Graphic and disturbing elements are ultimately unredeemed.



Murder, sexual torture, and other dark crimes among teens.

Clara Porterfield’s childhood crush, Griffin Tomlin, is dead. He was struck in the head with a rock before falling into a pool and drowning. Now her sister, Emily, is in jail awaiting trial for the murder. The town is shocked by the crime since Emily had been a well-liked cheerleader, seemingly normal and responsible. But Clara is keeping an awful secret—that she was viciously raped and assaulted by Griffin on the night of a Super Bowl party. Clara’s struggle to cope with her emotional and physical injuries are further complicated by a developing romance with Griffin’s grieving best friend and her friendship with Aniston, a writer for her school newspaper who’s asking too many questions. The author’s note acknowledges that the book can be triggering and suggests that it is, in part, about topics “as real as young adults struggling with the aftermath of their sexual assaults.” The elements to do with the trauma of surviving a brutal rape are handled well, and readers will ache for Clara. However, as a thriller, the writing is perfunctory, and the melodramatically unrealistic plot twists that include explicit, mature content involving mutilation of animal and human corpses, sodomy with a beer bottle, and more undermine the efforts toward authentic victim exploration and instead devolve into violently pulpy fiction. Most characters are assumed white; Aniston is Mexican American.

Graphic and disturbing elements are ultimately unredeemed. (author’s note) (Thriller. 17-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9936899-1-8

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Wattpad Books

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Bulky, balky, talky.


In an updated quest for the Holy Grail, the narrative pace remains stuck in slo-mo.

But is the Grail, in fact, holy? Turns out that’s a matter of perspective. If you’re a member of that most secret of clandestine societies, the Priory of Sion, you think yes. But if your heart belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, the Grail is more than just unholy, it’s downright subversive and terrifying. At least, so the story goes in this latest of Brown’s exhaustively researched, underimagined treatise-thrillers (Deception Point, 2001, etc.). When Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon—in Paris to deliver a lecture—has his sleep interrupted at two a.m., it’s to discover that the police suspect he’s a murderer, the victim none other than Jacques Saumière, esteemed curator of the Louvre. The evidence against Langdon could hardly be sketchier, but the cops feel huge pressure to make an arrest. And besides, they don’t particularly like Americans. Aided by the murdered man’s granddaughter, Langdon flees the flics to trudge the Grail-path along with pretty, persuasive Sophie, who’s driven by her own need to find answers. The game now afoot amounts to a scavenger hunt for the scholarly, clues supplied by the late curator, whose intent was to enlighten Sophie and bedevil her enemies. It’s not all that easy to identify these enemies. Are they emissaries from the Vatican, bent on foiling the Grail-seekers? From Opus Dei, the wayward, deeply conservative Catholic offshoot bent on foiling everybody? Or any one of a number of freelancers bent on a multifaceted array of private agendas? For that matter, what exactly is the Priory of Sion? What does it have to do with Leonardo? With Mary Magdalene? With (gulp) Walt Disney? By the time Sophie and Langdon reach home base, everything—well, at least more than enough—has been revealed.

Bulky, balky, talky.

Pub Date: March 18, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50420-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking.


An accused murderer is thrust into an assassin training program.

Seventeen-year-old Signal Deere is serving hard time after a hazy night with her former best friend, Rose, which ended with Rose’s body in her lap, an emotional trial, and the media moniker the “Girl from Hell.” After her caseworker, Dave, assures Signal there’s no way she’ll get a successful appeal, he offers her an alternative: being shipped off to a mysterious camp and enrolled in a top-secret government training program unofficially known as the Teen Killers Club. There, Signal and other adolescent Class A felons (the most dangerous kind) undergo various drills—among them, dismembering fake corpses and dissolving flesh in acid—in preparation for eventually being used as assassins against government targets. The teens have been injected with a device remotely controlled by their trainers that will kill them if they attempt to escape the camp or otherwise disobey orders. As Signal nurses an attraction to sensitive tattooed Javier and fights her feelings for handsome sociopath Erik, she begins to piece together what really happened that night with Rose. Sparks crafts a page-turner with a disturbingly unusual premise, snappy dialogue, and characters that go deeper than their heinous crimes. Signal and Erik are assumed White; love interest Javier is cued as Latinx, and there is some diversity in the supporting cast.

A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking. (Thriller. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64385-229-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A book full of beautifully written prose that, ultimately, includes a poorly executed resolution.


One year after surviving a heart transplant, Linnea should be celebrating; instead, she is terrified.

On the first anniversary of Linnea’s transplant surgery, she should be celebrating her recovery. Instead, she can’t help but feel that her donor wants her heart back—and that her body is becoming less and less her own. Meanwhile, across town, Maxine struggles to keep her family together in the aftermath of her sister Harper’s death. The one person Maxine thinks she can confide in is her boyfriend, Chris, who, after losing his little brother, seems to be the only one who understands what Maxine is going through. In the first two acts of the novel, the combination of debut author DiStefano’s lyrical prose and effortlessly nuanced characters makes for a gripping and heart-wrenching read. Unfortunately, the final act of the book trades skillful character development for sensationalized scenes of violence and sexual assault (some of which may be triggering to survivors), focusing on a villain whose lack of a defined backstory makes him feel more like a caricature than a real person. Furthermore, the author’s attempts to include diversity do not necessarily succeed; while there are some secondary characters of color, the primary characters are white, and the only one identified as black is Florabelle, a mystical truth teller who embodies the “Magical Negro” trope.

A book full of beautifully written prose that, ultimately, includes a poorly executed resolution. (Fiction. 17-adult)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-7324141-0-5

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Elephant Rock Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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