REVIEW – Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen

{Available March 3, 2020} Please See Us is an absolutely breathtaking debut novel. More of a mystery than a thriller, we follow two main characters in Atlantic City – a teenage psychic struggling to make ends meet and a young woman who has moved back home following a traumatic personal event.

Mullen absolutely NAILS the atmosphere here. I could feel the summer heat and humidity. I could see the rundown and condemned parts of the city – everything felt dull and gray and gritty. The seedy, faded casinos and motels just add to the overall icky and hopeless feeling of this book, which is a testament to the quality of the writing. There is some REALLY good writing here.

I love how Mullen examines the different types of women who end up as victims throughout the story. They come from different backgrounds. They have different thoughts and feelings. Each has a personal journey that led them to Atlantic City and, ultimately, to their deaths. The chapters that focus on the “Janes” are some of the best, and some of the hardest to read. After one towards the end, I found myself needing to pause for a moment before diving back in to the rest of the story.

There are some DARK themes explored here (I mean, besides the obvious…) but every piece feels absolutely necessary to the story.

Thank you Gallery Books for sending me this ARC!

REVIEW – Westering Women by Sandra Dallas

“Being part of our group of women has been the greatest adventure of my life. …I have been part of a remarkable journey with you and the others. We are sisters. We are a band of sisters.”

Westering Women is the story of 44 women (and two ministers) making the journey west on the Overland Trail from Chicago to California. The intent is that the women will find husbands once they reach their destination, but many of the travelers have dark secrets that threaten their lives (and, ultimately, the lives of those traveling with them).

“I do not know the meaning of death, but there is meaning to life.”

The good? The eventual bond between these women is great. They stand up for each other, they protect each other, they keep each other’s secrets. The women are tough and resilient, despite the conditions they face on the trail, including disease, death, violence, rough terrain and harsh weather. Mary, especially, is an incredible character, and I would love to read a book focusing on women like her during that time. She quickly takes on a leadership role for a multitude of reasons, and she’s the shining star in this book despite not being the main character.

The not so good? I found the dialogue to be a bit stilted at times, but this could be a symptom of the time period in which it’s set (I haven’t read many books set in the 1800s so this might be my issue and not the book’s). I also found it to be inconsistent in its approach to hardships – it seemed like some of the issues and events were very brutal and upsetting for the overall tone of the book, but other issues were just kind of brushed aside too easily.

And the problematic? I felt that the story glossed over the role of Native Americans during this time period, and applied a harmful, racist lens overall. Although those traveling to California were attacked by Native Americans on the trail, it seemed like the book did little to dispel the “savage, violent, greedy” stereotype that had incredibly harmful repercussions, the effects of which are still evident today.

I do think this book will go over well with a lot of people – it has enough “grit” that it’s interesting but is also precious and fluffy enough that many readers will still find it palatable.

Content warning: assault, attempted rape/rape (at times involving children), death of children.

Thank you Bibliofinder and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a copy of this book.