Review: The Bright Lands by John Fram

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

The town of Bentley holds two things dear: its football, and its secrets. But when star quarterback Dylan Whitley goes missing, an unremitting fear grips this remote corner of Texas.

Joel Whitley was shamed out of conservative Bentley ten years ago, and while he’s finally made a life for himself as a gay man in New York, his younger brother’s disappearance soon brings him back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley; Joel’s return brings back painful memories—not to mention questions—about her own missing brother. And in the high school hallways, Dylan’s friends begin to suspect that their classmates know far more than they’re telling the police. Together, these unlikely allies will stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.

But no one is quite prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon—The Bright Lands.

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

The Bright Lands publishes July 7, 2020. 

Ok, let me first say that when I requested this book, I was binging Friday Night Lights and I didn’t exactly read the full synopsis. I saw football and Texas and secrets and that was enough for me. The Bright Lands ended up being much different than I was expecting. It wasn’t exactly the kind of book I usually go for, but the characters made me keep reading.

This review is going to be short because most of my thoughts on the plot would be full of spoilers. So what can I actually say? The story was told through multiple points of view and I think those were well done. It really moved the story along and I was invested in all the characters. Early on in the story I wasn’t sure if this was a book I wanted to finish, but the characters kept me going. I expected a small town mystery, but there were definite Horror vibes, too. Horror is not really my genre, so take it with a grain of salt when I say it made me take a lot of things way less seriously than I otherwise would have. There are also major themes of hypocrisy and  homophobia, along with a lot of drugs, violence, assault, pedophilia, and demons (some metaphorical, one real). We spend most of the book waiting to find out what the mysterious Bright Lands are and while I did come to have my suspicions, it ended up being another eye rolling disappointment.

Overall, The Bright Lands wasn’t really for me. I didn’t appreciate the horror aspects and the overall tone of resentment and regret made me a little more depressed during already depressing times (though you can also take that as a compliment to the writing, I guess). I did really like the multiple POVs and was invested in the characters, though. While the story itself wasn’t really my cup of tea, I think there are a lot of readers out there that will enjoy this one a lot more than I did.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

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: Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Sharp Objects meets My Lovely Wife in this tightly drawn debut that peels back the layers of the most complicated of mother-daughter relationships…

For the first eighteen years of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill. She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair and practically lived at the hospital. Neighbors did all they could, holding fundraisers and offering shoulders to cry on, but no matter how many doctors, tests, or surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.

Turns out her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.

After serving five years in prison, Patty gets out with nowhere to go and begs her daughter to take her in. The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes.

Patty insists all she wants is to reconcile their differences. She says she’s forgiven Rose Gold for turning her in and testifying against her. But Rose Gold knows her mother. Patty Watts always settles a score.

Unfortunately for Patty, Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling…

And she’s waited such a long time for her mother to come home.

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

Darling Rose Gold publishes March 17, 2020. 

Well, this was underwhelming. I’ve seen so many great review for Darling Rose Gold and I was so hyped to read it, but it ended up falling far short of my expectations.

The story is told through alternate POVs from Patty in the present and Rose Gold in the past. I have to say I found Patty’s chapters much more interesting. I felt like Rose Gold’s were all backstory and really seemed to drag. It covers her life during the years her mother was in prison and I thought it could have been shortened. There were some important things that came back in to play later, but so much of it was just needless detail and I found myself pretty bored. In Patty’s chapters I felt like the story was at least moving forward.

Both characters were kind of crazy and unapologetically awful, which was kind of fun. I was actually hoping for for them to act even more devious than they did, though. I felt that the story followed a very cliched path and anybody who has read this genre before will be able to see what’s going to happen from miles away.

Overall, Darling Rose Gold was not really for me. There was some fun characterization, but for the most part it was really predictable and seemed to drag a lot. I didn’t find out until after I was done reading that this story is apparently very heavily inspired by the real life case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother Dee Dee. I had never heard of the case before, but looked it up and there are a lot of similarities (like, a lot) with this book. While this book wasn’t for me, I have seen a lot of other really great reviews, so it may still be worth checking out.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 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: You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

You probably know someone like Shay Miller.
She wants to find love, but it eludes her.
She wants to be fulfilled, but her job is a dead end.
She wants to belong, but her life is so isolated.

You probably don’t know anyone like the Moore sisters.
They have an unbreakable circle of friends.
They live the most glamorous life.
They always get what they desire.

Shay thinks she wants their life.
But what they really want is hers.

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

You Are Not Alone publishes March 3, 2020. 

Since loving this author duo’s debut, The Wife Between Us, their books have become auto-reads for me. Unfortunately, I’m beginning to think they’re a bit of a one book wonder for me.

I was bored for about the first 90% of You Are Not Alone. There was some mild intrigue with Cassandra and Jane, the Moore sisters, and figuring out what exactly they’re up to, but it didn’t really take long to figure things out. I kept hoping there was a lot more to them and their group of friends, but there wasn’t. While I did like reading the multiple perspectives, getting the others just made Shay’s perspective more frustrating. I just wanted to yell at her to stop being so stupid all the time, which isn’t necessarily fair since I was privy to more information than she was. Still, though, for how intelligent she was supposed to be, I felt like it took her way too long to become suspicious.

I found the writing between the two authors to be seamless, as always. They have very compatible writing styles and I do find that impressive. I was just underwhelmed with the story. I thought much of it was very obvious and thought things drug out for too long. There was one surprise towards the end that I hadn’t guessed, but it wasn’t exactly a game changing twist like I have come to expect.

Overall, You Are Not Alone, just wasn’t for me. While there was initially some intrigue, I felt like things become obvious way too early in the story and I kept waiting for things to get really crazy, but they never did. I found myself just trying to get through the story, rather than enjoying it. While I still think these authors are talented, this story missed the mark for me.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

Review: No Bad Deed by Heather Chavez

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Packed with the electrifying pacing and pulse-pounding suspense of Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner, a thrilling debut about a mother desperate to find the connections between her missing husband and a deadly stalker who knows too much about her own dark family history.

Driving home one rainy night, Cassie Larkin sees a man and woman fighting on the side of the road. After calling 911, the veterinarian makes a split-second decision that will throw her sedate suburban life into chaos. Against all reason and advice, she gets out of her minivan and chases after the violent man, trying to help his victim. When Cassie physically tries to stop him, he suddenly turns on her and spits out an ominous threat: “Let her die, and I’ll let you live.”

A veterinarian trained to heal, Cassie can’t let the woman die. But while she’s examining the unconscious victim, the attacker steals her car. Now he has her name. Her address. And he knows about her children. Though they warn her to be careful, the police assure her that the perpetrator—a criminal named Carver Sweet—won’t get near her. Cassie isn’t so sure.

The next day—Halloween—her husband disappears while trick-or-treating with their six-year-old daughter. Are these disturbing events a coincidence or the beginning of a horrifying nightmare? Her husband has been growing distant—is it possible he’s become involved with another woman? Is Cassie’s confrontation with the road-side attacker connected to her husband’s disappearance? With all these questions swirling in her mind Cassie can trust no one, maybe not even herself. The only thing she knows for sure is that she can’t sit back while the people she loves are in danger.

As she desperately searches for answers, Cassie discovers that nothing is as random as it seems, and that she is more than willing to fight—to go the most terrifying extremes—to save her family and her marriage.

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

No Bad Deed will be available February 18, 2020. 

This is a hard one to review without giving too much away, so I’m going to keep it short. I did like that it was pretty fast paced and even when the plot seemed to drag a bit, the pace kept me reading. Small reveals came quickly and frequently and that also helped move the story along. That’s kind of the end of the good things I can say about No Bad Deed, though. Cassie was a confusing character. Nothing she did really made that much sense to me. One of my biggest pet peeves in this type of book is when the main character decides to investigate themselves and everything they do just makes them look guilty. There was a lot of that in this story and I found it frustrating. I also think the actual development of the mystery was kind of ridiculous. By the time we get to the reveal of who is behind everything and why, the only reaction I had was a hard eye roll. It was a promising premise, but I found the ending really underwhelming.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars