Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Nesting by C. J. Cooke

Lexi Ellis is out of options. She's been dumped, has nowhere to live, and is out of work when she overhears mention of a nanny job that includes room and board in Norway. And when the girl who mentions the job gives Lexi the perfect intro to steal her application, Lexi goes for it. 

Lexi is hired, as Sophie, to work as nanny to two little girls whose mother has recently passed away. The girls' father, an architect, is determined to complete construction on a house he'd been building for his wife and has decided that the girls need to be by his side as work continues. The opportunity to leave everything behind and assume a new identity with a family who knows nothing of her past is a perfect opportunity for Lexi and the remote location means she has little to fear by way of being discovered. 

But things are not all rosy in Norway. First, there's the remoteness of the location, both a benefit and a bit of a disadvantage for Lexi. It means she's solely responsible for keeping the girls entertained; there are no parks and no other children nearby. Plus the construction site outside is really no place for children. Second, Lexi's assumed identity is that of a girl trained in vegan cooking and, apparently, Montessori school techniques, all things Lexi must pick up on the spot if she's to succeed in keeping the job. 

And then there are the strange happenings around the house itself. As it turns out, the house being built is the second attempt at a home on this spot. The site is plagued by trouble and the workers are superstitious. Lexi herself has witnessed some odd things since taking up residence with the family. But what those things mean is still a mystery. As is, potentially, the truth about the death of the woman whose family she's been hired to care for. 

Lexi is recovering from a suicide attempt when her boyfriend breaks up with her. He says he's had it and Lexi frankly can't argue with him. Foggy and overwhelmed, she leaves without even the necessities unsure where she'll turn. Fortunately, though, she has her ex's rail pass in hand!

It's thanks to that one resource that Lexi overhears word about the nannying job in Norway. And fortunately she gets the job. But it's a precarious start considering she's used someone else's identity and references. And Lexi knows well that getting caught in her lie would be the worst thing that can happen.

Or is it?

The reader has the benefit of alternating chapters giving a bit of the "then" storyline leading to the death of Aurelia, the mother of the girls Lexi is caring for. And Aurelia's story is veiled by mystery from the very start.

The Nesting blends folklore with suspense to create a read that's atmospheric and mysterious. It has hints of gothic lit, a remote setting, a house that may or may not be plagued by something dangerous, and a young woman at the center of it all. And throughout the story it never does become quite clear whether the mysterious happenings are supernatural in origin or otherwise. But their roots in folk tales are fantastic fun!

The Nesting is out today, order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Friday, September 25, 2020

The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup

It begins with a shocking discovery on a country farm. 

Decades later, the body of a woman has been found near a playground. A doll made of chestnuts is found hanging from a branch nearby. Upon examination, an impossible fingerprint is found on the charm: that of a politician's daughter, believed to be murdered one year prior. 

Naia Thulin is ready to move on from Major Crimes Division. In fact, she's already alerted her boss that she's been actively recruited to another department, so not it's just a matter of getting the right approvals in place. Until then, she's stuck babysitting an officer being reprimanded by Interpol, sent to work in their department while under review. And it's just her luck that they're hit with an odd case right off the bat. 

Thulin would love for it to be an open and shut case. She has her eye on the most likely suspect, but the evidence doesn't line up. And when the fingerprint of a girl who's supposed to have been dead shows up at the scene, she knows this is going to be anything but an easy case. 

I have to say that I've been a fan of Nordic Noir for quite some time but this year has reintroduced me to that genre with an absolute fury!

Sveistrup is the writer and creator of the original Swedish version of The Killing (and producer on the US remake). But it's hard to make the jump from screenwriting to novels. In part because the two jobs are very different. 

Screenwriting is direction. The story relies on not just the screenplay but the people in front of and behind the camera to convey everything from the emotions and inner thoughts of the characters to the details that make a scene. 

Novels, on the other hand, rely solely on the narrative to convey everything. And I find some people versed in screenwriting have trouble shifting into that space. 

That's not at all the case with Sveistrup's debut! 

Sveistrup's attention to detail, I feel, was always going to be good. It's part of what made The Killing so interesting. But he clearly knows how to write a fully-fleshed and complicated character. And this book is filled with them!

Thulin is a single mother with big career aspirations. But her current position isn't going to get her where she wants to be. The Major Crimes Division is plagued by a lack of funds and a need for new technology that the fancy N3 department has in spades. And Thulin is particularly talented when it comes to computers, so the move is inevitable. 

Of course it would be her luck that she's saddled with a troublemaker from the Hague (who seems uninterested in being there at all) and a case that grows increasingly more complicated with each new clue. 

Mark Hess, said troublemaker, really isn't interested in being there. He's marking time until he can return to his real job with Interpol. And he never does come clean to the reader about exactly what's gotten him temporarily banished, but it very quickly becomes clear that he's every reader's favorite kind of detective: one who doesn't play well with others! 

It's Hess that won't let the stray fingerprint go. He's insistent that it be investigated, which doesn't win him any points with anyone. Thulin believes it's a waste of time and everyone else in the department sees it as as Hess taking a dig at their abilities to investigate and close cases. 

And of course he's right. There is more to the fingerprint after all! (It'd be a short book if he was wrong!)

Sveistrup doesn't stop at giving readers insight into just Hess and Thulin. There are a bevy of characters whose perspectives are explored, even if it's just for the length of a chapter or two. Which makes the book that much more interesting! 

The plot does have the kind of twists you'd expect of a story made for the small screen—the kinds of new revelations that would be a cliffhanger leading into the next episode. And rights to the book have already been sold to Netflix. The show is currently listed as "in development" so I don't know much about it as of yet except that it's a Danish production and it's set to be 6 episodes. But Sveistrup is on board as a producer, so hopefully that means it'll be done well! I'm definitely looking forward to it!

The Chestnut Man is out in paperback as of earlier this month. I have to give a nod, too, to the audiobook production. This is the kind of book that you really don't want to put down once you begin reading, and with a toddler that's not so much of an option! Which is why I leaned hard on the audiobook for a couple of afternoons of reading. Peter Noble does a fabulous job narrating (and even helped me figure out some of the pronunciations!), providing excellent voice to Sveistrup's story. I highly recommend it if you're a fan of audiobooks. You can check out a sample at Libro.fm

Order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

It's been a year since Lauren's father was found dead in the woods near Smith's Hollow and things have not been easy. Lauren and her mother don't get along and her younger brother, always reserved, seems to know things that he can't possibly know. 

But when two girls are found dead just a few houses from Lauren's, things go from bad to worse. Lauren sees something in the woods, a monster she thinks is all her own imagination. But she soon finds that she's able to follow the monster's trail. More surprising, though, is the town's history of dead girls. A history only a select few seem to be able to recall at all. Lauren doesn't want to believe it, but she can't deny the things she and her brother have seen of late. But can she solve the mystery before Smith's Hollow loses more young women?

Fall is certainly in the air and while I crave horror year round, this time of year makes the craving all but impossible to deny! Plus, I can always make room in my reading for an 80's-based horror :) 

And that's exactly what Christina Henry's latest is!

Smith's Hollow is a small town with a main street, an annual fall fair, and a chili factory that provides most of the jobs. But people are happy there. In fact, even those who do move away always return. They have everything they need. And, if they can't find something in Smith's Hollow, they can always head over to the new mall in the next town over. 

Things pretty much kick off with two horribly mutilated bodies. David, Lauren's brother, tells his mom that their neighbor is screaming. But they're all the way in town doing their shopping when he says this. Sure enough, they return home to find that the bodies of two unknown teenage girls have been found in that very neighbor's yard. 

But strangely, the fervor you'd expect as a result of such a case is missing. The newest cop on the force notices it. Even an out of town reporter notices. And it certain gets Lauren's attention. 

