Mystery/Thriller

My Review: The Guest List: by Lucy Foley

Publish Date: June 2nd, 2020
Number of Pages: 330 Pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller

Total Star Rating: 2.5 Stars

There’s something about the season of Autumn that just gets me in the mood for a juicy murder mystery novel! the changing of the leaves, the crisp air, the warm drinks, and making the shift from t-shirts and shorts over to sweaters and jeans just gets me in the mindset to want to get into a creepy story that makes my mind race and keeps me guessing until the bloody climax. I’d maybe even say it’s similar to those who really enjoy having horror movie marathons during the months of fall; with Halloween just around the corner, why not be spooked a little bit for your amusement? I’ve never been a big fan of horror in both book or movie form, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t drift away from what I usually enjoy reading and turn to something with a much more sinister vibe to it, at least for the sake of a good story!

The Guest List is the most recent release from author Lucy Foley, who’s written another suspense/thriller/mystery titled The Hunting Party, which I haven’t read yet, but it’s definitely on my radar! With the gorgeous cover design, and my interest in a murder mystery story piqued during the fall season, I wanted to give it a try and see how I liked it. It wasn’t a bad book at all, in fact it’s actually set up in a creative way of mixing the past with present day, but I just wasn’t as excited as I’d hoped I’d be. I was curious enough to want to keep reading on and see who was behind it, and I also wasn’t disappointed at the big reveal at the end, but I just wasn’t mind-blown or completely shocked out of my whit by this story.

There are some incredibly noteworthy things I want to address about this book, as I don’t like to only leave my negative thoughts known in my reviews: I loved how the author had this story told from multiple perspectives, how unpredictable the story overall was and how I didn’t know who the killer was until they revealed themselves, and Will Slater ended up being an incredible character for the sake of the story!

Even though I’m lukewarm about this book, I’d still easily recommend it to those who love books within the genre it belongs to. I think just because I didn’t fully get out of it what I wanted, I can still see how others could really get into this story and enjoy it much more than I did.

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

What I Liked:

  1. It’s Told From Multiple Perspectives! I really do like a story told through the views of multiple characters, it can make a story feel so fresh and more interesting that way, and it really added to this book to see how the timeline developed. You see one event happen within the day leading up to the wedding; some actions were more shocking than others, or a character was acting strange, and then someone else’s perspective has an assist in explaining it afterward. You have Aoife (the wedding planner), Jules (the bride), Johnno (the best man), Hannah (the plus one), and Olivia (the bridesmaid). Each of them have their own secrets and baggage that seem to have followed them to the island where this wedding is taking place.
  2. It Kept Me Guessing! I love to be unsure of who the killer is in a whodunnit-style mystery, and this book truly had me trying to figure it out up until the big climax of the story and the killer is revealed!
  3. Will Slater. It’s not that I liked the character, in fact you’ll like him less and less as you read on, but the way the author integrated him into the story and had him be such a pivotal character despite how he’s not one of the character’s who’s telling the story, I had to make a note about him and how on the outside he seems like the Hollywood “golden boy” but has so much more going on beneath the surface. Definitely keep your eye on him when you read this book!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It’s a Real Slow Burn…I’m not exactly sure what the perfect way to set up a murder mystery like this would’ve been, the author technically checked off every major aspect to include in the set up: have a cast of characters, give them all terrible secrets and some sort of connection to each other, put them all in an isolated environment and have their means of communication cut off from the outside world so they’re trapped. What really slowed this book down in the middle was getting to know the characters and getting a sense of who they were. As it went on, the characters did get more interesting as secrets slowly began to reveal themselves until suddenly everyone had a motive to be the killer, but it was just so slowly drawn out that this book was a little hard to initially want to keep reading.
  2. Don’t Know The Victim Until The End…The story is told in a way that has it constantly switching back and forth to the night of the wedding and the day before when the bridal party and the close family members arrived. The night of the wedding, it’s implied that someone has been killed and a small search party goes out in search of whoever it may be. Switch back to the day before, and things slowly escalate to make you have two questions: who’s the victim, and who killed them? Personally, I like the murder mysteries where the killer takes out multiple people one-by-one. I’ll admit the way this whole story was told was cleverly done and was pretty creative amongst the many other murder mystery stories out there, but I personally find that I just like the stories with multiple murder victims: they’re just more exciting to read in my opinion.

Conclusion:

A clever, well written whodunnit-style murder mystery that will truly leave you wondering who could possibly be behind it until the very end. A perfect fix for anyone who likes to get into the suspense/thriller in the fall like I do, I think anyone who enjoyed books like And Then There None by Agatha Christie and An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena will enjoy this book!

Overall, I thought The Guest List was an okay read but didn’t love it, but lately any sort of suspense/thriller hasn’t really hit me like they used to. Believe it or not, but they just aren’t thrilling enough for me, ironic enough. I’m always happy to hear recommendations from anyone interested, so if you have one that you think I’d enjoy, I’d love to hear it!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller, Paranormal, YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: House of Salt and Sorrows: by Erin A. Craig

Publish Date: August 6th, 2019
Number of Pages: 416 Pages
Publisher: Delacorte
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance, Mystery, Paranormal

Total Star Rating: 3 Stars

Flushed with starlight and moonlight drowned, all the dreamers are castle-bound. At midnight’s stroke, we will unwind, revealing fantasies soft or unkind. Show me debauched nightmares or sunniest daydreams. Come not as you are, but as you wish to be seen.”

– Erin A. Craig, “House of Salt and Sorrows”

You know the whole aesthetic of reading a book during a stormy evening? The resting by a window, snug in your little reading nook with a blanket, maybe something steaming in a mug nearby along, some candles lit, and joined by your furry BFF napping on your lap?

Yeah…don’t read this book if you enjoy any of that.

Stormy, murky, and unpredictable like the sea, House of Salt and Sorrows is a title that can entice and draw you in like a siren’s call, but the harsh reality hits you too late, and you’re dragged beneath the surface, unable to breath and see in the black abyss of the depths. This book offers great imagery and has a fun oceanic setting with a group of islands, rich with myth, lore, and ancient traditions.

I wish there was more oceanic-centric fantasy, maybe something with mysterious creatures, merfolk, maybe throw in a Kraken for added dramatics? I feel like that kind of world hasn’t been touched on as much as it should; I can only imagine the kind of stories that could come from this kind of setting. I mean, I loved the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (the first one is one of my all-time favorite films).

Seeing the gorgeous cover of this novel, I had high hopes that I’d found that kind of story within the pages…I hadn’t exactly, but I’m not detracting that from the book by any means. The setting was perfect for it with the islands that lined up side by side like a pearl necklace, but there wasn’t much mythical creatures to add to the fantasy aspect this title had been categorized under. It’s rather a light fantasy like Caraval by Stephanie Garber, but I’d consider it more Paranormal Romance than anything.

What I didn’t know at first was how this was actually a retelling of a classic tales from the Brother’s Grimms: The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Retellings of classic fairytales that we’re all familiar with have been a real hit or miss with me, maybe it just depends on which story is being retold, but I hate to say that for the most part, I’m on the side of saying nay rather than yay. I tried to let that also not deter me from how I’d take in this book when I’d read it.

What It’s About:

This story revolves around Annaleigh, who lives with her many sisters, father, and stepmother at Highmoor manor on the island of Salten. It starts off on a dark note as theres a funeral occurring for one of Annaleigh’s sisters. Once there were twelve total sisters, but now it’s down to eight as they’ve all died from the oldest and down the line; each death more tragic and gruesome than the last. With all the grief and tragedy hanging over the family, everyone starts to believe they’re cursed.

After her most recent loss, Annaleigh has started to have nightmares: terrible and disturbing images plague her mind. She starts to suspect the worst: that her sister’s deaths might not be accidents, that they may have been murdered by some malicious force.

