Review: ‘I Am Princess X’ by Cherie Priest

Once upon a time, two best friends created a princess together. Libby drew the pictures, May wrote the tales, and their heroine, Princess X, slayed all the dragons and scaled all the mountains their imaginations could conjure.

Once upon a few years later, Libby was in the car with her mom, driving across the Ballard Bridge on a rainy night. When the car went over the side, Libby passed away, and Princess X died with her.

Once upon a now: May is sixteen and lonely, wandering the streets of Seattle, when she sees a sticker slapped in a corner window.

Princess X? When May looks around, she sees the princess everywhere: Stickers. Patches. Graffiti. There’s an entire underground culture, focused around a webcomic at IAmPrincessX.com. The more May explores the webcomic, the more she sees disturbing similarities between Libby’s story and Princess X online. And that means that only one person could have started this phenomenon — her best friend, Libby, who lives.

I originally discovered Cherie Priest’s books over at Audible in the form of her historical steampunk zombie series, the Clockwork Century. (You can read the review of the first book here if you’re curious.) Sadly for me, after the third book, the series wasn’t available for me to buy on audiobook — I don’t know why. So I went hunting to see what other book series she had, and found (and was intruiged by) I Am Princess X. However, because the book includes comic illustrations that tell the story, I decided this was a book better read than listened to, and here we are.

This story is a fun mystery/thriller read, and the comic sections give it an extra something. They are beautifully illustrated by Kali Ciesemier, who drew a gorgeous Princess X. The book is worth buying for those alone, honestly — I loved studying them for the clues before reading on to see what May thought of them. And the investigations that followed were fun to follow along with.

One thing that was refreshing to see in this book is that it’s a YA with no romance. There is a male counterpoint to May, a late teen named Trick who helps her with the IT side of things, and I kept waiting for there to be a spark between them — it’s so common in YA that it was my default expectation, I guess. But I don’t require my books to have a romance sub-plot so the book didn’t suffer for it, in my opinion. (YMMV.)

The only thing that I didn’t 100% love about this story was that some of the decisions the characters made in the final confrontation confused me. It’s hard to say what they were without spoilers, but I think they made the situation more perilous for themselves than it had to be, and the reasons for doing so either weren’t clearly articulated or I missed them. (I did stay up very late finishing this, so it could well be the latter!)

Regardless, if you love a mystery that builds to a thriller-style climax, one with gorgeous art to go with it, then definitely check out I Am Princess X.

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Review: ‘The Special Ones’ by Em Bailey

Esther is one of the four Special Ones. They are chosen by him to live under his protection in a remote farmhouse, and they must always be ready to broadcast their lives to eager followers in the outside. But on renewal day when he decides that a new Esther, Harry, Lucille or Felicity must take their place, the old ones disappear – forever. The new ones don’t always want to come, but soon they realise.

Until one day Esther has a realisation of her own – and it changes everything.

This book, you guys. After spending literally months in one world, reading a huge trilogy, zipping through this little thing was like a breath of fresh air.

A breath of creepy, creepy fresh air.

The premise of the story is four young people — a pre-teen girl, two late-teens girls and a young man — living in an Amish-style farmhouse where they are forced to play the roles of a long-dead family. Rules govern every aspect of their lives; for example, Esther, the main character, isn’t allowed to touch others or leave the farmhouse veranda. Transgressions are punished.

But the farmhouse is more like the Big Brother house … only it’s famous in a niche corner of the internet rather than being broadcast on national TV. There are cameras everywhere, and each night the four need to chat to their loyal followers, each providing advice on “their” area of expertise. The chats are monitored so they can’t ask for help, and they are so effectively brainwashed that some of them don’t want to.

It’s a creepy, Amish reality TV cult, where kidnapping a new member is standard practice after a previous one leaves to be “renewed” (and, Esther assumes, murdered). It’s also set in remote Australia, which I loved — the magpies, the drought, the thundering summer rain.

The various tensions between the four characters were well described and gripping; I was certainly never bored. There’s a bit of a romantic subplot here, but it’s not the main focus of the story. I was personally more attached to little Felicity, a girl who wouldn’t be much older than my son and who struggled to remember all the rules … even the fact she wasn’t allowed to use her real name. Poor wee thing!

However, like every story I’ve ever read or watched about mysterious, seemingly omniscient evildoers, I did sometimes wonder how “he” managed to do everything he did to keep the farm running day-to-day and the followers from realising that their heroes were brainwashed prisoners. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but I did wonder how it was possible for one human, no matter how much of an evil genius they are.

This niggling doubt is the only thing that stopped this from being a five-star read for me, and (as you can see) not by much! I’ll definitely be hunting for a copy of Em Bailey’s other book.

 

 

 


Reviews: ‘Every Word’ and ‘Every Move’ by Ellie Marney

Every Word_cover

James Mycroft has just left for London to investigate a car accident similar to the one that killed his parents seven years ago…without saying goodbye to Rachel Watts, his ‘partner in crime’.

Rachel is furious and worried about his strange behaviour — not that Mycroft’s ever exactly normal, but London is the scene of so many of his nightmares. So Rachel jumps on a plane to follow him…and lands straight in a whole storm of trouble.

The theft of a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the possible murder of a rare books conservator, and the deaths of Mycroft’s parents…Can Watts help Mycroft make sense of the three events – or will she lose him forever?

Sparks fly when Watts and Mycroft reunite in this second sophisticated thriller about the teen sleuthing duo.

Every_Movie_cover

Rachel Watts is suffering from recurring nightmares about her near-death experience in London. She just wants to forget the whole ordeal, but her boyfriend, James Mycroft, is obsessed with piecing the puzzle together and anticipating the next move of the mysterious Mr Wild — his own personal Moriarty.

So when Rachel’s brother, Mike, suggests a trip back to their old home in Five Mile, Rachel can’t wait to get away. Unfortunately it’s not the quiet weekend she was hoping for with the unexpected company of Mike’s old school buddy, the wildly unreliable Harris Derwent.

Things get worse for Rachel when Harris returns to Melbourne with them – but could Harris be the only person who can help her move forward? Then a series of murders suggests that Mr Wild is still hot on their tails and that Mycroft has something Wild wants — something Wild is prepared to kill for.

Can Watts and Mycroft stay one step ahead of the smartest of all criminal masterminds? The stage is set for a showdown of legendary proportions…

I read the first book in the Every trilogy last year — although I didn’t actually realise it was a trilogy till partway through the second book, Every Word. That was a little bit devastating, knowing that the amount of Rachel and Mycroft I had left to go was finite …  I was hoping it’d go on forever. 😦

I devoured Every Word and Every Move in the space of a week, which is really fast for me given I also had work and general adulting to do as well. As a result, this is a combined review, which works here but I have no idea how I’ll get it into Goodreads. (Eh, that’s future Cass’s problem!)

All three books in the series are fast-paced, with a murder mystery, some forensic science (Mycroft’s hobby and, later, part-time job), some heated kissing and some moments that left me reeling. As far as the mysteries go, I guessed where the Folio was hidden in the second book (yay) but not who Moriarty actually was (boo). Despite the second book being slightly more transparent, the climax of that was so much more nail-biting to me. For some stupid, naive reason, I expected Ellie Marney to pull her punches a little. She definitely disabused me of that notion in Every Word. (At least by Every Move I was expecting it…)

The second and third books have the same overarching plot, events arising from the death of Mycroft’s parents seven years before, which is why it was great to read them back-to-back. There is closure of the smaller mystery at the end of the second book, but the Moriarty-like villain lingers on.

I should say, for those that haven’t read any of these books or the review that I linked, that these books are inspired by Sherlock Holmes. The characters are aware of the similarities in their names to the famous crime-solving duo, making little in-jokes about it, and the villain actually refers to himself as Moriarty at one point as a nod to that as well.

Of course, as far as I can recall, there isn’t a budding romance between Holmes and Watson. The same can’t be said of Mycroft and Watts, who are one of my new favourite young adult couples. I love how realistic and awkward they are with one another. I love that the obstacles they face in their relationship as time goes on include Rachel’s overprotective parents, something I expect a lot of teenage girls (and many boys) can relate to.

What there isn’t in these two books is a lot of school time. In fact, other than a school dance at one point, there’s not a single scene in either of these books set at school. I can’t think of the last time I read a young adult series that did that!

