Tuesday, August 09, 2022

{I've Been Reading} Stay Awake


Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

After waking up in the back of a taxi with no idea how she got there and discovering that her apartment has been completely refurnished and is occupied by strangers, Liv Reese is in a panic. She doesn't have her purse or phone with her, only a knife stained with blood and written warnings on both hands telling her to stay awake. Two years have passed since the last thing she remembers and none of her loved ones are answering their phones.

The plot cuts between Liv in the present and Liv in the time period she remembers from two years earlier, alternating with chapters from the point of view of New York police officers who are investigating a murder where STAY AWAKE was written in blood on the victims apartment window. I really enjoyed this one. Some of the  time jumps were a little confusing, but I think that was because Liv herself is so confused. The author does a great job making it all work, but a couple of times I found myself asking why people who knew Liv from before didn't realize that something was very wrong. 

One of my biggest complaints about the domestic thrillers I've read lately is that I don't care enough about the characters to car what happens to them. The more I learn about Liv through her own interactions with others and through the police investigation, the more I wanted her to be okay and hoped she wasn't responsible for that bloody knife. 



Such a Good Mother by Helen Monks Takhar

Rose O'Connell still lives in the neighborhood where she grew up. The place has evolved around her. She didn't fit in when she was young, and she definitely doesn't fit in now. She gets her young son a coveted spot at the Woolf Academy, a school located in a building that was once the  public school where she spent her own childhood. After a member of the Circle, an elite group of mothers who control everything that happens at the academy, dies, Rose somehow manages  to get herself a spot in the group. The other women are not welcoming and Rose's son is deeply unhappy at the school, but she refuses to let go or consider any other options for her family. I didn't like Rose at all and felt that the plot dragged. By the very end, I was starting to understand the point of the thing but, for me,  it was too little, too late. 



Disclosure -- The publishers provided me with advance review copies. This post contains affiliate links. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

{I've Been Reading} The Swell

 

The Swell by Allie Reynolds

The first book I read by Allie Reynolds had the characters trapped at an icy ski resort. In The Swell, a woman finds herself on a remote beach in Australia, surrounded by unwelcoming strangers. I absolutely love the way this author immediately created such a vivid, hostile setting. Kenna has just dropped everything and  travelled to Australia after learning that her best friend is about to get married. She sees too many red flags that she's hoping she can convince Mikki to reconsider her hasty decision.... which is why she ignores so many danger signs and lets herself get dragged along to Sorrow Bay. A group of dedicated surfers is living there almost full time, jealously guarding their perfect waves from outsiders. Surfing was everything to Kenna until a tragic accident killed the love of her life and she gave it up. But now she finds herself being initiated into this group of strangers, even though she can tell they're keeping secrets and that bad things have happened in Sorrow Bay. This one genuinely creeped me out. There's a cultish feeling to the tribe of surfers and knowing that Kenna had no way to leave the isolated spot on her own really increased the tension. I highly recommend this one if you want to immerse yourself into a tense thriller.

   

Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey 

Vera's dying mother has called her home to the house her father built, the house where her father tortured his victims in the basement under Vera's bedroom. And, like a good daughter, Vera goes to help her. But her mother refuses any help with her personal care, insisting that she's made arrangements for that. Vera's job is to sort through closets and cupboards, digging through what was left after the murder investigations. Her mother has rented rooms to a series of artists and writers who have pillaged the place for inspiration and bits and pieces to add to their work. There's one still living in an outbuilding. While Vera's mom will barely speak to her, this guy wants to pry for details.  This book is a slow burn that takes some incredibly creepy turns. I don't know what I was expecting, but that ending definitely wasn't it! 


Disclosure -- The publishers provided me with advance review copies. This post contains affiliate links. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

{I've Been Reading}


Castle Deadly, Castle Deep by Veronica Bond 

I love the atmosphere that the author creates in this one! The catacombs beneath Castle Dark are just for show, created for the theater troupe's latest murder-mystery performance, but the murder that takes place there is genuinely unsettling for the reader. With a killer loose in the castle, unexplained noises coming from the library next to her room, and worries about her new romance, Nora has her hands full trying to figure everything out.  I read this one straight through and can't wait for the next book in the series to come out so I can spend more time with the characters. 


A Perilous Pal by Laura Bradford 

Emma Westlake is a Friend for Hire, whether that's as a workout buddy or a plus one to a social event. Her latest client is a divorced woman with an empty nest who's trying to figure out what to do with herself now that she's not spending every moment being a busy wife and mother.  Her bucket list is filled with creative ways to do away with her ex. When the man is found dead and all of those plans are preserved in writing, things look bad and Emma is determined to help. The book has a fun, endlessly entertaining cast of characters and I really got caught up in the mystery element.  As I've read the first two books in the series, I've found myself wondering where the line between friend and client is...and Emma seems to be wondering about it, too. I'm curious to see what she decides in future books. 




 

 A Hint of Mischief by Daryl Wood Gerber 

Fairy garden parties are a big part of Courtney's business, but this will be the first time she's organized one for adults. The event is definitely going to be more upscale than she's used to, so she's scrambling to adapt her party games for a group of forty-year-old sorority sisters...and then a spa day for the guests ends in an unsatisfactory eyebrow wax and murder. 

The mystery is complicated with a ton of different suspects and didn't entirely hold my interest this time around. I was more intrigued by the subplots and I enjoyed the chance to spend some time in Courtney's fairy filled world. (Not all of her friends and family can see them, but they're definitely real!)  

Disclosure -- The publishers provided me with advance review copies. This post contains affiliate links. 




Thursday, July 07, 2022

{I've Been Reading} Little Nothings

 

Little Nothings by Julie Mayhew 

Four women and their families are set to spend three weeks together at a resort in Greece. They're the best of friends and should be having an absolute blast in paradise...but they're not. Not having the fun they expected. And maybe the friendships aren't quite as good as they thought. Someone isn't what she's been pretending to be. 

I enjoyed this book, which is an entertaining train wreck of relationships. The whole thing is told from Liv's point of view and it's told mostly in order, occasionally filling in details from the past to explain what's going on now. The transitions were abrupt but worked for me. I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending. It went the way I expected. but not quite. 


Disclosure -- The publishers provided me with advance review copies. This post contains affiliate links. 




Thursday, June 30, 2022

{I've Been Reading} The Bayou Book Thief


The Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron

Ricki James has returned to her birthplace, New Orleans, to start a new life and open a gift shop in a local museum.  The collaboration is perfect. Her stock of vintage cookbooks and kitchenware is just what the museum visitors find themselves wanting. Things are going splendidly, until she opens a box that should be filled with donated books but actually holds the body of a particularly unpleasant tour guide. I loved everything about this one -- the mystery, the characters, the setting... It couldn't be more different from my day to day life and that's what made it such a pleasant escape. 


Murder is no Picnic by Amy Pershing

Have I mentioned  how much I love the Cape Cod Foodie mystery series? I didn't warm up to Samantha until partway through the first book, but now I can't get enough of her and her pets and her extended family. This time, Samantha is invited to make blueberry buckle with a famous cookbook author, Clara Foster. She can barely contain her enthusiasm as they're filming the video for her Cape Cod Foodie series...and then she's crushed when Clara dies in a house fire that same night. (As a reader, I was almost as sad. Clara was such a neat character!) The circumstances of the fire just don't make sense, and Samantha finds herself helping in the investigation. There are also some complications in her personal life, making this an enjoyable read  I couldn't put down. 


Make Me Disappear by Jessica Payne 


Noelle has already realized that her anesthesiologist fiance isn't as perfect as he seems. Then she learns that his previous girlfriend disappeared without a trace  and begins to plan her own escape. This Kindle Unlimited title is fast paced and twists and turns in all sorts of directions, some more implausible than others. It was a fun read just to see what was going to happen in the end.  

 

Disclosure -- The publishers provided me with advance review copies. This post contains affiliate links.


Thursday, June 23, 2022

{I've Been Reading} Unmask Alice


by Rick Emerson 

I read Go Ask Alice in seventh grade, back when you had to have a note from a parent giving you permission to check it out from the school library. Mom had encouraged me to read it and warned me about the worst scene. The part that spooked her wasn't mentioned in Unmask Alice and I don't even remember the scenes that Rick Emerson describes. I read  a stack of other "teen problem novels" during that time period and there were others that had more of an emotional impact on me. 

I didn't find out that Alice was a hoax until a few years back. To be honest, I'd never thought too hard about whether the diary was real or not. My childhood was full of cautionary tales, most of them definitely not true. Alice was just another one of many stories. I never read Jay's Journal, but I've got vivid memories of the Satanic Panic. 

Unmask Alice looks at Beatrice Sparks and her hoaxes through the eyes of 2022 and as frustrated as I got by some of the author's descriptions (at one point he describes the letters to the editor page in the newspaper as "a prehistoric comments section") I couldn't put it down. I kept imagining the author as someone very young. 

Disclosure -- The publisher provided me with an advance review copy. This post contains affiliate links. 



Wednesday, June 08, 2022

{I've Been Reading} Black Tide

Black Tide by KC Jones

This is the perfect book for readers in the mood for a creepy creature feature. After meeting over the fence and sharing a bottle of champagne, two strangers become trapped on an isolated stretch of coastline. Something happened the night before and the world has changed. Things are shrieking in the dunes that separate them from the road. The tide is coming in. The book gets off to a slow start but when things started to really happen it had me holding my breath and crossing my fingers for the characters. 


