ARC Reviews, Reviews

The Lucky One

From the acclaimed author of Under A Dark Sky comes an unforgettable, chilling novel about a young woman who recognizes the man who kidnapped her as a child, setting off a search for justice, and into danger.

As a child, Alice was stolen from her backyard in a tiny Indiana community, but against the odds, her policeman father tracked her down within twenty-four hours and rescued her from harm. In the aftermath of the crime, her family decided to move to Chicago and close the door on that horrible day.

Yet Alice hasn’t forgotten. She devotes her spare time volunteering for a website called The Doe Pages scrolling through pages upon pages of unidentified people, searching for clues that could help reunite families with their missing loved ones. When a face appears on Alice’s screen that she recognizes, she’s stunned to realize it’s the same man who kidnapped her decades ago. The post is deleted as quickly as it appeared, leaving Alice with more questions than answers.

Embarking on a search for the truth, she enlists the help of friends from The Doe Pages to connect the dots and find her kidnapper before he hurts someone else. Then Alice crosses paths with Merrily Cruz, another woman who’s been hunting for answers of her own. Together, they begin to unravel a dark, painful web of lies that will change what they thought they knew—and could cost them everything.

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I’m a sucker for a good kidnapping tale.  But this was the first book I’ve tackled where the kidnapping is all in the past.  Everything is about what happens years and years after the fact.  We meet our victim as an adult, still struggling with the trauma of an event that she can barely remember.  Alice is flawed and complex, which I found made her a more believable character that readers truly care about. You *want* to know what happened to her, you *feel* her pain and heartbreak.  It’s so easy to take her side and see everything in the black-and-white that she does. That is, until we meet our second main character, Merrily.  Even though Merrily and Alice live in the same city, they are a world apart.  Merrily’s traumas are more relatable to the average reader- stressing about an overbearing mother and struggling to pay the bills. The bottom begins to fall out of her world, and everything she thought she knew slowly changes. There isn’t some big reveal that sends her life spiraling; instead it slowly falls away piece by piece, lie by lie. Like Alice, Merrily is a character that is imperfect and accessible, bringing the reader to truly care about everything happening to and around her.

I liked the way the author tackled the dual-narrative as a plot device.  Something that I found worked really well is that Alice and Merrily don’t really interact with each other much.  We see two very different versions of a story that are moving along two different timelines.  They interact with different secondary characters very differently, learn information in varying times and in completely different ways.  I really like the experience this created for me as I was trying to solve the various mysteries along with the characters (and no, I wasn’t even close!)

All that being said, the pacing was a little off for me.  It made it hard to sit and devour the book all at once as I prefer to do.  The plot felt very hot and cold, moving quickly at some places then stuttering to a crawl for several chapters.  Some clues are delicately crafted, while others are just suddenly dumped on the reader with little explanation.  There were a few places where I felt like I needed to back up and reread paragraphs looking for something I thought that I missed.

Overall, I am really glad I finished The Lucky One.  It’s a tense, dark mystery whose twists and turns will keep you guessing all the way to the final pages.  And it will be up to you to decide- is the titular lucky one really so lucky after all?

See you all at the weekend!

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Reviews

The Sea of Lost Girls

TW: sexual abuse

Tess has worked hard to keep her past buried, where it belongs. Now she’s the wife to a respected professor at an elite boarding school, where she also teaches. Her seventeen-year-old son, Rudy, whose dark moods and complicated behavior she’s long worried about, seems to be thriving: he has a lead role in the school play and a smart and ambitious girlfriend. Tess tries not to think about the mistakes she made eighteen years ago, and mostly, she succeeds.

And then one more morning she gets a text at 2:50 AM: it’s Rudy, asking for help. When Tess picks him up she finds him drenched and shivering, with a dark stain on his sweatshirt. Four hours later, Tess gets a phone call from the Haywood school headmistress: Lila Zeller, Rudy’s girlfriend, has been found dead on the beach, not far from where Tess found Rudy just hours before.

As the investigation into Lila’s death escalates, Tess finds her family attacked on all sides. What first seemed like a tragic accidental death is turning into something far more sinister, and not only is Tess’s son a suspect but her husband is a person of interest too. But Lila’s death isn’t the first blemish on Haywood’s record, and the more Tess learns about Haywood’s fabled history, the more she realizes that not all skeletons will stay safely locked in the closet.


The Sea of Lost Girls is a tale of secrets, lies, and local legends.  Any mystery lover will be a huge fan of this novel by Carol Goodman. We are treated to a story that incorporates multiple mysteries that unravel at varying speeds over the course of the novel.  Without giving anything away, the book has plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes with a suspenseful atmosphere throughout.  Even the most seasoned mystery reader will struggle to predict the ending.

Our narrator is Tess, an English teacher at a boarding school in coastal Maine. We know little about Tess when we first meet her, but suspect that she is an ordinary woman living an ordinary life.  Tess, it turns out, is a deceitful woman.  She is living a life shrouded in mystery and half-truths, a life that threatens to unravel after the death of her son’s girlfriend.  Her son Rudy has issues of his own, causing him to be a social outcast in the tight-knit community they find themselves in.  When Rudy’s girlfriend is discovered dead on the beach, the first mystery begins as the community tries to unravel whether her death was a tragic accident or an act of malice.  

This mystery triggers others as the secrets surrounding Tess begin to slowly reveal themselves.  Tess is frantic to keep her secrets from spilling out all while dealing with the death that has so rattled her community.  Her secrets reveal themselves slowly, mainly through a sequence of flashbacks.  And as Tess does everything she can to keep her past in the past, she manages to unveil yet a third mystery – the truth behind the local legend of The Maiden Stone and a string missing persons cases, all involving young women who seem to vanish into thin air.

Our opinion of Tess as a narrator definitely changes throughout the novel – if she is lying to everyone she holds dear, how can we expect her to be truthful to us? This adds to the suspenseful feeling that only becomes more frantic as the story unfolds and more lies are uncovered.  I found myself staying up way too late just to see if my predictions were right (they were way off base).

I enjoyed this book a lot.  I read through it super quickly and found myself completely engaged in the plot. The way it is written keeps readers completely engrossed, waiting for the next secret to be revealed and the next clue to fall.  The Sea of Lost Girls is a complex thriller that is the perfect combination of complicated characters, multi-layered subplots, and unpredictable twists. You will be on edge until the final page, and the resolution will stay with you even after you close the cover. 

Hope you enjoy it! Talk to you soon!

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ARC Reviews, Reviews

The Upside of Being Down

After graduating from college, Jen Gotch was living with her parents, heartbroken and lost, when she became convinced that her skin had turned green. Hallucinating that she looked like Shrek was terrifying, but it led to her first diagnosis and the start of a journey towards self-awareness, acceptance, success, and ultimately, joy.

With humor and candor, Gotch shares the empowering story of her unlikely path to becoming the creator and CCO of a multimillion-dollar brand. From her childhood in Florida where her early struggles with bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety, and ADD were misdiagnosed, to her winding career path as a waitress, photographer, food stylist, and finally, accidental entrepreneur, she illuminates how embracing her flaws and understanding the influence of mental illness on her creativity actually led to her greatest successes in business and life.

Hilarious, hyper-relatable, and filled with fascinating insights and hard-won wisdom on everything from why it’s okay to cry at work to the myth of busyness and perfection to the emotional rating system she uses every day, Gotch’s inspirational memoir dares readers to live each day with hope, optimism, kindness, and humor.


Wow. Wow wow wow. This book was a revelation. I started reading this book when we all went into quarantine, and I am so glad I read this book when I did.  At a time when our collective mental health might be teetering on the edge, The Upside of Being Down appears to ensure us that it is completely normal and that WE WILL BE OK.  For many of us, the stigma that clouds mental illness can make us feel ashamed of our mental health, and that it should be hidden away and never discussed. Jen, refreshingly, chooses to wear hers as a badge of honor, letting be a part of her life but not *the* defining aspect of her life.  She is unafraid to show her experience, and most important for me, she is unashamed of all parts of herself. 

One of the biggest things I loved about this book is how much I could see my own experiences reflected. Jen does a great job of showing the winding road of identifying a problem, getting an accurate diagnosis, and the trial-and-error of getting the correct medication.  The book does a good job of showing that it is a process and that it will take time. Most importantly, she isn’t magically cured by a single therapy session of a single dosage of the first thing prescribed. There are ups and downs and growth and regressions that are all a crucial part of the journey that shaped her and led her to where she is now, being the CCO of a very successful retail company.  I also really like that she acknowledges the importance of self-care and other holistic approaches to mental health, while still emphasizing the importance of traditional medication and therapy.  

Reading this book felt like a conversation with an old friend. Jen’s tone is relaxed, handling heavy topics in a way that is light without discounting it’s seriousness.  Mental illness can be grim, but it can also be weird and, in its own way, funny. Jen’s story is unapologetically relatable because she lovingly includes all aspects – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

I understand that not everyone will get the same level of fulfillment from Jen’s story as I did.  But I can definitely say that if you have ever lived with a mental illness, this book is a must-read for you. If you have ever loved someone who has suffered from mental illness, this book will be immensely helpful for you as well.  And if you like reading memoirs of fascinating people, this book is for you. So run out and grab yourself a copy. But first, go wash your hands!

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Book Tour, Reviews

The Edge of Anything

Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that’s stagnated her work and left her terrified she’s losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons.

But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives.

Set in the North Carolina mountains, this dynamic #ownvoices novel explores grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

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I don’t read a lot of Contemporary. Don’t get me wrong, I still have favorites in the genre and enjoy it a lot, but— I tend to prefer more escapist stories. Stories of magical worlds and distant lands; The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway somehow captures those things anyway, even in a simple story about friendship. I really enjoyed this book.

For starters, the characters grew to close to my heart so quickly. This story is about grief, disillusionment, and the big, afraid feeling that we all have to face as we grow up. Len and Sage, the two girls in this book who’s friendship transforms their lives, both had to face those fears too. And they do it with such relatability. These girls have secrets and inner demons aplenty, but they find something unique in each other. If you’ve ever had that close friend who understands a mysterious, unnoticed part of you, then you’ll recognize this story. And the magnetism of that feeling too.

The plot didn’t really matter to me that much, I’ll be honest. I liked that their struggles seemed down to earth and relatable, very common to so many teens in the world, while also having just enough drama to keep things interesting. This story is certainly character driven though, and the story benefits so greatly from the author writing through that lens.

I genuinely loved this. It made me feel less alone and more forgiving toward— well, humanity, really. Things in the world are so tense and complicated right now, a stress that I think we all feel, and this book highlights those things that become important in a crisis. The things that are always important but that we don’t always pay attention to. I recommend it. I hope you enjoy it.


Nora Shalaway Carpenter holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Before she wrote books, she served as associate editor of Wonderful West Virginia magazine and has been a Certified Yoga Teacher since 2012. Originally from rural West Virginia, she currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three young children, and one not-so-young dog. Learn more at www.noracarpenterwrites.com or follow her on Instagram @noracarpenterwrites and Twitter @norawritesbooks.

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Enter to win a hardcopy of The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter, a character art postcard by Kelsey Lecky of K.A.K. Lecky Illustration, a bookmark, and a pop-open card from Thoughtfulls.

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Book Tour, Reviews

All Your Twisted Secrets

This thrilling debut, reminiscent of new fan favorites like One of Us Is Lying and the beloved classics by Agatha Christie, will leave readers guessing until the explosive ending.

Welcome to dinner, and again, congratulations on being selected. Now you must do the selecting.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

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Daaaaaaaamn. These YA contemporary thrillers keep getting more and more wild. Fictional teenagers just get crazier and crazier. But I also had a ton of fun reading about it and I think you will too.

All Your Twisted Secrets is the next in a new trend of teen-oriented murder mysteries in YA fiction. Recent successful titles in this genre have been One of Us is Lying and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and, let me be the first to tell you, if you liked either of those titles then this one is going to be right up your alley. This book is readable, quick, full of fun-to-follow characters, and just as twisted as the title suggests.

The one thing I liked about this book that others might complain of is the characters. They were so…young. And I loved them for it. A lot of times in novels like this, the author tries to portray them as much older than they are, whether that be in their logic or decision-making, it always feels a little stilted. One of the highlights, in my opinion, of these characters is just how…teenage they are. They’re dumb and impulsive, they care about things that shouldn’t be prioritized, and they are campy as hell: but they were fun to read about. They made me think about being a teen again too and all of the dumb things I thought and did then. Only…without the murder, thankfully.

I don’t know how to talk about the story too much without giving anything away. I guessed the ending but I think only because I’ve read so many of these YA mysteries lately, and still I got details wrong. I generally don’t like guessing an ending, but this time I didn’t mind it so much. The devil was in the details and I think the author did a good job of wrapping things up satisfactorily and having enough twists and turns along the way.

Ultimately, if this is your type of book: go for it. You will love it and you won’t be able to put it down. If not? That’s okay. But All Your Twisted Secrets is a solid new entry into the world of teen murder and I enjoyed the hell out of it.


I’m Diana Urban, and I write dark, twisty thrillers for teens including All Your Twisted Secrets (HarperTeen, March 17th 2020). When I’m not torturing fictional characters, I’m a marketing manager at BookBub, a leading book discovery platform. Outside the bookish world, I live with my husband and cat in Boston, and enjoy reading, video games, fawning over cute animals, and looking at the beach from a safe distance.

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Book Tour, Reviews

Witches of Ash and Ruin

Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy and A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.

And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer’s motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don’t stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.

With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that’s impossible to put down.

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So let’s start off simple: I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Old Irish magic, Queer and witchy characters, serial killers, dark turns and twists: Witches of Ash and Ruin had so much to offer and did not disappoint. If YA and dark fantasy are up your alley, then you will not want to miss this new debut.

The first thing I noticed and loved about this book was the irreverent and witchy vibe of the story. Even in the writing, Latimer does a spectacular job of infusing that dark, eerie, and still somehow sarcastic feeling into every sentence and atmosphere. She uses the backdrop of Ireland, with all of its ancient myths and history, to great effect that I thought highlighted some of the most interesting aspects of Irish folklore. The world she built isn’t campy or flashy, it is subtle and shifting and magical and full of hidden secrets and clues. The atmosphere, the writing, and the setting work together in a beautiful triad to support this twisted story.

All of that would be nothing, however, if the characters weren’t just as nuanced, interesting, and relatable. I love, love, love seeing more and more Queer, female stories in fiction, especially YA, but these girls were also just– fun to get to know. They’re sarcastic and snarky, smart and crafty, and so much more than “pretty young girls.” These girls are powerful, and it felt so good to read about young girls who stood so well in their power. They were also relatable as hell and reminded me of myself as a teen girl, albeit with a little more agency. And magic.

What I also enjoyed about this book was the delicate balance it was able to find between dark topics of magic and murder and a lighter, softer side of its central story. It’s almost part coming-of-age story, in that the character’s lives are given just as much significance and page-time as the mystery. I liked getting to know the main character’s insecurities, her struggles with OCD, her questions and difficulties with sexuality. Their families and friends weren’t absent, like in many lazier stories, and instead they had– lives. It was nice. In the midst of a dark and gritty murder mystery, these scenes balanced out the weight and tone of the book nicely.

Overall, I highly recommend Witches of Ash and Ruin to anyone looking for an awesome new YA fantasy. It’s great mental health and LGBTQ+ representation, plus a whole lot of magic, murder, and fun! The story was readable and I loved the twists along the way. Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!


E. Latimer is a fantasy writer from Victoria, BC. Her middle grade novel, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray was published by Tundra Books, and was recently nominated for the Red Maple Fiction Award.

In her spare time, she writes books, makes silly vlogs with the Word Nerds about writing, and reads excessively.

Her latest novel, Witches of Ash and Ruin, will be released Spring/Summer 2020 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

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