The Heathback Break by J.E. Clarkson

This installment in the Nemo & Co. series takes us to a prison, where The Cleaner has been captured. The Cleaner undergoes her most significant transformation to date through the course of this story.

We also learn more about her family and, through a letter from someone she believes she can trust, she is challenged to complete an impossible quest.

The Heathback Break by J.E. Clarkson

When reading this series, I always feel like I am racing through a maze. I know there’s going to be something unexpected around each bend and I can hardly wait to get there. The characters feel like they are part of a video game, fighting their way through a rapidly morphing world.

J.E. Clarkson has demonstrated once again why her books are an automatic buy for me. Whether it is this series or her detective series, her creativity and writing style keep me engaged. Anytime I’ve doubted whether Clarkson can keep The Nemo and Co. Series interesting, I have been proven absolutely wrong.

I wonder what she will think of next!

For more reviews of Clarkson’s books, check out the J.E. Clarkson category of this blog.

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.

Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab

4 stars

The cover of Set Boundaries, Find Peace displayed on an e-reader.
Set Boundaries, Find Peace offers practical advice to help readers learn to set healthy boundaries.

I discovered Nedra Glover Tawwab, a licensed counselor, through Instagram, and was inspired by the helpful advice she offered on setting boundaries on her feed. 

As helpful as her posts are, I felt like I needed more depth than the collection of quotes and lists on her feed provided to truly apply her advice to my life. 

Her book “Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself” introduced me to the definitions, practical advice, and examples I needed to be able to set healthier boundaries in my personal and professional life. 

She makes a strong case that boundaries are critical to healthy relationships and to personal peace. Her assertion that boundaries are the root of self-care was a powerful insight for me. 

Tawwab also offers practical tips, exercises, and quizzes that empower readers to assess whether they have porous, rigid, or healthy boundaries and feel more assured in setting healthy ones.

I appreciated that the book discussed a variety of settings (social media, work, friendships, dealing with toxic people) where boundaries can be applied, although it was a little repetitive at times. And, like most expert advice books, some parts resonated with me and my circumstances, and parts weren’t really relevant at all.

Recovering people-pleasers or individuals who frequently feel overwhelmed and resentful but aren’t sure why will find this book helpful. This guidebook will be most useful to those who need a foundational understanding of what boundaries are, but even expert-level boundary-setters stand to pick up a tip or two.

The Backup Superhero by Kayla Hicks

4 stars

I absolutely loved the concept of this novella. In a genre where everything has been done before, the idea of having tiers of superheroes seemed original and intriguing. 

The Backup Superhero by Kayla Hicks displayed on an e-reader.
The cover of The Backup Superhero by Kayla Hicks

Tanser Girl, a D leaguer, is our heroine. After a bad day, she heads to the Hero’s Cave, a bar where the backup heroes hang out, to pick herself up. She meets up with Dwighter, a fellow level D superhero with a drinking problem, and Frank, the mysterious barkeep, both of whom are instrumental in the events that follow.

The spotlight-hating, funny, self-deprecating Tanser Girl is a likable character. With a Board of Superheroes and rules that apply to the different levels of superheroes, the story also gives us some background on the politics of saving lives. I thought these references added an interesting dimension to the book.

As much as I enjoyed the adventures of Tanser Girl, Frank, and Dwighter, the novella felt a little incomplete to me. It stops abruptly and seems more of a teaser to a fuller work than a stand-alone story. Lucky for us there’s more to the story in a second superhero book, The Original Superheroes.

The Backup Superhero and other works by Hicks can be found on her website: https://kayla-hicks.com/

Hicks has also written a young adult romance novel, Anywhere Else. My review of Anywhere Else is available here: https://bookpicksandpics.com/2021/09/04/anywhere-else-by-kayla-hicks/

Cousin Calls by Zeb Haradon

A barn sitting in a grassy field with a blue clouded sky overhead.

What a wild and weird book! Cousin Calls is a series of vignettes that all start with a call from a cousin. The stories are recalled sitting around in a bar when several patrons are stuck there during a winter storm. 

The exaggerated, satirical writing style is reminiscent of how a story that is retold repeatedly grows bigger and more unbelievable with each retelling.

Some of the stories were a little strange and sexually graphic for my taste, and some were more interesting than others.

At the same time, there was something bizarrely compelling about Cousin Calls. I kept thinking as I read that I will most likely never encounter another book like this one, so kudos to the author for originality.

As someone with tons of cousins I adore, this book might make me think twice next time I see a cousin show up on my caller id.

I received a free e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Cousin Calls and other books by Haradon can be found on the author’s website.

The 13th Zodiac by L. Krauch

4 out of 5 stars

In the 13th Zodiac, the titan Time makes a decision that sets the foundation for the rest of the story. And, what a story it is! 

This high fantasy book features some wonderful world-building and a diverse set of interesting characters. The main characters Jase Raion, the Crown Prince of Chall, and Liya Fairaway, the lost princess of Aria, have layered, interesting backstories and well-developed personalities. Krauch does a great job getting you invested in these two, as well as other important characters like Jemi, Liya’s sister, and her adoptive brothers Tokei and Jiroo.

