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.

2.5 star, adult

Review: Would You Rather by Allison Ashley

Noah and Mia have always been best friends, and their friendship is the most important thing to them. Life is going great for Noah and he’s up for a promotion in a job he loves. But Mia’s life is on hold as she awaits a kidney transplant. She’s stuck in a dead-end job and, never wanting to be a burden, has sworn off all romance. So when the chance of a lifetime comes to go back to school and pursue her dream, it’s especially painful to pass up. She can’t quit her job or she’ll lose the medical insurance she so desperately needs.

To support her, Noah suggests they get married—in name only—so she can study full-time and still keep the insurance. It’s a risk to both of them, with jobs, health and hearts on the line, and they’ll need to convince suspicious coworkers and nosy roommates that they’re the real deal. But if they can let go of all the baggage holding them back, they might realize that they would rather be together forever.

Overall Recommendation:

Would You Rather was filled with the romantic tropes many of us adore, best friends to lovers and fake dating. But with underlying traumas both protagonists, but mainly Mia, had to individually overcome, the pining was less cute and more grating as I read. For a highly anticipated read for me, I unfortunately was left disappointed even with the happy ending I expected. The plot was everything I could hope for, but its execution just didn’t work for me.

Continue reading “Review: Would You Rather by Allison Ashley”
4.5 star, adult

Review: The Cheat Sheet by Sarah Adams

Is it ever too late to leave the friend-zone?

Hi, my name is Bree Camden, and I’m hopelessly in love with my best friend and star quarterback Nathan Donelson (so is half of America, judging by the tabloids and how much the guy dates). The first step is admitting, right? Except, I can never admit it to him because he clearly doesn’t see me that way, and the last thing I want is for things to get weird between us.

Nothing but good old-fashioned, no-touching-the-sexiest-man-alive, platonic friendship for us! Everything is exactly how I like it! Yes. Good. (I’m not crying, I’m just peeling an onion.)

Our friendship is going swimmingly until I accidentally spill my beans to a reporter over too much tequila, and now the world seems to think me and Nathan belong together. Oh, and did I mention we have to date publicly for three weeks until after the Super Bowl because we signed a contract with…oops, forgot I can’t tell anyone about that!

Bottom line is, now my best friend is smudging all the lines and acting very un-platonic, and I’m just trying to keep my body from bursting into flames every time he touches me.

How am I going to make it through three weeks of fake dating Nathan without anything changing between us? Especially when it almost-sort-a-kinda seems like he’s fighting for a completely different outcome?

Send help.
XO Bree

If any of you know me, just one fact about me, it’s that I absolutely adore the best friends to lovers trope. It’s such a niche romance trope that I’ve hardly come across it. But I LOVE all the angst that comes with such a hard transition from platonic relationship to something different. More often than not, this is accompanied by the excruciating angst that comes with unrequited feelings. Does this make me a masochist that I particularly enjoy such angst? Yes? Maybe?

The Cheat Sheet does this trope very well. It’s pretty much 300+ pages of unrequited feelings from Bree. And from Nathan. Did I mention this book is all about lack of communication between the love interests?

Bree was an amazing protagonist to follow. She’s confident in her standing in Nathan’s life even when the women he dated got jealous of her closeness to him, regardless that nothing romantic ever occurred between them. She’s kind and super empathetic when it came to teaching ballet to youth who may not be able to afford such lessons normally. She didn’t let life take away her ambitions when a tragic accident made her change her life’s trajectory. She was never insecure when it came to Nathan’s feelings for her, or what she thought they were. Hey, if I had a bestie who loved everybody but me, I may not handle such constant rejection as well as Bree did.

Nathan, meanwhile, wasn’t too bad of a catch himself. I normally don’t love sports stories. I’m not very much into any particular sport myself so this world just doesn’t fascinate me. Regardless that Nathan was a well-known football player and that this book contains perhaps 65% football-related storylines, I felt this element helped frame more of Nathan’s character which in turn helped me understand him more. He was adorable with the way he freaked out over Bree’s lack of romantic interest in him. If there ever was a need for the comedy in the romantic-comedy, it can definitely be found among some big football players trying to map out a PG-13 plan to get the girl to fall for her best friend.

The story flowed well, although I was taken aback by the dual POVs. Don’t let the synopsis fool you into thinking it’s only Bree’s feelings to concern yourselves with. Also deceiving is how far along the book gets before the fake dating trope enters the picture. It’s not right at the beginning but I felt this made more sense because it allowed us to understand Bree and Nathan’s history and dynamic before throwing them into the deep end of unknown relationship territory.

The one half-star docked off comes from the sheer length. The book isn’t long, but nearer to the end, I do feel the miscommunication about their reciprocated(!!) feelings was getting a little tiring. Just tell each other you like one another, I wanted to shout at them both. I mean, this may be the angst getting to me at this point. Maybe this is a good sign if that’s what the author intended? All I can say is, I was totally invested in seeing them figure things out. The end may be a little rushed for some, but I think it worked for their particular story.

Do I think this story will be for everyone? I guess that depends on how much you like this kind of romantic angst with its tensions but lots of communication issues. This is weirdly my favorite trope so if you’re like me (a niche weirdo), then you’re in luck because Bree and Nathan have got a story to tell.

Overall Recommendation:

The Cheat Sheet is a charming story about unrequited love between best friends – or rather, miscommunicated and very much requited love between our leads. It’s a cute and fairly digestible contemporary that’s perfect for a lazy afternoon to put you in the feels as we root for the leads to finally get their communication fixed. I certainly read it in one sitting like this! The best friends to lovers trope may not be as common or popular but this TikTok sensation blew up for a reason and I can confidently say it was well earned.