Book Review: Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

The Girls in the GardenThe Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book, but I only liked it. And that’s okay.

I was expecting something different from the description and the dreamy cover. It just wasn’t what I expected. The story turned out to be populated by real but extremely unlikable characters, the mystery kind of petered out, and there was no real resolution. All in all, it was a very realistic book, and it was nicely written, but when I read, I like to escape. This book made me feel, well…more hopeless than anything else. It was like eating dinner at a fancy party and still being hungry afterwards, so you go through the McDonald’s drive through on the way home. (So I read Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet for the millionth time afterwards.) I did think it was well-written, but it was a little too bleak, and I don’t think I’ll want to pick it up again.

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Book Review: Dead to Me

Dead to MeDead to Me by Mary McCoy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the book I was looking for but I didn’t know what I wanted. It’s a classic noir thriller setting, but with a heroine with the perfect balance of pluck and sensibility. It’s a vintage era with a modern feminist outlook. The mystery is well-layered. No one is a true hero, no one is a real villain (for the most part). The story kept me guessing and the writing style kept me hooked. This is a book that I need to buy to keep on my shelves. (Gushing review is just because I really did like it. Really. No one paid me to write this.)

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Book Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, #1)The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book read very much like a novelization of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, and the further you get into it the more Village-like it got.

Honestly that’s the best summary for the book- The Village, but with zombies. Lots of zombies. There’s a heavy religious aspect to the story that works really well; it’s just Protestant enough to seem realistic but unique enough to not be overly unsettling (a la The Handmaid’s Tale). The protagonist, Mary, is also much more likable than most first-person female protagonists I’ve come across in young adult novels as of late. I genuinely wanted to see where she was going to end up in this saga.

That being said, once I reached the end of the book, I knew it was the set up for sequels…but I’m not really that interested in reading them. I liked where Mary’s story was, and I didn’t really want to jump into the new characters and new environment in the next books. The new setting for the follow up books is very different, and I wanted to see more from where Mary came from. But I still very much enjoyed the book itself, and I’ll read it again.

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The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones

The UninvitedThe Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones
My rating: 1 of 5 stars


I’m not a quitter. I’ve never not finished a book. So I finished this one. But I’m pretty sure it took 84 years.

The pacing was slow. So slow. Not “building the intensity” slow but ACTUALLY PAINFULLY SLOW. I don’t care if the main characters went out for margaritas. I don’t care if Mimi changed her clothes for the sixth time. I don’t care if Cramer skulked mysteriously for the millionth time in a row. Nothing was happening.

Mimi was literally the most insufferable heroine. She’s forcibly quirky, to the point that you feel like there’s a neon sign flashing in front of your eyes saying PLEASE SEE WHAT A MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL I AM. I literally felt the strain of reading any parts from Mimi’s point of view, as if someone was stretching out a long string of silly putty. And right from the beginning she’s an unrealistic character, because what girl goes on an all day road trip wearing just a sports bra (imagine the seams of your car upholstery digging into your bare skin for hours on end) and then, upon arrival, changes pants outside in the yard. (I also didn’t need the elaborate description of Mimi’s butt and thong either.) Overall, Mimi was shoved down my throat so much that when I was supposed to care about her and her plight, I didn’t care. (And it didn’t matter, because her plight was solved with a phone call.)

Jay was a useless character and Iris even more so. I honestly can’t give any information about Jay other than “plays guitar.” He was completely forgettable. His big dramatic reveal is dropped with little fanfare in like the second chapter, and not only does it not add anything interesting to the character, it cheapens the later reveal for a later character. Iris was marginally interesting to read about, but did absolutely nothing to further the plot. Just another detour in a long, painfully rambling narrative.

Cramer was the worst. He’s supposed to be mysterious and ambiguous and tortured, but I just wanted to throttle him out of annoyance. His character veered far too far into “nice guy” territory. I half expected a description of him wearing a fedora and posting online about how he’s such a nice guy and girls don’t understand him. He proved to be a weak antagonist/antihero and I hated him so much.

The rest of the cast and the plot are rounded out with forgettable, unlikable caricatures. Cramer’s mother is a plotline that I’ve seen a million times before and this didn’t offer anything new or exciting. Stooley Peters was supposed to be a red herring, but you can see right through him. I still don’t know who on earth Waylin is or why he matters- Cramer talks about it as if it’s super obvious who he is and what his relationship to the other characters is, but it’s never explained. And Mimi’s parents are literally the worst. Jay’s parents are a lot more interesting, but are relegated to one scene and a couple of half hearted mentions.

In short, this book nearly killed me. I read quickly, I read voraciously, and this book literally exhausted me to the point that I had to keep putting it down and taking breaks because I was so bored that I couldn’t keep going. I finished it, because I’m stubborn, but seriously, I would never touch it again.

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Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

MarinaMarina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a ride. The writing is beautifully atmospheric and absorbing, and the draw of the plot is incredibly alluring- the idea of the gothic underworld in the sewers of Spain. However, most of the story is given through exposition rather than action, or even in a flashback, and it fell flat to hear about these great plot twists in a kind of stagnant past tense. The ending also seemed to peter out. The book built to a fantastic climax, and then, instead of ending on a high note, unraveled into an unsatisfying and prosaic conclusion. Overall, the book is beautifully written, but the plot kind of felt like eating a bad angel food cake- delicious, but leaves a weird taste in your mouth, and you realize that it wasn’t even filling in the first place.

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Stranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer

Stranger Than FanfictionStranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From an objective view, I adore Chris Colfer, and I do think this was an enjoyable book. On a non-objective view, there were a lot of blips on the radar that made me raise a skeptical eyebrow.

The characters feel very much like the cast of a 90s after school cartoon- one of each stereotype, so to speak. Over time, they did get some more development and some more depth, but they started out rather flat. Their introductions were also kind of flat; each character got a chapter that introduced them and it felt a little repetitive and honestly a little boring, like the climb up the first hill of a roller coaster when you’re waiting for the momentum to get you going.

The most…I guess uncomfortable is the word for it- was the transparency of Chris Colfer writing himself both into Cash Carter and Topher. You could see elements of him in both, and it made me kind of feel embarrassed. I was a fan of Glee back in the day and I’ve followed Chris’s work and been so impressed, but I felt extremely self-conscious reading the book. I kind of felt patronized, embraced, and disliked simultaneously. At the end I was asking myself “is it bad to be a fan? Is it bad to be a part of a fandom? If I ever have a conversation with Chris Colfer, will he think I’m just a roaring idiot?”

I’m still struggling with how I feel about Stranger Than Fanfiction. If I didn’t know who Chris Colfer was, I would probably enjoy it wholeheartedly. It’s a quirky, interesting plot with some well meant emotional moments and a bittersweet ending. As a fan of Chris Colfer, I now feel…well, kind of sad. I still admire him a lot and think he’s incredibly talented and I’ll still follow his work, but if I ever met him I’d probably feel super self conscious and embarrassed because of the way fans are written in this book.

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How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

How to Hang a Witch (How to Hang a Witch, #1)How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I hate to admit it, but I was unimpressed by this book for the first third of it. It was so…I don’t quite know how to describe it. I felt like I was reading something I read before. The so quirky and clumsy and “nobody likes me and I dislike everyone” heroine. The golden boy next door (I’ve literally forgotten his name already). The squad of mean girls. The incompetent adults. I felt like I was slogging through a literary groundhog day. What really saved the weak characterization was the plot. It was incredibly clever- the idea that the curse of the Salem Witch Trials was still affecting their descendants. I kept reading because I wanted to know how it would end, but not because I cared about the characters. The introduction of the ghost character did leave me rolling my eyes a bit- it felt way too much like Hocus Pocus: Dani Grew Up and the Ghost Isn’t a Cat But Close Enough- but I was at least intrigued by the final reveal of the villain, even though the execution raised a lot more questions than answers. All in all, it ended up as a pleasant read, albeit with incredibly forgettable characters (seriously, y’all, I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the love interest).

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The Awakening of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie

The Awakening of Sunshine Girl (The Haunting of Sunshine Girl, #2)The Awakening of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Oh boy. Sequels. Sequels have so much potential. I feel like this sequel squandered most of its potential. The book picks up a short while after the first, and it completely glosses over Sunshine meeting her birth father and jumps right into “let’s sit and have a lot of exposition.” Which was kind of a disappointment. And then the book ended up falling into a messy jumble where nothing happens, like when you’re in the middle of knitting and your ball of yarn rolls away and gets tangled up. Sunshine ends up going to Mexico (Mexico?) to a remote jungle where her birth father wants to train her. And of course she leaves Blond Boy Next Door behind and meets Brunet Exotic Bad Boy (the standard YA love triangle). But most of the resulting story is an endless training montage with non sequitor demon encounters that don’t really do anything to further the plot, they just remind you that “scary things are happening but meanwhile let’s talk some more about Sunshine wearing ratty clothes and becoming the best Looseach.

( I know I sound like I hate the book. I really don’t hate it, I was just super disappointed and I’m kind of salty about it.)

It honestly doesn’t feel like anything happened in the book. Like if you asked me to summarzie the book in one sentence it would probably be “Sunshine trains a lot and is torn between two boys.” And mixed into the training montage are lots of weird moments- her mother trying to seduce Nolan for her own purposes, her father being a cardboard cutout of emotionless mystery, her best friend driving from Texas to Mexico and then they drive to Mexico to the Pacific Northwest with barely a mention of WOW THAT’S A LONG TRIP. And then there’s the messy plotline about characters from the first book suddenly reappearing, and the book’s inevitable cliffhanger. Thank goodness there’s a third book, because this book was a hot mess. I still read it, and I’m still glad I read it because it’s a nice little series, but this particular book was very weak. I would never recommend it as a standalone book, and I think it’ll be more palatable once I’ve read the next one. But the jury will have to stay out on that one until then.

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The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl (The Haunting of Sunshine Girl, #1)The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not even going to lie, I read this book because I kept seeing it at Target and the cover intrigued me. I finally picked it up at the local library and gave it a try. It has the same problem I keep running into with a lot of the magical realism young adult novels I pick up- the story keeps me reading but I don’t care at all about the characters. Sunshine is very much a stock young adult heroine- frizzy haired, endearingly clumsy, and obsessed with wearing Goodwill clothing, yet somehow incredibly attractive. Nolan, the male love interest, is another stock photo whose only unique quality was that he wore his grandfather’s leather jacket. To be completely honest, I read this back to back with How to Hang a Witch (another book I initially spotted at Target) and I keep mixing up characters between the books. They’re way too boring and similar. But, also like How to Hang a Witch, I kept reading for the plot. Which, upon completion, wasn’t nearly as exciting as I’d hoped it would be. I didn’t find it very scary and I found myself predicting a lot of the plot elements. I still finished it and still enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the unique horror story that I was hoping for.

(And on a very pedantic level, it really annoyed me that the pronunciation of “luiseach” was spoken by a character specifically as “loo-seach.” It’s…it’s supposed to be from Gaelic, right? So shouldn’t it be “loo-shawk”? Right? Or was this simply a word made up by the author?)

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The Stolen Child by Keith Donahue

The Stolen ChildThe Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been fascinated by changelings since I was little, and I was immediately interested to see a mainstream adult book about them. (Usually you only see changelings in young adult novels.) It was an absorbing read, bouncing back and forth between Henry Day, the former changeling in a new body, and Aniday, the former boy in a changeling’s body. The book picks up in the late 40s, the day the boy and the changeling switch, and goes back and forth between their points of view. It’s fascinating to watch the changeling slowly becoming more and more human, and vice versa. What adds more depth to the story is the revelation that Henry, before he was Henry and before he was a changeling, was a totally different child. Watching the pieces slowly fall into place make the book a pleasure to read. The pacing is languid and steady, and picks up to nearly frantic as Henry (now an adult) and Aniday (still a child, but one who has lived for twenty extra years) come closer and closer to interacting with each other. All in all, the book is an unexpected, bittersweet take on changeling lore and I will definitely want to read it again.

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