Kate’s Review: “Give Me Your Hand”

29569206Book: “Give Me Your Hand” by Megan Abbott

Publishing Info: Little, Brown, and Company, July 2018

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

Book Description: A mesmerizing psychological thriller about how a secret can bind two friends together forever…or tear them apart. 

Kit Owens harbored only modest ambitions for herself when the mysterious Diane Fleming appeared in her high school chemistry class. But Diane’s academic brilliance lit a fire in Kit, and the two developed an unlikely friendship. Until Diane shared a secret that changed everything between them. 

More than a decade later, Kit thinks she’s put Diane behind her forever and she’s begun to fulfill the scientific dreams Diane awakened in her. But the past comes roaring back when she discovers that Diane is her competition for a position both women covet, taking part in groundbreaking new research led by their idol. Soon enough, the two former friends find themselves locked in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to destroy them both.

Review: I want to say a special thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of the book!

Megan Abbott is one of those authors that I want to call a sure thing, but can’t quite do so as of yet. While I loved her book “The Fever”, I wasn’t into “Dare Me” at all in spite of the fact that there were a number of bitchy mean cheerleaders at the center of it. Then I read “You Will Know Me” (reviewed HERE),and I was once again into her soapy and thrilling narrations of bad people making worse choices. I do love books like that, after all. So when I requested an ARC of “Give Me Your Hand”, her newest book, I was hoping that “Dare Me” would officially become a fluke and that I could hands down count her as someone I will always read no matter what. Unfortunately, we still aren’t quite there, as “Give Me Your Hand” just didn’t quite get there for me.

I will first start with what I did like about “Give Me Your Hand”. I liked that we had two separate narratives going on in this story, with a “Then” narrative (taking place when Kit and Diane were in high school), and a “Now” narrative (taking place when they are adults). Megan Abbott uses this structure to her advantage, as we slowly get clues presented to us in their time and in their place and at a pace that I found to be manageable. Abbott also did a good job of making the teenagers feel like teenagers, as sometimes thriller authors don’t really grasp teendom in an authentic way. Abbott would be a good crossover author to a YA audience because of this, as while the time spent with Kit and Diane as adults might not be as relatable, the time as teens certainly feels like it would be. I also liked that Abbott comments on how hard it can feel for a female working in a STEM environment, and how this inherent sexist and misogynistic culture can make women feel desperate and potentially drive them to do not so good things in order to get ahead out of feelings of necessity. Kit and Diane are both ambitious and driven, and wanting to impress their idol Dr. Severin and end up on her research team, but because they are the only women in the running in a field where male presences are seen as the norm and women are there to fill a quota, the competition is there, and boy is it deadly.

But these things aside, overall this book left me a bit underwhelmed. While I did like it more than “Dare Me” (therein assuring that I will definitely pick up the next Meg Abbott book, albeit not as desperately), I didn’t find much to root for in any of the characters. I appreciated that Kit was ambitious and beaten down by her knowledge of Diane’s secret, and that those anxieties weighed on her in realistic ways, but she was grating to follow. Diane was your run of the mill antagonist in this book, and while there were moments of trying to round her out they didn’t really come until it was too late. In fact, there weren’t really that many likable characters at all, outside of Serge, one of Kit’s colleagues who is a huge animal lover and takes no nonsense. I also was bummed that basically once Diane’s secret was out in the teenage timeline, we didn’t really spend much more time there and were left to deal with something of an unbelievable catalyst event that brought the drama to present day. I won’t spoil it here, but I will say that when it happened it didn’t have much emotional oomph behind it. I didn’t feel high stakes or fear for the fallout when it came to Kit and Diane, and was more just thinking ‘okay, so that happened…. Now what?’ If I’m not invested, it’s not really going to be suspenseful, and I think that had I not been on an airplane as I read this (and therefore a captive audience of sorts) I may have put it down a lot more often.

“Give Me Your Hand” wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t really doing anything to stand out from novels of similar themes and thoughts. I like Megan Abbott, and I’m going to keep reading her, but I will go in with my hopes more evenly tempered the next time I read something by her.

