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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

#ATBR2020 Review: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager @duttonbooks @riley_sager @jessmapreviews

Home Before Dark 
by Riley Sager 

Thank you Dutton and NetGalley for these free advanced copies!
Happy Publication Day!

Publisher: Dutton
Publish Date: Jun 30, 2020
Kindle Edition
384 Pages
Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Horror

What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

My Review:

A book within a book is a hit or miss for me sometimes and it was a definite HIT for me in Home Before Dark.  Combine that with some unreliable narrators, dual timelines and riveting pages that keep you flipping them until the wee hours.... and you get another winning book from Sager.

 How comfortable would you be about inheriting a house that was a part of your family, considered haunted and which your father's famous book is about.... that can't possibly be true?  Old houses scare the begeezuz out of me but I also love that rush.  I'm not entirely sure I could handle one by myself.... and Sager gives us some flesh crawling moments.  

"You are sixteen... going on....."  I cannot get this damn song out of my head now! Grrr

Sager is an autobuy author and I am always thrilled to see a new book come out.  Run thriller vibes along with some horror tones, and I am one happy girl.  While ghost stories are hit or miss for me, I am always attracted to these reads.  And if Sager write it, I'm gonna read it.  


Jessica's Review:

The fourth novel from Riley Sager and its another win for me! Another unique and twisty suspenseful read that kept my attention from cover to cover. While HOME BEFORE DARK isn’t my favorite of his four novels, it’s still one I absolutely recommend picking up.
Maggie is left Baneberry Hall – a home that she and her parents lived in for only three weeks before fleeing. Her father ended up publishing a book about the horrors and events that they endured during their time there. A story that ended up surpassing The Amityville Horror in popularity, but it also brought with it a ton of skepticism, because there’s no way it could possibly be true.
Now that Maggie professionally restores old homes, she has returned to fix up the place to sell it. Of course, the small Vermont town isn’t entirely welcoming and people from the past begin to surface. Why would Maggie be concerned? She was so young and remembers nothing of her time there and ghosts and ghouls aren’t real.
We get two POVs – present day and then excerpts from a book written by Maggie’s father about their experiences in Baneberry Hall. As things begin to mirror each other it dawns on her that maybe there was some truth to what her parents experienced. This had an incredible gothic feel throughout the book and just an eerie overall tone.
Another solid release from Sager and he continues to solidify his place as an auto-buy author for me. If you’re looking for creepy and addictive reads, then look no further! I highly recommend any and all of his books.
4 stars

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Review: Blood Victory by Christopher Rice @amazonpub @chrisricewriter

Blood Victory 
by Christopher Rice

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publish Date: August 18, 2020
Kindle Edition
Series: Burning Girl #3
Genres: Thriller, Mystery

On a cross-country journey to hell, fear is the engine and vengeance is the destination as Christopher Rice’s Amazon Charts bestselling series continues.

As the test subject of an experimental drug, Charlotte Rowe was infused with extraordinary powers. As the secret weapon of a mysterious consortium, she baits evil predators and stops them in their tracks. But it takes more than fear to trigger what’s coursing through Charlotte’s blood. She needs to be terrorized. Serial killer Cyrus Mattingly is up to the task.

Cyrus is a long-haul truck driver, and his cargo bay is a gallery of horrors on wheels. To stop his bloodshed, Charlotte will become his next victim, reining in her powers so she can face each of his evils in turn.

As much as they know about Cyrus—his method of selecting victims, his prolonged rituals—there is something they don’t. What happens on the dark and lonely highways is only the journey. It’s the destination that’s truly depraved. Before she can unleash vengeance on a scale this killer has never seen, Charlotte and her team will have to go the distance into hell.

My Review:

Book 3 in the Burning Girl Series and so far it's a full five stars for EVERY BOOK IN THE SERIES.  Rice has really launched this series forward in these three books and while you could likely read this as a standalone, I would STRONGLY recommend reading this from book one and it'll give you better understanding and deeper connection to the full story line.  And trust me, readers, this is definitely a series where you want to know all the details.

From being the stolen baby raised by serial killers, to finding out she has been drugged with Zypraxon that gives her superhuman powers and luckily is the first to survive being triggered... to now trying to work with authorities to bring down other killers, Charlotte is a character you will absolutely love and to see these big transitions via only three books so far, it so impresses me how Rice does this without making time seem to move too fast, making the sci-fi part of it not convoluted but an added bonus to the scary parts of things we could potentially see happening in the future... I mean, I don't even know where to start in terms of how well crafted this series is.

