Review: Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep A Secret, by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 336

Published: 10th January 2019

⭐️ 5 / 5

After reading One Of Us Is Lying, I was excited to read another Karen M. McManus book as soon as possible. I would go as far to say that she is a contender for one of my favourite authors. I love that crime/thriller/mystery (a genre I LOVE) is starting to appear as a leading sub-genre of young adult and it’s being done SO WELL. McManus is leading the charge with excellently written YA mysteries and I hope she’s publishing books annually for a long time to come. Those of you who have read my review for One Of Us Is Lying will know that I really enjoyed it, and I preferred this novel so get ready for me to blow the trumpets at Two Can Keep A Secret!

Plot

Two Can Keep A Secret is told from two narrative points of view: Ellery, niece of a girl who vanished during her senior prom decades ago; and Malcolm, brother of the prime suspect in the murder of a second prom queen 5 years ago. This worked really well for weaving the plot threads of the two previous unsolved murders into the central action of this novel. I usually struggle with multiple narrators because I tend to favour one and resent having to endure the other POV, however McManus uses this to build tension and set the pacing which drove me mad – a clear indication of a good mystery novel for me. I got the sense of multiple timelines without time jumping (which is another trope I dislike for the most part and was glad it was so expertly worked around) giving me 3 murder mysteries for the price of one. The choice of narrators was also very cleverly calculated as this expanded the world building. Although Ellery and Malcolm were friends, they didn’t cross over too much meaning that we could explore more of the town through each of our narrators. The small-town setting was done really well and used very well too. Coming from a small(ish) town myself, I felt the local drama/curtain twitching/nosey neighbour elements of the plot were very accurate and added to the mystery as you’re left wondering how such a busy-body community could be harbouring so many unsolvable secrets. I got absolutely lost in this novel and easily polished it off in one sitting, which I would happily do again and again. Honestly, I did guess part of the outcome around half way through (far later than I did with One Of Us Is Lying though) however there were plenty of other twists that I didn’t predict. This book was definitely a firm favourite YA Murder Mystery read of 2019 for me.

Characters

I really enjoyed the point of view of both POV characters. Ellery was very relatable for me as a fellow true-crime addict. I love that fictional young women obsessed with true crime and murder mysteries are starting to emerge in novels, especially in this section of YA. It’s nice to see myself in books – and come on, we all secretly adore serial killer documentaries don’t we 😉 ? She’s a feisty, intelligent character and we need more Ellerys in our fiction. Ellery and her twin Ezra have an excellent rapport/banter going on and McManus has written this sibling relationship very well. Malcolm is the second POV character and I honestly just want to give him a hug. Mia finishes off the 4-strong friend squad that’s central to the novel and she is a diamond of a character too. The extended cast include popular Katrin, who happens to be Malcolm’s step sister, work colleague Brooke, and the twins’ gem of a grandmother. Each of the characters are fully realised and flawed and believable. McManus constructs an air of suspicion around each of them too which constantly played with my opinions of them. I really hope she finds a way back to these characters as she has with Bayview High and One Of Us Is Lying.

Final Thoughts

I hope this somewhat lengthy review conveys just how great this book was. One of the easiest 5 stars I’ve given for all of my 2019 reads, and a book I fully intend to re-read this year too. Keep an eye out for my next Karen M. McManus book review this month as I read One Of Us Is Next after its release this week!

