Kate’s Review: “Cross Her Heart”

37486235Book: “Cross Her Heart” by Sarah Pinborough

Publishing Info: William Morrow, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Lisa lives for her daughter Ava, her job, and her best friend Marilyn, but when a handsome client shows an interest in her, Lisa starts daydreaming about sharing her life with him too. Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe she can trust again. Maybe it’s time to let her terrifying secret past go. Then her daughter rescues a boy from drowning and their pictures are all over the news for everyone to see. Lisa’s world explodes, and she finds everything she has built threatened. Not knowing whom she can trust, it’s up to her to face her past to save what she holds dear.

Review: After being burned so badly by “Behind Her Eyes”, I will admit that I was shocked to find myself picking up the newest Sarah Pinborough novel “Cross Her Heart”. But I so enjoyed “13 Minutes” I wanted to give her books another chance, in case “Behind Her Eyes” was a fluke. So it’s good news, bad news time. The bad news is that “Cross Her Heart” didn’t live up to “13 Minutes”. But the good news is that it blew “Behind Her Eyes” out of the freaking water!

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I knew my instincts about Pinborough were right! (source)

The story is laid out in a couple of different view points over a couple of different time frames. Pinborough keeps the ultimate plot pretty close to the vest until we get about half way through, and since that’s part of the mystery I’m going to do my very best to review without giving anything away. If I DO have to give a spoiler, though, I will make it very clear. Our main perspectives are Lisa, a nervous single mother who does her best to blend in as she hides from a traumatic past; Ava, Lisa’s teenage daughter who is corresponding with a mysterious older man online; and Marilyn, Lisa’s colleague and close friend who has some secrets of her own. While Ava and Marilyn’s issues are pretty clear cut from the get go, it’s Lisa’s who brings in the most intrigue. Pinborough slowly lays out the pieces of a mystery with a very well constructed conclusion, and she did it in such a way that she kept this reader guessing up until the first big reveal. Going back and looking at the set up confirmed that Pinborough knows how to set up a magic trick of a reveal, with deceptions and distractions. I was pretty well invested in how it all turned out by the time we got to that moment, wanting to see what was going to happen next. The characters themselves are pretty standard fare for this kind of book, and the story itself doesn’t really reinvent any wheels or break any either. It was just a fun and solid mystery overall that kept me guessing.

All that said, it did find itself close to derailing a couple of times. While the initial twist and some of the curve balls that come after felt pretty well executed, there were some things within the narrative henceforth that I didn’t quite buy. So here is where a big ol SPOILER alert is going to come in, even if I keep it vague. There is a moment where a character is revealed to have been masquerading as two different people, who are two very different ages. While I normally am willing to suspend my disbelief about these kinds of things, I do find it kind of laughable that we are to believe that a person could simultaneously be middle aged, and yet pass for someone who is a teenager, especially if they are interacting on more than a superficial basis with their peers. It was a moment where Pinborough didn’t quite convince me, and because of that i was taken out of the story and just snorted out a ‘yeah SURE’ before going on. Plus, there was one final twist that I saw coming about ten miles away. I am not certain if it was meant to be a big surprise once our characters are made privy to it, or if we were supposed to have figured it out before they did, but with the emphasis on the shocked reactions I’m thinking it’s the former. And it just wasn’t that surprising.

But when comparing it to “Behind Her Eyes”, I enjoyed “Cross Her Heart” far, far more. I don’t know if it’s merely by comparison, but even if it is, it was an altogether enjoyable read. If you were disappointed with Pinborough’s last runaway hit, don’t necessarily pass “Cross Her Heart” by! You may be surprised!

Rating 7: A quick and fast paced read that was quite the improvement over her previous work, “Cross Her Heart” is a standard mystery without too many surprises (and one ridiculous twist). Nonetheless, it’s enjoyable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cross Her Heart” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery & Thriller 2018”.

Find “Cross Her Heart” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “#FashionVictim”

39049255Book: “#FashionVictim” by Amina Akhtar

Publishing Info: Crooked Lane Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Fashion editor Anya St. Clair is on the verge of greatness. Her wardrobe is to die for. Her social media is killer. And her career path is littered with the bodies of anyone who got in her way. She’s worked hard to get where she is, but she doesn’t have everything.

Not like Sarah Taft. Anya’s obsession sits one desk away. Beautiful, stylish, and rich, she was born to be a fashion world icon. From her beach-wave blonde hair to her on-trend nail art, she’s a walking editorial spread. And Anya wants to be her friend. Her best friend. Her only friend.

But when Sarah becomes her top competition for a promotion, Anya’s plan to win her friendship goes into overdrive. In order to beat Sarah…she’ll have to become her. Friendly competition may turn fatal, but as they say in fashion: One day you’re in, and the next day you’re dead.

ReviewEven though on any given day you will probably find me lounging around my house in leggings and an oversized Sex Pistols tee shirt, I do have a certain pleasure for various aspects of the fashion industry. I used to watch “Project Runway” fairly religiously, loved the fashion shoots on old school “America’s Next Top Model”, and still enjoy seeing whatever nutty campaigns the likes of Gucci, Chanel, and Versace have going on at any given time. But it’s really an acknowledged fact that the fashion industry as a whole can be incredibly toxic and dehumanizing, so my enjoyment is probably fairly problematic. But toxic and dehumanizing means that it is ripe for the picking when it comes to satire, and that is where Amina Akhtar comes in. Akhtar used to be a fashion writer and editor, having been on the staff of such powerhouses and Vogue and Elle, but has now settled into the life of a novel writer. Her experiences I’m sure inspired her to write the deliciously named “#FashionVictim”. Just hearing about this book made me giggle with pleasure. Fashionistas resorting to murder to get ahead? I can’t get on board fast enough.

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File footage of me as I read the description of this novel. (source)

Our main character is Anya St. Clair, a fashion writer and associate editor who is at a prestigious fashion magazine called La Vie, who starts a killing spree in hopes of making it to the top. She’s obsessive and deranged, and her object of obsession is her colleague Sarah, the entirely unlikable poster child of the privileged fashion darling. Anya isn’t likable by any stretch of the imagination, but then, no one in this book is. After all, if you’re going to do a satire of the fashion industry, everyone needs to live up to the highest of stereotypes, so screeching and vapid bitches, both of the female and male persuasion, is the way to go. Anya is outwardly a perfect fit for this world, but in her mind lies a true maniac who idolizes Sarah yet despises her for the praise and accolades she has heaped upon her. Her inner monologue is frenzied and at times very funny, with delusions and intrusive thoughts intermingling with “Law and Order: SVU” trivia. Her drawn out massacre of those around her and those who get between her and what she wants (be it a promotion or the coveted BFF friendship with Sarah) is violent and jarring, but also has moments of gallows humor that you can’t help but laugh at, even if it feels kind of wrong to do so. “#FashionVictim” achieves the satirical levels that I’ve seen other books attempt, yet falter on. It digs its heels into the mess and violence, but at always feels like a nudge and a wink to the reader because the characters are such caricatures. And really, isn’t the fashion industry itself brutal and unforgiving in its own ways, pitting women against other women to do incredibly destructive things? Perhaps not murder. But destructive nonetheless.

But I think that as much as this is satire and a fun read, it doesn’t quite have the teeth that it could have had to really drive the point home. I think that because “#FashionVictim” is so over the top, you can say ‘oh, this is just a book, this could never happen in real life’. And while though the reader is in on the joke, I think that it could have been FAR more effective had it gone for a little bit of realism to go along with the satire. By being so out there and laughably ridiculous, it made it so that by the end I was less unsettled, and more ‘ha, what a romp’. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but it did make to so that it never quite made it to ‘great’ satire levels, and I think that it really could have gotten there had it not limited itself in such a way. I know that you’re all probably sick of my constant comparisons to “You”, but I think that kind of satire is stupendous BECAUSE you can see it happening in real life. While I don’t always need my satire to be based in realism, I do think that “#FashionVictim” could have had that extra oomph if it had stepped back just a little bit.

“#FashionVictim” was definitely a fun read, and I absolutely want to see what Amina Akhtar comes out with next. Go in expecting some bloody satire, but don’t expect to walk away totally creeped out.

Rating 6: Fun and dripping with satire, “#FashionVictim” was a breezy read, though I wish it had a little more creepy bite.

