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, YA

Review: Influence by Sara Shepard and Lilia Buckingham

Get ready to delve into the world of teen influencers like you’ve never done before–from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS Sara Shepard and sixteen-year-old actress and social media personality Lilia Buckingham comes a twisty mystery that takes place in the fiercely competitive world of Internet stars.

After a video she makes goes viral, everyone knows Delilah Rollins. And now that she’s in LA, Delilah’s standing on the edge of something incredible. Everything is going to change. She has no idea how much.

Jasmine Walters-Diaz grew up in the spotlight. A child star turned media darling, the posts of her in her classic Lulu C. rainbow skirt practically break the Internet. But if the world knew who Jasmine really was, her perfect life? Canceled.

Fiona Jacobs is so funny–the kind of girl for whom a crowd parts–no wonder she’s always smiling! But on the inside? The girl’s a hot mess. And when someone comes out of the shadows with a secret from her past, it’s one that won’t just embarrass Fiona: it will ruin her.

Who wouldn’t want to be Scarlet Leigh? Just look at her Instagram. Scarlet isn’t just styled to perfection: she is perfection. Scarlet has a gorgeous, famous boyfriend named Jack and there’s a whole fanbase about their ship. To everyone watching online, their lives seem perfect . . . but are they really? The sun is hot in California . . . and someone’s going to get burned.

Feeling my inner part Gen-Z mentality coming out here, but this was the surprise of the year so far for me. Influence follows the life of three young girls either just starting out in a career on social media or growing up as a childhood star. While I particularly loved one girl over the others, I was delighted to learn so much about what being an influencer is like through their eyes. This was only possible due to the personal knowledge and experience by one of the authors, Lilia Buckingham, an actual influential teenager who stands for justice and pride.

The story flows amazingly, with short chapters alternating between our three girls. Delilah, otherwise known as Lila D, was new to the game, having a video of her rescuing an animal from a burning building shooting her to viral fandom. I loved her because I could understand her the most. The confusion in moving to L.A, and figuring out the kind of lifestyle and rhythm influencers partake to constantly create and stay relevant for their fans. I liked that she stayed true to herself throughout, not pandering a certain persona to people to gain fame.

Jasmine was also a delight to follow. Having been a popular child star in a program for children, she was forced to maintain that persona through a literal contract for her sponsors which included a clause for morals. As in she couldn’t do anything that was deemed inappropriate by parents. The question became, how do you find yourself if you could never actually be yourself and explore? Her whole character reminded me of Miley Cyrus, and now I have even more sympathy for her who had to really go through such an ordeal in real life. And perhaps even larger spectacle to shed such image.

Lastly, there was Fiona and I’m glad the authors included her. She suffers from OCD and carries a deep secret from the past that may have triggered more of symptoms. Trying to keep everything under control while remaining calm for her fans and upcoming acting jobs is hard. It doesn’t get any better when someone started blackmailing her about this secret!

We follow these three friends as they navigate the spotlight, influencer events and gigs. I love that the authors take the time to get us settled in with their lives, the secrets they harbour, and the internal storm they each face that never surfaces on the faces they share with their audiences.

Then, this becomes a true crime mystery! Someone dies.

If you know me, you know that I absolutely ADORE mysteries, particularly whodunnits. It was like the icing on the cake. From the whole slew of cast and characters we meet through each girl, there are so many potential suspects who may want this person gone. And because we understand the intricacies of relationships behind the scenes, it’s easier to put on our detective hats and guess along as we go.

There’s also some angsty romance like the cherry on top. Delilah finds herself in a snare when a guy she had a meet-cute moment with turns out to be some famous Youtuber who is in a relationship! Oh, what will happen from that? I’m just grinning at this whole setup because it’s cheesy but so perfectly executed amidst everything else in this book. It’s not the focus for sure, but it’s a big part of Delilah’s POV and totally adds to the story.

The overall message of Influence is that it’s hard to show our real selves online, even more so when you have crafted a persona for yourself that has exploded among your fan base to the point that its taken a life of its own. While most of us may never experience such fame and the intricate balance of staying true to ourselves online, the lesson is still real and relevant regardless of how many eyes are on us. Vulnerability is hard, whether thousands of people are watching or even just one, but it’s a choice we ultimately need to make if we want to figure out who we are. What is seen on the outside may not always represent who are are inside but that doesn’t have to remain the case forever.

It is always a choice we can make for ourselves. And I love that behind the fun premise of the life of influencers, Influence is ultimately about this. Find your voice and be true to yourself.

Overall Recommendation:

Influence gives interesting insight into the lives of social media influencers, and a whopping story of the facades we show the world. I loved the realness of the three protagonists and their individual struggles as they seek out recognition, fame and ultimately, themselves. The overall pacing was great, flipping between the different POVs, with the suspense ramping up when a mystery presented itself halfway. While it may seem like strictly a teen book, I feel this story has complex layers to it that will appeal to a wider audience. Ultimately, Influence makes us question what our true selves are and how willing we are to reach for it.