unknown girl who is locked up because she is 'marked', and people seem to fear this. However she doesn't seem to have any particular talents, other than a strange voice in her head which tells her to do things. She then manages to break out of the prison and soar away - not quite flying but certainly gliding through the air. Quite a powerful start and it did hook my interest - i wanted to know more.
We then skip ahead a bit and find 'Nat' a young girl who is working at a casino in 'New Vegas', desperate not to get found out - obviously our mystery girl from the opening chapter who is now hiding her mark under carefully fitted clothes and covering her magical weird coloured eyes with special contact lenses. She is biding her time, trying to plan a way out and journey to 'The Blue'.
Chapter change and we are introduce to 'Wes', formerly named Ryan Wesson, he is a 16 year old retired war veteran (!?) Apparently this world is rather screwed up and kids are signed up to fight and serve then can retire at 16. He now does odd jobs - not all of them legit, and works basically as a 'runner'. However he is tired of political mess and turns down a big job that involves killing a lot of civilians. He would rather starve than cause harm to innocent people. Desperate for food, along with his group of mismatched miscreants, they decide to try a con at the local casino. This is where they meet Nat.
Cut forward and Nat hires Wes and his crew to take her across the oceans (now dirty, rotten and acidic) and into The Blue. What follows next is a long journey where they encounter practically every problem you could think of, and some that you couldn't. But I just found myself tuning out a bit, the book wasn't badly written or particularly boring but it was quite slow. I would read a whole chapter and then realise I had no real idea of what I had just read and then I'd have to go back through it. I would then take it in and realise it was actually quite good. But this was recurring, for some reason I just couldn't seem to absorb the plot or the characters, I kept switching off.
Despite this, I was enjoying it overall. My favourite character is definitely Shakes and I hope we see a lot more of him in the next book. I like Wes and think he has a slightly arrogant, yet somewhat charming personality. I didn't really get much from Nat, despite her being the main character, so we will see where it goes.
The ending of this book picks up from 0-100 in the last couple of chapters and suddenly it's more exciting and finally we actually have a dragon!
To me this book felt like a rather long and slightly slow world builder, I feel like it was 360 pages preparing us for what is to come in book 2. It wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination and bits of it were actually really enticing, and if book 2 is going to fly away with the world we have just created, then I will take it. I just hope it does pick up the pace a bit.
Overall the book wasn't exactly what I expected, it was slow in places and slightly predictable, but I think I did enjoy it overall. I still can't explain it, it just left me feeling a bit empty, but also hopeful.
I'm going to read book 2 and grasp the hopeful feeling and approach it with an open mind.

My Rating

Thursday 4 June 2020

Book Review - Looking for Alaska

Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Publisher: HarperCollins;
Release Date: 28 Feb. 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0007523160


BEFORE. Miles Halter’s whole life has been one big non-event until he starts at anything-but-boring Culver Creek Boarding School and meets Alaska Young. Gorgeous, clever, funny and utterly fascinating she pulls Miles into her world, launches him into a new life, and steals his heart. But when tragedy strikes, and Miles comes face-to-face with death he discovers the value of living and loving unconditionally.
AFTER: Nothing will ever be the same.

My Review
I know how popular John Green is and everyone always says how good his books were. I read The Fault in our Stars a few years ago and whilst it didn't wow me, i thought it was ok. So when I saw this in my local discount book store for just £1 I decided to give it a go. 
It has sat on my shelves for a couple of years and not been touched, but once again due to Corona lockdown, I have had tome to read and am trying to get through all the countless books I have in my collection that I have never got round to reading. 
The synopsis sounded intriguing enough, the book itself is quite short so I assumed I would be in for a quick and easy read. 
First of all we meet Miles, a bit of a loner and a nerd. He doesn't really have many friends and hasn't really 'lived'. He is going to a new boarding school in the hope to start living and experiencing. Once there he meets his roommate 'The Colonel' who is kind of cool, into video games, likes to smoke and drink and knows the one an only 'Alaska Young' - a girl who everyone seems fascinated by and pretty much in love with. She is reckless, smart, crazy and full of energy. She runs round school like a little wrecking ball, a burst of colour and opinion. And my goodness was she one of the most annoying characters I have ever met - so self obsessed and thoughtless. I couldn't stand her. But then again I found the Colonel to be just as bad, thinking he's better than others and taking things from Miles - praying on his easy going nature. 
Then we have Miles himself, he is such a pushover and tries so hard to fit in, but fails to see the really important parts of life. Going out and getting drunk is not the way to 'live', it's just called stupidity.
The first half of the book is called 'Before', which follows their lives living up to an 'event'. Once this event happens the book is then 'After'. To be honest though, it was pretty obvious that the event was going to be something dramatic and I did predict that it would be what it was. My main concern and problem with this book was that I just didn't care. I didn't like the characters enough to care and the event had no real impact on me at all. 
The second half of the book made Miles seem a little bit more human, but he still annoyed me and it ended up just being a 100 page long pity party. 
To me, the characters didn't have enough redeeming features or likeable personality for me to want to get to know them. ANd whilst I did read the book fairly quickly, I found myself looking at the pages to see how many more I had to get through. 
It was not an enjoyable read and I don't think it will be one I even remember other than it being simplistic, over the top and annoying. 
I really am not sure I understand the hype around these books, maybe I am just missing something. But for me, this was not a book I would ever read again. 

My Rating