Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Midnight Man & The Wife Upstairs

 

I’m back!! That’s right, Sharon here with another edition of Thriller Thursday. Sorry that I have missed a few Thriller Thursday weeks, life just got in the way. But I was on vacation from work last week (well a staycation 🙂 ) and was able to relax, clear my head, and regroup. So today I am excited to share my thoughts on the spooky thriller The Midnight Man by Caroline Mitchell and Freida McFadden’s psychological thriller, The Wife Upstairs.

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Midnight Man & The Wife UpstairsThe Midnight Man (Slayton Thrillers, #1) Goodreads

Author: Caroline Mitchell

Publication Date: October 13, 2021

Publisher: Embla Books

“If you open your door to the Midnight Man, hide with a candle wherever you can. Try not to scream as he draws near, because one of you won’t be leaving here…” As soon as I read that line in the synopsis for Caroline Mitchell’s The Midnight Man, I knew I had to read it. And I am glad I did. The Midnight Man was a spooky read with twists and turns and I didn’t figure anything out until the end.

Twenty-five years ago, Nigel Middleton shot and killed his wife, his 14 year old daughter and 4 year old son before turning the gun on himself. Ever since then their home, Blackhall Manor, has stood vacant and decaying.  Fast forward to the present and it is Halloween night. Five teenage girls have been invited to Blackhall Manor to play the Midnight Man game, but only 4 of the girls make it home. The fifth girl Angelica is found brutally murdered and unfortunately for the other 4 girls, the game is still being played and their lives are in jeopardy.

Detective Sarah Noble has been on leave from the police force for about a year following a scandal involving her husband. Sarah grew up in the small town of Slayton and she more than anyone knows all about the hidden dangers of Blackhall Manor. As she is interviewing witnesses to try and find Angelica’s killer, it starts to become clear that Sarah’s past is coming back to haunt her and she is the killer’s real target.

I really wish I could say more about this book, but I feel that anything I say will spoil things. The story is told from the POV of Sarah and The Midnight Man. Getting the POV of the Midnight Man gave this book a really creepy vibe. I loved reading his thoughts as he observed Sarah and the investigation. I got the chills and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up a few times when reading his POV.

I really liked Sarah; she was a very sympathetic character. She has been through a lot in her life, starting when she was a teenager and then with the scandal involving her husband. The more I learned of her backstory and all that she has been through and overcome, I couldn’t help but root for her to solve this case and put all her demons behind her.

I also really liked the secondary characters we get to meet as Sarah is conducting her investigation. Especially 7 year old Elliot, who has the ability to sense things and is able to help Sarah track down one of the girls that goes missing. I just wanted to hug Elliot, he reminded me of the boy from The Sixth Sense and The Ring.

The Midnight Man is a very eerie and spooky story.  From the very first page, which gave me an Amityville Horror vibe, I was glued to this book and couldn’t stop turning the pages. Caroline Mitchell gives us a well written story with characters that are very well developed. The Midnight Man is the first book in the Slayton Thrillers series and I cannot wait to see what Mitchell has in store for the next book. 4 stars

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Midnight Man & The Wife UpstairsThe Wife Upstairs: Goodreads

Author: Freida McFadden

Publication Date: May 12th, 2020

Publisher: Dreamscape Media

Freida McFadden’s new book The Wife Upstairs follows Victoria Barnett and Sylvia Robinson.   Victoria has it all, a loving and handsome husband, a job she loves and a beautiful home. But then she has an accident that leaves her unable to feed or dress herself, unable to walk and with only limited speech. She is confined to a room in her home and needs 24 hour care. Enter Sylvia, who has been hired by Victoria’s husband, Adam, to care for her. Victoria has a story to tell but cannot get the words out. Thankfully, she has kept a diary that Sylvia finds and what she reads inside is shocking.

When we first meet Sylvia, she is down on her luck. She has broken up with her boyfriend, is unemployed, and is about to be evicted from her home. A chance meeting with Adam Barnett is about to change all that for Sylvia though. She thinks her luck has finally changed, but little does Sylvia know that moving in to help take care of Victoria has possibly put her own life in jeopardy.

I love how McFadden told this story from Sylvia’s POV and also through Victoria’s diary. It made me not trust anything or anyone. From Sylvia’s perspective, Adam seems to be a very loving and caring husband who would do anything to help his wife. But then we read Victoria’s diary and the man she writes about is not the man we are seeing through Sylvia’s eyes. According to Victoria, Adam started off as loving but once they married, he turned into a very mean man. He never physically harmed her, but he did mentally.

I was all over the place on who I trusted and who I thought was telling the truth. The more we got into Victoria’s diary, the more I suspected that Adam was responsible for her accident. Sylvia was coming to the same conclusion, but when she talked to the housekeeper about Adam and Victoria, she gave a very different perspective on their lives. According to the housekeeper it was Victoria who was the aggressor in their marriage and she was the one that was mentally abusing Adam. I didn’t know who to believe, which is what I love in a psychological thriller.

As it got closer to the end the tension really picked up and just when I thought I may have things figured out, Plot Twist! And then right at the end there was another plot twist that I did not see coming.

With so many twists and turns, I cannot say that I really loved any of the characters. How can you when you don’t really trust them? LOL. Sylvia made a few questionable choices, but I did like that she was determined to figure out what went on and who was to blame. I did have sympathy for Victoria, because she was stuck in that house and her only way to communicate was through what she had written in her diary.

If you like psychological thrillers that keep you guessing, I recommend you read Freida McFadden’s The Wife Upstairs.     4 stars

Reviews: HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG & LOVE, LISTS AND FANCY SHIPS

 

Happy Monday all!  I hope everyone who was celebrating Thanksgiving this past week had a lovely holiday.  We kept our celebration small but I did get to spend some time with my mom and sister so that was really nice.  I worked off and on the rest of the weekend and painted a room in my house yesterday, which is why I was mostly offline.  I’ll be catching up on blog visits over the next few days.  Today I’m sharing reviews for two excellent books I’ve read recently, one from a favorite author, Tracey Garvis Graves, and one from a new-to-me author, Sarah Grunder Ruiz, who is sure to become a favorite if this first book is any indication.  And apparently my accidental theme this week, which I didn’t notice until I made the above graphic, is sunglasses with images reflected in them, lol.

 

Reviews:  HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG & LOVE, LISTS AND FANCY SHIPSHeard It in a Love Song Goodreads

Author:  Tracey Garvis Graves

Publication Date: November 9, 2021

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Heard It in a Love Song by Tracey Garvis Graves is a beautiful story about finding love again after having your heart broken. What I loved about this story is that although it focuses on two characters who are coming out of toxic relationships and trying to start over, there isn’t a lot of heavy drama filling the pages.  Instead, the story focuses more on each character’s inner journey to find themselves again.  There’s a lot of looking back and reflecting on what went wrong with their previous relationships, but it’s looking back so as to be able to move forward and I really enjoyed that angle.

Heard It in a Love Song follows Layla Hilding, a 35-year old elementary school music teacher.  Layla is recently divorced after her 10-year marriage to Liam ended.  When we first meet Layla, we learn that although she has a passion for music, her dream was not to become a music teacher.  Instead, her dream was actually to be a professional musician and, prior to getting married, she was actually the lead singer in a band.  Although Liam was initially enamored by watching Layla perform, once they were in a relationship, he became quite toxic, often belittling her performances and her musical skills.  He basically sucked the life right out of her dream.  One of the first things Layla purchases once she is on her own again is a guitar, and it’s with that guitar that her journey to self-rediscovery begins.

Although being a music teacher wasn’t her first choice, it is at her elementary school that Layla first meets Josh Summers, a 35 year old electrician with a 5 year old daughter who is in Layla’s class.  Josh is coming out of a failed relationship.  He had married his high school sweetheart, but after 20 years together, it was like living with a stranger and so they had separated.  Like Layla, Josh is trying to move forward and figure out what’s next for him.  When Layla and Josh meet, it’s obvious that they have major chemistry, but they’re both still reeling from their previous relationships and hesitant to start a new one.

I had tremendous sympathy for both Layla and Josh, who are both very likable and vulnerable characters.  It was easy to understand why they were both so cautious about getting involved with someone new, but at the same time, it was also obvious that they would be so great together so I was definitely rooting for them to open their hearts to each other.

I also loved how Graves chose to present Layla and Josh’s journey. Although the story mostly stays focused on their paths forward, Graves gives her readers several flashbacks as Layla and Josh reflect on the highs and lows of their previous relationships.  Seeing some of the more painful moments from their pasts had me rooting for these two all the more because they both deserve so much better than what they had.

Heard It in a Love Song is a poignant story about love, second chances, and about finding yourself.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG & LOVE, LISTS AND FANCY SHIPSLove, Lists, and Fancy Ships Goodreads

Author: Sarah Grunder Ruiz

Publication Date: November 23, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships by Sarah Grunder Ruiz is a contemporary romance that follows Jo Walker, a soon-to-be 30 year old yacht stewardess.  As a way to commemorate the last year of her 20s, Jo decides to come up with a bucket list of 30 things she wants to do by the time she turns 30.  It’s a list that really focuses on stepping out of her comfort zone – get a tattoo, go skinny dipping, run a marathon, visit ten foreign countries, etc.  For the past year, Jo has been completing her list and humorously documenting her efforts on her blog.

It is when Jo works up the nerve to complete item number 5 on her list – kissing a stranger – that Jo’s life takes an unexpected turn.  After she kisses a handsome stranger at the local bar, she’s mortified to learn that said stranger, whose name is Alex, is actually her new neighbor, which she learns when he accidentally comes across her late one night in the community pool, checking off another item on her bucket list, skinny dipping.  As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, it turns out Alex is also the new chef on the yacht where she works so, as much as Jo would like to forget about their previous encounters, there’s just no avoiding him, which leads to some awkward but entertaining moments.  Even though Jo swears she isn’t interested in starting a relationship with anyone, Alex is pretty irresistible to her so the temptation is definitely there.  I loved their scenes together, both the fun, flirty ones and then later, the more serious ones when they discuss their families, etc.  I really enjoyed the romantic aspect of this story because Jo and Alex have amazing chemistry and could be so good together if Jo would just let herself take another big step out of that comfort zone of hers.

While Jo’s blog and her adventures with Alex as they got to know each other provided lots of fun moments, what really made this a special read for me was the more emotional and personal journey that Jo faces.  Because while there is definitely a potential romance, this is also a story about grief and loss.  In Jo’s case, it’s the loss of her beloved nephew, who was killed when he was hit by a car while riding his bike.  Jo has been repressing her grief by trying to stay busy and not think about it, but when her two nieces come to spend the summer with her and she realizes they are struggling with the loss of their little brother too, it brings all of Jo’s grief to a head.  I found this part of the story so incredibly moving and well written and my heart just ached for Jo and the girls as they try to process such a devastating loss.

As much as I enjoy a good rom-com, a contemporary romance that makes me feel all the feels is what I’m really a sucker for and Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships by Sarah Grunder Ruiz really delivers in that department.  4 STARS

 

Reviews: ALL OF US VILLAINS and ROXY

 

Apologies for my sporadic posting and commenting.  Work is still kicking my butt right now so my free time is limited.  I was so tired by the weekend that I mostly just vegged on the couch, watching Hallmark movies.  I also got my COVID booster, which made me even more sleepy.  Aside from the need to nap, a sore arm and a mild headache, no real side effects from that third shot.  Definitely worth it to feel better protected going into the holiday season. Anyway, I’m back today with two new reviews.  These reads are a bit darker than most of what I’ve been reading lately but I just couldn’t resist them.  Check out those covers!

