Snapshot Review: Jackal by Erin E. Adams (ARC Review)

Title: Jackal
Author: Erin E. Adams
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Bantam
Release Date: October 4th 2022

TW: racism, fatphobia, alcoholism, body horror, death of a child, domestic violence, brief mention of sexual assault

**Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review.**

      “A young Black girl goes missing in the woods outside her white Rust Belt town. But she’s not the first—and she may not be the last. . . .
      It’s watching.
      Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward and passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the bride’s daughter, Caroline, goes missing—and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood.
      It’s taking.
      As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: a summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in school, walked into the woods with a mysterious man and was later found with her chest cavity ripped open and her heart missing. Liz shudders at the thought that it could have been her, and now, with Caroline missing, it can’t be a coincidence. As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls.
      It’s your turn.       With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.”

  • The setting – Erin Adams’s Jackal takes place in Johnstown. It’s a small tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone. It’s safe, where residents don’t feel the need to lock their doors and children play outside unattended. It’s deceptively picturesque because there are also dark corners to this place. The woods are home to whispers and monsters; to hidden truths and mysterious disappearances.
  • The atmosphere – Adams captures how sniffling this small town ends up being for people like Liz. Her hometown, while comforting to others, represents to her a place with bad memories. It’s a place where she didn’t fit in, a place that underneath its hospitality only ever seemed to tolerate her and her mother. Every moment she spends back in Johnstown feels like she is slowly falling down a rabbit hole.
  • The tension – I loved how well tension is built in this novel. When Liz first arrives home, there is an unspoken tension between her and her mother. There’s a lot of passive aggressiveness between the two. Liz’s mom can be harsh and Liz can’t quite get herself to be honest with her. When Liz’s goddaughter, Caroline, goes missing, there is an inherent ramping up of tension every day she isn’t found. Though it takes time to manifest, there are also problems between Liz and her best friend Mel, Caroline’s mother. This isn’t just about the circumstances surrounding Caroline’s disappearance, but years of unresolved issues. Mel represents so many white women who are unable to examine the racism in their own family even when it puts her husband, her best friend, and her daughter, all of whom are Black, in danger.
  • You can’t outrun your past – One of the main themes in Jackal is the protagonist’s inability to outrun her past. She got as far away as she could from Johnstown, but it always seemed to have this pull on her. She’s spent so many years trying to forget the night her classmate Keisha disappeared, but in the end must confront these memories that she’s kept hidden from herself. She often does not want to self-reflect because acknowledging the monster in the room makes it so much more real.
  • History and urban legend meet – I really loved how Adams intertwines history and legend in her debut. A monster in the woods isn’t necessarily a unique premise but once Liz begins to research other disappearances and town history, everything begins to fall into place and begins to make a disturbing kind of sense. Adams is very deliberate with how she utilizes flashbacks as well, missing girls become more than names and the people they left behind.
  • Examination of racism in small towns – Caroline’s disappearance and Liz’s discovery of the other Black girls who have gone missing has her reflecting on her childhood in this very white and suburban part of town. As one of the only Black kids at her school, Liz never felt like she belonged. She was never fully embraced even by her best friend’s family, but this friendship and her mother’s class status shielded her from what was truly happening to the Black community in her town. Jackal examines Johnstown’s history of segregation and discrimination; often juxtaposing how and why its white community was allowed to flourish while its Black community was not.
  • Nothing to note.

Erin E. Adams’s Jackal is a riveting horror novel from start to finish about how the monsters that lurk in the dark are not as dangerous as the ones that move about in the light.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev

Title: Recipe for Persuasion
Author: Sonali Dev
Series: The Rajes, #2
Pages: 464
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date: May 26th 2020

TW: suicide, death of parents, PTSD, panic attacks, alcoholism, abuse, marital rape resulting in pregnancy (a character learns this is how they were conceived)

      “From the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors comes another , clever, deeply layered, and heartwarming romantic comedy that follows in the Jane Austen tradition—this time, with a twist on Persuasion.
      Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen?
      Rico Silva, that’s what.
      Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster.
      FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn’t too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he’s definitely over her.
      But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico. Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion…?
      In Recipe for Persuasion, Sonali Dev once again takes readers on an unforgettable adventure in this fresh, fun, and enchanting romantic comedy.”

Recipe for Persuasion, Sonali Dev’s second novel in The Rajes series, inspired by Austen’s Persuasion, finds a balance between heavy topics and a touching second-chance romance. Ashna Rajes’s entire life revolves around her late father’s restaurant, Curried Dreams. With its future in the balance, Ashna agrees to take part in a new show, “Cooking with the Stars”, which pairs chefs with celebrities. What she doesn’t anticipate is being paired with Rico Silva, international soccer star and the first boy Ashna ever loved. Their meeting sets off a series of events that forces Ashna to confront her relationship with each of her parents, the choices she’s made, and the things she’s given up in order to satisfy the ghosts of her past.

Ashna carries a lot of guilt stemming from her parents’ unhappy marriage and her father’s suicide. She’s built walls around herself to protect herself from the hurt, but this also keeps her from truly experiencing happiness. Ashna has spent years bottling her emotions and though she freely shows the people she loves kindheartedness, she keeps the darker parts of herself hidden. She has sacrificed her present and her future in order to make amends, but can never really do so when the one she is trying to make it up to has already passed. The one and only time she truly let herself be selfish was with Rico. They learned to be vulnerable with one another and found solace in each other, but after Ashna’s father discovered their relationship, everything fell apart.

All of Rico’s soccer dreams have come true, but an injury has forced him into an early retirement. A friend’s impending nuptials has him reflecting on how he’s been approaching romantic relationships. He’s been unable to fully commit and this realization brings him back to Ashna. He seeks closure, but finds this new Ashna to be far different than the one he left behind. The more time he spends with her, the more the memories and feelings from the past begin to resurface. And suddenly, he finds himself desperate for Ashna to let him in again. Ashna and Rico’s reunion is tension-filled. They are both angry at how things ended and every interaction is weighed down with unsaid things. Dev writes angst so well, the amount of tortured longing is just enough to make the reader beg to see these two make their way back to each other, but not too much where it begins to get too frustrating.

Recipe for Persuasion deals with a lot of trauma (see trigger warnings). These characters have not had easy lives and so much of who they’ve become is the result of tragedy and abuse. Navigating all kinds of different relationships can be extremely difficult when so many past experiences have changed the way they emotionally engage with others. One pleasant surprise though is that the novel’s true love story is actually centered around Ashna and her mother, Shobi. These two have long been alienated from one another. Shobi’s choice to leave her daughter and pursue her passion might have been the only way for her to survive her marriage, but it left Ashna with a controlling parent who never could meet her needs. There is a lot of resentment, regret, and secrets between Ashna and her mother. They have to learn to overcome these things and allow the other to truly see them before their relationship can be mended. I feel like I should address that this isn’t a light-hearted romance by any stretch of the imagination. The book deals with a lot of trauma and while I do think it handles these well, I wish I had known how heavy it was going to be going in.

Sonali Dev’s delivers one of the most emotionally complex books I’ve ever read with Recipe for Persuasion, the second novel in The Rajes series. If you enjoy second-chance romance and complicated mother-daughter relationships, Recipe for Persuasion is a must.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★