Book Review: Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

scars

Before, I was a million things. Now I’m only one. The Burned Girl.

Release Date: October 1, 2019

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Publisher: Delacorte Press

Price: $16.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary

Ava Lee has lost everything there is to lose: Her parents. Her best friend. Her home. Even her face. She doesn’t need a mirror to know what she looks like–she can see her reflection in the eyes of everyone around her.

A year after the fire that destroyed her world, her aunt and uncle have decided she should go back to high school. Be “normal” again. Whatever that is. Ava knows better. There is no normal for someone like her. And forget making friends–no one wants to be seen with the Burned Girl, now or ever.

But when Ava meets a fellow survivor named Piper, she begins to feel like maybe she doesn’t have to face the nightmare alone. Sarcastic and blunt, Piper isn’t afraid to push Ava out of her comfort zone. Piper introduces Ava to Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, and slowly, Ava tries to create a life again. Yet Piper is fighting her own battle, and soon Ava must decide if she’s going to fade back into her scars . . . or let the people by her side help her fly.

Grade: A+

Review:

Ava’s story is both heartbreaking and uplifting. After becoming severely disfigured by a house fire, she not only has lost both of her parents and cousin but also her face. Or at least what her face used to be. For months, Ava fights for her life as she undergoes surgery after surgery but once she’s deemed healthy enough to leave the hospital, her aunt and uncle think it’s time to transition back into high school. But Ava doesn’t think she can survive high school with the face she has. That is until she meets Piper, a fellow survivor with a spitfire personality.

It’s rare when the characters in a book feel so real to me. But Ava and Piper were incredibly real, and the situations they found themselves in were also real for their circumstances. There were so many heartbreaking moments in the book, but it was also very hopeful. It wasn’t all about despair, as it easily could have been considering the topic. Instead, Ava realized that she could either wallow in misery her whole life and not live or decide to live again and find purpose in her new life with her new friends and support group.

I loved how each character was their own person, and that even the so-called “mean girls” of the school ultimately had a soul and reached a growth of their own by the end.

I suppose this was the sort of book that I wish it hadn’t ended because I still wanted to read more about Ava and Piper. It’s probably why after completing the book I took a break from the novel-reading and instead focused on reading poetry books instead. Because a part of me still wanted to hold on to Ava and her strong spirit. This book is a must-read for readers of any age, but especially teenagers so that they can learn how you can overcome the worst in life if you have the right people standing by you.

 

Short Q & A With The Author

Why did you select fire as the source of Ava’s disfigurement?

SCARS LIKE WINGS was actually inspired by Marius, a friend of mine, was burned and severely scarred by a house fire as a child in Romania. Now 20, Marius’ story has always inspired and intrigued me, not only because of the power of his tragedy but because he chooses every single day not to let it define him. He has had children run screaming from him. He has had bullies call him Freddy Krueger. I wanted to write a story that would go to these dark, lonely parts of tragedies like his, but also to the beautiful, hopeful parts. As Marius has told me, the only way he survived was because every time he wanted to give up, someone was there, helping him choose to live. I hope Ava’s story can show readers that we all have a choice after a life-changing event: We can choose to be alone, isolated and angry that our normal is gone, or we can let people in and find a new normal, together.

Reading Scars Like Wings it looks like you did a lot of research in burn victims when it comes to the healing process and medical work needed. Did you speak to professionals that help burn victims or did you solely rely on books about the topic?

Oh, definitely! As I wrote this book, I felt heavily the burden of presenting an accurate, respectful representation of the burn survivor community. I spent a lot of time speaking with survivors, reading their stories, talking to doctors about wound care and recovery, and generally immersing myself in the terrible/wonderful/inspirational/reality of being a burn survivor. Learning about the physical and emotional pain of burns was gut-wrenching at times, but I wanted to preset a story that went beyond stereotypes and pity to the reality of what it’s like to live with physical and emotional scars like Ava’s.