She discovers her sisters have been sneaking out at night; it turns out they’d found some sort of portal within a seaside cave that transports them to foreign lands with glitzy and enchanting balls, but starts to wonder what is real and what is a mirage of the mind playing tricks on her. To make matters even more tense and confusing, a beautiful and mysterious stranger arrives onto the island, and he carries some secrets of his own.

More and more death and darkness unravels in her life, bodies show up as she tries to get answers, Annaleigh has to race against the shadows in order to save herself and her family from suffering the same fate of those she’s lost…

What I Liked:

  1. The Cover/Overall Design Aesthetic! The cover is a work of art in my opinion, and the overall dark and murky tide pool aquatic design theme was a big draw for me. I’ve always loved the ocean and its many secrets, and with the book also featuring imagery of an octopus throughout the inside of the jacket and through the pages for each chapter, it satisfies my aquatic adoration. Overall, excellent work on the people at Delacorte Publishing that’d given this aesthetic the green light!
  2. There’s Some Creepy, Horror Elements! With the main plot of the story involving a multiple-corpse murder mystery, the author added a paranormal aspect with some actually unsettling scenes throughout. Some were pretty cliché, but the author describes the shadow play for these scenes in a creative and creepy way, and uses Annaleigh’s fear with the anticipation of something popping out at her, and questioning of her sanity before actually coming face-to-face with them in great ways.
  3. The Slow-Burn Romance! Another aspect that drew me in was the romance Annaleigh develops with Cassius. It has a rather slow start, but when it finally starts to take off, it gets pretty entertaining! Cassius has the combination of medium length dark hair paired with pale eyes, and that shit is stuff I never get tired of. Added bonus is the air of mystery that surrounds him as more and more deaths occur, and he becomes a possible suspect.
  4. The Big Reveal In The Climax! Obviously I won’t spoil it for you folks, but I can for sure say that you won’t see it coming when it’s revealed what exactly is going down on the island of Salten. Part of it did actually disappoint me though; I thought it was a little randomly added in and didn’t do much for me, but again, I’m not going to spoil it. Just read it and see what you think.
  5. It’s An Accurate Retelling! So I’d mentioned earlier how this novel is actually a retelling from one of the many tales of the Brothers Grimm, and after looking more into the original story, it was fun to see how the author incorporated all the main criteria of the tale into her own story. There was the mystery of the 12 sisters and how their shoes would get worn out even as they never left their room–according to their father. There was also the contest the father initiated to whomever could solve it, and even the mysterious man who later arrives. Not everything matched up in the same order of the story, but all the main criteria was present, and twisted around to make the story new and fresh.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Main Character was Lacking…Annaleigh was just so bland in my opinion… I felt like I’d never really gotten a sense of who she was outside of trying to solve the murder mystery the plot centered around. To me, she was just a forgettable Mary Sue protagonist that was merely tugged along by the story, and swept away by the enchanting romance.
  2. Such A Slower Pace…Take this with a grain of salt as I am a 26-year-old male saying this…I mean, I’m gay too, but okay…This book for the first 200 pages was just way too slow for me. Like, it focused more on the outfits the sisters would wear, or what boring/everyday activity they were off to do. A 13-year-old boy, girl, or non-binary might find it more intriguing than I did, but like I said, this is a YA title, so it does somewhat come with the territory. It does get better as the plot thickens, but by that point, my overall interest wanes to the point of wanting to say screw it and tossing this title on the DNF shelf.

Conclusion:

Fans of Guillermo Del Toro will enjoy this enchanting, gothic, ominous, and somewhat romantic retelling of a classic Brother’s Grimm’s The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The story has sweeping ball gowns smooth as silk, luminescent gala’s to get lost in, beautiful strangers that catch your eye, the offering of a hand with a dark and heated gaze, and something not entirely this world chasing you along a dark corridor.

Like I’d said earlier, this book wasn’t necessarily one for me; I don’t plan on keeping it in my personal library, but I can definitely see the appeal it can draw to younger readers who love a romantic suspense of a story with fairytale-like vibe. The novel offers great visuals and has an overall gorgeous aesthetic, I just wished it’d moved faster at the beginning and focused less on the detail of the gowns and instead added even more chills and danger.

