Review: The Survivors

** 4/5 Stars**

This was my first Jane Harper book ever and also the second audiobook I’ve read in my life. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries, and have been eager to read a Harper book because I’ve heard so many great things about her writing.

I’m going to break this review up into two parts. First, I’ll focus on the audiobook. Second, I’ll focus on the plot and characters.

The audiobook was a very enjoyable listen. The narrator has an engaging and soothing voice. He was able to bring the characters to life in a way I don’t think they would come through on the pages. I really got a sense of the emotions and feelings of the characters thanks to his narration and ability to emote. It was a keen listen and I am glad I chose to “read” this book via audio.

The story and characters were a mixed bag. At times, I had a hard time keeping track of all of the men involved in this story. I was definitely paying attention to the audiobook (I listen on my walks where I have no distractions), so I don’t think that was the issue. The characters’ names seemed similar to me for some reason, and the women in the book, with the exception of Verity, really didn’t seem to stand out from one another. Perhaps it was due to the shifting timeline, as the book concerns two interrelated tragedies involving women/girls.

I think if I had read this as a book, I would have rated it three stars. However, since the narrator was fantastic, I gave it 4. The main reason I would have given this three stars is because the plot didn’t have a lot of twists and turns. For me, this would make for a slow read.

Criticism aside, Harper is an incredible writer. She really has a gift for writing dialogue (not an easy thing to do) and for making the setting feel real. I loved that this book was set in a beach town, which felt very real in my head thanks to Harper’s knack for describing her characters’ environments. Because of this, I will definitely be reading more of Harper’s books.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan (the publisher), Netgalley, and the author (Jane Harper) for an advanced review copy (audiobook) of The Survivors.

Review: Hummingbird Salamander

**4/5 Stars**

Jeff VanderMeer’s Hummingbird Salamander is a dark eco-thriller that leaves you feeling unsettled and angry at the world in which we inhabit.

The book starts off with a bang. The main character, who is known as Jane, follows a trail of breadcrumbs left by a mysterious heiress who goes by the name of Silvana. The trail starts in the form of a taxidermied hummingbird, later to be discovered as extinct due to environmental degradation and climate change. Jane is haunted by Silvana – driven to find out more about her, to understand why she left her fortunes and became a possible bioterrorist. Jane is also running from her past and from her mundane life as a not so happy wife and a mediocre mother.

This is my fourth VanderMeer novel. His books may not tell linear stories, but they do leave you filled with emotion. Sadness. Despair. Regret. Hope. Unease. His Southern Reach trilogy was a life changing set of novels for me, and if you haven’t read them, you should do that right now. This book also reminded me of some of Douglas Coupland and Chuck Palahniuk’s earlier books where people feel out of place in a world that privileges the destruction of people and the environment in favor of rampant consumption.

So where does this novel sit in comparison to the Southern Reach trilogy? I found parts of this book to be slow, but VanderMeer’s talent for writing haunting prose kept me reading. I liked that VanderMeer crafted a character who defied societal stereotypes. Jane is strong, literally, as a female body-builder. She isn’t anchored to her domestic life. She abandons it, with minimal guilt, for a bigger cause: saving the world from possible bioterrorism, or maybe from something else.

If you are looking for a book that will spell everything out for you, this isn’t it. It’s one where you will need to suspend disbelief despite many of the themes – ecological devastation, violence and warfare, capitalism and commodification, a global pandemic – being rooted in the real world. The reader will experience the confusion and terror Jane experiences throughout the novel – she questions who she is, what parts of the world are worth saving, and why Silvana might have chosen her to carry on her legacy. This book is about the human condition in the middle of a chaotic world where people seem to care less and less about each other and the environment.

Thank you to Jeff VanderMeer, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, and NetGalley for the advanced copy of Hummingbird Salamander.

Review: The Wife Upstairs

**4/5 Stars**

I absolutely devoured Rachel Hawkins’ The Wife Upstairs, which the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, graciously let me read via NetGalley. This was my first audiobook ever, and it did not disappoint!

The book revolves around two characters – Jane and Bea – whose lives become intertwined thanks to a shared love interest: Eddie. Bea supposedly passed away in a tragic but highly suspicious boating accident, leaving Eddie a grieving widow. Bea was a successful businesswoman, starting her own line of highly sought-after decorative goods for Southern women.

Jane comes into Eddie’s life after a bit of time has passed since Bea’s death. Jane has lead a down and out life, one that is shrouded in mystery. She has relocated to build a new life, taking on a job as a dog walker in Eddie’s wealthy subdivision.

