Review: The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk ManThe Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eddie lives a quiet life in the same sleepy village in which he grew up. His day-to-day is fairly mundane. He’s a school teacher, who lives in a big house with a younger roommate and maybe he drinks too much.

That’s pretty much Eddie in a nutshell. Like many of us, his life wasn’t always quite so boring however. It just kind of evolved into its current repetitive state.

Little does Eddie know he’s about due for a good old-fashioned shake-up when a blast from his past returns.

His old friend Mickey is back in town and he wants to chat about a certain unresolved murder case from 1986. Eddie, who has been haunted by the events of that year, doesn’t really want to discuss it, but when Mickey tells him he may have the answer, Eddie can’t resist.

The conversation unsurprisingly stirs up all sorts of dark memories and emotions in Eddie. It’s tense. He and Mickey have been estranged for years. It’s not a warm and fuzzy reunion.

Mickey’s sudden reemergence in his life isn’t the only thing tied to the horrific events of 1986 though. The chalk men have also begun to mysteriously appear. Now Eddie must confront his fears and buried secrets head-on if he is ever going to be able to lay the past to rest.

I originally purchased The Chalk Man when in released in 2018, but then I sat on it for years. Honestly, I became apprehensive after reading some of the early reviews which basically alluded to this being a knock-off version of Stephen King’s masterpiece, It.

When my niece mentioned she wanted to Buddy Read The Chalk Man though, I threw caution to the wind and willingly jumped in.

I will say initially I was surprised by the number of similarities to It. I thought to myself, oh no, this could be bad.

However, I am happy to report that after that slightly frustrating start, this one really came around for me. I found it to be interesting as heck and loved the short chapters with their many mini-reveals. It made for a great Buddy Read and we had such a fun time discussing it along the way!

I believe this was Tudor’s debut and if so, I think it definitely sets the stage for her style. She brings a lot of creepy atmosphere in her stories and I loved the back and forth between past and present timelines in this one.

The sections from 1986, of Eddie and his friend group, had the heaviest It vibes, but I became so intrigued with the characters and all that was happening to them, that I eventually was able to overlook all the Itness.

I thought the mystery element was very well done and it definitely kept me guessing. I have also read The Burning Girls from Tudor and really enjoyed that one as well.

I would say, comparing the two, that her writing has matured a bit since this earlier release. I definitely look forward to picking up more from this author. I’m so glad that I finally gave this one a shot. Overall, a fun reading experience!

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Review: Secret Identity by Alex Segura

Secret IdentitySecret Identity by Alex Segura
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

In 1975-New York City, Carmen Valdez finds herself working for the head of Triumph Comics as his administrative assistant. Carmen dreams of becoming a writer, but for now her assistant position will have to do.

Unfortunately, it’s just the way in the industry, in the times, in the culture. Carmen has so many ideas, but good luck having them heard.

When one of her coworkers, a seemingly harmless man named Harvey, approaches her with a proposition to fulfill her dreams, she can’t refuse.

He wants her help creating a new character. Of course her involvement would need to be kept secret initially, at least according to Harvey, but he sells her on the fact that after it is a success, they could reveal the truth to their boss. Then he’ll have no choice but to take her ambitions seriously.

Carmen isn’t naive. She knows she can’t trust Harvey completely, but honestly, what choice does she have. She’s desperate for a chance and her boss has repeatedly shot her down. This could be it.

Putting her reservations aside, Carmen agrees to help Harvey and over multiple brainstorming sessions, the two create Triumph’s first female hero, The Lethal Lynx.

After their scripts have been submitted, with Carmen’s name absent from the credits per their earlier agreement, Harvey is brutally murdered. With Harvey’s death comes absence of proof that Carmen played any role in their creation.

Harvey was the only person who knew the amount Carmen contributed to The Lethal Lynx. She is completely gutted. Carmen needs to find out what happened. It doesn’t seem random, but who would want Harvey dead?

Secret Identity took me completely by surprise. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into this. Being pitched as a ‘literary mystery’ made me a little nervous. That’s not really my genre.

I’ve read from Alex Segura before, however, and enjoyed his writing style. Additionally, the fact that this has the comic book industry as the backdrop was extremely interesting to me. I decided to give it a go.

I’m so glad that I gave it a shot. This is literal scientific proof that reading outside of your comfort zone can be a good thing! Just trust me on this.

This entire book is dripping with atmosphere. 1975s New York City was a thing; a character unto itself. Segura brought all of that to life within these pages.

Carmen was an extremely likable character. It was captivating getting to know her, a bit about her past, and of course getting to see behind the scenes of the comic book industry.

I was super impressed with the film noir-quality Segura was able to channel into this story. It is such a unique and enjoyable experience.

As a side note, I did listen to the audiobook and highly recommend that format. Included in the narrative are occasional excerpts from The Lethal Lynx comics, for which super fun sound effects are included in the audio version. That was really a treat!

I would definitely recommend giving this one a go. There’s so much to enjoy in this story for a vast array of Readers.

Go ahead, give it a shot!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Flatiron Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

I had such a great time listening to this book and will definitely be picking up further works from Alex Segura!!

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Review: Murder on the Menu (Nosey Parker Mystery #1) by Fiona Leitch

Murder on the Menu (Nosey Parker Mysteries, #1)Murder on the Menu by Fiona Leitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read the 4th-book in the Nosey Parker Mystery series, A Cornish Christmas Murder, back in November of 2021.

I was looking for something cozy, comfortable and holiday-themed. As luck would have it, ACCM checked all of those boxes and many more.

I knew as soon as I finished it that I wanted to go back and read the previous three books.

The main reason, I loved the characters. They’re basically my new squad.

In this first book of the series, we follow our main, Jodie ‘Nosey’ Parker, after she has recently left her position at the Metropolitan Police in London, returning to the small Cornish village in which she grew up.

Jodie needs to make a new life for herself and her tween daughter, Daisey. Brainstorming ideas as to what she would like to do in lieu of policing, the only thing she can think of that she really loves is cooking. With that in mind, she decides to start her own catering company.

Soon after returning, Jodie runs into one of her closest friends from childhood, Tony Penhaligon. As they are catching up, Tony’s issue with the caterer for his upcoming wedding comes to light.

And by issue, I mean he no longer has one. Jodie, although hesitant with the date so close, agrees to take on the job. It sounds like just the kind of posh event she needs to get her new business off the ground.

On the night before the blessed event, Jodie and her sous-chefs, also known as her mother and child, are setting up in the kitchen of the hotel where the event will take place, when a disruption is heard coming from the lobby.

Jodie finds the bride-to-be, Cheryl, in an all out tussle with Tony’s ex-wife, Mel. Being the only person brave enough to jump in and separate the two, Jodie eventually breaks it up.

Speaking with Mel after the fight, all Jodie can determine is that Mel seems to think that Cheryl is after Tony for his money. Whether or not that is true, the show must go on.

The rest of the Friday night cocktail party seems to go okay, but upon returning to the venue the following morning, Jodie finds all heck hath broken loose.

A body has been found on the grounds of the hotel, foul play a definite, and the future-Mrs. Penhaligon is missing. When local authorities seem to have eyes only for Tony, Jodie decides to launch an investigation of her own.

Murder on the Menu was just as delightful, cozy and murdery as A Cornish Christmas Murder. I am beyond happy that I made the time to start at the beginning of this series.

I loved learning more of Jodie’s back story, watching as she transitions from her life in London, meets DCI Withers, and adopts her adorable dog, Germaine.

As with any Cozy, there’s a certain formula at play here that is just so comforting and nostalgic. I feel like you always know what you are going to get with a Cozy Mystery, but the humor and heart of these stories rarely ever disappoint.

Leitch has created such a great cast of characters here. I love that while Jodie is an independent sleuth, she still has the background of a police officer.

Additionally, having her mother and daughter along for the ride makes it all that much more fun. I mean as fun as investigating random murders can be!

Thank you so much to the publisher, One More Chapter, for providing me a copy of this to read and review.

I am in love with this series and have already bought the next book, A Brush With Death. I can’t wait to start!

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Review: The Fields (Riley Fisher #1) by Erin Young

The Fields (Riley Fisher, #1)The Fields by Erin Young
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

It all begins with a body in a corn field.

Before we get started, can I just say that I find corn fields to be terrifying. There’s just something about them. I can’t. Who knows what is lurking in there…

Seeing one mentioned in the synopsis for The Fields, I knew that I wanted to read this debut Crime Thriller.

Sergeant Riley Fisher, the head of investigations for Black Hawk County Sheriff’s office is shocked, upon arriving on scene, when she discovers she knows the victim.

Even though Riley and Chloe went their separate ways in their teen years, Riley is still rattled to the core by her estranged friend’s tragic death.

The corn field is owned by a local co-op, Zephyr Farms, one of the very few to survive the crushing presence of Big Agriculture.

Does Chloe have a connection to this place? How did she end up here and who would have wanted to harm her?

Riley dives deep into this investigation. After all, it’s personal and soon finds herself in a dangerous world of politics and very big business. Not a comfortable place to be by any means.

As more bodies start dropping, the pressure increases, with Riley pushing herself to her limits in order to get to the bottom of these cases before more innocent lives are loss.

While parts of this intrigued me, mostly the murdery bits, I felt like the structure of the story lost me at times. There were certain aspects, or sections, ((I’m not quite sure how to best explain what I mean)) that felt out of place and it would kick me out of the story.

Along a similar vein, for me the pace was off, with my interest coming and going in waves.

There was a solid mystery here, but at times it felt overshadowed by other things; namely politics, which personally, I could have done without.

With all of this being said, please don’t take this the wrong way. I did enjoy this book. I see a lot of promise in Young’s writing and would pick up the next book in the Riley Fisher series.

This is a good start to series. I liked Riley a lot and look forward to learning more about her in the next installment.

She has a dark cloud hanging over her, a bit of a secret history, and I really want to know what that’s all about. I’m hoping in the next book she’ll spill it.

So yeah, this wasn’t a perfect read for me, or the most memorable, but I did enjoy it enough to continue on with the series. I’m actually looking forward to it.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Flatiron Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate it!!

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Review: Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead (Finlay Donovan #2) by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead (Finlay Donovan, #2)Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead by Elle Cosimano
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead is the second book in Elle Cosimano’s ultra-modern and uber-witty Finlay Donovan Cozy Mystery series.

I fell in love with Finlay and her best friend/nanny, Vero, when I read Finlay Donovan Is Killing It last year.

The humor was spot on for me and the storyline entertaining from beginning-to-end. Going into this installment, I didn’t even read the synopsis.

Frankly, I didn’t care what they were up to, I just wanted to be back with these characters.

Unsurprisingly, I found this second book to be just as fun as the first. I also feel even more attached to Finlay and Vero now. We’ve been through so much together.

After the contract killer fiasco of book one, you would think that horrendous and dangerous chapter in Finlay’s life would be ancient history. Alas, it is not.

Now she fears someone may have put a hit out on her ex-husband, Steven. Granted, he’s pretty terrible, but her children are with him a lot and they love him. She needs to keep him safe.

As if that weren’t stressful enough, she also has her literary agent breathing down her neck wanting her next book, as well as two handsome, eligible-men circling her like sharks.

Finlay’s life is non-stop chaos and I’m telling you, it is so much fun to go along for the ride!

Reading through Finlay’s perspective is hilarious. She has such a dry, matter of fact way of relaying what’s on her mind. You can tell she is a Mom who is juggling a lot. She doesn’t have time to beat around the bush.

I love her relationship with Vero. Even though they were sort of thrust together, they’re committed to one another and I love that type of unconditional friendship.

I have no idea how many books are currently slated to be in this series, but you better believe I will be picking up every single one.

I am personally hoping for maybe ten or twenty…

Thank you so much to the publisher, Minotaur Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I love this series with my whole heart. If you haven’t picked the first book up yet, now is the time to do so. Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead releases this Tuesday, February 2nd!!

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Review: A Lullaby for Witches by Hester Fox

A Lullaby for WitchesA Lullaby for Witches by Hester Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hester Fox is back and she’s bringing her signature gothic atmosphere with her, but this time with a twist!

Fox’s previous works are all set in historic New England and this book is no exception, however, this time, we have a present day perspective as well.

I was pleasantly surprised by this change of pace and loved the alternating perspectives between past and present.

Augusta Podos grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, and as our story begins, she finds herself leading tours through the old jail there. While working in a museum is her dream, this isn’t exactly what she had in mind.

When she happens upon a job listing at Harlowe House in nearby Tynemouth, she jumps at the opportunity. Augusta can’t believe her luck when the position is offered to her. She is finally going to have the museum job of her dreams.

From the moment she sets foot at Harlowe House, Augusta feels a connection with the property. In particular, she is drawn to a portrait of a young woman that hangs in the dining room.