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, Mystery/Thriller, New Adult, Paranormal

My Review: Ninth House (Alex Stern #1): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: October 8th, 2019
Number of Pages: 458 Pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Genre(s): New Adult, Paranormal, Thriller, Fantasy

Total Star Rating: 2.5 Stars

For many college students, it’s an incredibly influential time of their lives–I sure as hell know mine was! It’s a time of growth and transformation in many different forms; to trying to cram in study sessions between finals and frat parties, to being away from the parents and making stupid decisions, to signing away parts of your soul on rental agreements and budgeting time and money, to actually putting in an effort at school (for some of us), to allowing ourselves to be more open, exploratory and independent with no shortage of indulging in our urges (in more ways than one).

This adult-level novel from the author of amazing YA series, like Six of Crows and The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, takes her writing to the another level: she gives a detailed and distinguished look at the college lifestyle: the sex, the drugs, how we count sweats and yoga pants as actual clothing, the anxiety and depression, and the violence. Luckily, that last one isn’t as often of a thing as the others, but that doesn’t mean theres a shortage of violence. During my time at school, there were deaths by terrible causes: drug overdose, car accidents, alcohol related, sexual assault, and even a foreign student beaten to death. These sort of themes are what some readers have used to decide that this book is more suited for older readers.

One thing I seem to be growing towards now a days are the urban fantasy works that take the actual world we live in, and kind of throw the rug from underneath us to reveal mythology, magic and lore that has been hidden. In this title, it’s involvement is how the author took the actual secret societies on the Yale campus, and gives them a bigger edge than just being exclusive clubs for the future rich, successful and/or famous future of America. Nope, she makes them secretly able to summon magical, otherworldly powers with potions, rituals, small sacrifices, but also social influence. The one more original part of the story is that a ninth house (Ayyyy, that’s the title!) was formed to watch over the other houses and referee them into staying in order and not exploring too unknown of territory and causing major danger to them and everyone else.

The social commentary that goes along with this books with it’s many dark themes and subject matter make this an actually quite compelling read. In an ivy league school like Yale, class and privilege are VERY present, and the author did not bite her tongue on showing the ease that high class white males on a college campus have an advantage on. It’s something that I’m sure everyone can relate to on some level, because it doesn’t just stop at douchey frat bros. Luckily, the author does not hold back on calling out the various social injustices that still occur on plenty of campuses throughout the country. It’s always a great component of a book when it shows us content that we can relate to as it happens in our actual lives; it makes the book that much more realistic.

Another major theme about this book is like a tribute to anyone who’s survived abuse. It’s dark in terms of subject matter, and I go into it more later on in my review, but the main character has gone through some really heavy shit, like, more shit than anyone should ever have to go through. I swear, the death scenes she’s witnessed would make Tarantino blush. Part of the story is how she wants to heal physically but also mentally and emotionally from her various past traumas. She has her own triggers that she of course has to face head on in order to grow within the story.

What It’s About:

People didn’t need magic to be terrible to each other.”

– Leigh Bardugo, “Ninth House”

This is a story about a girl named Galaxy “Alex” Stern, and how she’d been raised by a hippie mom over in Los Angeles, but now is across the country studying at Yale University. She’s a survivor: she’s experienced all sorts of trauma in her past and after a particularly horrible event, winds up in a hospital bed, and it’s there she meets Dean Sandow and gets accepted into Yale.

The book switched back and forth between Late Spring (present time) and the middle of Winter (the past), with multiple mysteries occurring at once. In Winter, she’s just coming onto the Yale campus and being put her the tutelage of upperclassmen Daniel Arlington, or “Darlington,” while she learns the ropes of being a part of a secret society named Lethe House that watches over the other secret societies of Yale whenever they deal with the occult, the paranormal, etc. They act like a police force, and must attend every secret meeting in order to make sure nothing goes wrong, they stay in line, no one gets hurt or worse…expelled!

Sorry, had to do it!

