The Project by Courtney Summers | ARC Review

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ARC provided by Wednesday Books
✨ My Review for SADIE

“Having a sister, Mom says, is a place only the two of them will share, made of secrets they never have to say aloud—but if they did, it would be a language only the two of them could speak.”

Courtney Summers is an author who has always meant a lot to me and her stories always impact me more than I have words to write in a review. I truly believe no other author writes about the sibling experience and feelings that I personally have better than her, even though I always am left feeling grateful and thankful that I am not a main protagonist in her stories. And The Project is no different; it is hard hitting, filled with twists and turns that make you constantly question what is real, it is lyrically written, emotional, and fully a heart-wrenching story about the things you are willing to do for someone you unconditionally love, even when you feel isolated and confused and so very scared. Oh, and it’s about cults and how they prey on people who are isolated and confused and so very scared, too.

Lo was only thirteen-years-old she was in a car accident that left her parents dead and with everyone believing that she wouldn’t be alive much longer. Bea was only nineteen-years-old when she watched her world fall apart when she walked into the hospital to maybe say goodbye to her little sister. Desperate for hope that Bea wouldn’t lose Lo too, she went looking for something to believe in inside the hospital, and found Lev Warren. And when Lo ends up making a huge leap to recovery that very night, Bea realizes there is nothing she wouldn’t pay to ensure her sister will live.

“Bea closes her eyes. She wants Lo to understand that night in the hospital, what was supposed to be Lo’s last night on earth. How it brought Bea to her knees and how it split her heart in half and how its breaking called forth a miracle.”

Six years later, Lo is alone again and hasn’t spoken to Bea in many years. She feels hurt and abandoned and just misses her sister so much, and she directs all that pain in to the Unity Project, that Lev Warren runs and where Bea is a member. And then one morning, Lo’s world gets touched again by the Unity Project when she witnesses someone take their own life, but before they do they recognize her because of Bea. And this death touches even closer when it impacts her job, and she gets the opportunity to finally do a story for the magazine she is working for. And she decides she will finally contact her sister again and make her see the corruptness of the Unity Project, and she won’t let anyone stop her, especially Lev Warren.

“All I wanted was to claw my way back to my sister, but the whole time she was surrounded by new love, she buried her old family and built a new one on top of its bones.”

This story is mostly told in Lo’s perspective, but we get little glimpses of Bea’s throughout and every time I could feel my stomach and heart just drop lower and lower. The things that both of these sisters were willing to do for one another renders me utterly speechless. Truly, I feel like no one can write vulnerability and sacrifice, unconditional sibling love, earth-shattering desperation, and pure heartbreaking hope like Courtney Summers. All while also making her characters feel so real, and their journeys feel like you are right beside them experiencing everything alongside them. Yet, also make you question everything at every twist and turn.

Lev is written in a way that is scarier than any monster in any fantasy book, because monsters like him are living and dwelling and thriving in our world today. They prey upon people who are isolated from their families, people from lower incomes, people who are unable to get help from broken American health care systems, people who very rarely will realize that what they are experiencing is manipulation, gaslighting, and abuse. And if they are able to realize it, they are unable to seek help because men like Lev are gaining more and more power, more and more followers, and more and more resources to keep you trapped every single day. This is a hard book, and it is so very dark at times. The range in which Lev is able to manipulate people into believing his cult is a community is actually harrowing. And seeing Lev lead people into believing that he is a vessel for God, chosen to do His wants, is truly some of the scariest literature I’ve ever read and it really will leave me feeling haunted forever.

“The hard part is this: the small broken girl inside me clawing against the wall I’ve built to keep us separated. The one who still wants so much for certain things, despite all she knows.”

Overall, I really did love this and I very much believe Courtney Summers was born to write and impact so many people with their stories. Her way of crafting and telling stories leaves me in awe, and I’m always completely blown away reading all her last lines. The reason I am giving it four stars is because I didn’t love the ending. I mean, this wouldn’t be a Courtney Summers’ book without a bit of a mysterious ending, but this one was just a little too mysterious for me and left the book at a little bit of a weird note when you look back at everything that was endured. But the last line? Perfection. Speechless. Masterpiece. Everything. Courtney Summers and her stories truly are something special and I’ll carry them within my heart always, despite how heavy they are.

Content and Trigger Warnings: abandonment, loss of loved ones, sleep paralysis, grief, depression, panic attacks, hospitalization, talk of death of child in past, physical abuse, torture, emotional abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, blood depiction, complications with childbirth, murder, child abuse, captivity, and cults. Please use caution and make sure you are in the right head space for this book, because a lot of these triggers are themes that are brought up a lot and unapologetically. Stay safe, friends!

4
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When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole | ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: September 1st, 2020 by William Morrow

✨ Reviews you should check out: Bee’s, Jazmen’s, Carole’s

I have adored everything Alyssa Cole has written, so when I heard about this new mystery thriller I knew it would make my most anticipated releases of the year list! I enjoyed this immensely and I hope people read this and fall in love with this thriller, but I hope they also realize how deeply rooted racism and systems built on racism are still thriving because of racism.

When No One Is Watching switches back and forth between Sydney and Theo’s POV. Sydney is Black, recently divorced, and recently moved back to NY to help her mother who is ill. They have a brownstone in Brooklyn and the neighborhood and the neighbors mean a lot to her. Theo is white and recently moved into Sydney’s neighborhood and is currently living with his abusive ex-girlfriend while they try to renovate this home Sydney is trying to put together a more extensive compilation of the Black history from her neighborhood so she can do a tour, and Theo volunteers to help her. Meanwhile, more and more Black people in the community are going missing, and more and more white people are moving in acting as if they have always owned the neighborhood.

It is never a Black authors job to educate you, but Alyssa Cole truly and unapologetically talks about the privilege that white and non BIPOCs have. From gentrification and the many systems that are stealing land, and buildings, and lives still in 2020, to police brutality and who they are willing to protect and who they are willing take everything from, to the vast different microaggressions they are forced to endure every single day. This book does not shy away from anything, and I hope it makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and I hope they sit in that uncomfortably and begin to check their privileges.

This book has a lot of scary parts, but the scariest part of all is how this country really is still running on racism and slavery, just a different (more well hidden) kind of racism and slavery. From prison systems, to the police forces, to huge corporations and all their different investments. It’s not even well hidden, people just don’t want to see, because they don’t want to be uncomfortable, and they don’t want to change a system that is working in their favor too. But friendly reminder that you can’t be compliant with racism and racist systems and not be racist.

Overall, I really loved 80% of this book, but the ending was way too rushed for me. I just felt a bit unsatisfied with how a few storylines and character’s stories went (and I wanted to know so much more)! But I still think this was such a powerful read, and a shining star in 2020 literature. Alyssa Cole is a gift to this world (and all the genres) and I hope you all pick this one up!

Trigger and Content Warnings: gentrification, racism, so many microaggressions, talk of slavery, loss of a loved one, a lot of talk of financial debt, (medical) debt harassment, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, talk of cheating in the past (not the main characters), talk of domestic abuse in the past, themes of abuse and cycles of abuse, talk of institutionalization, murder, attempted abduction, brief mention of animal abuse, brief mention of suicide, forced medical experimentation, talk of drug addiction, threats of calling ICE and the police, and police brutality.

4
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Buddy read with Maëlys & Penny! ❤

 

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

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ARC acquired at Book Expo in exchange for an honest review.

“The twelfth floor is special”

Lock Every Door is about a girl name Jules, who wakes up in a hospital after being hit by a car. She is twenty-five, recently single, and very much struggling with money. But then she gets an opportunity to apartment sit in a very rich and exclusive complex in Manhattan.

All of the floors in the apartment complex have four units, except for the twelfth floor, which only has two, and one of those units happen to be the one that needs apartment sitting. Basically, our main character, Jules, will earn 4,000 a month, for three months, but no one is allowed in the apartment besides herself, and she is also expected to not get close to any of the other tenants, since they are mostly high profile celebrities who value their privacy.

Jules accepts, without question, even though the secrecy does give her a strange vibe. The new endeavor also takes a strange twist when the author of the book that she and her sister (who has been missing for almost a decade) obsessed over, Heart of the Dreamer, lives in the apartment complex. But Jules quickly befriends a couple other apartment sitters, who seem to know more information about this too good to be true offer they have all accepted.

You quickly meet many of the residents of this apartment, but when one goes missing, you will start to question it all, right along side Jules. And my favorite part of this story, was getting to know all of the players in this game and trying to piece together their probable motives. And honestly? I really loved reading the twists and turns, right up until the very end, sadly.

I didn’t like the end of this book, which I feel like is a very unpopular opinion. I just feel like it took a lot of inspiration from a very famous, award winning movie. I can’t tell you which movie, without completely spoiling the twist, but it was just too apparent for my liking and honestly just really ruined the ending for me.

Overall, this was a fun reading experience for the most part. This was my second book by the author, and I feel like he has a very captivating writing style that not only keeps you on your toes with guessing, but makes it almost impossible to not read his book in one sitting, because you never want to put it down.

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Content and Trigger Warnings: talk of being cheated on in the past, talk of loss of a loved one in the past, self-harm (fire + hand), talk of past suicide, talk of cancer, and murder.

[EXTRA:] Holy moly, Lock Every Door is going to be adapted!

Buddy read with Becky & Madison Mary! ❤

 

Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1) by Maureen Johnson

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“A girl from Pittsburgh came to Ellingham Academy and she wanted to see a dead body. She got her wish.”

Friends, you’d think a book that is centered around two different murders would be a lot more exciting and enjoyable to read. I know I sound harsh already, but I just really thought I was going to love this one. But I truly only ended up loving the atmosphere of the setting and the amazing anxiety rep. That’s it.

This story stars a young girl named Stevie, who just got invited to attend Ellingham Academy, a very prestigious, private school for the most gifted of children. Stevie has dreamed of being a detective her entire life and feels like this is going to be an amazing new adventure for her, because Ellingham Academy is also well known for a murder mystery that happened years and year ago, which was never solved, and one body was never found. The only thing that was found was a letter signed truly devious, which also quickly was destroyed.

Stevie thinks it will be so much fun to investigate the school (which is built into the side of a mountain, like, so freaking cool) but another murder soon happens to a person that she recently befriended. Now, she feels like she must get to the bottom of both of these mysteries, and she’s uncovering more and more secrets that were supposed to be kept hidden.

“Schools may be famous for many things: academics, graduates, sports teams. They are not supposed to be famous for murders.”

Trust me, I made that synopsis sound way cooler than the actual book. Stevie is a cool character though, and I liked seeing her dynamic with her very conservative parents, when she is in a much more liberal mindset. And as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Stevie has many anxiety and panic attacks throughout this story, and I honestly have never read a more realistic portrayal of how my attacks actually feel and I am still in awe of it. Like, I completely believe that this has to be an ownvoices portrayal, because it was so expertly crafted.

But another fun thing about this book is that we get to see Stevie interact with all the other kids at this private school, and they are all truly possible suspects. Yet, the reader will also be left guessing how this new murder will correlate with the one from the past that was never truly solved.

“When you have enough power and money, you can dictate the meanings of words.”

Going into this, everyone told me that the ending was going to kill me and probably make me the third victim of this tale, but honestly? It just annoyed me. Like, it was so far out there that I was just left completely flabbergasted. Especially after Stevie’s discovery prior to that wild ending. I don’t know, I just felt like it actually ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth, and for sure didn’t make me excited to pick up the next one.

Overall, this just wasn’t for me. But please take my review with a grain of salt, because almost everyone I know loves and adores this story. I also think a big reason why this might not have been a hit for me is also because I had just read A Study in Charlotte and completely fallen in love with that contemporary murder mystery. Maybe I was subconsciously comparing the two? I don’t know, but I just didn’t love this one, friends, even though I really wish that I would have!

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Content and trigger warnings for underage drinking, panic attacks, murder, and use of the word cr*zy.

Buddy Read with Alexa, Khouloud, Caidyn, Amy & Heather! ❤

 

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes, #1) by Brittany Cavallaro

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“I felt like I was being pulled through a dark, dank wardrobe into some boozy Narnia.”

This was the most unexpected treat! I thought that I might enjoy this one, but I never expected to fall completely head over heels for it, especially after reading A Study in Scarlet the night before starting this! This is a reimagining of Sherlock and Watson, but told in the perspective of their descendants, Charlotte and Jamie, in modern day! And, oh my gosh, this was just fantastic!

Jamie Watson recently left the UK to attend a Connecticut prep school because of a rugby scholarship, and he isn’t thrilled to be leaving his home away from his mother and to be closer to his father and his new family. Charlotte Holmes also attends this school, but she spends most of her days in her laboratory testing her genius and solving mysteries. And these two’s paths cross because (yeah, you probably guessed it) a recent murder that happened on campus. Oh, and they are both being framed for it!

“We weren’t Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I was ok with that, I thought. We had things they didn’t, too. Like electricity, and refrigerators. And Mario Kart.”

But this book was for sure a lot darker than I was originally expecting. I mean, it obviously deals with murder mysteries, but it also deals heavily with drug addiction and sexual assault. And I just enjoyed how themes like rape and addiction were constantly at the forefront of the story, and how Charlotte is slowly reclaiming part of herself, while telling more and more of her truth. I just feel like themes like this need to be more normalized, especially in school settings, and I think it was really respectfully done, too.

I said this in my review for A Study in Scarlet, too, but with both stories I just think it is pure genius to tell the story in Watson’s perspective. And it really helps that Jamie Watson is the softest and sweetest boy in existence. But I just think seeing Charlotte through his eyes was so pure and just added something to the story that would have been impossible to achieve in any other way of telling the story. And just in general, this story is very character driven, and I easily fell in love with both of the stars, which was for sure something I wasn’t expecting going in.

“The two of us, we’re the best kind of disaster. Apples and oranges. Well, more like apples and machetes.”

Yet, the heart of this novel is for sure a murder mystery, and I was impressed by how much it kept me on my toes! I really didn’t see the twists coming, and the ending utterly surprised me. I truly loved it, and I thought it was expertly done. And I think Brittany Cavallaro really crafted something so smart and wove something so beautifully.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one! I am so excited to see how August Moriarty is going to come into play, especially with the title of book two being The Last of August! But I loved this reimagining, I loved these characters even more than who they are based off of, and I was completely enthralled with this dark story. I can’t wait for Jamie and Charlotte’s next adventure.

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Content and trigger warnings for talk of suicide, talk of past sexual assault, talk of past rape, murder, a lot of talk about drug use, drug addiction, mild self harm (allowing glass to be pushed deeper in the skin), and drugging.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

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“I don’t know why this is the thing I choose to say out loud because it hurts to say it, to feel the truth of those words pass my lips, to have them be real in this world. But she’s dead is the reason I’m still alive. She’s dead is the reason I’m going to kill a man.”

Sadie is worth all the praise and hype you’ve heard about it. I had a feeling I was going to love this book, but I didn’t know that I would give it a piece of my heart. This is such a bright light in 2018 releases, and even though it handles some really tough topics, I recommend it with my entire heart and soul. And I will never forget Sadie or her story, and I will never stop listening to, and I will never stop believing, the voices of girls who have their own stories to tell.

This story is told in alternating chapters between a podcast and Sadie. We follow nineteen-year-old Sadie who is on a mission to murder the person who she believes has murdered her thirteen-year-old sister. The podcast is about five months behind the steps of Sadie, but the two storylines come together so very beautifully. But again, this is a dark book and this review is going to talk about some of those elements, so please use caution. Content and trigger warnings for pedophilia, loss of a loved one, bullying, assault, sexual assault, murder, death, extreme parental abandonment and neglect, talk of suicide, drug use, and underage drinking.

We get bread crumb after bread crumb from Sadie, while she travels to get revenge for her sister, the only person she has ever loved in this world. And the story really is so expertly crafted with the podcast element. I will say that I did listen to this on audiobook because so many people recommend the story to be experienced that way, but I didn’t love it as much as most people. But then again, I do have a hard time with audiobooks. But I fell so in love with Sadie and her story, that I listened to this in one day and one sitting.

And I know a lot of people don’t love the ending, but I think it is one of the most powerful endings I’ve probably ever read in my entire life. Plus, I feel like the choice of the cover of Sadie is genius, because Sadie truly is a faceless girl. She is a girl like so many whose stories don’t get to end happily, a girl whose story rarely even gets to be heard, and when it does it isn’t believed.

Something that I think is a really easy concept, but is hard for so many people to understand, is that rapists and pedophiles can be kind, and successful, and funny, and pillars of their community, and it will still never take away from the fact that they are rapists and pedophiles. The other titles and attributes do not lessen the fact that someone is a rapist or a pedophile. And how we teach girls at a very young age that the crimes committed against their bodies, and against their wills, is something to feel shame over. And how we live inside a broken system where rapists can commit the same horrific crime over and over, because no one wants to listen or believe the victims, especially if they are poor and uneducated. And Courtney Summers really illustrates that point so very beautifully throughout Sadie. Because our own world proves every day that people would rather believe powerful men over loud girls. But Sadie takes action into her own hands, and reclaims her power, her body, and her heart, along with getting her vengeance. And it is one of the best journeys I’ve ever experienced.

“Sometimes I don’t know what I miss more; everything I’ve lost or everything I never had.”

I also want to talk a little bit about the representation in Sadie. First off, Sadie has a very severe stutter. I didn’t know this going in, and as a matter of fact I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the main character has a stutter before, but it was perfection. Heartbreaking perfection though, because seeing Sadie unable to get the worlds out when she was feeling extreme anger or sadness was so heart wrenching. But Sadie always got the words out, and she always got her hurt across, and it was so beautifully done. Also, I know the scene is brief, but Sadie is so not straight, if anything she sounds rather pan to me. Lastly, Sadie has some of the most realistic poverty rep I’ve ever read, and I still feel like in 2018 that is something that is hard to find.

And I obviously think Sadie is a masterpiece of a story, and the themes are so important and relevant, but I think the biggest reason I loved this book so much was because I felt so connected to Sadie because of what she felt for Mattie. I will be completely honest with you all, I wouldn’t want to live in a world without my little brother. Me and my brother are a bit closer in age than Mattie and Sadie, and we were never abused or neglected, but the pure unconditional love that Sadie feels for Mattie, and how responsible and protective she felt, it was so pure and so realistic and just completely ripped out my heart and left me feeling so raw and vulnerable. I would do anything in the universe to protect my little brother, and I feel like I fell in love with this book just because Sadie’s love for her sister resonated so strongly in my very soul. There is a line in this book about Sadie feeling alive when her sister comes home from the hospital, and how she laid a hand on her baby sister’s chest and felt her breathing, and I was uncontrollably weeping while reading it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the love I have for my brother depicted so closely than to that passage, and I know I will carry that inside my heart forever.

“I stood over her crib and listened to her breathing, watching the rise and fall of her tiny chest. I pressed my palm against it and felt myself through her. She was breathing, alive. And I was too.”

Overall, this book just really meant a lot to me. And even though this book is heartbreaking, it has some of the most beautiful quotes I’ve read all year. I read it with tears in my eyes for at least half, but I wouldn’t trade this reading experience for anything. And I am now going to read every single thing Courtney Summers has created. I truly loved this one, and I recommend it with my entire heart and soul, especially if you have a close sibling relationship, if you enjoy murder mystery podcasts, and if you also want to change the world so that more victims’ voices not only get heard but get believed.

Lastly, I want anyone who needs to hear it to know two things: First, if you need to talk to someone, RAINN is always there. They are completely confidential, and available 24/7. You can also call 800.656.HOPE at any time, too. Secondly, I believe you and your voice deserves to be heard and believed.

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Buddy read with Ashwini at bookwormmuse! ❤

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

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“So much water. So much land. So many places to disappear.”

The Last Time I Lied was such a fun book to read during this spooky season. It really kept me on the edge of my seat, it was so thrilling, it was so chillingly atmospheric, and that ending was really unpredictable. I’m so happy I picked this book up this October! Also, to everyone who participated with us in #FridayFrightAThon, thank you so much! It was such an honor to read alongside so many of you! And hopefully this last book helped you get into the Halloween mood!

This is a story about a twenty-eight-year-old woman named Emma, who is still haunted by something that happened fifteen-years ago at summer camp. In present day, she is an artist that is finally having her first gallery event. But the thing is, all the inspiration for all the paintings at the showing were also inspired by what happened when she was thirteen-years-old.

Fifteen-years ago, Emma went to summer camp late and was forced to bunk with three older girls in a cabin. She quickly becomes close with one of them, Vivian, who treats her like a little sister. But she soon finds out that Vivian was keeping secrets from her. Yet, Emma never found out what those secrets were, because one morning she wakes up and the three girls are missing and are never to be found again.

This story is told with flashbacks constantly showing us what really happened all those years ago. And we slowly find out why Emma is unable to paint anything but those three missing girls. But Emma is offered some closure, when she is asked to go back to the camp, to teach art, and to maybe receive some semblance of closure for herself and for her art.

But once she goes back to Camp Nightingale, she learns that some people’s lives never went back to normal after that haunting morning. And Emma also realizes that some people aren’t going to let her forget that they blame her for whatever happened.

Again, this was so much fun to read. I was so surprised at how many different directions this story was able to take, and how I never saw which way the story was going. I also think the second person point of views were really well done and distributed throughout the story for the perfect amount. I honestly never wanted to put this book down.

But, not to get into spoiler territory, I hated the epilogue. Well, I loved and hated the epilogue. I actually think the last twist was such a work of genius. But I was absolutely appalled at the way Emma handled it. Therefore, the book was kind of left off on a sour note for me, sadly.

Overall, I really did enjoy this one. I loved going along with Emma and solving the present-day mystery and the mystery of the past at the same time. And, seriously, the summer camp setting was so perfectly spooky. I think I’m just a bit of a harsh rater with thrillers, honestly. But if you’re looking for something that you won’t be able to predict, and that will put you in a scary mood, I completely recommend this!

Lastly, something I want to bring up that in no way impacts my rating; I really do not like how this male author writes under a female sounding pseudonym. I also don’t like how there is no author picture and the author note and acknowledgements makes an effort to not have the reader know this story is written by a man. I get that Gillian Flynn was (maybe still is) the thriller queen for a while, but it just makes me feel grossed out that I feel like he is hiding that he is a man to try to sell more. Because white men don’t have it easy enough, you know?

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Content and trigger warnings for schizophreniform, anxiety attacks, loss of a loved one, alcoholism, slut shaming (a lot), peeping toms, many fatphobic comments, negative comments about food, talk of cancer, and sex between a sixteen-year-old and nineteen-year-old.

Buddy read for #FridayFrightAThon which I co-hosted with Amy @ A Court of Crowns and QuillsJen @ Pinot and Pages, & Chelsea @ Chelsea Palmer! 👻