Book Haul: March Mystery/Thriller Book Buying Madness

Something I hadn’t realised until recently is that this is the first time I’ve ever actually done a book haul post. Pretty crazy, especially considering I’ve been blogging since 2017. It’s probably because I tend to list my hauls as part of my monthly wrap ups. But there’s a first time for everything after all, and now seemed like the time. With my newbie status in mind, I made sure to check out some other blogs for hints on how to format this. From what I could see, most people tend to copy the book covers off Goodreads, list the synopsis and some brief thoughts, and go on their merry way. Smart, efficient, practical. But me, oh no. Past Ashley was like, I should take proper photos of everything!

Never. Again. Let it be said here: past Ashley is stupid.

Moving along, as the title suggests, recently I’ve been really in the mood for mystery/thriller type reads and, as you do when you get fixated on something, I’ve bought a few of them over the last couple of weeks. Okay, more than a few. Here are the new additions to my shelves in all their (annoying printed sticker) glory.

Final Girls – Riley Sager

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

Surprisingly, I’ve already finished this one! I was really in the mood for a quick, satisfying thriller one day and after enjoying Sager’s The Last Time I Lied earlier this year, I thought this might be just what I was after. As it turned out, it wasn’t quick or satisfying. The main story took so long to finally get going and I wasn’t very keen on most of the characters. The big reveal was disappointing, too. Another one of those cases of a good premise and poor execution, I’m afraid.


Stillhouse Lake – Rachel Caine

Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop. 

This book was on my 2020 TBR and I never got around to buying or reading it. So, when I found it on sale on the kindle store last month for less than $2, I couldn’t resist hitting that ‘buy now’ button. I think it’s the cheapest book I’ve ever bought! I’ve seen quite a lot of positive reviews for Stillhouse Lake and the premise is intriguing, however I know it’s the first installment in a series and there’s a cliffhanger ending, which I’m sure will drive me crazy.


The Nowhere Child – Christian White

Kimberly Leamy is a photography teacher in Melbourne, Australia. Twenty-six years earlier, Sammy Went, a two-year old girl vanished from her home in Manson, Kentucky. An American accountant who contacts Kim is convinced she was that child, kidnapped just after her birthday. She cannot believe the woman who raised her, a loving social worker who died of cancer four years ago, crossed international lines to steal a toddler.

On April 3rd, 1990, Jack and Molly Went’s daughter Sammy disappeared from the inside their Kentucky home. Already estranged since the girl’s birth, the couple drifted further apart as time passed. Jack did his best to raise and protect his other daughter and son while Molly found solace in her faith. The Church of the Light Within, a Pentecostal fundamentalist group who handle poisonous snakes as part of their worship, provided that faith. Without Sammy, the Wents eventually fell apart.

Now, with proof that she and Sammy are in fact the same person, Kim travels to America to reunite with a family she never knew she had. And to solve the mystery of her abduction—a mystery that will take her deep into the dark heart of religious fanaticism where she must fight for her life against those determined to save her soul…

I realised looking at my 2020 reading stats that although I live in Australia, I read barely any books by Australian authors or ones set there. It’s kind of sad, so consider this my first step in trying to improve that somewhat. From the blurb this seems like an interesting approach to the kidnapping type story so I’m looking forward to getting around to reading it. The Nowhere Child was shortlisted for quite a few Australian literature awards (what gave it away I wonder, could it be ALL THE PRINTED STICKERS??!!) so fingers crossed it’s a good read.


A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson

Everyone in Fairview knows the story.

Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town.

But she can’t shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. She knew Sal when she was a child, and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer?

Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent . . . and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

I’ve been meaning to buy A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder for a while now so the fact that I finally did isn’t much of a surprise. Unlike the other books on this list, it’s a YA Mystery read. I’ve been burnt by other YA books in this genre before so I’m a little wary but I’ve seen so many great reviews that I’m really hoping for a home run with this one, particularly since there’s another two books in the series after it.


In the Woods – Tana French

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children. He is gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a 12-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox (his partner and closest friend) find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

In one of my recent posts I mentioned wanting to give some of Tana French’s books a try and In the Woods is the first in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. You can read them out of order but I’m a bit of nut when it comes to that sort of thing so the first book it is. She’s a popular author in the genre so I hope I enjoy this because it’ll mean I have plenty of other books from her back catalogue to work my way through.


The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter

Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind.

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father—Pikeville’s notorious defense attorney—devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, Charlotte has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself—the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again, and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized, Charlotte is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case that unleashes the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress–because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried forever.

Like Tana French, Karin Slaughter is another big crime author with a healthy backlog that I’ve wanted to give a go for some time. Picking where to start with her books was a tough decision but The Good Daughter is one of her highest rated on GR and the blurb for it definitely grabbed me more than for some of her other books. I know that my grandma enjoys her books occasionally so, at the very least, I’ll have someone to chat to about it.


Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie

The tranquility of a cruise along the Nile is shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway has been shot through the head. She was young, stylish and beautiful, a girl who had everything – until she lost her life. Hercule Poirot recalls an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: ‘I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.’ Yet in this exotic setting, nothing is ever quite what it seems…

Let me first say, Agatha Christie is a literary queen and amazing. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t buy this because of how pretty the hardback special edition is. I’m not sure how I missed this but over the last few years Harper Collins has released a couple of Christie’s books with brand new, special foiled covers. They have a chosen quote on the back and nice, patterned end pages. As you might have guessed, I’m now determined to collect them all. I decided to go with Death on the Nile first as I know the new adaptation is releasing soon. While I’ve seen other adaptations before, I’ve never read the book and there’s no time like the present, right?


And that’s that! While I have bought a few other reads recently, they’re from other genres and I’ll probably save those to include as part of my end of month wrap up, as per usual. What books have you recently purchased and are looking forward to reading? Have you read any of these books and if so, what did you think? Or even better, do you have any other good mystery/thriller recommendations for me?

Beware Guests Who Never Leave: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

The Family Upstairs is one of those books that I was excited to read the moment I first saw the cover and read the blurb. Mysterious deaths, a creepy house in London, I was like, sign me right up.

Who, What, Where?

The main gist of the story is that back in the 1980s, three people were bizarrely found poisoned to death in a Chelsea mansion. Upon arriving at the scene, police discovered a letter proclaiming a group suicide and a ten-month-old baby girl. The circumstances surrounding the deaths never became entirely clear and the other children said to have been living in the house prior disappeared entirely. Now twenty-five, the baby, Libby, has inherited the house by virtue of her parents’ will. After being made aware of the mystery surrounding her parents’ deaths, Libby begins to look into what happened all those years ago.

A Mystery of Past & Present

The Family Upstairs is told in a mixture of first and third person, focusing on two timelines and three central characters. At first, it’s slightly confusing working out who’s who, what’s going on, and how things connect, but this doesn’t last for very long. In the past we have Henry, the son of the owners of the Chelsea house. He recounts the years leading up to the deaths in which several guests with sinister motives come to stay but never leave, completely altering his family’s lives. In the present, the storylines revolve around Libby (and her investigation into the family with a journalist named Miller) and Lucy, a mother of two living on the streets in France.

Both Henry and Libby’s stories involve a great deal of set up to progress the book’s later events and some readers may find the pacing slow because of it. As the book goes on, the two plotlines increasingly begin to tie into each other and accelerate. Henry reveals certain puzzle pieces in the mystery and Libby discovers others, allowing the reader to gradually construct a timeline. I liked this concept, but I do feel as though it could have been utilised more effectively in terms of Libby’s discoveries contextualising or leading into events in Henry’s timeline.

Too Many POVs

Lucy’s storyline, on the other hand, is something I feel I could have done without. I generally don’t mind books utilising multiple POVs, provided they’re done well and enhance the storytelling. While Lucy’s story is sometimes interesting, when viewed against the main trajectory of the novel, the events of it are largely an unnecessary distraction until close to the end. This time would probably have been better served developing the other characters in the book, especially young Lucy considering her importance to the story.

Missing Charisma

Speaking of characters, there are quite a few in this story. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is that a lot of them don’t feel particularly well fleshed out. This left me feeling somewhat apathetic at big moments, particularly when certain characters from the past showed up in the present. One character which could definitely have used extra attention was David, our villain of sorts who eventually turns the inhabitants of the Chelsea house into a cult. We’re told that David is intelligent and charming and yet, from what I was shown in the novel I still have no idea how he managed to hold such influence over so many people, especially the women. Considering how crucial this was to the novel, it severely damaged the realism of it for me.

Engaging and Ominous

Despite my issues above, I have to say, I found this book highly readable. Lisa Jewell has a very easy-going writing style, which makes getting sucked in simple, and a great sense of place (busy London, a bizarre market, the streets of Nice, the slow decay of the house from glamourous to oppressive). She also excels in instilling ominous and creepy feelings where necessary. Once I got past the early chapters, I was engaged in what was happening and genuinely looked forward to finding out how things would end. The book throws in a couple of twists, some of which utilise an unreliable narrator, and although they’re not particularly surprising, I was generally okay with them.

The End…?

One of the things that really damaged my enjoyment of this one was the ending. With thriller reads, I always go in expecting an exciting and dramatic climax. After all, the author has just spent a lengthy number of pages building tension, laying the groundwork, and you assume there’ll be a payoff for it. However, the climax here ended up feeling…flat. Whether this is because of the writing style or slow build up, I’m not sure. Worse, I’d hoped that the ending would be able to rectify it somewhat but no. Instead, I ended up with something weird, unrealistic, unearned (character wise), and incomplete.


Overall, while there were some things to like about this one it just wasn’t the read for me. I’m in the minority here though, so if you’re a big thriller fan I’d recommend giving The Family Upstairs a go – you might really enjoy it.

2 Stars

Bookish Fun: Books Which Give Me Summer Vibes

To my immense relief, at the end of this week summer will finally be over in Oz for yet another year. What’s that sound, you ask? Oh, just me screaming with joy. I don’t do well with hot weather, guys. Not at all. I melt and it’s super gross. However, books can always make something sucky more positive and lately I’ve been thinking about what books I most easily associated with summer as a season. So, here are the books that give off definite summer vibes for me:

The Unhoneymooners – Christina Lauren

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Romantic contemporaries have strong summer vibes in general but The Unhoneymooners feels especially summery for me. Most of the book takes place in Hawaii as the story involves a best man and maid of honour using their siblings’ honeymoon after everyone at the wedding but them gets food poisoning. There are mai tais, sexy massages, snorkeling, and some steamy moments. The perfect summer holiday read. I mean, just look at that cover! How could you think otherwise?


Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

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The fact that this book is set over the course of one summer is probably a good indication as to why I’ve listed it here, but it may also be the fact that it’s about love and set at a villa in the gorgeous Italian riviera. People spend lazy afternoons by the pool, at the beach or cycling through the countryside, fresh produce and seafood abound, and the characters sit and drink wine well into the evening discussing things like music, language and poetry. In the midst of all this, the book explores a consuming, obsessive, intimate and bright burning love affair between a teen and a grad student in beautiful and raw prose. Summer vibes all around.


We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

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I’m not a big fan of this novel while others absolutely love it. Yet, that doesn’t seem to prevent it from very clearly coming to mind when I think of summer. The book is set on an island which the wealthy characters of the story return to every year for part of the summer. The story has a mystery element due to the main character, Cady’s, memory gaps from last year’s trip (and we all know that aside from romance, mystery is summer’s favourite genre). There’s also some family drama, heartbreak, much time spent at the beach, and a twist ending. It makes you think about youth, the loss of innocence and forgiveness.


Since You’ve Been Gone – Morgan Matson

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Morgan Matson has a lot of books that scream summer, but I’m going with Since You’ve Been Gone. I believe the exact words in my review of this book were, ‘This book is summer in literary form’, and it is. SYBG is about a girl named Emily who is left a list of 13 tasks to complete over the summer by her friend Sloane who has mysteriously disappeared. Over the course of the book, Emily makes new friends, falls for a boy, gets a job at an ice-cream parlour, camps in her backyard, goes skinny dipping, crashes a party, and just generally learns to come out of her shell. The book is fun, light, sweet and a lovely story about female friendship.


Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie

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When summer rolls around, we break out the romance and the mystery novels. This is obviously one of the latter. If you’re after a good crime book, you can never go wrong with the queen of crime, Agatha Christie. Death on the Nile gives me those summer feels because, as you can tell from the title, it’s set on a river cruise in Egypt. After a newlywed socialite and heiress is found shot to death, famous detective, Hercule Poirot, hits pause on his holiday to determine who caused her untimely demise. Ruins, relentless sun, plenty of linen suits, jealously, and a lot of death. Sounds like summer to me. Okay, maybe minus the death part.


Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

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Summer in Singapore. This is another fun and light, but slightly trashy, read. It’s full of drama, crazy socialites, judgmental families, extravagant parties and ridiculously expensive things. If you’re the kind of person who binges soap operas or reality TV during summer (like me) for some mind-numbing entertainment, this is on par with that. Some of the storylines are somewhat ridiculous but as a bit of a satire, it’s what you’d expect. It also has a romance based story, so there’s that.


IT – Stephen King

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This is a weird one, I know. Go with it. My favourite parts of IT are the ones involving The Losers Club as kids and the bulk of this timeline takes place over the course of a summer. Sure, the characters spend most of it terrified and fighting to protect themselves from a creepy, child eating, clown shaped entity from another dimension. However, in between they also have some nice moments in support of the book’s friendship and coming of age themes. As the group solidifies, they spend a lot of their days hanging out with one another – riding around town on bikes, going to the movies, or seeking refuge in an area they call The Barrens. Here they play in the stream, build a dam, and even construct a hidden clubhouse. Feels like a childhood summer to me.


The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants – Ann Brashares

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As far as YA contemporaries go, this one falls into the forgettable 3-star mush of ones I’ve read but it definitely rises to the surface of my brain when I think about summer vibe books. I mean, each book in the series deals with a summer in the life of a group of friends as they go to different places and have varying experiences. In the first book, one travels to Greece, another to Soccer camp, another takes a summer job at home, and the fourth goes to visit her dad. They make new friends, tackle emotional challenges, fall in love, and get out of their comfort zones. At the heart of the book is strong bonds of female friendship and being there for someone when they most need it.


Circe – Madeline Miller

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Circe is a book that gives me strong summer vibes but I guess that’s just Greek mythology. A lot of the story takes place on a mythical island called Aeaea. Beautiful, but also a prison for poor Circe. Over the years, she occupies her time tending her garden, raising animals (both real & illusions), weaving, and developing her witchcraft. People come and go from Aeaea, the decent of which get to experience Circe’s hospitality by enjoying large feasts and sharing stories. Despite the loneliness of Circe’s life at times, this book makes me think of the parts of summer that I actually like – 1) the quiet, picturesque moments of natural beauty, 2) the social gatherings where people chat, eat, drink and enjoy each others’ company as the sun goes down, and 3) that sense of adventure in experiencing something new.


Which books most remind you of summer or give you serious summer vibes?

Lock Your Doors, Latch Your Windows: The Whisper Man by Alex North

One of my bookish resolutions for 2020 was to read more broadly than my constant marathon of fantasy and YA contemporaries. Cue: The Whisper Man by Alex North, a crime/thriller novel with an intriguing premise, rumoured to be a little bit creepy, and featured on quite a few people’s top ten lists of 2019.

Who, What, Where?

“If you leave a door half open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken.
If you play outside alone, soon you won’t be going home.
If your window’s left unlatched, you’ll hear him tapping at the glass.
If you’re lonely, sad, and blue, the Whisper Man will come for you.”

The novel is set in the small town of Featherbank in which a young boy named Neil Spencer has recently been abducted after hearing whispers at his bedroom window. The kidnapping is deeply unsettling for police as twenty years ago a serial killer with the same MO named Frank Carter, and known as ‘The Whisper Man’, was arrested. The body of his final victim was never found and at the time, the lead inspector on the case, DI Pete Willis, believed Carter might have an accomplice. Shortly after Neil’s disappearance, Tom Kennedy and his seven-year-old son, Jake, move to town, hoping to find a new start following the death of Jake’s mother, Rebecca. However, to Tom’s dismay, Jake soon begins acting strangely – talking to invisible children, sleepwalking, and spouting information he shouldn’t know. But then Jake, too, begins to hear the whispering.

More Than Your Standard Police Procedural

While TWM is marketed as a fantastic crime novel, and its mystery elements are definitely solid, where this book excels is its focus on themes like parenthood, specifically the relationship between fathers and sons, grief and trauma.  The key relationship here is between Tom and Jake. Several months after Rebecca’s death, Tom and Jake are both grieving in different ways and struggling to understand one another. Tom loves his son and desperately wants to connect with him but at the same time he’s also learning to be a single parent and dealing with the complex emotions associated with his loss. He worries about Jake fitting in and dealing with finding Rebecca’s body but more that he’s doing the right thing by Jake in terms of his parenting. His struggles also inevitably make him think about his problematic relationship with his own father.

Well-Rounded Characters

The characters in TWM are fleshed out and feel like real people, with all the flaws and failings that come with it. As a reader, we genuinely feel and understand Tom’s conflicting emotions of sadness and anger over his wife’s death, Jake’s guilt in being what he feels is a disappointment to his father, Pete’s struggles not to give in to his alcohol addiction, and DI Amanda Beck’s desperate need to do the right thing by Neil Spencer and his family. The book shifts perspectives between each of these characters, and later the killer, in a very fluid and easy to follow way.

Enjoyable but Not Gripping

In terms of the mystery itself, I found it mildly enjoyable but not to the level hype had set my expectations. However, I feel as though this is likely more a case of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’. As I mentioned above, TWM is about more than just an investigation. In order to facilitate this (and because there are points where the police are low on leads), the pacing is slower for large sections. It’s almost as though the mystery takes a back seat to character development and exploring the book’s overall themes, which is fine but not what I was anticipating.Something I also really enjoy in my thrillers/mysteries are intense moments and big/smart reveals. TWM does have a few creepy and dramatic moments, and the later chapters are certainly fast paced, but the majority of the reveals didn’t really encourage a reaction from me more than, ‘Okay, I’m cool with that. That makes sense’. Overall, I can say I was consistently interested in what was happening but not necessarily glued to the page, on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen.

I See Dead People (Maybe?)

TWM also includes a potential paranormal plotline. Having gone into this book expecting a gritty murder mystery grounded in reality, this was a surprise for me, but one I really enjoyed. This part of the story revolves around Jake and his tendency to see and speak to children which no one else can. Jake also often says things that make Tom wonder where he would have picked up the information. This complication added an extra dimension to Jake and Tom’s relationship and really enriched the sections of the novel from Jake’s perspective. They also tie in nicely to the overall mystery narrative, making certain moments that little bit more emotional and dramatic.      


All things considered; I liked this one. It was well written and I’d probably read another book from the same author in the future.

3.5 Stars

Ghosts, Dark Magic, and Murder: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Now, this is a tough one.

Ninth House was easily one of my more anticipated releases for the second half of 2019. Magic, dark themes, secret Yale Societies and Leigh Bardugo. Why, hello there, irresistible combination. As Leigh’s first adult novel, I was also super intrigued to see how it would be different from her YA works. And yes, it’s definitely different. But good different or bad different? In the end, it’s a bit of both.

Who, What, Where?

Ninth House is set at a fictional version of Yale University. Here, the rich and powerful members of eight secret societies regularly engage in dangerous occult rituals dealing with everything from necromancy and portal magic to shape-shifting. These societies are kept in check by a smaller ninth house, Lethe. Every three years Lethe recruits a freshman to join its ranks, opening their eyes to the uses and potential dangers of magic. Twenty-year old Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern is a high school drop-out from LA with the ability to see ghosts or ‘Greys’. After somehow surviving an unsolved multiple homicide, Alex is mysteriously offered a scholarship to Yale and the freshman position within Lethe.

The book largely flicks back and forth between two time periods – Winter & Spring. The Winter chapters take place shortly after Alex’s arrival at Yale and deal with her starting to learn about magic and the societies through the assistance of a Lethe senior named Darlington. The Spring timeline occurs following Darlington’s bizarre disappearance, with Alex now largely handling the duties of Lethe on her own. When a young woman turns up dead on campus with several unexplained connections to the societies, despite being told to do otherwise, Alex decides to follow her gut and look into it.

Dark & Mysterious

If I were grading Ninth House on a lettered scale, it’d easily get an A for atmosphere. Leigh’s version of Yale is dark, dangerous and full of secrets. Ghosts roam the streets, magical substances exist to charm people and remove their free will, and wealthy, privileged students abuse dark magic for pleasure and power. It’s an intriguing setting and grounded well by Leigh’s ability to mix her own knowledge of the real Yale with her fantastical take on it. This twisted depiction of the University is further aided by the fact that it’s also populated by a multitude of morally grey, and sometimes black, characters – people willing to do whatever it takes to better themselves regardless of the costs to others. Even Alex, herself, is not so morally clean cut, but necessarily so to be able to survive in this kind of environment.

A Trigger Minefield

As I said above, Ninth House is not a young adult novel, by any means, and it won’t be for everyone. This book goes to some dark places and the trigger warnings list for it is lengthy. Drug addiction & overdose, murder, self-harm, child rape, forced consumption of human waste, toxic and abusive relationships, sexual assault involving video and date rape drugs, and more. For the most part, these things do tie into important plot elements and character development rather than being simply thrown in for extra colour, but it’s important to be prepared if any of these are things you’re sensitive to.

Connecting with Characters

One of the things I love about Leigh’s previous books is her ability to write interesting and loveable characters. With Ninth House, however, I had great difficulty connecting with them. Alex is a complex character with clear personality traits and a detailed backstory but at the same time, it just never really clicked for me. In terms of the other characters, Darlington was easily my favourite and yet, he’s only in a small portion of the book. Then we have Lethe’s support staff and perpetual PhD student, Dawes, and Lethe’s police liaison, Detective Turner, both of which I thought were okay, but was again missing that spark with.

There are a lot of side characters in this book and at some points it does feel crowded. Society members, Alex’s roommates, Yale faculty, ghosts/historical figures, people from Alex’s past, etc. Some are better fleshed out and more important than others, but I do feel as though there could have been a slight cut back to reduce messiness and confusion.

Stop & Start Plot

The plot of Ninth House is a lot like a dying engine, stopping and violently starting at a moment’s notice. This book could definitely have been shorter than 458 pages and there are a lot of sections in which the pacing is very slow, especially early on (& the info dumping doesn’t help). Momentum on the murder investigation takes a while to kick in and even when things do start to pick up, after every new puzzle piece discovered or dramatic moment that unfolds, there’s a long, drawn out pause. This is usually to shift to character backstory or something else. If you find these side-plots interesting, you’ll get by okay but if not, there’s likely to be some periods of boredom. While I wasn’t gripped in a constant state of excitement, I will say that, for the most part, I did remain consistently intrigued in how things would turn out, even though the ending wasn’t the satisfying conclusion I’d hoped for.


Overall, for one of my most anticipated releases of the year, Ninth House was somewhat of a disappointment for me. However, despite its flaws, I can still say I found it a mildly enjoyable, if bleak and at times confusing, reading experience. As to whether I’ll read the follow up, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

3 Stars

Mutant Crabs, Body Horror and Lots of Questions: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Like a few of the other books I’ve read in recent months, Wilder Girls is another example of a novel with a great premise which manages to get a few things right but ultimately isn’t as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be. Being classified as feminist horror by a lot of people, the story is a little bit Lord of the Flies in an Annihilation like setting with some added lesbianism, gore, friendship and a military cover up.

Who, What, Where?

Our story takes place at Raxter School for Girls, a boarding school located on an island off the coast of Maine. The school has been quarantined for the past 18 months following the outbreak of a mysterious disease referred to as the Tox. Over time, the Tox has killed most of the teachers and some of the students. The infected that remain suffer as the disease continues to mutate their bodies in gruesome and painful ways. The creatures in the surrounding woods have been similarly affected, leaving them aggressive and a constant threat. Facing difficult weather conditions and minimal food supplies, all the students can do is wait and hope for the speedy arrival of the promised cure.

Creepy & Mysterious Vibes

The atmosphere and setting for Wilder Girls are spot on. It’s bleak but works perfectly for the story being told. A decaying boarding school, population constantly dwindling, buildings gradually being torn apart for whatever resources the girls need to stay alive, and surrounded by expansive forest areas inhabited by mutated, vicious animals. Power provides us with just enough detail about her world to visualise it and still be intrigued to find out more. There are some serious Annihilation-like vibes here – it’s fascinating, mysterious, ominous and, at times, downright horrifying.

Aside from setting, Power’s novel also excels where it comes to the body horror elements – something she shows a clear talent for. The book doesn’t shy away from the pain and suffering the girls experience at the hands of the Tox which affects them in a variety of terrifying and sometimes awfully gruesome ways. Scaled hands, second spines, gills, sealed eyes, extra organs, blistered skin, mouth sores that spontaneously burst, the outlook is bleak. It’s bloody and bound to make those with weaker stomachs’ skin crawl. However, I do have to say that I feel as though Power could have made better use of the Tox as an allegory for women’s struggles in society and done more with the Tox mutations as a take on puberty (or at least, that’s how I interpreted it).

Just Answer My Questions

By and large, Wilder Girls is not something I’d describe as fast paced or action packed. The story spends a fair amount of time establishing the current state of things – the disease, the student’s systems for survival, the world itself, etc. before eventually moving on to something more plot oriented and even then, these plot points aren’t exactly numerous. It took me a while to engage with the story and mostly out of an intense desire to get my questions about the disease answered. However, the answers themselves ended up being either unsatisfying, vague or non-existent. If you’re looking for something with a clear sense of closure like me, this won’t be a good pick for you. The ending itself feels rushed, incomplete and confusing, and I’m left with a frustrating amount of questions.

The Trio

There are three main characters in Wilder Girls – Hetty, Byatt & Reese, the first two of which serve as the story’s narrators. The girls are close friends and have learnt to have each other’s backs to ensure their survival. These relationships are important as it’s Byatt’s disappearance which causes Hetty and Reese to go out looking for her, setting off a chain of events. Each of the girls are what I’d consider capable and strong. Power has given them different personalities and I have no problems with their characters from what I saw of them. Yet, at the same time, I still don’t feel as though I really know them and would have appreciated some more depth, development and backstory, especially with Byatt who was the least clear to me.

Poetic & Artsy?

One of the things I found myself thinking about a lot while reading was Power’s writing style. The reason being that it’s a little odd at times and frequently adopts the kind of sentence structure that would send any grammar check program into panic mode. For example, ‘Over my shoulder, the gloom thickening, and every sound an animal prowling through the trees’ or ‘Here the beginning of a path, there an open patch of grass, rubble scattered like gravestones’.  When you consider that the book is written in first person from the POV of 16-year old girls, it does make you wonder. While I wasn’t as keen on the use of this approach during quieter moments, it works well in dramatic scenes, helping to emphasise the tension and get across the tendency of the brain to process things very quickly.

Power plays around with style a lot more during Byatt’s segments of the novel – fragmented sentences, run-ons, etc. This in combination with choppy memory flashbacks can make these sections confusing at times but, for the most part, it effectively reflects Byatt’s current state of mind.  

Romance Light

As a book featuring almost an entirely female cast of characters, it’s the perfect set up for a sapphic romance. Wilder Girls starts out well on this front and lays the building blocks for a lovely and complex relationship between Hetty and Reese. Following Byatt’s disappearance, the two start to understand each other and communicate better, they have some sweet and intimate moments, and then…poof. It’s gone. Okay, not gone, but any further development does seem to halt. While I’m not someone who needs massively dramatic romance storylines to be happy, as far as side plots go, for me, this one was underdeveloped.

While Wilder Girls may not have given me the answers I wanted and could have benefited from greater depth to some of its story elements, it was certainly an interesting read and its world building and mysteries kept me engaged until the end. If you’re after something quick, slightly darker in tone, with strong female characters and a more open ending, this should be right up your alley. Added bonus: An absolutely stunning cover to add to the bookshelf.

3.5 Stars

Murder at Magic School: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey (ARC)

Magic for Liars is a book with both a solid and fun concept – I mean, a murder mystery at a magic school? – but somehow, it never really manages to scratch either your crime or fantasy itch in quite the way you’d hoped.

Noir Meets Magic

The story centres around Ivy, an alcoholic PI who has difficulty getting close to people. While Ivy herself is a regular Joe, her estranged sister Tabitha is a mage and teaches at a secret academy for magical teens (think American high school that just happens to teach magic subjects alongside the regular). When one of the teachers dies under mysterious circumstances, the headmistress hires Ivy to investigate. A murder case seems like the perfect opportunity for Ivy to test her skills and pick up some well needed cash, but it also means facing Tabitha and somehow getting a bunch of adolescents to tell it to her straight. She has her work cut out for her.

Ivy Gamble, P.I

As a protagonist, Ivy is basically how you’d imagine a standard noir private investigator to be – never far from a bottle, a loner, unresolved family problems, and accustomed to dealing with unsavoury types. However, she’s also very unsatisfied with who she is and because of this, she’s spends a lot of the novel acting out different (alternate universe) versions of herself e.g. flirty/giggly Ivy or Mage Ivy. At first, it’s fine, as it shows just how much Ivy wishes she could be like the image she has of her sister, attractive, free and special. After a while, it does start to get repetitive and annoying, especially when it predictably blows up in her face. On the upside, the plot does give Ivy a lot of opportunities to showcase that she’s very good at working out people – when they’re lying, what they want, and how best to manipulate them for information. I really enjoyed this side of her, mostly because it showed just how great of an investigator she is.

Let’s Solve a Murder

The murder mystery storyline takes a while to properly warm up. The first part of the novel deals with Ivy taking her time to learn the lay of the land (working out who the main players are & their stories, and attempting to understand relevant magical principals). Aside from a couple of tense moments during character interviews, there isn’t a heap of excitement during the first half. However, once we get over the mid-way hump, some of the little things Ivy picks up on earlier start to show greater relevance and the plot moves along more briskly. By the time events start coming together at the end, the momentum has vastly increased and everything gets dramatic FAST. You’ll likely be able to guess where things are heading, but as it’s both emotionally charged and makes sense within the context of the story, that’s not such a bad thing. I will say, though, that the ending itself does feel somewhat rushed and incomplete in that some big choices are made, especially by Ivy, and we have no idea what the consequences will be.

Red Herrings (Aka. Side Plots)

Magic for Liars involves several side plots. These weave in and out of Ivy’s investigation to varying degrees. There’s Ivy’s flirtation with the hot physical magic teacher, her fractured relationship with Tabitha, a prophecy about a chosen one, and a mysterious student relationship with a potential pregnancy. For the most part, these are designed to provide the overall book with extra colour and the investigation with some red herrings.

  • Ivy’s relationship with Rahul is a cute addition, even though it ends in a rather unsatisfying way. It’s somewhat awkward but sweet to see Ivy try to connect with someone, even if she goes about it very badly.
  • The teen pregnancy story is the most relevant to the overall mystery, but I do wish it had felt a little deeper considering it was dealing with something so emotionally heavy.
  • I really enjoyed the sections of the novel devoted to trying to repair Ivy’s damaged relationship with Tabitha. It’s interesting to see them attempt to overcome their issues with one another and realise that many of them stem from incorrect ideas about the other or a lack of communication. More importantly, this groundwork ended up being essential to the emotional impact of the book’s ending.
  • Of the four, the chosen one plotline is the one I could have done without. It not only feels unnecessary but has a predictable outcome from the moment it’s introduced.

Scientific Magic

Unlike books like Harry Potter, for instance, Magic for Liars tries to take a slightly more scientific approach to magic. In a way, it’s more akin to something like Lev Grossman’s The Magicians but less complicated or fully explained. While I didn’t always understand the terms and principles being thrown around, I still enjoyed the use of magic here and found that it served to ground the story by making the world building and plot events seem more realistic. Yet, I do wish that we’d gotten to see more of the magical elements instead of having them mostly relegated to the background.

While Magic for Liars wasn’t the epic crossover between the mystery and fantasy genres that I’d hoped for, it still possesses some solid character moments, a mildly intriguing mystery, and a decent approach to world building that’ll be enough to entertain some readers.

3.5 Stars

Old-School Mystery in Quirky YA Packaging: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

And we’re back with another episode in Ashley’s quest to find a satisfying and great YA mystery. My latest victim (ha, murder mystery joke) is Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. This review is not at all behind on the times. I mean, it’s not like the sequel was just released right? Oh, wait…

Who, What, Where?

Sixteen-year-old Stevie has an obsession with all things crime. Podcasts, mystery fiction, cold cases, you name it – Stevie is the expert and she dreams of one day becoming a great detective like her literary heroes. When she’s accepted into the exclusive, and extravagantly funded, Ellingham Academy, Stevie is surprised but also excited. Founded in the 1930s by business tycoon, Albert Ellingham, the school is famous for its troubled past involving two murders and the kidnapping of Ellingham’s family, all still unsolved. The only clue in the case: a morbid poem sent by someone known only as ‘Truly Devious’.  When given the opportunity to choose a personal project, Steve’s choice is simple – solve the Ellingham murders. But when one of the students in her class dies mysteriously, Stevie begins to realise that perhaps real-life detective work is different from what she’d expected.

Weird but Fun

Although Truly Devious is a murder mystery and it’s obviously dealing with the darker side of human nature, Johnson’s style has this wonderfully quirky tone which I find really refreshing. It’s in the plot, the setting, the characters, everything really. It’s almost as though I recognise the fact that everything about the book is a little bit too odd to ever happen in real life – a school with a dark past, full of secret passageways, hidden in the mountains and inhabited by bizarrely talented teenagers. Yet, at the same time, because it’s so fun and eccentric, almost a tongue-in-cheek look at famous mystery books, I’m more than willing to invest in the idea of all of this happening for the purposes of a good story.

Kooky Characters

Truly Devious is full of distinct and interesting characters. Because Ellingham Academy accepts such a wide range of students, similar only in the fact that they’re unique and talented, this creates a great cast for Johnson’s mystery. Aside from Stevie, there’s Ellie, the fruity artist, Nate, a moody & writers’ blocked author, David, the shifty and scruffily attractive video game designer, Hayes, the charming YouTube star, and Janelle, the genius metal sculptor, just to name a few. Seeing them all interact is rarely boring, sometimes even funny, and I look forward to spending more time with them in the sequels.

I found Stevie, herself, to be a likeable protagonist. She’s just so enthusiastic and determined. The girl has gumption, and I can’t help but admire that. I also love the fact that she has this deep vulnerable side to her in terms of her difficulties with people and anxiety attacks, but at the same time, she still maintains this great degree of sass and confidence.

Slow Start

The opening chapter of TD was great and grabbed me right away, but once we were introduced to Stevie, I found that it took a while for me to really get into the story. As I was reading I couldn’t help feeling like there was a lot of introductory stuff – Stevie coming to school, dealing with her parents, getting the tour, introducing Stevie’s classmates, etc. Some of this info is necessary but I do wish it had been condensed somewhat. What didn’t help is that the modern mystery doesn’t start until a fair way into the book and we’re fed info about the Ellingham affair very slowly throughout the story.

No Resolution

One of the things traditionally expected from a good ‘who dunnit?’ is an exciting but logical resolution to the big mystery. Truly Devious, yeah…it doesn’t have that. There are two overarching mysteries in this book – the Ellingham affair and the death of Hayes. With this being the first in a series of three books, I went into it knowing we wouldn’t get closure on the 30s mystery this early. However, what I didn’t expect was that we’d only get a partial solution to Hayes’ death. I. am. Offended. Agatha Christie would never have pulled this crap. Still, I have to give Johnson credit for quite a good character based twist in the last few lines of the book which should create some great tension in the sequel.


Despite the slow warm up and somewhat unsatisfying conclusion, I had a lot of fun with Truly Devious and greatly enjoyed its interesting blend of vintage mystery with contemporary YA fiction. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel to find out what happens next.

3.5 Stars

Mystery, Secrets & Pom Poms: The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

The Cheerleaders

Sometimes you just really want your YA contemporary with a bit of murder, mysterious car accidents, troubled MCs still dealing with their sister’s suicide, and bitchy cheerleader/dance team girls with major drama. So I guess it’s a good thing we’ve got books like Kara Thomas’s The Cheerleaders to try to fill that highly specific niche, eh?

Who, What, Where?

The Cheerleaders is set in the town of Sunnybrook, which five years ago lost five of its high school cheerleaders in the space of a few weeks. Two were killed in an awful car accident, another pair were murdered at home, and the fifth, a suicide. Our protagonist is Monica, the younger sister of cheerleader no. 5, Jennifer, and who, let’s just say, is going through some “stuff”. Coming up to the anniversary of the deaths, Monica discovers some evidence that sends her questioning not only what happened to Jen but whether the man blamed for the deaths of her sister’s friends was, in fact, the culprit. The book follows Monica’s investigation as she, with some help from a new friend, Ginny, attempts to piece together the events from that Autumn.

Normally I break my reviews up by why you’d read it and why you’d skip, but as you can probably tell from my star rating, there’s going to be more negatives than positives here. So, I’ve classified each commentary section as either a high, neutral or low.

Neutral: The Mystery

I will willingly admit that I’m not averse to a bit of dark crime. It’s like a car wreck –  awful but you can’t help being mesmerised. It’s probably why true crime books and TV shows like Mindhunter or Criminal Minds do so well. The problem is, that when you go in expecting dark and twisty, anything less just feels…flat.

The book sets up its mystery well – five dead cheerleaders, are their deaths really what they seem? Are they all connected?

*cue dramatic music*

It’s a good hook and over time we get a few developments which move Monica & Ginny’s investigation in different directions – mysterious pickup trucks, overheard arguments, potential affairs, drug dealers, etc. These are generally enough to keep a reader pushing through out of curiosity, but is there ever anything truly shocking?

No.

I kept waiting for some amazing clue or witness that’d turn the case on its head and take the intensity from a five or six to an 8+. Instead, the most nail-biting moment in the investigation ended up being Ginny and Monica’s plan to steal witness statements from the police database.

Don’t get me wrong, the plot isn’t bad. It’s just…lacklustre. The story plugs along consistently with Monica and Ginny looking into each lead as it arises, either through research or questioning persons of interest, but, unfortunately, it’s just not an exciting investigation. There’s no real sense of tension, and it doesn’t help that the case is five years old. *sigh* I think my own hyped-up expectations are partly to blame here. However, Monica’s conspiracy theorising in the early stages of the book didn’t exactly help.

Low: The Ending

The ending itself was a disappointment for me. I’d hoped that after the just ‘okay’ rest of the book, I’d get something big to finish on but instead of fireworks, I got a sparkler. When I went into this book, I was led to believe there was some bigger mystery at works involving all the dead cheerleaders. Instead, we get to the end to be told essentially, just kidding!

The two murders are solved with the discovery of a perpetrator that didn’t really do much for me at all. Mostly because the character isn’t present for much of the novel, has barely any development, and simply pops up again at the end, almost for convenience. The car accident deaths are also explained but in the very last chapter of the book. This was a shrug-worthy resolution for me as so little time had been spent on that storyline that by the time we got to the end, I’d lost interest.

Low: Representation of Serious Topics

Through her characters, Thomas brings up a lot of really serious topics – drug addiction, youth suicide, statutory rape, abortion, and depression, but it feels like none of these are given the proper treatment they deserve. For starters, Monica shows signs of an addiction to pain medication, depressive thoughts, and is even recovering from an alluded to  abortion. Yet, each of these things seem simply thrown in to add colour to her character without being properly addressed. She just pops pills constantly and talks about her stomach hurting. I almost want to cringe at the wasted potential for character depth here. Also particularly problematic is the handling of statutory rape here, in which the responsibility/blame is put almost entirely on Monica and her need to ‘feel something’.

With regards to Jen, suicide is also featured in the novel but in a similarly unfulfilling way. I’m not at all an expert on these kinds of feelings but throughout Jen’s sections, while I always recognised that she was sad, she never came across as being at the point where she saw suicide as her only option, even after her friends’ deaths. The thought process seemed very surface and too rushed to be realistic – almost as though it was sacrificed in favour of solving the deaths of her friends.

High & Low: Characters

I wish I could say that I had several characters that I really liked here but unfortunately, almost all of them felt underdeveloped and, at times, even stereotyped. There are a few that show potential such as Jen’s friend Julianna, Jen and Monica’s stepdad, Tom, and outcast, Ethan, but none of them ever seem to reach it. They play their roles and then exit stage left until needed. I think the problem is that there were almost too many side characters, preventing the ones we might have cared about, had they been given some more love, enough time to shine.

As an MC, Monica isn’t entirely unpleasant but she’s not exactly likeable either. She displays a self-destructive streak and is almost a black hole during large sections, especially early on. Then again, dead sister, weird relationship with mother, and recent abortion, so perhaps rightly? Still, this made it hard to connect with her at times except during her more emotionally raw moments, such as one heartbreaking conversation with her mother towards the end. Yet, I can safely say that she’s not boring or straight out of a mould.

Jen gets her time in the limelight during several flashback chapters scattered across the book. These take place leading up to and during the period of cheerleader deaths. I’ll be honest, I was more interested in what was going on around Jen than her as a person, but I liked the fact that she was kind. I really enjoyed these flashback segments and thought they were a great way to give added context to events and people Monica and Ginny were looking into in the present.

Ginny was probably my favourite of the three focal characters. She was sweet, smart, loyal and strong, but still possessed an underlying vulnerability. Hers and Monica’s growing friendship was one of the most enjoyable parts of the book and I thought the dynamic between the two was lovely in that their different skills sets, connections, and personalities worked together to solve the murders.


I had high expectations for The Cheerleaders but found myself disappointed. Plot-wise, this was an okay read but lacking something crucial to make it more exciting or memorable. If you’re looking for a slower YA contemporary mystery, not heavy on the thriller elements this is probably a good pick. As for me, my search for the book that successfully scratches my YA mystery/thriller itch continues!

2 Stars

Murder, Lies, & High School Drama: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

4 stars

OOuiL

Add one part The Breakfast Club, another part Riverdale, a touch of Gossip Girl, and a sprinkle of Pretty Little Liars. Mix well.

The finished product: One of Us is Lying.

Actually, if I’m being completely honest, what this book really reminds me of, bear with my geekiness here, is an old PC game I used to play as a kid based on Nancy Drew. We’re talking 1998 old. It was called Secrets Can Kill and involved a student who had been blackmailing a bunch of people for things like steroid use and cheating on an exam, before eventually being murdered. If you’ve played this, OoUiL seems far less dramatic in comparison but both are fun in their own way.

Who, What, Where?

Five students enter detention. Less than an hour later, one of them is dead. Our suspects:

  • Addy, the popular girl who can’t seem to do anything without her boyfriend.
  • Cooper, the rising, young baseball star with a wicked fastball.
  • Nate, the school drug dealer, currently on probation and the easy scapegoat.
  • Bronwyn, top of her class and destined for Yale.

All have secrets, but which of them murdered Simon, Bayview High’s resident blogger and gossip king, to stop them getting out?

Why You Should Read This Book

Likeable but Not Loveable

The Bayview 4, as they’re labelled in the aftermath of Simon’s death, are all likeable characters. Are they amazingly memorable? Probably not, but they’re still very enjoyable to read about, especially as each takes ownership of their secrets and begins to reorganise their lives in really positive ways. Addy, in particular, is a great example of this. She begins the story as a human doormat and by the end has cut the toxic people from her life, started focusing on herself, and stopped worrying about what others think of her. You go, girl.

Human Connection

What was also really nice to see was the friendships that developed between the central 4 and the support each provided for the others during a pretty crappy time. Here are four completely different people, in different social circles and yet, even under circumstances that encourage them to turn on each other, they come together (there’s an especially great, and surprising, scene involving Nate standing up for Cooper after the release of some private information). It’s because of this trust and connection that they’re ultimately able to “solve the case” – perhaps Mystery Inc. is in need of some new members?

Romance

I’ll keep this quick – there’s a romantic relationship between two members of the Bayview 4 and it’s actually quite a nice addition to the story. It doesn’t take over the plot, it’s doesn’t become annoying, and the characters have a great dynamic with one another because of their differences in background and personality.

Representation & Tough Topics

I know, I know, we really need to stop commending books just because they happen to include even a little diversity or tackle a few bigger issues but I’m going to do it anyway. McManus’s characters are inclusive of Latinos, LGBTQ individuals, and people from low socio-economic backgrounds and broken homes. The book deals with elements of mental health, abusive relationships, bullying, and slut-shaming. While none is gone into in great depth, they’re all handled reasonably well and I really like how each served to enrich the story.

Why You Might Want to Skip It

Who Are you?

One of the most noticeable things as I was reading was the difficulty I experienced on many occasions of remembering who’s POV I was reading at any given time. Sure, the personal details were different but without one coming up for a while, things started to get a little…ambiguous. It was particularly problematic during scenes in which members of the Bayview four were together. I’d start a conversation believing I was Bronwyn only to find out it was Addy, or even Cooper. I’ll admit, this may be partly an attention issue on my end but I still believe the tone of voice could have been more distinct.

Well this Makes Zero Sense

There are a lot of things that really don’t add up in this book and it’s frustrating. Even worse, the characters point out these flaws as if to say, yes I recognise the fact this should have happened but oh well!

By far, the most annoying thing is how the police handle the murder investigation. Their efforts are focused almost entirely on the four main characters to the point that nobody else is even considered a suspect. This is ridiculous considering the fact that the victim is a guy who pissed off almost everyone at school and has how many squillions of enemies.

To make it worse, it feels like the police haven’t even bothered to do extensive research on their victim. Bronwyn’s sister, a high schooler, does a better job in two days than the police do in weeks. Worse still, key pieces of evidence aren’t followed up on correctly or just outright ignored, e.g. the mobile phones used to suspiciously get everyone into detention at the exact right time, or the accident that occurred just at the right time outside the classroom window.

It’s not realistic, it’s frustrating as hell, and it feels like these things are overlooked just so the core characters get to act like super sleuths and solve the crime in the end.

A Predictable and Flat End

As Sherlock Holmes says, once you rule out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth. OoUiL provides us with only a few fleshed out suspects and once we rule out the main ones, which you’ll do quickly, the truth of the matter, or something close to it, will be pretty clear early on. Personally, I wish the ending had been more shocking, but aside from perhaps one person’s involvement (which seemed quite extreme, almost soapie) it at least made sense in the context of the story.


Despite the problems and sense of realism, One of Us is Lying was an enjoyable read with some solid characters and a decent enough plot to keep me engaged until the end. Well done to McManus for a great debut novel.

4 Stars 

Love Ashley