BOOK REVIEW: Call Me Star Girl – by Louise Beech @Orendabooks

Title: Call Me Star Girl
Author: Louise Beech
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: April 18th 2019
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: May 23rd 2019
Pages: 300

“I shiver, look to my left and then my right. No one there.

It’s just me.

Me and all my terrible gut feelings.”


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After hearing so many fantastic things about the writing of Louise Beech, I thought it was about time I finally tried one of her books myself. I was so excited when my pre-order finally arrived earlier this month! I know I have been warned about the effect of her stories, but I still wasn’t fully prepared for what I encountered. Call Me Star Girl left me absolutely speechless staring at that final page, wondering how long it would be before my heart would be whole again. How do I even begin reviewing this title? Please bear with me as I try to write a somewhat coherent review and explain why I Call Me Star Girl is my officially my fifth 5 star read of the year.

It doesn’t happen often that a book is able to provoke reactions this strong, but Stella’s story is one of them. The writing style is absolutely wonderful of course, but it is the characters who steal the show in Call Me Star GirlLouise Beech should receive an award for being able to create such fascinating characters that are both flawed, strong and essentially unlikeable, but are able to win over your heart anyway. This story was so so so cleverly written! I slowed down my reading pace deliberately, wanting to fully savour ever single minute with this story, as I didn’t want it to end either… And this is always a good sign. We start Call Me Star Girl with slowly getting to know more about Stella and her past, her mother sometimes taking her turn to tell her part of their history together. Sometimes we see more about the present life of Stella with Tom as well, but the main focus seems to be on Stella and her mother. All these little bites of information will make you even hungrier to find out how everything fits together and what connection everything could have with the death of the poor girl found in the alley.

Subtle twists and turns are incorporated in such a way that builds the tension and suspense without even realizing it; throwing new shocking information at you before you are getting comfortable with what you already know. Louise Beech creates her characters to have a dark side and she isn’t afraid to make them show it; it makes the characters all the more realistic and beautiful as a result. It was fascinating to see how Stella dealt with her mother abandoning her when she was twelve and how she grew up to be the woman she now is. Elizabeth’s story was intriguing as well, although I did connect with Stella more than with her mother’s POV. Call Me Star Girl will go dark and emotional and will stamp on your heart and rip it out in a million pieces. There are so many little details cleverly incorporated into the plot and the ending will both shock you and make you feel satisfied albeit heartbroken. It is a true emotional rollercoaster, an absolutely fantastic read and a worthy new all time favorite to add to my shelf. Oh yes, I will definitely be reading more Louise Beech stories in the future!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #102 – The Sleep Tight Motel & The Last Of August

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a thriller novella and a YA contemporary read… The Sleep Tight Motel by Lisa Unger turned out to be short, but very entertaining, while The Last Of August by Brittany Cavallaro ended up being mostly a disappointment. Find out more about the why below.


Title: The Sleep Tight Motel
(Dark Corners Collection #2)
Author: Lisa Unger

Genre: Short Stories, Thriller, Horror
First published: September 27th 2018
Publisher: Amazon Original Stories
Finished reading: May 18th 2019
Pages: 48

“Why do we celebrate the monsters, the destroyers, the killers among us? Me, I prefer to run away. As fast and as far as I can get.”


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I know I don’t read a lot of short stories, but I’ve enjoyed Lisa Unger‘s writing in the past and The Sleep Tight Motel fitted a couple of challenge prompts… Making it easy to make an exception and give it a go. Between the cover and blurb I knew I was in for a creepy read, and I can say this short story would have been a perfect fit for the Halloween month. What starts out as a simple crime thriller with the main character on the run and hiding from someone, turns out to be so much more by the time you reach the final page… I won’t say anything else to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say you won’t see the final twists coming at all. The Sleep Tight Motel is well written and has a lot of different elements included successfully for such a short story. If you enjoy creepy reads with an eery setting and a surprising twist, The Sleep Tight Motel reads like a nice little snack in between other books.


Title: The Last Of August
(Charlotte Holmes #2)
Author: Brittany Cavallaro

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Mystery
First published: February 14th 2017
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Finished reading: May 21st 2019
Pages: 326

“I’ve always wanted to be invisible, and because I want to be, it’s impossible.”


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I admit it’s been a long time since I read the first book (almost three years; oops?), but I still remember I really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to spend time with this Sherlock Holmes retelling sequel. What I definitely didn’t expect is that I almost ended up DNFing The Last Of August. Oh yes, sadly this Charlotte Holmes sequel turned out to be a huge disappointment for me. Why? Well, the first mayor obstacle is that about 90% of the story is filled with a frustrating love triangle, a whole lot of ‘does he/she love me?’ and ‘I don’t know what to do with my feelings’ and basically an overdose of teen angst in general. This is a huge turn off for me any day, but even more so when you expect an entertaining Sherlock Holmes retelling filled with the well known bantering between Holmes and Watson. Instead of this, the whole investigation angle of the story has been mostly pushed in to the background, the story then focusing on the petty feelings of Holmes, Watson and August. Definitely not what I signed up for! The only thing that stopped me from just DNFing The Last Of August  was the promise of Berlin and Prague descriptions, cities I was lucky enough to visit myself last year and was hoping to revisit with the help of this story. Sadly, even those descriptions were not as present as I hoped… All in all I can’t exactly say I enjoyed my second meeting with Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson, and I think I’m going to just give up on this series for now.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #101 – The Dead Girls Of Hysteria Hall & Trouble Makes A Comeback

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a YA edition with a TBR jar pick and a title I picked up for a challenge. Both had some positive and negative elements, although I did enjoy Katie Alender’The Dead Girls Of Hysteria Hall better than Stephanie Tromly‘s sequel Trouble Makes A Comeback.


Title: The Dead Girls Of Hysteria Hall
Author: Katie Alender

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: August 25th 2015
Publisher: Point
Finished reading: May 13th 2019 
Pages: 329

“Of all the things I would have guessed about being dead, I definitely didn’t expect that it would sometimes feel exactly like high school.”


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I’ve enjoyed Katie Alender‘s books in the past so I was excited when my TBR jar thought it was time to pick up this title. I admit I was expecting something a little more creepy than what I ended up with. I’m actually kind of glad I didn’t save it for the Halloween month now… It’s true that there are elements of suspense and there are some creepy moments and secrets hidden in Hysteria Hall, but overall I found the majority of them to be cliche. And this took away most of the scary factor… There are a lot of cliches involved in general, related to both ghosts, family drama and even a love triangle. Oh yes, even when the main character is dead we don’t escape the dreaded love triangle! This wasn’t even my main concern with Delia though. I didn’t find her strong enough as a main character to carry the story; for example Maria came over as a considerably more interesting character to follow. There was a lot of potential to make this story more disturbing; I think most will agree a haunted and abandoned asylum is the perfect eery setting for a horror story. But The Dead Girls Of Hysteria Hall took a different turn and instead mellowed things down considerably. On the other hand this was still quite a fun and fast read! Just don’t expect to be scared away, as for a haunted asylum story it’s surprisingly light on the horror.


Title: Trouble Makes A Comeback
(Trouble #2)
Author: Stephanie Tromly

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: December 1st 2016
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Finished reading: May 14th 2019
Pages: 304

“Forgetting about the bad times… that isn’t happiness. That’s amnesia.”


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I picked up this title mostly on a whim as I needed a change of genre and this title fits one of the prompts for the BTB Bingo challenge. It’s been a while since I read the first book, so I had totally forgotten about my issues with the first book… It turns out I ended up having the exact same issues with the sequel and I should I have checked my previous review better before deciding to read Trouble Makes A Comeback. I ended up having mixed thoughts about this story. It’s true that the story reads superfast and there are entertaining parts. BUT. I had huge doubts about the credibility of it all and the fact that you are constantly reminded of THE love triangle is beyond annoying. In fact, it’s more than a triangle; a square maybe? Anyhow, this story is packed with high school and romance cliches and between those and the lack of credibility of the plot I had a lot of eyebrow raising going on. As for the characters… While I can appreciate a bit of dry humor, I felt like the characters (and the story for that matter) were trying too hard to be funny and it kind of had the opposite effect on me. Between the cliches around the different characters and the love triangle overshadowing any hope of an interesting and edgy plot, I don’t think me and this series are ment to be. Contemporary romance fans who like their stories with a hint of mystery will probably have a better time with Trouble Makes A Comeback though.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small #blogtour

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the Bright Burning Stars blog tour! A huge thanks to Brittani Hilles for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. There was just something about the blurb of this story that caught my attention right away and I have been excited to read it. And while it turned out to be not entirely my cup of tea, I’m having a feeling the right reader will fall in love with it. Please join me while I share my thoughts on Bright Burning Stars!

Title: Bright Burning Stars
Author: A.K. Small
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 21st 2019
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Finished reading: May 10th 2019
Pages: 304

“Marine, notre monde, this world of ours – the stage and studios and barres – is intense and lonely. There is no space for friendship, love, or even an old and perhaps sacred bond between twins. Nothing shadows the art of dance. It’s a union of body, mind, and music. Classical dance is known for being ruthless.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Like I said before, there was just something about the blurb of Bright Burning Stars that caught my attention right away and I have been excited to finally read it. It’s true that it turned out to be not entirely my cup of tea, but I do believe the right reader will enjoy this story immensely. Fans of more gritty and slow-paced YA contemporary romance will be in a treat with this ballet-inspired story mainly set within the Paris Opera Ballet School.

Why wasn’t Bright Burning Stars a good fit for me personally? It’s hard to put my finger exactly on the why, but I think part of the reason has to do with the sheer amount of cliche drama relating to both competition, jealousy, romance and friendship. All this drama made it hard for me to stay focused and I confess it took me longer than expected to actually reach the final page. On top of this we have what you can call multiple love triangles and more jealousy and drama resulting from that… And you all know by now how I feel about those pesky love triangles in the first place. I’m sure romance fans who don’t mind a cliche or two will react different to this part of the story though. Another thing I didn’t like was the fact how they skimmed over abortion and basically make it seem like you can just go to the pharmacy, get a little something as if you were buying a cure for a headache and solve your problems that way. I’m not going into the whole abortion discussion, but I do feel this gives the wrong message to teenagers about safe sex and having to face the consequences of your actions and mistakes. Trigger warnings are also in place for other sensitive themes including eating disorders, suicide and drugs. I understand the ballet world is brutal and unrealistic (and basically unhealthy) demands are made of the bodies of the dancers, and I do think this is well portrayed in Bright Burning Stars, but it can potentially trigger more sensitive readers so you’ve been warned.

The story is told with the help of a dual POV, where we get to know Marine and Kate and learn more about how the constant competition has changed their relationship and how their final year once again puts a lot of pressure on both their bodies and their minds. I’m not sure I actually liked them, especially since their is a lot of teenage drama, boy stuff and jealousy involved, but they do help address various issues related to the ballet world. Bright Burning Stars is mostly a character-driven story where we follow the development of Marine and Kate. The pace is considerably slow at times, but shouldn’t be problem for those who enjoy this kind of story. I did wonder about the use of random French words in the text, as they didn’t seem to add anything substantial to the story… And with a Paris setting aren’t they speaking French all the time anyway in the first place? Instead of the French words, I think I would have liked to see more dancing and more descriptions of Paris and the school. But that could have been just me. Overall this was still a solid read, and while not my cup of tea, I can see how others could fall in love with Bright Burning Stars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A.K. Small was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

SOCIAL LINKS

aksmallwords.com
Twitter: @aksmallwords 
Instagram: @aksmallwords 


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YVO’S SHORTIES #99 – Sweetheart & Alice In Zombieland

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time two completely different genres and two completely different reading experiences… While I loved my second meeting with Archie and Gretchen in Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain, I couldn’t say the same for Alice In Zombieland by Gena Showalter. That one is without doubt a series I won’t be continuing any time soon (more likely never).


Title: Sweetheart
(Archie Sheridan & Gretchen Lowell #2)
Author: Chelsea Cain

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: June 1st 2008
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Finished reading: May 2nd 2019
Pages: 328

“It broke his heart. Not because she was worried that he was in danger, but because she thought she had a chance of saving him.”


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WARNING: possible spoilers if you haven’t read the first book yet. 

I can’t believe it took me three years and a TBR jar to finally continue this series. I remember loving the first book way back: the serial killler up close and personal, the broken characters, the suspense, the sheer twistedness of it all. This series is exactly my cup of tea, but somehow it got lost between the other books on my TBR mountain. I’m definitely going to remedy that though, because Sweetheart has definitely reconfirmed my love for this series. What a delightfully disturbing and twisted read! I always love it when we get to see a serial killer up close and Gretchen Lowell is without doubt one to reckon with. I advice reading this series in order, because you will be missing out on details behind Archie’s state of mind and his unique relationship with Gretchen otherwise… Personally, details came back soon after I started reading Sweetheart and I found myself forgetting about prior engagements, hiding in a corner and just turning those pages instead. Both Gretchen and Archie play a key role in this series and having both a detective and serial killer that present definitely takes Sweetheart to a different level. It was fascinating to see how past events have affected Archie up to a point even his family and friends don’t seem to recognize him… This story has twists, turns and a healthy dose of action and suspense as well as an insight in the psychological aspects. You’ll be having a hard time putting this one down before you find out what happens, and the cliffhanger will most definitely leave you wanting for more. Guess who isn’t going to wait that long this time around to pick up book number three?


Title: Alice In Zombieland
(White Rabbit Chronicles #1)
Author: Gena Showalter

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: September 25th 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Finished reading: May 5th 2019
Pages: 408

“Truly living required risk.”


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I admit I was a bit wary to pick up this title, but I decided to pick it up anyway since I already had a copy on my kindle and needed it for a prompt of the BTB Bingo challenge. Unlike what you might guess from the pun in Alice In Zombieland, this first book of a series actually has very little to do with the original story. Wait, this isn’t a retelling? Nope, I would never consider calling it that. Why? Well, apart from the main character being called Alice and a white rabbit cloud appearing repeatedly, there are no references to or similarities between the classic and this concoction. I was surprised and a little disappointed after such a clear reference to it with the title and cover art. Instead, we have a story about zombies where we encounter a different kind of unread this time around; they are basically spirits and a lot more difficult to fight than your regular brain eaters. This could have been a premise for a very bloody and disturbing read, but sadly the fighting scenes and horror have been taken over almost completely by an overdose of cheesy and sappy romance scenes, a very frustrating love triangle and a whole lot of high school drama. The romance alone was so unbelievably cringeworthy I almost stopped reading there and then… Especially since some of those scenes were definitely too steamy to be appropriate for YA. The love triangle itself is so cliche it could have been an example in a dictionary… And all the high school drama, catfights and popularity contests in general were another huge turn off. Like I said, the idea behind the zombies is interesting and I would have loved to learn more about them and have more background on the slayers. The fighting scenes were pretty dark and did get bloody and almost horror worthy, but it’s almost like those scenes were put in as an afterthought. Alice In Zombieland and me definitely didn’t get along and it will be no surprise I won’t be picking up the next book any time soon (more likely never). If you don’t mind a huge amount of cheesy romance, cliches and high school drama and on top of that don’t object to a few dark and disturbing zombie fighting scenes either, you might have a better time with this story.


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ARC REVIEW: The Silver Ladies Of Penny Lane – by Dee MacDonald

Title: The Silver Ladies Of Penny Lane
Author: Dee MacDonald
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
First published: April 24th 2019
Publisher: Bookouture
Finished reading: April 2nd 2019
Pages: 275

“These things usually happen when you aren’t looking for them.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Bookouture in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I was really looking forward to spend time with The Silver Ladies Of Penny Lane, especially since I loved the writing style and humor in The Getaway Girls last year. I was fully expecting to be having a blast while reading Dee MacDonald‘s newest title, but I guess it just wasn’t ment to be… And I turned out having a completely different reaction instead. It’s unpopular opinion time again! Because I ended up having quite a few issues with this story and surprisingly none had to do with the fact that the contemporary romance genre normally isn’t really for me. I’ll try to explain why The Silver Ladies Of Penny Lane didn’t work for me below.

The first and most important issue I had with this story had to do with one of Tess’ dates… More especifically the one in the hotel. I don’t want to give away too many details to avoid spoilers, but basically what is described can be considered rape. Disgusting enough on its own and trigger warning worthy, but to make things even worse Tess tries to justify it and blames herself? No, no, NO!! I nearly stopped reading there and then because of this scene. Another thing that bothered me considerably is that way this story completely destroys body positivity. I mean, Tess believing she has to lose weight in order for her to look good, be successful and find a man? Not only shallow but completely contradicts the image their own shop tries to portray. Characters in general are discriminated and talked about negatively because of their weight and appearance and this really left me with a sour taste in my mouth. The story itself is filled with cliches and not in a good way… I personally couldn’t even find the humor in them this time around. I also failed to connect to the main characters, mostly due to how they behaved and the negativity towards others. The dates themselves were so cliche that they are almost offensive and most characters really lacked fleshing out for me. A shame, because I was really looking forward to see more mature main characters for a change. What I did like? The writing does read quite fast and I loved the descriptions of the different places of their Greek cruise. This travel element was probably my favorite part of the story. Otherwise, unfortunately this turned out to be a rather disappointing journey for me. I do hope others will react differently to The Silver Ladies Of Penny Lane!

Tess and Orla have been best friend for a long time and have worked together in a dressmakers shop on the corner of Penny Lane for quite some time. Then one day, sixty-two-year-old Tess decides she wants something more out of the rest of her days and wants to rediscover herself… Hoping to find someone special to spend those days with sooner than later. Orla convinces her to join a dating agency, resulting in some very interesting meetings… And a cruise visiting the Greek islands on the menu as well.

I definitely wasn’t expecting to be having this reaction to The Silver Ladies Of Penny Lane, but it is what it is I guess… I turned out having various serious issues with this story, a lot relating to how characters behaved and were portrayed. I apologize if this review turned into a rant, but I really couldn’t help but getting my feelings out there since it doesn’t happen often I have this strong of a reaction to a story. I do hope others will have a better time with The Silver Ladies Of Penny Lane though.


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ARC REVIEW: Smoke And Key – by Kelsey Sutton

Title: Smoke And Key
Author: Kelsey Sutton
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: April 2nd 2019
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Finished reading: March 8th 2019
Pages: 304

“I suppose some things don’t have a proper explanation. They just are.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Entangled: Teen in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I admit it was coverlove at first sight when I saw this title for the first time, but it was the blurb that convinced me that I had to read Smoke And Key no matter what. The promise of what basically can be called a Corpse Bride inspired fantasy story with both a paranormal and a thriller twist just sounded too good to pass up on… And I still believe the premise of and idea behind Smoke And Key is one of its strongest elements as a whole. Under is such a fantastic, magical and daunting world and I would love to have seen in even more developed, although I do understand that the lack of information only adds to the overall mystery and intrigue around the place. I loved the fact that the characters in Under are named after something they had with them when they arrived. Simple, but fascinating as you try to find out the stories behind those objects and names… The beginning of Smoke And Key made a huge impact on me, and a lot of this impact had to do with the worldbuilding and writing style. It was able to put me under a spell straight away, and for a little while I was sure I had found myself a new favorite. Where did it go wrong for me then? I can’t put my finger exactly on the why, but part of it has to do with the fact this story has a very slow pace. I didn’t mind in the beginning, but I started to notice it more and more as things continued. The plot itself could have been stronger, as for a story with such a fantastic premise the actual story didn’t live up to expectations for me. The idea behind Key reliving those memories in such a real way is really interesting, and it is used to add a little suspense to the story as you try to guess who is behind the attacks and how the characters fit together. I did see the final reveals coming from a mile away, which was a bit of a disappointment for me. My main problem was with the appearance of the romance scenes and of course the dreaded love triangle though. Why does this story have to have one?! I absolutely loved the beginning of Smoke And Key and as I’ve stated before, I still love the premise of this story. Sadly, the executed was a bit underwhelming for me. Fans of romantic paranormal suspense will probably have a more positive experience though.

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When she wakes up she has no idea where or who she is… The only clue hanging around her neck: a single rusted key. That’s how she gets her name, as everyone is named from whatever belongings they had with them when they fell out of their graves. Because Key no longer breathes nor has a beating heart, and Under is a place she is struggling to come to terms with. Key is determined to remember her past and find a way out, but who can she trust? What is really going on in Under?

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There were a lot of things I loved about Smoke And Key and this is by no means a bad read. There were just certain elements that really irked me and failed to live up to the fascinating blurb and fantastic beginning for me. The slow pace, the romantic elements, the love triangle, the predictability of the plot… All things that made me enjoy the story less than I thought I would. I still love the premise of this story as well as the historical setting, Under and its Corpse Bride feel characters and the magic among other things. It’s a very interesting story and I have no doubt this world will stay with me for a while.


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