Good Girl, Bad Blood (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, #2)

Good Girl, Bad Blood (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, #2)

First Lines: You think you’d know what a killer sounds like. That their lies would have a different texture, some barely perceptible shift. A voice that thickens, grows sharp and uneven as the truth slips between the jagged edges. You’d think that, wouldn’t you?

I was very excited to get my hands on this book, to say the least. After how much I enjoyed the first book, I thought this would be amazing, especially as more and different challenges get thrown Pip’s way. So I just couldn’t wait to dive in.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Pip’s investigative days are over. After solving the town’s cold case with the help of Ravi Singh, Pip is content to post what happened as a true crime podcast and move on with her life. But when Jamie Reynolds, the older brother of one of her best friends, goes missing on the same night as the memorial for Andrea Bell and Sal Singh, Pip has to dive back in and break the promises she made to her family to never do this again. The police won’t look for Jamie, so Pip will. But this time, everyone’s listening to what Pip has to say…and watching her every move. Can Pip find Jamie before it’s too late?

First of all, this book was a delight. There’s no doubt about that. It’s as twisty and awesome as the first in terms of the mystery. I didn’t have it pegged down until near the end. I adored that it could keep me on my toes and keep me invested in it until I got to the very end.

I still adore Pip and I think it’s cool that this time around, people are listening to her and helping her. It was cool to see a new side of her and a new side of the town through that and the aftermath of her podcast, revealing everything that happened in the previous mystery.

However. Here’s where my 4 stars comes from. What I loved so much about the last book was the danger, the murder maps, the struggle, the getting-to-know Ravi. This time around, Pip saves all her stuff online and…it’s just not the same as reading all these police transcripts, discovering journals, making maps, etc. Also, the first book surprised me with how good it was, so I was expecting things this time around. And the book did live up to my expectations–it just didn’t exceed them.

It’s still a fabulous book, don’t get me wrong. I know things were changed to keep this book fresh, but this book just kind of lacked the stuff that I thought sparkled about the previous book. 

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, #1)

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, #1)

First Lines: Pip knew where they lived. Everyone in Fairview knew where they lived. The home was like the town’s haunted house; people’s footsteps quickened as they walked by, and their words strangled and died in their throats. Shrieking children would gather on their walk home from school, daring one another to run up and touch the front gate. But it wasn’t haunted by ghosts, just three sad people trying to live their lives as before.

As someone who grew up on mystery novels, I find myself constantly coming back to them. But it has to be a good mystery, you know? I heard good things about this one and thought it might be worth my time.

Five years ago, popular Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. The town of Fairview has talked about nothing else since. But now, Pip plans to investigate it further. See, she knew Sal when she was a kid and he was so kind…it doesn’t seem right that he killed Andie. Something doesn’t add up. Now a senior herself, Pip is examining the closed case as part of her senior project, just to cast doubt on the official ruling. But the more she digs, the more secrets she finds…secrets that might prove Sal’s innocence. And someone in Fairview isn’t happy that Pip is searching for answers…

I now fully understand why this book is rated as highly as it is. It’s masterful.

Where do I start? Pippa “Pip” Fitz-Amobi has questions about the disappearance of Andie Bell and the subsequent suicide of Sal Singh, Andie’s boyfriend. So she decides to make investigating the crime her senior capstone project. (Side note: do schools really do that? Colleges, yes, but high schools??) Pip is highly intelligent, picking up on subtleties the entire story, whether it’s someone saying “was” instead of “is” in reference to Andie or the way they look at her when she asks a specific question. At first, all she wants to do is provide reasonable doubt about Sal’s guilt and let the police do the rest, but as she continues to dig, it’s too hard not to follow through with the investigation.

The mystery itself is a true winner. I mean, you have a suspect list nearly the entire story, but it keeps shifting and changing. Sometimes, one person looks more guilty than another, then it changes. It’s very cleverly written, I will absolutely give it kudos for that. The mystery makes sense, the reveals make sense, and there isn’t really this “gotcha” moment that turns the entire story on its head for no reason. I mean, I like a surprise ending as well as the next mystery fan, but there’s something to be said for the plot making sense.

The story also isn’t written in straight narration. It’s framed by the senior project. It’s written in text messages, phone call transcripts, maps, and photos. That makes the story go faster while giving you something almost tangible to make you feel like you’re part of the sleuthing team at the same time. I mean, I flew through those early pages as the mystery started to unfold.

I really enjoyed just letting this mystery play out rather than trying to predict everything. Besides, I would have been wrong.

Deadly Cool (Deadly Cool, #1)

Deadly Cool (Deadly Cool, #1)

First Lines: There are three things you never want to find in your boyfriend’s locker: a sweaty jockstrap, a D-minus on last week’s history test, and an empty condom wrapper. Lucky me, I’d hit the trifecta.

This book was on my Goodreads to-read list forever. This book came out in 2011 and yes, it was 2020 before I was like, “You know, I should probably read this or move on already.” (Spoiler alert: that’s my entire to-read list. I have far too many books on it from before 2012.) But this cover is absolutely stunning and I enjoy a good mystery, so I gave it a chance.

Hartley is having a mother of a bad day. First she discovers her boyfriend his cheating on her with the president of the Chastity Club (yes, really). Then she finds the body of the said Chastity Club president–and her boyfriend is the #1 suspect. And he wants her to clear his name. While Hartley knows he’s innocent, she doesn’t mind seeing him squirm a little in the meantime. Still, she knows she’s the only one who can–and will–help him. With the help of her best friend Sam, and the school bad boy Chase, they begin investigating. But as the bodies pile up, Hartley begins to fear she might be the next victim…

Well, I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either. Let’s break that down.

First of all, it is definitely a product of its time. I mean that in part to explain the technology of the time. I mean, it’s 2010-2011. Hartley knows virtually nothing about what computer hacking is and what info hackers can get. She talks about watching American Idol and Castle. She talks about how her mom is going to freak from the number of texts she got in one night when that shows up on the bill. Oh, and the whole crux of the murder is that it happened with iPod headphones. So yeah, pretty solidly early 2010s.

But more than that, it follows the tropes and weird YA cliches of the time. Everyone belongs to an immovable clique: you are either a cheerleader or a band geek or part of Color Guard or a goth. You cannot escape your label. There’s also this thing the whole book about censoring their cursing; however, the story has no problem having a character watch a video of her boyfriend (excuse me, ex-boyfriend) getting it on with another girl. Or the crude and disturbing recounting of her attempted First Time. So what I understood from this was this equation: talking about sex = good, cursing = bad. And they talked about sex a lot. Mostly how “good” people avoid it and “bad” people do it.

But let’s look beyond all that at the story itself. The mystery itself certainly isn’t the next Agatha Christie novel. It’s actually not terribly hard to spot the killer in the mix. I definitely had it before the reveal. I hesitate to even call the red herrings actual red herrings because they weren’t actually distracting. However, there are a few surprises along the way just in the way things unfolded. So there was something there to keep things lively.

And for the most part, the characters were entertaining if a bit flat. Actually, pretty flat. I don’t think a single character actually goes through a change… Ok, despite that, Hart is pretty snarky in her narration and it was at least fun to read.

This hasn’t exactly aged well, I will say that, but it still has its moments.

The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3)

The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3)

First Lines: The bones were on the table, naked and chalky. The eye sockets hollow, the mouth in a loose grimace, as if to say, “Yep, it’s me. Bet you’re wondering how I ended up here. It’s a funny story, actually…”

As always happens when I reach the end of a series, I am both terribly excited and very much dreading it. I mean, it’s the end. What if it isn’t as good as the others? What if I forgot too much? (Admittedly, though, I quickly reread The Vanishing Stair before I read this, so…I was good.) Still…

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Stevie has solved it. She knows who Truly Devious is. But does it even matter? Three people at Ellingham Academy are now dead, all of them somehow close to Stevie. With so many new murders happening, Stevie has to turn her attention to this case rather than the nearly century-old one. But it’s hard to concentrate with so much death, with David missing of his own free will, with a possible connection between the Ellingham disappearances and these murders. Then another accident occurs at Ellingham just before a massive storm. Parents and administrators can’t ignore the bad luck anymore and evacuate the school. Of course, Stevie can’t leave until she faces the murderer…and probably does something incredibly stupid in the process.

This series is just bonkers. There are so many twists and turns. I could not figure it out to save my life, and I’m someone who has grown up reading mysteries and knows what a red herring looks like!

Ok, for real, though, finally getting the conclusion of this mystery was so satisfying. I loved finally seeing everything come together and be revealed. This has been like an itch on the back of my skull for years.

Stevie is just as awesome as ever. She’s clever and insightful and constantly curious. I love her ability to sense when something doesn’t fit quite right in someone’s story. And the other characters are just as crazy as they’ve always been. David is especially off the deep end, but that’s nothing new. I did, however, discover a newfound love and respect for Nate, which was unexpected and yet appreciated. His cynicism spoke to me on a personal level this year.

The plot does get a bit melodramatic this time around, I’ll admit it, but that made it so much more fun when it started falling into mystery tropes I was used to. (Trapped! In a blizzard! With a killer!) But also, oh my God, did it get to be so much fun just seeing how X connected to Y and so on. Again, so satisfying.

I definitely recommend rereading at least the 2nd book before reading this. That’s what I did and it helped so much because everything is just so involved and about all these little clues that you have to know what’s going on.

So so good. I’m glad the gang’s all coming back for another book, even if it’s not about Ellingham! (There’s a “standalone” coming out next year!)

One of Us is Lying (One of Us is Lying, #1)

Amazon.com: One of Us Is Lying (9781524714680): McManus, Karen M ...

First Lines: A sex tape. A pregnancy scare. Two cheating scandals. And that’s just this week’s update. If all you knew of Bayview High was Simon Kelleher’s gossip app, you’d wonder how anyone found time to go to class.

So I wanted to read this not because it definitely sounded like something I’d like (though I do enjoy mysteries), but because it was so popular. I needed to see what all the hype was about. So if you’re someone who hasn’t read this and you’re wondering the same thing, this is for you.

Five students walk into detention on a Monday afternoon. Only four come out alive. The group is as unlikely as they are diverse. Bronwyn (the brains), Addy (the princess), Nate (the criminal), Cooper (the athlete), and Simon (the outcast). Only Simon never makes it out, and soon the police investigation determines his death wasn’t an accident. He died on Monday, but on Tuesday, he was set to post a revealing article about all four of the suspects–the students in the room with him. Is one of them guilty? Or have they been framed while a killer is still loose? Who has secrets so dark they’d be willing to kill over them?

The book jacket is certainly attention-getting. 5 kids walk into detention, 4 kids walk out alive. Who did it? And why? I like mysteries, so I thought this would be pretty good. However, what I dislike is these books that are more about who has the strongest motive (basically, who has the darkest secret?) and none of the speculation is really based in any real evidence. It’s frustrating because it doesn’t seem like the case makes much progress through most of the book.

Also, speaking as a teacher here, I know students can be nasty to each other, but I swear this class was made up of the absolute worst of humanity all shoved into one grade. The stuff they were doing was just horrible and I have never seen so many terrible people in one cafeteria. I know that this is probably a dramatic device more than anything, but I can’t help feeling like this sometimes normalizes this behavior for readers who may not know any better. It seems like all YA is printing anymore are books about horrible people with secrets to hide. We all have secrets, and social media is unforgiving, but the biggest scandals at my high school was who was dating who and maybe a pregnancy scare.

I’ll get off that train now. I did come to like the characters throughout the story. Cooper, Addy, Bronwyn, and Nate were people we didn’t necessarily like at the beginning but came to like as we got to know them more. They all had different personalities and underwent a lot of character development as the story went on.

I just thought the story was so slow. When I saw how the story was set up, just constantly pointing fingers at other people, I knew it was going to be a long read. There’s just very little in the story that makes it feel like you’re getting any closer to solving the mystery until near the end.

And because these mysteries are getting more common, I more or less figured out how it would end from the very beginning. It was just predictable to me.

YA Trends: The Unsolvable Mystery

Hey everyone!  I tell you what, being in quarantine has put me more in touch with the YA world than I have been since college.  (I did the math the other day–I’ve read 21 books these past 2 months.  Last year during this time?  I read 4.)

As I was doing dishes the other day, I started to realize there was a low-level trend taking place in YA that really isn’t getting a lot of attention.  And I wanted to talk about the pros and the cons about it.

Amazon.com: And Then There Were None (9780062073488): Christie ...What is it?

I’m titling this trend the “unsolvable mystery.” Basically, this is a mystery that is crafted in such a way that the reader is not supposed to know who the killer is (because it’s usually a murder story) until The Big Reveal. The best non-YA example of this I can think of is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (which is a classic that you totally need to read if you haven’t).  And, to a lesser extent, the Sherlock Holmes mysteries fit this as well.

What are some examples?

I’m so glad you asked.  Well, I asked for you, but still.  These are the examples that immediately came to mind:

  • Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
  • Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
  • All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban
  • One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus  (I’m currently reading this, which inspired this post!)

I will refer to these (and occasionally And Then There Were None) as necessary to make my points.  But if you haven’t read them, no worries.  I intend to stay spoiler-free.

What’s awesome about this trend?

Amazon.com: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper (1 ...First of all, anyone who’s paying any attention to YA will know that two or three out of the four I listed are huge bestsellers.  Truly Devious, a trilogy revolving around the kidnapping and disappearance in Vermont, just wrapped up this year.  Karen McManus just dropped the sequel to One of Us is Lying a few months ago.  And Stalking Jack the Ripper has been an incredibly popular series for years.  (All Your Twisted Secrets only just came out recently and is a standalone, putting it in a slightly different category than the others, as series. Popularity is a little harder to judge in that case.)

Obviously these books sell very well.  Why?

Well, because the stories are a puzzle. You’re introduced to a high-stakes mystery early on in the story. In One of Us, 5 kids went to detention but only 4 left alive. In Twisted Secrets, there’s a scholarship dinner that turns out to be a trap, leaving the 6 students locked in a room with a bomb and a clock counting down.

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1) by Maureen JohnsonThey also sometimes make the focus of the story more about character. Truly Devious and Stalking focus on characters obsessed with solving crimes, which allows us to experience the stories from an “expert” standpoint.  In these stories, we can basically count on the fact that our main character is more observer than participant in any crime.  The other stories? That line gets blurred.

Because these stories focus on crimes, the suspense level is usually quite high. Twisted is a heart-pounding, can’t-put-down read because the secrets slowly start coming out. What I’ve read so far of One of Us, it seems very similar. Stalking follows a serial killer most of us are fairly familiar with (some more than others).

So these stories are exciting, hard to put down, and keep the reader guessing.

So what’s the downside?

In my opinion, they’re starting to get predictable.  That happens with just about any trend that picks up speed, from mysteries to contemporary romance to vampire tales.

Amazon.com: All Your Twisted Secrets eBook: Urban, Diana: Kindle StoreLet’s start by discussing the Queen of Mystery, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.  This story completely revolutionized the mystery genre in 1939. No one had written anything like it. 10 strangers are brought to an island through a mysterious millionaire’s letter and stranded there, only to find that they’re all hiding secrets they’re desperate to keep hiding. And the body count is rising.

Sound familiar?

It’s basically the plot of One of Us and Twisted Secrets. You trap people with dark secrets in a small space and see what happens.

Or how about the fact that Truly Devious and Stalking are like updated versions of Sherlock Holmes with highly intelligent girls taking it upon themselves to play detective?

Obviously, there is a trope here. Mysteries usually fall into one of those two categories because they’re compelling and entertaining. This is nothing new. People have been following these templates for decades.

Amazon.com: One of Us Is Lying (9781524714680): McManus, Karen M ...So why is this different? Because these books are all trying to pass themselves off as “unsolvable.” They drop very few clues the entire story and when they do, it’s almost always a red herring. (A “red herring” is a clue that is intentionally misleading, pointing you in the wrong direction.) Nearly every mystery novel I’ve ever read involves red herrings, but these have an extraordinary number of them.

The point of these mysteries is to make every character a suspect–which, paradoxically, means none of them is a suspect. You truly have no idea who did it because there are no clues–it’s all about who has the darker motive and that changes all the time.  This can be detrimental to the story because readers know they aren’t going to get answers until the end–so the 300 pages between the beginning of the mystery and The Big Reveal are essentially pointless. This can leave the reader feeling frustrated.  I mean, if you’re trying to pin a murder on 5 different people, then you truly have no suspect.

Amazon.com: The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious Book 2) eBook ...You’re not going to know what has truly happened until the very end when the killer inevitably has to tell you exactly how and why they did it.  Prior to them telling you exactly what everything means, it is virtually impossible to see it coming. It’s a Scooby Doo mystery without the clues.  Or an episode of The Masked Singer.

These books are all coming out around the same time, and that’s leading to all kinds of comparisons. I read Twisted Secrets a few months ago and now, starting One of Us (which was technically published first), it seems like it’s the exact same story.  There are differences, especially in the writing and how the narrative plays out, but the basic structure is the same. It’s boring.

So…are they all bad?

Of course not.  Truly Devious is high on my list of recommendations for anyone looking for a mystery.  Maureen Johnson does a good job of intertwining multiple mysteries, interesting characters, and actually giving the reader satisfaction throughout. The main mystery might not be solved, but you’re going to get answers to other questions you have.

Amazon.com: Hunting Prince Dracula (Stalking Jack the Ripper (2 ...And I found Twisted Secrets to be a stunning psychological read because the fear and the pain the characters are feeling is very visceral and real.  I couldn’t put it down.

But I am struggling with the other two. While I loved the first Stalking book, I found the sequel to be essentially the same book as the first. It became boring. And One of Us has a slower build than Twisted Secrets and lacks the sharp terror and suspense that drew me in to the latter.

Mysteries are finicky things and while I’m glad they’ve come back into fashion, I’m finding I’m very picky about how exactly the writing crafts the story. There’s a difference between making readers feel like they’re part of process of solving the mystery and making them feel like useless bystanders.