But their extracurriculars are not supposed to be discovered by anyone, but cut to the present time, and the campus gets rocked by a gruesome murder. Alex arrives on the scene of the crime, and despite doubt from others, she believes one of the secret societies may be behind this crime. She does just about everything in order to try and solve the crime; she even makes a deal with a spirit that only she can see.

There were always excuses for why girls died.

– Leigh bardugo, “Ninth House”

What I Liked:

  1. Exploring the Occult in a New Adult Level Setting! So, I actually consider this title to be more of a “New Adult” reading level than just regular adult, mainly because the main characters are within the age 18-24 range. It’s also not what I normally go for: a paranormal thriller with aspects like the occult, secret Yale societies like Skull and Bones, and witchcraft. The premise sounded interesting, what can I say? I feel like witchcraft in general is making a resurgence as of late in literature, and I only hope it continues to get bigger and bigger! It has major potential for even more original stories to be created!
  2. Daniel Arlington! Easily my favorite character in the whole book so far! Leigh Bardugo is so great at creating those gritty, brooding, aloof male characters that are tall, dark and handsome. Put him right up there with her other characters like Kaz Brekker (from Six of Crows for those that don’t know) and the Darkling (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy). I found him incredibly compelling and interesting to read, but without giving too much away, his presence in the book was also unique. Call me Sharpay Evans via High School Musical 2, but I. WANT. MORE! *snaps fingers*
  3. The Dark & Gritty Subject Matter! Leigh Bardugo admitted at some point that she wanted this book to “fuck us up a little,” and I felt that, I really did! It was refreshing to honestly read something with subject matter that wasn’t afraid to go there, you know? A lot of it is definitely trigger warning material and dark themes that sensitive readers will not like, there’s no doubt about that. BUT, Leigh has informed those who follow her on Twitter about all of it, but here’s a little rundown: it has child abuse, a child that gets raped, drug consumption without consent, PTSD, violence, gore, suicide, drug abuse and overdose, sexual assault, and yeah…someone eats shit. literally…they grab shit out of toilet and eat it. It upsets me that people got offended about this stuff and wanted to try and “cancel” this book, but artists should be able to create from their own experiences as a way of coping, and apparently Leigh has had similar situations in her past (not the eating shit part!). If there’s trigger warnings, pay attention to it if it would upset you and don’t try to ruin it for other people, thanks for coming to my TED talk.
  4. All The Secret Societies Have Secret Powers! I thought it was fun how all the secret societies of Yale (even though they really aren’t all that secret if EVERYONE knows about them) have specific powers that have been around ever since they started up in New Haven. It’s also enjoyable how the author made it seem like it’s been a giant cover-up in American History and they’d actually had a huge influence of the development of the town of New Haven, and Yale itself.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. More Minor Characters Needed Attention… It felt like the only characters who received any sort of attention from the author was Alex Stern and Darlington. They’re good main characters, but there was plenty of minor characters who would’ve been good to add a few more perspectives to the story. I guess I’m kind of comparing this to her Six of Crows books, where we get 6 points of views. It’s not like we need that many for this title, but there are still plenty of more substantial characters in all her books up until now.
  2. Slower Paced Than Expected…This book wasn’t as exciting as I thought it’d be…THERE, I said it! It felt cold, aloof and kind of boring compared to her other titles. I got to about 60% percent into the book before it really started to pick up again, which is way too long of a wait for any sort of novel I’m reading. It just felt like not all that much actually happens while its almost 500 pages long. I think part of it is because the author spent WAY too much time explaining everything that pertained to the occult and witchcraft and maybe relied WAY too much on backstory for almost everything. Maybe she shouldve left a little more up in the air, and maybe saved it for the next book so she could space it out a little more. Still, I am trying give it the benefit of the doubt because of how much I adore her other titles.

Conclusion:

So, to be completely honest, but I found myself quite disappointed with this book. It was one of my most anticipated books of 2019 along with Queen of Nothing by Holly Black, and maybe I hyped it up myself a little too much and put it on some sort of subconscious pedestal because of how much I adored her Six of Crows books.

