Kate’s Review: “Jane Anonymous”

37650881._sy475_Book: “Jane Anonymous” by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley

Book Description: Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz returns with Jane Anonymous, a gripping tale of a seventeen-year-old girl’s kidnapping and her struggle to fit back into her life after she escapes.

Then, “Jane” was just your typical 17-year-old in a typical New England suburb getting ready to start her senior year. She had a part-time job she enjoyed, an awesome best friend, overbearing but loving parents, and a crush on a boy who was taking her to see her favorite band. She never would’ve imagined that in her town where nothing ever happens, a series of small coincidences would lead to a devastating turn of events that would forever change her life.

Now, it’s been three months since “Jane” escaped captivity and returned home. Three months of being that girl who was kidnapped, the girl who was held by a “monster.” Three months of writing down everything she remembered from those seven months locked up in that stark white room. But, what if everything you thought you knew―everything you thought you experienced―turned out to be a lie?

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

In so many books the involve missing people or missing women, if the missing person is found alive and is able to return home that is usually the end of the book. The investigator is a hero, the victim gets to return to their life, and the story is considered to be happy, or at least positive. But the truth of the matter is that in real life, anyone who survives a harrowing and violent experience such as that has a lot more story to live and tell after they are rescued or recovered. And “Jane Anonymous” ventures to examine that concept, that the ‘happy ending’ isn’t necessarily guaranteed, and that the fallout of the trauma isn’t easily reconciled with the joy of returning to one’s life. Is it a rough book because of it? Hell yes. But it’s a theme that I haven’t encountered as much as I have the ‘happily ever after’ conclusion in stories like these.

“Jane Anonymous” is told through two timelines. The first is Jane’s time directly before and during captivity. The second is Jane’s life in the weeks and months after she escapes, and how she is coping after her trauma. Both of them create an entire story labeled as ‘Then” and “Now”, and it’s told as though Jane is writing down her experiences as a way to try to make sense of everything. Stolarz is vague about the details of setting, as Jane not only refers to herself as Jane Anonymous, but she also says that she’s living in ‘New England Town’ so the reader can feel like this could be a number of places. We juxtapose what happened to her in captivity along with how she is functioning back in her life with the trauma of it, and it’s honest and raw and very tense. Stolarz does a very effective and believable job of conveying just how the trauma would effect a person who was held in a small room all alone for seven months, and how coming back to her old life is going to be incredibly difficult. I thought that coping mechanisms and panic attacks and PTSD symptoms were portrayed convincingly, and also thought that the strain on not only Jane’s experiences but also the experiences of those that love her was also very well done. The ‘Now’ sections were almost harder to read because the idea of being ‘home’ is so dismantled and examined, and Jane and her family are still in such turmoil. It reminded me of the book “Room”, but tackled more head on since it wasn’t through the eyes of a little kid who can’t comprehend what happened. Jane comprehends. And therefore we are forced to.

The ‘Then’ sections read more like a traditional thriller, and while it was indeed suspenseful there were parts of it that were predictable. While it’s a foregone conclusion that Jane is going to escape, Stolarz does attempt to create a tension about how she is going to do it. The thing that sustains her is Mason, the voice in the vents who says he’s also been captured by the same lunatic. As Jane and Mason cling to each other and their relationship is all that can sustain her, you see how having one person there gives Jane the strength that she needs, and seeing he determination to survive is definitely a compelling part of these sections. That said, there are a couple of twists that I called pretty early on, and I’m not sure if that’s because they weren’t hidden particularly well, or because I have just read so many books like this that I know what to look for, trope wise. That said, it wasn’t like that ruined anything for me when it came to the story. It may have been the weaker of the two time frames, but it was still highly enjoyable.

“Jane Anonymous” doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing the fallout of trauma. It’s honest and upsetting, but also pulls at the heartstrings as you see a girl try to begin to heal, as hard as it may be.

Rating 7: An emotional and at times a little predictable thriller about having to rebuild your life after a horrible trauma, “Jane Anonymous” was both suspenseful and moving.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jane Anonymous” is new and not on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think it would fit in on “Kidnapped!”.

Find “Jane Anonymous” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Good Girls Lie”

42771599Book: “Good Girls Lie” by J.T. Ellison

Publishing Info: Mira Books, December 2019

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

Book Description: Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

J.T. Ellison’s pulse-pounding new novel examines the tenuous bonds of friendship, the power of lies and the desperate lengths people will go to to protect their secrets.

