Book Review: The Appeal by Janice Hallett

Book Review: The Appeal by Janice Hallett

I received a free copy of The Appeal from the publisher, all opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

ONE MURDER. FIFTEEN SUSPECTS.
CAN YOU UNCOVER THE TRUTH?

There is a mystery to solve in the sleepy town of Lower Lockwood. It starts with the arrival of two secretive newcomers, and ends with a tragic death. Law students Charlotte and Femi have been assigned to the case. Someone has already been sent to prison for murder, but they suspect that they are innocent. And that far darker secrets have yet to be revealed…

Throughout the amateur dramatics society’s disastrous staging of All My Sons and the shady charity appeal for a little girl’s cancer treatment, the murderer hid in plain sight. Will Charlotte and Femi solve the case? Will you?

My Review:

This was one juicy and fun whodunnit! I am not usually one for the drama, but The Appeal was full of it and I soaked up every page! This is an epistolary novel, told completely through letters between characters. To add a modern twist to that style, The Appeal is a mix of text messages, emails, voicemails and handwritten notes. I found this very entertaining to read and often humorous when one character would say something to another, then send a completely different message to someone else. You get to see just how the rumor mills turn.

Just as the synopsis states, all of the evidence is laid out before you, so you actually get the chance to solve the case yourself as the reader. The Appeal is so unique and perfect for any mystery lover. I honestly couldn’t read this one fast enough, however the last 30 pages or so kind of slowed down as the two law students are conversing over their thoughts on the case and a lot of information is restated and rehashed. The final outcome is very good, however, it’s scandalous but also completely believable and the evidence was there all along. I would recommend this book to just about anyone, I think many readers would enjoy it.

Book Review: As The Wicked Watch by Tamron Hall

Book Review: As The Wicked Watch by Tamron Hall

I received a free copy of As The Wicked Watch from the publisher, all opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

When crime reporter Jordan Manning leaves her hometown in Texas to take a job at a television station in Chicago, she’s one step closer to her dream: a coveted anchor chair on a national network.

Jordan is smart and aggressive, with unabashed star-power, and often the only woman of color in the newsroom. Her signature? Arriving first on the scene—in impractical designer stilettos. Armed with a master’s degree in forensic science and impeccable instincts, Jordan has been able to balance her dueling motivations: breaking every big story—and giving a voice to the voiceless.

From her time in Texas, she’s covered the vilest of human behaviors but nothing has prepared her for Chicago. Jordan is that rare breed of a journalist who can navigate a crime scene as well as she can a newsroom—often noticing what others tend to miss. Again and again, she is called to cover the murders of Black women, many of them sexually assaulted, most brutalized, and all of them quickly forgotten.

All until Masey James—the story that Jordan just can’t shake, despite all efforts. A 15-year-old girl whose body was found in an abandoned lot, Masey has come to represent for Jordan all of the frustration and anger that her job often forces her to repress. Putting the rest of her work and her fraying personal life aside, Jordan does everything she can to give the story the coverage it desperately requires, and that a missing Black child would so rarely get.

There’s a serial killer on the loose, Jordan believes, and he’s hiding in plain sight.

My Review:

I received a free copy of As The Wicked Watch from the publisher, all opinions are my own.

Well color me surprised, this novel was better than I expected! Sometimes when people who were on TV before they became authors, their writing can feel like it was meant for TV. Do you know what I mean? But As The Wicked Watch felt every bit the thrilling suspense novel of a more seasoned author!

I didn’t know who Tamron Hall was before picking this up (I am not a TV watcher) but I learned that she is a TV journalist and she brought all of her expertise into this novel. I really enjoyed reading this mystery from a journalists’ point of view. If what she wrote is true to the job, media journalists put way more effort into their work than I previously thought! The journalist point of view also allowed for much more focus on the families of the victims, which I feel like isn’t as much of a focus in other police procedural type novels, and I really liked that fresh take.

The main character, journalist Jordan Manning was extremely well developed. At times, it did feel like a little too much: Ms. Hall really loves this character! But I think this novel has set up the rest of the series really well. I feel like I really know Jordan and I look forward to reading more in this series for sure!

Finally, I was very happy that Hall included so much information, reflection and anecdotes on being a Black woman, being a Black woman in the work force and in the public eye, and the comparison of how crimes involving Black people are not focused on nearly as critically as crimes against white people. This is a perspective that needs to be continually brought up until we start to see some change. I appreciated that nuanced way that Hall wove these threads throughout the entire novel and appreciated learning new insights myself.

Book Review: A Blizzard of Polar Bears

Book Review: A Blizzard of Polar Bears

I received a free copy of A Blizzard of Polar Bears from the publisher, all opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

Fresh off her wolverine study in Montana, wildlife biologist Alex Carter lands a job studying a threatened population of polar bears in the Canadian Arctic. Embedded with a small team of Arctic researchers, she tracks the majestic bears by air, following them over vast, snowy terrain, spending days leaning precariously out of a helicopter with a tranquilizer gun, until she can get down on the ice to examine them up close.

But as her study progresses, and she gathers data on the health of individual bears, things start to go awry. Her helicopter pilot quits unexpectedly, equipment goes missing, and a late-night intruder breaks into her lab and steals the samples she’s collected. She realizes that someone doesn’t want her to complete her study, but Alex is not easily deterred.

Managing to find a replacement pilot, she returns to the icy expanses of Hudson Bay. But the helicopter catches fire in midflight, forcing the team to land on a vast sheet of white far from civilization. Surviving on the frozen landscape is difficult enough, but as armed assailants close in on snowmobiles, Alex must rely on her skills and tenacity to survive this onslaught and carry out her mission.

My Review:

Last year, I read Henderson’s debut thriller A Solitude of Wolverines and found it to be a refreshing spin on the mystery/thriller genre! I loved the inclusion of well researched animal conservation information that was the foundation for the book.

A Blizzard of Polar Bears was more of that same great mix! I loved getting to learn how scientists track and study polar bears on an up-close-and-personal level. And this novel had a lot more action and adventure! This was a non-stop ride and I had so much fun reading it. I’m very impressed with how well balanced this novel was: great detail in setting description, well researched conversation information, strong character development, on-point mystery, and fast pacing! This series is a hit!

Book Review: Reprieve by James Han Mattson

Book Review: Reprieve by James Han Mattson

I received a free copy of Reprieve from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my onw.

Synopsis:

On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, “reprieve,” they’ll win a substantial cash prize—a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house’s long history. But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants.

Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who’s been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character’s journey unfurls and overlaps, deceit and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed, forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe.

An astonishingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism to present an unsettling portrait of this tangled American life.

My Review:

I was completely engrossed in this book from the first page. The short introduction let’s the reader know some serious sh*t went down, and then we get to meet Kendra, Jaidee, Bryan and a variety of other very strongly developed characters. I love how much care Mattson put into each of these characters as well as the diversity they each represented. There are themes of racism, sexuality, and prejudice woven into these pages which made for a rich, dynamic story.

This book is marketed as horror, and the Quigley House brought it for sure! I loved the short descriptions of what goes on in the full contact haunted attraction, it really built up the tension by adding it in a piece at a time, or should I say a “cell” at a time.

However, by about the 75% mark, I felt like the novel took a turn, and it went more in the direction of the characters, their interactions with each other, and their personal storylines colliding. It started to feel like two separate books: a horror novel, and contemporary fiction. While I loved the diversity and inclusion of deeper social elements at the beginning, by the end I was disappointed. The resolution for the horror portion of the book and what happened at Quigley House was so rushed I was confused. More effort was put into the resolution of the characters issues with themselves and each other. I was all set to give this one five stars, but the ending left me wanting more and I settled with four stars. I did still enjoy the book overall, and I appreciate what Mattson was trying to do and will look forward to more from this talented writer. 

Book Review: These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant

Book Review: These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant

Thank you to Minotaur for sending me a free copy of These Silent Woods in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

No electricity, no family, no connection to the outside world.

For eight years, Cooper and his young daughter, Finch, have lived in isolation in a remote cabin in the northern Appalachian woods. And that’s exactly the way Cooper wants it, because he’s got a lot to hide. Finch has been raised on the books filling the cabin’s shelves and the beautiful but brutal code of life in the wilderness. But she’s starting to push back against the sheltered life Cooper has created for her—and he’s still haunted by the painful truth of what it took to get them there.

The only people who know they exist are a mysterious local hermit named Scotland, and Cooper’s old friend, Jake, who visits each winter to bring them food and supplies. But this year, Jake doesn’t show up, setting off an irreversible chain of events that reveals just how precarious their situation really is. Suddenly, the boundaries of their safe haven have blurred—and when a stranger wanders into their woods, Finch’s growing obsession with her could put them all in danger. After a shocking disappearance threatens to upend the only life Finch has ever known, Cooper is forced to decide whether to keep hiding—or finally face the sins of his past.

My Review:

This book was everything I wanted it to be! An isolated cabin in the woods made for a perfectly atmospheric setting that pulled me in from start to finish. The characters were great, and little bits of backstory sprinkled in added a lot of depth. I loved that the backstory didn’t take up whole chunks of the book, there was just enough to help you understand the character without the plot getting lost, perfectly executed!

The story itself was also heartfelt and tragic, but so endearing at the same time. I loved the father/daughter relationship between Cooper and Finch and the time I got to spend in their little cabin with them. The ending, while it did feel a tad rushed, was heartbreaking and beautiful. I wouldn’t call this a thriller, but more of a contemporary fiction with some suspense. Loved it!

Book Review: The Family Plot by Megan Collins

Book Review: The Family Plot by Megan Collins

Thank you to Atria books for sending me a free copy of The Family Plot in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse remains haunted by her upbringing. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she has been unable to move beyond the disappearance of her twin brother, Andy, when they were sixteen.

After several years away and following her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house where the family soon makes a gruesome discovery: buried in their father’s plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Dahlia is quick to blame Andy’s murder on the serial killer who terrorized the island for decades, while the rest of the Lighthouses react to the revelation in unsettling ways. Her brother, Charlie, pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister, Tate, forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic facade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.

My Review:

This was one of the most fun books I have read in a while and I have a lot to say about it, so get ready! Right from the first page, I was ready to see where this story was going to go. The Lighthouse family is introduced, reciting all of the murder victims each family member is named after. That would hook you, too, right? It continues on this dark and sinister theme as the plot continues, and I must say that the pacing was absolutely perfect. There was not a dull moment. Reading this book felt like walking up a flight of stair, and each chapter was a step in the staircase. It was constantly building, and something was always happening.

I really want to talk about who might enjoy this book, and it’s more people than you might think! Of course any fans of true crime will love this one, because it is full of the mania that has recently exploded in the genre, with the help of several podcasts and streaming documentaries. Seriously, packed full! But I also think that people who enjoy YA thrillers, those mysterious and atmospheric novels that are light on the gore and violence, because this one had the same hallmarks. Only a handful of curse words were used, and while previous murders are discussed, there isn’t any violence in this one. Which I think is smart because it can reach more people that way. Lastly, this would make the perfect spooky fall read! It reminded me of Home Before Dark by Riley Sage and also the TV adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. The plot is very different from those two stories, but the spooky old house elements are all there. The August release of this one is perfectly timed to get into readers hands before spooky season!

If you can’t tell yet that I loved this one, let me assure you: I loved it! Great characters that were dynamic and interacted with each other well. Dark and ominous setting and back story. A mystery that had me stumped. And not one single lull, I was engrossed in every page! If you like spooky at all, you need to read this one! Out August 17, 2021.

Book Review: The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

Book Review: The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

Thank you to Atria books for sending me a free copy of The Night She Disappeared in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

On a beautiful summer night in a charming English suburb, a young woman and her boyfriend disappear after partying at the massive country estate of a new college friend.

One year later, a writer moves into a cottage on the edge of the woods that border the same estate. Known locally as the Dark Place, the dense forest is the writer’s favorite area for long walks and it’s on one such walk that she stumbles upon a mysterious note that simply reads, “DIG HERE.”

Could this be a clue towards what has happened to the missing young couple? And what exactly is buried in this haunted ground?

With her signature “rich, dark, and intricately twisted” (Ruth Ware, New York Times bestselling author) prose, Lisa Jewell has crafted a dazzling work of suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final page.

My Review:

It should come as no surprise that Lisa Jewell has done it again! She has written another amazing thriller that is equal parts twisted, tightly wound thriller and insightful, character driven life lesson story. I just don’t know how she does it!

I used to always say that I didn’t like character driven stories, but Lisa Jewell single handedly is the one who changed that for me. She writes such realistic characters that are going through tough spots in life, and she is able to imbibe so much insightful reflection about people, relationships, and life into her stories. Tallulah’s reflections of young motherhood in this book really resonated with me and added so much heart to this novel.

The thriller parts of this one were also expertly executed, I was guessing to the end and of course the outcome was so much more complex than I had originally thought, but every last piece of the puzzle fit! I will say, this might be the first of her books that I did feel lagged just a little in the middle, it was starting to feel slightly redundant, but I still really loved it! I highly recommend any of her thrillers!

The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

Thank you to Atria books for sending me a free copy of The Other Passenger in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

It all happens so quickly. One day you’re living the dream, commuting to work by ferry with your charismatic neighbor Kit in the seat beside you. The next, Kit hasn’t turned up for the boat and his wife, Melia, has reported him missing.

When you get off at your stop, the police are waiting. Another passenger saw you and Kit arguing on the boat home the night before and the police say that you had a reason to want him dead. You protest. You and Kit are friends—ask Melia, she’ll vouch for you. And who exactly is this other passenger pointing the finger? What do they know about your lives?

No, whatever danger followed you home last night, you are innocent, totally innocent.

Aren’t you?

My Review:

The Other Passenger is definitely one of those kind of thrillers that keeps you guessing until the end. Candlish gives you just enough to make you think you might know what’s going on, but you really have no idea! The last third of the book was twist after twist, and those twists are what made this one so fun to read!

I would classify this as a character driven novel, and it moved a little slow at times. I only have one critique, which is that I thought the book was too long, that about 100 pages could have been weeded out. A lot of time was spent building up the characters and their relationships and connections to each other, which is a big part of what drove the plot, but there was jsut a little too much of it, in my opinion.

With that being said, I am glad I made it to the end, all of that build up made it feel realistic and the twists all the more powerful. This is definitely an enjoyable read, especially if you like character driven books and don’t mind a slow rolling build up!

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

Thank you to Berkley and Kaye Publicity for sending me a free copy of For Your Own Good in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

Teddy Crutcher has won Teacher of the Year at the prestigious Belmont Academy, home to the best and brightest.
 
He says his wife couldn’t be more proud—though no one has seen her in a while.
 
Teddy really can’t be bothered with a few mysterious deaths on campus that’re looking more and more like murder or the student digging a little too deep into Teddy’s personal life. His main focus is pushing these kids to their full academic potential.  
 
All he wants is for his colleagues—and the endlessly meddlesome parents—to stay out of his way. If not, well, they’ll get what they deserve.
 
It’s really too bad that sometimes excellence can come at such a high cost.

My Review:

This is one of the funnest books I have read in a very long time! I was hooked right from the start. For Your Own Good is the perfect balance of plot, setting, love-to-hate-them characters and more twists than a pretzel!

The setting is great: Belmont is the quintessential stuffy prep school run by the pushiest and richest parents around. I don’t know a single person who ever went to a school like that, and I think that is why they make such great novel settings. We get a glimpse into the scandalous and elite lives of the uber rich. And it’s like watching the most polite and polished train wreck ever!

But the twists in this book! Oh my, I didn’t see a single one coming so I was constantly gasping out loud or exclaiming “Omg, that did NOT just happen!?” As soon as one little fire was getting put out, all of a sudden another sprang up. I usually like trying to guess what is going to happen in the story but that was virtually impossible with this book, and I didn’t mind one bit! It’s what made it such a captivating and fun read!

And those characters! Such utterly despicable characters, always poised and polished on the outside for the sake of keeping up appearances but falling apart on the inside. Teddy was such a perfect stereotype of the man who always thinks he knows what’s best, Sonia’s perfectionism made her so unhappy, and Zach is the only one willing to question things, to challenge people, to stand up for what’s right.

The best part: even though this book surrounds multiple murders, it has quite a bit of humor in it as well. It kind of reminded me of the movie Clue! Because of that, it gave the book a slightly lighter feel and I think just about anyone could read and enjoy this. For those of you who want a thriller, but scare easy, this one is for you. A highly entertaining read that I definitely recommend!

The Final Girls Support Group by Grady Hendrix

The Final Girls Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Thank you to the publisher for providing me a free digital copy of The Final Girls Support Group in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

Like his bestselling novel The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix’s latest is a fast-paced, frightening, and wickedly humorous thriller. From chain saws to summer camp slayers, The Final Girl Support Group pays tribute to and slyly subverts our most popular horror films—movies like The Texas Chainsaw MassacreA Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream.

Lynette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre. For more than a decade, she’s been meeting with five other final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, working to put their lives back together. Then one woman misses a meeting, and their worst fears are realized—someone knows about the group and is determined to rip their lives apart again, piece by piece.

But the thing about final girls is that no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

My Review:

Hendrix gets points for creativity, that’s for damn sure. Always bringing completely outside of the box horror stories, I will forever be a Grady Hendrix fan! The Final Girls Support Group was another fun romp, this time full of action. There were times this almost felt like an action movie. Even though there were quite a few characters to keep track of, each one was so different and Hendrix did a good job of describing them separately that I didn’t have any trouble keeping track of them. And they made up quite the motley crew!

I can’t say that I actually liked any of them, though. Especially the main character: Lynette is paranoid to a fault, yet misses the obviousness in front of her face. She’s a character that takes herself too seriously, then fails miserably. I felt stronger connections with characters in some of Hendrix’s other books so this was a small disappointment for me.

One thing that I greatly appreciate about Hendrix’s writing is his tack with the horror elements (ahem, if horror elements can every be though of as tactful). What I mean is: he uses the gore, the blood and guts, to add to the story but not take over the story. I have found that the horror genre can be hit or miss for me, and that I get turned off by horror books that go over the top gory, being gross just because they can. Hendrix never looses sight of his characters or his plot and I greatly appreciate that. I can handle blood and guts no problem if it makes sense in the story, but on the other hand I don’t need to revel in it.

The Final Girls Support Group was a fun ride, and I highly recommend it!