Serena’s Review: “Murder on Cold Street”

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Book: “Murder on Cold Street” by Sherry Thomas

Publishing Info: Berkley, October 2020

Where Did I get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Inspector Treadles, Charlotte Holmes’s friend and collaborator, has been found locked in a room with two dead men, both of whom worked with his wife at the great manufacturing enterprise she has recently inherited.

Rumors fly. Had Inspector Treadles killed the men because they had opposed his wife’s initiatives at every turn? Had he killed in a fit of jealous rage, because he suspected Mrs. Treadles of harboring deeper feelings for one of the men? To make matters worse, he refuses to speak on his own behalf, despite the overwhelming evidence against him.

Charlotte finds herself in a case strewn with lies and secrets. But which lies are to cover up small sins, and which secrets would flay open a past better left forgotten? Not to mention, how can she concentrate on these murders, when Lord Ingram, her oldest friend and sometime lover, at last dangles before her the one thing she has always wanted?

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

Review: Overall, I’ve been enjoying Sherry Thomas’s “Lady Sherlock” series. I’ve found all of the mysteries to be appropriately complicated, and I’ve really liked the swaps and changes to staple characters that Thomas has added in. I have had some growing questions, however, as the series has continued, mostly having to do with the very slow burn romance, the use of Moriarty, and the role of Charlotte Holmes’s sister. So those were all elements I had on my eye on this go around. Kind of a mixed bag as far as results go, but I did enjoy this book quite a bit and more than the previous one, so that’s always good.

After returning from their last mystery, Charlotte Holmes and company are immediately set upon by a distraught Mrs. Treadles. Her husband, the inspector, has been arrested for a double homicide. Charlotte takes on the case, of course, but considering the locked room that Mr. Treadles is found in along with the two dead bodies, the mystery posed is quite a stumper. As she wades through the various clues, more and more questions arise with regards to the Treadles themselves, as well as with the family company over which Mrs. Treadles has recently taken operation.

To start out with the basic things I review, this book was successful in all the ways its predecessors were. The mystery itself is complicated with a wide assortment of red herrings, false clues, and various suspects, all with their own motives. Each time I thought I was beginning to piece together where things were going, I’d be pulled in a different direction and realize I’d been heading down the completely wrong path. The various motives and suspects that are introduced are all plausible, and many of them aren’t even directly laid out, leaving it to the reader to begin to piece together their own theories, never quite knowing what is going on in Charlotte Holmes’s mind.

The writing also continues to be solid and engaging. I’ve read quite a few of Thomas’s books over the years (I just finished one of her romances, which is the genre she started out in), and her writing style has always clearly unique to her and solid throughout a wide variety of genres. She has a way of writing that always seems to pull me in. It somehow manages to be completely engrossing and pull the story along quickly, even when the sentences themselves are often not incredibly action-packed and more often read in a more dry, lofty tone.

As for the concerns that have slowly been building as the series progressed, I’m happy to report that on at least one count things seem to be moving along. The romance between Charlotte and Lord Ingram seems to have finally turned a new bend. Things are obviously not resolved on this front, but I was pleased to see that the relationship itself was evolving, with Charlotte now being the one to confront her own role in this burgeoning relationship, what it has been in the past and what she wants it to be in the future. It was a nice change of pace to have Lord Ingram, for once, the more confident and secure in his decisions of the two. I’m curious to see where things will go from here!

On the other hand, however, my other two questions, those regarding the of Livia Holmes and Moriarty, were less satisfactory. Frankly, I would have preferred Livia Holmes to have been completely absent from this book. She only has a handful of chapters as it is, and her story felt wholly unconnected from the mystery and goings-on of the other characters. I think the character would be better served to show up when/if the story call for it, as, here, she felt shoe-horned in in a way that disrupted the flow of the greater plot line altogether.

In some ways, I have the same complaint/suggestion regarding Moriarty. I’d been starting to feel that the ties to Moriarty in every single mystery thus far were beginning to feel like a bit much. It’s maybe a bit of a spoiler, but the character once again is connected here, though in a very small, sideways manner. So small and so sideways, even, that I really questioned the necessity of involving him at all. It seems to be meant to continue building the tension between the inevitable clash between Charlotte and Moriarty, but honestly, here, it just felt tacked on and unnecessary. Most fans of this series are likely already fans of the original Holmes and need very little manipulation to become quickly invested in this rivalry. It also just begins to feel implausible that all of these mysteries that seem to randomly fall on Charlotte’s plate are also connected to this shadowy other character.

