Tag Archive | Mystery

Review: Suddenly a Murder by Lauren Muñoz

Suddenly a Murder Book Cover Suddenly a Murder
Lauren Muñoz
YA Mystery
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
September 5, 2023
E-ARC
320
NetGalley
July 12- 28, 2023

Seven friends throw a 1920s-themed party, where it's all pretend—until one of them is murdered. One of Us Is Lying meets Knives Out in this killer locked-room mystery.

Someone brought a knife to the party.

To celebrate the end of high school, Izzy Morales joins her ride-or-die Kassidy and five friends on a 1920s-themed getaway at the glamorous Ashwood Manor. There, Izzy and her friends party in vintage dresses and expensive diamonds—until Kassidy's boyfriend turns up dead.

Murdered, investigators declare when they arrive at the scene, and now every party guest is a suspect. There's the girlfriend, in love. The other girl, in despair. The old friend, forlorn. The new friend, distressed. The brooding enigma. And then, there's Izzy—the girl who brought the knife.

To find the killer, everyone must undergo a grueling interrogation, all while locked in an estate where, suddenly, the greatest luxury is innocence.

Review

The blurb for this book compares it to One of Us is Lying and Knives Out… and while I can see the parallels, honestly, I think Suddenly a Murder is far more entertaining. I was engaged in the story from the very beginning. 

Izzy is a student at a high school for rich kids, and the only reason she’s able to go there is because her mother is a teacher at the school. She and her bestie, Kassidy, are both obsessed with the 1920s and for a graduation gift, Kassidy rents out a beautiful historic house on a private island for Izzy, Kassidy, Kassidy’s boyfriend Blaine, and a group of their fellow graduates to celebrate their freedom from high school—bonus, this house was where one of their favorite 1920s movies was filmed!

Kassidy, being the dramatic young woman that she is, insists that in order for the week to be authentic, nothing modern is to be allowed on the island. That means no cellphones, no modern clothing, nothing! She’s stocked each room with period clothing for each guest and after instructing them to change, has everything modern shipped back to the main land. The week is going to be epic.

But not everything is champagne and glitter when one of them ends up dead. And we know from almost page one that Izzy brought the murder weapon to the island.

Enter the detectives who work to read between all of the lies and piece together the real story of what happened to Blaine, Kassidy’s boyfriend-of-four-years-turned-murder-victim. Everyone loved Blaine, who could do such a thing? But as the friends tell their stories, we quickly learn that more than one person has motive for murder. 

To be honest, a lot of the characters blurred together. I don’t think this was poor writing, more just a me problem. I read this book in small pieces over a longer period of time than it would’ve taken me if I only read one book at a time, and when there are as many characters as this book has, and they’re all introduced relatively quickly, I sometimes struggle to keep them straight. I was able to keep up well enough and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story at all.

All of the characters in this book were enjoyable but my favorite was Pilar de León, the detective merely consulting on the investigation. She was a woman seemingly full of secrets, who could easily act like your best friend one moment only to arrest you the next. She was wonderful. I’d love to read more books based on her investigating crimes and mysteries. 

As for the books ending…I didn’t call it. At all. I love when a book is able to literally keep me guessing until the very last pages and Lauren Muñoz succeeded in doing so. This is an author I will keep on my radar. I can’t wait to read what she comes up with next!

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was the cover (sorry!) 

5 glorious stars for Suddenly a Murder and, hands down, one of my top reads for 2023. 

* Shout out to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for a review in exchange for my honest review!

Review: Gone Tonight by Sarah Pekkanen

Gone Tonight Book Cover Gone Tonight
Sarah Pekkanen
Mystery / Suspense
St. Martin’s Press
August 1, 2023
Audiobook
352
NetGalley

New from the #1 bestselling co-author of The Golden Couple and The Wife Between Us!

"I'm a huge fan of Sarah Pekkanen's books, and GONE TONIGHT is her best yet." —Colleen Hoover

Catherine Sterling thinks she knows her mother. Ruth Sterling is quiet, hardworking, and lives for her daughter. All her life, it's been just the two of them against the world. But now, Catherine is ready to spread her wings, move from home, and begin a new career. And Ruth Sterling will do anything to prevent that from happening.

Ruth Sterling thinks she knows her daughter. Catherine would never rebel, would never question anything about her mother's past or background. But when Ruth's desperate quest to keep her daughter by her side begins to reveal cracks in Ruth's carefully-constructed world, both mother and daughter begin a dance of deception.

Review

I love a good mystery/suspense novel, but this one just fell flat for me. 

The entire build up of Catherine believing her mother has alzheimer’s and Ruth questioning if her daughter has violent tendencies just didn’t work for me.

To be honest, most of the book I was bored. Everything happened in the past, which is filled in so slowly it was painful at times, or in the climax of the book, which I admit, was pretty good! 

What would have worked better for me would’ve been if we’d learned Ruth’s story in real time, and then time jumped to the present time to learn how it ends. The format the author chose just dragged for me. I also needed more about Catherine’s father, to really establish his character, I felt he was very glossed over. He felt one dimensional. 

What I did enjoy was the background of Ruth and the secrets she’s hiding. The climax was very engaging and I didn’t want to stop listening to the audiobook at that point.

Overall, this was a good story that was executed in a way that I personally did not find as enjoyable as I would’ve liked. 

Review: You Won’t Believe Me by Cyn Balog

You Won't Believe Me Book Cover You Won't Believe Me
Cyn Balog
Mystery / Thriller / Horror
Sourcebooks Fire
June 27, 2023
E-ARC
368
NetGalley
May 29 - June 4, 2023

Brace yourself for the unexpected in this chilling novel that will thrill suspense and horror readers alike! Willow can't remember what landed her in captivity, but she'll do anything to survive. For fans of Natasha Preston and Stephen King.

Willow is alone, confined to a bed with restraints. She can't remember how she got there…or how long she's been there.

An old lady appears in her room to feed her twice a day. Granny doesn't talk, but Willow can hear thumping from somewhere beyond her door. It's not Granny's shuffling steps. It's too loud to be Granny's cat. Is it someone? Something?

Then Granny's cat dies in Willow's room. And Granny follows a few days later. Willow will do anything to survive. But freeing herself from her bed is only the beginning… Because there is someone else in the house. Who is this mysterious teen who calls himself Elijah? And is he the reason she's hostage or the key to her escape?

Review:

This was such a fun book! 

When Willow wakes up tied to a bed with no memory of how she got there, she slowly begins to try and piece together what happened. She knows that a deadly virus had been wrecking havoc and that her father had been a lead scientist working on a cure. But beyond that… nothing. She’s fed every day by an elderly woman who calls herself “Granny”… until “Granny” succumbs to the deadly virus right in front of Willow, leaving her tied to a bed with nobody to help. 

Except she’s not alone, there’s another captive. A teenage boy. In whispers, he explains that the world has been destroyed by the second wave of the virus. That all they have left is each other. 

But, could it be true? And why can’t she remember what’s happened to her? 

This book is all over the place in the very best way. You think it’s one type of book, then you realize it’s something else, only in the end to realize you were completely wrong. Some readers will absolutely hate that, but as someone who enjoys many genres, it was such a fun ride. 

For much of the book, the chapters begin with text conversations between Willow and her crush from school, August, from before she found herself tied up. The significance of this isn’t truly revealed until the latter portion of the book and ooooh is it juicy!

If you’re looking for something different that will keep you guessing, this is the book for you! And with that ending, I really wish there was a sequel in the works!

Review: The Spirit Girls by Dawn Merriman

The Spirit Girls Book Cover The Spirit Girls
Rylan Flynn #1
Dawn Merriman
Paranormal, Mystery
Second Sky
May 9, 2023
E-ARC
208
NetGalley
April 22 - 30, 2023

“Where are you taking me?” Rylan follows the figure through the trees. The girl’s dark ponytail swings as she turns back, then walks on without answering. Deep in the woods, she disappears… and Rylan finds her body, mouth wide in a silent, final plea for help.

Rylan Flynn has always been able to see what others don’t—the restless spirits haunting Ashby, Indiana. She’s learned to live with her “gift” but sometimes she longs to escape.

The woods have always been a peaceful place for Rylan. But on a visit to her aunt’s cabin, she catches sight of a spirit in the trees. The ghost of a young woman approaches, leading Rylan to her body.

With a flood of horror, Rylan realizes that the girl, Celeste Monroe, has been murdered. An outgoing newcomer to town, Celeste had no enemies. Who on earth would want to see her dead?

When a coin carved with strange symbols is discovered in Celeste’s throat, it’s clear that a twisted, cold-blooded killer is at work.

Rylan’s abilities could be the only way to prevent further deaths. But Ashby’s handsome head detective, Ford Pierce, has made it very clear that he doesn’t want her help.

And any unexplained knowledge of the case could make Rylan the perfect suspect.

When another body is discovered and blood at the scene points to Rylan’s family, she is more determined than ever to uncover the truth. She must race against time to untangle a web of dark secrets… but can she find answers before the murderer claims another victim?

Review

The Spirit Girls is a fun paranormal mystery novel that is very quick, easy, and enjoyable to read.

Rylan sees ghosts. She talks to them, she helps them cross over, and she has a YouTube channel (and a BFF for a camerawoman) to share her tales of ghostly encounters while also picking up clients and helping their ghosts cross over.

Rylan is a great character. She’s both easy to understand, and also complex. What I love about Rylan is that she has secrets and baggage, namely that her mother was murdered in the house and still haunts her bedroom where she was killed. (This is revealed in chapter 2, so not really a spoiler.) Rylan is also a hoarder. It’s hard to tell exactly how extreme her hoarding is, but… it’s pretty bad. I’m super curious to see how this progresses as the series goes on. I don’t think I’ve ever met a book where the protagonist has a hoarding disorder, so this was a unique and welcome addition to Rylan’s character.

In this book, Rylan becomes involved in the ritualistic murder of a teenage girl, when the ghost of said girl guides Rylan to her body and then disappears. As the bodies begin to stack up, and the murder investigation hits closer to home than she’d like, Rylan feels as though she has no choice but to solve the crime herself. 

I loved the mystery in this book. I had suspicions about who the killer was, but I didn’t really know until the big reveal. I loved the characters. I loved the pacing. But I have one major gripe, that I really hope will be resolved before publication—after the first chapter or two, the author quits using contractions, leaving the dialogue feeling very stilted and unnatural. If we were talking about one character who doesn’t use contractions, that would be a character quirk. But no. This is every character from about chapter 3 til the end. It drove me batty. It wasn’t enough for me to quit the book, but it did pull me out of the story. 

With that said, will I continue with this series? Absolutely! There are the beginnings of a potential romance and I’m really curious to see how that progresses and what it could mean for Rylan’s hoarding issues. And I’d love for her mother to cross over and find peace at some point. 

If you can overlook the lack of contractions, this is a paranormal mystery you don’t want to miss! 

Huge thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review!

Whats New With Me

I think spring is finally here in Minnesota. After a brief few days in April of 70* weather, we had yet another snow storm. It was a very snowy winter, and I am forever grateful to have been recruited to a (mostly) work from home day job!

It’s finally back up to the 70’s and as I write this, I am sitting on my back patio with the sun shining and the birds chirping. I don’t think there are any sounds better than this!

Yesterday I hauled compost from the country yard waste site and topped off my raised garden bed, and today I planted some squash seeds (Kuri and Sunrise varieties) that I saved from some squash I bought from the farmers market last year. I’m hoping I get a nice yield, as I’m giving up half my raised garden bed for this trial! (The last time I grew squash, pumpkin, and melon, it was in the ground in another part of my yard that we have grassed over.) The other half of my raised bed will be home to some peas, beans, peppers, and 1-2 tomato plants (last year I had maybe 5 tomato plants and soooo many went to waste because I couldn’t consume them that quickly!) I’m very excited to start growing veggies again.

In the writing world, I’m (very) slowly re-reading Something I’m Good At and taking notes so I don’t make any continuity errors in the yet-to-be-titled stand alone sequel. After essentially 4 years of zero inspiration/motivation to flex my creative muscles with writing, I think I’m ready. I have a lofty goal to finish this book before the end of 2023, but let’s be honest, that’s unlikely. Once I finish my notes from book 1, maybe I’ll set myself some shorter goals, such as: Complete Outline by ___. Write X chapters by ___. You get the drift.

Also in the writing world, I have about 18,000 words written in my “monster” book that I started a few years ago and have been revisiting from time to time. It’s also a YA romance. I’ve hit a wall though, so that’s on the back burner while I work on the SIGA sequel.

In life, like I said before, I’m loving my WFH job. My manager/supervisor are great. The work is typically not too challenging, so my stress level is way down from my previous job. And getting to sit outside on my patio and work in the spring/summer is so good for the soul. I’m also pretty good at my job, so that’s always nice, right?

I’m also very excited because in June I’ll be attending the Taylor Swift Eras Tour in Minneapolis. I have my Folklore/Evermore outfit ready to go! (I’m low key keeping my eye out for cheap tix for the second show. Don’t tell my husband! 🤫) I also won tickets from the radio to see Ed Sheeran in Minneapolis in August, so I’m pretty stoked to take my 16 year old to their first ever concert… and all it’ll cost me is parking!

Aside from that, my time these days is spent keeping my house standing, driving my youngest to lessons, trying to eat healthy and get back in the exercise habit (I’m trying running again… Ahhh!), and working my publishing side gig for Melange Books (and its imprints, Satin Romance and Fire & Ice Young Adult Books). I love the work that I do for them—cover design, web updates, and formatting—and honestly, if it paid the bills I would quit my day job in a heartbeat!

So… that’s what’s new! Leave a comment below if you have anything exciting happening in your life!

Review: Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot

Size 12 and Ready to Rock Book Cover Size 12 and Ready to Rock
Heather Wells #4
Meg Cabot
Mystery
William Morrow Paperbacks
July 10, 2012
Audiobook
361
Public Library
April 15 - 20, 2023

After dallying with sexy vampires and ingeniously reinterpreting the Dracula legend (Insatiable, Overbite), #1 New York Times bestseller Meg Cabot is ready to rock ’n’ roll once more with Heather Wells. 

The un-petite assistant New York City college dorm director and sometime sleuth is back in Size 12 and Ready to Rock—a delectable comedy mystery that proves once more that the much beloved author of The Princess Diaries rules in the realm of grown-up women’s fiction as well. Heather’s got her hands full when a pop star and her reality TV camera crew invade the dorm—bringing with them a summer camp-full of adoring teen admirers—only to have an inconvenient homicide spoil the fun.  

There’s romance, treachery, merry mayhem and music—just the ticket for readers who like to rock out on the hip contemporary singleton fiction of Sophie Kinsella, Jennifer Weiner, and Jane Green.

Heather Wells is back with yet another death in the college residence hall she works in. This time, it’s her new boss, the interim residence hall director. To add to the chaos, Tania Trace, the woman who stole her ex-fiance, has moved her teen Rock Camp to Heather’s empty-for-the-summer residence hall!

This is the best Heather Wells book in the series. (So far. I read book 5 AGES ago, and I could not tell you what happened. I will be re-reading so I can assess if it’s better than this one.)

What I loved most in this book was that Tania Trace becomes a real person. In the previous books we’ve heard about Tania, but we’ve never actually met her. Everything we knew was Heather’s opinions of her, and I think we can all agree that Heather has major bias toward the other woman! Now that we actually meet this fiance-stealing-villian… she’s not a bad person. I actually really liked Tania and I was very happy that Meg Cabot gave her a chance to try and clear her name.

As for the murder, Heather wants no part of this investigation. She does, however, have an obligation to keep the Tania Trace Rock Campers safe during their stay in her residence hall. And somehow, because that’s just Heather’s luck, she gets caught up in it all. 

This is a solid addition to the Heather Wells series and if you’ve made it through book 3, I promise you won’t want to miss book 4!

Review: Four Found Dead by Natalie D. Richards

Four Found Dead Book Cover Four Found Dead
Natalie D. Richards
Mystery, Horror
Sourcebooks Fire
May 2, 2023
E-Book Arc
332
December 30, 2022 - January 29, 2023

At the movie theater where Jo works, the last show has ended. But the nightmare is just beginning.

Tonight, Tempest Theaters is closing forever, the last remaining business in a defunct shopping mall. The moviegoers have left, and Jo and her six coworkers have the final shift, cleaning up popcorn and mopping floors for the last time.

But after an unexpected altercation puts everyone on edge, the power goes out. Their manager disappears, along with the keys to the lobby doors and the theater safe, where the crew's phones are locked each shift. Then, the crew's tension turns to terror when Jo discovers the dead body of one of her co-workers.

Now their only chance to escape the murderer in their midst is through the dark, shuttered mall. With its boarded-up exits and disabled fire alarms, the complex is filled with hiding places for both pursuer and pursued. In order to survive this night, Jo and her friends must trust one another, navigate the sprawling ruins of the mall, and outwit a killer before he kills again.

Review

This is my third book by Natalie D. Richards so I was really sad that this was a 3 star read for me. Granted, the other two books I read were in 2016 (My Secret to Tell and One Was Lost), and maybe I’ve changed as a readers since then. That could be a part of it, but I do think there’s more to it than that.

While Richards’ previous novels were mystery/suspense… Four Found Dead reads more like the plot to a teen slasher flick. Because that’s what it is. A group of teenagers trapped in an abandoned mall with a killer. There were no real surprises and it all felt pretty repetitive.

One thing Richards’ does that I enjoy is include little snippets that don’t belong in the story, sort of as clues to something else that’s going on. And in the other two books I really enjoyed those. I enjoyed them in this book as well, but in the end they didn’t have the same impact as the previous books I read.

This book is told through the eyes of Jo. The movie theatre she’s worked at for years is shuttering its doors for the last time, and all she and her friends/coworkers want to do is close things up and head out to enjoy some late night pancakes. But then things get weird and before they know it, one of Jo’s friends is dead. Together, the group must illude a killer. 

This could be awesome. But we know who the killer is from the get go. And we’re never truly given a solid motive for their actions. 

What I did enjoy was the nostalgia, for me, of movie theatre employment. I sold popcorn and movie tickets myself as a teen my senior year of high school through college. To this day, it was probably the greatest job I’ve ever had. Movie theatre friendships are built to last. Alas, that nostalgia wasn’t enough to save this book for me. 

I just needed…. more. More motive revealed. More build up to the start of the killing spree. And more variation of what happens while they’re on the mall. 

I’m willing to give Richards another chance. She has plenty of books to choose from!

Have you read Four Found Dead? Did it work for you?

Review: Big Boned by Meg Cabot

Big Boned Book Cover Big Boned
Heather Wells #3
Meg Cabot
Mystery
William Morrow Paperbacks
November 20, 2007
Audiobook
280
Public Library
April 7 - 12, 2023

Life is reasonably rosy for plus-size ex-pop star turned Assistant Dormitory Director and sometime sleuth Heather Wells. Her freeloading ex-con dad is finally moving out. She still yearns for her hot landlord, Cooper Cartwright, but her relationship with "rebound beau," vigorous vegan math professor Tad Tocco, is more than satisfactory. Best of all, nobody has died lately in "Death Dorm," the aptly nicknamed student residence that Heather assistant-directs. Of course every silver lining ultimately has some black cloud attached. And when the latest murdered corpse to clutter up her jurisdiction turns out to be her exceedingly unlovable boss, Heather finds herself on the shortlist of prime suspects—along with the rabble-rousing boyfriend of her high-strung student assistant and an indecently handsome young campus minister who's been accused of taking liberties with certain girls' choir members.

With fame beckoning her back into show business (as the star of a new kids' show!) it's a really bad time to get wrapped up in another homicide. Plus Tad's been working himself up to ask her a Big Question, which Heather's not sure she has an answer for . . .

Review

Meg Cabot is hit or miss for me. Some of her stuff is fun, but also leaves me so full of disbelief, I can’t even. The Heather Wells series, however, is a hit for me.

Heather was once a teen pop star, a la Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson, but after being dropped by her label for wanting to take her music in a less bubblegum direction, her boyfriend (a fellow pop superstar and son of her now former label head) dumps her, her mother runs off with her manager (and Heather’s fortune) leaving Heather alone and penniless, and now she finds herself working for New York College as an assistant residence hall director. (It’s her plan to get free tuition for a college education.)

The problem is, her residence hall is known as Death Dorm due to the number of, well, deaths that have occurred there during her time as assistant residence hall director.

In book 3, we’re greeted with yet another death. This time it’s the interim residence hall director. Heather comes into work as normal, only to find him at his desk with a bullet through his head. Great. Just what Heather needs. Another death in Death Dorm. 

After being scolded multiple times in the previous books in this series for trying to solve a murder instead of leaving it to the police, Heather is determined to stay out of it. She has too much to deal with anyway, between her new boyfriend (who happens to be her remedial math processor) and the student workers who are protesting for benefits and better wages on campus. Nope, she’s leaving this one to the police! Until she accidentally gets involved. 

This is a fun series (yes, even with all the death.) It does get annoying how much Heather fixates on her weight (she’s totally fine with being a bigger girl) but it’s kind of thrown in our faces all the time. She has an unhealthy relationship with food IMO. I mean, with the titles of the books in this series though, it’s not a big surprise. I just think that Gen X will not appreciate this series. As a Millennial, I can look past the annoying and (potentially) problematic things and enjoy it for what it is. 

So, if you’re looking for a light-hearted, funny, murder mystery with plenty of romantic elements, this could be the series for you.

Now, don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here anxiously awaiting book 4 to come through on my library holds!

Spotlight Tour: BUSTED by Gina Ciocca + GIVEAWAY






Busted Book Cover




Busted





Gina Ciocca





YA Contemporary Romance




Sourcebooks Fire




January 2, 2018




E-ARC




352




NetGalley




December 13 - 16, 2017



Catching cheaters and liars is a lucrative hobby—until you fall for one of the suspects. Perfect for fans of Veronica Mars, this new novel from the author of Last Year’s Mistake will steal your heart!

Marisa never planned to be a snoop for hire. It wasn’t like she wanted to catch her best friend’s boyfriend making out with another girl. But as her reputation for sniffing out cheaters spreads all over school, Marisa finds herself the reluctant queen of busting two-timing boys.

And her next case? It’s for ex-frenemy Kendall. She’s convinced her boyfriend, TJ, has feelings for someone else and persuades Marissa to start spying on him. But the more Marisa gets to know sincere and artistic TJ, the more she starts to fall for him. Worse yet, the feelings seem to be mutual. Marisa knows she needs to give up her investigation—and the spoken-for guy who may just be the love of her life. Then she uncovers new secrets about Kendall and TJ, secrets that take “cheater” to a whole new level…

Review

I loved this book! It’s been far too many books since I’ve had a YA in front of my eyes, and I’m so glad this was the one I picked up at this time.

Marisa, Charlie, TJ and even Nick were all great characters to read about. They all had their negative character traits and their positives, which made them feel very real. By the time I finished the book I was glad to have gone on this journey with them, but also sad to be saying goodbye. I want a sequel to read more about Marisa, but I don’t want any more bad to come to her, so… I guess I don’t want a sequel?

I loved how there were so many layers in this book. Anything could be a clue as to what the hell is ACTUALLY going on, and you just don’t know until you get to the end and realize the significance something you read earlier has.

I even loved Marisa’s parents. They were very cool and trusting parents.

It’s been… a few years… since I was in high school, and I just hope that not all high schools are full of such shitty boys like the two schools in this book! The good guys in this book certainly seemed to be the exception to the rule.

I would absolutely recommend this to teens and adults alike who are looking for a fun contemporary with a touch of romance and mystery. Nice work Ms. Ciocca, I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!


Quotes

If I hadn’t been in line behind—what the hell was his name? Greg? George?—my double order of Sexual Chocolate (yes, really) and I would be on our way to Charlie’s house for a Saturday movie, gossip, and anti-nutrition night like so many other Saturday’s before.

 

Outing a scumbag felt more badass than anything I’d ever done—especially when I told her how I’d gotten the picture, and she looked at me like I’d parted the Red Sea.

 

And that’s when the bubble of positivity I’d been floating in since reconnecting with Kendall Keene in the parking lot bust like a microwaved marshmallow all over the room.

 

“I don’t know, Kendall,” I sighed into my cell phone. “This is different from what I’ve done before. You’re not asking me to follow him for a night or two. You’re basically asking me to stalk him. This feels… sneaky.”

“How is it any sneakier than trespassing on private property and aiming a camera inside someone’s living room?”

She had a point.

 

The word okay came out of my mouth, but in my mind it sounded a hell of a lot more like oh shit.

 

“When you care about someone, you don’t sneak around and do things that would hurt her if you did them o her face. You care about how your actions affect her.” I took a step toward him. “You don’t worry that the grass is greener in every goddamn yard but our own. You put her first once in a while instead of think about yourself all. The. Fucking. Time.”

 

He’d been rubbing his chin—which he still hadn’t shaved, and I wondered if i was specifically to drive me crazy.


Marisa’s Top 5 Tips For Sleuthing:

Hey there. Marisa Palmera, Private Eye here. Okay, so I don’t actually call myself that, and neither does anyone else. In fact, I never meant to become a sleuth-for-hire. But spend one night scaling your best-friend’s boyfriend’s house to take incriminating pictures, and suddenly everyone wants you to be something you’re not…and when they’re willing to line your sadly lacking pockets for it, it doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

So, should you find yourself an unwitting Girl Friday (or even a witting one… Is “witting” a thing?) like I did, here are some tips that just may save your butt:

  1. Always have a camera handy. Whether it’s your cell phone, or the fancy camera you borrowed from your school’s yearbook club, you never know when you’ll need to snap an evidence shot. Just, um, make sure you turn off the flash if said camera is aimed through a window into a dark living room. I may have learned this the hard way.
  2. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Sounds ominous and dramatic, I know. But if someone gives you the vibe that they shouldn’t be let out of your sight? GO WITH IT.
  3. Think fast. Suck at lying? Me too. Get over it, because you’ll be fudging the truth a lot.
  4. But know when to say no. Weave enough white lies, and suddenly they’re a sticky, tangled web with you trapped inside. Know when it’s time to run, and do it like the flames of hell are licking your feet.
  5. Don’t fall for the person you’re investigating. You’re just gonna have to do as I say and not as I do on this one. Oops.

Excerpt

My eyes darted from TJ’s dark, furrowed eyebrows to the logo on the left breast of his shirt and I sat up straighter.

“Um, where’d you get the Maple Acres shirt?”

His expression didn’t change. “Maple Acres.”

I fought the urge to roll my eyes. “Right. I meant, do you work there?”

“Yup.” He sat back in his chair and pulled at the logo, stretching the white cotton away from his chest before turning his attention back to the computer screen. “Long time now.”

As soon as he said it, my memory was triggered. I’d always thought he looked familiar but could never quite place where I’d seen him. As I thought back to every trip I’d taken to Maple Acres, twice a year since I was two years old, the image of a boy with dark curls stuffed beneath a knit cap and a heavy flannel coat that made him look like Paul Bunyan clicked into place. The farm stretched over two hundred and fifty acres, selling pumpkins and cider and offering hayrides and a corn maze in a fall, then Christmas trees that you cut down yourself in the winter. The place had a storybook quality to it that I loved, and I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to figure out TJ was a part of it.

“We go there for our tree every year. I think I’ve seen you.”

TJ kept his eyes on the screen. “Probably. I’m usually bundling the trees or in the checkout area. Sometimes I drive the tractor for the hayrides.” He glanced over long enough to shoot me a half smile. “Maybe you’ve seen the back of my head.”

That would’ve been an occasion I definitely hadn’t noticed him. The one and only time I’d taken a hayride had been the lone trip I’d made without Charlie or my dad, both of whom are allergic to hay. I’d gone with Jordan. Superman himself could’ve been driving the tractor and I would’ve been too busy drooling over Jordan in his plaid button-down with the sleeves rolled up around his gorgeous forearms to notice.

Vom, vom, vom. I pushed the chunks down and forged ahead. “So, that thing you didn’t want to do the last time we talked, is that… still an issue?”

“Uh, no. That fell through, so my article should be good to go on Monday.”

He’s not making this easy for me, that’s for sure.

“Take your time, really. I hope you didn’t cancel your plans because of me.”

He glanced over and gave me a wry smile. “No.”

“So, um, the tree farm. I go all the time.” I mentally slapped myself. Twice a year is all the time? “Do you live nearby?”

“You know the green colonial across the street behind the barn?”

“Uh huh.”

He smiled again. “That’s my house.”

“Wait, I thought the owners lived there.”

“They do. We have for my whole life.”

“Your family owns Maple Acres?” I blinked a few times, dumbfounded by my own dumbness.

“Well, co-owns. Have you seen the guy with the white hair who sneaks free gourds to all the little kids at Halloween? That’s my Uncle Roger. He’s there all the time, but my dad does more of the financial stuff.”

My face lit up. “That’s awesome! I love that place! I took a picture of the white barn from the top of the hill once and tried to sketch it. All the trees had snow on them, the sky was this amazing gray color and the pond was reflecting it” – I remembered mid-babble that I’d veered off course and reigned myself back in – “anyway, let’s just say it was magical, but drawing isn’t my strong suit. So, um, if you didn’t move, then why did you switch schools?”

TJ’s eyes slid back to the computer screen and his shoulder tensed ever so slightly, as if I’d brought up something he didn’t really want to talk about. Now I was getting somewhere.

“Our property is right at the intersection of three town lines. Technically, I could’ve gone to any one of the high schools.” He stabbed a few keys with his pointer finger, eliciting three clipped clicks. Maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me, but I swore his jaw tightened. “I left Templeton because it was time for a change of scenery.”

“It must’ve been hard, though, transferring for your senior year.” And pretty odd, in my opinion. “I’m sure you had a lot of ties there.”

TJ’s fingers paused in mid-air over the keyboard and he looked at me. “Not that many.”

This time when he turned his attention back to the screen, I knew our conversation had ended. He ran a hand through his hair in a gesture that had a definite undertone of irritation. Whether it related to my question or some memory pertaining to the school, I couldn’t tell. But when I caught sight of the leather bracelet on his wrist, my desire to exclaim OMG THAT’S GORGEOUS WHERE DID YOU GET IT almost overruled my desire to ask what the hell his comment was supposed to mean. I’d been baiting him to say, “Yeah, my girlfriend goes there.” He hadn’t. What did that mean?

Maybe nothing.

But damn it all to hell, I suddenly had to know for sure.


The Author

Gina Ciocca graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in English, but in her mind, she never left high school. She relocated from Connecticut to Georgia, where she lives with her husband and son. When she’s not reading or writing, you can find her taking long walks around the lake in her neighborhood. Gina can also be found online at writersblog-gina.blogspot.com, on Instagram as gmciocca, and Twitter as gmc511.


Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway


My (Writing) Life

First things first….. PEACE IN FLAMES is available for preorder! I’m totally psyched about this because it’s my first solo release and the first completed project I’ve been proud of! Now I just need to finish my read through of the follow up novella, SUMMER OF PEACE, and send it off to my editor. That one will be available for public consumption in April.

Otherwise I’m working on a NA PNR, but I’ve hit a bit of a wall, so I may flip over to my YA contemporary romance instead. We’ll see. I’ve got a lot to ponder plot wise on both. (I’m still working on mastering that whole “outlining” thing. LOL)

In other news, I’m working on catching up on writing my last couple reviews from 2017. I’m hoping to post them ALL before the months end. I’m also at least halfway through two separate backlist titles for 2018 and the #BeatTheBacklist reading challenge, then I’ll jump into my NetGalley pile.

Until next time, happy reading!

 

REVIEW: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James






The Broken Girls Book Cover




The Broken Girls





Simone St. James





Mystery, Suspense, Paranormal




Berkley




March 20, 2018




E-ARC




336




Penguin First Reads




November 12 - 23, 2017



A breakout suspense novel from the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare.

Vermont, 1950. There's a place for the girls whom no one wants--the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It's called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it's located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming--until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she's tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister's death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister's boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can't shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past--and a voice that won't be silenced. . . .

Review

BE STILL MY HEART!!!
If you read just ONE book in 2018, let it be THIS book!

I don’t even know where to begin with this. I finished reading just before Thanksgiving and I tried to tell my family how amazing this book was but I simply could NOT put all my feels into words to describe them! I’ll try my best here.

The Broken Girls is part ghost story, part mystery. It’s a dual timeline, which I loved, because every time we jumped to the other time period, I wanted to keep reading the timeline we had just left. Both story lines were equally compelling.

In 1950 we follow four boarding school girls, we know from the start of the book that one is murdered. Why we don’t know is which girl it is, why, and who did it. Was it the ghost? Was it one or all of the other girls? Another human? You’re literally guessing until almost the end.

Meanwhile, in 2014 we follow Fiona, a 30-something year old woman who’s life was torn asunder years ago when her sister was murdered and her body dumped on the property of the creepy boarding school. With the boarding school property purchased by a mysterious millionaire, Fiona—a journalist—sets out to write a story about the restoration… and maybe find a way to find closure with her own sisters murder.

This is a story filled to the brim with secrets. Every thread of this story is woven so intricately together that if you don’t read closely, you may miss a clue.

Seriously you guys, I can’t even. This book is everything. Upon finishing it, all I could think was, “Damn. I need to read EVERYTHING Simone St. James has ever written.”

Seriously. This is a must read. Though I received a digital ARC for free for review purposes, at some point I will probably go buy the actual book for my bookshelf to reread in the future.

 

I received a copy of this book from Penguin First to Read in exchange for an honest review.


Quotes

* Note: Whittling down the number of passages I highlighted to feature here was HARD. I had so many markups on my digital edition!
Also note these quotes were taken from an advanced copy and
may differ in the final book.

 

She’d always known the monsters were real.
And they were here.

 

“Fee, Fee.” He was clearly laughing at her now. “You’ve spent too long with that policeman of yours. The police don’t have all the answers, and neither does the government. The people are where you find things. Like those records you just found. The people are the ones who keep the memories and the records the powers that be would rather erase.

 

Why do I have the feeling you’re not home in bed right now? Fiona stopped, staring down at the words. How the hell did he know? She wiped tears of cold from her eyes and typed a reply. Wrong. I’m snug under my covers, asleep. His reply was immediate. Oh shit. Where are you?

 

“Anthony,” Fiona managed as they crossed the field. “I think I saw—”

But he tugged her, nearly unbalancing her, and suddenly she was so close her shoulder touched his. “Shh,” he said, his voice lowered. “Please don’t say it. I think she listens.”

 

Deb had been three years older, and Fiona had followed everything she did— she’d worn Deb’s hand‑me‑down clothes, her old shoes, her old winter jackets. She was quieter and more introverted than her outgoing sister, but she’d tried her best not to be. Deb had been a road map of what to be, and when she’d died, that road map had vanished, leaving Fiona adrift. For twenty years and counting.

 

Unable to help herself, she tugged on the first box sitting at eye level and hauled it out, placing it on the cold ground and popping the lid off. Inside were textbooks, old and yellowed. The top was titled Latin Grammar for Girls .

Jamie read the title over her shoulder. “The good old days,” he commented, “when apparently Latin was different if you were a girl.”

 

Sonia laughed, though it was a painful story. She knew that laughing at it was one of Katie’s weapons, a way for her to make the experience smaller, easier to manage.

 

Mary knew everything. Mary saw everything. Everything. Even the things you didn’t say to yourself, deep in your own mind, ever.


My (Writing) Life

We survived Christmas!

Well, mostly. The family spoils my kids so much that it looks like a toy store blew up in my living room and kitchen. I’ve got them doing some organizing their toys right now, but they’re mostly whining and throwing fits. Is it time for them to go back to school yet??? (Parents who homeschool must have infinite patience!)

I had a wonderful holiday, spent lots of time with all of my family, and gave and received all sorts of wonderful gifts. Some highlights: My kids are beyond thrilled to finally own Minecraft, no longer limited to the hour long demo that doesn’t save their progress. Hubby received some delicious Pecan Canadian Whisky and a heater for the garage. And I received a beautiful tea box for all my tea bags, season 2 of Outlander, and a design tablet for my computer. I spent four hours yesterday evening putzing around on the computer and training myself to use the stylus instead of the mouse. I’m far from a professional with the stylus, but I’m getting better. Plus, last night I created a layer mask on a book cover I’m designing in Photoshop and it was the easiest – and quickest! – layer mask today. Also the most accurate. I think I’m in love.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday as well.

Now though, I’m ready for life to go back to normal. However if there’s one really good thing that came from the holiday season it was that it forced me to post a whole bunch of reviews (for the 12 Books of Christmas Reading Challenge) and now I’m sort of in the habit of posting a review a day. I MIGHT CATCH UP ON MY BOOK REVIEW POSTINGS BEFORE JANUARY!!!

Alright, I’ve got kids to wrangle, a house to clean up, laundry to wash, and a headache to boot.

Until next time! (When maybe I’ll even have some writing updates???)

 

REVIEW: The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen






The Ghost of Christmas Past Book Cover




The Ghost of Christmas Past




Molly Murphy Mysteries #17





Rhys Bowen





Historical, Mystery




Minotaur Books




November 14, 2017




E-ARC




272




NetGalley




12 Books of Christmas




November 2 - 12, 2017



Semi-retired private detective Molly Murphy Sullivan is suffering from depression after a miscarriage following her adventure in San Francisco during the earthquake of 1906. She and her husband, Daniel, are invited for Christmas at a mansion on the Hudson, and they gratefully accept, expecting a peaceful and relaxing holiday season. Not long after they arrive, however, they start to feel the tension in the house’s atmosphere. Then they learn that the host couple's young daughter wandered out into the snow ten years ago and was never seen again. Molly can identify with the mother's pain at never knowing what happened to her child and wants to help, but there is so little to go on. No ransom note. No body ever found. But Molly slowly begins to suspect that the occupants of the house know more than they are letting on. Then, on Christmas Eve, there is a knock at the door and a young girl stands there. "I'm Charlotte," she says. "I've come home."

The 12 Books of Christmas Reading Challenge

Welcome to the 12 Books of Christmas! This is my FOURTH contribution and I’m excited to share reviews for twelve holiday books over the next coming weeks.

For more information about this reading challenge and to join go here: The 12 Books of Christmas Challenge


REVIEW

I snagged this book from NetGalley because I was determined to do this 12 Books of Christmas series of reviews. I wasn’t too discriminating because I was desperate for holiday books. I like mysteries and I mostly like historical, so I was optimistic about this book.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize this was the 17th book in this series! I had a hard time connecting with the characters and I imagine part of that is because most readers who pick up this book will have already had 16 mysteries solved with Molly Murphy.

The pacing was my biggest problem. The beginning was very slow for me, introducing characters. By the time they reached the destination where the mystery occurs I was contemplating DNFing this book. I stayed with it and by 30% I’d solved part of the mystery and my theory on “whodunit” proved right as well.

All that said, once the ball got going I did find myself enjoying many aspects of the story. I was still a little disappointed that I figured it out so early, but by that point I was determined to keep reading in the hopes of it being a red herring.

Part of my problem with this book might be the fact that everything sounded so stiff. It’s historical, so it fits, but I struggled with it in this context. Other readers of historical’s and mysteries might not have the problems I had.

 

SHOULD YOU READ IT?  While you can jump into this book not having read any other Molly Murphy Mysteries, this reader would advise starting at the beginning if you enjoy historical mysteries with strong female leads.

 

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Quotes

“What on earth could a bunch of women find to talk about until after eleven?” Daniel asked, going over to the basin at the washstand to shave.

“Plenty,” I said, “We were scheming and plotting all evening how to disrupt the workings of the government in New York. We thought we might kidnap the mayor.

He turned back to me, a horrified look on his face. “You can’t be serious!”

 

“I think you should leave it, Molly. A good detective relies on facts, not flights of fancy and not besmirching characters without any modicum of proof.”


My (Writing) Life

It’s the holidays so life is hectic. Lots going on. Trying to keep my head above water. The usual!

I downloaded a new task manager app. It’s pretty awesome because it’s part task manager/part game. It’s called Habitica and if you don’t complete your tasks your little 8-bit character loses health. When you do complete your tasks you gain XP. As you level you unlock more items/features. The Husband and I both have it and we’re going to set the kids up with it soon as well. Maybe this will entice them to get their every day things done!

As far as writing, I’m going to start sending PEACE IN FLAMES out to reviewers SOON. So that’s exciting. The February release will be here before I know it! I’m also doing really well on SUMMER OF PEACE. I’m in the 18k range with a target goal of at least 20k, so that’s good. We’ll see what can be added/fluffed and fixed in the first round of edits soon!

My other writing projects are benched for the moment while I work on getting SUMMER completed. I’m hoping I’ll be able to dive back into SOMETHING I’M GOOD AT shortly after the new year. I’ll probably take a little break after that book to go back to my urban fantasy BLOOD & MAGIC, which needs to be completely restructured and rewritten. I’m both excited for and dreading that! Mostly I’m excited though.

So yeah, that’s what’s going on!