Review | The Invited

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

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The Invited is described as “a chilling ghost story with a twist”, which captured my attention completely!

Helen and Nate are tired of their comfortable yet exhausting life in suburbia.  When Helen inherits money after her dad passes away, she and Nate decide to build their dream home – with their own hands – in rural Vermont.

As luck would have it, there is a highly motivated seller ready to unpack a forty-four acre property.  When Helen and Nate place a low offer, they’re surprised when it’s quickly accepted.

Helen becomes fascinated with local history, namely the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman suspected of being a witch who lived and died on their property almost a century ago.

“This land–their new home–was meant to be; it had been waiting for them, calling to them. But the thought was not entirely a warm and comforting one; no, it was more like a prickle on the back of the neck. It both drew her to the place and made her want to get in the car and race all the way back to their condo in Connecticut.” *

While building their home, Helen and Nate discover that a local teen named Olive believes Hattie Breckenridge left behind buried treasure near the bog on their property.  Olive has been trying to scare away the new owners with some creepy late night antics but once caught, she offers to help with work on the home to pay back damages.

We learn through alternating chapters that Olive’s had a rough home life recently because the small town gossip mill is churning out stories about her mom’s disappearance.  Everyone thinks she ran off with an unknown man she was rumored to be having an affair with.

Olive introduces Helen to her aunt Riley, a local historian who knows quite a bit about the history of Hattie Breckenridge.  While the two women are researching the mystery of what happened to Hattie’s daughter, Helen is searching for locally sourced building materials for her home when she finds a header beam at the salvage yard that is connected to the story of Hattie Breckenridge.

“She reached up, touched the header beam in the doorway. She imagined it had a pulse like a living thing. A living thing with a memory of its own. And maybe, just maybe, the power to call someone back. A historical artifact turned talisman. What if objects didn’t just hold memories, but held traces of the people who’d touched them, threads that connected them still?” *

With each new item she brings into the home they’re building, Helen seems to be conjuring Hattie, who is leading Helen to something …or someone.

“How could she explain it? This feeling she had, uncovering little pieces of truth about these women and the lives they led. It was like Hattie wanted her to find them. Hattie was guiding her, helping her to bring them all together like this, these generations of Breckenridge women. And now, to save one of them.” *

Helen is building a haunted house that gets her closer to finding out what Hattie wants while Olive is searching for clues into her mother’s disappearance. They are seeking answers that could lead them to each other in surprising and unexpected ways.

The Invited was not what I expected but in a great way!  I was expecting a horror story about malicious spirits in a creepy house and was surprised to get a paranormal mystery covering several generations of women.

When Helen began to collect the “talismans” for her home, I was rolling my eyes and thinking, “Oh Helen, what are you doing?  Bless your heart, you’re just asking to be haunted and possessed.”
Imagine my surprise when I realized that was definitely not the direction this story was headed after all!

While most of the plot twists were obvious, I was unsure of one until the very end.  This was an atmospheric gothic mystery that held my attention from start to finish.  The history of the Breckenridge women was compelling and the present day stories of Helen and Olive and how they tied into the past were well done!

Thanks to Doubleday and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Invited is scheduled for release on April 30, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advance readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

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Review | The Book of Flora

The Book of Flora (The Road to Nowhere #3) by Meg Elison

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Meg Elison’s sci-fi dystopian trilogy began with The Book of the Unnamed Midwife.  A fever has spread, killing the majority of woman and children and making childbirth deadly.  In the aftermath, the world is a dangerous place to be a woman.  Men roam in packs searching for surviving females, a valuable commodity in post apocalyptic America.
An unnamed woman travels from California dressing as a man and using different names; she describes her journey in a notebook.  She’s searching for a safe community where she can teach others what she knows about medicine, preventing pregnancy, and assisting in birth.  Her greatest hope is that both a woman and infant will survive childbirth.

In The Book of Etta, Etta is raised in the town of Nowhere.  Women are still in danger of becoming slaves or dying in childbirth.  In Nowhere, mothers and midwives are sacred, and so is the book of the unnamed midwife.  Etta dresses as a man and goes by the name Eddy to scavenge surrounding areas for useful objects from the past while dodging slave traders.  When Nowhere and the people she loves become the focus of a dangerous and powerful man, Etta risks everything to create an epic uprising and maintain her freedom.

The Book of Flora picks up where book two left off.  The surviving residents of Nowhere have found shelter in the underground Mormon city called Ommun.
The people from Nowhere clash with the leader of Ommun on almost everything and the main characters (Eddy, Alice, and Flora) set out in search of a new home.
The journey is told by Flora, a trans woman we met in book two who fell in love with Eddy.  She explains her past, from her childhood to how she ended up in Esteil in book two.
On their journey to find a new home, Flora finds Connie, a child who doesn’t identify as either gender.  Connie eventually leaves when their beliefs clash and Flora grieves the loss at the same time Alice becomes a mother to a living child.

The Book of Flora was all over the place for me.  While it’s a continuation of the first two books and it’s necessary to read those in order to truly understand what’s happening in book three, this felt very different.  It remains focused on gender identity and equality but an evolution theory that is hinted at throughout and is confirmed at the end of the book left me scratching my head.  It felt as if it was introduced as an afterthought and solely to create tension between two characters, leading up to what could be a dramatic ending that honestly fell completely flat and unresolved.

The character Connie wasn’t fully developed so their beliefs and motivations made no sense to me.  Their return at the end of the book, which had been building suspense, was rushed and lackluster.

Book one, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, could be read as a standalone; in my opinion it was the strongest book in the trilogy and definitely worth reading for fans of sci-fi/dystopia.

The Book of Etta was a decent continuation of the world we were originally introduced to with brand new characters.

The Book of Flora fell apart for me.  I was looking forward to following the characters we met in book two but it felt as if the author was trying to build a dramatic conclusion that was a letdown for me personally because it was unfocused.
We followed Flora’s life and feelings and were only briefly introduced to her child, Connie.  Connie’s return at the end because of a discovery they made just wasn’t compelling.  If it was supposed to be shocking or dramatic, Connie should’ve been more central to the plot rather than a footnote.

Thanks to 47North and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Book of Flora is scheduled for release on April 23, 2019.

Review | Little Darlings

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

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Lauren Tranter is exhausted.  She’s given birth to twin baby boys, Morgan and Riley, and suffered a postpartum hemorrhage.  She has barely slept (thanks to the hospital’s lame rule that doesn’t allow fathers to stay overnight), her nipples are raw and cracked from breastfeeding, and she’s beginning to worry.

“She was still waiting for the rush of love. That one you feel, all at once the second they’re born, like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. The rush of love that people with children always go on about. She’d been looking forward to it. It worried her that she hadn’t felt it yet.” *

From the other side of the curtain in the maternity ward in the early morning hours, a woman is singing a creepy song.  When Lauren asks her to stop, the young woman explains that she too has twin babies, though hers are cursed.

“‘Let’s deal,’ hissed the horrible woman, bringing her face up close to Lauren. ‘What’s fair, after all? We had everything taken, you had everything given. Let’s change one for another.'” *

This is when Lauren finally feels that rush of love; she will do everything in her power to keep her boys from harm.  As the woman continues her raving, Lauren escapes with Morgan and Riley to the locked hospital bathroom and calls for help.

“‘Choose one,’ said the woman, ‘choose one or I’ll take them both. I’ll take yours and you can have mine. You’ll never know the difference. I can make sure they look just the same. One’s fair. Two is justice done.'” *

When hospital security respond to her call, they find no evidence that a stranger gained access to the locked ward and cancel the police assistance.

Detective Sergeant Jo Harper sits down the following morning at her desk and scans the calls from night shift.  She’s intrigued by the call and though police assistance had been cancelled she decides to visit the hospital to follow up anyway.

Hospital staff have decided that Lauren’s exhaustion caused a hallucination of the terrifying woman.  When Harper asks Lauren what she believes, she says that she isn’t sure she can trust her thoughts.

Once Lauren is safely home with the boys, they begin to settle in.  The problem is that her husband Patrick is a grade-A asshole.  He decides that both of them shouldn’t lose sleep at night so he sets himself up in the spare bedroom.  His logic is that if he sleeps well at night he’ll be better able to help during the day.  Also, Lauren should really get used to taking care of the boys alone since he’ll be returning to work. (I have so much to say about this but for the sake of this review, lets just all agree Patrick is an asshole.)

Though struggling through sleep deprivation and anxiety over the horrible scene at the hospital, Lauren finds herself in the newborn stage where time loses all meaning; days pass in the blink of an eye and yet you live hours in a span of five minutes.

When she finally works up the nerve to leave the house with Morgan and Riley after weeks indoors, her worst fear is realized when she falls asleep on a park bench by the river and wakes to find the stroller she’d parked next to her is missing.

The police are immediately called in, DS Harper is on scene searching the riverbank where she’s spotted tire tracks thought to be from the stroller going into the water.  Several minutes later Harper finds a woman down the trail and it appears she’s pushing the stroller into the water.

The woman is arrested and the situation looks even worse when it becomes obvious she’d been having an affair with Patrick (remember what I said: asshole).  It seems to Harper that this woman had obvious motive to stalk Lauren and abduct the twins.

When the boys are brought back to Lauren, she’s inconsolable.  They are not her boys.  The evil woman had taken her boys are replaced them with her own.  She remembers a story about changelings from a book called Twin Tales.  The only way to get her boys back is to throw the changelings into the river.  Grabbing the stroller, Lauren runs for the river.

Now Lauren is placed on a mental health hold that lasts three days. She realizes people will think that she’s crazy if she tries to explain that the real Morgan and Riley have been stolen away. She has no choice but to find a way out of the facility and back to the river where she can exchange the changelings for her own.

Little Darlings really messed with my emotions.  I remembered all too well those exhausting days with a newborn:  all the worries, exhaustion, overwhelming love and fear, the time warp of sleep deprivation, the emotional rollercoaster and of course trying to both mentally and physically recover from childbirth.

I rooted for Lauren as the story unfolded, knowing how easy it is to feel like you’ve lost touch with reality in those first weeks after birth.  I was mad at myself when I began to doubt her!  That final scene gave me all the feels and made me wonder if we’ll get a second book — but don’t worry, it’s not a cliffhanger!

I loved that this psychological thriller was inspired by the folklore about changelings; it’s not only creepy but also preys on a mother’s worst fear, making the main character extremely relatable for me.

I liked the small bit of history we receive on DS Jo Harper, it gave me a better understanding of her persistence on the case. My biggest complaint is that the history of the creepy woman and her twin boys was explained at the very end of the book and it was really only a brief mention.  There was potential for some great detail and back story that would’ve taken this book to the next level in my humble opinion.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Little Darlings is scheduled for release on April 30, 2019.

*The quotes included are from an advance readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Sherwood

Sherwood by Meagan Spooner

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A retelling of Robin Hood where Maid Marian becomes the hero?  Why yes, I absolutely need to read that!

Robin of Locksley, loyal to the crown, dies in Jerusalem saving his king.  His betrothed, Lady Marian, receives the news from Guy of Gisborne, who has arrested the brother of her maid.

Leaving behind no heir, Robin’s land will soon belong to Gisborne, who upholds the law for the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Gisborne wants to wed Marian, explaining to her that it may make the transition easier for the people of Locksley.  Marian believes he only wishes to possess everything that Robin once had.

When Marian finds out that Will (her maid Elena’s brother) is being hunted in Sherwood Forest, she doesn’t have time to think about her actions:  she dons Robin’s cape in an attempt to disguise herself from Gisborne and his men and saves Will from the executioner’s hood.

“Robin’s spirit was not at rest, but it wasn’t Sherwood Forest he haunted — it was Marian. She carried him in her thoughts, and she would carry out his will with her own hands.” *

Marian returns to Sherwood the following day where she meets Little John and Alan, who advise that Will had been eventually caught by Gisborne, though not before telling them the spirit of Robin of Locksley had returned and saved him.

Marian continues to don the cape of her beloved Robin and, with the help of her merry men, sets in motion a daring plan to save Will, feed the poor who are becoming poorer thanks to the greed of the Sheriff of Nottingham, and outwit the cold and calculating Gisborne.

“‘Merry men,’ Alan muttered, sounding a bit sour. ‘Gisborne called me merry. How is that meant to be awe-inspiring, in the centuries to come when our tale is told and retold?'” *

Gisborne believes that Marian may be helping the caped hero now called Robin Hood, or at least hold some sort of loyalty to him.

“The name of Robin Hood was everywhere, in the jokes told by the guards, in the whispers of the servants, and in the conversations over needlepoint and music in the solar.” *

The closer Gisborne becomes to discovering the real identity of Robin Hood, the more Marian’s hatred for him draws her closer to him.  He may uphold the law but she will uphold justice.

In a tense sword fight in Sherwood Forest, Gisborne will learn the truth. What side will he choose?

This was a highly entertaining retelling of Robin Hood.  I adored Marian becoming her own hero while honoring her beloved.  It includes some great action scenes but mainly focuses on her ever-changing perspective of Robin and the testing of her loyalties.  The complicated relationship she had with Guy of Gisborne was surprisingly one of my favorite parts.  I appreciated Marian’s character development and her flaws.
While I would’ve loved a little more backstory (we get some great but too-brief flashbacks between chapters) and the romance to have more time to naturally progress (it felt a bit too forced), this was a beautifully written story that focuses on the strength and badassery of Maid Marian.

If you enjoy classic retellings and the original Robin Hood, this is a great book to pick up!

Thanks to HarperTeen and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  Sherwood is scheduled for release on March 19, 2019.

*Quotes included are from an advance readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Sing to It

Sing to It: New Stories by Amy Hempel

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I first heard about Amy Hempel around 2002 when I read an interview (at least I think it was an interview) with Chuck Palahniuk, who was one of my favorite writers at the time.  Palahniuk recommended Hempel in such a way that I felt it was necessary to read her work.  I’m so glad that I did.  I found her books Reasons to Live and Tumble Home: A Novella and Short Stories and they absolutely devastated me in the best possible way.

I am not a huge fan of short stories.   Saying they are hit or miss for me is putting it rather mildly.   I either read a short story and feel like it was completely pointless because there wasn’t time to get to know characters and develop any sort of connection or plot or I love it and then get frustrated because it didn’t provide any sense of closure because there wasn’t enough time to really let it unfold.

Basically, short stories frustrate me and I’m super picky about them.

Amy Hempel is the only short story writer that allows me to pick up a book and feel relaxed because it was written by her capable hands.  She manages to pull me in to a vague moment and allow me to completely understand and connect to it.  She breaks my heart in a few pages.  She tells me stories that make me smile and wince simultaneously.

So now that I’ve gushed about the author, I’ll get to my review of her upcoming release (her first in over a decade), Sing to It: New Stories.

This collection of fifteen stories covers a wide range of emotion, all relating to connection.
In “A-Full Service Shelter” a volunteer explains the care given to dogs on the list to be put down and the lengths to try and save them.
In “Fort Bedd” a person longs for a sense of home/permanence that isn’t stifling when things go wrong.
The Correct Grip” stunned me in one and a half pages, when a woman receives a call from the wife of her attacker.
Cloudland“, the last and also longest story (essentially a novella), feels random and disjointed at first but we eventually get to the heart of the story when a woman looks back on her time at a home for unwed mothers and must then reconcile her choice after heartbreaking information is revealed. (I loved finding out in the acknowledgements that Chuck Palahniuk shared with Hempel the information that she used in this story)

All of these stories were written with great care and deliver a huge punch.  Several of the stories are a single page and yet I read them three or four times to take in all of the emotion.

This is a solid collection of skillfully written short stories.  I highly recommend this book, especially if you haven’t had much luck with short stories in the past.

Thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Sing to It: Short Stories is scheduled for release on March 26, 2019.

 

Review | What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte

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I feel like I need to preface this review by saying I’m not into discussing or reading politics.  Anyone who spends enough time on social media knows the insanity of watching people argue their beliefs online.  It’s a waste of time and energy.

I didn’t bother reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance because what I heard from friends who read it was that he was taking all the stereotypes of Appalachia and telling you how true they are.  No, thank you.

I picked up What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia because a friend recommended it.  She was quick to say this wasn’t a political book bashing either political party but rather a look at the history of Appalachia and how the government (and other groups) have created and used the stereotypes of Appalachia for their own gain.

Elizabeth Catte was born and raised in Appalachia, just like J.D. Vance.  This book was essentially her response to Hillbilly Elegy:

“Vance is a well-educated person of means with a powerful platform who has chosen to accept a considerable amount of fame and wealth to become the spokesperson for a region. Since he is such an enormous fan of personal responsibility, I am thrilled to hold him responsible for his asinine beliefs and associations. Appalachian blogger Kelli Haywood, in her essays on Elegy, objects to the individuals who claim that Vance isn’t authentically Appalachian because he migrated outside the region. I don’t give a damn about geography, but I’ll note that Vance has transcended one of the most authentically Appalachian experiences of them all:  watching someone with tired ideas about race and culture get famous by selling cheap stereotypes about the region.”

After the media recently deemed Appalachia “Trump Country”, every stereotype for the region has been paraded around, fascinating the rest of the country.

Catte lays out a brief history of the area – the culture and the stereotypes – and how it has played a role in politics and big business over time.  I really enjoyed her discussion about what has been created by the region rather than for the region and the books and art she mentions throughout.  This was a well written piece that cautions readers about what the media is feeding the masses about Appalachian people and culture and why.

If you want some history and insight into Appalachia and some perspective on using the region for political reasons, What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is a quick and interesting read.

Review | The Library of Lost and Found

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

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Every once in a while I need a palate cleanser between books. I want a charming story where things aren’t going well for the main character in the beginning but through a series of entertaining events everything works out nice and neat in the end.

Phaedra Patrick tugged at my heart strings with her novel The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper so when I received an e-ARC of her upcoming release The Library of Lost and Found, I was looking forward to spending a chilly afternoon curled up with a cozy read.

Librarian Martha Storm has a problem with saying no.  She cared for her parents for many years before they passed away and now she continues to put others before herself and receives no appreciation whatsoever for it, especially from her sister Lillian.  In fact, it seems everyone takes advantage of Martha’s kindess.

Her life changes when she finds a book of fairytales addressed to her on the library doorstep.  Inside is a dedication written to her from her grandmother …dated three years after her death.

With few clues, Martha begins a search for her grandmother who may still be alive.  She meets some kind people on her journey and unwittingly uncovers family secrets that change her perspective and ultimately her relationship with her sister.

The Library of Lost and Found is a heartwarming story about family and letting go of the past to make the most of the time we have.
If you’re looking for a charming cozy read, give this book a try!

Thanks to Park Row and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Library of Lost and Found is scheduled for release on March 26, 2019.

Review | My Lovely Wife

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

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I really want to tell you everything about this book … except that it’s better if I don’t!  Sometimes less is more, right?

The book summary describes My Lovely Wife as: “Dexter meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith in this wildly compulsive debut thriller about a couple whose fifteen-year marriage has finally gotten too interesting…”

That was enough to make me request an ARC of this book.  The twisted story made it impossible to put down!

Millicent and her husband have been married for fifteen years and have two kids, Rory (14) and Jenna (13).  They’ve spent their life together climbing the social ladder within their wealthy neighborhood and working constantly (she’s a real estate agent and he’s a professional tennis instructor at their country club).  They appear to have it all but it’s exhausting to maintain.

You would think Millicent would be furious when her husband returns home late at night after meeting with another woman.  Instead, she’s disappointed when he tells her the other woman “just wasn’t the one“.

You see, this couple keeps their marriage interesting by stalking women online to learn all about them before making contact.  Millicent trusts her husband to determine which one they should ultimately murder.

This is seriously all I can tell you.

The story is narrated by the unnamed husband who makes this book compulsively readable!  He tells us all about how he met Millicent and how their relationship has evolved over the course of their marriage.  They seem like every other normal couple… except for their dangerous extracurricular activity.

Dark and twisted with some chilling surprises, My Lovely Wife is an exciting debut thriller that will have readers discussing for days.  Samantha Downing seriously blew my mind with this story and I can’t wait to read what she writes next!

Thanks to Berkley Books and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  My Lovely Wife is scheduled for release on March 26, 2019.

 

Review | The Lady from the Black Lagoon

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara

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I had never heard the name Milicent Patrick until last year when this book began to appear on lists for upcoming releases.  I was immediately intrigued by the idea that a woman in 1950’s Hollywood was responsible for creating the legendary monster (often called Gill Man) in Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon is part biography and part detective story, covering the life of Milicent Patrick as well as Mallory O’Meara’s journey to unearth clues about Patrick’s film legacy.

O’Meara is up front about the fact that there isn’t a lot of solid proof of Patrick’s contibutions to special effects in film since most artists/designers were not credited during that era.

With little to go on, O’Meara did an impressive amount of research to piece together Patrick’s fascinating life:  she grew up near the grounds of “Hearst Castle” (her father was an architect for William Randolph Hearst’s grand home in San Simeon), her early romantic life was filled with tragedy, and she became one of Walt Disney’s first female animators.

Milicent eventually began working in the makeup department at Universal Studios, led by Bud Westmore.  She worked on several of their horror movies and in an unusual publicity move, Universal sent her on a promotional tour for the upcoming release of Creature from the Black Lagoon to discuss the creature and its design. She was asked to credit only Bud Westmore for its creation and she agreed. People became enamored with Milicent; she had charm and an unusual profession that they were fascinated by.
When Milicent returned to California, she was shocked to find she’d been fired by Bud Westmore.  It appeared that Bud was unhappy Universal sent Milicent on a press tour and that his name was being ignored while she was in the spotlight.  With Westmore against Milicent, she’d never work in special effects again.

Milicent Patrick was estranged from most of her family, didn’t have children, and most of her friends had also passed on by the time O’Meara began research for her book.  These factors made it extremely tough to put together a complete biography so a lot of the text is pure speculation.
Some readers may be uncomfortable with few solid facts, gaps in time, and speculation on events and emotions.

I enjoyed this book as it gave a voice to both Milicent Patrick and Mallory O’Meara.  O’Meara’s writing is conversational, witty, and extremely inviting.  She tells us when and why she became interested in Milicent Patrick and the importance of Patrick’s legacy.

This isn’t a traditional biography; it also contains a memoir with the author’s personal history and opinions and a look at the history of misogyny in the film industry.

O’Meara was inspired by Milicent Patrick’s professional accomplishments which are a rarity in the film industry, especially in the 1950’s.  She researched Patrick in order to get a better understanding of her role model, to acknowledge the accomplishments Hollywood didn’t credit, and to inspire females everywhere.

O’Meara’s last line sums up her journey perfectly:

“Milicent Patrick’s legacy isn’t just a body of influential work. It’s also an invitation.”

The Lady from the Black Lagoon covers several genres:  film/history, feminism, non-fiction, biography, memoir, and humor (O’Meara’s footnotes and occasional non-chalant use of the word ‘motherfucker’ made me smile).

Thanks to Hanover Square Press for sending me an advanced readers copy and Goodreads for hosting the ARC giveaway!

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick will be released on March 5, 2019*.

(I love the release date is March 5th because that’s also the day in 1954 that Creature from the Black Lagoon was released!)

Review | The Stranger Diaries

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

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Clare Cassidy knows gothic mystery.  She’s an English instructor who teaches a course on the gothic writer R.M. Holland each year and spends her free time writing a book about his life.  Holland lived for a time in the building that has been converted to part of the high school where Clare teaches.  Clare often visits Holland’s preserved study located in the attic, musing over the mysterious death of his wife on the stairs and the identity of someone called Mariana, rumored to be his daughter.

Ella, Clare’s friend and colleague, is found dead at home with a line from Holland’s famous story The Stranger next to her body.

The police believe Ella knew her killer and begin questioning her friends and family.  Clare knows Ella had an affair with Rick Lewis, their department head.  It was brief and ended months ago so Clare doesn’t feel it’s necessary to share with authorities.

Clare revisits an old diary where she had written details about a weekend when she and her colleagues were together for a writing course and finds that someone has written in her diary.

“I look back at my diary entry, almost willing it to be different this time, and, as I do, I notice somthing written at the very bottom of the page. Tiny letters, all in capitals. HALLO, CLARE. YOU DON’T KNOW ME.” 

Clare feels it necessary to come forward and share this concerning piece of information with the police and after they see her diary, they know about Ella and Rick’s affair.

As more shocking events occur, it appears that Clare is at the center of a killer’s sinister game, turning her life into a gothic mystery that she knows well.

The Stranger Diaries is written in the shifting perspectives of Clare, Deputy Seargent (DS) Harbinder Kaur investigating the case, and Clare’s teenage daughter Georgia.

I enjoyed Clare and Harbinder’s narration and the awkward friendship that developed after their initial dislike of one another.  The dynamic felt natural and played out well against the mystery.

Georgia’s narration felt unnatural and made the story uneven for me.  Griffiths describes Georgia as a fifteen year old high school student dating a twenty one year old bartender named Ty.  Georgia and her school friends dabble in a kind of white witchcraft and are vaguely creepy, trying to act like “normal teenagers” (as described by Georgia) around Clare but keeping potentially dangerous secrets.
While we are given clues that lead us to the possibility that Georgia and/or her friends had something to do with the murders, her character and perspective didn’t fit well into the storyline for me.

I enjoyed the build up of the mystery and had narrowed down the suspects to two people about halfway through the book and was right about one of them.  I always ask myself who is the most unassuming character in a murder mystery and nine times out of ten, that’s who the killer is.
The ending felt rushed with an abrupt location change and a final red herring thrown in, but that didn’t bother me too much since I’d already figured out the killer.  The killer’s motive was plausible but kind of underwhelming.

Overall, I enjoyed this gothic murder mystery!  I liked that there was a mystery within the mystery and the pace was great; it moved quickly and kept me interested.  Even though I guessed the killer, I didn’t know their real link to Clare or their motive until the end.  I appreciated the alternating narration by Clare and Harbinder and feel the book would’ve been just as strong without Georgia’s chapters.

If you’re a fan of gothic mysteries, this is certainly a book to check out!

Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  The Stranger Diaries is scheduled for release in the U.S. on March 5, 2019.