Book Review

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  • Author: Catherine McKenzie
  • Genre: Mystery/Suspense
  • Publication Date: August 23, 2022
  • Publisher: Atria Books

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: blood, murder, grief, mention of death of a parent, mention of cancer, death, mention of off-page sexual assault

At thirty-nine, Nicole Mueller’s life is on the rocks. Her once brilliant law career is falling apart. She and her husband, Dan, are soon to be forced out of the apartment they love. After a warning from her firm’s senior partners, she receives an invitation from an exclusive women’s networking group, Panthera Leo. Membership is anonymous, but every member is a successful professional. It sounds like the perfect solution to help Nicole revive her career. So, despite Dan’s concerns that the group might be a cult, Nicole signs up for their retreat in Colorado.

Once there, she meets the other women who will make up her Pride. A CEO, an actress, a finance whiz, a congresswoman: Nicole can’t believe her luck. The founders of Panthera Leo are equally as impressive. They explain the group’s core philosophy: they’re a girl’s club in a boy’s club world.

Nicole is all in. And when she gets home, she soon sees dividends. Her new network quickly provides her with clients that help her relaunch her career, and a great new apartment too. The favors she has to provide in return seem benign. But then she’s called to the congresswoman’s apartment late at night where she’s pressed into helping her cover up a crime. And suddenly, Dan’s concerns that something more sinister is at play seem all too relevant. Can Nicole extricate herself from the group before it’s too late? Or will joining Panthera Leo be the biggest mistake of her life? 

I’ve definitely been on a bad-ass women book kick lately. And when this book came to my attention, how could I resist it? It sounded so intriguing, especially since I grew up always hearing, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” This book provides a bit more evidence to back up the truth behind that saying.

Nicole is struggling in various ways—she’s having a tough time at work, and she and her husband are in danger of losing their apartment. So when she’s invited to join a highly exclusive networking group for women only, she sees it as an opportunity to advance her future in a way that she doesn’t seem to be able to do on her own. But when she joins, she realizes that there’s a cost that she didn’t expect.

While I can respect what Nicole’s trying to do, I struggled with her personality at times. She isn’t exactly likable in the story, since she focuses a lot on upper-class problems. She’s a lawyer who can’t afford to live in a luxury apartment and doesn’t want to “downgrade” to live in a house in New Jersey … oh, THE HORROR!

While there isn’t an overwhelming focus on weight, she does mention her appearance and weight quite a few times throughout the story, and it frankly made me uncomfortable at times. I do understand that women who work in certain professional are judged on their appearance, but considering how she isn’t exactly focused on her hair/nails/makeup/etc, I couldn’t quite get her focus on weight throughout the story. It veered dangerously close to fatphobia for me.

However, the crux of the story was the way that women created a girls club to counteract the way that corporations have a boys club that works to advance the careers of men whether they deserve it or not. And these women banded together to help each other out. Although, it didn’t quite work out as I had hoped, ideally. Not all of the women were altruistic, and some of them could be quite vicious and manipulative, and it was intriguing to figure out the mystery behind what was going on.

The story was told in both present day and flashbacks to the recent past, so that we could see what was happening at the end of the story arc, as well as how the previous events unfolded to create the present situation. It allowed readers to put all the clues in place and see the devolution of this idealistic society that was created. Although at least one plot twist was visible in advance, the rest caught me by surprise, and I was on the edge of my seat during this fast-paced, intriguing story.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 7

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