The portrait is said to be the mysterious, Margaret Harlowe, whose life has been lost to the sands of time. Nothing much is known about Margaret and many question if she actually existed at all. There’s no true record of her.

Augusta takes it upon herself to learn all she can about Margaret. She wants to honor her memory and keep it alive.

The past perspective follows Margaret Harlowe as she lives at Harlowe House with her family. Margaret was different and not really accepted in the town of Tynemouth. There were whisperings that she was a witch; a dangerous rumor.

It was true that Margaret dappled in herbalism and healing. In fact, many of the women who shunned her in the streets during the day would visit her under the cover of darkness, seeking help for their problems.

Margaret also had a secret relationship with a young man, Jack, that seemed doomed to end tragically. You can see it a mile away, but Margaret was blinded by love.

As Augusta digs deeper into Margaret’s story she begins to have disturbingly vivid hallucinations. Could Margaret be trying to communicate with her?

Augusta begins to lose control and as past and present come crashing together, it seems some history really should be left well enough alone. Along with her new friend, Leo, will Augusta be able to make it out of Harlowe House unscathed!?

I really enjoyed my time reading A Lullaby for Witches. It was fun to have both the present and the past timelines in this one. Learning about the two women, 150-years apart, but nonetheless connected.

Fox’s ability to bring historical settings to life is so strong. She seems to have a real passion for history; it is evident in the care with which she writes historical perspectives.

There were some subtle nods to Fox’s earlier works, family names and places, that were fun little Easter Eggs for me to discover along the way.

It was also fun to go along with Augusta on her investigation into the past. I appreciated how much Augusta grew over the course of the story. She starts out a little timid, but in the end I was so proud of her new found strength.

Overall, this is a fun and engaging historical mystery with a paranormal twist. I definitely recommend this to Readers who enjoy a lush Gothic atmosphere and New England-based stories.

I am such a fan of Hester Fox. I have read all of her novels and this one did not disappoint. In rankings, it may actually be my second favorite, just behind The Witch of Willow Hall.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Graydon House, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I was really looking forward to this one and had a blast with it.

A Lullaby for Witches releases this Tuesday, February 1st!!

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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: Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Eight Perfect MurdersEight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Years ago, when he first started working at a local bookstore, Malcolm Kershaw, running the store’s online presence, wrote a blog post titled, Eight Perfect Murders.

The mystery aficionado made of a list of what he considered to be the genre’s most unsolvable murders. Little did he know that one seemingly inconsequential post would come back to haunt him.

Presently, Malcolm owns his own Boston bookstore and while he still loves books, he hasn’t been reading as many mysteries as he used to.

After suffering the loss of his wife, a lot in Malcolm’s world changed.

On the day of a terrible snow storm, Mal is in his shop alone when an FBI agent arrives. According to her, she’s investigating a serial killer who appears to be using Mal’s list to commit his crimes.

Mal’s shocked to hear this. How would the killer have even found that old post?

When it starts to appear that the killer not only found the list, but is keeping an eye on Mal as well, Mal begins to think it’s personal. So, he takes matters into his own hands and starts to look for suspects.

Y’all know I love an amateur sleuth trope, and a book seller main character! What a fantastic set-up for a Mystery!

I listened to this audiobook on my drive home from Christmas holiday and it kept me thoroughly entertained. It was a great way to pass the hours.

I loved the narration. It had a sort of film noir quality to it that I felt really fit this story. I would definitely recommend the audio if you are planning to read this yourself.

This was my first Swanson novel and I appreciated how he didn’t hold back. This was completely wild and over-the-top. It was full of unbelievable things, but that’s what made it so fun.

I would definitely be interested in reading more of his work. I know this one had some mixed reviews, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. I think Swanson and I could turn out to have a beautiful friendship.

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Review: A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

A History of Wild PlacesA History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five years after popular Children’s author, Maggie St. James, goes missing, her parents hire Travis Wren to search for her. Known for her dark fairy tale-style stories, it seems Maggie may have wandered into her own nightmare.

Travis, although a last resort of sorts, has an uncanny ability for finding people; one that channels his own very unique set of abilities.

Chasing one particular clue, Travis heads out alone into a cold, unforgiving stretch of forest in search of a place known only as Pastoral.

Founded in the 1970s, Pastoral is a commune, where the residents gathered searching for a simpler way of life. Fully self-reliant, Pastoral was essentially able to cut itself off from the rest of the world.

According to local lore, the commune shouldn’t exist anymore, but after Travis stumbles upon it, he disappears just like Maggie before him.

Years later, a commune member, Theo, breaks the rules of the community and explores past the marked boundary. It is at that time that he discovers a broken down old truck once owned by a man named Travis Wren.

Theo and his wife, Calla, come to believe that Travis wasn’t just in Pastoral at some point, he’s been in the their house. They both become completely focused on solving the mystery.

Who was Travis and what was he doing there? They believe it had something to do with a woman named, Maggie, but they don’t know her either.

The more they dig, the more the couple come to understand that the community they thought they knew so well, may not be the safe oasis they’ve always believed it to be.

Calla’s sister, Bee, who has been secretly engaged in a romantic relationship with the community’s charismatic leader, begins to come to her own unsavory conclusions about Pastoral. Have they all been living a lie?

A History of Wild Places is a unique and contemplative story, channeling all the haunting vibes of The Village.

I really enjoyed how this story began. Getting to know Travis, his abilities and the case he was currently assigned to. I became attached to him very quickly and was shocked when he disappeared.

For me the pace slowed a bit once I was introduced to our main characters in Pastoral. Eventually it picked back up, most notably after Theo and Calla begin investigating who Travis was and what might have happened to him.

Overall, I felt a little detached from Calla and Theo. While I liked them both, they were initially so rigid, it was hard to relate to them in a way. As the story progressed, however, I felt them both loosening up as their commitment to the community began to wane.

The pace steadily increases from there as Calla, Theo and Bee continue to lift the veil from Pastoral.

Ernshaw’s writing is absolutely beautiful. There’s something so enchanting about it, as she truly has the ability to build out a sense of place. I could picture the setting of Pastoral perfectly in my mind. She really excels at atmosphere.

This is an intricate story; one I had to think about quite a bit upon completion. I was torn on how to rate it. I did really, really enjoy this story, but it never crossed the line into love territory for me. I think mainly because it slowed down a bit too much for my taste around the middle.

With this being said, this is Ernshaw’s Adult debut and I think she did a fantastic job expanding into that space. This is a great book, one that I know so many Readers are going to absolutely adore.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Atria Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. This one will stick with me for a long time!

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Review: A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

A Flicker in the DarkA Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

When Chloe Davis was 12-years old, her father was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of six teenage girls, based on evidence that Chloe herself had uncovered.

After her father was taken away, Chloe, her mother and her older brother, were left trying to put back together the pieces of their shattered lives.

It was rough. In their small Louisiana town the shroud of guilt was always upon them. They ended up moving to try to hide from the scandal.

People were suspicious of her Mom, that she possibly knew something she didn’t reveal. It wasn’t a good situation. Traumatic to say the least.

Twenty years later, Chloe is a psychologist working with young girls suffering through varying levels of trauma, like she did herself.

Chloe is also preparing for her wedding to Daniel, a man she has known for just a year.

Her brother, Cooper, thinks the marriage is too quick. He and Daniel have never been warm and fuzzy with one another.

That alone is stressful enough, but when local teen girls begin to go missing, one of them a patient of Chloe’s, she’s triggered into a really dark place; her past.

Chloe’s worked so hard to forget her childhood trauma; to move on and find a bit of happiness for herself in spite of all she’s been through. Now it seems the past has come back to haunt her.

The pattern of the current crimes isn’t just similar to that of her father’s. It’s identical. Is there a copycat working in Baton Rouge?

Before she knows it, Chloe finds herself steeped in the investigation. She needs to get to the bottom of it. It seems too close to home, like it’s intentional. Like this new killer is trying to draw her in.

Is Chloe paranoid and seeing connections where there aren’t any, or is she dangerously close to the truth?

A Flicker in the Dark is a hugely promising and intense debut. Willingham’s writing style is extremely fluid and fast-paced, sucking me in from the very first chapter.

I loved Chloe as a main character. Her flaws made her not just believable, but relatable. Her struggles were real. I felt them; the (view spoiler) being particularly impactful.

While I found certain aspects of the story toed the line of predictability, I nonetheless had a fun time reading it.

If this is her debut, I predict a long and successful career in Willingham’s future. I definitely plan to be following along.

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

This is a great book. One that every Mystery/Thriller Fan should pick up!

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