Friday, January 15, 2021

The Grace Year - Kim Liggett

The Grace Year
by Kim Liggett
Published October 8th 2019 by Wednesday Books

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between. 

5 Stars

Tierney James is entering her Grace Year, the 16th year of her life when she and the other Grace Year girls are sent away to protect the others from their magic. Grace Year girls leave for the woods knowing if they are to be married, and to whom, or if they'll be returning to work. But Tierney knows something goes on in the woods in that year, because the girls who do return are scarred and gaunt, and sometimes girls don't return at all. With just walls to protect them from the poachers that want to sell their body parts on the black market, Tierney knows she can survive the year, at least she could have until the girls are taken over by their magic. Now the poachers are no longer the biggest threat.

Tierney wasn't made to be veiled, there is no marriage that will ever suit her, she's prepared for a life in the fields, she sees what others don't in the power of work. She is her father's daughter. She's prepared to go along with The Grace Year, to make it through and return to life as she'd like it to be. She has dreams though, dreams that tell her that life could be another way, dreams that mean her magic is too strong. Those dreams keep her going, it lights a fire in her to see things another way, to not believe everything. Tierney questions everything and I so loved her for that. She's a well-developed, smart character and at just 16 she sees what others do not. She questions the misogyny of her community, she questions the power of the Grace Year, and she questions her parents and how they push her to let the feminist in her lie. She's such a powerful character and it was incredible to read about her climb out of the darkness.

The dystopian aspect of The Grace Year isn't that surprising, the story has been done before, but I don't think it has been done so well. Kim Liggett is clever, she's made it a story about the power of females, the power of relationships, the power of knowledge, and the power of internal strength and self-worth. The girls give in to their power, they accept they will leave the walls of their temporary home gaunt, missing body parts, and meek, but it is the overcoming this that is so powerful. Tierney just never quits, not even when she faces enemies from all sides. No, this isn't the dystopian novel that ends with the whole world changing, but it is the groundwork to the change and I really enjoy getting to imagine the future of Tierney, The Grace Year girls, and their community.

I admit I was very skeptical of this book, the cover caught my eye, but the blurb scared me off a bit. I love dystopian novels, but the YA/NA dystopian books were overdone there for a while and I couldn't see how any author could bring something new to the genre. I kept seeing this on bookstagram though and my friend, who had also avoided it, finally picked it up and shared just how incredible of a read it was for her. I still had my worries, but I picked up The Grace Year and I didn't put it down again until the final page. This one was absolutely a case of DO believe the hype.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous

The Perfect Guests
by Emma Rous
Published January 12th 2021 by Berkley Books

2019. Sadie Langton is an actress struggling to make ends meet when she lands a well-paying gig to pretend to be a guest at a weekend party. She is sent a suitcase of clothing, a dossier outlining the role she is to play, and instructions. It's strange, but she needs the money, and when she sees the stunning manor she'll be staying at, she figures she's got nothing to lose.

In person, Raven Hall is even grander than she'd imagined--even with damage from a fire decades before--but the walls seem to have eyes. As day turns to night, Sadie starts to feel that there's something off about the glamorous guests who arrive, and as the party begins, it becomes chillingly apparent their unseen host is playing games with everyone...including her.

4 Stars

The Perfect Guests is classic Agatha Christie mystery meets modern suburban thriller. A dual timeline mystery full of twists and surprises. I felt like I was playing a game of Clue myself as Emma Rous takes readers from 1988 with young Beth to 2019 with actress Sadie. Raven's Hall was the best part of young Beth's life, until it wasn't. Ravel's Hall could be the big break Sadie needs to finally land a well-paying acting gig. Too bad there's something more sinister happening at Raven's Hall and the two storylines area bout to meet.

Twisty, sinister, and highly entertaining, The Perfect Guests is a soap-opera-y mystery that was impossible for me to put down. I enjoyed Beth's character and timeline the most, even the recent history was so interesting. Raven's Hall and it's inhabitants are quite the characters. Sadie is a little more woe is me and the storyline doesn't feel terribly unique, but the tie in to the past is just fantastic. I found it to be the right amount of unpredictable and I even enjoyed those twists that I was able to guess. The second half of the novel takes a deep dive into soap opera level drama, but I was so entertained that I got over the unbelievability of it and just enjoyed the ride.

Emma Rous is such a standout author for me and The Perfect Guests is a fun must-read for mystery lovers.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Lie, Lie Again by Stacy Wise

Happy New Year! Here's to the first read of 2021

Lie, Lie Again
by Stacy Wise
Published: January 1st, 2021 by Lake Union Publishing

For three women with so much to hide, there’s no such thing as a little white lie…

All three women who live at 1054 Mockingbird Lane have secrets…and with a body at the bottom of their apartment building’s staircase, those secrets need to stay buried.

Sylvia Webb has a plan. And a potential Mr. Right. He’s sweet, simple, and dependably clueless about what she’s up to. The only thing unpredictable about him is his needy ex-girlfriend, who is this close to shattering Sylvia’s dreams. But Sylvia’s not going to let that happen.

Riki McFarlan has a good career and an amazing boyfriend who wants to settle down. If only she didn’t have feelings for her neighbor—who happens to be her close friend’s husband. With everything going so right, why is Riki flirting with something so wrong, so…dangerous?

Embry Taylor is as devoted to her children as she is to her husband, who’s a bartender by night, an aspiring actor by day. She is his biggest fan. But with his career not taking off and tensions high, even sweet Embry has something she’s desperate to keep hidden.

Lies, secrets, and revenge. For three neighbors with stakes so high, someone is headed for a downfall. 

4 Stars

Suburban drama, superb writing, and so many lies made Lie, Lie Again a hit for me. Stacy Wise gives readers a glimpse into the lives of three women living in an apartment complex and the desperate decisions they make as the lies pile up. Sylvie is desperate for a husband, Ricky is struggling both with money and a hopeless crush, and finally there's too-sweet Embry, mother of two and wife to a struggling actor. Polite in passing previously, the three women band together to fight the sale of their complex, never realizing all the tiny secrets they've each been holding onto nor how any of it could lead to a dead body.

The women of Mockingbird Lane aren't exempt from feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and hopelessness. While each thinks the others' lives are perfect, inside the walls of their apartments all is not quite as it seems. Sylvie was cutthroat and manipulative, her perspective was easily my favorite and really tied the story's strings together. Embry and Ricky were classic female characters, especially in the LA setting. While I loved Sylvie most, I do love a good unreliable character, I related most with the meeker two. Every move Sylvie made unraveled their lives just that much more, their own small secrets and white lies soon went up in flames. As their individual perspectives tied together Lie, Lie Again soon becomes the nail-biter the blurb promised, with a dead body just waiting to be discovered.

With descriptive writing, distinctive character voices, and a unique thriller plot line, Stacy Wise easily captured my attention with every page turn. Lie, Lie Again was a really fun read, I couldn't guess what would happen next, especially with a pathological liar among the group.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Wrong Family by Tarryn Fisher


The Wrong Family
by Tarryn Fisher
Published: December 29th 2020 by Graydon House

From the author of the instant New York Times bestseller The Wives comes another twisted psychological thriller guaranteed to turn your world upside down.

Have you ever been wrong about someone?

Juno was wrong about Winnie Crouch.

Before moving in with the Crouch family, Juno thought Winnie and her husband, Nigel, had the perfect marriage, the perfect son—the perfect life. Only now that she’s living in their beautiful house, she sees the cracks in the crumbling facade are too deep to ignore.

Still, she isn’t one to judge. After her grim diagnosis, the retired therapist simply wants a place to live out the rest of her days in peace. But that peace is shattered the day Juno overhears a chilling conversation between Winnie and Nigel…

She shouldn’t get involved.

She really shouldn’t.

But this could be her chance to make a few things right.

Because if you thought Juno didn’t have a secret of her own, then you were wrong about her, too.

From the wickedly dark mind of bestselling author Tarryn Fisher, The Wrong Family is a taut new thriller that’s riddled with twists in all the right places.

3 Stars

Juno just wants to live out the rest of her life in peace, she thinks living with the Crouch family is the best place for that. They're perfect, together, and there will be no need for her to psychoanalyze them, or so she thinks. Living with them has given her insights into their imperfections, the cracks in the marriage, the lies at the root of it all. An overheard conversation, a secret revealed. Juno begins trying to connect the dots, but she won't get them all right. She has a secret too and her assumptions, her own experiences, begin to overlap with the Crouch's.

What a twisted read. If you're a fan of unreliable narrators, several plot lines, and some insane twists, this will be the read for you. Juno isn't reliable. Winnie isn't likeable. Nigel is just stuck. And poor Samuel has the worst parents, ever. It's a suburban drama, but with Tarryn Fisher's insane writing talent and her willingness to go where no writer will. Told in three parts, from the perspective of Juno and Winnie, The Wrong Family is absolutely the craziest read for 2020. It's the kind of book where I can't say more without revealing too much. The secrets these women have kept are about to blow up in their faces.

I wanted to love this, it's my favorite author, but The Wrong Family was the wrong book for me. It's what I would typically love in a psychological thriller, but I never felt sucked in. I struggled with the first 20% and found that I just kept reading in hopes I'd finally feel that a-ha. I didn't guess the big reveals, which I did enjoy, but this one didn't have me invested. It's as wild as you expect for a Fisher novel and one I think many readers will enjoy, just won't be a re-read for me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Behind the Red Door by Megan Collins

Behind the Red Door
by Megan Collins
Published August 4th 2020 by Atria Books

The author of the “suspenseful, atmospheric, and completely riveting” (Megan Miranda, New York Times bestselling author) debut The Winter Sister returns with a darkly thrilling novel about a woman who comes to believe that she has a connection to a decades old kidnapping and now that the victim has gone missing again, begins a frantic search to learn what happened in the past.

When Fern Douglas sees the news about Astrid Sullivan, a thirty-four-year-old missing woman from Maine, she is positive that she knows her. Fern’s husband is sure it’s because of Astrid’s famous kidnapping—and equally famous return—twenty years ago, but Fern has no memory of that, even though it happened an hour outside her New Hampshire hometown. And when Astrid appears in Fern’s recurring nightmare, one in which a girl reaches out to her, pleading, Fern fears that it’s not a dream at all, but a memory.

Back home in New Hampshire, Fern purchases a copy of Astrid’s recently published memoir—which may have provoked her original kidnapper to abduct her again—and as she reads through its chapters and visits the people and places within it, she discovers more evidence that she has an unsettling connection to the missing woman. As Fern’s search becomes increasingly desperate, she hopes to remember her past so she can save Astrid in the present…before it’s too late.

Featuring Megan Collins’s signature “dark, tense, and completely absorbing” (Booklist) prose and plenty of shocking twists and turns, Behind the Red Door is an arresting thriller that will haunt you long after you turn the last page. 

4 Stars

Well-written, unique, and perfectly paced, Behind the Red Door is a tense suspense novel that had me staying up all night to get to the end. Fern, our unreliable narrator, has a childhood no one would ever envy and it has left her with some serious trauma. She helps children with difficulties in her line of work, but she fails to face her own anxiety and past. She covers it up and continues to starve for the attention from her father, a professor and fear researcher. When a trip home to help her father pack coincides with a major news event Fern realizes it may be her own memories that are suppressed and she may hold the key to helping locate a missing woman.

Behind the Red Door is the sort of book you just have to read, it's too easy to spoil. Megan Collins gives readers multiple unreliable characters, several plots, and a multi-faceted mystery that, despite guessing early on, had me turning pages as quick as I could. It's a smart thriller, it's clear Collins did her research to make it believable, and I really enjoyed the complexity of the psychological side of it. Twisted and atmosphere, this is the book for readers looking for a unique suspense read.

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