Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Family Game by Catherine Steadman

The Family Game 
by Catherine Steadman
Published October 18, 2022 by Ballantine Books

A rich, eccentric family. A time-honored tradition. Or a lethal game of survival? One woman finds out what it really takes to join the 1% in this riveting psychological thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Something in the Water, Mr. Nobody, and The Disappearing Act.

Harry is a novelist on the brink of stardom; Edward, her husband-to-be, is seemingly perfect. In love and freshly engaged, their bliss is interrupted by the reemergence of the Holbecks, Edward's eminent family and the embodiment of American old money. For years, they've dominated headlines and pulled society's strings, and Edward left them all behind to forge his own path. But there are eyes and ears everywhere. It was only a matter of time before they were pulled back in . . .

After all, even though he's long severed ties with his family, Edward is set to inherit it all. Harriet is drawn to the glamour and sophistication of the Holbecks, who seem to welcome her with open arms, but everything changes when she meets Robert, the inescapably magnetic head of the family. At their first meeting, Robert slips Harry a cassette tape, revealing a shocking confession which sets the inevitable game in motion.

What is it about Harry that made him give her that tape? A thing that has the power to destroy everything? As she ramps up her quest for the truth, she must endure the Holbecks' savage Christmas traditions all the while knowing that losing this game could be deadly.

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4 Stars

Horrifying, absurd, and an absolute good time. The Family Game is Catherine Steadman's fictional take on rich in-laws and the games they play. We've all heard of the in-laws who don't welcome in new partners very easily and believe in good family names, but the Holbecks take it a step further. They seem to love their son and brother, Edward's, new fiancee, Harry, but lurking behind their closed doors are a series of tests. Presented as games, Harry must use her thriller writing skills and adept survival techniques to survive the Holbeck's games that teeter on the edge of life or death.

You've got to suspend your reality a bit, but once you do, The Family Game is a darn good, addictive read. It feels wordy at first, with full descriptions that don't seem to jive with the story at first, but after completing the read I feel like Steadman was giving us time to breathe before the novel took off at lightspeed. With complex characters, a well-developed plot, and twists you cannot possibly see coming, The Family Game is an over-the-top fictional thriller that is impossible to put down. Steadman pulled out all the stops for this novel, capturing all your usual character tropes and plot points that drive a thriller, while blending in a horror storyline that seeps in slowly and then takes over. Unpredictable and as wild as a circus, The Family Game took me by surprise and is totally worth the read.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Quarry Girls by Jess Lourey

The Quarry Girls
by Jess Lourey
Expected publication: November 1st 2022 by Thomas & Mercer

Minnesota, 1977. For the teens of one close-knit community, summer means late-night swimming parties at the quarry, the county fair, and venturing into the tunnels beneath the city. But for two best friends, it’s not all fun and games.

Heather and Brenda have a secret. Something they saw in the dark. Something they can’t forget. They’ve decided to never tell a soul. But their vow is tested when their friend disappears—the second girl to vanish in a week. And yet the authorities are reluctant to investigate.

Heather is terrified that the missing girls are connected to what she and Brenda stumbled upon that night. Desperately searching for answers on her own, she learns that no one in her community is who they seem to be. Not the police, not the boys she met at the quarry, not even her parents. But she can’t stop digging because she knows those girls are in danger.

She also knows she’s next.

5 Stars

I stayed up for too late reading one night, unable to stop turning the pages as I sought out a "happy scene" to close the book at. It didn't happen, I read all night and dreamed of tunnels holding terrifying secrets well into the morning. The Quarry Girls isn’t a scary read per se, but it’s a thriller tinged with reality and the creepiness of it seeps into your bones in a different way than a fictional scare. Jess Lourey gives readers a glimpse into the town and the fears she and many others faced growing up. Corrupt police, serial killers on the loose, missing women, and young teens on the cusp of adulthood trying to do anything to seem older.

Elizabeth McCain, known as Beth to her friends, has gone missing from the local diner in St. Cloud Minnesota. Has she run away, has she gone missing, or has the serial killer they've tracked to town got her? With the cops keeping things quiet, Heather and her friends continue to live as normal, with her friends embracing the new, older man in town with his offers of fame and attention and the tunnels continued to be seen as a safe space to roam. One night though, things go awry and Heather and her friend Brenda see something they shouldn't have. Heather realizes her friends are growing up and the terrors that wait adult women are coming for all of them. The girls of Pantown should be afraid, but as Heather tries to investigate on her own she finds herself questioning if there is a single man she can even trust.

The girls of St. Cloud, Minnesota are being forced to grow up and the Pantown tunnels and quarries are being used by dark men to hide their truths. Heather is sweet resilience, her naivety believes in people, while Beth is hard resilience, forged in stone and desperation. The two perspectives are jarring to switch between, it gives you a sense of foreboding, that there’s just no way the town won’t do the same to Heather. Heather sees the writing on the wall, the what's to come, but she's doing all she can to keep herself, her friends, and her younger sister from becoming the girl who is next. She cannot escape the truth though, not as her mom and her best friend's mom begin to reveal the past that has shaped them into the pliable women they are today. The older men keep secrets, the younger men keep secrets, and the girls are left following string into the dark, wet quarries.

Atmospheric, terrifying, and so well written, The Quarry Girls is another stunning release from Jess Lourey.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen

Other Birds
by Sarah Addison Allen
Published  August 30th 2022 by St. Martin's Press

An enchanting tale filled with magical realism and moments of pure love that won’t let you go.

Between the real and the imaginary, there are stories that take flight in the most extraordinary ways.

Right off the coast of South Carolina, on Mallow Island, The Dellawisp sits—a stunning old cobblestone building shaped like a horseshoe, and named after the tiny turquoise birds who, alongside its human tenants, inhabit an air of magical secrecy.

When Zoey comes to claim her deceased mother’s apartment at the Dellawisp she meets her quirky and secretive neighbors, including a young woman with a past, two estranged middle-aged sisters, and a lonely chef, and three ghosts. The sudden death of one of Zoey's new neighbors sets off a search that leads to the island's famous author and to a long-estranged relative of the sisters.

Each of them has a story, and each story has an ending which hasn't yet been written.

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5 Stars

Oh my sentimental little heart was going to love this book no matter what was in the pages, but wow I did not expect this beautiful, unconventional story. I love Sarah Addison Allen, I've been reading her books with my family since I was in high school, with my grandma giving me my first one, and then continuing to facilitate my love of her by sharing her books with my aunt and my cousins. We all love her books, they feel like home, especially with their lush locations and the realistic magic. The peaches that grow, the love that blooms, and in the case of Other Birds, the birds that carry the past in them. I literally tear up thinking about how much this book meant to me, especially with my Grandma now passed and my own unconventional family.

Unrelated to my own personal ties, Other Birds is a stunning release from Sarah Addison Allen, one that I have long awaited and one that is distinctly different than her previous releases. While we've read the love stories and the magic of that love, Other Birds follows the outcasts, the left behinds, the runners. It's not so much about the unloved, but rather, those who have yet to learn how to love and be themselves, who don't know how to accept that loneliness is part of life. It's a magical, woven story with unique characters, with equally unique journeys, who are all at the same place at the same time and there's a reason for it. The Dellawisp is unassuming, it's residents even more so, but the birds that live in its trees hold their stories and when Zoey arrives to take over her mother's condo, it's time for the birds to let those stories be told.

Other Birds feels like a story about the people who feel like misfits, but who truly fit in just as they are, it's a matter of them discovering those qualities in themselves are the very best parts of them. It's their unique stories, from wilting to blossoming, that make them special and it takes others who know that same experience to appreciate it. It's the small parts of their stories that are all connected, that truly is magical, even more so than the birds that keep causing messes. It's beautifully written, each character's voice is distinct, and it's the kind of story I don't think one can ever forget. It's a book I know I'll return it and I think others will too.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Coffee with Carlene: Hello from Canada!

Well, hello friends! It's been a long time, but I haven't stopped reading or bookstagramming, just had to take a little blogging break. I hope you've all been following along with me over at @carleneinspired, but if you haven't been here's the short of what you've missed: I received an offer to relocate to northwest Canada and after a visit with my partner, CeCe, we accepted. I go home to California once a month, but otherwise I'm making Canada home. I share the entire journey in stories on Instagram, where I admittedly have fallen behind on reading and reviewing!

Giovanni, Carlene, Christine, and Ghost
The move to Canada proved hard on my reading, even harder on my hobbies, and I've had to learn a
new way of being. It's been about 6 months now since I finally relocated and only 5 since I found a semi-furnished house to rent. It's still missing things, I might be the only tenant who wouldn't complain endlessly about not having a dining table, but it works for just me. Luckily, me being here alone is only a just for now arrangement and hopefully this time next year we'll be sorting out Christine's relocation, transferring the dogs up here, and selling our home in California. I'd be lying if I said taking our relationship long distance was easy, but we've learned in the last several months that we are happy when we just stay connected in little ways, sometimes even just listening to one another complete chores at home on the phone is enough. While I used to spend evenings after work reading for an hour, then making dinner and watching shows with Christine for a couple hours before bed (and more reading), now we get on the phone at the end of our workday and talk for a bit, either while watching a show together or playing a video game. We've not given up on that time together, it's just done a bit differently now, and in exchange I try to save reading for times when we aren't on the phone.

Settling in here was hard; I don't have my things or my books, I don't have the amount of friends I used to, and I don't have access to all the things I am used to. Somedays have been depressing, others have been downright sad, but as I get accustomed to small town, remote living and a lot of rain, hello Canadian's Pacific Northwest, I am finding that books have once again become my favorite way to relax and escape. I used to dream about a warm blanket and listening to the rain while I read, now that is truly my everyday. As I get back to my reading I want to get back to my blogging and interacting with all of my book friends, besides, I'm sure there's plenty of voracious readers like me in Canada and what better way to find them?

While I get back into the swing of things here, I'd love to know if you want me to share more than just books, or if reviews are still what you're interested in seeing. I haven't formed any new Canadian based relationships with Publishers yet, but as long as I can maintain my double residences I will still bring you books from American based Publishers. It'll be a journey, one I'll bring you along for.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

An Honest Lie by Tarryn Fisher

An Honest Lie
by Tarryn Fisher
Published April 26th 2022 by Graydon House

“I’m going to kill her. You’d better come if you want to save her.”

Lorraine—“Rainy”—lives at the top of Tiger Mountain. Remote, moody, cloistered in pine trees and fog, it’s a sanctuary, a new life. She can hide from the disturbing past she wants to forget.


If she’s allowed to.

When Rainy reluctantly agrees to a girls’ weekend in Vegas, she’s prepared for an exhausting parade of shots and slot machines. But after a wild night, her friend Braithe doesn’t come back to the hotel room.

And then Rainy gets the text message, sent from Braithe’s phone: someone has her. But Rainy is who they really want, and Rainy knows why.

What follows is a twisted, shocking journey on the knife-edge of life and death. If she wants to save Braithe—and herself—the only way is to step back into the past.

This seething, gut-punch of a thriller can only have sprung from the fiendish brain of Tarryn Fisher, one of the most cunning writers of our time.

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5 Stars

Oh Tarryn, thank you so much for finally giving us the cult read we've been begging for. You know, now I'm just going to want more, because there are not enough cult fiction reads out there for me, especially those that capture the truth about cults. That's right, An Honest Lie follows a woman who was once in a cult, a woman who made a brave escape in her youth, but lives her life in fear of the repercussions of leaving. Of course, that's not what her new life is about, at least it wasn't until a fated trip to Las Vegas.

Rainy, an artist by trade, has recently moved to the mountains of Washington for her boyfriend, Grant, exchanging the blur of Manhattan for the quiet life. She wants to give him everything, so she goes along with making friends with the wives' of his friends, even accepting a trip to Las Vegas, a place she never wanted to go back to. The trip, though laced with jealous feelings and the one-upping nature of women, feels almost normal. There's clubs, shots, dancing, and pool time. She feels closer to Braithe, she thinks she might have a break through with Tara, and the other girls begin to show their true personality. There's drunken behavior and bonding moments. There's also a tension there underneath the surface, one that Rainy believes is connected to her past, but it isn't until she receives a text from Braithe's phone that she knows her past has come for her. What follows isn't the Las Vegas trip she planned for, but the terrifying escape from her past that she has spent avoiding.

I love a good feminist thriller and this one has all the makings of one. The girls are naturally catty, I love that Tarryn doesn't lie about the nature of women in a time where we form these opinions so young, she lets the women be, it is their strength when the time comes. There's no faking that friendships are perfect, that there isn't always an undertone of competition and fear laced in it. That the insecurity isn't there. It just so happens that Rainy's insecurity is much larger than anyone else's and it has nothing to do with her looks or her personality. Rainy is insecure about her past and when it comes for her, she cannot allow herself to be the young follower she once was, instead she must step up, for herself and for the women she has befriended and unwillingly put in this position. It's a haunted tail of love, loss, and the things we let slide by using religion as a reason.

I always love Tarryn Fisher's work, I am a true fangirl who believes she can do no wrong, but I will say this is the best release from her out of the past three novels. This one is unique, standout, and emotionally riveting. I couldn't put it down and I hope you won't be able to either.

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