One Little Secret by Cate Holahan

3 out of 5 stars

One Little Secret? More like countless big secrets in this domestic thriller by Cate Holahan. 

I picked up this closed-room mystery book during a BookBub special. The story centers around 3 sets of neighbors who ship their kids off to camp and spend a week together in Long Island. Soon after arrival, drama occurs and one of the wives turns up dead on the beach.

At first, the characters seemed so interchangeable, that I had a hard time remembering which spouse went with who. Once I got everyone straight, the story became more compelling. While some parts of the story were predictable, others kept me guessing. As the story unfolded, it was less and less believable that these couples, who seemed more like frenemies, willingly went on vacation together.

Photo by Flash Mama Photography

The subplot with the detective and her family added an interesting dimension to the story. 

Although One Little Secret is not a book that will likely make a lasting impression, it was a great weekend distraction.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

4 out of 5 stars

Silhouettes of the tops of pine trees with a purple and maroon sky. The sky appears starless but the moon is visible.

I learned with The Martian that Andy Weir can make hi-tech astronaut talk sound interesting all while making readers laugh out loud at the humor and ingenuity of the main characters he creates. Project Hail Mary is no exception. In his newest book, Weir almost lives up to the incredibly high standard he set with The Martian and he far surpasses the disappointing Artemis. 

In Project Hail Mary, science teacher Ryland Grace is part of a space mission designed to save humanity from the threat of Astrophage. The story alternates between the present time when Grace is in space and flashing back to pre-mission days.

If you’ve read The Martian, the early chapters of Project Hail Mary will seem familiar. You’ll immediately notice the inner dialogue of Ryland Grace sounds a lot like that of Mark Watney. Both men find themselves alone in a spaceship and have to figure out a lot to stay alive. They display a similar level of humor and creativity. However, Project Hail Mary adds in an alien being from another planet. The relationship between Ryland and Rocky and the way the two learn to understand each other is the best part of the book.

As endearing as the relationship between Ryland and Rocky was, it didn’t quite make up for how much more technical Project Hail Mary was than The Martian. I found it much more difficult to follow the technical information in Project Hail Mary and felt that some of it could have been cut out without sacrificing any of the story.

Overall, I thought Project Hail Mary was an enjoyable read. I was glad to go along on the journey with Ryland and Rocky.

Humanity Lost by Meghan Douglass

5 out of 5 stars

Photo by Flash Mama Photography

“Things that no person should ever consider doing had now become necessary, reasonable, and entirely justifiable.”

Meghan Douglass, Humanity Lost

Meghan Douglass is my most recent find through following the Twitter writing community.

In her debut novella, Humanity Lost, conditions on Earth make it uninhabitable, sending the 6 person crew of the spacecraft Valhalla on a mission to save humanity.

Events quickly progress after the crew awakens from stasis and is faced with making some unthinkable choices. 

I sometimes struggle with shorter works, wanting more character development and longer scenes in order for the story to feel complete. That wasn’t the case with Humanity Lost. Although it has fewer than 60 pages, the tale felt finished.

Douglass makes the most of every page, creating memorable characters and packing several shocking twists in this horrific story that leaves a lasting impression.

The Ghost Beside Me by Lee Hall

4 out of 5 stars

“…what do you know of the forces that stretch beyond the boundaries of our own mortality?”

Lee Hall, The Ghost Beside Me

October is the perfect month for a ghost story. I learned about The Ghost Beside Me through the Twitter writing community.

With its enchanting cover, The Ghost Beside Me drew me in. Part ghost story and part love story, this beautifully written novella is about the lonely M. Neville and his quest for companionship.

Initially, I was a little thrown by the formal tone of the language, but it worked with the setting and the story. I appreciated the book’s overall message. I just wish it had been a little longer with more character development.

I’ve read other works by Lee Hall and he is a versatile writer. Bonus: Hall includes a sneak peek of The Teleporter in this book. I will be reading that one soon as well.

Stranded by Sarah Goodwin

4 out of 5 stars

I pre-ordered Stranded after seeing Twitter connection and Book Blogger Dawn Robinson post about it being one of her top reads this year. I’m so glad I did!

When botanist Maddy loses her parents, the only two people who have ever cared about her, she signs up to live for a year on a remote island with 7 strangers for a reality TV show. The show is similar to Survivor, but with harsher conditions and no competitions. Things start off well enough, but soon, the socially awkward Maddy finds herself outcast by the group.

This book was a fascinating study in human behavior, and all that can go wrong when people are trapped together, fighting for survival, and toxic groupthink ensues. 

The premise grabbed me from the beginning. The book itself built slowly, and then quickly picked up the pace. Once I got to the 40% mark, I literally stayed up all night to finish.

The book is told from Maddy’s perspective, and she is the most likable character among the 8 castaways. I related to her introverted, straightforward nature and thought she was a trustworthy narrator, which made it hard to understand why the others so turned on her. With no competitions or prize winners, the point of the TV show also wasn’t well established. Aside from these minor issues, this was a well-written, absorbing read.

I think this book is one my book club would enjoy. I will most certainly be on the lookout for Sarah Goodwin’s next novel.

Malibu Rising by Tara Jenkins Reid

4 out of 5 stars 

The tops of 4 palm trees against a sherbet colored sunset.
photo by Flash Mama Photography

My book feeds have been filled with gushing comments and reviews about Tara Jenkins Reid, so I was pretty jazzed when my book club picked Malibu Rising as our pick this month. 

Malibu Rising is my first TJR book. Set in Malibu in 1983, I thought the story was original. 

While I don’t get the sense that it is the best of her works, I can still kinda see what some of the hype is all about. Her writing style is breezy with substance. 

“She knew it was up to her to say what had to be said. To do what had to be done. When there is only you, you do not get to choose which jobs you want, you do not get to decide you are incapable of anything.” 

Tara Jenkins Reid, Malibu Rising

The inner thoughts of the characters she creates are filled with truisms about different kinds of people and how they exist in relationships with others. 

For me, Nina, the oldest Riva sibling, made the book. I really connected with her and the way she held everything together.  I liked that the story focused on a family, and, for me, the relationships between the siblings were the best part of the book. 

Up next on my TBR list by this author is “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo”.

Darkness Falls by Robert Bryndza

3 out of 5 stars

In this murder mystery, Kate Marshall and Tristan Harper, two private investigators at Kate’s new agency, work together to find out what happened to Joanna Duncan, a journalist who went missing 12 years prior.

After gaining access to the old case files, Kate uncovers a connection between Joanna and two missing men. While this story was a pretty standard mystery involving a journalist, a politician, and sex scandals, Bryndza includes enough plot twists to keep it unpredictable. I wanted to find out what happened and how the cases were connected.

The book does perpetuate some stereotypes, and I found the ending to be a little chaotic.

Darkness Falls is the third book in a new series by Bryndza. It worked well as a stand alone, although I may have connected better with Kate had I read the first two books in the series.

Overall, the story was entertaining enough that I would be interested in reading other books by this author.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Fear Farm by S. J. Krandall

4 out of 5 stars

With the exception of my Stephen King obsession in high school, I haven’t read many horror books over the course of my life. When S. J. Krandall asked if I’d be interested in reviewing Fear Farm, Spooky September seemed like the perfect time to give the horror genre a fresh try. 

Fear Farm was a great reintroduction to the genre. This novella, which can be read in one sitting or over several days, has all the things you want in a good horror story — gore, terror, and suspense. 

I liked that the novel was a series of connected short stories. This approach kept me engaged, giving me just enough detail about the characters in each vignette while keeping the suspense level high.

I also appreciated that all of the photos used to illustrate the book were taken by the author.

Whether you are a horror junkie or new(ish) to the genre, this fast read is sure to spook.

Thank you to the author for providing a free ARC in exchange for my honest review.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

4 out of 5 stars

The Last He Told Me by Laura Dave sitting on a book shelf.

Hannah Hall and Owen Michaels are happily married newlyweds, and Hannah has been trying unsuccessfully to build a relationship with Owen’s teenage daughter, Bailey. When Owen suddenly disappears, Hannah is left with Bailey and a few cryptic clues suggesting that Bailey may be in danger.  

“This is the thing about good and evil. They aren’t so far apart—and they often start from the same valiant place of wanting something to be different.”

Laura Dave, The Last Thing He Told Me

I thought this was a gripping book, and although there are a few unrealistic parts, I was able to look past them because I wanted so badly to know what would happen to Hannah, Bailey, and Owen. Hannah was relatable as a wife and parental figure to a teenage girl. The relationship between Hannah and Bailey is the heart of the book. 

It was refreshing to read a thriller where the main characters were basically good people caught up in a difficult situation. I enjoyed the pacing of this novel and I appreciated that the story wasn’t predictable.

I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a fast-paced thriller with likable characters.

The Humane Algorithm by Trevor Wynyard

4 out of 5 stars

The Humane Algorithm, a newly-released dystopian novel, is told from the perspective of Matt Turner, an older brother and father figure to Kevin. Matt lives with Kevin and his mother in a society where the government strictly regulates electricity and controls access to medical care. The Turners find themselves in desperate need of high level medical care when Matt discovers their mother is gravely ill.

The premise of this book was interesting to me, and I liked that it centered on a family of three. With his oldest child syndrome and deep love for his mother, Matt was a relatable protagonist.

Wynyard does an excellent job with world-building in this novel. I appreciated his descriptions of scenes, like when Matt and Kevin try to get their mother admitted to the government-run hospital. He gives enough detail for you to envision what’s happening without being too sparse or overly descriptive.

My quibbles with this book were minor. I would have liked more background about how society evolved to be the way it is described in the book. I also had a little bit of trouble following some of the family timelines — I couldn’t figure out how much older Matt was than Kevin. The ending also felt a little unresolved, though that’s likely because the reader is being set up for the next book in the Streetlighters Trilogy. The odds are good that I will read the second book in the series.

I received an ARC of this book through BookSirens in exchange for my honest review.