Review: They Never Learn by Layne Fargo

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the author of the “raw, ingenious, and utterly fearless” (Wendy Walker, USA TODAY bestselling author) Temper comes a dynamic psychological thriller about two women who give bad men exactly what they deserve.

Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor. But she’s even better at getting away with murder.

Every year, she searches for the worst man at Gorman University and plots his well-deserved demise. Thanks to her meticulous planning, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself—but as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the growing body count on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Scarlett insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge, Dr. Mina Pierce. Everything’s going according to her master plan…until she loses control with her latest victim, putting her secret life at risk of exposure.

Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Finally free of her emotionally abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies and fade into the background. Her new roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay…and turning her fantasies about revenge into a reality.

Featuring Layne Fargo’s trademark “propulsive writing style” (Kirkus Reviews) and “sinister, of the moment” (Chicago Review of Books) suspense, They Never Learn is a feminist serial killer story perfect for fans of Killing Eve and Chelsea Cain.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

They Never Learn publishes October 13, 2020. 

I’ve been struggling lately to find books that keep my attention and when I picked up They Never Learn I didn’t have very high expectations. So it took me completely by surprise by how addictive and compelling this story turned out to be.

There have been a lot of #MeToo type of stories to come out over the last couple of years. While it’s obviously an important topic, I have to say I’ve been getting a little bored with it. None of these books have really brought anything new to the table and it feels like reading the same thing over and over again. The Never Learn definitely took a different spin on the subject. A serial killer who targets sexual predators? It was like a feminist Dexter and I was here for it.

The chapters alternate POVs between Scarlett, a college professor/serial killer, and Carly, a college Freshman. I thought the alternating POVs were done pretty well. The story was very character driven and I felt like I got to know them pretty well. There were several twists throughout the book and the first one actually ended up surprising me. I felt a little mad at myself for not figuring it out earlier – in hindsight you’ll definitely see the clues – but I like that it surprised me because it doesn’t happen that often these days. The rest of the twists are a little more subtle and not as shocking, but I thought they were pretty well done. I don’t feel like I can say too much about how the story plays out because it will be too spoilery.

Overall, I really enjoyed They Never Learn. I always enjoy a good serial killer story and I especially liked how it made a #MeToo storyline a little more fresh. While the characters weren’t always very likable, they were compelling and I was invested in seeing how things would turn out for them. This was my first book by Fargo, but I’m definitely going to go back and read her debut book and will look forward to whatever she does next.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

I received a copy of this title via the publisher. It does not impact my review. 

Serious Moonlight will be available April 16, 2019. 

Serious Moonlight may not have ended up being exactly what I thought it was going to be, but it was still the type of enjoyable, quick read I’ve come to expect from Jenn Bennett.

I thought that the mystery and the historic hotel that Birdie and Daniel work at would play larger roles in the story. I expected a little bit of a creepy vibe, as well. However, the book stays firmly Contemporary in tone. Which isn’t a bad thing at all, I was just expecting something a little bit different. The mystery left a lot to be desired for me. I never really understood why they cared that much about it and it wasn’t until the final “twist” that it made sense why one of them was interested. However, it was a good excuse for Birdie and Daniel to spend time together and get to know each other and have fun, bantery conversations that I quite enjoyed. I definitely shipped them together.

The story wasn’t all cute and lightness, though. Deceased parents, unplanned pregnancies, deadbeat dads, Narcolepsy, depression, suicide, isolation, and abandonment issues are all explored. It was kind of a lot to juggle, but Bennett did a pretty good job of it. I especially thought the inclusion of Narcolepsy was really interesting. I’ve never read a book where a character suffered from that and it involves a lot more than just randomly falling asleep, like I thought.

One thing I didn’t like about the book, however, is the irresponsible view on sex. I think that it had the opportunity to really explore the emotional repercussions of casual sex, but it never really went there. The “advice” Birdie gets from the adult in her life is basically not to take things so seriously. In a book meant for adults I could probably ignore it, but for one marketed to teens, I wish there was a better message on the subject.

Overall, I enjoyed Serious Moonlight. While there were a lot of heavier topics to deal with, at it’s heart it was a cute contemporary romance that I shipped. I really liked Birdie and Daniel together. There were many cute moments between them, including one of the coolest first date experiences I’ve ever heard of. I think fans of more serious YA contemporaries will enjoy it.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

In this delightfully charming teen spin on You’ve Got Mail, the one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

Classic movie buff Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online by “Alex.” Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new arch-nemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever-it-is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Alex Approximately will be available April 4, 2017.

This was a cute, quick contemporary read with likable characters. I thought the secret-identity/online friendship between Baily and “Alex” would make this story similar to books like Tell Me Three Things or P.S. I Like You, but the actual online interactions plays kind of a small role in the overall scheme of things. Yes, Bailey tries to find “Alex” when she moves to California and most chapters in the beginning of the book end with some online chats, but this narrative device mostly peters out as Bailey begins to spend more time with Porter.

I thought Bailey was a pretty likable main character. She has a bit of an avoidant personality and tries to avoid any type of confrontation, which I found relatable since that is how I basically deal with life. However, I thought Porter brought out the confrontational spirit in her way too fast. I think someone who is truly avoidant would not immediately start sparring with a stranger the way she does. Her behavior just wasn’t at all consistent. I appreciate what Bennett was trying to do with the character, but the growth was so random and sporadic that I think it wasn’t nearly as impactful as it could have been.

I did ship Bailey and Porter, though. They had many cute moments and they were able to open up to each other in ways they didn’t with other people, which was good. I really liked Bailey’s relationship with her father and Porter’s relationship with his family. I always appreciate when YA shows a present and loving family, even if they’re not always the ideal.

I thought the book did an admirable job in trying to bring a little more serious subject matter, but most of those plotlines came off a little weak to me. Bailey’s trauma from a couple years prior was not given the level of attention that I think it deserved and I felt it was mostly used as a way to advance her relationship with Porter. There’s a little said of her mother not contacting her once she moved in with her dad, but again it’s just briefly stated a few times. One of Porter’s former friends is a drug addict and does crazy things, but I don’t think his problem was really given enough attention either, he was just the slightly sympathetic villain of the story.

I think my biggest complaint though, which is not the book’s fault, is the synopsis. The synopsis tells you Alex’s identity before you even read a page. While I think readers would quickly figure it out anyways, it took away any sort of tension or mystery there might have been. It was also incredibly annoying that Bailey doesn’t figure it out until the very end of the book, and Porter only shortly before then.

Overall, I did enjoy Alex, Approximately. Even though there wasn’t a lot that was happening, I didn’t really want to put it down. Though I think some of the side plots and character development could have used a little more work, the romance was cute and the characters were likable. I would recommend it to YA Contemporary fans.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

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