Buy The Killing Woods
Special $15.89 (Regular price: $17.99)
Publisher: Chicken House / Scholastic
Reviewer: Melissa on March 6, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Emily’s father is accused of murdering a teenage girl, but Emily is sure that he’s innocent. The only problem is that in order to prove her instincts right, she needs to find out what happened that hot, summer night in the woods behind her house, the very woods where she used to play as a child. In order to understand what really happened, she seeks out Damon Hillary, the mysterious boyfriend of the murdered girl. Like Emily, he also knows these woods. She thinks that, perhaps, they could help each other understand the truth about what really happened that night. However, Damon has secrets of his own about a dark game he plays in the darkness of Dark Wood. In The Killing Woods, Lucy Christopher offers up a chilling, psychological thriller in the same vein as her award winning and bestselling novel, Stolen.
To say that I’ve been waiting a long time for a new young adult novel by Lucy Christopher is an understatement. Her debut novel, Stolen, is one of the first YA novels that I read and reviewed on behalf of a publisher, and it has remained one of my favorite YA thrillers to this day. From the setting and atmosphere to Christopher’s unique ability to shift the reader’s sympathies from complete antipathy for to understanding of the villain, it is hard for me to find anything at fault with that novel. Therefore, I’m sure that you can understand why I jumped at the chance to review her recent release, even without knowing the subject matter or setting it would explore. (What can I say, some writers just have that “must read” effect on me.) And I’m really glad that I embarked on the journey with the author and her main characters: Emily and Damon.
Like Stolen, The Killing Woods depicts a complicated narrative with several twists and turns along the way. However, whereas it was possible for me to guess where the main character of the former novel would end up, I think it would be truly impossible to guess where Christopher is going to take you this time around, other than to a dark place. Perhaps it’s because Emily seems to have so little to hide at the beginning of the novel, but I think it’s inevitable that readers will want to side with her, will want her conviction that her father is innocent of both manslaughter and first degree murder to be accurate. Maybe it’s because no matter how flawed we realize our parents are, we still want them to more closely resemble a hero than a villain that Emily’s certainty is so appealing. On the other hand, Damon and a lot about who he is and the things that occupy his time and mind are shrouded in deliberate mystery by the author. Not only is Damon fuzzy on the events that happened on the night Ashlee died, but also he is a little vague about exactly what game him, Mack, Ashlee, and the other guys were playing. Is it possible that the game he thought was going on between the five of them was very different? You’ll have to read to find out, but know that with every page you turn, this book will get just that much scarier.
From the dark beginning, Christopher takes her readers on a fast-paced journey into the mysterious woods behind Emily’s house, slowly revealing clues about what really happened on the night that Ashlee died, the good and bad sides of the characters, and twisting both Emily and Damon’s convictions about the events and the readers simultaneously. In addition by focusing on a small, military town, Christopher also makes good use of a family’s experience with a father and husband who is suffering from PTSD as well as the psychology of teens whose fathers never make it home. When added up together, the author has a sure fire way to get the audience hooked, keep them turning pages until a clear understanding of what really happened is revealed, and creates characters who may resonate with teen readers with family members who have been or who are/were fighting overseas. The Killing Woods is a great book with an ending that you won’t see coming, but overall, I prefer her first YA novel.
Buy The Killing Woods today and benefit from 17% off the regular price!
Special $15.89 (Regular price: $17.99)
Publisher: Harper Teen
Reviewer: Melissa on March 4, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
When you live in a small town like Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people, traditions begin – like so many things do – because it was summer, and there was nothing better to do. Heather has never intended to compete in Panic, a legendary game played by the graduating seniors with high stakes and the chance of an even higher payoff for one student. She never saw herself as the kind of person who would not only fight to stand out, but also who can be fearless when she needs to be. However, when she finds someone and something worth fighting for, she’ll come to realize that she has more courage than she ever thought possible. Dodge, on the other hand, has never been afraid of Panic. He’s certain that his secret desire and motivation will fuel him and even get him all the way through the game. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that he’s not the only one who can keep a secret. In Lauren Oliver’s Panic, both Heather and Dodge will find themselves with new alliances, unforeseen revelations, the possibility of first love, and the knowledge that sometimes the things we fear are what we need most.
When I first heard about Panic, the concept drew me in, and I was looking forward to reading it. Thankfully, when I actually picked it up, it proved to be more than a great concept; I found myself speeding through it whenever I had the chance to read. Moreover, it was the kind of book that intrigued those around me when I was reading in public to the point where three people asked me about it on one afternoon, and when I described what it was about, one or two of them seemed ready to pick it up on release day themselves. Unlike Oliver’s previous novels, this is not only a return to a realistic, contemporary style, which is something that she hasn’t written since her debut Before I Fall, but is more realistic and gritty than anything she’s ever put out before. (Those who read Before I Fall would remember that had some fantasy elements, but Panic doesn’t.) What Oliver does do, though, is mix the realistic setting and character motivations with imagery taken from classic Gothic novels to create a hybrid between a thriller and a psychologically rich bildungsroman (or at least as much of a novel about growing up as one can have over the course of a single summer).
Over on Goodreads, I read some reviewers complaining that this novel mixes contemporary and fantasy elements to cover up huge plot holes, but I disagree with this opinion because there have been contemporary novels (for the time) written in this way since the 19th century. (THINK: the Brontë sisters, for example, whose novels are mainly realistic stories about growing up from a child to adulthood, but have Gothic elements interweaved within them as both plot points and imagery.) Moreover, I think it would be hard to envision a realistic novel about fear that didn’t, in some way, engage in Gothic imagery, and while it could be done poorly, Oliver nailed it. For example, she uses imagery of disembowelment as a means of showing metaphorically the way fear and panic can feel as though one is losing their stomach. This isn’t fantasy for the sake of fantasy. It’s fantastical imagery used primarily to embody the way real fear works on the body.
In addition to the Gothic elements, I enjoyed that rather than focus her attention solely on the haves of Carp, Oliver focuses this story of small town life on Heather and Dodge, who are both part of the most impoverished areas of the community and what their lives are like. The other central figure, Natalie, who is Heather’s long-time friend is from a wealthier home than either of the main characters, but her story is only told through the eyes of Heather and Dodge, not her own point of view. That said, the book doesn’t focus solely on the day-to-day life of either MC, but rather centers around days in which something related to the game Panic happens, the fallout from the challenges, the desires that the characters have for entering and continuing to play despite the consequences, especially when the stakes have the potential to become deadly. Finally, I appreciated the exploration of the alliances that form and other details about the psychology behind a high-stakes game, such as Panic, even when I briefly had to rant that I really didn’t like one character or another via Goodreads or Twitter for a moment.
Even though there are other books that have been released this year revolving around dangerous games played by teens, such as Lucy Christopher’s The Killing Woods (review coming Thursday), Lauren Oliver has created a very unique look into this phenomenon with Panic featuring the gorgeous writing for which she’s known. In short, you won’t regret picking up this book, but you might find it unsettling, and for me – this is a winning combination. You may even find yourself panicking in the final moments of this book (seriously…the ending caused a worry/fear-based, visceral reaction in me).
Buy Panic today and benefit from 11% off the regular price!
Buy Better Off Friends
Special $14.51 (Regular price: $17.99)
Publisher: Point / Scholastic
Reviewer: Melissa on February 27, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
In Romeo & Juliet, the main characters fall in love at first sight, but Macallan and Levi become friends at first sight. While most people say that guys and girls can’t be friends, these two prove them wrong. They spend time together after school, have tons of inside jokes, have families that are joined at the hip, and Levi even dates one of Macallan’s friends. Their relationship is completely platonic, and they couldn’t be happier. At some point, they realize that they’re best friends, which is great except they keep getting in each other’s way. Most guys assume that Macallan is dating Levi, so they give her a wide berth, and Levi spends so much time joking with Macallan that he neglects his date. It gets to the point that they can’t help but wonder…are they really more than friends or would they be better off not making their lives even more complicated? In Elizabeth Eulberg’s Better Off Friends, readers get to examine this unique take on an age old question: Can guys and girls ever really be just friends? Or will they always be a fight away from not speaking to one another – and a kiss away from true love?
After finishing this book, four words immediately came to mind, “blimey that was brilliant!” In this must read, contemporary YA novel, Eulberg does something rather refreshing. Rather than write a typical romantic comedy where girl meets guy, immediately falls in love with him, and spends the rest of the novel trying to get with him…whether he notices her or not, she gives us two characters – a girl and a guy – who genuinely like each other as friends. I honestly can’t remember another guy-girl friendship that is as great as the one that Levi and Macallan have, though I have read other books that feature a female MC with a male best friend.
That said, there are two main differences with the relationship that Eulberg creates vs. my previous encounters with these sorts of friendships. First, she understands the kind of witty banter that a lot of friends of the opposite sex have, and she plays it up throughout the chapters written from either one or the other’s POV. Second, her decision to write the novel from each of their perspectives means that readers get an inside look into both of their minds, motivations, and ultimately, their confusions about what the other one is thinking. It allows the reader to understand completely where they’re both coming from, and at the same time, wish that they were able to better understand the actions of one another and the drama that ensues. When combined, these authentic voices and authorial decisions ensure that the reader won’t just be hoping that this relationship grows into something more, even if they are a little, because they can see how much both characters would lose if a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship didn’t work out the way they hope it would.
Beyond the voices and characters of Macallan and Levi, which incidentally kept me reading this book late into the night, I loved the way the novel is structured with a section of dialog between the two of them before every alternating POV chapter. In part, yes, this gave me more of the banter that I loved, but more importantly, it gave me a chance to see who the characters could be as friends before we’re even fully introduced to them or the situations in which they’re involved. At times, they directly comment on what has just happened in the preceding chapter, while in other dialogs, they foreshadow what is still to come in the story of Macallan and Levi.
Other than to emphasize that I read this book in one sitting and it left me with a smile on my face when my head finally did hit the pillow, the only thing left to say is that it’s the perfect feel-good-read for contemporary YA lovers. If Better off Friends sounds like your kind of book, then make sure you pick it up asap.
Buy Better off Friends today and benefit from 19% off the regular price!