Overall, however, I really enjoyed this book. I thought the mystery itself was much more compelling than what we had in the previous book, and I was excited to see some movement on the romance front. Now, alas, another year or so until the next entry. Luckily, I’ve found a YA fantasy series also written by Thomas, so that’s probably on the schedule for this winter.

Rating 9: Another great entry in the “Lady Sherlock” series, though, bizarrely, I wish for a little less Moriarty.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Murder on Cold Street” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Sherlock Holmes Fiction (Pastiches)” and “Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women.”

Find “Murder on Cold Street” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder”

45874065Book: “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” by Holly Jackson

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Everyone in Fairview knows the story.

Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town.

But she can’t shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. She knew Sal when she was a child, and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer?

Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent . . . and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

This is the story of an investigation turned obsession, full of twists and turns and with an ending you’ll never expect.

Review: Back when we were a COVID-free world and the thought of going shopping in person didn’t give me hives, my Mom and I went to Barnes and Noble on a trip to the Mall of America. I always like to check what the YA display has, because even though I know it will usually be heavy on the fantasy and romance, you can also find some gems of teen thrillers. That was how I initially learned about “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” by Holly Jackson. I let it be, but the name stuck in my head enough that when quarantine happened about a month later I had the title of a book I wanted to order. It still took a little time to get to it, but I finally picked it up and gave it a go…. and kicked myself for waiting to start it as long as I did.

“A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” has all the elements that I want in any kind of thriller, let alone a teen one. The protagonist is interesting and well fleshed out, for one thing. Pippa is the kind of teenage girl I probably wished I was at the time. She’s clever, she’s funny, and her true crime obsession, one true crime in particular, is a fun nod to all true crime enthusiasts everywhere. But on top of all of those things, she is by no means perfect, but not in the obvious ways that some thriller heroines go. She has a well adjusted home life, she has healthy friendships and relationships, and she isn’t drowning in her own dysfunction. You like her almost immediately, and even when she does sometimes do dumb things (like most teenagers probably would on occasion), they are believable. And it isn’t just Pip that is enjoyable as a character. Her friends are all fun with witty and snappy personalities, and her partner in investigating, Ravi, is incredibly likable along with being a little bit tragic. Ravi is the younger brother of Sal, the boy who everyone assumes murdered Andie but who ended up dead before he could be charged (supposedly by his own hand). Not only does Ravi’s involvement make Pip’s endeavor all the more personal and high stakes, it also makes it feel more ‘legitimate’ as opposed to just a random girl not really connected to a tragedy sticking her nose in it because of a quirky true crime obsession. Jackson also makes note of racism within police investigations and media coverage, as Sal, being Indian American, was immediately accepted as the murderer because of racist ideas about his culture and how women fit into it, in spite of a few big inconsistencies. Ravi, too, doesn’t have the same privileges as Pip does as they investigate, and Jackson definitely makes certain to address these things when Pip needs to be educated on them. I thought that was a good theme throughout this novel.

And on top of likable characters, we also get a VERY stellar, complex, but not overwrought mystery at hand. We get to see Pippa approach it through her perspective in a few different ways, be it through the narrative itself, her log entries for her capstone project, or the notes that she has taken about the case. The clues are all there, and while I admit that I kind of figured out one of the big aspects to the case pretty early on, Jackson throws in enough believable red herrings that I did end up doubting myself. It’s a classic whodunnit with a lot of people who would have reason and motive, and then you add in ANOTHER layer with a mystery person starting to threaten Pip as she gets closer and closer to finding out the truth about what happened to Andie. There are well executed moments of legitimate tension, and you do really start to worry about Pip as she starts to unearth long kept secrets and lies. This is the kind of suspense you really want in a thriller, and Jackson is able to maintain it throughout the story, though there are a good number of moments of levity sprinkled in. Just to give the reader a break in the tension here and there. I was hooked, and basically read it in the course of two days, foregoing other forms of entertainment until I was done. Yeah, it’s VERY fun.

And the best part is that a sequel is coming out next Spring here in the States.

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Between this and the hope of a potential vaccine, Spring 2021 is looking PRETTY good! (source)

“A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” is a great read and a hell of a lot of fun! Shame on me for sleeping on it for so long! Thriller fans, do yourself a favor and go read this book!

Rating 9: Incredibly fun, properly twisty, and a very impressive debut novel, “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” gave me everything I want in my YA thrillers, and more.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” is included on the Goodreads lists “Young Adult Crime/Murder Mysteries”, and “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2020”.

Find “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Grown”

49397758Book: “Grown” by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, September 2020

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

Book Description: Korey Fields is dead.

When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.

Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.

Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?

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

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: if you haven’t checked out Tiffany D. Jackson’s books, be you a YA thriller fan or just a thriller fan in general, you absolutely NEED to. Jackson is one of my favorite authors, and when I heard that her newest novel, “Grown”, was taking on the sexual exploitation of Black teenage girls searching for stardom, I knew that it was going to be her toughest, but perhaps most important, novel yet.

First of all, content warnings abound on this book. Jackson herself puts a content warning at the beginning of this book, and it is definitely necessary. “Grown” deals with themes of sexual abuse, grooming, and psychological abuse and trauma.

“Grown” is an unflinching look at the sexual abuse and victimization of teenage girl Enchanted, a Black girl with dreams of becoming a singing sensation. When R&B superstar Korey Fields (who is twenty eight to her seventeen) sees her at an audition, he offers to take her under his wing and help her become a singer, but from the get go you know that something is off. He texts her about her life. He compliments her on how pretty she is. He calls her ‘Bright Eyes’. But once he gets her on tour and away from her parents and her support system, he isolates her, he abuses her, and he makes her completely subservient to him under guise of care and love. There are clear influences from R. Kelly in this story (side note: if you are interested in social justice issues regarding the #MeToo movement but haven’t watched “Surviving R. Kelly” yet, go watch it. Go watch it now.), but Enchanted as a character is wholly original and an incredibly realistic teenage girl. Her insecurities, her dreams, her certain naiveté, everything about her was on point. Jackson paints a clear portrait of a girl who has been manipulated into a dangerous situation, and you never feel any victim blaming towards her. On the contrary, we see how easy it would be for Enchanted to get into that situation because of the manipulations of a predator, and the inaction of those who are willing to prop up a predator based on his fame, wealth, and power. Jackson also points out the very important point that Black girls aren’t as easily seen as victims in our culture due to societal racism that dehumanizes Black people, and sexualizes Black girls from a young age. Misogynoir is a very dangerous thing, and it allows predators to get away with their predation, and you see it over and over again with Enchanted, even in seemingly mundane ways (one moment that struck me was when her swim coach told her to get a bigger suit because she was ‘spilling out’ of the one she was wearing, as if Enchanted’s body is somehow her fault). Seeing all of this play out is devastating, and seeing Enchanted failed by those who should be protecting her (I am leaving her parents out of this indictment, by the way, as while I don’t want to go into TOO many details, they are powerless in their own ways) is so upsetting.

Oh, and there is also a mystery at hand here! Right off the bat, Korey Fields is dead, and Enchanted is covered in ‘beet juice’. The narrative is split into two timelines. The first is before, and the second is during and after, with first person accounts, transcripts, and conversations all sprinkled in to lay out the building blocks of the murder case. I did feel like the mystery took a back seat to the bigger issues at hand, but that is totally okay in this work. In fact, things that made the mystery more complex and threw doubt as to Enchanted’s reliability as a first person narrator almost weakened the narrative, as it didn’t feel necessary to throw in twists and turns to throw the reader off the scent. Regardless, it was a satisfying mystery that was well laid out, and I liked how Jackson used different writing styles and devices to build up a suspenseful story that you are invested in.

“Grown” is once again a triumph by Tiffany D. Jackson. But it’s also perhaps one of the more important reads about #MeToo themes. It also asks many hard questions and makes the reader really think about how society values power and fame over the welfare of others.

