Kate’s Review: “The Dry”

28220971Book: “The Dry” by Jane Harper

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A small town hides big secrets in this atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by an award-winning new author.

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

Review: I don’t know how I missed “The Dry” by Jane Harper when it first came out. Actually, okay, that’s a lie; I missed it because the title and cover didn’t compel me. Sure, the hype and praise that surrounded it was on my radar, as well as the fact that copies at the library were always on request and being requested by patrons who came to see me at the desk. But I stubbornly and steadfastly stayed away, until I read the plot description of its sequel “Force of Nature”. Given that the plot of that sounds awesome (suspicious misadventures in nature!), and that it was part of series, I was finally convinced to go back and read “The Dry”, so as to fully experience Aaron Falk and his storyline. But given that I am always looking for new mystery series to follow with interesting detective protagonists, I am happy that I finally gave in and decided to give it a chance, stubbornness aside.

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(source)

While a lot of the mystery series settings I follow are set in America or England, “The Dry” set itself apart immediately by taking place in Australia. Given that I am still desperately missing New Zealand (not that I think they’re interchangeable, mind you, please don’t hurt me, Australia and New Zealand), I was happy to have a story set in Oceania. Australia’s sprawling divide between metropolis vs small town plays a huge part in the story, and set up for a well done ‘small town with secrets’ kind of plot line. Aaron Falk was a fine protagonist to explore this, given that this involves a homecoming to a place that thinks that he’s a murderer. It’s an interesting tweak to the big town detective trying to maneuver in small town politics and society, as Falk knows how it works, and knows that he’s going to be doubly scrutinized with his background. When his old friend Luke’s apparent family annihilation/suicide brings Aaron back for the funeral, the murder of their mutual friend Ellie still lingers, as does the fact that Aaron and Luke were each other’s alibis. So this story has two mysteries: did Luke actually kill his wife, son, and himself, and who actually killed Ellie? The narrative shifts between the present timeline with a third person perspective through Falk’s eyes, and past perspectives through a vaguer third person narration. If that makes sense. It’s not something I’ve seen very often in fiction, and it was interesting getting more information than Falk was getting and seeing how he interpreted the information as it’s fed to him. It makes for a questionable reliability in the storytelling, and I liked being kept on my toes. But while I was kept on my toes, I wasn’t terribly invested in either mystery that was presented. The problem with Ellie’s was that given some of the sad realities of statistics and violence towards women and girls, I didn’t have a hard time guessing the ultimate solution to her fate, and therefore didn’t feel connected to it. And with Luke’s storyline, I wasn’t invested enough in Luke to want to see his name cleared, so while that one did keep me guessing, I didn’t really care too much one way or the other.

Falk himself was just fine as a protagonist, but I think that for me the difference between this series and, say, the Tempe Brennan Series (working as my go to for a series with a re-occurring detective type)  is that Falk hasn’t really established himself as a unique main character I’m interested in just yet. Tempe Brennan is complex and effervescent and snarky, whereas Falk hasn’t been much outside of a falsely accused outsider looking to redeem a friend (and in some ways himself), and brooding accordingly. I do realize that Tempe has had nineteen books to solidify her personality, and that Falk is really just beginning, so I am not holding any of this as-of-now simplicity against him. There are definitely glimmers of promise within him and where he could go, and I want to see how he’s going to grow in future books now that, theoretically, it won’t be as personal for him going forward. I was happy with the supporting cast that Falk got to play off of. I liked his old friend Gretchen, and her loyalty to him even when others thought that he didn’t deserve it. I liked Raco, a local detective who joins up with Falk on an official investigation against the town’s judgmental gaze. But I’m not sure as of now that they are going to remain large parts of the series, as they are still back in the town that Falk is visiting temporarily. Again, comparing it to Tempe Brennan there are familiar faces that work as foils and give Tempe’s life and character uniqueness and interesting interactions. If it’s just Falk going forward with a revolving door of characters,, it could be a missed opportunity for a strong cast of supporting and familiar faces. We’ll just have to see. “Force of Nature” will give me a better idea of what to expect in this way. And lord knows it’s going to be awhile before my number comes up on the request list.

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Me waiting for “Force of Nature” to end up on the holds shelf…. (source)

So all in all while “The Dry” didn’t blow me away in the fashion that it did to many others, there is a lot of promise going forward. Aaron Falk may not be Temperance Brennan yet, but I have a feeling that he has the potential to join her as a detective in a unique series that I will follow as it moves forward.

Rating 7: A solid mystery with a protagonist that has some potential, “The Dry” didn’t take me in as much as it did others, but it has me interested enough to go onto the next one.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Dry” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Small Mysteries”, and “Australian Bush”.

Find “The Dry” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Favorite Sister”

36967019Book: “The Favorite Sister” by Jessica Knoll

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, May 2018

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

Book Description: When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…

Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her cast mates.

Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.

Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt.

Lauren, the start-up world’s darling whose drinking has gotten out of control, is Goal Diggers’ recovery narrative—everyone loves a comeback story.

And Jen, made rich and famous through her cultishly popular vegan food line plays a holistic hippie for the cameras, but is perhaps the most ruthless of them all when the cameras are off.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for giving me an eARC of this book!

As you’ve seen on my various “Not Just Books” lists on this blog, I do have a soft spot for a couple reality TV shows. I tell myself that my enjoyment of “ANTM” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is rooted within the inherent creativity that is at the heart of the premises; be it fashion modeling and the skills that go into it or the many facets of doing drag as performance and style, I love seeing these contestants do what I know I never could. But I’ll also be honest here: I do enjoy the petty catfights and drama that almost always arises when you put these people into high stress situations. So “The Favorite Sister” by Jessica Knoll was SUPER intriguing to me within it’s premise. I quite enjoyed her previous book “Luckiest Girl Alive” because of the issues that she tackled under guise of soapy snideness, so I had hopes that her next story would do the same. Along with juicy, sudsy characters tearing each other to shreds, of course.

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The Vixen is the queen of bringing  up social issues and bringing the drama and I love her for all of it. (source)

So the good news is that this is a book that has a plot and mystery that will completely suck you in and not let you go until it’s good and ready to. I was reading this book on one of our late Spring snow storm days and it was the best way to pass the time because it kept me interested and wanting more. The plot concerns a reality show called “Goal Diggers” and the women who make up the cast of the show and all the problems that they have as they strive to maintain their status and fame. Mostly, it details the lead up to and fallout from the murder of the fan favorite Brett, a spinning studio owner who is proud of her curvy body and is an out and proud lesbian. It’s told between three perspectives and jumping through time: there’s Brett’s perspective, of course, but then there are also the perspectives of Kelly, Brett’s sister (mainly told after the fact), and Stephanie, Brett’s former best friend. They all have their own levels of unreliability, as they all have reasons to lie and distort the facts, and as the story slowly came out the rug got pulled out from under me a number of times. Knoll continues to be adept at creating twists and turns that you don’t see coming, even as she intricately lays the groundwork for them so they feel natural and believable. There were a number of moments where I said ‘whoa’ as a new surprise was sprung, and I definitely felt the need to keep reading to see what was going to happen next.

But ultimately, I think that the biggest drawback of “The Favorite Sister” is that all of the characters are completely reprehensible, and so unlikable that I didn’t find myself connecting to really any of them. While I had a fun time reading about how they were all behaving badly, and how they would all justify their behavior in ways that were totally laughable, I ultimately found myself hating almost all of them. The sole exception to this was Layla, Kelly’s twelve year old daughter, but you don’t get much sense of her outside of being a kind and creative (and driven) kid. I appreciate what Knoll was trying to convey, that even within a show that is supposed to be about lifting women up and encouraging them to think outside of what society wants them to be, they are still going to be judged by each other and by themselves because society is so damn ingrained in them. I get that. I appreciate that. It’s not a bad take at all. But when none of them really move beyond being laughably shallow (Lauren), ridiculously cruel (Jen), horrendously deluded by self grandeur (Brett), or just kind of there (Kelly), who do you root for? I had hoped that I could root for Stephanie, as she is probably the one who comes closest to having complexity. She is the only black woman on the show, she’s edging near the age where cast members generally get the ax, and she’s trying to prove herself beyond being a token and model minority. But ultimately she too was just terrible, and the various things that she was going through never QUITE justified the awful shit that she pulled. This was unfortunate because this derailed the commentary that I think that Knoll was trying to achieve. And it’s not like Knoll doesn’t know how to write unlikable characters who have depth and complexity; Ani in “Luckiest Girl Alive” is INCREDIBLY unlikable, but as you learn more about her past and her experiences you understand why she is the way she is. Stephanie, and the other characters, get some glimpses, but you never get the feeling that their behavior is justified with the limited exposure we do get.

