Review: Survival Instincts by Jen Waite

Goodreads

Release date: July 14, 2020

Publisher: Dutton

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

FOURTEEN YEARS BEFORE THE CABIN: Twenty-something Anne meets the man of her dreams right out of college, but after they get married, Anne notices that her husband begins acting differently. Why is Ethan suddenly so moody? And will their marriage endure?

A WEEK BEFORE THE CABIN: Ten years later, Anne and her twelve-year-old daughter, Thea, are safely living in Vermont. Anne is a successful therapist, Thea has friends at her new school, and they receive an endless stream of love, support, and baked goods from Anne’s sweet mom, Rose. When Thea takes to brooding and showing classic signs of teen angst, a trip for the three women to the White Mountains of New Hampshire seems like the perfect chance to bond.

THE CABIN: A man follows the three women on a hike at a nature reserve and drags them at gunpoint to an abandoned cabin in the woods. And just like that their peaceful weekend away turns into a fight for survival. It isn’t clear what this man wants from these women or how he is connected to them if at all, but it is increasingly clear that they won’t all get out of the cabin alive.

SURVIVAL INSTINCTS is a captivating and terrifying novel that brings to life one of the scariest truths of all–that people’s inner monsters come in various forms, some more recognizable than others, and that we are all one random encounter away from tragedy.

Review:

Before I get into my own thoughts about this one I want to address the problematic issues that I didn’t even realize were in the book until after I read my friend Toya’s review Be sure to check her post out, it was eye opening for me for sure. I also want to say that the team at Dutton and the author herself listened to Toya’s concerns and immediately began working on implementing changes. While it was too late to edit the hardcover book, the ebook and audio version will have edits and I have to applaud all parties involved in making said edits. You can also check out this post from the author as well.

I love an emotionally charged thriller and is there anything more fraught with emotion than a mother/daughter relationship? Throw in a scenario where a mom, daughter and grandma are fighting for their lives and you have one hell of a tense situation. This flips between multiple viewpoints and the one from the Man who kidnaps the family were chilling and super fascinating. He clearly had an agenda and a reason for taking them but I couldn’t figure out what that reason was before it was revealed, always a great sign in a thriller for me. This was a really solid read for me, if you like character driven thrillers check this one out!

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Goodreads

Release date: July 14, 2020

Publisher: St. Martin’s

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Blurb:

Samantha Casey loves everything about her job as an elementary school librarian on the sunny, historic island of Galveston, Texas—the goofy kids, the stately Victorian building, the butterfly garden. But when the school suddenly loses its beloved principal, it turns out his replacement will be none other than Duncan Carpenter—a former, unrequited crush of Sam’s from many years before.

When Duncan shows up as her new boss, though, he’s nothing like the sweet teacher she once swooned over. He’s become stiff, and humorless, and obsessed with school safety. Now, with Duncan determined to destroy everything Sam loves about her school in the name of security—and turn it into nothing short of a prison—Sam has to stand up for everyone she cares about before the school that’s become her home is gone for good. 

Review:

There are a very select few authors who’s books are pure magic for me and Center is most definitely one of them. There is something in the way that she tells a story that is just really special to me and I think it’s the combination of humor, wit, heart, emotion and fantastic characterization that just knocks it out of the park for me every single time.

This is definitely the kind of book that will make you feel all the feelings, Sam and Duncan both have traumatic events in their past that they’re working through and while there were definitely some heavy issues explored here, the author handles them with grace, sensitivity and humor which is just the best combination ever. They’re the kind of characters that you fall in love with yourself and root for and I was truly sad when I finished and had to say goodbye to them. Highly recommended by me and if you’ve never read a KC book before and love uplifting, funny and warm reads what are you waiting for?!

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby

Goodreads

Release date: July 14, 2020

Publisher: Flatiron

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

Beauregard “Bug” Montage is an honest mechanic, a loving husband, and a hard-working dad. Bug knows there’s no future in the man he used to be: known from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida as the best wheelman on the East Coast.

He thought he’d left all that behind him, but as his carefully built new life begins to crumble, he finds himself drawn inexorably back into a world of blood and bullets. When a smooth-talking former associate comes calling with a can’t-miss jewelry store heist, Bug feels he has no choice but to get back in the driver’s seat. And Bug is at his best where the scent of gasoline mixes with the smell of fear.

Haunted by the ghost of who he used to be and the father who disappeared when he needed him most, Bug must find a way to navigate this blacktop wasteland…or die trying.

Like Ocean’s Eleven meets Drive, with a Southern noir twist, S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland is a searing, operatic story of a man pushed to his limits by poverty, race, and his own former life of crime.

Review:

Ok friends, this one is a MUST read! This is especially true if you’re fan of action packed, dark, gritty, emotionally charged thrillers. The writing is painfully beautiful and evocative and while it’s exciting and bold, it also examines race and poverty through a sharp lens. It’s also highly atmospheric and so well described, it’s basically begging to be made into a movie, I really can’t say enough good things about this one.

Bug is the type of character that is so well crafted you wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump off the pages, hop into a car and drive like the wind. Never before have I read about a character that is more conflicted than he is, he’s a good man who wants what’s best for his family but he has demons, he can’t escape his past and he can’t quite get rid of the feeling that being a getaway driver is what he’s made to do, it’s who he is, it’s in his blood. It’s a constant struggle for him and that’s even before you touch on his struggles as a Black man trying to provide for his family in a world that is constantly pushing him backwards for every step forward he manages to take. His conflicts and issues were so well written they were a tangible thing, at times his pain and brutal honesty took my breath away.

Between the vivid and action packed scenes and the deep and complex characterization of Bug and his family I just couldn’t get enough of this one. If you enjoy dark noir style crime fiction that may break your heart a little one minute and then have you on the edge of your seat in anticipation the next you cannot miss this one!

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: How to Save a Life by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Goodreads

Release date: July 14, 2020

Publisher: Lake Union

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Blurb:

Dom is having a very bad day—one he literally can’t escape.

When Dom bumps into Mia, his ex-fiancée whom he hasn’t seen in almost a decade, he believes they’ve been given a second chance and asks her out. When Mia dies tragically on their date, Dom makes a desperate wish: to be given the chance to save her life. And when he wakes the next morning to the shock that she’s alive, he thinks his wish may have been granted. But day after day, no matter what he changes about their time together, she still meets a terrible fate.

Dom frantically searches for answers to save his beloved Mia and rekindle their former love. But the further he digs, the more obsessed he becomes, making him realize that slowing down time may be the only way to see things clearly. As he’s forced to confront the truth about himself and those he’s closest to, Dom vows that he’ll watch Mia die a thousand times if it means he can save her once.

Review:

In a time where we all feel like we’re living in the movie Groundhog Day I found an odd comfort in reading about Dom who is truly living the same day over and over again, and friends it’s not the best day for him. If I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself about how repetitive my own days have been feeling this quickly made me grateful that I wasn’t truly stuck in a time loop like Dom and made me count my own blessings just a little bit more.

While the basics of the plot may feel like they’ve been done before I do want to tell you that the authors put their own fresh twist on the concept. This was a departure from their latest few books and I’m once again super impressed by how they manage to come up with original story ideas time and time again. This felt like a combination of contemporary fiction and romantic suspense because the whole time you’re wondering if Dom will be able to save Mia and if so, how?! I’ll quit discussing the plot right here, but I found it to be fun and uplifting in the end. It’s also a super fast one sitting type of read and one that I definitely recommend that you add to your summer TBR.

Overall rating:4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: Side Trip by Kerry Lonsdale

Goodreads

Release date: July 7, 2020

Publisher: Lake Union

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Romance

Blurb:

With her deceased sister’s Route 66 bucket list in hand, California girl Joy Evers sets out on a cross-country road trip to meet up with her fiancé, checking off the bullets along the way.

Singer-songwriter Dylan Westfield has a serious case of wanderlust and a broken-down car. Stuck at a diner between LA and Flagstaff, he meets Joy, his complete opposite. She’s energetic. He’s moody. She’s by the book. He’s spontaneous. She believes in love at first sight. He thinks love is a complicated mess. But Joy has a brand-new convertible.

They strike a deal. She’ll drive him to New York. He’ll pay for gas. Only three rules apply: no exchanging of last names; what happens on the road, stays on the road; and if one of them wants to take a side trip, they both must agree.

A heart-stirring love story that spans a decade, Side Trip explores what-if. What if Joy and Dylan had exchanged last names? What if he’d told her she made him believe love was worth the risk? And what if they hadn’t made that second deal when they couldn’t say goodbye? 

Review:

Who’s ready for a road trip? With vacation plans across the world pretty much cancelled I think we’re all in need of a vacation and going alongside Joy and Dylan for an emotional, unforgettable road trip was the next best thing to taking a trip myself. I’ve followed along and read all of the authors books over the years and this is her best yet!

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all wondered what if? about many different things in our lives, what if you and your partner never crossed paths? Or what if one small decision changed the course of your life forever and you don’t even realize it? That’s the heart of this book because when Joy and Dylan randomly meet and decide to team up for a road trip they lay some ground rules that include no last names so it makes it near impossible for them to find each other afterwards, what happens on the road trip stays there, but what if one or both of them decides the rules should be broken? This was much more clever than I can accurately convey to you guys, there was a super smart little twist that was a game changer for the whole story and without verging into spoiler territory that’s really all I can say. I definitely appreciated the direction this one took though and can only applaud the author for managing to pull off something unique and pretty magical in the end. Definitely recommended by me, especially if you’re looking for a truly escapist read.

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: All the Broken People by Leah Konen

Goodreads

Release date: June 30, 2020

Publisher: Putnam

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

Fleeing Brooklyn with little more than a suitcase and her trusty dog, Lucy King heads to rustic Woodstock, New York, eager to lose herself in a quiet life where her past can never find her. But when she meets Vera and John, the alluring couple next door, their friendship proves impossible to resist. Just as Lucy starts to think the worst is behind her, the couple delivers a staggering bombshell: they, too, need to escape their troubles — and the only way they can begin their new life is if Lucy helps them fake John’s death.

Afraid to lose her newfound support system, Lucy reluctantly conspires with them to stage an “accidental” death on a hike nearby. It’s just one little lie to the police, after all, and she knows a thing or two about the importance of fresh starts. But what begins as an elaborate ruse turns all too real when John turns up dead in the woods the morning after their hike. Now, Lucy must figure out who she can trust and who’s pulling the strings of her tenuous new life… before she takes the fall for murder.

Review:

The premise of this one totally sucked me in, faking someone’s death just sounds like the worst idea ever and you just know that nothing will go off as planned, right?! On top of that, Lucy has a shadowy past and the relationship dynamics between her and her new neighbors, Vera and John just intrigued me to no end. It definitely had me gripped and felt like a pretty solid domestic thriller.

This is one of those tricky thrillers that I figured would be pretty predictable and average at best the whole time I was reading it. It was definitely compulsive and entertaining, I just assumed I knew exactly where things were headed and I was dead wrong which is always the best! The ending was solid and threw me for a loop (or two) and I found it to be really clever in the end. It made me appreciate the whole book all the more with one of those, ok I see what you did there moments with a really fantastic reveal. Definitely recommended if you’re tired of thrillers all feeling the same, this one was pretty original.

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: The Last Flight by Julie Clark

Goodreads

Release date: June 23, 2020

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

Two women. Two Flights. One last chance to disappear.

Claire Cook has a perfect life. Married to the scion of a political dynasty, with a Manhattan townhouse and a staff of ten, her surroundings are elegant, her days flawlessly choreographed, and her future auspicious. But behind closed doors, nothing is quite as it seems. That perfect husband has a temper that burns as bright as his promising political career, and he’s not above using his staff to track Claire’s every move, making sure she’s living up to his impossible standards. But what he doesn’t know is that Claire has worked for months on a plan to vanish.

A chance meeting in an airport bar brings her together with a woman whose circumstances seem equally dire. Together they make a last-minute decision to switch tickets ― Claire taking Eva’s flight to Oakland, and Eva traveling to Puerto Rico as Claire. They believe the swap will give each of them the head start they need to begin again somewhere far away. But when the flight to Puerto Rico goes down, Claire realizes it’s no longer a head start but a new life. Cut off, out of options, with the news of her death about to explode in the media, Claire will assume Eva’s identity, and along with it, the secrets Eva fought so hard to keep hidden.

The Last Flight is the story of two women ― both alone, both scared ― and one agonizing decision that will change the trajectory of both of their lives. 

Review:

This one felt like the best blend of WF and thriller combined, it had the fast paced, anxious and suspenseful feeling of a thriller and the gut punching emotional trauma that WF sometimes has. It also had an incredibly strong premise, great characterization and awesome pacing that kept me engaged throughout.

I mentioned the characterization earlier and I wanted to elaborate on that a bit more, I think many of us avid thriller fans are sick and tired of reading books where the female characters are weak. It was SO refreshing to read about not just one, but two women who are strong and determined and I found myself easily rooting for both of them. It flips between Claire in present day and Eva in the past and I was very caught up and interested in both of their stories. A super solid mystery and definitely a great addition to your summer TBR!

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: The Lion’s Den by Katherine St. John

Goodreads

Release date: June 30, 2020

Publisher: Grand Central

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Blurb:

Belle likes to think herself immune to the dizzying effects of fabulous wealth. But when her best friend, Summer, invites her on a glamorous getaway to the Mediterranean aboard her billionaire boyfriend’s yacht, the only sensible answer is yes. Belle hopes the trip will be a much-needed break from her stalled acting career and uniquely humiliating waitressing job, but once she’s aboard the luxurious Lion’s Den, it soon becomes clear this jet-setting holiday is not as advertised.

Belle’s dream vacation quickly devolves into a nightmare as she and the handful of other girls Summer invited are treated more like prisoners than guests by their controlling host-and in one terrifying moment, Belle comes to see Summer for who she truly is: a vicious gold digger who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. 

Belle realizes she’s going to have to keep her wits about her — and her own big secret closely hidden — if she wants to make it off the yacht alive.

Review:

Alright I have yet another ideal summer read for you guys today, this one is wicked and salacious and way more fun that I was expecting it to be. It gave me Jackie Collins vibes with the whole rich people behaving badly thing and then also reminded me a little of Below Deck as it’s set mostly on a luxury yacht. I expected it to be fluffy and light, total brain candy and while it was, it also ended up being a little dark and mysterious as well.

This is all told from Belle’s POV as she joins her BFF Summer on her much older, much richer boyfriends yacht for a week spent luxuriating in the Mediterranean. It all winds up being too good to be true as the guests are all heavily monitored and controlled turning a dream vacation into a total nightmare. There are also flashback chapters dating all the way back to when Summer and Belle first met and then leading up to right before the trip began, and secrets, deception and lies are slowly revealed making this such a tantalizing read. It really is the ultimate summer binge read, entertaining and wildly fun!

Overall rating: 4.5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: She’s Faking It by Kristin Rockaway

Goodreads

Release date: June 30, 2020

Publisher: Graydon House

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Blurb:

You can’t put a filter on reality.

Bree Bozeman isn’t exactly pursuing the life of her dreams. Then again, she isn’t too sure what those dreams are. After dropping out of college, she’s living a pretty chill life in the surf community of Pacific Beach, San Diego…if “chill” means delivering food as a GrubGetter, and if it means “uneventful”.

But when Bree starts a new Instagram account — @breebythesea — one of her posts gets a signal boost from none other than wildly popular self-help guru Demi DiPalma, owner of a lifestyle brand empire. Suddenly, Bree just might be a rising star in the world of Instagram influencing. Is this the direction her life has been lacking? It’s not a career choice she’d ever seriously considered, but maybe it’s a sign from the universe. After all, Demi’s the real deal… right?

Everything is lining up for Bree: life goals, career, and even a blossoming romance with the chiseled guy next door, surf star Trey Cantu. But things are about to go sideways fast, and even the perfect filter’s not gonna fix it. Instagram might be free, but when your life looks flawless on camera, what’s the cost? 

Review:
I know there are quite a few books out right now featuring social media influencers in some manner but I really liked the spin the author put on that trendy theme. Bree isn’t an established influencer by any means, she has an Instagram account but she rarely uses it until she decides to use it as her own personal vision board. Before she can get very far in her plan to visualize herself into a better life she stumbles into becoming a nano influencer and becomes super caught up into crafting a well maintained, if inauthentic online presence. It was a funny and all too relatable look at how SM impacts our lives and I couldn’t not like Bree even if she seemed a little too helpless at times.
Bree’s relationship with her sister plays a big role in the story and I always enjoy reading about the dynamics of a sister relationship. Trey was a swoon worthy hero for the most part though he did irritate me a little towards the end. The best part for me was seeing Bree push herself outside of her comfort zone and try and take action in her own life. Fake it until you make it is a saying for a reason and watching her take risks and try and better herself was uplifting. Definitely recommended as a fun, breezy summer read!
Overall rating: 4/5
Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Goodreads

Release date: June 30, 2020

Publisher: Dutton

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

Review:

As a longtime RS fan I have to start by saying I think this may be his best yet, you’ve got a suspenseful storyline with the added bonus of a creepy AF haunted house, a book within a book AND two timelines. There is something about the authors style that is truly his own, there’s a scariness of the type that gives you legit goosebumps, coupled with a taut and twisty plot that always seems to leave my head spinning and this was no exception.

Per usual one of the best aspects of this is the setting, did I mention there’s a haunted house?! There is such scary, well crafted atmosphere in this setting that by the time I finished it I was convinced my own house was haunted. I’m not really gonna get into the plot because it’s best left discovered on your own, but I will say that the flipping back and forth between the book House of Horrors and Maggie in present day was fantastic, especially as Maggie’s experiences started to mirror what had happened at Baneberry Hall when she was a kid, SO creepy! Definitely another hit from the author, especially if you like a thriller with a supernatural touch.

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.