It is my turn on this fabulous #WriteReads Ultimate Blog Tour for a young adult thriller that really does keep you on the edge of your seat! Lies Like Wildfire really intrigued me when I first received the invite, but it packed even more of a punch than I expected, and so that makes it even more exciting for me to be sharing my review.
Thank you very much to Dave, the man behind the gleaming red badge, for organising the tour, and also to the author and publisher for allowing me to obtain a free physical copy. And as always, thank you to Noly for using her considerable creative talents to design another excellent banner – one of her best in fact.
Published: 7th September 2021
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Trigger warnings: Animal death, sexual content, drugs, references to alcoholism
In Gap Mountain, California, everyone knows about fire season. And no one is more vigilant than 18-year-old Hannah Warner, the sheriff’s daughter and aspiring FBI agent. That is until this summer. When Hannah and her best friends accidentally spark an enormous and deadly wildfire, their instinct is to lie to the police and the fire investigators.
But as the blaze roars through their rural town and towards Yosemite National Park, Hannah’s friends begin to crack and she finds herself going to extreme lengths to protect their secret. Because sometimes good people do bad things. And if there’s one thing people hate, it’s liars.
In exactly the manner of the wildfires it describes, this book begins like a newly ignited flame that simmers aggressively before exploding into something even more sinister. The pace is fast and the twists are plentiful throughout a plot that grows increasingly addictive and serves up a multitude of possibilities, keeping you on tenterhooks until the truth is finally revealed from beneath the ashes of all the lies.
It is slightly unusual in the sense that the central mystery is not established until the halfway point, but everything that happens before that still manages to be very interesting. As young adult thrillers go, it has almost everything you want, while also containing a psychological element that would appeal to many older readers. Indeed, the only thing seriously missing here is likeable characters.
Hannah is one of a group of teenagers known as the ‘monsters’, who have been friends since a very young age. The daughter of the local sheriff, she is spending a summer afternoon together with Mo, Luke, Violet, and Nathaniel Drummer in the woods at Gap Mountain, when Luke begins to smoke cannabis from a pipe. She tries to stop him, but in the resulting scuffle some nearby plants are set alight.
The flames spread quickly through Gap Mountain, with many of its denizens soon being displaced and the death toll rising into double figures. Meanwhile, the investigating team – led by Hannah’s father – are trying to determine the cause of the fire and eventually conclude that it was arson, with the evidence suggesting that one or more of the ‘monsters’ might have been responsible.
Fully aware of the fact that being convicted of arson would lead to a lengthy prison sentence regardless of whether the wildfire was started by accident, Hannah provides a false alibi and urges her friends to deny any involvement or any knowledge of what happened. They all agree, but as the net closes in, one of them decides that they cannot hide the truth any longer.
The book wastes no time at all in getting things moving with the outbreak of the fire, and it does a good job of developing the characters at the same time. As the situation worsens and suspicion falls squarely on the ‘monsters’, it is intriguing to wonder how long they can evade the law, but then a dramatic turn of events occurs which renders everything that happened before a mere prelude to what comes next.
That is where the real questions start to arise and when the true extent of the mystery is presented, it drops like an absolute bombshell and lifts the story to tantalising new heights. The execution here is spot on, as it keeps the reader in the dark with the use of various clever techniques, with doubts cast on the motives of several characters and only a handful of ambiguous clues to go on.
Everything is written in the first person, from the perspective of Hannah. Over the course of the book we see several different sides to her personality and later on she becomes a more unreliable narrator, which adds a further layer to proceedings. Her knowledge of the law and her relationship to her father also sets her apart.
After a fairly promising start, she turns into a very difficult character to like, coming across as abrasive and self-centred. Insecurities come to prominence during a romance sub-plot, but beyond that she is chiefly a pragmatist who is both complex and calculating. Some of these traits were a bit annoying, but equally her voice was always fascinating to read.
The rest of the ‘monsters’ are hardly people I would like to hang around with either. Mo is at least somewhat reasonable, but Luke is little more than a thug, such are his anger issues. And then we have the almost insufferable Drummer, whose charms are apparently irresistible – particularly for Hannah – despite his frequent suggestive remarks and the fact he only seems to possess about half a brain cell.
One of the themes explored centres around the characters and how their lies about the fire affects their friendship. They become more divided as the book progresses, while Hannah’s feelings for Drummer also puts a strain on things, leading to some unsettling encounters. The author finds just the right balance here, making it an important part of the plot without being too intrusive.
Gap Mountain is a wonderfully realised setting, and the best compliment that can be paid is that the story really feels as though it belongs there as opposed to anywhere else. It is painted as a nice rural place to spend a holiday, but the spread of wildfire, the depth of the lake, and the ongoing threat of being attacked by a bear make it feel somewhat less inviting.
Although the writing style is darker than I would prefer, it is always concise, and there is no doubt that it makes you want to carry on reading to find out what happens next. The ending is also well thought out, as the resolution to the mystery is not entirely unexpected yet alongside that there are other things left open to interpretation.
Overall, it is a thrilling read which takes suspense levels to enviable extremes and provides an utterly absorbing mystery. It was something of a disappointment to find the characters so unlikable but then again, they are developed well and Hannah’s point of view was never dull. It is the kind of story that you do not forget in a hurry.
Having completed a degree in English Literature at the University of California, Jennifer Lynn Alvarez began her career as an author by writing middle grade fiction, releasing two series of books entitled The Guardian Herd and Riders Of The Realm, both in the fantasy genre. Lies Like Wildfire is her first novel for young adults, and her first thriller.
A champion of libraries, she lives in Northern California with her family at a ranch which by all accounts, contains a lot of horses and other pets.
This book definitely exceeded my expectations. The unlikable characters were a slight issue, but otherwise it was a fantastic YA thriller.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
*I received a free advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Be sure to check out the other posts on the blog tour!
Happy reading 🙂