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Monday, October 25, 2021

The Hideout by Camilla Grebe

Good morning, readers! Today I'm kicking off the Compulsive Readers tour for Camilla Grebe's latest, The Hideout!

Samuel didn't mind earning a little extra money taking stealing electronics and taking "pizza" orders for the local drug dealer. In fact, it was a lot of extra money! But then the job took a violent turn and his mom found out what he was doing, kicking him out of the house and also trashing the stash he was supposed to deliver. 

So he goes into hiding. In a small, isolated town that should be safe from the police and the drug lord he knows is searching for him. 

Hiding out is the first opportunity Samuel has taken to being a responsible adult. He's taken a job as an assistant, spending much of his time reading to a disabled boy. But it doesn't take long for him to start to wonder if things are a little off there. 

At the same time, the body of a man has washed up on shore. Manfred is dealing with his own personal tragedy, but is one of the detectives assigned to the case. And this is just the first body...

The Hideout is technically the third book in a very loosely framed series that began with The Ice Beneath Her Feet and continued with After She's Gone. Fortunately for crime fans, you do not have to have read either of the previous books in order to dive into this latest!

And I love that about this series! 

Grebe has a talent for creating fascinating characters and that is definitely on show here in The Hideout. But I should warn you that the book begins with a sucker punch of an opening chapter!

Manfred is enjoying life as a new father with a new, much younger wife. So much so that the job has taken a bit of a backseat. And yet, when tragedy strikes at home just as a series of bodies starts to wash up on shore, he's forced to put the job at the forefront as much as he can. 

At the same time, we meet Samuel and his mother, Pernilla. As mentioned, Samuel, who's only just turned 18, likes easy money. After all, why would he bother to get a real job that pays pennies compared to the money he makes pawning stolen goods? And the drugs, it's just a little weed. Nothing that bad. But he's definitely unprepared for the way the job escalates. 

His mother, who has cut him a little too much slack, isn't having it! She kicks him out, but has pretty immediate second thoughts. Raising him alone has been a chore and she knows he needs to take responsibility, but in the cool down period when she doesn't hear from him for a while...

The book alternates between the three of them: Manfred, Samuel, and Pernilla. And it's one that keeps you guessing along the way. I won't say much more because I don't want to spoil it, but I really do love the way the various threads of the plot are woven. It's impossible to gauge, from the start, just how things will all come together. And that's part of the fun in the reading!

The Hideout is officially out this week from Zaffre!

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen

Happy Friday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Antti Tuomainen's latest, The Rabbit Factor!

Henri is an actuary with an insurance company. He finds order through math and numbers. What he doesn't have time for, though, is idle chit chat and gossip. Which apparently means that he no longer fits into his company's culture. 

And so he finds himself very unexpectedly unemployed. 

And then finds himself, also very unexpectedly, the new owner of YouMeFun, the adventure park his brother owned. Because, as it turns out, his brother has passed away and left everything to Henri. 

The park is fully staffed and, mostly, functional. But it's also not exactly doing well financially. And apparently Henri's brother had gotten tied in with some quite unsavory types! 

But amidst dealing with the park's troubles, a new staff of people he barely knows and has to manage, and the chaos that goes along with all of that, Henri also finds himself surprisingly drawn to the park's manager. Suddenly, his carefully ordered world has been turned upside down. And Henri doesn't know if he's equipped to deal with it all. 

Antti Tuomainen is an author whose reputation truly does precede him! His quirky Finnish thrillers have been on my must read list for some time now. Which is why I jumped at the opportunity to be part of this tour! And I have to say I am very happy that The Rabbit Factor turned out to be everything—and more—than I expected it to be!

First, the premise is pretty funny in an of itself. And once we really meet Henri, it becomes even more oddball and fun! 

The book begins just over three weeks into inheriting the park with Henri being chased around and forced to defend himself with a rabbit ear. I mean, I don't know how else we could better be set up for what's to come.

But the Henri prior to YouMeFun is stuck. Stuck in his ways. Stuck by himself. Stuck in a rut. Stuck without friends, a job, or even his own brother. And imagining that Henri becoming the Henri from the opening chapter seems like a pretty impossibly leap. Joining him on that journey is pure entertainment! 

Tuomainen clearly enjoys what he does and that enjoyment comes through in his prose. Albeit via translator David Hackston. 

And in a surprise twist, this is actually being adapted for film with Steve Carrell set to star. Which is quite possibly the most perfect casting I can imagine for Henri!

And I just want to take a quick minute to give some serious props to the cover designer here. That is, quite possibly, the most perfectly eye-catching and fantastic cover design I've seen in a while!

The Rabbit Factor is an excellent read, perfect for anyone who enjoys dark comedy and caper-style thrillers! I sincerely hope that it's also the book that makes Tuomainen the household name he should be worldwide!

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Litani by Jess Lourey

Frankie's father has died, which means that the young teen has been sent away from their home in Pasadena, to live with her mom in the small Minnesota town of Litani.

She and her mom have never been close, which makes the move that much harder. But Frankie feels responsible for her father's death, so living with her closed-off mom is just part of the punishment she thinks she deserves. 

As soon as she arrives, Frankie is warned about dark things in Litani. Within just a few days, she's heard about dead animals and missing kids. Worse than that, she's heard about The Game. And whatever The Game might be, she knows it's something to be afraid of. 

As rumors of Satanic worship swirl around the small town, talk of Frankie's own father's past starts to make it's way to the girl. Frankie becomes determined to learn more about her family while also vowing to help make Litani safe for kids. But where does a fourteen year old start in an investigation that seemingly stumps the professionals?

Jess Lourey writes some incredibly disturbing stuff! In Litani, as with Unspeakable Things, the narrator is a young girl and it lends a wide-eyed innocence to the story that makes the content all that much more unsettling. 

Frankie is fourteen and—except for one visit that ended badly—this is her first time in Litani. But it's the town where her mother and father grew up. The town where they met. The town their families are from. Everyone knows who Frankie is as soon as she arrives. And they know things about her family that even she is unaware of. 

As soon becomes clear to Frankie, some very bad things are happening to the kids in Litani. But she doesn't quite understand what those bad things are. And because Frankie is young and has led a fairly sheltered life—not just because the story is set in 1984—she misses some of the hints about said bad things. Hints that the reader doesn't miss.

And I have to say that those things weigh heavy on your mind as you follow such a young main character through the narrative. 

Lourey does offer a slightly older foil who tries to open Frankie's eyes to some of the things she's not seeing. I'd say it helps the reader as well, but I think most readers (especially those familiar with Lourey's books) don't really need the help. 

Litani is not an easy read by way of theme. And it reminded me a lot of Clay McLeod Chapman's Whisper Down the Lane, in that it draws from the same fervor of the era and even mentions the very case the latter is based on. 

