Review: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

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A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares 

By: Krystal Sutherland and Tara Sands (Narrator) 

My Rating: 4 Stars

Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.

Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love.

Beware spoilers ahead!

Trigger warning: Death, mention of murder’s, physical violence, mention of war, mention of kidnapping, suicide attempt, mention of critically injured animal, and abusive parent.

The Solar family has been cursed by death. During their grandfather’s war days, he met death. Not just once but many times. Death cursed the Solar family to die from a fear. Hence why Esther Solar made a list of fears. Then she meets Jonah, a childhood friend. Much to her surprise he robs her. The two meet again with Jonah promising to help Esther conquer her list.

In 2016 Sutherland released her debut. I didn’t much care for it. I decided to check out this book because the synopsis sounded good. I am happy to say that I enjoyed it!

The book is written in third person omniscient following Esther and flashbacks of her grandfather with death. There is one scene that is narrated from Death’s point of view. The chapters are titled based off a fear of Esther’s. Some chapters just have titles that don’t pertain to Esther’s list.

I’m really happy that I gave this book a shot! It was good and I enjoyed the magical realism aspect a lot. Even the family and friendship dynamics. I also felt that the author excelled at portraying mental health.

I liked Esther! She was a great character. I especially loved her growth and that she ended up loving herself. Esther’s list of fears is based on things she’s seen on tv and heard stories about. The list was quite interesting. And you can honestly fear most of it. By the end she did love and acknowledge every aspect of herself. 

I liked Eugene a lot. He is Esther’s twin. He spends a lot of his time trying to convince Esther that the curse isn’t real. That their family has mental illnesses. The two have a really close bond. And it was nice to read about.

Esther doesn’t have the best relationship with her parents. Her father never leaves their basement. There’s a bathroom and food gets brought down. Meanwhile their mother who used to be so strong isn’t anymore. Their mother spends her time gambling. Her top concern is their money. Esther is torn up over her parents and doesn’t know what to do.

Hephzibah is Esther’s best friend. The two of them used to be friends with Jonah and met each other in school. Esther has never heard Hephzibah speak. The two communicate in sign language and text messages. I enjoyed their friendship! 

Jonah and Esther of course didn’t have a good introduction. When Esther sees him again she punches him. Which was justified. Things happen and the two come to an agreement. Their relationship was so cute! I really enjoyed the two of them tackling the list. Jonah and Esther were rocks for each other. They really helped each other grow. And they were such a cute couple! 

Death was such a nice connection! I enjoyed reading the flashbacks with him and their grandfather. It was a nice touch of magical realism. And brought the grandfather as a character. In present day the grandfather is dying. There were a lot of good quotes with their conversations. And the topic of death was tackled in such an interesting manner.

I especially liked that at the end all the characters are still struggling with their mental health. Eugene and Esther decide to go get therapy. Yay for positive therapy rep! Their family is still struggling. The relationship to one-another makes them so strong. Jonah doesn’t just magically cure Esther. She is still working on it.

Overall I really enjoyed this book! I highly recommend.   

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Review: Gray Wolf Island

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Gray Wolf Island by: Tracey Neithercott

My Rating: 4 Stars

Right before Sadie died, she begged her sister, Ruby, to do the one thing she could never do herself: Find the treasure on Gray Wolf Island.

With just a mysterious treasure map as a guide, Ruby reluctantly allows some friends to join her on the hunt, each of whom is touched by magic: a boy allegedly born to a virgin, a girl who never sleeps, a boy who can foresee his own death, and a boy with deep ties to the island. Each of them is also keeping a secret—something they’ll have to reveal in order to reach the treasure.

As the secrets come to light, Ruby will have to decide: Can she make peace with her friends’ troubled pasts and continue to trust them? Can she forgive herself for doing the unspeakable? Deep in the wilderness of Gray Wolf Island, Ruby’s choices will determine if they make it out with the treasure—or merely with their lives.

From debut author Tracey Neithercott comes a darkly compelling tale of profound friendship, adventure, and finding the strength to tell the truth.

Beware spoilers ahead!

Trigger Warning: Death, murder, and mention of rape.

I received this E-ARC via the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I was super excited to read Gray Wolf Island! I love reading about treasure hunts and was thoroughly anticipating this one. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy it.

The story follows Ruby after the death of her sister Sadie. Sadie was obsessed about this mysterious island that is rumored to have treasure. Much to Ruby’s surprise Sadie has set-up a trip to the island for Ruby to go in her place. Ruby gets the help of Gabe, Charlie, Elliot, and Anne. As they make their way to the island, they soon realize they will face truths about themselves. Truths that are harmful.

This actually started off really good! It was so funny and interesting. As the story continued it fell flat and I started skimming for answers. I am not a 100 percent satisfied with said answers. And there were a lot of loose ends that I wish for cleared up.

When I realized that each character would have to face their truths to get to the treasure I was surprised. In reality those truths were just flat. I can’t they were predictable but I didn’t much care for them. In hindsight the secrets were actually kind of dumb. The most shocking would have to be Gabe, Charlie, and Elliot. If you really pay attention to the synopsis you can guess Ruby’s. And Anne’s was just sad but not surprising considering the situation.

I did not like Ruby. Her point of view whilst entertaining at first became such a drag. She was really whiny. And while I do understand her reasoning, I still felt that she should’ve revealed herself sooner. For everyone’s safety.

In order to receive the treasure each character had to reveal a truth about themselves. Otherwise you die. Like literary the island would attack you. Which was very difficult to wrap my head around. And honestly I really hated that island. The magical realism parts of the story were very confusing. Like how Elliot is connected to Cooper. To this day I still can’t wrap my head around it all.

Also was Gabe’s death necessary? I guess it really showed his improvement that he sacrificed himself for Charlie. He did rape someone and that’ll never be okay. He could’ve improved. But now we’ll never know. I think he even said he would confess and everything? When he went back home?

I did enjoy some things. The beginning of the book was strong. I liked reading from Cooper’s point of view. Anne was my favourite character! She was so much fun. I even liked Charlie. I liked the romance between Ruby and Elliot. And the writing style. 

Gray Wolf Island just didn’t work for me. I do still recommend.