The Turn of the Key

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The Turn of the Key

By:  Ruth Ware
Published:  2019
# of pages:  384
Challenges:  R.I.P.

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Goodreads description:

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Review:  This is my favorite Ruth Ware book I’ve read so far.  I enjoyed her others just fine: The Woman in Cabin 10, In a Dark, Dark WoodThe Death of Mrs. Westaway, and The Lying Game.  However, I enjoyed The Turn of the Key the most.  I haven’t read the classic The Turn of the Screw yet, but I gather this is either a retelling or has a similar storyline.

In her letter to an attorney, Rowan states she is guilty…but not of the worst crime she’s been accused of committing.  She goes on to tell the story of how she was hired as a nanny at a large modern estate in the remote countryside of England.  She’s told right off the bat that the house may be haunted, at least that’s what overly superstitious people believe.  Rowan isn’t superstitious so she doesn’t give that claim a second thought.  Not, that is, until strange things begin to occur in the house.

I definitely enjoyed this Gothic suspense and was surprised at the plot twists.  I recommend this to those who enjoy the Gothic and/or physicological thriller genres.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting and suspenseful story, was able to relate to the character more than some of Ware’s other characters.

A Well-Behaved Woman

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A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts

By:  Therese Anne Fowler
Published:  
2018
# of pages:  400
Challenges:  A to Z, What’s in a Name? (“woman”)

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Goodreads description:

In 1883, the New York Times prints a lengthy rave of Alva Vanderbilt’s Fifth Ave. costume ball–a coup for the former Alva Smith, who not long before was destitute, her family’s good name useless on its own. Marrying into the newly rich but socially scorned Vanderbilt clan, a union contrived by Alva’s bestfriend and now-Duchess of Manchester, saved the Smiths–and elevated the Vanderbilts.

From outside, Alva seems to have it all and want more. She does have a knack for getting all she tries for: the costume ball–no mere amusement–wrests acceptance from doyenne Caroline Astor. Denied abox at the Academy of Music, Alva founds The Met. No obstacle puts her off for long.

But how much of ambition arises from insecurity? From despair? From refusal to play insipid games by absurd rules? –There are, however, consequences to breaking those rules. One must tread carefully.

And what of her maddening sister-in-law, Alice? Her husband William, who’s hiding a terrible betrayal? The not-entirely-unwelcome attentions of his friend Oliver Belmont, who is everything William is not? What of her own best friend, whose troubles cast a wide net?

Alva will build mansions, push boundaries, test friendships, and marry her daughter to England’s most eligible duke or die trying. She means to do right by all, but good behavior will only get a woman so far. What is the price of going further? What might be the rewards? There’s only one way to know for certain…

Review:  I checked this book out thinking it was a non-fiction biography.  However, I quickly discovered that it is actually a novel based on a real person and true events.  In the back of the book the author says why she decided to write a book about Alva Vanderbilt, where she found her references, and why she included certain elements in the book.

The story follows Alva Vanderbilt’s life from before she was a Vanderbilt to her extravagant life after marrying William K. Vanderbilt.  At the time, the Vanderbilts were new to New York City high society (basically the nation’s high society).  Alva was influential in the Vanderbilts’ acceptance.  The same energy, positivity, and tenacity that helped her accomplish that feat served her well in the years to come as she changed both NYC’s appearance and society.  As the years wore on, she also made a huge difference in women’s rights in the U.S. and Britain both intentionally and unintentionally.

Alva questioned norms and stood up for herself.  This novel allows the reader to see her point of view and question the information that has previously been published about this strong willed woman.  Of course it’s fiction and there’s no way to know exactly what Alva thought about or how she acted in private, but the author claims to have researched Alva’s life thoroughly and explains why she chose to portray Alva the way she did.

I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and biographies.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Interesting, well written, informative.

The Clan of the Cave Bear

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The Clan of the Cave Bear

By:  Jean M. Auel
Published:  1980
# of pages:  516
Series:  Earth’s Children (#1)
Challenges:  A to Z

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Goodreads description:

Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear.

A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly–she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.

Review:  I searched a bit to see if there were any articles that mentioned how the animated movie “The Croods” was inspired by this book from the 80s, but I didn’t see anything about that being the case.  Basically, The Clan of the Cave Bear is an amazingly elaborate and detailed version of “The Croods.”  I mean, really, they’re incredibly similar.

After a cave in destroys their cave, a clan wanders to try to find a new cave.  On the way they meet Ayla (instead of Guy) who looks different and thinks differently than they look and think.  The clan takes her in, but over the years they are constantly challenged by her ideas and feelings.  Her mind works differently than theirs.  She is able to come up with new ideas (sound familiar?), something that hasn’t happened in the clan for thousands of years.  Their brains aren’t capable of thinking of new ways of doing things and the fact that Ayla’s brain is able to make new connections and that she challenges the clan’s traditions is both fascinating and frightening for the clan members.

The book is remarkably detailed.  I found myself amazed that it sounded so real and had to keep reminding myself that we don’t know that much about early people.  This is mostly fiction, but the author must have researched hunter/gatherer ways of life and what there is to know about early humans.

I became intensely wrapped up in Ayla’s story.  She kept showing her differences in dangerous way and I’d like be like, NOOOO. Not again, please get out of this danger.  Please, clan, don’t send her away.  I was a little emotionally caught up in the story!

Two people I know who have similar tastes in reading to my own said that they really enjoyed this first book of the series, but didn’t like the following books.  If you’ve read all the books what do you have to say to this opinion? Should I keep reading the series or leave it at the first book that I enjoyed?

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Amazing world building, interesting plot, and good characters.

Vicious

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Vicious

By:  V.E. Schwab
Published: 
2013
# of pages:  366
Series:  Villains (#1)
Challenge:  A to Z
Quote:  “The moments that define lives aren’t always obvious. They don’t always scream LEDGE, and nine times out of ten there’s no rope to duck under, no line to cross, no blood pact, no official letter on fancy paper. They aren’t always protracted, heavy with meaning. Between one sip and the next, Victor made the biggest mistake of his life, and it was made of nothing more than one line. Three small words.”

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Goodreads description:

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

Review:  So you’d think that since this is the first in a series and it was published in 2013 would mean that there’s now a complete series to enjoy.  But you’d be wrong!  There is a second book in the series that was just published a few months ago.  But obviously the author took a break from the Villains series to work on other books, such as the Shades of Magic series, which was a good series.

Vicious is about two friends, Eli and Victor, who take a college thesis idea and decide to act on it…by killing themselves.  As you can imagine, things quickly go downhill and 10 years later, Victor is out of prison and seeking revenge on Eli, a self-professed hero in the city of Merit.  Eli has an ability of his own, but he considers himself a hero because he’s ridding the city of everyone with supernatural powers.  Victor doesn’t really care about saving people’s lives, and of course he doesn’t really care about the “strays” he keeps attracting such as Mitch and Sydney, he just wants his revenge.

I really enjoyed this story and the characters.  There were a few things that I thought could have been more rounded out, such as Eli and Victor’s decisions in college, but the present day storyline and all of the characters made this an interesting and original book.  I recommend it to fans of fantasy and superhero/anti-hero fans.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Great characters, original story, could have been a little more detailed.

Red Dragon

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Red Dragon

By:  Thomas Harris
Published: 
1981
# of pages:  464
Series: Hannibal Lecter (#1)
Challenge:  A to Z, Print Only

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Goodreads description:

In the realm of psychological suspense, Thomas Harris stands alone. Exploring both the nature of human evil and the nerve-racking anatomy of a forensic investigation, Harris unleashes a frightening vision of the dark side of our well-lighted world. In this extraordinary novel, which preceded The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, Harris introduced the unforgettable character Dr. Hannibal Lecter. And in it, Will Graham — the FBI man who hunted Lecter down — risks his sanity and his life to duel a killer called the … RED DRAGON

Review:  Of course I’ve heard of The Silence of the Lambs, both the book and the movie, and I’ve even seen part of the movie.  However, I never had a strong desire to read the books in the series.  A friend let me borrow the entire series so I decided to go ahead and check it out, starting with the first book in the series.  I was a little confused, when, a few pages in, it is clear that this book chronologically takes place after The Silence of the Lambs.  I wondered if I was supposed to read this last even though it was published first, but sure enough, it is number one in the series and most people recommend reading it in the series order even though they don’t line up chronologically.

The story is about a retired investigator named Will Graham.  He’s enjoying his well deserved retirement with his wife and stepson in Florida after hunting down several serial killers, including the famous Hannibal Lecter.  However, his peaceful life is interrupted by a FBI agent asking him to temporarily leave retirement to help track down another serial killer who is already responsible for murdering 2 entire families.  Investigators are stumped and they know Will Graham is the best at understanding and predicting the behavior of serial killers.

Graham ends up immersing himself in the investigation of the “Tooth Fairy,” who eventually morphs into the “Red Dragon.”  He’s willing to do anything to track down the person responsible for 8 murders who will most likely kill again within the next few weeks, including consulting Hannibal Lecter, who is locked up in a high security mental facility.

This book is filled with fairly graphic descriptions of horrific murders.  I was wondering if I would be really disturbed, but it reminded me of some of Stephen King’s books, especially the Bill Hodges trilogy, so I felt prepared.  The reader hears about the horrible stuff through Graham’s point of view and also the killer’s point of view.  It’s weirdly intimate and emotionally confusing being able to see into the killer’s mind and past and sometimes even feeling sorry for the murderer.

I ended up really enjoying the story.  I couldn’t put it down and kept thinking about it throughout the day when I wasn’t reading.  While the content was disturbing, I didn’t feel traumatized by the descriptions, although some people may not have the same experience.  I recommend this to adults who are fans of crime fiction/mysteries.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  This has been added to my favorites list because of the engaging plot and interesting characters, but it wasn’t as well written as some of the other books that have received a 5 star rating from me in the past.

The Witch Elm

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The Witch Elm

By:  Tana French
Published: 
2018
# of pages:  464
Challenge:  Monthly Motif (new to you author)Book Bingo
Quote: “The rain had started, a light unobtrusive patter, its shadows down the windowpane mottling the sill and the bare floorboards. I stayed there for a long time, watching the drops merge and course down the glass, picking two and betting on their race to the bottom, the way I had when I was a kid.”

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Goodreads description:

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

Review:  I saw a review about Tana French’s books and decided to check this one out after hearing it was good.  French is a new-to-me author, so it counts for January’s Monthly Motif challenge.  I enjoyed The Witch Elm so much that I’m planning to check out more of Tana French’s books soon!

I spent much of this book feeling amazed that the author could think of something so complex and keep it going for so long.  The whole book is intricate – from the plot to the many characters.  The story mainly follows Toby, a young man whose life is abruptly ruined when he’s attacked in his own home and almost killed.

Toby is an interesting character because the reader can’t help but like him and root for him, but also feel dislike for him at times.  And honestly, don’t we all know people like Toby, people with the gift of gab and with enough luck to easily swim through life’s ups and downs?  Sometimes you wonder what that person would do if something truly awful happened to them, something that would be difficult or impossible to talk their way out of or ignore.  That’s partly what this book is about and I commend the author for writing her character so well and avoiding what was probably a temptation to dilute him and make him “better.”

I’m recovering from a surgery on my nasal passage to correct a deviated septum, so maybe that’s affected my thought process, but I couldn’t stop thinking of this book over the days I spent reading.  I wanted so badly to figure out the mystery of the skull.  I sort of figured it out, but that wasn’t even the main point of the book.  The story took a weird turn at the end, but overall I enjoyed it thoroughly and would recommend it to adults who enjoy mysteries.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting plot, intricate and realistic characters, thought provoking.

In a Dark, Dark Wood

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In a Dark, Dark Wood

By:  Ruth Ware
Published: 
2016
# of pages: 
308
Challenges: 
R.I.P.

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Goodreads description:

In a dark, dark wood

Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

There was a dark, dark house

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room…. 

Some things can’t stay secret for ever.

Review:  Now I’ve read all of the books Ruth Ware has published.  Her books are interesting and easy reads.  This book is on my R.I.P. Challenge list.  It wasn’t as creepy/suspenseful as I thought it would be based on the description, but it held my interest and was a fast read.

Nora receives an unexpected invitation to her ex-bestfriend’s bachelorette party (hen do in the U.K.).  She hasn’t seen Clare in 10 years since they were about 16, but she consults with a mutual friend who was also invited.  They decide they’ll both go even though neither really wants to attend.

Almost immediately upon arriving at the remote country house in the woods, things start to go downhill.  Nora wants to leave before the weekend has truly begun, but she’s prevented from doing so.  Trapped in the house with a mixed group of strangers and estranged former friends, she slowly realizes not everything that’s happening is a coincidence.

I wasn’t too attached to any of the characters.  I couldn’t really relate to many of Nora’s decisions.  I felt sorry that she was so tramatized by her past and concerned about impressing Clare both in the past and present.

This wasn’t the most amazing book I’ve ever read, but it was fun and easy.  I wouldn’t have minded a little more creepiness, but there was still some suspense and mystery.  I recommend it to those who enjoy the suspense/thriller genre.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Fun and well-paced mystery, so-so characters and plot.

The Outsider

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The Outsider

By:  Stephen King
Published:  2018
# of pages:  561
Challenges:  Full House (>500 pages), Monthly Motif (horror), R.I.P.
Quote:  “Anything is possible,” she said to the empty room. “Anything at all. The world is full of strange nooks and crannies.”

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Goodreads description:

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face?

Review:  I finished the Bill Hodges series that starts with Mr. Mercedes.  There’s several references to the series and a recurring character in The Outsider.  I enjoyed the entire Bill Hodges series and this novel had a similar setup and the characters were similar.  However, The Outsider has more of a creepy/horror atmosphere.

The description of the book sums it up better than I can without spoiling the plot.  Overall, the book reminded me of an episode of the TV show “Supernatural.”  At the beginning I was trying to guess what was going on and even as I began to learn the truth, I was still curious about how the characters were going to deal with the situation.

King is great at writing creepy and disturbing characters.  But he’s also great at writing good characters who have compassion and a desire to find out the truth.  This book is no exception and I really liked the character Ralph Anderson who reminded me of Bill Hodges and Danny from Doctor Sleep.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting story, good characters, intriguing horror atmosphere.

Firstlife

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Firstlife

By:  Gena Showalter
Published:  2016
# of pages:  467
Series:  Everlife (#1)
Quote:  “That’s not our way,” Archer says. “Death isn’t the answer. Where there’s breath, there’s hope.”

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Goodreads description:

Tenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live — after she dies. There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, long-time enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms that will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t where the boy she’s falling for lives? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision…

My review:  My husband listened to this on an audio book and went on to listen to the rest of the series.  He really enjoyed the story so I decided to check it out as well!  This is a fun beginning to what will probably be a fun series.  While the concept of the book is thought provoking, this isn’t an overly emotionally deep story.

At the beginning of the book I found myself frustrated over how silly the whole concept of choosing a realm during life seemed.  At least, to the extent of sending your kids to be tortured to ensure they choose the “right” side.  But as the book progressed I began to understand it more and I realized that for some people, this isn’t neccessarily a fantasy.  There’s plenty of religious people in the real world who manipulate, persecute, discriminate, and even kill all because of a belief that their belief is more important than other people’s beliefs.

The down sides were that at points it became hard to track who was Ten’s current “favorite” and who was rescuing her from the numerous bad situations in which she found herself.  Back and forth, back and forth, it all kind of ran together.  But overall this was an entertaining story that I recommend to fans of YA fantasy.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting story idea, fast paced, entertaining.

Mr. Mercedes

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Mr. Mercedes

By:  Stephen King
Published:  2014
# of pages:  449
Series:  Bill Hodges Trilogy (#1)
Challenges:  Full House (last book added)

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Goodreads description:  

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with two new, unusual allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

My review:  I placed a hold on The Outsider a few weeks ago.  My mom read it and said that she didn’t really enjoy it, but maybe because she didn’t get some of the references to other King novels.  She has read Mr. Mercedes and said that was referenced.  So I decided to read Mr. Mercedes and the other books referenced in The Outsider.

This is a crime mystery sort of book and not a horror like many of King’s novels.  I’m not super into crime/detective books, but I liked the main character, Bill Hodges, as well as his unlikely sidekicks.  Bill is a retired police officer.  His unsolved cases still bother him, but he spends most of his days laying in front of the TV and eating junk food so he doesn’t waste too much brain power fretting about the past.  However, one day he briefly thinks about an unsolved past case about the “Mercedes Killer” and is struck by a thought.  He can’t stop thinking about it and he soon finds himself getting out of his armchair, out of the house, and back into the world of crime solving.  His teenaged neighbor is the only friend he still sees since retiring, but he soon adds to his number of friends as he’s pulled farther and farther into the investigation.

The reader is also pulled into the world of Brady, a disturbed young man who isn’t afraid of his own death but also isn’t afraid to end the lives of others.  If you’ve read many of King’s novels you know how disturbing some of his characters can be and Brady Hartsfield is no exception.

Overall I’d recommend this if you like crime and detective books.  And if you aren’t afraid of seeing into a depraved murderer’s mind.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Nothing super amazing, but the characters are fun and I’m eager to see what happens in the next books in the series.