It has been a hot minute since I’ve picked up a crime fiction book, usually one of my go-to genres, so naturally after finishing a particularly thrilling one like THE LAST TIME I LIED by Riley Sager, I’m back on a serious crime fiction kick (thank you Book of the Month and Riley Sager). This is one of the most brilliantly plotted, entertaining, binge-worthy, “edge of your seat” twisty thrillers I’ve read all year, with a jaw-dropping reveal that will not only have you saying “MIND BLOWN,” but will also have you recommending this book to everyone you know. I tend to fancy myself a bit of a detective when I read books of this genre, but I proved to be quite an amateur one in this case, and I suspect you will be too… its ending will leave you reeling. The greatest part about it is that in high-sight you realize Sager craftily foreshadowed the epic ending the entire way through, and you experience “aha” moment after “aha” moment as all the clues in the previous chapters start to replay in your head like a video montage… all leading up to the final chapter that presents all the necessary explanations and ties together even the smallest of details, resulting in a gift (with a heart-stopping bow on top) of an ending that you didn’t know you needed.   Plot Summary:    Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. But the games ended the night Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin into the darkness. The last she--or anyone--saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.    Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings--massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. When the paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale, she implores Emma to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor. Seeing an opportunity to find out what really happened to her friends all those years ago, Emma agrees.    Familiar faces, unchanged cabins, and the same dark lake haunt Nightingale, even though the camp is opening its doors for the first time since the disappearances. Emma is even assigned to the same cabin she slept in as a teenager, but soon discovers a security camera--the only one on the property--pointed directly at its door. Then cryptic clues that Vivian left behind about the camp's twisted origins begin surfacing. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing mysterious threats in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale and what really happened to those girls, the more she realizes that closure could come at a deadly price.   The first aspect of the book that really grabbed my attention is its cinematic quality. Sager’s [brilliant] style of writing evokes your senses in a way that stimulates the experience of watching an engrossing, blockbuster film. As I was reading the first quarter of the book I remember thinking to myself: “this feels just like the beginning of a horror film -- the part that provides background, hooks your attention, even makes you laugh and feel somewhat safe before the terror begins” (usually the only parts my hands aren’t covering my eyes or ears, tbh). And just like a horror film, in those “calm before the storm” moments, I felt a sense of disquiet and foreboding as I anticipated the inevitable turn for the scary to take place. However, one of the many ways this book surprised me is that it is not of the horror, “slasher film” genre as I expected it to be (and that I’ve heard Sager’s other book THE FINAL GIRLS is)... rather it turned out to be a wickedly clever, intricately plotted psychological thriller, and I loved every minute of it.  I already mentioned the ending, but it is one hundred percent worth mentioning again: the big reveal solidified this read as one of my favorites of the year. One of the reasons it was so jaw-dropping is because of all the red herrings carefully placed throughout the story that not only kept me on my toes, but distracted me from figuring out the ending before Sager was ready for his big mic drop moment (slow clap for getting away with all those lies). I can’t even tell you how many times I thought I had guessed the ending, feeling like I should probably just quit my day job and become a detective, only to discover yet again that I had fallen for one of his red herrings. Although no “aspiring detective” likes to be duped, in this case, I am not complaining, as all the false leads made the ending ridiculously satisfying to read.  The female narrator / protagonist, Emma, is yet another reason to love this book. I found myself deeply invested in her character and her story, both the teenage and late twenties version. She possesses a delightful, dry sense of humor -- I particularly loved her interactions with the younger campers (and the campers themselves). She also has a history of being psychologically unwell, and with that comes the element of a possible “unreliable narrator,” adding to the overall mysteriousness of the novel.  Last couple thoughts, I promise (I am a notorious rambler, so I could go on all day): Sager does an excellent job achieving a balance between the blood bumping, nails bitten to the quick, thriller aspects of the novel, and the lighter “normal” moments. I thoroughly enjoyed his sense of humor, actually found myself LOLing at all the perfectly timed one liners. I loved the alternating chapters (the story is set during two different time periods, so you get to go back and forth between Emma’s past and present experiences at Camp Nightingale). And last but not least because I am a self-declared, unashamed sap of a person, I loved the glimpses of a very complicated love story.   Bottomline : get your hands on The Last Time I Lied and move it to the top of your TBR list… still plenty of time to enjoy this summer thriller (ideally on the beach) before we make the switch to cozy sweaters and hot caffeinated beverages.
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