The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

The Writing Retreat is a tense and twisty psychological thriller set in a remote location.

Synopsis

Alex jumps at the opportunity to attend a month-long writing retreat hosted by lauded feminist horror novelist Roza Vallo. The only downside is that her former best friend, Wren, will also be there. The two parted on less than amicable terms a year ago.

When all five attendees arrive at their host’s gothic estate, Roza announces that this retreat will not be a relaxed, write-whenever-you-feel-like-it affair. Instead, they must compete to win a seven-figure publishing deal by writing a new novel. 

With the sense that this is her last opportunity to get published, Alex attempts to start writing right away. Only, between the creepy atmosphere in the house, Roza’s mercurial behaviour, and Wren’s intimidating presence, Alex finds herself struggling. And then weird and dangerous things start to occur.

Review of The Writing Retreat

This gripping thriller solely follows Alex’s pov. It has a dark gothic vibe and a bit of spice. The plot becomes fairly wild and almost nightmarish, but I enjoyed the drama of it. The characters frequently did things they knew were unwise, but it made it more entertaining.

My least favourite aspect was the story within the story. However, since the majority of the plot focused on the retreat, it wasn’t a huge drawback.

I also liked the insights into writing and the publishing industry.

I was excited to read this debut, and it did not disappoint in the least. If you enjoy dramatic, tension-filled thrillers, I think you’ll have fun with this one.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 21 February 2023

Thank you to Atria for providing me with an arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, check out my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

Wildblood by Lauren Blackwood

Wildblood by Lauren Blackwood is a YA Fantasy Romance set in the Jamaican jungle.

Synopsis

Exotic Lands Touring Company offers exclusive tours of the Jamaican jungle. They also kidnap children and force them to work for them.

Victoria, the most powerful Wildblood in the company, is one of these kidnapped children. Disappointed for not receiving the promotion promised to her, Victoria joins an ultra-risky jungle expedition with their new handsome and wealthy client Thorn. Thorn is a gold miner looking to reach some untapped gold deep in the jungle.

Victoria’s boss allows her to go on the condition that she makes her less-skilled ex-boyfriend look good on this trip.

Even though Victoria has strong ties to the jungle, it will be a dangerous expedition for everyone involved.

Review of Wildblood by Lauren Blackwood

I was really expecting to love this one. And at the beginning, it was promising. The magic system seemed intriguing, the setting was atmospheric, and Victoria seemed like an interesting character. It discussed some serious topics such as human trafficking, SA, racism, and colonialism.

But everything was overshadowed, in my opinion, by the insta-love romance. Thorn and Victoria went from calling each other by their names to “beloved” in the blink of an eye. And honestly, nearly all of the men in this book are red flags.

So although it had a good start, I wish it delved a little deeper into some of the themes, as well as the magic system.

I enjoyed the author’s debut Within These Wicked Walls, so it’s a bit disappointing to give this one a lower rating.

If you don’t mind insta-love and love triangles, this book may work well for you.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 07 February 2023

Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing an arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, check out my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

Beyond That, The Sea by Laura Spence-Ash

Beyond That, The Sea is by turns joyful and incredibly emotional. I enjoyed every single page.

Synopsis

In 1940, as German bombs descend on London, Beatrix’s parents Millie and Reginald Thompson, decide to send her to live with a family in America to keep her safe for the remainder of the war.

In America, Beatrix meets the Gregorys: Mr & Mrs. G and their two boys, William and Gerald. She quickly adjusts to this new and exciting life and soon feels like a member of the family. The war begins to feel like a distant memory.

But the war eventually ends, and Beatrix returns to London and feels the loss of her second family. Although Beatrix only lived with the Gregorys for a few years, those years had a lasting impact on the rest of her life.

Beyond That, The Sea

Review of Beyond That, The Sea

This beautifully written historical fiction has multiple perspectives. It takes the reader on a powerful journey. The chapters are quite short, making this a quick read.

It briefly touches on the civil rights movement.

It’s been a while since characters have touched me as deeply as these ones have. I finished reading this book several weeks ago and still find myself thinking about these heartwarming characters.

This novel is a reminder of why I love historical fiction and shouldn’t write off World War II books just yet.

If you enjoy character-driven fiction, I’d highly recommend picking this up.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 21 March 2023

Thank you to Celadon for sending me this beautifully wrapped arc.

For regular reading updates, check out my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

The Crane Husband is a brilliant and lyrical retelling of The Crane Wife.

Synopsis

An unnamed fifteen-year-old girl lives with her mother and younger brother on the remains of what used to be family farmland. Now, an intimidating conglomerate owns the farmlands that surround their crumbling property.

While her mother works on her art to pay the bills, our heroine takes care of her brother and household matters.

