My Brother’s Spare

Debut author, Shira Behore, introduces readers to Valeria Anson, the daughter of a kingdom’s head of law enforcement, who desperately wants to solve her mother’s murder.

Thank you to NetGalley and Long Island Press for an e-book copy of MY BROTHER’S SPARE to review. I’m not the biggest fan of Historical Fiction. I’m a huge mystery reader, but I shy away from historical fiction sometimes because the stories can be hard to follow, or the language doesn’t have an easy flow to it.

I didn’t find that to be the case with MY BROTHER’S SPARE. Author Shira Behore takes us back in time to the 19th Century long before cell phones and DNA evidence were used to solve murders.

Valeria Anson’s father is the Chief of the Kingdom’s Imperial Force, aka, the head of law enforcement. Valeria and her twin brother, Victor, witness their mother’s murder when they were children. The evening has haunted Valeria for years. Determined to find her mother’s killer, Valeria finds herself questioning her past, becoming an amateur sleuth unbeknownst to her father and gains a partner in the kingdom’s serial killer.

At the heart of the whodunit is Valeria’s loyalty to her father and brother, all the while taking her spot as the quiet daughter who should be happy her father has not sent her off in an arranged marriage.

The serial killer, Alias Black, becomes a trusted ally, even though, you know, he kills people. The two have a slow burn of a romance. The morally grey area of the characters, for me, made the book.

I’m hoping MY BROTHER’S SPARE is the beginning of a new mystery series.

This Nieve kingdom is as dangerous as Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, but I feel like it could be a treasure trove of mysteries waiting to be solved.

I rate MY BROTHER’S SPARE four 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.

The Storytellers

I’m so behind on posts and reviews! My apologies! Along with reading mysteries and thrillers, I’ve also been writing my own mysteries for about eight years now. I’ve actually given myself a plot twist by attempting to write a romance novel. I’m thinking about providing a tab on the blog regarding writing.

This book came at the PERFECT time for me. I’m always looking for inspiration to keep writing and The Storytellers did just that. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for providing me a copy.

Have you ever read a suspense novel so good you had to stop and think to yourself, “How did the author come up with this idea? Their characters? Is some of this story real?” For over five years, Mark Rubinstein, physician, psychiatrist, and mystery and thriller writer, had the chance to ask the most well-known authors in the field just these kinds of questions in interviews for the Huffington Post.

Collected here are interviews with forty-seven accomplished authors, including Michael Connelly, Ken Follett, C. J. Box, Lee Child, Meg Gardiner, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, and Don Winslow. These are their personal stories in their own words, much of the material never before published. How do these writers’ life experiences color their art? Find out their thoughts, their inspirations, their candid opinions. Learn more about your favorite authors, how they work and who they truly are.

First off, I’ve read several of the featured authors works so I found the book incredibly interesting. Each chapter features an interview between Mark Rubinstein and interviews he’s had, mostly between 2016-2018, with the authors.

He asks the questions you would expect and then delves into the real grit of each author. What’s their writing process like? How many books do they write a year and exactly HOW do they make that happen? Mark also personalized the questions with the author’s past and how certain events shaped their plots and determination to be published.

THE STORYTELLERS, edited by Mark Rubinstein, features interviews from best-selling Mystery and Thriller authors including Sue Grafton, Laura Lippman, Stuart Woods and Lee Child.

I learned a lot about each author such as Laura Lippman’s tumultuous final year at The Baltimore Sun and Stuart Woods generally writes multiple books in ONE year.

Allow me to add that my beloved Sue Grafton is one of the authors featured in THE STORYTELLERS. Sue, author of the Kinsey Millhone series, also known as the alphabet series, died in 2017. Sue is one of my absolute favorite mystery authors and a big inspiration for my own writing.

I enjoyed how each mystery/thriller writer waxed on about how they believe we are all capable of doing bad things, but that we’ve got a moral compass to guide us. And as Dennis Lehane said, “The vast majority of what we call morality is simply fear of being caught.” He is sadly correct!

I received this copy as an e-book. I found the question and answer format a bit on the slow-reading side. However, I think if I had the novel in an actual book, I’d have read it faster.

I rate THE STORYTELLERS 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 Butcher

THE BUTCHER, by Jennifer Hillier, is an intense story about a trio of people who are entwined with the city’s local serial killer.

Author Jennifer Hillier seems to have a high-key interest in serial killers. And that’s not a bad thing. Several of her books focus on murders committed by serial killers. I dug into the old book vault to the year 2014 to retrieve Hillier’s THE BUTCHER.

I’ll just start right off with a content warning: gruesome murders, suicide, incest, rape and abusive relationships are all at play in this story. However, there is a good story once you sort through all the terrifying aspects.

A rash of grisly serial murders plagued Seattle until the infamous “Beacon Hill Butcher” was finally hunted down and killed by police chief Edward Shank in 1985. Now, some thirty years later, Shank, retired and widowed, is giving up his large rambling Victorian house to his grandson Matt, whom he helped raise.

Settling back into his childhood home and doing some renovations in the backyard to make the house feel like his own, Matt, a young up-and-coming chef and restaurateur, stumbles upon a locked crate he’s never seen before. Curious, he picks the padlock and makes a discovery so gruesome it will forever haunt him… Faced with this deep dark family secret, Matt must decide whether to keep what he knows buried in the past, go to the police, or take matters into his own hands.

Meanwhile Matt’s girlfriend, Sam, has always suspected that her mother was murdered by the Beacon Hill Butcher—two years after the supposed Butcher was gunned down. As she pursues leads that will prove her right, Sam heads right into the path of Matt’s terrible secret.

I’ll be honest – there aren’t a lot of likeable characters in THE BUTCHER. Even Sam, the heroine, has a lot of faults, particularly that she doesn’t love her boyfriend so why does she put up with a lot of BS that she could have ended a long time ago? Why, girl? 

A woman believes her mother was murdered by THE BUTCHER when she was a toddler even though the evidence says otherwise.

However, this somewhat police-procedural has Sam digging to find out if her mother was killed by THE BUTCHER all the while suspecting he’s not dead. Matt is an absolute douche of a boyfriend, but he has demons to deal with, including his grandfather, the retired, famous police chief.

THE BUTCHER was certainly a page-turner and I did enjoy the viewpoint of the serial killer – no spoilers! – we get a glimpse into what his thoughts are as to why he killed people for years.

I’ve read Hillier’s Jar of Hearts (about a case involving a serial killer) and Little Secrets (about a child abduction, yikes!) and I enjoyed THE BUTCHER almost as much as those two. My library recently purchased Wonderland (a police procedural set in a circus) so I’ll review that one as soon as I’m finished reading it.

I rate THE BUTCHER 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.