Kate’s Review: “Anything For You”

43263434Book: “Anything for You (Valerie Hart #3)” by Saul Black

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, November 2019

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

Book Description: Critically acclaimed author Saul Black returns with a heart-racing thriller in which a brutal murder forces one woman to reckon with her own past–and her future.

On a hot summer night, a watchful neighbor locks eyes with an intruder and unwittingly alerts the police to a vicious crime scene next door: a lavish master bedroom where a man lies dead. His wife is bleeding out onto the hardwood floor, clinging to life.

The victim, Adam Grant, was a well-known San Francisco prosecutor–a man whose connection to Homicide detective Valerie Hart brings her face-to-face with a life she’s long since left behind. Adam’s career made him an easy target, and forensic evidence points towards an ex-con he put behind bars years ago. But while Adam’s wife and daughter grapple with their tragic loss, Valerie uncovers devastating clues that point in a more ominous direction. Lurking in the shadows of the Grants’ pristine life is a mysterious blonde who holds the key to a dangerous past.

As Valerie struggles to forge a new path for herself, the investigation forces her to confront the question: can we ever really leave our pasts behind?

Sophisticated and stunning, Anything for You is an unforgettable thriller that will grip readers long after turning the last page.

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

We had to wait a little while, but finally, FINALLY the gritty and complex detective Valerie Hart is back for another mystery! Saul Black continues the adventures of the San Francisco sleuth in “Anything For You”, and I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy. I don’t have many mystery series I follow, but when a new one comes out I’m game to dig in. I had some mostly positive, but also a bit mixed, feelings about the previous Valerie Hart books after revisiting them (as seen in my previous review), but had high hopes that I’d come out of “Anything For You” still feeling good. And I did. Mostly.

I’ll talk about the mystery first, as that really in the central plot point and Hart is just living in it. A well known lawyer is found murdered in his home, leaving behind a wife and daughter. Hart is on the case, though she should probably step aside given that she almost slept with the man a few years ago (because of course she did). It initially looks open and shut, but as Hart continues to investigate we get to see the slow reveal of a more complex (and sinister) plan and past that the victim might have been hiding. Along with Hart’s investigation and her slow clue building, we also get the perspective of a mysterious woman whose connection isn’t apparent at first, but slowly becomes more and more clear. To me this was the most interesting aspect of this story, and possibly the most interesting slow reveal of all of Black’s Valerie Hart books. I was actually more interested in seeing what this mysterious woman’s story was going to bring next than I was in the official investigation, and then once the tethers did intersect and wrap everything together I was all the more satisfied with how Black build up a cohesive and complex mystery.

As for Hart, I still really like Valerie and I like seeing how she progresses in each book. When we see her in this one, she is now married to her lover Nick, and they are considering starting a family. The questions of parenthood and whether she’s cut out for her are obviously weighing on her mind, and it means that, once again, she starts to drift towards her usual self destructive tendencies. And as much as I love Valerie and I like that it’s being acknowledged that family planning can be filled with complex emotions, I do feel like Valerie’s constant slip up potential is a little old at this point. I’m not saying that there wasn’t any growth whatsoever with her character, as she certainly isn’t static in her behavior or personality. But I do think that it’s an easy out to revert to questions of ‘will she or won’t she’ make bad decisions just for the sake of inner conflict and turmoil. I’m also becoming more and more sensitive to the ‘men write women’ pattern that can be seen sometimes, especially when it comes to ‘strong female characters’. When it comes to Hart, she sometimes falls into all too common tropes about what that means, like sacrificing any aspect of femininity, pointing out the flaws of other women to make her look better, or simply putting more ‘masculine’ traits (that is traits commonly associated with masculinity in our culture) into her bag of tricks to show how tough she is. That isn’t to say that all men or all women exist in a monolith when it comes to behavior and emotional coping skills, as that would also be a foolish thing to insist upon. The problem with Valerie is that more and more she falls into the ‘not like other girls’ box, and it’s one that I have less and less patience for. And honestly, every time that Valerie referred to her genitalia as ‘her c*nt’, I cringed. And I know that Black is British and the associations with that word are very different there, but still. It just felt like another ‘not like other girls’ moment, and it was laid on pretty thick.

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(source)

Overall there was a lot for me to like about “Anything for You”, and I am still interested in seeing what lies in store for Valerie Hart and any future endeavors she may undertake. But I’m hoping that her character gets to grow a little more in the future.

Rating 7: Valerie Hart is still a compelling protagonist and the mystery was good, but I’m starting to worry that we’re edging into all too common ‘tough but messed up girl’ tropes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Anything For You” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Women Who Solve Crimes”.

Find “Anything For You” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Killing Lessons” and “Lovemurder”

 

Serena’s Review: “The Art of Theft”

36510437Book: “The Art of Theft” by Sherry Thomas”

Publication Info: Berkley, October 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.

But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.

Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia’s admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake…

Previously Reviewed: “A Study in Scarlet Women” and “A Conspiracy in Belgravia” and “The Hollow of Fear”

Review:  Continuing my week of Sherry Thomas reviews! While “The Magnolia Sword” took me by surprise (I didn’t realize it was coming out until late in the game, and still later figured out the author was Sherry Thomas), I’ve been impatiently waiting for the release of the latest “Lady Sherlock” story. Thanks to Edelweiss+, I had early access to it on my Kindle, and due to a complete lack of willpower, I ended up reading this book a few months ago but still wanted to review it closer to its publication date, so here we are. And while this wasn’t my favorite book in the series, I’m still enjoying the heck out of these stories and, again, am anxiously awaiting the next.

After helping Lord Ingram escape a false murder charge in the last book, Charlotte Holmes once again finds herself at the service of one of her close friends. This time it’s Mrs. Watson who has been contacted by a friend from the past who is now caught up in a mysterious blackmail/art theft situation. But this time, Charlotte and co. must do more than simply unravel the various players in this charade, but now find themselves playing an active role within the events themselves. Now she must not only discover who is at the heart of this conflict, but find a way to walk the narrow line between solving the case and not becoming a criminal herself!

Many of the strengths of the original books are still present here. Charlotte, as always, is a perfectly realized character, now comfortably familiar in both her quirks (her sense of fashion and preference for sweet treats), her strengths (obviously), as well as her weaknesses (challenges with navigating complicated relationships). One of the pleasing things about a long(ish) running series is this solid comfort with a character who is understood and beloved, but it also come with challenges. Here, while Charlotte is still at the heart of untangling the mystery, it feels like she is not the main character in her own book. That is, there is very little ongoing character development or a unique arc that is devoted to her. Much of this character work is picked up by the others in the book, but for a series that is called the “Lady Sherlock” series, this book was the first that did begin to show some signs of not quite knowing where to go from here with its titular character.

Luckily, the series has already set up a good number of side characters in the first several books so a shift of focus to them, while not preferred, also still feels earned. And I was already invested enough to feel that their conflicts were enough to carry much of this story. Mrs. Watson, of course, is at the heart of this story, and I loved learning more about her past and those who played a role in it. We see, again, both the strengths and weaknesses that lead her to where she is today. She also serves as a good mentor for Livia who ends up taking on a much more active role in this story.

Throughout the series, Livia has always played a bit of a strange role. A decent amount of page time is devoted to her, but she’s typically no where near the action and her development has moved at a fairly glacial pace. Here, Livia finally gets to come out of the shadow and play with the big kids. I loved seeing her come out of her shell, even if it was an uncomfortable process for her. Through her, the story also spends a bit exploring, again, the limitations on women in this time period. And, while Livia’s life has by no means been a happy one, she comes to realize the privileges that she has taken for granted.

I did enjoy the mystery itself as well. After the more active role that Charlotte took on in the previous book, it was nice to see that approach used once again here with Charlotte and co. essentially staging a heist. The story has definite “‘Ocean’s 11’ but in Victorian times” vibes, which I thought was a clever change of pace from the other, more typical mysteries of the first books. There were some surprises sprinkled throughout, as well, and, overall, I found the conclusion and explanation satisfying.

However, for all the answers we do get, there were a few too many loose ends left hanging. This was clearly done on purpose, but there were just one or two too many for me not to begin to feel slightly frustrated and anxious. For one thing, these mysteries are complicated. It always takes a bit of thinking on my part to fully put things together and still I’d have a hard time explaining it all later. But to add more unsolved clues on top of all that, clues I can only assume will come into play in a later book and that I will need to recall…it’s a bit too much. For me, I was left feeling a bit worried that I was not only missing things in this book, but will now likely miss even more in some future story.

The book also ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, which I’m not sure was necessary. It’s not the type that gnaws away at you, but more just introduces the topic of the next book. But it seemed liked a strange choice for an established series. It’s the kind of thing you do in book one or two, just to keep readers interested. But here, it was more like an unneeded “coming next week” preview for a well-watched and established TV show. Just leave it out and let the book end on a note relevant to this book’s story. The next book can take care of itself without page time given to it here.

Those quibbles aside, this was another solid entry in the “Lady Sherlock” series. I’m definitely excited for the next book as it seems like it will focus on a character who wasn’t much seen in this story. And I hope that Charlotte’s more active role continues. However, I also hope that she gets a bit more character development and a more defined emotional arc in future stories. I enjoy the side characters, for sure, but I’m mostly here for Charlotte. All of this to say, if you’ve enjoyed this series so far, you’re good to go on this one as well. And never fear, there will be another; it’s all set up right there at the end of this one.

Rating 8: While Charlotte fades a bit into the background and there are a few too many dangling clues, I enjoyed the addition of a heist plot onto another solid mystery.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Art of Theft” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads’ lists, but it is on “Historical Mystery 2019.”

Find “The Art of Theft” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Bonfire”

33876540Book: “Bonfire” by Krysten Ritter

Publishing Info: Hutchinson, November 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: eAudiobook from the library!

Book Description: Should you ever go back?

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of the question: can you ever outrun your past?

Review: Many people associate Krysten Ritter with her version of Jessica Jones, but for me she’s always going to be the tragic, manipulative, and doomed drug addict Jane Margolis from “Breaking Bad”. These are two heavy characters, and Ritter has the chops to deliver their stories with a lot of complexity, humanity, and darkness. And now you can add ‘author of a heavy and dark thriller novel’ to her list of accomplishments.

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Keep it up, queen! (source)

I knew that she wrote a book called “Bonfire”, but for whatever reason never got around to picking it up. I’m kind of kicking myself now, given that it has a few elements that I really like, such as small town conspiracy, mean girls, and the potential ill doings of the corporate world. That sure sounds like a healthy mix of ‘things that appeal to Kate’. When I saw that it was checked in in eAudiobook form, I downloaded it and dove right in.

“Bonfire” has some set ups that we’ve seen before in these gritty woman-centered thrillers. Our protagonist, Abby Williams, is returning to her small town of Barrens, Indiana that has only given her bad memories. She was tormented by the resident mean girls, her father was a zealous and abusive drunk, and her mother died when she was a kid. You probably won’t be surprised to find out that she’s still fixated on the past, especially on the disappearance of her ex-best friend turn tormenter Casey. Casey made Abby’s life a living hell, but then vanished off the face of the Earth after graduation, leaving everyone to assume she needed to get out of the small town scene but quick.The longer Abby spends in Barrens, the more unhinged and emotionally compromised she gets, a mix of bad memories, trauma, and her assignment being perhaps more than she anticipated. Throw in a vague love triangle with the former high school golden boy and the former high school outcast, and you have pretty standard fare. I liked Abby quite a bit, as while she was a train wreck (the trope that I’ve long grown tired of in these books), she is also relatable and just enough put together that she didn’t feel flat or two dimensional. I also found her to be a more realistic train wreck than I’ve seen in other books that are similar, as I completely believed her emotional regression when she returns to the town that has left her with so much trauma. She was by far the most complex character of the book, and while I would have liked to have seen a little more oomph from the others, ultimately this is her story. I think that Ritter tried to make a couple of the antagonistic side characters more nuanced, but she didn’t achieve it for me. Perhaps that’s just because they were both so reprehensible based in my own ethical and moral standards that I couldn’t cut them slack, and others would be able to. Not I.

What made “Bonfire” stand out from other books like it is that while the main conflict is, certainly, on a missing person, there is also the theme of corporate wrongdoing and conspiracy. Abby has been sent as a lawyer to investigate Optimum, a large plastics corporation that has brought a lot of money and jobs into Barrens. They have also potentially been illegally dumping waste into the town reservoir, and therein poisoning the citizens. Ritter brings up the fact that a lot of people in town don’t want the investigation, and while it seems like that would be unimaginable she does a really good job of showing how much Barrens, and many small towns, rely on large corporate interests, even if there are terrible costs. Since Barrens was on the brink of collapse before Optimum came in, the question of its future would be up in the air if a huge scandal would drive the corporation into destitution. I really liked how that upped the stakes for all the characters in different ways, and how it shows that some things are bigger than just personal issues between individuals. 

“Bonfire” was a mostly satisfying debut novel from Krysten Ritter. Should she continue to write books, I will almost certainly make sure to pick up whatever she comes out with next. You’ve come a long way from your “Gilmore Girls” stint, baby!

Rating 7: While some of the broader themes and tropes we’ve seen before, “Bonfire” had some stand out plot points and a pretty enjoyable protagonist.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bonfire” is included on the Goodreads lists “If You Liked Gone Girl, Try…”, and “Best Female Driven Mysteries”.

Find “Bonfire” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Night Before”

40867676Book: “The Night Before” by Wendy Walker

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, May 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: First dates can be murder. 

Riveting and compulsive, national bestselling author Wendy Walker’s The Night Before “takes you to deep, dark places few thrillers dare to go” as two sisters uncover long-buried secrets when an internet date spirals out of control. 

Laura Lochner has never been lucky in love. She falls too hard and too fast, always choosing the wrong men. Devastated by the end of her last relationship, she fled her Wall Street job and New York City apartment for her sister’s home in the Connecticut suburb where they both grew up. Though still haunted by the tragedy that’s defined her entire life, Laura is determined to take one more chance on love with a man she’s met on an Internet dating site.

Rosie Ferro has spent most of her life worrying about her troubled sister. Fearless but fragile, Laura has always walked an emotional tightrope, and Rosie has always been there to catch her. Laura’s return, under mysterious circumstances, has cast a shadow over Rosie’s peaceful life with her husband and young son – a shadow that grows darker as Laura leaves the house for her blind date. 

When Laura does not return home the following morning, Rosie fears the worst. She’s not responding to calls or texts, and she’s left no information about the man she planned to meet. As Rosie begins a desperate search to find her sister, she is not just worried about what this man might have done to Laura. She’s worried about what Laura may have done to him…

Review: This summer has come and gone, and while I didn’t have a trip where you could find me by the pool with a stack of books, there were a few books I did read that would have been the perfect pool reads. You know the kind, the ones that will suck you in and that you can’t put down. “The Night Before” was one such book. And while I read it in bed as opposed to pool side, all of the elements that I love were there. Wendy Walker has impressed me again.

“The Night Before” is told through two perspectives, the sisters Laura and Rosie. Laura is freshly out of an intense romantic relationship, and her rocky love life has started to take an emotional toll on her. Her arc is first person, and starts the night of the first date she’s had since her last relationship. She’s about to meet a man named Jonathan she met online. She’s nervous but excited to get back in it. The second narrative is Rosie’s which is third person and starts the morning after, when Laura hasn’t come home, and Rosie is worried. While this could be a pretty standard set up for a pretty standard thriller, Rosie’s fear, as it turns out, seems to be more about what Laura is capable of as opposed to the mystery man she was going on a date with. Therefore, our story is about not only finding out what happened to Laura, but if she is less the vulnerable victim and more a dangerous predator. The two perspectives slowly start to unravel Laura’s past, the reasons Rosie may be both worried and perhaps scared of her, and how Laura’s past relationships may influence her actions on the night she goes missing. Walker did a really good job of slowly revealing her cards, and while I had a lot of theories about what was going on, I usually found myself in the wrong, which was great! It goes to show that the mystery was strong and that Walker had complete control of what she wanted to reader to take away from it. I was so invested in finding out what happened that I found myself tearing through this book in a couple of sittings. The suspense builds at a satisfying pace, and by the end it has risen to a breaking point that makes the reader unable to put it down.

I liked Laura and Rosie enough as characters, thought I do wish that we got a little bit more interaction between them in the moment so we weren’t relying as much on telling as opposed to showing. I also felt like that while we got a really good sense of who Laura was as a person when all was said and done, Rosie was relegated to worried older sister, and I wanted more from her. I also felt like one of the big reveals was a little farfetched, or if not farfetched it felt like the weight of it didn’t carry in the way I think it should have. The hints at the set up were there, so that wasn’t a problem, but ultimately it was clear it was just there to aid a red herring as opposed to be a meaningful moment of plot and character development. All that said, the plot and mystery was so strong that I didn’t really mind.

“The Night Before” was a fast paced and fun read with a solid mystery and a lot of good twists. Pool side reading may be over, but if you want a book that you could get lost in, this would be a pick that I recommend!

Rating 8: A gripping and fast paced thriller that kept me guessing, “The Night Before” is a fun read with many twists and turns. While the characters could have been more developed, the plot and mystery made up for it and then some.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Night Before” is included on the Goodreads lists “Psychological Chillers by Women Authors”, and “The Girl on the Train Readalikes”.

Find “The Night Before” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “I’ll Never Tell”

40201006Book: “I’ll Never Tell” by Catherine McKenzie

Publishing Info: Lake Union, June 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I own an eAudiobook.

Book Description: What happened to Amanda Holmes?

Twenty years ago, she washed up on shore in a rowboat with a gash to the head after an overnight at Camp Macaw. No one was ever charged with a crime.

Now, the MacAllister children are all grown up. After their parents die suddenly, they return to Camp to read the will and decide what to do with the prime real estate it’s sitting on. Ryan, the oldest, wants to sell. Margo, the family’s center, hasn’t made up her mind. Mary has her own horse farm to run, and believes in leaving well-enough alone. Kate and Liddie—the twins—have opposing views. And Sean Booth, the family groundskeeper, just hopes he still has a home when all is said and done. 

But then the will is read and they learn that it’s much more complicated than a simple vote. Until they unravel the mystery of what happened to Amanda, they can’t move forward. Any one of them could have done it, and all of them are hiding key pieces of the puzzle. Will they work together to solve the mystery, or will their suspicions and secrets finally tear the family apart?

Review: We are at the end of August already! Summer flew by so fast, and what perfect way to end this season than with a book that was the perfect summer read in tone, plot, and setting. “I’ll Never Tell” by Catherine McKenzie is the tantalizing (to me) combination of a mystery, a dysfunctional family, and a summer camp backdrop, and I it ended up purchasing it on Audible because I just couldn’t wait for the holds lists at both library systems I frequent. Once again, a perfect stew of a book for me and my tastes, on paper anyway.

“I’ll Never Tell” is told from multiple perspectives in two different times. The modern day is split up between the distant and damaged MacAllister siblings. whose parents were the owners of Camp Macaw, and Sean, the groundskeeper who has always been in the periphery of the siblings. The past is told through the eyes of Amanda Holmes, the girl whose lifeless body washed up in a canoe two decades prior, and whose attack remains unsolved. Hers is the only first person perspective, those those of the MacAllisters and Sean are definitely third person yet possibly unreliable. I liked the structure of this overall, though sometimes I felt that McKenzie couldn’t quite keep all the balls up in the air. Some characters felt more well fleshed out than others, as while I definitely felt like I got a sense for people like Margot, the pragmatic middle child, and Ryan, the temperamental oldest and black sheep, others like Mary, the closed off horse fiend, felt closed off. They all served their purposes in how they added clues and perspectives to the overall picture, and their stories laid out against Amanda’s night before she was attacked did come together to create a well done tapestry of a narrative structure and reveal.

I also did enjoy the mystery at the heart of this story, as to who was the one who attacked Amanda. While it’s true that I did mostly guess the solution to the mystery fairly early on, certainly earlier than I should have, getting there was still a fun journey because I liked learning about the characters as a whole. All of this said, this read more like a family drama than a thriller mystery, which might not have been the tone that McKenzie was going for. There were other smaller mysteries at hand as well, and all of those were plotted out well enough that there were still some surprises in store for me, even if the biggest one didn’t pan out that way. For what it’s worth, I definitely tended to listen to this story beyond my time in the car, which doesn’t happen all that often with audiobooks. I did need to know what was going to happen next.

I did take issue with some of the characters, however, specifically Ryan. I understand that there is more to him than his ‘black sheep spoiled oldest son’ persona, and I appreciated that McKenzie didn’t make him completely two dimensional and obvious in the part that he played. However, I felt that too much time was spent trying to redeem him when I didn’t think that he was at ALL redeemable. Complex I will happily give you. But I have little patience for the ‘woe is me, the privileged straight white male’ character arc. Do I concede that things weren’t totally black and white in his characterization? Absolutely. But given how he treats a few of his siblings, and given how he has ‘anger issues’ that end up coming off as totally justified in some ways, and GIVEN that he had a pretty cushy life free of consequences when compared to other characters, his whole ‘I have it hard too pity me’ act felt forced and trite. I did feel bad for him, but I think that there was a little too much effort put into redemption when other characters weren’t given the same treatment, and probably deserved it as much as he did.

“I’ll Never Tell” was a pretty good mystery, and a nice tone for a summer read. While I had expected a little bit more from it, I enjoyed it for what it was, even though I found some character choices dubious. If you are looking for one last summer read, this could be a good contender to make the transition into the fall!

Rating 6: The mystery was compelling and many of the characters were pretty well established, but “I’ll Never Tell” had a couple of unexamined issues that I couldn’t totally overlook.

Reader’s Advisory

“I’ll Never Tell” is included on the Goodreads list “Psychological Suspense for 2019 (January-June)”.

Find “I’ll Never Tell” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Pretty Dead Girls”

32972117Book: “Pretty Dead Girls” by Monica Murphy

Publishing Info: Entangled: Teen, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Beautiful. Perfect. Dead.

In the peaceful seaside town of Cape Bonita, wicked secrets and lies are hidden just beneath the surface. But all it takes is one tragedy for them to be exposed.

The most popular girls in school are turning up dead, and Penelope Malone is terrified she’s next. All the victims so far have been linked to Penelope—and to a boy from her physics class. The one she’s never really noticed before, with the rumored dark past and a brooding stare that cuts right through her.

There’s something he isn’t telling her. But there’s something she’s not telling him, either.

Everyone has secrets, and theirs might get them killed.

Review: I strive to go through my Kindle every once in awhile and see what books I’ve purchased that I haven’t read yet. I’ll be honest, I mostly use my Kindle for the eARCs that I receive, but every once in awhile I do get ebooks for it. As I was scrolling through my library I was reminded that about a year back I bought “Pretty Dead Girls” by Monica Murphy. It had shown up on my twitter feed, as a popular YA twitter account was singing its praises. There are so many things that should have worked in this narrative, at least for me. You have a climbing body count. You have popular mean girls who may be the top suspects. You have a local bad boy who may be misunderstood, MY KRYPTONITE! These are the ingredients for a stew that would normally set my tastes aflame. But by the time I had finished “Pretty Dead Girls”, I was left disappointed and wanting a whole lot more.

As I always try to do, I will start with what did work for me, and that is the aforementioned bad boy Cass. This is in all likelihood due to the fact that he seems to have been written to fit each and every trope that I love to see in a misunderstood outsider; there are rumors about him at school, he has a tragic back story, he dresses all in black and freaks people out, but at the end of the day he’s a genuinely good person who shows the protagonist (Penelope) what real love and loyalty is. Is it an overdone trope? For sure. My inevitable reaction to the character when he shows up?

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Never fails. (source)

But even this doesn’t quite work in the broader context of the book. Because Cass’s relationships with other characters feel at times forced, and at other times a bit problematic. While I wanted to like him and Penelope and their budding relationship, I didn’t like that his ‘bad boy’ persona/plot device pushed him into almost psychopathic territory. For example, at one point he drives like a maniac that scares the hell out of Penelope, and it’s played off as ‘sexy and daring’, as well as used as a way for Penelope to perhaps question as to whether or not he is the mysterious killer. It feels lumped in and a bit lazy, and while I know that in real life bad boys are probably not going to be good dating choices, this is fiction, dammit! And these things, in the words of the drag queen Valentina, do not make sense with my fantasy! Especially since that wasn’t the overall point that was trying to be made.

On top of that, other characters never really move outside of their tropey boxes. Penelope is likable enough, but she doesn’t experience much growth outside of realizing that her friends are jerks and that Cass isn’t what he seems. Penelope’s main nemesis Courtney is the prototypical mean queen bee who also has some private pain. The other characters are pretty much relegated to being there as potential suspects, or eventual body count padding. I was hoping that we would get more growth from every one, but they basically remained two dimensional and static.

This could have been brushed aside and/or justified by myself as a reader had the plot been able to carry the weight, but as it was I wasn’t really invested in the mystery of ‘who is the killer and who is going to be next?’. The characters who did die (with the exception of one, but I won’t spoil it here) weren’t really characters that held emotional weight when they were killed. And while the identity of the killer was played up, with first person perspectives from the mystery person to boot, by the time it was revealed whodunnit, the solution fell flat due to a lack of real motive building and characterization before they were ‘unmasked’. It just felt like a ‘gotcha!’ that wasn’t earned.

I was disappointed because I had high hopes for “Pretty Dead Girls”. But it just goes to show that sometimes the perfect ingredients aren’t going to combine to make a well done final product. While I think that it would work for other readers, it didn’t work for me.

Rating 4: While the premise had a lot of potential, I was underwhelmed by “Pretty Dead Girls”. Not even a romance between a brooding bad boy and uptight good girl could save it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Pretty Dead Girls” is included on the Goodreads lists “Teen Screams”, and “YA Suspense/Thriller/Mystery”.

Find “Pretty Dead Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Turn of the Key”

40489648._sy475_Book: “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, August 2019

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

Book Description: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fifth novel.

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Turn of the Key is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

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

For the most part, I have enjoyed all of the books that Ruth Ware has published since I discovered “In a Dark, Dark Wood”. True, “The Lying Game” was the weakest of the bunch, but I still liked it overall. I enjoy her mix of suspense and Agatha Christie-esque plots, and at this point she is someone I will always want to read whenever she writes a new novel. I was lucky enough to receive an eARC of “The Turn of the Key” from NetGalley, and I sat down one afternoon merely expecting to start the book. Little did I know that I would read it all in one go. “The Turn of the Key” has officially displaced “In a Dark, Dark Wood” as my favorite Ruth Ware story, which is something I thought would never happen.

While it isn’t exactly new for Ware to explore the Gothic elements of thrillers within her stories, “The Turn of the Key” goes full force, paying straight homage to Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw”. Rowan is our new governess, hired to watch over three children at an isolated country estate in Scotland called Heatherbrae House. You slowly get a sense of who Rowan is as a person, as the story is told through her POV as she writes to a lawyer while she awaits trail for the murder of one of her charges. It’s clear why she’s on edge as she’s writing, but those nerves were there long before her experiences at the job began to take their toll. Because of this, we have two mysteries to solve: what is going on at Heatherbrae House, and what is the deal with Rowan? I enjoyed both of the mysteries as they unfolded, and I thought that Ware did a good job of slowly building up the tension for both. Heatherbrae House already has a number of unsettling ‘quirks’, from a couple of bratty children, to the hyper Alexa-esque ‘smart’ capabilities of the house, to a grumpy housekeeper and a mysterious groundskeeper. Throw in strange noises at night, and a hidden room, and you have all the components for an effective Gothic story, but updated for a modern audience.

However, like “The Turn of the Screw”, Rowan may not be the most reliable of characters. She’s constantly on edge, putting up a facade for those around her to hide her anxiety and anger issues, and her desperation is palpable, desperation as she awaits her trial, and desperation as she hopes to do well at her new job. As she slowly tells the lawyer everything that happens, we get a very complex and unhinged character who could be capable of anything, even the murder of a child. I liked that I was kept guessing about her throughout the narrative. In terms of the other characters, I felt like Ware achieved the goal of making most of them interesting and well conceived. Mrs. Elincourt was saccharine and aloof, and while you get the sense that she does love and care for her children that she doesn’t feel a need to connect with them or bond with them. Jack Grant the handyman is charming and a calming presence for Rowan, but through small moments and actions you wonder if he has something he may be hiding. And as for the children, Maddie, the oldest of the three that Rowan is watching, is properly venomous and sociopathic, while still having a sense of the tragic around her personality so that she isn’t limited to “The Bad Seed” trope. While it may be the easy way out to just make her terrible, Ware decides to give her more, and to show her as a victim in her own right even when she’s going after Rowan in the most malicious ways.

“The Turn of the Key” is another home run for Ruth Ware. While it will probably please fans of old school Gothic themes, it is also a fresh and updated look at well worn territory. It’s the perfect read for the end of summer.

Rating 9: A tense and fun gothic thriller that has become my favorite book by Ware! The perfect read for the end of summer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Turn of the Key” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mystery and Thriller 2019”, and “2019 Most Anticipated Releases – No YA”.

Find “The Turn of the Key” at your library using WorldCat!