Kate’s Review: “Eight Perfect Murders”

Book: “Eight Perfect Murders” by Peter Swanson

Publishing Info: William Morrow, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: Audible

Book Description: A chilling tale of psychological suspense and an homage to the thriller genre tailor-made for fans: the story of a bookseller who finds himself at the center of an FBI investigation because a very clever killer has started using his list of fiction’s most ingenious murders.

Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack—which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders”—chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne’s Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner, and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.

But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookshop in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading. The killer is out there, watching his every move—a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife.

To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects—and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead—and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.

Review: As we say goodbye to the year 2020 (and hope that 2021 is better….), I look back at the complete shitshow that we leave behind and I see ways that I was affected that I hadn’t really thought about at the time. There are many, but for this review I’m going to talk about the lack of audiobooks on my list. In normal times I would probably listen to about one audiobook a month, mostly when driving to work or wherever. But with my job being on hold until the pandemic is better controlled and it’s safer, I haven’t been driving so I really wasn’t listening to things outside of my favorite podcast. But once the weather got a little cooler, I started taking my daughter on walks around the neighborhood, and my audiobook intake rose once more (though with winter being here now I am doing more listening at night before bed). Enter “Eight Perfect Murders” by Peter Swanson, the audiobook I got right before things went to hell. Months after I downloaded it, I finally dove in. Peter Swanson, I’m sorry I waited so long.

In true Swanson form, “Eight Perfect Murders” has a weird mystery at its heart, a narrator who is unreliable and perhaps hiding something from the reader, and a compulsively readable style that made my walks with the kid a bit longer than normal. Our protagonist is Malcolm Kershaw, a bookstore owner who finds himself being questioned in a string of murders, as the murders seem to be mimicking a blog post he made years ago where he selected ‘eight perfect murders’ from mystery fiction. The FBI agent, Gwen, knows that the theory is a bit nutty, but wants his insight after she rules him out as a suspect. Malcolm cooperates, if only to help clear his name, but also because he realizes that this is a cat and mouse game between him and the person who read his post and has started killing people. It’s pretty clear pretty early that Malcolm has some skeletons in his closet, and since Swanson has kind of made the ‘interesting and also kinda likable (or at least easy to root for) psychopath’ a bit of a trope, some aspects of this mystery were kind of predictable. Or if not predictable, not shocking when the reveals were done. I liked Malcolm a lot, actually. I also liked Gwen. And I wanted to know what was happening in the story, be it trying to see who was targeting Malcolm, or what Malcolm may have to hide. And at the end of the day, the big reveal did surprise me, which is the important thing when it comes to a mystery story.

What I liked more about this book is that it’s really a love letter to mystery books and book lovers. Swanson references so many authors, stories, series, and moments within the genre that I had a huge grin on my face basically the whole time I was listening. Swanson very clearly loves this genre and this book was a carefully crafted homage to it. I haven’t read a good number of the stories on the Eight Perfect Murders list, but because of this book I’m definitely going to look into a few of them.

On top of everything else, it is claimed on Goodreads that this is the first in a series that is implied to focus on Malcolm. I won’t go into spoilers here, but I will say that the book ends in a way that I am not totally certain how that is going to work, it it’s true. But if it is true?

“Eight Perfect Murders” was a fun and engrossing thriller mystery that (for the most part) kept me guessing. Swanson is still an author that I want more people to get on board with. If you’re looking for new authors to try in 2021, he may be a good choice!

Rating 8: A fast paced and thrilling mystery and love letter to books. Though somewhat predictable at times, I am VERY interested to see how/if Swanson will continue this series, as implied…

Reader’s Advisory:

“Eight Perfect Murders” is included on the Goodreads lists “Unreliable Narrators”, and “Books About Books”.

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

Serena’s Review: “Truly, Devious”

Book: “Truly, Devious” by Maureen Johnson

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, January 2018

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

Book Description: Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder. 

Review: As is probably pretty evident by now, Kate is the true crime aficionado on our blog. I’ve casually looked into a few cases based on her recommendations, but my penchant for mysteries often falls into the historical, detective fiction more than anything. I also don’t read too many contemporary YA novels. So in a lot of ways, this book didn’t really meet many of my usual criteria for picking a new book. But it had fabulous ratings on Goodreads and happened to show up on my audiobook list right when I was between reads. And here we are!

Stevie Bell is shocked when she’s accepted into the exclusive, expensive private school of Ellingham Academy. It’s most highschoolers’ dream, but only accepts a handful of applicants per year. At that, they don’t even specify what they’re looking for! But apparently Stevie interest in and proficiency with true crime investigations hit some mark. What’s more, Ellingham Academy itself is the location of one of history’s most notorious unsolved crimes, the abduction of the founders wife and infant daughter. The only clue was an enigmatic riddle that has been poured over and pondered now for decades. But Stevie Bell is determined that once she’s on the grounds, she will solve this cold case. What she doesn’t expect is for this cold case to suddenly warm up with a new murder and the return of “Truly, Devious.”

So there were things I enjoyed about this book, and there were things I didn’t. Before I even get to the things I didn’t, I’ll just say again that this book has really high ratings on Goodreads, so there’s a fairly decent chance that most of the things that didn’t work for me were due to the fact that the book was way outside my usual genres of choice. But on to the good!

For one thing, I was not expecting the format that this book is told from. It’s not simply Stevie’s story while at Ellingham trying to solve this cold case. Instead, the story is told in alternating chapters between the present, which follows Stevie as she works a new murder as well, and the past, where we see various characters’ perspectives on the events that lead up to and during the abduction of Mr. Ellingham’s wife and infant daughter. I really enjoyed these chapters in the past. They really helped bring to life this cold case and avoided what otherwise would have had to be a pretty info-dumpy style of writing to give the reader the same information that Stevie would have already had. It also leaves readers free to begin making their own connections and theories, outside the influence of Stevie’s own thoughts on the mystery.

I also really liked Stevie herself. She’s your typical highschooler, in many ways, but I liked the way the story incorporated her struggles with anxiety and the differences she feels between herself and her parents. She deals with a lot of the fears and challenges that any new student comes across at a new school, but it’s made all the more interesting by the eccentric friends she meets there. The way Ellingham is described, it’s definitely the kind of school I would have loved to attend as a highschooler myself!

My problems with the book, however, also come from the modern timeline of the book. I wasn’t into the romance at all. I felt like it came out of nowhere but was also so entirely predictable that it landed flat immediately. The book tries to insert some more tension and mystery towards the end, but I just didn’t care enough about this couple to have any strong feelings about the drama or reveals. I also thought that the modern mystery was fairly predictable. The motive and history of the victim were especially obvious which just undermined Stevie’s own prowess as a burgeoning detective.

Lastly, I wasn’t expecting this book to not solve the mystery of the cold case. So there’s definitely a cliff-hanger sort of ending as far as that goes. If this book was up your alley, maybe this wouldn’t bother you as much. But for me, who enjoyed it for the most part but wasn’t in love by any means, I was just annoyed that I’d be forced to continue reading to get more answers to the one part of the book that really intrigued me. As it is, we’ll see if I get around to it or not. I’m guessing it will be a similar story, that if I do read it, it will be more a matter of happy chance than anything else. Fans of contemporary mysteries and true crime, however, will likely really like this. Just a bit too far out of my genres of choice to really hit home for me.

Rating 7: A tale of two stories: one of the past, which was excellent, and one of the future, which was more meh.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Truly, Devious” is on these Goodreads lists: Young Adult Crime/Murder Mysteries and Dark Academia.

Find “Truly, Devious” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Good Girls”

Book: “The Good Girls” by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, December 2020

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

Book Description: The troublemaker. The overachiever. The cheer captain. The dead girl.

Like every high school in America, Jefferson-Lorne High contains all of the above. After the shocking murder of senior Emma Baines, three of her classmates are at the top of the suspect list: Claude, the notorious partier; Avery, the head cheerleader; and Gwen, the would-be valedictorian. Everyone has a label, whether they like it or not–and Emma was always known as a good girl. But appearances are never what they seem. And the truth behind what really happened to Emma may just be lying in plain sight. As long-buried secrets come to light, the clock is ticking to find Emma’s killer–before another good girl goes down.

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

I am not too proud to admit that while I was an outcast and a weirdo in high school, I was not without my own faults when it came to judging other people, especially girls. It takes a lot of time and effort to try and unlearn the malignant lessons that society teaches you when it comes to how girls are supposed to be and act, and even as a woman in her mid thirties I’m STILL learning. I wish that I had read books at that age that would have helped the process along a bit. The good news is that girls these days can pick up books like “The Good Girls” and get some pretty good insight into how to reject internalized misogyny and rape culture! What I thought was going to be a YA thriller turned into something that had more value than I anticipated when it comes to theme and message.

