Review: The Ivory Key (The Ivory Key #1) by Akshaya Raman

The Ivory Key (The Ivory Key Duology, #1)The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Ruler. The Rebel. The Prisoner. The Unhappy Brother?

The Ivory Key is a lush and exciting debut YA Fantasy novel that took my breath away. I absolutely loved this story and highly urge every YA Fantasy Reader to give it a shot.

The story is set in the kingdom of Ashoka where magic is a key resource. It’s used for many things, but one of its most important functions is protecting the kingdom from outside forces. It literally courses through the walls at their borders; shielding them.

As magic begins to run low, Vira, the young maharani of Ashoka, is barely holding it together trying to keep the kingdom from war. It seems their neighbors can sense weakness and are just biding their time before they make their move.

Vira needs to find a new source of magic. Their known mines are dry, although she isn’t telling anyone that officially.

She believes the answer may be to find the Ivory Key, a mysterious object of legend, that is said to hold the secret to a new source of magic.

Vira can’t do it alone, however, so she pairs up with her three estranged siblings, Ronak, Kaleb and Riya, for the search.

That’s right. We have a quest. There’s a map, hidden artifacts, dangerous enemies and cut-throat sibling rivalries. It has everything.

It was hard not to think a bit of Indiana Jones while reading this. That’s how fun it is. I loved the relationships among the characters. I felt like even though the story had a ton of action, I really got to know the characters as well. It had a nice balance.

From the very start I was hooked into this story. I loved how Raman introduced the Reader to all of the characters and built the world. The kingdom and its magic system are well laid out, but the narrative never felt info-dumpy.

The stakes for this story are high, with each character having their own interests and motivations. I never once lost interest in where this was going or what was going to happen.

I cannot wait for the continuation of this story. I am sort of sad that I’ll have to wait so long, but the good news is, I’ll have time to read this one again before the second book releases.

Oh yeah, it’s that good. Don’t let this one pass you by, y’all. Get your copy today!!!

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Review: Apart in the Dark by Ania Ahlborn

Apart in the Dark: NovellasApart in the Dark: Novellas by Ania Ahlborn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Apart in the Dark contains two chilling novellas from one of my favorite voices in the Horror space, Ania Ahlborn.

The first, The Pretty Ones is set in 1977, New York City and follows mousey underdog, Nell Sullivan.

Nell’s life is very contained. She lives in a dingy apartment with only her brother and a teddy bear for company. She goes to work and comes home; that’s about the extent of it.

At work, she is part of a secretarial pool where she is mostly ignored, but sometimes bullied, by the other girls. They’re pretty, polished and definitely look down on Nell. She doesn’t fit in.

It’s the Summer of Sam and a monster lurks in the city, murdering pretty girls. For once, Nell is happy to be flying so far under the radar. She’s clearly not the killer’s type.

When girls in her office start being killed, Nell begins to wonder if it is just a coincidence, or if it actually has something to do with her.

I liked this story. If I were rating it on its own, I would have given in 3-stars. It was subtle, but it did keep me interested.

There was one major reveal, which I felt was pretty clear from the start, so I wouldn’t say it was particularly suspenseful. However, it does display how great Ahlborn’s writing is. She can hold your interest even when not a lot is happening plotwise.

The atmosphere she created in this was very well done. It felt like 1977-NYC. It had texture and grit. I could picture everything in regards to Nell’s apartment, her commute, her workplace, the grime and desperation. I could feel it.

The second story, I Call Upon Thee was B-Horror on the page. It was great and for me, really amped up the pace in comparison with the first story.

Please keep in mind, when I say B-Horror, I do not say that with shade. I love B-Horror. The vibe of those movies is what this story brought me and frankly, I was living for it!

We have Maggie Olsen returning to her childhood home after the tragic death of her sister, Brynn.

This isn’t the first tragedy to strike the family. Both of Maggie’s parents have also passed away under mysterious circumstances at their house.

The narrative alternates between the present and the past, showing Maggie and Brynn’s relationship when they were kids and how some of their actions then may have actually shaped their present.

We have a local cemetery they like to visit, the legend of a dead girl, a creepy-ass porcelain doll and a Ouija board. What could go wrong, am I right!?

