Review: He Started It by Samantha Downing

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Beth, Portia, and Eddie Morgan haven’t all been together in years. And for very good reasons—we’ll get to those later. But when their wealthy grandfather dies and leaves a cryptic final message in his wake, the siblings and their respective partners must come together for a cross-country road trip to fulfill his final wish and—more importantly—secure their inheritance.

But time with your family can be tough. It is for everyone.

It’s even harder when you’re all keeping secrets and trying to forget a memory—a missing person, an act of revenge, the man in the black truck who won’t stop following your car—and especially when at least one of you is a killer and there’s a body in the trunk. Just to name a few reasons.

But money is a powerful motivator. It is for everyone.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

(NOTE: Updated Release Date) He Started It publishes July 28, 2020. 

Ever since reading Samantha Downing’s debut, My Lovely Wife, I have been looking forward to her next book. I have to say that He Started It wasn’t really at all what I was expecting. But that’s ok, because I found it completely addicting.

Siblings Beth, Eddie, and Portia, along with Beth’s husband Felix and Eddie’s wife Krista, have to replicate a cross-country road trip they took when they were kids in order to receive their inheritance from their grandfather. As they progress in the present, we learn what happened on the original trip, which was a little messed up, to say the least. Along the way, lies are told and secrets are revealed and you’re never quite sure who you can trust.

If you want to feel better about your own relationship with your siblings, this is the book to read. Beth, Eddie, and Portia have very dysfunctional relationships. They are constantly lying to each other and paranoid about being lied to. They shift alliances at a drop of a hat and definitely kept me guessing. While there are some small shocks and surprises, the story really revolved around the Morgan family and how that road trip in their youth affected all of their lives in different ways. The writing was super addicting and I ignored a lot of things I was supposed to be doing so I could keep reading it.

Overall, I really enjoyed He Started It. While it wasn’t what I was expecting, it was still a compelling, addicting story that kept me guessing the whole way through. I loved the writing. My only real complaint was that I was a little underwhelmed with the ending. However, the rest of the book was enough to make up for it and I’m really looking forward to reading more from Samantha Downing in the future.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

In the shocking new thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Run Away, a man whose past is shrouded in mystery must find a missing teenage girl before her disappearance brings about disastrous consequences for her community . . . and the world.

The man known as Wilde is a mystery to everyone, including himself. Decades ago, he was found as a boy living feral in the woods, with no memory of his past. After the police concluded an exhaustive hunt for the child’s family, which was never found, he was turned over to the foster system.

Now, thirty years later, Wilde still doesn’t know where he comes from, and he’s back living in the woods on the outskirts of town, content to be an outcast, comfortable only outdoors, preferably alone, and with few deep connections to other people.

When a local girl goes missing, famous TV lawyer Hester Crimstein–with whom Wilde shares a tragic connection–asks him to use his unique skills to help find her. Meanwhile, a group of ex-military security experts arrive in town, and when another teen disappears, the case’s impact expands far beyond the borders of the peaceful suburb. Wilde must return to the community where he has never fit in, and where the powerful are protected even when they harbor secrets that could destroy the lives of millions . . . secrets that Wilde must uncover before it’s too late.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Boy from the Woods publishes March 17, 2020. 

This was a highly entertaining read. Most of the books I’ve been picking up lately have been pretty disappointing, but The Boy from the Woods ended up being even more enjoyable than I was expecting.

One thing Harlan Coben does really well (among the many things he does really well) is character development. There are a lot of characters in this book and I felt really invested in all of them. I’ve read in other reviews that one of the main characters of this book, Hester, has shown up in many other of Coben’s books, but as I am woefully behind in catching up on his backlist, I think I’ve only read of her once before. While I’m sure more familiarity with her characters would make people love her in this book even more, I found her very compelling without all the backstory. Like I said, Coben does a great job with character development and we get to learn a lot about Hester and her past and her future. What I really love about her is her quick wit. She has so much great banter with multiple characters and I was here for it.

I also really liked Wilde. He has a fascinating backstory and was a really unique character. I really hope there are more books to come with Wilde as a main character because this story ends with a whole lot of unsolved questions about him. I am one of those readers that like things tied up in neat little bows at the end of a book, so not getting those questions answered about Wilde really bugs me.

