My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones – Review

In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.

“Some girls just don’t know how to die…”

Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called “a literary master” by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and “one of our most talented living writers” by Tommy Orange.

Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw “a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre.” On the surface is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.

Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.

Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.

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Thank you to NetGalley for this Advanced Reader Copy of one of my most anticipated 2021 releases! I read ‘The Only Good Indians’ and became absolutely entranced by Stephen’s work– and I knew I had to have more. Not only that, but the premise for this novel sunk its hooks into me; not unlike a wicked puzzle devised by Jigsaw himself. I grew up with horror– was raised by Laurie Strode and Pamela Voorhees, cut my teeth on Candyman and Hellraiser, and found my own Bay of Blood in A Nightmare on Elm Street. In short, I knew I would feel a kinship with Jade. I went into this story with high hopes, and Stephen didn’t let me down.

We meet our protagonist, Jade, in the midst of a life that has never felt solidly hers. Her mom left, her dad treats her like shit, and no one quite understands her at school. That is, except for her history teacher. It is under his guidance that she is allowed to explore the background and meaning of the slasher films she loves so much– detailing what makes up the specific sub-genre and chronicling the progression of the films from its black and white iterations to the newer, fruit-punch-blood soaked offerings. In horror, Jade finds meaning and structure. So, when a body washes up in her town of Proofrock, she recognizes her chance to finally be in the slasher she’s been dreaming of for years. However, she decides she is not the final girl, and sets out to prepare a newer inhabitant of the town to take the role before it’s too late.

Jade’s journey is not only a wild ride of references, dead bodies, and missteps, but also one of healing. This is akin to Stephen King’s IT in that it is a coming of age story that happens to be set within a bloody tableau. Jade is not only the product of a broken home, but is one of the few Native Americans in Proofrock, which only sets her further apart from her peers. It is amazing to watch her come into her own as this tale unfolds; with each point added to the body count, her spirit grows and her courage manifests in a way that could rival that of an angry mother bear. There are many times in life where we don’t feel like the hero of our story, but if this book teaches us anything, it’s that we will all rise to the occasion when it presents itself. I really recommend this book for any horror lover, any outcast searching for meaning, and of course– any Native American hungry for representation.

5/5 stars

Trouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin – Review

A queer YA #MeToo reimagining of Thelma & Louise with the aesthetic of Riverdale, for fans of Mindy McGinnis, Courtney Summers, and Rory Power.

When Trixie picks up her best friend Lux for their weekend getaway, she’s looking to escape for a little while, to forget the despair of being trapped in their dead-end Rust Belt town and the daunting responsibility of caring for her ailing mother. The girls are packing light: a supply of Diet Coke for Lux and her ‘89 Canon to help her frame the world in a sunnier light; half a pack of cigarettes for Trixie that she doesn’t really smoke, and a knife—one she’s just hanging on to for a friend—that she’s never used before.

But a single night of violence derails their trip and will forever change the course of the girls’ lives, as they go from ordinary high schoolers to wanted fugitives. Trying to stay ahead of the cops and a hellscape of media attention, the girls grapple with an unforgiving landscape, rapidly diminishing supplies, and disastrous decisions at every turn. As they are transformed by the media into the face of a #MeToo movement they didn’t ask to lead and the road before them begins to run out, Trixie and Lux realize that they can only rely on each other, and that the love they find together is the one thing that truly makes them free.

In rushing, powerful prose Julia Lynn Rubin takes readers on “a blistering, unapologetic thrill ride” (Emma Berquis) that will leave them haunted and reeling. Trouble Girls is “a powerful, beautifully-written gut punch” (Sophie Gonzales).

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Thank you so much to Wednesday books and NetGalley for the eARC of this absolutely haunting YA release. When we meet best friends Lux and Trixie, their lives are limited to the small town they grew up in; Blue Bottle. Lux dreams of being a photographer and Trixie yearns to be herself– someone who is hopelessly in love with her friend. However, this feels impossible where they reside, so she instead settles for stealing happy moments with her whenever she can. The two plan a small escape from the town and from school; a secret camping trip. However, they stop by a bar on the way out, and the unthinkable happens. In one fell swoop, the girls become fugitives, runaways.

So their Thelma-and-Louise-esque journey begins; an unplanned and dangerous getaway to take Lux to the ocean. They lay low as much as possible, and the reader feels the mounting tension as they enter a world without social media, without parents, and without rules. From snippets of news playing in diners or think pieces on library computers, we learn of the aftermath of the girls’ violent act. It gives a very clean view of the two divided sides of the fight– women who have had enough, and the men who want to see them silenced forever. Though I’m not a teenager anymore, I related to this story in the way that all females will. There is something deemed inferior about us from the moment we’re born, and we spend our lives trying to break through that.

In this way, this novel is a mallet to the heart. These girls have seen too much in their young years, but their feats of defiance rally other hurt women to speak out. Lux and Trixie do questionable things, but their saga inspires a floodgate to open up. I am proud to live in a world that is slowly changing every day– that people like our protagonists are starting to feel comfortable sharing their stories. Only in honesty can we be healed, and no one should have to keep their pain to themselves. This book is a story of love, of mistakes, and one of the impact a life can make on the world. It reminds the reader that they are important– even if they don’t know it.

5/5 stars

Small Favors by Erin A. Craig – Review

Ellerie Downing lives in the quiet town of Amity Falls in the Blackspire Mountain range–five narrow peaks stretching into the sky like a grasping hand, bordered by a nearly impenetrable forest from which the early townsfolk fought off the devils in the woods. To this day, visitors are few and rare. But when a supply party goes missing, some worry that the monsters that once stalked the region have returned.

As fall turns to winter, more strange activities plague the town. They point to a tribe of devilish and mystical creatures who promise to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand and impossible, for just a small favor. But their true intentions are much more sinister, and Ellerie finds herself in a race against time before all of Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves go up in flames.

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Thank you so much to Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read an eARC of this second novel from Erin, whose prose I fell in love with after also receiving an ARC of her debut book– House of Salt and Sorrows. Let me just say right up front that if you enjoyed that retelling, you will LOVE Small Favors. Erin has a penchant for taking fairy tales and unraveling them, taking the bones hidden inside and building a whole new beast out of them; not unlike the twisted creatures encroaching upon Amity Falls. I would not have even known this was a Rumpelstiltskin re-imagining until the climax of the novel if I hadn’t seen hype for it on Twitter. THAT’S how effective and unique this author is. She has crafted a stunning world all her own in this work.

We are introduced to Ellerie Downing and her family. They live in a small, rule-driven town surrounded by forests and completely cut off from civilization. The Downings’ role in this town revolves around their bees– her father is an apiarist, and her mother creates treats and other crafts with the wax and the honey. They are closely tied (for better or for worse) to the other families in the town, and adhere to the restrictions set by the Elders of the settlement. However, things start to fall to pieces quite quickly– the author wastes no time bringing in the conflict while still showcasing the characters and their personalities. A supply run is laid to waste by strange animals with deformities, hunters come across impossible game that they can’t explain, and all the people in Amity Falls start to feel mistrust towards their fellow man as things go missing, are destroyed, or are revealed.

After a horrific accident, Ellerie is left in charge of her two sisters. Even with the crippling weight of seeing her family through the hardest winter she’s ever seen– Ellerie starts to fall for a mysterious trapper who opens her eyes to the luck (both good and bad) surrounding her. As things escalate in the town, Ellerie has to summon all of her strength and ingenuity to figure out what supernatural forces are at work before all of Amity Falls goes up in flames. It is a thrilling roller coaster ride, and has so much to offer. It’s a story about family, love, and aplomb. In addition, it is a STUNNING dark fantasy– guaranteed to make your hair stand on end and look for silvery eyes staring back at you from the forest, and the absolute body horror will bring the utter devastation and unheard of malformations in your nightmares; Erin is a master of description, bringing stags with too many horns and colts with exposed spines to life in haunting detail.

Honestly, I am already foaming at the mouth for Erin to release another novel in this vein. It hits so many particular story-telling kinks for me, and in a time where it’s been a struggle to make myself relax enough to enjoy reading– this book was something I always looked forward to at the end of the day. It really and truly transported me to the tainted atmosphere of Amity Falls, and it was hard for me to put it down. These books (including House of Salt and Sorrows) fill a specific niche in the YA community that I consider sorely missing– because though there are an infinite amount of retellings, (art is either plagiarism or revolution) most are not as imaginative and intrepid as I find these. I want so much more YA horror, and I hope we are lucky enough to get more of it from Erin.

5/5 stars

You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes – Review

Joe is done with the cities. He’s done with the muck and the posers, done with Love. Now, he’s saying hello to nature, to simple pleasures on a cozy island in the Pacific Northwest. For the first time in a long time, he can just breathe.

He gets a job at the local library—he does know a thing or two about books—and that’s where he meets her: Mary Kay DiMarco. Librarian. Joe won’t meddle, he will not obsess. He’ll win her the old-fashioned way… by providing a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand. Over time, they’ll both heal their wounds and begin their happily ever after in this sleepy town.

The trouble is… Mary Kay already has a life. She’s a mother. She’s a friend. She’s… busy.

True love can only triumph if both people are willing to make room for the real thing. Joe cleared his decks. He’s ready. And hopefully, with his encouragement and undying support, Mary Kay will do the right thing and make room for him.

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I have been waiting for this book so long that I had started to fear I had made it up and that two ‘You’ stories is all we would get– but as my audiobook preorder was filled, I was hit with such a feeling of blessed familiarity while falling back into the shoes of Joe Goldberg. This novel has a bit of a time jump from Hidden Bodies, and yet there is no awkward stop and start; You Love Me grabs your hand and takes off running.

We catch back up with Joe after he has been released from prison and exonerated by the Quinns on one condition: that he severs all contact with his son. So, with hush money in tow– he moves to a quiet island inhabited by a well-knit small community. There, he meets Mary Kay DiMarco. I don’t want to ruin any of the twists and turns in this WILD sequel, but I will say that Joe has grown and changed through all of his hardships, and he faces trials that maybe Job would even balk at. Our favorite stalker does have occasional slip ups, however, and it’s this tension that carries a heavy suspense for those of us who want our protagonist to live happily ever after.

It has been really amazing to see Joe’s transformation through this trilogy, and I’m not sure if we’ve seen the end of him or not, BUT if we have– I take comfort in knowing that he will only continue to challenge the systems and traditions around him. He is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever read about, and his inner monologue both terrifies and enthralls me. Caroline worked her way into my heart with this collection, and I absolutely cannot wait for whatever she writes for us next.

5/5 stars

Warmaidens by Kelly Coon – Review

Warmaidens is the dark, action-packed conclusion to the heartwrenching Gravemaidens fantasy duology. Kammani and the maidens are now going to war against the ruler who tried to entomb them.

Just a few moons after escaping the tomb in Alu, Kammani and the other runaway maidens have found refuge in the city-state of Manzazu. There, Kammani has become a respected healer, especially among the warriors she’s brought back from the brink of death. Now that the nightmares of Alu are fading, she can finally decide whether or not to take Dagan’s hand in marriage.

But when an assassin murders a healer he believes is Kammani and attempts to kill the displaced queen of Alu, the maidens realize they’ve been found.

Hungry for revenge, Manzazu’s queen wants to strike back at Alu with her fiercest weapons—her scorpion warrior maidens—but Kammani knows that war harms more than it heals. To save the innocents and any chance of a future with Dagan, Kammani must take down Alu’s ruler before their lives burn up in the flames of war.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley for the advanced copy of my most awaited sequel in 2020! I stumbled upon Gravemaidens and Kelly herself through Instagram– and I instantly fell in love with her vibrant and diverse characters and the unique world that she had crafted. I had been overjoyed to learn it was to be a duology, because I couldn’t get enough of the rich lore of the afterlife that was explored, and the first novel ended in such a cliffhanger that I was basically foaming at the mouth to get to this one. Then, as things do, life happened, and it took me a bit to get to it, but I was SO happy when I did. Kelly delivered a punch of an ending and it was one that satiated my hungry soul. There hasn’t been much happy in the past year– but these books have been a bright spot for me.

As to not spoil anything for readers new and old– we meet our brave cast of characters once again in the midst of grave (see what I did there?) danger. This novel builds on itself so beautifully, and is filled to the brim with action and tension. The reader can feel the uncertainty building within the kingdom of Alu, and with it, the fear from our protagonist as she attempts to right the wrongs of this backwards community. It is, as the first one was, a stunning love letter to feminism and sisterhood, and just enough romance to satiate those of us who long for that sort of connection. There are also new, developed characters, such as the boatsman, who bring new life to this sequel. It is an exciting conclusion that you cannot miss.

Honestly, Kelly Coon has become one of my favorite writers. She is not only talented at her craft but also incredibly kind and driven– and so I am overjoyed to follow her to her next endeavor. If you have never read her before, I do recommend this series as it is one that will hook you instantly and introduce you to a world you never thought you would see. In times like these, I take what little travel I can get, and it turns out that reading is the perfect source of this as you can be spirited away to fantastical lands where adventure is just waiting to be had. Come join Kammani and the rest of our heroes today!

5/5 stars

The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle – Review

Written with the chilling, twisty suspense of The Wife Between Us and Something in the Water, a seductive debut thriller about greed, lust, secrets, and deadly lies involving identical twin sisters.

Twin sisters Iris and Summer are startlingly alike, but beyond what the eye can see lies a darkness that sets them apart. Cynical and insecure, Iris has long been envious of Summer’s seemingly never-ending good fortune, including her perfect husband Adam.

Called to Thailand to help her sister sail the family yacht to the Seychelles, Iris nurtures her own secret hopes for what might happen on the journey. But when she unexpectedly finds herself alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean, everything changes. When she makes it to land, Iris allows herself to be swept up by Adam, who assumes that she is Summer.

Iris recklessly goes along with his mistake. Not only does she finally have the golden life she’s always envied, with her sister gone, she’s one step closer to the hundred-million-dollar inheritance left by her manipulative father. All Iris has to do is be the first of his seven children to produce an heir.

Iris’s “new” life lurches between glamorous dream and paranoid nightmare. On the edge of being exposed, how far will she go to ensure no one discovers the truth?

And just what did happen to Summer on the yacht?

Only Iris knows . . . 

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Thank you so much to NetGalley for the eARC of this stunning thriller! The draw of the mystery of twin siblings has always been one to suck me in like the relentless tide of the sea–much like the one that swallows one of the fictional sisters in this novel. So of course, I was excited to dive into this plot. The stakes couldn’t have been higher from the first page; a fortune, a ‘perfect’ life, and an unexpected accident that dropped all of these wants into the lap of the surviving sister. What could go wrong?

We meet Iris, who is a literal mirror twin to her sister, Summer. The two are biologically the same but inverted, and their lives end up going the exact same way. Summer has it all, or so it seems, and Iris is a walking disaster. As much as she loves her sister, she harbors a hatred for her that comes to a head as she helps Summer sail her yacht home. Summer disappears, and Iris gladly steps into her shoes. What follows is a gut-wrenching tale of paranoia and deceit that is filled with so many twists and turns that I think I may have gotten whiplash. It is a fun and devilishly exciting read that will keep you guessing– and make you do a double take even on the final page.

It was exceedingly hard to believe that this was a debut novel– Rose has such a way with creating an atmosphere and secondhand anxiety. I was scared along with Iris, but I enjoyed every second of it. I could see this being made into a film or a mini-series, but in and of itself it was one hell of a roller coaster ride. I cannot wait to see where this author goes from here, because I truly believe it can be nowhere but up. Highly recommend for these lonely days in quarantine! It will keep you engaged and up at night for the best reasons!

5/5 stars

Horrid by Katrina Leno – Review

From the author of You Must Not Miss comes a haunting contemporary horror novel that explores themes of mental illness, rage, and grief, twisted with spine-chilling elements of Stephen King and Agatha Christie.

Following her father’s death, Jane North-Robinson and her mom move from sunny California to the dreary, dilapidated old house in Maine where her mother grew up. All they want is a fresh start, but behind North Manor’s doors lurks a history that leaves them feeling more alone…and more tormented.

As the cold New England autumn arrives, and Jane settles in to her new home, she finds solace in old books and memories of her dad. She steadily begins making new friends, but also faces bullying from the resident “bad seed,” struggling to tamp down her own worst nature in response. Jane’s mom also seems to be spiraling with the return of her childhood home, but she won’t reveal why. Then Jane discovers that the “storage room” her mom has kept locked isn’t for storage at all–it’s a little girl’s bedroom, left untouched for years and not quite as empty of inhabitants as it appears….

Is it grief? Mental illness? Or something more…horrid? 

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There are very few new releases that I get excited about. It’s not always because I’m not interested in them, but usually it’s because I’m so far removed from the buzz that I only find out about novels as I’m browsing in a bookstore– but those moments have been hard to come by in this changed world we find ourselves in. However, Twitter popped the cover for this book into my feed, and I was immediately hooked. I know the adage is NOT to judge a book by its cover, but with the promise of something Horrid and a plant-based dread reminiscent of Rory Powers’ Wilder Girls, I was foaming at the mouth to get to this story. I received it for Christmas, and despite being in a depression-made book slump, I picked it up and loved every single tension-filled page.

We meet Jane and her mother Ruth as they prepare to move across country to Ruth’s childhood home. Jane’s father died and left them with nothing– so the pair had no choice but to return to the dilapidated mansion of Ruth’s past, which is filled with ghosts of a life once lived. The house creaks, the roses outside are black and unusually fragrant, and what seem to be memories that are haunting the inhabitants of the secluded manor start getting more and more real until Jane herself is questioning whether or not she is losing what sanity she has left. The whole town seems to know something about her family line that she doesn’t, and so it is a race to the truth before someone (else?) gets hurt.

I loved the characters in this book so much, but especially Jane. There is a streak of rage in her that she quells with eating pages out of books that she loves. This really spoke to me in that I know what it feels like to love something so much that you just want to devour it, and growing up as an only child, the pages of novels were my only companions sometimes. It also made me insanely curious, so I started googling what would happen if you ate paper, and started considering trying it for myself when I learned it was mostly harmless! I should note that I also pine for other things I am not supposed to eat, like polyhedral dice or crystals. Needless to say I felt a kinship to our protagonist; but it wasn’t just the pica that drew me to her. Her relationship with her mom reminded me of my own, and the secrets building between them caused a new layer of anxiety on top of the mystery that was unfolding.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I would like to just give a hearty shout-out to the ending of the novel. There are a lot of horror books that try to wrap things up with a pretty little bow and with good prevailing over all. Katrina has crafted what I consider a true tale of fear that the likes of Stephen King would praise, because she answered the riddles posed by the plot while also leaving the reader with even MORE to consider even after the last page has been turned. I loved the slow burn, and how the flames gave birth to an unrelenting genetic mental illness that permeates the stagnant air of North Manor. It presents to us the roots of a dysfunctional family while still not disturbing the soil of the plot they were buried in. The narrative roses Katrina planted are strong and vibrant, and I will be smelling them for years after they’ve been plucked.

5/5 stars

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher – Blog Tour Book Review

The Synopsis:

Sparks fly between two teens as they grapple with grief, love, and the future in this unforgettable debut novel sure to entice fans of Jandy Nelson and Jennifer E. Smith

Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

Ashley Schumacher’s devastating and beautiful debut, Amelia Unabridged, is about finding hope and strength within yourself, and maybe, just maybe, falling in love while you do it.

My 5/5 Star Review:

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books for inviting me on the blog tour of this truly inspiring YA release. From the whimsical cover with its title that mirrors my own name for my book blog to the plot synopsis that left me breathless– I had so many reasons to be deliriously excited about this debut. What I wasn’t prepared for was exactly how much the story would mean to me. All through my life, books have been my escape. I know that, comparatively, my life has been very privileged and easy, but growing up is always painful to some degree. Losing myself in a story lessened that, as well as helped me form bonds with like-minded individuals. So too did this narrative begin; with a novel that formed the groundwork of the friendship that would change Amelia’s life.

Our protagonist was looking for a way to leave her broken home behind for a bit as she stood in front of her local bookstore. A classmate of hers, Jenna, saw her through the window and recognized something in her. The two girls meandered the shop as Jenna picked up Amelia’s broken pieces and handed her the gift of literature. They returned to Jenna’s house that night physically, but the girls spent the night with their minds firmly planted in alternate universes spectacularly crafted by masters of the pen and page. This is when Amelia first visited Orman. ‘The Forest Between the Sea and the Sky’ resonated with Amelia in the way I’m sure any reader will recognize. We all have a book or a series that made us feel like anything was possible, like we were the heroes, and like we were seen and heard. The girls found their counterparts in the sisters written into the plot, and as their friendship blossomed throughout the years, so too did their fascination with the novel and its author, N. E. Endsley. When a plan to meet him goes awry, Amelia is left devastated, but soon learns the true meaning of the word. Jenna passes away, possibly leaving behind a mysterious copy of a book that shouldn’t exist, and Amelia follows the trail to put her friend to rest. What she doesn’t count on, however, is finding herself in the process. Against all odds this search leads her to Nolan, the boy behind N. E. Endsley. He is quiet, scared, and broken like her. The more she finds out about him and the Michigan town she’s spirited herself away to, the more alive she feels for the first time since Jenna left her side.

There are so many things that I love about this book that I don’t know where to start. Amelia is such a strong and relatable character, and I felt her pain as my own while she is suddenly loosened from the bonds that held her firmly to earth and seems to be floating aimlessly. Jenna was her rock; having taken Amelia into her family and planning both of their lives. It’s mostly the latter that haunts Amelia; and the look at just how damaging others’ expectations of you can be is so sobering. Not only does she want to honor the memory of her friend, but she doesn’t want to upset Jenna’s grieving parents even more than they already are, even if it means losing herself in the process. Nolan shows us how trauma effects someone long term, and it is painful, unpredictable, and easier when shared with others. The town of Lochbrook is incredibly charming, housing an exciting array of personalities from Wally, the bumbling horse of a dog to the spitfire piano teacher, Valerie. It would be a fairytale setting if not for the air of tragedy that surrounds it. Despite that, you can feel a clear change between the crowded and memory-ridden streets of Dallas and the whale-streaked skies of Lochbrook. It’s like the world goes from grey to technicolor as Amelia realizes she may have reached Orman after all.

Speaking of Orman, I always admire authors for creating a book within a book, and the lore included for this fictional narrative is intriguing and lovely; something I can see myself picking up in real life. I am head over heels for how the story was a vehicle for so much positive change in this world. Ashley Schumacher really shows off how much magic a novel holds. It has the power to bring you to tears, to mend your heart, to make you smile– all from words on a page. She knows that it is up to the readers to use those words, and that they will interpret them however they need them at that moment. So, as Amelia’s life turns from the fantasy she imagined, she begins to write an autobiography instead. It’s hard work, but she finds her way to living for herself, which I think is a huge message for readers of all ages. This book will remind you to keep that spark alive within yourself; the one that says ‘I am, I am, I am’ with beautiful imagery and chapters that are so easily devoured I could have finished it in one night. However, like Nolan, I despise endings, so I was loathe to let this one go. Just like in existence, though, all things come to an end, and I am a more hopeful soul after having been touched by this poignant story of love and life.

The Debut Author:

Follow Ashley Schumacher’s journey on social media! She is supportive, kind, and talented, and I cannot wait to see what she does next!
Twitter: @AshWritesBooks
Instagram: @AshWritesBooks

An Exclusive Excerpt:

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards – Review

When Mira flies home to spend Christmas with her mother in Pittsburgh, a record-breaking blizzard results in a cancelled layover. Desperate to get to her grief-ridden mother in the wake of a family death, Mira hitches a ride with a group of friendly college kids who were on her initial flight.

As the drive progresses and weather conditions become more treacherous, Mira realizes that the four other passengers she’s stuck in the car with don’t actually know one another.

Soon, they’re not just dealing with heavy snowfall and ice-slick roads, but the fact that somebody will stop at nothing to ensure their trip ends in a deadly disaster.

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Thank you so much to Edelweiss for the advanced copy of this thrilling novel! I am such a sucker for elevator-script type stories. Ones that stick to mostly one location, forcing the characters together for better or for worse. Sprinkle in the dire and emotional conditions of this road trip, and you’ve got a truly captivating adrenaline rush that you won’t be able to put down. This book you CAN judge by its cover. The staggering view on a lone car in the snow surrounded by the chaotic, blood-red description of the group we will be following for the duration of the narrative is a promise– one that is followed through and sealed with a gut punch.

We meet Mira as she is headed home to spend Christmas with her mom. It’s been a year since her aunt passed away, and she is dealing with grief but also guilt when she finds out that a snowstorm had headed into the area; making most modes of travel halt. Harper, Mira’s seatmate from the plane, decides to rent a car and rounds up a group of stragglers who are all desperate to get to their destinations for very different reasons. Against her better judgement, Mira joins them, and thus embarks on the most harrowing journey of her young life. Together, these five total strangers face not only the storm, but a possible impostor in their midst. It’s a race against time that you can feel, paced by the beating of your own heart.

I was very happy with the pacing of this novel. Many thrillers stretch out a slow burn, which is hit or miss for me. Here, we are introduced to our cast, the setting, and the circumstances and were immediately off to the races. It also kept me guessing the entire time. I had a million different theories about what was happening between these characters and none of them were right. The suspense built beautifully, and as the weather worsened so too did the resolve of our five explorers. Tensions rose higher and higher, culminating in a high stakes last chapter where all hell breaks loose. If you’re looking for something to pull you out of a reading slump, I recommend this book! It will make you hungry for more– and the atmosphere is perfect for December!

5/5 stars

In The Study With The Wrench by Diana Peterfreund – Review

In the aftermath of Headmaster Boddy’s murder, Blackbrook Academy has been thrown into complete disarray. Half the student body hasn’t bothered to return to campus—but those who have include Orchid, Vaughn, Scarlett, Peacock, Plum, and Mustard, now warily referred to by the other students as the Murder Crew. When another staff member is found dead and an anonymous threat begins to target the group, each of the teens’ opportunistic reasons for sticking around come to light. Orchid’s identity comes under question while Vaughn’s family life takes a turn; Finn and Mustard grow closer; and Scarlett and Beth struggle to turn over new leaves. All of this comes to a dramatic head at Tudor House with a cliff-hanger… 

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Thank you so much to NetGalley for the eARC of this sequel! I also received the first one via NetGalley, and I loved how it took the beloved board game and morphed it into a fun, intense, and suspenseful young adult novel. I was so excited to find out that it was going to be a series, and ‘In the Study’ did not disappoint! We have our ‘usual suspects’ back and murder seems to follow them. Despite there being familiar faces– the content is a breath of fresh air; a new exciting plot that will leave you speechless.

I thought that this installment was a good window into how life changes after trauma. The ‘Murder Crew’ try to go back to their normal lives, but the smell of death follows them like an obedient dog. The group rises to the occasion once another body is discovered, however, and new bonds are forged through it. There are so many twists and turns throughout and nothing is what it seems. Between the new background characters and the further development of the kids we have grown to know and love– this story is rich in humanity. Despite the fantastical air of it all, it is a novel that has a lot of heart in the midst of the spooks.

This is a perfect fall read– one that you can break out as the nights get longer and the weather gets colder. I can’t say much for fear of spoiling both this one and the previous release, but I will tell you that I am so excited for the third installment. There have been so many popular reimaginings of attractions from the past, but none of them have caught my attention the way Diana’s series does. If you like Clue, mystery, and/or the fun elements of YA novels (witty banter, the bittersweet taste of young love, the freedom of a life just starting to begin), then this book should be your next read. Just make sure you take in the ‘Knife’ first!

5/5 stars