Reader’s Advisory:

“#FashionVictim” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it is included on “2018 Books by Authors of Color/Native Authors”, and I think that if you want “The Devil Wears Prada” with a little more teeth it would be for you.

Find “#FashionVictim” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Deceivers”

39863259Book: “The Deceivers” by Kristen Simmons

Publishing info: Tor Teen, February 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me an ARC.

Book Description:Pretty Little Liars meets Ocean’s 11 in this intrigue-filled contemporary drama from acclaimed author Kristen Simmons.

Welcome to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists.

When Brynn Hilder is recruited to Vale, it seems like the elite academy is her chance to start over, away from her mom’s loser boyfriend and her rundown neighborhood. But she soon learns that Vale chooses students not so much for their scholastic talent as for their extracurricular activities, such as her time spent conning rich North Shore kids out of their extravagant allowances.

At first, Brynn jumps at the chance to help the school in its mission to rid the city of corrupt officials–because what could be better than giving entitled jerks what they deserve? But that’s before she meets her mark–a senator’s son–and before she discovers the school’s headmaster has secrets he’ll stop at nothing to protect. As the lines between right and wrong blur, Brynn begins to realize she’s in way over head.

Review: Thank you to Tor Books for sending me an ARC of this novel!

One of my husband’s favorite movies is “The Sting”, the classic grifter feature in which Robert Redford and Paul Newman run an elaborate con job on Robert Shaw. While I am more than happy to indulge the guy on watching an old favorite every once in awhile (lord knows he has to sit through “Purple Rain” every so often), the ‘con artist’ trope isn’t one of my favorites. So when I got an ARC of “The Deceivers” by Kristen Simmons I was a little bit hesitant. But when I saw that it takes place at an ELITE BOARDING SCHOOL for special kids (aka budding con artists), my interest had officially been piqued. Bring on the sudsy drama of boarding school brats compounded with the promise of back stabbing. That’s all in the game when it comes to con artists, right? So while “The Deceivers” was out of my wheelhouse, I was more willing to give it a go.

The first thing that struck a chord with me in this book was our protagonist, Brynn. Brynn is cut from a similar cloth to a number of YA heroines; she’s snarky, she’s scrappy, and she comes from a troubled background that has solidly placed a chip on her shoulder. Her father was murdered while working at his convenience store job, and Brynn’s mother has bounced from lout to lout ever since, leaving Brynn in a precarious, and sometimes outright dangerous, position. But through it all Brynn maintains her composure and never treads into overused plot points of devices. I like that she feels like a realistic teenage girl in a world that isn’t exactly smacking with realism, and her need to escape from this life strikes the right chords. Her motivations are clear, and while she is something of a fish out of water at Vale Academy (aka the boarding school for budding con artists, more on that whole thing in a bit), her character growth is believable and interesting.

And while the plot is based in a theme that isn’t usually my cup of tea, I did find the meat of the plot and the cogs within pretty entertaining. While Vale Academy itself feels little under cooked as of now, this is a series and there is a lot of room to grow and to bring the school history to a closer focus. There were also a good deal of plot twists that did take me by surprise, and I felt like the most important ones worked very well, especially when they changed the game and turned Brynn’s perceptions (as well as the reader’s) on their heads.

But that said, there were a number of moments and devices that didn’t quite come to fruition in satisfactory ways. Brynn went from potentially stumbling into a new educational setting with no guarantee of admission, to having the deal in the bag already without much reasoning beyond ‘because she needs to be here for the story to work’. There were moments and characters who felt like they could have had more focus on them, or at least more exploration and elaboration. On top of that, this book was nearly four hundred pages long, which felt a bit too long for the story in itself. There were repetitive aspects to the plot, mostly regarding whether or not Brynn could trust any given person at any given time, and the ultimate backstabbing that would come of that. I felt like had this been parsed down a bit more and tightened up, the plot wouldn’t have seemed to drag on as much as it did. And as I mentioned above, Vale Academy itself is still a very vague idea by the end of this book. In other books with magical and/or questionable boarding schools that I have enjoyed I’ve gotten a good feel for what the school as an institution stands for, and what the stakes are in regards to that school. But here, Vale Academy feels less like an actual place, but more of an excuse for these teenagers to be trying to trick, con, and manipulate people. Whether or not this will expand in later books, I can’t be sure, but I think that it will have to if it wants to stand out.

Overall, “The Deceivers” had a fun main character and some good twists and turns, but it dragged on a little longer than it could have. People who do like con artist stories may be more receptive to the premise than I was.

Rating 6: With a strong protagonist, “The Deceivers” has a lot of potential, but felt a bit scattered and unfocused, and a little too long.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Deceivers” is new and isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think it would fit in on “Popular Caper Heist Books”.

Find “The Deceivers” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “My Sister, The Serial Killer”

38819868Book: “My Sister, The Serial Killer” by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Publishing Info: Doubleday Books, November 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Satire meets slasher in this short, darkly funny hand grenade of a novel about a Nigerian woman whose younger sister has a very inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends.

“Femi makes three, you know. Three and they label you a serial killer.”

Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead. Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body, and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.

A kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where Korede works, is the bright spot in her life. She dreams of the day when he will realize they’re perfect for each other. But one day Ayoola shows up to the hospital uninvited and he takes notice. When he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and what she will do about it.

Sharp as nails and full of deadpan wit, Oyinkan Braithwaite has written a deliciously deadly debut that’s as fun as it is frightening. 

Review: Satire is one of my favorite forms of humor, but I think that you have to be careful in how you implement it. If you aren’t mindful, you could end up being either unfunny or flat out offensive. Some of my favorite satire usually has to deal with dark things like murder and mayhem (hence my love for Caroline Kepnes’s “Joe” books), so that means that I’m usually treading into dangerous territory. Because for every “Joe” book there are a few “Summer Is Ended And We Are Not Yet Saved”: books that try for biting commentary, but just end up with things that make me feel icky.

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Because I don’t see the wit in a book about a religious zealot systematically murdering children in horrific ways, but THAT’S JUST ME. (source)

Luckily, “My Sister, The Serial Killer” is solidly in the first camp, and reading it was a twisted delight! Braithwaite is very skilled when it comes to creating believable, yet comical, plot points and characters that have done pretty terrible things. Our main protagonist and first person is Korede, a woman who is a hardworking nurse and who has constantly had to live in the shadow of her effervescent, and potentially psychopathic, sister Ayoola. When we meet them both, Korede is helping Ayoola dispose of the body of her most recent boyfriend. Korede is written in such a way that you feel super bad for her, but also can find humor and pathos in her exasperation about being put in this position (again). She is the only one who can see what a danger and terrible person her sister is, and while she resents her and berates her, she is also fiercely protective of her. Hence, the assisting in disposing of a body. Korede is a character that is flawed and well rounded, and also super relateable in her plight. And her running, frustrated, commentary about the inconveniences that crop up because of Ayoola’s psychopathic decisions is always amusing, which I think is the reason it works as proper satire. I didn’t find Ayoola as well rounded, but then again, all perspectives we are getting are from Korede, and as such that may be part of the point.

I also really liked the themes about sisterly loyalty, and how complicated it can be. I have a sister, so a fair amount of the feelings and complications that were between Korede and Ayoola felt very real and familiar (outside of the murdering others thing). Be it vying for attention from their mother, who sees Ayoola as the golden child, or romantic affection from Dr. Tade, a colleage of Korede’s who falls hard for Ayoola, the sisters are at odds, even if Korede is the only one who sees it. Korede loves her sister, but is jealous of her sister and scared of her sister, so while she wants to stay quiet about the multiple murders and her involvement, her resentment grows. Her only outlet is talking to a coma patient at the hospital where she is a nurse, as her reasoning is that he’s asleep so it’s not like he can rat her out (as you can imagine, this logic may be a little flawed as the story goes on…). Korede’s stark isolation because of her secrets is constantly on the page, and it simmers throughout the narrative, but it also means that her cynicism makes for some very funny moments in how she reacts to her circumstances. I found myself laughing out loud a few times while reading.

