Kate’s Review: “Good Girls Lie”

42771599Book: “Good Girls Lie” by J.T. Ellison

Publishing Info: Mira Books, December 2019

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

Book Description: Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

J.T. Ellison’s pulse-pounding new novel examines the tenuous bonds of friendship, the power of lies and the desperate lengths people will go to to protect their secrets.

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

The end of 2019 is upon us and on this New Years Eve we are going to close out the 2019 blog year with one of my favorite guilty pleasure genres: the soapy catty boarding school thriller! Oh how I love the juicy and scandalous tales of kids at boarding school behaving badly, and if you have an interesting mystery to boot it’s just icing on the cake. So how lucky for me that I was approved to check out “Good Girls Lie” by J.T. Ellison. Boarding school drama, secret societies, and murder are just a few of the juicy tidbits you’ll find in this novel.

Our main character is Ash, an English orphan who has been accepted to the prestigious Goode school, an all girls academy that is said to produce women who go on to the Ivy League and then find themselves in powerful jobs and totally set lives. Ash isn’t interested in making friends, as she just wants to finish school and move on with her life. It’s told from the first person perspective, and I have to say that Ellison is really good at still maintaining a sense of mystery in spite of the fact we are in Ash’s head for most of the novel (there are some other perspectives, but more on that later). We know that something went down while she was back in England, and that Ash is hiding something. Pretty standard stuff, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining. If anything, the fact that it hit a lot of familiar notes and had a number of red herrings and twists made it feel like a comfortable sweater that fit in every way I wanted it to. Ash as a main character was also a positive of this story, as I thought that she had enough mystery and relatability that I was invested in how things turned out for her, as well as worried about what she may or may not be capable of. I was genuinely questioning if I was dealing with an unreliable narrator or not, and I couldn’t wait to see how it all shook out. I also enjoyed the complicated relationship Ash had with another student at the school, Becca. Becca is a couple years older than Ash and one of the most envied, and perhaps feared, girls at Goode, and her interest in Ash is something that makes other girls jealous and curious. Their friendship is filled with a fair amount of sexual tension, and question as to whether either of them can be trusted makes the tension all the more amped, and therefore satisfying.

There was one aspect of this book that didn’t totally work for me, and that is that along with Ash’s perspective, we also occasionally get some third person perspectives from Dean Ford, the headmistress at Goode. While I think that multiple perspectives can be done well, and that you can construct more ‘ah ha!’ moments if you have the ability to see outside the first person narration, a lot of the moments that we had with Ford were more about showing her weaknesses and personal problems. I like the concept of exploring a woman who has to live up to the reputations of the many other head mistresses that the school has had (in particular, her mother, who was the previous head mistress), and how she may fixate on a new, and potentially damaged student, but the way that it was executed felt like it was fat that could have been trimmed.

“Good Girls Lie” was a boarding school thriller that hit the familiar points. Like I’ve said before, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! If you want a read that you can just enjoy for what it is, and you like boarding school thrillers, this will be a good fit. I hope that you all have a very happy and safe New Year’s Eve, and I’ll see you in 2020!!

Rating 7: A soapy mystery with catty drama, “Good Girls Lie” was a worthy contribution to the ‘thriller at a boarding school’ genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Good Girls Lie” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Sapphic Boarding School Books”.

Find “Good Girls Lie” at your school using WorldCat!

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2019: Picks 5 Through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! Like past years I won’t be including re-reads, and I also realized that sometimes my opinion of a book could change and evolve after I had read it, so some surprises may be up near the top. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “Twelve Days of Christmas” Giveaway! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. 

43263388Pick Number 5: “Trace of Evil” by Alice Blanchard

“Trace of Evil” Review

This procedural mystery perfectly combined a can do female detective, the baggage that she carries, and the secrets and dark sides of a small town. I loved Natalie Lockhart, the detective who is determined to solve a number of missing persons cases and who is pulled into the murder of her colleague’s wife. Blanchard created a realistic and relatable main character, and created a mystery that is sure to suck in fans of thrillers, especially if said fan also has a love for stories about witches and witchcraft. So, basically me. “Trace of Evil” kept me guessing and kept me interested, and I cannot wait to see where Natalie Lockhart goes next!

35887567._sy475_Pick Number 4: “On the Come Up” by Angie Thomas

Goodreads Info

This is the second book on this list that didn’t make it to the blog, and I’m thinking that I will need to start making exceptions for Angie Thomas. “The Hate U Give” was the book that became an instant YA phenomenon (and made it onto my list the year it came out), and “On the Come Up” was a fantastic follow up. Bri is an aspiring rapper who has dreams of following in her father’s footsteps. He was an up and coming performer when he was murdered. But Bri’s mother would prefer that she focus on her studies. And when her mother loses her job and some very real threats of homelessness and hunger start to loom, Bri becomes more determined to become famous to she can help her family, no matter what. Thomas has once again written a gritty, heartfelt, and emotional story, and it solidifies her as an incredibly talented author.

43263680Pick Number 3: “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo

“Ninth House” Review

This book took me by complete surprise this year, as I’ve had an on and off appreciation for Leigh Bardugo’s books over the past few years. I picked up “Ninth House” on a whim, and ended up being completely enthralled by it. Alex Stern is part of the Lethe House, a group at Yale that keeps an eye on the other Secret Societies, as the use of magic and rituals has gotten out of control in the past. Alex is a fish out of water at the prestigious school, but the offer of a free ride in exchange for her talent to see ghosts seems like a good deal. But, obviously it’s not as easy and uncomplicated as all that. Bardugo creates a fun twist to a familiar setting, and weaves in the themes of privilege and entitlement into her supernatural dark fantasy. Definitely the best horror/dark fantasy of the year for me!

29225589._sx318_Pick Number 2: “Bloom” by Kevin Panetta

“Bloom” Review

This is an example of a book that I gained more and more appreciation for as more time passed. When I initially reviewed “Bloom” by Kevin Panetta, I gave it some high praise, but held off on giving it my highest rating of a ten. Looking back, I really don’t know why I did that, because whenever I think of it I burst with joy. The love story between two young men that centers in a bakery is sweet and gentle and it was such an enjoyable graphic novel that I keep thinking about it months later. The anxious and big dreamed Ari meets his match in the low key and loyal Hector, and their slow building relationship has ups, downs, joy, and heartache, and I loved following every moment of it. On top of that, the illustrations by Savanna Ganucheau are done in such away that conveys the overall heart and gentleness of this story that they complement it completely. I loved “Bloom”, and imagine I’ll revisit it again and again.

40538634Pick Number 1: “Highway of Tears” by Jessica McDiarmid

“Highway of Tears” Review

My number one pick book of 2019 was also one of the hardest reads of the year. Albeit necessary. True crime is incredibly popular right now, with numerous books and podcasts and TV shows dedicated to the subject, and one of the worst cases in the history of Canada is the disappearance and murders of dozens upon dozens of Indigenous Women along Highway 16. “Highway of Tears” is a detailed and compassionate examination the disappearances and murders, the society and Government that has enabled racism and prejudice that adds to the unsolved status of the cases, and a heartbreaking story of many of the victims, stories that otherwise have fallen by the wayside. This was an emotional and important read, and I cannot recommend it enough, even if it will leave you feeling devastated.

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2019?

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2019: Picks 10 Through 6

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! Like past years I won’t be including re-reads, and I also realized that sometimes my opinion of a book could change and evolve after I had read it, so some surprises may be up near the top. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “Twelve Days of Christmas” Giveaway! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. 

41837243Pick Number 10: “Lock Every Door” by Riley Sager

“Lock Every Door” Review

It took a lot of mulling and hemming and hawing to decide which book was going to be the first to make the Top 10 of 2019. But the book that eventually got the honor was Riley Sager’s “Lock Every Door”, which means all of Sager’s books have been in my Top 10 in the years that they’ve been published. This book got the spot because it was compulsively readable, it had some delicious homages to the creepiness of the Dakota in New York and “Rosemary’s Baby”, and kept me guessing for a majority of the time. Sager still finds ways to surprise me and I greatly, GREATLY look forward to his books every year, and “Lock Every Door” was a wicked and paranoia inducing thriller that will make you question if you’re actually safe in your own home, and if perhaps someone is watching your every move.

38225791Pick Number 9: “Two Can Keep A Secret” by Karen M. McManus

“Two Can Keep A Secret” Review

Karen M. McManus is well on her way to becoming a YA mystery guru, with her debut “One of Us Is Lying” becoming a runaway hit and it’s sequel “One of Us Is Next” coming out early next year. And between those was the (as of now) standalone “Two Can Keep A Secret”, a YA mystery involving missing people, a small town with secrets, and intrepid twins who are new in town. “Two Can Keep A Secret” sucked me in and made sure that I was fully invested in twins Ellery and Ezra and their transition to the town of Echo Ridge. Ellery and her love interest Malcolm were some of the best YA characters I read in 2019, and their romance and tangentially shared traumas that involve a notorious tragedy came together and wove a story I was completely obsessed with. I still think that fans of adult thrillers would find a lot to like in McManus’s books, and “Two Can Keep A Secret” would be the perfect place to start!

42527866Pick Number 8: “They Called Us Enemy” by George Takei

“They Called Us Enemy” Review

Being a “Star Trek” fan I was of course very interested in reading Takei’s graphic memoir about his time in an interment camp during WWII, and “They Called Us Enemy” became one of the best graphic novels I read in 2019 because of it’s scary timeliness. Takei recounts a traumatic and disgusting part in American history where American citizens were imprisoned because of their race and ethnicity, and he gives it a personal and vulnerable spin. Takei’s story is combined with how Executive Order 9066 came to be, and gives a comprehensive and easy to follow history lesson of one of our nation’s greatest shames. Given that there are internment camps along the border now in 2019, it goes to show that perhaps history isn’t so hard to repeat. “They Called Us Enemy” is necessary reading, and one of the most powerful memoirs of the year.

35133922Pick Number 7: “Educated” by Tara Westover

Goodreads Info

Ah ha, the first book of my Top 10 of 2019 that didn’t make it onto the blog due to time and theme! But I would be remiss if I left the fantastic “Educated” off my list. This memoir tells the story of how Tara Westover went from a fundamentalist and abusive home where her education and worth were thrown by the wayside, to becoming an incredibly educated and  independent woman free from her toxic family’s influence. “Educated” is a story that I couldn’t put down and read in one night, and Westover’s deeply personal tale was hard to read at times (from her mentally ill father who isolated the family, to her complicit mother,  to her abusive older brother and the violence he heaped at her), but at the same time it was completely inspirational as she did everything she could to escape. There’s a reason this was such a runaway hit. If you haven’t read “Educated” yet and were mulling it, do it. DO IT.

60931Pick Number 6: “Kindred” by Octavia Butler

“Kindred” Review

The speculative fiction/historical fiction/science fiction epic from Octavia Butler was the stand out book club pick of the year for me! I had always meant to read “Kindred” but hadn’t gotten around to it, but when we picked it for the club it was finally time. This story of a black woman sent back in time to an Antebellum plantation has been hailed as a classic of sci-fi, and it’s commentary on race, racism, and privilege is still resonant in the decades after it was first published. Butler isn’t afraid to tell violent truths about slavery in America, and she also finds ways to show how it still continues to haunt society in the 20th Century, and beyond (which she probably hadn’t intended, and yet here we are). “Kindred” is a hard read, but it’s excellent, and necessary if you want to see what speculative fiction can achieve when it comes to commentary on society.

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2019?

Kate’s Review: “The Twisted Ones”

42527596._sy475_Book: “The Twisted Ones” by T. Kingfisher

Publishing Info: Gallery/Saga Press, October 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods.

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.

From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher. 

Review: Of all the horror genres, folk horror tends to be one of the few that I have a hard time sinking my teeth into. While I love the movie “The Wicker Man” (and “The Blair Witch Project”, if you can classify it as such? I feel like maybe you could?), I still haven’t seen “Midsommer” and don’t feel a huge draw to do so. I’ve read a few folk horror novels, and none of them really stood out to me as particularly engrossing or engaging. But I am always wanting to give the subgenre a chance. Because of this, I wanted to read “The Twisted Ones” by T. Kingfisher. After all, while it was described as ‘folk horror’ by some reviewers, the idea of monsters in the woods slowly creeping up was too good of a premise to pass by.

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Have I been burned by this premise before? Yes. Yet I keep the faith that I won’t be frustrated every time I pick up such a book. (source)

“The Twisted Ones” starts out with a lot of promise. A woman named Mouse (our first person narrator) has gone to her grandmother’s house (along with her dog Bongo) to clean it out after she has died. Mouse and her grandmother didn’t get along, as her grandmother was a TERRIBLE human being, but Mouse was close to her stepgrandfather, Cotgrave, and as she’s cleaning memories of her time with him bubble up. At night she has to contend with her grief and guilt regarding Cotgrave, her anger at her grandmother, and strange noises she hears outside that Bongo just won’t leave alone. As one might guess, the noises aren’t just harmless nature sounds, and soon Mouse finds herself being drawn into stories of ‘twisted ones’, and stumbling into landscapes that shouldn’t be there. Throughout all of this, I was definitely enjoying this story and the slow burn that Kingfisher was putting forth. I liked how through Mouse’s narration we are tuned in with her own initial skepticism (and delightful snark), though we have a dread in our gut that the noises and the weird blurs of animals running around in the dark aren’t just run of the mill North Carolina fauna. As it slowly becomes clear that Mouse and Bongo are dealing with something sinister and threatening, the tension is so tightly wound that the reader will potentially look out their own dark window at night and worry about what they will see. The building tension is grand, as are the supporting characters that Mouse meets while she is in the cabin in the woods. From Foxy the eccentric woman down the road to Tomas the helpful handyman, Mouse and the cast of characters feel real and sympathetic, to the point where you care about them and what happens to them.

All that said, once we get to the heart of the horror and find out what these creatures are any why they are here, the fear and scares immediately departed for this reader. I think that when it comes to ‘monsters in the woods stories’, I am only interested until the monster is revealed. The terror and dread is the unknown, the strange noises in the woods, the blurs in the moonlight. When we get to portals and interactions with the actual beings face to face, and the other revelations as to what they may or may not with Mouse, my interest was completely lost. But I think that has more to do with a lot of my own folk horror tastes, which are firmly placed more towards ambiguity and the unknown. I am far more taken in by an unseen Blair Witch who may or may not be stalking a group of filmmakers in the woods, than I am by a reveal of ‘monsters in the woods aren’t real but used to control the town’ two thirds of the way through the narrative. You have me when it’s ambiguous in folk horror. The moment you explain it, my interest wanes.

This is very much an instance of my own personal tastes getting in the way of the story, and that shouldn’t dissuade ride or die folk horror fans from checking it out. “The Twisted Ones” has some tense moments and scary themes regardless of how I felt about the last third of the book. So don’t take my word for it. Give it a go if this sounds like a book that will keep you up at night and out of the woods.

Rating 6: This had some tense moments and a fun and snarky narrator, but the big reveal was a bit of a let down. That said, it could be just me, and not the book itself.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Twisted Ones” is included on the Goodreads lists “A Walk in the Woods”, and “Best Supernatural Books, No Romance, No Series”.

Find “The Twisted Ones” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Monster, She Wrote”

44594661Book: “Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction” by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Weird fiction wouldn’t exist without the women who created it. Meet the female authors who defied convention to craft some of literature’s strangest tales. And find out why their own stories are equally intriguing.

Everyone knows about Mary Shelley, creator of Frankenstein; but have you heard of Margaret Cavendish, who wrote a science-fiction epic 150 years earlier? Have you read the psychological hauntings of Violet Paget, who was openly involved in long-term romantic relationships with women in the Victorian era? Or the stories of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, whose writing influenced H.P. Lovecraft? Monster, She Wrote shares the stories of women past and present who invented horror, speculative, and weird fiction and made it great. You’ll meet celebrated icons (Ann Radcliffe, V.C. Andrews), forgotten wordsmiths (Eli Coltor, Ruby Jean Jensen), and today’s vanguard (Helen Oyeyemi). And each profile includes a curated reading list so you can seek out the spine-chilling tales that interest you the most.

Review: Even though horror is hands down my favorite literary genre (or genre of any kind of consumable media), that doesn’t exclude it from my general lack of experience with ‘the classics’. Sure, I’ve read books like “Frankenstein”, “Dracula”, and “The Turn of the Screw”, but in general I have kept my horror experiences fairly solidly in the 20th century and beyond. On top of that, a lot of what I’ve read has been fairly male dominated. So when I saw that “Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction” was a book that was coming out, I decided that I needed to educate myself about horror classics, specifically those written by women, and to expand my ‘to-read’ list to fit the recommendations made within this book.

And boy are there many recommendations! “Monster, She Wrote” gives us a list of female authors of horror and speculative fiction, gives a comprehensive but succinct biography of each of them, and explains the importance and significance of a few of their works, or at the very least gives us the plot and lets us suss out the significance for ourselves. Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson are sure to cast a wide net throughout the genres, covering a number of different authors and subgenres within the genres. Each section is divided based on the subgenres, which I liked because it made is so I could give extra focus on the kinds of stories that really tickle my fancy and to hone in on the authors that perfected the stories. While they, of course, cover some of the heavy hitters like Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson, they also are sure to bring in diverse perspectives, including women like Toni Morrison and Helen Oyeymi, so that the texts discussed and recommended aren’t incredibly white in nature (side note, I loved that “Beloved” was included in this book and Morrison by association. It’s one of my favorite books and at it’s heart it is, indeed, a very effective ghost story). I also got to learn about a number of authors who I had either only heard of in passing, or had never heard of, and because of this I now have added people like Edith Wharton and Anne Radcliffe to my list of ‘must reads’, as well as modern voices like Oyeymi (I will be talking to my Mom so I can borrow her copy of “Boy, Snow, Bird”). Finally, at the end of each biography we get a handy dandy list of books to try out, split into three categories, labeled ‘Not To Be Missed’, ‘Also Try’, and ‘Related Work’. These suggestions are stories by the authors themselves, as well as other stories and tales by different people whose themes are either direct call backs or similar in tone. How great to have a curated and well put together list of suggestions!

It’s also important to note that throughout all of these biographies and personal histories of these women authors, there are hints and senses of the difficulties and obstacles that many of them faced or face as women living at their respective times in their respective societies. These hardships could be due to gender, class, or race, and Kröger and Anderson, while never focusing on it, absolutely acknowledge it and make the reader realize that women voices in the genre have been very important and formative, and yet have been downplayed or, in some cases, almost forgotten (there were a few instances in which an author’s ‘Not To Be Missed’ work was noted as being out of print. How incredibly upsetting).

Any horror or speculative fiction fan ought to do themselves a favor and read “Monster, She Wrote”. You will undoubtedly get some new reading ideas, or gain new appreciation for authors you already love, or authors you have yet to discover.

Rating 8: And informative and expansive history of significant female voices in horror and speculative fiction, “Monster, She Wrote” has a lot of reading ideas and a lot of fun and interesting facts about an array of authors.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Monster, She Wrote” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of now (why?), but it is included on “Best Books About Genre Fiction”.

Find “Monster, She Wrote” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Trace of Evil”

43263388Book: “Trace of Evil” (Natalie Lockhart #1) by Alice Blanchard

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, December 2019

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

Book Description: A riveting mystery that introduces a bold and audacious rookie detective assigned to hunt for a killer who is haunted by the past in this gripping murder case…

Natalie Lockhart always knew she was going to be a cop. A rookie detective on the Burning Lake police force, she was raised on the wisdom of her chief-of-police father. These cases will haunt you if you let them. Grief doesn’t come with instructions.

But the one thing her father couldn’t teach her was how to handle loss. Natalie’s beloved sister was viciously murdered as a teenager, and she carries the scars deep in her heart. Although the killer was locked up, the trace evidence never added up, and Natalie can’t help wondering―is the past really behind her?

As the newest member on the force, Natalie is tasked with finding nine missing persons who’ve vanished off the face of the earth, dubbed “the Missing Nine.” One night, while following up on a new lead, she comes across a savage crime that will change everything.

Daisy Buckner―a popular schoolteacher, wife to a cop, and newly pregnant―lies dead on her kitchen floor. As Natalie hunts for Daisy’s killer in the wake of the town’s shock, her search leads to a string of strange clues―about the Missing Nine, about Daisy’s secret life, and reviving fresh doubts about her sister’s murder.

As the investigation deepens, Natalie’s every move risks far-reaching consequences―for the victims, for the town of Burning Lake, and for herself.

Spellbinding and gripping, Trace of Evil is a novel of twisting suspense that will leave you breathless.

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

Awhile back one of the librarians I follow on Twitter was speaking highly of a book by an author I hadn’t heard of. He had an ARC of “Trace of Evil” by Alice Blanchard, and when I clicked on the description it sounded like it would be up my alley. Small town police detective, missing people, a victim with secrets, all matters that will pull me into a story on any given day. I got it from NetGalley, and opened it up, expecting all of those things but maybe not much more. And what else did I get?

Witchcraft, covens, and teenagers with secret ties to black magic rituals.

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Oh HELL YES. (source)

“Trace of Evil” has three main mysteries that make up the guts of the plot. The first is the most obvious, that of the murder of Daisy Buckner. Natalie Lockhart, our plucky but haunted protagonist, has her own personal connections to Daisy. Not only is she colleagues with Daisy’s husband, Natalie’s older sister Grace wa very close with Daisy, so Natalie’s personal investment is high. I enjoyed seeing Natalie slowly piece together various components to the murder, and how Blanchard was sure to show some of the downfalls of being a woman detective in a small town where everyone knows everything about your past. The second mystery involves a number of missing women, or the Missing Nine, that Natalie has been trying to solve since she joined the force. But along with that obsession, Natalie has her own personal mystery to try and solve; when she was a kid, a masked boy attacked her in the woods. Natalie has spent the rest of her life trying to find out who that boy was. Throw in the fact that her oldest sister Willow was the victim of a horrific murder, and you have a lady cop with a lot of emotional baggage on top of the usual caseload that she has to take on every day. But these various bits of backstory never bog Natalie down, nor does Blanchard make it an excuse to make Natalie overly prickly, overly reckless, or overly damaged. Her traumas absolutely have shaped her, but instead of taking the obvious route of ‘broken but brilliant cop’, Natalie is instead multifaceted and achingly human. I really, really like her as a protagonist (and yes, I’m already rooting for her and her colleague Luke to hook up. She’s had a thing for him since childhood, y’all, it’s great!). Blanchard also is able to take all three mysteries and to show how they are connected, even in the most superficial of ways, and really make the reader buy into the connections. This was one of those instances where I didn’t guess any of the solutions to any of the mysteries, and that left me tickled.

And yes, there is a witchcraft element that I thoroughly enjoyed, if only because I totally saw my own dabbling in Wicca within this plot point. Burning Lake, the town Natalie lives in, has a history of witchcraft and witch trials, and it has permeated a lot of the culture and turned it into a Salem-esque community. Not only did Natalie and her sisters dip their toes into it, but now Natalie’s niece and her friends have started to dabble. But, as is the case in other tales, cliques and infighting tends to lead to a misuse of the ‘magic’, and I loved seeing Blanchard bring that into this story and finding ways to not only connect it to the mystery at hand, but to also show how teen girls who feel powerless can be drawn in to the idea of magic and ritual.

I really, really loved “Trace of Evil”. My hope is that Natalie Lockhart comes back soon, because I now have a new mystery series that I fully intend to keep up with. I highly recommend this thriller to all fans of the genre, and hope that you love it as much as I did.

Rating 10: Suspenseful, detailed, engaging, and filled with great characters, “Trace of Evil” is a promising start to a new series that I thoroughly loved.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Trace of Evil” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists. But I think that it would fit in on “Small Towns with Secrets”, and “Spellbinding Fiction”.

Find “Trace of Evil” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Dead Girls Club”

45701350Book: “The Dead Girls Club” by Damien Angelica Waters

Publishing Info: Crooked Lane Books, December 2019

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

Book Description: A supernatural thriller in the vein of A Head Full of Ghosts about two young girls, a scary story that becomes far too real, and the tragic–and terrifying–consequences that follow one of them into adulthood.

Red Lady, Red Lady, show us your face…

In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.

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

I’ve spoken before about how my childhood was distinctly lacking in spooky urban legends about my community and neighborhood. I don’t know if that’s just larger city living or if I was surrounded by people who didn’t have time for such nonsense, but I do feel a little sad that we had a serious lack in fun, innocent creepy stories (and instead contended with actual creepy stories, like the flasher who’d jump out at joggers on the path by our house). I think that because of this I am especially drawn to stories with scary local folklore themes, and that was the main draw of “The Dead Girls Club” by Damien Angelica Walters. Well, that and the description of a group of teen girls who liked to talk serial killers for funsies. I wish I had that kind of friendship as a teenager. I went into “The Dead Girls Club” with high hopes and expectations that it would meld teenage girl angst with the supernatural, and for awhile I thought it had succeeded. Until it didn’t.

But before we talk about my frustrations, I want to emphasize that “The Dead Girls Club” was a pretty fun ride for the majority of the story. It hops between timelines, that of the present day, and that of the early 1990s. Our focus is mostly on Heather, a woman whose childhood best friend, Becca, was killed one fateful summer, after telling tales of a supposed witch called The Red Lady. Becca, Heather, and their friends were part of a secret club that liked the creepy things in life, but Becca’s obsession with the Red Lady urban legend starts to take over all of their lives. Especially when it seems that this made up story may have some truth to it. In the present we see Heather have to confront this summer when she starts getting secret messages from an anonymous someone (or perhaps something) that hints to knowing the truth about what actually happened to Becca, and what role Heather played in it. We see her try to discern who is stalking her, and see how her lingering fear of The Red Lady starts to take it’s toll on her life and psyche. This is interspersed with flashbacks to when Becca first started telling the stories, and we get to see the slow burn and build up of a deteriorating friendship and what exactly happened between the two girls, which left Becca dead.

I thought that the biggest strengths in this book laid in two factors: the first was the mythology and ambiguity of The Red Lady. Walters gives us enough evidence on both sides of the coin to make the argument that The Red Lady is real, or that The Red Lady is a combination of a lonely child’s imagination run amok and the hysteria shared between friends that are looking to freak themselves out. I do think that the narrative falls on one solution eventually, but I did like that a lot of left up to interpretation for a majority of the story. The other strength was in how Walters portrayed the complicated nature that some teenage friendships can have, specifically between two girls. I know this complexity and complication pretty well from my own experience, and seeing how Becca and Heather both start to grow apart and yet still cling desperately to each other was well written and completely believable. Hell, the Red Lady story itself was a fun and scary one, with smatterings of feminist revenge and all the best ghost stories that come with it. Walters also peels back the motivations for both Heather AND Becca, and once you get to the cores of both of them the spectre of tragedy is just as heavy as the spectre of the Red Lady. They are both sympathetic and frustrating characters, and I think that is the only way they could be written.

But the reason this gets bumped down a few ratings is because, unfortunately, Walters decided to throw in one big and out of left field twist that, for me, derailed the entire story. I won’t spoil it, as I think this is still worth the read, but by the time one of the big reveals came to be I rolled my eyes and muttered a frustrated but not terribly surprised ‘seriously?’ Again, I am not a hater of well done twists. If you can set it up effectively enough that in the moment you have a ‘but of COURSE’ epiphany based on small clues that came before it, I’m going to sing it’s praises forever. But in this case it just felt like a twist for the sake of a twist, and not one that was earned. You gotta earn those twists, people. That’s the only way to stick that landing.

“The Dead Girls Club” is a creepy and unsettling story that didn’t live up to its potential. It’s still worth taking a look, and I am definitely putting Damien Angelica Walters on my radar. But it could have been stronger.

Rating 6: A creepy thriller with a fantastic urban legend at its heart, but it gets derailed by a frustrating twist ending.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dead Girls Club” is new and not included on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Mysteries Featuring Urban Myths/Folklore”.

Find “The Dead Girls Club” at your library using WorldCat!