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keeping university tenure and the cold, hard truth that a lot of English professors are … not valued because they are unpublished.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.

The Sanatorium

I picture The Sanatorium setting to look like the Viceroy Snowmass resort, left, located in Snowmass Village, Colorado; The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse, is set in a French snow resort hotel which used to be a hospital that performed experimental treatments on patients.

Beach reads are my favorite. There is nothing like reading a book set at a beach making you wish you were there. So before we all start our sunny beach vacations (perhaps only in our heads, insert smiley face) take one last reading journey into an icy, snow-capped hotel, formerly known as a … sanatorium. That’s correct – a hotel built around the theme of a place for experimental treatments, illness and murder.

Of all the settings for a mystery, author Sarah Pearse has come up with one of the most interesting. Even the hotel decor is laden with hanging medical supplies. Sounds creepy and scary. Why would anyone check into this place? What happens if they never check out?

You won’t want to leave. . . until you can’t.

Half-hidden by forest and overshadowed by threatening peaks, Le Sommet has always been a sinister place. Long plagued by troubling rumors, the former abandoned sanatorium has since been renovated into a five-star minimalist hotel.

An imposing, isolated getaway spot high up in the Swiss Alps is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But Elin’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when her estranged brother, Isaac, and his fiancée, Laure, invite her to celebrate their engagement at the hotel, Elin really has no reason not to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge–there’s something about the hotel that makes her nervous. And when they wake the following morning to discover Laure is missing, Elin must trust her instincts if they hope to find her. With the storm closing off all access to the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

Elin is under pressure to find Laure, but no one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they are all in.

Picked as a Reese Witherspoon Book Club treasure, this story may not be for everyone. However, I liked it. I thought the setting was amazing, the descriptions of the hotel rooms, sanatorium, swimming pool area, the avalanche threats and the freezing, dark perimeter kept you looking over your own shoulder to make sure a rando with a gas mask isn’t behind you.

Yes, the villain walks around with an old fashioned gas mask. Think Darth Vader: the experimental years.

Elin is suffering from a terrible case of imposter syndrome when she is, in fact, a good detective. We find out how she overcomes her doubts as an investigator as she tries to solve the disappearances of hotel guests, including her childhood friend.

A Reese’s Book Club pick, The Sanatorium delves into the mysterious ins and outs of an old hospital turned hotel.

The only downside I found about the story is we needed a closer look at Elin’s relationship with her childhood friend that turned sour. There were also times when certain characters were hidden in the background making them seem like red herrings and were left unexplained – then again, maybe that was the point.

While the mystery itself may not be original, the setting was unique and kept me reading to find out whodunit. Enjoy one last shivering snow mystery before settling into the brutal, hot summer. The good news is there are LOADS of exciting mysteries and thrillers coming out soon.

I rate THE SANATORIUM four out of five stars.

The Girls Are All So Nice Here

THE GIRLS ARE ALL SO NICE HERE is the debut Adult novel by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn. She has written several award-winning Young Adult novels.

A lot of people think of their high school years as the best time in their life. For me, a couple of my college years were the best of my life. I am quite old now, late 40s, but that time during college… it was so fun, so exhausting and I had a fantastic nest of friends.

They weren’t all classmates, but I had a hilarious group of “work” friends who were various ages. We all worked at a local retail warehouse, hence the exhausting part, and sometimes I wish I could transport myself right back to that group of people during the age of Seinfeld, Mariah Carey – before her ego became too big – and dinner get-togethers in my duplex.

However, today I am a complete SUCKER for stories involving how dark, tragic events during college years affect the life path the characters take – both good and bad.

In THE GIRLS ARE ALL SO NICE HERE, the debut Adult novel by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, we have a character who has done a pretty good job of leaving behind her college days where a tragic event happened that she may or may not have been involved in. Ten years later, she’s in a loveless marriage (from her point-of-view) and is being summoned to a college reunion with all of her frenemies who know the secrets she’s hidden from her husband.

A lot has changed in the years since Ambrosia Wellington graduated from college, and she’s worked hard to create a new life for herself. But then an invitation to her ten-year reunion arrives in the mail, along with an anonymous note that reads “We need to talk about what we did that night.”

It seems that the secrets of Ambrosia’s past—and the people she thought she’d left there—aren’t as buried as she’d believed. Amb can’t stop fixating on what she did or who she did it with: larger-than-life Sloane “Sully” Sullivan, Amb’s former best friend, who could make anyone do anything.

At the reunion, Amb and Sully receive increasingly menacing messages, and it becomes clear that they’re being pursued by someone who wants more than just the truth of what happened that first semester. This person wants revenge for what they did and the damage they caused—the extent of which Amb is only now fully understanding. And it was all because of the game they played to get a boy who belonged to someone else, and the girl who paid the price.

Alternating between the reunion and Amb’s freshman year, The Girls Are All So Nice Here is a shocking novel about the brutal lengths girls can go to get what they think they’re owed, and what happens when the games we play in college become matters of life and death.

CONTENT WARNING: The topics this book discusses are bullying, the shaming of women’s sexual activities, rape, drug use, abortion and suicide.

The literary critical magazine Kirkus best described the book as, “A sharp, pitch-black thriller that takes the mean-girls trope to another level.”

Sharp is definitely how I would describe THE GIRLS ARE ALL SO NICE HERE. Sharp: as in prickly and be super careful while being around certain people.

Running from her college years is no longer an option for Ambrosia Wellington. She is forced to attend her 10-year reunion where she must solve a mystery that occurred during her first semester.

Amb is not the quintessential likeable character. She’s not quite as unlikeable as Amy Dunne from Gone Girl, but she’s someone who doesn’t want to make much of an effort to solve the things that she is running from until forced to. She wasn’t a classmate people especially wanted to be friends with and actually became a campus pariah as the years went on.

I thought the mystery itself was interesting in that Amb was forced to solve the damn mystery herself in order to move on with her life. There needed to be a bit more character development of Amb such as information about her career and instances of things she actually cared about. Something other than just the focus on aspects of her marriage.

THE GIRLS ARE ALL SO NICE HERE is perfect for readers who want a mystery that will have them stepping back in time in remembrance of their own college years with the knowledge they no longer have to deal with past frenemies.

I rate THE GIRLS ARE ALL SO NICE HERE three out of five stars.

People Like Her

PEOPLE LIKE HER takes a fictional look at the dark side of being an Instafamous mommy influencer.

What a great tagline this book has: “Followed by Millions, Watched by One” – it perfectly sums up the plot, yet encapsulates our obsession with social media.

In this debut from wife/husband duo, Ellery Lloyd (also a great author pen name), PEOPLE LIKE HER explores the pros and cons of being Instagram famous. The plot deals with the murky, dangerous side of being well-known in the influencer world.

To her adoring fans, Emmy Jackson, aka @the_mamabare, is the honest “Instamum” who always tells it like it is. 

To her skeptical husband, a washed-up novelist who knows just how creative Emmy can be with the truth, she is a breadwinning powerhouse chillingly brilliant at monetizing the intimate details of their family life.

To one of Emmy’s dangerously obsessive followers, she’s the woman that has everything—but deserves none of it.  

As Emmy’s marriage begins to crack under the strain of her growing success and her moral compass veers wildly off course, the more vulnerable she becomes to a very real danger circling ever closer to her family.

In this deeply addictive tale of psychological suspense, Ellery Lloyd raises important questions about technology, social media celebrity, and the way we live today. Probing the dark side of influencer culture and the perils of parenting online, People Like Her explores our desperate need to be seen and the lengths we’ll go to be liked by strangers. It asks what—and who—we sacrifice when make our private lives public, and ultimately lose control of who we let in. . . .

I have a love/hate relationship with Social Media. There are a lot of good things about it: meeting new people (Hello, Bookstagram community!), learning more about your hobbies, being introduced to things you never knew existed. The bad things include FOMO, comparing yourself to others, finding you may not be the special snowflake you thought you were, the sadz feelings of not keeping up with the Joneses, etc…

And then there are the psychos, trolls and stalkers. The book discusses what happens when Emmy’s followers take her seriously. So seriously in that she’s blamed for the horrible events that happened to followers listening to her advice.

PEOPLE LIKE HER also takes a deep look into the fake façade influencers show. Emmy herself admits to being the opposite of the mom she portrays on Instagram. She’s not perfect, she’s very flawed and she knows this. Yet, she becomes addicted to the power, and money, that being a successful mom influencer can bring.

Wife/Husband author duo, Ellery Lloyd, aka, Collette Lyons, who worked as a journalist and editorial content director, and novelist Paul Vlitos, wrote PEOPLE LIKE HER – the novel unravels the frightening aspects of being Instagram famous.

The book takes a path that, at times, becomes unbelievable. However, this is a popcorn thriller in that you’ll want to read to the end because you must find out what happens to this family, YET it’s not a story you would nominate for Book of the Year.

After you spend a couple of hours reading your favorite Mommy Blogger and question whether you will ruin your kids’ lives because you haven’t been feeding them organic bananas, relax on the sofa, read PEOPLE LIKE HER and realize you are actually the best mommy in the world.

I rate PEOPLE LIKE HER four out of five stars.

Just a housekeeping note: For books I read on e-readers, I’ll try to liven up the cover photos. This is something I’ll hopefully get better at as time goes on. Also, reviews of books I have access to the jacket flaps, I’ll post the description directly from the flap. For e-reader books, I’ll post the Goodreads description. Also, I’m still working on the blog menu tabs, as some are still not working correctly. (insert emoji grrrr face here)

Shiver

SHIVER reunites a group of pro snowboarders who find themselves abandoned at a French Alp ski resort.

British-born author Allie Reynolds used her knowledge of being a pro-snowboarder for her locked-room (ski resort) mystery. This book is an homage to the snow (of course!), competitiveness, the dangers of Mother Nature and old crushes.

When Milla accepts an off-season invitation to Le Rocher, one of France’s most exclusive ski resorts, she’s expecting an intimate weekend of catching up with four old friends. It might have been a decade since she saw them last, but she’s never forgotten the bond they forged on this very mountain during a winter spent fiercely training for an elite snowboarding competition.

Yet the moment Milla and the others arrive for the reunion, they can tell something is wrong. The resort is deserted. The cable cars that delivered them to the mountaintop have stopped working. Their cell phones: missing. And inside their ski lodge, an icebreaker game awaits, designed to draw out their secrets. A game meant to remind them of Saskia, the enigmatic sixth member of their group who vanished the morning of the competition years before and has long been presumed dead.

Stranded in the lodge, with a looming snowstorm making escape even more impossible, Milla realizes there’s no one on the mountain she can trust. Because someone will stop at nothing to find out the truth about Saskia. And if Milla’s not careful, she could be the next to disappear.

I’ve only been skiing once and it was a disaster, to say the least. However, I’m drawn to stories with snow, the coldness and being stranded with people you know (and despise). For a locked-room mystery, this setting is unique. Combine that with the whole snowboarding aspect, which I admittedly know nothing about, it makes for a different type of whodunit.

Author Allie Reynolds used her past experience as a pro snowboarder to describe the thrills and danger that comes along with jumping into the sky for competitions.

Allie uses snowboarding jargon in describing all of the dangerous twists, turns and leaps the characters endured during their competitive years. She also details the longing and want Milla has driving her to keep trying to beat Saskia … even when she shouldn’t.

We learn about her relationship with Saskia, who is the ultimate Frenemy. Yet, Milla is no innocent bystander. She fights back just as hard as Saskia gives.

The side love-interest story was another locked-room mystery trope we don’t see often. Milla’s crush of years ago is standing right in front of her again and this time, too much is on the line for her to walk away without investigating what’s there between her and … Ahhhh, I can’t tell you which guy he is! You have to read it for yourself.

Although it’s now warm April showers for a lot of us, grab yourself a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and settle in on a Friday night with a warm blanket and SHIVER.

I rate SHIVER four out of five stars.