All Dressed Up by Jilly Gagnon

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam

Date of publication: September 6th, 2022

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

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

The weekend getaway at the gorgeous manor hotel should have been perfect. But Becca is freshly smarting from her husband Blake’s betrayal and knows this is just an expensive attempt at an apology. She may not be ready to forgive him, but the drinks are strong, the estate is stunning, and the weekend has an elaborate 1920s murder mystery theme. She decides to get into the spirit of things and enjoy their stay. What could go wrong?

Before long, the game is afoot: famed speakeasy songstress Ida Crooner is found “murdered,” and it’s up to the guests to sniff out which of them might be the culprit. Playing the role of Miss Debbie Taunte, an ingenue with a dark past, Becca dives into the world of pun-heavy clues, hammy acting, and secret passages, hoping to at least take her mind off her marital troubles.

Then, the morning after they arrive, the actress playing Ida’s maid fails to reappear for her role. The game’s organizer–that’s Miss Ann Thrope to you–assumes the young woman’s flakiness is to blame, but when snooping for clues as “Debbie,” Becca finds evidence she may not have left of her own free will.


First Line:

The mansion changed at night, all the rigid lines and hard surfaces of the daytime melting into something softer, more secret, a little strange.

All Dressed Up by Jilly Gagnon

When I read the plot for All Dressed Up, I was immediately intrigued- a mystery that takes place during an immersive 1920s-themed murder mystery. I couldn’t hit that accept button fast enough. I was looking forward to reading bad puns (and yes, there were plenty) and solving the actress’s disappearance. But, this book fell short of my expectations. Not to say I didn’t like it (I did), but it was the characters (mainly Becca) who made me “meh” about this book. Everything else was perfect.

All Dressed Up did have an enjoyable and exciting plotline. The story centers around Becca and her husband, Blake. Blake had arranged a weekend getaway to an immersive murder mystery. But Becca isn’t exactly thrilled about it. Blake and herself are going through a rough patch in their marriage, and she is still furious about what happened. But once there, the magic of the mansion and the mystery draw her in. But, a real-life mystery draws her in when one of the actresses goes missing. Becca is determined to find out what happened to her. But is she getting in over her head? Can Becca solve the fictional murder mystery as well as the real-life one? And, while she’s at it, can she forgive her husband for what he did?

All Dressed Up is a fast-paced mystery that takes place on in a mansion somewhere in New York state. I didn’t catch the town’s name (or there wasn’t one). But with the talk of New York City and going upstate, I figured it was in New York.

The characters are the main reason I was “meh” about All Dressed Up. Individually, they all got on my nerves, and together, that nerve was stretched to the max. I will not discuss each character. I will focus on the main ones, Becca and Blake.

  • Becca: I had mixed feelings about Becca. On the one hand, she was a great detective (both in and out of character). She genuinely cared about the missing maid. But her detective work bordered on obsessive. However, she was awful to Blake. Yes, I get that he cheated on her, and I understood her behavior for the first 25% of the book. But every overture he made, be it doing something she liked and that made him uncomfortable, she was awful to him about. She was mean and spiteful, which didn’t gel with me.
  • Blake: Out of all the characters, I did like him the best. He acknowledged and owned that he screwed up badly. He was willing to do whatever it took to work on his marriage. But there is a line between constantly apologizing for one thing and taking the brunt of Becca’s anger for everything. Becca crossed that line before the book started.

As I mentioned above, the secondary characters got on my nerves as much as the main ones. But, they did add extra depth to the plotline and did provide a few red herrings to the mystery.

All Dressed Up fit perfectly into the mystery and suspense genres. The author did a fantastic job of keeping me guessing who the killer was in the game and why the maid went missing. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, several red herrings were thrown out by the secondary characters.

The author wrote the main storyline well with Becca, the other guests, and the fake mystery. I loved the puns (even if they were groan-worthy at times). I also really liked how the people running the show made the guests work for the clues. Because, on my end, I am also trying to figure out who the killer was. I made notes, and it wasn’t who I thought it was.

The other storyline was well written, with Becca investigating the actress/maid’s disappearance. The author did keep me guessing about what happened to her. I did figure out what happened by the middle of the book, but I didn’t expect who. Talk about a big twist in the plot there. A “no freaking way” was thrown out when it was revealed. And the reason this person did it was heartbreaking.

The end of All Dressed Up was typical of the genre. I liked how the author revealed who the killer was in the fake mystery, why the maid disappeared, and who was behind it. As I mentioned above, it was a twist that I didn’t see coming. Also, what I didn’t see coming was something to do with Becca and Blake. I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but it did tie up that storyline.

Three Reasons You Should Read All Dressed Up:

  1. The murder mystery storyline.
  2. The puns. As bad as they were, I was dying laughing when they came up.
  3. The twist at the end of the book. I didn’t see that coming..

Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Read All Dressed Up:

  1. Becca. I felt terrible for her, but I couldn’t stand her.
  2. Blake. I explained why above.
  3. The other characters. They got on my nerves.

I would recommend All Dressed Up to anyone over 16. There is no sex, mild language, and mild to moderate violence.


If you enjoyed reading All Dressed Up, you will enjoy reading these books:

The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of publication: August 30th, 2022

Genre: Fantasy, Adult, Fiction, High Fantasy, LGBT, Science Fiction, Queer, Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction Fantasy, Adult Fiction

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | Better World Books

Goodreads Synopsis:

Two warriors shepherd an ancient god across a broken land to end the tyrannical reign of a royal family in this new epic fantasy from the author of The Vanished Birds.

ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022—Tordotcom, BookPage, LitHub

The people suffer under the centuries-long rule of the Moon Throne. The royal family—the despotic emperor and his monstrous sons, the Three Terrors—hold the countryside in their choking grip. They bleed the land and oppress the citizens with the frightful powers they inherited from the god locked under their palace.

But that god cannot be contained forever.

With the aid of Jun, a guard broken by his guilt-stricken past, and Keema, an outcast fighting for his future, the god escapes from her royal captivity and flees from her own children, the triplet Terrors who would drag her back to her unholy prison. And so it is that she embarks with her young companions on a five-day pilgrimage in search of freedom—and a way to end the Moon Throne forever. The journey ahead will be more dangerous than any of them could have imagined.

Both a sweeping adventure story and an intimate exploration of identity, legacy, and belonging, The Spear Cuts Through Water is an ambitious and profound saga that will transport and transform you—and is like nothing you’ve ever read before.


First Line:

Before you arrive, you remember your lola, smoking.

The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez

When I first received the publisher’s request to review The Spear Cuts Through Water, I almost didn’t accept it. I had reviewed The Vanished Birds and “meh” about it. But when I read the blurb, it caught my interest, and I decided to give this book a chance. I am glad I did because this book was one of the most uniquely written books I have ever read. Oh, and I also really liked it.

The Spear Cuts Through Water had an exciting plotline. It follows the journey of Keema, a one-armed outcast, and Jun, grandson of the emperor, as they escort Jun’s goddess grandmother across the country. Jun and Keema face many dangers but discover strengths they didn’t know they had. There is also another storyline that is intertwined with Keema and Jun. That is the story of an unnamed man who finds himself in a place called the Inverted Theater after a lifetime of hardship. He is watching a play about Keema and Jun and their journey. Like me, he had questions about their journey. Will they complete their journey?

Usually, I will put a trigger and content warning at the end of my review. But, if I feel that the book’s content will immediately affect the reader or the triggers are horrible, I move it to the top of the review. The triggers in this book are a combination of both. If you are triggered by gore, genocide, ritual cannabilism, body horror, dismemberment, and ableism, do not read this book.

The Spear Cuts Through Water is a medium-paced book in a dystopian ancient Japan or China (I couldn’t figure out which one). The author uses a lot of Japanese and Chinese folklore as a base for the story. I loved it!! It made the book so much more enjoyable for me to read because I enjoy the folklore/mythology from those areas.

As I stated above, this was very uniquely written book. It was written in equal parts, 2nd person and 3rd person POVs. I can count on one hand how many books I have read in 2nd person. And I can count how many of those books I have liked on half of that hand. The author seamlessly switched between the 2nd and 3rd person without disrupting the book’s flow. I was surprised at how much I liked the way it was written. Now, saying that the way this book is written isn’t for everyone, and I would keep that in mind when starting it.

The main characters of The Spear Cuts Through Water were well-written. The author did a great job of fleshing them out and making me care about them (and their journey).

  • Keema—I liked him. There’s not much I can say about him other than that he was almost stupidly brave. I wouldn’t say I liked that he was looked down upon for only having one arm or that the other guards picked on him because of it. His journey with Keema was to find himself as much as it was to bring the Moon to her final destination.
  • Jun—So, he didn’t make the best first impression when he showed up in the book. But, as the book continued, I saw Jun’s character evolving. He started to care about Keema and what the Terrors were doing to the people during his journey. Heck, he even cared about the tortoise. By the end of the book, he has changed from the beginning.
  • Unknown Narrator—This is the person being told Jun and Keema’s story and their own life story. I felt terrible for this man. He had been through so much in life. He was amazed to find himself at the Inverted Theater, watching this story unfold. There was a more fantastic connection between Jun, Keema, and himself that was revealed at the end of the book. I didn’t see that twist coming!
  • The Three Terrors—I was going to make them secondary characters, but I got to thinking, and they each, in their way, were main characters. To me, they embodied the worst traits that society had. Jun’s father (the First Terror) was Violence. He participated in genocide in the Old World. He did love his sons, but that was his only redeeming quality. The Second Terror, to me, was Greed and Gluttony. In my eyes, he was the scariest Terror, mainly because of what he did to gain the powers of the tortoise. The Third Terror, I couldn’t place him in any group. He was a horror exiled from his family at a young age. I will not even get into what he was or what he did. But I did feel bad for him. The scene with the man in that dungeon was both gruesome and heartbreaking at the same time.
  • The Moon— I wasn’t sure about her. I understood why she wanted to leave (who would want to be held captive under a palace). But I wouldn’t say I liked how she coerced Jun and Keema to do what she wanted. She didn’t get to her destination, forcing Jun and Keema to do something atrocious, something I had heard of but had never seen written in a book before. She also held no love for her children. That bothered me more than anything, to be honest.

The Spear Cut Through Water did have a lot of notable secondary characters. I will not list them, but they all added extra depth to the book.

The Spear Cuts Through Water was listed as a fantasy novel. I agree, but it is more suited as a dark and epic fantasy. The author did a great job weaving the epic fantasy angle (the journey) and the dark fantasy angle (everything else). It made for a great read.

I also want to add that there is a romance and LGBTQ+ angle to this book also. Keema and Jun’s romance is cultivated throughout the entire book. There was so much given with a look between them. And the yearning, oh my, it was almost too much for me to bear.

The author amazingly wrote the main storyline with Keema, Jun, the Terrors, the Moon, and their journey. The author had me glued to the book, wanting to know more, and you know what? He gave it to me in spades. The author explained everything, and he tied everything together. The author left no loose ends with this plotline. There were a couple of twists I didn’t see coming.

The storylines with the unknown narrator and the Inverted Theater was well written. I didn’t get as invested as I did with the main storyline, but still, it drew me in. A twist in that storyline made me put my Kindle down. I needed a second to process what I had read because the twist was that unexpected and that good.

Several secondary storylines give some added background and depth to the main storylines. The author incorporated them into the main storyline without pausing the book’s flow.

The end of The Spear Cuts Through Water was not what I expected, but at the same time, I expected it, if that makes sense. I loved how the author ended the main storylines and how he merged them both.

Three reasons why you should read The Spear Cuts Through Water:

  1. The storylines.
  2. The characters.
  3. Jun and Keema’s slow-burn romance

Three reasons why you shouldn’t read The Spear Cuts Through Water:

  1. The triggers. I am usually pretty good with the number of triggers in the book, but even I got triggered by this book.
  2. The way it was written. Being told in 2nd and 3rd person isn’t most people’s cup of tea.
  3. The Terrors. They genuinely creeped me out.

If you enjoyed reading The Spear Cuts Through Water, you will enjoy reading these books:

A Sliver of Darkness by C.J. Tudor

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: November 8th, 2022

Genre: Horror, Short Stories, Fiction, Adult, Mystery, Thriller, Mystery Thriller, Short Story Collection, Fantasy, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound

Goodreads Synopsis:

The debut short story collection from the acclaimed author of The Chalk Man, featuring ten bone-chilling and mind-bending tales

Timeslips. Doomsday scenarios. Killer butterflies. C. J. Tudor’s novels are widely acclaimed for their dark, twisty suspense plots, but with A Sliver of Darkness, she pulls us even further into her dizzying imagination.

In Final Course, the world has descended into darkness, but a group of old friends make time for one last dinner party. In Runaway Blues, thwarted love, revenge, and something very nasty stowed in a hat box converge. In Gloria, a strange girl at a service station endears herself to a cold-hearted killer, but can a leopard really change its spots? And in I’m Not Ted, a case of mistaken identity has unforeseen, fatal consequences.

Riveting and explosively original, A Sliver of Darkness is C. J. Tudor at her most wicked and uninhibited.


First Line:

She often dreamed of drowning.

End of the Liner, A Sliver of Darkness by C.J. Tudor

I like reading anthologies. Sometimes my brain isn’t able to process longer books (my attention span can be shot at times). But I wouldn’t say I like reviewing them. I write long reviews because I want to cover each story and give it the attention I think it deserves. I am not going to do that with this review. I am a little crunched for time (I am writing this on Halloween and I have a bunch of things to do/get ready for on top of my usual Monday morning routine). So, this review is going to be short.

A Sliver of Darkness had an exciting mix of short stories. The author did keep my attention because these stories were not cookie-cutter. Also, the author did something that I wasn’t expecting. She wrote a little forward to each story to explain why she wrote it. I loved it!!

I had two favorite stories out of the eleven that were published. They are End of the Liner, and I’m not Ted. My least favorite one was Gloria, only because I hadn’t read her featured book.

This short story collection would have been perfect for reading in October. Each story was creepy in its way.

I would recommend A Sliver of Darkness to anyone over 21. There is language and violence but no sex.


If you enjoyed A Sliver of Darkness, you will enjoy these books:

The Art of Prophecy (The War Arts Saga: Book 1) by Wesley Chu

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of Publication: August 9th, 2022

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Adult, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Literature, Asian Literature, Science Fiction Fantasy, Adult Fiction, Epic, Cultural, Asia

Series: The War Arts Saga

The Art of Prophecy—Book 1

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

An epic fantasy ode to martial arts and magic—the story of a spoiled hero, an exacting grandmaster, and an immortal god-king from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lives of Tao.

It has been foretold: A child will rise to defeat the Eternal Khan, a cruel immortal god-king, and save the kingdom.

The hero: Jian, who has been raised since birth in luxury and splendor, celebrated before he has won a single battle.

But the prophecy was wrong.

Because when Taishi, the greatest war artist of her generation, arrives to evaluate the prophesied hero, she finds a spoiled brat unprepared to face his destiny.

But the only force more powerful than fate is Taishi herself. Possessed of an iron will, a sharp tongue—and an unexpectedly soft heart—Taishi will find a way to forge Jian into the weapon and leader he needs to be in order to fulfill his legend.

What follows is a journey more wondrous than any prophecy can foresee: a story of master and student, assassin and revolutionary, of fallen gods and broken prophecies, and of a war between kingdoms, and love and friendship between deadly rivals.


First Line:

The line of broken soliders stretched out of the training pit and around the arena, spilling out onto the streets.

The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu

I love long books, but only if they are well-written. I have read books (not this one, thankfully) that are well over 500 pages, and they ramble, but that is not the case with The Art of Prophecy. This book is 528 pages which kept me captivated to the very end.

The Art of Prophecy had an exciting plotline. Taishi, a grandmaster of marital arts who controls the element of wind, has arrived to evaluate Jian, who is prophesied to defeat the Eternal Khan. She finds a spoiled brat who can barely do martial arts or fight. When an ordinary soldier kills the Eternal Khan, Taishi finds herself doing the unexpected; saving Jian and hiding him away from people who want him dead. After a few months on the run, Taishi decides that Jian would be better hidden in plain sight and leaves him with another grandmaster. There, she hopes he will learn the discipline that he needs. But she also has an ulterior motive. Taishi will find the sect of monks who originally wrote the prophecy and see what it says. But it isn’t going to be easy for both Taishi or Jian. Jian has to deal with a school where people see him as a joke, and he cannot display any knowledge of fighting. If he does, his cover is broken. Taishi must stay one step ahead of the assassins sent to kill her. Add a morally gray character (Saliminde) whose only wish is to free her people and a psychotic bounty hunter (Qisami), and there is no telling what could happen. Can Jian stay hidden? Can Taishi find the monks and figure out the prophecy? Will Saliminde’s people be free? And will Qisami get her bounty?

As I stated in the opening paragraph, this is a long book. So, if you are going to read it, make sure you settle in for a while. Because I can guarantee you that once you start, you will not be able to put it down. That is a promise.

I loved that this book was set in an alternative (fantasy) China. The author did an excellent job of building up that world. It wasn’t an easy world to live in. It was violent, and the people lived under the constant threat of war. But, saying that, I would love to visit it!! The descriptions of blade dancing on the grass of the Grass Sea and its floating cities captivated me.

There are three (and, towards the end, four) main characters in The Art of Prophecy. They were all well-written and had their distinct personality. The characters are:

  • Taishi. I didn’t like her at first. She did come across as pompous and a little bit of a control freak. My dislike of her only lasted a short couple of chapters before I got glimpses into who the real Taishi was. That Taishi was a good person who wouldn’t let a child (who reminded her of her son) be killed. I also loved that she had a disability (she only could use one arm) and could still kick bad guys’ butts.
  • Jian. I felt terrible for Jian up to the middle of the book. He was the Champion of the Five Under Heaven. He was supposed to kill the Eternal Khan. Instead, the Khan was killed, and Jian ended up on the run with Taishi. It was a rude awakening for him. For the first time in his life, Jian had to work for things. By the middle of the book, I started to get aggravated with him. He kept having a “woe is me” mentality and was a jerk to the other kids at the school. By the time he and Taishi were reunited, he had grown out of that, and I got a good glimpse into the man he was going to be.
  • Saliminde. I liked her right from the beginning. She was The Viperstrike (head warrior) of the Great Khan’s army. Her weapon was one of the coolest ones I have ever seen described in a book. She was such a bad-a** that she decided she wouldn’t commit ritual suicide for the Eternal Khan. Instead, she was going to find the next Eternal Khan and free her people from slavery. She didn’t kill to kill; she had a code about it. By the end of the book, I couldn’t get enough of her scenes. That last fight scene with Taishi and Qisami was 100% epic.
  • Qisami. Ok, so I wasn’t a big fan of her when she was introduced halfway through the book. She was 100% psychotic, and the author made no qualms about it. She didn’t care who she killed (a 300-year-old drugged-out monk, for instance). She loved it. I found her constant talking in the fight scenes distracting. But, she did give both Saliminde and Taishi a run for their money, fightwise. Her ability to move through the shadows was terrific. By the end of the book, I still didn’t like her but understood her motivations for looking for Jian and Taishi.

There were many notable secondary characters in The Art of Prophecy. Each character added flair and depth to the book. I hope that some of the characters showcased at the end of The Art of Prophecy are made into more mainstream characters in the next book.

The Art of Prophecy also featured a fantastic fantasy storyline with action and adventure. I haven’t read a book that featured martial arts as prominently as this book did, and I still liked it. As for the fantasy, I couldn’t get enough of the world that the author had built up (if you can’t tell by me by fangirling this entire review).

As for the storylines, I LOVED them. There were some that I wished were expanded more upon (like Qisami’s origins) and some that I could have done without (the mapmaker), but they made the book.

The end of The Art of Prophecy was terrific. There was a truly epic fight scene where I did think one of the main characters had died. The author did not end any of the plotlines. Instead, he added to them during the last scenes of the book. Talk about making me want to read the second one!!!

Three reasons why you should read The Art of Prophecy:

  • Amazing characters and storyline
  • Martial Arts!!!
  • Great world building

Three reasons why you should not read The Art of Prophecy:

  • The book was super long (528 pages)
  • A lot of graphic violence
  • Some storylines could have been shortened or omitted.

If you enjoyed The Art of Prophecy, you will enjoy these books:

Alias Emma (Alias Emma: Book 1) by Ava Glass

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine, Bantam

Date of publication: August 2nd, 2022

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction, Mystery Thriller, Spy Thriller, Espionage, Suspense, Adult, Contemporary, Spy Thriller

Series: Alias Emma

Alias Emma—Book 1

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

Emma Makepeace is about to spend the longest night in her life.

She’s on her first operation with a shadowy organisation known only as ‘The Agency’, assigned to track down and save an innocent man wanted by the Russian government.

All Emma has to do is bring him in to MI6 before sunrise, and before an assassination team gets to him first.

But the Russians have hacked the city’s CCTV cameras. There are spies all over London searching for the two of them. And her target, Michael Primalov, doesn’t want to be rescued.

As London sleeps, a battle is taking place on its streets as Emma fights to keep Michael alive.

But what sort of reception await them if and when they get to MI6?


First Line:

The sun was setting over one of the most expensive streets in the world when nthe assassins arrived.

Alias Emma by Ava Glass

I usually do not read books that are about spies or any espionage. It’s a genre I do not care for, and I typically go out of my way not to read anything from it. So, I was surprised (and a little irritated) when I read Alias Emma and realized it was a spy/espionage/thriller. That was on me, though. When the publisher sent me the invite to review, I automatically accepted without reading what I was getting. Imagine my surprise when I started liking Alias Emma. This book might be the one that has cracked my dislike for that genre. It was that good.

Alias Emma is the first book in the Alias Emma series. Anything else I would write in this section can be ignored (aka my warnings about reading books out of order in a series). That doesn’t apply here.

Alias Emma had a solid and engaging storyline. Emma is a secret agent working undercover at a shop run by a low-level threat when she gets a phone call she has been waiting for. She has been assigned to pick up a man, Dr. Michael Primalov, and bring him to the M16 before daylight. She must also keep him safe from Russian assassins and rogue agents from her agency. But that is easier said than done. The Russians have taken over London’s CCTV, her handler has gone missing, and she is receiving no help from her agency. With a cryptic message from her handler about staying in the dark, Emma must fulfill her mission. If she can’t, an innocent man will die. Can Emma do it? Can she bring Michael to the safety of the M16?

I loved Emma. She was stubborn (which served her well in this book), tough, and knew how to think outside the box. I loved seeing how she was recruited and her more tragic backstory. She was a very fleshed-out character. She did irritate me during some scenes but other than that, I liked her. I also loved how she saw something through to the end. And oh boy, did she with Michael.

The storyline with Emma, Michael, the Russians, and getting to the M16 was well written. The author did a great job of keeping my attention by constantly changing the storyline. Every time I thought something was going to happen, the storyline shifted. I did have my doubts about them getting to the M16. They were both up against so much.

The storyline with Emma, her agency, and the rogue agent kept me on the edge of my seat. I was alternately irritated for her and frightened for her. But everything did iron out in the end, but it was a ride to get there.

The spy/espionage angle of Alias Emma was very thought-provoking. I liked that the book featured a female spy who was relatable. I got a very James Bondy vibe during parts of the book, and I loved that Emma had to use her intuition to feel situations.

The action angle of Alias Emma was well written. I couldn’t get over the amount of running Emma and Michael did during this book. I also couldn’t get over the number of hand-to-hand combat situations that Emma had with the Russians. Again, it was another thing that kept my attention on the book.

The end of Alias Emma was interesting. I say interesting because I was fascinated with how the Russian storyline ended. The images I produced in my head after the Russian team passed the British one at the hotel in Paris were not good. I also liked how the author left open the storyline about specific agents going rogue. There was an explanation, but the way it was left made me wonder if book two would explain more.

I would recommend Alias Emma to anyone over 16. There are a few kissing scenes (mainly to conceal identities), language, and moderate to high violence.


If you enjoyed reading Alias Emma, you will enjoy these books:

Locklands (The Founders Trilogy: Book 3) by Robert Jackson Bennett

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine, Del Ray

Date of publication: June 28th, 2022

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Adult, LGBTQIA+, Science Fiction, High Fantasy, Science Fiction Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Queer, Magic

Series: The Founders Trilogy

Foundryside—Book 1 (review here)

Shorefall—Book 2 (review here)

Locklands—Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | IndieBound | Indigo | Kobo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

A god wages war—using all of humanity as its pawns—in the unforgettable conclusion to the Founders trilogy.

Sancia, Clef, and Berenice have gone up against plenty of long odds in the past. But the war they’re fighting now is one even they can’t win.

This time, they’re not facing robber-baron elites, or even an immortal hierophant, but an entity whose intelligence is spread over half the globe—a ghost in the machine that uses the magic of scriving to possess and control not just objects, but human minds.

To fight it, they’ve used scriving technology to transform themselves and their allies into an army—a society—that’s like nothing humanity has seen before. With its strength at their backs, they’ve freed a handful of their enemy’s hosts from servitude, even brought down some of its fearsome, reality-altering dreadnaughts. Yet despite their efforts, their enemy marches on—implacable. Unstoppable.

Now, as their opponent closes in on its true prize—an ancient doorway, long buried, that leads to the chambers at the center of creation itself—Sancia and her friends glimpse a chance at reaching it first, and with it, a last desperate opportunity to stop this unbeatable foe. But to do so, they’ll have to unlock the centuries-old mystery of scriving’s origins, embark on a desperate mission into the heart of their enemy’s power, and pull off the most daring heist they’ve ever attempted.

And as if that weren’t enough, their adversary might just have a spy in their ranks—and a last trick up its sleeve.


First Line:

Are you ready? whispered a voice. Berenice opened her eyes.

Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett

When I first tried to read Locklands, I had difficulty getting through it. Not from a lack of wanting to read it, I wanted to see where Berenice, Sanica, and the rest of the gang ended up after the events of Shorefall. I ended up DNF’ing at around 30% because I couldn’t wrap my head around some of the events that had happened or were happening in Locklands. I picked it back up because it was one of three books I had DNF’d this year, and I didn’t want to end the year on that note. While I struggled to read through the first 30% of the book, the book smoothed out and became enjoyable.

Locklands is book 3 in The Founders Trilogy. This book is not standalone; you must read the first two books before picking this up. The author goes into what happened in the first books but not in depth. I had a hard time following this book at first.

Locklands takes place around eight years after the events of Shorefall. A lot has happened in those eight years, but the most notable is that people used scriving to connect. Born out of the scriving are conscious entities called The Cadences. They are helping Berenice and her people fight a war against Tevanne. But they are slowly losing the war. Berenice realizes that the one person (or being, if you want to be technical) who could help them is being held captive and tortured by Tevanne. He is Crasedes Magnus, the hierophant and son of Clef. But can or will he help? Or will everything that they are fighting for be in vain?

I wasn’t a big fan of Berenice when the book first started. She came across as dull. As the book continued, I understood that she was anything but that. She was brave and willing to do anything to ensure her people were safe and get the job done. By the end of the book, I loved her. Her sacrifices did help her people in the future.

Clef had a considerable part in this book. A good chunk of the last part of the book is based on his human memories. He was still the sarcastic, wise-ass key he always was, but it was tempered by what he remembered. My heart broke for him during specific memories, but I also got very angry with him. It was his actions that made Crasedes who he was.

Crasedes didn’t show up until after Berenice rescued him. He was different from the egotistical man that the author featured in Shorefall. What he experienced in Tevanne changed him. It changed him so much that he was willing to work with Clef and Berenice to nullify Tevanne. Of course, he did have some tricks up his sleeve, but for the most part, he was pretty straightforward with what he wanted and was going to do.

Surprisingly, Sanica didn’t have a massive part in most of the book. With her physical changes, I could understand why she wasn’t out fighting on the front lines. But, towards the end, it was revealed what Sanica had to do and man, did she deliver!!

I loved the Cadences. Greeter and Design were my favorites. I loved reading about their interactions with Berenice and how they talked to her. They were also very instrumental in what happened at the end of the book.

The storyline with Clef and Crasedes (and ultimately Tevanne) broke my heart. As a parent, I could understand why Clef chose to do what he did. But as a person, I was horrified by it. Also, I will never be able to look at butterflies the same way. Again, the author revealed another sad thing.

The storyline with the war, Tevanne, Crasedes, the Cadences, Sanica, and Berenice, was well written. The author did a fantastic job of not only building up to the grand finale but explaining why it went the way it did.

The fantasy angle was one of the best ones I have ever read. The author perfectly outlined the use of scriving for pathing, the creations of the Cadences, and even Tevanne’s usage of magic/scriving. It sometimes frightened me, but it kept my attention wholly on the book.

There was a slight romance angle in Locklands. The relationship between Sanica and Berenice was relationship goals (seriously). They were utterly in love with each other, but they also understood that there was something bigger than themselves going on. So, yes, my heart broke when certain events happened.

The end of Lockalnds was interesting. I say interesting because I didn’t expect the book to end as it did. It surprised me.

I would recommend Locklands to anyone over 21. There is moderate to graphic violence, mild sexual situations, and language.


If you enjoyed reading Locklands, you will enjoy reading these books:

Steel Fear (Finn Thrillers: Book 1) by Brandon Webb and John David Mann

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Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam

Date of publication: July 13, 2021

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction, War, Military Fiction, Suspense, Mystery, Crime, Mystery Thriller, Contemporary

Series: Finn Thrillers

Steel Fear—Book 1

Cold Fear—Book 2

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

An aircraft carrier adrift with a crew the size of a small town. A killer in their midst. And the disgraced Navy SEAL who must track him down . . . The high-octane debut thriller from New York Times bestselling writing team Webb & Mann—combat-decorated Navy SEAL Brandon Webb and award-winning author John David Mann.

The moment Navy SEAL sniper Finn sets foot on the USS Abraham Lincoln to hitch a ride home from the Persian Gulf, it’s clear something is deeply wrong. Leadership is weak. Morale is low. And when crew members start disappearing one by one, what at first seems like a random string of suicides soon reveals something far more sinister: There’s a serial killer on board.

Suspicion falls on Finn, the newcomer to the ship. After all, he’s being sent home in disgrace, recalled from the field under the dark cloud of a mission gone horribly wrong. He’s also a lone wolf, haunted by gaps in his memory and the elusive sense that something he missed may have contributed to civilian deaths on his last assignment. Finding the killer offers a chance at redemption . . . if he can stay alive long enough to prove it isn’t him.


First Line:

Shivers rippled over Monica Halsey’s naked skin as she peered into the steel mirror and splashed water on her face.

Steel Fear by Brandon Webb and John David Mann

I DNF’d this book the first time I read it. I stopped reading at around 40%. The reason was pretty simple; I wasn’t a fan of how slow the book was. Fast forward to a couple of months ago. I decided to go through my NetGalley Will Not Give Feedback section and read/review all the books on that shelf. I am a little anal with keeping my NetGalley ratio on the higher side of 90. And since Steel Fear was one of those books, I decided it would be one of the first ones I read/review.

Steel Fear is a military mystery/thriller set on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Finn is a Navy Seal sniper who is being sent home for a debriefing after a raid goes wrong. With his memory of the events compromised, Finn settles for the voyage back. But soon, he is embroiled in a mystery when several seamen (and women) are found murdered in various areas of the ship. With the ship on lockdown and people beginning to think he is the murderer, Finn decides to take matters into his own hands and solve the murders. But with the body count piling up, can Finn stay one step ahead of the MPs and solve the murders? Or is he the one they are looking for?

Finn’s character was interesting to read. He was a very unlikely Navy Seal. He wasn’t tall, jacked up, or loud. Instead, he was average height, had an average body build, and was very quiet. He was so quiet that people often forgot he was there. What intrigued me the most about Finn was that he was an enigma to everyone, including the ship’s captain. No one knew why he was on board or where he was going. The authors chose to reveal almost all of Finn’s background slowly. His childhood, the horrific thing that happened, and what happened to his team were slowly revealed. And the more that was revealed, the more I needed to know.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this book was a DNF for me because of how slow it was. And, yes, it was still slow. But with the second reread, I noticed that the authors were weaving the story with several of the secondary characters. About halfway through the book, the pacing does pick up, and my interest in the plotline picks up with it. By the last chapters of the book, I was utterly hooked. It was more about the serial killer/murders than the ship.

The mystery angle of the book was well written. While I figured that Finn didn’t do it, I was at a loss for who it was. So when the serial killer was revealed, I was shocked. The authors did keep what happened to Finn on his last mission to the bare facts and what Finn remembered. So, there was nothing new was learned there.

The suspense angle of the book was as well written as the mystery angle. I was glued to the book, wanting to know who it was. I couldn’t hit my Kindle button fast enough.

This is a military book, and with it comes military jargon and talk. I wasn’t very interested in that and did skim over some parts of it. But, I did find it fascinating that the authors chose to highlight how women were treated in the Navy (and military). Let’s say that the women in this book weren’t treated very nicely by their COs. It goes with everything I have heard and seen on the news (rapes, coverups, etc.).

The end of Steel Fear was interesting. The authors were able to wrap up the serial killer/murders plotline in a way that I liked. I felt that person got what was coming to them. But I also liked where the author took Finn’s story. There was also enough left with his story for book 2 (which I will read).

I would recommend Steel Fear to anyone over 21. There is no sex. But there is strong language and graphic violence.


If you enjoyed reading Steel Fear, you will enjoy these books:

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.

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