4.5 star, adult

Review: Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

A chilling tale of psychological suspense and an homage to the thriller genre tailor-made for fans: the story of a bookseller who finds himself at the center of an FBI investigation because a very clever killer has started using his list of fiction’s most ingenious murders.

Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack—which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders”—chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne’s Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner, and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.

But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookstore in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading. The killer is out there, watching his every move—a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife.

To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects . . . and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead—and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.

As promised, here’s the next Peter Swanson. Again, a great premise, and considering it’s a pretty quick read, I just had to know what happened in the end. I was not prepared for the whirlwind of surprises. I expected some of them yes, but so many of them I also didn’t, so again, I really enjoyed the experience. Stay tuned to find out a few more of the details!

Eight Perfect Murders revolves around our protagonist, Malcolm Kershaw, who is a lover of mystery books; or at least, he once was. Plagued by a recurring dreams and a rather subdued life as a bookstore manager, his life is suddenly uprooted when an FBI agent comes to his door. A series of murders seems to have been committed in a fashion similar to a blogpost he once wrote, about the “Eight Perfect Murders.” Who is behind this series of murders? And will the killer get to Mal before he can figure out who it is?

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4.5 star, adult, nonfiction

Review: Making a Scene by Constance Wu

A powerful and poignant new book by Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu about family, romance, sex, shame, trauma, and how she found her voice on the stage. 

Growing up in the friendly suburbs of Richmond, Virginia, Constance Wu was often scolded for having big feelings or strong reactions. “Good girls don’t make scenes,” people warned her. And while she spent most of her childhood suppressing her bold, emotional nature, she found an early outlet in local community theater—it was the one place where big feelings were okay—were good, even. Acting became her refuge, her touchstone, and eventually her vocation. At eighteen she moved to New York, where she’d spend the next ten years of her life auditioning, waiting tables, and struggling to make rent before her two big breaks: the TV sitcom Fresh Off the Boat and the hit film Crazy Rich Asians.

Through raw and relatable essays, Constance shares private memories of childhood, young love and heartbreak, sexual assault and harassment, and how she “made it” in Hollywood. Her stories offer a behind-the-scenes look at being Asian American in the entertainment industry and the continuing evolution of her identity and influence in the public eye. Making a Scene is an intimate portrait of pressures and pleasures of existing in today’s world.

Overall Recommendation

A poignant collection of essays about different moments and time periods in Constance’s life, I thoroughly enjoyed the personal stories and lessons she drew from all these experiences she’s documented. Looking at both her childhood and the people/places that have shaped her into the woman she is, this isn’t just a book about being Asian in Hollywood but a well rounded story of the heart of Constance Wu and that makes it ever more so worth reading.

CW: sexual harassment, rape, suicide

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3 star, adult

Review: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.

Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.

Although I have heard my share of woes over this one, I did have one friend who asked me to read it, so I did it. Unsurprisingly I didn’t enjoy it that much. It wasn’t horrible by any means but if compared to his other book, this one definitely pales in comparison!

The Maidens has an interesting premise whereby there is our main character is who already gung-ho set on a professor being a murderer. It’s fair, since he has a group of young female students whom he calls “The Maidens.” Of course they are all young, rich, and beautiful, and Edward Fosca seems to have them all within his grasp. Our protagonist, Marianna, also faces her own demons from her past as she navigates a new series of murders at her old haunts. Too many coincidences add up…maybe she should get out before it’s too late.

The characters, on their own, were fairly well-crafted and I enjoyed this aspect of the book. Full of clearly flawed characters all trying to get by, while keeping too many secrets, I thought the tensions in the book were excellent. There was even mention of the main character of his other book, and the conversation was so much more chilling having read that book already. But I liked the link between the two books! However, the relationships between the characters might have been a little bit too unbelievable. Without spoiling too much, it just felt like the relationships were more convenient for the plot than out of what was believable. I forgot to mention I just couldn’t really get behind the main character either, she’s just a little bit too paranoid and stubborn for me. You’ll see what I mean about that.

The plot was also okay. I am not a fan of these kinds of stories where you start off having a huge focus on this professor being the murderer and basically never deviating from this story. It felt so forced (because it was), and whether it turns out finally to be the professor or not, either way it wouldn’t be satisfactory. If it was the professor, then we knew it all along; if it wasn’t, it was obvious from the beginning that it wouldn’t be. See how that is kind of lose-lose (at least for me) here? The suspense was fine, but I think as the plot went on it kind of felt like it wasn’t going to go anywhere exciting. I wanted some fireworks kind of ending, and it just kind of fell short of my expectations, unfortunately.

The ending definitely was too unbelievable for me. If anyone has read it, you probably know what I mean. I just didn’t buy it. It wasn’t deus ex machina, but honestly, I felt that it was pretty close. And the punchline that was supposed to be chilling and be that kind of final hit on your psyche didn’t land at all on me. Instead it made me just feel kind of confused. I could see how it could work to be scary and thrilling, but it just totally missed the mark for me. I don’t particularly recommend this one beyond just the face value of it being a thriller suspense novel; in that sense it was good!

Overall Recommendations

The Maidens is a story of a serial killer running loose at Cambridge University. Our protagonist is sure she knows who it is and chases them down. Full of suspense and dark intrigue, the story is certainly full of suspenseful moments as the paranoia within Marianna’s mind builds up more and more up to its finale. For me, there were a few too many moments that were not believable for me to fully enjoy it. Maybe I’m just a little bit too picky, and you may have more luck with it than me!