Mini Reviews – August Wrap Up

The months mean nothing anymore, here’s what I read:

Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

This book was born out of the hype for me, put in the middle of my Christmas book list purely because I had seen it everywhere over the last four years and the vague notion that I would enjoy it. But then I read reviews from a handful of disappointed readers that made me wonder whether it would be a good fit for me, then I did as I often do and just jumped in anyway.

I’m glad I did.

I think that if you go into this book with the expectation of a thriller with a tight mystery at its core and tension around every corner, you will be disappointed. However, if you go into it wanting a surprisingly deep exploration of a pretty large cast of characters (seven, if you hadn’t picked that up from the title) and an engaging social commentary of high school, privilege, love, friendship, and sexuality, I think you’re much more likely to enjoy it.

I was so impressed with how these seven characters were written that I assumed my writer nerd form while reading and wrote down the progression of each character as I read. It was so interesting – and again, impressive – that not one of these seven characters felt underdeveloped or overshadowed compared to the others, and Riley Redgate achieved it in under 350 pages.

The only nitpick I would have is that I have seen this book recommended because of the asexual representation, but I’d hesitate to do the same. The asexual character in question is rather stereotypical in my opinion, though I enjoyed reading from him. I think there should be asexual characters of all personalities and backgrounds so I won’t say that the representation is bad, just that you may be disappointed if you go into the book specifically for that.

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

After reading Seven Ways We Lie, I decided to continue with another YA mystery, which definitely leans more heavily on the thriller aspect of the genre than Seven Ways We Lie. The Darkest Corners follows Tessa, who returns to her hometown of Fayette, Pennsylvania at the same time as a death row prisoner named Wyatt Stokes gains momentum on his appeal. The problem? Wyatt Stokes is the man whom Tessa gave evidence against after she saw him murder her best friend’s cousin.

But after another murder occurs in a similar fashion to Stokes’ supposed killings, Tessa begins to wonder if she really remembers what happened that night: whether she led to the wrongful conviction of an innocent man, and the freedom of the real killer.

You know what, I really enjoyed this, and I think it was all down to the main character and her relationship with her friend, Callie. It felt very real and authentic. I’ve read a lot of books with characters who have been damaged by trauma in their pasts, and are defensive/cold because of it (and then are explored beyond that). However, so many of these characters dip into a snarky stereotype that feels so constructed and unnatural. Tessa is a character who is distant, who struggles with relationships, who is more of a ‘tough girl’, but I never felt that she tipped into that trap. She still felt very real, and that her personality was just her personality, and not a relatability and broodiness that is shoved down the reader’s throats.

The book had its quota of teenage sleuthing, which I love, and the classic knocking on doors of strangers for information and tracking down leads. It was a fun time, with a decent amount of tension throughout.

I did feel that the ending and the reveal was a little rushed. The twist itself was interesting, and I would have loved to have seen that developed more, even if that meant adding another 50-100 pages onto this book. To see the reaction and repercussions of what happened would have really bumped up my enjoyment.

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

I really went on a YA mystery kick this month, didn’t I?

Of all of them that I read this month, I think this one has to be my favourite (tied with Seven Ways We Lie, though again, I wouldn’t categorise that as a thriller/mystery). I started listening to the audiobook of this while I was weeding up my family’s allotment, and after I’d cleared three big beds of leeks and a whole morning had passed without me noticing, I supposed that I must really, really like this book.

I Killed Zoe Spanos is told in a dual timeline, flashing forwards and backwards. In one timeline, we follow Anna, as she begins a nannying job in the Hamptons for the summer. Despite having never been before, Anna begins to recognise certain things in the town that feel strangely familiar. But she isn’t the only one having deja vu, as everyone in town is shocked to see the resemblance between her and a girl named Zoe Spanos, who went missing the previous New Year’s Eve. The same girl that, months on, Anna confesses to killing. As those around her are certain she couldn’t have done it, Anna begins to doubt herself and the story in her mind of what really happened on New Year’s Eve.

With missing girls, podcasts, and unreliable narrators, this book majorly reminded me of Sadie it even has a full-cast audiobook! It’s brilliantly produced.

The story itself also holds its weight and keeps you engaged and guessing. I just had a great time listening to it, and spent the last hour just sat on my couch with my eyes closed as it all wrapped up and was revealed.

I would definitely highly recommend.

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin

I’m hesitant to include this one on the list because I started reading this short story collection just before I was about to fall asleep at night, and so my memory of some of the stories is almost non-existent. There are a few, however, that stick in my mind and that I loved, so this mini-review will focus on those.

The very first story in the collection hooked me straight away. It follows a woman who is abandoned by her husband at a rest-stop. There, she finds it is the home of many other abandoned women, some waiting for their husbands to return, some scorning their existence, and some desperate to be rescued at any cost. It’s eerie and cold and the ending is so clever that it delivers a swift and sudden gut-punch. It’s the sign of a very good story when it can leave you reeling in ten pages.

The rest of the stories (that I can remember) are very similar. You’re simultaneously kept at a distance, yet clutched closer to humanity than you really want to be. It’s disgusting at times, genuinely scary at others, but all very cleverly written. It definitely gave me some very bizarre dreams.

All The Pretty Things by Emily Arsenault

After finishing I Killed Zoe Spanos, I needed an audiobook to see me through driving and pottering around (because I’ve done a lot of that this month, for some reason). So, I went through my Scribd library and decided to pick up another YA mystery/thriller.

Unfortunately, this one didn’t live up to my expectations. This book follows Ivy, who works at the amusement park her father owns, along with many of the town’s teenagers. One night after closing, Ivy’s best friend Morgan, finds the body of their friend and colleague, Ethan. A ruling of accidental death is given, after it seems that Ethan fell off the terrace at the park, but that’s not the end. Everyone is keeping secrets and doing a bad job of it, no one is willing to look closer, and Ivy isn’t going to give up until she finds out what really happened to Ethan.

This book really didn’t feel like a thriller to me, but unlike Seven Ways We Lie, it didn’t have much else going for it either. The relationships between the characters were quite thin, especially Ivy and Morgan. Morgan ends up on a psychiatric ward as a result of the trauma of finding Ethan at the beginning of the book, which prompts Ivy to dig deeper into what happened. But I never felt the connection between the two supposedly best friends. They didn’t seem to have much chemistry and though they were shoved into situations that should have made me feel terribly for them or that should have really highlighted how much they meant to each other, I didn’t feel it.

The mystery itself was also rather underwhelming and predictable, and I think because it was concentrated so entirely in Fabuland, it didn’t have that element of reality that I personally like in my thrillers. I did think that the relationship between Ivy, her brother, and her father was interesting, but that wasn’t enough to save my enjoyment of the book, unfortunately.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

And on a total 180… The Gilded Wolves.

Oh, this book. This book.

Well, it wrecked me, didn’t it?

I love the official synopsis, so I’ll leave it below:

‘It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.’

I’m currently working on a book tag (an original one – who do I think I am?) and I have to stop myself from answering each question with different aspects of this book. It’s everything I wanted from it: adventure, excitement, found family feels, and just enough of a dusting of romance to make you crave more. The ending left me in tears, and I can’t wait to pick up the next one when it comes out 22nd September.

Furyborn by Claire Legrand

I’ve written a full review for Furyborn which will be up this week so I won’t go into too much detail (and if you’re reading this after Saturday, I’ll leave a link to my review here).

I had many issues with this book and my review reads very negatively, but I did enjoy the book! I enjoyed my reading experience even though portions of the plot weren’t to my personal tastes and I had trouble with some aspects of the characters. Overall, though, I wasn’t massively disappointed and I wasn’t super impressed either. Just a nice, middle-of-the-road fantasy book that filled my fantasy craving.

So those are the books I read this month! Have you read any of these or are they on your TBR? What was the best book you read in August?

Also, I’m having a little bit of a nightmare with block editor but I’ve tried to format this post the best I can. What do you guys think? Please don’t hold back if you have constructive criticism – I don’t really have an eye for this stuff.


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