Jackal by Erin E. Adams

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam

Date of publication: October 4th, 2022

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller, Fiction, Mystery Thriller, Adult, Suspense, Contemporary, Audiobook, Fantasy

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A young Black girl goes missing in the woods outside her white Rust Belt town. But she’s not the first—and she may not be the last. . . .

It’s watching.

Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward and passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the bride’s daughter, Caroline, goes missing—and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood.

It’s taking.

As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: a summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in school, walked into the woods with a mysterious man and was later found with her chest cavity ripped open and her heart missing. Liz shudders at the thought that it could have been her, and now, with Caroline missing, it can’t be a coincidence. As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls.

It’s your turn.

With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.


First Line:

Tanisha Walker loved the stars. She didn’t memorize the paths of the cosmos of their patterns.

Jackal by Erin E. Adams

When I first read the blurb for this book (and saw the striking cover), I thought this would be a great book to read around Halloween. And I did intend to read this book on or around Halloween. But life gets in the way, and I ended up pushing this book off until mid-January. However, I am glad that I read it when I did. Jackal was a disturbing book, and honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to handle reading it around Halloween.

Some prominent trigger warnings come with this book. I had googled it when I got the approval from Random House, so I knew what I was getting into reading it. The trigger warnings are racism (explicit), fatphobia (moderate), domestic violence (detailed in one scene), alcoholism (explicit), anxiety (explicit, it triggered mine in places), death of a child/children (all explicit, I had nightmares), and kidnapping (moderate to explicit). If any of these trigger you, I recommend not reading this book.

Jackal takes place entirely in the mountain town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It is a fast-paced book that kept my eyes glued to the pages. I could see similarities to where I am living now, as sad as that is.

The author did not write the characters in Jackal to be likable. I don’t know how to explain, except I could see these characters walking the streets of my town. Out of the introduced characters, I liked Liz and Mel the most. Something about them struck a chord with me, and their characters stayed with me long after I finished the book.

  • Liz—She was a freaking mess. She didn’t want to come home to Johnstown and, in fact, had spent almost all of her adult life avoiding traveling there. But she came home because Mel, her best friend, was getting married and Liz was in the wedding. When Caroline was kidnapped, and fingers began pointing to Liz, she was desperate to find her. Her detective work wasn’t the best, but Liz did find some good leads (even when the cops didn’t and wouldn’t). All the while, she depended on the one cop she trusted to help her. I loved how she connected Caroline to the other missing girls.

Jackal fit perfectly into the horror genre. At first (and I had to read Tanisha’s chapter a few times to get it through my thick head) because I didn’t understand what was happening. But the author was able to drop enough hints and build it up so that I did understand. Add in the racial tensions and the tensions over the kidnapping, and this book exploded. There was a mystery angle that added extra depth to the storyline. I liked figuring out who took the girls (all teenagers/pre-teens) and the motivation. I thought that I knew, but yeah, I didn’t.

The author amazingly wrote the storyline with Liz, Caroline’s kidnapping, and the other girl’s murders and how it ties together. The author kept me guessing who the kidnapper was, and she had me think of one person when it was someone else. I loved that the author wrote short chapters about each of the girls who were killed from 1985 and on. I also loved how she tied those killings to Caroline’s kidnapping. There was a part in the book explaining why each girl was killed, and it blew my mind.

The storyline with Liz, the Jackal, Caroline, and the killers was terrific. It went in-depth into the racial and class division in Johnstown. It also explained the Jackal and the motivations behind the killings.

Several smaller sub-storylines added extra depth to the main one. Those more minor storylines explained why Liz was the way she was. They also illustrated several other things brought up in the book. Put it this way; I will never look at a baggie of popcorn the same way again. Talk about disgusting!!!

The end of Jackal was interesting. I will not say a lot, but Liz was fantastic. The author explained the Jackal’s roots (and it did surprise me). There is also a small scene at the end where Caroline lists every girl killed. But other than that, I can’t say anything more because of spoilers.

I recommend Jackal to anyone over 21. There is language, violence, and non-graphic sexual situations. Also, see my trigger warning above.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam, NetGalley, and Erin E. Adams for allowing me to read and review Jackal. All opinions stated in this review are mine.


If you enjoyed reading this review of Jackal, then you will enjoy reading these books:

The Second You’re Single by Cara Tanamachi

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of publication: January 31st, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary Romance, Contemporary, Womens Fiction, Chick Lit, Fiction, Humor, Adult, Adult Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

Cheerfully irreverent, bitingly funny, and filled with romantic charm, The Second You’re Single is all about navigating the most romantic month of the year, and how love always seems to arrive when you least expect it.

Freelance writer Sora Reid believes in inertia. She’s the odd one out in a close-knit family of go-getters, including her Japanese-American mom, who hints about her need to lose weight, and her soon-to-be married, overachieving younger sister, who needs her to have a date for the wedding, since a wedding party couples’ dance with their Scottish great uncle Bob simply won’t do. For Sora, minimal input, minimal expectations is the way to go. She’d rather stay at home with her insufferable neighbor and her adorable pitbull.

The one thing that disrupts her inertia: an intense dislike for Valentine’s Day. What is it with the commercial love machine? Why do we pin our hopes on one romantic day, when staying home with a package of bacon and a bottle of tequila would be way better? Sora’s been betrayed and disappointed more than once and her heart is starting to feel like her Grandma Mitsuye’s antique Japanese ceramic bowl, with its many gold-filled cracks.

When her pledge to stay single in February inspires readers to #gosolo, Sora has a responsibility to empower her readers. But relationships aren’t built to last, so it shouldn’t be that hard. Right?

Enter Jack Mann. A muscle-bound baker who looks like he lifts logs on the weekends, Sora hasn’t thought of Jack since they were in elementary school together. When they see each other at the local grocery store and the attraction hits hard, Sora knows she has to shut it down, quick. She can’t #gosolo AND get the guy. She can’t let down her readers. And relationships always end, so why should Jack be any different–even though he’s confounding all her long-held expectations of love?


First Line:

Valentine’s Day has snuck up on me like a porch pirate.

The Second You’re Single by Cara Tanamachi

When I first read the blurb for The Second You’re Single, I didn’t like it. I am not a huge Valentine’s Day fan, but I am not an all-out hater. So I sat on this invite for a while. I wanted to make sure that I wanted to read a book about a bitter woman complaining about Valentine’s Day. I was confident and glad I did because this book was nothing like I thought it would be. It wasn’t a book about a bitter woman complaining about Valentine’s Day, that’s for sure.

Before I get into the review, I want to let you know that this book has several trigger warnings. They are body shaming (multiple people shame Sora about her weight throughout the book), fatphobia (ex’s new girlfriend and Jack’s ex both make comments), miscarriage (Sora and her ex), cancer (Jack’s niece had leukemia as a toddler), cheating (both Jack and Sora’s exes cheated on them. Also Sora’s sister gets cheated on by her fiancee), bullying (Jack was severely bullied by classmates growing up, Sora experienced online bullying towards the end of the book), death of a parent (Sora’s father dies before the book starts but she is still working through grief), verbal abuse (Sora’s father verbally abused them), neglect and its repercussions (Jack’s ex), stalking (Jack’s ex), and depression (Sora). If any of these trigger you, I recommend not reading this book.

The storyline for The Second You’re Single was funny and interesting. Sora had just found out that her ex was lying to her. He was married with children….not the single DJ she was led to believe. Disillusioned with men and the holiday that caters only to people in relationships, Sora writes an article for the online magazine she works for promoting #gosolo for February. What she wasn’t expecting was how much it resonated with people. She wasn’t expecting Jack to walk into her life right as #gosolo took off, and she certainly wasn’t expecting to fall in love with him. Can Sora keep her promise to her readers about going solo for the month of February? Will she be able to keep her relationship with Jack under wraps? What about Jack’s blonde model ex-girlfriend? Will Sora be able to compete with her?

The Second You’re Single was a fast-paced, hilarious romance that takes place in Chicago. Let me clarify that it takes place in winter in Chicago. I was cold even reading this book.

The characters in The Second You’re Single were well-written. I was able to connect with all of them, even the “villains” (aka Jack’s ex and Sora’s neighbor). Some characters I wished had more page time, and others I wished were scaled back.

  • Sora—While I loved her character, I thought she was a hot mess for most of the book. I did think that she was depressed for a good part of the book, and guess what? She had reason to be. She had a tough few years with some awful things happening to her. I would have been surprised if she wasn’t depressed. She couldn’t trust her feelings when it came to Jack (because his ex was semi-stalking him), and she needed to be single until March 1st. Again, I wasn’t surprised when everything blew up in her face. But it was after that made me impressed with her. Oh, and her love of bacon. I think she and my 9-year-old would get along great. She also cut through the BS when it came to her sister. But I wish that it had been sooner.
  • Jack–Did he have his issues? He did. He comes across as too needy and a little desperate at the beginning of the book. He was also too kind to his ex. He took everything that woman did with grace and understanding; that was amazing. I also liked that he understood Sora’s situation with solo February. But I didn’t think he got how big it was until he was forced to the side and hidden away. I didn’t blame him for feeling the way he did. I would have done the same thing.

The Second You’re Single fits perfectly into the romance genre. It was a friends-to-lovers trope with a healthy dose of Instalove thrown in. I am not a fan of Instalove but I did like it in this case. Because Sora and Jack knew each other in elementary school (Sora was Jack’s only friend, and she stood up for him against bullies), Jack loved her back then. So, it wasn’t hard for me to imagine them falling for each other within a few weeks of their meeting. Oh, let’s not forget the comedy angle of this book too. I was dying laughing at the one-liners that Sora had.

The storyline with Sora, Jack, their relationship, the #gosolo challenge, and Jack’s ex was interesting. I didn’t know how anything would end except Sora and Jack’s relationship. As I said above, I thought Jack was too nice to his ex, and it did come back to bite him in the butt, big time. Their breakup wasn’t unexpected (it happens in all romances), but what was unexpected was Sora’s come to Jesus moment with her best friend (who is a therapist) after. Everything said was true, and I liked that Sora took what she said to heart. The #gosolo challenge was fun, and I could see it happening in real life (maybe it has?).

There were several secondary storylines that I enjoyed reading. There are some that I hope the author follows up on (Jack has several unmarried brothers and Sora has a sister).

The end of The Second You’re Single was your typical HEA. I was surprised at who was instrumental in pushing Sora and Jack back together. But, considering what happened and the talk this person had with Jack, I should have seen it coming. I loved seeing Sora and Jack’s changes, both together and separately. But, it was the scene on the playground that got me. I was laughing and crying at once.

I recommend The Second You’re Single to anyone over 21. There are sexual scenes and situations, language, and mild violence. Also, see my trigger warnings above.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin, NetGalley, and Cara Tanamachi for allowing me to read and review The Second You’re Single. All opinions stated in this review are mine.


If you enjoyed reading this review of The Second You’re Single, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Dead and Gondola (Christie Bookshop: Book 1) by Ann Claire

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam

Date of publication: November 1st, 2022

Genre: Mystery, Cozy Mystery, Fiction, Thriller, Mystery Thriller, Holiday, Christmas, Adult, Contemporary, Audiobook

Series: Christie Bookshop

Dead and Gondola—Book 1

Last Word to the Wise—Book 2

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

When a mysterious bookshop visitor dies under murderous circumstances, the Christie sisters and their cat Agatha call on all they’ve learned about solving mysteries from their favorite novelist in this new series debut.

Ellie Christie is thrilled to begin a new chapter. She’s recently returned to her tiny Colorado hometown to run her family’s historic bookshop with her elder sister, Meg, and their friendly bookshop cat, Agatha. Perched in a Swiss-style hamlet accessible by ski gondola and a twisty mountain road, the Book Chalet is a famed bibliophile destination known for its maze of shelves and relaxing reading lounge with cozy fireside seats and panoramic views. At least, until trouble blows in with a wintery whiteout. A man is found dead on the gondola, and a rockslide throws the town into lockdown—no one in, no one out.

He was a mysterious stranger who visited the bookshop. At the time, his only blunders were disrupting a book club and leaving behind a first-edition Agatha Christie novel, written under a pseudonym. However, once revealed, the man’s identity shocks the town. Many residents knew of him. Quite a few had reason to want him dead. Others hide secrets. The police gather suspects, but when they narrow in on the sisters’ close friends, the Christies have to act.

Although the only Agatha in their family tree is their cat, Ellie and Meg know a lot about mysteries, and they’re not about to let the situation snowball out of control. The Christie sisters must summon their inner Miss Marples and trek through a blizzard of clues before the killer turns the page to their final chapter.


First Line:

I swung open the heavy oak door and blinked at the figure taking shape in the blizzard.

Dead and Gondola by Ann Claire

I love mysteries set in bookstores and/or small towns, and this book has both. It was a given that I would accept the invitation from the publisher. I am glad that I did because this was a great mystery.

Dead and Gondola is the first book in the Christie Bookshop series. So, my usual drivel about reading previous books does not apply here. You can safely read this book and not wonder about storylines or characters.

The plotline for Dead and Gondola was interesting and engaging. Ellie has returned to her hometown to help her older sister run their family’s acclaimed book shop, The Book Chalet. Ellie wasn’t expecting an older man to show up at the shop, looking for a woman named CeCe and carrying a rare book. She also wasn’t expecting to witness that same older man get murdered. And she certainly wasn’t expecting her long-time employee to disappear simultaneously. With the roads out of town closed, Ellie takes it upon herself to investigate. What she discovers shocks her to her core and throws suspicion at everyone in her village. Who killed the older man? Why did her employee disappear? What connects the two?

Dead and Gondola is a medium-paced book set in the fictional town of Last Word, Colorado. I loved the description of the town. It is a ski town, and the author did go into what it was like living in a town that relies on skiing for income. But she also showed what living in a small town was like.

The characters in Dead and Gondola weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked them to be. But, seeing this is the first book in the series, I expect some character growth in the later books. Besides that, I loved seeing the assortment of people that made up Ellie’s world. They were as unique as the town was. I also liked the darkness in this town and the people.

  • Ellie—I liked her, but she annoyed me during parts of the book. There were points in the book where I couldn’t connect to her. She became almost obsessed with discovering who murdered the older man and why. I did feel bad for her when the murderer was revealed. Honestly, I was shocked and understood why she felt that way. Also, I did like her flashbacks to childhood and reading. I was the same way!!

The storyline with the older man, the mysterious CeCe, his murder, the book, and Ellie was well written. The author took me on a ride with this one. It had more twists and turns in the plotline than a mountain road. And the red herrings!!! There were a lot of them. I loved the twist the author put into this plotline. And who the murderer was!! I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t who I was expecting it to be.

The storyline with Mrs. Reed, her disappearance, the shop, Ellie, and Meg was also very well written. I was with Ellie for almost half the book. I thought something terrible had happened to her. But then she was found, and I couldn’t help but be slightly irritated by Ellie. I was like, “Leave the poor woman alone!!” Then the author had a twist in this plotline that had me shaking my head. And the author led me to believe one thing when the opposite happened.

Dead and Gondola fit perfectly into the cozy mystery genre. The author kept me guessing a few things (see above), and a big twist at the end of the book took me by surprise.

The end of Dead and Gondola was interesting. The author was able to wrap up the main storylines in this book in a way that I enjoyed. But she did leave enough wiggle room for book 2. I can’t wait to read book 2!!

I recommend Dead and Gondola to anyone over 16. It is a clean book (no kissing, no sex), but there is some mild language and violence.

I want to thank Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam, NetGalley, and Ann Claire for allowing me to read and review Dead and Gondola. All opinions expressed in this review are mine.


If you enjoyed reading my review of Dead and Gondola, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Murder up to Bat (A Front Page Mystery: Book 2) by Elizabeth McKenna

Publisher: Maureen Lippert

Date of Publication: August 23rd, 2022

Genre: Mystery, Cozy Mystery, Fiction

Series: A Front Page Mystery

The Great Jewel Robbery—Book 1

Murder up to Bat—Book 2

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

Mystery with a whiff of romance…After falling in love with the quiet lake life and a certain police detective, former Chicago Tribune reporter Emma Moore trades interviewing jocks for chasing champion cows at the county fair. As a small-town newspaper reporter, she covers local topics both big and small, but when her friend Luke is arrested for the murder of the head coach of his club softball team, she’ll need to hone her investigative skills to clear his name. Emma calls up best friend Grace for help, and together the women go up against cutthroat parents willing to kill for a chance to get their daughters onto a premier college sports team.

It’s the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded, and murder is up to bat. Can Emma and her friends bring the heat and win the game?


First Line:

The beauty queen’s solemn brown eyes showed indifference to the crowd around her.

Murder up to Bat by Elizabeth McKenna

I have stated this in past reviews, but I need to read more mystery. Now, I know you all are sitting there, looking at my January Wrap-Up and going, “Really? But this list says you do!” Trust me; I don’t. And this lack of reading diversity was why I chose to review Murder up to Bat. I am glad that I did because this book was terrific to read.

Murder Up to Bat is the second book in the A Front Page Mystery series. This book can be read as a stand-alone book. I was thankful for that since I wouldn’t say I like picking books up mid-series. I would suggest reading the previous book, though. That way, you can get a handle on the different characters and their relationships. But if you don’t, that’s fine. The author gives a brief rundown of everything at the beginning of the book.

Murder Up to Bat is a fast-paced book set in a small town in Wisconsin. I can count on my hand how many books I have read that have taken place there. There are mentions of Chicago, but they stay only at that mentions.

The storyline for Murder Up to Bat was interesting. Emma’s friend, Luke, was a once-promising baseball player whose career ended with an injury. He decided to open a gym and help fund a softball team. After confronting the temperamental head coach, Luke is discovered standing over his body the following day, holding a bloody softball bat. Not believing he was guilty, Emma puts her investigative journalism skills to work. What she finds stuns her. Softball is a highly competitive sport; some parents will do anything to get the attention of a college agent. But would they murder for it? Or is there something else going on?

This book attracted me because the mystery plotline centered around high school softball and how competitive it can be. It bordered on unbelievable at times. My oldest daughter (17) played four years of softball—3 years in our local rec league, and she started softball back at our middle school when she was in 6th grade. During those years, I couldn’t believe how the parents and the coaches would act toward the kids. So, it was believable when the mystery was centered around the dead coach. And the deeper I got into the book, the more I could see this happening in real life. The author’s note at the end also had me nodding my head in agreement.

I will say that no matter what sport, you have people who are jerks – even in horseback riding (my youngest is learning to jump hunter style). One woman told me Miss R should be further along than she is. My response was kind but to the point. Miss R had a very traumatic event when she first started learning. It continues to affect her learning and her confidence. If she has any questions about how Miss R is doing, speak to Mrs. L (the trainer) or Mrs. A (the barn owner), and they will answer her concerns. She did, threw a fit (because her daughter was riding with someone “lesser”…sigh), and was told not to come back. As I said, every sport has that one jerk ( or entitled parent).

The characters in Murder up to Bat were well-written. I did feel a certain disconnect with Emma during the first couple of chapters, but once the mystery of the dead coach started, that went away. Not reading book one contributed to my feeling that way.

  • Emma—As I said above, I did feel disconnected from Emma during the first couple of chapters. But I could see what a loyal friend she was. She and Grace were 100% certain that Luke did not kill the coach (even if the evidence said otherwise). I liked how protective she was of Luke. I also loved how she wasn’t afraid to go toe-toe with the detective in charge of the investigation. It was her determination and investigative skills that uncovered the murderer.

Murder Up to Bat fit perfectly into the cozy mystery genre. While I knew that Luke didn’t kill the coach, I was at a loss for who did. Then Emma started uncovering all these juicy details, and my suspect list grew. When the author revealed who did it, I was surprised. And the way it was revealed!!! Hoo-baby, it was good.

The storyline with Emma, her investigation, and the murder was terrific. While I was already familiar with how crazy softball parents are (see above), it was amusing to see the lengths some of these parents were willing to go to. The author took me on a ride with Emma’s investigation into the coach’s murder. There was a big twist in that storyline that I didn’t see coming. I loved it!!!

The end of Murder up to Bat was good. The author was able to wrap up the main storyline in a way that I loved. She also left it open for another story. I cannot wait to read another book in this series.

I would recommend Murder up to Bat to anyone over 16. It is a clean book with no sexual situations and very mild language. There is mild non-graphic violence.

I want to thank Maureen Lippert (publisher), NetGalley, and Elizabeth McKenna for allowing me to read and review Murder up to Bat. All opinions stated in this review are mine.


If you enjoyed reading this review of Murder up to Bat, then you would enjoy reading these books:

A Guide to Being Just Friends (Jansen Brothers: Book 3) by Sophie Sullivan

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of publication: January 17th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Contemporary Romance, Adult, Fiction, Womens Fiction, Chick Lit, Audiobook, Adult Fiction, Clean Romance

Series: Jansen Brothers

Ten Rules for Faking It—Book 1

How to Love Your Neighbor—Book 2 (review here)

A Guide to Being Just Friends—Book 3

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

A playful and emotional romantic comedy from the author of Ten Rules for Faking It

Hailey Sharp has a one-track mind. Get By the Cup salad shop off the ground. Do literally everything possible to make it a success. Repeat. With a head full of entrepreneurial ideas and a bad ex in her rearview, her one and only focus is living life the way she wants to. No distractions.

Wes Jansen never did understand the fuss about relationships. With a string of lackluster first dates and the pain from his parents’ angry divorce following him around, he’d much rather find someone who he likes, but won’t love. Companionship, not passion, is the name of the game.

When Hailey and Wes find each other in a disastrous meet cute that wasn’t even intended for them, they embarrassingly go their separate ways. But when Wes finds Hailey to apologize for his behavior, they strike a friendship. Because that’s all this can be. Hailey doesn’t want any distractions. Wes doesn’t want to fall in love.

What could possibly go wrong?


First Line:

Salad paid the bills. At least, it was supposed to.

A Guid to Being Just Friends by Sophie Sullivan

I’ll admit this; I didn’t read the blurb when I accepted the invite from St. Martin’s Press. I saw the title and the cover (in the widget email they sent) and made my decision from that. To be clear, I rarely accept books based on the title and/or cover. So, I was a little hesitant when I saw it next on my reading schedule. But, once I realized what series this book was a part of, I was excited to read it.

A Guide to Being Just Friends is the 3rd (and final) book in the Jansen Brothers series. While readers can read this as a standalone, I recommend reading the first two books before picking this one up. I recommend this so you, as a reader, can understand some of the relationships discussed in this book.

There are some trigger warnings that I want to warn you about in this book. Hailey (the main character) is fresh out of an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship. In one scene, her ex tries (and stress tries) to verbally abuse and manhandle her, but Wes stops it. Wes’s parents are divorced, and Hailey’s family is dysfunctional (her parents love each other and ignore her). If any of these triggers you, I recommend not reading this book.

A Guide to Being Just Friends is a medium to fast-paced book that takes place entirely in San Verde, California. The pacing of the book fluctuates during it.

As mentioned above, A Guide to Being Just Friends is Wes and Hailey’s love story. Hailey has just opened a restaurant that only serves salad (By the Cup) and is focused only on getting it off the ground and making money. She has no room for a relationship or wants one after what her ex-boyfriend has done to her. Wes couldn’t agree more with her. He is still dealing with the wounds of his parent’s divorce and has been on several not-so-great first dates. All he wants is companionship. So meeting Hailey and developing feelings for her was not part of his master plan (the same goes for Hailey). While being in a relationship is not in the cards for either of them, they will settle for being just friends. But their feelings grow, and being just friends is starting to sound not so great. Will Hailey and Wes wake up and see that the person they want the most is standing in front of them? Or will they forever be just friends?

I like going into a book and knowing at least one of the characters. For me (and I don’t know about you), it made connecting with the other main characters easier. I also liked seeing a different side of that character than what was portrayed in other books.

  • Hailey: I liked her. She was super focused on getting her business off the ground and wouldn’t let anything or anyone distract her. She was also one of the sweetest people in the book and didn’t deserve the treatment she got from her parents, ex-boyfriend, and Ana. I also liked that she overcame all the self-doubt and self-esteem issues that her ex gave her. Of course, since this is a romance, I wanted to shake her when it came to Wes. But I understood why she was holding herself back.
  • Wes—I was talking about him in the above paragraph. I liked seeing little glimpses of him in the previous two books. I did have a view of him from what I read. So it was nice for that view to be expanded and for how he acted explained. Wes had a lot on his plate, a lot of pressure from his father and Ana (the CEO of a company he’s trying to buy). Plus, he had awful luck on the relationship front. The blind dates the author showed were horrible. I did like his character growth, though. By the end of the book, he wasn’t afraid to do what was right for him (and yes, that involved Ana and her meddling ways!!)

The secondary characters were interesting. They should be since they were all previous characters in the other two books. A couple of new characters were introduced (Hailey’s cousin and her group of friends), and I hope the author decides to create another series in this world. I would love to see some of those people get their HEAs!!

A Guide to Being Just Friends fits perfectly into the romance genre. I liked that this romance took months to ignite and just as long to get off the ground. I love those types of romances. They seem more genuine, and (because I am a weirdo) I can picture them lasting in real life.

There is sex in A Guide to Being Just Friends. But it isn’t graphic. The author sets the mood, starts the sexual encounter, and ends the chapter. The next chapter is the following day with a satisfied hero and heroine. I am a fan of smut and graphic sex scenes, but sometimes it is nice to let my imagination do what it does best. And it did its best in this book. Also, there were only a couple of sex scenes.

The main storyline is Wes and Hailey’s romance. As I said, the author made this into a slow-burn romance, and I liked it. She also made it as realistic as possible. Hailey and Wes went through what I considered the usual ebb and flow until everything exploded. There was only one thing that I disagreed with: Ana. She was a vindictive, nasty person. What she did to Hailey (and let’s not forget what she tried to do) was pretty low.

Several secondary storylines enriched the main storyline. The secondary storyline that stands out to me the most was the landlord raising the rent on the apartments and shops where Hailey had her business. I loved how the author kept me wondering what would happen there and then melded it into the main storyline. It was perfect!!

The end of A Guide to Being Just Friends made me an emotional mess. I cried during the big reveal scene. I was mad because of what Hailey assumed was happening between Ana and Wes. I was happy because that assumption wasn’t true. And the epilogue. It was freaking perfect!!! I couldn’t have asked for a better epilogue than that.

I would recommend A Guide to Being Just Friends to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and very mild sex scenes. Also, see my content warning above.

I want to thank St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin, NetGalley, and Sophie Sullivan for allowing me to read and review A Guide to Being Just Friends. All opinions stated in this review are mine.


If you enjoyed reading A Guide to Being Just Friends, then you will enjoy reading these books:

All Hallows by Christopher Golden

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of Publication: January 24th, 2023

Genre: Horror, Holiday, Halloween, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical, Thriller, Mystery, Adult Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

With the 80’s nostalgia of Stranger Things, this horror drama from NYT bestselling author Christopher Golden follows neighborhood families and a mysterious, lurking evil on one Halloween day.

It’s Halloween night, 1984, in Coventry, Massachusetts, and two families are unraveling. Up and down the street, horrifying secrets are being revealed, and all the while, mixed in with the trick-or-treaters of all ages, four children who do not belong are walking door to door, merging with the kids of Parmenter Road. Children in vintage costumes with faded, eerie makeup. They seem terrified, and beg the neighborhood kids to hide them away, to keep them safe from The Cunning Man. There’s a small clearing in the woods now that was never there before, and a blackthorn tree that doesn’t belong at all. These odd children claim that The Cunning Man is coming for them…and they want the local kids to protect them. But with families falling apart and the neighborhood splintered by bitterness, who will save the children of Parmenter Road?

New York Times bestselling, Bram Stoker Award-winning author Christopher Golden is best known for his supernatural thrillers set in deadly, distant locales…but in this suburban Halloween drama, Golden brings the horror home.

All Hallows. The one night when everything is a mask…


First Line:

In the woods behind Tony Barbosa’s house, the autumn leaves screened out so much daylight it seemed like dusk had already arrived.

All Hallows by Christopher Golden

This isn’t easy to admit, but I am a giant baby in reading or watching anything horror. Take, for instance, the new series on HBO Max, The Last of Us. I was sitting with my husband and oldest daughter, and whenever something scary would come on, I would cover my face with a blanket and tell them to tell me when it was over. That is how I felt reading All Hallows. I wanted to cover my face and wait until it was all over, but I couldn’t. This book scared the living out of me!!

I am going to be upfront with the trigger warnings in this book. I wasn’t expecting a couple of them, and they left a bad taste in my mouth when I realized what was happening. The triggers are child sexual abuse (not graphic, but a couple of scenes that describe a victim’s emotions), racism (overt and subtle), domestic violence, cheating, bigotry, and homophobia. If any of these triggers you, I recommend not reading this book.

The plotline for All Hallows was exciting but all over the place at first. Halloween has come to a Massachusetts town, Coventry. While kids are out trick or treating, the individual families are fracturing. Add to this, there are kids in the neighborhood who don’t belong. They are dressed in old-fashioned costumes and are begging people to let them in their houses. Why? They have escaped from a being called The Cunning Man and are running from it. But not all is what it seems, as the hours count to midnight and long-held secrets are uncovered. Who are these children? What do they want? Will The Cunning Man get them? Or is everything they told a lie? What horrors are in store for the families that took them in?

All Hallows has multiple main characters; writing a short blurb on each is impossible. So, I am not in this review. It would make this review go on forever; we all know people don’t like it.

The main characters in All Hallows were well-written and fleshed out. Each character brought a fresh perspective to what was happening in that neighborhood that night. I loved seeing the same events from different eyes.

As for the secondary characters, some of them felt a little flat. While they did provide some needed filler in the storylines, I couldn’t connect to some of them. And that made it impossible for me to care when certain things happened in the book (like Donny Sweeney’s semi-redemption arc).

All Hallows fit perfectly in the horror genre. The author did a great job of making me want to cover my eyes during parts of the book. This would have been a great book to release around Halloween because, well, the book is set on Halloween afternoon/night.

The storyline with The Cunning Man and the displaced kids was unique. The author did take me for a ride with that one. I was expecting one thing to happen, but a neat twist in the storyline had me shaking my head and saying, “No way.

The storyline with the neighborhood relationships fracturing was, again, well written. The author didn’t do a massive deep dive into the people he featured during that night, but it was deep enough to know that this was beyond what neighbors act like, especially in 1984, when neighborhoods were tight. I was seven in 1984, and I remember my neighbors being like second parents. If we (my brothers and I) were outside playing, someone was always out with us. Like in the book, the neighbors treated Halloween like a party for the adults, and we kids would go around the neighborhood trick or treating, barely supervised. You can’t do that these days, which is sad.

The end of All Hallows was interesting. While the author resolved things, only some were, if you understand. There were a few storylines that I had questions on that were left up in the air. Also, there were no happy endings. People died and were hurt; the end was maybe three days later. Everyone involved was still processing what had happened. There might be a book two because of the last couple of scenes. I would love to see Vanessa, Chloe, and possibly Julia get revenge!!

I recommend All Hallows to anyone over 21. There is language, violence, and no sex (some light kissing). Also, see my trigger warnings.

I want to thank St. Martin’s Press, NetGalley, and Christopher Golden for allowing me to read and review All Hallows. All opinions stated in this review are mine.


If you enjoyed reading All Hallows, then you will enjoy reading these books:

The Devil You Know (Detective Margaret Nolan: Book 3) by P.J. Tracy

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books

Date of publication: January 17th, 2023

Genre: Mystery, Fiction, Suspense, Thriller, Crime, Mystery Thriller, Contemporary, Adult

Series: Detective Margaret Nolan

Deep into the Dark—Book 1

Desolation Canyon—Book 2

The Devil You Know—Book 3

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan returns in The Devil You Know, the next book in the series where P. J. Tracy “seems to have found her literary sweet spot” (New York Times Book Review).

Los Angeles has many faces: the real LA where regular people live and work, the degenerate underbelly of any big city, and the rarified world of wealth, power, and celebrity. LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan’s latest case plunges her into this insular realm of privilege, and gives her a glimpse of the darkness behind the glitter.

The body of beloved actor Evan Hobbes is found in the rubble of a Malibu rockslide a day after a fake video ruins his career. It’s not clear to Nolan if it’s an accident, a suicide, or a murder, and things get murkier as the investigation expands to his luminary friends and colleagues. Meanwhile, Hobbes’ agent is dealing with damage control, his psychotic boss, and a woman he’s scorned. But when his powerful brother-in-law is murdered, he and Nolan both find themselves entangled in a scandalous deception of deadly proportion that shakes the very foundation of Hollywood’s untouchables.


First Line:

The ocean was singing in the hushed undulating tones of low tide on this still, damp night.

The Devil You Know by P.J. Tracy

While reading this book, I realized I need to read more mysteries that are only mysteries. I read romance, paranormal, and horror mysteries but never just plain secrets (if that makes sense). So, I was eager to read The Devil You Know. While I liked the book (and the story), I needed clarification during parts of the book. I don’t particularly appreciate being confused when I am reading. That did make for a less-than-ideal reading situation for me.

The Devil You Know had an exciting plotline. Detective Nolan has been assigned a disturbing case. A famous actor has been discovered dead in a rockslide. The death is suspicious because the day before, he had been the subject of a deepfake video that ended his career. Within a few days, the top executive where that actor worked is found murdered. The person that links the actor and the executive: the agent representing him and his family ties to the executive. It is up to Nolan to determine if the actor was murdered, committed suicide, or died in an accident. While doing that, she is assisting in the murder investigation of the executive. What Nolan finds out is so earth-shattering that it will shake her to the core. What does she find out? Who was willing to frame a well-liked actor in a deepfake video? Why? And how is the executive’s death connected to it?

The Devil You Know is the 3rd book in that Detective Margaret Nolan series. While readers can read this as a standalone, I recommend reading the books in order. Some parts of the book made me scratch my head because I didn’t know the backstories.

The characters in The Devil You Know were well-written, but I felt a certain disconnect with them. If I had read the first two books, I would have understood more about Nolan’s background. I also would have understood more about some of the secondary characters.

  • Detective Nolan—I liked her. She was smart, and she worked well with others. But there was also a sad element to her character. I feel it was because of her brother’s death (which is linked to another secondary character). She also emphasized with the victims’ families and, weirdly enough, the murderer. I loved seeing her process of finding out who the murderer was.

The Devil You Know fits perfectly in with the mystery genre. I loved the red herrings that she put out!! Talk about distracting, and I did feel bad for those two women (as vile as they were). The author kept me guessing until the end.

The storyline with Detective Nolan, the actor’s death, the deepfake, and the investigation were wonderfully written. The author had me double guessing if it was an accident (because of testimony from his friend/hostess of the party). Even when it was determined a murder (and no, not a spoiler, the detectives figured it out fairly early), I loved watching the investigation turn to suspects. There was another murder (with the same MO) and the revelation of the murderer. I was shocked at who it was because I didn’t see it coming. I also did feel bad for that person because of the trauma that person endured. But still, no excuse. Oh, and let’s not forget the deepfake. That was the cherry on top of this whole investigation. Once they figured out who it was, it was all downhill.

The storyline with Detective Nolan, the executive’s death, and the investigation were as wonderfully written as the first investigation. The author kept this one more under wraps than the other investigation. But still, I liked seeing how the detectives investigated it in tandem with the actor’s murder. There was a twist to that plotline that wasn’t revealed until the very end of the book. One that made me go, “Holy crap.” Because whoever went to jail for his murder didn’t kill him. The real killer’s identity stunned me.

The storyline with the agent, murders, his relationship with the movie star, and then his murder did take me for a ride. For the longest time, I thought the same thing Detective Nolan did. He did it and covered it up. Of course, there were a few red herrings sprinkled in that storyline. The big twist in that one was how the detectives figured everything out. I won’t say what, but he was a pretty intelligent guy for doing what he did.

I went back and forth on putting a trigger warning on this book. I ultimately decided to do it because what was discussed was disturbing. My trigger warnings are mentions of child pornography, deepfake videos, drug use, and alcohol use. If any of these triggers you, I highly suggest not reading this book.

The end of The Devil You Know was okay. The author wrapped up the first two storylines, and I thought they were over. But then the author tacked on that final chapter that blew everything about the second murder out of the water. It was indeed a twist that took me by surprise.

I would recommend The Devil You Know to anyone over 21. There are language, violence, and sexual situations. Also, see my trigger warnings.

I want to thank St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and P.J. Tracy for allowing me to read and review The Devil You Know. All opinions stated in this review are mine.


If you enjoyed reading The Devil You Know, you will enjoy reading these books:

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries (Emily Wilde: Book 1) by Heather Fawcett

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of publication: January 10th, 2023

Series: Emily Wilde

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries—Book 1

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Adult, Historical Fiction, Fairies, Fae, Fiction, Historical, Paranormal, Magical Realism, Fantasy Romance

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

A curmudgeonly professor journeys to a small town in the far north to study faerie folklore and discovers dark fae magic, friendship, and love, in this heartwarming and enchanting fantasy.

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.


First Line:

Shadow is not at all happy with me. He lies by the fire while the chill wind rattles the door, tail inert, staring up at me from beneath that shaggy forelock of his with the sort of accusatory resignation peculiar to dogs, as if to say: Of all the stupid adventures you’ve dragged me on, this will surely be the death of us.

Emily Wilde’s Encycolpaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

When I got the email inviting me to read/review this book, I was immediately taken by two things. The first was the cover. Now, covers don’t usually get my attention or play into why I want to read a book. Mainly because I read using my Kindle Scribed. But this one caught my attention because of how simple it was. The other thing that grabbed my attention was the blurb. A female professor studying Faeries in an alternative Norway in the 1880s? That is when I decided that I wanted, no needed, to read this book. And I am glad that I did because it was a good read.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries takes place in the late 1800s in an alternative world where women could hold jobs and have the same rights as men at that time. 95% of the book is set in the fictional country of Ljosland. Now, I was curious, and I googled the country. It turns out that Ljosland is a village in Norway. The village is made up (I googled that too). I liked that the author created a whole country similar to Norway but simultaneously different.

The plotline for Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is an interesting one. In this alternative world, fairies are real. Emily Wilde is an expert on Faeries and is writing an encyclopedia of fairie lore, which will be the first of its kind. She is almost finished and is traveling to Ljosland to study the most elusive and feared Faery of that area, the Hidden Ones. A loner by nature, Emily struggles to make connections in the village. Connections that she needs if she is going to finish her encyclopedia. Help, or a hindrance if she had her say, comes from Wendell Bambleby. Wendell is her rival in the world of Faery lore. But there is something about him that Emily can’t put her finger on. As the winter rages on and her studies continue, Emily learns that Wendell is more than he seems. And when The Hidden Ones start taking children and creating mischief, Emily takes it upon herself to help. That sets off a series of events that forces Emily to reevaluate everything she knows about Faeries, herself, and Wendell. What does Emily learn? What does she find out about Wendell? Will she finish her encyclopedia?

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is the first book in the Emily Wilde series. Usually, I would put in here if you need to read the other books in the series first or not. Well, since it’s the first book, it doesn’t apply.

The pacing of Emily Wilde (I am shortening the title for this review. Plus Encyclopaedia keeps getting autocorrected) is slow for the first 70% of the book. And when I mean slow, it was snail or turtle slow. There was a point in the book where I debated DNF’ing it. It was that slow. But, once certain things happened (I can’t say because of spoilers), the book picked up speed.

The characters of Emily Wilde were interesting and diverse. I liked that the author chose this alternative world to be LGBTQ-friendly (a lesbian couple is featured prominently in the middle and last half of the book). I enjoyed it. It was refreshing for the period it was in (as was Emily, 30 and unmarried).

  • Emily—She was an odd duck right from the beginning. She had zero people skills and managed to tick off not only her host but the unofficial chief of the village. Her only companion was an elderly dog named Shadow. She was able to win over a couple of the Fairy. One was a sprite who lived in a tree, and the other was a changeling who just wanted to go home to his mother. I did feel bad because she did try. I wasn’t prepared for what she did 70% through the book. I am not going to go into it much, except that it went against everything she had warned the villagers about during the first few days of her stay. But, in a way, it did make sense because she got the last bit of information she needed for her encyclopedia.
  • Wendell—Ok, so I figured him out from the beginning. I don’t know how Emily didn’t figure it out sooner. All the signs were there. I can’t get more into what I am talking about because of the spoilers. But it is something huge. One thing I can talk about is Wendell’s feelings for Emily. Even I could see that he loved her. He followed her to that snowy land and helped her with her research. And then, he stayed and helped her out when things went sideways. Wendell made me laugh because he did things to annoy Emily deliberately. Like adding entries into her journal or just being a pain in the butt. But he did have an alternative reason for being there. One that made me sad.

Emily Wilde fits perfectly into the fantasy genre. The author spun a world where Faeries were real and were studied. There were points in the book where I wished that it was true. But then I would read about the more dangerous Faery and say, “Nope, glad they’re fictional.

There was a slight, very slight, sliver of romance in Emily Wilde. It was so small that I almost missed it. But, towards the end, it became more apparent.

The storyline with Emily, Wendell, and the research into her encyclopedia was interesting. I couldn’t believe the different kinds of Fairies that Emily had encountered on her research journies. I wondered how much of the folklore was true and how much the author made up. Usually, I google this stuff, but I didn’t want to go down a rabbit hole, so I didn’t. The Faeries that Emily met in the north were as cold-blooded as the weather. There was a point towards the end of the book (after the rescue mission) when I worried for Emily. There was a neat twist in the plotline that happened after the tree scene. I did laugh a little at Emily’s dismay (what did she think was going to happen!!), but my laughter did turn to concern for her. Everything did work out in the end.

The end of Emily Wilde was interesting. I was slightly put off by how it ended until I remembered it was a series. It ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, and those annoy me. But it did its job and made me want to read book 2. I pray that it isn’t as slow as this one was. I couldn’t do that again.

I recommend Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries to anyone over 16. There is mild violence, no language, and no sex.

I want to thank Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey, and Heather Fawcett for allowing me to read and review Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries. All opinions stated in this review are mine.


If you enjoyed reading Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries, then you will enjoy reading these books:

The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes

Publisher: Penguin Group Dutton, Dutton

Date of publication: January 3rd, 2023

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Mystery Thriller, Fiction, Suspense, Audiobook, Adult, Contemporary, Adult Fiction, Psychological Thriller

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

Armed with only hazy memories, a woman who long ago witnessed her friend’s sudden, mysterious death, and has since spent her life trying to forget, sets out to track down answers. What she uncovers, deep in the woods, is hardly to be believed….

Maya was a high school senior when her best friend, Aubrey, mysteriously dropped dead in front of the enigmatic man named Frank whom they’d been spending time with all summer.

Seven years later, Maya lives in Boston with a loving boyfriend and is kicking the secret addiction that has allowed her to cope with what happened years ago, the gaps in her memories, and the lost time that she can’t account for. But her past comes rushing back when she comes across a recent YouTube video in which a young woman suddenly keels over and dies in a diner while sitting across from none other than Frank. Plunged into the trauma that has defined her life, Maya heads to her Berkshires hometown to relive that fateful summer–the influence Frank once had on her and the obsessive jealousy that nearly destroyed her friendship with Aubrey.

At her mother’s house, she excavates fragments of her past and notices hidden messages in her deceased Guatemalan father’s book that didn’t stand out to her earlier. To save herself, she must understand a story written before she was born, but time keeps running out, and soon, all roads are leading back to Frank’s cabin….

Utterly unique and captivating, The House in the Pines keeps you guessing about whether we can ever fully confront the past and return home.


First Line:

Deep in those woods, there is a house that’s easy to miss.

The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes

The House in the Pines was on my must-read list since I had seen it on another blog that stated they were looking forward to reading it. So, I was beyond thrilled when I got an email from Penguin House Dutton requesting a review. I couldn’t accept it fast enough. I had planned on reading this book as soon as I got it, but life happens, and it got put on the back burner. I finally read it right after Reese Witherspoon announced it was the book of the month in her book club (and no, it wasn’t because of that). I was let down by it. The House in the Pines didn’t live up to my hype, and I was disappointed.

The House in the Pines is a fast-paced book all over the place. It alternated between past and present without giving the reader a heads-up. I get why the author did it. But it didn’t work for me in this case. It only confused me and made me lose focus on what was going on.

This book mostly takes place in my home state of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, I grew up in coastal eastern MA, not in the west. But, I have been to Pittsfield, which is as pitiful as the book described. I have also been to Amherst (I had friends who went to college there), and I lived a quick 5-minute T ride outside of Boston for years (as well as growing up 25-30 mins east of there).

The characters in The House in the Pines alternated between me liking them and not believing their actions. I know it’s a huge difference there, but that’s how it was with me. The only character that I truly liked was Maya’s mother. She was solid and well-written.

  • Maya—She annoyed me for 90% of the book. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t tell Dan that she was going cold turkey from Klonopin withdrawal. He seemed like a decent person who would have helped her. Instead, she was sneaky about it. She is sneaky for almost all of the book and is borderline obsessed with finding Frank and confronting him about Aubrey’s death. But, as much as I disliked her, I did feel bad for her. She lived with the horror of seeing her friend drop dead before her and blamed herself for Audrey’s death. Her mother, who I liked, was vigilant about Maya’s mental health. I will not get into it here, but I blame her mother for pushing her down the path that led Maya to abuse Klonopin and become an alcoholic; what Maya needed after that traumatic event was a therapist, not drugs.
  • Frank—Oh, man, where do I start with him? He was indeed a scumbag, and I believe he targeted Maya because she was innocent. But, at the same time, I think he might have liked her. It was just the vibe I got from their scenes together. I did figure out his deal reasonably early in the book. The video clued me in, as did the book that Frank suggested Audrey read. But I liked seeing Maya’s journey to get to where I did.
  • Audrey—Even though she is dead, she is a massive part of the book. The author formed Maya’s whole adult identity from Audrey’s death. Maya was obsessed with connecting Frank to Audrey’s death and trying to remember what happened that day. The glimpses of Audrey that I got in the flashback, she was a good kid trying to look out for her friend and got caught up in something much bigger than her.

The House in the Pines was a good fit in the mystery genre. I also have it in the thriller and suspense genres, but they weren’t a good fit. I had everything pegged by the middle of the book. Even the twist didn’t take me by surprise. It fell flat for me.

The central storyline with Maya trying to find Frank, remember what happened that summer, and investigate another mysterious death was interesting. But, as I stated above, I figured everything out by the middle of the book. By the end of the book, I was waiting to see if any justice would be served, and I wasn’t surprised by what happened. But I was happy with what Maya was able to do.

The biggest thing that disappointed me about this book was the lack of closure at the end. Everything was left up in the air. I can’t say anything other than that because I am afraid of spoilers.

The end of The House in the Pines was anticlimactic for me. As I stated above, nothing was resolved. Wait, let me rephrase that. Nothing was resolved with Frank. Maya, on the other hand, was able to get some closure. But for the other stuff, everything still needs to be resolved. It was frustrating to read the end and realize nothing more was happening.

I would recommend The House in the Pines to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and mild sexual situations.

I want to thank Penguin House Dutton, Dutton, and Ana Reyes for allowing me to read and review The House in the Pines. All opinions stated in this review are mine.


If you enjoyed reading The House in the Pines, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Son of the Poison Rose (Kagen the Damned: Book 2) by Jonathan Maberry

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of publication: January 10th, 2023

Series: Kagen the Damned

Kagen the Damned—Book 1 (review here)

Son of the Poison Rose—Book 2

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Dark Fantasy

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

Son of the Poison Rose marks the second installment of New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry’s epic, swashbuckling Kagen the Damned series.

The Silver Empire is in ruins. War is in the wind. Kagen and his allies are on the run from the Witch-king. Wild magic is running rampant everywhere. Spies and secret cabals plot from the shadows of golden thrones.

Kagen Vale is the most wanted man in the world, with a death sentence on his head and a reward for him—dead or alive—that would tempt a saint.

The Witch-king has new allies who bring a terrible weapon—a cursed disease that drives people into a murderous rage. If the disease is allowed to spread, the whole of the West will tear itself apart.

In order to build an army of resistance fighters and unearth magical weapons of his own, Kagen and his friends have to survive attacks and storms at sea, brave the haunted wastelands of the snowy north, fight their way across the deadly Cathedral Mountains, and rediscover a lost city filled with cannibal warriors, old ghosts, and monsters from other worlds. Along with his reckless adventurer brothers, Kagen races against time to save more than the old empire… if he fails the world will be drenched in a tsunami of bloodshed and horror.

Son of the Poison Rose weaves politics and espionage, sorcery and swordplay, treachery and heroism as the damned outcast Kagen fights against the forces of ultimate darkness.


First Line:

“Repel boarders!”

The cry rang through the ship, tearing Kagen from a dream of his family dining all together, the air filled with conversation and laughter and the smell of the Harvest feast.

Son of the Poison Rose by Jonathan Maberry

I love a complicated fantasy book that takes you down a road you didn’t think it would go. That was what I liked about Kagen the Damned and what I hoped that Son of the Poison Rose would do. This book not only delivered on that expectation but also exceeded what I expected.

Son of the Poison Rose takes place in a complicated but similar world to ours. It was a medium-paced book for about 85%, but it picked up steam towards the end. With how this book ended, any other pacing would have made it impossible to read and retain the information (fast) or made it so dull that people would DNF it after the first few chapters (slow).

Son of the Poison Rose starts shortly after the events in Kagen the Damned. Kagen is determined to discover what happened to his brother, Herepath, to make him turn into the Witch-King. He is not alone in his journey and is aided by his best friends, Tuke and Filia. Their journey takes them from the frozen north to the jungle to uncover secrets left undiscovered for millennia. This book also follows Ryssa as she tries to come to terms with the sacrifice of her lover, Miri, to the god Cthulhu; Mother Frey, as she sets in place a plan to take back the empire; the Witch-King and his cronies dealing with countries that oppose him, and the last two Seedlings, Desalyn and Alleyn, as they try to keep their identities in place and not become Garvan and Foscor, the Witch-King’s children. Enemies are made, countries are destroyed, and alliances are forged as people come together to battle the Witch-King forces. When the dust settles, who will be on top? Will Kagen find out what happened to his brother? Will Ryssa accept Miri’s death? Will Mother Frey get results from everything she’s been doing? Will the Witch-King triumph over his enemies? Will Desalyn/Foscor and Alleyn/Garvan keep their identities?

Son of the Poison Rose is the second book in the Kagen the Damned series. This book cannot be read as a stand-alone book. It will help if you read the first book to understand what is happening in this one.

The characters (primary and secondary) in Son of the Poison Rose were all wonderfully written. The author didn’t write these characters to be loved. These characters got under your skin and sat while you tried to figure out their next move. They were complex and had issues brought to life in the book. The author also didn’t hesitate to kill or maim primary and secondary characters.

  • Kagen—I wasn’t sure what I would get with him when I started reading Son of the Poison Rose. Finding out who the Witch-King was had badly shaken him at the end of Kagen the Damned. I mean, he had found out that his brother executed 2 of his siblings, their parents, and the entire royal line except for the twins. I would have been in shock too. But he didn’t dwell on it much. Instead, he decided to do something about it. He went north to recruit people to his cause. He discovered that magic had reawakened the world in terrifying ways. And he went to a kingdom avoided by other countries to try and find out how to defeat the Witch-King.
  • Ryssa—She didn’t get much page time in the book. But, man, it was intense when the author squeezed her in. She was evolving into something more than herself, something that even the Witch-King feared. I cannot wait to see what she will do in Book 3.
  • Mother Frey—Again, the author gave not much page time to her in the book. And, as with Ryssa, it was explosive when she was in the book. She reminded me of Varys in GoT (with her hands in everything). She manipulated events and people. Plus, she was a tough old bird, and I loved her!! Again, I can’t wait to see what she’ll bring in Book 3.
  • The Witch-King—He was vicious. His bringing in of the monks and turning people of various villages into undead, and allowing his enemies to find and be killed by them highlighted that to me. But I also got the feeling that he was losing power. There were scenes where he talked about killing Kagen, but after everyone left, he cried. That felt like his “real” personality was breaking through. I am curious to see what he will do after what happened in his tower. And I got some insight into why he targeted the Silver Empire.
  • Desalyn/Foscor and Alleyn/Garvan—All I have to say is those poor children. They witnessed so much (like their eldest sister’s rape and murder), and they were forced to do things no children should do. Like, beat each other with a rod when they touched. I did like how Lady Kestrel helped him in the end (she realized what was being done to them was awful). Again, I can’t wait to see where their characters will go in Book 3.

Before I get interrupted or forget, this is a long book. It has 704 pages. So you must read it in more than one sitting. It took me several days to read Son of the Poison Rose.

Son of the Poison Rose fits perfectly into the fantasy and horror genre. If I did have to get technical, this could be shelved as a dark fantasy. But since I’m not getting technical, fantasy, it will be.

I will only take the time to outline some of the main storylines in the book. It would make this book tediously long. I will briefly summarize what I thought of all the storylines. They were insanely good, and I couldn’t get enough of them. Even the little snippets of what was happening in the world once the magic was released were unique. My only complaint was that I thought the author drew the undead/pyramid scenes out toward the end of Kagen’s storyline. But it served its purpose, and I can’t wait to see what will happen in this world now!!

There are some major trigger warnings in Son of the Poison Rose. There are explicit scenes of child abuse, graphic violence, gore, self-mutilation, and sexual situations. If any of these triggers you, I recommend not reading this book.

The end of Son of the Poison Rose was a cliffhanger. Usually, I’m not too fond of cliffhangers. They annoy me, but they do their job. I am invested in these characters, and I need to read book 3 to see if there will be any resolution.

I recommend Son of the Poison Rose to anyone over 21. There is explicit violence, language, and sexual situations. Also, see my trigger warnings.


If you enjoyed reading Son of the Poison Rose, you will enjoy reading these books: