Review: If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier

If I DisappearIf I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

With a story as strangely compelling as its cover, If I Disappear, is perfect for Readers who prefer an unconventional narrative.

After her divorce, Sera Fleece is a boat adrift. She spends her days listening to, and obsessing over, her favorite True Crime podcast, Murder, She Spoke.

When the podcast’s host, Rachel Bard, suddenly stops posting, Sera doesn’t take it well.

In fact, she suspects foul play is behind Rachel’s sudden disappearance from the air waves.

Further, Sera believes, armed with clues left within the podcast episodes, she will be able to find Rachel and possibly save her.

With this in mind, she travels to Rachel’s hometown, Happy Camp, in Northern California to investigate.

Once there, she is able to locate Rachel’s family ranch and secure a job through one conversation with Rachel’s greatly eccentric mother, Addy. Her duties will include working with the horses and general maintenance around the ranch; two things she’s not necessarily qualified for.

Doubts aside, Sera sees this as the best opportunity to delve into Rachel’s life and possibly discover what happened to her.

The strangest part is, no one else seems to be disturbed by Rachel’s disappearance. Not her parents, her brother, the other ranch hand, or any of her previous acquaintances in town.

Sera is able to make some progress and soon it is clear, something is not right with the Bard family.

Even though she realizes she is putting herself in danger, Sera cannot leave without solving the mystery. She is the only person left to advocate for Rachel.

While the content of this story is extremely intriguing, the writing style did not work that well for me. I never settled into the fact that it is told in the second person.

I wish it wasn’t, but honestly, I can’t imagine it otherwise. I think it just didn’t work for my taste.

I definitely needed to keep going. I wanted to find out the mystery of Rachel’s disappearance as much as Sera did; even though Sera, as a protagonist, drove me a little batty.

Some of the elements involved in building the mystery seemed off for me, but overall it is a good story. It’s tense and dramatic, with a whole host of suspicious characters, including Sera herself.

Additionally, there is some solid commentary in here on the treatment of girls and women within our society. I found that aspect interesting as well.

Overall, this is a solid debut and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future. I would absolutely pick up more stories from her.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

If I Disappear is slated to release on Tuesday, January 26th!!

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Review: The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis

The Initial Insult (The Initial Insult, #1)The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Tress Montor and Felicity Turnado were best friends when they were younger. Not anymore.

Now in high school, Tress has an ax to grind with Felicity. She wants some answers to a long-standing mystery and she believes Felicity has them.

When the girls where in the fourth grade, Tress’s parents disappeared late one night while driving Felicity home from their house.

Felicity was found bruised and bleeding at the side of the road, but the Montors were never seen again.

After that, Tress loses her life as she knew it. With no parents, and no one else to claim her, she is forced to live with her drunken grandfather at what the locals call the ‘white trash zoo’.

There are animals that Tress helps to feed and care for. A zebra, an ostrich, an alligator, a panther, among other things. Life is hard.

Tress is not cared for as a child should be and becomes a social pariah at school. Literally abandoned by the entire town, she has no one to advocate for her.

Felicity feels guilty for all that has happened to Tress. Part of her wants to comfort and care for her ex-best friend, but she doesn’t dare. What would people think?

Felicity keeps her true thoughts tucked deep inside her, like she’s been taught, all whilst exuding that Queen Bee attitude that everyone expects.

She’s rich, beautiful, popular and has a secret way to suppress her negative thoughts.

Tress has had enough of it all, so she develops a plan to get the answers she seeks.

It involves a crowded costume party at a deserted house, a coal chute, a lot of bricks and mortar. Felicity is going to talk, one way or another. Tress has nothing to lose.

Alternating between Tress and Felicity’s perspectives, this novel follows the girl’s friendship from the start, to the present, and through various stages in between.

Both girls keep a lot of things to themselves. There is anger, guilt and plenty of low self esteem to go around.

This story is extremely heavy. There is a ton of baggage between these two girls. Even when they aren’t the ones doing things to one another, they are there to bear witness.

They’ve been intertwined in one another’s lives for a long time. As a reader, you can feel the weight of that history. It’s almost tangible.

I found this entire storyline unique and completely engaging. Once I started reading, I could not put this down.

It’s just so well written. I know that this story will not be for everyone, but I think the people who are going to enjoy it, are REALLY going to enjoy it.

McGinnis was not afraid to go dark and stay there. There is not one moment of lightness in this novel and I was here for it.

I cannot believe how this one ended up. The final few scenes, my word.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I really, really enjoyed this and cannot wait to see how this duology turns out!!!

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Review: Tristan Strong Destroys the World by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan Strong Destroys The World (Tristan Strong, #2)Tristan Strong Destroys The World by Kwame Mbalia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tristan Strong Destroys the World was my most anticipated Middle Grade novel of 2020.

I had so much fun reading Kwame Mbalia’s debut, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, last year. I fell in love with Tristan, as well as Mbalia’s wit and compelling writing style.

I was blown away by the fact that it was a debut. The quality of the story, as well as the world-building, were top notch.

The Tristan Strong series is published by the Rick Riordan Presents imprint.

If you aren’t aware, this imprint is focused on publishing novels that allow Middle Grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds tell stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their heritage.

I have read many of the books published through this imprint and I must say, each and every one has been absolutely fantastic.

If you are sleeping on the Rick Riordan Presents books, I highly encourage you to give one a try. There is truly something for every Reader among the releases.

My biggest observation of Mbalia’s writing is that he writes with HEART.

Tristan is such a well-imagined character. I absolutely adore his perspective, his humor and the many admirable qualities he is developing as he grows through the adventures held within these pages!

In this second installment, Tristan is forced back to Alke, the magical land of African Gods and African American folk heroes, after his beloved Nana is stolen away by a mysterious villain out for revenge.

There he is reunited with many old friends from the first book, including my favorite, the dynamic Gum Baby.

As with the first book, this installment offers up nonstop action and humor.

I was biting my nails in anticipation, while simultaneously laughing at Tristan’s thoughts or witty dialogue.

This book ended with a lot still at stake. I am so excited for the third book. It honestly cannot come soon enough.

If you haven’t checked out this series yet, now is the perfect time to do so. Tristan Strong Destroys the World is releasing October 6th, so you have just enough time to get in the first book before its release!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I appreciate it so much and also appreciate the thought and dedication that goes into this entire imprint.

I have been exposed to so many new myths and legends from cultures around the world through RRP and for that, I am truly grateful!

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Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

To Sleep in a Sea of StarsTo Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Originally, I was planning to give To Sleep in a Sea of Stars 4.5-stars and round up.

After having some time to reflect on my reading experience, however, I can give this nothing but 5-stars. I CANNOT STOP thinking about it.

This novel is quite the accomplishment for Paolini. If I am remembering the Author’s Note correctly, he worked on this project for nine years and it shows; as close to perfection as you can get.

In the beginning of the story, we meet and follow Kira Navarez, a xenobiologist, who discovers an alien relic while on a survey mission to an uninhabited planet.

The relic isn’t as dormant as it first appears and ends up contaminating and binding with Kira. This event has lasting repercussions, leaving her feeling responsible for some negative events that follow.

This is a story of first contact. I wasn’t aware of that going in, although it says it directly in the synopsis, I missed it somehow.

I love first contact stories. It’s actually one of my favorite subgenres of Science Fiction. It is so well done here, you can definitely tell that Paolini is a Sci-Fi fan himself.

This story is so vast, it is hard to give brief plot points that would sum up the entirety of this novel’s scope. There is so much that happens from the first time Kira comes in contact with the alien suit to the stunning conclusion.

Reading this, I became so attached to her and the other characters as well. The crew that Kira travels with, defending the Universe, are the perfect rag-tag group of lovable rebels.

I loved how Paolini incorporated humor and witty banter into this story. It made the characters seem so real; they were reacting how you expect people in real life to react to such crazy and dire circumstances.

I was so engaged throughout my time reading this. It did not feel like a close to 900-page story. I got through it way more quickly than I had anticipated.

I would note this is straight-up, good old-fashioned Science Fiction. If you are thinking this will be more SFF, based on Paolini’s past works, you could be disappointed.

If you do not normally enjoy Science Fiction, you may not like this. If you are a fan of Sci-Fi though, you will eat this up. The delicious science bits are woven throughout. Start-to-finish, the details are incredible.

