Kate’s Review: “Darling Rose Gold”

49223060._sy475_Book: “Darling Rose Gold” by Stephanie Wrobel

Publishing Info: Berkley, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a print ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: Sharp Objects meets My Lovely Wife in this tightly drawn debut that peels back the layers of the most complicated of mother-daughter relationships…

For the first eighteen years of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill. She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair and practically lived at the hospital. Neighbors did all they could, holding fundraisers and offering shoulders to cry on, but no matter how many doctors, tests, or surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.

Turns out her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.

After serving five years in prison, Patty gets out with nowhere to go and begs her daughter to take her in. The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes.

Patty insists all she wants is to reconcile their differences. She says she’s forgiven Rose Gold for turning her in and testifying against her. But Rose Gold knows her mother. Patty Watts always settles a score.

Unfortunately for Patty, Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling…

And she’s waited such a long time for her mother to come home.

Review: Thanks to Berkley for sending me a print ARC of this novel!

In college my undergrad was a Psychology BA with a focus in Abnormal Psychology. Because of this, I have a vague (if not probably outdated) working knowledge of various mental disorders, so when I first heard about the case of Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee Blanchard, the mother daughter duo that ended with Gypsy Rose murdering her mother Dee Dee, my mind immediately went to Munchausen By Proxy. For the unaware, Munchausen By Proxy is when a caregiver deliberately makes their charge (usually their child) ill, or hurts them in other ways. Given that Dee Dee had convinced many people that Gypsy Rose was sick in hopes of getting money and attention, and also poisoned Gypsy Rose and broke her down, making her completely dependent on her, she fits the bill to a T. When “Darling Rose Gold” by Stephanie Wrobel both ended up in my hands in print form, and in my email box as well, I was very interested to read what I assumed was going to basically be a novelization of the Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose storym, which felt a little salacious, though honestly kinda fun too. But Wrobel has managed to create a thriller novel that definitely takes elements from that case, as well as other Munchausen By Proxy cases, without making it feel exploitative.

“Darling Rose Gold” has two differing perspectives. The first is of Patty Watts, a woman who is just getting out of prison for abusing her daughter Rose Gold. Patty convinced Rose Gold that she had a number of health issues and that she needed to be confined to a wheelchair, when it reality she was making her sick by dosing her with ipecac and only feeding her half the calories her body needed. Rose Gold testified against her, and Patty is simultaneously holding a grudge, but also desperate to be near her daughter again. Rose Gold, on the other hand, has far murkier motivations. When you have Patty who is constantly twisting the truth, and Rose Gold hiding it, it makes for two unreliable narrators and an unknown path that we are taking with them. We know that Rose Gold is up to something, but we don’t really know what. I thought that Wrobel was excellent at capturing the voice of Patty, a narcissistic sociopath, and thought that her thought processes were spot on in terms of constantly victimizing herself and incapable of believing that she could be at fault for anything. She is very much a stand in for Dee Dee Blanchard, whose toxic and abusive personality came out after her death and the facade of perfect caring mother was shattered. I was far more worried about how Rose Gold would be portrayed, as to me the ultimate victim in the case this is taking inspiration from was Gypsy Rose. If Patty is an obvious stand in for Dee Dee, Rose Gold is far different from Gypsy Rose. Which is probably a good thing. As I mentioned before, you don’t know what her plan is. But as her side of the story and motivations slowly come to light, you get a complex character who is damaged, and a little twisted. Just how twisted is the question that remains to be seen when we dive in.

The mystery is definitely about what Rose Gold is planning. You get pieces from Patty’s POV, but you also kind of have to wonder if what she is experiencing is ACTUALLY something she’s experiencing, or if her own guilt and paranoia is messing with her head. The pieces that Rose Gold gives us are built up over time, as we look at her life directly after her mother was convicted, up until her mother’s release. Wrobel, as I mentioned before, carefully shows just what kind of person this abuse has turned her into. She never paints with broad strokes when it comes to Rose Gold. She can both be a victim and also an abuser, and she can be both sympathetic and quite unsettling. I really didn’t know what she was up to for a long while, and even when I started to piece it together on my own I wasn’t completely on point with the big reveal. It’s well plotted, it’s addicting to read, and it sticks the landing for a satisfactory end without stepping into arguably controversial territory when measuring it against the real life crime that occurred. While it didn’t really blow me away, I can safely say that I was happy with how everything sussed out, and Wrobel makes a notorious story very original and new feeling.

“Darling Rose Gold” is a creepy and addictive thriller. I really enjoyed my time with it, and think that anyone who was captivated by the Dee Dee Blanchard Murder, or Munchausen By Proxy in general, would find it to be a scintilating read.

Rating 8: A frothy and unsettling thriller with inspiration from real life horrors, “Darling Rose Gold” was perhaps a little predictable, but the journey to the end was VERY fun.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Darling Rose Gold” is included on the Goodreads lists “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications Jan-July 2020)”, and would fit in on “Munchausens and Munchausens By Proxy”.

Find “Darling Rose Gold” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “You Are Not Alone”

45046742Book: “You Are Not Alone” by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, March 2020

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

Book Description: You probably know someone like Shay Miller. She wants to find love, but it eludes her. She wants to be fulfilled, but her job is a dead end. She wants to belong, but her life is so isolated.

You probably don’t know anyone like the Moore sisters. They have an unbreakable circle of friends. They live the most glamorous life. They always get what they desire.

Shay thinks she wants their life. But what they really want is hers.

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

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are a dynamic duo in the thriller writing world, as their previous novels “The Wife Between Us” and “Anonymous Girl” were both buzzworthy books that got a fair amount of attention. I enjoyed both of those books, enough so that I figure that any time they come out with another novel I’m going to be interested in picking it up. Hence, I requested “You Are Not Alone”, their newest thriller/mystery, from NetGalley. I expected an entertaining and very readable thriller, as that has what has been delivered in the past. I am happy to report that not only did it live up to those expectations, it is also their best work yet.

Like their other two novels, “You Are Not Alone” is told through multiple perspectives and multiple time periods. Our main focus is on Shay Miller, an insecure and high strung, lonely woman who witnesses another woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a moving subway. The other perspectives are generally from that of the Moore sisters, Cassandra and Jane, as well as the occasional chapter from the POVs of their friend group. The wide breadth of POVs gave us a very large and detailed picture of the story, and also of the various motivations that each character had that added to the mystery over all. We know that Cassandra and Jane want something from Shay, but we aren’t certain as to what that may be. I thought that all of the women had well done characterization, and that I got a good sense for all of them and why they were doing what they were doing. Shay is the kind of protagonist that we see in thrillers like this in that she’s incredibly flawed and neurotic, but she’s written in such a way that I really liked her and was genuinely concerned for what she was slowly being pulled into. And then there are the Moore Sisters, and how they are both incredibly engaging and gregarious, as well as being terrifying in how they know how to manipulate and insert themselves into Shay’s life without her knowing it.

The mystery was also very enticing, and it kept me guessing and completely enthralled the entire time. As I said, you know that the Moore Sisters want Shay for something, and Hendricks and Pekkanen slowly peel back all the layers, leaving breadcrumbs of clues within all of the perspective chapters. It was laid out and woven together intricately enough that I was genuinely surprised by almost every twist, and all of the twists were well earned by how they were set up sometimes hundreds of pages before. I found myself slowly building up in anxiety, my heart beginning to beat as I got closer to the end and the tension just kept building with little sign of release. By the time it had all come to a head, I felt the deep paranoia that Shay was feeling and completely believed it. I bought in to just about everything, and while I did feel like it wrapped up a little neater than it probably should have (as well as quickly; the ending felt hasty even if it came together well), overall I was definitely satisfied.

“You Are Not Alone” is the best story that Hendricks and Pekkanen have come up with yet, and they will remain a high reading priority for me in the future. If you haven’t read anything by them yet, this is where you should start.

Rating 8: An anxiety inducing and twisty thriller that barely lets up on the tension. “You Are Not Alone” will make you more than a little nervous about who may be keeping their eyes on you.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You Are Not Alone” is included on the Goodreads lists “Female Writing Teams”, and “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, & Thrillers 2020”.

Find “You Are Not Alone” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Sun Down Motel”

45885644Book: “The Sun Down Motel” by Simone St. James

Publishing Info: Berkley, February 2020

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

Book Description: The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…

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

I have memories of spending childhood road trips, be it out to Lake Superior or just visiting family down in Iowa, staying in motels. Eventually my mother had it and we were upgraded to hotels, but there was always something kinda fun about the rooms leading out to the parking lot, at least in my mind. It’s been a long while since having that kind of experience, but I thought about it a lot as I read “The Sun Down Motel” by Simone St. James. I greatly enjoyed her book “The Broken Girls”, and when this ended up in my inbox I was happy to see that she had a new book. And not just any old new book, but a new book involving a missing woman, a true crime obsessed amateur sleuth, AND a haunted motel!

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It’s like this book was written with me in mind!! (source)

Our two stories/mysteries take place in two different timelines and POVs. The first is that of Viv, who left home in 1982 in hopes of going to New York City, but finds herself in Fell, a strange small town in upstate New York that has a lot of weird and violent baggage. Stranded and broke, she decides to take a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel, a run down motel that’s seedy at best. She disappears without a trace. Then in 2017, her niece Carly, wanting to figure out what happened to her aunt, arrives in Fell, and takes the same job Viv had. Viv’s perspective is in the third person, and Carly’s is in the first, and both POV styles worked well for their parts of the story, and worked together to weave a complex and rich set of mysteries. The first mystery is what happened to Viv, and the second is the question of why the Sun Down Motel is so damn haunted, and I was fully invested in both. St. James was masterful at building upon both mysteries from each others foundations, and I was kept guessing for pretty much all of the book.

And then there are the haunting and ghost elements of this story. These too were incredibly well done and right up my alley. From strange noises, to the feeling of a presence near you even if you can’t see anyone, to lights going out one by one and doors opening on their own, St. James has taken a number of the best tropes from the haunted house genre and applied them effortlessly to a run down motel. The history of The Sun Down has the tragedy and scandal that is comparable to The Overlook in “The Shining”, and like King St. James has created a whole character for a place made of brick, mortar, and ectoplasm. The various ghosts range from the tragic to the intimidating, and all of them had sufficiently creepy moments. Both Viv and Carly have their run ins, and the first one we see was genuinely heart pounding and knocked my socks off. St. James makes it clear that she has not come to play, nor has she come to be ambiguous. There are ghosts at the Sun Down, and one of them is especially PISSED OFF.

But the thing that struck the most resonant chord with me as a reader was the undercurrent of the toxicities of misogyny within our culture, both in the 1980s and in modern times. Girls go missing or are murdered in Fell, and while it causes sensation and gossip, the women are completely forgotten soon thereafter, or objectified in the moment. A mother goes missing and ends up murdered, and the town mourns and turns her into a martyr. A girl with a bad reputation is murdered, and there are underpinnings of victim blaming. A warning is sent out about a strange man who is seemingly fixated and following a girl, and no one cares enough to investigate further. And a ghost who was the victim of misogynistic rage has a wrath and fury that was never afforded to her in life, and has turned her into an unsolved and salacious mystery in death. St. James both makes true crime aficionados plucky and useful in their quest for the truth, but also points out that their interest and arguably ‘hobby’ is based in actual people’s pain, and can cause damage in and of itself. I really, really liked how these themes were sprinkled throughout the story.

I highly recommend “The Sun Down Motel” for fans of thrillers and horror alike! And if you can, read it in a roadside motel, and don’t pay too much attention to the strange sounds you may hear outside. It’s probably nothing.

Rating 9: Eerie and suspenseful, and simmering with justifiable anger, “The Sun Down Motel” is a wonderful mystery with fantastic characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sun Down Motel” is included on the Goodreads lists “2020 Gothic”, and “Haunted House Books”.

Find “The Sun Down Motel” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Foul is Fair”

42595554Book: “Foul is Fair” by Hannah Capin

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, February 2020

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

Book Description: Elle and her friends Mads, Jenny, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Elle’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Elle as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Elle transfers to St. Andrew’s. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.

Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

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

When I was in ninth grade my English class read “MacBeth”, the Shakespearean tragedy involving assassination, witches, torment, and revenge. I loved it from the very start, from reading the book itself to when our teacher showed a group of fourteen and fifteen year olds the Roman Polanski film adaptation, which is horrendously bloody and disturbing. I remember turning to my friend Blake at one point and both of us clearly thinking ‘whaaat the fuuuuuck?’ By the time my younger sister got to that class they’d replaced Polanski’s version with the offbeat “Scotland, PA”, a retelling of the classic story set in the world of fast food. It’s hilarious and dark, and I had been waiting for a long time to see another retelling of my favorite Shakespeare play. You can imagine how excited I was when “Foul is Fair” by Hannah Capin was in my email box. A YA retelling of “MacBeth”, from the female point of view, as a revenge story? On paper, this seems like everything that I would want for the Scottish Play. And yet, it became pretty clear pretty early that this wasn’t really going to work for me as much as I’d hoped it would.

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I had certain expectations when I opened up this eARC, and I’m incredulous that basically none of them were met. (source)

Okay, let’s start with the good. Frankly, these days given the repeated reminders of the misogynistic and sexist culture that we live in, and the prevalent stories of abuse and trauma that have been exposed due to the #MeToo movement and powerful abusers falling from grace, I am all for a story that wants to tackle these issues with unrelenting rage. Catharsis is important, especially when it feels like some things never change and that privileged abusers will never see any true consequences (or sometimes hold high places of power, be it a Supreme Court seat or the Oval Office). So the fact that “Foul is Fair” is a power fantasy in which a rape victim is taking out all of her rage  and revenge against her rapists and taking her power back does give it lots of points. Especially since justice in the real world can be so hard to come by. Plus, I really did like the writing itself, as it’s vivid and visceral with a raw power that makes it almost burn off the page.

But when it comes to the characters within this book, I was supremely disappointed. One of the things about “MacBeth” is that while there are clear heroes and villains, each hero and villain has some complexity and nuance to them. MacBeth and Lady MacBeth in particular have moments of ruthlessness and vulnerability, and you understand the motivations for both of them even if you don’t necessarily agree with them, like the whole regicide thing. In “Foul is Fair”, all of the characters feel like two dimensional beings that aren’t defined by much else beyond their scumminess, or their unrelenting rage, or their weirdness. Can this be entertaining? Sure. But I didn’t feel like I really got to know our protagonist, Elle/Jade, outside of her understandable anger about what the golden boys at St. Andrews did to her. Effective plot? Absolutely. But it does not characterization make. Her interactions with her ‘coven’ (I’m also a little confused here, as she is clearly the stand in for Lady MacBeth, but she’s hanging out with Jenny, Summer, and Mads, who are the stand ins for the Weird Sisters. I don’t want to be a purist to the original material, but why was this a choice?) always felt a little ‘2edgy4me’ as they always, ALWAYS talk with coolness and malevolence, and even when they start turning on each other it still comes off as trying way too hard to be badass when all I wanted was to see some relatability amidst the badassness. And on top of all that, sure, there are some “MacBeth” aspects to it, but it definitely felt like it picked and chose the themes that would work best for the story at hand as opposed to actually trying to make it a “MacBeth” retelling. You take away the character names that reference the characters they’re based upon, and it’s not so easy to find the “MacBeth” aspects, it was shifted and changed so much. You can definitely adapt old texts to modern times and do it in ways that still give the original intent and feel of the source material (one of the best moments of this is in “Clueless” where Josh gives summation of Knightley’s dressing down and scolding of Emma with ‘you’re such a brat’. PERFECT!). “Foul is Fair” did not achieve this.

(and as a side note, poor Lady MacDuff gets thrown under the bus in this ‘reimagining’. The poor woman and all of her children are brutally slaughtered because MacDuff is a threat to MacBeth. In this she’s turned into a bitchy queen bee who is complicit in rape. It’s like ya didn’t even TRY to adapt that character! There were other instances of pick and choose feminism, but whatever, I don’t need to get on a soap box.)

There is something to be said for the ultimate rage message of standing up against violent misogyny, and that maybe it needs to be beaten over the head to get the point across. But I had hoped for a little more vicious and biting satire with Shakespearean flair.

Rating 5: The beat down of misogyny and the overall power fantasy was cathartic, but “Foul is Fair” had two dimensional characters and a grasp on the source material only when it suited.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Foul is Fair” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Shakespeare Retellings”, and “ANGRY LADIES’ BOOK CLUB”.

Find “Foul is Fair” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “One of Us Is Next”

One of Us is Next FINAL cover.inddBook: “One of Us Is Next” by Karen M. McManus

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press for Young Readers, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling thriller everyone is talking about, One of Us Is Lying! There’s a new mystery to solve at Bayview High, and there’s a whole new set of rules.

Come on, Bayview, you know you’ve missed this.

A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year since the Bayview four were cleared of his shocking death, no one’s been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts. Until now. This time it’s not an app, though—it’s a game.

Truth or Dare.

Phoebe’s the first target. If you choose not to play, it’s a truth. And hers is dark. Then comes Maeve and she should know better—always choose the dare. But by the time Knox is about to be tagged, things have gotten dangerous. The dares have become deadly, and if Maeve learned anything from Bronwyn last year, it’s that they can’t count on the police for help. Or protection.

Simon’s gone, but someone’s determined to keep his legacy at Bayview High alive. And this time, there’s a whole new set of rules.

Review: Back in 2017, I was super impressed by Karen M. McManus’s debut YA thriller “One of Us Is Lying”. It felt like “The Breakfast Club” was mashed up with a soapy murder mystery, and had interesting and complex characters to boot. Because of this I was stoked to find out that McManus had written a sequel called “One of Us Is Next”, which takes the original premise, twists it up, and brings in some new and some familiar faces. It took a little while for my library to get it, but as soon as it was in my hands I set a day aside and basically devoured it in one go.

“One of Us Is Next” is a semi-direct sequel in that it takes place at the same school but has a mixed bag of characters. The Original Bayview Four, as the protagonists from the first book are called, are definitely around, but the focus is not on them. Rather, we have a few brand new characters, and a few former supporting characters turned leads. I really liked this choice, as it gave us a little bit of familiarity while still giving us fresh faces and new possibilities along with a new tech based threat. In this case the threat is a Truth or Dare game, in which if you are chosen you have to pick one or the other. If you pick Dare, you have to do something based on the person in control’s whims. If you ignore it or pick truth, something humiliating will be exposed. I LOVED this new game, as McManus gave a similar premise completely new stakes. The three main character focuses are Maeve, Bronwyn’s sister who played a very important role in the first book; Phoebe, a semi popular girl who is the first target of the Truth or Dare game; and Knox, a geeky theater kid who is Maeve’s best friend. Once again McManus is great at making these characters all have their own secrets and insecurities while showing their vulnerabilities when they could easily fall into stereotypes. Of the three I was the most enamored with Phoebe, which caught me by surprise given that she is almost right off the bat painted in a light that’s less than flattering (no spoilers here though!). While she has made bad and selfish decisions in the past, once her bad decisions are exposed we get to see into her mind, her thought process, and what she’s been dealing with at home (recently deceased father, downsized living situation, a formerly close relationship with her sister in shambles). I ended up really loving Phoebe, rough edges and all, as she (like Nate and Addy in the previous book) had so much depth and so much heart it was impossible not to root for her. And Maeve has her own issues that felt very heavy and weighted, and McManus was able to give it the serious tone that it needed without making it feel like it was overshadowing everything else.

Kind of like the first book, the mystery itself left a little bit to be desired in the sense that I figured it out pretty quickly, at least part of it. But, also like the first book, that didn’t really matter, as I was more than happy to go along for the ride of building up to the endgame solution. Our cast of characters is immensely likable, and I liked seeing how the Truth or Dare game escalated to the breaking point AND how it all came together in the end. Like, ALL of it. McManus does know how to weave multiple strands, and even if I saw one of the bigger threads from a ways away it was still well done. And I also liked how she incorporated the characters from the previous books into said mystery, without leaning too much upon them. I loved seeing what Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, and Cooper have been doing, and it was nice getting reassurance that they are all still doing well (for the most part. There has to be a LITTLE drama, after all).

Fans of “One of Us Is Lying” will not be disappointed with “One of Us Is Next”! If McManus wanted to continue the soapy and twisty adventures of Bayview High, I would happily follow her wherever she takes it!

Rating 8: A gripping mystery and worthy follow up to a runaway hit, “One of Us Is Next” is a twisty tale that kept me guessing, and gave us a new set of characters that were easy to root for.

Reader’s Advisory:

“One of Us Is Next” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Thrillers and Mysteries 2019-2020″, and “Popsugar 2020 – A Book That Passes the Bechdel Test”.

Find “One of Us Is Next” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “One of Us Is Lying”

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!