I know that Ava hates seeing herself as a survivor, but she is a very inspiring character. The reader can’t help but want to root for her the whole time. When did Ava’s story first come to you (as in inspiration)?

Well, like I mentioned, Marius originally sparked the idea for this story, but the character of Ava took shape slowly as I started researching and drafting. She has some qualities just like Marius, like her thumbs on her hands instead of fingers, and then pieces of other stories that survivors have shared with me. The more I thought about her and wrote about her, the more she became a fully-formed character with interests like Broadway musicals and a personality all her own. I’d love for readers to see Ava this way by the end of the book, as a smart, funny, talented teenager who just happens to also have scars.

As much as Ava is wonderful, Piper is a true scene-stealer. I feel like everyone needs a Piper in their life. Was Piper inspired by someone in particular?

Not really, but I knew from the beginning that Ava needed someone like Piper to draw her out of her shell and remind her that she has a lot of living and loving left to do. Piper’s loud, out-there attitude is a great counterbalance to Ava’s initial belief that her life is over after the fire. Like a lot of people, though, Piper’s bravado is hiding her own pain and struggles. And when she starts to push Ava away, too, we start to see how deep her pain runs. Both girls finally realize that they can have full, happy lives after their trauma, but they can’t ignore the pain, either.

So many YA novels lately are being made into movies or TV series, which actress would you like to see bring Ava to life?

Oh, wouldn’t that be amazing! If I’m being honest, I’d love to see the role of Ava go to a burn survivor. I think it would be so wonderful to see someone who has actually lived a similar storyline portray this recovery journey!

(Editor’s note: I LOVE Erin’s idea of a burn survivor being the one to portray Ava, although if I had to choose an actress, I think Joey King would tackle Ava’s journey well.)

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

dead

Red Lady, Red Lady, Show us your face….

Release Date: December 10, 2019

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Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: $26.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.

Grade: A-

Review:

I’ll be honest, when I read the first chapter, I wasn’t too intrigued although it opened with a very disturbing admission, that the protagonist Heather had killed her best friend when she was a tween. It wasn’t until the following chapter reverted to the THEN portion of the story that I was hooked. The novel is sectioned in alternating chapters with a chapter in the present and the following chapter in the past. By far, the THEN chapters are way more interesting because it shows Heather as a twelve-year-old, and being best friends with Becca, and also with Rachel and Gia, whom like her and Becca also enjoy a fascination for the macabre. The girls are intrigued by deaths and serial killers so much that they decide to create the Dead Girls Club. A club made to share scary stories or true crime stories. The girls usually got together for these meetings at the basement of an abandoned house.

That summer though, Becca becomes obsessed with telling the story of the Red Lady, a witch who was killed in an atrocious manner. At first, the girls are intrigued by the stories, especially Heather, but she begins to resent the stories when she notices how it has begun to affect Becca. Because Becca is convinced that the Red Lady is real and the only one who can save her from her alcoholic, abusive mother.

In the present time, Heather receives a pendant that Becca was wearing the night of her death in the mail, which causes her to spiral in paranoia. Did somebody see her kill Becca? Is the Red Lady after her?

This book is so deliciously twisty that you find yourself questioning what’s real and what isn’t. I wouldn’t necessarily call Heather an unreliable narrator but more it’s an exploration of devout friendship and how often stories in our youth can begin to feel real if we allow ourselves to believe in them.

I honestly wish that we had gotten more chapters from the past or that we could’ve gotten a whole book about the Red Lady (the story was simply very fascinating as it was horrific). I suggest this novel to anyone who loves thrillers with a dash of supernatural spookiness into the mix.

dead2

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Life of the Party: Poems by Olivia Gatwood

life

I’m a good girl, bad girl, dream girl, sad girl

Release Date: August 20, 2019

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Publisher: Dial Press

Price: $11.90 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Lauded for the power of her writing and having attracted an online fan base of millions for her extraordinary spoken-word performances, Olivia Gatwood now weaves together her own coming-of-age with an investigation into our culture’s romanticization of violence against women. At times blistering and riotous, at times soulful and exuberant, Life of the Party explores the boundary between what is real and what is imagined in a life saturated with fear. Gatwood asks, How does a girl grow into a woman in a world racked by violence? Where is the line between perpetrator and victim? In precise, searing language, she illustrates how what happens to our bodies can make us who we are.

Grade: A

Review:

Gatewood’s poetry collection is part memoir and partly inspired by True Crime. In each poem, she explores the meaning of becoming a woman and how men react to this sudden change from girlhood to womanhood. She also has an obsession with mistrusting men and believing that a man is going to kill her. Although, to be honest, what woman hasn’t thought about being killed by a man before? With the way True Crime depicts young girls and women always being victims of rape and murder, it’s no wonder that we grow up with this incessant paranoia. Her fear is very relatable if you’re a woman living pretty much anywhere in the world. Men abusing and killing women is a worldwide crisis and one that has only worsened over the years.

“Maybe I am tired
of hearing people talk about the murder
of girls like it is both beautiful
and out of the ordinary.”
-My Grandmother Asks Why I Don’t Trust Men

Gatewood explores the dark realms of her fears and tries to give voice to them through her poignant poetry. These poems are honest, raw, and sometimes quite dark. I recommend this book for all you that prefer your poetry to have a certain edge to is, but if you’re easily triggered then this collection won’t be for you.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Dial Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

olivia

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Book Review: She’s the Worst by Lauren Spieller

worst

One Day. Two Sisters. All the Feelings.

Release Date: September 3, 2019

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Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Sisters April and Jenn haven’t been close in years. Jenn’s too busy with school, the family antique shop, and her boyfriend, and April would rather play soccer and hang out with the boy next door.

But when April notices her older sister is sad about staying home for college, she decides to do something about it. The girls set off to revive a pact they made as kids: spend an epic day exploring the greatest hits of their childhood and all that Los Angeles has to offer.

Then April learns that Jenn has been keeping a secret that could rip their family—and their feuding parents—apart. With only one day to set things right, the sisters must decide if their relationship is worth saving, or if the truth will tear them apart for good.

Grade: A

Review:

After weeks of reading very dark books, I decided that I needed something a little more light-hearted (meaning no deaths, destruction, gore, or overall chaos). Being an only child, I’ve always daydreamed about having siblings, and so I was very excited to read a book that focused on the relationship of these two very different sisters, overachiever Jenn, and sporty April.

Another reason why I was drawn to this book is that it takes place in Los Angeles, and it promised a road trip through the city so these sisters could reignite their bond. Living in the Los Angeles area myself, I liked to see what memorable places these girls would go to and if I had been to them myself. First off, I wasn’t aware that there were actual canals at Venice Beach, despite having been there many times (mostly at the boardwalk and beach area), so next time I’m there I’ll have to check that out.

What I enjoyed a lot about this book is that it did provide me the levity I needed, but that’s not to say that this book is fluff, cause it isn’t. This book very realistically portrays a family dynamics and the guilt you feel to try to keep your parents from killing each other when fighting (I probably related to Jenn’s referee role between her two parents a bit too much).

It was interesting to see how two sisters that used to be very close began to drift apart as they got older to the point that they no longer feel like they can even be friends. But the book explores ways how sometimes all you need is to find reasons why you loved that sibling in the first place and how it takes that first step to want to bridge the gap to have a good relationship again.

Everything and anything you can imagine does occur during this 24-hr. Span (the whole book takes place in just one day), and although it’s not a book that deals with mysteries, there are still several surprises that spring up that you didn’t imagine would. That’s to say that, this is a page-turner despite it not being a thriller. There are secrets that are kept hidden and revealed major life-changing decisions that take place.

I recommend this book if you’re into some light reading or love romantic comedies/sister bonding books. Because this novel has it all, especially a ton of feels.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Love, Heather by Laurie Petrou

love heather

What you see isn’t always what you get.

Release Date: October 8, 2019

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Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: 18.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Stevie never meant for things to go this far. When she and Dee–defiant, bold, indestructible Dee–started all this, there was a purpose to their acts of vengeance: to put the bullies of Woepine High School back in their place. And three months ago, Stevie believed they deserved it. Once her best friend turned on her, the rest of the school followed. Stevie was alone and unprotected with a target on her back. Online, it was worse.

It was Dee’s idea to get them all back with a few clever pranks, signing each act Love, Heather–an homage to her favorite 80’s revenge flick. Despite herself, Stevie can’t help getting caught up in the payback, reveling in every minute of suffering. And for a while, it works: it seems the meek have inherited the school.

But when anonymous students begin joining in, punishing perceived slights with increasingly violent ferocity, the line between villain and vigilante begins to blur. As friends turn on each other and the administration scrambles to regain control, it becomes clear: whatever Dee and Stevie started has gained a mind–and teeth–of its own. And when it finally swallows them whole, one will reemerge changed, with a plan for one final, terrifying act of revenge.

Grade: C+

Review:

I really enjoyed the first 85% of this book so very much as it detailed the school life of Stevie who is on the verge of entering one of the popular cliques at school with her best friend Lottie when she makes a faux pas, and even her best friend of many years disowns her. That’s when the bullying begins. This is a very timely book as it discusses trans, transphobia, bullying, and school shootings. The book excelled in making teens sound like teens and having Stevie deal with bullying in a very realistic way for teens today (both in school and online).

But everything changes for Stevie when she befriends the loner, Dee who encourages her to rise up against the bullies and exact revenge. Soon, other kids are taking notice and the popular clique is getting what they deserve, although the author does explore the premise of the grey area where sometimes revenge becomes another form of bullying.

For anyone who has watched teen revenge movies ala Mean Girls, Heathers, and Carrie, you’ll love this book and cheer for our cinephile protagonist Stevie and Dee as they defy the high school hierarchy. My only issue with the book was that it got way too preachy towards the end of it. The message it was trying to convey was an important one, but it somehow sounded more like an after school special and so it took me out of the story.

I’m also confused by the fact that everyone keeps referring to this book as a thriller. First of all, we all know who started the Love, Heather revenge and nobody dies (I’m pretty sure there should be murder for a book to be considered a thriller, or at least a threat of murder, but that’s just me). Secondly, I’m getting really fed up with the plot twists for all books lately seem to be some form of mental illness. Mental illness shouldn’t be a plot twist, that’s just lazy writing! And lastly, Stevie never takes revenge on the one person that totally deserved it the whole time! Sure, they try to embarrass said person, but they never truly pay for their wrongdoings and that pisses me off when it’s a book about revenge.

I did enjoy the book a lot up to the plot twist and ending. The book is a page-turner because you do want to find out what is going to happen next, but all that climax for such a poor plot twist that was NEVER referenced in the conclusion since the protagonist conveniently decided not to mention it to anyone is what turned me off at the end. Which is sad, because I would’ve ranked this book higher had the last portion of the novel been better or more satisfying.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

souls

A girl with a guitar never has to apologize for anything.

Release Date: September 18, 2018

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Price: $18.49 (hard cover)

Plot Summary:

Every morning, Kris Pulaski wakes up in hell. In the 1990s she was lead guitarist of Dürt Würk, a heavy-metal band on the brink of breakout success until lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom, leaving his bandmates to rot in obscurity.

Now Kris works as night manager of a Best Western; she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. One day everything changes—a shocking act of violence turns her life upside down, and she begins to suspect that Terry sabotaged more than just the band. Kris hits the road, hoping to reunite Dürt Würk and confront the man who ruined her life. Her journey will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a celebrity rehab center to a satanic music festival. A furious power ballad about never giving up, We Sold Our Souls is one woman’s epic journey to reclaim her life—and save her soul.

Grade: A+

Review:

Ever wonder what happens to musicians that don’t make it? Kris Pulaski was the lead guitarist for the heavy metal band called Dürt Würk in the late 90’s. Now, nearly two decades later, she’s a night manager for a Best Western. In other words, it’s hell and her life sucks, while the band’s original lead singer, Terry Hunt reinvented himself with a new sound (nu-metal) and band (Koffin) and became a rock icon. When Kris see s a billboard advertising Terry’s farewell tour, something inside of her sparks Kris to leave her sad life behind and seek out the remaining members of Dürt Würk to get them to confront Terry with her and demand answers over what happened the night the band broke up.

This book was everything you’d want a horror and rock band novel to be. There’s action, gore, and passion for music all woven into a kickass tale of what it means to fight for your dreams and to never give up hope. There were many times where Kris could’ve just given up her mission, but she always prevailed no matter how difficult the task seemed or physically ailing she was. This book isn’t just about some Faustian deal gone awry, the heart of this book is to take a hard look at yourself and see if you’re living for what you believe in or lie Terry, you have sold your dreams in exchange of a cozy life.

I honestly love Kris so much in the novel that if it had been about anyone else, I don’t think the journey would’ve been as much fun or as meaningful. This book has seriously been one of the most fun to read this whole year, because even when there were moments of despair, there was always an underlining hope that maybe our heroine, Kris would save the day.

I highly suggest this book if you love horror, death metal, rock stars, and road trip stories.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quirk Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé

monsters

They took my sister.
I’ll take her back.

Release Date: August 6, 2019

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Price: $10.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. And moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over as someone different.

In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones.

Then Deirdre disappears.

And when something awful comes scratching at Skye’s window in the middle of the night, claiming Skye’s the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

Grade: A-

Review:

I’ve waited a week after reading this novel to decide to write a review because I wanted to wait and see if my feelings for this strange little book would remain the same or somehow change. Thing is, I walked into this book thinking that I was getting something like The Blair Witch Project (or at the very least some sort of witchcraft) since it was advertised that way, but instead what I got was a strange tale of childhood monsters and magical kingdoms that come to life in the woods and a missing girl case.

So I’m going to divide this review into two sections: Pros & Cons.

Pros:

I love the dark, atmospheric imagery woven throughout the whole story. It was mighty creepy and rocked in all its dark gothic glory.

The characters reacted to situations in realistic ways (meaning that the characters didn’t give the protagonist Skye a free pass when she shared a very dark secret about her past).

It kept me invested in the story and I really wanted to know what was going to happen next.

Cons:

It wasn’t until halfway through the book that we finally received confirmation that something supernatural was indeed happening.

All the characters were unlikeable, except for William. The protagonist Skye, not only was she unlikeable, but she was also manipulative and had a cruel streak that she justified endlessly and blamed a lot of her actions on her sister.

Dead pets and other animals.

The ending. While it was realistic, it seemed to just end leaving a lot of questions unanswered.

Overall, this was a unique story and I did enjoy it, but I don’t know if it’ll be something that a lot of people could get into unless you’re into dark tales and don’t mind the somewhat slow pacing.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review & Author Interview: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

wilder

They told us to wait and stay alive.

Release Date: July 9, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $12.91 (hardcover)

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Plot Summary:

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First, the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

Grade: A

Review:

Sometime this past fall, I saw Rory Power tweeting the cover of her debut novel, Wilder Girls, and the moment I saw it and read the blurb, I knew that I had to read it. Luckily, NetGalley hooked me up with an ARC cause I don’t know if I could’ve lasted till July to read it. This book fits nicely into my two favourite book genres, body horror and boarding school stories. I don’t know why I love boarding school stories, probably cause as an only child, I always envisioned going to one and being surrounded by lots of girls my own age. Fun fact: I almost got sent to a Catholic boarding school once, when my exasperated mum was tired of my teenage rebellious way and thinking it’d be a punishment, she promptly called a school up (I was ecstatic, to say the least). Sadly, not even the nuns wanted to deal with a rebellious teen, since they pretty much told my mum that I was better off staying home in a “loving environment” than far from my family. Still, to this day I kinda miss not having had the boarding school experience. So now, I vicariously live that experience through books about them.

But Raxter isn’t just any ordinary boarding school. Nope. This boarding school is located on an island that pretty much has nothing else on it but the school. So total isolation. The perfect setting for a group of girls who are having to deal with being quarantined by the military after contracting a disease they call the Tox. Now, the fascinating and maybe disturbing thing about the Tox is that it’s a disease that manifests in different ways depending on the individual. So one girl has a scaled hand (which I wasn’t sure if we were to envision scales like a fish or more like a dragon), another has an eye closed shut with plants growing inside of it, and another is growing a second spine. The body horror in this novel isn’t for the faint of heart, so if you’re a little on the queasy side, just keep that in mind.

But what made this novel memorable to me wasn’t the unexplainable horror that had taken over the girls’ bodies, but rather, the resilience these girls had, and strong bonds of friendship. On several occasions, it would’ve been easier for the protagonist, Hetty to simply give up on her friends and herself and just be. But she doesn’t give up, even when things are looking rather bleak (and boy do things get bleak fast in this novel!).

I know some have made comparisons of this novel to be the feminist response to Lord of the Flies, however, the fact that both novels have an island setting is the only similarity I could find, since Wilder Girls isn’t really a novel about the students created their own sense of structure as there are still adults who supervise the girls. Wilder Girls is more a celebration of sisterhood in the face of adversity, and the lengths one would go to in the name of friendship.

It’s a wild and dangerous ride, but one that is worthwhile.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

rory

Follow Rory on Twitter! / Photo credit: Rory Power

Short Q & A with the Author:

Why did you select an island as the location for Raxter? Is it to play upon the sense of isolation?

Choosing an island as the setting was mostly down to instinct and initial inspiration – a visit I made to an island in North Carolina was the first thing that made me want to write this book – but the more I worked on the story, the more it became clear to me that there was really no other place to set the book. I love books with closed communities, places where nobody leaves and nobody new ever arrives, so of course I wanted to write one of my own. I also think so much of Hetty’s story is about being on your own and having to fend for yourself. Setting the book on an island and physically cutting the girls off from the outside world was definitely a way to take that feeling and make it literal.

The reader only received tiny details about the girls’ lives before Raxter. It almost felt like they preferred staying at a boarding school rather than being home. Was Raxter more home to girls like Hetty and Byatt than their actual homes?

For Hetty and Byatt, I think Raxter is more home to them. They both find something at the school, and in their friendship with each other, that defines them, I think, and so compared to the lives they left behind, I think Raxter is what really matters. There are probably other girls at the school that don’t feel similarly, but as far as our main characters go, the idea of going back to their old lives isn’t all that relevant to them.

The fascinating thing about the Tox (the disease that has overtaken the island) is that it manifests in different ways in different people. Was the way the Tox affected the girls attributed to their character? For example, Mr. Harker we know he was a gardener for the school, and when we see him infected, he’s got plants growing inside of him. As for Byatt having a double spine, it seemed almost an indication of how she needed to grow a backbone in order to stand up to her mother. 

I love that interpretation! Some of what the Tox does is just based off aspects of my research that I thought were cool – Taylor, for instance, gets a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to her mutation, which is based off the lateral line you find in fish, a physical feature that helps them coordinate motion when they’re swimming in a school. But some of it also ties into character. Reese, for instance, is a really guarded person, so of course, I had to give her literal armor-like scales.

I’m someone who’s interested in books or movies that explore the theme of body horror whether it comes to shapeshifting like in Ginger Snaps or Blue My Mind, or a change that begins manifesting when you’re a teenager that you have no control over like in Teeth. Why do you think that YA is the best genre to explore body horror?

I think YA is so much about agency, about taking control of your own life for the first time, or about finding yourself unable to do that. For a lot of young people, this ties in a lot with body autonomy. So I think thematically YA lends itself to body horror, which explores physical transformation and a loss of that physical autonomy. They dovetail together really well and lend meaning to each other.

I know some may draw similarities between your novel and the novel Annihilation, but what inspired you exactly to tell this sort of tale?

My inspiration really came from the landscape, and from wanting to explore a specific setting and atmosphere. My very first draft had the same basic plot, but I was using it mostly as an excuse to write about trees and describe the ocean. I read Annihilation, which is an absolute favorite after I’d written that draft, and it really taught me how to narrow my focus and find the heart of the story that was hiding in the mess I’d made. (If you haven’t read Annihilation yet, you must!)

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Book Review: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

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The next heart-pounding thriller from New York Times bestselling author Riley Sager follows a young woman whose new job apartment sitting in one of New York’s oldest and most glamorous buildings may cost more than it pays.

Release Date: July 2, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $17.10 (hardcover)

Publisher: Dutton

Plot Summary:

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s sordid past and into the secrets kept within its walls. What she discovers pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

Grade: A

Review:

Soon after reading The Last Time I Lied, I picked up Final Girls (I still need to read it) and of course requested a copy of Lock Every Door the second it was available on NetGalley. Luckily, I managed to snag a copy. There’s something about Riley Sager that I just LOVE. He always manages to incorporate some horror aspect into his thriller novels. For example, with Lock Every Door, Jules is a recently laid-off worker, and finds work as a housesitter in the exclusive Bartholomew Building (in which she and her sister used to obsess about since their favorite book was set there), and for some reason the book gave me some serious Rosemary’s Baby vibes. Maybe because of the uber-rich, yet creepy neighbors, or the fact that it’s alluded that the building is cursed and witches may be involved. However, this being a Sager novel means that although it may give you horror vibes, it never ventures off into supernatural.

I found Jules to be very relatable, as I think we can all identify with her. She was a hard worker in college, received a degree thinking she could better her social standing, instead, she ends up working a crummy office job in which she gets laid off from, and in her desperation to find a new living situation (her loser boyfriend cheated on her), she falls for an ad on Craigslist that is looking for a housesitter. Now, if Jules economic situation hadn’t been so fire, she would’ve bailed at the first inkling of something being amiss at the Bartholomew, but since beggars can’t be chooser’s, she sticks it out even when us readers are yelling, GET THE FUCK OUT!

Some aspects of the story seem kind of over the top, but I feel like it works, or at least Sager has enough thriller cred to make it work. This book is perfect any of you who love mysteries, thrillers, or horror (cause even though it’s not horror it DOES have a lot of horror vibes running throughout).

I really enjoyed this book a lot and have a feeling that Sager will become one of my fave new authors.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Dutton for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review & Author Interview: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small

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Would you die for the Prize?

Release Date: May 21, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $12.29 (hardcover)

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Plot Summary:

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School, where they’ve forged an inseparable bond through shared stories of family tragedies and a powerful love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves how far they would go for the ultimate prize: to be named the one girl who will join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic will make them shine, too? Would they risk death for it? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the Prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

Bright Burning Stars is a stunning, propulsive story about girls at their physical and emotional extremes, the gutting power of first love, and what it means to fight for your dreams.

Grade: A

Review:

For some reason I find books or films about ballet to be utterly fascinating and alluring. Maybe because I took ballet classes for a year as a kid (before realizing that I should give up cause there was no way I’d ever be a ballerina with my lack of grace). I’m so obsessed with ballet that I even made my protagonist in CUT HERE, Lena one. This is to confirm that I was absolutely excited when I was finally given the ARC for Bright Burning Stars (I had requested it months ago and had only been given it a few weeks prior to publication date).

Things I loved about this novel:

Friendships: The two protagonists, Marine and Kate have a very strong friendship. It actually is the core of the novel and despite the fact that they’re both aiming for “The Prize” aka becoming the exclusive etoile at the Opera National de Paris. “Rats” as the studying ballerinas are referred to in the novel, are so focused on the prize that they’d do anything to obtain it, and Kate is even willing to die for it. Slowly, bestfriends Marine and Kate begin to grow apart as things get more competitive and each wanting to snag the prize title for their own.

Relationships: I love how the author explores various types of relationships, such as showing one romantic relationship as gradually growing into something much more passionate than it initially was, and another romantic relationship that becomes tragically toxic fast.

Setting: Ever since I was little (maybe because I was obsessed with Marie Antoinette & Versailles) I’ve been in love with Paris. So, I’ll automatically favor any novel that takes place in the City of Lights. I was just a bit sad that we, the readers never get a chance to experience the city because we’re always stuck in the dance studios with the two protagonists.

Minor gripe: I wasn’t a fan of how abortion was handled in this book. Not because one of the protagonists decides to go over and beyond to terminate an unexpected pregnancy, but because of how simplistic it was written out to be. Sure, maybe drinking odd toxic herbal teas *can* induce an abortion, but I don’t like how easy it all was for the character. Since this is a YA and intended for teens, I don’t want teens thinking that if you’re pregnant that you can just forego a normal abortion AT A CLINIC and just drink herbal tea and wish everything will get taken care of, because in most cases that won’t work. Just putting that out there for the kids.

The Ending: There were only two ways the book could’ve ended and I assumed both possible endings. Ultimately, the author aimed for the safest one. Which is not to say that is was bad, but probably tragic loving me would’ve opted for the other much more unsettling ending. But seeing that it’s YA I can see why the novel would end on a much more hopeful note than not.

Overall, the novel had very lush and alluring elements to it and I was completely consumed by the story. If you love Paris, ballet, and strong friendships, then this book is for you.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Short Q & A With The Author:

I read that you were a ballet dancer. Did you study ballet in Paris, as the characters in Bright Burning Stars did or did you study it elsewhere?

When I was five-years-old, I began dancing in Paris with a famous teacher named Max Bozzoni who taught and danced at the Paris Opera. Then I danced with L’Académie Chaptal where the teachers also danced and taught at the Paris Opera. And in my teens, I danced with the Richmond Ballet Student Company and did a summer at Pacific Northwest Ballet on full scholarship.

Why did you decide to set the story in Paris? Is it because it’s where ballet first began or because Paris is the perfect setting for a book about passion (both for ballet and love)?

I chose Paris because I began my dance adventure there and because I grew up obsessed and in love with the Parisian rats who became principal dancers. I knew I wanted to render homage to them specifically.

Do you think that female friendships are very important to girls in their teenage years and that’s why it’s particularly devastating when they end?

I think female friendships are always important, but when you are a teen you experience love with a particular type of intensity. I feel like those friendships are almost always tattooed in your heart somehow, which do make them hard to reckon with when they unravel.

The ballet world can be very cutthroat and dealing with physical pain is an every day occurrence for a ballerina. Do you think that’s why it’s hard for dancers to relate to others who don’t dance or don’t have a similar passion as their own?

To me, the dance world is like a monastery. You give yourself over to that vocation physically and mentally. Dancers are artists, but also athletes. Imagine a painter who wrestles, or a cellist who plays basketball, or a sculptor who sprints. The complexity of fusing art and sport. Very few people, I believe, know the rigor of ballet and, yes, that keeps the dancers separate from others for sure.

What actresses can you see in the role of Kate & Marine if anyone ever decides to bring Bright Burning Stars on the big or TV screen?

If I had it my way I’d want to see real dancers portray my girls, like Ava Arbuckle and Audrey Freeman whom I follow on IG!

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