How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao #bookreview #mystery #thriller

Students at an elite prep school are forced to confront their secrets when their ex-best friend turns up dead.

Nancy Luo is shocked when her former best friend, Jamie Ruan, top ranked junior at Sinclair Prep, goes missing, and then is found dead. Nancy is even more shocked when word starts to spread that she and her friends–Krystal, Akil, and Alexander–are the prime suspects, thanks to “The Proctor,” someone anonymously incriminating them via the school’s social media app.

They all used to be Jamie’s closest friends, and she knew each of their deepest, darkest secrets. Now, somehow The Proctor knows them, too. The four must uncover the true killer before The Proctor exposes more than they can bear and costs them more than they can afford, like Nancy’s full scholarship. Soon, Nancy suspects that her friends may be keeping secrets from her, too. 

One of the comp titles for this novel is One of Us Is Lying, a book I enjoyed from beginning to end, so I went into this with some high expectations.

The competition to be the best at Sinclair Prep is cutthroat. These teens put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves and each other, while some of their parents demand the best no matter the cost. Stress levels are through the roof. Most of the student body look up to these five students, so when Jamie turns up dead and the mysterious Proctor begins making accusations and threatening to reveal dark secrets about the other four, their reputations are tarnished to say the least.

This is a short, quick read that I finished in less than twenty-four hours. It moves along at a brisk pace, and the developments come pretty fast. These characters are supposed to be best friends, especially Nancy and Jamie, but I sure wasn’t feeling the love between most of them. I even wondered how and why they became friends considering the way they treat each other. Of the five of them, Nancy and Jamie are especially unlikeable, but I’m not sure if that’s what the author intended. I can’t imagine many readers would feel sympathetic toward them for most of the book. I figured out the identity of the Proctor – kind of (no spoilers) – but the reveal requires quite a big suspension of disbelief. Looking at other reviews, several have mentioned that fans of Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girls would be the intended audience for this book, but I haven’t seen either of those shows. Maybe that’s why It didn’t work for me as much as I’d hoped, but I’m glad I read How We Fall Apart and will look for future novels 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.

The Girl in the Headlines by Hannah Jayne #bookreview #YA #mystery #thriller

The headlines say she killed her family. The truth? She doesn’t remember.

Andrea McNulty goes to sleep on her eighteenth birthday with a near-perfect life: she’s a high school field hockey star, a doted-upon big sister, the beloved daughter of two happy parents. But when she wakes up in a motel room the next morning, unable to remember what happened the previous night and covered in blood, Andi is a fugitive.

According to the news, Andi’s parents were brutally attacked in the middle of the night. Her father is dead, her mother is in a coma, her little brother Josh is missing–and Andi is the prime suspect. Terrified and on the run from the police, Andi teams up with Nate, the sympathetic boy working the motel’s front desk, to find the real murderer. But while the police are getting further from the killer, the killer is getting closer to Andi–closer than she could ever have imagined.

Waking up in a motel room covered in blood with no memory of what happened? I needed to know this girl’s story.

The hook for this novel is compelling and a perfect setup for an intense, thrilling novel. I felt Andi’s confusion, grief, and strong need to find her little brother. Seeing her home with police tape around it on television and hearing she’s a suspect in the investigation is surreal. I was as outraged and frustrated as she was over the media’s assumption that she’s guilty. Luckily for her she comes across street smart Nate working at the front desk of the motel, because she wouldn’t have survived a day without him. He’s a voice of reason and prevents her from making some (a couple at least) questionable decisions. I found it difficult to believe an eighteen-year-old girl could be this naive about the world around her.

A quick read, the story moves at a brisk pace. There’s plenty of action as Andi and Nate gradually piece together what happened that night, and it’s pretty clear from almost the beginning who’s involved. With such a breakneck pace wrapping up the plot, I was surprised when it ended abruptly and left many questions unanswered.

While this book begins with an intriguing mystery, puts the MC in a harrowing situation, and introduces a strong, very likeable supporting character, I was left scratching my head over the ending. I honestly expected an epilogue to wrap up the loose ends.

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

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy #mythology #LGBT

Darkness blooms in bestselling author Kalynn Bayron’s new contemporary fantasy about a girl with a unique and deadly power.

Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.

When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.

From the bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead comes another inspiring and deeply compelling story about a young woman with the power to conquer the dark forces descending around her.

There are so many stunning covers out there these days, and this is one of them. Between that and the Poison Ivy (an antiheroine from the Batman universe for all you non-nerds out there) vibes I was getting from the description, this book called to me.

All of the Greek mythology references in this story were unexpected, but being a mythology fan, it was a very welcome surprise. The MC’s name comes from a character in The Iliad. Since I read it decades ago, I didn’t make the connection until I Googled how to pronounce her name. I also loved learning about all the botanicals. It’s clear the author performed extensive research, and some of them are unique and fascinating, but also kind of scary.

One of my favorite things about this novel is Briseis’s family. Her two moms are perfect examples of loving, supportive parents – and they’re also a great comedy team. I laughed so many times over their conversations and comments and unlike many YA novels, these parents play a bigger role in the story. Friends have never been plentiful in Briseis’s life, and she’s hoping to make a fresh start after inheriting the estate and moving to a new town. From almost the moment they arrive, strangers begin showing up and asking for tinctures and elixirs and soon Briseis feels as if she’s found her niche in running an apothecary where she can help people. But she didn’t just inherit the house – it comes along with dark secrets, curses, and shocking surprises. I plowed through this book in two days – that should tell you how difficult it was to put down.

The ending comes with a huge cliffhanger, and you can bet I’ll be anxiously waiting for the next book in the series. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy with a splash of mystery and a dose of Greek mythology, you can’t go wrong with This Poison Heart.

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

Simulated (Calculated #2) by Nova McBee #bookreview #YA #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

From Young-Adult author Nova McBee comes the second book in the gritty, action-filled Calculated series.

Jo Rivers, safely back in Seattle, asks the same question daily—how does a math genius go from taking down international criminals and saving the world economy to living a normal teenage life? The only answer she can come up with is—she doesn’t.

With an overprotective father on her back and Kai on the other side of the world, Jo accepts an offer from Prodigy Stealth Solutions (PSS), who may have found a way to get her gift back. Using a newly developed technology, PSS tries a simulation process on Jo to restore her abilities, but during the attempt, PSS is hacked and a blacklist file containing some of PSS’s most sensitive secrets is stolen. Meanwhile, a mysterious caller who seems to know more than he should delivers a warning to Jo about Kai, who then goes missing.

Despite her father’s concerns, Jo sets off on a risky trip to Tunisia with a PSS team of teen prodigies to find an urgently needed solution for PSS and locate Kai. All the while, Jo has to trust the mysterious informant who, frighteningly, is like no one she has ever met before.

I just finished the first book in this series, Calculated, in November so I was thrilled to see the sequel available so soon on NetGalley.

The second book starts with a slower pace of life for Jo back in Seattle. In the first book, she relied on her gift, the ability to see numbers everywhere and in everything, to make mathematical-based decisions. While Calculated is intricately plotted and full of action, Simulated has a bit of a different feel. At the end of Calculated Jo had lost her gift and is now like a fish out of water struggling to live without it. With the help of PSS and their simulations, she’s fighting to awaken it, but things aren’t going so well. Without the numbers to back her up, Jo is unsure of herself and her decisions, but then a mysterious hacker appears in her sims and guarantees he can help her regain her gift. I feel like most readers will figure out the identity of this hacker early on. Wickedly intelligent and good-hearted, he brings an addional layer of mystery and intrigue to the story. Jo wants to trust him, but her team and boss aren’t as convinced, and she finds herself at a crossroads in her life.

Jo is soon on a plane headed for a mission in Tunisia, but also with a secret agenda of locating Kai. As with the Shanghai setting in the first book, this novel immerses the reader in the country and culture of Tunisia (I especially enjoyed the food!). There’s no sophomore slump here. This heart-pounding sequel offers just as many dangerous and harrowing moments – especially since Jo can’t rely on the numbers and doesn’t hesitate to take risks. Several new characters are introduced, and I enjoyed meeting the other prods (prodigies) on her team.

I wasn’t sure if this was a duology or trilogy, but upon reaching the end I was thrilled to learn there’s a third book in the works. The epilogue offers a surprise that gives a hint where the next story may be headed. If you enjoy intelligent thrillers with spies, covert missions, and surprising twists (and math that’s faaaar out of your lane), add this series to your TBR.

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

Curse of the Specter Queen by Jenny Elder Moke #bookreview #YA #mystery #historicalfiction #TuesdayBookBlog

MAY THE HAZEL BRING YOU WISDOM AND THE ASPEN GUIDE AND PROTECT YOU…

Samantha Knox put away her childish fantasies of archaeological adventure the day her father didn’t return home from the Great War, retreating to the safety of the antique bookshop where she works. But when a mysterious package arrives with a damaged diary inside, Sam’s peaceful life is obliterated. Ruthless men intent on reclaiming the diary are after Sam, setting her and her best friend, along with her childhood crush, on a high-stakes adventure that lands them in the green hills outside Dublin, Ireland. Here they discover an ancient order with a dark purpose – to perform an occult ritual that will raise the Specter Queen, the Celtic goddess of vengeance and death, to bring about a war unlike any the world has ever seen. To stop them, Sam must solve a deviously complex cipher – one that will lead her on a treasure hunt to discover the ancient relic at the heart of the ritual: a bowl carved from the tree of life. Will she find the bowl and stop the curse of the Specter Queen, or will the ancient order bring about the end of the world?

Indiana Jones gets a refresh with this female-driven mystery adventure, set in the 1920s, full of ciphers, ancient relics, and heart-stopping action – the first in a brand-new series! 

As an Indiana Jones fan, I was all in after reading this description. A 1920s setting, ciphers, ancient relics, and lots of action? Sold.

Sam Knox is my kind of people – she treasures books. In the bookstore where she’s employed, she repairs and catalogues them and speaks to them as if they’re people. She has an insatiable curiosity about the world she lives in and dreams of traveling beyond the small town where she resides. And she doesn’t have to wait long. One mysterious diary, a life-threatening bookshop fire, and a frantic rush to Chicago later, she soon finds herself on a ship to Ireland.

Intelligent, determined, loyal, and selfless, Sam is a relatable main character. Seeing her step outside the comfort zone of the bookshop was thrilling, and I enjoyed learning how her mind works while solving the puzzles and following clues. She’s certainly not afraid to take risks. Bennett shares her love of archeology, and the hints of romance between them are sweet – they’re like a double dose of cinnamon rolls. Jo adds some lighter moments to the story – she’s one crafty, resourceful girl and a force to be reckoned with. She also challenges her brother Bennett at every turn.

This is an enthralling mystery with high stakes and surprising turns that takes you on an action-packed adventure overseas on an ocean liner and across the rolling hills of Ireland With shades of Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and National Treasure, this is a novel I’d recommend to readers who enjoy puzzles and piecing together clues. I’m hoping the author has plans to make this into a series.

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

Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady by Darlene Foster #bookreview #MG #mystery #TuesdayBookBlog

Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her aunt. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda travels to Malta with her classmate Caleb and his parents.

Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?

Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.

I thoroughly enjoyed Amanda in Alberta when I read it last year not long after visiting Canada. When I saw Amanda’s newest adventure on NetGalley, I thought “Let’s go to Malta!”

The author’s descriptions are vivid and detailed making it easy for readers to visualize the local sights Amanda visits. I drooled over some of the food, especially the pastizzi (but definitely not the rabbit pizza). As an animal lover, I adored the Cat Cafe where locals leave food out for the homeless cats in the city. The Popeye Theme Park was a fun addition. I had no idea the Robin Williams movie was filmed in Malta. With historical details sprinkled throughout the story, I always come away from these books learning something new and feel as if I’ve visited the locations myself.

Amanda is one well-traveled young girl and often finds herself in the midst of troubling occurrences. Malta is no exception. With jellyfish stings, kidnappings, chases, and a trip to the hospital, she and her friends Caleb and Leah encounter both dangerous situations and people several times over the course of the story.

I’d highly recommend this delightful series to young readers and those young at heart who enjoy captivating adventures and mysteries that take them around the world. Who couldn’t use some armchair travel?

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

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir #bookreview #scifi #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going. 

The Martian absolutely blew me away when it was released (I loved the movie, which can always be hit or miss with adaptations), so I immediately requested this book when I saw it on NetGalley.

This is a difficult review to write without revealing spoilers, but I’ll do what I can. The reader is just as clueless about what’s going on as Ryland is when he wakes after a long coma, and I liked that. You feel his frustration and surprise through flashbacks as his memory returns, and the story is revealed. And what an incredible story it is! So much tension, so many life-threatening situations – I literally couldn’t put the book down. I held it in one hand to read while stirring something on the stove with the other.

Some of the plot points are awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, and thought-provoking. I experienced a gamut of emotions. Admittedly the math is so far out of my lane it’s incomprehensible, but the author explains it as much as possible. I wouldn’t say there are quite as many humorous moments as in The Martian, but it’s not without some comedic relief after some heavy situations.

At its core, Project Hail Mary is about sacrifices, friendship, acceptance, and self-realization. I enjoyed the hell out of this book and would highly recommend it to sci-fi fans. I’m really hoping for a movie out of this one – they’d better not screw it up.

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

Virtually Gone by Jacquie Biggar #bookreview #thriller #crimefiction

From USA Today Bestselling Author, Jacquie Biggar, comes a gripping techno-thriller, part of a multi-author series tied together by an interlocking cast of characters, all centered around the fantastic new promise of high technology and the endless possibilities for crime that technology offers, in a world where getting away with murder can be not only plausible, but easy…if you just know how.

Investigative reporter Julie Crenshaw stumbles upon the case of a lifetime–one that could cost her everything.

When Julie is called on to investigate a string of sexual abuse cases, she doesn’t expect to land in the crosshairs of a serial rapist. Soon she’s in a race to find the facts before a killer makes her the headline.

Detective Matthew Roy is frustrated with his inability to track a rapist terrorizing his city. Added to that, his partner’s reporter girlfriend is dogging his every step and won’t heed his warnings. Time is ticking with the perpetrator escalating his crime to murder. Matt needs to find the killer soon, or chance losing someone he cares for- the question is, how?

Virtually Gone is part of a multi-author series (this is number six of eight), but can easily be read as a standalone.

Although a quick read, the author provides just enough backstory to introduce the characters without bogging down the pace of the novel. I immediately cared about Julie, a widow who’s tentatively allowing herself to love again. There’s potential for conflict as she’s an ambitious journalist and her boyfriend is a detective – who’s also working the case she’s investigating. Detective Matthew Roy is frustrated a rapist is still running free, but not just from a professional standpoint. He also has a personal interest in the case.

The villain’s arrogance is maddening. He has a seriously skewed vision of himself as someone whose superior intelligence will prevent him from ever being caught. You just really want this guy to get what he deserves for all the despicable things he’s done. As a science geek, the DNA phenotyping used to help track him down fascinated me and was an element I especially enjoyed.

This is a tightly plotted, well-paced thriller that can easily be read in a couple hours and one I’d happily recommend to fans of the genre.

Academic Curveball (Braxton Campus Mysteries #1) by James J. Cudney #bookreview #cozymystery #TuesdayBookBlog

When Kellan Ayrwick returns home for his father’s retirement from Braxton College, he finds a dead body in Diamond Hall’s stairwell.

Unfortunately, Kellan has a connection to the victim, and so do several members of his family. Could one of them be guilty of murder? Soon after, the college’s athletic program receives mysterious donations, a nasty blog denounces his father and someone attempts to change students’ grades.

Someone is playing games on campus, but none of the facts add up. With the help of his eccentric and trouble-making nana, Kellan tries to stay out of the sheriff’s way. And if that wasn’t enough already, his own past comes spiraling back to change his life forever.

In the debut novel in the Braxton Campus Mysteries Series, you’ll discover a cozy, secluded Pennsylvania village full of quirky, sarcastic and nosy residents.

I have to be honest – I haven’t read many cozy mysteries, but a small town college setting, the adorable cover, and great reviews drew me to this book.

I immediately liked Kellan. He’s a fairly recent widower with an adorable young daughter who’s trying to do the single dad thing, while also keeping the peace with his in-laws. When he travels to his hometown for his father’s retirement party, it’s clear there’s also friction in his own family. The reader doesn’t have to wait long for the action to begin. A body is discovered at the party and what looks to be an accident is soon revealed to be a murder. In several mysteries I’ve read, it’s pretty obvious who the murderer is early in the story, but that’s not the case in this novel. Several characters have a motive (even some within Kellan’s family), and I was kept guessing until almost the end.

While investigating on his own (and finding himself in some interesting situations), Kellan reconnects with some old friends and a girlfriend. Learning his backstory gave me more insight to his character, and I liked him even more. He also ponders making some life changes in the best interests of his family. Speaking of his family, shout-out to Nana D, who gave me several laugh out loud moments. She’s a feisty, intelligent lady who speaks her mind – and also makes repeated attempts to fix up her grandson with questionable choices in women.

I’m so glad I picked up this cozy mystery – the author has a new fan of the series. I have to comment on that cliffhanger at the end – it was a doozy and completely out of left field. And I absolutely need to know what happens next!

Don’t Tell A Soul by Kirsten Miller #bookreview #YA #mystery

Stay up all night with this modern day Rebecca! Perfect for fans of Truly Devious—a haunting story about a new girl in an old town filled with dark secrets . . . that might just kill her.

People say the house is cursed.
It preys on the weakest, and young women are its favorite victims.
In Louth, they’re called the Dead Girls.

All Bram wanted was to disappear—from her old life, her family’s past, and from the scandal that continues to haunt her. The only place left to go is Louth, the tiny town on the Hudson River where her uncle, James, has been renovating an old mansion.

But James is haunted by his own ghosts. Months earlier, his beloved wife died in a fire that people say was set by her daughter. The tragedy left James a shell of the man Bram knew—and destroyed half the house he’d so lovingly restored.

The manor is creepy, and so are the locals. The people of Louth don’t want outsiders like Bram in their town, and with each passing day she’s discovering that the rumors they spread are just as disturbing as the secrets they hide. Most frightening of all are the legends they tell about the Dead Girls. Girls whose lives were cut short in the very house Bram now calls home.

The terrifying reality is that the Dead Girls may have never left the manor. And if Bram looks too hard into the town’s haunted past, she might not either.

I’d recently watched the remake of Rebecca on Netflix when I read this book description. Ghosts, an old manor, a string of dead girls – what about this description doesn’t grab you?

I loved the setting of this story – a small town full of layers upon layers of secrets, an old mansion with disturbing rumors surrounding it, locals who don’t trust the newcomers and vice versa. It takes place during winter in the northeast, so the snowstorms and occasional loss of power just add to the atmosphere. The story unfolds slowly, and I had several questions concerning Bram – Why was she sent away? Why was she immediately on guard around males? Why was she so obsessed with Lark? All were eventually answered, and I feel the gradual reveal adds to the mystery. Between the manor and the town, Bram meets several people, all who seem to be telling her who she should trust. Suffice it to say, it’s all conflicting advice.

With so many deaths connected to the manor, I formed several theories and actually figured out one of the biggest twists early on. It seemed pretty obvious to me, so the final reveal didn’t come as a big surprise. Being a fan of the supernatural, I was excited for the paranormal aspects of the story, but things didn’t develop exactly as I’d hoped. It may not have been the story I’d expected, but I appreciated the underlying positive themes of overcoming adversity and reclaiming control.

This is an atmospheric story, and Bram is a plucky, determined MC who’s dealing with more than anyone her age should have to. A couple other reviewers mentioned the cover, and I agree it doesn’t seem to fit the book. Although there are a couple of plot holes (I read an ARC so this may change), the mysteries (there are several) may 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.