Also, if you do pick this book up, be sure to read through the Appendices at the end. There’s definitely a lot of interesting supplemental material there.

My favorite being a timeline of events that lead up to the world as we find it at the beginning of the story. It basically fills in the blanks between our current world through Kira’s time. It’s not very long, but I found it to be a thoughtful addition to the story.

The audiobook is fantastic as well, if you think that would be a good option for you. At first, I was thinking, why didn’t they go full cast, as there are quite a few characters. After getting into it, however, I never thought of it again.

The narrator, Jennifer Hale, did an absolutely tremendous job bringing this story to life. She is such talented voice artist and I was shocked to learn that this is actually her first audiobook. Talk about coming out swinging!

I am going to be thinking about this story for a long time to come and would love to read it again someday.

Highly, highly recommend!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Books, for providing me with both an e-book and audiobook copy of this release to read and review.

I had so much fun with this story and hope Paolini continues to write Science Fiction for a long time to come!

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Review: Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

Night of the MannequinsNight of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Delightfully brutal and mentally horrific.

Jumping into this Stephen Graham Jones novella, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

To be honest, I never even read the synopsis. I see his name and immediately pick books up. It’s a compulsion.

Night of the Mannequins follows Sawyer and his group of childhood friends when a prank goes horribly wrong.

Disguising a discarded mall mannequin as a patron at the local movie theater seemed like the perfect way to get back at the stuffy assistant manager, who happened to recently punish the friend group for sneaking into a movie unpaid.

What starts off as a fairly innocent prank, however, turns more deadly than this group of teens could have ever imagined and it seems Sawyer is the only one with a plan to limit the destruction.

First, let me just swoon for a bit over how much I love SGJ’s writing. I promise not to let it go on for too long.

The style is edgy AF, yet feels like classic horror all the same. I love the humor and witty dialogue that he is able to bring to such dark tales.

Also, his books always go there, all the way to the deepest, darkest crevices of the human mind. It’s weird. It’s powerful. It’s freaking disturbing.

With this being said, I was really into this novella, loving everything about it until about the 70% mark.

Then I started feeling lost. While I understand the ending, some of the choices of events leading up to the ending didn’t seem to fit. It made the ending seem a little abrupt and disjointed for me.

Overall though, this novella is fantastic. You cannot deny the level of creativity it takes to write a story like this.

One that leads you in one direction, flips that on its head and then smacks you in the face with a healthy dose of depressing reality.

Sawyer is a very special protagonist. One whose inner thoughts will stick with me for a while.

I would highly recommend this to any horror fan or any person who just enjoys a bizarre tale.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I was really looking forward to more SGJ and this did NOT disappoint!

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Review: His & Hers by Alice Feeney

His & HersHis & Hers by Alice Feeney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first Alice Feeney novel!!!

And, yeah, I can definitely see what all the fuss is about.

This gripping, Adult Thriller, follows three perspectives: his, hers and a mystery individual, that could be him, it could be her or it could be some completely unrelated individual.

Intrigued yet?

Here is what I can tell you, the her of this equation is BBC-television reporter, Anna Andrews.

Anna was such an interesting character. I loved reading from her perspective. She’s far from perfect and she’s pretty honest about all of that with the reader.

The him is none other than Anna’s ex-husband, intrepid-Blackdown DCI, Jack Harper.

Jack also was a great perspective to read from. You can tell he is a man with a lot of wounds just trying to do his best anyway he can. You can also tell he still carries a spark for Anna.

When Anna gets sent to Blackdown to report on a recent homicide, Jack is surprised to spot her on his crime scene.

Until very recently, Anna had been working in-studio, reporting the mid-day news, not trotting around in the field. Unfortunately for Anna, that cushy position was nabbed back by her colleague returning from maternity leave.

Their brief reunion doesn’t go well. Jack is much closer to this case than he’s letting on and the last thing he needs is his ex digging around.

Thinking this is an isolated incident, Jack is hoping Anna will just return to London, but the killer has other plans.

Soon, more bodies are dropping and Anna seems to have a connection with all of the victims. Could she be next?

The alternating perspectives were such a great way to watch this story unfold. My mind was spinning trying to piece together what was happening and who the mystery perspective was.

I thought that was super clever. There were moments when I thought that mystery perspective was every single character I had met thus far.

My earliest inclination of who it was, was incorrect and I was glad. Feeney played me and I love that!

There were a couple of plot points I found to be slightly confusing and one of the red herrings I thought was implausible and unnecessary, but a lot of other readers may disagree with me.

My slight criticisms are totally personal preference and nothing to do with the author, or her skill at weaving an intriguing tale.

As you learn more about the victims, and their connections with Anna, that was my favorite part.

Some truly terrible things had happened in Anna’s village and I definitely think she was in the right to leave it far behind. Regrettably, we all know buried secrets seldom stay buried.

If you are looking for an intense, fast-paced read to pick up this summer, you should definitely give His & Hers a shot! I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Flatiron Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I had a blast and really appreciate getting to it early.

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Review: Murder, She Wrote: The Murder of Twelve by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land

The Murder of Twelve (Murder She Wrote #51)The Murder of Twelve by Jessica Fletcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Channeling heavy, And Then There Were None vibes, The Murder of Twelve, the 51st book in the beloved Murder, She Wrote series, brings almost everything I love in a Cozy Mystery to the table.

This was ridiculously good fun and kept me glued to the pages well into the night!

In this installment, we find Jessica Fletcher calling the Hill House Hotel in Cabot Cover her home.

Her house is currently under repairs and she has been making due at the ritzy local hotel.

On the eve of the blizzard of a century, guests begin to check in for a destination wedding weekend.

Jessica has her doubts that the wedding will even be able to happen, what with the massive storm front blowing in. Nonetheless, she ends up befriending some of the guests and even gets invited to attend.

The first night includes the rehearsal dinner and even though the bride and groom have yet to show, the dinner will go on.

Jessica dutifully attends and as with many events she has attended before, an attempted murder occurs.

As the storm rages outside, bodies start dropping as fast as snowflakes and Jessica needs to put her crime solving abilities to the test!

This was an absolute blast to read. As you begin to learn about the guests for the wedding, you just know it is going to be a juicy conclusion. It did not disappoint.

While I could still tell that this wasn’t written by the late and great, Donald Bain, I felt that the new author for the series, Jon Land, is starting to get into a groove with these characters and setting.

Land is an experienced author and I know the more he contributes with this series, the more it will continue to grow with him.

I know that long-time fans of this series will absolutely enjoy this installment.

If you have never read a book in this series, just know, you can start anywhere. These books can be read out of order and this is as good a place to start as any!

Also, if you like a good old-fashioned, locked-room mystery, you should absolutely check this one out.

Bonus points, if you love stories where the characters become stranded somewhere due to inclement weather. Oddly specific, but it is a trope I gravitate towards often!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Publishing, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I have been a fan of this series for decades and will continue to read them as long as they are printed. A special thank you as well, to the author, Jon Land, for continuing on the tradition and investigatory prowess of Ms. Jessica Fletcher!

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Review: Star Wars Queen’s Peril by E.K. Johnston

Queen's Peril (Star Wars)Queen’s Peril by E.K. Johnston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Queen’s Peril, when it releases on June 2, 2020, will be the newest addition to the Disney Star Wars Canon.

The events in this novel take place after the events of Master and Apprentice and just before the film, The Phantom Menace.

In fact, to my surprise, the last quarter of the book runs parallel to The Phantom Menace.

It is not a novelization of the events in the movie, it’s more of an expansion.

With that bit of timeline info out of the way, let’s get into this story, shall we?

At just 14-years old, Padme Naberrie is elected Queen of Naboo. Her parents exposed her early to civic duty and the idea that she could one day be Queen never felt far-fetched to her.

After her election, the Head of Security Forces for Naboo, Quarsh Panaka devises a plan to select special handmaidens for the Queen.

These handmaidens will be a lot more than meets they eye. They will actually serve as body doubles and protection.

Each one, chosen with care by Panaka himself, brings a different skill to the table. Together they make quite a team.

A large portion of the story is learning about the girls and how they contribute to the function of the Queen’s reign.

It was interesting to follow as these girls go from being strangers, to companions and ultimately, to friends.

As Naboo becomes threatened by the Trade Federation, maneuverings take place to secure the Queen and gain help for Naboo.

Once the events begin to align with those of The Phantom Menace, we get more insights into what was going on behind the scenes during Padme’s flight from Naboo.

