This Golden State: A Review

“I didn’t even know the choices, because I didn’t have the information.”

This Golden State by Marit WeisenbergPoppy has grown up with five family rules:

1. No using your real name.
2. No staying in one place too long.
3. If something’s weird, take one thing and run to the meeting spot.
4. Keeping our family together is everything.
5. Don’t ask about the past. For your own safety. It’s the smallest mistake that will get us caught.

Lying constantly, hiding all the time, always waiting for one disastrous slip up hasn’t left much room for seventeen-year-old Poppy to ask questions. When she was little it all seemed normal. Now, Poppy has her little sister Emma and her parents. What more does she need?

Right away, Poppy knows that their latest move is different. Her parents never answer Poppy’s questions but once they arrive in California, Poppy has even more: like how a room prepared in a safe house can feel more like hers than anywhere else she’s ever lived and why it feels like pieces of her family’s secrets are waiting to be discovered.

With her parents distracted, Poppy has more freedom than she’s used to with a chance to attend an advanced math class, earn her own money, and maybe make a real friend in the unlikely form of ultra-wealthy and popular Harry. Family has always been enough for Poppy. It has to be. But as Poppy begins to dig deeper into her parents’ past with a secret DNA test and to think more about her own desires, Poppy also realizes that no secret can be kept forever in This Golden State (2022) by Marit Weisenberg.

Find it on Bookshop.

This Golden State is a tense standalone novel narrated by Poppy. The Winslow family and most characters are cued as white with Harry’s DNA results showing ancestry going back to Jamaica, South India, and Europe.

Perfect pacing and an urgent, close-focus narrative amps up the tension immediately as readers are drawn into Poppy’s world where nothing can be taken at face value. While family secrets and the looming results from Poppy’s DNA test drive the plot, this is ultimately a story about a girl who is leaning to dream and understanding how much bigger her world can be. As Poppy tries to keep up with her wealthier classmates who have had more consistent schooling, Poppy also starts to unpack the privilege that comes with stability and everything that she has lost growing up on the run–losses that her younger sister Emma has already begun to chafe under.

Harry gives Poppy a window into a world she knows she can never inhabit living the way she currently does–one fileld with opportunity and growth. Brief moments with Harry’s verbally abusive father also underscore to Poppy how much her parents have sacrificed to keep their family safe and intact. Weisengerg thoughtfully unpacks Poppy’s loyalty and deep love for her parents alongside her growing resentment at their rules and how they have to live. As she learns more about her parents’ roles in leading the family to this point, Poppy also has to learn how to maintain her affection and fond memories while leaving room for the anger that comes with understanding.

This Golden State is a taut exercise in suspense where family is everything. Until it isn’t. While the payoff for all of Poppy’s questions and investigating can feel anticlimactic, This Golden State is a story that will stay with readers long after the open-ended conclusion. Recommended for readers seeking a thriller focused on tension instead of scares.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farol Follmuth, The Safest Lifes by Megan Miranda, The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson, Remember Me Gone by Stacy Stokes, In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

The King Will Kill You: A Review

The King Will Kill You by Sarah HenningPrincess Amarande is finally poised to have everything she wants. After a brutal trek across the Torrent and back she is reunited with her love Luca, a lost prince himself raised in hiding as a stable boy. Having fended off invaders, rivals, and her own mother Amarande is about to become queen in her own right–no need to marry except if she chooses–while Luca works to gather his own allies and begin rebuilding Torrance.

Flush with hope and dreams of new beginnings, Amarande and Luca and their allies are eager for the opportunity to rebuild the kingdoms of the Sand and Sky into something new as the continent puts the recent regicides and threat of war behind them.

But even as one queen and king hope to rebuild, there are others just as eager to burn everything to the ground if it means holding onto their own power.

No woman has ever ruled outright in the thousand year history of the Sand and Sky. If the patriarchal establishment has its way, no woman ever will. As obstacles old and new stand in Amarande’s way, she will have to rally all of her forces to stand against her enemies once again in The King Will Kill You (2022) by Sarah Henning.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Kill Will Kill You is the final book in Henning’s Kingdoms of Sand and Sky trilogy. Start at the beginning with The Princess Will Save You and The Queen Will Betray You to avoid spoilers and get the most out of the series. Amarande is cued as white but there is a variety of skintones among the kingdoms of the continent and among the cast in this novel. A close third person perspective primarily follows Amarande but does shift to other key characters including Luca.

Every book in this series builds upon the last expanding both the world and the feminist themes that underpin the entire plot. Having laid the groundwork for this strong cast in book one and set up the political landscape in book two, The King WIll Kill You is positioned as both the best and the strongest book in this series.

Throughout this series Amarande, and readers, have seen characters strive for various goals–most notably power for the various monarchs–only to have the sweetness of success turn to ash upon achieving their goals. Henning reworks that conceit here one more time as Amarande’s supposed happy ending is torn away leaving her and Luca once again scrambling to find safety.

Shifting viewpoints give a wide view of this story that spans multiple kingdoms and a well-utilized ensemble cast. After dispatching many of their enemies both Amarande and Luca hope to be able to work within the system to reform the Sand and Sky into something better not just for the kingdoms and their ruling class but for every person on the continent–something that other rulers attempt to thwart at every turn. After the intense action of previous installments, this shift to political maneuvering offers an interesting but no less engrossing change of pace as the action and intrigue of this series moves to a different stage. (Don’t worry there are still quite a few sweeping battles and sword fights to be had here.)

While Amarande still faces some very real enemies and brutal gaslighting while trying to claim her power once and for all, the real enemy in The King Will Kill You turns out to be the establishment that has worked so long to help those in power and no one else. Faced with trying to operate within a system that was never meant to help anyone like her–despite her own father’s successes as king–Amarande has to confront the fact that sometimes the best way to rebuild is to tear down everything that came before.

The King Will Kill You is an ambitious and ultimately satisfying conclusion to a fundamentally feminist series where action and adventure are tempered well with political intrigue and moral questions. After all, what can be more feminist than a book that literally tears down the patriarchy?

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

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

The Queen Will Betray You: A Review

The Queen Will Betray You by Sarah HenningAfter racing through the Torrent to save her love Luca and escaping a forced marriage to the calculating Pyrenee prince Renard, Princess Amarande is one step closer to claiming her throne as the rightful heir to Ardenia and helping Luca restore Torrence to power after the territory’s instability under the brutal Warlord. But there are still forces throughout the Sand and Sky determined to make sure Amarande doesn’t succeed–including some within her own kingdom.

Instead of a triumphant return to Ardenia and her throne, Amarande is greeted in secret and spirited away. Her council and, worse, her wayward mother have their own ideas of what will best serve Ardenia–plans that include crowning Amarande’s long-lost brother Ferdinand in her place. Desperate for stability, the council is willing to hide Amarande away to give truth to their lies about her death leaving her unable to take power or to rally forces to help Luca.

Meanwhile, with the entire continent still reeling after King Sendoa’s death, it seems every kingdom–and every monarch–is vying to expand their power. While Myrcell and Basilica try to strengthen their own kingdoms, the dowager queen of Pyrenee has plans of her own. With Renard dead, Ines has one less threat to her own claim to the crown leaving only her scheming younger son Taillefer to deal with as she consolidates her forces in a daring bid for power that will change the realm forever.

Desperate enemies can often make the best allies as Amarande reluctantly works with Taillefer to escape her kingdom and get back to Luca. But with Amarande and Luca both displaced as heirs they have few people they can trust and fewer resources as they once again work to reclaim everything they have lost in The Queen Will Betray You (2021) by Sarah Henning.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Queen Will Betray You is the second book in Henning’s Kingdoms of Sand and Sky trilogy which continues in The King Will Kill You. Start with the first book, The Princess Will Save You, to avoid spoilers and get the most out of the series. Amarande is cued as white but there is a variety of skintones among the kingdoms of the continent and among the cast in this novel. A close third person perspective primarily follows Amarande but does shift to other key characters including Luca.

The Queen Will Betray You sets up an interesting dichotomy between Queen Ines or Pyrenee and Geneva, Amarande’s mother and the former Runaway Queen of Ardenia, on one side with Amarande opposing both. Both Ines and Geneva were raised to strive for power, to be calculating, and to be tools for men with their own goals and ambitions. After years of surviving in this impossible circumstances both women are fierce and ruthless–determined to do whatever it takes to carve a place for themselves in the continent’s cutthroat patriarchy no matter the cost. Amarande, meanwhile, once again refuses to operate within a system that no longer serves her instead trying to find workarounds to avoid bloodshed whenever possible. This contrast sets the groundwork for the conclusion of this series while also raising questions about morality in the face of ambition and the cost of both complicity and passive ignorance.

After introducing Amarande, Luca, and the Sand and Sky in book one, Henning dramatically expands the world in this second installment. With Amarande and Luca both vying to reclaim lost power readers will see more of their allies including Ula and Urtzi as well as new characters like Ferdinand. With the return of Amarande’s mother Geneva more of the secrets of how the kingdom of Torrance was overthrown and became a lawless territory are revealed.

The Queen Will Betray You is twist after twist from the breathless opening chapters to the shocking final page. Henning’s richly imagined fantasy continues to be a must read for both high action and high intrigue.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

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

The Princess Will Save You: A Review

The Princess Will Save You by Sarah HenningIn the kingdoms of the Sand and Sky every good warrior knows you need to beware or be dead. Unfortunately, even vigilance offers little protection against assassination.

King Sendoa’s sudden death threatens to throw not just the kingdom of Ardenia but the entire continent into chaos as every kingdom scrambles for power. Political alliances are nothing new among royalty but Princess Amarande is horrified to learn that in order to rule she will have to marry first.

Amarande’s attempts to buy time and find a way to keep her crown and her heart are thwarted when Luca, the stable boy she has always loved, is kidnapped. Marrying the right suitor could save Luca but the kidnappers forget that Amarande isn’t just a princess. She’s also the Warrior King’s daughter.

Rather than wait for Luca’s return, Amarande is ready to make the first mark and rescue him–and her kingdom in The Princess Will Save You (2020) by Sarah Henning.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Princess Will Save You is the first book in Henning’s Kingdoms of Sand and Sky trilogy which continues in The Queen Will Betray You and The King Will Kill You. Amarande is cued as white but there is a variety of skintones among the kingdoms of the continent and among the cast in this novel. A close third person perspective primarily follows Amarande but does shift to other key characters including Luca.

Henning lays the groundwork for a complex world or reluctant allies, rival kingdoms, and sweeping political schemes. This eye for detail can make for a slow start but the story quickly gains momentum as Amarande embarks on her rescue mission. With a heroine who was raised to be a warrior, it will be no surprise that this book is filled with action and numerous battle and chase scenes. Although the specter of violence hangs over this story, the narrative avoids presenting gore for gore’s sake (be aware that there is a seen of torture in the final act of the book but that also avoids explicit or lengthy description).

Amarande is a smart but often reckless character who is tempered by the gentler (and more circumspect) Luca. Together, these two are a formidable team who demonstrate real partnership at every turn–even discussing the unequal power dynamics they have to work within because of Amarande’s royal status. Along the way both protagonists meet additional allies (and enemies) readers can expect to meet in later volumes. While she works to rescue Luca, the threat of the patriarchal status quo looms as the question of whether Amarande will truly be able to rule in her own right remains combined with a cliffhanger ending that will leave readers eager for the next installment.

The Princess Will Save You is a dynamic start to a fantasy series that strikes the perfect balance between political maneuvering and high action. Perfect for fans looking for a feminist story that strikes a balance between the iconic adventure of The Princess Bride and the complex but brutal Game of Thrones.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

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

Reckless Girls: A Review

Reckless Girls by Rachel HawkinsLux and her boyfriend, Nico, have a plan: they’re going to fix up Nico’s boat the Susannah and travel around the world. Every day will be an adventure. But boats, especially boats that need fixing, are expensive. And so far the only adventure Lux has had is seeing if she can survive another boring shift as a housekeeper at a Hawaiian hotel.

When college friends Brittany and Amma charter Nico’s boat to sail to a remote South Pacific island, it feels like the adventure Lux has been hoping for is finally starting. The boat is fixed, things are finally moving. Even Brittany and Amma feel like the perfect passengers–feel like they might become friends.

Meroe Island is secluded, picturesque, and a bit like paradise.

It’s a dream come true. At first.

But the island also has a dark past with a history filled with shipwrecks, rumors of cannibalism, and even suspected murder. It’s easy to imagine trouble lurking in the shadows, especially when they realize The Susannah isn’t alone.

First it’s Jake and Eliza–a wealthy couple as sleek as their expensive catamaran. Then it’s another stranger.

As the atmosphere of the island shifts, so too do the new relationships between the small group.

There’s nowhere to go on an island as small as Meroe. And when the trouble starts, there’s no one to stop it in Reckless Girls (2022) by Rachel Hawkins.

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Reckless Girls is a standalone thriller. All characters are assumed white. Check out the audiobook narrated by Barrie Kreinik for an immersive read.

Detailed descriptions of both the island and the boats quickly immerse readers in the story and distract from a slow build as Lux and the rest of her foursome acclimate to Meroe Island. This quiet start is broken up with flashback chapters that slowly reveal the backstories (and secrets) the main characters are keeping close. The initial lack of action works in stark contrast to the twist-filled final act where the pacing realy picks up.

Fans of thrillers will appreciate the suspense and claustrophobic isolation of the setting, but mystery fans might find the payoff and reveals fall short of jaw-dropping.

Reckless Girls is an atmospheric thriller; a perfect addition to your beach reading list.

Possible Pairings: How to Kill Your Best Friend by Lexie Elliott, Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney, The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley, The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell, The Club by Ellery Lloyd, The Wild Girls by Phoebe Morgan, The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse, Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman, The Woman in Cabin Ten by Ruth Ware

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

Comfort Me With Apples: A Review

Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. ValenteSophia was made for him. Her man. Her everything. She knows it in her bones every time she looks at him, every time she goes about her day making sure everything is perfect for him.

Because everything in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. He’s made sure of it–building steps and stools and adjustments so Sophia doesn’t feel dwarfed in their too-large house with their too-large things. And soon, she’ll have her own space; a basement he’s building out just for her.

Her husband is away quite a bit, leaving Sophia alone to get to know her neighbors, to keep up their home. But that’s just how marriage works, isn’t it? How can it be anything else when it’s all so perfect?

But perfection doesn’t mean that Sophia is without questions. It starts with the locked drawer and a strange hairbrush. It keeps going with a shard stuck in the knife block.

Everything is perfect. Surely the neighbors would tell her if they knew otherwise. Surely someone would say something. But there just isn’t any need when it’s all going so very well, right? in Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente.

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Comfort Me With Apples is a brief novella exploring suspense, horror, and retelling a story you might already know. To say more would be to give away the story’s biggest reveal.

Valente layers in a lot of interesting details from the chapter titles to the creepy excerpts from the Arcadia Gardens Homeowner’s Association agreement sprinkled throughout the story. Each layer expertly adds suspense and builds tension as Sophia–and the story–move toward one final revelation. While the payoff is satisfying, it is also clearly the entire point of this novella leaving little room for what came before or what might follow. Readers wanting more will be served well by Valente’s extensive (and often longer form) backlist of titles as well as The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey–a full length novel that explores similar themes in a more sci-fi setting.

At just over a hundred pages, Comfort With Apples is a quick, atmospheric jaunt perfect to read before bed–preferably with a glass of apple cider and all of the lights on.

Possible Pairings: Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders, And Again by Jessica Chiarella, The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey, Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link, Foe by Iain Reid, Among Others by Jo Walton

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

A Lesson in Vengeance: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Regret always comes too late.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria LeeAfter a year away, Felicity Morrow hopes to keep a low profile at Dalloway School while she completes her senior year. Then she’ll never have to think about the prestigious boarding school or what transpired there ever again.

Being back at Godwin House feels wrong for so many reasons but especially because her girlfriend Alex is dead and won’t ever return.

Still grieving, still haunted, Felicity doesn’t know what to expect from her new housemates, especially the enigmatic Ellis Haley. Everyone knows Ellis. Everyone has read her prodigious debut novel while eagerly awaiting her sophomore effort. As much as Felicity is drawn to Ellis–as much as everyone is drawn to Ellis–Felicity balks at the cult of personality the writer has erected around herself.

Ellis is drawn to Dalloway, and particularly to Godwin House, because of its bloody history. Like Felicity herself, she’s fascinated by the story of the Dalloway Five–the five students who all died under mysterious circumstances with accusations of witchcraft hanging over them.

Everyone knows magic isn’t real. After what happened last year, Felicity needs magic to not be real. But as Ellis draws her back to the school’s dangerous not-so-hidden, arcane history Felicity will have to decide if she has the strength to face the darkness festering at Dalloway and in herself in A Lesson in Vengeance (2021) by Victoria Lee.

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A Lesson in Vengeance is a standalone novel. Felicity and Ellis are white with secondary characters adding more diversity and brief conversations of the history of segregation and exclusion inherent to elite boarding schools like Dalloway.

This novel is an ode to all things dark academia with vivid descriptions of Dalloway’s ivy-covered glory, brittle winters, and its gory past. Lee also carefully subverts the genre using both Felicity and Ellis’ queer identities to inform the story. Pitch perfect pacing and careful plot management further help this story pack a punch.

A Lesson in Vengeance is a clever, suspenseful story filled filled. Come for the satisfying mystery and evocative setting, stay for the moral ambiguity and plot twists.

Possible Pairings: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, When All the Girls Are Sleeping by Emily Arsenault, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Night Migrations” by Louise Glück, Roses and Rot by Kat Howard, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Malleus Maleficarum, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, “The Shroud” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Dear Life by Alice Munro, All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue, What is Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio, Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig, Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

Od Magic: A Review

Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillipThe sign for the Od School of Magic sits in front of a cobbler’s shop on a busy street in the ancient city of Kelior. Brenden Vetch finds the door under the shoe.

It is hardly the momentous entrance he envisioned upon receiving a personal invite from Od herself to come to the school where all wizards in Kelior must be tested and trained before serving the kingdom of Numis. But Brenden isn’t there for magic. He’s there to garden. Brenden is gifted with plants–the one refuge he has left after his parents’ deaths and his brother’s departure to seek his fortune–and the school needs a new gardener. Simple.

Except Brenden is more than a talented gardener. More than anyone except Od herself imagined. As Brenden is drawn into the school’s secrets and intrigues he finds himself at the intersection of unrest that has been brewing for years and a crossroad that could change everything for the school and the kingdom in Od Magic (2005) by Patricia A. McKillip.

Find it on Bookshop.

Od Magic is a standalone fantasy with shifting, close third person points of view between the principle main characters. McKillip’s lyrical writing lends itself to this quiet, character-driven novel where the magic system and political situation in Numis slowly unfold.

Light romance, adventure, and plenty of intrigue will immediately draw readers into this story.  Audiobook readers should also check out the audio production which is excellent narrated by Gabrielle de Cuir.

Od Magic is a thoroughly engrossing slice-of-life fantasy perfect for readers looking for a new quiet story to get lost in. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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*

They Wish They Were Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Why did the boys have the power? Why did they make the rules while we dealt with the consequences?”

Everything on Gold Coast, Long Island has a shine; a glimmer from expensive, well-made things and the people who can acquire those things so effortlessly.

Watching her parent’s struggle to keep up with their affluent neighbors and to pay her brother’s hefty tuition at Gold Coast Prep, Jill Newman has always known she doesn’t belong among the Gold Coast elite. The pressure she feels to maintain her scholarship and make good on all of her parents’ hard work is constant.

Being a Player is supposed to make it all easier. After a hellish year of hazing from the older members of the Gold Coast Prep secret society, Jill is in. With the Players’ impressive alumni network and not-so-secret app Jill has access to the answers to every test she might encounter at school and contacts to open any doors she wants for college and beyond. Once you get a seat with the Players, you’ll do anything to keep it.

Jill’s best friend Shaila Arnold never made it that far. Three years ago she was killed by her boyfriend, Graham, during the final night of initiation–the night Jill can barely think about. Graham confessed. The case has been closed for years. It’s over and Jill and her other friends have moved on.

Until Graham’s sister tells Jill that his confession was coerced. But if Graham didn’t kill Shaila, who did? As Jill delves deeper into the events leading up to Shaila’s death she’ll unearth old secrets about the Players on her way to the truth. But when you set yourself against a group that can get everything they want, they also have everything to lose in They Wish They Were Us (2020) by Jessica Goodman.

Find it on Bookshop.

They Wish They Were Us is Goodman’s debut novel. A TV adaptation called ‘The Players Table” is in development at HBO Max.

Jill is Jewish and most characters are presumed white aside from Jill’s other best friend Nikki whose family are Hong Kong emigres. Jill’s first person narration is tense as she reluctantly digs into Shaila’s murder while also reluctantly unpacking unpleasant memories from her own initiation into the players.

This plot-drive story tackles a lot while Jill deals with the pressures of her elite school and her complicated feelings about the Players and their hazing. Privilege, wealth, and self-presentation are also big topics as Jill begins to realize she isn’t the only one struggling to keep up appearances at Gold Coast Prep. Toxic masculinity and feminism also play big roles in the story although Goodman’s treatment of both can feel heavy-handed in its service to moving the story along.

Obvious red herrings, salacious twists, and the backdrop of luxe Gold Coast locales make They Wish They Were Us a frothy page turner.

Possible Pairings: Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide, Admission by Julie Buxbaum, Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao