Kate’s Review: “Bad Summer People”

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Book: “Bad Summer People” by Emma Rosenblum

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, May 2023

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

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A whip-smart, propulsive debut about infidelity, backstabbing, and murderous intrigue, set against an exclusive summer haven on Fire Island. None of them would claim to be a particularly good person. But who among them is actually capable of murder?

Jen Weinstein and Lauren Parker rule the town of Salcombe, Fire Island every summer. They hold sway on the beach and the tennis court, and are adept at manipulating people to get what they want. Their husbands, Sam and Jason, have summered together on the island since childhood, despite lifelong grudges and numerous secrets. Their one single friend, Rachel Woolf, is looking to meet her match, whether he’s the tennis pro-or someone else’s husband. But even with plenty to gossip about, this season starts out as quietly as any other.

Until a body is discovered, face down off the side of the boardwalk.

Stylish, subversive and darkly comedic, this is a story of what’s lurking under the surface of picture-perfect lives in a place where everyone has something to hide.

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

Summer is finally here, and for some people that means getting to the beach and reveling in the sand, sun, and surf. While my summer travels aren’t taking me to such a place, I do know a few people who may be going to Fire Island this summer, though more in the capacity that many people think of Fire Island. Honestly, before “Bad Summer People” by Emma Rosenblum ended up in my hands I, too, thought of Fire Island as predominantly a place for the LGBTQIA+ community to party hard. But apparently it’s also a spot where the wealthy and entitled elites also like to spend the summer months. And in this book, those wealthy and entitled elites might just end up murdered amongst all their secrets and lies. And you know what? SIGN ME UP TO READ ALL ABOUT IT!

The mystery is presented right away at the top of the book. A body is found in the sand in a posh Fire Island community called Salcombe. We don’t know who they are, we don’t know how they got there, and we immediately jump back to the start of summer and start to meet our cast of characters, all of whom could be victims or suspects based on the secrets, backstabbing, and resentment and malice that they all feel towards each other. I liked the set up of having different third person perspective chapters of the various players, as they all have unique insights into not only how the mystery is slowly going to come together, but also into their own parts to play in the overall question as to what happened. Like so many suds filled thrillers before it, we get twists, we get turns, some are revealed more deftly than others, and the red herrings and clues pile up at breakneck pace. You add in a bunch of poisonous people who we could either take or leave in terms of their survivability and it’s the kind of book that reads super fast and keeps the reader mostly engaged. It’s at times a little predictable, and at times it’s pretty familiar with it’s tropes and plot reveals, and that these reveals mean for the identity of the victim found at the top of the narrative.

And to be fair, this is definitely more focused on the interpersonal drama and backstabbing than it is the mystery. But that didn’t stop me from having a hell of a fun time whilst reading it. I love me soap opera drama nonsense, and “Bad Summer People” delivered a whole lot of it. We get into the minds of a number of people in Salcombe, from the nasty queen bees of the summer community to outsiders desperate to be insiders to more seasoned residents who are more removed from the dramatics, and they all have a nasty bite that reads like guilty pleasure fun. Whether it’s Lauren, the most popular mom in a dying marriage who starts to seek out attention elsewhere, or Jen, the well loved wife of the community’s golden boy who has some darkness she’s always hidden, or Robert, the new tennis instructor who is desperate to be a part of the wealthy elites, all of our characters are kind of assholes, but it’s really entertaining seeing them all spiral as the summer goes on. Sure, there’s the question of whose body is found on the beach at the start and how it got there, but that sometimes feels a bit incidental. Because of that this may not be the BEST fit for people who are in it for the thriller aspects of the mystery. But for people like me, who also love watching people be dicks to each other on the page, it’s a quick, breezy jaunt, and the perfect beach read.

“Bad Summer People” was lots of fun and would be a great book to take on a beachy trip this summer! Hopefully you won’t be getting into the shenanigans that these characters stumble into, however.

Rating 7: Sudsy and indulgent with some good twists and turns, “Bad Summer People” is a fun and wicked whodunnit that revels in its soap and drama.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bad Summer People” is pretty new and not on many Goodreads lists right now, but it would definitely fit in on “Beachy Reads”.

Kate’s Review: “The Quarry Girls”

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Book: “The Quarry Girls” by Jess Lourey

Publishing Info: Thomas & Mercer, November 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Minnesota, 1977. For the teens of one close-knit community, summer means late-night swimming parties at the quarry, the county fair, and venturing into the tunnels beneath the city. But for two best friends, it’s not all fun and games.

Heather and Brenda have a secret. Something they saw in the dark. Something they can’t forget. They’ve decided to never tell a soul. But their vow is tested when their friend disappears—the second girl to vanish in a week. And yet the authorities are reluctant to investigate.

Heather is terrified that the missing girls are connected to what she and Brenda stumbled upon that night. Desperately searching for answers on her own, she learns that no one in her community is who they seem to be. Not the police, not the boys she met at the quarry, not even her parents. But she can’t stop digging because she knows those girls are in danger.

She also knows she’s next.

Review: I had to wait a LONG time to get “The Quarry Girls” by Jess Lourey from my library. I saw it in passing at some point but didn’t look too much into it, but once I realized that it takes place in Minnesota, that explained a few things. Local author, local interest, that always hypes up the library patron community. I had heard some good things, and jumped in expecting a fairly straight forward and run of the mill mystery, so imagine my surprise when it took me totally off guard and really, really got under my skin. This is the kind of thriller that doesn’t just have a good atmosphere and pace, it’s also the kind that feels super, super real in the most upsetting ways. But that’s what makes it stand out so much.

The mystery itself is haunting and suspenseful. Heather is a teenage girl living in St. Cloud, Minnesota in the late 1970s. A local waitress goes missing, her absence first dismissed as a case of a runaway or a flighty girl off on an adventure, and Heather tries not to worry. She runs with her friend group, best friends Maureen and Brenda by her side, and tries not to fret about the cool older man her guy friends have started hanging out with, lest they think she’s a baby. But then her friend Maureen goes missing too, and Heather is convinced that it has to do with something that she and Brenda saw one night shortly before. I loved the slow build up on this mystery, with Heather trying to find clues as to what happened to Maureen (a girl with a ‘reputation’ and therefore dismissed as another runaway, but we are going to get into all THAT in a bit) and has to break out of her anxious, shy self to try and help her friend. I loved watching her find various clues and insights, and how those clues and insights start to point to an even bigger, more encompassing, and more disturbing mystery at hand. As Heather starts to realize that things she thought were true are false, and that there are people she thought she could trust, but actually can’t, it makes for a slow burn and dread building mystery that kept me hooked and terrified for this literal teenager just trying to help her friend.

And that touches on the bigger themes of this book, specifically the fact that in greater society, sometimes women are victims and sometimes men are either enablers and abusers themselves, and we don’t necessarily REALLY know all sides of a person, even when we care about them or trust them. Heather has many men in her life, whether it is her District Attorney father who has been placing a lot of responsibility on Heather after her mother had a mental breakdown (which had devastating effects on Heather, but also has a hidden backstory), or the Sheriff in town who may be hiding his own corruption and culpability when it comes to Maureen, or childhood guy friends that Heather thought she knew, but have started becoming more aggressive, or demanding, or cruel. As Heather starts to learn things about Maureen, things that others deem ‘wild’ or ‘bad girl’, and tries to piece things together, she starts to learn things about all these boys and men, and it’s very hard to watch her have to learn some really difficult truths. That isn’t to say that there isn’t hope here. Because once Heather learns things she never wanted to know, she can start to learn how to fight back. But growing up too fast always has a cost.

And now I need to talk about the setting of this book because as a Minnesotan I am obligated to gush about a well done book that takes place in my home state. And man oh MAN does Lourey hit the nail on the head when it comes to Minnesota culture and location (which makes sense since she spent a good amount of time in St. Cloud and is currently living in Minneapolis). I’ve been to St. Cloud maybe three times in my life, but it’s a bit notorious to those Minnesotans who live outside of it for a number of negative reasons. The first is it has a reputation for being incredibly racist. The second is that various cogs in the Stearns County law enforcement machine have come under fire for corruption and incompetence (the Jacob Wetterling case is one of the most infamous examples. If you want a good resource on how badly Stearns County fucked this case up for twenty plus years, seek out the “In the Dark” Podcast, Season 1. Your blood will boil). When I started reading I wondered if Lourey was going to tap into some nostalgia about 1970s St. Cloud, but it became quite clear quite quickly that nope, this was going to dive head first into the toxicity of the community, and how misogyny of the 1970s (which still permeates today), of small town look away culture, and general ‘not my business’ sensibilities of Minnesota ‘nice’ combined to create a tragic story that felt very, very real. There are also fun moments of Minnesota in here, though, which didn’t make it all about the very true faults of Minnesota culture. Whether it was references to how we love festivals in summer due to long ass winters, or a trip to Valley Fair, or the weird quirk that a Minnesotan canNOT be the last person taking an item of food from a shared plate, these fun bits were VERY on point and very amusing.

I really loved “The Quarry Girls”. It broke my heart many times but also gave me a little hope beyond the darkness. I need to go back and read more stuff by Jess Lourey, this was just great.

Rating 9: A searing, heartbreaking thriller about small town secrets, violent misogyny, and having to grow up too fast under horrible circumstances while trying to persevere, “The Quarry Girls” is emotional, raw, and yet somehow hopeful.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Quarry Girls” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Modern Mystery, Crime Fiction”.

Kate’s Review: “The Only Survivors”

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Book: “The Only Survivors” by Megan Miranda

Publishing Info: Scribner, April 2023

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

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Seven hours in the past. Seven days in the present. Seven survivors remaining. Who would you save?

A decade ago, two vans filled with high school seniors on a school service trip crashed into a Tennessee ravine—a tragedy that claimed the lives of multiple classmates and teachers. The nine students who managed to escape the river that night were irrevocably changed. A year later, after one of the survivors dies by suicide on the anniversary of the crash, the rest of them make a pact: to come together each year to commemorate that terrible night.

To keep one another safe. To hold one another accountable. Or both.

Their annual meeting place, a house on the Outer Banks, has long been a refuge. But by the tenth anniversary, Cassidy Bent has worked to distance herself from the tragedy, and from the other survivors. She’s changed her mobile number. She’s blocked the others’ email addresses. This year, she is determined to finally break ties once and for all. But on the day of the reunion, she receives a text with an obituary attached: another survivor is gone. Now they are seven—and Cassidy finds herself hurling back toward the group, wild with grief—and suspicion.

Almost immediately, something feels off this year. Cassidy is the first to notice when Amaya, annual organizer, slips away, overwhelmed. This wouldn’t raise alarm except for the impending storm. Suddenly, they’re facing the threat of closed roads and surging waters…again. Then Amaya stops responding to her phone. After all they’ve been through, she wouldn’t willfully make them worry. Would she?

And—as they promised long ago—each survivor will do whatever he or she can do to save one another. Won’t they?

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

It’s mid May, with Summer hurtling towards us ever faster, and I, for one, am looking forward to a couple travel moments coming up with the season and the reading opportunities that generally come with a vacation. I’m not sure I’ll be making it to a beach before Fall sets in (Lake Superior in Fall really is just the best), but I can at least dream of beach houses with friends and relaxation and maybe get my act together to make it happen. I was thinking about the joys of a beach house getaway as I read “The Only Survivors”, Megan Miranda’s newest thriller. While it’s true that a beach house vacation like this one, what with an uneasy group of people who trauma bonded after a terrible accident in high school, and who go to a beach house every year to commemorate the anniversary, isn’t ideal, the house did sound nice. And admittedly, a slow building thriller on a precarious beach in a familiar but uncomfortable house is a GREAT set up for a mystery. I’m also happy to revisit Megan Miranda, because she’s usually doing interesting things with her thrillers.

“The Only Survivors” has a pretty solid cast of characters, most notably Cassidy, our protagonist who has forced herself to attend the annual reunion of fellow high school tragedy survivors at a beach house on the Outer Banks. The reunion is always tense and tenuous, with the friends vis a vis a horrible traumatic event not totally willing to trust each other but also unable to blow it off completely. Cassidy is the one we get to know the best, as it is from her POV for the most part (outside of the flashback moments where each survivor gets a snippet perspective of what happened the night of the accident), and I did like getting into her head and slowly understanding her turmoil. The other characters were a bit of a mixed bag. I was genuinely intrigued by Grace, a therapist who is very serious and a bit removed, and Hollis, a wellness influencer who just seems put together on the outside, but there were others who were kind of broadly brushed. I was invested enough in all of them to be really curious as to what they are being to cagey about, and I thought that when we did get moments of their personas in the flashbacks that we got to see a bit more depth. Characters play such an important role in this kind of thriller that it’s important to make them engaging, and most of them were engaging enough.

In terms of the mystery itself, I thought that it had some well done elements and some elements we’ve seen before. Or at least I have, as I’ve been reading thrillers for so long I am sometimes more likely to be privy to the ins and outs of various reveals and twists. I really liked the slow burn reveal of what exactly it is these survivors are hiding, and what brings them all together each year over everything else in their lives, including significant life changes (it’s mentioned one character almost missed the birth of his child for this reunion one year, and the way I would have dumped his ass so hard, but I digress). I also liked that we slowly get the clues to what Cassidy and the others had to go through in the immediate aftermath of the accident, and how their situation went from dire to more dire to something that needed to be kept close to the vest, through flashbacks to the accident itself. On the other hand, I also was able to find myself a few steps ahead of a couple of the reveals and twists, and there was once again a last moments twist that I felt was a little ‘eh’, but I CAN say that it wasn’t the kind that felt unearned or out of nowhere. So in the end the mystery itself was pretty serviceable and altogether entertaining.

“The Only Survivors” is the kind of thriller that would be the perfect read for the beach this summer. I just hope that it’s the kind of beach vacation that is not with a group of people that you trauma bonded with, but with those that aren’t potentially going to spill some dark secrets.

Rating 7: Entertaining, suspenseful, “The Only Survivors” is a serviceable thriller that’s the perfect read for the beach.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Only Survivors” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery & Thriller 2023”.

Kate’s Review: “We’ll Never Tell”

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Book: “We’ll Never Tell” by Wendy Heard

Publishing Info: Little, Brown/Ottaviano, May 2023

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

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: An ambitious and juicy whodunit doused in Hollywood lore, perfect for readers of sexy summer thrillers like The Twin by Natasha Preston and The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson.

No one at Hollywood High knows who’s behind We’ll Never Tell—a viral YouTube channel where the anonymous creators trespass behind the scenes of LA’s most intriguing locales. The team includes CASEY, quiet researcher and trivia champ; JACOB, voice narrator and video editor, who is secretly dating EDDIE, aspiring filmmaker; and ZOE, coder and breaking-and-entering extraordinaire.

Now senior year is winding down, and with their lives heading in different directions, the YouTubers vow to go out with a bang. Their last episode will be filmed at the infamous Valentini “murder house,” which has been left abandoned, bloodstained, and untouched since a shocking murder/suicide in 1972. When the teens break in, they capture epic footage. But someone trips an alarm, and it’s a mad dash to get out before the police arrive—at which point they realize only three of them escaped instead of four. Jacob is still inside, slain and bleeding out. Is his attack connected to the historic murder, or is one of their crew responsible?

A week of suspicions and cover-ups unfolds as Casey and her remaining friends try to stay alive long enough to solve murder mysteries past and present. If they do, their friendship may not survive. If they don’t, the house will claim more victims.

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

I had been waiting for a bit (it wasn’t really that long, but anticipation can make things feel long) for a new Wendy Heard book. I had enjoyed “She’s Too Pretty To Burn” so much for it’s weirdness, it’s sapphic love story, and the satire of art as ethos and the ramifications of that. When I read that she had a new YA thriller coming out called “We’ll Never Tell” I was excited, and when I read that the premise involved an abandoned notorious crime scene and four teens caught up in something far more dangerous than they realized, I was practically vibrating with glee. And while there are a lot of great ideas with this book, and while it was a quick read that kept me going, the anticipation leading up to it kind of slammed the breaks with what we got.

But first the good. Wendy Heard is an author I have really enjoyed in the past, and I think that part of it is that she really knows how to bring seedy and shiny aspects of Los Angeles to life. There is so much potential in this story, and I loved seeing four teens with a YouTube channel focus in on what is clearly an homage to the Los Feliz Murder Mansion, a piece of Los Angeles true crime lore as the basis for a book. I also liked that we could get a few different ways to tell the story. These include protagonist Casey, some flashbacks from Jacob leading up to the night he is attacked, and some epistolary pieces of newspaper articles involving the Valentini murder, the fallout, and some other things that involve the family and the victims. I am a huge sucker for books that use newspaper articles or other found footage or information devices. And mystery wise, I did like the twists and turns of the story, as well as the mystery of who attacked Jacob in the house. Heard does a pretty okay job of laying out clues and bringing in various potential motives and means. It’s ultimately a pretty straight forward thriller, and while I didn’t totally guess what was going on, I wasn’t totally blown away by various solutions as the puzzle pieces all started falling into place.

However, I think that one of the things that didn’t quite connect for me was our protagonist, Casey. To me it felt like there were so many things about her that weren’t quite fully explored or elaborated upon. We have her as the cynical, sullen girl with the tragic past, given that her mother was murdered and it went unsolved, and she has been living with her grandmother and they have been barely holding on financially. She has a chip on her shoulder about some of her friends (mostly Zoe; Zoe is wealthy and, while well meaning, is sometimes clueless about her financial situation versus Casey’s), she really hates ‘true crime’, and she doesn’t always feel like she totally fits in with her peer group. It tended to creep a bit towards ‘not like other girls’, as there were a lot of first person perspective reminders about how no one else GETS it. I wasn’t super invested in her as a character, nor was I interested in the potential relationship she has with Dallas, a descendent of the Valentini family whose mother is owner of the Murder House property. I also didn’t quite understand what the purpose of her tragic background was, as it’s there to make her tragic but doesn’t really apply to the plot as a whole. It felt a lot like backstory was trying to do a lot of character development heavy lifting, and that just doesn’t quite work in this book.

I had higher hopes for “We’ll Never Tell”. The set up was pretty great, but the execution didn’t really reinvent any wheels. Certainly not something I regret reading, but I wanted more.

Rating 6: Lots of potential and a great set up, but ultimately it’s pretty run of the mill with a bland main character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“We’ll Never Tell” is included on the Goodreads list “Most Anticipated May 2023 Young Adult Releases”.

Kate’s Review: “Warrior Girl Unearthed”

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Book: “Warrior Girl Unearthed” by Angeline Boulley

Publishing Info: Henry Holt 7 Co. (BYR), May 2023

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

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Perry Firekeeper-Birch was ready for her Summer of Slack but instead, after a fender bender that was entirely not her fault, she’s stuck working to pay back her Auntie Daunis for repairs to the Jeep.

Thankfully she has the other outcasts of the summer program, Team Misfit Toys, and even her twin sister Pauline. Together they ace obstacle courses, plan vigils for missing women in the community, and make sure summer doesn’t feel so lost after all.

But when she attends a meeting at a local university, Perry learns about the “Warrior Girl”, an ancestor whose bones and knife are stored in the museum archives, and everything changes. Perry has to return Warrior Girl to her tribe. Determined to help, she learns all she can about NAGPRA, the federal law that allows tribes to request the return of ancestral remains and sacred items. The university has been using legal loopholes to hold onto Warrior Girl and twelve other Anishinaabe ancestors’ remains, and Perry and the Misfits won’t let it go on any longer.

Using all of their skills and resources, the Misfits realize a heist is the only way to bring back the stolen artifacts and remains for good. But there is more to this repatriation than meets the eye as more women disappear and Pauline’s perfectionism takes a turn for the worse. As secrets and mysteries unfurl, Perry and the Misfits must fight to find a way to make things right – for the ancestors and for their community.

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

One evening I was perusing NetGalley, looking to see what new books were going to be coming out across my various favorite genres, when I saw something that made me gasp. Like full on gasp. I stumbled upon “Warrior Girl Unearthed”, the new YA thriller from Angeline Boulley. I loved Boulley’s debut “Firekeeper’s Daughter”, naming it my favorite read of 2021, and when I read the description of “Warrior Girl Unearthed” I gasped again. We were going back to Sugar Island, and were going to revisit some of the characters from that book, including main character Daunis. Elation. Pure elation. While I was worried that this follow up may have a lot to live up to, I’m happy to report that overall it was (mostly) everything I hoped it would be!

Given how much I connected to Daunis in “Firekeeper’s Daughter”, I was hopeful that we would have another layered and easy to root for main character, and we absolutely got that with Perry. When we first met Perry and her twin Pauline in “Firekeeper’s Daughter” they were young girls, and now they are two teenagers with very different personalities. Perry is our protagonist, who goes from chill and laid back ‘slacker’ to teen activist who wants to bring Indigenous artifacts and remains back to her community. Perry is both hilarious and brash as well as very vulnerable and passionate, and watching her find her purpose through connection to her culture and identity is a wonderful character arc. Boulley once again brings a lot of aspects of Ojibwe/Anishinaabe culture, be it language, history, or practices, into the story with ease. As Perry digs deeper and gets more invested in bringing these things home, we learn so much about her as a person on an individual level and on a cultural level. She had big shoes to fill with Daunis in the first book, but she fills them with ease.

I also loved how Boulley took a topic like NAGPRA and how it has good intentions but doesn’t go far enough/is too easy to find loopholes within and made it the foundation of the main theme of her novel. As someone who used to work in museums I had a general knowledge of NAGRPA going into this book, but I loved how Boulley explained it in this book in an easily understandable and digestible way for her audience. It also sets the scene for high tension stakes with a very slow build up. I loved seeing Perry reluctantly familiarize herself with the concept of artifacts and museum work with her mentor/boss Cooper, and then become fired up about the injustice of Indigenous artifacts and human remains and sacred objects being held onto by non-Indigenous institutions and people. Repatriation of Indigenous remains and sacred objects is a very important subject when it comes to Indigenous rights and issues, and I loved how Boulley contextualized it in a way that shows the violence inherent in the ways these things were stolen to be put on display, and how there is so much pushback to return them to their descendants. I also thought it was a clever dichotomy to present that along with the subplot of Indigenous women who have been going missing in the community and surrounding communities, as we have overt violence and cultural violence on display as Perry tries to figure out how to bring justice to her community.

I do have vaguely mixed feelings about coming back to see what Daunis is up to. Which is CRAZY because I LOVE DAUNIS. Just LOVE her. On one hand, she is such a formidable character, and having that connection to “Firekeeper’s Daughter” and seeing how her life has progressed and changed since that story (becoming more immersed in her healing skills, raising a son, serving as a mentor to her cousins) is mostly pretty enjoyable and rewarding (I have one qualm but I’m not going to list it here because it’s spoilery, but when it happened I was like ‘wait…. WHAT?’). But on the other hand, while Perry does shine on her own (see above, look at how much I enjoyed her), there was one minor subplot involving Daunis that felt rushed and a bit slapdash. It kind of took away from Perry’s story at hand for a bit and felt like it was a forced wrap up for the sake of wrapping something up. All that said, I do hope that if Boulley keeps writing about the Sugar Island Ojibwe community we get to see how these characters keep progressing as time goes on.

