Review | The Summoning by J.P. Smith

When it comes to contacting the dead, it’s easy to go a step too far

Every year, as the anniversary of 9/11 inches closer on the calendar, Kit Capriol scans the memorials published in the New York Times. It’s a simple thing to look up a name and phone number, to reach out to surviving family members who might still be yearning for connection with their lost loved one… to offer assistance. After her husband went down in the north tower, Kit scraped by as an actress, barely supporting herself and her daughter. But now Zoey is in the hospital, bills are due, and the acting work has dried up. Becoming a medium is almost too easy for someone used to pretending for a living—and desperate clients aren’t hard to come by.

Now, though, something has changed. The seances Kit holds in her apartment are starting to feel unsettlingly real, and the intriguing man she met at a local bar could be more complicated than he seems. As the voices of the dead grow louder in her head and the walls of her apartment close in, Kit realizes that despite her daughter’s absence, she hasn’t been quite as alone as she thought…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When I heard the synopsis of this book, an actor who is pretending to be a medium to make ends meet after losing her husband in 9/11 and having her daughter in a coma – I was immediately intrigued. Things start to change when she seems to actually be hearing from the dead. I really enjoyed this roller coaster ride of a thriller as it took me in some directions I was not expecting at all. Much of the story is spent wondering if this is psychological or supernatural and that’s one of my favorite elements when done well – and it was done really well in this book. I was left guessing almost the entire book. While the pacing is neither slow or fast, I felt the story’s natural progression and evolution flowed well. The writing style was so easy to consume and kept me engaged the entire time.

Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for sending me a copy of this book for review. It’s out tomorrow (9/7) so make sure to pick up a copy!

Happy reading!

Review | Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

What was it like? Living in that house.

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

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was not expecting the twists and turns that this book took, it was quite a ride. I really enjoyed the format of this book where you get a chapter in present day and a chapter from the book that Maggie’s father wrote. Sometimes the extreme of Maggie’s anger towards her parents was a bit much, but I suppose in most instances it was appropriate considering she had been made a public figure by the book her father wrote. This was crafted incredibly well and I have to say there was only part of the twist I guessed, and only at the last minute, which was pretty extraordinary. While I didn’t like Final Girls, after reading The Last Time I Lied and this one, I’m definitely looking forward to reading the others Sager has out!

Happy reading!

Review | This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf

Everyone has a secret they’ll do anything to hide…

Twenty-five years ago, the body of sixteen-year-old Eve Knox was found in the caves near her home in small-town Grotto, Iowa—discovered by her best friend, Maggie, and her sister, Nola. There were a handful of suspects, including her boyfriend, Nick, but without sufficient evidence the case ultimately went cold.

For decades Maggie was haunted by Eve’s death and that horrible night. Now a detective in Grotto, and seven months pregnant, she is thrust back into the past when a new piece of evidence surfaces and the case is reopened. As Maggie investigates and reexamines the clues, secrets about what really happened begin to emerge. But someone in town knows more than they’re letting on, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried deep.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I found this book to be really fast paced and a quite compelling read. It had really good character development, especially for characters like Nola who were a bit out there. I also really enjoyed the small town dynamics as they lent to the story itself. I did feel however that there were a number of choices made, especially by the main character that weren’t realistic, such as the risks she was taking while 7-8 months pregnant – I understand her obsession and need to move forward with the mystery, but it still felt a little off for me. Still, it had a lot of great twists that kept me guessing and I enjoyed the slightly creepy elements that kept me reading.

Happy reading!

Blog Tour | Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison | Review


Fast-paced and brilliantly unpredictable, J.T. Ellison’s breathtaking new novel invites you to a wedding none will forget—and some won’t survive.

Jutting from sparkling turquoise waters off the Italian coast, Isle Isola is an idyllic setting for a wedding. In the majestic cliff-top villa owned by the wealthy Compton family, up-and-coming artist Claire Hunter will marry handsome, charming Jack Compton, surrounded by close family, intimate friends…and a host of dark secrets.

From the moment Claire sets foot on the island, something seems amiss. Skeletal remains have just been found. There are other, newer disturbances, too. Menacing texts. A ruined wedding dress. And one troubling shadow hanging over Claire’s otherwise blissful relationship—the strange mystery surrounding Jack’s first wife.

Then a raging storm descends, the power goes out—and the real terror begins…

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve previously enjoyed one of J.T. Ellison’s books so was excited to pick this one up. I did really enjoy that this story was very fast paced but didn’t always love the perspectives that we were reading from. The settings were great and really set the tone for the story. It would have been even better if there had a been a little more mystery/history thrown in as the setting could have thrived even more with it. It definitely had vibes similar to Rebecca or mysteries set in an secluded spot such as And Then There were None. Overall I really enjoyed it and would definitely read more of J.T. Ellison’s books.

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 25 novels, and the EMMY® award winning co-host of the literary TV show A WORD ON WORDS. With millions of books in print, her work has won critical acclaim, prestigious awards, and has been published in 28 countries. Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

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Review | The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones

Life in a slasher film is easy. You just have to know when to die.

Aerial View: A suburban town in Texas. Everyone’s got an automatic garage door opener. All the kids jump off a perilous cliff into a shallow river as a rite of passage. The sheriff is a local celebrity. You know this town. You’re from this town.

Zoom In: Homecoming princess, Lindsay. She’s just barely escaped death at the hands of a brutal, sadistic murderer in a Michael Jackson mask. Up on the cliff, she was rescued by a horse and bravely defeated the killer, alone, bra-less. Her story is already a legend. She’s this town’s heroic final girl, their virgin angel.

Monster Vision: Halloween masks floating down that same river the kids jump into. But just as one slaughter is not enough for Billie Jean, our masked killer, one victory is not enough for Lindsay. Her high school is full of final girls, and she’s not the only one who knows the rules of the game.

When Lindsay chooses a host of virgins, misfits, and former final girls to replace the slaughtered members of her original homecoming court, it’s not just a fight for survival-it’s a fight to become The Last Final Girl.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

After reading a couple of Stephen Graham Jones’ books and short stories in the past, I have been wanting to pick up more of his backlist. The premise of this one really intrigued me so I thought it would give it a shot. The story and plot itself was interesting and I certainly wasn’t expecting some of the plot twists – but the way it’s formatted really hampered my reading experience. I understand the intent behind it, it’s written like a script in a way where you are constantly changing perspective and scene and they blend into each other – but it made the book harder to read for me. It’s a really cool concept but the lack of chapters and constant shifts did bring down my enjoyment a bit.

Happy reading!

Review | The Getaway by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

In this short thriller from number one New York Times best-selling authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, a young woman’s dream getaway becomes her worst nightmare.

Prepare yourself for a transformative experience. Sometimes, life’s setbacks contain hidden gifts. Here at Lakewood, you’ll find the space to unwrap them.

A weekend at the Lakewood Retreat is exactly what Chloe Powell needs. Freshly unemployed after her boss loses a reelection campaign, the former press secretary desperately wants a break from the bustle of Washington DC. A flier posted at her yoga studio leads her to the getaway, which looks amazing: organic meals, celebrity testimonials, and a serene private property within driving distance of the city.

It’s so perfect, in fact, that Chloe’s barely bothered by the intensely personal questions she’s asked in her application, or the unnerving social experiments her enigmatic host, Sebastian, imposes on her once she arrives at his remote cabin. But when a mysterious new guest shows up, Chloe can no longer suppress her rising panic: This place is not at all what it seems.

A pulse-pounding story from the first minute to the last, The Getaway explores the weight of the small choices we make every day, and their staggering, unintended consequences.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a short thriller that has a couple decent twists, then this one is a great example. At first I was definitely unsure of where it was going, but the reveals definitely snuck up before the pieces fell into place. I did enjoy the dual timelines that slowly converged to tell the story. As with a lot of short stories, especially those with lots of twists, I did find myself wanting a little more character depth and backstory. What was written was sufficient to tell the story, but I definitely could have enjoyed it longer if there was a little more to it.

