"Girls' Night Out" by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke
In my experience, girls’ vacas rarely go as smoothly as planned.
Usually, someone gets shit-faced and texts an ex.
Then crying happens.
Then we all tell her she’s amazing just as she is — because literally no group of people is more supportive than a gaggle of drunk girls.
Then someone throws up.
Then there are hangovers.
Because of shortcomings of my prior girls’ escape experiences, when I go on a ladies-only trip, I modulate my expectations, setting them to low.
And this practice hasn’t failed me yet.
But, while I do pretty much plan for some minor shit to go down on trips like this, I certainly don’t expect potentially-life-changingly-serious shit to hit the fan — which is exactly what happens in Girls’ Night Out, the dark-yet-still-oddly-beachy read co-written by —- Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. (which, at the time of publication of this review, is free for digital download on Kindle Unlimited)
The events of this novel take place in Tulum, Mexico, where a trio of friends — who clearly have deep wallets and even deeper pools of sick and personal time — have ventured for a tropical escape. A relaxation-rich trip of this nature is something of which I am envious because, despite the fact that it's summer and I work in education — an occupation which should afford me a long luxurious break — I've done basically nothing leisurely this summer except take a Wiggly trip to New York.
Full disclosure while this trip was predominantly for my children, nine and two, I did also enjoy it — which can be attributed in large part to the fact that I fucking love to do the propeller.
But as enjoyable and musical as this trip may have been, it certainly wasn't as relaxing as a tropical escape complete with an umbrellaed cocktail, an abundance of sunscreen, and the exfoliating grit of sand between your toes.
That said, I was able to stave off my envy because we discover immediately how defectively this girls’ trip to Tulum, Mexico, ends up. We make this discovery at the open of the novel when one of the three girls-trippers, Natalie, wakes up wet and hungover on a beach — which, you know, isn’t in and of itself entirely problematic.
The problem presents itself when she makes her way to the room she’s shared with her friend-and-business-partner, Ashley, and finds not only that Ashley isn’t in the room but that her bed is undisturbed.
Sure, Ashley could be washed ashore somewhere herself, toes irrevocably pruning in the lapping surf as she waits to be discovered, just like the shipwrecked Eric in The Little Mermaid.
But, though Natalie can’t really remember the events of the night previous, she can’t shake the feeling that Ashley isn’t safe and sound, sleeping it off in a location not designed for sleeping. She doesn’t know much, but she does know that something execrable has happened to Ashley.
And it is from this point of extreme peril that readers begin their journey through this novel. In a style typical of modern thrillers, the authors play fast and loose with the timeline, jumping back and forth in the narrative chapter by chapter and peppering in the exciting bits as to keep the mystery mysterious until the very last page.
So, did it work.
Well… I mean… kinda.
The driving question — Where is Ashley and what happened to her? — was intriguing enough to keep me returning to the book. And, ultimately, the answer was at least a little bit satisfying. Which, I will admit, is a tepid recommendation at best.
But, aside from the satisfaction, or lack thereof, of the conclusion, there are other issues that limited my enjoyment of the book.
We also discover, pretty early into the narrative, that this group of girls isn’t as tight-knit as some. They have, for various professional and personal reasons, been drifting apart for the last several years. Part of the reason why organizer-Ashley planned this trip was in a bid to strengthen the thinly-stretched bonds that connect them as friends.
Okay… a book about adult female friendships. I’m an adult female. I can get behind this, right?
Well, here’s the issue. For me to care about whether or not these women can rebuild their friendship, I’m going to have to care about these women.
And, really, I didn’t.
My lack of esteem for the characters in this novel, and subsequent lack of investment in the let’s-rebuild-our-friendship portion of this narrative, stemmed from the fact that I didn’t feel like any of these women were particularly well developed as characters.
None of them were round and dynamic and engaging.
None of them jumped off the page.
And because they were as flat and static as the antiquated-playtime-favorite paper dolls, I didn’t really give a shit about them.
I will concede that the authors did try to imbue them with life.
They gave Lauren, a widow, a dark-ish backstory complete with spousal abuse and an ongoing sex addiction issue.
And they gave Natalie a shameful familial struggle, as her husband had basically lost all of their money.
But none of these conflicts were developed efficaciously enough for me to feel like they were real people.
And, because they weren’t real people, I didn’t really care.
Girls’ Night Out was an inarguably easy read. With simple prose and a plot that was straightforward — even with the alternating chapters of flashback — the novel will certainly fit the bill for people seeking a simple summer escape.
Those hunting for an edge-of-your-seat thriller with a gratifying twist, however, will find this book wanting. The plot simply wasn’t that memorable. And the denouement was far from sufficiently surprising to satisfy a true connoisseur of thrillers.
I give it 3 out of 5 cocktails.
Slip it in your beach bag and read it while downing your oceanside Mai Tais, but don’t expect it to keep you up at night.
My to-be-read pile is literally overflowing with hot upcoming releases. To see which one I pick, follow me, here.
I feel like the term “beach read” has developed a negative connotation, being applied to marshmallow-y fluffy novels that have no depth. But a novel doesn’t have to be so light and pointless to be a beach read. What do you like to read while on vaca? Tell me about your favorite vacation read in the comments, below.