Reviews

Review: THE UNIVERSE IS EXPANDING AND SO AM I

34743888Title: THE UNIVERSE IS EXPANDING AND SO AM I
Author: Carolyn Mackler
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Pages: 304
ARC?: Yes, provided from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Publish Date: 05/29/18
TW/CW: Fatphobia, homophobia, parental neglect/mental abuse, rape (not described in detail), alcohol abuse (mentioned briefly, twice).
Rating: 5/5

From Goodreads: Virginia Shreves’ world implodes again in this long-awaited follow-up to Printz Honoree The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.

Sixteen-year-old Virginia Shreves’ life is finally back on course: she’s accepted who she is inside and out and is rebuilding her relationship with brother Byron, whose date-rape charge shattered everything.

But just as she adjusts to her new normal, her world turns upside down again. Sparks with boyfriend Froggy fade, her best friend bombshells bad news, and then the police arrest Byron. As Virginia struggles to cope, she meets Nate, an artist with his own baggage. The pair vow not to share personal drama. But secrets have a way of coming out, and theirs could ruin everything.

Weezie’s Thoughts: I read the predecessor to this book, THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS, nearly 10 year ago. While the writing was simplistic, the story and its characters stuck with me, and when I found out Mackler was writing a sequel, I knew I had to read it.

My five star rating is probably a little generous (those nostalgia feels had me messed up), but it is at least a four star book, even with the little things I didn’t enjoy. Which was mostly that while this book seamlessly transitions us into a sequel for a book written 15 years ago… it kinda feels like a book that was written 15 years ago. Seriously, if something reminds me of being a teenager… it probably doesn’t apply to this new generation of teenagers. Still, it was good.

I particularly appreciated the honesty Mackler shows when writing about Byron, his arrest, and how his overbearing parents act. I liked the fact that Virginia knew her brother was in the wrong but still was unsure of her feelings towards him. Not just because of the rape and arrest, but also because of the way he treated her.

Personally I hope there is a third book where Virginia stands up to her entire insufferable family. We’ve dealt with weight issues. We’ve dealt with break-ups and new love. It’s time for Virginia to take a stand against the people who have tormented her more than anyone else. I’m also eager to get more of Annie Mills’ story and the punishment Byron deserves FINALLY handed down to him.

Carolyn Mackler, please don’t make me wait another 15 years.

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Reviews

Review: YOU

23492630Title: YOU
Author: Caroline Kepnes
Publisher: Atria
Published: 2015
Pages: 422
Format: Paperback
TW/CW: Death, stalking, abuse (mental and physical), drug use, alcoholism, kidnapping, slurs against women
Rating: 3.5/5

FROM GOODREADS: When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card. There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting. As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

I didn’t expect a thriller to make me take such a hard look at myself. But it did.

When I picked up YOU, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to stomach it. While a book written from the perspective of a stalker sounded like an interesting premise, I was pretty sure that having to read some sleazy guy’s thoughts was going to be too much for me. What I didn’t expect was to dislike Beck so much that I sort of… wished the worst for her. And all of her friends, if I’m honest. In fact, there weren’t any redeemable characters in this story save for Ethan, Joe’s coworker. It wasn’t until I got to the end that I realized I had actually been kind of gleefully cheering Joe on in slowly destroying Beck because she was one of “those girls”. Hypersexual (to the point that she exposed over people to her masturbating without their consent), manipulative, liar, seducer of married men, Beck was literally everything I hate in thrillers. She’s the girl I want to end up dead… even if I have to cheer for a stalker to do it. I’m kind of hoping that was Kepnes plan in writing the book the way she did. It almost feels like you have to be sympathetic with Joe as Beck jerks his chain… and then you remember that Joe has orchestrated nearly everything that has happened between him and Beck because he is a murderous stalker.

There were a few things that lost points from me. The story tended to drag, especially around the middle. This book could have been 100 pages shorter and still packed a powerful punch. The ending was also seriously abrupt and while I appreciate how it ended, I just felt like there should have been more. I was also seriously turned off by how much sex and references to sex there were in this book. Is that all straight people think about? Don’t stalkers usually think about things like life-long commitments and children? Since Joe was looking for “true love”, it didn’t make sense that he only thought about having sex with Beck.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys thrillers, stalkers, and a little murder.

Reviews

Review: THE IRON TRIAL

20578940Title: THE IRON TRIAL (Magisterium #1)
Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 2014
Pages: 295
Format: Paperback
TW/CW: Abuse, blood, death, underground
Rep: MC is disabled (problems with his leg), non-white supporting characters
Rating: 2.5/5

FROM GOODREADS: Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail. All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him. So he tries his best to do his worst – and fails at failing. Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future. The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

I really wanted to love this one.

THE IRON TRIAL had been pitched to me several times over the last few months as HARRY POTTER meets PERCY JACKSON, and that might have been true if the book wasn’t such a snooze fest. The beginning and end were pretty riveting but the entirety of the middle of the book was almost coma-inducing boring. A 300 page book usually takes me a few hours to read… this one stretched for 3 days because it couldn’t hold my interest.

While I liked the characters and I liked the premise of the story, you could definitely tell that two different people wrote this and there was no harmony in the joining of their writing. And when I say this is a Harry Potter rip off, I mean it. A magical school, dubious professors, snooty enemies, a villain who wants to live forever with minions who are willing to sacrifice everything to help him. I was, at first, impressed with the plot twist but after realizing how closely THE IRON TRIAL mimics Harry Potter, I should have seen it coming.

As much I hate not finishing series, I will not be picking up the rest of the books in this series.

Reviews

Review: DOLL BONES

15944406Title: DOLL BONES
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Published: 2013
Pages: 244
Format: Paperback
TW/CW: Death/murder (part of the doll story), light mention of blood that alludes to gore, child neglect, mentally ill character being “creepy” to kids.
Rating: 3/5

From Goodreads: Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice.

But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

My first thought about this book is that it wasn’t spectacular.

Usually a middle grade involving a ghost will suck me in but this one just didn’t. It’s not that this is a bad story. I enjoyed the adventure and the premise. I enjoyed the characters struggling to cope with growing up and dealing with parent/peer pressure and expectations.

But the characters are flat. All of them are so one dimensional and not fleshed out that I really didn’t care about them. When the ghost doll is more intriguing than the three characters having an adventure, something is wrong. The pacing in the story was also really off. When I read the synopsis, it sounded like the friends drift apart and months later reunite to go on this grand adventure… when actually they didn’t really have a fight and it’s only a day or so later after Zach claims he doesn’t want to play the game anymore when they set out to bury the Queen.

The romance in this is so unnecessary and really kind of threw me out of the story (not that I was ever truly into it…). I wish authors, especially authors who switch between middle grade and young adult, would realize that romance doesn’t need to be included in middle grade. Sometimes it’s done well but this one just wasn’t. Black almost sets this up as a love triangle because there are hints that Poppy likes Zach, too. I would have been much more satisfied with the jealousy aspect if one was afraid the other two were closer in terms of best friends. But romance? No.

Again, it wasn’t terrible. The ghost story is reason enough to read this and I think I would have loved this if more attention had been given to the Queen and her story.

 

Reviews

Review: AND I DARKEN

27190613Title: AND I DARKEN
Author: Kiersten White
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Published: 2016
Pages: 475
Format: Paperback
TW/CW: Blood, death, gore, attempted rape, child abuse, mental and physical abuse, warring religions
Rating: 5/5

FROM GOODREADS: No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

I spent so long thinking I wouldn’t like this book and kept putting it off… only to discover that I freaking love this book. Well, I love Lada. Mean, brutal, vengeful, cunning Lada who bites men in the face and kills would-be rapists. Honestly, she’s the feminist hero we all deserve.

AND I DARKEN is a truly complicated story. There’s political intrigue, warring countries, traded children, and a tinge of romance. But at the center of it all is Lada, Radu, and Mehmed, three children who were forced to grow up when they were thrust into roles that they were not ready for.

As I already said (and screamed about on twitter), I love Lada. I think she’s the perfect mix of terrible and amazing, and she has probably the best character development in the story. She goes from thinking women (especially women in the harem) are weak to realizing how power comes in many forms, and that the dainty women she used to scoff at are just as capable of owning the world as she is. Literally girl power, y’all. And Lada realizes all of this AND STILL DOESN’T CHANGE HER MIND ABOUT MARRIAGE AND GIVING BIRTH. It’s amazing! Lada is more comfortable around men and fighting but by the end of the book, she has learned to appreciate other women who don’t choose the same path as her and that’s the character development I am always here for.

Both of the male characters, Radu and Mehmed, I was kind of ‘meh’ about. Mehmed has lofty pursuits and goals, which I admire, but I couldn’t quite get passed his casual misogyny and treatment of the impoverished. Radu… don’t get me started. Everyone kept saying I would love Radu but he was my least favorite of the trio, something that never happens with a Queer character. I wanted to believe in the “he’s a soft Queer baby!!” but while I could appreciate Lada’s manipulation (to get home, to save Radu and Mehmed’s lives), Radu’s took a really disturbing turn for me. I understand heartbreak and longing but some of Radu’s actions were abusive and he was trying to manipulate someone into loving him in a way that they didn’t appear to want to love him in. It left me with an unsettled feeling.

This was definitely the book I needed, though. While I dearly respect highly femme kickass women in books, I will always have a place in my heart (and on my bookshelf) for girls who don’t know how to tame their hair or flirt. Lada is ferocious, hard, and wants to burn the world down in order to get home… and I love her. I love her so much.

Besides Lada herself, I loved her little army. Nicolae was such an unlikely friend but their interactions were perfect and made me laugh. Nicolae is the brother Lada deserves.

I’m not normally a huge fan of historical novels, especially ones based off of real people, but I was intrigued by the idea of a female Vlad the Impaler. White does a great job of mixing fact and fiction by filling in the missing gaps in their history, and she writes about Lada’s longing for her home country so well that I was cheering Lada on the whole time. Get your home country, girl!

I highly recommend this one for anyone who loves mean girls, assassins, and unlikely friendships.

Reviews

Review: THE CELLAR

19155234Title: THE CELLAR
Author: Natasha Preston
Publisher: Sourcefire
Published: 2014
Format: ebook
Pages: 347
ARC?: No
TW/CW: Kidnap, rape, abuse (physical and mental)
Rating: 2.5/3

From Goodreads: Nothing ever happens in the town of Long Thorpe – that is, until sixteen-year-old Summer Robinson disappears without a trace. No family or police investigation can track her down. Spending months inside the cellar of her kidnapper with several other girls, Summer learns of Colin’s abusive past, and his thoughts of his victims being his family…his perfect, pure flowers. But flowers can’t survive long cut off from the sun, and time is running out.

Hello, Flowers. Time for… a review.

So, it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I mean, it had potential. But it was still pretty bad.

Our story revolves around Summer, a sixteen year old airhead who is kidnapped by a man in a white van. This man, Colin aka Clover, takes her to his house where he has kidnapped three other women and is keeping them in his basement… as flowers. I mean, not literally as flowers. He isn’t planting them or anything. He does, however, rename them after flowers and makes them dress like “proper ladies”. They have designated meal times, are allowed to knit, read books, watch movies, and clean. Because apparently Colin/Clover has OCD and of course it revolves around cleanliness. Oh, and he also has mommy issues and kills prostitutes.

There were 3 things that really killed this story for me.

First, Summer is the most boring protagonist of all time. All she did was cry, say “I’m scared”, and think about her boyfriend, Lewis. Not her family, not her friends, just her boyfriend of one year. We also get to see Lewis run around trying to find Summer… which is mostly just him saying he’s frustrated and cursing at people. And he totally figures out that Colin/Clover is the guilty party… with just a look.

Second, Colin/Clover’s backstory made NO SENSE. His dad had sex with prostitutes, his mom made Colin/Clover kill prostitutes, there are hints he had a sexual relationship with his mother, and when she died he decided to kidnap 4 women and name them after flowers? I needed more. I needed to know why four women? What happened to his mother? Between him and his mother? What was Colin/Clover’s big descent into madness? I definitely was not satisfied with “here’s a vague background… he’s just wild ok”.

Third… why didn’t those girls gang up on him? They had knitting needles, they had numbers… why in the world did they stand back and let one girl attack him? And none of them had been there long enough (except Rose who was apparently actually in love with him uhhhhh) to be afraid enough to not fight back. Stab him in the eye and get out. Seriously. Instead, Preston had the women cower and scream and cry.

Also, stabbing someone in the stomach with a pocketknife (like Colin/Clover did to the prostitutes) would not instantly kill them. Y’all, stop.

Here’s the thing- this book is bad. But it’s so bad that I enjoyed reading it. The ending was absolutely revolting and ridiculous and I wish Summer would have died just to spice things up, but no. But I have enjoyed hating this book. Terrible, yes. Terribly enjoyable… also yes.

Don’t go into this expecting to be wowed.

Reviews

Review: LIVING DEAD GIRL

3Title: LIVING DEAD GIRL
Author: Elizabeth Scott
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Published: 2008
Pages: 170
Format: eBook
ARC: No
TW/CW: Kidnap, rape, drug use, food restriction, pedophilia, murder.
Rating: 3/5

FROM GOODREADS: When Alice was ten, Ray took her away from her family, her friends — her life. She learned to give up all power, to endure all pain. She waited for the nightmare to be over. Now Alice is fifteen and Ray still has her, but he speaks more and more of her death. He does not know it is what she longs for. She does not know he has something more terrifying than death in mind for her.

Whew, what a painful punch this tiny book packs.

If you’re looking for something that starts off awful but has a happy ending… this probably isn’t for you. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I went in but I had hope that at some point, this bleak, disturbing story was going to take an up turn but no. It never happened.

The book follows ‘Alice’, a now 15 year old girl who was snatched from a field trip when she was 10 by a pedophile named Ray. For the last 5 years, Alice has been living in the Shady Pines Apartment complex with her captor. The descriptions in this book are bleak. Alice is a shell of a person. After five years of rape, torture, and being forced to stay small and childlike through starvation, Alice has become a nightmare version of herself- ready and willing to help Ray capture another child on the off chance that he might let her go… or kill her. Either way, Alice starts trying to woo a child. When that doesn’t work, she has sex with the girl’s older brother (who is supposed to be watching her) in order to provide a way for Ray to snatch the little girl. The ending was heartbreaking and the book left me feeling unsettled, uncomfortable, and dirty.

This isn’t a great book. The plot is very point blank and the character’s are flat. Ray is the abuser (we only know that his mother abused him when he was a child), Alice is the victim who turns towards sociopathic behavior in order to survive, Lucy (Annabel) is the next victim, and Jake is the stoner who just wants sex. I’m still trying to figure out why Jake wouldn’t have gone to the authorities, or you know, tell his parents what was going on.

However, this book touches on how abuse perpetuates abuse and how dire situations can make people do things they never thought they would do. Alice knows what she’s trying to do to Lucy is wrong but she’s tired.

This is a deeply disturbing book. If you decide to read it, please take precautions and maybe read a few other reviews to make sure this is something you can handle.

Reviews

Review: GIRL MADE OF STARS

2Title: GIRL MADE OF STARS
Author: Ashley Herring Blake
Publisher: HMH
Date Published: May 15, 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
ARC?: Yes, provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
TW/CW: Rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse of a child by an adult, victim blaming
Rating: 5/5

FROM GOODREADS: Mara and Owen are as close as twins can get, so when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can her brother really be guilty of such a violent act? Torn between her family and her sense of right and wrong, Mara feels lost, and it doesn’t help that things are strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie. As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie come together in the aftermath of this terrible crime, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits into her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

This book was a hard pill to swallow.

Beautiful, yes. Timely and well written, yes. Still, it’s never easy to take such a close, hard look at victim blaming, consent, the withdrawal of consent, and rape.

After a party, Mara’s twin brother Owen is accused of raping his girlfriend. No one can believe that Owen would do this- not his parents (who staunchly defend him), not his friends at school, and especially not Mara. But after her initial protectiveness wears off, Mara starts to see the holes in Owen’s story.

