Review: The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

The Devil and the Dark WaterThe Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1634 — Our story begins with a mixed bag of passengers, and crew, preparing to board the Saardam on a voyage from Batavia to Amsterdam.

On the docks, a leper appears high atop a pile of crates and issues a warning that the voyage will end in merciless ruin.

He subsequently bursts into flames and dies a painful death. The observers, although chilled by his damning proclamation, shrug it off as the ramblings of a madman.

It’s harder to ignore the devil’s mark that suddenly appears on the sails, however. The incident, understandably, casts a sense of foreboding over all.

Samuel Pipps, a detective of some note, happens to be aboard, but as a prisoner.

Due to that status, he is locked in a grimy, claustrophobic cell, without even enough room to stand up.

Luckily, his faithful bodyguard, Lieutenant Arent Hayes, is aboard and he happens to have a close connection to the Governor General, Jan Haan.

Through Arent’s suggestion, Samuel earns the right to be taken out of his cell every night to get his exercise and fresh air upon the decks.

As mysterious happenings continue to plague the ship, paired with reoccurrences of the devil’s mark, Arent teams up with Jan Haan’s lovely wife, Sara Wessel, to try to get to the bottom of it.

An important piece of Arent’s past, the lore of a demon named Old Tom, plays a large role in this story. Some say Old Tom is aboard this ship; he’s the cause of all the problems.

There’s a ghost ship stalking them, their food source is threatened, a storm like no other threatens to sink them, people die, things disappear and throughout it all, Old Tom is trying to sway all aboard to his side.

This book has such a vibe. I don’t quite have words for it, but I love it!

As with The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, The Devil and the Dark Water is such a complex, suspenseful mystery.

The tone of this novel, the is it supernatural, is it not-feel of it all was masterfully done. Additionally, the use of Arent and Sara as an amateur sleuthing team was incredibly executed.

Together they are trying to work out who among them has been possessed by Old Tom. Their investigation has a lot of twists and turns, casting doubts on numerous passengers and crew.

All of the characters were so interesting. Anyone could have been the baddie. I had no clue who to suspect!

The entire story was completely original. I have never read anything quite like it. Turton’s imagination knows no bounds.

Apparently, 17th-Century Supernatural Mysteries are now my jam, because I am OBSESSED with this!

Thank you so much to the publisher, SourceBooks Landmark, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. This was by far, one of my most anticipated reads of the year, so I certainly appreciate it.

I am such of fan of Turton’s writing and look forward to seeing what he comes up with next!

View all my reviews

Review: Death in the Family (Shana Merchant #1) by Tessa Wegert

Death in the FamilyDeath in the Family by Tessa Wegert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

About a month ago, I received an ARC of the second book in the Shana Merchant series, The Dead Season, from Berkley Books. It is currently set to release on December 8, 2020.

Thank you so much for providing me with a copy, Berkley!

Although, I believe, like many Adult Mystery series, the books can be read as standalones, and do not necessarily need to be read in order, I still wanted to give this one a shot.

Upon completion, I am so happy that I did!

Shana Merchant is a veteran police detective, recently moved from the NYPD to a department in a quiet town in the Thousand Lakes region of Upstate New York.

She needed to get out of the city after a horrific incident involving a serial killer, so when her fiance suggested moving back to his hometown, she readily agreed.

Shana believes that with her move to a smaller community, she’ll be dealing with a lot less violent crime and may have an easier time coping with her return to work. Statistically she is correct.

When Shana and her new partner, Tim Wellington, get called to a private island to investigate a missing person case, however, Shana feels those old anxieties beginning to rise.

The island is owned by the wealthy Sinclair family, who made their fortune in American textiles.

Many members of the family happen to be on the island for the weekend when Jasper Sinclair goes missing in the middle of the night. Not only does he go missing, the bed he was sleeping in is drenched in blood.

It’s clear to Shana and Tim that Jasper has not left the property of his own volition, but how would he leave the property? It’s an island and all boats are accounted for?

When a vicious storm hits, Shana and Tim become stranded as well, and all remaining are now suspects.

This is a classically arranged locked-room mystery, a la Agatha Christie. As many of you may already know, this is my absolute favorite mystery trope.

I was swept up in the story from the very start and was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

The Sinclair family, from the matriarch, all the way down to the youngest among them, felt completely real and each distinct in their own way.

I loved the toxic family dynamics and watching all their dirty little secrets come to light.

The pacing was fantastic to keep me intrigued the entire way through.

Although I felt a little let down by the actual whodunit; I can’t really explain why, I was just hoping it was a bit more devious than it ended up being, I genuinely enjoyed my time with this novel.

I really like Shana as a protagonist. She is quite a complex character and I cannot wait to find out more about her in the next novel.

This one left off at a fantastic spot as far as a lead in to a sequel. I am truly chomping at the bit to get into the next installment.

If you enjoy a taut, locked-room mystery with heavy Christie vibes, you should absolutely check out the Shana Merchant series!!!

View all my reviews

Review: Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moody, dark and secretive, just like me.

Ninth House was a delightfully intriguing start to the all-new, Alex Stern series by Leigh Bardugo.

I have been fascinated by the idea of this book for a while. What’s not to love about the Yale campus, secret societies and magic.

On a recent road trip, I finally decided to give this one a shot.

I have to say, while I really enjoyed the audiobook, particularly the two narrators, I think I may have enjoyed it even more if I had read a hard copy.

I feel like I may have been able to concentrate more on the story if I had been holding the book in my hands and there’s a lot to take in here.

A lot of details regarding the setting of the Yale campus, the magic system, the lore of the secret societies, as well as back and forth timelines, I think just got lost somewhere around mile marker 50.

I was intrigued by Alex’s character. Here was a girl who had a rough start at life, raised by a hippie Mom in California, who ends up at one of the most elite institutions in the world.

After a close call that could have ended her life, Alex instead ends up being offered a seat in the Freshman class at Yale, but why? Her academic transcript certainly wasn’t recommending her for the slot.

Regardless of any trauma experienced in her life, Alex is a survivor and a fighter. I loved that about her.

When she starts at Yale, Alex gets tapped for Lethe House; the ninth of the secret societies at Yale and the one with the closest ties to the occult.

It’s also the responsibility of Lethe House to oversee the other houses to ensure there are no bad actors.

Alex, as it turns out, is well-suited for her new house, as she has an arcane ability she has been struggling with her entire life. This allows her a close connection to the spiritual underworld surrounding her.

Essentially a murder mystery, this novel offers up a lot of darker real world topics for consideration as well.

One of these topics that I found extremely interesting, was the great amount of privilege on the Yale campus, and the way uneven power dynamics can contribute to an extremely harmful environment.

There is also quite a bit on page of drug abuse, sexual assault and rape culture in general. If you are sensitive to these topics, I would tread cautiously.

With this being said, I was impressed overall with Bardugo’s transition to the Adult space. This is definitely an Adult novel. There are some real dark scenes in here and frankly, I am glad that she went as dark as she did.

It made this seedy underbelly of a privileged world seem so incredibly real.

I think as the series progresses the stories will continue to get stronger and stronger.

I may even read this one again, my hard copy, before the second novel is released.

I would love to experience this entire story in a more controlled environment than an SUV whizzing down the highway.

Also, does anyone else want to go snoop around New Haven in the middle of the night now, or just me?

The atmosphere, as always with Bardugo, was really something to behold; loved that aspect so much. I am really looking forward to getting back into this world when the next book releases!

View all my reviews

Review: The Finders (Mace Reid K-9 Mystery #1) by Jeffrey B. Burton

The Finders (Mace Reid K-9 Mystery, #1)The Finders by Jeffrey B. Burton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

The Finders, the first installment of the new Mace Reid K-9 Mystery series, is an Investigatory Thriller following an unlikely hero and his four-legged companions.

Mason, ‘Mace’, Reid, is a dog trainer who specializes in training cadaver dogs which he uses to help out local law enforcement with body searches.

At the beginning of the story, Mace has the opportunity to adopt a Golden Retriever puppy who has had a very traumatic start to life.

Dog lover that he is, and having recently loss one of his pack, he welcomes the puppy with open arms and names her Vira. Not long after her training begins.

Unbeknownst to Mace, Vira is soon to be working her first case, as a deadly killer is lurking very close to home.

When the serial killer sets his sights on Mace, all bets are off. It’s up to Mace, his new friend, CPD Officer Kippy Gim and Vira, to stop the killer and stay alive.

This was a solid start to a series. Dealing with a fictional serial killer can definitely up the ante of a story and this is no exception.

It was intense, it was fast-paced, but there were some elements I wasn’t crazy about.

For example, there was some cringey, insensitive humor, but also some fairly good humor where I laughed out loud. Yeah, so a mixed bag.

The occasions where I actually grimaced at badly worded jokes were fewer than things I liked about the story overall though, hence my 3.5-star rating.

I also had a hard time with some of the scenes involving the dogs. I will say, dogs in stories, is generally something I have a problem with; it’s not specific to this. It causes my anxiety to rise and makes it hard for me to relax and connect.

With this being said, I am aware that this is 100% specific to me as a reader. If you are fine with reading stories with dogs, or even love them, you will most likely really enjoy this.

Mace is a really good dog owner. You can tell he loves his boy and girls and treats them like part of his family; as they are.

Overall, I think this is a solid start to a series. I would definitely consider picking up the next book, praying the whole way that all the dogs remain happy and healthy throughout.

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

View all my reviews

Review: The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

The Girl from Widow HillsThe Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When she was just 6-years old, Arden Maynor became a national news story because of something shocking and terrifying that happened to her.

One night, in the midst of a sleepwalking episode, she exited her house during a terrible storm and subsequently got swept away into her hometown storm drain system.

Her mother reports her missing when she is not in her bed early the next morning. Hearing of the missing girl, the entire town of Widow Hills, and even neighboring towns, mobilize to search for her.

Three days later, a man helping with the search discovers her grasping a grate at the top of a storm drain. Unable to pry open the grate lid, he holds her tight until a final rescue plan can be implemented.

It’s an unbelievable story that unsurprisingly took the media by storm. How could a little girl possibly survive in a water-logged drainage system for three days on her own!?

Riding on the wings of such attention, Arden’s mother takes full advantage and publishes a book telling her story. Along with the generosity of strangers and paid speaking events, the book royalties allow the Maynors a fairly stable income.

But Arden disagrees with her mother a hundred percent on how she wants her life to go. She wants to be as far from the spotlight as possible.

She hates the pressure, people thinking they know her, her life story, acting like she owes them something. She just wants to move on with her life and forget that horrible night altogether.

As soon as she can, Arden changes her name to Olivia, goes to college and breaks away from her mother for good.

Frankly, the woman is toxic and being as far away from her as possible, does wonders for Olivia’s own mental health and wellness.

The bulk of the narrative takes place as the 20th-anniversary of that fateful night approaches. In addition to the present-day narrative, mixed media sources are interspersed throughout that shine further light on the incident that changed Olivia’s life forever.

These include 9-1-1 call transcripts, police and media interviews, as well as excerpts from her mother’s book.

As the anniversary gets closer, Olivia discovers she is sleepwalking again and begins to feel paranoid that she is being watched. She confides in her protective next-door neighbor and even a close friend after her hand is forced.

Are the reporters back at it again, looking for another story, or is something more sinister going on? When a man ends up dead in her yard, Olivia guesses the latter.

This was a fun story. Such a quick read, I just wanted to know what was happening. The suspense was killing me, I just wanted Olivia to be okay!

There were some great red herrings, excellent plot twists and steady, exciting pacing.

This made me think of the story of Baby Jessica from the 1980s. The notoriety that surrounded her life and her family for years to come.

I thought Miranda did a great job expressing the stress and discomfort that can have on people involved in that sort of media firestorm. I cannot even imagine. As a private person, even thinking of that gives me anxiety.

This was my first novel by Megan Miranda and I really vibed well with her writing style. I will absolutely be picking up more of her work soon.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate it and know a lot of readers are going to really enjoy this!

View all my reviews

Review: The Daughter of Patience by Hussin Alkheder

The Daughter of PatienceThe Daughter of Patience by Hussin Alkheder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

When Mustafa’s sister, Hadiya, dies unexpectedly in her home, he suspects foul play.

Hadiya was a healthy woman, in her 40s, a housewife and mother to five children. He has a suspicion that his estranged brother-in-law, Mazen, may be to blame.

Mazen, who lives full-time in Dubai, reportedly like a King, sends home barely enough money for his wife and children to scrape by.

What sort of man is this? He has not only essentially abandoned his family, he has also skipped town on numerous debts, including one to Mustafa.

Mustafa reaches out to Mullah Abdullah Al-Allab for assistance getting to the bottom of what happened to his sister.

The Mullah is a staple of Hadiya’s neighborhood and just so happens to dabble unofficially in private investigation.

As we know, I love a Mystery with an amateur sleuth!

The story then follows the Mullah as he tracks clues through the streets of Damascus, to Dubai and back again. We meet Hadiya’s children and find out, all is not well in their home.

There is a heart-wrenching mystery involving the youngest daughter in the home, Zakiya, who suffers from severe injuries that belie explanation.

Who is hurting her? The other children are not speaking and while Hadiya has already lost her life, the Mullah knows he must act fast to prevent Zakiya from suffering the same fate.

This is a debut novel for Hussin Alkheder and I think he should be incredibly proud.

The construction of this story is very well done and the pacing excellent. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I would ever connect with the story, but eventually I really did connect with the Mullah.

He is an engaging protagonist, who tries his best to be a force of good, no matter how unkind the world can be. He is a loving family man, who tries to protect, not only his family, but other families within his community.

There is a heavy religious undertone to this novel; as you can imagine, since the protagonist is an Imam at his local mosque. He views the world, and his actions within it, through a religious prism.

While I understand and appreciate that, and know Alkheder is being culturally accurate in his portrayal of this character, at times, small aspects of that element would shake me out of the story.

There were also some elements that made me uncomfortable, most notably, a scene involving a queer boy’s treatment at the hands of local law enforcement.

With that being said, overall, I really enjoyed this. It is definitely a novel that will stick with you, long after you turn the last page.

The final few scenes of this were super intense and I love the way it ended.

I really hope Alkheder plans to turn this into a series. I would absolutely go along with the Mullah as he solves another mystery!

Thank you so much to the author, Hussin Alkheder, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I’m so glad I took the chance to pick it up!

View all my reviews

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!

View all my reviews

Review: A Beautiful Corpse (Harper McClain #2) by Christi Daugherty

A Beautiful Corpse (Harper McClain, #2)A Beautiful Corpse by Christi Daugherty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

One night as Harper McClain is having a few drinks and visiting with her best friend, Bonnie, a bartender at The Library Bar, she receives a call that there has been a shooting.

As an investigative reporter on Savannah’s crime beat, Harper needs to get to that scene and fast.

She’s had a couple of drinks by this point, however, so Bonnie insists on driving her. It’s closing time anyway and she promises not to get in Harper’s way.

Once on scene, Bonnie recognizes the murdered girl as 24-year old, Naomi Scott, a waitress at The Library Bar. In fact, Naomi had been working that very night, having just left the bar for home around an hour before.

Reflecting back on it, they realize, Naomi had seemed a bit frazzled right before she left, but why?

The police believe the perpetrator to be Naomi’s boyfriend, Wilson Shepherd, but both Bonnie and Harper, who know the young man, don’t like him for the crime.

Harper follows other leads that send her down some dark roads against some very powerful people.

With her signature style, Harper doesn’t give up. She is determined to get to the bottom of the case and see justice for Naomi and her family.

This is the second installment to the Harper McClain mystery series. While I wasn’t as engaged with this story as I was with the first book, this was still really strong and enjoyable to read.

One of the things I enjoyed so much about the first book was learning about Harper’s past and the trauma that really shaped the course of her life. There wasn’t as much of her backstory in this one and I kind of missed that.

I love Harper as a character. I feel like her job as a crime reporter is a great way to frame a mystery story. I like her interactions with the local police and how that dynamic plays out.

Additionally, this one had a really intriguing ending that set it up perfectly for the third book.

I believe in the next book, we are going to be learning a lot more about Harper’s mother and I’m so ready!

Overall, this is a great mystery series with a strong female protagonist who needs no one to save her. It’s the perfect time to jump in on the series as well, with the third book releasing next Tuesday, March 10th!!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Minotaur Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. My apologies for taking so long, it was definitely worth the wait for me. Looking forward to continuing on Harper’s journey!

View all my reviews

Review: Watching From the Dark (DCI Jonah Sheens #2) by Gytha Lodge

Watching from the Dark (DCI Jonah Sheens, #2)Watching from the Dark by Gytha Lodge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up **

This was everything I wanted it to be. Gytha Lodge, you have made me a happy girl.

Signing on to his standard 11 o’clock Skype date with his girlfriend, Zoe, Aidan Poole can tell right away something is off.

For one, Zoe isn’t in front of the camera. He observes her, but then she goes into the bathroom and starts running a bath.

Anticipating something kinky may be in the works, he sits back and watches.

Things take a disturbing turn however, when he observes a shadowy figure entering her apartment and then the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

Next he hears sounds of a struggle. Zoe is being attacked and there is nothing he can do!

Well, you’re probably thinking, he could call the police. But he doesn’t.

Not right away, anyway. He ultimately does end up calling the next day, but if Zoe were brutally attacked, wouldn’t he want to get her help as soon as possible?

If you think this sounds like an intriguing way to a kick off a story, you’re absolutely right!

When his odd crime report makes its way to the desk of DCI Jonah Sheens, he and his team decide to take on the case.

Soon they discover, Zoe didn’t survive the attack. Now tackling a murder investigation, Sheens and the team dig deep into her life, friend group and mysterious relationship with Aidan.

I really enjoyed the first installment to the Jonah Sheens series, She Lies in Wait, and was highly anticipating this release.

I am happy to report this exceeded my expectations. I feel like Lodge’s writing has matured in such a pleasant way. The investigatory aspects of this were so strong.

I loved being back with Sheens and the other officers. They work so well together as a team and that is nice to see. Often there can be a lot of drama within investigative units, so it is nice to see a group that works together in a supportive way.

I do think this can be read as a standalone, so if you haven’t read the first book, please don’t let that keep you from picking this one up. If the premise sounds good to you, jump on it.

I have a feeling you’ll be adding the first book to your TBR after. As you should, because it is great too!

As for me, I am so excited about the potential for this series. I hope it lasts a long, long time. I know I will be picking up every single one that gets released.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Random House, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I truly appreciate it. I am looking forward to reading so much more from Gytha Lodge in the future!

View all my reviews

Review: The Ancient Nine by Ian K. Smith

The Ancient NineThe Ancient Nine by Ian K. Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars**

IT IS DONE!

This book was so long. Entirely too long in my opinion.

Following Spenser Collins, a boy from the Southside of Chicago through the hallowed halls of Harvard, as he gets punched for the Delphic, one of the most exclusive of Harvard’s famous final clubs.

Along with his friend, Dalton Winthrop, a Harvard legacy, they set out to unravel the Delphic’s secrets and some mysteries surrounding the club, including the disappearance of a wealthy young man, that remain lore on campus.

Yes, that sounds interesting doesn’t it? Who doesn’t love secret clubs and long-buried secrets and mysteries?

I was excited to receive this as an ARC many moons ago but then never got around to reading it. When I picked it up last month, I had no idea it would be such an undertaking.

What could have been a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat mystery, was instead a tedious and detail-ladened account of the most droll nature, with pages and pages of things such as: a boring romance, that had no bearing on the overall storyline, detailed accounts of basketball practices, including the drills that they went through each day, and unimportant geographical details of each scene.

At one point, I threatened to DNF this but was simply astounded by it all. I had to continue.

The author had a good idea here, the makings of a solid story but who let him go to print with so many inconsequential details dragging the entire book into Bore Town!?

It’s really a shame and that’s all I am going to say on that.

Thank you to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with a copy of this to read an review. I appreciate it, as always.

I am sorry I did not enjoy this more but honestly, the story and the author would have best been served if it had undergone another serious round of editing.

View all my reviews