Sawyer Taft grew up on the wrong side of the tracks with a mom who was unreliable at best and the knowledge that her mother’s family kicked her mom out of the house when she got pregnant in the middle of her debutante season. Now 18-year-old Sawyer is an auto mechanic who’d love to go to college but sees no way to get there.
Until her autocratic grandmother shows up, offering her half a million dollars if she’ll move into the family house and participate in the current debutante season. That’s a whole lot of money to put up with a prim-and-proper crowd with certain expectations and a penchant for the phrase “Bless your heart,” but Sawyer thinks she might be able to solve the mystery of who her father is, so she agrees.
And finds herself in a world of glittering dresses, unending rules, and people with more secrets than she ever imagined. Not to mention the devious minds to keep those secrets and manipulate Sawyer and her new friends. And one of the best-kept secrets is just who Sawyer’s father is—and why he doesn’t want anyone to know.
I read a few of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ books years ago and enjoyed them, but kind of forgot about her until I saw this one. I’m so glad I picked this up! The glittering world of the debs is far beyond my experience, but it came to life on the pages of Little White Lies. Sawyer is a great character: she does not fit in with this society and she unsettles everyone around her, but she is intent on doing what’s right—and she’s smart. This is an attention-grabbing read, and it was nice that it wasn’t filled with romance like a lot of YA series-openers are.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes was a Fulbright Scholar at Yale, and also holds a Ph.D. from Yale. Her newest novel is Little White Lies.
(Galley provided by Disney Book Group/Freeform in exchange for an honest review.)
Owen Foster is in the middle of a prank war with his best friend Jack when his mom shows up at his fancy New Orleans boarding school. Owen knows it can’t be good news, and it’s not—his dad has disappeared with millions of dollars from the family business that supports most of their small town.
Owen and his mom are the most hated people in town. Most people think they knew what his dad was up to, or at least where he is now, and the threats soon turn to violence. To escape all the anger, Owen finds himself working for Gus on a practically-abandoned pecan farm outside of town.
Owen doesn’t want to believe his father stole the money, but all the evidence points towards him. Soon Owen realizes that someone must have helped his dad, and he’s determined to unravel the mystery and keep his mother safe.
The Lying Woods is told in alternate viewpoints between Owen now, and his father in the past, the year he first came to work for Gus. I’m not generally a fan of male POV characters in YA, but I loved this one. Owen is complex: everything he thinks he knows gets upended in this book, and he has to figure out the new world he inhabits now. He’s hurting from his dad’s betrayal, worried about his mom, and missing his friends, but he learns to see things from other people’s point-of-view as he struggles to right the wrongs he encounters. Definitely read this! I realized after reading this that I’d also read Elston’s The Rules for Disappearing, and it was a great read as well, so she just moved to my must-read list.
Ashley Elston lives and writes in Louisiana. The Lying Woods is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)
The last time Jessie Sloan slept was while her mother was dying. Now, in the wake of years spent caring for her mom, she tries to get her life back together. When the college admissions office tells her her social security number belongs to a dead girl, she’s sure it’s a mix up, but a bit of research finds her name belongs to the girl as well.
As her insomnia stretches into days, she’s desperate to find out the truth hidden in what her mom left behind, but the lack of sleep is causing confusion and hallucinations. At least, she thinks they’re hallucinations.
And twenty years earlier, Jessie’s mom’s obsession with having a baby causes her to make a decision she never imagined she’d make.
There’s a lot of talk online about that ending, and, I have to admit, I didn’t see it coming. However, it made perfect sense for the story—and I actually liked it. Sort of. I loved Jessie, and I cannot imagine what she was going through, but I found Eden a bit obsessive and unlikable. An interesting read, for sure.
Mary Kubica is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. When the Lights Go Out is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Harlequin/Park Row in exchange for an honest review.)
The Montrose family left Boston to escape the rumors claiming a family scandal. Now ensconced in their new country home, Willow Hall, middle daughter Lydia wants nothing more than peace and quiet, to take care of her younger sister Emeline, and no more family scandals.
At first, things at Willow Hall are peaceful. Emeline cares only about looking for mermaids in the pond, and Catherine can’t seem to make up her mind if she’ll pursue their father’s new partner, John, or his best friend. Reading sounds much better to Lydia, at least at first.