Hannah, Owen’s victim, is subjected to all manner of horrible treatment at school when she returns. In fact, the only people who seem to believe her are her parents and a core group of her friends… Mara included.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away as this is definitely something everyone needs to read. This book takes a good look at what it’s like to suffer in silence after a sexual assault, the things rape victims go through when trying to seek justice, and how it feels to love someone while knowing they did an awful thing. There are no easy answers in this book. Owen remains Owen and I think that’s an important part of this book- not every offender is going to come off as the creepy guy in the van or the violent, abusive boyfriend.

I sincerely recommend this book to everyone.

You can preorder here.

Reviews

REVIEW: TIME BOMB

35721258Title: TIME BOMB
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: HMH
Date published: 3/13/18
Format: paperback
Pages: 352
ARC?: Yes, provided by HMH in exchange for a honest review.
Genre: YA Contemporary/ suspense
TW/CW: Death, blood, injury, talks of self-harm and suicide, death of a parent, Islamophobia, internalized fatphobia.
Rep: Pakistani- American, biracial, Queer, poverty.
Rating: 2/5

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS: A congressman’s daughter who has to be perfect. A star quarterback with a secret. A guy who’s tired of being ignored. A clarinet player who’s done trying to fit in. An orphaned rebel who wants to teach someone a lesson. A guy who wants people to see him, not his religion.

They couldn’t be more different, but before the morning’s over, they’ll all be trapped in a school that’s been rocked by a bombing. When they hear that someone inside is the bomber, they’ll also be looking to one another for answers.

TIME BOMB, I wanted to love you.

This wasn’t a book I was really intending to read. While I like thrillers, suspenseful YA, and people trapped in contained situations, I’m not overly fond of books that focus on school shootings and bombings. I think this comes from being a young child during the Columbine shooting and then living through the mass hysteria and prank school shooting/bombing calls that followed. After seeing several reviews that praised this book, I decided that I would probably try it once it came out… because I still wasn’t interested in it enough to request a review copy. Then I got a DM asking if I had read the book or if I would review the book because the reviewer had read it and found certain elements of the book really disturbing. I requested a copy and the reviewer who originally DMed didn’t tell me what they found troubling/problematic so that I would be able to go into this book completely unbiased.

Just to clear the air, this isn’t a bad book. If you’re not familiar with thrillers, this would be a great start. If you are a thriller reader… you’ll figure out who the bomber is pretty quick and it sort of kills the rest of the story. Even then, I would have given the book 3 stars.

But the microaggressions. Holy microaggressions.

I’ve already tweeted about this, so I’m just to put my tweets here:

  • Within the first 30 pages or so, our Muslim character, Rashid, talks about how his beard “others” him from his classmates… which is vaguely absurd. I knew lots of boys in high school who had full beards. It’s not uncommon.
  • There was a line where he worries about his little sister starting high school because she wears a hijab, but he says she likes wearing it because it draws attention to her. I talked to a few hijabi friends who were horrified that a white writer would make that assessment.
  • Of course, when the bombs go off, Rashid is the first person blamed and while the others generally catch the blame once throughout the book, Rashid is accused more than anyone else. (EDIT: I understand that the writer was trying to convey this is how it would be in real life, but it came off very poorly… especially since this was supposed to be speculative and “who done it” but only focused on one character)
  • Rashid also shaves his beard at school, something that he says is against his religion (and he is devout), in order to “fit in”.
  • Tad is our biracial gay character. When describing himself, he says he’s is “not black and not white” and the book talks a lot about how he’s “not quite black, not quite white”. I think this could have worked if written by a biracial person who actually+ (2nd tweet) +understands what it’s like being biracial. The way it’s presented is very dramatic and very “Who am I?” which is a trope assigned to us by non-biracial people. (EDIT: I had someone argue the point that many biracial people feel that they are neither one race or another, and that is true and valid but not the point I was trying to make. My point was that a white author is using someone’s race to other them and in the context of this story, it doesn’t make sense since Tad is popular and well-liked.)
  • Tad also hooks up with his football captain over the summer. It’s alluded to in the text that Tad filmed this and was going to use it to blackmail Frankie when Frankie stops talking to him. (EDIT: This bothered me a lot. Not only did he violate Frankie’s privacy, he was also planning to use the violation to further stalk Frankie and *force* him into a relationship he clearly did not want.)
  • And Frankie has a nice inner monologue where he says he’s “not going down the same path as Tad” because, as we all know, Queerness is a decision. (EDIT: And this is never dealt with in text.)
  • Frankie also plays into the hypersexual, flighty bisexual because he hooks up with lots of people and likes to “push the envelope” (which is how he explains his hook-up with Tad).
  • Cas is our depressed fat character and after she tries to kill herself at school (she’s stopped when the bomb goes off), she gets stuck in a doorway and laments that her smaller classmates squeezed right through.
  • Because, you know, fat people would definitely be thinking about how big their thighs look when trying to escape a bombed building, ok.
  • Moving back to Rashid, I find it interesting that he says he couldn’t find much empathy when he was in Pakistan and visiting places where his family and friends had died… but he does with a bunch of strangers who constantly harassed him. (EDIT: This enforces the whole “I just want to be NORMAL” trope.)
  • This book was filled with tropes. And not good ones. Again, I think some dedicated SRs would have helped this book out a lot.

In the end, I can’t recommend this book.

Reviews · Uncategorized

Review: WINTERHOUSE

29540876.jpgTitle: WINTERHOUSE
Author: Ben Guterson
Publisher: Henry Holt
Date Published: 01/02/2018
Format: Hardback
Pages: 384
ARC?: No
Genre: Middle Grade- Paranormal
TW/CW: Witchcraft, characters coming back from the dead, child neglect
Rep: Orphans, broken families.
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Orphan Elizabeth Somers’s malevolent aunt and uncle ship her off to the ominous Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the peculiar Norbridge Falls. Upon arrival, Elizabeth quickly discovers that Winterhouse has many charms―most notably its massive library. It’s not long before she locates a magical book of puzzles that will unlock a mystery involving Norbridge and his sinister family. But the deeper she delves into the hotel’s secrets, the more Elizabeth starts to realize that she is somehow connected to Winterhouse. As fate would have it, Elizabeth is the only person who can break the hotel’s curse and solve the mystery. But will it be at the cost of losing the people she has come to care for, and even Winterhouse itself?

I went into this with high expectations and honestly, I feel a little let down.

First, the cover is beautiful. Let me just get that out of the way. Yes, this was a TOTAL cover buy. I knew I wanted it before I even read the synopsis. But then I read the synopsis and I thought… yeah, this is going to be excellent.

And it was.

Almost.

I loved the characters. Elizabeth is a relatable heroine to any book nerd who has felt like they don’t belong. She’s also a sad figure, almost cut from the same cloth as my beloved Anne Shirley, as an orphan who has faced uncertain living conditions with her aunt and uncle who seem to think she’s more of a stray animal that hangs around that a niece who deserves to be taken care of. While the story certainly does hint that there is a reason why Elizabeth’s aunt is so cold towards her, we don’t get that story in this one (this is to be a trilogy, if I’ve understood right). As the story progresses, we meet more characters, all of them living or staying at Winterhouse which is where the bulk of our story takes place. Guterson has a way with characters and even the ones we’re supposed to hate have a sort of charm about them that made me care for their plotlines as well.

It was the pacing that lost me. I felt like there were huge chunks where nothing at all happened except average every day stuff that didn’t progress the story as much as it just made the book thicker. I read this one with my 10 year old goddaughter and a hundred pages in, she was ready to call it quits because nothing had happened. Sadly, nothing really does happen until the end of the book.

The book would have benefitted in having a subplot, honestly. I will be reading the second book, though, to see how the story progresses and how Guterson grows as an author… there’s so much potential there!

If a slower paced book doesn’t bother you, this might be the perfect winter mystery for you!

IMG_20170812_181234aBen Guterson was a high school and middle school teacher in New Mexico and Colorado for a decade before working for several years at Microsoft as a program manager. He and his family live near Seattle in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

You can check out his website here.