Little Eve Review

Book: Little Eve
Author: Catriona Ward
Publisher: Nightfire
Year: 2022
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “On the wind-battered isle of Altnaharra, off the wildest coast of Scotland, a clan prepares to bring about the end of the world and its imminent rebirth. The Adder is coming, and one of their number will inherit its powers. They all want the honor, but young Eve is willing to do anything for the distinction. A reckoning beyond Eve’s imagination begins when Chief Inspector Black arrives to investigate a brutal murder, and their sacred ceremony goes terribly wrong. And soon, all the secrets of Altnaharra will be uncovered.”

Review: Wow, can you believe it? A 5 star review for an uncorrected advanced reader copy? It seems almost too good to be true! I kid, of course, but you know how I’ve felt about a lot of the ARCs I’ve received – particularly suspenseful fiction, even more so with a female narrator. I did happen to read an ARC from Catriona Ward last year, Sundial, but never got around to reviewing it. In fairness, Sundial was so strange and creepy I wasn’t entirely sure how to review it, but it would have also certainly garnered at least 3 stars (it’s been a little while since I read it, so I can’t say for sure what I would have rated it but I can tell you it was very good, especially for the genre).

Little Eve bounces around between, mainly, two narrators. It jumps back and forth in time, ranging from 1917 to 1945, telling a twisting tale both as it unfolds in real time and as a series of letters written to the aforementioned Chief Inspector Black. This book is filled with turns, not everyone is who we think them to be and even as details are revealed we have to keep in mind that the narration is coming from characters who are nearly as in the dark as we are as readers. Little Eve tells the tale of a man, “Uncle”, who possesses a unique gift called The Eye. Uncle, with his powers of understanding and persuasion, convinces two women to move to his inherited home on the isle of Altnaharra – for all intents and purposes, a castle on the edge of the sea, behind which is a ring of towering stones Uncle and his family use for ritual-esque purposes. The three then adopt four children, three girls and a boy, who grow up and live on the isle with their somewhat cobbled together family.

The book begins with a retelling of the events that unfold on the cold morning of January 2 1921, when the local butcher, Jamie MacRaith, makes his way to the Castle of Altnaharra to deliver a slab of beef for Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve). Jamie is a few days late because of a wicked winter storm, and when he arrives at Altnaharra to deliver the beef, instead of a locked gate at the entrance to the lone isle, he finds the gate ajar and blood on the ground. Jamie is the first to discover the five bodies of those in residence at Altnaharra; each with a single eye removed, dead or nearly so, arranged in a circle within the stones behind the castle. The rest of the book tells the story of the previous four years and what exactly transpired to bring Uncle, the two women, and the four children who lived on the isle with him to their ultimate demise. (And yes, I correctly said five bodies and not seven, all is revealed in time.)

Little Eve weaves a web of cult-like behavior, made up religious beliefs, possible magical powers, and confusion through it’s story-line. Unlike other books I’ve read that have attempted to spin a yarn so complex and failed in a jumble of convoluted nonsense and confusion, Ward has managed to weave a web of complexity that unfolds in a pleasing way. Nothing is as it seems. Nothing plays out the way you expect it to, even if you’re like me and prefer to guess incessantly as the book reveals its secrets, it holds those secrets closely guarded until it’s ready to reveal them and astonish you. I referred to this book twice now as a woven web, and I would generally not repeat a phrase like that but it’s the only way I can think to explain the inner workings of what Ward has managed to achieve. Little Eve is complex in the best ways: you can’t ever quite rule anything out no matter how much your mind might want you to, all options are on the table until the last chapter, and even then there are still secrets being revealed right up until the end.

I was so surprisingly satisfied with how this book played out that I couldn’t help but give it 5 stars. Not only was it well constructed, it was a compelling story, and the best part? It was well written. And not just well written for an Arc, it was well written. I have not a single complaint or wish for this book and if you’ve been here for a bit, you know that’s no small feat. Little Eve left me stewing over how it might play out for several days when I accidentally left the book at home when I went on vacation – I couldn’t wait to get back to the plot, to see where it was going to take me! That’s the mark of a great book in my opinion. I can only hope to read more from Catriona Ward in the future, she has exceeded every expectation.

Advice: If you like a good suspenseful novel, a dark mystery, a cult story, or an ending you cannot predict then boy do I have the book for you. If you love a good twist (or four, or five), I think you’ll love Little Eve. If, however, you’re looking for something light and fluffy, or prefer a narrative that doesn’t jump around between characters, this is probably not quite the book for you. All in all, I found this to be an enjoyable, complex, engaging, and dark read.

Things We Do in the Dark Review

Book: Things We Do in the Dark
Author: Jennifer Hillier
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Year: 2022
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “In the dark, monsters are real. When Paris Peralta is arrested in her own bathroom – covered in blood, holding a straight razor, her celebrity husband dead in the bathtub – she knows she’s in serious trouble.
In the dark, it never happened. But as bad as it looks, the arrest is not what worries her the most. With the unwanted media attention now surrounding her, it’s only a matter of time before someone from her old life recognizes her and destroys everything she’s worked so hard to build.
In the dark, she could be anyone. Because Paris has a dark past. And she’ll do anything to keep it hidden.”

Review: Things We Do in the Dark has a promising synopsis, it sounds intriguing and dark, mysterious and interesting. To say it falls flat is an understatement. To be completely honest, I found myself bored reading this book. There was a tiny section where I grew more interested somewhere around 3/4 of the way through, but it was short lived and the book returned to it’s dull story-telling for it’s finale. Hillier skirts the more graphic details of Paris’ previous life, stopping short of telling you what’s really going on, leaving it up to the reader’s imagination. I personally think if you’re going to tell a story that requires some content warnings, and this does, you might as well go all in and embrace what you’re telling rather than apologize for it by simply not describing or naming the thing. So let’s talk about the content warnings: Things We Do in the Dark contains implications of pedopohelia, assault, domestic violence, and PTSD. It references harm to a minor, incest, and contains racist language. While all of the above sounds fairly graphic, this book would likely receive a PG-13 rating as a movie, do with that what you will.

Though this book has little to nothing to do with music, each chapter begins with a quote from a popular song. The song lyrics rarely, if ever, tie into the chapter, and the effect is meaningless. It adds to my distaste for how this book was put together, giving the impression that perhaps there are places in the book that should have been highlighted in order to tie in with the chapter lyrics. Why go through the trouble of choosing lyrics for each chapter of a book that has nothing to do with music? I believe it’s referenced one, maybe two times through the entire 397 page book. This is the least of my issues, however. While the writing was fine and I found almost no grammatical errors that seem to be common in ARCs, it lacked that thing that makes you want to keep turning pages. It took me much longer to read this book than the past few ARCs simply because I didn’t care what happened. Not only did I figure out what was going on long before it was revealed because it was glaringly obvious, the “twists” were revealed much too early to give the reader any incentive to keep going. I’ve said it many times before, you don’t have to be a good writer to write a compelling story. I’ve read many books that were poorly executed but I kept turning the pages because I needed to know what was going to happen. What We Do in the Dark is simply not that book.

Hillier doesn’t stay true to her character, Paris, toward the end stating “[she] had been trained not to cry.” But by this point, we’ve seen the main character cry several times. This might seem small, but this sentence was 301 pages into the book and by this time the main character has cried no less than five times that we know of. Hillier tells Paris’ story by jumping back and forth between Paris’ point of view in the present, her point of view in the past, and the point of view of her former best friend / roommate, Drew. Paris has lived a hard life full of oppression, abuse, and trauma, yet when she reconnects with Drew, supposedly the best person in her life, potentially the love of her life, he is condescending, offensive, and patronizing. While she stands up for herself, she doesn’t demand apology or change from Drew, she simply allows him to continue to be the bully he has always been. I’m not sure why he’s painted to be a savior figure here, but he becomes someone she relies upon once again as her perspective jumps back to the future (she relied on him a great deal in her younger years, before she had the wherewithal to stand up for herself), and I found myself feeling completely disgusted as I read.

Things We Do in the Dark, lastly, is entitled far too closely to the hit TV show What We Do in the Shadows and contains names of characters that share names of characters in other TV shows. While none are related, and I suspect are just coincidence, I couldn’t read through the book without making the connections and I have to wonder why an editor wouldn’t suggest some name changes. Least of all, the title of the book should be at least slightly more different, as What We Do in the Shadows is a current, and wildly popular show that has absolutely nothing in common with this book. These are semantics, I suppose, but added to my pile of issues with reading through this book, end up being more than small irritants I could look past.

Advice: Skip this book. There are no surprises, there are no twists that you won’t see coming a mile away, there’s nothing interesting here. While it may be sort of unique in plot, it’s not wholly unique and could be supplemented with several other suspense novels, including any of the past suspense novels I’ve read and criticized for being cookie cutter versions of each other. This one is not worth the read.

Omens Bite Review

Book: Omens Bite
Author: PC Cast and Kristin Cast
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Year: 2022
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis:Something wicked this way comes…
Twin sisters, Mercy and Hunter are witches, descendants of the Goode family of witches. After the murder of their mother at the hands of a foul demon, they have become the protectors of the Gates to different underworlds — ancient portals between their world and realms where mythology rules and the darkest of creatures exist.
The problem is that the Goode sisters have split from each other. Grief and anger have torn them apart, driving Mercy to save the cursed Gates on her own and Hunter in the arms of a dangerous goddess. And when Mercy shifts her focus to the Egyptian Gate and Khenti, the guardian of its Underworld, little does she know that her connection to him will land her in the kind of trouble that only Hunter can save her from.
When it comes to breaking the curse, Mercy and Hunter’s bonds are put to the ultimate test.”

Review: You may remember when, back in April 2021, I reviewed the first book in this trilogy “Spells Trouble”. I gave the first book in the series a 2 out of 5 stars and felt certain that after my fairly scathing review I would not be granted the opportunity to read the second book, but I have been proven wrong. As you may have noticed, I gave the second book a slightly higher review and despite the glaring grammar choices in the title of the book, I do think it deserves the 1/2 point boost. The first book left us with a cliffhanger that genuinely did make me curious about the second book – as a good cliffhanger should do! The second book has done the same to set up the third and in that regard, the Cast family does a good job of priming their readers for their upcoming creations. The writing was less disjointed this time around, as well, which was a pleasant surprise. Where the first book felt like a rough first draft, the second feels a bit more polished and thought out. They’ve begun to flesh out the characters in a way that’s working for the story and there’s more depth this time around.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fluffy piece of YA fiction that doesn’t challenge the reader on any level, but I think it’s worth noting that the writing has indeed improved from the first to the second book and one can only hope that trend will continue with the third.
I was in the bookstore the other day, browsing the YA section to see which of my ARCs have been published, when I stumbled upon what I can only refer to as a trove of books written by PC and Kristin Cast. This is not their first rodeo. Imagine my surprise! They have been in the writing game for quite a number of years, and frankly you would never know it. The storytelling is weak, at best, throughout much of the book as it was in the first, and while it’s compelling (and I think at this point I’ve established that I think a book can be compelling without being well written), it’s not well written. Need I say more than to point out the lack of apostrophe in the title? Omen’s Bite. Omens Bite. One has to wonder where the publisher is in all of this.

Advice: The fact that you have to read the first book in order to understand the second is a big deterrent in my advice here, because I stand by my first review: the first book is not worth the read. Despite the writing taking a turn for the better with the second, I still recommend that you pass this one up in favor of better writing and more interesting storylines. I, however, am a sucker for a cliffhanger and will be curious to see if next year I get the opportunity to review the third book. I will obviously keep you posted.

The Grimrose Girls Review

Book: The Grimrose Girls
Author: Laura Pohl
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Year: 2021
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “After the mysterious death of their best friend, Ella, Yuki, and Rory are the talk of their elite school, Primrose Academie. The police ruled Ariane’s death as a suicide, but the trio are determined to find out what really happened.
When Nana Estes arrives as their newest roommate, it sets into motion a series of events that no one could have predicted. As the girls retrace their friend’s final days, they discover a dark secret about Grimrose – Ariane wasn’t the first dead girl.
They soon learn that all the past murders are connected to ancient fairy-tale curses…and that their own fates are tied to the stories, dooming the girls to brutal and gruesome endings unless they can break the cycle for good.”

Review: This book left me frustrated. The cover is compelling and interesting and the synopsis sounds like this will be an enjoyable YA read, but frankly it was none of the above. Covering themes that are played out and tired in a way that is not fresh or new feels like a waste of time. How many times can we reread or re-watch Cinderella before we find that we no longer need to engage in the latest adaptation? The fact is, we already know how that story goes. Pohl crafted a story that revolved around fairytale stories, which could be interesting especially knowing that the fairytale stories she’s referencing in the book are the original versions and not the Disneyfied ‘happily ever after’ versions. But, sadly, we meet yet another character named Ella who lives with an evil step mother and two terrible stepsister. She’s literally covered in ash at one point, and spends her weekends cleaning the house – to the extent that her hands are covered in scars. There’s nothing new to this retelling other than the fact that the remainder of the characters barely resemble the fairytales they’re based on and there’s no continuity between them.
I’m not sure where Pohl was going with this book and I’m not sure we’ll know until the second (of how many?) book comes out. There’s a slow buildup followed by a quick and confusing falling action at the end, leaving me googling whether or not there would be a second book because honestly, it’s not clear. Pohl ties up enough of the loose ends to assume the end could truly be the end, but leaves just a few strings untied – instead of feeling like a cliffhanger that I need to see resolved, it feels like the mark of poor writing to leave just a few pieces untouched while the rest finds itself resolved. In fact, yes, there will be a second book to tie up the few remaining loose ends and, I assume, create new ones. I’m frustrated with how disappointing this book turned out to be, and I’m tempted to say “even for a YA read” but the fact of the matter is, a YA read does not have to be disappointing or poorly written. A fantasy YA read, for that matter, doesn’t need to be disappointing or poorly written! Where’s the precedent for a higher standard of book? Nowhere to be found in The Grimrose Girls, sadly, though the opportunity did exist. The challenge was simply not risen to, and I find myself yet again let down by poor writing.

Advice: The phrasing throughout this book was off, the pacing was slow, and the characters were shallow and lackluster. This book seemed like it had the potential to be engaging and interesting and it fell flat. There are better YA fantasy books out there. If you’re looking for something light where you won’t have to think much, if at all, this is going to do the trick. If you’re looking for compelling, interesting, and/or challenging, this is not it.

The Bone Orchard Review

Book: The Bone Orchard
Author: Sara A. Mueller
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2022
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Welcome to Orchard House – where the wealthy and influential men of Borenguard come to dine, drink, play cards, and talk politics. It’s where they come to visit with Mistress Charm and those birthed from the fruit of an orchard of bone trees, grown in vats, made to sere her and the needs of her guests.
But Mistress Charm herself is bound, a mind lock planted in her skull to harness her power and ensure her obedience. Now, the very emperor who destroyed her people and bound her to his will promises her freedom. If she can solve a murder – his own. Lying on his deathbed, he gives her one last command – discover which of his sons betrayed him and plotted his death.
Charm has lived a life of illusions, lies she told herself, lies she told others. The biggest lie of all was that she had choices in her life. But now, free to act at last, the fate of an empire rests in her hands.”

Review: I suppose fantasy is not one of my favorite genres when it isn’t done as seamlessly as I’m hoping for. We’re entering a world we know nothing about and relying upon the author to be given the gift of sight in this new dimension. We don’t know what this realm looks or sounds or smells like, we don’t know the intricacies of the inhabitants, there’s a need to an author to paint a picture in a fantasy book and I’m not entirely sure that Mueller did that as I was hoping or needing. I’ve been torn over how to review this book, quite frankly. There’s a disjointedness to The Bone Orchard that feels frustrating as you read, but I wonder if this was perhaps on purpose to give the reader a taste of what it’s like to live with a mindlock as so many of the characters in the book do. Unable to leave the compound, our main character(s) Charm only knows what she hears from her patrons and from what her bone ghosts tell her – one of whom does leave the compound regularly. The bone ghosts are literal representations of different aspects of Charm’s character, each named to show us which aspect they represent: Pride, Shame, Pain, Justice, and the like.
The book seems to jump back and forth between the complexities of the political system in this world, systems that include multiple sons of the emperor each with their own great failings, and the inner world of Charm. I found myself thinking at multiple points during the course of the book that this is a story that would benefit from a list of characters and their traits at the beginning of the book. Perhaps even a map of the country and surrounding countries. There’s a lot going on, a lot to wrap your mind around, and a lot of characters to keep straight – not helped in the least by the fact that half the main characters are all aspects of the same person. All the while, told as if being viewed through a small lens – no peripheral vision included. Is this a strategic literary tool used to give the reader the understanding of how little the main character(s) are aware of? Or a lack of detail missed by the author, the one person who truly understands and sees this world as we will never be able to? I finished the book and remained unclear.

I did enjoy this book, though there were several heart-breaking and graphic descriptions of war-time traumas and tragedies including assault, death of a child, and murder. It is however, in many instances, not for the faint of heart.

Advice: The pacing felt off, the complexities of the political system in this world were exhausting, and the story-telling felt disjointed. It did not strike me as the best execution of a fantasy novel. However, the underlying story was interesting, the characters had depth, and I was compelled to finish the book to find out who the murderer was. Overall, it’s okay. If you love fantasy, it might be worth your time. It fantasy is only a passing fancy, it’s probably best to skip this one.

The Orphan Witch Review

Book: The Orphan Witch
Author: Paige Crutcher
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Year: 2021
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Abandoned as an infant, Persephone May has been alone her entire life. Uneqxplainable things happen when she’s around – changes in weather, inanimate objects taking flight – and those who seek to bring her into their family quickly cast her out. To cope, she never gets attached, never makes friends, never dates, and is always leaving one town for another.
Persephone things perhaps she was made…wrong. Maybe she’s cursed.
Invited by the one friend she’s managed to keep, Persephone finds herself on the elusive Isle of Wile – a place that may hold the very things she’s been searching for her entire life: family, sisterhood, and a sense of belonging. But will a 100-year-old curse force her to sacrifice her life for the ones she now calls home or will her lineage remain lost forever? Magic always exacts its price.”

Review: I’m not going to lie, after my last somewhat witchy ARC, I was a little hesitant to get my hopes up for The Orphan Witch, in fairness I’ve had a lot of not-so-great advanced copies this year and my hopes have been rather crushed. I’m happy to say, though, that Crutcher has restored my faith in ARCs with her beautiful debut novel. The Orphan Witch is dripping with imagery in all the right ways, it feels like drinking a cup of hot tea with honey: warm and refreshing and decadent.
That’s not to say there aren’t some rough patches that I expect with an ARC – places where a word has been left out or the story doesn’t quite add up but it’s nothing that a final revision won’t take care of and I have no worries that the finalized copy will be anything less than magical.
Crutcher weaves a beautiful story of family and friendship, interwoven with fantasy and stunning mystical realms that makes you want to find your way to Wile Isle as quickly as possible so you can see the thick fog rolling in through the trees, plant your bare feet in the greener than green grass, and maybe buy some baked goods from the locals who are cursed to remain on the Isle for half of the year. I’m ready to pack my bags and go! Persephone is a relatable character, despite clearly having magical powers and isolation issues. Her new-found friends turned family are welcoming characters to read and you immediately begin to picture exactly who they are, what they look like, how they interact with each other without being explicitly told any of those points – which in my estimation is what makes a good book great.
Crutcher, in her bio, mentions that she’s a yoga lover and it’s easy to pick that up throughout the book as she throws little yoga philosophies in here and there almost with a wink and a nod to the yoga-loving reader. She mentions crystals and actually gets their meanings and colors correct, as I’ve found are often misconstrued in fiction, and has her characters drinking hot tea on a regular basis which served to make me want to drink hot tea as I read through the book. The Orphan Witch is well crafted, well researched, well written, and well edited which feels like a feat sometimes, to be frank. The pacing flows well, the conversations feel real, and the overall feel of the book is warm and inviting. I can’t wait to read what she comes out with next!

Advice: Mark this one on your calendar, you’re going to want to pick up a copy as soon as it comes out September of 2021. Reading this one felt like watching Practical Magic – there’s something comforting about it that you turn to when you’re not feeling well or just need a boost of happiness and enchantment. I highly recommend this one!

