4 star, YA

Review: One of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus

One of Us is Lying #2

Come on, Bayview, you know you’ve missed this.

A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year since the Bayview four were cleared of his shocking death, no one’s been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts.

Until now.

This time it’s not an app, though—it’s a game.

Truth or Dare.

Phoebe’s the first target. If you choose not to play, it’s a truth. And hers is dark.

Then comes Maeve and she should know better—always choose the dare.

But by the time Knox is about to be tagged, things have gotten dangerous. The dares have become deadly, and if Maeve learned anything from Bronwyn last year, it’s that they can’t count on the police for help. Or protection.

Simon’s gone, but someone’s determined to keep his legacy at Bayview High alive. And this time, there’s a whole new set of rules. 

Karen M. McManus does it again! In this exciting sequel to One of Us is Lying, Bayview High is once again plunged into the mystery of a seemingly omniscient narrator (think Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars!) even after the death of Simon. Can Bayview ever escape his clutches?

Instead of the Bayview Four, this time the story revolves around three main characters and their POVs. It has been a year since Simon’s passing, and Bayview is seemingly quiet from the normal gossip-mongering. Some copycats have arisen to try and be the new Simon, but all have failed – until now. As a cryptic new message introduces a brand new game to be played, the stakes are raised. Can our protagonists band together to unveil the truth and stop whoever is behind it before it’s too late?

Once again we have a type of whodunnit mystery novel as a sequel to the original, in which the protagonists must dig into the past to uncover the truth of the present. What are the links between the Truth or Dare game and the events that transpire at Bayview High? We have Bronwyn’s younger sister Maeve as a main protagonist, and her two friends Knox and Phoebe, who all fall victim to the Truth or Dare game. Once again, even with the alternating point of views, I found the storytelling to be quite clear, and easy to follow. The twists and turns in this mystery were exciting, and the ending was actually not as predictable as I thought it would be.

Although the concept of the “omniscient narrator” is no longer novel in the sequel, McManus actually finds a new way to incorporate this concept in the same setting – kudos for being able to do that! With such a specific concept, it’s easy for the sequel to be repetitive, but I found the characters and the plotlines different enough that I was happy with the familiarity and still intrigued by the mystery and suspense. The growth of the characters was also nice to see – as much growth as can be found in a mystery novel anyway.

Overall I think these two books make a great set. I think McManus has a way of really appealing to the’young adult in me, using so many references from modern day contemporary settings to make me feel like I’m right among the kids “my age” again. Did anyone else have this kind of feeling reading her works? It certainly draws me in like no other YA author I’ve read recently. I will definitely be looking out for more of her works in the future!

Overall Recommendations

One of Us is Next is the exciting sequel to McManus’ original work One of Us is Lying, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. This story takes place the year after the tragic events of the original novel, and has all the same foreboding of Simon’s original reign of terror. Just who is responsible for the revival of his sinister games? A great set of two, I highly recommend reading these two books together, the author does a really good job of creating this ‘world’ at Bayview High, and I felt that this sequel was a good companion to the first novel. Expands the world just enough, but also doesn’t overplay and overuse the same tropes. If you enjoy reading about high schoolers getting caught in tough situations and fighting through it, be sure to check this book out. And if you missed Andge’s review on One of Us is Lying, you can read it here!

3.5 star, adult

Review: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all–a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family–a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

This was my first experience with Lapena’s work and I have to say I am overall quite impressed. This thriller was truly filled with many twists that were well planned out and not too forced. I have to say that I was initially shocked when there was a dramatic reveal and I was only halfway through the book! Needless to say I could not predict the endless numbers of twists that always left me guessing.

The Couple Next Door is the story of Anna and Marco Conti and their baby, Cora, and the crime that happens while they are at dinner party at their neighbour’s house. This story is also told from the perspective of the detective who is in charge of the case. All the different perspectives are written in such a way that is meant to add more suspense and mystery – just who is the one telling the truth? Overall it was fairly well done, but I think this kind of style has its limits. I personally found some things to be less convincing (“mysterious”) because we already had the truth from a different perspective. Having these different point of views took a little bit away from the overall suspense, but certainly did not take away from the mystery shrouding the entire case.

Twist after twist, even though I saw some coming, more kept coming! I thought this was quite exciting. So for what the book lacked in overall chilling suspense (in my opinion, usually maximized by keeping to a single clouded main POV), it certainly made up for in overall craftsmanship of the story. I rapidly grew suspicious of most of the characters and wondered how everything would come undone in the end. There may have been some elements in the book that I found a bit extraneous, but I generally take fictional accounts with a grain of salt anyway – surely people do things they regret when they’re stressed. I think we can all relate to that at the moment.

I definitely enjoyed my experience reading this though. I was reading it so quickly, so desperate to find out the mystery and motivations behind it all that I definitely just flew through this novel. There seems to be some comments online indicating some problematic/unnecessary plot points and I think I tended to agree on a logical level. There were certainly aspects that I wouldn’t have put in there were it my choice. However, I respect the decisions that were made by the author, as I honestly did enjoy the book anyway, so I can’t really fault it on not being the paragon of believability.

I tend to take things at face value and try to enjoy the story as intended, and it usually goes alright for me – it takes some pretty jarring faux-pas to throw me off the wagon! I wouldn’t recommend this book for its suspense factor, but if you want to see a complicated, tied up plot unfold itself before your very eyes, this book may float your boat. Give it a try! I know I will be trying some more of this author’s work in the future, before I form any final judgments.

Overall Recommendations

The Couple Next Door involves the mystery behind a crime that is committed while parents are at a dinner party at the neighbour’s house. As the case is investigated, more and more truths about the past about everyone emerges, each adding more mystery to the case. Just what happened that night, and who is lying about it? Find out in this thriller mystery full of twists and turns all the way to the very last page! I enjoyed watching how the plot unfolded like a knot slowly untangling. This story was fairly light on the suspense aspect, so I wouldn’t recommend it for that. However if you’re just looking for a mystery with a constant series of twists, this may be the book for you!

5 star, adult, buddy review

Buddy Review: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother and their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

Welcome to our first buddy read at Down the Rabbit Hole! Fives and I are excited to start such a series with A.J. Finn’s explosive debut, The Woman in the Window. If you would like to see more of these kinds of reviews, please let us know in the comments below!

Breaking the book into a couple of important points, these are our individual and collective thoughts that came up as we read this book together.

Pacing and suspense build-up

Andge: While a thriller is typically typed as so by the level of intrigue and suspense the author aimed to put their audience through, not all are successful. The Woman in the Window was super slow for its first 30 or so chapters, let’s be honest. But its mundane, day-to-day details in Anna Fox’s life had a purpose that came back ten-fold, leaving me to revel at what came to be at the climax. Once details of the event Anna witnessed through her window unfolded, things just climb from there in a way that felt organic. Headings showing you the passage of time helped create a sense of urgency as we learn one new thing after the other. I would say the pacing couldn’t have been better.

Fives: I definitely agree with Andge’s sentiment here – the beginning was quite slow – although I personally don’t mind too much, I am all about that slow build suspense (the ‘just what is going on?!’ feeling). This all being said, the ramp up in tension and excitement was quick and relentless. I know for a fact that neither of us were able to put it down after the second half the book – it was painstaking for us to stop at our agreed landmarks for discussion! The short chapters were very well executed in providing this kind of steady rhythm that underlies the whole novel and provides a driving force for the suspense. Not every thriller I have read has this type of pacing, but I can say I definitely enjoyed this whole experience!

Plot elements

Andge: Any good mystery or thriller places a good amount of attention to the mundane details. They may just be there to set the scene, or in actuality, help tie together loose pieces at the end. A.J. Finn did this beautifully! I honestly flipped through pages back and forth in later scenes referencing earlier ones with exclamations of “oh wow I totally missed this!”. Red herrings are also a thing I look out for but the level of craftsmanship in this piece of writing made it hard for me to narrow down what mattered or what was there to throw us off. This detail-oriented planning was perfect for such a book.

Fives: Having more thrillers under my belt than perhaps an average reader, I have come to expect many kinds of seemingly mundane plot points or bedazzled red herrings. That being said, A.J. Finn did a fantastic job slipping in all the inconspicuous little details mixed in with the heavy hints – this did a really good job of mixing us up! Andge and I had long discussions over the many details inserted into the plot, and what they could possibly mean in the whole scheme of the novel. I believe one of the best approaches to thrillers is the hiding of important facts in plain sight, and I can say that the author did the most fantastic job of this – only when you really stop to scrutinize the details can you really even begin to pick out some possibilities. That being said, you won’t be able to stop turning the page to think!


Andge: In my experience with mysteries, sometimes the whodunnit individual was some random character who appeared for five seconds on a singular page in chapter 10, or something. So of course I had no idea they did it! Unlike my frustrations in those stories, I loved that we got to really know a handful of main characters in this book. The Russells made up of Alistair, Jane and Ethan held an air of mystery that slowly unravelled little by little as Anna interacted with them in her limited capacity. Add in Anna’s estranged family, daughter Olivia and husband Ed, plus her handsome live-in tenant David, there were a lot of people to consider when trying to piece the bits of information Finn slowly released to us at interesting times. Were any of these people involved in something, and why?

Fives: The characters are one of the standout points in this thriller. We get so many details into each of the main characters, and there are very few throwaway characters. Everyone was there for a reason, and as you delve deeper into all the characters that show up in the book, each one leaves you wondering about their motive and secrets – the mark of a truly skilled author. The plot follows only Anna, an agoraphobe who is stuck in her house, as she looks beyond into other houses. After reading the book, I am reminded that windows are two-way – does ‘The Woman in the Window’ refer to Anna looking out through the window, or someone else being looked at?


Andge: I would never want to ruin a book such as a thriller to you. But to sum up my feelings for The Woman in the Window, I have to at least address the ending. We came up with many hypotheses over our discussions for how this story was to end, and I do mean many. What I will say is that I wasn’t disappointed which is a HUGE win in my books, and it felt like the right kind of ending to give Anna and her story.

Fives: So in the end, what happens is – – just kidding. But trust me, despite being able to predict a few things here and there (none of which we were sure still, by the way), the whole ramp up all the way to the climax and resolution was just honestly enthralling, and I don’t think there was any other way I would have wanted it. The transformation of Anna from the beginning to the end was also a marked delight, and you must go see (or rather, read) for yourself! What are you waiting for?

We hope you liked reading this buddy review! We are super excited for any subsequent releases by A.J. Finn. But most importantly, we are stoked for the upcoming Netflix adaptation of this book this year. Stay tuned for a blog post comparing our thoughts on the book with the movie 🙂