Blurb:

A perfect town is hiding secrets. Two teenagers are dead. Two murders unsolved. And a killer who claims to be coming back. Ellery’s never been to Echo Ridge, but she’s heard all about it. It’s where her aunt went missing at age sixteen, never to return. Where a Homecoming Queen’s murder five years ago made national news and where Ellery now has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, after her failed-actress mother lands in rehab. Malcolm grew up in the shadow of the Homecoming Queen’s death. His older brother was the prime suspect and left Echo Ridge in disgrace. His mother’s remarriage vaulted them to Echo Ridge’s upper crust, but it could all change when mysterious threats around town hint that a killer plans to strike again. And the return of Malcolm’s brother doesn’t help matters. But his return is just a coincidence… isn’t it? Ellery and Malcolm both know it’s hard to let go when you don’t have closure. Then another girl disappears. As they race to unravel what happened, they realise every secret has layers in Echo Ridge. The truth might be closer to home than either of them want to believe. And somebody would kill to keep it hidden.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

Review: One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 368

Published: 1 June 2017

⭐️ 4 / 5

Breakfast Club meets Gossip Girl meets Pretty Little Liars. Karen M. McManus’s debut novel is an excellent read and if this is the first book she has published, we really are in for a treat in years to come. This is a young adult thriller told from multiple points of view. A group of teenagers all find themselves in detention and are thrown into a classic ‘who dunnit’ when one of them drops dead in an unpleasant way. Prepare to question everything you’ve ever known about contemporary YA.

Plot

This book was so readable. I inhaled it in a single 4 hour sitting. Personally, having read a lot of thrillers/murder mysteries, I had the murderer pegged from the first couple of chapters as all the clues are there if you’re looking hard enough. However, McManus had me questioning everything. This woman knows how to write an excellent mystery. I’ve never found myself so backwards and forwards, I doubted myself so many times whilst reading the twists and turns. I still received the ‘big reveal’ moment as towards the end I was ready to throw out my entire theory before I finally had it confirmed, even if I did roll my eyes at it a little. Honestly the storytelling and plot weaving was masterful and impressive, albeit a little trope-heavy at times. Although this book is very clearly a young adult novel, it is definitely something that adults can enjoy. My 80-year-old grandmother read this and really enjoyed it too.

The plot is largely comprised by the daily lives of the teenagers involved in the case. It was very refreshing that the whole ‘who dunnit’ investigation wasn’t the sole focus, rather an undercurrent that carried the rest of the plot aloft. The focus was the kids. This allowed for lots of character development which I really enjoyed. The pacing of the narrative was executed well and the change of narrative point of view was perfectly spaced for me. I usually have a massive problem with changing POV (it all started with Twilight and then Divergent ruined it further…). It really toyed with me and increased the tension. McManus is very good at building suspense and tension, the last couple of chapters, especially, really had me going. I fell into that kind of reading trance where I could barely hear what was going on around me.

There are several very adult themes that are tackled in this book so I would certainly recommend caution with younger teens reading this, however I could have done with a book like this at the age of around 13 – 14 or so to at least discuss this sort of content. The story could certainly serve as a loosely educational tool. Mental illness including depression is a central theme and one of the characters has to deal with being outed as gay against their will. I personally believe both of these themes were handled well, however I’ve seen some mixed reviews including suggestions that portrayals of these storylines were ignorant and damaging. I suppose we all experience things differently so if you’re worried about these ideas, I’d suggest looking at some other reviews.

Characters

Each of the 4 point-of-view characters is the embodiment of a high school/secondary school stereotype. Bronwyn is the straight-A geek, Nate is the ‘bad boy’, Addy is the bimbo Prom Queen, and Cooper is the jock. Conforming to further stereotypes, the dead boy Simon is the awkward misfit who is held in mild contempt by most of his classmates. McManus challenges each of these initial stereotypes and gives the characters nuanced characterisations, and at the same time really captures the struggles of growing up and navigating everything I hated about being a teenager at school. Bronwyn, I loved because I could see my own damaged teenage self through her. Her character grew so much despite all the crap she was going through. Nate was a very heavy bad boy stereotype however I felt like this was unpacked incredibly well and he actually ended up being one of my favourite characters of the book. The turn-around was huge. Each of the characters’ secrets, held against them by the dead character Simon, were slowly revealed throughout the book in a Pretty Little Liars/Gossip Girl style move. I could have done with some of the secrets emerging slightly earlier on in the book, mostly because I’m impatient, however this allowed for the red herrings that I enjoyed for all the problems they caused.

