A near-perfect blend of atmospheric fiction mixed with a mystery. Not a standard mystery/thriller by any means...but a spectacular main character voice. I've added this author to my immediate "to watch" list and can see myself rereading this novel many times to come.
Main character/Narrative Voice: ★★★★★
Actual Mystery(s): ★★
Pure Enjoyment: ★★★★★
So first off, I think that this novel is weirdly placed in the mystery/thriller category on the shelves when really, it's an atmospheric literary fiction with some dead bodies in it.
It's like alternative take on a Jennifer McMahon, if you gutted all of her unnecessary meanderings and subplots (some people like them, I do not) and left us with just the vibes and atmosphere—and added a main character that pops right off the page and into your living room. Don't come for the devious and hard-to-grasp mystery—this is not a Christie whodunit. This is an atmospheric stay.
Dark Currents follows the story of David, a transgender man who is returning to his childhood small town of New Compton, Rhode Island, a few years after his transition and right on the heels of his recent firing from a university.
Why is David returning to his hometown, you might ask?
Because his grandma, who lives there alone, is in the downward swing of degenerative memory loss and he received a disturbing voicemail from her one night. There's a body, there's a lot of blood, there's a lobster, and there's a man in the dark. Can David come now!?
David rushes to the scene, but by the time he arrives his grandma's forgotten the whole thing and is surprised to see him there. But the dead body is real, and its grandma's neighbor and life-long old friend. It looks like an accident, but David can't be sure and neither can the town—their witness isn't exactly reliable, after all.
With small town secrets, histories, family, and more colliding into one tangle, it's up to David and his ex-boyfriend, town cop Billy Dyer, to solve the mystery and untangle the threads of the past before it's too late.
WOW. This writing voice. Every once in a while, you come across writing that just leaps off the page and into your room with you—the voice of the narrator is so strong and so vivid without being a distraction in its own right. Dark Currents is one of those books. I could practically hear David's voice in my head as I read these pages. I loved this book for that vividness alone as hardly any fiction does that for me these days.
Another thing I loved about this novel was that the story wasn't really about the mystery. It was about the people and their histories and how they converged in this particular point in time. Dark Currents has a bit of an oral history vibe to it, with vignettes of stories interspersed as David's grandma's friends tell him about the past while he tries to untangle the present. It also has a strong small town and maritime vibe, which also appealed to me. The sea and its secrets, and those who keep them.
Also, last but NOT least--this novel was hilarious too. Amid the extremely dark topics of murder, transphobia/PTSD, and degenerative memory loss and its affects on family, the dry one liners and situational humor that the author managed to organically fit into this story was just *chef's kiss*.
I loved it.
Wow, this mystery packed a punch... but the true star of the show was the complexity of the main character/amateur detective, Frankie Elkin. Very strong opener for a woman I hope we see in more sequels.
A woman with a haunted past, Frankie Elkin has carved out a space within empty spaces for herself as a traveling amateur investigator. No home, no possessions, no family to encourage her to settle down and keep her roots.
She follows the trails of the missing. And she's found 14 of them so far. None were alive, but that's not what Frankie promised their family in the first place--Frankie promised to find them. And she does.
In Before She Disappeared, Frankie arrives in Boston with her nose to the ground on a missing persons case that's spent 11 months gathering dust by the local investigators. Angelique Badeau, a promising young Haitian immigrant attending Boston Academy high school, went missing after school one day. The leads dried up fast.
Her younger brother, Emmanuel, is convinced that she's still alive somewhere.
The cops, including the brooding Detective Lotham in charge of the case, don't think that's the case.
Frankie doesn't know who is right just yet, but she's determined to find out.
If there's one thing Frankie is good at, it's asking the right questions. And being such a pain in cops' ass that they begrudgingly ignore her tactics and let her stumble around the fringes of the case. With one begrudging Detective Lotham at her side, Frankie's ready to roll...
I thought this was one heck of a good mystery/thriller. There was just enough of a pacing issue to keep it from being an all-time favorite for me, personally, but it came close. Before She Disappeared is a tightly plotted, atmospheric, and memorable thriller with a rock-solid core in its protagonist, Frankie.
Frankie and her singular sense of drive really carried this novel for me, even when I struggled to engage with the plot at the beginning. I wanted to know more about this woman—why was she doing this? What in her past made her this way, and what would it take for her to recover?
Other elements that really worked for me was the setting and side characters. I've never been to Boston, and I'm definitely not plugged in to the Haitian immigrant population and their day-to-day flow, but in this novel the author breathed life into that scenario and I could almost believe that I was there and knew what the heck I was talking about (obviously I don't, but it speaks to the author's research and/or ability to convey a particular geographic imprint that I felt that "sold" onto the worldbuilding).
I'd strongly recommend this one to fans of Louisa Luna, Jane Harper, and other moody mystery/thrillers with killer writing and unbelievably real main characters.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
These historical romances are like candy, you just can never have enough. When one young woman discovers her respectable, aristocratic husband died and left her to discover that she was actually one of three wives? Whew. Bit of a pickle.
Katherine Vareck shows up to her late husband's will reading and discovers, to her shock, that she is not the only Mrs. at the table. In fact, she's one of three wives... and all three of them are in for a real mess.
Enter Christian, the deceased's older brother and the Duke of Ransford.
Christian had no idea about these three wives, or his brother Meriwether's appalling lack of decency. Christian knows he needs to do some sort of right by these women, but he's not sure what to do and his own personal situation is in an interesting spot as well—so he's not sure what he can do, anyway.
With drama, wiles, and a whole lot of surprising business acumen, Christian and Katherine find themselves working together to support the other two wives, themselves, and potentially each other in this charming series opener.
Overall, I thought this story was cute and charming. It was not the most memorable for me, personally, as a romance reader—but I've had a pretty hard time with historical romances this year in general so it might just be my burnout talking.
Some unique elements of this story centered around the dynamic of Katherine and Christian, surprisingly. Unlike many, MANY other Regency-era romances that rely on animosity, misunderstandings, and mild enemies-to-lovers to make their characters pop, A Duke in Time actually started off with its love interests tackling their problem together, as a team very squarely on board with each other's place in their duo. It was refreshing and oddly charming.
If you're a fan of historical romances, add this one to your list!
Thanks so much to St Martin's Press for my copy in exchange for an honest review
A darkly imagined Cinderella retelling... but I was so, so bored, confused by its purpose, and ultimately bothered by the lack of female agency.
Sense of urgency: ★
Oh boy, I do not want to write this review. It's always hard when you expected to love a book and then...you really, really don't.
The Shadow in the Glass follows Ella, the protagonist, as she works as a housemaid in the Pembroke's manor home where she used to grow up as a cherished ward. But then Mrs. Pembroke died, and everything changed. Mr. Pembroke's money dwindled and Ella transformed from reluctant ward to hired help.
Now a housemaid in a dark, dim manor where the female maids leave one by one in disgrace when Mr. Pembroke...tarnishes them....(spoiler: (view spoiler)), Ella is running out of options and hope.
But then in a mysterious book in the library, Ella summons a woman with black eyes. The woman says she can grant Ella 7 wishes in exchange for her soul.
Ella, being the kind of stupid that the plot needed her to be, says yes without thinking it through. It's only a matter of time before Mr. Pembroke turns his eye on Ella—and to Ella's worry, on the even younger Aoife—and Ella feels this is her only choice.
So then some wishes happen, Mr. Pembroke happens, Mr. Pembroke's son arrives on the scene with interesting results, and...yeah.
I had three large issues with this story.
I'm verging into pseudo-spoiler territory to discuss them, so consider yourself warned!
1.) This plot was so transparent and boring to have to sit through. From the get-go, we know the set up. Mr. Pembroke is a sexual predator in their home, Ella and the other girls need an out, and Ella takes that out in the form of a deal with the devil for 7 wishes. This concept was fine, but then it never, not once, adapted or grew into something rewarding. In a frankly bizarre form of storytelling, we as readers had to just sit through that plot with no growth, no surprises, no stakes, no intrigue. That is what happens, with the additions of some side characters doing unimportant things. I needed adaptability? Intrigue? Something to surprise me into being interested? Because I wasn't interested, at all, after the setup finished and things just stagnated with more and more of the same.
2.) Ella was not a strong enough character to fill this story. Given the issues of the first point above, I would have been satisfied if Ella was a strong character on the page. I would have been invested in Ella for Ella's sake, and that would have been fine. But I didn't care about Ella. There was something distanced about how she was written, and her stupidity in her choices and the plot holes left around her character's childhood and placement in this world just left me irritated with her and confused.
3.) The discussion of female agency and the historic predation of women was just...not handled to my satisfaction. I know that this novel did not set out to be a feminist retelling, or even contain female-agency themes. But my lingering feelings after reading this novel were sour when it came to the female representation and agency. Mr. Pembroke violates girl after girl in an abuse of his power and place in society. His son's plotline with Ella was essentially a socially-acceptable version of that abuse of power, in a supposedly "romantic" way. Again, I realize that this novel didn't set out to do anything with these historically accurate concepts, but at the same time this was a fantasy with a female demon and a girl who bargained for 7 wishes to literally escape that kind of predation and then...the plot went in different ways for a majority of the time.
I don't know, folks, this was clearly not for me. On to the next!
Beautifully written, evocative and emotionally turbulent... the realities of generational trauma, sense of self, and womanhood collide in this insightful and literary novel.
Sometimes, you read a book and you realize that you're just not...there yet. For me, I think Carry the Dog was conveying messages that I was frankly too young to fully appreciate—I'm a mid-20-something woman, not someone looking back on her life in terms of decades. I'm not there yet, where Bea Seger is at in this novel. But I might be someday, and for that reason I found this novel extremely compelling.
In the 1960s, when Bea was a young child, she and her siblings were photographed in a series of provocative and explosive nude photographs taken by their own mother. They were controversial at the time, and they've remained so up until the present day. But now, museums want to showcase them—and they're talking to Bea about it.
Bea has spent a long time not analyzing those images, or her experiences with them. But should she? And even if she's not willing to self-analyze, would it be worth it for the money?
With those questions circling around her, Bea is also dealing with other elements in her life. Like her complicated relationship with her divorced husband, which is filled with toxicity, subtle and overt betrayals, and issues. Bea's not exactly handled that well internally, either.
But the light is starting to shine on Bea's life, and whether she likes it or not, it's time to look at the pieces around her and locate that inner steel at the core of her womanhood.
Complex? Yes. Beautifully rendered? Also yes. An uplifting and joyful read? Not particularly.
Like I mentioned earlier in this review, I think this book provides more poignancy and support to women and individuals with more life experiences under their belt—I'm not calling anyone "old," y'all, but I am calling myself too young to fully appreciate this novel's bittersweet and lingering resilience.
However, I didn't have to fully understand Bea's struggles and emotional palate to appreciate the raw storytelling skills at play here. The author did a fantastic job at rendering Bea and her journey, and I couldn't help but appreciate that.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Spooktacular, graphic, and ominous, this Japanese-inspired dark novella was a thrill from start to finish. (I just wish it had been longer.)
Sense of unease: ★★★★★
First off, if you love horror at all, then I think this title speaks for itself. What horror fan would pass up the chance to—at a minimum—try out this novel? Nothing But Blackened Teeth screams to be read. Literally.
So I came for the title. Then, once I read the blurb, I was ALL IN for this concept. A group of young people meet up for an impromptu wedding in a Heian ruin that's known to be the origin of a traumatizing and sinister undead bride?? Say no more. Add in the fact that every single person in this toxic friend group has issues with one another and are a powder keg of drama waiting to happen?? Really, say no more, I'm already reading it.
This novella comes in hot at just barely over 100 pages, and at times it felt like a fully fleshed out novel and at times it felt like it was only a few pages. I would have gladly read an entire novel on these characters and this setting, so my one main gripe about this short version of the tale is that it felt like it was only a teaser to the real thing.
Don't get me wrong—it has an official beginning, exciting middle, and final end. It's the full monty. Butttttttttt. I felt like we snipped out a lot of juicy options in order to keep this uber-slim final product.
Come for the concept. Stay for the beautifully rendered friend group on the brink of implosion. Leave with the unformed sense of lingering loss and unease.
A great read for this year's spooky season!
Thank you to TOR for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Calling all fans of Mexican Gothic....This is not a book for the meek, it's a book for those of us who loved that story and are looking for a more intense, Gothic-a la Victorian version of it with more magic and more medical gore.
Horror elements: ★★★★★
Engagement: ★★★ 1/2
Jane Shorefield lives her life by the numbers. A rare female accountant in a a world that feels like Victorian England, she's done the math and decided that she needs a husband--and after careful consideration of the bachelors in her small town, she decides on Doctor Augustine Lawrence.
Augustine is single, attractive, and respectable, with well-paying job as the town's only doctor. He's a great match. It is weird that Augustine is still single and seemingly not interested in marriage... but Jane decides to give it a try. She proposes a business transaction: they'll get married to save Jane from spinsterhood and to provide Augustine with a live-in woman to help him with his practice's accounts.
Now Mrs. Jane Lawrence, she discovers several things in quick succession.
First, Augustine's practice is filled with death and the dying--for a woman who only thought about the numbers involved, it's a rough awakening to be thrown into a hectic and gory surgery on her first day in the practice.
Second, her husband refuses to let her spend the night in his family estate outside of town. His vicious vehemence takes her aback. Jane agrees, but like all good stories we know that doesn't last.
Third, there's something Augustine isn't telling her. Jane can't expect anything more, as she knows they did this for convenience and not for love, but there's something under the surface that Jane can feel at the edges of their relationship. What is it?
When a simple miscommunication leads to Jane arriving at the estate, everything begins to change. Jane quickly realizes that her world is not what it seems.... and at the heart of the wrongness is Augustine.
Gross, gory, and enrapturing, The Death of Jane Lawrence was a doozy of a novel.
The sense of menace in the writing was top tier. From the beginning, you can feel the trap closing around Jane despite her point of view trying to make logical sense of her surroundings. I was waiting with baited breath for the shoe(s) to drop. (Boy, do they ever.)
Once Jane gets to the estate and things start to happen, the pacing and plot develops into its final form of intricately paced and plotted horror. I both loved the pacing and absolutely hated it. It was too slow for me, but I couldn't stop? That duality carries throughout the entirety of this novel. You're attracted and yet repelled, boring and yet enraptured, disgusted and yet understanding.
Intense. I liked it a lot for what it was, but count this one in the category of "I can't believe I liked this, it was so dark and twisted" fiction such as Mexican Gothic, Follow Me to Ground, and others.
Spoilers for the graphic elements: (view spoiler)
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
There's no other way to put this review, so I'm starting off right with the one-two punch: The Last Graduate was 50% a slow-burn sophomore setup, and 50% an active, amazing plot with the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers.
Character relationships: ★★★★★
World building #2: ★★★★
Where to start?? I guess I'm going to attempt to be completely spoiler free this time around... a concept. Because of that, here's a vague synopsis of the first book, A Deadly Education.
El, a powerful "evil" wizard who is prophesized to bring the doom of the wizarding world, attends the deadliest school you could ever conceptualize: The Scholomance. It's a never-ending haunted house—with deadly stakes—and El's lack of connections and rage-filled chip on her shoulder left her in a pickle. That and the fact that the Scholomance, which is sentient and supposed to provide each student with schoolwork tailored to their unique abilities, keeps trying to give El supervolcano spells of mass destruction whenever she asks for help cleaning her dirty dorm room.
We should probably mention that El was raised by the kindest hippie witch trope in the world, so El's trying her best to NOT be the next Evil One to End All Things.
But anyway... Some things happen. As El is the Evil One, she also interacts with her class's version of the Chosen One with...interesting results that I (totally and utterly) went completely fangirl over. She makes some alliances, some things happen... the vague synopsis peters out here.
In this book, The Last Graduate, El and her classmates are now seniors. With the graduation ceremony historically being a bloodbath of epic proportions—they have to fight their way out of a monster pit at the base of the school, full-on gladiator/Hunger Games style—they've got a lot of training and preparation to do.
But things this year are different. And their plans are about to be radically changed... and not from the source that they're expecting.
That's all. I'm not going to ruin it!
So, in short, I will fully admit to being very bored for the first half of this novel. In fact, this book had me questioning my love of the first one! Because it was so much slower, not overly much happened right away, and Noviks' already extremely meandering and overly descriptive writing took center stage and tried to bore me from my beloved characters.
But I loved El, and I loved her situation and her friends, so I kept going. And that paid off BIG TIME. The last half of the novel recovered from its slump and ended in a truly dramatic and over-the-top way that made me just lose my mind. I'm upset we've got to wait until September 2022 for our next one!
(But will gladly wait, with popcorn, for the finale. It's going to be epic.)
A tea shop that's really a way station for the recently dead, a ferryman like the Greek myths who's actually a cinnamon roll, and one absolutely horrible man who comes to find his humanity in this sweet and emotional novel.
Handling of heavy topics: Every reader will have their own reactions, handle with care
I couldn't get through The House on the Cerulean Sea (I know, I know, don't come for me. I am also upset that it was a DNF.) so I'm pleased to see that this second "quaint fantasy" novel by T.J. Klune really worked for me.
Under the Whispering Door looks cute, and on one level it IS cute. It's a quaint novel about a tea shop and soft gay characters and acceptance and love and goodness prevailing.
DISCLAIMER: But this novel is also extremely heavy and deals with all manners of death—including suicides and murdered victims. Because of this second element, the author himself writes a "handle with care" note in front of the book. I think that note could be more strongly worded, myself, as someone struggling with mental health my have a harder time seeing the weeds for the trees. Please note this if you usually avoid these topics.
Wallace Price is a horrible man. We meet him in the very first scene as he fires a very good employee for a very inconsequential reason, and he feels no remorse. He abruptly dies from a heart attack.
When Wallace "comes to" again, he's shocked to find himself at his own funeral. Only 5 people attend, and no one is sad. This feels very much like Scrooge's experience in A Christmas Carol. One of the attendees is Mei, and Wallace discovers that, to his horror, Mei is his Reaper. He is Dead with capital D, and it's time to meet his Ferryman and accept his death.
Mei takes Wallace to Hugo. Hugo, who runs the quaint tea shop in the woods named Charon's Crossing, is not at all who Wallace expects. But they're tied to each other—literally—and things are about to get interesting.
Throw in a ghost dog and a ghost grandpa, some truly hilarious shenanigans, and a thread of grief and its various stages and you've got this novel. A complicated cup of tea.
Like I said at the beginning, I couldn't get through Klune's previous quaint fantasy. So what was different about this one? For one thing, I think the pacing was much more palatable for me. The plot might be limited to basically one setting, but it moves!
Wallace Price was an interesting main character to follow. His journey was cliched, for sure, but still there was a lot there and I appreciated how the author brought nuance to a pretty standard "unlikeable to likeable" character arc. I also absolutely LOVED Mei and Nelson (hugo's ghostly grandpa).
Now that all the glowing praise is out of the way... on to the less-than-great stuff. I do think that the author chose a very tall order to cover in this book. And because of that, I think this novel struggled to find its balance between "quaint cozy" and a dark focus on healing, grief, and dying. The two concepts aren't impossible to work together, but I did find it a combination of heavy-handed and derivative at the same time, because the grief elements seemed rushed and slightly overshadowed by the quaint love story, and the love story seemed almost interrupted by some side plots that focused purely on the situation of the way station tea shop. We needed more space, maybe? I'm not sure. This was like holding two polar magnets together by its opposite ends—they are both magnets, so they SHOULD work together, but they were flipped around and you could feel the constant struggle the book was undergoing to keep these two levels of plotline held together.
Thank you to TOR for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
A very different historical romance... One with lots of caves and a Romeo and Juliet-style feud.
A Reckless Match comes out on September 28!
Maddie Montgomery's family has been in a feud with the neighboring Davies family for generations. By order of the Royal family, each year a representative of the Montgomery family and a representative of the Davies family must meet on the borderlands of their estates and shake hands to seal their yearly agreement—if either party fails to show up, the strip of borderland is taken from the no-show family.
Maddie thinks her family might just win this year... until Gryff Davies shows up on his horse, freshly returned from the war and looking Fine with a capital F.
Gryff's childhood crush on Maddie Montgomery was something of his past, Gryff thought. But when he sees Maddie on the border, he realizes he was just lying to himself. She's the only person who makes him feel something, and he's not sure he can bear to see her getting married off...
Will these two lifelong "enemies" meet their match?
I thought this series debut was entertaining enough, but to be honest I think this was a case of "it's not the book, it's just me and my reading tastes again" because I had a really hard time getting through A Reckless Match. And objectively, this was a wonderfully fresh historical romance. For one thing, there's a lot of adventure and cave exploring. How many historical romances set in England can say that?
This novel does include the "virgin female" trope, which is a personal dislike of mine. It also moved quite slowly and seemed to conveniently wrap up every plot point. Again, neither of those qualms are necessarily bad, but given my personal romance preferences they served to keep me from fully engaging in the story.
If you like historical English romances, feuding families, or caves, I do recommend this one!
Thank you to St Martin's Press for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.