The eighties movie, The Breakfast Club, has always been one of my favorites – a collection of high school student stereotypes all stuck in detention together, discovering that they share more in common than they ever realized. Karen McManus must have been a fan. She does the movie proud but with an added contemporary murder mystery twist, and I loved it. McManus sets this series opener off with a bunch of kids thrown together in detention who end up witnessing the death of another student. They’re all from different cliques but are bonded together as accusations are cast upon each student, and rumors swirl in the surrounding community. Sketchy history comes to light giving each student from detention the motive to commit the murder. Or was it suicide? Or was it something else entirely? McManus keeps readers guessing up until the very end. Her character arcs all happen outside the detention room which is a big diversion from The Breakfast Club movie in addition to the murder mystery element, but the inspired portions are quintessential nostalgia for adult readers. Relatable, unpredictable, angsty thriller fun for teens and adults! The third book is set to come out in 2023.
A billionaire’s mansion. A cryptic will. Four alluring grandsons. A family inheritance denied. Secret passages. Is it all just a game left by a twisted, rich old man or is there something deeper to the mystery of why Avery Grambs was left a fortune from a man she’s never even met or heard of? Jennifer Lynn Barnes knows how to keep a reader glued to the pages. This is a breezy, fun delight. Barnes jumpstarts this young adult mystery trilogy with puzzles and twists right from the first few pages. Avery just wants to get out of high school and move on with her life. Billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and bequeaths his estate and entire fortune to her. To claim her inheritance, she must move into the sprawling Hawthorne House and stay there for a year. The house is filled with intrigue including the entire disinherited Hawthorne family, and most of them are not too thrilled with the interloper. Who is Avery and why did Tobias leave her everything, cutting the family out entirely? Together with the four handsome Hawthorne grandsons, Avery sets out to discover the truth about the mansion and the old man’s penchant for riddle and games. There’s a lot of lusty tension brewing in between a love triangle of sorts which just adds to the suspense of turning each page. I’m a huge puzzle nerd, so I love the juxtaposition of romance with a clue-based contemporary mystery. Inheritance Games is just plain fun.
Typically we like to pack in as much culture and sight-seeing as possible, but with this trip, we decided to maximize laziness to its full potential. We chose an adults-only all-inclusive resort with no intent on leaving the pool/beach except for eating and sleeping. We fulfilled our goals, drank a lot, ate a lot, and learned almost nothing about Mexico. It's what we needed this year.
The first issue we encountered was our transfer from Cancun International Airport to the Valentin. We were ushered outside and had to stand in the sweltering heat for over 45 minutes until our van arrived. The driver kept telling us it would be ten more minutes which eventually led to an eternity dripping with sweat. Our flight arrived about fifteen minutes early, so we expected to have to wait, but everyone was tired and hungry (total of three couples) with the heat pushing us over the edge. It wasn't a great start.
The hotel more than made up for it once we arrived. It's gorgeous: lush grounds, lizards everywhere, flowers blooming around every corner, and incredibly friendly staff. We stayed in the Deluxe Junior Sweet which is the base level accommodation and was fine for our needs. The property is expansive, and they have staff zipping golf carts along the paths willing to take you anywhere at any time.
The pools are exquisite. We spent very little time on the beach simply because there's so much to do at the pool: huge bars, lots of space to float around, a wild, party side, and a calmer, quieter side. They have various exercise classes happening in the main pool and events including a Michael Jackson impersonator, a mechanical bull, and many other hilarious and entertaining diversions. There's also a pool with a lazy river.
Bar service was great everywhere. The pool bars have all sorts of fun festive drinks and shots, and we tried tons of them. We especially loved the atmosphere at Don Miguel. One night, the piano player took requests, and the guy can literally play EVERY SONG. He plays just by hearing it in his headphones; it was incredible.
This bar also serves some interesting cocktails like this pictured cucumber martini. The wild ones include a flaming coffee drink that the servers pour from overhead as the flames shoot up the trail of the liquid. We also tried the cotton candy cocktails they serve with a puff of the fluffy stuff on top before dissolving it down to a perfectly sweet but not overpowering blend.
Although we did resolve to stay as lazy as possible, I did sneak away for one quick mini-excursion. Three of us did a quick two-hour snorkel led by the hotel's excursion company located near the main pool. We boarded a boat directly off the hotel beach, and they took us to a reef nearby. It was the perfect amount of time, affordable, and in beautiful, clear water. We saw sea stars, a giant conch shell, and colorful fish. It was well-worth it to break up the pool time.
Ultimately, we had a blast. The negatives weren't enough to take away from our fabulous time. I don't know that we'd stay here again, but we enjoyed it immensely and wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Valentin.
Mexican Gothic is reminiscent of an atmospheric Scooby Doo mystery set in Mexico but without the canine hijinks. The thing is...I like Scooby Doo. I really do, but it’s also corny and campy. This is how I feel about Mexican Gothic; I liked it but found the mystery reveal to be a little too absurd and not in line with the rhythm and feel of the first half of the book. Peel off the mask and jinkies, it’s Mr. Howell, the grounds caretaker!
Noemi is living life as a quintessential debutante in 1950s Mexico when her father receives a bizarre letter from her newly married cousin, Catalina, who is clearly unwell. Concerned, Noemi travels to an old, foreboding mansion called High Place to check on her welfare. High Place is cold, dreary, run-down, and staffed by strange people with even stranger rules. Catalina married into the Doyle family, a once powerful and wealthy empire in the mining industry. The family has a long, troubling reputation in their small, countryside village, and rumors swirl about murder and madness. Seduced by the lure of the old house and the puzzling darkness of the Doyle family, Noemi desperately tries to figure out why Catalina won’t or can’t leave only to find herself becoming more and more like a prisoner herself. The Doyle patriarchs are creepy and disturbing. Moreno-Garcia blends the spooky characterization and setting in a masterful writing style. I was hooked up until …
...the mold. The mold in the walls of the house takes on a life of its own, and at first this is pretty fascinating. The house is oozing with decay and a sinister, pulsing dampness that makes it seem alive. I was so excited to see where the author would go with this. Is the mold causing the family’s madness? Will it absorb Noemi and trap her there forever like the rest of this macabre family? Then things take a left turn, and I’m done. I can get on board with evil fungus, but Moreno-Garcia takes the story down a path that crosses into eleventy-billion themes including immortality, rotting old men, eugenics, gender roles, romance, and transmigration. Uncle Howard is decomposing along with High Place - disgusting and perfect for a Gothic horror, but not when it’s jumbled together with all of these other wild plot elements. Uncle Howard and Virgil dabble in theories of natural selection and eugenics – gripping but covered so briefly that it loses steam and feels like a sideshow to the main event. The big reveal at the end was so off the charts that it bordered on ludicrous thus the Scooby-Doo comparison. As much as I enjoy Noemi as one of those “darn meddling kids,” the ending was just too preposterous.
Read it, but prepare yourself to suspend belief on many levels. The characterization and imagery are flawless, and it’s a solid spooky read with some interesting commentary on humanity. “Scooby Doo taught us that the real monsters are humans...and if that isn’t deep, I don’t know what is.”
Oof. This book is absolutely crazy but not in a good way. It’s sheer nonsense; a psychological thriller that turns an about-face on itself so many times that it becomes a swirling dervish of nonsensical plot. What did I even just read? I will say that it started off exciting. I was immediately intrigued as the book picks up with a woman whose husband has two other wives. All of them are assumed white. She’s aware of the other women, and each one gets a day of the week to spend with Seth. Thursday is the wife telling the story. She agreed to the arrangement from the start and knows nothing about the other women, not even their names. This must be some kind of man. Sheesh. Eventually Thursday turns curious about the other wives after finding something in Seth’s pocket with a woman’s name on it. She tracks down one of the wives and befriends her without revealing her identity. Thursday discovers that this other wife who is also pregnant has bruises all over her arms, and she begins to question if Seth is really the man of her dreams. Now all of this sounds exciting right? Polygamy, sleuthing, abuse, jealous wife… all the makings of a good thriller. Not so fast reader! You start to realize early on that the narrator is unreliable. But as this is developed, you also start to realize that this book has every trope and the kitchen sink. It’s too much: unreliable narrator who also drinks a lot, a mental institution, domestic abuse, plot twists, blah, blah, blah. There are much better titles out there in the pysch thriller genre, but this reminds me of something you’d find in an airport that you’d only grab if there are no other choices and you’re a little desperate, cranky, and about to be late for your flight.
I like this book, but I’m dying for the cover. Finally, a cover highlighting the female protagonist to look as I imagine her; she’s straight-up dazzling. I enjoyed this YA read, but wasn’t blown away. Enchanted Jones is an aspiring singer, swimmer student athlete, and feeling like an outsider after her close family moves to the suburbs. She’s the only black girl in her school, and she’s trying to figure out exactly where she fits in. Cue Korey Fields, a famous adult R&B artist, who spots her at a talent audition and grooms her R. Kelly-style. Enchanted yearns to be a professional singer but is also at a tender age when teens are just trying to figure out who they are. She notices Korey’s controlling behavior but writes it off because he’s an adult, and she believes in him. Korey gaslights her and manipulates her family into trusting him. Tiffany D. Jackson does a good job showing the subtle ways that Enchanted’s abuser creeps into all parts of her life, taking advantage of her drive to be a singer and alienating her from her loved ones and friends. The book starts off with a shocking scene where Enchanted wakes up to blood everywhere and a body. The murder mystery element gets convoluted in the end and is ultimately where I lost interest in the book. I also found the plot was too carbon copy replica of the R. Kelly scandal. I wanted Enchanted’s story to be more of her own instead of what felt like a re-telling. With that said, it’s a book that will surely resonate with many young adults.
Whoa. Now this is a mystery and suspense thriller with a shut-the-front-door twist. A whole lot happened in this book, and it somehow worked. Often when authors try to cram 50 pounds of mystery/thriller into a 15 pound book, it bursts, but somehow, Lisa Jewell made this crazy plot completely plausible. Daughter, Ellie, goes missing at the age of 15. Mom, Laurel, gets divorced and fast-forward ten years when she meets new guy, Floyd. Floyd’s daughter Poppy is a bit odd but reminds Laurel of Ellie in multiple ways. Laurel is completely enamored with Floyd but she begins to sense something is off. Just when she thought she would be able to put her daughter’s memory to rest and move forward with her life, secrets about Ellie’s disappearance begin unraveling. Laurel’s tightly wound life spirals, and the answers about what happened to Ellie Mack are shocking. This was an easy read and not too cerebral which is great when you just want to be entertained. All characters are assumed white.
I've been reading intense books lately, and was happy to find this murder mystery to be a bit more breezy. I finished it in two days since Lucy Foley keeps the reader in suspense up until the absolute last chapter. Right away, I felt a real Agatha Christie vibe as Foley sets the scene for a dark, moody wedding on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. I love the haunting descriptions of the harsh landscape, mucky bogs, and the stories of dead bodies stuck under the mire. The setting is crucial to the overall atmosphere of this doomed wedding. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different person including the bride, groom, best man, wedding planner/venue owner, and some of the guests. All characters are white, except for one usher named Femi who is black. Each person begins to reveal their connection to the wedding and their motivations for being disgruntled toward one or more persons involved in the big day. This slow tease is what I enjoyed most; I had so many predictions for who would be murdered and why, and it fluctuated drastically with each new chapter. Many of the characters seem like perfectly horrid people, and Foley does a great job showcasing their flaws and even some redeeming qualities. If you like your murder mysteries to keep you guessing, you can't go wrong with this one.
Sorry I've been a little lazy about posting reviews lately ... I needed a break from constant laptop work during the quarantine. I read this book right at the start of summer, and what a way to kick off my favorite reading season. This one is incredible.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Perfect for summer, this delicate story weaves little savory bits of nature and beauty in with a slow, sad, coming-of-age element, intricately ushering readers through the investigation of the death of the handsome local bachelor, Chase Andrews. I've added this to my "New Loves" collection because the character development is so sweet and intelligent, but the possible murder mystery kept me glued to the book. Kya Clark, known as the Marsh Girl in Barkley Cove, North Carolina, is brought up in the marshlands of the coast in a poverty-stricken home filled with abuse and loneliness. Kya eventually outlasts everyone in her family, and her resilience keeps her company along with the seagulls and other parts of the marsh that wrap her in comfort. Two different men take an interest in her wild, untamed beauty, and she navigates her blossoming changes into adulthood with naivete and tenderness, opening up her heart to love and belonging only to have it drowned in the sea again and again. The locals treat Kya like an outcast and a creature to fear in the night. Their fears turn into accusations when Chase Andrews turns up dead. I love how Delia Owens wrote about the marsh and how Kya's story shapes her into a woman who becomes strong, intelligent, and an expert in her own surroundings. She takes her pain and suffering and makes something new and beautiful. The ENDING!! It made my head shriek but my heart sigh. It's just the absolute best book.
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It's been a while since a book has caused me to be so obsessed that I'm unable to complete basic life functions until I finish reading it. All I wanted to do is cuddle up with this book and read until I could figure out why Alicia stopped speaking. And then when the answer is revealed, I just want to talk to someone about it. Please read this book and talk to me about it. There's so much to say, and the irony of this is not lost on me. The hype for this book is real.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Guys - THIS BOOK!! This has been high on my reading list for a while but I just couldn't get a copy anywhere. Finally got one, and I read it in a day. It's a psychological thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat, and let's face it; right now in the time of COVID-19, there's a lot of couch time. Theo Faber is a psychotherapist who narrates the story of how he came to treat a patient named Alicia Berenson at the Grove, a mental health facility. Alicia is a talented painter, and after she shoots and kills her husband, she refuses to speak again for years. Theo makes it his mission to help her and get her to tell her story. The chapters are short and each leaves you dying to find out why Alicia won't talk. It's agonizing to not know her full story. She's mysterious, and Michaelides' writing makes you crave answers. Theo delves into her story and begins to become more of an investigator than therapist. The ending threw me for a loop and was not what I was expecting, yet it was so so good. Get this book and devour it.
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Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.