Dark Circles by Caite Dolan-Leach

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: May 10th, 2022

Genre: Thriller, Fiction, Mystery, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | Google Play | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

An embattled actress turns to podcasting when she becomes entangled in a dark conspiracy at a spiritual retreat in this absorbing mystery about fame, violence, and our morbid fascination with murder–from the acclaimed author of Dead Letters.

Olivia Reed needs a break. She doesn’t want to think about her name plastered on tabloids or be reminded of her recent meltdown on a Manhattan street. Her micromanaging publicist has just the thing in mind: a remote retreat in Upstate New York–the House of Light. It’s not rehab; it’s a spiritual center, a site for seeking realignment and personal growth. There will be yoga and morning meditation, soft bamboo-blend fabrics and crystals to snuggle.

But Liv will soon find that the House of Light is filled with darkness. A prickly local, Ava, informs her that something twisted is lurking behind the Light’s veneer. There have been a series of mysterious suicides committed by women caught in the Light’s web, and no matter who Ava talks to, no one believes her. To get the truth out and put her celebrity to good use, Liv starts a podcast, seeking to connect the dots and expose the Light’s true intentions. Because beneath the glowing skin of the Light’s inhabitants lie rotten souls, and Liv starts to wonder if anything–even her own life–is how it appears.

Caite Dolan-Leach brings her tantalizing voice, gift for atmosphere, and a cast of delightfully devious and absorbing characters to this riveting novel of suspense.


First Line:

The thing my goddamn manager doesn’t understand is that I don’t need to go on a retreat.

Dark Circles by Cait Dolan-Leach

Dark Circles’ plotline was interesting. Olivia is an actress who has found herself in a bit of a pickle. After a very public, very drunken/drug-fueled temper tantrum, her manager/best friend has decided to send Olivia to a retreat to sober up and maybe come to terms with what set her off. The treat is in Western NY, called House of Light, and seems to be where Olivia can sober up. But, on the first day, two things happen. One: Olivia meets a local who insists that the HoL is behind several suicides/murders in the area. Two: A body washes up on the retreats beach, and it is a former retreat member. Becoming intrigued with the unsolved murders/suicides, Olivia starts a podcast. But, as she goes down the rabbit hole, Olivia becomes obsessed. When she finds a connection between her missing mother and HoL, Olivia starts questioning everything she has been told. But the truth is more terrifying than Olivia knows. What is the truth?

I was not too fond of Olivia at first. She was self-absorbed and couldn’t care less about her harm to other people. Her public meltdown in Manhattan showcased that. She was also reckless and didn’t think things through, which was shown repeatedly during her investigation into the HoL. But, I did start to like her after the first few chapters. She went from what I thought would be a 2-dimensional character to a fully fleshed-out character.

I also liked the secondary characters in Dark Circles. They were a perfect blend of creepy and quirky. They also added that extra oomph that rounded out the book.

I liked that the author chose to incorporate the podcast into the story. From the cheesy ads (don’t we all love listening to those, lol) to the comments after each episode. I loved how they tied into the main storyline. This, too, added an extra depth.

The storyline with the HoL and the murder/suicides was wonderfully written. I was kept on the edge of my bed (because I read Dark Circles in bed). I did not expect it to go the way that it did. The twist in that plotline made my mouth drop.

The secondary plotline with Olivia’s mother was sad. I had a feeling about what was going to be revealed. But the author did an excellent job at distracting me from figuring it out until the end of the book.

The end of Dark Circles was your typical mystery ending. Everything was wrapped up and explained.

I would recommend Dark Circles to anyone over 16. There is violence, language, non-graphic sexual situations, and drug/alcohol use.

In a Garden Burning Gold (Argyrosi: Book 1) by Rory Power

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Ray

Date of Publication: April 5th, 2022

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, High Fantasy, Paranormal

Series: Argyrosi

In a Garden Burning Gold—Book 1

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Twins imbued with incredible magic and near-immortality will do anything to keep their family safe—even if it tears the siblings apart—in the first book of mythic epic fantasy from the New York Times bestselling author of Wilder Girls.

Rhea and her twin brother, Lexos, have spent an eternity helping their father rule their small, unstable country, using their control over the seasons, tides, and stars to keep the people in line. For a hundred years, they’ve been each other’s only ally, defending each other and their younger siblings against their father’s increasingly unpredictable anger.

Now, with an independence movement gaining ground and their father’s rule weakening, the twins must take matters into their own hands to keep their family—and their entire world—from crashing down around them. But other nations are jockeying for power, ready to cross and double-cross, and if Rhea and Lexos aren’t careful, they’ll end up facing each other across the battlefield.


First Line:

A week was too long to be a widow.

in a garden burning bright by rory power

When I got the invite for In a Garden Burning Gold, I was intrigued by the blurb. A book about near immortals who control the tides and seasons of their country? It was an immediate yes from me. I was super hyped to read another book by this author (having read The Wilder Girls), and I did expect something very similar to that book. But, this book was very different from that book.

In a Garden Burning Gold is the first book of the Argyrosi duology. This book lays the foundation of the different families, their powers, and how they came by them. It also explains a complex religious system. The author was kind enough to include a glossary at the beginning of the book that details the different families and countries. But, even with that, I still had an issue keeping people/countries straight.

The plotline for In a Garden Burning Gold was interesting. Rhea and Lexos are twins who serve their father in ruling their country. Each has a magical power: Rhea can control the seasons, and Lexos can control the tides and stars. Their father uses their powers to his advantage. Rhea is married several times a year and uses her husband to usher in the seasons as a human sacrifice. Lexos only controls the stars and tides when directed by their father. But there has been stirrings of unrest in their country and other countries. As Rhea is married off to the only son of a northern ruler, Lexos is left behind to deal with his father’s increasingly erratic behavior. But some secrets will impact Rhea and Lexos’s relationship with not only each other but their father. These secrets are explosive and could rewrite everything they thought they knew about their family. But are Lexos and Rhea willing to let that happen?

I am going to put a trigger warning in this review. I usually don’t, but I feel that certain situations in the book warrant it. Per the author’s post on her blog, these triggers are emotional and physical abuse by a parent, death, manipulation/discussion of loss of agency, discussion of state violence and war, a history of imperialism, and mention/description of blood. If any of these could potentially trigger you, I highly suggest not reading this book.

Out of all the characters in In a Garden Burning Gold, Rhea was my favorite. She wasn’t a precisely likable character, but I loved seeing her evolve from a self-centered, father-pleasing woman to a woman who embraced everything about herself and found the courage to become who she was destined to be. It was like watching a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, it was a little painful to read, but the result was terrific. I am curious to see what she will do in book two since she has embraced her mother’s legacy.

I wasn’t that fond of Lexos, on the other hand. Outside influences easily led him (certain scenes with the ruler of a different country showed that), and he was terrified of his father. Now that I understood. His actions were directly related to his fear of his father. So, I was surprised when he decided to do what he did in the second half of the book. He meant well, but I wasn’t surprised when it blew up in his face. I also wasn’t surprised when Rhea had the reaction that she did.

The younger siblings intrigued me. I thought Nitsos’s powers were terrific (even if his father didn’t). I wanted the author to explore his character a little more. But I feel that he will become a significant player in the second book. Chrsyanthi was an enigma. I couldn’t quite place her power (it was something to do with paint), and I hope that the author thoroughly explains it in book 2. I could have missed it, but I expected her power to be very obvious.

The storyline with Rhea being Thyspira was engrossing. I was fascinated by the fact that she needed to have a sacrifice to bring about winter and summer. It made me wonder how human sacrifice was brought into play and if the author would explain that in book 2. I also loved how it evolved. I can’t say anything without giving away spoilers, but I will say that I found it very fitting.

Lexos’s storyline was also exciting, but I was a little bored by it. I am not a hugely political person, so the talk about overthrowing rulers bored me a little bit. But it did get interesting towards the end of the book. I can’t wait to see where Lexos ends up in book 2.

The end of In a Garden Burning Bright was exciting. Again, I can’t say much about what happened, but I will say that I agree with what Rhea was doing. I didn’t quite agree with the other thing she did, but I understood why she did it. It hooked me in for the next book.

I would recommend In a Garden Burning Bright to anyone over 21. There are several triggers (see above). There is also mild language, violence, and non-graphic sexual situations.

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: February 22nd 2022

Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery, Time Travel, Thriller, Fantasy, Speculative Fiction

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

An impossible crime. A detective on the edge of madness. The future of time travel is at stake.

January Cole’s job just got a whole lot harder.

Not that running security at the Paradox was ever really easy. Nothing’s simple at a hotel where the ultra-wealthy tourists arrive costumed for a dozen different time periods, all eagerly waiting to catch their “flights” to the past.

Or where proximity to the time port makes the clocks run backward on occasion—and, rumor has it, allows ghosts to stroll the halls.

None of that compares to the corpse in room 526. The one that seems to be both there and not there. The one that somehow only January can see.

On top of that, some very important new guests have just checked in. Because the U.S. government is about to privatize time-travel technology—and the world’s most powerful people are on hand to stake their claims.

January is sure the timing isn’t a coincidence. Neither are those “accidents” that start stalking their bidders.

There’s a reason January can glimpse what others can’t. A reason why she’s the only one who can catch a killer who’s operating invisibly and in plain sight, all at once.

But her ability is also destroying her grip on reality—and as her past, present, and future collide, she finds herself confronting not just the hotel’s dark secrets but her own.


First Line:

Droplets of blood pat the blue carpet, turning from red to black as they soak into the fibers.

the paradox hotel by rob hart

It has been a while since I have read any science fiction. It’s not that I don’t like the genre (I do); it’s just that I haven’t found any that has caught my eye. Then I started seeing reviews for The Paradox Hotel, which interested me. I figured that I would read it when it was published. So, imagine my surprise (and delight) when I got an invite to review from the publisher.

The Paradox Hotel had an exciting plotline. January Cole is the head of security at The Paradox Hotel, an exclusive hotel where the mega-rich can travel back in time. Her job is to make sure that the guests don’t do anything to disrupt the timeline and to take care of any security threats. The bidders meet at The Paradox when the government decides to privatize time travel. But, as January discovers, someone is willing to do anything to swing the vote in their favor. Can January figure out who is behind the attacks and their motive?

The Paradox Hotel had a fast-moving plotline. The entire book takes place within a couple of days of the bidders arriving at the hotel. There was a slight lag in the middle of the book, but it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t get past.

January was an unlikeable character in The Paradox Hotel. She was unlikable, reckless, and had a potty mouth. But, I had some sympathy for her. She had suffered an unimaginable loss in the recent past and had a traumatic childhood. I did feel bad for her because of those events, and they did help me understand why she was so unlikable. I wish I could say that I grew to like her during the book, but if I would be lying. She was a hot mess.

The author very well wrote the mystery angle of The Paradox Hotel. I couldn’t figure out who was behind the attacks or the why until the end of the book. There were so many red herrings and diverting plotlines that it made it impossible for me to pin down the exact person.

The author just as well wrote the science fiction angle of The Paradox Hotel. I was fascinated by the premise that time travel could be normalized and used as a vacation (even if it was only for the super-rich). There were brief references to people traveling to Egypt (I will never be able to listen to Walk Like an Egyptian without remembering a specific scene in the book again). I also like that the author took a creative angle with people being Unstuck. In the book, Unstuck is someone who has traveled back in time one too many times. People who are Unstuck can see past, future, and current events. There are various levels of being Unstuck, with four being the highest. January is level 2 and takes medication to control it. If she doesn’t take the medication, she can see past, current, and future events. I was fascinated by that!!

I loved the representation that The Paradox Hotel had. There were gay and gender-neutral characters. I firmly believe that January’s girlfriend was trans (the scene where January sees Mena as a child).

The secondary characters were essential to The Paradox Hotel. Ruby, January’s AI assistant, was my favorite secondary character. It reminded me of Jiminy Cricket (being January’s conscience), and a big plus, it was as big of a wiseass as January.

I wouldn’t say I liked the end of The Paradox Hotel. It was the only part of the book that I didn’t like. The author did wrap up the storylines, but I was left feeling that there should have been more.

I would recommend The Paradox Hotel to anyone over 21. There is language, violence, and sexual situations.

City of the Dead (Alex Delaware: Book 37) by Jonathan Kellerman

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of Publication: February 8th 2022

Genre: Mystery, Crime, Thriller, Suspense

Series: Alex Delaware

When the Bough Breaks—Book 1

Blood Test—Book 2

Over the Edge—Book 3

Silent Partner—Book 4

Time Bomb—Book 5

Private Eyes—Book 6

Devil’s Waltz—Book 7

Bad Love—Book 8

Self-Defense—Book 9

The Web—Book 10

The Clinic—Book 11

Survival of the Fittest—Book 12

Monster—Book 13

Dr. Death—Book 14

Flesh and Blood—Book 15

The Murder Book—Book 16

A Cold Heart—Book 17

Therapy—Book 18

Rage—Book 19

Gone—Book 20

Obsession—Book 21

Compulsion—Book 22

Bones—Book 23

Evidence—Book 24

Deception—Book 25

Mystery—Book 26

Victims—Book 27

Guilt—Book 28

Killer—Book 29

Motive—Book 30

Breakdown—Book 31

Heartbreak Hotel—Book 32

Night Moves—Book 33

The Wedding Guest—Book 34

The Museum of Desire—Book 35

Serpentine—Book 36

City of the Dead—Book 37

Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

The past comes back to haunt psychologist Alex Delaware and Detective Milo Sturgis when they investigate a grisly double homicide and uncover an even more unspeakable motive in this riveting thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense.

Los Angeles is a city of sunlight, celebrity, and possibility. The L.A. often experienced by Homicide Lt. Detective Milo Sturgis and psychologist Alex Delaware, is a city of the dead.

Early one morning, the two of them find themselves in a neighborhood of pretty houses, pretty cars, and pretty people. The scene they encounter is anything but. A naked young man lies dead in the street, the apparent victim of a collision with a moving van hurtling through suburbia in the darkness. But any thoughts of accidental death vanish when a blood trail leads to a nearby home.

Inside, a young woman lies butchered. The identity of the male victim and his role in the horror remain elusive, but that of the woman creates additional questions. And adding to the shock, Alex has met her while working a convoluted child custody case. Cordelia Gannett was a self-styled internet influencer who’d gotten into legal troubles by palming herself off as a psychologist. Even after promising to desist, she’s found a loophole and has continued her online career, aiming to amass clicks and ads by cyber-coaching and cyber-counseling people plagued with relationship issues.

But upon closer examination, Alex and Milo discover that her own relationships are troublesome, including a tortured family history and a dubious personal past. Has that come back to haunt her in the worst way? Is the mystery man out in the street collateral damage or will he turn out to be the key to solving a grisly double homicide? As the psychologist and the detective explore L.A.’s meanest streets, they peel back layer after layer of secrets and encounter a savage, psychologically twisted, almost unthinkable motive for violence and bloodshed.

This is classic Delaware: Alex, a man Milo has come to see as irreplaceable, at his most insightful and brilliant.


First Line:

Four fifty-three in the morning was too early for anything.

city of the dead by jonathan kellerman

When I got the email to review City of the Dead from the publisher, I decided to wait on it for a little bit. I have heard of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series, and I might have read a couple of books from it (my memory is very fuzzy on that). But that wasn’t why I was iffy about reading this book. My main reason was that this is book 37 of that series, and I don’t particularly appreciate reading books out of order. I ultimately decided to read City of the Dead because I like books that combine psychology with criminal investigations. I prefer (as most people do) to read a series in order. That way, I get a feel for the characters (main and supporting). I am glad that I read it because it was an excellent book.

City of the Dead had an engaging storyline. A pair of movers, eager to deliver their load, is driving down a side street when they are hit by something. Thinking it was a dog, they pull over and discover that they were hit by a naked man who is dead and very unrecognizable. Alex is called to the scene to assess it from a psychologist’s point of view, and while he is there, it is discovered that the man was killed by the moving truck. Instead, a trail of blood leads to a house, where a more gruesome crime is. A young woman is found dead in her bedroom. Alex is shocked to realize that he knows this woman. She is known to him as an expert called into a custody case and exposed as a fraud. As Alex and his friend, Detective Milo, dig deeper into her murder case (and try to figure out who her naked friend was), the more convoluted the case gets. Who murdered Cordy? What was the motive?

City of the Dead is book 37 in the Alex Delaware series. Thankfully, readers can read this book as a stand-alone. I suggest that the reader at least read the blurbs or reviews of the previous 36 books. That way, you can get a good feel for the characters and any secondary characters in the book.

City of the Dead did have a medium-paced plotline. I was a little surprised by the pacing. I did think it was going to be a bit faster than it was. Any books that I have read that mix this genre has been faster. But weirdly, it did work for me. I was able to take some time, digest what the author was throwing at me, and try to form who killed Cordy.

I liked Alex. I think he was pretty chill for being involved in a murder investigation. But, he is on call for the police department, and he does get called to do this type of work all the time, so he could afford to be chill. I also liked how he handled his clients and soon-to-be clients. That one scene with the slimy lawyer cracked me up mainly because he hit the nail on the head with his assessment of him. Talk about a steel backbone with the parents and gentleness with the kids.

The author very well wrote the mystery angle of City of the Dead. The author did a great job of drawing me in from the beginning and making me work on who killed Cordy and her friend. I had thought I had it figured out around the middle of the book. Then, a twist made me go “WHAT” and drop that person from my internal list like a hot potato.

The author did a great job of keeping the plotline on course with the book. The secondary characters that the author introduced didn’t take over the book. A couple of times, the book referenced events that happened in previous books that made me go “huh?” but they were few and far between.

I loved the twist in the plotline. It threw me for a loop when I realized I was wrong about who the killer was. After the twist, the author leaked the why and how very slowly and built up to a memorable end. He was able to tie everything that happened in the book (the killings) and add a few extras that surprised me.

The end of City of the Dead did make me a little sad. Mainly because I did wonder about the child involved and how everything was going to affect her. Alex did give some excellent advice, but still. I still wonder. But, reading this book has also made me want to read the previous 36 books. I do plan on reading them at some point in my life.

I would recommend City of the Dead to anyone over 21. There are language, violence, and graphic murder scenes.

The Violence by Delilah S. Dawson

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Ray

Date of publication: February 1st, 2022

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Mystery, Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopia, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | iTunes | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A mysterious plague that causes random bouts of violence is sweeping the nation. Now three generations of women must navigate their chilling new reality in this moving exploration of identity, cycles of abuse, and hope.

Chelsea Martin appears to be the perfect housewife: married to her high school sweetheart, the mother of two daughters, keeper of an immaculate home.

But Chelsea’s husband has turned their home into a prison; he has been abusing her for years, cutting off her independence, autonomy, and support. She has nowhere to turn, not even to her narcissistic mother, Patricia, who is more concerned with maintaining the appearance of an ideal family than she is with her daughter’s actual well-being. And Chelsea is worried that her daughters will be trapped just as she is–until a mysterious illness sweeps the nation.

Known as The Violence, this illness causes the infected to experience sudden, explosive bouts of animalistic rage and attack anyone in their path. But for Chelsea, the chaos and confusion the virus causes is an opportunity–and inspires a plan to liberate herself from her abuser.


First Line:

The first recorded incidence of the Violence occurred as Ruth Belmont of Land O’Lakes, Florida, was putting a tub of mayonnaise in her cart at a warehouse store on Tuesday, April 15th, 2025.

the violence by delilah s dawson

When I read the blurb for The Violence, I was instantly intrigued. But, I was also a little hesitant to read it. I was intrigued by the last few books that I did not like. So, keeping that in mind, I dove into The Violence. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. I loved this book!!

The Violence is a dystopia set in 2025 Florida. In this world, we have learned to live with COVID and adapted our lives around it. Life has gotten back to normal when news reports start talking about people randomly attacking and killing people. These random attacks soon become commonplace, and a new pandemic is announced. As with the COVID pandemic, its seriousness is downplayed until it is out of control.

The Violence centers around three people and follows them from the pandemic’s start to the end. Chelsea is a stay-at-home mother trapped in an abusive marriage. She dreams of getting out and saving her girls but can’t because her husband would destroy her. So, when The Violence starts, Chelsea uses that to her advantage. Ella is Chelsea’s seventeen-year-old daughter who has witnessed her mother’s abuse for years. She is caught up in an abusive relationship herself but breaks it off when her abuser is caught on camera (and in a public place) beating on her. Patricia is Chelsea’s narcissist mother. She is more concerned with maintaining appearances than helping her daughter and granddaughters escape their abuser. The Violence brings them together unexpectedly, but it also tears them apart. With Chelsea on the run, Ella looking for her, it is up to Patricia to keep Brooklyn safe. But who will keep Patricia safe? And will Chelsea ever get free from her ex? Will Ella find her mother before her father does? What happens when everything comes to a head?

The Violence had a lightening fast storyline. I had zero issues keeping up with how fast the storyline went. Surprisingly, there is no lag. This story didn’t stop. Put it this way, I read it in one night; that’s how fast it went.

Before I get deeper into the review, I want to give everyone a trigger warning heads-up. This book is graphically violent (hence the title). The author doesn’t hold any punches when infected people storm (when they blackout and kill people). She also doesn’t hold back during the abuse scenes. At the beginning of the book, there is a forward explaining why she wrote those scenes the way she did. But still didn’t prepare me for how graphic those scenes were. There is also scenes of verbal abuse (Patricia remembering calling toddler Chelsea stupid stuck out to me), sexual abuse (Chelsea getting raped by David), emotional abuse (Hayden telling Ella he was going to kill himself if she didn’t respond to his text), and animal abuse (David kicking the family dog every time he saw him and that awful scene when Chelsea blacked out). Those examples are only scratching the surface of this book. So read with caution if any of these triggers you.

I loved and pitied Chelsea. I hate to say it, but the way her mother treated her growing up paved the way for her to be in an abusive relationship with David. My heart broke for her during those first few scenes when David choked her. The author made me feel the horror and desperation she went through. I did think she was genius for her plan to get David taken away, and Ella’s 911 call only cemented it. But it was a short-lived plan, and she was getting threatened by David’s friends (one a lawyer and one a cop). When she ended up getting The Violence, she did what any mother would do, she shut herself away, and when she got word that her ex was coming home, she ran to her mother. But, it was what happened after she left the girls at her mother’s. I was equally shouting “Yas girl” and cringing at what she was doing. The name Florida Woman will forever be associated with her.

My heart broke for Ella. She was such a broken child, and I wanted to spirit her away from her family. She had no safe space for her to decompress. Instead, she went from school (where her friends and abusive boyfriend were) to home, where she had to worry about her father potentially killing her mother. She also was tasked with keeping her 5-year-old sister safe and away from her father at night. That meant locking herself and Brooklyn in her room at night. But, that all changed when her father was arrested, and her mother got The Violence. Ella became Brooklyn’s parent. I didn’t blame her for getting angry when Chelsea decided (after finding out that David was getting out of jail) to move them to Patricia’s. I also didn’t blame her for leaving to find Chelsea because Patricia was awful. It showed how much she had grown. But, it was when she stumbled upon the RV and got hooked up with the scientists that she started to blossom. She became that strong, independent girl that she should have been from the start.

I was not too fond of Patricia. OMG, I wanted to go into the book and strangle her at points. She was one of the more awful people that I have ever read. The way she ignored Chelsea’s bruises and how she talked to Chelsea was horrible. Everything was about appearances to her. But, as her backstory was revealed, I did start to feel sorry for her. Her abusive childhood and rape (which resulted in Chelsea) shaped her. She modeled the only behavior that she knew, verbal and emotional abuse. When she took in Ella and Brooklyn, I could see cracks in her facade. And when she was left to care for Brooklyn, those cracks became bigger and bigger. Her character growth and transformation was one of the more surprising ones I read. I loved how she ended up.

Brooklyn was adorable. I was so surprised that she wasn’t more traumatized. I mean, she witnessed her father almost killing her mother. She was uprooted from her house and lived with her grandmother, who was distant and cold. Then, Ella, her protector, leaves. Instead of acting out, having tantrums, or regressing, she remained normal. The only sign the author gave that she had been traumatized was the nightmares she had while sleeping in Patricia’s closet. My heart (and Patricia’s) broke when I realized who she was talking about and what. But other than that, there was nothing.

The secondary characters did round out the book. They all added an extra depth that the book needed.

The horror angle was well written. As I mentioned above, there was a lot of gore and violence associated with this book. The author got in-depth with the gore. I did think certain scenes could have been toned down, but then they wouldn’t have had the punch that they did.

The mystery angle was also very well written. I couldn’t figure out what would happen next in the book. After a certain point, I couldn’t figure out if everyone would come together and when.

The end of The Violence was, well, violent. I will not say much about it except that David got what was coming to him. I also liked the epilogue, showing where everyone was. It gave me hope for all the characters.

I would recommend The Violence for anyone over 21. There is graphic violence, language, and graphic accounts of sexual assault.

The Maid by Nita Prose

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: January 4th, 2022

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | Kobo | Google Play

Goodreads Synopsis:

Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?

A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.


First Line:

I am your maid.

the maid by nita prose

I have a terrible habit of wishing for books on NetGalley, forgetting that I wished for them, and then get completely surprised when I get the email saying, “Your wish has been granted.” That was precisely the case with The Maid. Then I got an email from SMP requesting me to review it. I took that as the universe saying, “You need to read this book.” This was my first 5-star review of 2022. I am glad I did.

Molly Gray is not your typical woman. She has difficulty reading social clues, social nuances, and skills. Molly is very blunt and outspoken but doesn’t understand that sometimes that can hurt people’s feelings. Her Gran would help her with that, but she died, and Molly didn’t have anyone to help her. But, Molly is doing well with her life. She works as a maid at a 5-star hotel, and she takes pride in her work. But, in one day, that changes. Molly finds the hotel’s biggest customer dead. She is then caught up in the police investigation, first as a witness and secondly as the main suspect. Molly is determined to clear her name. Will she be able to do it?

