Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Last House on Needless Street by Catronia Ward

 Release Date - September 28, 2021

One of the last homes on Needless Street has been empty for years. That's exactly how Ted likes it. He lives alone in the final home on the street with his teenage daughter and cat. His daughter and cat are not allowed outside. It's too dangerous. When someone moves in next door, he's alarmed. This person's arrival threatens to shake up their quiet neighborhood.

Dee is that new neighbor. Eleven years ago, her six-year-old sister Lulu disappeared at a nearby lake. Dee has never stopped searching for Lulu, and she's certain that detectives made a mistake when they searched the neighborhood. In fact, it's Ted she's come to suspect. If she can get through the terror she feels every time she's in the woods that Ted spends time in, she might be able to unravel the truth.

This is such a complex novel. Things you believe must be true soon have you questioning your instincts. Other aspects of the story, especially the cat, have you questioning exactly what is going on. Ted's daughter, Ted, Dee, and Olivia (the cat) all tell their stories. Nothing is clear. 

I don't know if I'd call it a horror. It's a wicked psychological thriller. I was mesmerized, especially with Olivia's and Lauren's stories. The Last House on Needless Street keeps you on your toes and takes some twists that you don't expect. I can't say it's the best psychological thriller I've ever read, but it's pretty close.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

 Release Date - September 7, 2021

Chloe Sevre isn't the young woman you'd expect. She's an honor student and newly arrived college, but she's also one of seven young adults with psychopathic tendencies who agree to be part of a secret college-run study. What no one knows is that Chloe chose this school to get closer to Will, a former friend she's planning to kill.

Before she can take the steps needed to murder Will, a college student is murdered. Then, a second student is murdered. Someone is killing the teens in the study, and Chloe needs to stay on her toes if she's to avoid being next.

Never Saw Me Coming keeps you on your toes. While I was addicted and needed to know the outcome, there were also things that bothered me. The story jumps from Chloe to other members of the study. There's the addition of romance, which adds a break from the suspense and mystery. The bounces from Chloe to the others ended up being somewhat distracting, but I had to keep reading. I had to know if Will would survive Chloe's plan or not.


The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews

 Release Date - September 28, 2021

After her husband leaves her for their client, Ivy Perkins packs up everything and leaves Atlanta for an old North Carolina farmhouse she buys online. The Four Roses seems to be the perfect setting for starting over, even if it is more rundown than she expected.

Things start off with a bit of a hitch when Ivy finds the house is draftier than expected and the heating system isn't working, but her realtor/new neighbor helps her get things fixed and soon she's finding her home in this small town. It all starts with a mystery that she feels compelled to solve. 

The former homeowners were the town's Santa and Mrs. Claus. Tucked in the pocket of the Santa suit is a letter from a little girl asking Santa to make sure her dad gets home safely from the war. Ivy has no idea how to track down this little girl who would now be a grown woman, but she has to know if the girl's dad came home for Christmas. By trying to uncover the girl's identity, Ivy ends up getting to know and love the town she is now calling home.

If you need an uplifting story, The Santa Suit is perfect. I loved the setting and was drawn to the different stories of the townspeople. I also was eager to see Ivy find a new life as she started over from the betrayal of her marriage. I was cheering her on from the start.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis

 Release Date - September 28, 2021

Noelle Butterby put her dreams on hold after her mom's stroke. That the love of her life also left never helped. She's on her way back from a college alumni event when snow shuts down the motorway. She's stuck with cars all around and no chance of getting home any time soon and a dead phone. That's how she meets Sam, a handsome stranger who was on his way to the airport.

While it's not exactly what she planned to do, Noelle takes his offer to use his charger. Sitting in his car for eight hours leads her to realize that there's something about Sam that creates feelings she's never experienced. But the minute the traffic clears, Sam's on his way and Noelle may never see him again.

Fate intervenes and Sam and Noelle have to admit there's something unusual going on. Even when they leave never intending to see each other again, they somehow do meet up. But, they both have significant others, so they have no future together. They just need fate to get that message.

Eight Perfect Hours is a lovely romance with likable characters. It's about that instant connection and being drawn together when you least expect to meet Mr. or Ms. Right. I loved watching them try to build their independent relationships, despite fate continually throwing them back together. How it would all play out is hard to guess in this contemporary romance.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The House of Ashes - Stuart Neville

 Release Date - September 7, 2021

After her nervous breakdown, Sara Keane's husband has moved them from England to Northern Ireland. They'll live rent and mortgage-free in an old farmhouse his father purchased. In her new home, Sara has no friends, no car, no job, and no chance to leave the home. Damien wants it that way. He wants her to focus on getting well and not dealing with any distractions. She sees it as being a prisoner.

When an elderly woman appears one day, feet bloody, and crying that this is her home and asking about the children, Sara starts looking into the woman's identity and the home's past. She learns that the home has a terrifying history, and that she and Mary have a lot in common, even if Sara doesn't want to admit it. That is all it takes to start bonding with this woman, even if Damien doesn't want her to learn the truth about this home's past.

The House of Ashes is really a sad, haunting mystery that goes back for 60 years and is told through Sara's perspective and Mary's. It's clear to the reader what happened to Mary in the past, that's not a big secret. There are other parts that are a mystery, some are easily guessed while others are a bit more complex.

When all was said and done, this isn't a book that will be easy to get over. There's so much pain for the characters to get through. With a touch of the supernatural, moments of abuse that have you on the edge of your seat hoping they'll triumph, and other moments that leave you outraged for Sara and Mary, it's a powerful read. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

When Sparks Fly by Helena Hunting

 Release Date - September 21, 2021

Avery Spark and her sisters suffered the greatest loss when their parents were killed in a car accident. They're successful business owners now and run their grandmother's hotel. In her downtime, Avery and her roommate, Declan McCormick, enjoy food, sports, and hanging out with their friends. On one of their usual evenings, Avery mixes things up by heading out on a date the night before she has to travel. It upsets Declan and that's where everything goes wrong.

Declan decides to go out to a bar and ends up hungover on the morning he offered to loan Avery his SUV. Forced to take her car before winter tires are installed, Avery is in a horrible crash and needs a caregiver for several months while she heals. Declan's guilt has him signing up for the role.

During their time together, Avery must rely on Declan in more ways than she ever imagined. He must overcome the guilt he feels. They start falling for each other, but can their new feelings overcome all of the obstacles that stand in their way?

Most of When Sparks Fly delighted me. There's one aspect of the story regarding Avery's recovery that I found to be unnecessary to the plot, but that's me. It may not bother others. I did enjoy watching their friendship bloom into something more. 

I also loved that the accident was treated realistically. There was no rushing to have Avery heal from her broken bones. It took time, and Declan had to face what many family caregivers face when it comes to balancing work, care duties, and transportation needs. I appreciated the realism with those aspects of being a caregiver. It made the story very real and dear to my heart.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

 Release Date - September 28, 2021

With many Christmas romances out there, The Matzah Ball was a refreshing change of pace. I'm not Jewish, so I did spend some time hitting certain words on my Kindle to get a definition, but that wasn't a big deal. Context usually made it clear.

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt hides a secret from her parents. She's actually a bestselling author of Christmas romances. When she learns her publisher is not extending her contract, she's stunned. She needs the income, and that leads to her proposal. She'll write a Jewish romance, even though Hannukah doesn't lend itself to the same magical atmosphere as Christmas does.

To pull it off, she needs a ticket to attend a sold-out Jewish dance. The music and festivities may be exactly what she needs to find the magic for her new book. The problem is the event's host and organizer is her archenemy, Jacob Greenberg.

Jacob broke her heart when they were 12. She hasn't seen him in decades, but she's not about to forgive his actions. Meanwhile, he's the key to her securing a ticket to the soldout event. Something weird happens though. She starts to see the magic in Hannukah, and that leads to her wondering if she's had it all wrong.

The Matzah Ball is a lighthearted, tender romance with humor and passion. It's obvious that Rachel had a bit of finding herself, maybe even a little growing up, to do. The blurb doesn't go into the truth about Rachel, but it brings up a chronic health condition that I have known about for over 20 years as a friend has it. I liked that it was approached with realism in this book. 

The other thing I loved was Jacob's grandmother. Toby sounds like a gem, and I'd love to spend time with her. Her rugelach sounded fantastic, even if it's not a healthy treat. I found myself longing for some every time it was brought up. I'll have to try my hand at making it this holiday season.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Necklace by Matt Witten

 Release Date - September 7, 2021

I was intrigued when I heard that Matt Witten's novel has been optioned for a film with Leonardo DiCaprio attached as producer of The Necklace. Not everyone may realize what a kind-hearted man he is on sets, and he's been a favorite actor since What's Eating Gilbert Grape.  

So that aside, I started reading, and it took absolutely no time to get me hooked. As much as I wanted not to keep mentally casting Kate Winslet as Susan Lentigo, I couldn't help it. Her performance in Mare of Easttown made me feel she was a perfect choice for both young and old Susan. And, I wouldn't hate seeing the chemistry between the two back on a screen.

Two decades earlier, Susan Lentigo was a happily married mom to a young daughter. When she's asked to take a shift at the diner where she works, she makes arrangements with her mom to get Amy after school and watch her until after dinner. Only Susan never gets her mom's message that she has to back out and can't get Amy after all, and Amy vanishes.

Amy's body is found just over the border in Vermont, and a man confesses to the young child's rape and murder. This is why Susan is about to take a cross-country trek to North Dakota to witness his execution 20 years later. The problem is that Susan comes across new evidence that has her questioning if the man about to get executed really committed the crime. Susan will do anything to make sure her daughter's killer doesn't walk free, even if it means racing against the clock when everything possible that could go wrong goes wrong.

Talk about a breathtaking read. I was completely hooked from the first page. Not only was the story gripping, but the setting is very familiar. I always love a familiar setting. My mom is in Alzheimer's care in Granville, so I am in that area regularly. It made it easy to place the crime scene and area where Susan and her husband lived.

This novel may be tough to beat for September reading. It's a mesmerizing read and one that I'm very thankful was brought to my attention.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

 Release Date - September 7, 2021

Oh did my heart break for Qian, the author of Beautiful Country. Young Qian and her family immigrated, albeit illegally, from China in the 1980s. Her parents, both college professors, were forced to teach the government's way or suffer the consequences. Eventually, their only choice became to leave the country and try to start anew in the U.S.

In New York City, the family faced unimaginable conditions. Forced to work in sweatshops and live in overly crowded apartments, the stress gets to Qian's parents. Life in the "Beautiful Country" isn't as wonderful as they'd hoped. To find the beauty, the family must face bigger struggles than imagined and figure out how to start life anew in a country that doesn't want to welcome immigrants.

This book is so beautifully written. While Qian is an adult now, she tells the story well through her thoughts as a child. The child who learns English by reading books and watching TV, and one who sees her parents at their absolute worst but still does all she can for them. How I wanted to reach into the book and hug this little girl. I was the pseudo-mom to some kids in my neighborhood growing up, and I would have gladly stocked Qian with books and snacks as often as possible. 

I am so glad the family found happiness in Canada. At the same time, knowing the thoughts of some of those in my community on refugees and immigrants, I can't imagine it was easy for them as they finally made their way to a new place to call home. Let this book open your eyes and remember that that family you see walking down the street may not have it as easy as you'd like to think.

You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith

 Release Date - October 25, 2022 After his dad's death, Adam Stillwater and his mom do everything in their power to keep the family...