The Dark Cygnet Files

The Dark Cygnet Files by J.E. Clarkson
The Dark Cygnet Files by J.E. Clarkson

4 stars

The fourth installment in the Nemo & Company series, this book delves into The Cleaner’s family history. I liked that we learn more about The Cleaner and other characters in the series. In this book, we get some answers. Or, at least we think we do, as I’m never quite sure with this series what’s reality or what I’ll discover later was only a mirage.

“You always think you have more time in this life than you actually have.”

J.E. Clarkson, The Dark Cygnet Files

The storyline has evolved way beyond the original book. What started as a story about a woman working for an anonymous boss at a mysterious company has exploded into a haunting technothriller series about deception, a secret society, conspiracy, and deep mistrust. 

Can we spend a moment appreciating the breakneck pacing present in all of the books in the Nemo & Co series? Short chapters packed with action and intrigue always have me feeling like I can’t gobble up each book fast enough.

In The Dark Cygnet Files, like the other books in the series, the characters are constantly making their way through a maze of confusion and furiously trying to escape the present. And, again, readers are left with so many questions. Who will survive? And, will we ever learn The Cleaner’s name?

This is a series that definitely needs to be read in order, so be sure to start with The Vanishing Office. As for me, I already downloaded book number 5 – I will be seeing this series through until the end.

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

4 stars

In this thriller by Lisa Jewell, teenage parents Tallulah and Zach disappear after a rare night out. Certain that her daughter wouldn’t have abandoned her son, Tallulah’s mom, Kim, is determined to find the truth about that fateful summer night.

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

The story unfolds through chapters that alternate between past and present. The story focuses a lot on Kim and what she’s thinking and feeling but you quickly realize this is Tallulah’s story. Her relationships and decisions drive the story.

Jewell pulled on my emotions as a woman and a parent at every turn in this one. It was both highly suspenseful and enjoyably predictable. I had my suspicions about who was involved in the disappearance, which had me racing through each chapter and gathering clues right along with Kim.

This is my second read by Lisa Jewell – the first was Then She Was Gone. The stories have similar settings and both center on a mother of a missing daughter, so if you liked that one you will probably enjoy this one too.

I actually preferred The Night She Disappeared to Then She Was Gone, primarily because the characters stayed true to themselves and the ending was more satisfying.

I will definitely be picking up more Lisa Jewell books in the future.

Dragon Emperor by Dawn Ross

5 stars

Dragon Emperor by Dawn Ross
Dragon Emperor by Dawn Ross

Dragon Emperor is book two in The Dragon Spawn Chronicles. The story picks up where book one left off, and features many familiar faces from the first installment. 

Dragon Emperor is a bit darker and more violent than book one. Surprisingly, I found myself even more drawn in by the increased intensity.

A central element in the story is conflict over whether showing emotion and understanding the feelings of others is a weakness. As someone who considers genuine empathy one of the greatest strengths an individual can have, I was fascinated by the debate in the story. I wanted to find out if Jori and company would come to the same conclusion as I have in my own life.

I appreciated how the author developed the relationship between brothers Jori and Terk, and how each of the characters grew in their own way.

While early chapters of Dragon Emperor offer a good summary of the main events in the first book, I recommend reading book one first. I also recommend reading the books in order.

Again, I appreciated the inclusion of a glossary to help explain the different types of ships, warriors, and devices used in Ross’s universe. While you can easily understand and enjoy the book without referencing the glossary, it serves as a great reminder of the well-thought-out world Ross has created. 

The action continues in a third book, Dragon’s Fall, and I plan to continue reading this intense and exciting series.

Information about where to purchase the books in The Dragon Spawn Chronicles can be found on the author’s website, https://dawnrossauthor.com/

Heir of Blood and Secrets by Linda Xia

3 out of 5 stars

This dystopian YA murder mystery is told from the perspective of Scylla Delevan, a 16-year-old daughter of a magistrate in Devovea. Despite their difficult relationship, when Scylla’s father is accused of murder, she goes on a quest to prove his innocence. Her loyalties are challenged and she uncovers a number of secrets along the way.

This fast-moving story presents interesting views on fatherhood, and I was intrigued by the class system that was built into this book. The story also deals well with a somewhat naive teenage girl figuring out and standing up for what she believes and facing the repercussions of making rash decisions. 

The cover of Heir of Blood and Secrets
Heir of Blood and Secrets by Linda Xia

This story had a lot of strengths but there were a few parts that didn’t work as well for me. I felt there could have been more depth and dimension to some of the side characters. There were also a few points in the plot where I got slightly confused.

Overall, I appreciated the world Xia created, and look forward to reading what she writes next.

Thank you to the author for reaching out to me and providing a free e-review copy. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

The BackUp Who Cried Wolf by Kayla Hicks

4 out of 5 stars

The cover of The Backup Who Cried Wolf by Kayla Hicks.

This post marks my 100th post on Book Picks and Pics! Whether you are a dedicated reader or just discovering this blog, thank you for your support.

I agreed to read and review The Backup Who Cried Wolf as part of my participation in my first-ever blog tour. As someone who was already a fan of the BackUp superhero series, it wasn’t hard to convince me to read book 3. 

Like with the previous two installments, Hicks delights readers with endearing characters and the continuation of the fun, creative concept of a league of backup superheroes. 

This book features Dwighter, an unreliable backup superhero with a drinking problem, as the main character. I appreciated being able to learn more about Dwighter. I also loved that Tanser Girl, my favorite character in the series, returns to play an important role.

The Back-Up Who Cried Wolf is a quick read that lives up to the expectations set in the first two books. If you haven’t already read the other books in the series, I recommend starting with The Back-Up Superhero. You will be glad you discovered this quirky, binge-able series.

Thank you to Kayla Hicks for inviting me to be part of her book tour and for providing me with a free review copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Links to purchase any books in the series can be found on the author’s website.

My review of The Original Superheroes is linked here.

My review of The Backup Superhero is linked here.

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin.

I read The People We Keep for my book club, which focuses on books with strong women characters and/or by women authors. 

Set in the mid-90s, this tale follows the story of April Sawicki, a 16-year-old girl from a small town who has been dealt a raw deal when it comes to family. After a fight with her father, April steals a car and flees their motor-free motorhome to find somewhere she can fit in and call home.

This is a character-driven story with a stream-of-consciousness writing style that really resonated with me. We travel with April as she spends nights in her car, finds various people to stay with, and lines up various jobs and musical gigs. She meets an interesting array of people along the way, and we are immersed in her thoughts as she makes mistakes –sometimes the same mistake more than once – and learns to trust herself and others. 

The book fits the theme of my book club really well. Larkin creates a flawed, endearing, memorable character in April. Throughout the course of the novel, I was concerned, frustrated, and sad for her. Mostly, I wanted her to grow and find happiness – and Larkin ultimately allows her to do both.

The People We Keep is a touching story about found family and reminds me of both the people who have come into my life for a reason and those who will always be there no matter what.

If you enjoy books like Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts, chances are you will be a fan of this one as well.

For more about The People We Keep and Allison Larkin, visit the author’s website.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List by Lucy Foley.

3 stars

A Goodreads Readers Choice award winner, Lucy Foley’s closed-room thriller takes us to the glamorous destination wedding of a magazine editor and a handsome TV celebrity. The book opens at the reception moments before a dead body is discovered. Foley builds suspense by using multiple POVs to flashback to the events leading up to the wedding reception before revealing the identity of the victim. 

The premise of a murder at a wedding was interesting and the remote setting off the coast of Ireland added atmosphere and contributed to the intrigue. 

Overall, I thought the story was good but it didn’t blow me away. On the positive side, it was a fast, entertaining read that used gossipy secrets and a web of connections between the characters to create an abundance of motives. 

“It’s always better to get it out in the open – even if it seems shameful, even if you feel like people won’t understand.”

Lucy Foley, The Guest List

However, one of the biggest drawbacks for me was how unlikeable most of the characters were. No matter how good the story is, it’s hard for me to stay invested when everyone is either annoying, shallow, obnoxious, or downright evil. By the time the identity of the victim and killer are revealed, I didn’t really care all that much.

I did like it enough that I am interested in reading another one of Foley’s books. In fact, The Hunting Party is next on my audiobook list and I recently ordered The Paris Apartment as my BOTM pick. Stay tuned for my reviews on those books as well as many others on Goodreads, Bookstagram, and this blog.

The Guidal: Discovering Puracordis by Roxy Eloise

4 stars

The Guidal by Roxy Eloise

In this YA fantasy book, 16-year-old Aurora lives in the Boulderfell Institute where she and the other adoptees must adhere to a strict set of rules. The story starts with Aurora moving up from the Mustards, the children’s section, to the adult quarters (Navies). Her move makes her eligible for the Unity ceremony, an annual ceremony where disciples are matched to each other.

Eloise creates an intriguing character in Aurora, the strong-willed, white haired leading lady. Aurora grows more relatable throughout the story as we learn more about her past and she navigates her way through change, love and loss. At one point, Eloise accurately describes the disembodied experience of grief, when Aurora recalls, “I didn’t remember much of the past seven days because I wasn’t there to live it.”

With each chapter of Eloise’s debut work, I became more invested in Aurora’s journey and wanted to understand the unique world she was immersed in. Supporting characters, including Tayo, the juvie assigned to her care, and the beloved Nanny Kimly add heart to the story

The Guidal, which releases on April 2, 2022, ends with several unanswered questions, which hopefully means Eloise is planning a sequel.

The book is available through Eloise’s author website. For an extra treat, you can listen to Eloise read Chapter One on her YouTube channel.

Thank you to the author for providing me with a free e-ARC of this book. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and were not influenced by receiving a free copy.

The Moon of Lycca by Anne Winchell

5 stars

“As soon as she stopped, a growl behind her reminded her that she was not alone.”

Anne Winchell, The Moon of Lycca
The cover of The Moon of Lycca displayed on an e-reader. The e-readers is surrounded by green ivy.
The Moon of Lycca by Anne Winchell

Winchell’s novella, The Moon of Lycca, is a fast-moving space saga. Mei is attempting to rescue two colonists when her glider crashes in a remote area of a dangerous planet. Armed with a limited supply of ammo, the small-framed peacekeeper must find a way to survive the perils she encounters in the darkness.

Winchell packs a lot of action and meaning into this 28-page novella. With her determination, resourcefulness, and adaptability, Mei pulls the reader in and quickly demonstrates why she shouldn’t be underestimated. I appreciated the novella’s message about women’s empowerment.

I was already a fan of Winchell’s writing and this novella left me wanting to read more of her works.

The Moon of Lycca is available for purchase on Amazon.

The Kill Switch by J.E. Clarkson

4 out of 5 stars

Clarkson keeps the adrenaline pumping in The Kill Switch, the third installment in her dystopian, techno-thriller series. The short, action-filled chapters keep the suspense high as the nameless main character known only as The Cleaner and her allies continue to fight against the evils of Stella and Nemo & Co. 

The Kill Switch by J.E. Clarkson

Leaping in where The Ghost Society ends, the book revisits some familiar themes and scenes present in the first book, while adding a political element reaching the highest levels of power. We also get a teaser for the fourth book with references to a parcel of documents labeled Dark Cygnet.

In addition to the fast pacing and endless curves, I enjoy the observations like, “They say you don’t hear the bullet that kills you,” which are present in Clarkson’s writing. Her astute metaphors also keep me engaged. One example: “I felt a bit like I was taking a slow walk into hell and the soles of my feet were beginning to burn.”

These books are definitely written to be read in order, not as interchangeable stand-alones. So, if this review sounds intriguing, and you haven’t read the first book in the Nemo and Co. series yet, do yourself a favor and download it today. You will quickly start to see why Clarkson has her own category on this blog.

As for me, I will be devouring The Dark Cygnet Files, the next in the series, as soon as I can.

Clarkson’s books are available on Amazon.