Kate’s Review: “The Night Swim”

51169341Book: “The Night Swim” by Megan Goldin

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, August 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a print ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: After the first season of her true crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall is now a household name―and the last hope for thousands of people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The small town of Neapolis is being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. The town’s golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping a high school student, the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season Three a success, Rachel throws herself into interviewing and investigating―but the mysterious letters keep showing up in unexpected places. Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insists she was murdered―and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody seems to want to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.

Electrifying and propulsive, The Night Swim asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny?

Review: Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a print ARC of this novel!

We’re seeing more and more podcast themed books, and as of now I, for one, am still very pleased with this theme in thrillers. If an author does it well, it adds a whole other layer to a story that combines my favorite kinds of books with one of my other favorite forms of entertainment. When St. Martin’s Press sent me “The Night Swim” by Megan Goldin I was elated, as this book had already kind of been on my radar because of the podcast theme. When I did jump on into the narrative, it sucked me right in. And it also made me very, very uncomfortable.

“The Night Swim” has two crimes that our protagonist, Rachel, is following. One is for her podcast, ‘Guilty or Not Guilty’, and it follows a high profile rape case in the small town of Neapolis. A popular and charismatic young man with Olympic dreams is accused of raping a sixteen year old girl, and the town (as well as people all over the world) are split on whether or not he’s guilty. While Rachel is in town, she keeps getting mysterious correspondence from Hannah, a woman who wants Rachel to investigate the death of her older sister Jenny, who was found drowned twenty years before, also in Neapolis. We have multiple narrative styles to tie these two seemingly unrelated cases together. We have Hannah’s letters to Rachel, Rachel’s podcast, and a third person narrative following Rachel’s podcast research and eventual investigation into Jenny’s death. It’s a lot, but Goldin makes it work, blending them all together and carefully revealing how some things, like rape culture and small town politics, never really change even as decades pass. This thriller is really part murder mystery, part courtroom drama, and Goldin balances both aspects meticulously. I was held in suspense regarding what the outcome of the rape trial was going to be, but also as to whether or not Rachel was going to find out what really happened to Jenny. The reveals were all well done and some were genuinely surprising, and while I did piece together a few clues probably earlier than I was supposed to, all of the big reveals were still surprising and enjoyable.

But what made this book stand out from other thrillers I’ve read as of late, and what made it a very difficult read at times, was how frank and unflinching Goldin is when it comes to the themes of rape in this book. While I feel that sometimes other thrillers will have rape as a plot point or as a crime in their pages, going into details or seeing the traumatic fallout aren’t as focused on, rather focusing on the investigation to bring the perpetrator to justice. In “The Night Swim”, Goldin opts to show what it is like for a victim to have to relive her attack while on the stand, and in the spotlight of a high profile trial. After reading Chanel Miller’s “Know My Name”, the memoir of the woman raped by Brock Turner (and whose case is clearly inspiration for this storyline), it was especially jarring and upsetting to read these parts as the victim, Kelly, is forced to tell her story in graphic detail in front of a courtroom full of strangers. But while it was hard, I thought that it was important to show that rape isn’t just a plot point, that it has a horrific fallout, and that the fact that victims have to basically be re-traumatized to get justice, justice that isn’t even guaranteed, is abominable. The descriptions of Kelly’s rape (as well as the assault of Jenny) will definitely be hard to read for many people, so content warnings abound in this book. And while we don’t really get to know much about Kelly outside of her victim status, we DO get to know Jenny very well.

It’s a hard one, but I did really like “The Night Swim”. Steel your heart and get ready for righteous indignation to rush through you, but I think that if you are a thriller reader you should probably pick it up.

Rating 8: A compelling mystery is accompanied by an unflinching look at rape culture and trauma. “The Night Swim” is difficult at times but also feels like it takes on difficult themes that other thrillers may gloss over.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Night Swim” is included on the Goodreads lists“Books for Serial Podcast Lovers”, and “Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2020”.

Find “The Night Swim” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Bookclub Review: “Picnic At Hanging Rock”

34785405._sy475_We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Around the World”, in which we each picked a continent and had to match a book that takes place there and/or is written by an author from that continent.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay

Publishing Info: Penguin, 1967

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Continent: Oceania

Book Description: It was a cloudless summer day in the year 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of the secluded volcanic outcropping. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. They never returned. . . .

Mysterious and subtly erotic, Picnic at Hanging Rock inspired the iconic 1975 film of the same name by Peter Weir. A beguiling landmark of Australian literature, it stands with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides as a masterpiece of intrigue.

Kate’s Thoughts

Back when I first got my Netflix account where discs were the main platform, I went through a few months where I would request obscure-ish films that maybe I’d heard of, or maybe I stumbled upon. One of those films was “Picnic At Hanging Rock”, an Australian cult classic. When book club decided that our theme this time around was Continents, I was the only person who wanted to call dibs on a continent. That continent/region was Oceania. I eventually settled on “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, knowing full well it would probably be a controversial read as I’m one of the few people who like a good high strangeness thriller in the group. But did that stop me?

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I’m sure they understood where I was coming from. (source)

Reading “Picnic at Hanging Rock” was a weird and dreamy experience, as author Joan Lindsay has created a story filled with frustrating ambiguity and an ethereal tone. Three star pupils and a chaperone disappear during a picnic in the Australian countryside at a rock formation called Hanging Rock, and while people go searching, mysteries and darkness seem to follow those involved. On its surface the book is a pretty compelling mystery with few answers, though perhaps that’s the point of it. But what struck me more as I was reading it, and this may not even be intentional, is how many themes involving sex, class, colonialism, and nature were just below the surface. In many ways, “Picnic at Hanging Rock” is very of its setting and of its time. The fact that it takes place in an upper class, white boarding school in the middle of the Australian wilderness just screams so many things. Privileged people thinking that nature is their playground, it’s very colonialist and it’s VERY Victorian, so when these women disappear, and most don’t reappear, the shock and disbelief feels very realistic. I’m sure that for these characters, wilderness picnics back in England were very safe, as the terrain and flora and fauna are well known and predictable. But when you apply that complacency to a totally different continent, a continent that is notoriously tricky and dangerous to those who are unfamiliar (or who take it for granted), disaster surely can follow.

On top of that I was deeply intrigued by the various relationships between the characters, and what was said or not said. You have the friendships between the adolescent girls, in particular Sara and Miranda, and how intense they can be (as Sara is deeply dependent on Miranda, so when Miranda goes missing Sara spirals). You have the relationships between the adults and the children, in particular Mrs. Appleyard who seems to loathe all the girls, lest they be wealthy and their families be benefactors. You have the upper class English boy Michael, who is infatuated with Miranda and who has a very macho (homoerotic?) friendship with the lowerclass Australian valet Albert. This was the relationship that was of most interest to me, as Michael doesn’t know shit about the world because of his privilege, and it’s Albert who is almost constantly bailing him out or bringing him back to reality.

And what of the ending? I like ambiguity myself, so I was a-okay with the fact that there are no real answers. At one point Joan Lindsay had a definitive end attached to the story, but was told to leave it out upon publishing. You can find the end if you want definitive answers, but honestly, not knowing, to me, is far more unsettling.

There were a few things that didn’t quite work for me in this book. It’s not a very long book, but it still felt a little extended beyond its means. There was a side plot involving another woman who worked at the school who ends up wanting to leave, and while I understand the point of it, in terms of adding to the tension and the mystery, it felt a little off the beaten path. And while it isn’t surprising, given the time period in which this was written and the setting itself, there was very little mention of the Indigenous Aborigines outside of an ‘abo tracker’ who is sent in to look for the missing girls. A real life tidbit that makes this all the more unsettling is that Hanging Rock is an actual place, its original name Ngannelong (possibly. There may have been a translation issue). It was originally a very important site to the local Aboriginal groups, and now it has basically been overrun by the popularity of this book and film, erasing the importance to the Indigenous people who were there first.

All this said, I mostly enjoyed “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, if only because I found so much hidden beneath the surface. Don’t read this if you want solid answers. But do if you want to be mystified.

Kate’s Rating 7: A dreamy and odd mystery filled with high strangeness and a lot of commentary (be it intentional or not), “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, while a little babbly and in some ways problematic, is still mysterious all these years later.

Book Club Questions

  1. This takes place at the end of the Victorian Era, during which the idea of Nature was very intriguing to Western cultures. What do you think this story was trying to say about human’s relationship to nature?
  2. The Appleyard College for  Young Ladies is an Upper Class attended boarding school in the Australian countryside. Why do you think having it take place at a wealthy boarding school was the choice Lindsay made?
  3. This book was chosen as a representation of Oceania, specifically Australia. Do you think that there was anything about this book that could be uniquely Australian?
  4. What were your thoughts on the relationships between the characters (between the students, between the students in relation to authority figures, friendships, potential romantic relationships – do you think that there were sapphic/romantic/homoerotic elements to this story?)?
  5. What do you think happened to the people who disappeared at Hanging Rock? Doe it matter? Was the ambiguity frustrating for you?
  6. There had at one time been an ending that had a solid answer and conclusion as to what happened to the missing women, but has since been left off of the book as it wasn’t part of the original story as published. Would you want to know what happened? Or do you prefer the open ended end?

Reader’s Advisory

“Picnic at Hanging Rock” is included on the Goodreads lists “Female Authored Weird Fiction”, and “Best Books Set in Australia”.

Find “Picnic at Hanging Rock” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: TBD (will update when we have the title)

Kate’s Review: “I Killed Zoe Spanos”

50202540Book: “I Killed Zoe Spanos” by Kit Frick

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, June 2020

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

Book Description: This gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

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

In case you were wondering, I’m still on my bullshit when it comes to True Crime podcasts. I haven’t really strayed into new territory outside of the old reliables, but if you have some recommendations, send them my way! More and more we’re seeing podcast themes making their way into mysteries, perhaps in part due to this true crime boom within the listening world. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t, but I’m always game to try that kind of book out. So of COURSE “I Killed Zoe Spanos” by Kit Frick caught my eye! It has elements that I greatly enjoy in my thrillers: a luxurious summer setting, a missing girl, secrets that the privileged and the non-privileged alike keep close to their vests. SO, you throw in a podcast angle and I am gonna be there! “I Killed Zoe Spanos” really hooked me in, and it was just the kind of read I could see myself reading on the beach. You know, if I was going to the beach this summer. Which I’m not.

