Such A Pretty Smile by Kristi Demeester #bookreview #thriller #psychological suspense

A biting novel from an electrifying new voice, Such a Pretty Smile is a heart-stopping tour-de-force about powerful women, angry men, and all the ways in which girls fight against the forces that try to silence them.

There’s something out there that’s killing. Known only as The Cur, he leaves no traces, save for the torn bodies of girls, on the verge of becoming women, who are known as trouble-makers; those who refuse to conform, to know their place. Girls who don’t know when to shut up.

2019: Thirteen-year-old Lila Sawyer has secrets she can’t share with anyone. Not the school psychologist she’s seeing. Not her father, who has a new wife, and a new baby. And not her mother—the infamous Caroline Sawyer, a unique artist whose eerie sculptures, made from bent twigs and crimped leaves, have made her a local celebrity. But soon Lila feels haunted from within, terrorized by a delicious evil that shows her how to find her voice—until she is punished for using it.

2004: Caroline Sawyer hears dogs everywhere. Snarling, barking, teeth snapping that no one else seems to notice. At first, she blames the phantom sounds on her insomnia and her acute stress in caring for her ailing father. But then the delusions begin to take shape—both in her waking hours, and in the violent, visceral sculptures she creates while in a trance-like state. Her fiancé is convinced she needs help. Her new psychiatrist waves her “problem” away with pills. But Caroline’s past is a dark cellar, filled with repressed memories and a lurking horror that the men around her can’t understand.

As past demons become a present threat, both Caroline and Lila must chase the source of this unrelenting, oppressive power to its malignant core. Brilliantly paced, unsettling to the bone, and unapologetically fierce, Such a Pretty Smile is a powerful allegory for what it can mean to be a woman, and an untamed rallying cry for anyone ever told to sit down, shut up, and smile pretty. 

The publisher sent me the NetGalley widget for this novel, and I was on the fence about downloading it, but took the plunge. I’m still not quite sure how I feel after reading it.

I like the theme of female empowerment and stopping men who try to silence women or dismiss them as hysterical when they try to express their feelings. But this is a very bizarre, sometimes confusing, and occasionally disturbing story. At times I honestly didn’t know what was happening – but I plowed through this book in a couple days.

Fifteen years apart, young teen girls are brutally killed in similar ways. It happened when Caroline was in her twenties and has started again. She’s understandably worried about her thirteen-year-old daughter, Lila. When Lila begins acting strangely, memories Caroline hoped to keep buried are resurrected, and her backstory and their similar experiences are revealed in alternating POV and timeline chapters. From her dying father, Caroline learns that as a very young girl she went missing for several days, but has no memory of what happened to her during that time. By the end of the novel, I still didn’t have a firm grasp of what she experienced during that disappearance either.

This is a bloody, gory tale, and those scenes are well-written and sure to delight horror fans, but for me personally, too many elements are left undefined, and I needed more of a concrete explanation for what happens to Caroline and Lila. Were their experiences real? Just delusions? I’m not certain. Reviews are split, so if you’re a reader who enjoys ambiguous storylines this may be for you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

35 thoughts on “Such A Pretty Smile by Kristi Demeester #bookreview #thriller #psychological suspense

  1. You’re braver than I am. As soon as I saw “bloody, gory tale” I knew it wasn’t for me. The older I get, the more squeamish I get about that kind of writing.
    Sounds unique and unsettling. Even with some things remaining unclear I might have been tempted by this if not for the gore.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Such a Pretty Smile sounds like such a hard book to read for many reasons. I will say this though – the cover does a good job of reflecting the contents. Just looking at it, immediately brought to mind bloody, gory, and disturbing. Excellent review,Teri!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I enjoyed this book, and the ambiguity didn’t bother me at all. I figure if girls and young women are channeled into thinking/behaving certain ways when they want to think and act differently, then their thoughts are askew (one might even say ambiguous), so the story matches their thought patterns. Good review, Teri!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Priscilla! That’s a good way to look at it, and it sheds some light on the ending. I loved the theme of female empowerment and bringing to the forefront how women’s feelings and actions are dismissed as hysterics sometimes. It’s a powerful message.

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  4. I agree with Mae above that the ‘bloody, gory tale’ is where I usually have to say no thanks. I find the violence and descriptions to be so offensive. I guess too hard core horror for me. I do prefer “quiet horror” and the mysterious. With films too, sometimes I have to walk out of the room because the scenes are so disturbing. Not sure I even understand why audiences enjoy watching or reading violent scenes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think I’d enjoy hardcore horror books, but I know some readers do. This one had its moments, but nothing just for the sake of shock value. Quiet horror and the mysterious are also favorite genres. But with both movies and books, my hard line is with children or animals – I can’t handle either of those.

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  5. I enjoyed reading your reviews even though blood and gore are not my choices of reading, Teri. Regardless of the genre, the ambiguity of the plot, especially the ending always leaves me a sense of void. I like to have closure, I know it may not happen in real life. Excellent review!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks, Miriam! I don’t always need the ending to be in a neatly wrapped box, but I would have liked a little more definition with this one. Priscilla’s take on it in her comment above does shed light on what the author might have been going for.

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  7. Sophie @BewareOfTheReader

    I am not an horror fan (as you well know by now :-)) and wouldn’t have loved it! Also that seems a miss for you too! I hope your next one will be better Teri!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s one I debated about reading, but I’m still glad I did. I liked the alternating timelines and POVs. They gradually revealed what was going on and the similarities in what mother and daughter dealth with.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. suerovens

    Blood and gore works IF (and that’s a big if for me), there’s a point to it. If the story demands it, okay, but otherwise, why? Was it supposed to be hardcore/slasher/extreme horror? That would work if that was the case. Otherwise, eh, it doesn’t sound like it’s for me. (and I dig suspense/thriller/horror generally) Plus, too much ambiguity puts me off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It doesn’t really fall into those categories IMO, but certain scenes are pretty graphic – but it goes along with the story and is potentially a metaphor for something else. I’m not a fan if it’s tossed in for no reason, either, Sue.

      Liked by 1 person

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