Kate’s Review: “Catherine House”

51934838Book: “Catherine House” by Elisabeth Thomas

Publishing Info: Custom House, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: You are in the house and the house is in the woods. You are in the house and the house is in you . . .

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises its graduates a future of sublime power and prestige, and that they can become anything or anyone they desire.

Among this year’s incoming class is Ines, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, pills, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves and their place within the formidable black iron gates of Catherine.

For Ines, Catherine is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had, and her serious, timid roommate, Baby, soon becomes an unlikely friend. Yet the House’s strange protocols make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when Baby’s obsessive desire for acceptance ends in tragedy, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda that is connected to a secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.

Combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Catherine House is a devious, deliciously steamy, and suspenseful page-turner with shocking twists and sharp edges that is sure to leave readers breathless.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

If you are going to market a book as a Gothic novel, I am most likely going to be interested based on that alone. The isolated creepiness of the average Gothic novel gets me amped, and I’m glad that more and more authors, both adult and YA, are paying more attention to this genre. And when you throw in a mysterious boarding school/university setting, that’s practically catnip for me! “Catherine House” by Elisabeth Thomas, therefore, caught my eye. I downloaded it from NetGalley, eager to dive into a Gothic boarding school thriller with twists, turns, and nefarious misdeeds. Unfortunately, “Catherine House” missed the mark for me, by quite a bit.

Starting with the positive, this book has a LOT of potential. As I said, it both aspires to be a Gothic read set in a mysterious school that serves as alternative to university, and it promises to give its graduates all sorts of power and keys to mysterious opportunities. It can make powerful politicians, business people, power players of all stripes, and all you have to do is master it’s odd and super secretive curriculum and devote your entire life to Catherine House for three years, with no contact to the outside world. Ines, our protagonist, is fleeing a checkered past in hopes of starting on the right foot and with huge advantages to a new life. It’s pretty standard fare for this kind of book, and that’s not to say that that’s a bad thing. I liked seeing the odd quirks to Catherine House, the little shifts from what one might consider a ‘normal’ college experience, from food to decor to class types. There is also the fact that students at Catherine, Ines included, are involved in strange rituals involving something called plasm, and pins that you can insert into your body that can help harness the potential of this so called plasm…..

I mean, I think. Honestly, this wasn’t very clear to me. While it’s very possible I may have missed something, it seemed to me that the sticking point of the mystery of this book was at the plasm storyline and what it does, and why Catherine House wants to mess with it. So the fact that I could have missed the big conflict resolution doesn’t really imply that there was much detail or due diligence paid to said conflict. There is also the plot line where Ines’s roommate Baby has tragedy befall her all in hopes of fitting into the strict and high standard mold that Catherine House has, but I didn’t really get the sense that Ines was terribly concerned with it. Sure, I was TOLD that Ines was concerned, it’s even in the plot description. But there is very little actual time devoted to Ines feeling guilty, or suspicious, or vengeful over Baby’s fate. When that is touted as a main plot point in the description, I expect it to be more at the forefront. It just felt like more time was put into describing the quirks and strangeness of this place than there was devoted to the actual main plot. Because of this, I was mostly confused and uninvested throughout the narrative. Which is a shame, because there were so many good ideas here that had a lot of potential.

Suffice to say, I was quite disappointed with “Catherine House”. Hopefully the next time I find my literary catnip I will have a better experience.

Rating 4: While this book had a lot of promise, ultimately I didn’t feel like it committed to any of the themes it set out to explore.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Catherine House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Dark Academia”, and “Black Heroines 2020”.

Find “Catherine House” at your library using WorldCat, or at your local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “If It Bleeds”

46015758._sy475_Book: “If It Bleeds” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller The Outsider.

News people have a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.

Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog – and on her own need to be more assertive – when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realizes there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins ‘If It Bleeds’ , a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling The Outsider featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case – and also the riveting title story in Stephen King’s brilliant new collection.

Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this ‘formidably versatile author’ (The Sunday Times) – ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’ and ‘Rat’ . All four display the richness of King’s storytelling with grace, humor, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author’s Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer’s unparalleled imagination.

The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.

