Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Danger by Robin Nye

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things Tours for Robin Nye's Danger

Girls are being kidnapped around the globe, snatched from their hometowns during broad daylight and forced into a criminal world controlled by powerful and greedy criminals. 

DI Sarah Hunter and DS Ted Selitto are two of the officers on scene at the exclusive Meadowlands Hotel. A guest has gone missing, his car and his belongings still on site. It doesn't take long to discover someone has cleaned a massive amount of blood out of the room, leaving the police certain they're dealing with a homicide. But this one mystery is just the start. As the investigation progresses, it soon becomes clear that they've found themselves at the center of a massive trafficking conspiracy! 

Robin Nye's debut is not a book for the fainthearted! As you might expect of a book concerning sex trafficking, Danger is quite a dark and intense read. There are multiple narrators including the officers on the case, some of the kidnapped girls, and, of course, the criminals themselves. 

I can't say this is a fun read—it always feels odd to describe a dark thriller as such! Riveting is a better word to describe this one. Nye doesn't shy away from the truly horrific elements of the trafficking industry or an investigation into said world. 

Hunter and Selitto carry much of the story, but Nye does delve into other characters on the investigative team, which is an element I always appreciate in these kinds of books. It's clear, too, that he's done his research into his topic and into police process. And it does appear that Nye intends to continue with Hunter and Selitto in further stories! 

Danger is quite a doorstopper, clocking in at over 600 pages. At times I definitely felt that there was some extraneous detail that could have been cut to slim down the book and accelerate the pacing, but overall I found that the story moved well. It certainly kept me hooked throughout and I look forward to seeing what comes next for Hunter, Selitto, and their team! 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier

Happy Book Birthday to Eliza Jane Brazier whose adult debut, If I Disappear, hits shelves today!

Sera is unemployed, single, and without any connections. But she is an avid fan of true crime podcasts. Which is why, when she becomes convinced that her favorite podcaster—Rachel Bard of Murder, She Spoke—has gone missing, Sera decides she's going to be the one to solve the mystery. 

Rachel's family owns and runs the Fountain Creek Ranch, just outside of Happy Camp, California. It's supposed to be a popular summer destination for families, but Sera arrives during the off season. So she claims to have heard there was work and is soon employed as a ranch hand, helping with the horses. This kind of in is perfect for her to nose around and uncover clues. Or so she thinks. 

Rachel's parents are odd. Her mother insists that Sera stay away from nearby Happy Camp, claiming the locals hate them. And what little interaction Sera has with people outside of the ranch seems to support that opinion. In fact, no one outside of Fountain Creek is concerned about Rachel at all. 

Sera knows that Rachel isn't the first woman to go missing from Happy Camp. Rachel told her all about them through her podcast. And Sera is certain that Rachel must have had her own suspicions. And if she did, Sera knows she would have left clues for someone like Sera to find. 

Eliza Jane Brazier's debut is a twisty addition to the massively popular trend of setting thrillers and mysteries around the world of true crime podcasts. 

This is something of a tough review to write in part because If I Disappear is the kind of book that I think works best if you're able to go into it kind of unprepared for what's coming. I'll try to be as unspoilery as I can be, but if you're a reader who appreciates being truly surprised, I'd suggest skipping the rest of the below until you have a chance to read the book yourself! (And then you can come back and tell me what you think about it!)

Sera is something of a lost soul. She's unmoored. She has no real goals and no real friends. In fact, she spends her days obsessively listening to true crime podcasts and that's about it. 

And obsessed is a good word to describe Sera. 

No one has declared Rachel Bard missing. But Sera is so deep in Rachel's world that she honestly believes she's the only one who knows the podcast and its host well enough to realize that something suspicious has occurred. Until she arrives at Fountain Creek Ranch and speaks to Rachel's own mother, Sera is pretty much alone in her concern about Rachel. But even Rachel's mother won't talk to the police. 

It's hard to know, as a reader, just how much you can trust Sera's narrative. She's an odd bird. But it quickly becomes apparent that pretty much everyone in the story is odd to some degree. In fact, there comes a point in reading the book where Sera seems almost normal compared to all of the other characters!

I actually found that I liked Sera quite a bit. She's a little blank, a little bland, a character who doesn't really bring much to the story herself. But she never felt flat or undeveloped. Instead, she felt like a person who is still searching for who she wants to be and what she wants from life. As such, it's easy to believe that she'd hop in the car one day, leaving everything behind, with no real plan except to solve the mystery of where her favorite podcaster has disappeared to. 

The pacing of the book was excellent! Chapters begin with lines from different episodes of the podcast and some turn out to be connected to Sera's own investigation. If I have one complaint, though, it would be that some of those podcast bits seemed just as interesting as the book itself, leaving me wanting more than just a line or two!

It's probably no surprise to say that there's a pretty big twist at the end of this one. It's a twist that I honestly can't say I didn't see coming. Brazier peppered the book with pretty obvious clues leading to the twist, which I'm certain was intentional. They're the kind of clues that I think in retrospect any reader (and even Sera in a few cases) recognizes as leading up to the twist. Certainly they're the kinds of things that that I think would stand out more on a second read through.

That said, I think it's the kind of twist that leaves a little up to the reader to decide. And it seems some people really liked it and others did not. Personally, I thought it worked! It was a satisfying, if someone messy, end to a book that I found thoroughly engaging!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today I'm super excited to be part of the blog tour for Mike Chen's latest, We Could Be Heroes, out next Tuesday, January 26, from Mira!

Two years ago, Jamie woke up with no memory of who he was. His apartment was paid for and that's about it. After adopting a cat, he tried the average, everyday thing but with no reliable ID it became hard. And when he realized he had the ability to read and manipulate memories, he began to plan. And thus, Mind Robber was born!

Zoe Wong also woke up two years ago with no memories. Her apartment was also paid for. But she had a clue to her ID: a name badge that read "Zoe Wong." It didn't take long for her to discover her own powers, which include super strength and the ability to fly! But there Zoe differed from Jamie. She didn't have a plan, but she did realize that her powers could be used for good. People call her the Throwing Star. 

When Zoe and Jamie finally come together, it's Zoe who convinces Jamie to help her learn more about her past. With the ability to read memories surely he can dig through the blank that Zoe faces when she tries to recall her past. It doesn't take long for them to make a discovery. It also doesn't take long for them to realize that they work well together or that there's a bigger enemy in play.

So two superpowered people with no memory find themselves forced to work together for a common goal. And it turns out they actually like each other! Which is fortunate because there is actually a big bad in their city of San Delgado.  

This is a book less about superheroes and super villains and more about friendship. Which I am completely here for! 

Both Zoe and Jamie are a bit broken. Zoe wants to know where she comes from and spends a lot of her time drinking away her feelings. Jamie assumes that his past is better left forgotten. With the exception of Jamie's cat, Normal, neither of them has any real connections with anyone at all. And of course they find connection and purpose with one another. Things both of them have been missing. They are incredible characters that aren't invincible or picture perfect. They're human and, therefore, easy to empathize with and love. 

This book is a delight! I mean really, an unlikely friendship, super powers, a cute cat, and a plot to save the city...what more could you want?! This is a character-driven sci fi tale with a lot of heart, an absolute must read if you like your sci fi with a little (or a lot of) feel good and warmth!

Huge thanks to the publisher for inviting me to be part of the tour!

We Could Be Heroes is out on shelves on Jan 26. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman - reissue

Wow! So Del Rey is reissuing Josh Malerman's novella A House at the Bottom of a Lake today and it's pretty darn exciting! 

I snatched up a copy of this one way back in 2016 and am resurrecting (and lightly editing) that review here for those of you who didn't read it ages ago, in hopes you'll run out and buy a copy of this new edition!

It's not the first time Amelia has been into James's father's store, but it is the first time he's gotten up the nerve to ask her out. And he's hoping the date he has planned will be a win: his uncle has a canoe and beyond the lake, there's a second secret lake they can explore minus any crowds.

But as it turns out, there's an even more secret lake beyond that. One that James and Amelia have all to themselves. And in that lake, lying just below the placid surface, is a roof. A roof topping a house that's impeccably preserved under the water. A house James and Amelia have decided to explore...

I love, love, loved Josh Malerman's debut, Bird Box. I've bought it as gifts and recommended the ever living hell out of it. It's that good. And, like everyone else who fell in love with it, I've been reading anything and everything Malerman might write next. So much so that even the Cover-pocalypse wasn't going to prevent me from enjoying Bird Box's sequel, Malorie, earlier this year. 

A House at the Bottom of a Lake is an odd one. Stylistically it's got vivid—and incredibly creepy. It's timeless in the sense that there is no real telling detail about when the story might take place. Which actually adds to the eeriness of the story.

It's something of a quiet tale, luring readers into a story of first love and first dates—those early days when everyone is on their best behavior trying to impress one another and overthinking each and every detail. Will he or she like me? Did I say something stupid? Will we have a second date? A third? It's something almost everyone experiences and is, as such, incredibly relatable.

But as we're drifting into this story alongside James and Amelia, Malerman carefully builds an underlying sense of dread. The discovery of the house is as exciting for us as it is for James and Amelia, but we have the foresight of knowing that something is going to happen. As their obsession with the building grows, we're treated to more and more details of the house with each new exploration. But that sense that something might be waiting - lurking - just around the corner is always there.

It makes for a deliciously tense read in my opinion!

That said, as with Bird Box there is no final explanation. Is the house real? Why has no one discovered it before? Or have they? These questions burn beyond the final page, making A House at the Bottom of a Lake the kind of horror that stays with you long after you finish.

Del Rey will also be publishing a new edition of Malerman's Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas in April of next year. Here's hoping they'll add On This, the Day of the Pig to this string of reissues as well!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Betrayal at Ravenswick by Kelly Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

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

And gets results!

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

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

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

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

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Monday, January 4, 2021

Bloodline by Jess Lourey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Friday, January 1, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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