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Sunday, February 13, 2022

'Good Girl Complex' by Elle Kennedy


From the BLURB: 

She does everything right. So what could go wrong?

Mackenzie “Mac” Cabot is a people pleaser. Her demanding parents. Her prep school friends. Her long-time boyfriend. It’s exhausting, really, always following the rules. All she wants to do is focus on growing her internet business, but first she must get a college degree at her parents’ insistence. That means moving to the beachside town of Avalon Bay, a community made up of locals and the wealthy students of Garnet College.

Twenty-year-old Mac has had plenty of practice suppressing her wilder impulses, but when she meets local bad boy Cooper Hartley, that ability is suddenly tested. Cooper is rough around the edges. Raw. Candid. A threat to her ordered existence. Their friendship soon becomes the realest thing in her life.

Despite his disdain for the trust-fund kids he sees coming and going from his town, Cooper soon realizes Mac isn’t just another rich clone and falls for her. Hard. But as Mac finally starts feeling accepted by Cooper and his friends, the secret he’s been keeping from her threatens the only place she’s ever felt at home.

'Good Girl Complex' is the new book and first in a contemporary romance series by author Elle Kennedy.

So this was solidly "fine."

Elle Kennedy is a hybrid-author who had 42 of her early works 'traditionally published' before finding breakout success as an indie, self-published author with her New Adult 'Off-Campus' series that really blew up and led the charge for that new-wave of evolving NA and pushed it more solidly into a romance realm (VS. its original intention of being a "stepping stone" readership out of YA for ageing teen readers)

With 'Good Girl Complex', Kennedy is back in the traditionally published fold with St. Martin's Griffin press; and from the plot to the book-cover, you can kinda tell that she's chasing this new-new wave of new adult gentler romances and kind of re-introducing herself to a whole new crop of readers who have been welcomed into the romance fold, but maybe haven't been as genre-cluey to go digging through the grassroots indie wave that helped to largely shape current trends - and which Kennedy was very much apart of. The illustrated-cover is very on-trend with Emily Henry, Lyssa Kay Adams, Abby Jimenez, Tessa Bailey, Talia Hibbert and so many more - and that's clearly the market Kennedy is ingratiating herself with here.

And that also extends to the series set-up and first story overall. Rich girl attending stuffy university with requisite awful rich-boy boyfriend, journeys into the college town and through a rather convoluted back-story of revenge-dating, ends up getting cozy with the townie bad-boy from the wrong side of the tracks.

It's very Anna Todd 'After', 'The Longest Ride' by Nicholas Sparks (which is also a more modern 'The Notebook' take) and even *gulp* 'Beautiful Disaster' by Jamie McGuire. It's a story that also feels very much in that mid-00s mix, like it could have come out alongside McGuire's in 2011 or Todd's in 2014 when that New Adult college-set romance was taking off ... because of course, Elle Kennedy *was* releasing books like this then too, with self-published title 'The Deal' coming out in 2015. That's why it feels like a rehash, for people familiar with Kennedy's work it feels like we're getting a slightly watered-down remix, more aimed at a new crop of romance readers. Except this series is a little more sanitised too, for the 'traditionally published' crowd. There's head-nods to more diverse and inclusive characters, but they're periphery at the moment - rather than an understanding that one of them could take the reins and headline their own instalment in this new series.

Because 'Good Girl Complex' is indeed the first book in what will be a new contemporary series from Kennedy, 'Avalon Bay' - with second book 'Bad Girl Reputation' coming in October of this year and continuing to expand on the townie friendship group introduced in 'Complex'. Which is ... fine.

It's all fine. It will no doubt be a crowd-pleaser for people looking for exactly this kind of story, maybe after the algorithm has sent them here by way of 'The Love Hypothesis' by Ali Hazelwood ... because it does read a bit like chasing the romance/BookTok trends. Which is again - fine. Commendable. Elle Kennedy is a damn good writer, and deserves more mainstream recognition and the way to do that is probably by writing a book directly aimed at mainstream audiences in the traditionally published romance realms.

BUT. If you're a long-time fan of hers, then I can't say that this series looks to match 'Off-Campus' or 'Briar U' or the series by her friend and sometimes co-author, Sarina Bowen ('Ivy Years' is *amazing*). I hope that people like 'Good Girl Complex' enough to go through Kennedy's backlist and push those earlier series onto the BookTok algorithm too ... but for me, personally? Eh. It was all fine. Nothing to write home about. I'll see if the mood takes me to pick up Book 2.


Monday, February 7, 2022

'The Locked Room' Ruth Galloway Mysteries #14 by Elly Griffiths


From the BLURB; 

Ruth Galloway and DCI Nelson are on the hunt for a murderer when Covid rears its ugly head. But can they find the killer despite lockdown? 

Ruth is in London clearing out her mother's belongings when she makes a surprising discovery: a photograph of her Norfolk cottage taken before Ruth lived there. Her mother always hated the cottage, so why does she have a picture of the place? The only clue is written on the back of the photo: Dawn, 1963.

 Ruth returns to Norfolk determined to solve the mystery, but then Covid rears its ugly head. Ruth and her daughter are locked down in their cottage, attempting to continue with work and home-schooling. Happily, the house next door is rented by a nice woman called Zoe, who they become friendly with while standing on their doorsteps clapping for carers. 

Nelson, meanwhile, is investigating a series of deaths of women that may or may not be suicide. When he links the deaths to an archaeological discovery, he breaks curfew to visit the cottage where he finds Ruth chatting to her neighbour whom he remembers as a carer who was once tried for murdering her employer.

'The Locked Room' is the 14th book in the 'Ruth Galloway Mystery Series' by Elly Griffiths 

Oh my gosh, I was so looking forward to this book and it did not disappoint!

First of all - and because I finished Book #13 in April 2021, after bingeing the whole series - I've got to say that I think Elly Griffiths made a BANG ON right decision, setting this in 2020 and during the UK pandemic (first) lockdown. I guess she knew she would - because the 'Ruth Galloway' series is generally very sequential with books coming within a few weeks or months of each other (every so often a book will leap ahead by a couple years, but that's generally been to get child-characters out of diapers and more active in the story, is my reading of it!). And in 'The Night Hawks' Griffiths did very cleverly end that book with Ruth's university mentioning a newfangled teaching tool called Zoom ... but I do credit Griffiths with leaning into the pandemic of it all and staying true to how these characters have been evolving in real-time (there's previously been mention of Brexit, so it is very much within the bounds of reason that we'd see how the pandemic affected higher-education, policing, crime, etc.) For me, personally, I wasn't put off or unable to read this book because of the pandemic. Honestly, it was interesting to read the slow unravel of how things happened in the UK ...

'The Locked Room' is still a frustrating book in other ways, for fans of the Ruth and DCI Harry Nelson pairing. Of course it is. That's a theme of this series in which the characters live in a literal liminal space between water and land in Norfolk - and have been making decisions that see them similarly trapped between rocks and hard places. For Ruth it's falling for a married man and having a baby with him, knowing he'll never entirely choose or be there for them. For Harry it's finding himself with two families he loves (in different ways) and knowing that any decision he makes will hurt one of them.

Well it's more of that ... even as this 14th book sees Harry's wife Michelle locked-down in Blackpool for the duration of the novel, so Ruth and Harry are coming back together in their affair - even, for the first time since holiday-set 10th book 'The Dark Angel' where they get to be together day-on-day and glimpse another world in which they live together as a whole family, with Kate.

The illusion however, is quickly shattered by Harry's daughter Laura coming home for lockdown and a perplexing run of suicides that might have more sinister underpinnings. Not to mention talk of uncovered 'plague pits' in Norfolk, and a 'Grey Lady' haunting the town square.

I found this to be a very satisfying murder-mystery, even if the personal aspects of the character and their evolution dragged feet again. ALTHOUGH - I will say - I think this book will end up being a little reprieve for big waves coming (I say this every book, and then nothing much overly changes between Ruth and Harry but I am forever hopeful).

My prediction is that Michelle will have come home with an ultimatum for Harry - either she's started seeing someone (unlikely, since Griffiths did and wrapped that with the Tim storyline) more likely I think Michelle will be insisting that Harry retire and/or they move away from Norfolk. A couple times Harry alluded to Superintendent Jo wanting him to retire, and that Judy - his second in charge - really should be a DCI, but to do that Harry would need to step aside and retire or leave. Ruth previously moved away to Cambridge with her American lover Frank, so now it feels like Harry's turn ... also that Ruth's worst nightmare should come to pass (Harry not choosing her and Kate) and maybe Harry should get a taste of what actually making a decision feels like (the kicker being; he'll miss Ruth more than he wants to keep calm-waters with Michelle). If that's all the case then I'll be really emotionally wrought and excited.

Overall; another fab instalment and I once again can't believe I've got to wait until Feb 2023 for more! GAAAAH!

The pandemic worked especially well - allusions to the struggles of international uni students, lack of PPE gear, Ruth disbelieving that she's going through a once-in-a-lifetime event with a leader called Boris, domestic violence prevalence in lockdown, murmurings of Oxford university searching for a vaccine ... it's all still so close to the surface and used to great effect here by the masterful Griffiths, to keep readers and these characters grounded in the here and now - even as we still grasp at the more liminal love story that's forever just out of reach.


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