Happy reading!

Review | The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

What begins as a clever, gothic ghost story soon evolves into a wickedly twisted treasure hunt in The Supernatural Enhancements, Edgar Cantero’s wholly original, modern-day adventure.

When twentysomething A., the unexpected European relative of the Wells family, and his companion, Niamh, a mute teenage girl with shockingly dyed hair, inherit the beautiful but eerie estate of Axton House, deep in the woods of Point Bless, Virginia, it comes as a surprise to everyone—including A. himself. After all, he never even knew he had a “second cousin, twice removed” in America, much less that the eccentric gentleman had recently committed suicide by jumping out of the third floor bedroom window—at the same age and in the same way as his father had before him . . .

Together, A. and Niamh quickly come to feel as if they have inherited much more than just a rambling home and a cushy lifestyle. Axton House is haunted, they know it, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the secrets they slowly but surely uncover. Why all the suicides? What became of the Axton House butler who fled shortly after his master died? What lurks in the garden maze and what does the basement vault keep? And what of the rumors in town about a mysterious gathering at Axton House on the night of the winter solstice?

Told vividly through a series of journal entries, scrawled notes, recovered security footage, letters to Aunt Liza, audio recordings, complicated ciphers, and even advertisements, Edgar Cantero has written a dazzling and original supernatural adventure featuring classic horror elements with a Neil Gaiman-ish twist.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Even as I’m writing this review I’m still thinking about how I feel about this book. It was recommended to me because I like mixed media format books and I enjoyed Meddling Kids by the same author, so I was happy to pick it up. There were definitely some twists and turns that surprised me, especially towards the end, but I really loved the way the puzzle pieces slowly fall into place as you read – even though you are often left with more questions than answers. Also, I will always appreciate appropriate uses of the word ‘defenestrate’ which is a favorite of mine.

I love how the story pieces together through mostly diary entries, letters and video transcriptions – it made it a super fast read and kept my attention the whole time.

Happy reading!

Blog Tour | Stranger In the Lake | Review

When Charlotte married the wealthy widower Paul, it caused a ripple of gossip in their small lakeside town. They have a charmed life together, despite the cruel whispers about her humble past and his first marriage. But everything starts to unravel when she discovers a young woman’s body floating in the exact same spot where Paul’s first wife tragically drowned.

At first, it seems like a horrific coincidence, but the stranger in the lake is no stranger. Charlotte saw Paul talking to her the day before, even though Paul tells the police he’s never met the woman. His lie exposes cracks in their fragile new marriage, cracks Charlotte is determined to keep from breaking them in two.

As Charlotte uncovers dark mysteries about the man she married, she doesn’t know what to trust—her heart, which knows Paul to be a good man, or her growing suspicion that there’s something he’s hiding in the water.

Buy Links | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound |
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This is the first book I’ve read from Kimberly Belle and based on her writing style alone I will be picking up other books from her. I enjoyed the way the story slowly unwound through both modern day and flashbacks, though there were some portions that I felt were a little slow.

I loved the setting and the descriptions of the environment, town and their house. I definitely had a creepy shiver when thinking about those big windows that weren’t covered in any way. So many secrets and moments of deception wove things together and really were the meat of the story, it definitely kept me wondering and on my toes.

All in all I really enjoyed this psychological thriller and will definitely be checking out more of Belle’s writing in the future.

Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of six novels, including the forthcoming Stranger in the Lake (June 2020). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Social Links | Author website | Facebook: @KimberlyBelleBooks |
Twitter: @KimberlySBelle | Instagram: @kimberlysbelle | Goodreads

Happy reading!

Review | Out of Body

A small-town librarian witnesses a murder at his local deli, and what had been routine sleep paralysis begins to transform into something far more disturbing. The trauma of holding a dying girl in his arms drives him out of his own body. The town he knows so well is suddenly revealed to him from a whole new perspective. Secrets are everywhere and demons fester behind closed doors.