The Safe House by Louise Mumford 

Esther can barely remember life before she came to the house with her mother. For sixteen years, the two of them have lived in the bunker under the hillside, sheltered from the dangers of the outside world. They are safe there, following daily checklists to maintain the structure that protects them.  Once a year, Mother makes the dangerous journey to the city to replenish their supplies. She wears a mask and protective clothing to shield herself from the dangerous pollution of the outside world. It's too risky for Esther to join her, even though Esther is an adult and desperately wants to see what's out there. Mother leaves. Esther remains in the house with her list of chores. And then a man appears outside, calling her name and asking her to open the door. Telling her that the world outside is still there, still safe. 

The premise intrigued me, but it didn't hold my interest for the second half of the book. I wound up setting it aside for more than a week before finally picking it up and finishing it. 





Disclosure -- This post contains affiliate links. The publishers provided me with advance review copies. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

{I've Been Reading} Hide

 


Hide by Kiersten White 

A desperate young woman is offered a chance to compete for a large cash prize. All she has to do is spend a week in an abandoned amusement park and win a game of hide and seek. Mack has been hiding for years. She believes that she can win. And she really has nowhere else to go at this point. 

It was an interesting premise that quickly turned in the last direction I expected it to go. Mack's childhood memories are absolutely chilling, but what happens in the park is something horror fans are likely to have encountered before.  The plot is fast paced and shifts abruptly back and forth between the fourteen competitors, more like cuts in a horror movie than transitions in a book. I never quite understood the rules of the game...as far as I can tell they'd pick a hiding spot each morning and wait to see if they were found, then go back in at night for dinner and a good night's sleep...but the story behind the whole thing was interesting when it was finally revealed.  



Disclosure -- The publisher provided me with an advance review copy. This post contains affiliate links. 


Wednesday, May 04, 2022

{I've Been Reading} Magpie


Magpie by Elizabeth Day 

A couple experiencing infertility problems rents out their spare room. On the surface, everything appears perfect. But this is a domestic thriller and the note to the readers tips you off before you even start reading that not everything is what it seems, that there may be an unreliable narrator telling the story...

I loved watching this plot unfold. It went in directions I didn't expect, moving just slowly enough that I kept coming up with new ideas about what was actually going on before I started questioning the situation again. This was a great way to spend a few hours. 


   

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon

Several elements drew me to this one. It's set in 1978 and the main characters are children, living with their grandmother, a respected doctor who runs an exclusive mental hospital in Vermont. The brother and sister hunt monsters and record everything they know about them in a book. So of course when their Gran brings home a mysterious young girl they invite her to join their secret monster club.

In 2019, Lizzy Shelley comes to Vermont, researching a story for her monster hunting podcast. She claims that it's her first visit to the area, but that's not true. She's been hunting monsters her entire life and is sure she knows exactly what, and who, this one is. 

The pace of this one is just slow enough to build lots of creepy atmosphere. It moves into some disturbing territory as the kids try to find out more about their new sibling and what their grandmother is doing at her hospital.  I enjoyed the read, but not as much as I loved The Invited, one of this author's previous books. 


Disclosure -- The publisher provided me with an advance review copy. This post contains affiliate links. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

{I've Been Reading} The Housemaid

 

 

The Housemaid by Freida McFadden 

Millie's new job is too good to be true. The salary is beyond her expectations, the house she'll be living in is gorgeous, and even if the attic room is cramped and dark it's a huge improvement over sleeping in her car.  AND her new employers apparently didn't both with a background check. By the time she realizes just how erratic Mrs. Winchester's behavior is, she's determined to hold onto the job at all costs. 

I can't get enough of Frida McFadden's domestic thrillers. They're fast paced and entertaining and a great way to spend a couple of hours. In this one, the plot shifts, then twists, then twists again. Millie is a likable protagonist and I genuinely cared what was going to happen to her in the end. 



Disclosure -- The publisher provided me with an advance review copy. This post contains affiliate links. 

Thursday, April 07, 2022

{I've Been Reading} The Art of the Decoy

 

 

The Art of the Decoy Trish Esden 

I'm not sure how I feel about the first book in the Scandal Mountain Antiques mystery series. The writing is fantastic. The mystery is complex and interesting. The cover is GORGEOUS! I'm curious to see how some of the relationships develop in future books.  But I didn't like the protagonist, Edie Brown, all that much. After a chance encounter with a stranger at an appraisal event, she's hoping to save her family's antique business by appraising the woman's relative's collection of rare decoys and either receiving one of the best examples in trade for her services or earning a commission by coordinating an auction of the pieces. The more she talked about ethics and doing things that "might be interpreted as illegal by someone not familiar with the business" the less I liked her.  

Disclosure -- The publisher provided me with an advance review copy. This post contains affiliate links. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

{I've Been Reading} The Resting Place


The Resting Place by Camilla Sten 

After she witnesses the murder of her grandmother, Eleanor learns that she's inherited a lost mansion. The estate has been in the family for many years, but it's been decades since anyone last visited the main house. There's a groundskeeper and hunting parties visit the lodge on the property, but the  house itself has stood empty. Now Eleanor and her boyfriend visit the house along with her aunt and her grandmother's lawyer to take an inventory of the furnishings. The story unfolds slowly,  alternating between the present day and chapters from a diary they find in a sealed room. It's intriguing, but didn't hold my interest nearly as well as The Lost Village did. 


The Family Holiday by Shalini Boland 

Two families arrange to swap homes for a two week vacation. It seems like the perfect opportunity, even if Amber is a little critical of Beth's cozy cottage. Beth is loving Amber's Italian villa until she finds an old photo of her husband in one of Amber's jacket pockets and starts asking questions. 

I loved that all four of the adult characters were distinct individuals with their own personalities and temperments, which made them easy to keep straight at the plot developed. The settings were vivid and atmospheric and gave me a bit of vicarious travel. But when the revelations came there were a LOT of them and I felt that the way they were presented let the plot fall flat. 


Disclosure -- The publisher provided me with an advance review copy. This post contains affiliate links. 

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

{I've Been Reading} The Golden Couple

 


The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen 

Avery Chambers has a method for fixing her clients in ten sessions. It's what got her described as "DCs maverick therapist" and what cost her her professional license...but she still has clients and still believes in her unusual techniques.  Marisa and Matthew are  trying to get past Marissa's infidelity, hopeful that a series of appointments with Avery will save their marriage. 

Although the book's pace is slow, the gradually unfolding plot was intriguing enough to keep me turning pages. It's obvious that something is wrong and that things are going to go bad, but not where the danger is coming from. I didn't dislike the book, but I didn't enjoy it as much as some of their other novels. 

Disclosure -- The publisher provided me with an advance review copy. This post contains affiliate links. 


Wednesday, February 23, 2022

{I've Been Reading} This Might Hurt

 


This Might Hurt by Stephanie Wrobel 

Six months ago, Natalie's sister left to join Wisewood, a wellness retreat on an island off the coast of Maine. Natalie hasn't had any contact from her, then receives an unsigned email threatening to expose her secrets if she doesn't come to the island immediately. 

The book involves a cult on an isolated island. It's by the author who wrote Darling Rose Gold, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Both seemed like reasons that I absolutely had to read it as soon as possible. But it never caught or held my interest. The chapters alternate between different characters, first Natalie and an unnamed character, then Natalie's sister and the same unnamed character. Every time something even a little interesting began to happen, the point of view would switch and my interest didn't hold until it switched back. 

Disclosure -- The publisher provided me with an advance review  copy. This post contains affiliate links. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

{I've Been Reading} Unmissing

 


Unmissing by Minka Kent 

What happens when an expectant mother opens her front door to find her husband's first wife standing there, the wife who vanished a few months into their brief marriage and was declared legally dead almost a decade ago? Merritt Coletto sends the other woman packing. It's not important whether she believes the dirty, emaciated stranger. Her -- their? -- husband is busy with more urgent matters and can't be disturbed. 

The idea of a dead character returning to their former life and trying to pick up whatever pieces are still left is one that fascinates me. It's been done before, but this thriller takes the idea in directions that surprised me and kept me holding my breath and turning pages until the end. I would've read it cover to cover in one sitting if life hadn't pulled me away once or twice. 

Disclosure -- The publisher provided me with an advance review copy. This post contains affiliate links. 

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

{I've Been Reading} The Violence

 

The Violence by Delilah S. Dawson 

Chelsea Martin is an  abused wife, walking on eggshells and only vaguely aware of the news stories, which started when a woman used a bottle of salad dressing to beat another shopper to death in a grocery store. Other brutal murders quickly follow. 

The Violence is absolutely chilling. After the Covid pandemic, another highly infectious virus appears, transmitted by mosquitos and causing its victims to lash out in a mindless rage, unaware of their own actions and not stopping until whatever bystander their rage was directed towards is dead. The book doesn't focus too much on how the virus work, focusing on Chelsea's family and their struggle to survive. The book contains some brutal, heartbreaking scenes. It's longer than most of the books I've been reading lately, but by the end I still wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to the characters.  


Disclosure -- The publisher of Violence sent me an advance review copy. I got 56 Days from my local library. This post contains affiliate links. 

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