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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

A Tidy Ending by Joanna Cannon

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Joanna Cannon's latest, A Tidy Ending!

Linda's life is fairly uneventful. She spends her days working part time and keeping house. She and her husband, Terry, have fallen into a life of routine...habit...boredom even. 

But that was before the murders. And the mail. 

The murders, two women the news say are connected, immediately get Linda's attention. Because she's noticed something. But she knows the police won't listen to her. They never do. The mail...well, that's Rebecca's. Mail that gets delivered to Linda's new home, addressed to the prior resident. Mail that suggested this Rebecca leads a much more interesting life than Linda. 

You could say that Linda becomes a bit obsessed. So much so, that when her husband starts spending more time at work, the distraction is welcome. But Linda's not quite what she seems. And that routine life isn't quite as routine as you might think. 

A Tidy Ending is, dare I say, quite a delight to read!

First, I'm a sucker for a quirky main character. And Linda is quirky indeed!

Second, I'm an even bigger sucker for books with unexpected (or, not quite unexpected in this case) twists that turn the beginning framework you expect on its head. 

And third, I do so love dark reads!

This is, if you haven't gathered, one that could very easily be spoiled. I will say, however, that it is great fun and I absolutely loved it!

A Tidy Ending is out now in the UK from The Borough Press. It'll release this summer in the States. Wherever you are, I highly recommend snagging a copy for your TBR!

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Attic child by Lola Jaye

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Lola Jaye's The Attic Child

Two children separated by almost seven decades, share a similar trauma in this latest from Lola Jaye. 

Dikembe was just a boy when he was given over to Sir Richard. In truth, he couldn't have known his mother's fears for his future. And she was promised that he would gain an education and be brought up as an English gentleman. 

Torn from his home and everything he'd ever known, he was thrown into British society. Renamed Celestine, he served as Sir Richard's companion and was given every privilege befitting Sir Richard's place in society. 

But he always longed for home. Even when he was told his home and his family were gone. 

And then Sir Richard died. 

Lowra's early life was a happy one. But when her mother died and her father remarried, all of that changed. Her father disappeared, leaving her in the charge of her new stepmother, who made no bones about her feelings for the young girl. And the abuse she suffered at the woman's hands were unknown to everyone else in her life. 

She escaped when she was fifteen, living in group homes until she turned eighteen. 

Now, at thirty, she has just learned that her stepmother has died. And the house where she experienced the worst years of her life is hers. It's there that she once found evidence of another child. And now, so many years later, she's determined to find out what she can about the boy who lived in the attic before her. 

This is a hard read. The abuse both Dikembe and Lowra suffer truly made my heart ache as I read the book. But it's about a deeper trauma than that. A history of upper class society figures basically kidnapping children from what they viewed as lesser societies. 

These children, and there are a few mentioned in the book, were, as Dikembe is, part of a collection. Yet another piece or artifact showing off wealthy people's travels and allowing them to pat themselves on the back for their "good deeds."

In truth, Dikembe's slate is wiped clean as soon as he's handed over to Sir Richard. His name, his history, his culture, his family...all of it is lost to him. 

Lowra too experiences something of the same at the hands of her stepmother. All of the photographs of her family are gone. She knows nothing of her past or her family connections. Nothing of her own story. 

This is a heart wrenching book. But it's also one about holding on to the things that are important to you. Dikembe never forgets his family. Never forgets where he came from. And in searching for his story, Lowra learns more than she ever expected about a history she was completely unaware of. 

The Attic Child is a beautifully written story, even at it's most painful to read parts. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Last Guests by J. P. Pomare

Funds have been tight for Lina and Cain for some time. Cain, a former SAS soldier, has been trying to get a personal training business off the ground but it's Lina's job as a paramedic that keeps them afloat. 

And then their friends turn them onto WeStay, a site that would let Lina and Cain list Lina's grandparents' house for rent to guests. 

It's a nice house, just needs some sprucing up. And it's ideally situated on a lake. But Lina has reservations about opening it up to strangers. It's the house she grew up in. The one she wants to raise her own family in. 

But she goes along with it anyway. Until it turns into a nightmare that threatens to reveal her darkest secrets. 

Let's just call this book what it is, the one that make never want to stay in an AirBnB ever again!

Lina and Cain both have secrets. Cain had a bit of an issue with gambling, but it seems to have ended by the time the book begins. And yet, they still have money problems Lina can't quite figure out. 

The bigger problem is the fact that they've been told it will take a virtual miracle for them to conceive a child. Which is where Lina's big secret comes in. And both issues are what make her agree to list her grandparents' home on WeStay. 

And at first things are fine. The reservations start rolling in and they're getting good reviews. Easy money. 

Except anything that seems to good to be true...

The prologue for the book really does set the tone. An anonymous man is placing cameras in a rental home. And that definitely tells you where some of the plot is heading. But there's way more to the plot that just a twisted voyeur. 

This is a super creepy premise—maybe more for people like me who are already inclined to be uncomfortable with vacation rentals :)

I should note that I both read the physical book and listened to the audio over the weekend. Sarah Mollo-Christensen is the narrator on that edition and she does a fabulous job!

Pomare is a a new-to-me author I've been aware of but hadn't read yet. He's an award-winning author from New Zealand (where this title is set), currently living in Australia. 

I really enjoy both New Zealand and Australian crime fiction and I've been trying to read more of it of late. If it's a genre that interests you, I've been getting recs from Craig Sisterson's Southern Cross Crime

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, May 9, 2022

The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow & Liz Lawson

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson's The Agathas!

Apologies as this was supposed to post last Thursday. 

Alice Ogilvie has been on the outs with her best friend ever since she stole her boyfriend. In fact, when Alice and Steve broke up, she was so upset about the whole thing that she decided to teach everyone a lesson and disappear. Her hope was that they'd all be so worried about her, Steve in particular, that he'd beg for her to take him back. 

It didn't quite work out that way. And now Steve is dating Brooke. 

But when Brooke herself goes missing after the big Halloween party, Alice knows she has to do something. Even though she hated Brooke, she was still her best friend. Plus, Alice has an admittedly big admiration for everything Agatha Christie. 

