This Is Not the Real World (This Is Not the Jess Show #2) by Anna Carey #bookreview #YA #suspense #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

In the explosive, thrilling sequel to This Is Not the Jess Show, 18-year-old Jess is out for revenge as she confronts the corrupt media empire that documented every moment of her childhood.

Finally free of Swickley and a life that was broadcast to the whole world on Stuck in the 90’s, Jess is doing her best to adjust to existence on the outside–but she can’t outrun her past forever.

Like-Life Productions has tracked down Jess and her boyfriend, Kipps, and forced Kipps to come back to set for the rest of his contract. Determined to rescue Kipps and exact revenge on Like-Life Productions for what they did to her, Jess teams up with a reporter who’s investigating the seedy underbelly of the TV production company–including a series of suspicious disappearances. Jess agrees to return to set under the guise of missing her friends, family, and old life. Then she can take them down from the inside.

Jess must play along in order to gain the power she needs to expose the truth–but fact and fiction blur as Jess struggles to stay one step ahead of Like-Life Productions. How far will she go to maintain control of the narrative, and what will it cost her?

Packed with twists that race toward a shocking ending, this second book will keep you guessing. 

The first book in this duology came with a twist that left me gaping in disbelief, and I couldn’t wait to see what happened in this sequel.

In the last book, Jess and Kipps narrowly escaped the show and then went into hiding with friends. This story begins several months later. Jess is eighteen-years-old, but Kipps is only seventeen, so when he’s tracked down by Like-Life Productions and forced to fulfill the remainder of his contract, both characters find themselves in situations beyond their control. To be with Kipps and find a way to expose the truth, Jess also returns to the show.

This sequel gives more insight to many of the supporting characters who play bigger roles this time, especially Chrysalis, the “villain”. Where the first book revealed plenty of secrets and had a momentum that made it difficult to put down, this one has a different feel. The big question is now who Jess and Kipps can trust, and who’s in line waiting to betray them. Still, it has a few surprises, more dastardly deeds come to light, and the power of social media (a positive aspect) is incorporated into the story line.

At barely three hundred pages, this is a quick read that takes only a few hours. The story doesn’t really end on a cliffhanger, but I’m unsure if another book is in the works. If this is the end, it’s been an engaging, quirky series packed with surprises that I enjoyed. It was fun to relive some 90s nostalgia.

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

Hide by Kiersten White #bookreview #horror #supernatural #TuesdayBookBlog

The challenge: spend a week hiding in an abandoned amusement park and don’t get caught.

The prize: enough money to change everything.

Even though everyone is desperate to win–to seize their dream futures or escape their haunting pasts–Mack feels sure that she can beat her competitors. All she has to do is hide, and she’s an expert at that.

It’s the reason she’s alive, and her family isn’t.

But as the people around her begin disappearing one by one, Mack realizes this competition is more sinister than even she imagined, and that together might be the only way to survive.
Fourteen competitors. Seven days. Everywhere to hide, but nowhere to run.

Come out, come out, wherever you are.

The ferris wheel on the cover immediately caught my attention. Then I saw it was written by a YA author I’ve read before, and this was her adult debut. Once I read the description I was sold.

A week in an abandoned amusement park with a tragic history playing a warped game of hide and go seek. If you’re not found, a significant amount of cash is the prize. Mack, who bounces between homeless shelters, has a distinct advantage over the other thirteen contestants – she was the only survivor in her family when her father went on a killing spree and murdered her mother and sister. Mack knew where to hide.

Mack is the main focus of the story, but POV alternates between several characters. They come from all walks of life, but each has a reason for wanting to win the game varying from fame to making friends. After the first couple of days, it becomes clear this isn’t your average reality show. Once you’re found, you’re not just out of the game – you’re dead.

The aging, abandoned rides lend a macabre atmosphere to the story – a haunted house, decrepit roller coaster, and a sinister tunnel of love just to name a few. I actually snickered when one contestant shelved his fear of clowns to hide inside the mouth of one in a bizarre display. I rooted for several characters to make it to the end – some survived, others didn’t. Besides being hunted, the contestants also learned to be wary of each other. Some play dirty.

The description gives no indication of the direction this story takes. It’s unexpected, but I was completely on board with it. There’s a reason these contestants are chosen. I admit the multiple POVs confused me at times. There’s a good bit of head-hopping going on, with multiple changes on the same page sometimes. I had to backtrack more than once to figure it out.

Hide has an imaginative premise that immediately intrigued me and kept me glued to the pages. It isn’t heavy on the horror, so it would also appeal to supernatural thriller fans.

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

Dark Stars Edited by John F.D. Taff #bookreview #anthology #horror

Created as an homage to the 1980 classic horror anthology, Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley, this collection contains 12 original novelettes showcasing today’s top horror talent. Dark Stars features all-new stories from award-winning authors and up-and-coming voices like Stephen Graham Jones, Priya Sharma, Usman T. Malik, Caroline Kepnes, and Alma Katsu, with seasoned author John F.D. Taff at the helm. An afterword from original Dark Forces contributor Ramsey Campbell is a poignant finale to this bone-chilling collection.

Within these pages you’ll find tales of dead men walking, an insidious secret summer fling, an island harboring unspeakable power, and a dark hallway that beckons. You’ll encounter terrible monsters—both human and supernatural—and be forever changed. The stories in Dark Stars run the gamut from traditional to modern, from dark fantasy to neo-noir, from explorations of beloved horror tropes to the unknown—possibly unknowable—threats.

It’s all in here because it’s all out there, now, in horror.

I was so excited to see this anthology – I’m a fan of several of the featured authors. Having their short stories bundled together was such a treat.

As with any collection, I liked some of these stories better than others. My favorites included the following: All the Things He Called Memories by Stephen Graham Jones. This is a horror story set during Covid when a couple are quarantined together. It has a creepy, slow madness that gradually seeps into your bones.

The Familiar’s Assistant by Alma Katsu – I’m always a vampire fan, but this was more about the new familiar (as it’s adequately titled) and his relationship with the current familiar. Let’s just say he has aspirations.

Mrs. Addison’s Nest by Josh Malerman – The line between dreams, reality, and the past are blurred as four friends try to determine the difference. I enjoyed the nod to Christopher Nolan’s Memento.

I admit some of the stories I didn’t get. They were confusing or ended abruptly, and I shrugged and moved on to the next one. Maybe they were just over my head.

This is an eclectic mix of horror and thriller authors that is sure to appeal to fans of those genres. I settled in with some favorites as well as discovered some new ones.

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

Book of Night by Holly Black and Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado #bookreview #horror #fantasy #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

#1 New York Times bestselling author Holly Black makes her stunning adult debut with Book of Night, a modern dark fantasy of shadowy thieves and secret societies in the vein of Ninth House and The Night Circus.

In Charlie Hall’s world, shadows can be altered, for entertainment and cosmetic preferences—but also to increase power and influence. You can alter someone’s feelings—and memories—but manipulating shadows has a cost, with the potential to take hours or days from your life. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own.

Charlie is a low-level con artist, working as a bartender while trying to distance herself from the powerful and dangerous underground world of shadow trading. She gets by doing odd jobs for her patrons and the naive new money in her town at the edge of the Berkshires. But when a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie’s present life is thrown into chaos, and her future seems at best, unclear—and at worst, non-existent. Determined to survive, Charlie throws herself into a maelstrom of secrets and murder, setting her against a cast of doppelgangers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister—all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.

With sharp angles and prose, and a sinister bent, Holly Black is a master of shadow and story stitching. Remember while you read, light isn’t playing tricks in Book of Night, the people are.

This was one of my most anticipated reads this year, so receiving an ARC felt like winning the lottery.

Morally gray characters are among my favorites, and there’s certainly no shortage of them here. Lucipurr the cat (adore the name) may be the only innocent. Charlie’s life hasn’t been an easy one, but a good portion of it can be blamed on her bad choices. She starts out with good intentions, but usually gets sidetracked along the way. To her credit, she owns those decisions and stands by them. I wasn’t sure how I felt about her at first. Some of her actions are maddening, but she’s also clever, street smart, loyal to her sister, and I soon found myself rooting for her. At her core she has a good heart.

This is a dark, gritty world filled with murder, magic, and bloody battles for power. I struggled at times to understand all the rules, but they became clearer along the way. I predicted a couple of the twists, but was surprised over others. Some reviewers have mentioned the slow pace at the beginning, and I agree it took a few chapters for the story to find its stride, but before long it was unputdownable. I’m not sure if this is a planned series, but the ending leaves an opening.

I’d recommend this book to fantasy and horror fans looking for a gratifying blend of the genres. You’ll never look at your shadow – or those of others – in the same way again.

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

Mysterious disappearances.
An urban legend rumored to be responsible.
And one group of teens determined to save their city at any cost.

For over a year, the Bronx has been plagued by sudden disappearances that no one can explain. Sixteen-year-old Raquel does her best to ignore it. After all, the police only look for the white kids. But when her crush Charlize’s cousin goes missing, Raquel starts to pay attention—especially when her own mom comes down with a mysterious illness that seems linked to the disappearances.

Raquel and Charlize team up to investigate, but they soon discover that everything is tied to a terrifying urban legend called the Echo Game. The game is rumored to trap people in a sinister world underneath the city, and the rules are based on a particularly dark chapter in New York’s past. And if the friends want to save their home and everyone they love, they will have to play the game and destroy the evil at its heart—or die trying.

Comp titles of Stranger Things and Get Out immediately piqued my interest, and that fierce cover sealed the deal.

Several teens have gone missing over the past several months, and the disappearances seem to be tied to the Echo Game. It comes with an odd set of rules (flipping a coin to decide which direction to go, never turn back, start in the wee hours of the morning), and upon entering the game, players are transported to a traumatic event that occured in their area. For these characters it was during the 70s when the Bronx was burning and over 80% of housing was lost to fires, much of it caused by slumlords who wanted to collect insurance money.

You’d be crazy to want to play, right? But what if entering the game might be the only way to save your family and friends? For Raquel and Charlize, there’s no choice – they have to play. The actions starts immediately, and the first pages pulled me right into the story. I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening, but there’s no way you could have pried the Kindle from my hands. Pride in their community and friendships between the characters are strong points – especially between Raquel and Aaron. Even when the odds weren’t in their favor, they had each other’s backs. But with so much depending on them, the characters surprised me a few times with their careless choices, and intense, dangerous moments are interrupted with sudden relationship talk that I felt interrupted the flow of the story.

Expect vivid imagery inside the game. Some of the gory descriptions might not be for everyone, but I thought they added to the horror of what the characters experience and the obstacles they face to survive.

With heart-stopping scenes (I gasped out loud a couple times!), an alluring, dangerous concept, plenty of life-threatening situations, and relatable characters, horror/thriller fans will want to add this to their TBRs. I’m excited to see what this author does next.

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

Activated (Calculated #3) by Nova McBee #bookreview #YA #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

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

After her exploits in Tunisia, Jo Rivers knows she’ll never lead a normal life. She also can’t move on until she grasps the unexpected evolution of her mathematical gift and confronts her unresolved feelings after meeting Noble. With Kai undercover, Noble is the only one who has the answers Jo needs. There’s just one small problem: Noble has vanished, leaving only a coded message in the stars.

When Rafael, a friend from Jo’s days in China, goes missing, it coincides with a new PSS assignment involving a potentially catastrophic satellite breakdown. Jo suspects something more sinister is at play and has no choice but to track down Noble, who may be her only hope to find Rafael and prevent global chaos.

Traveling to the perilous Arctic of Finland, Jo and her band of prodigies team up with unlikely allies from her past to find out what or who is interfering with the satellites— before it’s too late. Trusting her gift, Jo follows a path of numbers that light the way…which leads to answers she didn’t predict.

I’m such a fan of this series featuring MC math prodigy Jo Rivers. It’s rare, but each book is just as good as or even better than its predecessor.

It’s difficult to review the third novel in a series without spoilers, but I’ll give it a shot. Be warned – vagueness ahead. Again Jo finds herself and her team in the midst of a dangerous mission with millions of lives at stake. Noble, who shares her numbers gift, is missing, Kai is undercover, and Rafael sends a guarded message requesting her help. She’s also muddling through some issues in her personal life and wonders if she’s made a horrible mistake.

As with the previous books, expect action-filled scenes, heart-pounding danger, a little romance, and a plot that reads like an intricately plotted chess game. Although YA, this series would easily appeal to adults. I thought Activated would wrap up the series but was thrilled to learn another book is coming – and I sure wouldn’t mind getting it sooner rather than later!

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

I Am Margaret Moore by Hannah Capin #bookreview #YA #paranormalthriller

Hannah Capin’s I Am Margaret Moore is a paranormal thriller that tests the hold of sisterhood and truth.

I am a girl. I am a monster, too.

Each summer the girls of Deck Five come back to Marshall Naval School. They sail on jewel-blue waters; they march on green drill-fields; they earn sunburns and honors. They push until they break apart and heal again, stronger.

Each summer Margaret and Rose and Flor and Nisreen come back to the place where they are girls, safe away from the world: sisters bound by something more than blood.

But this summer everything has changed. Girls are missing and a boy is dead. It’s because of Margaret Moore, the boys say. It’s because of what happened that night in the storm.

Margaret’s friends vanish one by one, swallowed up into the lies she has told about what happened between her and a boy with the world at his feet. Can she unravel the secrets of this summer and last, or will she be pulled under by the place she once called home?

I struggled with this book. Some things I liked and some not so much. The strong friendships between Margaret, Rose, Flor, and Nisreen are a bright point. Although they’re only together during the summers at Marshall Naval School, they have much to bond over and will defend each other til the end. Everyone should have those kinds of friendships. Margaret is betrayed in the worst way and in a horrendous situation that made me want to reach into the pages and throttle some characters. You can’t help but feel for her.

My biggest struggle was with the writing style. While prose-like, it was confounding at times and the time jumps between summers only added to my confusion. One reviewer said she felt like she was following a stream of consciousness, and I can agree with that. At around the 60% mark, the clouds shift and it all makes sense. The twist is brilliant, nothing I suspected, and also makes the story easier to follow until the end – which I loved.

Reviews are all over the place with this novel, and I suppose it comes down to if you’re a fan of this writing style. It’s a relatively quick read, and if you can hang in there for the slow reveal and muddle your way through the time shifts, a shiny reward awaits.

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

The Ravenous Dead (Gravekeeper #2) by Darcy Coates #bookreview #horror #paranormal

He’ll never let go…

Keira, hired as Blighty Graveyard’s new groundskeeper, lives surrounded by the dead. They watch her through the fog. They wordlessly cry out. They’ve been desperately waiting for help moving on—and only Keira can hear them. But not every restless spirit wants to be saved.

Sometimes the dead hate the living too much to find peace.

As Keira struggles to uncover the tangled histories of some of the graveyard’s oldest denizens, danger seeps from the darkest edges of the forest. A vicious serial killer was interred among the trees decades before, his spirit twisted by his violent nature. He’s furious. Ravenous. And when Keira unwittingly answers his call, she may just seal her fate as his final intended victim.

I’ve read several Darcy Coates novels and always feel a thrill of excitement when I see one come up for review on NetGalley. Of course I snagged this one – what a cover!

As with all Coates books I’ve read, an eerie atmosphere cloaks the story, along with some goosebump-worthy moments that may make you leery of graveyards at night. Keira has the power to see and speak to ghosts. While trying to figure out who she is (because of amnesia), she takes a job as a groundskeeper at a cemetery. Part of her job description includes helping the lingering spirits to move on. Some of the ghosts she encounters are amusing (one man insists on being proudly naked), others are confused about what happened to them, and some have unfinished business. But one is extremely violent and a danger not only to Keira, but also to the spirits she’s trying to help. He was a serial killer when alive and isn’t finished claiming victims.

Along with new friends Mason and Zoe, the three of them set out to learn about the killer’s past so Keira can send him away from this plane for good. They’re assisted by someone smarter than the three of them put together – Daisy the cat (don’t all cats assume they’re smarter than humans?). She seems to understand what’s going on around her and helps Keira out of sticky situations more than once. She also knows ways to get in and out of the house without being seen. Made me wonder if she had some kind of supernatural power herself.