I enjoy Lourey's work because it is so gripping. And also incredibly layered. Yes, this is a dark tale in more ways than one. But it's also got a young heroine who is determined to be just that—a heroine. She has her own suffering but she wants to save everyone around her. Her story is not an easy one to read but she's easily the girl next door in every sense of the phrase: you quite literally do not know what the people around you are going through. 

Lourey is an absolute must read for me. If you can handle the darker aspects of real life, her thrillers are undeniably gripping and her talent is amazing! 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, October 18, 2021

Cold as Hell by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Lilja Sigurðardóttir's latest, and first in a new series, Cold as Hell!

Áróra is no stranger to her sister's issues. In fact, she's had to return to Iceland a number of times to help the elder sister out of trouble. Which is why she's none too pleased when their mother calls and asks her to return once again to check on Ísafold. It seems she's been out of touch long enough for their mom to be concerned. What's more, she hasn't updated her social media either.

Áróra arrives certain that she'll find her sister in the same situation as before. And also certain that, like the previous times, she'll be nursing wounds from abuse by the boyfriend she refuses to leave.

And yet, when she arrives in Iceland she finds no trace of Ísafold. It's as though she's disappeared.

With the help of a detective, she begins to look into Ísafold's life, trying to find clues as to her whereabouts.

Meanwhile, she can't help but get involved in another case as well. And this one could be very financially rewarding!

First off, you'll notice I'm super late with this post. Like ten days by the poster. Life has been...yeah. And yet, as with last year, I find that Nordic Noir offers me such a welcome escape! Sinking into this story of sisters and financial investigation (which is what Áróra actually does for a living) was a fantastic diversion. 

Áróra and her sister have a complicated relationship. There's a big gap between them and Ísafold was resentful of her younger sister for quite some time. At least, it seems, until she could get something from her. Usually help in cleaning up her messes (literal and figurative). 

They moved to the UK young but Ísafold returned to Iceland as soon as she was able. And then she met Björn. Who was not a good partner. They tried to get Ísafold to leave him on multiple occasions, but inevitably she would refuse. And it's that combination of issues that has left Áróra with very little patience when it comes to her sister. 

And of course Áróra is concerned. But she knows her sister won't change. 

This time, though, things might just be different. Because no one has seen Ísafold. And not only that, the things that have happened in her life recently have been kept secret from her family...

The family dynamic is fabulous! But of course it's Áróra who drives the story. And I absolutely loved her! She has a bit of a nebulous sense of right and wrong, doing what she wants to do when she wants to do it regardless of whether it's exactly the right thing to do. 

She's a financial investigator and we meet her while she's working a case for a man who claims his wife stole all of their money and ran. She recovers it, but the man isn't going to pay up. Fortunately, Áróra has her own ways of negotiating with people like that. 

The book is about much, much more than just the sisters. And it is a bit of a slow burn—much more character driven than plot driven. Translator Quentin Bates does a fabulous job, in my opinion, of capturing and staying true to the author's style, which I think is always a challenge with translations. But Cold as Hell reads wonderfully, with characters and prose that grab you from the very start!

I cannot wait to read more with Áróra! She is exactly the kind of character I adore and is absolutely perfect to carry a series!

If you've yet to dip your toe into the incredibly deep and diverse well of Nordic Noir or, more specifically, Icelandic crime fiction, Cold as Hell is an excellent place to start!

This one is out now in the UK from the fabulous folks at Orenda. It will hit shelves in the States in February.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The Lighthouse Witches by C. J. Cooke

Happiest of Book Birthdays to C. J. Cooke! Her latest, The Lighthouse Witches is out today from Berkley and it is the absolute perfect fall read!

1998: Liv has been commissioned to paint a mural in a lighthouse located on a remote island in Scotland. 

She's been raising her daughters alone since the death of her husband a few years ago, and money has been tight. To say the least. Which is why the commission has come at the perfect time. Not only does it pay, but it comes with room and board for the duration of the project. 

As soon as they arrive on Lon Haven, Liv's oldest daughter, Saffy, dives into the island's odd lore thanks to a book she's found in their new home. The book outlines witch trials held on the island in the seventeenth century. But it also contains so much more...

2021: Luna has never given up hope that her mother and her two sisters will be found. But it is a shock when she receives a call saying that the youngest, Clover, has been located. Even more shocking is the fact that Clover hasn't aged a day in the two decades she's been missing. 

Luna has never returned to the island of Lon Haven in all these years. She also doesn't remember exactly what happened on her final days there—when her sisters and her mother disappeared. Now she'll have to return if she's ever to understand what's happened—and still happening—to her family. 

But on an island so steeped in folklore and mythology, where witchcraft still has a significant foothold, Luna will find herself in danger of falling prey to old beliefs!

The Lighthouse Witches is a perfect blend of supernatural and suspense! I loved every last bit of it!

First of all, the island the book is set on is fiction. BUT the witch trials that took place pretty much everywhere were particularly horrendous in Scotland. In fact, according to ye olde wikipedia, there were no less than 5 separate witch hunts that took place in the country. 

Oof!

Witch lore is probably most fascinating because it's one of many pieces of history that plagues women in particular. Got a neighbor you don't like—point that finger and say the magic word! Want a particular piece of property? Feel like you've been wronged somehow? Thing your husband is having an affair?...And while the victims weren't exclusively women, the majority very much were. 

(This is not meant to be glib in any way, but I'm not an expert on the history and there are TONS of resources available.)

The setting for Cooke's latest is an island that still very much holds onto their old beliefs. And in addition to witches in particular, this island has a strong and long-held belief in wildlings (you may have heard them called changelings). 

So here comes a mom and her three daughters, plopped down in a setting that's super insular, super superstitious, and, as we soon come to learn, kind of under the thumb of a particular family as well. 

And the lighthouse Liv's been commissioned to paint? It's owned by an eccentric millionaire who is never around. Oh, and it sits on the very site where witches were burned over three centuries ago. 

And that's just half of the story. Present day, an adult Luna has her own struggles. She's pregnant and not certain she wants to be married (which her partner views as the end rather than an understanding of her complicated past—no thanks to the fact that she doesn't adequately communicate that to him!). 

She's a child therapist, though, which means that she should be perfectly suited to take young Clover under her wing. Except that it makes no sense that Clover is still a child!

Each of the women in this book are so well drawn. I loved Liv and felt her pain as a single mother. I loved Luna and also felt her pain as an orphaned woman trying to start her own family. Saffy, the snarky teen trying to find her way in the world reminded me of those awkward teenage years and how awful they could feel. 