I think that if what you’re looking for is purely guilty pleasure mean girl drama, “The Favorite Sister” will probably scratch that itch and give you everything you need. On a purely entertainment, watching bad people get what they deserve level it was very satisfying. But don’t go in expecting to have characters that you can relate to and root for, because you will not find that here.

Rating 6: While the story itself was engrossing and left me guessing until the very end, “The Favorite Sister” didn’t have the complexities to the characters that I was hoping for.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Favorite Sister” is a new book so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Reality Show Themed Novels”. 

Find “The Favorite Sister” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “People Like Us”

35356380Book: “People Like Us” by Dana Mele

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple. 

The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.

Review: Oh ho ho what’s this? It’s another ‘horrible kids being horrible at boarding school’ book!! My freaking weakness of a book type (or one of many). “People Like Us” by Dana Mele was one of those books that I just randomly stumbled upon on GoodReads thanks to that site’s propensity to feature books on the side of your feed that they are trying to promote. Most of the time I ignore these ads, but on occasion I’m drawn in because of tantalizing covers or large words promising great things, usually of thriller kind. Knowing full well that I was pretty much taking a gamble, I requested it. When it opened with a bunch of boarding school popular girls finding a body, I was immediately drawn in. Because who doesn’t love a bit of salacious carnage to kick off a book? But as the book kept going, it became quite clear that it was going to be something we’ve seen before without pushing many boundaries inside of the genre.

The cast of characters is a pretty standard cast list for a YA thriller/mystery. Our protagonist is Kay, a girl who came to the prep school Bates Private School with two main motivations: to pursue a soccer scholarship for college, and to run away from a trauma from her past. She has a number of secrets she keeps from her other friends in their popular crowd, just as they have secrets from each other as they rule the school and sometimes torment other students. Unfortunately, there was definitely too much of her hinging on on this tragic and secret past of hers, and while it was slowly and carefully unfolded I never really found a moment of connection to Kay. While most of her relationships with her friends are pretty one dimensional, there are a couple exceptions to this: she is attracted to and perhaps in love with her best friend Brie, but their romance has never come to fruition because the timing has always been wrong (or Kay has been misbehaving in some kind of way). And along with Brie there is Nola, a classmate who has always  been seen as weird, but may be Kay’s only hope in solving who is harassing her and targeting her friends. I really liked that Dana Mele treats Kay’s sexuality as just a fact of the story, and that all of these characters were fairly fluid in their sexual identities. But beyond that, none of them were particularly noteworthy or interesting. As Kay’s friends face their various consequences to being jerks, I never felt particularly bad for them, nor did I really feel a sweet satisfaction outside of a general ‘ha ha awful popular kids get what’s coming to them’ feeling. They weren’t likable, but they weren’t interesting enough to be fun to hate either. Too many of them were placed to either be non lethal body counts, or to make the reader wonder if they are the one who set it all up in the first place.

The mystery too was a little lackluster for me. There were plenty of red herrings the muddle the waters effectively, be it misdirection about the mystery at the forefront or the mystery of Kay’s past. But ultimately, I did kind of brush across the solution well before the solution was revealed, even if I didn’t let it stick in my mind. And by the time we did get to the solution, I didn’t feel like we’d come to a big revelation. It just kind of happened, and I felt neither positive nor negative about how it all sussed out in the end. There was one final twist that did shock me, though, which was a nice surprise given that I thought that I had everything totally figured out within that storyline. It’s the little surprises that felt rewarding in this book, but when you don’t find yourself as a ready very invested in the majority of the mystery, or the consequences that it is going to dole out of the characters.

So what made it so readable, perhaps you are wondering? Well honestly, I am always going to be a sucker for the boarding school brats being rotten to each other trope, along with the themes of the misbehaving idle rich getting what they so richly deserve. If you want a standard book within this trope and genre, “People Like Us” is going to fulfill that want and need because it is so by the book (as it were). It almost acted as a comfort read for me, in that I didn’t have to think too deeply about it and that I knew that bad people were going to have bad things happen to them. Sometimes all we want is a book that hits all the things that we want and to be able to just enjoy it for what it is, and I do have to admit that I got that from “People Like Us” when all was said and done.  

If you are looking for a YA thriller mystery that reinvents the wheel, “People Like Us” probably isn’t going to be the read for you. But if you want that familiar comfort of a genre you’ve come to really enjoy without rocking the boat, it could be a good bet.

Rating 6: A fine example of the thriller genre, especially if it takes place in a boarding school, but “People Like Us” doesn’t really do much to set itself outside the genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“People Like Us” is included on the Goodreads lists “Prep School Mysteries”, and “Sapphic Boarding School Books”.

Find “People Like Us” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Curious Beginning”

28186322Book: “A Curious Beginning” by Deanna Raybourn

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, September 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: audibook from the library!

Book Description: London, 1887. After burying her spinster aunt, orphaned Veronica Speedwell is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as with fending off admirers, Veronica intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans when Veronica thwarts her own attempted abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, who offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker, a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. But before the baron can reveal what he knows of the plot against her, he is found murdered—leaving Veronica and Stoker on the run from an elusive assailant as wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

Review: Honestly, I’m not sure how I’ve been going along all of this time with no awareness of Deanna Raybourn. After the first twenty or so pages of this book, in which I was in shock by how much I was absolutely adoring it pretty much immediately, I did some research and found that Raybourn has been around for a while, long enough to have another hugely popular series already finished! How have I missed this? As a huge fan of lady sleuth historical mysteries, especially if said lady at all resembles Amelia Peabody as far as giving a damn what others think, it’s almost like Christmas whenever I discover another series that can scratch this particular itch.

Veronica Speedwell knows she should be sad at the death of her aunt, but instead, she only sees the glorious future ahead of her, full of independence and the freedom to fully devote her life to her passion for science and butterfly hunting. Of course, her history isn’t one of being cooped up anyways, with many trips abroad full of exploration, adventure, and yes, a few liaisons, if you will. But things do not go as planned when she finds herself caught up in a murder and pursued by villains unknown. What’s more, she finds herself in the company of the mysterious and rather grumpy Stoker, a man whose past is equally curious.

Veronica Speedwell is a delight. Truly, a book like this lives and dies on the voice of its lead character, and she was absolutely wonderful. Witty, confident, and employing all of those great snooty, very British-y turns of phrase that make me super jealous of their vocabulary and diction. (I also listened to this as an audiobook, and the reader was spot on. So good in fact that I think I’m going to hold out for the audiobook versions of the next two as well).

I also really enjoyed the backstory that is given to Veronica, particularly the fact that this isn’t her first time out and about in the world. She has the actual experience to back up her confidence and claims of capability. Not only is she and established scientist, having published a few articles under an assumed name and sold rare specimens gathered from her adventures to wealthy collectors, but she has taken a firm hold on her life and choices. Men are nothing new to her, and she has established a neat system for dealing with them and her reputation: liaisons are ok abroad, damn the whispers, but once on home ground, she is willing to play by the rules. For all of these strengths, she’s also appropriately vulnerable when the plot strikes close to home. The tendency with characters like this can be an almost unrealistic level of competences and assuredness that leaves the character feeling not quite human. Veronica reacts in a believable manner to big revelations, but nothing keeps her off her stride for long!

As a secondary character, I also very much loved Stoker. And yes, he also kind of reminded me of Emerson. (But for all of these similarities between our leads, I never felt like the book strayed too close to the Amelia Peabody series). His was the perfect level of brusqueness and emotional outbursts to balance Veronica’s more cool demeanor. For all that his walls begin to come down throughout the story, by the end of the book, we still do not know his entire history, which I really liked. His character still has much room to grow, but what we do know already sets him up as an excellent, rather comedic, romantic hero.

The story itself is full of action, jumping from one adventure to another. We have a traveling circus, an eccentric collector and his family, the Tower of London, and more. And throughout it all, the mystery is solid, leaving readers equally in the dark about the motives, and even the identity, of those pursuing our main characters. While a few of these mini adventures could feel a bit tacked on, especially the traveling circus bit, I was having such fun watching our main characters play on these sets, that I didn’t even care.

