This Might Hurt

An intricate web of a plot involving a cult AND a female magician.

Thank you NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me an e-copy of THIS MIGHT HURT by Stephanie Wrobel.

I loved Stephanie’s first book, Darling Rose Gold, so I was excited to be able to review her second book, THIS MIGHT HURT.

The story revolves around hard-worker Nat who is forced to find her estranged younger sister, Kit, at a program meant to help attendees improve their lives – in the fiction world, that’s code for a “cult.”

THIS MIGHT HURT provides a deep delve into the main characters’ pasts – which is needed, but becomes confusing right away. We get two backstories of two different sets of sisters. Once you figure out who means what to the plot, then all is well.

What I loved about the book is one of the sisters grows up wanting to be a … magician. This was such a unique career for a female character. She worked very hard at life, mostly due to her rigid, cold, father who naturally does not want her to be a magician. She loves Houdini, tricks, stunts, immunity to pain so much her hard work eventually does pay off. She becomes somewhat popular in the magician world.

This story deals with grief, familial guilt, loyalty to past relationships and devotion to new ones. There were several scenes which were a bit hard to read. However, I think everything in the story was necessary to make the plot work.

While the story wasn’t a mystery, it’s certainly a psychological thriller. There are head games at every twist and turn.

This is a good story for fans of Stephanie’s first book, cults and characters doing extreme things to make their lives right.

I rate THIS MIGHT HURT four out of five stars.

Good Rich People

Author Eliza Jane Brazier spins a tale of a dangerous game among the rich and poor in GOOD RICH PEOPLE. (I love this cover!)

Thank you NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me an e-book copy of GOOD RICH PEOPLE. This book is … WEIRD. In a GOOD way.

This is a story about rich versus poor. Or is it poor versus rich?

Lyla and Graham are very rich. They get bored easily. As does Graham’s mother, aka Lyla’s mother-in-law. They like to play games. The object is to destroy their latest tenant – always somebody who needs help and is specifically chosen by Lyla’s mother-in-law.

We find out about the past tenants and their newest tenant, Demi, who has her own treasure trove of secrets. Demi is the Draw Four card to their UNO game. She is the Go Straight to Jail card in their Monopoly game.

While I don’t think people with loads of money to burn have fun trying to destroy other’s lives, I do think they get bored quite easily. I have no money, you see, so I’m never bored. le sigh.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this story, but I ended up enjoying it. It will make you mad, sad and glad you aren’t Lyla.

GOOD RICH PEOPLE, with the perfect cover, publishes on January 25!

I rate GOOD RICH PEOPLE four out of five stars.

The Maid

THE MAID, by author and book editor Nia Prose, is a unique take on a main character who actually loves her job, but finds herself the person of interest in a murder because of her position as a … hotel maid.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for an e-book copy of THE MAID by Nita Prose to review.

I love a sharp, precise, nuts and bolts type of mystery and THE MAID met all of my requirements. THE MAID reminded me of the movie, Clue, with the help of side characters featured in Murder, She Wrote. This was a cozy, but edgy, read about a woman who absolutely loved her job. This is not something we see in most books, particularly in the mystery genre.

Set in present time, we find the maid of a prestigious hotel, Molly, to be socially awkward, Molly is very good at her job. She loves being greeted each morning by her pressed maid uniform and sets about with her cleaning trolley ready to make each hotel room spotless for upcoming guests.

In one of the rooms she discovers the dead body of a regular guest. He is the husband of one of Molly’s few “friends.”

Molly, of course, finds herself to be a person of interest in his death. Molly has to ask for help from others in order to unravel the mystery of who killed the very-rich, very-rude Mr. Black.

The element I loved most about this book was the PRIDE Molly had for her job. Knowing that others view her as a hidden, unseen part of the hotel, Molly took great pride in her career. Most of us have something to complain about our jobs, even when we love them, but Molly was a different character in that she had no qualms with what she did on a daily basis. Albeit, she wished she made more money because she was financially strained due to bad decisions on her part (again, socially awkward).

I think this is a perfect whodunit for the new year. I can’t wait for the movie!

I rate THE MAID five out of five stars.

Never Saw Me Coming

NEVER SAW ME COMING is a thriller involving a murder within a university clinical study of … psychopaths. Let the lies begin!

First off: both the cover and the title wrap your attention in a blanket of fear. And then when you read the plot described as a “clinical study for psychopaths” whodunit – well, I’m here for it. I WAS HERE FOR IT ALL.

In typical Red Herring Wendy form, I’m last on the true crime bandwagon. And I can’t even say I’m on the bandwagon yet. I haven’t made the time to explore true crime podcasts, become a Murderino or even watch Dateline NBC, but, I find any book involving psychopaths fascinating. I always am left wanting more information. I think most of us unknowingly KNOW at least a couple of psychopaths (they are not the same as sociopaths, btw, take a look at google).

CONTENT WARNING: This book contains underage sexual assault, gore, drug usage, suicide attempts and characters with zero remorse.

University student, Chloe Sevre, has found herself attending college on a full scholarship thanks to being a psychopath. She knows this. She embraces it. She has no problem being who she is. It does not bother her in the least.

She is one of six students on campus involved in a clinical study of psychopaths. The point is, naturally, to teach these young people how to function daily in a world that they are mentally against.

Chloe does not care when one of their own is murdered because ol’ girl has her own agenda – she has followed a boy to that particular college to avenge what happened to her years ago.

Her plan is derailed when her own life is threatened and she is forced to team up with other members of the group to solve the murder. Imagine the walls of trust that have to come down in order for psychopaths to trust each other. Ha!

Most likely you will not cheer for author Vera Kurian’s characters, but her storytelling will keep you creeped out and wonder what would you do in the situations the group finds themselves in.

I rate NEVER SAW ME COMING four out of five stars.

My Sweet Girl

Amanda Jayatissa’s debut novel, MY SWEET GIRL, is a twisty, weird, fascinating thriller featuring the unreliable narrator, Paloma Evans.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for providing an e-book copy for me to review. This book! So many feelings. Everything from the beautiful cover to the unreliable main character Paloma just left me in Thriller heaven.

There are not many characters to like in this book. Paloma, in particular, is not the “sweet girl” her adoptive parents dubbed her. She curses like a sailor – the F word is said in nearly every single page of the book (I loved this quality about her) and she just doesn’t like people. She is doing the best she can in a world that was constantly trying to make her be something that she wasn’t.

Paloma Evans was adopted from Sri Lanka by a white couple that had a bit of a savior complex, perhaps out of the goodness of their hearts, but also for the public accolades. Paloma knows this. She knows she was an accessory to them.

The book switches back-and-forth between Paloma’s past in Sri Lanka as a girl living in an orphanage with BFF Lihini and present time. As an adult, Paloma’s roommate knew her secrets from the orphanage and was about to start extorting her, that is until Paloma finds him dead in their apartment. From there the roller coaster begins.

Paloma is in therapy, which is somewhat helpful, but she also drinks a lot, has blackouts, isn’t sure if what she sees is real, and, oh, is convinced a ghost from the orphanage is haunting her.

The ending was a tad predictable, but for Amanda Jayatissa’s debut novel, I thought MY SWEET GIRL was a fascinating fall novel, just in time for Halloween.

I rate MY SWEET GIRL four out of five stars.

Kill All Your Darlings

In KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS, English professor Connor Nye is an imposter pretending he wrote a novel that was actually written by a student of his who has been missing for two years.

I’ve been in the mood for slow burn thrillers lately. While I love action-packed, fast-paced tales, sometimes you just need a story to sink in, marinate and let questions like, “but how would …” or “why did …” pop into your head. In KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS, author David Bell gives a read-and-relax plot that leaves us waiting in anticipation for the whodunit.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the Advanced Reader Copy to review. KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS will be published on Tuesday, July 6!

After years of struggling to write following the deaths of his wife and son, English professor Connor Nye publishes his first novel, a thriller about the murder of a young woman.

There’s just one problem: Connor didn’t write the book. His missing student did. And then she appears on his doorstep, alive and well, threatening to expose him.

Connor’s problems escalate when the police insist details in the novel implicate him in an unsolved murder from two years ago. When another murder occurs, Connor must clear his name by unraveling the horrifying secrets buried in his student’s manuscript.

KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS is the first in my blog series “Posers and Imposters.” Our good-guy antagonist Connor is trying to navigate his grief while not losing his beloved job as a college professor/author, yet is carrying the lie that he is the author of a successful novel.

It was William Faulkner who said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” What he meant was writers must get rid of any characters that the author may love, but do nothing to move the story along. And that is certainly what David accomplished in this novel. Each character is a thread to another character that lead to questions and answers of this book-within-a-book mystery.

While trying to move past his grief over the death of his family, an English professor finds himself the suspect in a student’s disappearance.

Readers get a glimpse into the pressures of gaining and keeping university tenure and the cold, hard truth that a lot of English professors are … not valued because they are unpublished.

Open KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS on a night when you are ready to reminisce about college days and dream of being published. Oh, wait, that was for me to do. You just enjoy this tale of what a burden being an imposter can bring.

I rate KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS four out of five stars.

The Hunting Wives

Set in Texas, THE HUNTING WIVES, focuses on a group of women who meet for skeet shooting, drinking bottles of wine, flirting with the town men with a side of murder.

Y’all. Y’all! It’s true – everything’s bigger in Texas, including rich women cliques, obsession and MMUURRDDER.

THE HUNTING WIVES, by May Cobb, is a sexy, campy, Texas posh of a novel that tells what happens when a housewife finally gets the stability she’s craved since her childhood only to find it it’s incredibly dull and ill-fitting.

Sophie O’Neill left behind an envy-inspiring career and the stressful, competitive life of big-city Chicago to settle down with her husband and young son in a small Texas town. It seems like the perfect life with a beautiful home in an idyllic rural community. But Sophie soon realizes that life is now too quiet, and she’s feeling bored and restless.

Then she meets Margot Banks, an alluring socialite who is part of an elite clique secretly known as the Hunting Wives. Sophie finds herself completely drawn to Margot and swept into her mysterious world of late-night target practice and dangerous partying. As Sophie’s curiosity gives way to full-blown obsession, she slips farther away from the safety of her family and deeper into this nest of vipers.

When the body of a teenage girl is discovered in the woods where the Hunting Wives meet, Sophie finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation and her life spiraling out of control. 

So you’ve got ladies with a lot of money getting together to skeet shoot in the woods – each one has their own Texas-sized personality – including monogamous Sophie and revenge-cheater Margot. Throw in a couple of inappropriate relationships with high school boys and a full-blown, platonic and sexual obsession and there’s THE HUNTING WIVES.

Stories about women cliques are fascinating. There’s always one alpha female leading the pack, one newbie who is always lost in some way, and there are the followers who will literally do anything the alpha wants. This usually ends in some destructive way with one or more of the group being kicked out.

A lot of these cliques happen in high school and college. Social media now showcases cliques among women over 40. Bring out the day-drinking moms, carpool lines, charcuterie parties and boom – it’s a clique.

Sophie just wants to be accepted by Margot and her harem of women. She loves her own life, but feels like something is missing. Margot notices this and latches onto Sophie by slowly seducing her. The problem for Sophie is, she is NOT Margot’s true love interest.

Sophie O’Neill is embroiled in a murder investigation because of her friendship and uber obsession with chic Margot Banks – the town socialite.

When the body of the town sweetheart is discovered, Sophie finds herself at the center of suspicion. Looking for help from Margot and the women, she realizes she’s been shunned. And there goes the newbie – kicked out of the group.

THE HUNTING WIVES has a Real Housewives of eastern Texas vibe. It’s a tale of warning about not thinking the grass is always greener on the other side, controlling your alcohol – seriously, this is important in the story, and keeping your friends close and your frenemies closer.

So grab your monogrammed tumbler, pour some Rosé wine into it, spritz yourself with bug spray and relax on your porch swing for the what-the-hell-is-happening-here story of THE HUNTING WIVES.

I rate THE HUNTING WIVES four out of five stars.

Prom House

PROM HOUSE, by Chelsea Mueller, has a fantastic premise – high school kids rent a secluded house for prom night to have fun and instead end up trying to stay alive from a flood and a murderer.

When I saw the premise and the cover (sometimes I judge books by the covers, I admit it), I thought this one was right up my locked-room alley. I enjoy a good mystery in which people are trapped in some small space, house, manor, elevator, ship, island, etc… where escape is near impossible.

This one had all the elements of a fun, hopefully dark, Young Adult mystery: prom weekend, secluded, huge rented house, high school kids, new romances, old romances, no parents, gruesome murders, no electricity, no phone service, a FLOOD. The premise was great, the story itself was bland.

Ten people share a prom house at the Jersey Shore for the weekend. Every one of them has a secret . . . and when they begin to die one by one, panic ensues. Could somebody’s prom date also be . . . a killer?

PROM HOUSE did not have a lot of character development and the most important part of the weekend – the prom – was barely discussed. Of course, the post-prom activities are what most teens are interested in. Getting away from their parents, drinking alcohol, being with their “significant other”, wink, wink, are what a lot of teens look forward to on prom night. But the prom was overlooked in the plot.

I did enjoy the overall creepiness of the house, as well as the flooding which left no room for escape.

PROM HOUSE has an R.L. Stine’s Fear Street feel to it, but falls a bit short.

I think most readers of PROM HOUSE would look for nods to “Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie, but then again, I think most of the readers for PROM HOUSE would be teenagers. Most likely they haven’t read, or even heard of Agatha, but alas, hopefully they will discover her one day.

Getting back to PROM HOUSE – this book is a quick popcorn read for a thundering, raining Saturday night or laying out next to the pool with your friends. I feel this review is turning into a very “Get Off My Lawn” commentary. Teen readers, however, will love it.

I rate PROM HOUSE three out of five stars. 

The Other Black Girl

THE OTHER BLACK GIRL, written by Zakiya Dalila Harris, takes readers on the roller coaster competitiveness career ride that is publishing. Editorial assistant, Nella, welcomes Hazel with open arms, but quickly finds out there is more to her new co-worker than what meets the eye.

Touted as “The Devil Wears Prada” meets “Get Out,” THE OTHER BLACK GIRL is a psychological thriller that will have you staying up all night – on a weeknight – to get to the end. I’m still thinking about Zakiya Dalila Harris’ plot days after finishing the book.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

While “The Devil Wears Prada” comparisons are accurate, the last half of the book leans more towards “Get Out.” 

I loved all the details Zakiya gave readers about working in the publishing industry. It seems extremely competitive, but the setting is relatable to readers because a lot of jobs can be cut-throat.

More importantly is Nella’s viewpoint as being the only person of color in her office. Nella tries to balance out her views of all the people she worked with. She gives people the benefit of the doubt, maybe too much. Nella is a genuinely nice person. She is a hard-worker. She doesn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. She wants to see the good in people, even when there are a LOT of inconsistencies.

We’ve all had that one overly competitive one-upper co-worker. Nella trusts newcomer, Hazel, quickly and comes to regret her own welcoming nature.

Nella is trying to balance out her work life as being the only black girl in the office, as well as her personal life with her white boyfriend. This makes things murky for her. That is until Hazel shows up. Then Nella’s life becomes a confusing, sabotaged, gaslit mess that makes her concerned she is losing her mind. But, is Hazel the true culprit?

Hazel is that one work frenemy we all have experienced. She’s the company one-upper while trying to be your “friend” on the side. 

Hazel entrenches herself into making things happen diversity-wise for the company – something that Nella has been trying to do herself for years. Hazel immediately impresses the bosses, including the publishing company’s founder and president.

My only issue with the book was the ending. No spoilers!!! I can’t say anything else without giving too much away. So, I’ll say this instead – turn off Netflix, put your phone in the other room, boil a cup of hot, peppermint tea and read this book!

I rate THE OTHER BLACK GIRL four out of five stars.

The Drowning Kind

A dark, murky spring water pool is the antagonist in this Supernatural-tinged mystery.

If you could make a wish into a dark spring water pool, would you? What if there is a price to pay if your wish comes true – would you still make that wish?

The premise for this story by author Jennifer McMahon, is so, so good. A main character has to confront her family’s past while keeping at bay the antagonist – her grandmother’s spring water pool. Now this pool doesn’t have the typical lush, blue, teal magical-color water one would think of to grant wishes, but is instead a black, sulphur-smelling realm.

Be careful what you wish for.

When social worker Jax receives nine missed calls from her older sister, Lexie, she assumes that it’s just another one of her sister’s episodes. Manic and increasingly out of touch with reality, Lexie has pushed Jax away for over a year. But the next day, Lexie is dead: drowned in the pool at their grandmother’s estate. When Jax arrives at the house to go through her sister’s things, she learns that Lexie was researching the history of their family and the property. And as she dives deeper into the research herself, she discovers that the land holds a far darker past than she could have ever imagined.

In 1929, thirty-seven-year-old newlywed Ethel Monroe hopes desperately for a baby. In an effort to distract her, her husband whisks her away on a trip to Vermont, where a natural spring is showcased by the newest and most modern hotel in the Northeast. Once there, Ethel learns that the water is rumored to grant wishes, never suspecting that the spring takes in equal measure to what it gives.

CONTENT WARNING: The topics this book discusses include mental illness, alcoholism, infertility, self-harm and drug use.

THE DROWNING KIND, by Jennifer McMahon, rotates timelines to explore the pool’s affects on those who make wishes.

I liked the overall plot. Jax is a character trying to leave behind her troubles with her sister who is mentally ill and her alcoholic father who is also mentally ill while building her career as a child therapist. Oh, the irony! When her sister drowns in their grandmother’s spring water pool, Jax is forced to confront her past, including jealousies and frustrations with family members and the town.

Meanwhile, or not meanwhile, but rather in the past, we read about the beginning of a long history of drownings that have taken place in the pool. We find out that the magical pool both giveth and taketh away.

The backstory about the pool and the hotel is intriguing and the present time is also intriguing. The “is it or isn’t it magical” pool mystery keeps you turning the pages.

Unfortunately, for me, the story fell flat in places. While there’s not usually a love interest element to mysteries, this one kept hinting at something blossoming only to have it go nowhere.

Jax broke away from her sister because their grandmother left Lexie her estate and pool instead of Jax. It seemed a bit unreasonable for someone to no longer talk to their close-knit sister over an inheritance that they had no control over.

However, I do love stories about anything with dark waters and the unknown of what’s in those waters (looking at you Jaws).

I rate THE DROWNING KIND three out of five stars.