Review: The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious #4) by Maureen Johnson

The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious #4)The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s finally Summer and for True Crime enthusiast, Stevie Bell, that means returning home from Ellingham Academy. After solving a real-life murder case at school, working at the deli counter of a local grocery store is going to be a real Snooze Fest. Yawn, indeed.

Stevie has just about come to grips with her new Summer status when she receives some correspondence that grabs her attention. Maybe the next couple of months won’t be so boring after all.

The message is from the new owner of a kid’s summer camp, Shady Pines, formerly known as Camp Wonder Falls. Stevie is intrigued because she knows this camp.

In 1978, Camp Wonder Falls, and the neighboring town of Barlow Corners, suffered a terrible tragedy. Four local teens, all counselors at the camp, were killed in the woods one night, having snuck away for some private fun.

The case was never solved. Carson, the new owner, invites Stevie to become a counselor, while also working with him developing a podcast focusing on the murders.

You may be wondering why an adult would seek Stevie out and offer her this position, but keep in mind, at this point, Stevie and her crime solving antics have gained her some notoriety. Particularly in True Crime circuits. Carson believes Stevie may be able to crack the decades old case.

The kicker is, Stevie gets to bring some friends along. That sweetens the deal and she’s in, along with Nate and Janelle.

But this town is as enmeshed in these murders as the camp itself, and someone doesn’t want the case to be solved, putting Stevie and her friends in danger. Will they be able to figure it, or become victims themselves?

The Box in the Woods was nostalgic and fun. I enjoyed the shake-up, as far as the setting goes, in this one. I love Ellingham Academy, don’t get me wrong, but this made for a nice change of pace.

I always enjoy a scary summer camp vibe and this definitely had that. It was campy, mysterious and cleverly-plotted. A fantastic set-up.

As with the earlier books in this series, you do get the past perspective played out for you as well. I enjoyed the sections from the past a lot.

You’re there as the vicious crime is discovered and then taken back to learn of events leading up to it. The murders themselves were chilling, the descriptions and discovery, just imagining being in the camp when something like that happened. It was creepy.

Amateur sleuths are one of my absolute favorite tropes in a mystery and Stevie is one of the best. I love how her mind works and watching her go about her research and putting the pieces together is just so satisfying.

I also was impressed with how Johnson wrote this one so that it could actually be read as a standalone. I have read every book in this series and would definitely recommend that, but I can see how someone could actually read this on its own.

Then, once they fall in the love with the characters, they could actually go back and read the previous books.

Oh, also, before I forget, for David fans, he is in this one too and I gotta say, I enjoyed him here. I’ve never been a huge David-stan, but for some reason in this one, he really grew on me.

I’m not sure if it is because of everything he has been through over the course of the last two books, but he is really maturing and nicely. I’m super stoked for the next book, because I’m interested to see where their relationship goes.

For those interested, the fifth book, Nine Liars, is releasing at the end of this month, on Tuesday, December 27th.

I love these characters and the compelling mysteries Johnson brings to the page. The alternating timelines and steady progressions of the plots have never failed to keep me fully engaged.

I will continue to read this series for as long as they continue to release books. Stevie fan for life!!

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Review: The Man Who Died Twice (Thursday Murder Club #2) by Richard Osman

The Man Who Died Twice (Thursday Murder Club, #2)The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

❤️💙🖤❤️💙🖤❤️💙🖤❤️💙🖤❤️💙🖤❤️💙🖤❤️

After reading The Thursday Murder Club last month, I knew I needed to continue with this series right away.

I fell in love with the characters, the retirement community setting and the compelling mystery that played out.

The Man Who Died Twice is the second book of the series and dare I say, I enjoyed it even more than the first, which I loved. It seems the more time I spend with these characters, the more invested I become.

In this story we are reunited with Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim, shortly after the events of Book 1. The impetus to this adventure is Elizabeth receiving a letter from an old colleague/flame, who finds himself in a bit of a bind and is hoping for her assistance.

There’s $20,000,000 in diamonds and mobsters involved, of course, because what fun would it be otherwise?

We meet Douglas, the old flame, along with his partner Poppy. Ibrahim has a scary run in outside of Cooper’s Chase that makes him reevaluate everything. Donna and Chris are actively trying to nab a local drug lord.

There’s a lot going on, but all of the varying plot-lines blended together perfectly. Osman made it comfortable to read and engaging throughout.

I never had times were I was in one perspective wishing to get back to another, which can happen with stories that switch perspectives frequently.

