Review: Winterhouse by Ben Guterson

Winterhouse (Winterhouse, #1)Winterhouse by Ben Guterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars!!!**

Elizabeth Somers is an orphan being raised by her miserable Aunt and Uncle in the equally miserable town of Drere. Just when Elizabeth thinks things can’t get any worse, her Aunt and Uncle ((…like these people could give the Dursleys a run for their money)) tell her they are shipping her off to the ominous Winterhouse Hotel for three weeks over Christmas Holiday. Are they going with her? No, of course not. They are taking their own, much more glamorous holiday, abroad.

Thus, Elizabeth embarks on the holiday that will change her life forever. Strange events begin occurring to poor Elizabeth before she even sets foot on the Winterhouse property. On the train enroute to the hotel you can tell something is amiss. This book has a wonderful blend of mystery, intrigue, fun and adventure throughout. You follow Elizabeth as she makes new friends, including her new constant companion Freddy who is also spending his holiday sans parental figures, and as she explores the hotel and the many mysteries held within its walls.

The cast of characters in this was one of my favorite elements. You have the two kids, Elizabeth and Freddy, both major word nerds, who develop a very strong friendship rather quickly. You have Norbridge Falls, the eccentric owner of the hotel who spews forth droplets of wisdom onto the children with every turn. ((e.g. “The moment we start feeling better than other people because of our capabilities is the moment we start to lose ourselves.”) And of course, as every good Middle Grade novel should, this story also has a very malevolent set of baddies, the Hiemses, a husband and wife pair that seem to pop up at the most inconvenient times and in the most inconvenient places.

For all of us booknerds, there’s more! There is a library! A library with a very special book hidden on its shelves. The Book. It is when Elizabeth comes across this book that things start to really heat up for her. There is so much here to enjoy: messages hidden in paintings, skeleton keys, codes, orbs of red light, coffins hidden in back bedrooms, long-held family secrets and so much more.

As mentioned before, this story occurs during the Christmas holiday season and I would highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself, or that Middle Grade reader in your life that will be haunting your halls this holiday season looking for something to do because he or she is bored!!

This entertaining little book could be the perfect cure for that! Additionally, the next book in the series is releasing at the end of December so they won’t have long to wait for the sequel!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., for providing me with a copy of this delightful book to read and review. As always, I truly appreciate the opportunity to provide my feedback on a book and I cannot wait to pick up the next book in this series!

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Review: The Lying Woods by Ashley Elston

The Lying WoodsThe Lying Woods by Ashley Elston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Lying Woods follows teenage protagonist, Owen Foster, in the aftermath of his Father being exposed as a white-collar criminal. Mr. Foster steals millions of dollars from his company – the largest employer in town – and leaves Owen and his mother behind to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. People in the town are furious, they believe Owen’s Mom knew what he was doing and they begin threatening her and Owen. Forced to leave his posh private school when they can no longer afford the tuition, Owen returns to his hometown public school where he finds it close to impossible to fit in. A great number of the students come from families directly effected by his Father’s crime. Luckily, Owen is able to rekindle a relationship with his old friend and neighbor, Pippa. Through her guidance, Owen begins to understand the destructive scope of his Dad’s actions.

Angry and confused, Owen vows to learn the truth about what happened. How can the Father he knows and loves actually have done this? He is having a hard time grappling with what seems to be a secret side of his Father’s personality. When he first returns to town, Owen secures a job on a local pecan farm and quickly learns that his Dad once worked there as well and and even lived on the property. The owner for the pecan farm, Gus, was not only his Dad’s employer but also a mentor to him. Owen feels if he sticks around the farm long enough he may be able to piece together his Father’s past; he hopes this will help him to understand the present.

This story reads like a hard-hitting contemporary but there is a strong mystery element that runs throughout. The format was great because you get half of the book from Owen’s present day perspective and the other half from his Dad’s perspective at the time that he worked on the pecan farm and first met Owen’s Mom. You get to see their relationship build and learn about the obstacles they overcame to be together. I liked this structure a lot as I felt it was a very creative way to reveal the truth at the heart of this story.

Elston’s writing is smooth and organic. She is really a fantastic storyteller. You sit down to read a few pages and the next thing you know hours have gone by. I truly felt drawn into these characters and this story and I needed to know how Mr. Foster could have done what they said he did. It seemed so out of character with the person you meet through his own perspective. The major twist in this gave me chills. It was completely unexpected and then everything unraveled to the truth very quickly.

This is a story of first love, redemption, discovering who we really are and what is truly important in our lives. I loved the dual perspectives and also thought it was interesting to explore white-collar crime as a topic in YA. I don’t think I have ever read something like this before. Elston has very quickly become one of my ‘autobuy’ authors and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for giving me the opportunity to read this book early and provide my opinion. I cannot wait for more readers to get their hands on this so I can finally discuss it with some of my book buds! This is definitely going on my favorites list for the year.

Original: Starting tonight!!! One of my most anticipated books of the year. I am actually proud of myself for holding off until release month. A feat I frequently FAIL at!

I love how they kept the cover to this along the same vein as This is Our Story even though they are completely unrelated. They’ll still look great next to each other on my shelf!

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Review: Abandoned (Max Revere #5) by Allison Brennan

Abandoned (Max Revere, #5)Abandoned by Allison Brennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Investigative reporter, Max Revere, sets out to solve the most important cold case of her career in this 5th installment of the Max Revere series. Abandoned by her Mom at the age of 9, Max was left in the care of her very wealthy grandparents. Eventually her Mother stopped sending postcards on Max’s birthday (always belated) and withdrawing from her trust fund; she disappeared without a trace. Now aged 32, and a successful television personality and author, Max is finally ready to uncover the truth behind her Mother’s disappearance.

This is actually the first book I have read in the Max Revere series and I don’t think that diminished my enjoyment for this book at all. You could definitely pick this up as a stand-alone novel if you wanted. After reading this, I am absolutely interested in reading the other books in the series. I loved Max as a character. She was smart, strong, independent and not afraid to make it through life on her own. No matter how dangerous her investigation became she never backed down. She was willing to do whatever it took to get to the truth and I respect that.

Overall, this is a very solid mystery with strong investigatory elements. There were a lot of leads to follow as there is so much going on in this book: family drama, small town secrets, art theft and forgery, con-men/women and more! I usually do enjoy mystery/thrillers where the protagonist is a journalist but this one is especially well done in my opinion. The story leaves off with a lot of changes going on for Max so I definitely think this series will be continuing and this won’t be the last time I read about Max Revere. That’s for darn sure.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Minotaur Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. Max is just the kind of protagonist I love so I had a really great time reading this!

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Review: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

An Unwanted GuestAn Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lapena redeemed!!

An Unwanted Guest is the second book I have read from Shari Lapena. To say I was less than enthusiastic about the first I read, The Couple Next Door, would be to put it kindly. I was left scratching my head as to what people seemed to like so much about it. I have some really great book friends who love her books though so I said I would give her another shot and I am glad that I did. Go me!

I knew going in that this book would be more in my comfort zone being a ‘locked room’-style mystery. Basically, a cast of characters shut in a confined space, bodies start dropping, whodunit? This had the formula of a classic Christie tale: you meet the cast quickly, all in the beginning, none of them are particularly likable, they all check-in to a fabulous, secluded old hotel, interactions begin, someone gets killed and then another and then another…

The setting for this was a family-run hotel where our guests go to escape from the world, reconnect within their relationships and unwind. However, when a powerful ice storm hits and the power is knocked out…oh, and the MURDERS begin, these weekend warriors get much more from their holidays than they initially anticipated.

As I mentioned previously, none of the characters were particularly ‘likable’ in the traditional sense but they were definitely interesting. Everyone seemed to be hiding something and I had absolutely had no idea who the killer was. After ‘hidden information’ was finally revealed all fell into place. I liked it. I really liked it. There was a special little twist at the end that I felt was really fun and satisfying. Overall, I am super glad I gave Lapena another shot and I will definitely pick up more books from her in future!

Original: Alright, alright, alright. Let’s see if Ms. Lapena can redeem herself for me. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Couple Next Door ((to put it mildly)) but have heard good things about this one. ‘Locked room’ mysteries are some of my favorites so I think this could be right in my wheelhouse!

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Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

The Death of Mrs. WestawayThe Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a twisted tale of long buried secrets and newly developed deceptions. Mostly set at a decrepit old estate property where the coldness gets under your skin, I think I enjoyed the setting most of all. I went into this hoping for a gothic atmosphere that would pull me into the story and that’s exactly what I got.

Our main character, Harriet ‘Hal’ Westaway, is a very young woman down on her luck since the unfortunate hit-and-run death of her beloved mother. One day as she is believing she has hit rock bottom, she receives a letter in the mail announcing that her Grandmother, Hester Westaway, has passed and that she is due to the solicitor’s office to attend the reading of the will as she is named a beneficiary. Harriet, knowing there must be some sort of mistake as her Grandparents died years ago, decides to test her luck and go pretend to be the Harriet Westaway named in the letter. At most she is expecting a small financial payout that will allow her to pay off some debt and perhaps live a little more comfortably. Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined what would take place once she entered into this dangerous game.

I don’t want to say too much more regarding the plot as I feel it is best to go into it knowing as little as possible. I will say that the family she meets upon traveling to the Westaway estate, Trepassen House, is very interesting indeed and it was a ton of fun watching the truth unfold. Again, to me the setting and atmosphere of this were fantastic. I could picture the cold, the snow, the eerie lake, the attic room with the bars on the windows; the estate was brought to life within the pages. I live for that in a story. At times, I felt I knew the answer to the mystery and I was correct on parts of it, but it was so twisted it was hard to tell until the final reveal whether I was on the right track or not. Truly a lot of fun to read.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes some gothic vibes weaved throughout their mystery/thrillers. My only slight criticism was that the beginning was a little slow. I had this same feeling while reading, The Woman in Cabin 10, another one of Ruth Ware’s books but luckily, for me, the introductory portion of this story didn’t drag quite as much as that one.

In the end, I am so happy that I picked this one up and I will definitely continue reading Ware’s books in future. If this one is any sign, it’s that her works are getting stronger and stronger!

Original: Spookathon Book #2 (read a thriller) – switching up my initial TBR (as I ALWAYS do) and starting this before it’s due back at the library! Excited to start!

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Review: Dead Ringer (Agatha Raisin #29) by M.C. Beaton

The Dead Ringer (Agatha Raisin #29)The Dead Ringer by M.C. Beaton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars**
Ugh, guys! This makes me SO SAD!!! I didn’t like this one and I really wanted to…

I read a lot of Agatha Raisin books in high school and during summer break for college. This was a long time ago, certainly before I was a member of Goodreads, so I don’t even recall which ones that I read. From what I remember one of the things I really liked about the series was our protagonist, Agatha Raisin. In my memory, she was snarky, impulsive, man crazy, full of fun and daring. That was not the Agatha I found in this story. This Agatha seemed miserable, desperate in her search for a man (CONSTANTLY) and down-right rude to pretty much everyone around her.

The storyline itself was all over the place in my opinion. We were introduced to quickly to way to many side characters and as the story went on, I found myself confused pretty frequently. Having completed it, I am couldn’t tell you who the killer was or what their motivation was. I have already forgotten.

I have so much respect for M.C. Beaton as an author. She has created some iconic characters with Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth but this just was not a solid story for me. I hope if this series continues on that Agatha gets some of her old fun-loving spark back.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate every opportunity I receive to provide my feedback on a story even if it doesn’t go 100% to my tastes.

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Review: One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

5 kids. 1 asshat teacher. 1 room. 1 mysterious death.

Whodunit?

This type of set up is one of my all time favorite mystery tropes. It is so nostalgic for me, bringing back memories of family games of Clue, watching Murder, She Wrote with my Mom and reading Agatha Christie books on summer vacation. Add in the fact that this cast of characters is very similar to the stereotypical characters in the Breakfast Club and you have an equation for the perfect book for Meg!

I listened to the audiobook for this and it had different narrators for the main characters. They all did a wonderful job and I flew through this book. Even though I predicted the ‘whodunit’ portion less than halfway through it was just a hunch and I did not deplete my enjoyment of this at all. I could have easily been wrong but I am glad I wasn’t because it was such a great twist to a classic tale. Getting to the conclusion was pure fun and I never got bored or felt that it was dragging.

Each chapter is from the perspective of one of the suspects – one of the four kids left alive after detention – and each chapter ended in sort of incriminating new facts related to that character. It was really well done and a ton of fun to read! I think this is easily the best YA-mystery that I have ever read and my first Karen McManus book – I am so excited for her next book to be released. If it is anything like this one, it is going to be a heck of a good time!

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Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Publication Date: March 20, 2018     |     Rating: 5-STARS!!!

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is pretty much perfection in my opinion. This book exceeded my expectations in every way possible. I went into this book knowing two things: prep school for girls/mystery. This book is so much more than that. The novel is replete with a gothic atmosphere that transports you in time and place into the storyline. It is the perfect blend of mystery/thriller with extra special paranormal goodness sprinkled the whole way through!

The main portion of the story alternates back and forth between 1950 and 2014, following different girls/women in and around Barrens, Vermont, and more importantly Idlewilde Hall. I do not want to say too much about the story itself, as I wouldn’t want to risk giving anything away to potential readers. Just know this – I put off reading this book for many months. I don’t know why – I can’t explain it – it just kept getting shuffled down the ole’ tbr. Now, I can say, I am physically distraught at not having read this as soon as I got it. Okay – that may be taking it a little far but I do wish I would have picked it up immediately. I honestly do not have even one constructive criticism of this. Because of that this will be a very short review: This book is incredible. This book wants you to read it. This book will keep you up nights after…read it!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Publishing Group, for providing me with a copy to review. I apologize to you, as well as to myself, that I didn’t get to it until now. I am even going to run out and buy myself a copy so that I may read it again and share it with others – I love it that much!

Review: A Whisper of Bones by Ellen Hart

Publication Date: February 27, 2018    |    Rating: Solid 4-Stars!!!    |     Jane Lawless #25

I received A Whisper of Bones as an e-ARC through NetGalley. The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. It’s gorgeous. I love the colors…and it’s a mystery, one of my favorite genres. I failed to note however that it was #25 in a series; completely blinded by the cover…again. However, I kept it in mind and kept checking reviews to see if I could read it as a stand-alone. I certainly didn’t have time to go back and read 24 books in order to get myself ready for this one. I was so psyched when I discovered that this series, like many adult mystery series, do not need to be read in order; think Hercule Poirot, Murder, She Wrote, etc. You could definitely read this as a stand-alone so if you haven’t read any other books in this series, please don’t let that deter you!

Jane Lawless, our MC, is a restaurant owner and a PI who is hired in this case by a young woman named Britt Ickles. Britt is looking for answers about what happened to her cousin, Timmy, who she only met once when she was very, very young. The answers dwell with Britt’s two old Aunts, Eleanor and Lena, who live together in a boarding house they own. Jane goes undercover and rents a room at the house for her investigation. Aiding her is her best friend, Cordelia Thorn, who was my favorite character of the whole book! She is an over-the-top theater director who brings so much joy and humor to the story that I laughed out loud during more than one scene that she was a part of! I seriously would read an entire series of just Cordelia Thorn books…honestly, I think the world needs that. Needless to say, a whole cast of wonderfully drawn out side characters arose, deep family secrets were revealed and it kept me involved as a reader the whole way through.

Another great element in this book, which I was unaware of going in, is the strong LGBTQ+ rep going on here. Jane is a lesbian and we get to read about her complex relationship with her on again, off again girlfriend Julia. I feel like sometimes it can be hard to find solid LGBTQ+ rep in Adult lit, particularly in the mystery genre, so this was a welcome change of pace and I definitely plan to pick up more books in this series. The good news is I have 24 more books I get to choose from! So, if you love a good mystery with a fun and engaging cast of characters and a great, classic whodunnit format, you should definitely pick up this book!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Minotaur Books, for providing me with the opportunity to read this book and provide my feedback. I am confident other mystery fans will enjoy it as much as I did!

Review: The Echo Killing by Christi Daugherty

Expected Publication: March 13, 2018

“It’s like my mother’s death made this huge noise a long time ago. And this murder is the echo of it”

(3.5-stars rounded up to 4) The Echo Killing by Christi Daugherty is an adult thriller following female protagonist, Harper McClain, who is a crime reporter in the city of Savannah. As female leads go, I really liked Harper; I found her to be smart and believable. Although haunted by a past trauma where she stumbled across the crime scene of her murdered mother, we learn how Harper’s whole life was shaped by that one event; how she used it to fuel her passions for writing and reporting. For me, the book didn’t really pick up until about 30% into the story. The introductory phase of the characters, the city and Harper’s early life seemed just a little too drawn out for my taste before ever getting into the main point of our story – the murder and subsequent investigation of a woman by the name of Marie Whitney. Once Harper started looking into Ms. Whitney’s death, and coming to the conclusion that there was more to the story than her police friends were letting on, the action really started to pick up. Overall, I enjoyed this story and would definitely be interested in reading the next book in the series!

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur for providing me with an early copy of this book – I am excited for the release date to see what other readers think of it!