Bites

23281665Published: July 7, 2015
Publisher: Razorbill
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

We’re all gonna die down here. . . .

Julie lies dead and disemboweled in a dank, black subway tunnel, red-eyed rats nibbling at her fingers. Her friends think she’s just off with some guy—no one could hear her getting torn apart over the sound of pulsing music.

In a tunnel nearby, Casey regrets coming to Survive the Night, the all-night underground rave in the New York City subway. Her best friend Shana talked her into it, even though Casey just got out of rehab. Alone and lost in the dark, creepy tunnels, Casey doesn’t think Survive the Night could get any worse . . .

. . . until she comes across Julie’s body, and the party turns deadly.

Desperate for help, Casey and her friends find themselves running through the putrid subway system, searching for a way out. But every manhole is sealed shut, and every noise echoes eerily in the dark, reminding them they’re not alone.

They’re being hunted. (goodreads.com)

I found SURVIVE THE NIGHT rather long-winded for such a short story. There was a lot of built up to get them to the underground rave, and then a significant amount of time down there just kind of screwing around. By the time anything interesting started happening we’re at least two thirds of the way through the book and it’s hard for me to keep my interest going.

A lot of time was spent going over Casey’s addiction and rehab and her getting back together with her ex-boyfriend and reconciling with her best friend who did rather un-best friend-like things and really the focus of the story was more about finding out about oneself and who your friends really are than escaping any kind of Cthulhu-like monster dropped into the subway tunnels by Hurricane Sandy. I was less than impressed by it.

Shana as a character definitely hit home, though. Not because I hung out with anyone like that but I definitely traveled in some of the circles those types of people rode in and it was like getting smacked in the face. People like that were always considered wild and fun and they always had crappy reputations, but said reputations didn’t necessarily hold them back at all and you were a bore if you didn’t always want to do what they did. Except it turns out that person is really a loser sinking on the Titanic and wants to bring as many people down with them as they can. For all the crappy things Shana did to Casey, irrespective of Casey’s own consent or not (no, no one held a gun to Casey’s head, but Shana took advantage at every opportunity because she knew she had a rube she could manipulate on her hands), their Lifetime moment at the end of the book kind of irked me.

I guess that’s what people look for? Forgiveness? Maybe it’s just my sociopathy but I would drop people like that. I wouldn’t hold a grudge, but no amount of hugging it out will repair what was done so it’s really better for people to go their separate ways sometimes. Technically that happened at the end of SURVIVE THE NIGHT. Technically.

With the majority of the book being angsting and only a small portion of it being terror and horror and a giant tentacle monster killing everyone, I was disappointed. It fell far short from scary and weighed too heavily on issues to get it through. Even when they were trying to find their way out of the tunnels they weren’t actually being chased. They were just walking through the dark with their cell phones on. Meh. The blurb is ultimately misleading on this one.

The build-up to scary was non-existent. This was more a book about people working out their issues with a hint of tentacle monster as opposed to OMG HORROR with a dash of issues. I would have preferred the latter.

2

Published: March 25, 2016
Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

When Keziah de Forest’s grandmother, Oma, is diagnosed with dementia, the seventeen-year-old makes the decision to leave her family and move to New Winchester to care for Oma. However, the decision comes with burdens Keziah never expected. Each day becomes a greater weight and loving the woman she once cherished becomes a chore.

Resentful of her hardships in New Winchester and the family secrets buried in the attic, Keziah finds herself drawn to Oma’s ramblings about the Goat Children, a mythical warrior class who ride winged horses and locate people in need, while attempting to destroy evil in the world. Oma sees the Goat Children everywhere, and as Keziah reads the stories her grandmother wrote about them, she begins to question if they really exist. (goodreads.com)

Let’s start with the title: it just rubs me the wrong way. It’s relevant to the story, but it’s just downright unappealing to the eye and to the ear. Linking it back to the story, I don’t know why they’re actually called goat children. Goats are not at all involved. So really off-putting title.

And the cover: c’mon, CHBB. I’ve seen some of your covers. They’re downright gorgeous. Is there a reason this one got the nondescript stock image with the bevel/emboss/drop shadow title on the front made in Microsoft Paint? It’s just awful. No, I shouldn’t say that. I’ve seen AWFUL. This is just lazy and a total disservice to CHBB, Jordan, and the book. I’ve created better covers for Wattpad using an iPad app. There is no reason for something like this, especially when other authors with the same publisher have come out with higher quality, and higher concept, covers.

As for the story, I think it could have had the potential to be a really powerful story but it’s precipitated by a major contrivance that I just couldn’t get over. Keziah volunteers to go live with her grandmother who’s slipping into the wastelands of dementia and of the four adults involved in her life, two of which live only minutes away from said grandmother, all four were like “Yeah, this is a good idea. I don’t see why a seventeen-year-old can’t take care of a sick relative while we all go along with our lives.” DCF takes minors out of homes for things like this.

So as she gets more resentful of her situation I can’t help but be like THIS WOULD NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPEN. I just cannot believe that not one adult in this situation wouldn’t be a voice of reason here. Instead her feet are held to the fire with little to no help. The relatives who are closest treat her like a burden and get all huffy when she asks for help and her parents live too far away and basically write her off. When something does go wrong they’re like, ‘Keziah, what is wrong with you? You can’t have a life! You have to watch your grandmother!’ Meanwhile I’m sitting there going WTF NO. It is such an unbelievable situation that I ultimately felt nothing for the story.

The concept of the goat children isn’t really developed. It comes in at the end but for the majority of the book it’s this mythical thing that probably isn’t real but an instance or two show that it could potentially be real. And I have no idea why they’re called goat children. Like I said before they have nothing to do with goats. They ride pegasii and fight unseen things. It just felt like an idea that wasn’t fully mature. Or it’s a mature idea thrown onto a story that ended up watering it down.

Keziah was a brat. She volunteered for this and then held it against everyone, mostly the people in her class. She’s also rather socially inept, very steadfast in her beliefs and she didn’t even want to be around people who didn’t have the same views as her. She went to dinner with a group of girls from school and basically didn’t want to hang around them because they were eating meat and just wanted to know why she didn’t. She thought less of them because they drank and she just really had her nose in the air about everyone around her. She bemoaned people for not accepting her for who she was but in the same breath refused to accept other people if they weren’t like her. It did not make her a likable character at all. She had her issues thrown back in her face at the end by a classmate in a similar situation and I really liked that. As a character she needed that perspective. It didn’t make me like her any more, though.

THE GOAT CHILDREN just felt like a really unpolished book. The catalyst is poorly conceived and it really taints the rest of the story for me. Keziah as a character is unlikable, and at times inconsistent, and the family around her are negligent to a criminal degree. There are other issues thrown on top of the overarching ‘taking care of a sick family member’ that I felt were really tacked on and didn’t add anything other than unnecessary drama to the story. I’ve read a fair amount of Jordan’s work and this is definitely not her best showing. Coupled with the wince-worthy title and despicable cover this product just does not appear to be publishing-ready. The story itself is not fatally flawed and like I said before, it has the potential to be really powerful and I felt that at the end. But I think it’s still pretty far away from being at its greatest potential.

2

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

29102966Published: April 19, 2016
Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

It’s 1989 and Rae Earl is a fat, boy-mad 17-year-old girl, living in Stamford, Lincolnshire with her mum and their deaf white cat in a council house with a mint green bathroom and a refrigerator Rae can’t keep away from. She’s also just been released from a psychiatric ward. My Mad Fat Diary is the hilarious, harrowing and touching real-life diary Rae kept during that fateful year and the basis of the hit British television series of the same name now coming to HULU. Surrounded by people like her constantly dieting mum, her beautiful frenemy Bethany, her mates from the private school up the road (called “Haddock”, “Battered Sausage” and “Fig”) and the handsome, unattainable boys Rae pines after (who sometimes end up with Bethany…), My Mad Fat Diary is the story of an overweight young woman just hoping to be loved at a time when slim pop singers ruled the charts. Rae’s chronicle of her world will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever been a confused, lonely teenager clashing with her parents, sometimes overeating, hating her body, always taking herself VERY seriously, never knowing how positively brilliant she is and keeping a diary to record it all. My Mad Fat Diary – 365 days with one of the wisest and funniest girls in England. (goodreads.com)

When St Martin’s pitched me MY MAD FAT DIARY I was sort of on the line about it. It’s not something that’s in my normal wheelhouse but if it’s pithy and funny and quirky, I can usually appreciate it. So I accepted and now . . . I’m not too sure how to review it. I definitely didn’t like it like I thought I would and now I’m kind of stuck. It’s a real diary written by a seventeen-year-old. What am I going to comment on? The writing? The realism? The authenticity? I don’t even know.

It reads like a diary written by a seventeen-year-old. I do think Rae was more astute and quick-witted than your average teenager but I didn’t read anything earth-shattering. I wasn’t rolling on the ground laughing. I may have chuckled a time or two and smiled a little but that’s about it. She absolutely had her irrational teenage moments and she also had some pretty insightful moments as well. Her mother is less a mother and more a domineering roommate but she does have her solid mom moments.

I thought the most intriguing part of this book was Rae interactions with Bethany. I’ve been in Rae’s shoes and been around people kind of like Bethany so I could definitely relate to that level of insecurity in a person and having them really project it onto you. But I found myself liking these interactions the most. They ended up being telling of both people involved, I think.

I didn’t like the end. At all. Throughout the diary Rae waffled between wanting to lose weight so boys would like her and wanting to find a boy who liked her for who she was. I personally thought she trended more toward the latter more often than not. So when the ending came and the boy she was mega-crushing on basically says if you weren’t fat we’d totally be together, and she gets all swoony, I’m like WTF? This type of thing irritated her to no end throughout the book but have the same words come out of the mouth of the boy she’s mooning over and somehow he has a point? I really didn’t like that.

So . . . I didn’t connect with it like I wanted to. For the most part it was an engaging-enough read but ultimately not for me.

3

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

10349845Published: July 26, 2011
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

The day begins innocently enough: Annie and her friends are enjoying a leisurely afternoon of sunbathing when an ominous storm approaches. In the scramble to leave, Annie realizes her cousin Gina is missing. After a fruitless search in the rain, the teens call the police. And as the hours tick by, Annie’s fear for Gina’s safety mounts. How could this have happened? Wasn’t anyone watching her? Didn’t anyone see? The possibilities are too horrific to consider, and Annie turns for support to the friends who were with her and Gina on that fateful afternoon. But as the days pass without a trace of the lost girl, accusations begin to fly between friends, and disturbing information about one of their own comes to light. At first Annie refuses to believe it. But as the evidence begins to mount and the accused does nothing to clarify the situation, Annie realizes the relationships she once held dear are not at all what they seemed. And if a girl can’t trust her best friends…who can she trust?  (goodreads.com)

SUMMER STORM was just . . . bad. With translations you can get into a situation where the translation is lackluster and takes away from the beauty of the writing in its original language. But this . . . there’s no way a translator did this. At least alone.

This reads like it was written by someone who doesn’t know how human beings interact. The friendship of the four people in this book is gawky and awkward at best and in turn their interaction with their parents is something out of a poorly conceived and painful to watch sitcom. The driving force behind everything that happens in this book is contrived at best, providing a clunky way to reveal some past family secret. In the middle of it all you get an admission from one of the friends about her being sexually assaulted by someone, which the MC doesn’t really believe and brushes off. Real sympathetic characters here. But it’s presented as such an off-handed aside in the middle of a missing person’s investigation that you feel slapped by it. It’s just wedged so roughly into the middle of this otherwise really short book.

I’m reading off of an ARC but holy crap, this reads like a draft written by someone in middle school. According to the author bio at the back of the book both the author and the translator are award-winning. How? I’ve seen more realistic representations of people and more plausible dialogue watching children play with dolls, some of them being dinosaur toys. Possibly a Transformer involved and a Barbie with a shaved head.

I mean . . . this is just awful. I very rarely say that about books. Usually there’s something redeeming about them. But SUMMER STORM? Not a thing. And the set-up is completely strange. The intro and epilogue are done from the POV of one character, the character who goes missing, and the entire rest of the story is told from the POV of a complete different character. No explanation, no reasoning as to how that missing character knew all of this happened or why she’s bookending the story to begin with. It just is and it’s completely jarring.

There’s nothing to like about anything. The plot is ridiculous, poorly constructed and executed, and the characters aren’t even caricatures. They’re stick figures pretending to be robots with no personalities. It’s a super short book but ultimately a waste of time. I’d love to know what the acquiring editor was thinking when they accepted this one. The thing’s rougher than a rough first draft. I don’t know whether this is all the author, all the translator, or a perfect shit storm of the two but holy book reading, is this bad. I’m embarrassed for Amazon on this one. Ick.

1

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

25663781Published: February 16, 2016
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

In the idyllic hill country of Sri Lanka, a young girl grows up with her loving family; but even in the midst of this paradise, terror lurks in the shadows. When tragedy strikes, she and her mother must seek safety by immigrating to America. There the girl must reinvent herself as an American teenager to survive, with the help of her cousin. Both love and loss fill her life, but even as she assimilates and thrives, the secrets and scars of her past follow her into adulthood. In this new country of freedom, everything she has built begins to crumble around her, and her hold on reality becomes more and more tenuous. When the past and the present collide, she sees no other choice than to commit her unforgivable final act. This is her confession.  (goodreads.com)

WHAT LIES BETWEEN US surprised me. Initially the style irked me. The slightly detached voice combined with the somewhat slow-moving plot made it hard for me to read at the beginning. But once I got into the groove of it all and once the character’s child came into play I couldn’t put it down. I finished reading it on a plane when I really should have been writing but I just couldn’t stop.

The story is told entirely as a narrative from a woman in an institution for the criminally insane as she recounts her life and how she ended up where she is now. There’s a distance there, especially when she’s talking about her childhood, and for good reason. But I didn’t really see this until until later on when I had some distance to the story and could better process it. Her childhood was the most painful time in her life and it shaped her into the adult she became. It felt like she tried to forget a lot of the emotions she had when she was younger in a bid to move on from what happened. This explains the distance I felt at the beginning from the voice and the story since it was little more than a mechanical recounting of her youth.

Once the main character grows up and starts her life as an adult in California the narrator settles more into the story. You can almost feel the comfort there, that this is where she’s comfortable in her life and it comes through the voice of the story. The relationship with her husband and eventually her child and the subsequent breakdown all felt far more immediate, had far more feeling in it than the stories of her youth. I couldn’t stop turning the pages as she tries to maneuver her way through life as a nurse and then finally falling in love, coming to terms with becoming a parent, and then coming to terms (or not) with what happened to her as a child. It was so incredibly vivid.

The ending hit me in a profound way that doesn’t happen too often. It was just so realistic and raw and felt so undeniably true that it sank in so much deeper than books tend to do with me. I felt moved to the point of having to put the book down and give myself some physical distance between it and me so I could process what I’d just read. It left a mark. This is a book that’ll stay with you for a while.

WHAT LIES BETWEEN US might as well be a true story for how vivid and realistic it feels. All of the emotions, or lack of them, come through in siren blares when you’re reading. Once you truly realize what it is you’re reading all of the pieces click into place and you end up immersing yourself in this tragic, heart-wrenching story that won’t let you go even after you’ve finished reading it. I want to read it again sooner rather than later.

5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.