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Title: MaestraSpring Book Review Button
Author: L. S. Hilton
ISBN: 9780399184260
No. of Pages: 320
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Origins: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: 19 April 2016

Synopsis:

“By day, Judith Rashleigh is a put-upon assistant at a prestigious London art house.
By night, she’s a hostess at one of the capital’s notorious champagne bars, although her work there pales against her activities on nights off.

TO GET WHAT SHE WANTS

Desperate to make something of herself, Judith knows she has to play the game. She’s transformed her accent and taught herself about wine and the correct use of a dessert fork, not to mention the art of discretion. She’s learned to be a good girl. But when Judith is fired for uncovering a dark secret at the heart of the art world—and her honest efforts at a better life are destroyed—she turns to a long-neglected friend. A friend who kept her chin up and back straight through every slight: Rage.

SHE WILL CROSS EVERY LINE

Feeling reckless, she accompanies one of the champagne bar’s biggest clients to the French Riviera, only to find herself alone again after a fatal accident. Tired of striving and the slow crawl to the top, Judith has a realization: If you need to turn yourself into someone else, loneliness is a good place to start. And she’s been lonely a long time.

Maestra is a glamorous, ferocious thriller and the beginning of a razor-sharp trilogy that introduces the darkly irresistible Judith Rashleigh, a femme fatale for the ages whose vulnerability and ruthlessness will keep you guessing until the last page.”

My Thoughts: Huh. This is an odd, dirty little book. It reminds me a lot of Caroline Kepnes’ You and Hidden Bodies. Judith is just as sex-obsessed, narcissistic, and lacking in empathy as Joe is. In fact, one could say that this is the female equivalent of Joe. However, there is one exception. While Joe is looking for love and belonging, Judith is only looking for money and the lifestyle massive amounts of money brings with it. Actually, Judith reminds me of a female Donald Trump in her disregard for how she obtains such money. Unlike Trump though, she at least has better taste and a modicum of self-respect when it comes to displaying her ill-gotten wealth.

With such comparisons to Ms. Kepnes’ novels, it comes as no surprise that there is a lot of blood and sex throughout Maestra. This is perfectly fine, but I was never able to overcome the idea that Ms. Hilton added the sex purely for shock value. It is as if readers would not be able to understand Judith’s sociopathic tendencies without including detailed descriptions of orgy parties, as if the fact that she is willing to murder someone else without a thought does not mean anything unless readers understand she is just as depraved in the bedroom. There is no doubt that Judith has issues. Her reactions to people and to simple situations is a bit too extreme not to recognize that there is something a bit off about her. The sex scenes provide no further insight into Judith’s mind, and that makes them completely unnecessary, which is disappointing because a sex scene should never be superfluous.

The other issue I have with Judith is that she is intensely dominant in almost everything she says and does. She would be the perfect example of female empowerment, even including her penchant for murder, because she takes no shit from no man. However, in those unnecessary bedroom scenes, she is extremely submissive. I know there is a whole BDSM theme going on within the story, but it seems odd to me that one would flip from dominant to submissive so easily and so willingly. Perhaps this is the reason for all the kinky sex? Either way, it did not seem as if Judith would be the type to switch back and forth like that given everything else we know about her, and frankly, it bothered me enough to take me out of the story.

Setting aside the odd switch in personality and the extraneous sex, the rest of Maestra is a taut thriller that never really allows you to catch your breath. As Judith’s fears about her future grow, so does yours. I found myself pausing every few pages to allow my heart rate to drop back down to a more acceptable level. Judith’s fears are so palpable that you cannot help but be impacted by them. Then, there is a game-changer that sets all expectations on its heels and leaves you wondering just where and how Judith’s story will finally end.

Just as with Joe, there is something about Judith’s psychopathology that is oddly compelling. She is brutal and selfish and there is no reason in the world why you should care about her. Yet, you do. A lot. To the point where you keep reading the story and sympathize with her when she runs into trouble and cheer on her successes. The idea of a body count no longer bothers you as much as it should because it means that she is winning in her weird game of survival. There is a vulnerability to her that worms its way into the hardest of hearts and allows you to easily ignore the frissons of discomfort her extreme behavior creates. You want her to find happiness, love, and money and to live her life in quiet but luxurious retirement. The fact that she is not quite there yet by the end of the first novel only intrigues you that much more.

Maestra simultaneously repulses and fascinates, pushes you away and yet ensnares you into the roller coaster story that it is. Judith is a cold and calculating woman, the kind of woman from whom you should steer clear should she ever find fault with you, but she still engenders sympathy given her origins and the depths from which she climbed. She is the ultimate self-made woman, and you are left to admire that fact and ignore the hows as much as possible. Even more shocking, ignoring her deeds is surprisingly easy to do.

Maestra by L. S. Hilton

BOTTOM LINE: Judith is seriously disturbed but I couldn’t help myself from falling for her outward charm and inner determination to succeed at any cost.

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