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

The end of 2019 is upon us and on this New Years Eve we are going to close out the 2019 blog year with one of my favorite guilty pleasure genres: the soapy catty boarding school thriller! Oh how I love the juicy and scandalous tales of kids at boarding school behaving badly, and if you have an interesting mystery to boot it’s just icing on the cake. So how lucky for me that I was approved to check out “Good Girls Lie” by J.T. Ellison. Boarding school drama, secret societies, and murder are just a few of the juicy tidbits you’ll find in this novel.

Our main character is Ash, an English orphan who has been accepted to the prestigious Goode school, an all girls academy that is said to produce women who go on to the Ivy League and then find themselves in powerful jobs and totally set lives. Ash isn’t interested in making friends, as she just wants to finish school and move on with her life. It’s told from the first person perspective, and I have to say that Ellison is really good at still maintaining a sense of mystery in spite of the fact we are in Ash’s head for most of the novel (there are some other perspectives, but more on that later). We know that something went down while she was back in England, and that Ash is hiding something. Pretty standard stuff, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining. If anything, the fact that it hit a lot of familiar notes and had a number of red herrings and twists made it feel like a comfortable sweater that fit in every way I wanted it to. Ash as a main character was also a positive of this story, as I thought that she had enough mystery and relatability that I was invested in how things turned out for her, as well as worried about what she may or may not be capable of. I was genuinely questioning if I was dealing with an unreliable narrator or not, and I couldn’t wait to see how it all shook out. I also enjoyed the complicated relationship Ash had with another student at the school, Becca. Becca is a couple years older than Ash and one of the most envied, and perhaps feared, girls at Goode, and her interest in Ash is something that makes other girls jealous and curious. Their friendship is filled with a fair amount of sexual tension, and question as to whether either of them can be trusted makes the tension all the more amped, and therefore satisfying.

There was one aspect of this book that didn’t totally work for me, and that is that along with Ash’s perspective, we also occasionally get some third person perspectives from Dean Ford, the headmistress at Goode. While I think that multiple perspectives can be done well, and that you can construct more ‘ah ha!’ moments if you have the ability to see outside the first person narration, a lot of the moments that we had with Ford were more about showing her weaknesses and personal problems. I like the concept of exploring a woman who has to live up to the reputations of the many other head mistresses that the school has had (in particular, her mother, who was the previous head mistress), and how she may fixate on a new, and potentially damaged student, but the way that it was executed felt like it was fat that could have been trimmed.

“Good Girls Lie” was a boarding school thriller that hit the familiar points. Like I’ve said before, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! If you want a read that you can just enjoy for what it is, and you like boarding school thrillers, this will be a good fit. I hope that you all have a very happy and safe New Year’s Eve, and I’ll see you in 2020!!

Rating 7: A soapy mystery with catty drama, “Good Girls Lie” was a worthy contribution to the ‘thriller at a boarding school’ genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Good Girls Lie” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Sapphic Boarding School Books”.

Find “Good Girls Lie” at your school using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Trace of Evil”

43263388Book: “Trace of Evil” (Natalie Lockhart #1) by Alice Blanchard

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, December 2019

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

Book Description: A riveting mystery that introduces a bold and audacious rookie detective assigned to hunt for a killer who is haunted by the past in this gripping murder case…

Natalie Lockhart always knew she was going to be a cop. A rookie detective on the Burning Lake police force, she was raised on the wisdom of her chief-of-police father. These cases will haunt you if you let them. Grief doesn’t come with instructions.

But the one thing her father couldn’t teach her was how to handle loss. Natalie’s beloved sister was viciously murdered as a teenager, and she carries the scars deep in her heart. Although the killer was locked up, the trace evidence never added up, and Natalie can’t help wondering―is the past really behind her?

As the newest member on the force, Natalie is tasked with finding nine missing persons who’ve vanished off the face of the earth, dubbed “the Missing Nine.” One night, while following up on a new lead, she comes across a savage crime that will change everything.

Daisy Buckner―a popular schoolteacher, wife to a cop, and newly pregnant―lies dead on her kitchen floor. As Natalie hunts for Daisy’s killer in the wake of the town’s shock, her search leads to a string of strange clues―about the Missing Nine, about Daisy’s secret life, and reviving fresh doubts about her sister’s murder.

