Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things Tours for Rachel Hawkins's latest, The Wife Upstairs!

Jane has a secret past. In fact, Jane isn't even her real name. She's recently moved to Birmingham, Alabama and is working as a dog walker in the chic Thornfield Estates neighborhood. Not that dog walking pays the bills—Jane has other ways of doing that. But Jane doesn't plan to be a dog walker for long. 

When she meets the newly widowed Eddie Rochester, her plan to move up in life begins in earnest. Their relationship is whirlwind, to say the least, but Eddie is hurting. His wife, his love, disappeared almost a year ago along with her best friend, another of the Thornfield Estates ladies, and Jane is more than willing to help him pick up the pieces of his life. But can Jane really fill the missing Bea's shoes? And does she really want to?

Followers on the blog know that I'm a sucker for any Jane Eyre or Rebecca retelling. And let's face it Rebecca is undoubtedly a Jane Eyre retelling anyway. The Wife Upstairs is billed as a take on Jane Eyre but elements of the tale are definitely drawn on du Maurier's story, making is an excellent modern-day twist on the classics! 

When Jane arrives at Thornfield Estates, two neighborhood women have been missing for months. 

Best friends Blanche and Bea went to the latter's lake house for a weekend away, but neither returned. It's been theorized that they got drunk and went boating, both of them lost to the deep waters of a man made lake, their bodies hidden in an underwater forest that makes retrieving the bodies all but impossible. 

And Jane is working for Blanche's widow already. A man who spends his time, as Jane observes, getting wasted. 

Though it takes some time for Jane to meet Bea's husband, Eddie, she makes fast work of it once they do cross each others paths. Or rather, Eddie does. He asks her out and before long invites her to move in with him in his grand and empty abode. 

But Bea's shadow hangs over everything. The neighbors seem to judge Jane by Bea's example. The house is decorated in Bea's style. Even Jane can't quite shake the missing woman, finding herself dressing in a manner that shadows a look Bea sported in the few pictures Jane sees. 

Hawkins offers up three perspectives to the story. Jane's, obviously, Bea's, and Eddie's. As to whether or not you can believe any of them completely is up to the reader to decide. Which is kind of the case with the source material as well. 

This latest retelling is contemporary and fun! Perfect for fans of the classics but also just a great modern-day suspense as well. So you don't need to have any familiarity with Jane Eyre or Rebecca—but it does absolutely make it more fun if you do!

The Wife Upstairs released on January 5 in both the US and the UK! Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop (US/UK).

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous

Happy Book Birthday to Emma Rous whose latest, The Perfect Guests, releases today!

It's 1988 and Beth has been all but orphaned after the death of her family in a car accident. Fortunately, she's been invited to live at Raven Hall as the companion to another girl her age. They become friends, roaming the estate together over the months that follow her arrival. But one day, the family makes a strange request. A game they'd like her to be part of...

Cut to 2019 and Sadie, a struggling actress who receives an offer that's almost too good to be true. Excellent pay to play a role in a murder mystery dinner at a country estate. But as the game progresses, things take a very strange turn, including clues that strike a little too close to her own personal life...

I adore this latest from Emma Rous! This is the kind of suspense novel that hooks you completely from the very start. And while it's tempting to gobble it up as quick as you can, because honestly, the wheels are turning from the first page in terms of trying to figure out where the story is going, I really found myself savoring each and every page!

There are actually three POVs in the book. We begin with Beth, cut to Sadie, and then meet a third narrator whose identity and timeline aren't initially very clear. The voice of each narrator is completely different as is their piece of the story. And figuring out how Rous is going to weave them all together into one tale is just half the fun of the reading!

I'll admit that when I read a book with multiple timelines and narrators, there's always a fear that one of them won't stack up to the others, or that one will shine above the rest, making it feel as though I'm muddling through the less interesting bits while really just wanting to get back to my favorite character or characters. That isn't the case at all here! Each narrator and their part in the story is equally engaging—hence the temptation to make this book last as long as possible!

I love, love, loved this book and am so glad that it's got me sticking to my trend in excellent reads so far this year! The Perfect Guests is great fun and one I highly recommend!

Huge, huge thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey

It's the last days of the school year and Cassie McDowell can't wait for summer to begin. Because this summer she's going to make Gabriel her boyfriend. 

He's the best looking and sweetest guy in her school and she has a plan to make him hers. 

But the summer starts off with news that someone is abducting and abusing local boys. Not only that, but Cassie's got her own troubles at home. Troubles she longs to get away from. Which is why she decides she's going to investigate and solve the case of the abused boys. And when Gabriel becomes the next victim, she's more determined than ever to save the boy she loves. 

Readers have been praising Unspeakable Things for a while now and it's been in my TBR just as long. But I did know that the subject matter was not exactly rosy, so I delayed diving in...until I read the sample at the end of Bloodline! 

Unspeakable Things is set in and on the outskirts of Lilydale in 1983, the same town but almost two decades later than Bloodline

Cass and her family live on a farm in the country (that's what we would have called it growing up). Her mother is a teacher and her father is an artist. They're known for their parties, which both Cass and her sister, Sephie, loathe. And for good reason, though we don't find out the details until much later. 

Cass is superstitious and somewhat fearful. She spends her nights under her bed (when she wants to sleep long) or in her closet (when she wants to sleep short). And it's clear from the start that her home life isn't exactly a happy or safe one. 

But the 80's setting means that Cass and her friends kind of roam wild. She goes anywhere her bike will take her and has the freedom, outside of finishing household/farm chores, to spend her time pretty much as she likes. Perfect for some tweenage detecting!

As mentioned, this is not a light read. Nor is it a YA book even though our narrator is on the cusp of turning 13. There's a lot of heavy material squeezed into this book, made more disturbing by the fact that it's relayed via the eyes of someone who understands too much. 

This is the kind of book that so perfectly showcases a writer's talent and I think it's clear that Lourey is an immensely gifted author! Overall, this is the story of a child experiencing something she should never have had to face. It's a gripping story, one I read in one sitting (which I know is terrible to say when you consider how much sweat and effort goes into writing a book!) but I just could not tear myself away from Cass's story until I found out how it would all turn out.  

I do want to note that because of the content, this is definitely not a book for everyone, but I thought the subject in question, which is in fact based on a series of crimes that occurred when the author herself was young, was handled well without being gratuitous or overly graphic.

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Betrayal at Ravenswick by Kelly Oliver

Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Kelly Oliver's Betrayal at Ravenswick

Fiona Figg has just discovered that her husband is having an affair. Bereft and alone, she still manages to gain recognition at work enough so that she is able to take on an assignment of her very own!

It is rumored that a famed huntsman and now reporter may be a German spy. The man in question is staying at Ravenswick Abbey. Fiona is to travel there and, pretending to be a male doctor who specializes in poisons and women's ailments (because that's the role that was already in place when the former person with the assignment had to back out), spy for the War Office. 

That's the easy part. Unfortunately there is a death at Ravenswick while Fiona is in residence and she, as Dr. Vogel, but based on her studies, determines that the death is by poisoning. And she soon becomes a suspect herself! After all, wouldn't an expert in poisons be the most adept at poisoning someone?

This first Fiona Figg mystery is a fun romp through WWI England!

Fiona is a capable woman living in a time when women just didn't have that many opportunities. Which is why she's nervous about bringing attention to herself at work. And yet, having been left by her husband, she also finds herself with a bit of a why-the-hell-not attitude that's admirable. 

And gets results!

Soon she's working undercover, trying to tease out a potential German spy on British soil. And also maybe solving a murder mystery in her spare time. 

If period cozies are your cup of tea, Betrayal at Ravenswick is a perfect fit!

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

For more on Kelly Oliver 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: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Monday, January 4, 2021

Bloodline by Jess Lourey

Joan Harken and her boyfriend, Deck, have decided to move from the big city to Deck's tiny hometown of Lilydale. It's the kind of place where everyone knows your name and your secrets. But it's also the kind of place where Joan, pregnant and recovering from being mugged, can be safe. Nevermind the fact that it's 1968 and Deck has so far avoided the draft—moving home means a job and some protection by his father, the town's mayor, in that regard. 

But Joan, who never settled in one place for too long, finds the town stifling. First, Deck insists on telling everyone that they're married. Then, he spills the beans about their pregnancy. Soon it seems like every action on Joan's part is watched and judged. 

Then Joan hears about Paulie Aandeg, a little boy who went missing over two decades ago. Paulie's case was never solved. And though it's been quite some time, when another boy goes missing Joan can't help but think the two are connected. 

Funny story: back in 2008 I attended my very first con, Left Coast Crime, which was held that year in Denver (convenient!). And I remember Jess Lourey from that con! Craziness!

Anyway, Bloodline, wow! This latest from Lourey screams Rosemary's Baby meets The Stepford Wives!

Joan is smart and determined. She's also very career focused. But she's not going to let getting pregnant derail her plans. Nor is she going to let moving to Lilydale stand in the way of her chances. She gets a job at the local paper, taking on whatever assignments they want to give her. But it's clear that the job is meant to placate her. 

She's to be grateful for what they've given her. After all, a woman in the family way shouldn't be working!  And it becomes clear to both Joan and the reader that Lilydale is exactly the kind of town filled with exactly the kind of people who believe that!

I didn't know that Lilydale was also the setting for Lourey's previous title, Unspeakable Things. Don't worry, you don't have to have read it. But it is fun that Lourey's created this fictional town to encompass these two stories. 

Bloodline delves into the history of Lilydale—all the way back to its founding actually. And it's a town with dark secrets. 

I really enjoyed this one! The small town setting in 1968 was so perfect! As was Lourey's overall creepy vibe throughout the story. And the pacing...well, this is definitely one you won't want to put down. Not only did I read it pretty straight through (two sittings, I think), I dove straight into Unspeakable Things as soon as I was done (there was a sample chapter—I couldn't help it!). 

If Lourey's books are any insight into how my reading year is going to go, then I'm definitely (hopefully) in for a lot of great reads in 2021!

Order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Friday, January 1, 2021

Time to Eat: Delicious Meals for Busy Lives by Nadiya Hussain

I have been neglecting my cookbook reviews! Shame on me! What a bad cookbook book club leader I am! No but really, I host a virtual cookbook club for an indie bookstore, which means I'm cooking from a new cookbook every month and for some strange reason (ahem, having a toddler and never being caught up on anything on my To Do list), I have been terrible about actually reviewing the books here!

Now some of you might recognize Nadiya Hussain, and you should! She won The Great British Bake Off in 2015. She's the author of multiple books (cookbooks, kids books, and fiction) and also hosts multiple cooking shows, including Time To Eat, the show this particular cookbook is based on (it's on Netflix, check it out!). 

The theme of this book is, as the title says, "delicious meals for busy lives." And the book does live up to that promise! Recipes are designed to have leftovers but not just leftover leftovers, new meals that can be made from components of the recipe. A complete win for someone like me who really doesn't relish the idea of eating the same dish for multiple meals :)

The dishes are also fairly kid friendly. I say fairly because Hussain does like spice—I like spice as well, but I'm easing my toddler into it, so I do tend to slightly alter the recipes or add the heat component after taking some out for my tiny one. 

The very first recipe that I tried in the book were Hussain's Egg Rolls. These are breakfast tortilla rolls that use staples you likely have on hand already and are super easy to adapt to individual tastes. They also, according to Hussain, freeze well. I wouldn't know because we ate the entire batch both times that I made them! 

Some of the other recipes we've tried so far include Lentil and Orange Soup (this might be my new favorite lentil soup recipe!), Bacon + Bean Potato Skins (one of six variations of potato skins in the book), Pecan Brie Brûlée, and Tzatziki Quesadillas. 

Recipes come with a handy key for dishes that can be made ahead, are freezable, and make double batches. Hussain's Lava Fries, for example, include a Masala Beef that makes enough to freeze for later (her tip is to add beans to it to turn that component into chili). And the beef is amazing! Super flavorful with the perfect amount of heat (we didn't even tweak that one for the toddler, just served it to him as is). 

Other dishes use shortcut ingredients like prepared baked beans (Baked Bean Falafel) and fish sticks (Fish Stick Enchiladas). 

This book is absolutely perfect for anyone who loves to cook but doesn't have the time to do it every day. It's also perfect for anyone who is less confident about their skills in the kitchen! 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood

After losing both her son and her husband, Leah is looking for change. 

And change is what she's getting after leaving the city behind and moving to Maitland Farm. The farm had been her husband's idea, originally. Leah is a Maitland, after all, so it seemed fortuitous when he found the listing. Now Leah has taken on the responsibility of bringing the farm back to life on her own, in hopes the massive undertaking will provide distraction as well as a fresh start. 

But Leah soon discovers that Maitland Farm has a dark history. A history that hangs over the land and weighs on everything it touches. A history that Leah isn't certain she wants to claim as her own. 

I don't recall when I first heard about the Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve, but it's a tradition I am 100% here for—reading, rather than telling in my case. And when you pair that with the delightful Icelandic tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading said books, well it's book nerd heaven!

I was trying to decide what this year's Christmas Eve ghost-y read would be when I stumbled upon a list of creepy holiday tales, a few of which I'd read and a few of which, including Mistletoe, I hadn't. It was kismet :)

I will start by saying that I expected to have a tough time reading this one. It's about a woman who's lost her son and her husband, neither of which are things I want to consider! Fortunately, Littlewood's expertise at atmosphere and chilling stories outweighed my post-partum anxiety associated with anything about dying kids!

Leah is moving to the middle of nowhere after her life has been upended. And it's understandable. It's the holiday season and she's alone, so why not start over in a place where you won't be reminded of the life you once had. 

Almost from the start, Leah experiences weirdness on the farm. Sounds that have to be more than the old house settling, a feeling of being watched...and then she spies a little boy playing in the barn. But both the boy and the odd doll he's carrying are very real—at least real enough for Leah to touch. The vision she has after touching the doll, though, that's a different story. 

As I mentioned, Littlewood is great at building atmosphere! The combination of remote setting, snow upon snow upon snow, and the sadness that hovers over Leah and her new home make Mistletoe an absolutely perfect creepy read for winter. And the folklore around mistletoe adds to that. 

Mistletoe isn't actually out in the States, so you'll have to order it through a venue that'll bring in imports. For that I am sorry—the Brits really do excellent horror, though!—I'm also sorry that I didn't get this one posted in time for a Christmas Eve recommendation if you also seek festive scary reads. But you can savor it any time (or save it for next year).