Rating 6: While it had it’s merits and some good build up, ultimately “Give Me Your Hand” left me wanting more, and not in the way I like.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Give Me Your Hand” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Page Turners of Summer 2018”, and “2018 Mystery Thriller Horror”.

Find “Give Me Your Hand” at your local library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “All the Beautiful Lies”

35230481Book: “All the Beautiful Lies” by Peter Swanson

Publishing info: William Morrow, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Harry Ackerson has always considered his step-mother Alice to be sexy and beautiful, in an “other worldly” way. She has always been kind and attentive, if a little aloof in the last few years.

Days before his college graduation, Alice calls with shocking news. His father is dead and the police think it’s suicide. Devastated, he returns to his father’s home in Maine. There, he and Alice will help one another pick up of the pieces of their lives and uncover what happened to his father.

Shortly after he arrives, Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace McGowan. Though she claims to be new to the area, Harry begins to suspect that Grace may not be a complete stranger to his family. But she isn’t the only attractive woman taking an interest in Harry. The sensual Alice is also growing closer, coming on to him in an enticing, clearly sexual way.

Mesmerized by these two women, Harry finds himself falling deeper under their spell. Yet the closer he gets to them, the more isolated he feels, disoriented by a growing fear that both women are hiding dangerous—even deadly—secrets . . . and that neither one is telling the truth.

Review: If you ever said to yourself “You know, I think that I would like a book that is ‘The Graduate’ meets ‘Double Indemnity’ with a little bit of ‘Black Widow’ for good measure,” then I have some good news for you. “All the Beautiful Lies” is what you may be looking for. Once again Peter Swanson has written a book that sat my butt down and gave me very little reason to stop reading unless it was absolutely necessary. Which rendered me basically couch ridden for an entire morning when there were other things I needed to be doing.

File footage of my productivity failing to escape the clutches of an engrossing thriller. (source)

I liked that this book is told between a number of third person perspectives, and through a couple different points in time. The most pertinent perspectives are those of Harry, the newly orphaned twenty something who returns home when his father dies in an accident, and Alice, his young stepmother who has an air about her that sucks him in, just as it did his father. While Harry’s story is focused directly in the ‘now’, Alice’s is focused mostly in the ‘then’, two timelines that do eventually converge in ways that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and which gave insight into both their characters. While I did enjoy the slow burn of the mystery of Harry’s father’s death, and whether it was an accident or not (and who the mysterious Grace is and how she factors into it all), I was definitely more interested in Alice’s story. We know that she is enticing and mysterious, and has a pull over Harry even though he doesn’t know her very well. It’s very fun to see how she eventually becomes the person that she is. Her story is complicated and doesn’t hold back in it’s complication; Alice is many things that may seem like contradictions, but hold together believably. Swanson has always been good at making complex characters with dubious to sketchy morals, and you can put Alice up there with Lily Kintner when it comes to ambitious and dangerous, albeit fascinating, morally suspect femme fatales.

Swanson is also someone who knows how to take a twist and really pull it off. Part way through this book, a huge shift came along and totally shocked me. Not only that, Swanson recalibrated and brought in two NEW perspective points that caught me off guard and knocked me off kilter for a little bit. While a less deft author might have bungled the pass off (and thoroughly frustrated me in the process), Swanson tied it all together while still expanding the scope, bringing more much needed clues to the forefront. And he is so good at slowly revealing his hand that I never reached any conclusion before he wanted me to; no matter how many times I tried to keep a few steps ahead, I never was. The burn may be slow, but I was so desperate to find out what happened next that it felt like an emotional rollercoaster until the very last page. Which managed to throw one more curveball in, with master level skill.

And the tone is just creepy at times, for lots of reasons. Sexuality is weaponized, seduction borders on the nerve wracking, and because you know things that other characters may not you just kind of have to sit back and watch it, totally unsettled as it all unravels. The constant sexual tension between Harry and Alice is just icky because she’s his stepmother, as is another relationship in the book which is even worse (but no spoilers here), and watching these relationships slowly unfold because of a predator casting a web will give you the serious, serious willies. But Swanson is also careful to show just how calculated these predators are, and how they can make their prey not feel like prey at all. But at the same time, it never falls into the bounds of bad taste: it’s not titillating or sexy, it’s deeply, deeply uncomfortable and upsetting.

All in all, “All the Beautiful Lies” is another winner from Peter Swanson. If you haven’t given his books a try yet, now is the time and this would be a good one to start with.

Rating 8: Another solid and salacious mystery/thriller from Peter Swanson, “All the Beautiful Lies” sucked me in and held my interest until I had reached the last page.

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Beautiful Lies” is pretty new and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 Mystery Thriller Horror”, and I think it would fit in on “What A Strange Family”.

Find “All the Beautiful Lies” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Last Time I Lied”

36750068Book: “The Last Time I Liked” by Riley Sager

Publishing Info: Dutton Books, July 2018

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

Book Description: In the new novel from the bestselling author of Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied follows a young woman as she returns to her childhood summer camp to uncover the truth about a tragedy that happened there fifteen years ago.

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

If you remember, last year I was very excited about a book called “Final Girls” by Riley Sager. Sager kind of came out of nowhere with that book, an homage to the Final Girl trope from horror movies. So you can be sure that when I saw that he had a new one called “The Last Time I Lied” I was going to need to get my hands on it ASAP. The moment I sat down and started it, I was immediately sucked in and had a hard time putting it down, just like “Final Girls” the summer before. So thank you, Riley Sager, for taking me in and refusing to let me go until I found out what happened. AND for making it take place at a summer camp with a scandalous past. Because now I get to use “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Sleepaway Camp” references while I gush about this awesome mystery thriller, as is tradition when dealing with a story about summer camp.

Me as I think of all the GIFs I could use… (source)

If “Final Girls” was a homage to slasher films, “The Last Time I Lied” is one to Nancy Drew. There are teenage and adult female detectives alike trying to figure out mysteries from missing people, to a mysterious village that may have disappeared, to rumors of a once operational mental asylum. Granted, these mysteries are a bit more amped up in stakes than Nancy Drew ever was, but the parallels are certainly there. This story is told in two separate narratives (this is a really popular narrative form I’m realizing). There is the present day, where our protagonist Emma is a damaged adult who is haunted by her one summer at Camp Nightingale, and thirteen year old Emma while she is attending the camp during that fateful summer where her bunkmates Vivian, Natalie, and Allison disappeared. We see what a mess present day Emma is, and as we explore both timelines we not only get clues about what may have happened to the girls, but what has happened to Emma as well in the years after. Sager did a great job of using this plot structure to its full effect, as there were clues to all the various mysteries across both timelines, some obvious and some not so obvious. As you all know I liked trying to guess what is happening as I read along (more like I can’t help it), and I’m pleased to say that in “The Last Time I Lied” I was pretty much caught unawares, and the moments that I did guess part of a solution, I was missing vital pieces. Sager is even good at pulling off a last moment epilogue twist without supremely pissing me off, and THAT, as you know, is a feat that few an accomplish. I think that Sager did it so well because he knows that you have to set up a foundation for it, and definitely put it all in there even if I didn’t notice it. So when I got to the end I was definitely enthralled.

But on top of an excellent mystery, Sager also writes great characters who feel very real. Emma is such an interesting protagonist because she could fit the usual tropes of ‘damaged woman has to confront her dark past’ that we so often see in these stories, but she rises above them in almost every way. She’s a mess, but she’s not unlikable; on the contrary, she’s very easy to root for. She’s also realistic in how she behaves both as an adult and as a teenager. I found out about halfway through this book that Sager is a man (Riley Sager is a pen name, and the identity behind it was kept close to the vest for “Final Girls”), and I was surprised if only because DAMN does he know how to write teenage girls. I related hard core to thirteen year old Emma, with her shyness, insecurities, and awkward crush on Theo, the oldest son of the camp director, Franny. In fact, every teenage girl that Sager wrote reminded me of girls I knew in my teenage years. It’s a serious talent to know how to genuinely channel the minds and ways of teenagers, and Sager has proven that he has that talent.

