REVIEW – The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni

When Bert Monte receives a mysterious letter in the mail (it’s gilded and it’s in Italian) she quickly learns she has inherited a noble title and a castle in the Alps overlooking a small village. Sounds like a grown-up Princess Diaries, right? Not exactly…

This book starts off strong. There’s an ominous vibe right from the beginning – even Bert mentions a sense of impending doom and considers throwing the letter away. But, she doesn’t. And we get to learn the secrets of the Montebianco family.

At first it’s like a dream come true – a whirlwind trip to Italy on a private jet, a stay in an opulent hotel, instant wealth, prestige. But, something’s not right. If you’re a thriller reader (and if you read the synopsis of this book) you probably have some theories in mind, even as you read this review. I mean, we’ve all read books about rich families with deep dark secrets, literal skeletons in their closets, you know the drill. Trust me when I tell you – with The Ancestor, you DO NOT KNOW THE DRILL. You couldn’t POSSIBLY even begin to imagine what you’ll uncover throughout the course of this book.

I’m not going to even begin to explain what happens here, because I think going in as blind as possible will just make the reading experience better. I can tell you this: the castle has major Beauty and the Beast vibes. The story of the Montebianco family is dark. There are some horrific parts, some incredibly gruesome parts, and some deeply sad moments. There’s a paranormal element here. You might be able to piece some things together near the beginning (I did – somewhat). But then you’ll end up down a path you didn’t expect.

This book isn’t going to be for everyone. It gets weird (especially in the last quarter of the story). The first half was a real slam dunk for me, and the last bit…wasn’t so much. My overall feelings about this book are positive – I read it in the course of a day, partly because the writing flowed so easily and partly because I just had to find out what was going to happen next.

CONSTANT READER REVIEW – The Dead Zone by Stephen King

“Some things are better not seen, and some things are better lost than found.”

My journey into The Dead Zone was…interesting. My copy of the book is a well-loved paperback that likely dates back to the late 80s (purchased at a library book sale). So I felt that my reading experience was relatively authentic – complete with an incredibly campy synopsis on the back (i’m not sure how many times they can say THE DEAD ZONE in all caps, but the effect was pretty fun).

“What a talent God has given you, Johnny.”

The story is good – Johnny Smith (could his name BE any more basic?) experiences some odd psychic/premonition-style flashes after 1. a head injury when he was six and 2. another, more severe, head injury in his early 20s, which lands him in a coma for four and a half years. Poor Johnny has had a rough go at it and, honestly, things don’t really get much better for him. His entire story is tragic.

And Greg Stillson – hoo boy. The worst villain that could have been? We know he’s a bad guy right from the jump (like the most despicable of baddies) but beyond that…I feel like we don’t get much meat from good old Greg. When we catch up with him in “the present” (feels weird to refer to 1970-something like that) he’s a wacky politician who spouts off crazy, asinine ideas. He has a fanatical follower base. Sound somewhat familiar, and maybe a little too real right now. Either way, Stillson ended up being a lot of bark and not too much bite for me, personally. Although, maybe that’s the entire point of the book…

The shining star here is Johnny’s father. Herb is a DELIGHT. He’s a great parent, he loves his son and he deals with some pretty awful personal stuff. I want to protect him at all costs.

The Dead Zone reads exactly like it should – you can tell it’s one of King’s earliest novels. You can tell it’s set in the 70s. I might have enjoyed this more if I had read it earlier (as in, before some of King’s other books). It’s not my favorite, but it certainly has its place in King’s body of work, and I would still recommend it.

“We all do what we can, and it has to be good enough…and if it isn’t good enough, it has to do.”

Content warning: there is a brief instance of animal cruelty at the beginning of the book.

REVIEW – Always the Last to Know by Kristan Higgins

{Available June 9, 2020} Always the Last to Know is a perfect summer read. We follow the Frost family – parents Barb and John and sisters Sadie and Juliet. When John suffers a stroke, the Frosts come face to face with issues and uncovered secrets that will test their strength as a family.

Told from different perspectives (mostly Sadie and Barb, with some chapters from Juliet and a few chapters from John) Higgins is able to give each character a distinct voice and personality. Always the Last to Know felt very realistic for a family drama – it covers some tough topics but never feels heavy. The characters deal with their issues in very authentic ways, often using humor (and oh boy, did this book make me laugh!)

None of the Frosts are perfect – you’ll be rooting for a character in one chapter, and wanting to yell at them in the next. But that’s what makes this book so good. It’s a lighter family drama without a lot of baggage. There are some sugary sweet moments, but they don’t feel forced.

Thank you Berkley for sending me a NetGalley ARC of this book!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Death by Auction by Alexis Morgan

This was a really enjoyable cozy that focuses almost primarily on the murder mystery at hand (the town takes a backseat in this one). When a dead body is found in the parking lot at a military fundraiser, Abby finds herself in the middle of yet another murder investigation.

The worst part? She ends up playing host to the prime suspect (who also happens to be her tenant’s ex-wife). This is a classic whodunit style story – with a fun cast of suspects and a “you’re the investigator!” feel.

Thank you Kensington Books for the NetGalley copy of this book!

REVIEW – The Guest List by Lucy Foley

“If I can’t move heaven, then I shall raise hell.”

Weddings are supposed to be happy occasions right? WRONG. (At least in the case of this book.) The setting is dark and unsettling right from page one.

The Guest List serves up HEAVY modern-day Agatha Christie vibes with a remote island and an overall feeling of dread where everyone is a suspect. We flash back and forth between the “NOW” (at the wedding reception, after a body has been found) and the “THEN” which encompasses about a day and a half prior to the murder.

“It feels personal, this storm. It feels as though it has saved all its fury for them.”

The island and house (the Folly) feel like characters in their own right – there’s a lot of history on the island and it adds the perfect dash of supernatural spookiness to the entire thing.

“I have my own ghosts. I carry them with me wherever I go.”

Pretty much everyone in this book is a horrible person (some more than others, of course). Not a single one is likable but it just makes the reading experience more fun. Maybe this is a little ridiculous or far-fetched, but if you suspend disbelief for 300-or-so pages, you’ll have a great time reading this story.

Content warning: abortion, talks of suicide, self-harm.

REVIEW – The Second Home by Christina Clancy

{Available June 2, 2020} The Second Home is a family drama that starts with a life-changing summer on Cape Cod – the effects of which ripple out for 15 years before coming to a head when Ann, Poppy and their adopted brother Michael see each other again after more than a decade apart.

The characters in this book are rich and developed, each having a distinct personality. All three siblings have heartbreaking stories, in their own way. The paths they each end up taking align perfectly with their personalities, and there’s nothing incredibly surprising here.

I’ll be honest – these character-driven, family sagas aren’t my usual cup of tea, but I found myself really loving this story and dying to know where they would all end up. I think this will be a very popular book this summer – it would be a great beach/vacation read for those who want something a bit heavier and in-depth.

Content warning: there’s a pretty descriptive and upsetting rape scene in this book.

Thank you St. Martin’s press for the digital ARC of this book!

REVIEW – Long Bright River by Liz Moore

“I sensed even in that moment that the two of us were at a crossroads. The map of our lives stretched out before us, and I could see, quite clearly, the various paths that I might choose to take, and the ways in which this choice might affect my sister.”

If you’re going into this thinking it’s a thriller, you either need to adjust your expectations or pick up a different book. This is…a gritty, contemporary crime novel. It’s a story about sisters. It’s a story about family. It’s a story about addiction and the way addicts are viewed and treated. There are some suspenseful moments here, but one thing you should know before reading – there’s not much that actually happens in this book (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). It’s not literary whiplash like some books can be. It’s not bouncing from one reveal to another, or one heart-pounding moment to the next. The story does pick up a bit in the last 100 or so pages.

This is not a feel-good story. This doesn’t have a “happy” ending. This book will probably piss you off – our main character has made some horrible choices in her life (some you can blame her for, some you can’t).

But it’s good. This is a book that’s very of-the-moment. The opioid crisis has hit many communities and caused irreparable damage. This topic might be too much for some readers – I’m guessing that if you have any personal experience with addiction, you’ll probably want to skip this. It’s a 500 pager, but a quick read. If you’re someone who hesitates to pick up big books (that’s an issue for another day…) don’t let this one scare you.

REVIEW – The Better Sister by Alafair Burke

Phew, what a premise! Our main character Chloe is married to her sister’s ex-husband, Adam, and is raising her nephew/stepson, Ethan. Got that straight? When Adam is murdered, suspicions quickly turn to Ethan and we follow a twisty narrative that includes family drama, secrets and a court case.

This story did not go in the direction that I expected, and I really enjoyed it! It gave me some Jodi Picoult vibes – a court battle, moral ambiguity, family secrets, etc. It really comes down to this – how far would you go to protect the people you love?

I think this is a great summer mystery for thriller lovers and newbies alike. Burke’s writing keeps the reader interested, and the short, punchy chapters made for an incredibly fast reading experience.

Thank you Harper Perennial/Harper Books for my copy of The Better Sister!

REVIEW – Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

“They’re all on the same page, even if that page is in the middle of an ongoing story with an uncertain end.”

My experience reading Dear Edward felt like I was constantly teetering on the edge of a cliff, just waiting to tip over. This book is INTENSE, but it’s subtle. Alternating between the ill-fated flight’s path and our “present-day” journey with Edward, the build-up throughout this book is incredible.

The airplane chapters gave me massive anxiety – I’m already nervous about flying in general, and the mundaneness and personal examination of a handful of passengers just felt a little too real (but this is a testament to Napolitano’s writing. It’s…amazing.)

“It feels unkind that they are shoving their emotions at him when his own sadness and fear are so vast that he has to hide from them.”

The post-crash chapters felt so real, and so raw. You just want to reach into the book and hug Edward. Being 12 is hard enough – when you pile an unimaginably tragic loss on top of that, it’s excruciating. I didn’t find this book OVERLY emotional (but a part near the very end got me) and I think part of that is due to the fact that Edward seems numb for a lot of the story, and we’re really experiencing things through his eyes. Napolitano also covers how the crash and aftermath impacts the people around Edward – most notably his aunt and uncle, and their neighbors.

Oh, and the principal was my favorite character by far!

“So much could be solved, she thinks, if we simply held hands with each other more often.”

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Hot Fudge Murder by Cynthia Baxter

Looking for a quick, mindless read? This fits the bill. Hot Fudge Murder is frothy fun – focusing a bit more on the ice cream shop than the actual murder mystery, these books don’t offer a lot of substance but they will leave you craving a scoop or two of your favorite flavor.

Other than the delectable descriptions of a wide variety of ice cream flavors, the real star in this series is the relationships between the characters. Kate’s relationship with her grandmother and niece is heartwarming and fun. There are definitely cozier mysteries out there and more mysterious cozies, but this is a great option for something to read while spending a lazy day at the pool or beach.

Thank you Kensington Books for sending me a copy of Hot Fudge Murder!