Queen of Air and Darkness Left Me Stumbling In the Dark

*Spoiler review*

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Do you ever feel like a book is such a hot mess that you have no idea how to review it? Well, this was my first book of the year and I’ve been at a loss how to express all that frustration/angst/gosh-darn-whys I’ve been feeling about it for a month now- which is why I’ve decided to recruit some help for this post! *Give it up for the lovely Monkey Baby who’s gonna hold my hand through this review!*

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Bonjourno mon belles bonbons 

Would you guys believe she’s actually much better at French than me? 😉 Now, as you might remember, neither of us were especially happy with the last instalment– nonetheless both of us had high hopes that this one would redeem the series. Fortunately when I cracked this open, it had tumultuous, emotional opening that I was certain I was in for a wild ride. Buuut it all went downhill from there.

Honestly the beginning bored me so bad I was loathe to even continue.

Yeah it was a pity you didn’t even like the opening- especially when it’s such a behemoth of a book. Seeing it in person, you can tell it’s too long. My mum took one look at it and said “they’ve not edited that”. Frankly, I’m not sure it was. Interesting storylines were relegated to needless drama; the best ideas were downplayed and disappointing. There was more than enough fluff here to make a monstrous, gigantic teddy. Thanks to this, the pacing was simply way off. The story stalled at every turn; I realllly struggled to get through it. It took you a while to read too didn’t it monkey baby?

It felt like an eternity on a long disused rickety, lame ghost train to get through. Every time a chapter finished I thought “gosh darn it there’s still so much left to get through of this drivel. Why am I still reading this? For the love of goodness sake someone put a stop to this madness!” I was secretly hoping you’d tell me what happens so I wouldn’t have to continue with that pathetic monster book. 

Well you could have told me that and I’d have spared you it! Okay so we’ve covered the length- let’s talk about the actual meat on these big bones 😉 While the parabatai mystery was fascinating, it unravelled as the plot went on and for me wasn’t resolved in a remotely satisfying way. Nor did I like the Unseelie Queen plot, since it was written more as setup for future series. Even if I enjoyed it in part, I didn’t like that this entire book was a pitch for another series- especially when this was supposed to be a grand finale in its own right. This level of delayed gratification is just. not. cool. Worse than that, it felt like fanfic of itself at this point. There were some goodish twists (and since this started out as fanfic, it’s kinda fanfic of fanfic…). Don’t get me wrong, aspects like the inclusion of Sebastian’s son and their detour into Thule (/what-could-have-been land) were entertaining up until a point. But even that they took wayyy too long with it. Now, I remember you had different thoughts about some of the plot- and what I liked you hated and vice versa- eh sis?

The shadowhunters definitely fell off their high horses- or should I say motorbikes- in this book. The plot was all over the place in the cauldron of characters she created. There were glimpses of interesting moments like the giant angels but for the most part it was so all over the place and please I don’t want to read mortal instruments from how it could have happened perspective. 

Ach- I didn’t even like the oversized angels (even writing that phrase makes me feel silly). One thing we did agree on was this: even the usually-well-done relationships left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, this was partly due to shadowhunters being a shadow of their former selves. Especially Christina- who left a lot to be desired in the personality department- though apparently not in the desirability one 😉 She literally had NO FLAWS- except that apparently she was simply too lovable. Make of that what you will.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH CHRISTINA!!!!!!!!!! SHE IS MY LEAST FAVOURITE CHARACTER OF ALL TIME!!!! She is the most boring individual to ever grace paper! It felt like she was interloper of the whole story everytime she popped up I just thought oh here we go again. And why was Julian’s character ruined!!! In the first book and even in the second he was such a cute, adorable strong character. I wanted to shmush him:) But blocking part of his emotions was ridiculous!!! It meant that for most of the book he had no character!!! And was almost as dull as Christina! 

I seem to recall you dubbed her “perfect Christina” 😉 The cohort also sucked and not in the good-they’re-scary-villains way- in the *there’s no tension* these-people-are-a-joke kind of way. Now I don’t see why I should have to talk politics, cos this is not what I signed up for with paranormal YA, but it’s kind of impossible not to say anything when they’re caricatures of *EVIL* right wingers (with a definite slant towards the “all conservatives are eeeevil” view) (nice and counter-productive to discourse). It would be bad enough if the preachy levels were though the roof (which they are) or if their being annoying whiners merely took the sting out of how scary they’re supposed to be (which it does) BUT they’re not even consistent in their viewpoints. If Clare wanted to strawman arguments, she could have done better than having the staunchly right wing Zara Dearborn resort to left wing talking points like unearned privileges- I guess they’re staying true to the socialist part of the national socialists? Let’s be real though- the parallel with Nazis is insulting to the realities of history and does a disservice to those that actually suffered at the hands of that regime. Ultimately it’s simply lazy, poorly developed characterisation that fails to reflect the complexity of human thought.

AH the cohort!! HAHAHAHAHA! Please when you’re writing a villain make them actually I don’t know be more villainous!! Every 2 seconds you’ve got Zara pouting or Horace speaking drivel!! And the whole book was self righteous talk that quite frankly I never opt to read and felt like pulling teeth for the sheer hammering it did on my poor brain.And the worst offender of this book is the dreadful names!!! Horace and Zara could these names be any more ridiculous for villains!! just saying them makes me laugh at the thought that they could even be portrayed as so called villains! 

I forgot about the name thing LOL! As much as it used to bug me that all villains were called THE DARK OVERLORD I think it’s worse now that a lot of them end up called Bob or Horace- not exactly intimidating or enigmatic. And that ploy they did at the end was so pointless! Worst. Baddies. Ever. However, like I said earlier in this review, I didn’t entirely hate this book (surprising given the amount of salt here, I know 😉 ). There were some good aspects, I’m simply suffering from more than a little fatigue when it comes to these stories. For me, this was particularly noticeable in the epilogue, where Clare does her typical trick of trying to keep you hooked with new characters and cliffhangers. Sorry, but I’m officially done buying it. This is where I part ways with the shadowhunter world. What about you baby face? I know you said you might continue…

The only mildly redeemable part was Kit, Ty and Ash’s Characters! The stories were pathetic but very promising for a new book! Although I am beyond loathe to touch another of her stories if she persists with this Mary Sue characterisation and political blah blah! I am very torn whether to touch another of her books as I really loved the mortal instruments and clockwork series but this book and series just felt like a landslide of rotten bananas that led to a whirlwind of peels thrown in my face! 

So, I’ve been really indecisive about my rating on this cos it left me pretty conflicted, but in the end I went with:

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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And gallons and gallons of SALT!

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How about you Monkey Baby?

I think for this book it exhausted me so much all I can rate it is a broken heart! 

 

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Hope you enjoyed that! And *lots of love* to the Monkey Baby for her insight here! So have you read this? Were you as salty as Monkey Baby and I were? And do you have any series you’ve fallen out of love with? Let me know in the comments!

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Discovering the Heart of the Lost Sisters

the lost sistersSo I wasn’t planning on giving a novella a full review… but *WOW* this packs quite the punch and has more than enough depth to warrant as much attention as I can give it. There are going to be vague spoilers for Cruel Princeso watch out if you still plan to read it.

Why was this so brilliant? Well, because it was completely unexpected. I was thinking this was going to be a simple short story that explained the actions of Tarryn and humanised her a little after her decisions in Cruel Prince. It’s not that at all. If you’re looking for a great explanation that redeems this character… sorry, you won’t find it. In fact, I think it’s actually been miss-marketed in that regard. This isn’t the story of how a heroine went astray- this is a villain origin story.

Right away, we’re plunged into Tarryn’s unapologetic apology. In a thoroughly unsympathetic tone, she reveals why and how she betrayed her sister- time and time again. If nothing else, I was impressed straight away by how distinct and persuasive the voice was. It was a subtle portrayal of a character and really opened a window into her mind. Whether you take her side or not, you’re going to have to admit she’s a very lifelike figure.

For me, this was a great twist on the YA trope of having the heroine do terrible things, but somehow get away with it cos *THEY’RE THE GOOD ONE*. It deals with the holier than thou attitude a lot of YA heroines have and twists it on its head. For me, this undermined that trope completely. The funny thing is Tarryn genuinely believes she’s the heroine in a fairy tale.

In fact, it’s because she views everything as a story that she thinks she can get away with whatever cruelties she commits. She doesn’t actually see how she’s done anything wrong and thinks she’s deserving of forgiveness just because. It’s a really twisted take on what it means to be a heroine and how someone might go down a wicked path.

Thus it perfectly embodies the idea that the villain is the hero of their own story. For all this tale’s simplicity, it’s actually a remarkable view into the human psyche. No, this doesn’t deliver anything new, but it’s quite the journey anyway. And yes, this is only a novella, nonetheless it’s also an ingenious twist on the YA genre and rather a pleasant surprise I might add. Sure, it doesn’t “save” the character’s reputation- and I won’t be expecting her to improve in Wicked King– however it is an excellent character study and is brilliantly executed:

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So have you read this? Do you plan to? And have you read any novellas recently that have blown you away? Let me know in the comments!

Was Wonder Woman Wonderful?

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Well, *unpopular opinion alert*, no it wasn’t. In fact, if this book had a special ability, I’d say it was in the power to send me to sleep. Before I get into all the reasons why I thought this was super dull, I do want to add that I don’t see this book as a reflection of the author and nor does it affect the respect I have for Bardugo in general.

That said, there was literally nothing I liked about this book. To me, it was a cheap cash grab attempt to jump on the superhero bandwagon. It was sadly a waste of Bardugo’s talent, with writing that was surprisingly lacklustre and missing the author’s usual flair. If it had been any other name slapped on the cover, I wouldn’t have known the difference.

The plot was tremendously predictable, cliché and uninteresting. I wouldn’t say this is thanks to it doing things wrong, it simply doesn’t do much right. There were, happily, some good throwaway lines about Spartan myths just being Athenian propaganda- yet there are better books on Greek myths that are far more engaging. Indeed, there are also far superior superhero stories. A lot of this felt like the 70s Superman movies with constant “what are you?”s- which isn’t a terrible thing in and of itself, it just added to that unoriginal vibe.

Unfortunately this wasn’t helped by the flat, cardboard cut-out characters, who were impossible to connect to. In another instance of trying to milk the reader for all they’re worth, the book feature the stereotypical STRONG women characters. Alas, I’m past the point of being easily sold on the kickass woman + female friendship = banking a pay check formula. It’s simply not enough for me anymore since everyone and their mother is doing it- which maybe we should see as progress, instead of getting mad at me in the comments for not being on board 😉 Frankly, Diana was a stereotypical Mary Sue: impossibly strong and with the only weakness of being too compassionate (which turns out to be her greatest strength *surprise surprise*). Alia was supposed to be smart, yet I never saw any evidence for that and quickly grew bored of her.

And the villain- man, that was in equal parts disappointingly obvious and lousy. Frankly, that was the LAST STRAW for me. Until that “reveal” I was gonna give it 2 bananas, but after that I could only spare…

1/5 bananas

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Evidently that left a lot to be desired- but I wasn’t done with Wonder Woman yet and decided to *finally* watch the movie everyone’s been raving about as the only decent DC film this decade. So how did that measure up?

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Eh- it was okay. Better than the book (though that’s not hard)- but still not anything compared to the Marvel movies (there I said it). To me, it was a poor (wo)man’s Captain America/Thor- though not as good in exploring the concepts of myths and war.

Now believe me, I get that the mythology has to be revamped for the comics, but C’MON the background of this story was Lucifer vs God- this is straight out of the Bible not Greek mythology. Which feels like a waste and meant it failed to bring anything spectacular or *new* to the story.

There were ups and downs to this. The plot was okay, with some emotional moments, but soooo predictable. Gal Godot put in an entertaining performance, the cinematography was especially strong, yet the soundtrack was not utilised properly (it kinda came and went at random intervals). Worst of all, there were I kept joking were “pause for ideological commentary” that ruined the pacing and took me out of the movie.

wonderwomanNone of this was helped by the fact that Wonder Woman Mary Sue had no character arc. Oh, sorry, I can’t see her as an actual character, because, AGAIN SHE IS PERFECT AND HAS NO FLAWS. She’s a little bit of a fish out of water, but in the end, that’s just a surface level issue that doesn’t get in the way. Having her be so overpowered for me removed any tension and meant she had no room for improvement. To be charitable to the story, the mc doesn’t have to have an arc and you could say she inspires the people around her. Except this wasn’t satisfying to me, given the fact some of her mistakes were detrimental and simply brushed under the rug. For instance, *spoilers ahead* when she stops to save a village, she doesn’t care that this interferes with their covert op AND blames everyone else when its blown up anyway, EVEN THOUGH she was the one to make the detour and slow down the mission (also she has no idea how to be a spy). The problem here isn’t that she makes mistakes- it’s that they’re played off as everyone else’s fault (again, Mary Sue can’t have flaws, that’d be sexist!). Plus, even if she’s wrong about who Ares is, it doesn’t matter because she’s basically right in the end. This not only stops her from learning and developing as a character, but also means she’s a terrible teacher figure, and any development of other characters feels unearned. Consequently, when Steve sacrifices himself, it doesn’t feel like it’s because Wonder Woman taught him something. And it also seems illogical that Diana uses that moment as inspiration, since she’s already internalised the idea that humanity is basically good.

Overall, I felt this had some funny aspects and kept me mildly entertained, but I still thought it was massively overrated.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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Alright- dare I ask- what do you think of Wonder Woman? Love, hate or meh? Let me know in the comments!

The Wolf in the Whale was EVERY KIND OF COOL!

*Received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review- but the  gushing you’re about to see is all me*

wolf in the whaleYeah, there’s a lot of yelling in that title- but THAT’S COS I’M EXCITED DAMMIT! Sometimes a book just floats on up to you and you simply have to read it. This was absolutely the case when I saw Liis’ wonderful review for the Wolf in the Whale. A story that somehow married Inuit and Viking cultures- WHOA- that grabbed my attention right away!

Enter into a narrative couched in storytelling and I knew this was the book for me. By now, you’ve probably heard me go on a million times about how much I love stories within stories- and this book was no exception to that rule. Not only was the overarching plot an amazing tale to tell, each section began with a mythic story, illustrating and foreshadowing all the wondrous events to come.

It was an experience delving into this icy realm. Cloaked in atmosphere, every step into this book gave a sense of the setting and culture. Cosy in my room, I was transported to the frozen wastes of the Arctic (a perfect setting for this time of the year 😉 ). The writing was impeccably detailed and the imagery in line with the landscape. Above all, that image of the wolf in the whale WORKED SO WELL. To say this was sophisticated world building would be a massive understatement.

What’s especially clever is how the magic system goes beyond the setting and lends itself to the main character’s arc. In a transformative journey, the spiritual concepts are used to address questions of identity. While Omat goes through innumerable changes, she fundamentally must learn to be comfortable with every side of herself and to find the strength to fight back when things get bad. Above all, it is this that makes her a heroine- though I loved every aspect of her character- from her skills to her cleverness- it was the way she fought when her back was up against the wall that made me truly admire her.

And she really does go through a hell of a time. There is traumatic content in here, but it’s really well handled. It is both realistic and emotive. Personally, I am glad Brodsky didn’t forsake accuracy when it came to exploring the brutality of history. Instead, the book was a triumph- because it represents that real power is dreaming a way out and never giving up.

The plot follows this idea, weaving into ever-more imaginative territory. With little surprises along the way, the truth of the stories we tell ourselves is revealed. The very distinct mythologies of Inuit and Norse are expertly intertwined; the ominous forces at work are revealed. Far from chill, there are some serious stakes at play here. All that building tension finally breaks in an exquisite apotheosis of drama. It is a performance worthy of the gods. All the while presenting very human relationships, making every victory and moment of redemption feel earned.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed what Wolf in the Whale did with folklore. It was complex and beautiful and ahhh-mazing!! Forgive me just losing my cool there- by the end of the book I was just writing “awws” and “squeaks” and been reduced to tears. I will add that this is the definition of a slow burn- so make sure you’re in the right mood to really sink your teeth into a book. Granted, it is a little on the long side, yet the upside of this is it really absorbs you into the world and you can take your time with this standalone fantasy. This book is a rarity in every regard and I simply can’t cover all the ways that it made me feverishly happy- all I can do is give it:

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So what do you think? Do you plan to read this now? Let me know in the comments!

Winter of the Witch was *CAPTIVATING*

winter of the witchMany of you will know of my love affair with the Winternight Trilogy. A Russian fairy tale retelling, full of wonder and magic, it was only natural I fell head over heels for it. My admiration reached fever pitch with the second instalment, as it went to deliciously dark places and blew my mind with its intensity. Needless to say, I was eager for the finale. And *WOW*, it did not disappoint.

Thrown straight back into Arden’s wintery world, the story promised action and beauty from start. With writing as gorgeous as the last two books, this picked up immediately from where Girl in the Tower left off and felt literally darker from the outset. I was utterly absorbed every time I picked it up. Indeed, it was a most welcome return to the story.

Unlike the first two books, which almost felt like self-contained stories, this leaned heavily on the earlier narratives. Plotwise it was a completely wild ride. The story bolts forward from the first page, bearing enchanting little gifts…

…Only to throw you from the horse and break your heart a little. Because this gives us some seriously moving moments. From the romance to the family connections, this story didn’t let up for a second. Again and again, the narrative took risks and delivered on an emotional level that somehow surpassed the previous books. I don’t want to spoil anything, so all I’ll say is that it brought tears to my eyes more than once.

Beyond that, the story travelled into far deeper territory than I could have expected. Building on the previous world building, Winter of the Witch takes the reader into the realm of storytelling and dreams. Entering into the land of midnight, it feels like the heroine is moving around the globe like the second hand on a clock. In this patchwork country, the very notion of reality is questioned.

This intriguing idea was further developed in the characterisation. What I especially liked about this aspect was how it presented the idea that magic can drive you to distraction- if you change too much reality, you might forget what is real. Not only did this present a brilliant consequence for magic, it also allowed for so much of the main character’s growth and forced her to push herself to the limit.

And Vasya isn’t the only one who’s stretched here. Every character is challenged- including some of the more demonic beings. Which allows for another interesting development: this story creates confusion over what is and isn’t monstrous. This presents such a nuanced, clever take on monsters in fairy tales. It’s a point of eye-widening genius; it’s a powerful take on the complexity of good vs evil.

Above all, the story presents a notion of unity. Not only does this tie together the strands of the first and second books, but it also draws this in line with historical events. Incredibly, Arden answers some of the questions I’ve seen about the first book, especially pertaining to the representation of Christianity as opposed to Paganism. This is particularly subverted by Sasha’s role as priest- which I was kind of remiss not to mention in my last review – especially as he plays an even greater part here (also I can’t be the only one to have been remind of Alyosha Karamazov- which made him an instant favourite 😉 ). In the end, the concepts were married together superbly and, at least for me, everything clicked into place.

Ultimately it was a sensational end to a sensational series. I believe I had a fair amount of faith in this finale- but even so, it was better than I ever could have imagined. All the wishing wells, genies and shooting stars in the world couldn’t have conceived something so magical. If you’re looking for a fairy tale retelling, this is quite simply something you need to check out. It’s very rare for me to give a whole series all the bananas- and yet here we are:

Rating: 5/5 bananas                               

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Also look how pretty all my books look together:

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So is anyone surprised that I loved this? 😉 And have you read this? Do you plan to? What do you think of the Winternight series? Let me know in the comments!

The Cruel Prince was SAVAGE

cruel princeAs hyped as this book was, when this came out, Cruel Prince garnered its fair share of criticism. Naturally I had my reservations about picking it up after that… mercifully though I needn’t have worried- it ended up being wonderful. Well, as wonderful as a twisted YA fantasy can be- if that’s your cup of tea (and it so is mine).

From the get-go, I loved the premise: three sisters kidnapped by their parents’ murderers and taken into Faerie- YES PLEASE! I was utterly absorbed by the sharp world building and even more so by the plot.

While the story falls into a little lull immediately after the opening, don’t be fooled, it gets faster and far more deadly than I expected. Half my notes were just exclamation marks, because as much as I thought I could tell where it was going, it kept taking me by surprise! And every time I thought I had a handle on it- BAM- it span round and stabbed me in the gut. Really, the plot gets better and better.

What’s especially clever about this is how the foreshadowing and hints are such that they could be applied in multiple directions. I was even left questioning wait who is the cruel prince? Cos, let me tell you, there are several possible candidates in these pages.

Speaking of the characters, there are a great range of messed up and fabulous here to choose from. Some that you’ll inevitably root for and some you might want to get a bit stabby over- all of whom are interesting. For me, the main character was a gem- I cackled with pleasure at her tricksy ways and found she won my affection with both her skill with a sword and her even more deadly intellect. I probably loved Vivi even more if I’m honest- she was always trying to do the right thing and was probably the best human being in this (hehe ironic). And while I know there are a lot of people that hate Cardan- sorry, I’m on that runaway train 😉 For me, it’s quite simple- I found myself sympathising with him- reluctantly at first and then oopsie-daisy-we’re-headed-off-a-cliff. However, I did not like Tarryn- she sucked. I’ve been told she redeems herself in the novella Lost Sisters– which I have on my kindle- but don’t hold out much hope. That said, I liked how Black dealt with the issues of betrayal- even if I thought the other party was fairly obviously a backstabber (I mean, fox imagery is a dead giveaway).

Also, the writing was very well done. The main character’s voice is engaging and full of personality. I adored the descriptions, the humour and its quotability. In fact, I did that thing in my kindle copy where more of it is highlighted than not, so I can’t find any specific examples without rereading the whole book 😉

The only real downside for me was that I wasn’t head over heels for the romance (even if I liked both parties). I mean, it made sense and was logical- I didn’t quite feel the fireworks. Other than that, I thought it was an excellent read:

4½5 bananas

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Have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

All These Beautiful Strangers was Pretty Exquisitely Done

all these beautiful strangersI’m a massive fan of books where a character enters an exclusive world and finds that under the surface it’s not as glitzy as it seems. All These Beautiful Strangers not only reflects on the dark secrets of at the heart of this society, it also deals with the very personal unsolved mystery of the protagonist’s missing mother.

When I picked up this book, I noted that the very pages were marked with the words “I KNOW”. From that moment on, I was gripped by the question: know what? This is something that preoccupies the main character throughout. What’s great about this novel is that it layers up the enigma, wrapping each clue up with intrigue and leaving it for the reader to uncover. With flashbacks and seemingly insignificant pieces of the puzzle left in plain sight, it’s very possible to gather where it’s going- however going on that journey is half the fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed every twist and turn of the story. The best part about it- by far- was that it never became campy or ridiculous- I’ve read a few other books in this vein and that has become an easy trap to fall into. Not for this book though- while there was plenty of intrigue, it didn’t utterly dispense with reality. My one minor issue in terms of the plot was that it was rather a lonnnng, s l o w reveal. Also, I did guess the end- still it built to such a satisfying conclusion that I didn’t mind in the least.

The characters were mostly decent- though not wholly original. Perhaps rather surprisingly, the most compelling characters for me were the parents. Not only did I feel far more connected to their romance, I also felt like I was seriously invested in their side of the story. Highlight for spoiler: I also don’t know if this makes me a bad person, because the father did sit back and let something terrible happen/didn’t come forward about it after- but I felt he deserved forgiveness by the end because a) he didn’t technically do the deed and b) he suffered enough with the loss of Grace– so yeah, that’s my teeny tiny “complaint” (that’s not even a real complaint).

Overall though, I thought it was an excellent story. I’d definitely recommend it for fans of YA mystery-thrillers- this is right up there as one of the best ones I’ve read.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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So have you read this? Do you plan to? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments!