The Hay Bale by Priscilla Bettis #bookreview #ghosts #shortread #TuesdayBookBlog

Contemporary Southern Gothic meets weird horror in this new novelette from Priscilla Bettis.

Professor Claire Davenport yearns to be a mother. After suffering four miscarriages, the university microbiologist tries and fails to qualify as an adoptive mother. Then Claire’s husband leaves.

Alone and emotionally wounded, Claire takes a summer sabbatical from her microbiology classes and escapes to rural Virginia to heal. There, she meets local farmers with strange agricultural practices.

Claire moves into the historic manor house she rented for the summer, and an abandoned child greets her. Is the child real, an answer to her prayers? Or is he a figment of her tormented emotions? Perhaps the tight-knit locals are playing a trick on the science lady from the city.

Whatever the boy’s origin, Claire is determined to find the truth, but the truth may be bloody.

I’ve been anxiously anticipating this novelette after reading the description on the author’s blog. Southern Gothic, weird horror, and a historic manor house? Everything about that calls out to the horror fan in me.

What’s so scary about a hay bale you ask? Plenty. To microbiologist Claire, it can be a breeding ground for fungus and disease. It may also hide something else. Reeling after suffering four miscarriages, failing to qualify as an adoptive mother, and separating from her husband, Claire takes a step back from her life and rents a house in a small town for the summer where she can begin to heal. That small town is filled with odd people, and she soon learns disturbing information about her new home. And that’s on top of the fact that it also seems to be inhabited by the ghost of a young boy.

Atmospheric, unsettling, and full of creepy imagery (I felt some Midsommar vibes), this horror novelette can be easily read in an hour and will stick with you long after finishing. I’m anxious to see what this author does next.

At the End of Everything by Marieke Nijkamp #bookreview #YA #thriller #suspense

The Hope Juvenile Treatment Center is ironically named. No one has hope for the delinquent teenagers who have been exiled there; the world barely acknowledges that they exist.

Then the guards at Hope start acting strange. And one day…they don’t show up. But when the teens band together to make a break from the facility, they encounter soldiers outside the gates. There’s a rapidly spreading infectious disease outside, and no one can leave their houses or travel without a permit. Which means that they’re stuck at Hope. And this time, no one is watching out for them at all.

As supplies quickly dwindle and a deadly plague tears through their ranks, the group has to decide whom among them they can trust and figure out how they can survive in a world that has never wanted them in the first place. 

This is the third book I’ve read by this author, and she certainly doesn’t shy away from tough subjects. A deadly infectious disease is unleashed on the world in this novel – sound familiar?

When the teens at Hope Juvenile Treatment Center learn the guards are gone and the doors are unlocked, they’re unsure of what’s going on. After a group of them venture into town, they run into a road block and are informed by soldiers about the spread of a plague. People are sheltering in place, and even after explaining their situation to the soldiers, they’re told to return to the center. They’ve been forgotten about. Discarded. With pleas for outside help ignored, the teens have no one to rely on but themselves.

If you’re thinking this sounds like a difficult, dark read, you’re right. Parts are this novel are incredibly hard to get through. Some of these kids have been rejected and abandoned by their families and friends and have no one. A group of them embark on their own to take their chances in the outside world. Others choose to stay and take care of each other. Not everyone lives. The sections with phone call transcripts between parents and friends and lists of food inventory give more insight to what these teens are dealing with.

The story is told in three POVs – Grace, who is thrust into a leadership role, Logan, who is mute and uses a form a sign language only she and her infected twin understand, and Emerson, a nonbinary newcomer to the facility. Each character is very well-crafted and has tremendous character arcs, especially Grace. Those who choose to stay at the center take on jobs and responsibilities and become a family of sorts. It was heartwarming to see some characters’ self perceptions alter during the course of the story. You’re not trapped in the box others put you in – stars can be changed.

Although bleak and certainly sobering taking the last two years into account, this is also a story full of hope and demonstrates what people can do when they come together to help each other.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

We Were Kings by Court Stevens #bookreview #YA #mystery #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Twenty years ago, eighteen-year-old Francis Quick was convicted of murdering her best friend Cora King and sentenced to death. Now the highly debated Accelerated Death Penalty Act passes and gives Frankie thirty final days to live. From the Kings’ own family rises up the one who will challenge the woefully inadequate evidence and potential innocence of Francis Quick.

The at-first reluctant and soon-fiery Nyla and her sidekick (and handsome country island boy), Sam Stack, bring Frankie’s case to the international stage through her YouTube channel Death Daze. They step into fame and a hometown battle that someone’s still willing to kill over. The senator? The philanthropist? The pawn shop owner? Nyla’s own mother?

Best advice: Don’t go to family dinner with the Kings. More people will leave the dining room in body bags than on their own two feet. And as for Francis Quick, she’s a gem . . . even if she’s guilty. 

I’ve wanted to read this author’s books for quite a while (she also has several published under Courtney C. Stevens), but just hadn’t been able to fit them it. When I saw her newest release pop up on NetGalley, I immediately requested it and was so excited to be approved.

I couldn’t pry the Kindle from my fingers with this novel. In fact, I was so caught up in the last 20% I was late meeting a friend for dinner – I needed to know how it would end. No way could I wait until later that evening to find out.

Nyla’s been raised my her mother (no father is in the picture), and they’ve lived with a family friend for the past several years. After her mother’s best friend receives the death penalty for a murder whe allegedly committed twenty years ago, secrets upon secrets are spilled about Nyla’s mother’s past and what happened all those years ago. Nyla and her new friend Sam (whose dad was a childhood friend of Nyla’s mother) soon dive deep into the mystery of who really killed Cora King. Once Nyla meets the King family, they all come under suspicion at some point during the story. They’re one dysfunctional bunch with plenty of skeletons stuffed in the closet.

The buildup to the big reveal had me suspecting almost everyone, and the twists are whiplash-worthy. And the reveal scene itself – shocking and so vivid I could see it playing out in my mind as if I was watching it on screen.

We Were Kings is a fast-paced mystery full of secrets, surprises, and maladjusted family dynamics. I’m just sorry it took me this long to read a book by this author.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Such A Pretty Smile by Kristi Demeester #bookreview #thriller #psychological suspense

A biting novel from an electrifying new voice, Such a Pretty Smile is a heart-stopping tour-de-force about powerful women, angry men, and all the ways in which girls fight against the forces that try to silence them.

There’s something out there that’s killing. Known only as The Cur, he leaves no traces, save for the torn bodies of girls, on the verge of becoming women, who are known as trouble-makers; those who refuse to conform, to know their place. Girls who don’t know when to shut up.

2019: Thirteen-year-old Lila Sawyer has secrets she can’t share with anyone. Not the school psychologist she’s seeing. Not her father, who has a new wife, and a new baby. And not her mother—the infamous Caroline Sawyer, a unique artist whose eerie sculptures, made from bent twigs and crimped leaves, have made her a local celebrity. But soon Lila feels haunted from within, terrorized by a delicious evil that shows her how to find her voice—until she is punished for using it.

2004: Caroline Sawyer hears dogs everywhere. Snarling, barking, teeth snapping that no one else seems to notice. At first, she blames the phantom sounds on her insomnia and her acute stress in caring for her ailing father. But then the delusions begin to take shape—both in her waking hours, and in the violent, visceral sculptures she creates while in a trance-like state. Her fiancé is convinced she needs help. Her new psychiatrist waves her “problem” away with pills. But Caroline’s past is a dark cellar, filled with repressed memories and a lurking horror that the men around her can’t understand.

As past demons become a present threat, both Caroline and Lila must chase the source of this unrelenting, oppressive power to its malignant core. Brilliantly paced, unsettling to the bone, and unapologetically fierce, Such a Pretty Smile is a powerful allegory for what it can mean to be a woman, and an untamed rallying cry for anyone ever told to sit down, shut up, and smile pretty. 

The publisher sent me the NetGalley widget for this novel, and I was on the fence about downloading it, but took the plunge. I’m still not quite sure how I feel after reading it.

I like the theme of female empowerment and stopping men who try to silence women or dismiss them as hysterical when they try to express their feelings. But this is a very bizarre, sometimes confusing, and occasionally disturbing story. At times I honestly didn’t know what was happening – but I plowed through this book in a couple days.

Fifteen years apart, young teen girls are brutally killed in similar ways. It happened when Caroline was in her twenties and has started again. She’s understandably worried about her thirteen-year-old daughter, Lila. When Lila begins acting strangely, memories Caroline hoped to keep buried are resurrected, and her backstory and their similar experiences are revealed in alternating POV and timeline chapters. From her dying father, Caroline learns that as a very young girl she went missing for several days, but has no memory of what happened to her during that time. By the end of the novel, I still didn’t have a firm grasp of what she experienced during that disappearance either.

This is a bloody, gory tale, and those scenes are well-written and sure to delight horror fans, but for me personally, too many elements are left undefined, and I needed more of a concrete explanation for what happens to Caroline and Lila. Were their experiences real? Just delusions? I’m not certain. Reviews are split, so if you’re a reader who enjoys ambiguous storylines this may be for you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

These Deadly Games by Diana Urban #bookreview #YA #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Let’s play a game.

You have 24 hours to win. If you break my rules, she dies. If you call the police, she dies. If you tell your parents or anyone else, she dies.

Are you ready?

When Crystal Donavan gets a message on a mysterious app with a video of her little sister gagged and bound, she agrees to play the kidnapper’s game. At first, they make her complete bizarre tasks: steal a test and stuff it in a locker, bake brownies, make a prank call.

But then Crystal realizes each task is meant to hurt—and kill—her friends, one by one. But if she refuses to play, the kidnapper will kill her sister. Is someone trying to take her team out of the running for a gaming tournament? Or have they uncovered a secret from their past, and wants them to pay for what they did…

As Crystal makes the impossible choices between her friends and her sister, she must uncover the truth and find a way to outplay the kidnapper… before it’s too late.

Author of All Your Twisted Secrets, Diana Urban’s explosive sophomore novel, These Deadly Games, will keep you riveted until the final twist is revealed.

If you’re looking for a twisty psychological thriller offering unexpected surprises, These Deadly Games certainly checks those boxes.

Crystal is an easy character to root for. Her parents went through a messy divorce after her father became a physically abusive alcoholic, she’s trying to win prize money in a computer game tournament to help pay the overdue mortgage on their house, and she’s fiercely protective of her younger sister. Then her world is turned upside down when her sister is kidnapped, and Crystal is required to play a deadly game to save her. If she seeks help, tells anyone, or calls the police, her sister dies. She’s thrust into an impossible situation. The first couple assignments from the kidnapper seem bizarre, but it quickly becomes obvious he’s trying to hurt or even kill Crystal’s friends. And it all may be related to the secret she and her friends are keeping from five years ago.

Although I didn’t understand all of it, I really enjoyed the gaming angle in this story. These teens are well-versed in computer technology, and it’s something that figures prominently into the plot. I guessed part of who was behind the kidnapping, but was then thrown for a loop with the final reveal. Plenty of red herrings are offered, and at one point I even wondered if Crystal was an unreliable narrator. I’m pretty sure this is a standalone, but I didn’t get the resolution I’d hoped for at the end. There’s definitely potential for a sequel.

If you can suspend your disbelief just a tad, this a compelling YA thriller that will have you glued to the pages and keep you guessing.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Monarchs (Ravens #2) by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy #witches

In this thrilling conclusion to New York Times best-selling authors Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige’s The Ravens, the sorority witches are tested when a rival threatens to usurp their place on campus and the forces of hell come knocking on their door.

The sorority girls at Kappa Rho Nu—the Ravens—are determined to restore balance to the world. After destroying an ancient talisman and barely saving their sorority in the process, they’ll go to any lengths to keep their secret as Westerly’s most powerful coven of witches.

Scarlett Winter, a legacy Raven, has finally gotten what she’s always wanted: the Kappa Rho Nu presidency. After the disaster that killed the sorority’s last president, Scarlett is determined that no sister will fall under the sway of wicked magic ever again. But the powers of the presidency have their own pitfalls—and Scarlett has big shoes to fill.

Vivi Devereaux, a freshman, finally knows what it feels like to belong. For the first time ever, she’s got it all: her Kappa Rho Nu sisters and a sweet (and hot) boyfriend. When Scarlett assigns Vivi the coveted role of social chair, Vivi is determined to live up to her Big’s expectations—even if that means dabbling in a new form of magic.

Unbeknownst to the Ravens, new rivals and ancient evils lurk on Westerly’s campus. With Kappa Rho Nu’s future on their shoulders and their pasts still haunting them, will Scarlett and Vivi be able to save their sisterhood once again? 

The sisterhood of the first book was what convinced me to read the sequel to The Ravens, and I was interested to see where the story would go from there.

After the tragic loss of a few of their sisters last semester and everything they went through, the Kappas are still grieving and recovering, but also trying to make a fresh start with new president Scarlett. The semester starts off smoothly at first, but they’re soon faced with threats from another sorority on campus, and something is wrong with the Kappas’ magic. When Vivi discovers a new type of magic, all goes well initially, but she soon learns that young, inexperienced witches shouldn’t tamper with magic they don’t understand.

I have to say I prefer the first book to this one. From the beginning, this has a whole mean girls vibe on nearly every page that overshadows the underlying mystery. The girl hate theme grew a little tiresome. I did enjoy the Kappa alumni, the Monarchs, having a little more page time in this sequel, although I thought it would have been more given the book title. They’re not main characters or even prominent supporting characters by any means, but their influence is felt and it has an effect on the characters.

The ending felt a little rushed to me, but I think most readers will be satisfied with the conclusion, as well as Vivi’s and Scarlettt’s romantic relationships.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Kindred by Alechia Dow #bookreview #YA #fantasy #BlogTour #scifi

To save a galactic kingdom from revolution, Kindred mind-pairings were created to ensure each and every person would be seen and heard, no matter how rich or poor…

Joy Abara knows her place. A commoner from the lowly planet Hali, she lives a simple life—apart from the notoriety that being Kindred to the nobility’s most infamous playboy brings.

Duke Felix Hamdi has a plan. He will exasperate his noble family to the point that they agree to let him choose his own future and finally meet his Kindred face-to-face.

Then the royal family is assassinated, putting Felix next in line for the throne…and accused of the murders. Someone will stop at nothing until he’s dead, which means they’ll target Joy, too. Meeting in person for the first time as they steal a spacecraft and flee amid chaos might not be ideal…and neither is crash-landing on the strange backward planet called Earth. But hiding might just be the perfect way to discover the true strength of the Kindred bond and expose a scandal—and a love—that may decide the future of a galaxy. 

The words “save a galactic kingdom from revolution” were all I needed to read to request this book from NetGalley. And that cover is stunning.

Kindred mind-pairings are pretty cool. The bond occurs at birth and is usually shared by people from different walks of life and even different planets. Kindred are in each other’s minds constantly – they can see, hear, and sometimes feel everything that happens to the other. Sounds kind of intrusive, right? The bond ensures the “haves” are aware of how the other half lives and the struggles they endure, with the overall goal of making sure every person is seen and heard. Hopefully the inequalities that exist will be righted, but no one seems to be in a hurry to fix those particular problems. With Joy being a commoner from an impoverished planet and Felix being royalty, they were never meant to bond, but for some reason it happened. And their connection is just about the sweetest thing ever.

Although in line for the throne, Felix really just wants to write music and sing. He’s also kind of a party guy who tends to make impulsive decisions that don’t turn out so well. Joy works in a bookstore to help put food on the table and longs to write children’s books, a profession that isn’t possible with her station in life. She’s a voice of reason and stability for Felix, and the only one who really knows him. Despite never meeting in person, they “played” together as children and are each other’s best friend – and maybe more.

“We need to give more than we take, help more than sit idle. It’s time for change.”

This quote is the overall message conveyed by the novel, and it’s a worthy one. Even a creed to live by. It may not have had the galactic setting I’d expected since much of the story takes place on Earth, but with action scenes, a bit of mystery, humor, strong supporting characters, and a little romance, The Kindred kept me flipping pages so fast I finished it in two days.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

About the Author

Alechia Dow is a former pastry chef, teacher, and librarian. When she’s not writing, you can find her having epic dance parties with her little girl, baking, reading, or traveling.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.alechiadow.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alechiawrites 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alechiadow/ 

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18493747.Alechia_Dow 

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Kindred-Alechia-Dow/dp/133541861X/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=the+kindred&qid=1639521830&sr=8-3 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-kindred-alechia-dow/1139312509 

Books a Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Kindred/Alechia-Dow/9781335418616?id=8395218972605 

IndieBound:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335418616?aff=PublishersWeekly 

BookShop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/the-kindred-9781335418616/9781335418616 

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-kindred/id1568479194 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Alechia_Dow_The_Kindred?id=mIMvEAAAQBAJ 

Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz #YA #historicalfiction #mystery #TuesdayBookBlog

A gothic tale full of mystery and romance about a willful female surgeon, a resurrection man who sells bodies for a living, and the buried secrets they must uncover together.

Edinburgh, 1817.

Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.

Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.

But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.

Gothic tale, willful female surgeon, a man who sells bodies, and Edinburgh 1817 – there’s just nothing bad here, folks. Everything about the description made me want to read this novel. And then there’s the cover – what a stunning work of art!

Hazel is a woman ahead of her time. Although from a wealthy family, she’s continually reminded by her mother that Hazel’s brother will inherit their estate, and she must marry her cousin to maintain her lifestyle. But that’s not important to her. Hazel is determined to become a female surgeon, which is unheard of in her time. Women can’t possibly comprehend the complexities of the human body. Dressed as a man, she attends classes and is an exemplary student, until being tosssed out after it’s discovered she’s the wrong gender. That’s only a minor inconvenience – she soon makes a deal with a renowned surgeon. If she passes the medical exam on her own, he’ll train her himself. You’ll immediately root for this strong-willed, intelligent girl.

To pass the exam, Hazel needs bodies to practice on, and it seems she’s destined to meet Resurrectionist Man Jack, who’s been unable to find honest work. When people begin disappearing off the street but then turn up alive with fewer body parts, Hazel and Jack have a mystery on their hands. The title may lead you to believe this is primarily a love story, but that’s not exactly true. Yes, there’s a romance, but it’s not at all the main focus of the story. I believe the title refers to Hazel’s love of anatomy over most anything else in her life.

The novel moves along at a brisk pace, but I was a little surprised at how quickly this standalone wraps up. Despite that, I thought the ending was perfect for these characters and the story setting. I haven’t read anything else by this author, but you can be certain I’ll be checking into her backlist. If you’re a fan of historical fiction and strong female protagonists, you can’t go wrong with this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Temperature of Me and You by Brian Zepka #bookreview #YA #scifi

Sixteen-year-old Dylan Highmark thought his winter was going to be full of boring shifts at the Dairy Queen, until he finds himself in love with a boy who’s literally too hot to handle.

Dylan has always wanted a boyfriend, but the suburbs surrounding Philadelphia do not have a lot in the way of options. Then, in walks Jordan, a completely normal (and undeniably cute) boy who also happens to run at a cool 110 degrees Fahrenheit. When the boys start spending time together, Dylan begins feeling all kinds of ways, and when he spikes a fever for two weeks and is suddenly coughing flames, he thinks he might be suffering from something more than just a crush. Jordan forces Dylan to keep his symptoms a secret. But as the pressure mounts and Dylan becomes distant with his closest friends and family, he pushes Jordan for answers. Jordan’s revelations of why he’s like this, where he came from, and who’s after him leaves Dylan realizing how much first love is truly out of this world. And if Earth supports life that breathes oxygen, then love can only keep Jordan and Dylan together for so long.

Full confession – from the description and cover, for some reason I thought Jordan would be an alien. That was an incorrect assumption.

Dylan’s ride or die friendships with Perry and Kirsten is one of my favorite aspects of this story. They absolutely show up for each other. I also chuckled at how Dylan’s parents maybe became a little oversupportive when he came out to them. His teasing relationship with his little sister is adorable. The author also changed my opinion about a mean, petty character, and that person turned out to have a pretty good redemption arc.

Other areas I struggled with. Pacing is uneven, but then it seems like a rush to get to the ending. I even wondered if there was a sequel since everything wraps up so quickly. With some character choices and situations, suspending my disbelief became difficult. They didn’t seem logical within the story, and I was left scratching my head when some aspects were never mentioned again. The storyline is interesting, but I craved more of an explanation for Jordan’s and Dylan’s powers.

Reviews are split, and plenty of readers adored this book. It’s an enjoyable read, but it’s one I’d recommend for the younger end of the YA spectrum.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

No Such Luck by Staci Troilo #shortstory #romance #Christmas #TuesdayBookBlog

Seeds of luck usually wither. The rare one grows and blooms.

Piper Seidel has one thing going for her—a red carnation given to her by Tommy Burnett in the tenth grade. It might have dried over the years, but it’s still her good luck charm. Losing it sets her life in a downward spiral, forcing her to return to her hometown where she comes face to face with her high school crush.

The years have been kind to Tommy, who looks better than ever. Unfortunately, Piper is at her worst, continually embarrassing herself whenever he’s around. The only plus? Her long-time friend, Jack Rhodes, still lives in town. Since she last saw him, his legs have grown longer, his biceps thicker, and his shoulders broader. He was always the brother she never had, but now she can’t help noticing him in an unsisterly way. Jack is every bit as caring as he’s ever been—until her bad luck drives him away, maybe forever.

Piper needs a new good luck charm, and fast, before she loses her final chance at happiness.

I’d seen several excerpts of this story during the author’s blog tour, and when I found myself with a free hour, I dove into this novella.

Poor Piper. Her Christmas vacation begins early when she loses her job and decides to go ahead and make the trip to her father’s house. Her day doesn’t get any better when she runs into her high school crush at the grocery store – and then learns she wasn’t exactly looking her best at the time. Things take a turn for the better when her long-time friend Jack shows up and takes her to drown her sorrows in beer and pizza.

I chuckled over situations Piper finds herself in and then wanted to bop her over the head to make her come to her senses and see what was right in front of her. Of course she has to learn the hard way that sometimes things we build up in our mind can have very different realities. This is a heart-warming, sweet romance (and I love that it’s set during Christmas) with fully-fleshed characters that can easily be read in an hour. I recommend grabbing a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate and settling in with this feel-good tale.