The strongest aspect of “The Good Girls” is how Bartlett examines the damage that rape culture and misogyny wreaks upon young women no matter what their ‘social standing’ is, and how the damage can manifest in different ways. I think that one of the more popular ways to address it in teen fiction these days is to give a perspective to an ‘outcast’ character who is seen as promiscuous or ‘bad news’ in other ways. We do get that here with Claude the party girl and (deceased) Lizzy the addict, but we also see how it can still be damaging to girls who are seen as ‘good’ or ‘successful’, like cheer captain Avery and ‘good girl’ Emma. I think it’s especially important for this kind of ‘representation’ (for lack of a better term) in YA literature, as those who aren’t targeted in the more obvious ways may be less able to recognize it. I also liked that this book addresses that sometimes people in authority positions, because of their own biases, can stumble and fail when it comes to protecting those who are victimized. Or, even worse, use their position of authority to intimidate others into silence, or perpetuate abuse themselves. I thought that “The Good Girls” tackled these themes really well.

All of that said, in terms of mystery and thrills, “The Good Girls” missed the mark for me. While the characterizations were valuable and felt pretty realistic, they also managed to not work outside the box of the tropes that they fit into. I liked all of the main characters well enough, but none of them felt that different from other iterations of the boxes that they fell into. And when it comes to the mystery of who pushed Emma into the river, and what actually happened to Lizzy and how the two connect, I didn’t find myself raring to find the answer or terribly shocked by how it all played out. Even the smaller mysteries that add into the larger parts didn’t really surprise me, and I called a couple of the reveals pretty early on. Admittedly a couple caught me by surprise, but even then I wasn’t wowed. It just feels pretty run of the mill when it comes to the story itself. Not bad by any means. But also not unique. And at the end of the day, valuable message and explorations aside, I read “The Good Girls” because I was looking for a thriller, which it didn’t really provide.

I think that if you go into “The Good Girls” looking for a character study on the effect of misogyny and rape culture on girls from all kinds of labels, you will find something interesting, and certainly something with an important message that could help YA readers. But in terms of mystery and thrills, it isn’t really anything new.

Rating 6: I really liked the themes that take on rape culture and misogyny, but the story itself didn’t feel much different from other stories that have similar characters and plot points.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Good Girls” is included on the Goodreads list “YA Mysteries and Thrillers”, and would fit in on “Small Towns with Secrets”.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Cousins”

Book: “The Cousins” by Karen M. McManus

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, December 2020

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

Book Description: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying comes your next obsession. You’ll never feel the same about family again.

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised . . . and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point–not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother’s good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it’s immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious–and dark–their family’s past is.

The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn’t over–and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

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

I don’t know what we did to deserve it, but the book world gave us two YA thrillers by Karen M. McManus this year. Maybe it was to try to balance the scales of this year just a little bit? Whatever the case may be, it’s hard to deny that McManus is a hot commodity in YA thriller publishing, and “The Cousins” is her newest foray into the genre. Had this book come out a little later, it certainly would have been on my list in our upcoming Highlights Post. It wasn’t easy letting it sit on my Kindle as long as I did, but once I dove in I found myself pretty well ensnared.

Like a couple of McManus’s other stories, “The Cousins” involves a group of teenagers who are thrown together under strange circumstances, even though they are not alike in any way, shape, of form. Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah are cousins who never spent time together as kids, as their parents are generally estranged from each other and completely estranged from their grandmother Millicent. We get the perspectives of each cousin, who all have their own secrets, insecurities, and reasons that they want to get back in their grandmother’s good graces. Milly is desperate to know more about her family, if only because her mother has been so cold to her over the years that she wants to know what made her that way. Aubrey wants to please her father, as his indifference towards her that borders into disdain is a constant hurt that has only amplified as of late because of his escalating callousness. And Jonah, well, Jonah is a bit of a mystery. He wants to meet his grandmother, but he has ulterior motives that aren’t as clear as Milly’s and Aubrey’s. Each of these characters had a distinct voice and read like teens coming from the backgrounds that they do, and their authentic personalities were easy to latch on to, even as their various flaws and, in some cases, lies come to light. I wouldn’t say that any of them were super outside of the box from what I’ve come to expect from McManus, but that’s more than okay because I liked all of them. While I expected myself to like Milly the best (who doesn’t love a sarcastic and somewhat privileged protagonist?), it was Jonah whose voice stood out the most. His frustration, resentment, and ultimate softening towards Milly and Aubrey was a nice journey, and he does get a well set up and believable romance to boot. He was just so easy to care for, and I wasn’t expecting that at first. McManus really has a knack for writing characterizations that really click.

