ARC Review: The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Murder of Mr. Wickham
Author: Claudia Gray
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery / Retelling
Audience: Adult
Format: eARC
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Vintage
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Recommended for fans of: Jane Austen
Content Warnings: murder, child death, sexual assault, homophobia

SYNOPSIS

A summer house party turns into a whodunit when Mr. Wickham, one of literature’s most notorious villains, meets a sudden and suspicious end in this mystery featuring Jane Austen’s leading literary characters.

The happily married Mr. Knightley and Emma are throwing a house party, bringing together distant relatives and new acquaintances—characters beloved by Jane Austen fans. Definitely not invited is Mr. Wickham, whose latest financial scheme has netted him an even broader array of enemies. As tempers flare and secrets are revealed, it’s clear that everyone would be happier if Mr. Wickham got his comeuppance. Yet they’re all shocked when Wickham turns up murdered—except, of course, for the killer hidden in their midst.

Nearly everyone at the house party is a suspect, so it falls to the party’s two youngest guests to solve the mystery: Juliet Tilney, the smart and resourceful daughter of Catherine and Henry, eager for adventure beyond Northanger Abbey; and Jonathan Darcy, the Darcys’ eldest son, whose adherence to propriety makes his father seem almost relaxed. The unlikely pair must put aside their own poor first impressions and uncover the guilty party—before an innocent person is sentenced to hang.

MY THOUGHTS

I was very intrigued when I learned about this book. An Agatha Christie-style murder mystery featuring Jane Austen characters written by one of my favorite science fiction writers? I was cautiously optimistic by this colliding of worlds, and luckily, it paid off.

Claudia Gray skillfully captured the tone of Jane Austen’s writing and the essence of her characters. I love the way she imagined the main couples of Austen’s works coming together for an ill-fated house party. No one is too sad to be rid of Mr. Wickham permanently, but everyone is on edge knowing a murderer is among them. Gray’s original characters Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcy delight as they sneak around for clandestine meetings…to solve the crime. I have my fingers crossed for a sequel reuniting those two. And I appreciate the sensitive neurodivergent representation in the young Mr. Darcy.

This definitely falls into the cozy mystery category. I would have liked a little more suspense with a killer on the loose; instead, the murder investigation sometimes to a backseat to other Regency-era pursuits, like a ball (NOT that I am complaining about the ball scene). That being said, I did not guess the murderer, and I had fun trying to put all the clues together even though I hoped for a few more thrills.

If you are a Jane Austen fan, I think you will really like this book! I have only read Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey; so I naturally was less suspicious of the characters I was already familiar with. I think I would have enjoyed this a bit more if I had completed reading Jane Austen’s oeuvre beforehand, but it inspired me to pick up my next classic sooner rather than later!

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the gifted eARC.

Review: Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: Pieces of Her
Author: Karin Slaughter
Series: Andrea Oliver #1
Genre: Thriller
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 476 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: August 21, 2018
Source: Publisher
Content Warnings: drug abuse, toxic relationship, gun violence, medical trauma, torture, violence, death, domestic abuse, cancer, rape

SYNOPSIS

The #1 internationally bestselling author returns with a new novel in the vein of her New York Times bestsellers Pretty Girls and The Good Daughter—a story even more electrifying, provocative, and suspenseful than anything she’s written before.

What if the person you thought you knew best turns out to be someone you never knew at all . . . ?

Andrea Cooper knows everything about her mother, Laura. She knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Belle Isle; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?

But all that changes when a trip to the mall explodes into violence and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to Laura. Because it turns out that before Laura was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again.

The police want answers and Laura’s innocence is on the line, but she won’t speak to anyone, including her own daughter. Andrea is on a desperate journey following the breadcrumb trail of her mother’s past. And if she can’t uncover the secrets hidden there, there may be no future for either one of them. . . .

MY THOUGHTS

In true Karin Slaughter fashion, Pieces of Her takes a shocking and dramatic turn toward the unimaginably horrible by the end of chapter one when Andrea and her mother Laura witness a shooting at a mall restaurant. Laura’s reaction does not seem to match her background, and after another act of violence, Andrea flees town as she tries to put together the pieces of her mother’s past.

Andrea was frustratingly meek and naive for a 31-year-old (although I can’t say I would’ve reacted any differently in that situation). The pace slowed a bit in the middle, and the flashbacks to Laura’s involvement with cult activity and conspiracies could be far-fetched.

Still, I couldn’t put the book down, and the ending was downright chilling. KS books are known for graphic violence and triggering content, and this book is no exception. I’m excited to watch the new Netflix adaptation of this book! And while it reads like a standalone, a sequel following Andrea in a new career is set to release this summer.

Thank you to the publisher for a gifted copy.

Review: The Circle by Stephen J. Galgon

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: The Circle
Author: Stephen J. Galgon
Series: The Circle #1
Genre: Thriller
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 426 pages
Publisher: MJE Publishing
Release Date: August 15, 2019
Source: Author
Recommended for fans of: action thriller movies
Content Warnings: violence, guns, murder, death

SYNOPSIS

IMAGINE YOU HAD ALL THE MONEY YOU EVER WANTED at the push of a button. The power to control law enforcement, politicians at the highest levels, the judicial system as a whole. To have what you want when you want it, whatever it is. All you have to do is kill someone . . . before someone kills you.

MEMBERS of THE CIRCLE don’t have to imagine such a life. They live it. The liberation of being both hunter and hunted. The salvation that comes with such freedom. A chance to feel truly alive. A chance to savor each precious moment. Because in THE CIRCLE any moment could be your last.

DOUGLAS GOODWIN isn’t rich. He isn’t powerful. What could the sacred society of THE CIRCLE possibly want with him—just a regular guy with a regular job leading a regular life? What would drive them to coerce a young man who has always valued integrity over hedonism into their midst? And why would Doug agree to submersion in a world of secrecy and murder? It’s unthinkable.

THE HARSH REALITY? Doug has been inducted into an institution where friends become enemies overnight, loyalty is a nothing more than a punchline, and conscience is a burden. Where he will be hunted and expected to hunt other members to their death. With no escape from THE CIRCLE’s ubiquitous influence and domination.

HOW FAR WILL DOUG GO? How much will he sacrifice to preserve his way of life? Will he be swayed by the money, the women, the power? Or will THE CIRCLE consume him, as it has hundreds of others before him, and leave nothing but another nameless corpse in its wake?

MY THOUGHTS

I branched out of my comfort zone with the action thriller. The story was fast-paced and exciting, and I was horrified by the moral dilemmas.

However, I think this genre, and therefore this story, is ultimately not for me. Doug’s internal monologue got a bit repetitive, even though his ongoing frustrations with being initiated into a secret society of killers was understandable. Character development took a back seat to the action, and I would have preferred a little more depth to some of the side characters, particularly the women characters. I was also not a fan of the way some of the dialogue was formatted, but that’s just personal preference!

This book offers some interesting social commentary on the rich, elite echelons of society. The premise is just wild enough to seem plausible as a conspiracy theory! I recommend this book as a gift for primarily male readers who enjoy action movies.

Thank you to the author for a gifted review copy. All opinions my own.

Review: They Never Learn by Layne Fargo

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: They Never Learn
Author: Layne Fargo
Genre: Thriller
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 378
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Release Date: October 13, 2020
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: female serial killers & dark academia
Content Warnings: sexual assault/rape, sexual harassment, suicide, murder, drug abuse, domestic violence, infidelity

SYNOPSIS

Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor. But she’s even better at getting away with murder.

Every year, she searches for the worst man at Gorman University and plots his well-deserved demise. Thanks to her meticulous planning, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself—but as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the growing body count on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Scarlett insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge, Dr. Mina Pierce. Everything’s going according to her master plan… until she loses control with her latest victim, putting her secret life at risk of exposure.

Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Finally free of her emotionally abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies and fade into the background. Her new roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay… and turning her fantasies about revenge into a reality.

MY THOUGHTS

This dual POV thriller with dark academia vibes follows Scarlett, a professor whose extracurricular activities include murdering abusive men, and Carly, a freshman student just trying to survive in a new environment. Initially, I thought Carly’s storyline was boring, slowing down the pace of the first half of the book, because it wasn’t clear how the two POVs intersected.

Once those pieces came together, I was hooked. This book is fast-paced, dangerous, and violent. Despite the dark subject matter, it is a celebration of strong women sticking together and refusing to let men walk all over them anymore. There are some great twists and a satisfying ending, reminding me that thrillers can still be surprising and entertaining even when so many in the genre feel mediocre and repetitive.

ARC Review: A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: A History of Wild Places
Author: Shea Ernshaw
Series: Standalone
Genre: Mystery / Magical Realism
Audience: Adult
Format: eARC
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Source: publisher via Netgalley
Content Warnings: suicide, hanging, pregnancy, death, infidelity

SYNOPSIS

Travis Wren has an unusual talent for locating missing people. Hired by families as a last resort, he requires only a single object to find the person who has vanished. When he takes on the case of Maggie St. James—a well-known author of dark, macabre children’s books—he’s led to a place many believed to be only a legend.

Called Pastoral, this reclusive community was founded in the 1970s by like-minded people searching for a simpler way of life. By all accounts, the commune shouldn’t exist anymore and soon after Travis stumbles upon it… he disappears. Just like Maggie St. James.

Years later, Theo, a lifelong member of Pastoral, discovers Travis’s abandoned truck beyond the border of the community. No one is allowed in or out, not when there’s a risk of bringing a disease—rot—into Pastoral. Unraveling the mystery of what happened reveals secrets that Theo, his wife, Calla, and her sister, Bee, keep from one another. Secrets that prove their perfect, isolated world isn’t as safe as they believed—and that darkness takes many forms.

Hauntingly beautiful, hypnotic, and bewitching, A History of Wild Places is a story about fairy tales, our fear of the dark, and losing yourself within the wilderness of your mind.

MY THOUGHTS

This book is beautifully written, atmospheric, and eerie. It is mainly a mystery, but it includes touches of magical realism, dystopian, and even mild horror. However, I found the pacing to be so incredibly slow.

The premise of the book is a bit confusing: a man tries to track down a missing woman, but goes missing himself. A couple years later, residents of the isolated community of Pastoral find traces of those missing people, but no one in the community ever saw the people themselves. And they can’t leave because of “rot,” a disease in the surrounding trees that can spread to people. And everyone has secrets. Something was definitely wrong with Pastoral, but it was very unclear what the point of the story was or how all these pieces fit together until well over halfway through the book, making the mystery more frustrating than intriguing.

The short, suspenseful chapters kept me immersed in the story, and the pace finally picked up with some great twists toward the end, but I couldn’t get over my earlier frustrations at the slow beginning and middle of the story. This book was simultaneously trying to do too many things at once and not doing enough.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the free eARC.

Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Rebecca
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Gothic / Romance / Suspense
Audience: Adult
Format: eBook
Length: 449 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Release Date: August 1, 1938
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Agatha Christie, Gothic romance, domestic thrillers
Content Warnings: suicide, suicidal thoughts, toxic relationship, outdated language relating to race and mental illness

SYNOPSIS

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.

MY THOUGHTS

I was so excited when my book club picked this for November, because it is truly the perfect fall book. The new Mrs. de Winter finds herself in over her head after a whirlwind romance with the much older Maxim. When they return to his estate at Manderley, she doesn’t know how to interact with the staff, Maxim becomes very distant, and she is constantly haunted by the lingering presence of Maxim’s dead wife Rebecca. (Disclaimer: this is NOT a ghost story)

I thoroughly enjoyed the Gothic vibes, and the writing is so gripping. I found the narrator’s mental state very relatable; she has a vivid imagination and frequently gets lost in thoughts of worst-case-scenarios. The story eventually reaches a twist where it shifts to what feels like a modern domestic thriller; by that point, I couldn’t put it down. And can we talk about how utterly creepy Mrs. Danvers is??

I initially rated this book 4 stars because the beginning is a bit slow and the ending is very abrupt (like you will think that the final pages must be missing). However, now that a couple weeks have passed since I finished, I’ve watched two movie versions (Netflix: bad, Hitchcock: good), and I can’t stop thinking about this story. I can see myself rereading this classic again when the weather is right.

Review: Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: Little Darlings
Author: Melanie Golding
Genre: Thriller/Horror
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Stephanie Racine
Length: 12 hours (312 pages)
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Release Date: April 30, 2019
Source: Audible
Recommended for fans of: psychological thrillers, folklore and fairy tales
Content Warnings: childbirth, gaslighting, infidelity

SYNOPSIS

“Mother knows best” takes on a sinister new meaning in this unsettling thriller perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they’re right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she’s never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own…creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she’s imagining things.

A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren’s side in a park. But when they’re found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley―to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, These are not my babies.

Determined to bring her true infant sons home, Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she’s wrong about what she saw…she’ll be making the biggest mistake of her life.

Compulsive, creepy, and inspired by some our darkest fairy tales, Little Darlings will have you checking―and rechecking―your own little ones. Just to be sure. Just to be safe.

MY THOUGHTS

This psychological thriller about a mother who believes her newborn twins are replaced with changelings was absolutely haunting, bordering on horror. I was drawn to this book because of the fairy/folklore influence, but I got more than I bargained for.

The depictions of the trauma of childbirth, the loneliness of new motherhood, a dismissive and unsupportive husband, and Lauren’s growing paranoia were painfully raw and real. It was so hard to read that I set it aside for a week and almost didn’t pick it back up. I usually read thrillers for twisty drama, but this was so sad.

That being said, I am glad I finished this. Lauren’s mental illness was explored with nuance and empathy rather than being reduced to a thriller plot device. The atmosphere was downright eerie, and it often felt like supernatural forces were truly at play (as a fantasy reader, I obviously want to believe).

Review: Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Good Girl, Bad Blood
Author: Holly Jackson
Series: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #2
Genre: Mystery
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 401 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: Veronica Mars, Karen M. McManus
Content Warnings: death, references to rape, gun violence, knife violence, child abuse

SYNOPSIS

Pip is not a detective anymore.

With the help of Ravi Singh, she released a true-crime podcast about the murder case they solved together last year. The podcast has gone viral, yet Pip insists her investigating days are behind her.

But she will have to break that promise when someone she knows goes missing. Jamie Reynolds has disappeared, on the very same night the town hosted a memorial for the sixth-year anniversary of the deaths of Andie Bell and Sal Singh.

The police won’t do anything about it. And if they won’t look for Jamie then Pip will, uncovering more of her town’s dark secrets along the way… and this time everyone is listening. But will she find him before it’s too late?

MY THOUGHTS

My Veronica Mars loving heart cannot get enough of Pip Fitz-Amobi! This is a really great YA mystery series. For whatever reason I am ALL ABOUT books about fictional podcasts, and I love the epistolary content that brings Pip’s investigations to life.

I didn’t think this mystery was as compelling from the beginning compared to book one (I honestly thought the premise was a bit ridiculous), but by the end I was shocked, horrified, and fascinated by the twists and turns. I also wanted more Ravi in this book. He’s still a major character, but I just didn’t feel his presence as much throughout this book.

Pip has a lot of character development in this book as she figures out who she is and what her priorities are. I can’t wait to read the conclusion of this series!

Review: One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: One of Us Is Next
Author: Karen M. McManus
Series: One of Us Is Lying #2
Genre: Thriller
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 377 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press for Young Readers
Release Date: January 7, 2020
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: One of Us Is Lying, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
Content Warnings: death, sexual assault, bullying, cancer, alcoholism

SYNOPSIS

Come on, Bayview, you know you’ve missed this.

A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year since the Bayview four were cleared of his shocking death, no one’s been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts.

Until now.

This time it’s not an app, though—it’s a game.

Truth or Dare.

Phoebe’s the first target. If you choose not to play, it’s a truth. And hers is dark.

Then comes Maeve and she should know better—always choose the dare.

But by the time Knox is about to be tagged, things have gotten dangerous. The dares have become deadly, and if Maeve learned anything from Bronwyn last year, it’s that they can’t count on the police for help. Or protection.

Simon’s gone, but someone’s determined to keep his legacy at Bayview High alive. And this time, there’s a whole new set of rules.

MY THOUGHTS

It’s been a few years since I’ve read one of Karen M. McManus’s YA thrillers, but this one was not as fast-paced and compelling as I remember her books being. The mystery was slow to develop, and there was a lot of filler in the first half of the book, but I still finished this book quickly.

I really like how all of the characters are fully realized people who have their own problems outside of the dangerous game of Truth or Dare. These are believable teen characters with believable teen relationships, and the friendships and romance are what separate YA thrillers from their adult counterparts.

I mostly liked the way the twists played out, but one reveal was painfully obvious and the characters were too smart to not even consider the possibility. I also did not love the twist in the epilogue. I normally love it when thrillers include twists up to the very last page, but this one was unnecessary.

Review: For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: For Your Own Good
Author: Samantha Downing
Genre: Thriller
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 373 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: July 20, 2021
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: dark academia

SYNOPSIS

Teddy Crutcher has won Teacher of the Year at the esteemed Belmont Academy, home to the best and brightest.

He says his wife couldn’t be more proud—though no one has seen her in a while.

Teddy really can’t be bothered with the death of a school parent that’s looking more and more like murder or the student digging a little too deep into Teddy’s personal life. His main focus is on pushing these kids to their full academic potential.

All he wants is for his colleagues—and the endlessly meddlesome parents—to stay out of his way.

It’s really too bad that sometimes excellence can come at such a high cost.

MY THOUGHTS

I love Samantha Downing’s twisty, compelling writing. She does such a great job of shocking the reader and tying everything together. I flew through this thriller in a day (which is pretty rare for me!).

This didn’t completely blow my mind the way I wanted it to, but it was still very, very good. I think part of the reason I struggled a bit with this book is because I am a teacher, but I could not at all relate to these teachers and their mindsets. Teddy deciding in the middle of class to teach a completely different novel than he had planned?? The teachers and students alike were way too obsessed with the school, which drove them to extreme actions.

The twisted characters and their desperate actions made for a very entertaining thriller about an elite private school with a slight murder problem.

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