Best Day Ever, by Kaira Rouda ~ 4.5 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Graydon House for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: Available Now

352 Pages

Synopsis: “I glance at my wife as she climbs in the passenger seat, and I am bursting with confidence. Today will be everything I promised her…and more…”

Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys, and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he’s the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That’s why he’s planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he’s promised today will be the best day ever.

But as Paul and Mia drive out of the city and toward the countryside, a spike of tension begins to wedge itself between them and doubts start to rise. How much do they trust each other? And how perfect is their marriage, or any marriage, really?

Forcing us to ask ourselves just how well we know those who are closest to us, Best Day Ever crackles with dark energy, spinning ever tighter toward its shocking conclusion. In the bestselling page-turning vein of The Couple Next Door and The Dinner, Kaira Rouda weaves a gripping, tautly suspenseful tale of deception and betrayal dark enough to destroy a marriage…or a life.

Best Day Ever is a dark, creepy and twisted psychological suspense novel that literally made my skin crawl. I just finished it after being glued to its pages for the last three hours, and now I can’t go to sleep!

What makes this story work is that except for the epilogue, it’s told from the first person POV of the antagonist, Paul Strom. From the first page, you can tell there’s something seriously off about this guy. A couple of chapters in, and it’s obvious he’s a narcissistic psychopath. Even more disturbing is that Paul is basically telling the story to the reader. I felt like he was sitting across from me in real life having a conversation with me. I swear, by the end of the book I wanted to scrub out my brain! 

I have to be honest and say there were a few moments where the pace slowed down a bit, mainly because Paul has a tendency to divert from the main storyline into these inner monologues with himself. But when this happens, they don’t last long thankfully. In the beginning, Paul is just thoroughly dislikable, but bit by bit he reveals more about himself and the preceding events that have led up to this momentous day,  until you find out what a monster he truly is.

The plot itself is more a slow-burning suspense until about the last 50 pages, which is where most of the action takes place. I don’t say this as a criticism though. All I can think of as an analogy is of a spider/the author, weaving a web and trapping a fly/the reader. I can’t convey how seriously disturbing this is! And it’s made more so by the banal normality that outwardly surrounds Paul and his wife, Mia. She’s also an interesting case study as at first she seems like a Stepford wife, but before long shows there’s something lurking behind her polished veneer.

Despite Paul’s insistence to himself and Mia that, this is going to be the “best day ever”, things methodically begin to unravel until you start wondering for which one this will be true. While there were some things that were predictable, I found myself caught off guard by others, which kept me at the edge of my seat. The ending ties everything up, and while I’ve read other reviews that complained about the epilogue, which switches to someone else’s POV, I actually thought it was the perfect way to end things.

In the end, Best Day Ever, despite not being action packed, has plenty of thrills and chills which will keep readers mesmerized until the very last page. While this works as a standalone, I’ve heard rumors there may be a sequel, which if that’s the case, I’ll definitely be picking it up. I highly recommend this to fans of slow burning suspense with sketchy narrators. It’s definitely going on my top ten list of most memorable reads of 2017!

 

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Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, by Kelly Jones ~ 3.5 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Knopf Books for Young Readers for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: September 19th, 2017

304 Pages

Synopsis: The year is 1818, the city is London, and 16-year-old Annis Whitworth has just learned her father is dead and all his money is missing. And so, of course, she decides to become a spy.

Annis always suspected that her father was himself a spy, and following in his footsteps to unmask his killer makes perfect sense. Alas, it does not make sense to England’s current spymasters—not even when Annis reveals she has the rare magical ability to sew glamours—garments that can disguise the wearer completely.

Well, if the spies are too pigheaded to take on a young woman of quality, then Annis will take them on. And so, she crafts a new double life for herself. Miss Annis Whitworth will appear to live a quiet life in a country cottage with her aunt, and Annis-in-disguise as Madame Martine, glamour artist, will open a magical dressmaking shop. That way she can earn a living, maintain her social standing, and in her spare time, follow the coded clues her father left behind and unmask his killer.

It can’t be any harder than navigating the London social season, can it?

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore is a cute Recency romp, that had me laughing out loud more than once. 

Annis is a refreshing young miss. Despite her magical talent, she’s no special snowflake. She’s intelligent, but very naive and because of this, makes mistakes and has to rely on others to help fix them. Annis is not afraid to get her hands dirty, and in addition to investing her father’s mysterious death, takes time out to help others.

Millie, the maid to Annis and her aunt, actually wound up being even more interesting to me. She’s far more practical than Annis, and saves the day more than once. I also enjoyed the close friendship that developed between these two girls despite their dissimilar backgrounds. There’s a lot of “girl power” moments courtesy of these two as well as some secondary female characters.

I loved the fantasy elements added to this, but while there’s an acceptance that magical abilities are par for the course, there’s no other details on how they came to be. Also lacking is some character development, specifically in regards to men. There’s a hint of a potential future romance between Annis and her father’s lawyer, Mr. Harrison, but to be honest, by the last page I knew nothing more about him than I did at the beginning of the book. 

The mystery is intriguing and although I guessed who the villain was about halfway through the book, it still kept me reading. The ending isn’t a cliffhanger, but it leads me to believe there will be additional books.

Overall, Murder, Magic, and What We Wore may be a little short on details and development, but is still a quick and enjoyable read. I’m definitely interested in where Kelly Jones takes her characters and story next.

 

 

Does Anyone Have Any Smelling Salts?

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This is me after seeing the above pictures of Stephen and Owen King’s forthcoming collaboration, Sleeping Beauties on Hodder & Stoughton’s Twitter feed:

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If you’re a fellow Constant Reader, you know exactly what I’m talking about! Thankfully there’s only 8 days left until this 720 page behemoth comes out!

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A Poison Dark and Drowning (Kingdom On Fire #2), by Jessica Cluess ~ 3.75 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Books For Young Readers for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: September 19th, 2017

432 Pages

Synopsis: 

The magicians want her to lead.

The sorcerers want her to lie.

The demons want her blood.

Henrietta wants to save the one she loves.

But will his dark magic be her undoing?

In this seductive and explosive second book in the Kingdom On Fire series, Jessica Cluess delivers her signature mix of magic, passion, and teen warriors fighting for survival. Hand to fans of Victoria Aveyard, Sarah J. Maas, and Kiersten White.

Henrietta doesn’t need a prophecy to know she’s in danger. She came to London to be named the chosen one, the first full female sorcerer in centuries, the one who would defeat the Ancients. Instead, she discovers a city ruled by secrets. And the biggest secret of all: Henrietta is not the chosen one.

Still, she must play the role in order to keep herself and Took, her best friend and childhood love, safe. But can she truly save him? The poison in Rook’s blood is transforming him into something monstrous as he begins to master dark powers of his own. So, when Henrietta finds a clue to the Ancients past that could turn the tide of the war, she persuades Blackwood, the mysterious Earl of Sorrow-Fell, to travel up the coast to seek out strange new weapons. And Magnus, the brave, reckless flirt who wants to win back her favor, is assigned to their mission. Together, they will face monsters, meet powerful new Allies, and uncover the most devastating weapon of all: the truth.

When I reviewed the first book in this series, A Shadow Bright and Burning, and gave it 3 stars, my main complaints concerned what I saw as lack of character development and not enough world-building. In the sequel, A Poison Dark and Drowning, Jessica Cluess has addressed those issues much to my satisfaction. But, the “romance” here was just awful, hence my rather odd rating.

Henrietta drove me absolutely NUTS! On the one hand I continue to love that she’s not the typical “chosen one”. She’s intelligent, feisty, courageous, and loyal to those she cares for. She battles over doing what’s right and is plagued by self-doubt and guilt over her previous actions. She also continually lies and keeps secrets in the name of protecting her friends. In essence, she’s a complex, yet relatable character,  and I’m enjoying where the author is going with her story. However, the flippin’ love square between her, Rook, Magnus and Blackwood was horrible and distracting, and had me grinding my teeth almost the entire time I was reading. I don’t think I’ve been this annoyed by someone’s constant dithering since the Bella Swan in the Twilight series! In my humble opinion, if Jessica Cluess would lay off the soap-opera relationship drama, this would be a much tighter and more entertaining series.

What I did like though, is that all the characters were much more multi-dimensional in this story. Magnus is now one of my favorites as it’s revealed that there’s much more to him than being an incorrigible flirt. There’s also a new character introduced, Maria, who I absolutely loved and I can’t wait to see what happens with her in the next book. And while many other reviewers continue to dislike Henrietta’s childhood friend, Rook, I’m actually rooting for a riding off into the sunset, happy ending for him and Henrietta.

The world-building is absolutely PHENOMENAL here, which is what really saved this book for me. Combining Victorian England with Lovecraft-like monsters known as the Ancients is absolutely brilliant, and you find out much more in this book about their history and why they’ve been brought here. Likewise, there’s more revealed about Sorcerers and Magicians and the animosity between them. And finally, even with all the fantasy elements that compose this tale, Cluess still manages to capture the very real societal norms of the period, especially when it comes to how women were treated.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to rate A Poison Dark and Drowning 3 1/2 Stars or 4. There are so many things I loved about this book, but I disliked the relationship drama so much that it took away some of my enjoyment. After a lot of agonizing, I came up with the 3.75. I think that fans of the previous book will most likely enjoy this sequel even more. And although I had issues with both books, I’d still recommend that historical fantasy fans give them a try. Despite my critical remarks, I devoured this in two sittings and I will definitely be reading the third book.

 

Lovely Lyrical Lines

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What A Wonderful World

 

I see trees of green,

Red roses too.

I see them bloom,

For me and you.

And I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

~

I see skies of blue,

And clouds of white

The bright blessed day,

The dark sacred night.

And I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

~

The colors of the rainbow,

So pretty in the sky.

Are also on the faces,

Of people going by.

I see friends shaking hands.

Saying “How do you do?”

They’re really saying,

“I love you”.

~

I hear babies crying,

I watch them grow.

They’ll learn much more,

Than I’ll ever know.

And I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

~

Yes I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

What A Wonderful World, sung by Louis Armstrong

Written by, George David Weiss and Robert Thiele

 

Odd & True, by Cat Winters ~ 5.0 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Amulet Books for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: Available Now

368 Pages

Synopsis: Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio. 

In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic States, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

Cat Winters has grown to become one of my favorite YA authors because of her lyrical style of writing, and the wonderful way she combines historical fiction with the supernatural. Although Odd & True was not at all what I expected, I think it might be her best novel yet! 

The story is told from both sisters’ perspectives—Tru’s in 1909, and Od’s farther in the past during the two years she was away. I thought this was going to be a book about hunting monsters, but it’s really about Tru and Od coming to terms with the tragedies in their pasts and coming to facing reality, as long buried family secrets come to light. As they cope with all this, there’s a lot of sadness, but the love and support these sisters share is so pure and beautiful, that it’s obvious that in the end they will pull through.

The story is more family drama than thriller, but it does have a hint of the paranormal in the last third of the book. I found this to be a quick page-turner, because I loved both Tru and Od, and also because of the intrigue surrounding their family. Their battle with the Leeds Devil is a nice touch especially as the events surrounding it are based upon actual events. The ending is absolutely perfect as everything comes full circle and I found myself tearing up a bit reading the last few pages.

With Odd & True, Cat Winters has definitively proven what a creative writer she is. This is a story about hardship, loss, family secrets, monsters and myths. But most of all, it’s a beautiful story of two sisters who overcome the setbacks in their lives because of the love they have for each other. I highly recommend this for older teens and adults who enjoy historical fiction with character-driven plots, that are infused with traces paranormal elements.

Burntown, by Jennifer McMahon ~ 4.0 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday Canada for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: Available Now

336 Pages

Synopsis: Eva grew up watching her father, Miles, invent strange and wonderful things in the small workshop behind their house on the river that runs through their old mill town. But the most important invention of all was the one Miles claimed came from the mind of Thomas Edison himself–a machine that allowed one to speak with loved ones long passed. Smuggled out of Edison’s laboratory, the blueprints were passed down to Miles, and he’s been using them to protect Eva, her mother Lily, and her brother, Errol, ever since.

Then, one night when a storm is raging and the river is threatening to flood, the machine whirrs to life on it’s own. Danger, it says. You’re in terrible danger. The next thing Eva knows is waking up on the side of the river and seeing her mother’s grim face. Eva’s father and brother are dead, their house has been washed away and an evil man is searching for them both. They need to hide.

Eva changes her name to Necco–a candy she always loved–and tries to put everything in the past behind her as she adapts to her new life off the grid. But when her boyfriend is murdered and her mother disappears, she know the past is starting to catch up to her.

What really happened the night of the flood? As Necco searches for the truth, her journey unites her with two women who are on desperate quests of their own. And as the trio follows the clues to solving the mystery of Necco’s past, they discover that sometimes it’s the smallest towns that hide the strangest secrets.

Burntown is a genre-defying novel that’s an interesting mix of coming-of-age, supernatural, fantasy, science fiction, mystery and suspense. I’ve read previous books by Jennifer McMahon’s and one thing I’ve learned is to expect the unexpected, and this latest book is no different.

In addition to the quirky characters, there are mysterious murders, a flood, an obese former circus performer, a machine that may let you communicate with the dead, and a sinister figure wearing a chicken mask. Yes. You read that last bit correctly! While it seems as though all these separate elements are just too dissimilar to work together, somehow the author weaves everything together in an entertaining way.  

The story might be a bit strange, but it’s oddly enjoyable. The only reason why I’m marking this down is because after being captivated throughout the entire book, I found the ending to be a bit anticlimactic. Overall though, Jennifer McMahon has once again proven what an imaginative writer she is. Burntown is a vividly written tale with endearing and memorable characters, and a unique and suspenseful plot.