The Cutting Room Floor

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Title: The Cutting Room Floor
Author: Dawn Klehr
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Pages: 305
Genre: Thriller/Mystery
Source: BEA
Rating: 3/5

Behind-the-scenes secrets could turn deadly for Desmond and Riley.

Life in the Heights has never been easy for seventeen-year-old Riley Frost, but when she’s publicly dumped and outed at the same time, she becomes an immediate social outcast at her high school. So Riley swears off romance and throws herself into solving the shocking murder of her favorite teacher, Ms. Dunn.

Riley turns to her best friend, budding filmmaker Desmond Brandt, for help. What she doesn’t know is that Dez has been secretly directing her life, blackmailing her friends, and hoping his manipulations will make her love him. When his schemes go too far, Dez’s web of lies threatens to destroy both of their lives.

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This book wasn’t quite what I expected. When I first read about it, I expected that The Cutting Room Floor would be glaringly suspenseful and creepy. What I got was a novel that was quieter, still with a certain amount of creep and suspense, but creep and suspense that unraveled more slowly.

I really liked that this book had two narrators, because I feel like I’m not seeing multiple narrators as much anymore. YA is in love with single first person, so it was nice to take a little break from that with Riley and Dez. I will admit, however, that there were times when I wished that Dez would narrate the whole story, because I found him more interesting than Riley.

I feel like the best way to describe this book would be “subtle.” The murder mystery, Dez’s creepiness, and Riley’s relationship troubles all seemed to get equally balanced attention, and while I did wish for more intensity at times, Klehr’s slowly unraveling story worked for me.

My favorite part of the story was Dez and Riley’s relationship. Klehr’s quiet style worked especially well with that aspect of the story. I think that by writing about Dez’s manipulations in so casual and unassuming a way made it more creepy than if it had been nail-bitingly suspenseful because it normalized what Dez was doing, even though it’s clear that there’s something wrong.

I also thought Klehr handled Riley’s struggle with her sexuality well. She explored Riley’s confusion through the lens of sexuality as a fluid thing, rather than the typical binary of gay or straight. In most books about bisexual characters I’ve read, the person seems to be convinced they have to be one or the other, and have a very hard time seeing anything in the middle. I liked that Riley never came to a solid definition or label of her sexuality by the time the book ended, because it showed that you don’t have to confine yourself so other people can understand.

The Cutting Room Floor had its pros and cons, but eventually I warmed up to it though I had wanted something different from it. It’s worth reading for the strange relationship between Dez and Riley, but don’t come into it expecting to be on the edge of your seat the whole time.

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Hysteria

Title: Hysteria
Author: Megan Miranda
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
Pages: 336
Genre: Mystery
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5

Mallory killed her boyfriend, Brian. She can’t remember the details of that night but everyone knows it was self-defense, so she isn’t charged. But Mallory still feels Brian’s presence in her life. Is it all in her head? Or is it something more? In desperate need of a fresh start, Mallory is sent to Monroe, a fancy prep school where no one knows her . . . or anything about her past.But the feeling follows her, as do her secrets. Then, one of her new classmates turns up dead. As suspicion falls on Mallory, she must find a way to remember the details of both deadly nights so she can prove her innocence-to herself and others.

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This book was not at all what I expected, in the best possible way. I thought it would be good, don’t get me wrong, but I was expecting a fairly typical murder mystery without the depth Miranda gave the real story.

One of the first things that really struck me about this story was how Mallory experienced the aftermath of Brian’s death. She feels as though she can sense his presence with her everywhere, and though this is made a little supernatural later on in the story, that is a very real feeling many people with PTSD have. Having dealt with it myself, I really identified with Mallory’s struggle and definitely understood the feeling of having your attacker following you around. The memory of a person and what they’ve done can be a powerful thing that stays with you no matter where you go.

My second favorite part about this book was the friendship between Mallory and Colleen. It’s not often that I see strong female friendships in YA. Bromances might be a thing that pop up both in literature and popular culture in general, but female characters tend to be pitted against one another. This is because in the real world, women are forced to compete due to unrealistic societal standards that teach them to hate each other. This definitely wasn’t the case with Mallory and Colleen, who, though they are very different, have maintained their friendship for a long time.

I also thought Miranda’s writing was very promising. Her style is engaging and exciting while still being real. She made even the more supernatural elements of her story believable, and left me wanting more of her writing. I plan to check out her other novel, Fracture, very soon.

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Truth or Dare

*CAUTION: Contains major spoilers*

Title: Truth or Dare
Author: Jacqueline Green
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Pages: 389
Genre: Mystery
Source: Library
Rating: 1/5

When a simple round of truth or dare spins out of control, three girls find it’s no longer a party game. It’s do or die.

It all started on a whim: the game was a way for Tenley Reed to reclaim her popularity, a chance for perfect Caitlin “Angel” Thomas to prove she’s more than her Harvard application. Loner Sydney Morgan wasn’t even there; she was hiding behind her camera like usual. But when all three start receiving mysterious dares long after the party has ended, they’re forced to play along—or risk exposing their darkest secrets.

How far will Tenley, Caitlin and Sydney go to keep the truth from surfacing? And who’s behind this twisted game?

Set against the backdrop of Echo Bay, an isolated beach town haunted by misfortune, Truth or Dare is a highly charged debut that will keep readers in suspense from beginning to end.

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This book simply didn’t work for me. It was basically a Pretty Little Liars/Burn for Burn rip-off, only not nearly as suspenseful. I felt like the lack of suspense was a little pathetic, actually, considering it was played up to be so dramatic and all. Throughout the whole book, I just kept waiting to feel that edge of anticipation, but it never came, partially because the plot was so predictable. I also didn’t think Green’s methods of inciting suspense were very effective. Whenever she gave hints about who the darer could be, she actually wrote “_________ could be the darer!” I think the reader would know what she was getting at even without her explicitly pointing it out.

The characters were also a huge issue for me, which is never good, because plot and characters are pretty crucial to a story, as you all know. They were just so cliche and boring and generally unlikeable that I couldn’t bring myself to care about their “darkest” secrets being exposed. Sydney, Caitlin, and Tenley were a combination of the worst high school cliches in existence: the misunderstood loner, the goody-two-shoes (I mean, even Caitlin’s nickname is Angel, for crying out loud! How lame), and the spoiled rich girl. These cliches are basically the extent of each character’s…well, character, so simplified they couldn’t get an ounce of sympathy from me.

I also felt the secrets were pretty boring and honestly a little stupid. I despise Tenley as a character, and would probably hate her guts in real life, too. This girl is a pageant competitor who gets a boob job, and the darer threatens to spill her secret right before a major competition. However, it’s never explained whether it was Tenley or her mother who wanted her to get the boob job, so I didn’t know whether I should feel sorry for her or just continue hating her. Another thing about Tenley: She assumes the world revolves around her. I hated the fact that she just assumed Sydney was the darer because she’s a loner and poor and of course everyone wants to antagonize the poor little rich girl.

At least Caitlin had the good sense to question Tenley’s perception of Sydney, but even Caitlin turned out to be a boring character. NEWS FLASH: Nobody is that perfect. Caitlin in general was a pretty unrealistic character, from her facade of perfection to the dramatic night that darer tried to expose. I thought she would be more interesting due to the kidnapping incident, but even that turned out to be a bust when she FREAKING DIES for no reason when she remembers who took her (prediction: it was the crazy aunt that whoever-the-fuck mentions at the end. Also, apologies for swearing, but this book is making me angry. And NOT in a good way). There is no reason Caitlin needed to die.

Sydney was the one I tried to like. She has her pyromania issues, and her romance with Guinness (which, by the way, is the dumbest name I’ve ever heard), but even with her I just didn’t connect. Her fire-starting didn’t actually CAUSE the accident, so I’m not sure why she was so supposedly terrified of the darer revealing what she and Guinness had been doing that night. I guess I get the fact that she’s embarrassed/ashamed of her condition, but even that didn’t make me feel much for her. Guinness was also a big turn-of for me in terms of liking Sydney, because he was obviously a jerk and didn’t treat her well. Just…no, Guinness, no. I know you have a shitty name, but really?

This is the second worst debut I’ve read this year, and I hope I don’t get to a third. If you’re already at two or three crappy 2013 releases, don’t add this one to your list.

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Arclight

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Title: Arclight
Author: Josin L. McQuein
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Pages: 400
Genre: Dystopia/Sci-fi
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5

No one crosses the wall of light . . . except for one girl who doesn’t remember who she is, where she came from, or how she survived. A harrowing, powerful debut thriller about finding yourself and protecting your future—no matter how short and uncertain it may be.

The Arclight is the last defense. The Fade can’t get in. Outside the Arclight’s border of high-powered beams is the Dark. And between the Light and the Dark is the Grey, a narrow, barren no-man’s-land. That’s where the rescue team finds Marina, a lone teenage girl with no memory of the horrors she faced or the family she lost. Marina is the only person who has ever survived an encounter with the Fade. She’s the first hope humanity has had in generations, but she could also be the catalyst for their final destruction. Because the Fade will stop at nothing to get her back. Marina knows it. Tobin, who’s determined to take his revenge on the Fade, knows it. Anne-Marie, who just wishes it were all over, knows it.

When one of the Fade infiltrates the Arclight and Marina recognizes it, she will begin to unlock secrets she didn’t even know she had. Who will Marina become? Who can she never be again?

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My reaction to the first page of the book: Okay, this is cool. Yeah, I like this.

Reaction to the first quarter: I don’t really know what’s going on, but I do know it is pretty and AWESOME!

My feelings about Tobin: Yes. Just yes. Is there anything more to say?

My reaction to the last quarter of the book: Again, not entirely sure what’s happening, but do I care? NO! Why? BECAUSE AWESOMENESS IS HAPPENING.

So yeah. Arclight. Not one of my most anticipated debuts originally, but definitely one of my favorites so far. You know how I’m always complaining about the lack of unique dystopians? Welp, here you go, Arclight’s one of them. It’s a story I hadn’t read before written in an extremely addictive style that will most certainly keep you up all night.

While I did have trouble understanding and visualizing some of the things that were happening, I didn’t care even a little because the rest of it was so good. I could totally see why it’s already been optioned off for film, and it’s a movie I’ll definitely see when it comes out. Knowing a movie is being planned when I went into it, I tried to picture who I thought would make a good cast, and for Marina, I couldn’t stop seeing Shailene Woodley in my head. I hated that first show she was in, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but liked her much more in The Descendants, so I have a bit more faith now, and I think she could make a perfect Marina.

Josin McQuien even sold me on one of the literature tropes I absolutely hate: *SPOILER* past lives. I really don’t like it when we spend the whole book getting to know a character, only to find out they’re a completely different person. I just feel let down and cheated, but I didn’t feel that way with Arclight at all. The only thing I feel cheated about with Arclight is the fact that I have to wait for the sequel!

Arclight is exciting and different, a definite must-read of 2013.

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Waiting on Dangerous Girls

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill from Breaking the Spine, and specifically spotlights upcoming novels we can’t wait to read. As always, there are some amazing upcoming books, but this week I’m particularly excited for…

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations.

As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer; she discovers hard truths about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.

As she awaits the judge’s decree, it becomes clear that everyone around her thinks she is not just guilty, but dangerous. When the truth comes out, it is more shocking than one could ever imagine…

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I didn’t even know about this book until two days ago, but as soon as I read the summary, I knew this would be one of the rare books I actually buy in hardcover. It sounds right up my alley: tropical setting, a gruesome murder, mystery, and a shocking twist. I don’t know why, but I just have one of those feelings you get when you know a book is going to be really good. What am I doing first thing on July 16th? Going to B&N to pick up a copy of this book.

Insomnia

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Title: Insomnia
Author: J. R. Johansson
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: June 8, 2013
Pages: 351
Genre: Thriller
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

Her eyes saved his life.
Her dreams released his darkness.

After four years of sleeplessness, high school junior Parker Chipp can’t take much more. Every night, instead of sleeping, he enters the dreams of the last person he’s made eye contact with. If he doesn’t sleep soon, Parker will die.

Then he meets Mia. Her dreams, calm and beautifully uncomplicated, allow him blissful rest that is utterly addictive. But what starts out as a chance meeting turns into an obsession; Parker’s furious desire for what he needs pushes him to extremes he never thought he’d go. And when someone begins to terrorizing Mia with twisted death threats, Parker’s memory blackouts leave him doubting his own innocence.

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This book had the potential to be amazing. When I first read about it, I thought it would be right up my alley, between the creep factor and the psychological thriller thing.

While there definitely were some good parts of this book, as a whole, I didn’t feel like the tension and suspense was as great as it could have been. I don’t know quite why, but for whatever reason, this book didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat like I expected it to.

I feel like the psychological aspect of the book was almost there, but I wanted Johansson to go even deeper into Parker’s crazy. I can say that Johansson did keep me guessing until the end what was going on and that the ending was unexpected, but I didn’t get the gut-churning suspense I’d hoped the book would deliver.

I’m glad the book ended unexpectedly, because I feel if Johansson had ended it the way I thought she would it would have been a little too predictable. I was also glad that though the end result was surprising, it was still believable. Sometimes I feel like authors go too out of their way to be unpredictable and end up with ridiculous stories that don’t make sense. So props to Johansson for that.

So all in all, even though Insomnia wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, I still enjoyed it. It’s also going to be a series, and I will probably end up reading the rest of them.

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Altered

Title: Altered (Altered #1)
Author: Jennifer Rush
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Pages: 336
Genre: Sci-fi/thriller
Source: Library
Rating: 5/5

When you can’t trust yourself, who can you believe?

Everything about Anna’s life is a secret. Her father works for the Branch at the helm of its latest project: monitoring and administering treatments to the four genetically altered boys in the lab below their farmhouse. There’s Nick, Cas, Trev . . . and Sam, who’s stolen Anna’s heart. When the Branch decides it’s time to take the boys, Sam stages an escape, killing the agents sent to retrieve them.

Anna is torn between following Sam or staying behind in the safety of her everyday life. But her father pushes her to flee, making Sam promise to keep her away from the Branch, at all costs. There’s just one problem. Sam and the boys don’t remember anything before living in the lab—not even their true identities.

Now on the run, Anna soon discovers that she and Sam are connected in more ways than either of them expected. And if they’re both going to survive, they must piece together the clues of their past before the Branch catches up to them and steals it all away.

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Words cannot describe how wowed and surprised I was by this book. It wasn’t even on my original 2013 DAC list, but I added it after reading Tara’s review over at Hobbitsies, and I’m really, really happy I took a chance on it. At first I thought it would just be your average sci-fi thriller (I was also a bit concerned there would be a love pentagon between Anna and the four boys, but thankfully that didn’t happen), and though it had some elements of each of those genres, it was anything but average.

I actually ended up wishing that more time had been spent on the sci-fi aspects of the story, but can’t really think of a way that Rush could have added that to the plot and have it move as well as it did, so I think ultimately keeping the sci-fi more surface-level was a good decision. I liked how accessible the story was, even for someone like me who in the past has avoided science fiction at all costs.

Jennifer Rush’s writing was also surprisingly lyrical, a quality I don’t imagine is found very often in shoot-em-up thrillers. I loved that though the story was action-packed and entertaining, it easily garnered an emotional response as well.

Something else I really appreciated about Altered was that Rush used everything she introduced in the story (for example, Anna’s feelings about her dead mother) to further the plot. Nothing was left floating in the literary ether, as sometimes new writers do. As you read further and further into the story, you can see how good Rush is with plotting, and as most writers know, plotting can sometimes be a very difficult thing to do. Rush just used every piece of her story so effectively in the plot that I actually swooned a bit for every perfect twist or bit of uncovered evidence appeared.

In terms of characters, I loved all of them, even hard-as-nails Nick. Each of the boys was complicated and special in their own way, and their very different personalities made the the book even more fun to read. I also loved Anna and how different parts of her personality were revealed bit by bit throughout the book. In addition, I liked that Anna interacted with each boy differently and appreciated how Rush made her relationship with each of them so different.

I was really amazed by this debut and can’t wait for book two. Jennifer Rush seems like a fantastic new talent and I’m glad I took a chance and stepped a bit out of my comfort zone with her first book. A fabulous addition to the 2013 debut author collection!