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Goddamn pandemic. (source)

“I Killed Zoe Spanos” follows two distinct perspectives. The first is of Anna Cicconi, a teenager who has come to the Hamptons town of Herron Mills to be a live in babysitter. Herron Mills has a lot of money, a lot of privilege, and is currently haunted by the fact that local girl Zoe Spanos has gone missing that past New Year’s. Eventually Anna confesses to killing Zoe, even though as far as anyone knows there is no connection between the two. The other perspective is that of Martina Green, a local teen who is best friends with Zoe’s sister Aster, and puts out a podcast about the case. Anna’s perspective is mostly in the past and in the first person, while Martina’s is in the present and in the third. Sometimes I have a hard time when there are two kinds of POV styles in a book unless I feel it’s warranted, and with “I Killed Zoe Spanos” I felt like it worked fairly well. It made it so that we could get both the unreliability of Anna’s perspective, given that we have no idea what her connection to Zoe is, even though there is clearly something going on, and also the outside third person lens that Martina has as she is trying to solve the mystery herself. Throw in the transcripts for Martina’s podcast, which adds a whole other layer of potential unreliability (or at least bias), and you have a lot of potential for looking at Zoe’s disappearance and death from all sides. I thought that these three views all complemented each other pretty well, and had enough potential for red herrings within them all to make the mystery interesting. I enjoyed a few of the twists and turns quite a bit, though I will admit that I think that there was a bit of an overreach that came up right at the end. You don’t have to overdo it is all I’m saying.

As far as the characters go, no one really stood out too much in terms of going beyond their templates. Anna is unreliable and mysterious, perhaps threatening but maybe not. Martina is tenacious and truth seeking. I think that there was some interesting potential in some of the side characters, particularly Zoe’s boyfriend Caden, a transracial adoptee whose skin Others him within a very wealthy, and white, insular community. But we didn’t really go looking too deeply into many of these side characters, no matter how interesting they might be.

“I Killed Zoe Spanos” is definitely the kind of book that will take you in this summer! If you are a thriller fan and do find yourself able to safely go to a beach, or sit by a pool, this would be a great read to accompany that kind of excursion!

Rating 7: A fun mystery with some interesting turns, “I Killed Zoe Spanos” is a reliable summer read for thriller fans and fans of true crime podcasts alike.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I Killed Zoe Spanos” is included on the Goodreads lists “What’s My YA Name Again”, and “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, & Thrillers 2020”.

Find “I Killed Zoe Spanos” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Girl from Widow Hills”

52754102Book: “The Girl from Widow Hills” by Megan Miranda

Publication Info: Simon & Schuster, June 2020

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

Book Description: Everyone knows the story of “the girl from Widow Hills.”

Arden Maynor was just a child when she was swept away while sleepwalking during a terrifying rainstorm and went missing for days. Strangers and friends, neighbors and rescue workers, set up search parties and held vigils, praying for her safe return. Against all odds, she was found, alive, clinging to a storm drain. The girl from Widow Hills was a living miracle. Arden’s mother wrote a book. Fame followed. Fans and fan letters, creeps, and stalkers. And every year, the anniversary. It all became too much. As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and disappeared from the public eye.

Now a young woman living hundreds of miles away, Arden goes by Olivia. She’s managed to stay off the radar for the last few years. But with the twentieth anniversary of her rescue approaching, the media will inevitably renew its interest in Arden. Where is she now? Soon Olivia feels like she’s being watched and begins sleepwalking again, like she did long ago, even waking outside her home. Until late one night she jolts awake in her yard. At her feet is the corpse of a man she knows—from her previous life, as Arden Maynor.

And now, the girl from Widow Hills is about to become the center of the story, once again, in this propulsive page-turner from suspense master Megan Miranda.

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

There are some authors out there that I really want to like, but I have very hit or miss interactions with their books. I will usually keep going back unless a book is so poorly done that I decide that I don’t have the reading time to continue giving chance after chance. I thought that Megan Miranda was going to be one of those authors, where I liked one book but nothing else worked for me. After her last book, “The Last Houseguest”, I thought that I was done for good. But something told me that I should give her newest novel “The Girl from Widow Hills” a chance. And am I glad I did. Megan Miranda has missed the chopping block for now, because I think that “The Girl from Widow Hills” is my favorite of her books that I’ve read.

“The Girl from Widow Hills” has a compelling mystery that drives it, a complicated and perhaps unreliable narrator, and a little bit of critiqued nostalgia for human interest journalism, which combined to make a very enjoyable read. Our protagonist is Arden, a woman whose claim to fame was being swept up in a flood when she was six years old and miraculously surviving as a community, and then a nation, watched with bated breath to find out her fate. The trauma of that experience, being trapped for a few days until a man passed by and found her, has followed her the rest of her life, as her mother profited off of the story and the public began to think that she was ungrateful of their support as she tried to live her life. Now living under the name Olivia, I thought that Olivia/Arden’s trauma and need to escape her past was very realistic. It also made for an interesting and perhaps unreliable narration device, as she doesn’t remember much about those days where she was missing. It felt different from unreliable narrations we see in this genre in that the gaps in her story aren’t gaps that she has placed on purpose, but rather the result of being so young at the time, and suffering from PTSD after the fact. The mysteries that she’s trying to solve, mostly why did the man who saved her back then end up dead on her property now, given they have had no connection since, are very compelling and kept me guessing for a lot of the story. I liked following Olivia/Arden, and liked seeing the clues come together. And while it’s true that I did figure a couple things out before the end, and while it’s also true that the reveal at the end felt a little farfetched, just getting there was an enjoyable experience, so I didn’t even mind that it was a bit clunky, reveal wise.

But the thing that I liked the most was the way that Miranda shows the entitlement and ownership that the public can get when it comes to these heartwarming human interest stories. The media and the community focused in on this missing little girl, much like the Baby Jessica story, and rejoiced in her being recovered safely. But then the joy and relief slowly turns poisonous as Arden tries to move on with her life, and people think that she should be more grateful of the donations, well wishes, and care that was sent her way. It’s a very pointed criticism of how people expect to be rewarded for doing good things, and that victims can continue to be victimized when they don’t act or behave in a way that others deem ‘worthy’. That was the aspect of this book that I really, really enjoyed. It felt like the ballsiest thing I’ve seen Miranda put in her books.

“The Girl from Widow Hills” was an addictive thriller, and if you haven’t put it on your summer reading list yet you definitely should! I’ll definitely be taking a look at whatever Megan Miranda has in store next!

Rating 8: A fun and suspenseful thriller with some searing social commentary, and definitely a book that revives my faith in Megan Miranda!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl from Widow Hills” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mother and Daughter Thrillers”, and “Family Secrets (mystery/suspense/thriller only)”.

Find “The Girl from Widow Hills” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Grace Is Gone”

44890088Book: “Grace Is Gone” by Emily Elgar

Publishing Info: Harper Paperbacks, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a paperback copy from Harper.

Book Description: From the bestselling author of If You Knew Her comes this harrowing tale of suspense—a story ripped from today’s headlines—of a tight-knit English community, who’s rocked by the murder of a mother and the mysterious disappearance of her daughter, and the secrets that lie concealed beneath a carefully constructed facade.

A small town’s beloved family.

A shocking, senseless crime—and the dark secret at the heart of it all.

Everyone in Ashford, Cornwall, knows Meg Nichols and her daughter, Grace. Meg has been selflessly caring for Grace for years, and Grace—smiling and optimistic in spite of her many illnesses—adores her mother. So when Meg is found brutally bludgeoned in her bed and her daughter missing, the community is rocked. Meg had lived in terror of her abusive, unstable ex, convinced that he would return to try and kidnap Grace…as he had once before. Now it appears her fear was justified.

Jon Katrin, a local journalist, knows he should avoid getting drawn back into this story. The article he wrote about Meg and Grace caused rifts within his marriage and the town. Perhaps if he can help find Grace, he can atone for previous lapses in judgment. The Nichols’ neighbor, Cara—contending with her own guilt over not being a better friend to Grace—becomes an unexpected ally. But in searching for Grace, Jon and Cara uncover anomalies that lead to more and more questions.

Through multiple viewpoints and diary entries, the truth about Grace emerges, revealing a tragedy more twisted than anyone could have ever imagined… 

Review: Thank you to Harper for sending me a paperback copy of this book!

I always love when I find surprise books, be they ARCs or otherwise, in my mailbox! I never expect it, and it feels like my birthday every time. So when “Grace Is Gone” arrived on my doorstep, I was tickled pink, and threw it on my ARC pile until it was time to take it on. I hadn’t heard of “Grace Is Gone” until that moment, and didn’t know what it was about until I started reading it. Well folks, we have another thriller about Munchausen’s By Proxy on our hands. Perhaps one might think I’d be bored with that by now, but I can assure you that I am absolutely not.

While I had read “Darling Rose Gold” in the past few months and while the parallels are there (given that Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee Blanchard once again seem to serve inspiration), “Grace Is Gone” not only came out first, but approaches the whole story in a different way. While “Darling Rose Gold” was from the perspectives of the mother and daughter duo, “Grace Is Gone” is from the outsiders who may have missed the signs that something was terribly wrong. The first perspective is Cara, the friend of Grace, the girl who has gone missing after her mother Meg was found murdered. Cara always thought that Grace was an ill and naive teenage girl, and she never questioned Meg’s love for her daughter. But now that Grace has disappeared, and things start coming out about Meg, Cara starts to blame herself for not seeing that her friend was in trouble. Along with Cara we get Jon, a journalist whose marriage is on the rocks and who wrote an unfavorable story about Meg and Grace in the months before the murder and disappearance. This story made him a target for the angry public, and now he’s wondering if his misgivings were worse than he thought. As we see these two people work together to try and find Grace, we get to see how abusers can present a certain face to those around them to hide their true selves. I really liked that we had two outsiders telling this story, as while I right away knew what this was based on, the mystery at the heart has good bones and a different way to explore a theme that we’ve seen before.

As characters, neither Cara nor Jon really break away from tropes that we’ve seen before. Cara is the sullen but curious young woman drawn into something bigger than she imagines, and feels like her unwitting complicity means she needs to do right by Grace. Jon, on the other hand, is the disgraced reporter who has something to prove, though his obsession with one story may cost him more than he imagines. While looking at the overall story through outsiders eyes is new to me, the outsiders themselves are pretty standard, and not as interesting as perhaps a focus on Grace and Meg may have been. But all of that said, the mystery at hand is compelling enough that I think it will keep the reader going just to see how it ends. Hell, even though I kind of knew where it was going to go, I was perfectly alright taking the journey to get to the destination.

“Grace Is Gone” is a decent thriller that kept me interested. If you want to explore a familiar story from another angle, it will suit you just fine.

Rating 7: A solid mystery thriller about small town secrets and uncovering disturbing truths, “Grace Is Gone” is a familiar theme with some interesting angles to explore it, even if the characters are some we’ve seen before.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Grace Is Gone” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it would fit in on “Intense Female Relationships”.

Find “Grace Is Gone” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Silence of Bones”

44280973Book: “The Silence of Bones” by June Hur

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: I have a mouth, but I mustn’t speak;
Ears, but I mustn’t hear;
Eyes, but I mustn’t see.

1800, Joseon (Korea). Homesick and orphaned sixteen-year-old Seol is living out the ancient curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Indentured to the police bureau, she’s been tasked with assisting a well-respected young inspector with the investigation into the politically charged murder of a noblewoman.

As they delve deeper into the dead woman’s secrets, Seol forms an unlikely bond of friendship with the inspector. But her loyalty is tested when he becomes the prime suspect, and Seol may be the only one capable of discovering what truly happened on the night of the murder.

But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.

June Hur’s elegant and haunting debut The Silence of Bones is a bloody tale perfect for fans of Kerri Maniscalco and Renée Ahdieh.

Review: Book buying is my version of retail therapy, so you can imagine that lately I’ve been doing a lot of it. While I mostly decide to get print books I can hold from local booksellers, on occasion I will snag something for my Kindle, to save space on my physical shelf and to get some instant gratification as well. “The Silence of Bones” was that kind of scenario, as I had heard of it on and off various book circles online and was interested to check it out and just have it at the ready. I finally dove in over the weekend as chaos and unrest overtook the Twin Cities, needing moments of escape to a completely different place. 19th Century Korea seemed like the perfect place to visit, so “The Silence of Bones” by June Hur was the right book to pick up.

What struck me most is the time and place of this YA mystery thriller. While you can find oodles of historical mysteries that take place in the U.S., or Europe, or other Western cultures, I’m not as aware of the genre branching out to other parts of the world that often. That very well just may be my own levels of exposure to such things, but because of this “The Silence of Bones” felt incredibly unique to me. I know so little about Korean history that I felt like I was learning a lot as I was following Seol as she tried to solve a series of murders as she works as an indentured servant for the police. The descriptions of the urban settings and rural settings alike were vibrant and detailed, and I felt like I could picture the places in my mind and got a good sense for how the society was structured. June Hur clearly did her research, and it really paid off. I especially liked the way that geopolitics of the time entered into it, with hints and whispers of Western Influences starting to move in no matter how local Governments try to stamp them out, sometimes in extreme and violent ways. The sense of impending threat from Catholicism, and the actions taken towards Catholics and other Western traditions, was a very fascinating angle to throw into this story, as knowing what we know about Imperialism in that part of the world now (and other parts not addressed in this book) there was a lot of nuance to parse through.

I also just really liked Seol as a protagonist and the mystery at hand. Seol definitely felt like a sixteen year old girl, even though she was living in incredibly difficult and different circumstances than one sees for sixteen girls in YA today. Her story addresses indentured servitude, the oppression of lower classes, misogyny, and trauma, and her perseverance (and at times stubbornness) was really satisfying to read. Being taken from her home and losing everything to go serve as an indentured servant is quite the backstory, and I really liked it. She sometimes makes mistakes and jumps to conclusions, which makes her all the more real and complex, but overall you can’t help but really want her to figure out what is going on, especially when she begins to find herself in danger. The mystery of who killed a local noblewoman is very well crafted, and Hur throws in a lot of twists and turns that keep the reader wondering and on their toes. There is also the mystery of what is up with Seol’s boss, Inspector Han, who Seol is drawn to and forms a friendship with before he becomes a suspect in the mystery. Han feels like he is steeped in a lot of greys, and I was genuinely on the edge of my seat wondering if Seol’s faith in him is unfounded. By the time everything comes together, you can trace how it does so and it is done seamlessly.

“The Silence of Bones” is a unique and thrilling mystery, and if you like historical mysteries I cannot recommend it enough!

Rating 7: A unique and fascinating historical mystery in a not as seen setting, “The Silence of Bones” has a lot to offer to fans of YA mysteries!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Silence of Bones” is included on the Goodreads lists “Historical Fiction: Korea”, and “2020 YA/MG Books with POC Leads”.

Find “The Silence of Bones” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Guest List”

51933429Book: “The Guest List” by Lucy Foley

Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2020

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

Book Description: The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

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

Last May, I spent a lovely Colorado trip with my husband at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. While it wasn’t exactly ‘isolated’ in the way that we think of isolation, it felt removed enough from the hustle and bustle of a big city that the tranquility of solitude was definitely present. It was here that I read “The Hunting Party”, Lucy Foley’s isolated whodunnit. I was very taken with this book, and when I saw that her newest novel, “The Guest List” was available on NetGalley I immediately opted to read it. It sounded similar to “The Hunting Party” with the isolation and the circle of friends/acquaintances hiding secrets from each other, but it worked well enough last time I was happy to dive into a similar story again. Even if isolation this time feels a little too close to home.

The first thing that really captured my attention in “The Guest List” was the setting. A somewhat spoiled bride and her charismatic and B-List famous fiance have decided to hold their wedding on a remote island off of Ireland, and boy oh boy did Foley really bring this locale to life. I could practically see the waves crashing against the rocks, and smell the salt in the air, and feel the odd foreboding of a rough terrain and perilous landscape for the unfamiliar. It also serves as a perfect spot for a gathering in which a murder is going to take place. Foley sets up the story with multiples narratives, and tells it between present time and flashbacks to give an entire picture as to who the potential victim is, and what exactly they did that ended with their cruel fate. I always like a non linear mystery if it’s done well, and Foley has no problem with keeping multiple balls in the air as the lays out various puzzle pieces as to who the victim is, and why they were killed. I am also happy to report that I was mostly caught off guard by the mystery as a whole, from who the victim was to who committed the crime to the motive. There are plenty of red herrings along with justifiable grudges that, in familiar Agatha Christie style, everyone is a possible suspect. Did it sometimes seem like the ‘everyone has a reason’ angle feel a little unbelievable? Sort of. But did that detract from the mystery or make it any less suspenseful? Not for me! I was able to overlook some of the REALLY coincidental stuff, because overall I thought that the work was put in to really pull off a satisfactory web of motives, secrets, and twists.

In terms of the characters and their perspectives, overall I thought that their characterizations were well rounded and interesting. Even though we are really only getting into who they are and what they are like in regards to their relationship to the bride and or groom, and even though it’s really only a snapshot taken within this one event, we learn a lot about all of them. From Aoife the wedding planner to Johnno the Best Man to Jules the Bride, everyone gets a moment to shine, and to show why they could be either a victim, or a perpetrator. My favorite of the perspectives was Olivia, the younger half sister of the bride, who is struggling with a fragile mental state. While it may have been tempting to fall back on tried and true tropes when it comes to characters who struggle with depression or depressive episodes, I really appreciated the effort and care that Foley put into Olivia, and how we learned where he difficulties stem from, and the difficulties those around her have to contend with when dealing with a mentally unstable loved one.

“The Guest List” was an enjoyable thriller mystery, and Lucy Foley continues to delight and entertain. If you’re looking for a fun mystery this summer, consider picking this one up!

Rating 8: A mystery filled with turns and surprises, “The Guest List” kept me guessing and held me in suspense.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Guest List” isn’t on any super relevant Goodreads lists as of now, but I think that it would fit in on “And Then There Were None: Deadly Parties”.

Find “The Guest List” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Herd”

51015832._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Herd” by Andrea Bartz

Publishing Info: Ballantine Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The name of the elite, women-only coworking space stretches across the wall behind the check-in desk: THE HERD, the H-E-R always in purple. In-the-know New Yorkers crawl over each other to apply for membership to this community that prides itself on mentorship and empowerment. Among the hopefuls is Katie Bradley, who’s just returned from the Midwest after a stint of book research blew up in her face. Luckily, Katie has an in, thanks to her sister Hana, an original Herder and the best friend of Eleanor Walsh, its charismatic founder.

As head of PR, Hana is working around the clock in preparation for a huge announcement from Eleanor—one that would change the trajectory of The Herd forever.

Then, on the night of the glitzy Herd news conference, Eleanor vanishes without a trace. Everybody has a theory about what made Eleanor run, but when the police suggest foul play, everyone is a suspect.

Review: I really do like the idea of intersectional feminist spaces in which any person identifying as female can be a part of it, and therein have a support system at work that may feel less intimidating. But at the same time, that concept is rich for conflict, at least in the mind of someone who likes to read soapy thrillers. So it’s a logical conclusion that I would be drawn to “The Herd” by Andrea Bartz, a book about a pro-feminist work space whose founder goes missing right before a huge publicity move, and the women around her who may have secrets. I went in hoping for a fun and easy read, and I am pleased to announce that “The Herd” delivers.

This book is told through two perspectives. The first is of Katie, a journalist and burgeoning author who has just returned from an exhausting and disastrous assignment in her home state of Michigan. She connects with her sister Hana, who is the publicist for Eleanor Walsh the founder of a pro-feminist and woman identified only work space called The Herd. The other perspective is Hana’s, who has worked hard to get where she is and wants The Herd to succeed for her own benefit as well as Eleanor’s. Both women have their own secrets and baggage that are weighing them down, secrets that they are keeping from each other. Katie wants to join The Herd, but has ulterior motives in doing so. Hana is trying to keep the big reveal of the big publicity reveal together. Meanwhile, someone has been vandalizing the inside of the offices with misogynistic language, and then when Eleanor disappears things just get murkier. Katie and Hana, along with other founder Mikki, come together to try to find their fearless leader, but it turns out that Eleanor has secrets of her own. The mystery of what happened to Eleanor slowly unfolds through Katie and Hana’s eyes, and overall I thought that it was a well plotted out puzzle. I was taken along by the twists and turns, and as the list of potential outcomes and potential suspects grew the more muddled, in a good way, it became. And by the time we were getting to the climax, I had a hard time putting it down, staying up far too late to finish it.

But it was the relationship between Katie and Hana that made this story stand out from other thriller mysteries that have similar themes. You slowly learn that their sisterly relationship is filled with tension and angst, as Katie was a biological miracle child and Hana was the adopted, and then neglected, one. Hana resents that Katie has an effortless and non-dramatic relationship with their mother, who is dying of cancer, while Katie resents that Hana has well connected and close friends like Eleanor and Mikki. Their resentments felt real and relatable, and Bartz brings in the complications that trans-racial adoptees can sometimes feel towards their adopted families. Bartz probably didn’t examine this as deeply as she could have, but there were other mentions of how Hana always felt like an outsider or an Other, not only at home but even in her tight knit group of friends while at Harvard and while they were in charge of an intersectional and feminist company. There are also closer looks taken at whether or not capitalistic interests and actual social justice, be it through gendered or racial lenses, can actually coexist in a company like The Herd. After all, Eleanor might have taken some steps to get to the position of a feminist leader that would go against various things that she supposedly stood for, all in pursuit of a corporate dream. And while it’s pointed out that women may be more scrutinized than men for such things, ultimately the question of whether that justifies anything is raised.

“The Herd” is a fun thriller that will be a great way to pass the time this summer. It has a little bit more bite than I was expecting, and it should be on the lists of fans of women-centric thrillers.

Rating 8: An addictive and soapy thriller mystery, “The Herd” has claws and they hooked right into me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Herd” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery & Thriller 2020”.

Find “The Herd” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “This Is How I Lied”

52000813Book: “This Is How I Lied” by Heather Gudenkauf

Publishing Info: Park Row, May 2020

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

Book Description: Everyone has a secret they’ll do anything to hide…

Twenty-five years ago, the body of sixteen-year-old Eve Knox was found in the caves near her home in small-town Grotto, Iowa—discovered by her best friend, Maggie, and her sister, Nola. There were a handful of suspects, including her boyfriend, Nick, but without sufficient evidence the case ultimately went cold.

For decades Maggie was haunted by Eve’s death and that horrible night. Now a detective in Grotto, and seven months pregnant, she is thrust back into the past when a new piece of evidence surfaces and the case is reopened. As Maggie investigates and reexamines the clues, secrets about what really happened begin to emerge. But someone in town knows more than they’re letting on, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried deep.

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

Both of my parents grew up in Iowa, so I have many childhood memories of going to various parts of that state and having a lot of fun. Because of this, Iowa has a special place in my heart, even if my parents considered their move to Minnesota something of an escape. So when I saw that Heather Gudenkauf’s new book “This Is How I Lied” took place in a fictional small Iowa town, that was what pulled me in. I was immediately thinking of cornfields, Bozwellz Pub and Eaterie, and Prairie Lights Bookstore, and I will admit that nostalgia is what got me here. And nostalgia was what kept me going, mostly, because unfortunately “This Is How I Lied” didn’t connect with me.

As always, I will start with what I did like. And that can be summed up as such:

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For the most part, Grotto did feel like an Iowan small town. I liked that there is absolutely a center of commerce and businesses, but it’s just as accessible to farms, ranches, and the rural life of the community. One of our characters who gets perspective chapters is Nola, the potentially psychopathic younger sister of murder victim Eve, who has grown up to become a large animal vet. I liked the moments that we had with her doing her vet work, visiting patients on ranches and farms. I was also tickled by the idea of underground caves in this town, though I didn’t find it too unbelievable, as there are definitely interesting geological formations in this state. Fossil pits, cave systems, cliffs, I’ve been to a few and Gudenkauf really nailed the geology of the state, and how complex it can be. And as I mentioned above, nostalgia played a big factor into my enjoyment of this. I haven’t been to Iowa since my aunt died in Iowa City in 2017, and honestly, I miss it.

But the story itself and the characters within really didn’t connect with me. We had three characters whose perspectives we worked with. The first is Maggie, the pregnant cop who was the best friend of Eve the murder victim back when they were teens. The second is Nola, Eve’s disturbed younger sister who wants revenge. The third is that of Eve herself, and her last days leading up to her murder. None of them really moved past two dimensional tropes. Maggie is the haunted cop with potential secrets, Nola is the violent psychopath, and Eve was the tragic victim who was too good for the world she lived in. The closest we come to interesting is Nola, as seeing psychopathic women characters isn’t nearly as common within the genre as men. But she was too stereotypical psychopathic to make me feel like due diligence was being done to make her interesting. Did she have a dead animal fascination as a kid? Check. Violent tendencies? Check. Menacing presence and sometimes supervillain-like soliloquies? Check and mate. And on top of all that, the mystery itself was never terribly engrossing to me. I had a feeling that I knew who it was early on, and any red herring curveballs thrown to the reader were far too obvious as being red herrings because of how they were placed and where. Once it all shook out to it’s conclusion, due to lack of investment I didn’t really care one way or another. This book doesn’t push any boundaries or reinvent the wheel, and while it’s true that I am perfectly okay with that in a lot of books, that is only if I feel like the journey itself was worthwhile enough to make up for it. In this book, that simply wasn’t the case.

I was disappointed that this book didn’t connect for me. That doesn’t mean it won’t connect for you, though. Remember.

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Give it a go if you are so intrigued. Be like a stubborn Iowan that way. As someone who comes from a long line of them, I can tell you that isn’t a bad thing.

Rating 4: The description held promise but it never really took off. Flat characters, predictable plot points, just all around disappointing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“This Is How I Lied” is included on the Goodreads list “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications Jan-July 2020)”.

Find “This Is How I Lied” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “The Body in the Garden”

51318896._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Body in the Garden” by Katharine Schellman

Publishing Info: Crooked Lane Books, April 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: London 1815. Though newly-widowed Lily Adler is returning to a society that frowns on independent women, she is determined to create a meaningful life for herself even without a husband. She’s no stranger to the glittering world of London’s upper crust. At a ball thrown by her oldest friend, Lady Walter, she expects the scandal, gossip, and secrets. What she doesn’t expect is the dead body in Lady Walter’s garden.

Lily overheard the man just minutes before he was shot: young, desperate, and attempting blackmail. But she’s willing to leave the matter to the local constables–until Lord Walter bribes the investigating magistrate to drop the case. Stunned and confused, Lily realizes she’s the only one with the key to catching the killer.

Aided by a roguish navy captain and a mysterious heiress from the West Indies, Lily sets out to discover whether her friend’s husband is mixed up in blackmail and murder. The unlikely team tries to conceal their investigation behind the whirl of London’s social season, but the dead man knew secrets about people with power. Secrets that they would kill to keep hidden. Now, Lily will have to uncover the truth, before she becomes the murderer’s next target.

Review: I’m always on the look out for a new historical mystery series. And while I love my Amelia Peabody and Veronica Speedwell mysteries, the two together can begin to feel a bit repetitive. They each are excellent on their own, but Amelia and Veronica have similar personalities and their strong women personas both play of the gruff-with-a-heart-of-gold romantic interests in very similar ways. The mysteries and settings are very different, but reading this last Veronica Speedwell book (I didn’t love it in general, so that doesn’t help), left me feeling a bit like the genre was starting to all feel the same. So I was both excited and nervous when I saw the book description for this one. On one hand, a recently widowed heroine is definitely different than those other stories. But then you add “roguish navy captain”…and would this really be all that different? Yes, it was, and it was just the breath of fresh air I was looking for!

Only one year into mourning her beloved husband, Lily Adler decides that enough is enough: it is time to rejoin the world and what better place than London itself in the midst of a Season? With the help of her dear friend, Lady Walter, Lily is quick to fall back into society, making new friends and visiting with old acquaintances. But amid all the typical gossip and small dramas that are always to be found in society, Lily suddenly finds herself caught up in a mystery: a young man murdered in Lady Walter’s own garden. A murder that no one seems to care much about but Lily and a few of her new friends. Soon enough, however, it seems that this young man’s death was only one small part of a much greater scheme and one that now begins to threaten Lily herself.

I really loved this book. And mostly this was down to the refreshing new characters that the story centers around. Lily is by no means the plucky, go-get-em leading lady that we see in Amelia Peabody or Veronica Speedwell. Instead, her strength comes in a calm, steely resolve to do what she sees right, while always maintaining a strong sense of dignity and knowledge of where her own particular strengths and weaknesses lie. She doesn’t seek out this investigation out of any sense of adventure, but rather she pursues it only because of her strong sense of justice. If, by the end of it all, she finds a new direction for her life, it’s not due to any intrepidness that has always persisted throughout her life. She’s a much more quiet, reserved leading lady, but just as skillful in being more withdrawn. Indeed, I think some of her observations, not only about the case but about people’s general behavior, were even more striking for being discussed in cool tones without much flair or fanfare.

I also really liked Jack Hartley, the aforementioned navy captain. Lily’s recent loss and continuing grief over the loss of her husband is never forgotten, which leaves this book to build up a solid friendship and partnership between these two without any real vibes of romance. Whether the series goes that direction or not is yet to be determined (I’d guess yes, but I’m also fine with it staying as is). One that that really stood out for me with this character were a few brief moments when Jack’s beliefs of himself as a man who greatly respects women was truly put to the test. We all to often see these historical pieces with men that “respect women” in the most obvious ways, but the story never really addresses the underlying tones that undermine this supposed respect. Lily calls Jack out on a few of these points, making him aware that as much as he does respect her, he still can fall into traps of limiting his perception of her due to her gender. These are smaller moments, but they are the kind of observations that often are left without being addressed in historical books like this.

I also really liked the inclusion of Ofelia Oswald, a POC heiress who becomes the third partner in this little crime team (Jack Hartley is also of mixed heritage). It’s rare to find historical books that include many POC characters, let alone two in prominent roles in the story. The author also included a great note at the end about her research into the challenges POC people faced in London society at this time and how she chose to position her characters in a way that was historically accurate but also put them at the forefront of the story.

The story was a bit on the slower side, but as I enjoyed the three main characters so much, I never had a problem with this. But I do want to put it out there for those thinking to pick it up: this book is definitely meant to feel immersive and spends a lot of time putting together all the details and pieces of the mystery and the characters involved. I really enjoyed the mystery itself, too. I was able to guess the villain about halfway through, but I didn’t get all of the pieces to fit together until much later in the book. The mystery was well thought out and the pieces were laid craftily throughout the story. Readers looking for a new take on historical mysteries should definitely check this one out!

Rating 9: Excellent. Lily Adler may be quieter than some other heroines in the mystery market, but she’s definitely one to pay attention to!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Body in the Garden” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Historical Mystery 2020.”

Find “The Body in the Garden” at your library using WorldCat!