The mystery itself, and the sub mysteries within, were also fairly strong, though once again my jaded self was able to figure out a couple a few steps before I probably was supposed to. I wasn’t as interested in the answer as to why Millicent cut her children out, because as far as I was concerned they probably DID deserve it. But as things became to be not as they seemed my expectations shifted a bit, and I was more interested. Again, sometimes the clues to the various mysteries and secrets sprinkled throughout the story were a little obvious and therefore the solutions predictable. But the pace was fast and I was going through quick enough that I didn’t find myself hindered by my abilities to guess what was coming up. I think that there are still a good amount of surprises here that are, indeed, well set up but well shrouded as well. So even if you do find yourself predicting some things, I can almost be positive that you won’t get them all.

“The Cousins” is fun and quick, and should be on the lists of anyone who likes YA thrillers. Karen M. McManus has a lot of talent and I am very excited to see what she comes up with next!

Rating 8: Another fun mystery thriller from Karen M. McManus!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Cousins” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best YA Mystery/Spy books”, and “YA Suspense/Thriller/Mystery”.

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

Serena’s Review: “Deadly Curious”

Book: “Deadly Curious” by Cindy Anstey

Publishing Info: Swoon Reads, June 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: 1834. Sophia Thompson wants nothing more than to be one of the famed Bow Street Runners, London’s most elite corps of detectives. Never mind that a woman has never before joined their ranks–and certainly never mind that her reclusive family has forbidden her from pursuing such an unladylike goal.

She gets the chance to prove her capabilities when an urgent letter arrives from her frantic cousin Daphne, begging Sophia to come look into the suspicious death of Daphne’s brother.

As Sophia begins to unravel the tangled threads of the case–with the help of a charming young policeman–she soon realizes that the murderer may be even closer to her family than she ever suspected.

Review: I’m fairly predictable in the types of books I’ll select when I have no previous knowledge of a series or author. If it has a pretty cover, is a historical fiction mystery novel, and features an intrepid female detective, there’s a fairly decent chance I’ll pick it up. This method has lead me to some of my favorite series, sure, but it’s also not a very surefire way of finding quality books. Alas, here is proof of the failures of this particular approach to book selection.

With no marriage prospects on the horizon, Sophia Thompson has set her mind on an alternative path, namely becoming a Bow Street Runner and investigator herself. Of course, she’ll need to solve some actual mysteries for this plan to move forward. Luckily (?) a mystery finds her in the murder of her cousin, a case she’s begged to solve by her frantic, beloved cousin Daphne. But she won’t be alone. A down and out current Bow Street Runner, Jeremy, has also been sent to the solve the case with the warning that if he can’t manage it, he need not return. Between these three, will they be able to solve this deadly curious case?

I really struggled with this book. Honestly, it was half a page away from being a DNF for me. Not because it was overtly offensive in any way, but because it was just so…nothing. It had all the pieces of being a YA historical mystery, but they were the most flat, cardboard versions of these tropes that I’ve come across in a long while. I’m really struggling to come up with many pros to really point to before diving into my complaints. I guess the cover is still pretty. But now I just view that as yet another negative as it draws in unsuspecting readers who are looking for a quality story and are likely going to be disappointed by the shallow work on display.

The characters were all supremely disappointing. We immediately learn that Sophia’s supposed interest in being a detective has come about after reading one, that’s right, one!, book on the topic. Based on this, she feels her self perfectly capable of not only solving this murder but joining an entire organization dedicated to this career. The naivete is astounding to the point of being comical. It would be more comical, in fact, if it wasn’t quite so sad that the story expects us to take this, and Sophia herself, seriously. It doesn’t help matter that the mystery itself is incredibly simplistic. When the reader can figure out the murder long before the supposed detective, it’s never a good sign. Even less for for a wanna-be as sad as Sophia. In the end, it felt like the answer came through sheer luck than any deductive abilities on her part, providing the last nail in the coffin of my interest in her story.

Jeremy isn’t any better. Did he even have a character arc or personality to speak of? Not that I remember. Mostly his good looks and fine eyes were elaborated upon by Sophia, solidifying his role as “generic love interest” right from the start. Here, too, the book had very little new to offer and the characters trotted obediently through the standard set pieces expected of a romance such as this.

The writing was also weak in my opinion. There were anachronisms all over the place (something that I can look past if the characters and story are strong). And there were numerous jumps in time, scene, and logic that left me confused. Simple elements like the timeline of the murder itself were often garbled, and I felt like I had missed something. The style of writing was also fairly generic, and I struggled to feel truly invested in anything that was going on. It felt utilitarian and bland.

This book wasn’t for me. It felt like the author simply cobbled together basic plots and characters from other popular works in the genre and spun out a book as quickly as possible. There was such a lack of passion to the story that it’s hard to feel like anyone really cared overly much about this book. There are numerous better examples of this type of story out there, so I suggest reading those instead of spending any time on this.