Braithwaite also gives a glimpse into the family history of Korede and Ayoola, and the abuse they and their mother had to suffer at the hands of their father, which gives some insight into how and why Korede feels the way she feels, and perhaps shows an origin of Ayoola’s instability, be it learned or innate. Getting to see their interactions throughout their entire lives really added to this book, and lifted it above just simple satire and made it a little more tragic, at least for Korede.

“My Sister, The Serial Killer” is a very fun and unique thriller that takes on the bonds of sisterhood. It accomplishes walking the line between tension and satirical romp, and I will be very interested to see what Oyinkan Braithwaite comes out with next.

Rating 8: A darkly amusing thriller about murder, rivalries, and sisterly love, “My Sister, The Serial Killer” is a wicked read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Sister, The Serial Killer” is included on the Goodreads lists “African Fiction”, and “Books in the Freezer Podcast”.

Find “My Sister, The Serial Killer” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Lost Man”

39863488Book: “The Lost Man” by Jane Harper

Publishing Info: Flatiron Press, February 2019

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

Book Description: Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.

Review: I want to extend a thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

I was late hopping on the Jane Harper train, but now I like to think of myself as a loyal fan. Her “Aaron Falk” series has had two pretty strong installments, and given that I liked the second one more I feel/hope that the trajectory can only go up as the series goes on. What I didn’t realize was that she has also decided to write standalone novels. So when I saw that her newest book, “The Lost Man”, was available on NetGalley I assumed that I was requesting the newest Aaron Falk adventure. Once I did a little more digging I realized that it was actually a new story with whole new characters, but that was just fine by me. The description fell more in line with the kind of mystery I like anyway, less of a ‘whodunnit’ and more of a ‘dark secrets of family badness coming to light’ kind of story.

Our location is still in Australia, this time in a small outback town in North Queensland, and our story concerns the Bright Family. Three brothers grew up in this small town, Nathan, Cameron, and Bub. Cameron has been found dead, and Nathan, Bub, and the rest of the family are left to wonder why it is that Cameron ventured out into the scorching heat on his own with no supplies or transportation. From the beginning you get the feeling that there is more to the Bright family than meets the eye, and with our focus on Nathan, the oldest and one with a fair amount of baggage in his own right, the secrets start to unfold. His relationships with just about everyone in his life are filled with complications; his late father was abusive, his youngest brother Bub resents him (and he had also resented Cameron), his divorce was acrimonious and it has left his son Xander in the middle. Even his relationship with Cameron’s wife, Ilse, is a bit messy, given that Nathan had been with her first and cared for her very deeply. It hadn’t gone anywhere because of some fallout from an in the moment mistake that Nathan had to pay for dearly. Nathan is kind of a mess, but his complexity, his background, and his eagerness to do the right thing make him easy to root for. The setting is still isolating and sprawling, and the Outback itself feels like its own character. 

The mystery at the heart of “The Lost Man” is less about what happened to Cameron, though it does play a large part, and is more about what kinds of secrets Cameron and the rest of the Brights have been keeping under wraps. Nathan thinks that he knows everything there was to know about his brother, but as he digs deeper and starts to find more pieces about his life, he begins to see truths that he never wanted to see. It brings up a lot of questions and themes about family and the loyalties that we think we owe them, and how cycles and systems of abuse can take their tolls in different ways. It’s because of this focus that I found myself enjoying “The Lost Man” more than I might have enjoyed another mystery with a detective with not as much of a personal stake in the outcome. While it’s true that this isn’t another Aaron Falk story (though if you keep your eyes open you will find a connection that is buried in the narrative to Falk and his past), it’s a more powerful and gripping story because it feels more urgent. It goes to show that Harper can create characters and settings outside the story that put her on the map, and is a testament to her skills.

“The Lost Man” was very enjoyable and suspenseful read. The twists and turns weren’t severe, but they had bite to them. I’m pleased to see that Harper is able to flex beyond what could be trappings of a notable series, and while I’m excited for the next Aaron Falk novel, now I’m also excited to see what her next standalone might be!

Rating 8: A dark and tangled mystery that raises questions about family loyalty, “The Lost Man” is an engrossing and powerful standalone from Jane Harper.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lost Man” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best New Australian Fiction 2018”, and “Great New Thrillers and Suspense for 2018”.

Find “The Lost Man” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Freefall”

39855088Book: “Freefall” by Jessica  Barry

Publishing Info: Harper, January 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me an ARC.

Book Description: A propulsive debut novel with the intensity of Luckiest Girl Alive and Before the Fall, about a young woman determined to survive and a mother determined to find her.
When your life is a lie, the truth can kill you

When her fiancé’s private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, Allison Carpenter miraculously survives. But the fight for her life is just beginning. For years, Allison has been living with a terrible secret, a shocking truth that powerful men will kill to keep buried. If they know she’s alive, they will come for her. She must make it home.

In the small community of Owl Creek, Maine, Maggie Carpenter learns that her only child is presumed dead. But authorities have not recovered her body—giving Maggie a shred of hope. She, too, harbors a shameful secret: she hasn’t communicated with her daughter in two years, since a family tragedy drove Allison away. Maggie doesn’t know anything about her daughter’s life now—not even that she was engaged to wealthy pharmaceutical CEO Ben Gardner, or why she was on a private plane.

As Allison struggles across the treacherous mountain wilderness, Maggie embarks on a desperate search for answers. Immersing herself in Allison’s life, she discovers a sleek socialite hiding dark secrets. What was Allison running from—and can Maggie uncover the truth in time to save her?

Told from the perspectives of a mother and daughter separated by distance but united by an unbreakable bond, Freefall is a riveting debut novel about two tenacious women overcoming unimaginable obstacles to protect themselves and those they love.

Review: Thank you to Harper for sending me an ARC of this book!

I’ve mentioned a number of times on this blog that I greatly enjoy wilderness survival fiction, so when “Freefall” by Jessica Barry was sent to us I was pretty interested in the premise. I’ve also had some luck with emotional dramas involving mother/daughter relationships in the past few months, and when I realized that the most prevalent theme in “Freefall was going to be the broken relationship of a mother and daughter I was all the more on board.

“Freefall” is told in two different perspectives between an estranged relationship of a mother and daughter. Allison has left her mother Maggie behind after feeling betrayed by her, and reinvented herself in the lap of luxury thanks to her engagement to a pharmaceutical CEO. Maggie is living alone in small town Maine, still mourning her husband’s death and missing her daughter. Allison’s perspective is more action and suspense driven, as the private plane she was in has crashed in the mountains, leaving her the only survivor in a vast wilderness. Barry slowly reveals that Allison isn’t only in danger because of her current situation, but because of something she discovered long before she got on the plane. As that all starts to unfold, mostly through flashbacks, we see a greater danger to her, and her mother, than we anticipated. I liked the slow burn of the conspiracy, and while I wasn’t as invested in Allison’s angst and how she got to where she was when we met her, I enjoyed seeing all of those pieces come together.

The other narrative is that of Maggie, Allison’s mother who has been told her daughter died in the plane crash. Maggie’s narrative goes at a slower pace than Allison’s, though through her research into her daughter’s life we are given more pieces to the puzzle. The estrangement between the two women makes it so we can follow Maggie as she goes through her discoveries in an organic and realistic way, and as the over arching conspiracy unfolds because of her research and Allison’s flashbacks, I was happy to see a complex and interesting conflict at the center of everything. I don’t really want to spoil it here, but just know that it harkens to old school conspiracies where whistleblowers find out something damning and then they end up with targets on their backs. The other part of these sections that laid some compelling groundwork is the complicated relationship between a mother and daughter, and how past hurts can throw familial links off.

But I will admit that as I was reading, it felt slow at times. Even though I liked a number of aspects of the plot, I think that the pacing was a little off just because of the time jumps in Allison’s chapters, and the mother/daughter angst in Maggie’s. I found myself skimming more than once, just wanting to get back to the action at the heart of the novel. Because of this, “Freefall” didn’t ever graduate from ‘pretty good’ thriller to ‘great’ thriller. I will be interested to see what Barry comes out with next, though, which shows that there was enough in “Freefall” to make me think her future writings have promise.

“Freefall” is a fun conspiracy thriller with a healthy dose of familial drama, and it may be a good read for those who are looking for those themes in their reading adventures.