I wouldn’t say I hated it, but I’ve definitely loved other titles a lot more. I’m kind of in the middle about it. It has a seriously cool sounding premise, the setting at Yale with the emphasis on the secret societies and the occult; I am intrigued enough to want to check out the next title when it releases a year or so from this one’s publication date, but I seriously hope the next installment adds a lot more excitement overall.

I still remain a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo, and her writing is just absolutely magnificent, but I’m just gonna say this isn’t her best work. It’s fine, it’s normal…not every book an author writes that gets published is going to be mind-blowingly amazing! I’ve also just been in an emotional slump lately, and that could also be a part of it, I don’t know…

On a parting note, just make sure you’re in the right mindset whenever you decide to pick this one up! It is incredibly dark on certain themes and plot components, so sensitive readers that get easily triggered may want to keep this one on the shelf for a little bit before picking it up.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Horror, Mystery/Thriller

My Review: A Time for Violence: Stories with an Edge: Edited by Andy Rausch and Chris Roy

*Kindle Edition*
Publish Date: May 1st, 2019
Number of Pages: 268 Pages
Publisher: Too Close to the Bone
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller, Horror, Crime

Total Star Rating: 3.25 Stars

Whether we like it or not, violence has always been a part of our society; we as humans can’t help but resort to it. The reasoning behind why can be incredibly varied: to save your family, to simply steal money, an act of love, or bitter burning of revenge. There’s probably countless other reasons as to what could possibly motivate us to turn towards our more unpredictable and darker side, but this is a collection of short stories that call that notion into question in an interesting array.

While it mostly stays within the mystery/thriller genre, there are some additions of stories of war and even the supernatural/paranormal and horror genres in order to keep the mix more lively and interesting. Theres also a mix of characters that many others wouldn’t see anything they’d possibly have in common except for, obviously, them giving into their brutal and maniacal urges to hurt, to maim, to kill, and to get away with it unscathed.

I will say it quite a bit in this review, but I don’t normally turn towards short stories or compilations of them, and I will get into that later on, but when someone reaches out to ask you to look through it and give an honest review, how can you say no? Crime stories are fun for their lack of predictability, their edge, and especially when there might be an interesting social commentary to linger in your head and overtake your thoughts after you’ve closed the pages. It does, however, leave a lack of character development and usually resorts to using cliché characters in general. They’re not bad stories, and it’s obvious that the authors that contributed to this work all know their craft on a highly experienced level.

I was not familiar with any of the works of any of the authors included in this anthology, but I wanted to switch it up and keep it that way: I didn’t do any prerequisite research on the book itself or any of the writers, and I stayed off Goodreads to see what others wrote; the only thing I did was adding the title to my “To Read” shelf. Sometimes, it’s fun to do that sort of thing where you don’t rely so much on other’s ratings and decide to give it a shot in the dark. I admit, I do that a whole lot now, but with how many titles are out there, how can you not? I’ve got to get picky.

Anyways back to the actual review…

What It’s About:

It’s hard to do this section based off the fact that it’s a collection of short stories. That, plus the fact I don’t want to give too much away, all I can say is they’re all violent stories combined together for a crime/horror themed collection. The more noteworthy stories, at least in my honest opinion, to include are the following in no particular:

  1. Blood Brothers: by Richard Chizmar
  2. Guest Services: A Quarry Story: by Max Allan Collins
  3. Santa at the Café: by Joe Lansdale
  4. Scab: by Wrath James White
  5. The Sweetest Ass in the Ozark: by Andy Rausch
  6. Waste Management: by Chris Roy

What I Liked:

