Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf

Wylie has made a career out of true crime. Telling the stories behind heinous murders and more and giving voice to the victims. For her latest project, she’s taken up residence in a home that was once the scene of a terrible slaying. 

She doesn’t mind staying in the home. Even when it appears she’ll be snowed in for a few days, she’s not bothered. But when she finds a young child hurt and passed out in the snow, her quiet retreat becomes a little more than she bargained for. 

Gudenkauf’s latest plays out in multiple storylines. Wylie’s, present day; the crime itself; and an unnamed girl being held captive with her mother. 

Wylie is a divorced mom whose son has recently chosen to stay with her ex. Which is why she’s on her own as she finishes her latest project. 

The case in question is the murder of a family in a small farming town. The killer was never caught. And yet, Wylie isn’t worried. 

But that all changes when she finds a kid outside in a snow storm. And then the power goes out and Wylie finds herself not only playing host to an unexpected houseguest, but playing nurse and maybe even protector to a child who won’t answer any of the many questions Wylie has about how he got to the remote farm in the first place. 

I found the premise of this one pretty intriguing but I do have to say that it didn’t take much to start to figure out the twists. I enjoyed reading it nonetheless!

The remote setting, a snowstorm, no power, no way of contacting anyone, and no way of escape made for tense reading and the chapters outlining the case made this book candy for me! These are a handful of elements guaranteed to draw me to a story (elements that I found I really couldn't get enough of, which led me to binge a number of snowed in reads this winter!). 

Ultimately, while (as I mentioned) I'd teased out most of the big twists on my own, I found this an engrossing story with a conclusion that felt like it hit all the marks I wanted it to. 

The Overnight Guest is out now from Park Row Books. If you're looking for a chilling read (literally and figuratively), you should definitely add this to your must-have list!

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

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Mestiza Blood by V. Castro

Good morning, everyone! Today I’m a stop on the Random Things Tour for V. Castro’s new collection, Mestiza Blood: A Short Story Collection of Nightmares, Dreams, Desires & a Vision of the Chicana Experience.

V. Castro has quickly become one of my must-read authors. Her work is truly fantastic! And it’s everything great horror should be: social commentary, feminism, sexuality, folklore, and, as the subtitle says, “a vision of the Chicana experience.” And it’s all creepy as hell!

That Chicana experience is very specific—it's the experience of being a woman who lives in the United States but comes from Mexican roots— and it runs through all of Castro’s work. Her tales are steeped in classic legend and lore, even when the basis for the story may not be exactly a traditional legend (this was the case Queen of the Cicadas, which had me googling the legend to see if it was indeed real. It wasn’t, but it also wasn’t far off from so many known stories of its kind.) That experience means that her work often also tackles the generational differences in experience and expectation between immigrants and their children. 

I have also found that motherhood is particularly prevalent in a number of her stories, and Mestiza Blood is no exception. In one, Satan herself is the main character. In another, a woman whose parents have recently been picked up by ICE is doing everything she can to avoid authorities while also taking care of her baby, and she's offered what appears to be an impossible choice. In still another, a woman finds out her child has been cursed. 

Another big theme, which makes sense as a woman, and as a Chicana, is revenge. Women getting revenge on those who have done them wrong. 

While my own experiences in life may be different than Castro's, no woman goes through life unaware of the dangers that seem to lurk around every corner for us. So I have to say, there is definitely a sense of satisfaction in seeing some of the characters get their just desserts in these stories!

If horror has a job to do, aside from scaring and entertaining, I think, like all fiction, it should offer different perspectives. I like fun, but I also like a little meat to chew on. Substance that takes me out of my own experience and puts me into someone else’s. And of course, since it’s horror, I want it to come through with the scares. But not just jump scares! Actual, chill you to the bone scares!

Mestiza Blood is the kind of collection you'll be tempted to zip through, considering that once you've been ripped through one story, you're propelled directly into the next. But I'd argue this is the kind of collection worth savoring. There's a lot going on under the surface of each story. Castro has a lot to tell the world. And it's only in really examining and pondering over each story that I think some readers will have those dawning experiences, touching the true heart of each story if they really try!

Castro is a blazing new voice in the genre whose work offers all of that and so much more! I really can't sing her praises highly enough. I think that she's one of the authors of the genre who is pushing boundaries with each new work. And I think she's a really powerful storyteller!

Mestiza Blood is out now from Flame Tree. Be sure to buy a copy wherever books are sold, but preferably from your favorite indie!

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Good Rich People by Eliza Jane Brazier

Happy Book Birthday to Eliza Jane Brazier whose latest, Good Rich People, hits shelves today!

Love and money drew Lyla to Graham. It’s why she fought for her marriage. It’s why she accepts Graham and his proclivities. It’s why she puts up with the game Graham and his mother play. She doesn’t play. No, she doesn’t have a taste for it. But after disastrous results with the last game—results they blame on Lyla—it seems Lyla will have to take a turn if she is to prove herself to the family. 

Enter Demi. She’s young and very wealthy, not at all like the others who have been part of the game. Demi is to take up residence in the guesthouse. She’s to be Lyla’s game. But Demi is not exactly what any of them expected. 

Will Lyla win? Or are the odds stacked against her?

Eliza Jane Brazier’s latest pokes fun at the fact that rich people can pretty much get away with anything. In a really dark and twisty way!

Lyla set her eyes on Graham and was not going to back down without a fight. It’s that strength and willingness to do anything that draws him to her. But her mother-in-law makes no bones about the fact that she doesn’t like Lyla. Lyla isn’t one of them and she never will be. 

But that doesn’t mean she’s not going to try. 

Demi is nothing like the others that have been drawn into the game. But Lyla and the family don’t even know the half of it!

Good Rich People is as twisted a read as they come. Everyone is lying to and manipulating everyone else! Which you might think would make for a book with no likable characters. And that's kind of true, except that I found I really did like Demi!

I liked Lyla’s evolution as well, which is already in play before the book starts. But I loved Demi’s determination! 

All that said, I didn’t think everyone got quite what they deserved in the end. I wanted more of a resolution with Astrid. Hers was the only one I really felt was missing something. But she does have a resolution, so we’re not left hanging thankfully. 

This is definitely one of those books where I think it's best to go into it without knowing too much about it. Which is why I'm trying to be kind of vague in my review—I want everyone to be able to go into it with as little info as possible, because I think that's the best way to enjoy the story. 

There are so many aspects of Demi's character that I want to talk about, but I also think they're a bit spoilery! I can't wait to see what everyone thinks about this book. As a whole, Good Rich People is darkly comedic fun, certainly perfect for fans of If I Disappear, but just as great for newbies discovering Eliza Jane Brazier!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Beyond Grapes by Yacov Morad

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Yacov Morad's Beyond Grapes: Simple Recipes for Delicious Homemade Liqueurs

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a big drinker. But I do love fruity drinks that taste deceptively unlike alcohol. And I blame that and the part in Anne of Green Gables where they drink the cherry cordial for my love of fancy liqueurs!

In Beyond Grapes, Yacov Morad shares a bevy of homemade liqueur recipes perfect for any palate. And, as the subtitle promises, they're easy! Like really easy!

Morad is the founder of Morad Winery in Israel where he makes wine (and liqueurs) out of everything except grapes. Passion fruit, dates, coconut...but no grapes. And he's sharing his secrets here! 

There are herbal liqueurs, fruity liqueurs, chocolate liqueurs...pretty much anything you can think of. There's even a section of homemade infused vodkas and moonshine! (And there's a grape liqueur recipe too.)

Not unlike homebrewing, there's something so satisfying about making a liqueur. Not only do you get the play to your own tastes and preferences, but they also make really unique gifts! And if you make one of the fruit or veggie ones, you get the added bonus of being able to eat the alcohol infused goodies.