The Maid is a fast-paced book. It takes place over a few days, and it needs to be fast. There was some lag in the middle of the book, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of it. If The Maid had switched to a slower pace at any point in the book, it would have ruined the book.

I thought that Molly was sweet. As the parent of a neurodivergent child (my son has high functioning autism), I saw bits and pieces of him in her character. I liked that I got to see the world through her eyes. There were no shades of grey with Molly. It was either black or white.

The mystery angle of The Maid was well written. I have seen reviews that compared it to being Clue-like. I hands-down agree with those observations. The Maid also kept me guessing at who killed Mr. Black. I did have it narrowed down to a couple of people but was surprised at who it ended up being. I thought it was going to be a different person.

I thought the author did a good job covering different social issues throughout the book. The only thing that disturbed me was how Molly was treated by Detective Spark and the other maids at the hotel. That truly disgusted me. I can’t stand how people treat others that are different from them. Of course, they all got their comeuppance at the end of the book but still.

The end of The Maid was what I thought it would be. Once the police caught the bad guy and various things going on at the hotel were exposed, Molly was vilified. I loved how everything came together for her. Of course, a twist was revealed that made me go, “Really?” Mainly because it didn’t quite go with the rest of the book. But, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment or the star rating that I gave The Maid.

I would recommend The Maid to anyone over 16. There is mild language, no sex, and mild violence.

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: November 30th, 2021

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | Apple Books | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes a deeply moving novel about the resilience of the human spirit in a moment of crisis.

Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. The whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.


First Line:

When I was six years old, I painted a corner of the sky.

wish you were here by jodi picoult

When I first read the blurb for Wish You Were Here, I was hesitant to read it. There is nothing against the author, but a book written about the pandemic’s beginning while we were still in it didn’t exactly gel with me and gave me anxiety. But, I decided to read it, and oh boy, am I glad I did. This book was excellent on all ends.

Wish You Were Here is the story about Diana and how her life is turned around when COVID 19 hit. Diana is an art specialist at Sotheby’s and living with her almost fiance (Finn), a surgical resident at Presbyterian Hospital. Diana is days away from not only closing a life-altering deal with a famous rock widow (based on Yoko Ono), but she is going on a bucket list vacation with Finn to the Galapagos Islands. Life is good for her, but there are talks of a pandemic making its way across the globe. Then things implode. COVID has hit New York City, and Finn is told that he cannot take his trip. Diana, thinking that COVID will blow over (didn’t we all), makes the trip alone. But her once-in-a-lifetime trip turns into something else when the borders close, and she is stuck on the island. Alone, with no cell service, no money, no luggage, and unable to speak the language, Diana thinks it can’t get any worse. But things start to turn around when a local woman takes Diana under her wing, and Diana connects with not only her 14-year-old granddaughter but her handsome but standoffish son. Diana realizes that the life she thought she wanted with Finn in New York City wasn’t what she wanted, and she wants a life with Gabriel. Will she have it? Or will it be ripped from her by COVID?

I wish I could say that I wasn’t triggered while reading Wish You Were Here. But I was. There was a whole section of the book where I cried continuously. Those scenes reminded me of how I felt during the pandemic’s beginning. I remembered the uncertainty and the fear. But, I also remember the small acts of kindness and how people pulled together for the most part. The author beautifully highlighted all of that in Wish You Were Here.

The pacing of Wish You Were Here was between medium and fast. There were parts of the book that were lightning fast. But there were also parts of the book that were medium-paced. The author did a fantastic job of slowing the book down and picking the pace back up. There was a slight lag, but that was right around the surprise of a plot twist, and I expected it.

Diana was my favorite character in Wish You Were Here. I liked her because she wasn’t likable (well, to begin with). She had a horrible relationship with her famous photographer mother, and she wasn’t apologetic about it. But, on the other hand, she loved her career and Finn (in that order). Her personality was set during the first two chapters, and, to be honest, I thought that she would be like that throughout the book. But then she got stranded, and a different Diana started to appear.

The romance angle was there, but it wasn’t a massive part of the book. I liked that Gabriel and Diana’s romance was a slow-burn romance. I liked that I wasn’t sure if they would end up falling in like (notice I said that instead of love) or if they would hook up. But, I also liked that Diana and Finn’s relationship was steady and predictable. Regardless of who she was with, Diana had a good guy.

Wish You Were Here is set in two places: The Galagapos Islands and New York City. I fell in love with The Galagapos Islands while reading the book. For some reason, I never thought of The Galagpos Islands as a vacation spot. But since reading this book, it has been put on my bucket list!! I have been to New York City and plan on going back.

As I mentioned above, a plot twist comes out of nowhere in the middle of the book. I was utterly taken by surprise. It was something I did not see coming at the time. But looking back, I could see the very subtle hints that the author dropped. So, be warned, it is a huge twist and what is revealed on the other side isn’t easy to read.

I want to get into the latter half of Wish You Were Here. But I can’t because of the darn twist. It would lead to spoilers, and I don’t want to ruin the book for anyone. I will say that Diana does go through that transformation I mentioned above, and I do like how she ended up.

I would recommend Wish You Were Here to anyone over 16. There is mild violence, mild sexual situations, and language.

Nanny Needed by Georgina Cross

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam

Date of publication: October 5th 2021

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A young woman takes a job as a nanny for an impossibly wealthy family, thinking she’s found her entre into a better life–only to discover instead she’s walked into a world of deception and dark secrets.

Nanny needed. Discretion is of the utmost importance. Special conditions apply.

When Sarah Larsen finds the notice, posted on creamy card stock in her building’s lobby, one glance at the exclusive address tells her she’s found her ticket out of a dead-end job–and life.

At the interview, the job seems like a dream come true: a glamorous penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side of NYC; a salary that adds several zeroes to her current income; the beautiful, worldly mother of her charge, who feels more like a friend than a potential boss. She’s overjoyed when they offer her the position and signs the NDA without a second thought.

In retrospect, the notice in her lobby was less an engraved invitation than a waving red flag. For there is something very strange about the Bird family. Why does the beautiful Mrs. Bird never leave the apartment alone? And what happened to the nanny before her? It soon becomes clear that the Birds’ odd behaviors are more than the eccentricities of the wealthy.

But by then it’s too late for Sarah to seek help. After all, discretion is of the utmost importance.


First Line:

The children are chattering.

Nanny needed by georgina cross

I love psychological thrillers. So when I read the blurb for Nanny Needed, I knew that this would be a book that I would enjoy.

Nanny Needed is a story about Sarah. Sarah is living with her boyfriend in New York City and barely making ends meet when she finds a flyer in the lobby of her building. The flyer is for a nanny position in a very affluent area of NYC. Throwing caution to the wind, Sarah decides to apply and gets hired, much to her surprise. But she soon regrets her decision when she finds out her nannying position isn’t what it seems. What is going on in the Bird house? What secrets is Mr. Bird trying to keep from coming out? And how does Sarah figure into everything?

Nanny Needed is a fast-paced book, but it does start slow. There is some lag towards the middle of the book, but it was expected. With what happened and Sarah’s state of mind, I wasn’t surprised by it at all.

I liked Sarah. She started the book as overwhelmed but happy. When she saw the flyer for the nanny position in her lobby, she thought it was a sign, and she was thrilled that she hit it off with Collette. After signing NDA’s and agreeing to a 3-month trial, she realizes what her job would be. Then everything hits the fan. I don’t think that I would have dealt with everything as well as Sarah did. She had some fantastic coping skills (in hindsight, I am not surprised).

The thriller angle was interwoven with the mystery angle, and they were both very well written. There were a few twists in the plotline. One twist I saw coming and called it the minute that Sarah interviewed for the job.

The other major twist, I didn’t see coming, and I was floored. I had to take a break to process what I read. That is how insane the twist was!!

The end of Nanny Needed was almost anti-climatic but perfect. I enjoyed that it not only ended the way it did but there was practically no resolve when the twist was revealed. I will say, without getting into spoilers, that I understand why Stephen did what he did. I would have wanted to know too, but what it cost everyone was almost too much. And poor Sarah!!!

I would recommend Nanny Needed to anyone over the age of 21. There is language and mild violence.

The Last Guest by Tess Little

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: October 5th, 2021

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible |B&N |World Cat


Goodreads Synopsis:

A glamorous birthday dinner in the Hollywood Hills ends with the famous host dead and every guest under suspicion in this dark, cinematic suspense debut reminiscent of an Agatha Christie page-turner crossed with David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

When actress Elspeth Bell attends the fiftieth birthday party of her ex-husband Richard Bryant, the Hollywood director who launched her career, all she wants is to pass unnoticed through the glamorous crowd in his sprawling Los Angeles mansion. Instead, there are just seven other guests–and Richard’s pet octopus, Persephone, watching over them from her tank as the intimate party grows more surreal (and rowdy) by the hour. Come morning, Richard is dead–and all of the guests are suspects.

In the weeks that follow, each of the guests come under suspicion: the school friend, the studio producer, the actress, the actor, the new partner, the manager, the cinematographer, and even Elspeth herself. What starts out as a locked-room mystery soon reveals itself to be much more complicated, as dark stories from Richard’s past surface, colliding with Elspeth’s memories of their marriage that she vowed never to revisit. Elspeth begins to wonder not just who killed Richard, but why these eight guests were invited, and what sort of man would desire to possess a creature as mysterious and unsettling as Persephone.

The Last Guest is a stylish exploration of power–the power of memory, the power of perception, the power of one person over another.


First Line:

We believed he had died from an overdose. There was no reason to suspect otherwise: limbs limp on the couch; pink vomit splattered across his shirt, dribbling from the corners of his mouth; the Gucci belt, the residue-stained needles – our own memories, in flashes and throbs and waves.

the last guest by tess little

When I read the blurb for The Last Guest, I was intrigued. I couldn’t wait to read a book where the mystery was laid out initially, and untangling what happened would take the whole book. Then, I read the book, and I wasn’t that thrilled with it.

The synopsis for The Last Guest was this: Elspeth was invited to her ex-husband’s, Richard, birthday party. She went only because their teenaged daughter, Lillie, was supposed to be there. But, Lillie was a no-show. Elspeth decided to make the best of it and woke up to her ex dead of an apparent heroin overdose the following day. But the police are not too sure that it was an accident and are interviewing everyone there. What happened the night of the party? Was Richard killed? Who would want him dead? Or was his death a tragic accident?

The plotline for The Last Guest was challenging to follow. The plotline went from the death to the past to the present and then back with zero lead-ins. I would be reading a paragraph that took place the night of Richard’s death, and then the next would be Elspeth sitting in her daughter’s house. It was confusing to read and frustrated me.

I couldn’t get a feel as to who killed Richard and why. Everyone at that party had an ax to grind with him. Richard was not a good or nice man. He made it to the top of the Hollywood hierarchy by being ruthless. Hell, even the octopus, Persephone, had reason to kill him. So, when the author finally revealed the details of his death, I wasn’t surprised at all.

I liked Elspeth, but her covering for Richard after he died left a bad taste in my mouth. She lied to everyone about him, including her daughter. But, as details came out about how badly she was abused, I did understand why she lied to Lillie. I didn’t know why she kept lying to everyone else. The end did little to soothe me. It seemed like it was too little too late.

The suspense angle of the book was good, but it was broken up when the book swung between present and past. A promising storyline with the housekeeper fizzled out (I wanted to know why she hated Elspeth so much).

The mystery angle was just as good but again, kept getting broken up with the book swinging between present and past.

The end of The Last Guest was a little “eh.” I understand why Elspeth decided to do what she did, but it was too little too late. I also got a little emotional with what happened to Persephone.


I would recommend The Last Guest to anyone over the age of 21. There is language, violence, and drug use.

The Dare by Lesley Kara

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: August 3rd 2021

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense

Purchase Link: Amazon | WorldCat

Format Read: Unedited ARC

Received From: Publisher


Goodreads Synopsis:

As a child, it was just a game. As an adult, it was a living nightmare.

‘This time it’s different. She’s gone too far now.
She really has.’

When teenage friends Lizzie and Alice decide to head off for a walk in the countryside, they are blissfully unaware that this will be their final day together – and that only Lizzie will come back alive.

Lizzie has no memory of what happened in the moments before Alice died, she only knows that it must have been a tragic accident. But as she tries to cope with her grief, she is shocked to find herself alienated from Alice’s friends and relatives. They are convinced she somehow had a part to play in her friend’s death.

Twelve years later, unpacking boxes in the new home she shares with her fiancé, Lizzie is horrified to find long-buried memories suddenly surfacing. Is the trauma of the accident finally catching up with her, or could someone be trying to threaten her new-found happiness?

Twelve years is a long time to wait, when you’re planning the perfect revenge . . .


First Line:

She’d created a little altar on the chest of drawers in her bedroom.

The Dare by Lesley Kara

I am a big fan of mystery/thriller books. They make up 80% of the books that I read and review. So, when I had gotten the review request for The Dare, it was an immediate acceptance.

The plotline for The Dare was interesting. Alice and Lizzie were best friends, and they did everything together. But, when Alice died, Alice’s family blamed Lizzie for her death. Why? She was found having a seizure by the train tracks and had no memory of the events before Alice’s death. Alice’s family blamed her, but Lizzie never forgave herself. Twelve years later, Lizzie still has no memories of Alice’s death, but she has moved on with her life. Her epilepsy is under control, and she is engaged to a wonderful man. But, as she’s unpacking, she comes across a box that stirs up memories. What happened the day Alice died? Was Lizzie at fault? And who is trying to get at the truth? Will it cost Lizzie everything that she has worked so hard for?

I am not overly familiar with epilepsy or how it affects the brain. So, I thought using it as part of the plotline was fascinating. Lizzie could not remember what happened after she left her house with Alice. All she knows is that she was with her, and then she was on the ground, being tended to by EMTs. A massive chunk of time was missing, and Lizzie could not tell people what happened to Alice because she didn’t know. Like I said earlier in this paragraph, it was fascinating.

Lizzie made for an interesting main character. She had lost her closest friend to a horrible accident, and Alice’s family blamed her for it. Lizzie had to live with a debilitating illness and hope that the medications she’s taking will curb the seizures. But she had done well with her life. She had a fiancee who cherished her and parents who loved her. Her outlook on life was good. But then, life starts to go sideways for her. It was how she dealt with everything that struck me (in a good way).

Parts of the book were written from the angle of an unknown person. It starts when this person was a child and goes to when they are an adult. I was surprised at who that person was (the author does reveal it halfway through the book). I was even more surprised at what that person was going to do.

The mystery angle of the book was well written. There were a couple of mystery angles. One is the obvious one (did Lizzie kill Alice). The other is what is Catherine’s plan (I did figure that out). And the third angle (which was introduced halfway through the book) deals with Lizzie, her mother, and secrets that her mother had been keeping. They were all wrapped up at the end of the book, and the author did it in such a way that you couldn’t help but pity everyone involved.

The suspense angle of the book was also well written. It was closely tied in with the mystery angle and complimented it. I was kept on the edge of my seat, trying to figure out what would happen next.

The end of The Dare was good. There was a twist in the storyline that made me go, “Whoa.” I didn’t see it coming, and it surprised me (in a good way). It was also bittersweet because of what was revealed.


I would recommend The Dare to anyone over the age of 21. There is mild language, violence, and sexual situations.

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