ARC Book Review – The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

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Title: The Perfect Stranger
Author: Megan Miranda
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Genre: Mystery, Psychological Thriller

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

About the Book

In the masterful follow-up to the runaway hit All the Missing Girls, a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?

Megan Miranda’s latest release, The Perfect Stranger, will make for an excellent beach read this summer. While it doesn’t have the punch of All The Missing Girls, I was still caught up in the story and characters, especially in the second half of the novel. This is a slower-paced thriller, which isn’t for everyone, but really hooked me by the halfway point. I love the quiet, sleepy Pennsylvanian town that Megan created, especially since I grew up in Pennsylvania!

There are quite a few mini-mysteries going on in this novel: what exactly happened in Leah’s past, and the strange mystery surrounding Emmy being the two biggest. While I figured out certain aspects fairly early on, other parts of the mystery definitely caught me off guard twoards the end!

Leah is an interesting character, albeit occasionally annoying, and you really get to know her as the plot progresses. She’s a strong woman that doesn’t give up, and the whole storyline brings up some interesting questions. Does the end justify the means? Can you ever really “start over” somewhere new, in a new life? Kyle, the police officer assigned to Emmy’s missing persons case, is one of the weak links in the story. He seemed to be written to be a likable, good guy….but I wasn’t a fan. I do wish his character had been flushed out a bit more. And then there is Emmy, always in the background, a big question mark that is slowly unraveled.

My absolutely favorite part of The Perfect Stranger was the last chapter! I won’t say anything to spoil the ending,  but it was definitely a perfect way to end the book.

If you like mysteries/thrillers that take place in quiet, sleepy communities that hide their secrets well, you’ll probably enjoy The Perfect Stranger.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

ARC Book Review – The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

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Title: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth
Author: Lindsey Lee Johnson
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: 10 January, 2017
Genre: Contemporary fiction

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Book Blurb: 

A captivating debut novel for readers of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth unleashes an unforgettable cast of characters into a realm known for its cruelty and peril: the American high school.

In an idyllic community of wealthy California families, new teacher Molly Nicoll becomes intrigued by the hidden lives of her privileged students. Unknown to Molly, a middle school tragedy in which they were all complicit continues to reverberate for her kids: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own. Theirs is a world in which every action may become public postable, shareable, indelible. With the rare talent that transforms teenage dramas into compelling and urgent fiction, Lindsey Lee Johnson makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with the sorrow, passion, and beauty of life in any time, and at any age.

Is a wealthy, privileged high school the most dangerous place on earth? While that may be disputed, there is no denying that to many teenagers, the high school years are incredibly tough, and can certainly feel like the end of the world. This novel – written in short vignettes that offers a glimpse into multiple character’s POV – follows a group of teens from a traumatic event in 8th grade through high school graduation. The teen perspective is balanced out by the chapters from the POV of Ms. Molly Nicolls, a young, new teacher at the wealthy Marin County high school featured in the novel.

The setting is the definition of privilege on steroids. Wealthy suburban enclave, where teens have their own credit cards, BMWs, and little to no parent supervision. Lindsey Lee Johnson did an admirable job of using the setting as a starting place to explore the culture of wealthy, white privileged teens.

The format is where things go wrong. I really like the idea of the vignette chapters, but this book would definitely have fared better with a larger page count. Each chapter spends a brief amount of time focusing in on one of the characters. You hear that person’s inner thoughts and perspective for one chapter, and then they seem to disappear back into semi-anonymity. This could have worked extremely well if the reader had the chance to come back to that person’s POV a second or third time. What we’re left with, instead, is the feeling of incompletion and not knowing what lies beneath the surface. Take Abigail, for example, we see her chapter towards the beginning of the novel, yet the ramifications of what take place in “her story” carry throughout the rest of the book. But her voice is lost during the remaining 75% of the book. David Chu was another character that I really wish I could have heard more about. The same goes for Calista, who we hear from at the beginning and the end, and out of all the teens, was most deeply and sincerely affected by her role in the tragedy that takes place at the start of the story.

The characters in The Most Dangerous Place on Earth are all flawed, and Johnson does an excellent job at getting to the heart of the culture of affluency, and the impact it has on kids raised in such a setting, who are rarely denied anything by their parents.

I do, however, have one major problem with the story. Part of me feels that the initial set up: cyberbullying and the resulting teen suicide, was done for its shock factor. The first chapter was heartbreaking, but at no point in the rest of the story was the awfulness of the bullying behavior addressed in a meaningful way. In fact, the “trauma” for the kids who engaged in the cyberbullying was used as justification for their selfish and cruel behavior in high school. Not cool.

In regards to the audience, I have seen this book listed as both YA contemporary and adult contemporary. I think it falls more into the adult genre, despite the protagonist’s ages.

Would I recommend it? Yes. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth has flaws, just like the student’s within the pages, but it is a thought-provoking, quick read. I would also add a trigger warning for the way that it handles bullying.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars.

Book Review – Gilded Cage by Vic James

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Title: Gilded Cage

Author: Vic James

Publisher: Del Ray Books

Release Date: February 14, 2017 (a lovey-dovey Valentine’s Day book, this is not!)

Genre: YA Fantasy, dystopia, alternate history

 

 

 

 

 

Book Blurb:

Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Wow. What Gilded Cage turned out to be when I started reading is not what I expected! That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I truly enjoyed this novel.

Gilded Cage takes place in an alternate England. A world in which power is often determined by whether or not you possess Skill (i.e. Magic). In this slightly dystopian England, the aristocrats are not descended from royalty, but gifted with Skill, and are known as Equals. Everyone else is deemed commoners, and must submit themselves to a decade-long period of slavery at some point during their lives.

The story primarily follows the young-adult aged children in two families. Luke and Abi, whose whole family has just started serving their slavedays. And the Equals: Heir Gavar, his unskilled brother Jenner, and mysterious Silyen. Gavar, Silyen and Jenner are part of the Parva-Jardine family. The Jardines are one of the most powerful families in England, and most of Abi’s family has been sent to their estate, Kyneston, to serve as slaves in the household.

All except Luke. Luke is separated from his parents and sisters at the beginning of the novel to serve his slavedays in Millmoor, one of the slavetowns. Millmoor is absolutely horrendous, with deplorable conditions, inadequate shelter and food, and excruciatingly long workdays.

Chapters alternate between the POV of Abi, Luke, Gavar, Silyen, and Bouda Matravers – Gavar’s fiancée.

What I liked:

  • It’s dark and mysterious. Chattel slavery in a modern setting? Pulling ten-year olds and teenagers out of school to do their slave days? A sprawling estate in the British countryside with a mysterious son who wields extraordinary magical powers? Yep…Gilded Cage definitely set the right tone for a dark and delicious storyline.
  • Silyen. Silyen, the youngest Jardine son and wielder of extraordinary powers. The extent of his powers remain unknown throughout much of the novel, and I loved the suspense of finding out just what he can do, and what his motives truly are.
  • Nuance. Thank you, thank you, Vic James for giving your characters nuance and subtlety. There is unflinching cruelty, and lovely acts of kindness…and sometimes the cruelty and kindness come from the same person. Morality, and doing something kind for the wrong reasons (or vice-versa), is definitely a theme in Gilded Cage worthy of analysis.
  • Millmoor’s version of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. Parts of the novel feel as if it takes place in the 19th century. And then you have the Millmoor revolutionaries: hackers and tech geniuses. Awesome-sauce!
  • Multiple points of view. The best parts of the novel, in my opinion, were the POV from Abi, Luke and Silyen.

What I didn’t like:

  • Multiple points of view. Yes, I have this in both categories. It worked really well in some ways, and not so much in others. There were too many, and I felt like Bouda’s especially, was too much.
  • The only time swearing was used was when a guy was calling a strong, powerful woman a bitch. This really bothered me. I don’t mind when there is a lot of swearing in novels, in fact, I have a bit of a sailor’s mouth myself. And the majority of the “bitching” came from Gavar, who could definitely be a sexist jerk on a regular basis. Many of the women in the novel: Bouda, Hypatia, the Overseer of Millmoor, are not very likable characters. And here are some of the words used to describe them: Overbitch, bitch-queen fiancée, harpy like Bouda, and sanctimonious old biddy. That last one is in reference to Armeria Tresco, one of the few Equals with abolitionist tendencies. Okay, Gavar is a sexist jerk, as are some of the other men. But why isn’t it called out by any of the other characters? Or even acknowledged, anywhere? Did Vic James realize how this can sound to a reader? It really did not sit well with me at all, and is one of the main reasons why the novel does not get a 4-star review from me.
  • In the same vein, only two characters were people of color, and one of them was actually referred to as looking like a thug at one point. The poor guy is beat up to the point that he is unrecognizable, yet he is described as having a “thuggish aspect”. Seriously? In a novel about slavery and oppression? Not cool.

Would I recommend Gilded Cage? Yes, especially if you are a fan of dystopias and alternate histories. However, the above negatives make this a hesitant recommendation, instead of a “go out and read this now!!” review.

Rating: 3/5 stars