Rating 7: Though I liked the conspiracy angle and the wilderness survival aspects, “Freefall” moved a little too slowly for me to become completely hooked by its two storylines.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Freefall” is still pretty new and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But I think that it would fit in on “Conspiracy Fiction”, and “Mother-Daughter Novels”.

Find “Freefall” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Two Can Keep A Secret”

38225791Book: “Two Can Keep A Secret” by Karen M. McManus

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, January 2019

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

Book Description: Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery’s never been there, but she’s heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen. And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.

The town is picture-perfect, but it’s hiding secrets. And before school even begins for Ellery, someone’s declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.

Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she’s in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something. The thing is, secrets are dangerous–and most people aren’t good at keeping them. Which is why in Echo Ridge, it’s safest to keep your secrets to yourself.

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

I know that I probably over reference “Twin Peaks” in my blog posts, but given that for me it’s the pinnacle of storytelling it’s a standard that I can’t help but hold certain types of stories to. Basically, if you are writing a book about a small town with seedy secrets, I’m going to immediately start chanting in my head about magicians longing to see and stuff of that nature. If a book doesn’t live up to those (probably unfair) expectations, woe be unto the author and the universe they create. But when they do?

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And that brings me to Karen M. McManus’s newest YA mystery thriller “Two Can Keep A Secret”. Given my enjoyment of her previous book, “One of Us Is Lying”, I was excited and nervous to read her follow up to a stellar debut. The good news is that I liked “Two Can Keep A Secret” even more than “One of Us Is Lying”!

Once again, McManus has a compelling hook and likable characters that immediately pull the reader in. While on the surface our cast seems to fill various tropes of the genre (the cynical new girl, the misunderstood outsider, the manipulative and popular bitch), McManus writes them all in such a way that they feel fresh and unique. Our main two perspectives are Ellery, a true crime obsessed teen who has just moved to her mother’s home town of Echo Park, and Malcolm, the younger brother of a former golden boy. Both have outside connections to tragedy in this small town, as Ellery’s aunt disappeared when she and Ellery’s mom were teens, and Malcolm’s brother fell from grace after his girlfriend was murdered and he was the prime suspect. While it may have been easy to follow ever explored formulas for both our main characters, Ellery and Malcolm both surprised me with their depth. They both have moments of triumph and moments that were less than flattering, but at all times they felt like realistic teens who are trying to move past painful realities and traumas. While the supporting cast didn’t have as much time to shine as these two, when they were on the page they, too, felt like real teens with lives they were navigating as best they could. I especially liked Ezra, Ellery’s twin brother, whose love and loyalty to his sister was a good way to counterbalance the ever so tempting ‘all alone new kid’ plot line. It was also a thoughtful way to show how different people can approach and process a shared pain, as the twins have to navigate moving to a new place after their mother Sadie ends up rehab.

There are multiple mysteries tied up in “Two Can Keep A Secret”, but McManus juggles them with ease so they never feel overwhelming. Echo Park is a town filled with secrets, from who killed Lacey the Homecoming Queen, to the disappearance of Sadie’s twin sister Sarah (which, understandably, has possibly contributed to her mental problems), to secret familial connections that no one wants to talk about. The various tragedies at the center of this story were where the book most reminded me of “Twin Peaks”, and I think that’s in part due to how well McManus laid out this town and those who inhabit it. While there were some answers I was able to discern on my own before their reveals, for the most part I was left guessing and theorizing up until the answer was given. I greatly enjoyed the many different mysteries, from the tragic to the sudsy. They were all satisfying from start to finish, and McManus did a superb job of making sure all of her threads were pulled together by the end of the book.

“Two Can Keep A Secret” was a fun and suspenseful mystery, and it solidifies Karen M. McManus as a talented thriller author. Readers of thrillers, no matter their age, will almost assuredly find something to like here. And if you like the less surreal aspects of “Twin Peaks”, this book could be a good fit for you as well!

Rating 9: A fabulous follow up to a great debut, “Two Can Keep A Secret” is a tantalizing mystery with fun characters and many satisfying twists and turns. Fans of thrillers should check it out.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Two Can Keep A Secret” is included on the Goodreads lists “Secrets and Lies”, and “Mystery Thriller 2019”.

Find “Two Can Keep A Secret” at your library using WorldCat!