Rating 9: An important, suspenseful, and heart wrenching story, “Grown” shines a much needed light on misogyny, sexual violence, and the way that race plays a part to make victims, especially Black women and girls, even more vulnerable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Grown” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Books for BLM Movement”, and “YA Contemporary by Black Authors”.

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

Kate’s Review: “One by One”

50892433._sy475_Book: “One by One” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Scott Press, September 2020

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

Book Description: The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Turn of the Key and In a Dark Dark Wood returns with another suspenseful thriller set on a snow-covered mountain.

Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?

When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?

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

We are leaving the summer months here in Minnesota and I, for one, am actually actively dreading winter this time around. That isn’t my usual M.O., as someone who likes cold better than heat, but given that heat is the only way we can in person socialize with people right now, weather wise, this Minnesota Winter is going to be even more isolating than usual.

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Yes, I’ve been a Debbie Downer during the pandemic. Look for a more cheerful Kate in 2021 (hopefully). (source)

But all that said, I do try to remind myself that it can always be worse, so at least I’m not going to be stuck in an avalanche ravaged chalet with a potential murderer on the loose, right? That brings us to “One by One”, the new mystery thriller from Ruth Ware! I have mostly enjoyed Ware’s takes on the whodunnit murder mystery, so I was eager to read her newest foray into the genre.

Like what we can usually expect from Ware, “One by One” is an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery where isolation is the name of the game, someone ends up dead, and almost everyone is a suspect because they all have motive, means, and opportunity. This time we dive into the world of Start Ups, when the team behind music app Snoop go on a mountain retreat to get some skiing in while discussing the future of the company. We have two narrative perspectives we follow. The first is of Erin, one of the employees at the Chalet whose job is to make everyone’s stay a happy one. The other is Liz, a former employee who doesn’t seem to fit in with the posh and entitled rest. Both women have their secrets, their traumas, and their parts to play. I feel like we mostly got a sense of what both women were about, though that said Erin definitely felt a little more well characterized than Liz at times. But for the most part by the time I was done with the book and the characters, I felt like both Erin and Liz played their parts well. Heck, most of the characters, even the ones that we didn’t get into the minds of, were drawn well enough that they felt believable in their actions and attitudes. Topher, the co-founder and one of the heads of Snoop, was especially intriguing to follow from out outsider perspective, as his smarm and ambition would occasionally give way to a complex person, depending on whether it was Liz or Erin that was perceiving him in that moment, and therefore shaping the reader’s perceptions of him. We got to see that for a few of the characters, actually, and it was a fun device to show that people have multiple sides to themselves.

The mystery itself was fairly standard, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I sort of figured it out before it all came together, but that didn’t make the journey any less enjoyable. I thought that the setting of a mountain retreat was a fun isolation tactic, and seeing the characters start to unravel as their situation became more dire and murdery was suspenseful, with questions as to who would be next on the chopping block always in the back of the mind. Throw in a unique and pulse pounding climax and I was kept on the edge of my seat, wondering if the characters I liked were going to be safe and the ones who were doing wrong were going to get their comeuppance. My one complaint was that the book felt a need to wrap up a number of ends after the fact, which just made for the ending to feel a little too long and drawn out long after the high tension of the climax was gone. On top of that, a few reveals were left for afterwards as well, when they probably should have been addressed earlier. I feel that had Ware put some of those solutions into other parts of the book it would have worked out a little better, as it threw off the tone as the story was wrapping up. It didn’t ruin the story as a whole, but it did give me a little bit of pause when I should have just been riding out the final pages.

“One by One” is going to be a fun mystery for the autumn and winter as we isolate in our homes and ride out our own storms. Ruth Ware is a reliable distraction during times when reliability is something we need more of.

Rating 8: Suspenseful, twist filled, and appropriately isolated, “One by One” is another fun mystery from Ruth Ware!

Reader’s Advisory:

“One by One” is included on the Goodreads lists “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2020”, and “Upcoming Books That Sound Cool” (seems subjective but that title just tickles me).

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

Kate’s Review: “This Is My America”

52855111._sx318_sy475_Book: “This Is My America” by Kim Johnson

Publishing Info: Random House Children’s Books, July 2020

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

Book Description: Dear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

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

Though I don’t live right in the city, I live close enough to Minneapolis that I was following the aftermath of the George Floyd murder with a heavy heart and no small amount of anger. Anger towards the MPD, anger towards racists who were saying awful shit, anger at the white supremacists who came into the city to stir up trouble (a bit of fear of that too; given that we’re a Jewish household, for a few nights there we were taking precautions). While I hope that this senseless murder and the protests that came after will start to produce some change when it comes to race in this country, I also know that racism is a deep part of our society and not easily swayed. It was around this time that I got “This Is My America” by Kim Johnson. While I love that more books are being published that address the racism in our country, be it societal or systemic, it’s terrible that things have changed so little that these books continue to be necessary. Circumstances aside, “This Is My America” is another serious contender for one of my favorite reads of the summer.

First and foremost as mentioned above, the themes of this book of racism in the American Justice System and in America itself are pressing and emotional, and I thought that through Tracy’s story Johnson has a more unique perspective. I’ve read a good number of YA books where an unarmed Black person is murdered by the police, which is of course a horrific reality, but in “This Is My America” we look at a different injustice: wrongfully convicted/accused Black men who end up on Death Row. Tracy’s father has been on Death Row for seven years and his date of execution is less than a year away, so for her and her family the hope of his case being revisited is imperative. We see how the trauma has affected her family, from the financial burden laying on their mother, to her younger sister Corinne never knowing her father at home, to Tracy’s obsession affecting her relationships at home and at school. It’s an angle that we don’t get to see as often, that even when ‘justice’ is supposedly served, for a lot of Black men in prison there is no actual justice. Tracy’s desperation is compounded when her brother Jamal is accused of murdering his friend Angela, a white girl who had an on and off again relationship with the sheriff’s son. Jamal didn’t do it, but given that he’s Black he doesn’t trust the police, so he runs. And as Tracy starts to dig into what happened to Angela, she starts to see that it’s not the Black community in their small Texas town that is the threat, but a hidden rot of White Supremacy that has started to rise in the current social conditions. Add into that a corrupt police force and sheriff’s office and you have Tracy trying to find justice on her own. Johnson addresses all of these themes with care and shows the complexity, and it never feels like she’s talking down to her audience. The only time that it feels like it’s being spoon fed or explained is when within the story one would be carefully explaining the ideas, so it fit and didn’t feel out of place. And on top of all that, Johnson included a very substantial Author’s Note at the end that provided a lot of context and resources for the topics in this book.

As if a fabulous overall thematic wasn’t enough, we also get a really well done and well thought out mystery! I wanted to know who killed Angela, just as I wanted to know what actually happened to the couple whose murder sent Tracy’s father to prison. Johnson lays out a lot of clues, a lot of suspects, and a lot of suspenseful moments as Tracy takes the investigation into her own hands, and manages to weave a lot of complexities into the story. I was kept in suspense and on the edge of my seat as more sinister clues were unveiled, and genuinely taken in with each reveal.

One qualm that kept it from a perfect rating: there is a love triangle between Tracy, her best friend Dean, and her childhood friend Quincy (whose father was killed by the police while Tracy’s father was arrested). I don’t really know why there is a love triangle, but there is. I found it a little hard to believe that Tracy would even be entertaining the idea of romance with two different boys when her brother is wanted for murder, her father’s days on death row are dwindling, and there is a potential threat of the Klan being directed towards her family. But at the same time, I know that teenagers can get caught up in hormones maybe? It wasn’t distracting enough to totally throw me off, but it felt out of place.

But really, “This Is My America” is fantastic. It absolutely deserves to  become the next YA sensation, and given how a lot of the themes in this story seem to have come to a head this summer, it feels all the more relevant and all the more pressing. Kim Johnson, I cannot wait to see what you do next!

Rating 9: Incendiary, powerful, and still far too relevant, “This Is My America” peels back systemic racism in the American Legal Justice System, and has a compelling mystery to boot.

Reader’s Advisory:

“This Is My America” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Books Similar to THUG”, and “YA Contemporary by Black Authors”.

Find “This Is My America” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

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: “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” by Ellen Oh and Elise Chapman (eds.).

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!