Iris Adams is not an Agatha Christe fan. But she is Alice's new tutor. And, seemingly, Alice's only friend currently. So when Alice becomes determined to solve the mystery of Brooke's disappearance, Iris agrees to go along. 

It helps that Brooke's uber rich grandmother is offering a reward—money that would go a long way towards getting Iris out of town. 

Two teen detectives and a town with a history of missing girls...The Agathas is a fabulously fun read and an excellent homage to Agatha Christie!

Alice and Iris are seemingly as different as two girls can be. Alice is a "Main" or one of the popular kids. At least she was before she faked her own disappearance and got caught. Now she's on the outs with all of her old friends. 

Iris is a "Zoner" one of a group that doesn't really fit in with anyone. But Iris is also super smart, which is why she's tapped to tutor Alice once she returns to school after being on house arrest. 

It's the tutoring that throws them together but it's Brooke that forms the bond. See, Alice was involved in a bit of a tiff between Brooke and Steve on the night of Brooke's disappearance. And Iris...well, it seems she might have been the last person to see Brooke alive. 

Together, with some of Iris's buddies, they take on a case the cops believe is open and shut. Which of course turns out to be anything but!

The plotting is tight and the pacing follow suit. But it's definitely Iris and Alice (and Agatha Christie) that make this a great read! 

Alice has been knocked down several spots in high school popularity. She's actually become something of a pariah. Which is a shame because her parents are pretty much nonexistent in her life. Iris offers some stability, but she has her own issues and is desperate to get our of Castle Cove as soon as possible. Both of their stories are intertwined with that of Brooke and the mystery that makes up the bulk of the story, making it a rich and layered read—perfect for, dare I say, Christie fans!

I absolutely loved The Agathas! And I can't be sure, but I think we may see a return of Alice and Iris in future books. At least, that's what seems to be hinted at in the end. Castle Cove is a hotbed of mysteries, it seems, and I would definitely like to see them return in at least a few more titles!

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Life Sentence by A.K. Turner

Happy Thursday! Today I'm a stop on the Compulsive Readers tour for A.K. Turner's latest, Life Sentence. 

Cassie Raven believes her job is a calling. As a mortuary technician, it's her responsibility to offer consolation to grieving family but also to prep the dead. 

She'd always been fascinated by death. It helps that the dead speak to her as well. Which is why she occasionally gets caught up in solving mysteries too. 

This time, though, the mystery is closer to home. 

Cassie had always believed that her parents died in a tragic car accident. As it turns out, her father served over a decade in prison for beating her mother to death in a drunken rage. It was only after a stroke that her grandmother finally revealed the truth to an adult Cassie. Which causes mixed feelings, to say the least. And in all the time since her father was released, he's never contacted her. Until now. 

He's always sworn innocence. But now it's up to Cassie whether or not to listen. 

This is technically the second book to feature Cassie Raven, after Body Language. Rest assured, though, while there are some relationships and back story alluded to, it is quite easy to sink into this one as a newbie to the character and series!

Cassie is an interesting character. A former goth girl raised by her Polish grandmother, she's a bit of an underling in her job—especially now that her former boss and coworker have both left her to completely new and a bit haughty colleagues. 

Because this book deals so much with Cassie's family, it works as a bit of a standalone. She has fond memories of her parents. Especially her father. Which is why the real story behind her mother's death and her father's incarceration come as such a shock to her. But more than that, she's always wondered why her father never got in touch after serving out his sentence. And has to consider whether she really wants him to. 

And this is how the story begins!

If you're a fan of early Cornwell and Reichs, I think you'll be really excited to dive into a new forensic mystery series with such a young character still learning her way in the industry!

(A.K. Turner formerly published under the pen name Anya Lipska.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Desolation Canyon by P. J. Tracy

This follow up to Deep Into the Dark brings Nolan, Sam, and Remy back for another LA mystery. 

Maggie is still getting over the fact that she killed a man in the line of duty. He deserved it, but taking a life isn't something to take lightly. And when you add family drama on top of that, Maggie is definitely in need of a relaxing drink with a colleague she knows could be much more. 

Stumbling upon a body was not part of the plan!

Meanwhile, a desert run leads to Sam Easton's involvement in a truly strange case that turns out to be connected to Maggie's. 

Sam had meant to catch up with his friend Lenny after his run in Desolation Canyon, but it turns out Lenny's taken a few days off. Knowing the man is likely on his boat, Sam takes a trip out only to find signs of a struggle and a very confused Lenny. Apparently Lenny had offered shelter to a woman and her daughter on the run from the Children of the Desert, a group that offers self help retreats but sounds more like a cult. And when Sam learns the few details Lenny knows about the woman's escape, they both know her disappearance can't mean anything good. 

I am really enjoying this new series from Tracy!

This is a direct follow up to Deep Into the Dark, taking place shortly after the events in that book. 

Maggie and Sam have both come a long way in a short period of time. 

As mentioned, Maggie has been dealing with the fact that she killed a man. She's also been grieving the loss of her brother. The aftermath of recent events have meant a bit of healing in terms of her relationship with her family, so much so that her mother has even signed on for a retreat to deal with the loss. A retreat hosted by the Children of the Desert. 

Sam is making headway with therapy and has started to connect with others, making a real effort where he's previously been closed off. Which kind of lands him in hot water—again. 

Sam knows Lenny well enough to know that the man has no immediate family. So hearing that he's playing host to his daughter and granddaughter immediately alerts Sam to the fact that something is off. But it's the very clear signs of struggle on Lenny's boat that seals the deal for Sam. No way is he letting Lenny deal with this on his own, even if it means getting the attention of some really nasty people. 

Maggie's case is a complicated one. A divorced, well-to-do attorney who appears to have committed suicide. But Maggie suspects there's something more to the case. 

As with the previous outing, the book is focused on a whole cast of characters, which I've mentioned is a particular favorite element of the previous series as well. 

Desolation Canyon is another quick read with great plotting! And given how different it is from Deep Into the Dark, I really can't wait to see what comes next!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Broken Room by Peter Clines

Hector was minding his own business, working his way to the bottom of a bottle as per usual, when Natalie showed up. She said Tim sent her. Problem is, Tim has been dead for quite some time. And apparently he's talking to Natalie. But dead or not, Hector owes Tim.

