Sunday, October 16, 2022

October Read: The Vicious Circle by Katherine St. John


Katherine St. John's The Siren  was a favorite read of mine last year, so I was excited to pick up her latest novel, The Vicious Circle. It definitely had a lot of pulse pounding moments, along with  scary cult vibes.

Sveta is a model who lives in NYC and is engaged to a wealthy young man. She struggles to fit into his family's ideal and their New Year's Eve ends with an argument and a decision by Sveta to take some time to rethink their life together.

Soon after this, Sveta learns her Uncle Paul has died, and left her his entire estate. This isn't just some small estate; it's worth $180 MILLION dollars. Paul was a well-known self-help guru who built a fortune on classes, retreats, books, and speaking tours. He also has a villa called Xanadu in the Mexican jungle, and that's where his funeral will take place. Sveta feels like she needs to travel to Xanadu to say her final farewell to her Uncle, but hoo boy, it's one weird place.

Sveta is joined on her trip by Lucas, a man she once had a memorable encounter with years before, but never heard from since. He's in charge of Paul's estate, and he's worried Paul's spiritual wife Kali is up to something. 

Once they're at Xanadu, it's pretty clear this is a cult and Kali is in charge. Not only that, she produces a will that leaves everything to her, not Sveta, and wants Sveta to sign off on a deal that gives Sveta a percent of the estate, but leaves the bulk to Kali. Conveniently, the helicopter that is supposed to pick up Sveta and Lucas the next day is mysteriously damaged and can't fly. All technology is locked up in a room where Kali has the only key; no privacy anywhere. As Sveta and Lucas start to dig around, they discover some unsettling practices and realize Kali is dangerous, and their lives are at stake. 

There's more to this, of course. It's a typical cult in that sex is always a big part of it, and giving up everything you have to join and ascend to a higher vibration. Sveta is torn between believing Kali (she's very persuasive) and believing Lucas, who has lied to her before. 

Will Sveta make the right choices and escape? Who is she going to trust? The last bit of the novel takes off and the action escalates; there are revelations all around about Paul, Sveta, Lucas, Kali, and the cult. 

I enjoyed the novel but wasn't blow away by it, as I was with The Siren. I guess the cult part felt like an old trope with nothing new to make it any different than other novels featuring cults--or heck, even the real ones we see on TV. Otherwise it was a good weekend read with no surprises I didn't see coming.

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that centered around a cult-what it was, how people got sucked into it, and how dangerous it was to break free. It's all about absolute power corrupting absolutely--and no one is safe from it. 

Available in hardcover, ebook and audio. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

October Reads: Cackle by Rachel Harrison and Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck

 I've finished two more books out of my ginormous TBR pile to wrap up my staycation. Many more to go, but I feel like I have my reading mojo back again and am so happy about it. I decided to review both of these novels in this post because they're both witchy themed and definitely appropriate reads for October.

Cackle was just released in paperback with a very different cover. I bought the hardcover last year, started it, and yes, you guessed it, put it down and didn't pick it up again for months. I powered through it Friday and finished it Saturday afternoon. I'll confess I was a bit disappointed in it. I think mostly because I was expecting something more along the lines of a lighter fare witch story. It could be entirely my fault for going into it and being dismayed that it wasn't what I was expecting. It was definitely more of a "woman power" novel about finding your own strength and owning it. 

Quick synopsis: Annie is leaving a long relationship where her boyfriend thinks they're better off as friends. She's heartbroken, and leaves NYC to teach in a small upstate New York town. Rowan is a beautiful, Hallmark-esque town with friendly people and quaint shops. Enter Sophie, a beautiful woman who eagerly begins a friendship with Annie. It's weird how the townsfolk seem to be a bit afraid of Sophie and deferential to her whenever she's around. Soon, Annie is exposed to more of Sophie's life, and it's pretty odd. A giant home/castle in the woods, spiders that interact with Sophie, things appearing by magic. Sophie is a witch. And she's nice but if you cross her, she is quick to punish. She wants Annie to come into her own power, forget pining over her ex-boyfriend, and stand up for herself. She doesn't need anyone to live a happy life. Annie struggles with this--it's attractive and hard to resist. 

Will Annie fall under Sophie's "spell"? I felt this novel had some promise, but fell short of what I was hoping to read. I was disappointed in the ending and felt it went from potentially charming to a bit dark and gave me Stepford Wives vibes (I saw the original Stepford Wives movie as a kid on TV and was deeply horrified by it). I guess I don't like the conclusion that you have to be alone in order to be happy and free as a woman. 