Basically, this story is a cornucopia of Horror elements that I love to see!!

This story was fast-paced, gripping and had some genuinely terrifying scenes. I really enjoyed this one. I would give it a 4.5-star if I were rating it individually. It was a very strong story for me, one I will remember for a long time to come.

I have had this book on my shelves for years. I am so happy that I finally made the time for it. I would definitely recommend this to Horror Lovers.

I think it perfectly showcases the range of Ahlborn’s writing; so well done!

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Review: Spells Like Teen Spirit (Babysitter Coven #3) by Kate Williams

Spells Like Teen SpiritSpells Like Teen Spirit by Kate Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Spells Like Teen Spirit is the third, and purportedly final book, in Kate Williams’ Babysitter Coven series.

This entire series is a ridiculous ball of laughs that is part Buffy the Vampire Slayer and part Adventures in Babysitting.

Although, I will say, as the series progressed, the whole babysitting angle sort of dropped off a cliff. Luckily, the rest of it more than made up for that slight change.

In this installment, we again follow teen witches, Esme and Cassandra, as they continue their fight against the forces of evil and try to discover a way to end Esme’s Mom’s curse, all while protecting the town from an evil rock band.

While I didn’t have quite as much fun with this one as I did with the second book, it was still cute and hilarious. Nothing could really beat the chickens in the hotel room from For Better Or Cursed.

I really enjoyed being back with this group of characters, especially the girls we were introduced to in the second book and a certain four-legged companion.

The audiobooks for this series are so well narrated; I definitely recommend them as a medium if you choose to check out these stories.

Williams has a consistently good sense of humor. Her 90s vibe and references gave me life throughout this series.

While I can see this as an ending, I sort of wish it weren’t. I think there is so much left to explore for Esme and the rest of this fun-loving group of characters. I mean, there are still demons out there, who is going to defeat them if not Esme and Cassandra?

I’m not ready for it to be over. C’mon, Kate Williams, I know you have more in you!!

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Review: The Appeal by Janice Hallett

The AppealThe Appeal by Janice Hallett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

After a member of a small local theater trope, The Fairway Players, is murdered, another member ends up imprisoned for the crime.

There’s reason to believe that the incarcerated person is actually innocent, however, but if they are, who is the murderer?

As the Reader, you are supplied with all of the documents a criminal researcher may use when studying this case. You have access to emails, text messages, etc., from all the major players.

They’re presented chronologically, so what you get is actually a fairly thorough picture of what has occurred among this interconnected group of characters; and what a group of characters they are.

Janice Hallett’s The Appeal is definitely a fun change of pace in the standard Murder Mystery genre.

The format was unique and well composed. I felt like I was getting a secret peek into these people’s lives that I shouldn’t have been having. A bit illicit, if you will.

With this being said, the mystery itself wasn’t super-engaging for me. Even when I found out who was murdered, I wasn’t particularly bothered by it, or really compelled to discover who did it.

There were a ton of shady players, involved in all sorts of super shady activities. I’m frankly surprised only one person ended up dead.

So, while I give the author top marks for thinking outside the box and getting super creative with her format, the story itself was just average for me.

I think it is a good book that a lot of Readers will enjoy, it just didn’t blow my hair back as I expected it to.

Thank you to the publisher, Atria Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity to provide my opinion.

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Review: The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Golden CoupleThe Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Avery Chambers is an unconventional therapist with a promise to cure your woes in just 10-sessions.

Hearing about Chambers from a friend, Marissa Bishop seeks Avery’s help to aide in repairing her damaged relationship with her husband, Matthew.

Marissa had one night of infidelity. She doesn’t dare tell Matthew on her own, therefore, Marissa saves her confession for their first session with Avery.

From all appearances, Marissa and Matthew are a golden couple, perfect in every way. They intrigue Avery and she is anxious to see how Matthew will react to Marissa’s secret.

Although angered, Matthew takes it surprisingly well and agrees to commit to Avery’s therapy to repair their relationship.

Thus, Avery’s treatment begins.

Alternating between Avery and Marissa’s perspectives, this novel pieces together the truth behind Marissa and Matthew’s marriage, while also providing a background for Avery’s character as well.

I enjoyed my time learning about all of these characters. They were all interesting and provided plenty of drama to keep my head spinning.

Overall, I would say this is a pretty straight-forward story, as far as Psychological Thrillers go, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

If you enjoy some rich people Domestic Drama, you should absolutely give this one a go. Personally, I’ve had great success with this author duo and I look forward to picking up anything else they may choose to write together.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Macmillan Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. As always, I appreciate the opportunity!

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Review: The New Girl by Jesse Q. Sutanto

The New GirlThe New Girl by Jesse Q. Sutanto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arriving at Draycott Academy, Lia Setiawan is thrust into a world she is completely unfamiliar with.

Draycott is a super prestigious private boarding school on the West Coast, one Lia can only attend due to the full-ride scholarship she has received to run track.

On the first day, Lia’s nerves seem to be getting the best of her. She is like a deer in the headlights amongst all the wealthy, confident Draycott students.

Track practice doesn’t get off to the best start either. The other girls seemed more threatened by Lia’s incredible speed, than they are happy to have a new teammate.

It doesn’t take long before heated words are exchanged and thinly-veiled threats bandied about.

Not all is a loss though. Lia does make a few friends, including a cute boy, Danny, who has a cultural background similar to her own. They share some sweet moments and for a bit, it seems like Draycott won’t be all bad.

Lia is never given the chance to get too comfortable in her new place, however. Through a rumor-style app known as Draycott Dirt, DD, Lia begins to be incessantly bullied by anonymous classmates.

It’s awful and unfortunately, doesn’t stop with online torment. Their hurtful comments and behavior continue into the classroom, with teachers doing nothing to stop it.

The whole school is a complicated, toxic mess, as far as Lia can tell. Even her English Lit teacher is corrupt. Lia suspects he is giving preferential treatment to certain students, while she is close to failing no matter how hard she works.

She needs to pass every class in order to keep her scholarship, but this guy is making it impossible!

The New Girl follows Lia through her tumultuous first days as a Draycott student. I’ll tell ya, there’s one hell of a learning curve to this Academy.

Y’all, this book had me transfixed. It is an absolutely bats#it crazy story, but man, did it keep me engaged!!! I had so much fun trying to figure out what exactly was going on in Draycott.

Sutanto has a great sense of humor, dry and a bit sarcastic, and even when tackling difficult topics that managed to shine through. There’s a lot going on in this narrative, but it never felt overly heavy or bogged down in details. It still felt fast-paced and intriguing.

There is a lot of intense depictions of bullying, so beware if that is something that could be triggering for you. It’s not for me and even I found it hard to swallow at times. It also explores wealth, privilege, classism, racism and addiction.

Even in its craziest moments, I was rooting for Lia the entire time. While I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all of her choices, I can appreciate she is just a teen trying to do her best under really difficult circumstances.

She was quite literally stuck between a rock and hard place. She never gave up and I loved that about her character. A lot of people would have thrown in the towel after being treated the way she was at Draycott, but not Lia. It just made her fight that much harder.

I would definitely recommend this book to people who go all in for over-the-top YA Mysteries. Sutanto’s got a style all her own and I’m definitely buying what she’s selling.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Sourcebooks Fire, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity!

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Review: The Accomplice by Lisa Lutz

The AccompliceThe Accomplice by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Luna and Owen are best friends and have been for well over a decade. Their bond runs incredibly deep, sometimes to the detriment of others in their lives.

From the outside looking in, people are often curious about how close the two are. Maybe it’s because people have a hard time gauging platonic relationships between a man and woman. It makes them suspicious.

Luna’s husband, Sam, and Owen’s wife, Irene, have learned to live with their bestie status. As neighbors, Luna and Owen are frequently getting together and sharing secrets, while their spouses are left behind.

They tell themselves they have an understanding; it’s just how their relationships are, but still, it doesn’t necessarily feel good.

Luna and Irene have established a friendship of their own, however, frequently visiting and even going for runs together.

One morning, Luna heads out to meet Irene for a run at their regular spot, she gets there only to find Irene dead. She’s been murdered!

Luna is shocked. Who would kill Irene? She immediately calls Owen. Yeah, before she calls the police, she calls Owen and he rushes to the scene.

As it turns out, Irene’s isn’t the first mysterious death Luna and Owen have been close to. A girl they knew in college once died under mysterious circumstances. They stood firmly together then as well.

Alternating between 2004/2005 and 2019, the Reader is introduced to the complexity of Luna and Owen’s relationship. The amount of drama they have been through together, as well as the depths they would go to in order to protect one another.

I found this book to be extremely interesting. Luna and Owen were both complex characters. While they seemed a bit aloof with most people, with one another, they were completely different.

They were so attached and enmeshed in each other’s lives. It was fascinating. They came from completely different worlds, but somehow it worked. They found something in each other that they both needed to come out of their shells; drop their walls.

Additionally, the narrative was such a twisted web. My word! Every single person was keeping secrets on some level.

I really enjoyed getting the investigator’s perspectives as well, who were looking into Irene’s death. That gave an extra look into Luna and Owen’s relationship from the outside. I thought that was a nice addition.

I was so happy with how this concluded. It left me with an evil little grin on my face and we all know, I love that!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Ballantine Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I had a lot of fun with this one. It will stick with me for a long time to come!

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Review: Black Tide by K.C. Jones

Black TideBlack Tide by K.C. Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beth is a bit of a hot mess and she’s the first one to admit it. She drinks a tad too much and has been known to flee in the face of responsibility; at least before.

Lately though, Beth has been turning things around. She’s been pet-sitting and feels like she is getting good at it. She’s even getting referred to new clients by happy patrons.

That’s how Beth ends up at a beach house on an empty stretch of the Oregon coast on the day the world ends.

She is staying with the best good dog, Jake, and all has been going well. She’s been spying a little bit on the man next door, but that’s to be expected, isn’t it?

He’s handsome, in a mysterious, scruffy sort of way. He seems lonely. Beth is all kinds of curious about this mystery man.

So, when she sees him drinking expensive champagne on his deck one evening, she heads over to introduce herself.

His name is Mike and he is a film producer. The two hit it off and spend the evening enjoying each other’s company in every way you can imagine.

That night, at Mike’s place, Beth doesn’t sleep well. Her drunken dreams are full of horrifying images that are still rattling around in her brain upon waking.

She finds Mike and Jake together on the beach. Apparently, Mike had gone to the dog’s rescue. Beth can’t believe she left Jake alone in the house next door overnight.

That’s what the booze can do; great decision-making, Beth.

Mike tells Beth all about the insane meteor shower he witnessed from the beach. There’s still evidence of the destruction it wrought. Plus, there’s the thing that he found.

The power is out, so they have no way of listening to any news. How wide spread was the event and what exactly was it?

They decide to drive up the beach and investigate where they believe one of the meteors actually struck. Maybe there will be someone around who knows more of what’s happening.

Black Tide is the most intense book I have read in a long time. Edge of your seat doesn’t even begin to describe it.

From that very first night, as the meteors start to fall, the tension begins. Driving down the beach the following day, they become stranded and the circumstances continue getting worse for the trio; yes, I am counting Jake.

The entire thing was a nail biter. I was yelling at the book, advising them what they should do: protect Jake at all costs!!

I love Sci-Fi Horror and I found this one to be incredibly fun. The concepts were unique, the character development was great and the build-up of intensity was fantastic.

It had such a claustrophobic feel. Oh My goodness, I am squirming even thinking about it!

I grew to really care for these characters. In particular, Beth and Jake. I felt like I was able to relate to Beth so much. It made the stakes feel a lot higher for me. I just wanted them to be safe.

I would definitely recommend this to any Horror Reader, but particularly to those who enjoy a lovely blend of Sci-Fi and Horror elements.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Nightfire, for providing me with a copy to read and review. Black Tide releases on May 10, 2022.

Be sure to add it to your Spring TBR!!

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Review: Such a Pretty Smile by Kristi DeMeester

Such a Pretty SmileSuch a Pretty Smile by Kristi DeMeester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Lila Sawyer, at 13-years old, is grappling with many things. One of the largest is coming to grips with her own sexuality. This issue is constantly at the forefront of her mind, but there are other things too.

Someone is taking and murdering girls in her area; girls that are about her age. Because of this her Mom, Caroline, has become really paranoid and strict about Lila’s whereabouts and movements.

It’s more than that though. It’s like her Mom knows something about what is going on and she’s keeping it, and her entire past, secret from Lila.

It appears that the killer, dubbed The Cur by media, has struck before. Lila hears her Mom talking about it; something about the past, about New Orleans.

Caroline Sawyer is a single-mom and successful artist, whose macabre sculptures composed of artifacts from nature, such as twigs and leaves, is heavily disturbed by the murders of the young girls.

She desperately wants to keep her daughter, Lila, safe. This monster has affected her life before and she can’t have it happen again.

Such a Pretty Smile follows the perspectives of both Lila and Caroline; Lila in 2019 and Caroline mainly in 2004. The narrative alternates until past and present slowly begin to merge into one horrifying showdown.

I really enjoyed this story. I found it to be wildly creative, brutal, bizarre and extraordinarily thought-provoking. DeMeester’s got a lot to say and she’s not afraid to say it.

She’s clearly not going to just be quiet and smile pretty. We’re here for it.

While I recognize this won’t necessarily be for every Reader, for me it was an impressive display of feminist Horror. The biting social commentary, my word, I doff my cap.

DeMeester’s writing is incredibly rich with dark, evocative imagery. I was essentially watching this entire story play out in my mind. I loved how she revealed certain aspects of Caroline’s past and how that played into their present.

This is the first that I have read from this author, although she has been on my radar for a while. I actually own a copy of her short-story collection, Everything That’s Underneath, and definitely plan to pick that up this year.

If you like dark, no-mercy stories, with vivid imagery and brain-rattling social commentary, you should absolutely give this one a shot!

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

This story will stay on my mind for a long time to come!

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Review: That Weekend by Kara Thomas

That WeekendThat Weekend by Kara Thomas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the hospital, Claire is scared and confused. What day is it? What happened to her?

The last thing she remembers was the Friday night she spent at her best friend Kat’s family lake house. Kat’s boyfriend, and Claire’s other BFF, Jesse, was there as well. They were skipping prom.

Initially, Claire’s boyfriend was supposed to be there too. The group had planned to go hiking on Saturday. It was going to be a whole thing, but then they broke up.

As you can tell, things are not going well for Claire. Well, they’re about to get worse.

As mentioned above, Claire has no memories of the hiking trip on Saturday, or how she got injured. She was found bloodied on a mountain trail by a lone hiker; he was able to get her to safety.

Unfortunately, no one has heard from Kat and Jesse. They’re missing and the last known person to see them was Claire. The police consider her to be a suspect.

She’s shocked, but what could the explanation be? Why would she have ever left them and headed down the mountain alone? Did they get in a fight?

That Weekend was one of my most anticipated YA Mysteries of 2021. I mean, it’s by the Queen, Kara Thomas. Who wouldn’t be excited?

I finished this over a week ago and I’m still not confident on my feelings about it. I love the premise, I love the setting and the initial set-up of the mystery.

For me though, the mystery itself, what was actually happening, the root of it all, I just wasn’t sold.

Don’t get me wrong, I generally love wild, over-the-top plot twists, but this just was not fun for me. I didn’t buy it. I didn’t like the twists and overall, I was disappointed, as I truly expected to love this.

I also found Claire’s perspective to be very, very bland. As a protagonist, she bored me. Just being honest, she did.

I feel like I would have preferred to be following anyone else; towards the end, you do get some of that, so that was a nice perspective shift.

With this being said, just because this wasn’t quite as great as I was expecting, don’t let that sway you from reading it.

I had incredibly high expectations for this one going in and honestly, I may have set myself up for disappointment.

This is still a good story, well written and fast-paced. I know a lot of Readers will love this one.

As far as Kara Thomas goes, she’s fantastic; super talented. My opinion matters not at all in comparison to all she has achieved. I love her ideas, style and creativity. I will absolutely continue to pick up anything else she writes. Trust!

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