Friday, April 19, 2024

Five Bad Deeds by Caz Frear

It's Friday! And it's a cold one here. Hopefully the last of the season!

But the good news is that today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Caz Frear's latest, Five Bad Deeds

Just a few months ago, Ellen was your average housewife. Mom to three kids and desperate to get back to her career, she's also still trying to fully fit into their new life away from London. 

But now she's in prison.

It all starts with a note. Someone who things Ellen should pay. But who? And why? As Ellen thinks back, there are five things. Five things that could have been the start of her downfall. But until she figures out which one, she won't know who is behind the threat. As more notes arrive, it becomes clear this is someone who will do anything to see Ellen lose it all. 

What a juicy and enticing thriller!

When we meet Ellen, she's already been incarcerated. But we don't know why. All we know is that she hasn't seen her twin sons since she got there. 

Flash back to "the beginning." And it would seem that it's the damning note that arrives in the mail. 

Except the note is not the beginning at all. 

And that, I think, is what made this such a fun read. We meet Ellen, we feel for her as a mom struggling with her teenage daughter and twin sons, a woman whose husband is often gone, a woman starting to feel lonely in her life. 

But as Ellen's story goes on, she begins to become much more complicated! The notes and the things she's done that might be the reason for it all...

There's a little, or a lot, of Ellen in us all. Trust me. And while some might not like the reflection, I quite enjoyed the 'what if' of it all. (Even though I have a lot of anxiety and tend to overthink everything!) It's not necessarily fun to think about what you might have done in your own life. But it is quite easy to empathize with Ellen as you soon begin to question what you'd do in her shoes!

Of course the suspense behind the sender of the notes and the five deeds Ellen reflects on make this an absolute page-turner, but I think that little connection Frear draws between the reader and Ellen is what makes it a richer (sometimes uncomfortable—but in a good way) reading experience!

Five Bad Deeds is out now in the US and the UK!

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

The Escape Room by L.D. Smithson

Hello, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for L.D. Smithson's The Escape Room

Clara is desperate to get picked for The Fortress, a new reality competition escape room with a 100k prize. Money she and her sister can definitely use in the wake of their mother's illness and death. But after being accepted onto the show, Clara breaks her leg and can't compete. She only barely manages to convince her sister, Bonnie, to take her place, arguing that they look enough alike that she can pull it off and that Bonnie has always done better at puzzles anyway.

The competition is set in an old fortress that dates back to the 1800s, though it wasn't completed until later. At one point it was even a hotel. But rumors swirl around the place, as the contestants soon learn. It all seems fodder for the clues to the game until viewers' commentary starts to suggest something much more sinister. 

The Escape Room is a no holds barred thriller that had me hooked from the strange and bloody beginning!

The structure of the book is interesting to note considering Bonnie is a guest on a podcast in the aftermath of the show. She's telling the story, even though it played out ostensibly in front of a live audience. And it adds a definite layer of suspense that I absolutely loved!

So I've never done an escape room. And honestly I have no real desire to. One is the fear that I'd absolutely suck at it! And reading this one, I have to admit I never would have figured out any of the clues the contestants are faced with. 

What's more, even though the clues seem to lead to prizes of a sort (remember the oreos and peanut butter Survivor episode--note, I watched little of that show so my reference point is very dated), the viewers vote on contestants to go head to head with one another throughout. 

Which seems fairly normal to the kind of program the game is based on. Except...Bonnie notes that something feels off from the beginning. 

The Escape Room is a cool premise done in a way that I found to be truly fresh and fun! Throughout, there are dispatches from "The Director," which hint at a more nefarious plot than even I could guess at. 

This book has blockbuster written all over it and I was here for every single page--frequently with popcorn to accompany it!

The Escape Room is out now in the UK and I highly recommend adding it to your immediate must read list!

Monday, March 11, 2024

Crow Moon by Suzy Aspley

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Suzy Aspley's Crow Moon!

Things haven't been easy for Martha Strageways since the loss of her three-year-old twins. But she and her teenage son are getting by. Until his friend goes missing. Knowing all too well the horrific fears that come with being a parent, Martha makes an effort to look into the teen's disappearance, never expecting to stumble over his dead body!

And then another teen goes missing. 

What a fantastic start to a new series! The blending of folklore and dark mystery is always one that's going to get me, and this has it all!

So what is it about this strange village? That's the first question. Even Martha's home, a croft with a stone built to track the phases of the moon, a discovery she made after purchasing the home, hint at weird things!

But the main mystery and the POV of the killer are undeniably creepy, hinting at ritual, sacrifice, and all manner of things that only begin to become clear as the story progresses. 

This is also a story about grief. And to that end, is a very emotional read. Martha's loss is a shadow that hangs over the story. It motivates her, it drives her, it also keeps her going at times. And it plagues her. 

Aspley imbues the story with this layer of grief so that the reader can't avoid it. Can't help but feel it. 

I will say that it can make for a difficult read at times. But I found it was affecting and added to my rooting for Martha and her family. And I absolutely look forward to reading more about her and her strange new home!

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Good Girls Don't Die by Christina Henry

What if you woke up one day and realized your life has become a story? And not a great one!

Celia doesn't recognize her daughter. She doesn't remember her husband. And she has somehow forgotten her past. She runs a restaurant where, thankfully, the recipes come to her with ease. She certainly doesn't remember the grumpy old lady who harasses her regularly or the cop who responds in kind. And then the lady winds up dead in Celia's restaurant's dumpster. 

Allie was supposed to be celebrating her birthday on a beach vacation with her two best friends. But plans soon change and they wind up at a remote cabin in the woods with the friends' boyfriends in tow. When she's awakened by strange noises in the night, she knows something is wrong. But as a horror movie fanatic, her friends are ready to write off her fears. 

Maggie has somehow wandered into a red-life competition that resembles the dystopian novels she's so fond of. She and a handful of other women are set on a timed course where failure could literally mean death!

All three women quickly realize there's something very wrong with their stories. But even they can't imagine just how twisted the plot is!

I wasn't sure where this one was going when I first started reading. 

We meet Celia first. As noted, she runs a restaurant, where she is most comfortable because at least she can remember how to cook the dishes they serve! But at home everything feels off. At first she thinks its her. But she soon becomes suspicious. 

By the time we get to Allie, we know something weird is going on. But Allie's experience is completely different than Celia's. Allie is with her friends. Allie is supposed to be celebrating her birthday at the beach until her friends' significant others tag along and change the plan. But that's when things go pear shaped for Allie!

When we reach Maggie, we're well aware that things aren't going to go her way. 

I don't want to spoil the plot, but this is truly a fun book for book lovers and a great addition to Henry's collection of work!

Order a copy from Bookshop.org!

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

The Drift by C. J. Tudor

Listen up, people. Have you read C. J. Tudor yet? If not, you are missing out!

I read The Drift when it came out in hardcover, but was very neglectful about typing up my review. Now that it's out in paperback, I'm rectifying that!

The book is told in three parts. But they intertwine in such a way that the connections aren't immediately clear beyond setting. 

A school bus overturns on trip to evacuate a group of students to a place called The Retreat. These chosen few should be safe there. If they can only make it. 

Meg was also on her way to The Retreat when she awakens in a stopped cable car. Neither she or her fellow passengers can remember how they got there. But with no power and temps dropping fast, they must find a way to survive!

Carter lives comfortably in a ski chalet. But they live at the mercy of the generator. And when it starts to fail, it means facing the things both inside and outside that put everyone at risk. 

Tudor says this was a bit of a passion project. One delayed by but also made possible by the pandemic. 

After all, even I as both a reader and agent had my doubts about ever being able to read a post-apocalyptic thriller in the days around and beyond 2020. 

But I actually found it a bit cathartic. And by the time The Drift released here in the States, I was more than ready for this particular book!

First, I have a thing for snowed-in reads. And absolutely fits the bill! Which is perfect because it's February and I especially like to read snowed-in books while it's nasty and snowing outside!

The world of The Drift unfolds somewhat slowly through the eyes of these three narrators. And it's in part because of the structure—alternating short chapters between each of these characters means you get snippets of what each of them are experiencing alongside the world around them. And I have to say that the deliberate delay in what is otherwise an exceptionally fast-paced read made for a deliciously agonizing experience!

I desperately wanted to know what was going on in this world. Why the desperation to reach The Retreat. Why the secrecy around the facility!

And the dawning of understanding that begins to set in at a certain point in the reading was truly a wonderful discovery and reveal. 

Again, if you've not been reading Tudor, you absolutely need to. There's a new adaptation of one of her works (The Burning Girls), there's a new release (The Gathering) on the horizon, there's plenty of backlist to tide you over, and there's even a TV adaptation of The Drift in the works! Add her to your must-read list today and ENJOY!

Order a copy from Bookshop today!

Monday, March 4, 2024

Kitchen Sanctuary Quick & Easy: Delicious 30-Minute Dinners by Nicky Corbishley

Happy Monday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Nicky Corbishley's Kitchen Sanctuary Quick & Easy: Delicious 30-Minute Dinners

I love reviewing cookbooks and I seriously need to do it more here because I'm a bit of a cookbook fiend. To that end, I have my own preferences for how a cookbook is put together (layout of the recipe itself, selection of recipes, images...).

And I love to cook! Which is why it's lucky I work mostly from home these days. But generally I am looking for quick and easy meals that my whole family will eat: exactly what's promised by food blogger Nicky Corbishley and her latest cookbook. 

Kitchen Sanctuary Quick & Easy features 90 recipes that can all be made in 30 minutes. And, bonus, 70 of the recipes are not on Corbishley's blog, they're new and exclusive to the book!

Recipes are divided into the following sections:

Vitally Veggie
Fantastic Fish
Champion Chicken
Moreish Meat
Perfect Pasta
Rice, Noodles, Grains & Pulses
Snack Suppers
Super Sauces

And might I add that anyone who includes a section on "snack suppers" wins super extra points for me! I am all about the snack supper!

There's also a section on Smart Shortcuts, which is awesome because things like rotisserie chicken, frozen veggies, and store bought sauces are a busy person's best friend when it comes to supper! 

This section includes A TON of fabulous info for making your cooking quicker and easier. A fabulous resource on its own. (Pssst: there's a basic but customizable salad dressing in this section that really comes in handy!)

It's technically spring as I post this, but it was winter as I browsed and cooked, so dishes like Cheddar and Vegetable Chowder (in a bread bowl!), comes together in 25 minutes, y'all!; Creamy Lemon Butter Sea Bream (I used bass)--served with mashed potatoes and peas, per her suggestion; and Potato and Bacon Hash with Cheesy Beans were all examples of things I NEEDED to get me through the cold weather. 

Now that we have some warmer days, I'm dying to try the Crispy Fish Burgers with Mustard Pickle Mayo (and I might have to make a bit batch of that mayo to use on other dishes--or dip fries in!). The Saucy Roasted Vegetable Pasta with Lancashire Cheese is also up on my cooking roster soon. 

This is a fabulous collection of recipes. And they really are recipes my whole family will eat. Crispy Baked Parmesan Chicken Strips with Special Sauce...I do not have an air fryer so thank goodness for this recipe! This beats dino nuggets any day! (Hey, that mustard pickle mayo as a dip for these chicken strips...!)

Kitchen Sanctuary Quick & Easy hits all the right notes for me. Recipes are approachable and easy, the instructions are easy to follow and understand, and the breakdown of prep, cook, and total time really helps when I'm frantically trying to figure out what we'll eat as my kid is walking in the door from daycare.

Corbishley's latest is out now in the UK and will be out in the US in April!

Friday, February 2, 2024

The Lover of No Fixed Abode by Carlo Fruttero & Franco Lucentini

Happy Friday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for The Lover of No Fixed Abode by Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini, translated by Gregory Dowling.

A nameless narrator who works as a scout for auction houses and what seems at first to be a simple instance of paths crossing begins this cozy-ish mystery set in 80s Italy. 

A tour guide. A quiet, unassuming man who might be much more than he seems piques the interest of the narrator. Her thoughts gravitate towards him even when they have separated. But soon they are reunited. And thus kicks off a three-day affair as well as a mystery surrounding the man, our narrator, art, and Venice itself. 

This is really kind of a hard book to sum up. It's very character and setting driven, rather than plot driven. Though there is a plot. And, as the translator notes, the authors are well-known for their mysteries. But this one, apparently their most successful, is quieter than the others. 

And a quiet read it is indeed. 

Lover of No Fixed Abode is perfect for fans of quieter mysteries. It's also perfect for armchair travelers, and fans of period stories (though I am loathe to include the 80s in "period" considering I was born in that decade!). 

It's also a study, I think, in what a great translator can do. And I know that's not the point of a review, but the translator is so key to opening up works to audiences. They can either pull us in, or turn us off. And a great translator always strives to stay true to the author's original story, voice, tone...everything. 

Which seems to be something Dowling has taken great pains to do, especially considering the authors have both passed away.

I have never been to Venice. So I certainly never experienced it at the time the story is set, but the authors have truly created a stunning portrayal of the setting that will stick with readers and potentially leave them yearning for a vacation of a sort that they will soon realize is only possible in the pages of a book!

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

The Spy Coast by Tess Gerritsen

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Tess Gerritsen's latest, The Spy Coast

For Maggie Bird, retired life is about keeping her chickens safe. A far cry from what she used to do for a living. 

See Maggie is one of a handful of retired CIA agents who now call the small town of Purity, Maine home. But her quiet retirement is about to come falling down around her. 

A woman has shown up telling Maggie that a fellow operative has gone missing. What's more, details of an op they worked together have been leaked. Which means Maggie's cover has been leaked. Later that same day, the woman is found murdered in Maggie's drive. 

Now Maggie will have to try and figure out who's behind it all, with the help of her fellow retirees. But as they run their own internal investigation, the local sheriff's department is also on the case. And sitting Sheriff Jo Thibodeau is starting to think there's something fishy about her town's newest residents. 

This first in a new series from Gerritsen is a bit of a change from her longtime Rizzoli and Isles series. And it is exceptional!

The Spy Coast introduces readers to Maggie Bird. And boy has she led a fascinating life!

While on vacation in Bangkok, decades ago, Maggie met and fell in love with Danny. A doctor traveling overseas, he's doing one last grand tour before returning to the UK where a steady job will offer him a chance to help his mother. 

But what begins as a benign, everyday life experience—meeting and falling in love—kicks a series of events into motion that has repercussions way down the line. 

A retired spy offers, I think, so many story possibilities! Not only do I hope we'll get more adventures from Maggie and her cohorts, but I absolutely love the idea of main characters outside the "normal" range we see. I was immediately drawn to this story simply because of the premise of following a former spy in their sixties! (And of course because it was Tess Gerritsen.)

The Spy Coast is a new favorite for me! I hope we get more of The Martini Club and would LOVE to see this get picked up for adaptation as well! Give me more!

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Search Party by Hannah Richell

Happy Wednesday, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Hannah Richell's latest, The Search Party

Annie and Max, Suze and Jim, Dominic and Tanya, Kira and Fred: Five college friends and their families checking out Annie and Max's new glamping endeavor for the weekend. It should be a great get together. A reunion of sorts, considering their last get together (for Kira's 40th) ended somewhat badly. 

And yet, nothing goes to plan. 

The country site offers wide open spaces for the kids to play and no wifi means no distractions. But tension sets in after just the first night. And as gray clouds roll in, threatening an unexpectedly bad storm, one of the group goes missing. 

By the Sunday, someone is dead. Someone is unconscious in the hospital. At least one partner is no longer speaking to the other. 

So first of all, I love a great thriller about old friends and juicy secrets and drama and tension! And that is exactly what you get with The Search Party. With the added bonus of knowing some of the aftermath from the start and getting pieces of it throughout. It's the kind of book that I like to guess along the way (and then get proven WRONG!). 

What's really fun about this one is that we get alternating POVs, giving readers a chance to see the different sides of the story as it progresses. But it also alternates timelines, which is how we get those pieces of what's happened. 

And Richell spreads them out in such a way that the tension builds and builds and builds until everything boils over!

The Search Party is a great thriller! Perfect for fans of Ruth Ware's In a Dark, Dark Wood, Lucy Foley's The Hunting Party, (obviously), and authors like Alice Feeney and Lisa Jewell, to name a few! It also makes for a great book club read, in my opinion, because there are so many complex characters (and their actions) to discuss!

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

One of the Good Guys by Araminta Hall

Good morning, everyone! Are we all snowed in? I know I am!

Today I'm a stop on the Random Things Tour for Araminta Hall's One of the Good Guys

Cole is looking for a new start. Something uncomplicated after the fallout with his wife, Mel. He'd always imagined a quiet life in the country, living off the land as much as he can, would be just the change they needed from the stress of Mel's job and their busy life in the city. But Mel stayed and Cole is living the country life on his own. 

When he meets Lennie, an artist renting a weather-beaten cottage nearby, he thinks he may have met a likeminded friend who could potentially become more. But then Lennie finds an abandoned tent thought to belong to two women trying to raise awareness of violence against women. 

As it happens, Cole had a run in with the women in question. And they filmed the encounter. And while he's not responsible for whatever their fate has become, he's afraid the run in alone will point the finger in his direction. 

Wow. I did not really know what I was in for with this one! And I will do my absolute best not to give anything away!

So the book begins from Cole's perspective. And the reader really does get a glimpse inside the mind of an ordinary guy. He's mourning the breakup with his wife, but still hopes they can reconcile. Other than that, he wakes early for a cold swim, he walks a lot, and he takes his job as a wildlife ranger seriously. 

The book then switches to Mel's and Lennie's POVs, interspersed with Twitter convos, Instagram posts, news pieces, and other commentary along the way. 

Thought provoking doesn't begin to describe this one. In fact, I found it turned my head into a whirlwind of thoughts! 

While this is published by Macmillan in the UK, US audiences will see that it's one of Gillian Flynn's imprint's titles, which should tell you something!

If you're a fan of twisted reads that will really make you think—and then reevaluate what you thought, and then do that again—One of the Good Guys is the read for you! I thought it was fabulous and would love to be a fly on the wall as other people read it as well!

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The Guests by Agnes Ravatn

Good morning and Happy New Year! I've been sick, but I've been reading, and my first post of the new year is a stop on the Random Things tour for Agnes Raven's The Guests!

Karin and Kai are due for a holiday. She's got the week off. Her in laws are watching the kids. But the plan is to spend the week working on renovations to their home. That is until a run-in with and favor for a childhood frenemie results in an invite to stay in a swanky water-front cottage. 

The "friend" in question is Ivy Vilden. A mean girl Karin finally broke away from in her school days. Today, Karin is an actress of some regard with a wealthy husband. And Karin is certain that the invite to use the "cottage" is just to make it clear how much farther Ivy has come in the world than Karin. 

But a cottage is a cottage and Karin and Kai deserve something nice. 

Then Karin meets the neighbors. And begins to create a tangle of lies about her and Kai's lives that threatens to overwhelm them. 

Woohoo! This was a rollercoaster of a read. A tense character study of insecurity and jealousy!

Karin is not at all likable. Probably because she serves as something of a mirror to every possibly insecurity a person can have these days. 

Her history with Ivy is fraught. But she overcame it. Something she'd always been proud of. And yet, it becomes clear from the start just how much influence Ivy still has over Karin. 

It's quite sad to watch Karin devolve into the the person she creates as the story continues. She perfectly illustrates how constant comparison, keeping up with the Joneses, can ruin even what should be a vacation in paradise. 

What's more, the neighbors in question and the train wreck Karin creates there is almost painful for various reasons. 

All of that might make this sound pretty negative. I get it! And yet, I read the whole thing in one sitting and came away with the unfortunate realization that I not only suffer some of the same insecurities, but can see just how easily a person dig such a hole!

Like I said, Karin is unlikable. But it's because Ravatn so cleverly illustrates just how bad envy can be if we allow it to overwhelm us!

Huge props to translator Rosie Hedger for bringing Karin and Kai and all of their faults to life for English audiences.