Book Review – A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (ASOIAF, #1)

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Title: A Game of Thrones
Author: George R.R. Martin
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Fantasy

I’m handling this review a little differently than most. I know I’m late to the game, but I also went into the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series with a bit of trepidation and wariness. Mainly in regards to the sexism and treatment of women. And to be sure, there are many women in Game of Thrones depicted as sexual tools; women who have no rights, and a hearty share of rape and sexual assault. There IS too much rape in this series, and as someone who is a survivor of sexual assault, sometimes this is a deal breaker for me. However, Martin’s female nipple obsession aside, I do feel that there is a hidden criticism of patriarchal society, feudalism and war hidden amongst the pages. Or, if there’s not, as a reader, I am going to create that criticism.

Do you know what can be hard? Being a progressive, intersectional feminist who enjoys all varieties of science fiction and fantasy, including the older stuff. Traditionally, these genres were not designed to be read by women. They are often filled with misogyny, female objectification and racism. Game of Thrones falls into this trap. There are some really cool aspects: this is highly creative fantasy, the world-building is incredible, the court intrigues and plot mysteries are addicting, but what I don’t understand and get annoyed about is the reliance on violence against women.

So why do I still plan on continuing with the series? Because I find it highly insightful to read Game of Thrones critically, keeping in mind its firm place in popular culture. Because some of the characters are incredible. Daenerys is tough and smart, Arya is a fighter. Jon Snow is…well, Jon Snow. And the stories of male violence that dominate so much of this story is something that needs to be discussed. Additionally, I always have a penchant for stories filled with twists, turns and surprises. A part of me hopes the series ends with Daenerys unleashing her dragons on the Seven Kingdoms, burning down every idiotic man in the process.

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

The next part of the discussion contains spoilers for the first book in A Song of Fire and Ice. Consider yourself forewarned!

I love digging up little details and analyzing them, and I have a feeling this first book in the series contains a boatload of foreshadowing. Here are some of my thoughts on what happened in Book 1, and what may be to come

The White Walkers. I don’t think it is a random fact that the White Walkers appear at the very beginning, in the Prologue. All of the attention right now may be on the inner turmoil and civil war in Westeros for the crown, but I have a feeling that will eventually be overshadowed by the return of the Others.

The wildlings are not as they appear. The wildlings are described as..well, as the name applies…wild people, cruel and savage. Descriptions of them are filled with superstition and myth. I would also guess we will get to know the wildlings much better in the future, for who they really are, not the mythology that surrounds them. I bet they are surprisingly normal people who are just trying to survive in a harsh landscape.

He remembered the hearth tales Old Nan told them. The wildlings were cruel men, she said, slavers and slayers and thieves. They consorted with giants and ghouls, stole girl children in the dead of night, and drank blood from polished horns. And their women lay with the Others in the Long Night to sire terrible half-human children.

The mother direwolf.The foreshadowing here felt as if it led up to the events at the end of this book. The deceased mother direwolf had an antler in her throat: the Baratheon sigil is a stag, and the Stark sigil is a direwolf. Did this scene foretell Ned Stark’s killing on Joffrey’s orders (Baratheon in name, if not DNA)? Or does it point to a future development, a downfall of the Starks at the hands of another Baratheon, such as Stannis or Renly?

A sudden silence descended over the party. The men looked at the antler uneasily, and no one dared to speak. Even Bran could sense their fear, though he did not understand.

Red Priests. The red priests are mentioned multiple times in the opening chapter for Daenerys, especially one in particular. Thoros of Myr, “a madman who shaved his head and fought with a flaming sword.” Thoros is mentioned once more towards the end of the book, when his name makes the list of traitors to the throne. It seemed out-of-place alongside Tully’s, Baratheon’s, and Tyrell’s. Who are the Red Priests?

Viserys. Boy, is he annoying! Although he may have been right about one thing, although not in the way he meant:

“When they write the history of my reign, sweet sister, they will say that it began tonight.”

Viserys says this the night that Drogo and Daenerys first meet. Except it won’t be his reign. I have a feeling that Daenerys will be the one worth writing about. And this was one character I was happy to see get the ax.

Starks. I really love the Stark’s, almost all of them – I have lukewarm feelings towards Sansa at the moment – and I am frustrated in both Catelyn and Ned Stark for trusting Littlefinger so easily and carelessly. But I really hope this quote from Ned Stark turns out true:

“The winters are hard,” Ned admitted. “But the Starks will endure. We always have.”

Tyrion. Despite his dalliances with “whores” (ugh, I hate that word which Tyrion uses ad nauseam), I have to admit to liking him. His kindness towards the Stark children shows a side of him he keeps well hidden – giving Bran a specially designed saddle, and his kindness towards Jon Snow at The Wall stand out. This is a guy that definitely plays the long game, and is not averse to playing dirty to get retribution. He’s filled with contradictions, which makes him an incredibly fascinating character.

“My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind…and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”

Okay, maybe I just like him because he reads so much.

Bran’s dream. There are many things I don’t understand about the dream Bran had right before he woke up. Are there seers in Game of Thrones? If so, Bran certainly seems like he is on his way to becoming one. In his dream he sees things that have happened while he was in a coma: the wasting away of his body into skin and bones, his mother in a cabin on a ship and the seasick Ser Rodrik, and his sisters’ grief on the Trident. The crow tells him to forget about the scene he witnessed between Jamie and Cersei, to “put it aside, put it away”, which he does forget upon awakening.

In his dream, Bran also sees shadows surrounding his family: one shadow dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound. Another armored like the sun, golden and beautiful. The third loomed over the others, a giant in armor made of stone, his visor filled with nothing but darkness and thick black blood.

I would put the Hound and Jamie as the first two shadows, but who is the third? Possibly Gregor Clegane, who is known as “The Mountain That Rides”. Whoever or whatever it is supposed to represent, it is bigger and scarier than the other two shadows.

Finally, the three-eyed crow – which has to mean something important – takes him beyond the curtain in the North, to look deep into the heart of winter. I can’t wait to find out more on what this means.

Now you know, the crow whispered as it sat on his shoulder. Now you know why you must live.

“Why?” Bran said, not understanding, falling, falling.

Because winter is coming.

What Arya overheard. I’m still mulling over the conversation that Arya overheard in the dungeons of the Red Keep. It is a conversation that is full of half-secrets. One speaker has the “liquid accent of the Free Cities”; I’m guessing this is Illyrio. The second speaker is likely Varys, based on the description. So does this mean that Varys supports the Targaryens? Or is he playing a scheming game? And who are his fifty birds?

Varys. Varys is another highly complicated, intriguing character. Just whose side is he on? Can you believe anything that comes out of his mouth (the same could be said for Littlefinger)? The Master of Whisperers is an extremely cautious and calculating man. At first, I took him at his word in his conversation with Ned Stark in the dungeons, but I am starting to second-guess that decision. This is a character that is designed to be untrustworthy, but for what end purpose?

Rating: 3/5 stars.

Mini Review – Saga Vol. 1 & 2 by Brian K. Vaughan

I have to admit to my heart not being into writing book reviews for the past few weeks. My life has been quite topsy-turvy this month. I’m currently dealing with all the emotions that followed meeting my biological family for the first time, only to come home to one very sick kitty.

Our older cat, Isabel, has been struggling with a lot of gastrointestinal issues over the last seven days, and has needed a lot of love and attention (as well as multiple trips to our beloved veterinarian, and one stint at the ER vet). We’re currently waiting for the Prednisone to kick in and hopefully help ease the symptoms, as our vet thinks we are dealing with inflammatory bowel disease. If she isn’t any better by Monday, they will probably want to do a biopsy to rule out cancer.

Also on Monday my father will be entering the hospital for a 3-day stay for a heart catheterization after cardiac symptoms recently re-appeared. Hopefully we will know by Monday afternoon if he needs a stent, or another bypass.

Needless to say, this will be a short review!

Saga, Volumes 1 & 2

Author: Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrator: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: Graphic Novels, Science Fiction

Marko and Alana’s love story reminds me of an intergalactic Romeo and Juliet. Alana is a soldier from Landfall, a planet this has been at war with the citizens of its moon – Wreath – for…well, for a very, very long time. The Moonies are magic wielding and the Wings are brutally nationalistic and militaristic. Within that context, you have this duo that are so funny and lovable that you can’t help but root for them as they hustle to try to get out of danger and protect their newborn child. They love each other. They argue and bicker, they get on each other’s nerves. But the love they share is pure and true, and is an inspiration, considering their people hate each other’s guts.

Most definitely not for a young audience, you never know quite what you’re going to see when you turn the page. Ghost children/babysitters missing the lower half of their body, Robotic royalty with TV heads, a lie detector cat, torsoless sex workers, there is definitely some odd stuff in this graphic novel series! If Saga were a movie, it would be directed by Quentin Tarantino.

The grandparents come on the scene in Volume 2, and the family dynamic is oh-so-wonderful! In Volume 2, we also get the back story on how Alana and Marko met…it was definitely not instalove.

The narrator in both volumes is their daughter Hazel, which is brilliant. And also a relief, her narration makes it quite clear that she lives at least into young adulthood. You see, one of the main reasons Marko and Alana are being chased is due to Hazel. Her very existence undermines the ongoing war, and defies the odds, as it had been believed that a “Moonie” and a “Wing” could not conceive healthy children together.

The cast of supporting characters are equally interesting: freelancers The Stalk and The Will, Robot Prince IV, Marko’s scorned ex-girlfriend Gwendolyn, and Marko’s parents. It makes for quite an adventurous….Saga.

Monday Musings: A Poem by my Birth Mother

 

This past week was a spring break like no other. This was not a trip to the beach, or Disneyland, or a National Park. This spring break was going home, and finding a new home, all at the same time.

I am an adoptee, and I travelled back to my hometown in Pennsylvania last week to meet my biological family. While I’m not at the point where I am ready to talk in-depth about that trip: a trip filled with both joy and sadness, exhilaration and despair…I would like to share a poem written by my birth mother, Diane.

Diane lived a complicated life, one that sadly came to an end too soon in 2009, before I ever had a chance to meet her. What we do have, however, my half-sisters and I, are letters and poems. Diane loved to write, and her words are powerful. This poem is one of the most meaningful to me.

Adolescence

Angry fights, filled with sorrow
For no apologies, not even tomorrow
Missing connections, not getting through
All the time wanting to say I love you

I didn’t want to cause pain
But adolescence is not sane
Wanting to say I’m just scared
But somehow I never dared

Your values I thought to be true
But about my life, I didn’t know what to do
Everyone said I was smart
But not inside my heart

So I just went on rambling
Living life as a scramble
To prove I was right
That I was not bright

But to everyone I would say
My parents are the best any day
I would pick no others
For a father and mother

~Diane L. Watkins, June 1987

Diane

Top Ten Tuesday: Fandoms

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the theme is Top Ten Fandom Freebie.

This will be my last post for the next week or two, as I will be taking a hiatus for Spring Break. And what a fun topic to talk about before going on a break..FANDOMS!!! Narrowing it down to my Top Ten was quite a challenge, so I have a few runner-ups as well.

Studio Ghibli

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I love all of Studio Ghibli films, and have for years! For those who haven’t heard of Studio Ghibli, you will probably recognize at least one of the movies that they have made: My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, The Secret World of Arietty, Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. A majority of the films made by the studio are written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

Harry Potter

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I am most definitely still a Potterhead, ever since I read the first Harry Potter back in college, not too long after it was first published. I love the books and movies.

Superheroes

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Okay, I’m cheating by combining Marvel and DC together, but I love them both! Although, Marvel definitely has a slight edge. My current favorites in the superhero universe are: Ms. Marvel comics, Wonder Woman (especially the upcoming movie!), Supergirl, Flash, Doctor Strange, Thor….okay let’s just say that I love them all (except for possibly Hulk).

Hamilton

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There are times I feel like I live, breathe, and sleep Hamilton. The music is on in our home 24/7 some days, and it just gives me all the good feels when modern-day politics make me want to hurl. And with the recent release of a new batch of tickets, I am so excited that I will FINALLY be going to see it on Broadway!!!

Once Upon a Time

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The last two seasons have really grated on my nerves, but I still have a soft spot for a show based around fairy tale retellings. If Lana Parilla (Evil Queen/Regina) ever leaves OUAT, though, I’m out.

Jane Austen

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“How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book.” ~Jane Austen, 1813

More than two centuries after the publication of her most well-known book, and she still inspires millions. Preach it, sister.

Star Wars

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I have to admit to leaving this fandom during the dark years that were The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith. Honestly, I still don’t particularly like any of the prequels. But I was won back, and then some, with The Force Awakens. And Rogue One was also pure amazingness. I’m still devastated that we lost Carrie Fisher last year.

Lost

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This one is more of a flashback and paying homage to a past fandom that has fallen by the wayside since Lost wrapped up. I used to have so much fun thinking and hypothesizing about each and every episode! I still love when Lost characters pop up elsewhere, and I like tuning in to Hawaii Five-O occasionally just to get my Daniel Dae Kim and Jorge Garcia fix. When I first spotted Henry Ian Cusick on Scandal, I was SO thrilled, and equally disappointed when he left the show. Naveen Andrews will forever be my favorite, despite his underwhelming adventure that was Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

Lunar Chronicles

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Some of my favorite fanart I have ever seen is done by those in the Lunar Chronicles fandom!

Gilmore Girls

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What bibliophile doesn’t love Gilmore Girls? I still have the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge tucked away that I chip away at every so often, and I have always loved the fast-talking duo, and all the pop culture references that get worked into the show.

Runners-Up:

There are three hugely popular fandoms that I am incredibly late to the game for, but slowly getting drawn in:

  • Game of Thrones
  • Sherlock
  • Doctor Who

I know, where have I been?

And a few other fandoms that just missed the cut:

  • West Wing – I will always, always love West Wing. Now I’m regretting not putting it in the Top Ten!
  • My Little Pony (I enjoy this one with my daughter)
  • Friends
  • Hunger Games
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Percy Jackson

Reading Challenges Update: Jan – March

Winter has come and gone…well, hopefully it is gone…and it is time to do a quarterly update of the three year-long reading challenge I am participating in this year!

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My goal for NovelKnight’s Beat the Backlist challenge is to read at least 24 books off of my massive TBR list! I am not quite as far as I would like to be in this challenge, but I’m hoping to play catch-up in April and May.

This is what I have read for this challenge from Jan – March:

Favorite: The Underground Railroad

Least Favorite: Year of No Sugar

Total Read: 6/24 books  – 25% Complete. ON SCHEDULE!

 

Diversity Bingo 2017

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This is definitely my favorite challenge of the year! Here is what I read from Jan – March:

Favorite: The Hate U Give

Least Favorite: Of Fire and Stars

Total Read: 9/36 books – 25% Complete. ON SCHEDULE!

 

Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017

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Popsugar always has a fun 52-week reading challenge that I like to do. Last year I failed miserably at completing the challenge, and I am hoping to do better in 2017! Here is my progress so far:

  • A book that has been on your TBR list for way too long: Dawn by Elie Wiesel. 

  • A book that is a story within a story: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. 

  • An espionage thriller: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

  • A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

  • A book with a subtitle: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family or Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

  • A book that’s published in 2017: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab.

  • A book about food: A Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub.

  • A book with a red spine: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
  • A book with a title that’s a character’s name: Ms. Marvel, Volumes 2 – 5.

  • A book with an unreliable narrator: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda.

  • A book with pictures: Why I March: Images from the Women’s March Around the World by Abrams Image, New York

  • A book about a difficult topic: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. 

Favorite: A Conjuring of Light

Least Favorite: A Year of No Sugar

Total Read: 12/52 – 23% Complete. BEHIND SCHEDULE (but not by much!)

 

 

Diversity Spotlight – 30 March 2017

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly feature hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks. Each week, you discuss three books featuring diverse characters or authors, that fall into each of following three categories:

  • A diverse book you have read and enjoyed
  • A diverse book that has already been released but you have not read
  • A diverse book that has not yet been released

 

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Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

This contemporary coming-of-age story centers upon Maya Vidal, a remarkable teenager abandoned by her parents. Maya grew up in a rambling old house in Berkeley with her grandmother Nini, whose formidable strength helped her build a new life after emigrating from Chile in 1973 with a young son, and her grandfather Popo, a gentle African-American astronomer.

 When Popo dies, Maya goes off the rails. Along with a circle of girlfriends known as “the vampires,” she turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime–a downward spiral that eventually leads to Las Vegas and a dangerous underworld, with Maya caught between warring forces: a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol.

 Her one chance for survival is Nini, who helps her escape to a remote island off the coast of Chile. In the care of her grandmother’s old friend, Manuel Arias, and surrounded by strange new acquaintances, Maya begins to record her story in her notebook, as she tries to make sense of her past and unravel the mysteries of her family and her own life.

I read Maya’s Notebook when it was first released in 2014; Isabel Allende is one of my favorite authors. I always love reading Allende’s novels, and this was no exception, despite it being very different from most of her other previous work. Compared to her books such as The House of the Spirits and Portrait in Sepia, this one has very little magical realism.

The story is partly a coming-of-age story, partly a crime/mystery thriller, but mostly an honest and open portrayal of addiction and grief. Unfortunately, a topic Ms. Allende knows all too well: three of her stepchildren have struggled with addiction; two have died, the second one passing away the same month Maya’s Notebook was published in the U.S.

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In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

The star of Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin presents her personal story of the real plight of undocumented immigrants in this country.

Diane Guerrero, the television actress from the megahit Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, was just fourteen years old on the day her parents and brother were arrested and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career for herself, without the support system of her family.

In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman’s extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, many of whom have citizen children, whose lives here are just as precarious, and whose stories haven’t been told. Written with Michelle Burford, this memoir is a tale of personal triumph that also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families likes the author’s and on a system that fails them over and over.

This quote from the book’s Introduction basically sums up why I want to read it: “For the thousands of nameless children who feel as forgotten as I did – this memoir is my gift to you.”

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Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

I still have not read anything by Renée Ahdieh, yet I have heard enough good things about her to put her latest upcoming release directly on my TBR list! I have heard this book marketed as a Mulan retelling, which could be very intriguing, if done well.

Flame in the Mist will be published on May 16, 2017.

ARC Book Review – The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

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Title: The Perfect Stranger
Author: Megan Miranda
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Genre: Mystery, Psychological Thriller

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

About the Book

In the masterful follow-up to the runaway hit All the Missing Girls, a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?

Megan Miranda’s latest release, The Perfect Stranger, will make for an excellent beach read this summer. While it doesn’t have the punch of All The Missing Girls, I was still caught up in the story and characters, especially in the second half of the novel. This is a slower-paced thriller, which isn’t for everyone, but really hooked me by the halfway point. I love the quiet, sleepy Pennsylvanian town that Megan created, especially since I grew up in Pennsylvania!

There are quite a few mini-mysteries going on in this novel: what exactly happened in Leah’s past, and the strange mystery surrounding Emmy being the two biggest. While I figured out certain aspects fairly early on, other parts of the mystery definitely caught me off guard twoards the end!

Leah is an interesting character, albeit occasionally annoying, and you really get to know her as the plot progresses. She’s a strong woman that doesn’t give up, and the whole storyline brings up some interesting questions. Does the end justify the means? Can you ever really “start over” somewhere new, in a new life? Kyle, the police officer assigned to Emmy’s missing persons case, is one of the weak links in the story. He seemed to be written to be a likable, good guy….but I wasn’t a fan. I do wish his character had been flushed out a bit more. And then there is Emmy, always in the background, a big question mark that is slowly unraveled.

My absolutely favorite part of The Perfect Stranger was the last chapter! I won’t say anything to spoil the ending,  but it was definitely a perfect way to end the book.

If you like mysteries/thrillers that take place in quiet, sleepy communities that hide their secrets well, you’ll probably enjoy The Perfect Stranger.

Rating: 4/5 stars.