Review + Author Q&A | You Owe Me A Murder, Eileen Cook

9781328519023You Owe Me a Murder is so incredibly good. I couldn’t put it down! A contemporary YA take on Strangers on a Train, the book tells the story of Kim, a seventeen year old girl, who gets pulled into a murder plot when she meets Nicki, a charismatic young woman, in the airport on her way to a school trip. Kim is struggling to get over a recent breakup, and unthinkingly tells Nicki that she wishes her ex-boyfriend were dead. It turns out that Nicki wishes her mother was dead as well, and so, at some point on the flight while getting drunk on stolen liquor, Kim agrees to Nicki’s joking suggestion that they murder each other’s intended targets. Kim thinks it must have been just a drunken joke, until her ex-boyfriend dies in a suspicious accident, and Nicki reappears to remind Kim of her end of the bargain.

You Owe Me a Murder is an exciting twisty thriller, but more than that it’s a compelling character-centric story. Kim is such an awesome heroine — relatable but also with a fantastic character arc from terror to sheer kickassery. Nicki is coldly manipulative, and makes for a believably formidable villain. There’s also a subplot about Alex, a cute boy who Kim meets on the school trip and falls in love with, and I just love how how awesomely nerdy and sweet he is.

I thought the middle was the strongest part of this novel. Eileen Cook does such a good job of ratcheting up the psychological suspense bit by bit — like Kim, we can just feel the noose of Nicki’s trip tightening around our necks, and we can very much empathize with Kim’s worry that she’s overreacting along with her fear that she isn’t. The latter part of the book, once Kim figures out the extent of Nicki’s plot, turns more into traditional thriller territory. While not quite as wonderfully tense as the lead up, this section is action-packed and fun, and brings about a very satisfying conclusion to the story.

Author Q&A: Eileen Cook on her most memorable conversation with a stranger while in transit

Since all of Kim’s troubles started with a fateful conversation with a stranger on a plane, I asked Eileen Cook what her most memorable in-transit encounter with a stranger has been. Her response is hilarious! Thanks for sharing, Eileen!

Normally, I’m that kind of person who doesn’t like to talk to people on planes. As far as I’m concerned that’s the perfect time for reading or napping. Two of my favourite activities! I’m that person who settles in and pulls out a book as soon as my butt hits the seat.

However, I do have a funny transit story. I was once on the Seabus (ferry) here in Vancouver. Suddenly from the far side of the boat I see someone READING ONE OF MY BOOKS. This is a moment I had dreamed of my entire life. I debated for about a second and then decided to approach her. I went up, interrupted the woman and said “Sorry, to bother you, but I’m the author of that book.” She gushed for a while about how much she was enjoying it. I tried to act humble, but I was eating it up. She then asked me to autograph it. I couldn’t have been more excited- this was a total stranger who wanted my autograph! I whipped out a pen (I’d been waiting for this moment for most of my life) and when she passed me the book, I realized something.

It wasn’t my book.

It looked like my book from far away (the covers were very similar) but it was NOT my book. No way I was going to admit that I was wrong. I figured she would think I was one of those odd people you sometimes meet on public transit, so I signed the other author’s name and ran away. I’ve never approached a stranger since!

Blog Tour

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You Owe Me a Murder Blog Evite


Thank you to Raincoast Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Beautiful Bad, Annie Ward

40604818Beautiful Bad is a taut, tightly plotted psychological thriller. The story begins with a murder. We don’t who the killer or the victim are; all we see is a police officer entering a house with blood-stained floors and a crying child. From that arresting opening, Ward hurtles us back years into the past, where a pair of best friends Maddie and Jo meet and fall in love with the same British soldier, Ian. Through flashbacks, we learn that Maddie and Ian end up getting married and having a son, that a camping accident has left Maddie physically and psychologically scarred, and that through therapy, Maddie reveals fears about Ian’s PTSD and concerns for their son’s safety.

Ward doles out her clues judiciously throughout the story. The questions about who had been killed, who had done the killing and why remain a mystery pretty much till the end of the book, but the murder itself sets a grim tone throughout all the flashbacks. Even when Maddie and Jo first meet Ian and fall in love, we know things are not going to end well. Darkness permeates even the most innocuous interactions, and at almost every step, we want to tell the characters to turn back before it’s too late.

I love that Ward doesn’t present the romance between the lead characters as idyllic at the beginning, then turning bad later on. Rather, even at the beginning of the flashbacks, we can see the emotional turmoil in each of the main characters, such that we can imagine any of them being capable of murder. The big reveal, when it came, was unexpected to me until fairly late in the novel, but the clues were peppered fairly heavily throughout, and I love how everything tied together at the end.

The one snag for me is that I found it difficult to understand what attracted both Maddie and Jo to Ian in the first place, beyond his good looks. He was charming, but he didn’t treat either woman very well from the beginning, especially considering that he knew of their friendship and their attraction to him. I realize that most of the flashbacks are told from Maddie’s perspective, and therefore coloured by later events, so in that sense, I’m glad the author kept it realistic. I also understand how a woman can get sucked into a relationship with a man she later on fears, but is unable to leave. But with this story, I couldn’t quite understand Ian’s appeal, or why either woman would get sucked into a relationship with him in the first place. The author does a great job of building up Jo and Maddie’s friendship, which makes their decision to risk their relationship over Ian even more baffling.

Fun fact: I had the opportunity to see the author speak about this book at a Harper Collins Canada event last year, and she said the love triangle aspect of the story was actually based on real life. She did end up marrying a man whom her best friend had been in love with. The real life stories played out much more happily than the novel’s — her husband was her sounding board while she wrote the novel, and her best friend was also really supportive.


Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.


Review | The Perfect Girlfriend, Karen Hamilton

40334400I had expected The Perfect Girlfriend to be a story of obsessive romantic love, albeit gender-flipped with the woman being the obsessed stalker. To an extent, it is — Juliette becomes a flight attendant at the airline where her ex-boyfriend Nate is a pilot. She stalks him and gets super jealous of any new romantic interest in his life.

But I love that Karen Hamilton subverts the genre even further. Juliette’s obsession with Nate isn’t just because he was an amazing boyfriend that she can’t seem to let go, but rather, it’s tied to her experiences at school as a scholarship student longing to fit in with her wealthier classmates. Hamilton does a great job of crafting Juliette’s personality from childhood, so we see her aspiration towards a better life, and her pain and anger at being denied this. Even her attraction to Nate is tied to an earlier obsession with Nate’s sister, a popular girl at Juliette’s school and one of the wealthy students Juliette aspires to emulate. Hamilton does give us a solid reason for Juliette to consider Nate such a significant figure in her life, but even beyond that, we get a sense of Juliette being a Ripley-esque figure, more enamoured with the kind of life Nate represents than with Nate himself.

I also love that other characters sense something off about Juliette. Nate’s sister could have been a stereotypical mean girl at school, but she later admits it’s because she gets creepy vibes from Juliette. And even as an adult, Juliette’s efforts to fit in are hampered by other characters feeling something not quite right. This makes her a more tragic and a more human figure than the usual stalker trope, where the victim is often isolated because no one else in their life can see anything wrong with their relationship. We get the sense that even without Nate in her life, Juliette would still struggle to find happiness, because she tries really hard to fit in, and fails because of this very eagerness.

Finally, I love how Hamilton continuously ramps up the stakes throughout the novel. Just as you think Juliette has done something so egregious that she can’t possibly top it, Hamilton has her doing something even worse. Juliette’s master plan is both so utterly horrific and so utterly tragic that we find ourselves sympathetic to Juliette even as her actions make us recoil on a visceral level.

Juliette is a fantastic anti-heroine, one who creeps you out even as you reluctantly find yourself understanding where she comes from. I thought I knew what to expect when I began The Perfect Girlfriend, but Hamilton pleasantly surprised me with how the story actually turned out. I was totally hooked on this story and loved it.


Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.