City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake, #1)

⇒October is the BEST time to read all the horror/thriller books on your shelves! I started my Spooky Reads reading list off with Victoria Schwab’s City of Ghosts!⇐

by Victoria Schwab
SmellRating4
(4.05 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published August 28, 2018, by Scholastic

Genre: Fantasy / Paranormal / Middle Grades

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 272

#CityofGhosts

City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake, #1)… I remind myself that every good story needs twists and turns. Every heroine needs an adventure.

October is my absolute favorite month of the year for several reasons: One, because it’s my birthday month (cue the confetti 🎉), two because it’s the start of fall, and three because (and this is the most important reason) it’s time for HALLOWEEN!!!

I can’t explain how Halloween became my favorite holiday, but it is. The costumes, the weird traditions, the costumes, the excuse to eat loads of candy, and, oh, did I mention the costumes?!?!? Any holiday that gives you an excuse to wear over-the-top makeup and a hideous wig (and get away with it) is a great holiday.

And because of Halloween, October is the perfect time of year to get settled in a mostly dark room, grab a warm blanket, and sink into a torturously frightful book!

I have one foot in winter and one in spring. One foot with the living, and one with the dead.

To kick off my Spooky Reads TBR list this week, I decided to tiptoe into the scary stuff, so I chose Victoria Schwab’s City of Ghosts. My daughter – who is also named Cassidy – recently received this book in her Owlcrate Jr. subscription box, so I took advantage. Ok, ok, I took advantage only after begging her to let me borrow it and offering her a nutty bar for dessert).

First, I have to say that the cover is amazing! It displays the atmosphere of the story perfectly! Covers can often fool you by being so much more interesting than the book itself turns out to be, but this cover was truly representative of a captivating story.

… what you don’t see is always scarier than what you do.

Here’s the synopsis from the cover:

Ever since Cass almost drowned (okay, she did drown, but she doesn’t like to think about it), she can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead… and enter the world of spirits. her best friend is even a ghost.

So things are already pretty strange. But they’re about to get much stranger.

When Cass’s parents land a gig hosting a TV show about the world’s most haunted places, the family heads off to Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, graveyards, castles, and secret passageways teem with restless phantoms. And when Cass meets another girl who shares her “gift,” she realizes how much she still has to learn about the Veil — and herself.

And she’ll have to learn fast. The city of ghosts is more dangerous than she ever imagined.

Maybe the world is even stranger than I know.

Schwab’s City of Ghosts moves at a great pace. Since this is a series, this first book gives us just enough background to figure out what we’re doing here and why we’re able to see dead people while still leaving enough unknown to keep the sense of discovery alive for future books in the series.

During all this introduction, we meet vibrantly rich characters (living and dead!). Cassidy herself is very relatable in every weird way possible. I mean, how “normal” can you be when you almost die, your best friend is a ghost, and you’re able to walk on the other side of reality? If Cass were a person irl, I’m sure we’d be friends.

And the setting is SO atmospheric! Rainy gray skies, graveyards, abandoned prisons, and dark cobblestoned streets – Edinburgh becomes an extra character that threatens to steal every scene! You can almost hear the Red Raven’s haunting song in the background as you read (shiver!).

This book was the perfect amount of spooky to kick off my month of scary lit. It’s going to be a great read for my 10-year-old (after I give the book back to her) and I love that we’ll be able to talk about it together. There are some thrilling moments: the introduction of the Red Raven, the “empty children”, etc., but nothing extremely horrifying or gruesome. Personally, I thought Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak was much scarier!

…ghosts are everywhere.

Four spooky stars for this atmospheric ghost story that had all the elements of a book that’s perfect for the season. Recommendation: grab your middle-grader and a flashlight and settle in for pleasantly spooky read. Oh, and keep a mirror nearby!

Keep your eyes open for future installments in the series. Cassidy’s parents host the TV show, The Inspecters (get it? Specters, like ghosts?), so they’ll be traveling to different haunted locations and no doubt taking Cassidy (and Jacob) along with them. And we’ll be able to see if Cass learns to hone her skills for handling what’s on the other side of the Veil.

 


About the Author

VICTORIA SCHWAB

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Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

(Bio from V.E. Schwab’s website)


 

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Everything I Never Told You

⇒SHELF-DISCIPLINE SEPTEMBER is well underway with my fourth off-the-shelf read this month – a haunting story of one family’s unraveling after one member goes missing.⇐

by Celeste Ng

SmellRating4
(3.82 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published November 13, 2014, by Blackfriars

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary

Format: Paperback (Trade)

Pages: 292

#EverythingINeverToldYou #ShelfDiscipline #CleartheShelves #ReadWhatYouOwn

In September I committed to reading only (ok, mostly) books from the shelves in my house. I need to do this because books deserve to be read AND because, frankly, I don’t have room to buy/store any more books! 

Everything I Never Told Youdifferent has always been a brand on his forehead, blazoned there between the eyes. It has tinted his entire life, this word; it has left its smudgy fingerprints on everything.

Some readers classified this book as a mystery, but I think of it as exactly the opposite. The first line of the book is:

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

That’s the very first line. No opportunity for second-guessing or questioning. It’s right there. Spoiler Alert! And that’s how most of this book plays out. In fact, sometimes we know a little too much – things that would make the characters look better to us if we didn’t know. But that’s not what Celeste Ng is trying to do with this book. She wants us to see this family for who they are, and Lydia death for what it was. Was it all just a mistake? You decide.

And Lydia herself — the reluctant center of their universe — every day, she held the world together.

Lydia Lee is her parents’ favorite child. They don’t even hide that fact. Her mother wants her to be a doctor; her father wants her to be popular. When the Lees discover Lydia missing from their NW Ohio home, they soon discover that what they thought they knew about their beloved daughter couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Lees are a typical American family in the 70s/80s. There is a mom, a dad, two daughters, and a son. They live in an average house on an average street and they drive average cars. The father teaches and the mother takes care of the house and the children. Maybe not very exciting, but typical.

But the Lee Family is also atypical. They are a mixed Chinese-American family, and James Lee and his mixed children have been ostracized and criticized simply for not being white. Marilyn Lee is white, but she hasn’t escaped the claws of judgment and separatism either. As the only female in several math and science classes, she struggled to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor in a world that wasn’t quite tempered for that kind of ambition.

So, on these shaky foundations, the Lee family balances their days at work, school, and home with no help or support from neighbors, colleagues, or friends. Reading about how alone this family is made me really appreciate how much support I get from friends, family and even my never-met associates on social media. Come on Lees, no friends? Really?

…she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.

This is my second Celeste Ng book. The first was Little Fires Everywhere and I rated it a high 5 stars. Everything I Never Told You is just as well written and intriguing. The characters are entirely fleshed out – like people you’ve met before, or seen in your class, at your job, or in your family. And their tragic story will make you sad, angry, bitter, sympathetic.

Everything… is not entirely about Lydia’s death, nor is it a whodunit. There’s no long drawn out search or big community coming-together rally to plea for Lydia’s return. It wasn’t that type of town and the Lees weren’t those type of people.

Instead, it’s a story of the character of a family with their own special set of trials and triumphs. It’s about lives overloaded with love, lives going unnoticed, and lives hovering somewhere in between. It’s a showcase of all the mistakes and all the second tries that happen behind closed doors.

It’s also a display of what love looks like in several different forms. How that love infiltrates the hopes, desires, and expectations we all have for those we care about. And it’s a journey of self-discovery for each and every family member. When the scales tip, each person is forced to reevaluate in order to try to restore the balance.

I rated Everything I Never Told You a strong 4 stars. The characters are flawed and the story isn’t sunshine and roses, but both truly draw you in. And for 292 pages, you are shuffling through an earlier century with them uncertain about everything that you thought you knew about the world too.

Brava, Celeste Ng, again.


About the Author

celestengWebsite

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Celeste Ng is the author of the bestselling novels Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize. Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(Bio adapted from Goodreads)

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

⇒SHELF-DISCIPLINE SEPTEMBER continues with this peculiar story about unconventional people with unusual abilities.⇐

by Ransom Riggs
SmellRating3
(3.9 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published June 7, 2011, by Quirk

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA

Format: Paperback

Pages: 382

#MissPeregrinesHomeforPeculiarChildren #ShelfDiscipline #CleartheShelves #ReadWhatYouOwn

This month I finally committed to reading some of the books that I swear are more than colorful decorations on my bookshelves. I need to do this for my own sanity, and maybe one day I will be able to say that yes, I have in fact read most – if not all – of the books I own. A girl can dream!

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, #1)Sleep is not, Death is not; Who seem to die live.

You may already know the story of the X-Men. People with genetic mutations that give them superhuman abilities. Shunned by common society, some of them gather at Professor X’s school in order to hone their abilities. The school is a safe haven for them – a secure location where they are free to be themselves without threat from the outside world.

Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children are gathered together for some of the same reasons – to protect themselves from outsiders who don’t understand their gifts, but also from other, darker, things as well.

House you were born in, Friends of your spring-time, Old man and young maid, Day’s toil and its guerdon, …

Here’s the blurb:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow – impossible though it seems – they may still be alive.

They are all vanishing, Fleeing to fables, Cannot be moored.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

The story was just meh to me. The pictures were, by far, the most interesting and captivating things about the book to me. While the premise of the story is an intriguing fantasy, the pictures scattered throughout its pages are – for the most part – real. And creepy.

A note in the back of the book verifies that they’re authentic:

All the picture in this book are authentic, vintage found photographs, and with the exception of a few that have undergone minimal postprocessing, they are unaltered. They were lent from the personal archives of then collectors, people who have spent years and countless hours hunting through giant bins of unsorted snapshots at flea markets and antiques malls and yard sales to find a transcendent few, rescuing images of historical significance and arresting beauty from obscurity – and, most likely, the dump.

There were peculiar children, threatening creatures, mysteries, hints at romance, and a few scares along the way; however, I realized as I neared the last chapter that I’d be required to read the sequel and maybe further to feel like I’ll receive any resolution to the story.

The story is X-Men, mixed with elements of  WWII and time travel. If those themes interest you, this could be the book for you. The book is well written and has a thread of suspenseful tension woven through it from beginning to end. The book has gotten a lot of buzz, won several awards, has spent a good while on the Best Sellers list, and was even adapted into a feature-length movie. I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more if it were a standalone novel.

The sequels include Hollow City (2014), Library of Souls (2016), A Map of Days (Pub date Oct 2, 2018), and a prequel Tales of the Peculiar (2016).

Read an excerpt of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Courtesy of TeenReads.com) HERE

Or see info on the 2016 movie directed by Tim Burton HERE


About the Author

Ransom RiggsRANSOM RIGGS

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“HI, I’M RANSOM, and I like to tell stories. Sometimes I tell them with words, sometimes with pictures, often with both. I grew up on a farm on the Eastern shore of Maryland and also in a little house by the beach in Englewood, Florida. I started writing stories when I was young, on an old typewriter that jammed and longhand on legal pads. When I was a little older I got a camera for Christmas and became obsessed with photography, and when I was a little older still my friends and I came into possession of a half-broken video camera and began to make our own movies, starring ourselves, using our bedrooms and backyards for sets. I have loved writing stories and taking photographs and making movies ever since, and have endeavored to do all three, in some form or another. These days I make my home in Los Angeles with my wife, fellow novelist Tahereh Mafi.”

(Bio taken from ransomriggs.com)



 

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Not Her Daughter

⇒What would make you do the unthinkable? Sarah Walker finds out in this gripping thriller that will suck you into an emotional whirlwind!⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Rea Frey

SmellRating4.5

(4.17 stars – Goodreads rating)

Publish Date: August 21, 2018, by St. Martin’s Press

Genre: Women’s Fiction / Thriller

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 352 pages (Paperback)

#NotHerDaughter  #NetGalley

Not Her Daughter: A NovelI had a choice to make, a bluff to call, and a girl to protect. I had no idea what to do next.

I don’t know if you believe in astrology at all. Usually, I only give it the faintest corner of my attention. But, as a designated Libra (October 13th), I found my scales woefully unbalanced and wobbling all over the place as I read this book about a kidnapper, a mother, and the grey-eyed girl that comes between them.

As a mother myself, I automatically know which side of that battle I’m supporting, right? Not necessarily. And that’s only one reason why this book had me on the edge of my seat and at the border of my morals with every chapter.

That’s what I’m going with: my intention to keep her safe. In spite of the facts, in spite of what I’ve done. Because it feels right. Being with Emma feels right.

Here’s the gist: Sarah Walker is really minding her own business, waiting for a flight, when she witnesses something that she hasn’t been able to shake: a mother being physically and verbally abusive to her young daughter. Sarah, young and successful, but childless and just recently single again, can’t seem to forget about the beautiful grey-eyed girl with the red dress and red hairbow that seemed to desperately need someone’s help. Days later, when their paths randomly cross again, Sarah knows what she has to do, but that one decision will change everything about her life forever.

Amy Townsend is tired. She has two kids, a job, and a husband who is more like a milquetoast roommate. She’s overweight, overloaded, and just over all of it. Sure she loses her temper sometimes, what tired mother with the strain of kids and career doesn’t? Sure she lashes out at life – and her obnoxious daughter – sometimes. Does that make her a bad parent? There’s just something about Emma that just pulls the anger out of her. It’s like she’s asking for it. So Amy gives it to her.

Emma just wants to play and have fun. Hey, she’s five!

Emma was the chaos, and now, in her absence, there was even more. She was like a tiny wrecking ball, knocking down everything in her path just to see how much damage she could get away with.

Not Her Daughter had me in my emotions from the very first chapter. I am constantly concerned with where my daughter is and making sure she’s safe and happy. So, it was hard for me to (1) initially connect with what Sarah wanted to do, and (2) feel any sympathy whatsoever for Emma’s parents and their collective lack of care for their daughter. While reading, I battled with questions like: As a reader how am I supposed to feel about Sarah’s intentions? What about as a parent? Or as a moral, ethical human being? And once you read this book, you may find that, like me, those questions came with three totally different answers.

As the book progressed, I found myself flip-flopping over whether or not Sarah was a hero or a villain. I settled on Antihero. There’s no way in the world her actions could be justified, and yet…

Just for the record, I never sided with Amy, Emma’s mom. She’s a nasty piece of work and I wanted to smack her with a jelly roll every time she spoke. Mean old bat.

Written in multiple POVs, across four different timelines (“before”, “during”, “after”, and “now” – all in relation to the kidnapping), and in both first and third person, Not Her Daughter could have been quite confusing if not for Frey’s careful and patient story and character development. There’s a lot of jumping around from past to near past to present to an even more present present, but trust me, you’ll get it. It flows.

I initially liked the same characters that I ended up criticizing later, and vice versa. There are no guarantees in this book, and that makes for great storytelling. If I had any reservations, it would be that a couple of strings were left hanging for me: What happens with the relationship between Sarah and her mom? In this day and age, where was any mention of video surveillance of Sarah and Emma as they shopped or stopped for gas or ate in restaurants? Isn’t that how many kidnappers get caught? And another string that I can’t really mention because it would be a spoiler, but it left me with some questions.

4.5 well-earned stars for this wonderful read that left me battling both my ethics and my morals and still coming up with question marks. What would I have done? Would I have been as brave? As stupid? I love the books that make you question life choices this way!


About the Author

IMG_2050 copy.jpgREA FREY

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Rea Frey is the author of four nonfiction books. Her debut novel, NOT HER DAUGHTER, will be released by St. Martin’s Press August 21, 2018.

When she’s not exercising, mothering, adulting, wifing, eating, or writing about herself in the third person, you can find her hard at work on her next book and ghostwriting for other people.

(Bio taken from Goodreads)



 

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Vox

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Berkley Publishing, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Christina Dalcher

SmellRating3

(3.81 stars – Goodreads rating)

Expected Publication: August 21, 2018, by Berkley Publishing Group

Genre: Dystopian Fiction / Sci-Fi

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 336

#Vox  #NetGalley

VoxThink about where you’ll be — where your daughters will be — when the courts turn back the clock… Think about waking up one morning and finding you don’t have a voice in anything.

Let me get this out of the way first, and then you won’t have to hear anything else about my comparisons of Vox to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, because they really, really do have a lot in common: 

  • the oppression of women including the banning of reading, writing, and free speech
  • the vilification of Christianity
  • programming/reprogramming of the children
  • classification of women in terms of social standing & “virtue”
  • violent deaths for opposers
  • a mother attempting/considering escape for the sake of her daughter(s)
  • and an underground resistance movement

In addition, Dalcher also uses the flashback method (as Atwood did with Handmaid) to take us back to life before the new government created this new “Pure movement”.

Dalcher doesn’t shy away from the Atwood association though, and she lists her as a literary influence on Goodreads (along with Shirley Jackson and Stephen King). So, there!

Ok, so the two books are a lot alike; HOWEVER, there are also some key differences that made me view The Handmaid as scary but empowering, and Vox – not so much.

Monsters aren’t born, ever. They’re made, piece by piece and limb by limb, artificial creations of madmen who, like the misguided Frankenstein, always think they know better.

So here’s the plot summary: Dr. Jean McClellan used to be one of the foremost neurolinguistic scientists in the United States. Past tense, because ever since the new president took office and set up the loquacious Reverend Carl Corbin as a White House advisor, women aren’t allowed to speak, let alone work as scientists – or anything – anymore.

Women have been stripped of their careers outside of the home, all their bank accounts, cell phones, laptops, access to birth control, and – most invasively – their voices. According to the new government, the female population is only allowed 100 words a day. Any more than this and a band on their wrists administers a painful electric shock that increases in intensity with every additional word. The ultimate goal is to force women back into “more traditional” roles within the home: cooking, cleaning, and raising families – whether they want to or not.

Jean inwardly rails against the establishment, but she does so silently, until the day an opportunity presents itself that may offer a way for her and her daughter to buck the system and get to speak again. But will the cost be too heavy a price to pay? And is her husband truly being supportive or just secretive?

I’ve become a woman of few words.

OK, so I’ll review first and rant later.

This is a hard review to write. I have to separate how I feel about the subject matter from how I feel about the writing/plot development/characters/etc., and if you’ve ever reviewed any type of controversial book before, you know that is not an easy thing to do.

As dystopian novels go, this one was packed full of frustrating circumstances, despair, oppression, and all the negative emotions you can imagine a dystopian novel would contain. No, all the characters aren’t likable (even, surprisingly, the main character), and most of them aren’t given a whole lot of backstory, so don’t expect a lot of character development here. It’s a quick read and most of the true action is stuffed into the final few chapters.

But the premise is extremely compelling and it does draw you into the story easily. I did read this mostly in one sitting because I was so interested to see how it all played out in the end.

Vox certainly serves as a cautionary tale reminding us that evil ideas prevail when good people do nothing – especially when we don’t go out and vote! You know that totally “woke” friend who is always pushing everyone to call their congresspeople and to oppose this cause and that cause? Listen to her. If nothing else, this book taught me that much.

Did I love it? No. Was it worth a read? Sure. Of course, there are plot points that are infuriating and potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, but isn’t that almost a requirement for good dystopian fiction? This book made me angry, sad, frustrated and – at times confused,  but I left it knowing that someone’s words caused all those feelings in me, and isn’t that kind of the point of reading?

I wonder what the other women do. How they cope. Do they still find something to enjoy? Do they love their husbands in the same way? Do they hate them, just a little bit?

Now for the rant – and, don’t worry, I’ll keep it short. I’ll just put it right out there: I’m a Christian. I NEVER push my beliefs down anyone’s throat nor do I devalue anyone else’s faith. So, it was VERY painful to read this book and see all the many, many, many times the main character maligned Christianity as a religion and its followers as a whole. There was no separation of “these certain religious fanatics” or “a specific group of extremists”. No. It was the entire religion and everyone who believes in it. That made me angry and it separated me from the story. I couldn’t relate to the characters, who were obviously suffering and deserved my sympathy, because of that gross and blatant injustice.

And I’m personally astounded by all the times Christianity is portrayed as the villain in mainstream media without anyone condemning that practice. We will defend the rights of Islamic Muslims to not be categorized as terrorists and the rights of Catholic men to not be pigeonholed as pedophiles, etc., but with Christians, hey! it’s free game! I take issue with that.

You obviously don’t need to be told that all Christians are not extremists. All Christians are not judgmental separatists who dream of a controlled society where diversity is non-existent. Most Christians are just hardworking, God-loving people who are just trying to live good, compassionate, charitable lives. To lump us all with the images of a few power-hungry radical individuals was a gross misrepresentation, and I take exception to that.

OK, rant over. But know, that while I did harbor that resentment throughout the book, I did not rate the book based on my personal feelings about the subject matter. And I’m not attacking the author either for the opinions of her main character!

Phew, I feel better getting that out of my system!

According to my personal rating scale, I gave Vox 3 stars: “This book was alright. Might be worth reading for most, but there are several things about it that will keep me from recommending it to all.” Three stars is not necessarily a bad rating from me. Lots of what I read ends up in this category. It was a solid book and will appeal to a vast majority of readers. If you pick this one up, here’s my two-cent advice: Read it for what it is, try hard not to compare it to other stories, and find at least one character you can relate to. Good luck!

Release day for Vox is August 21st so pre-order now! Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


About the Author

Christina DalcherChristina Dalcher

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Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.
Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.
After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.
Her debut novel, VOX, will be published in August 2018 by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)


 

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The Last Time I Lied

by Riley Sager
SmellRating3
(4.22 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published July 3, 2018, by Dutton Books

Genre: Thriller / Mystery

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Nicol Zanzarella

Page Count: 370 pages (Hardcover)

#TheLastTimeILied  

The Last Time I LiedMarc’s talking about the girls, of course, buried inside every painting. Other than me, only he knows about their existence. The only thing I haven’t told him is why, fifteen years later, I continue to make them vanish over and over.

One of the scariest times of my life was the very first time I went away to summer camp. My mom sent me away from home for two weeks to some secluded lake with no one else I knew. She obviously didn’t love me!

Well, that’s what I thought at first. I ended up having a blast and I went back several times after that. I learned a lot of things about social dynamics during those trips to camp – even more so than I learned at school. Because at away-camp, you are living with these people. It’s a forced family where you have 100 siblings or more and you have to learn how to deal with many of them in very close quarters.

Riley Sager’s new book certainly took me back to that time in my life when I was nervous about being away from home and about fitting in, but it also reminded me that I had to grow a thick skin quickly in order to avoid being eaten alive by the other kids (and the mosquitoes!). Maybe it’s because I grew up in a different era when kids were kids and not just miniature adults, but the girls in this book’s Camp Nightingale felt very distant from my own personal camp experience.

Although their eventual fate remains a mystery, I’m certain that what happened to those girls is all my fault.

Emma Davis returns to the summer camp of her youth primarily to help its owner, the now elderly Frannie Harris-White, revive the camp. But Emma also returns to banish the demons that have haunted her with guilt for so long. The only way to do that is to solve the mystery of three girls who went missing at Camp Nightingale 15 years ago.

See the full book blurb here.

Girls at summer camp, a mystery, a secret journal, the handsome son of the camp director – those are ingredients for an intriguing story, right? Toss in dual timelines, a narrator who is only partially reliable, and a campground with a spooky backstory and you should have the recipe for a perfect summer read. Unfortunately, this final dish was less than perfect.

A sense of isolation drops onto your shoulders, and for a moment you wonder if the whole camp has cleared out, leaving only you behind. More horrible scenarios fill your thoughts. Cabins emptying in a frenzied, worried rush. You sleeping right through it.

The story started off well enough, but then it gradually started to suffer from cliched characters (the mean girl, the know-it-all, the fake-nice gold-digger, etc.) and repetitive action in both the past and present timelines that ended up reading as dull and lacking creativity. One example: Emma was there to run a painting class for the girls in the camp. She actually only ends up teaching one class (maybe two?). What’s the point? There ended up being several “what’s the point” moments that followed key plot points making the book lose more than a little credibility.

Although the premise was interesting and had loads of potential, the buildup never took off and the effort Sager expended toward a twisty ending was totally lost on me. And the ultimate wow-did-that-just-happen-moment? Nope, I just didn’t buy it.

Fans of his debut novel, Final Girls, tended to rate The Last Time I Lied much higher than I gave it credit for. They loved the action and thought the ending was sufficiently twisty. As always, judge for yourself. I am not disappointed that I read it, I just wish it had been more of what I was expecting from a sophomore effort.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


About the Author

Riley SagerWebsite

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Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer.

     Now a full-time author, Riley’s first thriller, FINAL GIRLS, was a national bestseller that has been published in 25 languages. His latest book, THE LAST TIME I LIED, was published in July.

     A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

(Bio from RileySagerBooks.com)



 

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The Woman in the Window

by A. J. Finn
SmellRating2
(4.0 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published January 2, 2018, by William Morrow

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Audiobook (Audio CDs)

Narrator: Ann Marie Lee

#TheWomanIntheWindow

The Woman in the WindowMy dear girl, you cannot keep bumping your head against reality and saying it is not there.

Last year I read a book that, by the end of it, I wanted to throw against the wall. I disliked everything about that book – the writing, the forced humor, the weak plot, the … everything!

What do you do with a review of a book that you genuinely dislike?

I never trash books. Book-writing is an art and it is hard. Every book is a baby that you are laying in a bassinet on the front porch of the world. Every author gets points for at least being brave enough to release a part of themselves for others to see and critique. It’s something that I’ve never done, so kudos to all the authors out there.

But just like being a parent, I can love my child without liking everything they do. That brings me around to my review of The Woman in the Window. I did not like this book. Sorry, not sorry. It annoyed me to the point of yelling at the narrator (who really doesn’t deserve my wrath!).

Here’s the story:

Anna Fox is a recluse. She suffers from agoraphobia due to a traumatic event she experienced with her family while they were vacationing in the mountains. Since then, she lives apart from her husband and daughter, unable to leave her home even for the smallest of things. Anna becomes a voyeur, observing her neighbors through her camera lens and living vicariously through them. When, one day, she sees something she was never meant to witness, she has to finally make the decision to brave the world outside her door. 

Watching is like nature photography: You don’t interfere with the wildlife.

I know I’m supposed to sympathize with Anna because she is an agoraphobe, has panic attacks, and is depressed. I know I’m supposed to give her a pass because she has been through significant trauma, doesn’t have many friends, and has a chronic drinking problem. I know this. And yet…

Decisions! Life is all about decisions!!! If you make dumb ones, you will pay the cost!

This is NOT to say that Anna deserved any of what happened to her, but throughout the book, as she’s grappling with how to handle present-day problems, all of her decisions seem to be the exact opposite of what would actually make her circumstances better!

I struggled with this book because I try my best to relate to the main character – to have some sort of insight into the whys of what he or she does. And I just couldn’t get there with Anna. And it’s not because I haven’t suffered through trauma (I have), or depression (I have), or panic attacks (I haven’t, but does anxiety count?). But it’s because Anna made choices that weren’t in her best interest that had nothing to do with her medical diagnosis.

I’m giving this book 2 stars (“It was ok”) because I want to be supportive of those with this condition. It is debilitating and tragic and I don’t mean to make light of it in any way. I just wanted this book to be so much better than it was. Even the “great reveal” fell flat. And now, I may never drink Merlot or wear a robe around the house ever, ever, ever again. At least she helped me in that.

In my low rating, I believe that I am in the minority. It rated a 4.0 rating on Goodreads, so obviously, the hype didn’t bypass everyone. I just expected more, and, sadly didn’t get it.

But judge it for yourself! Listen to the first chapter of The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn HERE, courtesy of Harper Collins and Soundcloud.


About the Author

A.J.  FinnA.J. Finn

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A.J. Finn, pseudonym for Daniel Mallory, has written for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement(UK). A native of New York, Finn lived in England for ten years as a book editor before returning to New York City.

(Bio from Goodreads)



 

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The Fifth to Die, (4MK Thriller #2)

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, and the author for the opportunity to read and review a free ARC of this book.

by J.D. Barker
SmellRating4.5
(4.48 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published July 10, 2018, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing

Genre: Crime Fiction / Thriller / Mystery

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 416 pages

#TheFifthToDie  #NetGalley

The Fifth To Die (4MK Thriller, #2)A girl can’t just disappear in today’s world, not with cameras and the Internet everywhere. A girl disappears completely, and you gotta know something bad happened.

I didn’t think I was that person. Those people are hilarious to me. They lack any self-control and it’s utterly ridiculous what they do. You know the ones: The ones who talk to their books.

I have been that person in the past, but I thought it was just a fluke – a one-off. After The Fifth to Die, though, I know now that I am that person. I talked to this book. I yelled at this book. I urged the characters, “Don’t go in there!”, “Don’t do that!”, and to “Run you fool!” It’s amazing that no one committed me.

OK, so if you aren’t familiar with this series, it all started with The Fourth Monkey – and no, it has nothing to do with viral contagions or pandemics. (See my 5-star review of the series’ debut novel by clicking the link above.) Detective Sam Porter and his Chicago PD Homicide team initially think that, after five long years, the Four Monkey Killer (4MK) has finally been stopped. By a bus. But there’s one victim that may still be alive that needs to be found. That’s when the twists begin and they don’t stop, even as Porter tries to settle his own tragic personal issues.

So – because this is the sequel – obviously the serial killer, Anson Bishop (that’s technically not a spoiler, so don’t yell at me!), is still wreaking havoc in the Windy City.  Maybe. Girls are disappearing, families are being threatened, and none of the clues are adding up. On top of that, more than one person on the team is concerned that Porter may be too personally involved with the 4MK case that has now been turned over to the FBI.

This thriller is perfectly-paced, entirely unpredictable, and maddeningly mysterious. We also get some well-earned backstory on Detective Sam Porter, which only enriches his character even more. And then there is Anson Bishop. While he certainly adds color to this procedural, he is definitely the villain you love to hate. But is there a little molecule of sympathy you feel for him after some of Bishop’s backstory is revealed too? I’ll let you decide.

I prefer not to collect my psychological and spiritual guidance from psychopaths.

Initially, I deducted a full star from my rating because, at certain points in the book, Bishop is just a little too smart. He is good at everything: tech, surgery, espionage, blackmailing, and torturous murder. He’s always a full three or four steps ahead of everyone else. And he’s dong all this right under the nose of countless witnesses including neighbors, hospital employees, prison guards, and the police themselves. Really? I don’t like it when anyone – hero or villain – is invincible.

However, I had to restore half a star because of Barker’s stealthy allusions to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character (more than once) and the fact that he makes The Princess Bride (my all-time favorite movie) the reason that Porter married his beloved wife. Swoon!

So if you find yourself talking to, yelling at, or crying with your books, you’ll feel right at home reading this one. If you’re already a fan of The Fourth Monkey, action-heavy police procedurals, or mysteries that aren’t easily solved, you’ll like this book. And if you’re a fan of twisty cliffhangers, grab a parachute and dive in because you WILL like this book.

Bravo, J.D. Barker, you’ve done it again. Looking forward to Book #3!

*Also, do yourself a favor and check out another J.D. Barker book, Dracul, that he co-authored with Dacre Stoker (Yes! Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew). It’s a prequel to the classic Dracula story and it was so good it kept me up at night!


About the Author

Related imageJ.D. Barker

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J.D. Barker (Jonathan Dylan Barker) is an international bestselling American author whose work has been broadly described as suspense thrillers, often incorporating elements of horror, crime, mystery, science fiction, and the supernatural.

(Bio courtesy of jdbarker.com)


 

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The Broken Girls

by Simone St. James
SmellRating4
(4.11 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published March 20, 2018, by Berkley Books

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 326 pages

#TheBrokenGirls

The Broken GirlsIdlewild was an old place, and the fear here was old fear.

What makes you pick up a book and say, “Oooh, this looks good!”? Is it all about the cover? Or are you pulled in by specific story tropes: courtroom drama, rags to riches romances, etc.? Maybe certain characters always pique your interest, like witches or faeries, or sexy mechanics.

There are certain things that always pull me into a book; a masterfully crafted cover will pull me in, and something like what Simone St. James does with the blurb for The Broken Girls will usually seal the deal.

Blurb:
Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants – the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming – until one of them mysteriously disappears…

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her elder sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found dumped in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case. 

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past – and a voice that won’t be silenced.

Thrillers are definitely my go-to reading genre, but add in dual timelines, a real-life bad guy, and a questionably “real” bad-girl ghost along with a group of headstrong girls at a boarding school and there’s no way I wasn’t plucking this one off the shelf!

We were all so horribly afraid.

The Broken Girls is a Vermont-based thriller with side orders of murder mystery and ghost story. Fiona (“Fee”) Sheridan lost her sister to a senseless murder and nothing has been the same in her life since that day 20 years ago. When she learns that mysterious investors plan on restoring the boarding school that sits on the land where her sister’s body was found, Fee decides to write a story about it for the local newspaper (read: invent an excuse so she can investigate it on her own).

Sounds normal enough start for a mystery novel, right? sure. But the book also flashes back to a 1950’s storyline when the boarding school, Idlewild, was open and the ne’er-do-well girls who lived there were being haunted by a ghost named Mary Hand. Yeah, it gets creepy. I’m glad I read this in the daylight hours because let me tell you, Mary Hand was NOT a Casper-type ghost. This chick is angry!

Mary Hand, Mary Hand, Dead and buried underland. She’ll say she wants to be your friend. Do not let her in again.

There is a lot going on in this book. There is plenty of action going on in 1950 all by itself, then you jump back to Fiona’s storyline in 2014 which includes her freelance journalism (and not-so-private investigating), her unorthodox relationship with her policeman boyfriend, and the constant reminder of her sister’s violent death nagging at her. She just can’t let it go.

That’s a lot to juggle. (Not to mention a couple of really intense chase scenes!) And while St. James didn’t keep it balanced successfully throughout the entire book, the story is still engaging, the characters intriguing, and the ending was hauntingly thrilling.

The best thing about this book is that it’s equally appealing to fans of so many different genres (way to stack the deck Simone!). It’s like a mystery, thriller, horror smorgasbord where nobody leaves the book buffet hungry!

I snagged this book on the cheap at Half-Price Books (and I plan on selling it back to them on my next visit. Perks!), and it was a like-new Book of the Month edition. I love finding great deals on fairly new releases. This was surprisingly my first Simone St. James book, but I would gladly read her again. Her writing style is captivating and her characters come alive with each chapter.

And before I end this review, I have to acknowledge the Book Smell Quote that snuck in between all the drama and screaming! One of the boarding school girls, Sonia, gets a notebook as a gift and she does the first thing you’re OBLIGATED to do when you get a new book of any type…

So Sonia picked it up and opened the notebook. She dipped her head down into the book’s spine, inhaling deeply of the thick papery scent, feeling something strange and calm move down the back of her neck, into her shoulders, her spine. She felt small, prickling sparks in the top of her brain.

THAT’S THAT NEW BOOK SMELL, BABY!


About the Author

Simone St. JamesWebsite

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Simone St. James is the award-winning author of Lost Among the Living; The Other Side of Midnight; Silence for the Dead; An Inquiry into Love and Death, which was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada; and the The Haunting of Maddy Clare, which won two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America and an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada. She wrote her first ghost story, about a haunted library, when she was in high school, and spent twenty years behind the scenes in the television business before leaving to write full-time.

(Bio courtesy of book cover)


 

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The Widow

by Fiona Barton
SmellRating4
(3.49 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published January 17, 2017, by Berkley Books

Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Crime Mystery

Format: Trade Paperback

Page Count: 344 pages (including an excerpt of The Child)

** Warning: Mild Spoilers**


TheWidowShe has no idea what I’ve been through. No one has really. I’ve never been able to tell anyone. Glen said that was best.

Two-year-old Bella Elliott went missing from her front garden on one October afternoon. Immediately, the police suspected that someone had taken her and they began their search for Bella and the suspects in earnest. That search eventually led detectives to the front door of Glen and Jean Taylor.

What follows is the account of the case built against unassuming Glen Taylor – its promises and missteps, its discoveries and its secrecies – told by the detective in charge of the case, the reporter who got exclusive access, and Glen’s wife (now widow) who supported his innocence relentlessly.

You see, Glen was disappearing from my life really. He was there but not there, if you know what I mean. The computer was more of a wife than I was — in all sorts of ways, as it turned out.

The primary “star” of the book is Jean (prefers Jeanie) Taylor, the accused’s wife. After her husband is suddenly killed in a freak accident, the detectives and press are hounding her to finally spill her secrets. What does she know about baby Bella’s kidnapping? Is Glen guilty of the crime? Is she also involved? Jeanie’s stalwart defense of her husband thwarts the investigation repeatedly, but everyone can tell – even the reader – that Jeanie knows more than she’s saying. And those secret things are revealed only gradually, like a slow-dripping faucet leak – building up and then eventually dropping down once the pressure is too much to take.

Jeanie is an immensely interesting and layered character. She garners sympathy because on the surface she appears to be damaged goods – the unlucky widow of an accused kidnapper and pedophile. But as Jeanie’s layers are peeled back, sympathy is replaced by anger, pity, understanding, and judgment in incongruent amounts. For some, she will be entirely relatable. For others, she will be an embarrassment to women for not being stronger, more forthright, or more independent.

It’s quite nice really, to have someone in charge of me again. I was beginning to panic that I’d have to cope with everything on my own…

Fiona Barton writes an engrossing and nail-biting novel about family loyalty wrapped in the cover of a frantic crime mystery. My personal loyalties and trust ping-ponged from character to character, often changing from chapter to chapter. Who is guilty? Who is truly innocent? 

If Glen and Jeanie did steal Bella, where is she now? Could Jeanie have acted alone and she’s just outsmarting everyone by allowing Glen to take the fall? That wouldn’t have been too far-fetched since she was desperate for a child after years of dealing with Glen’s sterility. Could that longing have pressured her into doing something terrible?

But if that was the case, why would Jeanie be wary of Glen after the first investigation falls apart and he is freed? She doesn’t want to go back to their house with him, but her loyalty compels her to do so without complaint. This is one of the moments when I wanted to slap her out of her stupor. SAY SOMETHING, JEANIE! But she doesn’t. Again.

All I keep thinking is that I’ve got to go home with him. Be on my own with him. What will it be like when we shut the door? I know too much about this other man I’m married to for it to be like before.

Barton’s supporting characters are equally as interesting: Glen with his secret porn addiction and control-freak tendencies; Kate Waters, the intrepid reporter who fights her own personal sympathies to get to the dirt of the story; and Bob Sparkes, the veteran detective who has been unable to help letting Bella’s case get too close to him.

The Widow is a book I was reluctant to put down – even when real life responsibilities were pulling at me. It sucked me in! I love an unreliable narrator, it makes the mystery even more, well… mysterious! Plus, I love a great whodunit not told exclusively from the POV of the police force. We’ve got almost everyone’s perspective here – even the grieving mother’s. It adds depth to the suspense and the action is in more places at the same time.

Readers who love an easily read crime mystery with great character development and a fast plot (that doesn’t feel rushed) will enjoy The Widow.  Although it felt good to be able to foretell certain aspects of the story (I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Glen’s accident wasn’t entirely accidental), it took nothing away from the tense build-up and ultimate “aha-moment” denouement. I would definitely recommend it to others.


About the Author

Fiona BartonWebsite

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My career has taken some surprising twists and turns over the years. I have been a journalist – senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday, where I won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards, gave up my job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and since 2008, have trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists all over the world. The worm of my first book infected me long ago when, as a national newspaper journalist covering notorious crimes and trials, I found myself wondering what the wives of those accused really knew – or allowed themselves to know. Much to my astonishment and delight, The Widow was published in 36 countries and made the Sunday Times and New York Times Best Seller lists. It gave me the confidence to write a second book, The Child, in which I return to another story that had intrigued me as a journalist. My husband and I are still living the good life in south-west France, where I am writing in bed, early in the morning when the only distraction is our cockerel, Titch, crowing.

(Bio adapted from Fiona Barton’s website)


 

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