by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Last Liar Standing by Danielle M. Wong along with an interesting interview with Danielle. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
Last Liar Standing by Danielle M. Wong
Review by Cynthia Chow
When readers first meet Veronica “Vonny” Kwon, she is on the run, paranoid and desperate. Her anxiety has her frantically fleeing her motel room to a mall, but her plan to remain anonymous as she shops for a new identity is derailed when she is struck by a car and taken to a hospital. While her physical injuries are painful, far more devastating is the realization that the last nine years of her memories have been erased and stop at 2013. As she struggles to understand why she is in Nevada and not New York, additional shocking revelations are to come. Not only does she have a husband whom she doesn’t remember, he was murdered just two weeks ago. Police are understandably suspicious of her convenient amnesia, and Vonny is left reeling and not knowing whom to trust.
After Vonny returns to a luxurious home and a life she doesn’t remember as a psychiatrist, she attempts to put together the pieces from her last memories as a recent graduate of NYU. Contacting her best friend leads to the unfathomable news that they had a hurtful fight and haven’t spoken for years, leaving Vonny feeling more alone than she ever has before. She can’t be blamed for her increasing paranoia after she is served with papers from her brother-in-law suing for the estate, further isolating her from anyone she could trust. As memories slowly roll in, Vonny recalls meeting her husband in the classroom of her psychology professor Dr. Cheryl Lewis, a figure who is undeniably magnetic, attractive, and manipulative. How she would weave into Vonny’s life and become such an unstoppable force is a fraught and compelling puzzle, one that will have readers as anxious as Vonny for a solution.
This novel is brilliant at quickly introducing a character who seems to be so unknowable and yet also so very vulnerable and likable. Vonny’s confusion and desperation for answers ratchets up the tension, especially when she is frustratingly blocked or given vague answers. What is similarly skillful is the slow menace of Cheryl Lewis’s manipulation in her classroom and then with her invite-only parties, where psychological party games always seem to have a darker motive. It’s easy to see how Vonny could be lured in and needy for her mentor’s approval, which is given so rarely and to very few. Cheryl seems to be everything Vonny wants to be: married with a gorgeous husband, strikingly beautiful, powerful in the classroom…and utterly bored with it all. The author wastes no time throwing readers into a suspenseful mystery and continues to build up tension as they worry about Vonny’s fate. This novel is perfectly timed for the recent popularity of domestic thrillers both on television and in books, and it deserves to have its place up with some of the best. Readers should look forward to the next novel by such a promising author.
Interview with Danielle M. Wong:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Danielle: I have been writing for as long as I can remember—poems, journal entries, articles, and short stories that eventually expanded into novels.
Danielle: My debut novel, Swearing Off Stars, was published in 2017. The story follows two Oxford students as they fall in and out of love while navigating a turbulent political landscape.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
Danielle: Since my first book was historical fiction, writing Last Liar Standing was a very different process. I truly enjoy the complexity of mystery/suspense novels and the fast pace of thrillers! Experimenting with stories in diverse genres has definitely challenged and improved my craft.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Danielle: I wanted to set Last Liar Standing primarily on the west coast since that’s where I grew up. Although there are several different locations peppered into the story, San Francisco has a very special place in my heart. I ultimately chose it as a home base for the main character, Vonny, as she struggles to regain her memory.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Danielle: I hope my work inspires readers while serving as a welcome escape when necessary. Getting lost in the pages of an addicting book is a formative experience that everyone deserves to have.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Danielle: I try to be diligent when it comes to a writing routine, but inspiration often strikes at the most inconvenient times. My strategy is to schedule in blocks of writing while giving myself the freedom to chase an unexpected idea when time allows.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Danielle: I tend to write either very early in the morning or extremely late at night. There is rarely a happy medium when it comes to my timing!
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Danielle: I am definitely more of a pantser, though I keep a spiral notebook for each of my current manuscripts. The pages are bursting with character arcs, scene ideas, and snippets of dialogue that I want to include.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Danielle: I met a young girl–about seven or eight–at one of my first book signings. She told me that she was going to be a famous author someday, and it lit me up inside. Hearing her so boldly declare her dreams without a hint of self-doubt was humbling and deeply motivating.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Danielle: I want to continue honing my craft and improving as an artist. I can’t imagine ever reaching a point where I don’t aspire to become a stronger writer and storyteller.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Danielle: Penning Swearing Off Stars demanded a fair amount of historical research, while writing Last Liar Standing involved learning more about psychology and human behavior.
KRL: What do you like to read?
Danielle: Pretty much everything I can get my hands on! I love reading in different genres and discovering new authors.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Danielle: I have too many to list!
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Danielle: Read widely, write voraciously, and don’t be afraid to mess up. I believe that the crippling fear of making mistakes stops too many aspiring writers in their tracks. That kind of self-imposed pressure can be paralyzing, so it’s important to temper expectations. Allow yourself grace and patience during your writing and submission journey. If rejection feels daunting, try to remember that it’s just a necessary part of the process.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Danielle: I have traveled to almost thirty different countries!
KRL: Do you have any pets?
Danielle: My family has two turtles—Rafael and Donatello—that have been with me since childhood.
KRL: How fun! Website? Twitter? Facebook? Instagram?
To enter to win a copy of Last Liar Standing, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “liar,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 24, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week.
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