Mister Lullaby by J.H. Markert

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of Publication: November 21st, 2023

Genre: Horror, Paranormal, Fantasy, Fiction, Thriller, Supernatural, Adult, Mystery, Suspense

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

From J. H. Markert, the author Peter Farris calls the “clear heir to Stephen King,” Mister Lullaby brings our darkest dreams and nightmares to life.

In the vein of T. Kingfisher and Christopher Golden, the boundary protecting our world from the monsters on the other side is weakening—and Mister Lullaby is about to break through.

The small town of Harrod’s Reach has seen its fair share of the macabre, especially inside the decrepit old train tunnel around which the town was built. After a young boy, Sully Dupree, is injured in the abandoned tunnel and left in a coma, the townspeople are determined to wall it up. Deputy sheriff Beth Gardner is reluctant to buy into the superstitions until she finds two corpses at the tunnel’s entrance, each left with strange calling cards inscribed with old lullabies. Soon after, Sully Dupree briefly awakens from his coma.

Before falling back into his slumber, Sully manages to give his older brother a message. Sully’s mind, since the accident, has been imprisoned on the other side of the tunnel in Lalaland, a grotesque and unfamiliar world inhabited by evil mythical creatures of sleep. Sully is trapped there with hundreds of other coma patients, all desperately fighting to keep the evils of the dream world from escaping into the waking world.

Elsewhere, a man troubled by his painful youth has for years been hearing a voice in his head he calls Mr. Lullaby, and he has finally started to act on what that voice is telling him—to kill any coma patient he can find, quickly.

Something is waking up in the tunnel—something is trying to get through. And Mr. Lullaby is coming.

First Line:

Deputy Sherriff Beth Gardner had only been on the job for two weeks when Simple Simon walked inside the station with a chainsaw.

Mister Lullaby by J.H. Markert

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: Mister Lullaby’s pace is fast. The book takes place within a week of Gideon’s arrival home after being honorably discharged from the Army. I was iffy on the pace. The author threw a lot of information at me at the beginning of the book. I had to reread specific chapters. If the pacing had slowed down a little, started at a medium pace, and then amped up, I could have processed the information better.

Trigger/Content Warning: Mister Lullaby has trigger and content warnings. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Mental Illness (graphic, on and off page)
  • Violence (graphic, on page)
  • Murder (graphic, on page)
  • Gun Violence (graphic, on page)
  • Rape (graphic, on page)
  • Grief (graphic, on page)
  • Fire (moderate, on and off page)
  • Bullying (moderate to graphic, on and off page)
  • Racism (minor to moderate, off page)
  • Alcoholism (moderate, on and off page)
  • Anxiety and anxiety attacks (moderate and off-page)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (moderate to graphic, on page)
  • Blood (graphic, on page)
  • Gore (graphic, on page)
  • Body Horror (graphic, on page)
  • Coma (graphic, on page)
  • Dead bodies and body parts (graphic, on page)
  • Loss of autonomy (graphic, on page)
  • Homophobia (moderate, on and off page)

Sexual Content: There is sexual content in Mister Lullaby. It is not graphic.

Language: There is graphic swearing in Mister Lullaby. There is also offensive language used in various parts of the book.

Setting: The Before part of Mister Lullaby is set between Harrod’s Reach, Nebraska, and Lalaland. The Then part of Mister Lullaby is set in Harrod’s Reach and wherever Teddy drove the bus.

Tropes: Chosen One, Emotional Scars, Reluctant Hero, Dark Lord, Good vs Evil, Childhood Friends, Monsters, Humans Can Be Evil

Age Range: I recommend Mister Lullaby to anyone over 21.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

The night Gideon arrives home, his younger brother, who has been in a coma for three years, wakes up and starts shouting names. Why he shouts out names confuses his family until Maddy shows up in town. Her explanation is crazy: Sully is trapped in a nightmare land called Lalaland. There, he is struggling, along with other coma patients, to keep the monsters inhabiting that world from bleeding into this one. But something is wrong, and the king of these monsters, Mister Lullaby, is trying to break through. While trying to process the information he has been told, Gideon and his best friend, Beth, are stunned when prominent figures in the community start showing up brutally murdered. Can Maddy be believed and trusted? What is happening in town? Can Gideon and Beth protect their loved ones and the townspeople from the evil trying to come through? Or will they fail?

Main Characters

Deputy Sheriff Beth Gardner: I didn’t know how to feel about Beth. On one hand, she was a great police officer and rose to the job when the Sheriff was attacked. But, on the other hand, her personal life was a mess. She was friends with Gideon and Jax. But her friendship with both was not equal, and it showed. She sided more with Jax (who was awful in the flashbacks and the present day) than Gideon. Even during the storyline, she didn’t treat Gideon like an equal. The use of his nickname, Giddey Up Gideon, was used as a way of putting him in his place. But she was determined to protect Sully at any cost when push came to shove. What she did at the end of the book was very selfless.

Gideon Dupree: I liked him, but he was so damaged that I thought his character wouldn’t rise to the occasion. He was bullied relentlessly throughout school and beyond (Giddey Up Gideon referenced how he ran). He blamed himself for Sully’s accident even though he had nothing to do with it (it did happen while he was watching him, though). And his Army career left him with even more scars. But, by the middle of the book, I saw something shift in his character. It happened when Maddy came to town, and it evolved. By the end of the book, even though he was still damaged, Gideon had come into his own.

Theodore Lomax (aka Teddy): Teddy’s character sent chills up and down my spine. He was a serial killer who had a very troubled and trauma-filled childhood. He had a voice in his head, called Mister Lullaby, that was instructing him to kill coma patients. Teddy also killed other people for fun. But Teddy realized the voice wasn’t a figment of his imagination until he bought a bus (which he named the Lullaby Express) and started picking up random people. It was real. His end game was to go to Harrod’s Reach and set those random people loose while he searched for the name at the top of his list, Sully Dupree. He was evil personified, and I couldn’t think of a better antagonist for this book.

Maddy Boyle: I liked her character. But I did wonder what her connection to Harrod’s Reach would be and what would happen once she got there. I liked how she was like an envoy to Lalaland (having been there herself). She was able to convince Gideon and then Beth about the dangers that were coming out of the train tunnel.

Simple Simon: I went back and forth on including him as a significant character. I decided to have him as a central character because of his actions in the book’s second half. Simon knew a lot about what was going on with Lalaland bleeding through, and he was a massive factor in the events that went down at the end of the book.

Sully Dupree: The whole storyline is centered around Sully. He was still a powerful force even though he never woke up and talked. I can only get a little into what happens with him because of spoilers.

My review:

Mister Lullaby was one of my most looked-forward-to-read books. I had seen it featured on other blogs and was thrilled when Crooked Lane Books sent me the widget. So, when it was finally time for me to read it, I dove right in. I finished the book liking it but was disappointed by it simultaneously (thus the star rating).

Mister Lullaby has various POVs. Not only that, but the author also split the chapters into Before and Now. The author labeled each chapter with who it focused on and whether it was Now or Before. But I got lost while reading. I would backtrack to determine when the chapter occurred (the who part was obvious). It frustrated me but not enough to DNF.

The main storyline of Mister Lullaby is good, and I find it fascinating. I liked that the author tied his previous books into this one. It made for an interesting read. But, sometimes, I lost sight of the storyline (Sully, the train tunnel, Teddy, Gideon, Beth, and Maddy). There were so many secondary storylines thrown in (some I feel were to fill in empty plot holes) that my head was turned around. Did I need to know why Jax was such a dick? Or why did Beth marry him? Not really (even though it was sad). That stuff could have been left out or mentioned in passing. Another example was the chapter with Chimp and the weird fish. My head was spinning by the end of the storyline, and I couldn’t keep everything straight.

The storyline with Teddy and his collection of serial killers was interesting. Unlike the main one, this storyline was tight and kept to just the storyline. The only time it deviated was toward the end of the book, but even then, it was all right.

The horror angle of the book was well written. I want to warn everyone that it is bloody and violent. I did jump during some scenes, and in others, I had to read gagging.

The end of Mister Lullaby did disappoint me. It seemed very rushed. The final battle was almost anticlimactic (compared to what was happening around them). I also needed clarification on why Beth did what she did. There were storylines left in the air. I also have not received a resolution about what would happen to the town or the aftermath. They might have plans for another book in this universe (or even a sequel). I also have an answer as to why the book’s ending was the way it was. The author explains everything in the acknowledgment section after the end.

Many thanks to Crooked Lane Books, NetGalley, and J.H. Markert for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Mister Lullaby. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Mister Lullaby, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by J.H. Markert

When I’m Dead (Black Harbor: Book 3) by Hannah Morrissey

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books

Date of publication: October 31st, 2023

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Mystery Thriller, Fiction, Suspense, Crime, Adult, Halloween, Horror

Series: Black Harbor

Hello, Transcriber—Book 1

The Widowmaker—Book 2

When I’m Dead—Book 3

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | World Cat

Goodreads Synopsis:

One girl murdered. Another one missing. And a medical examiner desperate to uncover the truth in the latest Black Harbor mystery by acclaimed author Hannah Morrissey.

On a bone-chilling October night, Medical Examiner Rowan Winthorp investigates the death of her daughter’s best friend. Hours later, the tragedy hits even closer to home when she makes a devastating discovery—her daughter, Chloe, is gone. But, not without a trace.

A morbid mosaic of clues forces Rowan and her husband to question how deeply they really knew their daughter. As they work closely to peel back the layers of this case, they begin to unearth disturbing details about Chloe and her secret transgressions…details that threaten to tear them apart.

Amidst the noise of navigating her newfound grief and reconciling the sins of her past, an undeniable fact rings true for Rowan: karma has finally come to collect.

First Line:

You’ll love me more when I’m dead.

When I’m Dead by Hannah Morrissey

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: The pacing of When I’m Dead was fast. Considering the book takes place within a week of the first murder, I wasn’t surprised. There was a slight lag towards the middle of the book, but I expected it. The lag didn’t affect my reading (I didn’t have to backtrack) or my enjoyment of the book.

Series: When I’m Dead is the third book in the Black Harbor series. Readers can read this book as a standalone. The characters from the previous two books appear in this one, but they are kept as secondary characters. Also, the cases from the previous books are mentioned but kept to just mentions.

Trigger/Content Warning:  There are content and trigger warnings in When I’m Dead. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Child Death (graphic)
  • Kidnapping (moderate)
  • Murder (graphic)
  • Death (graphic)
  • Bullying (graphic)
  • Grief (graphic)
  • Body Shaming (moderate)
  • Gore (moderate)
  • Mental Illness (graphic)
  • Toxic Friendship (graphic)
  • Injury/detail of injury (moderate)
  • Blood (graphic)
  • Medical Content (moderate)
  • Adult/minor relationship (minor)
  • Suicide (minor)
  • Classism (moderate)
  • Suicidal Ideation (moderate)

Sexual Content: There is sexual content in When I’m Dead. It is only for one page, and it does get moderately graphic.

Language: There is graphic swearing in When I’m Dead.

Setting: When I’m Dead is set entirely in the fictional city of Black Harbor, Wisconsin.

Tropes: The Red Herring, The Dramatic Reveal, Twist Ending, Ticking Clock, High Stakes, Missing Children

Age Range:  I recommend When I’m Dead to anyone over 21.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

When Rowan is called to the scene of a gruesome murder, she is shocked to discover that it is a friend of her daughter, Chloe. When she gets home later that night, she finds that Chloe never returned home from the play she was starring in. As she and her husband, Axel, start investigating Chloe’s disappearance and her friend’s murder, she is shocked to learn that Chloe has been keeping secrets from her parents. The more they dig, the more secrets they uncover. Can they find Chloe and solve the murders?

Main Characters

Rowan Winthrop: I could sympathize with Rowan regarding Chloe going missing. But my sympathy only went so far. She was a largely absent parent who prioritized her job over her child, and she knew it. I did feel bad about the guilt she carried over that and the death of a teenager decades earlier.

Axel Winthrop: I wasn’t sure what to think about him. I felt that he made some very questionable choices throughout the book. Like Rowan, he prioritized his job over his child. But, in this case, I got it. Detectives work strange and long hours. I also questioned his behavior throughout the book with suspects.

Chloe Winthrop: I felt awful for Chloe. She was dealing with a lot. A possible learning disability (and don’t get me started on how her parents didn’t know about it), vicious and ugly rumors being spread about her, and her parents never seemed to notice her. I just wanted to hug her.

Libby Lucas: I didn’t like her but felt terrible for her. Classmates teased her relentlessly about her weight (Neck Rolls was a nickname given to her). I had her pegged as the murderer because of how she acted in her chapters. But the more I read about her, the more I understood her. She was Chloe’s haven in the hell that school became.

My review:

When I’m Dead was an interesting read for me. I liked that this was a dark thriller where I couldn’t figure out who the killer was. I was not too fond of the multiple POVs, but they grew on me. They did give me insight into Chloe and the facts surrounding her disappearance. They also gave me insight into the people murdered and how the murders are tied to Chloe.

The main storyline is centered around the murders and Chloe’s disappearance. The investigation into the murders did raise my eyebrows, though. The main detective and the medical examiner knew the victim(s) and, later on, knew what they did to their daughter. I know this is fiction, but I didn’t think it was kosher. I also thought that Axel interrogating suspects was against everything I knew about police procedure. The author does attempt to explain why they were both working the cases. There was a shortage of MEs and police officers. Then there is Libby’s role in everything. She didn’t tell Axel or Rowan everything she knew and, most importantly, defaced evidence in Chloe’s room. Her behavior made me think she was a suspect until it was proven she wasn’t (alibi). But Libby was central in figuring out who the killer/kidnapper was and the motive behind everything.

The mystery angle was well written. The author gave a ton of red herrings and had me thinking different people were the killer/kidnapper. Heck, she even had me thinking that Chloe did it and ran away. But when she revealed who the killer/kidnapper was and the motive, I was shocked. That person wasn’t even on my radar.

The suspense/thriller angle was also well-written. I was kept on the edge of my seat, wondering when Chloe would be found and the killer would be revealed. And at the end of the book, I was on edge with everything happening.

The end of When I’m Dead was great. I liked the twists that the author threw in about the killer. As I mentioned above, I had zero clue about the killer’s motive and who the killer was. I felt that the very end of the book was a little anti-climactic due to everything that happened.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Hannah Morrissey for allowing me to read and review this ARC of When I’m Dead. All opinions stated this this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to When I’m Dead, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Hannah Morrissey:

People to Follow by Olivia Worley

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books

Date of publication: October 31st, 2023

Genre: Young Adult, Thriller, Mystery Thriller, Mystery, Fiction, Contemporary, Suspense, Crime, Social Media, Action

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

en teen influencers come to a remote island to star in a reality show, but when one of them winds up dead, they realize that this time, the price of being “cancelled” could be their lives.

A reality show on a remote Caribbean island. Ten teen influencers. One dead body.

Welcome to “In Real Life,” the hot new reality show that forces social media’s reigning kings and queens to unplug for three weeks and “go live” without any filters. IRL is supposed to be the opportunity of a lifetime, watched closely by legions of loyal followers. But for these rising stars–including Elody, an Instagram model with an impulsive streak; Kira, a child star turned fitness influencer; Logan, a disgraced TikTok celeb with a secret; and Max, a YouTuber famous for exposés on his fellow creators—it’s about to turn into a nightmare.

When the production crew fails to show up and one of their own meets a violent end, these nine little influencers find themselves stranded with a dead body and no way to reach the outside world. When they start receiving messages from a mysterious Sponsor threatening to expose their darkest secrets, they realize that they’ve been lured into a deadly game…and one of them might be pulling the strings.

With the body count rising and cameras tracking their every move, the creators must figure out who is trying to get them canceled—like, literally—before their #1 follower strikes again.

First Line:

It’s a view you could kill for.

People to Follow by Olivia Worley

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: The pacing of People to Follow was fast-paced. The storyline occurs within a few days of everyone arriving on the island. The pacing of the storyline suited the book. There was a little lag towards the end (when the author revealed everything and why), but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Trigger/Content Warning: There are trigger and content warnings in People to Follow. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Death (Graphic)
  • Murder (Graphic)
  • Alcohol (Moderate to Graphic)
  • Gun Violence (Graphic)
  • Blood (Moderate to Graphic)
  • Grooming (Moderate)
  • Adult/Minor Relationship (Moderate)
  • Bullying (Graphic)
  • Sexual Assualt (Moderate)
  • Panic Attacks (Moderate to Graphic)
  • Sexual Violence (Moderate)
  • Violence (Graphic)
  • Grief (Graphic)
  • Death of a Parent (Graphic)
  • Sexual Harassment (Moderate)
  • Gaslighting (Moderate)
  • Confinement (Moderate)
  • Stalking (Graphic)
  • Classism (Moderate)
  • Body Shaming (Minor)
  • Eating Disorder (Minor)
  • Toxic Friendship (Moderate)
  • Slut Shaming (Moderate)

Sexual Content: There is no graphic sexual content in People to Follow. But there are insinuations about relationships between the characters. I took that as they had slept together. There is also a brief mention of a naked girl’s photograph being shared in a text between a group of boys (with the girl’s head not shown).

Language: There is graphic swearing in People to Follow.

Setting: People to Follow is set on a fictional island in the Caribbean.

Tropes: The Unlikable Victim, The Red Herring, Close Quarters, Outsmarting the Criminal, The Dramatic Reveal, Twist Ending

Age Range: I recommend People to Follow to anyone over 21.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

When the producer of a new reality TV show contacts ten teen influencers, they are all thrilled. This show is a way for some to rebrand. For others, it is a way of gaining more followers. For one, it is a way to get revenge on the nine people who wronged them, even if that means murder. When people start dying, and secrets are revealed, it is up to the survivors to figure out which one of them is a killer.

Main Characters

Kira Lyons—Out of all the characters in this book, I liked her the most. When things started to go sideways, Kira didn’t panic that much. She actively looked for who the Sponsor/killer was and, later, a phone so they could call for help.

Max Overly—I liked him. Even after the Sponsor revealed his secret, I thought his character was interesting. He genuinely felt bad about everything that had happened when he was fifteen, and, like Kira, he actively tried to find out who the Sponsor/killer was.

Logan Costello—I will admit this, but I had her pegged as the killer/the Sponsor for most of the book. But I was shocked when two secrets were revealed. One, there were hints dropped throughout the storyline until it was revealed. But the other one surprised me. Still, it didn’t make her any less of a suspect. That is until the end, when everything went sideways.

Corrine Lecompte—I didn’t have an opinion about her, but I did have her pegged as at least an accomplice. I wasn’t surprised with what she confessed, but I was surprised at who was mentioned during that conversation. It made me eye her as a possible killer, too.

Aaron Tyler Banks—I didn’t like him, but I did pity him. He had fallen from grace and sought a way to return to the influencer/streaming/acting world. His secret didn’t surprise me. It made me sad for him.

McKayleigh Hill—I did not like her. She was everything that I disliked as an influencer. She was fake, shallow, and catty. I wasn’t surprised at all by what was revealed. But, I was surprised by her role in another secret.

Zane Rivers—He was another one that I couldn’t stand. Something about him rubbed me wrong after the author introduced his character. I can’t say I was surprised by what the secret was. But I was surprised at his role with the secondary secret that he, Logan, McKayleigh, and Graham shared.

Graham West—Like Corrine, he was another one that I didn’t have an opinion of. He didn’t join in on McKayleigh or Zane’s torment of Logan. I also didn’t think his initial secret (and connection to Aaron) was as bad as the others. His role in the secret with Zane, McKayleigh, and Logan was bad, but you could tell he felt awful about it.

Elody Hart—I. Could. Not. Stand. Her. I saw she was fake as soon as she was introduced in the book (the babes gave it away). Like Graham, her secret wasn’t that bad (compared to the others). But what was revealed at the end and her connection to Max blew my mind.

Cole Bryan—I had no opinion of him either. He was obnoxious and rude. I wish I knew his secret because I am sure it was a small fish compared to what was revealed later in the book.

My review:

There is one main storyline in People to Follow. It follows the ten influencers and why they are on the island. Then, it morphs into a fight for survival when the Sponsor starts making their demands. This storyline was well-written, and I couldn’t put the book down. It was also a chaotic mess. I’m not too fond of books with more than one viewpoint. But in this case, it worked. The author would end one POV with just enough information or half of the information given about a person and then start the next chapter with that person’s POV.

Numerous secondary storylines are married to the main storyline. Some will not make sense initially, but a lightbulb will go off while reading, and you will understand why the author mentioned that storyline. All of the characters are intertwined in one way or another. Even characters that you think didn’t know each other are connected. It makes a massive spiderweb of storylines that can be difficult to separate.

The mystery angle of People to Follow was excellent. I didn’t figure out who the Sponsor and the killer were until almost the end of the book. And even then, I was only halfway right. The author had a massive twist in the plotline where the author revealed everything, and it was freaking wild. My mouth dropped because of not only who it was but because of why.

The thriller angle of the book was just as good as the mystery angle. The author used being confined to an island during a storm with no electricity to give an appropriate background and feel. The characters’ helplessness and horror over what is being done to them come off the pages.

The end of People to Follow was very anticlimactic, but it gave me chills. I can’t go much more into it, but I will say that the killer was not sorry.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books, NetGalley, and Olivia Worley for allowing me to read and review this ARC of People to Follow. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to People to Follow, then you will enjoy these books:

Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of publication: September 26th, 2023

Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Fiction, Thriller, Paranormal, Adult, Halloween, Suspense, Supernatural, Mystery

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

A small town is transformed by dark magic when a strange tree begins bearing magical apples in this new masterpiece of horror from the bestselling author of Wanderers and The Book of Accidents.

It’s autumn in the town of Harrow, but something else is changing in the town besides the season.

Because in that town there is an orchard, and in that orchard, seven most unusual trees. And from those trees grows a new sort of apple: Strange, beautiful, with skin so red it’s nearly black.

Take a bite of one of these apples and you will desire only to devour another. And another. You will become stronger. More vital. More yourself, you will believe. But then your appetite for the apples and their peculiar gifts will keep growing—and become darker.

This is what happens when the townsfolk discover the secret of the orchard. Soon it seems that everyone is consumed by an obsession with the magic of the apples… and what’s the harm, if it is making them all happier, more confident, more powerful?

And even if buried in the orchard is something else besides the seeds of this extraordinary tree: a bloody history whose roots reach back the very origins of the town.

But now the leaves are falling. The days grow darker. And a stranger has come to town, a stranger who knows Harrow’s secrets. Because it’s harvest time, and the town will soon reap what it has sown.

First Line:

Calla Paxson, age twelve, lurched upright in her bed, her heart pounding as if the nightmare she’d been having was still chasing her.

Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: Black River Orchard goes between medium and fast-paced. It is medium-paced until Dan loses his ever-loving mind (around the middle of the book). Then, it starts amping up the pace until the pacing is almost frantic. Then it slowed down again.

Trigger/Content Warning: Black River Orchard does have content and trigger warnings. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Violence (on page): This is a violent book right from the beginning. At first, it is subtle violence, but the violence is in your face by the middle of the book. It is graphic.
  • Blood (on page): This is also a bloody book. It is graphic and goes hand in hand with the violence.
  • Murder (on and off page): A murder sets the tone for the book, and the murders continue throughout the book. Some are described, and some are graphic.
  • Animal Death (on and off page): There are scenes towards the middle of the book where an initiation takes place, including murdering baby animals. I am not going to say much more because it is a spoiler. But it is graphic and almost fever-dreamish when described.
  • Homophobia (on and off page): There is homophobia directed at Emily throughout the book. There are blatant words spoken, and there are things done/threatened. There are other instances of homophobia throughout the book.
  • Grief (on and off page): Grief is one of the prominent undercurrents in this book. Dan is grieving the death of his father (years earlier), Calla is mourning the unexpected loss of a loving father, Emily is grieving her loss of self, John is mourning the deaths he caused during the first Gulf War, and Joanie (later on in the book) is grieving about something (I know it is vague but it is a spoiler).
  • Addiction (on page): The entire main storyline centers on the Harrowsblack apple addiction.
  • Suicide (on and off page): There are scenes where Dan remembers finding his father’s body after his suicide. Also, there is a scene where a police officer takes his service revolver and kills himself in front of Calla.
  • Abusive Relationship (on page): Emily’s wife changes after eating the apple and becomes abusive towards her (mentally, verbally, and physically). Dan becomes verbally and physically abusive to Calla.
  • Attempted Murder (on page): Joanie is almost killed by Prentiss in her house. Dan almost kills Calla.
  • Cheating (off-page): Emily cheated on Meg, so they moved to Harrow. Emily remembers it in a flashback, and Meg brings it up several times during the book.
  • Cults (on page): The book shows two different cults formed around the Harrowsblack apples. Since this will be a spoiler, I won’t say anything more.
  • Gun Violence (on and off page): Guns are used throughout the book to subdue and kill people.

Sexual Content: There is nongraphic sexual content in Black River Orchard. The author only gives bare minimum details about orgies. There is the remembrance of a sex scene between Emily and Meg, but it isn’t graphic.

Language: There is foul language used in Black River Orchard.

Setting: Black River Orchard is set almost entirely in Harrow, Pennsylvania. John Compass has a few side trips to New Jersey towards the middle of the book.

Representation: There is Native American representation (folktales, language) and queer representation (bisexual, genderfluid, lesbian, homosexual, and asexual) in Black River Orchard.

Tropes: Humans Can Be Evil, Monsters, Cults and Religious Extremists, Traumatic Past, Defeated Monster Comes Back to Life.

Age Range to read Black River Orchard: 21 and over

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

John Compass is searching for two things. One is a rare apple, the Harrowsblack, and the other is his best friend, who disappeared five years earlier. Careful tracking leads John to the small town of Harrow, Pennsylvania. It also is revealed that his friend had found the Harrowsblack before he disappeared. Meanwhile, in Harrow, a new apple has appeared. So red that it appears black, it is an instant hit at the farmers market. People who eat this apple cannot stop eating it, and they notice that when they eat the apple, they become stronger and heal faster. As John continues his search, the town slowly starts changing. In the middle of everything is Dan Paxson, the orchard owner. What is with the apples? How did Dan get them? What happens when John discovers the truth?

Main Characters

Dan Paxson: I felt for the guy at the beginning. He was determined to clear his father’s name and make something of the orchard that was his father’s. He was a loving father to Calla (almost too permissive, if I am going to be honest) and was somewhat of a pushover. But, the more he ate the apples, the more he changed. I almost hated to see him turn into what he became at the end of the book. It was nothing like he was initially written.

Calla Paxson: Calla is Dan’s seventeen-year-old daughter who wants to get into Princeton and is a wanna-be social influencer. I didn’t exactly like her at the beginning of the book. She came across as selfish and whiny. But she noticed something wasn’t right with the apples immediately. Calla started knowing that the more people ate them, the weirder they got. I liked her character’s development throughout the book.

John Compass: John is a Gulf War veteran haunted by what he did in the Middle East. He is so haunted that he becomes a Quaker (but will use violence to protect himself). John also becomes a hunter of rare apples. He becomes aware of the Harrowsblack apple when his best and probably only friend went missing five years earlier. I liked seeing John’s character progression in the book. But, what I liked the most was reading about the Native American legends attached to the Harrowsblack and seeing John piece everything together.

Emily Price: Emily is new to Harrow. Meg Price’s wife is feeling out of her element in a small town and in her marriage. Emily did something that strained her marriage and caused Meg to move them to Harrow. Their strained relationship becomes abusive after Meg starts eating the apple. So, I thought Emily was whiny, and she wallowed in self-pity until she met John. Then, I saw a side of Emily that I liked. At first, it was just a tiny glimpse, but by the end of the book, the true Emily was shown, and I loved her.

Joanie Moreau: Joanie showed up almost in the middle of the book. She was a character, and I liked her. She had an open marriage, rented her house out for sex parties (indoor only), and enjoyed teasing her neighbor, Prentiss. But things started to change when the Harrowsblack began making its rounds. It was after a specific event that Joanie showed how strong she was. It was also during the events at the end of the book that showed her character.

Secondary characters: The secondary characters in Black River Orchard made the book. They added so much to this book. The plotline was more flushed out, and the storyline had extra depth.

My review:

Black River Orchard was a well-written horror story that has made me never want to eat apples again. I was engrossed (and horrified) by how the storyline progressed. I couldn’t put my Kindle down. I needed to know how this book ended.

The main storyline in Black River Orchard centers around the five main characters and how those apples changed and affected their lives. It was a scary and often disgusting storyline that repulsed me and made me want to continue with the book.

The storyline with John and his search for the Harrowsblack and his friend was interesting. I didn’t know that there were people who went looking for rare strains of apples (so I learned something new). I liked that John wasn’t afraid to stand his ground when looking for his friend. By the middle of the book, John was central to figuring out how the Harrowsblack ended up in Harrow and who was behind it. He also was prominent in the events at the end of the book.

The storyline with Dan and Calla was sad. I hated seeing their relationship suffer the way it did because of the apples. But Calla was right about everything. When things started to change (and Dan started becoming abusive), Calla was right to begin to think things were wrong. I don’t think she realizes how bad it is until almost the end of the book.

The storyline with Emily and Meg was sad. But I did get annoyed with Emily at various points in the book. She was wallowing in remorse and self-pity until the middle of the book. Yes, she cheated, and her wife did something out of character (moving back to Harrow). But in no way did Emily expect what was going to happen. Her friendship with John was a lifeline.

The storyline with Joanie disturbed me. The amount of hate that she faced was unreal. It was that encounter that snowballed into the tragedy at her house. And the hatred by the cops when they came gave me shivers. But Joanie became a haven for Calla and her friends after everything. Even more so at the end of the book.

The horror angle was written perfectly. The gradual morphing into what happened at the end of the book was fantastic. I can’t get the images of those trees out of my head.

The end of Black River Orchard couldn’t have been written any better. The author ended all the storylines in one swoop. It was honestly shocking how he did it. I also liked the epilogue. But it was the very ending that made me go, hmmmm.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey, NetGalley, and Chuck Wendig for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Black River Orchard. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Black River Orchard, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Chuck Wendig:

The Puzzle Master by Danielle Trussoni

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Random House, Random House

Date of publication: June 13th, 2023

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

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

Reality and the supernatural collide when an expert puzzle maker is thrust into an ancient mystery—one with explosive consequences for the fate of humanity—in this suspenseful thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Angelology

“This novel has it all and more. In the nimble, talented hands of Trussoni the pages fly.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci

All the world is a puzzle, and Mike Brink—a celebrated and ingenious puzzle constructor—understands its patterns like no one else. Once a promising Midwestern football star, Brink was transformed by a traumatic brain injury that caused a rare medical condition: acquired savant syndrome. The injury left him with a mental superpower—he can solve puzzles in ways ordinary people can’t. But it also left him deeply isolated, unable to fully connect with other people.

Everything changes after Brink meets Jess Price, a woman serving thirty years in prison for murder who hasn’t spoken a word since her arrest five years before. When Price draws a perplexing puzzle, her psychiatrist believes it will explain her crime and calls Brink to solve it. What begins as a desire to crack an alluring cipher quickly morphs into an obsession with Price herself. She soon reveals that there is something more urgent, and more dangerous, behind her silence, thrusting Brink into a hunt for the truth.

The quest takes Brink through a series of interlocking enigmas, but the heart of the mystery is the God Puzzle, a cryptic ancient prayer circle created by the thirteenth-century Jewish mystic Abraham Abulafia. As Brink navigates a maze of clues, and his emotional entanglement with Price becomes more intense, he realizes that there are powerful forces at work that he cannot escape.

Ranging from an upstate New York women’s prison to nineteenth-century Prague to the secret rooms of the Pierpont Morgan Library, The Puzzle Master is a tantalizing, addictive thriller in which humankind, technology, and the future of the universe itself are at stake.

First Line:

By the time you read this, I will have caused much sorrow, and for that I beg your forgiveness.

The Puzzle Master by Danielle Trussoni

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: The Puzzle Master is a fast-paced book. The main storyline occurs within a week of Mike going to the prison to meet Jess. I liked that it wasn’t so fast that I had to reread the previous chapter. The author did slow down during certain parts of the book so I could digest what happened in the last chapter. There is some lag during the book sections that centers on the doll maker and his trip to Prague. But it wasn’t enough to distract me from the book or my enjoyment.

Trigger/Content Warning: There are trigger warnings in The Puzzle Master. Some of these are graphic, and most are on page. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Suicide (on and off page)—The suicide is not described (very vague), but the suicide note is the first thing you read in the book. There is also an on-page suicide towards the end of the book.
  • Mental Illness (on page)—Jess, who is in prison, is being treated for several mental illnesses.
  • Violence (on page)—There is graphic violence throughout the book.
  • Gun Violence (on page)—Mike is shot at and threatened with a gun throughout the book.
  • Animal Cruelty (on page)—Mike’s service dog, Conundrum (Connie), is put in the trunk of a car and left there. When she is let out, she is almost dead. The person then sets her free and drives away.
  • Body Horror (on page)—During the chapters set in Prague, the Jewish rabbi, and his son were severely injured after the ritual went wrong. That’s all I can say without spoilers.
  • Murder (on and off page)—There are several murders committed throughout the book.
  • Attempted murder (on page)—There is an attempted murder towards the middle of the book.
  • Grief (on and off page)—A man grieves over the death of his beloved daughter. His grief and what he did set the course for this book.
  • Child death (on page)—A semi-graphic child death is discussed in the book.

Sexual Content: I was pretty surprised at this, but there is sexual content in The Puzzle Master.

Language: There is foul language used in The Puzzle Master.

Setting: The Puzzle Master is set in a couple of different places. In the present day, it is set in upstate New York and New York City. In the past, it is set in Prague.

Representation: There is Indian representation (Mike’s mentor is from India, but the author doesn’t say what part). There is Jewish representation (Gaston befriends a Jewish scholar and his family). There is a god who is both male and female.

Tropes: Cursed Items, Humans Can Be Evil, Traumatic Past

Age Range to read The Puzzle Master: 21 and over

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

When Mike was in high school, he was a promising football player. But a traumatic brain injury resulting from a brutal hit ended that but opened an unwelcome and unwanted door. The brain injury somehow made Mike a savant–acquired savant syndrome. He could see patterns and puzzles in everything. Not only that, but he developed an eidetic memory. Mike made the most of what he was gifted, using it to solve and create puzzles. So, he is intrigued when a psychiatrist contacts him at a prison. He is even more intrigued after meeting Jess Price, who is in jail for killing her boyfriend. His interest is even more when Jess uses a puzzle to communicate with him. Determined to solve the crime and prove her innocence, Mike soon becomes obsessed with Jess and her case. But there is more to this case than Mike expected, and his poking around puts a target on his back. Will Mike be able to prove Jess’s innocence and set her free? Or will what he learned kill him?

Main Characters

Mike Brink: I liked Mike. I couldn’t imagine living with what happened to him after the brain injury. I felt terrible that he felt that he couldn’t connect with people. In a way, I think that is why he became so focused and obsessed with Jess. He felt an immediate connection with her, and that might have been the first connection he had in years. I hated how he was treated later in the book and what Jameson Sedge tried to force him to do.

Jess Price: She was an enigma. I was on the fence with her until Mike got a hold of her diary entries and met Jameson. I will only get a little into her character because a huge twist happens towards the end (and it involves what Gaston described in his journal).

Jameson Sedge: I felt dirty after reading his character. He had a finger in everything, including monitoring Jess at the prison. He also had a loyal hitman who would do whatever Jameson told him. Again, I am not going much into his character because of spoilers. But he got what he deserved at the end of the book.

Secondary characters: The secondary characters were fantastic in The Puzzle Master. I liked that they added extra depth to the storyline and, in some cases, helped explain what was happening. There were some characters that I liked and others that I wanted to boot from a plane.

My review:

The Puzzle Master was a well-written, well-researched book that kept me glued to the pages. I am not interested in puzzles (of any kind), but I was fascinated by what the author wrote in the book. She used actual anagrams and puzzles throughout the book (including The God Puzzle). When asked to describe this book, I told my husband it was like The DaVinci Code but with puzzles and anagrams.

The Puzzle Master has two storylines. One centers around Mike, Jess, and The God Puzzle. The other storyline centers around Gaston LaMoriette and what happened to him before, during, and after Prague.

The storyline centered on Mike, Jess, and The God Puzzle was well-written and well-researched (as I said in the first paragraph). This storyline has a huge twist that is directly tied to Gaston’s storyline.

The storyline centered on Gaston had some surprises in it. I can’t explain what surprises are because of spoilers. After the author revealed that tidbit of information, a lightbulb went on in my head. And when she tied it to Mike and Jess’s storyline, it became apparent.

The mystery angle of The Puzzle Master was excellent. I was truly kept in the dark about everything until the end of the book. The author had a couple of huge twists that took me by surprise.

The end of The Puzzle Master was almost anti-climactic. The author did wrap up most storylines in a way that I liked. But, there was a huge twist that was surprising and scary at the end of the book. The author set up book two perfectly with that. I also liked the afterward. It explained a lot about what was happening in the book.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Random House, Random House, NetGalley, and Danielle Trussoni for allowing me to read and review this ARC of The Puzzle Master. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to The Puzzle Master, then you will enjoy these books:

Sanctuary Motel (Mess Hopkins: Book 1) by Alan Orloff

Publisher: Level Best Books, IBPA, Members’ Titles

Date of publication: October 24th, 2023

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Fiction

Series: Mess Hopkins

Sanctuary Motel—Book 1

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N

Goodreads Synopsis:

Mess Hopkins, proprietor of the seen-better-days Fairfax Manor Inn, never met a person in need who couldn’t use a helping hand—his helping hand. So he’s thrown open the doors of the motel to the homeless, victims of abuse, or anyone else who could benefit from a comfy bed with clean sheets and a roof overhead. This rankles his parents and uncle, who technically still own the place and are more concerned with profits than philanthropy.

When a mother and her teenage boy seek refuge from an abusive husband, Mess takes them in until they can get back on their feet. Shortly after arriving, the mom goes missing and some very bad people come sniffing around, searching for money they claim belongs to them. Mess tries to pump the boy for helpful information, but he’s in full uncooperative teen mode—grunts, shrugs, and monosyllabic answers. From what he does learn, Mess can tell he’s not getting the straight scoop. It’s not long before the boy vanishes too. Abducted? Run away? Something worse? And who took the missing money? Mess, along with his friend Vell Jackson and local news reporter Lia Katsaros, take to the streets to locate the missing mother and son—and the elusive, abusive husband—before the kneecapping loansharks find them first.

First Line:

When I thought of an inn, I pictured a solid structure, built with chiseled stone or sturdy weathered wood, situated on the side of a mountain or on a bluff overlooking a craggy shoreline, the kind of homey place where a rosy-cheeked lady wearing a cable-knit sweater checked you in and escorted you to your room.

Santucary Motel by Alan Orloff

Mess Hopkins is the proprietor of The Fairfax Manor, a slightly run-down 14-room motel in the city of Fairfax, Virginia. While not good on the business end for the motel, Mess has earned a reputation for keeping people safe and helping them out. His willingness to help brings Nicole and her fifteen-year-old son, Kevin, to The Fairfax Motel. She is escaping an abusive relationship and needs a place to hide until it is safe. But Nicole goes missing shortly after arriving, leaving Mess to care for a teenage boy. Coinciding with Nicole’s disappearance, several people show up at the motel, destroy the room she was in, and leave an ominous message. It is up to Mess and his vast network of friends to find out where Nicole is, who is behind her disappearance, and why. Can Mess do it without risking his business and his life?

When I was approached to read and review Sanctuary Motel, I wasn’t taking review requests because of a considerable backlog of ARCs that I have. But, since I have reviewed for the author before, I decided to accept the request. I had enjoyed his last book (a YA thriller mystery) and figured I would like this one. Well, I was right; I enjoyed this book.

Sanctuary Motel is the first book in the Mess Hopkins series. Because this is the first book in the series, you don’t have to read previous books to understand what is going on.

The main storyline for Sanctuary Motel centers around Mess, the motel, Nicole and Kevin, their situation, and the mystery that unfolds. It was a sharply written storyline that did take some time to get going. But I didn’t mind that. The author was setting up Mess’s background and relationship with the book’s other characters. By the middle of the book, it did pick up steam and continued at a medium pace until the end.

The mystery angle of the Sanctuary Motel was well written. I did figure out who didn’t have Nicole after she disappeared. But, I was surprised at who did have her. What also surprised me was who was behind everything and where the money was.

I liked Mess, but man, he was a, well, a mess. He made avoidance an art (poor Cesar). But he had a huge heart, and I did agree with his philosophy. His vast circle of found family seemed to grow with every page. His immediate family were, for the most part, jerks (I didn’t like his uncle or brother-in-law).

Kevin tugged at my heartstrings. As a fifteen-year-old boy’s mother, I laughed over how much Kevin was eating during the book. He had a hollow leg. But he was also damaged. What he heard and saw between his mother and her ex was awful. And I get why he did what he did at the end of the book.

The secondary characters added extra depth to the storylines and the book’s main character. Some I liked (Mama and Vell), some I didn’t know what to think about (Cesar), and others I couldn’t stand (the brother-in-law and Nicole’s ex-husband).

The end of Sanctuary Motel was typical, except for who was ultimately revealed to be the bad guy. As I said above, I did not expect that person to be exposed for who and what they were. It took me by surprise.

I would recommend Sanctuary Motel to anyone over 16. There is language and violence but no sexual situations.

Many thanks to Level Best Books, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Member’s Titles, NetGalley, and Alan Orloff for allowing me to read and review this ARC copy of Sanctuary Motel. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books like Sanctuary Motel, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Alan Orloff

A Traitor in Whitehall (Parisian Orphan: Book 1) by Julia Kelly

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books

Date of publication: October 3rd, 2023

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Fiction, Historical, Mystery Thriller, Adult Fiction, World War II, Historical Mystery, Thriller, Cozy Mystery

Series: Parisian Orphan

A Traitor in Whitehall—Book 1

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

From Julia Kelly, internationally bestselling author of The Last Dance of the Debutante, comes the first in the mysterious and immersive Parisian Orphan series, A Traitor in Whitehall.

1940, England: Evelyne Redfern, known as “The Parisian Orphan” as a child, is working on the line at a munitions factory in wartime London. When Mr. Fletcher, one of her father’s old friends, spots Evelyne on a night out, Evelyne finds herself plunged into the world of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s cabinet war rooms.

However, shortly after she settles into her new role as a secretary, one of the girls at work is murdered, and Evelyne must use all of her amateur sleuthing expertise to find the killer. But doing so puts her right in the path of David Poole, a cagey minister’s aide who seems determined to thwart her investigations. That is, until Evelyne finds out David’s real mission is to root out a mole selling government secrets to Britain’s enemies, and the pair begrudgingly team up.

With her quick wit, sharp eyes, and determination, will Evelyne be able to find out who’s been selling England’s secrets and catch a killer, all while battling her growing attraction to David?

First Line:

“Miss Redfern!” snapped Miss Wilkes, causing me to jerk up and my pencil to skitter across the page of my notebook.

A Traitor in Whitehall by Julia Kelly

Important things you need to know about the book:

A Traitor in Whitehall is the first book in the Parisian Orphan series. Since it is the first book in the series, you don’t have previous books to read. You can dive into this without worrying about previous storylines or characters appearing and throwing the main storylines off.

A Traitor in Whitehall was a medium-paced book for me. There were some areas (mainly towards the end) where the pacing did speed up. But it was consistently medium-paced throughout the book. There was some lag in the middle of the book (during Evelyne and David’s investigation). It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

There are trigger warnings in A Traitor in Whitehall. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  1. Bullying: While Evelyne didn’t experience Jean’s bullying tactics, the other women in the typing pool did. Jean caused one woman to quit her job because she threatened to expose her secrets—several other women experienced blackmail by Jean.
  2. Death: Besides the obvious (Evelyne finding Jean’s body), the book details the questionable death of Evelyne’s mother.
  3. Divorce: Evelyne remembers her parents’ contentious divorce and custody battle over her. It had made the papers, and the newspapers painted her mother badly.
  4. Murder: Evelyne and David are investigating Jean’s murder. Evelyne suspects that her mother was murdered.
  5. Sexism: Evelyne experiences era-appropriate sexism.
  6. War: A Traitor in Whitehall takes place in World War II. Evelyne experiences drills, blackouts, rations, and bombing throughout the book.

Sexual Content: There is no on-page sexual content in A Traitor in Whitehall. It is alluded that Jean is having affairs with some ministers and their staff.

Language:  There is no graphic language in A Traitor in Whitehall.

Setting: A Traitor in Whitehall is set in World War II in London, England.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Evelyne Redfern is working in a munitions factory in World War II-era London. A chance meeting with a childhood friend of her absent father, Evelyne finds her working as a secretary in a top-secret location for Winston Churchhill’s war department. Soon after her arrival, Evelyne stumbles upon the body of one of the secretaries (Jean). That starts Evelyne’s investigation into Jean’s murder and puts her in the path of the mysterious David Poole. When David reveals that he is undercover investigating a possible mole and that Jean could be a link, Evelyne and he team up. Can they discover who the mole is? Can they figure out who killed Jean? And lastly, can they connect the mole and Jean?

Main Characters

Evelyne Redfern: I liked Evelyne. She was bright, loved reading mysteries (Agatha Christie was her favorite), and didn’t miss a thing. She was also straightforward to talk to, which was helpful when she and David were interrogating people. Evelyne used her real-life contacts and what she learned from the mysteries she loved to read to figure out parts of Jean’s murder that otherwise would have gone missing. I also enjoyed that Evelyne liked looking at David (he was good-looking) and wasn’t ashamed about it. She did have faults, though. She tended to go off alone (surprising David at the gambling hall was one) and pushed boundaries (Charlotte and Patricia’s stories come to mind).

David Poole: I initially didn’t know what to make of him. He was very mysterious and was often abrupt with Evelyne. But the more he appeared in the book, the more I liked him. He let Evelyne take the lead in Jean’s murder investigation. I liked how he low-key put people in their place so they would answer her questions. I also liked how David asked for and listened to her input about the mole. He was always there, backing her up, and was instrumental in helping catch Jean’s murderer and the mole. I also liked how the author slyly brought him into Mr. Fletcher’s work.

Secondary characters: There were numerous secondary characters mentioned throughout the book. Each character added their nuance and depth to the storyline. The characters that stood out the most to me were: Mr. Fletcher, Mrs. White, Moira, Irene, Patricia, Aunt Amelia, Mr. Pearson, Inspectors Maxwell and Plaice, Caroline, Mr. Faylen, and Charlotte.

My review:

I enjoyed reading A Traitor in Whitehall. I have a weakness for World War II-era books, and when I read the blurb for this one, I knew I wanted to read it. I am glad I did because this book was a good read.

The storyline centering around Jean’s murder and Evelyne’s investigation was well written. I couldn’t figure out who the murderer was. The author had so many red herrings that I thought it was someone other than who it was. I was shocked at who was revealed and the motive behind the person killing Jean.

The storyline centering around the mole was interesting. Later in the book, it is introduced and intertwined with Jean’s murder. I did figure out half of this storyline reasonably early. But I was surprised at who else was involved. Again, it took me by surprise.

Both storylines merge at the end of the book. I won’t talk about what happened, but I will say this: the murderer and the mole are the same person. There is someone else involved, too.

As I stated above, the mystery/thriller angle was well written. The author kept me on my toes for the entire book. It isn’t very often that I can’t figure out who the killer is.

I may be imagining this, but I saw a possible romance between Evelyne and David. Their chemistry was beautiful in the book, and I can’t wait to see how they work together in upcoming books.

The end of A Traitor in Whitehall was great. I liked how the author united and solved Jean’s murder and who the mole was. But it was after that mystery was solved that I loved it. I can’t wait to see Evelyne and David work together again!!!

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Julia Kelly for allowing me to read and review this ARC of A Traitor in Whitehall. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to A Traitor in Whitehall, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Julia Kelly

The Intern by Michele Campbell

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: October 3rd, 2023

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

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

A young Harvard law student falls under the spell of a charismatic judge in this timely and thrilling novel about class, ambition, family and murder.

Madison Rivera lands the internship of a lifetime working for Judge Kathryn Conroy. But Madison has a secret that could destroy her career. Her troubled younger brother Danny has been arrested, and Conroy is the judge on his case.

When Danny goes missing after accusing the judge of corruption, Madison’s quest for answers brings her deep into the judge’s glamorous world. Is Kathryn Conroy a mentor, a victim, or a criminal? Is she trying to help Madison or use her as a pawn? And why is somebody trying to kill her?

As the two women circle each other in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game, will they save each other, or will betrayal leave one of them dead?

First Line:

She loved the way her professor moved.

The Intern by Michele Campbell

Important things you need to know about the book:

The Intern is a fast-paced book that burns through the storyline. For the most part, the storyline keeps up with the author’s fast dialogue and pacing. But, it does get a bit choppy (not laggy, choppy) in the middle of the book (during Kathryn’s storyline, when her co-worker gets blown up). The choppiness didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book, but it did distract me from what was happening.

The Intern is told from a dual point of view: Madison in the present day and Kathryn in the past. When the author switches, she clearly states who it is and, in most cases, where that person is. I did not have an issue following the storyline back and forth.

There are trigger warnings in The Intern. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Violence: This book has a lot of violence, both on and off the page.
  • Gore: Again, the gore is both on and off the page.
  • Abusive Relationship: I did go back and forth when deciding to put this as a warning. But Kathryn is in an abusive relationship with her half-brother and his mother. It goes back years (to when she was 12 years old). The abuse is primarily verbal and psychological, but there are instances of physical abuse.
  • Assault: In prison, Madison’s brother, Danny, is assaulted. There are attempts of assault on Madison throughout the book.
  • Cancer: Kathryn’s mother had leukemia in the past and present of The Intern.
  • Death: There is a lot of death in The Intern. The deaths range from accidents to murder.
  • Gun Violence: There is gun violence throughout the book, both on and off the page.
  • Police Brutality/Corruption: This is a massive theme throughout The Intern. Almost every police officer/correctional officer, except a couple, is in cahoots with Charlie.

Sexual Content: There are some light kissing scenes, mainly between Kathryn and her deceased husband. There are implications of Kathryn’s mother sleeping with Eddie at the beginning of the book.

Language: There is explicit language.

Setting: The Intern is set in Boston and the surrounding suburbs (northeast and south). Some scenes are set in Washington, D.C., New York, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. The author didn’t give a ton of detail about Boston or any of the other states. However, the author provided enough for me to agree that the author did her research.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

A Harvard student, Madison is thrilled to be in a class taught by her idol, Judge Kathryn Conroy. She is even more delighted when the judge offers her an internship in her chambers. But Madison’s joy turns to disbelief when her brother, arrested on drug charges, tells her that Kathryn is dirty. Then, he goes missing. So, it is up to Madison to find out where he is and if Kathryn is dirty. But Kathryn has her secrets. With Madison wary and looking for answers and Kathryn needing to protect hers, there will be a showdown, and someone will get hurt. When the dust settles, who will be left standing?

Main Characters:

Madison Rivera: I liked her, even if I did find her slightly annoying. She had to work hard to get to where she was. But, once her brother dropped his bombshell, Madison immediately acted. She was determined to help him and find him when he disappeared. Her determination, her wanting to network, and (if I’m going, to be honest) her being nosey were a massive part of why Madison ended up embroiled in Kathryn’s issues. There was a point in the book where I wondered if she would become expendable, but that was put to rest by the end. I am glad that her storyline ended the way it did.

Judge Kathryn Conroy: I am not going to mince words here. She had a crap life up to the age of twelve. Her mother was self-absorbed and an awful mother. Her father treated Kathryn like a dirty secret. Uncle Ray skeeved me out. The worst thing that could have happened to her was her mother getting sick and her going to live with Eddie. Kathryn was set up from that age on to become a part of a vast criminal network, and no matter how many times she tried to get out, they found ways to pull her back in. I didn’t judge her for doing what she did after her husband’s death. I would have done the same thing if I were in her shoes. I was just surprised she kept it a secret from Ray for a long time. I also would have struck the same deal that she did with Madison.

My review:

The Intern was a well-written thriller that kept me glued to the book. I didn’t know where the plotline would take me from one page to another. When I finished the book, I felt like I should double-check the locks on my doors. I was that unnerved.

The mystery/thriller angle was terrific. As I said, I didn’t know what I was getting from one page to another. There were some interesting and surprising twists thrown in throughout the book. But the one that surprised me was what happened with Ray at the end of the book. I was expecting something else.

The end of The Intern was typical. I liked how the author wrapped up the storylines. I had no issues believing the end of Madison’s storyline. The end to Kathryn’s was a little more unbelievable, but it didn’t matter. I enjoyed it.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, NetGalley, and Michele Campbell for allowing me to read and review this ARC of The Intern. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

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Tantalus Depths by Evan Graham

Publisher: Inkshares

Date of publication: September 27th, 2022

Genre: Science Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Thriller, Space, Adult, Artificial Intelligence, Science Fiction Fantasy

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

Mary Ketch signed on to the Tantalus 13 deep space survey mission to get some time and distance from her problems at home. It was supposed to be a simple piloting job to help an artificially intelligent, self-constructing factory called SCARAB lay the foundations of a mining colony on a barren rock.

But when the barren rock turns out to be a solid sphere of pure platinum, the astronauts realize they’ve made the greatest discovery in human Tantalus 13 is not a planet at all, but an ancient artificial construct of unknown origin and purpose.

As the crew begin to meet gruesome and fatal “accidents,” their sense of achievement dwindles and Mary suspects the guilty party may be the increasingly deranged SCARAB. But SCARAB may not be acting alone, and Tantalus has only begun to reveal the dark secrets that lie in its depths…

First Line:

We live in a dead universe.

Tantalus Depths by Evan Graham

Important things you need to know about the book:

Tantalus Depths starts slow and gradually increases the speed to medium fast. I am not a fan of books that start slow. But, in this case, it is needed. The author explains the backstory (about the AI rebellion), the voyage, and the main characters’ backgrounds. There is some lag towards the middle (mainly when they were exploring the drill site), but it didn’t affect how I liked the book.

There are content/trigger warnings in Tantalus Depths. They are:

Mental Health: Ramanathan (the ship’s doctor) suffers from severe depression throughout the book (it is explained why and Mary does try to help him). Mary suffered from depression before the trip (SCARAB uses that against her) and started spiraling in the middle of the book.

Violence/Gore: The violence doesn’t start until Becky gets hurt in the artifact. Then, it goes from nothing to graphic within a chapter. There are explicit scenes of gore, too.

Language: There is mild to moderate language in Tantalus Depths.

These are the main triggers in Tantalus Depths. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler free as I can get):

Mary Ketch is the piolet of The Diamelen. She is heading to an asteroid, Tantalus 13, with her six shipmates on a surveying mission. Sent ahead is SCARAB, a self-building AI whose job is to help build the buildings and biodomes that will house the mining company. But, once Mary arrives on Tantalus, she starts to notice that things are off with SCARAB. But accidents happen when her crew makes a fantastic find (one that could have a ripple effect across humanity). These accidents make Mary think SCARAB has circumvented its programming and gone rogue. But, the truth is even more frightening, and it soon becomes a race against the AI and time to get off the planet. What is happening? Will Mary and her crew make it off?

Main Characters

Mary Ketch: I liked Mary and wondered if she was overthinking things with SCARAB. I like that the author wrote her that way, unreliable. That made what happened after Becky’s accident much more horrifying and sad.

SCARAB: When SCARAB was introduced in the book, I did get a slight feeling of dread. My internal voice immediately had SCARAB speaking like Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, once I got into reading the character, I realized that SCARAB was nothing like Hal. Instead, SCARAB was more dangerous than Hal. It had found a way to circumnavigate the two laws that bound it, and when that happened, chaos started.

My review

Tantalus Depths is a well-written science fiction novel that kept my attention from page one. Science fiction isn’t my usual go-to genre, so I took a chance agreeing to read and review this book.

The science fiction angle of the book was well written. I loved that the author chose to have a forward explanation about The Corsica Event and how it affected human/AI relationships. The author described flying in space, mining, the three alien species shown in the gallery, and SCARAB’s descent into madness. It enthralled me and made me want more.

My only complaint with the book is that I wish there were a glossary explaining the different colonies/races/equipment/terms used. It would have helped me a lot with some of the terms used.

The end of Tantalus Depths had me on the edge of my seat. I was rooting for Mary and company to get off Tantalus 13 and away from SCARAB. I left the book wondering if the escape was an escape or if something else was carried aboard the ship.

Many thanks to Evan Graham for allowing me to read and review Tanalus Depths. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Tantalus Depths, then you will enjoy these:

Other books by Evan Graham:

The Golden Gate by Amy Chua

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books

Date of Publication: September 19th, 2023

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Fiction, Thriller, Historical, Crime, Mystery Thriller, Adult, World War II, Historical Mystery

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

Amy Chua’s debut novel, The Golden Gate, is a sweeping, evocative, and compelling historical thriller that paints a vibrant portrait of a California buffeted by the turbulent crosswinds of a world at war and a society about to undergo massive change.

In Berkeley, California, in 1944, Homicide Detective Al Sullivan has just left the swanky Claremont Hotel after a drink in the bar when a presidential candidate is assassinated in one of the rooms upstairs. A rich industrialist with enemies among the anarchist factions on the far left, Walter Wilkinson could have been targeted by any number of groups. But strangely, Sullivan’s investigation brings up the specter of another tragedy at the Claremont, ten years the death of seven-year-old Iris Stafford, a member of the Bainbridge family, one of the wealthiest in all of San Francisco. Some say she haunts the Claremont still.

The many threads of the case keep leading Sullivan back to the three remaining Bainbridge heiresses, now Iris’s sister, Isabella, and her cousins Cassie and Nicole. Determined not to let anything distract him from the truth―not the powerful influence of Bainbridges’ grandmother, or the political aspirations of Berkeley’s district attorney, or the interest of China’s First Lady Madame Chiang Kai-Shek in his findings―Sullivan follows his investigation to its devastating conclusion.

Chua’s page-turning debut brings to life a historical era rife with turbulent social forces and groundbreaking forensic advances, when race and class defined the very essence of power, sex, and justice, and introduces a fascinating character in Detective Sullivan, a mixed race former Army officer who is still reckoning with his own history.

First Line:

Inside an alabaster palace one January afternoon in 1930, a six year old girl hiding inside a closed armoire felt truly alone for the first time in her life.

The Golden Gate by Amy Chua

Detective Al Sullivan is at the elegant and luxurious Claremont Hotel when one of the staff informs him that one of the guests, a former presidential candidate, Walter Wilkinson, has been the target of an assassination attempt. Moving his room and posting police outside, Al heads home, only to be called back because Wilkinson has been killed. While investigating that murder, Al finds links to another death ten years earlier—Iris Stafford, the granddaughter of the hotel owner. He also finds ties to a local Communist party and an underground railroad hiding Japanese citizens from internment. How does everything fit together? Who killed Walter and why? The answers he uncovers could send a ripple effect across Berkely.

Before I get into the review, I want to let you know there are trigger warnings. They are racism (explicit and on page), bigotry (explicit and on page), poverty (explicit and on page), mental illness (on and off page), and child abandonment (on page).

I love reading good historical fiction. I also like reading mysteries and books in the World War 2 era. So, when St. Martin’s Press sent me the widget, I decided to download the book after I read the blurb. I was curious how the author would meld everything together and keep my attention.

There are two storylines that The Golden Gate is centered around. I liked how the author intertwined these storylines. She did so gradually by letting hints about Iris’s death appear in the investigation of Walter’s murder. By the end of the book, both storylines are entangled together.

The storyline centering around Iris and her death was heartbreaking. From flashbacks to the written testimony of Mrs. Bainbridge, you get to see how Iris’s life was up to her death. The author also showed how Iris’s death affected everyone around her. But the author did something clever. She held off telling exactly how Iris died until the end of the book. And you know, even then, I doubted whether her death was an accident or not. The confession at the end of the book, tied to Walter’s murder, didn’t sit right with me.

The storyline centering around Al and his investigation into Walter’s murder was a ride. The twisty plotline made me guess who could have killed him. Every so often, I forget that this book was set in 1944, so when Al just entered a house to get information or threatened a Hispanic worker with deportation and taking her kids, I was shocked. But, it did go right with how things were in that era. I did like that Al wouldn’t let go of this case and kept looking for a motive. As I mentioned above, this was a very twisty plotline, and the author didn’t give up the murderer until the very end of the book.

I liked Al and felt terrible that he had to hide the fact that he was mixed race (Mexican and white). But, in that era, you couldn’t get ahead in life if you were anything but lily-white. So, he did what he thought was right. That meant changing his last name to his mother’s maiden name and passing himself as white. What I also liked about Al is that he is flawed. He said and did things in the book that he regretted later on (the scene where he told Miriam he wasn’t her father broke my heart). He was also a good detective and determined to solve Walter’s murder and Iris’s death. By the end of the book, I felt that Al had matured. He was steps closer to accepting who he was. He also did something that I didn’t see coming.

The secondary characters truly made this book pop. From accurate historical figures (and the author has a very cool connection to one of them) to fiction, they added depth to this book.

The historical fiction angle was terrific. You could tell that the author did her research. I could picture myself standing among these people and not having an issue believing what she wrote.

The mystery angle was just as good as the historical fiction angle. The author did something that happens next to never: she stumped me on Iris’s death and Walter’s murder. Not only was it not who I thought it was, but it ended up being the last person I would have expected. I loved it. I was a little disappointed that Walter’s murderer wouldn’t face justice.

The end of The Golden Gate was terrific. The author brought together Iris’s death and Walter’s murder (see what I wrote above). I liked how she ended it with something very positive. But how she ended made me wonder if another book might be written in this universe. If so, I would love to read it. Also, the afterword was wonderful and detailed all the research she put into the book.

I would recommend The Golden Gate to anyone over 16. There is language, violence, and very mild sexual situations. Also see my trigger warnings above.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Amy Chua for allowing me to read and review this ARC of The Golden Gate. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

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Other books by Amy Chua: