These three Emily Carpenter are pretty good for what they are: thrillers, set in the South (Alabama and Georgia mostly), starring women with names like Althea and Shorie who end up in peril due (largely) to family secrets. Like Southern Gothic-light. What elevated these three for me (or at least Burying the Honeysuckle Girls and The Weight of Lies — Until the Day I Die is really pretty ridiculous) was the narrator. I listened to all three on Audible, and Kate Orsini imbues each novel with this Southern drawl that I just loved.
(2 stars) Until the Day I Die by Emily Carpenter
Ok, I’m starting with this one because it was my least favorite. It starts out okay, gets crazy enough to be entertaining, then ends with a big thump. It’s telling when multiple people have gone onto Goodreads to ask “Who was X?” because when the bad guy’s name is revealed, we had no recollection of his existence.
So Erin Gaines and her husband and their two best friends own a tech company that’s raking in a lot of money (it’s an app like NerdWallet that helps track your spending). And then Erin’s husband dies. Fast forward to a few months after his death: Erin’s drinking too much, working too much, and generally losing her mind. After her daughter (Shorie) goes off to college, Erin’s friends convince her to go on a retreat to kind of dry out, as well as examine her life.
Then it goes off.the.rails. While Erin is at this resort (which is not what it seems!), Shorie discovers weird stuff in the code of the app that indicates her father may not have died under the circumstances she’d be told. Meanwhile, the other owners are pushing for a sale. Erin is trapped on an island with a bunch of other people who turn out to have been sent there under similar circumstances — namely, that their lives are somehow inconveniencing a family member or friend with a lot of money and influence. By the end of it, Shorie’s trying desperately to reach her mother, who’s running for her life on some unknown island. I was with it til the end, when the “twist” turned out to be just.so.dumb. I would not waste your time with this one.
(3.5 stars) The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter
I read this one right after Until the Day I Die, and it was definitely a better read. Meg Ashley grew up rich and spoiled after her mother published her first hit horror novel decades prior. Set on an island in Georgia, the novel starred a murderous little girl named Kitten who was “loosely based” on a child Meg’s mother used to babysit. Meg’s mother (I can’t remember her name, but I think it was Frances so we’re going with that) (I might be thinking of Nine Perfect Strangers but okay) so Frances has been writing trashy horror novels for years while living the good life and mostly ignoring Meg. Meg reacted by partying and making bad choices, and now has a chance to get her revenge by writing a tell-all novel about her mother.
Under the instruction of this really sketchy editor, Meg goes back to the island in Georgia where Frances lived when she wrote the novel while working as a live-in nanny. The island’s entire identity is wrapped around Kitten — there’s tourist attractions, frequent mobs of fans and families whose lives were destroyed by the implication that the novel was somehow “based on them”. The thing is, a child really did die during that time. Meg gets involved in the locals, and tries to figure out what exactly happened all those years ago — and what her mother has been trying to cover up. It’s a little juicy, a little trashy and pretty entertaining.
(4 stars) Burying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter
This was pretty good though (if still slightly ridiculous). Althea Bell (so goddamn Southern, y’all) has always been the black sheep of her political family. For good reason though — the women in her family have a long history of going crazy and/or dropping dead at the age of 30, and as Althea gets closer and closer to that age, she’s trying harder and harder not to succumb. For years this meant abusing drugs and alcohol, but now it means getting clean and trying to find out what happened to the women in her family.
“I had the crazy thought that the words of the story, when I let them out, would cut me. But that was nonsense, wasn’t it? Speaking words didn’t hurt; it was keeping them in that did that.”
What happened to the women in her family turns out to be generation after generation of rich and powerful men doing away with the strong-willed wives and daughters that inconvenienced them. As Althea researches the lives of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother (who also provide narrative viewpoints throughout time), she also reexamines her own childhood and early adulthood — where similar rich and powerful men got her hooked on drugs, sexually abused her and shouted that she was crazy whenever they needed a scapegoat.
There’s a little bit of a spooky or supernatural element to this story, as Althea truly believes herself to be cursed and destined to die at age 30. But we find out more and more that absolutely horrible but totally real human beings are to blame, which turns out to be even scarier tbh.