Off the Shelf: A Review of The Life & Death Parade by Eliza Wass

Two years ago, I discovered Eliza Wass through her debut YA novel, The Cresswell Plot. While the book didn’t necessarily hit one out of the park for me, its author did, and I became somewhat entranced by Eliza and her story. She grew up in a strict, religious community and didn’t meet anyone outside of that religion until she interned at Disney at the age of 22. She talks more about that part of her background in this article from the Guardian, and it’s clear where her inspiration for The Cresswell Plot (here titled In the Dark, In the Woods) came from. Her bio claims “she has thousands of friends, all of whom either arrive inside dust jackets or post obsessively on Twitter”, and following her on Twitter gave me a deeper look into her writing, her whimsical personality, and her devotion to her late husband, Alan Wass of Alan Wass and the Tourniquet.

So, when I spotted the beautiful cover of The Life and Death Parade while I was at PLA, I had to snatch it up. It became one of my first must-read ARCs in a massive book haul, and it delivered the type of hauntingly eerie story that I’ve come to expect from Eliza Wass.

 

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Release Date: July 12, 2018

Summary (via Goodreads)

One year ago, Kitty’s boyfriend Nikki Bramley visited a psychic who told him he had no future. Now, he’s dead.

With the Bramley family grieving in separate corners of their home, Kitty sets out to find the psychic who read Nikki his fate. Instead she finds Roan, an enigmatic boy posing as a medium who belongs to the Life and Death Parade–a group of supposed charlatans that explore, and exploit, the thin veil between this world and the next. A group whose members include the psychic… and Kitty’s late mother.

Desperate to learn more about the group and their connection to Nikki, Kitty convinces Roan to return to the Bramley house with her and secures a position for him within the household. Roan quickly ingratiates himself with the Bramleys, and soon enough it seems like everyone is ready to move on. Kitty, however, increasingly suspects Roan knows more about Nikki than he’s letting on. And when they finally locate the Life and Death Parade, and the psychic who made that fateful prophecy to Nikki, Kitty uncovers a secret about Roan that changes everything.

 

What I Liked:

Eliza Wass has a beautiful and delicate way of tackling topics like death and grief. She has a way with words, particularly her rich imagery that paints her settings. I longed to know more about the characters, Nikki especially, because he has such a fun persona that steals every scene.

At the beginning of each chapter are featured lines from the author’s late husband, which help to set the tragic tone as Kitty searches for answers to what happened to her boyfriend and how the psychic’s prediction of his death came to pass. A variety of different relationships are explored, each shedding a little more light on how each character grieves, and I was glad that the romantic elements weren’t your typical sugar-coated YA romance tropes. The loss of Nikki haunts the entire story, and in turn the reader aches along with each of the characters in the family.

It’s a quick, enjoyable read that you can finish in just a few short hours, but it can be said that the story will end well before you want it to.

 

What I Didn’t Like:

About halfway through, I started feeling like I was missing something. Specifically, I felt as if this book had been over-edited and scenes that would have helped me to better connect with the characters and their stories had been cut. Looking back at my review of The Cresswell Plot, I wasn’t surprised to see that I’d felt similarly about that title. The Life and Death Parade is a very short, quick read, but the fast pacing will have you wishing there were slower moments to help the story build. I’m beginning to wonder if this is just Wass’s writing style or if she has an editor that prefers it this way. Either way, I wish we got to know the characters a little bit better because they seem so quirky, unique, and mysterious.

 

Overall Rating:

I was torn on how to rate this book, but I ultimately decided on 3.5/5 stars. The premise has so much potential and the cast of characters were eccentric and wonderful, but the plot falls victim to an overly fast pace. I still have so many questions and things that I want to know, which makes me wish there were at least another fifty pages or so to tell the full story. Eliza Wass continues to be an author to watch for me, and I look forward to seeing what comes next from her.

 

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Off the Shelf: A Review of The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

I have other reviews that I should be writing – BUT STOP THE PRESSES! We need to discuss The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager RIGHT. NOW.

It doesn’t come out until July, but I was fortunate enough to meet Riley Sager while attending PLA, and I snagged myself a signed ARC copy of The Last Time I Lied. His debut, The Final Girls, has sat on my to-read shelf since its publication. I’m wary of overhyped books though, so its initial popularity right out of the gate scared me off picking it up. Trust me, I will soon be correcting that mistake.

As I’ve been dealing with some health issues recently, I’ve had plenty of time to read, but any book I’ve picked up, I’ve struggled to get into. Either it’s not interesting at all, interesting but just not that great, or definitely interesting but not the kind of book that’s going to hold my interest right now. It’s been disappointment after disappointment.

I wanted NEEDED a page turner. So, I went to my to-read shelf, selected one book at random, and decided to see if the first line would hook me.

Enter: The Last Time I Lied.

And that’s how I found myself unable to put it down until I’d finished reading the very last line.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

RELEASE DATE:  JULY 10, 2018

“Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present.

And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.”

 

Things I Liked:

HOLY ROLLER COASTER RIDE, BATMAN! The number of twists packed into this plot left me dizzy. Just when I would think I was on the right track, this cart would jump the rails. It kept me guessing the whole way through, and the ending is one you will not see coming. When you think it’s over, it’s most definitely not.

I was never a summer camp kid. I don’t know if there just weren’t many camps around or if my parents didn’t want me out of their sight for that long, but either way, a sleep away summer camp is something that I’ve only ever read about. Goosebumps set me up from a young age to think of summer camps as inherently creepy (thanks very much, Welcome to Camp Nightmare, The Curse of Camp Cold Lake, The Horror at Camp Jellyjam, etc.), so Camp Nightingale really meets the mark for dark, spooky camps – haunting campfire stories, suspicious counselors, and s’mores! Pack this book on vacation, maybe take it camping…because I can guarantee it’s going to be one of the biggest books of the summer. I found myself falling in love with Sager’s writing style, and how much description was packed in to every last word. I could picture Camp Nightingale, particularly Lake Midnight and the ghost stories of its past, so clearly. Beautiful work.

I’ve said it time and time again, but if you give me a good, believable, unreliable narrator, that will sell the story for me every time. And boy, is Emma good. There were a few moments where I found myself annoyed with her, but overall, I found myself absorbed in her interactions with those at Camp Nightingale, past and present, particularly Vivian. Vivian and Emma bonded quickly when they first met at Camp Nightingale, and there a several moments in their conversations where they go beyond your typical “Mean Girls” teen girl interactions and Vivian delves into the true psyche of her behaviors to teach the life lessons she believes Emma needs. She’s twisted, enigmatic, and her motivations add to the mystery of her disappearance.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I don’t have much to report in the way of things that I didn’t like about The Last Time I Lied. There were times, like I said, that I found Emma annoying – she wouldn’t ask the questions that I thought would be natural to ask given the scenarios she was facing or she may say too much in parts where I felt it would be natural to hold back. Overall though, she was an interesting character and the story kept me guessing as to whether I should trust her or not.

I believe there was one red herring that got thrown out (and there are quite a few in this story that will have you wondering what the truth will really be), but was never resolved. However, this is a story I plan on rereading (it was THAT good) to see if perhaps I missed its resolution somewhere along the way. The story follows a crooked path, so it can be easy to get lost in the woods with all of the possibilities.

 

Overall Rating:

Without a doubt, this book is a 5/5 stars for me. It was everything that I needed it to be and more, and I couldn’t get enough. I raced through it in a matter of hours, and days later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. Go ahead and preorder it from your favorite bookstore or online retailer, because you are going to want to get your hands on this title the moment it hits the shelves. While you’re waiting, check out Sager’s debut novel, Final Girls.

Two Truths and a Lie:
1. I will definitely be picking up Final Girls in hopes that it’s even half as good as The Last Time I Lied.
2. The Last Time I Lied is one of the best books that I’ve read so far this year.
3. When I’m camping this summer, I doubt that this story will cross my mind.

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Click here to add The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads.