Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Susanne’s Review:

Atmospheric, Dark, Eerie, Fantastical and Mystical.

When Alex Stern arrives at Yale University in New Haven, CT, her past is just one of the many things she simply cannot escape. The Grays are the other.

Alex is quite special you see and that is why she is recruited. Alex has a very unique ability to see the “Grays” also known as ghosts, who surround everyone without our knowing it. For this she is desperately needed by the House of Lethe and Darlington. Darlington becomes her mentor, teaching her about Yale’s Secret Societies, each of their unique abilities and how to harness them.

As if that wasn’t enough for Alex to handle, Darlington suddenly disappears.

Thereafter, of course it goes from bad to worse.

A woman is killed on campus and while she doesn’t appear to be affiliated with the societies, looks may just be deceiving. Without Darlington, Alex takes it upon herself to investigate. This causes a disruption with the Dean, the Societies and of course, with the Grays.

Fantastical, spooky and vibrant, “Ninth House” spoke to me. The storyline is enveloping, intriguing and preternatural. What made this book even more compelling is that the Secret Societies at Yale do in fact exist, which admittedly led me to do a little research (including how many there truly are, how long they have been around, membership rituals and which famous people have been “members”). This character-driven fiction/fantasy drew me in because of the wild storyline and of course the characters of Alex, Darlington and Dawes (the House of Lethe Research Assistant), whose characters were expertly crafted and were wholly compelling in different ways.

Something else I truly appreciated about this novel is that it took place at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, (where the author, Leigh Bardugo obtained an undergraduate degree). Having grown up in Woodbridge, Connecticut, (fifteen minutes from New Haven) and having gone to school and having worked in New Haven for a number of years, I know a lot about the City and all of the old haunts (no pun intended), cross streets and pubs, etc., referenced in the book and incredibly, the author got all of them exactly right. Oftentimes authors make up towns in Connecticut when writing books that take place there, for fear of getting something wrong, so reading this book and reminiscing about The New Haven Green and Yorkside Pizza was a pure delight.

“Ninth House” of course, ended with a bit of a cliffhanger, leaving me wanting and waiting desperately for more. I will, of course, be reaching for the sequel as soon as it’s out.

Thank you to my local library for loaning me a copy of the audiobook, which was narrated by Lauren Fortgang and Michael David Axtell both of whom were brilliant.

Published on Goodreads on 1.17.21.

Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan

Susanne’s Review:

Absolutely Unreal.

Affecting, Enthralling, Tragic, Traumatic.

In a quiet picturesque community on Long Island, new residents from Brooklyn move in. As soon as they arrive, it’s immediately clear to the current residents of ‘Maple Street’ that the Wilde’s simply don’t fit in. Gertie is a former Pageant Queen and her husband Arlo, is a has-been Rock Star and a former junkie. Sadly, their kids, Julia and Larry aren’t exactly ‘Maple Street’ material either.

The neighborhood is ruled by Rhea Schroeder, a master manipulator, who is adored by everyone and just happens to be the Wilde’s next-door neighbor. At first, Rhea appears to be their friend, little does Gertie know, however, that Rhea is not who she seems. Shortly thereafter, she turns on her new friends. Unfortunately for the Wildes, Rhea is a very persuasive woman and she convinces everyone in the neighborhood to turn against them as well.

While this is happening, an unfortunate incident occurs in the community. A sinkhole opens up and it swallows one of its residents. Once that happens, things go from bad to worse.

Thereafter the Wildes are brutalized and victimized by everyone in the neighborhood all because of Rhea Schroeder, one woman who wields all of the power.

A tale that takes place in the future and for which a reporter interviews the residents of Maple Street after the fact. Upon being interviewed, the residents questioned what was true and what was not.

Trying to sum up how I felt after reading “Good Neighbors” by Sarah Langan is virtually impossible. Frankly, at first, I was stunned and I had no words. I read this with my book buddy Kaceey and we found it to be wholly original. Wild and crazy, it had some quite interesting, and funny passages. Then this novel started to take a darker turn, which was unexpected, and then it became something else entirely. Something wholly astounding, devastating, and heartbreaking. To say that it broke me doesn’t quite cover it.

Even though this book wrecked me, I must say that this is one of the most brilliant books I have ever read. 
In my opinion, this entire novel represents a much bigger picture. An allegory if you will. I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t read it but what I will say is that it took me an entire day to come to that conclusion and when it struck me, I was dumbfounded.

If this book is not on your TBR, it should be. It is an incredible story and it is a MUST READ.

Sarah Langan, I applaud you for this brilliant novel and cannot wait to see what you come up with next. This is my first 5-star read of 2021 and it is also the first book that will appear on my Goodreads best-of list for 2021 as well.

As I mentioned, this was a buddy read with Kaceey – I’m so glad we shared this read together, I’m not sure I could have read this one alone.

A huge thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books and Sarah Langan for the arc.

Published on Goodreads and Twitter on 1.17.21.
Excerpt posted on Insta.

Kaceey’s Review:

All the stars🌟🌟🌟🌟 🌟

I’m speechless. What did I just read?!

You know how occasionally you pick up a book firmly believing you know exactly what you’re in for? That’s precisely what yours truly did.
Okay sure, another book about feuding neighbors. Yes, we did have that…but paired superbly with so much more, providing shocking, revolting views of mankind in uncertain times.

The author takes us on a frightful journey into our world, exposing us to a side of humanity at its worst.
While this is fiction, so much of it rang true given the world in its current crisis, and the shameful things we’re doing to each other along the way.

So…to be clear:
This isn’t JUST about one long hot summer in Long Island.
This isn’t JUST about a sinkhole that opens up in the park down the street.
This isn’t JUST about a new family not fitting into the new neighborhood.

This IS about human nature and how ugly that can be at times.

The behaviors were horrifying. I was aghast! How could this happen in real life. Yet all we have to do today is turn on the news and witness first-hand that this is indeed happening in our very own world gone sideways.

Not every reader is going to come away with similar views and opinions.
This is going to be one of those books you either love or hate. And folks guess what? It’s okay to disagree!!

Personally I HATED the depraved behavior of the characters, but LOVED the book and the message it conveyed.

A buddy read with Susanne that lent itself to some incredible discussions.

Thank you to Atria Books via NetGalley for an Arc to read and review.

The Wrong Family by Tarryn Fisher

Kaceey’s Review:

Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that!💁

Juno is a former therapist, married with a family. Then she lost it all. Down on her luck, she finds the perfect solution by moving in with Winnie and her family.   

Juno doesn’t take up much room and does her best to be as unobtrusive as possible. But there’s something odd going on in the house between Winnie and her family. And Juno, ever the therapist, can’t just turn her back on and ignore. 

Oh my gosh! What a wild and freaky ride!  

The storyline is so bizarre and outlandish I couldn’t tear myself away! I kept saying to myself, (and to Susanne) “this can’t be happening!?” But oh yes, my page-flipping friends, it most certainly did happen!  

Looking for an out of the box thriller? You’ve found a treasure trove here! Mind you, it will require you suspending your believability. But at the same time it was real enough that It still had me looking over my shoulder… you know, just in case!😱 

Don’t miss this latest thriller by Tarryn Fisher! I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next! 

A buddy read with Susanne that left us both in a state of shock over what we just read. 

Thank you to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for an ARC to read and review.

Susanne’s Review:

There is Dysfunction and then there is “The Wrong Family.”  

Freaking Weird, Wild, and Wholly Unexpected.

Frankly, I’ve NEVER READ ANYTHING LIKE IT and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t tear my eyes away.  

I was like a rabbit eating my way through my neighbor’s lettuce patch… hungry for more.

(I’m not exactly sure what that says about me, but let’s not analyze that one. (especially if you’ve already read this book, lol!))

So your best bet here is to go in blind, just like I did.  The characters’ crazy machinations will mystify you just as they did me.  

This was a fun buddy read with Ms. Kaceey.  This book gave us lots (and lots) to talk about and I’m sure it will do the same for you.

Thank you to Edelweiss, HarperCollins – Graydon House, and Tarryn Fisher for the arc.

Published on Goodreads on 1.16.21.

Lie, Lie Again by Stacy Wise

Kaceey’s Review:

What a pleasant surprise! I just loved it!

A domestic drama about three women who are friends and neighbors. Together they navigate through life’s’ never-ending obstacles in pursuit of what else…happiness and success of course. Maybe even with a bit of love tossed in.

Embry: Still in her early twenties. A Mother of two loving children with a handsome (soon to be movie star) husband that she adores. But she’s hiding a secret that threatens to put her marriage at risk.

Riki: Teaches in a private elementary school. She’s constantly hounded and questioned by privileged parents regarding their golden children. Forcing her to walk a fine-line in order to keep her job. As for her personal life…she has a boyfriend she just can’t seem to commit her heart to. Perhaps because she covets someone she shouldn’t?

Sylvia: Overly confident and won’t hesitate to step on anyone to get what she needs. When she learns her boyfriend may not be as ‘available’ as he lets on…well let’s just say, Hell hath no fury. You get where I’m going with this one!

“Remember, if at first you don’t succeed, lie, lie again”

I enjoyed every minute of this book! I completely lost myself in the lives of all three women, and even though they were not perfect, (Who is?) I loved them all.
Not fast paced, nor a twisty shocking thriller. I would describe it comfortable and highly entertaining. And it was all I could think about until I could dive back into the pages!

Thank you to Goodreads Giveaways, Lake Union Publishing and Stacy Wise for a copy to read and review.

The Shadow Man by Helen Fields

Kaceey’s Review:

Anyone familiar with my taste in books knows I prefer my thrillers a bit on the darker side.

Careful what you wish for…this is one over-the-top, wicked read!

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man? The Shadow knows.”

The shadow man has an agenda. He’s on the prowl for the perfect victims to meet his objective. What is that you may ask? Come on now, you know I can’t tell you…that would spoil the fun!

Connie is a forensic psychologist brought in from the US to aid the local Scotland police. Connie is no wall-flower and her methods are let’s just say, out of the ordinary. But yet I loved her! She’s tough as nails and won’t hesitate to go toe-to-toe with anyone.

Can her expertise help find The Shadow Man before time runs out?

This was my first read from Helen Fields and jumped at the chance to read this one. I am thoroughly hooked and planning to go back and read her series which looks equally chilling!

Thank you to NetGalley and Avon Books UK

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

Susanne’s Review:

Is it possible to come of age in a mere summer?  For fourteen-year-old Mary Jane, the answer is a resounding yes.

The year is 1970, the place is Baltimore.  

Mary Jane Dillard is a teenager whose life is filled with singing in her church choir, cooking with her mom every day, and listening to show tunes.  Outspoken and worldly, she is not.  When asked to be a nanny for another family for the summer, her parents agree.  After all, the home is respectable, what could go wrong?  

The Cones however are nothing like the Dillards nor do they fit into any box. Love is strewn about freely, something Mary Jane has never seen as she has never been told nor said I love you to anyone.  When Dr. Cone, who is a Psychiatrist, takes on a special client and his wife for the summer, Mary Jane’s life becomes even more interesting.  Together, this makeshift family bonds together, with Mary Jane becoming the central character. 

It is through this experience that Mary Jane stands up for herself and learns who she wants to be.  Mary Jane is a gem: strong, smart, and oh so sweet.  From the start, I was immediately swept up in her story.  Mary Jane’s relationship with Izzy Cone stole my heart as did her relationship with the entire Cone family who treated her like a daughter.  That said, not every relationship in this novel is picture-perfect, which may be a testament to the time frame during which the novel took place or simply in the way the characters are written.  All in all, however, “Mary Jane” is an absorbing, fantastical read which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Thank you to NetGalley, William Morrow, and Custom House, and Jessica Anya Blau for the arc.

Published on NetGalley and Goodreads.

When these Mountains Burn by David Joy

Susanne’s Review:

Drugs run rampant in the mountains of North Carolina.  Such that addiction is the norm and times are troubled.  

When Ray Mathis’s son, Ricky gets himself into yet another pickle, Ray does the only thing he can, he rescues his son, just like always.  Ricky, of course, is an addict, therefore a savior, he does not want.  Having no other alternative, Ray takes matters into his own hands, damn the consequences. 

Denny Rattler is a Junkie. Theft is his game. Without taking whatever he can get, he’d never be able to score.  Denny never imagined this would be his life and now he can’t find a way out.

Then there’s the DEA.  Busting up a Drug Ring on a Cherokee Reservation is the main objective.  You know what they say about the best-laid plans, however.  

Devastating, dirty, gritty, hard-hitting, and heart-wrenching, “When these Mountains Burn” is one helluva novel by David JoyFocusing on addiction, familial dysfunction, vengeance, and love, this book tore at my heart. With its dark storyline and deftly written characters, I recommend it to those who love character-driven literary fiction and who can handle difficult topics. 

Thank you to Edelweiss, Penguin Publishing Group – G.P. Putnam and Sons for the arc. 

Published on Goodreads on 1.10.21

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Susanne’s Review:

Cute as a Button!

Can love be found at any age? Maybe!

When Leena Cotton is forced to take a two month leave from her job, she has an idea. Her Grandmother Eileen Cotton lives in Hameligh-in-Harskdale and has always wanted to live in London, thus the two decide to switch lives, with Leena moving to Hamleigh and Eileen moving to London.

Sounds like an adventure of a lifetime right?

For Eileen Cotton it is. She suddenly finds herself looking for love on a dating website for the elderly and what she finds is a whole lot of fun. Eileen also finds herself living in Leena’s apartment, along with Leena’s flatmates – which is an experience like no other.

Leena, on the other hand, has to take care of all of Eileen’s “projects” in Hamleigh and none of Eileen’s friends are very accepting of her. Can she win them over while also trying to mend her relationship with her mum with whom she hasn’t been close, in over a year?

A heartwarming novel that will warm your soul in the sweetest of ways, the words I would use to describe this book are “adorably cute.”

In tough times, I recommend listening to the audiobook, as it made me smile and I think it will make you smile too!

A buddy listen with Kaceey!

Thank you to Libro.fm and Macmillan Audio for the alc.

Published on Goodreads on 10.21.20.

Kaceey’s Review:

A delightful read guaranteed to leave an ear-to-ear smile on your face.

Leena seemingly has it all in her busy London life. A top-tier job and a strikingly handsome boyfriend. Suddenly she finds her back against the wall after being unceremoniously forced into a sabbatical from her position.

Eileen is eighty and not about to give up on life or love. When granddaughter Leena arrives in her Yorkshire home she welcomes her with open arms. And dear grandma Eileen may just have a clever plan to help them both get what they need.

For Leena, a much needed respite away from the grind of the city. For Eileen, a chance to live London and see what it has to offer a spunky octogenarian.

Thus, the decision is made to Switch.

This is a sweet read that will have you cheering for Eileen and crossing your fingers that we’ll be that feisty in our eighties!

The audio version was perfect!

A buddy 🎧 with Susanne.

Thank you to libro.fm

The News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Susanne’s Review:

The year is 1870.  

Now that the Civil War has ended, widower Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd has become a News Reader, traveling throughout the land reading the “News of the World.”

Then the unthinkable happens.  While in Wichita Falls, Captain Kidd is offered $50.00 to take on an orphan girl, who was kidnapped four years prior, at the age of six by some Kiowa Indians who upon taking her, killed her parents.  Captain Kidd has now been tasked with returning her to her relatives in San Antonio whom she has never met.  Raised by Kiowa for the last four years, the girl doesn’t speak or understand English and desperately wants to go back to them.

And so it begins for Captain (Kep-den) and the girl known as Johanna (Chohenna) over a 400-mile journey.  At first, the two must learn to communicate in some fashion which Captain works quite hard at (be still my heart!).  Then Captain works to build trust, one moment at a time.  Teaching Johanna how to cook, how to hold a fork, and what to do in times of danger.  Of course, Johanna teaches her Kep-den a thing or two as well.

Beautifully written, thought-provoking and heartfelt, tears filled my eyes more than once while reading this character-driven novel.

“News of the World” by Paulette Jiles has been on my radar for years, though it took me quite a while to get around to it, I’m so glad I finally made the time.  For those of you looking for a great, character-driven novel that will steal your heart, look no further.

Published on Goodreads on 1.9.21.

The Survivors by Jane Harper

Susanne’s Review:

Eerie, Atmospheric, and Taut.

Out at Sea, “The Survivors” can be seen off the caves; three life-size statues, standing guard facing the Mary Minerva which sank over a century ago.

In the newest novel by Jane Harper, the past and the preside collide for Kieran Elliott upon returning home to Evelyn Bay, Tasmania, a place he once called home.

A place he hasn’t returned to in a long time. For good reason. Kieran Elliott isn’t exactly welcome you see. Ten years prior, during one of the worst storms in history, Kieran made a mistake – a detrimental mistake. One that resulted in the loss of lives that hit way too close to home. His brother and his brother’s best friend died and a young girl went missing.

Now, Kieran, his wife Mia, and their newborn Audrey have returned to Evelyn Bay to care for his ailing father Brian when tragedy strikes yet again after a woman’s body is washed up on the beach.

Questions abound as both mysteries, past and present slowly unfold.

An extremely slow burn, the character development is excellent, keeping me wholly intrigued, wondering what each character was hiding.

The weather, dark, dangerous, and edgy, plays a huge part in the storyline, unfurling secrets of its own.

What Jane Harper truly excels at in my opinion, is her vivid descriptions of the atmosphere and the land and making both characters in their own right, which is no easy feat.

While I liked this novel, I preferred “The Lost Man” as I just loved the characters of Nathan and Xander. That being said, Ms. Harper is becoming a favorite author of mine as I love character-driven fiction.

This was another fabulous buddy read with Ms. Kaceey.

Thank you to Flatiron Books, NetGalley, and MacMillion Audio for the alc.

Published on Goodreads on 12.27.20.

Kaceey’s Review:

A tiny coastal town struggles with the past, when twelve years ago two young lives were lost at sea. And a third simply disappeared. Mystery and questions still linger surrounding their deaths.

Now the waters have claimed a new victim. Is it possible all these deaths could be tied together? Or maybe just pure coincidence?

Once again, the community is forced to re-live and come to grips with yet another loss.

It’s during this time that Kieran and his wife Mia are making plans to return to their hometown to help his father, now suffering with dementia. He’s also about to come face to face with his past.

A slow moving, deliberate thriller that delves into the lives of those haunted by the past tragedies.

At times I felt either the pace could be picked up, or the length shortened somewhat.  But that’s just me, an impatient thriller girl.💁🏻‍♀️

My second read by this extremely popular and talented author. And though I enjoyed The Lost Man a bit more,  I still look forward to reading more from this author. 

A buddy 🎧 with Susanne!

Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio.