First off, I want to thank Alexa Donne and Crown Books for Young Readers (imprint Penguin Random House) for the ARC (e-book)! Although I feel it’s an amazing honor to be part of her streetteam, this doesn’t affect my opinion of the book. Now, before we dive into the review, what’s the story about?
After the death of her mom (screw cancer), seventeen-year-old Cecelia Ellis goes to live with her estranged grandmother, a celebrated author whose Victorian mansion is as creepy as the murder mysteries she writes. On the surface, life is utterly ordinary in the California coastal town . . . until the homecoming queen is murdered. And she’s not Seaview’s first pretty dead queen.
With a copycat killer on the loose, Cecelia throws herself into the investigation, determined to crack the case like the heroines in her grandmother’s books. But the more Cecelia digs into the town’s secrets, the more she worries that her own mystery might not have a storybook ending.
Cozy, but slow at times
If the blurb of Pretty Dead Queen doesn’t convince you to pick up this book, maybe the gorgeous cover will! It immediately gave me some Insatiable (serie on Netflix) vibes, although it turned out the story is nothing like it. The story is set in a rather small town where most people (kinda) know each other – especially Moira, a renowned author of thrillers and grandmother of Cecelia (the main character). This immediately sets this cozy small town mood.
But just like small towns can be relaxed, yet seemingly slow at times, so does the pacing of the story. Which is either a love-it or hate-it case. Turns out, I’m more into fast-paced stories, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the story. Donne does have a way to keep things interesting and make you want to read more with her fun and sometimes dark analogies and descriptions. Her writing style is sophisticated, to say the least. Made me doubt, more than a few times, how well my English is actually developed. I would not recommend it to readers who have a bit of trouble reading in English. It even made me wonder if the writing style works for YA specifically, but I’ll let native speakers/readers decide for that themselves. But! – on the bright side – I did learn a lot of new words, so… cheers for expanding my vocabulary!
Nonetheless, Donne’s vivid descriptions of the mansion, town and people did make the story come alive. Almost as if watching a movie, I could picture everything very well. I was also impressed with the way Donne ended chapters, giving us a little cliffhanger that just screamed to turn the page and dive into the next chapter.
Flat character(s) and cliché’s
The main thing that bugged me, however, was Cecelia, the main character herself. I had lots of trouble connecting with her, felt pretty flat at times. The only thing I know is that her mother died, that she didn’t know her grandma who she has to live with now, and that she’s – obviously – still in grieving mode. She only read one book her grandma wrote before she came there, doesn’t look particularly interested in reading – or anything else, really. Also doesn’t seem to have hobbies or friends. The only thing that drives her (more like, severely obsessed), is solving the new murder. Quite a shame, because characters are what drive a story, and because of it, I had trouble enjoying the story to the fullest.
*** small spoiler ahead ***
I also hated the cliché’s and overly used tropes in fiction, like guessing someone’s password (laptop) within a few times and breaks of a car that got cut. Everytime I read or watch a scene like that, I can’t help but roll my eyes. It really feels like a cheap, overdone device in stories (thrillers in particular).
Reading mystery thrillers, I always feel like kind of a detective. I pay close attention to signs and small hints, and in the end, my hunch about who the killer was, was mostly right. Yet, Donne managed to surprise me, and me – being the great detective I think I am – guessing right, doesn’t mean that it was predictable. Not at all. So you’re definitely in for a fun surprise.
Overall it was a fun read and if you like cozy town thrillers with a surprising plot twist (!) in the climax, definitely pick up this book.
If you don’t know Alexa Donne yet and am a writer (or interested in anything related to writing), check out her Youtube channel! She gives amazing tips and inside information in the publishing industry.