Lauren misses her father. She has a strained relationship with her mother. And even her best friend is drifting away from her. All she really wants to do is spend time in the woods the way she and her friend used to. This in spite of the fact that her own father was found dead in those very woods. And yet, Lauren has always felt comfortable there. And yet, those woods are also where she finds her first clue about the town's dark history. 

This book is so 80s! And I love it! 

Lauren disappears regularly into the woods, rides her bike down to the arcade, basically roams the way kids did when I was young. Which works great because it's only in this roaming that she's able to dig into the mystery none of the adults seem all that concerned about. 

As mentioned above, she and her mother have a pretty bad relationship. This was hard to read at times, considering the grief they're both feeling. Henry does a wonderful job with these characters and really getting the reader inside their heads (and hearts!). 

The Ghost Tree is certainly a break from Henry's most recent works, plays on Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, etc. It's gory and fun, everything I want in horror!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

Quinn Maybrook and her father are starting over. Which is why they've moved to the tiny town of Kettle Springs where her father will be taking over as town doctor. 

Kettle Springs is a dead end town. The main source of employment, the local corn syrup factory (which sports a weird clown logo) has been shut down and, just prior to Quinn's arrival, the heir to the factory tried to burn the thing down! It doesn't take long for Quinn to meet said delinquent and join in his group of rowdy friends. 

But when Quinn and the others set off to attend a Friday night party that's the talk of all the teens in town, little do they know that they've caught the attention of someone who wants them all to pay! The party quickly turns into a race for survival as Quinn and the others try to escape a deadly foe dressed as none other than the creepy clown mascot himself!

Adam Cesare's latest is a fun romp into teen slasher territory. It reminded me of a specific 90's film that I cannot name here without risking giving away the twist...

Clown begins with an accident one year prior to Quinn moving to town. There's a group of specific teens involved, the ones Quinn finds herself thrown in with her very first day in school. I wish that there had been a bit more fleshing out, though. The teens in question are in the habit of filming things to post online. Everything, according to a line by one of the teachers. But we don't really see much of this beyond the opening scene. What's more, there's no real delving into the friction that comes between these characters both as a result of the incident and leading up to the party. 

Quinn is, however, pretty well rounded. As is her dad. They've moved to Kettle Springs to get away from their own darker past—the fate of Quinn's mom. And Quinn's dad seems pretty cool. He's not worried about his daughter getting in trouble her first day, not after talking it out, and he's not worried about the party either (a good chance to make friends). 

Boy was he wrong!

I liked this outing from Cesare but I can't say that I loved it. A bit more fine tuning in the character development area and I think this could have been really great. As it stands, it's a good popcorn read perfect for Halloween season but maybe not one I'll reach for again and again. 

Order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The White Coat Diaries by Madi Sinha

Happy Book Birthday to Madi Sinha whose debut, The White Coat Diaries, hit shelves today!

Norah Kapadia has always dreamed of following in her father's footsteps to become a doctor. And now she's finally made it. For the next year, she'll be an intern, learning under the best at Philadelphia General Hospital. But to get through the year, she'll have to stay on her toes while working grueling hours, doing scut for higher ups, and putting up with everyone from nurses to residents and even the very doctors who are supposed to be teaching her treating her like something they scraped off the bottom of her shoe. 

At the end of her first day, Norah is more than ready to pack it in. Only her drive to continue her father's legacy, and her charming resident who may or may not be flirting with her, keeps her motivated. But with her home life becoming more and more complicated with each day, Norah finds it harder and harder to keep that bright eyed motivation going. And when Norah's own ethics are challenged, she isn't at all certain she has it in her to continue. 

I consider myself a pretty die hard fan of Grey's Anatomy, so of course a book comped to that is going to make it on my radar. Though so far Grey's has yet to introduce a character quite like Norah. 

Norah comes from a traditional Indian family, which means she doesn't drink and she's had very little (read, none) dating experience at all. She's been too focused on her career! But all that seems to matter to her mother is settling down with a nice Indian man and popping out a few grandchildren. Things that Norah hasn't been interested in at all. 

Norah is driven and smart, she's a good friend, she's a good daughter, she reads real, which I appreciated so much! I mean, the book starts with her accidentally sticking herself with a needle and immediately freaking out in exactly the way you'd expect any normal person to freak out. 

And Norah's got stress in addition to the needle stick. Her mother has been suffering from depression ever since Norah's father died (well over a decade ago). Caring for their mother has fallen to Norah's brother, who still lives close enough to check in multiple times a day, but with a new baby of his own, he's recently started lobbying for Norah's help. 

The bright spot in all of this is that Norah seems to be building some sort of relationship with her resident. He's newly-ish single and charming, willing to come in on his day off to help Norah with a patient no one else seems willing to spend time on. Oh, and he keeps asking her on sort of, could be dates that leave Norah incredibly confused. 

Are you getting the Grey's vibes? It probably helps that Sinha is an actual physician. And like the show, the medical stuff that's mentioned throughout the book is all at once fascinating and entertaining. One thing I think Sinha really shines at, that we never get in the show (TV vs books, y'all) is the internal turmoil that Norah suffers. When her friend points out that her way of talking about a patient, for example, is cold, Norah feels guilty. There's more, but I definitely don't want to give it away. After all, the drama is where the great reading is!

The White Coat Diaries is an excellent debut and Madi Sinha is officially on my must read list from here on out!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Excerpt: These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin

Happy Monday, readers! Today I'm super excited to be sharing an excerpt from Katherine Laurin's These Vengeful Hearts. But first, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Whenever something scandalous happens at Heller High, the Red Court is the name on everyone's lips. Its members--the most elite female students in the school--deal out social ruin and favors in equal measure, their true identities a secret known only to their ruthless leader: the Queen of Hearts.

Sixteen-year-old Ember Williams has seen firsthand the damage the Red Court can do. Two years ago, they caused the accident that left her older sister paralyzed. Now, Ember is determined to hold them accountable...by taking the Red Court down from the inside.

But crossing enemy lines will mean crossing moral boundaries, too--ones Ember may never be able to come back from. She always knew taking on the Red Court would come at a price, but will the cost of revenge be more than she's willing to sacrifice?

Does this not sound completely awesome?! I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm a sucker for a good secret society book. And, Katherine Laurin lives in Colorado, which means she's local to me!

chapter one

Of the ways I’d want to start a Monday, finding a car covered in blood was not one of them. The murmurs began just after first period, and fragments of muted conversation led me out to the Heller High parking lot. I was curious to see the spectacle drawing so much attention.

The crush of students flowing out of the school buoyed me along in a tide of bodies. Between gaps in the crowd, I caught glimpses of the word smeared across the car’s windshield in blood red relief.


Gray clouds hung low, casting the macabre tableau in watery light. The chill that slithered up my spine had nothing to do with the brisk October morning. I skirted a group of girls in front of me, recognizing familiar faces from my geometry class, and found myself staring down at the thick crimson streaks. The letters looked nearly dry, and I couldn’t fight the morbid impulse to touch them. A distinct tackiness remained. Was it corn syrup or actual blood? I didn’t care to investigate further.

There was no proof that the infamous secret organization made up of Heller High’s elite even existed, but this exhibition had all the makings of a Red Court takedown. Whispers from the ring of students surrounding the car reached me and I stepped backward, edging away from notice until I was part of the throng gathered to witness the scene. It didn’t seem like anyone was paying attention to plain old jeans-and-a-tee-every-day Ember Williams. Good.

Other words, some so ugly I couldn’t look at them for more than a moment, marred the rest of the car’s windowed surfaces. My eyes skipped to the girl huddled beside a tree next to the parking lot. Tears stained with mascara ran in inky rivulets down her cheeks. Two of her friends rallied around her, whispering softly.

No amount of consolation was going to wash away the stain from this one. More than a few heads from the crowd were turned in her direction. I didn’t know her name, but I had a feeling she’d be remembered as that girl, the one whose car was vandalized with blood. She’d been marked by the words we’d all seen: liar, cheater, tramp.

Why did the Red Court target her? Who wanted this girl humiliated—to be brought so low in front of the whole school? Or had she been reckless enough to throw in with them and ask for a favor she couldn’t repay? No. The vulnerability in her expression was too raw to fake. This girl was a pawn in the Red Court’s game. The pull to learn more about the group known for dealing out ruin and favors in equal measure went beyond cursory interest. I needed to know more.

My stomach gave an uncomfortable tug, as if my body was eager to put distance between me and the girl now that I’d seen the damage. A sob shuddered through her, and I tore my gaze away, shifting my feet and noticing a stickiness below my sneakers. A thick coat of red clung to the bottom of my shoes, marking me too. Ugh. I must have stepped in a pool of the blood. I told myself it was fake blood because I couldn’t stomach the alternative. I’d have to go change into my running shoes before next period.

“Everyone back inside,” a teacher called from the main doors. His tone left no room for argument.

The mass of students quickly dissolved, moving back into the school. The whispers rose to chatter as theories were passed around like mono on prom night. I trailed behind a couple holding hands as they maneuvered through the crowd.

“This is the worst one so far,” the girl said.

Her boyfriend scoffed. “Worse than the video of Brett Shultz’s keg stand? No way. He got kicked off the football team for that. Brett had Division I schools scouting him, too.”

A rogue Facebook account cropped up just after the school year began with some incriminating footage of the varsity running back at a party in a stunning display of upper body strength and chugging technique. The video made it all the way to Principal McGovern, who reluctantly had him removed from the team, along with the school’s shot at a state title.

“Do you really think she cheated on her boyfriend?” someone behind me asked.

“Does it matter?” his friend responded.

I shook my head in silent reply. It didn’t matter. That was the power of the Red Court; gossip and innuendo were all it took for a star student to fall from grace after accusations of cheating.

As I passed a small cluster of teachers just inside the doors, I stepped nearer to catch the edges of their hushed exchange.

“—needs to do something.”

“The district’s policy on bullying—”

“I know the policy, but this is beyond ‘bullying.’ It’s the third time since the school year began.”

This may have been the third public display of destruction in the last six weeks, but it was hardly the third time the Red Court had struck. Their takedowns were legendary and highly visible to ensure maximum exposure, but they also excelled in the small things no one would notice unless they were looking for anomalies. My eyes were wide open.

For as long as anyone could remember, there have been rumors that the mysterious Red Court was pulling the strings behind the scenes at Heller High School. Its ranks were shrouded in mystery, but its influence was undeniable. Rigged Student Council elections, changed grades, and ruined reputations were all in their repertoire.

Half of the school treated them like the Boogeyman, the near mythical thing that was out to get you. It was easier to deny their existence than to acknowledge the specter of their presence. Takedowns like the one outside were as likely to be attributed to the Red Court as they were to be pinned on anonymous wannabes posing as the Red Court to allay suspicion. It seemed like the other half of the over two thousand students at Heller made a sport of trying to guess which members of the prom court were legitimate and which ones owed their wins to the Red Court.

But I knew the truth.

The Red Court was real, and I needed in.

I pushed my way through the crowded halls to get to my locker. All around me a chorus of voices carried the news of the Red Court’s latest victim, the story spreading faster than I could move.

My phone buzzed in my pocket. It was probably my best friend. I ducked into an alcove to check my texts.

Gideon: Did you hear?

Me: I saw, actually

Gideon: And?

Me: It was probably them. Who else would mess around with that much blood?

Gideon: Ew. Was it real blood?

I thought of my shoes again and shuddered.

Me: Who cares? The car looked like the prom scene from Carrie. They got their point across.

Gideon: I saw Mrs. Martin leading the girl into her office.

If something like that ever happened to me, I’d want to be put in the hands of the nicest—and most capable—guidance counselor, too.

Me: Yeah, I saw her outside.

Gideon: It’s too bad. She looked wrecked.

We were reaching the point in the conversation at which I was supposed to condemn the monsters who did this. I wasn’t ready to go there with Gideon. Revealing the true depth of my disgust at everything the Red Court stood for was not something I could do over text. Truthfully, my feelings about the Red Court were this gnarled mass inside of me, too big to start talking about at all.

Me: I gotta run. Lit is calling.

Gideon: Ok, see you after.

Before I’d made it halfway across the school, the warning bell rang. I gave up the attempt to change my shoes and turned to book it upstairs so I could suffer through American Lit with a room full of disenchanted sophomores. Oh joy. On an ordinary day, class was a chore to get through. On a day like today, with my mind busy dissecting the latest Red Court takedown, it seemed like my school would live up to its nickname after all. Welcome to Hell High.

“Ember?” Mr. Carson called my name like a question.

Crap. I must have missed something. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on Mr. Carson’s analysis of Leaves of Grass, which was a shame. Whitman had some serious 19th century game going on. “I sing the body electric” gave me chills the first time I read it.

“Yes, Mr. Carson?”

He sighed impatiently. Or perhaps disappointedly. “Do you have any thoughts on the final section?”

I glanced at my notes from the night before to read the scribbles aloud, but a mocking voice cut in.

“Whitman’s talking about the physicality of the body and how it is part of the soul or is the soul. Like it’s just as important as the soul, which at the time was elevated above a person’s body in significance.”

I threw a baleful look toward Chase Merriman—insufferable know-it-all—and was given a smug half-smile in return. He just loved to one-up me. Mr. Carson turned his gaze to me for more input, but my premeditated discussion points wouldn’t add anything to the dialogue. I gave my Lit teacher as unaffected a shrug as I could manage even though a sharp retort branded with Chase’s name tried to claw its way out of my throat. I pushed it down, not deigning to give Chase the satisfaction of knowing he got under my skin.

Mr. Carson continued droning on, asking for our “thoughts” and “feelings” about the poem. Poor guy didn’t seem to understand his audience. Disengaged was our default setting. It really took some doing to rouse us. Though Whitman’s work was taboo back in the day, most of the students here had probably seen something more risqué in their Instagram feeds over breakfast this morning.

The bell rang and Mr. Carson’s shoulders slumped. Another day of not making a difference. I almost felt bad for him, but this was his chosen career path. He had to know what he was getting into when he signed up to teach freaking poetry at a public school.

“Could you hang back a minute, Ember?” Mr. Carson’s words caught me six inches from the door and freedom.

I smiled tightly. The next period was my off-hour, but Gideon would be waiting. Every moment I wasted in the classroom diminished the chances of running out for my caffeine fix, which were already slim since I had to trek back across the school to change my sneakers first. I would not spend a moment longer than necessary in these shoes.

“What’s up, Carson?” He was one of those teachers who thought using “Mr.” in his title meant he was uncool, so I dropped it whenever I needed extra brownie points. Not that my brownie point bank account was in that much need.

“It’s unlike you to space out during an epic poetry discussion. Everything ok?”

Mr. Carson was probably my favorite teacher, and we had a strong rapport, but I couldn’t tell if his use of “epic” was sincere. I hoped for his sake he was being cheeky.

“Just having one of those days, you know?” Vague, Ember, be vague. “I’m sure I’ll be back to contributing the only meaningful insight tomorrow,” I added with a rueful smile, which he returned.

“Sounds like a plan. So you know, I’m always here if you need an ear.” He shut his copy of Leaves of Grass with a snap, effectively ending our conversation.

“Thanks!” I bolted out the door as fast as I could without seeming rude.

Running down the steps two at a time, I nearly crashed into Gideon as he waited at the foot of the stairs near the school’s main entry.

“What’s the rush, Em?” His words came out in a whoosh as he caught me.

“I need to stop by my locker before we get coffee. Let’s go!”

“Seriously? There isn’t time for a detour if we’re going to make it back before the hour is up. Let’s just hit the library instead.”

He was right of course, but I was in desperate need of a large Americano. I wanted to argue, but once Gideon made a decision, there was no way he’d change his mind. If only there was someone as bullheaded as him on the debate team with me.

Gideon broke down what he’d heard about the takedown this morning as we walked through the halls. I was too busy sulking to add to the commentary. I spun the combination on my locker, wondering how in the world I could explain the bloody shoes to my mom. The door swung open, and I tossed my bag to the ground. I was already toeing off my sneakers when a flash of red caught my eye.

The Queen of Hearts sat alone on the top shelf of my locker, the coy smile on her face said she knew something I didn’t. If the rumors were to be believed, she did. A Queen of Hearts was the eponymous calling card of the Red Court’s leader, and its presence could only mean one thing: my invitation had finally come.

Excerpted from These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin, Copyright © 2020 by Katherine Laurin. Published by Inkyard Press.

Huge thanks to the publisher for providing the excerpt today. 

These Vengeful Hearts is out on shelves now!

For more on Katherine Laurin and her wok you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

One By One by Ruth Ware

Snoop is set to be the next big thing in music and social media. An app that allows you to "snoop" on other people's listening habits, Snoop is literally about to break big. And the company responsible has a decision to make. 

Which is why the employees find themselves in a swanky ski chalet in the French Alps. It's to be a trip filled with skiing, and business. A celebration of things to come! 

But when an avalanche leaves them snowed in and without power, the true tension between coworkers begins to show. And as they're picked off one by one, it becomes clear that not everyone is pleased about the direction Snoop is taking. 

A group of snarky tech coworkers snowed in under already tense circumstances proves to be the perfect setting for Ware's latest thriller!

The story is told from the perspectives of Erin and Liz. 

Erin is an employee at the chalet, working alongside the chef, Danny, as the only two employees on site. They're responsible for keeping the guests happy, though neither of them is exactly pleased with the Snoop bunch. 

Liz, as we quickly learn, is a former employee of Snoop. Which means she's an outsider already. She doesn't ski and most of the staff don't even know her, making things more than a little awkward. 

And then the bodies start piling up!

Ware is a master at building suspense and tension and One By One is no exception. But I will say that as enjoyable as this latest outing was, it's not her strongest novel. 

There were, of course, twists galore, some of which were a tad predictable. Nothing I'll hold against the book at all! And I loved the setting. But the characters were a little too on the nose throughout. 

Erin is hiding a secret and the rest are playing off of one another as the story goes on. Some of them are better rounded than others, even with the focus on Erin and Liz. But some of them do come across as simple caricatures in a few cases. 

All in all, this is a fun read but one that just doesn't quite live up to Ware's previous books. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Verant

Sophie has it all—she's chef de partie at a restaurant about to receive it's third Michelin star and her career is right on track. Unfortunately, that third star doesn't come. And Sophie finds herself blamed. And fired. 

Left with nothing, the final blow comes when she discovers that her beloved grandmother is in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. So she packs up and returns to France, a trip so long overdue that nothing looks familiar anymore. 

Her grandmother's chateau is now a fancy resort with two restaurants. And her grandmother has her own award from Michelin. But she can't run it from a hospital bed. And so it's up to Sophie, who hasn't stepped foot in a kitchen successfully since losing her job, to take over. It's a job that comes with much weight, and Sophie isn't sure she can be up to the task. But being back in France serves as a reminder of all the things that set her on this path to begin with. And if anything can bring her back, it's her grandmother's faith in her abilities!

Verant makes her fiction debut with The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux

Sophie really does feel like she has the world at her fingertips at the beginning of the book. She's confident both as a person and especially as a chef. But when she's sabotaged, by a cheating ex and fellow chef, she loses even her faith in her own talents. (Except that the sabotaging chef in question wants her to come work for him!). 

She spends weeks holed up in her room and ignoring the kitchen. And her first attempts to dig herself out of the funk are disastrous. 

And then she learns that her grandmother is sick. 

Sophie's backstory is quite interesting. Her mother had mental health issues, which Sophie actually becomes convinced might plague her as well. And there's a secret hidden in this backstory as well—the reason her mother left France in the first place and prevented Sophie from returning for so long. 

This is a character-driven family drama perfect for any foodie Francophile! 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Feature: The Book of Hidden Wonders by Polly Crosby

This week marks the release of Polly Crosby's debut, The Book of Hidden Wonders

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

A charming, deeply imaginative debut novel about a young girl who is immortalized in her father’s illustrated books containing clues to their family secrets.

Romilly Kemp and her eccentric father have happy but sheltered lives in a ramshackle mansion in the English countryside. To help make ends meet, he creates an illustrated book with Romilly—striking girl with red hair and a mole on her cheek—as the heroine with her cat, Monty. The book becomes an instant success and their estate is overrun with tourists and adventure seekers after rumors spread that hidden within its pages is an elaborate treasure hunt.

As Romilly gets older and her father writes more books, he starts disappearing within himself. She returns to his illustrations, looking for a way to connect with her ailing father, and finds a series of clues he’s left just for her. But this treasure hunt doesn’t lead her to gold or precious stones, but something worth far more—a shocking secret that is crucial to understanding her family.

This is a book steeped in magic and sadness. It's also the kind of book that, at times, asks the reader to delve deeper into the story and read between the lines to really understand the truth being revealed. 

This isn't a book for everyone but it is an enticing read that will tug at your heartstrings. 

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

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Happiest of Book Birthdays to Alyssa Cole! Her latest, When No One Is Watching, is out today from William Morrow and it is utterly fantastic!

Sydney Green is in danger of losing her home. Many of her neighbors have already succumbed to the offers of salivating real estate developers. That, or they've fallen by the wayside of gentrification. Sydney is intent on holding out, but her position is precarious. The bills are piling up and Sydney, divorced and newly single, has returned to help her mother as best she can. But things aren't looking good. 

Theo has just moved into the neighborhood and he's fascinated by it's history. He's also fascinated by his neighbor, Sydney. He and his girlfriend bought and are renovating the place across the street, but things aren't rosy in the relationship department. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that Theo sunk all of his last bit of money into buying the building, he'd already be gone. 

In her spare time, Sydney is developing an historical tour of the neighborhood in response to the whitewashed version currently being sold to tourists and new tenants. And Theo soon begins to tag along. Together, as they research more of the history of the area, they run up against some scary parallels to what's currently happening. Sydney has been accused of being paranoid before and she's anxious to avoid the accusation again. But she's beginning to wonder. Is is possible there's something else behind all of the new, white, neighbors moving into the historically black neighborhood? Surely the revitalization is just capitalism at work and not something dark and sinister. Surely that kind of thing is in the past, a part of history... 

Alyssa Cole is known for her historical and contemporary romance novels. But with When No One Is Watching she stretches her writing wings into the thriller genre—and she does it fabulously well!

This is the most deliciously creepy and dark thriller I've read in a while. And in terms of timing it couldn't be better. 

When No One Is Watching tackles the dark side of gentrification and slaps the reader across the face with it. Sure, it's tied up in an entertaining and creepy little bow, but Sydney herself is blatant in her lessons to Theo. Whether it's called revitalization or something else, rich people have narrowed in on her neighborhood and that means bad things for the people who have called it home for so long. 

I loved When No One Is Watching. I was already a fan of Cole thanks to her incredibly fun Reluctant Royals series but when I heard she was making her thriller debut, I immediately added it to my must have list and it lived up to my every expectation and more!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!