I waited months for this to be published, and it's taken me checking it out twice and renewing it a few times from the library to finish it. Ugh! Again, another one I had huge hopes for, but was disappointed. Mostly disappointed in the main character Emerson. Bookstore owner? Love it! Independent woman-Love it! But holy cow she's a real pain in the butt. Annoying doesn't cover it. Always saying how smart she is, how capable she is, how tough she is. It gets. so. old. Emerson and her circle of friends are all witches in the small town of St. Cyprian, MO. Only thing is, Emerson doesn't know she's a witch. There's a horrible governing body of witches called the Joywood who wiped her mind clear in her teens when her powers didn't appear when they were expected. So for ten years Emerson has been oblivious to it all, while her friends have been hiding it from her and protecting her. 

Annoying asshat Mayor Skip tries to have Emerson killed by some heavy black magic, and low and behold, Emerson's hidden powers appear and she destroys the black magic. She finds out she's a Confluence Warrior, and she's meant to save the town from a horrible black magic flood that's going to destroy not only St. Cyprian, but possibly the Midwest. This black magic is concentrated in the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers, right where St. Cyprian is located. But Emerson must find the ritual that will stop the flood before it's too late. And she has to do it in secret, with her friends, so the Joywood don't find out and destroy Emerson. 

There's some romance, but it's low level between Emerson and Jacob, her love (she kind of remembers, but kind of doesn't thanks to the mind wipe) from high school. Still friends, and some smoldering occurs. She's got a heck of a great guy there, but doesn't seem to appreciate him as much as I'd expect. He's a peach. While their relationship progresses, it seems as though it's Jacob doing all the heavy lifting and Emerson accepting it without much giving. 

Anyway, I will read the next book, which is out sometime in 2023 just because this novel ends with a huge cliff-hanger moment. I'm interested enough in the other characters and what happens with all of them. Emerson's circle of friends are the best part of the novel. Emerson is annoying and hard to like as a character. 

Rating for Cackle: 3/6 for potential as an interesting novel about owning your own power, living your life. Fell short of my expectations. 

Available in hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Rating for Small Town, Big Magic: 3/6 for a novel with a lot of potential that was almost sidelined by the annoying main character Emerson. I really liked her circle of friends and will read the second book to see where it goes. It is touted as a rom-com, but it's definitely not one at all. 

Available in trade paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Saturday, October 8, 2022

October Read: Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney


Another book I started a few months ago, put down, and didn't pick up again until last night. It wasn't because I didn't enjoy it, but because I  was in my reading slump. I zipped through it and throughly enjoyed it. It does require a bit of suspended disbelief but heck I had no problem doing that!

Daisy Darker is a young woman who has had a really lousy life. Born with a heart defect, she's  been told her life would be short. Her mother Nancy feels like a failure having a third daughter who is "broken", and treats Daisy pretty lousy. Her older sisters Rose and Lily were in turn smart and beautiful. Her father Frank is equally messed up, traveling constantly to conduct orchestras around the world. The only constant Daisy has is her Nana, a famous author who lives in a rambling old house on a tiny island off the coast of England. A house you can only reach on foot when the tide is out. 

The family has gathered at Seaglass, Nana's home, for her eightieth birthday--on Halloween. It's family tradition and this time, Nana has required everyone to be there because she's going to read her will. She's convinced this is her last birthday, and wants the family to know exactly what she's leaving them when she dies. 

I've never read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, but this novel takes a page from it and every hour, someone at Seaglass dies. As a storm rages outside, and all communication with the outside world is cut off, the terror builds as the family watches VCR tapes of years gone by, revealing pivotal moments in Daisy's history. And at the ding dongs of the many clocks strike the hour, someone dies. 

Who could be killing of the family? Who is next? Will anyone survive and escape when the tide finally comes in?

This is the kind of thriller I enjoy. I'm easily able to read it and not stop to question or poke holes. I'm on the roller coaster and staying buckled in until the ride comes to a complete stop. There are a couple of WHATTT moments, but I stuck with it and thought it was a heck of a good read. Dang. Families are complicated. 

This is a perfect read for October nights. 

Rating: 4/6 for a simply enjoyable thriller with all sorts of interesting revelations and moments of WHAT JUST HAPPENED. You may figure it all out, but I didn't even try and just enjoyed the unraveling story. I may read some Agatha Christie after this. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, October 6, 2022

October Read: A Death in Door County (A Monster Hunter Mystery #1) by Annelise Ryan


The cover of this mystery caught my eye and led to me checking it out of my library. Then last week, I was at my book group and one of my friends talked about it--I made sure he didn't give the ending away because I wasn't quite done with it!

 I finished it and enjoyed traveling to Door County, WI. I'm putting it on my bucket list of places to visit. It's not terribly far from where I live now, and even though my family took vacations every summer to Rhinelander, WI when I was little, we never got to Door County. 

Anyhow. This was kind of like a cozy mystery, but one with a little more oomph to it. Morgan Carter owns a unique bookshop called Odds and Ends in Door County. Her hobby, inherited from her parents, is the study of cryptids. Crypids are creatures people are sure exist, but just have never had definitive proof: Bigfoot, Loch Ness, Abominable Snowman. New police chief Jon Flanders hires Morgan to investigate the possibility of a cryptid swimming around Lake Michigan, after two men are washed ashore drowned but showing signs of being crushed by something powerful. Could it be a lake creature? 

As Morgan begins to dig into her research, she uncovers more questions than answers. We also get to meet her employees Rita and Devon, her beloved and very protective dog Newt, and see her cautious relationship develop with Chief Flanders. There is some uncovering of Morgan's past that answers some questions of how she is an expert at cryptids, and why she has such an unusual bookstore. 

I was deep into this mystery pretty quickly. It's clear Annelise Ryan knows Door County. It sounds absolutely lovely and she painted a heck of a picture. I deliberately kept away from looking online so I could keep it all in my head. There are a few sad moments, but overall I just let the mystery reveal itself as I read. There's no "ooh, maybe this person did it" as there is in cozy mysteries. I truly had no idea until the end. 

I'm happy to say the last few sentences lead to the possibility of the next mystery in the series and I'll be picking that up--it involves Bigfoot! 

Rating: 5/6 for the vivid writing that brings Door County to life, along with a very interesting main character with a special knowledge unlike any other mysteries I've read. I like the slow development of Morgan and Jon's relationship which leaves something for more mysteries to explore. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, October 3, 2022

October Read: The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander


It's been a few months since I've posted a review, and mostly that's because I just wasn't finishing any thing I started. I've begun reading dozens of books, but just couldn't keep my interest long enough to actually finish them. I wish I could say 2022 has been a fantastic reading year, but it's been the opposite. 

I'm on vacation this week, and my goal is to  joyfully read every day (after I complete my to-do lists). I'm starting off my vacation reads with this delightful novel I discovered at B&N last week. 

The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander reminds me of novels by Katie Fforde. It's definitely a gentle read that wraps you in comfort. Small English village? Check. Likeable characters? Check. Books? Check. Potential romance? Check.

Jess Metcalfe has recently lost her job as librarian, and is a bit lost. Her grandmother Mimi has died and left her cottage to Jess, but Jess knows there's nothing left for her in the place she's grown up. A random drive around the country finds her in the small village of Middlemass, and in front of Ivy Cottage. It's for sale! Huzzah! It's a bit rundown, but the basic bones are there--not to mention the beautiful garden and the odd red phone box just outside the front gate. Jess takes a chance and buys the cottage. It's her dream to live in a small village, be part of the community, and have a cottage where she can grow a garden and live happily ever after.

There is the problem of finding a job, eventually. Jess has enough money to last through the summer, then she's got to find a job. As she settles in, she meets Diana, an elderly woman who loves gin & tonics; next door neighbor Aidan and his daughter Maisie, and young mom Becky. She also decides to make the old phone box a little library with the boxes of books her grandmother Mimi left her. Those books are childhood favorites of Jess, and favorites of Mimi. 

What begins as a whim of a library ends up bringing villagers together, healing hurts, and creating a community center in a village that has slowly lost itself over the years. Will Jess find her happy life after all?

This novel was such a comforting read. Issues pop up, of course, but they are resolved with some strategic thinking and enthusiasm. Jess is a quiet force who makes magic in this small village. She's someone who doesn't think she can do much, but everything she does makes a huge impact. 

Book lovers will, of course, devour this novel about the power of books to connect and comfort. Aidan is properly hot and perfect romance material. I so hope there's more to come from the village of Middlemass. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel about a lost young woman who finds her home in a struggling village, and creates the most delightful little library in a red phone box. 

Available in trade paperback, audio book, and e-book.