E.K. Johnston writes with such care and skill within the Star Wars universe.

You can tell that she knows the ins-and-outs of this world, complex as it is, and that she is equally passionate about it as we are as readers.

I loved the subtle feel of the narrative. It’s a character driven story, although the action does pick up towards the end, and I feel like I learned a lot.

Some of the highlights for me were learning about each of the handmaidens, why they were chosen and what their specific skills were.

I also liked the little cameos of beloved characters popping up throughout, including Yoda, Anakin, Qui Gon and Jar Jar Binks.

Senator Palpatine is also explored in greater depth here which I loved.

The duality of his character is so freaking interesting and the way Johnston wrote from his perspective was perfection!

Overall, this book is a joy to read and for Padme fans, an absolute gift!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Lucasfilm Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I had already preordered my copy prior to receiving my ARC and was beyond the moon excited to be able to get my hands on it early!

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Review: A Forgotten Murder (Medlar Mystery #3) by Jude Deveraux

A Forgotten MurderA Forgotten Murder by Jude Deveraux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

When romance novelist, Sara Medlar, arranges a trip to the UK for herself, her niece, Kate and their friend, Jack, she has more in mind than a relaxing family vacation.

They are headed to Oxley Manor, a stately British home, that her friend Stella has recently converted, with generous funding from Sara herself, into a luxury hotel.

The Manor house has quite a history, including the disappearance of two young people a couple decades before. Assumed to have run off together, that fact was never confirmed and their whereabouts never discovered.

Sara feels inspired by the mystery and her plan is to go to the house, inviting all the folks who were there the night of the disappearance, to finally weed out the truth.

Then, obviously, she will write a book about it.

This book was such a delight to read. It has a classic cozy mystery format with a fun group of main characters.

I loved Sara, Kate and Jack. Their chemistry is engaging and definitely a hoot to read. Together they bring some serious amateur sleuthing skills and y’all know I eat that stuff up!!

This is actually the third book in the Medlar Mystery series. I haven’t read any of the other books and had no problem jumping right into this and enjoying the heck out of it. It was fast paced, with plenty of twists and red herrings.

Since reading this, I have added the first two books in the series to my ‘to be read’ list and definitely plan to get to them. I think with these three solving mysteries, my attention could be held for years to come.

Although the ending got truly wild, I am so happy to have a new go-to cozy mystery series.

Thank you so much to the publisher, MIRA, for reaching out and bringing this book to my attention. Also, a hearty thank you to them for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and it is clear y’all know my tastes!

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Review: The Dilemma by B.A. Paris

The DilemmaThe Dilemma by B.A. Paris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

B.A. Paris, my Queen.

Although very different from her prior works, I still really enjoyed this. Smaller in scope, yet quite intricate as a character study.

Following husband and wife, Livia and Adam, this story takes place during the course of one day. The day of Livia’s much anticipated 40th birthday party.

Adam and Livia were married very young and never had the chance to have the wedding of her dreams.

She has always looked on this party as an opportunity to celebrate not just her birthday, but also their relationship.

As the day arrives Livia is dragged down by a monumental secret she is keeping from her husband.

Unfortunately, she’s not the only one with a secret. Adam has a life-changing secret as well that he is choosing to keep from her.

The narrative alternates between the two as they struggle with their decisions to keep such important facts secret from one another. It is very introspective in a lot of ways, but there is still quite a bit of suspense.

Over the course of the story, the reader learns the true nature of their respective secrets and what those secrets could mean for the family as a whole.

As I mentioned above, this novel seemed smaller in scope compared to her previous novels. By that I mean, all of the action takes place at their home during the course of one day.

Her previous novels certainly covered larger geographical areas, as well as longer spans of time, making the stories seem more complex.

However, I think after you complete this one, and you sit back and think about what you have read, the real intricacies begin to come to light.

I cried reading this. The characters go through so much, it really moved me.

Although I would classify this as more domestic drama than psychological thriller, which is what I would classify her earlier novels, I appreciated it very much.

Her writing style is just so compelling and never fails to keep me glued to the pages.

B.A. Paris has a fan in me for life. I will always pick up every single thing she has published.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. This was absolutely one of my most anticipated releases of the year and it did not disappoint.

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