One day, the girl’s mother returns home wrapped in the arms of a human-sized crane. It’s not unusual for her mother to bring home new partners since her father’s passing, so the girl assumes their affair will be just as fleeting. However, she soon realizes her mother is completely infatuated with the crane, who exudes a menacing air. The girl watches as her mother makes herself small while creating a masterpiece of art at the crane’s behest.

Review of The Crane Husband

This short novel is both harrowing and beautifully written. I love magical realism, and this was no exception.

It discusses domestic violence quite a bit, so some readers may find it triggering. While it touches on dark subject matter, it is easy to become wholly enraptured reading this tale.

As the reader, you know what’s going on, but it’s oddly satisfying watching the main character fit all the pieces together and take her mother’s teachings to heart.

While I enjoyed The Girl Who Drank the Moon, I didn’t love it nearly as much as this one.

If you like dark folk/fairytale retellings, I’m almost positive you’ll enjoy this weird little gem as well.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 28 February 2023

Thank you to Tordotcom for providing me with an arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, check out my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones

It pains me to give Don’t Fear the Reaper such a low rating, as I had such high expectations after reading My Heart is a Chainsaw.

Synopsis

This sequel picks up back in Proofrock, Idaho, four years after the events of the first book. Jade returns to town at the same time as serial killer Dark Mills South escapes his prison transport in the midst of a blizzard. Before his arrest, Dark Mills South was seeking revenge for the hanging of 38 Dakota men in 1862.

For the next 36 hours, bodies turn up left and right with no reprieve.

Review of Don’t Fear the Reaper

As I said, I loved Chainsaw. It required a lot of concentration, but it was worth it in the end. This book took just as much effort, if not more, but the payoff was not worth it, in my opinion. Jade was the heart and soul of the first book, but this one felt weighed down by too many POVs.

I enjoy literary fiction and horror individually, so combined, you’d think this would be the best of both worlds. However, the storyline was a bit convoluted. And I was lost for a good chunk of it.

If, like me, you don’t remember many details of the first book, I’d recommend refreshing your memory before starting this one. Some of it gets rehashed, but I had to dig deep to remember everything that happened prior.

Although I didn’t love this book, I will definitely read more from this author. It’s already getting rave reviews all around, so you will likely have better luck with it than I did.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 07 February 2023

Thank you to the publisher for providing an arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, check out my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

Endpapers by Jennifer Savran Kelly

Endpapers by Jennifer Savran Kelly is a stunning genderqueer book that follows one woman as she grapples with her gender identity.

Synopsis

Dawn Levit, an aspiring artist, works as a book conservationist at the Met in NYC. She feels as though she is at a standstill both career-wise and in her relationship with her boyfriend, Lukas. She’s envious of her peers who have already begun their art careers. On top of that, Dawn struggles with finding a balance between her gender identity and expression. Lukas keeps her at a distance and seems to prefer her masculine side. While at work, the thought of dressing more masculine terrifies Dawn, not knowing what her coworkers would think.

With all these thoughts churning in her mind, one day, when repairing a book, Dawn discovers a torn-off book cover from the ‘50’s inserted into the endpapers. The cover depicts a woman looking into a mirror and seeing a man in the reflection with a handwritten love letter on the back.

Dawn becomes obsessed with finding the author of this letter and believes it will help her work through her problems.

Review of Endpapers by Jennifer Savran Kelly

This a character-driven story with wholly believable characters. Dawn and Jae will surely capture readers’ hearts.

Endpapers is set in 2003 and discusses the lingering effects of 9/11. It also examines the homophobia and violence rampant in the 50s and still felt decades later.

I knew I would love this book right from the first page. The writing style was immediately engaging. It is literary but with none of the disconnect that I sometimes feel when reading literary fiction. Parts of it are incredibly sad, but there is hope and light in there, too.

Learning a bit about bookbinding and repair was a nice addition as well.

If you enjoy character-driven novels with vibrant settings, I recommend giving this book a try, it will not disappoint.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 07 February 2023

Thank you to Algonquin Books for providing me with an arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, check out my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself

I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane (they/she) is an incisive portrayal of one family trying to survive the clutches of a government that resembles Big Brother.

Synopsis

Set in the near future, the government has found a new way to deal with crime. Instead of incarcerating people, the government dispenses extra shadows for each infraction of the law. It’s a very right-wing leaning government that offers scant civil rights to offenders, or as they’re known in this world: shadesters.

Kris and her newborn daughter, whom she calls the kid, both have a second shadow. Kris’s wife Beau died in childbirth, leaving Kris to grapple with the grief of losing her while finding joy in raising their daughter.

Review of I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself

There’s not much of a plot in this novel; it’s more character-driven. It follows this family and their close friends as the kid grows up and starts questioning the injustices of this world. The narrative voice is slightly unusual, in the second person, with Kris talking directly to Beau.

There are no distinct chapters, but there are frequent breaks in the text.

Even though this novel deals with darker themes, like loss, grief, and shame, it also balances the story with humour and joy. The writing style is both accessible and insightful. It’s deceptively simple yet packs a big punch.

Initially, I struggled with this book’s lack of a plot, but once I decided to read a few sections at a time, I appreciated it a lot more.

So, if you enjoy speculative fiction, I highly recommend giving this debut author a try.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 17 January 2023

Thank you to Catapult for providing an arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, check out my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

What Happened on Floor 34? by Caroline Corcoran

What Happened on Floor 34? starts off with a tension-filled bang.

Synopsis

Recently promoted to day editor, Rose works for London’s largest newspaper. She begins her shift shortly after the night editor finishes for the day. The two editors never cross paths, but they work closely together via email.

Suddenly, the night editor Will goes missing without a trace. Rose agrees to work nights until they replace Will. Rose becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened to the night editor.

Review of What Happened on Floor 34?

This thriller is compulsively readable and piles on twist after twist. Some of the twists were juicy, while others felt like they were there for shock value alone. Also, the author often hinted at some revelation but would not reveal it until many pages later, which was a minor annoyance.

Rose is an unreliable narrator that relies on booze and caffeine to get her through the days. It’s fairly obvious early on what caused her to take up drinking so much.

This was a serviceable thriller. It likely will not stick with me, but it did keep me wanting to find out how everything pieced together.

I would indeed read more from this author.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 19 January 2023

Thank you to Avon for providing an arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, check out my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Age of Vice, set in India, is a compelling crime thriller mixed with a family saga.

Synopsis

It begins with the police finding a young man named Ajay inebriated in a flashy Mercedes surrounded by a group of dead bodies. The police suspect he just rammed through the crowd sleeping on the pavement. At first glance, the police see Ajay as a man vested in wealth, but upon closer inspection, they realize he is a servant. When the police ask him what happened to cause him to crash his employer’s car, he remains silent.

The story unfolds from here, starting with Ajay’s impoverished youth to how he eventually came to work for one of India’s most wealthy and powerful families; and how he wound up in that vehicle. It is a story of violence, crime, and extravagance juxtaposed with extreme poverty.

Review of Age of Vice

It has three main POVs and a few extra thrown in for good measure.

It is an epic book, clocking in at over 500 pages, but it did not feel excessively long. Sometimes there would be pages of dialogue, but then it would be followed by a single paragraph taking up the whole page, so it felt balanced.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ajay’s sections. I would have been happy reading a whole book from just his pov.

I’m not super into reading about bad people doing bad things, aka crime novels, but Neda and Ajay were enough to keep my interest going. Although, the other characters brought more clarity into what was going on in this climate.

I believe Age of Vice is the first book in a trilogy, so the cliffhanger ending makes a lot more sense. My one qualm would be that there was loads of build up, but towards the end, it felt slightly rushed and chaotic. However, it did have a cinematic feel to it. Hopefully, the next book will clear everything up.

I highly recommend trying this if you enjoy thrillers and crime novels.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 03 January 2023

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for providing me with an arc in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, check out my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.

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The Stranded by Sarah Daniels

The premise of The Stranded seemed so appealing, but unfortunately, it was underwhelming.

Synopsis

Apocalyptic war and a deadly virus forced passengers on board the Arcadia to reside on the former luxury cruise liner for decades. Now, the ship floats off the coast of the Federated States, and no one is allowed to disembark without special permission for fear of spreading the long-dormant virus. Wealthy passengers reside on the upper decks, while the impoverished lives on the lower levels.

Esther is a training medic, studying hard so she can try to get off the ship and secure a job on land.

Nic is deep into planning a rebellion.

Hadley is the commander, in charge of keeping order on the ship, and will do so at any cost.

The Stranded by Sarah Danielas

Review of The Stranded

This YA thriller is fast-paced and has multiple POVs.

I thought I would enjoy it more than I did. It lacks character development. Many of the characters were merely caricatures of good versus evil. Especially Hadley. He’s identical to every villain in a poorly acted budget action film.

I’m not sure why I thought the virus would take up more pages, but alas, it was only mentioned a few times. Maybe it will play a larger role in the next instalment, but I don’t think I’ll be continuing the series.

The last 80 pages were top-tier action, but again, not enough to motivate me to stick with the series.

Some YA books can be enjoyed by all ages, but I’d only recommend this to those that really adore YA. It reads on the younger side, even though it has some darker content.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️

Expected Publication: 03 January 2023

Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire for providing an arc via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

For regular reading updates, check out my Goodreads profile.

For past reviews, click here.