ARC Review: Violet Grenade by Victoria Scott

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DOMINO: A girl with blue hair and a demon in her mind.

CAIN: A stone giant on the brink of exploding.

MADAM KARINA: A woman who demands obedience.

WILSON: The one who will destroy them all.

When Madam Karina discovers Domino in an alleyway, she offers her a position inside her home for entertainers in secluded West Texas. Left with few alternatives and an agenda of her own, Domino accepts. It isn’t long before she is fighting her way up the ranks to gain the madam’s approval. But after suffering weeks of bullying and unearthing the madam’s secrets, Domino decides to leave. It’ll be harder than she thinks, though, because the madam doesn’t like to lose inventory. But then, Madam Karina doesn’t know about the person living inside Domino’s mind. Madam Karina doesn’t know about Wilson.

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3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Entangled.

+++Some scenes might be triggers for assault and/or violence

Violet Grenade is unexpected. It’s dark and twisted, sinister and honest and raw. There’s so much going on in here, so much pain and torment, so much that is unfair. 

THINGS I LIKED:

  • Domino believes she’s a monster. She has a past that will make your skin crawl and you’ll feel more than a little sick to your stomach when the truth comes out. There’s just enough to keep you on edge. Throughout the book, there are hints, little flashes of information that are gripping, blunt, and brutal. The need to know becomes a compulsion. I HAD TO KNOW. The scars on her arms, why Wilson manifested, the foreboding and constant allusions to an ugly and unforgivable past. Victoria Scott is an expert at building anticipation. It gets under your skin. 
  • A different portrayal of trafficking and extortion. Many times we think of trafficking as young girls or boys being abducted and forced into servitude/usually sexual in nature. What doesn’t get talked about enough is how people of specific walks of life are targeted and manipulated, they’re sold on an idea of a better life and before they know it, they can’t escape. Domino, like many of the other flowers, was homeless. She was vulnerable and a target. It’s not hard to persuade someone who rarely has a roof over their head or food to eat to go with someone at the prospect of safety, making money, a home, or even love. Madam Karina is the worst kind of villain because she’s real. She’s walking the streets right now. Her, and others like her, are predators. While Madam Karina has her own demons that make her the psychologically messed up person she is, she’s smart, she’s vindictive, and calculated. She makes these decisions, she knows what she’s doing, and that is inexcusable. 
  • The romance. Domino and Cain are beautifully broken but complete each other. They both had monstrous demons like guilt and fear that eat away at their souls, but inside, they’re good people who want nothing more than to be loved. Their romance is a slow-building realization. It’s imperfect and complicated. It’s right for them. 

THINGS I DISLIKED:

  • The pacing. This book felt a good hundred pages longer than it actually was because of how slow it read. It took time to really get into. The introduction to Domino and her life on the streets was intriguing, but kind of dull. The only things that save this section are the potential love interest with Dizzy and the hints at her past, that this horrible life is so much better than the one she escaped from. Then the shift happens. After Domino enters Madam Karina’s household, despite all of Domino’s plans, ambitions, and woes, it drags. Not much is going on. Each shift to the next flower level felt pretty much the same despite different dynamics and different girls. 
  • The lack of back story. Here’s the thing: the back story is there, sure. You get bare bones glimpses of what Domino’s life was like as a child and sure, it’s understandable because Wilson has blocked those memories from her so that she can live her life without constantly being haunted by the guilt and gore. That’s fine. When things are revealed about the seriously twisted and disgusting actions that Domino was coerced into doing, I mean, wow. MESSED UP. However, why her mother went off the handle, what her relationship was like with her mother that made the manipulation work so well, any moments with her father…it’s missing. There’s like this gaping black hole of stuff that the reader can fill in or guess about but it’s not enough to 100% embrace the emotions Domino felt towards her mother or even the anger. She blames herself, but what about her mother? What happened? There are so many unanswered questions. 

THINGS I’M TORN OVER:

  • How dissociative identity disorder was presented. Domino’s other identity-Wilson-is the result of PTSD and a coping mechanism for all of the horrific (truly, messed up scary stuff) she was forced to participate in as a child. Wilson is a protector, he’s loving and defensive, and flips out, goes off the handle and is way prone to violence. Domino is scared of him. She tries to keep him under lock and key because when he comes out, bad things happen and sometimes he takes total control. At the same time, Wilson is a friend. He’s been there for her, he never leaves like everyone else has in her life, and at the end, there’s a bittersweet moment that really makes you feel torn about Wilson. Ultimately for me, despite the insane and sadistic choices he makes, he’s a sort of savior for Domino that helps her realize that she is enough, that she can get through anything on her own. I wasn’t necessarily happy with this relationship between the two, but I didn’t hate it either. Wilson grows on you. And when he takes over, well, it’s definitely memorable and a little sickening. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage

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Release Date: Feb 21, 2017

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Mira and Francesca Cillo—beautiful, overprotected, odd—seemed untouchable. But Ben touched seven parts of Mira: her palm, hair, chest, cheek, lips, throat, and heart. After the sisters drown themselves in the quarry lake, a post-mortem letter from Mira sends Ben on a quest to find notes in the seven places where they touched. Note by note, Ben discovers the mystical secret at the heart of Mira and Francesca’s world, and that some things are better left untouched.

review2/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

+++Potential triggers for: sexual abuse, death/loss, suicide

Beautiful Broken Girls is the kind of book you tilt your head and look at sideways, puzzled and perplexed, trying to figure out what happened and how it evolved into what it did. Unfortunately for me, even when the mystery unraveled, there were so many questions left unanswered that I was at a loss for what to make of this bizarre story.

When I initially saw this cover, I knew I had to have it. It’s creepy and unsettling. It looks like something out of a horror film, so that’s kind of what I expected when I opened the book. This is not that kind of story. At its core, Beautiful Broken Girls is a mystery and an ode to learning to cope after a horrible tragedy, and for Ben, after a lost first love. 

The story is told from multiple characters (Mira, Francesca, and Ben) and takes place in two different years. The pieces are not in order and are further separated by body parts that Ben touched on Mira when they were seeing each other. If it sounds strange, that’s because it is. The idea itself is an interesting one. Getting to each note that Mira left for Ben was like a nostalgic scavenger hunt as he relived the sensual moments he had with Mira as they feel for each other. What the notes meant and getting to the truth propelled the story forward, even when the pacing was excessively slow. 

I made guesses throughout the story about what really happened to the dead girls; I suggest trying this and seeing if you guessed right. I did, to an extent. As the story evolves and the clues are found-in the form of Mira’s cryptic little poem snippets-Ben makes a whirlwind of assumptions. It’s hard to talk about this book without giving anything away and I HATE spoilers. One of the first things you learn about Ben, is that he was molested as a child in little league. So he’s known as touched or damaged. There is so much wrong with this, but I digress. Apart from the fact that this is used as a device by others in the story so that Ben is doubted and seen as projecting his past on the situation, it didn’t really function in the story and threw me off as a story arc. It felt like so many elements of this book were jumbled and thrown in and never really came together to form a coherent narrative. 

One of my major issues was with voice. Ben, the other boys, Mira, basically everyone in the story, despite being set in 2015-2016, felt like they were using language from the 80s or 90s. Maybe even before that. It could be the setting and maybe those phrases are abundant and natural there, but to me, it felt off. Some phrases are crude and made me feel slimy, and other times, it felt like things were thrown in to emphasize that they were teenage boys, whether they were realistic or not. You’re introduced to a lot of characters at once. It took a bit for them to develop into their own people, it was hard to distinguish them at first because of how they were introduced. 

I labeled this with a mental illness tag because of some of the descriptions of Mira and the actions of Francesca (which I can’t really go into without spoilers). But Mira has some disturbing imagery attached to her and her thoughts that make you question her…though somehow nowhere near the way you do Francesca and Mira almost functioned as a secondary character-her voice, her personality, the romance, none of it was emphasized or clear. Mira flitted in and out of the story and there are brief interludes of memory, but other than that, she fades away-ghostly. Back to the point, these thoughts, like wanting to drink toxic chemicals or throw herself off a cliff are dangerous, reckless, borderline suicidal and very disturbing, and yet, they’re just there. Not really deliberated over or anything and it makes you wonder why even put them there other than to show that Mira was messed up too. 

I wasn’t invested in the characters, I was invested in the mystery. The need to know what happened was enough. However, that ending, the truth, the reveal, what about all of the other stuff? Was it real? Was it a psychological issue? So many questions. If you’re looking for something weird, something that when you finish reading you’ll question what you just read, then check this out. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Mysterious reading, 

Jordan

Review: The Dead House – The Naida Tapes by Dawn Kurtagich

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There is a box. A box that should never have been discovered. And a warning beneath the lid.

This was for Kaitlyn. It was a mistake. Forget this box and leave the Isle. Don’t look any further.
I’m begging you. N.C.D. 2005

After the inferno that swept through Elmbride High, claiming the lives of three teenagers and causing one student, Carly Johnson, to disappear, Naida Chounan-Dupre was locked away for the good of society.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Because you can’t play with the devil and not pay the price.

The chilling, psychological horror of The Dead House returns with never-before-seen footage of the Naida tapes.

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4/5 Stars 

What I love about Dawn Kurtagich is her ability to make the uncanny ridiculously terrifying. The mind is a dark and twisted place, and as humans, we have an astounding capacity to become consumed by our thoughts. What Kurtagich excels at is making the reader question the characters, to doubt them, and to sift through the story and fight hard to uncover what’s real before it’s too late. Is it supernatural or are the characters just having a mental break? You decide.

Some scenes are graphic, grotesque and may be triggering for some readers. Kurtagich is never short on description and I eat that stuff up. If you’re one of those horror film lovers who gets ecstatic over Paranormal Activity, Insidious, or Sinister, pick this up. 

The story is lively. There’s absolutely never a dull moment. From the initial intro to the new characters and relearning the old. There’s mystery, terror, intrigue, and such darkness it will consume you. 

If you haven’t read The Dead House in a while, you might want to revisit the ending. I read hundreds of books a year so some mentions of characters really threw me and there wasn’t enough reiteration of the earlier book at the time they were mentioned to make me feel like I had a grip on the back story.

Naida’s dead house. Chills. Her fear, her anxiety, the overwhelming sense of dread that she’s going to let the word out. The way she mutilates herself. EVERYTHING is twisted, and dark, and made of a fantastic combination of desperation and hope. 

For the most part, the characters were well-developed and memorable. Scott felt wishy-washy as a love interest and didn’t have much personality. Apart from one sweet scene, it was a bit of a let down. 

The camera footage. You truly feel like you’re watching. Each bizarre, weird thing becomes doubly disturbing when Naida attempts to explain. Everything you think you know, maybe, just maybe, you know nothing. 🙂 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Suspenseful reading, 

Jordan

Cover Reveal: The Violet Grenade by Victoria Scott

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DOMINO: A girl with blue hair and a demon in her mind.

CAIN: A stone giant on the brink of exploding.

MADAM KARINA: A woman who demands obedience.

WILSON: The one who will destroy them all.

When Madam Karina discovers Domino in an alleyway, she offers her a position inside her home for entertainers in secluded West Texas. Left with few alternatives and an agenda of her own, Domino accepts. It isn’t long before she is fighting her way up the ranks to gain the madam’s approval. But after suffering weeks of bullying and unearthing the madam’s secrets, Domino decides to leave. It’ll be harder than she thinks, though, because the madam doesn’t like to lose inventory. But then, Madam Karina doesn’t know about the person living inside Domino’s mind.

Madam Karina doesn’t know about Wilson.

Fierce reading,

Jordan

(Proud member of the #VMafia)

Review: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller

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Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it’s just the risk she’s been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be. One of them has deadly intentions.

A road trip fling turns terrifying in this contemporary story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

review

2.5/5 Stars 

+++Parts of this story are MATURE

The Devil You Know was not at all what I expected it to be. You know those horror films that start out with a bunch of kids partying and end up with someone winding up dead? This is exactly like that, I can easily see it as a film. The familiar tropes were there: restless heroine looking to escape, love triangle with two hot out of towners, a series of semi-sinister but not entirely scary incidents. It all feels so familiar and more than a little predictable. 

The premise didn’t sit right with me. I don’t care how tired of her situation the main character is (it’s stressed repeatedly), she’s responsible, smart, and known for making rational choices, so when she makes the decision to ride off into the sunset…or in this case a canoe, with complete strangers it made zero sense. Everything felt super fast in terms of development-so much so that it was jarring. The insta-attraction was fierce, the meet and run away happened within hours. What kind of crazy person hops in a car with two random guys she met the night before? It wasn’t exactly believable for modern times…maybe if it was set in the 70s or even the 80s. 

The story was enjoyable though. It felt like a romance with just the right amount of angst and drama. The chemistry was hot. The boys were both contenders and had a lot going for them. A clean-cut, pretty boy, his rough cousin, tatted and with a record. There’s something for the good girl with a reckless streak in all of us. 

Scenery was spot on and engaging. The trip to Casadaga was especially interesting because I’ve been there and it’s a creepy, yet fascinating place that anyone should check out given the opportunity.

Secondary characters were memorable, if a little cliché. The ex boyfriend’s brother was much-needed comic relief and pretty gross, but in a lovable, perverse way. 

The twist had so many tells and clues that it came as no surprise to me, however this did not detract from the suspense-filled, adrenaline rush of a finale. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Exciting reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review, Exclusive & Giveaway: Black Flowers, White Lies by Yvonne Ventresca

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Release Date: October 4, 2016

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Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a supernatural connection. Since her mother discourages these beliefs, Ella keeps her cemetery visits secret. But she may not be the only one with secrets. Ella’s mother might be lying about how Dad died sixteen years ago. Newfound evidence points to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not as a result of a tragic car accident as her mother always claimed. After a lifetime of just the two of them, Mom suddenly feels like a stranger.

When a handprint much like the one Ella left on her father’s tombstone mysteriously appears on the bathroom mirror, at first she wonders if Dad is warning her of danger as he did once before. If it’s not a warning, could her new too-good-to-be-true boyfriend be responsible for the strange occurrences? Or maybe it’s the grieving building superintendent whose dead daughter strongly resembles Ella? As the unexplained events become more frequent and more sinister, Ella becomes terrified about who—or what—might harm her.

Soon the evidence points to someone else entirely: Ella herself. What if, like her father, she’s suffering from a breakdown? In this second novel from award-winning author Yvonne Ventresca, Ella desperately needs to find answers, no matter how disturbing the truth might be.

guestOscar in laundry

Ella’s cat was always named Oscar throughout various revisions. While writing Black Flowers, White Lies, Yvonne learned that an author friend, Jennifer Murgia, had a real-life Oscar. Jennifer shared some photos of her Oscar, which Yvonne used to better describe the fictional cat. A cute photo of Oscar in a laundry basket prompted Yvonne to include a mention of that in the story (page 114).

review

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review and participation in this tour

Black Flowers, White Lies is a subtle psychological thriller that builds up to a startling twist. At first, the story is relatively slow. Everything is there, cute boy, possible paranormal encounter, and a quirky female lead. It feels like an everyday, fairly tame, contemporary coming of age. It takes a bit, but when it picks up, it’s fast and you’ll start to question everything. 

Ella is well developed and interesting. Her love for her deceased father is in everything she does. She holds him up like a mythical hero and it influences all aspects of her life-from her clever cat shirts to her volunteer work to her beliefs in the paranormal. Her voice is steady and consistent. She wears her emotions on her sleeve and gets easily overwhelmed. She’s flawed, a  little weird, but relatable. What bothered me was her naive infatuation with males. From Blake to Gavin, the instalust/love is strong. She barely thinks before swoony, make out scenes. It takes her forever to question a certain someone’s motives, even though it’s SUPER COINCIDENTAL and creepy. 

Grace is a sneaky little character. I loathed her. She’s a self-absorbed, judgmental best friend and I seriously thought Ella deserved better, someone a little more understanding and not so snotty. Thankfully, her parts were brief. How Ella is so oblivious is beyond me. 

The story is short. Almost too short. Some sections could have been a more developed, layering the odd events.

There’s a ton of skillful misdirection. Everyone is a suspect and despite any misgivings, the uncertainty almost pushes you to believe in the paranormal. When the truth starts to come out, the scramble to see through all the lies is fierce. 

authYvonne Ventresca photo for download

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Yvonne Ventresca’s latest young adult novel, BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES will be published by Sky Pony Press in October 2016.

Her debut YA novel, PANDEMIC, won a 2015 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. In PANDEMIC, a teen struggles to survive not only a deadly outbreak and its real-life consequences, but also her own personal demons. Ventresca’s other works include the short story “Escape to Orange Blossom,” which was selected for the dystopian anthology PREP FOR DOOM, along with two nonfiction books, PUBLISHING (Careers for the 21st Century) and AVRIL LAVIGNE (People in the News).

giveawayVentresca BFWL prize
Prize pack includes a three panel rustic chalkboard with a $25 Amex gift card, a $25 Sephora gift card, and a signed copy of Black Flowers, White Lies!

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If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Thrilling reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich

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A stunning, terrifying novel about a house the color of blood and the two sisters who are trapped there, by The Dead House author Dawn Kurtagich

When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the “blood manor” is cursed. The creaking of the house and the stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too–the questions that Silla can’t ignore: Who is the beautiful boy that’s appeared from the woods? Who is the man that her little sister sees, but no one else? And why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer?

Filled with just as many twists and turns as The Dead House, and with achingly beautiful, chilling language that delivers haunting scenes, AND THE TREES CREPT IN is the perfect follow-up novel for master horror writer Dawn Kurtagich.

review

4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Dawn Kurtagich is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. The twists get me every single time. The darkness, the creepy, the utter shock, and grotesque horror will wrap you up in a gripping downward spiral towards madness. 

I loved this story. There are layers and layers of arcs and distractions that keep you guessing until the very end and when you get there, you still won’t be certain, and will have to ask yourself what just happened and if the end is truly reality. 

There’s a Gothic atmosphere that permeates the story. Despite being set in 1980 and 2013, there’s a gritty desperation that makes you feel like your sinking, slowly into the past. From the creaking floorboards, the blood red of the manor, and the shadows that lurk around every corner, get ready to be on edge until the bitter end. The isolation is killer. It consumes and tricks and manipulates so that you can’t be certain of anything but what is going on in the manor, and even that is suspect. 

Scattered throughout are cryptic diary entires, different POVs, and creepy (think little kids sing-songing in horror films or giggling in a corner) rhymes. You’ll feel it. That sinking certainty, the wrongness of every action. The corn husks, the sack dolls, the Creeper Man getting closer, beckoning from the deep and all-to-alive trees of Python wood. 

Madness. Complete insanity. The slow, torturous crack to the inevitable loss of all reason. It’s there in sharp clarity. Each chapter brings Silla closer to the edge, that black hole of total madness. She straddles the line and each bit of wrongness is another blow to her psyche. The process is grueling and terrifying and SO IMPRESSIVE. I’ve never read insanity so stark and horrible. The confusion, the anger, the pain, the hope. It’s all there. 

Silla has a heart of stone, but she loves so fiercely that it becomes a prison. She can’t let anyone in and it becomes a single-minded goal to protect Nori at all costs. She sacrifices so much for her sister. She forgoes food, she shucks off her own hopes for escape or safety because the Creeper Man is a threat to her beloved little sibling. 

The ending. Explosive. Heartbreaking. Emotional carnage. So much tragedy. This story, the pain is immense and raw and oh so potent. Sometimes it’s all-consuming grief and sorrow. Others, love becomes both blessing and curse.

My one issue is that some parts dragged by and there wasn’t enough bizarre in those sections to keep me interested. But wade through reader, it’s worth it. 

Also, that cover. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Cryptic reading, 

Jordan