Thanks to Book of the Month, I’ve had the pleasure of reading several thrilling new mysteries, many of which I have immediately added to my favorites list… alas, the same cannot be said of my September pick, CROSS HER HEART by Sarah Pinborough. This one ultimately fell flat for me despite its promising start. If I were asked to describe it in two words, I would most likely respond: “hot mess.” I kid you not, once the “big twist” is revealed at about the halfway mark, it started to feel like I was reading an entirely different book… and not in a good way (“good way” example: I LET YOU GO by Clare Mackintosh). There are so many different plot lines that I feel do not tie-in well with the first half of the book, or that are left unresolved or don’t entirely make sense. Now to be fair, this feeling could have been exacerbated by the fact that I read it over a prolonged period of time, but I CROSS [MY] HEART that I don’t think that’s the case. It’s honestly a shame because there are plot points in it that I was 100% here for, but in what I would assume was an effort to continually shock the reader, the twists just become more and more unbelievable.   Plot Summary:    Lisa lives a very quiet life. A single mother nearing forty, she values her privacy and devotes herself to raising her sixteen-year-old daughter, Ava. Wary of men, Lisa doesn’t speak of her past or Ava’s absent father. Her best friend and coworker, Marilyn, wishes she would open up more and maybe finally go on a date—especially with the sexy new client who’s obviously keen—but maybe Marilyn shouldn’t be handing out dating advice given her own problems.    Ava, meanwhile, is getting tired of her overprotective mother. She wants to live like a normal teenager—chill with friends, go to swim practice, study for exams, have a boyfriend. Her mom would freak if she knew that Ava’s already got someone special, someone exciting and mysterious, who makes her feel sophisticated—and wanted.    Lisa has spent a long time looking over her shoulder, but lately she’s been especially uneasy. Just when she starts to let her guard down, small things from the past begin to intrude upon her carefully constructed life, feeding her anxiety. As her world begins to unravel, Lisa knows that the only way she can protect herself and her daughter is to face her fears. Yet courage won’t be enough. She’ll need help from the only person she can trust—Marilyn. Between them they have to save Ava, and to do that, they have to be honest with each other. Truly honest. Marilyn did promise she’d do anything to help.    But a long time ago, Lisa made a promise too. Then she broke her word. And that betrayal hasn’t been forgotten—or forgiven. Now someone is going to make her pay for her sin.   I had pretty high hopes when I began CROSS HER HEART. The first chapter starts with a bang, and despite it ending with a whimper (imo), it does manage to keep up a fairly suspenseful pace throughout the entirety the book. The problem is that each big twist raised the question of “what?”… and not in the WHAT! mind blown type of way, but more in a huh? that doesn’t seem realistic. To me, a truly good twist depends on the breadcrumb trail the author leaves leading up to it… though you might not see it coming before the mic drop moment, in hindsight you should be able to make sense of it and experience an “aha” moment. Furthermore, it can’t be too far fetched or else it starts to feel merely gratuitous… good plotting is so much more important to me than “shock value.”  Though I am normally a fan of the red herring, the biggest one of this book honestly didn’t work for me and ended up just being confusing and frustrating… the plot line for it is all over the place and poorly resolved… it also ultimately tries to create sympathy for a character that is very undeserving of it, which doesn’t sit well with me (wish I could tell you why but that’d be too big of a spoiler).  As I previously mentioned, the twists become more and more unbelievable, but the final reveal is the most unrealistic of all. It is probably too harsh of a word, but it truly is almost laughable. Upon reading that page, I found myself channeling Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura, muttering aloud “alrightyyyy then.” Though the many twists are definitely dark and shocking (which I would normally like) most defy human logic, and that just doesn’t do it for me.  Alright, now that I’ve rambled about the main reason(s) I did not vibe with this book, I think it’s only fair that I share a few things that I did like about it:  1) Hidden underneath all the gratuitous twists, there is a core plot line that is very shocking / intriguing / exceedingly dark… it managed to keep me invested in the book and is the reason I’m even giving it 2.5 stars. It has to do with the halfway mark twist I mentioned, and though the lack of a breadcrumb trail in the first half makes the reveal itself fall a bit flat, the plot line is unique and unexpected… It’s a shame because I think if it was fleshed out a little differently it could have made for an excellent mystery thriller.  2) There is one big twist near the end that I thought was very well done… it not only evokes an incredible amount of sympathy for an important character, but it also completely changes your perspective on them. (Additionally, there is a small tie-in “twist” that comes before it that made me cry).  3) The shifts in POVs and time. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of four of the central characters. It also jumps around in time, as Lisa’s past is revealed in order to “make sense” of what is happening in the present. I am a bit of a sucker for this method of storytelling.  4) It did have some feminist appeal. I appreciate the focus on strong female characters (Lisa, Marilyn, and Ava specifically) and how Pinsborough exemplifies that female strength can be shown in more than one way.   Bottomline:  CROSS HER HEART isn’t a book I will personally be highly recommending to anyone, but I didn’t hate it. It was entertaining enough to hold my attention all the way through, and it had some serious potential. If you don’t mind far-fetched twists I’d say it’s still worth a read… who knows, you might end up appreciating it more than I did.
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