We follow Ali, her fiancee Will and 4 of his oldest friends Rachel, Jack, Paige, and Noah, as they attend Ali and Will’s destination wedding in Portugal. Throughout the weekend, secrets will surface and threaten marriages and friendships. At the end of the trip, all of their lives will have changed forever.
I love Jones’s work and her characters. I slowly got to know them, but at the same time felt like I knew them forever. Each one had their unique personality and voice, and their entanglement was almost a character in itself.
The plot was intriguing and promising, so I am sad to say that the execution fell short for me. I’m shucking it to wrong expectations, though. I was expecting this to be a fast-paced, twisty, and turny, batshit crazy book. It was more of a slow-burning character-focused story than I had anticipated. My opinion is not on Sandie Jones, her narrative is compelling, and I will be picking up more of her books; I was just in the mood for more action.
I first read The Guilt Trip as an audiobook produced by Macmillan Audio and narrated by Clara Corbett. I really enjoyed her narration style; she delivered a well-paced story that made it easy for me to both follow the story and identify the characters. I look forward to reading more books narrated by her. With that said, I feel that The Guilt Trip would have worked better as full-cast audio.
All in all, I do recommend this book as a solid summer read, and I can’t wait to check Sandie Jones’s other novels.
The Lost Girl was my first Fear Street book, and man, am I hooked! I didn’t grow up reading R.L. Stine, but my son loves Goosebumps and is now starting to read the Fear Street series. Reading these books is something we both do together and, in my opinion, this series has a broad appeal – both him (9) and I enjoyed it equally.
In The Lost Girl, we follow Lizzy Palmer as she adjusts to life as the new girl at Shadyside High. Everybody is talking about her, and Michael is strangely drawn to her, even though his girlfriend. Peppa is not quite sure if they could trust Lizzy.
Things take a turn for the worse when a group of teens faces a horrible snowmobile accident, after which these friends start feeling like they are being haunted and in danger. Everyone thinks these hauntings and the casualty are related, but not Peppa. She is convinced Lizzy is behind everything.
We have a dual timeline, the present, and the 50s when a horrible murder occurred. As the story progresses, the connection between both timelines makes more and more sense.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Lost Girl as an audiobook produced by Macmillan Audio and narrated by Brittany Pressley and Dan Bittner. I listened to it with my son, who wanted to start listening to audiobooks. We both could easily follow the story. The pacing was phenomenal, and their chemistry was off the charts, which made for a seamless and enjoyable listen.
Just one more thing – I thought this story was going one way, but Stine took it somewhere else, and man, is he savage or what?!?! LOVED it!
My total rating: 4.83
Til death do them part
When Caitlin met Blade, it was love at first sight – to the point of obsession. She is head over heels with him, even though her friends warn her to take it slow and be cautious. One day Caitlin sees him with another girl; the next thing she knows is that he is dead, and it seems like she killed him. But how could it be if she doesn’t remember it?
I first listened to The Dead Boyfriend and an audiobook produced by Macmillan Audio for St. Martin’s Griffin and narrated by Brittany Pressley. This is my second Fear Street audiobook, and I can’t imagine anyone else narrating these books. Pressley is dynamic, does a great job giving unique voices to each character, and emotes tension and suspense superbly.
I am falling in love with Stine’s books. They are the right amount of outlandish creepiness, and his world-building is impressive. I feel I’m starting to get to know Fear st. and Shadyside High really well. The Dead Boyfriend was a crazy ride. I am quickly learning that to enjoy Stine’s books, you need to suspend disbelief, and I am OK with it – but for some reason, the central premise of this book is more out there than I anticipated. That being said, the atmosphere more than made up for it. This book was scary (for a younger audience) and very suspenseful.
My total rating: 4.66
How far would you go to get what you want?
In Give Me a K-I-L-L we follow new girl Heather as she hopes to get into Shadyside High cheerleading squad. Without knowing, she is starting a feud with an entitled rich girl, Devra, who is used to get what she wants, and right now, she wants in the squad.
I thoroughly enjoyed Give Me a K-I-L-L – the characters leaped off the page, the tension between Heather and Devra was palpable. I couldn’t put it down. The cherry on top was all the twists Stine added to the story.
This has been my favourite Fear Street Relaunch book to date. Both the story and the audiobook production by Macmillan Audio from St. Martin’s Griffin. I highly recommend this audiobook to anyone. It is the perfect gateway to listening to the Fear Street books. I dare you not to get hooked and want to binge as many FS audiobooks as you can after listening to Give Me a K-I-L-L. I am officially going through withdrawal from Pressley’s voice right now. (in my opinion) She is to Fear Street Audiobooks what Lani Minella was to Nancy Drew games.
Disclaimer: I first read these books as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Macmillan Audio, St. Martin’s Griffin, and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of The Lost Girl, The Dead Boyfriend and Give Me a K-I-L-L.
We meet Miranda, whose life has seen better days. The adage is true – it is pouring for our girl right now: After a horrible accident, her acting career is gone with the wind, her marriage is done, her back pain is here to stay, as is her painkiller addiction. All she has left is her job as a college theater director, but even that is starting to get wet!
Miranda feels that if only she can have a good run of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, things will be alright. But her cast has other things in mind and gang up on Miranda, demanding Macbeth instead.
These poor souls don’t know what they have started because “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” followed their lead and is now “It will have blood, they say: blood will have blood.”
That’s not all their choice of play manifested – three strange benefactors who seem to know everything about Miranda show up in her life with promises of the future she feels she deserves: one in which she gets her play, her students get their dues, her invisible pain no one believes in, is made known. It seems like things might end well for Miranda after all. Or will something wicked her way come?
The book through my criteria lens:
All’s Well narrative is over descriptive and overdramatic. Still, it reads as an intentional choice that gives the story its atmosphere by building on the theatre vibes, and it puts the reader in Miranda’s state of mind with all its artistic flair.
Miranda’s is not an easy state of mind to be in, but oh, is she compelling! She pulls you in from the get-go and gives you no choice to walk away. Not that you’d want to anyway. Her inner world is like one of those horrible accidents where people want to look away but can’t help staring instead. Miranda’s PoV is dark, claustrophobic, and full of angst. But you feel that tiny light of hope fighting to flicker, and that’s exactly the thing to which you hold on. Her energy shifts as the story unfold, taking you right with her. It was fantastic. So weird. It’s like Awad bewitched the book!
The character work and atmosphere were flawless, in my opinion. All’s Well was a book I simply couldn’t put down and read in two days. Usually, I feel the need to take breaks from books this emotionally charged, as I get right into the character’s head, but this book is so magnetic that I couldn’t stop thinking about it whenever I wasn’t reading it.
The only thing that kept me from giving it 5 stars was that it took me a few chapters to get into the flow because of the perspective.
My personal feelings:
All’s Well was a crazy ride, a perfect homage to Shakespeare while keeping its unique voice. It is innovative, fresh, fascinating, and a little scary.
The third act was a wild, crazy, heart-pounding rollercoaster. Plan to read it in one go because it is a succession of WTF moments in the best possible way.
I can’t wait to see what Mona comes up with next. WOW!
Out of the 160 people who boarded the plane, only 8 survived the crash. Dubbed “The Lucky Eight” by the media, their lives were forever changed that day. Each year, to honour the occasion and lives lost, the survivors meet on the anniversary of that fatidical day. On their 5th reunion, one of them is found dead. His death is suspicious enough, but when a second survivor is found days later clearly stabbed, detective Rachel Lewis wonders if the survivors are being targeted.
I think that The Lucky Eight is a solid, entertaining book. Unfortunately, one of my literary pet peeves is when a character throws on the reader’s face that they are privy to important information but doesn’t share it. I feel this takes away my opportunity to solve the puzzle fairly. This happened quite a few times in this book and by more than one character. I found the repeated mention of a character’s secret off-putting. I get it’s hard to imply a character is hiding something without revealing it. But dangling it in front of the reader so explicitly affected my enjoyment. If this doesn’t bother you, you are going to love this book. The Lucky Eight is a page turning surprising thriller.
On a random note, what I enjoyed in The Lucky Eight was Bugler’s choice to make the investigation real. Rachel read as a real detective facing real hurdles. There was time pressure for her to solve the crime, as there would be in real life, but I appreciated that the author chose not to rush the narrative and kept each day’s events accurate. #ItsTheLittleThings
Jaimie and Kit are commuter friends; they take the same ferry and sit next to each other every day. They chat and bond, so when Kit doesn’t show up one day, Jaimie thinks it’s strange but thinks nothing more of it. But when he gets off at his stop, the police are waiting for him.
Kit’s wife, Melia, reported him missing, and another passenger says that both men had a heated argument the night before. Jaimie tells the police that the witness is lying, Kit and him are friends, and his wife can vouch. But who was this other passenger, and what exactly do they know?
The book through my criteria lens:
What first grabbed my interest was Candlish’s prose and character work. I utterly enjoyed the early dialogues between Jamie and Clare. The banter put a permanent smile on my face, and they got me thinking #relationshipgoals at first glance. As their relationship comes crumbling, to me, it became clear that Clare is the #goal. She was the reason the relationship worked, and honestly, I want to be like her when I grow up!
She is such a strong, multidimensional character. She is strong in her sense of self and lives her emotions with the confidence of a person who knows who they are and loves the skin they are in. Where most characters shone, Kit was lacking a little. I wish I had known more of him. His thoughts and motivations weren’t prevalent in the story, and then I realized that his disappearance had so many moving parts that the reader was privy to what mattered. But in a novel with so few characters, I prefer when I get to know all of them equally.
The Other Passenger is one of those books with a plot that might not be the most original and is familiar enough for the reader to know they’d enjoy it, but the execution nails it out of the park. In my opinion, Candlish delivered the perfect thriller – fast-paced, enthralling, it’s the book you can’t put down, and the tension is high from the beginning to the end. I felt like I was in a car in the fast lane, and the driver would pull amazing tricks every time I was getting too comfortable with the journey.
My personal feelings:
I loved how we started with the police interview and know nothing about the crime or the characters. You feel the author dropped some golden nuggets, but anything can be a red herring without context. It might not be for everyone, but it made this puzzle-loving reader very excited! After this great opening chapter, we are left on a cliffhanger as we are thrown back into the past when Kit and Jamie met. From then on, we get this dual timeline until we get the whole picture.
I’m always iffy when we get a single narrator because if they are unreliable, it gives my chair detective winning streak a run for its money. Jamie was the perfect narrator choice, in my opinion. I wanted to suspect him and did try to guess if he was unreliable, but he was just so pathetic that I often caught myself thinking of him as a victim too! Candlish’s character work is amazing! I already have other books of hers lined up because I can’t get enough of her style!
We follow Ilmarsh detective Nichols and Forensic Veterinarian Cooper as they called in when a farmer finds the heads of sixteen horses buried on his property. Each head posed with a single eye facing the low winter sun. They soon discover a pathogen within the soil, and many of those at the crime scene gets ill.
The little town is sent into panic and paranoia when a series of crimes follow the murder of the horses, and the detectives find themselves in a race to uncover the truth before things get worse.
I first read Sixteen Horses as an audiobook produced by Macmillan Audio from Flatiron Books and narrated by Louise Brealey. Not only is she one of my favourite narrators, I feel that she was the absolute best choice to tell this story. She is exceptionally talented, and her voice has this comforting quality. I am not sure I would have finished the book as fast if I was reading it. It would have taken me weeks, but her voice softened some of the darkness. Sixteen Horses is triggering, and her impeccably paced narration was a perfect balance. She managed to convey the grittiness of the story but alleviated a lot of the discomfort I would have felt if I was reading it with “my eyeballs.”
I had to take a break from the book a couple of times because animal abuse is a significant part of the plot. Sixteen Horses is a heavy read. That being said, it is honest about it. I knew what I was getting into, as should anyone who reads the synopsis. I recommend readers have a strategy lined up to balance out the darkness, though. For this reason, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have; there are too many triggers for me. I could compartmentalize the animal abuse, but I feel the other triggers could have been avoided.
I am always fair in my reviews, so even though Sixteen Horses was too gruesome for me, Buchanan’s prose and character work were superb, as was the way he built the tension, atmosphere, and sense of foreboding. There was nothing happy in this book, but Greg’s writing is so compelling, I will pick up his next book (after looking up trigger warnings, though.)
Overall, This book is freaking dark. There are so many trigger warnings, and I highly suggest you check them. With that said, Buchanan delivered an intense, tightly plotted, suspenseful thriller that reads like a horror. If you can stomach dark narratives easily, you will freaking love Sixteen Horses.
Ivy is pretty lonely, vulnerable, and sad. All she wants is to belong and to be part of a family. Her prayers are answered when Kate mysteriously appears in her life, claiming to be her long-lost sister, and invites Ivy to come to stay in her cottage so they can get to know each other… Her isolated cottage. Ivy goes in and never comes out. The book promises us Ivy is the first, but not last!
The book through my criteria lens:
A Gingerbread House was one of my most anticipated 2021 books, and it did not disappoint. McPherson’s prose is so engaging. I just couldn’t put the book down. I needed to know what was going on! I feel it’s a book to go in blind as the story unravels slowly – kind of like one of those pixel puzzles that the image starts blurry and gets clearer as it goes.
I do have to say that most characters were well developed. It’s hard to name them and not spoil the book, but I am impressed with Catriona’s character work. I think that is why I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get more of Kate and Gail’s background.
The solution also got me conflicted. Usually, I care a lot about fairness, and A Gingerbread’s House wrap-up had some information previously not disclosed to the reader. Somehow, though, I did not mind. Since we knew the antagonist, I didn’t care much about the why as long as someone stopped them! For this reason alone, I will be picking up more books by the author. She made me not care about my number one pet peeve! I thoroughly enjoyed this book—bonus point for a primarily female cast of characters, including the serial killer.
My personal feelings:
I am putting in the release date of my copy. I thought A Gingerbread House had been released on July 1, but now it says August 3, 2021. Either way, I find this will make a great summer read.
I was surprised by this book. I will admit that I was confused about the Tasha chapters. In the beginning, they felt disjointed. Halfway through the book, the stories interconnect organically, and everything comes together. I will be lying if I didn’t admit that I loved the Fairytale Cottage chapters way more, though! Kate was a fascinating character, as was everyone who ended up falling for her trap. (Won’t name them all because, again, it might spoil the book).
Even though I felt like the end was a bit rushed, I enjoyed it at the same time. McPherson tied up all the loose ends and offered a tightly closed book. There is still a part of me that wants to see Tasha again, despite knowing this is a standalone book!
Aaron’s life is turned upside down when his wife, Allison, is killed. Missing her and still sensing her presence, Aaron is shocked to find a receipt for a motel room when he is sorting her belongings. He is determined to follow the trail and find out what Allison was hiding from him and why.
His investigation will take him on a path of danger and dark secrets. Will the truth bring him closer to Allison or make him realize he never had her at all?
The book through my criteria lens:
I first read Come with Me as an audiobook produced by Tantor Audio and narrated by Joe Hempel. I was delighted with this production. Hempel was the perfect choice for this book. His narration added so much depth and life to Aaron and the story. I felt the pacing was excellent, and the narrating style was very compelling. I also appreciate that the way Hempel told the story was easy to follow and focus on. I listened to it every second I was free until it was done.
This is my first Malfi book, and what a punch in the face his writing was! I mean that in the best possible way. Now and then, you will read a genre book and feel every word written, breathe at each comma and bask in the literary sun you were just gifted with while being extremely entertained by the story. Such was my experience with Come with Me. The character work was superbly done, and the way we followed the story as Aaron shares his journey with Allison’s ghost/memory made me feel like I was immersed and invested in the outcome. It felt like being in both Allison and Aaron’s shoes, and oh boy, was that an emotional ride!
I have no words to describe how fantastic this book is. Speechless.
My personal feelings:
Aaron’s grief really touched me. His journey for closure, juggling the fear that it will end with realizing he didn’t know Allison, and the hope that he will honour her by completing a mission that consumed her life, was absolutely relatable and touching.
Grief is a big part of my life, and the way Malfi handled it through Aaron was authentic, compelling, and emotional. And I think this visceral, raw, and vulnerable depiction is what kept me from thoroughly enjoying myself while reading this book.
I am no genre expert, but Come with Me read more like a dark psychological thriller than a horror. Maybe I was so connected to Aaron and his grief that I overlooked the horror – grief tends to blur other feelings around it. At least it does to me. Regardless of how this book is marketed, it is an excellent read.
When I first started reading Come with Me, I thought it would go in a direction I didn’t want to go. I was so happy when it didn’t. There are no flaws in Malfi’s telling of Come with Me. With this one book, I have become a fan, and he became an auto-buy. I will be binging on his other books and highly recommend this to everyone!
Paulina is the titular newcomer on a small Australian island. After uprooting her whole life and moving to Fairfolk Island, Paulina has spent the past two days finding happiness and throwing it away. She was well known on the island for her antics and erratic behaviour, but that didn’t stop her from making friends who cared for her. Judy visits to celebrate her daughter’s 30th birthday, but Paulina is murdered before she gets the chance.
In a place where outsiders are frowned upon, and islanders protect each other, Judy will fight to make sure her daughter’s killer is brought to justice.
The book through my criteria lens:
I had to adjust my expectations not long into the book. Based on the description, I was expecting a fast-paced, intense thriller. The Newcomer reads more like a contemporary/character study. The mystery is there, but the focus is on the victim and her mother’s grief. The characters were so well-drawn, and the atmosphere was so compelling that I had no problem adjusting my expectations and enjoying the book.
Even though it is not typically what I go for, Woollett’s prose is stunning. The focus of the book is Paulina, the victim, and her mess of a life. She is such an interesting character – not likable at all, but at the same time so vulnerable and sad. If I am honest, though, I wish that the focus on the murdered had been more significant.
I fell in love with the way Woollett described Fairfolk and its inhabitants. I knew nothing about life in small Australian Islands, and the way Woollett described the setting and the culture of the place was so vivid, it felt tangible.
My personal feelings:
Woollett did not waste any time introducing the reader to Paulina, Judy, and their relationship. In the first chapter, we get a clear feeling for who they are. Paulina is a force, and as such, she leaps through the page. She is one of the most real characters I have met. She is complex, intense, vibrant, annoying, magnetic, and detestable.
Through flashbacks, we slowly learn how much of a mess Paulina really is. She seemed to be on a very destructive path of binge drinking and self-sabotaging. She always tried so hard to rub people the wrong way, as if she was terrified of being vulnerable and being rejected. She seems to favour projecting an unbearable version of herself- it’s easier to be rejected or disliked for something you know you can change than to risk people not liking who you are. Leading this life took its toll on Paulina, though. Unspeakable things happened to her, and she never took the time to fight back because she believed she deserved it. Her downward spiral got dark fast.
My heart broke for Judy the whole way through. Even though Paulina treated her like garbage, yet she returned it with nothing but kindness. She was a great mother and wanted nothing more than happiness for her daughter. As a mother, I cannot imagine what it must feel like to know that while you were so angry with them, your child was killed. Judy dealt with it much better than I would.
Some people win the life lottery; Paulina lost hardcore. Self-fulfilling prophecy and self-destruction tendencies made it impossible for her to be happy – she looked for misery and found it until her bitter end.
Grace and Ryan have been married for six months and planned to go on their honeymoon for their first anniversary as money is tight! Out of the blue, Ryan surprises Grace with this Cabin in the woods he found and thought it’d be the perfect getaway for them. Grace is apprehensive as she isn’t sure if she knows her husband that well, but is ultimately thrilled.
Their first day is perfect! Until things are not – starting with a note left on their doormat that says, “She’s dead, you’re next.”
Ryan starts gaslighting Grace, saying she’s overreacting and doesn’t need to go to the cops. What does Grace do? Tell Ryan that she has known his secret for a while and will keep it forever. Before they know it, things escalate, and it’s clear someone is out to get them. Ryan remains calm, but Grace is starting to panic. I mean, wouldn’t you?
I will preface my opinion by saying that maybe it is because I am a heartless private person who gets uncomfortable with a highly affectionate display of intimate feelings. I show my emotions in actions more than words. For that reason, I was let down by Ryan and some of the dialogues; in parts, the conversations were onedimensional, so affectionate, and felt like one person was writing them all – I can’t explain it well, but it’s like when characters have their unique voice, a reader feel like it’s the character speaking and not the author putting words in their mouth! I do not mean to diss the author, because overall I had a lot of fun reading this book. I think it’s a matter of expectation and preference; I was expecting a grittier, darker thriller. Just Married read lighter (which is not bad) like it could be a Hallmark movie. I feel this would be great for Cozy Mysteries fans who want to start reading darker thrillers.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the positives, shall we? First of all, what a solid first chapter! The tension and suspense were also so well done throughout the book. Most of all, Modglin played fair with her solution, which you all should know by now is my number one thing when reading mysteries. The book was well-plotted, and other than dialogues in some of Ryan’s and Grace’s chapters, the writing was terrific. We have a third POV in some chapters (like the first), and I felt that the author’s strength really shone in them. I wish more of that narrative style could be found throughout the book.
Just married is a fast-paced page-turner that I feel many people will love.