4 star, YA

ARC Review: Missing Clarissa by Ripley Jones

In a gripping novel perfect for fans of Sadie and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, two best friends start a true crime podcast—only to realize they may have helped a killer in the process.

In August of 1999, dazzlingly popular cheerleader Clarissa Campbell disappears from a party in the woods outside the rural town of Oreville, Washington and is never seen again. The police question her friends, teachers, and the adults who knew her—who all have something to hide. And thanks to Clarissa’s beauty, the mystery captures the attention of the nation. But with no leads and no body, the case soon grows cold. Despite the efforts of internet sleuths and true-crime aficionados, Clarissa is never found—dead or alive.

Over twenty years later, Oreville high-school juniors and best friends Blair and Cameron start a true crime podcast, determined to unravel the story of what—or who—happened to this rural urban legend. In the process they uncover a nest of dirty small-town secrets, the sordid truth of Clarissa’s relationship with her charismatic boyfriend, and a high school art teacher turned small-town figurehead who had a very good reason for wanting Clarissa dead. Such a good reason, in fact, that they might have to make him the highlight of their next episode…

But does an ugly history with a missing girl make him guilty of murder? Or are two teenage girls about to destroy the life of an innocent man—and help the true killer walk free?

Overall Recommendation:

Missing Clarissa combines a few elements that make this story compelling: intriguing protagonists, a commentary on missing white girls, and a podcast style of storytelling. While I’m always down for a good mystery, the best things about this book isn’t really the whodunnit. Whether it was predictable or not earth shattering enough, this book gives on social commentary as well as a realistic growth arc for the two protagonists. I came in looking for a simple mystery but got a lot more out of it.

**Missing Clarissa comes out March 7, 2023**

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

Blair and Cam are two ordinary teenagers who find themselves looking back on the legendary cold case in their town. A local girl disappeared many years ago without a trace, sparking nationwide attention and many theories to her whereabouts as her body was never found. Is she even dead or alive?

There are a number of things I really enjoyed about this book, and oddly enough, the mystery itself isn’t the chief reason. Firstly, I really enjoyed both Blair and Cam as our protagonists. Blair was the one who gave into other people’s desires, whether it was Cam’s more exuberant personality or her boyfriend’s domineering attitude. Cam, in contrast, knew who she was and didn’t care what others thought. What was more enjoyable was their interaction with one another. On paper, they don’t look like they could be best friends, and yet, their opposing natures balanced one another and forged the other to see from a different perspective.

I also really liked how they came across as real teenagers. They made mistakes, super dumb ones. And the whole reason they started this thing into Clarissa? For a school assignment. With the slight narcissistic thought that they’d be able to crack what others couldn’t over the years. I mean, what college would say no to you if you solved a cold case with this level of media scrutiny?

In the vein of recent mystery favourites featuring podcasts like Sadie and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, each chapter was divvied up by the subject matter they were interviewing with regards to the case. I’m not sure what it is about mysteries with podcasts formats, but there’s something about it that keeps us on our toes as we watch, like a podcast audience, what would happen next. I did like this format in this novel, but it did feel more of a plot device than something integral to the storytelling.

And lastly, there is the commentary between the girls and their journalism class. Clarissa, as a beautiful white girl, gets all this media attention for being missing, yet thousands of other girls disappear all the time, namely from Indigenous backgrounds. I appreciated this running thought here because it is something to be mindful of in our own society. It’s not heavily discussed, but its presence here is a question. Would Clarissa have gotten such fervor from her community and around the country if she wasn’t a white, blond girl?

Now, I’ve written a number of things that aren’t the mystery, but I’ve yet to comment on how I felt about it. I love mysteries, and I’ve read my fair share. While this novel isn’t something that will shake your core with its ending, I will say I didn’t guess everything immediately. It may not be earth shattering in its plot twists but I don’t think the purpose of this mystery is simply just a whodunnit. Missing Clarissa brings more to the table, and for that I’m quite pleased with how everything turned out.

3 star, YA

ARC Review: Begin Again by Emma Lord

As usual, Andie Rose has a plan: Transfer from community college to the hyper competitive Blue Ridge State, major in psychology, and maintain her lifelong goal of becoming an iconic self-help figure despite the nerves that have recently thrown her for a loop. All it will take is ruthless organization, hard work, and her trademark unrelenting enthusiasm to pull it all together.

But the moment Andie arrives, the rest of her plans go off the rails. Her rocky relationship with her boyfriend Connor only gets more complicated when she discovers he transferred out of Blue Ridge to her community college. Her roommate Shay needs a major, and despite Andie’s impressive track record of being The Fixer, she’s stumped on how to help. And Milo, her coffee-guzzling grump of an R.A. with seafoam green eyes, is somehow disrupting all her ideas about love and relationships one sleep-deprived wisecrack at a time.

But sometimes, when all your plans are in rubble at your feet, you find out what you’re made of. And when Andie starts to find the power of her voice as the anonymous Squire on the school’s legendary pirate radio station–the same one her mom founded, years before she passed away–Andie learns that not all the best laid plans are necessarily the right ones.

Filled with a friend group that feels like family, an empowering journey of finding your own way, and a Just Kiss Already! romance, Begin Again is an unforgettable novel of love and starting again.

Overall Recommendation:

As college stories go with a coming-of-age trope, Begin Again made itself unique with its fun, personable characters that feel like your friends and an intriguing ribbon hunt organized for freshmans in their second term only. It made me reminiscent of my own college days (though with not quite so much drama). I thought the themes and message were great, but the pacing sometimes was a little slow to the point it became a struggle to push to the end. Otherwise, a solid book by Emma Lord although not what I consider her finest.

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2023 Bookish Goals

This is technically a Top Ten Tuesday topic but I’m behind so I’m just going to post it on a Saturday so we can still share and discuss reading/bookish goals of the year!

I don’t typically set New Year’s resolutions as it gives extra unnecessary pressure to meet them. Instead, I like the idea of an encouraged goal for the year. Something to think about but not absolutely required to do within an allotted time. Do any of you ever feel that goals just sound better with less weighty expectations?

Anyway, here are my 5 reading-related goals for the year! Counting down from 5 and in no particular order…

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