Aside from the main group of characters, I found the smaller players in the plot to be very fleshed out and the whole cast and school were very tangible. I was completely sucked into all of their lives and could really imagine this sort of drama in my own secondary school (and trust me, there was plenty of drama going around there…). Even Simon, the victim in this novel, is a fully realised character which I appreciate for a character who died in the first half a dozen pages.

Final Thoughts

I am really looking forward to reading the sequel in the New Year and kicking off 2020 with an excellent book!

This is easily one of the best YA murder mystery thrillers I’ve read, ever, let alone just in 2019. I’d highly recommend this for a quick, entertaining read if you want a book you’re motivated to read in a single sitting. If you’ve read it, let my know your thoughts in the comments below!

Blurb:

Five students go to detention. Only four leave alive. Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule. Sports star Cooper only knows what he’s doing in the baseball diamond. Bad body Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime. Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life. And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won’t ever talk about any of them again. He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online. Investigators conclude it’s no accident. All of them are suspects. Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you’ll go to protect them.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

Look out for my review of One of Us is Next: Coming at the end of January!

Review: Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Legendary, by Stephanie Garber

Pages: 432

Published: 29th May 2018

⭐️ 3 / 5

Welcome, welcome! To the second installment of Caraval (if you know, you know). Those of you who read my last review will know I was left very underwhelmed and hoping that the series greatly improved. My main gripe was that the writing didn’t live up to the potential of the plot or world that Garber has created. Luckily book two has picked up slightly but I’m by no means anywhere near as impressed as I expected to be.

Plot

This was certainly a marked improvement on Caraval but still far below any hype that this series has been afforded. The plot this time centres around finding Scarlett and Tella’s mum, which honestly by the half way point I was starting to reach How I Met Your Mother levels of frustration. We still followed the same sort of layout of the Caraval game which yet again made the plot incredibly repetitive, and not in any way I could see was remotely useful for the story. The one thing that kept me interested was the threat of the Fates reappearing and, annoyingly, the constant will-they-won’t-they of Tella and Dante. I really ship them and I’m a little bit disappointed in myself for it.

Characters

Tella and Dante are honestly the saving graces of this entire series. They are layered and somewhat fleshed-out to the bare minimum I would like to see in any novel I read. They are at least a much better pair than Scarlett and Julian. Tella is feisty, determined and sassy and the only character that stirs any interest beyond the basic plot. Otherwise, I actually prefer the ensemble characters. They’re about as 2 dimensional as Scarlett and Julian so really its a contest of the least irritating, which falls to the likes of Aiko, Jovan, and Jacks. Legendary introduced a few new characters who I ended up enjoying and Jacks was definitely one of them. He became a big player in this book and I’m sure will be in the final instalment too.

Final Thoughts

Caraval‘s sequel is a definite improvement but the series is still sitting in the overall category of disappointment, I’m afraid to say. I will be reading the concluding part of the series however as unfortunately I’m completely unable to DNF a series I’ve fought this far through… Never mind.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of this series or if you’ve ever been disappointed by a book(s).

Blurb:

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win. After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name. The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more – and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets… including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about – maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

12 Reads of Christmas 2019: Day 10

Let It Snow, John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

“Christmas is never over,unless you want it to be… Christmas is a state of mind.” 

– Lauren Myracle, The Patron Saint of Pigs, Let It Snow
Continue reading “12 Reads of Christmas 2019: Day 10”

Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

Pages: 416

Published: 31 January 2017

⭐️ 2.5 / 5

(TW – This book contains themes of abuse and rape)

This debut YA fantasy oozes magic and potential. The plot grips from the beginning, with its setting of a magical fantasy island and two sisters who immediately seem to have each other’s backs in the abusive family setting they begin with. The concept is very intriguing with a game set up like a circus, including troops of travelling performers, with a prize that money truly can’t buy. The allure of the mysterious character, Legend, and Scarlett and Tella’s unravelling family history are threaded through the narrative keeping you wanting to turn the next page as quickly as possible. This drive became very important motivation for me as I found Garber became repetitive. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be some sort of reinforcement as a plot device, but it quickly became irritating and the outcomes became very predictable as a result. The plot threads kept me going and allowed me to enjoy the book for the most part, however at times it felt like this book had middle-grade writing but with YA / NA themes.  

The detail Stephanie Garber has put into the magic of this world is immense and is a huge strength of this book. The particular detail put into the outfits really is something else – and I’d really like to get myself one of those shape-shifting dresses. Caraval is narrated in third person but following Scarlett’s point of view which sees her describing emotions in terms of colours. Initially this is an interesting plot device and one that I really enjoyed, however the further through the book I got the more this became irritating as it seemed that was the only tool Garber was using. This is such a shame because the plot, and elements of the writing, carry so much potential which I feel is unfulfilled.

Garber has created some complex, layered characters which the book really benefits from. Julian is a particular favourite of mine. I spent a lot of the book simply trying to figure him out. His motivations, who he was…my opinions and theories were all over the place and it was great. Scarlett however, is a wet flannel of a character. She has no agency and spends the entire novel dithering. It’s not endearing, and this trait seems to serve no purpose. She doesn’t falter between two options rather she can’t decide whether to do something or do nothing at all. A quarter of the novel could be cut if this was all removed and she just got on with things. This doesn’t change throughout the book and I can detect no sort of character development in her. I hope this doesn’t continue throughout the series because the events that happen to Scarlett are character shaping and changing so should mould her into an excellent character. Tella is a FAR more interesting character however she is hardly in this book at all. Again, I hope this will change moving forwards in the series.

Despite my reservations and irritations about Caraval, I will be reading the rest of this series to see where things go. At its heart this book is geared towards being a heartwarming story about the love between sisters however so far, for me, this has not lived up to the hype.

Blurb:

Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.
Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year, week-long performance where the audience participates in the show. Caraval is magic, mystery adventure and for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father. When Scarlett discovers her father has arranged a marriage for her she believes all her hopes of escape have been dashed.
Then the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive and it seems their dreams have come true. Yet, no sooner have they entered the confines of Caraval than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. Real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

Review: Wing Jones by Katherine Webber


Title: Wing Jones

Author: Katherine Webber

Pages: 378

Published: 5th January 2017

⭐️ 4 / 5

Continue reading “Review: Wing Jones by Katherine Webber”

Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

Title: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe

Author: Lauren James

Pages: 290

Published: 7th September 2017

⭐️ 5 / 5

Continue reading “Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James”

Review: Song of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury (Sorrow #2)

Title: Song of Sorrow

Author: Melinda Salisbury

Pages: 370

Published: 7th March 2019

⭐️ 5 / 5

Anyone who has spoken to me over the last year will know just how much I loved State of Sorrow. It was easily my favourite book of 2018 so the sequel, and conclusion to the duopoly, Song of Sorrow is one of my most anticipated reads of this year. State of Sorrow ended on a cliffhanger that meant Sorrow’s struggles weren’t over, they were merely beginning and were sure to spiral out of control.

Continue reading “Review: Song of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury (Sorrow #2)”

Review: State of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury (Sorrow #1)

Title: State of Sorrow

Author: Melinda Salisbury

Pages: 452

Published: 1st March 2018

⭐️ 5 / 5

This was my favourite book of 2018, but it has taken until my re-read this week to finally write a review!

Continue reading “Review: State of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury (Sorrow #1)”

Review: War Storm by Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen #4)

Title: War Storm

Author: Victoria Aveyard

Pages: 672

Published: 15th May 2018

⭐️ 3.5 / 5

Continue reading “Review: War Storm by Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen #4)”