“Warrior Girl Unearthed” is another successful and enjoyable thriller from Angeline Boulley. Her voice is so strong, her characters are so well developed, and her deep dive into Ojibwe culture is detailed and accessible. It all comes together to make a highly enjoyable read and a successful follow up to a game changing young adult novel.

Rating 8: An engaging and important thriller/mystery that not only takes on issues of physical violence in the Indigenous community, but also the cultural violence of artifact theft and struggles over repatriation.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Warrior Girl Unearthed” is included on the Goodreads lists “All Indigenous Peoples List 3”, and “2023 Mystery Thrillers Crime To Be Excited For”.

Kate’s Review: “For You and Only You”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “For You and Only You” by Caroline Kepnes

Publishing Info: Atria Books/Emily Bestler Books, April 2023

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

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Joe Goldberg is ready for a change. Instead of selling books, he’s writing them. And he’s off to a good start. Glenn Shoddy, an acclaimed literary author, recognizes Joe’s genius and invites him to join a tight-knit writing fellowship at Harvard. Finally, Joe will be in a place where talent matters more than pedigree, where intellect is the great equalizer and anything is possible–even happy endings. Or so he thinks, until he meets his already-published, already-distinguished peers, who all seem to be cut from the same privileged cloth.

Thankfully, Wonder enters the picture. They have so much in common. No college degrees, no pretensions, no stories from prep school or grad school. Just a love for literature. If only Wonder could commit herself to the writing life they could be those rare literary soulmates who never fall prey to their demons. There is so much they’re up against, but Joe has faith in Wonder. He will sacrifice his art for hers. And if he has to, he will kill her darlings for her.

With her trademark satirical, biting wit, Caroline Kepnes explores why vulnerable people bring out the worst in others as Joe sets out to make this small, elite world a fairer place. And if a little crimson runs in the streets of Cambridge who can blame him? Love doesn’t conquer all. Often, it needs a little push.

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

I am fully aware that I have been obsessed with Caroline Kepnes’s “You” Series since I read “You” and “Hidden Bodies” in 2016, to the point where all of the “You” audiobooks have become insomnia fighters for long nights of anxiety driven sleeplessness. Yes, I do indeed put in my ear buds and listen to Santino Fontana talk about super creep and obsessive psychopath Joe Goldberg as he stalks women and inserts himself into their lives while slowly destroying them. Apparently this is relaxing listening to me.

I am fully aware this probably means I’m deeply traumatized, it’s fine. (source)

So quite obviously I was waiting on pins and needles for the fourth book in the series, “For You And Only You”. And I was so, so lucky to get a copy from NetGalley, and there was much rejoicing. I had so many questions and theories about what was going to happen in this book, as when we left Joe in “You Love Me” he was about to be widowed and was running his own book bar in Florida, ready to fall in love again. So when I read that this one was going to take place in Boston? WHAT? But I fully trusted Kepnes to bring me there and to convince me, and what do you know? She did.

I think that what continues to impress me about Kepnes and her “You” books is that even though there is a very clear set of expectations of formula for each of these books, she still manages to make it feel fresh, interesting, and unpredictable. You can be certain of the following things in these books: Joe is going to be a loner, he’s going to start to obsess over a woman who is emotionally unavailable for whatever reason, and people in the way of his obsession are probably going to start dropping like flies at his hand (granted, in “You Love Me” he wasn’t the direct cause of the deaths in that book, he was just a domino effect). I was worried that this was going to feel repetitive by book four in the series, and yet I still was fully on board and I was still completely hooked by the story, the characters, the plot twists, and the overall twisted cynicism and dark humor of it all. These books probably aren’t for everyone, but I feel that Kepnes always knows how to pull the satire out of some pretty unnerving subject matter and themes, by finding the hypocritical undersides of supposedly enviable lives (be it being young and single in New York, to uber wealthy in L.A., to small town cozy on Bainbridge Island). This time the target is the hallowed halls of Harvard and the academic life of ever ambitious literary authors. I’ll admit that I WAS disappointed that we didn’t stick to Florida, as there were so many things that I feel like could have been SO satisfying with that as a backdrop (especially since 1) Joe’s old boss Mr. Mooney retired there and I love that horrible old man, and 2) Florida right now has so many issues I would have loved to see Joe just lose his mind there), but hey. I’m fine with lambasting elitist Harvard culture as it exists within Boston’s many backgrounds, and Kepnes really nails it. Joe clearly is desperate to fit in, as while he has always had a chip on his shoulder about those more privileged then himself, he thinks that the is just as good as them and needs them to acknowledge it. This time it’s because of a book he wrote that he thinks is genius, and he needs their validation. You just know that’s going to go poorly.

Joe is still Joe, and I will spare you all from going on and on about why he entertains the hell out of me once again, so let’s focus on our other characters. While the cast of characters don’t really outdo the assholery of previous characters (who could be worse that Peach Salinger? I’ve yet to see it), there are plenty of cutting bites at snooty authors and those who aspire to that. Part of the appeal of these books is that everyone sucks so when Joe starts going HAM on them it feels over the top enough that it’s not distasteful, and the nastiness of just about everyone is pretty well done here. I found Wonder, Joe’s love interest, to be especially grating, probably my least favorite of Joe’s love interests (yes, worse than Beck), but I did think that the due diligence is done to make her the way she is. But most everyone else was grating in a fun way so that you are really enjoying the ups and downs as Joe plots against them but is also annoyed by them. A major stand out for me was Sarah Beth, a fellow member of the fellowship who wrote a thriller novel before the workshop, whose interest in a true crime podcast about a body found on Bainbridge Island (oh Joe, did you REALLY think you could get away with all your bullshit? I love that we are starting to see some of these things start to catch up to him) puts a serious thorn in Joe’s side. She is weird and probing, and she also caught me by surprise a few times as she and Joe start a cat and mouse game between themselves while having to work together in their writing group. Perhaps it treads to farfetched territory at times, but I really found it fun.

“For You and Only You” continues Joe’s reign of terror through the lives of unsuspecting victims and the jerks that surround them. I hope that there are more Joe stories in store. I shall be adding this one to the middle of the night insomnia treatments, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Rating 9: Joe is back and I’m still fully on board. This series still catches me off guard and keeps me enthralled and engaged, and I’m still all about following Joe as he rips lives asunder all in the name of love.

Reader’s Advisory:

“For You and Only You” is included on the Goodreads list “Books Written By Scorpios Will Be The Death of Me” (it was too funny to pass up).

Kate’s Review: “Sisters of the Lost Nation”

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Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Sisters of the Lost Nation” by Nick Medina

Publishing Info: Berkley, April 2023

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

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Anna Horn is always looking over her shoulder. For the bullies who torment her, for the entitled visitors at the reservation’s casino…and for the nameless, disembodied entity that stalks her every step–an ancient tribal myth come-to-life, one that’s intent on devouring her whole.

With strange and sinister happenings occurring around the casino, Anna starts to suspect that not all the horrors on the reservation are old. As girls begin to go missing and the tribe scrambles to find answers, Anna struggles with her place on the rez, desperately searching for the key she’s sure lies in the legends of her tribe’s past.

When Anna’s own little sister also disappears, she’ll do anything to bring Grace home. But the demons plaguing the reservation–both ancient and new–are strong, and sometimes, it’s the stories that never get told that are the most important.

Part gripping thriller and part mythological horror, author Nick Medina spins an incisive and timely novel of life as an outcast, the cost of forgetting tradition, and the courage it takes to become who you were always meant to be.

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

Horror fiction is, for me, a fun way to escape the horrors of the real world whilst also safely exploring emotions of fear and anxiety in a controlled environment. I love getting lost in a horror novel or movie, as it gives me some time away from real life scary shit. But more and more I’ve really come to appreciate horror stories that tackle themes of these real life horrors, especially in times like these where there is so much uncertainty and discord. Give me horror fiction that delves in metaphors for terrible things, especially if it brings awareness to these terrible things. Enter “Sisters of the Lost Nation” by Nick Medina, a new horror novel that involves a young adult Native woman named Anna living on a reservation who works at the local tribal casino. Strange things have been happening at the casino, and while Anna tries to tell herself that it’s nothing, it becomes harder and harder to ignore. Especially when her sister Grace goes missing after being involved with the casino and its shady practices.

I’m actually going to start with the thing that didn’t really work for me as well, just to get it out of the way because it did affect my experience, but not in a way that derailed it. I just think it’s needed context to make my ultimate rating make sense as I’m going to be gushing for the most part. The one aspect that fell a bit flat was the way that the book was structured. There was a lot of time jumping between chapters, in non-linear ways that felt a bit jarring and confusing at times. I did eventually get used to it, and it did eventually settle into a more clear cut timeline, but for awhile I had to keep flipping back on my eReader to remind me where I was in the story arc, and that could be frustrating.

But now onto the good stuff, as there is a lot of it. For one, I really liked the horror elements that Medina creates that come from various Indigenous stories from lots of different groups of Native peoples. The one that stands out the most is a story that has translated into that of a disembodied head that rolls around the (fictional) Takoda Reservation. Protagonist Anna Horn has been terrified of this story as long as she an remember, as her uncle told her the story as a young child and is now a teenager who still lives in fear of it. The weird beats where Anna catches a glimpse of something possibly rolling around, or feels the heat of breath from an unknown source, really creeped me out. But I also liked that her fear and obsession with this story and her belief that it is real also made it so that she was interested in the lore and mythology of her community and people, as it made for a stark contrast to the real life horrors of a casino that may be hiding some really dark secrets and is in some ways turning its back on this history in favor of monetary gain. Anna’s interest in her culture and its stories is a really powerful thread in this tale, and how the power of stories, be they terrifying or not, can play such an important role in a person’s life and their motivations.

And the best aspect of this book for me was how Medina has put such a candid and devastating spotlight on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a terrible epidemic that has reflects the continuing violence, apathy, and racism that Indigenous women face from greater Western society. Anna faces her own sets of victimization and racism at the hands of her peers and those above her at the casino, but she is also realizing that Indigenous women are going off the radar, and being dismissed as either runaways, or merely addicts who are off on the search for a hit. So when her own sister Grace goes missing, and there are few people taking it seriously, it hits close to home, and she begins to notice that there are suspicious things going on at the casino. And that the girls who are disappearing may have ties to the higher ups. I was so deeply invested in where these missing women went, and when it becomes clear that they are quite probably in danger, or being manipulated in other ways, it just makes the story that much more tense and upsetting. Medina sets the tension on edge and really builds it up, and addresses a very real problem against the backdrop of this fictional tribe with very real problems of poverty, corruption, racism, and misogyny. I also really appreciated the author’s note at the end which gives greater context to MMIW, as well as resources he used and information spots for the reader to familiarize themselves with all of it.

“Sisters of the Lost Nation” is a visceral and chilling read. Fans of horror and thrillers need to check it out, but I also think readers of all stripes should do themselves a favor and look into it. It’s wholly unique and talks about very real injustices that need to be paid attention to.

Rating 8: A searing and devastating horror-thriller that not only finds horrors in Indigenous mythology and lore, but also in the all too real Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sisters of the Lost Nation” is included on the Goodreads lists “Indigenous Horror, Thriller, etc”, and “Horror To Look Forward To in 2023”.

Kate’s Review: “The London Séance Society”

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Book: “The London Séance Society” by Sarah Penner

Publishing Info: Park Row, March 2023

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

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: 1873. At an abandoned château on the outskirts of Paris, a dark séance is about to take place, led by acclaimed spiritualist Vaudeline D’Allaire. Known worldwide for her talent in conjuring the spirits of murder victims to ascertain the identities of the people who killed them, she is highly sought after by widows and investigators alike.

Lenna Wickes has come to Paris to find answers about her sister’s death, but to do so, she must embrace the unknown and overcome her own logic-driven bias against the occult. When Vaudeline is beckoned to England to solve a high-profile murder, Lenna accompanies her as an understudy. But as the women team up with the powerful men of London’s exclusive Séance Society to solve the mystery, they begin to suspect that they are not merely out to solve a crime, but perhaps entangled in one themselves

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

I was very enamored with Sarah Penner’s previous novel “The Lost Apothecary”, as it told the story of women who had to take their lives and sense of justice into their own hands during a time when there were so few options granted to them should they be abused by powerful men. Talk about cathartic! So I knew that when she came out with a new historical thriller/mystery I would definitely want to check it out. You can probably guess that when I saw that her new book was called “The London Séance Society”, I was VERY excited. Not only was Penner doing another woman centric historical thriller with a feminist bent, but she was also maybe bringing in GHOSTS! Or at the very least the ideas of ghosts, mediums, and séances from the Victorian Spiritualism movement!

The thriller and dark fantasy elements of this book worked really well together, branching out from her previous genre that’s steeped in non-supernatural themes and doing so with success. I really loved the mystery as renowned medium Vaudeline and her apprentice Lenna are pulled into the mysterious death of Vaudeline’s friend Mr. Volckman, who was the head of the men’s only spiritualist group The London Séance Society, and how both women have their reasons for wanting to find the truth about him and his group. For Vaudeline, she is trying to keep the reputation of spiritualism untainted, and the LSS is rumored to be a bit suspect. For Lenna, it’s that her sister Evie (a former student of Vaudeline and aspiring medium) was murdered, and Lenna is trying to figure out what happened to her, while realizing that she, too, may have gifts that she doesn’t really believe in.

We had a couple perspectives, the first being a third person perspective of Lenna as she tries to solve her sister’s murder. Lenna is skeptical and grief stricken, but is also finding herself growing more attracted to Vaudeline as they prepare to conduct a séance with the LSS. The other perspective is that of Mr. Morley, one of the high ranking members of the LSS, and his is in the first person and generally in the past. With both these perspectives we get the pieces of the two puzzles, and we start to wonder who can be trusted and what is real and what is not. I did find myself questioning the motives and perspectives of a few of the characters, and I was surprised by a few of the reveals. It’s a well done mystery with some moments of true suspense, as well as some solid supernatural bits and elements that worked well. I liked Lenna enough, I REALLY liked Vaudeline, and most of the characters had interesting moments and felt pretty grounded in reality given the time, the place, and their motives. I also liked that from the jump we know that while Lenna is skeptical, Vaudeline has a very real gift and talent, and that the ghost aspects of this book were leaned into and made for an interesting fantasy angle.

I really do have to gush about the setting of this story, as the Victorian Era has something of a special place in my heart due to the fact I used to work as an interpreter in a Victorian mansion in St. Paul. Penner hits the nail on the head with the historical tidbits when it comes to spiritualism, séances, gender and class divisions, and superstitions of the time period, and uses it all to create a well conceived mystery with it’s fair share of timeless themes. I loved that our protagonists Vaudeline and Lenna are two women mediums who are trying to solve the murders of Volckman and Evie, but are coming up against a men’s only group that has taken the skills of women mediums, twisted them for monetary gains, and has banned women from the group altogether while creating fraudulent practices that endanger the reputations of real spiritualists like Vaudeline. I mean, how freaking typical (and also true! The LSS is based on the actual Ghost Club from that time period, and no, women were NOT allowed even thought it was women who were the pioneers of the spiritualism movement, fraudulent as it was). There is also a very handy historical note at the back of the book that puts a lot of this into context AND has recipes for a couple refreshments of the time period AND has a candle making guide! This is my total jam and it was a fun surprise at the end of the book.

I enjoyed “The London Séance Society”, and Sarah Penner has started a streak of engaging historical thrillers. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next!

Rating 8: A compelling mystery that puts women mediums at the forefront and explores spiritualism, misogyny, and an obsession with the dead during the Victorian Era.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The London Séance Society” is included on the Goodreads lists “Bone Book Club” and “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2023”.

Kate’s Review: “Ashes”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Ashes” by Álvaro Ortiz

Publishing Info: Top Shelf Productions, February 2023

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

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Three old friends reunite for the mother of all road trips! One of Spain’s most brilliant graphic novelists finally makes his English-language debut in this elegantly unpredictable gem.

Polly, Moho, and Piter haven’t seen each other in years. Now they’ve piled into a car for a loooong journey to a mysterious cross marked on a map. All their old personality quirks and conflicts are resurrected with new wrinkles as this surreal reunion gets underway. Up ahead are car chases, alcohol, roadside motels, banjo-playing thugs, a ship graveyard, violence, sensual tension, and, of course, a monkey!

The captivating first graphic novel from internationally renowned cartoonist Álvaro Ortiz is an explosive mix of emotional road movie and hooligan thriller in which nothing is what it seems.

Review: Thank you to Top Shelf Productions for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

I am admittedly a not so well organized person. This has been my reality for a number of years, probably partially in part due to ADHD and how I can be very out of sight, out of mind. This means that sometimes I miss details, be it things on my calendar or emails. That almost happened to me when I was approached to read “Ashes”, a road trip graphic novel by Álvaro Ortiz, as it was in our email box and it got lost in the shuffle. But I was very lucky in that it came up one more time, and I caught that email, and was sheepish that I had missed it before but also happy that I’d finally seen this story come across my screen. Because boy, was the description so, so weird, and therefore VERY intriguing. I consider myself lucky, and once again promise myself to be better about these things. We’ll see how that goes. But I’m glad that I did see it, because “Ashes” is unique and very fun.

This graphic novel is quirky and fun, with odd characters, a nutty premise, and a monkey companion named Andrés. Reading the description was a trip, but admittedly very enticing because of how trippy it was. And once I began reading, I realized that we were not only going to get a bunch of quirks, but also a sometimes emotional story about a group of friends who have to come to terms with the death of one of their own, and with the fact they all drifted apart when that, at one time, seemed unlikely. Polly is the high strung one, Piter is laid back and quiet, and Moho is a bit of a hardened degenerate. But when their friend Hector dies and leaves them the request to take his ashes and dispose of them at a place on a map he left behind, the three left behind feel the need for closure. Whether that’s closure for Hector, or for their friend group in general, remains to be seen at the start. I liked getting the background for the friends, seeing how they found each other, and in some ways how they drifted apart, and how we can see the pieces as to why they want to do this even though they aren’t close anymore. As someone who has had a number of friendships ebb and flow and come and go throughout my life, but who knows there are a couple that I would probably feel a need to reconnect with in similar circumstances, it just felt very realistic when examining the ways people grow apart, in part due to changing values, bad behavior, or just plain distance and lack of time.

AND THEN THERE ARE THE WEIRD THINGS, and I say that in the most affectionate way. Moho, Piter, and Polly have to go on an emotional road trip, but there are definitely wacky aspects to it. Whether it is Moho’s monkey Andrés, whom he saved from a run down circus and who gets his own little backstory vignettes, or two biker-esque thugs on their trail who have a love for the banjo, or a ghostly presence that is revealing itself to each friend as the story goes on, and it reminded me a bit of the kind of quirky caper that you may see in a Coen Brothers film. It also made the tension feel pretty high at times as they all realize that they are being followed, and that this trip may not be plagued only by awkward friendship baggage, but also true danger. But always done with a bit of cheekiness. I mean, there is a silly little monkey! The stakes are high but it never feels overdramatic in the way that things unfold. And just for funsies we also get some historical tidbits about cremation, be it as a process, a historical footnote, or a use in various cultures death practices.

And finally, the art style is so unique and unexpected. When I first saw it I found it a bit jarring, but I quickly started to appreciate and enjoy it, and didn’t feel like it took away from some of the more tense and emotional moments. And honestly it really worked when it came to Andrés the monkey.

(source: Top Shelf Productions)

“Ashes” is both humorous and bittersweet, a study in how friendships evolve and change, and a wacky road trip romp. It comes together well and is very entertaining.

Rating 8: Funny, emotional, and bursting with adorable monkey shenanigans, “Ashes” is a charming road trip story about changing friendships.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ashes” isn’t on any Goodreads lists at the moment, but it reminded me of a Coen Brothers movie as I was reading it.

Kate’s Review: “Exiles”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Exiles” by Jane Harper

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, January 2023

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

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: At a busy festival site on a warm spring night, a baby lies alone in her pram, her mother vanishing into the crowds.

A year on, Kim Gillespie’s absence casts a long shadow as her friends and loved ones gather deep in the heart of South Australian wine country to welcome a new addition to the family.

Joining the celebrations is federal investigator Aaron Falk. But as he soaks up life in the lush valley, he begins to suspect this tight-knit group may be more fractured than it seems.

Between Falk’s closest friend, a missing mother, and a woman he’s drawn to, dark questions linger as long-ago truths begin to emerge.

An outstanding novel, a brilliant mystery and a heart-pounding read from the author of The Dry, Force of Nature, The Lost Man and The Survivors.

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

I will admit that I was a bit shocked when I started to read the description and promotional bits about “Exiles” by Jane Harper and it was referred to as the last Aaron Falk Mystery. I think that part of it is that I’m so used to long running series that end up twenty plus books deep (Hello, Temperance Brennan Series), that when a series that has such critical acclaim and a devoted audience decides to end only a few books in my knee jerk reaction is ‘why?!’ But if this indeed the end, “Exiles” is a great way to say goodbye to a detective that I didn’t realize I would miss until he was leaving.

“Exiles” is a missing person story, with Harper’s investigator Aaron Falk at the helm even though he isn’t really there in a professional capacity. When his friend Raco’s brother’s ex Kim goes missing, and stays missing for a year, Falk finds himself being pulled into the question of what happened to Kim, who may have seen her the night she disappeared during a small town festival and left her baby alone in a carriage in a sea of people, and who may know something that isn’t being said. I liked that Falk was more drawn into this final mystery not because of his profession, but because of his loyalty to Raco, and the connection he has to a family that hasn’t gotten a lot of answers. I also liked Aaron slowly getting to know a family friend named Gwen, and starting to realize that perhaps he wants a more quiet life with people that he cares about surrounding him. It’s funny because it’s not like Falk is a character that I am absolutely obsessed with, and I feel like he is a bit of a conduit to tell other broader stories, but I liked his journey in this one and how it ultimately shakes out for him.

The mystery itself it fairly straight forward, and while I kind of had a good gut feeling as to what had happened, I liked the slow and steady pace Harper took with it. Her mysteries always feel in complete control, and never feel like they tread towards melodrama or the like. I enjoyed seeing Falk have to piece together not only the mystery of what happened to Kim the night she disappeared, but also what other circumstances and moments in her life may have played a part in her ultimate disappearance. But I also liked the additional, potential connection to another unsolved crime in the community, in which a man was the victim of a hit and run (and it just so happens that Gwen is that man’s widow). Harper is deliberate and very quiet in her mystery weaving, but it all comes together very well.

And finally, I just like the way that Harper writes the people in this story. I got a good sense for everyone, whether it’s old familiar characters or brand new ones. They all feel like well rounded people, and while some may be hiding things or may be serving as narrative misdirections they all fit in well and aren’t completely obvious as to how they all fit into the broader mystery at hand. She just knows how to create a believable community and cast.

“Exiles” is an introspective and quiet but engaging mystery. If this is, indeed, the last book with Aaron Falk, I’m glad that his trilogy ended on a high note.

Rating 8: A solid mystery, an enjoyable cast, and a nice swan song for a literary detective!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Exiles” is included on the Goodreads list “Most Anticipated Reads of 2023”.

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