All These Bodies: A Review

All These Bodies by Kendare BlakeA series of strange murders is leaving a grisly trail across the Midwest in the summer of 1958.

The bodies are found in their cars, their homes, their beds. All of them are drained of blood. But the scenes are clean. No blood anywhere.

On September 19 the Carlson family is slaughtered in their secluded farmhouse in Black Deer Falls, Minnesota and the police might finally have a lead when Marie Catherine Hale is found at the scene.

Covered in blood, mistaken for a survivor, it soon becomes clear that Marie is something else when police realize the blood is not hers.

Michael Jensen has been following coverage of the murders all summer, eager to test his mettle as an aspiring journalist and pave the way out of his small town. When his father, the local sheriff, arrests Marie, Michael knows it’s an opportunity he likely won’t see again.

Talking to Marie, assisting the police, having firsthand access to the case files gives Michael a close-up view of the investigation and the girl at its center. Marie doesn’t look like a killer, but she’s confessing to Michael over a series of interviews. She says there’s more to the killings than anyone can imagine but as her story unfolds Michael is the one who will have to decide if the truth is the same as what people will believe in All These Bodies (2021) by Kendare Blake.

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All These Bodies was a 2021 Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Novel. The story is narrated by Michael and all characters are assumed white.

Blake expertly unspools Michael’s naked ambition to become a journalist with his increasingly thorny ethical dilemma when it comes to using Marie’s story for his own gain. The narrative focuses on Marie and whether being complicit is the same as being an accomplice while slowly teasing out what may have happened to the Carlsons and all the other victims.

Centering Marie while having the story related by Michael explores questions of the male gaze and agency as the story builds to its dramatic finish. Marie’s journey in the media from victim to villain is nuanced and contrasts well with Michael’s own conflicting feelings on whether Marie can be the violent criminal authorities seem to think she is while also being his friend.

Michael’s pragmatic narration only increases the tension as Marie shares her confession to her role in the murders and hints at something even more sinister at play while leaving space for readers to interpret events for themselves.

All These Bodies is an atmospheric story at the intersection of true crime and horror; one that will stay with you in all of the best ways.

Possible Pairings: No Saints in Kansas by Amy Brashear, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Breaker by Kat Ellis, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, Broken Things by Lauren Oliver, Sadie by Courtney Summers, The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas, The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

Want to know more? Check out my interview with Kendare.

Belladonna: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Do not change the parts of yourself that you like to make others comfortable. Do not try to mold yourself to fit the standards someone else has set for us.”

Belladonna by Adalyn GraceSigna Farrow has spent her entire life moving from house to house as each of her numerous guardians meets an untimely end. With caretakers increasingly more interested in her wealth than her happiness, Signa’s loneliness is palpable. She craves the day she will come into her inheritance and can set up her own household filled with laughter and company–never solitude and especially not Death. The one constant in Signa’s life aside from her precarious living arrangements has been the ability to see and, regrettably, interact with Death himself–a shadowy figure of a man who is as mystified by their connection as Signa.

At the age of nineteen, there is only one year left until Signa enters society. One she needs to use well if she hopes to banish the dismal reputation her numerous deceased guardians have built for her. After years of begging–and even demanding–that Death leave her alone, Signa is more suspicious than grateful when he promises to improve her current situation. Nonetheless, she is cautiously excited to find she has some living relatives in the Hawthorne family.

Thorn Grove is a stately manor with far more luxury than Signa is used to, but it is also a house in crisis with patriarch Elijah Hawthorne lost in grief and intent on running the family business–and reputation–into the ground while eldest son Percy watches helplessly. With mourning not yet over for Elijah’s beloved wife, it seems his daughter Blythe is suffering from the same mysterious illness. With no obvious cure and her condition worsening, Death warns that it won’t be much longer before he has to claim the ailing girl as one of his own.

Experiencing stability and family for the first time is a heady mixture for Signa, reminding her of how much Thorn Grove still has to lose. Signa knows that society would frown upon a young woman experimenting with folk remedies and digging into the Hawthorne’s secrets. But she also knows that she will do anything to keep Blythe and Thorn Grove safe–even if it means risking her reputation by working with Death to search for answers in Belladonna (2022) by Adalyn Grace.

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Belladonna is the first book in a projected duology that will continue with Foxglove. Signa and most main characters are cued as white with more varied skin tones among the supporting cast including one of Signa’s childhood friends, Charlotte, who is described as having brown skin.

Belladonna is a gothic mystery with just the right amount of magic in the form of death personified and Signa’s own strange powers that allow her not just to speak with Death but take on some of his abilities including a resistance to poison. Sumptuous descriptions of Signa’s new surroundings set the mood as Signa familiarizes herself with Thorn Grove and its occupants while highlighting the privation of her previous homes.

Armed with nothing but an old etiquette book and her wits, Signa thinks she is prepared for what society will expect of her as a young woman. But the longer she spends at Thorn Grove and the more she embraces her own powers, the clearer it is that the societal standards Signa has clung to are skewed against her and may not be worth striving for after all. Signa’s inheritance adds another layer to this conversation as she begins to understand her privilege and realizes other women are not so fortunate when it comes to future marriages and life choices.

Haunted by spirits all her life, Signa’s innate need to investigate the happenings at Thorn Grove only increases as she is haunted by–and begins to communicate with–the ghosts of the stately manor. This novel is filled with a well-rounded cast of both the living and dead who add dimension to this rich story as the complexities of relationships among the Hawthorne family and its staff begin to unfold. At the center of this is Signa’s complicated dynamic with Death who starts the story as her greatest frustration only to become a foil, a confidante, and perhaps much more. The tension between these two characters moves the story along as much as the mystery with its own twists and surprises.

Belladonna is a thoughtful story where Signa spends as much time investigating her own wants and needs as a young woman entering society as she does trying to uncover Thorn Grove’s secrets. Belladonna capitalizes on a well-developed magic system and atmospheric prose to deliver both a satisfying mystery and romance.

Possible Pairings: Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Ferryman by Claire McFall, A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson, Gallant by V. E. Schwab

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration.*

The Bone Orchard: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I won’t be ashamed of remaking myself. And I won’t turn my back on myself.

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. MuellerCharm is a survivor. After the fall of Inshil, Charm is brought to Borenguard. She is confined to a life running Orchard House, a brothel and gambling den, and tending the adjacent bone trees–the last trace of her necromantic skills. Again and again she has used the trees to regrow her bone ghosts, her children really, Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.

Each ghost has her own role to play, her own part, to keep Orchard House together. Charm oversees it all, madam and mistress both, as everyone from Borenguard’s elite to the Fire Drinkers–the empire’s psychically gifted police force–frequents Orchard House and buys time with the ghosts.

Except on Tuesdays. When the house is closed for all but the Emperor who comes for Charm herself.

Until one Tuesday when everything changes. Instead of coming to the house, Charm is summoned to the palace where the Emperor lay dying with one last charge for his mistress.  The Emperor knows one of his cruel sons is responsible for his murder. If Charm can determine which one, and thereby also choose which son is best fit to rule, Charm will finally be free.

But serving the emperor with this one last task will put everything–and each of the ghosts–Charm has built at risk. With her own fate and the fate of her bone ghosts uncertain, Charm will have to decide if she can serve the Emperor’s last wishes while also finally serving her own interests in The Bone Orchard (2022) by Sara A. Mueller

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Please be aware of the content warnings for this book which includes instances of domestic abuse, rape, incest, torture, pedophilia, and other acts of violence.

Mueller’s standalone fantasy is a nuanced and richly plotted story set in a world populated by people with varied skin tones and sexual orientations including one central character who is cued as nonbinary/genderqueer. The bone ghosts are described as “colorless” and lacking in pigmentation. Shifting viewpoints move between Charm and several of the bone ghosts as the story slowly spins out and gains momentum.

The setting of Orchard House acts as a key character itself giving space to unpack the unequal power dynamics at play between many of the characters because of gender and glass–and between Charm and each of the bone ghosts who carry their own burdens and traumas. The house also highlights the ways in which history is written (or rewritten) by the victors as more of its provenance is revealed.

Be warned, this story is often gruesome and unsavory as Mueller throws open the closed doors of the brothel and also explores exactly why each of the Emperor’s sons are so deeply damaged and awful. Nonetheless, The Bone Orchard is a satisfying mystery and meditative political fantasy that begs to be savored. As the many layers of both Charm and Borenguard’s pasts are peeled back the novel builds to a complex denouement where Charm–and others–transcend the restrictions placed upon them as they learn to embrace and respect what they have done in order to survive.

Through shifting lenses and an intricate plot including mystery, political machinations, and more The Bone Orchard explores what it means to inhabit the world alternately as a captive, a potential victim, and as a survivor; grim but ultimately empowering.

Possible Pairings: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, All the Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter, Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village: A Review

Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village by Maureen Johnson and Jay CooperCongratulations! You’ve finally made it to England. Your vacation has already brought you to such iconic sites as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Hyde Park. You have posed with the Beefeaters at the Tower of London. You have eaten more than your share of fish and chips. But still your trip is missing something.

Having conquered the big city, perhaps now you want to venture into the bucolic English countryside.

That is a mistake.

While England is filled with many quaint and perfectly safe villages, the chances are high that you will find yourself in an English Murder Village. It will look like any other village. In fact, it might look better than some villages as you admire the manor house with the local vicar and attend the annual village fete. That’s the problem. You’re already in the trap.

If it’s too late for you to eschew the countryside for the safety of London, remember that forewarned is forearmed. Now is the time to acquaint yourself with what to expect from the village, the manor, and their respective residents. Research might keep you alive, if anything can in Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village (2021) by Maureen Johnson, illustrated by Jay Cooper.

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After writing The Name of the Star–an Edgar Award nominated supernatural thriller–and the bestselling Truly Devious series that begins with a boarding school mystery, Johnson here turns her hand to another classic mystery genre: the village mystery.

Readers familiar with mysteries classic mysteries like Miss Marple or Midsomer Murders will appreciate Johnson’s deep dive into all of the hazards inherent to English Murder Village life.

Illustrations from Cooper accompany most entries underscoring the dangers (and macabre humor) to be found in many aspect of village life including such gems as meeting the local amateur astrologer who likes “to wander alone to remote locations at night with a big looking-tube to look. Draw a circle around every word in that sentence that means ‘no.'” The related illustration shows a telescope teetering on the edge of a cliff allowing readers to draw their own morbid conclusions.

Johnson’s pithy text and Cooper’s Gorey-esque illustrations perfectly blend humor with grisly murder in this pseudo-guidebook. Hypothetical scenarios and interactive quizzes add another layer to this breezy and immensely enjoyable book. Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village is must-read for mystery fans and amateur detectives alike.

A Forgery of Roses: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. OlsonPainters are disappearing throughout Lalverton with many devout citizens say this is just treatment for those who choose to paint–a creative outlet seen as holy and solely as the domain of the Great Artist. Conservatives including the governor fear the growing popularity in portraiture; the presence of Prodigy magic in Lalverton makes the taboo artform seem like even more of a threat.

With her mother–another Prodigy and talented artist–among the missing, Myra Whitlock knows she has to hide her own magical gift if she wants to keep herself and her younger sister, Lucy, safe. Scriptures are very clear that Prodigies are “a defilement of the power of our god, the Great Artist.” With magic that “gives a painter the ability to alter human and animal bodies with their paintings,” Prodigies have long been seen as “even more of an abomination than normal portrait work.” Their powerful ability also means that Prodigies “have been persecuted by the pious and captured by the greedy since the dawn of time.”

Lacking in proper training and control, Myra’s magic is even more dangerous. She can manipulate a person’s sevren threads to alter their appearance and heal injuries, but she can’t dictate when or how her magic will work instead having to paint through it while her magic buzzes “like a swarm of bees inside [her] head.” With finances dwindling in the wake of her parents’ disappearances, Myra desperately needs work to earn enough for rent, food, and for the nurse Lucy needs to help manage the symptoms of her chronic illness.

When Myra’s magic is discovered by the worst person possible, she forges an uneasy bargain with the governor’s wife. If Myra can use her Prodigy gift to resurrect the governor’s dead son, she could earn enough for a proper home, tuition to attend the conservatory, and even a real doctor to treat Lucy. If Myra fails, the governor’s wife will expose Myra as a Prodigy and her life could well be forfeit.

Spirited to Rose Manor in the dead of night, Myra has four days to complete her work before the body decays beyond help. Among the “ancient wealth and finery,” Myra sets to her grim work. But it soon becomes clear the governor’s son did not suffer an accidental fall as Myra has been told. Something more sinister is at work–something that could be even more dangerous to Myra than her exposure as a Prodigy. With reluctant help from August–the governor’s older, less favored son–Myra begins investigating the suspect death and trying to understand why her magic isn’t working. With time running out, Myra will uncover unsavory truths about the stately mansion and its residents in A Forgery of Roses (2022) by Jessica S. Olson.

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Olson blends mystery and suspense with a gothic sensibility in this standalone fantasy where all characters are assumed white. Myra narrates with an artist’s eye focused on color as seen when she describes making ladyrose gel–a medium from the author’s imagination that allows oil paints to dry fast enough for artists to complete full paintings in a matter of hours–from burnt flower petals: “As soon as it hits the water, the rose blood fans out, a spiderweb of shimmering scarlet veins crawling through the pot until the whole thing clouds like it’s full of sparkling garnet dust.” Myra’s keen eye for detail also works well within the narrative to increase tension and broadcast danger with one character described as having eyes that “glimmer like pond-slick moons” and “pearl earrings glow milky white like bones on either side of her face, twitching with every word she utters.”

To resurrect the governor’s son, Myra also has to understand the circumstances of his death and his emotional state at the time of death. As Myra explains, sevren are the “connective fibers that bind the soul to the physical form, they’re born from each person or animal’s emotional perception of their bodies. The more emotionally significant a physical feature is to that person or animal, the tighter and denser the bonds become.” Because of this, Myra takes a clinical eye to the body she is trying to restore with grisly precision as she notes “the crushed and mangled ear, the blood congealing on the hair, the fragments of skull and brain tissue” and the “scraped skin and the way the blood has pooled on the bottom of the body” while trying to paint the body as it is before layering in her changes.

Feeling a sense of urgency as time begins to run out and her paintings continue to fail, Myra works (and flirts) with August to investigate his brother’s death. While searching for clues together, August opens up about his daily struggle with severe anxiety which is well-represented in the text. As August explains, “This anxiety will always be a part of me. It’s not going anywhere, and I’m going to have to live with it for the rest of my life. But I am not broken because of it.”

Myra’s desperation to complete her work before she is exposed as a Prodigy only increases when Lucy’s illness takes a turn for the worse. Although unnamed in the text, symptoms include food sensitivity and intestinal distress which Lucy manages with scientific precision in notebooks where “food logs, graphs, and lists of symptoms are mapped out carefully on each page.” Readers will also recognize Spoon theory, described in the text as juice in a glass where “Every action of daily life—getting out of bed, bathing, dressing, doing research—siphoned juice away. Once the glass was empty, no matter how much she had left she needed to do or how much she’d hoped to get done, her body needed to rest. To refill the glass.”

A Forgery of Roses combines art, fantasy, and a truly surprising mystery with authentic and respectful representation for both anxiety and chronic illness which are seen as points of strength rather than flaws in this story where as Myra notes about Lucy “As far as I’m concerned, I may be the one with magic, but she’s the truly powerful one. Because she’s fought where I have never had to.” Myra and August’s romance and a final act filled with the surprise twists that are a hallmark of gothic literature at its best further enhance this story where a picture is worth much more than a thousand words.

Emma Carbone is a librarian and reviewer. She has been blogging about books since 2007.

Possible Pairings: The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh, Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty, The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Gallant by V. E. Schwab, The Splendor by Breeana Shields, Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor, All that Glitters by Gita Trelease

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy SpringerLondon, 1889: As the much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Enola Holmes is no stranger to deductive reasoning. Enola’s investigative skills served her well while dodging Sherlock’s attempts to find her in the wake of her mother’s disappearance.

Now, at fifteen, Enola lives happily alone at her club in London and is prepared to take on clients of her own. If only anyone would go to a girl for an investigative assistance. Lacking cases of her own, Enola is free to assist Miss Letitia Glover when Sherlock’s melancholia prevents him from doing so.

When Miss Glover receives news of her twin sister Felicity’s death, she knows immediately that something is terribly wrong. Letitia is certain that she would sense–would know–if her sister was dead. She does not. Furthermore, the Earl of Dunhench’s note about his wife’s demise is curt to the point of being suspicious. Then there’s the matter of the death certificate being signed by none other than Dr. John H. Watson–who Enola has on authority has no knowledge of Felicity, alive or dead.

Looking into the the Earl soon reveals that Felicity is not his first dead wife. As Enola learns more about the Earl’s household and a mysterious black barouche, Enola will need all of her wits (and some of Sherlock’s besides) to solve the case and uncover the Earl’s secrets in Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche (2021) by Nancy Springer.

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Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche starts a new cycle for Enola Holmes–a character who recently gained popularity and renewed interest thanks to the 2020 Netflix film starring Millie Bobby Brown as Enola and Henry Cavill as Sherlock. Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche is the seventh volume in this series but can also serve as an entry point for new readers. The events of books one through six are succintly explained to readers in a prologue narrated by Sherlock (he returns for an epilogue to wrap the story) before shifting to Enola’s narration. Recurring characters like Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether who played a major role in previous installments are also introduced with quick recaps. All characters are presumed white.

Fans of audiobooks will be well served by this title, as narrated by Tamaryn Payne and Christopher Bonwell, which brings Enola’s Victorian England vividly to life.

Enola is a sharply intelligent and capable main character who is pleasantly aware of her own capabilities. Enola’s penchant for investigation translates to a fast-paced and richly detailed narrative as Springer describes everything from Enola’s surroundings to the clues key to unraveling the case. Unlike her brother, Enola enjoys the finer things in life and is happy to regale readers with details of her wardrobe and her meals carefully woven into the narrative. These touches lend a unique flavor to Enola’s mysteries even with her similarities to Sherlock (and appearances by the great detective and Dr. Watson).

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche is a welcome return for a literary sibling now famous in her own right; a must read for fans of Sherlock Holmes retellings and reinterpretations as well as readers of historical mysteries.

Possible Pairings: Sherlock, Lupin and Me: The Dark Lady Book by Irene Adler, Death Cloud by Andrew Lane, The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

*An advance audio listening copy of this title was provided by the publisher through Libro.fm*

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly JacksonEveryone in Fairview, Connecticut knows the story of Andie Bell–the pretty, popular high school senior who was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, before he killed himself as the evidence against him mounted.

Five years later, the town is still haunted by the tragic deaths and the mystery that still surrounds the case.

Pippa Fitz-Amobi remembers Sal Singh and has never believed he could be capable of murder. Now a high school senior, Pip plans to prove it by investigating the Bell case herself for her senior project.

With access to case files, Andie’s best friends, and Sal’s younger brother Ravi, Pip has all of the pieces she needs to solve this puzzle. But as she gets closer to the truth, Pip realizes that some people don’t want the truth to be uncovered. And they’ll do whatever is necessary to stop Pip from solving this case in A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (2020) by Holly Jackson.

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A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is Jackson’s first novel. It’s worth noting that the novel was originally published (and set) in the UK before being moved to Connecticut for the American editions although the story and characters still feel very British. Pip is white (her step-father is Nigerian and her younger brother is biracial), Sal and his family are Indian.

With suspect and witness interviews, case ephemera, and Pip’s engaging project logs between chapters, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is fast-paced and leaves plenty of room for readers to solve the case alongside Pip (possibly even before Pip depending on their own familiarity with mystery tropes).

Jackson subtly amps up the tension as Pip gets closer to the truth and realizes that there might be bigger consequences (and dangers) to her investigation that passing or failing her senior project. While Pip makes some bad decisions inherent to amateur investigators (always bring back up!), the story is engaging enough that Pip’s false starts are barely noticeable as the full scope of the case begins to unfold.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a fine addition to any YA mystery collection. Fans of true crime podcasts in the vein of Serial will be well served by the audio production which features a full cast recording with Bailey Carr acting as Pip.

Possible Pairings: Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, You’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus, In the Hall With the Knife by Diana Peterfreund, Sadie by Courtney Summers

Killing Time: A Review

Killing Time by Brenna EhrlichWith so much small town charm, it’s easy to think that bad things don’t happen in Ferry, Connecticut.

Which is why everyone is so shaken when local teacher Mrs. Halsey is found dead. Murdered. Even the local crime reporters are shocked by the violence of the crime.

Natalie Temple always thought she’d have a chance to apologize tom Mrs. Halswy after their in the middle of senior year. Mrs. Halsey is the reason Natalie is going to her dream school to study journalism.

Instead, Natalie’s favorite teacher is dead and no one knows why or who to blame.

Mrs. Halsey taught Natalie and her best friend Katie all about the power of true crime as a genre–an interest Natalie’s strict and overprotective mother has never been willing to entertain. Now, Natalie knows the best way to honor Mrs. Halsey is to find her killer. The investigation could also help Natalie take her “blood drenched” podcast Killing Time to the next level–something she’s sure no one would appreciate more than Mrs. Halsey.

Investigating the murder will bring Natalie face-to-face with the seedier side of Ferry–and some uncomfortable truths about her own family history–as Natalie learns that secrets never stay buried forever in Killing Time (2022) by Brenna Ehrlich.

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Killing Time plays out in two timelines alternating between Natalie’s investigation into Mrs. Halsey’s death and flashbacks to her mother Helen’s first year at college. All main characters are presumed white.

Natalie’s first person narration is filled with smart references to narrative conventions in true crime stories and observations about the divisions between East and West Ferry–parts of town separated by train tracks as much as income brackets. Unfortunately, Natalie’s singular focus on her investigation leaves little space for Natalie to gain dimension beyond her fixation on solving Mrs. Halsey’s murder–most of the on page interactions with her best friend revolve around the podcast. Although Ehrlich explores more of Helen’s past in the flashback chapters, Natalie’s relationship with her mother remains very one note for most of the story without fully exploring any of the dynamics inherent to growing up with not just a single parent but one who had Natalie very young.

Where Killing Time excels is in highlighting the knife edge journalists and true crime afficionados walk while trying to balance morbid interest with compassion for the real people who are impacted by these crimes. As with many ethical questions, there are no right answers but Ehrlich explores both the good and the bad through Natalie and Helen’s timelines.

Readers looking for a new true-crime-fueled story in the vein of Courtney Summers or Holly Jackson will find a lot to enjoy in Killing Time.

Possible Pairings: They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, Sadie by Courtney Summers, The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration.*

The Forest of Stolen Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June HurJoseon (Korea), 1426: The year of the crown princess selection when young women like Hwani should be dreaming of entering the palace as a princess. Hwani has never been interested in marriage or the selection process.

Instead, she is crossing the sea to travel to Jeju, a penal island of political convicts. Her childhood home.

Months ago, Hwani’s father made the same journey. He didn’t return.

Detective Min went to the island investigating the disappearance of thirteen girls–disappearances that might be tied to the forest incident–an event so traumatic that Hwani has blocked out all but the barest details.

Coming back to the island will bring Hwani face to face with her estranged younger sister, Maewol, for the first time in years. In their search for the truth, both sisters will have to confront buried memories from their past and the island’s dark secrets in their search for the truth in The Forest of Stolen Girls (2021) by June Hur.

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Hwani’s efforts to find her missing father and solve his last case contrast well with the smaller story of her own difficulties in deciding how to balance societal conventions with her own dreams and goals. Hwani’s tentative reconnection with her sister–who has been left alone on the island for years to train with the local shaman–adds further depth and tenderness to this thoughtful story.

An author’s note at the end demonstrates Hur’s thoughtful research for this novel while contextualizing the story here into the larger context of Korean history.

The Forest of Stolen Girls is a tense and atmospheric mystery that is both well-plotted and nuanced. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Mirage by Somaiya Daud, Splinters of Scarlet by Emily Bain Murphy, Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic, The Beast is An Animal by Peternelle Van Arsdale, The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

You’ll Be the Death of Me: A Review

You'll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManusIvy Sterling-Shepard, Cal O’Shea-Wallace, and Mateo Wojcik were inseparable in middle school after cementing their friendship on the Best Day Ever when they skipped out on a class field trip in Boston to have an adventure of their own. Now in their senior year of high school they barely speak; they all have bigger things to worry about.

Ivy has always been an overachiever. How else can she prove that she can keep up with her legit genius younger brother? How else can she recover from the fallout after his latest, brutal joke? Unfortunately, instead of pulling out a stunning victory at the student council election, Ivy loses. To the class clown. “Boney” Mahoney.

Mateo is too exhausted to worry about what’s going on with his former friends. His family’s business just failed. He’s working two jobs to help out plus school. His mother is rationing her meds for her rheumatoid arthritis because the co-pay is so high. And his cousin Autumn is . . . not making good choices as she tries to help the family struggle along as best she can.

Cal is in love. But he’s also lonely. He has been for a while, if he’s being honest. And being stood up again doesn’t help that at all.

When all three of them arrive at the school parking lot at the same time, late, it feels like a second chance. Maybe they can skip class and recapture whatever it is they lost along the way.

The trio’s attempt to recreate the magic of the Best Day Ever quickly becomes the Worst Day Ever when they follow another classmate to a mysterious meeting. And witness his murder.

Worse, Ivy is soon the prime suspect. Mateo has a dangerous connection to their dead classmate. And Cal is hiding something from everyone–something that could have deadly consequences.

All of them have their own motives for staying together and figuring out what happened. Now they have to figure out if they also have their own motives for murder in You’ll Be the Death of Me (2021) by Karen M. McManus.

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You’ll Be the Death of Me is a perfectly paced mystery set primarily over the course of one frantic day. Chapters alternate between the three main characters Ivy who is white, Cal who is white and has two dads, and Mateo who is Puerto Rican and Polish. Mateo’s cousin Autumn was orphaned as a child and lives with Mateo and his mother. Interludes from other characters add dimension to the story by providing different viewpoints this is otherwise closely focused story.

McManus packs a lot into this story as all three characters are hiding things from each other. These secrets are expertly teased out as the novel progresses and builds to its jaw dropping conclusion. None of the protagonists here are perfect–bad choices are made by all throughout the novel. Both their growth and the novel’s intense readability are testaments to McManus’ considerable talents as an author.

You’ll Be the Death of Me is an utterly engrossing page turner filled with unexpected twists, humor, and unexpectedly compelling friendships (and even some romance). Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide, They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu, People Like Us by Dana Mele, The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky, In the Hall With the Knife by Diana Peterfreund

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*