My one real criticism of this book comes with the end. The way the mystery is resolved felt a bit rushed and almost too neat. Things fell into place in a very convenient manner and we have yet another example of a villain pretty much killing himself off, so that our leads’ hands won’t be bloodies. While I get that all of this kind of goes hand in hand with the type of light and fun mystery story that this is, I always wish there could be a bit more “oomph” put behind resolutions such as this. If anything, letting the story get a bit more dark when it needs to can be a nice balance to the rest of the more light plotline. It just read a bit too “PG” for me.

But this is a minor quibble, and one that has built up over time after reading endings like this again and again in mysteries such as this. On its own, “A Curious Beginning” is an absolutely delightful introduction to a new leading lady and new mystery series. Definitely check this one out if you’re a fan of lady sleuth mysteries ala Amelia Peabody!

Rating 8: An absolute romp of a story. Veronica Speedwell, welcome to the ranks of excellent lady sleuths!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Curious Beginning” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Victorian/Regency Female Sleuths/Mysteries” and “Books with Witty Banter/Dialogue.”

Find “A Curious Beginning” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Wife Between Us”

34189556Book: “The Wife Between Us” by Greer Hendrix and Sarah Pekkanen

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A novel of suspense that explores the complexities of marriage and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement.
You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves.
You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her.
You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.
Assume nothing.

Discover the next blockbuster novel of suspense, and get ready for the read of your life.

Review: The super hyped heavy hitter thrillers are the ones that scare me the most. Not in terms of content, mind you; in terms of my fears to even give them a try. I’ve been burned by a number of them in the past. I was marginally impressed by “Girl on the Train”. Mary Kubica’s recent works have left me a bit cold. I flat out hated “Gone Girl” and “Behind Her Eyes”. So when “The Wife Between Us” was available at work, I felt a tug to check it out, but also the nagging ‘what if you don’t like it?’ apprehension. But I did take a chance on this one, steeling myself for potential, sullen disappointment, so much so that I kind of let it sit for a bit, knowing I could renew it and just delay the potential inevitable disappointment. But I can safely say that when I did pick it up, I had a very, very hard time putting it down. Praise be, “The Wife Between Us” lived up to the hype that made me very hesitant!

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TAKE THAT, HORRIBLE STREAK OF ANNOYING THRILLER BLOCKBUSTERS! (source)

The dual narrative device isn’t really new to the thriller genre. Many books use it, including a number that I’ve reviewed on this blog. But given that this book was written by two women, the voices that each character, Nellie and Vanessa, have are incredibly unique and feel totally separate. Nellie’s story is told in the third person, as the new younger woman that this man Richard is about to marry, while Vanessa is in the first person, the ex wife who hears about this new marriage and is intent on stopping it. I tend to feel that when a book promises that ‘this book isn’t what you think it’s going to be’, I’m going to go in looking for hints and clues as to why that is. But with Nellie and Vanessa and the perspectives they each give to the overall story, while I was looking for clues I wasn’t distracted by my personal search. In fact, when we get to the first big reveal, I actually said ‘wait, WHAT?!’, and had to go back and look for clues because I was so totally caught off guard. The thriller genre seems to be stepping it’s game up, as this isn’t the only book that has done that lately (but more on that another time). I also liked that neither Nellie nor Vanessa were very stereotypical, even if they appeared to be at first. As the stories progressed, you saw a whole lot of growth in both these narratives, and I ended up really liking and feeling for both of them.

While Nellie and Vanessa were refreshing and kind of new for the genre, there were some familiar traps that the plot itself fell into. I’m not going to spoil it, as this is a fun book and shouldn’t be spoiled for those who want to read it. But while I didn’t call one of the super big twists, the other one was fairly obvious from the get go. It’s a device and a twist theme that I’m honestly losing my patience with, as we’ve seen it so often now that it’s long past stale and definitely overused and overdone. And then (and I can’t tell you how ridiculous this moment was), in the last few pages, yet ANOTHER twist was thrown in for good measure that harkened back to a long lost plot point. And the biggest grievance I had with this one was that not only did it fall right in the last few pages, it was revealed in a way that didn’t actually have ANY bearing on how anything turned out!! So I don’t know what I find more frustrating, that it was a quick ‘gotcha!’ reveal a la “Into the Water”, or that it didn’t even go anywhere or change anything. It just felt tacked on, and tacked on in a way that was incredibly superfluous and unimportant to anything.

But given that I picked “The Wife Between Us” up and didn’t put it down, reading it in one sitting, it clearly had a serious hold on me, which is what a good thriller ultimately needs to do to be effective. This is one that, in my opinion, deserves the hype that it’s getting.

Rating 8: A thriller that kept me entranced with a couple of unique and interesting narratives, “The Wife Between Us” had few pitfalls and lots of really good curve balls.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Wife Between Us” is included on the Goodreads lists “Chilling New York Novels”, and “Unique Narrators”.

Find “The Wife Between Us” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Truth Beneath the Lies”

28533271Book: “The Truth Beneath the Lies” by Amanda Searcy

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, December 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Fight or Flight. 

All Kayla Asher wants to do is run. Run from the government housing complex she calls home. Run from her unstable mother. Run from a desperate job at No Limit Foods. Run to a better, cleaner, safer life. Every day is one day closer to leaving. 

All Betsy Hopewell wants to do is survive. Survive the burner phone hidden under her bed. Survive her new rules. Survive a new school with new classmates. Survive being watched. Every minute grants her another moment of life. 

But when fate brings Kayla and Betsy together, only one girl will live.

Review: You may remember that I put this book on my Highlights list for December of 2017, perhaps a gamble to do since teen thrillers/mysteries can be so dicey sometimes. I feel like I either really enjoy them, or find them too cliche or unbelievable. I didn’t really know what to expect from “The Truth Beneath The Lies”, as this is Amanda Searcy’s debut novel and the description was vague as vague can be. But I decided to take a page from ABBA and took a chance on it. And I’m not totally sure if it paid off.

It took me a little time to really get into this book. The first problem was that I had to keep reminding myself which girl was Betsy and which girl was Kayla. As you will find in a fair number of mysteries and thrillers these days, “The Truth Beneath The Lies” has a unique storytelling hook (in this case, two distinct narratives that seem separate but will eventually come together to tell a larger story), and a premise and set up that initially provide more questions than answers (and since I feel that this story definitely needs a lack of answers and clarity to be effective, I’m going to try and be, like the description, as vague as possible). The problem, however, was that Kayla and Betsy had so many interchangeable elements to their stories that I really had a hard time at first with keeping them straight. I can’t tell you how many times I had to say ‘okay, which one is this, who has the burner phone and who is working at a grocery store?’ and then look at the book description again. Of the two narratives I was more taken in by Kayla’s story (and even now I had to go back and remind myself who was who), as her frustrating existence made it so her motivations and choices were clearer. While Betsy’s situation was secretive for a reason, it still made it so I was irritated with just how much we were reminded that she was in danger, without explaining why. It all makes sense, but even though it does I still found myself more frustrated than intrigued.

The big twist wasn’t too hard for me to guess either. If you know what to look for and have the ins and outs of the genre in it’s present form down cold, you will probably be able to piece it together at the same rate that I did. And while that certainly isn’t to say that everyone will, or that they will be unimpressed with it, it did take away from my personal experience of reading this. Again, I’m going to remain a bit mum on what I mean by this, because I think that this is potentially worth reading if you aren’t as old hat and cynical as I am. But also figuring out the whole puzzle early on made me question whether or not how Searcy laid the clues out, and even in how she frames major parts of this story, treaded more towards deceit rather than deception. If you read this you will understand what I mean when I say that.

But I will say that ultimately, when all was said and done, I was entertained by this book. Once the cat was out of the bag plot wise, I did want to see how things turned out for our characters, and the consequences that were going to fall upon them all. So in the end it’s not like I regret reading this book, it was just that it didn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to thrillers, or even YA thrillers. It was perfectly acceptable, but the problem is that with thrillers with twists and turns it’s more fun to be thrilled.

Rating 6: An entertaining thriller, but the twists were a bit predictable while some of the hints treaded more towards deceit than deception.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Truth Beneath the Lies” isn’t on many relevant (or even correct… superheros?) Goodreads lists at the moment, but I think that it would fit in on “Best Books of Secrets”.

Find “The Truth Beneath the Lies” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Excerpt and Giveaway: “Mind Me, Milady”

Occasionally we are approached with the opportunity to promote books that may be of interest to our readers. And occasionally in lieu of a full review of the book, we will let it speak for itself by posting an excerpt from it. So if you like what you see in one of these excerpts, we have good news! You have the chance to win a copy of it! What could be better?

38085332Book: “Mind Me, Milady” by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks

Publishing Info: Melange Books LLC, April 2017

Book Description: Jane Larson is an attorney on the Upper East Side of New York City, and the Gentleman Rapist has chosen her to receive his calls announcing each conquest. He also reminds her in chilling terms that he will one day twist his wire around her throat and bend her to his will. 

Jane has professional and personal problems of her own, but she is forced to try to catch this monster when he stalks her newest client. Susan is a sweet young woman who cannot remember large time periods of her past and who has dreams about a prior life in which she was raped. Soon, the Gentleman escalates to murder, and Jane wonders if he was involved in Susan’s forgotten past, or if Susan is simply a means to get to Jane. Either way, Jane is caught in the deadly game of stopping the Gentleman before another woman feels the wire at her throat and hears his sinister whisper to Mind Me, Milady.

Notes from the Blogger:

Last year I was approached to run an excerpt and giveaway of the mystery novel “Weave a Murderous Web” by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks. It involved lawyer Jane Larson and a load of cash and some drug money, as well as a murky personal life for Larson herself. I really liked Jane as a character, and the giveaway was a huge success. So when Kenneth Hicks asked if I’d be interested of doing an excerpt and giveaway for the next in the series, “Mind Me, Milady,” I was more than happy to participate! Jane is back, and this time she’s on the case of a serial rapist, hoping to stop him before he strikes again. I still really enjoy Jane as a protagonist to follow, as her character is imperfect and completely relatable. I had a harder time with the mystery this time around, but that was more because of the nature of the crimes at hand and not the storytelling in and of itself. Kirkus has called this book “An engrossing, suspense-filled thriller with an intriguing protagonist” (source).  Basically, Jane is really great and keeps the reader itching for more (as someone who has many personal connections to lawyers, she speaks to my heart)!

For more information of the authors, you can find them on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads!  Jane Larson is still a fun mystery heroine with a unique occupation you don’t always see in procedural mysteries! Enter the giveaway below to try and win yourself a free ebook copy of “Mind Me, Milady”, and read the excerpt below! Trigger warning: this scene involves violence towards a woman.

Please note that the giveaway copy of this book is an Ebook, with your choice of an ePub, Mobi, or PDF. It’s open to US entrants only and will run until March 23rd at 11:59pm EST. Good luck and happy reading! – Kate

Enter the Giveaway Here!

Excerpt:

Chapter One

It was almost noon when he looked out to the street and saw Natalie step from the cab. A familiar pounding rushed through him—a blood rush of fear, of anticipation.

She ran up the stairs as he had expected she would. She was an athlete, after all, and desperate for this apartment. Rent-controlled, one bedroom, East Side, dirt cheap. Run, Natalie, run.

On the third floor, she saw the door was open a crack and came right in. This was one of the reasons he was drawn to her—her confidence. There was not a tentative bone in her body.

“Hello?” she called. “It’s me. Natalie.” She looked around, pleased by what she saw, no doubt—floors newly sanded and stained, walls freshly painted, kitchen appliances all scrubbed clean. For the rent he had quoted her, it was more than a steal. It was highway robbery. And she was carrying cash for a promised “bonus,” as she put it, because a bribe would be so tacky.

She stepped into the bedroom and heard nothing as he slipped the wire over her lovely head, pulling it tight around her lovely neck. She struggled, but not for long. A knee pressed against the back of her legs forced her to the floor. Lovely legs.

“Mind me, Milady,” he whispered in the British accent he affected for occasions like this. “Mind the Gentleman.”

There was no choice. Denied breath, she was seconds from dying. Quickly, he placed a wide piece of tape over her eyes and another over her mouth. Two longer pieces bound her wrists and ankles. Only then did the wire slacken. Air rushed in through flared nostrils. What was she thinking? Was she grateful just to be alive? And how many more times would he have to bring her to the very edge of death before she learned who was in control?