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Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was really drawn into this one. I think it was because there were so many moving parts and it had all the mysterious elements that make for an interesting story. There were some issues with the writing and the story itself, however I was along for the ride anyway.

I read this one for the Literally Dead Book Club. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Cady McClain and Jon Lindstrom which I enjoyed.

The story.
I liked the build up. I liked the atmosphere, the setting, the elements of backstory and going back in real time with changing POVs to meet somewhere in the middle. I couldn’t decide whether it was going to be based on my lack of information, or psychological, or supernatural, or a simple thought-experiment, it kept me on my toes. I also like to go in blind with books, barely skimming the descriptions, looking for themes and key words that either turn me on or off to a story and diving in from there and this book was easy for me to get into based on just a few interests of mine, mostly having to do with a Victorian estate.

I liked how it played heavily on the emotions of scare tactics. There were unmentioned assumptions which were well played. Assumptions that people freak out over snakes, startled by creeps of hidden floor boards, flickering lights, music, appealing to a multitude of senses, creating a frightening scene and letting the reader play on those emotions and reactions, indulge in risking that readers would respond in such a way author intended without drawing unnecessary attention to itself as a thriller and doing more of the show instead of tell which went a long way.

This book was great, it definitely got super messy though. Mostly related to the composition of the plot which left loose ends, relied on convenient amnesia, question of plausibility, underlying lack of communication which created a sort of drama fatigue with ever-changing new leads and secrecy that started off convincing, yet only to a point.

The characters.
Ali had some characteristics I had expected from a daughter but came off as then it is but then it’s not, the relationship with her family was this, then it wasn’t. Flipped back and forth. Emotionally expressive verbally with adoration for her father but emotionally absent in every other way. I wanted the personal threats to the female main character to feel a little more personal in a realistic way. For her to be very much in the headspace of denial with counter arguments that don’t hold much weight with her continued action to pursue sleuthing, then it kind of fell apart from that aspect.

Character roles.
Surprised at word choice of professionals such as the chief saying crime scene guys instead of detectives. Contradictory whether the old furniture had any value or obvious signs of water damage for someone who renovates houses, also no home inspection, no blue prints, even for a historic home were just some things that were amiss for me.

The ending.
And the ending? So unsatisfying. A cover up? No thought to age of reason?

But I liked this book anyway, go figure. I was just in the mood for a read like this and it delivered in ways that were outside of the shortcomings I felt it had and I really enjoyed it.



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The Guest List by Lucy Foley

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom a rising television star. The bride 
a magazine publisher.

It’s a wedding for a magazine in a remote location. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. And then someone turns up dead.

Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was great!

The story. The story was so well thought out. I think the effect was there, an enjoyable thriller, winding tighter and tighter, chapters transitioning from back story, to real time action, shortening in length as they went on, the intensity increasing like a tether ball winding around the pole at 4th grade recess.

Weddings are stressful for everyone and all the elements of wedding bliss and actual outcome were captured in the most dynamic way. I liked that this was an isolated closed mystery story taking place on an exclusive island with a fitting topography and Celtic history that drove the plot forward.

And it’s one of those books I think, predictable or not, if you wanted to by all sleuthy, there’s enough satisfaction in the story and satisfaction in the writing that an early lightbulb moment would be just as fulfilling reading onward.

The writing. I loved the strategically placed words, hinting about what was to come related to someone not leaving the island the way they arrived. I liked the strategically placed red herrings, the foreshadowing with words like… well I won’t quote the phrases, but they were letting me know something very specific was going to take place.

I really liked the way the POVs were done. First person narrative was done well with quite a bit of varied sentence structure and presented with a style of foreknowledge and knowledge acquisition in a really fresh and interesting way, especially when it came to description of physical traits which aimed for unbelabored accuracy in just a few words.

It was not as linear as I had expected in the beginning. Parts felt like chapters were missing with the multiple POVs, foretelling mixed with current events. I realized though how much I dove in, speed mode, by the time I got to page 30, realizing I was finally starting to commit things to memory and so I decided to restart the book and then it all made so much better sense to me.

Characters. First off the character roles were perfect, the couple, the plus one, the single… A wedding party composed of friends and family, reminiscing over everything you see and experience from the social aspect at wedding festivities from shared memories, childhood crushes, deviant behavior, life successes and failures, talents, desires.

I thought it was all well done especially when it came to character distinction, partly in due because of the age range/generational similarities and the author made them all shine in their own way.

Personalities from dialogue to inner monologue, action, all following suit and each had attachments of deeper connectivity, defining life stories with hopes and dreams, insecurities, consistent with life stages, elements of what could have been and nostalgia of pasts relationships, regret, even down to the awkwardness of joining conversation, all interwoven in such a way I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. All of it nicely curated to fit perfectly within the story being told.

Some questions, but not deal breakers. I did want to know what happened to a certain character aside from the emotional response that was displayed. Was it a lost one? I don’t know. And I don’t know if it really mattered. I enjoyed reading the story so much anyway, but thought I’d mention it because it did linger in my head.

It did end sort of abruptly after the peak. I kind of wanted to see a bit more character reflection after the reveal, especially of a certain few. I didn’t expect to have full resolution or discourse, but just a little more internal dialogue or character interaction to bring situational awareness to everyone involved as a bit of closure to the post wedding festivities and relationships. Likely my feelings about this are because the greater first 3rd was more about building up character dynamic than action and I would have liked the story to have picked up a bit again from this angle in the end for full circle completeness.

Super good book nonetheless!

MY FAVORITE LINES:

“I look down at the spilled contents, shining gold tubes of mascara and lipsticks rolling in a bid for freedom across the floorboards, an overturned compact leaking a trail of bronzing powder.”



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Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (Agatha Raisin #1) by M.C. Beaton

“The irascible but endearing personality of Agatha Raisin is like a heady dash of curry. May we have another serving, please?”
DETROIT FREE PRESS
Agatha has moved to a picture-book English village and wants to get in the swing. So she buys herself a quiche for the village quiche-making contest and is more than alarmed when it kills a judge. Hot on the trail of the poisoner, Agatha is fearless, all the while unaware, that she’s become the next victim….

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Ok now that I’ve read the first one, I’m starting to get it, as likely author intended, and will keep coming back to this series, though probably picking and choosing which themes I think I’d like rather than order in series now that the foundation has been set. There are just certain ones I want I’m more drawn to in both title and cover and want to read certain ones sooner than later. We’ll see though.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by Penelope Keith, who was just perfect for this book in both telling of characters quirks and the setting being in Cotswolds, but she just can tell a story with such enthusiasm, multi-dimensional, getting-into-my-thought-pattern type of story narration.

The main character was the perfect example of an unlikeable main protagonist that you just love to read about.

With the story, she fumbles through life, flaws and victories, predicaments self-inflicted but the plot ends up having other contributing factors to her embarrassing situations which kept it curious and more favorably complex than just frustrating character stupidity or poor character development.

There was enough life experiences or knowledge of certain topics built into the story to give credibility to baking and prize winning, a little less to poisoning and criminology, but I enjoyed it thoroughly nonetheless.

As with #3, the climax and character reveal was just so late. I don’t know if this is an ongoing, purposeful theme and writing style of every book. I don’t know. Everything else was just superb but this bit drove me nuts. The stories and characters are interesting enough that if you figure out “whodunnit” early, the story and characters have just enough substance to keep subsequent reading enjoyable and it would actually be more pleasurable to read more post reveal, but maybe the author didn’t know that about herself and perhaps wanted to play it safe and didn’t want the subsequent parts to become a post revelation slump for early sleuthers.

Anyway I’m looking forward to the rest in this series and may revisit my thoughts on them after I read a few more. And I’m actually wondering if it is the audio narration that is so well done that is compelling me to read more, which is something to think about and don’t mind at all because it is actually that enjoyable.



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The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs

Beneath the gloss of star chefs and crystal-laden tables, the truffle supply chain is touched by theft, secrecy, sabotage, and fraud. Farmers patrol their fields with rifles and fear losing trade secrets to spies. Hunters plant poisoned meatballs to eliminate rival truffle-hunting dogs. Naive buyers and even knowledgeable experts are duped by liars and counterfeits. 

This exposé documents the dark, sometimes deadly crimes at each level of the truffle’s path from ground to plate, making sense of an industry that traffics in scarcity, seduction, and cash.

The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


An absolutely fascinating account about everything the truffle has to offer. The story went into great detail about this delectable treat.

Satisfying the curiosity behind understanding and better appreciating the experience and taste, status and glamour, told as it relates to a symbol of class, wealth, and refinement, taking a journalistic approach into the cultivation, the industry, the demand, food culture, food fraud, organized crime, and the sense of identity, pride, and accomplishment around this highly-prized fungus that is unlike any other thing you could ever eat, much less grow to highly proper standards accordingly.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by Ari Fliakos, who spoke so clear, direct, well-paced. His delivery of the story, so well-suited for true crime in the most classic way, really made the story, I’d highly recommend the audiobook version.

The story. It covered it all, from the science behind the fungus to truffle hunting dogs. And I’m not at all ashamed to say I spent some time looking up photos of these little Ewok faces, breeders near me, how to train them properly. “Butterscotch” and “Macchiato” are the names I have picked out.

With that, the writing was excellent. It revealed like a thriller. Informative at times, a slow-burn then punchy when it needed to be. It took the approach to include the author’s realtime journalistic experience which made it all that much more personal and intriguing. It added to the depth as each product and the lore behind each truffle story was told without reservation with the goals outlining the fulfillment of culinary promises, insight into the mysterious inner-workings, and the network of people behind them.

I’d recommend this book to everyone.

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Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener (Agatha Raisin #3) by M.C. Beaton

Never say die. That’s the philosophy Agatha Raisin clings to when she comes home to cozy Carsely and finds a new woman ensconced in the affections of her attractive bachelor neighbor, James Lacey. 

The beautiful newcomer, Mary Fortune, is superior in every way, especially when it comes to gardening. And Agatha, that rose with many thorns, hasn’t a green thumb to her name. With garden Open Day approaching, she longs for a nice juicy murder to remind James of her genius for investigation. 

And sure enough, a series of destructive assaults on the finest gardens is followed by an appalling murder. Agatha seizes the moment and immediately starts yanking up village secrets by their roots and digging up all the dirt on the victim. Problem is, Agatha has an awkward secret of her own…

Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Such a delightful read during summer gardening season.

I listened to this one as an audiobook, narrated by Penelope Keith, who was an amazing story teller for these types of cozy mystery books, especially for the setting of an old English village where the vernacular and voice portrayal made so much sense in both time and place. She also brought out the snarky side of the main character which confirmed that it wasn’t all in my mind.

This was my first in the series, which I chose out of order because of the season, so I’ll have to catch up on the others, but so far, I enjoyed it. It was a short, easy read which made it all the more perfect for the moment for me as a typical mood reader.

The storyline and writing were interesting to follow with unique character quirks that I found delight in. I didn’t know if I was supposed to love or hate the main (or even the side characters), but sometimes it doesn’t matter because the plot was the driving force and it was quite entertaining to be stilted by unconventional characters that brought a different flavor to the mix in each their own way.

I would have liked a bit more integration of gardening subject matter. And sometimes the main character’s remarks in conversation and love interest/crush made me question her whole persona. And the climax/plot reveal were a little too late in an anticipated arrival of a lesser known character and cliffhanger for me, but still, short and sweet so I hung on and finished it with enjoyment anyway.

I’m looking forward to the rest in this series.



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One by One by Ruth Ware

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Turn of the Key and In a Dark Dark Wood returns with another suspenseful thriller set on a snow-covered mountain.

Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?

When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?

One by OneOne by One by Ruth Ware

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

I enjoyed curling up with a cozy blanket and a cup of hot chocolate for this one! I think anyone looking for a read that matches what you’d expect from the cover and title will be highly satisfied.

I loved how the author wrote, with the fast pacing, a very in-the-moment, spontaneous, almost fleeting style which I devoured in one sitting.

I liked the short time frame for this one, the straightforward descriptions, the ones used when something thrilling is going on and you can’t wait, speeding up your reading pace, and keep turning the pages.

I loved the ambiance created, the setting, being the snowy mountain, the plot, it was all perfectly aligned to tell such a great story.

I will say I did experience a little ambivalence at certain points, likely because I wasn’t really enamored right away. It actually took me a bit to get into it. I didn’t understand the details, the backstory, the relationships, and their little character quirks. I had a hard time keeping them all straight. I did receive an ARC, so it’s possible that a little rearrangement in between now and final publication could easily offer a little more guidance for readers like me.

And there was one, single line in the book that I just can’t anymore. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but I know some of my fellow readers are going to cringe much like I did coming across it. My feelings, so strong about it, it’s all in good fun though, maybe it’s actually becoming a joke at this point.

There was a lot of conversation in the story. Perhaps for the setting, I would have enjoyed a bit more related to the ski activities themselves, as in depicting conversations about what makes good powder, something to that effect to add some more connection and common ground between the characters.

I wanted them to sit around the fire more to warm up, as in also warming up the story, and drink smooth French hot chocolate. Hot chocolate was mentioned of course, but maybe I would have been a bit more captured by the unfolding of scenes if there were more bonding experiences or times of reminiscence, memories, maybe some kind of internal conflict, or application of some stereotypical company team-building exercise, something like that to play into the lovely, yet mysterious scenery and actions a bit more.

Something where the characters, other than the main ones, were a bit more distinguished. To feel drawn to caring about them. And there were a lot of characters to care about, but maybe I would have liked them to be more identifiable, with traits. Traits that would have fed into the scene a bit, and into their dialogue, and to the way they went one by one accordingly. I didn’t expect a deep, emotional connection, but I wanted a bit more dimension to the plot from that standpoint.

The last 20-30 pages had more of this type of character development and I liked the ending as a whole as a result. And though I had my suspicions of the ending bit a little earlier on, it didn’t spoil the rest of the story for me, but, then when confirmed, I was pretty much ready to put the book down. So I suppose for those last few pages, the wrap up was a little lingering than it needed to be for my particular taste in the moment.

But even then it was all done very carefully which made for a very compelling read!

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The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying VampiresThe Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was great. It would make an excellent book club choice.

I listened to this one as an audiobook, narrated by Bahni Turpin, which I’d highly recommend. She brought the story to life. Her voice inflection, the cadence, her cleverness in depicting each character with such distinctness even while keeping all the Southern accents straight, the expressions in tone, and her amazing ability at voice preservation, very well done.

So for the story, I really liked how the author brought me into it, into the womens’ lives, working relationships, within this Southern lifestyle of home and hospitality, and bookclub, just the icing on the cake. It was just hilarious at times, one where I thought, oh, so spot on.

I enjoyed the trajectory of the story as it unfolded, wondering how it would go, then, it was very satisfying. Of course there were times I thought, oh geez, is that just too much? Was it far from the reality of what possibly could happen/how one would react? But it didn’t matter so much because it was consistent in character, setting, circumstances, and the tone of the book, suitable for what it was to build the climactic aspects up and overall fitting and done well anyway from those aspects, if that makes sense.

I loved the writing, the truth, the perception, all of it told in a way without apology which I just love about writing that does this in such a way. Also fun, playful with bits of humor, a spot on reminiscent decade of Redbook magazine, Opium perfume, dial phones.

The accurate quirks in the sayings of the time, not only how a child/teenager would simply act, but appropriate for the age and time on such a consistent basis within each rise and flow of the plot, narrative thought, and dialogue.

I did question a few things, though not terribly distracting. Pupils would constrict in sunlight, not dilate. How a suspected rape victim would have been handled by a medical professional. How they celebrated Halloween with an incident happening that evening, but then later in the story, the continuation of the timeline, the next day was a cloudless, sunny, October day?

A really great story nonetheless. One that definitely kept me engaged the whole way through.

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Tide and Punishment (Seaside Cafe Mystery #3) by Bree Baker

It’s Christmastime in Charm, North Carolina, and while Everly Swan would prefer to focus on decorating her iced tea shop for its first holiday season, Great-Aunt Fran has decided to run for mayor against her long-time nemesis. But when the other candidate turns up dead just before the first scheduled debate, all eyes turn to Fran as the suspect with the most obvious motive.

Everly knows her sweet, elderly Aunt Fran couldn’t have murdered anyone, but as she struggles to find the real killer, it begins to seem like this may be the last merry Christmas her family may ever have.

Tide and Punishment (A Seaside Cafe Mystery, #3)Tide and Punishment by Bree Baker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again, I loved living in the quaint seaside town called Charm. It continued to be this buttery, divine escape for me as a reader.

Overall I’m finding this Seaside Cafe Mystery series as one of my favorites and one that I think anyone could jump into without being terribly rigid about reading succession. There was just enough of a refresher backstory to set the tone and characters, but it didn’t belabor or spoil it either. It was just right. I say that because I didn’t have access to the second one before I read this third one, so I’ll have to go back, but I feel I will be able to pick up where I initially left off.

I loved how the author took the liberty to build up the town and characters in the setting where it lies. A place where people would typically leave their doors unlocked. Where amatuer sleuthing around and small town gossip adds intriguing gullibility and interesting layers to the story.

I loved the writing style. There was this flow and ease of reading in a ‘now you know, therefore you know’ approach. Though there was quite a bit of detail given at times, I still enjoyed it. Probably because the sentence structures themselves were not excessively fluffy or overly descriptive but instead celebrated the the simple aspects of what they were.

I wasn’t sure where the main character’s personal relationship with love interests were going. One I was questioning reconciliation, the other, maybe emasculating and calling their relationship over. I wasn’t sure if the meddling and bantering from a non colleague was becoming too much. But we’ll see, I wasn’t deterred from my enjoyment of the story. Not sure what will result from unrequited almost tipping to frustration as to what kind if progress they would be making, hoping it doesn’t become problematic, to gain any traction in what could be. So I look forward to where it goes.

I would have liked to have seen more of a recipe for the caesar salad, but that’s ok.

There is a delicious lingering to the storyline which will keep me looking forward to the next.

FAVORITE LINES:
“When you feel lost or like giving up, it’s time to stop and give thanks.”

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Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark

Nancy Harmon long ago fled the heartbreak of her first marriage, the macabre deaths of her two little children, and the shocking charges against her. She changed her name, dyed her hair, and left California for the windswept peace of Cape Cod. Now remarried, she has two more beloved children, and the terrible pain has begun to heal — until the morning when she looks in the backyard for her little boy and girl and finds only one red mitten. She knows that the nightmare is beginning again…

Where Are the Children?Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After learning of Mary Higgins Clark’s passing, I thought I would pick up her first suspense novel, Where Are the Children? which was published by Simon & Schuster in 1975. I haven’t read any of her works in a while and I just have to say that I loved flipping through the old paperback book I found with all its page patina glory.

I loved the pacing of this one. It fit the crime story well since it was mainly plot driven and straight to the point, no meandering in atmospheric details which I quite enjoyed for this type of narrative. The plot is brought into view from multiple perspectives with a reveal that left me at a tipping point at the end of every chapter, peaking around the corners, as well-written suspense should have.

I really liked simple yet descriptive lines like:

“It was only when her vision blurred that she realized that tears were swimming in her eyes.”

“Startled, she looked up. Jonathan must have cut through the woods from his house. His face was deeply creased today. She knew he must be nearly sixty years old, and today he looked every bit of it.”

“The fire licked hungrily at the thick logs.”

It was a style of writing that I think really captured and beautified what was going on along with proper perspective to come with it without making it feel over embellished.

I liked that all the scenarios remained focused and directed to the endpoint.

There was kind of a bit of catching up to do with backstory around the 3-4/5th of the book which may have benefited from being placed elsewhere so it didn’t create that sense of “Oh time to better explain that.” It wasn’t exactly to the point of me being too overly distracted in the reading… or getting too lost in the newly revealed details… or subsequent urge to look for plot holes, but briefly enough to take me out if the trajectory of the story for a wee bit. Couple that with a sort of disconnect I felt about the main character Nancy, I sort of wasn’t sure what to think at one point.

However it quickly picked up again and the scenes did fall into place. I imagine it is difficult to explain changing scenes and changing POVs when you want to tell them all at the same time. They all have them make sense and keep the suspense up simultaneously.

Really enjoyed it.

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She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be by J.D. Barker

A haunting tale of suspense, rendered with the masterful skill only Barker could muster.

After the loss of his parents, young Jack Thatch first met Stella as a child—this cryptic little girl of eight with dark hair and darker eyes, sitting alone on a bench in the cemetery clutching her favorite book. Gone moments later, the brief encounter would spark an obsession. She’d creep into his thoughts, his every waking moment, until he finally finds her again exactly one year later, sitting upon the same bench, only to disappear again soon after…

SHE HAS A BROKEN THING WHERE HER HEART SHOULD BE conjures thoughts of early King and Koontz. A heart-pounding ride that creeps under your skin and will have you turning pages long into the night.

She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should BeShe Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be by J.D. Barker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Hampton Creek Press for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

An excellent book, one I couldn’t put down!

I could stop there and just make a recommendation to read it, but I can’t help myself to explain as to why when it comes to critiquing and there were a lot of things I loved about this book.

Starting with the overall premise and writing. There was a uniqueness both in original idea and writing style. I saw similarities to other namely authors, perhaps with some influence, but this author writes with a certain distinguished, intriguing sentiment that is all his own. It was like having a weird dream that only makes sense in your mind, materialized, taking risks in writing style, and then the retelling of such a story done right.

To begin with, it had all the essentials of what makes a good opener for a book. It sucked me in within the first few lines and chapter. I got a feel for the context, personality, setting, time frame, all with a taste of mystery, built as a nice set up with all the elements that readers crave when starting and continuing to enjoy a book like this, especially since it crossed into many types of genres. It was the seamless delivery that was carefully constructed.

Within each scene there was an ease to reading. Perhaps it was the way that each sentence was crafted. They were not so rule-hugging and rigid, formulaic, or formal, but appropriately written to enhance both personality, character growth, and the flow of the story. The writing pushed the boundaries, embracing the realm of creative thought and feeding it right back into the story.

I really appreciated the story because the detective work didn’t overtake it. Terminology wasn’t constantly being defined and explained, but instead jumped right into an occupation with use of the norms and lingo in conversation as they are understood among the people that use them. If you’ve ever read more than one mystery or crime novel, you will understand this and know that it is not uncommon to see stories get interrupted and cluttered with a bunch of backstories, rationales of behavior, or an over-explanation of job duties, procedures, and protocols that can so easily take you out of the story rather than be a natural progression of it.

I appreciated that there was not grab a thesaurus, word substitutions for adjectives, action verbs, words for said, and transitionals just thrown in, but actual descriptions told in unconventional ways which was both refreshing and compelling. Breaking of traditional rules by leaving in run-ons and fragments only added to the story, keeping the logical flow, the pace, the conversation, the thought-process, to speak for itself.

Even brand names, literary remarks, and historical references were mentioned without excessive descriptions or nouns to follow which made for an even smoother read. It just worked. Perhaps because the author knows his audience and can take liberty in allowing the reader to connect with the time and place, and feel like the story was just written for them.

With each character, the narrator voice was spot on consistent and distinguishable with actions, thoughts, and feelings, even through growth. The reminiscent parts were not only accurate to events but also perspective, really true to the time. The voice of internal conflict and insight was appropriate for each character age group. For example school-age memories and dialogue was told from a child’s mind, reflecting the safe, carefree life of youth, and also included the irrational fears and immature actions that resulted. I appreciated the attention to detail, even the accuracy of a growing boy’s height according to growth charts, which made it all the more believable even within the domain of nonfiction, paranormal, and fantasy.

I liked that it took me back to childhood memories of required reading, riding bikes to Circle K, skid-marks in gravel, and the fear of tetany. It made me want to reread Great Expectations, even though I haven’t had an inkling to ever read it again since its requirement in grade school. The desire to read another book as stirred up by a book you’re currently reading is always a success in my mind.

There were also comedic references that were sometimes overt, sometimes subtle, and so very funny.

Lastly I loved the internal dialogue referencing deeper meanings in life.

All-in-all, it reminded me of the momentum, thrill, and excitement of choose your own adventure books, the joy in anticipation and satisfaction of what comes next.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Mystery

A Quiet Life In The Country (Lady Hardcastle Mysteries #1) by T E Kinsey

Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life.

A Quiet Life In The Country (Lady Hardcastle Mysteries, #1)A Quiet Life In The Country by T E Kinsey

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Parts were definitely enjoyable and one I was happy to read. I mostly fell in love with the cover which was enticing and a promising delivery in the actual read.

I loved the characters and the relationships they had, the connections were well-executed. There was a bit of spunk in the main characters and the bantering between them made it much more entertaining to read. For me, it was the driving force of the book. I also liked reading about the setting and overall depiction of country life.

I did get the feeling that as the plot went on, there was something seemingly forced. Both in the spirit of building up the story and attempts at political correctness.

The back-and-forth dialogue of figuring out the crime together both in retrospect and as it unfolded became a bit monotonous especially when I realized half way through the book, maybe the story was more about the character relationships rather than a solving of a crime itself, which is ok, just not what I was looking forward to reading about every time I picked up the book.

It didn’t quite take me back to the time in which it took place like I’d hoped. Perhaps the modernization of the perspective through a few bits of inner thought and dialogue were purposeful to bring the reader into today’s world, maybe something fresh to agree upon, but for me, it took me out of the story. Because of that it seemed there was a missed opportunity to take advantage of the spunk, sharpness, and honesty that the character traits could have built upon.

I would like to explore more stories from this author.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Mystery

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Where the Crawdads SingWhere the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one was a story of resiliency and adaptability which I quite enjoyed. There was a certain depth of longing and belonging that was portrayed well in the writing and within the character development itself. Parts of it were so heartbreaking and there was a sense of major victory in certain aspects of how coping was achieved. I liked the growth of the main character and the voice that she took on.

I’m not sure how to describe this, but I did feel at times there was a dumping of information before asking the question to make up for the parts of the stories that needed to be explained. In addition there was also this sort of passing instead of lingering over the moments where the main character did not seem to encounter any internal conflict where I thought there may be. For me it needed more closure from that perspective, especially toward the end.

But it wasn’t my story to write and I enjoyed it for the most part anyway.

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