Thursday, 28 April 2011

Book Review: Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon.

Product details:
Publisher: Usborne
Release date: May 1st 2011.
Paperback, 504 pages.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Ages: 12+
Source: Received from publisher for review.

On the morning of her sixteenth birthday, Renée Winters was still an ordinary girl. She spent her summers at the beach, had the perfect best friend, and had just started dating the cutest guy at school. No one she'd ever known had died. But all that changes when she finds her parents dead in the Redwood Forest, in what appears to be a strange double murder.

After the funeral Renée’s wealthy grandfather sends her to Gottfried Academy, a remote and mysterious boarding school in Maine, where she finds herself studying subjects like Philosophy, Latin, and the “Crude Sciences.”

It’s there that she meets Dante Berlin, a handsome and elusive boy to whom she feels inexplicably drawn. As they grow closer, unexplainable things begin to happen, but Renée can’t stop herself from falling in love. It’s only when she discovers a dark tragedy in Gottfried’s past that she begins to wonder if the Academy is everything it seems.Little does she know, Dante is the one hiding a dangerous secret, one that has him fearing for her life.

I’ve mentioned before that boarding school paranormals are a great weakness of mine, and I’m always on the lookout for more books about these schools with their strange happenings and swoonworthy love interests! So, when I first heard about Yvonne Woon’s Dead Beautiful last year, its interesting premise piqued my interest, and I couldn’t wait to read it.  However, while this book contains a lot of elements that I usually love, it fell a little short for me in places.  That’s not to say that Dead Beautiful won’t be loved by many.  Dark and decidedly dangerous, Dead Beautiful has elements of The Secret History and Twilight, and that combination makes for an intriguing read indeed!

Dead Beautiful opens when California girl, Renée Winters, on returning from a blissful day spent at the beach, discovers both of her parents dead, seemingly murdered, and in pretty strange circumstances too.  Soon, Renée’s life as she knows it is changed forever.  She is uprooted from California to Maine, and to Gottfried Academy a secluded boarding school with some strange customs and an unhealthy obsession with the dead language of Latin.  Gottfried is a school where secret meetings, secret societies and séances are the order of the day.  While Renee is desperate to solve the mystery of her parents murder, she soon finds out that Gottfried Academy, and, in particular, a boy called Dante Berlin are keeping their own dark secrets from her.  She discovers just how deadly these secrets are when one by one students start dying in the same mysterious circumstances as her parents…

Let’s focus on the romantic interest, Dante Berlin for a second.  Do you like the name? I hear readers are torn. Well, I liked the name, but I pretty much felt like that was the best thing about Dante.  Renée is an intelligent and feisty girl, but she somehow loses all reason whenever Dante is near, even though he doesn’t seem to have a great personality. He is good looking, though. Dante is presented to us as beautiful, dark and brooding.  He’s also tortured and hiding a terrible secret.  Well, if I’ve read about one of these dark, brooding, tortured souls, I’ve read about them all. Edward Cullen, you started a trend!  Nowadays, I need a little more from these beautiful boys who are all hiding deadly secrets! Not Renée though, she falls for Dante in five seconds flat, and even starts flunking class so she can get extra tutoring from him. Oh yeah, there’s a serious case of insta-love going on in this one!

For me, this relationship  just didn’t work, and I had a difficult time connecting with the characters, neither of whom are particularly likeable.  I liked the mystery element of the story, although I felt that this book, at over five hundred pages, was far too long. The storyline starts and ends with a bang, but the spaces in between are often long-winded and unnecessary.  The ending when it comes is an unusual one, and somewhat abrupt too.  While I’m in favour of a good cliffhanger done well, I do like closure on at least a couple of plot points, and so in that respect, this one left me unsatisfied.

Despite the shortcomings I found, there were elements of this one I enjoyed too.  I was a fan of the atmospheric setting and of the mystery, which kept me guessing for a large part of the book. You’ll have fun figuring out the secrets of Gottfried Academy and of Dante Berlin.   Dead Beautiful is a debut with a lot of potential and a lot of unanswered questions, so with all that in mind I will be checking out the sequel Life Eternal when it’s released in 2012.


  1. It sounds like it could've been better. Great, honest review :)

  2. This book sounded like it had alot of potential; what a shame it didn't really live up to that, it's always so disappointing. I hope the sequel is better for you.

  3. Ooh I'm so excited for this one to be released here so I can get my paws on a copy! It sounds awesome :D

  4. I tend to like those boarding school books too!! Sounds like this one is really good!

  5. If you like boarding school paranormals, check out Wake Unto Me! Loved that book.

    The summary alone has piqued my interest but reading your review, hm, I think I'll have to skip this one.

  6. Elements of The Secret History??? I am definitely reading this book! Moreover I haven't read any YA books set in boarding school, apart from the Gemma Doyle trilogy.

  7. I had the exact same reaction to this one Leanna! I thought it could have easily been 100 pages shorter and we wouldn't have lost any of the key elements, and I couldn't quite get involved with the Dante/Renee relationship - I never really understood why they cared for one another. Fabulous review as always:)

  8. I really am loving this cover! It's beautiful. But it's sad that it sounds like the books I have read before. I want something new. Great review.

  9. It seems like this book has a lot of potential with it set at a boarding school (love it too!) and having paranormal elements, etc, but it seems it fell flat for you. Over 500 pages? Yikes. I may wait to pick this one up; thanks for the honest review, Leanna!

  10. Yes, this is a long read but I enjoyed it. I actually thought the relationship worked. Although, in some ways it was a little bit like Twilight. I did think the ending was confusing, but knowing the mystery behind the story I'm looking forward to reading the sequel. I love the UK cover vs. the US one.

  11. Oh boy... instant love again? Such a pity in what really sounds like an otherwise promising read. Like you, I'm a huge fan of atmospheric/gothic novels, but the whole instant in love aspect is rather becoming very tiresome isn't it? Still, it's not to say I won't be checking it out - I just won't go out of my way to buy it. I do love the cover for this one though (and the gorgeous postcard of the book you've sent me) - it's very striking. Great review Leanna.

  12. Agreed! On all counts. I love the way you describe their relationship. :P I liked the mystery and atmosphere too, but that insta-love was pretty extreme.


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