Cover Image: Liar, Dreamer, Thief

Liar, Dreamer, Thief

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Maria Dong’s debut novel, Liar, Dreamer, Thief is a weird and thrilling modern mystery story, guaranteed to keep you guessing.

Our protagonist Katrina has a lot of issues. She has been disowned by her parents, is frequently late to a job she hates, displays OCD tendencies, and is stalking one of her mysterious co-workers, Kurt. And she sometimes slips into an alternate reality based on a book she read as a child. I love her.

Katrina starts to find clues that Kurt is aware of her too, and she finds weird clues that lead her to think that her and Kurt have some kind of mystic connection. However, when Katrina’s investigations lead to her witnessing Kurt’s suicide, things really kick into high gear.

I became aware of Maria Dong last year, when I had the pleasure of reading her short story, The Frankly Impossible Weight of Han. Han is an emotional state of grief or sadness due to the oppression one’s race has historically experienced, and is considered by some to be an essential element of Korean identity (thanks, Wikipedia). Dong revisits this theme in Liar, Dreamer, Thief, but there is a sense of conflict between her Korean heritage and her American life.

The thing I loved about Liar, Dreamer, Thief is that it is a genuinely compelling book. Katrina is a wonderfully flawed character; I wanted to stay with her on this mad, dangerous chase to find the truth about Kurt. Given Katrina’s tendencies to slip into another world, the reader is constantly questioning what is real and what is in Katrina’s head.

No spoilers, but things come together at breakneck speed, and conscientious readers are rewarded.

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I went in expecting a straight forward psychological thriller — an MC who stalks her love interest — but what I got was a genre bending novel with a deft portrayal of mental health issues and fraught relationships with immigrant parents in a multi-layered mystery that always managed to keep me a bit off kilter. While I thought it took a little too long for the setup to come together, once it did the twists became increasingly more jaw dropping while also remaining incredibly poignant. It’s one of the most unique stories I’ve read.

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for the arc.

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✨ Review ✨ Liar, Dreamer, Thief by Maria Dong

This book is WILD - it will take you for such a ride. Katrina Kim's obsessed with her coworker Kurt, and is struggling to keep everything together (getting to work on time, keeping her car from falling apart, cleaning her apartment). As we follow her deeper into this web, something strange is going on, but it's so difficult to unravel the truth and reality from the imaginary.

I liked the way that this tackled mental health issues, as well as the way that it created its thriller/mystery vibes. I think there was a bit of lack of resolution of things in the end that left me a little confused/unsure, but boy did I enjoy the ride!

The vibes definitely cultivate confusion and chaos but that was part of what made this book fun for me. Definitely not an easy read but hopefully one you'll enjoy!

Genre: mystery/thriller
Location: a big (maybe fictional?) city, felt like NYC to me
Pub Date: Jan 10, 2023

Read this if you like:
⭕️ chaotic twisty mysteries/thrillers
⭕️ mental health representation

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and #netgalley for an advanced e-copy of this book!

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Are you in need of a very unique psychological thriller/mystery with mental health rep?
Katrina Kim is a college dropout with a dead-end job and OCD that's not too well managed. A co-worker that she has been obsessed with to almost a point of stalking turns out to also be stalking her and commits suicide right after blaming her for it. Katrina soon realizes not only did she not know too much about her co-worker, but her own reality is also questionable.

This book was quite the wild-ride. I not only loved the portrayal of Katrina's OCD and her coping mechanisms, but she was one of my favorite unreliable narrators to date. Her unreliableness was naive as she questioned her sanity and my heart broke for her. Dong also had incredibly vivid descriptions of the dream world Katrina imagined and I was convinced that the fictional book that inspired Katrina's hallucinations must be real. I really enjoyed the distinctive voice Dong brought to the thriller-space and I'm very curious to see what she writes next. Thank you Grand Central Pub for the ARC of this one.

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This book was BANANAS - in the absolute best way. What a wild, twisty ride.

The main character, Katrina Kim, has an unhealthy obsession with her coworker, Kurt. She, in fact, has been stalking him. Not from romantic interest, but she wants to know what his deal is - and why it seems so hard to know. Katrina struggles not to live full-time in a fantasy world she's nurtured since she was a child as a way of dealing with her anxiety. One night, she goes to visit a bridge that has always been place for her to regain self-control, and happens to run into Kurt, who accuses her of ruining everything before throwing himself off a bridge. The novel then follows her efforts to unwind these mysteries: who was Kurt, really, and what is really going on??

Beautifully written, smart, and thrilling - it's a story that is difficult to describe or categorize. It's propulsive and weird and tightly plotted, but also has moments of introspection and grief that represents the best of literary fiction. To me, it's a story about finding strength from learning to trust and embrace yourself in all your quirks and imperfections. I loved Katrina - she's such a mess, and she does things that by all rules should be bad, but all the same, the whole time you just want to give her a big hug and tell her everything will be all right - except you have know idea if it will be, so you just have to bite your nails and keeping turning the pages with increasing anxiety and hoping that the author isn't about to completely wreck you.

This was a stunning debut.

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**Thank you to Grand Central Publishing, the author, and NetGalley for providing this eARC in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released on January 10, 2023.**

**I am the woman who can’t let anything go—not Kurt’s death, not the number eleven, not a children’s book, not the meaning of a postcard. My entire life is hanging on.**

For the past three years, Katrina Kim has been keeping close tabs on her co-worker, Kurt, because of her conviction that, like her, he can see another world superimposed over our own at times. However, he’s been watching her back, and shortly after Katrina discovers this, Kurt dies by suicide, blaming her as he jumps off a bridge right in front of her. Or does he? As Katrina tries to figure out the truth of that moment, everything else in her life begins to crumble, until all she has to hold onto is the investigation—and even that isn’t stable.

I am… utterly fascinated by this book, which I’ve been waiting for since it was announced (and had a different title). To sum up my reaction to it while reading and upon finishing in a sentence: I was profoundly unsettled, unexpectedly touched, and completely enthralled. I’m not comfortable going into detail, but there were some aspects that uncomfortably mirrored experiences I’ve had, and that threw me emotionally and mentally off balance for a bit… but not enough to stop reading. Because I absolutely HAD to know what was going on.

There’s a big feeling of scatteredness and confusion to the narrative, and I think that part of it is absolutely intentional, since Katrina is both a bit of an unreliable narrator due to her mental illness and there are outside forces acting on her as well to further stymie her. Honestly, though, I found that compelling, because it forced me into the same position as Katrina—I had to keep going, I had to know. Her daydreams that intrude on her life—or, as she refers to it, the “kitchen-door world,” which are locations and characters from her favorite children’s book—were the most intriguing to me; I think it is a portrayal of maladaptive daydreaming, though I don’t know for certain or how accurate it is if that’s the case. But setting that aside, entering those altered spaces through Katrina’s eyes was fascinating, especially since I’m one of those people who can’t visualize even with their eyes closed. Those scenes really almost have a fantasy tinge to them, but it’s all too real to Katrina, even though she knows it isn’t. The rituals she follows, too, to maintain control over her life—as opposed to letting the kitchen-door world take over—and her need for balance when she draws the sigils and more all felt like recognizable and in some ways relatable examples of OCD to me. (I have to emphasize that to me. It’s the balance thing in particular.) And I really appreciated that Katrina knew all throughout that what she was doing was irrational and oftentimes wrong but couldn’t stop, and how she says in the prologue that sometimes knowledge isn’t enough to keep you from belief. It isn’t rational, and it’s hard when you know that, and I loved that she seemed to be making progress to cope by the end. Anyway, this is the whole reason I wanted to read the book in the first place; the suspense aspect with Katrina trying to investigate was just a bonus.

The mystery itself, by the way, is not at all what you’d expect, and it unfolds marvelously. I did a lot of shouting in my notes as I reacted and tried to anticipate what new information would be revealed next that would throw the story onto a whole new track. I don’t know if I can explain how twisty it is without spoilers. I’m not sure I could do it WITH spoilers, because I tried once already and I’m not sure I succeeded in getting across how interconnected and deliberately confused every aspect of this underlying mystery is with Katrina’s life.

Finally, the relationships. I feel like the author did such a great job depicting how Katrina’s mental illnesses affected the way she connected with those around her and her ability to function. But more than her relationship with her roommate and her coworkers, I loved the relationship with her parents, which was a bit surprising. I don’t want to say too much more, because it really came like a gut punch to me, but it’s such an unexpectedly touching depiction of being fractured, understanding, maybe even forgiveness, and coming back together. It felt comforting, which was a relief in the face of everything else happening in the plot.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to bring myself to read this book again, even though I’d love to read it more closely to look at its structure, but I definitely won’t forget it, either.

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This book will be a DNF for me. Unfortunately I have no idea what is going on in this story. I’ve read 55 pages and nothing is captivating my attention at this time. All I’ve learned in 55 pages is the main character is obsessed with a co-worker (possibly stalking said co-worker) and lives in an extremely messy apartment that doesn’t belong to them but another character that is not physically present in the story. The only other thing I’ve learned is the MC can see some fantasy world, that they read about as a child, when they are in overly stressful situations. I’m not sure where the story is attempting to go at this point.

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Will be reviewing a physical copy of this one. Thank you again for the ARC and hopefully this opens up a space for someone else.

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Thank you Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for the advanced digital copy in exchange for an honest review!
QUICK TAKE: A woman living half in a fantasy world who may or may not be stalking her co-worker ends up diving into a dangerous rabbit hole trying to uncover the truth behind his disappearance.
There’s a lot going on in this one and it definitely blurred the lines between fantasy and reality. The narrator is completely unreliable and trying to uncover the truth about her co-worker while deciding what is real and what is imagined was such a trip! It started off kind of strange and I wasn’t quite sure what was going on but it really takes off after about 50 pages. It was so stressful hearing about Katrina’s hot mess of a life at first but I loved following her on this journey.
If you enjoyed The Maid and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and are looking for a unique read I recommend checking this one out.
CW: mental illness, suicide

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Liar, Dreamer, Thief feels like two books in one. At its heart, it is a thriller - a multi-dimensional whodunnit with twists and turns like you wouldn’t believe. At the same time, it dived deeply into a young woman’s struggles with severe mental health concerns (compulsions and obsessions) which take over much of her life, impacting work and social functioning.

It took me a while to get into this book. Its first several chapters look deeply into Katrina’s psyche, which I love, but which was somewhat confusing as good character building sometimes is. Once things got rolling, however, the plot unfurled magnificently and all the dots were eventually connected.

Thanks to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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What did I read?? A fascinating look at life with mental illness, I think, but there's also a mystery? While I may not be entirely sure what actually happened in the novel, I enjoyed the ride.

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I've sought out and thoroughly enjoyed Maria Dong's short fiction, so the wait for her first novel was practically spent with 'bated breath. But what kind of a thing would it be? The short stories she's written are startlingly different from one another.

As it turns out, this is, too. As I was reading, I kept marveling happily that this book found a home with a publisher, because it doesn't lend itself to being pigeonholed into genre. If I were to describe it to a prospective reader using the bones of the plot, it would sound like a thriller. Maybe a psychological thriller. But that would be missing *so much* of the real substance.

I felt a bit lost through the first section of the book: is this magical realism? Is it a disturbed young woman? Is there actually a mystery, or just obsession?
There's definitely some ambiguity surrounding perception, and our main character occupies a number of liminal spaces at once: she's the first-gen American child of immigrants and has a fraught or broken relationship with her parents, she's definitely not neurotypical and may be suffering from one or more mental illnesses, she is living hand-to-mouth as a temp and seems in real danger of becoming unhoused; Katrina Kim is barely holding her self and life together at the seams, and you as the reader really *feel* it.

How reliable should we count on our narrator to be? Is there weird stuff going on or is this the fantasy world that a person retreats to in order to escape the banality of corporate temp work? When things pick up speed, they do so dramatically... and all of a sudden I found I needed to stay up quite late to finish the book because what the hell is actually even happening here??

The thriller-esque plot is neat and surprising and it works, the perspective shifts lurch in a delightful way, but the real art of the book is in the characterization of Katrina and what it's like to be her in the world and barely hanging on. And as realistically (and at times anxiety-inducingly) as that experience is rendered--of being one late bus/car problem/sick cat away from everything coming apart--I was really bracing myself for a gritty or bleak ending. (I used to be more stoic about those before the last few years in the world; I find I'm awfully fond of a hopeful note these days.) But I'm pleased to report that the ending left me feeling nice--even positively cozy, with that hopeful note--but not in a tacked-on way. It works.

An enthusiastic four stars for a hell of a debut novel.

[I was provided an ARC by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.]

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My thanks to Moon for recommending this book . . .

What a wonderful book I would not have discovered were it not for great book friends on GR and their recommendations. "Lair, Dreamer, Thief" tells the story of Korean-American Katrina Kim, three-years estranged from her immigrant parents, living in a big city and scraping by a living at her temp job. Her world is further complicated by her tenuous grip on her reality, as she struggles with mental illness and an obsession with her co-worker Kurt, whom she is stalking. Even though Katrina is an unreliable narrator, her voice is endearing and hopeful, and as she digs more and more into the past and the mysterious actions of her co-workers and roommate, I couldn't help but feel for Katrina. Even as I wanted to clean up after her garbage messes and tell her to get it together. This is an addictive story of childhood memories, music and numbers, mental illness, alienation, even temp work grind. I'm thankful to have found it. Kudos to the author!

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Katrina Kim is a "slightly unhinged" woman with some interesting coping mechanisms, including but not limited to obsessing over her coworker, Kurt, shape and number rituals, scenes from a children's book bleeding into her reality, and midnight trips to a bridge near her home. One day, Kurt cryptically reveals to her that he's been aware of her obsession with him. On a visit to her sacred bridge, Katrina witnesses Kurt's suicide. Katrina, horrified, combs through all the clues and information she's gathered about Kurt over the years and finds out that he's been watching her too...she also uncovers something much bigger than her and Kurt.

First and foremost, thank you so much to NetGalley and Grand Central for the opportunity to read this book ahead of its publication. I am greatly invested in mental health representation and I loved how this book showed a unique portrayal of obsessions and compulsions from the perspective of a character who is actually going through them. Katrina's mind is a beautifully, irrationally, chaotically intricate thing that I'm so glad we got to experience. This book explored a lot of difficult issues - mental health and trauma, family struggles, relationships and trust, fear and anxiety, betrayal... and Dong handled each of these issues with care and precision. I loved that this book was half lit fic and half suspense - the thrillery portions of this plot added another dimension to an already-complex story. I found myself rooting for Katrina through it all - the dumpster diving, the frantic commutes to work, the trunk of her own car, and in the kitchen-door world.

Also can we please all cherish the ending where Katrina casually gets recruited to become a PI because that was EVERYTHING, I love it.

In summary... this one is a yes.

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Thank you NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

The synopsis of this book and great and drew me in! It sounded so intriguing and the premise sounded so different than anything I had read before. However I ended up DNFing at 25%. After reading the reviews on here and goodreads I feel like people will either fall into one of two categories with this book. They will either freaking love it or will DNF it. There didnt seem to be a lot of reviews in the middle. I, unfortunately fell into the category of not loving it.

The book felt so very chaotic with me and there were so many times that I felt so confused as to what all was going on and couldn’t keep up with what was going on. I’m not sure if it was the characters or the chaos of the story but I just wasn’t connecting to any of the characters and the MC was even starting to make me so mad. I felt myself getting distracted by things outside of the book too much and just had to stop it because I wasn’t loving it and just felt like I was forcing myself to continue reading it. Overall, I think the premise sounded great and I hate that this book just wasn’t for me.

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After having read a long list of short stories by Maria Dong, I was definitely intrigued by what she could be able to explore in a novel, and Liar, Dreamer, Thief delivers. Divided in four parts (not the only nod to East Asian elements), the story follows the messiest character I've read this year —a bold bet that Maria Dong balances gracefully by showing that, if the capitalist hellscape hustle is difficult in "normal mode", just imagine it in the "nightmare mode" that Katrina Kim lives. With no concessions to what it means to be mentally unstable, Maria Dong drives us to a mystery in which Katrina has been involved and is struggling to get out of, with the little steps that she is able to take. This is not a story about thriving, about a person pursuing success and bending the environment to their will, but a story about survival instincts, mistakes and lots of good heart.

Thanks Netgalley for the eARC.

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Thank you to Grand Central Pub and NetGalley for my gifted digital advance review copy!

Like many young adults, Katrina Kim is living on her own, working a job she hates but desperately needs, and trying to get by as best as she can. Unlike her peers, however, Kat sometimes lapses into a fantasy world inspired by her favorite children’s book, she uses rituals to soother her anxiety, and she is unhealthily fixated on one of her coworkers, Kurt. Kat starts to spiral when she discovers a note indicating that Kurt knows she is stalking him, and then things really start to unravel.

This was a thoughtful and thrilling look at mental illness and obsessions/compulsions told in a driven yet dreamlike way. It’s really hard to encapsulate the feel of this book without giving things away. I really empathized with Katrina and was fascinated by her various coping mechanisms. Her experience as the child of immigrant parents really added another layer of complexity to her character, one I can directly relate to, myself.

Don’t let the math/geometry of the story and Katrina’s rituals dissuade you from this. Understanding of the shapes isn’t integral to the story. I am awful at math and am completely uninterested in the subject, and I did not find that my lack of interest/understanding hindered my enjoyment of this story whatsoever.

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This book has an amazing cover, but I was not blown away by the inside. I thought it was drawn out with so many details. Every little thing was stated to the point of annoyance. I was in suspense in until the end of the 2nd part, then kind of lost interest except wanting to know about Kurt. I figured out what was going on with her early on. Good plot.

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Liar, Dreamer, Thief is an immensely ambitious novel that doesn't miss the mark once. It brilliantly tackles mental health, workplace isolation, estrangement, support or lackthereof, reuinions and so much more. Maria Dong manages to cast her net wide and catch every ambition perfectly. This book is an absolute treat for anyone looking for a novel that feels both escapist and all too real all at once.

**Quick Summary:** Katrina Kim is the black sheep of her family but she isn't a stalker. She may have an obsession with her coworker, Kurt, but despite what her roommate says she isn't stalking him. Her obsession is just a coping mechanism, just like her visions and her number rituals. But when Katrina finds a cryptic message from Kurt implying he knows she's been watching him, her carefully constructed life begins to crumble. In a desperate act to reclaim control, she arrives to the Cayatoga Bridge just in time to witness Kurt's suicide and have him blame it on her.

Liar, Dreamer, Thief is a truly stand out novel. The prose so beautifully matches Katrina Kim's voice. I believe that one mark of a great novel is when the prose matches the characters, which is not something that is often mastered, and Maria Dong blows it out of the water. This story flows like a train of thought and switches direction at the blink of an eye but as readers, we're always guided with ease. Even as we intimately navigate the bumpy road of Katrina's mind. This story gifts us with a perfect balance of feeling out of control but also knowing we can trust the author to bring us to the end.

A strict story structure isn't the right way to tell certain stories, and Liar, Dreamer, Thief is one of those stories. The narrative jumps and layers and deepens at every corner. It hides things from us in a way that we often hide things from ourselves. But it also helps us re-find those lost pieces of ourselves alongside Katrina unraveling Kurt's story as well as her own. This is a novel of contradictions finding a perfect harmony amongst staggering dichotomy. A truly impressive debut. I cannot wait for more from Maria Dong.

Liar, Dreamer, Thief transcends expectations, genre, identity, capitalism, and structure to construct a genuinely showstopping story. Maria Dong brings her brilliance to the page in a way that will leave her words with you for weeks.

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DNF’d at 30%. I could feel myself forcing to read on with this book and I just was not enjoying myself. The story was a slog to get through and although the synopsis was deeply intriguing, the writing style did nothing to keep me hooked.

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