Almost as much talent as THESE GUYS! (source)

In fact, all of the characters are given moments to shine and feel like fleshed out individuals. From Emma’s friend Marc (acting as a faraway Nancy Drew in his own right) to high strung camp counselor Mindy, all of his characters are given moments of humanity and expression, and it makes it so you don’t want ANY of them to be the culprits of the eventual stalking that Emma becomes victim of, and perhaps something even more sinister as well.

“The Last Time I Lied” was an awesome mystery thriller, and Riley Sager is one of the best in the business. If you haven’t already checked out his work, this book could be the place to start. Just be sure that any fond memories of camp you may have are kept safe and far far away. And if you have bad memories of camp, well, perhaps this can give you the perspective of ‘it could have been worse’.

Rating 9: A thrilling and exciting mystery from a stellar voice in horror thrillers, “The Last Time I Lied” kept me guessing, kept me going, and lived up to my high expectations and then some.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Time I Lied” is fairly new and not on any Goodreads lists yet. But I would definitely put it on “Boarding, Private Schools, and Camps”, and “Best Wilderness Horror Stories”.

Find “The Last Time I Lied” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Providence”

35226186Book: “Providence” by Caroline Kepnes

Publishing Info: Lenny, June 2018

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

Book Description: A propulsive new thriller about the obsessive nature of love when an intensifying relationship between best friends is disrupted by a kidnapping.

Growing up as best friends in small-town New Hampshire, Jon and Chloe are the only ones who truly understand each other, though they can never find the words to tell one another the depth of their feelings. When Jon is finally ready to confess his feelings, he’s suddenly kidnapped by his substitute teacher who is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and has a plot to save humanity.

Mourning the disappearance of Jon and facing the reality he may never return, Chloe tries to navigate the rites of entering young adulthood and “fit in” with the popular crowd, but thoughts of Jon are never far away. 

When Jon finally escapes, he discovers he now has an uncontrollable power that endangers anyone he has intense feelings for. He runs away to protect Chloe and find the answers to his new identity–but he’s soon being tracked by a detective who is fascinated by a series of vigilante killings that appear connected. 

Whisking us on a journey through New England and crashing these characters’ lives together in the most unexpected ways, Kepnes explores the complex relationship between love and identity, unrequited passion and obsession, self-preservation and self-destruction, and how the lines are often blurred between the two.

Review: I wish to extend a thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

You all know that I love me some Joe Goldberg from the “You” series by Caroline Kepnes. I love how sinister, creepy, and yet hilarious Joe is, as an obsessive stalker and serial killer who takes us into his mind and judges others in both deadly, and incredibly superficial ways. So when I heard that Kepnes had a new book coming out, this one called “Providence”, I figured that it would be similar in tone and execution. True, it wasn’t about Joe and his ongoing adventures in murder, but it was billed as a thriller with Lovecraftian themes. I went in with some very clear expectations of how this book was going to go down, expectations that were not met. But they weren’t met in the best way possible, because “Providence” is my first perfect 10 of 2018.

This was me as I finished this book. So many happy and sad tears. (source)

