The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke

The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke

Pub Date: October 5, 2021

Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Berkley!)

Summary: When single mother Liv is commissioned to paint a mural in a 100-year-old lighthouse on a remote Scottish island, it’s an opportunity to start over with her three daughters–Luna, Sapphire, and Clover. When two of her daughters go missing, she’s frantic. She learns that the cave beneath the lighthouse was once a prison for women accused of witchcraft. The locals warn her about wildlings, supernatural beings who mimic human children, created by witches for revenge. Liv is told wildlings are dangerous and must be killed.

Twenty-two years later, Luna has been searching for her missing sisters and mother. When she receives a call about her youngest sister, Clover, she’s initially ecstatic. Clover is the sister she remembers–except she’s still seven years old, the age she was when she vanished. Luna is worried Clover is a wildling. Luna has few memories of her time on the island, but she’ll have to return to find the truth of what happened to her family. But she doesn’t realize just how much the truth will change her.

Reeling from both the sudden death of her husband and a potentially devastating medical diagnosis, Liv takes her three daughters and runs. Living out of a car is only sustainable for so long however, and Liv accepts a commission to paint a mural in a century-old abandoned lighthouse on a remote Scottish island. The land and its inhabitants are teeming with an ancient magic, stories passed down through generations about witchcraft and wildlings, tales of revenge and murder.

Twenty-two years later, only the middle daughter, Luna, is left. Both of her sisters and her mother mysteriously disappeared and all these years later Luna only has the faintest whispers of memories from that time. She never gave up searching for Saffy and Clover though – and when she receives a call she never expected would come, that Clover has been found alive, she’s ecstatic. Upon arriving at the hospital, however, she quickly realizes something isn’t right. At all. Clover should be a grown woman approaching 30. Instead, the person she greets is a 7-year-old girl. A girl who looks and sounds exactly like her little sister, but a child nonetheless. The longer Luna spends with this girl, the more she begins to wonder if those tales were true: is Clover actually a wildling? And what really happened to her family?

The moment I first heard of The Lighthouse Witches I knew it was something I wanted – no, needed – to read. Like so many other readers, the second the clock struck midnight on October 1, I began reaching for all things moody and supernatural. Give me all the witches, give me all the nightmarish beliefs and missing children that reappear two decades later the same age.

It certainly didn’t hurt that this novel bounces around in time, one of my absolute favorite methods of storytelling. The story not only follows Liv in 1998, but the reader also spends time with Saffy, the oldest daughter. Fifteen is a hard age for any girl, but to still be grieving over her stepfather while having her life upended to move to a remote island? It’s little wonder Sapphire lashes out and prefers to spend more time with a boy from school than with her family. Meanwhile, Luna’s chapters are set in the present day and there’s also a story woven throughout the book from a boy in the 1600s. Needless to say, I was in my happy place.

To solve the mystery behind whatever’s going on with Clover (and hopefully learn the truth behind Liv’s and Saffy’s disappearances), Luna has to return to the one place she never wants to visit again: the lighthouse. The spot where, centuries before, women were imprisoned and tortured until they confessed to witchcraft. The spot where one grieving daughter shouted out a curse of revenge that would last generations. The spot where a boy uncovered a hidden portal.

To say more would be to give away the entire story, but know that The Lighthouse Witches was a fantastic way to kick off spooky season. Admittedly I would have liked things to have been a bit creepier, something a little darker that would have left me sleeping with the lights on, but what I got was still immensely enjoyable. Cooke has several other novels, including last year’s highly praised The Nesting, and though The Lighthouse Witches was my first, I’m delighted to say it absolutely will not be my last and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen by Rhys Bowen

God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen by Rhys Bowen

Pub Date: October 12, 2021

Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Berkley!)

Summary: Georgie is excited for her first Christmas as a married woman in her lovely new home. She suggests to her dashing husband, Darcy, that they have a little house party, but when Darcy receives a letter from his aunt Ermintrude, there is an abrupt change in plans. She has moved to a house on the edge of the Sandringham estate, near the royal family, and wants to invite Darcy and his new bride for Christmas. Aunt Ermintrude hints that the queen would like Georgie nearby. Georgie had not known that Aunt Ermintrude was a former lady-in-waiting and close confidante of her royal highness. The letter is therefore almost a royal request, so Georgie, Darcy, and their Christmas guests: Mummy, Grandad, Fig, and Binky all head to Sandringham.

Georgie soon learns that the notorious Mrs. Simpson, mistress to the Prince of Wales, will also be in attendance. It is now crystal clear to Georgie that the Queen expects her to do a bit of spying. There is tension in the air from the get-go, and when Georgie pays a visit to the queen, she learns that there is more to her request than just some simple eavesdropping. There have been a couple of strange accidents at the estate recently. Two gentlemen of the royal household have died in mysterious circumstances and another has been shot by mistake during a hunt. Georgie begins to suspect that a member of the royal family is the real target but her investigation will put her new husband and love of her life, Darcy, in the crosshairs of a killer.

Newlyweds Lady Georgiana Rannoch and Darcy O’Mara are looking forward to spending their first Christmas together as a married couple and have planned on hosting a holiday party for their friends and family. Before the party can begin, however, Darcy receives a letter from his aunt (along with a royal summons to Georgie from Queen Mary herself) and the house packs up to head to Sandringham.

From the start it’s clear this isn’t going to be the relaxing and festival Christmas Georgie had hoped for. For starters, there are several unexpected guests – including the Prince of Wales and his mistress Wallis Simpson – but things go from bad to worse as several accidents befall the guests, ultimately leaving more than one member of the party dead. Are these nothing more than incredibly unfortunate mishaps? Or are they connected to mysterious deaths that occurred the previous Christmas? Is it possibly a politically-motivated attack on the Prince? It’s clear the Queen intends for Georgie to find out, even if it means risking Darcy’s life.

Any new Rhys Bowen novel is a cause for celebration! Her books are such delights and I always look forward to new installments. God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen is the latest in the Royal Spyness series, bringing the total number of volumes up to 15 – perfect for a good winter binge! Despite the size of the series, newcomers will easily get up to speed: this novel not only reads well as a standalone, but there are multiple callbacks and explanations as to who characters are or how Georgie’s story came to be.

I love a full cast of characters and God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen was fit to burst! There’s the upstairs, the downstairs, the royals, even a few Americans for good measure – and yet there was never any confusion as to who was who. To me they all had their own distinct personalities, their own voices, something virtually required when it comes to a cast list of this size, but that’s Rhys Bowen for you! Also, I always take great pleasure in trying to weed out the villain; there are more than a few red herrings sprinkled throughout the book that I admit I went back and forth a few times before the Big Reveal.

Amongst the Christmas festivities and possible murders in God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen was the very real rise in Hitler’s power, King George V is in declining health, and the fate of the empire will soon fall to the Prince of Wales. The ending of this book made me especially giddy for the next, I’m VERY intrigued to see where Rhys goes with it all!

Longtime fans and newcomers alike will find much to enjoy in God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen. Between the holiday setting, the mystery behind several murders, and getting to rub elbows with the royal family, this book was a joy from page one. Fifteen books in there are still new facets of these characters to discover and a surprise for Darcy and Georgie at the end of this one will certainly make the next book interesting!

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

Pub Date: September 28, 2021

Source: Print ARC via publisher (Thank you, Avon!)

Summary: Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.

Every few months a book will make waves throughout the literary community, it’ll be featured on the Upcoming Titles To Look Out For lists, the Booktube and Bookstagram TBR stacks. The hype comes on fast and strong – but it is really deserved? I know I’ve definitely been caught up in the onslaught of praise, only to be sorely disappointed in several novels. In the case of The Ex Hex, however, I couldn’t be more thrilled and delighted to say it deserves every single rave review and then some!

The town of Graves Glen, Georgia, is gearing up for its annual fall festival and the guest of honor is one of the descendants of the town’s founder. Tasked with charging the ley lines and putting in an appearance at the fair, Rhys plans on making this an extremely quick trip; heading home to his overbearing father in Wales is more appealing than spending one more second in close proximity to his ex-girlfriend. An ex-girlfriend who, nine years earlier, drunkenly cursed him…only to recently learn the curse was very real.

With the ley lines powered up, the curse quickly takes on a new form, spreading throughout the town. What originally began as a heartbroken nineteen-year-old’s sobs about a stupid, sexy boy’s stupid, sexy dimples has now turned into a ghost with a grudge, fake skulls that have come to life, and a talking cat. In order to make things right and get rid of the curse once and for all, Vivi and Rhys have to work together – for better or worse.

To say I enjoyed The Ex Hex is putting it mildly. The opening pages had me giggling, grinning, full on belly-laughing – and it only got better from there. The setting was pure perfection, the characters were great (Vivi, a witch who works at a college that caters to magical and non-magical humans; Gwyn, the absolute best sidekick – I would 100% read a companion novel devoted to her; Sir Purrcival and his quest for TREEEAAATTTSSS; Rhys and his non-cursed hair that still does That Thing), I was completely hooked from the start and that shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. Erin Sterling = Rachel Hawkins, author of numerous YA books included the fantastic Hex Hall series (which was a go-to recommendation during my bookseller days and I’m now itching for a reread!)

If there was one downfall here it was with the handful of Harry Potter references, though I’m happy to say they were few and far between. Every other second spent within the pages of this book was wonderful and despite having read it just a few days ago, I’ve done a MASSIVE push and have told so many friends about it. If it wasn’t October, The Ex Hex would still be a book to read. But since it IS October? It’d be an outright crime not to grab a copy. October started off so strong with this 5-star read and I’m so excited to see where the rest of the month takes me.

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Pub Date: September 7, 2021

Source: Print ARC + e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Atria!)

Summary: Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.

Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.

As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.

Every year there are a few standout releases that really set the book world on fire with all the buzz and excitement they generate. The Charm Offensive, a debut pitched as Red, White, & Royal Blue (one of my all-time FAVORITE novels) meets One to Watch, was one of those releases. When I received a review copy, it was all I could do not to ignore the world and dive into one of my most anticipated books of the year. …but when the time came to read it? I absolutely DID ignore the world to dive in.

Dev Deshpande has been a lifelong fan of the reality dating show Ever After. So much so, that after college he managed to score a job working as a producer for the show and for the past six years has made it his job to create fairytale romances for the lucky couples. His own love life, however, it about as far away from a fairytale as a person could get: he recently broke up with his boyfriend, also a crewmember, and the new season of Ever After will bring them face-to-face for the first time since they separated.

Charlie Winshaw is a tech wunderkind, a millionaire several times over, and movie-star gorgeous. It’s no wonder he was brought on as the newest Prince Charming. Behind closed doors, however, Charlie is an anxious disaster, overly awkward, emotionally distant toward the women with whom he’s meant to find True Love, and clearly doesn’t want anything to do with Ever After. With his job – and the show’s future – on the line, Dev is on a mission to help Charlie build a connection to the women, any of the women. The more time they spend together however, it becomes clear that it’s Dev who has more chemistry with Charlie than any of the female contestants.

Calling it right now: The Charm Offensive is a Top Read of 2021 for me. I absolutely loved everything about this one, the story, the characters, the fact that Ever After remained a part of the novel throughout the entire book. Inclusion and diversity is off the charts. I giggled, I swooned, I teared up. In the opening of this post I mentioned I originally wanted to immerse myself fully into this book and avoid the real world – and I did. I planned on savoring it over a long, holiday weekend. In reality, I inhaled this book in a single sitting.

Don’t sleep on this one or wave it away because everyone and their brother is reading it. Believe the hype. Give in to the hype. You won’t be disappointed. And this is a debut, y’all – I am beyond excited to see what Alison does next!

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer

Pub Date: August 31, 2021

Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Wednesday Books!)

Summary: Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of her more famous brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft. But she has all the wits, skills, and sleuthing inclinations of them both. At fifteen, she’s an independent young woman–after all, her name spelled backwards reads ‘alone’–and living on her own in London. When a young professional woman, Miss Letitia Glover, shows up on Sherlock’s doorstep, desperate to learn more about the fate of her twin sister, it is Enola who steps up. It seems her sister, the former Felicity Glover, married the Earl of Dunhench and per a curt note from the Earl, has died. But Letitia Glover is convinced this isn’t the truth, that she’d know–she’d feel–if her twin had died.

The Earl’s note is suspiciously vague and the death certificate is even more dubious, signed it seems by a John H. Watson, M.D. (who denies any knowledge of such). The only way forward is for Enola to go undercover–or so Enola decides at the vehement objection of her brother. And she soon finds out that this is not the first of the Earl’s wives to die suddenly and vaguely–and that the secret to the fate of the missing Felicity is tied to a mysterious black barouche that arrived at the Earl’s home in the middle of the night. To uncover the secrets held tightly within the Earl’s hall, Enola is going to require help–from Sherlock, from the twin sister of the missing woman, and from an old friend, the young Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether!

Back in 2011 (coincidentally it was on my birthday that year!), I reviewed The Case of the Missing Marquess, the first book in the Enola Holmes series. I picked up the book on a whim during a sick day in bed when I wanted something entertaining and light – this book was just the thing. Enola Holmes, the headstrong, whip smart 14-year-old sister of the Holmes brothers, has been left to her own defenses after her mother mysteriously disappears. What followed was a wonderfully fun romp and I quickly ate up the following books.

My love for the series held strong through the years and the books became a favorite go-to recommendation of mine during my bookseller days; I pushed them onto young and old readers alike. When Netflix announced they were adapting the series into a live-action movie, I was thrilled. And when I found out Nancy Springer was delivering unto the world a seventh volume…I was beside myself. After all these years Enola was coming back.

This new volume, Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche, might have arrived years after the last book, but it wastes no time in bringing the reader up to speed, courtesy of a quick recap from Sherlock. Now 15, Enola has come to something of a truce with her brothers and she even assists Sherlock on his own cases. When Miss Letitia Glover arrives at Sherlock’s door seeking help, it’s Enola who comes to her aid. The Earl of Dunhench, Tish’s brother-in-law, has hastily sent a note claiming Tish’s twin sister has died. Between vague explanations, extremely shady death certificates, and Tish’s own sisterly intuition, she’s convinced Felicity is still alive. But where is she? And could the Earl’s first wife have also met a sinister end? To investigate further, Enola must do what she does best: go undercover. But she won’t be on her own: Sherlock is also on the case along with familiar faces from previous novels.

If I was thrilled to see the return of this series, I’m even more delighted to say it lives up to the spirit of the previous books. It felt as though I was right back in the swing of things, right alongside old friends. The humor, the Victorian atmosphere, the delightful vocabulary, it was all there as though there hadn’t been a decade between books. Sherlock’s helpful recap absolutely had a hand in getting me caught up, but once I returned to Baker Street, everything came rushing back.

Although Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche is the seventh installment, newcomers to the series can jump right in rather than starting at the beginning. Though, be warned, once you read this one you WILL want to go back and devour the rest! Witty, exciting, highly entertaining, this book is every bit as great as the previous volumes and I’m so glad it’s here.

Currently.

READING: Tonight I’ll be finishing Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche – a surprise follow-up to 2010’s conclusion of the Enola Holmes series. Sherlock and Mycroft’s younger sister can hold her own against her brothers! I first discovered these books years ago (the first came out in 2006) during a day where I was home sick in bed; they’re the perfect escapist reads. Easy and quick, but highly entertaining. With the Netflix series, I suppose there was renewed interest, thus this latest book, no complaints here!

WATCHING: Lately, shows haven’t been much of a priority apart from being used as background noise. Law & Order and Bones have been keeping me company during the workday.

LISTENING TO: Podcasts have been my go-tos lately, with The Daily, Fresh Air, and NYT’s Book Review on heavy rotation. A highlight of my week is always Wednesday’s episode of Office Ladies!

LOVING: Meal subscriptions! After MUCH hemming and hawing I finally took the plunge with Hello Fresh – the menus all look fantastic. I’ll be getting my first box in a few days and can’t wait!

LOOKING FORWARD TO: Maybe it’s me, but I haven’t been taking any time off; WFH life is so relaxing and quiet that I honestly never think of it. HOWEVER! I’m sitting on quite a bit of vacation time and I know summers/end of the year tend to get hit hard, so I decided to start taking a day here and there – I’m taking a long weekend next week and am thrilled! Also, our tiny book club is getting together for the first time since February 2020 next weekend!!!! SO EXCITED.

EATING: I could have saved Hello Fresh for this one! Technically I haven’t eaten this *yet* but earlier in the week I won a giveaway for a variety pack of salads from a local business and am honestly a bit more delighted and giddy than anyone should be to win salad. AND this weekend is both Picklesburgh and Vegfest here in Pittsburgh – lots of good eats this week!

WEARING: Because of rain, the past few days have been gloomy and gray – and a little cooler temperature-wise. I’ve broken out some of my sweaters and boots and ahhh, gimme all the fall vibes please and thank you.

ENJOYING: Honestly, just this week period. I wouldn’t have thoughts so on Monday, but this week was full of wins for me.

Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens

Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens

Pub Date: August 3, 2021

Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)

Summary: The Cold Creek Highway stretches close to five hundred miles through British Columbia’s rugged wilderness to the west coast. Isolated and vast, it has become a prime hunting ground for predators. For decades, young women traveling the road have gone missing. Motorists and hitchhikers, those passing through or living in one of the small towns scattered along the region, have fallen prey time and again. And no killer or abductor who has stalked the highway has ever been brought to justice.

Hailey McBride calls Cold Creek home. Her father taught her to respect nature, how to live and survive off the land, and to never travel the highway alone. Now he’s gone, leaving her a teenage orphan in the care of her aunt whose police officer husband uses his badge as a means to bully and control Hailey. Overwhelmed by grief and forbidden to work, socialize, or date, Hailey vanishes into the mountainous terrain, hoping everyone will believe she’s left town. Rumors spread that she was taken by the highway killer—who’s claimed another victim over the summer.

One year later, Beth Chevalier arrives in Cold Creek, where her sister Amber lived—and where she was murdered. Estranged from her parents and seeking closure, Beth takes a waitressing job at the local diner, just as Amber did, desperate to understand what happened to her and why. But Beth’s search for answers puts a target on her back—and threatens to reveal the truth behind Hailey’s disappearance…

There is a miles-long stretch of Canadian wilderness known as the Highway of Tears where over 80 women, many of whom were Indigenous/First Nations, have been brutally murdered. Since the 1970s these killings have occurred and yet the cases remain unsolved to this day. Chevy Stevens, a Canadian herself, grew up knowing never to hitchhike, never to wander alone, and it’s this highway that inspired her new novel, Dark Roads.

For Hailey McBride, Cold Creek is home, it’s all she’s ever known. After her mother passed away when Hailey was five, she became her father’s shadow – literally in some cases, as she learned everything about the unforgiving land around them. She learned how to repair bike chains, pick locks, hunt and fish and live off the land – but a dangerous curve at high speeds left her an orphan at 16. Now she’s living with her aunt and little cousin…and her aunt’s new husband, Sherriff Vaughn.

A summer romance with a new girl in town ends in tragedy and Hailey disappears, vanishes into the mountains. Though Hailey hopes the town – namely, her uncle – come to the conclusion she’s run off, circumstances leave the Cold Creek residents to believe instead that the highway killer claimed another victim.

The following year, another new girl arrives: Beth, the older sister of Amber, Hailey’s first love. Having given up pursuing a law degree, Beth is now seeking answers and closure, following in her little sister’s footsteps as she searches for the truth about what happened the previous summer. But the closer Beth gets, the more her life is in danger.

I’m going to be up-front here: having had a few novels under my belt prior to Dark Roads, I reached the conclusion that Chevy’s books are really hit-or-miss for me. My introduction to her work – pre-blogging! – was such a disappointment that I swore off any other books. Thankfully I didn’t listen to myself, because my next few reads were fantastic thrillers that I wholeheartedly enjoyed! So when I learned she was releasing a new novel, and one inspired by such a horrific event, I knew I would be reading it. And you know what? Going in, I thought I had another winner: the opening is told through the eyes of the victims and instantly set the tone for what (I had hoped) was to come.

Unfortunately, those moments of brilliance were few and far between. While this wasn’t necessarily an issue for me – I enjoy YA thrillers – Dark Roads read very much like a YA novel, rather than Adult, due to Hailey’s POV. Even when Beth appears, though at 21 she’s not much older. Not a problem for me, but I’m sure other reads would be put off by the younger feel. Instead my issue was with Vaughn. I get it, he’s bad. A creep. He pervs on girls and takes photos in various states of undress, has hidden cameras placed throughout his house and other areas in the town; he has a serious grudge with one of the town boys for reasons I never understood. It’s clear Dark Roads wants the reader to view Vaughn as a villain – and he is, don’t get me wrong, but he’s so over-the-top I was surprised he was never described with a twirly little mustache. He views himself as the capital L Law in Cold Creek and heaven help anyone who goes against his word. He throws around his authority, makes BS arrests, pulls punches (literally), and gets away with it because he can. He needed to dial it back SEVERAL notches; I don’t think I read a single scene with him where I wasn’t rolling my eyes.

The main chunk of the novel was more survivalist tale than murder mystery but it’s yet another part of the story that didn’t add up. Yes, Hailey grew up learning from her father, but all of Cold Creek grew up in those mountains. Hunting and fishing is a religion to that town. It didn’t make sense that she was able to camp out in the woods for an entire year without being found. There’s actually a photo of her cabin pinned up in the local restaurant! Beth, a city girl, manages to print out some maps and stumble upon Hailey’s campsite, but men who have lived their entire lives in that town couldn’t?

My biggest gripe though, was the big reveal that wasn’t. Much like the real-life Highway of Tears, the murders in Dark Roads have been going on for decades. Yep once the truth comes out..? One murder was explained and that was it, the rest – numerous women brutally killed – were all but forgotten by the author. Not by this reader, though. I wanted answers, I wanted an explanation. I wanted something, anything, more than a quick throwaway line about drug smuggling. Talk about a letdown.

Although Dark Roads was an extremely readable book – and will make a great addition to final, lazy days at the beach – I was left with more questions than answers. The big bad couldn’t have been more cartoony and the reveal was nothing but a quick wave of the author’s hand, don’t look too closely or you’ll see all the holes poking through the plot. That said, while the majority of the book didn’t quite do it for me, the prologue and epilogue were both beautifully written and I wish the entire novel had been THAT instead. Also, the dog makes it to the end of the book alive. I was extremely nervous when Wolf was introduced – this book is about a decades-long hunt for a ruthless serial killer after all – and none of the early reviews I read mentioned him. But I’m please to say Wolf survives.

my latest library haul.

MYTHOLOGY by Edith Hamilton

Edith Hamilton’s Mythology succeeds like no other book in bringing to life for the modern reader the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths that are the keystone of Western culture–the stories of gods and heroes that have inspired human creativity from antiquity to the present. We meet the Greek gods on Olympus and Norse gods in Valhalla. We follow the drama of the Trojan War and the wanderings of Odysseus. We hear the tales of Jason and the Golden Fleece, Cupid and Psyche, and mighty King Midas. We discover the origins of the names of the constellations. And we recognize reference points for countless works of art, literature, and cultural inquiry–from Freud’s Oedipus complex to Wagner’s Ring Cycle of operas to Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra. Praised throughout the world for its authority and lucidity, Mythology is Edith Hamilton’s masterpiece–the standard by which all other books on mythology are measured.

Back when I was a bookseller, Mythology sold like hotcakes, even decades after its 1942 release. It wasn’t until last month when my book club discussed Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne that I fell down a mythology rabbit hole and haven’t yet climbed back out. I had originally planned on grabbing whatever copy was available at my library – until I saw this gorgeous illustrated 75th anniversary copy.

RAZORBLADE TEARS by S.A Cosby

Ike Randolph has been out of jail for fifteen years, with not so much as a speeding ticket in all that time. But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid. The last thing he expects to hear is that his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek. Ike had never fully accepted his son but is devastated by his loss.

Derek’s father Buddy Lee was almost as ashamed of Derek for being gay as Derek was ashamed his father was a criminal. Buddy Lee still has contacts in the underworld, though, and he wants to know who killed his boy.

Ike and Buddy Lee, two ex-cons with little else in common other than a criminal past and a love for their dead sons, band together in their desperate desire for revenge. In their quest to do better for their sons in death than they did in life, hardened men Ike and Buddy Lee will confront their own prejudices about their sons and each other, as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.

This novel has been taking the book community by storm, a highly anticipated follow-up to last year’s Blacktop Wasteland. Last month I was taking a drive, something I started doing on my lunchbreaks as I was getting some serious cabin fever since I’m still WFH. I had been listening to an episode of Fresh Air and Cosby was a guest. His interview, combined with heaps of praise from readers resulted in this #bookstagrammademedoit library grab!

OLYMPUS, TEXAS by Stacey Swann

The Briscoe family is once again the talk of their small town when March returns to East Texas two years after he was caught having an affair with his brother’s wife. His mother, June, hardly welcomes him back with open arms. Her husband’s own past affairs have made her tired of being the long-suffering spouse. Is it, perhaps, time for a change? Within days of March’s arrival, someone is dead, marriages are upended, and even the strongest of alliances are shattered. In the end, the ties that hold them together might be exactly what drag them all down.

Small towns, family drama, I’m HERE for it. Even better: Swann straight up said this is her riffing on Greek gods and myths. Very relevant to my interests right now!!

APPLESEED by Matt Bell

In eighteenth-century Ohio, two brothers travel into the wooded frontier, planting apple orchards from which they plan to profit in the years to come. As they remake the wilderness in their own image, planning for a future of settlement and civilization, the long-held bonds and secrets between the two will be tested, fractured and broken—and possibly healed.

Fifty years from now, in the second half of the twenty-first century, climate change has ravaged the Earth. Having invested early in genetic engineering and food science, one company now owns all the world’s resources. But a growing resistance is working to redistribute both land and power—and in a pivotal moment for the future of humanity, one of the company’s original founders will return to headquarters, intending to destroy what he helped build.

A thousand years in the future, North America is covered by a massive sheet of ice. One lonely sentient being inhabits a tech station on top of the glacier—and in a daring and seemingly impossible quest, sets out to follow a homing beacon across the continent in the hopes of discovering the last remnant of civilization.

Though Appleseed‘s sheer size (clocking in at just shy of 500 pages) and massive scope and more than a little intimidating, this book sounds fascinating. ALSO, there’s a 100% chance this caught my eye because of its title. For several years I was a Johnny Appleseed nerd.

CARRY ON by Rainbow Rowell

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen. That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

An oldie! But now the trilogy is complete and ready to be binged. This grab was entirely due to book club: several of my friends are big fans of this series and their gushing and love for these books gave me FOMO!

Ghosts, Murder, ..Slack?? 3 mini-reviews

OPHIE’S GHOSTS by Justina Ireland | May 18, 2021 (Thank you, Balzer + Bray!)

Georgia, November 1922. One night Ophelia learns two painful truths: her father was murdered by a band of white supremacists and she has the ability to see ghosts. Without her father, Ophie and her mother must leave the home they knew and head north to Pittsburgh where they’re taken in by an old aunt and three awful cousins. Luckily Mama has managed to secure a position at Daffodil Manor – along with a position for Ophie, though it means she can no longer attend school. At Daffodil Manor, Ophie discovers it’s not just the house that’s haunted by memories of the past, but those still living in it as well.

I went into Ophie’s Ghosts expecting a fun, Middle Grade read full of historical tidbits and ghosts. While I did get the ghosts and historical aspect, I also got much more: there’s a surprising heaviness to this book that caught me off guard. Death, racism, and classist attitudes are all very much at the forefront of this book. This isn’t a house haunted by Casper; there are soldiers who returned home only to turn to the bottle, a romance doomed from the start, discussion on being able to pass for white.

Interspersed throughout the novel were quick chapters told from the perspective of the train, the city of Pittsburgh, Daffodil Manor itself. The writing in these chapters was nothing short of sheer poetry and I inhaled each one (for obvious reasons, Pittsburgh’s chapter was especially near and dear to my heart, though, again, the writing was a thing of beauty: “Pittsburgh was a resilient, rough-and-tumble city. His arms were forged of steel, his backbone was the railroad, and in his veins was the coal that powered them both.”) While I absolutely loved these chapters, I do feel they had an altogether different feel than the rest of the novel and, at times, felt like two totally separate books.

Ophie’s Ghosts was a very quick read, though one with a hidden depth to it that I had not anticipated, but welcomed. I was able to pick up on the big reveal early on, but I’m not sure if younger readers would have guessed at it. While this is my first novel of the author’s, if her YA books are anything similar to this, I have a feeling we’re going to be fast friends.

THE THERAPIST by B.A. Paris | July 13, 2021 (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)

After a whirlwind long distance romance, Alice and Leo have decided to move in together. Leo lucks into the perfect house in a gated community and the pair set about with renovations, excited to make this house a home. As Alice gets to know her neighbors, however, she learns a devastating truth about her house: it seemed to good to be true…and, unfortunately, it was. The previous owner had been brutally murdered and the man deemed responsible, the husband, might have been innocent.

As Alice digs deeper into the mystery surrounding Nina’s death – and she feels such a strong connection to her after losing her own sister named Nina – she begins to wonder about the community she’s found herself in. And the boyfriend she realizes she hardly knows.

Behind Closed Doors was not only a 5-star read, but one of my top reads of 2016. Since then I have been gobbling up each new release, eager to recapture the brilliance of that debut. But each time I’m painfully letdown; I don’t know if a deadline was looming or what, but The Therapist was so lackluster, so repetitive – neighbors came to the door, Alice answered the phone, Alice had coffee with neighbors, the doorbell rang again announcing more neighbors had arrived. If her follow up novels to Behind Closed Doors hadn’t all been steadily going downhill, I honestly wouldn’t have believed this one was written by Paris. The few intriguing bits (could there really be someone else in the house at night when Alice believes she’s alone? Who really was Nina?) had me reading to the end, but gosh, I hate it say that I think this is where I part ways with the author.

SEVERAL PEOPLE ARE TYPING by Calvin Kasulke | August 31, 2021 (Thank you, Doubleday!)

Your skin is your safety suit! Your skin is my safety suit! Your skin is my suit!” Gerald is a mid-level employee of a New York PR firm, a firm that’s suddenly all-hands-on-deck after a poisoned batch of dog food has been linked to the deaths of several Pomeranians. Somehow, someway, Gerald has found himself trapped within Slack, unable to return to his body and unable to get assistance from Slackbot. To his colleagues, Gerald appears to be taking serious advantage of working from home – but his productivity is suddenly through the roof. It helps when you no longer have any sense of time or need for sleep.

Still, he does have a body…somewhere out there in the world, and miraculously convinces Pradeep, a coworker, to look after him. Until he’s able to escape Slack. Hopefully.

Years ago, back in 2008, I read Douglas Coupland’s JPod and instantly developed a love of office-set novels. The moment I heard about Several People Are Typing, not only set at the workplace, but told entirely through Slack messages, I pounced. So odd, so funny, totally gimmicky – but in a good way! I completely ate this one up and tore through it in a sitting (made super easy by its method of storytelling.) Though there are absolutely consent issues with one of the romances, I had a fantastic time with this book. Readers not entirely over WFH life and conducting business over messaging apps will be sure to have a great time as well. An excellent debut and I’m very excited to see what the author does next!

mini review: Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Doubleday!)

Summary: One day, the mother was a mother but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else…

At home full-time with her two-year-old son, an artist finds she is struggling. She is lonely and exhausted. She had imagined – what was it she had imagined? Her husband, always travelling for his work, calls her from faraway hotel rooms. One more toddler bedtime, and she fears she might lose her mind.

Instead, quite suddenly, she starts gaining things, surprising things that happen one night when her child will not sleep. Sharper canines. Strange new patches of hair. New appetites, new instincts. And from deep within herself, a new voice…

“One day, the mother was a mother, but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else.”

And thus begins a strange, surreal little novel that’s been making waves throughout the book community this past month, for better or worse. A woman, known only throughout the novel as the mother (& later, Nightbitch – a word I’ve been typing so frequently my phone now recognizes it), once held her dream job as an artist in a gallery and had a fantastic husband. Then the son arrived and with him, the mother’s dream life took a backseat. Being a working mother – toting an infant around a late night gallery showing was untenable in the long run – wasn’t in the cards and the decision was made for her to stay home and raise the child while her husband, also unnamed, bounced from hotel to hotel each week earning a sizable paycheck.

Resentment gave way to anger and rage and on the night in question, when the mother became something else, she discovered her more animalistic nature began to take over. She could have sworn her teeth were sharpening. Those pink little buds lining her torso? The husband would wave them away as moles, but the woman knew better. There were times she even felt the little wag of a long forgotten appendage. Clearly she was becoming a dog.

I honestly don’t know what to think about this book other than it’s definitely something. There will be people who love it and people who hate it, those who can peel away the layers of some deeper symbolism while others are just bewildered – though I think we’re all in agreement that MLMs are cults.

There were moments where I genuinely enjoyed this book and raced through scenes, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that this novel, in total less than 260 pages, took me three days to read. I’m glad I experienced this though I can’t see myself ever returning.

Also, major warning for very graphic depictions of animal cruelty and death.