  1. The Variety! There are quite a lot of different style of stories to be told that are all included; I’d say that there’s got to be something that just about anyone could find within that they’d really enjoy! My personal favorites among the many short stories was a story about a 5-person domino-effect crime story by Joe R. Lansdale involving a guy dressed up as Santa Clause, and an African-American man who considers himself a human scab by Wrath James White. Personally, it reminded me a bit of Jordan Peele’s horror flicks, Get Out and Us: African American-centered horror, and with a slight social commentary aspect to add on top.
  2. The Dark Humor! Along with all the murder and thrills as sharp as a knife, there is some humor alongside to (maybe) soften the blow. A lot of it is considered pretty dark humor, which isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain person to not only get some of it, but to also enjoy it.
  3. The Character Studies! This kind of goes with the variety factor I mentioned above, but I felt like there’s a bit of a question of character and their moral compass that plays with you too as you read the stories. You want to think your an upstanding member of society, not wanting to weave away from what the social norm is and that criminal activity is pretty black and white. Some characters are family men, but others are mobsters, criminals or Police Officers. An example where it’s questioned is actually the very first story: Blood Brothers by Richard Chizmar. Without giving up too much information, it presents the timeless questions like: How far are you willing to go to protect your family? What are you willing to sacrifice? It even brings up a good question of if killing for the best of everyone you love is really all that much of a crime?

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Was Hard to Connect to the Stories…It’s hard to really get into a collection of short stories, because as soon as you feel like you really connect with the story or maybe even the characters; it’s over before you know it, shut off abruptly. I guess you could say I prefer one long story where you can develop a deeper connection with the characters and grow along with them within the story as they develop. That’s very difficult or near impossible to do with stories like these.
  2. A Hierarchy of Interest…Some stories are just a whole lot better than others, plain and simple, straight to the point (no pun intended). I wouldn’t say some are awfully written though; I’d say it’s more that I just didn’t connect to them. Some were also pretty predictable compared to others, which probably didn’t help. I would say out of the 28 stories included, only a small select few really grabbed my attention, which is a major bummer.

Conclusion:

A fun, diverse set of crime/horror-genre short stories that are perfect for those who like that sort of thing! they’re gritty, their humorous, and they’re not something I normally go for when it comes to picking out something to read, but I still had some fun nonetheless. I find it difficult to get into a collection of short stories because of the disconnect with getting into the story and its characters, but maybe its something fun to read on your kindle or nook device when trying to kill time before a doctor’s appointment or on your lunch break at work!

I also would like to add that I received a free version of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: Two Can Keep a Secret: by Karen McManus

Publish Date: January 8th, 2019
Number of Pages: 329 Pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre(s): YA Mystery, Suspense/Thriller

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Okay lesbehonest…who else is shook that the quote we hear so much now is actually missing someone from the original quote? Maybe one of them really is dead?…

One thing we do know is that secrets never fully stay buried for long, they always have a way of revealing themselves, whether or not we want them to be or not. Like insects, they like to find a way to sneak through the cracks and infest themselves…But I can’t lie; they sure do make things interesting…

When I’d read Karen McManus’s debut novel, One of Us is Lying (see my other book review by clicking the link in the text), I was kind of impressed that someone had stepped up to give YA readers something different, which was a Mystery/Thriller genre title. The section is filled to the brim on either Contemporary Romance or Fantasy (usually with romance too), and I’ve got to admit, they all are starting to bleed together…they’re just becoming spinoffs of each other, and less and less titles are beginning to feel original. One of Us is Lying felt different! It was something semi new to the table, and sure, it had the stereotypical characters that we’d all seen before…but that was only a base that she profusely deviated from in a fun and entertaining fashion! They developed and changed and completely turned around on their original expectations and it was enjoyable to grow with them as I read the mystery surrounding their story!

I’ve heard that while the debut novel of an author can be a huge success, it’s the sophomore novel that can be more of a challenge in terms of a good story or whether the author learned from their first and can keep up the momentum, but I admit that the former may be called into question because I regret to inform you guys that I wasn’t all that impressed with this title. The author’s craft continues to improve, there’s no doubt about that, but this book just wasn’t as much fun as her previous work for me. It was unpredictable and left me guessing who was behind it, but it never got me too excited or fully invested.

To sum it all up: it wasn’t terrible, but it was just an okay read.

It explores the idea of a seemingly pristine town that is riddled with a violent and mysterious history, and is infected with many dark secrets underneath the surface. It’s people on the outside appear darn-near perfect, but we all know things are never as they seem.

