Book Review: The Masked Truth by Kelley Armstrong

Book: The Masked Truth by Kelley Armstrong – published by Atom: Hachette Australia, paperback edition, 343 pages.

Synopsis: Riley Vasquez is haunted by the brutal murder of the couple she was babysitting for. Max Cross is suffering under the shadow of a life-altering diagnosis he doesn’t dare reveal.

The last thing either of them wants is to spend a weekend away at a therapy camp alongside five other teens with “issues.” But that’s exactly where they are when three masked men burst in to take the group hostage.The building has no windows. The exits are sealed shut. Their phones are gone. And their captors are on a killing spree.

Riley and Max know that if they can’t get out, they’ll be next—but they’re about to discover that even escape doesn’t equal freedom.

My thoughts: The Masked Truth is the story of Riley Vasquez and Max Cross, who both attend therapy camp with a group of fellow teenagers who have “issues”. While there, the building is stormed, they are held hostage, and their captors go on a killing spree. The concept is great, but the execution isn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be. The story is told from the viewpoint of both Riley and Max, which at times confused me (mostly because I am just personally terrible at reading books that switch viewpoints every chapter or so) but overall I think was done quite well. Riley and Max are both well written and complex characters (and TBH I have a bit of a crush on Max). The issues of mental health were handled well, and it was refreshing to see this topic being discussed so freely and openly in a book like this.

I’m in two minds about this book. It was an interesting and suspenseful story but it contained the dreaded instalove, and nothing cuts down my interest in a book quite like instalove. Especially when it’s two teenagers who fall in love in the middle of a potentially deadly situation. Nothing says ‘lets stop and talk about our feelings’ like being on the brink of escaping a life threatening hostage scenario (when I say on the bring, I mean literally at the door that you are about to escape out of and run for your lives). Can I blame Riley though? Max is a C-U-T-I-E.

Despite the instalove, it was one of the best YA Thrillers I’ve read. Some of the plot points were slightly implausable, but the characters were interesting and the general concept of the story was good. I also didn’t manage to guess the ending/pick who the “bad guys” were, which was a refreshing change for me.

Rating: 6/10

Book Review: Sweet Valley High #83 – Steven’s Bride

Book: Sweet Valley High #83 – Steven’s Bride – published by Bantam Books, paperback edition, 154 pages.

Synopsis: When Cara Walker announces that she and her mother are moving to London, no one is more shocked than Steven Wakefield. After losing his first love, Tricia Martin, to leukemia, Steven can’t bear the thought of losing another girlfriend. Jessica Wakefield knows a way for Cara to stay in Sweet Valley – as her brother’s bride!

Steven thinks an elopement is the perfect solution, and at first Cara agrees. Then Cara begins to wonder if she’s ready to sacrifice her future to stay with Steven now. Does Cara have the courage to follow her heart – no matter what it’s telling her?

My thoughts: “This is one of the books from the series that I never got around to reading as a teenager, I think I stopped being interested in the high school stories at around the book 50-60 mark, and had moved on to Sweet Valley University. So it was exciting for me to pick up a book that I hadn’t actually read yet. New (old) Sweet Valley? Yes please!

This book was a pleasant surprise for me, because it’s one of the only Sweet Valley High books I’ve read where the characters make level-headed decisions, and actually think things over (even if it was after the fact for the most part). The basic premise is that Cara Walker’s mother gets a promotion that would see them both move to London. Both Cara and her boyfriend Steven Wakefield are upset at this news, because it means the end of their relationship. It’s amazing how much has changed since then. I mean, long distance relationships are hard but certainly not impossible in this wonderful age of technology that we live in.

Seeing Steven upset at the news, World’s Worst Friend Jessica Wakefield comes up with the brilliant idea that they get married, so Cara won’t have to leave. What could possibly go wrong? after impusively making this decision, they both spend two weeks feeling anxious about it. Because marriage is actually a Pretty Big Thing, as it turns out. I mean, when one of the reason’s you’re excited about getting married is because it means you can “stay up as late as you want”, it’s a concern. Anyway, World’s Worst Friend Jessica Wakefield tells everyone (except any adults of course) about the secret engagement, life goes on and Cara’s friends throw her a bridal shower. Included in the gifts are a VCR tape from WWF Jessica. What a gift. She also gets some sexy lingerie which makes her pretty nervous. Also Lila makes some snide comment about not being rich enough to buy Cara a TV and VCR for a present and I call shenanigans because she’s pretty damn rich.

Meanwhile, Cara’s father comes to visit (her parents are divorced) and announces his engagement to his auburn haired girlfriend that Cara has never heard of, Julie. Cara was convinced her parents who live in two different states and barely talk to each other were getting re-married (thus confirming she has no idea how an adult relationship works), so she’s pretty cut about the news. She also thought this would mean she’d get to stay in Sweet Valley but NO now she has to marry Steven and keep the damn lingerie.

Steven gets into law school but lies to everyone about it so they don’t pressure him to accept the offer. He instead bails on his life dream of becoming a lawyer and gets a job waitressing at Pedro’s. Jessica finds out and suddenly decides them getting married is a BAD idea, and does everything in her power to stop it, including telling Cara that Steven was accepted into law school.

Cara sits down with her mum (finally!) to discuss everything that’s going on. Cara’s mum is a #bossbitch and explains to Cara that although it’s difficult seeing her ex-husband re-marry, she’s feeling confident in her new life as a single woman and is proud of how she’s making good decisions for herself (you know you’re getting older when you can really relate to the adults in a story like this). Cara sort of listens to her advice, but goes off to get married anyway.

At the last minute, Jessica and Elizabeth spill the beans to Ned and Alice Wakefield who grab Cara’s mum and race to the chapel in Nevada where the couple are getting married. They are just in time to see Cara say “I do NOT!”. Steven throws a major hissy fit and storms out, refusing to talk to Cara. This right after he was ready to marry and spend his life with the poor girl which is a bit of a quick turnaround if you ask me.

Again, life goes on and Cara is getting ready to leave for London. Steven is still in A Mood and refuses to talk to her. Elizabeth has taken her brother’s side and doesn’t attend Cara’s going away party, but Cara decides to meet up with Elizabeth to tell her why she made the smart and level-headed decision not to get married at age 16. Because although Elizabeth was against the wedding from the start, she is angry that this is how things played out. Elizabeth finally understands, and goes to tell Steven what Cara had to say. Of course Steven listens to Elizabeth rather than being a man and listening to Cara when she tried to explain things to him, and races off to the airport to farewell Cara. Alls well that ends well, and the pair part on good terms. PHEW.

I was surprised at how kind and considerate Cara’s friends were in this book, considering how they’re total mean girls. Jessica putting someone else’s needs before her own was also something new… maybe she’s settled down since meeting her steady boyfriend Sam? Who seems adorable btw. The two joke about Jessica dying suddenly which is a bit awkward because Sam dies suddenly at some point later in the series. Oh, and speaking of the twins and their boyfriends, Todd Handbrake Wilson is a total downer about the whole marriage and commitment thing which has made Mates For Life Elizabeth very nervous.

The cover of this book is extremely awkward, it looks like Cara is standing next to a mannequin. Also strange for me because Steven looks a lot like my friend’s husband, although a lot more mannequin-like.

Rating: 6/10

Book Review: Love, Chloe by Alessandra Torre

Book: Love, Chloe by Alessandra Torre – published by Select Publishing LLC, audible edition.

Synopsis: Chloe Madison. That’s me. A former NYU princess who just fell from grace, right off my pampered Manhattan throne and onto the unforgiving steps of Nicole Brantley, socialite and queen bitch. Now, I walk her dog and mix her smoothies. Try to navigate my own problems while fixing all of hers. I want what every New York girl wants. A career, an apartment, and true love, preferably in a smoking hot package. It turns out I’ll have to fight for all of it.

My thoughts: “Love, Chloe” is the story of Chloe (funny that), a girl who has her ties to her parents fortunes cut and has to learn how to fend for herself.

I’ve never really enjoyed “chick lit” books, and I think it’s because I expect something of them that they’re just not there to provide. They’re there to be mindless entertainment, something a bit fluffy and fun. I think I also struggle with chick lit romance books because I’m not much of a romantic (although I do have a lot of romance in my life, my partner is a Leo after all).

If I take ‘Love, Chloe’ at face value, I have to admit it was a bit of fun and it was easy to get swept up in the story. There were a couple of genuinely swoony parts in the book, especially towards the end. The sex scenes for the most part seemed shoved into the storyline, and didn’t feel as natural as they have done in the other Alessandra Torre books I’ve read. The last 10% of this book really saved it for me. Especially as I was mentally thinking about how the “insta love” had bugged me and I couldn’t wait to mention it in my review, but the epilogue changed my mind.

This is probably not the best audio book to buy if you’re in the habit of listening to them at work. I spent most of the time paranoid that someone could hear what I was listening to.

Rating: 5/10

Book Review: Sweet Valley High #4 – Power Play

Book: Sweet Valley High #4 – Power Play – published by Bantam Books, paperback edition, 150 pages.

Synopsis: Robin Wilson wants to join Pi Beta Alpha, Sweet Valley High’s highly selective sorority. She may not be beautiful or popular, but she’s friendly and smart. So when Elizabeth nominates her for the sorority, Jessica is less than thrilled. She is determined to find a way to keep Robin from Pi Beta.

But Elizabeth is just as determined to make Robin a sorority sister, and the twins become locked in a struggle that develops into the biggest power play at Sweet Valley High.

Who will prevail? Which twin will triumph? What happens when sisters go head-to-head?

My thoughts: Let me preface this review by saying any negative things I say about Sweet Valley High are said with absolute love and affection for the book series as a whole. These books were a huge part of my childhood and teenage years, so they will always hold a special place in my heart – even if they’re terrible.

Power Play was a pretty damaging book for me to read as a teenager, but as a 31 year old it was just plain infuriating. The main storyline revolves around “chubby” / “fat and ugly” / “tubby” / “fatso” Robin Wilson, who is bullied and fat-shamed throughout the book until she loses weight and suddenly becomes beautiful and popular. JUST LIKE REAL LIFE, GUYS. *eyes roll out of head onto the floor and out the door*

Teen Sociopath Jessica Wakefield takes advantage of Robin and promises to help her pledge to Pi Beta Alpha – the hottest sorority at Sweet Valley High. Knowing her sister’s true form (Satan) but loving her anyway, Bleeding Heart Elizabeth Wakefield takes pity on Robin, and vows to help her get into the sorority. Of course nothing goes to plan and everything comes to a head with Robin being brutally humiliated at the school dance. After this public humiliation Robin “turns her life around” ie: eats lettuce leaves for lunch (literally) and runs laps of the school track until she loses weight and becomes thin and beautiful. Surprisingly enough, Jessica’s motivation for being extremely cruel to Robin is (for once) not a boy. This is pretty rare for a Sweet Valley High book, but it does highlight how much of a terrible person Jessica is. She is cruel purely for the sake of being cruel.

The side story in the book revolves everyone’s favourite Brunette Millionaire Lila Fowler, and her penchant for shoplifting. Of course there are little to no consequences (affluenza!), and once again Bleeding Heart Elizabeth Wakefield manages to save the day.

Sweet Valley High promoted some UNHEALTHY ideas, and this is probably one of the worst books in the series for that, however the cover of this book is FLAWLESS, and the twins look as stunning as ever.

Rating: 2/10

Book Review: The Lost Girls by John Glatt

Book: The Lost Girls: The true story of the Cleveland abductions and the incredible story of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight’s escape from hell by John Glatt – published by St Martin’s Press, hardcover edition, 400 pages.

Synopsis: The Lost Girls tells the truly amazing story of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who were kidnapped, imprisoned, and repeatedly raped and beaten in a Cleveland house for over a decade by Ariel Castro, and their amazing escape in May 2013, which made headlines all over the world.

The book has an exclusive interview and photographs of Ariel Castro’s secret fiancé, who spent many romantic nights in his house of horror, without realizing he had bound and chained captives just a few feet away. There are also revealing interviews with several Castro family members, musician friends and several neighbors who witnessed the dramatic rescue.

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

I didn’t know much about the story before picking this up, but I still remember where I was when I heard the news about the girls being rescued. As the details of the story trickled out I was as shocked and appalled (as I assume everyone else was) at how horrifying the situation was. I recently stumbled across this book in the non-fiction section of the library (while waiting for my partner to find a book on the global economic crisis *fun*), and decided to pick it up to learn more about these women and what they had endured – spoiler alert: pretty much hell on Earth.

This book is the true story of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, three young women who were abducted and held captive by Ariel Castro for over a decade. This book was not an easy read. Not so much the writing (which was fairly basic), the subject matter itself was difficult to stomach. It was nearly impossible to imagine how these women managed to survive the horrors that they endured in that house. Despite this, I managed to make my way through the book over the course of a couple of days as it was truly fascinating and a fast-paced read.

The details of what happened inside the house during the years of captivity lean more towards the experiences of Michelle Knight, and I think that might be because she contributed the most to the book. Amanda and Gina had their own book deal, and I’m considering picking their book up so I can get a broader understanding of what went on in that house (especially after discovering that Amanda and Michelle no longer speak to each other). I felt like a lot of information was repeated and recycled towards the end of the book, which is not great when what is being repeated are horrific descriptions of abuse, but I felt like the author did a good job of covering what happened from start to finish. This was an amazing story, and reading about how these women overcome their situation and were able to survive and hold on to hope throughout the experience was truly inspiring. I do wish the author had gone into more detail about what happened once the women escaped the house, as their story of survival and how they turned their lives around after the event is one of the most interesting aspects of the story for me.

If you’re a fan of true crime books, I’d recommend picking this up.

Rating: 8/10

Book Review: The Raven Room by Ana Medeiros

Book: The Raven Room by Ana Medeiros – published by Diversion Publishing, netgalley kindle edition, 254 pages.

Synopsis: Anything you can imagine. Everything you crave. For the members of The Raven Room, it’s every fantasy fulfilled. But for some, that desire is a matter of life and death.

Drawn by a need he cannot control, Julian ventures to The Raven Room, a secret and exclusive sex club in the underbelly of Chicago. It goes beyond sex. It goes beyond kink. The Raven Room is the only place where Julian finds release from the dangerous urges that threaten to destroy the successful life he’s worked so hard to build.

When the police link the Raven Room to the death of a young woman, it threatens to expose a number of powerful people— people who would kill to stay anonymous…

Meredith’s body can’t get enough of Julian. He has opened her sexual horizons to tempting new possibilities. But out of bed she’s an aspiring journalist, and The Raven Room is the story she’s been looking for. By writing an exposé on the club and its elite clientele, she plans to launch her career.

As Meredith embarks on a sexual journey into the forbidden world that Julian inhabits, questions emerge, and dark appetites threaten to swallow her whole. How much can she trust the man who has laid bare her erotic nature and how much will she sacrifice in order to protect him?

Let’s judge a book by it’s cover: I really love this cover art. It’s sexy and mysterious and it seems to promote exactly what the book is setting itself up to be.

My thoughts: Hmmm. What to say about this book. First of all, this book should come with trigger warnings for a few things namely rape and physical/emotional abuse. Secondly, I really did not like this book. The Raven Room is book one in a series (I assume a trilogy?), but I don’t think I’ll be reading any of the following books. I hazard a guess that fans of 50 Shades of Grey would enjoy this, but I personally can’t get into a book with an asshole of a main (male) character who is praised as something special throughout the entire story.

Rating: 1/10

Would be a good read for: Fans of books involving a lot of BDSM.

Book Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Book: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty – published by Pan Australia, paperback edition, 432 pages.

Synopsis: Alice is twenty-nine. She adores sleep, chocolate, and her ramshackle new house. She’s newly engaged to the wonderful Nick and is pregnant with her first baby.

There’s just one problem. All of that was ten years ago…

Alice has slipped in a step-aerobics class, hit her head and lost a decade. Now she’s a grown-up, bossy mother of three in the middle of a nasty divorce and her beloved sister Elisabeth isn’t speaking to her.

This is her life but not as she knows it. Clearly Alice has made some terrible mistakes. Just how much can happen in a decade? Can she ever get back to the woman she used to be?

Let’s judge a book by it’s cover: This cover is pretty boring, to be honest. But then again I rarely focus on the cover of a Liane Moriarty book, because I know the story inside is going to be amazing, regardless of the crappy cover art.

My thoughts: Although this was not my favourite Liane Moriarty book (from what I’ve read of her so far), I still really enjoyed it. I love the way Liane Moriarty writes about Australian life, I find it so authentic and believable. Her characters are always so richly developed, and Alice remains a vivid character in my memory weeks after I finished reading the book. Somehow what could be the terrifying story of a woman who suffers from crippling amnesia is turned into a humorous and charming tale of suburban Australian life. What I love about Liane Moriarty’s books is how all of the (seemingly innocent) side-stories come into play and factor into the main story in surprising ways. There are always a few twists and turns along the way, and it always makes for an enjoyable read.

Rating: 8/10

Would be a good read for: Anyone looking for a humorous contemporary read set in suburban Australia.

Book Review: The Killing Lessons by Saul Black

Book: The Killing Lessons by Saul Black – published by Orion Publishing Co, paperback edition, 416 pages.

Synopsis: When the two strangers turn up at Rowena Cooper’s isolated Colorado farmhouse, she knows instantly that it’s the end of everything.

For the two haunted and driven men, on the other hand, it’s just another stop on a long and bloody journey. And they still have many miles to go, and victims to sacrifice, before their work is done.

For San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart, their trail of corpses – women abducted, tortured and left with a seemingly random series of objects inside them – has brought her from obsession to the edge of physical and psychological destruction. And she’s losing hope of making a breakthrough before that happens. But the slaughter at the Cooper farmhouse didn’t quite go according to plan…

There was a survivor, Rowena’s ten-year-old daughter Nell, who now holds the key to the killings. Injured, half-frozen, terrified, Nell has only one place to go. And that place could be even more terrifying than what she’s running from.

Let’s judge a book by it’s cover: This cover is very much to my personal taste. I love how simple it is, and it also does a good job of portraying the generally bleak feel of the book.

My thoughts: I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked this book up, but I was hooked at the first chapter. I was also extremely disturbed after the first chapter, so be warned. This book is not for the faint hearted or the squeamish, it was extremely dark but also thrilling in the way it was carried out. I really love books that give you an insight into the mind of the ‘bad guy’, and in this case it was into the mind of a terrifying-in-his-realness serial killer. This was not a short book, but I managed to power through it in just a couple of days. One of the best thrillers I’ve ever read and well worth picking up.

Rating: 9/10

Would be a good read for: Those in the mood for a real heart-pounder of a thriller.

Book Review: The Good Girls by Sara Shepard

Book: The Good Girls by Sara Shepard – published by Hot Key Books, paperback edition, 288 pages.

Synopsis: They’re good girls… but no one’s perfect…

Mackenzie, Ava, Julie, Parker and Caitlin are five senior high-school girls who seem to have it all. Top grades, beautiful looks, music scholarships, sports captaincies…even the boys of their dreams. But there’s just one small flaw in their apparently perfect facade. They’re wanted for a murder they didn’t commit. Sure, they talked about killing rich bully Nolan Hotchkiss, but they didn’t go through with it. It’s just a coincidence that Nolan died in exactly the way they planned …right?

Except Nolan wasn’t the only one they fantasised about hurting in film class that day. And now someone seems to have found their list, and is carrying out their very particular revenges in their name.

Who is really behind these killings? Who can they truly trust? And who will be the next to die?

Let’s judge a book by it’s cover: I love this book cover, it was one of the things that sucked me into reading the book. I think it’s bright and fun, and it makes me want one of those old-school waffle ice cream cones. Yum.

My thoughts: This book was a bit of fun, and exactly what I was in the mood for when I picked it up. I initially decided to read it up because I saw that it was written by the author of the Pretty Little Liars series. I’ve never read any of the books in that series but had always been interested in them, so when this book became available at the library I snatched it up quick smart. It’s a cute little high school murder mystery with a couple of interesting twists and turns on the way. The cast of characters is fairly varied and all of them are well developed enough for me to enjoy the change of character perspective in each chapter. I also liked the fact that although this was the first book in a series it could also work as a standalone book and I don’t feel compelled to read the next book in order to feel like the story is complete.

Rating: 5/10

Would be a good read for: Fans of the Pretty Little Liars series, or anyone interested in a fun little poolside read with a murderous twist.

Book Review: Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas

Book: Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas – published by Simon & Schuster, kindle edition, 337 pages.

Synopsis: It all comes down to this. Oliver, Ethan, and I.

Three teens venture into an abandoned lake house one night. Hours later, only two emerge from the burning wreckage. Chloe drags one Reznick brother to safety, unconscious and bleeding. The other is left to burn, dead in the fire.

But which brother survives? And is his death a tragic accident? Desperate self-defense? Or murder…? Chloe is the only one with the answers.

As the fire rages, and police and parents demand the truth, she struggles to piece the story together – a story of jealousy, twisted passion and the darkness that lurks behind even the most beautiful faces.

Let’s judge a book by it’s cover: I find this cover really appealing, and although it doesn’t really relate to the story in any way (except maybe for the fire element? although this looks more like a firework to me), I still like looking at it. It has an element of excitement to it.

My thoughts: I’d had this book on my radar ever since I read Dangerous Girls, as I’d really enjoyed it and was interested to read something else by Abigail Haas. Unfortunately, Dangerous Boys pales in comparison to Dangerous Girls, at least in my mind. I really enjoyed the cast of characters in Dangerous Girls, so when the characters in this book fell flat, it left me disappointed and it was hard for me to connect with the story in any real way. Feeling like that, it was difficult to get interested in the mystery element of the story.

Rating: 3/10

Would be a good read for: Those in the mood for a quick read and those who don’t rely on a lot of character development for their enjoyment of a book.