book review: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen

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GONE WITHOUT A TRACE by Mary Torjussen

Berkley Books, 2017

This is a very strong contender for the worst book I have ever read. I’m not saying that lightly.

Gone Without a Trace is about Hannah, a thirty-something young woman living the dream – she’s got a house, a boyfriend, a steady job, and an imminent promotion. Until she comes home one day and finds that her boyfriend Matt has left her, in the most cold and calculated way possible – he’s moved out all of his stuff, erased his number from her phone, deleted the pictures of him off her computer, and deactivated all of his social media accounts. She literally has no way to contact him, and she has no idea why he left.

I love the premise. It sounds like a nightmare, for someone to forcibly remove him or herself from your life in such an extreme way. This book had all the potential in the world… but Mary Torjussen dropped the ball. Getting through this book was agonizing. The prose was some of the most juvenile I’ve ever seen – exclamation points everywhere and probably about 80% of the sentences starting with “I” (“I wondered why Matt would do this to me! I loved him! I needed to find him!” – those sentences are my own, but I think they condense the contents of this book rather nicely). I try not to judge thrillers on their literary merit, but come on. This was painful to read.

And on top of that, it was just insanely boring. Hannah literally spends months – about 60% of the novel – trying to track down Matt, even though all signs point to him having left voluntarily. Each of her fruitless efforts is recorded in excruciating detail – why do I care that she’s calling Matt’s barber? And now his mechanic? And now every hotel in the greater Liverpool area? (Why doesn’t she hire a private investigator? She has the money. She starts to go to such extreme lengths to find him, impersonating people, trying to trick them into divulging details; why wouldn’t she just hire a professional at this point? Nothing in this book makes sense.)

My other major annoyance throughout this book that I just want to mention briefly was Hannah’s relationship with her “best friend,” Katie. These two had one of the pettiest relationships I’ve ever seen – when will we stop depicting all female friendships as catty and competitive? That’s not real life. If you’re 32 years old and you’re still secretly trying to one-up everything your best friend does as if you’re still in middle school, maybe you should reevaluate this supposedly rock solid friendship. The characters in this book just don’t act like real people – they’re shoddy and offensive caricatures.

And then we get to the twist. No spoilers, but I just… I literally do not have the words to describe how dumb this ending was. It’s like the author was spinning a giant wheel of possible explanations including the likes of “aliens made them do it” and “it was all a dream” but instead landed on… whatever the hell we got instead. The ‘explanation’ we get to justify these characters’ behavior doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t fit with the information we’d had until that point, and not in the kind of way where if you went back to reread the beginning, you’d be able to read between the lines and see the truth lurking beneath. No, the explanation we get just doesn’t add up. The entire ending of this book is one big incongruous, plot hole-ridden mess. I’d have preferred the aliens, to be perfectly honest.

To impress upon you just how terrible this book was, I have to tell you that I literally started doing a dramatic reading for my roommate toward the end, because we were getting into straight up comical territory. I’m sorry, but how did this book get published? It wasn’t fast paced, it wasn’t a page turner, it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t creepy, it was just… bad. I would compare this book to a soap opera, but soap operas didn’t do anything to deserve that.

I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Thanks to the Goodreads First Reads program as well as the author and publisher for the opportunity. Sorry I didn’t click with this more!

top 5 wednesday: Books that Aren’t Set in the Western World

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

July 19th: Books That Aren’t Set In/Inspired By The Western World

I love this topic.  For whatever reason I’ve had a really strong interest in books set in East Asia for as long as I can remember.  I didn’t have to look further than my ‘east asia’ shelf on Goodreads for this topic, so my list isn’t going to be very broad geographically (I realize ‘non-Western’ encompasses a much wider area), but I’ve selected a couple of my favorites set in Korea, Japan, and China.  Here they are:

29983711Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: I haven’t stopped talking about this book since I read it in February, and with good reason.  This is an outstanding family saga set against the backdrop of Japan’s annexation of Korea in the early 20th century.  It features a handful of Korean characters who face an onslaught of discrimination when forced to relocate to Japan.  This is not only an incredibly moving story, but a really educational read.  Min Jin Lee integrates historical detail into her narrative with masterful precision – it never overwhelms, but still constantly edifies the reader.  I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the complicated history of Japanese-Korean relations, the history of either of those countries, or just anyone looking for an entertaining family saga.

41nsvhy8t2bl-_sx322_bo1204203200_The Vegetarian by Han Kang: Korean writer Han Kang made waves when her first novel to be translated into English, The Vegetarian, won the Man Booker International award last year.  This novel is outstanding and thought-provoking.  It raises questions about gender and sexuality, a woman’s role in society, social norms, violence – in a lot of ways this novel offers generalized insights into the human experience, but in other ways, context is key.  You can’t remove this novel from its contemporary South Korean setting, especially as Han Kang’s own experience growing up in Gwangju was such a heavy influence on the content of this novel.  She goes onto explore the 1980 Gwangju uprising in a much more tangible way in her novel Human Acts, but The Vegetarian offers a much more abstract meditation on similar themes.  I highly recommend both novels.

18169712Three Souls by Janie Chang: Admittedly, I didn’t like this book as much as I liked the rest on this list.  I had a lot of nitpicky problems with it, but I still found it entertaining and incredibly informative.  Set in 1935 China, this provocative novel follows the journey of a young woman called Leiyin – except, the twist is that the novel begins moments after Leiyin’s death.  We follow Leiyin in the afterlife and get flashbacks to her childhood, and eventually adulthood – and we find out how she died.  The reason I’m including this novel on my list even though I didn’t love it was that I think it’s a really phenomenal look at the sociopolitical climate of mid 20th century China, and I recommend it more from a historical rather than a literary perspective.

1103Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: Lisa See is one of my favorite historical fiction writers, and I think Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of her strongest novels. Set in nineteenth century China, Snow Flower is a devastating story about a friendship between two young women.  It features the writing system nu shu, which was developed by Chinese women in the Hunan province to communicate with one another, as they were often denied a formal education.  In typical Lisa See fashion, she both educates and entertains with this novel, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Chinese history.  (Beware of very graphic descriptions of foot binding, though.)  My favorite Lisa See novel (though it’s a toss up with Snow Flower) may have to be Shanghai Girls, but as it’s partially set in California, it doesn’t fit the category.

13640447After Dark by Haruki Murakami: And finally, it seemed requisite to include a Murakami on this list.  After Dark is actually my favorite of his novels that I’ve read, though it’s a lot shorter than the novels which are often associated with him.  So if you haven’t read Murakami but are curious about his writing style without wanting to commit to a 500 page book, After Dark is a great place to start.  After Dark takes place in the span of one night, between the hours of midnight and dawn in Tokyo and follows an eclectic group of characters.  It’s a very mesmerizing and atmospheric novel which draws the reader into Tokyo nightlife in an almost voyeuristic way.

What are some of your favorite non-Western novels?  And have you read any of these?  Comment and let me know!

seeking play recommendations!

Yesterday I was reading Interesting Literature’s 10 of the Best Plays by Women Dramatists (a fantastic list!) and I came to the really depressing realization that I’ve only ever read one play written by a woman (An Iliad by Lisa Peterson).  At first I’m thinking ‘that’s not possible, is it?’ because I read quite a lot of plays, but after combing through my list a few times, I realized that it’s sadly the truth.  39/58 of the books I’ve read so far this year have been by women – that’s a trend I’d like to keep up.

So, I’m here to ask for recommendations of your favorite plays written by women!  The only two on my list so far are Posh by Laura Wade and The Last Wife by Kate Hennig.  I’m open to all genres, time periods, etc.  Thanks!

book review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

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SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo
★★★★★
Henry Holt & Co, 2015

I was so afraid that I was going to dislike this book and that I’d be ostracized from the bookish community, but my trepidation about Six of Crows was all for naught. This was just as awesome as everyone says it is.

I’ll have to admit, I had a slow start with Six of Crows. Here’s where I clarify for those who are not familiar with my reading habits: I do not read a lot of fantasy. So when I’m thrown into a world with all sorts of new vocabulary to learn with such a large array of characters, I’m a little unmoored, to say the least. Leigh Bardugo integrates her invented vocabulary seamlessly into the narrative without pausing to explain what everything means – you’re able to discern the meaning through context, and it’s expertly done. But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been thinking ‘wait, I’m dumb, though, can’t you just explain it?!’ on more than one occasion. It probably took me longer than it should have to figure out just what a Grisha is, exactly.

But I think at about 20% it really began to hit its stride, and my confusion finally abated. Before I knew it, I was completely sucked into this fast-paced, exciting adventure, and I fell in love with this group of flawed yet compelling characters. Notable to me were Kaz and Inej, two of the most complex and intriguing and heartbreaking characters that I’ve ever encountered in YA lit, Kaz in particular. He’s the first character who really grabbed me in this story, and I just fell more and more in love with him as his devastating backstory was slowly revealed.

The twists in this book were all kinds of exciting. Bardugo keeps the tension high, and every time it looks like things are finally, finally going to turn out okay, another obstacle arises. It never gets monotonous, though, because the stakes are high enough that you’re constantly holding your breath for a positive outcome.

4.5 stars just because of my difficulty getting into it at the beginning (but again, that’s more down to my incompatibility with this genre than Leigh Bardugo’s storytelling, which I admit was technically very well done). I ended up loving this, and I can’t wait to read Crooked Kingdom.

The Cookie Book Tag

Tagged by the lovely Books Teacup and Reviews – cheers!  Sorry for all the tags lately, every time I catch up they just keep coming.  They’re fun though, so oh well.  Here we go.

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Rules:

  1. In addition to linking back to the person who tagged you, it would be awesome if you link back to Nicole’s original post!
  2. Pick a book that corresponds to the cookie’s ‘theme’.
  3. Have fun!
  4. Tag one to three people.

Chocolate Chip: A classic book that you love or really enjoyed

12912I always talk about Les Mis and The Iliad, so now for something different (sort of): The Aeneid by Vergil.  I first read this in Latin in my senior year of high school, and I fell in love with the story.  I’ve since read it… three more times, I think (occupational hazard of majoring in Italian literature), and it never fails to captivate me.

Thin Mints: A fandom that you really want to ‘join’ and/or a hyped-up book you want to read (Your source(s) of a book being hyped can be from anywhere.)

29751398I’m kind of over joining fandoms – after years in the Harry Potter and Les Mis fandoms, now I just lurk whenever I find something new I enjoy.  So to answer the second half of the question: The Power by Naomi Alderman.  I’ve heard mixed things, but this book has gotten a lot of buzz this year along with winning the Bailey’s prize for 2017, so I am very curious.

Shortbread: An author you can’t get enough of

Agatha Christie.  I’ve read these four so far this year, and I don’t intend on stopping any time soon!  She’s so clever.  So far I’ve been shocked by all of the reveals in these books.

Samoas/Caramel DeLites: An emotional rollercoaster

michaud-the-subversive-brilliance-of-a-little-life-320A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.  There is no other answer to this question.  This book dug well beneath my heartless exterior and completely and utterly destroyed me.  I sobbed, I lost sleep, you name it.  But there’s also light in all this darkness; there’s something undeniably beautiful about the kind of love that’s depicted in these pages.  But mostly it just hurt a lot.

Oreos: A book whose cover was better than the story, or vice versa, where the story was better than the cover

307539872038303Cover better than the story: The Leavers by Lisa Ko.  I was incredibly underwhelmed by this book.  But I’m glad I own the hardcover, because look at how gorgeous.

Story better than the cover: Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault.  There’s a better cover, but this is the edition I own.  Woe.

Tagalongs/Peanut Butter Patties: A book that wasn’t what you expected (Good, bad, or just different, interpret how you wish.)

3279625351gy2mlxabl-_sx328_bo1204203200_Better than I expected: Final Girls by Riley Sager.  I just finished this last night and wrote a review today, so I have to give it a shout out.  I figured that anything that Stephen King calls ‘the first great thriller of 2017’ is bound to be overrated (nothing against Stephen King’s tastes – I just doubted that something could live up to such a tall order).  But it was awesome.

Worse than I expected: All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood.  This is a contentious choice: people love this book.  I didn’t.  Sorry 😦  I was uncomfortable with the treatment of the subject matter, and underwhelmed by the writing.

 

Snickerdoodles: A book you may never stop re-reading/loving

Obviously.

Not tagging anyone.  Do it if you want!

book review: Final Girls by Riley Sager

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FINAL GIRLS by Riley Sager
★★★★★
Dutton (Penguin), July 11, 2017

Wow, this book. Believe the hype, guys!

I know the major bookworm stereotype is devouring books in one sitting, staying up way too late to finish them, but I actually rarely do that. I usually read a few chapters before bed and put the book down at a reasonable hour, no matter how addicting. Not the case with Final Girls. Thanks to this book I am running on very few hours of sleep, but it was worth it. There was no point in the second half of this book where I would have felt satisfied putting it down and going to bed without getting to the bottom of things. Because each time I thought I had this book figured out, Sager threw another twist into the mix.

Final Girls is about Quincy Carpenter, a young woman who survived a massacre ten years ago, where she went on vacation with five friends and all of them ended up murdered. Two other women were the sole survivors of similar attacks, Lisa Milner and Samantha Boyd. The media collectively refers to them as the ‘Final Girls,’ referring to the horror movie trope where one girl is left alive at the end of the film. The story picks up when Lisa is found dead, and Sam suddenly shows up at Quincy’s door, intent on making her confront the events of that night, despite Quincy’s insistence that she can’t remember anything that happened.

Part thriller and part horror, this novel was tense and addicting, with a tone not quite like anything I’ve ever read before. The chapters which offered flashbacks to the night of the massacre were properly terrifying. I don’t scare easily, which is a shame, as I love the feeling of being scared in a controlled environment, but I have to admit, I was on the edge of my seat here. The looming inevitability of the night’s events lent even the most innocuous of scenes a sinister edge.

The present-day narrative involving Quincy and Sam is more slow moving, but never dull. This novel unfolds at a satisfying pace, and is filled to the brim with fascinating, enigmatic characters, not least of all Quincy herself.

Tense, gripping, and downright terrifying at times, Final Girls is one of the more memorable thrillers I’ve ever read. Riley Sager is a pseudonym for an author who’s previously published under a different name, and I have to say, I am dying to find out who (s)he is so I can read more of his/her work.

Anything But Books Tag

I’m bored at work so I’m going to do the ‘Anything but Books’ tag, borrowed from Zuky!

One. Name a cartoon that you love.

Pass.  Not my thing!  Unless animated movies count?!  In that case, The Prince of Egypt.  Best movie ever.

Two. What is your favourite song right now?

Probably Harrowdown Hill by Thom Yorke.

Three. What could you do for hours that isn’t reading?

Watch Survivor.  I’m serious.  Thankfully my roommate/friend likes it as much as I do.  We have Survivor marathons multiple times a year.

Four. What is something that you love to do that your followers would be surprised by?

I think I’ve mentioned this before so I doubt it’s surprising, but, tennis.  My dad’s a professional tennis instructor, so it’s in my blood, or something.  I’m not athletic at all, like, your typical ‘picked last in every gym class ever’ type, but then I’m randomly a pretty decent tennis player.

Five. What is your favorite unnecessarily specific thing to learn about?

Greek mythology.  This will surprise no one, but I once spent 20 minutes reciting to my mother the entire history of the House of Atreus.

Six. What is something unusual that you know how to do?

I can recite the first seven lines of The Aeneid in Latin?!

arma virumque cano troiae qui primus ab oris
italiam fato progus laviniaque venit
litera multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum saevae memorem iunonis ob iram
multa quoque et bello passus dum conderet urbem
inferretque deos latio genus unde latinum
albanique patres atque altae moenia romae

You’re just going to have to take my word for it that that was off the top of my head.

Seven. Name something you made in the last year and show us if you can.

 I don’t really make things!  I’m not very creative, I’m afraid.

Eight. What is your most recent personal project?

paceamorelibri.wordpress.com 😉

Nine. Tell us something that you think about often?

My cats.

Ten. Give us something that is your favorite.

I’m copying these categories from Zuky, who copied them from someone, who copied them from someone, from what I understand.

Favourite fruit: Mango.

Favourite Funko: I have no idea what this is?!

Favourite BookTubers to watch: The only one I watch regularly is Jen Campbell.

Favourite food: Bagels.

Eleven. Say the first thing that pops into your head.

How is it only 4:30?!

Do this tag if you want to!

book review: The First Day by Phil Harrison

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THE FIRST DAY by Phil Harrison
★★★
Houghton Mifflin, October 2017

There is no denying that the prose in this novel is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever encountered. But that’s about all that can be said for The First Day, which I found to be directionless and disappointingly misogynistic.

This book is divided into two parts. The first half chronicles a love affair between a priest called Orr and a Beckett scholar called Anna, living in Belfast. The two of them fall in and out of love, and somewhere in between, they have a child, called Sam. The second half is set some thirty years into the future in New York City, where Sam is working at the Met, and suddenly comes into contact with a figure from his past.

There’s not much congruity between these two halves. Each focus on different themes – the first, adultery, religion, predestination; the second, sexuality, fear, shame. Harrison’s writing seemed to exist constantly on the precipice of genuine insight – if he had given himself more room to develop the themes in this novel, I think the result would have been a lot more resonant. But unfortunately, coming in at 224 pages, this novel stops short of making any sort of statement that hasn’t been made before. And it’s frustrating, because Harrison is an incredibly skilled writer. His prose is incisive and clever and compulsively readable – lyrical, but not flowery – but really, it ends up being window dressing for a rather aimless story, that builds tension but culminates in a lackluster conclusion.

And now to my second criticism – the treatment of female characters in this novel is abhorrent. Or should I say, character. One. There’s really only one female character who makes any significant impact on this story, and while the men around her are three-dimensional, complex, enigmatic, contradictory, she, Anna, is essentially a void, unfulfilled until she becomes a mother. This is one of those books that is so, so obviously written by a male author. I’m sorry, but when you devote an entire paragraph to the experience of motherhood being literally (I’m not bending the use of the word ‘literally,’ folks) orgasmic, you’ve lost me.

“For Anna, the sheer physicality of her son was a starling location of pleasure, an eroticism she had not expected but found herself longing for daily, the strange combination of pain and focused, visceral pleasure[…]”

Anyway. Disappointing too were Anna’s lack of convictions about Orr, who let her down on more than one occasional, but who she still begged to take her back when he tried to leave. Again, all of this wouldn’t sting quite so much if Anna weren’t the only noteworthy female character in this novel.

I still have no idea how to rate this, so I’m going with the noncommittal 3 stars. I occasionally liked this in spite of myself, in spite of my many criticisms, and undoubtedly it will work better for some people than it did for me. Phil Harrison is definitely one to watch in Irish literary circles. With the self-assured quality of the prose, it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley, Houghton Mifflin, and Phil Harrison.

Summer Reader Book Tag

I was tagged by the lovely Reads and Dreams for the Summer Reader book tag – thank you!  Tag created by islandOFbooks.

Lemonade: Pick A Book That Started Off Bitter But Then Got Better

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  It took me about 30% to really get into this book, but I’m so glad I stuck with it, because I ended up giving it 5 stars.  It was a slow start and too focused on romance initially for my taste, but it ended up being one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever read.  This book is the reason I don’t DNF.

Golden Sun: Pick A Book That Made You Smile Beyond Compare

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As if there’s any other answer to this question… I don’t read a lot of happy fiction, but Harry Potter will always make me smile.  Especially the first one, before the series takes a turn for the darker.

 

Tropical Flowers: Pick A Book Set In A Different Country

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The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  I could have chosen just about anything for this category… scrolling through my book cover images just now, I realized that I actually rarely read books set in America.  I randomly stopped scrolling and landed on this one, Follett’s historical epic set in medieval England.

Tree Shade: Pick A Book Where A Mysterious Or Shady Character Is Introduced

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  In this phenomenal post-apocalyptic novel about a pandemic that wipes out civilization as we know it, a host of fascinating characters weaves in and out of the narrative.  One of these characters is a mysterious man known only as ‘the Prophet,’ whose identity plays a key role in the story.

Beach Sand: Pick A Book That Was Grainy And The Plot Never Developed

51mh8qgdc4l-_sx329_bo1204203200_White Fur by Jardine Libaire.  The ‘plot’ in this novel was feeble at best.  It’s just 300 pages of two deeply unlikable people having really awkward sex, and… that’s it, that’s the book.

 

Green Grass: Pick A Character That Was Full Of Life Making You Smile

9781250098221Sophie Ducel from Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge.  Even though Sophie’s just survived a plane crash and lost her new husband, she’s got such a fiery personality that she’s consistently the most engaging and unpredictable part of this charming and heartbreaking novel.

 

Watermelon: Pick A Book That Had Some Juicy Secrets

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I See You by Clare Mackintosh.  This book is full of twists and turns – some predictable, some not so much – but the final secret revealed on the very last page of this novel literally made my jaw drop.

 

Sun Hat: Pick A Book With A Vast Universe

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I’m going with one of my current reads, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (which I am reading maddeningly slowly – apologies to everyone who’s holding their breath on my rating for this one).  The universe that Bardugo created in her Grisha series and which she expands on in Six of Crows is insane – so thorough and richly detailed, comprising so many different cultures and languages.

BBQ: Pick A Book In Which A Character Is Portrayed As A Hunk

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My first thought was ‘I don’t read enough romance to answer this’ and my second thought was ‘Achilles and Hector.  Duh.’  Leave it to me to choose the Iliad for a category like this.

 

Summer Fun: Pass The Tag On!

Sorry to be boring, but, I tag: you, if you’re reading this and it looks fun!  Pingback to me so I can read your answers!

book review: When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kuehn

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WHEN I AM THROUGH WITH YOU by Stephanie Kuehn
★★★★★
Penguin, August 1, 2017

What a pleasant surprise. I’ve never read a YA thriller before, which is why I requested this one on a whim. I was curious. But honestly, my expectations hadn’t been very high. More fool me.

When I Am Through with You is told from the point of view of Ben, a high school senior who’s waiting to go on trial for murder. As his story begins to unfold, we first learn about Rose, his girlfriend of two years who he allegedly ends up murdering. We also learn all about the school hiking trip up in the mountains that went wrong, as this compelling story of intrigue, adventure, and betrayal develops.

This is one of the most addicting books I’ve ever read. It had me from the very first page. I cared about these characters, who were at once sympathetic and realistically flawed, and I was intrigued by Ben’s complicated relationship with Rose. I was drawn into the host of fascinating characters – whip-smart Avery; mean and self-loathing Archie; kind-hearted but unfulfilled Mr. Howe, the history teacher who leads their expedition. Each of these characters is multifaceted, and has their own story to tell.

I’d never heard of Stephanie Kuehn before, but I can say with certainty that I will be reading more of her books in the future. I thought her prose was intelligent, compelling, and quick-witted. The pacing in this novel was outstanding – I sat down to start this yesterday and when I blinked hours had gone by. Kuehn brought the scene of this treacherous camping trip to life – I truly felt like I was with this group of students on that mountain. It’s been a while since I’ve read something with such an immersive setting.

I highly recommend this to fans of adult and YA thrillers alike. The only thing that served as a constant reminder that this was YA were the ages of the characters – otherwise, I found this novel surprisingly mature and dark and quite twisted.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Penguin First To Read in exchange for an honest review. Big thank you to Penguin Random House and Stephanie Kuehn.