What It’s About:

When their mother is sent to rehab after a brutal car accident, Ellery and her twin Ezra are sent to live with their grandmother in the town that their mother grew up in but has the dark history of not one, but two missing girls were mysteriously murdered: Echo Ridge. The twins are used to not drawing too much attention to themselves along with taking care of each other with because of their troubled mother, but they learn the night they get into town that they’re connected to the towns troubled and murky history more than they’d ever expected.

Haunted by the past, their grandmother reveals to them one of the murdered girls was actually their mother’s twin sister, the aunt they never got to meet. Ellery becomes engrossed into what really happened all those years ago, and as a self-professed true crime aficionado, she’s up to the case and starts digging, despite not entirely sure she’ll like what she finds.

But like secrets, past events never stay fully buried, and the very night they arrive and learn the startling family reveal, a body is discovered in the road. A beloved teacher is found dead after a hit and run with no known suspect. More mysterious occurrences begin to happen, and threatening notes are found all over town, threatening the girls on the Homecoming Court and that they will all soon be dead. It’s exactly like what happened with the other girls many years prior, and the town is put into a terrified uproar over the past coming back to haunt them, history doomed to repeat itself.

To make matters worse, before anyone can do anything about it, a girl does go missing.

Ellery must work faster than ever to save a fellow classmate, and must work with local fellow high school student, Malcom (who’s family also has a bad history involved with the murders), in order to solve the mystery and rid the town of a possible killer on the loose.

What I liked:

  1. It’s Unpredictable! The author can really craft a great mystery, anyone who reads her novels I hope can see that! She expertly weaves red herrings, scapegoats, and other subplots together in order to keep you guessing and not have a clue as to who the killer could possibly be. I admit I had no idea who it was until the climactic final showdown.
  2. Great Minority Representation! The main character is Latina with a gay male twin, and there’s two asian side characters with one of them being bisexual! Instead of sticking with stereotypical characters as a basis for her main cast, Karen mixed it up and made the characters for this title much more diverse, which is a huge plus for the YA market. If not Game of Thrones-esque Fantasy, representation has been a huge selling point for contemporary titles, which is so great to see in recent years!
  3. The Final Line of the Book! The only thing that made me feel something was the very final line of the book as it left quite a chilling impression. It was a great way to end a suspense/mystery!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Title Sounds Like A Sequel…I feel like it’s confusing that this was titled Two Can Keep a Secret when her first novel was titled One of Us Is Lying, and yet they’re completely unrelated to each other. This isn’t the sequel even though the title suggests otherwise; it’s a complete standalone…Something about that feels disappointing to me.
  2. There’s Less Points of View…One aspect of One of Us Is Lying that I loved was how we heard from four different characters as you read that book. I love to get inside the minds of completely different characters and see how they operate with a different perspective, but we only got two characters for this title, much to my disappointment. I was also bummed that among the voices we heard the most of, none of the cast really stuck with me. They were fine, but nothing too special or memorable.
  3. This Was Too Character Driven…It sounds odd for a mystery, but a lot of the novel moves based off the characters and how they react to stuff that happens, which is what made this a slower read than I liked. I know it contradicts what I usually say about that style of story, but I think a murder mystery shouldn’t be so character driven. What’s also lacking is that the characters didn’t really develop or change all that much as time went on. They just learned more secrets and reacted to them.

Conclusion:

It wasn’t a terrible book by any means, but I must say that for me, it was a lackluster sophomore murder mystery novel. Other readers, maybe younger and/or newer ones, can immensely enjoy this title. I blame the personal hype I gave this book from how much I did enjoy her first book, along with how many other books I’ve read which has raised my standards over the years. I recommend this title to anyone who’s a fan of teen thriller TV shows Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars (Karen can certainly write content better than both of those comparisons)!

Luckily, Karen has shared on her Twitter that she will have 2 books come out in 2020, including the actual sequel to OOUIL, One of Us is Next, which is expected to come out January 7th, 2020! I can say I’m still a fan of hers, so ya know I will check her other titles out and see what she comes up with next. Her craft can only go up from here!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell