People Like Us – Review

“I was determined to redesign myself completely into a Bates girl, and as soon as I took that dive, I knew exactly what kind of girl I would be. The kind who jumps first and stays under ten seconds too long.”

Kay Donovan has more than a few things she doesn’t want people to know about her past. She’s worked hard to ensure that the girls at the exclusive and private school she attends have no reason to pry. She’s a soccer star and friends with the prettiest, most powerful girls in the school. Who she was doesn’t matter. It’s who she is now that counts.

When Kay and her friends find a dead body in the school lake, she begins to fear that her past may be haunting her. But it’s when she gets an email from the dead girl herself that Kay really panics. Being blackmailed from the grave isn’t exactly what Kay had planned for her Senior year.

The scavenger hunt/revenge blog pushes Kay to the limits; alienating her from her friends while threatening to expose all the secrets Kay is desperate to keep. It will take everything she has to ensure she isn’t exposed. After all, the truth is what you make it.

“A sharp edge of doubt creeps into my mind. There are consequences to not believing your friends.”

People like us is an intense ride. Part murder mystery, part thriller, this YA unravels secrets and lies at nearly every turn. High School is generally unpleasant for everyone involved. Unless you’re the part of the small percentage that rules the school. Take that general division of social hierarchies and popularity, and add exclusive, private, and wealthy to the mix. That gives you a good idea of the toxic levels of hell that Bates Academy is.

There are some fantastic issues examined in this book. Bullying, power, wealth, popularity to name a few. But further than that Mele shows us what it’s like to have your first love and heartbreak, how confusing coming out can be, the general confusion of growing up.

“I know that look. I’ve worn it a thousand nights alone in my room, staring into the darkness, trying to will myself into another person or place or thing.”

Of course, wrapped into this typical High School story are much darker issues as well. Death, murder, lies, and betrayal. It isn’t just the murder that Kay ends up investigating to save her own name. It’s the things she has to do to keep the revenge blog satisfied. Each task like a cut to the cloak of confidence and invincibility she has woven around herself. Each cut revealing more of her darkest secrets to us.

Mele weaves an intoxicating blend of psychological suspense in this incredible YA thriller. While I guessed at who was behind the entire thing, the reasons why they did it and what tied it all together blew me away. There isn’t anything predictable about this book when pieced together. Even the more obvious plot points are painted to life in shocking ways.

It’s a difficult thing to paint the mean girls of any school in a sympathetic light. And while Mele isn’t trying to make us see Kay or her friends as victims necessarily, she does expose their humanity. We all have things we want to keep hidden. Some more than others. Some more damaging or damaged than others.

“Sometimes you can be in the middle of everything and still be completely alone.”

There is a tragic heartbreak in Kay. In how she fails to see her own role in the parts of her life that hurt the most, until it’s too late. How she blames herself for things she is blameless in. Mostly, in how sometimes things spin so far out of our control, so quickly, so devastatingly, that there isn’t anything to do but bear the weight of the consequences.

People Like Us will resonate at some point with nearly every reader. We’ve all been alone, or lost. We’ve all made choices we regret, felt overwhelmed with the way life has unfolded. Especially as teenagers.

Beyond the plot, the writing is sharp, with dark humor lightening some seriously dark passages. It’s scandalous and devious, and will have you unsure of who to even root for. It’s Mean Girls but with a much deeper bite. It calls out wealth and power and privilege, while also reminding us that revenge isn’t always as satisfying as we think.

If you enjoy YA, especially YA thrillers, and want a dark but delicious experience into the elusive world of boarding schools, this book is seriously for you. I loved every single scandalous moment!

A million thank you’s to Penguin Teen and Putnam Books for sending me a copy!!!


The Neighbors – Review

“I wanted her to move past the accident. Not forget — you can’t forget something like that — but I wanted her to forgive herself.”

Twenty years has passed since the car crash that changed Abby’s life happened. Twenty years since Nate pulled a young girl from near a burning car. Just in time to save her. Not in time to save her brother. Twenty years. Time enough to heal, but not nearly time enough to forget.

Abby and Nate met through tragic circumstance, but their meeting led to a happy marriage and a beautiful daughter. Everything is perfect between them. Until the new family moves next door.

Nancy and Liam. A couple just as happy as Abby and Nate. With a son their daughters age. Perfect, except that Liam is the love of Abby’s life. Pushed away through guilt over her brothers death. Perfect, except they pretend they don’t know each other. Lies built on lies. Some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried, and some lies are too complicated to keep. Especially the ones we tell ourselves.

“I should have said something. Made it abundantly clear there was a history between us. A shared past. I had the opportunity. But I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to say anything.”

We get this novel from four different perspectives. Abby, Nate, Nancy, and Sarah’s diary. In addition, we also get flashbacks from Abby and Nate from then (around the time of the accident) and now.

It’s difficult to review this novel without giving anything away. There are many twists and turns written into this plot, some obvious, some not. I did guess two of the more major twists, though they were very subtle. I was also blind-sided by a few! Guessing did not make the reading experience any less enjoyable. In part, because McKinnon does an excellent job coaxing emotions out of the reader through her excellent pacing. In part, because there are still plenty of shocking revelations in the end.

The Neighbors is a deeply psychological novel, written to take us on a journey of emotions. We live Abby’s grief, and Nate’s guilt. We feel the need Abby has to stay in control to keep from unraveling. We are hit with Nancy’s loneliness and Sarah’s frustration. It’s hard to judge the characters on the choices they make, though I will judge one rather harshly. Their actions, lies, and secrets are simply unforgivable.

“It’s habit. If you tell yourself often enough you don’t want something, you convince yourself it’s the truth.”

This book is an interesting examination of the way small lies can guide and shape our lives. We want to present ourselves a certain way, put our best foot forward, and make a good impression. Especially when it comes to love. How often do we simply refuse to show who we really are? What happens, when by the time you’re ready, it’s too late to reveal yourself?

Small lies, build on more small lies, and sometimes, by the time we look back, we’ve built a mountain out of them. The Neighbors shows us how fragile living a life like this can be. It shows us the damage best intentions can often have, and how terribly devastating keeping these lies can be.

It also shows us the cycle of unhappiness. We learn from our parents, and, despite our best intentions, often we become them. What is the price of that inheritance? How does it shape who we are, who we become, and how we parent?

“I shook my head and wondered how I’d become so much like my mother even though I’d distanced myself from her as early as I possibly could.”

In The Neighbors, we get the chance to look at how deep rooted trauma and dysfunction can be. Everything shapes who we are, who we become. Rarely do we get the advantage of outside perspective to help us see the consequences of these small choices that many of us make every day.

McKinnon gives us that opportunity in this cast of characters. The focus is on the accident and the horrible death of Abby’s brother. However, subtly McKinnon reveals the numerous tiny secrets and lies kept between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, and ultimately, ourselves, that we are all guilty of. We can see how these choices can unravel. We are given the chance to examine those consequences outside of ourselves.

“Being on your best behavior is one thing,” Camilla answered, “but in hindsight, pretending to be something you’re not is stupid. I reckon it’s why one in two marriages end in divorce. You can’t keep the illusion going forever.”

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a book with multiple layers to dive into and explore. It’s perfect for book clubs, or discussion groups, as each characters perspective and their corresponding secrets are all ripe for pulling apart. I think that this book gives a wide range of opportunity to see something of ourselves, or at least partially recognize in the characters presented. It is perfect for in depth conversations and analysis.

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review!

The Echo Killing – Review

“She could trace her career, her life, and her obsessive interest in crime and criminals back to that single day, fifteen years ago.”

Harper McClain is a crime journalist. A good one, making a living in Savannah, going places normal journalists can’t due to her closer relationship with the police. That relationship developed from the sense of duty and responsibility Lieutenant Smith feels over never solving her mother’s murder. She lost her mother, but gained a large police family in return.

When Harper watches a young girl being escorted out of a house with the same lost expression she once wore, she can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to this murder than meets the eye. Everything is too similar, but everywhere she turns, she gets told to stop investigating.

But she can’t. When your world is turned upside down, and the chance to finally find the answer is offered, you can’t stop. She won’t. Risking everything she has gained, Harper plunges deeper into unraveling the murder, looking for answers the police refuse to find.

“This scene was torn from her own tormented childhood. She’d been that little girl once, standing in front of her house with Smith holding her hand.”

The Echo Killing is an enthralling read. Harper is a solid main character. She feels very real. I like that when she makes bad decisions, there were actually consequences, rather than a snappy character who manages to talk her way out of everything. It makes it feel more grounded in reality, rather than an obvious work of fiction. Plus, when she has to figure out how to proceed without her normal resources, it gives the plot unexpected paths to follow.

I also really like that when she makes her bad decisions, you still feel like her motivations are easily understood, even when you don’t agree with them. The fact that no one else seems to see the connection makes it even more maddening for her. To everyone else, this is just another case. To Harper, this is potentially life altering. Which makes understanding where she’s coming from, even when you’re screaming at her to knock it off, much easier.

Daugherty writes such vivid descriptions of Savannah, that it becomes less scenery and more a character in its own right. They aren’t overdone, but you get a sense of the landscape and scenery in a way that gives the entire book a certain feel. It’s lush and three dimensional. I also loved how she was able to highlight the differences of the city at night, Harper’s domain, and the city during the day.

“On the street, the warm, humid air smelled of exhaust and something else — something metallic and hard to define. Like fear.”

One of my favorite things about this novel is the banter. You get the sense when reading that you’re eavesdropping on real people. That’s not an easy trick for any writer to pull off. I also really enjoyed that the side characters didn’t feel created in a slew of stereotypes. They really did feel as complex and detailed as anyone you’d meet on the street.

Beyond getting a view of life as a crime reporter, we see the different faces of the people who work all aspects of these cases. As we go along to various crime scenes, we see different journalists, ambulance personnel, and witnesses. You get a feel for all the different pieces that are in play during an investigation. This realistic flair is probably due to Daugherty’s own experience. Which gives the entire novel a more gritty, realistic feel than typical crime fiction.

“In murder cases, there are two ways things tend to go — either everything happens very quickly and the killer’s locked up with twenty-four hours, or the process slows to a crawl.”

My one complaint is that I figured out who the killer was almost from the beginning. It felt very obvious to me. I’m also not sure how I feel about this plot point, which for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t get into. While I did enjoy the book and the characters, I would have liked to have been surprised by the big reveal. So, watching it unfold the way I thought was a touch disappointing.

However, I did like how Daugherty planted clues leading into the next book’s plot, which I am curious about. In all, this book is quite a fun ride, and was very enjoyable to read. I loved the characters and would be quite interested in reading more of Harper’s journey in crime reporting.

The Echo Killing is available now. This book is perfect for taking on vacation, so add it to your Spring Break reading list.

Thank you Minotaur Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

The Wife – Review

“In an instant, I became the woman they assumed I’d been all along: the wife who lied to protect her husband.”

The Wife asks us: how far should a wife go to protect those she loves? A question we all think we know the answer to. A question we all think we can answer ourselves. This assumption, the arrogance we have thinking we know simple answers to complex questions, is precisely where Alafair Burke wants us.

From the very beginning we know a few things. We know that there’s a detective on Angela’s doorstep. One who has been involved with their family before. We know her husband is under some sort of suspicion, that the detective wants to know where he was the previous night. We know Angela lies. We know a woman’s missing.

“I should have slammed the door, but she was baiting me with the threat of incoming shrapnel. I’d rather take it in the face than wait for it to strike me in the back.”

As the story unfolds, we find out that the innocent encounter with an intern that Jason told Angela about, may be closer to harassment than he portrayed. We see how quickly Jason falls out of favor from the University he works at, and with the news stations he is a reoccurring guest on. How fast he is condemned in the world before charges are even brought.

When a new woman brings harsher allegations, sexual assault, with evidence, a simple misunderstanding becomes harder to explain. As Jason works with his lawyer to defend himself, pieces of Angela’s past start rising to the surface. Pieces that she desperately wants to keep hidden.

“I’ve told him it has nothing to do with the past. It’s rational for me to be more afraid than he is.”

To make things even more complicated for Angela, she desperately wants to protect their son Spencer from all the rumor, gossip, and speculation. Private school in New York is nothing if not deadly in the court of public opinion. Spencer is one of my favorite characters in this book. Though he loves Jason and calls him dad, he is loyal to his mother in a way that single mothers will recognize. He lives for her, and she for him. It isn’t just her own secrets that she is so determined to protect.

Burke writes sharp characters with a sharper commentary on society at large woven into the plot. Even though we don’t know exactly what happened, as the story unfolds we are given a scrap of information at a time. Burke gives us emails, news reports, clips from police reports, along with the perspectives of the detective, Corrine, and Angela. With each new piece of information we have to shift, examine what we thought we knew, and form new opinions.

The way Burke leads us down the path to assumptions is brilliant. She gives us the characters own biases and opinions when presenting the new fact, or perspective. This all helps build the narrative. The one where we think we’re being unbiased. Where we think we know where the information is leading. Each bias, each new piece of information, builds the doubt, and yet somehow, you still think you know where we are heading.

“To know something, he argued, was not the same as to be certain beyond all doubt. And to believe something was definitely not the same as to know it.”

In a world of viral news, The Wife is a stellar examination of the reality we live in. When does an allegation become fact? When should it? Beyond just the ideas of what we think our opinions are, Burke constantly knocks us off balance by presenting a different side to the same piece of information. How drastically can one side vary from another, and both feel true? In a world of twisting perceptions, how can we ever really know the truth?

