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 Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

3 out of 5 stars

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda.

I learned from reading All The Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger that Megan Miranda is a fantastic thriller writer.

I have probably read at least a hundred books since I read All The Missing Girls yet the story and the inventive structure still stand out. When my family gave me The Last House Guest for Mother’s Day, I could hardly wait to dive in.

This one was a little bit of a letdown for me. Don’t get me wrong – it was still a good page-turning thriller. It just didn’t meet the high bar Miranda set with her previous reads. 

A Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick, The Last House Guest features some of the trademarks found in Miranda’s other thrillers – small-town secrets and complicated friendships between the female main characters. For me, I think the difference is that I struggled more to connect with the main characters in this one.

The pacing was slow for most of the book and the story lacked suspense for the first third. I needed more backstory to feel invested in Sadie. The relationships also felt disjointed. The friendship between Sadie and Avery, which was supposed to be a main thread in the story, didn’t ring true.

Even with these flaws, I am still glad I read The Last House Guest. In the end, it had enough twists to keep me guessing and provided a couple of days of summer reading entertainment. Such a Quiet Place is next on my TBR list by Megan Miranda.

Haze by Rebecca Crunden

4 stars

“The dead don’t care if you’re religious.”

Haze by Rebecca Crunden

Unexpected phone calls in the middle of the night are usually either creepy or scary. The phone call Eliza Owens gets late one evening from her fiance’s ex is no exception, especially since the girl on the other end of the line has supposedly been dead for five years. 

Eliza tries to forget about the call until her sister Sam, who is not a fan of Eliza’s fiance Erik, brings up an encounter she had with Paige a few weeks before. A dramatic fight ensues, destroying Eliza, Erik, and Sam’s lives, and resulting in Erik abandoning Eliza and their hometown for five years.

Although I didn’t agree with many of their choices, the characters and how they handle the events that transpire are what make this book compelling. Given her drug use and the deep emotional turmoil she experiences, Eliza makes for a likable yet unreliable narrator. I was never quite sure whether to trust her take on what was happening. 

The lifelong relationship between Erik and Miles added depth to the story. I was glad to see their opening scene in the introduction was significant to the overall plot.

I appreciated the book’s themes of family and friendship and felt it came to an interesting resolution fitting for the story. 

Overall, this was a unique and interesting read. I recommend it to readers who enjoy dark paranormal love stories with a touch of humor.

Crunden is a prolific writer and her novels and short stories are available on Amazon and through her website.

My review of Crunden’s short story, The Man and the Crow, is linked here.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

3 stars

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley.

The Hunting Party is a character-driven murder mystery set in Loch Corrin, an exclusive hunting lodge in the Highlands of Scotland.  

The story primarily unfolds over the course of a 4-day trip a group of 8 pals from university takes to celebrate the New Year. While the focus is on the present day, flashbacks to the past give context to some of the relationships and the events that transpire during the trip.

Each chapter of this closed-room suspense novel is told from the perspective of one of the individuals at Loch Corrin. I listened to the audiobook, and with so many characters, it was hard to keep them straight at first. I did enjoy the accents of the various narrators, which provided some authenticity to the story. The descriptions of the setting also translated really well to the audiobook format.

“I suppose we all carry around different versions of ourselves.”

Lucy Foley, The Hunting Party

The story starts slowly and keeps its deliberate pacing until about two-thirds of the way through when it picks up speed and becomes much more interesting. 

Foley doesn’t reveal the identity of the victim or the murderer until very late in the book, and most of the main characters are unlikable. These familiar elements, combined with an eerie remote setting, make the storyline feel a bit like a rerun of The Guest List. 

Although the storyline was strikingly similar to The Guest List, I ended up liking it a bit more. I didn’t guess all of the twists, including the identity of the killer. There was also something slightly more relatable about some of the characters. 

I do hope Foley’s newest book, The Paris Apartment, mixes up the plot a bit. I definitely do not need to read this same basic storyline for the third time.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

4 stars

Lydia owns a bookstore and her husband works as a journalist, and the couple lives with their 8-year-old son, Luca, in Acapulco, Mexico. Their home is invaded by members of a cartel during an extended family celebration, and only Lydia and Luca survive the violent massacre. A shell-shocked Lydia flees with Luca and sets off on a quest to cross the border to safety.

I listened to this as an audiobook and it held my attention in a way that most fiction audiobooks do not. From the horrific opening scenes to the obstacles Lydia and Luca constantly face through their journey, I was captivated by both the story and the narration.

American Dirt By Jeanine Cummins in a bookshelf

There were some unbelievable points and the ending wasn’t my favorite. However, I was drawn in by Lydia’s character and her dedication to protecting her son at all costs. 

I became aware of the controversy surrounding this book after I finished listening to it. Readers and reviewers have criticized the author for cultural appropriation and perpetuating negative stereotypes of Mexicans. As a white woman from the U.S. with limited personal experience with Mexican culture, I respect the opinions of those with lived experience in Mexico on the appropriateness of the material. 

Personally, I did not view this story as an authoritative source of information about Mexico or Mexican culture, or what life in the U.S. is like, especially for immigrants on the run. I viewed the book as I do other works of fiction and reacted to the quality of the storytelling, the thrilling pacing, and whether I could connect with the main characters. 

Ultimately, I thought the central theme of a mother on the run doing everything in her power to protect her son’s life made it a compelling read.

The Original Superheroes by Kayla Hicks

4 stars

A paperback copy of the book The Original Superheroes by Kayla Hicks.

The Original Superheroes is book 2 in the Backup Superheroes series. In this story, a prequel of sorts, we learn more about Frank, the barkeeper who played a supporting, yet important role in book 1. 

As the title suggests, The Original Superheroes tells us how and why the Backup Superhero league was formed. It delves into Frank’s past life as a police officer who becomes the Dark Vigilante and seeks justice against corruption in the department.

With 149 pages in the paperback copy, the novel is a short, fast-paced read that does a nice job setting up the newly-released third book in the series, The Backup Who Cried Wolf.

Although a little heavier in tone than the first book, The Original Superheroes kept my interest alive in the fun, quirky concept of a D-league of superheroes consisting of regular people armed only with nicknames and superhero costumes trying to make the world a better place.

I’m looking forward to finding out what happens to this cast of characters we’ve grown to love in the next book.

Books in The Original Superheroes series can be purchased through the author’s website, https://kayla-hicks.com/

My review of The Backup Superhero is linked here.

Awakening (Commune’s Curse Book 1) by Lucy McLaren

4 stars

The cover of Awakening by Lucy A. McLaren.

This well-written fantasy novel by Lucy McLaren centers on the story of Evelyn, a teen-aged orphan, and Raif and Rose, two young siblings who end up in her care.

One of the things that made this multi-point-of-view book so interesting is the central role that two children play in the story. It’s unusual for young characters to have such complex backstories, and deep relationships and to be portrayed with layered emotions. In most of the fantasy books I’ve read, the children are background characters who are mentioned briefly. It was refreshing to see them have a lead role. 

The pacing was a little slow in this book, especially toward the middle. What it lacked in action, it made up for in strong characters and appealing themes. I love books with strong female characters and sibling relationships, and this book has both. The strong-willed Evelyn was easy to connect with – I couldn’t help but root for her to overcome her inner battle with herself and gain more self-confidence. I also appreciated the found family theme and the bonds that develop between Evelyn, Raif, and Rose. The 14-year-old Raif’s fierce sense of responsibility and protectiveness over his 6-year-old sister made him an appealing character.

The book ends in a way that is both satisfying and leaves you wanting more, setting readers up perfectly for book 2 in the Commune’s Curse series.

Thank you to the author and the Santa Fe Writers Project for providing me with a free e-ARC of the book. The opinions expressed in the story are my own.

Awakening is available on Amazon and a variety of other outlets. Visit McLaren’s website for a full list of places to purchase the book.

Don’t You Know Who I am? by Ramani Durvasula

4 stars

The cover of Don't You Know Who I am" by Rumani Durvasula, Ph.D.

Unfortunately, all of us will encounter a narcissist at some point in our lives.

When it inevitably happens, this book about the proliferation of narcissism in America and how it negatively impacts society and individuals can help you understand how to cope.

Durvasula is clearly an expert on the subject, and this book is full of great insights on how to deal with narcissists in your life. She reminds us that insecurity is at the core of narcissism, and as the subtitle promises, gives us tips on how to stay sane amidst the chaos these individuals create. 

“Stop handing over your kindness to a narcissist.”

Ramani S. Durvasula, Ph.D.

She does not sugarcoat what optimists and people who believe in fairness need to do to protect themselves from the toxicity of being around a narcissist. She reminds us throughout the book that life isn’t fair and that “there are no exceptions to narcissism — everyone gets hurt.”

I listened to this as an audiobook, and while I got a lot from it, I’d recommend reading this one in hardcopy if you are able. The citations were a little tedious in audiobook form, and it was hard to skip to the chapters that relate directly to the reason you sought out the book.

Despite my challenges with the format, it was one of the better books I’ve read on the subject of narcissism. Years after reading the book I still find myself referring to its helpful reminders such as “stop handing over your kindness to a narcissist.”

Dreamtaker by L. Krauch

5 stars

The cover of Dreamtaker by L. Krauch

Darker than its predecessor, Dreamtaker features many of the same characters as the original 13th Zodiac story. However, the sequel adds a few new players, most notably the evil Damien who takes the story in a new, more sinister direction. 

Dreamtaker is a riveting read that boomerangs you through a wide range of terrifying emotions for your favorite characters, particularly for the King and Queen of Chall.

Although Jase and Liya are prominent in this story, other familiar characters have their stories fleshed out a bit. The author’s trademark vivid descriptions of the action scenes and running jokes (apples, anyone?) are also present in the sequel. 

While I wouldn’t have thought it possible, I am even more excited for the next installment of the 13th Zodiac series than I was for Dreamtaker. As readers, we are set up for so many different possibilities, that I can’t wait to see what direction we are catapulted into next.

My review is based on an e-ARC provided to me by the author. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Dreamtaker releases on May 13, 2022, and can be purchased through Amazon.

My review of The 13th Zodiac: https://bookpicksandpics.com/2022/01/08/the-13th-zodiac-by-l-krauch/

Waiting for Saturday by Catherine Morrison

5 stars

Waiting for Saturday by Catherine Morrison

I picked up a digital copy of this book because I was intrigued by the title – in some ways, aren’t we all “Waiting for Saturday” to come around? 

Based on the crushed red lollipop on the cover, I was expecting this book to be either a lighthearted YA romance or a sinister thriller about a young villain. Instead, I found an unexpected gem of a story about a young woman slowly opening her eyes to the mistreatment she suffers and regaining trust in herself. 

On the surface, Abi seems to have it all – a beautiful 4-year-old daughter, a gorgeous house in an upscale neighborhood, and a husband who provides for her every need. One Saturday morning, she meets Henry and his son at the play center. A friendship develops that gives Abi a new perspective on what’s really happening in her life. 

I devoured this fast flowing 150 page story in one weekend morning, cheering for Abi with each page. Not everyone will be satisfied with how this books ends, but I appreciated some of the warnings and the hope Abi’s story offers.

After reading Waiting for Saturday, I definitely plan to check out more of Morrison’s work.