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REVIEW:  Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

REVIEW: Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell


Dear Ms. Ewell,

Between Dexter and Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers, I think readers have begun growing accustomed to the idea of serial killer protagonists. It’s a tricky prospect — balancing a compelling protagonist that keeps you reading and reconciling that with the fact that they kill people. In many cases, that is justified by the protagonist targeting only other serial killers. The main character of your novel, Dear Killer, does no such thing.

Seventeen-year-old Kit is a serial killer. She is in fact the most famous London serial killer since Jack the Ripper. It’s also something of a family tradition. Her mother was once a serial killer. She taught Kit everything she knows and when she retired from the business, her daughter took up her mother’s line of work.

The thing is, Kit is more of an assassin than a serial killer. You see, she decides who to kill based on letters. People write her letters with their murder requests and leave them in a special dropbox. Kit goes through them and selects who to kill. She gets paid a ridiculous amount of money and the letter they write is left behind with the corpse.

First of all, I don’t understand why anyone would agree to this. What’s the point of having someone killed if you’re going to be incriminated? It doesn’t matter if you didn’t do the actual act. You essentially hired someone to kill that person! And since the letter making the original request is left with the body, there’s irrefutable proof. It’d be one thing if the reasons behind these requests were things like “This man killed my family” and “This woman hit my child with her car.” And while there are requests like this, there are also ones like “This girl won’t go out with me.” That’s a rather petty reason given that the letter writer’s ultimate fate is sealed.

Secondly, how did Kit remain unapprehended for so long? All these incriminated people — am I seriously supposed to be believe that none of them told Scotland Yard where Kit’s secret dropbox was? If the location is spread through the underground via rumor and anyone who wants to make a request can find it, I just can’t believe none of the authorities wouldn’t figure it out. They have informants!

Speaking of Scotland Yard, Dear Killer is supposed to take place in London. But other than references to Scotland Yard and Jack the Ripper, it could have been set in the U.S. To be honest, I often forgot it wasn’t set in the U.S. in the first place. There wasn’t much else to give it a unique sense of setting.

I liked the idea of Kit’s relationship with her mother. On the other hand, I think there could have been more done with the concept of a serial killer mother and daughter. Kit’s mother was good at what she did but gave it up to hide in plain sight. But she couldn’t bear to say goodbye to that life completely so she taught her daughter. In doing so, however, she lost a bit of herself and everything that made up her identity.

I also thought Kit befriending one of her intended victims could have made for a very interesting story. I got the impression that Kit’s mother was the true sociopath and that Kit was simply the result of a child being raised and molded by a serial killer from a young age. Since her father was absent and uninvolved, how could she develop any sort of moral compass? That friendship could have humanized Kit and in the beginning I thought that was the direction we were heading in. Alas, it did not come to pass.

After Mafia Girl, I’ve begun to question this fascination with underaged criminal girls and their older law enforcement love interests. I can’t decide if this is a trend I’ve never picked up on or it’s simply a variation of the tried and true enemies to lovers trope. Most of the book, I couldn’t even figure out if I was supposed to believe in a relationship between Kit and Michael. I wasn’t sure if Kit was actually interested in him or just playing with him because he was the investigator in charge of her case.

Dear Killer could have been a very compelling read. I’m a big fan of female protagonists most readers consider unlikeable. But the book’s was all over the place and the plot’s multiple implausibilities just made it hard to take what was happening seriously. I can suspend my disbelief for one or two things but I have my limits and I’m sure other readers too. No investigator worth his salt is going to consult a seventeen-year-old girl on the most notorious case in London, let alone let her prance onto a crime scene. D

My regards,

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REVIEW:  Impostor by Susanne Winnacker

REVIEW: Impostor by Susanne Winnacker


Jia’s note: I’m reviewing the UK edition. The US edition was published in 2013. I don’t think there are any differences between the two editions other than publisher but if there are, please let us know in the comments!

Dear Ms. Winnacker,

The more YA novels I read, the more I realize my tastes have shifted from paranormals to science fiction. This isn’t a bad thing but it’s good to know. When I read the description of your novel on NetGalley, it reminded me of X-Men (in a good way). That was enough to catch my interest. I have a soft spot for X-Men.

Tessa is a Variant, a person with unusual abilities. Her talent is the ability to absorb the DNA of anyone she touches and assume their appearance. She currently trains with the FEA (Forces with Extraordinary Abilities), a secret branch of the FBI. As you can imagine, Tessa’s ability would be coveted by any number of organizations, both legit and criminal.

Finally, after all her training, Tessa is given her first official mission. A string of unsolved murders has struck a small town and she’s sent to find the killer. The latest victim is currently in the hospital, barely kept alive on life support. When the girl, Madison, eventually dies, Tessa is to assume her identity.

She does so successfully but complications arise as Tessa slips easily into Madison’s life. First, she soon falls in love with Madison’s family. And secondly, Madison had some secrets of her own.

This was a fun, fast read. It’s in no way original but sometimes you need the light, entertaining reads. I found my initial impression of the X-Men feel spot-on. In fact, the beginning reminded me of the old X-Men: Evolution cartoon. Depending on your feelings about X-Men, this will give readers an idea of whether they’d be interested in this book.

I thought Tessa falling in love with Madison’s home life was completely believable. Her biological father walked out when she was a baby and her mother absolutely hated Tessa’s abilities. Seriously, from what it sounds like, Tessa’s mother was abusive. It’s no surprise that Tessa developed a bit of a complex about her status as a Variant. It’s an awesome ability but if your own mother calls you a freak and monster, well, that leaves a mark on a child. This is one case where I can understand the protagonist’s wish to be a normal girl.

I’m torn about the romantic subplot. Tessa’s love interest is Alec, another member of the FEA. (His ability is super strength.) He was her very first friend at the institute and that relationship has sustained her throughout training. But her feelings for him run deeper than the platonic. Normally, I’m all for the friends to lovers trope. It’s one of my favorites.

But Alec has a girlfriend. I generally don’t like cheating storylines, main or supporting, but I especially dislike it when it pits girls against each other. Alec’s girlfriend is beautiful, elite and, of course, a bitch. It’s like a Taylor Swift song, which is not something a story needs to aspire to, as far as I’m concerned. Even without that aspect, though, I just didn’t understand why Alec was dating Kate in the first place. Half the time he doesn’t even seem to like her and prefers to spend time with Tessa instead. I needed something to understand what Alec saw in Kate. Even if it were, “Kate is hot,” that would have been an acceptable reason.

One character I did like a lot was Devon, Madison’s twin. There were moments where I wasn’t entirely sure if the narrative was setting him up as another love interest for Tessa in future books. I don’t have an opinion about this development either way, but there were scenes that made me wonder. He is the only character who notices that “Madison” isn’t acting like herself and suspects something is off. At times I wish more had been done with this.

While not the most original story, I thought Imposter was an enjoyable book. There were a couple dropped, unresolved plotlines (like the bit about Madison and the teacher) but overall, the novel worked well. I can tell it’s part of a series but it works well as a standalone. I think fans of X-Men will like this one. B-

My regards,

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