We go through the court of public opinion and end up in an actual courtroom. Throughout it all we get the details as the investigation uncovers them. But, it isn’t just the pieces of information in regards to Jason that Burke presents to us and uses against us. It’s also the secrets of Angela’s past. Just like she presents the facts in regards to Jason, we get a slow unveil of her past.

The Wife is a more subtle exploration of what it is to be a victim. To be victimized. Is Angela the victim? The accusers? The accused? Burke shows us every side, shifting and changing the second we feel confident of our answers. This is an exercise in judgement. How we find it. How we wield it. It asks the question: can we ever hope to find it.

I loved this book! It isn’t just the nuance of thriller or mystery that makes it excellent. The ending blind sides you. We don’t ever get complete answers to some of the questions we’re presented with, but we discover, that doesn’t really matter. It’s a reality check that we can’t ever really know the truth of a person. We never really know who they are. What they’re capable of. No matter how many angles we look from.

Tracy from @thepagesinbetween and I are hosting a #wickedreadalong this month for this book! We hope you can join us!

March 16: pages 1 – 171 on my Instagram page @jenabrownwrites

March 30: pages 172-338 on Tracy’s Instagram page @thepagesinbetween

And please! Check out our very first #blogsquad joint review on The Obscurist, the new blog for the subscription box Paper Obscura. Go give us some love! And if you end up joining, (which you totally should), use my code WICKEDJENA for a wicked discount!


Bone Music – Review

“They didn’t plan to kill my mother.”

Charlotte Rowe has never led a normal life. Her mother killed in a tragic twist of fate by two serial killers. Taken by the killers and raised as their own until the FBI finally caught up to them. Reunited with a father who was far more interested in profiting off of her than raising her, or healing her. Every time she gets her feet under her, fate seems determined to rip them from beneath her.

Right when it seems she’s actually gotten her life back, she finds herself in the midst of a new nightmare. Tricked into taking a new experimental drugs, she finds herself with surprising new powers. Unsure of what to do or where to go, Charlotte decides she needs to take control of the situation before a ruthless corporation takes control of her. And what better way to regain control, than by exerting a little revenge?

“All she feels is the bone music and the sense that she has become not darkness but a great fire, bringing a sudden, blazing end to it.”

Bone Music is part thriller, part science fiction, and is 100% an exhilarating ride. From the very beginning, where we hear Charlie talking about what it was like being raised by two serial killers, we know that this book is going to go down some very dark roads.

There is a ton of subtle psychology written into Charlie, and throughout the entire book. This shouldn’t be a surprise, any book based on serial killers tends to include some psychological elements. But Rice goes beyond standard or superficial observations and dives into the complexity of the human psyche. There is some deep conversation on PTSD, the nature of violence, the effects of abuse, and addiction to name a few that stood out to me.

Charlie has been through a lot. As a result, she is incredibly complex. Rice doesn’t make her feel superficial, or cliche at any point throughout the book. She is traumatized and struggling to sort through her tapestry of emotions. But she isn’t fragile. And I really liked that about her. She is also not convinced that her time with killers didn’t change her in fundamental ways. She wants to be a better person, but deep down is afraid that she isn’t.

“When we hurt people just to punish them, Luane used to say, we create a darkness that will live on long after our reasons for giving birth to it have faded.”

She hangs on to her grandmothers words, using them as a guiding force. Rather than having Charlie veer too much into the realm of good, Rice makes sure to show that she is conflicted at the core of her being. She relishes the power she is given at times, and is seduced by her ability to punish those who deserve it. What makes her so interesting is that it is because of her early years, and her fear that she would have gone to a much darker path had the FBI not intervened, that keeps the desire for revenge from taking over.

Rather than giving us definitive good versus evil, we get evil versus lesser evil most of the time. Bone Music sits firmly in the realm of moral gray. Even though we can agree serial killers are bad, it’s less clear what to make of Charlie and the forces surrounding her. She wants to be good, that much is clear. However, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. And that theme is very much woven into this plot.

I also really enjoyed the strength Charlie shows in even who she chooses as her allies. While Luke is obviously a love interest, Charlie doesn’t swoon, or even rely on him to help. She wants his help, but doesn’t need it. She wants to let her defensives down, but she isn’t willing to pander to him, or defer to him. She has a plan, is confident in what needs to happen and isn’t afraid to go it alone. This portrayal of strength in a female protagonist made me very happy!

“I want your help. But I don’t want your agenda. And I want you to listen to what I’m thinking and not tell me what I’m thinking.”

Not to mention how accurately Rice captures the infuriating notion of ‘mansplaining’. I loved reading Luke realize what he was doing and how it was coming across to Charlie. And then actually acknowledge it and work on not doing it! While I want to fist pump in honor of girl power everywhere, the fact is Rice writes characters that are believable because of these types of interactions.

