Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Good as Dead by Susan Walter

Good as Dead
by Susan Walter
Published October 1, 2021 by Lake Union Publishing

It all starts with a promise from a stranger: We’ll take care of everything.

Holly Kendrick’s husband is dead. Holly saw it all. In one violent moment, a hit-and-run accident turns Holly’s life upside down. Then a fixer for the high-powered guilty party approaches Holly with an offer she is in no position to refuse. Holly and her daughter, Savannah, will want for nothing, beginning with a luxury dream house—all for the price of their silence. But when their sudden appearance in privileged Calabasas, California, piques the curiosity of neighbors, the price becomes greater than they imagined. Because Holly and Savannah aren’t the only ones in the neighborhood with something to hide.

Told from alternating points of view, Good as Dead draws together an unlikely group of people bound to one another by a crime, a cover-up, and compounding deceptions. As carefully constructed lives begin to crumble, how far will everyone be willing to go to bury the truth and protect the people they love?

5 Stars

What a twisted, twisted thriller Susan Walter has woven with Good as Dead. Written like a suburban drama, Good as Dead follows six people in the months following a terrible, fatal accident. There's Holly, the bereft widow, Savannah, her daughter, Evan, the fixer, Andy, Holly's new screenplay writer neighbor, Libby, his nosy wife, and finally Jack, the millionaire producer. Labeled a hit-and-run, Holly's husband passed before her eyes and the solution provided by Evan is more money than she's ever seen before, a beautiful home, and a safe neighborhood for her daughter. The quiet, snooty Calabasas street is meant to be her escape from the trauma, but with Evan lingering, perceptive neighbors, and a new boyfriend in Savannah's life, it's only a matter of time before someone's secrets start spilling.

I absolutely loved Good as Dead; I initially thought the format and multiple narrators would be difficult, but I found myself wading neck deep into this suburban thriller. Walters tells the story by alternating between flashbacks and present day perspectives, with each character taking us to where they were three months ago and the impacts the accident had in their life. It's the kind of story where an invisible thread connects everyone together and that thread is twisted and tangled and raveled up tight. It's an exploration into wealth, privilege, and happiness, or rather, the lack of and the ripple effects of trauma.

Impossible to put down, masterfully constructed, and totally clever, Good as Dead is an absolute hit from Susan Walter. It has all the pieces required to form an addictive thriller, weaving suspense, a crime, and secrets to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Wish You Were Here
Jodi Picoult
Published November 30, 2021 by Ballantine Books

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes a deeply moving novel about the resilience of the human spirit in a moment of crisis.

Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Gal├ípagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. The whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.

5 Stars

I never intended to read a novel set during the pandemic or with plot points related to the pandemic, but something about Wish You Were Here called to me. I just had to read it. The cover is gorgeous, the blurb captures the story's main plot perfectly, and well, it's Jodi Picoult, we all know she knows how to write. What really grabbed my attention though, was the idea of examining where life is at and how Picoult just felt she had to write this. Diana felt like someone I needed to know, her journey felt like something I needed to go on, so off I went and boy am I grateful I picked this up.

The pandemic marks a shift in everyone's life, whether it's an emotional shift, a career shift, or one of just general life examination. Diana thought she'd been through the worst, but the pandemic and her adventure to the Galapagos Islands makes her realize that the worst is yet to come and that only she owns her fate. I related to Diana so much; it's so easy to think that life is mapped out and that we're on the path to whatever we deem is the best thing for us, but it's not always really right. What we planned at twenty or felt pre-destined for may be due to outside influence or just are no longer right for you as you and your world change. Her examinations into her relationships, her family, her past, and her future felt just like the times I have gone through those same self examinations and I loved the reality of this novel. It may be a fiction, but Diana felt real and her journey to discover her true life path is just beautiful and epic.

Wish You Were Here is a gorgeous tale, one filled with sparkling water, a handsome tour guide, and a young girl that allows Diana to see just what really matters in her life. Of course, it isn't all beautiful and fun, the pandemic is jarring; Picoult captured those first few weeks of uncertainty so perfectly that I felt that same anxiety again as I realized doors really were closing around us. The pain of loss and of the unknown are explored so well in this novel, I could feel the isolation that Diana felt and my eyes dripped with tears when hers did. Even with the most difficult topics being covered, Wish You Were Here is the book that I'm so thankful I read to revisit the turmoil of 2020.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis

Eight Perfect Hours
by Lia Louis
Published September 28, 2021 by Atria/Emily Bestler Books

In this romantic and heartwarming novel, two strangers meet in chance circumstances during a blizzard and spend one perfect evening together, thinking they’ll never see each other again. But fate seems to have different plans.

On a snowy evening in March, 30-something Noelle Butterby is on her way back from an event at her old college when disaster strikes. With a blizzard closing off roads, she finds herself stranded, alone in her car, without food, drink, or a working charger for her phone. All seems lost until Sam Attwood, a handsome American stranger also trapped in a nearby car, knocks on her window and offers assistance. What follows is eight perfect hours together, until morning arrives and the roads finally clear.

The two strangers part, positive they’ll never see each other again, but fate, it seems, has a different plan. As the two keep serendipitously bumping into one another, they begin to realize that perhaps there truly is no such thing as coincidence. With plenty of charming twists and turns and Lia Louis’s “bold, standout voice” (Gillian McAllister, author of The Good Sister), Eight Perfect Hours is a gorgeously crafted novel that will make you believe in the power of fate.

4 Stars

Coincidence? Fate? Pre-destined? No matter what you call it, Noelle and Sam keep running into one another. Noelle is out in the bad weather to rescue her best friend's final letter and camera from their high school's time capsule. Her best friend, Daisy, was the dreamer, the believer, the doer and yet she's been gone for quite a while. Noelle knows the words and the pictures in the time capsule hold her future, but she doesn't yet know how true that is. Stranded with a dead phone, Noelle leans on stranger Sam and his warm car. What starts as time to charge her phone turns into eight perfect hours. Then, the highway opens and life moves on, except Sam keeps turning up and Noelle is starting to believe in fate.

Eight Perfect Hours is a feel good romance with a holiday themed cover. While the snow may be falling in the story, this one isn't centered around the holidays and that sort of feels nice. It's got all the makings, without being Christmas focused and honestly, I read those for the romance anyhow. It's the spirit that I like and Lia Louis captures it perfectly. Noelle is pragmatic, she cares for her mother and everything she does, except for this one trip, is connected to her mom and the care she gives. Eight hours stranded in a car after reading her best friend's final words seems the worst thing ever, but then there's Sam and there's a spark. I loved Noelle, she goes to great lengths for others, but we get to see her finally go after something for herself. Sam, meanwhile, is sort of this dream man for her that feels impossible, and yet he keeps showing up. They share stories, valuable honest words, and small bits of time. Their connection is immediate, but is treated as though it could never happen. Of course, it wouldn't be a romance novel if it was that easy!

Eight Perfect Hours is such a good book, it really has all the makings of a perfect romance. It isn't straight fluff, in fact there's some serious soul searching on the pages, and the romance isn't easy to get to, but it's worth it. Noelle and Sam come to life with Louis' writing and I could not stop reading this for anything, even desperately needed sleep. This is a cuddle up with a blanket, tune everything out and just read kind of novel.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Christmas Ever After by Jill Shalvis

Holiday Ever After: One Snowy Night/Holiday Wishes/Mistletoe in Paradise
by Jill Shalvis
Published October 26, 2021 by Avon

Three fan-favorite Jill Shalvis novellas are together for the first time in this holiday anthology!

One Snowy Night

It’s Christmas Eve and Rory Andrews is desperate to get home to her family. Problem is, her only ride to Lake Tahoe comes in the form of the annoyingly handsome Max Stranton, her long-time crush, and his big, goofy, lovable dog. A long road trip in a massive blizzard might be just what they need to face their past…and one steamy, snowy night is all it takes to bring Max and Rory together at last.

Holiday Wishes

When Sean O’Riley shows up for his older brother’s bachelor weekend, the last person he expects to see is Lotti Hartford, the woman he lost his virginity to a decade ago. As the weekend continues, Sean realizes he wants to leave his hook-up life behind, but can he convince Lotti to open her heart to him again?

Mistletoe in Paradise

Years after their secret fling ended, Hannah isn’t eager to see James during their families’ annual joint holiday-themed yacht adventure. But when they’re the only people who show up, James and Hannah are stuck together on the high seas for days. As the former lovers try to make the best of the Christmas snafu, they soon realize the best things in life can’t be planned, and sometimes love is sweeter the second time around. 

Add to Goodreads | Amazon

5 Stars

Three short, sweet, emotional stories that can, surprisingly, be read as standalones or after visiting Jill Shalvis' Heartbreak Bay and Wildstone series. They're quite quick reads, the romances move quick, but if you're a fan of second chance love you'll love the quick gratification you get from these. Plus, they're all based around the Christmas season, even the sunny island romance has holiday warmth.

“One Snowy Night” by Jill Shalvis is book # 2.5 in the Heartbreaker series and features Max and Rory. These two have a past, but not quite a warm and fuzzy one. With a ton of history between them and a snowstorm keeping them from their respective family homes, the two finally address the elephant in the truck. This novella is emotionally intense and has just the right amount of smut. It's a happily ever after that feels good, but certainly makes you want to read the other novels in the series.

"Holiday Wishes" by Jill Shalvis is book #4.5 in the Heartbreaker Bay series featuring Sean and Lotti. These two are old flames, separated by distance in their youth and running into one another on what should be a weekend bachelor/bachelorette weekend. Only, like only Northern California can, it dumps insane weather on them and shuts the world around them down. Keeping Sean's brother from his wedding plans, Sean enlists Lotti to make his rustic, Christmas dreams come true and in the process, Sean makes Lotti's vacation dreams come true. This one is lust-filled, silly, and entirely cute. I really enjoyed this one the most, I could've read a full length novel of these two.

"Mistletoe In Paradise" by Jill Shavlis is book #5.5 in the Wildstone series and features longtime family friends Hannah and James. They haven't seen one another since a secret, fated fling and the loss of James' brother. This, potentially last, Christmas charter only makes Hannah think negatively, but her dad has other plans and plays matchmaker with Hannah and James. This one is very fast, but it's warm and fuzzy and made me want to read the Wildstone series. I'm sure longtime Wildstone fans will like the couples' refreshed connection.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Blog Tour: Fan Club by Erin Mayer

Fan Club : A Novel
Erin Mayer
On Sale Date: October 26, 2021
Trade Paperback
$16.99 USD
320 pages

In this raucous psychological thriller, a disillusioned millennial joins a cliquey fan club, only to discover that the group is bound together by something darker than devotion.

Day after day our narrator searches for meaning beyond her vacuous job at a women's lifestyle website - entering text into a computer system while she watches their beauty editor unwrap box after box of perfectly packaged bits of happiness. Then, one night at a dive bar, she hears a message in the newest single by international pop-star Adriana Argento, and she is struck. Soon she loses herself to the online fandom, a community whose members feverishly track Adriana's every move.

When a colleague notices her obsession, she’s invited to join an enigmatic group of adult Adriana superfans who call themselves the Ivies and worship her music in witchy, candlelit listening parties. As the narrator becomes more entrenched in the group, she gets closer to uncovering the sinister secrets that bind them together - while simultaneously losing her grip on reality.

With caustic wit and hypnotic writing, this unsparingly critical thrill ride through millennial life examines all that is wrong in our celebrity-obsessed internet age and how easy it is to lose yourself in it.

4 Stars

Oof, do I have thoughts about this book! 

A millennial editor with little hopes to ever meet her dreams, not that she has any, discovers the world of celebrity obsession when she hears the magical voice of one Adriana Argento. Our nameless, faceless narrator is anything, but the usual insta-filtered women you might think of. She's stuck in a nowhere job, she lives in a dream world of pretending it might be better while doing nothing, at least until Adriana. A love of music turns into something as important as air, what starts as just a scrolling of feeds and listening to interviews turns into The Ivies. The mean girls, the new Heathers, the women who accept her adult-age and love of the bubblegum pop princess. The Ivies aren't just a fan club though, they are something more, something much more.

With unexpected intensity and tabloid-esque fervor, Erin Mayer takes readers onto a journey into celebrity obsession. Fan Club reads like the cacophonous sounds of a night club at 1 AM; blurry with alcohol, messy with streaked eyeliner, and lusty like the kisses of strangers. It's an all-consuming read, it's accurate and creepy and the kind of thriller, with a tinge of cult-like love, that just cannot be predicted. I loved the deep dive into millennial fandoms, the desire to be loved and to love in return. I liked that our narrator wasn't this dream of success kind of girl, that she was struggling and trying to hang on, all while slipping into this dreamy world made up of Adriana music and pink clouds. I can relate to Mayer's critical view of flawed women making poor choices in an attempt to fit in anywhere.

With lengthy descriptions, thoughts that border on hallucinations, and inserted chapters from the perspective of Adriana herself, Fan Club borders on too much. I'd be lying if I said that didn't work for me, it takes you down a road just as twisted as the yellow bricks Dorothy walked, but I can see how it also won't work for everyone. It's a thriller that is a little bit adult fiction and a little bit literary fiction. Mayer uses words that your average reader won't know, see the use of cacophonous above. I loved that though, this was my cup of tea, however I did not love that Adriana is a spitting image of Ariana Grande. I am a fangirl of hers, she does no wrong, but it cheapened the experience of Fan Club. It's impossible not to picture her, despite the constant references to Adriana's bleached blonde hair, and in turn it makes all those around Adriana blend in with those in Ariana's past and present. I could have done with a unique singer, a mish mash of several personalities and styles, but alas, Ariana or rather, Adriana, is who we get and I ended up just listening to her music the entire time I read.

What starts as a slow, day-to-day subway ride to a boring job turns into a fever dream, a truly disturbing set of events that somehow are both believable and unbelievable all at once. On any given page you will ask yourself is this real or is our narrator losing it? It is somehow both and it is addictive like sugar. I recommend this one, I think it's the kind of book you'll love or you'll hate and I love a good polarizing read.


Erin Mayer is a freelance writer and editor based in Maine. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Man Repeller, Literary Hub, and others. She was previously an associate fashion and beauty editor at

Website | Twitter | Instagram

© Carlene Inspired. Made with love by The Dutch Lady Designs.