Category Archives: Nightmares

Nightmares are books that I would rate one or two stars

Genius: The Game 

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Genius: The Game 

Genius: The Game sounded exactly like a book I wanted for my high school classroom library. A competition, tech savvy kids and an unbelievable prize: I imagined something like Ready Player One, a book that was a big hit with my guy readers.  And best, James Patterson blurbed it – my kids loved his Maximum Ride books.  Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations.  I was bored for a good majority of the book.  However, the book has its staunch supporters.  I gave it two stars, but it averaged three and a half stars on Goodreads.

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Goodreads Summary

Trust no one. Every camera is an eye. Every microphone an ear. Find me and we can stop him together.

The Game: Get ready for Zero Hour as 200 geniuses from around the world go head to head in a competition hand-devised by India’s youngest CEO and visionary.
The Players:
Rex- One of the best programmers/hackers in the world, this 16-year-old Mexican-American is determined to find his missing brother.

Tunde-This14-year-old self-taught engineering genius has drawn the attention of a ruthless military warlord by single-handedly bringing electricity and internet to his small Nigerian village.

Painted Wolf-One of China’s most respected activist bloggers, this mysterious 16-year-old is being pulled into the spotlight by her father’s new deal with a corrupt Chinese official.

The Stakes: Are higher than you can imagine. Like life and death. Welcome to the revolution. And get ready to run

My Thoughts

What sounded like a really compelling adventure turned out to be a bit of a snooze.  The descriptions are straightforward and bland, the dialogue is unremarkable except for the fact that I noticed how dull and unremarkable it was, and the plot is predictable.  I was honestly expecting a really engaging story that would capture my imagination, and I’ll admit that I did enjoy the puzzles presented in the actual competition, but I wasn’t connected to the characters nor was I really invested in the outcome (because who didn’t see that coming from the start?). The heavy foreshadowing killed the suspense.  It is a bit of a conundrum because the characters are suppose to be smart and discerning, so I think the problem is that the villains need to really be smarter if this story is going to work.  I think readers will be annoyed that the book doesn’t really resolve many of the conflicts, but I’m not sure they will be invested enough to look for a follow up book to get those resolutions.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Square Root of Summer – YA contemporary about a summer of love, grief and wormholes in the fabric of time.

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The Square Root of Summer – YA contemporary about a summer of love, grief and wormholes in the fabric of time.

I wanted to love The Square Root of Summer.  It had math and science and a type of time travel and a cover to die for.  Unfortunately, it felt like a chore to read.  My opinion is certainly not that of many other reviewers.  While I gave it two stars, it got almost four stars on average on Goodreads.  To each his own.

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Goodreads Summary

This is what it means to love someone. This is what it means to grieve someone. It’s a little bit like a black hole. It’s a little bit like infinity.

Gottie H. Oppenheimer is losing time. Literally. When the fabric of the universe around her seaside town begins to fray, she’s hurtled through wormholes to her past:
To last summer, when her grandfather Grey died. To the afternoon she fell in love with Jason, who wouldn’t even hold her hand at the funeral. To the day her best friend Thomas moved away and left her behind with a scar on her hand and a black hole in her memory.
Although Grey is still gone, Jason and Thomas are back, and Gottie’s past, present, and future are about to collide—and someone’s heart is about to be broken.

My Thoughts

This is a book I definitely recommend you sample before you buy.  The fragmented narrative is hard to follow even before the author introduces the timeline.  There are no real cultural norms to help you gain stability.  The family structure, the mix of languages, and the unfamiliar setting all make it difficult to find a starting point to forge connections with the story or the characters.  Honestly, after tackling the first twenty percent, the only thing I understood was the math and science, and I’m certainly not advanced or even proficient in those areas.  The unrelenting rainy day that is the narrator is not very compelling, either.  I wanted to give up on this book almost immediately, and I suspect that I’m not going to be alone.  I can’t see this being a hit in my high school classroom library, even among my deeper thinkers, because it is just not very fun to read.  I found the ending moderately satisfying, but, I’m not sure it was worth the work it took to get there, and I was a little disgruntled that all the science and math amounted to not much in the face of a somewhat woo-woo (that is my mystical sound effect) explanation in the end.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+, but I’m not sure if it would hold an average high school reader’s attention.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wink, Poppy, Midnight is the most irritating YA I read this year

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Wink, Poppy, Midnight is the most irritating YA I read this year

The Amazon tag line for Wink, Poppy, Midnight reads,

The intrigue of The Raven Boys and the “supernatural or not” question of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer coalesce in this young adult mystery, where nothing is quite as it seems, no one is quite who you think, and everything can change on a dime.

My tag line for this book would read

This is nothing like The Raven Boys, and the only connection to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is the fact that there are insane people in the book.  Based on your familiarity with the unreliable narrator, which has flooded the YA book market this past year, you will probably guess what is going on despite our best efforts to fool you with twists.

Two Stars

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Goodreads Summary

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying.

My Thoughts

I’m sure there are people who will enjoy this story.  Unfortunately I am not one of them.  It grated on my nerves because it felt too designed and false.  From the moment it opens with the Gillian Flynn knockoff of a Gone Girl narrator to the appearance of the next narrator, the manic pixie dream girl who will be her rival for the affection of a schmo of a broody emo boy (third narrator), I knew I wasn’t going to be happy. Intrigued. Confused. Not delighted.  The pretty prose does little to make up for what is essentially a game of a plot – a game that most readers will see coming from a mile away because the entire scenario makes readers suspicious of everyone.  I don’t think real teens act like this unless they are mentally ill.  Calculating, manipulative, and representing the worst of humanity – they don’t redeem themselves in any way.  Trendy and artsy fartsy, yes.  Insightful or meaningful?  No.  I don’t feel this is an appropriate read for humans with souls, but if you can’t resist, you should probably at least resist until you are in high school.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Ashley Mansour’s Blood, Ink & Fire – YA dystopian set in a world without books

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Ashley Mansour’s Blood, Ink & Fire – YA dystopian set in a world without books

As an avid reader and an English teacher, I really was rooting for Blood, Ink & Fire.  My worst nightmare would be a world without books!  It takes a lot for me to admit that, in the end, it felt like a depressing and pointless read.  I’m taking a bit of a beating on my Amazon reviews for this opinion, though, so maybe I just didn’t get it.  Maybe you, too, will think I’m a big ole idiot for not embracing this book, but I stand by my two star rating – this book just didn’t do a thing for me as a reader.

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Goodreads Summary

Imagine a world without books…

In the future, books are a distant memory. The written word has been replaced by an ever-present stream of images known as Verity. In the controlling dominion of the United Vales of Fell, reading is obsolete and forbidden, and readers themselves do not—cannot—exist.

But where others see images in the stream, teenager Noelle Hartley sees words. She’s obsessed with what they mean, where they came from, and why they found her.

Noelle’s been keeping her dangerous fixation with words a secret, but on the night before her seventeenth birthday, a rare interruption in the stream leads her to a mysterious volume linked to an underworld of rebel book lovers known as the Nine of the Rising. With the help of the Risers and the beguiling boy Ledger, Noelle discovers that the words within her are precious clues to the books of the earlier time—and as a child of their bookless age, she might be the world’s last hope of bringing them back.

Blood, Ink & Fire is a gripping, evocative tale that asks, who would we be without books?

My Thoughts

In a nutshell, I was bored.  I think a big part of the problem is that the plot hinges on a quest that doesn’t really have a clear purpose.  I never really understood what Noelle was suppose to do if she succeeded, so I didn’t really care if she did.  If you are going to create a quest for your hero, he or she needs to either make a big impact when hitting the finish line, or the journey needs to count for something.  This journey didn’t help the character grow, and it certainly ended in a way that took the wind out of my sails.  That being said, it wasn’t all bad.  The setting had some real potential, and it felt a bit like Alice in Shakespeareland, which was cool.  And, I liked the romance.  It wasn’t my favorite type of love story, bittersweet, but I did understand how the circumstances created a bond that Noelle was reluctant to relinquish.  Ultimately,  the negatives outweighed the positives for me in this book.  I can’t see my high school readers getting through this one because I would have stopped at 30% if I hadn’t felt obligated to finish it since I requested it.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  

Forbidden by Eve Bunting packs a lot of atmospheric punch, but little else to hold a YA reader’s attention

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Forbidden by Eve Bunting packs a lot of atmospheric punch, but little else to hold a YA reader’s attention

If you are looking for  atmosphere, this book has it.  It is as creepy as the cover promises.  The problem is that there is little else that will appeal to most readers of YA.  Someone did this book a real disservice by forcing it into a YA mold when it would have been a fairly spectacular upper elementary read.  I wanted to like it, but in the end, I just had to give it a two star rating.

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Goodreads Summary

In early-nineteenth century Scotland, sixteen-year-old Josie, an orphan, is sent to live with an aunt and uncle on the rocky, stormy northwest coast. Everything and everyone in her new surroundings, including her relatives, is sinister, threatening, and mysterious. She’s told that Eli, the young man she’s attracted to, is forbidden to her, but not why. Spirited, curious, and determined, Josie sets out to learn the village’s secrets and discovers evil, fueled by heartless greed, as well as a ghostly presence eager for revenge. An author’s note gives the historical inspiration for this story

My Thoughts

I tried to give this book the benefit of the doubt, but the truth is that the characters are lacking in complexity, and the romance is ridiculously rushed.  It will leave most YA readers dissatisfied. If someone had just knocked the protagonist’s age down a few more years and considered friendship tinged with a first flush of a crush instead of a manic romance, this would have been a perfect follow up for young fans of books like Wait Till Helen Comes.  It radiates a sinister atmosphere that has readers guessing that somehow, someway, young Josie’s soul is going to be in peril.  I honestly had a whole host of horrible ideas in my head, and I wasn’t terribly disappointed with the more realistic path the book chose.  Of course, I guessed the answer long before Josie did, and most readers will as well, but I think it would have played well to a younger crowd who hadn’t seen these kinds of twists before.  I don’t think they would have been as bothered by the stilted feel of the formal language, either.  I think this book is going to be most appealing to young middle school readers.  It is a fast read, and while certain elements bothered me, I thought it was compelling enough.  Language and situations are appropriate for all ages, but this is definitely one that younger readers will appreciate more.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Valhalla is one of the most violent and action packed YA books I’ve ever read, but it is also one of the most boring.

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Valhalla is one of the most violent and action packed YA books I’ve ever read, but it is also one of the most boring.

Valhalla reads like a book a computer would spit out if you fed it all the scifi and action reads of the last few decades and told it to write a book.  It has no soul.  Two stars and an emphatic warning not to waste your time.

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Goodreads Summary

A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title

Violet MacRae is one of the aimless millions crowding northern Scotland. In the year 2330, where war is obsolete and only brilliant minds are valued, she emerges into adulthood with more brawn than brains and a propensity for violence. People dismiss her as a relic, but world peace is more fragile than they know.

In Valhalla, a clandestine base hidden in an icy ravine, Violet connects with a group of outcasts just like her. There, she learns the skills she needs to keep the world safe from genetically enhanced criminals and traitors who threaten the first friends she’s ever known. She also meets Wulfgar Kray, a genius gang leader who knows her better than she knows herself and who would conquer the world to capture her.

Branded from childhood as a useless barbarian, Violet is about to learn the world needs her exactly as she is.

My Thoughts

It is rare to find a book so full of action and yet so boring at the same time.  I blame this on the author’s writing style.  The overly-detailed descriptions and straight-forward narrative voice quickly proved monotonous.  I never connected with the protagonist, mostly because her every action and choice was so clinically described that I felt like I was reading a lab report.  The premise is promising, and this author managed to get it all down, but there is no voice or style present in the writing.  It creates a distance that turns what should have been a very engaging action book full of blood and violence into a history channel documentary turned sleep aid for the insomniac.  Part of the problem is a lack of flow.  The story sort of encapsulates events and confines them into chunks that don’t easily connect as a whole story.  The decision to describe minutiae, like every level in Valhalla and the accent and appearance of every minor character,  is equally problematic to the flow. The romance seems to have been tacked on as an afterthought and, for me, contradicted some of the charateristics the author worked so hard to emphasize in the protagonist.  Overall, there was very little I enjoyed about this book, and I would struggle to find a reader I would recommend it to.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers, though I can’t see many of then sticking this one out.  I would have abandoned it at 25% if I hadn’t felt obligated by my request to read and review it.

I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Placebo Junkies tries to be a Trainspotting for a new generation, but I’m calling it a fail

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Placebo Junkies tries to be a Trainspotting for a new generation, but I’m calling it a fail

Placebo Junkies is edgy, dark, and completely without redeeming qualities.  I’ve read other reviews left by people who loved this book and they all felt it was an important expression of pain in the lives of these young characters.  I respectfully disagree, and I have to wonder if they finished the book because that isn’t what this story is about in the end.  I gave this book two stars.

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Goodreads Summary

Going Bovine meets Trainspotting in this gritty portrait of at-risk teens gaming the prescription drug trial system.

Meet Audie: Professional lab rat. Guinea pig. Serial human test subject. For Audie and her friends, “volunteering” for pharmaceutical drug trials means a quick fix and easy cash.

Sure, there’s the occasional nasty side effect, but Audie’s got things under control. If Monday’s pill causes a rash, Tuesday’s ointment usually clears it right up. Wednesday’s injection soothes the sting from Tuesday’s “cure,” and Thursday’s procedure makes her forget all about Wednesday’s headache. By the time Friday rolls around, there’s plenty of cash in hand and perhaps even a slot in a government-funded psilocybin study, because WEEKEND!

But the best fix of all is her boyfriend, Dylan, whose terminal illness just makes them even more compatible. He’s turning eighteen soon, so Audie is saving up to make it an unforgettable birthday. That means more drug trials than ever before, but Dylan is worth it.

No pain, no gain, Audie tells herself as the pills wear away at her body and mind. No pain, no gain, she repeats as her grip on reality starts to slide….

Raw and irreverent, Placebo Junkies will captivate readers until the very end, when author J. C. Carleson leans in for a final twist of the knife.

My Thoughts

In the tradition of other horrifying things I’ve been compelled to stick with until the bitter end, Placebo Junkies was an extremely visceral and disturbing look behind the curtain of experimental medicine.  There was a twist worthy of the second season of American Horror in there as well, and I can’t decide if it made the story more or less upsetting.  I wasn’t really sure what the message was and there wasn’t really a clear direction for concerned readers to address the horrors of the corrupt and unethical practices described.  It is certainly on par with Trainspotting and Requim for a Dream for being relentlessly gritty and depressing, and I have no doubt that it will be the insider ticket to outsider hip just as they were a couple of decades ago.  Unfortunately, I have outgrown the desire to be the edgiest, so I didn’t enjoy this read.  I can’t begin to imagine who I could recommend this to, since it didn’t even really amount to a cautionary tale in the end.  The language, situations, and general level of depressing lead me to say this isn’t appropriate for high school students.  The characters are teens, but the situations are entirely adult.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honesty review.

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich – two souls sharing one body and a disastrous attempt to separate them

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The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich –  two souls sharing one body and a disastrous attempt to separate them

I wasn’t a fan of this book for several reasons, but other people seemed to like it just fine.  I gave it two stars.  If you are interested in multiple personalities, Sybil is a better read.  If a diary found amid the ruins of a horrific crime turns your crank, I suggest The Boy Meets Girl Massacre.

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Goodreads Summary

Debut author Dawn Kurtagich is dead on in this terrifying psychological thriller!

Over two decades have passed since the fire at Elmbridge High, an inferno that took the lives of three teenagers. Not much was known about the events leading up to the tragedy – only that one student, Carly Johnson, vanished without a trace…
…until a diary is found hidden in the ruins.
But the diary, badly scorched, does not belong to Carly Johnson. It belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, a girl who shouldn’t exist Who was Kaitlyn? Why did she come out only at night? What is her connection to Carly?
The case has been reopened. Police records are being reexamined: psychiatric reports, video footage, text messages, e-mails. And the diary.
The diary that paints a much more sinister version of events than was ever made publicly known.

My Thoughts

This is one of those times I really hate reviewing books because I see all the time and effort that went into the writing and plotting of The Dead House, but I still just can’t see much value in the final product.  I am very interested in DID (what used to be called multiple personality disorder), and I like books that give me insight into what I consider a fascinating topic.  Unfortunately, this book ended up being a pretty confusing mix of psychological and supernatural, and in the end, I was no closer to answers about the biggest mysteries of Carly’s life and likely death.  That can be frustrating when I pushed myself through four hundred plus pages just to get to those illusive answers.  It wouldn’t have been such a big loss to me if I had connected with any of the characters or if I was enjoying the escape the book offered, but I really felt every single second I put into this book was a second I could have spent reading something I enjoyed more.  I was not a huge fan of the formatting in this book.  I think it made the story incredibly difficult to read, it confused the timeline, and it didn’t add anything to the story, other than repetition.  I also felt like this story just went on and on with little regard to pacing.  There were no real developments in relationships, and the “mystery” isn’t “solved” until the very end, so it just felt like gratuitous writing, especially interviews that involved characters on the perimeter of the story who basically said they didn’t know anything.  I’m a careful reader, and If I struggled to see the relevance of a document in the text, I imagine my high school readers will really be at a loss.  I think this narrative style added to my other biggest complaint – I was not able to care about any of the characters.  Even Kaitlyn, the character that readers get closest to, is so hard to relate to – her episodes of crazy or haunting were torture to read.  I think this added to my overall apathy about the outcome of the story – I wasn’t shocked or bothered by any of the awful things transcribed or recorded.  I just didn’t care.  I kind of wanted to kill off characters myself so the story would end.  That sounds harsh, and it is, but it is also honest.  Language and situations are suppose to be disturbing, but they come across as slightly silly and unbelievable, so I think it is appropriate for high school readers.   I do, however believe that my own students would struggle to maintain interest in the story beyond the first 25%.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

After the Red Rain by Barry Lyga and Peter Facinelli (what?) is so bad I can’t believe it isn’t a joke.

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After the Red Rain by Barry Lyga and Peter Facinelli (what?) is so bad I can’t believe it isn’t a joke.

After the Red Rain is a laughably bad book, but if I had paid for it, I’m not sure I would have laughed so hard.  I’m not sure why Twilight’s Dr. Cullen (Peter Facinelli) is getting billing with Barry Lyga here.  It might have been a joke they shared or a dare or some crap they sketched out on a cocktail napkin.  Perhaps they were making fun of the way that YA fiction with a dystopian setting will sell no matter how bad it is.  But it hurts Lyga’s credibility as an author.  Maybe this is just a spoof, and I hope so for their sakes, but it is awful. Really.  There has to be something going on because it was originally set to publish last November according to the specs on NetGalley, but it didn’t release until August 4.  It should not have been published at all.

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Goodreads Summary

A postapocalyptic novel with a cinematic twist from New York Times bestseller Barry Lyga, actor Peter Facinelli, and producer Robert DeFranco.

On the ruined planet Earth, where 50 billion people are confined to megacities and resources are scarce, Deedra has been handed a bleak and mundane existence by the Magistrate she works so hard for. But one day she comes across a beautiful boy named Rose struggling to cross the river–a boy with a secretive past and special abilities, who is somehow able to find comfort and life from their dying planet.

 
But just as the two form a bond, it is quickly torn apart after the Magistrate’s son is murdered and Rose becomes the prime suspect. Little do Deedra and Rose know how much their relationship will affect the fate of everyone who lives on the planet.

 
My Thoughts

This is strange and rather boring. The world building is not anything new or exciting. The characters are either bland (Deedra) or so bizarre (Rose) that readers will have a hard time connecting to them, resulting in indifference to their fates. Little beyond Deedra’s discomfort with her scar is universal enough to really draw readers in and allow them to see themselves in her shoes. The decision to develop a hero with such innocuous and weird abilities is just puzzling — Rose’s mutation is, frankly, laughable. I won’t be the only reader thinking about Little Shop of Horrors, especially near the end.   Also, No, you cannot give a character a coat or tea made from the shed or pruned parts of her romantic interest and call it romantic. It is creepy, as is the stalking aspect of Rose’s personality. Pacing, too, is a problem. It is not consistently action packed, nor is the time used to develop a romantic relationship that will engage readers — even Deedra admits she knows little about Rose, so how are readers suppose to care about him? I enjoy this genre, and I wanted this book to work, but After the Red Rain didn’t bring anything new to the table and I had a hard time taking it seriously. I wouldn’t have read past the 30% mark if I hadn’t felt compelled to follow through on the obligation that comes with a request of an ARC.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Natasha Preston’s Awake will be a disappointing read for fans of The Cellar

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Natasha Preston’s Awake will be a disappointing read for fans of The Cellar

Lots of people really enjoyed Natasha Preston’s The Cellar and are looking forward to her new book, Awake.  Unfortunately, this was definitely a two star book, and I don’t think it is worth your time (seriously -2.9 average on Goodreads).  

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Goodreads Summary

Scarlett doesn’t remember anything before the age of five. Her parents say it’s from the trauma of seeing her house burn down, and she accepts the life they’ve created for her without question—until a car accident causes Scarlett to start remembering pieces of an unfamiliar past.

When a new guy moves into town, Scarlett feels an instant spark. But Noah knows the truth of Scarlett’s past, and he’s determined to shield her from it…because Scarlett grew up in a cult called Eternal Light, controlled by her biological parents.
And they want her back. 
My Thoughts

Awake had an interesting premise, and the dual narrators created a lot of dramatic irony.  I’ve read several books dealing with similar topics this year, but none of them used this rather intriguing angle.  The narrative is almost entirely dialogue and stage direction, though, so beyond the main internal conflict of each narrator, there is little dimension to the characters.  This means that they don’t always come across as real people so much as actors in a play, especially the secondary characters who either represent good and evil with no gray areas.  I think the plot is engaging enough that most readers will push past that flaw just to see how this one will end.  I certainly had a good idea of what was going to happen, as will most readers, but the fun was in figuring out how it was going to happen.  Unfortunately, I was most distressed by the final resolution to the story.  I felt sick when I realized what decision Scarlett was ultimately going to make, especially considering all the growth she displayed as a character in the final third of the book.  I was baffled and more horrified by the (probably) unintentional message it sent than by any of the intended horror in the book.  If the target audience for a work is the YA crowd, I think it is important to consider what they are going to get out of it, and I just felt like this was setting impressionable readers up to excuse reprehensible behaviors in the name of true love.  I wanted to like this book, but in the end, I just can’t forgive that ending.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.