The Retreat Review

Book: The Retreat
Author: Elisabeth De Mariaff
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Year: 2021
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Maeve arrives at the High Water Center for the Arts determined to do one thing: begin her own dance company. A retired performer and mother of two, time is running out for her to find her feet again after the collapse of a disastrous – and violent – marriage. And initially, there’s a thrill to being on her own for the first time in years, isolated int he beauty of a snowy mountain lodge. But when an avalanche traps the guests inside, tensions begin to run high. Help is coming, so the just have to hold on – right?
But as the days pass, strange deaths befall the others one by one. Soon Maeve must face how little she knows about anyone there…and how useless a locked door is if the darkness is already inside.”

Review: I was pleasantly surprised to find in my hands a thriller that didn’t fall into the same old drunk female narrator / unreliable female narrator trope. For once. De Mariaff successfully creates a story that genuinely thrilled me, kept me guessing, and found me on the edge of my seat which seems like a feat these days in the realm of thrillers. We find Maeve, the narrator, high in the Rocky Mountains at a nearly empty ski lodge as a blizzard moves in and blankets the entire town, effectively cutting the lodge off from the rest of the world. Phone lines are down, the electricity goes out, save for a generator at the lodge, and the threat of grizzly bears in the wilderness reigns supreme.
We get just enough background information on Maeve to know that she’s resilient, strong, and fierce – a protectress of anything she holds dear. Her fellow occupants of the lodge are mostly unknown, though they do eventually end up spending a bit of time together as the heat slowly escapes from their rooms and the occupants are forced to spend days and nights together in the main room of the lodge. We begin to realize all is not as it seems with her fellow artists and strange happenings start to occur. While the end doesn’t exactly present itself as a plot twist, we do spend much of the book wondering and guessing who the killer could be, and in my opinion that’s exactly how a thriller should be. There is little to know actual investigating that happens, though, the book is primarily comprised of survival, including the end.
The finale of the book left a bit to be desired, as it wrapped up with mere pages left. A trend I’ve noticed in the world of thrillers is a long and slow buildup to the climax and a brief conclusion that leaves you wondering why you just read 300-something pages for a single page ending. The Retreat was no different. We find ourselves at the end of the book with perhaps two pages left as Maeve finds the killer and wraps up the climax action and the books ends with essentially no conclusion. It’s up to the reader to decide whether Maeve truly survives in the end or not and personally, I don’t love that in a book. I can appreciate certain details being left hanging for a reader to wrap up in their own way, but I just did all the work of watching Maeve fight for survival, I’d at least like an epilogue that let’s me know she actually did get out after all.

Advice: This book should come with some content warnings as it does deal heavily with domestic violence and birth trauma, so if those themes are sensitive for you to read, this is likely not going to be the right book for you. If you love a thriller, a locked room riddle, or a good-old-fashioned ski lodge mystery, I think you’ll enjoy The Retreat.

Spells Trouble Review

Book: Spells Trouble
Author: PC Cast and Kristin Cast
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Year: 2021
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Synopsis : “Hunter and Mercy Goode are twin witches, direct descendants of the founder of their town of Goodeville. As their ancestors have done before them, it is now time for the twins to learn what it means to be Gatekeepers – the protectors of the Gates to different underworlds, ancient portals between their world and realms where mythology rules and nightmares come to life.
When their mother becomes the first victim in a string of murders, the devastated sisters vow to avenge her death. But it will take more than magic to rein in the ancient mythological monsters who’ve infected their peaceful town.
Now Hunter and Mercy must come together and accept their destiny or risk being separated for good.

Review: Spells Trouble is, in a word, disappointing. I was so excited to get an ARC that came as a package – it delivered with a notebook, candles, a crystal, a map of the town of Goodeville, and the book. How cute is that? That was likely the best part of the entire experience reading this book. I can appreciate the thought that went into the ARC package, especially when most ARCs come alone and I feel lucky to get a piece of paper with a few more details in the envelope when I receive them. But, if you’re going to put this much thought and effort into the ARC package, surely there was room for more thought and effort in the execution of the book. I couldn’t help but wonder, as I read through, how this ever got past an editor. There were plot holes, to say the least, the character development was flat and stale, the conversation was laughable, and there were so many instances where it felt impossible to follow what was happening that it’s almost a wonder I managed to finish the book at all.

Don’t get me wrong, the concept is compelling especially in the realm of YA fiction, but this should have been a first draft. It would have made for an awesome first draft! The execution is poor. There’s an instance where a character’s outfit changes mid chapter, mid scene – after having made a point of mentioning their dress just paragraphs earlier, suddenly we find this character wiping her hands on her jeans. The writing feels…off. There’s mention of someone’s jean skirt but it’s written multiple times as a ‘jeans skirt’. My partner suggested that this could be a regional thing, but Spells Trouble is set in Illinois and I’ve lived in that part of the country, it’s not regional. It’s poor writing. I can only assume we learn Hunter’s best friend, Jax, has the last name of Ashley at the beginning of the book (I don’t remember reading that, it’s entirely possible I did and it didn’t stick), because somewhere around 3/4 of the way through the book he’s referred to as Ashley with zero explanation and it’s never mentioned again. Poor writing.

I also want to talk about how overdone and tired the Salem witch trial genealogy trope is. Surely we can come up with better examples? The witch trials of Salem were such a small part of American history, let alone world wide history. Witch trials happened all over the world and yet we almost exclusively find fiction related to Salem. A teensy bit more research could have made this a more compelling read. I’m so sick of seeing books, tv shows, and movies that focus completely on Salem and disregard other places in which hundreds of people were accused, convicted, and killed for witchcraft. For a city who convicted 20 people of witchcraft, it’s hard to see why it continues to hold the spotlight during a portion of history in which some 12,000 people were convicted. And yet, here we are again.

There are a few steamier scenes for a YA novel, so I would put this more in the arena of a high school read, but the writing reflects more of a middle school / elementary school read. There are graphic scenes of violence that I would not recommend for anyone under high school age or anyone who might be sensitive to things of that nature as well, but again, the writing reflects a much younger audience. Like I said, poor writing, and I’ll add poor editing to boot. There are so many things about this book that frustrate me. My frustration largely resides with the potential this book had. It could have been so good, it could have been done so much better, it should have been edited so much better, but it’s mediocre at best. I struggled between giving this a 2 and a 2.5 but ultimately I landed on a 2 because It wasn’t good enough to hit a 50% in my book. I can’t say it enough, it felt like a first draft. I know ARCs are often incomplete, still lacking a final touch of editing, but this goes so far beyond a final touch. This book requires several more rounds of writing, editing, and rewriting. Sigh.

Advice: Steer clear of this one. It’s genuinely not worth it and that’s about all I have to say on that.

The Other Black Girl Review

Book : The Other Black Girl
Author : Zakiya Dalila Harris
Publisher : Atria Books
Year : 2021
Rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis : “Nella Rogers is an ambitious young Black woman trying to make her mark at the legendary Wagner Books. Needless to say, she is thrilled when Hazel joins the team and is eager for the friendship she assumes will be just around the corner, easy, and immediate. but when a moment of support goes horribly wrong (in a very public way), Nella retreats and finds herself watching and questioning Hazel’s every move. Urgent, propulsive, brilliant, and hilarious, The Other Black Girl is a psychological masterpiece, where micro aggressions and gaslighting turn a company’s “civilized” atmosphere into a slowly unraveling horror.”

Review : The Other Black Girl was a slow burning, psychologically thrilling, completely haunting novel. I’m torn, generally, between love and hate for a book who jumps between characters; it’s either done well or it’s not, there’s very little middle ground. Harris nearly-perfectly executes this technique (nearly, hence the .5 rating) throughout the entirety of the novel but lost me briefly at the end with a chapter that was not entitled and left me trying to guess who the character was supposed to be – probably the point of the chapter, but ultimately it felt disjointed. Aside from the minor disjointedness from the final chapter, the rest of the book read easily and enjoyably. Finally, a thriller that doesn’t follow the same, old, stale routine. It’s a miracle.
I loved the pacing of this book. It’s not clear it’s even entering into the world of thrillers and horror until you’re well into it, setting the stage for a deeply personal encounter. All of the build up had a point, it all lead to a conclusion that was surprisingly twisty, and I never once felt like there was story just for the sake of filling pages. I’m grateful when I find a book that engages details that further the plot rather than a book I come away from wondering why I read half of what I read.
Harris leaves us wanting more as she wraps the book up and for that I’m both frustrated and glad. I wish there was more! I still have questions and there are characters I was hoping to hear more from, but it doesn’t feel empty or come across as incomplete. It reads like a good book should: realistically (as much as can be expected from a thriller / horror novel). Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t always want a book to tie up a story into a neat little bow, they read as stilted and unlikely. Harris proves that you can have an unlikely story without creating a book that feels unlikely.

Advice : If you like thrillers, psychological movies, or an unexpected ending, you’ll love The Other Black Girl. It is a truly well written novel that will suck you in and keep you coming back for more. I highly recommend this book!

I Don’t Forgive You Review

Book : I Don’t Forgive You
Author : Aggie Blum Thompson
Publisher : Forge
Year : 2021
Rating : 2 out of 5 stars

Synopsis : “An accomplished photographer and the devoted mom of an adorable little boy, Allie Ross has just moved to an upscale D.C. suburb, the kind of place where parenting feels like a competitive sport. Allie’s desperate to make a good first impression. Then she’s framed for murder.
It all starts at a neighborhood party when a local dad corners Allie and calls her by an old, forgotten nickname from her dark past. The next day, he is found dead.
Soon, the police are knocking at her door, grilling her about a supposed Tinder relationship with the man, and pulling up texts between them. She learns quickly that she’s been hacked and someone is impersonating her online. Her reputation – socially and professionally – is at stake, even her husband starts to doubt her. As the killer closes in, Allie must reach back into a past she vowed to forget in order to learn the shocking truth of who is destroying her life.”

Review : I Don’t Forgive You employs tired tropes that seem to be plaguing the suspense / thriller book world. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Without any effort whatsoever, I can think of five recent thriller books that have the exact same plot – woman has a dark past, woman is too stubborn to share dark past with anyone in her life, woman drinks heavily and is considered unreliable by everyone in her life, woman is accused of crime, woman refuses to do anything to clear her name of crime, and finally, when the book is 99.5% complete, the truth comes out and within a page and a half the book is over. Throw in some blatant spousal gaslighting, police incompetence, a bumbling main character who somehow has no idea how the internet works, and you have yourself the outline of a brand new! never before seen! thriller novel!
Allie Ross is supposed to be somewhere around 35 with a slightly older husband, I’m guessing he’s older by 4 or maybe 5 years. At one point, when he asks her how to pay for an Uber, she rolls her eyes and calls him “such a gen-xer” and yet, when Allie’s home computer (not laptop, somehow) is taken from her house by the police, she wonders to herself how in the world she’ll pay her bills – all of which she pays online. She wonders this to herself as she holds her cell phone. But the epiphany doesn’t come in the form of her phone, it comes when she realizes they’ve left behind her laptop. We’re supposed to believe this woman in her mid 30s has zero concept of computer hacking, trolling, or that fake accounts using your name and likeness is something that happens on a regular basis. She bumbles her way through google searches, contacts Facebook and Tinder like they’re real people she expects to have conversations with, and ultimately acts like she’s never seen this new fangled thing called the internet before. As a woman who’s just a few years shy of Allie, I find this to be exceedingly unbelievable.
Laughable, even.
Can you tell I wasn’t impressed? I’m sick and tired of the “woman with a dark past who cannot open up to anyone in her life including her husband/boyfriend/family and in doing so ultimately makes things much worse for herself” trope. I’m even more sick and tired of the “woman drinks moderately but everyone in her life believes she’s an alcoholic because she has three glasses of wine occasionally and therefore becomes unreliable” trope. Surely in the year 2021 we could come up with more impactful plot lines for a thriller. Perhaps I’m asking too much.
I do not find solace in the online reviews for this book. On GoodReads, I Don’t Forgive You is rated 4.4/5 and on Amazon it’s called “a terrific page turner” both of which I profoundly disagree with.

Advice : I have little to say other than don’t waste your time or your money. If a thriller is what you’re looking for, you could walk into your nearest bookstore, go to the thriller section, close your eyes, choose a book at random, and you’d likely find yourself reading a book with the exact same plot.