Kate’s Review: “Pretty Dead Girls”

32972117Book: “Pretty Dead Girls” by Monica Murphy

Publishing Info: Entangled: Teen, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Beautiful. Perfect. Dead.

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

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

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

Everyone has secrets, and theirs might get them killed.

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

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

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Never fails. (source)

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

Kate’s Review: “The Turn of the Key”

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

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, August 2019

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

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

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

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

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

It was everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

Kate’s Review: “Patron Saints of Nothing”

42166429._sy475_Book: “Patron Saints of Nothing” by Randy Ribay

Publishing Info: Kokila, June 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A powerful coming-of-age story about grief, guilt, and the risks a Filipino-American teenager takes to uncover the truth about his cousin’s murder. 

Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.

Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth — and the part he played in it.

As gripping as it is lyrical, Patron Saints of Nothing is a page-turning portrayal of the struggle to reconcile faith, family, and immigrant identity.

Review: There are some days that I open up my news feed and just feel utter despondency. There are so many horrible things going on in the world right now that they sometimes blur together for me, and then I become peripherally aware of some but not as knowledgeable about others. This is representative of my general awareness/lack of knowledge about Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, and his human rights record, specifically the fact that his ‘war on drugs’ has led to numerous murders and deaths of drug addicts and dealers all under government approval. Given that I knew a little bit about his policies (and how much they horrify me), my knowledge of Filipino society, culture, and history, both before and during his rule, is scant. So I was very interested in reading “Patron Saints of Nothing”  by Randy Ribay, as it focuses on these themes yet is written for an audience who may be unfamiliar. I buckled up for an emotional ride.

“Patron Saints of Nothing” approaches the controversial Duterte regime and its policies through the eyes of a Filipino-American teenager whose cousin Jun was killed, supposedly because of drugs. Jay is a good way for the audience to connect to the story, as while he himself was raised by a Filipino father, his American experience (and his father’s personal need to assimilate) has superseded his Filipino culture. But guilt and sadness over his cousin’s death is the perfect motivator to send him on this personal journey where he will learn about himself and also the culture that he hasn’t paid much attention to, or has taken for granted. As Jay learns about the society that Jun lived and died in, we are presented with a crash course of information about the modern day Philippines and the policies of the Duterte regime. Jay sees Duterte and his policies through American/Western eyes and values, and while he talks about the violence and the human rights violations that are incredibly disturbing, there is a stark contrast to how many Filipinos feel about said policies. I really liked how Ribay definitely addressed how brutal and corrupt this dictatorship is, and addresses the Marcos dictatorship as well, but also doesn’t pass judgement on those who live there who may not feel the same way. One really good example of this is Jay’s uncle Tito Maning, who is a government official and is incredibly loyal to Duterte, so loyal that he sees his own son’s death as justified. Ribay isn’t hesitant to show what kind of environment this man has fostered within his own family, and is absolutely critical of his blind loyalty and its consequences. But at the same time, Tito Maning isn’t a moustache twirling villain. Ribay makes sure to show how someone like him could still be loyal, in spite of his loyalty costing him is son, and how his choices aren’t as black and white as our own personal experience might perceive them to be.

The mystery about what happened to Jun is also well done and well paced. Jay has to make connections with family members, friends, and activists to figure out just what happened to his cousin, and I greatly enjoyed following him as he tries to find the puzzle pieces. You get the sense that there is more to the story than that which is presented to Jay, and themes of social justice and activism, and the dangers it can put you in within a dictatorship, are added into the drug war at hand. I didn’t feel much suspense when following this story, but I liked that the stakes were high regardless. What added to this is the epistolary aspect of this book, through letters that Jun sent to Jay over the years. It helps you get a sense of who Jun was outside of a victim of violence, and it helps you understand Jay’s own need to understand what happened to him. There is a lot of sadness permeating this story, sadness about what happened to a young person like Jun, sadness over the injustices of the society he was living in, and sadness for Jay and his own residual guilt, be it earned or not. The mystery also helps Jay learn about himself, but it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel forced or in bad taste. As he learns and connects to his heritage, so too does the reader. 

I really enjoyed “Patron Saints of Nothing”. I felt like it told a unique and needed story, and gave context and voice to realities that are easy to ignore when it comes to human rights issues around the world. I am going to keep my eye on Randy Ribay, because I feel like this is the start of a storied and rich writing career.

Rating 8: A powerful and eye opening story about identity, loss, and standing up for what’s right, “Patron Saints of Nothing” casts a spotlight on a less talked about human rights issue and the complexities that surround it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Patron Saints of Nothing” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Best Asian-American Teen Fiction”.

Find “Patron Saints of Nothing” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “A Stranger on the Beach”

41150430Book: “A Stranger on the Beach” by Michele Campbell

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

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

Book Description: There is a stranger outside Caroline’s house.

Her spectacular new beach house, built for hosting expensive parties and vacationing with the family she thought she’d have. But her husband is lying to her and everything in her life is upside down, so when the stranger, Aiden, shows up as a bartender at the same party where Caroline and her husband have a very public fight, it doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.

As her marriage collapses around her and the lavish lifestyle she’s built for herself starts to crumble, Caroline turns to Aiden for comfort…and revenge. After a brief and desperate fling that means nothing to Caroline and everything to him, Aiden’s obsession with Caroline, her family, and her house grows more and more disturbing. And when Caroline’s husband goes missing, her life descends into a nightmare that leaves her accused of her own husband’s murder.

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

I kind of stumbled upon Michele Campbell’s books a year or so ago, picking up “It’s Always The Husband” on a whim and listening to it on eAudiobook. I was immediately taken in by the suspense, the plot twists, and the complex characters. I also enjoyed “She Was The Quiet One”, and at that point I decided that Campbell was going to be one of my go to requests when it comes to authors. I was lucky enough that NetGalley granted my request to read her newest novel “A Stranger on the Beach”. The plot enticed me straight away. A scorned woman decides to get revenge against her potentially cheating husband by having one night stand with a handsome younger man, and it goes terribly awry with secrets, sex, lies, and murder?

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Go on. (source)

It became pretty clear that Campbell had more in store for her readers than the simplicity of this tried and true plot line. The problem is that with “A Stranger on the Beach” she didn’t do a good enough job of keeping her cards close to her vest.

I’ll start with what did work for me, as there was a fair amount that did. I am a huge sucker for lurid and soapy thrillers, and “A Stranger on the Beach” is definitely that. The elements of a wealthy woman getting caught up with a man from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ has a lot of potential for fun and quick thrills, and because of that I breezed through “A Stranger on the Beach” pretty quickly. Caroline’s chapters were first person, and gave you a sense of what was inside her head and what was driving her emotions, and while Aidan’s were from a third person perspective you still knew who he was and what he was about. I also liked the power dynamics that Campbell brought into the story, with Caroline being part of the wealthy tourist population that spends summers in beach houses, and Aidan being a townie struggling to make ends meet and having to see the entitled hoi polloi throw their weight around. This made it so their interactions always had an added tension to them, beyond the tension that is already there because of their uneven affections for each other. It also brought in the questions of who is more trustworthy to the reader, Caroline or Aidan, based on gender, class, and what you know about the two of them and their personal lives. You know that Caroline is a potentially scorned wife, and you know that Aidan has had past run ins with the law. But what do you actually know about them when it comes down to it? I will say that it was fun seeing things get turned sideways.

That said, unlike Campbell’s previous novels, I found pretty much no one to root for in this story, as everyone was pretty much terrible, even if they were all pretty complex. In previous works by Campbell I feel like while there are rotten characters, there are at least some people to root for, and even some who buck the trend. But in “A Stranger on the Beach”, I couldn’t find one character with any redeeming qualities, and that made it very hard to connect to any of them. They weren’t even terribly fun villains that you love to hate, just unpalatable and frustrating to follow. Even the law enforcement officials who are trying to see the best in everyone came off as complete rubes. On top of that, while the plot was well paced and kept me going, I figured out almost all of the big surprises and plot twists very early on, far earlier than I should have been able to do so. I’m not sure if it’s another instance of knowing the clues and the devices and what to look for, or if it was a little too obvious. But even if it was an instance of being a huge thriller reader, given that I imagine thriller readers would be one of the main demographics for this series, it’s not a huge leap to say that I probably wouldn’t be the only person with this problem.

“A Stranger on the Beach” was a bit of a let down. I’m not about to write off Michele Campbell as an author, but I do hope that whatever she comes out with next is a return to form that we saw in her previous novels. 

Rating 5: While I found the read to be addicting and pleasantly fast, I didn’t care for many of the characters and called the big twists a long time before the reveals.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Stranger on the Beach” is included on the Goodreads lists “So You Love An Unreliable Narrator”, and “Down By The Sea”.

Find “A Stranger on the Beach” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Guardian of the Horizon”

157858Book: “Guardian of the Horizon” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Avon, March 2005

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

Book Description: Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson, along with their son Ramses and foster daughter Nefret, are summoned back to the Lost Oasis, a hidden stronghold in the western desert whose existence they discovered many years ago (in The Last Camel Died At Noon) and have kept secret from the entire world, including their fellow Egyptologists. According to Merasen, the brother of the ruling monarch, their old friend Prince Tarek is in grave danger and needs their help, however it’s not until they retrace their steps back to the Oasis, with its strange mixture of Meroitic and Egyptian cultures, that they learn the real reason for their journey.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley” and “Deeds of the Disturber” and “The Last Camel Died at Noon” and “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog.” and “The Hippopotamus Pool” and “The Ape Who Guards the Balance”

Review: I’m again back with an Amelia Peabody mystery review! It’s so great to have a series like this in one’s back pocket whenever a solid read is needed. The fact that the audiobook version is so great is an even greater bonus! Though, while I’m still enjoying the series as a whole, this one did feel a bit weaker than some of the others.

For once the Emerson family is left without a plan for where to excavate this coming season. Of course, the problem is not long-lasting as adventure is always sure to arrive at their door, this time in the form of a young man named Merasen who claims to be from the ancient, lost city where they rescued Nefret so many years ago. Once again, they must make the perilous journey to that remote oasis, and all of Amelia’s plans cannot prepare them for what they will find. Now, caught up once again in these ancient machinations, it is up to Amelia and co. to resolve not only the many challenges that arise, but to get out alive while doing it!

Up to this point, I had been reading the books not only in chronological order, but publishing order as well. This is the first book that was written much later, but backtracks to tell a story that is wedged between other, existing books. It won’t be until I get later in the series that I will know how well it fit in with previously written material, but it’s hard to imagine how the events of this book won’t have a lasting impact on the series. The obvious explanation is that since they resolved not to talk about the Lost Oasis originally, that same silence explains the absence of references to this story.

But even with that being the case, this story hits a few crucial character beats that it feels would impact how these same characters behave going forward. By this point, Amelia and Emerson are pretty set, as far as characterization and grand arcs go. Their romance is solid, their foibles understood and managed, they tackle adventure with the easy partnership of two people who know one another inside out. And as, by this point, the reader also knows them inside out, they are like a familiar pair of shoes that fit just right. I still love them, but this book’s main emotional arc is that of Ramses, and, to a lesser extent, that of Nefret.

For the last several books, Ramses unspoken love for Nefret has only grown. By this book, the torment has gotten to the point that he has begun looking for excuses not to be around her. Of course, given the nature of the story, that can’t be allowed to happen and he ends up on this adventure with her and the rest of his family. Along the way, however, he meets another mysterious and beautiful young woman. And throughout the book, Ramses struggles to understand his feelings for both of these women. It’s a very well-done side story as Ramses’ conflicted feelings are so relatable. He has a long-lasting, unrequited and unspoken, love for Nefret, and that is not given up. But at the same time, there is now the appeal of a young woman who sees him and can return his interest. Not knowing how the rest of the series plays out, it does feel like this experience would have a lasting effect on Ramses’ approach to his feelings for Nefret, either to make them more manageable, knowing that he can develop attachment for another, or drive him to the point of coming clean to her. But, given the fact that this book was written later, I’m not sure how that would work.

Nefret, too, takes a fairly hard emotional blow in the return to the Lost City. She had been raised there as a high priestess, a role of great importance but also great isolation. Upon returning, it is impossible to avoid the crushing memories of her childhood, both its joys and pains. Her experiences are arguably the most harrowing of them all in this book. But that also brings us to one of the downsides of this book. I’ve always loved the character of Nefret, and with the events of this book, she spends most of it very changed from the young woman we’ve been following before. With Amelia and Emerson remaining so steady (lovely, yet also not incredibly interesting either), much of the interest lies in Ramses and Nefret. And when you take her off the table, too, essentially…it’s just a lot of book to hang on one character’s shoulders, even if that character is excellent in his own right.

The story also relied on a few tricks we’ve now see many times before. I enjoyed the return to the Lost City and wish the book had capitalized on the novelty of that fact more so, without resorting to pulling in characters and mysteries that we often find in the other stories that are set in more traditional settings. It felt like a lost opportunity a bit and I think a few of these familiar additions were definitely unnecessary.

I continue to enjoy this series, though some of the characters felt a bit more bland in this book than in others. I also feel that it didn’t take full advantage of its own conceit and relied too heavily on past tricks to resolve many of the conflicts. But, of course, there’s no question that I will be continuing on with the series!

Rating 7: Not my favorite book in the series as I feel like it could have done so much more than it did.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Guardian of the Horizon” is on these Goodreads lists: “Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women” and “Regency and Victorian Mysteries.”

Find “Guardian of the Horizon” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Solving Cadence Moore”

36585390Book: “Solving Cadence Moore” by Gregory Sterner

Publishing Info: Aperture Press, November 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a copy from Book Publicity Services

Book Description: How much will one man risk to solve the unsolvable?

Ten years ago, famous young singer Cadence Moore disappeared without a trace on a remote highway in western Pennsylvania. To this day her fate remains unknown. Was she kidnapped or murdered? Or did she simply run away in search of a new life, leaving behind the abuse and heartbreak that haunted her?

Charlie Marx, host of the popular conspiracy radio show “Underground Broadcast,” is obsessed with Cadence. Desperate to find her after deceiving his boss to save his job, he launches an investigation of his own, digging deep into the missing woman’s past and uncovering her darkest secrets. Working feverishly for weeks, he claims to have solved the mystery and promises to reveal Cadence’s fate at the end of a groundbreaking podcast series and live radio special.

But is it all a lie? As years of twisted details slowly unravel, Charlie races to solve the biggest mystery of the decade. If he succeeds, it will mean closure for Cadence. If he fails, his entire world will come crashing down live on air–and the truth may be lost forever.

Review: Thank you to Book Publicity Services for sending me a copy of this book!

There are two types of true crime podcasts that I find myself listening to, and I think that they span the majority of the genre. There are the stand alone or limited series episodes, like “My Favorite Murder”, “Casefile”, or “Last Podcast on the Left”, which cover a wide array of cases over time and don’t have one central focus, nor do they do any deep investigating. Then there are podcasts like “Serial”, “In the Dark”, and “Dirty John”, which either focus on one case for each season, or just have the one series with the one case, and do involve themselves in the investigations, or at least connect with those involved. I’m more inclined to listen to the shows that cover many cases, but definitely have dabbled in the latter. As podcasts become more popular, it’s no surprise that we see fiction books that hope to tap into the theme and use it as their structural narrative. “Solving Cadence Moore” by Gregory Sterner is one such book, which follows the latter kind of podcast: a radio host finds himself investigating a missing girl and dedicating an entire series to it. It’s a plot that I figured with hit all the checkboxes in terms of things that I’d like, but unfortunately “Solving Cadence Moore” didn’t click in the way I hoped it would.

I will start with what I did like and what did work. The disappearance of Cadence Moore is definitely a compelling mystery, similar to other missing women stories like the case of Maura Murray that have garnered podcast and intrigue. Cadence is young, she’s beautiful, she’s tragic, she’s talented, and she disappeared without so much as a trace after a fight with her boyfriend. Sterner knows all the right beats to hit and all the qualities that would make a convincingly tantalizing show that would gain a huge following. The host, Charlie Marx, is also convincing as someone who has a lot on the line when it comes to how successful the show is. There are definitely building blocks in place that have a lot of potential in terms of plot and story progression. But ultimately, the big reason that this didn’t work is because we didn’t get to see much of the investigation aspects that Marx was participating in. The majority of the book is transcripts from each podcast episode, but written not as transcripts but in a long form narrative. We read what’s going on in the episode, and we read how the story slowly unfolds, and while that is fascinating to a point I didn’t feel like there were many stakes when done this way. There are some parts that take place in ‘real’ time, for lack of a better word, but most of that was Charlie fighting with his boss about whether the podcast was going to garner results. I think that since we didn’t get to see much of the actual investigating on Charlie’s part, I didn’t find myself terribly invested in whether or not he was going to solve it by the end. In turn, I also didn’t find it terribly suspenseful, for either Cadence OR Charlie. At the end of the day I didn’t feel like we got to know very much about Cadence outside of her superficial qualities that are parsed out because of her victim status, and by the time the ultimate solution came around I was feeling less satisfied or wowed and more ‘well, okay then.’ It went very slow overall, and the part that had me MOST intrigued had less to do with Cadence’s story and more to do with two characters who get put on the hot seat for their popular, but problematic documentary about the case. Hell, that part had the most passion for me, and I really enjoyed seeing the breakdown of an ego clash. But that was one part of a long book.

“Solving Cadence Moore” definitely has some good and bright aspects to it, but overall it didn’t take me in the way that I had hoped that it would. Try this mystery out of you are fine with a mystery without fast paced thrills. Ultimately, I need a little more oomph.

Rating 5: While the foundation was there and I found the premise and set up of the story’s podcast believable, the pacing was slow and I didn’t feel like the stakes were very high.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Solving Cadence Moore” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Fiction Books Featuring Podcasts”.

“Solving Cadence Moore” isn’t listed on WorldCat, but you can find access information HERE on the publisher’s page.

Kate’s Review: “Killing November”

35053980Book: “Killing November” by Adriana Mather

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: It’s a school completely off the grid, hidden by dense forest and surrounded by traps. There’s no electricity, no internet, and an eye-for-an-eye punishment system. Classes include everything from Knife-Throwing and Poisons to the Art of Deception and Historical Analysis. And all of the students are children of the world’s most elite strategists—training to become assassins, counselors, spies, and master impersonators. Into this world walks November Adley, who quickly discovers that friends are few in a school where personal revelations are discouraged and competition is everything. When another student is murdered, all eyes turn to November, who must figure out exactly how she fits into the school’s bizarre strategy games before she is found guilty of the crime…or becomes the killer’s next victim.

Review: Adriana Mather is one of those authors whose books I am probably always going to pick up no matter what. I so enjoy the “How to Hang a Witch” series, and when I saw that Mather had a new book that started off a new one I was a little bummed that I had to wait a bit longer before she revisits Samantha and Elijah, but excited at the prospect of a new series with new characters. And, lo and behold, this new series takes place at a BOARDING SCHOOL WITH A SHADY SET UP!! Bring on the drama! I will gladly bask in all of it!

“Killing November” is definitely more focused on being a thriller and mystery that Mather’s previous series, and I think that this is both a strength and a weakness. The reason it’s a strength is because of the character of November herself. We know that her father has been involved with some espionage and secret government work, so when she awakens in a strange room and at a strange school she’s never heard of, we know that while she’s heard of shit and seen some shit in theory, she will still have some adjusting to do. November is a fun protagonist, because she’s both pragmatic in her personality (aka I completely believed her as being a bit more cynical and world weary thanks to her family background), and yet still in the dark enough that she has HUGE adjustments to make at this new, bizarre school that focuses more on combat, violence, and duplicity than your average educational institution might. November finds herself having to learn about knife throwing, poisons, and psychological warfare, without being given any kind of background, so she is the perfect stand in for the reader in terms of learning everything she can, with severe consequences if she can’t catch on fast enough. Because of this gulf between her and the other students, watching connections and friendships form was more unique than we might usually expect from a story with a similar premise, mostly because of the inherent distrust between the students based on social structures and the violent skills they’re learning. November’s closest ally is her roommate Layla, who is astute and sharp and cunning, but doesn’t hold friendships at the same value level as November, and therefore the readers, do. Because of this, watching their social interactions (along with the social interactions between November and Layla’s brother Ash, who may or may not be hiding his own motivations) was fascinating and rewarding as they slowly unfolded, in spite of the inherently distrustful setting of the school. Along with that I liked how the underlying social structures of this school worked. It’s a bit of a spoiler to go into it in too great of detail, but think of it like Hogwarts Houses, but revved up rivalries to deadly degrees. Throw in some good old fashioned blood feuds and you have for a plot line that I could sink my teeth into.

I think that the biggest drawback, however, is that while Mather is great when it comes to building these foundations and relationships, the main question of who is trying to hurt November and why didn’t pull me in as much. I cared about her as a character and wanted her to be safe, but I didn’t feel all that invested in who the killer at the school was, and why they would be going after November specifically. It wasn’t even that the ultimate solution was bare boned or too predictable; it was well plotted out and I found it to be believable as well as a surprise. It was just that ultimately, this plot wasn’t where the storytelling was richest for me. I liked the characterizations and the world building far more than the main plotline of this first book. My hope is that, should this series continue, in the next books with all the world building and November’s alliances and trustworthy cohorts established (as of now), I will be more interested in the twists and turns that are thrown into whatever adventure she and her classmates go on next.

“Killing November” has some very solid promise to be a fun new series from Adriana Mather. And while I’m still waiting for the next “How To Hang A Witch” book, I can now add the next “November” book to my list of anticipated reads!

Rating 7: With interesting characters and a compelling background story for the school, “Killing November” has promise, even if the main mystery didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped it would.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Killing November” is included on the Goodreads lists “Months of Days in the Book Title”, and “March 2019 Book Releases”.

Find “Killing November” at your library using WorldCat!