Normally by the time I review a cookbook I've tried some of the recipes. There is, however, a time factor involved in making liqueurs, so I'll have to report back on how mine turn out! But I'm pretty sure once our local food swap gets up and going again, I'll be sharing some of these with my fellow foodies!

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

Purchase Links: IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Demon by Matt Wesolowski

Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things Tour for Matt Wesolowski's latest Six  Stories installment, Demon

For his latest subject, podcaster Scott King turns his eye to the 1995 murder of Sidney Parsons. The two boys accused of the crime, dubbed the "Demonic Duo" were just young boys themselves when they pled guilty to the crime. 

They were released after serving 10 years and a request was granted to keep their identities anonymous. And so, upon release, both boys were given new names. 

So why is Scott King looking into the case now? 

Well first, there's the public speculation and attention that still lingers today. Second, there are the strange circumstances surrounding the murder itself. And third, an unidentified body has been discovered recently in the idyllic town where the crime took place. The man who has been thought to have killed himself, chose the abandoned kilns as the site of his death. A site that's tied to the original case. 

I know podcasts are a popular subject and format for fiction these days, but I think what Matt Wesolowski is doing with his Six Stories series is truly unique!

This latest in the series finds the seasoned podcaster featuring a child killing from the 90s. The two accused served their time and were released with new, confidential identities. But the case draws new attention when the body of an unidentified man is discovered in the town where the murder took place. But as the story unfolds, things get really weird. And Scott King himself becomes drawn into the drama surrounding the case!

As usual, the story is broken down into six interviews from different perspectives and supporting ephemera. And, as usual, the story straddles both crime and horror, making it absolutely perfect reading for fans of both genres!

Wesolowski has a penchant for drawing dark and enthralling tales through his format and Demon is no exception. And when I say dark, I do mean dark! Like it's predecessor in the series, Deity, this one touches on some really disturbing issues because it concerns kids. And it concerns the very public fallout that surrounds cases like this! 

Readers, if you haven't dipped into Wesolowski's work yet, do it now! This series is an absolute must for any crime fiction and/or horror fan. And best of all, you can dive straight in with Demon. It works great as a standalone and makes a perfect starting point if you're new to the series as a whole!

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Dark by Emma Haughton

Kate North has just undergone rigorous interviews and testing to earn a spot as the doctor at a remote UN station in Antarctica. She’s to spend a year there, the first portion with the winter team, a barebones collection of individuals who will spend six months in increasing darkness. They are unable to leave and they have no access to new supplies. 

For most, it’s a nightmare. 

For Kate, it’s a welcome change. 

But as soon as Kate arrives, she begins to hear stories about the previous doctor and the accident that befell him. An accident some believe was intentional. With darkness closing in and nowhere to go, Kate is faced with the possibility that one of the people still housed at the station could be a murderer. A possibility that becomes all too real when one of their own is found dead. 

I love, love, loved this book! The closed off setting, the impenetrable darkness, the barely staved off danger of the surroundings alone, not to mention a killer lurking on the remote station...This is exactly the kind of book that I crave!

So what kind of person chooses to be closed off from the world for no less than six months? Well, Kate North, for one. 

Kate has experienced great loss and pain recently and the promise of getting away from everything and everyone that reminders her of that is of understandable appeal. And though the station is in need of a replacement doctor quickly, Kate was thoroughly vetted and rigorously interviewed. 

But they didn't catch everything. Like the fact that Kate has a very strong pill addiction!

Nonetheless, Kate is confident she can do the job. And that doesn't change when she's met with a few less than enthusiastic colleagues. 

It soon becomes clear that at least some of the frosty welcome is due to the circumstances of her hiring. It seems her predecessor died in a terrible accident. And some aren't entirely sure it was an accident at all. 

But is it paranoia as a result of their setting? Or is the station itself as dangerous as the cold and dark outside?

Honestly, while I wanted to savor this one because it was so exactly what I was in the mood for, I gobbled it up in one day! 

If you like creepy, atmospheric reads; if you like locked-room mysteries; if you like thrillers that pit characters against impossible odds; heck if you just like a great fast-paced read, The Dark is definitely for you! This is one of my favorites of late, and it's left me with a massive book hangover, if I'm honest. Nothing is quite hitting the same spot now!

The Dark is out now in the UK and the US. Be sure to order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, January 17, 2022

Hotel Portofino by J. P. O'Connell

Happy Monday, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things Tour for J. P. O'Connell's Hotel Portofino!

Bella fell in love with the Italian Riviera on her honeymoon so many years ago. And it's been her dream to open a hotel there. 

Now that dream is a reality! Hotel Portofino is a place where the English and English speakers can relax and unwind. And in the wake of WWI, that's exactly what Bella and her own family need. Together with their small staff, she and her family cater to the needs of their guests, even when those needs lean towards the unreasonable. 

But things are coming to a head for the family and Italy. A local government official has his eyes on the hotel just as a very special guest arrives: the hopeful future wife of Bella's son, Lucien. The match has been in the works between the families, but whether it will come to pass still remains to be seen. And Bella's own ability to control the situation at the hotel and in her own family is becoming more fragile by the day. 

Hotel Portofino is fabulous! A deliciously period drama perfect for fans of Downton Abbey, the story finds a upper-ish class family opening a hotel in Portofino, Italy between WWI and WWII. 

Bella's husband Cecil is of the upper crust, but their money comes from Bella's family. Her father, to be exact, who owns a factory and, as one character puts it, "...doesn't care who knows it!" But the family aren't rolling in dough, even though Cecil is willing to spend like they are. 

It's all Bella can do to keep the hotel going. And since it's her baby, she's not going to give up easy. 

But with clientele ranging from the adventurous to the downright snobbish, plus the growing fascist government, Hotel Portofino isn't quite attaining the relaxing air it aims for!

All the secrets and turmoil brewing, making this a story with the best kinds of tension and suspense! And I have to admit that the setting is pretty wonderful. O'Connell strikes a nice balance between building rich and full characters and setting, and the actual historical events taking place at the time. It makes for a luxurious reading experience!

There are a ton of characters to get to know. Bella and her family, of course; Constance, the new nanny; Rose and her mother (Lucien's intended and potential future mother in law, respectively); Lucien's friend Nish; as well as a bevy of other guests, staff, and locals. And while that might at first seem overwhelming, O'Connell's done it in such a way that each and every one is fully developed and shines in the story. 

I can't help but wish that I had the chance to read this while traveling around some exotic locale myself, but I can say even in snowy winter, Hotel Portofino will transport you! 

Hotel Portofino is out now and I definitely recommend picking up a copy! And if you love it as much as I did, you'll be pleased to know it's been adapted for TV!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Gunnar Staalesen's latest, Bitter Flowers

Varg Veum is fresh out of rehab and his physical therapist has a job for him. Should be simple: an architect couple who are out of town need someone to stop by their house occasionally and take care of things. Basically, make it look like someone's home. 

Oh, and they have a pool. Unfortunately, there's a dead body in it. And Varg's physical therapist has gone missing. 

It's not long before the PI finds himself involved in a third case as well. A missing person's case that's eight years old. 

It quickly becomes clear that there is some connection between the three cases. But solving them all might be more difficult than Varg anticipated. 

Wow! Ok, where to start? First, I had no idea that this was a very long running series! Fortunately, starting with Bitter Flowers wasn't actually a problem. The book reads pretty much like a stand alone, with just a few character points that are clearly carried over from previous books. So it proved to be a pretty good entry into the series and the character as a whole (and it also means I have a bunch more books to add to my TBR!). 

I thought this was fantastic! It starts off very quickly with Varg arriving at the house with his PT, Lisbeth. They've known each other for a few months and have become close, but are just friends. 

Varg is a PI who's been out of commission for a few months. This particular job doesn't even require his investigating skills at all. He's basically a glorified house sitter (except he's not required to be in residence). 

Of course a body in the pool complicates things. And it's not made any better when Lisbeth runs off, leaving Varg to wait for the police himself. Fortunately, or not, he has a history with the investigating officer and isn't immediately considered a suspect of any sort. But they are a little concerned, to say the least, that Lisbeth has vanished. 

And so Varg decides to get involved. Even though the cops have clearly asked him not to. 

He can't help it. 

It's no secret that I love a great PI novel. I still haven't found anything that quite fits the gap left behind by Sue Grafton, but I have to say that Gunnar Staalesen seems like a pretty good contender! Helped in part by the fact that this book is set around the same time period as the Kinsey novels. Except they're based in Norway rather than California :)

Which is pretty cool in and of itself. I've never been to Norway and I know very little about it, especially Norway of the '80s!

And Varg is definitely the kind of character I enjoy! He's got a great sense of humor, flaunts the law (just a little), and digs his heels in whenever he's got a case!

It looks like Orenda has been publishing Staalesen's backlist in English for a bit now. I actually have the prior release Fallen Angels (which looks to be book 3 in the series) in my TBR already. I can't wait to read it and am dying to get my hands on the rest of the books in the series!

Shout out to Don Bartlett—because I really feel, as I read more and more translated books, that translators are kind of magical unicorns in the publishing business who do not get the attention they deserve! This is an excellent translation! His work, alongside Staalesen's clear talent for great plotting and character development, has made this such an easy and fun read for English-speaking audiences!

Huge thanks to Random Things Tours for including me on the tour! And equally huge thanks to Orenda for providing a copy for review! (They're one of my favorite publishers and I really do look forward to each new release with great anticipating!)

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

Happy book birthday to Stacy Willingham! Her debut, A Flicker in the Dark, is out today and you should all scurry out and buy a copy! Fair warning, you will be up late with this one :)

Chloe Davis is the daughter of a serial killer. And it's hung over her like a shadow her entire life. 

To everyone on the outside, Chloe would appear to have it all together these days. A successful psychiatrist, engaged to be married, a gorgeous home...but underneath that facade, she's barely holding it together. And when a teen patient goes missing, everything starts to fall apart. 

This was an absolutely page-turning thriller. I know that gets thrown around a lot, but I don't say it lightly here. 

First, there's the premise. It's not unusual to wonder what happens to the people who fall into the orbit of criminals—whether by coincidence or blood. 

Chloe was just a child when her father was arrested for murder. She lived in a small town where everyone knew her family. It's not the kind of thing you can easily get away from. 

But she built a life beyond that anyway. She moved to Baton Rouge and she focuses on helping troubled teens. She's done everything right. 

But yet, her father's crimes haunt her. 

And that becomes more and more clear when her patient disappears. Everyone around her is afraid that Chloe is headed down a dark path, especially when she starts to draw connections between what's happening today and the murders of her childhood. 

Is she imagining it?

Second, the setting! I'm from Louisiana and while I'm always drawn to books set there, a lot of them don't necessarily ring true. That was not an issue with Willingham's debut! Not at all!

Finally, there's the plot. I love trying to figure out how a thriller or mystery will end and A Flicker in the Dark left me guessing the whole way through. Every time I thought I had it figured out, Willingham threw another twist at me!

A Flicker in the Dark is a fabulous debut perfect for fans of Jennifer Hillier and Catherine Ryan Howard. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I cannot wait to see what Stacy Willingham will do next!

Just a little bonus, but it was recently announced that Emma Stone's production company will be adapting the book for HBO Max! 

Order a copy from your favorite india via Bookshop!

Monday, January 10, 2022

Shiver by Allie Reynolds

In 1998, Milla dreamed of being an olympic snowboarder. But all of that ended in an unspeakable tragedy!

Present day: Milla and four others have been invited to a bit of a reunion at La Rocher, the resort where they all first met. The invite comes just days after one of their own has been declared officially dead after the accident that happened so many years ago. 

What should be a fun weekend snowboarding and enjoying an otherwise empty resort starts to go wrong almost immediately. There's no staff. No one at all. Which means there's no way off the mountain unless they can call for help. Which they can't because someone has stolen their phones. It quickly becomes clear that someone is messing with them. Someone who wants to truth about what happened back in '98. Someone who's willing to go to extremes to get the answers they're looking for. 

There's something so utterly appealing about snowed-in reads! I should know—I've been binging them almost non stop lately!

When we meet Milla she's in her mid thirties and is pretty aimless. It seems after her hopes of becoming a big snowboarding star burned out, she never really decided what to do. 

And though she has reservations about seeing all of her old friends again, she's looking forward to getting back on her board and spending time with them. 

Or at least some of them. 

We start to find out what's behind those reservations as the story progresses. Chapters alternate between 1998—rivalries, love interests, and more—and present day as the group tries to figure out who has it in for them, why, and how they're going to survive. 

There's a great air of authenticity to this thanks in no small part to the fact that Allie Reynolds was a freestyle snowboarder herself. One would imagine that she never endured quite the level of competitiveness that takes part in Shiver, but I'd imagine she has some pretty outrageous true stories to tell!

I thought this was such a fun read! Trying to untangle the mystery wasn't hard, but it was super entertaining, especially as the snow finally started falling here in Colorado. Even with hot chocolate and cozy blankets to keep myself warm, Reynolds succeeded in transporting me to that off-season resort and the intense unsettling feeling of danger lurking outside!

Shiver is out now in paperback! Her next book, The Swell, is due out this summer in the States!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Friday, January 7, 2022

Her Secret War by Pam Lecky

Happy Friday! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Pam Lecky's latest, Her Secret War.

In May of 1941, Dublin is hit by German bombs, killing Sarah Gillespie's family and destroying her home.  

They were supposed to be safe. Dublin was neutral, after all. But it wasn't enough to protect Sarah's family. And with her boyfriend joining the RAF, there's nothing left for her in Ireland except sadness. So when a letter arrives from England with an offer of a home and a job—contributing to the war effort, no less—Sarah is ready to take it. 

But soon after arriving, Sarah is picked out for her father's politics. With that held over her, she's convinced to befriend and report back on a certain individual who is believed to be a German spy. It's the beginning of something Sarah could never have imagined and it places her in potentially grave danger!

With the wealth of WWII novels out there these days, I'm always surprised when an author can put together a story I haven't yet seen! And that's exactly what Pam Lecky has done with Her Secret War

Sarah is an outsider in England because of her Irish heritage. In fact, the politics in Dublin at the time are exactly what is held against her (because they supported Irish independence, her father also supported Irish men joining Axis powers in the war, essentially so that they could fight England—don't worry, this is outlined in the first chapter and not a spoiler). 

But you can imagine that having lost everything, being reminded of that on a regular basis would be worse than starting over in a new country. And at least she has family there, even if she doesn't know them. 

Plus, revenge is at the top of her to-do list!

Lecky's prose is easy to read and the book is definitely well-researched without being heavy handed (always appreciated, as it helps the plot more forward rather than being bogged down by a history info dump!). Plus, Sarah is truly easy to like! She's smart and spunky, both qualities I love in a heroine. 

But I have to say, all things considered, the end was probably my favorite part! To reveal why WOULD be a spoiler, so I will avoid that. But I do hope this isn't the last we see of Sarah!

For more on Pam Lecky and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Bookshop | Amazon | Barnes & Noble