{Rachel’s Reading Updates} The One With Cults, Cars and Craziness

Posted October 18, 2016 by Rachel Lightwood in Reviews / 9 Comments

Copy of Rachel's Reading Updates Logo

Okay, so to be honest, these books don’t really have much more in common than they were (1) published in 2016 and (2) I have months old eARCs of them from Edelweiss. Some of them are contemporary, some of them suspense, some of them dystopian… so let’s just pretend this post makes sense and get straight into the reviews!

The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude

{Rachel’s Reading Updates} The One With Cults, Cars and Craziness

The May Queen Murders

by Sarah Jude
Published on 3rd May, 2016
by HMH Books for Young Readers
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult, Suspense
Format: eARC
Amazon | BookDepository | Goodreads

Stay on the roads. Don’t enter the woods. Never go out at night.

Those are the rules in Rowan’s Glen, a remote farming community in the Missouri Ozarks where Ivy Templeton’s family has lived for centuries. It’s an old-fashioned way of life, full of superstition and traditions, and sixteen-year-old Ivy loves it. The other kids at school may think the Glen kids are weird, but Ivy doesn’t care—she has her cousin Heather as her best friend. The two girls share everything with each other—or so Ivy thinks. When Heather goes missing after a May Day celebration, Ivy discovers that both her best friend and her beloved hometown are as full of secrets as the woods that surround them.

I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review.
This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

3.5 Stars

Before we begin, I have to say don’t read the blurb if you haven’t already. It mentions something that does not happen until 48% of the way through the story. Essentially, the book is spoiling itself but I don’t want to talk about that at the moment or I’ll start ranting about the problem with synopses these days…

Anyway, The May Queen Murders was an unexpected read for me! I enjoyed it far more than I expected to, although I did have a few problems with it. The characters were the main source of my mixed emotions. Our protagonist, Ivy (which I think it my newest name crush), is one of those types of MCs that you like – and there is honestly nothing wrong with – but for some unknown reason, you just cannot connect with them. I have no idea what made Ivy feel so distanced from me but I could not get in her head! I did find some elements of her personality to contrast in a way that I couldn’t wrap my head around. For one, she was incredibly superstitious and seemed to be rather conservative – shying away from exposure to drugs and sex – yet she and her friends used to smoke illegal drugs “for fun” and she gets angry when people slut-shame? I don’t know. It was hard to get a read on her at times when she had these two warring sides to her.

I did also struggle with Heather as a character. This story very much focuses on the breakdown of her and Ivy’s relationship but at the very beginning of the story they had a massive fight and she was quickly out of the picture. It found it hard to mourn the loss of their friendship when we didn’t really get to see what they were like together. We then had to rely on Ivy telling us about their past. And well, you know how well telling instead of showing goes… It doesn’t.

I did really adore Rook, though. I thought he sweet and caring without being domineering. I liked that he had obvious character flaws even if those traits annoyed me at times. I was not pleased that he let his father boss him around so much, especially when it came to his future and career options, but I guess that is a very common thing for sheltered teenagers. The romance between him and Ivy was also done very well. Romance in mysteries is usually touch-and-go because they often take over the plotline. I thought that this book managed to balance the two elements effortlessly, and it actually added another layer of suspense to the story towards the end!

The plotline was a great blend of contemporary and mystery. It was surprisingly fast-paced, especially the second half, and had my heart racing in my chest multiple times. The atmospheric writing style really did wonders to bring the chill factor and suspense levels right up. I was definitely concerned for the character’s well-being and I loved that it was able to make me feel a little panicked for their sake! I also thought I knew which direction the story was going to take but just when I thought it was about to go down, I realised I was so far off. I never saw the ending coming and any book that can surprise me is just downright impressive in my books.

However, what made this story really stand out from the crowd was the setting. Ivy lives in Glen’s Rowan. It is this remote farming community in Missouri where everyone is very close-knit, almost in a cult-like way, and leads a simple and old-fashioned lifestyle. I had no idea that these sorts of communities still existed in America! I found the portrayal of their culture absolutely fascinating – it kind of reminded me of a mix between the Amish and the Romani, for those who are also unfamiliar – and it definitely has made me want to investigate the topic further. I’ve been obsessed with cults this past year and while this wasn’t a cult exactly, I found their culture just so interesting and unique. Definitely provided an insightful into a way of life I had no idea existed before this book!

This story does have diverse elements. However, I’m not sure how I feel about Heather’s sexuality being used almost like a shocking reveal/plot twist. I loved that everyone – for the most part – was accepting of it but I guess it reinforced the idea that straight = the default. I’m not sure if it did it in a positive or negative way still so I’m kind of torn on how to respond to it. Also, while I personally thought that Ivy’s ethnicity was handled pretty well – her mother is Mexican and her father Scottish-American – I have heard a lot of people criticize it and since I’m not Mexican, I feel that those reviewers who are, have more of a right to judge than I do. It’s worth noting their opinion, at least.


I thought this was a fast-paced and exciting suspense story. I was on board with the plotline and the romance so I found it easy to fly through and enjoyed the ride as a whole. I didn’t quite connect to the characters, especially our protagonist, Ivy, however, and this really brought the story down for me. But in the end, I adored the setting and the author’s writing style so much that I definitely will be seeking out more of this author’s books in the future. This has a great chill factor so I’d definitely recommend it as a spooky October/Halloween read if you’re a seasonal reader.

Recommend For Fans Of Or Up Next: 

Be Good Be Real Be Crazy by Chelsey Philpot:

{Rachel’s Reading Updates} The One With Cults, Cars and Craziness

Be Good Be Real Be Crazy

by Chelsey Philpot
Published on 11th of October, 2016
by HarperTeen
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon | BookDepository | Goodreads

When Mia first waltzed into Homer’s small corner of Florida, her bold approach to life changed Homer’s entire world. It wasn’t long before he was hopelessly in love.

Now Mia is moving away—and Homer and his younger brother, Einstein, are helping her drive hundreds of miles to her new home. This is Homer’s last chance to tell Mia how he really feels. And with so many detours in front of them, anything could happen.

I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review.
This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

1 Stars

Some people find it easy to suspend their disbelief in works of fiction. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people… and that is largely why this book didn’t work for me. Be Good Be Real Be Crazy was meant to be a contemporary road trip story but felt more like magical realism with all its crazy coincidences and serendipitous moments. I could not believe a single word of it and consequently, found it really hard to get into the story. It was obviously trying very hard to be quirky and modern but personally, I found that incredibly off-putting. It felt way too forced and I just cannot stress enough how ridiculously serendipitous the road trip was. It was so unbelievable!

The characters did no favours for the story. Homer, our protagonist, had no personality! He said sorry a lot and was pining over Mia – that’s about the extent of his characterisation. Boring, much? Absolutely! I also could not stand Mia who was undoubtedly a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, to the tee. She was incredibly immature and spouted nonsense that Homer lapped up like a parched dog. Their romance was so unnecessary and dramatised that it did nothing for me. Einstein, Homer’s brother, was another missed opportunity. He was meant to be this thirteen-year-old genius that was already working on his dissertation at college but I didn’t buy it for a second. He acted like a goofball and showed no real/believable enthusiasm for anything other than this band called Apollo Aces. He also – according to Homer – rambled about science all the time and was socially awkward, but we never saw him do any of this? He was more socially capable than Homer! Anyway, I will concede and say that I liked Sid and Apollo a lot. I wish we got more time with both of them.


I really was not a fan of this story. Philpot’s writing style felt really fake like it was trying incredibly hard to be modern and quirky. The plotline was just ridiculous. It was so unbelievable that it was almost nonsensical. I wish I could elaborate but I won’t because spoilers. I definitely do not recommend this book but I guess that – if I had to – I would pitch it as Signs Point to Yes  meets the cast of Burning Midnight (minus the sci-fi stuff). I’ve heard mixed things about Philpot’s debt too so I think I’ll give it a miss.

Th Road to Winter by Mark Smith:

{Rachel’s Reading Updates} The One With Cults, Cars and Craziness

The Road to Winter

by Mark Smith
Series: The Road to Winter #1
Published on 27th of June, 2016
by Text Publishing
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon | BookDepository | Goodreads

Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.

He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.

But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.

And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.

3.5 Stars

I had no idea what to expect when I decided to pick up Road to Winter. All I knew about this book before diving in was that (1) it was written by an Australian author and (2) it was being pitched as ‘the next generation’s Tomorrow, When the War Began’. Both of those things appealed to me so I decided it was worth a shot… and I am so glad that I did! Since finishing this book I have heard a lot of meh things about this but I personally thought it was incredibly well-written novel, especially for a debut author.

Some more quick thoughts:

The setting worked wonders for this story. Sometimes books set in the Australian countryside/bushlands can be over-exaggerated and reinforce Aussie stereotypes, but Smith captured the beauty and rusticity of it perfectly. It was amazingly atmospheric, providing the perfect backdrop for both the survival and dystopian aspects of this story. I only wished we had been provided with a map on top of it!
• While the story was a survival adventure/action book at heart, it did include some relative commentary on multiple contemporary issues, such as asylum seeker/immigration and racism. I thought that it handled these topics very well. It felt that it was genuinely teenaged characters discussing these topics – without any (seemingly) hidden agendas – and done in a way which didn’t take away the attention from the focal points of the story.
I found that the characters could have done with some more fleshing out, honestly. I did like our protagonist, Finn – who was a strong but kind character – and our secondary cast, especially Kas. At the same time, however, I did not find them particularly memorable. The focus of the story remained on the plotline so it was hard to feel completely connected to them on a personal level. I think that really fleshing out their development would have helped to really top off an otherwise fantastic novel but at the same time, I didn’t have any major problems with the characters themselves so it feels silly to complain too strongly.
• The romance was a bit of a sore spot for a lot of readers but I thought it was done as well as it possibly could have been in a dystopian novel. Yes, it probably could have been taken out but you know what? It played an appropriately minor role in the overall storyline and there was no instalove… so I actually enjoyed it!
• Action and suspense are definitely this author’s strong point. I adore the storyline of this book as a whole. It focused on survival so it reminded me of a lot of childhood favourites (because I read a lot of books like this as a kid). While it was simple, it was never dull. The pacing was even and familiar. I loved the flow of the chapters and how we got swept up in this adventure with Finn. I was able to fly through the story in a single evening!
• However, the apocalypse which caused the dystopian state that this book is set in was not particularly well described. I didn’t think we got to know nearly enough about the virus or its effects in detail. Why did it kill females off more quickly than males? How did it spread? How has it affected the rest of the Australia (and the world)? I am also still confused about the ‘sileys’ situation.


This was a very quick read but I thought it was well-written, especially for a debut novelist. I didn’t connect to the characters as much as I would have liked but it was so easy to get swept up in the story that it didn’t really bother me until I had finished the book. I think this book will really appeal to a lot of younger readers, particularly people that are transitioning out of the middle grade genre.

Recommend For Fans Of Or Up Next: 

Have you read any of these books before – thoughts, if so? Oh, and if you’re a October = spooky books sort of reader, I’d definitely recommend The May Queens Murders. Are any of you seasonal readers? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
Rachel Lightwood

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9 responses to “{Rachel’s Reading Updates} The One With Cults, Cars and Craziness

  1. Great reviews! I agree with you on the ones I have read for sure. I think I liked The May Queen Murders a tiny bit less, but overall agree. I think Ivy was definitely my biggest problem too, I just didn;t feel like I cared enough about her to care what happened to her, basically. But I DO agree about the setting and atmosphere. As for BGBRBC, YEP. It was totally unrealistic, like ridiculously so. But for some reason, I kind of enjoyed it a little? Like, while reading, anyway, it was a quick read, even though it was kind of ridiculous, so I didn’t totally hate it. I want to read The Road to Winter for sure, so I am glad you liked it!

  2. Leah

    I hate it when book summaries spoil their plots. It’s like with movie trailers–leave some secrets for the audience. 🙂

    I wasn’t a big fan of The May Queen Murders, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. And I felt the same way about using Heather’s sexuality as a plot point. :/

  3. Nathan

    These books are all new to me. I sometimes am a seasonal reader. I picked up Recombinant by Shanuan Mayer and Senise Gover Swank and Anne Rice’s The Interview with the Vampire: Claudia’s Story, which is a graphic novel from Claudia’s perspective. The point of view of a child vampire, so different. I found both at my library. Both are vampire books, just so you know, and a little creepy.

  4. Liza

    All new to me Rach, but I’m glad you found two that you liked. The May Queen looks SO creepy and I try to be careful with those, because although I love mystery, I”m a wimp for horror.

    • The May Queen Murders was pretty good! It is a little bit spooky so I’d steer clear of it if you’re not into that. It’s more character-driven than most mysteries though so if you’re ever feeling brave… 🙂

  5. Oh it’s such a pet peeve when books spoil themselves in the blurbs. Like whyyyyy?!? Blurb writers need to know when to stop! But heh, I’m glad you had a few wins here, even if there was nothing really perfect. And awk, I kind of wanted to read Be Good Be Real but I heard it was really unbelievable and I do NOT do well with those kind of books with my overanalysing brain.😂 I will probably be giving that one a miss, even though I do think the cover is kind of cool/quirky.
    I hope you get a really AMAZING read soon, Rachel!

    • Don’t even get me started! I’ll rant all day, every day about this idiocy. I have no idea why blurb authors feel the need to spoil me for the book I’m about to read. It’s not okay! *sobs* I just really wish they’d stop doing that. Eeep, yeah… if you don’t do well with unbelievable-ness than I would just skip over Be Good Be Real Be Crazy because it is really NOT believable. At all. The cover is adorable, though. Agreed.

      The first and last ones weren’t too bad but yes, I really need a five-star read asap. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

  6. Great reviews Rachel!!❤️ I am definitely a seasonal reader and I have the Mara Dyer trilogy on my TBR this October as Halloween and I loooove creepy books! Do you have any creepy book recs??

    • Thanks, Prabhleen! I am kinda one myself. In summer, I do prefer my contemporaries over fantasy/paranormals but I don’t tend to read spooky books myself around this time of year. Probably because Australia doesn’t celebrate Halloween like other countries do. Creepy books are game all year round for me, haha.

      And for recs, I’d say James Dawson’s Say Her Name and Alex Bell’s Frozen Charlotte if you’re looking for some super creepy horror books. Happy reading!

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