As the investigation deepens, Natalie’s every move risks far-reaching consequences―for the victims, for the town of Burning Lake, and for herself.

Spellbinding and gripping, Trace of Evil is a novel of twisting suspense that will leave you breathless.

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

Awhile back one of the librarians I follow on Twitter was speaking highly of a book by an author I hadn’t heard of. He had an ARC of “Trace of Evil” by Alice Blanchard, and when I clicked on the description it sounded like it would be up my alley. Small town police detective, missing people, a victim with secrets, all matters that will pull me into a story on any given day. I got it from NetGalley, and opened it up, expecting all of those things but maybe not much more. And what else did I get?

Witchcraft, covens, and teenagers with secret ties to black magic rituals.

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Oh HELL YES. (source)

“Trace of Evil” has three main mysteries that make up the guts of the plot. The first is the most obvious, that of the murder of Daisy Buckner. Natalie Lockhart, our plucky but haunted protagonist, has her own personal connections to Daisy. Not only is she colleagues with Daisy’s husband, Natalie’s older sister Grace wa very close with Daisy, so Natalie’s personal investment is high. I enjoyed seeing Natalie slowly piece together various components to the murder, and how Blanchard was sure to show some of the downfalls of being a woman detective in a small town where everyone knows everything about your past. The second mystery involves a number of missing women, or the Missing Nine, that Natalie has been trying to solve since she joined the force. But along with that obsession, Natalie has her own personal mystery to try and solve; when she was a kid, a masked boy attacked her in the woods. Natalie has spent the rest of her life trying to find out who that boy was. Throw in the fact that her oldest sister Willow was the victim of a horrific murder, and you have a lady cop with a lot of emotional baggage on top of the usual caseload that she has to take on every day. But these various bits of backstory never bog Natalie down, nor does Blanchard make it an excuse to make Natalie overly prickly, overly reckless, or overly damaged. Her traumas absolutely have shaped her, but instead of taking the obvious route of ‘broken but brilliant cop’, Natalie is instead multifaceted and achingly human. I really, really like her as a protagonist (and yes, I’m already rooting for her and her colleague Luke to hook up. She’s had a thing for him since childhood, y’all, it’s great!). Blanchard also is able to take all three mysteries and to show how they are connected, even in the most superficial of ways, and really make the reader buy into the connections. This was one of those instances where I didn’t guess any of the solutions to any of the mysteries, and that left me tickled.

And yes, there is a witchcraft element that I thoroughly enjoyed, if only because I totally saw my own dabbling in Wicca within this plot point. Burning Lake, the town Natalie lives in, has a history of witchcraft and witch trials, and it has permeated a lot of the culture and turned it into a Salem-esque community. Not only did Natalie and her sisters dip their toes into it, but now Natalie’s niece and her friends have started to dabble. But, as is the case in other tales, cliques and infighting tends to lead to a misuse of the ‘magic’, and I loved seeing Blanchard bring that into this story and finding ways to not only connect it to the mystery at hand, but to also show how teen girls who feel powerless can be drawn in to the idea of magic and ritual.

I really, really loved “Trace of Evil”. My hope is that Natalie Lockhart comes back soon, because I now have a new mystery series that I fully intend to keep up with. I highly recommend this thriller to all fans of the genre, and hope that you love it as much as I did.

Rating 10: Suspenseful, detailed, engaging, and filled with great characters, “Trace of Evil” is a promising start to a new series that I thoroughly loved.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Trace of Evil” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists. But I think that it would fit in on “Small Towns with Secrets”, and “Spellbinding Fiction”.

Find “Trace of Evil” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Dead Girls Club”

45701350Book: “The Dead Girls Club” by Damien Angelica Waters

Publishing Info: Crooked Lane Books, December 2019

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

Book Description: A supernatural thriller in the vein of A Head Full of Ghosts about two young girls, a scary story that becomes far too real, and the tragic–and terrifying–consequences that follow one of them into adulthood.

Red Lady, Red Lady, show us your face…

In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.

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

I’ve spoken before about how my childhood was distinctly lacking in spooky urban legends about my community and neighborhood. I don’t know if that’s just larger city living or if I was surrounded by people who didn’t have time for such nonsense, but I do feel a little sad that we had a serious lack in fun, innocent creepy stories (and instead contended with actual creepy stories, like the flasher who’d jump out at joggers on the path by our house). I think that because of this I am especially drawn to stories with scary local folklore themes, and that was the main draw of “The Dead Girls Club” by Damien Angelica Walters. Well, that and the description of a group of teen girls who liked to talk serial killers for funsies. I wish I had that kind of friendship as a teenager. I went into “The Dead Girls Club” with high hopes and expectations that it would meld teenage girl angst with the supernatural, and for awhile I thought it had succeeded. Until it didn’t.

But before we talk about my frustrations, I want to emphasize that “The Dead Girls Club” was a pretty fun ride for the majority of the story. It hops between timelines, that of the present day, and that of the early 1990s. Our focus is mostly on Heather, a woman whose childhood best friend, Becca, was killed one fateful summer, after telling tales of a supposed witch called The Red Lady. Becca, Heather, and their friends were part of a secret club that liked the creepy things in life, but Becca’s obsession with the Red Lady urban legend starts to take over all of their lives. Especially when it seems that this made up story may have some truth to it. In the present we see Heather have to confront this summer when she starts getting secret messages from an anonymous someone (or perhaps something) that hints to knowing the truth about what actually happened to Becca, and what role Heather played in it. We see her try to discern who is stalking her, and see how her lingering fear of The Red Lady starts to take it’s toll on her life and psyche. This is interspersed with flashbacks to when Becca first started telling the stories, and we get to see the slow burn and build up of a deteriorating friendship and what exactly happened between the two girls, which left Becca dead.

I thought that the biggest strengths in this book laid in two factors: the first was the mythology and ambiguity of The Red Lady. Walters gives us enough evidence on both sides of the coin to make the argument that The Red Lady is real, or that The Red Lady is a combination of a lonely child’s imagination run amok and the hysteria shared between friends that are looking to freak themselves out. I do think that the narrative falls on one solution eventually, but I did like that a lot of left up to interpretation for a majority of the story. The other strength was in how Walters portrayed the complicated nature that some teenage friendships can have, specifically between two girls. I know this complexity and complication pretty well from my own experience, and seeing how Becca and Heather both start to grow apart and yet still cling desperately to each other was well written and completely believable. Hell, the Red Lady story itself was a fun and scary one, with smatterings of feminist revenge and all the best ghost stories that come with it. Walters also peels back the motivations for both Heather AND Becca, and once you get to the cores of both of them the spectre of tragedy is just as heavy as the spectre of the Red Lady. They are both sympathetic and frustrating characters, and I think that is the only way they could be written.

But the reason this gets bumped down a few ratings is because, unfortunately, Walters decided to throw in one big and out of left field twist that, for me, derailed the entire story. I won’t spoil it, as I think this is still worth the read, but by the time one of the big reveals came to be I rolled my eyes and muttered a frustrated but not terribly surprised ‘seriously?’ Again, I am not a hater of well done twists. If you can set it up effectively enough that in the moment you have a ‘but of COURSE’ epiphany based on small clues that came before it, I’m going to sing it’s praises forever. But in this case it just felt like a twist for the sake of a twist, and not one that was earned. You gotta earn those twists, people. That’s the only way to stick that landing.

“The Dead Girls Club” is a creepy and unsettling story that didn’t live up to its potential. It’s still worth taking a look, and I am definitely putting Damien Angelica Walters on my radar. But it could have been stronger.

Rating 6: A creepy thriller with a fantastic urban legend at its heart, but it gets derailed by a frustrating twist ending.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dead Girls Club” is new and not included on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Mysteries Featuring Urban Myths/Folklore”.

Find “The Dead Girls Club” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “A Madness of Sunshine”

43419669._sx318_Book: “A Madness of Sunshine” by Nalini Singh

Publishing Info: Berkley, December 2019

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

Book Description: New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh welcomes you to a remote town on the edge of the world where even the blinding brightness of the sun can’t mask the darkness that lies deep within a killer…

On the rugged West Coast of New Zealand, Golden Cove is more than just a town where people live. The adults are more than neighbors; the children, more than schoolmates.
 
That is until one fateful summer—and several vanished bodies—shatters the trust holding Golden Cove together. All that’s left are whispers behind closed doors, broken friendships, and a silent agreement not to look back. But they can’t run from the past forever.
 
Eight years later, a beautiful young woman disappears without a trace, and the residents of Golden Cove wonder if their home shelters something far more dangerous than an unforgiving landscape.
 
It’s not long before the dark past collides with the haunting present and deadly secrets come to light.

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

Back at my previous library job, I spent a lot of my time shelving books in all sections of the library. This branch had a very high circulating romance section, and therefore I shelved a lot of Nalini Singh. This was my only exposure to her before Berkley Books sent me the link to an eARC of “A Madness of Sunshine”. I am not really one for romance novels in general, but the description caught my attention for two reasons. The first is that the plot is described like a gritty thriller. Missing women, a town with secrets, a potential serial killer, all of these things entice me. The other is the location: it takes place in New Zealand, my favorite place in the entire world! Could I relive the best vacation of my life through the pages of this book? I was willing to try!

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Two of my favorite Kiwis, who did not make an appearance in this book. (source)

“A Madness of Sunshine” is framed as a mystery/thriller, with the main thread of the story being about the disappearance of Miriama, a young and effervescent woman who goes missing and whose absence is noticed by many people within the small town of Golden Cove. It also happens to harken back to similar cases of young women who had gone missing a number of years previously. But the focus is more upon the two people who have their own reasons for wanting to find her. The first is Anahera, a woman who was born and raised in Golden Cove, and then left after a traumatic experience and she met a man who whisked her off to London. She’s back home, now a new widow (and reeling from the shock of his infidelity), and has a personal friendly connection to Miriama and her family. The other is Will, a detective who is trying to move on after he bungled an investigation in such a way that it left collateral damage. As the two of them try to put together the clues towards where Miriama could be, they start to get closer to each other. Which, given that Singh is a prolific and well received romance author, makes sense. I enjoyed both Anahera and Will, and while I didn’t really feel like they grew as much as I would have liked them to within the narrative I liked the heat gradually sparked between them. I did like learning about both of their backgrounds as well, and their various tragic backstory details made me really root for them to find happiness when all was said and done.

However, this is a thriller at it’s core, and when it came to that aspect of this book “A Madness of Sunshine” could have been a bit stronger. I would have liked to have more exploration of the missing women from years earlier, as it felt like they just got mentioned and brought up every once in awhile. I also felt like Miriama was more of an ideal than a character that we were supposed to care about, and because of that I didn’t really care one way or the other if she was found safe and sound at the end of the day. In terms of what happened to her, and what happened to the missing women prior, the solutions to those mysteries were standard and kind of bland. They made sense, but by the time we got to them I was less rocked by the revelations, and more ‘oh, okay’ when all was said and done. Not exactly the kind of reaction I like to have when it comes to the solution of a tantalizing thriller or mystery!

But the biggest positive of this book for me was the New Zealand locale. Singh effortlessly brings the town of Golden Cove to life, and the references to various aspects of New Zealand culture, geography, and history really anchored the setting for me. It makes me think about picking up more Nalini Singh novels, with the expectation of romance and heat, and see what they do for me. After all, it was the romance aspects that were the strongest parts of this book.

I think that if you are a thriller fan who isn’t used to a mix of other genres, “A Madness of Sunshine” may not satisfy your reading itch. But if you are going in with the expectation of a little bit of romance and angst, it might be a pretty good fit!

Rating 6: While it was a bit more heavy on the romantic and hidden past elements than the thriller ones, “A Madness of Sunshine” was an entertaining read, and takes place in my favorite place on Earth.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Madness of Sunshine” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads book lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Popular Missing Persons Books”, and “New Zealand”.

Find “A Madness of Sunshine” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Whisper Network”

41555931._sy475_Book: “Whisper Network” by Chandler Baker

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, July 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Four women learn their boss (a man who’s always been surrounded by rumors about how he treats women) is next in line to be CEO—what will happen when they decide enough is enough?

Sloane, Ardie, Grace, and Rosalita are four women who have worked at Truviv, Inc., for years. The sudden death of Truviv’s CEO means their boss, Ames, will likely take over the entire company. Ames is a complicated man, a man they’ve all known for a long time, a man who’s always been surrounded by…whispers. Whispers that have always been ignored by those in charge. But the world has changed, and the women are watching Ames’s latest promotion differently. This time, they’ve decided enough is enough.

Sloane and her colleagues set in motion a catastrophic shift within every floor and department of the Truviv offices. All four women’s lives—as women, colleagues, mothers, wives, friends, even adversaries—will change dramatically as a result.

“If only you had listened to us,” they tell us on page one, “none of this would have happened.”

Review: When my husband and I first brought our daughter home, we had to adjust to spending more time at the house and finding ways to spend the evenings when we weren’t directly caring for the kiddo. One of those ways was to watch “Mad Men” on Netflix, a show that neither of us watched when it was on originally but had been on our lists. I think that both of us were struck and angered by the casual misogyny that a number of the women characters experienced during the course of the show, both at home and at work. Around this time I also got the book “Whisper Network” by Chandler Baker, a Reese’s Book Club pick that had a pretty long hold list at the library. As I read “Whisper Network” I kept thinking about “Mad Men” and how the women at the ad agency had to deal with terrible, abusive men. It wasn’t lost on me that the similarities were incredibly high, even though fifty some years had passed between the timelines in which the characters from both stories were living. Goes to show that while in a number of ways we’ve progressed in terms of women in the work force, some things stay the same, and boy does that rile me up.

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A phrase I’ve related to so many times in the past few years. (source)

“Whisper Network” has been described as a #MeToo story, though the themes have been present long before the movement. Our protagonists, Sloane, Ardie, and Grace all work in the legal department at a high powered corporation, and all of them have had run ins of varying degrees with the soon to be new CEO Ames Garrett. Ames is a well liked member of the company’s corporate boys club, and while he seems to be a shoe in for the position his abusive and harassing tendencies have been swept under the rug. Sloane, Ardie, and Grace are all competent and capable women, and as of now have kept their mouths shut when it comes to their experiences with Ames because they don’t necessarily think that tangling with him directly would be worth it. It’s when a new employee, the young and seemingly naive Katherine, enters the mix that they think perhaps they need to speak up, lest Ames set his predatory sights on her. What comes next involves lies, deception, back stabbing, and an untimely death that Sloane, Ardie, and Grace are blamed for because they decided to speak up. Baker does a really good job of addressing how sometimes victims of harassment, especially if the accused is seen as ‘likable’, can be demonized and vilified for speaking of their experiences. Some of the most effective moments of this were told through ‘witness’ interviews after the main incident, where coworkers, male and female alike, are questioning the veracity of the accusations, and also questioning the stability or motivations of those who have spoken out. It’s angering to read in its realism.

The mystery of “Whisper Network” is pretty straightforward (what really happened to the victim we see at the beginning), though I didn’t really find myself too invested in the solution to it. I was more invested in what was going to happen to those who were left behind as the fallout comes crashing down. I was also more invested in Sloane, Grace, and Ardie getting justice for what had happened to them at the hands of an abusive boss, and at the hands of those who don’t believe them and try to drag their names through the mud. None of the characters really stood out for me, but were all likable enough and relatable enough that I did care about them and how things worked out once the book was done. The character that I liked the most, however, was Rosalita, a night cleaning lady at the company who doesn’t have the same privileges as our main three, and who has her own story to tell, or not tell as the case may be. I liked how Baker brought in a bit of intersectionality when it comes to this #MeToo story, as unlike other characters Rosalita doesn’t have the class privilege they do, and as a woman of color she has more reasons to stay quiet against a powerful white man. I think that Baker could have done more with this, as to me it was the most interesting component to the story.

“Whisper Network” will probably anger you as you read it, but it’s a story that has resonance as the spotlight of #MeToo continues to highlight misogyny and sexual harassment in our culture. The mystery comes second to the social commentary, but it’s still an entertaining page turner.

Rating 7: A #MeToo story with a slow burn mystery, “Whisper Network” is a relevant and upsetting tale of work place harassment and how victims can be unfairly punished for speaking out against powerful harassers.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Whisper Network” is included on the Goodreads lists “MeToo”, and “ATY 2020 – Books Related to News Stories”.

Find “Whisper Network” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Anything For You”

43263434Book: “Anything for You (Valerie Hart #3)” by Saul Black

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, November 2019

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

Book Description: Critically acclaimed author Saul Black returns with a heart-racing thriller in which a brutal murder forces one woman to reckon with her own past–and her future.