Nothing on NetGalley indicated this was the second book in a series. When I started reading it, I felt like I’d walked into a room in the middle of a conversation and missed some important information. Upon checking Goodreads, I learned this was book two. Backstory is mentioned, but I never felt like I really knew these characters very well. I prefer to read a series in order – that’s just me – but other reviewers have mentioned these can be standalones. It all depends on your preference.

Although it’s not my favorite book by this author, I still enjoyed the read, and it’s sure to give horror and paranormal fans thrills and chills.

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

The Last Laugh (The Initial Insult #2) by Mindy McGinnis #bookreview #YA #thriller #suspense

In the dark and stunning sequel to The Initial Insult, award-winning author Mindy McGinnis concludes this suspenseful YA duology as long-held family secrets finally come to light . . . changing Amontillado forevermore.

Tress Montor murdered Felicity Turnado—but she might not have to live with the guilt for long. With an infected arm held together by duct tape, the panther who clawed her open on the loose, and the whole town on the hunt for the lost homecoming queen, the odds are stacked against Tress. As her mind slides deeper into delirium, Tress is haunted by the growing sound of Felicity’s heartbeat pulsing from the “best friend” charm around her fevered neck.

Ribbit Usher has been a punchline his whole life—from his nickname to his latest turn as the unwitting star of a humiliating viral video. In the past he’s willingly played the fool, but now it’s time to fulfill his destiny. That means saving the girl, so that Felicity can take her place at his side and Ribbit can exact revenge on all who have done him wrong—which includes his cousin, Tress. Ribbit is held by a pact he made with his mother long ago, a pact that must be delivered upon in four days.

With time ticking down and an enemy she considers a friend lurking in the shadows, Tress’s grip on reality is failing. Can she keep both mind and body together long enough to finally find out what happened to her parents? 

I don’t usually post reviews on Fridays, but the second book in this duology released this week, and I didn’t want to wait a month to post it (the blog schedule is pretty full).

It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned this – McGinnis is an auto-buy author for me. Each of her books is vastly different, but all that I’ve read are bizarre, unpredictable, and will take you to places you never imagined.

This sequel picks up immediately after the events of The Initial Insult. Felicity Turnado never came home from the party the night before, and everyone is looking for her. Tess Montor, who murdered Felicity, is dealing with a severely infected arm after being clawed by her escaped panther and is still unsure of what happened to her parents after their disappearance seven years ago. Ribbit Usher is the star of a viral video after humiliating himself at the party the night before while intoxicated. Time is running out for him to follow through on the morbid promise he made to his mother many years ago.

It’s difficult to write this review without spoilers, but I’ll say what I can. McGinnis mentioned this series was inspired by Poe, and The Tell-Tale Heart strongly influenced this sequel. The story moves along quickly with surprises waiting to ambush you. Starting around the 80% mark, trust me when I say you won’t want to be interrupted until you’ve finished reading. Weird and perilous events occur at a rapid fire pace – not everyone survives. Flood gates are opened and long held secrets come surging out. You may utter expletives in shock. I certainly did.

An incredibly dysfunctional family (seriously, I can’t emphasize this enough), an escaped black panther, an orangatan who signs, maggots (you’ll need a strong stomach), revenge – all are present in this phenomenal sequel. If you haven’t ready any of this author’s books, you’re seriously depriving yourself. Correct that as soon as possible.

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

#BlogTour Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich #bookreview #YA #mystery

Summer in Ferry, Connecticut, has always meant long, lazy days at the beach and wild nights partying in the abandoned mansions on the edge of town. Until now, that is.
 
Natalie Temple, who’s never been one for beaches or parties in the first place, is reeling from the murder of her favorite teacher, and there’s no way this true-crime-obsessed girl is going to sit back and let the rumor mill churn out lie after lie—even if she has to hide her investigation from her disapproving mom and team up with the new boy in town…
 
But the more Natalie uncovers, the more she realizes some secrets were never meant to be told. 

Ferry, Connecticut sounds like an idyllic, seaside town filled with lazy summer days by the ocean, kids riding their bikes on the sidewalk, and ice cream from the local parlor. Until the body of a beloved teacher is discovered after she’s murdered, and the rose-colored glasses are officially shattered.

The novel actually focuses on two cases – the murder of Natalie’s teacher and a missing college student several years prior. It’s told from alternating chapter POVs between Natalie and her mother Helen, owner of the local diner and a former college journalism major. Natalie also dreams of becoming a hard-hitting journalist and devours true crime books and shows. She and her best friend Katie even host a true crime podcast – which is all kept secret from Natalie’s mother, who forbids her from reading or watching anything crime-related. Headstrong and determined, Natalie decides to begin her own investigation on the sly after her teacher’s murder.

If you think it’s naive of a teenager to take on a murder investigation, you’d be right. Against the advice of Katie (a voice of reason), Natalie makes one bad decision after another without regard for the consequences. It’s not difficult to figure out who’s involved with the murder, but the why may keep you guessing and come as a total surprise. The missing college student from Helen’s college days is also an intriguing story and explains her distaste for journalism and true crime stories.

I was satisfied with the ending – it wraps up all the loose threads, and the plot moves along at a brisk pace. If you’re a fan of true crime podcasts, don’t expect many details in this novel. Other than hiding it from Natalie’s mother, it’s not explored further, but this is a book true crime buffs will enjoy.

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:

Brenna Ehrlich is a journalist, YA author, and editor who has worked everywhere from MTV News to Rolling Stone. She resides in New Jersey with her husband Morgan and their two cats, Nimbus and Hazel. She enjoys horror movies and romcoms in equal measure.

Social Links:

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrennaEhrlich

IG: https://www.instagram.com/brennaehrlich/

Buy Links:

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/killing-time-9781335418678/9781335418678 

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/killing-time-brenna-ehrlich/1139262919;jsessionid=77463C2A28F769B395869EB9A2D55A2B.prodny_store02-atgap11?ean=9781335418678&st=AFF&2sid=HarperCollins%20Publishers%20LLC_7310909_NA&sourceId=AFFHarperCollins%20Publishers%20LLC 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1335418679?tag=harpercollinsus-20 

Books-a-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/9781335418678?AID=10747236&PID=7310909&cjevent=7996a3e08f9311ec82814d540a82b824 

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335418678 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Killing_Time?id=8JEpEAAAQBAJ&hl=en_US&gl=US 

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/killing-time-87 

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/ch/book/killing-time/id1563212004



This Is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey #bookreview #YA #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Black Mirror meets My So-Called Life in this fast-paced, timely YA thriller about separating fact from fiction–and how far we’ll go to create our own version of reality.

Like any other teenager, Jess Flynn is just trying to get through her junior year without drama … but drama seems to keep finding her. Between a new crush on her childhood best friend, overprotective parents cramping her social life, and her younger sister’s worsening health, the only constant is change–and her hometown of Swickley, which feels smaller by the day.

Swickley is getting weirder by the day, too. Half the population has been struck down by a mysterious flu. Conversations end awkwardly when Jess enters the room. And then one day, a tiny, sleek black device–with an apple logo on it–falls out of her best friend’s backpack and lands at Jess’s feet.

It was the unusual blend of comp titles and the mystery of exactly what’s going on in the small town of Swickley that made me request this novel from NetGalley. And what a surprise it turned out to be.

This is a difficult review to write without revealing spoilers. The first several chapters are Jess’s average teen life – high school, friends, crushes on guys – you get the picture. I especially enjoyed the 90s setting that was full of nostalgia – music, fashions, magazines, and food. But strange things pop up that will leave you as puzzled as Jess. Her friends are acting weird, a mysterious flu has overtaken the town, and her dog undergoes a serious personality change. Then the story takes a sudden turn that may have you asking “What the $*@# just happened?” And then it all makes sense.

Fun, clever, and imaginative, this novel is also full of action sequences and a bit of romance. It took me by surprise, and I finished the book in less than a day. I was excited to learn a sequel will be released later this year, and I’m anxious to see what happens next with Jess.

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