Wrap up – Blackbird Duology by Anna Carey

When there is no-one you can trust, people are trying to kill you, all you can do is rely on yourself… and survive!

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What a dynamic duology! I loved and devoured both of these books in quick succession. I would recommend reading these close together, or marathoning them, as ‘Blackbird’ ends on a cliff-hanger and if you get entranced as I was, you’ll be desperate to find out what happens next.

I will say that the whole memory loss/amnesia trope has been clubbed to death, especially in YA. However the majority of protagonists in this action/thriller genre tend to be male, so it was fantastic to read it from a female perspective. Especially since she is intelligent, resourceful, and follows her instincts. No fading wallflower or damsel in distress here.

One other note of contention that we never really get explained is how the protagonists get some of their spy-like survival skills. It was a bit of a reach for me to completely swallow this aspect.

But on the whole, I loved how quickly the series kicks off isolating the protagonist. The feeling of not being able to trust anyone is visceral and the writing style is punchy. Short chapters, so you can really power through these novels.

Once our protagonist begins to regain some of her memories, especially in ‘Deadfall,’ there were a lot of flashback scenes that pulled me from the narrative. I would have preferred different methods of revealing these memories to the reader though, because after three or four, to became too repetitive.

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There is a love triangle in here, but it does not devolve into an angsty mess. So I did not find myself rolling my eyes at this trope.

I have to say this is a solid four star rating across the board. The brief and punchy descriptive style of Anna Carey keeps the pace going from beginning to end and I was highly entertained and would happily recommend this to lovers of the YA genre. We get a decent amount of character development. The plot twists are pretty great and was completely satisfied with the pay-off upon completing the two novels. A fun cat-and-mouse type thriller.

Blackbird’ was optioned by Lionsgate back in March 2015, but there has been no news since the announcement. I can see how this would have appeal to the public as an action/thriller, especially since there have not been a lot of releases in this genre of late, so I guess we will have to wait and see if it comes to fruition, and what type of Hollywood treatment it gets. But it is certainly a film I’d be interested in seeing. But in digging further into the screenwriter attached to the project, Daniel Mackey (of ‘Aim High’ fame,) he hasn’t been involved in anything listed on the regular movie production sites since 2015. Plus ‘Blackbird’ is no longer listed on Lionsgate’s website as movies in development, so while it is optioned, at this point in time it is not being actively worked on. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Blackbird Duology Wrap Up Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

For individual reviews click on the links below:

Blackbird’https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2018/01/16/book-review-blackbird-1-blackbird-by-anna-carey/

Deadfall’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/book-review-deadfall-2-blackbird-by-anna-carey/

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Deadfall’ (#2 Blackbird) by Anna Carey

Move over Hannah, the Gallagher Girls, Spy Kids and Barely Lethal, there’s a new girl in town.

Deadfall (#2 Blackbird) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 256

From Goodreads:

A week ago, you woke up in Los Angeles with no memory of who you are. The only thing you knew: people are trying to kill you. You put your trust in Ben, but he betrayed you and broke your heart. Now you’ve escaped to New York City with a boy named Rafe, who says he remembers you from before. But the two of you are not safe. The same people who are after you are tailing Rafe as well. As the chase heats up, your memory starts to return, but your past cannot save you from the terrifying circumstances of your present, or the fact that one wrong move could end this game forever.

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Again, like the debut of this duology ‘Blackbird,’ I was gripped from page to page. This is one action thriller that keeps your attention.

I was still wondering where all this instinctive training exhibited by our protagonist Sunny/Lena came from. Combat, lock picking, pickpocketing. They are skills that take ages to master, so that aspect of the story pulled me a little from the narrative – like please – Sunny/Lena has to fail at something. Believeability suffered by our protagonist miraculously having all these awesome skills in her arsenal. It was fun reading about, but felt like either another novel in this series was needed to explore this aspect, or a bit more care was needed in the existing two books to explain it away sufficiently.

I think because of all the action and pacing, some emotional connection between the characters was sacrificed. I was invested in their story, their survival, but not so much their relationships. I didn’t care for the characters themselves either. I felt like I needed more emotional development, some more backstory and a chance to see bonds develop further before the novel ended. Consequently, as with a few of the plot twists (which I did not see coming) left me with acceptance, rather than some emotional reaction.

There is a little bit of character development – but it’s mainly from the amnesia fading and the characters getting some of their old lives back – this story is more a survival, cat-and-mouse chase than anything else, so don’t expect paragraphs of naval gazing, wondering about their place in the universe.

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I did happen to roll my eyes at the Sunny/Lena-Ben-Rafe love triangle. Though it was handled intelligently and didn’t turn into a big angsty mess, I am starting to find this trope overdone in YA.

The best way I can sum up the main cast would be: Ben is a great redemption story. Rafe was a faithful golden retriever, Sunny/Lena was never-say-die….

We get a lot more flashbacks, and brief flashes of alternative character perspectives dispersed throughout the narrative, and while giving pertinent plot points to the story, left the book feeling a bit messy and all over the place. I would rather a few poignant flashbacks and leave out the other points of view entirely to keep the narratives strength and remain connected to Sunny/Lena.

But you definitely get a pay-off at the end. I love how it was all resolved. Anna Carey can shape a great tale, and I am eager to purchase her dystopian Eve trilogy.

Carey’s writing style is fairly brief and punchy, she doesn’t dwell on the superfluous and pushes the story forward with bare needed description and facts, and short chapters. I devoured this book in a matter of hours.

Overall it was engaging, entertaining, and intelligent and definitely one of the better YA novels I’ve read recently – I highly recommend this to be read shortly after the debut ‘Blackbird.’

I know ‘Blackbird’ was optioned for a movie by Lionsgate back in 2015, but there has been no news on its development since the initial announcement, but it’s certainly a movie I’d like to see. 🙂

Overall feeling: Love me some teen super-spy action!

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Blackbird’ (#1 Blackbird) by Anna Carey

A girl spy cat and mouse.

Blackbird (#1 Blackbird) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 256

From Goodreads:

Things I Know Are True: 
I am in Los Angeles

I woke up on the train tracks at the Vermont/Sunset station

I am a teenage girl 

I have long black hair

I have a bird tattoo on the inside of my right wrist with the letters and numbers FNV02198

People are trying to kill me

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This was a great action/mystery. I was gripped from the very start. The whole amnesia thing is entirely overdone, but it worked for ‘Blackbird’ and it took me a quarter of the way it to work out ‘Sunny’s’ role in the plot.

It really is a case of you don’t know who and what to trust. That tone comes across strongly in the narrative. It’s disorientating and adds to the tension of the storyline. Sunny, our protagonist, with no memory, framed and chased, strangers trying to kill her – the premise is set up in the first few pages and continues right to the end. I read this in one complete sitting and was thoroughly entertained the entire way.

I found Sunny to be observant, intelligent and possessing great instincts. I would have like to get some resolution to how she obtained these skills. Though lightly alluded to, it’s never explored. I’m guessing all the answers will come in the sequel ‘Deadfall.’

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It’s hard to peg the characters, or comment on character development because of the twists and turns of the plot – It is something I’m going to have to wait until completing ‘Deadfall’ before commenting on – as the story ended on a cliff hanger and the story is only half told.

The writing style is easy to read, but thought like it lacked some sophistication – though I feel it would not hit its YA market if the narrative voice developed a more complex structure. So, Anna Carey has written the perfect novel for this niche. It is just my opinion that it could have added a better dynamic if the clues were a little more obscure and Sunny had less support… more Bourne-like to add some more complexity – but it would push this out of its appeal and into a more adult market.

While the premise of ‘Blackbird’ doesn’t feel all that original, it is still an engaging read. It reminded me of a lot of the teen action movies like ‘Tracers’ or ‘Alex Rider.’ Though it was nice to read from a female protagonist’s point of view as opposed to a male one which dominates this genre.

The novel does feel unfinished – there are many clues dropped, many flashbacks out of context that are not resolved. The story ends on a cliff hanger and I’m bummed that I now have to wait to purchase the follow up ‘Deadfall.’ So my advice is to buy both of these together if you have difficulty in waiting to find out what happens.

I feel if there was more resolution, a bit more solid character development this would have been a 5 star read – but because of the feeling of incompletion I am only awarding it 4.Definitely something I’d recommend to younger readers who love cat and mouse, spy, action type mysteries.

Overall feeling: I want to do the Mission Impossible dance around my room

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wrap up – Embassy Row Trilogy by Ally Carter

A contemporary with international political intrigue.

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I was really keen to jump into this trilogy – at the time only the first book had been released and I was eager to read out of the dominating genres in YA – a murder mystery with an international setting felt like the right ticket. The Embassy Row trilogy felt like a mash-up of The Scooby Gang from ‘Scooby Doo’ and the movie ‘What A Girl Wants’ starring Amanda Bynes. Plus I’d read some cracker reviews from book blogger friends…

As much as I loved the concept, there are moments when I felt the story went a bit juvenile – unrealistic, overdramatic that I found tedious or even frustrating. But given the demographic, and the fact that it’s YA, it was to be expected. It was easy to overlook these hindrances and really enjoy the world Embassy Row presents.

Grace, our protagonist, a damaged heroine, thrown in the deep end of secret societies and political drama was an interesting character to read. She had all the necessary flightiness, drama and curiosity to engage the reader, but as the series progressed, some elements were repeated to death, and others had her looking like a flake, and even bipolar. I bit more research and cohesiveness would have seen Grace as a strong protagonist.

All Fall Down Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleHer friends on Embassy Row, which I dubbed of the ‘Super Crack Teen Spy Squad’ came and went from the narrative with each successive installment of this trilogy. So strong in the debut, but were reduced as mere plot points to move the story along in the consecutive two sequels. That was highly disappointing for me. There was such great chemistry and such interesting characters in this group, I would have liked to see them featured more prominently.

The flip-flopping with the love interest Alexei was the most frustrating part. It really established doubt in Grace herself instead of the motives of the mysterious Russian. The middle book of the trilogy needed the most work in editing to bring it to a much more palatable novel in my opinion, As it stood, I actually got a little pissed and the treatment of the cast.

The adults in this world all seemed to be James Bond characters. Members of secret society, spying on each other, manipulating each other, secret tunnels and meetings… It lost a sense of family that this series was missing to ground it in something solid. Consequently, the adults for all their nefarious activities felt a little two dimensional.

The basics of the storylines in each novel – the mystery – is crafted excellently. I loved the mechanics and storyline of all three novels. Ally Carter can weave a mean plot. It was just the delivery and immature tones that dragged the pace for me that lowered my ratings.

We get a spectacular ending – ‘Goonies’ style, though after a promising debut with ‘All Fall Down,’ both ‘See How They Run’ and ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up’ flatlined. Great mystery, fantastic twists and turns, but the wiring style was a little ‘meh’ and predictable.

Marvelous hook and concept, eye-catching cover art, and a quick easy reads. A fun trilogy I happily recommend – falls more into a guilty pleasure than an outstanding recommendation.

Wrap Up - Embassy Row Trilogy Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

For individual reviews click on the links below:

All Fall Down’https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/book-review-all-fall-down-by-ally-carter/

See How They Run’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/book-review-see-how-they-run-by-ally-carter/

Take the Key and Lock Her Upcarter’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/book-review-take-the-key-and-lock-her-up-by-ally-carter/

 

© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up’ by Ally Carter

A perfect political mystery to kick off a CW tv series, or a Disney movie…

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery

No. of pages: 327

From Goodreads:

The princess is dead. Long live the princess.

Centuries ago, the royal family of Adria was killed…or so everyone thought.

Now Grace Blakely knows the truth: There was one survivor, and that survivor’s blood runs through her veins. This simple fact could cause a revolution—which is why some people will stop at nothing to keep it from coming to light.

There is only one way for Grace to save herself, save her family, and save the boy she loves. She must outmaneuver her foes, cut through the web of lies that has surrounded her for years, and go back to the source of all her troubles, despite the risk.

If she wins, she will inherit a throne.

And if she loses, she will inherit the fate of all the dead princesses who came before her. 

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A trilogy that culminated in spectacular form! It still reminds me of ‘The Goonies,’ a bunch of teenagers pulling together against all odds, risking peril for their noble quest, ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up’ captured my youthful excitement with its drama, subterfuge and a European setting.

The narrative dragged a bit for me – continual repetition of clues, rehashing of the past, and Grace’s “episodes’ – all recounted in such efficacy that I ended up putting this book down numerous times because I just wasn’t that into it. But that’s the worst of it.

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleI really liked Grace’s strength in this final installation of the Embassy Row trilogy. She was bad-ass. Though I found her continually slipping into PTSD mode : her episodes, were becoming tiring. I’d much rather see her come to terms with her demons earlier on in the piece. The whole wounded damsel thing was wearing thin. Especially when she was able to dismiss it and launch into terrifying situations in other moments. A little inconsistent from someone suffering the mental issues Grace was tackling.

The mystery side of things is expert level 10! I loved all of the plot twists, how facts were revealed, it is truly the best part of this series. Carter really knows how to plot and pace a story.

The rest of the Scooby Gang that featured so prominently in the first book, their relevance, and presence has slowly dwindled with each installment. To the point where I wasn’t really believing their friendship by the conclusion of ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up.’ Grace manages to push people away and get so tied up in her predicament, she comes across as being a friend only when she needs their help for something. And don’t get me started on her brother Jamie – he felt like a prop, rather than a key person to the storyline and her motivation.

The same can be said for the love interest, Alexei, I got so invested in them over the second book (‘See How They Run’) of the trilogy, but didn’t feel the magic here.

I liked the twists and turns, but ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up’ felt like some of the antagonists were practically cartoonish. The novel, and series, feels more like a Saturday cartoon serial than realistic YA fiction. It lacked a certain maturity in the writing style. I think it could have been streamlined and something extra injected into the narrative to give it some oomph without isolating its demographic.

It was fun, and I enjoyed ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up,‘ but as you can gather from my review there is a tone of disappointment. It’s like the complexity and character development has been decreasing with each instalment. I really wanted things to go out in a mammoth climax. And while it was spectacular as far as plot goes, I did not connect so much with the characters this time. I didn’t get that buzz when I finished the last page like I normally do.

I won’t say it was predictable – because what I assumed was going to happen, totally didn’t. I really think if I had been able to get emotionally invested in the cast more, I would have given this a full five stars/kisses because the writing is marvelous, the story outstanding… it was just slightly juvenile… (which *cough* is totally is marketed demographic, so maybe I should just leave the room)

Definitely recommend this for younger YA audiences who love a mystery, lost princesses, action, and a bit of political intrigue.

Overall feeling: Bring me more popcorn!

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Book Review – ‘All Fall Down’ by Ally Carter

On edge with PTSD and thrown into an international political nightmare – Grace is only able to keep her head above water… and it makes for a great read.

All Fall Down Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery

No. of pages: 310

From Goodreads:

Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:

  1. She is not crazy.
  2. Her mother was murdered.
  3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her — so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.

Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace — no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

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I did not know what to expect going in to ‘All Fall Down,’ and I went in blind… what a pleasant surprise! International politics and a murder mystery never looked so good.

Some aspects to this storyline had me just about rolling my eyes – apparent “spy-like skills” some of the characters conveniently possessed. A higher degree of difficulty could have really added some authenticity to the narrative instead of the ease by which some of the teens countered their investigation. The formation of a ‘Scooby Gang’ felt a little cheesy. And finally, how the grown-ups kept things from our protagonist, Grace, for her own good. Can you think of a book where that has ever worked, like, ever?

Yes, those aspects lowered my rating a little, but only because it is thrown under the genre of realistic fiction. I did like the formation of a crack bunch of self-appointed teen spies with abilities and technology they had “borrowed” from their diplomat parents. It was all very exciting and took me back to the days of watching ‘The Famous Five’ on television.

All Fall Down Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleGrace annoyed me at first, her sarcasm, her frequent flashbacks and ‘episodes.’ Mainly because none of it made a whole lot of sense. But as we get to know her, more things clicked into place. She has a lot of witty lines that had me laughing out loud. Maybe her bipolar fluctuation between daring, adventurous, and fragile to mentally unstable prevented me from connecting with her in the beginning. But by the conclusion of ‘All Fall Down’ I was eager to read more of her story.

Can I mention the cliff-hanger the book ended on! Ay Currumba! Ally Carter you tease me so.

All of the ‘Super Crack Teen Spy Squad’ as I call them, are likeable, even Grace’s crush Alexei, though there seems to be a lot more to his story. I’m guessing in the following books we’ll discover more. Rosie, Noah and Megan are all the crew I want as my best friends, they have Grace’s back even when she behaves in a way that she shouldn’t deserve it… and vice versa. The Embassy Row kids stick together.

As for the mystery of who killed Grace’s mother – well, I’m usually pretty good at sleuthing out the answer well in advance in these types of books, but to be honest, didn’t see this one coming at all. Carter’s narrative style has a way of moving the story forward without dropping obvious clues, but enough to throw suspicion on lots of other characters. I was guessing right up to the reveal.

I was first attracted to this series because of fellow reviewers, and the colourful cover. Plus Carter seems to have a pretty great catalogue of titles. I’m really glad I decided to give this a go. It has tones of movies like ‘The First Daughter,’ ‘The Prince and Me,’ ‘What a Girl Wants,’ and ‘Chasing Liberty,’ with a murder mystery thrown in. Fun reading and I’d recommend it to those who want a light YA read with an angsty heroine, political intrigue and a mystery to solve.

Overall feeling: Not bad at all.

All Fall Down Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

All Fall Down Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Girl From the Sea’ by Shalini Boland

A fun, brain-teasing mystery.

The Girl From The Sea Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 306

From Goodreads:

Washed up on the beach, she can’t remember who she is. She can’t even remember her name. Turns out, she has an idyllic life – friends and family eager to fill in the blanks. 

But why are they lying to her? What don’t they want her to remember? 

When you don’t even know who you are, how do you know who to trust?

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What a ride! I was dubious about this book after the first few chapters: amnesia as a plot device, *yawn* everyone lying to the protagonist, it was all feeling a little 80’s-television-plot from ‘Moonlighting.’ Especially when in those beginning chapters our protagonist Mia didn’t really want to find out about her lost memories – she said she did – but I would have ransacked my house, called every number in my address book and had the police giving me as much information as I could. Mia just seemed so blasé about it all. A little clue here, a little clue there, a mysterious memory-dream, blah, blah, blah.

But then the plot started to kick in and things got really interesting. I was quick to forget about my sarcastic views and started to enjoy working out the plot.

I liked Mia’s innocent views of her situation, but not so much her behaviour. She never questioned herself – why did she react in certain ways? Why did she surround herself with the type of people she has? Needless to say, I didn’t peg her for much of a thinker. Nice. Pleasant. But not too analytical when it came to trying to piece together her life. And I also found her a little weak at times. But other times I liked her vulnerability and strength to power through difficult situations. She is complex and had a riveting story, and even though my opinion of her is fractured, she is compelling.

One of my biggest pet peeves in real life is people using ‘babe’ or ‘baby’ as a term of endearment. So even before we get to know Piers, Mia’s boyfriend at the start of the novel, I instantly disliked him. Anything he did after that was inconsequential.

The Girl From The Sea Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

 

The pacing is good, but I would have liked stronger clues discovered earlier, either as red herrings or dark secrets, something to give that first few chapters a bit more oompf.

The Girl From The Sea Book Review Pic 04 by Casey CarlisleBoland has a pretty deft writing style, she’d brief and to the point, but spends the time to set the scene – especially with the many outdoor settings. I could practically smell the water and feel the warm sun on my face.

For some reason, I got really attached to DS Wright. Something about her manner and the way Boland wrote her had me screaming for more – I would have loved more scenes with her presence, maybe more active in the narrative in helping Mia piece together her life. There was even a moment I hoped for some sort of dalliance between her and Mia. *gasp*

I must say, I had guessed the plot well before the ending of the novel. Only because the author didn’t do a good enough job at placing a little suspicion on everyone. Some people were too squeaky clean and that was a bit like waving a giant red flag. The other thing was viewing all the actions objectively… But still there was a little curve ball or two thrown in that I did not see coming.  So, bravo Shalini Boland, you got me!

A great read. I completed it in a day and recommend to anyone who likes a good psychological thriller. It’s not a genre I have read much of before, and this was a great reintroduction.

Overall feeling: And then? No and then! And then, and then and then… I wanted more.

The Girl From The Sea Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The Girl From The Sea Book Review Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.