Review: Quarantine has been hard, but books have been helping me get through. And I’m very thankful that Stephen King happened to have his new book “If It Bleeds” arrive right when I was most needing a helping of my favorite author. True, short stories collections are things that I tend to be wary of, but King hasn’t failed me yet, so I jumped into this collection of four novellas without much trepidation. For me, King’s works and adaptations are like pancakes. Even when they aren’t as good, they’re still pretty enjoyable.

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Me during this Stephen King New Golden Age of Content. (source)

“If It Bleeds” is a collection of thriller and horror tales, the tried and true genres that King does best. I’m going to talk about all four, and then try to pull it all back together at the end. Bear with me, as this may get long.

“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”: We start off with an age old story about being careful what you wish for, as well as the wholesome bond between a young man and an elder in the community. Mr. Harrigan is an isolated rich man living in a small town, and he asks a boy named Craig to come read to him every week. Their friendship builds, and eventually Craig gets Mr. Harrigan connected to the Internet world with an iPhone. After Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig will call his phone to hear his voice again, and leave a message when he’s feeling down. But then Craig starts to wonder if he’s getting through to Mr. Harrigan beyond the grave… and what the consequences of that may be. This felt the most like an old school and straight forward Stephen King tale, with ambiguity, a bit of humor, and a coming of age tale laced with a bit of malice. It wasn’t really reinventing the wheel, and it also felt a lot like King’s story “Obits”, but it was a fun enough read.

“The Life of Chuck”: I had to go back and reread this one, as it’s definitely the most experimental of the stories within this collection. It’s not horror, and it’s not thriller. It’s more of a meditation on life, death, and the unknown impacts that our lives, and deaths, have. It was also a difficult one to read during the COVID-19 pandemic, as one of the big themes was about the end of the world. People are dealing with the end of the world, as a man named Chuck is dying in a hospital. We see Chuck’s life in reverse, starting with his death, and ending near the beginning. After reading it a second time I fully grasped what King was doing, and this story was neither scary, nor was it a thriller. It was a very quiet, meditative tale, one that added a more tender edge to this collection.

“If It Bleeds”: This was the story I was most looking forward to, as it brings us back to Holly Gibney, Jerome Robinson, and the world of the “Mr. Mercedes” Trilogy and “The Outsider”. Holly has been a top tier King character of mine ever since her debut in “Mr. Mercedes”, and seeing how she has grown and flourished through other tales has really been rewarding. So it’s probably no surprise that I greatly enjoyed “If It Bleeds”. After a middle school is bombed in a supposed terrorist attack, Holly starts to fixate on a good samaritan on the scene. This leans more towards “The Outsider” than the Bill Hodges Trilogy in terms of genre, but it still reads like a thriller at the heart of it, even Holly is once again after something supernatural. I was admittedly a little nervous that Holly may have a harder time carrying a story on her shoulders, since she does sometimes edge a bit towards King’s idea of a quirky savant. But Holly really has grown and edged out since her first adventure, and seeing her on her own tracking down something malevolent was suspenseful, poignant, and fun. And along with that, both Jerome and Barbara Robinson are back and are given some good things to do. King could keep coming back to all of these characters and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of them.

“Rat”: This felt the most like an old school Stephen King short story, as it has everything I’ve come to expect of that. A troubled writer, a secluded cabin, danger, and a potentially talking rat that can grant a wish at a great cost. Drew is an author who think that he is on the brink of another great novel, and since it’s been awhile since his last hit, he’s desperate to make something of it. He isolates himself in a remote cabin, and begins his work. But when a storm comes through and Drew is felled by illness and isolation, he turns to a talking rat who says that it can guarantee his book will be a hit… if he makes a sacrifice. It’s your usual Faustian deal, but it’s what led up to it that was the most interesting. As a storm rages and illness messes with Drew’s perceptions of reality, you get the suspense and questions as to how sound his mind is in that moment, and if he’s going to ultimately sacrifice everything for his craft. I also liked how King brought in how a marriage can suffer when one person is more dedicated to their own dream and ego than they are to those that care about them.

Overall, “If It Bleeds” was a solid collection from King. None of the stories blew me out of the water, but they all connected with me on one level or another. And right now, I just liked having the familiarity of my favorite author to help me get through.

Rating 8: A well done and comfortable collection of thriller stories, and a new story for a favorite character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“If It Bleeds” is included on the Goodreads list “Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2020”, and would fit in on “Great Dark Short Stories”.

Find “If It Bleeds” at your library using WorldCat, or at your local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Long Bright River”

43834909Book: “Long Bright River” by Liz Moore

Publishing Info: Riverhead Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Two sisters travel the same streets, though their lives couldn’t be more different. Then, one of them goes missing.

In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.

Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.

Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.

Review: My sister and I aren’t thick as thieves or anything like that. We get along pretty well, though we’re very different people. Lockdown has actually made us interact more than we have in awhile, vis a vis our Switches, playing “Mario Kart” and “Animal Crossing” together. But even though we aren’t best friends, I do love her very much (and am trying not to worry about the fact she and her wife are in New York City, the worst hit place for COVID-19 in this country). So whenever I see a story about sisters, I am bound to relate to it at least a little bit, which was part of the reason I was drawn to “Long Bright River” by Liz Moore. I figured that I could kind of justify it within the mystery or thriller genre, but once again this is a bit more literary than most thrillers I read.

While there are a couple of mysteries that “Long Bright River” centers around, this is more of a character study about two sisters who grew up in poverty, dealing with generational trauma and addiction. Mickey became a police officer, persuaded in part by her need to escape her familial situation, and by a cop who took an interest in her when she was a teen. Kacey, however, was swept up in drugs and addiction, like many people in their community as the opioid crisis looms. We see Mickey as she tries to find her sister as a serial killer starts to prey on addicts and sex workers on her beat, and as Mickey searches for her we get insight into both sisters through the present and through flashbacks. Moore really captures the complications of their relationship, exploring how their differences and their upbringing influenced them and changed them, and the ways they have both loved and hurt each other over the years. Though the perspective is Mickey’s, I felt like I knew both sisters by the time we came to the end, and could understand both of them, even their darker and rougher sides. You see how their sad home life (raised by their grandmother after their young mother died of a drug overdose and their father fled the coop) shaped them both, and can see why each took the paths that they did.

The mystery of the serial killer targeting addicts and sex workers definitely takes a back seat the the sisterly relationship, but the story of the sisters was so well done and so emotional that I didn’t really mind, even though I thought it would be more of a mystery than a character study. The character study was damned good, and it doesn’t limit itself to a sister theme. Along with the themes of childhood trauma and generational poverty and addiction, we also get a hard look at police corruption, and how communities seen as expendable are easily ignored by those who are supposed to protect them. Or sometimes, even explicitly targeted by them. I feel like sometimes books about police officers or detectives are more inclined to either ignore the systemic problems within the police, from racism to corruption to militarization that targets some groups while upholding the power of others. Or, if it’s not outright ignored there is assurance that the protagonist, and the protagonist’s unit, are not part of that problem, that they are good cops. But what I really liked about “Long Bright River” is that Moore acknowledges that Mickey is in it for the right reasons…. but a lot of the time, that isn’t enough.

I also really enjoyed the writing style of this book. Similar to the works of Cormac McCarthy, the dialogue isn’t in the usual punctuation. Instead it’s minimal, with dashes and not a lot beyond that. It always takes a little bit for me to get into this style, but once I’m in I’m in, and I thought that it was a complement to the overall story. I also liked that Moore played with the timeline, as mentioned above, going back in time to expand upon the narrative and to provide insight along the way. And finally, there are many, many references and moments that acknowledge the opioid crisis that has many people firmly in its grip. The story starts off with a list of people who have OD’d within the community that Mickey and Kacey have grown up in, which really sets the scene and serves to show that there is a pall that hangs over the story, just as there is a pall that’s hanging over society right now.

“Long Bright River” was a fantastic and heart rendering mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat. Steel yourself for something dark. But definitely take it on.

Rating 9: A dark and gritty mystery that examines police corruption, the opioid epidemic, and the powerful, if sometimes fraught, relationship between sisters, “Long Bright River” is a fantastic read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Long Bright River” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sister Mysteries”, and I think it would fit in on “Books of Philadelphia”.

Find “Long Bright River” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 1)”

52295766._sx318_sy475_Book: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” by Sina Grace and Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM!Box, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles and finds that the only ones who can help her find love and live life to the fullest are the ghosts of her new home!

In Los Angeles, finding an apartment is killer—unless you live with the dead. Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles for her boyfriend Ronnie, ready to live her happily ever after. But when happily ever after turns into happily for a month, she’s stuck in a strange city with no friends, family, or prospects for fun. Desperate to escape the lingering ghost of Ronnie’s presence everywhere, Daphne sets out to explore the city—and ends up encountering ghosts of a more literal kind! Rycroft Manor is abandoned, beautiful, and haunted. Will the dead be able to help Daphne find the life she’s been missing in the big city? From GLAAD Award-nominated Sina Grace (Iceman) and illustrator Siobhan Keenan (Jem and the Holograms) comes a story about learning how to make friends, find love, and live life to the fullest with a little help from some friends whose lives didn’t end at death. Collects Ghosted In L.A #1-4.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

When the writing was on the wall about the social distancing measures we as a society would need to take regarding COVID-19, I knew that my library pile wasn’t going to sustain me through the long weeks of staying at home. So I hopped onto NetGalley and began to request books that captured my interest. One of those was “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol 1)” by Sina Grace. I saw a cute looking graphic novel style and the promise of ghosts, which was enough to pique my interests. What I got, however, was something more than I anticipated, and something that I ended up really enjoying.

For one, yes, we have a ghost story, people. I love a good ghost story, and it doesn’t even have to be scary for me to enjoy it. The ghosts in “Ghosted in L.A.” (for the most part) aren’t all that threatening, but have mysterious reasons as to why they have continued their afterlives in the abandoned Rycroft Manor. Before each chapter, we get a bit of insight into the backgrounds of each ghostly character, from ringleader Agi to kindhearted Bernard to toxic Maurice, which makes their interactions with Daphne more layered an interesting. It also means that they aren’t relegated to ghost sidekicks, and that we get to see their motivations and backgrounds. I am very interested in learning more about them, and given that we’ve discovered some pretty dark and even dangerous things about some, it makes me feel like there are no guarantees that these ghosts are all going to be the kindhearted roommates that Daphne wants.

But surprisingly, the aspect of this comic that I liked the most had less to do with the ghosts, and more to do with the coming of age journey that our protagonist Daphne is on. She’s an 18 year old who has followed her boyfriend to Los Angeles for school, but then finds herself single and in a city that she knows very little about. 18 is already a confusing and scary time, so this, of course, sets her on a path of making some questionable decisions, and having to contend with not always pleasant people who are going to be supportive of her. Daphne is definitely a flawed and sometimes frustrating character. Sometimes I wanted to shake her because she was being foolhardy or blissfully un-self aware, but at the same time I remember what it was like being an 18 year old in the middle of a huge identity shift. From problems with her standoffish and judgmental roommate to conflict with her at home best friend to trying to reconcile her newly single status (especially since her ex Ronnie is really a good guy), Daphne is all kinds of realistic and relatable. I find myself really wanting her to succeed, even when she’s being all kinds of unreasonable.

And finally, I really love the artwork. It’s upbeat and colorful, and all of the characters have their unique feels while still being very of the style at hand. Plus, I love the coloring on the ghosts, which makes use of the darker side of the color wheel without being limited to just different shades of grey.

ghostedinla_002_press_6
(source)

I really enjoyed “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 1)”, and I will definitely be on the look out for Volume 2!

Rating 8: A super cute and creative comic about finding oneself and ghosts, “Ghosted in L.A.” has a lot of potential to become a new favorite comic series of mine!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads list “Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy Set in California”.

Find “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Follow Me”

46408162._sy475_Book: “Follow Me” by Kathleen Barber

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Everyone wants new followers…until they follow you home.

Audrey Miller has an enviable new job at the Smithsonian, a body by reformer Pilates, an apartment door with a broken lock, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to bear witness to it all. Having just moved to Washington, DC, Audrey busies herself impressing her new boss, interacting with her online fan base, and staving off a creepy upstairs neighbor with the help of the only two people she knows in town: an ex-boyfriend she can’t stay away from and a sorority sister with a high-powered job and a mysterious past.

But Audrey’s faulty door may be the least of her security concerns. Unbeknownst to her, her move has brought her within striking distance of someone who’s obsessively followed her social media presence for years—from her first WordPress blog to her most recent Instagram Story. No longer content to simply follow her carefully curated life from a distance, he consults the dark web for advice on how to make Audrey his and his alone. In his quest to win her heart, nothing is off-limits—and nothing is private.

Kathleen Barber’s electrifying new thriller will have you scrambling to cover your webcam and digital footprints.

Review: As you all know, I love the book “You” and it’s sequel “Hidden Bodies”. One of the creepiest aspects of those books is that we follow the stalker and creepazoid Joe Goldberg and get to root around in his head when he is obsessing over women, and going to violent lengths to get near them. As much as I LOVE those books, part of me has wondered how they would have been different if we’d been able to get a little more in the heads as his victims as much as we did his. So as I was reading “Follow Me” by Kathleen Barber, I was struck by the fact that that was basically what I was getting: insight into the stalking victim’s thought process and motivations.

“Follow Me” is another thriller novel that will make you want to double check your privacy settings on all of your social media, as the slow cat and mouse game of watching a mysterious stalker hone in on social media influencer Audrey is tense and freaky. Barber switches the perspectives between three distinct voices: ‘Him’, the stalker; Audrey, the ambitious and a little self involved social media influencer; and Cat, Audrey’s best friend from college whom she has reconnected with after moving to D.C. We get insights into each of the characters through these narratives, and while they aren’t always the most reliable, they all give key clues to the overarching mysteries at hand. I thought that all of them had distinct voices, and that Barber did a really good job of parsing out the pertinent clues between them. The pacing of their narratives really kept me interested, and the building suspense held a grip that kept me reeled in. Plus, at the beginning Barber has an author’s note that really lays out and explains some of the extra invasive and stalker-y tricks that some of these creeps will pull, like RAT software and spyware. This stuff is what nightmares are made of.

But what I appreciated most about this book was that it really humanized, but didn’t glamorize or infantilize, our stalking victim Audrey. Too often do we find narratives in the thriller genre in which women are either innocent and naive victims, or conniving bitches and/or whores who somehow deserve what is coming to them. Even “You” sometimes treads towards this, though I think that it ultimately doesn’t fall into this because EVERYONE in that book is horrible so it’s an even playing field (plus, what Joe does to Beck is horrifying). But in “Follow Me”, Audrey is given a lot of grace, even if she’s incredibly flawed. I was both hoping that everything would be okay for her, and also wanting to shake her because of her self involvement and mistreatment of those around her. I do wish that the same grace had been granted to Cat, as while we did learn a lot about of things about her past that explained her strange quirks, she felt a bit more two dimensional than I wanted her to be.

I will say that I thought that there were some hasty plot twists thrown in, and that the end fell apart by the time we got there. There were just some things that felt obvious and slapdash, and had the foundation been laid out a bit better it would have paid off more. But the journey getting to the end was so suspenseful and engaging that I didn’t really care about some of the ill conceived twists and turns.

“Follow Me” was a fun and unsettling read. Definitely pick it up if you want a suspenseful book, but also make sure you have something to cover your computer camera with once you are done with it.

Rating 8: A fast paced and suspenseful thriller that was enjoyable. It kind of fell apart at the end, but the time getting there was far too entertaining to discount.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Follow Me” is included on the Goodreads lists “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications Jan-July 2020)”.

Find “Follow Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Something She’s Not Telling Us”

44594911Book: “Something She’s Not Telling Us” by Darcey Bell

Publishing Info: Harper, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: She’s on the verge of having it all…

But one woman stands in her way.

Charlotte has everything in life that she ever could have hoped for: a doting, artistic husband, a small-but-thriving flower shop, and her sweet, smart five-year-old daughter, Daisy. Her relationship with her mother might be strained, but the distance between them helps. And her younger brother Rocco may have horrible taste in women, but when he introduces his new girlfriend to Charlotte and her family, they are cautiously optimistic that she could be The One. Daisy seems to love Ruth, and she can’t be any worse than the klepto Rocco brought home the last time. At least, that’s what Charlotte keeps telling herself. But as Rocco and Ruth’s relationship becomes more serious, Ruth’s apparent obsession with Daisy grows more obvious. Then Daisy is kidnapped, and Charlotte is convinced there’s only one person who could have taken her.

Ruth has never had much, but now she’s finally on the verge of having everything she’s ever dreamed of. A stable job at a start-up company, a rakish, handsome boyfriend with whom she falls more in love with every day—and a chance at the happy family she’s always wanted, adorable niece included. The only obstacle standing in her way is her boyfriend’s sister Charlotte, whose attitude swerves between politely cold and outright hostile. Rebuffing Ruth’s every attempt to build a friendship with her and Daisy, Charlotte watches over her daughter with a desperate protectiveness that sends chills down Ruth’s spine. Ruth knows that Charlotte has a deeply-buried secret, the only question is: what? A surprise outing with Daisy could be the key to finding out, and Ruth knows she must take the chance while she has it—for everyone’s sake.

As the two women follow each other down a chilling rabbit hole, unearthing winding paths of deceit, lies, and trauma, a family and a future will be completely—and irrevocably—shattered.

From its very first page, Something She’s Not Telling Us takes hold of readers’ imagination in a harrowing, unforgettable thriller that dives deep into the domestic psyche and asks the question:

Is anyone ever really who they say they are…?

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

When the movie “A Simple Favor” came out I was interested in seeing it, but knew that I should probably read the book first. So I listened to the Darcey Bell thriller while driving in the car, and while it was fine, I ultimately liked the movie version better. Scandalous, I know. But I did like it enough that I wanted to see more from Bell. So when I saw that her newest novel, “Something She’s Not Telling Us”, was up on NetGalley, I requested it, hoping that I would get to read it. There’s definitely something about Bell and the way she writes and crafts a story, in that it can suck you in and be unrelenting.

What I will say about “Something She’s Not Telling Us” is that, once again, I got sucked in pretty handily. It’s told from (mostly) two perspectives of two different women. The first is Charlotte, a high stung and privileged wife and mother living in New York City. She has a loving husband, a darling daughter named Daisy, and a job that she enjoys, though she is constantly fretting about Daisy’s well being and judging her younger brother Rocco for his poor taste in girlfriends. The other perspective is that of Ruth, Rocco’s current girlfriend who is desperate to impress Charlotte and hoping that Rocco is The One. As the two women interact we are treated to two unreliable narrators in their own ways, one seemingly wearing her heart on her sleeve while the other is trying to control a narrative. As we switched between their perspectives, the pacing was such that I felt like it was very easy to keep going between the two. It was incredibly readable, and I devoured the book in a couple of sittings in a weekend.

But ultimately, “Something She’s Not Telling Us” had the same pitfalls that “A Simple Favor” did. The first is that the mystery was perfectly fine and one I was invested in, but I kind of figured out a number of aspects to it quickly. It was clear from the get go that both Charlotte and Ruth were going to be unreliable in their own ways, but it wasn’t very difficult for me to tell which one was the one to be keeping my eye on. On top of that, there were very few actually likable people in this book, which was the same problem I had with “A Simple Favor”, the book. None of them felt particularly complex in their characterizations, so their nastiness didn’t really have any sort of softened blow. Sure, some tragic childhood stuff was tossed in, but not enough exploration or depth was done to make it feel like much more than a catch all. And the problem with unlikable or unrelateable characters at the end of the day is that ultimately, you aren’t invested in what happens to them. I did want to keep reading, but it wasn’t because of any of the characters that I was following. And frankly, when it gets down to it there wasn’t really anything unique or new about the various reveals and twists that we saw here. Readable, yes, but not exactly unique or memorable.

I’m still interested in reading what Bell may come out with in the future, mainly because there still continues to be a certain something that kept me going and reading. But “Something She’s Not Telling Us” didn’t stand out from other run of the mill thrillers that are coming out at the moment.

Rating 5: A very readable thriller, but not one with a lot of new things to say, “Something She’s Not Telling Us” has some okay twists, but not many interesting characters or plot developments.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Something She’s Not Telling Us” is included on the Goodreads list “Crime, Mystery, & Thrillers, 2020”.

Find “Something She’s Not Telling Us” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Little Secrets”

45046683Book: “Little Secrets” by Jennifer Hillier

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley

Book Description: From the author of Jar of Hearts, a mother driven to the edge by the disappearance of her son learns her husband is having an affair with the woman who might have kidnapped him. Four hundred and eighty seconds. That’s how long it took for someone to steal Marin Machado’s four-year-old son.

Marin had the perfect life. Married to her college sweetheart, she owns a chain of upscale hair salons, and Derek runs his own company. They’re admired in their community and are a loving family. Up until the day Sebastian is taken. A year later, Marin is a shadow of herself. The FBI search has gone cold. The publicity has faded. She and her husband rarely speak. The only thing keeping her going is the unlikely chance that one day Sebastian reappears. She hires a P.I. to pick up where the police left off, but instead of finding him, she discovers that Derek is having an affair with a younger woman.

Kenzie Li is an artist and grad student—Instagram famous—and up to her eyeballs in debt. She knows Derek is married. She also knows he’s rich, and dating him comes with perks: help with bills, trips away, expensive gifts. He isn’t her first rich boyfriend, but she finds herself hoping he’ll be the last. She’s falling for him—and that was never part of the plan.

Discovery of the affair sparks Marin back to life. She’s lost her son; she’s not about to lose her husband, too. Kenzie is an enemy with a face, which means this is a problem Marin can fix. But as she sets a plan in motion, another revelation surfaces. Derek’s lover might know what happened to their son. And so might Derek.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

When I picked up a Jennifer Hillier book for the first time, I was completely enthralled by it. “Jar of Hearts” sucked me in and fucked me up, and I knew right then and there that I needed to add Jennifer Hillier to my ‘must read’ list. So when I saw that she had a new book coming out called “Little Secrets”, I was pretty damn hyped. I was hoping we’d get another soapy thriller that was infused with a little more darkness than you might see from other books within the genre. After all, I kept thinking of “The Silence of the Lambs” while reading “Jar of Hearts”, and I wondered if something similar would happen with “Little Secrets”.

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Okay I just needed to use this gif. Does it fit? Eh. (source)

While “Little Secrets” didn’t quite rise to the level of “Jar of Hearts” in terms of darkness, it still managed to serve a twisted and well plotted mystery that really had me on my toes during my read. Hillier mostly focuses on the perspective of Marin Machado, a woman who is still reeling over the disappearance of her four year old son Sebastian. Her relationship with her husband Derek is almost nonexistent, and her life is a string of just trying to survive each day. I thought that Marin was a great protagonist for the genre she exists within. She’s incredibly damaged and makes pretty questionable decisions, but I thought that Hillier did a really good job of showing us how her trauma has changed her and why it makes her do what she does. Even when she considers going to really dark and terrible places, Hillier has laid enough groundwork that while you may not approve, you still have a lot of empathy for her. I really liked Marin. It’s not uncommon for me to get irritated with these ‘damaged women’ protagonists, but Marin never took me there.

But then there is another perspective that we get to  see in this book, and it is that of Kenzie, the mistress that Derek has taken up with and the main focus of Marin’s ire. Kenzie, too, gets an in depth backstory with her own various moments of vulnerability and trauma. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like we got enough of it to make her truly sympathetic. I won’t go too much into detail with her, as she really is a cornerstone of the mystery at hand, but just know that I was solidly Team Marin. I don’t know if that was because Hillier wanted my sympathies in this place, or if she didn’t quite give Kenzie enough depth. Either way, she never really rose above the ‘perhaps conniving mistress or maybe not?’ trope.

The mystery, though, was great. Between the disappearance of Sebastian, Kenzie’s true intentions, and whether or not Marin is going to go fully to the dark side, we got a very intricate web of lies, jealousy, and deceit! You know that there are puzzle pieces laid out in the open, but you aren’t completely sure as to what they are. Red Herrings are present, but never overused, and by the time we got to the end of the story I was breathless and finally able to relax. The suspense builds at the perfect pace and I loved how it all came to a head. A well executed ending is always going to get props from me, as sometimes in this genre endings and plot points will overreach. Hillier never makes that mistake in this book.

Hillier is still one of the best thriller authors out there, and “Little Secrets” made certain of that. Cannot wait to see what she comes out with next!!

Rating 8: A twisty and suspenseful thriller about lies, jealousy, and trauma, “Little Lies” is another great read from Jennifer Hillier!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Little Secrets” is included on the Goodreads list “Crime, Mystery, & Thrillers, 2020”, and would fit in on “Popular Missing Persons Books”.

Find “Little Secrets” at your library using WorldCat!