What I loved is that the self aware characters are closer to the side of good than evil, even if their behavior is firmly in the gray. And the characters closer to the side of evil tend towards a blindness of the self, to the point of delusional. It’s a subtle and compelling look at human nature and psychology.

“It’s the truth, as much as she’s capable of telling the truth about the possibility that no longer exists, an opportunity that was stolen from her by a man who’s only just now realizing that his belief in whats best for others can bring him close to committing the kind of violent acts that destroyed his life.”

Rice fully captures the tragedy and trauma that would be present given the circumstances these characters go through. He isn’t afraid to get dark, and he doesn’t back away from difficult themes. The plot is intense, and definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat. I loved the science fiction twists. They give this thriller added dimensions that keep it original and unpredictable all the way to the end. I highly recommend this book and cannot wait until the next in the series comes out!

Huge thank you to Little Bird Publicity, Thomas & Mercer, and Amazon Publishing for sending me an early copy to read and review!

Paper Obscura – Your New Obsession

If you’ve been on #bookstagram for any period of time, you’re familiar with subscription boxes already. Instead of another YA box, there’s a new box focusing on murdery, twisty reads with location themed boxes featuring small businesses.

Welcome Paper Obscura!

Okay, so there are a few really cool things about this box! This is probably a good time to say SPOILER ALERT!!! I’m going to go through the first box EVER from Paper Obscura, so if you’ve ordered and want to be surprised STOP READING!!!


The first amazing thing that I think makes this box REALLY unique is that each box features a setting. On the spoiler card you get a map showing the locations of each vendor and a location for where the book is set. I mean, how freaking cool is that?!


I’ve subscribed to many a book box in the last year. And I have to say, I’ve never had one focus the theme on the featured books location. I am incredibly intrigued to watch how this theme follows for so many reasons. The biggest is being introduced to new shops and products in such a unique way. I have a feeling it will make the reading experience and subsequent use of each item, a touch more special with this added detail! Not to mention, their focus is also on supporting small businesses and artists. I think my icy heart might be melting!



Oh, hello gorgeous…

Can we all just stop a moment and appreciate the serious dark humor of this beauty??? Of all the themed candles I own or have shopped, none have made my little black heart quite so happy as this one! Sociopath?! The Apathy Collection?! “Distinctive and unpredictable, like a true textbook sociopath”?! It’s like they stumbled into my dark subconscious to find what I really needed in my life. AND THEN GAVE IT TO ME!!!

This beauty is made by Grizzly, located in Brooklyn, New York. Want natural candles made with sustainable products where fun is the focus with a capital F??? Yeah, me too. I’m so happy to meet this candle and will be buying more in the future! Find them on Instagram @grizzly_bk or their website, just click to go to their page.

Did I mention it smells fantastic with a capital F? Because it does.


You had me at stabby…

I think we can all agree that blood dripping knives are the perfect accessory to complete any outfit.

Designed by Brookpyn located in New York, NY, each pin starts as a sketch and is then digitized. Pop culture icons and jokes may come and go, but these enamel pins will last forever. Want fun and fashionable with an item that doubles as social commentary on pivotal issues? Brookpyn has you covered!

Give them a visit on Instagram @brookpyn or their website I know I already have my eye on a few!


Don’t cry little monster…

40 pages of art by artist Dylan Balliett will entertain your inner monster. Bonus points if you look through it while burning your Sociopath candle. For appropriate atmosphere.

Dylan Balliett is an artist and a musician, currently located in New York, NY. Life as a monster isn’t always as glamorous as we think. This little art book is cute and fun with an added dash of sad and a twist of disgusting. Monsters would have it no other way.

You can find out more about his art and music by visiting his Instagram @dylanballiett or his website


The Wife by Alafair Burke is one of the books I’ve been looking forward to! The cover is simply stunning, and the premise so dark it’s delicious.

At the heart of this novel is the question: How far will a woman go to protect the man she loves? Will she let him drag her down? Exploring topics like media obsession, celebrity worship and technology dependency, this novel sounds like it’s going to be full of sociopaths, monsters and bleeding knives! I can’t wait!!!

You can buy the book here or visit her website


Like I said, a lot of really cool items tied together in a thoughtful, unique way. I am very impressed and looking forward to March’s box!

What’s that? You want a hint?

“Bold, unsettling, and atmospheric — March’s featured, wicked read delivers a haunted reimagining of a mysterious tragedy in the American West.”

I can’t wait to see what book that is! And what items will be featured!

Visit Paper Obscura on their Instagram @paperobscura or their website and sign up! Be sure to use the code WICKEDJENA for a discount!

Thank you Bryan for sending me a box to review! I loved it and can’t wait to see what you guys come up with in future boxes!


Strangers – Review

“Both of us are sure we’re right, but one of us is living in a world of make-believe right now.”

Strangers was the January book club read for the Instagram group BlackHeart Reads. If you’re on Instagram and are interested in joining their monthly reads, click the link and follow their page! It’s always a ton of fun!

The premise of this book was intriguing: a woman faces a stranger in her home claiming to be her fiancé. She has no memory of him, to her he is a complete stranger. A man comes home to a fiancé who claims to not know him. Every single item belonging to him is gone, his existence in their life erased.

One of them has to be lying, but both are convinced they are telling the truth.

As events continue to unfold around them, it becomes obvious that something is happening that neither of them understand. And if they are going to discover the truth and get out of this alive, they are going to need to trust their instincts. And each other.

After the beginning chapters of this novel, I was expecting some serious twist, a la Black Mirror. Everything about the plot felt like some sinister, devious, horrifying conspiracy was taking place.

Initially, the characters were fantastic. Joanna was appropriately freaked out, and believed that Erik was some crazed madman. Until her best friend confirmed their relationship. It would have been easy to leave all the doubt on Joanna, but the authors made sure to balance the doubt between both Jo and Erik. They did a fantastic job making not just the reader but the characters themselves wonder which of the two was crazy. Or what possible explanation could be at play.

“A hand, as cold as ice, reaches for my heart. And, for the first time, the thought crosses my mind that maybe the person who’s lost their mind here isn’t Joanna, but me.”

Unfortunately, the book lost steam for me towards the end. The book was action packed and held an intense pace throughout, but the entire plot hinged on the twist. And for me, it fell flat into cliche disappointment.

In all, the book was entertaining and kept me interested until the end. But I felt like the ending was too easy, a bit predictable, and didn’t really go far enough to feel satisfying based on what the authors built up. However, if you enjoy books full of action that keeps a fast pace, you may enjoy what Strangers has to offer.

I’m going to discuss a few things that felt problematic for me, which will include spoilers, so if you have not read this book, please be warned!!!






The ending, as I mentioned was way too easy and fell into the eye-rolling territory very quickly. A bunch of Nazi’s plotting to cause chaos to purify the country of Germany just didn’t really add up or feel satisfying to what they had built up throughout the book. Beyond trying to make their terrorist attack look like Muslims were at fault, there really wasn’t anything to even support this weird Nazi plot line.

Beyond that, a brief hypnosis session while she was on vacation as the entire catalyst of her memory loss and violent urges? Talk about disappointing. I felt like there were so many other avenues that would have at least fallen into the realm of possibility, hypnosis felt too easy. And not at all believable.

If the ending was the only weird cliche pieces in the book, it may not have bothered me. But this book was full of them. Nadine, the ex-girlfriend was written as a sad, desperate woman who would do anything to get Erik back. Even going so far as to blatantly insult Joanna to her face in front of Erik. It came across as all the terrible stereotypes of women.

Joanna’s own father was a controlling rich man, willing to risk his daughters life if she didn’t follow his rules. Honestly, I was hoping he was behind the entire thing, it would have made his character feel more real than it did.

The gun wielding muscle sent to “collect” Joanna that suddenly jumps to the rescue. They are pretty standard and self-explanatory.

It felt like the side characters were presented as these stereotypes to offer plausible villains behind the memory loss and strange violent events following Jo and Erik. But since that wasn’t where the plot was headed, and the authors didn’t offer any redemption so they ended up feeling flat and one dimensional.

There was a lot of action and this book had some serious potential, so I was really disappointed at the end. This book read more like an action movie than a thriller. Lots of action not as much plot.

I did have a ton of fun reading this book for our group discussion, and loved hearing everyone’s thoughts on this book in our group!

The Vanishing Season – Review

“He’d locked up the monster but failed to notice: the monster had already won.”

Ellery Hathaway just wants to live a quiet life, in a quiet town, and be a good police officer. She’d prefer to keep her past in the past, and her secrets her own. But when people begin to go missing, one a year for the last three years, Ellery can’t quite shake the certainty that they’re connected.

The thing about Ellery, the thing no one knows, the thing that makes her so certain of these connections, even when all other law enforcement dismisses her, is that she once survived a serial killer. She was the only one to survive Francis Coben.

But admitting that would mean revealing secrets about herself that she’d do anything to keep hidden. Instead she turns to Agent Reed Markum, the FBI Agent who found and saved her against all odds. Together, they find themselves thrown into a terrifying past with a killer who is determined to finish what was started.

“Ellie wasn’t suicidal; she’d fought hard for her life and won. But sometimes, especially during the longest nights, she did wonder if maybe the other girls had been luckier after all.”

The Vanishing Season is an amazingly complex book. On the surface it reads like normal crime fiction, full of suspense and intrigue. But beneath the surface, this is also a book that explores what it means to survive, to save and be saved, and how to endure trauma that will never leave you.

The idea that our past defines us really is brought to life through both Ellie and Reed in different ways. For Ellie, she just wants to live her own life. She wants to be seen as a woman capable and strong on her own. The idea that people will see her differently if they know her past is a horrifying thought for her. Conversely, Reed carries the burden of being a savior. He was the only one to see the details that led to Ellie’s rescue and Coben’s conviction. But to walk into every investigation with that same expectation shining in the eyes of hopeful parents is a heavy weight to bear.

“Now he understood the attractiveness of alcohol: it coursed through your insides like a river over a rock, smoothing you out so you didn’t feel so damn much.”

Schaffhausen does a really good job casting just enough doubt on everyone in the book. While the killer seems obvious in hindsight, it wasn’t that obvious as you’re reading. I did have my suspicions from the beginning, but multiple other suspects gave my initial hunch just enough doubt that I wasn’t sure until the end. And this is good writing to me. I like solving the crime and picking up the bread crumbs authors leave behind. But I also enjoy being stumped and not reading something super obvious.

I also really enjoy anything with a psychological twist, so while Schaffhausen doesn’t delve too deeply into the psychology of the killer, there is a lot written into Ellie and Reed that makes their profiles and issues very interesting to me.

“People would gladly tell you who they were if you only cared to listen.”

The Vanishing Season is a very fast read. It’s written in a very compelling prose that pulls you into the novel, urging you to turn page after page. Suspicion is cast on every single character in the book, including Ellie and Reed, so you feel very uneasy as you read, as if the rug could be pulled from beneath you at any moment. Which felt very poetic to me, since that’s probably exactly how Ellie and Reed both felt. I love when an author can make me feel the same thing as the characters. It makes the reading a much richer experience.

For fans of crime fiction, suspense or thrillers, I think The Vanishing Season is a fantastic book choice. There isn’t much graphic violence, although there are some disturbing scenes. We are in the world of serial killers after all, you can’t completely escape the reality of violence in that landscape. But it isn’t graphic, and doesn’t go into vivid detail. This is definitely a novel playing on the psychology of horror rather than exposing you to the grotesqueness of the horror itself.

I am so thrilled this was the December book choice for the Instagram group Black Hearts Reads! Click their name to link to their Instagram page and join in! They choose amazing books and host a discussion at the end of the month. It’s a wonderful way to experience a book club without leaving your house! And the ladies who host are amazingly sweet. They also do a number of giveaways, so if you’re on Instagram, and especially if you’re part of the #bookstagram community, come join in!!!


The Wife Between Us – Review


“Assume nothing.”

The Wife Between Us warns us on the very cover to assume nothing. It tells us explicitly to expect a ride where we can’t see the road ahead. It tells us, and still, the assumptions came. Still I tried to see.

There are three people involved in this book: Richard, his ex-wife and his current fiancé. Throughout the book though, we only get the perspective of the two women. Richard is the thing that ties them together, but this book is about the women.

We are taken down a road of perceptions. How we perceive ourselves, how other people perceive us, how we perceive those perceptions. And the writers have taken it a step further and involved the reader into these impressions. They rely on how we understand and predict characters, plot, twists. This novel is fiction, but it is also interactive. We are part of the twists, whether we like it or not.

The subtlety in the writing is stunning. Hendricks and Pekkanen lull us into the very assumptions they warn us against. They woo us into believing that the warning is a hype, that there can’t possibly be another angle we haven’t thought about. Until the first twist hits you.

But unlike a roller coaster, where you can see the escalation and prepare for it, the first twist hits you like a car crash. Sudden. Abrupt. Unseen. Unexpected. I sat up in bed, my brain demanding that I stop and reevaluate everything I had read up until that point. And this isn’t happening at the end of the book, this is merely a third of the way in.

Even after the hit, once again, the authors take us down a calmer road. They once again woo us into trusting our own beliefs. They convince us that we can’t possibly be surprised again, now that we know their game, we can anticipate the next move. Except we can’t.

Again and again, this novel slams into you. Taking everything you think you know and using it against you. It is brilliant and shocking and such a fantastic ride!