“Providence” has sort of framed itself as a dark fantasy thriller, but at its heart it is a story about love and what love can do to a person, be it good or bad. Our three narratives we follow are from the perspectives of Jon, Chloe, and Eggs. I’ll start with Jon and Chloe since they are the heart of the book. Their deep and intense friendship really propels this book, as they truly and totally get and understand each other, even when others may not. So when they are split up because of Jon’s kidnapping, and then the dangerous ‘powers’ he is left with afterwards, the injustice of it all just hits you right in the gut. Their love definitely treads the line between obsession and devotion, but I always found both of them giving equally and taking equally so it was never a problem for me. I also loved seeing their own personal journeys in the novel, from Jon trying to survive and figure out how to reverse his deadly powers without drawing too much attention to himself, or harming others. His captor experimented on him, and driven by an obsession with Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” Jon now is completely toxic to those he physically encounters. His slow realization that he is toxic was so upsetting, and the lengths that he goes to try to reverse it all because of Chloe is so heartbreaking that I just felt my heart breaking for him every step of the way. Chloe, too, has her own difficult road she’s travelling, as she knows that she should forget about Jon (as she’s under the impression that he wants nothing to do with her) but just can’t get him out of her head or her heart. Things become all the more complicated when she turns to her high school boyfriend in hopes that he can help her forget about Jon. It doesn’t help that Car was also one of Jon’s main tormentors, and has always resented her attachment to her long lost friend.

Eggs is the third perspective in this book that I was prepared to find underwhelming. After all, juggling three perspectives and doing them all justice is hard enough as it is, and when you add in the obsessive detective trope it can come off as old hat and unoriginal. But Eggs also had such a rich narrative that I found myself juts as compelled by his sections. They way that he approaches Jon as a threat, and gets fed stories and perceptions that don’t match the actual realities of what happened, just adds to the dread for Jon and also the injustice of it all. But Eggs is no villain. He’s a man who is trying to find sense in senselessness, his motivation partially being because he can’t find the sense in his only child’s autism. This whole aspect of his background, as a father who loves his son but can’t connect with him and therefore stays away from him, gave his backstory the same level of sadness that Jon and Chloe each had. They are all looking for solutions, and none of them can find any.

But there is always hope in “Providence”. The goodness of the protagonists is always apparent and all of their hearts are in the right places, even if they sometimes make mistakes that hurt others and themselves. They are all written in such a way that I completely believed all of the choices that they made, and I understood their motivations. I was rooting for all of them, even if my rooting came in direct conflict with what each of them wanted and needed from each other. Caroline Kepnes had already convinced me that she knew how to write a darkly funny thriller novel with an entertaining monster for a protagonist. Now I know that she can also write people filled with goodness, even if their circumstances may hinder it once in awhile.

I loved “Providence”. It’s my first 10 rating of 2018, and I can see myself revisiting it again and again as I do with the Joe Goldberg series. Caroline Kepnes is amazing, and I continue to be in awe of her story telling abilities.

Rating 10: A powerful and bittersweet thriller about love, friendship, obsession, and fate, “Providence” is not only entertaining and engaging, it’s also touching and emotional.

Readers Advisory:

“Providence” is brand new and not on many GoodReads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Counter-Lovecraft”, and “Star-Crossed Lovers”.

Find “Providence” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Little Monsters”

32320750Book: “Little Monsters” by Kara Thomas

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kacey is the new girl in Broken Falls. When she moved in with her father, she stepped into a brand-new life. A life with a stepbrother, a stepmother, and strangest of all, an adoring younger half sister.

Kacey’s new life is eerily charming compared with the wild highs and lows of the old one she lived with her volatile mother. And everyone is so nice in Broken Falls—she’s even been welcomed into a tight new circle of friends. Bailey and Jade invite her to do everything with them.

Which is why it’s so odd when they start acting distant. And when they don’t invite her to the biggest party of the year, it doesn’t exactly feel like an accident.

But Kacey will never be able to ask, because Bailey never makes it home from that party. Suddenly, Broken Falls doesn’t seem so welcoming after all—especially once everyone starts looking to the new girl for answers.

Kacey is about to learn some very important lessons: Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes when you’re the new girl, you shouldn’t trust anyone.

Review: I did not grow up in a small town, but both of my parents did, and they have many stories from their childhoods about small town life and culture. Rumors and gossip were things that spread like wildfire, and get passed down from generation to generation and live longer than anyone imagines they would. I think of the story my Dad tells about a rumor that Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the murderers from “In Cold Blood”, stopped in the town limits on their way to Mexico after they killed The Clutter Family. No can prove that they did, but to some people it’s absolute fact. I really enjoy stories that explore the power of rumor and urban legends, especially within small communities. Enter Kare Thomas and her novel “Little Monsters”. Thomas is making her way up alongside Stephanie Kuehn for must read YA thriller authors, as hot off the tail of “The Darkest Corners” she put out another stellar YA thriller and mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat and needed to know more. I have her upcoming novel “The Cheerleaders” sitting on my Kindle thanks to NetGalley, and I can tell you that’s going to get priority on my reading list thanks to this awesome read about small town society, and interloper trying to fit in, and rumors and urban legends that take on lives of their own.

Thomas brings us to the town of Broken Falls, Wisconsin as our protagonist Kacey settles into her new life with her father and his family. Kacey is damaged and wary, a teenager whose mother had been toxic and abusive and whose behavior prompted social services to step in. Her transition to a new life from a life where she felt completely unwanted makes for an interesting and complex protagonist, and Thomas writes her pretty well and believably. I totally bought into why she would cling to Bailey and Jade, and also understand why she may not see some of their manipulations for what they are. So, too, is she believable when she makes poor decisions in the face of accusations that she has something to do with Bailey’s disappearance. I found myself feeling to Kacey as well as wanting to shake her whenever she was confronted by a suspicious authority or community member, but at the same time a teenager probably wouldn’t be making the best decisions without guidance from a busy father and loving, but stressed, stepmother. The town of Broken Falls itself, from the physical description to those who populate it, also felt well fleshed out and realistic in the reaction to Bailey’s disappearance. My folks have many a story about the mistrust of outsiders, and outsiders being looked at first when something awful happens because of the false idea that no one from the community could POSSIBLY do such a thing. Such ideas can be very damaging, and to see them play out with a teenage girl at the center kept me on the edge of my seat, especially since Kacey herself dabbles in unreliable protagonist tropes herself.

The mystery itself is told through two POVs: Kacey’s, and then through diary entries that Bailey left behind but are seemingly only seen by the reader. This allowed for a slow burn of a reveal to unravel at a good pace, and I loved seeing the facts come out one by one. I was definitely tantalized by the various clues that would be laid out, and they all come together so neatly and tautly that I was pretty blown away by it. Thomas did a great job of setting this all up, and the payoff was well worth it. I definitely didn’t solve this a moment before Thomas wanted me to, and as the results fell into place I was genuinely caught off guard and then totally satisfied by it. The mystery also does a good job of slowly revealing truths not only about Bailey,  but other people in the story, which make sense going back before they are revealed. And I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m going to leave the mystery at that.

The other component of this book that I REALLY enjoyed, even if it didn’t have as much obvious play, was the urban legend of The Red Woman. Broken Falls has a story about a man who murdered his family and burned down his house, but the body of his wife was never found. Now there is a legend about her ghost being seen on the property of the farm they shared, given the fact no one bought it and it has been left to rot. I LOVE a good urban legend, and Thomas does a really good job of creating a new, believable one that is INCREDIBLY creepy (images of and specters of bloody women running after dark, anyone?) and plays a very key, but subtle, role in the other themes of this book. I would read a book all about The Red Woman urban legend, if Thomas were so inclined to write it.

‘Nuff said. (source)

So all in all, “Little Monsters” was a fast, fun, satisfying read. Kara Thomas is up there with the other greats of the YA Thriller genre, and I can’t wait to see what she brings us with “The Cheerleaders”, and any other works that she puts into the YA literary world.

Rating 8: A tight and tense thriller with a solid mystery and creepy characters, “Little Monsters” is another winner from YA Thriller superstar Kara Thomas!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Little Monsters” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Crime and Murder Mysteries”, and “First Draft Interviewee Books”.

Find “Little Monsters” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Death of Mrs. Westaway”

36373481Book: “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, May 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received and ARC from NetGalley

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

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

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

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book!

I was so excited when I opened up Ruth Ware’s previous book “The Lying Game”, as I had thought up until that point that I had found a new guaranteed-to-read author to keep in mind. I love having authors whose works I know I am going to like and therefore need to get my grubby mitts on ASAP. But when I was done with “The Lying Game” I was left with a slight dissatisfaction. It just hadn’t lived up to “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, nor “The Woman in Cabin 10” (which hadn’t lived up to  “In a Dark, Dark Wood” either, though it was still enjoyable). I hoped that my ennui with “The Lying Game” was a fluke, and picked up “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” with apprehension. This was going to make or break the guaranteed-to-read status of Ruth Ware.

In “The Death of Mrs. Westaway”, Ware exchanges the whodunnit murder storyline for a treasure trove of family secrets and scandal, which is a whole other kind of beast when it comes to mystery themes. While the slow decline of the aristocracy and family manor houses has made these stories less and less common, the Westaway Family at the center of the novel harkens back to a time of squabbles over inheritance and land ownership, which I quite enjoyed. I do love a good scandals of the upper class plotline, and Ware makes it feel believable even though the time of “Downton Abbey” has long past by the time we meet Hal and the family she is trying to infiltrate. Hal is the perfect protagonist for this kind of book, as she is a twentysomething who has recently found herself alone in the world and in monetary straits while she tries to run her deceased mother’s tarot card/psychic booth on a boardwalk carnival. While you know that her trying to masquerade as someone she isn’t is morally wrong, Hal is likable enough and sympathetic enough that you have to root for her. Unlike other train wreck protagonists that you see in the genre, Hal’s life is a mess, but she herself doesn’t seem like one, just a victim of circumstance and bad choices made during a time of vulnerability (in this case being the death of her mother). The various members of the Westaway Family are also well developed and understandable in their actions because of the fallout of their terrible mother’s death, and the sudden appearance of someone they believe is the daughter of their long lost sister. I loved seeing the conflict of a few of their members, the resentment of losing part of the inheritance mixed with the longing of connecting to their supposed niece. It makes Hal’s own inner turmoil about deceiving them that much more high stakes, because most of them are legitimately good, if not damaged, people.

The mystery itself was also pretty well done. This book didn’t have as many high stakes thrills as previous novels, but it was solid in it’s footing and the puzzles surrounding the family kept me reading. I was also left questioning many of the twists and turns that Ware threw out there, the clues being given in both Hal’s story and diary entries of someone who lived at the estate years in the past. While I kind of guessed the solution to part of the puzzle early on, there were definitely pieces that I didn’t get. Along with that, I did find myself questioning my guesses, so Ware did keep me on my toes until the final reveals. While there weren’t many moments of intense suspense, it was still what I would consider a page turner. It just wasn’t as focused on blood and gore as it was on intrigue and family scandals. I liked the diary entry angle, because it did give out clues at an even pace, and while it was truthful and reliable in its contents, it was written in a way that still could have been deceptive if you didn’t know what you were looking at. Ware was masterful in making it all come together in the end, which is a skill that not all authors can pull off.

I’m pleased that “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” has solidified Ruth Ware as a must read author for me. It went beyond what I normally expect from her, and shows that the comparisons to Agatha Christie are not just hyperbole. If you want a mystery by Ware that isn’t as intense, this is the book that you should pick up.

Rating 8: Ruth Ware returns to form with this strange and twisty mystery. It’s not as suspenseful as her past books, but it still keeps the reader invested and guessing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Death of Mrs. Westaway” is new and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on “The Page Turners of Summer 2018”, and I think it would fit in on “What A Strange Family”.

Find “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The French Girl”

35235624Book: “The French Girl” by Lexie Elliot

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: They were six university students from Oxford–friends and sometimes more than friends–spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer getaway–until they met Severine, the girl next door.

For Kate Channing, Severine was an unwelcome presence, her inscrutable beauty undermining the close-knit group’s loyalties amid the already simmering tensions. And after a huge altercation on the last night of the holiday, Kate knew nothing would ever be the same. There are some things you can’t forgive, and there are some people you can’t forget, like Severine, who was never seen again.

Now, a decade later, the case is reopened when Severine’s body is found in the well behind the farmhouse. Questioned along with her friends, Kate stands to lose everything she’s worked so hard to achieve as suspicion mounts around her. Desperate to resolve her own shifting memories and fearful she will be forever bound to the woman whose presence still haunts her, Kate finds herself buried under layers of deception with no one to set her free.

Review: Country weekends with friends are always so fun! The isolation, the quiet, the bonding time! It’s really just the perfect way to pass the time with people you like.

Okay okay, so they can’t all be relaxing… (source)

I will admit that I like the potential for drama that this kind of story brings. Usually a weekend away, especially in thrillers, means that secrets will come out, betrayals will happen, and someone will usually end up getting hurt, be it emotionally or even physically. Given my love for this kind of tale, my interest was piqued by “The French Girl” by Lexie Elliott. Especially since a drama filled weekend seems to have resulted in a body stuffed down a well, and a cast of players who are automatic suspects! That’s a recipe for a book that I REALLY want to read. But unfortunately, given my high hopes for “The French Girl”, when it kind of fell flat it hurt a bit more than it would have had my expectations not been as high as they were.

But first let’s talk about what I did like. Kate Chambers, our main character and therefore resident complex and flawed female presence, was a pretty good person to follow within this story. Yes, she has her flaws and her complexities and her moments where I wanted to shake her, but she was likable enough and relatable enough that I did care about how things were going to turn out for her. She’s trying to forget about the mess of a weekend that she and her university friends spent in France, in which her toxic boyfriend Sebastian cheated on her with Severine, the French girl who lived next door to the estate. To make matters a bit more complex, Severine ended up disappearing that weekend, shortly after Kate and her friends left, which has left a sense of mystery and anxiety to Kate and her life as it moved forward. So you can imagine how she felt after a body was found in the well on the property. As she is reunited with her old friends, specifically Tom, one of her best friends whom she fell away from after he got married, she starts to think that they are all suspects, and is worried that scrutiny will fall on her. Watching her make pretty realistic mistakes and choices was kind of a breath of fresh air, since a lot of the time you get protagonists who act completely nutty just to move the plot along and completely outside of the character that has been previously established. Kate never gets there, and I liked her all the more for it. Her interactions with those around her, especially Tom and her friend Lara, were fun for me as well.

But the problem I had with this book was within the plot and the mystery. Specifically, the fact that none of it (or at least very VERY little of it) takes place during that fateful weekend, and only within the period that the body has been found and during the subsequent investigation. True, we get mentions of things that went on, but it’s all through the characters in the present, and it also manages to knock a few suspects out of the way right off the bat. I had hoped that there would be in the moment insights into what happened that weekend, and that it would shed some light into the victim herself (whose presence is haunting Kate as the book goes on). But because we don’t get to see her in action, and only through the eyes of the others, we get no sense of her as a person, and she ends up feeling incredibly objectified. What’s more, we didn’t get any solid red herrings about potential motives and potential suspects, as moments of doubt felt quashed soon after they were introduced. I had no problem discerning what happened to Severine and who was responsible, as Elliott presented that character a certain way from the beginning that, to me, made it obvious as to whodunnit. And that’s not really fun for the reader, especially when the story is supposed to be about whodunnit. Because of this, I wasn’t really gripped at the edge of my seat as I read it, and my concern for Kate was the only thing that kept me going. Had she been any less appealing or interesting, I probably would have been very bored and disinterested. Characters are great, but a thriller/mystery needs to keep me interested with the action as well as the players.

“The French Girl” wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, and while I think that others would probably enjoy it more than I did, it could have been stronger. There was a lot of potential there that didn’t quite get reached. But it is refreshing to see a main character that I felt fully invested in.

Rating 6: Though the mystery did keep me wondering what was true and what wasn’t, I wish we’d seen more of the actual crime time line instead of the investigation after the fact.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The French Girl” is included on the Goodreads lists “Girl”, and  “The Girl Who Didn’t See Her Husband’s Wife When She Disappeared From The Train” (I guffawed at both of these list titles).

Find “The French Girl” at your library using WorldCat!