Review | Survive the Night

Survive the Night by Riley Sager

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Charlie Jordan’s best friend Maddy recently became the third victim of the Campus Killer and she can’t help but feel guilty for leaving her alone at the bar that night. Now with Thanksgiving approaching, Charlie wants to leave college and head home to Ohio, maybe for good.
She meets Josh Baxter at the campus ride board and they agree to share a ride and gas money for the long journey.
They begin the drive on a fall night in 1991; Nirvana in the tape deck of a Pontiac Grand Am sets the ambiance as Charlie and Josh get to know each other. Unfortunately Charlie picks up on some things that aren’t quite right and the trip takes a detour as her fear rises… Is she riding shotgun with the Campus Killer?!

I’m a fan of Riley Sager; I look forward to a new Sager thriller every summer. They have always been campy and predictable but I’m also always highly entertained!

Survive the Night has a decent atmosphere with the isolation of a vehicle on a stretch of road late at night and the uneasiness of sharing a conversation with a stranger, the few 90s references were a nice touch, and while the last quarter of the book is more convoluted than necessary and I saw the big twist coming from a mile away, I still enjoyed the ride!

Review | For Your Own Good

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

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Teddy Crutcher is Teacher of the Year at the prestigious Belmont Academy.  He’s known for pushing the kids to be the best and the brightest, after all the smug and entitled students from the most affluent families have to be pushed extra hard …it’s for their own good.

Reaching their academic potential may be hard this year with the death of a school parent – the arrest of her own daughter on suspicion of murder! – followed by a startling number of poisonings of student and faculty.  The body count is rising, Teddy is rising in the ranks of Belmont, and one student is beginning to suspect that Mr. Crutcher is trying to teach them all a dangerous lesson.

I’m a huge fan of Samantha Downing. Her debut My Lovely Wife (read my review here) was a stunning thriller that I devoured and her follow up He Started It (read my review here) kept me on my toes also.  Unfortunately something about For Your Own Good failed to keep me flying through the pages.  I always enjoy the unlikeable characters doing bad things Downing delivers but this one lacked something for me that I cannot quite put my finger on.  Teddy was diabolical and did shocking things …but honestly he was a bit boring.  It’s still a solid contemporary thriller with dark and twisted characters but it didn’t have quite the impact as the author’s previous books for me personally.

Thanks to Berkley and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  For Your Own Good was released July 20, 2021.

Review | Tell Me

Tell Me (Inland Empire 2) by Anne Frasier

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Three young hikers are missing, their guide found murdered on the Pacific Crest Trail. The only lead is a video of the crime scene and the girl who posted it to social media is now conveniently missing also. Detective Daniel Ellis and criminal profiler Reni Fisher are called in to investigate and determine if it’s a hoax.
When the crime scene is located and confirmed to be real, the fate of the hikers appears grim until one is found alive. Daniel and Reni begin to piece together what happened and why as they rush to locate those still missing.

At the same time, Reni has uncovered some surprising information regarding Daniel’s past and hesitates to share it with him over concern it will threaten their complicated personal and professional relationship.

I really enjoyed the first book in the Inland Empire series, Find Me (read my review here). I loved the back stories for Daniel and Reni, how their complicated pasts drive them, the case that brought them together, and the twist.
This book failed to deliver the same energy for me. I enjoyed the case but saw the twist coming from a mile away. The way that Reni uncovers information for Daniel seems far too easy and convenient and the reveal/confrontation was very anticlimactic. This was just an average thriller that felt rushed to me.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Tell Me is scheduled for release on July 27, 2021.

Review | The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives

The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives by Kristin Miller

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From the outside, it looks like the wives of Presidio Terrace have it all but a closer look reveals the cracks in the facade:

Georgia St. Claire is able to laugh off her nickname “Black Widow”.  Two husbands have met untimely and tragic ends and she’s cashed in both times.  Her third wedding day is quickly approaching and she hopes the third time is the charm with Robert.

Erin King is a local news anchor and head of the homeowner’s association.  She walks out on live TV when she finally snaps at her rude co-anchor and decides she’ll take a brief hiatus from the desk to be trophy wife to her plastic surgeon husband, Mason.  Unfortunately Mason isn’t too thrilled about all of Erin’s new free time and it seems he could be hiding something—or someone—from her.  It also doesn’t take long for Erin to realize the network isn’t exactly begging her to return.

Mystery writer Brooke Davies is still in the extended honeymoon phase with her tech millionaire husband Jack when they purchase a home in the neighborhood… or at least, it seems that way for appearances sake.  They sleep in separate bedrooms and Brooke is struggling to find the right characters for her next novel.

Brooke is welcomed into the fold by Georgia and Erin and things quickly unravel when Georgia’s fiancee goes missing aboard his yacht on the night of their pre-wedding party.  Alternating POVs reveal some surprising secrets as they scramble to find out what’s happened to Robert.

The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives isn’t anything groundbreaking but it is wicked, juicy, and entertaining with plenty of drama and twists that would translate well to the screen!  I recommend this to readers who enjoy contemporary thrillers/suspense heavy on the soap operatic drama.

Thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives is scheduled for release on July 20, 2021.

Review | The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel by Renee Nault, Margaret Atwood

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I devoured The Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago and have been thrilled with the hulu TV series which greatly expands on the original story.

Nault has done an exceptional job of adapting Margaret Atwood’s modern classic into graphic novel form! This dystopian story flows well and remains cohesive and terrifying in its brevity. The art, while not my favorite style-wise, is simplistic but bold and packs a huge punch on delivery.
I highly recommend this graphic novel, as well as Atwood’s novel and the hulu TV series.

Review | The Summer That Melted Everything

The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

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I was so impressed by McDaniel’s novel Betty last year (read my review here) that knew I had to go back and read her debut.  I am completely stunned that this was a debut; McDaniel is a naturally gifted storyteller who manages to bewitch you from page one.
I don’t want to give very much away with this review but I can tell you that it gave me a perfect mix of Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson vibes.  The magic realism/coming of age innocence of <b>Dandelion Wine</b> meets the horror of a town hellbent on keeping their secrets.

In the summer of 1984, young Fielding Bliss became friends with the devil in the middle of a heatwave in Breathed, Ohio.

No one expected that the devil would actually accept the invitation Fielding’s daddy published in the town paper and certainly no one expected the devil to be a bruised thirteen-year-old boy.

Fielding meets the devil, who calls himself Sal, outside the courthouse and brings him home where he’s welcomed by the Bliss family who believe him to be a runaway from a nearby farm.

From here, we get to know each family member intimately and I will not go into details as I loved the complexities that arise.  Sal knows more than he should; sharing stories of Heaven and Hell and offering insight into personal issues that eventually cover the town in anger and suspicion. As the temperature rises and strange incidents occur, a mob is forming.

Is Sal a broken and bruised child or is he the devil incarnate?  Does it even matter to a town full of people with dark secrets they don’t want to acknowledge?

I am being so vague because I don’t want to ruin the surprise of this beautiful story that caught me completely off guard, and I could never do it justice with a simple review.  It’s a book that I can only gush and say, “It’s sooooo good!” and beg you to read immediately.
The Summer That Melted Everything is a story about family, community, and redemption.  It’s a bittersweet coming of age story full of magic realism that doesn’t shy away from tragedy and darkness and yet was so lyrically written I couldn’t help but feel lighter as I devoured each word.

I highly recommend you read this book and go in knowing next to nothing for a mesmerizing experience.

Review | The Great Silence

The Great Silence (The Skelfs #3) by Doug Johnstone

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I started this series last year after reading an excellent review of book one, A Dark Matter (read my review here), and soon devoured book two, The Big Chill (read that review here). I was thrilled to see the third installment was just released and already available on hoopla!

The three Skelf women are back and busier than ever between the family funeral and private investigation businesses.
Matriarch Dorothy is stunned to find a human foot while walking her dog, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah are investigating the circumstances surrounding a dying woman, Hannah’s colleague believes someone is playing a prank on him, and their lodger Abi (the teen from book two) learns the devastating secret her mother has been hiding.
Meanwhile, the threat of Jenny’s fugitive ex-husband looms large, especially when his young daughter from his second marriage goes missing.

Many subplots keep this story flowing and I was invested in all of them. Along the way, there are several personal changes for all the Skelf women and I loved seeing their growth. I truly hope this series continues because I’m a huge fan of the Skelfs!

I recommend this series to readers who enjoy family drama, dark humor, and mystery.  It should be read in order as each novel builds on the previous.

 

Review | Fries and Alibis

Fries and Alibis (Mitzy Moon #1) by Trixie Silvertale

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Every once in a while I need a good cozy mystery… and I have found the perfect series!

Mitzy Moon is a down on her luck barista until destiny steps in …or at least a lawyer with a special delivery. She’s stunned to learn, after losing her mom and spending most of her childhood in foster care, that she has a family. Not only that, the grandmother she never met has left her a small fortune as well as a bookshop.

Mitzy arrives in Pin Cherry Harbor to claim her inheritance … only to be accused of murder when the sheriff finds her standing over a body in the alley behind her bookshop.
With a little help from her grandmother’s ghost and the spoiled cat she’s inherited, Mitzy is able to clear her name and also solve a case involving the father she never knew.

Fries & Alibis has a funny MC, a quirky small town, and is a perfect paranormal cozy mystery that has me ready to devour book two!

Review | Malibu Rising

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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TJR is an auto-buy author for me. Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones are two of my favorite characters of all time. I was caught up in their lives and the authenticity of the writing made me almost believe they were real. The supporting characters in both of those novels were icing on the cake!
My NetGalley request for Malibu Rising is still in pending purgatory but I lucked out I was first on the waiting list at the library when it was published.

But… *stage whisper* I didn’t love it.

It’s August 1983 and model Nina Riva is preparing for her annual end of summer party that has become the stuff of legend. Everyone who knows her address is invited — all of Malibu as well as the biggest stars in Hollywood are expected.
Little does Nina or her three siblings know that tonight is going to be a reckoning for their family as they confront the past and make life-changing decisions and the party will end with multiple arrests, a car crash, and a mansion in flames.

Malibu Rising gives readers the love story of singer Mick Riva and his first wife June and follows the lives of their four children: surfer/supermodel Nina, champion surfer Jay, photographer Hud, and up-and-coming surfer/kid sister Kit. Chapters are divided into the hours leading up to the party to build anticipation. Each Riva sibling is struggling with the past and has a secret in the present that is slowly revealed over the course of the day.
As the party begins, the stakes are raised with appearances from celebrities, a cheating spouse — and their jilted lover, an estranged father, and a possible sibling no one knew about.

This felt like one of those 80s party movies where I was supposed to get caught up in the drama and debauchery as everything begins to spin out of control… but I just didn’t feel the immediacy of the events or feel like I truly got to know any of the Riva siblings. There were so many random scenes that introduce us briefly to a character that has nothing to do with the overall story just to show how the party is unfolding and while this could’ve been fun, it didn’t work for me here.

Malibu Rising was still a well-developed story with a tragic romance, a struggling family, and a wild party but I didn’t connect with it on the same level as previous Reid novels; the characters just didn’t come to life for me here.

Review | The Last Summer of the Camperdowns

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly

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I found this book at Dollar Tree last year and was intrigued by the cover and summary. Once I brought it home and checked to see what Goodreads and Litsy had to say about it, I put it away to languish at the bottom of my TBR pile.
When we moved our bedroom and bookshelves around a couple months ago, I spotted this and it kept calling to me. Though hesitant by the low end of 3 stars rating, I dived in and am thrilled that I did!

It’s been twenty years since Riddle James Camperdown saw Harry Devlin. When they run into each other at a party, it brings back memories of a summer long ago in Cape Cod when she was only thirteen.

From there, readers are swept back into Riddle’s eccentric family as her WWII hero father, known by all as “Camp”, runs for political office and her movie star mother, Greer, is bored with the entire idea. On a visit to a neighbor’s barn, Riddle stumbles on a confusing scene; uncertain of what she witnessed, she’s reluctant to say anything.

Camp’s campaign is heating up just as his former friend Michael Devlin threatens to reveal a shocking secret from the war that would end his political career before it can even begin. Riddle learns her mother was once engaged to Michael, who supposedly left her at the altar, and is unhappy to see them spending time together though she’s enamored with Michael’s nineteen-year-old son, Harry.

Riddle’s secret about what she may have witnessed in the barn becomes dangerous when she stumbles upon the body of Harry’s missing brother, Charlie, on her neighbor’s property.

Her secret reaches fever-pitch when Michael accuses her father of hurting Charlie and spills the horrible secret he has been threatening Camp with… but has her silence put her family on a collision course with destiny?

This book was fascinating! It’s character driven and tells young Riddle’s story through her own voice with the perspective that age has given her.

“Sometimes it seemed to me that my parents never met a catastrophe they didn’t like. The day-to-day stuff—cooking, laundry, simple parenting—undid them, but give them a war or a murder, set the whole world on fire, and they were like a vaudeville team that you couldn’t extract from the stage without a grappling hook.”

Her parents are a train wreck, their relationship is messy and their parenting questionable. Riddle’s silence on what she believed she saw felt authentic and compelling to me. I felt like I could understand (having once been a kid myself) why she chose not to say anything for as long as she did: she didn’t witness a crime with her own two eyes, it was a complex situation where she feared at first she could be wrong, there were consequences whether right or wrong, followed by the vaguely threatening actions of the person involved.

The ending stunned me. I honestly didn’t see it coming and I let out an actual gasp when I read it. The story came together seamlessly and was incredibly bittersweet. Complex characters, great dialogue, strong writing overall.

I recommend The Last Summer of the Camperdowns to readers who enjoy quirky family dramas / mystery.