Side note to the author: I'm absolutely ok with snakes but that whole set up with the RATS... I physically wretched (which is also why I LOVED all of that as well - what can I say, I'm a sick person *wink*).

The dirty birds in this story had quite the evil story to tell.  I definitely do NOT want to be a seedling that someone else needs to plant.  Not gonna lie, I absolutely loved this side of the story and I truly intrigued to see where this series continues in terms of future villains and from a certain new character that has all my must know hairs standing straight up.  Rice has done it again and I'm telling y'all, you WANT to read this series. Get on it.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf @harlequinbooks #Mira @hgudenkauf #BuddyReadstoDieFor #ATBR2020

These Things Hidden
by Heather Gudenkauf

The June Buddy Reads to Die For choice and another All The Book Reviews buddy read - we had quite the group read for this amazing story.

Publisher: Mira
Publish Date: January 18, 2011
337 Pages
Genre: Psychological Thriller

When teenager Allison Glenn is sent to prison for a heinous crime, she leaves behind her reputation as Linden Falls' golden girl forever. Her parents deny the existence of their once-perfect child. Her former friends exult her downfall. Her sister, Brynn, faces whispered rumors every day in the hallways of their small Iowa high school. It's Brynn--shy, quiet Brynn--who carries the burden of what really happened that night. All she wants is to forget Allison and the past that haunts her. But then Allison is released to a halfway house, and is more determined than ever to speak with her estranged sister. Now their legacy of secrets is focused on one little boy. And if the truth is revealed, the consequences will be unimaginable for the adoptive mother who loves him, the girl who tried to protect him and the two sisters who hold the key to all that is hidden.

My Review:

PHEW! Well that was an emotional roller coaster of a read!  I'm going to keep this review as vague as the synopsis because you really should go into this one blind.  I'm not a person who gets triggered but you should peruse other reviews if you are to see if this read may or may not be difficult for you.  Though I think the subject matter probably wouldn't be easy for anyone who isn't a socio/psychopath.

Now that that's out of the way - Gudenkauf is one of my absolute favorite authors and her writing will speak for itself.  I highly suggest you pick her up if you're a thriller lover and prepare yourself to dive headlong into the vortex she creates while you continually turn these pages.  Short chapters, intriguing plot line, characters to love and to hate and strap yourself in for the emotional roller coaster she will put you on.   

Oh the pressure on kids to be perfect and the parents who put pressure on them to be so.  A tsk-tsk to those parents who are so selfish that they focus only on their own happiness rather than the health and happiness of their own children.  Big hugs and tears to those who long to be parents but cannot and somehow get blessed along the way by other means.  Gudenkauf puts us through the gauntlet of emotions as we see these stories play out.  

I can see why this wouldn't be a book for everyone but this is a book that wows me and now I understand why it's Jamie's favorite of this author.  Thanks for sending this one my way.  If you're looking for an emotional thriller that will simultaneously piss you off and make you love some very flawed characters... well, look no further.  


Jessica's Review:

This is my third outing with Heather Gudenkauf and I haven't been disappointed yet! Having read her two newest releases I was excited to go back to one of her backlist books for the #buddyreadstodiefor book club. THESE THINGS HIDDEN had all the things that I loved about her other two books - just a fun and solid thriller to fly through.

This is my third outing with Heather Gudenkauf and I haven't been disappointed yet! Having read her two newest releases I was excited to go back to one of her backlist books for the #buddyreadstodiefor book club. THESE THINGS HIDDEN had all the things that I loved about her other two books - just a fun and solid thriller to fly through.

What I will always love is how she hooks you from that first chapter. Once you start, you aren't going to want to stop or put down the book. Fast pace, multiple POVs, twists, red herrings, and well-developed characters (some you'll love and some that will get under your skin). It's always so hard to review her books because you don't want to accidentally spoil anything and ruin the fun and suspense.

I will continue to pick up anything by Gudenkauf - this one solidified her status as one of my auto-buy authors. I highly recommend this one as well as BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND and THIS IS HOW I LIE - you won't be disappointed. Now, to go back and get more of her books.

5 stars

Monday, June 22, 2020

#ATBR2020 Review: Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas @jessmapreviews

Catherine House 
by Elisabeth Thomas

Continue below to see Jessica and I's very different view points on this debut novel.

Publisher: Custom House
Publish Date: May 12, 2020
320 Pages
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Gothic

A seductive, gothic-infused tale of literary suspense — the debut of a spectacular new voice — about a dangerously curious young undergraduate whose rebelliousness leads her to discover a shocking secret involving an exclusive circle of students . . . and the dark truth beneath her school’s promise of prestige.

You are in the house and the house is in the woods.
You are in the house and the house is in you . . .
Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises its graduates a future of sublime power and prestige, and that they can become anything or anyone they desire.
Among this year’s incoming class is Ines, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, pills, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves and their place within the formidable black iron gates of Catherine.
For Ines, Catherine is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had, and her serious, timid roommate, Baby, soon becomes an unlikely friend. Yet the House’s strange protocols make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when Baby’s obsessive desire for acceptance ends in tragedy, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda that is connected to a secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.
Combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Catherine House is a devious, deliciously steamy, and suspenseful page-turner with shocking twists and sharp edges that is sure to leave readers breathless.
My Review:
"Do you know what plasm is?"
"What do you mean? Plasm, the new material?'
"Yes, Plasm.  I mean, do you really understand what it is - exactly? Do you really get it?"
Replace Plasm with Catherine House and this is basically a conversation I'd probably have regarding the book.  This is a very atmospheric, gothic bit of a read and it reminds me of watching an Indie movie - a bit of a slow build up where you're eyebrows are pinched in trying to figure out what is going on.  Hence why my attention wouldn't be fully on the read and I would find myself putting it down every so often.  I considered DNFing it but then things got really interesting.... 
What I liked and didn't like about this book kind of are for the same reasons.  It's a bit of a mindfuck as you never really know what's happening.  There are hints and we get touches of this and that... but I never really saw it fleshed out completely.  I kind of liked being able to make my own assumptions but I also really wanted some answers.  Le sigh.  I like that we only get the view point of Ines but I also would've liked to see how everyone else took in this environment (especially Yaya).  It's got that creepy, gothic feel but I wanted it to be just a bit more... I felt at times I was reading it as if I was seeing everything in a haze.  I'm not sure if that had to do with the writing or that, like the plot, the characters also didn't seem fully solid.
Now, I think this was probably done intentionally for the purposes of what the plot seems to bring the reader.  And I applaud that this is a debut novel that gives us something different than what we have been used to being published.  Trust me, I'm a big flip flopper when it comes to ambiguity.  While I don't think this book will be for everyone, I think if you're even considering it, definitely pick it up and decide where you land for yourself.
Jessica's Review:

I think 2020 has been a great year for debut authors, and this is one of them. CATHERINE HOUSE by Elisabeth Thomas was different than what I was expecting it to be, and I really enjoyed it! I can already see this not working for all readers because some aren’t fans of ambiguity in their books. While this one isn’t laser focused on one plot point, there is enough detail to keep the story progressing at a good pace.
I was so intrigued to learn more about the mysterious Catherine House. A school that isn’t quite a college, but it’s not high school. A school where you basically agree to leave your past behind you and spend the next 3 years completely isolated on a private campus, but, you are guaranteed the future that you desire. Seems too good to be true, right? Well, let’s learn the secrets of Catherine House.
The highlight of this book for me was the Gothic theme. Thomas just immerses you in Catherine House and creates an atmosphere of mounting dread with each chapter and interaction. It was a very different reading experience because there isn’t a ton of details and the conversations had a different feel to them. It’s really hard to describe, but I think it’s best to experience. I think this was a solid debut and I’ll be looking for more from Elisabeth Thomas in the future.
4 stars

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi @MakeMeAWorld @azemezi

by Akwaeke Emezi

Publisher: Make Me A World
Publish Date: September 10, 2019
208 Pages
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBTQIA+

Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother's paintings and a drop of Jam's blood, she must reconsider what she's been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption's house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question--How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

My Review:

Imagine that it is the future and we live in a place called Lucille, and all the badness of the world we knew was gone (abuse, corruption, inequality, etc. i.e. "monsters") and you were the first generation born into this utopian society.  This happened from the diligence of the "angels" who changed the laws and kept the corrupt accountable.  Jam is loved by her parents and they speak (somewhat) openly of the world before, for the forgotten makes the monsters come back.  But what happens when you stop looking for them?

This is my first Emezi book and most certainly won't be the last.  The way they weaved this young adult story touching on VERY important points really gets your mind working.  Diversity is shown greatly in this read.  Jam is a trans girl with selective mutism.  There's a polyamorous relationship and a nonbinary character. What's great is that we know this but it's not a central theme because in this world, this is a natural, every day occurrence that is accepted by everyone.  This is the utopia I'd like to live in one day.

Special nod to a particular scene that reminded me of Supernatural. 😉

A fantastic book full of diversity for the young readers.  I wish I had a little more on exactly how Lucille became such a utopia.  It's touched on very briefly but I found myself curious on this part.  And I'm grateful that there are great diverse reads for the younger generation.  Clearly I need to go read Freshwater.


Friday, June 19, 2020

Review: All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson @fsgbooks @IamGMJohnson #queerblackathon

All Boys Aren't Blue 
by George M. Johnson

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publish Date: April 28, 2020
iBooks Edition
320 Pages
Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir Manifesto, Autobiography, LGBTQIA+

In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren't Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson's emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.

My Review:

"We are not as different as you think, and all our stories matter and deserve to be celebrated and told."

Johnson touches on many very important topics as you can gleam from the synopsis.  There are so many highlights and quotes I wanted to take from this.  I am beyond awed and grateful that queer Black boys will now have something to read and relate to.. and it makes me all the more aware how there's not enough of this out there for this community.  How do you review such a personal memoir manifesto?  You really don't - you just let readers know that this is a MUST READ.  SO if you haven't read it yet, add it to your TBR immediately and if it's already on your TBR, drop what you're doing and pick this one up right now.

ALL THE FEELS for this book.  I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I clapped and I LEARNED.  My instagram handle name derives from my favorite book from childhood, but it also expresses how as readers, we should GROW from what we read.  Where the Reader GROWS.  And I have certainly grown a bit after reading this. 

"Elevating a community viewed as below you to having the same equity and equality harms no one but the oppressor."   Read that again.

"Love who you want to love and do it unapologetically, including that face you see every day in the mirror."  YES YES YES.

"It's necessary that we do the work to unpack our shit.  It's time for the world to let queer Black boys unpack their shit.  Smile, Black guys." 🖤


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Blog Tour & Review: Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein @atriabooks @hannahorens

Head Over Heels 
by Hannah Orenstein

Thank you to Atria for this copy and stop on the blog tour.

Publisher: Atria
Publish Date: June 23, 2020
336 Pages
Genre: Contemporary Romance

The past seven years have been hard on Avery Abrams: After training her entire life to make the Olympic gymnastics team, a disastrous performance ended her athletic career for good. Her best friend and teammate, Jasmine, went on to become an Olympic champion, then committed the ultimate betrayal by marrying their emotionally abusive coach, Dimitri.

Now, reeling from a breakup with her football star boyfriend, Avery returns to her Massachusetts hometown, where new coach Ryan asks her to help him train a promising young gymnast with Olympic aspirations. Despite her misgivings and worries about the memories it will evoke, Avery agrees. Back in the gym, she’s surprised to find sparks flying with Ryan. But when a shocking scandal in the gymnastics world breaks, it has shattering effects not only for the sport but also for Avery and her old friend Jasmine.

Hannah Orenstein is the author of Playing with MatchesLove at First Like, and Head Over Heels, and is a former competitive gymnast. She is the senior dating editor at Elite Daily and was previously a writer and editor at Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Refinery29, and more. She lives in Brooklyn.

Twitter: @hannahorens
Instagram: @hannahorens

My Review:

"I h-h-hate that I'm the kind of person who gets so thrown off course by stupid, dumb feelings."  GIRL, SAME.

My second book by Orenstein and just what I needed right now!  I used to be fascinated with gymnastics when I was younger.  At one point I even thought, "hey, I can do this!", proceeded to try and do a back flip, with absolutely no training of course, and am lucky I didn't break my neck since I did land on my head.  The discipline these girls have at such a young age is quite impressive.  Orenstein brings us into the behind the scenes portion with Avery - an Olympic contender who lost her chance due to an injury and an asshole coach.  And stemming from the all too true case of Larry Nassar, touches also on the abuse these girls also had to endure.  PHEW!

Now, incorporated into all of this of course is the romance between Avery and Ryan.  Although, we expect the typical romance arc that we are used to in this genre, I absolutely appreciate that this wasn't an instalove type of romance but a budding between two people who actually knew each other way back when.

My favorite parts though were Avery's relationship with Hallie and watching that grow.  I don't know if it's the isolation that's gotten me more emotional or not, but I did find myself attached to Hallie and her growth. But.... I also need to know something else dangit! 😉 I'M INVESTED.  This contemporary romance was a lot of fun and I look forward to seeing what Orenstein has for us next.