One day while on the job, Jane gets distracted and lingers in the road while looking longingly at one of the towering mansions. Eddie nearly barrels into her, causing damage to his fancy SUV. Instead of worrying about his car, however, he immediately jumps out of the car and asks if Jane is okay. Jane ends up following Eddie into his house, eventually befriending and working for him.

Jane falls for Eddie overnight, eventually getting engaged to him. She is so consumed with hiding her dark past that she misses red flags about Eddie. But slowly Eddie’s secrets surface, leading Jane to question everything she thought she knew about her fiance.

What I loved about this book was the first person narrators. Both Bea and Jane have strong, well-defined voices in this book. The audiobook was definitely worth listening to, as the actresses did a fantastic job portraying and voicing the characters. Their personalities really came through thanks to the actresses. This book is a well-crafted, character-driven thriller that was hard to put down. Highly recommend!

Thank you to the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to listen to an advanced audiobook of The Wife Upstairs.

Review: The Future is Yours

**5/5 Stars**

I’ll admit that I was going to put this down after the first few pages felt like it was yet another book about tech bros gone bad (or are they just all bad to begin with?!). But then I stuck with it for about 15 pages, and I was into it. And yes, I ended up giving this book a 5/5 stars rating despite my first few pages impression. Never judge a book by the first five pages!

What kept me reading Dan Frey’s The Future is Yours?

There are several things that kept me absolutely hooked to the point I read this in under 48 hours (and I have a busy schedule). For one, the structure of the book is just plain cool. I loved that most of the story is told via an archival, historical approach. The bulk of the book’s contents are texts, emails, newspaper articles, blogs, and a variety of other media. You would think the narrative would be hard to follow because of this piecemeal approach, but it isn’t. It’s actually insanely addicting.

Second, the premise of the book is interesting. I love how the genre of multiverses and time-travel is just exploding in recent years. It makes me feel like maybe we all just want to escape this world with all its problems and very real anxieties. This book is about two guys who meet at Stanford University (my alma mater, and yes, I loved the scenes involving campus and the dish for you insiders). Both characters are very flawed but motivated people. One character has a dream to engineer a machine that sees into the future. The other wants to market this concept and sell it to everyone to level the playing field when it comes to money and equality (or so he says).

If you love the story of Theranos (I loved the documentaries about the company and the book Bad Blood!), this book might be of great interest to you despite the fact it is fiction. Technology and innovation is moving at the speed of light in today’s world, but this book and the many sad stories of Silicon Valley’s start-up failures are really about the ethical and moral failures that arise due to technology. Just because you can invent a new technology doesn’t mean society is ready for it or even needs it at all. We need people in the humanities and social sciences thinking deeply about how new technologies will be used and implemented before they are rolled out. If this is a topic that interests you, I highly recommend reading Jaron Lanier’s books on social media and AI.

Thank you to the author, Dan Frey, the publisher, Random House, and NetGalley for the advance reviewer copy of The Future is Yours!

Review: The Chalet

**4/5 Stars**

As the leaves change (well, at least it does here in the Midwestern United States) and the weather gets colder, there’s nothing better than reading a mystery novel with a cup of hot cocoa by your side. Catherine Cooper’s debut novel The Chalet is the perfect fall read. Set in a posh ski resort in the French alps, this book will make you feel ready for winter even if you hate snow.

The book flips back and forth between two timelines. The first timeline is set in 1998, where college friends go on a skiing trip in the middle of a blizzard (yes, always a bad idea). This trip ends in disaster (shocking!), with one college student going missing up on the mountain, never to be found again.

Was foul play involved, or just really bad luck on the part of not so experienced skiers and irresponsible, selfish ski guides?

The second timeline is set 20 years after this fateful ski trip. The second timeline involves several couples stuck in a ski resort amid another bad winter storm. The contemporary timeline involves people who are somehow connected to the 1998 incident.

How they are connected is a mystery that readers must untangle.

Most of the characters in this book are not the most likable. There are unethical businessmen, cheating partners, and deceitful friends. This means everyone is a suspected of something, although what that something is does not become clear until the latter half of the novel.

This book was a strong first novel for Cooper. The setting really sold the book for me, perhaps because I am tired of being stuck at home amid COVID! A blizzard in the French alps somehow sounds appealing after 7 months of being at home. I will definitely read another book from Cooper if it is a mystery!

Thank you to the author, Catherine Cooper, the publisher, HarperCollins, and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of The Chalet.

Review: The Space Between Worlds

**5/5 Stars**

“The universe erases me, but it also remakes me again and again, so there must be something worthwhile in this image.”

“They say hunting monsters will turn you into one.”

“Alive doesn’t mean anything at all. Sometimes the path to an easy life makes you miserable.”

This year I’ve been trying to read a lot of escapist fiction. Between a cancer scare and the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve really needed to check out in the late nights and early mornings when I read. I’ve behind on a lot of my reading this year, too, but I think that’s to be expected in times like these! Nevertheless, I was so happy to pick up and read The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. It was exactly the kind of read I needed this year.

The book is a haunting sci-fi thriller that has characters who are impossible to forget. The lead character is Cara, a rough and tumble woman who is clever, resourceful, and, above all, fearless. I don’t want to give away the brilliant plot, so I will be a bit cagey with my review. Cara claws her way out of the literal wastelands to become a traverser, someone who travels in time from one world to another. The book is set in the future where a megalomaniac engineer, Adam Bosch, has discovered that there are parallel worlds: 372 to be exact. Cara is one of the few traversers hired by Bosch’s company to extract information and data out of the other worlds for the benefit of her world.

But as readers will learn, Cara’s work comes at a cost.

Cara is scrappy and curious, determined to benefit and learn from her travels in other timelines despite corporate rules prohibiting such behavior. In all the worlds she has visited, her life is difficult. These worlds all have one thing in common: inequality. Cara is a member of the lower classes abandoned and discriminated against simply for being born outside the walls of the wealthy Wiley City, a city which also serves as a corporate haven for Bosch. Wiley City is for the elite, and the surrounding desert is for the rest of the world who toil under a constant threat of sexual and physical violence.

Cara desires to find a better way of life for herself and her family members who remain entangled in poverty and strife, but numerous obstacles stand in her way. Time is running out for Cara to figure out how to secure a safer future for her family; traversers are being replaced by a new technology that will remotely retrieve data from the other universes. Adam Bosch’s company also plans to monetize traversing, offering the opportunity to the wealthy few who seek to expand their fortune and fame by visiting other universes.

The odds are stacked against Cara, but she isn’t someone who cares about odds. Will she die trying to beat them?

This book is exciting, heartbreaking, and impossible to put down. If you love sci-fi, thrillers, brilliantly imagined worlds, and characters you won’t ever forget, this is absolutely your book. Definitely going to be a book I need to add to my permanent library!

Thank you to Random House Publishing, the author, Micaiah Johnson, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of The Space Between Worlds.

Review: Imperfect Women

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**3.5 Stars**

“Marriage is very strange. It’s as full of hate as it is love. We can’t possibly speculate at what happens between any couple when all the doors are shut and all the curtains are drawn.”

“Anger is often not cruelty…it is more often love.”

I was excited to get an advanced reader copy of Araminta Hall’s newest book, Imperfect Women, as I really enjoyed her book, Our Kind of Cruelty, last year. Hall’s writing, especially at the beginning of the book, was first rate. There are some jewels scattered throughout the book, too, that I highlighted and certainly won’t forget. She has a gift for prose and for writing things that really hit home for me as a woman and working mother.

So why the 3.5 stars? I so wanted to like this book, but about 25% of the way in it seemed to go on a number of tangents. I think heavy-handed editing could have helped the narrative, as Hall often has her characters go into long diatribes on life and feminism. This is certainly not a bad thing in my book, but all of her characters are deeply introspective people who make questionable choices despite their reflectiveness. I am not confident that most people operate with that level and depth of self-awareness on a daily basis, and that’s probably what struck me as the most problematic part of the book.

The book is about three female friends who met in college and are now coming of age (despite being of middle age like myself). The friends find themselves tethered to one another when one of them disappears and then is found dead under what is believed to be suspicious circumstances. As the friends investigate what happened, betrayals and unfaithfulness are revealed, making the reader wonder how these three women ever stayed together and trusted one another in the first place.

I’ve read other reviews of this book now that I’m done with it, and some people have complained that everyone in the book is “imperfect” (hence the title) and irredeemably flawed. Every person out there is flawed, so I don’t see this as a big problem. What is a problem, in my opinion, is how self-absorbed all the characters are despite being “friends.” They seem to be so flawed that they lack a moral compass needed to have friends – maybe that’s Hall’s point, that all of these characters were drawn together because they were missing what makes them human. I am not sure.

Nevertheless, I will definitely read Araminta Hall’s next book because I enjoy her writing style so much. The plot is where the book fell short for me.

Thank you to Araminta Hall, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of the book!

Review: The Safe Place

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**4 Stars**

Emily is broke. Her dream to become a successful actress is fading as her bills are past due and piling up day after day. She has one last chance to get back on her feet and start auditioning again when she gets hired at a post investment firm as a secretary.

But then she blows it big time and gets fired. Rent is due. Her landlord is ready to give her the boot. Her roommate is on her heels to pay her for her portion of rent. To make matters worse, her adoptive parents won’t bail her out anymore. She has asked for help one too many times.

Kicked to the curb, Emily is beyond desperate. Out of the blue, she receives an invitation from Scott, the owner of the investment firm for which she worked. He asks her to meet to discuss an unusual but promising business opportunity.

With nowhere to go and nothing to her name, Emily meets Scott, who apologizes for firing her. Scott comes off as charming, attractive, and brilliant. He offers her what seems like a once in a lifetime job: move to France to assist his wife in renovating their chateaus and nannying his daughter, who, he says, is ill. Emily is enchanted by the life he promises her – a pool, the French countryside, miles of private hiking trails, her own house, delicious French wine and food, and an unspeakable amount of money to spend at her leisure. What could go wrong?

Emily immediately jumps at the chance to leave the country and start a new life. Initially, everything about her new job in France seems beyond perfect. Scott’s wife welcomes her with open arms, treating to all the delights of France and luxury unheard of.

But then Emily becomes suspicious of Scott’s wife and life in France. There’s a creepy basement that has boxes of infant and children’s clothing. Scott’s daughter is also an enigma; mute, shy, and complicated, she seems to be holding the key to the mystery of Scott’s family. And then there’s this awful smell that permeates the entire house despite the fragrant flowers and baked goods that fill the house. There are entire wings of the property that are off limits to Emily. Any time people come near the property, Scott’s wife screams at them to leave.

What is Scott’s family hiding? Emily must find out before her life is in danger.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was completely engulfed in the story from the first page to the last. The last 25% of the book, in particular, was so exciting and thrilling. I found the character of Emily relatable and appreciated how the author developed her character. The plot was a bit unbelievable, but honestly, if every thriller that was published was true we’d be in a big trouble as a society! I found the ending satisfying, though I did not want the book to end! This is definitely a book worth reading if you are into mysteries and thrillers set in Gothic mansions.

Thank you to the author, Anna Downes, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of The Safe Place!

Review: Little Secrets

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**5++ Stars**

Jennifer Hillier is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite authors! I absolutely devoured Hillier’s Jar of Hearts, which was one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read (and I believe it is either going to be on the screens soon). Little Secrets was also a fantastically wild ride of a book, one that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page!

As a mother, my absolute worst fear is something happening to my child, especially if it is something that I could have prevented. This is precisely what happens to Marin, who is the mother to four-year-old Sebastian.

Sebastian is kidnapped in Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market. It’s Christmas time and Pike Place is even more bustling than it normally is, as it is a huge tourist trap during the entire year.

It only takes one second for Sebastian to slip out of Marin’s hands (literally) and then he’s gone….maybe for good. The person who abducted him was smartly dressed as Santa Claus – a guise that made it easy for Sebastian to be snatched. The FBI investigates and fails to find any leads.

Needless to say, Marin is absolutely crushed. But if anything is good about Marin’s life, it’s that she has a great deal of money to spend on finding her missing son. She hires a private investigator, who turns up questionable and shocking information about both her husband and her former boyfriend. Her husband is having an affair with a much younger woman, a woman Marin begins to investigate as the possible kidnapper.

But lots of people who are in Marin’s life are hiding secrets – and one of them has her son.

This book was SO exciting and thrilling. It will make for a great read if you are stuck indoors during the pandemic right now, or on the beach this summer. You will not be able to put this book down! I am absolutely 100% sold on Hillier’s books. She is one of the tried and true authors I can read and count on to spin a wonderfully intriguing story that I cannot stop reading!

Thank you to Jennifer Hillier, the author, NetGalley, and St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to review this fantastic book!

Review: The Best of Friends

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**5 Stars**

Three close friends who go way back to primary school in Southern California suffer an unthinkable tragedy. Their three high-school-aged sons who all play on the soccer team are involved in a gun-related incident, one that has claimed one of the boy’s lives, put one in a coma, and left one traumatized to the point they cannot speak about what happened that night. Lucinda Berry’s The Best of Friends is a twisty who-done-it thriller that looks at what caused one, possibly two, and maybe even three best of friends to harm each other.

This was my first Berry thriller and I was very impressed with her ability to build and sustain suspense. The book is told from the perspectives of the three women whose lives have been irrevocably altered. Each mother is in search of answers as to what happened that terrible night. The three women – Dani, Kendra, and Lindsey – are well off and assumed that their boys, were the best of friends. But the bonds between mothers slowly unravel as they discover the truths about themselves, their husbands, their other children, and their sons.

One mother has developed close friendships with the teenage boys that the other two mothers don’t know about. Another mother has been secretly slipping Adderall to her son without telling her husband and friends. And the third mother is in an abusive relationship with her husband that she hides well, one that may have contributed to what happened that dreadful night.

What caused two boys to be shot? Are the parents somehow involved or responsible for this horrific incident? Could it have been prevented?

I found the parts about the mothers’ extraordinary grief really gripping and heartbreaking – it is exactly how I imagine feeling if, God forbid, something happened to one of my children.

This was a solid thriller that kept me turning the pages. It was one of those books I looked forward to reading and had a hard time putting down. Thank you to NetGalley, the author, Lucinda Berry, and Thomas & Mercer for an advance reader copy of The Best of Friends!

Review: The Half-Sister

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**4 Stars**

When Lauren decides to upload a DNA test to a genealogy website, she has no idea how one action will change the lives of her family forever. Sandie Jones’ The Half Sister examines the inner lives and secrets of two sisters, Lauren and Kate, who have skeletons in their closets.

Kate is an independent, successful reporter who has been desperately trying to get pregnant. She has an adoring, equally successful husband who also works as a political reporter. Kate and her husband have kept their infertility struggle secret from the rest of their family, including Kate’s sister, Lauren, and mother, Rose.

Lauren is a mostly stay at home mother to numerous young children who feels chained to the life she’s chosen. Her husband is moody and difficult. The love she once had for him disappeared as soon as he became controlling when they married. She pines for the love she lost in high school, a love who painfully broke up with her and who has conveniently returned to their hometown.

Feeling lost and alone, Lauren seeks out companionship online via a genealogy website. A knock on her mother’s door will unravel Kate, Lauren, and Rose’s lives, forcing them to confront their once beloved and now deceased father’s infidelities. Jess, a woman who claims to be Lauren and Kate’s half-sister due to the connection made online via a genealogy website, is looking for friendship and family after growing up as an adoptee.

But Kate, who had a closer relationship with her father than Lauren, cannot believe her father, a prominent lawyer, would do such a thing. Kate, using her stellar investigative skills, digs deep into Jess’ past, discovering that Jess is not who she claims to be. Will Jess destroy Kate and Lauren’s family forever, or will the truths she brings to light bring them closer?

I enjoyed this book a great deal, but I think it could have been edited a bit more as it felt long by the time I was done. I saw the ending coming about half-way into the novel, but I thought it was still satisfying. I thought the characters of Lauren and Kate were well developed and enjoyed seeing how their motivations were explained. While I have preferred the Jones’ other books just a tad bit more, I did not regret this read and recommend it for a summer beach book (if we can go out to the beach, that is!).

Thank you to the author, Sandie Jones, NetGalley, and St. Martin’s Press for an advanced reader copy of The Half Sister! I greatly appreciate the opportunity to review Jones’ books!

Review: Little Disasters

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**4 Stars**

Jess is a picture-perfect stay at home mother; she is pretty, thin, and has three beautiful children, including her beautiful baby Betsey. She is married to Ed, a successful businessman who works long days and nights to sustain his family and help his wife stay home. Jess’ world is flipped upside down when she finds herself being charged with negligent parenting after bringing Betsey into the ER. To make matters worse, the charges have been filed by Jess’ friend and ER doctor, Liz, who she befriended in a mother-baby group with their first children.

The story is told from the competing perspectives of Jess and Liz. Liz is a hard-working mother who feels terrible for reporting Jess. However, Betsey’s injuries appear serious; it seems as though she sustained a head injury, an injury that resulted in Betsey seizing and remaining hospitalized. Jess’ story of how Betsey got injured is inconsistent, making everyone around her wonder if she committed an unforgivable crime.

Did the taxing nature of motherhood cause Jess to hurt her child? Or is someone else responsible for Betsey’s serious injury?

Perhaps the guilty party is Ed, who might be having an affair on the side with Jess’ friend, Charlotte. Or maybe it is one of Jess’ sons, who are somewhat neglected due to the arrival of their newborn sister, Betsey. Or maybe it is Jess herself, who has been suffering from delusions and anxiety since she had Betsey. Liz also seems to have some skeletons in her closet and is working with doctors who are notoriously difficult to please.

This book is a good character study on the challenges and difficulties of being a parent. I appreciated the time the author put into developing the plot and characters. There were also lots of twists and turns that were unexpected that kept me engaged and interested in the book.

Thank you to Atria/Emily Bestler Books, NetGalley, and the author, Sarah Vaughan, for an advanced reader copy of Little Disasters!