When Natalie reveals she's been part of the Project, Hector knows he's in for trouble. Everyone in his line of business has heard of the Project but no one knows exactly what it is. That Natalie escaped at all is an insane prospect. That she was helped by a dead agent who continues to guide her, is almost more than Hector can believe. 

But when agents start tracking them, willing to do anything it takes to retrieve Natalie, Hector knows he has to help her. 

I love Peter Clines! I first discovered him with Ex-Heroes, the first in his fantastic series that pit super heroes against zombies, and I have been a die hard fan ever since. So The Broken was already on my must read list. And then one of my other favorite authors, Scott Sigler, blurbed the book calling it "The Professional meets Stranger Things..." and I was sold all over again!

And really, that is the most appropriate comp/description you can give this book!

Hector is retired. Not officially, because in his line of work officially retired basically means dead. But he lives off the grid, ready to disappear at the drop of a hat. And all he really does with his day is drink himself into oblivion. 

In spite of that, he's still very good at his job. And Natalie needs someone at their best. 

The girl is about twelve and as she reveals her story, it turns out she's been through more than any twelve year old should ever have to go through. And that was before she was recruited into the Project. 

Hector wants to protect her, but Natalie and Tim have other ideas. And as Hector and Natalie spend more time together, it quickly becomes clear to Hector that he has to help her any way he can. And that means infiltrating the Project itself. 

This book is weird and excellent! It's everything I wanted out of a new Peter Clines read and so much more! It's cinematic in scope, it's excellently plotted, and the pacing is phenomenal. And it really is The Professional meets Stranger Things!

Highly, highly, highly recommended!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Thirteen-year-old Kylie is old enough and responsible enough to walk to the bus stop by herself. Neither  she nor her mother ever considered—or prepared for—the possibility that someone might kidnap her. 

But that’s exactly what’s just happened. 

Rachel receives the call on her way to a doctor’s appointment. An appointment that promises bad news. But Rachel never makes it to the appointment because she’s learned that she and Kylie are now part of “The Chain.” 

Kylie has been kidnapped and if Rachel wants her back, she has to follow very strict instructions. She can’t call the police. She has to deal with it alone. She’s to gather the ransom and purchase bitcoin to pay. But that’s not all. After she’s paid the demanded ransom, she has to find a target and kidnap someone herself. Only when that person’s family has paid their ransom and kidnapped another, will Kylie be released. 

But once you’re part of the Chain, you’re always part of the Chain. 

So here’s a fun fact, The Chain is currently under option with Edgar Wright attached to direct. But that’s not all. His upcoming book, The Island (due out in May), has also been optioned and is being developed for Hulu!

The premise of this book is literally a parent’s nightmare. And at first, the people behind the Chain itself seem to be part of some large scheme that’s years in the making. At least that’s the impression they’ve given everyone touched by the Chain.

Rachel is contacted by the woman who kidnaps Kylie. She’s also warned twice with regards to following the instructions. She’s physically assaulted by another member of the Chain and also told to look into the murder of another family as proof of the Chain’s reach. 

There’s no denying this is an intense story, but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. 

My main issue was with the bad guys. I wanted more on them. We did get chapters about the start of the Chain and a few from the POV of the main baddie, but I didn’t really feel like McKinty delved into the motivation and mind of the bad guys as much as he could. It felt like he pulled the punches, so to speak. 

It was also frustrating that there was a piece in particular where they feel Rachel needs further punishing. That paired with another tidbit where Rachel is told that the Chain might, in some cases, pick a target themselves rather than leaving it to Rachel, felt like there was something more being hinted at that was never fleshed out or explored. 

All in all, this was well-executed and fun read—certainly it will make great fodder for a movie—but I felt like it could have been more. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Blood Trials by N. E. Davenport

Good morning, everyone! Today I am super excited to be part of the Random Things blog tour for N. E. Davenport's debut, The Blood Trials, book one in the Blood Gift duology!

Ikenna is used to being an outsider. Her dark skin makes her a target for racism and her family legacy means she's almost constantly being scrutinized and compared to her war hero grandfather. Then there's the blood gift she has to keep secret from everyone around her. 

After his death, Kenna decides to take a year off rather than pledge as a Praetorian. It had always been the plan to pledge immediately after graduation. She and her grandfather had trained for it all her life. But dealing with his death has left her uncertain about her future. 

That is until she learns that her grandfather's death may not have been from natural causes after all. Now, driven by a determination to hunt down his killer, Kenna has thrown herself into the Praetorian Trials. But considering who her suspects are, it means an already deadly challenge—making it into the elite Praetorian forces—are even more dangerous than ever for Kenna. 

I don't think my little description here can adequately do this book justice, but I really have to try, because I love this book and want to scream it from the rooftops!

First off, I absolutely adore the blending of science fiction and fantasy! Davenport's book has all the modern tech of sci fi and the mythology and magic of fantasy, melded perfectly into one binge-worthy tome!

And then there's the world building! Oh, man! Kenna lives in a post war world. To sum it up, there were essentially two (or three, really) factions: one that had blood magic and wanted total domination and one that wanted nothing more to do with the gods and obviously didn't want to be controlled by the Blood Emperor. (And not to overcomplicate things, but there was a third portion who kind of just didn't want to be controlled by either.) And that's a super simplistic summation of a much more complex story!

Kenna's grandfather is the war hero who overthrew the Blood Emperor, bringing peace. But it's precarious. Especially now that her grandfather is dead. 

In a society that's broken up into different "jobs" Praetorians are elite and revered soldiers. And Kenna wants to be one of them. 

Like I said, a VERY simplistic summation of the book, but hopefully you get the gist. 

The Blood Trials clocks in at almost 450 pages, but honestly, I read through more than half in one sitting (partially thanks to really nice weather—and got sunburnt as a result!). So that should tell you something about the pacing: it's literally lightning fast! Driven by a plot that's packed with action, suspense, and a little bit of steaminess as well :)

Finally, there are the characters! Kenna is fabulous! She's layered and complex. She's grieving and she's angry—for so many justifiable reasons. She's also got a strong core friend group to lean on, when she gets over herself and allows herself to. 

This is just the first book, so of course there are a lot of questions left as yet unanswered. Which means I am seriously chomping at the bit to get my hands on book two next year!

If you love strong female characters, truly amazing world building, and cross-genre page-turners, you need to read The Blood Trials!

Friday, April 15, 2022

The Night Shift by Alex Finlay

On New Year’s Eve, 1999, the town of Linden, New Jersey is rocked to its core by a brutal mass killing. Four teenage girls and one man, the night staff at the local Blockbuster Video, are attacked after closing. Only one of them survives. The killer, identified as a local teenage boy named Vince Whitaker, flees after being released due to too little evidence and has evaded capture ever since. 

It’s 2015 and although she’s a trained therapist, Ella Monroe, the sole survivor of the Blockbuster case, still carries the trauma of that event with her every day. And when she receives a call about another, eerily similar case, she knows she has to help. Because, once again, there’s a single survivor. And Ella is the only one who knows exactly what the girl is going through. 

The case is a joint investigation between local PD and the FBI. The latter involved because of the suspicion that the killer could be the same from the 1999 case. Sarah Keller is assigned that part of the case and is explicitly told not to step on the locals’ toes. But no one has seen Whitaker since 1999. And why, if he’s been gone all this time, would he return to kill again?

It’s appropriate that this book begins in a video store because this book has excellent cinematic qualities!

It’s odd to note that there’s a nostalgic aspect to reading this, but it can’t be helped in my case. I spent a lot of time in video stores in my youth. I even worked in one for a while. Stopping by Hollywood Video on my way home from working at the bookstore was a nightly event that I actually kind of miss. 

That aside, thankfully my experience was a good one. I can’t even recall any particularly nasty customers, to be totally honest. (There had to have been some, the late fees some of those folks racked up were astronomical!)

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get into the meat of the story!

Two mass killings, sixteen years apart And it quickly becomes clear that the investigation into the first case was lacking. The cops thought they had their guy. They were so certain that once they set their eyes on him, they didn’t even bother to try and figure out the why. 

So when it happens again, that’s one of the many things Keller has to figure out. Why then and why now? Why the video store? Was there a specific target? There are so many questions, in fact, that it’s clear Keller can’t limit her investigation just to finding Whitaker. 

Meanwhile, Ella finds herself quickly invested in the survivor of this latest murder. A teen orphan in foster care with aspirations of becoming a journalist. And it turns out she’s well versed in the Blockbuster case. 

The characters in particular are a big draw in this book. First there’s Keller, who I adore! A massively pregnant federal agent with a partner who is supportive and loving…you just don’t see that much in crime fiction (she reminded me a bit of Marge in Fargo). 

Then you’ve got Ella, who is understandably damaged by her experiences. But it’s not just surviving the 1999 killing. Her family has suffered more than it’s fair share of trauma.

Chris, who I didn’t mention above, is a public defender who’s become a bit jaded by his job. He, too, has carried the weight of the Blockbuster murders with him all these years—his brother was accused of the crime. Their home life was pretty awful and in the wake of the crime, he was actually put into foster care himself and adopted, which has allowed him to return to the area somewhat anonymously. As a lawyer, he’s all too aware of how thin the case was against his brother. And now he feels like he’s in a position to help him. But he’s had no contact with him since he disappeared and he can’t imagine that Vince could be responsible for another crime. 

We get POV chapters from each of these characters, but there are actually quite a few additional characters who shine throughout the novel. 

But Becky, how’s the plot? It’s great! I definitely had my suspicions about the killer and eventually I was proven right. But I wouldn’t say it was an easy guess. I think, rather, that it’s Finlay’s intention all along for the reader to put together the hints peppered throughout and figure out the who and why alongside the characters themselves. Which is definitely part of the fun!

The Night Shift is out now from Minotaur. If you enjoy fast-paced crime fiction with strong characters, this is definitely the read for you!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Happy Thursday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things blog tour for Kate Quinn's latest historical novel, The Diamond Eye

Mila Pavlichenko's dream was to finish school and take up a position as a historian. She wanted to provide for her son. And she wanted to be free of her marriage. 

It was these things that prompted her to train as a sniper. 

She never expected she'd use her talents in the war. And she certainly never expected to gain recognition across the globe as one of the most successful military snipers of that era. 

But when an injury forces her away from the front lines, she finds herself in a foreign land faced with a new danger.

Kate Quinn has a knack for pulling together stories based in the most fascinating aspects of women's history! The Diamond Eye is no exception and features a character wholly based in truth who's story is not only fascinating but inspiring as well. 

Now, this is of course fiction. But Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko was, as mentioned, a very real person. She was known as Lady Death because of her prowess with a sniper rifle. And she did make friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and tour the United States and beyond after the war. 

She was also a young, single mother and a historian. 

And I know I'm not the only person who'd never heard of her before reading The Diamond Eye!

And obviously there's some creative license taken with the story. No one can know the inner exact inner workings of Mila's mind through the war and beyond. And both her thoughts as well as those of Eleanor Roosevelt do take center stage throughout the story. 

That knowledge aside, The Diamond Eye reads as convincingly authentic—something I think every historical fiction storyteller strives for and something that Quinn truly excels at. What's more, the pacing is excellent and all of those insights into Mila's thoughts and motivations make her a character not only easy to sympathize with but one whose story you genuinely want to read!

The Diamond Eye is another example of Quinn's fabulous talent as an author and is a must read for anyone interested in women's history, strong female characters, or simply an enthralling story!

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett

It was just a dare! Clare and her friends had heard about the Octagon House. Everyone had. They say a man killed his family there. And when one of their small group claims she knows how to find the place, of course they had to visit. But something happened in the woods that day. And Clare’s friend Abby was forever changed by the experience. 

Now, so many years later, Clare gets word that Abby tried to kill herself. At Octagon House. And though she’s now in a coma, one of the last things she asked for was Clare. 

In spite of everything, Clare returns to Sumner’s Mills to try and help Abby. To find out what happened to her in Octagon House. Because it’s her fault.

A haunted house story, a mystery, a story about lost friendships...Beneath the Stairs is emotional and chilling! It's also the perfect kind of book for a wide cross section of readers!

Clare is all grown up, but she’s never truly forgotten Abby or that spring when they visited Octagon House. And the guilt she’s felt since then has never gone away. It’s one of the reasons she’s never wanted to return to Sumner’s Mills. 

But Abby’s apparent plea for help is one that she can’t ignore.

The story alternates predominantly between Clare then and now, but the reader is also given a few other perspectives: Ben, the man accused of murdering his family in the home; Ben’s daughter Joan; Natalie, Ben’s wife; and Alice, a little girl at the time the house was being built. 

Through the various points of view, the reader is given a full picture of the history of the house as Clare herself tries to untangle it in an effort to find out what happened to Abby. And it’s not a pretty picture at all. 

This is the kind of book that will appeal to genre fans: mystery/suspense and horror readers. But it’s also the kind of book that will appeal to a much broader readership as well. The issues it deals with are certain to spark conversation, making it perfect for book clubs. It’s also a book that really stays with you, haunting you much in the same way the Octagon House haunts anyone who comes in contact with it. 

While Beneath the Stairs is hard to describe as a fun read, given the subject matter, it is a propulsive one that sinks its teeth into you from the very beginning. I thought it was fabulously well written and I can’t wait to see what Jennifer Fawcett will come out with next!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A Black and Endless Sky by Matthew Lyons

Jonah and his sister, Nell, haven’t spent much time together over recent years. Jonah split, leaving their hometown—and the person he used to be—behind. And Nell was part of that. But now Jonah and his wife are splitting up and he’s decided it’s time to return to his old home. And Nell is going with him for the ride. 

Their relationship is icy, at best, and not made any better when Nell picks a fight at a biker bar soon into their drive. But it’s what happens next that really changes things. 

Jonah finds his sister alone in a cave on an abandoned work site. And the Nell that comes out of that cave is not exactly the same Nell that went in. 

Before Jonah can worry too much about what happened to Nell, he realizes people are following them on their drive. People who believe in justice outside of the law. People who aren’t going to let Jonah and Nell get away under any circumstances. 

Matthew Lyon’s latest is literally the family road trip from hell!

Jonah is hiding things. Things he never wanted to think about ever again. But when he and his wife decide to call it quits and he teams up with his sister to drive him and his belongings from San Francisco to Albuquerque, the things from his past become all but unavoidable. 

This is in part because of Nell, who knew the Jonah he used to be and pushes for that Jonah’s return. So much so that she almost immediately gets them into a really hairy scrape! 

But that was Nell in all her glory. The old Nell. 

The new Nell is something altogether different. 

Once close siblings, the two have fallen so far apart that he doesn’t initially see just how much Nell has changed. But Nell knows something is wrong. And with a narrative that changes points of view between Jonah, Nell, and others, the reader is all too aware that something strange happened that night in the dessert. 

Lyons doesn’t pull any punches with the violence or gore. He embraces it from the start, making A Black and Endless Sky a brutal and completely chilling horror story! 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, March 14, 2022

Near the Bone by Christina Henry

Mattie has lived most of her life on the mountain with her husband William. In fact, she questions anything she recalls about the time before that. The mountain and William are her whole life. So when she starts to notice the dead animals, she knows all is not right. But she can’t even imagine the kind of creature that’s made it’s home in their backyard. 

A group of strangers arrives in search of the creature. But it’s Mattie who catches their attention. And attention of any kind is something William wants to avoid. But William is gone when they arrive and Mattie tries to warn them. 

Unfortunately it’s not enough to save any of them. 

I had mixed feelings about this one. 

On the one hand, I loved that it was a monster story! I loved the cryptozoology enthusiasts! And I loved the remote setting. 

On the other hand, this is not exactly actually a monster story of that kind. This is Mattie’s story. The creature and everything that happens after it’s arrival is just forward momentum for Mattie. It’s the thing that pushes her to remember who she is and to try and escape. 

And her story is in fact a different kind of monster story. A lot of the details of it made my skin crawl, to be honest. 

But I liked Mattie. And I wanted to see her make it. Which is why I kept reading. 

I'll admit, ultimately I really wanted more of the creature feature monster story rather than the human monster/survival tale that the book turned out to be. Which is not to say that I didn't like the book, just that  my expectations had to be changed when I realized exactly what I was in for. 

And Mattie's survival story is a great read. But again, something you might need to be prepared for given the subject matter. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Faceless by Vanda Symon

Happy Thursday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things Tour for Vanda Symon's standalone, Faceless

Billy and Max look out for one another. Billy is careful and clean, taking care to make sure that Max eats and brushes his teeth. She checks in with him and lets him know if she's going to be away. Which is why, when she doesn't turn up one night, he knows something is seriously wrong. 

See, Billy occasionally turns tricks for money. And Max has always been worried that something would happen to her. And this time, something has. 

Bradley has never picked up a prostitute before, but after a particularly bad day at work with his wife harassing him about his hours, he decides he's earned a bit of fun. Unfortunately, Bradley takes it to far. Now he's kidnapped the girl and he isn't sure what to do. 

Billy has no idea what Bradley's plans for her might be, but she knows she's in grave danger. And her only hope is that Max will find her before it's too late. 

My understanding is that this is an older title by Symon that Orenda has rereleased in time for International Women's Month and Homeless Women's Day. To that end, they have noted that a percentage of proceeds from the sale of the Faceless will be donated to SHELTER. 

This is, like Symon's other books, a multi-layered story. It hits on abuse, homelessness, mental health...

Billy, we learn, was kicked out by her parents after shaming them. Max's story is a little slower to come by, though it's clear early on that even though he's let himself fall pretty far in the two-ish years he's lived rough, he has a background that means he's not one to let a missing girl go unnoticed. 

And then there's Bradley, who begins as a beleaguered and overworked employee at an insurance company and turns into a complete sadist. 

As you've likely gathered, this is a rather dark read. But it's also a compelling one. As Max's background in particular is revealed, you can't help but hope for redemption on his part—that he'll succeed in saving Billy (who, I should add, is a strong character who uses all the resources she has at hand). 

Symon is a bestselling author in her native New Zealand with multiple award noms to her name. I would love, love, love to see her readership grow here in the States! 

Faceless is available digitally now from Orenda and will be available in paperback in August. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich—Excerpt

Hello, everyone! Today I've got another excerpt for you. This time it's Brenna Ehrlich's Killing Time, a thriller perfect for the growing true crime obsession sweeping the nation!

Before we dive in, here's a bit about the book from the publisher:

Summer in Ferry, Connecticut has always meant long, lazy days at the beach and wild nights partying in the abandoned mansions on the edge of town. Until now, that is.

Natalie Temple’s favorite teacher has been murdered, and there’s no way this true-crime obsessed girl is going to sit back and let the rumor mill churn out lie after lie. Not if she has anything to say about it – even if she has to hide her investigation from her disapproving mom and team up with a new boy in town with a mysterious smile and a talent for making fake IDs.

But the more Natalie uncovers, the more she realizes some secrets were never meant to be told.

With two interwoven mysteries, Killing Time is a deathly warning to a generation of murderinos: what happens when the stories we’re chasing finally catch up with us?

I could not be more excited to read this one! And if you are too, here's a little taste to get you started:

CHAPTER TWO

Natalie didn’t ask her mom if she wanted to come to Lynn Halsey’s memorial, which was just as well because, apparently, Helen did not want to go. When Natalie came down for breakfast that morning, she found a note under the orange juice saying that Helen was heading to dojo in the next town over to train for a while—which meant she was either stressed, angry, or both. (Helen said a while back she had started doing karate for self-defense, not that Natalie was aware of anything she’d need to defend herself against in Ferry.)

Natalie balled up the note and threw it on the floor, equal parts relieved and pissed off by her mother’s absence, but she quickly forgot all about it when she saw the envelope leaning against the box of cinnamon cereal her mom had left sitting out for her. It was your standard business envelope—plain, white—and it had only one word neatly typed across the front: Natalie.

Plopping down on a rickety kitchen chair, Natalie pulled her feet up onto the seat and ripped the envelope open, expecting, perhaps, some spending money from her mom—a small contrition for avoiding the memorial—but instead finding a piece of computer paper with a single message typed out on it: Stay out of it. I’m warning you. Her heart did a cold, little leap like it always did when the first body was found in one of her books, then confusion set in. She blinked, scanning the words again, flipping the paper over to see if she’d missed something—a name, an address, anything. But that was it. Just those two ominous sentences. She shivered despite the heat of the kitchen, which was barely mitigated by the lazily oscillating ceiling fan. Her mom was too cheap for AC.

Cereal forgotten, Natalie pushed away from the table and scanned the room as if the toaster or the microwave might suddenly fill her in on where, exactly, the letter had come from. The kitchen seemed eerily quiet in the diffuse morning light, the only sound the birds that spent the day gossiping at the feeder in the backyard. Natalie pulled out her phone, typing off a quick message to her mom.

Did you leave me a note?

It seemed the mostly likely scenario, since the envelope had been on their kitchen table, but a vague threat wasn’t exactly Helen’s style. No, her mom was more direct than all that, much to her daughter’s annoyance. And then there was the it she was supposed to be staying out of. She could guess what that was: Mrs. Halsey’s murder was the only thing that had happened in Ferry for decades, as far as she was concerned. But someone would have to know about her podcast to suggest that she stay out of anything, and no one really knew about that aside from Katie and the internet randos. They had one all the way in Mount Carroll, Illinois (wherever that was). Could one of them have turned stalker? Broken into her house to… What? Warn her not to discuss a very local crime with her audience of roughly three people who had probably clicked on her podcast by mistake?

Three bubbles appeared immediately on her phone screen. Natalie scoffed. Her mom was supposed to be sparring. Did she keep her cell phone tucked into her black belt?

Yes, honey, I’m at the dojo. Be back around 4.

Natalie snorted. Well after the memorial. No, another one, she typed, her fingers shaking slightly. This was all too bizarre. In an envelope?

There was one with the paper that I brought in for you. More dots, as if her mom were trying for casual. Why? Who is it from? Katie?

Natalie rolled her eyes. Helen would have implanted a tracking device in her daughter’s neck if she could, like those chips they have for cats and dogs—watched her roam the town on her trusty path from school to Katie’s to home, called the cops if she veered off course. It was a wonder she hadn’t just opened the envelope herself. There wasn’t time to fume, though, now that there was a mysterious, threatening letter with her name on it. Which Natalie was aware sounded like a sentence from a bad teenage soap opera. That didn’t negate its existence, though.

She sank back into her chair, staring at the words marching across the page. Stay out of it. I’m warning you. It could be Katie playing a bad joke, but that didn’t seem likely, as Katie could never keep a secret and would have spilled that morning, when they were texting about the memorial. Feeling silly, Natalie sniffed at the paper. Nothing. As if it had just materialized on the table, origin-free. She considered calling the police, but that would mean telling them about her podcast, which would mean telling her mom about her podcast, which would mean never seeing the sun again. Instead, she shoved the note into her backpack—not bothering to put away the juice and cereal—and trundled outside to her bike and Mrs. Halsey’s memorial. She would let it all stew, she decided. Maybe an answer would come to her while she was biking to the high school. She always thought better when she was in motion, legs pumping and lungs full of clean air.

It was as hot if not hotter than yesterday, and beads of sweat rolled down Natalie’s forehead into her eyes as she crested the hill toward the school that had been her de facto prison for the last four years—the only bright spot being a woman who would no longer walk its halls. The only teacher who didn’t hold her eccentricities at arm’s length.


The Halsey house wasn’t on Natalie’s route, but she could feel its presence a few streets over—could imagine the yellow police tape and silence—and a tremor traveled over her neck like phantom fingers.

The True Crime Club had only lasted for one year, officially; after Jessica graduated and her parents effectively bought her way into Columbia, Katie and Natalie were the only members, meaning that the club was no longer valid in the school’s eyes. (No yearbook picture, which was good since Natalie didn’t relish explaining that to her mom. She used to lie and say she was staying after school to study until, well, it all went to hell when she said what she said.) Still, Mrs. Halsey kept up their meetings, critiquing the relative merit of different podcasts, documentaries, and true-crime books through the lens of story. She was a fan of gripping, well-researched accounts of criminal investigations, like Michelle McNamara’s inquiry into the Golden State Killer, but felt a decided disdain for podcasts like this really popular one called My Murder Obsession, which was basically just two guys discussing their favorite murder mysteries. She thought the name was bad enough, but she couldn’t stand the gleeful, error-riddled way the hosts talked about crime. She was a stickler for accuracy—and empathy. “If you can’t get the facts straight, you don’t deserve the story,” she used to say.

As she coasted past Sammy’s Shack and the flinty sea, Natalie wondered what Mrs. Halsey would think of the note on her kitchen table: Stay out of it. Her legs pumped harder, sweat running down to her eyes as she squinted into the sun, her breath getting ragged. Lynn Halsey was the only person she wanted to talk to right now, and she couldn’t because she was dead. The thought brought sudden, angry tears to her eyes. She was dead, and there was nothing Natalie could do about it. Who was the letter writer to tell her stay out of it? How to care? Maybe her mom had written the note. Maybe she had found out about her podcast somehow and wanted to punish her. Helen hated Lynn Halsey; Natalie knew that. Tears flooded her eyes as she pulled into the school parking lot, dropping the toes of her black shoes to the ground to steady herself as her vision swam.

The last time she had spoken to her teacher was at the diner midway through senior year. She had been crying—or trying not to, rather. Her shift had ended, and she was crammed in a booth where her mother couldn’t see her—couldn’t send her home and straight to her room. The night before had been bad. The kind of bad that made your stomach heavy and your mouth flood with acid when you thought about it. She and Katie had been celebrating getting into the colleges of their choice by having a clandestine marathon of the worst true-crime movies on offer. Straight-to-streaming shit. Cheesy cable fare. Trash. Helen’s rules were pretty clear when it came to her daughter’s interests: fine, she could study it in school, but true crime as entertainment was completely off-limits. Sure, she got away with the occasional horror movie or novel, but true stories were, for some untold reason, strictly verboten.

Which was why she and Katie had waited until Helen went to a Garden Club cocktail night to indulge. Helen, not being the biggest drinker, had come home in the middle of a truly terrible early-thousands clunker called Teacher’s Pet—all about a TA who had an affair with his student, then killed her—and had lost her shit. She’d gone so far as to threaten to move to college with Natalie and live in her dorm room, which seemed like an empty threat if you didn’t know Helen, who wouldn’t let Natalie sleep over at Katie’s until she was thirteen.

“You okay, Natalie?” Mrs. Halsey asked, sliding into the booth across from her, holding a to-go bag of burgers and fries. She was wearing her leather jacket and had her hair up in a blue paisley scarf, her cheeks pink from the early spring chill; she brought with her the smell of the omnipresent daffodils that blanketed Ferry this time of year.

Natalie shook her head mutely, picking at a plate of cold fries she had pilfered from the cook. People in town knew her mother was strict, but she wasn’t quite sure she wanted her role model to know that Helen had had a meltdown over a Lifetime Channel movie.

“I dunno,” she muttered, chastising herself internally for her lack of eloquence. She always tried to speak as intelligently as possible in front of her favorite teacher, but right now she was too wrung-out to care. Her mother’s overprotectiveness was a shroud, stifling and heavy. And what was so ironic was Natalie had gotten into true crime because of her mom in the first place—she’d found a box of old books in the attic when she was twelve about the Manson murders, the Night Stalker, all the big ones. She had read them under the covers until all hours, equal parts scared and thrilled. She loved it when the killers were caught, the intricate work it took to track them down. That is, until her mom found out and burned all the books in the yard with the autumn leaves. She wouldn’t even tell Natalie where they’d come from in the first place.

“Did something happen with Katie? A friend?” Mrs. Halsey pressed, her voice so gentle and caring that Natalie caved.

“My mom flipped out on me last night,” she choked out, studying the table. “I was watching some stupid true-crime movie, and she just…lost it.” Natalie dug her chipped nails into the red vinyl of the booth and let it all spill out. “She’s just so controlling. Like, why does she care what I watch? I’m eighteen. I’m an adult, basically. And I’m good!” She raised her eyes to look at her teacher, who was studying Natalie with a furrowed brow. “I don’t break curfew. I have, like, no social life. I don’t drink. So why can’t I just…read and watch and do what I want? Who am I hurting?”

Mrs. Halsey gave a sad smile. “I understand, Natalie. It’s hard being eighteen. Almost independent, but not quite. But, I promise, it’ll get easier. You might even miss your mom worrying about you.”

Natalie grunted and folded her arms. “I doubt it.”

Mrs. Halsey laughed, then steepled her hands on the diner table. “I’m confused, though, Natalie. Why would a movie upset your mom so much when you’re in a true-crime club at school?”

Natalie swallowed hard. In her fit of rage, she’d forgotten all about forging her mother’s signature all those years ago to join Mrs. Halsey’s after-school group. She had forgotten the countless lies she’d told. Or maybe she was just subconsciously tired of it all.

“You’re in what?” Helen appeared behind her like the ghoul from that horror movie—the one that just slowly wanders after its prey until it wears it down and eats it. Natalie didn’t turn around. Instead, she gritted her teeth and dug her nails even deeper into the booth, anchoring herself to the spot. She couldn’t even sit with her favorite teacher for five minutes without her mom butting in. Without her ruining everything.

“You didn’t know about this?” Mrs. Halsey asked Helen, as if Natalie weren’t there, which Natalie found hard to believe, considering anger was radiating off her like a bad aura. Why did everyone treat her like a child? Like she couldn’t make her own choices without consulting her mother first? Why didn’t they see her?

Helen shook her head, her eyes locked on Natalie’s teacher, a twin rage coursing through her. The pencil she used to take orders snapped in her hand, but she didn’t seem to notice the pieces as they clattered to the floor and rolled to rest under the booth.

“I’m sorry, Helen,” Mrs. Halsey sputtered, getting to her feet, looking between mother and daughter, both practically vibrating with indignation. “I thought you knew about the club.” She raised a conciliatory hand. “And, really, it’s all educational. We talk about story and methodology and…” The words died on her lips as Natalie’s mother shook her head again.

“I appreciate all you’ve done for Natalie, Lynn, but we have rules,” Helen said in a voice befitting an android. “This stuff is not entertainment. If she wants to go to school and learn the proper way to engage with it, then fine. But no clubs. No movies. No bullshit.”

Mrs. Halsey cut in. “I would hardly call our club bull—” Natalie couldn’t help smiling, which didn’t make matters any better. Her mom gave a look filled with such pure menace she dropped her eyes to her feet.

“I don’t care,” Helen snapped, smoothing her apron as if eradicating the wrinkles would fix everything. As if she could control the world with her nervous hands. “My kid, my rules. Now, I think you should leave.”

Mrs. Halsey opened her mouth, shooting Natalie an inscrutable look. She took a step toward the door.

“Please, don’t go,” Natalie asked in a small voice before she knew the words were coming out of her mouth. “You don’t have to listen to her. Please.”

With her hands tucked into her jacket pockets and her hair coming free from her scarf, the teacher suddenly looked younger than she was. She was probably the same age as her mom, thirty-eight, but Helen’s face was much harder. Likely because she’d had Natalie so young, because she’d been worrying for eighteen years. “I’m sorry, Natalie.” She glanced at her bag of food but made no move to pick it up. “I think I should go…”

Natalie got to her feet then, leveled her eyes at her teacher, watching her one tether to everything she cared about cut her free, let her go. “You never cared about me,” she said finally, seething and holding Mrs. Halsey’s eyes for a long moment before retreating to the kitchen so she wouldn’t have to see her mentor go, regretting the words as soon as they left her mouth. She turned back to stop her, to apologize, but her teacher was already gone.

Mrs. Halsey deserved more than that. More than her mom’s disdain and her own parting words. She deserved to be remembered. To be avenged. And no anonymous note writer could tell Natalie otherwise. An idea that prompted a mix of excitement and shame deep down in her stomach germinated in Natalie’s head as she pushed through those familiar swinging doors and entered the bizarre world that is school during summer.

Excerpted from Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich, Copyright © 2022 by Brenna Ehrlich. Published by Inkyard Press.

About the Author: Brenna Ehrlich is a journalist, YA author, and editor who has worked everywhere from MTV News to Rolling Stone. She resides in New Jersey with her husband Morgan and their two cats, Nimbus and Hazel. She enjoys horror movies and romcoms in equal measure.

Killing Time is out this week from Inkyard Press!


Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Curfew by T.M. Logan

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Compulsive Readers tour for T.M. Logan's latest thriller, The Curfew

Andy and his wife trust their kids. Their daughter, Harriet, is a whiz at all things computers and their teenage son, Connor, is out of school after exams. 

But after a post exams party, Connor misses his curfew. And it's not until the police call that his parents realize it. 

It started with a frantic call from Andy's brother. His son, Zac, was missing. Had Connor seen him? Andy wasn't sure because Connor had been sleeping when he left their house to take the dog for a walk. And when he returns, he finds out it wasn't Connor asleep upstairs at all. It was Zac. 

Now the police have Connor in custody and another teen is in fact missing, the daughter of a local sort of celebrity. No one has seen the girl since the night of the party and Connor is the prime suspect. 

Andy thought they could trust their son, but now that trust is being pushed to the limit. Connor isn't talking, but it's clear both he and Zac know something. And everyone knows that the first 48 hours in a missing persons case are key. 

Whoa! I probably shouldn't have read two books themed around parents' worst nightmares back to back!

And that's what this is: a parent's worst nightmare!

There was a party, that led to another smaller party in the woods. Five were in attendance but only four made it home. 

Andy would like to believe his son had nothing to do with a girl's disappearance, but it's starting to look like he barely knows his son at all. And it doesn't help that the police and other parents in the community are suspicious of Connor. 

The book does alternate between various POVs with Andy as the main narrator. But we're also given snippets of the period immediately before the girl's disappearance, which makes it very clear that there's much more to the story. 

You know I love a fast-paced read and this is that in spades! 

The Curfew is officially out March 17 from Zaffre. Be sure to pre order a copy or mark your calendars because you definitely won't want to miss this one!

Friday, March 4, 2022

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

Happy Friday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Lucy Foley's latest thriller, The Paris Apartment!

When Jess arrives in Paris to visit her brother, she knows it's not the best time. He even said so. But she needs a break and he's the only family she's got. 

He'd said he'd be there. He left her a message. But when she arrives and no one answers the buzzer, she isn't immediately worried. 

It's not until she manages a way in (breaking into his apartment, actually) that she realizes his wallet and keys are still there. And that message—it broke off seemingly mid thought. 

As she searches for her missing brother, Jess soon realizes that the other tenants at the fancy apartment building are all hiding things. But did one of them harm her brother? Could her poking around make her the next target?

If there's one thing you can always rely on with a new book by Foley, it's that it's going to be an absolute, no holds barred, page turner of a read!

Jess has left England quite suddenly. And we know from the start that it wasn't under great circumstances. She's jobless, just about broke, and with nowhere to turn except her brother, Ben. 

But Jess and Ben aren't exactly close. After their mom died, they were split up: Ben was adopted by a well off family and eventually went into journalism. Jess was bounced around in foster homes and has been eking by working at a dive bar. 

And to say that Ben was less than enthusiastic about her plan to go to Paris is a definite understatement. 

But he wouldn't have abandoned her! In fact, he clearly said he would be there. Besides, who leaves their keys and wallet behind and doesn't arrange for someone to take care of their cat?!

Jess's queries with the other tenants are met with frosty responses, but behind closed doors none of them seem to be fans of Ben. And now it's up to Jess to find out what's going on. 

With quick chapters and fabulous pacing, Foley spins a tale that's highly readable and intense! If you haven't read her, you probably need to be warned: if you start this at bedtime, be prepared! You will not be able to put this down until you've finished!