 

Reviews:  ALL OF US VILLAINS and ROXYAll of Us Villains (All of Us Villains, #1) Goodreads

Author:  Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

Publication Date: November 9, 2021

Publisher:  Tor Teen

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

If you are a fan of The Hunger Games, All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman is the start of an exciting new fantasy series that you are going to want to check out.  It follows seven magical families, each of whom is vying for control over their city’s High Magick.  Every generation, there is a tournament to determine control, with each family selecting a teen champion to represent them in this fight-to-the-death magical competition.

I was a little worried at first that seven families would be too hard to keep track of, but the story ends up being presented from four of the champion’s perspectives, each of which is so distinctive that it makes it very easy to follow along.  There’s Alistair, who is representing the Lowe family.  The Lowes have traditionally dominated the competition and appear to have no qualms whatsoever about annihilating the competition. Alistair himself has quite the reputation for being a monster and goes into the tournament with every intention of living up to his reputation.  As the tournament wears on, however, it becomes clear there’s more to Alistair than meets the eye.

Then there’s Isobel who doesn’t really want to fight in the tournament in the first place, but who would love to finally bring some glory to her family, who are considered trash by most others in the city.

Gavin Grieve is the third voice, and he’s the underdog with something to prove.  His family has never won, their spell casting abilities are believed to be mediocre at best, and he would love to just shut people up once and for all for always underestimating the Grieves.

Lastly there’s Briony.  Briony believes that the tournament itself is a curse and that there must be a way to break it so that no one ever has to die again.  She’s so determined to stop the curse that when her sister is chosen to be their family’s champion instead of her, she chops her sister’s finger off to get the champion ring and take her place.

While I found each of these characters fascinating to follow and especially to get inside their thoughts while they’re engaging in this tournament, the most exciting part of All of Us Villains was the tournament itself and the worldbuilding.  The magical system is so intricate and well thought out, and I thought the whole idea of a high stakes tournament where the participants cast spells and curses at one another was fascinating. Everything about the story kept me engaged, from the curses themselves, to the tentative alliances formed by various champions, the creative strategies employed by all participants, and especially Briony’s movements as she sets out to dismantle the curse and free them all, all while fighting for her own survival since no one else believes her theory.

All of Us Villains reads like a mash-up of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and yet still feels like a unique and original fantasy.  If you enjoy dark reads that feature high stakes competition and magic, I definitely recommend All of Us Villains4 STARS

 

Reviews:  ALL OF US VILLAINS and ROXYRoxy Goodreads

Author: Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

Publication Date: November 9, 2021

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Roxy by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman is one of the most unique books I’ve read this year.  It’s a dark and all too timely read about the opioid crisis that has ravaged so much of rural America.  While the topic itself might not be new, the authors’ approach to it sure is.

Roxy follows teens Isaac and Ivy Ramey, siblings who are both on prescription medication.  Ivy is taking Adderall to help with her ADHD, and Isaac is taking oxycodone for pain after suffering an injury during a fight and then further exacerbating it out on the soccer field.  The story tragically begins with first responders at the scene of an apparent drug overdose.  We learn that the victim is deceased and that it’s I. Ramey. Which I. Ramey though? We then back up and follow each teen through what led to their being prescribed the medications in the first place and then continue forward until we learn which Ramey sibling has died. The authors do a wonderful job of making the readers invested in the lives of both Ivy and Isaac.  They’re both good kids who come from a good family, and what happens is just so sad and preventable.

While this story is a dark and tragic one, it’s also a very creative one in that two of the other main characters are actually the drugs themselves personified. Roxy is oxycodone and Addy is Adderall.  Each of these drugs is given a distinct personality, and they behave as rivals throughout the story as if it’s a competition to see which can get more people hooked. I could see this being potentially offensive for a reader who takes either of these prescription medications, but I think the Shustermans do a fantastic job of handling the topic with sensitivity.  They make it very clear throughout Roxy that both medications have medicinal value and that people use them for legit reasons.  Isaac and Ivy only start heading down the dangerous path to addiction and overdose when they choose to veer from their prescribed dosages.

There were also some interesting interludes throughout the story that featured drugs who used to be in the spotlight the way Oxy and Adderall are these days.  There’s Mary Jane who has now gone legit, and we also see Lucy who is just kind of floating around doing her own thing.

Roxy is a compelling story that definitely kept me turning the pages.  It was a heartbreaking read, knowing that it would end in the death of a young person and I shed tears as soon as I learned which sibling it was, but it’s also a powerful read that left me with so much to think about, particularly with respect to how it’s all too easy for anyone to fall victim to addiction.  4 STARS

Review: THE WEDDING RINGER by Kerry Rea

Review:  THE WEDDING RINGER by Kerry ReaThe Wedding Ringer by Kerry Rea
five-stars
Published by Berkley Books on November 9, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

The Wedding Ringer by Kerry Rea is a hilarious and heartwarming story about finding love and friendship when you least expect it.  It’s Kerry Rea’s debut novel and she really knocks it out of the park with this gem of a story.  It has that perfect balance of humor and weightier topics.  I laughed a lot but then there were also some sadder moments that made me want to wrap up these characters in a big hug.

After finding her fiancé and her best friend in bed together, Willa Callister has decided that she is done with both love and friendship and would rather just be alone.  This betrayal hasn’t just dampened Willa’s enthusiasm for companionship, however. It has also killed her writing mojo, which is problematic since she makes her living as a blogger. What Willa really wants to do is make enough money to move away and get a fresh start, but until that happens, she finds herself living with her sister, licking her wounds, and occasionally playing Princess Sparkle Fairy at children’s parties for a little cash.

I adored Willa from the moment we meet her at a disastrous children’s party where she accidentally drops the birthday cake after coming face to face with her cheating ex-bff.  Humiliated, Willa storms out of the party, flings her plastic throne to the ground, and dubs her character Princess Effing Sparkle Fairy.  Although it’s clearly a comical scene, I’m a sucker for an underdog and I could easily relate to and sympathize with Willa’s extreme frustration.  She’s lost her best friend and the love of her life in one fell swoop, betrayed by the two people she cares about most in the world.  The author does a wonderful job of creating a scenario that immediately had me rooting for Willa to get the fresh start she so desperately needs.

Willa’s chance comes in the form of another character I fell in love with, Maisie Mitchell.  Maisie is getting married and unexpectedly finds herself down a bridesmaid.  Rather than rearranging everything with an uneven number of people, she decides to hire a professional bridesmaid.  A chance encounter with Willa at a coffeeshop convinces Maisie that Willa is the perfect person for the job.  Even though Willa doesn’t really want to do it, Maisie offers her a sum of money that is too big to refuse.  What neither Willa nor Maisie realizes is that this business arrangement is actually the start of a beautiful, potentially life-changing friendship.  Even though Willa is determined that she doesn’t need anyone, there’s just something about Maisie that makes her heart open no matter how hard she tries to distance herself and keep it from happening.  I especially adored how protective Willa becomes of Maisie when it becomes apparent that she’s marrying into a family that looks down on her.

There is also a lovely side romance for Willa, featuring a sexy pediatrician named Liam. While I loved this relationship and thought Liam was perfect for Willa in every way and that they had tremendous chemistry, it’s truly the friendship between Willa and Maisie that makes The Wedding Ringer such a special book.

five-stars

About Kerry Rea

Kerry Rea lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and their small army of dogs. She grew up in Youngstown, Ohio and graduated from The University of Notre Dame. She believes that a happy ending is always possible. Visit her at authorkerryrea.com and on Instagram at @authorkerryrea, and on Twitter at @kerrymrea.

Review: THE FASTEST WAY TO FALL by Denise Williams

Review:  THE FASTEST WAY TO FALL by Denise WilliamsThe Fastest Way To Fall by Denise Williams
Also by this author: How to Fail at Flirting
five-stars
Published by Berkley Romance on November 2, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

Denise Williams’ How to Fail at Flirting was one of my favorite reads from last year so I was excited to get my hands on a copy of her latest novel, The Fastest Way to Fall.  Williams has a knack for creating wonderful protagonists that you just find yourself wanting to be bffs with, and Britta Colby, the protagonist of The Fastest Way to Fall is no exception.

Britta works as an editorial assistant for a popular lifestyle website.  She likes her job well enough, but her passion is actually to write so she would love to be promoted to the writing staff.  At a staff meeting, Britta goes out on a limb and pitches an idea for a story and is thrilled when the bosses actually give her a chance to write it.  Her task is to join a hot new body fitness app that includes a virtual personal coach and to write about her experience with it. Although Britta’s primary reason for joining the app is to secure that promotion, she does like the idea that the program focuses on overall fitness rather than weight loss.  She likes it even more when she starts chatting with Wes, her virtual coach, and they quickly become friends.

I immediately liked Britta. She’s warm and funny, and I also loved her determination to make something happen with her career.  We get to read some of Britta’s posts as she goes through this fitness journey and I loved how authentic and real she comes across and I also loved the focus on body positivity.  Even though she’s clearly the underdog here, she shines like a star and I was excited to see the number of comments on her posts grow as more and more people became invested in her journey.

Wes Lawson is actually the CEO of the Fit Me app Britta is reviewing.  Even though he has enjoyed tremendous success with the app, he’s feeling out of sorts these days and is dealing with a lot of family issues. He decides he needs to clear his head and the best way to do that is to get back to what he really loves, the coaching.  He selects one of the app’s new clients to coach; that client of course turns out to be Britta. Britta’s sense of humor wins him over from the start and he finds himself wanting to interact with her more and more, and not just to talk fitness.

I really enjoyed watching their friendship grow. I loved how Wes gently challenges Britta to up her fitness game, and I loved that Britta helps him escape everything that is weighing him down. My heart truly broke for Wes when it’s revealed exactly what kind of family issues he is dealing with, so I was all the more glad he had someone like Britta to talk to.  Their chemistry is so intense that when an accident leads to them meeting in person, I was immediately rooting for them to get together even though it would clearly lead to some sticky situations at work for them both.  Britta dating the CEO of the app she’s reviewing is not a good look for either of them even if the relationship started innocently enough.  Each of them has some tough decisions to make, both personally and professionally, and I thought Williams did a wonderful job realistically portraying how such a situation would play out.

The Fastest Way to Fall is the perfect read for anyone who enjoys warm and engaging characters with personal journeys you can’t help but become invested in, along with a healthy serving of both romance and family drama.

five-stars

About Denise Williams

Denise Williams wrote her first book in the 2nd grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD.

A diversity trainer and co-creator of a women’s empowerment group, she is dedicated to developing flawed, multidimensional characters who struggle with those issues impacting real women. After growing up a military brat around the world and across the country, Denise now lives in Iowa with her husband, son, and two ornery shih-tzus who think they own the house.

Denise was a 2019 Romance Writers of America ® Golden Heart Finalist and How to Fail at Flirting is her debut novel.

Reviews: CHRISTMAS IN PEACHTREE BLUFF & ALWAYS, IN DECEMBER

 

Happy Friday all!  I don’t know about you but I’m so ready for the weekend.  I’m really hoping to get in some quality reading time.  First though, I’m thrilled to share my thoughts on two absolutely lovely books I finished this week.  I’m like retail – finish up the spooky season reviews, then immediately start posting the Christmas ones, lol. 

 

Reviews: CHRISTMAS IN PEACHTREE BLUFF & ALWAYS, IN DECEMBERChristmas in Peachtree Bluff (Peachtree Bluff, #4) Goodreads

Author:  Kristy Woodson Harvey

Publication Date: October 26, 2021

Publisher:  Gallery Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

I’m a huge fan of Kristy Woodson Harvey’s books, especially her popular series, Peachtree Bluff. I fell in love with the smalltown Georgia setting and with the women of the Murphy family. Ansley and her daughters Caroline, Sloan, and Emerson found their way deep into my heart to the point that they felt like dear friends, so I was beyond excited to discover that the author has gifted her readers with Christmas in Peachtree Bluff, a new installment of the beloved series.

I couldn’t wait to see the Murphy women again and the Christmas backdrop was such a bonus.  Christmas in Peachtree Bluff is every bit as charming, magical, and full of rich traditions as I expected it to be, and also as expected, the Murphy women are a force to be reckoned with.  I loved watching them come together to celebrate the holidays and to face head-on any and all challenges that come their way, whether those challenges come in the form of a 15-year-old headstrong and rebellious teenager, or in the form of an out-of-season hurricane that is bearing down on Peachtree Bluff and threatening to wreck the holidays.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’m going to keep it brief.  It was just so delightful to be back in this world and with these characters, and I thought the story was the perfect mix of drama and holiday cheer. Between the tension created by the family drama and the suspense regarding the dangerous storm, I was glued to the pages and devoured this book in a day.

I also think Christmas in Peachtree Bluff would work beautifully as a standalone even though it’s technically part of a series. Woodson Harvey gives just enough background detail for each character, that I think the story is quite easy to follow along with even if you haven’t read the first three books.  I do highly recommend those first three books though, especially if you enjoy southern fiction, small town settings, and strong women.

If you’re looking for a heartwarming holiday read that focuses on the importance of family and forgiveness, Christmas in Peachtree Bluff is the book for you.  5 STARS

 

Reviews: CHRISTMAS IN PEACHTREE BLUFF & ALWAYS, IN DECEMBERAlways, in December Goodreads

Author: Emily Stone

Publication Date: October 12, 2021

Publisher:  Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine , Dell

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Always in December by Emily Stone is a somewhat difficult book to classify.  Even though it does feature two people who are attracted to one another, I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a romance. And in the same vein, even though December and Christmas are both featured in the story, it’s not what I think of when I think of a holiday read.  At its heart, Always in December is a story about love and loss.

The story follows a young woman named Josie whose parents were killed on Christmas night years ago.  Still struggling with such a huge loss, Josie tends to avoid most of the Christmas festivities, only clinging to one holiday tradition.  Every year she writes and mails a letter to her parents, letting them know how much she misses them and still thinks about them everyday.  She has no idea when she ventures out to the post office that she is quite literally going to run into someone who will change her life forever.

Enter Max, the handsome stranger Josie runs over with her bicycle. Like Josie, Max is avoiding the holidays for his own reasons.  We don’t know exactly what is going on with Max when we first meet him, but he definitely seems a bit out of sorts, although Josie wins him over pretty quickly and they decide to spend the holidays together.  It seems to be going splendidly and Josie starts to envision a future for them, but then Max disappears without saying goodbye and her hopes are dashed. That is, until they keep randomly crossing paths over the course of the next year.  It feels like so much more than just coincidence, although Josie can’t understand why Max keeps pulling back from her.  It’s an emotional roller coaster for them both and I found myself frustrated with Max at times, although when we ultimately find out the reason for his reluctance, it’s a truly heartbreaking moment and I cried my eyes out.

I adored both Josie and Max from the first moment we meet each of them.  Josie is so sweet and vulnerable, and it crushed me to think of how lonely she must have been to grow up without her parents.  The loss has clearly shaped her and I was so happy when she and Max seemed to hit it off so well during that first meeting.  I was just as frustrated and heartbroken as Josie when he disappeared and then elated each time they crossed paths again, only to be heartbroken all over again each time they parted ways.  Max was a sweetheart too, although he clearly has some things weighing him down, and those things are in the way of him finding happiness with Josie.

I really loved how the author has Josie and Max’s relationship unfold.  The fleeting happiness, followed by heartbreak and confusion each time they met felt very authentic, and I also loved the idea that they were destined to keep finding each other, to force each of them to be brave,  live in the moment, and embrace love since we never know what the future holds.

Always in December is a quietly beautiful story about how our lives are shaped by love and loss. It’s a poignant story that I won’t soon forget.  4.5 STARS

Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Minders & The Good Lie

 

Happy Thriller Thursday everyone! Sharon here and I know the spooky season is technically over. But is it ever really over? LOL!  This week I am happy to share my thoughts on John Marrs’ new thriller The Minders and A.R. Torre’s new thriller The Good Lie. Both of these books came out earlier this year and I cannot believe I left them sitting on my shelf for so long before I read them. These were both amazing reads.

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Minders & The Good LieThe Minders Goodreads

Author: John Marrs

Publication Date: February 16, 2021

Publisher: Berkley Books

I have become such a fan of John Marrs. His books are unique and always keep me turning the pages. When I read the synopsis for The Minders I knew that John Marrs was going to deliver another book that kept me on the edge of my seat, and I am happy to report that he did just that.

The Minders is set in the UK and a group of hackers has been cyber terrorizing the world. Almost every country has been brought to its knees by a group called the Collective Hackers. In order to protect the UK’s most secret information, the government has come up with a plan that would take all their information offline and turn it into a genetic code that is implanted into the minds of five individuals. These individuals are known as The Minders and they know every secret of the UK. Once selected, the Minders are given a new location and unlimited funds to start their life over. But someone has discovered who these Minders are and are hunting them down.

There is not a lot I can say about this book without spoiling everything. What I can say is that as always Marrs kept me glued to the pages as the tension and suspense mounted as the book progressed. He also created characters that I grew attached to and worried for their wellbeing.

The book is told from the POV of the five Minders: Flick, Charlie, Bruno, Sinead, and Emilia. Marrs did a great job of bringing these characters to life and making them jump off the pages. I really enjoyed getting to know them and learning their back stories as well as how they were living their lives as Minders. Some were having a much easier time than others and I was very invested in how they were all dealing with everything that was going on.

While I liked all of the characters, Flick was my favorite. She has closed herself off from her family and friends after she found out that her DNA Match was a serial killer. She became a recluse who would not leave her house unless it was necessary. So, when given the chance to start her life over again she jumped at it.  I really enjoyed watching Flick come out of the shell she put herself into. Watching her interact with people and actually make friends brought a smile to my face. I really was hoping that she would make it through this and be able to be happy.

We find out early in the book who is hunting the Minders, but in no way did that take away from the suspense. While we may know who is doing the hunting and the reason why, there is a nice twist that takes place that throws the reason why right out the window. And even though I kind of suspected the twist, I was still blown away by it.

The Minders is a tension filled book that kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end.  While this book can be read as a standalone there are references to two other Marrs’ books, The One and The Passengers. Marrs did a great job of explaining these references, so I don’t think it takes anything away if you have not read them, but I highly recommend them as well as The Minders.  4 ½ stars

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: The Minders & The Good LieThe Good Lie Goodreads

Author: A.R. Torre

Publication Date: July 20, 2021

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

When I read the synopsis for A.R. Torre’s new book, The Good Lie, and it stated that a defensive attorney was representing the man accused of killing his son, I had to read it. I had so many questions. Why would he do that? Does he have an alterative motive? Is this man really innocent? Torre give us the answers to those questions and so many more in this addictive read.

There is a serial killer in California known as the Bloody Heart Killer. He targets seventeen year old boys from well-to-do families. He kidnaps them, holds and tortures them for two months, then kills them and dumps their bodies, leaving a heart carved into their chest. He has had six victims and is currently holding his seventh. Scott Harden is the seventh victim, but he somehow escapes and names high school teacher, Randall Thompson, as his abductor.

Robert Kavin is a defense attorney whose son was the Bloody Heart Killer’s six victim. He is still grieving for his son, but when Randall is arrested, Robert steps in to represent him, sure that he is innocent. To help prove that Randall is innocent, Robert hires psychiatrist Gwen Moore. Gwen specializes in treating people with murderous tendencies. Robert wants Gwen to create a profile of the killer and prove Randall is innocent.

I loved how all the characters in this book were flawed. Gwen has made a few mistakes with her patients, one that resulted in a murder/suicide. Robert picked Gwen up in a bar and they spent the night together and then started working on the case together. Talk about conflict of interest. LOL! They are also both hiding things from each other. I really did not trust Robert and could not wait to find out why he believed that Randall was not the Bloody Heart Killer. Scott was another character that I did not trust. Right from the get-go he gave off a suspicious vibe. He was happy and excited to go on television and talk about his ordeal and how he escaped, but when it came to answering questions from the police, he all of a sudden got quiet and couldn’t remember much. Yup, red flags went up for me because of that.

This book has so many layers to it that I had no idea what was going to be the outcome and I loved that about it. There were quite a few minor characters that could also have been the killer, so I was all over the place on who I thought was the Bloody Heart Killer. I did have the killer picked at one point, but then changed my mind. LOL!

The Good Lie was a fast paced read.  Though it was not an edge of my seat read, it was full of suspense and twists and turns that I devoured it in three days. Be forewarned though, it does get a bit graphic when describing the murders.  4 Stars

 

Romance Review: DONUT FALL IN LOVE by Jackie Lau

Romance Review:  DONUT FALL IN LOVE by Jackie LauDonut Fall in Love by Jackie Lau
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on October 26, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

I seem to have developed a sweet tooth for romantic comedies that feature food, especially baked goods. As soon as I saw the title of Jackie Lau’s new book, Donut Fall in Love, with its promise of a swoony romance and delicious desserts, I knew I had to read it.

Set in Toronto, Canada, Donut Fall in Love follows Ryan Kwok, a popular Asian actor whose career has stalled a bit thanks to the less than stellar reviews his latest film has received.  Ryan decides to take some time off to spend time with his sister, who is a new mom, and with his dad, who has recently become a widower.  He figures he can help both of them while he also works through his own grief.

Lindsay McLeod is a talented baker who is known for her innovative and tasty cupcake flavors.  She and her best friend run a very successful bakery together.  Life is pretty good for Lindsay, although she is still dealing with the death of her father and the fact that her mom is now actively dating again. Ryan and Lindsay first cross paths when Ryan literally crashes into her, ruining an entire tray of gourmet cupcakes.  Even though she wants to murder him, Lindsay has to admit that Ryan is pretty hot.

I thought both Lindsay and Ryan were just so adorable and likable right from the start.  I was thrilled when Ryan is asked to appear on a celebrity edition of a popular cooking show called Baking Fail, and he decides to approach Lindsay to hire her to give him baking lessons. I knew it was the perfect recipe for an entertaining romcom.  From the moment of their first lesson, I flew through the pages, enjoying every moment of their initial awkwardness, the increasingly cute and flirty banter and the steamy scenes as they get to know each other better and realize their attraction to one another, and of course the often hilarious moments as Ryan tries to recreate the desserts Lindsay instructs him on.

I also really enjoyed their more personal moments with their own families and friends. Ryan is trying so hard to have a relationship with his father and it’s incredibly awkward between them.  I had already thought Ryan was precious, but his refusal to give up on his dad, no matter how difficult and stubborn he was being, just made me love him all the more.  I also very much enjoyed the relationship between Lindsay and her new roommate. It starts off incredibly awkward and the two barely speak, but like Ryan, Lindsay is a person who refuses to give up.  She keeps trying and trying until she can find something she and the awkward roommate can bond over, and I just really enjoyed the progression of that friendship.

Donut Fall in Love is exactly the kind of book I’m looking for when I’m in the mood for a rom-com.  It’s the perfect blend of sweet and steamy and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys rom-coms, reality TV baking shows, and of course the hate-to-love trope.

four-stars

About Jackie Lau

Jackie Lau decided she wanted to be a writer when she was in grade two, sometime between writing “The Heart That Got Lost” and “The Land of Shapes.” She later studied engineering and worked as a geophysicist before turning to writing romance novels.

Jackie lives in Toronto with her husband, and despite living in Canada her whole life, she hates winter. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, hiking, eating too much gelato, and reading on the balcony when it’s raining.

Reviews: THE PARTY CRASHER & WELL MATCHED

 

Hey everyone, I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two contemporary reads that are perfect if you’re looking to escape your troubles for a few hours.

 

Reviews:  THE PARTY CRASHER & WELL MATCHEDThe Party Crasher Goodreads

Author:  Sophie Kinsella

Publication Date: October 12, 2021

Publisher:  Random House Publishing Group – The Dial Press

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

If you’re familiar with Sophie Kinsella’s books, you know she’s the queen of heartwarming, humorous reads and The Party Crasher is no exception.

The novel follows Effie, a young woman who has been struggling with the news of her parents’ divorce.  The fact that she thought they were blissfully happy and didn’t see the divorce coming has really tarnished Effie’s view of what she had always thought of as a happy, loving childhood.  It comes as even more of a blow when Effie’s father suddenly has a new, and much younger, girlfriend, Krista, and that he and Krista have decided to sell Greenoaks, the quirky old country house that Effie and her family grew up in.

Effie and Krista have butt heads so often over the selling of the house that even Effie’s relationship with her dad has suffered, so when Krista decides to throw a “house cooling” party so the family can say goodbye to Greenoaks, she doesn’t even send Effie an invitation.  Effie doesn’t want to go anyway, that is, until she remembers that she had hidden a beloved childhood toy somewhere in the house and becomes determined to retrieve it without Krista or her father knowing she has returned to Greenoaks.  She decides the perfect time is the night of the house cooling party since everyone will be distracted by the festivities.  What could possibly go wrong?

What I always love about Kinsella’s novels is the balance between family or personal drama and laugh out loud hilarious moments.  The drama in this story is obviously Effie struggling to deal with all of these changes in her life, and her antics as she tries to stealthily crash the house cooling party provide endless comical moments since pretty much anything that can go wrong, absolutely does.  I found Effie to be an incredibly sympathetic character, even if she did occasionally have some juvenile reactions to her potential new stepmother. Haven’t we all had some family drama that makes such reactions easy to relate to?

I also loved the dynamic of Effie’s relationship with her sister, Bean, who is stuck in the middle of Effie’s feud with Krista. Bean is just so pure, like a golden retriever in human form. She just wants everyone to be happy, especially Effie, and she tries her hardest to make that happen, even if it means helping Effie with her crazy scheme to crash the party.  Another unexpected source of help in Effie’s scheme comes in the form of Effie’s ex-boyfriend, Joe.  Plenty of awkward, hilarious, and heartwarming moments ensue.

I’ve been going through a rough time lately so I was really in the mood for a funny and heartwarming read. The Party Crasher was exactly what I needed.  4.5 STARS

 

 

Reviews:  THE PARTY CRASHER & WELL MATCHEDWell Matched (Well Met, #3) Goodreads

Author: Jen DeLuca

Publication Date: October 19, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

With its wonderful characters and magical Renaissance Faire backdrop, I’ve been enjoying Jen Deluca’s contemporary romance series, Well Met, so much. April and Mitch, two of my favorite secondary characters from the previous books, have undeniable chemistry, so I was beyond excited to learn that Well Matched, the third book in the series, would bring them center stage and that the fake dating trope would be involved.

April is such a fantastic character. She’s a forty-year old, single mom who is used to doing everything herself.  I really admired her sense of independence.  As she says, it has always been just her and her daughter, Caitlyn, against the world and she likes it that way.  She has big plans too, now that Caitlyn is heading off to college.  It’s time to sell the house, leave Willow Creek, and have a fresh start somewhere else.

Even though she has no plans to stay in town and no interest in romance, she can’t help but admire Mitch Malone, the high school gym teacher.  Mitch has a reputation for being a lady’s man and also for wearing a kilt every year at the Ren Faire that shows off his attributes.  April can’t deny he’s easy on the eyes, so when he asks her to be his fake girlfriend at a family function to appease his grandmother, who thinks he’s never going to settle down, April agrees in exchange for him helping her with some work on her house.

April and Mitch’s journey together is a bit of a slow burn.  It’s clear they are attracted to one another but April fights her attraction every step of the way, in part because of Mitch’s reputation and in part because she’s leaving anyway.  Friends with benefits, yes, but an actual future together, nope.  I loved watching their relationship evolve, especially as they get to know each other better and April realizes there’s a lot more to Mitch than she had previously given him credit for and finds it harder to fight her attraction to him.  I thought DeLuca did a wonderful job of portraying April’s struggle over whether to follow her head or her heart and couldn’t wait to find out which path April would decide to follow.

I also had a great time being back in Willow Creek.  I’m always captivated by the magic and charm of the Ren Faire setting and loved that I got to see beloved characters from the first two books in the series and see what they’re up to. I became so invested in these characters that it was like visiting with old friends and I truly loved that feeling.

If Ren Faires, sexy men in kilts, single mom protagonists, and fake dating are your jam, then you definitely want to check out Well Matched4.5 STARS

Thriller Thursday Reviews: Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow & Trail of Destruction

Hi there everyone! It’s me Sharon, back with another addition of Thriller Thursday. I hope everyone is doing well and getting some great reading done in this spooky season. 🙂  This week I am very excited to share my thoughts on Christina Henry’s amazing new book, Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow and Tracy Buchanan’s great new mystery, Trail of Destruction

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow & Trail of DestructionHorseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow Goodreads

Author: Christina Henry

Publication Date: September 28, 2021

Publisher: Berkley Books

I have always loved the tale of the Headless Horseman, so I was very excited to read Christina Henry’s Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow. And I am very happy to report that this book did not disappoint. This has everything I have grown to love with Christina Henry’s books.

Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow is not a retelling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but more of a continuance of what happened after.  The story takes place 20 years after the Headless Horseman drove Ichabod Crane from town and is centered around Brom Bones’ 14-year-old granddaughter Bendix, or Ben as she is called. Ben’s parents died 10 years ago, and she has been raised by her paternal grandparents, Brom and Katrina. Ben may have been born a girl, but she sees herself as a boy, much to her grandmother’s dismay. Her only friend is a boy named Sander. The story opens as Ben and Sander are playing Sleepy Hollow Boys in the woods and come across a group of men from town who have discovered the mutilated body of a boy with his head and hands missing. Not long after, one of Brom’s sheep is killed and its head and hoofs are missing and then another boy is found murdered with his head and hands missing as well.  Is this the work of the Headless Horseman? Or is there something more evil lurking in the woods?

I loved Ben. She had such strong determination to be the person she wanted to be and not who society thought she should be. When Ben discovers that she was not told the real circumstances surrounding her father’s death, she takes it upon herself to uncover the dark secrets that lurk in the woods. Ben is a Van Brunt and Van Brunts are not afraid of anything. I loved how even though Ben tried to be tough and brave, there was a vulnerable side to her as well. Ben also feels a connection to the Horseman, she can hear the Horseman whisper to her and can hear the thump, thump, thump of his horse and to me that just added to the mystery of the story. Why does Ben have a connection with the Horseman?

I also loved the relationship Ben had with Brom and Katrina. Ben adores Brom and wants to be just like him. But it is Ben’s relationship with Katrina that really pulled at my heart strings. They have always had a rocky relationship. Katrina wanted Ben to wear dresses and learn to sew and be the girl she was born to be, but Ben wanted to wear pants and ride and play in the woods and be the boy she feels she should have been born as. Ben was sure Katrina did not love her but when push came to shove and Ben was threatened by some local townsmen, Katrina stepped right in front of Ben to protect her. It was then their relationship took a different turn and Ben saw Katrina through different eyes.

I loved the way Henry presented the story with keeping to the original story and adding her twists to it. I loved the eerie and creepy feeling with the woods and the added threat of what else was lurking around besides the Headless Horseman.

If you are looking for a great book to finish out the spooky season, I definitely recommend Christina Henry’s Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow.   4 ½ stars

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow & Trail of DestructionTrail of Destruction Goodreads

Author: Tracy Buchanan

Publication Date: September 21, 2021

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

The gossips of Forest Grove are back with a vengeance in Tracy Buchanan’s great new mystery novel Trail of Destruction.

Ellie Mileham has always been a problem solver. She loves the challenge, so when she took over being the moderator of Forest Grove’s local Facebook group, she figured she would have no problems at all. But no sooner does she take over then a prankster starts trolling the group. Whenever one of the members would complain about something on the group post, the prankster would retaliate. At first the pranks are harmless, but they suddenly turn violent and it becomes clear that this person needs to be stopped before someone is killed.

I love how Buchanan slowly increases the tension of the pranks.  At first, someone complained about people not picking up their dog’s poop, so the prankster put a bag of dog poop through their mailbox. Another complaint about people not bringing in their trash cans right away prompted the prankster to pull everyone’s trash cans onto his property. But then when a complaint was made about fireworks, someone dropped firecrackers through their mailbox which caused a fire. And then the woods were set on fire while a couple of teenagers were making a video in the woods. With each incident and then the reaction from the residents of the village, I could feel myself cringing for what would come next.

This book is full of unlikeable characters and it worked so well.  Oh, the pettiness of these people! If they were not complaining about something, then they just were not happy. And oh, don’t get me started on how fast they would turn on their neighbors. One minute they would be saying nice things about them, and the next the gossip would start flying. It was just so fun to watch. I am so glad my neighbors are not like that. LOL!

I did like Ellie though. She was going through a lot in her life. She has two teenage children, her husband of 20 years left her 3 months ago for another woman, and her mother had a nervous breakdown a few years ago and is living in an elderly facility at the edge of town. When she finds some threatening letters her mother received years ago, she starts digging into the history of Forest Grove to find out who would do such a thing and Ellie soon learns that there is a link between those letters and what is happening now. I really loved her determination, even when people started turning on her or when the clues pointed to someone she didn’t want to believe could be behind this all, she still pushed harder.

This was not an edge of your seat, tension filled read. It was more of a slow burn mystery that kept me turning the pages because I just had to find out who was behind everything. While Trail of Destruction is Buchanan’s third book that takes place in the village of Forest Grove, it can be read as a standalone. 3 ½ stars