Rating 5: Mediocre to the extreme.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deadly Curious” is on these Goodreads lists: Georgian Era in YA & Middle Grade Fiction and Profiles in Silhouette.

Find “Deadly Curious” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “I Hope You’re Listening”

Book: “I Hope You’re Listening” by Tom Ryan

Publishing Info: Aw Teen, October 2020

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

Book Description: In her small town, seventeen year-old Delia “Dee” Skinner is known as the girl who wasn’t taken. Ten years ago, she witnessed the abduction of her best friend, Sibby. And though she told the police everything she remembered, it wasn’t enough. Sibby was never seen again. At night, Dee deals with her guilt by becoming someone else: the Seeker, the voice behind the popular true crime podcast Radio Silent, which features missing persons cases and works with online sleuths to solve them. Nobody knows Dee’s the Seeker, and she plans to keep it that way.When another little girl goes missing, and the case is linked to Sibby’s disappearance, Dee has a chance to get answers, with the help of her virtual detectives and the intriguing new girl at school. But how much is she willing to reveal about herself in order to uncover the truth? Dee’s about to find out what’s really at stake in unraveling the mystery of the little girls who vanished. 

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

In the early stages of quarantine, I fell off listening to some of the true crime podcasts that I loved to listen to before. I don’t know why it was, but outside of “Last Podcast on the Left”, I just wasn’t feeling up for anything else. But one day I decided to try and pick up “My Favorite Murder” again, and started on the unsolved case of the Delphi Murders, in which two teenage girls were found dead after being on a daytime hike. While I liked getting back into the groove of podcasts as I went for a walk with my kid, that particular case is, like the other cases like it, very sad because we don’t know what happened. It just so happened that I was listening to this as I was reading “I Hope You’re Listening” by Tom Ryan, and the chaotic synergy of the universe kind of fell into place. And it made me appreciate “I Hope You’re Listening” all the more.

There are a couple of mysteries running around in the narrative of “I Hope You’re Listening”. The first is what happened to Dee’s best friend Sybil, who was taken when they were children and right in front of Dee’s eyes. Dee is the kind of protagonist that you see a fair amount in thrillers these days; she’s traumatized, she’s not very personable, and she has unpacked baggage regarding her trauma that affects her in many ways. But Ryan does a great job of making her feel realistic in her trauma without feeling like she has to be unlikable or ‘broken’. She has started running an anonymous podcast that tackles missing person cases, in hopes of solving mysteries to help cope with the mystery in her life that was never solved, and I think this device works perfectly for her plot line. I liked that Ryan doesn’t try to make her into a completely self destructive individual, but does show how her experiences has made her more ‘rough around the edges’ when it comes to dealing with other people.

The other mystery is a new child disappearance, this time of a girl named Layla, whose potential kidnapping brings a media frenzy to town and threatens to expose Dee to more reminders of her connection to Sybil, as well as expose her as the anonymous host of her popular podcast. As Dee tries to help solve Layla’s disappearance, she is pulled back into Sybil’s, and her obsession starts up again. Both mysteries are compelling as all get out, and seeing Dee try her hand at actual hands on detective work leads to many suspenseful moments of high stakes action.

There were a couple of things that kind of took me out of the story a bit. The first is merely a pacing issue, and I’m going to get a little spoiler here, so here is your warning:

So one of the biggest strengths of this book is Dee’s bourgeoning romance with new neighbor Sarah. I liked Dee and Sarah together, I thought that they had great chemistry and I was deeply invested in them as a couple. But the timeline on this book isn’t very long, and Sarah figures out that Dee is ‘The Seeker’, aka the host for the podcast. When she confronts Dee, Dee basically confirms it right away, and then they are suddenly passionately making out. It’s not so much them hooking up that I had a problem with, but Dee revealing her secret identity that only ONE other person knows (her best friend Burke) when she has kept it so secret and has been so paranoid about it for so long. It’s especially hard to swallow because a Nancy Grace-esque tabloid crime reporter is in town on the Layla case and wants to expose The Seeker, so for Dee to let her guard down on a girl she has just started to get to know when this dangerous woman is so close just felt unrealistic to Dee’s character. But hey, if that’s the worst thing I can find about this, that’s pretty good.

Overall, “I Hope You’re Listening” is a really engrossing mystery thriller, and I am thinking of gong back to read more of Ryan’s stuff. Pick this one up if you like thrillers AND true crime podcasts!

Rating 8: A page turner of a mystery that pulls you in, “I Hope You’re Listening” is sure to entertain fans of thrillers and true crime podcasts alike!

Reader’s Advisory:

“I Hope You’re Listening” is included on the Goodreads lists “

Find “I Hope You’re Listening” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

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!