Worst of all, he discovers a serial killer who has been preying on the area for over a century, one capable of traveling with him through his dreams.

This book definitely went places I was not expecting it to. I didn’t know much going in except that it had to do with sleep paralysis and out of body experiences, but it definitely took a lot of twists and turns from there. From the very start unexpected things are happening to the main character, Owen, whose life is rather mediocre and unexciting. He goes through a traumatic experience and suddenly his life becomes much more active and full of adventure. Each night he learns more things about people and the world as it lives at night, as well as what dwells in the dark.

The writing flowed well and the descriptions were fledged out, but I did feel that the story might have benefited by being a little longer. When the climax happened it felt like everything suddenly happened all at once and was wrapped up rather quickly. I would have liked a little more in depth into the ‘big bad’ and what their actual purpose was, rather than a sudden climax and conclusion. Still it was pretty fast paced and an enjoyable read overall.

Thanks so much to Tor.com for sending me an ARC of this book, it’s expected to be released July 28th. Happy reading!

Blog Tour | This is How I Lied | Excerpt

Hey there! Today I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour for This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf and to be sharing an excerpt from the book which was kindly provided by Harlequin/Park Row Books. I’ll have a review coming in the future. Be sure to check it out if it sounds like something you would enjoy.

With the eccentricity of Fargo and the intensity of Sadie, THIS IS HOW I LIED by Heather Gudenkauf (Park Row Books; May 12, 2020; $17.99) is a timely and gripping thriller about careless violence we can inflict on those we love, and the lengths we will go to make it right, even 25 years later.

Tough as nails and seven months pregnant, Detective Maggie Kennedy-O’Keefe of Grotto PD, is dreading going on desk duty before having the baby her and her husband so badly want. But when new evidence is found in the 25-year-old cold case of her best friend’s murder that requires the work of a desk jockey, Maggie jumps at the opportunity to be the one who finally puts Eve Knox’s case to rest.

Maggie has her work cut out for her. Everyone close to Eve is a suspect. There’s Nola, Eve’s little sister who’s always been a little… off; Nick, Eve’s ex-boyfriend with a vicious temper; a Schwinn riding drifter who blew in and out of Grotto; even Maggie’s husband Sean, who may have known more about Eve’s last day than he’s letting on. As Maggie continues to investigate, the case comes closer and closer to home, forcing her to confront her own demons before she can find justice for Eve. 

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Excerpt:
Maggie Kennedy-O’Keefe
Monday, June 15, 2020

As I slide out of my unmarked police car my swollen belly briefly gets wedged against the steering wheel. Sucking in my gut does little good but I manage to move the seat back and squeeze past the wheel. I swing my legs out the open door and glance furtively around the parking lot behind the Grotto Police Department to see if anyone is watching.

Almost eight months pregnant with a girl and not at my most graceful. I’m not crazy about the idea of one of my fellow officers seeing me try to pry myself out of this tin can. The coast appears to be clear so I begin the little ritual of rocking back and forth trying to build up enough momentum to launch myself out of the driver’s seat.

Once upright, I pause to catch my breath. The morning dew is already sending up steam from the weeds growing out of the cracked concrete. Sweating, I slowly make my way to the rear entrance of the Old Gray Lady, the nickname for the building we’re housed in. Built in the early 1900s, the first floor consists of the lobby, the finger printing and intake center, a community room, interview rooms and the jail. The second floor, which once held the old jail is home to the squad room and offices. The dank, dark basement holds a temperamental boiler and the department archives.

The Grotto Police Department has sixteen sworn officers that includes the chief, two lieutenants, a K-9 patrol officer, nine patrol officers, a school resource officer and two detectives. I’m detective number two.

I grew up in Grotto, a small river town of about ten thousand that sits among a circuitous cave system known as Grotto Caves State Park, the most extensive in Iowa. Besides being a favorite destination spot for families, hikers and spelunkers, Grotto is known for its high number of family owned farms – a dying breed. My husband Shaun and I are part of that breed – we own an apple orchard and tree farm.

 “Pretty soon we’re going to have to roll you in,” an irritatingly familiar voice calls out from behind me.

I don’t bother turning around. “Francis, that wasn’t funny the first fifty times you said it and it still isn’t,” I say as I scan my key card to let us in.

Behind me, Pete Francis, rookie officer and all-around caveman grabs the door handle and in a rare show of chivalry opens it so I can step through. “You know I’m just joking,” Francis says giving me the grin that all the young ladies in Grotto seem to find irresistible but just gives me another reason to roll my eyes.

“With the wrong person, those kinds of jokes will land you in sensitivity training,” I remind him.

“Yeah, but you’re not the wrong person, right?” he says seriously, “You’re cool with it?”

I wave to Peg behind the reception desk and stop at the elevator and punch the number two button. The police department only has two levels but I’m in no mood to climb up even one flight of stairs today. “Do I look like I’m okay with it?” I ask him.

Francis scans me up and down. He takes in my brown hair pulled back in a low bun, wayward curls springing out from all directions, my eyes red from lack of sleep, my untucked shirt, the fabric stretched tight against my round stomach, my sturdy shoes that I think are tied, but I can’t know for sure because I can’t see over my boulder-sized belly.

“Sorry,” he says appropriately contrite and wisely decides to take the stairs rather than ride the elevator with me.

“You’re forgiven,” I call after him.  As I step on the elevator to head up to my desk, I check my watch. My appointment with the chief is at eight and though he didn’t tell me what the exact reason is for this meeting I think I can make a pretty good guess.

It can’t be dictated as to when I have to go on light duty, seven months into my pregnancy, but it’s probably time. I’m guessing that Chief Digby wants to talk with me about when I want to begin desk duty or take my maternity leave. I get it.

It’s time I start to take it easy. I’ve either been the daughter of a cop or a cop my entire life but I’m more than ready to set it aside for a while and give my attention, twenty-four-seven to the little being inhabiting my uterus.

Shaun and I have been trying for a baby for a long, long time. And thousands of dollars and dozens of procedures later, when we finally found out we were pregnant, Shaun started calling her peanut because the only thing I could eat for the first nine weeks without throwing up was peanut butter sandwiches. The name stuck.

This baby is what we want more than anything in the world but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m a little bit scared. I’m used to toting around a sidearm not an infant.

 The elevator door opens to a dark paneled hallway lined with ten by sixteen framed photos of all the men who served as police chief of Grotto over the years. I pass by eleven photos before I reach the portrait of my father. Henry William Kennedy, 1995 – 2019, the plaque reads.

While the other chiefs stare out from behind the glass with serious expressions, my dad smiles showing his straight, white teeth. He was so proud when he was named chief of police. We were all proud, except maybe my older brother, Colin. God knows what Colin thought of it. As a teenager he was pretty self-absorbed, but I guess I was too, especially after my best friend died. I went off the rails for a while but here I am now. A Grotto PD detective, following in my dad’s footsteps. I think he’s proud of me too. At least when he remembers.

Last time I brought my dad back here to visit, we walked down this long corridor and paused at his photo. For a minute I thought he might make a joke, say something like, Hey, who’s that good looking guy? But he didn’t say anything. Finding the right words is hard for him now. Occasionally, his frustration bubbles over and he yells and sometimes even throws things which is hard to watch. My father has always been a very gentle man.

The next portrait in line is our current police chief, Les Digby. No smile on his tough guy mug. He was hired a month ago, taking over for Dexter Stroope who acted as the interim chief after my dad retired. Les is about ten years older than I am, recently widowed with two teenage sons. He previously worked for the Ransom Sheriff’s Office and I’m trying to decide if I like him. Jury’s still out.

Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of many books, including The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden. Heather graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages. She lives in Iowa with her husband, three children, and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time, Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading, hiking, and running.

Social Links| Author Website | Twitter: @hgudenkauf |
Instagram: @heathergudenkauf | Facebook: @HeatherGudenkaufAuthor | Goodreads

Happy reading!