I thought the story was really well paced. Even though it was very character driven, the plot moved along with every chapter and I was disappointed any time I had to put it down. There were a lot of threads to the mystery, with several red herrings. I found it interesting, if ultimately kind of far fetched. I did like the discussion about today’s political landscape. Without actually going into political agendas, it explored how volatile things are right now and how extremists are becoming more of the norm and how dangerous that is. I had a bit of a hard time, though, with getting on board the train of thought that Rusty, the presidential candidate, was going to be responsible for the death of millions through manipulation alone.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Boy from the Woods. I loved the characters and the banter and the steady pacing made for a very addictive read. There were a few things I found a little too unbelievable and was frustrated by some big unanswered questions, but it was still a really fun book. I will be anxiously waiting to see if another book with these characters will be coming soon.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

A chilling tale of psychological suspense and an homage to the thriller genre tailor-made for fans: the story of a bookseller who finds himself at the center of an FBI investigation because a very clever killer has started using his list of fiction’s most ingenious murders.

Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack—which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders”—chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne’s Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner, and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.

But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookshop in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading. The killer is out there, watching his every move—a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife.

To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects—and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead—and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.

I received a copy of this title via a giveaway on Goodreads. It does not impact my review.

Eight Perfect Murders publishes on March 3, 2020. 

I don’t always know what to expect when I start a Peter Swanson book, but I do know it’s going to be addictive and hard to put down.

I really like Swanson’s writing style. There’s always good character development, slightly unreliable narrators, and little surprises placed effectively throughout the story. Though the book wasn’t fast-paced, I couldn’t read it fast enough. I just find the writing so compelling and I had to know what was going to happen next. I also thought Swanson did a good job of giving us multiple suspects. I will admit that while I did ultimately suspect the murderer, it was only one of my suspects out of many and was not even one of my top three guesses.

Long time mystery book lovers will enjoy the mentions of several books. However, I think you’ll still enjoy the book love even if you haven’t read any of the novels mentioned. Even though this genre is the one I read the most of, I’ve read very few of the “classics” and have not read any of the books listed here – or even heard of a few of them. As a lover of books, though, I still enjoyed the many literary references and general feeling of booknerdom.

Overall, I really enjoyed Eight Perfect Murders. I liked all the book references and the main character and the addictive writing. I thought the ending was a little unsatisfying, though, and wish there was a bigger twist. However, I still had a great time reading this book and definitely recommend it to mystery fans.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Yours in Scandal (Man of the Year #1) by Lauren Layne

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

A political golden boy and the woman of his dreams take the risk of their lives in a sexy romantic comedy of strange bedfellows and second chances by New York Times bestselling author Lauren Layne.

Fresh off being named Citizen magazine’s Man of the Year, New York City’s youngest mayor, Robert Davenport, decides it’s time to strategize. Next move: a bid for the governor’s seat. In his way: an incumbent with a flawless reputation. He also has an Achilles’ heel: an estranged wild-child daughter with a past so scandalous it could be Robert’s ticket to victory. And a charm so irresistible it could be Robert’s downfall.

Rebellion is a thing of the past for Adeline Blake. As New York’s premier event planner, she’s all about reform and respectability. Then she’s approached by Robert to organize the party of the season. Curious, considering he’s her father’s most formidable opponent. And alarming, too. Because Addie can’t help but fall for the righteously popular candidate with the movie-star smile.

Now it’s Robert’s choice. Does he pursue a future that holds his legacy? Or the woman who holds his heart?

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review. 

Yours in Scandal will be available March 10, 2020.

I have been in such a reading slump lately and a new Lauren Layne book was just what I needed. I loved this book!

I must admit I was a little wary that the male lead in this book is a politician. I read to escape from politics, so I don’t generally appreciate it in my fiction. However, there actually isn’t a lot of politics involved. Yes, Robert is the Mayor, but he’s honest and doesn’t play dirty and there’s not any mention at all of Red vs. Blue nonsense. I appreciated that Layne was able to have a story about a politician without pushing any political agenda.

I loved the romance between Robert and Addie. Though I thought their relationship happened maybe a little bit fast, I definitely shipped it. They had some great banter and chemistry. There were some very sweet and romantic moments, as well. I was hoping that Layne would continue with omitting the graphic scenes, like she did in the Central Park Pact series, but I’m sure there will be others that are glad they’re included here.

I thought there was a lot of potential for some major angst when some truths are finally revealed and I was bracing myself for it, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised with how it was handled. The couple actually communicated, took responsibility for the things they did, and maturely decided how they wanted to move forward. The whole “I can’t believe you lied to me” thing is such a common plot point in Romances and I loved that Layne took a different route here, as there were plenty of other avenues for the drama to come from. To that point, though, I had a hard time understanding why Addie’s teenage behavior from a decade ago would cause such a problem for Robert’s future campaign. I think the fact that she was the opponent’s daughter would be a bigger issue in the press, but that doesn’t seem to be quite as concerning to the characters.

Overall, I loved Yours in Scandal. Lauren Layne’s books are like comfort food to me. They never fail to lift my mood and make me happy. I definitely recommend this one to fans of Contemporary Romances and longtime Layne readers won’t be disappointed.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the author of Truth Be Told (formerly titled Are You Sleeping)—now an Apple TV series of the same name—comes a cautionary tale of oversharing in the social media age for fans of Jessica Knoll and Caroline Kepnes’s You.

Everyone wants new followers…until they follow you home.

Audrey Miller has an enviable new job at the Smithsonian, a body by reformer Pilates, an apartment door with a broken lock, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to bear witness to it all. Having just moved to Washington, DC, Audrey busies herself impressing her new boss, interacting with her online fan base, and staving off a creepy upstairs neighbor with the help of the only two people she knows in town: an ex-boyfriend she can’t stay away from and a sorority sister with a high-powered job and a mysterious past.

But Audrey’s faulty door may be the least of her security concerns. Unbeknownst to her, her move has brought her within striking distance of someone who’s obsessively followed her social media presence for years—from her first WordPress blog to her most recent Instagram Story. No longer content to simply follow her carefully curated life from a distance, he consults the dark web for advice on how to make Audrey his and his alone. In his quest to win her heart, nothing is off-limits—and nothing is private.

With “compelling, suspenseful” (Liz Nugent) prose, Kathleen Barber’s electrifying new thriller will have you scrambling to cover your webcam and digital footprints.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review. 

Follow Me will available February 25, 2020. 

If there is one thing that freaks me out more than anything else, it is the thought of someone watching me. I’ve always been that person that closes the blinds as soon as it gets dark (if I open them at all). I refuse to buy any of those Alexa type of devices, even though I know my phone listens to me all the time anyways. It was only in the last couple years that I even turned the location services on on my phone and that’s only because I need to use the GPS so often. As a blogger, there’s definitely a balancing act between wanting to share some personal details, while not sharing too much.

That’s definitely not a balancing act that Audrey Miller cares about, though. In her desire to be an “authentic” Instagram influencer, she has no problem sharing the intimate details of her life to her million followers – in a curated, aesthetically pleasing way, of course. When she gets a new job and moves to DC, she comes within striking distance to one of her biggest fans. He does things like follow her around town, peep in her windows, and download scary, spyware on her computer. Though Audrey does become paranoid and frightened, the thought to chill out on Instagram never really seems to cross her mind.

I found the writing pretty addictive. It’s told through three POVs – Audrey, her friend Cat, and the mysterious “Him”. I thought the multiple POVs were used well and it helped move the story along, from an otherwise kind of slow pace. Audrey is completely self-absorbed and not the most likable person, but I found her kind of compelling to read about. Cat was the straight man to Audrey’s craziness and for awhile I found her kind of relatable. She did frustrate me, though, with how obsessed she was with Audrey’s friendship. She was a successful lawyer with a promising career, but she let herself get caught up in Aundrey’s whims and drama. She has a shady past alluded to a lot that she’s desperate to keep hidden from everyone, but when it was finally revealed, it didn’t really seem like that big of a deal to me. It’s something she didn’t really get in trouble for before, so it would have been easy for her to spin as an adult. The Him POV showed how truly crazy the stalker was and I enjoyed his chapters. I think that Barber did a pretty good job of giving us several characters to suspect. While I did figure out his identity awhile before it was revealed, I debated between him and another character for several chapters and I liked that it wasn’t completely obvious from the start.

Overall, I enjoyed Follow Me. Though I expected it to be a little creepier and suspenseful than it was, the subject matter alone was enough to creep me out. I wish the pacing had been a little faster, but the writing was addictive enough that it kept my attention the whole time. I definitely am interested in checking out more from this author.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Lucky Caller by Emma Mills

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

When Nina decides to take a radio broadcasting class her senior year, she expects it to be a walk in the park. Instead, it’s a complete disaster.

The members of Nina’s haphazardly formed radio team have approximately nothing in common. And to maximize the awkwardness her group includes Jamie, a childhood friend she’d hoped to basically avoid for the rest of her life.

The show is a mess, internet rumors threaten to bring the wrath of two fandoms down on their heads, and to top it all off Nina’s family is on the brink of some major upheaval.

Everything feels like it’s spiraling out of control―but maybe control is overrated?

With the warmth, wit, intimate friendships, and heart-melting romance she brings to all her books, Emma Mills crafts a story about believing in yourself, owning your mistakes, and trusting in human connection in Lucky Caller.

Emma Mills is one of my top YA authors and I have been really looking forward to Lucky Caller for awhile. It did take me much longer to get into the story than I was expecting, but I did end up really enjoying it.

There were a lot of things present that I expect in an Emma Mills book – a sarcastic main character, witty banter, a close – if somewhat odd/dysfunctional – family, and a group of friends you wish you were a part of. For some reason, things just didn’t really click for me, though, until I was about half way through the story. The friend group wasn’t quite as close and all consuming as it’s been in other books. The four of them only really hang out at school for class related things, though they do have a group text going on. I don’t really feel like we got to know Sasah or Joydeep very well, but that’s not to say that I didn’t like them. Joydeep was completely there for comic relief, but I loved him. He was probably my favorite part of the book.

I did like Jamie and the awkward, slow burn romance with Nina, as well. He was very sweet. I wish we would’ve gotten a little more information about him, though. We never find out what the deal is with his parents and why he lives with his grandparents.

I had some problems with Nina, too. I’m not exactly a talkative person comfortable with discussing feelings and all that, but there were so many times where I just wanted to yell at her to spit it out already. There were also a couple of times that she didn’t necessarily lie, but kept quiet about things that really impacted the people around her, that I just couldn’t understand. I found her behavior often very frustrating and it took me a long while to like her.

I know it sounds like I had a lot of problems with this – and, admittedly, I did – but after I got around half way through I really began to enjoy it. The radio show group started to gel a little more and Nina didn’t frustrate me quite as much. I enjoyed the relationship she had with her sisters and I loved how her future step-dad, Dan, really stepped up for her towards the end. Things ended pretty cutely and I was glad that I made myself push through the beginning chapters to get to it.

Overall, I enjoyed Lucky Caller. While it wasn’t my favorite Emma Mills book (that will forever be This Adventure Ends), it was still cute with some fun banter and a sweet, slow burn romance. Fans of Mills will definitely want to check it out.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Marriage on Madison Avenue (Central Park Pact #3) by Lauren Layne

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Layne, comes the final installment of the Central Park Pact series, a heartfelt and laugh-out-loud romantic comedy that’s perfect for fans of Sally Thorne and Christina Lauren.

Can guys and girls ever be just friends? According to Audrey Tate and Clarke West, absolutely. After all, they’ve been best friends since childhood without a single romantic entanglement. Clarke is the charming playboy Audrey can always count on, and he knows that the ever-loyal Audrey will never not play along with his strategy for dodging his matchmaking mother—announcing he’s already engaged…to Audrey.

But what starts out as a playful game between two best friends turns into something infinitely more complicated, as just-for-show kisses begin to stir up forbidden feelings. As the faux wedding date looms closer, Audrey and Clarke realize that they can never go back to the way things were, but deep down, do they really want to?

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Marriage on Madison Avenue will be available January 28, 2020. 

I loved, loved, loved this! Few things make me happier than a cute Lauren Layne book and Marriage on Madison Avenue is one of her best yet.

Since their first scene together in the first book of the series, I have been wanting Audrey and Clarke’s story and it did not disappoint! This is both a Friends-to-More and Fake Relationship story, which is a combination of my favorite romantic tropes. I loved Audrey and Clarke’s friendship and I loved watching them realize their feelings for each other were more than that. Everything that happened was pretty predictable, but I enjoyed every moment of it anyways.

I thought Audrey and Clarke were both really likable characters and I was happy to see them get a happy ending. I also loved seeing the couples from the previous books, though I maintain that Naomi is much better in small doses. In addition to spending more time with the characters from this series, a few characters from Layne’s other series make appearances, which was quite fun.

Overall, I loved Marriage on Madison Avenue. I loved the characters, the romance, and the fake relationship aspects of the story. This was an enjoyable series and I think Layne definitely saved the best for last. I will miss these characters, but I look forward to whatever Layne writes next.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars