Review: The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games #3) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games, #3)The Final Gambit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

This was solid, but definitely my least favorite so far. I sort of feel like Barnes jumped the shark with this one…

If you get that reference and have read this book, you might be nodding your head right now.

I may also be being a bit hyperbolic with that leading statement, but since The Final Gambit is the third book in the series, I was really hoping to be blown away by it. It’s been such a solid build up to this point. Sadly, I just wasn’t.

Granted, in the whole scheme of things, this is still a good book and the series will always hold a special place in my heart. With this one though, for the first time, I feel like I am reading it more for the brothers than for Avery.

In fact, the ironic part is, I’m really, really looking forward to reading The Brothers Hawthorne, even though this one let me down a little.

I do think Barnes has created a compelling overall story arc with this series and those boys in particular have caused a lot of drama, mixed feelings and general swooning.

I did enjoy how this story covers the final days of the time stipulated in the will, where Avery has to remain living at the Hawthorne mansion before she officially inherits the estate, and all that goes with it.

It was nice to feel that whole ordeal sort of wrapping up. Avery did definitely grow as a character over the course of the trilogy, but I’m not sure I would have made the same choices as her. Perhaps she is just more mature than me.

Overall, while this was my least favorite of the trilogy, it’s clear that JLB is an incredibly talented writer, who knows how to create tension and drama.

As I mentioned above, I am very interested to check out the next book in the series. I am anxious to get more from the boys. I feel like I am going to love it and then all will be right in the universe.

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Review: Back in a Spell (The Witches of Thistle Grove #3) by Lana Harper

Back in a Spell (The Witches of Thistle Grove, #3)Back in a Spell by Lana Harper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Back in a Spell is the third book in The Witches of Thistle Grove series by Lana Harper. The fourth book, In Charm’s Way, is set to releases on August 22, 2023.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the books are companion novels. They take place in the small, magical town of Thistle Grove, following the same timeline, but each book focuses on different main characters.

In this installment, we follow Nina Blackmoore and Morty Gutierrez. Nina comes from one of Thistle Groves founding families, so it is through her perspective where we initially get the magic in this story.

A year ago, Nina’s engagement was broken off. Her fiance left her, but not before leaving her with an ear-full of her faults first. Traumatized by this break-up, Nina hasn’t yet started dating again.

With encouragement from her best friend, Jessa, though, Nina decides maybe now is the time. Jessa helps her create a dating profile on a well-known site and they sift through potential matches.

After Nina connects with someone, Morty, they decide to meet up for a drink. Nina is impressed with Morty’s forwardness and looks forward to meeting in person.

The date ends up being a disaster though. They have nothing in common, but end up connected nevertheless after that fateful night when Morty begins developing magical powers.

I thought this was super cute and it was exactly what I was in the mood for. I listened to the audiobook in a day and definitely recommend that format. It was engaging and kept me entertained throughout.

I liked the set-up of this one. It has that classic enemies-to-lovers feel, but the failed date at the beginning added a little something extra. It seemed so promising at first, but I loved how they both ended up being annoyed by one another.

I love when people toss sharp barbs back and forth, all over the barely contained sexual tension. Witty banter pleases me to no end. It’s how I live my life.

I also liked how this tied in more of the lore of the town. We learned additional background surrounding the founding families, the Blackmoores especially. I am really looking forward to continuing on with this series.

For me, this was actually my favorite of the series as far as my engagement level is concerned. I think Morty and Nina are probably my favorite of the couples. I loved their chemistry and watching their relationship evolve.

I would recommend The Witches of Thistle Grove series to anyone who enjoys whimsical, low-stakes romance stories with a solid level of steam. Also, as mentioned above, I definitely recommend the audiobooks. I have listened to them all and really enjoyed the narration.

I am hoping to start the fourth book very soon!!

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Review: A Death in Door Country (Monster Hunter Mystery #1) by Annelise Ryan

A Death in Door County (Monster Hunter Mystery, #1)A Death in Door County by Annelise Ryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

A Death in Door County is the first book in Annalise Ryan’s creeptastic Monster Hunter Mystery series.

I first learned about this series after I was gifted an ARC of the sequel, Death in the Dark Woods, releasing in December 2023. I was excited to learn about it because it combines two of my favorite things: creepy vibes and cozy mysteries.

This series follows Morgan Carter, a bookstore owner and cryptozoologist, from Door County, Wisconsin. Morgan, like her parents before her, spends her spare time investigating cryptids and that skill is about to come in very handy.

After a few bodies are found along the shores of Lake Michigan with unexplained injuries, Police Chief Jon Flanders asks for Morgan’s help. The injuries look like bites, but not bites from any locally known animal.

Could a rumored lake monster be to blame?

Morgan agrees to help. She’s no stranger to the legends of lake monsters and is more than happy to assist Jon in his on-going investigation.

Y’all, this was really cute. It’s a simple start to a new Cozy Mystery series with a surprising and creative cryptid twist. I definitely enjoyed my time getting to know this main character and a feel for how this series is going to play out.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading more mysterious adventures featuring this plucky-protagonist, Morgan. I also loved how important the presence her dog, Newt, was in the story. You can tell this author is a dog-lover.

It was a little slow for me in the beginning, but I was never not enjoying it. The mystery was fun and I loved how as we got closer to solving it, it started to take on a bit of a Scooby-Doo-type feel.

I was satisfied with the resolution of the mystery and enjoyed the relationship that’s building between Morgan and Jon. I’m looking forward to becoming even more attached to these characters as the series continues.

I would definitely recommend this series to anyone who loves their dark fiction, but also needs a bit of a palate cleanser every once in a while.

In the next installment, we’re tackling a Bigfoot!!

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Review: Two Truths and Lie by April Henry

Two Truths and a LieTwo Truths and a Lie by April Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

One of my reading challenges for this month, June 2023, was to give an author a second chance. After careful thought, I decided to give April Henry my second try.

I’ve only read from Henry once before, her 2019-release The Lonely Dead. I gave it 2-stars and upon completion, really had no desire to read more. It wasn’t a great experience.

Henry writes a lot of books and since The Lonely Dead was released she’s had quite a few that do sound interesting to me. This book is one of them.

I am so glad that I picked this up. It’s not perfect, but it was so quick, fun and easy. I had a great time with it!

In this story we follow Nell, a high school girl who is traveling with her acting troupe to a competition when they get stuck in a blizzard. Seeking shelter from the storm, their troupe coach, and only chaperone, finds an aging motel for them to stay at.

She warns the kids to be good and then she retires to her room. The driving was stressful and she needs rest. How much trouble can they get in anyway?

As the kids settle in and begin to explore the motel, they discover they aren’t the only travelers caught there. Amongst the other guests are a robotics team from another school.

The teens gather together in the common room and decide to play a game to pass the time: two truths and lie. The perfect way to get to know one another.

As the game escalates, it seems their night of harmless fun has turned into something much more sinister, even deadly.

It appears a murderer hides in their midst. Will they all be able to make it through the night alive?

I enjoyed Nell a lot as a main character. Also, I listened to the audiobook and the narration was fantastic. The narrator, Christine Lakin, was Nell to me.

This had a lot of tropes I enjoy. Examples being, the team getting stranded at a creepy motel due to inclement weather; I always love that sort of set-up. The strangers they meet being a little odd and possibly dangerous. The motel having a dark and brutal history and the gaming element.

I felt the whole package was incredibly intriguing.

There were some directions it took with the plot that I wasn’t as crazy about, but I feel like overall, it is an engaging and entertaining YA Thriller.

I walk away a happy girl. I’m so glad that I gave this a shot and had such an enjoyable experience with it. I am going to be comfortable now sifting through Henry’s backlist and picking up more of her work.

This is a perfect example of why you should always give authors another chance. Especially if they have only had one book that didn’t work for you. We all deserve a second chance, don’t we?

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Review: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and TomorrowTomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m going to keep this short and sweet for there is nothing I can say about this book that hasn’t be said before.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow first came onto my radar because of the stunning cover. It’s because of that cover it ended up on my shelves.

This book was everywhere you turned in 2022. There was a lot of hype and if fact, it won the Goodreads Award for Best Fiction. I avoided it initially. I didn’t want to be disappointed after hearing this was basically the best thing ever.

Additionally, Literary Fiction is not my comfort zone. It’s not my go-to, not even in my top-5, genres. This story spans over 30-years. Also, something that is definitely not my jam.

In spite of all that, this story succeeded in capturing my heart. It captivated me. It made me feel things I had no anticipation of, or desire to, feel.

It actually shocked me how connected I felt to these main characters; how much empathy and true emotion I felt for them throughout the various stages of their lives.

Dark Fiction, and I’m talking DARK, is my comfort place, but every once in a while it’s nice to read outside that lane.

This book is the perfect example of why. It’s the kind of story that reminds you of what it means to feel alive. Full of raw emotion and beautiful character work. This story made an impact on me.

The audiobook is fantastic. I definitely recommend that format. The final day I was reading it, I think I was around the 80% point and I was on my morning commute to work, this is actual footage of me:

Honestly, crying in the car that morning was not how I saw that day starting off. Thanks for the surprise, Gabrielle Zevin. I can’t wait to read more of your work!!

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Review: Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth

MotherthingMotherthing by Ainslie Hogarth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Motherthing is a really, really good domestic horror novel. I found it to be so unique and strange.

The topics explored were interesting and I was definitely shocked by the final bits ((pun intended)). Yikes. Seriously, in some ways, I may never view the world the same again.

I’m sort of kidding with that reaction, but also not really. This one took me by surprise.

In this story we follow Abby and her husband, Ralph. At the beginning of the story, Ralph’s Mom is found dead in the basement of the home in which they all live together.

It appears she’s taken her own life. There’s a lot of blood. It’s super tragic for Ralph, and Abby as well, of course.

The heart of the story explores the aftermath of that sudden death. It explores Ralph’s grief and also Abby’s mixed emotions about her mother-in-law and her actions.

The narrative is stream-of-consciousness from Abby’s perspective and while generally, that isn’t a style I tend to enjoy, it actually really worked for me here.

I feel like when an author is able to bring a great sense of humor to the perspective we are hearing from, it definitely helps me to settle in and enjoy the story.

Keeping in mind this is an extremely dark story, with stomach-churning, toe-curling, won’t eat for a week imagery, it still had moments where I literally LOL.

Even with all the humor, I felt like Hogarth did a great job of capturing the different levels and outward expressions of grief. It came off as genuine and believable.

Additionally, while some aspects seemed jarring, because they were shocking in nature, or otherwise upsetting content, the flow of the story consistently worked throughout. It was well constructed and presented.

The final scenes had my jaw on the floor. I think I sort of got lulled into it all over the course of the narrative and wasn’t expecting it to go the direction it did. I loved that part. It was a super solid finish.

I recommend the audio format, if you are someone who enjoys audiobooks. The narration was perfect for the story and it definitely felt immersive to me.

I cannot wait to read more from Hogarth in the future. It’s clear she is super creative and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

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Review: Wasps in the Ice Cream by Tim McGregor

Wasps in the Ice CreamWasps in the Ice Cream by Tim McGregor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Wasps in the Ice Cream is a captivating Coming of Age Horror novella that quickly reminded me why I love this subgenre.

It’s the Summer of 1987 and Mark Prewitt spends his time working at the local ice cream shop, avoiding his parents, tinkering on his dream car and engaging in miscellaneous hijinks with his best buds.

When the other boys stage a prank on the mysterious Farrow sisters, it goes too far and one of them gets hurt. Mark is riddled with guilt after the fact. He should have stopped it, but he didn’t.

Seeking to make amends with the girls, he ends up befriending the middle sister, George.

She’s unlike anyone he has ever known and he’s drawn to her like wasps to ice cream. The more time he spends with George, the less time he has for everyone else.

Mark finds himself keeping a lot of secrets, but he should have known in a town this small, it was bound to blow up in his face. What happens when you fall for the girl everyone hates? Mark is about to find out.

Spoiler Alert: It’s not good.

Y’all, I really enjoyed my time with this story. I know when some people think of Horror books, they think, scary books, things that scare me, and then if they don’t get scared by a book, they say, this isn’t Horror.

For me, Horror is a much more nuanced genre than that and thinking only books that literally scare you can be classified as Horror is simplifying the genre unfairly.

A good example of this is one of my fave subgenres of Horror, the Coming of Age story. Wasps in the Ice Cream is a perfect example, channeling all of the essential vibes. This basically transported me back to the Summer of 1987.

Coming of Age always hits home for me. Literally nothing could be happening and I still find myself so invested.

There’s something about the innocence and feeling of possibility in viewing the world through that lens. The emotional traumas and challenges the protagonists have experienced up to this point in their lives only scratch the surface of what the world will ultimately dish out for them. It’s such a special time. Nostalgia for days.

Also, it’s in the presentation. You generally have an Adult narrator, who is reflecting back on some pivotal moment in their life. Something that impacted them so deeply, it helped to shape the adults they became; good or bad.

There also tends to be powerful friendships and the exploration of sexuality. All of this is mixed together with deeper things that scare us; sometimes supernatural, sometimes not.

I felt McGregor did an amazing job telling Mark’s story. It felt so authentic. I believed everything I was being told and understood how the events of this Summer shaped Mark’s future, choices, wants and desires.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys an engaging Coming of Age Horror story. If you are just looking for scares though, you’d be best looking somewhere else.

Thank you so much to the publisher, RDS Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. The audiobook is fantastic. The narrator truly captured Mark’s character. Well done!

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Review: The Echo Man (Major Crimes #1) by Sam Holland

The Echo ManThe Echo Man by Sam Holland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

The Echo Man is a debut Adult Thriller from Sam Holland. This novel released in 2022 and the follow-up, The Twenty, just released in early-May.

In anticipation of the release of The Twenty, which I was kindly gifted a copy by Crooked Lane Books, I wanted to be sure to pick this one up first.

I don’t know if, or how they’re related, or if you need to read them in order, but when I can, I do like to pick up an author’s work in order of release.

I decided on the audio for this one and loved that format. It was so addictive and cringey, hearing it out loud. It was exactly the reading experience I needed at the moment.

This is one of those stories that is hard to explain, but it was expertly woven together, so when you’re reading it, everything fits; everything makes sense.

There’s a woman named Jessica, married, living with her husband and their daughter. We start following her just before her house is set on fire. She narrowly escapes with her injured daughter in her arms. Her husband, sleeping in a different room, wasn’t lucky enough to make it out.

The police suspect Jessica is guilty of setting the fire, but she didn’t do it. Because of a shady history though, she’s afraid of not being believed and she flees from the hospital where she was being treated for minor injuries.

She befriends a disgraced detective, Nate Griffin, who knows Jessica isn’t guilty. In fact, he suspects the crime against Jessica and her family may have been committed by a criminal who has gotten away from him in the past.

There’s also a detective duo, Cara Elliott and Noah Deakin, who are simultaneously working a series of seemingly unrelated murders. As the bodies begin to add up, Cara can’t help but notice how the crimes seem to match those of famous serial killers.

You’re following these two separate duos, watching as their stories begin to blend and ultimately thread together into one nail-biting, pulse-pounding conclusion.

I found it very compelling. I was so into what was going on with Jessica, but also loved following along with Cara, on the more police procedural side of things. I felt it was the perfect blend of their two storylines; and I liked having one civilian perspective in addition to the investigators.

Both sides were equally interesting and the pace at which it alternated was perfection.

Let me be clear, this isn’t a story for the faint of heart. It’s not your average Thriller and it definitely took me by surprise. This gets DARK. Honestly, it contains some of the most brutal depictions of violence that I have ever read and I read dark shit for fun, like that’s my comfort zone.

I’m talking toe-curling, grimacing, exclaiming expletives whilst listening to it, dark. Not only that though, what a solid mystery; so good!

Overall, I am beyond happy that I finally made time for this one. What a way to enter the scene, Sam Holland.

I will remember this one for a long time to come and am looking forward to beginning The Twenty soon!

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Review: Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit (Theo Tan #1) by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit (Theo Tan, #1)Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit by Jesse Q. Sutanto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit is the Middle Grade debut of one of my favorite authors, Jesse Q. Sutanto.

Recently, after finishing Sutanto’s latest release, Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, I wasn’t quite ready to part from her writing.

I’ve had Theo Tan on my radar for a while, and with the second book in the series, Theo Tan and the Iron Fan releasing at the end of May, I figured now was the perfect time to pick it up.

This story follows, you guessed it, Theo Tan, an average Chinese-American boy just doing his thing, playing video games and trying to fly under the radar. So far, he thinks he is doing pretty well in that regard.

When his older brother, Jamie, is killed in an accident though, everything abruptly changes for Theo. Not only is the startling loss of his brother devastating, Theo has also inherited Jamie’s fox spirit, Kai.

Prior to this time, Kai and Theo didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye. There’s no love lost between the two. Kai is snarkier than ever now, grieving the loss of Jamie with every fiber of their being.

The two are forced to let bygones be bygones, however, after discovering a coded message from Jamie that seems to indicate something was awry at Jamie’s internship with Reapling Corporation.

Obviously, I am cutting some corners here, but basically this chain of events leads Theo and Kai on a mystery-filled adventure at a highly-competitive summer camp program, ‘Know Your Roots’, run by the Corporation.

Know Your Roots is a program that celebrates Chinese and Indian cultures and is designed to help connect students with their heritage. Since Theo has been actively trying to ignore the Chinese part of his heritage his whole life, he is a bit behind the learning curve when he enters.

Together Theo and Kai think if they are at the camp, undercover of course, they will be able to get to the bottom of the mystery Jamie wanted them to solve. Are they right, or will they crash and burn in an epic way?

I had a lot of fun listening to this audio. The narration was excellent and I had no problem getting swept away with Theo and Kai.

You did get chapters from both of their perspectives and it was so funny, especially in the beginning, because neither one of them likes the other, so they definitely spill some tea. Over time, it was nice to see their relationship grow.

With Jamie being gone, and them being forced together, they were finally able to come to some mutual respect and understanding.

I definitely felt Sutanto’s sense of humor in this one, which is one of my favorite aspects of her writing. Particularly with Kai’s character. Kai is super snarky, smart and laugh out loud funny.

I enjoyed the setting of the Know Your Roots program. It did have a bit of that competitive feel that I like. I also liked that Kai and Theo had a mystery they were trying to solve.

The highlight of this for me though was the growth displayed in Theo’s characters. He really goes on quite the journey mentally and emotionally.

His self esteem grows a lot, which was the most satisfying for me. To see him push past the shadow of his brother’s legacy, who he saw as the golden child who he could never live up to.

Also, watching Theo learn about, come to appreciate and ultimately embrace his Chinese heritage was a really important message for a Middle Grade story, IMO. I think Sutanto excelled with that.

Overall, I had a great time reading this. It was action-packed, cute and funny as heck. I loved Theo and Kai so much and can’t wait to continue on with their adventures.

This left off in a fantastic spot, leaving plenty to explore in the next installment. You better believe I will be picking it up as soon as possible!!

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Review: The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce

The Witch in the WellThe Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Witch in the Well sounds intriguing. The cover image is subtly haunting. The title makes me want to discover what is happening. Is there actually a witch?

Sadly, even after reading it, I have no idea what happened. This is one of the extremely rare cases where I get progressively more ticked off the further I get into a story.

There’s a property, I guess a castle and a well on this property, where many years ago a local woman, Ilsbeth, who the townspeople believed was a witch, drowned.

Many years later, two young girls, playing in the woods discover the well and have mystical, or spiritual, or supernatural experiences there.

These girls, Elena and Cathy, grow apart and eventually become estranged. As adults, one of the women, Elena, I think, moves back to the castle after her Uncle’s death, as I understand it, to prep it for sale.

In the meantime, both women, inspired by the events at the well during their childhood, have taken it upon themselves to write books about Ilsbeth; to tell her story. Each believes they have the right to write it and the other one should stop.

Then I’m not sure, there’s like an Adult version of a prank war, there’s a handsome repairman turned suitor, and most confusing to me was a lot of content regarding a horse, or a ghost horse, and a horse as an embodiment of a demon.

Honestly, your guess is as good as mine and there it is. That’s what I got out of this book.

Oh, wait, one more thing, I think you also get the perspective of Ilsbeth, but I could be wrong on this. I think so, but I’m not 100%. Also, don’t get me started on how confusing the presentation of events was. I could not in a million years assemble a timeline for this story.

I listened to the audiobook. The narrator was okay, but I am not lying, or exaggerating, when I tell you that I RARELY knew whose perspective I was reading from and where the events fit in time.

I could not wait for this to be over. I didn’t want to DNF because, mistakenly, I thought perhaps I would have some sort of epiphany and it would suddenly all make sense.

Alas, this story just was not for me. I know there are some positive reviews out there and I’m definitely glad those Readers had a better experience with this one than I did. Please be sure you read those reviews and take them into account as well.

There’s a book for every Reader and a Reader for every book. Only you can decide if this one is for you or not.

Thank you to the publisher, Tor, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I was excited for this one. I’m sad it didn’t work out.

On to the next!

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