LGBT, Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: Ace of Spades: by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Publish Date: June 1st, 2021
Number of Pages: 432 Pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Genre(s): YA Contemporary Fiction, Mystery, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 2.5 Stars

I hate how they have the power to kill my future, kill me. They treat my Black skin like a gun or a grenade or a knife that is dangerous and lethal, when really it’s them. The guys at the top powering everything.

– Faridah Àbíké-Íyídé, “Ace of Spades”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Gossip Girl meets Get Out in Ace of Spades, a YA contemporary thriller by debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé about two students, Devon & Chiamaka, and their struggles against an anonymous bully.

When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

With heart-pounding suspense and relevant social commentary comes a high-octane thriller from debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.

~~~

Ace of Spades is a whirlwind of a story once you really get into the thick of things…it’s about two black students who are being targeted by an anonymous online presence who goes by the name “Aces” at a prestigious private school. They have no idea why this faceless enemy is targeting them specifically, but what they do know is that they know all their dirty secrets and aren’t afraid to put it all out there for the world to see, thus putting their futures in grave danger…

This book has gotten a lot of praise and exposure on bookstagram and all over social media ever since it came out over the summer of 2021, and I’ll admit that the comparison of “Get Out” meets “Gossip Girl” really had me interested to see what the hype is all about. Plus, I’m a strong advocator for how representation matters and wanting to hear different voices in books and expanding my perspective of other people’s lives that are different than my own. I am a white CIS male, and while I know I will never fully understand the struggles of being black in America, especially a black queer male, but I can honestly say I felt like this book gave me a good idea! The social issues that are explored in this story are a definite highlight that a lot of us can definitely relate to in some way, shape, or form and the characters feel much more fleshed out and dynamic as more is revealed to their character and personal sense of morality.

While the initial set up and beginning of the book were good enough to draw you in, I felt the midpoint really dropped the ball and really slowed down for me…I mean, I really struggled to stay interested through a good chunk of it and even considered putting this book on my DNF stack on several occasions. Heck, I even tried bribing some of my coworkers at the bookstore to read it for me and just spoil it all for me! Not exactly a good thing for any book, lesbehonest…however, my curiosity to find out who was behind it all was what kept me going to be able to finish the story. It obviously won out in the end, and I can’t say it disappointed me either!

While the midpoint was slow, once I got to page 200 I think, that was when the mystery really began to get juicier and it was a much faster and engaging book. The whole situation begins to be revealed as something much bigger and sinister than anyone could imagine, and even I found myself with freakin’ chills running up my arms when certain things happen to the characters, like with certain students or even faculty members. I found the ending to be very satisfactory even if it also felt a little rushed, but I also think that’s okay because by then the authors message and lesson for the reader is loud and clear about issues like systematic racism, classism, and even the struggles of being a POC LGBT+ youth in America today.

Like I said, when you get further into the book where the plot becomes more significant and characterization moves to the passenger seat; sex, lies, murder, secrets, white supremacy, and the ongoing battle of taking down racism make this quite a wicked ride of a story that somehow even has some heartwarming softer moments of both family, friendship, and love that make this even a more well rounded story!

~~~

All you need to know is… I’m here to divide and conquer. Like all great tyrants do.”

– Faridah Àbíké-Íyídé, “Ace of Spades’

What I Liked:

  1. The Representation! One reason I picked this book up was because it’s not a bad thing to broaden your horizons and try to listen to different voices in literature. We all know the argument that representation matters, and I can say this book provides someone like me a great visual on what it’s like to be black and dealing with racism, and even to be black and queer and dealing with the system being against you just because of the color of your skin. It’s not the type of story I usually go for, and for that is why I wanted to try something new.
  2. The Character Development! Chiamaka and Devon both have such amazing character development as the story progresses and they deal with other issues besides a cyber bully. I especially liked Chiamaka’s chapters and her as a character in general because she,at start off as the typical queen b, Blair Waldorf HBIC, but she becomes so much more as you get closer to her.
  3. The Social Commentary/Theme! It’s been said already in this review, but I thought the author showed the struggles of dealing with racism, classism, and even homophobia all incredibly well, and it certainly helped someone who’s not facing the same struggles as they face to better understand it and hopefully learn from it as we move forward!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Extremely Slow Midpoint…I’m sorry, but that midpoint almost killed the book for me! I was just so bored, and I kept putting this book down for others because I just couldn’t get myself to read it most days. I almost put it in my DNF stack, but I hate doing that and really did want to find out who was behind it all.