It’s difficult to write this review, since there is so much written within the narrative that you simply have to experience yourself. It isn’t a book I can’t tell you about without taking away from your own ride. Just know, that it is fantastic. The psychology both in the writing of the characters and in how the writers use the readers own natural assumptions is breathtaking.

This book will be compared to many novels that have swept through the literary world. But those comparisons don’t do the novel justice. This book IS the next big thing. This is the book that thrillers will be compared to and held up to. This is the book that you will talk about and recommend and obsess over.

I know that this review is very vague. I find myself struggling with how to write a review that captures the essence of what I read. Listing every synonym to fantastic, stunning, phenomenal, etc doesn’t seem to be appropriate, yet I hesitate to put in any details. To give away any hints would be criminal.

I said before that this book is interactive. The reader is submersed into the characters in a way that I’ve never experienced before. When the narrators are unnerved, so are we. And the way we are lulled into trust and complacency is the same way that the women involved in the book are. They think they know what’s happening. We think we know what’s happening. They want to believe it will never happen again. We want to believe it will never happen again.

Over and over, the twists hit us as they hit the characters, and the visceral reactions you will feel are spectacular in their execution.

The dark themes of abuse, mental illness, power and control are chilling, in both their accuracy and their understated abundance. These themes are hard to decipher in real life, and the authors have ensured that they are hard to decipher within these pages as well. This is a book that deserves to be analyzed and examined and discussed. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in a novel.

The Wife Between Us comes out January 9, and if there’s one book you need to get, it’s this one. Click the banner at the top of the page, or the links below to pre-order your copy today!


Thank you St. Martin’s Press for sending me an early copy to read and review!

Exquisite – Review

“I was suspicious of love and what it did to people – those dark depths of anguish and horror; the thought of it all made me shudder.”

Bo Luxton has the life everyone wants. A successful writing career, loyal husband and two adorable daughters. She is the very picture of happiness and contentment. All she wants is to share her happiness with others. To help guide fresh new talent into the literary world, giving back to the world that has given her so much.

Alice Dark is young and lost. Full of hidden but unused talent, she writes an entry to a writing retreat, expecting it to end in nothing but disappointment like every endeavor before. To her surprise, she is selected and given the chance at everything she’s ever wanted.

From the moment Bo read Alice’s words, she knew this was the young talent she had been looking for. And from the moment Alice spoke with Bo, she knew this was a woman whose wisdom could guide her. Mentor and mentee. Two paths destined to cross and become entwined. So how does it all go wrong?

This book is breathtaking in it’s intensity! Every page has you swept into the story, the suspense building with a subtlety that is, well, exquisite. You know something is off, but it’s difficult to put your finger on it. For the life of me, I could not tell which direction Stovell was taking me. I only knew it was going to be a dark and twisted path.

“There’s only one direction this can go, and that is straight to hell.”

We are given the story of Alice and Bo in parts. The first is a story, a woman in prison, but where and when is yet to be determined. Is she a narrator, a story from one of the writers, or a third party yet to be presented? And then we get chapters from both Bo and Alice’s perspectives. These are alternating until after the retreat, where we get only Alice and then only Bo. And then back to alternating as we get closer to the truth.

Each side is presented, with their own slant told. And Stovell is masterful in her writing, never giving us enough clues to get a grasp on what’s actually taking place. Page after page has us feeling as if we are trapped in a cage of quicksand and fog. Nothing is steady, nothing is sure, except that someone is lying.

“The thing about being hurt badly is that the only person who can make you feel better is the person who hurt you, and so you keep going back and they keep making you better, but then they hurt you again, and so it goes on.”

Exquisite kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I never knew who to trust, who was the victim and who was the assailant. Even when Stovell unveiled the details, the truth was so sinister, it hits you in the gut, hard and unexpected. Again, the word exquisite fits so perfectly, because that level of story telling is exquisite. You know something is coming, and yet it still manages to hit you by surprise. The title perfect in so many ways.

I am a huge fan of psychological plots, especially where the characters are so deeply complex it’s difficult to fault them for their flaws, and Stovell does not disappoint. But there’s also a deeper villain uncovered, and the cold, sinister motivations are chilling and pathological. We are introduced to someone unrelenting and unapologetic in their behavior, and that persona is truly terrifying. To be lulled into complacency, into sympathizing with someone this evil in nature gets under your skin. Stovell has given us a villain that really does make you stay awake at night because this is the type of villain that is real.

If you are a fan of psychological suspense or thrillers, you need to get your hands on this book. It is masterful in it’s suspense, brilliant in it’s psychology, and breathtaking in it’s twists. In all, this book is exquisite.

Thank you Orenda Books for sending me a copy to read and review!