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!