Review: The Villa

**5/5 Stars**

This is my third Rachel Hawkins’ book, and like the two others, I immediately took to the story. In my book, you can never go wrong with a Rachel Hawkins book! She is on my auto-purchase list and she will stay on this list after this book!

The Villa involves two parallel stories: one that takes place in the present, and the other that takes place in the 1970s. It is the place in which the story takes place – an Italian villa – that is a common variable between the two storylines.

Several of the characters are also writers, and some of their own writing comes into play in this mystery. There are two mysteries taking place – one in the contemporary timeline, and another in the 1970s timeline. While I found this particular plot somewhat predictable, I thought the characters were interesting and I was invested in what was happening until the very last page. I will say I enjoyed the contemporary storyline a bit more and would have liked to have had more backstory with those two characters. I could even see reading a prequel with those characters.

If you are looking for a quick and engaging thriller that has a cast of interesting female characters, this book is definitely for you.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and Macmillan Audio for an advanced reader copy of The Villa.


Review: Skein Island

**3/5 Stars**

Oh how I wanted to love this book! Aliya Whiteley’s Skein Island had a powerful beginning, but the story got lost along the way. I kept reading until the very last page because the concepts of the book were interesting and captured my interest, but the book fell short of its premise.

What I liked about this book was the originality of the story. The story focuses on an island that is exclusively for women looking to change their lives. Access to the island is by invite only. If accepted, you must share the story of your life with a mysterious woman who is a keeper of the island’s secrets. At first, the island and story seem fairly surface level: women seeking relief from the external world.

However, the story is much more complex than that. The island has a story of its own, one that is dark and macabre. We find that the universe of our characters is not the same as our own, which is part of the novel’s several surprises.

I like the author’s flair for throwing unexpected wrenches into the storyline, but at times it made the novel jarring and uneven. I found myself truly lost by the end of the novel because of these unusual elements – it’s a shame because I think the author could have edited this and had a much stronger and more sensical ending.

At the end of the day, it is clear the author is a capable writer and this book shows a lot of promise. I definitely plan on reading another book by her.

Review: Blue Haven

**5/5 Stars**

I happened upon this book on Amazon and thought i sounded interested, so I purchased it because it was not available through my local library. I was surprised to find that the book has very few reviews on Goodreads, but the ones that are there are really positive. I am so glad I took a chance on this book!

This book is similar in many ways to John Rector’s The Ridge, which is one of my favorite reads and thrillers. I haven’t quite found any books similar to Rector’s book, so I was really excited to find a book with a similar premise. Blue Haven begins with a woman – Aloe – winning the lottery, and then opting to use her fortune to buy a condo in a new development – Blue Haven – that promises the utmost privacy and comfort for the wealthy. The condo sits on a beautiful white sand beach that seems to travel for miles on end. Aloe has built in friends – her neighbors – the minute she moves in. She has a personal assistant who will respond to any of her wants and needs 24/7. She has personal shoppers, personal chefs, and even round the clock medical care if need be.

But then Aloe, the main character, discovers there is something deeply wrong with her new residence. There is a mysterious man following her. The residents seem to be hiding something. And her personal assistant, Amir, has lied to her about a woman who once lived at the complex but has now disappeared. Aloe wants out, but she may be stuck in Blue Haven for the rest of her life. What’s wrong with being stuck in paradise, after all?

Nothing is as it seems in Blue Haven, and nearly all the fun in this book is spent trying to figure out what is going on. This constitutes about 65% of the book. The rest of the book is spent diving a bit deeper into the character, Aloe, and her backstory. This book is perfect for readers who love sci-fi, thrillers, and technology. I highly recommend it!

Review: Upgrade

**4/5 Stars**

I’m a huge huge fan of Blake Crouch. I think he’s one of the best sci-fi authors out there right now. I was SO excited to see that he has a new release and immediately requested an ARC of it.

This was a rollercoaster of a read. It wasn’t my favorite book of Crouch’s, but it was worth my time for sure. Crouch is not modest with Upgrade’s plot. This book asks some big questions of its readers:

What if you could change the course of humanity for the better? What if we could stop climate change, stop rampant consumerism, and end the selfish individualism that almost seems inherent to humanity at this time in history?

It also places the weight of the world (literally) on the main character’s shoulders. What if you and you alone could be the answer to the world’s many problems? Would you risk everything – your family and even your life – to fix humanity and the planet for the better?

Yes, it all sounds a little cliched and cheesy, but I could easily see this book becoming a wild ride of a screenplay and movie. It’s bold, adventurous, and involves some interesting musings on genetic engineering and CRISPR technology, and I liked it.

It’s not as introspective or reflective as his previous books, but it was a fun read that delivered for a great sci-fi story that I think Crouch’s readers will thoroughly enjoy.

Thank you to Random House Books, Blake Crouch, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of this book!

Review: Survive the Night

**3/5 Stars**

What did I just read?! I am normally a fan of Riley Sager’s books, but this was fell really short of my expectations for a good thriller.

I won’t rehash what other bloggers and reviewers have said at length, but I’ll highlight what I personally did and did not like about this book.

What I liked about the book was the format. I like that it took place during a short period of time (this aspect of the book reminded me of Taylor Adams’ No Exit, which I enjoyed) and that the clock was ticking. This made the story more tense and gave it a clear beginning and end. I liked that the main character, Charlie, was a movie fan and referenced movie quotes and scenes throughout the book. I also loved that was it set in the 80s as a child of the 80s. If it had been set in 2021, the story wouldn’t work.

Why? A cell phone and Uber would have prevented most of what happens in this book…but so would common sense, which brings me to what I did not like about the book.

What I didn’t like is essentially what ruined the story for me. Charlie lost her parents to a car crash and her roommate and friend to a serial killer who targets women on college campuses. Charlie is leaving campus for good after the latter tragedy, and decides to take a ride from a seemingly innocent guy named Josh. Josh is a complete stranger she just happened to meet while looking at her college’s job board. You might be wondering why the heck someone whose roommate was killed by a serial killer would take a random stranger’s offer for a ride home. Yeah, me too. This is simply the first choice among many Charlie makes that places her in the hands of danger.

Charlie makes SO MANY bad decisions that you will find yourself yelling at her by the first page or two of the book. Despite surviving the deaths of her friend and her parents, she is passive and helpless. She has so many opportunities to get help, but she doesn’t. The ending of the novel is the absolute worst, because she makes yet another terrible life choice that once again puts her in harm’s way.

I don’t know if Sager intentionally set out to write about a helpless, weak, clueless female character, but he did. I found it insulting because it really did not capture the spirit of the times. Women in the 80s and early 90s were writing and singing about challenging the patriarchy. I can’t imagine a character who is so into movies would not be aware of the music scene that is an equally essential part of a movie (aka the soundtrack). There are SO many fantastic soundtracks from this time period….so yeah, this was a disappointing and maddening read for this feminist who grew up during the time period in which this book was supposed to take place.

I did not receive an ARC for this review. I stopped receiving Sager ARCs once he became big 🙂

Review: The Guilt Trip

**4/5 Stars**

Let me just start by saying that the characters in this novel – nearly ALL of them – have secrets. Not just the “I stole a cookie out of my mom’s cookie jar when I was 5” kind of secrets. Secrets of the really terrible kind, like I cheated with my best friend’s husband and had a love child secret!

If you can suspend reality for a bit and read this (I suppose this is required for most thrillers and mysteries anyhow), then you will enjoy Sandie Jones’ latest thriller The Guilt Trip. This is the perfect title for the book, because everyone on this disaster of a trip is guilty of something: lying, cheating, stealing….you name it, it’s in this book and the characters have indeed done it.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and I have to admit that I nearly stopped listening because the character of Ali is just so gosh darn obnoxious. Kudos to the actor for making the character true to the author’s depiction of it, but oh wow, Ali is extra, and not in a good way.

There were some parts of this book that felt more drama than thriller, which made for a slow read at times. However, Jones writes really interesting, complex characters, so I kept listening. I wanted to know if the different characters’ secrets were going to be revealed at the end of the book, and they are. Jones did a nice job tying all loose ends at the end of the book – there is a scene that serves as sort of the crescendo of the book, and that was a fantastic way to end it.

Thank you to the author, Macmillan Audio, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of this book!

Review: The Golden Couple

**4/5 Stars**

I received Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Golden Couple as an advanced reviewer copy. This is the fourth thriller I’ve read from the writing pair, and once again it was a homerun of a read. If I had to pick a favorite book from the coauthors, I’d pick An Anonymous Girl.

This book follows a Avery Chambers, a famed psychologist who has decided to take a non-traditional approach to treating clients. As a result of her unconventional treatments, she has lost her license. She has also lost her husband, and there are some questions regarding the circumstances leading to his death. Needless to say, things aren’t perfect for Avery.

Avery takes on new clients – Marissa and Mathew – who seem perfect in every way. They are beautiful, poised, and seem to have successful careers. Despite outward appearances, there is turmoil in their relationship. Marissa cheated on Mathew, and it is up to Avery to mend things before the couple ends up divorcing.

Both Avery and Marissa begin to experience concerning incidents that lead them to believe they are being stalked or followed. Avery’s former client, who revealed ethical concerns regarding a pharmaceutical company that Avery then reported to the FDA, is angry at her, and the pharmaceutical company is on Avery’s tail.

This was a super quick, thrilling read for me. I found the characters to be engaging with interesting backstories. I did figure out what was going on fairly quickly, but I read a lot of thrillers.

Thank you to the authors, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of this book!

Review: Reckless Girls

**4/5 Stars**

I was really excited to get an advanced reader copy of Rachel Hawkins’ Reckless Girls after thoroughly enjoying her last book, The Wife Upstairs. I listened to the latter book as an audiobook, and the narrators of that book really, really sold the story for me. This time around I read Hawkins’ Reckless Girls, which left me wondering if I would have enjoyed it a bit better if I had listened to it as an audiobook. I used to have a lot of difficulty listening to audiobooks and paying attention to them, but after realizing I could listen to them while doing long drives and long walks, I decided to give them another try.

I had high hopes for this book, especially after reading the first 20-30 pages. The lead character, Lux, hasn’t had an easy life. Lux dropped out of college to care for her mother who is dying of cancer. Lux’s father is completely out of the picture, as he left Lux and her mother to start an entirely new family. When her mother passes, Lux, left with a pile of medical bills, is broke and heartbroken.

Lux finds work as a waitress at a diner in Southern California where she happens to meet a handsome, trust-fund man who goes by the name of Nico. Nico has had some sort of falling out with his rich family and has decided to renovate a sailboat to sail across the Pacific Ocean on his own to Hawaii. He is basically “slumming it” for fun in contrast to Lux who is literally living a life of poverty. Lux falls in love with him, and agrees to help him with his sailing trip and sailboat project.

Nico and Lux make it to Hawaii, and Lux is working another low-wage job as a resort housekeeper. Nico is still repairing the boat. Lux and Nico are living with another couple to make ends meet. An opportunity to sail a pair of wealthy young women to a smaller nearby island for a good amount of money arises, and Nico takes it. Little do either of them know they are in grave danger.

What I liked about this mystery is the setting. The tropical island with a mysterious history is a good backdrop for the story. I also liked the character development of Lux. However, I did struggle to keep track of what was happening with the two women’s backstories at times. There are a number of other characters who also come into the picture on the island, which somewhat detracts from Lux. Hawkins spent a lot of time upfront writing about Lux, so when the narrative shifted to the women on Nico’s ship and people who are on the island, I was like wait, let me hear more about Lux!

I will save the twist for readers, but needless to say the trip does not end well. I found the ending really satisfying, but it definitely left me wondering if there is a sequel in the works!

Thanks to Rachel Hawkins, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for an advanced reviewer copy of the book!

Review: The Perfect Family

**5/5 Stars**

Let me start off by saying I am a BIG fan of Robyn Harding’s books. I’ve read them all, and it’s impossible for me not to be hooked by the end of page 1. Her books also make me never want to have teenagers EVER in my house, and make me want to ship my pre-teen children off to my parents once they turn 13. Harding’s stories involving teenagers and the many ways they can get their entire family in trouble are **that** terrifying.

Harding’s latest book, The Perfect Family, is another book that involves teenagers and parents making terrible decisions that put their entire family at risk. The entire family looks perfect from the outside save for their teenage daughter, who has trouble fitting in at high school. But then strange, disturbing incidents start happening at their house.

At first, these incidents seem like stupid teenage pranks. But then they escalate to the point everyone in the house fears for their lives. And everyone in the house has a reason to be concerned, because they are all leading secret lives.

There’s the teenage daughter who has an alter ego and X-rated side business once her parents are asleep. There’s the college drop-out son, who was once a star athlete enjoying a scholarship at a prestigious university. There’s the neurotic mother and wife who is an amateur pickpocket. And there’s the successful realtor and father and husband, who went on a bachelor party trip that went awry and is now haunting him.

Thanks to Harding, I will never look at a doorknob the same. I’ll leave the surprise for readers to discover because you need to read this book!

Thank you to Robyn Harding, Gallery Books, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of The Perfect Family!

Review: The Lost Village

**3.5/5 Stars**

Oh goodness. I REALLY wanted to like this book. It had such a fascinating premise. A young woman trying to make it in the film industry decides to return to a village in Sweden where the entire community went missing, with the exception of the filmmaker’s grandmother who survived whatever tragedy had befallen everyone else.

Suspense builds slowly in this book, aided by the creepy, chilling ambiance of the scene: an abandoned village. As soon as the crew arrives, it seems as though someone, or something, is in the village, tracking and following the crew’s every move. It doesn’t help that the crew appears to have come to the village completely unprepared for working in a remote place without internet or cell phone service.

As a field researcher who has worked in remote places, I was slowly losing it throughout the book. I kept yelling at the narrator why didn’t you bring this? Don’t cross that old, dilapidated bridge with a van! Don’t go on hikes by yourself! Go HOME!

Ultimately, I think that’s what did this book in for me. The narrator and her crew make so many terrible decisions, which culminates in yet another tragedy. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I also do not enjoy books where mental illness is part of a thriller.

Thank you to Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Camilla Sten for an advanced reader copy of this book.

Review: Project Hail Mary

**3/5 Stars**

3/5 Stars

Let me preface this review by saying I’m not a big fan of Andy Weir’s books. I’m a social scientist who dabbles in the hard sciences, and I run a research lab. So this is where I’m coming from.

I read Artemis when it came out and I was glad that it featured a strong female lead with a diverse background, Butttt…I kept feeling like it was written by a man imagining what it would be like to be a strong female lead with a diverse background. I didn’t hate it – it just felt off to me.

I don’t say this to imply men cannot write great female characters – I just felt like Weir doesn’t get what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. My feelings were confirmed with this book (Project Hail Mary) as well.

If I wasn’t someone who researches for a living, maybe I’d feel differently. It’s sort of like asking me to read a fiction book about archaeology: it is hard not to see faults and problems in a storyline as someone who knows what it is like to work in an academic setting or be on an actual archaeological dig (spoiler alert: it isn’t as nearly dangerous or exciting as Indiana Jones 🙂 ).

My frustrations with Project Hail Mary are pretty much the same as those with The Martian: lone male scientist solves big, potentially world-ending problem on his own without the aid of anyone. In the case of Project Hail Mary, the lone scientist is stranded in space (remind you of The Martian at all??) with an alien creature and has to forge communications with it to save the entire universe.

It is this bootstraps narrative that grinds on me as a researcher and someone who understands how scientific knowledge is generated. Yes, there are lots of brilliant people out there who come up with theories and ideas on their own (here’s looking at you, Einstein), but most work is done collaboratively. Most work that’s replicated and respected is done in a lab with a team of researchers.

Maybe I’d be less annoyed at these narratives he keeps pushing if I knew he wasn’t aware of how higher ed works, but he knows better as someone with a science background and someone who has parents who were scientists. I appreciate the fact he includes lots of details about the science of the shuttle or the mechanics of whatever is happening, but I need a bit more of the human element to really get into the story. I am just not that enamored with men flying in space (e.g. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk come to mind here!). It is a tired narrative. I know Weir can do better because he isn’t a bad writer.

Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy!

Review: The Echo Wife

**5/5 Stars**

Sarah Gailey’s The Echo Wife was a surprise of a read. A far-fetched, unusual premise (I’ll get to it in a minute), but yet engaging story about two women who forge a bond amid despair.

Evelyn is a pioneer in the world of biotechnology and genomics. The scientific world has recognized her brilliance with accolades and honors, but the true depth of her intelligence cannot be shared with anyone. It is a dark secret shared between Evelyn, her now ex-husband, Nathan, and her lab assistant.

That dark secret is Evelyn’s discovery that she can replicate and clone people. Evelyn has been conducting research in her lab that violates a number of ethical codes, including creating humans and then disposing of them when they are “defective” in some way, or die in the process of her risky cloning experiments. If the scientific world knew what Evelyn was doing behind closed doors in her lab, she would lose all credibility and likely her career would be in ruins.

One day Evelyn receives a frantic call from a voice that sounds oddly like herself. Her husband has been killed by none other than a clone he made of Evelyn using Evelyn’s data. The clone, named Martine, killed Nathan in defense.

Evelyn, as a scientist, is curious about Evelyn, so she agrees to help her dispose of Nathan’s body. Both women are angry with Nathan for different reasons, but nonetheless decide to clone him to cover up their crime.

What I liked about this book was that it explores the nature vs. nurture debate. Evelyn, who decided against having children to pursue her career, witnesses what it would have been like if she had taken a different route in life through Martine, who is pregnant by Nathan. The women forge an unexpected bond despite obvious tensions underneath the surface of their relationship – namely that Nathan picked Martine so he could “raise” her to be the wife and mother Evelyn was not.

There are a lot of themes in this book that go beyond the sci-fi story of the ethical and moral implications of cloning. The long-term impacts of abuse. The patriarchy and misogyny in the world of academia and science. The loneliness that comes with being a female scientist in a world pitted against you.

Thank you to the author, Sarah Gailey, the publisher, Tor Books, and NetGalley for an advanced review copy of The Echo Wife.