Elizabeth, Joyce and their friendship were again the stars of the show for me, although I do really love everyone.

Additionally, I feel like we got to know Donna and Chris, the local detectives who have befriended the Murder Club, a bit more. I really enjoy both of their characters. Donna is struggling a bit with her place in life and Chris’s new relationship with Donna’s mother, Patrice.

I actually felt it was important for us to hear her struggles. I liked to see that vulnerability from her. It made her relationships with the people in the Murder Club seem that much more important now. I get it, Donna. I see you.

It was also so fun having more Bogdan. Bogdan, a Polish man of many useful talents, helps around Cooper’s Chase and in this one, is particularly helpful to Elizabeth. Their relationship is so special.

I guess you can probably spot the theme here. Even though this is a super fun mystery, at it’s heart this is a story of people making their way in the world and the special bonds they’ve formed with one another.

It has filled my heart reading both of these books and I’m so looking forward to picking up the third!

I definitely recommend this series and highly recommend the audiobooks. The narration is fabulously done and overall, it’s just a super engaging listening experience!!

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Review: Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella Is DeadCinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cinderella Is Dead is set in a stark-Fantasy world, 200-years after the legendary Cinderella’s happily ever after with Prince Charming.

We follow 16-year old, Sophia, who on the eve of her first Ball, can think only of how she wants to be with her girlfriend, Erin, forever after, not with some man, or boy, she doesn’t even know.

Even though it’s risky, Sophia pleads with Erin to run away with her. Erin refuses. In their society it is treacherous to be different; to want something different for their lives. Erin is scared to be caught, to put herself and her family at risk.

Within the kingdom, all young ladies of a certain age are required to attend the King’s Annual Ball, where they are paraded around in the hopes of being selected to be a man’s wife. They are given a limited number of chances. If not selected, it’s sort of unclear what becomes of them, but many forfeited girls are never heard from again.

The girls are chosen for completely superficial reasons, so it’s important to look your best; to be seen, but not heard.

On the night of their Ball, one of Sophia and Erin’s friends isn’t as prepared as she should be. The King reacts harshly and the poor girl’s fate is sealed.

After witnessing the King’s cruelty, and the citizens impotence in the face of such evil, Sophia can’t stand it anymore. She makes up her mind that she needs to get away. Feeling she has no other option, refusing to bow to these ridiculous traditions, Sophia runs.

Now a wanted criminal, on her own for the first time, outside the grip of the kingdom, Sophia begins to learn more about the kingdom’s history and finds that the lore the society is based upon is nothing but a bag of lies.

Together with her new friend, Constance, Sophia vows to return to the kingdom and dismantle the hurtful, unfair and savage system. It may not be easy though, as the King’s power stems for a formidable and unusual place.

While this started strong for me, with an intriguing premise and set-up, the further I got into the story, the more it lost my interest.

By the end, I was ready to move on. I still think this is a solid idea and build-up, however the final execution just didn’t match my tastes.

As the story opens, I was intrigued by the system and I still find that interesting. I also like how Bayron framed the society around the legend of Cinderella. It was a clever plot device for setting the stage for some serious examination of a patriarchal society.

I also really enjoyed and appreciated how well the dystopian tone blended with the fantastical backdrop. That was nicely done.

I think where this started to lose me was the melodramatic interactions between Sophia and Constance. I didn’t like Constance at all. I was disturbed at how quickly Sophia shoved aside her once-proclaimed super powerful feelings for Erin the second she met Constance.

That didn’t feel genuine. It kind of turned me off to both characters. I also didn’t vibe with how quickly and easily the girls seemed to be able to overpower, or influence, others. This was especially evident in the final scenes, although I don’t want to say too much here because, spoilers.

Overall, I think this was creative and had a very solid set-up. The ideas explored were interesting and I loved the use of the actual fairy tale to set up the basis for the functioning of this system.

Even though the execution of this didn’t quite blow me away, I am still definitely looking forward to reading more from this author!!

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Review: This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno

This Thing Between UsThis Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The exploration of grief is a fairly common topic in Horror. It’s also something I really enjoy sinking my teeth into.

I knew that was going to be an aspect of Gus Moreno’s This Thing Between Us, but it still hit me like a gut punch. I’ve rarely, very rarely, experienced it done so well.

At the start of this story we find our main character, Thiago, working himself through the early stages of grief after the sudden, tragic loss of his beloved wife, Vera.

The narrative is second person and Thiago is expressing his thoughts and feelings to Vera, even though she’s gone. I loved this choice by Moreno. It made it feel so intimate and frankly, real.

I did listen to the audio version and the narration by Robb Moreira was so well done. He was Thiago to me.

Thiago takes us through their relationship with his musings. There was a lot of love there and many good times. There was also a smart device that started to go a little wonky. That’s where the creepiness really begins to set in.

Thiago, unable to rest comfortably in the home he and Vera once shared, decides that getting out of Chicago would be the best thing for him. Thus, he packs his bags and heads to a remote cabin in Colorado.

From here, I cannot go further into a synopsis. You’ll have to discover that for yourself. Just know, it gets crazy, weird, disturbing and I’m not quite sure I know what actually happened in the end.

I have my own conclusions I have drawn and choose to live with. Regardless, I was impressed with this. Overall, Moreno has me intrigued.

This story was weird in such a good way. It definitely made my mind work overtime, I’m not going to lie. If you pick this one up, which I recommend you do, prepare to be scratching your head at the end.

I would love to go back and annotate a physical copy someday. Maybe I could glean just a tiny bit more out of it if I did that. It would be worth it.

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Review: All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris

All Her Little SecretsAll Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

I loved my time reading All Her Little Secrets. Ellice Littlejohn was an interesting main character and I really meshed well with Morris’s writing style.

I listened to the audiobook and was completely swept up into the story. It was really well done with the narration just fitting to the story perfectly.

Wanda Morris has a second book releasing in October of this year, Anywhere You Run and it is loosely connected to this novel.

The main character of the new novel, I believe, is a side character in this novel and I’m looking forward to learning more of her backstory.

If you are looking for an engaging and thoughtful Legal Thriller to keep you at the edge of your seat, you should absolutely give All Her Little Secrets a try.

IMO, Wanda M. Morris is one to watch. This was an impressive debut. I selfishly hope Morris, a corporate attorney, has quit her day job, because writing is her jam!!

((although I am more than confident she’s a phenomenal attorney as well…))

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Review: Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie

Scritch ScratchScritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Scritch Scratch in a 24-hour period at the beginning of June. For some reason, even though I absolutely adored this Spooky Middle Grade story, I completely forgot to review it.

I am here to change that. The thing is, I really want more people to pick this one up. I need to hear more chatter about it. It’s so fun, clever and immersive.

This story follows Claire, whose Dad runs a ghost-themed Chicago bus tour.

Generally speaking, Claire chooses to distance herself from her Dad’s business. She’s a science-girl at heart and all that supernatural mumbo-jumbo is just not for her.

Unfortunately, one night her Dad needs her help on the tour. No one else can do it and he can’t do it himself. Their family can’t afford to refund all the tickets, so Claire begrudgingly agrees to assist for one tour.

As the night slowly progresses, it seems to be going okay, but then Claire notices a little boy all alone. He’s dressed strangely, like his clothes come from a different time and he doesn’t seem to be interacting with anyone.

Claire is disturbed by his presence. She doesn’t know what to think about it. At the end of the tour, when she goes to check on him, he’s gone. Did she just imagine the whole thing?

It’s after that night that the scratching starts and the number 396 begins popping up everywhere for Claire.

It doesn’t take long for her to put tw0-and-two together. She is being haunted by that boy from the bus, or at least by his spirit. He seems to want something from her, but what?

Claire tries to parse out the identity of this mystery boy. Maybe if she learns something about his life, she’ll be able to help him in some way.

An investigation ensues, full of Middle Grade clues and logic. I absolutely adored that aspect. Actually there were many aspects about this story I enjoyed; pretty much of of them.

Currie’s writing was fantastic and it absolutely drew me in from the start. I did listen to the audiobook and highly recommend that format.

I felt like due to the top-notch narration, the story was made even more creepy. If you are a fan of Spooky Middle Grade, you need to check this one out. It’s so much fun!

I’m super excited to read more from Lindsay Currie. If this story is any indication of her overall style, I feel like we are going to have a long and beautiful friendship.

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Review: Where I Left Her by Amber Garza

Where I Left HerWhere I Left Her by Amber Garza
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Whitney’s teenage daughter, Amelia, is at an especially difficult phase. She’s moody and secretive. Whitney hardly recognizes her sometimes.

Whitney tries her best to remain patient. Things have been challenging for them both since the divorce, since Amelia’s Dad moved to Europe with his new wife.

Recently, Amelia has stopped hanging out with her old friends in favor of a new friend, Lauren.

When Amelia asks if she can spend the night at Lauren’s house on the weekend, Whitney is definitely hesitant. She doesn’t know this girl’s parents and has always had a rule that she must know the family before sleepovers.

At this point though, Whitney is at wit’s end. She gives in. Amelia can stay at Lauren’s on one condition, that Whitney can drive her there and drop her off.

So, that’s what they do. Whitney really wants to walk Amelia to the front door, but Amelia is adamant that is not going to happen. Once they arrive at Lauren’s home, Whitney watches as her daughter walks up the front steps, is greeted by Lauren at the door and disappears inside.

The next day, after being unable to reach Amelia on her cell for several hours, Whitney returns to the home for pick-up.

She’s surprised when an elderly couple answers the door, claiming there are no teenage girls there. She must have the wrong house.

Initially, she’s embarrassed. She could have sworn this was the house, the one with the rose bushes out front, but truth be told, all the houses do sort of look the same.

Whitney leaves, drives around the neighborhood looking for anything familiar and ends up right back there. She knows this is the house. Something is very wrong.

She calls her best friend, she calls the police, she calls her ex-husband. They need to find Amelia.

From there, the Reader gets a front row seat to the drama as Whitney desperately searches for her missing daughter. All will be revealed, but we’ve got a long, bumpy road ahead.

After my experience with Garza’s 2020-novel, When I Was You, I was super stoked for this next release. Where I Left Her is an over-the-top, ridiculously far-fetched drama.

We love it. Okay, maybe not ‘we’, but I LOVE IT!!

I really vibe with Garza’s writing and this one totally sucked me in. It was crazy fun.

Once I started, I was completely invested 100%. Honestly, both Whitney and Amelia made me angry. They aren’t making the wisest choices, but no one makes the best choices all the time…

I had a lot of fun learning about Whitney’s past and how it may have come back to haunt her. It was quite intriguing the way Garza pieced it all together.

I would definitely recommend this, particularly if you’ve enjoyed Garza’s writing before.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Mira Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I had fun with this and will definitely pick up anything else Garza releases!

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Review: Steelstriker (Skyhunter #2) by Marie Lu

Steelstriker (Skyhunter, #2)Steelstriker by Marie Lu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Steelstriker is book two in Marie Lu’s Skyhunter duology.

I really enjoyed my time reading the first book, learning about the world and being introduced to the characters, so in comparison to that, this one felt a bit lackluster to me.

As this is the second book, there may be details within this review that seem like spoilers to some. I will not include anything that you couldn’t find in the publisher’s synopsis, but regardless, I just want to put the warning out there.

Turn back now if you want to know nothing regarding the end of the first book…

Assuming we have narrowed it down to the people who aren’t afraid to know…after the concluding scenes of book one, Mara has fallen. The last outpost to hold out from Karensa’s control is no longer.

With her friends gone and her mother captured by the Premier, Talin has no choice but to serve him and the Karensa Federation. It goes against everything she believes and holds dear, but with her mother’s life on the line, Talin is more than willing to bend.

Using the same process they used to turn Red, the Federation transforms Talin into their newest Skyhunter; the most dangerous weapons around.

From afar, Red is trying to make contact with Talin via their telepathic connection. He’s no stranger to the tortures of the Federation, so he hates to think about what she may be going through on her own in the Skyhunter labs. Thus, he constantly tries to make his presence known.

Will Red and Talin be able to reunite and combine their powers to save Talin’s mom, as well as countless others before it’s too late?

As mentioned above, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first book. It’s certainly not the writing. Lu’s writing is flawless always.

To me, I think a lot of the joy and excitement for me with the first book was just learning about the world and characters. Learning how the world got to the point where Mara was the last nation outside of the Federation’s control.

Also, how Talin and her mother ended up in Mara, as well as learning about the Striker Force versus the Federation’s Ghosts.

Watching Talin’s relationship with Red grow was fun as well. So in this novel, with Talin on her own for the majority of the book, I felt it was lacking those deep character interactions I had enjoyed so much in the first.

Additionally, maybe I wasn’t paying as close attention, but I didn’t feel like I learned that much more about the world in this one. It could be that I wasn’t as interested so my mind was wandering a bit.

Either way, while this is still a good book, a solid conclusion to a duology, it didn’t blow my hair back like Skyhunter did.

Have no fear though, I will continue to pick up everything Marie Lu writes.

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Review: Dustborn by Erin Bowman

DustbornDustborn by Erin Bowman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Dustborn the world has been reduced to a desert wasteland. Danger lies around every corner and humans are forced to travel in packs just to up their chances of survival.

Delta of Dead River has lived her whole life in this world. Delta is very special, for she is the keeper of a map that could lead to the Verdant, a Garden of Eden of sorts, and a place that many people want to find.

The tricky part is the map is tattooed on Delta’s back. She’s never even seen it clearly and couldn’t read it anyways, as it’s drawn in old hand that she is unable to decipher.

When her village gets attacked by a band of raiders lead by a man known as the General, Delta believes they may be looking for her and the map.

Delta’s pack is taken by the General and his people, therefore Delta must go on a quest to get them back. Along the way she runs into old friends and makes some new ones.

Let’s cut to the chase, this wasn’t my favorite from Bowman. I can definitely admit it is a good story, it just never captured my attention like I was hoping. Not once!

The thing I appreciate the most about the story was the setting. I love a dusty, dangerous post-apocalyptic wasteland. Who doesn’t?

What I was never able to care about was the main character and her mission. I got to the very end and was like, what’s this girl’s name? Her entire story was forgettable for me.

There were aspects of the story that had some promise for me, but ultimately I just couldn’t get behind it. Also, there was the unnecessary slaughter of an animal about halfway through that completely turned me off. The narrative was never able to grab me back after that.

Overall, while I completely understand why a lot of Readers love this one, the content just wasn’t a fit for me. Bowman’s writing is strong and I have enjoyed other novels from her; specifically, the Contagion duology.

Thank you to the publisher, Clarion Books, for providing me a copy to read and review.

While this one wasn’t quite to my tastes, I look forward to picking up more from Erin Bowman in the future.

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Review: The Hawthorne Legacy (The Inheritance Games #2) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Hawthorne Legacy (The Inheritance Games, #2)The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

The Hawthorne Legacy is the second installment in the hugely popular Inheritance Games series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

This rags-to-riches inheritance mystery offers Readers a lot of riddles, a lot of intrigue and a lot of romantic drama. It’s like a tiny bit The Princess Diaries meets a lot of Knives Out.

This story follows Avery Grambs, who after the death of her mother, really struggled to get by. She moved in with her half-sister and was working hard just to complete high school. She dreams of a better life.

In an unbelievable turn of luck, Avery received word that eccentric billionaire, Tobias Hawthorne, has just passed, leaving Avery the vast majority of his fortune. The strangest part is, Avery has no idea who Tobias Hawthorne is. She’s never even met him.

The kink is that Tobias had a pretty big family that he has snubbed with his surprise bequeathment to Avery.

Now poor Avery has to live in Hawthorne Manor with the very same grandsons who were all but cut out of the elder Hawthorne’s will. That isn’t awkward at all.

While the first book, The Inheritance Game, gets you up to speed on all that, this second book builds on the mystery of Avery’s windfall, as well as a building of the relationships within her new world.

And keep in mind, this is an entirely new world for Avery. She is now in the realm of the uber-rich; the jet-setting elites who she has never interacted with before. With this comes a new set of challenges, including PR-issues, something Avery never would have thought of before.

If only that were her biggest issue though. Someone out there isn’t happy with Avery’s new found fortune and is willing to try anything to get her out of the picture. Permanently.

There’s also a bit of a love triangle happening. The Hawthorne family is full of handsome and charming young men, such a plus for our Avery.

Two of the boys in particular, Grayson and Jameson, are attracting a lot of her attention and thanks to the power of DNA-testing, it’s not creepy at all.

I had a lot of fun with this continuation. The Hawthorne Legacy may not be perfect, but it’s pretty freaking fun.

I need answers; so excited for the next book. Where’s this going from here!?

I am so intrigued with what the truth is behind this family. I love the continuation of the use of riddles and games, as well as Avery getting the chance to team up with the brothers to solve different aspects of the mystery.

I know a lot of Readers aren’t fans of love triangles, but I think this one is great. It’s not overplayed. It feels natural. There’s no catty fighting, or behind the scenes backstabbing. Avery is genuinely feeling a connection to both boys. Girl, I get it.

I’m so excited for August so I can get my hands on the third book. I need answers!!!

If you haven’t picked up this series yet, and love a fast-paced, fun-filled YA Mystery, you should absolutely start this series now. It’s completely addicting!

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