In addition to the main characters, another thing I enjoyed about this book is that I could really picture the action scenes – and there’s a lot of action in this book. I can sometimes get bogged down reading, rather than watching, action scenes but that wasn’t the case in The 13th Zodiac. Krauch’s vivid descriptions made the conflict scenes easy to visualize.

Be prepared for the fact that this story features a large number of characters. If you’re like me, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep a lot of characters straight, but this story is written in a way that you can easily focus on the primary cast to keep from getting confused.

I’m looking forward to reading the next installment in the series. I also think this book would make a great movie – I’d love to see it on the big screen one day.

The book is available through Amazon in paperback, as an e-book, and Kindle Unlimited.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

3 stars

A hand holding up the book A Good Girl's Guide to Murder.

Everyone has been talking about this Holly Jackson series featuring a smart, driven young woman as the main character. I love books with strong women, so I decided to give it a try.

In this first book in this young adult (YA) mystery series, high school student Pip Fitz-Amobi decides to investigate a 5-year-old murder for her senior project.

As someone who thrived off Nancy Drew books as a kid, I was completely drawn in by the premise of a modern-day teenage sleuth. One of my favorite elements of this book is the way Pip’s research notes and interview transcripts are incorporated. I was worried at first that these would be distracting but found myself enjoying them even more than the traditional narrative parts of the book. 

The biggest drawbacks of this otherwise enjoyable book for me were the high-risk situations that Pip naively gets herself into and the big leaps that she makes in the last third of the book. The mom in me was in a constant state of concern and disbelief.

There were a few points where I just couldn’t buy that this seemingly sheltered teen was able to outsmart some pretty devious individuals in her first investigation. 

Even with these flaws, I am likely to read the next book in this series, where I hope to see more sides to Pip’s character. I am also interested to see what becomes of her partnership with Ravi.

Walking on Thin Ice by Robert Burns

An ipad mini displaying the cover of "Walking on Thin Ice" by Robert Burns. The device is laying on a black and white plaid blanket.

Walking on Thin Ice centers on Rachel Drucker, a rookie traffic reporter trying to get her big break by investigating the unsolved kidnapping and presumed murder of Julia Brown. The case is significant to Rachel because it was a case that her detective father was never able to solve and it plagued him up until his death.

The book opens with a scene from the day little Julia was kidnapped and I was immediately hooked. I wanted to know what happened to her. 

I connected with Rachel’s drive and passion. Her voice and personality were well developed. Burns writes the scenes between Rachel and her father in a way that the reader is able to feel her emotions. His deft use of pacing helps convey Rachel’s mental state at various points in the story.

I also appreciated the awake/asleep story structure used throughout most of the book. Using lucid dreaming to solve a cold case is a unique twist in a classic murder mystery/thriller story that I haven’t encountered before. It worked for me. We have all been in Rachel’s shoes, trying to decipher what is real after a particularly vivid dream. 

This mystery/thriller kept me guessing until the very end. This is a great debut book and I hope we will see more novels from Burns.

Walking on Thin Ice is available on Amazon in digital and paperback formats.

Note: I was a beta reader for an earlier draft of this book.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

3 stars

The book, Untamed by Glennon Doyle, lying on a leather couch with throw pillows.

I had such a love-hate relationship with this book, my book club’s November 2021 pick.

There were times when it drove me crazy, coming across as breathlessly self-centered and over-the-top. The countless references to “Let it burn” and “we can do hard things” were among the moments that just made me want to scream.

Other times, it was profound and poignant, sending me scrambling to capture a wise insight that I never want to forget. Her insight that “fine is another word for half-dead” was pretty spot on. I could also relate to the moment she “stopped being a quiet peacekeeper and started being a loud peacemaker.”

Ultimately, I think it’s worth a read. As almost every woman I’ve discussed this book with has said, there’s a takeaway in Untamed for everyone.

My takeaway: I hope to always carry Doyle’s insistent reminder to trust myself with me. I also appreciated her concept of family as the people who both hold and free you.

The Lamb by J.E. Clarkson

4 out of 5 stars

“She’d learned long ago that people only see what they want to see and they talk themselves out of being suspicious, even if they have a very good reason to be.”

The Lamb, J.E. Clarkson

Who can resist a good suspense story? I’ve been reading a lot of sci-fi novels lately and wanted a change of pace with a good mystery/thriller. J.E. Clarkson’s “The Lamb” fit the bill. 

The Lamb is the first installment in a  series featuring detective Kate Monroe. Fresh off a breakup with a jazz musician, Monroe has just moved back to her hometown of Barnsworth when a disappearance occurs. Monroe is compelled to investigate. 

While the story relies on a few staples of murder mysteries, such as cryptic anonymous letters, it has several twists. Readers are quickly taken from the disappearance of the sleazy town councillor and catapulted into a full-fledged serial killer drama.

I didn’t guess the identity of the killer, which I always appreciate in a murder mystery. I also learned a few new words, such as summat (British slang for something) and dodgems (British for bumper car). Learning something new is one of my favorite things about reading.

The unconventional, Russian-cigarette smoking Monroe was an interesting enough lead character that I’d read another book in a series headlined by her. With short, fast-moving chapters and just enough detail, I appreciated Clarkson’s oblique writing style.

I look forward to reading other books by this author.