Review of Play the Fool by Lina Chern @chernlina

Tarot cards, a woman who considers herself an underachiever but who may have real talent, a dead woman, and an exquisite cover–a quirky, very readable mystery in this debut novel by Lina Chern.

Blurb: For Katie True, a keen gut and quick wit are just tools of the trade. After a failed attempt at adulting in Chicago, she’s back in the suburbs living a bit too close to her overbearing parents, jumping from one dead-end job to the next, and flipping through her tarot deck for guidance. Then along comes Marley.

Mysterious, worldly, and comfortable in her own skin, Marley takes a job at the mall where Katie peddles Russian tchotchkes. The two just get each other. Marley doesn’t try to fix Katie’s life or pretend to be someone she’s not, and Katie thinks that with Marley’s friendship, she just might make it through this rough patch after all. Until the day when Katie, having been encouraged by Marley to practice soothsaying, reads the cards for someone who stumbles into her shop. But when she sneaks a glance at his phone, she finds more than intel to improve her clairvoyance. She finds a photo. Of Marley. With a gunshot wound to the head.

The bottom falls out of Katie’s world. Her best friend is dead? Who killed her? She quickly realizes there are some things her tarot cards can’t foresee, and she must put her razor-sharp instincts to the ultimate test. But Katie’s recklessness lands her in the crossfire of a threat she never saw coming. Now she must use her street smarts and her inner Strength card to solve Marley’s murder—or risk losing everything.

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I didn’t realize how desperate I was for a book fresh and different until I began reading Lina Chern’s Play the Fool. Katie True is a special kind of character. She’s smart but underachieving. The kind of girl that teachers would frequently say never met expectations. But Katie is good at tarot and reading cards, although self-deprecating. She’s funny and sweet and infrequently jaded.

She’s also lonely for someone who understands her until Marley enters the scene. She accepts Katie as she is. And though they never spend much time together, Katie feels Marley is her best friend. Then her best friend is murdered, which she finds out from a photo on the cell of a man that Katie discovers is Marley’s ex-boyfriend. From there everything falls apart and Katie finds herself frequently in over her head. She meets police detective Jamie, who unbeknownst to her is facing down his own demons. But he’s also attractive and accessible and perhaps too permissive in what he’s willing to share with her.

I very much enjoyed this debut novel by Lina Chern. I loved brother Owen and his interactions with his sister. I don’t know that it was ever explicitly mentioned but Owen is on the spectrum and hugely intelligent. I loved that Katie is so entangled in her tarot, believing that she’s just a grifter when I think she might actually have a talent. I recognize the person who all the teachers say is an underachiever and who is as smart as they think she is. She is also caring and despite what everyone thinks, responsible.

While I did suspect the outcome, I think that Chern did a great job at bringing it about. She tweaked the reader about the nose and then said: yep, there it is. And I didn’t mind.

This is a quirky and interesting book with a sense of humor and mystery. I can’t wait to read more by Lina Chern in the years to come.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

2 thoughts on “Review of Play the Fool by Lina Chern @chernlina

  1. You lost me with the photo of Marley with a gunshot wound to the head. I avoid death and destruction in books as there’s too much going on in the world. Nice cover though

    1. This is a novel where events that seem to be may not; hopefully that’s not spoilerish. But since it does contain some violence I would never encourage you to read it. 🙂

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