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Friday, December 6, 2019

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Jules is desperate. After being laid off, she returned home to find her boyfriend in bed with another woman. Taking only the essentials, she set up on her best friend Chloe's couch, an offer Chloe says is good as long as Jules needs it. But Jules feels like a burden and is anxious to be gainfully employed again. Which is why she answers a Craigslist ad for an apartment sitter. 

When the apartment turns out to be in the expensive and exclusive Bartholomew, a building featured in Jules's own favorite book, she's sure the offer is too good to be true. 

All she has to do is stay in the apartment for three months. She can't have visitors and she has to spend every night there. Other than that and being warned about the other tenants' need for privacy, it seems altogether too easy for $12,000 cash! But then a fellow apartment sitter goes missing. The official story is that she left, tired of the job. But Jules isn't buying it. And as she digs deeper into the history of the Bartholomew, Jules becomes certain things aren't right at the lofty building. 

With just three books under his belt, Riley Sager has made a name for himself as a master of suspense. And it's undeniably true that every one of his books is an absolute page turner. But I do have to say that I think Lock Every Door is his best to date.

The book is dedicated to Ira Levin, which, if you're literarily savvy is kind of a spoiler as far as a book about a mysterious apartment is concerned. But not really. All it did was set me up for what's pretty obvious from the start, there's something hinky going on at this apartment building!

Even our heroine knows it. But Sager's made her so desperate and in dire straits that she's willing to overlook the odd rules and the cash under the table because it means a roof over her head and money in the bank. And not wearing out her welcome with her best and only friend. So while you can imagine that reading the first pages is akin to yelling at a character in a horror movie not to go up the stairs, you can also easily sympathize with Jules!

Lock Every Door is twisted and suspenseful fun. I ripped through it as fast as I could, even delving into the audio so I could listen when I couldn't sit down and read. And Sager has some tricks up his sleeve as the story progresses. I'd almost guarantee you won't figure out what's really going on at the Bartholomew before Jules does.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

What I'm Reading: Walk the Wild With Me by Rachel Atwood

This week marks the release of a deliciously tantalizing new fantasy read, Rachel Atwood's Walk the Wild With Me.

Here's a little bit about the book from Goodreads:

Orphaned when still a toddler, Nicholas Withybeck knows no other home than Locksley Abbey outside Nottingham, England. He works in the Scriptorium embellishing illuminated manuscripts with hidden faces of the Wild Folk and whimsical creatures that he sees every time he ventures into the woods and fields. His curiosity leads him into forbidden nooks and crannies inside, and outside the abbey. He becomes adept at hiding to stay out of trouble.

On one of these forays he slips into the crypt beneath the abbey. There he finds an altar older than the abbey's foundations, ancient when the Romans occupied England. Behind the bricks around the altar, he finds a palm-sized silver cup. The cup is embellished with the three figures of Elena, the Celtic goddess of crossroads, sorcery, and cemeteries.

He carries the cup with him always. The goddess whispers wisdom in the back of his mind. With Elena in his pocket, Nick can see that the masked dancers on the May Day celebration in the local village are the actual creatures of the wood, The Green Man, Robin Goodfellow, Herne the Huntsman, dryads, trolls, and water sprites, the imaginary faces he's seen and drawn into the Illuminations.

Over the course of several adventures where Elena guides Nick and keeps him safe, he learns that Little John's (the Green Man) love has been kidnapped by Queen Mab of the Faeries. The door to the Faery mound will only open when the moons of the two realms align. The time is fast approaching. Nick must release Elena so that she can use sorcery to unlock that door and Nick's band of friends can try to rescue the girl. Will he have the courage to release her as his predecessor did not?

Rachel Atwood is the pen name for Irene Radford, who I have not read before. This first as Atwood is a historical fantasy and is maybe a Robin Hood retelling...I've only just started so I'm not 100% sure about that just yet (with Little John and Robin Goodfellow as characters, it certainly seems that way). 

I've been looking forward to this one and so far am loving the atmosphere and the pacing. It's also making some of the top SFF lists for the end of the year!

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

When Harry Bosch's old mentor dies, leaving behind the murder book for a twenty-year-old unsolved case, the mystery seems to be why the old cop held onto the book for so long. And the answer isn't easy to come by. Bosch asks Renee Ballard to help unravel the mystery and she becomes determined to solve the the murder itself. But two decades on, this presents some obvious challenges. 

Meanwhile, Bosch's help on one of Mickey Haller's cases leads to the acquittal of a suspect in the murder of a California judge. But that also means the real criminal is still out there, something Bosch can't let go. But his digging catches the attention of officers none to pleased to see the retired cop lending a hand as well. And with Ballard's position in the force somewhat precarious as well, it seems neither of them is going to clear their respective investigations without making a few new enemies in the process. 

I'm not sure if I've mentioned, but I've been a bit intimidated by the Bosch series. I love the show—I think Titus Welliver is wonderful and I anxiously await each new season. But breaking into the books has been a bit harder for me to manage. I mean, this is technically number 22 in the series! That's a lot of backlist if you aren't sure starting from the middle will make sense.

But when Connelly started the Renee Ballard series a couple years back, I dove in headfirst. And when Ballard's and Bosch's paths crossed, blending the two series together, I was not deterred in the least! In fact, I even started working my way back through the Bosch books, starting with the audios narrated by Welliver himself! My tally so far this year is 6 Connelly titles, most of them on audio. And the year's not done yet.

Readers, you can safely say I am a fan!

The Night Fire continues a track started in the previous Ballard/Bosch outing, Dark Sacred Night, in which the two decide they'll work cases together. Which is why Bosch is comfortable handing the file left to him by his old mentor over to the Late Show cop. Ballard has the connections to more convincingly nose into the case and Bosch has a couple of fires burning on his end already that require attention.

The two work well together and I love the interplay between them. Bosch tends to take a fatherly role that Ballard bucks every chance she can get. I also love that this book brings Haller in as well, much the way the last handful of Bosch titles have. He's not a main player here, but a vehicle for a couple of the subplots running through the story, including the case Bosch takes on for closure.

If you're interested in diving into Connelly's work, I'd recommend starting with The Late Show at the very least. This is the first in Ballard's series and, while it doesn't involve Bosch, it does give you a chance to get to know Ballard as a character, which makes it easier to understand her motivations moving forward into Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire.

Connelly is a master of crime fiction and an absolute (new) favorite of mine!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Alien Echo by Mira Grant

Another lost review from the new baby days! If you haven't experienced those hazy days yourself and have your doubts as to their existence, I recently listened to the audio version of C.J. Tudor's The Hiding Place convinced it had been ages since I read it. Nope, I read it in February of this year! Time is all relative when you have a new baby in the house!

Alien: Echo was read in the same time period and I never did get around to posting about it. But, I'm a die hard Alien fan and an equally die hard Mira Grant fan, so I felt I needed to do a post even if it's been months since the book released!

Olivia and her sister Viola have moved to a new home, again. This time, it's a new colony that has hired their xenobiologist parents to research alien life. But when the colony purchases a ship previously used in biological research, a ship that they plan to strip and repurpose, the girls' father is sent as part of the team to ensure the ship is safe. 

Which of course, it isn't! 

The ship crashes and the previously peaceful colony is infested with xenomorphs. Now, Olivia and her sister will have to find a way to survive and escape before becoming prey themselves!