Every Word is set in London, while Every Move is back in Australia, and the sense of setting in each book is real enough to touch. You can tell that Ellie Marney went to London as part of her research (or maybe on a holiday) — there are details in there that you can’t get from Google street view. Likewise, her descriptions of Australia, of Melbourne and the bush around Five Mile, Rachel’s childhood home, are so real I could close my eyes and not only see but smell and feel the setting. It was wonderful!

The other thing I adored was how Aussie the characters are. Rachel is a farm girl at heart, and her and Mike, her older brother, have the best dialogue, so rich with slang and familiar to me. It warmed my heart. (Though I did raise an eyebrow when Rachel said crikey once — does anyone actually say that?)

Other good things about this book include a realistic depiction of PTSD that doesn’t leave the character hiding in cupboards (I’m looking at you, Katniss Everdeen!); a heart-rending depiction of dealing with grief; an awesome, complex family relationship (Mike! Rachel’s mum!); and a girl being friends with another guy than the one she loves without it turning into a love triangle (it can happen!). Oh, and Mai. I adored Mai.

Have I convinced you yet? Seriously, go read this series.

EllieMarney

Five stars


Review: ‘Every Breath’ by Ellie Marney

Every Breath

Rachel Watts is an unwilling new arrival to Melbourne from the country. James Mycroft is her neighbour, an intriguingly troubled seventeen-year-old genius with a passion for forensics. Despite her misgivings, Rachel finds herself unable to resist Mycroft when he wants her help investigating a murder. And when Watts and Mycroft follow a trail to the cold-blooded killer, they find themselves in the lion’s den — literally.

A night at the zoo will never have quite the same meaning again…

A lot of people had recommended this book to me but, despite that, I probably never would have picked it up because it’s a murder mystery and that’s not my usual thing. However, I’m doing a couple of reading challenges this year — the Australian Women Writers challenge and one that’s Australian writers across different genres — so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and read Every Breath as my mystery installment.

I’m glad I did, and here are some of the reasons why:

* The characters are inspired by Sherlock Holmes without it actually being a retelling. Mycroft is a bit like Sherlock, but has his differences (I don’t think Sherlock was as good at making friends with strangers, and he wasn’t as insecure as Mycroft — though it’s been over a decade since I read any of the stories). Watts keeps Mycroft grounded — and fed — but has her own issues.

* I say “knowingly inspired” because they are aware of the connection their names suggest and make the occasional Sherlock Holmes joke, without it being overbearing. I actually really enjoyed that touch; I expected it to be a retelling, with the parallels unacknowledged by the characters, sort of an in joke between the author and reader. The fact the characters were in on the joke was awesome.

* I loved the characters, especially Mycroft and Watts, but also Mai, their Vietnamese friend, with her alternative dress code and occasionally hilarious t-shirts. I don’t think Mai owns a single plain t-shirt, which I can relate to!

* The plot is zippy and the murder mystery interesting. I did pick the murderer from their first scene, but that may just be because I’ve watched too many TV crime shows. 😉

* The romance subplot is obvious from the start, but doesn’t hog the limelight. The fact Mycroft and Watts started out as friends was great to see, but I also liked the fact that once they realised they liked each other, there wasn’t too much wailing and angst. They just got on with the kissing.

* The family dynamics are interesting. Watts’s parents are semi-present (as is traditional in YA) due to them being shiftworkers, but they do come together when they realise something is going on. Her brother, Mike, is more present than they are, and provides some familial guidance. (Mycroft on the other hand … the poor boy. I wanted to take him in and feed him.)

* It’s Australian! Obviously I knew this going in, given that’s why I picked it up, but it is so Australian, without straying into the stereotypical Crocodile Dundee drawl so few of us actually use. (There were “cuppas” and “uni”, but not “sheila” and “cobber”, if you know what I’m saying.)

The main thing I didn’t like about the book was actually the blurb. (Did “a night at the zoo” have some special meaning I wasn’t aware of? Also, why mention the lions? Why not leave that to be a surprise?!) I am also not a huge fan of the cover, although I don’t hate it.

Summary: Ellie Marney has game, and I’ll definitely read the next book to see what happens next.

Five stars