Review: The Break-Up Pact by Emma Lord

The Break-Up Pact: A NovelThe Break-Up Pact: A Novel by Emma Lord
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Break-Up Pact is Emma Lord’s upcoming release and one I was so excited for. Set to hit shelves in August 2024, this is also Lord’s Adult Romance debut.

In this story, we follow June and Levi, who were best friends as teenagers. A misunderstanding just prior to Levi departing for college, resulted in a falling out, and the two have essentially lost touch ever since. Now as adults, they’ve both returned to their hometown of Benson Beach.

June is struggling to maintain the beach-side tea shop opened by her sister. She also has just had a very embarrassing, very public break-up, resulting in her being dubbed ‘the crying girl’ on social media. Humiliating!

Levi has returned to town after an equally public break-up, wherein his long-time girlfriend left him for a celebrity. Everyone is talking about it. Trying to escape the limelight for a while, Levi flees NYC and returns to Benson Beach, where he can focus more on his writing.

As Levi and June come back into each other’s orbit, they begin talking and catching-up. After a picture of them caught in a very suggestive position goes viral, they decide to go along with the charade and pretend to be a couple.

If it’s drama and intrigue the people want, it’s drama and intrigue they shall get. The bonus being extra business for June’s shop and both of their ex’s getting jealous.

I love a fake-dating trope and I thought it was well-executed here. Both June and Levi were compelling characters and I enjoyed learning about their past history, as well as watching them learn about each other all over again.

They are both dealing with some fairly serious adult issues, with their careers and their recent break-ups, and the examination of those things does take up a good portion of the narrative. Because of that, this has a much more serious tone than Lord’s previous works, IMO, but it makes sense.

In an adult world, adult things happen. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Businesses end up in trouble. You end up in a career you aren’t passionate about. You worry you wasted time with someone who was never going to be the one for you. You worry that you are never going to find the place you really belong. You lose friends, you lose loved ones; these are all things that most of us can relate to…

My concern for this novel is that people will go in expecting a super punchy, witty, fun Rom-Com and they’ll be surprised by the more serious tone; maybe causing them to not rate it as highly.

I would pick this up expecting an Adult Contemporary with a convincing fake-dating trope. It’s not all giggle and laughs and swooning; although there is some of that too.

In my eyes, this is a successful transition into the Adult space for Lord. I thought the characters were very well-developed and it did fill my heart watching the evolution of their relationship. I feel like as far as couples go, Levi and June are perfectly matched.

I did enjoy how this was paced. I thought it had a fun introductory section and then it slows down a bit as we get into the meat of their relationship. As the fake dates begin, it does pick up again and then as we get closer to conclusion, it speeds along at a great pace.

In addition to the likeable main characters, I loved the side characters in this as well. June’s best friend, who helps the couple with their plot, and June’s brother and his fiance, all had fun-loving, supportive roles, that truly added to the feel of the narrative.

Overall, I think this is a very solid, heart-warming story. I enjoyed going on this journey with both of these characters as they found themselves, and each other at the same time.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Griffin, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I adore Emma Lord and will continue to pick up everything she writes.

This was super cute and I’m proud of her for branching out into the Adult Contemporary space. Well done!!

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Review: The Gathering by C.J. Tudor

The GatheringThe Gathering by C.J. Tudor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The easiest 5-star rating I have given thus far in 2024. I adored every moment of reading this story.

C.J. Tudor has explored new territory here. I can’t wait for more. It’s so good, and C.J., if you happen upon this review, this book was everything…

I basically fell in love with this book the very first time I set eyes on this eerie snow-covered cover. Added to that, the publisher created a fascinating Horror Mystery synopsis.

They had my attention. It was giving me heavy Bone White ((one of my favorites ever)) vibes and I was all over it!

Luckily, I was blessed with an early copy and although I tried to push it off closer to release date, here we are.

In this story, we follow Detective Barbara Atkins, an experienced specialist in vampyr killings. She gets sent to the very small and remote town of Deadhart, Alaska, to investigate the brutal murder of a teen boy.

Deadhart has a Colony of vampyrs living on their periphery with which they have an unsettling history. This most recent murder is the literal match to the wick. The townspeople are fired up and calling for a cull.

Barbara is tasked with determining whether or not a vampyr was responsible for the brutal slaying of the teen, and if so, does that solitary act necessitate a cull.

Needless to say, some of the townspeople don’t warm to Barbara’s presence. They’re a small, tight-knit community and don’t feel they need outsiders dictating how they handle their town and it’s adjacent Colony.

As the Reader, you go along with Barbara as she inserts herself into this town and really digs into this specific case, as well as anything else that may help her make her determination in regards to this Colony.

I was immediately intrigued with this set-up. I enjoyed how it’s essentially our world, with one major difference, vampyrs are real and they live openly amongst humans.

They may live in their own Colonies, but everyone knows they exist. It’s an interesting set-up to imagine.

I think Tudor did a great job of developing this. We learn slowly the details of the relationship between humans and vampyrs, historically, so it doesn’t weigh you down with major descriptors right off the bat.

It’s strictly a need to know basis and I liked that. I never felt like I needed more information. I had exactly what I needed to feel completely enraptured by this world.

I also loved the way the setting of Deadhart is portrayed. The atmosphere is so rich. It’s dark, uninviting and feels dangerous. I was shivering and wasn’t sure if it is from the cold coming off the pages, or the fear. Tudor created a real sense of dread; my love language.

We do get some other perspectives, so you aren’t locked in with Barbara the whole time. The back and forth kept the story going at a nice clip and I felt each perspective added a lot to the build-up.

One of my favorite aspects of this was Barbara’s relationship with the local law enforcement, particularly a former deputy, Tucker. They made a great team. Their relationship felt very natural and I enjoyed their coworker energy.

As you get past the mid-point, the pace really kicks up. You can feel the tension rising in the whole town. You can just tell that everything is going to come to a head.

I was nervous. You do start to care about some of the characters and the dangers were everywhere. I was so concerned for everyone that I cared about. I wanted everyone to make it out unscathed.

Overall, this was just so fun. It was well constructed and super gripping. I honestly hope this sets a new trend for vampire stories. It was unsettling realistic.

Thank you to the publisher, Ballantine Books, for providing me a copy to read and review. I cannot wait to pick up a hard copy for my shelves!!!

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Review: Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth

Darling GirlsDarling Girls by Sally Hepworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Oh my gosh, I read this so quickly. I always find Sally Hepworth’s stories incredibly readable. They’re addicting. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

All the twists and turns gave me whiplash. Also, I loved the three main characters. Bonus, this left me with the devilish grin that I always enjoy at the end.

But what’s it all about?! Let’s discuss.

In this story, we follow three sisters: Jessica, Norah and Alicia. While not biologically-related, the girls spent many of their formative years together in a foster home run by Miss Fairchild. Their experiences there bonded them for life.

From the outside, it looked like the idyllic place to be a child. Certainly better than the circumstances the girls came from, however, there were secret things happening behind closed doors, as there often are, and Miss Fairchild wasn’t necessarily as sweet as she appeared from the outside.

Eventually, the three were able to break free from Miss Fairchild’s home, and although they never saw her again, the hurtful memories remained.

As adults, they have kept in very close contact, and are all living mostly satisfying lives well away from their traumatic childhood home. Then one day out of the blue, they receive word that a body has been discovered under the home where they used to live with Miss Fairchild.

Shocked by the discovery, the three women join up and travel back to that place they left long ago, but are they returning as possible witnesses, or suspects?

I had a blast reading this. It was a super intriguing set-up and I loved learning about all three women. They were each unique and well-developed, and even though they were quite different, their shared history made for very close and believable relationships.

This story is expertly-constructed using past and present timelines, both of which I found equally interesting. I think Hepworth did a great job of creating suspense, as well as characters that you could care about.

Finding out the truth about the girls’ time with Miss Fairchild was fascinating. I never knew what was going to come next. It made me tense, in a good way.

IMO, Hepworth is an incredible, dramatic storyteller. She never fails to draw me in quickly and hold my attention. Although I guessed some things, it made it no less enjoyable, or impactful. In fact, I think I was probably realizing things at the pace in which Hepworth was intending.

The pace picks up closer to the end and I found the conclusion to be fun and satisfying. There were some surprises left in the tank and I walked away a happy girl.

I would recommend the audio format, as the narration was very well done and seemed to fit the overall story nicely. It kept me focused and relaxed.

Thank you to the publishers, St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. I always look forward to the latest from Sally Hepworth, and this definitely did not disappoint.

10-out-of-10 recommend!!

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Review: You Know What You Did by K.T. Nguyen

You Know What You DidYou Know What You Did by K.T. Nguyen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

You Know What You Did is an intensely-suspenseful Mystery/Thriller debut from a hot up-and-coming author, K.T. Nguyen. And what a crackling debut it is!!

This story follows a fascinating-MC, Anh Le, who goes by Annie. She’s married, and the mother of a teenaged daughter. Annie is also an artist, although she’s feeling unsatisfied with her career lately.

In fact, a few aspects of Annie’s life are beginning to derail after the passing of her Mom, a Vietnam War refugee, who Annie had a contentious relationship with.

Annie’s mother had been residing in an out-building on their family property, so she had been a fairly constant presence in Annie’s life.

The loss impacted Annie in a lot of unexpected ways. Her severe-OCD comes roaring back and the dark fixations of her mind seem to be morphing into her reality.

When Annie’s most wealthy patron goes missing, shortly after Annie visited her home, the police come knocking.

The disappearance is shocking and it has Annie questioning everything, even herself. She can’t seem to keep current events straight in her mind.

She’s confused about many things and it’s scary. She begins to distance herself from her family and friends.

With Annie’s husband traveling for work, and her daughter off to summer camp, Annie is left to her own devices. As you can imagine, that doesn’t go well.

Waking up in a hotel, with a lifeless body beside her, Annie has officially hit rock bottom. The police are back and she doesn’t have answers that make sense, not even to herself.

Y’all, I loved this. I found it completely engaging, creepy and thought-provoking. K.T. Nguyen delivered all the tense, claustrophobic, desperate, unreliable narrator vibes that I could ever hope for.

I found it so easy to connect with Annie. I felt everything she was feeling. It made me incredibly anxious, but in a good, entertaining way, if that’s possible. There were times that I was crawling out of my skin of anticipation.

I was sympathetic to Annie’s character from the start, particularly since I couldn’t stand her husband, or her daughter. It often felt like they were ganging up on Annie and were just not giving her any slack.

I was happy when they both left, so Annie could be alone. Although it definitely didn’t help her mental state.

It’s funny, I was Buddy Reading this with a friend and she mentioned, like how much is what Annie is relaying to us about her husband and daughter true? Could it be her paranoia? Part of her mental spiral? Or were they really being that rotten to her?

It’s so funny, I didn’t even consider that before she said it, but yeah, Annie’s mental state definitely added so much to the suspense of this story. It was an exceptionally well-executed unreliable narrator situation.

I absolutely loved Nguyen’s writing. The character work in particular, I was so impressed. I enjoyed not only the suspense and mystery of this story, but Nguyen also chose to tackle some difficult topics, such as the immigrant experience and mental health.

I enjoyed the levels of depth that these topics added to the story. This is more than just your standard Popcorn Thriller. This story has meat and I enjoyed every bite.

I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a taut, engaging and emotional Mystery/Thriller. Particularly, if you enjoy an unreliable narrator.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Dutton, for providing me with a copy to read and review. If this is her debut, I cannot wait to see what Nguyen delivers next!!!

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Review: The Guest by B.A. Paris

The GuestThe Guest by B.A. Paris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

B.A. Paris is back and she’s bringing my favorite kind of suspenseful Domestic Drama with her.

I had so much fun reading The Guest. Frustrating in the best ways, I found it to be completely addictive and one heck of a gripping roller coaster ride.

In this story we meet Iris and Gabriel, a married couple living in the British countryside. They have a grown daughter who is currently working abroad in Greece, so all is fairly peaceful on the homefront.

That is until the day a local boy suffered a terrible accident, falling into a nearby quarry. Gabriel was the one to find the boy’s battered body and even though Gabriel’s a skilled doctor, there was nothing he could do.

The boy couldn’t be saved, but Gabriel did get to be with him in his final moments, so he wasn’t alone.

Gabriel hasn’t been the same since that tragic day, and even though Iris is trying to help him cope, it’s definitely put a strain on their relationship.

As they are grappling with this, an unexpected house guest arrives. Their old friend, Laure, has shown up from Paris. She says that she and her husband, Pierre, have had a terrible fight and she needs a place to stay.

Iris and Gabriel have been best friends with Laure and Pierre for many, many years, so they tell Laure that she is welcome and that she can stay for as long as she needs.

Laure moves herself in and makes herself as comfortable as possible, wearing Iris’s clothes and shadowing her every move. As the days and even weeks pass, the couple begins to question Laure’s story and her motives.

What is she really doing there and when the heck is she going to leave?

As tension mounts, more people get drawn into the twisted drama; the new couple in town, their handsome gardener and even Iris and Gabriel’s daughter.

As mentioned above, I really enjoyed this one and found the narrative to be compulsively readable. From the Prologue, Paris had absolutely hooked me. She definitely has a gift for drawing the Reader in.

From the initial set-up, with Laure arriving at the house, you can just tell it is going to get freaking wild. There’s a vibe under the surface of constant tension and intrigue.

No matter how crazy things get though, I always find Paris’s main characters to be relatable. I never have a problem putting myself in their shoes and imagining what I would do in any given situation.

This one had me biting my nails with tension, yelling at Laure, yelling at Iris. I would have done some major clean-out of my house, that’s for sure.

I really got sucked into all of the interpersonal drama in this story, but also loved the mystery running throughout. It was hard to tell who you could trust and some of the connections were also shady.

There were some real strong reveals and I was happy with the way it ultimately concluded. This did feel more reminiscent to some of Paris’s earlier works as well, which were a little stronger for me than her more recent releases.

I would definitely recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a taut, twisted Domestic Drama, particularly if you have enjoyed B.A. Paris’s earlier stories.

I would also recommend reading this one with a friend, or Book Club. I actually Buddy Read it and thought it was exciting to discuss it with someone else as we discovered the twists and turns together.

Overall, I thought this was such a great read. I’m so happy Paris continues to write these types of stories. As long as she is writing them, I’ll be reading them.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan Audio, for providing me copies to read and review. The Guest is releasing on February 20, 2024, and IMO, this one should not be missed!!

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Review: The Curse of Penryth Hall by Jess Armstrong

The Curse of Penryth HallThe Curse of Penryth Hall by Jess Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Curse of Penryth Hall is a Gothic Mystery mostly set at a large manor home in the Cornish countryside.

We follow an American heiress, Ruby Vaugh, who after a scandal back home, gets sent to live in Exeter, where she helps run a cozy bookshop.

One day Ruby is given an assignment to go deliver a box of books to a folk healer living in Cornwall. It just so happens her destination will take her to the doorstep of Penryth Hall, where her once dear, now estranged friend, Tamsyn, lives with her husband, Sir Edward Chenowyth.

Ruby hasn’t seen Tamsyn since her wedding. The women didn’t part under the best of conditions and there’s a lot of tension simmering just under the surface, but Ruby feels compelled to reconnect nonetheless.

The property itself feels dark and stifling. There’s not a lot of lightness flowing through the corridors. Tamsyn is a mother now and her young son seems to be her pride and joy. Her husband, however, not so much.

After a tense and uncomfortable dinner, Ruby isn’t sure what to think. It seems Tamsyn has gotten herself into a bad position, but how can Ruby possibly help? Tamsyn is an adult. She made her choices.

For her part, Ruby can’t wait to get out of there. She’ll spend one night and then go, back to her life in Exeter. Ruby’s plans for leaving are dashed though when Edward’s dead body is discovered the following morning in the orchard.

The state of the body point to the most gruesome of deaths. Shortly thereafter, talk of the curse begins. Ruby is puzzled by this. Surely, these people don’t truly believe that a curse killed Sir Edward?

She begins to look into it. She wants to prove that a person, a real human being in the flesh, must have killed Edward. And if they did, anyone in Penryth could still be in danger, including Tamsyn and her son.

She ends up teaming up with the person who brought her to Cornwall in the first place, Ruan Kivell, the folk healer, known to the locals as a Pellar. Although Ruby isn’t sold on his brand of healing, she can’t help but admit when he begins to help her in big ways.

Will the two of them be able to put their differences aside long enough to discover what happened to Sir Edward, or will their bickering get in the way?

The Curse of Penryth Hall was a delightful surprise for me. I’m an Atmosphere Girlie, first and foremost, and this entire story was dripping in it.

I also loved Ruby as a main character and the chemistry between her and Ruan, and I don’t even mean that in a romance way, just the overall dynamic between the two of them, was fantastic. Their back-and-forth; the pull and push of their relationship was so fun to watch.

I enjoyed the gothic vibes and having Ruby being a plucky, outspoken protagonist seemed perfect for the setting. She was almost like a fish out of water, but ended up really becoming invested in the goings-on of that little village.

I also really enjoyed how Armstrong played this out. It had a lovely is it supernatural, is it not feel to it that I always enjoy. I thought it was well paced and the mystery was intriguing.

The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the relationship between Ruby and Tamsyn. I didn’t like Tamsyn, so didn’t really get why Ruby seemed so attached her. I guess I just didn’t get enough of their history to have their relationship make sense to me.

Overall, this was just a really good, solid mystery with fantastically-gothic vibes. I had a lot of fun with the setting, story and characters.

There were a few statements at the end that lead me to believe this could be the first in a series. Personally, I would be super stoked if that were the case. I would love to follow Ruby on more adventures.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historically-set mysteries with heavy gothic vibes. I would also definitely recommend it to fans of Hester Fox, or Sarah Penner.

Thank you to the publisher, Minotaur Books and Dreamscape Media, for providing me with copies to read and review. The Curse of Penryth Hall releases on December 5, 2023!!!

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Review: A Fragile Enchantment by Allison Saft

A Fragile EnchantmentA Fragile Enchantment by Allison Saft
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

…like I wasn’t a big enough fan already!

A Fragile Enchantment is the third full-length novel from Allison Saft. It is set to release on January 23, 2024, but I couldn’t wait any longer to pick it up.

I have read all of Saft’s novels now and IMO, they just keep getting better and better. I’m so drawn in by her writing and dazzling, gothic-feeling atmospheres.

In this story we follow a magical young seamstress, Niamh, who gets called to the castle to create the wedding day wardrobe for the Prince and his bride-to-be. This is putting it simply, but that is the basic set-up.

As Niamh arrives at the castle and is introduced to court life, it’s clear she’s a fish-out-of-water. Coming from the country, she’s never experienced court politics close-up.

Nevertheless, she feels blessed to have the opportunity and even though her people aren’t big fans of the monarchy, she’s determined to make the most of it.

The Prince, Christopher, Kit to his friends, is the younger of two Princes. His brother, Jack, is functioning as monarch. It was actually Jack who arranged Kit’s engagement, as well as Niamh’s services.

When Niamh meets Kit, she’s a little surprised by how abrasive he is. It’s clear he’s not overjoyed about his upcoming nuptials. The wedding isn’t one that will be based on love, but rather on political advantage. So’s the way of court life, Niamh supposes.

The bride-to-be has now arrived at the kingdom, along with her father, and it seems she is just a pawn as well. With a dark personality and darker fashion sense, Niamh finds herself puzzled by the Princess, Rosa.

Nonetheless, she finds herself drawn to her and her charismatic lady’s maid, Miriam. Along with Kit’s childhood best friend, Sinclair, the five unlikely allies end up forming an entertaining friendship group.

Niamh is starting to feel like she belongs, though she never would have thought it possible, and the more time she spends with Kit, the less she is able to deny the chemistry crackling between them.

Unfortunately, she’s not the only one who has noticed the sparks and soon Niamh and Kit are the fodder of the anonymous gossip columnist, Lovelace. Will Lovelace’s rumors and insinuations ruin everything for Niamh, or will she be able to survive the scandalous court life unscathed?

Y’all, I thought this was fabulous. It kicks off so quickly. Saft wastes no time getting Niamh to the kingdom and enmeshed in the complicated palace lifestyle.

I loved that she was an outsider taking it all in for the first time. Additionally, I really loved Kit as a character. He had some depth to him and I feel like Saft spent enough time building-out his character, so that his caustic personality truly made sense.

I love a prickly, abrasive man, so his entire demeanor definitely worked for me. I enjoyed watching Kit’s relationship with his older brother, Jack, and learning a bit about their family history as well. I was definitely picking up William and Harry vibes there.

Further, I enjoyed the friendship group that formed between Niamh, Rosa, Miriam, Kit and Sinclair. I was able to glean a lot of insight from their interactions and I felt it helped to better develop each character.

The political intrigue really amps up in the second half and I felt that was exciting and extremely well written by Saft. There were some scenes, as we raced towards the conclusion, where I was at the edge-of-my-seat, biting my fingernails, just hoping for the best for the characters I had come to love.

Speaking of characters I loved, Kit’s betrothed, Rosa, was such a fun character. All I could picture when reading about her was Wednesday Addams. She was bringing all that morose, gothic energy.

As mentioned above, I started getting really tense towards the end. I figured, objectively that things would probably work out okay, but getting there sure was emotional!

Overall, I had such a great time reading this. Saft’s writing is accessible and fluid. It’s magical and enchanting, but without feeling over done. The plot never gets drowned out by flowery writing. It’s easy to follow along and become emotionally attached to her characters.

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

Saft has quickly become a go-to YA Fantasy author for me. I look forward to following her career for a long, long time.

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Review: A Killer in the Family (DCI Jonah Sheens #5) by Gytha Lodge

A Killer in the Family (Jonah Sheens #5)A Killer in the Family by Gytha Lodge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Killer in the Family is the 5th-book in the DCI Jonah Sheens series. This is a top-tier Police Procedural Mystery series for me and I have anxiously awaited each new release.

As with many Adult Mystery series, these books don’t necessarily need to be read in order. Personally though, I would recommend it, mainly due to the interesting character development involving the group of detectives.

With this being said, any of the books in this series would also make great standalone novels. However, I feel like once you read one, you’ll want to read them all!

In this installment, DCI Jonah Sheens and his team are trying to track down a serial killer. Dubbed the ‘bonfire killer’ because of the circumstances in which the victims are found, the killer shows no signs of slowing down.

The area of Southampton is on edge. It’s recommended women not walk alone after dark. Extra precautions should be taken, but not everyone is listening.

Thanks to a DNA registry compiled via a UK-based ancestry website, the investigators have a strong lead. It takes them to the doorstep of single-mom, Aisling Cooley.

The events that happen next will leave both the investigators and Ms. Cooley scratching their heads. For Aisling, it’s a puzzle almost too devastating to want to figure out.

Could there be a killer in the family?

Y’all, this book doesn’t release until August, but I couldn’t resist picking it up. I normally never, ever, ever pick up ARCs months before their actual release, but for this one, I was willing to break my own rules.

Right out the gate, Lodge shocked me with an epic Prologue. Like, that’s how you start a story. Jaw on the floor, yikes, what am I getting into?!

I got super invested in this mystery. I had so many different theories, but I actually hoped I wasn’t correct, as I really liked all the characters involved.

In addition to this new case, I enjoying reading the continuing storylines involving our main group of recurring characters, DCI Jonah Sheens and his team. Particularly Juliette and Ben, I love them and their friendship so much.

One of the things I love most about this team is how well they work together. I feel like in a lot of stories involving people that work together, there’s always some sort of drama or contempt amongst the characters.

That doesn’t happen in these books. They support one another, they treat each other with respect and the camaraderie is frankly, workplace goals. Each one of them has their strengths and Sheens recognizes that and assigns them tasks accordingly.

I love a happy, supportive, cohesive team, working on one myself IRL, so appreciate that representation here.

I also really enjoyed the concept of using consumer DNA services to track a killer. I just read a fantastic nonfiction book, The Forever Witness: How Genetic Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder, about that very topic, so it was fun to see its fictional use here.

This investigation was perfectly paced and the plot was structured so well. Lodge kept me guessing, and second-guessing myself, at the edge of my seat, until the exciting final scenes.

Overall, A Killer in the Family is a sensational addition to the Jonah Sheens series. I absolutely loved this one. Lodge has successfully created another enticing page-turner.

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

This is one of my favorite series and I hope it continues for a long time to come!!

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Review: The Scourge Between Stars by Ness Brown

The Scourge Between StarsThe Scourge Between Stars by Ness Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

The Scourge Between Stars is a SF-Horror novella from Ness Brown. I had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook, which is performed by my favorite narrator, Bahni Turpin.

You know what I’m going to say: I would absolutely recommend the audio format. I’m serious though. It’s great!

This story follows, Jack Albright, a captain on the starship Calypso. The Calypso is slowly making its way back to its home planet after a failed mission.

There are constant threats involved with traveling through deep space and Jack, along with her crew, question if they will even be able to make it back to Earth. As if food shortages and potentially harmful space debris aren’t enough, there seems to be a murderer on board.

As bodies start dropping, and we’re talking in a very brutal, bloody fashion, Jack’s realizes she needs to figure out this danger ASAP.

Along with an AI, Watson, who I’ll admit to being fully suspicious of the entire way through, Jack digs deep into the mystery. The clock is ticking. Will anyone make it off this ship alive?

I really enjoyed my time listening to this story. The SF-writing was really well done. It felt fluid and engaging the whole way through.

I liked following Jack and wish I could have gotten the chance to learn more about her, the ship and Watson. That’s sometimes the only disappointing thing about a novella; that it’s not longer. I’m left wanting more. Please understand, this is a compliment.

I seriously hope this is like a prequel novella or something to a larger series. I would love more with these characters and within this SF-world.

Thank you to the publisher, Tor Nightfire and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

I’m happy to have been introduced to the work of Ness Brown and am looking forward to more!

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Review: The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

The VillaThe Villa by Rachel Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

A fantastic, paranoia-filled romp in Italy following two sets of women over two timelines. I really enjoyed watching the dual-dramas of The Villa unfold.

Villa Rosato, 1974: Step-sisters, Mari and Lara, are on an artist’s holiday along with Mari’s boyfriend, Pierce. The trio are staying at the lavish holiday home at the invitation of rock star, Noel Gordon.

Mari is a writer and both Lara and Pierce are musicians. There’s a lot of creating going on at the home, but also a lot of other things. It’s sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, baby!

It’s during her stay at the villa that Mari pens one of the greatest horror novels of all time, her magnum opus, Lilith Rising, with the opening words, ‘houses remember’.

This creative retreat ends with Pierce’s brutal murder. Will the house remember?

In the present, Villa Rosato is now known as Villa Aestas, a luxurious holiday retreat, in spite of the fact that it’s a murder house. For best friends, writers, Emily and Chess, it’s the perfect spot for them to go and reconnect.

Emily, the author of a Cozy Mystery series is in a bit of a rut after the recent separation from her husband. It hasn’t been easy and with him going after her money, she’s financially strapped and emotionally at wits end.

Chess is a very successful self-help author, who rents the villa in the hopes that her best friend, Emily, will join her there for the summer.

Emily is concerned, you know about the murder house part, but it does sound like a nice escape. Chess always seems to be able to make her feel better, so maybe it will good.

Once at the villa, Emily is taken with the house and its history; more specifically the events of 1974. She begins researching and believes that the truth may be more sinister than what is currently believed.

She also feels like the truth may lie within Mari’s writings. It becomes a bit of a project for Emily. She’s fascinated by the topic and begins writing about it.

The murderous events at the villa have already been of interest to True Crime aficionados and podcasters for years, but how many of them have actually had the opportunity to go live in the house.

Emily could have insight nobody else has ever been privy too before. It’s exciting to her and definitely reinvigorates her creative juices.

When Chess begins sniffing around the same story, Emily gets a little miffed. This is her thing. Doesn’t Chess have enough already? Why can’t she leave this alone?

The seclusion of the home and foreboding nature of the house itself seems to be having an effect on the women. They’re snapping at each other, running hot and cold, are they just going stir-crazy, or is there something more eroding their relationship?

More importantly, will they both be able to make it out of the murder house alive?

I was greatly anticipating The Villa and had so much fun listening to the audiobook. The narration was fantastic and absolutely channeled the slow-intensity of the story.

I loved the initial set-up. Getting to know the cast of characters, both past and present, kept me fully engaged and present. I was very quickly invested.

One of my favorite aspects was watching Emily’s character looking into the events of 1974; how those events intrigued her and gave her new focus.

Emily was at a place where she really needed somewhere to focus her energy outside of her failing relationship and bad financial circumstances. The villa helped with that.

The relationship between Emily and Chess was complicated, as many friendships are, but I found it to be 100% believable. Friendships can get messy and this one definitely had its moments.

The 1974-timeline was giving me heavy Daisy Jones & the Six energy and I wasn’t mad about it. It was interesting, with great characters and well-structured reveals.

Personally, I could have gone a bit darker in that time period, but I understand the choices made by the author. It didn’t need to get super dark to be effective and it kept it more evenly-balanced between the two time periods.

I also sort of wish there were more detailed excerpts from Lilith Rising included. I’m so intrigued by Mari’s book. I wish it actually existed in real life so I could read it.

That should giving you an inkling of how interesting it was, the whole concept of the ultimate Feminist Horror novel. This feeling also reminded me of Daisy Jones because I would have sold my soul for a copy of their nonexistent album.

I loved how this wrapped up. The influence of the one on the other; the permission granted in a way for the present to happen the way it did because of the past. It’s really difficult to talk about this without spoilers, so I will just say, I found this to be incredibly clever.

The final twist left me with that evil grin I love so much. It was just so well done.

Rachel Hawkins is crushing this gothic-infused mystery genre. I’m loving it. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. The Villa was a ton of fun and a great way to start off a new reading year!!

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