If I’m being honest, at the beginning of this year, I was expecting three months in between my reading wrap ups. I didn’t know how much reading time I would have in the new semester. This semester, I have extra amount of time on my hands that somehow makes me anxious that I’m forgetting a school assignment….
Really, I’m not complaining. Since I went on my book buying ban, I’ve checked out more library books than I can read (as usual). Last week, I had to return all of them because there was no way I could read them before the due date (even after I renewed them). I have a lot of unread books at home that I need to get to.
In the meantime, here are the five library books I recently read:
Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Carlos Ruiz Zafon is an auto-buy author for me and Marina was going to be my next purchase…as soon as a copy became available on Amazon. Once I realized my library had it, I didn’t see the point in waiting anymore.
Marina is set in Barcelona, circa 1979, and follows school boy Oscar. When he was fifteen, he disappeared for a week and would not tell anyone what happened to him or where he went. He had been befriended by a girl named Marina, who showed him something peculiar in a graveyard: on the last Sunday of every month, a woman dressed in black leaves a single red rose on an unmarked headstone. Intrigued, the children follow her one day. The novel takes off from there.
As one would expect, Carlos Ruiz Zafon creates a beautiful, haunting version of Barcelona that both frightens and fascinates. The mystery was a weird one, but held my interest and the book was hard to put down. Oscar wasn’t as fleshed out as Marina, but their friendship was the driving force of the novel.
However, Marina didn’t go in the direction I had expected. It begs the question “did any of this really happen?” If any other author had written it, I’m not sure I would have liked it as much as I did in Marina.
A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin
A School for Unusual Girls is an older title—it came out in 2015—and the first of an alternate historical fiction series set in a finishing school where teenaged girls are trained to be spies or scientists in the war effort after Napoleon is forced out of France.
A School for Unusual Girls follows Georgie, who is shipped off to Stranje House by her parents after accidentally setting her father’s stables on fire in an experiment gone wrong. Georgie thinks she’s entered a prison, when in fact Emma Stranje, the headmistress, has enlisted her to make a solution for an invisible ink. Teaming up with arrogant and handsome Sebastian, she soon realizes getting kicked out by her parents is the least of her problems.
If you all remember the days of young adult in 2015, the romantic tropes were not that great, or healthy. I loved Georgie as a protagonist and related to her feelings of awkwardness as she tries to come into her own, and I enjoyed how the plot unfolded as it went along. My biggest concern, however, was the romance. Sebastian came off a lot like William Herondale did when first introduced: arrogant and he talked down to Georgie. Once she proved herself to be his equal, he still teased her and flirted but he showed her more respect and he was never outright mean. Best part, while both felt an attraction, neither of them said “I love you” yet.
A School for Unusual Girls is a series of companion novels. I like all the girls and how Kathleen Baldwin turned history on its head. Plus, the second book is following two characters from the first book I am smitten with.
Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus
When everyone and their mother was raving about Karen M. McManus’s debut novel, One of Us is Lying, I had no interest in reading it. In between the praise I had heard things that didn’t exactly thrill me. Then, Booksplosion announced their February read was Two Can Keep a Secret, Karen M. McManus’s second novel. This one had me intrigued.
Two Can Keep a Secret follows true crime buff Ellery, who moves from California with her twin brother Ezra to Echo Ridge, Vermont to live with their grandmother after their mom gets sent to rehab. Having a theme park previously called “Murderland” is not the only disturbing thing about this otherwise normal-looking town. Girls have gone missing over the years, the first being Ellery’s aunt twenty-five years ago. Then, five years prior, the homecoming queen is found strangled to death. When strange threats start appearing around town and yet another girl goes missing, Ellery decides to take matters into her own hands.
When I was not reading Two Can Keep a Secret, I wanted to be reading. The author does a good job at building suspense and making different characters look guilty. As a main character, I liked Ellery, as well as the other narrator, Malcolm, who was the younger brother of the boy who was accused of killing the homecoming queen. I also enjoyed Ellery’s twin brother, Ezra, and Mia, Malcolm’s best friend. There was a good amount of representation as well, such as Mia is Asian and bisexual and the twins are Latinx.
The mystery was very good, the killer being someone I had not expected, and the novel ended with the best line I’ve read in a mystery. It was the characters and their dynamics are what made the book for me. They all felt like real people, with personalities and relationships completely fleshed-out.
Where I Live by Brenda Rufener
Sadly, my second two-star read of the year is one I had relatively high expectations for. Linden Rose is a homeless orphaned teen living inside her high school and trying to hide it from her best friends, Ham and Seung. She runs the school newspaper and dreams of going to college with her friends, as well as of a possible romance with Seung. But when her classmate Bea starts showing up to school with bruises, Linden risks exposing her secret, and her painful past, to help someone get out of a bad situation.
While I appreciated the representation of teen homelessness and domestic violence, that was all I can say I liked. Linden was a two-dimensional main character, even though she was likeable. Ham and Seung were annoying characters, especially the former, even if he was totally comfortable in his sexuality and didn’t care what others thought. I didn’t care for the romance, either; the book would have been so much better without it.
The plot had a good concept, however the cringey, repetitive writing style did not help. There was a lot of winking and swearing and talking about how hot Seung is. My eyes glazed over a lot while reading. Needless to say, Where I Live had potential but fell flat. To be fair, though, it is a debut novel.
Invisible Ghosts by Robyn Schneider
Invisible Ghosts follows Rose Asher, a high school junior haunted by the ghost of her older brother, Logan, who died four years ago when he was fifteen. Shy and introverted, she spends her afternoons watching Netflix with her brother. Then, her childhood friend Jamie comes back to town, and slips back in with their former group of silly theater nerds like he never left. When he crosses paths with Rose, and she learns he has a secret of his own, Rose is drawn back into the life she was missing out on after Logan’s death. But what if by choosing a life out of the shadows means losing her brother all over again?
I really, really enjoyed Invisible Ghosts. I was a lot like Rose when I was in high school and, in a lot of ways, I still am. I liked Jamie, their group of friends, and the romance was sweet, too. As for Logan, I saw him more as a metaphor than a ghost. When she would go out with her friends or get more involved in school and her extracurricular activities, he would throw a temper tantrum. I thought he more represented Rose’s insecurities and social anxiety. Though the book dragged in some parts, I was glad to see Rose come into her own and figure the problem out by herself.