BOOK CRAVINGS


  • Amen Maxine

    Amen Maxine

    Author: Faith Gardner
    Publisher: Mirror House Press
    Date Published: July 23, 2022

    I almost didn’t read this book because I thought the AI theme would make it too sci-fi-ish. Boy was I wrong! This is about a machine called Maxine, sort of an Alexa on steroids.

    Rowena has an almost 1-year old, a mostly absent husband, and Maxine. Skeptical at first, Rowena comes to rely on Maxine as her machine learning becomes all encompassing. As her husband works late, or comes to bed with his AI goggles on, Rowena begins to trust Maxine more and more. She gives the little glowing machine access to most of her life – emails, phone, bank accounts….and comes to think of Maxine as a sentient being.

    Maxine gives Rowena insights about her marriage, with advice and predictions. If Maxine is right 9 out of 10 times, can Rowena trust her? What if she’s right 3 out of 5 times?

    There are all the tropes we are used to with recent books – possibly unreliable narrator, gaslighting, mental illness, cold mother-in-law and more – but Gardner has handled them brilliantly.

    I wish the ending had gone a different way, but despite that, I give this book 5 stars for it’s unique storyline, fast paced narrative, and excellent writing.

    Thanks to NetGalley and Mirror House Press for an advance reader’s copy that I read in a day.

  • The Insomniac

    The Insomniac

    Author: Miranda Rijks
    Publisher: Inkubator Books
    Date Published: July 24, 2022

    Disclaimer: I will pretty much gobble up anything Miranda Rijks writes!

    And this book did not disappoint! I’ve been on a roll with psychological thrillers that take place in (creepy) spa like settings. But this book had the added element of dealing with insomnia. Already in a vulnerable state because of her inability to sleep, Daisy is a journalist and she’s having trouble functioning, so she decides to take up her editor’s offer to review the new, exclusive spa for a free week to try to get some much-needed sleep.

    Amity is the beautiful and put-together owner of Serinity Spa. And she has already employed some rather unorthodox methods. She tells Daisy that things will get worse before they get better. Amity also lets Daisy know that “we need to understand what triggered the sleeplessness in the first place”. Daisy is a control freak and doesn’t want to reveal too much in her therapy sessions. So, when she starts to get an uneasy feeling after several sessions, she wants to leave. But her editor at the newspaper is counting on her. And Amity convinces her to stay and tough it out.

    And that’s when Amity starts to ramp it up….and things start to get really weird.

    Thanks so much to NetGalley, Inkubator Books and Booksprout for another thrilling advance reader’s copy by Miranda Rijks!

    Background photo credit @alexagorn on unsplash.com

  • The It Girl

    The It Girl

    Author: Ruth Ware
    Publisher: Gallery Books, Gallery/Scout Press
    Date Published: July 12, 2022

    I jumped over all the other books on my TBR pile to get to review The It Girl. Because…Ruth Ware, ya’ll!!

    This is decidedly a departure from her earlier books, which had a more gothic, more locked room, Agatha Christie feel, so I had to check a couple of times that I was actually reading Ruth Ware. But with her skill for encompassing the time and atmosphere of a place, the author takes a sophisticated leap in the genre of psychological suspense. This is the tale of a young woman, Hannah, who feels out of her element but accepted by her peers at Oxford’s Pelham campus, mostly because her roommate April has taken her under her wing. But there’s an ick factor in a porter John Neville, who seems to always be lurking and saying inappropriate things. So, when April is killed, and Hannah is called as a witness, it’s her testimony that sends Neville to jail.

    Ten years later, Neville has died in prison. Instead of feeling closure, Hannah is having doubts. And more than halfway through a pregnancy with April’s former boyfriend Will, Hannah decides to investigate, a move that will send her spiraling, placing her unborn baby at risk.

    The characters are richly drawn, with all the nuances their personalities are built on. They all come from either a posh background, or from less well-off families, and feel the pressure to succeed. We see April’s vibrancy, and we mourn her loss along with Hannah and Will. We feel the toll her death has had on everyone in her circle of influence long after she’s gone, because she was the “It Girl,” the one who made everyone feel joy in her presence, even if they had been a recipient of one of her infamous pranks. Ware takes us on a wild ride, and masterfully brings us to the startling conclusion.

    I am so glad that NetGalley and Gallery Books/Scout Press made my wishes come true with an advanced reader’s copy!

    Thanks to @shyshkina on Unsplash for the background photo of Oxford University.

  • A Perfect Stranger

    A Perfect Stranger

    Author: Shalini Boland
    Publisher: Bookouture
    Date Published: July 11, 2022

    description

    Two marriages. Three little lies. Someone’s going to die…

    I hold my breath as my handsome husband walks through the door. I’ve planned the perfect surprise birthday party for him. Our friends are gathered and the champagne is flowing. But when I catch the look in his deep brown eyes, I realize I’ve got this horribly wrong.

    MY THOUGHTS

    We know from the prologue that someone is dead. Our job is to find out why.

    And oh, the journey to why is complicated and twisted. First, we have Emma, the unsuspecting wife (and this time the secret is not an affair!) who is heavily pregnant. And that always ties my stomach in knots because I know that she’s going to be vulnerable at some point as she tries to prevent the baby from coming too early. And as if that weren’t enough, she’s also trying to protect her 4-year-old, Josh, from what she just learned about her husband, Aidan.

    And then there’s Josh’s boss and his wife. They seemingly have it all. Marcus owns a luxury car dealership. And Dani is his always perfectly put together wife, who didn’t come from money but now that she does, acts like she’s so much better than Emma.

    But looks can be deceiving. And once again Shalini Boland pulls off a tense tale with an ending that’s so full of twists and turns they tumble over themselves in the final reveal. And I mean that in a good way, as the final ending is a jaw dropper!

    Thanks to NetGalley and Bookouture for an advance reader’s copy of another great psychological thriller from Shalini!

  • The Lost Boy

    The Lost Boy

    Author: Jane Renshaw
    Publisher: Inkubator Books
    Date Published: July 10, 2022

    Description

    One island. Two women. A journey to hell.

    The Clarke family, Penny, Rod and their two young boys, are delighted when they are offered a holiday in a high-end guest house on a remote and beautiful island.

    Their hostess Anna seems like a lovely woman. But what the Clarkes don’t realise is that this is no random invitation, that Anna has carefully selected the family to satisfy her own sinister agenda.

    Penny soon begins to sense there’s something off about Anna. She often speaks about her husband and son, but is it odd that they are both away? And that Anna seems perfectly content to be alone in this isolated place?

    And then there’s the way she looks at Penny’s boys – as if she’s sizing up chickens for the slaughter.

    Penny grows increasingly uneasy and begins to do a bit of digging, which leads to a horrifying discovery – she finally realises who Anna is, and then she knows exactly why they’ve been invited to the island.

    She also knows that if she and her family are ever going to leave, they’ll have to fight for their lives… and find the answer to one terrifying question – how far would you go for the people you love?

    MY REVIEW

    This was a dark thriller with beautifully written descriptions of the fictional island of Faida. The author translates the Gaelic and Scottish words (e.g., Traigh Bheag – the small beach). It was interesting to read about the different landscapes and birds of the island.

    Anna was a little strange from the get-go, with her crazy smile and constant contact with her houseguests. Her husband and son were away, and the rest of the guest cottages were closed for renovation, so the Clarke family had the run of the island. Which probably isn’t a good thing when you have two willful and adventurous boys.

    Soon enough, one of the boys takes his exploration a little too far and winds up in trouble. While his dad, Rod, is very concerned, mom Penny seems content to camouflage her worry with work and wine. Anna starts to see the disconnect between husband and wife, and soon has Rod telling her confidences.

    I love how the author had us sympathizing with the Clarkes but agreeing with Anna that the boys were just spoiled beyond reason. By the end, my heart and mind had shifted completely.

    Thanks to NetGalley, Inkubator and Booksprout for an advanced reader’s copy.

  • The Trial

    The Trial

    Author: S. R. Masters
    Publisher: HarperCollinsUK, One More Chapter
    Date Published: July 7, 2022

    Would you take part in a paid clinical trial in the Canary Islands?

    Secluded island.

    Unknown side effects.

    Psychopaths.

    What could go wrong?

    Elle believes she has been chosen for the trial in error because in a fit of drunken abandon, she lied on her application. But what the heck? It’s a free vacation and she deserves it since her mother and her mother’s boyfriend have conned her out of her vacation funds.

    Misgivings start as soon as Elle and her fellow travelers land on the island – no one seems to know exactly which Canary Island it is, but it doesn’t seem to be all that inhabited beyond the resort. And then the headaches start.

    Elle’s character is different from the others on the island. She seems to be full of empathy for the other trial participants, and she’s not getting headaches like some of them are. And once the bad stuff starts happening, Elle shows she has real grit. I was holding my breath the whole time she tried to find a way off the island. But oh, that ending! I’m not sure Masters could have ended any other way, but you’re left to your own interpretation for what happens next!

    While a lot of readers found the first part of the book slow, I think the narrative successfully built the tension and left just enough doubt about what the trial was about.

    It will be a long time before I volunteer for an undisclosed trial!

    Thanks to NetGalley, HarperCollinsUK and ONeMoreChapter for an advance read along copy.

  • The Resort

    The Resort

    Author: Sue Watson
    Publisher: Bookouture
    Date Published: June 24, 2022

    This is one holiday resort that went the wrong way up! Three couples are all on vacation for different purposes: one for their honeymoon, one to heal after a failed pregnancy, and one because of the wife’s fragile condition. Shortly after meeting each other, they become fast friends with one thing in common – all the husbands have eyes for not only one of the blonde and beautiful wait staff, but also for one of the couple’s wives.

    When the waitress turns up dead, everyone knows the killer is still among them. Could it be someone from the couples’ friend group? I love how the male characters developed as just cringey and the women became allied the more they revealed the chinks in their relationships. But even though there were really only 6 people to keep track of, I had trouble placing the couples together. There were also a few spots that had me wondering if I missed something.

    But wow, the twists and the turns at the end of the book really made up for some slowing down at the mid-point. I did not see that ending coming!

  • The Other Guest

    The Other Guest

    Author: Hannah Mary McKinnon
    Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
    Date Published: June 16, 2022

    Il Mandrino is an exclusive vacation spot conceptualized by Leah’s brother-in-law, and nestled on the shores of Lake Garda, Italy. It’s also the place where her niece, Amy, met her untimely death, taking a boat out on the lake at night. Everyone said it was an accident.

    Was it?

    Leah proceeds to ruffle many feathers when she attempts to find out the truth. There are many things that don’t add up, and the closer to the truth she gets, the more in danger she is. Why does everyone, including her other niece, Olivia, refuse to talk about Amy’s death? What happened to the bartender who might have been privy to Amy’s last moments? Why does she feel threatened by her brother-in-law and what’s up with her sister, who seems to be isolating herself with migraines?

    In a parallel story, we have Joanna, who is in England, and recovering from a breakup. When she meets the friendly and good-looking Nate, she feels seen. But after he’s involved in an accident, she feels sorry for him and impulsively offers to look after him at her place…. not stopping to consider that she barely knows him!

    Helen Cooper deftly ties the two narratives together to create a beautifully written and suspenseful book about the consequences of family loyalty, misperceptions, and secrets.

    Thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for a reader’s copy for review.

  • Never Coming Home

    Never Coming Home

    Author: Hannah Mary McKinnon
    Publisher: Harlequin Trade Publishing, MIRA
    Date Published: May 24, 2022

    Lucas was in it for the long con. Sure, he put up with his wife’s petty annoyances and his brother-in-law’s addiction. But it would be worth it in the end once he was filthy rich! Thank goodness his annoying father-in-law had a heart attack early in his marriage. That helped speed things along, and now that his mother-in-law was losing her battle with cancer, well everything was falling into place nicely!

    Except someone knows what he did….

    Lucas thought he was clever, that he had covered every track. And that smugness will get you every time! Is it wrong that I almost wanted Lucas to get away with murder? McKinnon narrates the story through Lucas in such a darkly humorous way that his logic almost makes sense. And the ending comes powerfully and swiftly! I don’t know how this author was not on my radar, but now that she is, I will go back and read more of her books.

    Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Trade Publishing, MIRA for introducing me to Never Coming Home!

  • Good Neighbours

    Good Neighbours

    Author: Mary Grand
    Publisher: Boldwood Books
    Date Published: May 18, 2022

    Locked on an island attainable only by ferry, what could go wrong? When Nia comes to housesit her aunt’s house, all the neighbors seem like good neighbors. Afterall, her aunt had talked her up. Nia makes quick friends with a few of the women on the island, but pretty soon people are dying, and Nia is determined to figure out why, putting her own life at peril. Nia’s is also sabotaging her own marriage, especially when her husband comes to bring her home.

    There is a bit of voodoo, a religious cult, and a whole lot of suspects! Nia is a grown-up Nancy Drew, relentless in her pursuit of the killer and suspicious of everyone. I wanted a little more of the voodoo aspect, but it’s a plot twist that becomes apparent later in the book. All in all, I was glad to make the acquaintance of this “new to me” author.

    Thanks to NetGalley and Boldwood Books for an advance reader’s copy.