There are few surprises in Alien: Echo. It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect it to be. (As is the case with just about every installment in the franchise.) And yet, the sci-fi/horror combo is one that I crave on a level I cannot even begin to accurately describe! And, this is a YA installment too.

The world Grant has created here is one filled with unique creatures galore. Plus, the characters are great! Olivia and Viola are twins but Viola got dealt a bad hand. As such, she's housebound while Olivia is free to attend school and make friends. But they're thick as thieves, so Olivia comes to Viola's defense quickly and passionately.

But Olivia has a crush on a classmate and it's this crush, this desire to connect and foster a relationship that means something more, that drives Olivia as the book begins. And allows Olivia to make decisions that aren't really all that smart.

She recovers quickly. Olivia is a fighter and a survivor, both of which are necessary in an alien invasion!

So yeah, the book is exactly what you expect, but as a fan of the world who never can get enough, it's highly satisfying fun!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Come Closer by Sara Gran

Amanda is changing. At first, it's little things: arguments with her husband, a new shade of lipstick, ordering the wrong book online. But then the little things spiral. The argument with her husband turns into her burning him with a cigarette. The new shade of lipstick is one she's accused of shoplifting, even though she's sure she didn't. 

And then there's the book. A book on demon possession that Amanda received by accident, surely. Except that the book resonates with her more and more with each passing day. 

Come Closer is one of those books that consistently pops up on best of genre lists. Published in 2003, it's almost embarrassing it's taken me this long to actually buy and read the book!

But I was in Houston in October and popped into Murder By the Book to attend the Yrsa Sigurðardóttir/Michael Stanley (Michael Sears) event, which happened to be taking place on the one night I was in town! And of course I had to do some shopping! The bookseller helping me pulled it off the shelf as one of her "dark" recommendations and I figured I'd waited long enough.

The book is about demon possession and makes no bones about it. There's very little question as to whether that's what's going on—from the moment Amanda receives the book and begins to wonder herself, it's clear she's being possessed. Instead, the momentum of the story is built by Amanda's attempts to overcome Naamah, the demon intent on possessing her.

It's a battle of wits, a psychological push and pull all going on within Amanda's mind considering almost no one around her, except maybe those possessed themselves, are aware that Amanda isn't in control of the changes she's going through.

Come Closer is a creepy read packed into a little more than 150 pages and one deserving of all the praise it consistently gets. If you're in the mood for a darker read that you can finish in one sitting, this is absolutely the book for you!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Zero Day by Kelly deVos

Happy Book Birthday to Kelly deVos whose latest, Zero Day, releases today!

The day should have been just like any other. Jinx is excited for the end of school so she can go home and tackle a campaign she's been planning in her favorite online game. The only hitch is that she needs snacks. 

What Jinx didn't plan for, though, was an apocalypse-level political coup!

Luckily for Jinx, her father trained her and her brother for this. He even wrote the book about surviving it. But he's also accused of causing it. Now Jinx must navigate this new world while also facing complications that come from being the daughter of the man who may be responsible. 

Holy cow this is a frightening book!

As you start into Zero Day, it seems like you're diving into a contemporary teen novel set in today's world. But, within just a few lines it becomes clear that deVos has created a world similar to but different from our own.

There are two political parties, like our own, but these are called The Spark and The Opposition. What's more, the political upheaval in Jinx's world has resulted in a New Depression. Which is why, as the book begins, people are worried about the latest election results. Just how worried becomes all too clear within these opening chapters.

As mentioned, though, Jinx is somewhat prepared. Her father, aka Dr. Doomsday, is the authority on survival. He's also, as we soon find out, responsible for a program that was supposed to reveal system weaknesses but ended up being used to tear down those systems!

I really enjoyed the pacing and Jinx's smarts. I did, however, find the political aspects terrifying! deVos has very aptly created a world that's close enough to our own that the scenario here feels all too possible!

Zero Day is the first in a duology and I can't wait to see what'll happen next!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Before the Devil Fell by Neil Olson

It's fall and I'm all about the creepy reads, so when this one popped onto my radar I knew I had to get to it this month.

Will Connor has made a life and a career for himself in New York but when his mother is injured in a fall, he has no choice but to put that life on hold and go home to take care of her. 

But for Will, home is definitely not where the heart is. He never quite settled into his mother's lifestyle, one he refers to as "hippie" but is, in fact, much closer to the occult than he'd prefer to admit. And then there are the accidents. Deaths that happen maybe a little too often and center around a specific group of families that all have a long connection to the small town. 

Will had pushed most of this to the back of his mind, but now that he's back it's all too viscerally real. But is there really something sinister and witchy to all of this? And if so, is there anything Will can actually do to stop it?

Before the Devil Fell is a quiet sort of dreadful novel. One that's steeped in witchy lore but eases you into it rather than being all up in your face!

It begins with Will in New York, where he teaches classes focused on folklore and legend. He has a strained relationship with is parents, but not so strained that he doesn't feel obligated to take care of his mother in her time of need.

But when he arrives, it's clear he's unsettled for more reasons that just family stress.

And then an old friend pops up. Sam, the neighbor girl, who he'd been having strange dreams about just prior to his return.

Sam makes people nervous, but it's unclear just why that might be even as the story begins to pick up steam.

There's a hum of creepiness that starts to seep in early on. A note that niggles at your brain as you're reading but stays steady in the background, growing oh so slowly more intense as the narrative flows on...

I loved it! It was the perfect blend of atmosphere and history, legend and skepticism, thriller and horror...A cross-genre read that plays on folksy, ritualistic horror!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Old Bones by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Everyone knows the story of the Donner Party. And the ruins of their ill-fated campsite have been studied to no end. But when evidence of a rumored third campsite is found, Nora Kelly can't resist the urge to be part of the discovery. 

Nora is approached by a historian in possession Tamsyn Donner's own journal. While the journal itself is of significant historical value, it's the information inside that's the real treasure: a sort of map that Nora believes they can follow to the third campsite. 

But it's the promise of something much more tempting that leads to the funding of the expedition. Gold that has never been recovered and could be hidden at the site. Enough that would pay for the cost of the entire dig. Enough that would endanger the expedition should the information get out. 

Under a veil of secrecy, Nora and her team set off through difficult terrain in search of the campsite. But someone is following them. Someone who knows the value of what the Donner Party was carrying. Someone who will do anything to find it. 

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child kick off a new series with Old Bones. It's not new, new, just Pendergast-adjacent new. 

Longtime readers will remember Nora from Thunderhead and a number of Pendergast titles. And while she was the main character in Thunderhead, Old Bones is the start of her official series. One that pairs her with another character fans will recognize, FBI Agent Corrie Swanson. 

The book is, as is true of all of the Preston and Child's books, a fun blend of historical fact, science, and fiction with a dash of maybe paranormal. And I loved almost all of it. The build was great. Nora, post Smithback, was great. And I absolutely loved the twist on the Donner story, especially seeing as how it was something of a theme in my reading at the time. 

The only thing I didn't love was the way the story wrapped up. The final reveal wasn't a rich in detail and explanation as I would have liked. It felt a little too quick and easy and ultimately fell a little flat for me. 

Let me stress that it wasn't disappointing to the point that I couldn't enjoy the book as a whole. Nor would it enough to deter me from recommending the heck out of this one, especially if you're new to the authors. In fact, this is the perfect diving in point for anyone who may be Pendergast curious but intimidated by the very large backlist of that series. 

Nora has always been one of my favorite side characters in the Pendergast series and I am so excited to see where they'll take her next!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

In the spring of 1846, a wagon train of over 80 people set off from Missouri on their way to California. They deviated from the well known Oregon Trail, opting to take the Hastings Cutoff, a newly touted shorter route west. Unfortunately, the route was untested and the weather took a turn for the worst. That, combined with even more bad luck, left the travelers stranded, snowed in and starving.

This was, of course, the ill-fated Donner Party. And the subject Alma Katsu tackled in The Hunger. But, Katsu adds a supernatural twist to the story, beginning with Donner's wife, Tamsen, whose talents with herbs and plants are a little more than the average medicinal knowledge.

Tamsen feels a darkness hovering over their traveling party. Something that she tries to ward off and protect her children from. It's a darkness the travelers encounter multiple times along the way, though not all of them recognize it for what it is.

Peppered throughout the narrative are varying points of view, including a traveler who takes his leave of the party to observe the local native tribes. It's through these viewpoints we finally get a full picture of the trouble that plagues the party.

The Hunger reminded me of the 1999 movie Ravenous. Any story about cannibalism in a historical setting kind of has to, right? Especially when you're dealing with horror of this variety. And I have to say, Katsu's story is a really good one. Her twist on the well-known story works smoothly and organically. And the focus isn't too heavy on the supernatural aspects. She gives voice to the characters, the people of the party, fictionalized as they are, in such a way that they are humanized and sympathetic. Which, considering they are real people who experienced something truly, truly tragic, was welcome.

(Tomorrow, I'm reviewing the new Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child release, which is also a Donner retelling!)

Katsu takes on another historical tragedy in her next book, The Deep, a retelling of the Titanic. I have a couple of those in my TBR too, so look to some paired reviews to come!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Lying Room by Nicci French

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for the latest Nicci French thriller, The Lying Room.

Neve is having an affair. A fling with her boss. But when she shows up for a morning together and finds him dead in his flat, she knows she has to do something.

Fearing her secret will ruin her family, Neve scrubs the apartment of her every trace. But the nagging feeling that she's forgotten something is one she can't throw off. And when the detective on the case begins to show an inordinate amount of interest in Neve, it seems maybe her secret is going to get out anyway. 

Husband and wife Nicci Gerard and Sean French are at it again with another page-turning suspense read that will keep you guessing until the very end!

Neve is, as mentioned, cheating on her husband. It's been going on for a bit—still exciting and fun—and she's done everything she can to make sure her family and her coworkers will never find out. But before the affair can come to a natural end, her lover is murdered and an investigation is underway.

An investigation that's hampered by the fact that, in the interest of keeping her relationship secret, Neve cleaned the crime scene of every trace of herself and the killer!

I can't say that Neve is a completely unlikable character. You'd think she would be considering she didn't have any thought as to the killer's identity or her lover's murder but only in making sure her own little world isn't upset by the death. But in spite of all of that, she does care about her family and her kids. And much of the book is focused on her concern about the people in her life. Which balances her terrible decision making in the beginning of the book.

And the narrative moves so quickly that even while you're shaking your head at Neve's poor choices, you're still being pulled along in the whodunit and whodunit and will Neve get away with what's she's done of the story!

Nicci French has been on my must read list for some years now and this latest is yet another example of why that is! Plus, if you haven't read them and have been intimidated by the fact that their latest books were all part of a series, this one is a stand alone!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Nicci French and their work you can like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Art of Escapism Cooking by Mandy Lee

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm kicking off the TLC blog tour for Mandy Lee's (aka Lady and Pups) debut cookbook, The Art of Escapism Cooking: A Survival Story With Intensely Good Flavors.

What do you do when your spouse's job takes you to a foreign land where you're increasingly irritated by your surroundings? Well, in Mandy Lee's case, you cook. A lot.

This is a gorgeous cookbook with tantalizing dishes a person can lose themselves in. And that's the point—cooking as escapism! Food makes Lee happy. Intricate dishes as much as easy dishes. It's something she was able to dive into while at the peak of unhappiness. And the reason for that level of unhappiness is made clear in a piece she includes about China called "Meet Richard."

This is a cookbook perfect for reading as much as it is for cooking. Lee heads up almost every section with an essay like "Meet Richard" and "My Days as a Ma-jiang Line Cook" giving you a chance to get to know her in the same way longtime followers of her blog have gotten to know her. And the table of contents itself is a good indication of what you're in for too:

For Getting Out of Bed
For Slurping
For a Crowd
For Snacking
Shit I Eat When I'm By Myself
For Sweets
For Pups

And the recipes are a cool amalgamation of cultural food influences: Buffalo Fried Chicken Ramen, Mochi Challah Bread Stuffed with Proscuitto and Dates, Pizza Tonnato with Chinese Pancetta, and that amazing burger on the cover, Crackling-Studded Pork Belly Burger!

If cooking is your lifeline, your addiction (as Lee puts it), this is the best cookbook you can buy!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Mandy Lee you can visit her blog here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm kicking off the TLC blog tour for Deborah Crombie's latest, A Bitter Feast, which releases today!

Gemma and Duncan are set to spend a few days in the country courtesy of their friend and fellow officer, Melody Talbot. Melody, the daughter of a society matron and a newspaper mogul, has invited Gemma, Duncan, their three children, and Doug, another of their friends, to visit her family estate where her mother has been planning a luncheon to show off the talent of local pub owner and chef, Viv Holland. Of course, it's a charity luncheon, meant to raise money and awareness, but Melody knows well that her mother believes she's doing Viv a favor in introducing her talent more broadly. 

Unfortunately, the event catches the eye of one of Viv's old colleagues, a celebrity chef who's fallen on hard times. When he shows up at Viv's pub demanding an audience, it creates quite the scene. And later, when he's found dead in a car accident that involves Kincaid himself, it seems the police have a true mystery on their hands. 

The accident claims the life of a local woman who has no determinable connection to the chef. But his presence in her car is the least of it. It appears the man in question was dead prior to the actual accident. And since Nell, the driver, can't answer any questions herself, it falls to the local detectives to find out what's going on. Seeing as how Kincaid is affected directly, it's no stretch that both he and Gemma soon find themselves involved in the investigation.

This is the eighteenth installment in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series! Eighteenth! Crombie kicked off the series in 1993 with A Share in Death and has been at it ever since.

Diving into a new book in this series is like slipping on your favorite sweater. It's such a comfort returning to characters I've grown to know and love throughout the series. And that's just one of my favorite parts: the characters.

Crombie excels at characters. The development and growth of the series regulars as well as the slew of new characters introduced at the heart of each new book is something not many authors can pull off. She does it, in part, by offering up varying perspectives throughout the book. And in less deft hands this would likely be jarring, but Crombie pulls it off!

In A Bitter Feast, not only are Gemma, Duncan, Melody, and Doug all continuing their own stories, but new and peripheral character are as well. Kit gets to spread his wings a bit, for example. And we also get pieces of Viv's own perspective, Booth (the detective on the case), and other players in the village as well.

This gives us a chance to become truly invested in the characters and their story. It also gives us a chance to try and solve the mystery ourselves!

And that's my other favorite aspect of this series: the mysteries! Crombie's careful plotting and deliberate doling out of clues makes each new book such a fun read! They're also the perfect blend of cozy and dark elements, toeing the line between the two types of mysteries and offering up just enough of the dark stuff to satisfy a reader like myself, while also being perfect reads for folks who shy away from heavier genre fare!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Deborah Crombie and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Friday, September 27, 2019

Short Fiction Friday: The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

I should start a series of lost reviews. Books I read in the final months of pregnancy and the first months of new parenthood that I never got around to writing up because my brain was too much mush!

Ira Levin's classic sci fi tale falls into that category. In fact, probably one of the only reasons I got through the whole book was because it's actually a novella! A peek at my books read from the early months of 2019 reveals a penchant for graphic novels and easily digestible reads. If you go further back, you'll see that between Halloween and the end of last year, I only managed to finish seven books. Understandable, I think :)

But I also didn't review any of those books. I am endeavoring to do so now.

I'm not sure I need to write my usual synopsis for this one. It seems like one so many people are familiar with already. But maybe that's not true. Maybe there's a whole slew of readers who aren't familiar with Levin. I personally hadn't read him until this one, though I have been quite familiar with his work for some time. I fear we're coming to a time when younger generations won't even know what a Stepford Wife is!

Here's the gist: Joanna and her husband are the newest neighbors in the charming and close-knit Stepford community. But the longer they live there, the more the neighborhood rubs Joanna the wrong way. What was once idyllic is now insular. And what was once welcoming, to the point of being obnoxious, is now off-putting. But Joanna is only just beginning to realize the truth about her new home...

I choose to believe my delay in coming to Levin's work, particularly The Stepford Wives and Rosemary's Baby (which admittedly I've only watched the adaptation of and haven't yet read), is timely. I watched Rosemary's Baby for the first time while I was pregnant. I'll read it as a mother. And I read The Stepford Wives before my son was two months old. Like I said, timely.

Of course the book is a statement on a lot of things, most particularly the drive to stay young and appealing. For me, at least for much of this first year of motherhood, I haven't really cared! But the people in this book would be aghast at the thought! If I lived in Stepford, well...let's just say the expectation if I'd just moved there would be that I'd be working to get back into shape. That I'd have supper on the table every night for my hardworking husband. That my house certainly wouldn't be the mess it's been for over a year now. And I'd do all of this with a smile on my fresh and rested face while parenting our son with nary a complaint or thought about myself!

And while most women would rally behind me in my messy house and sweatpants glory, the women in Levin's story would not.

I loved The Stepford Wives. Nothing it reveals about the world is new (and it wasn't when it was released in the 70s) but that's not the point. Throwing the ridiculousness of society's, and even men's, expectations in your face is what it's about. And it's fun. What's more, though the book is almost fifty years old now, it's aged magnificently well!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

The Turner family is a bit...strange. Noah Turner's father died of cancer. But before he passed, he became obsessed with building a Halloween haunted house that would thrill and delighte people from miles around. After he died, Noah's mother hid all of his papers away, much to the ire of her eldest daughter, Sydney.

Then, when Noah is just 6, Sydney goes missing. And Noah makes a peculiar friend.

A Cosmology of Monsters is an odd and fabulous read! It's literary horror (leaning a bit more literary than horror in my opinion, but perfect for fans of both genres) that examines family relationships, mental health, and so much more!

The story doesn't begin with Noah—well, it does, because he is our narrator, but then he backtracks to tell of his family's origins. How his mother and father met. And I immediately felt a kinship with both Noah's mother and father! His father, perusing books he hasn't paid for and his mother, the irritated bookseller who takes her frustrations in life out on this poor soul!

Soon they are married and have two children, Sydney and Eunice. And things are good for a while. And then they aren't.

In the meantime, Noah's father begins obsessing over building a haunted house. Pieces and parts begin to take over their house and their yard. Every minute is devoted to planning and building the thing and soon the whole family is involved. It should have been a fun affair except that it becomes and all consuming obsession, one Noah's mother isn't on board for especially when she finds out she's pregnant with a third child.

Jumping forward six years, Noah is a child who never knew his father but lives in his shadow. His loss affected the family greatly. His oldest sister clashes with their mother regularly. But the rift in their relationship goes deeper than simply butting heads. Sydney won't let go of her conviction (one she's had since she was a small child) that her mother didn't truly support her father. And Eunice, who'd always stepped up as Noah's best friend, has begun to drift away. Leaving Noah vulnerable and in need of a friend.

And this is when the book gets weird! But in such a good way!

I was intrigued by this book from the start. The cover and the description caught my attention and it was immediately added to my reading plans. But other readers got to it first—and were raving about it! And I mean RAVING! Which could have set me up for disaster, all things considered.

Fortunately it lived up to the hype.

It wasn't exactly what I expected. As I mentioned above, it's literary horror with the bones of a classic horror story wrapped up in a more literary package. Readers who dive more deeply into narratives will find a lot to analyze in this one in terms of family. I would have liked a bit more of the city, but enjoyed what little there was. And I loved the cosmic horror undertones!

A Cosmology of Monsters is an accomplished debut, one that will appeal to readers who like bizarre books that sit between genres. Everyone who reads it is in for an absolute treat!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Stranger Inside by Lisa Unger

Rain Winter has put her career as a producer on hold to be a full time mom. She and her husband agreed. But the tug of the newsroom becomes too much to bear when Steve Markham is murdered. 

Markham had been acquitted in the case of his wife's murder a year earlier. And Rain had been there to cover it. To say she'd been disappointed when the man was let go is an understatement. And Rain clearly wasn't the only one. 

Rain's sources hint that officials believe the case is connected to at least one, if not two others. Two other cases where killers who didn't pay for their crimes were killed after the fact. One of them the man who changed Rain's life forever. 

Rain was only twelve when she narrowly avoided being kidnapped. Her two best friends weren't so lucky. One of them escaped, the other was killed. Rain knows she's never fully healed from the trauma and believes diving back into work—diving into Markham's murder—could finally offer her some peace. But balancing motherhood and career isn't the only challenge she'll face. 

Lisa Unger's latest is a deep dive into childhood trauma, motherhood, and the current true crime obsession. And it's a dark dive indeed!

Rain and her husband have agreed that one of them should be home with their new baby. So Rain puts her career aside to do just that. But as pretty much any new mom who's had a career can attest, setting aside one chunk of yourself to devote yourself to being mom is hard! And the Markham case is unfinished business.

But she can't quite return to the newsroom. So she toys with the idea of a podcast, something that gets enthusiastic support from her old colleagues.

There's just one problem: she isn't sure how to broach the subject with her husband. She is sure, though,—convinced, in fact—that seeing the case to its conclusion and analyzing her own past will be cathartic. Will offer some release of the pain and guilt she's felt at avoiding her own abductor's hands. He was, after all, targeting her when he took her friends instead. And she's never been able to forget.

There is another POV featured in the book: Hank, the other survivor. Hank, who was once Rain's friend, is now a psychologist working with patients who've experienced trauma. Hank is helping people like himself heal and move on. Except we learn pretty quickly that Hank didn't heal and definitely hasn't moved on! So while some of Rain's biggest questions in any story—who, what, where, when, why, and how—may be known to the reader (and, at least in some small part, Rain), there are still a lot of questions that drive The Stranger Inside.

Different things strike different chords for every reader and for me, the strongest chord this one hit was motherhood. The guilt that goes with wanting to be an individual beyond "mom," the terror at trying to protect your child and keep them safe from the outside world, the uncertainty and fear that every step you take is the wrong one. Unger perfectly illustrates these feelings and more in Rain.

As I mentioned, this is a dark one. If cozies are your bag, The Stranger Inside is probably not at the top of your TBR. But if you're a fan of Mindhunter and true crime podcasts, Unger's latest should absolutely be on your radar!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

Happy Thursday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Valerie Valdes's debut, Chilling Effect.

Eva Innocente walks the straight and narrow these days; no illegal jobs for her or her crew. Unfortunately there's no money in the straight and narrow. Which becomes a major problem when her sister, Mari, is snatched by the criminal organization known as The Fridge. In order to free Mari, Eva will have to break her own vow to stay on the legal side of things and earn enough money doing The Fridge's bidding to satisfy the debt. Do the jobs, Mari gets out. Should be easy. Or not...

Valerie Valdes's debut is one of a kind! A Cuban captain with attitude, psychic cats, and a whole slew of alien beings beyond most of our imaginings are just a few of the things readers encounter in the pages of Chilling Effect.

Eva, as we soon learn, has a dark past. It's one she's tried very hard to overcome, so much so that she won't even work with her own father (who admittedly toes the legal line!). But in spite of all of her efforts, she's dragged into this mess with The Fridge. In part because her dad doesn't have enough funds to make The Fridge happy and neither does anyone else in the family.

Not that Eva has the money either. Instead, she has the means and the potential (i.e. the ship and the crew). But before she can even get started with a job that seems simple enough, Eva gets and entire station on her tail!

Oh yeah, and can I mention again the psychic cats?! Twenty of them, all making trouble from the literal start of the book.

Chilling Effect is every ounce of fun you can imagine and more! If you're a fan of Becky Chambers or any other quirky sci-fi, you have to read this one! If you don't, the psychic cats will come and get you :)

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Valerie Valdes and her work you can visit her blog here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

A Girl Named Anna by Lizzy Barber

Anna doesn't question her mother. She doesn't break the rules. But now Anna is eighteen and her boyfriend has a trip to the popular Astroland theme park planned for her birthday. And for the first time, Anna is purposely going against her mother's rules. 

Oddly enough, Anna feels a sense of familiarity when they arrive at Astroland. But that doesn't make any sense—she's never been to the park. What's more, in this weird deja vu, Anna isn't Anna. She's Emily. 

Meanwhile, over in the UK, Rosie is facing the fifteenth anniversary of her older sister's disappearance. She's lived in the shadow of this incident her entire life and the case has never been resolved. Now, so many years on, it appears the family is running out of resources and may have to finally admit defeat. But Rosie wants to give it one more shot on her own. One more attempt to find out what happened to her sister all those years ago. 

A Girl Named Anna (aka My Name is Anna overseas) is a really excellently paced and plotted thriller.

From the start, the reader suspects Anna's and Rosie's stories are connected. So the mystery isn't necessarily who is Anna but what happened to her.

It's also a story about family and, in particular, sisters. Rosie is affected by her sister's disappearance every day. The media, the attention, the curious strangers, it never goes away. And yet, rather than become bitter and angry, she becomes more determined than ever to find out the truth.

This book was an emotional read. Much more so than I expected out of a thriller! I hesitate to say more because I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but I will say that I found this to a truly immersive book that sucked me in from the very start!

A Girl Named Anna is Barber's debut and winner of the Daily Mail First Novel Competition. A worthy winner for sure and one that makes Barber a must read for me moving forward.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

It doesn’t bode well for Ellery and her brother when they stumble upon a body their very first night in Echo Ridge! 

The twins have been sent to live with a grandmother they barely know while their mom goes through rehab. And it’s their first time in Echo Ridge, since their mother never had any problem sharing exactly how much distaste she had for her hometown. But Ellery can understand. Her own aunt went missing during high school and while her mom never talks about it, Ellery knows it weighs heavy on her. 

Ellery, a true crime nut, is determined to learn more about her aunt’s disappearance now that she has the chance. But she’s barely able to scrape the surface of that mystery when Echo Ridge is targeted by a twisted psychopath. Someone is threatening the homecoming court. And it’s not the first time!

McManus's latest, which came out in January, pits a teenage detective and her friends against a serial killer with a seeming history of targeting homecoming queens.

Ellery is really biding her time in Echo Ridge, waiting to return to California as soon as possible. But her interest in true crime means the tiny town has at least one things going for it—the unsolved case of her aunt's disappearance. Plus, there's the fact that someone killed the homecoming queen just a few years ago too.

But, as mentioned, Ellery doesn't really gain much headway in her investigation before threats against this year's court begin to appear throughout town.

It doesn't help that Ellery herself was nominated for homecoming queen! And that the prime possible suspect is the same man who was accused of murder just a few years ago. Or his brother, who Ellery has very mixed feelings for. Or a local cop on the case... Echo Ridge is packed with suspects and it's an armchair detective's dream come true, as long as it doesn't mean becoming a victim first!

Two Can Keep a Secret is a quick read with a likable heroine and an intriguing mystery. I did think some of the plot points could have been tied up a little more satisfactorily, but overall this was an enjoyable dark thriller perfectly fitting for any suspense fan, teen or adult!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Karin Slaughter's latest, The Last Widow.

Will Trent and Sara Linton are spending a pretty average weekend together when their literal world is shaken. An explosion at the nearby college sends the two heading straight into the path of danger. But before they can get to the scene to help, they're sidelined by a car accident. The passengers in the three vehicles aren't in great shape. In fact, it doesn't take long to figure out that one has died already. But this is no average accident. In fact, the "victims" aren't victims at all. They're the bombers fleeing the site. 

Sara is kidnapped and Will is left injured on the sidelines with the knowledge that every minute that passes could mean Sara's very life. But as Will and his colleagues investigate, the plot in this particular crime becomes more convoluted and no one is sure exactly what the ultimate goal is for these criminals. 

To call The Last Widow propulsive would be a massive understatement. The plot is devastatingly fast, the kind of book that keeps you up at night (an undeniable fact, considering I was reading at 2am!).

There was one small hiccup with the pacing for me, however. For this installment in the series, Slaughter gives readers the chance to see multiple characters' perspectives of the same scenes. Which means a bit of backtracking and overlapping in the story. The effect was one I experience most with fantasy novels, waiting to get back to a particular storyline or character because I'm dying to know what's going to happen!

That said, this books still manages to move at a lightning pace! I loved that I really couldn't guess where the story was going next.

Will and Sara are a bit new to me. My introduction to them was actually the previous book in the series, The Kept Woman. Prior to that, my experience with Slaughter was pretty limited to her stand alones. As I mentioned in that review, however, the book worked really well as a stand alone and gave me the opportunity to get to know both Will and Sara so that I was really stoked to get back to them with The Last Widow. And Slaughter did not disappoint in that regard either. The emotional impact of this story is all the more heavy thanks to the character building. Not only am I invested in their careers but also in their relationship, all of which are obviously strained here.

And as each character, Will, Sara, and others, are pushed to their limits, the book becomes even more intense!

Apologies for the massive amounts of exclamation points in this review. Slaughter's books are massively exciting reads for me. Her plots are always so tightly planned and executed that even the most unbelievable points become spectacularly real in her deft hands.

Note: This is the ninth book in the Will Trent series and does contain some spoilers for book 8. I was fine beginning with 8 but if you'd like to start from the very beginning, the series order is:

Tryptich
Fractured
Undone
Broken
Fallen
Criminal
Unseen
The Kept Woman
The Last Widow

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Karin Slaughter and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Cassie Hanwell is a star on the rise in the Austin Fire Department. The youngest firefighter (and only woman) to be awarded the department’s Valor Award and having recently passed the Lieutenants Exam mean an inevitable big promotion—until she screws it all up by very publicly assaulting a local politician.

Not that it happened without reason. Which is why she’s granted a bit of a reprieve and a chance to get out of the limelight until the trouble passes. Coincidentally, her mother has asked Cassie to move in for a year and help her recover from eye surgery. So Cassie finds a position in a tiny town outside Boston. A position given to her only because the department is so desperate for men that it’ll even take a woman! But Cassie knows her place as the first female in the old-school Lillian Fire Department is precarious. It means, per her old captain’s warnings, keeping her head down and never drawing undue attention to the fact that she’s not technically one of the boys. But Cassie isn’t one to keep her head down and when she meets to new rookie, she knows it’s going to be harder than she ever thought it could be!

Oh, I loved Katherine Center’s latest! Strained family dynamics, sexism, harassment, and more can’t keep Cassie Hanwell down. But it’s how she deals with it all that makes this such a great read.

Cassie and her mother have a terrible relationship, all thanks to her mother walking out on Cassie and her father on Cassie’s sixteenth birthday. And while that’s bad enough, the reader quickly learns that that birthday was worse than just that.

But as it turns out, and as is made clear by Cassie’s own father, Cassie’s mother isn’t a bad person. And living with her for a year gives Cassie a chance to finally learn that. It's also an opportunity to forgive her for her actions all those years ago. If, that is, Cassie is willing to give her the chance.

Cassie is as tough as she is stubborn. She’s also smart and incredibly likable. Which makes reading her story such a treat.

I’ll add, too, that I enjoyed this one so much I immediately downloaded the audio short that’s a bit of an accompaniment to this one. (It also cements a tie in with How to Walk Away that fans will definitely catch reference to early in the book.) The Girl in the Plane is read by Center herself and includes a first chapter excerpt of the audiobook of Things You Save in a Fire.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abby Waxman

Ever since I read The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman, she’s been an author on my must-read list. And her latest couldn’t have been more fun!

Nina Hill is comfortable with her routine. She goes to work, she goes to book club, she goes to trivia. Once a week she goes to the movies, usually by herself. She doesn’t own a car, her world is basically walking distance from her cozy house where she lives with her books and her cat.

But when Nina finds out the father she never knew has passed away, all of that changes. Apparently, her dad had quite the family. Which Nina has now inherited. The introduction of a slew of strangers in her life means Nina’s carefully managed day to day existence is in complete upheaval. And she’s not sure she likes it one bit!

This latest from Waxman is just as sweet and funny as her previous outings. Plus, I feel a special kinship with Nina considering she’s book people :)

So Nina grew up without a dad. And mostly without a mom, too. Her mom is a photographer who travels the world and never really told Nina much about her father. Instead, Nina was raised by a nanny who was more of a parental figure than either of her biological parents.

And as it turns out, her father was asked to stay away and never contact her. Of course once he’s passed away he figured that deal was over and done with. Which is why Nina is contacted by a lawyer and told she’s a beneficiary in the dead man’s will.

Nina was the product of an affair. The man in question also married three times and had children in each marriage. And some of those children have children now as well. Which means Nina has quite a large family of complete strangers to get to know. And some of them are pretty intent on that happening - Nina getting to know them, that is.

But Nina is so stringent in her routine that she even has Thursday evenings blocked off to do literally nothing. And she won’t even budge for a date!

Turns out Nina’s strict scheduling is her way of dealing with anxiety, something I can sympathize with.

Like I said, her story is sweet and fun. It’s a pretty light and breezy read as well, though it does touch on anxiety issues in a way that I think even those who don’t suffer from it can understand.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is the perfect read for the end of summer. Something happy with lots of heart, perfect for these final long, sunny evenings!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Passengers by John Marrs

Happy Book Birthday to John Marrs whose latest, The Passengers, released today.

Eight people have been taken hostage. Their fates are in the hands of a cruel hacker out to prove a point and intent on using the court of public appeal, via social media, as help. The eight people are as different as can be. One is an aging actress, one is a pregnant mother-to-be, one is a cop while another is actually her husband, one is an immigrant housewife in the wrong place at the wrong time, one is an asylum seeker, one is a single man, and one is a veteran. The one thing they all have in common is that they are all Passengers.

Their cars, powered by AI trusted to get them safely from one place to another, have been hijacked. The hacker has told them all that they will likely be dead in two hours. And the whole world is watching.

In the near future, autonomous cars are mandatory. Roads are safer, insurance is cheaper, and the government offers incentives for people in need of an upgrade.

But things aren’t as rosy as they appear in this future. In Marrs’s imagined future, these cars are supposed to be impossible to hack. But someone has figured out how to do it and his end goal is...well, that's part of the plot.

In addition to the perspectives of some of the Passengers, the novel also features Libby Dixon, a civilian member on a jury tasked with examining cases where people have been killed in car accidents. But, of course, the job is a little different now. Now it's determining whether the AI is responsible or not. And the hacker has his eye on them. In fact, it seems that the issue the hacker may be trying to bring to light is the fact that the cars aren’t as safe as the government would have us believe. And yet, as the book continues, it becomes clear there’s something deeper going on. Each of the characters hints at something hiding in their pasts. And it seems maybe the hacker's purpose is much darker than simply bringing to light the government's part in reliance on an untrustworthy technology.

Obviously it's darker than that. He's willing to kill people!

If you’re a fan of Black Mirror, this is a must read. The over reliance on technology, greedy agendas, shady government participation, it's all on point for anyone who has a healthy skepticism about these things. Which makes it both a dark and fun read!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

Summer's almost over and that makes me sad. It's always been my favorite time of year, with fall a close second (because fall = Halloween!). But the shortening days and colder weather are definitely not my jam. Give me sweltering heat, afternoons under a ceiling fan or sitting poolside (I wish!), or a tropical drink and a beach any day!

And books! But those get me through year round :)

Over the years I've shied away somewhat from the term "beach read" mostly because A. my preferred beach reading is very different from other people's (I mean, I read Rebecca and It one summer and consider those a perfect benchmark for "beach" reading, as a result). But when a book is actually centered around a beachy theme...

Catherine Steadman's Something in the Water by definition then falls into the "beach read" category!

Erin and Mark are newlyweds already wading through complications. Mark has recently lost his job, something that forced them to drastically downgrade their wedding plans and their much-anticipated honeymoon. 

But they are still honeymooning! In Bora Bora, no less. While diving one day, though, they make a shocking discovery that kicks off a dangerous set of circumstances and a series of decisions that take them further and further down a path they can't recover from. 

You know things aren't going to end well for Mark and Erin. The book begins with Erin musing over how long it takes to dig a grave—because she's being forced to do just that. But the path that got her to this point is a twisty turny one that Steadman throws the reader headfirst into shortly thereafter.

Erin is a documentary filmmaker working on a project about three prisoners soon to be released back into society. And it's obvious from the start, because of the amount of time spent on this part of her story, that this is going to play some role as the plot proceeds.

The couple is still in the planning stages of the wedding (the final planning stages) when Mark loses his job. The resulting arguments and stress are exactly what you'd imagine considering weddings are EXPENSIVE! But the couple comes to a compromise that still allows them a honeymoon in paradise.

Of course, that's where things start to get really bad. But also heady and exciting for the couple. And the reader is well aware that this is an "if it seems too good to be true" scenario!

It reminded me more than a bit of Peter Benchley's The Deep. (Or rather the two movie adaptations, since I've not read the actual book.) And if you're familiar with that storyline, then you can kind of imagine the path Steadman's debut takes. To make the comparison might be a bit spoilery except that as soon as Mark and Erin make their discovery, you can kind of guess where the story is headed anyway.

Something in the Water isn't a complex cerebral read. But it is quite enjoyable, even if it is a tad predictable. I liked Erin more and more as the story progressed. Can I mention again that we meet her as she's digging a grave? And she's googled about the process on the dead person's phone. So she's no dummy. And even when some of the decisions the couple makes are questionable, it makes you wonder as a reader what you'd do in the same situation, something I really enjoyed mulling over after I'd finished reading.

This is another book I read on audio while hanging with the tiny and it is a phenomenal audiobook! Narrated by Steadman herself, who is also a screen actress (she was in Downton Abbey). It's always a bonus when an author has the ability to narrate their own books. By which I mean when the author has the talent to really do a book justice on audio (because some of them do their own audiobooks when they really shouldn't). And in Steadman's hands (or voice), Something in the Water really shines on audio! (Check out a sample over on Libro.fm.)

I had so much fun with this one that I'm anxiously awaiting Steadman's new release, Mr. Nobody, in January.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Short Fiction Friday: The Devil and the Deep edited by Ellen Datlow

Did you know there are multiple phobias related to water? For example, I love the water. I find it relaxing. In fact, I'd spend every waking minute in a swimming pool if that was an option!

But I have a major fear of open water. Specifically, in searching, thalassophobia seems to be the culprit—a fear of deep water and the things in it. Paired with a teeny bit of claustrophobia this guarantees you'll never find me in a dive suit. Never. (Which is funny because my parents both loved diving!)

But this fear is the thing that makes me reach for movies like Black Water and the upcoming Crawl. It also makes books like The Devil and the Deep a must read for me!

This book features everything from ghosts and sea monsters to viruses and everything else you can imagine in between.

It's hard to play favorites with such an honestly excellent collection, but a few stand outs for me were: Alyssa Wong's "What My Mother Left Me," a chilling tale of loss and desire; Siobhan Carroll's "Haunt,"a historical horror set on a doomed ship; Michael Marshall Smith's "Shit Happens," which is amazingly comical and gross; and Seanan McGuire's dark and twisty take on The Little Mermaid, "Sister, Dearest Sister, Let Me Show You the Sea."

The book also features quite a few of my go to authors in this genre including, McGuire, Stephen Graham Jones, Christopher Golden, and Brian Hodge. There were quite a few new-to-me authors featured as well, such as the aforementioned Carroll, Lee Thomas, Terry Dowling, Ray Cluley.

Here’s the full TOC:

Deadwater by Simon Bestwick
Fodder’s Jig by Lee Thomas
The Curious Allure of the Sea by Christopher Golden
The Tryal Attract by Terry Dowling
The Whalers Song by Ray Cluley
A Ship of the South Wind by Bradley Denton
What My Mother Left Me by Alyssa Wong
Broken Record by Stephen Graham Jones
Saudade by Steve Rasnic Tem
A Moment Before Breaking by A.C. Wise
Sister, Dearest Sister, Let Me Show You to the Sea by Seanan McGuire
The Deep Sea Swell by John Langan
He Sings Of Salt and Wormwood by Brian Hodge
Shit Happens by Michael Marshall Smith
Haunt by Siobhan Carroll

Whether you're terrified of the sea or entranced by it, you're absolutely sure to love this horrific collection of water based terrors!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Sweet Tea and Sympathy by Molly Harper

When up and coming superstar event planner Margot Cary loses control of a huge event in a disastrous way, she finds herself without a job and with dwindling options. No one wants to hire the star of the latest viral video. No one except Margot's long lost Southern family she can't even remember meeting.

Margot's mother whisked her daughter away after having had enough of her husband's drinking. And that was the last time Margot had anything to do with her father or his family in Lake Sackett, Georgia. In all the years since, no one's reached out to her and she's been fine with that.

But they're reaching out now, in the form of an offer of employment. And a place to live. As serendipitous as the offer is, Margot isn't sure she wants anything to do with these people. But with no other offers to speak of, she's willing to do it long enough to land a job elsewhere. The last thing Margot planned on, though, was getting attached!

This is the first book in the Southern Eclectic series. Considering these are quirky rom-coms set around a southern family who runs a bait shop and funeral home (that's one business—a bait shop on the lakeside and a funeral home in the back), with no fangs or fur, it's a bit of a change for Harper!

What isn't a change is Harper's signature humor and charm, which are both present in spades!

These were recommended to me when I asked for something lighthearted and happy—and this first in the series is certainly both.

I liked Margot. She's a bit high strung and also a bit of a snob but she comes by it honestly. As she and her family get to know one another, though, and she falls for a local, she begins to loosen up. And yet, her determination to leave the small town behind and return to the big city and a big job are always at the edges of the story. Which makes the will she won't she aspect much of the tension.

Sweet Tea and Sympathy is perfect if you're in the mood for something light and breezy. It's feel good to the extreme. And if you love it, as I do, there's more! Ain't She a Peach features Margot's cousin, the town coroner, and Gimme Some Sugar focuses on their other cousin, Duffy.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

Vincent, Sam, Sylvie, and Jules have been called to a last minute meeting. A last minute, mandatory meeting at that. They arrive at a random office building in the middle of nowhere, South Bronx, and are told they're going to participate in a team building exercise—an escape room. 

What was supposed to be an hour long detour in each of their evenings, stretches out much longer than expected. Trapped in an elevator with a series of clues to unravel before they can leave, the coworkers, all team members at a highly competitive investment firm, quickly find themselves at each others throats. Each new riddle leads to more and more explosive revelations and it soon becomes clear that this is not about team building at all. 

The Escape Room is an absolute edge of your seat read!

Escape rooms have become more and more popular with each passing month and have entered into pop culture in what has to be the most expected, sinister way—as fodder for horror movies and thrillers. Because what sounds more fun than being trapped with a bunch of people trying to untangle clues and riddles before you can leave, right?

Goldin's tale alternates chapters between the four in the elevator, present, and a woman named Sara Hall. Unemployed and desperate, Sara has run through a series of interviews at a series of investment firms to no end. Until she catches a lucky break that gets her hired at Stanhope and Sons. The very firm Vincent, Sam, Sylvie, and Jules work at. In fact, along with one other employee, Lucy, they make up the very team Sara works alongside.

But Sara and Lucy are conspicuously missing from the escape room antics, which is just the first of many twists of the novel.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book. The pacing was excellent and those twists kept me intrigued throughout. I just had to know what was going to happen next!

This is Goldin's debut release stateside. The Australian native has one previous release that hasn't made its way here as of yet, but I certainly hope that it will. What's more, I'll be looking forward to more from her down the road!

As an aside, I had the chance to listen to this one on audio thanks to Libro.fm and, if audiobooks are your jam, I absolutely recommend it! The audio features two narrators: Ramon de Ocampo and January LaVoy (LaVoy reads Sara's chapters and Ocampo reads the rest).

Friday, July 26, 2019

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Laura Lippman's latest standalone, Lady in the Lake.

It's 1965 and Maddie Schwartz is tired of all the charade. She's tired of being married to Milton Schwartz. She's tired of doing what's expected of her. She's tired of her limitations. And so she leaves her husband and sets out on her own. 

But being on her own means paying her own bills. Which means she needs an income. 

Her lucky break comes at the expense of another. A missing girl and a search party Maddie isn't welcome to join leads her to her own search. Unfortunately she finds the girl, but it's what sets Maddie on the path to becoming someone. And that someone is a reporter. Maddie has no problem digging into other people's business. No problem sticking her nose where people say it doesn't belong. But the drive and determination behind that, the motivation to make something of herself, doesn't go unnoticed. And it doesn't take long for Maddie to start uncovering the wrong person's secrets. 

Lippman's books are always such a treat. She's smart and her books are smart!

Lady in the Lake is, as mentioned, a standalone. Though it is set in Tess Monaghan's world—albeit before Tess's time (with a little nod to her parents).

Race relations are a huge part of the story as are women's roles in the 60s. Maddie bucks expectations in more ways than one and finds ways around most of them. It's not easy, though. And the roadblocks she faces were par for the course for any woman in the 60s.

The "Lady in the Lake," Cleo, is a great parallel to Maddie. Another woman driven to make something of herself, to provide for her children, Cleo is willing to do whatever it takes. But Cleo is black and most definitely not well to do, which means even more roadblocks than Maddie faces. It's also the reason no one looks deeply into her disappearance and murder, in spite of her mother's concerns.

Both Maddie and Cleo are given voice in this story. Interestingly, so are the characters that cross Maddie's and Cleo's paths along the way. Interspersed throughout the book are outtakes of a sort, chapters from the perspectives of police officers, waitresses, reporters...a bevy of people who make up Maddie's and Cleo's  worlds. In less deft hands, these chapters might hang up the story, affecting the overall momentum of the mystery itself. But Lippman weaves these chapters in so organically that the pacing flows perfectly.

As I said, Lippman's books are always a treat and Lady of the Lake further proves that!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour post here.

For more on Lippman and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Poison Thread by Laura Purcell

Dorothea believes wholeheartedly in charitable works. And if her chosen focus—the conditions at Oakgate Prison—just happen to allow her to explore her passion for phrenology, all the better. 

When Dorothea meets Ruth Butterham, she is simply desperate to get at the girl's skull. Ruth's crime is a heinous one and Ruth's confession upon their first meeting that she has killed many, intrigues Dorothea even more. But Ruth's supposed crimes are of a peculiar sort. Each time they meet, she tells more of her tale to Dorothea and it's one woven with oddities that the society woman immediately writes off as superstition. The more she learns of Ruth and her victims, however, the more Dorothea questions whether there's something more than imagination to the tale. 

If Victorian gothic is your jam, Laura Purcell needs to be in your reading plans!

Dorothea is a practical woman and she is a staunch believer in phrenology. This is the terribly maligned belief that people once held regarding the connection between behavior and skull shape. Really, it was an attempt to assign a biological explanation as to why people do the things they do. Obviously, it was short lived as a historical note in criminal justice, but it is alive and well in Dorothea's world!

Poor Ruth is just sixteen as the story takes place and the tale she recounts to Dorothea begins when she's just thirteen. She's the bullied only daughter of a former society woman who was cut off after marrying beneath her station. And they've all suffered for the sin ever since.

Things get worse for the family when Ruth is taken out of school to help her mother's knitting and sewing work so they can afford the addition of a new member to their family, something Ruth is initially resentful for even though it takes her beyond the clutches of her tormentors.

But Ruth has a talent with a needle that is the envy of even her own mother. And soon Ruth comes to believe her talent extends beyond simply creating clean stitches and beautiful patterns.

Ruth is a pitiable character. She suffers so much and the reader can't help by sympathize with her. Even Dorothea finds herself sympathizing with the girl, though she analyzes every statement with an understandable reservation. On the one hand, she believes in verifiable facts. And there are many, many verifiable facts to Ruth's story as well as logical explanations for the more fantastical parts. The story causes her to evaluate her own situation more than she'd like as well considering she's been carrying on with an illicit affair under her father's nose.

As with her debut, The Silent Companion, the thread of potential supernatural forces throughout the book remains something both Dorothea and the reader question as a reality throughout the book. And the pacing is deliberate, which, paired with a quieter sense of dread throughout, means this is a slow burn.

But what a read it is! If you have the patience and the time to really dive into Purcell's work, it is so rewarding! The creep factor ratchets up with each new chapter. The story becomes darker and darker as Ruth's story comes closer to it's end. And the unexpected (but strongly hinted at) twist is so satisfying!

I loved this book immensely and highly recommend it for fans of creepy classic gothic historicals!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Vox by Christina Dalcher - paperback release + a Giveaway

Happy Paperback Release Day to Christina Dalcher!

I reviewed Vox when it was new out in hardcover, but I'm reposting today to promote the paperback release of this explosive and terrifying debut. I'm also offering up one copy in a giveaway so be sure to read through to the end to enter!

Imagine if you were restricted, by law, to just 100 words a day. You aren't allowed a job, a career, of any kind. Your money is controlled by someone else and your privileges as a member of society have been reduced to daily tasks and chores only.

In Christina Dalcher's debut, this is the reality of the new America and the life women are forced to live when an evangelical-led government comes into power and decides it's time for a change.

Jean lives in this reality. She can recall a time when this wasn't the case - when she was allowed to speak as much as she wanted, when she held a job she was proud of, when she didn't have to constantly worry about her own daughter facing the painful consequences of speaking too many words in one day. And Jean is a linguist, so she worries about the overall effect this limit will have on her daughter as she grows, not just in terms of changing social norms but in terms of education and development.

But for now, this is Jean's reality.

And then things change. Jean's expertise is requested by none other than the president himself, giving Jean the bargaining chip she needs to garner some bit of freedom for herself and her daughter. But she soon learns that her own freedom will come at great cost.


This book. This book! Yes, it's one of those reads. The kind that shakes you to the core. The kind that's all too close to reality. The kind that gives you the chance to see just how something so horrific and previously unimaginable could actually happen. And it's terrifying, to be totally honest!

I liked this book in the same way that I liked The Handmaid's Tale, which is to say that experience reading it was tempered by the constant and overriding fear that this could indeed one day happen. And we'd all like to say, never. Or at least, never hear. And yet...

Vox is a great read if for no reason other than it will get people talking. TALKING! So even if you're potentially turned off by the fact that it definitely does hit a bit too close to home these days, it is absolutely thought provoking and may even get people thinking about just how close to a precipice we are and what we need to to do make sure something like this never happens!

And now for the giveaway! Thanks to the publisher I've got one copy up for grabs. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, July 29. Open US only and no PO boxes please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway