REVIEW – Behind the Red Door by Megan Collins

{Available August 4, 2020} The opening of Behind the Red Door will grab you immediately (I believe I emitted a “holy sh*t” before I finished the first page). It’s dark. It covers some traumatizing topics, kidnapping being the least horrific, honestly.

Fern Douglas is a social worker with pretty intense anxiety (not the best mix…). Her past is a bit fuzzy, but we know she has a very strange relationship with her parents (i’ll get to that in a second). The story really kicks into gear when we learn that Astrid Sullivan, a woman who was kidnapped as a child but was returned after a brief period of time relatively unharmed, has gone missing again. Did the original kidnapper take Astrid again? Will she be returned this time? Does her disappearance have anything to do with her recently released memoir detailing her kidnapping 20 years ago? And why does Fern think she’s met Astrid?

We do get to read a few chapters of Astrid’s memoir throughout the course of the book, and we slowly learn what really happened to her.

Fern heads back to her hometown to help Ted (her dad, but she calls her parents by their first names) pack and move to Florida. Oh boy. Ted. Ted is an academic psychologist who can’t focus on anything beyond his Experiments (yes, with a capital “E”). We slowly learn that Fern’s parents were incredibly neglectful, and downright horrible people. Fern can’t see that she’s a victim of extreme parental abuse. Ted has often drawn the line between physical (what he considers “real”) abuse and other varieties – and they’re all so blind to it that it’s incredibly frustrating as a reader. But maybe it’s rooted deeply in reality. Victims of abuse often block or downplay their experiences because they refuse to see themselves as just that – victims.

Fern decides to investigate Astrid’s disappearance and uncovers some incredibly horrific truths. I had an idea of where this book was headed right from the jump, and I was (mostly) right, but the experience of uncovering the mystery of Astrid’s disappearance and Fern’s history was more than worth the read. I was SO ANGRY for parts of this book – it takes a great writer to elicit that kind of experience.

Content warning: abusive parent/child relationships (one with a religious undertone), abduction of a child.

Thank you Atria Books for the NetGalley ARC of Behind the Red Door!

REVIEW – Fire and Vengeance by Robert McCaw

Missing going to the movies? Looking for a summer-y action-packed blockbuster of a book? Fire and Vengeance might be the pick for you!

When a volcanic vent explodes (right under an elementary school…) Koa Kane has some damage control to take care of. First of all, many families are grieving the loss of more than a dozen students and a handful of teachers. Second, why would anyone approve the construction of a school (or any building for that matter) over an active volcanic vent?

As Koa digs into the investigation, he uncovers a decades-long scandal that includes some powerful people in Hawaii. Powerful people who will stop at nothing to cover their own asses.

In addition to the investigation, Koa is also dealing with some family issues. His brother, currently serving time in prison, collapses due to an undiagnosed brain tumor. I actually liked the brother/family storyline more than the main plot of the book, but I still enjoyed my overall reading experience.

McCaw packs a lot of action and intrigue into this book, and you’ll feel like you’re sleuthing right alongside Koa Kane.

Content warning: death of children, brief mentions of suicide, brief mentions of real life school shootings.

Thank you FSB Associates and Oceanview Publishing for the ARC of Fire and Vengeance!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – From Beer to Eternity by Sherry Harris

{Available July 28, 2020} What a great start to a new cozy series! Chloe is working at a beachside bar (that conveniently closes at 9 p.m. – that’s something I can get on board with) in the Florida Panhandle after moving down there from Chicago.

See, Chloe made a promise to her college best friend that she would help his grandmother Vivi if anything happened to him while he was deployed. After his tragic death overseas, Chloe intends to keep that promise.

I loved that Harris offers a realistic, not idealized, version of the panhandle. Her character descriptions felt spot-on for Florida tourists and natives. The Sea Glass Saloon is a little less western, and a lot more tiki hut and is typically a hangout for the locals. When Chloe finds the body of a bar regular behind a dumpster, she takes it upon herself to investigate. I have some theories about where the rest of the series could go, and i’m excited to see where Harris takes us next!

Thank you Kensington Books for the NetGalley ARC!

REVIEW – Well-Behaved Indian Women by Saumya Dave

{Available July 14, 2020} Well-Behaved Indian Women kicks off with two proposals set approximately 30 years apart. Nandini and Ranjit live in India and are ready to begin their arranged marriage and move to the United States. As we move forward to present-ish day, their daughter Simran becomes engaged to her long-time boyfriend, Kunal.

This is a delightful novel primarily focused on the relationship between mothers and daughters across generations – what’s different and, most importantly, what stays the same. Nandini, Simran and Mimi are complex female characters (yay!) each dealing with their own hopes and dreams (and problems). I found Simran to be incredibly relatable (her inner dialogue had me cracking up and nodding my head more often than not!) and I was in awe of Nandini’s strength and Mimi’s conviction.

Well-Behaved Indian Women provides a glimpse into Indian-American/Hindu culture, customs and family dynamics. The story is endearing and funny, but also touches on topics like racism, sexism and double standards (especially in the context of marriage and the workplace). The complexities of marriage are a central theme here – particularly the sacrifices that many women feel they need to make to contribute to a successful partnership.

Content warning: brief mention of miscarriage and sexual harassment.

Thank you Berkley for providing me with a NetGalley ARC of this title!

REVIEW – The Safe Place by Anna Downes

{Available July 14, 2020} Emily is a total mess. She just lost her job, her agent AND she’s about to be evicted from her apartment. Scott is looking for a solution to his problem – and Emily is perfect. He hires her to live with his wife and daughter at their opulent French estate. Everything seems lovely, and then things begin to unravel…

This book was a total roller-coaster ride for me! We toggle primarily between two perspectives – Emily and Scott. Believe me when I say they are INSUFFERABLE. Emily is a HOT MESS. She can’t seem to get it together – she botches her acting auditions, she can’t make it to work on time, she can’t pay her bills and, honestly, she’s super rude to her parents. Like…SUPER rude. Scott? He’s your stereotypical arrogant businessman, who is orchestrating…SOMETHING. Something that involves Emily. You’ll find out the depths of that situation as you read the book.

Nina and Aurelia are intriguing. Nina seems nice on the surface, but something dark lurks beneath. Aurelia is a slightly creepy kid, but she’s also incredibly sweet at times. They’re hiding something. But what? There’s an underlying sense of danger the entire time, but you can’t quite put your finger on why.

I’m also ashamed to say that this book caught me off guard! There are subtle clues throughout but my dumb brain didn’t pick up on them until one incident towards the end of the book. And phew, that ending. There are some heart-racing moments and it gets INTENSE. Was the right choice made? Is it really for the better? I’m honestly not sure.

The Safe Place is sure to be a popular summer thriller (I mean, our characters spend a lot of time lounging by the pool) that a lot of readers will enjoy.

Thank you Minotaur Books for sending me an ARC of The Safe Place!

REVIEW – Neon Girls: A Stripper’s Education in Protest and Power by Jennifer Worley

The premise of this book had me interested from the jump – a nonfiction account of a grad student who becomes a stripper to help pay her way through school. There’s SO MUCH MORE to this, and it’s probably not what you’d expect.

I found myself rooting for these ladies throughout their entire journey. They unionize! They stand up for their rights! They stand up for each other! They’re empowered and empowering.

I learned so much from this book – from the politics of strip clubs to the intricacies and hurdles to forming a union.

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – Dark August by Katie Tallo

Dark August is a gritty mystery thriller with a relatively isolated vibe for the first chunk of the book. Our main character Gus receives word that her last living relative has died, and she heads back home (leaving behind a pretty pathetic life) to take care of her great-grandmother’s estate. When she uncovers clues from a cold case her late mother was working on, Gus quickly begins an investigation of her own that leads to some dark and twisty places.

There was one part of the mystery that seemed like more of an afterthought, but overall this book was good. It builds slowly and you do wonder where the heck it’s going to end up, but STICK WITH IT. This book surprised the heck out of me in the last 50 pages or so. It’s not often a book catches me off guard, but I have to give credit when a thriller is able to pull a fast one on me.

Dark August should definitely be on your summer thriller tbr!

Content warning: mentions of rape, domestic abuse, suicide, mild animal abuse.

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – This Is Major by Shayla Lawson

{Available June 30, 2020} This book was not written for me. This is a statement of fact, not a criticism. I think it’s important that we read books not meant for us – books that were written with someone else in mind. This Is Major is a series of essays by Shayla Lawson, where she details her own experiences and opinions on feminism, race and racism.

One essay examines the term “black girl magic” and how it can be used both negatively and positively. The history and horrific racism that eventually led to the creation of the “photo that broke the internet” is incredibly interesting – and incredibly heartbreaking and infuriating. You know the photo (it involved champagne).

I did so much Googling throughout the course of this book so I could see a picture that Lawson was referencing, or hear a song that she mentioned. (Yes, I looked up Freaky Friday on YouTube, and yes, I wish I could get those few minutes of my life back.)

Highly recommend This Is Major to any reader looking to diversify their reading and broaden their worldview.

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me an ARC of this book!

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.

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!