About Jaclyn

I'm a total bookaholic! Fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, YA, science fiction, I read practically anything and everything. I also love talking about books, and chatting about books with people who love them as much as I do!

Review | You Can’t Catch Me, by Catherine McKenzie

YouCantCatchMeCoverDo you know how common the name Jessica is, particularly for women born in the 1990s? How about the surname Williams? In You Can’t Catch Me, Catherine McKenzie poses the question: what if a con artist takes advantage of the commonness of these names?

The novel begins with Jessica Williams at an airport bar. A journalist caught at plagiarism, Jessica is on her way to a week-long vacation to escape the mess her life has become. A waiter calling out her name leads to the discovery of a second Jessica Williams in the same bar. Jessica Two, as journalist Jessica calls her, is fascinated by the coincidence of both of them being at the bar at the same time. She invites journalist Jessica to a game of Twenty Questions, to discover what else, apart from their names, they could have in common. (For one thing, they both share the exact same birthday.) Fast forward a week, and journalist Jessica realizes that Jessica Two has stolen all her money, using the information from their Twenty Question game (what’s your mother’s maiden name? who was your best friend in elementary school?) to impersonate her.

It turns out that journalist Jessica grew up in a cult, and the man who got her out, Liam, has major investigative skills. With Liam’s help, Jessica tracks down two other victims of Jessica Two: Jessie (Jessica Three), a quiet schoolteacher who lost her lottery winnings, and JJ (Jessica Four), a retired soldier turned celebrity YouTuber. Both new Jessicas have the same name and the same birthday as the first two. Together, the three Jessicas continue the investigation into Jessica Two, and plan how to take her down.

The premise of You Can’t Catch Me is, admittedly, a bit silly. As someone on Goodreads asks, why can’t a con artist just use fake names and fake birthdays on their intended victims instead of targeting women all with the same name and the same birthday? There’s also a lot of focus on Jessica One’s history with the cult, and apart from being an interesting bit of character history, why on earth is it relevant to the story of the Jessica Williamses? I did wonder about both questions at the start, then eventually just made the decision to sit back and enjoy the ride. And enjoy it I did. The good news is that both questions are indeed answered by the end of the book; the even better news is that it’s a fun and entertaining ride throughout.

You Can’t Catch Me is, plain and simple, a fun thriller. It’s twisty and captivating, and basically the book equivalent of a summer blockbuster. My favourite part has to be shortly after Jessica One and Jessie the school teacher set off on a road trip to meet up with JJ. Jessica One teaches Jessie the art of grifting (at a basic card game scam, and at a bar with a married man), which Jessica One learned from her years at the cult. The threat of Jessica Two still looms large of course, but somewhat overshadowing it is the thrill of the chase. Even though Jessica One, Jessie, and later JJ, are the victims of a crime, the narration is light and breezy, highlighting the exciting challenge of outwitting a master con artist.

The last 25% of the book is just dizzyingly full of twists and revelations, and suddenly, all the seemingly disparate pieces fit together. It’s a satisfying finale to an entertaining thriller.

+

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Murder at Hotel 1911: An Ivy Nichols Mystery, by Audrey Keown

MurderAtHotel1911CoverIn Murder at Hotel 1911, the death of a hotel guest from anaphylactic shock causes suspicion to fall on hotel chef George. His friend Ivy Nichols, the hotel’s receptionist, knows the damage that this accusation could do to George’s career, and so launches an investigation. As Ivy digs deeper into the lives of the different hotel guests, she discovers connections between them, and many potential motives for murder.

Murder at Hotel 1911 is a solid cozy mystery. I like that Ivy has panic attacks — it’s a form of representation I don’t often see in cozy mysteries, and it’s also a condition that could present a challenge for an amateur detective. I like the way Keown handles this aspect of Ivy. The book talks a bit about Ivy’s experiences with therapy and medication, so that you can see her mental health situation is very much a part of her everyday life, but doesn’t take over her story completely. Ivy’s panic attacks also come into play at key moments, and I thought the author did a good job of putting us in Ivy’s shoes without overdramatizing the experience.

I also like the concept of the 1911-themed hotel. I found that charming, and of course, it provided lots of potential for the plot, with secret passages and other such cool architectural features. The big reveal was also a surprise — I didn’t see it coming at all.

My main downside for this book is that I found it too slow. It took me almost a month to finish reading it, and in the second half, I found myself skimming a bit. The investigation meandered, and while I appreciated the representation of Ivy’s mental health situation, I also felt that the novel focused too much on her personal life rather than on the mystery. In particular, Ivy’s history with the police detective, and Ivy’s realization about her mother were interesting, but a bit too drawn out. And while I found Ivy’s family connection to the house an interesting character feature, I sometimes felt like the book was more interested in diving into that mystery than in the actual murder. All these details make the book work as the first in a series, to really introduce us to the main character, but they work less well as a standalone.

Cozy mysteries also depend a lot on its characters to draw you into their lives, but while the hotel guests and Ivy’s co-workers certainly started out colourful and interesting, their personalities flattened as the story went on. Even the crux of the mystery, which is Ivy’s relationship with George, didn’t feel strong enough. We know she cares deeply for him, because she goes to great lengths to prove his innocence, and later on, there are hints of a romance developing between them, but I never really felt the heat, of either the romantic tension type of the BFF type. 

Overall, the book isn’t bad, it just didn’t hook me as I’d hoped it would.

+

Thank you to the publisher for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Sex and Vanity, Kevin Kwan

SexAndVanityCoverSex and Vanity is disappointing compared to Crazy Rich Asians. The Crazy Rich Asians trilogy had humour, heart, and relationships that felt real even amidst all the satire about super wealth. In contrast, Sex and Vanity felt flat, a paint-by-numbers plot where events happen just to move the story forward.

The first half, about Lucie and George’s hate-to-love whirlwind affair in Capri, was just boring. The characters had zero chemistry, Lucie’s dislike for George was tepid at best, and while George was sweet, he was also too bland to be interesting. The dude is a super rich surfer environmentalist, yet all these attributes are listed off rather than actually apparent in his character. Bonus hero points for when he saves a stranger’s life, but beyond that, he’s pretty meh.

The story does pick up in the second half, when we move to New York and see Lucie engaged to another rich dude Cecil. Finally things happen, and emotions rise in the story. But that has less to do with the actual main characters and more to do with the side characters. I love the friendship between Lucie’s mom Marian and George’s mom Rosemary, easily the two most interesting characters in the book.

Cecil is an ass, but in ways that are sometimes hilarious or sympathetic, and his actions add dimension to Lucie’s scenes. Their bedroom role playing scene was hilarious and more compelling than most of Lucie and George’s kissing scenes.

Lucie’s brother Freddie is rarely on-screen, but when he is, he steals the show. Lucie complains about how charismatic he is, and even on-page, he does have charisma.

I do like how actually devastating the event was that ultimately separated Lucie and George in Capri. Like ok, I get why Charlotte would freak out over that, and why Lucie would be embarrassed by the surprise fallout five years later. I do wish the fallout had happened at Capri, or at least more had come of the surprise fallout event in the second half. Because the event is set up as something that truly traumatized Lucie and made her determined never to be with George and like, literally, no one else cared about it, and it had zero impact on her reputation. So like, what’s your problem, Lucie?

I also like how Kwan explores Lucie’s internalized racism as a byproduct of her biracial heritage (3rd gen Chinese-American mom, white dad whose ancestors came on the Mayflower and signed the Declaration of Independence) and upbringing (her white family’s casual racism, their limited relationship with her mom’s side of the family). I also like how Kwan contrasts Lucie and Freddie’s experiences, with Freddie often coded as white, and Lucie looking more Chinese and sometimes mistaken for a food delivery person. These are experiences biracial folks likely do experience, and I love how Kwan digs into all the nuances of this. So bump up to 3 stars for this.

That being said, the core story about Lucie and George’s relationship fell flat. Even in the more entertaining second half, we barely understand why George is still interested in her, and all we see is Lucie looking down on George’s mom Rosemary. Rosemary herself later excuses Lucie’s actions as internalized racism, but like, no. While internalized racism is a thing, the way Lucie tears Rosemary down to others is just cruel and petty.

The thing is, Lucie isn’t even cruel in a compelling way. Eleanor in Crazy Rich Asians did some mean things, but she was a complex character who had heart. In contrast, Lucie is set up as a naive goody two shoes, who does things out of…I’m not even sure…fear? She’s a watery, watered down person, and apart from the internalized racism stuff, more a Victorian archetype than a fully realized character.

The resolution in the epilogue was nice, but felt totally unearned.