Review: The Cousins by Karen M McManus

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The Storys are the envy of their neighbours: owners of the largest property on their East Coast island, they are rich, beautiful, and close. Until it all falls apart. The four children are suddenly dropped by their mother with a single sentence:
You know what you did.
They never hear from her again.
Years later, when 18-year-old cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah Story receive a mysterious invitation to spend the summer at their grandmother’s resort, they have no choice but to follow their curiosity and meet the woman who’s been such an enigma their entire lives.
This entire family is built on secrets, right? It’s the Story legacy.
This summer, the teenagers are determined to discover the truth at the heart of their family. But some secrets are better left alone.

I’ve been a fan of Karen M McManus for a long time, but I do prefer her standalone work to One of Us is Lying. Up until now Two Can Keep a Secret has been my favourite book by her, but it might just about be beaten by The Cousins. She is definitely an auto-buy author for me and I’m so glad I finally picked this one up! It feels like it’s been a while since I read a YA thriller and this one was such a quick read and so entertaining.

I enjoyed the dynamic between the 3 cousins who had never met before, and the setting of Gull Cove Island was so much fun and felt like the perfect environment for the family murder-mystery we had going on. I just wish I’d read this one in summer!

You gotta shoot your shot when it comes…

At first, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t like one of the cousins, and since this is a multiple point of view story I thought that I may not enjoy all of the perspectives. However, as the story went on I did sympathise with all of the main characters and feel like having several POV worked well. The way the author uncovered secrets about the family kept me on the edge of my seat and I wanted to read on to find out what was going to happen.

The writing was so addictive and easy to read and I sped through this despite not having much time to read. Once I picked this book up, I couldn’t put it down and just wanted to keep reading. The only negative is that I expected more murder! Having read books by McManus before, I did go into this expecting more graphic content. However, the focus on more of a family drama was still fun to read about and was written really well. The fact the 3 main characters didn’t know each other before the story began gave an extra layer of secrets and lies that were super interesting to uncover.

Who knows if you’ll get another chance?

Karen M McManus is definitely going to still be an auto-buy author for me and I’m glad I picked this one up as it was so entertaining to read!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

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Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students’ dark secrets to light.
Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can’t escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn’t afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power.
Someone is out to get them both. Someone who holds all the aces. And they’re planning much more than a high-school game… 

Thank you to Usbourne for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange with an honest review.

I’ve been hearing good things about this one recently, but I have to admit it surpassed all expectations. I did not expect this one to be such a page turner with dark but really important themes. This book reminded me of SLAY in a lot of ways, as both are such compelling reads that focus heavily on race. I didn’t really know much about this book going in, so most of the themes came as a bit of a surprise. I’m glad I went into this one with little knowledge, however, as it made the book even more gripping.

We follow Chiamaka and Devon, two Black students at their private school who are suddenly targets of an anonymous texter who spreads their deepest, darkest secrets around the school. The two band together to try and find out who Aces, the anonymous texter is. Although this is the basic premise of the story, there was so much more to it than that. Both of these characters have a lot going on in their lives, resulting in exploration of sexuality, class boundaries and elitism.

I stop myself from apologizing-because what would I even be sorry for?

The writing was brilliant and really kept me on the edge of my seat. I buddy read this with Alex over 10 days, but every single day I wanted to keep reading when we reached the end of the chapter. I sped through the section for the day and couldn’t put this book down, it was so compelling and such an easy read despite the difficult topics it explores. Although I had my suspicions about who Aces was, the plot also kept me guessing and intrigued.

I really liked Devon as a main character and I grew to like Chiamaka too, although I never fully connected with her and definitely found her unlikable at the start. Devon’s chapters were just more emotional for me and I really felt for what he was going through. Both of their relationships with the side characters were also interesting to read about and I really liked some of the dynamics between the main pair and others.

Existing too loud?

Overall, this was such a compelling read that had an in depth look on racism and inequality. I loved how the teenagers had some really deep and important discussion about racism without it feeling inauthentic, which is something SLAY also does well. My only criticism would be that a few aspects of the plot felt just a little far fetched, but I would still highly recommend this book!

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC review: Don’t Breathe a Word by Jordyn Taylor

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Present Day:
Eva has never felt like she belonged… not in her own family or with her friends in New York City, and certainly not at a fancy boarding school like Hardwick Preparatory Academy. So when she is invited to join the Fives, an elite secret society, she jumps at the opportunity to finally be a part of something.
But what if the Fives are about more than just having the best parties and receiving special privileges from the school? What if they are also responsible for keeping some of Hardwick’s biggest secrets buried?
1962:
There is only one reason why Connie would volunteer to be one of the six students to participate in testing Hardwick’s nuclear fallout shelter: Craig Allenby. While the thought of nuclear war sends her into a panic, she can’t pass up the opportunity to spend four days locked in with the school’s golden boy. However, Connie and the other students quickly discover that there is more to this “test” than they previously thought. As they are forced to follow an escalating series of commands, Connie realizes that one wrong move could have dangerous consequences.
Separated by sixty years , Eva’s and Connie’s stories become inextricably intertwined as Eva unravels the mystery of how six students went into the fallout shelter all those years ago . . . but only five came out. 

Thank you to Harper 360 for an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! Also, happy release day to this one!

Wow. This book was screwed up.

Don’t Breathe a Word follows two girls sixty years apart, at the same boarding school. It’s 1962, and Connie is one of six students to stay in the nuclear fallout shelter in the boarding school. In present day, Eva is new to the school and is invited to join the Fives, an elite society within the school. But throughout her story, she finds out more about Connie’s experience in 1962 and why only Five people come out of the nuclear fallout shelter…

I enjoyed a lot about this book. It was intriguing, thrilling and honestly really creepy in places. I did not expect this one to be quite as creepy as it was and it did make my skin crawl. I loved the dark academia atmosphere of the school and the murder that happened in 1962. The setting of the school was really interesting and I could picture the school and the surroundings well. I also enjoyed the multiple POV, which switched between Eva and Connie and between 1962 and present day. Flicking back and forth between them felt like a good balance but also kept me hooked on both of their stories.

But unfortunately, something just fell a bit flat for me with this book as a whole. I can’t pinpoint exactly what made me feel this way, but I just thought it was missing something. I think part of this was the lack of intrigue and intensity. Due to the nature of what happened to Connie, nobody is particularly pinpointed, and took out a whodonnit element that I was kind of craving. I think due to the lack of this element, I wasn’t quite as gripped as I was hoping to be.

I also didn’t feel quite as connected to the main characters as I wanted to, and I felt like I was missing out on big parts of their lives. Particularly Eva, who appears in this book more than Connie. I didn’t realise until near the end of the book that Eva talks about her family in a particular way that is not really explored at length within the book or is backed up by any discussions she has with the reader.

I have to also drop a mention to the fact that I just don’t understand some of the logic in this book. Some of the decisions the characters made really infuriated me and made me want to throw the book at the wall. However, naivety does play a big part in some of these decisions and the characters do come to realisations throughout the book. Also, it is worth noting that some of the stuff that happens is just super screwed up. I won’t talk about this in detail, but be prepared to be a bit taken aback by some of the elements of this one.

Overall, this was super interesting and I found the topic intriguing. I loved the idea of it but some of the way it played out let me down a little. I may sound a bit negative throughout this review, but I did still enjoy this book a lot and I would still recommend this one if you are interested in it!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

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On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.
As the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.
And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

I’m not normally one to go for thrillers. But in the spirit of reading outside of my comfort zone, and after hearing so many amazing things about this author, I decided to pick it up. I bought this initially for my mum to read, who really enjoyed it and passed it on to me. I wasn’t drawn into this from the first page, but it did turn out to be a super quick and, you guessed it, thrilling read.

This book is written from the POV of many people – including the bride, the wedding planner and some of the guests who are integral to the storyline. But the clever way this is written makes it clear who is who and doesn’t leave the reader muddled at all. I admire her writing so much for this, and I thought the addition of ‘titles’ for the guests really helped (at the start of the chapter, it would say Jules – the bride, rather than just Jules, for example).

And I’m not worried about it being haunted.

The biggest issue I found with this book is I struggled to like/sympathise with almost all of the characters. There was only one, maybe two at a push, that I liked at all. The way this book is set up makes you realise that everyone is out for revenge – and has good reason to be. But unfortunately, setting the story up in that way ensures most of the characters are looked at in a really bad light. It’s really clever, but I just struggle to enjoy a book when I can’t like the main character(s). The Guest List is the kind of book that makes you see how capable anybody is of falling into the wrong crowd and doing things they will regret. It bares the darkest parts of human nature for all to see.

Although a little far fetched at times, this book was super fast paced (at least, definitely after around 150 pages), and I couldn’t put it down. It was full of action with creepy undertones, set on an island in the middle of nowhere as a storm is brewing. It felt dark and haunting and definitely left me a little creeped out at times! Although some of the plot twists were a little underwhelming (or I guessed were they were going), others left me thoroughly shocked and made me realise what the author was capable of pulling off.

I have my own ghosts. I carry them with me wherever I go.

Overall, this was a great, entertaining thriller that I didn’t want to put down. It’s definitely one of those books that show the journey is just as important as the ending – and wow, that journey was a rollercoaster! Although not quite for me in places, I can see why this book (and author!) have had so much attention recently. It is certainly well deserved!

CW: drug use, drinking, bullying, self harm (graphic), suicidal thoughts, sexual assault, eating disorder, drowning, cheating, emotional abuse/manipulation

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: One of Us is Next (#2) by Karen M McManus

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It is a year after the action of One of Us Is Lying, and someone has started playing a game of Truth or Dare.
But this is no ordinary Truth or Dare. This game is lethal. Choosing the truth may reveal your darkest secrets, accepting the dare could be dangerous, even deadly.
The teenagers of Bayview must work together once again to find the culprit, before it’s too late . . .

I’ve had Karen M McManus’ second and third books on my shelves since their respective release dates, and it wasn’t until I’m meeting her at a book signing in a few weeks, and buddy reading with Alex became an option that I finally picked them up! It’s been almost 3 years since I read One of Us is Lying and I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to pick this one up as quick as I wanted to, or would need to re-read the first one.

But I was in luck, because this book is actually a different story that focuses on the younger siblings of the characters from One of Us is Lying, meaning you don’t really have to remember anything to follow their story!

“How do you make that choice?” I ask almost to myself.

I was so intrigued by this book from the very start. I loved the Truth and Dare and felt myself become hooked by the stories quickly, despite them seeming somewhat unrealistic in parts. As with the first book though, the writing is excellent, and I couldn’t help but find myself constantly wanting to read on and being surprised by all of the twists and turns.

The character development was great, and I rooted for my favourites and enjoyed learning more about their lives. But unfortunately, alongside the plot sometimes being unrealistic, I also found the characters hard to follow in parts due to there just being so many different POV. I would find myself reading so quickly I wasn’t always paying enough attention to the chapter I was on, and then not quite understanding which character I was reading about. This became annoying after a while, and sometimes I just wished for one or two POV instead.

“Between what you need and what you want?” 

Overall, this was a really enjoyable sequel and I found it very entertaining to read. I’d love to read more of McManus’ writing in the future!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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