Title: Gilt Hollow
Authors: Lorie Langdon
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Thriller, Mystery
Date of Publication: 27th September, 2016
Page Count: 304 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
Willow Lamott’s best friend is a murderer, and no one in the small town of Gilt Hollow will let her forget it. For four long years, she’s tried to fade into the background—but none of that matters when Ashton Keller comes striding into school, fresh out of juvie and fueled by revenge. The moment their eyes meet, Willow no longer feels invisible. Drawn to the vulnerability behind Ashton’s mask of rage, she sinks deeper into his sinister world and begins to question whether he’s a villain, a savior, or both.
Ashton thought he wanted vengeance, until Willow reminded him what he’d been missing. Now he longs to clear his name and become the person she sees in him. But the closer they get to uncovering the truth, the darker the secrets become, and Ashton fears his return to Gilt Hollow will destroy everyone he loves, especially the girl he left behind.
First of all, how gorgeous is that cover? It looks so haunting and mysterious! I was hoping that was a visual shorthand for the book, because that synopsis makes it sound like the plot revolves around Ashton’s sinister reputation and whether it’s deserved or not, as well as finding the real killer at the center of the murder mystery. But because this is YA, the plot is actually more about the relationship between Willow and Ashton. I was prepared for that possibility, so I wasn’t too disappointed, however, those who are drawn in by the promise of a mystery thriller might want to adjust their expectations accordingly.
I did enjoy the story because the main characters were quite well-drawn. I found Willow refreshingly down-to-earth in the way she avoided social politics and was content simply to hang out with her best friend rather than vie to ascend the hierarchy. There’s nothing wrong with those stories, of course, but they’re all too common, and it’s a nice change for me to read about a teenager who DOESN’T tangle with the Queen Bee or try to become Miss Popular – I relate a lot to Willow in that regard, because I never cared about popularity contests in high school, I was content being a geeky outsider with my fellow nerds. 😉 Although Willow does pull a bit of a Veronica Mars act by infiltrating the social scene for investigative purposes, which was an interesting switch-up for this genre that I liked!
Instead of another boring love triangle (which always make me want to tear my hair out), the dilemma was Willow deceiving a boy at her school in order to further her mission to clear Ashton’s name and the feelings of guilt over leading on the unfortunate target. That was a new and interesting twist! If a character has two people interested in them and they can’t choose between the two and string them along, I find that pretty selfish and exasperating, but Willow’s actions were very understandable and she was doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, so I could root for her, even as I judged her choices.
Willow is a reserved character who strikes the right balance between realistically mature and occasionally out of her depth. For instance, in the course of her investigation, she’s sometimes a bit too trusting even though she and Ashton suspect practically EVERYONE in town of being involved, if not in the actual murder, then covering it up and framing Ashton. But if I were in her shoes, I’d be too embarrassed to freak out and cause a scene if I didn’t have any evidence of wrongdoing! Yes, I’d be making headlines the next day with my body being found in a ditch all because I can’t stand confrontation, lol.
And Willow had extra motivation to be reckless, since it was all in aid of freeing Ashton from the weight of his criminal past and the notorious reputation he didn’t deserve. Basically, in my eyes, Willow isn’t a ‘Too-Stupid-To-Live’ heroine; while she makes a few impulsive decisions, I can understand where she’s coming from and it’s grounded in her character and makes sense for her to pursue that course of action. It’s not like when you curse at the screen as a character in a horror movie runs upstairs instead of out the front door! 😉
Speaking of Ashton, he makes me understand where the idea of ‘book boyfriends’ comes from. He might be a little more wish fulfillment than reality, since I don’t think there’s enough attention paid to exactly how traumatic his past was and I would imagine he’d have a LOT of issues to work through, what with being disowned by his family and shunned by everyone in town…and that’s before you even think about what years of imprisonment would do to his psyche! I’m no psychologist, but Ashton is a bit too well-adjusted, considering all those factors.
However, going with what’s on the page and not my armchair diagnosis, Ashton is a fantastic lead. He is a little prickly and overbearing at times, sometimes too easy to provoke into confrontation instead of simply walking away, but he demonstrates such strength of character and loyalty and protectiveness, it’s wonderfully heartwarming! A little too good to be true, but his interactions with Willow had me melting, the intensity of the chemistry between them was amazing!
I really appreciate that this wasn’t the typical ‘insta-luv’ often found in this genre, as they had an established friendship from their childhood years, before everything became complicated, as tends to happen when one person gets locked away for murder! The tension and sparks between them as they tried to renegotiate their friendship once all the misunderstandings were cleared up was utterly engrossing and I was rooting for these two to give in to their mutual attraction and end up together!
I liked Lorie Langdon’s writing style – it was brisk and breezy, not clogged up with tedious prose, and easy to read. I was able to lose myself in the story very quickly! I’d recommend this to people after a light fluffy read, it’s a nice way to spend a quiet afternoon or lazy weekend.
Aside from the relationship drama, which was at the forefront of this novel, the mystery angle was satisfactory. There were a couple cliches and predictable twists, but I found the increasing stakes and danger towards the second half to be more and more riveting as it built up to a suspenseful and climactic finale. I couldn’t pick the killer, I went down the rabbit hole with Ashton and Willow, eyeing everyone suspiciously and thinking it could be anyone!
The flaws for me would be that the book doesn’t live up to the synopsis, which makes the mystery and thriller aspects out to play a much larger role than they do – while I enjoyed the read, I do wish it had lived up to the marketing. I think the Ashton described in the synopsis is the more realistic version of his character, someone more damaged and aggressive – I would’ve been interested in his mission of vengeance, but that hardly factored into the book at all. Willow became his main focus, and as I said, I enjoyed their relationship so that wasn’t a drawback for me, but it would’ve made his character a little more believable, because his rough edges were smoothed out very rapidly and then he fulfilled the dreamboat boyfriend role more than that of someone intent on balancing the scales for the wrongs done to him.
I also didn’t like the misunderstanding that was at the center of the conflict between Ashton and Willow at the beginning of the story. It was something so easily resolved, but they simply never talked about it until presumably it was time for their relationship to evolve and then they could jump that hurdle. That felt a little forced to me, I’m not a big fan of manufactured tension when characters simply communicating could clear it all up.
Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties approve this book!
Disclaimer: I received a digital ARC free from Zonderkidz-Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.