Angels Burning by Tawni O’Dell

Title: Angels Burning
Author: Tawni O’Dell
Genre: Thriller / mystery

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Goodreads | Powell’s

This is the first NetGalley book I’ve read, and all things considered I think it was a good experience and the book was a fun read.

I selected it because it said it was a “literary thriller.” When I see those two words together, I think Tana French, Gone Girl, and even The Secret History. It is one of my favorite genres. Compared to that, this book is just a standard thriller. The writing seemed like genre writing—enough to move the plot along and convey everything it needed to, but nothing that really made it shine or stand out, no real polish. More than that, the characters weren’t really developed enough to move the book into the “literary” category. There were quite a few paragraphs of the narrator describing her clothing—I’m wearing my blue shirt with my taupe pumps, the ones I got on sale at TJ Maxx—which made it seem less “literary.”

But, you know, things don’t have to be literary to be worthwhile. Having just finished finals week, a book that was easy to get into and unchallenging to read was a positive thing. The story was good and kept me thinking about it when I wasn’t reading. It grabbed my attention. I liked the dual story of the homicide and the narrator’s past. The Truly family was truly (ha) interesting, especially the matriarch. I would have loved to see more development on that front, as I think delving into the psychological aspects there would have been great.

In nitpickier territory, I did find the book a bit disappointing in one regard, and that was how the book seemed to be trying to be explicitly feminist and yet still contained body shaming and unintentional misogyny. I was really excited to be reading about a woman police chief in a small town who was aware of the sexism directed at her and I appreciated the way gender was dealt with explicitly. But as time went on it seemed that that aspect was limited. Teenage girls are the most cruel people ever, the narrator laments. I know what she’s getting at, having dealt with bullying by adolescent girls. It’s not pleasant. At the same time it makes me uncomfortable when people (because this is a widespread meme and Ms O’Dell is far from the only person buying into it) say that teen girls are “the worst.” They’re not. As far as cruelty goes, how about conquistadors, Hiroshima, school shootings…were teen girls involved in those things? No? Then I submit that they are not the cruelest people ever. It’s a minor complaint, but that sort of tone is prevalent throughout. The narrator consistently fat shames and it seemed to me like there was a lot of looking down on people, and not in a “you’re an abuser and need to be held accountable” sort of way. It was worse to me to have that “feminist” part of my brain appealed to and then to have body shaming and stuff thrown in. If that tone had been absent this book would easily have earned a higher rating. However, to its credit, there are some great lines, like how when viewing the female victim, the men are thinking of their sisters or daughters, and the female narrator is the only one who pictures herself. I wish it had been that insightful for the whole book. For people who don’t notice that stuff as much as I do, I think the book would be thoroughly enjoyable.

Despite the fact that I seemed to give more airtime here to “negative” things than positive ones, overall I would say I liked the book. I can see myself recommending it to people, and based on this book, I would read another by Tawni O’Dell.

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