1.5 star, YA

ARC Review: The Liars Beneath by Heather Van Fleet

After a tragic accident ends her best friend’s life, 17-year-old Becca Thompson succumbs to grief the only way she knows how: by wallowing in it. She’s a fragment of the person she once was-far too broken to enjoy the summer before her senior year. But when Ben McCain, her best friend’s older brother, returns home, Becca must face her new reality head on.

She isn’t interested in Ben’s games, especially since he abandoned his sister during the months leading up to her death. But when he begs for her help in uncovering the truth about what really happened the night of his sister’s death, Becca finds herself agreeing, hoping to clear up rumors swirling in the wake of her best friend’s accident.

An unhinged ex-boyfriend, secret bucket lists, and garage parties in the place Becca calls home soon lead her to the answers she’s so desperate to unveil. But nobody is being honest, not even Ben. And the closer Becca gets to the truth-and to Ben-the more danger seems to surround her.

Clearing her best friend’s name was all she wanted to do, but Becca is quickly realizing that the truth she craves might be uglier than the lies her best friend kept.

**The Liars Beneath comes out January 27, 2022**

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

TW: sexual assault/harassment

I’m such a sucker usually for mysterious deaths and a crush on the best friend’s older brother trope but nothing about this worked for me.

In a small farming town in Iowa, our protagonist Becca is struggling hard in the aftermath of her best friend, Rose’s, death. While she does not initially think there was any foul play involved, Rose’s older brother Ben comes barrelling in trying to stir things up in his search for what happened the night of Rose’s death.

This book focuses literally on 2 things and 2 things only: a romance between Becca and Ben, and the mystery of Rose’s demise. Unfortunately, neither were done very well.

Becca has always been around Ben before he left town to go study in college, a rather prestigious athlete trying to escape the chains of this small town and their negligent mother. But before he left, Becca had the BIGGEST crush on him that fizzled into hate upon the smallest miscommunication. So what if he rejected her in a small way when she was 15? It doesn’t then permit the very rude way she interacted with him from then on, only insulting him to his face (or behind his back, for that matter, to Rose). Ben, for his part, played along with this new way of interacting with her, but I very much feel this was all on Becca for starting this completely unnecessary change in their previously cordial relationship.

I don’t dislike enemies to lovers, but this was poorly done in my opinion. I found it super hard for me to believe that she could so easily fall for Ben when there were so many more important issues at hand. I can potentially see that maybe he was holding a candle for her during the years since, but I don’t think this was LOVE by any means. Telling me you “love” each other does not make me feel it anymore than if you did not say it at all.

The mystery is also hardly a mystery in any sense of the word. Rose’s secrets, and there were a number, starts to unearth as Ben and Becca investigate. I saw the “twist” a mile away with the few characters that were actually introduced into the story. I could hardly believe how much was given away in literal conversations between Rose and Becca in the flashback chapters, or in the way certain characters were introduced to us. The only surprising thing in this book was the ending, and that was a bit of a complicated mess.

While I won’t spoil anything about the end, I feel epilogues aren’t meant for wrapping everything up so neatly into a bow. I’m also conflicted because the ending of the previous chapter before the epilogue was a mess, so I suppose it would be better to conclude with a little extra present. Yet, there were almost too many details given that made it feel like nothing was left to understand about these characters. That they would not live on beyond the ending given them. I feel the best characters are the ones that have been written in a way that their lives could still be up to interesting things even after the last page of the book has been flipped.

All this to say, a book with a really unlikable protagonist makes it really hard to get through. Becca also proves to be not the smartest cookie in the jar. She at one point brought her parents’ handgun to a situation she felt may warrant some protection…only to say she did not know how to use it. Like, you’re literally bringing a weapon to a potentially dangerous situation. Do you know how easily someone (aka the dangerous person(s) you’re meeting) could take that weapon from you and then actually know how to use it…on YOU?

So with neither main element working out well for me and a protagonist I couldn’t stomach for long periods of time, I can only hand this book one note of positivity: at least it was a short read to get through.

Overall Recommendation:

The Liars Beneath was supposedly a mystery and an enemies to lover romance, but felt like neither really hit the mark. The protagonist was unlikable and her chemistry with Ben was not the most believable based on their actions and general amount of miscommunication. At most, it could only be a rather large crush on one another instead of intense love – please don’t tell me but show me. The mysterious circumstances surrounding her best friend’s death was very predictable, especially with the amount of information given in the flashback chapters. And with an ending that was both too wrapped up and oddly rushed to create a happily ever after, I just don’t think there’s enough going for this novel to warrant a higher rating or recommendation.

1.5 star, YA

ARC Review: All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

Sixteen bloodless bodies. Two teenagers. One impossible explanation.

Summer 1958—a string of murders plagues the Midwest. The victims are found in their cars and in their homes—even in their beds—their bodies drained, but with no blood anywhere. 

September 19- the Carlson family is slaughtered in their Minnesota farmhouse, and the case gets its first lead: 15-year-old Marie Catherine Hale is found at the scene. She is covered in blood from head to toe, and at first she’s mistaken for a survivor. But not a drop of the blood is hers.

Michael Jensen, son of the local sheriff, yearns to become a journalist and escape his small-town. He never imagined that the biggest story in the country would fall into his lap, or that he would be pulled into the investigation, when Marie decides that he is the only one she will confess to. 

As Marie recounts her version of the story, it falls to Michael to find the truth: What really happened the night that the Carlsons were killed? And how did one girl wind up in the middle of all these bodies?

**All These Bodies come out September 21, 2021**

Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

TW: extreme violence, potential abuse from a father figure

I’m as shocked as anyone that this is how it went for this book, but it just did not agree with me. All These Bodies is less of a thrilling mystery than it is an ill-conceived horror. With little plot that comes to the actual crimes themselves, it solely relies on the paranormal nature of these murders to create an air of suspense and thrill.

I came into this book thinking it would be a (rather gruesome) mystery. Unfortunately, it was less a mystery than a wild chase for a story from the girl left at the last crime scene.

Michael Jensen is a solid protagonist to follow. He has a good head on his shoulders and learned to deal with the consequences of being the sheriff’s son a long time ago. With his fascination for journalism and plain ol’ being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he is roped into the string of serial killings that has swept the few states around his hometown.

The girl, Marie, sees him once and is instantly fascinated. Maybe it’s because he is around her age, against the backdrop of lawyers and police officers that are insistent on her story. Or maybe, as Michael himself believes, it’s because he’s the only kind of person who would potentially believe the story that she has to tell.

If you’re looking for some supernatural criminal and are oddly excited to read about the ramifications of explaining such a thing to rational minded people, then you’re luck because this is the book for you! But if you’re not interested in these things, then I don’t know what you’re left with in this novel.

Was it creepy? Yes, I will admit that. Kendare Blake knows how to set the environment and write with vagueness around this mysterious killer. Did I think the paranormal aspect added to the story? No, not really. I would’ve thought it could be as interesting without a paranormal angle.

At the heart of this book, it is trying to challenge belief and how people see the world, but I find that the characters were either on one side or the other the whole time. They weren’t persuaded to think otherwise no matter what “truths” were uncovered during the investigation. Which left me feeling frustrated for Michael who is the only one on the fence with belief and is therefore isolated in his struggle to make sense of everything.

In fact, I was frustrated during most of this book. People can be so awful and hypocritical. The townspeople were upset at Michael and his family for keeping the “criminal girl” in their town for questioning and investigation, so they harassed the poor family incessantly, even those who were once considered friends. But when the investigation took a turn, they were the very first to say (in a super sexist manner) that they didn’t believe she could’ve committed such crimes because she was a girl. So not a lot of warm fuzzy feelings in this book at all.

I will contend at least that I blew through this book super quickly. It’s rather short and in a manner, I just wanted to get to the end to see how it would all turn out. Would Marie tell Michael the whole story for how she came to be in that house with the murdered family? Would we, as readers, fully believe what she has to say?

However, any warm fuzzies I hoped to gain from a good ending was also shattered. I am not adverse to open endings where much is left to one’s interpretation and scope of the imagination. But, this was more than just open-ended. It was abrupt and lacked closure. It was the precipice of a reckless choice. I half couldn’t believe it ended there, but then when I thought about the set up of this whole book with its supernatural aura, I suppose that’s the only kind of ending that would work. But this is a fair warning to you all that this is DEFINITELY not for everyone.

It definitely was not for me.

Overall Recommendation:

All These Bodies comes across as a true crime mystery in its synopsis but is most definitely classed as a paranormal horror. With a fascinating premise about a serial killer on the loose and a girl left behind at the last crime scene, I came into this book thinking one thing and leaving with something else entirely. While the protagonist, Michael, was rather enjoyable to follow (I totally agreed with most of his thoughts), everything else was a let down. From the lack of plot surrounding the crimes to the lack of closure in its ending, it was hard to invest in. What little I did invest emotionally, I was left with disappointment. This book isn’t for the faint of heart, or those with high expectations. But if you enjoy paranormal horrors, then I suppose you are the exact audience this novel is meant for.

1.5 star, adult

Review: Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci

Introducing a remarkable new character from #1 New York Times bestselling writer David Baldacci: Atlee Pine, an FBI agent with special skills assigned to the remote wilds of the southwestern United States who must confront a new threat . . . and an old nightmare.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. Catch a tiger by its toe.

It’s seared into Atlee Pine’s memory: the kidnapper’s chilling rhyme as he chose between six-year-old Atlee and her twin sister, Mercy. Mercy was taken. Atlee was spared.

She never saw Mercy again.

Three decades after that terrifying night, Atlee Pine works for the FBI. She’s the lone agent assigned to the Shattered Rock, Arizona resident agency, which is responsible for protecting the Grand Canyon.

So when one of the Grand Canyon’s mules is found stabbed to death at the bottom of the canyon-and its rider missing-Pine is called in to investigate. It soon seems clear the lost tourist had something more clandestine than sightseeing in mind. But just as Pine begins to put together clues pointing to a terrifying plot, she’s abruptly called off the case.

If she disobeys direct orders by continuing to search for the missing man, it will mean the end of her career. But unless Pine keeps working the case and discovers the truth, it could spell the very end of democracy in America as we know it…

Oh man. For what is supposedly a mystery book, I had such a hard time reading through this. It also had elements of suspense and thrillers but it was just….so boring. And the title and backstory don’t even really make sense to me? Let’s just say I borderline didn’t finish it. Maybe I shouldn’t have.

Long Road to Mercy follows an FBI special agent, Atlee Pine, who specializes in the rural part of West America. Her tragic backstory includes a twin sister who was kidnapped at age 6 from their own house – a man had snuck in and spoke a nursery rhyme to choose which sister he would take. 30 years later, Atlee is still on the hunt for what happened to her sister.

Or so you’d expect.

Continue reading “Review: Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci”