Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Lori Rader-Day's latest, The Lucky One.

Alice was three years old when she was kidnapped. Decades later, the event still plagues her memories. Which is why she devotes her spare time to a website that helps find missing people. But when she sees her own kidnapper on the site, she knows it's time to dig deeper into the story of her past. 

Merrily Cruz is shocked to learn that her one-time quasi stepfather has gone missing. Even more shocked when the police want to talk to her and her mother about it. But they aren't even family and she isn't sure who, other than the police, would care to look for the man. Which is why she turns to social media for help. This action leads to her meeting Alice and sends them both down a path neither could have expected. 

If you can count on one thing from Lori Rader-Day, it's a propulsive read. Driven by twisty plots and characters that feel all too read, each new release is guaranteed to keep you engaged to the final page.

The Lucky One is, of course, no exception to that rule. Alice, the lucky one (she even uses the moniker as her name on the Doe site), may have been found but the kidnapping still hangs heavy over her. She suffers from night terrors, migraines, and blackouts so bad that it cost her her marriage.

Meanwhile, Merrily Cruz is living a life that feels aimless. She's just turned thirty when the book begins, has few friends (she spent her birthday evening with her mother and only got a text from her mother's ex and a happy birthday from one coworker). Which makes it easy for her to walk away from the job with little thought.

For Alice, the discovery of her kidnappers face on the Doe site she follows sends her spiraling into a search for answers she never considered she needed.

For Merrily, it means much the same.

I love the human factor in Rader-Day's books. Her characters are, as mentioned above, fully fleshed and as real as any fictional character can be. Her time and attention to building those characters while still keeping the pace of the book moving along without hindrance is a true talent. As is her ability to make the reader truly care about said characters and their stories. They're hallmarks of my favorite kinds of thrillers, which is why any new release by Rader-Day is a must read for me!

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

For more on Lori Rader-Day 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

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

1982: Viv Delaney is set on moving to New York City and Fell seems like a decent place to settle temporarily. She gets a job working the front desk at the Sun Down Motel, the midnight shift, and from the very beginning realizes that things aren't quite right there. It's not just the vibe at the hotel, either; women get murdered in Fell. And Viv is going to find out why.

2017: Carly Kirk has always wondered about her missing aunt, Viv. And when her own mother dies, Carly decides it's time to figure out what happened all those years ago. So she puts school on hold and travels to Fell, New York, where she gets a job on the same night shift at the same motel where her aunt once worked. The same motel her aunt disappeared from thirty-five years ago.

But Carly soon realizes the mystery of her aunt's disappearance isn't the only mystery haunting Fell or even the Sun Down Motel. Soon she becomes entangled in an investigation that unknowingly mirrors her aunt's own.

I loved this latest from Simone St. James so much! It's creepy and intense and a complete page turner!

In an interview, St. James herself described The Sun Down Motel as "...a little I'll Be Gone in the Dark, a dash of Mindhunter, with some Bates Motel thrown in." Which is the most accurate description I think anyone can come up with for this one!

The book begins in 1982 on "The night it all ended..." with Viv in Fell. And even for the reader, Viv's fate is a mystery. But we do know the body of another girl was found in the town that very day. The next chapter switches to Carly in 2017. She's in Fell looking for the truth about her aunt. From there, the story switches back and forth between the two women, tracing Viv's story up to the happenings of that opening chapter and Carly's story as she hunts down clues about Viv.

The Sun Down Motel is, at its heart, a mystery but it's a super chilling ghost story too! And the atmosphere that St. James builds throughout the book makes it such a wonderfully scary read!

This is such a fantastic book, one I highly, highly recommend!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Ghosts of the Missing by Kathleen Donohoe

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Kathleen Donohoe's latest, Ghosts of the Missing.

In 1995 Adair's friend Rowan went missing. Decades later, no clue or trace of the missing girl has ever been found. 

After trying to make a go of it in New York City, Adair has decided to return to her small hometown. There she meets Rowan's brother, Ciaran, who is determined to find out what happened to his sister all those years ago. Adair, who may have been the last person to see Rowan before she went missing, has been haunted by her friend's disappearance, has wondered what happened all those years ago. Not is her chance, maybe, to find out. But as they dig deeper into the cold case, it becomes clear that the clues have become tangled by time and what one person may have witnessed isn't exactly how another person might remember it.

This was an interesting read. A slow burn for sure and one that bounces around through various timelines even beyond the 1995 and 2010 storylines.

Culleton's history is a fascinating one woven by immigrants and folklore. Even as late as 1995, the locals participated in a tradition called Quicken Day and there are bits about the history of that event in the book. There are also bits about the early settlers of Culleton, all spread throughout the book and Adair's and Ciaran's investigation.

Ultimately, this wasn't the mystery I was expecting. It was much more of a dramatic and heartbreaking read about secrets and the people who tried to cover up those secrets for so long. And yes, the mystery of Rowan's disappearance spurs the discovery of these, but it's more of a foil for a larger story than I'd expected. Which I guess is my way of saying this is much less of a suspenseful and creepy read than I'd prepared myself for diving into.

Not bad, simply different and not at all what I thought I was getting into!

Kathleen Donohoe's writing is lyrical, the kind that sweeps you up. And the story is, as mentioned, heartbreaking. This is the perfect kind of book club read, one that sparks lots of discussion!

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

For more on Kathleen Donohoe 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: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough

Happy Book Birthday to Sarah Pinborough! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for her latest, Dead to Her, which released today from William Morrow!

I usually write my own synopsis here but this one is a tricky one and I really don't want to give away too much, so here's the blurb from the publisher instead:

Marriage can be murder…

Marcie’s affair with Jason Maddox catapulted her into the world of the elite. Old money, old ties, old secrets. Marcie may have married into this world—but she’ll never be part of it.

Then Jason’s boss brings back a new wife from his trip to London. Young, attractive, reckless—nobody can take their eyes off Keisha. Including Marcie’s husband.


Some people would kill for the life Marcie has—what will she do to keep it?

I'm a little bit of a fan girl when it comes to Sarah Pinborough. She joined the ranks of must read authors in my TBR very early on with her Dorchester released horror and she's stayed at the top of my must read list ever since.

Pinborough is a master at building suspense. Even in a mundane setting, she builds a sense of underlying, subtle dread that becomes more intense as the plot progresses. That signature suspense is oh, so present in this latest!

This book is all twists and turns and secrets galore! Secrets from Marcie's past, secrets from Keisha's past...secrets from everybody's pasts!

The story alternates between Marcie and Keisha's perspectives and, while they're not exactly likable, they are fun to read about.

If you've read Pinborough before, you'll definitely expect some of the turns the book takes. Remember those horror roots! If you're new to her, all I can say is that you shouldn't expect this to be exactly in the vein of other current thrillers. Pinborough has her own style and is a stand out in the genre!

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

For more on Sarah Pinborough and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet - Excerpt

This week marks the release of the highly anticipated latest from Kelly Braffet! It's been ages since Save Yourself!

And The Unwilling is a new beast altogether! Thanks to the publisher, I have a bit of the prologue here to give you a taste, but here's a bit about the book first:

The Unwilling is the story of a young woman, born an orphan with a secret gift, who grows up trapped, thinking of herself as an afterthought, but who discovers that she does not have to be given power: she can take it. An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, the novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.

For reasons that nobody knows or seems willing to discuss, Judah the Foundling was raised as siblings along with Gavin, the heir of Highfall, in the great house beyond the wall, the seat of power at the center of Lord Elban’s great empire. There is a mysterious--one might say unnatural connection--between the two, and it is both the key to Judah’s survival until this point, and now her possible undoing.

As Gavin prepares for his long-arranged marriage to Eleanor of Tiernan, and his brilliant but sickly younger brother Theron tries to avoid becoming commander of the army, Judah is left to realize that she has no actual power or position within the castle, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond the wall. Lord Elban--a man as powerful as he is cruel- has other plans for her, for all of them. She is a pawn to him and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Meanwhile, outside the wall, in the starving, desperate city, a Magus, a healer with a secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah. The girl who started off with no name and no history will be forced to discover there’s more to her story than she ever imagined.

If you've read Save Yourself, you can already tell this is a bit different. Braffet is an amazing author and I am super excited to dive into this latest from her!

So, at long last, here's a little excerpt to get you started:


On the third day of the convocation, two of the Slonimi scouts killed a calf, and the herbalist’s boy wept because he’d watched the calf being born and grown to love it. His
mother stroked his hair and promised he would forget by the time the feast came, the following night. He told her he would never forget. She said, “Just wait.”

He spent all of the next day playing with the children from the other caravan; three days before, they’d all been strangers, but Slonimi children were used to making friends quickly. The group the boy and his mother traveled with had come across the desert to the south, and they found the cool air of the rocky plain a relief from the heat. The others had come from the grassy plains farther west, and were used to milder weather. While the adults traded news and maps and equipment, the children ran wild. Only one boy, from the other caravan, didn’t run or play: a pale boy, with fine features, who followed by habit a few feet behind one of the older women from the other caravan. “Derie’s apprentice,” the other children told him, and shrugged, as if there was nothing more to say. The older woman was the other group’s best Worker, with dark hair going to grizzle and gimlet eyes. Every time she appeared the herbalist suddenly remembered an herb her son needed to help her prepare, or something in their wagon that needed cleaning. The boy was observant, and clever, and it didn’t take him long to figure out that his mother was trying to keep him away from the older woman: she, who had always demanded he face everything head-on, who had no patience for what she called squeamishness and megrims.

After a hard day of play over the rocks and dry, grayish grass, the boy was starving. A cold wind blew down over the rocky plain from the never-melting snow that topped the high peaks of the Barriers to the east; the bonfire was warm. The meat smelled good. The boy had not forgotten the calf but when his mother brought him meat and roasted potatoes and soft pan bread on a plate, he did not think of him. Gerta—the head driver of the boy’s caravan—had spent the last three days with the other head driver, poring over bloodline records to figure out who between their two groups might be well matched for breeding, and as soon as everybody had a plate of food in front of them they announced the results. The adults and older teenagers seemed to find this all fascinating. The herbalist’s boy was nine years old and he didn’t understand the fuss. He knew how it went: the matched pairs would travel together until a child was on the way, and then most likely never see each other again. Sometimes they liked each other, sometimes they didn’t. That, his mother had told him, was what brandy was for.

The Slonimi caravans kept to well-defined territories, and any time two caravans met there was feasting and trading and music and matching, but this was no ordinary meeting, and both sides knew it. After everyone had eaten their fill, a few bottles were passed. Someone had a set of pipes and someone else had a sitar, but after a song or two, nobody wanted any more music. Gerta—who was older than the other driver—stood up. She was tall and strong, with ropy, muscular limbs. “Well,” she said, “let’s see them.”

In the back, the herbalist slid an arm around her son. He squirmed under the attention but bore it.

From opposite sides of the fire, a young man and a young woman were produced. The young man, Tobin, had been traveling with Gerta’s people for years. He was smart but not unkind, but the herbalist’s son thought him aloof. With good reason, maybe; Tobin’s power was so strong that being near him made the hair on the back of the boy’s neck stand up. Unlike all the other Workers—who were always champing at the bit to get a chance to show off—Tobin was secretive about his skills. He shared a wagon with Tash, Gerta’s best Worker, even though the two men didn’t seem particularly friendly with each other. More than once the boy had glimpsed their lantern burning late into the night, long after the main fire was embers.

The young woman had come across the plains with the others. The boy had seen her a few times; she was small, round, and pleasant-enough looking. She didn’t strike the boy as particularly remarkable. But when she came forward, the other caravan’s best Worker—the woman named Derie—came with her. Tash stood up when Tobin did, and when they all stood in front of Gerta, the caravan driver looked from one of them to the other. “Tash and Derie,” she said, “you’re sure?”

“Already decided, and by smarter heads than yours,” the gimlet-eyed woman snapped.

Tash, who wasn’t much of a talker, merely said, “Sure.”

Gerta looked back at the couple. For couple they were; the boy could see the strings tied round each wrist, to show they’d already been matched. “Hard to believe,” she said. “But I know it’s true. I can feel it down my spine. Quite a legacy you two carry; five generations’ worth, ever since mad old Martin bound up the power in the world. Five generations of working and planning and plotting and hoping; that’s the legacy you two carry.” The corner of her mouth twitched slightly. “No pressure.”

A faint ripple of mirth ran through the listeners around the fire. “Nothing to joke about, Gerta,” Derie said, lofty and hard, and Gerta nodded.

“I know it. They just seem so damn young, that’s all.” The driver sighed and shook her head. “Well, it’s a momentous occasion. We’ve come here to see the two of you off, and we send with you the hopes of all the Slonimi, all the Workers of all of our lines, back to the great John Slonim himself, whose plan this was. His blood runs in both of you. It’s strong and good and when we put it up against what’s left of Martin’s, we’re bound to prevail, and the world will be free.”

“What’ll we do with ourselves then, Gert?” someone called out from the darkness, and this time the laughter was a full burst, loud and relieved.

Gerta smiled. “Teach the rest of humanity how to use the power, that’s what we’ll do. Except you, Fausto. You can clean up after the horses.”

More laughter. Gerta let it run out, and then turned to the girl.

“Maia,” she said, serious once more. “I know Derie’s been drilling this into you since you were knee-high, but once you’re carrying, the clock is ticking. Got to be inside, at the end.”

“I know,” Maia said.

Gerta scanned the crowd. “Caterina? Cat, where are you?”

Next to the boy, the herbalist cleared her throat. “Here, Gerta.”

Gerta found her, nodded, and turned back to Maia. “Our Cat’s the best healer the Slonimi have. Go see her before you set out. If you’ve caught already, she’ll know. If you haven’t, she’ll know how to help.”

“It’s only been three days,” Tobin said, sounding slighted.

“Nothing against you, Tobe,” Gerta said. “Nature does what it will. Sometimes it takes a while.”

“Not this time,” Maia said calmly.

A murmur ran through the crowd. Derie sat up bolt-straight, her lips pressed together. “You think so?” Gerta said, matching Maia’s tone—although nobody was calm, even the boy could feel the sudden excited tension around the bonfire.

“I know so,” Maia said, laying a hand on her stomach. “I can feel her.”

The tension exploded in a mighty cheer. Instantly, Tobin wiped the sulk off his face and replaced it with pride. The boy leaned into his mother and whispered, under the roar, “Isn’t it too soon to tell?”

“For most women, far too soon, by a good ten days. For Maia?” Caterina sounded as if she were talking to herself, as much as to her son. The boy felt her arm tighten around him. “If she says there’s a baby, there’s a baby.”

After that the adults got drunk. Maia and Tobin slipped away early. Caterina knew a scout from the other group, a man named Sadao, and watching the two of them dancing together, the boy decided to make himself scarce. Tash would have an empty bunk, now that Tobin was gone, and he never brought women home. He’d probably share. If not, there would be a bed somewhere. There always was.

In the morning, the boy found Caterina by the fire, only slightly bleary, and brewing a kettle of strong-smelling tea. Her best hangover cure, she told her son. He took out his notebook and asked what was in it. Ginger, she told him, and willowbark, and a few other things; he wrote them all down carefully. Labeled the page. Caterina’s Hangover Cure.

Then he looked up to find the old woman from the bonfire, Derie, listening with shrewd, narrow eyes. Behind her hovered her apprentice, the pale boy, who this morning had a bruised cheek. “Charles, go fetch my satchel,” she said to him, and he scurried away. To Caterina, Derie said, “Your boy’s conscientious.”

“He learns quickly,” Caterina said, and maybe she just hadn’t had enough hangover tea yet, but the boy thought she sounded wary.

“And fair skinned,” Derie said. “Who’s his father?”

“Jasper Arasgain.”

Derie nodded. “Travels with Afia’s caravan, doesn’t he? Solid man.”

Caterina shrugged. The boy had only met his father a few times. He knew Caterina found Jasper boring.

“Healer’s a good trade. Everywhere needs healers.” Derie paused. “A healer could find his way in anywhere, I’d say. And with that skin—”

The boy noticed Gerta nearby, listening. Her own skin was black as obsidian. “Say what you’re thinking, Derie,” the driver said.

“Highfall,” the old woman said, and immediately, Caterina said, “No.”

“It’d be a great honor for him, Cat,” Gerta said. The boy thought he detected a hint of reluctance in Gerta’s voice.

“Has he done his first Work yet?” Derie said.

Caterina’s lips pressed together. “Not yet.”

Charles, the bruised boy, reappeared with Derie’s satchel.

“We’ll soon change that,” the old woman said, taking the satchel without a word and rooting through until she found a small leather case. Inside was a small knife, silver-colored but without the sheen of real silver.

The boy noticed his own heartbeat, hard hollow thuds in his chest. He glanced at his mother. She looked unhappy, her brow furrowed. But she said nothing.

“Come here, boy,” Derie said.

He sneaked another look at his mother, who still said nothing, and went to stand next to the woman. “Give me your arm,” she said, and he did. She held his wrist with a hand that was both soft and hard at the same time. Her eyes were the most terrifying thing he’d ever seen.

“It’s polite to ask permission before you do this,” she told him. “Not always possible, but polite. I need to see what’s in you, so if you say no, I’ll probably still cut you, but—do I have your permission?”

Behind Derie, Gerta nodded. The bruised boy watched curiously.

“Yes,” the boy said.

“Good,” Derie said. She made a quick, confident cut in the ball of her thumb, made an identical cut in his small hand, quickly drew their two sigils on her skin in the blood, and pressed the cuts together.

The world unfolded. But unfolded was too neat a word, too tidy. This was like when he’d gone wading in the western sea and been knocked off his feet, snatched underwater, tossed in a maelstrom of sand and sun and green water and foam—but this time it wasn’t merely sand and sun and water and foam that swirled around him, it was everything. All of existence, all that had ever been, all that would ever be. His mother was there, bright and hot as the bonfire the night before—not her face or her voice but the Caterina of her, her very essence rendered into flame and warmth.

But most of what he felt was Derie. Derie, immense and powerful and fierce: Derie, reaching into him, unfolding him as surely as she’d unfolded the world. And this was neat and tidy, methodical, almost cold. She unpacked him like a trunk, explored him like a new village. She sought out his secret corners and dark places. When he felt her approval, he thrilled. When he felt her contempt, he trembled. And everywhere she went she left a trace of herself behind like a scent, like the chalk marks the Slonimi sometimes left for each other. Her sigil was hard-edged, multi-cornered. It was everywhere. There was no part of him where it wasn’t.

Then it was over, and he was kneeling by the campfire, throwing up. Caterina was next to him, making soothing noises as she wrapped a cloth around his hand. He leaned against her, weak and grateful.

“It’s all right, my love,” she whispered in his ear, and the nervousness was gone. Now she sounded proud, and sad, and as if she might be crying. “You did well.”

He closed his eyes and saw, on the inside of his eyelids, the woman’s hard, angular sigil, burning like a horse brand.

“Don’t coddle him,” Derie said, and her voice reached through him, back into the places inside him where she’d left her mark. Caterina’s arm dropped away. He forced himself to open his eyes and stand up. His entire body hurt. Derie was watching him, calculating but—yes—pleased. “Well, boy,” she said. “You’ll never be anyone’s best Worker, but you’re malleable, and you’ve got the right look. There’s enough power in you to be of use, once you’re taught to use it. You want to learn?”

“Yes,” he said, without hesitating.

“Good,” she said. “Then you’re my apprentice now, as much as your mother’s. You’ll still learn herbs from your mother, so we’ll join our wagon to your group. But don’t expect the kisses and cuddles from me you get from her. For me, you’ll work hard and you’ll learn hard and maybe someday you’ll be worthy of the knowledge I’ll pass on to you. Say, Yes, Derie.”

“Yes, Derie,” he said.

“You’ve got a lot to learn,” she said. “Go with Charles. He’ll show you where you sleep.”

He hesitated, looked at his mother, because it hadn’t occurred to him that he would be leaving her. Suddenly, swiftly, Derie kicked hard at his leg. He yelped and jumped out of the way. Behind her he saw Charles—he of the bruised face—wince, unsurprised but not unsympathetic.

“Don’t ever make me ask you anything twice,” she said.

“Yes, Derie,” he said, and ran.

Excerpted from The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet. Copyright ©2020 by Kelly Braffet. Published by MIRA Books.

The Unwilling officially hits shelves tomorrow! I hope you'll all go out and buy a copy :)

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown

Alice and her husband have finally bought a home in the suburbs. For her husband, it means the first step in starting their family. For Alice, it means a complete change in lifestyle and career. She says she's working on a novel, but her writing is slow to nonexistent. Until, that is, she finds some old magazines and cookbooks belonging to their new house's previous owner. Now she finally has the inspiration she needs to get started. 

Nellie Murdoch's life as a new wife isn't at all what she expected. When they were dating, Richard swept her off her feet. But now that they're husband and wife, Richard's true nature is revealed. Between neighborhood parties and hosting dinners with her husband's boss, Nellie finds it harder and harder to hide what's happening behind closed doors. 

I could not wait to get my hands on a copy of Karma Brown's latest. And three quarters of the book delivered in every way.

Alice and her husband have been living in a cramped apartment in New York City. The house that they buy in the suburbs is within their budget, thankfully, but in need of a lot of work. Not only has the house apparently not been updated for decades, the once well-tended garden has gone wild, and the previous owner's appliances, furniture, and belongings are still in the house.

Alice has been working for a high end (and high stress) PR company. Oh, and she hasn't been completely honest with her husband about exactly why she left the job. That's seeded throughout the story and contributes to her discomfort in her new position, basically as a housewife. But not exactly, she is supposed to be writing a book. She has a lot of time on her hands and absolutely no experience with that. Which is why she decides to start cooking from Nellie's old books. And also to look into Nellie's own story as inspiration for her book.

Chapters alternate between Alice and Nellie, but I admit that I preferred Nellie's chapters. I liked her as a character more than Alice. As a whole, though, I thought the book was good. Unfortunately the end felt incredibly rushed. And by that time I really, really didn't like Alice's story.

Overall I enjoyed the book, but I do wish that the author had taken a bit more time with the ending. Neither Alice's thread or Nellie's ended very satisfactorily. Nellie's in particular was lacking in detail, as though Brown simply dropped her altogether to focus on Alice. And Alice...well, I'll let you see for yourselves.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman - Feature

Christopher Buehlman made his debut almost nine years ago with Those Across the River. Now, the good folks over at Berkley have reissued that first novel so a whole new audience can discover Buehlman's work!

If you haven't had the pleasure, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Haunted by memories of the Great War, failed academic Frank Nichols and his wife have arrived in the sleepy Georgia town of Whitbrow, where Frank hopes to write a history of his family's old estate--the Savoyard Plantation--and the horrors that occurred there. At first their new life seems to be everything they wanted. But under the facade of summer socials and small-town charm, there is an unspoken dread that the townsfolk have lived with for generations. A presence that demands sacrifice.

It comes from the shadowy woods across the river, where the ruins of the Savoyard Plantation still stand. Where a long-smoldering debt of blood has never been forgotten.

Where it has been waiting for Frank Nichols....

It's snowy and nasty here in Colorado, perfect reading weather for horror. And perfect weather for a re-read of Those Across the River

If you're new to Buehlman, I hope you'll run out and buy a copy of this one. The new edition is super cheap! You can also order it online!

So in addition to hyping the new edition of Buehlman's book, I'm also going to take this opportunity to show off Libro.fm's newest venture, Bookstore Link! Bookstore Link is a super easy way to connect readers to indie stores for book purchases. Check out the info here and if you want to order this handy dandy new edition of Those Across the River you can do that here

Happy reading, horror fans!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West

Happy Book Birthday to Kathleen West, whose debut, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, hits shelves today!

Drama doesn't begin to describe the happenings at Liston Heights High! With overly involved parents at every turn, teachers, students, and parents all find themselves in the line of fire in this debut. 

Isobel Johnson has received a disturbing voice mail from a "concerned" parent. On her personal phone number, no less. In the message, the parent accuses Isobel of anti-American teachings. And all of that because of an attempt to teach her students to see multiple perspectives and consider what's between the lines in classics such as The Great Gatsby. But opening the eyes of privileged students is a bit too far for the parents of Liston High!

Julia Abbott is just one of those parents. In fact, she herself made a passive-aggressive remark about Isobel's teachings at the recent Sadie Hawkins dance. But Julia doesn't have time to worry about Isobel, not now that she herself is the talk of the school. And all because she got a little too excited about her son's part in the school play. 

Both Isobel and Julia find themselves at the center of some very unwanted attention and the outcome for each of them is seemingly out of their hands!

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes was a bit of a nail-biter and anxiety producer for me, if I'm honest! I was actually seething at Isobel's treatment, something I think a lot of folks in the publishing world can sympathize with as classics new and old come under fire by "concerned" parents!

Julia was a bit harder to sympathize with. She's, at first for sure, the absolute antithesis of Isobel! In fact, Julia comes across not only as an overly involved helicopter parent, but someone who lives their life in hopes that they'll earn endorsements or brand sponsorship for no reason other than that she feels worthy of it!

Julia's behavior is cringeworthy. But by the time it becomes clear that her family has been increasingly trying to deal with mess and fall out as a result of her actions, I found myself warming to her somewhat.

An interesting thing to note, and something that definitely helped in maybe not liking Julia but certainly being more sympathetic to her situation, is the fact that Kathleen West offers up a ton of different perspectives in throughout the story. Isobel and Julia are certainly the main characters, but we get chapters from the principal, Julia's kids, Julia's husband, fellow teachers, and others as the story progresses. Which means that we, the readers, know what's going on behind both Isobel's and Julia's backs!

Whether you're a parent in the thick of school drama or simply a bystander looking for a fun read, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is sure to please!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Deep State by Chris Hauty

Hayley Chill is one of the White House's newest interns. Recently discharged from the Army, she seems an unlikely candidate for an internship, especially one with the chief of staff himself. Her resume aside, however, Hayley is incredibly smart, quick witted, and cunning. She's also gifted with an eidetic memory and a tenacious determination that works just as well inside the White House as it has in every other aspect of her life. But her mettle is tested when she finds the chief of staff dead in his home.

The death is initially determined to be due to a heart attack, but Hayley is in possession of evidence that could prove otherwise and those responsible will stop at nothing to ensure their agenda is carried out without complications. 

There's a lot of set up for Hayley. We meet her as she's about to fight, boxing for the army. Then she's discharged and heads to the White House. She meets her fellow interns, she has a chance to endear herself to the chief of staff, winning him over with her accent and her smarts. And then she wins over the president himself. The other interns are jealous, the chief of staff's assistant is jealous, and then Hayley catches the eye of a handsome secret service guy and gains his interest as well.

And all of that happens BEFORE anyone dies.

Hauty also takes the time to include some little asides letting us know, for example, that one of the interns will go on to lead a cult while another becomes a hedge fund manager. And while these asides were amusing, I did have to wonder what it had to to with the main plot. I also had to wonder if Chill is being set up as a series lead, although nothing so far indicates this.

It's pretty clear in the reading, even without seeing Hauty's bio, that he has a background in screenwriting. Scenes within the story are absolutely set up the way a screenwriter would do so. Amazingly, this and the meandering bits mentioned above don't actually hang up the pacing of the story all that much. The story moves quickly and has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing and amply entertained.

Since I listened to it on audio while my husband was out of town and I was hanging out with my one year old, I should note this is the kind of book where, if you're distracted by a child intent on pulling every item out of your pantry and you realize suddenly that you missed the last few minutes of narrative, you can still easily hold the thread of the story. Which is not a bad thing, except that in a thriller I kind of want some blink and you miss them clues.

Deep State is an entertaining debut, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that I loved it. I wanted it to be smarter—it wasn't a predictable plot but the players were all exactly what I'd expect out of a spy novel.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Annie England Noblin's latest, St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets.

Mae's life is a mess. After finding out that the newspaper she works for is shutting down, immediately, she finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her—thanks to the local news! And as if that weren't bad enough, she's mugged leaving work. Broke, humiliated, and with no job prospects to think of, she's got no choice but to move back into her parents' home. 

And then she finds out that her mother has died. Her birth mom, that is. A woman she never knew. A woman who never made any attempt to find or know her. And now she's dead. Not just that, but she's left Mae all of her worldly possessions. 

Mae has no idea how to handle any of it. And that's before she starts spending time in the woman's house with the woman's friends. Before she starts to realize that her birth mother had a secret not even her own best friend was privy to.

Annie England Noblin's latest is a heart breaking story wrapped up in shiny, humorous wrapping paper.

And it's true. There's lots of levity to St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets. But there's a lot of sad stuff too. Not least of which is the fact that Mae's birth mother dies before she can get to know her—and I should note that a teenaged Mae did want that.

It's an easy read, though. I liked Mae and sympathized with her, which made it really easy to sink into her story. And I wanted to know what was going on in Timber Creek!

St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets is a sweet story and a pretty light read, in spite of some heavy material.

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

For more on Annie England Noblin 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

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

How Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann

Elisabeth's sister has been missing for over twenty years, but Elisabeth knows, without a doubt, that Jacqueline is still alive. They're twins after all, and Elisabeth is certain that she'd know if Jacqueline was dead.

Elisabeth and her family live in remote Tanacross, Alaska. It's 1941 and her husband has been hired to teach the children of the town. Theirs is the only house with a spare room, and since it's technically owned by the Office of Indian Affairs, Elisabeth feels she cannot turn down a request for lodging by the pilot who has recently flown in with their weekly mail delivery. This, in spite of the fact that the stranger is odd and worries her some. But he is a fellow German and says he only needs to stay the night, to rest before he resumes his route.

It's a decision that results in tragedy. And then the man claims to have information about Elisabeth's sister.

Life in Tanacross is quiet. The town can only be reached by plane and, given that it's 1941, that means they're effectively cut off from the outside world. Mail delivery day means letters, special orders, and any other supplies.

On the day the book starts, Elisabeth is up early at the behest of her daughter who is anxiously awaiting the delivery of a science book her mother ordered for their homeschooling. That is the kind of excitement they can look forward to in Tanacross.

But the arrival of a stranger is nothing to shrug at. And their mail carrier that day is a stranger. A German stranger at that. He says he feels a kinship with Elisabeth because she's German as well. But Elisabeth doesn't exactly feel that kinship. In fact, she finds the stranger odd.

Unfortunately she doesn't listen to that instinct.

How Quickly She Disappears isn't a long book but it is a bit of a slow burn. I have to say, I enjoyed the pacing immensely. In the first two parts of the book, chapters alternate between Elisabeth's present and her childhood, giving readers the full scope of her relationship with her sister and the events leading up to her disappearance.

It's clear that for Elisabeth, almost nothing matters as much as the question of her sister's fate and the stranger plays on that, baiting her almost from the moment they meet. It's intense and the reader, and Elisabeth, are left guessing as to how all of this is going to end.

I loved the setting in particular, both time and place. the remoteness of Tanacross and the equally remote nature of the time when the book is set intrigued me even before I started reading. And the author delivered a completely atmospheric read.

How Quickly She Disappears is a chilling debut, literally and figuratively.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

Cussy Mary Carter is, according to her father, the last of her kind. A blue, like her mother and her father before her. 

It's 1936 and the country is in the midst of the Depression. Rural Kentucky has been hit particularly hard, but Cussy Mary, nicknamed by locals "Bluet," is hired on with the Pack Horse Library Project, delivering reading materials to her rural neighbors. Her route is one she takes pride in and her patrons are beloved to her. But the locals aren't all trusting of the "colored" woman or the government she works for. In spite of this, Bluet is determined to bring help and comfort to her neighbors and the best comfort she knows is that of books. 

This book tore me to shreds before it ended. I mean, just shreds!

Cussy Mary is a wonderful heroine! She's charming and smart and incredibly giving and caring. She lives alone with her widowed father, working to help bring in money for necessities. Cussy Mary's father is a miner, already sick from years mining coal and heavily involved in union talks. All of that, plus the fact that their family is "colored." Blue, specifically. And at a time when anything atypical is looked upon with suspicion and even superstition, blue skin is an affliction some believe can be catching.

In spite of her treatment by many people in the area, Cussy Mary is, for many, a shining light. She delivers books, newspapers, recipes and sewing patterns to people who live in the most remote regions of Kentucky. She reads to them, she spends time with them, and she tries as hard as she can to get them materials that will help them during a time that is so desperately trying for so many.

While this book left me bawling like a baby by the end, I still absolutely adored it! It's one of two releases of 2019 about the Pack Horse Library Project, which was one of Roosevelt's Works Project Administration (WPA) programs designed to provide jobs during the Depression.

As if that history note wasn't charmingly intriguing enough (I knew absolutely nothing about the Pack Horse Librarians), Kim Michele Richardson's heroine is blue. Literally blue. Which is another fascinating historical note from Kentucky. Richardson includes a wonderful author's note about the very real inspiration behind Cussy Mary's blue skin that should absolutely not be skipped in the reading.

This is my first read by Richardson but I'm already adding her backlist to my must reads. I highly, highly recommend this one!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The God Game by Danny Tobey

Charlie, Kenny, Peter, Alex, and Vanhi. They call themselves The Vindicators. Outsiders who have found common ground and friendship in one another, they spend their time in their school's unused tech lab, planning fairly harmless pranks. But when they're invited to play The God Game, everything changes. 

It's fun at first, even if their tasks within the game are...questionable, to say the least. But the game allows them a freedom they've never experienced. It's something secret. Something just for them. Something that soon lets them explore sides of themselves they never knew they had. 

But what starts out as fun soon becomes a darker competition. GOLDZ are good. BLAXX are bad. Really bad. As the group is drawn deeper and deeper into the game, they each begin to question the game's purpose and their purpose within the game. And as they soon learn, while starting only requires and invite, leaving the game requires something much more sinister. 

A book in the vein of Black Mirror, what more could I ask for? Well, Danny Tobey specializes in AI, and while I enjoyed this book, I am not. As a result the story went over my head more than just a little bit in some places.

Charlie and his friends aren't part of any clique and so they've made one themselves. They bond over coding and computer games, in spite of their differences. Charlie recently lost his mother to cancer and his grades show it. Vanhi hopes to get into Harvard, but pulling a D isn't going to cut it. Alex struggles academically and suffers at his father's hands for it. Kenny wants to fit in but knows he never will. And Peter, well Peter is the bad boy of the group and ultimately the one who introduces them all to the game.

Angsty teens finding an outlet isn't new. And neither is the idea that they'd get wrapped up in a dangerous online game. I liked the morality questions that came into play here and the fact that everything and everyone is gray, gray, gray rather than black or white.

But I wanted more. The group is fairly well rounded, but Charlie gets most of the focus for sure. Kenny probably gets the least attention, which is kind of a shame as I felt like I really didn't understand his motivation for the most part. But there are other players as well and, with one single exception, we don't know anything about any of them. They appear and disappear without any kind of glimpse into their stories.

Some can argue that the core group is all we need: they each illustrate various motivations in playing the game and following its instructions. But I guess given how dark the book gets, I like to believe it would take pretty extraordinary circumstances for people to do some of the things that are done in the game.

Ha! I just realized my complaint is that the book doesn't adequately support my own hope that people are ultimately good...

My other issue with the book is that it's never clear to me exactly what the game is. At times it seems like Tobey makes the case for it being connected to events that happen a decade before the book takes place. It also seems the game is supposed to be artificial intelligence, but there's never any kind of information about its creator. And while I'm ok with some things left unexplained, I felt like my inability to truly grasp some of the intricacies of the game itself were wrapped up in my need to know more about it as a whole.

All in all, The God Game is inarguably a book that will make you think. And while I didn't fall head over heels for it, I did enjoy the read.

Monday, January 6, 2020

The Playground by Jane Shemilt

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Jane Shemilt's latest, The Playground.

Eve, Melissa, and Grace will all do anything for their children. It's this drive that pushes Eve to start a special tutoring session to help children with dyslexia—children like Poppy. As the session advances, the parents socialize and become, some might say, close. Secrets are shared and more are kept hidden. And by the end of the summer what began as budding friendships turns into something much more dark and sinister.

I was excited to dive into The Playground considering how much I enjoyed Shemilt's The Daughter. And it's been quite a time since that previous release.

The Playground is the same sort of family drama/thriller as The Daughter. The story is set over the course of a few months, beginning with Eve kicking off her new tutoring sessions for Poppy and two other children with dyslexia—Blake, the son of a well-known author, and Isabelle (Izzy) the daughter of an acquaintance of Eve's husband. The kids are joined by Eve's other two children and Blake's sister, spending time in Eve's garden between lessons, scheming more than they are playing. But their parents don't know any better.

And the parents don't know because they're, frankly, not great parents!

Eve is absorbed in her own melodrama. Melissa is studiously focused on not irritating her ass of a husband, and Grace works so much that her husband is left in charge of the kids over the summer.

To say much more would probably give some of the story away. I will say that it's pretty dark. I'll also say that almost from the start, some of the pieces that are coming are easy to tease out before Shemilt really starts heavily hinting at them.

Shemilt's writing is the kind you can really sink into. She's wordy, but not in a bad way. Her prose is pitch perfect in description and each of the characters comes to life—not an easy task with such a cast of featured characters and with such a range of ages.

But again, it is a dark read.

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

For more on Jane Shemilt and her work you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Friday, January 3, 2020

Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin

My last read of 2019! And it was perfect timing, too, considering the book ends on Christmas.

Sarah Smith has never left her tiny town of Ashford. She's run a bookstore there since she was 19, she has a brand new guy she's pretty sure is the one, and she has a core group of friends that are always there for her. In short, she's pretty happy with life. But when a fellow bookstore owner and friend offers an opportunity to swap, it doesn't take much for Sarah to say yes. The store in question is in Paris, after all, and Sarah has always said she'd visit one day...

But nothing turns out quite as she'd hoped. The store is way busier than her own and the demands of working there mean very little time to get out and see the city. What's more, her boyfriend has been so overburdened by work that he has hardly any time for a phone call, much less the promised visits to her new, temporary home. 

Homesickness sets in when sales at the Paris store start to decline and the store's owner expresses her disappointment. Now Sarah has to decide whether to buckle down and try something new or give up and go home.

Rebecca Raisin's Little Bookshop on the Sèine is a charmingly light romance. And the bookstore setting is one that really speaks to me!

Sarah isn't prone to taking chances. And it's soon clear why—her own mother makes Paris out to be a place of not so hidden dangers rather than a top tourist destination. Fortunately, Sarah's desire to see and do something new after so many years wins out and she takes a chance.

But things start out rocky. Her luggage and passport are stolen on the very first day and the welcome she expected at her new store is chilly, to say the least.

Fortunately, she's taken under the wing of someone who knows the ins and outs of the store as well as the streets of her new hometown.

One of my favorite things about the book were the secret spots Sarah is introduced to throughout Paris. I'm sure some of them are completely fictional, but others are absolutely real and though I've never visited the City of Lights myself, it felt like I was there with Sarah!

There were a few extraneous plot points that felt thrown in at the last minute, but all in all this was a fun and sweet read that I thoroughly enjoyed!

Huge thanks to HQN Books for inviting me to be on the tour!

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

Buy Links: Harlequin Indiebound - Amazon - Barnes & Noble Books-A-Million - Target - Walmart - Google - iBooks - Kobo

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Good Girls Lie by J. T. Ellison

The Goode School is known for its 100% graduation rates and it's almost guarantee of acceptance into the school of your choice. An all girls school that's been run by the same family for generations, it's also home to a number of secret societies, some known and some unknown. 

Ash Carlisle is one of Goode's scholarship students. And she's determined to keep her past a secret. The school means a new persona and a new chance at life. It's also part of her plan...her parents are gone and she has no one she can trust but herself.  

But The Goode School is far from perfect. The elite prep school has a number of black spots on its seemingly perfect record, including a murder or two and rumors of ghosts that haunt the grounds. Classes are hard and the students are far from welcoming. In fact, some are downright murderous in their competitiveness to get ahead. But Ash can deal with it. She's smarter than all of them. 

J.T. Ellison's latest is a twisty turny thriller set at a boarding school filled with secrets—secret societies, secret passageways, secret history...

And the book begins with a death. The dead girl's name isn't revealed at this stage and the story shoots back to the beginning of the semester and Ash's arrival at the Goode School. The timeline shifts throughout, back to Ash's time prior to arrival and finally giving readers a look at the home life she left behind.

Each new chapter uncovers a new grain of information that adds to the growing number of mysteries in the story: what is Ash's plan? How much truth is there to the rumors that surround Goode School? Who is the dead girl?

When I say this is twisty turny, I really mean it. There are so many crazy revelations as the story progresses that it soon becomes clear nothing and no one can be taken at face value. And even if the narration is from that person's POV, you still can't trust anything they're revealing!

Huge thank to the folks at Mira for sending a copy for review and inviting me to take part in the tour!

For more on J. T. Ellison and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter, Instagram.