Book Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

THE BROKEN GIRLS by Simone St. James
Publisher: BERKLEY
Pub. Date: 03/20/2018
Pages: 336
Format: Electronic (Publisher)

Rating:
Goodreads Summary:

Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced. . . .

Review:

THE BROKEN GIRLS is a haunting thriller set in rural Vermont. The novel is split between two time periods — 1950 and 2014 — and surrounds the mysterious boarding school, Idlewild Hall. In the 50s, we meet a group of teens labeled as troublemakers, disturbed and the illegitimate. The girls may be dealing with some of these issues but they’re also strong, intelligent, curious and protective of their friendship. Katie, CeCe, Roberta, and Sonia bond through their shared struggles at Idlewild and their personal home life experiences. Readers see the world through each of the girls’ eyes via their own chapters. We also learn that one of the girls goes missing. Is it at the hands of the legendary ghost, Mary Hand, who haunts the school? Is the girl a runaway?

In 2014, we meet Fiona Sheridan, a freelance culture writer obsessed with the events surrounding her sister’s death on the grounds of Idlewild. She, too, is a strong character, fiercely protective of her sister’s memory. As a writer, Fiona feels she’s always trying to live up to her famous father, a retired journalist. She’s also dating, Jamie, one of the town’s police officers. Journalists and police, usually, don’t mix. Not to mention, Fiona and Jamie are, currently, dealing with a rocky relationship. When Fiona discovers that Idlewild has been sold to an unknown buyer, her investigative instincts kick in. Who would want to purchase a long-abandoned school? Is it someone who attended Idlewild?

THE BROKEN GIRLS is my kind of mystery. I love eerie settings, boarding schools, and the 1950s. This is the first time I’ve read a novel by St. James. She does a terrific job of creating an atmosphere of fear and unease. Not only because of the ghost of Mary Hand but the missing student and Fiona’s investigation into the buyer of the school. And someone definitely doesn’t want Fiona digging into the past.

It’s easy to see why THE BROKEN GIRLS was chosen as “March 2018 Library Reads Selection”. If you feel this might be a good read for Halloween, don’t wait! Dive into the novel now. THE BROKEN GIRLS kept me up late at night turning the pages to find out what happened next. The tight-knit relationship between Katie, CeCe, Roberta, and Sonia is the heart of the novel. I absolutely LOVE their backstories and adventures at school. The novel is full of great twists and turns. I also enjoyed Fiona’s relationship with her father. Although, I wished I’d known a little bit more about why he was so revered and spoken of in awe by members of the community.

St. James also does a fantastic job of weaving together the different stories of THE BROKEN GIRLS. I realize this is a stand-alone, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Fiona solve another case…along with the help of some trusty friends. Who are they? You’ll have to read THE BROKEN GIRLS to find out!

Looking forward to the next book from St. James, but in the meantime, I’m happy to check out her backlist.

 

Have you read THE BROKEN GIRLS? If so, what did you think?

About the Author

Simone St. James is the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare, which won two RITA awards from Romance Writers of America and an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada. She wrote her first ghost story, about a haunted library, when she was in high school, and spent twenty years behind the scenes in the television business before leaving to write full-time. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and a spoiled cat.

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Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman
Publisher: ECCO
Pub. Date: 03/01/2014
Pages: 262
Format: Electronic (library)

Rating:
Goodreads Summary:

Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

Interweaving past and present, Bird Box is a snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

Review:

I usually don’t read horror novels but Malerman’s BIRD BOX has made me a fan. At least, of pyschological horror novels. BIRD BOX takes place in a post-apocalyptic type world. This kind of setting has always intrigued me — whether it’s due to zombies, war, a plague, etc. I enjoy imaging what I would do in certain situations. Would I make the same decisions as the characters, or would I choose a different path?

From the first sentence of BIRD BOX I was completely gripped by the story and the characters. The novel is a quick read, although, I set it down due to the creep factor it gave me. I tend to read at night which wasn’t the best idea for BIRD BOX. I decided to read it during the day. Better choice!

Malerman does an excellent job of creating the fear of the unknown and relying on the fear of infinity — propbably many people’s fear. BIRD BOX is a turn-pager. Readers will want to know what’s causing the the people in the world to go mad. To take their own lives. To kill other people. As the synopsis states: is it man, animal, or monster? Trigger warning: there’s a lot of suicide, self-harm and death in BIRD BOX.

The novel shifts between the past and the present — a popular psychological and domestic thriller element. However, I would have liked to known a little more about the backstories of the group of survivors Mallory lives with. The novel also leaves with a lot of questions — that was okay with me.

Readers have asked Malerman if he has any plans to revisit the world of BIRD BOX. He’s hestiated on his answer but says he can’t say a definite no. Yes, please!

One thing Malerman excels at, especially in BIRD BOX, is relying not only on the character’s senses — hearing, touch and smell — but also the readers. BIRD BOX is an engaging story and will appeal to horror and thriller fans. Just make sure to keep the lights on!

Oh…and what’s with the birds, you might wonder? Well, you’ll just have to read BIRD BOX to find out!

Have you read BIRD BOX? If so, what did you think?

About the Author

Josh Malerman is an American author of novels and short stories. He is also a singer/songwriter for the band THE HIGH STRUNG.

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Book Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

THE BELLES by Dhonielle Clayton
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Pub. Date: 02/06/2018
Pages: 448
Format: Hardcover (Publisher)

Rating:
Goodreads Summary:

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Review (Originally Posted on BookishFirst):

Dhonielle Clayton’s novel, THE BELLES, takes place in a fantastical world with a diverse group of characters. The setting is the magnificent Kingdom of Orléans — made up of distinctive isles and islands surrounding the main Imperial Island where the majority of the story takes place. From the first chapter, readers are immersed in Clayton’s superb world-building and gorgeous prose. We can see, hear, smell and taste (at least, in our imaginations) everything. The archipelago is filled with vibrant clothes, creative objects and gadgets, and fascinating people.

The protagonist is Camellia Beauregard. She’s instantly likable. Through her arcana she controls beauty. She is a Belle. Camellia is one of six other young women who will be chosen to be the Queen’s favorite. The Belle will live in the royal palace and attend to the beauty regimens of the royal family and court. But this position is not what it seems. Dangerous secrets lurk beneath the royal facade and the kingdom. Camellia soon discovers how far people will go to be beautiful…and the price they pay. I quickly turned the pages to find out what happens next.

The novel has a touch of romance but it doesn’t overpower the story. Instead, THE BELLES focuses on sisterhood, friendship, and family. There’s also a special note, from Clayton, explaining her journey of writing the book and why she did so. I’m looking forward to the second book!

Expanded Review:

Clayton’s writing is vivid and descriptive. I loved this aspect of the novel. After reading THE BELLES Orléans has become a living, breathing world to me. All of the characters — from the protagonist to the secondary characters — are well developed and have compelling personalities, quirks, and secrets. As I mentioned above, I especially enjoyed that the novel focuses on the women and the young girls in the book.

At first, readers will feel the world of Orléans is fanciful, light and fluffy, and dreamlike. Yet, Clayton weaves the darkness and ugliness of the world and its residents within the narrative. It’s there. It’s subtle. And it hits you in the gut.

When you read about her personal struggles as a teen and how it motivated her to write the novel, it becomes a much bigger story. I also enjoyed how Camellia saw the beauty within the residents who are considered “ugly.” THE BELLES really digs deep into how we see ourselves and how people perceive us. The Belles are revered in Orléans, but they are prisoners within their roles and within the kingdom. Clayton also touches on bullying, identity, and our obsessions with dieting, beauty products and plastic surgery particularly the media’s influence.

Make sure to visit Clayton’s website to find out more about the world and the historical inspiration behind the story. The cover is gorgeous and inside there is a beautiful map of Orléans. This book is not to be missed! Add it to your book collection today!

Have you read THE BELLES? If so, what did you think?

About the Author

Dhonielle Clayton is the co-author of the Tiny Pretty Things series. She grew up in the Washington, DC suburbs on the Maryland side and spent most of her time under her grandmother’s table with a stack of books. A former teacher and middle school librarian, Dhonielle is co-founder of CAKE Literary—a creative development company whipping up decidedly diverse books for a wide array of readers—and COO of the non-profit, We Need Diverse Books.

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