Thursday, August 10, 2023

What Have We Done by Alex Finlay


Title: What Have We Done
Author: Alex Finlay
Publisher: March 7, 2023
Release Date: Minotaur Books

In this thriller from Alex Finlay, What Have We Done is a tale about the lives we leave behind and the secrets we carry with us forever.

A stay-at-home mom with a past.
A has-been rock star with a habit.
A reality TV producer with a debt.
Three disparate lives.
One deadly secret.

Twenty five years ago, Jenna, Donnie, and Nico were the best of friends, having forged a bond through the abuse and neglect they endured as residents of Savior House, a group home for parentless teens. When the home was shut down―after the disappearance of several kids―the three were split up.

Though the trauma of their childhood has never left them, each went on to live accomplished―if troubled―lives. They haven’t seen one another since they were teens but now are reunited for a single haunting reason: someone is trying to kill them.

To survive, the group will have to revisit the nightmares of their childhoods and confront their shared past―a past that holds the secret to why someone wants them dead.

It’s a reunion none of them asked for . . . or wanted. But it may be the only way to save all their lives.

What Have We Done is both an edge-of-your-seat thriller and a gut-wrenching coming-of-age story. And it cements Alex Finlay as one of the new leading voices in thrillers today.

So I enjoyed this one. Maybe because for once I knew what I was getting into.

What Have We Done tells the story of Jenna and the friends she made when she became an orphan and was sent to the Savoir House for teenagers. During this time, the children there endured bullying, and then girls started to disappear.

Now as an adult, Jenna is married and has two stepchildren. She also has a past and a secret.

Donnie was a rock not so much. He has a problem with addiction and is on the brink of losing it at all.

Nico is a successful reality TV show producer but with a gambling problem.

The three of them will have to meet again after so many years when someone is targeting them. The past is catching up with them. They have a bullseye on their back.

Narrated by mostly 3 POVs and two sets of timelines, this novel is fast-paced and has enough action to keep you going.

Despite being a different type of story from Alex Finlay's earlier work, I was entertained.

Cliffhanger: No

4/5 Fangs

A complimentary copy was provided by Minotaur Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Block Party by Jamie Day


Title: The Block Party
Author: Jamie Day
Publisher: St. Martin's Press/Macmillan Audio
Release Date: July 18, 2023

This summer, meet your neighbors.

The residents of the exclusive cul-de-sac on Alton Road are entangled in a web of secrets and scandal utterly unknown to the outside world, and even to each other.

On the night of the annual Summer block party, there has been a murder.

But, who did it and why takes readers back one year earlier, as rivalries and betrayals unfold—discovering that the real danger lies within their own block and nothing—and no one—is ever as it seems.

This was delish!!

The Block Party starts with a Memorial Day annual block party where a murder is committed. Then we go back a year and meet the neighbors of Alton Road and little by little we discovered their secrets.

Alex Fox lives on Alton Road with her husband Nick and her daughter Lettie.

Alex's sister. Emily Adair lives on the same road with her husband Ken and their son Dylan.

A young and beautiful widow, Brooke Bailey.

A couple in the middle of a divorce, Wilow and Evan Thompson, and their daughter, Riley.

Last but not least are the new neighbors, Samir and Mandy Kumar, and their son, Jay, Lettie immediately has an interest in him.

There is a dual POV. One by Alex and another by her daughter, Lettie. Lettie is smart and snarky. Alex is nice, she tries to help everyone but she might like alcohol a little too much.

Brooke has a reputation. Some people believe that she murdered her husband.

Emily is having some marital issues and she didn't like how interested Ken is in newcomer Mandy.

For a lover of the show Desperate Housewives, I had fun with this one. The Block Party was full of twists and turns making it quite addicting.

I liked Alex's character a lot and I felt bad for her alcoholism. Lettie was great too. Although sometimes she acted like a brat to her parents, especially her mom.

The narrators Megan Tusing and Suzy Jackson did an amazing job of bringing all the characters to life. 

The conclusion was quite satisfying since it brings all the answers to the table.

Cliffhanger: No

4/5 Fangs

A complimentary copy was provided by St. Martin's Press /Macmillan Audio via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Same Time Next Summer by Annabel Monaghan

Title: Same Time Next Summer 
Author: Annabel Monaghan
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Release Date: June 6, 2023

The ultimate summer nostalgia read, about an engaged woman who comes face to face with her first love who she hasn't seen in fourteen years, but who she spent every summer with from age five to seventeen when he broke her heart, calling into question everything she thought she knew about their love story, and herself.

Beach Rules:
Do take long walks on the sand.
Do put an umbrella in every cocktail.
Do NOT run into your first love.

Sam’s life is on track. She has the perfect doctor fiancé, Jack (his strict routines are a good thing, really), a great job in Manhattan (unless they fire her), and is about to tour a wedding venue near her family’s Long Island beach house. Everything should go as planned, yet the minute she arrives, Sam senses something is off. Wyatt is here. Her Wyatt. But there’s no reason for a thirty-year-old engaged woman to feel panicked around the guy who broke her heart when she was seventeen. Right?

Yet being back at this beach, hearing notes from Wyatt’s guitar float across the night air from next door as if no time has passed—Sam’s memories come flooding back: the feel of Wyatt’s skin on hers, their nights in the treehouse, and the truth behind their split. Sam remembers who she used to be, and as Wyatt reenters her life their connection is as undeniable as it always was. She will have to make a choice.

I loved Nora Goes Off Script so it was a no-brainer to request this one.

In the Same Time Next Summer, we meet Sam. She is going to her family's beach house in Long Island in search of a venue for her wedding. Her fiance Jack is going with her.

Sam is shocked to find out that Wyatt, her first love is there too. He broke her heart when she was eighteen. Now more than a decade later, she is not ready to see him again.

This second chance romance was just what I needed. I loved Sam's character and learning about her romance with Wyatt. The dual POV helped me root for Wyatt.

I won't second guess requesting Annabel Monaghan's next book.

Cliffhanger: No

4/5 Fangs

A complimentary copy was provided by G.P. Putnam's Sons via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

On the Savage Side by Tiffany McDaniel


Title: On the Savage Side
Author: Tiffany McDaniel 
Publisher: Knopf
Release Date: February 14, 2023

Six women--mothers, daughters, sisters--gone missing. When the first is found floating dead in the river, it reveals the disturbing truth of a small Ohio town. Inspired by the unsolved murders of the Chillicothe Six, this harrowing and haunting novel tells the story of two sisters, both of whom could be the next victims, from the internationally-bestselling author of Betty.

Arcade and Daffodil are twin sisters born one minute apart. With their fiery red hair and thirst for an escape, they forge an unbreakable bond nurtured by both their grandmother's stories and their imaginations. Together, they create a world where a patch of grass reveals an archaeologist's dig, the smoke emerging from the local paper mill becomes the dust rising from wild horses galloping on the ground, and an abandoned 1950s convertible transforms into a time machine that can take them anywhere.

But the two sisters can't escape the generational chaos that grips their family. Growing up in the shadow of the town, the sisters cling tight to one another. As an adult, Arcade wrestles with these memories of her life, just as a local woman is discovered drowned in the river. Soon, more bodies are found. While her friends disappear around her, Arcade is forced to reckon with the past while the killer circles ever closer. Arcade's promise to keep herself and her sister safe becomes increasingly desperate while the powerful riptide of the savage side becomes more difficult to resist.

Drawing from the true story of women killed in her native Ohio, acclaimed novelist and poet Tiffany McDaniel has written a powerful literary testament and fearless elegy for missing women everywhere.

I'm an outlier for this one. I did not enjoy On the Savage Side.

I was hoping for a different type of book. This was a dark novel without hope.

On the Savage Side was inspired by the murders of the Chillicothe Six. I was hoping to see more justice for these women in the novel since in real life the actual women who were murdered have not had it since two of the missing women are still missing, presumed dead but no body has been recovered.

What rang true was the lack of worry the police felt about trying to find who was killing the prostitutes and drug addicts.

The main character is Arc Doggs. She has a twin named Daffy. They live with their mother and aunt. Both prostitutes and heroin drug addicts. The twins experience child and sexual abuse. They grow up poor and without anyone helping them after their grandmother is killed. So as teenagers, they succumb to drugs and to be able to afford their addiction they become prostitutes themselves.

As I said earlier this book was not for me. The prose was slow and the novel was full of imagery, symbolism, and constant metaphors. Too much for my taste.

Cliffhanger: No

2/5 Fangs

A complimentary copy was provided by Knopf via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

He Said He Would Be Late by Justine Sullivan


Title:  He Said He Would Be Late
Author: Justine Sullivan
        Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Release Date: March 14, 2023

A twisty psychological debut about marriage, motherhood, and the search for truth at all costs.

Liz Bennet is fortunate with love and she knows it. She’s married to a wealthy, handsome, bright, all-around charming man. Arno, a wonderful husband and adoring father to their daughter, Emma, is the outward picture of perfection. But, when Liz sees a text on Arno’s phone with a couple of kissy faces attached, she starts to worry. And worry. And worry.

As any respectable wife would, Liz must find out exactly what’s going on. And so she takes a deep dive down the rabbit hole, peeling back layers of deceit, following every lead on what she increasingly believes is an extramarital affair. Could her husband really be cheating on her? Or is he just as perfect as he looks?

Liz wants the truth, at all costs, but as life teaches us, not everything is as it seems.

Liz Bennet has a nice home. She is married to Arno, a quite successful businessman. They have a small daughter, Emma.

Liz has been experiencing some difficulties. She is a published author and her first novel was successful. However, since delivering the baby, she has suffered from writer's block and has been unable to finish her second one. Having her agent call her on her progress is not helping. The second issue she is dealing with is the lack of a bond she has with her daughter. Then, things get worse when one morning, her husband receives a text from a female worker. Liz becomes suspicious of Arno. Is he cheating? Are all those late nights not really work-related?

Liz spirals into a frenzy of stalking the woman's social media and her husband's other coworkers in the hope of finding clues.

I didn't mind following Liz's decompensation. She was a little nuts for sure. I also thought her postpartum depression had something to do with her paranoia. The narrator, Kelli Tager did a great job in making me feel sorry for Liz's predicament. I did love how lucky Liz got with her babysitter. She was awesome to Emma and Liz.

Cliffhanger: No

4/5 Fangs

A complimentary copy was provided by Macmillan Audio via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

What January Remembers by Faith Gardner
The Jolvix Episodes #3

Title: What January Remembers
Series: The Jolvix Episodes #3
Author: Faith Gardner
Publisher: Mirror House Press
Release Date: November 1st, 2022

A dysfunctional family holiday, a possible murder, and a partridge in a pear tree.

The Jaggers were once a tight-knit family. But after their mother’s tragic death years ago, the four children and their father have drifted further apart. The children grew up, moved away, and now have lives of their own. And Dad? Well, let’s just say his new live-in friend January also has a permanent residence in the uncanny valley.

After a disturbing, violent Christmas two years ago the Jaggers wish they could forget, they’re reuniting in their childhood southern California home dubbed “the Pink Castle” to give celebrating the holidays one more shot this year. But in the days before they gather, the children each get a sinister note that reads Your mother was murdered.

Could this be the bizarre work of Dad's companion bot January?

Or is one of the Jaggers hiding a horrible, guilty secret?

This domestic suspense novel is part of the Jolvix Episodes.

I liked this one.

The Jagger family is meeting again two years after their last Christmas together. The siblings Josiah, Julianna, Jesse, and Jada are all coming back to the family home in southern California known as the "Pink Castle".

Why has it been 2 years since their last time together?

Well, at that time, their father introduced them to his new companion bot, January. One of the siblings couldn't tolerate the idea of someone else replacing their mother (who killed herself many years ago) so January was violently attacked. Per their father, January was able to be fixed and her memory was wiped out completely about the event.

In the present, all the siblings have received an anonymous letter saying their mother was murdered. At first, they don't share the information but as the time together progresses, they will learn that they all got the same note.

I enjoyed this one so much. Love January and Six (the bot next door). From the Jaggers, I was very interested in Jada and her true crime obsession with the Freezer man (hoping there is a book about that). I thought Jesse needed mental health for life. Julianna had the weight of the world on her shoulders and I felt bad for Josiah's childhood.

This was a great installment of the Jolvix Episode series!

Cliffhanger: No

4/5 Fangs

A complimentary copy was provided by Mirror House Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz


Title: The Writing Retreat
Author: Julia Bartz 
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Release Date: February 21, 2023

A book deal to die for.

Five attendees are selected for a month-long writing retreat at the remote estate of Roza Vallo, the controversial high priestess of feminist horror. Alex, a struggling writer, is thrilled.

Upon arrival, they discover they must complete an entire novel from scratch, and the best one will receive a seven-figure publishing deal. Alex’s long-extinguished dream now seems within reach.

But then the women begin to die.

Trapped, terrified yet still desperately writing, it is clear there is more than a publishing deal at stake at Blackbriar Estate. Alex must confront her own demons – and finish her novel – to save herself.

This unhinged, propulsive, claustrophobic closed-door thriller will pull you in and spit you out…

The Writing Retreat is the debut novel by Julia Bartz. I didn't particularly like it.

The story begins with the main character Alex. When we meet her, she doesn't enjoy her job or her boss. She is also suffering from writer's block and she still stalks her ex-best friend's Instagram posts regularly.

Her luck changes when she is invited to a writing retreat offered by non-other than her favorite horror author, Roza Vallo at her home in Blackbriar Estate. Alex isn't alone, four more women are there with her: Taylor, Poppy, Kiera, and as luck will have it, her ex-best friend Wren is there too.

Roza notifies them that they will be competing to finish a book within the next four weeks and each of them will be helping edit the book of the others. Whoever wins, by having the best novel, will be getting a seven-figure publishing deal.

Alex wants to win badly. She wants to beat Wren as well. The only problem is that she has no clue how to get rid of her writer's block but she is guided toward writing a historical fiction novel based on a demon.

Then strange things started occurring......

I thought the book had a good premise and I enjoyed the first half of it. The last 20% not so much. It went off the rails and was too unbelievable to be taken seriously.

Cliffhanger: No

2.5/5 Fangs

A complimentary copy was provided by Atria/Emily Bestler Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Maid's Diary by Loreth Anne White


Title: The Maid's Diary
Author: Loreth Anne White
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: March 1, 2023

Kit Darling is a maid with a snooping problem. She’s the “invisible girl,” compelled to poke into her wealthy clients’ closely guarded lives. It’s a harmless hobby until Kit sees something she can’t unsee in the home of her brand-new clients: a secret so dark it could destroy the privileged couple expecting their first child. This makes Kit dangerous to the couple. In turn, it makes the couple—who might kill to keep their secret—dangerous to Kit.

When homicide cop Mallory Van Alst is called to a scene at a luxury waterfront home known as the Glass House, she’s confronted with evidence of a violent attack so bloody it’s improbable the victim is alive. But there’s no body. The homeowners are gone. And their maid is missing. The only witness is the elderly woman next door, who woke to screams in the night. The neighbor was also the last person to see Kit Darling alive.

As Mal begins to uncover the secret that has sent the lives of everyone involved on a devious and inescapable collision course, she realizes that nothing is quite as it seems.

And no one escapes their past.

I love Loreth Ann Books. They are always a treat for me.

The Maid's Diary is another success.

Without giving too many details away, the story centers on Kit Darling, a maid for wealthy people. She likes to snoop around the houses she cleans.

When she gets a new client, she realizes she knows the couple (Daisy and Jon Rittenburg) and she can't stop herself from snooping and planning an act of revenge.

However, if she is successful how come there is a murder when the novel begins in the present?

There are different timelines with several points of view including diary entries by Kit, Daisy, Jon, and Detective Mallory Van Alst who is called to the scene of the crime.

I'm very pleased with the novel, its delivery, and its conclusion. Loreth Ann White will always be an auto-buy for me.

This time, I listened to the audible and I thought Jane Oppenheimer did a fantastic job.

Cliffhanger: No

5/5 Fangs

VenCo by Cherie Dimaline

Title: VenCo
Author: Cherie Dimaline
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: February 7, 2023

Lucky St. James, a Métis millennial living with her cantankerous but loving grandmother Stella, is barely hanging on when she discovers she will be evicted from their tiny Toronto apartment. Then, one night, something strange and irresistible calls out to Lucky. Burrowing through a wall, she finds a silver spoon etched with a crooked-nosed witch and the word SALEM, humming with otherworldly energy.
Hundreds of miles away in Salem, Myrna Good has been looking for Lucky. Myrna works for VenCo, a front company fueled by vast resources of dark money.

Lucky is familiar with the magic of her indigenous ancestors, but she has no idea that the spoon links her to VenCo’s network of witches throughout North America. Generations of witches have been waiting for centuries for the seven spoons to come together, igniting a new era, and restoring women to their rightful power.

But as reckoning approaches, a very powerful adversary is stalking their every move. He’s Jay Christos, a roguish and deadly witch-hunter as old as witchcraft itself.

To find the last spoon, Lucky and Stella embark on a rollicking and dangerous road trip to the darkly magical city of New Orleans, where the final showdown will determine whether VenCo will usher in a new beginning…or remain underground forever.

It had potential.

VenCo is about an organization of witches. The whole premise is based on the belief that if seven special witches get together, women will become more powerful.

Lucky St James is the sixth witch. She is living in Toronto with her grandmother who is suffering from cognitive changes when she is found by Venco. Lucky is in possession of a special spoon that has the letters Salem inscribed in it. As soon as Lucky touches the spoon, she feels differently. When VenCo comes knocking she accepts traveling from Canada to the USA to meet a possible employer. She brings her grandmother with her and when they arrive at their destination they meet five women who are living together. Here is where Lucky learns she is a witch and she has to find the last spoon and the witch who will complete their coven. But, things are not easy, an ancient being is on the prowl. His name is Jay Christos, and he wants all the witches to die. He is responsible for the death of many and he is on the hunt for the last seven.

The book had a very slow beginning, only the last third had some action. I wished we had seen more of their powers and their backstories than what we got. The ending felt a little rushed. Yet, overall I enjoyed the story.

Cliffhanger: No

3.5/5 Fangs

A complimentary copy was provided by William Morrow via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.