Book Review: The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

Book: The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey – published by Orbit, hardcover edition, 403 pages.

Synopsis: Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

My thoughts: I went into this book knowing very little about it, besides having read the synopsis and knowing that a few of my friends had recommended it to me. I knew that it was essentially going to be a thriller, but besides that I had no idea what I was going into. Boy was I in for a pleasant surprise, because I really enjoyed this book. I was hooked within the first 50 pages, and could not put it down because I simply needed to know what was going to happen next.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because there are some elements that could be revealed that would be considered spoilers, and I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone because it was such an adventure to read. I will say that I think the character development was truly wonderful, which is one of my ‘must have’ elements of a book, and brings this close to a top-tier rating from me. I also think this book will translate wonderfully to film (which, by the way, was released in September this year), and I can’t wait to see the story played out on screen.

I’d highly recommend this book for people who love fast-paced and action-packed stories set in (believable) dystopian times, and who aren’t afraid of a little bit of gore. I would also recommend going in blind and enjoying the ride.

Rating: 8/10

Book Review: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Book: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling – published by Penguin Random House, audible edition, 4 hours 57 minutes.

Synopsis: In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.

In “How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet’s Confessions”, Kaling gives her tongue-in-cheek secrets for surefire on-camera beauty, (“Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn’t the land of appropriate-this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman’s traditional hair color is honey blonde.”) “Player” tells the story of Kaling being seduced and dumped by a female friend in L.A. (“I had been replaced by a younger model. And now they had matching bangs.”) In “Unlikely Leading Lady”, she muses on America’s fixation with the weight of actresses, (“Most women we see onscreen are either so thin that they’re walking clavicles or so huge that their only scenes involve them breaking furniture.”) And in “Soup Snakes”, Kaling spills some secrets on her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and close friend, B.J. Novak (“I will freely admit: my relationship with B.J. Novak is weird as hell.”)

Mindy turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud funny collection of essays that anyone who’s ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to. And those who’ve never been at a turning point can skip to the parts where she talks about meeting Bradley Cooper.

My thoughts: I l-o-v-e Mindy Kaling, and I l-o-v-e-d this book. I read Mindy’s first book a few years ago, about a year or so into watching her show The Mindy Project. It fell a little flat for me, and I think it was because I didn’t recognise her voice as much as I do now. I decided to pick this book up in audio format, for something light and fun to listen to on my drive home from work in the evenings (I’ve listened to way too much true-crime lately and it’s become a bit of a downer for me). This book was a mood lifter and laugh-out-loud funny for sure, but at times was surprisingly touching and I felt myself moved to tears on more than one occasion. I feel like that’s the true mark of a wonderful comedy writer.

Mindy mentions how often people confuse her with her Mindy Lahiri character, and at times I admit I’ve been guilty of that. Granted, there are some blurred lines between the two, but Mindy is more grounded than her on-screen persona and that comes across quite clearly in this book. I looked forward to listening to this every evening on my drive home, and was really disappointed when it ended. I think this would make a great beach read, and I highly recommend picking it up of you’re after something light-hearted and easy to read this summer.

Rating: 8/10

Book Review: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Book: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter – published by Century, paperback edition, 544 pages.

Synopsis: With a missing girl in the news, Claire Scott can’t help but be reminded of her sister, who disappeared twenty years ago in a mystery that was never solved.

But when Claire begins to learn the truth about her sister, nothing will ever be the same.

My thoughts: [TW: rape, graphic sexual violence]

I love that the synopsis of this book is so concise, and I feel like that’s how all good thrillers should be described; so with that in mind I’ll try and keep this review short and sweet. If you’re not averse to reading about graphic sexual violence and rape (in the context of a well crafted story), I highly recommend picking this up.

This book was an absolutely page-turner, I couldn’t put it down, and I think at one point I read about 50% of it in one sitting. It’s captivating, there are twists and turns throughout, and the character development is extremely well done. I likened this to what I imagine it would be like if Liane Moriarty wrote crime thrillers, because of the rich back story and character development.

My mum had been telling me to read Karin Slaughter for a while, so I caved when I saw she had a new release out that was getting a lot of positive reviews. I really like that this was a standalone, as it was a wonderful introduction to the writing of Karin Slaughter for me. I’m glad that I took mum’s advice and finally picked this up, and I’m so happy to finally have a new author to be excited about.

Rating: 10/10

Book Review: Celeste by V.C. Andrews

Book: Celeste by V.C. Andrews – published by Pocket Star, paperback edition, 432 pages.

Synopsis: He was her mirror image. Now the mirror has cracked.

Celeste and her twin brother, Noble, are as close as can be — until a tragic accident takes Noble’s life. It’s a loss that pushes their mother, a woman obsessed with New Age superstitions, over the edge….

Desperate to keep her son “alive,” Celeste’s mother forces her to cut her hair, wear boys’ clothes, and take on Noble’s identity. Celeste has virtually disappeared — until a handsome boy moves in next door, and Celeste will risk her mother’s wrath to let herself come back to life.

My thoughts: [TW: rape, physical and emotional abuse] [Spoilers]

I’ve read quite a few V.C. Andrews books in my time, and I’m confident in saying this is the worst so far. It has all the markings of true V.C. Andrews trash: hints at incest, fatal car accidents, a pivotal scene where the protagonist gets her period for the first time, rape, child abuse, a psychopathic matriarch… the list goes on. Although it seems strange to say a book containing ANY of those themes could have even an ounce of charm, but there is a kind of nostalgia linked to some of V.C. Andrews’ books, and this one lacks any sort of charm whatsoever.

The story revolves around Celeste and her twin brother Noble (wtf is that name), who dies suddenly in a freak accident near their house. Now, the twin’s mother vaguely comes across as a bit of a weirdo from the start of the book, but after Noble’s death she forces Celeste to take on his persona – fully cementing her froot-loop status. She cuts Celeste’s hair off, throws out all of her belongings, forces her to do hard manual labour to toughen herself up, and goes so far as to tape down Celeste’s breasts when she starts to develop into a young woman.

The whole book is completely bizarre, and although the synopsis hints at a “handsome neighbourhood boy” moving in and shaking up Celeste’s life with romance; what actually happens is he repeatedly rapes her once he discovers she is in fact not a boy but a vulnerable young woman. Oh, and he robs her too. Celeste falls pregnant and mother proceeds to steal her baby, dye its hair, and raise it as her own. The ending leads into the next book in the series, which I 100% will not be reading. I was tempted to ‘DNF’ this, but I gave it a go and it was a huge waste of time.

Rating: 2/10

Book Review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Book: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix – published by Quirk Books, audible edition, 10 hours 11 minutes.

Synopsis: Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers.

But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act… different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there’s only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend.

With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

My thoughts: I want to start out by saying I absolutely adored the 80s setting of the book. Although I was (for the most part) too young to experience the 80s in all it’s glory, I still feel a lot of nostalgia for the era and it was wonderful to read a book set in this time. It was also refreshing to read a book about teenagers living in that 80s, because of the technology available to them. I mean, Abby had a MICKY MOUSE PHONE.

To be honest I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into this book, I’d seen some positive star ratings on Goodreads but hadn’t read any of the reviews for fear of spoilers. This was a great book. I felt like it was well paced, the character development was really good, the setting was a lot of fun, and the themes were dealt with in a pretty decent way considering it was set in high school. I mean, demonic possession of a teenage girl? How would you even be able to tell most of the time AMIRITE? He he he. Parts of the story were genuinely creepy (the scene where Gretchen is scribbling something on a piece of paper will stick in my mind for a long time), and I have to admit at times in the book I even teared up a little bit.

I was always really excited to step into the world when I hopped in my car for the long drive home from work every evening (which is when I usually listen to audio books). On some evenings I even sat in the car for a little while longer when I got home just so I could hear what happened next. I also want to mention the cover art for this book, which I think is so perfect for the era the story was set in, and the high school setting. 80s yearbook perfection. Although I read this in the dead of winter here in Australia I think this would make for an awesome summer read, so definitely put this on your to-read list for the upcoming season if you haven’t already done so.

Rating: 8/10

Book Review: Perfect Days by Raphael Montes

Book: Perfect Days by Raphael Montes – published by Penguin Press, hardcover edition, 272 pages.

Synopsis: Teo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver—that is, until he meets Clarice.

She’s almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. An aspiring screenwriter, she’s working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo is obsessed.

He begins to stalk her, first following her to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, he kidnaps her and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay.

Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit that he can’t get out of, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together.

My thoughts: This book was creepy in all the right ways. I picked it up on the recommendation of Kirstie from Melbourne On My Mind (one of my favourite booktubers), and was not disappointed. I managed to read it over the span of a couple of days (during yet another failed readathon attempt *sad trumpet*), and was completely captivated by the story the entire time.

I love stories like this, psychopath obsession/kidnap scenarios are my jam and I don’t care how much of a creep that makes me. I’ve heard people compare this book to You by Caroline Kepnes, but to me they were very different. The overall vibe of this book seemed a lot darker and more chilling to me, although Teo and Joe could both easily be classified as narcissistic psychopaths.

I have to admit, some points of the story made me feel physically ill but I don’t want to go into too much detail because #spoilers. I enjoyed the twists and turns along the way, and I honestly had no idea how the story would end. This is definitely worth picking up if you like books about obsession, stalking, kidnap, or just want something a bit creepy to curl up with on a cold winter’s night.

Rating: 8/10

Book Review: Velocity by Dean Koontz

Book: Velocity by Dean Koontz – published by HarperCollins, paperback edition, 498 pages.

Synopsis: William Wiles is an easy-going thirty-something, a bartender who lives a quiet life alone until a serial killer singles him out – not to kill him, but to force him to decide who the next victim will be.

On his SUV Billy finds the first note: ‘If you don’t take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blonde schoolteacher. If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work. You have four hours to decide. The choice is yours.’

Billy pays an informal visit to an acquaintance, Lanny Olson, who is a policeman, and who thinks the note is a prank. The schoolteacher dies. The next note reverses the choices: if Billy takes the note to the police, a mother of two young children will die. If he doesn’t, an unmarried man who won’t be much missed will die. Lanny has to take this note seriously but the deadline runs out before he can decide how to make his involvement official. not be much missed, has become the next victim.

There will be more communications from the killer, more hideous choices, with ever tighter decision times, and with each choice Billy is drawn deeper into an accelerating nightmare, which steadily becomes more personal, more confrontational, until he is isolated, with no one to turn to and no one to rely on but himself.

Finally he must risk everything to save the intended victims…

My thoughts: I picked this book up after spotting it at a second hand book store. I was drawn in after seeing the cover (and reading the blurb), because it seemed like a really interesting and unique kind of story. I have to admint I was disappointed with this book and I think it’s because my expectations were set at the level of Koontz’s “Intensity”, which is one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. This was more of a slow burn, and there certainly weren’t any heart-pounding-with-excitement moments at any stage of the story.

The main character made so many stupid decisions it was really hard to sympathise with him when everything went wrong. I’m usually not too bad with stories where I don’t really care about (or actually dislike) the main character, but I struggled with this book. I just didn’t care what happened to old Billy Wiles.

This book really started to drag around the halfway point, and I felt like I was dreading picking it up every time I decided I would read a bit more. The big reveal of the killer was a huge letdown for me, it felt really anticlimactic. I prefer stories where we get to know the killer, and their story is fleshed out through the book, rather than just a chapter or so tacked on towards the end.

I’d go so far as to say skip this book, and pick up Dean Koontz’s ‘Intensity’ instead, which to me is a far superior thriller, and an actually enjoyable read.

Rating: 2/10

Book Review: Sweet Valley High Super Edition #6 – Spring Fever

Book: Sweet Valley High Special Edition #6 – Spring Fever – published by Bantam Books, paperback edition, 233 pages.

Synopsis: The Wakefield twins never expected that spending spring break with their great-aunt and great-uncle in Walkersville, Kansas, would be so exciting. But Jessica and Elizabeth find out that small-town life can have its share of big adventures.

Their vacation gets off to a bad start when the local girls give them the cold shoulder. And Aunt Shirley and Uncle Herman won’t let the twins out of their sight. But things pick up when the girls meet gorgeous identical twins, Alex and Brad Parker. Jessica thinks Alex may be the man of her dreams, but she can’t get away from her overprotective aunt and uncle to find out. Then, Elizabeth makes an unexpected discovery about the Parker twins that could mean big trouble….

Come along to the country with Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, and catch Spring Fever!

My thoughts: This was one of my favourite “super edition” Sweet Valley High books when I was growing up, it always gave me such a nice summery feeling (apparently I liked summer as a kid? as an adult it’s one of my top 5 most hated things).

The basic premise of the book is that Jessica and Elizabeth take a vacation to visit their Great Aunt and Uncle who live in a small town in Kansas called Walkersville, oh and who of course are never again mentioned in the entire book series. The twins settle into sleepy town life and spend their days sleeping in, eating homemade pie, playing with kittens, and going for walks. I don’t know about you guys but that sounds like a pretty perfect holiday to me. The only downside to life in Walkersville is town meangirl Annie-Sue Sawyer, who decides that she hates the twins and starts making their life difficult. Jessica and Elizabeth can’t seem to figure out what she possibly could have against them. I have to say though, Jessica keeps wearing a fringed jacket that sounds pretty offensive so tbh I’m on team Annie-Sue in this situation.

A carnival comes to town, and the twins meet Alex – a handsome (ooh!) carnie (gross) who tends to the horses (cute). Jessica falls for him almost immediately (shock horror), and they are understandably excited to discover that Alex is also a twin! Jessica comes up with the bright idea that Elizabeth date Alex’s twin brother Brad, despite Elizabeth already having a boyfriend back in Sweet Valley. Poor old Jeffrey French. I was quite shocked that straight-n-narrow Liz went along with this, and even started to have feelings for Brad (of course her morals caught up with her and she put an end to it pretty quickly). Jessica sneaks out every night to meet up with sexy horse wrangler Alex at the carnival, which results in her sleeping in every day and eventually ends up giving Aunt Shirley and Uncle Herman (lol) major anxiety. Clearly they’ve never lived with a teenager before.

Everything comes to a head when Jessica sneaks out one evening and Alex leaves her in charge of Midnight – the rough and ready horse he’s trying to sell. Nasty old Annie-Sue comes along and decides that she wants to ride Midnight, because her father is buying him for her. Perfectly reasonable, except for the fact that Midnight is SKITTISH AF and takes off with Annie-Sue on his back. Jessica saves the day, and Annie-Sue is grateful – revealing that she’s only been making Jessica’s life difficult and blackmailing her for her lush bejeweled 80’s headbands because she’s jealous. Didn’t see that coming!!! The girls make up and all is forgiven, although Jessica’s secret shame of sneaking out at night has finally been revealed to Shirl n Herm in all the drama. It’s nicely swept under the rug though, and in the end Jessica is permitted to go to the square dance with Alex.

In the meantime, Elizabeth has discovered that Alex does not have a twin and is actually a pretty awful human being who pretended to be two people in an attempt to date both twins at once. Of course Elizabeth chooses not to inform Jessica of this, and instead lets her to along to the dance with Alex despite him being a liar and a generally gross guy. Alls well that ends well though, and the story is wrapped up nicely with the girls getting a lovely send off from the town at the end of the square dance. Farewell Walkersville, it’s time to head back to Sweet Valley!

I remember being obsessed with this cover when I was a kid. On re-reading it I’m mostly annoyed that although Jessica’s gingham dress matches the outfit she wears to the square dance, ELIZABETH’S DOES NOT. She’s supposed to be wearing a red and white checked shirt, but I guess that might have looked a bit too matchy matchy.

Rating: 8/10

Book Review: My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

Book: My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier – published by Allen & Unwin, kindle edition, 375 pages.

Synopsis: ‘I promise,’ said Rosa. ‘I won’t kill and I won’t make anyone else kill.’

I can’t see the loophole. Since the guinea pig there’s been nothing. Months now without Rosa killing as much as a mosquito

As far as I know.

Che Taylor has four items on his list: 1. He wants to spar, not just train in the boxing gym. 2. He wants a girlfriend. 3. He wants to go home. 4. He wants to keep Rosa under control.

Che’s little sister Rosa is smart, talented, pretty, and so good at deception that Che’s convinced she must be a psychopath. She hasn’t hurt anyone yet, but he’s certain it’s just a matter of time. And when their parents move them to New York City, Che longs to return to Sydney and his three best friends. But his first duty is to his sister Rosa, who is playing increasingly complex and disturbing games. Can he protect Rosa from the world – and the world from Rosa?

My thoughts: I’d heard very little about this book before picking it up, except for the basic synopsis. A story about a child psychopath? Yes please! This book turned out to be quite different from what I’d expected, but was still an enjoyable read. I think I was expecting more of a thriller element to the story, and although there were some creepy moments and an underlying current of something not quite right, it wasn’t as shocking as I’d thought it would be.

I loved a lot of things about this book. In particular I loved the diversity of characters, and how naturally they all fit into the story and added a richness to it in their own way. I loved the aspects of psychology that flowed through the book, although I would have liked more of a focus on this I can understand why it wasn’t fleshed out as much as I would have liked. It was particularly interesting for me to read a book with Australian characters, which for some reason is not something I do very often. I really should do something about that. I had to laugh to myself when phrases like ‘tracky dacks’ came up, because I feel like a lot of people probably would have scratched their heads over that.

All in all I really enjoyed this book, I found myself getting swept into the story whenever I would pick it up.

Rating: 6/10

Book Review: Goosebumps #25 – Attack Of The Mutant

Book: Goosebumps #25 – Attack Of The Mutant – published by Scholastic, paperback edition, 117 pages.

Synopsis: Skipper Matthews has an awesome comic book collection. His favorite one is called The Masked Mutant. It’s about an evil super villain who’s out to rule the universe!

Skipper can’t get enough of The Mutant. Until one day he gets lost in a strange part of town. And finds a building that looks exactly like The Mutant’s secret headquarters. A building that appears and disappears.

Has Skipper read one too many comic books? Or does The Masked Mutant really live in Riverview Falls?

My thoughts: I will preface this review by saying I’m SO happy to have read this book (and watched the TV episodes) before the next Welcome to Deadcast postcast episode airs. I’m actually up to speed and can read along with each episode.

I didn’t have much of a recollection of this book, but I know I definitely read it as a kid. I know that I didn’t think too highly of it, but reading it as an adult I found it pretty hilarious.

The story revolves around Skipper Matthews, who is an avid collector of comic books. This I understand, what I don’t really understand is how obsessed he is with how much the comic books are worth. He seems kind of money-grubbing, but I like that about him. It’s refreshing to see in a 12 year old. His favourite comic book (and the only one that he takes out of the plastic wrapping) is called The Masked Mutant. He is obsessed with the comics, and they’re constantly getting in the way of his school work. His next door neighbour Wilson also has an obsession – collecting rubber stamps – and he’s always trying to get Skipper to look at his collection. Unfortunately, Skipper is just not that into stamps. Just do you, Wilson. Just do you.

Skipper meets a girl named Libby on the bus on the way to his orthodontist appointment, and when he misses his stop he stumbles across a building that looks an awful lot like the masked mutant’s headquarters (as pictured on the cover of the book). He’s a bit flustered so he goes back home, and when he returns to take another look at the building he discovers that it has disappeared. How mysterious. When Skipper gets home he finds a new edition of The Masked Mutant waiting for him, in which the Masked Mutant has thrown an invisibility shield around his headquarters! Well, that explains it.

Skipper decides to go back and see what’s going on with the invisible headquarters, and bumps into Libby on the way. She tags along, and they both find their way into the invisible building. Once inside they get trapped inside an elevator that QUICKLY DROPS MANY FLOORS DOWN INSTEAD OF GOING UP and thus our protagonist survives my literal worst nightmare. The pair get seperated, and Skipper stumbles across some drawings that confirm they are in fact inside a building that is somehow related to The Masked Mutant. There are also some drawings of Skipper himself, which he (for understandable reasons) freaks out about. He meets up with Libby, they flee the building, and Skipper returns home to find yet another edition of the comic – this time featuring a character that looks just like him. This leads to one of the funniest parts of the book, IMO, where Skipper shows some interesting self reflection –

“The next drawing showed a closeup of my face. Big balls of sweat rolled down my pink face. I guess that meant I was scared. I’m a little too chubby in that drawing, I thought.”

lol.

For some reason Skipper feels like despite how creepy stumbling across drawings of himself in what seems like an abandoned building is, it would be a good idea to return once again to The Masked Mutant’s “headquarters”. So he does, and of course ends up in some a kind of of epic battle with the mutant. Of course it ends well, with Skipper realising what The Masked Mutant’s weakness would be (unsurprising, as he’s read the comic books for years). There is a good final twist, although it comes across a bit stunted.

Generally I found this one of the more entertaining Goosebumps book, but I think that was due for the most part to Skipper being a really amusing and sarcastic character. The story itself wasn’t one of the best of the series.

Rating: 8/10