There's one final woman who plays a big role in the book, but we don't actually get her perspective. Amy, who lives during the trials themselves, is only really seen through the eyes of the man who loves her. And it's their story that Saffy finds in the lighthouse bothy in 1998. 

The Lighthouse Witches is out now! I highly, highly recommend this one and hope you'll all run out and buy a copy! It's an excellent anytime read, but it's especially perfect for fall (part of it takes place at Halloween!).

This is going down as one of my favorite books of 2021!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Feature: The Ice Coven by Max Seeck

Happy Book Birthday to Max Seeck whose second Jessica Niemi thriller, The Ice Coven is out today!

I was meant to be reviewing it today but LIFE got in the way of my reading. And since it hits shelves today and I want all of you to buy it, I'm going to do a feature instead :)

So here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Six months have passed since Jessica's encounter with the mysterious serial-killing coven of witches and the death of her mentor Erne. Her nightmares about her mother and the witchcraft that undid her have only gotten worse, but she's doing what she can to stay focused. Her homicide squad, now under new leadership, has been given a murder case and a new series of disappearances to investigate. A young woman's corpse has washed up on an icy beach, and two famous Instagram influencers have gone missing at the same time.

The missing influencers and the murdered woman all have ties to a sinister cult. Jessica finds an eerie painting--of a lighthouse on a frigid island--as she investigates and under the picture is a gruesome poem detailing a murder. The nightmares about her dead mother have intensified and seem all too real, making Jessica wonder if the woman might be trying to tell her something about the killings. And as Jessica works frantically to solve her latest case, her terrifying past and the coven of witches that almost killed her shockingly reemerge and threaten to destroy her.

So if it's not clear, you do need to read these in order! (You can check out my review of The Witch Hunter here, if you're interested.) 

This is Nordic Noir to a T and if you haven't yet taken the dive into that particular subgenre of crime fiction, I highly recommend that you rectify that ASAP! 

There's a unique style to Scandinavian crime fiction that I find so completely appealing. I think it's the ice and the snow and the odd sense of isolation even when the setting isn't necessarily isolated at all. 

All that's to say, Nordic Noir/Scandi Crime is some of my absolute favorite and I definitely want to see more crime fiction fans seeking it out :)

So yeah, run out and buy The Ice Coven today! And go ahead and get them both if you haven't started the series yet—you're going to want to read them back to back!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Margins by John Wigglesworth

Happy Monday, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things blog tour for John Wigglesworth's The Margins!

Ethan didn't have much by the way of plans when he landed in Delhi. After a few days hanging out in a Chinese restaurant drinking copious amounts of beer, he finally made friends with two other travelers. They were all three aimless, spending their days smoking opium and eating delivery. But as their money started to run out, they knew they had to do something. 

And so a plan was made. They would hike out to a remote paradise and live off the land. 

Except things didn't quite work out that way. By the end, over 700 people were dead. And only Ethan was left to tell the story. 

While this isn't technically a cult book, it's close enough. And it's not all pleasant reading, either (you've been warned). 

Ethan was a pharmacists's assistant back in England. He says he was, in his parents' eyes, the failure of the family. His trip to India isn't so much of an attempt to find himself as it was an escape. 

Which is kind of the same for Div, Hal, and Lorna. 

Div and Hal come first. A couple Ethan meets at the above mentioned Chinese restaurant. And Hal knows Lorna, who has her own place locally. In fact, Hal sort of barges in on her, forcing her to take all three of them in as their savings dwindle. 

As you can imagine, they soon wear out their welcome and have to come up with a new plan.

The story begins "present day" (1989) as Ethan is being interviewed by police after the bodies have been discovered. From there, the story alternates back and forth as Ethan recounts the tale to the detective in charge. 

Their plan is an idealistic one. And obviously, as anyone could predict, one that doesn't pan out. 

As I said, this isn't a cult novel but instead a book that explores the pitfalls of capitalism and more. And while it's set in the late 80s, it's absolutely a timely read! 

The Margins is incredibly captivating and moves quickly, begging to be read in one sitting! 

This is Wigglesworth's debut and I have to say I am definitely looking forward to more from him. (I hear he has a new book in the pipeline and it sounds pretty fabulous!)


Friday, September 24, 2021

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Ted lives on Needless Street. Ted is odd. He's quiet and keeps to himself. He likes things just the way he likes them. 

Lauren is Ted's daughter. She only lives with Ted part time. Sometimes, Lauren gets in trouble. 

Olivia is Ted's cat. She takes care of him, though he thinks it's the other way around. Olivia knows that she's been tasked by God to take care of Ted. 

This story is not the one you think it is...

The Last House on Needless Street really reads like a gift, with layers of paper and wrapping being pulled away to reveal new secrets as the story progresses. 

It's a hard book to describe without giving things away. And, like I said, it's not the story you think it is. 

It's a story about Ted, and Lauren, and Olivia. It's also about Ted's mom. And a missing girl. And the sister determined to find out what happened to her so many years ago. 

This is actually the first book I've read by Catriona Ward. She'd been recommended to me a while back, when I was looking for my annual Christmas Eve ghost story (The Girl From Rawblood). So when people started talking about The Last House on Needless Street well before it was ever released, I knew I had to read it! And then Stephen King blurbed it :)

This is a subversive thriller. It begins with Ted on the anniversary of the day a girl went missing. He calls her Little Girl With Popsicle. And what Ted doesn't know is that the girl's own sister, Dee, has been searching for clues about what happened that day. 

Ted, Dee, Lauren, and Olivia all get their own say in this book. The chapters are short and clipped, the kind that keep bedtime readers up much later than is healthy :) begging to be read! 

And what a read it is! It released in March from Viper in the UK (I cheated and ordered an overseas copy because I just couldn't wait!) and is due out next Tuesday from Nightfire. Amazingly, I haven't actually seen anyone spoil the book even with such ample opportunity! And I'm glad because it means so many people will get the chance to read this with fresh eyes and absolutely no idea what is coming!

Which is why this is such a vague review!

Catriona Ward is clearly a massive writing talent. I've got The Girl From Rawblood and Little Eve both in my TBR as we speak. I'm frothing at the mouth for a chance to read her upcoming Sundial, too. (Both the UK and US editions of that one will release in March.) And until then, I can't wait to see what everyone thinks about The Last House on Needless Street!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Moon Lake by Joe R. Lansdale

Danny Russell was just a boy when his father drove their car off a bridge. Danny survived but the car and his father were never recovered. 

Years later, a massive drought has left the lake almost bare and Danny's father's car has finally been found. But no one expected to find a second body in the trunk. 

As a journalist and writer, Danny is uniquely positioned to find out what might have been going on with his father. But his investigation into his own past becomes a much wider investigation that many want to keep closed. 

I love Joe Lansdale! His work runs the gamut of genre fiction—from humorous crime fiction to noir, sci fi, and horror—but you can always count on his books to be great. 

Moon Lake is no exception! And he calls this one East Texas Gothic, if you want to get specific. It's a wonderfully appropriate and I would welcome much more of it (by Lansdale or otherwise) in my TBR :)

Set in 1978 East Texas , Moon Lake is a story about the end of an era and a town that is determined not to change with the passing of time!

When Danny's mother disappeared, everyone assumed she ran off leaving her son and husband behind. And Danny's father never recovered. On the brink of losing it all, he packed his car and, with his son by his side, drove into the water that long ago flooded the town he and his wife grew up in. 

Danny is saved by a father and daughter who are fishing at the time. And without much in the way of options, that man takes Danny into his home until his aunt shows up to claim him some time later. That the family is black doesn't matter one bit to Danny. 

And it still doesn't matter to him when he returns to Moon Lake to find the girl he once called friend is now a deputy with the sheriff's department. 

But this is a time when even their friendship would be an issue for some. (And her position on the local force is already tenuous.) All that's to say that when Danny starts poking around in something the locals don't want dug up, he doesn't get much by way of help or support! In fact, the locals make it pretty clear that they want Danny gone, yesterday!

But Danny is stubborn. And determined. In part because he desperately wants to prove that his father couldn't have had anything to do with the body in his trunk. 

Lansdale often explores issues of race, found family, and friendship in his work and all of those things appear in this latest. It is definitely one of my favorite reads of the year. I also really hope that Danny will be a returning character for Lansdale as he'd make an excellent basis for more books. 

Moon Lake is perfect for anyone who loves weird cross-genre reads!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward

Happy Wednesday! Today I'm a stop on the Compulsive Readers tour for Rhiannon Ward's latest, The Shadowing

Hester was raised in a a traditional Quaker family. So when her sister, Mercy, eloped with their brothers' tutor it was a scandal, to say the least. 

In the aftermath, no one was to speak Mercy's name. 

But one morning, Hester wakes to find Mercy's spirit in her room. Later that morning they receive the news: Mercy has died in a workhouse in Southwell. And Hester is sent to find out more. 

With spirits shadowing her, Hester begins to investigate Mercy's death. What she finds is the story of a pale lady who steals babies. But the truth is even worse. And someone will stop at nothing to make sure that truth is never revealed. 

Rhiannon Ward is the gothic pseudonym for crime author Sarah Ward! And this, her second historical gothic novel, is exceptional!

Hester was raised in a mostly well-to-do traditional Quaker family. Her father is strict but after having suffered a stroke, his business isn't doing as well as it once did. 

Hester has always experienced what she calls Shadowing. In other words, spirits visit her. But it's not something her father is willing to entertain, and so she not only keeps it to herself but also attempts to banish said spirits as soon as they arrive. Including that of her sister. 

The day the letter arrives, her father suffers a second stroke and Hester is tasked (by her mother) with traveling to Nottinghamshire to find out more about Mercy's death. For someone who has been sheltered for so long, it's a bit of an adventure even with the tragic reason behind it. 

Little is known about Mercy's fate. What happened to her husband, first and foremost? Why was she sent to a workhouse? How did she die? And as Hester learns more, namely that her sister was pregnant, the answers seem to bring about even more questions. 

As with the best gothic novels, The Shadowing is absolutely brimming with atmosphere! A sense of creeping dread that builds as the story progresses—and is even tempered some in the beginning by Hester's newfound freedom! It hangs over the story, nonetheless, much the same way as the grime that Hester encounters on her journey. 

I really enjoyed this one! It's a perfect read for fall and an excellent addition to any gothic fan's TBR! 

The Shadowing is out now from Trapeze in the UK. 


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Megan Abbott's The End of Everything!

Yes, I know this one has been out for quite some time, but with the release of The Turnout, the publisher is, rightfully so, bringing some attention to her backlist as well!

Next door neighbors Lizzie and Evie are the best of friends. They grew up together. They share just about everything. And they have no secrets between them. Or that's what Lizzie thought until Evie went missing. 

Lizzie wants to help. Especially when she remembers the car. And the cigarette butts in the backyard. 

But as Lizzie becomes determined to solve the crime on her own, she find out that Evie didn't quite share everything with her.

This is actually a reread for me, which is very atypical considering how HUGE my looking TBR is. But I read this way back in 2011, when it originally released. I found the subject matter disturbing then—and still do!

Set in the eighties and built around two young teenage girls, The End of Everything is an unsettling story amidst gorgeous prose. How is this possible? Because Abbott writes very well and very prettily. Which contributes to making this story even more unsettling than the subject alone. 

That jarring effect helps too, in that the story is one told from the perspective of a fairly innocent thirteen year old. And this time in her life should be about getting to know herself, not getting a front row seat look at the nasty parts of life!

It makes the reader uncomfortable in a way that really sneaks up on you. I think, too, that it's a perfect melding of all of the things that start to happen to a girl at this particular age. 

Thirteen is still a girl. But on the cusp of becoming a young adult. Everything is changing and even though we, as girls, are taught to be wary and to be on guard for potential dangers even from such an early age, thirteen is not a time that you ever think think to consider those things. Thirteen is invincible!

Thirteen is when you start to realize you have a bit of power in your charm. Thirteen is when you desperately want to be older and enjoy the things all the older kids get to enjoy. But thirteen is the age when you realize those things are only open to you if you pretend to be something that you're not. 

And it's an age when everyone around you should be protecting you and sheltering you from those things!

In Abbott's story, Evie and Lizzie are missing at least some of that protection. They're vulnerable without knowing it. And they pay the price for that. 

The End of Everything makes me sad. And it makes me angry. Because while this is fiction, it's also reality for so many. Too many. Abott deftly taps into that fear, that knowledge that we, women and girls, aren't safe. 

If you've yet to dive into Megan Abbott's work, now is absolutely the time to do so! Her prose has so much power! It elicits so many emotions and feelings. It ingrains itself in your thoughts. And, if you're like me, it makes you examine long held fears and be grateful that you were lucky enough to have enjoyed the good parts of the kinds of stories she writes (close friendships, for one) without the bad. While also feeling so terribly sorry for the fact that anyone would ever suffer that fate. 


Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

When Eve was just twelve years old, her family was brutally murdered by a man the media had dubbed "The Nothing Man." 

They called him that because he never left behind any evidence. And his crimes had escalated from serial attacks to murder by the time he targeted Eve's family. 

Years later, Eve has resurfaced as the author of a true crime book about The Nothing Man. 

Jim Doyle knew he shouldn't have let Eve live. And as he reads about his own exploits, he becomes determined to fix his mistake. 

For anyone who's read The Nothing Man, it's no surprise to find that Catherine Ryan Howard was heavily influenced by Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark. This was a book that, although I don't read much true crime, captivated me. McNamara's mission to finally bring the Golden State Killer to justice was a passion that even she said was an obsession. Sadly she passed away before the book was published and the killer was finally caught. And I wonder to this day what else she could have accomplished had she not died at such a tragically early age. 

But anyway! 

In The Nothing Man Catherine Ryan Howard imagines a scenario in which the survivor of a serial killer pens a book about her experience. And the murderer is reading the book as the story unfolds. 

The structure is interesting because it alternates between Jim's narrative and the book within the book. So Eve's story is just that, the fictional true crime book that spurs Jim on. This approach controls the pacing of the book, forcing the reader to read alongside the killer. And just as you're starting to sink into one or the other parts of the tale, you're ripped out of it and dropped into the other. 

I don't mean it to sound violent :) In actuality, I found that this worked quite well for the story. We know Jim is the killer all along. And in his narrative we see him start to deteriorate as he reads more and more of Eve's book. 

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. I'd meant to read it last year when it came out, but...life. And so when a buddy read opportunity popped up over on Instagram, I decided it was past time! In fact, I ended up reading it back to back with the author's latest release 56 Days and now can't wait to go back and read the rest of her backlist!

With all the talk about supply chain issues (yay for even more Covid fallout), there's a push for shopping early and suggestions for shopping backlist. With that in mind, this is a perfect book for anyone who was also drawn into the Golden State Killer news, I'll Be Gone In the Dark, and (another one I read but still need to review) Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

With the camera becoming less of a novelty, Agnes’s living as a silhouette artist is in grave danger. But there are still those who appreciate a deft hand and talents such as she once possessed. Once being the key. Because even Agnes’s skills aren’t what they used to be. 

And then Agnes’s waning clientele begin to meet with unsavory ends. 

Afraid that someone will draw the connection to the recent murders and Agnes, she vows to find out all that she can. So her stumbling upon Pearl is fortuitous. 

Pearl is making a name for herself as the White Sylph, a medium of incomparable talents. And it seems she truly can reach those on the other side. But her controlling sister is just one of many hurdles Agnes will have to cross in order to get the answers she so desperately wants. 

As the killer strikes again and again, Agnes is certain someone is actively targeting her clients. But can she do anything to stop it?

Any fan of gothic lit who hasn't discovered Laura Purcell is truly missing out!

In this latest, the Victorian era truly comes alive. First, it's set amidst the Crimea War, which I admittedly know nothing about. And yet, Purcell is able to imbue the story with the grim realities facing a nation at war so that it's easy to feel the effects. 

More than that, this is an England on the brink of new technologies. A time of change, but one that's still mired in the grime and habits of the older industries, including understandable hesitancy around medicine and the embracing of the paranormal. I say grime in particular because of the grim differences between Agnes's world and Pearl's. 

Agnes is on a precipice. She's never married, she's recently suffered health setbacks, and the means by which she makes a living is literally a dying industry. She lives comfortably, but barely. The tea tins are empty too often and the attention that has to be paid to heating the house and such is a careful one that isn't always pleasant. At any moment, she could lose her footing on her relatively safe life. 

At the same time, just walking distance from Agnes's home is Pearl's apartment. And the differences are literally night and day! 

Pearl's home is dark and dank. Her mother died in childbirth leaving Pearl and her half sister in the care of Pearl's father who can no longer work in the match factory where he made his living. But Pearl's sister is training herself in mesmerism and Pearl herself has a talent that brings attention and much needed coin.

The meeting of Agnes and Pearl is a bit fated, all things considered. The widow of the first client murdered attends a seance held by Pearl. But there's way more to it than that!

As with all of Purcell's books, there's the possibility of a paranormal influence but there's an equally possible scientific explanation as well. And I guess it's up to you as the reader to choose which version to take away from the story. 

I quite enjoy the uncertainty! It's one of my favorite aspects of Purcell's writing (I choose to go with the paranormal explanations myself!).

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Woman in the Wood by M.K. Hill

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for M.K. Hill's latest DI Sasha Dawson mystery, The Woman in the Wood. 

Three years ago, nineteen year old Rhiannon Jenkins went missing. Witnesses last saw her with four men: reality star Danny "Abs" Cruikshank, Andrew "Deano" Dean, Jeremy "Jez" Weston, and Tony Gardner, who had been vacationing in Wales. And although no evidence of wrongdoing has ever been found, simply being associated with the story meant something of a downfall for Abs in particular. 

Now, however, Deano is dead. And it doesn't look to be an accident either. Tony is convinced that he's being followed, which is enough for him to call a meeting with the other two. Could it be that someone knows what happened that night? But if so, why have they waited so long to exact their revenge?

Sasha Dawson is part of the team investigating Deano's death and it's clear from the start this is murder. The man was killed by a train, and completely drunk, true. But he also had acid in his eyes and burns consistent with a cattle prod. Which matches the train conductor's statement that he'd seen someone with a walking stick on the train platform. 

But for Sasha, this case is more than just Deano's murder. It's uncovering what happened three years ago as well. 

So let me start off by saying that although this is technically the second book in a series, you don't have to have read the first book in order to sink into this one. Which is perfect because I myself have not yet read the first book, The Bad Place

That said, I so enjoyed this book by Hill that I abs (sorry, had to do it) will be seeking out book 1 and book 3 when it's released as well!

The book alternates between various points of view (starting with Deano's but mostly focusing on Sasha and Abs) and timelines so that the reader gets the full perspective of the present day investigation while also getting pieces of what happened three years ago. Although it is known from the outset that the men are guilty of something, the revelation of the exact what, why, is teased out as the story progresses. 

I found myself truly unable to tear away from this one and I did not see the twist coming at all! This was a great mystery and I'm really looking forward to reading more from Hill. 

The Woman in the Wood is an excellent police procedural, perfect for readers who love intricate and careful plotting and great characters! It's out now from Head of Zeus.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Catherine Cooper's The Chateau!

Aura and Nick are looking for a new start. And that's exactly what the chateau in France is going to offer them. With plans to renovate and refurbish the crumbling manse into a flashy B&B, the two have picked up and moved their family and lives to a new country where everything is full of promise. And, most importantly, no one knows about the what happened in London. 

But things are weird in the new house. Their toddler cries at night saying he hears voices and their electronic assistant goes off at random intervals. The locals, or other expats actually, are friendly enough but the move hasn't been as easy as Aura expected. 

But it all starts to come to a head when they attend the fancy Halloween party. Before the night is over, someone is dead. And it soon becomes clear that Aura and Nick didn't leave their troubled past behind at all. 

Ooh, I'm always down for family secrets and suspense!

Catherine Cooper's latest (my first by her, though The Chalet is queued up in my TBR as we speak!) puts a young couple in the middle of an absolute nightmare! 

Aura and Nick are struggling. It all started ages ago. Aura, a full-time stay at home mom, was close to her breaking point. Childcare wasn't part of the budget, but she found a way to make it work and go back to school. A career, a second income, and a chance to feel like herself again. 

But that's when the trouble really started. 

No one knows them in France. No one knows about their past. It's a real chance to leave all of it behind and begin again. Repair their marriage, be better parents, all of that. Except Aura still isn't exactly happy. 

We spend the first portion of the book completely with Aura and her POV. And she keeps their little secret way under wraps! And then we get to Nick's POV and some things start to become much clearer. 

I won't tell you any more. I don't want to give it away. And we don't find out who the body is right away either, which makes the pacing of this one both infuriating and fun! 

Don't worry, the pacing is absolutely perfect! Yes, I was dying to know what happened at the party and who died and why and how! I was also dying to know exactly what happened in London! And then who could have been out for Aura and Nick! 

Readers, I loved it!

Note: This one is out in the UK now and will release in the States in January. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Black Reed Bay by Rod Reynolds

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Rod Reynolds's latest, Black Reed Bay!

Tina Grace's call to 911 is disturbing, to say the least. She claimed someone was trying to kill her as she ran through an exclusive neighborhood, begging for help. 

When Casey Wray and her partner arrive on the scene they're met with the seemingly confused man Tina spent her evening with and an array of neighbors who heard the commotion and called the police as well. Unfortunately, none of them are able to offer much help as they refused to open their doors to the desperate woman. And Tina hasn't been seen since. 

The case is an odd one, to be sure. None of the statements line up and Wray is certain the main witness is lying. But about what and why?

But the case takes a truly shocking turn when they find the first body. And unfortunately, it won't be the last!

Folks, Orenda really does have a penchant for publishing some of the most amazing fiction out there! 

Black Reed Bay kicks off a new series featuring Casey Wray, a character who grabs your attention from the very start of this twisty thriller!

Casey is single and too busy for anything other than work. Which is probably why she's so good at her job AND why she was fast tracked for promotion. She's dogged and determined, and the kind of character perfect for leading a series!

Black Reed Bay definitely kept me guessing. And it kept me up all night reading as well! (That's your warning, if you start this one at bedtime, you're going to be up late!)

This is my introduction to Rod Reynolds's work and I cannot wait to read more! His backlist should keep me busy until I can get my hands on the next Casey Wray mystery :)

Fun fact: (and some true crime fans might actually figure this out for themselves) In the Afterword of the book, the author reveals that the inspiration behind the plot is actually the Long Island Serial Killer. 

Black Reed Bay is out in the UK now and will be available in the States in January

Saturday, September 4, 2021

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

Good morning, everyone! Today I’m a stop on the Random Things tour for Paula Hawkins’s latest, A Slow Fire Burning.

Daniel Sutherland is dead. When the body is found, there’s no question he’s been murdered. And the prime suspect is a woman who admits she spent the night with him. She has a temper and lashes out. She’s got a cut on her arm and the man’s watch in her possession. But, as it turns out, the case is most definitely not as clear cut as that. 

I think by now readers know that Paula Hawkins pens the twistiest of thrillers and this is no exception. 

From the start, the reader is introduced to a number of characters, but there are three standouts: Laura, the prime suspect; Miriam, the dead man’s neighbor; and Carla, the dead man’s aunt.

Laura is odd. Miriam notes that people call her Mad Laura, and the reason is explained soon enough. She works in a launderette, doesn’t get along with her step mother, and does act somewhat inappropriately depending on the circumstances. But is she a murderer? Could she have fallen into a rage and killed Daniel after they hooked up?

Miriam herself is someone who seems to be an acquired taste. She spies on the comings and goings of her neighbors—most of whom are temporary, and she’s sure to remind them if they overstay their welcome. She’s the one who found the body. And as it is soon revealed, she has a reason to relish in the attention and power the investigation gives her. But are her motives deeper? Maybe she killed Daniel. 

Carla is Daniel’s aunt. In fact, her own sister, Daniel’s mother, passed away shortly before the book begins. She was seen (by Miriam) visiting Daniel just before he was murdered. And her own story is complicated by a tragedy that could very well be a motive for murder. 

A Slow Fire Burning is somewhat true to its name in that the plot unfolds at a very deliberate pace. And while clues are certainly thrown our way, I found, true to Hawkins’s previous books, that I really couldn’t unravel the mystery on my own. 

I actually love a slow burn! There, I said it! I love to sink into a story and really get to know the characters. Slow burns can get a bit of a bad rap, but I think that’s mostly due to the author’s inability to create a fully rounded story. Careful plotting, excellent characters and world building, and pacing that feels natural, whether that be slow or fast, are all elements, regardless of genre or audience, that are part of the writing craft. Done well, a slow burn can be quite enjoyable. But if all of those pieces don’t come together, the pacing can absolutely feel plodding. 

So what’s the deal with A Slow Fire Burning? In my opinion, Hawkins gets all the pieces just right! (Though I do want to mention, really so many characters! It took me a bit to wrap my head around who was who in this story.)

A Slow Fire Burning is even more proof that Paula Hawkins is an exemplary talent! 



Thursday, August 19, 2021

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

Happy book birthday week to Catherine Ryan Howard whose latest, 56 Days, released this week from Blackstone!

56 days ago, Ciara and Oliver struck up a conversation outside of the store. They went to coffee, scheduled a date, then another...

It was the beginning of something. 

But then, thanks to Covid, everything shut down. With rules that would prevent them from seeing one another—and seeing where this new budding relationship might go—they decided to move in together and ride out the lockdown as a pair. 

Not even two months later, though, one of them is dead. 

It was the smell that prompted the call to the police. And now, amidst a global pandemic, the investigators must determine exactly what happened. 

The Covid times have sucked. And I am definitely one of those people who doesn't want any reminder of it all. And yet, this is admittedly the kind of premise that I will make an exception for. Because it is a premise that fits, without question, with those early days. 

What would happen if you met someone you liked just days before the shutdown? Most places had restrictions that limited interaction to those within your household. I, fortunately, have a family of my own. But there are plenty of people who have been alone. And I can absolutely see craving a connection so badly that you would rush into something in order to have that connection during such an awful time. 

But that's not all that's going on here!

Oliver wants a chance to build a relationship with Ciara without outside influence! 

I really loved Ciara and Oliver—and Lee as well. The story plays out in such a way that the reader is almost continuously having to revise their notions about exactly who these characters are and what motivates them (except Lee, she's a detective and her motivations are clear from the beginning). 

Chapters alternate between in timeline, bouncing between Ciara and Oliver's meeting, their moving in together, the investigation, and even prior to their meeting as the plot unfolds. And POVs switch between Ciara, Oliver, and Lee. And it's done in such a way that it doesn't hamper the pacing at all! Which I also LOVE!

56 Days won't be for everyone simply by way of it being set in the early Covid days. But if you're intrigued by the premise, as I was, you'll love this latest from Catherine Ryan Howard. I'm pretty excited to dive into her backlist now that I've met her work :)

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Where I Left Her by Amber Garza - Excerpt

Happy Tuesday! Today I get to share a sneak peek at Amber Garza's upcoming release, Where I Left Her

But first, here's a bit about the book from the publisher:

Whitney had some misgivings when she dropped her increasingly moody teenage daughter off for a sleepover last night. She's never met the friend's parents, and usually she'd go in, but Amelia clearly wasn't going to let something so humiliating happen, so instead she waved to her daughter before pulling away from the cute little house with the rosebushes in front.

But when she goes back to get her, an elderly couple answers the door--Amelia and her friend are nowhere to be found, and this couple swears she's at the wrong house. As Whitney searches for Amelia, she uncovers a trail of secrets and lies her daughter has told her--from Finsta accounts to rumors of a secret relationship. Does she really even know this girl she's raised, and can she find her before it's too late?

I really enjoyed last summer's When I Was You (you can read my review here), so I cannot wait to dive into Garza's latest! And thanks to the publisher, I've got an excerpt to get us all started!

1

FRIDAY, 5:00 P.M.
DROP-OFF


WHITNEY WANTED TO get rid of her daughter.

How awful is that?

Not forever, of course, but for the night. She was weary of the sixteen-year-old attitude. The rolling of eyes, stomping of feet, the judging glances and biting remarks.

That’s why she wasn’t paying as much attention as she should’ve been when dropping Amelia off at Lauren’s. Her mind was back in their apartment, her butt planted on the couch, bare feet propped on the table, a pint of ice cream in her lap.

“The destination is on your right.” She turned the steering wheel, following the instructions given by the disembodied voice of the GPS in her daughter’s phone. Amelia held it up, giving the illusion that her palm was talking. The house in front of them was nondescript. A tract home, painted tan with beige trim, a cream door, two large windows overlooking the narrow front walkway. The only thing that set it apart from the others was the row of rosebushes lining the left perimeter of the yard, scarlet red petals and thorny, jagged stems.


Whitney pulled her car over, tires hugging the curb.

Amelia hopped out the minute her mother’s foot pressed down on the brakes, as if she was desperate to be free of her.

“You sure this is her house?” Whitney asked.

Amelia shrugged, glancing down at her phone and then back up. “This is the address she gave me.” Her tone was impatient, irritated. That’s how she’d been lately. Distant and moody. Everything her mom said and did annoyed her.

Originally, she’d planned to walk Amelia up to the front door and meet Lauren’s mom. But on the way over here, Amelia had begged her not to do that, pointing out that she was no longer a little girl.

As much as Whitney hated to admit it, she could see her point. Amelia was sixteen. As soon as she finished her driver’s training and passed her test, she’d be driving on her own and then Whitney wouldn’t even have the option of dropping her off at her friend’s. It was time she learned to let go, loosen the death grip a little.

Instead of following her daughter, Whitney stayed inside the car, watching through the smudged glass of the passenger-side window. Amelia’s dark hair swished down her spine as she sped to the front door. When she reached it, she readjusted the blue overnight bag that was secured on her shoulder while lifting her other hand to knock.

Lauren appeared in the doorway, flashing a smile at Amelia. She wore a pink headband that made her look much younger than seventeen. Amelia peered over her shoulder before stepping forward, her lips curling at the corners as she threw her mom another wave. It was the largest grin Whitney had gotten in days, and she welcomed it, grabbed hold of it and then gave it back.

After watching them both disappear inside, Whitney pulled away from the curb. Without even looking in the rearview mirror, she sped toward her night of freedom, dreaming of a couch to herself and a movie Amelia couldn’t make fun of.


SATURDAY, 10:00 A.M.
SEVENTEEN HOURS AFTER DROP-OFF


Whitney had been up for hours, and still hadn’t heard from Amelia. Last night was restful. Quiet. Peaceful. All the things Whitney had wanted it to be. Much needed. But this morning she was suffering from a serious case of mom guilt. She missed her daughter. Was anxious for her to come home, attitude and all. Unlocking her phone, she shot her a quick text: Ready for me to pick you up?

Even after several minutes, no response came. Not that she was shocked. When Amelia had friends over, they stayed up all night giggling and talking. No matter how many times Whitney would remind them to keep it down, within minutes their muffled voices would return, drifting through the adjoining bedroom wall. Most likely, she’d done the same at Lauren’s and they were both still asleep.

The house smelled like Saturday morning—coffee, creamer, maple syrup.

French toast had been a weekend tradition for years. When Amelia was little, she’d wake up early and bound into her mom’s bedroom, eager for breakfast. But lately it seemed Whitney ate alone more often than not. Even when Amelia was home, there was no guarantee she’d join her. Amelia lived in her room, earbuds perpetually plugged in her ears, as if she’d grown another extremity. Still, Whitney couldn’t bring herself to stop the tradition altogether. The French toast would get eaten, even if it took a couple of days. Whitney didn’t mind leftovers, anyway. Not that she had many this morning. She’d gone for an extra-long jog and had been ravenous.

After cleaning up the kitchen, Whitney went back into her phone and clicked on the Snapchat app. Amelia may have been quiet around the house lately, but she had no problem sharing her life with the rest of the world. Whitney expected to be greeted by smiling selfies of her and Lauren, maybe some photos of the food they were eating, proof to all the other teenagers on social media that they were having a blast on their Friday night together. But nothing had been posted on her story in the last twenty-four hours.

With slick fingertips, Whitney closed out of Snapchat and checked Instagram. Nothing there either. A chill brushed over her neck, causing the hairs to stand on end. She shook the feeling away with an abrupt jerk of her head. Whitney had always been like this. Anxious. A worrier, especially when it came to Amelia. Perpetually thinking the worst. Amelia hated it. So had her ex-husband. It was one of the many things they fought about. And it was probably one of many reasons why Dan had ended up marrying that sunny, smiling, high-pitched preschool teacher. If Whitney had to take a guess, she’d say there were no skeletons in Miss Karen’s closet. No past indiscretions she was afraid of coming to light. No monsters from her past lurking around the corner.

No secret buried inside, so deep the roots had become invisible.

When Dan married Karen, Whitney remembered thinking how he had succeeded in finding someone completely opposite from her, just like he said he would. It didn’t take him long either. He’d met Karen less than a year after they’d split up. He and Karen were friends for a while, and then dated for several years before marrying.

That was how he always defended it.

We were friends first.

We took it slow.


But that was never the point. He should have made Amelia his priority. Whitney hadn’t dated at all while Amelia was growing up—she’d only started within the last couple of years. Once Amelia hit high school and started having a life of her own, Whitney figured it was time she did too.

Leaning against the counter, she stared out the kitchen window. There wasn’t a view. The window overlooked the apartment across the way. A man stood in his kitchen, his back to Whitney as he drank coffee. His build vaguely reminded Whitney of Jay, and it made her smile.

Going into her last text thread with him, she typed, I miss you.

Then she bit her lip. Too forward? Too soon?

They’d been dating for a couple of months, and he’d only been on an overnight business trip. He was returning later today. She didn’t want to come on too strong.

Backspace. Delete. She tried again: Hope your trip was good.

Too formal?

Whitney paused, thinking.

Why am I making this so hard?

She really liked Jay. That was the problem. He was the first guy in a long time she felt hopeful about. Usually by month two of dating someone, the red flags popped up and her interest waned. That hadn’t happened yet with Jay.

Turns out, she didn’t need to stress over what to text. Jay beat her to it.

Boarding the plane now. Will call you when I’m back, he texted.

Sounds good, she responded.

It was 10:30. There were a million things on the agenda today and waiting around for Amelia wasn’t one of them.

After hitting the grocery store and Target, Whitney swung by Lauren’s, using the memory of how they’d gotten there yesterday as her guide. It was a little tricky, since she hadn’t paid enough attention to Amelia’s directions yesterday, but after a few minutes of circling the neighborhood, she came upon a familiar street and turned on it. A couple of houses in, she recognized the rosebushes.

It had been well over an hour since she’d sent the last text to Amelia. Although there hadn’t been any response yet, Whitney was sure she was up by now. Probably hoping to buy more time with her friend.

Whitney had gotten Amelia a bag of gummy worms. She pulled it out of one of the grocery bags. It crinkled as she set it on the passenger seat. Amelia probably wouldn’t even eat them. Certainly, they didn’t fit within the parameters of her latest diet, but, still, Whitney couldn’t resist. Whitney’s habit of picking up treats at the store had started back when Amelia was a toddler, when she’d surprised her with a bag of cookies one afternoon when picking her up from preschool. Whitney would never forget how wide Amelia’s eyes got, how broad her smile became as she clutched the little bag. A lot of things may have changed between them over the past few years, but Whitney didn’t want that to be one of them.

After getting out of the car, she slipped the key ring around her finger and walked up the front walkway, flip-flops slapping on the pavement. It was a warm, spring day. Kids played outside a few houses down. A lawnmower kicked on. A couple rode their bikes past, bright neon helmets bouncing up and down like beach balls bobbing in the waves. Amelia used to love to ride bikes. For a while, it had been a weekend tradition. Whitney couldn’t remember the last time they’d hit the trails together, but she made a note to ask her about it. Most likely her answer would be a big resounding no, coupled with the same cringey, horrified look she had whenever Whitney suggested they hang out. Still, it was worth a shot. Sometimes Amelia surprised her with a yes, reminding Whitney of the girl she used to be before the teenage monster took over.

When Whitney reached the door, she lifted her hand to knock the same way she’d watched Amelia do the day before. A minute passed and no one answered. That funny feeling returned, but she shoved it down, feeling silly.

She knocked again, this time so hard it stung her knuckles. The girls were probably listening to music or something. Or maybe they were in the backyard. It was a nice day. Ears perked, she listened for the sound of her daughter’s voice or of music playing inside. Hearing neither of those, she frowned.

Finally, Whitney caught the hint of footsteps inside.

The door creaked open, an older woman peering out, eyebrows raised. She looked to be in her late sixties, maybe early seventies.

Whitney was taken aback. She’d never met Lauren’s mom, but there was no way this was her. Maybe Lauren’s grandparents lived with them. Recently, Whitney had watched a news report about how the cost of living had gone up, causing multigenerational homes to become a growing trend. And Lauren had mentioned that her parents were divorced. Whitney knew firsthand how financially taxing it was to raise a child alone.

“Hi, I’m Whitney. Amelia’s mom.” Smiling, Whitney jutted out her hand.

But the elderly woman just stared at it, not saying a word. She glanced over her shoulder where a man around her same age stood. He furrowed his brows and stepped forward. Whitney’s body tensed.

Maybe she’s got dementia or Alzheimer’s or something. Whitney caught the old man’s eyes. “Hi, I’m Amelia’s mom. She spent the night here.”

“Nope. Not here.” Shaking his head, he came closer. “You must have the wrong house. They all kinda look the same in this neighborhood.”

Whitney glanced around. Hadn’t she thought the same thing yesterday? She must’ve turned down the wrong street or something.

Face warming, she backed away from the door. “I’m so sorry to have bothered you.”

“No bother at all,” the man said, and the woman offered a kind smile.

Whitney turned on her heels and made her way back to the car. She turned on the ignition and pulled away from the curb. The couple had already disappeared inside. Whitney drove to the main street and turned right. When she came up on another street, she turned onto it. The man was right. There were lots of houses that looked like theirs. She pulled up in front of one, scanning the yard.

Nope. No roses.

That’s what had set the other house apart. The one she dropped Amelia off at.

She moved farther down the street, carefully looking to the right and to the left, searching for a one-story house, roses lining the perimeter. Coming up empty, she swung the car around. Maybe her mistake had been turning right at the main street.

Backtracking, this time Whitney turned left.

This street was almost identical to the other two she’d just been down. Same tract homes. Manicured lawns. Shuttered windows. A sea of tan paint and beige trim. The odd red door or colorful lawn art. But, again, no roses. At least, not in the correct spot.

Turning onto another street, she finally found it. The simple house. The roses lining the side.

After parking in front, she leaped out and hurried to the front door. It was answered after only a couple of knocks.

She gasped, taking in the elderly man standing in the doorway. The same one she’d just spoken to a few moments ago.

Oh, my God.

She’d ended up right back where she’d started. As she backed away from the door, apologizing profusely, she took in the shuttered windows, the manicured lawn, the roses lining the perimeter of the yard. Peering back at her car, she envisioned Amelia in the front seat holding her phone, the voice of the GPS speaking in her palm.

There was almost no doubt in Whitney’s mind—this was where she’d left her.

Excerpted from Where I Left Her by Amber Garza, Copyright © 2021 by Amber Garza. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

About the author: Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they're real people. She lives with her husband and two kids in Folsom, California.

Where I Left Her is out 8/24 from Mira. Preorder a copy: Bookshop - Harlequin - Barnes & Noble - Books-A-Million