Category: 2021

Early Review | The Ex Hex (Ex Hex #1) by Erin Sterling

Posted September 2, 2021 by Bonnie in 2021, Book Reviews, Early Review / 2 Comments

I received this book free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Early Review | The Ex Hex (Ex Hex #1) by Erin SterlingThe Ex Hex by Erin Sterling, Rachel Hawkins
Series: Ex Hex #1
Published by Avon on September 28, 2021
Pages: 320
Genres: Fantasy, Witches
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Audible
Goodreads

Also by this author: Hex Hall, Demonglass, Spell Bound

four-stars

New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hawkins, writing as Erin Sterling, casts a spell with a spine-tingling romance full of wishes, witches, and hexes gone wrong.

Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.

“Never mix vodka and witchcraft.”

Valuable advice, but advice that Vivi fails to heed. Nine years ago, after falling hard for Rhys Penhallow only to find out too late of his betrothal, Vivi shouts frivolous curses into the night not realizing there was actual magic behind them. When Rhys returns to town for the first time since that fateful night his luck is exceptionally bad and he has no idea why until he finds out the truth behind his misfortune. Vivi, feeling most apologetic for her role in this debacle, decides to set aside past grievances to find out how to reverse the curse especially when they discover the curse is going to destroy the very town itself. It doesn’t help matters when she realizes Rhys Penhallow is just as distracting as he was when she fell in love with him nine years ago.

The Hex Hall series and the spin-off novel School Spirits are some of my favorite YA books so discovering that Erin Sterling (a.k.a. Rachel Hawkins) was writing a witchy adult novel had me thrilledI found this story to be extremely delightful overall (and well worth the read) but there were some aspects that I wish had been better. There’s plastic skulls that come to life, a talking cat that won’t stop asking for treats, and even a ghost that haunts a library. The magical bits were absolutely, well, magical, but considering this has been pitched as “Hocus Pocus but they fuck” (hahaha…) I wanted, and rather anticipated, this book to be straight imbued with magic. The romance was far from lacking in chemistry but I expected more tension between the two since Vivi had been pining over Rhys for the entire nine years but they acted almost as if their issues never happened.

I adored the family aspects of this though (it felt very much like Practical Magic) and the light humor was on point. Apparently this is the first in an anticipated series and I am here for it. Bottom Line: this was an incredibly cute, delightfully whimsical, and overall perfect read for the Halloween season (or when you need a little magic with your romance.)

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Audiobook Review | ‘Good Neighbors’ is a Suburban Nightmare

Posted August 19, 2021 by Bonnie in 2021, Audiobooks, Book Reviews / 2 Comments

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review | ‘Good Neighbors’ is a Suburban NightmareGood Neighbors by Sarah Langan
Narrator: Nicole Lewis
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on February 2, 2021
Length: 10 hrs and 11 mins
Genres: Thriller
Format: Audiobook
Source: Netgalley
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two-stars

Celeste Ng’s enthralling dissection of suburbia meets Shirley Jackson’s creeping dread in this propulsive literary noir, when a sudden tragedy exposes the depths of deception and damage in a Long Island suburbpitting neighbor against neighbor and putting one family in terrible danger.

Welcome to Maple Street, a picture-perfect slice of suburban Long Island, its residents bound by their children, their work, and their illusion of safety in a rapidly changing world.

Arlo Wilde, a gruff has-been rock star who’s got nothing to show for his fame but track marks, is always two steps behind the other dads. His wife, beautiful ex-pageant queen Gertie, feels socially ostracized and adrift. Spunky preteen Julie curses like a sailor and her kid brother Larry is called “Robot Boy” by the kids on the block.
Their next-door neighbor and Maple Street’s Queen Bee, Rhea Schroedera lonely community college professor repressing her own dark pastwelcomes Gertie and family into the fold. Then, during one spritzer-fueled summer evening, the new best friends share too much, too soon.

As tensions mount, a sinkhole opens in a nearby park, and Rhea’s daughter Shelly falls inside. The search for Shelly brings a shocking accusation against the Wildes that spins out of control. Suddenly, it is one mom’s word against the other’s in a court of public opinion that can end only in blood.

A riveting and ruthless portrayal of American suburbia, Good Neighbors excavates the perils and betrayals of motherhood and friendships and the dangerous clash between social hierarchy, childhood trauma, and fear.

“We had a problem on the block and the cops wouldn’t solve it. So we solved our own problem.”

The residents of Maple Street only look perfect on the outside, of course. There’s also the giant sinkhole that opened up in the neighborhood park that kind of mars things. When the Wilde’s moved into the neighborhood, they knew they didn’t belong (Gertie an ex-beauty queen with breast implants, her husband Arlo an ex-rocker with tattoos covering his track marks) but they had hoped to find their own place amongst the impeccable families.  Rhea Schroeder, the undisputed Queen of Maple Street, decides to look past her differences and befriend Gertie. One night, dark secrets are shared and Rhea misinterprets Gertie’s reaction and decides to turn on her instead, telling the neighborhood everything that Gertie didn’t want getting out. When Rhea’s daughter Shelley falls into the sinkhole, she blames Gertie and her family for her death and sets in motion irreparable devastation.

The story is set in a world much like our own in the year 2028 where it’s clear the current climate has deteriorated rapidly. The sinkhole spews oil, somehow causes the residents to have patchy phone connections, and it continues to expand at a seemingly alarming rate. On top of the timely climate narrative, there’s also the inclusion of newspaper and academic articles from 15-years into the future that reference “the Maple Street Murders” which give the story a true-crime feel. Personally, I think the climax would’ve been much more shocking without the articles providing the bleak foreshadowing of what’s to come.

The whole thing is a very unsettling type of dark. It’s a plausible story about the power of a lie and their abilities to destroy regardless of authenticity. It also shows how terrifyingly quick things can escalate and get out of hand. Sarah Langan is known for writing horror and she certainly transitioned well into suburban horror, but everything was severe and over the top to the point where the heavy-handedness became oppressive. Some of her phrasing and the way she chose to describe things was needless too, much like this line:

“The man’s expression was animalistic and ugly. A sweaty sex face on the verge of completion.”

Good Neighbors is a laborious and unnerving study on the perfection of suburban America: just because everything looks perfect doesn’t mean it is.

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Book Review | The Turnout by Megan Abbott

Posted August 12, 2021 by Bonnie in 2021, Adult, Book Reviews / 2 Comments

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review | The Turnout by Megan AbbottThe Turnout by Megan Abbott
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on August 3, 2021
Pages: 352
Genres: Thriller
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
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Also by this author: Dare Me, The Fever

two-stars

Bestselling and award-winning author Megan Abbott's revelatory, mesmerizing, and game-changing new novel set against the hothouse of a family-run ballet studio, and an interloper who arrives to bring down the carefully crafted Eden-like facade.

Ballet flows through their veins. Dara and Marie Durant were dancers since birth, with their long necks and matching buns and pink tights, homeschooled and trained by their mother. Decades later the Durant School of Dance is theirs. The two sisters, together with Charlie, Dara's husband and once their mother's prize student, inherited the school after their parents died in a tragic accident nearly a dozen years ago. Marie, warm and soft, teaches the younger students; Dara, with her precision, trains the older ones; and Charlie, back broken after years of injuries, rules over the back office. Circling around each other, the three have perfected a dance, six days a week, that keeps the studio thriving. But when a suspicious accident occurs, just at the onset of the school's annual performance of The Nutcracker, a season of competition, anxiety, and exhilaration, an interloper arrives and threatens the delicate balance of everything they've worked for.

Taut and unnerving, The Turnout is Megan Abbott at the height of her game. With uncanny insight and hypnotic writing, it is a sharp and strange dissection of family ties and sexuality, femininity and power, and a tale that is both alarming and irresistible.

“It was the three of them. Always the three of them. Until it wasn’t. And that was when everything went wrong.”

Marie, Dara, and her husband Charlie all work together at the Durant School of Dance in addition to living together in the girls’ childhood home until Marie moved out abruptly a few short months ago. She didn’t go far, however, taking up residence on the third floor of the school; an area only accessible via an old spiral staircase. The third floor used to be the domain of their late mother, a woman that even in death holds a strange thrall over the trio. After an ancient space heater caused a fire at the school, they’re forced to shut down one of the studio’s because of the excessive damage. They hire a contractor that woos them with wondrous imaginings of what their school could become, a far cry from the antiquated state that its been in since their mother was a teacher. He ends up becoming a far larger part of their lives when Marie develops an eerie obsession with him.

“What is it, Dara kept asking herself. What is it we’ve let in our studio, our mother’s studio. My sisters’ bed. My sister’s body. Our lives.”

The dynamic between the sisters was incredibly unusual, ripe with the feeling that you were missing something, some story, to clarify the strangeness. But honestly, “strangeness” is putting it lightly. The abundant amount of sexual references and detailed descriptions permeated this story and it was more than just a little disconcerting especially when it involved the children in their classes or recollections of their own sexual experiences as children.

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“You build this family. And it’s perfect. It’s everything you wanted. And then something goes wrong. Slowly or all at once.”

Abbott’s stories always have a creeping wrongness to them, stories that go wrong slowly. You know it would be foolish to expect anything resembling a happy ending but the path to get there is languid and full of holes. There was a time when I enjoyed that type of story, one that simmers endlessly, with no boiling point in sight. I think that time has passed for me because Abbott’s stilted and fragmented way of storytelling has become more grating than anything. As always with Abbott, the twist was quite unpredictable, but I disliked such a large portion of the book that any twist was unlikely to change my mind.

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Audiobook Review | When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

Posted August 5, 2021 by Bonnie in 2021, Audiobooks, Book Reviews / 2 Comments

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review | When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLainWhen the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
Published by Ballantine Books on April 13, 2021
Length: 11 hours and 29 minutes
Genres: Mystery, Crime
Format: Audiobook
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Audible
Goodreads


four-stars

Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now, she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet, the day she arrives, she learns that a local teenage girl has gone missing.

The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with saving the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.

Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives - and our faith in one another.

“Because everyone wants to be looked for, whether they realize it or not.”

After being placed on administrative leave following a personal tragedy, Detective Anna Hart finds herself drawn back to her hometown of Mendocino, California. She quickly becomes enmeshed in a missing girl case, recognizing too the horrifying similarities to the disappearance and subsequent murder of a childhood friend back in 1972. The investigation into the missing girl, Cameron Curtis, speaks to Hart on a personal level when she discovers that they had both been foster care kids and had sustained abuse at a young age. When other girls turn up missing, Hart begins to see a potential connection between the victims and even more connections to her murdered friend.

While When the Stars Go Dark was quite a dark novel, vividly exploring the effects of early childhood trauma, it was still a very refreshing take on the literary crime novel. Detective Anna Hart’s constant empathy and dogged determination to bring the missing girls home was authentic due to her own similar childhood tragedies. The line between fiction and true crime became blurred when McLain decided to incorporate the true story of Polly Klaas, a 12-year-old girl that was abducted in her house during a slumber party but found dead 2 months later. At first, I didn’t feel that including Polly in this story was necessary but the author’s note at the end of the story changed my mind about that.

“The profound suffering of the victims and their families crept into my dreams — and onto the page,” she explains in the author’s note. “It began to feel imperative that I tell their stories as bluntly and factually as possible, as a way to honor their lives and dignify their deaths and disappearances. Saying their names became for me a sacred act. A kind of prayer.”

I particularly enjoyed the setting of the novel, Mendocino, California, seeing as I grew up in Mendocino County. Seeing the reference to Mendocino in the book summary was one of the primary reasons I picked this book up and I’m so very glad I did. I opted for the audiobook version because Marin Ireland is quickly earning a top place in my must-listen narrators, and she knocked this performance out of the park. When the Stars Go Dark is a somber yet sophisticated mystery that manages to end on a hopeful note.

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Release Day Feature | The Hunting Wives by May Cobb

Posted May 18, 2021 by Bonnie in 2021, Adult, Book Reviews, Release Day Feature / 2 Comments

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Release Day Feature | The Hunting Wives by May CobbThe Hunting Wives by May Cobb
Published by Berkley on May 18, 2021
Pages: 368
Genres: Mystery
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
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Goodreads

The Hunting Wives share more than target practice, martinis, and bad behavior in this novel of obsession, seduction, and murder.

Sophie O’Neill left behind an envy-inspiring career and the stressful, competitive life of big-city Chicago to settle down with her husband and young son in a small Texas town. It seems like the perfect life with a beautiful home in an idyllic rural community. But Sophie soon realizes that life is now too quiet, and she’s feeling bored and restless.

Then she meets Margot Banks, an alluring socialite who is part of an elite clique secretly known as the Hunting Wives. Sophie finds herself completely drawn to Margot and swept into her mysterious world of late-night target practice and dangerous partying. As Sophie’s curiosity gives way to full-blown obsession, she slips farther away from the safety of her family and deeper into this nest of vipers.

When the body of a teenage girl is discovered in the woods where the Hunting Wives meet, Sophie finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation and her life spiraling out of control.

About May Cobb

May Cobb earned her MA in literature from San Francisco State University, and her essays and interviews have appeared in the Washington Post, the Rumpus, Edible Austin, and Austin Monthly. Her previous novel is The Hunting Wives. A Texas native, she lives in Austin, Texas, with her family.

“…the pool was the first place I saw her. A week later, she was dead.”

Tired of the hustle and bustle of Chicago life, Sophie and her husband move their young son to the town of Mapleton, Texas in the hopes of creating a simpler life. Sophie becomes a stay-at-home mom, hoping to be the kind of mom that she never had, to her son and she spends her free time writing blog posts and sharing snippets of her life on Instagram. This quiet life that she thought she wanted begins to take on a dull sheen but then Sophie becomes engrossed in a local socialite named Margot Banks who invites her to become a part of The Hunting Wives.

“It wasn’t envy, though; I didn’t want to be her. It was so much more than that. I wanted to be near her. For her to notice me, too. The idea of it took my breath away. It became powerful and even consuming.”

I was drawn to the very Desperate Housewives meets Real Housewives sound this book had and I got to say, it pretty much fits the bill. The Hunting Wives consists of Callie, Jill, Tina, and of course Margot, their de facto leader. None of these women are exactly likable but they’re certainly interesting. They love drinking, shooting guns, and men… and not necessarily in that order. When Sophie is invited to Margot’s lake house to have some drinks and shoot some skeet, she’s intrigued by these wild women that don’t seem to have a care in the world but doing what they want to do. After the past months where she only had herself for company, being around these women makes Sophie realize just how stifled she really was. Each new night she spends with them, the wilder they get, but when a local teenager turns up murdered, the excitement comes to a dead stop.

The Hunting Wives starts out as a tale of suburban ennui but shifts gears into a murder mystery without missing a beat. It was undeniably one wild ride.

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Release Day Feature | Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Posted April 27, 2021 by Bonnie in 2021, Adult, Book Reviews, Release Day Feature / 1 Comment

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Release Day Feature | Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. SutantoDial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Published by Berkley on April 27, 2021
Pages: 320
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Mystery
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Audible
Goodreads


four-stars

A hilariously quirky novel that is equal parts murder mystery, rom-com, and a celebration of mothers and daughters as well as a deep dive into Chinese-Indonesian culture, by debut author Jesse Q. Sutanto.

1 (accidental) murder
2 thousand wedding guests
3 (maybe) cursed generations
4 meddling Asian aunties to the rescue!

When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is accidentally shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working, at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for their family wedding business—“Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!”—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream cake flowers.

But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love—and biggest heartbreak—makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?

About Jesse Q. Sutanto

Jesse Q Sutanto grew up shuttling back and forth between Jakarta and Singapore and sees both cities as her homes. She has a Masters degree from Oxford University, though she has yet to figure out a way of saying that without sounding obnoxious. She is currently living back in Jakarta on the same street as her parents and about seven hundred meddlesome aunties. When she's not tearing out her hair over her latest WIP, she spends her time baking and playing FPS games. Oh, and also being a mom to her two kids.

“It’s going to be a crazy weekend, isn’t it?”
You have no idea, I want to say.

Meddelin Chan is terrible at dating but when her mother tells her she’s found her the perfect date (and that she has been posing as Meddelin on a dating site to get to know him for her) she realizes that it’s probably too late to establish boundaries. When the date goes riding off the rails (and straight into a tree) Meddelin finds herself alone with her now dead date and the fear that no one will believe her that it was self-defense, so she decides that shoving him in the trunk and calling her family for help in getting rid of his body is the best decision. Naturally.

The body gets accidentally included in the supplies for the wedding that Meddy and her family are working on the next day, on an exclusive island with no possible transport to get back to the mainland. And as if there wasn’t enough on her plate, Meddy runs into her first love who she never quite fell out of love with. The story is interspersed with snippets from the past when Meddy and her ex were together and explains how the duo found themselves crossing paths yet again.

The cringe-worthy yet hilarious moments were aplenty and the story keeps you constantly on the edge of your seat, convinced that the family has finally backed themselves into a corner that they can’t escape from. It’s a roller coaster ride full of accidents and misunderstandings, drama and levity, and while it requires some suspension of disbelief (how they weren’t caught is beyond me) the hijinks were hilarious and had me genuinely laughing out loud. I thought while reading this story that it would make an amazing movie so I’m delighted to hear that this is actually happening!!

‘Trust Ma to take pride in my etiquette when I’ve just shown her my date, whom I’ve killed, in the trunk of my car.’

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