Thursday, April 28, 2022

We're all about the same when you turn out the lights: VERY BAD PEOPLE.

Very Bad PeopleVery Bad People by Kit Frick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Six years ago, Calliope's mom drowned in a tragic car accident. Calliope and her two younger sisters survived the crash, but they never knew exactly what caused their mother to drive into the lake, and it's haunted Calliope ever since. Now, at sixteen, she's heading to Tipton Academy, the same boarding school her mom and aunt attended. Once there, she's invited to join Haunt and Rail, an exclusive secret society at Tipton that she discovers her mom was a member of as well, too. Haunt and Rail's members, or "ghosts," are committed to social justice causes, but when they rally around exposing a faculty member, Calliope realizes that some of the members may go too far for what they believe. Calliope soon discovers a tie between Haunt and Rail and her mom's death. But the more she investigates, the more she may be in danger.

This twisty young adult thriller starts off a little slow, but quickly picks up. It's rather dark, since it involves her mother's death, and Calliope is quite devastated (understandably) by her passing. Boarding school mysteries can go either way, but this one is intriguing and also presents a diverse cast with plenty of representation, which I always appreciate. The secret society is a fun way to go, and there are plenty of surprising twists. Calliope is a great main character, and she's easy to root for. I also enjoyed that she has a romance, but it's in no way the focus of this YA story--how refreshing, right? There is an ambiguous ending, which -- ahh -- but I still really enjoyed this one. If you like your YA ominous, diverse, and twisty, you'll enjoy this one. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2022

I didn't know it was a devil town: THE WRONG VICTIM.

The Wrong Victim (Quinn & Costa #3)The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

On the small San Juan Islands, a bomb explodes on an evening charter cruise, killing everyone on board. This includes Neil, the boat's pilot and a former FBI agent, and Vince Jefferies, the wealthy older husband of Madelyn Jefferies, who bows out of the cruise at the last minute when she realizes an old acquaintance is on board. The cruise is run by the West End Charter company, who is disliked by a group of activists and environmentalists who blame them for leaking fuel into the local waters and doing other things to threaten the islands. Was it one of these groups who bombed the cruise? A disgruntled convict Neil put away in his former life as an agent? Vince's children who resented his marriage to the younger Madelyn? Special agent Matt Costa and detective Kara Quinn and the rest of the Mobile Response Team have their work cut out for them determining the motive--before another bomb can explode on the small island.

This was an intriguing story, but wow, was it long with a lot of names and characters to keep track of! It seemed every chapter included more names and intricacies to follow. When I requested this book, I did not realize it was part of a series. The mystery stands alone, but there were definitely team dynamics between Matt, Kara, and the rest of the group that I felt I was missing. Because of these, the team fought a lot. This in-fighting also got old quickly, and I would have preferred more focus on the cases at hand.

The actual plot here--a bombing that seems to be tied to a series of cold case murders--kept my interest. It was somewhat easy to figure out a part of it fairly quickly, but there were parts that kept me guessing. I think VICTIM would have benefited from being shortened a bit (cut that fighting!). There is a lot of small town drama; some of it is appropriate, but some seems too much.

Overall, this is an interesting story filled with character dynamics and a bit of drama. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 here. I would be intrigued enough to read the next book in the series.

I received a copy of this book Harlequin Trade Publishing/MIRA and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Monday, April 25, 2022

And plant our dreams where the peaceful river flows: THE LIFEGUARDS.

The LifeguardsThe Lifeguards by Amanda Eyre Ward
My rating: 3+ of 5 stars

In a luxurious Austin, TX neighborhood, a group of three women have formed a friendship around their sons, now teenagers. Their neighborhood is filled with greenbelts, open space, and pools, including the one where their sons are lifeguards. Whitney, Annette, and Liza come from different backgrounds, but feel like their friendship is as strong as ever. They are enjoying a happy hour one evening when the boys come home, saying they found a body on the greenbelt. The discovery will change everything.

"But our friendship was unbreakable, as safe as the neighborhood where we'd raised our sweet little kids. Or so we thought. By the end of the summer, one of us would be gone."

LIFEGUARDS is told from the perspective of the three women, along with, Joe, the local detective charged with investigating the body. It's certainly the kind of story that keeps you reading. It's part mystery, part family drama. Still, I confess that it's hard to truly engage in a story revolving around rich women (and their husbands) trying to protect their spoiled, rich children. I liked Charlie (Liza's son) and Joe, though.

This is an interesting story, if not a particularly original one. It will keep your attention, but probably won't stick with you long. 3+ stars.

I received a copy of this from Random House / Ballantine and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Friday, April 22, 2022

My pockets are empty, I don't own a thing: THE NEXT THING YOU KNOW.

The Next Thing You KnowThe Next Thing You Know by Jessica Strawser
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Nova Huston is an end-of-life doula, whose job is helping terminally ill people make peace with death. She works with Kelly, who is more focused on checklists and routine, but Nova is free-spirited and takes on all types of clients, young and old. When Mason Shaylor shows up at their business, Nova does not recognize him as a famous singer-songwriter, but simply a man who needs her help. His condition means he can no longer play guitar--the one thing he loves. Mason is a reluctant client at best. But soon he and Nova realize they have a connection--will it be enough to help Mason?

This was a different sort of book. It was very sad and emotional, which makes sense for a book about an end-of-life doula. There's some focus on Nova's boss, Kelly and her tween daughter, Willow. And of course, much of the story centers on Nova and Mason.

I felt very up and down in liking this tale. It was good, and interesting, but somehow never felt quite fully developed. Honestly Mason and Nova were frustrating in a lot of their actions, as was Kelly. Some of my favorite characters were Nova's clients, such as the older, spunky Glenna. The book is dramatic, sometimes overly so, with a bit of pontificating from Nova and Mason. And, once things come to a head, everything ends rather quickly.

Overall, this is a touching tale, but a little uneven with some frustrating characters. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Thursday, April 14, 2022

And I won't know where I'm going: THE SECRETS WE SHARE.

The Secrets We ShareThe Secrets We Share by Edwin Hill
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Sisters Natalie Cavanaugh and Glenn Abbott appear quite different on the surface. Natalie is a tough Boston cop with a bit of a drinking problem, while Glenn runs a popular baking blog and is about to publish a new book. But Natalie and Glenn share a secret--twenty years ago, their abusive father's body was found in the woods behind their home. For a while, their mother was suspected of his murder, but eventually a neighbor was arrested after the discovery she was having an affair with their father. Now Glenn is getting threatening messages on her blog hinting at the sisters' past. And soon a dead body is found in an abandoned building, with ties to a holiday party held at Glenn's home. Natalie is worried her sister is hiding things from her, and Glenn fears her carefully constructed face is about to fall apart.

I loved this book! It's an absolutely excellent well-plotted mystery. Hill is superb at writing damaged yet likable characters, and there are plenty in this book! The story keeps you guessing the entire time. I could not put this one down. It's so twisty and easy to read.

In SECRETS, the murder of Glenn and Natalie's father is tied to deaths in the present, cultivating a well-done story. For Hill fans, you'll see a brief, but key, appearance from Hester Thursby and Angela White plays a pretty strong role in the book too. I could totally see Natalie as a reoccurring character--she's prickly and dark, but a good detective and an intriguing protagonist.

I definitely recommend this one and Hill's Hester Thursby series as well! 4.5 stars.

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Monday, April 04, 2022

BLOG TOUR: FOOL ME ONCE by Ashley Winstead.

Fool Me OnceFool Me Once by Ashley Winstead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lee Stone works as director of communications at Lise Motors, the first female-led electric vehicle company. She idolizes its founder and has big dreams for electric vehicles in her home state of Texas. She's known to her friends as "Stoner," thanks to her partying ways and her inability to commit. Thanks to her father cheating on her mother while Lee was in high school--and a string of bad relationships since--Lee's mantra is not to trust men and never get serious. The one time she felt she truly liked someone, Ben Laderman in grad school, she was convinced he was cheating and so cheated on him--he fled to California and she's never dated seriously again. But now Ben is back, working for the governor of Texas, and the one person Lee has to make nice with to get her passion project passed: a clean energy bill that would have Texas using electric vehicles throughout the Government. Soon Lee and Ben are back to their competitive ways, but it seems like sparks are flying as well.

"The past I thought I closed was coming back to haunt me. Ben Laderman, my greatest mistake--the one person in the world who'd seen me at my worst, who'd seen the real me, who I'd thought I'd really, truly loved--was coming back."

FOOL ME ONCE is a cute read, filled with lots of romantic tension and sparks. I honestly liked a lot of the politics and drama more than some of the romance, though in this day and age, it was hard to imagine Texas even touching the thought of going green. Lee, especially her "Stoner" personality, was a little hard to like and sympathize with. She took the"can't trust or believe in love" trope to extremes and at times, I just wanted to shake her. There was a little too much unwillingness to commit and a lot of back and forth on her part. At times, I just felt bad for Ben. He's incredibly easy to like and while he may take their competitiveness a bit too far, he usually got my vote in most of their arguments.

Still, as Lee and Ben cross Texas trying to drum up support for their bill, there are lots of comedic moments and plenty of romance and silliness. There are tender and touching bits too and some serious topics as they work to save the environment and make the future better. I enjoyed an appearance by a grizzled advisor to one of the senators and some of Lee's friends. There's a good cast of characters here and some surprising drama behind the scenes. (This is politics after all.)

If you like political dramas or Parks and Rec, this one is for you. It's funny with lots of political (and romantic) tension. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 here.

I received a copy of this book from Harlequin Trade Publishing / Graydon House and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Friday, April 01, 2022

The cold facts and nothing more: NINE LIVES.

Nine LivesNine Lives by Peter Swanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nine strangers receive a list in the mail. Nothing is on the list except nine names. None of the people seem to know one another. They don't think much of it, until bad things start happening to people on the list. The first is an old man, a resort owner, who is drowned on a beach. FBI Agent Jessica Winslow--whose name is on the list--is determined to find out how all these names are related. Can she do it before her time is up?

"A horrible thought went through Caroline's mind: It is a list of death. Someone has marked us for death."

This book moves quickly thanks to its short chapters told from multiple points of view. We hear from everyone on the list. At first it is hard to keep everyone straight (a list in the beginning really helps), but as the book progresses, it gets easier. LIVES keeps a descending countdown of people alive, starting at nine, and it really leads to a complete sense of impending doom. I truly would have loved this book if everyone was not dying; you grow attached to these random people and boom, they're dead!

Still, this is a very good and twisty read. Swanson's books are sometimes hit or miss for me, but this one kept me captivated. I felt like I was not on my game while reading, because the mystery really took me by surprise! It was incredibly interesting deciphering the linkage between the names, even it was a bit depressing too.

Overall, this is a fast and puzzling read and filled with a sense of pending disaster. 3.5 stars (only because it made me sad!), rounded up to 4 here.

I received a copy of this book from William Morrow / Customer and Netgalley via Scene of the Crime.

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