Archive for January 2023

What Lies in the Woods by Kate Alice Marshall


As a young child, Naomi Shaw found magic in the woods. The otherworldliness of the surroundings and the infectious spirit of the place completely engrossed her imagination. What began as the germ of an idea soon became something more tangible. Naomi recruited her best friends, Cassidy and Olivia, to join her in the woods. The trifecta practiced their Goddess Game, conjuring their own version of magic. The treetops transforming into a grand cathedral ceiling became the home of their spiritual ceremony. The summer of wonder was soon interrupted by a brutal attack. A man invaded their place in the woods. Naomi was stabbed 17 times but lived to identify her attacker. The man was charged with her attempted murder and the killings of 6 other young women. The girls were heroes. 

Years later, Naomi is still haunted by the trauma of that fateful summer in the woods. The scars on her face are a physical reminder of the tragedy she endured. The real trauma, however, isn't something that can be seen. It's the guilt that she's harbored ever since she identified the man who attacked her. The attacker's death in his jail cell reopens old wounds, forcing Naomi and the other girls to grapple with what they did. You see, they lied about seeing him attack on that fateful night. Now they'll have to reckon with the truth of what really happened deep within the woods. 

In What Lies in the Woods, Kate Alice Marshall conjures a tale of childhood innocence, generational trauma, and the complexities of the criminal justice system. Her publisher provided me with a copy of the book to listen to, and I was pleased to see that Karissa Vacker was narrating. Her reading of the work perfectly captured Marshall's atmospheric prose, allowing the characters and their chilling story to whisper off of the pages. Marshall employs a past/present perspective through shifting chapters that reveal bits of the truth in tantalizingly suspenseful bites. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that one of the characters in this book was named Ethan, the second book that I've read in a row to do so. I always get a kick out of that! Overall, the book unfolds at a deliberate pace, allowing the characters the room they need to come to terms with their chilling transgressions. I was completely thrilled by What Lies in the Woods. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2023, 5)

Please Report Your Bug Here by Josh Riedel


In the past three decades, the rise of the internet has connected people and information across the globe. Before that, there simply wasn't mass global interconnectivity. As the first employee at social media juggernaut Instagram, Josh Riedel had a front-row seat in the company's ascension from a humble start-up to a worldwide phenomenon. He witnessed the way that technology could impact people's lives in both positive and negative ways. Following his time in the tech industry, Riedel pursued his passion for creative writing, seeing many of his short stories featured in various publications. Now he's combined his insider knowledge of big tech with his love of inventive storytelling into his debut novel Please Report Your Bug Here. 

There's no denying that Silicon Valley is the place to be. Yes, living in San Fransico is expensive. Yes, Ethan Block has a crippling amount of student loans lingering over every financial decision he considers. But there's something intoxicating about starting an app from the ground up. At least, that's what Ethan told himself when he became the first employee to work for the buzzy dating app DateDate. His idealized enthusiasm for changing the world has given way to a sobering reality that sees him crammed into a cubicle as he manually reviews an ever-growing queue of flagged photos. To make matters worse, Ethan has just ended a serious romance. So much for revolutionizing love. 

Reeling from the depression that comes from realizing one's insignificance within the corporate machine, Ethan decides to break one of DateDate's rules. He decides to override the system and find his own soulmate. At least, the one the algorithm says he most perfectly matches with. When he clicks on the profile, Ethan is transported from his dingy startup office to an infinite field of grass. When he thrust back to the office, Ethan is unsure of what just happened. Was this a mental break of some kind, or worse, a  severe bug in the code of DateDate? 

I have to admit, I'm a sucker for a book where the protagonist shares a name with me. Even before I read the full synopsis, I knew I had to read this book. Thankfully, my friends at Henry Holt and Macmillan Audio both shared copies of Please Report Your Bug Here with me. In the book, Riedel vividly illustrates the realities of working for a startup while painting a more romanticized portrait of Silicon Valley. As someone who is emotionally invested in the company but still just an employee, the main character Ethan helps to bridge the gap between the lofty aspirations and harsher truths of technology. Riedel balances this realism with fantastic trips through the multiverse, showcasing a vision of possibility to the most thrilling effect. As I read, I was reminded of the works of Blake Crouch. Like those sci-fi thrillers, Please Report Your Bug Here manages to be both an entertaining page-turner and a book that allows readers to think about the larger implications of our reliance upon technology. It is a tricky balance to strike, but Reidel does so with ease. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2023, 4)

All The Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham


On the heels of her bestselling debut thriller A Flicker in the Dark, author Stacy Willingham is back with another twisty novel that proves her first release was no fluke. I've been eager to read more from Willingham since I devoured her previous book last year. Luckily, I received an e-copy and audiobook of her newest effort All The Dangerous Things as a gift from her publisher. This work sees her continue to explore themes of generational trauma, family secrets, and grief, but this sophomore novel isn't merely a retread of what she's already written. Instead, All The Dangerous Things sees Willingham level up in almost every way, writing a book that is a multilayered feast of suspense and intrigue. 

A child shouldn't have to be in charge of another child, but young Isabelle has been left with no choice. It isn't as if her parents are present enough to take care of her younger sister Margaret. Little Izzy tries to shield her sister from their parent's arguments. Their father is rarely home, and their mother can barely care for her own mental health, let alone that of two small children. No, Izzy has taken the burden of watching over her sister. But Margaret is scared. Izzy has been waking up to mud-stained clothes, water on the carpet, and no recollection of what the night entailed. Margaret trusts Izzy more than anyone in the world, but Izzy's sleepwalking is about to lead to unimaginable tragedy.

In the present day, Izzy is exhausted. She hasn't slept in a year. How could she? It's been a year since her toddler son was abducted from his bedroom. A year of obsessively following every possible lead. A year in which her fractured marriage has crumbled to pieces. At her wit's end, Izzy has resorted to speaking at true-crime conventions, taking any possible action to keep her son's case from going cold. On the flight back from her latest speaking engagement, she encounters a podcaster who offers his expertise in investigating her son's disappearance. As the pair delve into her past, Izzy fears that long-buried secrets may soon come to light. Worse, they may have more to do with her present heartache than she's ready to admit. 

With All The Dangerous Things, Stacy Willingham cements her status as an author of atmospheric suspense. The mystery here is as good as any that I've ever read. Willingham shifts between the past and present in each chapter, deepening our understanding of her protagonist while methodically accelerating the tension. Nestled amongst the thriller are broader contemplations on relationships, parenthood, and trauma. Everything leads up to a twisted revelation that completely blindsided me. I alternated between reading the ebook and listening to Karissa Vacker's brilliant audio narration. Whichever way you choose to read this one, rest assured that you're in for a treat. All The Dangerous Things is another top-tier read from an author who is fast becoming one of my new favorites. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2023, 3)

Frozen Detective by Amanda Flower


Is anyone else still in a post-holiday daze? Despite my best efforts this week, all I want to do is curl up on the couch with a good book and a few too many snacks. Alas, the real world has other plans in mind. I still have to work, and I have plenty of chores to complete around the house. The only positive about having to complete the tasks that I may or may not have ignored throughout the last couple of weeks is that they give me an excuse to listen to an audiobook as I work. As I begrudgingly took down the Christmas decorations and tidied up my home, I listened to Frozen Detective, the second cozy mystery to feature Amanda Flower's private investigators Piper and Porter. 

On the heels of their last case, Darby Piper and her investigative partner Tate Porter are in search of their next gig. It comes in the form of Tate's former classmate Cece. She is married to a much older dermatologist husband. The couple runs a lucrative skin care company and is preparing to host a group of their associates at Cece's family ski lodge. With new deals set to be announced, the event needs to go off without a hitch. There's only one problem. Cece's husband is receiving threatening letters. She invites Piper and Porter to attend the event, undercover as a couple. As the weekend begins, the threats are realized and Cece's husband is murdered. A snowstorm leaves the attendees stuck in the villa, with everyone there a potential suspect. 

Cozy mysteries typically provide a quick pace, quirky characters, a bit of humor, and a fun mystery to latch onto. All of those elements are present in Frozen Detective. I accepted an audio copy from Flower's publisher and was happy to dive into the series with this second installment. Although I didn't read the first book, I never felt lost in this one. Flower fills in the blanks about the previous book just enough to keep first-time readers abreast of the most important character beats. The story plays out as a clever closed-room mystery. Laura Faye Smith's narration perfectly captured the easy-going tone of the writing. Before I knew it, I'd finished listening to the book and was thoroughly entertained. Even though the ending of this one was apparent long before the conclusion, I enjoyed the characters enough to get a kick out of it. Flower teases the next case at the very end of this book. I can't wait to give that one a listen too. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2023, 2)

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins


Happy New Year! It is crazy to think that A Book A Week began way back in 2012, but I'm so excited to continue my goal of reading a new book every week and sharing my reviews with you. Over the years, my reading tastes have grown and evolved to encompass various genres and authors. My soft spot, though, will always be with mysteries and thrillers. I began last year by reading Rachel Hawkin's popcorn thriller, Reckless Girls. This year, I was pleased to once again accept a copy of her latest book/audiobook from her publisher. The Villa sees Hawkins apply her signature style to a multigenerational thriller, which is a fantastic way to kick off this new year of reading. 

The year is 1974. The place is the gorgeous Villa Rosato, Italy. Rock superstar Noel Gordon has rented the estate as an artists' retreat. He hopes that his time in the home will yield his next bestselling album. Noel has invited songwriting hopeful Pierce Sheldon to join him, and Pierce brings his mistress, the young Mari, and her sister Lara. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll ensue, but not in the way you might expect. By the end of the summer, Mari will write one of the most influential horror novels of all time, and Lara will record a bestselling album. The art that flows from that time is notable in its own right, but this is not what the Villa is best known for. You see, that summer also ends up with Pierce being brutally murdered in a killing that will forever stain the reputation of the Italian chateau. 

In the present day, the villa, now renamed Villa Aestes, is playing host to a new generation of creatives. Emily and Chess were inseparable childhood friends who both ended up with varying degrees of success as authors. Chess is a bestselling self-help guru, who has taken the world by storm. Emily has had more moderate achievements as the author of a series of cozy mysteries that are largely inspired by her own personal life. Both friends have drifted from each other over the years, focussing on their own lives and careers. This girl's trip to Italy serves as a chance to reconnect while also putting in the hours needed to stave off both authors' impending deadlines. Emily's curiosity about the place they are staying leads her to discover new aspects of the famed murders that occurred there decades ago. Secrets about the past, both of this place and of their friendship, come to light, causing tensions to mount between the two best friends. Before the summer's end, the villa may just claim another victim. 

The Villa marks Hawkins's third foray into thrillers and is her most unique and intriguing novel to date. She takes inspiration from Fleetwood Mac, the Manson murders, and the creation of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, combining these seemingly eclectic elements into a story that brims with tightly wound suspense. This is much different from the popcorn reads she has previously presented. While there are still plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, The Villa spends more time building atmospheric chills by alternating past and present perspectives. I simultaneously read and listened to this book, sucked into the spell that it cast upon me. Just when I thought I had everything figured out, Hawkins threw in one more twist that I genuinely didn't see coming. The Villa is another solid page-turner from an author who is becoming one of my go-to writers for this genre. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2023, 1)

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