Long-time fans of Kristen Ashley will be pleasantly surprised—I sure was! Very plot-forward and emotionally wholesome, The Girl in the Mist is the start of a new leg for KA.
Emotional angst: ★
Let's get two things out of the way right at the top: This book felt EXACTLY like a Kristen Ashley book in many ways. It also, surprisingly, did not.
Ashley's extremely distinctive writing style was present here—in particular, her dramatic pacing of single sentences as paragraphs used in a blatant way for dramatic layering of thoughts. This is a "love it or hate it" style, and I'll be honest, I have to be in the perfect mood for it. (I also seem to feel differently about it based on the format I consume the story? Kindle is the way to go, folks. The printed page really highlights this style and drives me nuts to look at from a distance, whereas the ebook format disguises this technique and you get into the groove.)
However, the distinctive KA styling aside... I was taken aback by this story. The Girl in the Mist was a different type of romance for my expectations, and the setting/plot/characters were a refreshing experience.
Unlike many, many other KA stories, this one makes a fantastic entry point into the KA universe and could be read as a standalone series too.
Delphine LaRue is a famous actress-turned-author who has a stalker. At the beginning of this novel, we learn that Delphine's stalker has escalated to the point where she needs to leave town and go lay low for while—she's not in the witness protection program, but she's in the KA commando version of it. (Longtime fans will recognize some names, even though none of the names are actually present as active characters in this story.)
So Delphine escapes to a cabin on the lake in the small Pacific Northwest town of Misted Pines.
It's a small town where everybody knows everybody. And everybody already knows Delphine LaRue.
This interesting, small town vibe aside, Delphine also has an interesting development. She meets her smoking-hot neighbor—single dad and retired FBI profiler, Cade Buchanan.
When a local girl is discovered dead, Misted Pines circles the wagons and Cade Buchanan gets involved. Delphine, being an empty-nest mother herself and an independent woman of means, also gets involved.
Sparks fly and situations escalate as the murder mystery at the core of this small town exposes the rotten roots of the "picture perfect" Misted Pines neighborhood.
I have some complicated feelings for this story. On the one hand, I think it's one of the most well-plotted and well-built worlds that I've read from this author. The mystery had some twists that I didn't see coming. The characters experienced quite a lot of emotional growth and unique situations. The town as a character was strong.
But... your girl loves drama. (Me, it's me, I love the drama.)
And I come to Kristen Ashley for that bad-boy, ridiculously Alpha male drama that involves a lot of running around, relationship drama complete with fights, making up, and all that jazz.
And Delphine and Buchanan just...didn't engage in any of that. I think it was a combination of their ages (they've done that before, they're wiser, they don't have the time for that B.S.), and the fact that the romance wasn't the core of this story. Their real-life drama was the murder mystery, so they didn't bring that into the home space.
Which was... fine. But there were several moments where Delphine and Buchanan had lots of reasons to have a lovers' drama and/or at least a playful dialogue about things and KA just... dropped it. We didn't get any of those highs and lows. This was emotionally wholesome to the point of being flat for the romantic pairing.
And, because of that, I found myself taking forever to finish this book. (Forever in KA standards, at least, whereas I usually start a KA book and don't put it down until it's done.) I think this book will have a wide readership, and it deserves it, but I do hope that the further books in the series give us a little Drama Drama for my drama-queen soul. Lol!
I went to from super hyped about this concept last year...to a lukewarm reading experience....and then a few days later to the realization that—despite my love for Roshani Chokshi—I just did not like this at all. I think this has a certain readership, and I'm sad I'm not one of them.
Sense of uniqueness: ★★
Investment into the characters: ★
Once upon a time, a man who believed in fairy tales married a beautiful, mysterious woman named Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada. He was a scholar of myths. She was heiress to a fortune. They exchanged gifts and stories and believed they would live happily ever after—and in exchange for her love, Indigo extracted a promise: that her bridegroom would never pry into her past.
Indigo is the beautiful and enigmatic muse woman of everyone's dreams. She's too flawless, clearly a bit dangerous, and so beautiful that you can't look away. The Bridegroom certainly can't. He loves his wife more than life itself and is willing to follow her into the dark.
One day, Indigo receives a message that her aunt is dying in her childhood home, the House of Dreams. Taking her bridegroom with her—this man is never named, so apologies for using "bridegroom" over and over again, it's a part of the dream-style repetition in this novel—they arrive at the surreal and darkly Other house.
It's while we're exploring this elaborate house filled with the echoes of secrets that we meet our second POV: Azur.
Azur's timeline is during Indigo's childhood, and she was Indigo's everything. A childhood spent surrounded by magic and twin ties and secrets and oaths, Azur and Indigo were two sides of the same coin. It was going to be Indigo and Azur, forever and ever.
But there's no Azur here with Indigo and the bridegroom.
As the bridegroom explores the House of Dreams, Azur's tale unfolds in the chapters in between. The House of Dreams has witnessed a lot of secrets, and it has some secrets of its own.
Will the bridegroom be able to keep his promise?
Or will he look back into the dark and find out the truth about Indigo's past?
Alright. So I'm not going to dissect the plot or anything here. I think this is a story that is intentionally like a fable, and more importantly, intentionally like the echoes of a story arc that some of us readers have likely read before. It's also a story that cares more for its ominous atmosphere and sense of lyrical flow than its concrete plot.
There's nothing wrong with any of that. But I will say that I wish this book had brought some more things to the table. For how drawn out it felt, for the amount of actual plot that happened in its pages, I needed more as a reader. I wanted something surprising, I wanted this very familiar arc to bring something fresh as a payoff for its very slow pacing. I needed to feel closer to these characters that felt, emotionally, like they were separated from me by layers and layers of glass. I just needed... more.
So, if you're like me and the above items bother you, I'd skip this one. But if you like the concept and don't mind that kind of thing, I do still recommend this one.
This was an intentionally messy story. And for...why? I don't know, and the more I sit with this the more I find myself bothered. (But who knows, that's likely the point.)
Overall message: ★★★
The best thing about this novel is its title. That's not as mean as it sounds, hear me out. I Have Some Questions For You relates to our main character's profession—she's a podcaster, she is literally paid to ask questions as talking points—and it also clearly relates to how this book is both posing its own questions at its audience and also meant to make us, as audience, ask questions.
A never-ending chain of questions, if you will.
And that's where this novel frustrated me to no end.
It's 2018. Bodie Kane has accepted a job at her old high school alma mater. Granby, a prestigious and private boarding school for elite high school students, has called her back as a short-term teacher for a podcasting class.
Bodie's got complicated feelings about Granby and her relationship to it.
In 1995, her one-time roommate was murdered. Thalia Keith, the beautiful and enigmatic girl whom everyone liked. The police quickly convicted the Black gym assistant, an early 20-something man who was convicted on hearsay, drug charges, and trace amounts of DNA.
This story is one that you've heard before. As the novel brings up throughout its pages, "you know the one." The one where she asked for it. The one where she was on birth control, and therefore consented. The one where she was found in the pool / the basement / the trunk / the woods. The one where it was the man she trusted. The one who was a beautiful white girl who died. The one where there was a Black man present, and that was enough.
Now armed with middle-aged wisdom and a 2018 lens on gender interactions, police bias, racism, and more, Bodie has feelings about this case. And she's never been able to let that go.
Her podcasting class sees 1995 as ancient history, so when one of her students asks Bodie if she can cover the infamous case of Thalia Keith, Bodie agrees. She's worried that this might be too biased. She's worried about her position of power as a teacher and if this will open up a can of worms she won't be able to justify. But like many things in Bodie's life, she lets it happen around her anyway and she justifies it to herself.
Tangled up in this story are themes of inappropriate conduct, gender imbalances, racism, unsolved justice, the #MeToo movement, messy relationships, and flawed perspectives. And all of the above sits in a messy knot, endlessly looping from one thing to the next and getting tighter and tighter as the novel progresses.
I don't know. I honestly don't. This novel covers understandably heavy topics that are meant to provoke an emotional response. I think it does this element well.
But I think that this novel boils down to one thing: it was messy and unsatisfying.
I Have Some Questions For You seemed to want to poke at everything and everyone indiscriminately—look at all of this injustice, look at all of this bias, look at all of these selfish people protecting themselves, look at this racism, look at this misogyny, look at this horror of endless fetishized female murder.
Every single piece of this story—Bodie's home life, Bodie's work life, Thalia's timeline, the narration style, the side characters, the endless plot points meant to mirror the core themes—seemed to want to simultaneously be a thesis moment confirming the story's overall message and also serve to be its own counterpoint in the argument.
I don't want to spoil this story, so I'll stop there, but let's just say that I did not feel like this tangled knot was justified, and I don't think it did anything to aid the genre or cultural dialogue. It just shone a light on all of the mess, which I guess highlights that I don't like those types of stories where their purpose is just to yell.
I recommend this story more to literary fiction fans as opposed to mystery fans.
Wow, what a honey-slow, menacing descent into the edges of one town's humanity. This book's unique flow, storytelling, and surprising mystery made for a stunning read.
Actual flow of story: ★★★★★
Enjoyment: I couldn't put this down, I read it into the night
I am utterly and entirely entranced by this story. From the reading experience to the well crafted mystery to the ominous and never-ending undertone of death, We Are All the Same in the Dark is a mystery/thriller that I will remember.
Trumanell Branson disappeared from the Branson home in rural Texas ten years ago. A bloody handprint was found on the doorframe, but no body was ever recovered. Her father, the unpopular and abusive Frank Branson, also disappeared that fateful night. The only Branson who made it out of that night alive was Wyatt, the younger brother whose mind cracked that night and no one could ever prove fully innocent (or guilty).
Odette Tucker's past is tied up in that bloody night like a bundle of chicken wire—one that she refuses to forget and yet can never fully solve. Her father was the policeman first on the scene at the Branson home. Odette herself was dating Wyatt Branson. And Odette's alibi for the night of Trumanell's disappearance is bloody—she was in a rollover car crash a few miles from the Branson property.
Now a partial leg amputee and haunted by that night for personal and professional reasons, Odette's turned into the Tucker legacy: a cop for the local community. And she's never let go of the Trumanell case.
Tangled up with guilt, a personal pressure to solve the unsolvable, and the sense that what's happened in the past might be happening again, Odette's not as surprised as she should be when Wyatt—now an unstable adult still living in the fateful home—discovers a young woman on the side of road with a dangerous past.
They call her Angel, and she's unknowingly brought everything crashing down in this tiny town.
I really, really can't say more of the plot without ruining some of the magic. Let's stop there.
I thought this novel did a few things brilliantly. One: the narrative voice. It's a spoiler to say WHY I am calling out the narrative voice as the best part of this novel, but just trust me on the fact that there are some unique surprises in just who is telling the story (and mystery fans, it's not that unreliable narrator nonsense).
Two: the almost hypnotic sense of reality vs. storytelling at play, and the constant sense that we have, as the reader, that there's elements of the story that we should know (but don't) and that there are things being told to us via these characters that they feel is obvious (but we can't really tell what that is). This is hard to describe, but I've seen it as a negative in other people's reviews when, for me, it was a huge positive. I like a level of confusion, especially when it's done as spectacularly as this.
Fans of intelligent mystery/thrillers with a dash of the gothic, pick this up.
This historical mystery series is criminally underrated—I LOVE it, y’all. Queer rep, 1940s noir with a modern edge, witty as hell, and so much fun you can’t stop reading/listening/laughing. I highly recommend the audiobook.
Audiobook experience: ★★★★★
This is the third installment in the Pentecost and Parker mystery series. While they each can be read as standalones, the first two books are great too and I recommend starting there.
Pentecost and Parker are back! And there's a new series of murders in town....
Willowjean 'Will' Parker and her boss, Ms. Lillian Pentecost, are a private detective duo operating in 1940s New York City as two women with a reputation for solving New York's most troubling and unsolved cases. They're a unique crime-fighting duo for the 1940s—two single women, one older with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis and one in her 20s with a passion for crime and for love affairs with both men and women—and their passion for helping women, people of color, and those in special circumstances has given them a boatload of cases and a sensational relationship with the press.
In Secrets Typed in Blood, the case for Pentecost and Parker starts with a high body count and a ticking clock. There's a copycat murder on the loose, killing New Yorkers in a sensational way and ripping their crimes from the fictional stories of one particular crime writer.
Holly Quick pens crime stories for a local paper under many pseudonyms. When she notices a disturbing link between her fictional murders and some real-life headlines, she calls up Pentecost and Parker. Her one stipulation? No police.
Will and Ms. Pentecost are very aware that Holly's hiding secrets of her own, but the mystery of the copycat killer is too enthralling to pass up. They take the case.
Y'all! My neighbors could hear my scream of happiness when this latest book appeared on my doorstep. This series—and in particular, these characters—have my heart and I've been an advocate for them since my first read last year.
The perfect hybrid between cozy mystery and noir, Pentecost and Parker fulfill an interesting niche in the detective story scene. They're historical and filled with banter, but they're not your grandmother's predictable tea shop cozy. They're intricately plotted and their murders are ghastly, but it's not the grim never-ending darkness of today's modern detective mystery/thriller.
There's something about this series that hits all of my buttons.
This particular installment was nicely paced and a fresh mystery for the iconic duo to solve. I liked the interplay between the copycat murderer and the social mystery behind Holly Quick's backstory.
I also liked that the slow-burn unsolved mystery that emerged in the early books continued in the background of this one--similar to Sherlock with Moriarty, Pentecost and Parker have a "big bad" that they're chasing behind the scenes of their current drama. I'm excited to see that play out in future books.
Don't sleep on this story—pick it up! And for my listening friends, I can't recommend the audiobook highly enough, it's fabulous.
*I receive a small commission from Libro.fm if you use my link above.
THE CLOISTERS - Katy Hays
Medieval history secrets, ancient tarot decks, a dark academia museum setting, and a close-knit group of coworkers who blur the lines between personal and professional... I'd love to live in this version of higher academia, please, potentiality for murder be damned.
Use of history: ★★★★★
"Death always came for me in August."
Ann Sitwell, a recent college graduate from Nowhere Important in small town Washington, has arrived in New York City. She's an art history graduate with a passion for esoteric Renaissance and late Medieval pieces with a bend toward the arcane—her niche topic isn't necessarily the most relevant, her internship opportunities slim. So when she arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to find out that they don't want her anymore, she's paralyzed.
But then, a fortuitous chance meeting with the enigmatic head curator at The Cloisters, Patrick, changes Ann's trajectory forever.
The Cloisters, a gothic museum settled right in the heart of Manhattan and incongruously secluded, is a museum unlike any Ann has ever laid eyes on. Its history seeps from the walls, and priceless collections, artifacts, and archives all tailored to Ann's areas of interest seem like an unbelievable dream.
There's Patrick, the established curator and head of The Cloisters, who has amassed a small and cloistered—pun so very intended—group around him for his current passion project in the occult. He's searching for hints of the earliest tarot decks and their potential links between the Medieval and Renaissance periods. He's searching, unbelievably, for a hint of true magic amongst the earliest of divination decks.
There is Leo, the gardener for the magical copse of deadly plants in the center of The Cloisters' museum structure. Surrounded by plants used historically in poisons, medicines, and aids to the divine, Leo's orbit as the non-academic in this seat of hushed knowledge is an itch that Ann just might find herself scratching.
And then there is Rachel, Patrick's other assistant. Beautiful, ethereal, unbelievably wealthy and connected Rachel. Rachel is also interested in this same field of study and welcomes Ann into the fold like a sorority sister inducting a new member, teaching her all of the tricks and ways of life in this small, set apart academic pocket.
When academic stakes meet deadly games, Ann just might find that she's found more than she bargained for...
Welcome to The Cloisters.
I'll keep my thoughts short and sweet on this one, because it's all high praise. This honey-slow, lingering, and deathly divine story was one that I could not stop reading. The Cloisters is a novel that breathes, sharing its secrets and obsessive drive with you. Ann's journey through grief, her enmeshing into this closed system of claustrophobic academics, and the ultimate unraveling of it all was such a treat to read.
Obvious comparisons have been made between this novel and other dark academia titans like The Secret History. I agree with those comparisons—if you like the standard favorites in the genre, then this novel is likely going to work for you. But I'd like to expand that filter a bit. If you're interested in magic and its weavings throughout our actual history, if you're interested in tarot, if you're interested in the study of the arcane in any way... this novel will likely work for you also.
Looking forward to more novels from this author.
A secluded lake. Death and secrets. And a house with glass walls hiding something sinister inside... Keep your eyes focused on the house across the lake.
Casey Fletcher is at her family's lake house for the summer for a forced recuperation from the press. A character actress who has spent the past year burning down her life with alcohol and bad decisions, she's drinking her way through her own personal lockdown in rural Vermont.
It's an interesting place for Casey to attempt to find her center, as it's the location of her husband's death by drowning.
Grieving, drinking, and trying her best not to think about her past, Casey doesn't have much to do while sitting in the house by herself. So she watches the residents around the lake.
In particular, there's a house across from hers with an entire side of glass windows facing the lake—and therefore facing her. At night, the lit-up box is like a real-life dollhouse complete with the movements of its two real-life inhabitants: tech mogul Tom Royce and his former model wife, Katherine.
Casey witnesses some very odd things in the Royce house when no one is looking.
And then Katherine disappears.
With unsteady hands and yet a drive for the truth, Casey's decided she can't let this lie—what's happened to Katherine? And why is her husband, Tom, acting like nothing is wrong?
Casey isn't prepared for the lid to blow off of Pandora's Box. But it's coming for her anyway.
Be careful what you spy on... You might not like what you see.
I think it's no secret that I am a huge fan of Riley Sager. Compulsively readable, engagingly paced, and ultimately fantastic fun, his stories are ones that I look forward to reading each year. His characters are the right level of flawed yet relatable. His plots veer from the mundane to the fantastical. And his settings drip with atmospheric tension.
The House on the Lake delivered, again, another Sager hit.
Without veering into spoiler territory, I really can't address the plot beyond what is mentioned above. I'd go into this story as blind as you can—it makes the ending more fun!
I will say, the ending completely surprised me. I don't know if I read this on the right day or what, but that ending completely side-swiped me in left field as I confidently thought I had it all figured out. The surprise was a good one, for me, and I loved that the author caught me off my guard.
The only thing that dragged this story down for me was the first half's pacing coupled with the heavy dose of Casey's alcoholism. Representation of her struggles was—to my limited knowledge—well done and accurate, but because the setting was so limited AND not much was happening beyond establishing the scene repeatedly, it made the alcohol references feel like they were repeating all over the place. I wish we'd had more going on in the early sections of the story to dilute that element of the plot.
Overall, a fantastic read. Ready for the next one, Riley!
LAVENDER HOUSE - Lev AC Rosen
A locked room mystery, a 1950s queer haven manor, and an interesting soap side plot. This was so wonderful—and remarkably cozy even with its dark themes.
Mystery(s)/Reveal(s): ★★ 1/2
Andy is a former detective at the end of the line. He's ready to call it quits in a very real way—trigger warnings right out the gate—and he has nothing left to strive for. He's gay in 1950s America. Recently outed at a raid by his own former police officer coworkers and ruthlessly fired from the force, Andy doesn't know what is next, and if it's worth finding out at all.
The last thing he expects is to be offered a job sitting at the bar, blind drunk at 11 am. A well-dressed, wealthy older woman wants him to solve a murder. Well, maybe it was a murder. Either way—she wants to know what happened, and she's willing to pay Andy and house him for his trouble.
Oh, and the best part? This woman and her surviving found family live in a hidden utopia of queerness. The dead woman is her wife, and their blended family are all queer on the estate.
Andy doesn't know how to receive this news, but he takes the lifeline for what it is and accepts the job.
However, the family is hiding secrets. (Aren't they all?) And Andy's stepping into a much bigger scene than he's anticipating. When you factor in the dead woman's soap dynasty... things are about to get interesting.
Lavender House was the perfect read for me at the right time. It was surprisingly cozy, the right blend of serious with quaint, and a remix of the classics bringing something fresh to the character tableau of the "classic" murder mystery setting.
It also deftly handled the line of realism vs. utopian ideals surrounding the concept of a hidden queer family living happily in the 1950s. They were a wealthy family who kept to themselves and had the resources to keep their happiness separate from harsh realities, true, but the doses of reality in this novel kept this story grounded for me.
I will caution my queer friends and those reading this review—given the contents, there is a lot of potentially triggering content for period homophobia and other elements. Please proceed with caution.
Overall, a fantastic cozy read that I would be happy to pick up again when I'm in need of a quaint escape.
Thank you to TOR Forge for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
A witty duo, the 1940s with a modern edge, and a whole lotta mystery. If you read anything remotely related to cozy mysteries or dynamic female duos being badasses, you NEED to have this on your radar.
It's the mid-1940s in New York City and Willowjean "Will" Parker is working as night shift muscle for an abandoned construction site. Will's always looking for cash in between circus gigs, and this one pays as well as anything. (And Will knows how to handle herself.)
What Will isn't expecting, however, is to witness Lillian Pentecost in action. Middle-aged, wielding an elegant cane for her multiple sclerosis (M.S.), and dressed in an impeccable tailored suit, Ms. Pentecost is here to catch a killer and completely unbothered by Will's presence.
Will ends up killing said murderer—with a throwing knife to the back—for Ms. Pentecost's sake.
The dynamic duo is born.
Months later, Will and Ms. Pentecost are the best private detectives in the game, with cases spanning from the mundane to the spectacular. And this time, it's a classic locked-room mystery that's piqued their interest. A rich man dies, supposedly by suicide. A year later, his widow dies in a locked room after a disturbing séance.
Are the two deaths connected, and if so, are they murders?
This was so. much. fun. I can't state that enough. For one thing, it's rare to find a cozy mystery series that packs a punch at every single level. Engaging characters? Check. Engaging plot beyond the basics? Check. Authentic bisexual representation? Check. Intricate world-building beyond the murder? Check. Humor for days? Check.
Fortune Favors the Dead had it ALL, folks. I am in love with these characters and their adventures. I hope the author writes many, many more to come. Do yourself a solid and pick this up, I promise you won't regret it.
DARK CURRENTS - Doug Burgess
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.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.