Review: Cruel Summer, by James Dawson

“A yCruel Summer coverear after the suicide of one of their friends, the rest of the group decide to spend the summer together in a holiday villa in the Mediterranean. They’re hoping to get over the terrible events of the previous year, but then a new guest arrives – claiming to have evidence that the suicide was actually murder. When she is found dead, it becomes clear that the killer must be one of them – but who is it? And will they strike again?”

I read this on the flight home from Canada on Sunday. James Dawson is heading up the I’m Too Sexy For This Book panel I’m on at YALC, along with Non Pratt and Cat Clarke.

This isn’t my usual genre. Sure, it’s YA – but I’m more into romance, dystopian, and fantasy. This was more thriller/horror. Actually, it was like a horror movie in book form. (I don’t read horror books. I get creeped out too easily. I don’t watch horror movies either.) And for someone who hates horror, I loved this.

I was on tenterhooks the entire time. Literally, could not put it down. I read it by the light of my phone on the drive home from the airport because it got too dark to read but I had to see how it ended.

And OH MY GOD GO READ IT. SERIOUSLY. GAH.

I’d keyboard smash, but I’m trying to write a coherent review here.

Anyway – after Janey (supposedly) kills herself the year before, Ryan and his friends spend the summer at a villa in Spain. And it’s all good, until it’s not. There’s not just the elephant in the room of Janey, their dead friend, but also the fact that Ryan suspects she didn’t kill herself, but that maybe she was murdered.

And then Rox, a friend/rival from their old school shows up, and announces she has evidence that Janey’s death wasn’t an accident or suicide after all.

At that point, the book moves in to a whole other ballpark. It’s no longer just about friends dealing with loss and grief; it’s about suspecting each other of murder. And then when things go from bad to beyond worse, even as a reader you don’t know who to trust. The main POVs are Alisha and Ryan, and it got to a point where I thought, ‘Maybe it was Ryan. Can I even trust him anymore? Is he a reliable narrator in this story?’ I mean, Ryan lives to be the centre of attention and he’s got a penchant for drama – so I didn’t feel bad for suspecting him as I got my teeth into this story.

(Also, there was some romance in it. Which was really lovely and sweet. And it was funny at times, too. The book, not so much the romance scenes.)

And even though I was looking for any subtle clues the entire book that would tell me who the real killer was, I had no idea until the last hundred pages or so, when everything takes a whole other turn into the land of ‘This Is So Far Past Worse Than Bad That It’s Not Even A Dot On The Horizon Anymore.’

My heart was in my throat for about ninety percent of this book – basically, after the first few chapters, and Rox shows up causing trouble.

Even if you don’t like horror, I’d recommend this. It wasn’t creepy or gory; actually, maybe the fact that it seemed totally realistic was the scariest thing about it. But it made is such a gripping read. And I enjoyed it so much I don’t even know how to tell you guys how much I think you should go read it. So go find out for yourself why it’s so brilliant, okay?

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