The Hunting Wives by May Cobb
Sophie O’Neill and her husband Graham leave behind their stressful lives in Chicago to raise their young son Jack in a small Texas town. Sophie was raised by a single mom who kept them moving from city to city and this tight-knit community felt like home when she was finishing high school, appealing enough for her to want to return.
Now that she’s a stay at home mom with plenty of time to focus on building her own brand and lifestyle blog, Sophie still doesn’t have enough to do to fill her hours while Graham is at work and Jack is at preschool. She’s already restless and bored though a solid relationship and stable home is what she’s craved her entire life.
Sophie meets town socialite Margot Banks and is instantly enamored with her beauty and carefree spirit. She’s invited into the elite clique known as the Hunting Wives and is surprised to find herself caught up in nights of skeet shooting with visits to bars on the edge of town and heavy drinking.
Graham isn’t thrilled about her new hard partying and Sophie realizes these women are a bit more than she bargained for, so she decides it may be time to distance herself from the Hunting Wives. But there’s something that makes Sophie want to be accepted by Margot, a seductive lure she can’t quite seem to tear herself away from.
When a local teen girl is discovered dead from a bullet wound in the same woods where the Hunting Wives meet, Sophie is not only pulled into the murder investigation but finds herself the prime suspect.
Whoa, this book was a guilty pleasure from beginning to end! I could relate to the boredom of the in-between hours of stay at home motherhood and the need for friendship and acceptance …and the rest was like a train wreck I couldn’t stop watching. All the ridiculously bad decisions had me shaking my head and even as Sophie’s life spiraled out of control, she continued to make the absolute worst decisions possible with zero regard for the family she was supposedly terrified to lose. This was frustrating but the pearl-clutching drama itself was so juicy I was racing through the book to find out what over-the-top bad choice would be made next.
Thanks to Berkley and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. The Hunting Wives is scheduled for release on May 18, 2021.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
Fourteen-year-old Mary Jane Dillard comes from an incredibly strait-laced family: she helps her mom prepare all their meals, sings in the church choir, and her music knowledge is limited to the show tunes of the month record club.
She lands a summer job nannying the young daughter of a local psychiatrist and her parents approve, believing it must be a respectable household.
Mary Jane is in for a shock when she enters the Cone home: there’s clutter everywhere, take-out for dinner nightly, Mrs. Cone doesn’t wear a bra …and Dr. Cone has only one patient for the summer, a famous rock star struggling with addiction …who is moving in to the house with his movie star wife.
This progressive 1970s household is surprising to Mary Jane in most ways — including the fact that the Cones regularly hug and say “I love you”, which doesn’t happen in Mary Jane’s home.
Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane shows the Cones and their famous guests the sensibility of home cooked meals, ironed clothes, and alphabetized book shelves and in return they show Mary Jane how to let loose every once in a while with beach trips, record store visits, and a front row seat to view the world of sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll.
These two lifestyles collide in a charming coming of age tale! Mary Jane is an innocent/naive girl but reserves judgment and is open to discovering more of the world beyond her front door.
As a young girl, I can remember daydreaming about random things like finding a famous person hiding out in my small town and this book follows that same highly unlikely plot. So while it requires some suspension of disbelief for the reader, if you ever wished for something exciting like that as a kid, you’ll probably be charmed like I was by this book!
Thanks to William Morrow/Custom House and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Mary Jane is scheduled for release on May 11, 2021.
The Sundial by Shirley Jackson
Oh Shirley Jackson, you talented witchy woman. She was writing gothic mystery with pitch-perfect dark humor (that are resounding classics 60+ years later!) in a loud and chaotic household full of children and I don’t know how she accomplished it all but that’s what makes her the Queen.
In The Sundial, she introduces readers to the Halloran family. They’ve gathered for the funeral of Lionel Halloran, heir to the family fortune, who has been pushed down the stairs to his death by his own mother.
Lionel’s sister Fanny returns from a visit to the estate’s garden maze to announce her long-deceased father has warned her that the end is near.
What follows is a sinister tale full of snappy dialogue between bickering and unlikable family members, comedic absurdity, and the sly creep of impending doom!
The question remains, as the family prepares for the apocalypse until the very last page: will these shallow, self-absorbed people really outlast the rest of mankind?
A Dead Djinn in Cairo (Fatma el-Sha’arawi #.5) by P. Djèlí Clark
In a steampunk alternate version of Cairo in 1912, Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigates the suspicious death of a djinn.
She finds herself digging deeper into Cairo’s underbelly full of hungry ghouls, mechanical angels, and seductive assassins to discover a divine plot that threatens the space-time continuum.
This short story packs a huge punch, like every other word P. Djèlí Clark has given us!
I’m excited to return to this world with the novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015 and soon the full-length novel A Master of Djinn (available 5/11/21).
Ruby Falls by Deborah Goodrich Royce
Soap opera star Eleanor Russell has been fired under shady circumstances. Uncertain of her future in acting, she flees to Europe where she meets and marries handsome stranger Orlando Montague within weeks.
Everything is coming together: they’ve purchased a gorgeous cottage nestled in the Hollywood Hills and Eleanor has been cast as the lead in a remake of Rebecca.
But Eleanor’s future begins to look uncertain as her husband seems to change overnight and his behavior becomes suspicious. Worse, Eleanor has a secret she’s keeping from him: she was abandoned at Ruby Falls by her father when she was only six. He left her in the cave, his car was found in the parking lot, and not of a trace of him was ever found.
This traumatic event has left a lasting mark on her life and the ripple effects continue as she begins to lose her grasp on reality.
This book left me guessing! I couldn’t determine if Eleanor was an unreliable narrator, mentally ill, or if her spiral was simply because Orlando appeared to be the king of gaslighting.
The stranger the story became and the more skewed Eleanor’s perspective seemed, I was racing to learn the truth about what happened to her father and her husband’s true intentions.
While Ruby Falls was highly entertaining, the ending required a suspension of disbelief that I didn’t care for and created an underwhelming/disappointing ending for me.
I can recommend this book to readers who truly appreciate gothic mysteries!
Thanks to Post Hill Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Ruby Falls is scheduled for release on May 4, 2021.
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Whoa …and also ewwww.
Let me start with the trigger warning because there is intense and sensitive subject matter here involving incest/sexual abuse/suicide. The entire story centers around this so I think that needs to be shared immediately– it isn’t a spoiler because this information is shared pretty early in the story.
Fifteen-year-old Lane Roanoke is sent to Osage Flats, Kansas to live with her maternal grandparents and cousin Allegra after her mother’s suicide. She’s never met her family and knows nothing about them; her mother never spoke of them, keeping secrets that eventually destroyed her.
That summer in Osage Flats changes Lane forever: she has family, friends, and first love. But the Roanoke family also keeps a dark secret that has led a long line of Roanoke girls to an early grave, shrouding the family in mystery.
Eleven years after learning their terrible secret and running away, Lane receives a phone call from her grandfather that Allegra is missing. Lane has carried guilt for the past decade that she didn’t do more to help her cousin so she returns to help in the search.
Returning to the Roanoke home means confronting her past- from the boy whose heart she broke, to the terrible secret that may destroy the family.
Full of shocking and uncomfortable subject matter, The Roanoke Girls is contemporary fiction/horror with a mystery/thriller element.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
Samuel Hawley and his daughter Loo have lived a nomadic life, picking up and leaving for a new town every few months, never accumulating more than what they can pack in their suitcases. The only constant in their lives is the shrine Hawley builds to his late wife Lily in the bathroom of every new motel room: her tube of lipstick on the sink, her sweet-smelling shampoo in the shower, the robe on the back of the door. It’s like she just stepped out to run an errand, she could come back any minute.
Hawley eventually settles with Loo in the small town where Lily grew up to give her a sense of stability as a teen. Loo never knew her mother and feels like she barely knows her father. It’s only natural she wants to understand the lives her parents led before she was born, like unraveling a mystery, and that’s exactly what she sets out to do —though she’s not prepared for what she’ll learn.
While Hawley tries to give his daughter a shot at a normal life— to give her what he failed to give her mother— the past is catching up to him again and he will do whatever it takes to protect Loo.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is an interesting mash up of literary fiction, crime, and a coming of age story. Samuel Hawley’s past is explained for readers through a series of chapters detailing how he received the twelve bullet wounds that have scarred his body and the present focuses on Loo’s search for answers. Together, both timelines allow readers to understand the complex father-daughter relationship, their flaws, grief, and ultimately the power of devotion.
Bridge of Souls (Cassidy Blake, #3) by Victoria Schwab
My daughter and I love the Cassidy Blake series; I read the first two aloud and this time we decided to try book three on audio!
(You can catch up by reading my reviews for City of Ghosts and Tunnel of Bones)
Cassidy Blake and her family travel to New Orleans, the third haunted location for the ghost hunting television show her parents are hosting.
Cemeteries, ghost tours, seances, and local legends abound in this city full of dark history so it’s obvious Cass and her ghost BFF Jacob are going to have another chilling adventure!
This time, Death has its eye on Cass and she’ll need the help of her friends Jacob, Lara …aaaand a secret society to outsmart it.
This is another atmospheric middle grade ghost story and I love the character development, back story, and how the stakes are getting higher with each city they visit – creating an even deeper bond between Cass and Jacob.
I highly recommend this series to readers who enjoy middle grade fiction, paranormal/fantasy, and mystery.
When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
Detective Anna Hart has spent several years working for an initiative that focuses on crimes against children. She’s put all of her heart and energy into her cases to find justice for the children and begin to understand the methodology of the dark minds that hurt them.
When tragedy strikes Anna’s personal life, she leaves San Francisco to grieve in Mendocino, the only place that felt like home to her as a kid in the foster system. She arrives to find a local teen has gone missing – a case that is hauntingly familiar to her.
Anna quickly offers the sheriff, a childhood friend, her help with the investigation. Her experience with missing persons, child predators, and trauma give her valuable insight and bring back her memories of another missing teen in a cold case for a propulsive collision of the past and present.
When the Stars Go Dark takes pieces of the true case of Polly Klaas in 1993 and weaves it into this fictional story. Anna Hart is a deeply complex character- her own grief and trauma give her genuine empathy for the people involved in her cases, fuels her obsession, and gives her a shot at redemption.
I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical fiction, true crime, and mystery.
Thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. When the Stars Go Dark is scheduled for release on April 13, 2021.
Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Five women hike into the Giralang Ranges of the Australian bushland for a “corporate retreat” to encourage team building …but only four return.
The missing hiker, Alice Russell, was recently assisting Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk in collecting documents from her employer, BaileyTennants, who is suspected of financial crimes. On the night she disappeared, Falk received a voicemail from Alice with only a fragment of a sentence clear: “—hurt her…”
Falk and his partner interview the four women who were on the retreat with Alice and hear tales of fear and suspicion as they began to panic in the remote bushland and turn on one another. Alice knew secrets about BaileyTennants and her co-workers – it’s up to Falk to find out if they had something to do with her disappearance as time runs out on finding her alive.
Alternating between the three days that the women were lost and the current investigation, this story kept me guessing until the end!
Jane Harper never ceases to amaze me with her writing style that manages to create exceptional atmosphere and complex characters without getting weighed down in long descriptions, making her mysteries compulsively readable with their tight plots and controlled reveals that make the slow burn even more intense.
Force of Nature is another amazing Jane Harper novel I can recommend to readers who enjoy mystery, suspense, and crime.
(Read my review of the first in the Aaron Falk series, The Dry, here.)