But soon Lydia hears a woman wailing in the night and sees a pale boy in the gardens. The oppressive air around Willow Hall closes in around the family, and darkness hovers, along with memories from Lydia’s childhood. Lydia will have to discover the truth about Willow Hall—and herself—to grasp peace.
This novel is almost Gothic, almost a romance, and all spellbinding. Lydia was a wonderful character. I loved her from the beginning. She cares so much about her family—even the horrible ones—and does her best to save them from themselves. She’s dutiful, but she’s not blind to the faults around her. I’d actually love to read more about her. The Gothic feel of this novel is well-done, without being overpowering or too creepy. Catherine was such an inconsistent character. Sometimes, I almost liked her. The rest of the time, not at all. A very enjoyable book that I read straight through!
Hester Fox is an artist and author. The Witch of Willow Hall is her first novel.
(Galley provided by Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)
When he wakes up in the forest, he has no idea where he is, how he got there, or what he’s doing there. He doesn’t even know who he is. Minutes later, he sees a woman murdered, and her killer hands him a compass and a cryptic direction. How desperate do you have to be to listen to a murderer? About that desperate. But soon he has a name: Aiden Bishop.
The Hardcastles are hosting a house party to mark the anniversary of their son’s death. All the guests are there, but no one has seen the hosts, only their remaining son and daughter. Aiden discovers that nothing is as it seems—and no one.
When he wakes up the second day in the body of a different guest, he realizes he must re-live the same day over and over until he solves the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle, who kills herself at the ball that night. He doesn’t know what’s going on. He doesn’t know who to trust. He only knows that someone is trying to stop him from solving the crime—and that person will kill all his bodies to stop him.
This book has one of the most unique premises I’ve ever read. The opening chapter has Aiden with no idea what is going on—and I felt like that the rest of the book. The writing is solid, and the author does a great job of contrasting Aiden’s personality with his host’s. I was intrigued from the very beginning, and I never did figure out what was going on!
Stuart Turton lives in London with his wife. The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is his debut novel.
(Galley provided by Sourcebooks Landmark in exchange for an honest review.)
Carl Louis Feldman was once a famous photographer who took eerie pictures. Then he was charged with the murder of a young woman, acquitted, and disappeared from the public eye. Now he’s in a halfway house for those with dementia and he doesn’t remember killing anyone. Or so he claims.
But his daughter is visiting him, and she doesn’t believe him. She’s planning to take him on a trip to see if she can jog his memory. Except she’s not really his daughter.
She’s spent years getting ready for this day. Years looking for clues to her sister Rachel’s disappearance, even after the cops gave up. Years of painstaking research finding Carl and tracking him down. Years of training to see to it that he doesn’t come back from their little trip. Is Carl telling the truth, or are they both lying? The middle of the Texas wilderness is no place to be with a serial killer.
You know that little thrill you get when you read a book and it’s set someplace you’re familiar with? I got that on the first page of this book, with the mention of the cemetery in Weatherford, Texas and Mary Martin’s grave. I grew up in Weatherford, after all, so I was hooked from that sentence.
But I stayed hooked throughout the book by the twists and turns the story kept taking, and my curiosity to find out what was going to happen. This is an accurate look at dementia—and the way some dementia patients are sometimes self-aware enough to pretend they don’t remember things (I saw my grandmother do that). It’s an unsettling, creepy read, but the characters are intriguing. And how can you beat Texas as a setting? (You can’t.) Those pictures of the little twin girls were also creepy enough for me to keep reading.
Julia Heaberlin grew up in Texas before becoming a journalist, then an international bestselling author. Paper Ghosts is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Random House/Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.)
When someone leaves a box containing a skull—and two mirrors, one shattered and one complete—at Eve Duncan’s home, she knows she has a work to do. As a forensic sculptor, it’s her job to reconstruct the faces of the dead and bring closure. But this time, it’s personal.
With a killer watching every move as Eve tries to reconstruct the skull, the face of a beautiful woman emerges beneath her hands. A face with ties to Eve and her family. With everyone she loves in danger, Eve must find out who the killer is and stop him—before the unthinkable happens again.
What is there to say about an Eve Duncan book? I’ve read this series for years, and every single one is a solid read, full of mystery, intrigue, and danger. Confession: I’ve not read any of the Eve books since the 2013 series—no idea why not, just got busy, I suppose, so there were some surprises here for me. (Eve and Joe have a son? I have no memory of this…)
I enjoyed Shattered Mirror as I enjoyed Johansen’s other books and found it both compelling and unique. Considering how many books have been written in this series, that in itself is a fantastic accomplishment for the author.
Iris Johansen is a NYT Times best-selling author. Shattered Mirror is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)
Title: Then She Was Gone Author: Lisa Jewell Genre: Thriller, mystery Rating: 3.5/5
Ten years ago, Laurel Mack’s teenage daughter, Ellie, disappeared without a trace. The police say she ran away, but Laurel wasn’t so sure. After her daughter disappeared, her marriage fell apart, and Laurel still struggles with her incomplete life.
Then she meets Floyd, a charming author, at a café, and finds herself involved in an intense relationship. Soon she’s meeting Floyd’s youngest daughter, Poppy, who looks exactly like Ellie.
Now Laurel wonders if there’s a darker motive behind Ellie’s disappearance, and she’s desperate to find out the truth as she seeks to untangle the strange relationship between Floyd and Poppy.
I had a hard time putting this book down, but the characters were all a bit strange and distant to me. The mystery surrounding Ellie’s disappearance was compelling, but there were several layers of creepiness connected to Laurel and Floyd, and even the decidedly odd Poppy. Basically, while I was intrigued, I didn’t find any of the characters likable, and their motivations weren’t entirely believable to me.
Lisa Jewell was born and raised in London. Her newest novel is Then She Was Gone.
(Galley provided by Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.)
Title: Whispers of the Dead Author: Spencer Kope Genre: Thriller, murder mystery Rating: 4.5/5
Magnus “Steps” Craig and his partner, Jimmy, are part of a special FBI tracking unit, called in to solve the tough cases. Only three people know, but Steps can see “shine,” a unique color trail left where a person has touched. This ability makes Steps very good at tracking and finding killers.
But this case is different. The killer is more cold-blooded than any Steps and Jimmy have ever seen. The only part of the victims found are their feet, left in a portable cooler for the next target to find.
The first body found was left in the home of a federal judge in El Paso, but when another body is found in Baton Rouge, Steps realizes the killer has big plans, and the FBI has almost no clues. It will take every scrap of ability Steps and Jimmy have to unearth clues before the Icebox Killer strikes again.
I didn’t realize this was part of a series until I finished reading it, but I had no trouble getting up to speed. The characters make this novel! Steps’ ability is unique and interesting, but he’s a complex guy with a lot of layers, and his deadpan humor and snarkiness were a joy to read. The relationship between him and Jimmy, and the rest of the team, was well-developed and believable, and I found myself glued to the page, watching the characters interact. This is not your boring, predictable police-procedural/forensic mystery, but a detailed story about fascinating characters with great relationships.
Spencer Kope is a former Russian linguist with the Navy. Whispers of the Dead is his new novel, the second in the Special Tracking Unit series.
(Galley provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)
Title: The Coincidence Makers Author: Yoav Blum Genre: A mix of several: mystery, romance, literary fiction-ish. Rating: 3.5/5
We’ve all had something happen “by coincidence,” like running into your childhood best friend on the side of the street when you have a flat tire. Or meeting someone new in a coffee shop after you knock your drink off the table onto their shoes. But what if those things don’t just happen by chance?
Guy, Emily, and Eric are Coincidence Makers: they work for a secret organization, creating the coincidences they are assigned through complex manipulations and machinations. Sometimes, they create a love match. Sometimes, they just give someone the push they need to live their dreams.
Guy used to be an Imaginary Friend, and he fell in love with another Imaginary Friend. He’s never forgotten her, and thoughts of her haunt every day, so he tries his best to ignore Emily’s overtures. But when Guy is assigned a coincidence that’s higher than anything he’s done before, he realizes even his hidden world has deeper secrets.
I liked this book. The concept is unique and fascinating—even if the “science” is sometimes a bit over my head. Guy, Emily, and Eric are characters I liked, and they would be fun to hang out with. The book is dreamy, and reading it felt like floating…or I probably would have enjoyed it more (not the right type of book for my mindset at the time), but it was a good, creative read.