Review: Two Can Keep a Secret

Review: Two Can Keep a Secret

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

 A small American town finds themselves back in the limelight after a murderer remerges to terrorise its citizens. Twins Ellery and Ezra move into town to live with their grandmother when their mother is admitted into rehab and find themselves in the centre of the murder mystery. As they settle into their new home, they discover that Echo Ridge thrives on gossip and the new drama brings up old wounds of their missing aunt and creates new ones when people begin to wonder if they have a copycat or the original killer on their hands.

The main problem with the story is that there’s too much, and not much being done with it. Too many characters, too many side plots, and not enough focus on the original mystery that there is a lack of depth to everything. Ellery and Ezra’s aunt went missing before they were born, and her disappearance doesn’t seem to impact or intertwined with the current mystery like it’s suggested to be until the end. McManus relies on clichés without working on them further. Rich, snobby girls and all-American jocks. And their voices weren’t distinct enough to be remotely memorable.

What I appreciated the most about Two Can Keep A Secret was the little things. I really enjoyed the theme of family, and while this book does go on a tangent at some points, the family was a key motivation in all the characters. There’s also some discussion by the side character about being a minority in a heavily white population and how you are forced to be perfect in fear of lash back.

Like McManus’s debut, Two Can Keep A Secret followed through with that intriguing and suspense building flair. It certainly keeps you guessing and enjoyed how this small town both mixed and clashed with each other. The chapters alternate between Ellery and Malcolm, whose brother was accused of killing the first girl five years ago. Malcolm, I think, had the most substantial chapters. He has to struggle with everyone pointing the finger at him and no one willing to listen to him. Ellery is a true crime fanatic which was born out of never knowing what happened to her aunt. She’s rather exciting, and I liked how she thinks. But I found it a little inappropriate at times for her to be digging into an actual crime and treating it as her own plaything. Being stubborn isn’t a bad thing, but I could never take her seriously because she never did.

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed Two Can Keep A Secret much more than I did with One of Us is Lying. Both books have their strengths and flaws, but I think TCKAS was a stronger and more enticing read. It was a satisfying read about a small town with big secrets. I was super invested quite quickly, but I found my interesting waning towards the end. But it was still a satisfying read, and a quite quick read I might add, I would recommend reading if you have an afternoon to kill.


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Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5/5)

In a strictly divided society, where high ranking men each marry two women, a Primera and a Segunda, Daniela has risen to the very top of her class despite her forged identity.

Medio is an island nation divided by a wall and aligned by class. The mythos of the world reveals it was born after two sibling gods fought over a woman. Those who sided with the salt god were cursed to live in barren and ruined lands. The descendants of the sun god who reside in the capital are wealthy and refused to change their disproportionate way of living. The role of Primera and Segunda comes from the sun god and his two wives: one who is responsible for running the household and one who must bear their husband’s children. And the Medio School for Girls is accountable for raising girls suitable for marriage.

Daniela is days away from graduating and getting married into one of Medio’s high-ranking families. When an agent of La Voz, a group of rebels within the city who protest the violence and disparity of the divide between the island, calls out her fraudulent papers and supplies her with new ones. Soon, she is blackmailed into spying on her new family. As she settles into her role as Primera, she must make some unexpected choices if she wants to survive.

We Set the Dark on Fire is certainly engaging, a story not so far removed from our reality. It’s a part thriller, part forbidden (sapphic) romance, and full on drama. I can’t quite put my finger on what precisely, but it has that old school dystopian flair. And Mejia brings her own Latinx twist to YA dystopia which I really enjoyed.  

Mejia has crafted quite a world. I found it quite sparse at first, especially with no map, I couldn’t really picture anything that wasn’t the space that Daniela occupied and her descriptions of the border. Which is such a shame because it really weakens the rebellion when you almost nothing about it. Other than visual, there is a lot of detail in different ways. Mejia takes on immigration, class disparity, corruption and oppression. And I really enjoy the use of the salt and sun god’s actions which led to the way their current society was formed.

I’m still a little wary over how the romance between Dani and Carmen developed. I do like “enemies to lovers”, but this felt more like bullies to lovers, and I really couldn’t put aside the fact that Carmen tormented Dani for over five years. The romance is good, I would say it’s one of the books strongest points, but how we got there was the issue. Other than these two little titbits, I would still say this is quite a good read.

Overall, We Set the Dark on Fire was a refreshing read where my high expectations were surprisingly met. An action-packed narrative that discusses privilege and immigration, mirroring our own headlines. The plot twist at the very end actually threw me off completely. I am definitely excited to see where the story will go further in the next instalment.     


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Review: The Black Veins (Dead Magic #1)

Review: The Black Veins (Dead Magic #1)

Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5/5)

*I received a copy via the author in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

After Blythe witnesses her family being kidnapped right in front of her and her best friend injured, she’s forced into a road trip like no other. In search of other powerful magicians like her or “Guardians”, she must make her way to Electric City. But in a world where magic thrives and an imminent war between the two magician governments forces Blythes and her new friends to think on their feet and discover magic in a new way.

I found The Black Veins an interesting read. The writing is easy and enjoyable, and I found myself barrelling through the book with much ease, despite my own issue with the pacing. I particularly enjoyed the way Monet brings together all these teens who seemly have nothing in common. It was hilarious and sweet, watching them fall apart and come back together as a team. All the guardians have their own quirks that make them stand out. At first, I wasn’t too sure about the comedy aspects of this book, but I found it so funny, and I really loved how realistic all these teens came alive.

Blythe is the leader whose family kidnapping kickstarts her journey across the states. Slowly, she comes in contact with the guardians. Cordelia is a stuck up hacker, Daniel has never left his parents side, Antonio is confident and brash with a hilarious comedic flair. The last three I’ll keep unnamed were equally exciting and fun to experience.

I found the pacing to be quite the biggest pitfall for this book, and the lack of consistency in its pacing is where I struggled the most in the book. The overall journey we witness was quite exhilarating, and Ashia Monet is clearly a talented writer, but the story felt quite long and what we’re given in terms of worldbuilding doesn’t feel the gaps as well as I expected it to. Given the number of Guardians we meet, I feel like I didn’t really connect with the last three as much. But I do believe this is something that will most likely be worked upon in the sequel.  

Overall, I found The Black Veins to be a strong debut. A YA urban fantasy that follows a group of teenagers. I found their journey to becoming a found family quite sweet, and I would definitely recommend this book. I might just chalk my negativity as the result of myself never really enjoying the first book as much as the rest of the series. If you’re interested in an urban fantasy road trip that follows a ragtag group of teenagers with enough power to destroy the world basically, then The Black Veins is definitely a treat for readers. And considering the ending of The Black Veins, I’m excited to see what happens next.


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Review: All the Things We Never Said

Review: All the Things We Never Said

Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

This is not a spoiler-free review. Content warning: Suicide (suicidal thoughts, discussion of ways to die by suicide, including two on the page attempts), sexual assault (implied and attempted rape on the page). More to be added…

Three different teenage girls join a website (MementoMori.com) that matches people and allocates them a shared date where they must die by suicide together. As they prepare for their final days, they slowly realise they don’t want to go through with it anymore, but the website won’t let them.

All the Things We Never Said (ATTWNS) is hard. Honestly, I found this such a difficult book to read. This is definitely a book to check for trigger warnings before picking it up because while I don’t suffer any of the issues that the main characters suffer with, it was just so emotionally draining, which is why I rated it a three, but I do believe the overall content is worthier of four. (4/5)

As mentioned before, ATTWNS follows the lives of three completely different girls.

Mehreen, a Bangladeshi girl who suffers from anxiety and depression which manifests into something she calls The Chaos. She always feels like she doesn’t fit in with her Muslim family and community. Cara suffers from the guilt of surviving a car accident which resulted in her dad’s death and her being in a wheelchair. Olivia looks picture perfect but is hiding the fact her mother’s boyfriend is abusing her.

With nothing in common but the website, these three girls come together to plan their joint suicide together. Tasked with a to-do list from MementoMori, the girls must submit evidence to completion. But slowly, these girls become friends and see good help in each other. They grow to depend on each other positively, and they bond so well. Each chapter was very distinct and showcased their varied personalities. Mehreen is more collected, Cara is loud, and Olivia is quite challenging to pin down. But they all worked together, and they realise how they all bring the best of each other out of themselves. Sure, they mess up, and that’s chalked up to just being young and inexperienced and being afraid to ask for help.

Overall, ATTWNS is quite the page-turner. The way MementoMori terrorises them was horrifying. And it’s not something that’s completely detached from real life, the way people online use people’s insecurities to gain pleasure is terrifying. (see: Blue Whale or Momo Challenge – both hoaxes but still dangerous) I appreciated that this story highlights stuff like that while also treating it sensitively and realistically.  


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Review: We Hunt the Flame

Review: We Hunt the Flame

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Threatened by the growing darkness of the Arz, the kingdom of Arawiya can only be saved by an artefact hidden within the cursed forest of the Sharr. Known as the hunter and her identity a secret to any outsiders, Zafira’s ability to navigate the forest captures the attention of a mysterious witch who claims that Zafira can return magic to the world. But she isn’t the only one in this search. Nasir, a prince and an assassin for his father, is sent to kill the Hunter and retrieve the book himself. Soon, they are thrown together by an enemy far greater than they’d ever expected.

My initial thoughts for this was that I enjoyed this a lot more than I has anticipated. I knowingly hold books that are extremely hyped at an arm’s length, because I have been disappointed by them too much in the past. But this was something different.

We Hunt the Flame is told through a dual perspective of Zafira and Nasir. Zafira, a hunter who masquerades as a man, and Nasir, a Prince of Death, who is forced to conceal compassion to carry out his father’s will. Both of them are top notch leads with distinct voices. Zafira enters the Sharr because otherwise, the Arz would destroy her home, but the loss isn’t something new to her. After her father died after navigating the Arz by himself, Zafira is motivated to save the ones she loved. Nasir is a man broken by his own father, and it was devastating to see him be so conflicted over what he wants but knowing that it will always lead to the suffering of the ones around him.

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Review: Patron Saints of Nothing

Review: Patron Saints of Nothing

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

*I received a physical copy via the publisher in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

I’m not sure where to start because there’s so much to this story. After discovering his cousin, Jun was murdered and fuelled by a mysterious Instagram message, Jay Reguero heads to the Philippines to find out the real story. There, Jay must reconnect with a life he barely remembers and family who refuse to acknowledge what has happened.

Told through a mix of narrations, switching between Jay and the letters addressed to him, Patron Saints was deeply emotional. It’s a coming of age story that really tugs at your heartstring.

If you don’t know much about Duterte’s war on crime, this book really sets the scene really well. It’s not going to hold your hand and tell you the violent history of Philippine’s current president, but it really highlights and summarises the political background Jay is set in really well. We get an understanding of the situation from different characters. And I thought it was discussed really well and didn’t shy away from controversies and really emphasises how the context impacts Jay and his search for the truth.

The story follows Jay as he’s moving from different family households in his visit to the Philippines. His extended family play a huge part in this story as we’re introduced to an army of aunties, uncles and cousins. I loved how it showcased how diverse family can be. Each house brought something new and helped Jay in his search. His uncle is a police officer who Jay suspects of being complicit in his son’s death. His rigid way of raising his children has his cousins opening up to him. He then moves in with his aunts, a lesbian couple, who are more caring toward Jay. Then he eventually comes to his grandparent’s house where everything that the story accumulated finally comes free.

Patron Saints tackles a lot of heavy subjects. It discusses colourism, the impact of American Imperialism, ethnocentrism and privilege. And that isn’t even all of it. The second Jay comes to the Philippines, he’s very much confronted with his more privileged way of living. He quickly realises how easier it is for him, a light-skinned man, to navigate the space he’s in. He even finds himself speaking overturn but is quick to learn and acknowledge the privilege he has.

The one thing that follows Jay in the Philippines is how much of an outsider he feels. A child of mixed heritage (White and Filipino), Jay is seen as very much whitewashed in the eyes of his family. After being away for much of his life, his family don’t see him as Filipino. I could really relate to Jay: having not knowing your country’s language, history or culture and feeling like an outsider at any given moment. I really think Ribay showcased the diaspora struggle and was dealt with spot on. His internal conflict was realistic and deeply emotional.

The only criticisms I could have are how Jun was treated and the character of Mia. The mistreatment of Jun, especially with his ending.

Overall, it was an illuminating and compelling story that delved deep into justice and grief and identity. It’s a coming of age novel that was character driven and offered an emotional and powerful punch. Rarely do YA novels tackle global issues that are often buried under Western domestic problems, and I found it an excellent read.


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