April 26, 2021

Colleen Nelson: "The Life and Deaths of Frankie D." (ARC Review)

Title: The Life and Deaths of Frankie D. [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Colleen Nelson [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist, Supernatural, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2021
Age: 14+
Stars: 2.5/5
Pros: Goes in a different direction than one would expect. Balances the magical adventure at its core with themes of self-acceptation, (found) family and friendship.
Cons: Tries to do too many things at once and doesn't dwell on any of them enough. A few incidents are too convenient to ring true.
WARNING! Sexual assault (off page). Almost-death by fire.
Will appeal to: Fans of circus narratives/sideshow acts and goth girls.

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Frankie doesn’t trust easily. Not others and not even herself. Found in an alley when she was a child, she has no memory of who she is or why she was left there. Recurring dreams about a hundred-year-old carnival side show, a performer known as Alligator Girl, and a man named Monsieur Duval have an eerie familiarity to them. Frankie gets drawn deeper into Alligator Girl’s world and the secrets that keep the performers bound together. But a startling encounter with Monsieur Duval when she’s awake makes Frankie wonder what’s real and what’s in her head. As Frankie’s and Alligator Girl’s stories unfold, Frankie’s life takes a sharp turn. Are the dreams her way of working through her trauma or is there a more sinister plan at work? And if there is, does she have the strength to fight it? (Amazon)

Review:  First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on NetGalley. Thanks to Dundurn Press for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.


TLADOFD is a story told in double point of view - the one of the eponymous main character, and another one that I won't spoil for you, but that has everything to do with an old sideshow whose performers used to be regarded as "freaks". While I've never read a book (partially) set in a circus - or, well, a carnival venue - before, I'm aware of the tropes attached to this kind of narrative, and none of them were employed when it comes to the final denouement, because the truth about Frankie and her connection to the sideshow turned out to be different from anything I would have expected. On the other hand, the general atmosphere of the circus setting and its characters (with their magical turnabout) weren't particularly imaginative/fleshed out, and though the story was not about them, it would have been nice to spend a little more time with the troupe members and get the chance to see past their uncomplicated faรงades. There was virtually a lot to unpack, but alas, not enough time to do it. I have to admit I was taken by surprise by a certain character and their agenda, though I should probably have seen it coming; then again, since I wasn't able to foresee the connection between Frankie and the carnival in the first place, it makes sense that I didn't - so kudos to the author for being able to cover her tracks. [...]


The contemporary half of the book suffers from the same problem: it tries to do too much (in this case, too many things at once) for the number of page in which the story unfolds. Frankie is an orphan (with a foster mother), a goth at heart (though her fascination with death is a bit too morbid for my tastes), a budding graphic novel artist, and has a rare skin condition known as lamellar ichtyosis (scaly skin). Self acceptance, found family and the bumpy road to making friends are just as pivotal here as Frankie's attempt to uncover the truth about her birth and early life. Throw in a sexual assault/slut-shaming subplot, and there's simply too much stuff to handle for a relatively short book. Also, either I had to suspend my disbelief a lot (and I don't mean about the supernatural sections - I mean about some awfully convenient or rushed incidents, like Frankie's first encounter with the carnival) or I found certain plot points half-baked, or simplistic at best (the whole sexual assault storyline). I can't deny the whole thing had potential, and it could have made for a perfectly fine adventure/coming of age story, but TLADOFD ultimately fell short of my expectations due to it being a bit rushed and employing one or two coincidences/tropes too many.

For more Contemporary/Contemporary with a Twist books click here.
For more Supernatural books click here.


  1. Sounds like you liked it even if it wasn't great. I haven't read many books where characters were set in the circus.

    1. I expected so much more from this though.

      Ha! this was my first, and yet there are lots of them LOL.

  2. Interesting! I kinda am interested in circus type fantasy stories- I've read Menagerie and a few others, this sounds interesting although sorry to hear it got a bit rushed. Definitely sounds like the author tried to pack a lot in and maybe it didn't all work or have time to breathe. That premise too is kinda cool, and I like the memory loss to a certain extent. I wish this one has been a bit better read for you. :)

    1. This was not your classic memory loss plot, which was cool. Anyhow, classic example of good idea, not so good execution. Thank you!

  3. It sounds like it has a lot of exciting elements so too bad it was *too much* and didn't work for you.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

  4. I do not know if I want to deal with something that tries too much, not now

    1. Sometimes it's all in the delivery, really. But it's never the best idea to pack too much into a book, especially a small one. Anyhow, I hear you.

  5. I DNFed a different book by this author. I just feel like her style is not for me. Sorry this didn't work out for you

    1. I saw she has a number of books under her belt and I was surprised, since this one feels like an early book to me.

  6. It's always one of the most disappointing things when a book has so much potential, but it doesn't live up to it because it tries to do too much. :| I wish the author's editor had told her to take some things out and explore others more, because this seems like it could have been really good. Great review, Roberta!

    1. I have to say I didn't care much for the writing either, but it's not like it was, you know, bad. Mostly, the story wasn't as tightly plotted as it could have been.

      Thanks hon!


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