Category Archives: Books I Received From The Publisher

Not Her Daughter

Finished Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Emma Grace Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes. Brown hair. Missing since June.

Emma Townsend is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Abandoned by her mother. Kidnapper.

Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal—and when a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her, far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure she wants her daughter back.

Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now she’s gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But her real mother is at home, waiting for her to return—and the longer the search for Emma continues, Amy is forced to question if she really wants her back.

Emotionally powerful and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother—and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.”

I love the premise of this novel: is it OK to kidnap a child if you know the child is being abused? It’s also explored in Gone Baby Gone, but this is handled differently. In this case, the reader always knows where Emma is. We know that she’s in good hands, and frankly, we aren’t upset that Sarah took her. Emma is always well cared for, and she’s definitely treated better.

The suspense in this story centers around the question of whether Sarah will get away with it. (Because, after all, how can you stay hidden in the modern age?)

This book is guaranteed to get people talking and examining the way we view everyone in this novel.

If you’re in a book club, I’d definitely pitch this one. There will be fantastic conversations.


See All the Stars

Finished See All the Stars by Kit Frick. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

It’s hard to find the truth beneath the lies you tell yourself.

THEN They were four—Bex, Jenni, Ellory, Ret. Electric, headstrong young women; Ellory’s whole solar system.

NOW Ellory is alone, her once inseparable group of friends torn apart by secrets, deception, and a shocking incident that changed their lives forever.

THEN Lazy summer days. A party. A beautiful boy. Ellory met Matthias and fell into the beginning of a spectacular, bright love.

NOW Ellory returns to Pine Brook to navigate senior year after a two-month suspension and summer away—no boyfriend, no friends. No going back. Tormented by some and sought out by others, troubled by a mysterious note-writer who won’t let Ellory forget, and consumed by guilt over her not entirely innocent role in everything and everyone she’s lost, Ellory finds that even in the present, the past is everywhere.

The path forward isn’t a straight line. And moving on will mean sorting the truth from the lies—the lies Ellory has been telling herself.”

This story is insanely compelling. We don’t know exactly what’s happened between the two timelines or how, over the course of a school year, Ellory went from having great friends and a boyfriend to being single and essentially shunned—not just by her former friends but by the school at large—but it was clearly pretty awful.

Kit Frick manages to keep that suspense going for the bulk of the novel, telling us everything we need to know so that when the reveal happens, it is both a surprise and completely obvious.

Try to not read any other reviews or synopses or even blurbs about this. Go in as fresh as you can. It’s a much better read that way.


The Kill Jar

Finished The Kill Jar by J. Reuben Appelman. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Enthralling. Gripping. Cinematic. Raw. A cold case murder investigation paced like a podcast, as visually stunning as a film, and as brave and personal as our darkest memoirs. J. Reuben Appelman cracks open one of America’s most notorious murder sprees while simultaneously banging the gavel on his own history with violence. A deftly-crafted true crime story with grit, set amid the decaying sprawl of Detroit and its outliers.

With a foreword by Catherine Broad, sister of victim Timothy King.

Four children were abducted and murdered outside of Detroit during the winters of 1976 and 1977, their bodies eventually dumped in snow banks around the city. J. Reuben Appelman was six years old at the time the murders began and had evaded an abduction attempt during that same period, fueling a lifelong obsession with what became known as the Oakland County Child Killings.

Autopsies showed the victims to have been fed while in captivity, reportedly held with care. And yet, with equal care, their bodies had allegedly been groomed post-mortem, scrubbed-free of evidence that might link to a killer. There were few credible leads, and equally few credible suspects. That’s what the cops had passed down to the press, and that’s what the city of Detroit, and J. Reuben Appelman, had come to believe.

When the abductions mysteriously stopped, a task force operating on one of the largest manhunt budgets in history shut down without an arrest. Although no more murders occurred, Detroit and its environs remained haunted. The killer had, presumably, not been caught.

Eerily overlaid upon the author’s own decades-old history with violence, The Kill Jar tells the gripping story of J. Reuben Appelman’s ten-year investigation into buried leads, apparent police cover-ups of evidence, con-men, child pornography rings, and high-level corruption saturating Detroit’s most notorious serial killer case.”

This is a hard book to review. It’s about the four murdered children, who may or may not be connected to a pedophile ring (I would say they almost definitely are connected) and about the author and his life. (I would say it’s about a 50-50 split between the child sex ring and the author.) So be aware going in that this book is even darker than you may have expected. (It’s certainly darker than I was expecting and I figured a book about four dead kids would be pretty grim.)

You should also know that this case has never been officially solved. (It also seems that even if we don’t know for certain who actually killed the kids, we do know who was involved.)

And finally, you should know that the police were corrupt. Maybe not all of them, maybe not even most of them, but some of them were. So if you feel that the police are always right, this is certainly no the book for you.

I wish we had had a little more about the children and the murders, but that’s primarily because the book focused so much on the child sex ring that even dead kids would have made for a lighter book.

I hope this case is eventually closed, but I don’t have real hope for that.

The Other Side of Lost

Finished The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Girl Online meets Wild in this emotionally charged story of girl who takes to the wilderness to rediscover herself and escape the superficial persona she created on social media.

Mari Turner’s life is perfect. That is, at least to her thousands of followers who have helped her become an internet starlet. But when she breaks down and posts a video confessing she’s been living a lie—that she isn’t the happy, in-love, inspirational online personality she’s been trying so hard to portray—it goes viral and she receives major backlash. To get away from it all, she makes an impulsive decision: to hike the entire John Muir trail. Mari and her late cousin, Bri, were supposed to do it together, to celebrate their shared eighteenth birthday. But that was before Mari got so wrapped up in her online world that she shut anyone out who questioned its worth—like Bri.

With Bri’s boots and trail diary, a heart full of regret, and a group of strangers that she meets along the way, Mari tries to navigate the difficult terrain of the hike. But the true challenge lies within, as she searches for the way back to the girl she fears may be too lost to find: herself.”

I’ve loved Jessi Kirby since I read her first novel, Moonglass. (Which I read when it first came out, thanks to Sarah Dessen’s recommendation.) I’ve loved every book she’s written but this one may be my new favorite.

Mari is completely relatable. She’s created the life she thinks she wants, but realizes (on her birthday) that it’s actually not what she wanted. And she sets off on this quest, doing something she and Bri were supposed to do together. It’s hard and more than kind of awful but she does it, one step at a time.

I’m drawn to stories about personal growth and especially ones where people do more than they think they can. This has both of those in spades. Mari also makes both seem really possible. (I’m tempted to try this too, but I know I would literally die. It’s a 211 mile hike!)

Highly recommended.


Finished Smothered by Autumn Chiklis. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A humorous debut crossover young adult novel about what happens when entering the “real world” means moving back in with your mother, inspired by actress and celebrity Autumn Chiklis’ real life.

Eloise “Lou” Hansen is graduating from Columbia University summa cum laude, and she’s ready to conquer the world. Just a few minor problems: she has no job, no prospects, and she’s moving back into her childhood bedroom. Lou is grimly determined to stick to a rigorous schedule to get a job and get out of her parents’ house. Shelly “Mama Shell” Hansen, on the other hand, is ecstatic, and just as determined to keep her at home. Who else will help her hide her latest binge-shopping purchases from her husband, go to SoulCycle with her, and hold her hand during Botox shots?

Smothered is a hilarious roman à clef told via journal entries, text messages, emails, bills, receipts, tweets, doctor’s prescriptions, job applications and rejections, parking tickets, and pug pictures, chronicling the year that Lou moves back home after college. Told from Lou’s point-of-view, Smothered tells the story of two young(ish) women, just trying to get it right, and learning that just because we all grow up doesn’t mean we necessarily have to grow old. (After all, what is Juvaderm for?)”

This book is fantastic. It’s laugh out loud funny (primarily due to Lou, but really, her whole family is perfection) and it’s insanely relatable.

This book is for everyone who struggled after college or who feels like everyone else has their life completely together and why didn’t we get that memo, too? (So, in short, for everyone.)

The biggest achievement, though, is the way that these characters transcend tropes. It would be so easy to make Lou or her mom laughingstocks. (Her mom, especially, is a larger than life character, but she doesn’t feel campy at all.) It’s impossible not to love these people.

I have hopes for companion novels from Lou’s sister Val and definitely from their mom. I am not ready to leave the Hansens behind. (Please don’t make me.)

Heretics Anonymous

Finished Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Michael is an atheist. So as he walks through the doors at St. Clare’s—a strict Catholic school—sporting a plaid tie, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow nonbeliever at that. Only this girl, Lucy, is not just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

But Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism. After an incident in theology class, Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies. When Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom, or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.”

I really enjoyed this. I mean obviously, yes, rebellious teens (or people in general) are my favorite, but every character here is three-dimensional. Yes, at first, we think we know who everyone is. There’s the sexist guy who’s awful to everyone less popular than he is; there’s the super obnoxious, really religious girl who’s basically Hilary Faye from Saved. But as we learn more about them, it becomes easy to identify and empathize with them. (Also, Connor is much better than we initially think. Theresa isn’t, but her life is so awful that it made me like her more anyway.)

This book is laugh out loud funny but there’s a lot more to it than that. People have hard home lives or feel like they don’t fit in. It’s something we can all relate to, and no one is a stereotype. Also, no one is portrayed as better or worse based on their religious beliefs (or lack thereof, in Michael’s case). He’s probably the biggest jerk about religion (with Theresa as a very close second) but he comes around. (He doesn’t become Christian but he stops treating people who are like they’re idiots.)

I absolutely love this book and can’t wait to see what Katie Henry does next.

Rust & Stardust

Finished Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Camden, NJ, 1948.

When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth’s, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says.

This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way.”

This is a fictionalized account of a true story, the story that inspired Lolita. (There’s also a nonfiction book out next month.)

This is a harrowing story but, at the same time, there are moments of hope and happiness. Sally keeps almost getting rescued, but circumstances keep her trapped with her kidnapper. (The neighbor who ultimately gets her rescued is a real person; several others are the author’s invention.)

I hate that “Lolita” is used the way it is. Lolita (and Sally) is a girl who was kidnapped and repeatedly raped. It’s not a sex-positive story. It’s not a love story. It’s a cautionary tale. This story in particular shows the effect that it had on Sally, as well as on her family, a teacher and friends. Lives were irrevocably damaged. (Again, not a love story.)

This book will affect you, so go in aware of that. But it’s also amazing. Recommended.

Texas Ranger

Finished Texas Ranger by James Patterson and Andrew Bourelle. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Across the ranchlands and cities of his home state, Rory Yates’s discipline and law-enforcement skills have carried him far-from local highway patrolman to the honorable rank of Texas Ranger. A tough case in Waco has jeopardized Yates’s chances at promotion, and he decides to take time off to recharge with his family in their small-town hometown, Redbud. He arrives and finds a horrifying crime scene-and a scathing accusation: He is named a suspect in the murder of his ex-wife, Anne, a devoted teacher whose only controversial act ever was deciding to end her marriage to a Ranger.

At Anne’s funeral, Yates moves the congregation to tears with a beloved hymn. Anne’s new husband, Calvin Richards, is there, and Yates has questions that no one else seems to be asking. The investigation is out of his jurisdiction-plus he is a chief suspect-but Rory’s drive to learn what happened isn’t about self-preservation. For himself, for Anne, his hunt for justice transcends all boundaries.

When the killer strikes again, Rory’s urgent search bursts across state borders onto the national scene. He risks his badge, his pride, his reputation among everyone he loves, and even the trust of the woman he’s recently begun seeing, to pursue the only thing that matters. Yates follows the Ranger creed-never to surrender-into the inferno of the most twisted and violent minds he’s ever encountered. That code just might bring him out alive.”

This is the first James Patterson I’ve read in a long time (I’m actually not sure of the last book of his I’ve read, but it’s been at least five years and maybe closer to ten).

Like all of his books, this one is near-nonstop action with a complicated hero. (Rory hasn’t gotten over his ex-wife and that’s even before she ends up dead.) The body count doesn’t stop with Anne, and there are plenty of red herrings.

It’s basically everything you’d expect from one of his books, so you already know if you will enjoy it or not.

I’d forgotten how fun his books are. I’m guessing there won’t be as long a hiatus before my next one.


Finished #murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“WELCOME TO THE NEAR FUTURE, where good and honest 8/18 citizens can enjoy watching the executions of society’s most infamous convicted felons, streaming live on The Postman app from the suburbanized prison island Alcatraz 2.0.

When eighteen-year-old Dee Guerrera wakes up in a haze, lying on the ground of a dimly lit warehouse, she realizes she’s about to be the next victim of the app. Knowing hardened criminals are getting a taste of their own medicine in this place is one thing, but Dee refuses to roll over and die for a heinous crime she didn’t commit. Can Dee and her newly formed posse, the Death Row Breakfast Club, prove she’s innocent before she ends up wrongfully murdered for the world to see? Or will The Postman’s cast of executioners kill them off one by one?”

Holy crap, this book. It is insane in all the best ways. It’s sort of Hunger Games meets the Running Man, and it is both incredibly entertaining and also completely unsettling. (My friend Meredith and I were reading it the same day and we had identical reactions to the same page [page 289 and “HOLY CRAP”]. I think it will be everyone’s reaction. More sensitive readers may literally throw the book across the room, but we are horror movie fans and we aren’t squeamish. But if we were? Page 289 would’ve killed us.)

Gretchen McNeil’s books are always fun but this one may be her best yet.

And there is a sequel, although we have to wait forever (next August) to see what happens. Either way, I am here for it.


Under a Dark Sky

Finished Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Only in the dark can she find the truth . . .

Since her husband died, Eden Wallace’s life has diminished down to a tiny pinprick, like a far-off star in the night sky. She doesn’t work, has given up on her love of photography, and is so plagued by night terrors that she can’t sleep without the lights on. Everyone, including her family, has grown weary of her grief. So when she finds paperwork in her husband’s effects indicating that he reserved a week at a dark sky park, she goes. She’s ready to shed her fear and return to the living, even if it means facing her paralyzing phobia of the dark.

But when she arrives at the park, the guest suite she thought was a private retreat is teeming with a group of twenty-somethings, all stuck in the orbit of their old college friendships. Horrified that her get-away has been taken over, Eden decides to head home the next day. But then a scream wakes the house in the middle of the night. One of the friends has been murdered. Now everyone—including Eden—is a suspect.

Everyone is keeping secrets, but only one is a murderer. As mishaps continue to befall the group, Eden must make sense of the chaos and lies to evade a ruthless killer—and she’ll have to do it before dark falls…”

This is such a fascinating story. Like Eden, we are dropped into this situation with no knowledge of who the friends are. There is a lot of backstory that we’re not privy to and, as a result, it’s impossible to know who we can trust (if anyone).

The situation is made even more complicated by the fact that, since her husband died, Eden’s developed a paralyzing fear of the dark. And I don’t just mean “sleeps with a light on.” I mean “Even when there is a literal murder and police order her to leave, she physically cannot bring herself to step out of the well-lit room she’s in.”

This is the second book I’ve read recently that mentions dark sky parks, and the idea is fascinating but not for me. I’m really only afraid of the dark in unfamiliar places and so the idea of being in essentially pitch black conditions is unnerving anyway, but especially when you factor in strangers, let alone “strangers and a body count.”

This book is amazing and really well done. It feels like Agatha Christie, almost, but not really suitable for all ages. Lori Rader-Day only gets better with each novel, and I can’t wait to see where the next one goes. (It may literally kill me.)

Highly recommended.