REVIEW – The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi

“I don’t approve in happy endings in crime stories. Death should be shown as a tragedy, never anything else.”

The Eighth Detective is a unique murder mystery in which we are given seven “fictional” murder mysteries laced throughout a “real life” narrative. Editor Julia Hart is working with Grant McAllister, writer and mathematician, on republishing his book. You see, Grant wrote a series of murder mysteries using mathematical principles.

As Julia reads the stories, she starts to pick up on inconsistencies. And those inconsistencies slowly turn into clues that point to something far more sinister.

The murder mysteries are mostly interesting, if a bit too long at times. There was one in particular that I really enjoyed, but I thought the conclusion Julia comes to seemed like she was missing a main point of that particular story.

The writing can be a bit clunky at times throughout this book, and the overarching story is difficult to figure out before all of Grant and Julia’s secrets are revealed. But what it lacks in execution, it makes up in premise and it’s a relatively quick read.

REVIEW – The First to Lie by Hank Phillippi Ryan

The First to Lie is a twisty thrill-ride of a book! We’re introduced to two primary characters, Nora and Ellie. One is a glamorous pharmacy rep with a hidden past, and the other is a reporter for a new news station in Boston who seems to be alone in the world. They both have their secrets and things quickly unfold through each chapter. Throw in a pushy, nosy neighbor turned coworker, quick and impactful flashback chapters and a corporate coverup that has an unending ripple effect, and you have a recipe for a thriller that’s sure to delight readers and keep them guessing.

There are twists here that I called early on, and some that I never saw coming. Ryan’s writing is easy and smooth, and her short, punchy chapters kept me turning the pages way past my bedtime!

Content warning: infertility/fertility treatments, forced miscarriage/abortion

Thank you Forge Reads and Get Red PR for sending me an advanced copy of The First to Lie!

REVIEW – Salvation Station by Kathryn Schleich

When three bodies (two small children and their father) are found buried in the backyard of a church parsonage, Captain Linda Turner vows to track down their killer. The crime is one of the worst she’s ever seen and Linda ends up on a chase unlike anything she’s dealt with before. We also meet Ray Williams, a televangelist with a struggling TV show – that is, until one of his regular attendees approaches him with ideas to ensure the show’s growth and success.

I’ll tell you this much: you’ll know where this book is going pretty early on. You’ll spend most of your time just wanting to know how it all plays out. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think it’s important to know before you read. This isn’t really a twisty thriller, it’s a sleepy investigative novel that picks up considerably in the final third of the book.

This is one of those books that would make a great episode of Criminal Minds or another investigative crime show. (America’s Most Wanted, maybe?!) Our villain is truly despicable and readers will surely be anxiously waiting for justice. There’s also a strong theme of religion in this book, and using faith to manipulate others. The book is also set in the early 2000s and features some brief mentions of 9/11 and the Enron situation. The choice to have the events in the book take place nearly 20 years ago is an interesting one, but it makes sense given the general MO of the villain and the plausibility of their actions.

Content warning: murder/death of small children, brief mention of animal cruelty, narcissism, manipulation within a romantic/marital relationship.

Thank you Book Publicity Services for sending me a finished copy of Salvation Station!

REVIEW – The Bright Lands by John Fram

“We inherited this town. We all did. That don’t mean we have to love everything about it.”

The Bright Lands is…something different. It’s marketed as sort of a thriller/horror, and there’s for sure a Stephen King vibe at work here. Told from multiple perspectives, The Bright Lands is a slow burn that eventually leads to something pretty horrific (and, much like in King novels, the most horrific things could be entirely feasible in real life, at least to a point).

Joel has returned to his small hometown in Texas after some concerning text messages from his younger brother, Dylan. You see, Dylan is the quarterback for the local high school football team. The most promising athlete to come out of their tiny town, with the NFL being a very real possibility in his future. But Dylan doesn’t want to play football anymore, and he says a few things that remind Joel of why he left Bentley ten years before.

I won’t spoil too much, but i’ll give you a basic overview: Dylan goes missing. His friends and teammates seem to know more than they let on. Some of the adults are super shady and a little too involved with the lives of the local high school kids. I’ll let you guess what happens from there, but I doubt you’re right.

Some parts of this book are incredibly uncomfortable to read – it’s one of those books where you’re dying to know what happens but you’re relieved to finish the book because the atmosphere is so creepy.

Content warning: racism, homophobia, sexual assault, hate crimes, drug addiction/abuse, the list goes on…

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 – The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter

“Forever was never as long as you thought it was.”

I was already firmly on the Karin Slaughter bandwagon, but this book makes me want to fight to take over the driver’s seat. The Kept Woman is book eight in the Will Trent series. Confession: I’ve only read two books so far in this series (eight and nine…yeah, out of order and with a devil-may-care attitude). My intent is to go back and start at the very beginning, but first I need to order all of those books, and then somehow fit them into my reading schedule…but I digress.

If you are a fan of thrillers and suspense and crime and INTENSITY, you need to read these books. Okay, so….we start off with a dead body (I mean, of course we do). He’s a former cop which automatically increases the interest in investigating his death and supposed murder (is this actually fair? I mean, not really. But that’s the way the system works). There’s a lot of blood at the scene, but it’s quickly discovered that the blood doesn’t belong to the dead body. If that doesn’t hook you, I can’t help you.

“We seek comfort from the very people who do us harm.”

Do you have a literary character you just hate? Not because they’re a bad character, but because they’re so GOOD at being absolutely despicable that you can’t help but love their story but hate them as a human being? You might have a new favorite (least favorite? Most hated?) after reading this book. Phew. People are MESSED. UP. And the worst people can’t help but force their misery upon everyone else. But you also might find a new favorite (actual favorite, a character you root for) in this series too. I just want to hug Will and protect him. And his whole crew – Sara, Amanda, Faith – I LOVE THEM. I want infinite books with these characters.

There are so many side stories crammed into this book but they all fit together and it never feels like too much is going on. Because Karin Slaughter is a writing deity sent to bring us amazing books. There’s no other explanation.

And THAT ENDING. There’s more in store for these characters and I can’t wait to find out what happens.

Content warning: mentions of rape, domestic abuse, child abuse, suicide. Overall gore and violence.

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!

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 – 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 – A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight

“That’s the hardest part about marriage isn’t it? Somebody else’s problems become your own. It doesn’t always feel fair.”

I frequently choose thrillers for my Book of the Month picks, and they usually don’t disappoint. This was no exception – although not my favorite thriller, A Good Marriage was well-paced, interesting and twisty.

I did think it did a little TOO much towards the end. It’s like there was one connection too many for the plot to feel plausible (but I guess that’s the fun of fiction). Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good thriller that will make them think and surprise them until the very end.