Conclusion:

Overall, Ace of Spades was crazy and twisted YA thriller that also has an incredibly interesting take on systematic racism, white supremacy, and plenty of other social issues that are so incredibly important, ESPECIALLY with all that has happened in the last year and a half pertaining to those specific issues and what plenty of POC citizens still deal with today.

I will never fully know the struggle of being black in America, that is a privilege that I am aware of, but I wanted to read this as a way to help spread the message of how important it is for stories like this to be heard, and for writers of color who are willing to put this sort of material out there for us to read, to enjoy and hopefully also to learn and understand from their perspective. Those are their stories, and we should want to hear them!

I would’ve rated this book higher, but the slow midpoint is why I’m not giving it a higher rating. None of the social importance is really revealed until later in the story, and I really did struggle and almost not bother to finish this book, but let’s also take into consideration that this is also the author’s debut novel, which that in itself makes it an impressive story too! I also usually don’t read this type 0f story, so I’m sure there are plenty of others who will especially enjoy this one!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller

My Review: The Woman in the Window: by A.J. Finn

Publish Date: January 2nd, 2018
Number of Pages: 429 Pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre(s): Mystery, Suspense/Thriller

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

I can always appreciate a work of literature that pays homage to something I actually care about, which in this case is classical crime films like the popular titles by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. The book moves in a similar pace, and creates a nice parallel to whatever movie the main character is watching compared to what they’re experiencing in real life. It also pays homage to the more recent popular thriller trope of a woman in something (a window, a train, cabin 10, being gone, etc) and the question of whether or not she’s actually sane. They’re the narrator and they’re unreliable and part of the thrill is their murky memory of past events or what’s happening right then in the story, and alcohol is usually involved too.

The book itself is nothing too groundbreaking or revolutionary, but is still an entertaining read nonetheless. It’s pretty impressive for a debut novel from the author; if it’s their first published book, it’s only going to be uphill for them! For me, it was a little slow towards the middle and felt like it really dragged, maybe because it brought too much of the main characters outside problems into play and I just couldn’t connect with it all that much, but I can appreciate the subtle buildup the author produced by the hazy memories and the play with sanity with our MC as they continue to drink and watch some film noir in their apartment, absolutely terrified to go outside due to their extreme case of agoraphobia.

It’s also impressive to note that this book is already being turned into a movie that will star Amy Adams, who seems to be the go-to for these woman-centered thrillers. She was in Sharp Objects, an HBO mini-series based on the suspense/thriller novel by Gillian Flynn, so I guess it makes sense for her to be in the flick for this title as well. She’s a great actress and I know she’ll do an amazing job.

What It’s About:

The story is about a woman named Anna Foxx. She lives by herself in a New York townhouse, and suffers from an extreme case of agoraphobia, which is the the fear of places or situations that cause stress, fear, embarrassment and/or helplessness. She’s going through her normal routine of being a reclusive psychologist, while also spying on her neighbors through the lens of her Nikon when a family moves in across the parkway. Soon she meets the mother and son on separate occasions and they seem like any friendly, normal family.

Anna likes them immediately, and continues her spying of the neighbors like she normally does.

Until something happens.

Something happens that Anna wasn’t supposed to see…

Suddenly, Anna’s world begins to unravel and she loses stability of what’s real and what’s all in her head, all the while tryin to figure out exactly what happened in that house across the street. 

What I Liked:

  1. The Twisty Climax! Like any good mystery should have, there is a surprise twist that widens your eyes, and when the big reveal occurs, it reveals all the little clues that you missed, but also makes you appreciate the author’s cleverness of conspicuously sliding them in under your nose. After reading it, I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t see it coming.
  2. Mental Illness Used To Create Conflict! One aspect of a good mystery is a believable way to isolate either the main character, or the whole cast so they can’t just walk away, and I liked that the author chose to go the agoraphobic way. It made it feel more currently relevant because there is a bigger understanding for mental health issues in society today. It was well done to add to the story because Anna is basically trapped within her own home; she has nowhere to go because she is absolutely terrified to even step foot outside, which gives such a great inner conflict. 

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Was Just So Lackluster…The story was just a really slow burn for me, to be honest. Yes, the set up is interesting enough, but the book really died down through the midpoint up until the climax. I think it also drags when a big realization happens at about the 75% mark into the book, the reveal behind the cause of her mental state, and you find yourself wondering if Anna is as reliable of a narrator as you thought. She does drink a large amount of wine while being heavily medicated, watches a lot of classic Hitchcock-era movies while drunk on said wine…what if she really is actually crazy? 

Conclusion:

It wasn’t a bad read at all; I enjoyed it enough I guess, but it just wasn’t anything especially brilliant, spectacular or breathtaking. It is a pretty decent debut for the author, and it did raise some questions to make the reader think: what goes on behind closed doors? Are people really who they say they are? Do we really see what happens around us? What’s real and what is just a figment of our mind playing tricks on us? It also offers commentary on families and the lengths they will go to perpetuate that picture-perfect image, when in reality things couldn’t be any more screwed up beneath the surface.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Horror, Mystery/Thriller, Writing/Articles

October Reads and Reviews: Prepare to be Scared!

It is now October, the month of many different things: the leaves turning into majestic shades of reds, oranges and yellows, the air becomes crisp and cool, Hot Apple Cider and Pumpkin Spice, Sweater Weather, and the sky becomes darker earlier which may or may not bring me to my next example: Halloween.

People love to be creeped out this time of the year and go all out for the candy-crazed holiday: there’s costumes to be made or bought, trick or treating, maybe a halloween themed party, and enjoy a horror movie marathon or two. I personally will do doing pretty much all that, plus reading some creepy, thrilling stories that might make me need a flashlight when I go to bed. In honor of October and Halloween, the only reviews will be about books that have things that go bump in the night! I plan on reading some new titles as well, which will be some amazing fun!

I will admit, I’ve never read “Pet Semetary” by Stephen King or “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, but wanted to save both of these horror classics for the festivities. Below will be the titles to look for during the next couple of weeks that I’ll post reviews about:

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

A young woman is given a miraculous chance of attending an Ivy league school to investigate it’s secret societies, but is in for a shock at the sinister plans she may discover…

Project 17: by Laurie Faria Stolarz

A group of kids break into an old, abandoned insane asylum in order to record a short video for a film contest, but things take a turn for the worse when they realize they’re not alone…

The Woman in the Window: by A.J. Finn

A woman with a passion for classic film noir, and suffers from agoraphobia, suddenly feels like she’s in her own Hitchcock movie when she see’s a neighbor murdered within their house, but no one believes her…Was it a lie? Was it all fake, or is that just what a killer wants her to think?

Two Can Keep A Secret: by Karen McManus

Sometimes we have secrets that we’d rather keep buried. In a luxurious small town with a mysterious history of disappearances and secrets, a young girl and her friends must find a missing person and stop a murderous tradition that her family is oh so familiar with…

Vicious (Villains #1): by V.E. Schwab

Former college roommates and best friends Eli and Victor made a terrible discovery during their senior thesis science experiment. Years later, Victor breaks out of prison in order to exact his revenge; who will still be alive when the dust has cleared?…

Dracula: by Bram Stoker (with Ben Templesmith’s Illustrations)

An OG horror story for the ages; a man is sent to a looming castle in Transylvania and comes face to face with the Count himself, and must save his wife before the King of vampires can carry out his sinister plans…

Pet Semetary: by Stephen King

A man moves to a rural home in Maine with his family and pet cat, but with an indian burial ground near the cemetery filled with people’s pets of the past, some things don’t like to stay buried…

There you go, it sounds like some pretty fun titles are coming your way! Which ones sound better to you? Are there other titles you’d recommend? What are your favorite horror or thriller books to read? Let me know, I love to hear other people’s recommendations!

While I have you here, be sure to check out some book reviews I already have posted below! Why not look into some more creepy, twisted tales?

Click HERE to see my book review for Stephen King’s “IT”

Click HERE for my book review of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”

Click HERE for my book review of Riley Sager’s “The Last Time I Lied.”

Click HERE for my book review of Taylor Adams’ “No Exit.”

Click HERE for my book review of Claire Legrand’s “Sawkill Girls.”

Click HERE for my book review of Shari Lapena’s “An Unwanted Guest.”

Click HERE for my book review of Colleen Hoover’s “Verity.”

Thanks for Reading!

–Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller, Romance

My Review: Verity: by Colleen Hoover

Publish Date: December 20th, 2018
Number of Pages: 314 Pages
Publisher: Independently Published
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller, Romance

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

They say there are three sides to every story; one person’s side, another person’s side, and the actual truth. Now, this quote can be or can not be actually related to this book, but I will admit that after reading it, this idea certainly came to mind.

This is a novel about the truth, different versions of the truth, what is true versus what is fiction, the characters an author can create, and when the line between them is called into question.

How well do we really know the truth? Do we think we know absolutely everything, do we think we have a grasp on everything in our lives? What if you discover that it was all a lie? It could be earth shattering, inconceivable, traumatizing, horrifying, and make you want to scream into the dark at the absurdity of it all.

This book is so unlike any other Colleen Hoover book you’ll ever read. It was fuucked up to say the least, and unlike her other titles, it leaves you staring at your ceiling late into the night, maybe even afraid of turning out the light. It explores a darker side of some of her complex, traumatized, and morally grey characters, but remains as binge-worthy and addicting as any of her lighter romance titles.

I will forewarn anyone who is heavily triggered by stories with child abuse and graphic violence should avoid this title!

I mean, I was kind of at a loss for rational thought as I finished this title…the ending absolutely tears you a new one; the final line pierces your heart and leaves you in an unstable state where you don’t know if you’re alright and question the stability of everything around you. It leaves you in a conundrum because it gives us an idea that will never be answered, it will remain up in the air in in our minds like a parasitic bug that will never be squashed.

It was a mindfuck, to be perfectly blunt about it.

I was totally not expecting this style from the author, who’s more known for New Adult Romance titles instead of psychological thrillers. She expertly leads us down a path of lies, manipulation, sex and betrayal as the story escalates, and it’s crazy to think that the story is about a writer who is reading up about another writer to work on their book series, all the while the author of this book is telling this to you; its a bit of a feeling of inception, and makes you question how reliable are all the sources you’re reading from? Is Colleen herself lying, is it the main character, or is it the author the main character reads about?

What It’s About:

Struggling author Lowen Ashleigh is in a tight spot; her mother had just died of cancer a week before, she received the pink slip of eviction from her apartment, and to make matters worse, the opening scene is her witnessing a random stranger’s head popping open like a champagne bottle when it’s squeezed beneath the wheel of a moving car, blood splattering all over her clothes as a nice souvenir for the free show.

FML, right?

It turned out she was on her way towards a meeting with her agent at a publishing company because she’s about to be offered the deal of a lifetime: Jeremy Crawford, husband of the bestselling mystery/thriller author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to finish his wive’s book series as she’s no longer physically able to continue it herself due to a life-threatening injury in a car accident.

How ironic…

After the contracts are signed and everything seems sorted out, Lowen goes up to Jeremy and Verity’s expansive estate up in Vermont in order to work through all the paperwork, the plot lines, the character sheets, and other ideas in order for her to feel confident enough to continue Verity’s books.

What she doesn’t expect to uncover is an unpublished autobiography from Verity about the days from when her and Jeremy first met all the way towards the deaths of their twin daughters, both of which died at separate times. Among that, things Lowen could never have thought of in her wildest imagination comes to light, thoughts Verity had kept beneath the surface until now, and what may have really happened on the day one of their daughters died. Disgusted and devastated, Lowen keeps the manuscript from Jeremy; he’s been grieving long enough, surely he didn’t need this startling discovery on top of everything else, right?

As she continues to dig through the chaotic office, her feelings for Jeremy begin to grow, and she finds herself struggling between that and whether she should really share the truth she found hidden in that office. It would make her life a lot better for him to learn the truth, and stop being the loyal, devoted husband he is towards his bed-ridden, human vegetable wife…

Whats a girl to do?

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance! True to her usual line of work, there is a romantic subplot through the story while Lowen slowly loses her fucking mind like the rest of us. While sorting through his wife’s office, she develops feelings for Jeremy Crawford and together they become closer and closer as she remains living in his home. Even the way they met was a great addition, even if it resulted from such a bloody opening scene!
  2. The Unreliable Narrator! This novel is told entirely from Lowen’s point of view, and as things progress, she tells us what she sees, or what she thinks she sees, and the author did an amazing job at using this to add tension to the story; make Lowen question her own sanity quite a bit, but also add tons of creepy vibes in order to make this book unable to be put down!
  3. IRL vs. Manuscript! After she discovers the manuscript of Verity’s autobiography, the chapters start to switch back and forth between what’s going on in the house, and the actual chapters of the manuscript itself. We see the actual words Verity typed up for her twisted tale. It started off sweet and innocent, but began to unravel and deeply disturb us as the chapters continued, revealing Verity as a much darker character than you’d come to realize.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Final Words…If you couldn’t guess by the way I describe it above, the final message this novel gives you is a one-way ticket to Mindfuckopolis, because I was NOT OKAY after reading it! It’s not a badly written ending at all, it’s just so unnerving and chilling! I loved that it evoked so much emotion from me, but I felt like the meme of Kelly from The Office as I sat there and shook me head repeatedly trying to figure out what the real truth of it all was. It’s not even funny how much my expression matched hers shortly after I set this book down:

Conclusion:

So it’s not all stickers, rainbows, ponies and myspace.com in this book like some of Colleen’s other romance titles; it’s dark, it’s twisty, it’s disturbing and unnerving and I am both HERE FOR IT but also low-key terrified at the promise this novel gives us…If this is something Colleen Hoover can deliver us from her first psychological thriller, imagine what else she could possibly come up with?!

I recommend this title for those looking for something absolutely chilling and creepy to read underneath the covers late at night. The tone of this book is so much darker and ominous that I anticipated from this author, but wound up loving how it drew me in and up late into the nights I read it. It felt subtle yet chaotic all at the same time, everywhere you turn will lead to more questions, more disturbing images, and make you take a second to glance around and observe the people closest in your life.

Whats truly boiling beneath the surface? Are they entirely honest, or is something much more malicious and benevolent hiding within?

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller

My Review: An Unwanted Guest: by Shari Lapena

Publish Date: July 26th 2018
Number of Pages: 290 Pages
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Genre(s): Mystery

Total Star Rating: 2.75 Stars

While it’s nothing exactly new to the Mystery/Thriller genre, this book is still an entertaining addition that I think a lot of readers can enjoy. I’d say it’s become a bit of a mystery trope for a small cast of strangers to come together, and for someone to begin to murder them one by one (The Agatha Christie trope perhaps?). Figuring out the secrets of all the characters, along with their motives if they were to be exposed as the killer is something that I consider so much fun about mysteries; it’s amazing to see how it still works even all these years later, even when Agatha Christie’s work was first published in 1920. You guys…that’s almost a an entire century as I type this, so I find that absolutely amazing!

What It’s About:

The story takes place entirely at a small, beautiful, remote hotel in the middle of the woods in upstate New York. Cell Service is limited, and there’s no wifi, its the perfect place for people to go to literally escape the hustle and bustle of their lives, relax, and truly enjoy themselves. It’s the middle of an incredibly cold and dreary winter, and a deadly blizzard just over the horizon as 11 guests all converge there for the weekend, not knowing the horror they are about to experience…

The blizzard hits and the power goes out with absolutely no way to contact anyone for help, so all the guests bunker in and expect to patiently wait it out. People had all arrived for different reasons: to escape, to have their own writing retreat, a romantic couples weekend; everyone just wanted to enjoy the soothing, rustic experience that the hotel usually offers.

When the first body shows up at the foot of the grand staircase, everyone assumes its an accident, well, almost everyone. When the second body appears later that afternoon, panic begins to set in, but then a third body shows up and all hell breaks loose. Someone there is slowly killing the guests trapped in the hotel one-by-one, and it’s either someone who’s snuck in, or it’s possibly one of them, but who? They’ll need to band together and find out before the storm wears off and they’re all dead by the end of the weekend…

What I Liked:

  1. Homage to the Queen of Mystery! This book is a classic “whodunnit” style murder mystery, and felt very much like an Agatha Christie novel. The Original Queen of Mystery always wrote her mysteries in a similar fashion; bring a cast of characters together, have them become isolated from the outside world somehow, let them all have dirty secrets that they don’t want exposed, and let one of them be a murderer, and keep the mystery short.
  2. The Buildup! The suspense steadily and purposefully rose in excellent fashion as the story developed. I love a good “whodunnit” style mystery, and it’s always so much fun to try and figure out who the killer is, and try to decipher any clues you might think pop up that the author reveals. I’d say the story is also character driven, and the paranoia and unrest that escalates the suspense was done so well, your curiosity will get the best of you!
  3. The Little Surprise Included in the Ending! Not to give much away, but it’s something that the author had hinted at several times in the book, and I found the whole thing amusing, as amusing as a fictional murder twist can get.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Lack of Details…For me, this is specifically for the characters. There’s such little descriptions of them and what they look like, I found myself frustrated with trying to remember all of them and what they may appear as with so little given for me to work with. I’m a face person, not a name person!
  2. Disappointed in the Climax…The buildup was actually impressively done, but then you get to the climax, the killer is revealed…and I found myself put out by it. I was a little disappointed, plus the reveal was something no one could have figured out because the author didn’t give any of the information to help you figure it out until afterwards. I get that some mystery authors do that on purpose, Agatha did it too, but this one just really fell flat for me. I wished the author maybe thought of something a little more clever about how to tie it all together.

Conclusion:

A fun, thrilling, quick mystery for anyone to enjoy; it’s not too graphic or gory detailed, and the characters become an interesting bunch. The buildup is probably what was done best, and you yourself start to feel the paranoia at how little is revealed until it is almost too late. Personally, I was very disappointed in the ending and found it underwhelming compared to the rest of the book, but that’s just me. Perfect for fans looking for an Agatha Christie-esque mystery; this books is fun, modern, but not nearly as impressive of a take on the style that made the OG Queen of Mystery so iconic.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell