This was a BLAST. Knives Out mixed with The Westing Game mixed with Truly Devious mixed with #prepschool vibes?? Y'all.
Sheer enjoyment: ★★★★★
Characters and their drama: ★★★★
Mystery(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★★ 1/2
There was nothing I did not love about this book! It was fun! It had drama! It had mysteries! It had reveals you could guess and reveals you couldn't! It had a love triangle that toed the line between fun and catchy! There are dead people!
(Ok, so that last one is for my fellow morbid mystery fans, but still. It's a selling point.)
Clearly I've had a lot of caffeine going into this review, but bear with me. This book *feels* like a caffeinated speed ride anyway. So it's totally appropriate.
Avery Kylie Grambs is chipping away a meager life on the edge of poverty with her older half-sister, Libby, when everything changes.
A mysterious guy arrives at her school saying something about the reading of a will, and that they can't read the will until Avery herself is present. The will is for Tobias Hawthorne, Texas oil tycoon and $47 billion-dollar billionaire.
To say Avery is confused by this is a colossal understatement. But this guy doesn't give her a choice - she's placed on a plane to Texas.
...where she discovers that this billionaire, who she has NEVER met in her life, has left her with almost the entirety of his fortune. On one condition: she must live in Hawthorne House, the family's estate, for one full year with the (now penniless) remaining Hawthorne family members. If she leaves, the money is forfeit.
She can't kick out the Hawthornes, they can't contest the will, and all that's left from old man Tobias Hawthorne is 5 letters: 1 for each of his 4 grandsons, and 1 for Avery.
Avery's letter is just two words: "I'm sorry."
AHHHH! I refuse to share more of this plot because of spoilers, and really half of the fun is just letting the story unfold. This has the makings of a perennial classic in the realm of YA mysteries. And I am so here for that. To me, this was more fun than One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, and more mysterious than other mansion-setting mysteries. It had it all, and while some of it could definitely be housed under clichés in the genre, I thought they were extremely well done.
Eagerly awaiting the next book.
Drama, drama, DRAMA! This insider's look into the world of teen influencers was a wild ride from start to finish—and I couldn't stop reading it.
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
Binge-level enjoyment: ★★★★
Delilah Rollins is catapulting to stardom in a major way on Instagram. From her Minnesota roots to her recent move to LA, she's scrambling to find her bearings in a world where hundreds of thousands of people know her name, her face, and her life. Is Delilah really ready for her autonomy to be controlled by the opinion of the masses?
Jasmine Walters-Diaz is used to the fame of being an influencer. From her roots as a wholesome child TV star to her teenage years as a brand's dream endorsement, Jasmine should be used to her life being filtered through the lens of perfection and frozen time... but as her need to be herself and love who she loves grows and chafes against her public image, Jasmine finds herself bending and breaking to get out.
Fiona Jacobs is the perfect casual and funny influencer. She's effortless... right? As she listens to her inner monologue critique her every move, every breath, every calorie, and every step, Fiona tries to desperately maintain the facade of put-together perfection while her OCD and fear of past secrets threaten to tear her apart from the inside. Will she survive her own attacks on herself?
Delilah, Jasmine, and Fiona all have one thing in common: they're living their teenage years through the crystalized lens of public opinion, filters, and judgement.
And then there's Scarlett Leigh. Another teenage influencer but with more sex appeal, more ruthlessness, and more drive to win, Scarlett seems to be the three girls' worst nightmare and competition all rolled into one. But you can never trust what's on the surface...and the girls should really know better.
They'll find out just what exactly the truth means when one of them ends up dead. It's time to show off your best angle, ladies, as the part you're going to play now is one of suspect...
My immediate response to this book was WOW, what a crazy premise and an even crazier plot. This reaction was further cemented when I realized that the co-author to this book, Lilia Buckingham, is an actual bona fide teen influencer herself. That definitely lent a more realistic quality to some of the details used in the novel (besides the murder, of course!).
My interest in this book came from the other author, Sara Shepard, who is best known for her drama-laden series Pretty Little Liars. Fans of Pretty Little Liars should be all over this—the amount of drama, gasps, and trainwreck sitcom moments are at the same level here in Influence. Like a reality tv show, I couldn't look away.
Definitely one to pick up if you like drama, glitz, and murder...
Thank you to Delacorte Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
What a pleasant surprise? I really enjoyed this. A large part of that enjoyment came from treating it like a contemporary novel, though, and not a mystery.
Concept: ★★★★ 1/2
Mystery/Surprises: ★★ 1/2
So, real quick, let me just say this: if you're coming to this book for intense action, devious mysteries, or any kind of edge-of-your-seat thriller vibes, this is NOT the read for you.
The Cousins is Karen M. McManus' fourth YA novel, and it has a really nice set up. Three cousins from estranged siblings receive a mysterious letter from their reclusive wealthy grandmother, Mildred Story. Their parents were kicked off of the Story family's island in their teens and completely cut out of the will and the family legacy, so to hear from the matriarch at all is strange, to say the least. Mildred asks the three cousins—Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah—to come to Gulf Cove island to work on the family's resort for the summer. "To get to know you," the letter says.
What makes things even stranger is that Mildred didn't know they were coming.
And things aren't exactly what they seem on Gulf Cove island. What exactly happened all those years ago, and why did their grandmother cut all ties from the family?
It's time for Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah to find out.
Like I said at the beginning of this review, this is not the read for hardcore mystery/thriller fans. In a way, I wish this had been billed as more of a family drama contemporary than a mystery. Don't get me wrong, there are quite a few mysteries in the plot. And they're pretty satisfying and not overly easy to guess—I found the final reveal to actually be a surprise.
But I have to say, I treated the plot like a dramatic contemporary novel. And by doing so, I liked it a lot. If you don't try to focus on the mystery it's a great story. If you do focus on the mystery, I'd imagine elements of this story could be quite frustrating. For example, this 300-ish page novel takes place over multiple weeks of the summer and the mystery itself isn't the main (or even side) focus of each chapter. There's a lot of personal relationship drama, coming-of-age realizations, and family-themed bonding content. It's all really, really well done... but not focused on the mystery?
Because of that, when we do focus on the mystery it's in a WHAM BAM rush of events. Not exactly out of place, but definitely not balanced.
Overall, a great and enjoyable YA read filled with atmosphere, drama, and more... but not exactly as advertised.
The second installment in the Clue Movie-inspired mystery series—another dead body, another mystery to solve, and (unfortunately) a bit too much time spent looking back at the first story.
Character development: ★★ 1/2
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
So I really, really enjoyed the first novel in this series, In the Hall with the Knife. I HIGHLY recommend you check that book out if you haven't yet already—it's the perfect nod to the Tim Curry movie and will make you remember the board game fondly.
This book, In the Study with the Wrench, is the second novel in the trilogy. In this one, we're following the aftermath of the first novel as our motley crew of characters at Blackbrook Academy—Mustard, Scarlett, Peacock, Green, Plum, and the "new girl" to the canon Orchid—try to cope and move on from the tragic murder and events following the death of headmaster Boddy.
The group is referred to by the other students as the "Murder Crew" now. And while the group is trying to shuck off that label and ignore their recent past... fate has other plans. They discover another dead body. Again.
What's a group to do but solve another murder?
So.... this is super painful for me to admit this about one of my most anticipated releases, but I just couldn't love this installment in the same way as the first one. We spend wayyy too much time rehashing the events of the first book. Now, I understand that there needs to be a "recap" grace period at the start of a sequel—it helps us to remember where the story left us if we haven't recently read the first one. But this novel spent 50% of its storyline on rehashing, regrouping, and focusing on the first book.
Because of that, this novel had a hard time standing on its own. I wish it had spent much more time on developing the current murder plotline, and more time on helping the characters grow/adapt. With its stale focus on previous plot, everything felt like one endless waiting room... waiting to wrap up the last story in order to get to the new.
I'm still very excited to read the third book in the series. Hoping this one was just a one-off problem and a victim of sequel syndrome. We'll see! Definitely still check this one out if you enjoyed the first novel—spending more time with the characters was fun.
Thank you to the publisher via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Hot demon princes, tattoo magic, underworlds, witches in Italy, and a high stakes murder mystery. Need I say more?
Characters: Besides the main character being more dumb than fully believable? ★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Kingdom of the Wicked comes out on October 27, 2020!
Emilia di Carlo grew up with her twin, Vittoria, on tales of witches and demons. Their grandmother raised them to learn about their witch bloodline and magical abilities and taught them to fear the devil and his seven Wicked princes—because there's nothing more dangerous to a witch and her kind than a demon. And there are no demons more powerful and deadly than the Wicked.
Emilia takes—what she thinks as metaphorical—cautions to heart, and she thinks her twin does too.
But then Vittoria is found brutally murdered. Turns out there have been a string of young female witch killings throughout Italy, and Vittoria is the latest victim. As Emilia reels from the loss of her other half, she starts to realize that maybe Vittoria didn't take their grandmother's warnings as seriously as she did—and maybe those "stories" of the Wicked demon princes have more than a grain of truth in them.
With vengeance and blind need for justice in her heart, Emilia decides to follow in the steps of her sister and deal with the devil in order to find out the truth.
But Emilia has never summoned a demon before. To put it bluntly, her summoning doesn't go exactly as planned. Instead of a random, everyday demon from Hell...Emilia finds herself face to face with her nightmares: it's one of the Wicked demons himself, Wrath. In all his gold-and-smoke tattooed glory.
And she may or may not have bound them together more permanently than she intended. Wrath is, to say the least, pissed.
Now bound together, Emilia and Wrath are about to discover the truth behind Vittoria's murder and get WAY more than either of them bargained for.
It's time to wreak havoc on the Kingdom of the Wicked.
So, first off, WOW. As someone who's read and enjoyed this author's first (completely unrelated) series, I thought this book showed a massive leap in writing maturity and plot complexity. Don't get me wrong, I loved the Stalking Jack the Ripper series for its drama, medical stuff, and fun—but Kingdom of the Wicked is something else. It's clear that Maniscalco is honing her craft and exploring new storytelling in this, and I LIKE it.
The strengths: worldbuilding, concepts, push-pull relationship between Wrath and Emilia, unique magic system and take on the "underworld" trope, and the larger plot hinted at for future books to come.
The weaknesses: There's really only one major flaw from my perspective, and that's Emilia herself. This book fell into the trap of making the main character too dumb to be believed for the first half of the book in order to allow for the plot unfold in a very particular series of events—and it's too on the nose. Emilia makes extremely illogical, dumb, and borderline childish decisions for the sake of plot development, and that stung a bit to me as a reader. With such a beautiful concept, world, and plot, why did we need Emilia to stumble about like a bull in a china shop? She does get much better in the second half—so that makes me think this issue will be fixed in the second book—but still.
Overall, amazing book and one of my all-time favorites of the year. Definitely check this one out!
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Oh Myrtle, Myrtle, Myrtle. She just keeps finding herself smack in the middle of a crime scene. What’s a smart, bored Young Lady of Quality stranded in a washed-up carnival town to do but follow the evidence to find out which of her fellow travelers is a thief and a murderer? This sequel was so much fun.
This sequel to the Myrtle Hardcastle mysteries was even more fun than the first one, and to be honest could be read first—up to you as the reader!
Myrtle is such a great character. Stuck in a time period where girls and women are usually confined to oppressive and restricted roles, Myrtle shucks tradition and decides to pursue her true passion: crime and science.
In this latest installment, things have seriously gone awry. Myrtle, her terrible Aunt Helena, her governess, and their cat, Peony, have all gone on a train trip to a far away seaside town. The last thing they expect to discover is a dead body on the train—pierced by Aunt Helena's own shears.
Can Myrtle solve the case and get to the bottom of it before it's too late?
Ah! There's something so special about discovering a middle grade series that holds up for us adults, too. Not that there is any expectation for a book to do so—if it's middle grade, the MOST important thing is that is should resonate with its young audience. But isn't it nice when a book crosses those age boundaries and becomes something for all?
That's what I would say this series excels at doing. Myrtle Hardcastle might be a 12 year old (with young moods and opinions) but her humor and situations appeal to all audiences. I loved watching Myrtle get to the bottom of the case in this one, too, and couldn't get enough of her adventures with Peony and the gang.
You go, Myrtle!
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
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The perfect mystery series for the young Sherlock Holmes in your life—or for anyone who enjoys historical mysteries with a modern sense of humor. Myrtle was a HOOT!
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Mystery: ★★★ 1/2
Myrtle Hardcastle has an Unconventional Obsession with crime. Unlike other Proper Young Ladies during these olden times, Myrtle doesn't like tea time, dresses, or spending time sitting still. She likes to investigate. And what's better to investigate than murders and crimes?
One morning, Myrtle is observing her neighbor's estate through her telescope and she notices something odd. Something is afoot at Redgraves, and the mistress of the house hasn't gotten up yet. As this highly irregular behavior, Myrtle calls it in to the police.
Turns out, her wealthy spinster neighbor has been murdered.
Myrtle Hardcastle is on the case. With her sharp-witted governess in tow and her prosecutor father in the background, Myrtle is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery—no matter what is at stake.
What a clever, funny, and engaging middle grade mystery novel. As someone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes-inspired tales and has a soft spot for plucky historical female characters, this was a win-win for me. While this series IS meant for a middle grade audience—and it is an excellent novel for that group—I would also highly recommend it to adults who love Deanna Raybourn and other such historical mystery writers as the tone and feel is quite similar.
A fun-filled ride from start to finish! Looking forward to catching more of Myrtle's antics in the sequel, How to Get Away with Myrtle.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
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This review is going to be such a bummer, because I was so freaking pumped for this and love this author's previous books.
This is a reaction review. Given my conflicting and confused thoughts on this novel, I highly recommend checking out the official listings for a more concise summary. Normally I do those myself for these reviews, but I don't think I could do it justice here given my confusion.
Teeth in the Mist was a book that I was very excited to read. We've got 3 different timelines of women all tied to this ancient mill house in the remote UK (England? Scotland? Unclear.) There's a demonic angle, and in amazing Kurtagich style there were a bunch of documents and stylistic text choices throughout.
For example, the modern girl's narrative takes place almost exclusively through journal entries and camera transcripts. The 1800s timeline takes place in traditional 3rd person narration, and the oldest timeline takes place as very small diary entries.
But this was a mess for me.
For the first third, I was completely, utterly, 100% confused. And that was okay! I kept going, because I trusted that the story would become more clear as we went on.
It did, and it didn't.
Aside from complete confusion for the entire reading experience—and not the good kind, the frustrating "why are you giving me nothing" kind—I was also continually frustrated with the way that these three timelines were portrayed, and the lack of world building and character development used in each of them. This was a HUGE case of telling, not showing, and what we were told varied by the minute and was almost useless in most cases.
I just can't emphasize enough how much this book relied on telling, not showing. In particular, there is one element of the story that is obvious from the start (which wasn't a problem!) and then in the context of plot progression that trope completely goes off the rails. Please see my Goodreads review to view that spoiler.
On top of the spoiler above, it was just... why? The entire time I was reading the second half of this book—when it became clear where we were going with the three plot lines—I kept thinking, there must be more. Otherwise, why? Where is the payoff? Where is the satisfying "Ah, this is why I slogged through this" ending? It just... didn't satisfy. And it wasn't necessary to have three timelines, so I was frustrated by that element as well.
As you can tell, I'm pretty heated on the topic. Please take my opinions as their own, and not a reflection on anyone else's reading experience. This was a 400 page book of ?!?!?!, and it ended that way. But I still love this author, and I stand by Dead House, her previous book. Looking forward to the next one.
So this had some killer punches...including one VERY memorable one at the end. But that doesn’t quite make up for the dead weight.
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
One of Us is Next is the sequel to McManus' explosive debut novel, One of Us is Lying. While technically you could read this one by itself, the amount of references to the first book are numerous enough that I would encourage readers to pick up the first one, well, first.
I was EXTREMELY excited for this sequel. I loved, loved, LOVED One of Us is Lying, and I enjoyed her follow-up mystery/thriller, Two Can Keep a Secret.
But I didn't love this one.
We follow a new cast of characters at Bayview High School, including Maeve (Bronwyn's younger sister, who hacked the gossip site in the first novel), Knox (Maeve's best friend and ex-boyfriend), and Phoebe (a popular-ish twin with an interesting family life).
Maeve, Knox, and Phoebe find themselves at the heart of a twisted game of Truth or Dare when a new faceless gossip monger begins a texting alert with the student body.
Let's play a game - truth or dare?
With Simon's death fresh on their minds, the students of Bayview High are intrigued—but not intimidated—by the new faceless dealer. But then Phoebe doesn't respond to her Truth or Dare request, and the dealer reveals a secret that's way too cutting to be fun...
Uh oh, here we go again.
How well do you know your classmates?
One of Us is Next didn't hit the mark for me, most likely because it was a lesser aftershock of the debut. Too many references, too many reflections, and then the "game" of gossip—in this case, Truth or Dare—was executed with less suspense, less intensity, and less intrigue than One of Us is Lying. I feel bad comparing the two so intensely, but the book itself does so with its continual references to the events of the previous book. If this novel had reflected less, my memory of it might have been softer and I would probably have rated this higher. But if you're going to throw the comparisons in my face, I'm going to...compare them. And this one just doesn't hold up.
Also, the pacing was really tough. For the first half, I found myself slogging through it, waiting for the author's characteristic intrigue and intensity to kick in. It took a longgg time. I LOVED the final reveal, but the last 70 pages doesn't make up for the fact that the first half was mind-numbing.
We all know the story: The mansion. The colorful guests. The murder. The secret passageways. The weapons.
Mr. Boddy was murdered in the lounge with the candlestick. Or was it the wrench? Or maybe the revolver?
(In the case of In the Hall with the Knife, I bet you can guess.)
I honestly didn't know what to expect when this ARC arrived at my doorstep. I was in love with Clue as a kid (the movie AND the game) and I knew that I'd like it, at the very least. I didn't expect to love it and read it in one sitting!
In the Hall with the Knife is the perfect read for a casual fall evening. It's fast-paced, the coastal Maine spooky academy was the perfect setting, and the teenage characters were all fun to read in individual POVs. There are some changes to the main script: we have an added POV in Orchid McKee, and Mrs. White was an adult, but I didn't mind these changes—and in a weird way, I really enjoyed Orchid's entrance.
In terms of POV switching, I thought the author did a really good job at conveying each character's individual narrative voice. Even if you'd removed the names in the chapter, I would have known who was narrating—that's impressive, given the large cast list. However, hands down, I loved Peacock's entries the best. Everyone else has traditional chapters with third person narration...and then there's Peacock, who is obsessed with fitness and has her POV done within the context of a 1 page workout journal entry with a "notes" field that spills matter-of-fact details about the actual plot. Loved it.
Now, definitely keep in mind that this novel doesn't take itself seriously. Heck, the Clue movie notoriously didn't take itself seriously! The ending isn't a surprise to the discerning reader, but that's not why I loved it. I loved it for the cheese, the camp, and the modern twists on the old nods to nostalgia. It's a fun ride, and even more fun when you realize that it's actually a trilogy.
We haven't heard the last of this group, and so far there's only been one dead body...
(claps hands in excitement)
Thank you so much to Amulet Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.