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!

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.

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.

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!

May Releases I Can’t Wait to Get My Hands On!

Happy May, friends! Long time no see! I took several months off from the blog – I just checked and the last post was back in February, eek – but I’m thrilled to be jumping back in. And what better way to return than by sharing the books of May that have caught my eye. Also, is it just me or has 2021 seriously been bringing it with the releases?? I swear, each month has me swooning!

PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir | May 4

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

GREAT CIRCLE by Maggie Shipstead | May 4 *Thank you, Knopf, for a review copy*

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There–after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes–Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s fates–and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times–collide. 

COMING HOME TO SEASHELL HARBOR by Miranda Liasson | May 4

Hadley Wells swapped her dreams of saving the planet for the glamour of Hollywood. But when a very public breakup reveals cracks in her not-so-perfect life, she returns to her hometown to reassess what it is she truly wants. Unfortunately, Seashell Harbor has some trouble of its own—including the first man to ever break her heart.

A serious injury forced footballer Tony Cammareri into early retirement—now he’s determined to reboot his life with a splashy new restaurant venture. He knows better than to expect a happy reunion with Hadley, but he’s determined to make up for the way things ended between them. Yet when Tony and Hadley end up vying for control of the town’s future, they find themselves once again on opposing sides. As their rivalry intensifies, they must decide what’s worth fighting for—and what it truly means to be happy.

THE GIRL WITH STARS IN HER EYES by Xio Axelrod | May 4

Growing up, Antonia “Toni” Bennett’s guitar was her only companion…until she met Sebastian Quick. Seb was a little older, a lot wiser, and he became Toni’s way out, promising they’d escape their small town together. Then Seb turned eighteen and split without looking back.

Now, Toni B is all grown up and making a name for herself in Philadelphia’s indie rock scene. When a friend suggests she try out for the hottest new band in the country, she decides to take a chance. She’s in for a surprise when one of the decision-makers turns out to be none other than Seb. Toni can handle it. No problem. Or it wouldn’t be if Seb didn’t still hold a piece of her heart, not to mention the key to her future.

HOUR OF THE WITCH by Chris Bohjalian | May 4

Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary’s hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life.

But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary–a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony–soon finds herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary’s garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows.

ARSENIC AND ADOBO by Mia P. Manansala | May 4

When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.

With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…

OUT OF THE SHADOWS by Emily Midorikawa | May 11

Queen Victoria’s reign was one of breathtaking social change, yet roles for most women remained rigid and narrow. The “angel in the house” rarely expressed an opinion, and certainly not one that challenged the status quo. But not so within the social sphere of the seance–a mysterious, lamplit world dominated by enterprising women whose apparent ability to move between the realms of the dead and the living rewarded them with otherwise unthinkable fame and power. Such talents allowed them to cross rigid boundaries of gender and class, and to summon unique political voices–voices capable of reaching some of the era’s most famous personalities, including even Victoria herself.

Out of the Shadows, which draws on original diaries, letters, and memoirs, tells the stories of six such visionary Victorians. The clairvoyance of Kate, Leah, and Maggie Fox, three sisters from upstate New York, inspired some of the era’s best-known female suffrage activists and set off an international séance craze. British performer Emma Hardinge Britten left behind a career on Broadway for the life of a “trance lecturer,” whose oration on the death of Abraham Lincoln was celebrated by tens of thousands. The meteoric rise of Victoria Woodhull, born into poverty in Ohio, took her from childhood medium to Wall Street broker to America’s first female presidential candidate. And Georgina Weldon, whose interest in spiritualism nearly saw her confined to an asylum, went on to become a favorite of the press and a successful campaigner against Britain’s archaic lunacy laws.

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION by Emily Henry | May 11

Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.

Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since.

Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees. Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?

MARY JANE by Jessica Anya Blau | May 11

In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Show Tunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.

The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, IMPEACHMENT: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): The doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job—helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.

Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be.

LONG LOST by Jacqueline West | May 11

When Fiona’s family moves to be closer to her older sister’s figure skating club—and far from Fiona’s close-knit group of friends—nobody seems to notice Fiona’s unhappiness. Alone and out of place, Fiona ventures to the town’s library, a rambling mansion donated to the town by the long-dead heiress. And there she finds a gripping mystery novel about a small town, family secrets, and a tragic disappearance.

Soon Fiona begins to notice strange similarities that blur the lines between the novel and her new town. And when she looks for the book again, it’s gone. Almost like it never existed. With stubbornness and a little help from a few odd Lost Lake locals, Fiona uncovers the book’s strange history. It’s not a novel, but the true story of an unsolved century-old crime filled with clues to the mystery. Lost Lake is a town of restless spirits, and Fiona will learn that both help and danger come from unexpected places—maybe even the sister she thinks doesn’t care about her anymore.

A TRAIL OF LIES by Kylie Logan | May 11 *reviews of books 1 and 2*

Jazz Ramsey is just getting used to the idea that her on-again-off-again beau, Nick, might actually be a permanent fixture, when she gets an alarming call in the middle of the night from his mother, Kim: there’s a dead man in her backyard. Kim has a long history of drinking and a vivid imagination, so when Jazz’s human remains detection dog, Wally, finds no evidence of a body, Jazz thinks she can breathe easy.

But when the body of a middle-aged man, Dan Mansfield, is discovered in a nearby park, and a photo of Nick and his mom is found in his pocket, Jazz has to admit that something isn’t adding up. Kim claims not to know who Dan is, but the cops find out soon enough: he’s a recently paroled convict who served thirty years for murder. And when Jazz traces his crime back to a bar fight with an antiques dealer, she ends up with more questions than answers.

Meanwhile, no one wants her poking around–not Nick’s mom, nor the Motorcycle-riding ex-con she connects to Dan, nor Nick himself, who seems worried about Jazz’s safety, but also about what she might find. But Jazz has never been one to take no for an answer, and she won’t give up now–even if it means risking her own life.

LAST SUMMER AT THE GOLDEN HOTEL by Elyssa Friedland | May 18

In its heyday, The Golden Hotel was the crown jewel of the hotter-than-hot Catskills vacation scene. For more than sixty years, the Goldman and Weingold families – best friends and business partners – have presided over this glamorous resort which served as a second home for well-heeled guests and celebrities. But the Catskills are not what they used to be – and neither is the relationship between the Goldmans and the Weingolds. As the facilities and management begin to fall apart, a tempting offer to sell forces the two families together again to make a heart-wrenching decision. Can they save their beloved Golden or is it too late?

Long-buried secrets emerge, new dramas and financial scandal erupt, and everyone from the traditional grandparents to the millennial grandchildren wants a say in the hotel’s future. Business and pleasure clash in this fast-paced, hilarious, nostalgia-filled story, where the hotel owners rediscover the magic of a bygone era of nonstop fun even as they grapple with what may be their last resort.

ROSALINE PALMER TAKES THE CAKE by Alexis Hall | May 18

Following the recipe is the key to a successful bake. Rosaline Palmer has always lived by those rules—well, except for when she dropped out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie. Now, with a paycheck as useful as greaseproof paper and a house crumbling faster than biscuits in tea, she’s teetering on the edge of financial disaster. But where there’s a whisk there’s a way . . . and Rosaline has just landed a spot on the nation’s most beloved baking show.

Winning the prize money would give her daughter the life she deserves—and Rosaline is determined to stick to the instructions. However, more than collapsing trifles stand between Rosaline and sweet, sweet victory.  Suave, well-educated, and parent-approved Alain Pope knows all the right moves to sweep her off her feet, but it’s shy electrician Harry Dobson who makes Rosaline question her long-held beliefs—about herself, her family, and her desires.

Rosaline fears falling for Harry is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Yet as the competition—and the ovens—heat up, Rosaline starts to realize the most delicious bakes come from the heart.

LAST CHANCE BOOKS by Kelsey Rodkey | May 18 *Thank you, HarperTeen, for a review copy*

Don’t you just love the smell of old books in the morning? Madeline Moore does. Books & Moore, the musty bookstore her family has owned for generations, is where she feels most herself. Nothing is going to stop her from coming back after college to take over the store from her beloved aunt.

Nothing, that is—until a chain bookstore called Prologue opens across the street and threatens to shut them down.

Madeline sets out to demolish the competition, but Jasper, the guy who works over at Prologue, seems intent on ruining her life. Not only is he taking her customers, he has the unbelievable audacity to be… extremely cute. But that doesn’t matter. Jasper is the enemy and he will be destroyed. After all—all’s fair in love and (book) wars.

OPHIE’S GHOSTS by Justina Ireland | May 18 *Thank you, Balzer + Bray, for a review copy*

Ophelia Harrison used to live in a small house in the Georgia countryside. But that was before the night in November 1922, and the cruel act that took her home and her father from her. Which was the same night that Ophie learned she can see ghosts.

Now Ophie and her mother are living in Pittsburgh with relatives they barely know. In the hopes of earning enough money to get their own place, Mama has gotten Ophie a job as a maid in the same old manor house where she works.

Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past–and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. Ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. And as Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help–even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.

THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLAND by Colleen Oakley | May 25 *Thank you, Berkley, for a review copy*

Piper Parrish’s life on Frick Island—a tiny, remote town smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay—is nearly perfect. Well, aside from one pesky detail: Her darling husband, Tom, is dead. When Tom’s crab boat capsized and his body wasn’t recovered, Piper, rocked to the core, did a most peculiar thing: carried on as if her husband was not only still alive, but right there beside her, cooking him breakfast, walking him to the docks each morning, meeting him for their standard Friday night dinner date at the One-Eyed Crab. And what were the townspeople to do but go along with their beloved widowed Piper?

Anders Caldwell’s career is not going well. A young ambitious journalist, he’d rather hoped he’d be a national award-winning podcaster by now, rather than writing fluff pieces for a small town newspaper. But when he gets an assignment to travel to the remote Frick Island and cover their boring annual Cake Walk fundraiser, he stumbles upon a much more fascinating tale: an entire town pretending to see and interact with a man who does not actually exist. Determined it’s the career-making story he’s been needing for his podcast, Anders returns to the island to begin covert research and spend more time with the enigmatic Piper—but he has no idea out of all the lives he’s about to upend, it’s his that will change the most.

THE KINGDOMS by Natasha Pulley | May 25

Joe Tournier has a bad case of amnesia. His first memory is of stepping off a train in the nineteenth-century French colony of England. The only clue Joe has about his identity is a century-old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse that arrives in London the same month he does. Written in illegal English—instead of French—the postcard is signed only with the letter “M,” but Joe is certain whoever wrote it knows him far better than he currently knows himself, and he’s determined to find the writer. The search for M, though, will drive Joe from French-ruled London to rebel-owned Scotland and finally onto the battle ships of a lost empire’s Royal Navy. In the process, Joe will remake history, and himself.

ONCE UPON A PUPPY by Lizzie Shane | May 25

Connor Wyeth has a plan for everything. But when he adopts Maximus, an unruly Irish wolfhound mix, he gets more than he bargained for. If he doesn’t act fast, the big dopey mutt is going to destroy his house. The only person Max ever listens to is the volunteer who used to walk him at the shelter—a perennially upbeat woman whose day job is planning princess parties for little kids. Connor couldn’t ever imagine that she’d be able to tame such a beast as Max, but he’s desperate enough to try anything.

Deenie Mitchell isn’t looking forward to spending more time with uptight, rules-oriented Connor—no matter how attractive he is. But when her sister announces her engagement, Deenie realizes he’s the perfect person to impress her type-A family. When she learns he needs a plus-one for his law firm’s work events, an unlikely alliance is formed. But as they play the perfect couple, the friendship—and the feelings—that are forming start to feel all too real. Opposites may attract, but can the man with a plan for everything and the misfit who makes her own rules ever find common ground?

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Pub Date: February 2, 2021

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

Summary: Finlay Donovan is killing it . . . except, she’s really not. She’s a stressed-out single-mom of two and struggling novelist, Finlay’s life is in chaos: the new book she promised her literary agent isn’t written, her ex-husband fired the nanny without telling her, and this morning she had to send her four-year-old to school with hair duct-taped to her head after an incident with scissors.

When Finlay is overheard discussing the plot of her new suspense novel with her agent over lunch, she’s mistaken for a contract killer, and inadvertently accepts an offer to dispose of a problem husband in order to make ends meet . . . Soon, Finlay discovers that crime in real life is a lot more difficult than its fictional counterpart, as she becomes tangled in a real-life murder investigation.

Finlay Donovan once had it all: the perfect husband, two adorable kids, a gorgeous house, and a budding career as a novelist. Now she’s newly single, her ex ran off with the real estate agent, the kids are chaos on legs, and Stephen suddenly fired the nanny. Sending your 4-year-old to school with her freshly-shorn hair duct-taped back onto her head is not the sign of a woman who has her life together. As for her career, the more left unsaid, the better.

With a deadline already come and gone (and her advance right along with it), Finn heads to Panera to meet her agent in a last-ditch attempt for one more delay. As she’s discussing her haphazard, cobbled together plot, a woman at a nearby table hears bits an pieces…and mistakenly assumes Finn is a hitwoman for hire. As she leaves she slips Finn a note – a target and a sum with more zeros than she’s seen in a long time. But she wouldn’t be crazy enough to actually go through with it, right? Especially not once she learns about the ties to the mob. Then again, all those zeros..

I’ll be honest, going into this book I wasn’t that impressed. I was most definitely not a fan of Finlay’s ex-husband and the new fiancée was more a caricature of Mean Girl stereotypes than anything. Review after review – from several VERY trusted friends – praised Finlay Donovan is Killing It so I knew to tough it out and keep reading. And I’m so glad I did. Once the story really got going and the plot took off, I was hooked and couldn’t look away.

When the man she (honestly) never really intended to kill (scout’s honor!) winds up dead in the back of her minivan, Finn realizes she in way over her head. With her newly-rehired nanny back in the ring (for a 40% cut, of course), Finn has to somehow solve a murder, write a bestseller, AND dodge referrals from more prospective…clients who also have problems they would like Finn to dispose of. As if the hitwoman hustle isn’t bad enough, Finn uses the details as inspiration for her novel – and her agent loves it.

With wacky hijink after wacky hijink, Finlay Donovan is Killing It felt like an old-timey classic rom-com/mystery. I could easily see stars like Audrey or Cary filming a movie similar to this – and honestly, I would absolutely watch a movie version of this book. It’s funny, it’s engaging, the story is totally bonkers in an I NEED TO KNOW MORE way. I’m so glad this isn’t just a standalone, there were several plotlines I wanted to explore further (I mean, the potential for a love triangle was right. there.) and that ending…!! I honestly gasped and knew right then and there that I needed book two in my life, stat. Unfortunately I’ll be waiting a while, but I’ll be here, grabby hands at the ready.

3 mid-week mini-reviews

Happy hump day, friends! To get through this mid-week slump, I want to share mini-reviews for three recent – and very different – reads!

KARMA MOON by Melissa Savage | January 19, 2021 (Thank you, Crown Books for Young Readers!)

Karma Moon’s life changes with one phone call. A phone call from Netflix. For 11 days, her dad’s team of ghost hunters will explore the Stanley Hotel (yep, that one!) and if they capture actual paranormal evidence, there will be a docuseries with their name written all over it. Though she’s a firm believer in everything woo-woo, even going so far as to consult her trusty Magic Eight-Ball when things look grim, her dad’s a bit more of a skeptic, but as the time begins to run out on their Netflix deal, everyone’s hoping for those hauntings.

I’m a big fan of Middle Grade reads and Karma Moon was a quick-paced, intriguing story – definitely up my alley with the paranormal angle! I can see this working as a read-along with a parent: there are references for younger readers (Scooby Doo, the Jonas Brothers) while plenty of sneaky catches for adults (The Shining/Stephen King, Poltergeist, Harry Houdini). It’s also not all fun and games as Karma is dealing with real-life heartbreak: her mother recently packed several suitcases and took off, happily running around on a beach with her new boyfriend. The not-so-paranormal ending will ensure younger readers can sleep with the lights off but still provide heavier topics for discussion.

FAYE, FARAWAY by Helen Fisher | January 26, 2021 (Thank you, Gallery Books!)

After losing her mother at 8, Faye discovers, at 36 and with two young daughters of her own, that she suddenly has the ability to travel back in time. See her mother again, spend time with her and get to know her as a woman rather than a parent. Each trip back to the present, however, is like grieving all over again – and she’s unable to confide in her husband who will clearly feel his wife has lost it. Faye, Faraway was pitched as a heartfelt read and I completely agree.

That this novel was a one-sitting read is a testament to Fisher’s skill as a writer of what would otherwise be a fairly farfetched plot. I was completely caught up in Faye’s story and longed for the moments when she would venture back to the 70s. That said, I admit I wasn’t as into the present day plot: Faye’s husband has suddenly had a calling to the church and is looking to become ordained. Scenes with him mainly focus on Faye’s lack of faith and how a minister’s wife wasn’t her calling. I also struggled a bit with the loose rules regarding time travel. Faye interacts with her younger self, has conversations with people, leaves things behind. Unlike every single other book or movie I’ve come across, her actions have no effect on the present day. Still, this was a really lovely read and I’m looking forward to more of Fisher’s work!

FIRST COMES LIKE by Alisha Rai | February 16, 2021 (Thank you, Avon!)

Jia Ahmed is a YouTube beauty blogger whose make-up tutorials are viewed by millions. Dev Dixit hails from Bollywood royalty and is now looking to make it big with an American tv show. For the past year Jia has been exchanging DMs and texts with Dev and now finally has the chance to meet him in person…only he doesn’t recognize her. As Jia quickly learns, she’s been catfished. For an entire year. And one quick paparazzi snap forces the two together, whether they like it or not.

I’m brand-new to the Modern Love series, this being the third book, but quickly got up to speed. Fake dating is my most favorite romance trope, so from the start I was sold, but by the middle of the book it began to slow and by the end I was feeling every one of its 400+ pages. After the two are photographed together, their completely innocent pose is seen as decidedly not-so-innocent by both their families and VERY quickly an engagement is announced – immediately followed by a marriage. Despite the agreement to pretend to be in a relationship, Jia and Dev are never seen out in public together, so that angle was a bit pointless. I also had to roll my eyes as there was drama and miscommunication thrown in during literally the final chapters in a botched attempt to heighten the tension. Something interesting worth noting, it’s never explicitly stated, but Jia and one of her sisters both suffered from an unnamed illness, her sister still recovering from the aftermath. I’m not the only reader to read between the lines and wonder if this was meant to be COVID.

mini-review: The Project by Courtney Summers

The Project by Courtney Summers

Pub Date: February 2, 2021

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

Summary: Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying—and failing—to prove it.

When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its leader, Lev Warren and as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her—to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.

Though it wasn’t her debut, 2018’s Sadie was the novel that put Courtney Summers on the map for me and made me an easy fan. Since then I’ve been eagerly awaiting her follow-up and three years later it’s here. Unfortunately – and I can’t believe I’m starting a sentence with that word – The Project just didn’t live up to expectations for me.

Alternating narration between two sisters, Lo, an assistant at an up and coming magazine, and Bea, the older sister who sought solace in The Unity Project after the death of their parents, the story dives into the world of this group – and its leader. To the world The Unity Project looks like a fantastic community outreach program, but Lo knows there’s more to it that lurks beneath the surface. When a distraught father runs into the magazine’s office one day convinced that the Project is directly to blame for his son’s death, Lo takes it upon herself to dig into the group. And, if she’s being honest, try to find the sister she hasn’t seen in years.

Past/present timelines, a mysterious cult, The Project had my name written all over it. I read this in December and just one month later – four weeks later – I’m having a hard time remembering details. Once the secret baby plot was introduced I started skimming and didn’t stop until I had reached the end of the book. I’m left questioning my high praise of Sadie now. This is such a lackluster, BLAH review that I hate to even call it a mini-review – more like a handful of thoughts – but I’m so disappointed with The Project. It was such a highly anticipated read for me and fell flat. I do know the book will find its fans, but there was nothing special here; it was so middle of the road, like a made-for-tv movie.

mini-reviews: 3 summer thrillers

The Secrets of Bones by Kylie Logan | May 5, 2020
Assembly Day at St. Catherine’s draws profession women to the school to talk to the girls about careers at NASA, in medicine, teaching yoga classes. Even Jazz Ramsey gets in on the day’s activities. While her day job is the school’s Admin Assistant, she also volunteers as a cadaver dog trainer. And with a brand new puppy, Wally, she imagines the girls will be thrilled to spend an hour watching his antics.

Unfortunately Jazz gets more than she bargained for as the fully-trained dog she borrowed for the afternoon uncovers more than the few teeth she hid in the room. What follows is an investigation into the sudden departure of a teacher three years ago…as it turns out, she didn’t get nearly as far away from the school as she had planned.

I was a big fan of last year’s The Scent of Murder and have been itching for the follow-up! While it seemed the cadaver dogs (admittedly a huge part of why I initially started the series) took a backseat in this installment, I was nonetheless intrigued by the mystery: Bernadette was an extremely devout teacher (even by the nuns’ standards) and her fervor causes more than one girl to avoid her. Even among the teachers she wasn’t considered a favorite, so when she abruptly left during Christmas break three years ago, not many tears were shed. Of course this also means there’s a plethora of suspects to choose from.

The big reveals and twists weren’t a shock to me sadly, and I have to say I enjoyed the first book much more. Still, The Scent of Bones was a decent read for a sunny day and I’m interested to see what Jazz gets into next.

A HUGE thank you to Minotaur Books for a review copy!

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager | July 2, 2019
When Jules accepts an apartment-sitting gig at the Bartholomew, the most elite (and expensive) buildings in New York, it seems to good to be true. 12 weeks, no visitors or guests, no selfies for Instagram showing off the new digs. Ni disturbing the other residents. Hanging out in a swanky apartment for three months and getting paid $12,000? Radio silence on social media seems like hardly a price to pay. Despite her best friend’s worries that something doesn’t add up, Jules desperately needs the cash – and a place to stay after a sudden break-up.

Jules is instantly enchanted by the view, the amazing apartment. As she gets to know other apartment sitters, however, she begins to think that maybe her best friend was right for worrying. Ingrid tells Jules of another girl who was watching the place right before Jules moved in, a girl who began digging into the Bartholomew’s history and was able to let Ingrid in on everything when she suddenly disappeared. When Ingrid inexplicably vanishes, Jules realizes something is definitely wrong and proceeds to launch her own investigation into what’s really going on within this ivory tower.

It’s Riley Sager, do I need to say more? Seriously, Sager is by now synonymous with summer thrillers (though I first read Final Girls during a snowstorm!) I have nothing more to add to the praise that’s already been said: Lock Every Door was a fantastic read that had me flipping the pages.

A HUGE thank you to Dutton for a review copy!

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager | June 30, 2020
25 years ago, the Holt family fled Baneberry Hall in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Ewan Holt’s account of the twenty days spent in the house instantly shot to the bestsellers lists, and in each interview, article, and Oprah appearance, he and his family repeated the horrors they faced.

Two and a half decades later, Maggie is now 30 and has learned she’s inherited the House of Horrors. A surprise to her, as she assumed her parents got rid of it ages ago. Despite her mother’s insistence she not return, Maggie heads back to Baneberry, determined to finally get the answers she’s been searching for. Unlike her parents – and millions of readers worldwide – Maggie didn’t believe a single word of the book. Her father wanted to make his big break as a novelist and this is how he did it. Unfortunately for Maggie, the longer her stay at Baneberry Hall, the more she learns her father’s book held far more truth than she originally thought.

I thought his previous books were great..Home Before Dark blows them out of the water. This was a 5-star read if I ever saw one. I was immediately hooked and delighted in the alternating chapters: Maggie in the present day and excerpts from her father’s book detailing events and experiences the family encountered.

This is not a book I want to spoil for anyone, so I’ll keep it brief, but I will say that I had to pace myself. While I wanted to tear through this in one sitting, I also wanted to be able to sleep – which meant not only closing the book WELL before the sun set and forcing Matt and both dogs to come to bed hours early so I wouldn’t be alone! If you only grab one book for vacation or poolside lounging, make it this one. It was heart-pounding, intense, SO unbelievably captivating. I loved every single second spent with this one.

A HUGE thank you to Dutton for a review copy!

This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf

This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf
Pub. Date: May 2, 2020
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Park Row!)
Summary: Twenty-five years ago, the body of sixteen-year-old Eve Knox was found in the caves near her home in small-town Grotto, Iowa—discovered by her best friend, Maggie, and her sister, Nola. There were a handful of suspects, including her boyfriend, Nick, but without sufficient evidence the case ultimately went cold.

For decades Maggie was haunted by Eve’s death and that horrible night. Now a detective in Grotto, and seven months pregnant, she is thrust back into the past when a new piece of evidence surfaces and the case is reopened. As Maggie investigates and reexamines the clues, secrets about what really happened begin to emerge. But someone in town knows more than they’re letting on, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried deep.
Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Back in my bookseller days, Heather Gudenkauf was an author I was always drawn to. Day after day I would shelve her titles and each one sounded more interesting than the last; from the very start with her debut, it was clear Gudenkauf was and is not an author who shies away from darker, grittier topics. Child abductions, abusive relationships, childhood trauma. Areas other mystery authors would deem as too far, Gudenkauf sees as fair game. Years later she’s still an author whose books catch my eye and when I was approached about reviewing her latest, well, I took that as a sign.

Twenty-five years ago the body of Eve Knox was discovered at the bottom of a cave. Though it was clear Eve was beaten and murdered, there was never any clear evidence, just rumors and pure speculation. Weeks turned to months and months turned to years, eventually her murder was considered a cold case, though never officially closed. The detective at the time, Henry Kennedy, continued pouring over the notes, the interviews, convinced there was some tiny clue he could uncover.

Twenty-five years later, Henry’s health is in decline and he’s no longer on the force. His daughter Maggie followed in his footsteps, earning her own badge. Now seven months pregnant, Maggie knows desk work is in her future, she’s in no position to be chasing down criminals. As luck would have it, two boys happen to come across an old boot…Eve’s boot, and with major strides in DNA technology over the past two decades, there’s a chance new light could be shed, finally solving the crime – and bringing justice to Maggie’s best friend.

As Maggie retraces her father’s steps in the case, she can’t help but think back to that night. The night she and Eve’s sister discovered Eve’s body. Who could be responsible? Nola and her mother were certainly convinced it was Nick Brady, the town’s golden boy – and Eve’s boyfriend. Maggie always thought there was something wrong about the way he treated Eve. Or could Cam Harper know something? Maggie and Eve used to babysit the Harpers’ kids, and Maggie knows all too well how Cam felt about teenage girls. And why does Maggie’s husband’s name show up among the case notes?

This is How I Lied is told in several voices (Maggie, Nola, Eve) as well as two time periods: the days leading up to Eve’s death and the present. Right from the start I was not a fan of Nola, Eve’s sister. She has no problems killing animals – when she’s first introduced it’s a scene on the job. She’s a veterinarian and has been called out to check on a horse. The horse is in bad shape and needs emergency surgery. While the family isn’t looking, Nola administers an injection, nothing that will kill the horse then and there, but quickly enough to ensure it won’t make it through the surgery…aka she won’t be to blame. She was rude and manipulative with zero redeeming qualities. I disliked her character so much (the Dexter-esque trophies she collected – instead of blood, she keeps ear bones, her blatant disregard for anyone, her all-around bad attitude) that I nearly abandoned the book. On more than one occasion.

I’m glad I stuck it out though. Between the past/present narrative, the case notes, and interview transcripts, This is How I Lied was an engaging read that kept me turning the pages (as long as the scene didn’t involve Nola with an animal). I felt there was only one truly good character, Henry. Everyone else was written in such a way that it was easy to peg them as a murderer. Each one, from the ex-boyfriend to Maggie’s husband to Maggie herself had moments where, if they weren’t already an outright monster, there was enough doubt to where the reader could be swayed.

Ultimately, the Big Reveal wasn’t much of a shocker. However, this was a quick read and a surprisingly easy read, given some of the more horrific elements (abuse, pedophilia, rape, animal cruelty). I read this on a rainy afternoon and the weather added to the novel’s atmosphere. While I don’t see myself ever picking this one up again for a reread, I’m delighted to say I’ve finally read a Heather Gudenkauf novel after all these years – and that she’s got an impressive backlist waiting for me.