Review: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

SYNOPSIS (via Goodreads):

“Fifteen years ago, summer camper Emma Davis watched sleepily as her three cabin mates snuck out of their cabin in the dead of night. The last she–and anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the NYC art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings.. They catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of the very same Camp Nightingale–and when Francesca implores Emma to return to the camp as a painting counselor, Emma sees an opportunity to find closure and move on.

Yet, it is immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by surfacing memories, Emma is suddenly plagued by a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca, and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian apparently left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. And as history begins to repeat itself and three girls go missing again, Emma must face threats from both man and nature in order to uncover all the buried secrets–including what really happened all those years ago.”

REVIEW:

Riley Sager has become an instant read author for me, so I’ve been slowly working my way through his novels. The Last Time I Lied has an interesting premise and was a perfect summer thriller.

The Last Time I Lied follows Emma Davis. Her life was forever changed with one stay at summer camp when the rest of the girls in her cabin go missing. The camp never reopened and Emma has been secretly pouring her trauma out into her artwork for the last fifteen years. Camp Nightingale has reopened and Emma has been invited back to teach art. Now, Emma has a chance to gain closure and find out what really happened to the missing girls.

Riley Sager does an unreliable narrator incredibly well and Emma is definitely unreliable. This definitely ended up being the perfect summer thriller with its summertime setting. We jump back and forth in time, with chapters bouncing between present day and that fateful summer. We also have the Riley Sager staple of a mysterious attractive guy who is also the lead’s prime suspect for the murder.

I couldn’t put this book down since all I wanted to do was figure out what happened. Sager’s reveals are somewhat hit or miss for me, but this one really works. I didn’t really see either of the big reveals coming and I loved how they played out. I definitely recommend if you are looking to close out your summer with a great thriller or building up your TBR for the spooky months.

RATING: 4/5

Review: The Unraveling on Cassidy Holmes by Elissa R. Sloan

Cassidy Holmes was “Sassy Gloss”, the fourth member of one of the hottest pop groups in America. Gloss was the pop act that everyone wanted to be. Fans couldn’t get enough of them, their music, and even the drama that followed them. Then the group imploded in 2002, at the height of their fame. Cassidy was apparently to blame. Now Cassidy is dead by suicide.

The world is shocked as are her former bandmates. Rose, Merry, and Yumi, the three other members of Gloss, each had a special bond with Cassidy. However, after the band’s separation, no one really spoke to Cassidy. She had closed herself off from the entertainment industry and everything that made her “Sassy Gloss”. Now after years apart, her former bandmates are wondering if there was something they could have done.

REVIEW

The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes discusses several sensitive topics. Such topics discussed include: suicide, physical assault, rape, eating disorders, stalking and harassment, implied drug use, and implied grooming of a minor. If any of these topics make you uncomfortable or upset, I don’t recommend this book for you.

This was my Book of the Month selection for August. I overall really enjoyed this book, it took me a little longer to get through mainly because of the heavy topics involved. I liked that it was an honest look at what these girls would have gone through in the entertainment industry. We jump back and forth in time. Cassidy narrates the past, about the rise and fall of Gloss, while Yumi, Merry, and Rose narrate the present. I think the way that the book tackles mental health is incredibly well done.

It is not an easy read at all due to the topics discussed, but I think if you are comfortable reading about them you should definitely check out The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes.

RATING: 8/10

Review: Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

A decade ago, five teenagers defeated the evil enemy known as The Dark One. The Dark One caused widespread death and destruction. These five teenagers were brought together by the government because they fit the perimeters to be “The Chosen One” laid out in a prophecy on the defeat of the Dark One.

Ten years later, the world has moved on and The Chosen Ones have become celebrities. Sloan hates every minute of it, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. She can’t move on, The Dark One haunts her thoughts. She feels listless. Shortly after the dedication of a monument to the fallen lives, the Chosen Ones experience another devastating loss. As they gather for a funeral, they discover that the Dark One might not really be gone.

REVIEW

This is Veronica Roth’s first adult fiction novel after a string of young adult hits, such as the Divergent Series. Ugh this book, I need to stop giving Veronica Roth chances. I ended up completely hating the Divergent series, but I thought the synopsis of this book sounded interesting. I thought it was going to deal more with the aftermath and the trauma in these peoples’ lives. About 100 pages in there is a big reveal that thrusts them into a new conflict, and everything that was interesting just disappears.

It’s called Chosen Ones but you really only get to know Sloan. I didn’t like her as a character, all her decisions are incredibly selfish, and she is just frustrating. It annoyed me how little we got to know the other “chosen ones”. You only really ever go inside Sloan’s mind, so the other “chosen ones” feel like virtual strangers. In a weird decision, one of the “chosen ones” does not join the other three on their new adventure. So you don’t get to know her at all. I ended up hate reading this book, just powering through so I could finish it.

If you like Veronica Roth, you might enjoy this book. However, if you’ve had problems with her books before, I think you can skip this one.

RATING: 3/10

Review: From Blood & Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

The Maiden is chosen at birth, they must live a life of solitude, never to be touched, can’t be looked upon, and never to be spoken to. An entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, yet she isn’t quite sure what she wants. Right now she would like to be able to enjoy life, and fight back against the evil that took her parents life.

Then she meets Hawke, a gorgeous guard who becomes honor bound to ensure her safety until the day of her Ascension. They have an instant connection, and he makes her feel things she shouldn’t feel as the Maiden. As this test of her faith is happening, Poppy also finds herself caught in the middle of a fallen kingdom trying to rise again.

REVIEW

I knew nothing about this book, but kept getting it recommended to me because of how much I like Sarah J. Maas’ books. I ended up completely loving From Blood and Ash, and finished it in 24 hours. (It also helped that my area got hit by a tropical storm, so I had lost power and I had no other distractions.) Poppy and Hawke have such great chemistry, and I love the world that Jennifer L. Armentrout built in this novel. I also enjoyed the slow trickle of information, you find out things as Poppy does. Poppy has a lot in common with many young adult fantasy heroines, but I really enjoyed the exploration of her sexuality. That often isn’t seen or maybe done off-screen in other novels, but fully explored in From Blood and Ash. I did figure out the one major twist beforehand, but it didn’t hinder the book for me at all.

I recommend this book if you love fantasy and romance. It definitely checks off both those boxes. I can’t wait for the sequel which comes out September 1st!

RATING: 9/10

Review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Alex Claremont-Diaz makes up one third of the millennial marketing strategy called the White House Trio, and his mother just happens to be the first female President Ellen Claremont. They have become a fixture in society, and one duty is to attend the Royal Wedding of Prince Phillip. One downside of being a member of the White House Trio is that your every move is photographed, so when photos surface of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis, Prince Henry, at the wedding it becomes a threat to American/British relations.

So the White House PR team has a plan, stage a fake friendship between Henry and Alex. Alex has enough to worry about, with finishing his last semester of college, his mother’s re-election campaign, and his own political ambitions, he doesn’t have time to waste playing pretend with Prince Henry. However, as Alex gets to know Henry he realizes first impressions aren’t what they seem. Alex soon finds himself falling for the Prince. They soon begin a secret relationship that could derail his mother’s campaign and disrupt the British monarchy. Meanwhile, Henry is worried if Alex is worth all the trouble their relationship could bring.

REVIEW

Red, White, & Royal Blue was such a fun and entertaining novel. It’s an easy and romantic read that was perfect after reading a bunch of dark, suspenseful books. It’s filled with a cast of characters that make the book come alive. The White House Trio (made up of Alex, his sister June, and the Vice President’s daughter Nora) are all so well developed, that as you’re reading you want to become a part of their trio. It was really empowering as well, with Alex and Henry discovering themselves and what is worth fighting for in their lives.

I was sold on this book the moment that Alex and Henry bonded over Star Wars, since I’m still just a Leia looking for her Han. It was sweet, relatable, empowering, and somewhat stressful, but you can’t go wrong with this romance.

RATING: 10/10

Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, this is a version of the Bennet family that you may be familiar with. Liz is a magazine writer, who like her yoga instructor sister Jane, live in New York City. After their father suffers a health scare, they return to Cincinnati and their childhood home. Upon arrival they discover their childhood home is crumbling, and the family is on the verge of financial ruin. Despite this, Mrs. Bennet’s chief concern: how to marry off her daughter, especially as Jane’s 40th birthday is rapidly approaching. By pure chance Chip Bingley, a handsome doctor, has recently moved to Cincinnati. At a party, Chip immediately notices Jane, but Chip’s friend, a neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, butts heads with Liz. However, we all know that first impressions can be deceiving.

REVIEW

Pride and Prejudice is my absolute favorite, so I will always give an adaptation or retelling a chance. This was a part of The Austin Project, which enlisted best-selling authors to “modernize” Jane Austen’s beloved novels.

For me, it did take a little bit to get going, but once everything was established and the world had been built I had been sucked in. The author truly captured the feel of every character, and even though I knew the plot points that would be coming, I still couldn’t stop turning the page. The pace is breezy which is perfect. I did grow truly frustrated with Mrs. Bennet. I didn’t agree with the decision to make her into a homophobic, racist and anti-Semite person. Mrs. Bennet is a snob there is no doubt about that, but it made her unbearable.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. I don’t think its a necessary book really because to me Pride and Prejudice is perfect and doesn’t need to be modernized. However, if you love Jane Austin you should definitely check it out.

RATING: 6/10

Now I’m going to go reread Pride and Prejudice for the millionth time!

Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Alessandra is the second daughter of a nobleman which means she is not allowed to be out in society until her sister is married. She is always overlooked, and has only been in love once which didn’t end well. So she has a new plan to never be overlooked again.

Step 1: Woo the Shadow King.
Step 2: Marry him and become Queen.
Step 3: Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

The only problem, Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. Attempts on his life are being made, but Alessandra needs to keep him alive so that she can stick to her plan. However as she gets closer to him she realizes that they just might be perfect for each other.

REVIEW

I really enjoyed this book. It was sold to me as a love story between two villains, and that describes it perfectly. Alessandra and Kallias (The Shadow King) are not good people. Kallias is a conqueror who has no sympathy for his people, while Alessandra is a murderer who craves power. They are not out to be good people and the book doesn’t try to redeem them either which makes it excellent.

The pacing is perfect, and their relationship feels genuine and not rushed. This book truly has a little bit of everything, there are several mysteries, assassination attempts, court intrigue, some fantasy elements, and romance. Another bonus is that this book is a stand-alone. While I enjoyed the characters and their relationships, I think it helps that it isn’t expanded into a series. (And honestly I don’t need to start another series right now.)

RATING: 8/10

Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

In school, Marianne and Connell pretend not know each other. Connell is popular, plays on the school football team. Marianne, keeps to herself, tends to be quite lonely, and is considered odd by her peers. They form a connection that starts after Connell picks up his mother from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house. Connell wants to keep this connection a secret which Marianne understands.

A year later they find their lives intwining again, now both at University in Dublin. Life has swapped for them, Marianne finds her footing in a new social setting while Connell now struggles to make friends and manage his anxiety. Their connection is still there, growing stronger and more important to them everyday without either of them really noticing.

REVIEW

I picked up this book because I was interested in the new Hulu series of the same name, and had wanted to read the book first. (That’s just the type of person I am). The last couple of books I have read have been very big event, high action, high stakes novels, so it was nice to read this and calm everything down. I really loved these two characters, and often had to put the book down because I would get frustrated with them. Like just TALK TO EACH OTHER, and so many of your problems would be solved. That being said, both Connell and Marianne feel fully fleshed out and people you would encounter on the street. I connected with both Marianne and Connell, suffering from anxiety and depression myself. I identified deeply with Connell and could feel glimmers of myself in him. They way he struggled in social settings, never sure if he was doing the right thing.

It’s definitely a great read, and makes me interested in checking out Sally Rooney’s other works. Now I’m gonna go binge watch the series! (Paul Mescal am I right?!).

RATING: 8.5/10

Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House introduces us to the mysterious and exclusive world of Yale’s secret societies. Galaxy “Alex” Stern is our eyes and ears into this world. She is an unlikely member of Yale’s new freshman class. A high school drop out from Los Angeles who has a history of drug abuse, she is the sole survivor of a grisly homicide. Through this incident she is given a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend Yale free of charge, but there’s a catch…See Alex has always been able to see “grays (ghosts)” all her life, she hates this ability because it has ruined her life. Though this ability makes her a valuable commodity to Lethe, an exclusive group established to keep the secret societies in line.

REVIEW

For me what originally interested me about this book was the author Leigh Bardugo. I had loved her previous series, and couldn’t put any of those books down once I picked them up. It definitely took me a little bit for this book to really get going and honestly even understand and place all the societies and what they specialized in at first. Bardugo makes the decision to jump around in the timeline when first introducing everything, which definitely kept me turning the page even when I was struggling to connect.

Some spoilers below…

I really ended up loving the characters Alex and Dawes. I enjoyed their odd couple relationship. They would push each other and bring out each others strengths. I did struggle to form an attachment to Darlington, so the urgency to get him back and why everyone loved him never really connected with me. I can understand why some of the characters would want him back. He would have more answers and solutions to what was happening with Tara’s murder, but for me there was just no attachment and no sadness when the new moon ritual didn’t work.

I think Alex is the reason this book works so well. Because she is a fish out of water character, we understand her frustration and confusion at all these secret societies. I can empathize with her wanting to find a place of her own, with finally finding people who understand.

Overall I enjoyed this book, and I’m excited to see where the series goes.

RATING: 7/10