On a hot summer night, a watchful neighbor locks eyes with an intruder and unwittingly alerts the police to a vicious crime scene next door: a lavish master bedroom where a man lies dead. His wife is bleeding out onto the hardwood floor, clinging to life.

The victim, Adam Grant, was a well-known San Francisco prosecutor–a man whose connection to Homicide detective Valerie Hart brings her face-to-face with a life she’s long since left behind. Adam’s career made him an easy target, and forensic evidence points towards an ex-con he put behind bars years ago. But while Adam’s wife and daughter grapple with their tragic loss, Valerie uncovers devastating clues that point in a more ominous direction. Lurking in the shadows of the Grants’ pristine life is a mysterious blonde who holds the key to a dangerous past.

As Valerie struggles to forge a new path for herself, the investigation forces her to confront the question: can we ever really leave our pasts behind?

Sophisticated and stunning, Anything for You is an unforgettable thriller that will grip readers long after turning the last page.

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

We had to wait a little while, but finally, FINALLY the gritty and complex detective Valerie Hart is back for another mystery! Saul Black continues the adventures of the San Francisco sleuth in “Anything For You”, and I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy. I don’t have many mystery series I follow, but when a new one comes out I’m game to dig in. I had some mostly positive, but also a bit mixed, feelings about the previous Valerie Hart books after revisiting them (as seen in my previous review), but had high hopes that I’d come out of “Anything For You” still feeling good. And I did. Mostly.

I’ll talk about the mystery first, as that really in the central plot point and Hart is just living in it. A well known lawyer is found murdered in his home, leaving behind a wife and daughter. Hart is on the case, though she should probably step aside given that she almost slept with the man a few years ago (because of course she did). It initially looks open and shut, but as Hart continues to investigate we get to see the slow reveal of a more complex (and sinister) plan and past that the victim might have been hiding. Along with Hart’s investigation and her slow clue building, we also get the perspective of a mysterious woman whose connection isn’t apparent at first, but slowly becomes more and more clear. To me this was the most interesting aspect of this story, and possibly the most interesting slow reveal of all of Black’s Valerie Hart books. I was actually more interested in seeing what this mysterious woman’s story was going to bring next than I was in the official investigation, and then once the tethers did intersect and wrap everything together I was all the more satisfied with how Black build up a cohesive and complex mystery.

As for Hart, I still really like Valerie and I like seeing how she progresses in each book. When we see her in this one, she is now married to her lover Nick, and they are considering starting a family. The questions of parenthood and whether she’s cut out for her are obviously weighing on her mind, and it means that, once again, she starts to drift towards her usual self destructive tendencies. And as much as I love Valerie and I like that it’s being acknowledged that family planning can be filled with complex emotions, I do feel like Valerie’s constant slip up potential is a little old at this point. I’m not saying that there wasn’t any growth whatsoever with her character, as she certainly isn’t static in her behavior or personality. But I do think that it’s an easy out to revert to questions of ‘will she or won’t she’ make bad decisions just for the sake of inner conflict and turmoil. I’m also becoming more and more sensitive to the ‘men write women’ pattern that can be seen sometimes, especially when it comes to ‘strong female characters’. When it comes to Hart, she sometimes falls into all too common tropes about what that means, like sacrificing any aspect of femininity, pointing out the flaws of other women to make her look better, or simply putting more ‘masculine’ traits (that is traits commonly associated with masculinity in our culture) into her bag of tricks to show how tough she is. That isn’t to say that all men or all women exist in a monolith when it comes to behavior and emotional coping skills, as that would also be a foolish thing to insist upon. The problem with Valerie is that more and more she falls into the ‘not like other girls’ box, and it’s one that I have less and less patience for. And honestly, every time that Valerie referred to her genitalia as ‘her c*nt’, I cringed. And I know that Black is British and the associations with that word are very different there, but still. It just felt like another ‘not like other girls’ moment, and it was laid on pretty thick.

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Overall there was a lot for me to like about “Anything for You”, and I am still interested in seeing what lies in store for Valerie Hart and any future endeavors she may undertake. But I’m hoping that her character gets to grow a little more in the future.

Rating 7: Valerie Hart is still a compelling protagonist and the mystery was good, but I’m starting to worry that we’re edging into all too common ‘tough but messed up girl’ tropes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Anything For You” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Women Who Solve Crimes”.

Find “Anything For You” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Killing Lessons” and “Lovemurder”