Friday, May 27, 2022

Speed Reviews: Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente & Sleeping Dogs Lie by Samantha Downing

I have another round of speed reviews. In this one, we have a Comfort Me with Apples, which wasn’t for me, and Sleeping Dogs Lie, which I highly recommend.

Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.

It's just that he's away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.

But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband's face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can't quite meet her gaze...

Publisher: Tordotcom| Genre: Horror/Thriller | Source: Publisher  | Rating:0

 This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021; it’s been labeled as a ‘tantalizingly crooked domestic mystery’, ‘a darkly elegant fairy tale-horror story’, and ‘a delectable, nefarious thriller’ just to quote a few. Sadly, this turned out to be one of the worst books I’ve read.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on.

The book starts with the HOA rules for Arcadia Gardens then introduces Sophia, who seems to be the perfect woman, with the perfect husband living in a perfect house in a perfect community. Although things are not as they seem and soon

Sophia starts finding macabre items that has her questioning both her husband and her own happiness.

I thought this was going to be one of my top ten books of 2021 and it was utter nonsense. I did like that the start of the book, it read like a dark fairytale with a domestic thriller thrown in. Then things started going downhill and this ended up being a Biblical re-telling, which I did not appreciate. I don’t like it when an author rewrites events from the Bible.

Had I known what this book was about, especially the way it was handled, I never would have read it.



Shelby works as a dog walker in Northern California, and she’s just finished up her biweekly trip to the park with a husky named Pluto. When she brings him back to his house, she finds his owner—Todd Burke, a well-known local businessman and founder of an organic supplements company—dead on the bathroom floor. As a detective interviews Shelby, a medical examiner inspects the body, and more cops search Todd’s home, it becomes clear that the victim’s life was less picture-perfect than his clean-cut persona might lead you to believe.

 

Publisher: Audible | Narrators: Melanie Nicholls-King, Lindsey Dorcus | Length: 2 hrs 8 min | Genre: Contemporary Mystery/Thriller | Source: Publisher | Rating: 4 Cups

I wasn’t sure about this one. I’m never fully into Samantha Downing’s full-length novels; they just never thrill me, but I’ve been working my way through the short stories in the audible plus catalogue and this one popped up so I thought I would give it a listen.

I’m not going to talk too much about this one because I don’t want to spoil it but Here’s a quick rundown, Shelby’s a dog walker, when she goes to return Pluto to his owner she discovers him dead on his bathroom floor. As the police and detectives process the scene and speak to Shelby, it soon becomes apparent that nothing is as it seems.

This was super quick but the pacing was spot on, nothing felt rushed or left out. So, the plot of this one was something I’ve not read before and it was interesting seeing how everything played out. The ending was fantastic.

Overall, this made for a great listen while doing yardwork. 

Have you read any good short stories or novellas lately?

 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Night Thief by Joy Ellis

When a creepy burglar strikes the Fens stealing pictures of little boy Jackman and Evans are more the a little concerned although things take a sinister turn when an elderly lady ends up dead. Keep reading to hear my thought on the latest book in the Jackman and Evans Series.

When everyone is sleeping, he comes into their houses.

He takes one thing. A photo of their child.

A sinister thief on a power trip or something even darker and more sinister?

Detectives Jackman and Evans find themselves on the hunt for a highly unusual burglar who seemingly only steals photographs. But then, late one night, an elderly woman falls to her death after seeing someone in her home.

Did she really fall, or was she murdered?

And just how many mysterious intruders are there on the Fens?

With the body count rising, Jackman and Evans have their work cut out for them to track down the night thief - before it’s too late.

Series: Jackman & Evans #8 | Publisher: Audible  | Narrator: Richard Armitage  | Length: 11 hrs 10 min | Genre: Mystery/Thriller  | Source: Publisher  | Rating: 3 Cups

Someone’s been breaking into people’s houses, stealing pictures of young boys. Is a thief trying to spook people or something more dangerous? Jackman and Evans have been searching down every avenue looking for answers but coming up empty then an elderly woman falls to her death during a break-in leaving the detectives to wonder if it’s the same person and if they have now added murder to their list of crimes. Is there a connection between the missing pictures and the woman? Jackman and Evans must race to find a connection before the night thief strikes again.

I’m a bit on the fence about this one. It was good yet it was rather boring in some spots, I’m sorry to say. When this one was good, it was really good and had me eager to find out more but the boring bits nearly had me asleep.

Character-wise, I liked seeing more into the personal lives of Rowan Jackman and Ruth Evans—this one dealt with a lot of relationship type things—and we do get to see a decent amount of actual detective work. The villain in this one wasn’t as strong or as creepy as the previous ones, they just came off more unhinged than anything. So I was never really pulled into any twists or turns trying to figure out their thought process.

In this one, we have a thief breaking into people’s houses and stealing pictures of young boys. It seems like it’s random bits of weirdness then an elderly lady catches someone in her house and dies after falling down the steps. We also have Laura (she’s Jackman’s psychologist girlfriend) who is a little creeped out by her sleepwalking, sometimes blood covered patient. There’s a lot of are they are they not connected going on. A lot of time spent running around with the sleepwalker, some creepy bits with the thief but there’s not a lot actually happening. We’re going through the motions yet going back to the beginning.

This one is a little over 11 hours and, honestly, I think it was just a little too long. I really wish she would have stuck with the main aspect of the story—it would have held my attention better—rather than throwing in the red herrings that really didn’t make a lot of sense or go with the story. It seemed like it was just a hastily thrown together distraction rather than something that was plausible. The mystery itself was decent but it was too drawn out.

Overall, it was just okay. I do wish that this had been condensed; the mystery was intriguing and had me eager to see how it unfolded but I don’t think it had enough legs to stand on as a full-length novel—and the second longest in the series. This would have been so much more enjoyable as a novella.


Jackman & Evans Series (recommended listening order)

 

Their Lost Daughters

The Murderer's Son

The Fourth Friend

The Guilty Ones

The Stolen Boys

The Patient Man

They Disappeared

The Night Thief

 

Monday, May 23, 2022

Shady Hollow by Juneau Black

I’ve been in a reading slump and I needed something different so I made it my mission to go to Barnes and Noble and pick up something based solely on the cover—it’s something I rarely do—so when I spotted this charming cover, I knew it had to come home with me. Keep reading to see why.


The first book in the Shady Hollow series, in which we are introduced to the village of Shady Hollow, a place where woodland creatures live together in harmony--until a curmudgeonly toad turns up dead and the local reporter has to solve the case.

Reporter Vera Vixen is a relative newcomer to Shady Hollow. The fox has a nose for news, so when she catches wind that the death might be a murder, she resolves to get to the bottom of the case, no matter where it leads. As she stirs up still waters, the fox exposes more than one mystery, and discovers that additional lives are in jeopardy.

Vera finds more to this town than she ever suspected. It seems someone in the Hollow will do anything to keep her from solving the murder, and soon it will take all of Vera's cunning and quickness to crack the case.

Series: Shady Hollow #1 | Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard | Genre: Cozy Mystery/Animal Fiction | Source: Purchased  | Rating:

This is definitely a different book and has to be the coziest of cozy mysteries. The characters are animals and they live in the most charming place. I could not put this book down.

Here’s what’s going on. When reporter Vera Vixen learns that the grouchy toad, Otto has died and a killer is among them, she decides to crack the case on her own. Not only will this make for an incredible story, it will help the town out seeing as the local police chief tends to prefer fishing to solving crimes. As her investigation kicks off, Vera is shocked when she discovers a creature with a potential tip has been murdered. Will she be able to crack the case or will the murderer target her next.

Oh my goodness, I had so much fun with this one. Everything about this book is magical and charming. The characters are so vivid and realistic that I forgot they were creatures until they made mention of a particular trait.

The mystery in this one is solid and there’s a lot of avenues they go down while investigating. It was fun to see how it played out even if it was slightly obvious.

This book made me fall in love with reading all over again. It was exactly what I needed when I needed it. I loved this one so much that I ordered the rest of the series while I was in the middle of this one.

Overall, this was the perfect cozy creature mystery. I highly recommend this series and hope there’s more to come from the writing team of Juneau Black.


Shady Hollow Mysteries

Shady Hollow

Cold Clay

Mirror Lake

Evergreen Chase (novella)

 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

They Disappeared by Joy Ellis

I’m back with yet another installment in the Jackman and Evans Series and it was an intense one. Urban explorers have gone missing and so has Orla Cracken, the mysterious head of the IT department for the Saltern-Le-Fen Constabulary. Could it be a coincidence, or are disappearances connected?

When DI Rowan Jackman and DS Evans are told that the IT boss has disappeared, they soon suspect foul play. Orla Cracken, known as Orac, is no ordinary techie; she was once a field agent traveling abroad undercover, working for the government.

Meanwhile DC Robbie Melton discovers that two people, both urban explorers, have mysteriously disappeared whilst out exploring abandoned buildings. One went missing at a disused airfield, but was it a military base, or was it civilian?

The gruesome discovery of their decaying bodies found hanging in ancient church ruins bursts the case wide open, and Jackman and Evans are under pressure to find the killer. With Orac safely back in the picture following a secret journey to Ireland to try and find her long-lost sister who went missing as a child, the hunt is now on to find the killer before he hangs his next victim.

It soon becomes clear that the killer is targeting urban explorers, but why is he determined to track down and torture these innocent people, and how is the case connected to Orac’s mysterious past, still shrouded in secrecy?

Series: Jackman & Evan's #7 | Publisher: Audible | Narrator:  Richard Armitage | Length: 10 hrs 14 min|  Genre: Mystery/Thriller | Source: Publisher | Rating: 4 Cups

All is not well at the Saltern-Le-Fen Constabulary. Orla, the mysterious IT genius who has a past involving secret government work, is missing and Robbie has his hands full with the disappearance of two urban explorers. With the team on edge, a gruesome discovery sends Jackman and Evans on the hunt for a killer. As information comes to light regarding Orla, it soon appears that a connection from her past could be the one targeting the urban explorers.

Just a quick note before getting into my thoughts…in this book, the Urban Explorers are decay photographers, meaning they take pictures of abandoned—often destroyed—buildings/ruins/locations then load them to a website. While I knew that Urban Explorers existed (everyone’s seen the videos on FB or YouTube), I never realized there were actual chapters of them in the UK. I don’t think that they’re as big in the States as they are overseas but I could be wrong. It was nice seeing something unique in this book.

Now, on to the review…There were a lot of personal things going on in this one. Jackman and Evans are finally out from under the black cloud of Alistair Ashcroft and starting to get back to some form of normalcy. We’re starting to see more of the personal lives of both Rowan Jackman and Ruth Evans and I did really enjoy that. We’ve received glimpses in the previous books but those were usually in connection to cases that were close to them so it was nice to see a little more of their day-to-day lives away from the police department. I also enjoyed seeing Orla’s backstory; she’s been one of my favorites throughout the series.

The mysteries and investigations in this one were a little different from the others. We have two different avenues: the missing/murdered urban explorers and the disappearance of Orla. The urban explorers have been doing their own investigating as well as helping Robbie with the police investigation. Because the urban explorers explore abandoned places and ruins, there’s a lot of foot traffic required and a lot of combing through debris that goes along with abandoned buildings in hopes of finding evidence. Then we have Orla’s disappearance, which is a lot of IT investigating as well as following her journey, (I’m not going to say much about it as I don’t want to spoil things).   

While I enjoyed this one, I did have a few issues with it, which is normal with this series as they’ve been a bit hit or miss with me. This one was a bit slow to start; it’s not until the end of chapter 4 that things get going. The start wasn’t boring, just not what I expected. I also have an issue with the mystery and issue surrounding Orla. There’s been so much buildup—even in the previous books—that the reveal just fell flat. I was just expecting so much more.

I will say, out of all the books, this one was goriest of them thus far. I’m not normally the squeamish type but some of the descriptions in this one regarding the crime scenes kind of icked me out.

As always, Richard Armitage brilliantly narrates this one.

Overall, this was one of my favorites of the series. I really enjoyed seeing a combination of the personal lives and the professional lives; it added more depth to the characters and allowed more of their personality to shine through. While one aspect of the mystery lacked, the other made up for it and held my attention. It was also nice to see the characters almost tied up in a nice little bow. Character-wise, if this one had been the last in the series, it would have been a great way to end it. Thankfully, there is more from the world of Jackman and Evans. 


Jackman & Evans Series (recommended listening order)

 

Their Lost Daughters

The Murderer's Son

The Fourth Friend

The Guilty Ones

The Stolen Boys

The Patient Man

They Disappeared

The Night Thief

 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

At the prestigious Belmont Academy it’s their job to shape their students into the best versions of themselves and no one knows this better than the Teacher of the Year, Teddy Crutcher, who justifies his extreme methods by saying it’s all For Your Own Good. While this was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021, sadly, it fell short. Keep reading to see what didn’t work for me.


Teddy Crutcher has won Teacher of the Year at the esteemed Belmont Academy, home to the best and brightest.

He says his wife couldn't be more proud—though no one has seen her in a while.

Teddy really can’t be bothered with the death of a school parent that’s looking more and more like murder or the student digging a little too deep into Teddy’s personal life. His main focus is on pushing these kids to their full academic potential.

All he wants is for his colleagues—and the endlessly meddlesome parents—to stay out of his way.

It's really too bad that sometimes excellence can come at such a high cost.

Publisher: Berkley  | Genre: Mystery/Thriller | Source: Publisher  | Rating: 3 Cups

Teddy’s goal is to make sure all his students are the best academic versions of themselves and he’ll stop at nothing to make sure they achieve their best potential. When a string of murders rock the school, Teddy, once again, must do all he can to look out for his students, no matter the cost. Although his students aren’t making it easy, especially when they start digging around in his personal life and who knows what they could unearth.

I started this one way back in October, read about a third of it, sat it down, then completely forgot about it until I rediscovered it while unhauling a few of my books in April. It didn’t even cross my mind that I hadn’t finished it. The odd thing about this book is that when I finally did pick it up, I read it in no time because the writing is very fluid.

What stopped me from enjoying this one were the characters. I just didn’t care about them. Teddy is obsessed with being Teacher of Year and even more obsessed with making sure his students succeed academically to the point that he bullies them in hopes of reshaping them. Then we have the two main students of the book Courtney and Zach and they both were horrible although Zach did have moments of likability. There are also other members of staff and a former student intent on making Teddy’s life as miserable as he made hers. Everyone was a bit unhinged and out of control.

The plot was interesting and could have been great but everything was revealed before it happened causing a lack of suspense and tension. Then the end was just a bit of a mess. It was almost as if she spent so much time creating all these avenues then suddenly she hit her word count and needed to wrap up the story.

Overall, this one was just a bit of a mess. It was a lackluster story of horrible people doing horrible things. 

Have you read this one? What did you think? Are you a fan of Samantha Downing?  

 

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Heatherbrae House holds secrets from the past and the present in Ruth Ware’s modern day retelling of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Keep reading to see how this one stacked up against the original.

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely.

 But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss - a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten - by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare - one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the home's cameras, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty - at least not of murder - but somebody is. Which means someone else is.

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio | Narrator: Imogen Church | Length: 12 hrs 13 min|  Genre: Suspense | Source: Purchased | Rating: 3.5 Cups

Rowan is searching for something and it wasn’t the nanny position she finds herself accepting but it was an offer she currently couldn’t refuse. While the job should be easy, things are not going as well as she would have hoped at Heatherbrae House—the kids are playing up, the ‘smart’ house system is malfunctioning and Rowan swears there’s someone—or something—walking around the attic above her room.  She had plans for her time at Heatherbrae House and it didn’t include being arrested for the murderer of one of her young charges but, here she is, sitting in her jail cell explaining the events (via a string of letters) to a lawyer she’s hoping will free her from this nightmare. Although the odds are stacked against her and her lies are the main articles the prosecution are using against her.

The Turn of the Key has been on my ‘to read’ list since it came out but I had a feeling this one would be better on audio rather than print form and I was right. I would have found the print form annoying where the audio added to the sense of urgency that Rowan was portraying.

The characters in this one weren’t the most likable of people. Rowan, from the start is a liar—she’s sitting through the interview lying through her teeth while having an internal discussion with herself about how far she can get with this lie or that embellishment—and an unreliable narrator. We know she doesn’t really want to be there but little by little she reveals the true reason she’s there. The children are just out of control and only get worse when their eldest sister arrives home from boarding school and Rowan has no patience or knowledge to handle them. The parents are workaholics that are never home and believe an app they created to spy on their children is the same as parenting. Then we have the housekeeper who seems to be giving Rowan a hard time and Jack, the handsome, live-in handyman, that may or may not be a little sinister.

Coming into this one, I was expecting it to stick close to the original (The Turn of the Screw) and rely on a lot of ambiguity and possible paranormal activity but this one is more out front with what’s going on. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact a lot of the disturbance and Rowan’s sense of paranoia comes from the malfunctioning ‘smart’ home app and the children’s brattish behavior. A lot of the mystery and suspense aspect was taken away because it’s obvious from the start what’s going on and who’s behind it. A few things are thrown in in an attempt to sidetrack your thoughts but they weren’t mapped out in a way that had me question whether or not they were involved.

While I enjoyed this one, I did have problems with the plot and the length. There’s a lot going on in this book but nothing happens. The first ten hours are rambling and repetition with just a tad bit of details thrown in the mix. I understand the need to draw suspense while making Rowan come off sounding as if she’s in a desperate urgent panic to have her story told but this was too much rambling and repetition. I don’t need to be told the same thing over and over again before revealing yet another minor detail. The last two hours of the book were action-packed and brilliant. The first ten hours could have been condensed to an hour or under.

This was my first time listening to Imogen Church and I really enjoyed her narration style. Her sense of urgency worked brilliantly for Rowan’s panicked telling.

This was also my first Ruth Ware book and I’m not sure what I think about her writing style. I know people either like her writing or they hate it but I’m undecided. I did feel this one was unnecessarily long but I don’t want to judge an author’s writing style for the first time based on their version of a retelling because I will always put it up against the original.

Overall, the original didn’t wow me and, sadly, I’m not wowed but this one. If this one had been a novella—focusing on the last two hours with a few bits from the first ten hours thrown in—I think that this would have been an amazing book because the ending blew me away but there was just too much of nothing happening. 

The Classic Vs. The Adaptation

As I’ve said in the review above, Turn of the Screw by Henry James has never wowed me. It’s an unreliable story told by an unreliable narrator and the outcome of the story relies heavily on the reader. I’ve always said Turn of the Screw is the Schrödinger's cat of literature. The box is never opened, the outcome of the story is never revealed.  

What worked with Turn of the Screw is the ambiguity that created this amazing suspense and the way it plays with the readers mind. Sadly, in The Turn of the Key that’s missing. There’s no ambiguity, no suspense, no mind games. It has nothing to do with the fact that it was a modern retelling but more so in the fact Ruth Ware pushed the fact the events were caused by an actual person causing the smart home app to malfunction.

Funny enough, both versions have the same issues and I rated both a 3.5. There’s a lot of repetition and a lot of things going on without anything happening in both. What hindered The Turn of the Key is the length, which is a little over 12 hours. Turn of the Screw is a little under 5 hours and it greatly improved the suspense.

I think both are still worthy of a read (although I would go the audiobook route) and I do recommend them. You’re not going to get a full on gothic suspense but you are going to get a decent suspense and The Turn of the Key has a bombshell ending.

You can check out my full review of Turn of the Screw HERE

If you’ve read Ruth Ware, what book should I pick up next?

 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Patient Man by Joy Ellis

One sinister text has the entire Saltern-le-Fen Constabulary on edge and one person has turned this little village upside down, as a deadly game of cat-and-mouse begins in one of the fastest paced thrillers I’ve read.

The domestic bliss of Detective Inspector Rowan Jackman, of Fenland Constabulary, doesn’t last long. His old nemesis, serial killer Alistair Ashcroft, is back in town and ready to tidy up unfinished business.

Ashcroft sends a sinister text to DS Marie Evans. His opening move in what will prove to be a lethal game of cat-and-mouse. Yet for all his taunts, where is he? In a county crawling with police on the lookout for him, Ashcroft is nowhere to be found.

Everyone Jackman cares about is in danger. Alongside the hunt for Ashcroft, however, normal police work must continue. The separate thefts of six pigs, a thoroughbred stallion, guns and some oil lead Jackman’s crew to the notorious Lorimer family, ruled over on their farm by the fearsome matriarch Rachel.

Meanwhile, a seemingly routine break-in at the home of gun-club owner Kenneth Harcourt quickly becomes more complicated when the man long held responsible for having killed Harcourt’s young daughter in a hit-and-run is shot dead in a car park - by a sniper. A killer is on the loose in the quiet streets of Saltern-le-Fen, and he isn’t going to stop at claiming one life. But why is he focusing on young Kevin, so close to promotion to detective?

And the sniper, like Ashcroft, takes to taunting the police: they’ll never catch him, they need to respect him, they shouldn’t be sidetracked looking for their old adversary.

Series: Jackman & Evans #6 | Publisher: Audible | Narrator: Richard Armitage  | Length: 10 hrs 14 min | Genre: Contemporary Mystery/Thriller | Source: Publisher | Rating: 5 Cups


Ashcroft is back and ready to unleash terror on Saltern-le-Fen and nothing will stand in his way. Each hour he sends another wave of terror and taunts, yet the police seem unable to stop him. As though that’s not enough for Jackman, Evans, and their team to deal with there’s also a string of thefts involving a shady farming family, a home break-in of a gun-club owner, and a sniper. To add to Ashcroft’s twisted taunts, he seems to be setting his sights on Kevin, who’s soon to be made detective. While Jackman and Evans have their hands full, they must sort out the clues and find the connection before one of their own becomes Ashcroft’s next victim.

This has to be one of the best in the series thus far, which is surprising seeing as I wasn’t a big fan of The Guilty Ones (the book Ashcroft first appears in). There was so much going on and at such a fast pace that I was on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next and, I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

Jackman and Evans both feel as though they dropped the ball, which they didn’t, by letting Ashcroft slip through their hands. Rowan Jackman’s taking this one the hardest as Ashcroft was responsible for his sister-in-law’s death. He’s doing a lot of questioning regarding whether or not he’s suited for the job and he’s doing a lot of soul searching yet he’ll stop at nothing to ensure that Ashcroft is captured this time. Marie Evans is also having a bit of a struggle—she’s tired of seeing her team targeted by this maniac and feeling like she’s failed. She determined to do what it takes to get Ashcroft so we get to see her change a bit. Instead of being someone who rushes into danger headfirst, we see her taking more of a methodical approach, which I really enjoyed.

The mystery/thriller aspects of this were spot on. I’m not going into much detail as I don’t want to spoil anything but I do want to touch on a bit of what’s going on in this one. We have Ashcroft’s return, his cat-and-mouse games with the Constabulary and we have a sniper targeting a member of the team. Then there’s the theft of livestock and oil involving the Latimer family, we also have guns stolen from a gun club—one of which ends up being used in a murder that’s related to something in the gun club owner’s past. This one is layered, it’s adrenaline-filled, and you have to pay attention to connect the dots and weed out the dead ends.

While this one was action-driven, we’re also seeing fully fleshed out new characters without losing any of the momentum. The crafting of the Latimer family was brilliantly done and done in a way that Joy Ellis shines at. Every community has a Latimer family and Joy Ellis handles them in such a way you’ll believe they are real.

Overall, this one was brilliantly done. I think it’s the first 5 Cup rating I’ve given to a book in this series. It kicks off in the beginning and doesn’t stop until the very end. You won’t want to put this one down. 

Jackman & Evans Series (recommended listening order)

 Their Lost Daughters

The Murderer's Son

The Fourth Friend

The Guilty Ones

The Stolen Boys

The Patient Man

They Disappeared

The Night Thief

 

Friday, April 1, 2022

March’s Subscription Box Round-Up (Ipsy Glam Bag, Walmart Beauty Box, Glossybox)

Hey, Lovelies, I hope you’re all doing fantastic! I have a lot of posts that I need to catch up on so I decided to do a Beauty Subscription Round Up instead of doing a post for each subscription. I’m thinking about making this an end of the month feature instead of creating an individual post for each subscription because it’s a little hard to arrange my blog schedule due to shipping delays.  

 

Today I have three subscription boxes; Glossybox, Ipsy Glam Bag (both my regular and adventurous bag), and Walmart Beauty Box. I will include info and links (some are affiliate links, which will be noted) for each subscription.  If you have any questions about any of the subscription boxes, just pop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. 

Glossybox March 2022



 March’s Theme: Glossy Wonderland

 Glossybox is a monthly beauty subscription box that contains 5-7 (normally 5, though) beauty products. Products are mainly full size but occasionally it does contain deluxe samples. Each box is guaranteed to have a value over $75.

Price: $21 a month

 By signing up HERE or using my code: ANGELA-R2BA, you will save $5 on your first Glossybox and I will earn a $5 credit to use in the Glossy Shop.

 Here’s what was in my March 2022 Glossybox:



1-Estate Cosmetics Just A Taste Eyeshadow Palette in Peach Punch (Full Size, $14)

2-Merci Handy Hand Cream in Unicorn (Full Size, $7)

3-Farm RX Super Greens Cooling Gel (Full Size, $37)

4-Modelco Highlighting Shimmer Whip (Full Size $20)

5-Luxie Large Angled 504 Brush (Full Size, $21)

 Number of full sized items received: 5

Total Value of March’s Box: $99

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (1/2 point to the hand cream because the glitter)

 My Thoughts: one of my favorite things about Glossybox is that they contain some of my favorite brands as well as brands I’ve not heard about before and this box was no exception. Right now, a lot of boxes are throwing in repeat products but Glossybox is keeping it fresh. I’ve been getting them for about 2 years and I have never received a repeat from them in their monthly boxes.

 I also like that they include products from companies that I wouldn’t automatically think about like Avon. I’ve heard about Avon’s skincare line but because it’s not a company that sells in shops it slipped my mind. I’m happy they included a product from their Farm RX so I can try it out.

 While they do not offer boxes curated specifically to your beauty profile, they do offer variations of the box (I can’t remember what variation this is—I tossed the outer box before I remembered to look). They usually include a nice variety of makeup, skincare, beauty, and beauty tools.

 The only thing I wish was different in this box was the hand cream. There were 5 different scents I could have received and, just my luck, I received the one with micro glitter. Why do I always get glittery products? Not a big issue, but I wish it would have said on the tube that it contained glitter because I tossed this into my handbag then used it before going into a meeting and my hands, the paperwork, and everything I touched ended up looking like a disco ball. And it would not wash off. It took hours for it to wear off.

 March 2022 Ipsy Glam Bag

 Ipsy Glam Bag is a monthly subscription bag where you receive a makeup bag and 5 (full or sample size) products curated around your beauty profile. You can also choose one of your items each month. Each bag is guaranteed to have a value over $50.

Price: $13 (plus tax) a month

 You can sign up HERE using my affiliate link. By signing up through my link you will receive and extra product in your first Glam Bag and I will receive points credited to my account that I can redeem for products.

 March’s Theme: Power Moves

 What is my Regular Bag? The profile for my regular bag is set to my actual beauty profile hair color, eye color, I like all make up, skincare, beauty products).

What is my Adventurous Bag? The profile for my adventurous bag has a different eye color, a different hair color, and I want bold and adventurous makeup. Absolutely no neutral colors.

Both accounts are set to my skin tone and type and state that I do not want to receive lipstick in either bag

 Ipsy Glam Bag (Regular Bag)



1-Araceli Beauty Tequila Highlighter in Blanco (Deluxe Sample)

2-First Aid Beauty Hydrating Eye Cream with Hyaluronic Acid (Deluxe Sample)

3-Eleman Beauty Matte Liquid Lipstick in Madrid (Deluxe Sample)

4-Polaar The Genuine Lapland Hand Cream (Deluxe Sample)

5-Ciate London Bamboo Bronzer in South Beach (Deluxe Sample)

 Number of full sized items received: 0

Total Value of my Regular Glam Bag: unknown

My Rating: 4 out of 5 (0 points for the lipstick)

 Ipsy Glam Bag (Adventurous Bag)



1-The Balm Cosmetics It’s a Date Blush (Deluxe Sample)

2-Hipdot Shading Brush (Full Size $12)

3-First Aid Beauty Hydrating Eye Cream with Hyaluronic Acid (Deluxe Sample)

4-Sorci Low-Hyaluronic Tangerine Booster Serum (Deluxe Sample)

5-Ciate London Bamboo Bronzer in Palm Island (Deluxe Sample)

 Number of full sized items received: 5

Total Value of my Adventurous Bag: $12 +

My Rating: 5 out of 5

 I wish that they would include the value of the deluxe samples just to see if the value is actually over $50.

 My Thoughts: product-wise, both bags, were great expect for the lipstick in my regular bag—I have so many lipsticks I’m either throwing them away or giving them away by the dozens. The both had a nice mixture of skincare and makeup.

 Did they match the profiles? Not really, I had to go into my account to see which bag belonged to which profile because nothing in my adventurous bag stood out as actually being adventurous.

 As for the bag itself, it’s okay but not my favorite. I keep hoping that we’ll eventually receive a green, St. Patrick’s Day themed one for March.

 Walmart Beauty Box Spring 2022



 The Walmart Beauty box is a seasonal subscription box that contains 7 (sample and/or full size) beauty and/or lifestyle products. There is a beauty quiz but I don’t think they follow it.

Price $7.60 (includes tax)

You can sign up HERE 

 Theme: Spring Self Care—it didn’t even come close to the theme.

Variation I received: 5

 Here’s what I received:



1-Impress Press On Nails (Style: Miracle | Length: Short : Full Size $6.97) |

2 & 3-Monday Shampoo & Conditioner  (Sample Size)

4-Find Your Happy Place Hand Sanitizer (Starlit Sky Chamomile & Sandalwood | Full Size: $3.97)

5-Hard Candy Glitteratzi Crystal Lip Duo (Shade: Crushed Crimson| Full Size $6.96)

6-Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier (Flavor: Golden Cherry | Sample Size)

7-CoverGirl Clean Fresh Skincare Weightless Water Cream (Foil Packet)

 Number of full sized items received: 3

Total Value of March’s Box: $17.90

My Rating: 4 out of 7 (no points for the glittery lipstick, foil packet, or hydration packet)

My Thoughts: I have been wanting to try the Monday shampoo and conditioner, so I am excited about those and I will use the sanitizer but the rest of the box was a bit lackluster and I won’t use the products, plus one has stevia in it and I’m highly allergic. It’s been over a year since they raised the price and went to a ‘new and improved’ box and I’ve not seen any changes (and those bloody foil packets are still there).

Am I ever really impressed with the Walmart Beauty Box? No. Am I impressed with this one? Nope. Why do I keep getting it? Because I’m locked out of my account and can’t cancel.

 



 

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Speed Reviews: The Veil by Rachel Harris & How it Ends by Rachel Howzell Hall

I’m back with two more shorts from the Audible Plus catalogue. Like the Facts of Life theme song, ‘you take the good (which I posted Tuesday), you take the bad (which is what we have here today)’. In this round, we have a ghostly romance, The Veil by Rachel Harris, and an avenging thriller, How it Ends by Rachel Howzell Hall.


Title: The Veil

Author: Rachel Harris

Narrator: Louisa Krause

Length: 47 minutes

Source: Audible Plus

Rating: .5 Cup 

Sally has recently left an unfulfilling job to volunteer at a living history museum, where she is assigned to the Death House. Every day, she dons Victorian mourning garb and describes traditional funeral services to tourists. It sounds depressing as hell, but for Sally, it’s less depressing than her tepid marriage to her childhood sweetheart.

This becomes all too clear when she accidentally travels through time and space to a liminal world where the ghosts of the living history museum haunt its grounds. There, she meets and falls hard for Victorian-era pretty boy Nathaniel. Their heady, romantic encounters douse Sally in the sad reality that her marriage is anything but and leave her tempted to join Nathaniel permanently in his realm.

Is Sally’s marriage literally a fate worse than death, or is there another way altogether?

 Sally works in the ‘Death House’ in a living history museum where she talks about Victorian funeral and mourning customs. One day, she goes to sleep in a Victorian Herse and wakes up to find Nathaniel—a Victorian-era ghost—she seems to prefer over her living high-school sweetheart who is now her husband. Now she has to choose between her tepid marriage or her ghostly beau.

Loved the premise: a living history museum worker time travels, sort of, and falls in love with the ghost of the Victorian era man that lived there. Hated the book. It was a waste of 47 minutes, thank goodness it was an Audible Plus freebie. I don’t know why so many people are raving about this short story. Not only was Sally the whiniest character, the plot was a waste of time.

This was a poorly executed mash-up of Emily Dickinson’s poem Because I Could Not Stop for Death


Title: How It Ends

Author: Rachel Howzell Hall

Narrator: Joniece Abbott-Pratt

Length: 2 hrs and 32 mins

 Source: Audible Plus

Rating: 1 Cup

Marti Greenwood has just moved into a brand-new home after a bitter divorce from her husband Emery, and while she’s still not quite done with him—of course, some of her most cherished possessions are nowhere to be found once she unpacks her things—a fresh start in a beautiful LA neighborhood is exactly what she needs.

But days after her arrival, Marti is attacked in her home. She's found shaken and beaten, and her neighbors immediately call the police. She never saw the face of her attacker, so there is little to go on as detectives open an investigation—but Marti will do whatever it takes to find her assailant.

Not only is Marti going through a divorce, she’s just been attacked in her new home. While she’s terrified, there’s little she can do to help the police find her attacker because she never saw his face. Still she’s determined to catch the person who did this to her.

Another book that started well, had amazing potential, but fell flat. Not only was the character inconsistent (one minute Marti was unable to move from fear then the next she was ready to be her own personal avenger) but the ending was absurd.

You know when you’re taking a creative writing course at uni and the professor gives you 30 minutes to come up with a short story and things are going well until you look at the clock and realize you’re coming up on the 30-minute mark and you’re a long way from the ending so instead of tying things up in a nice bow you crumple up the wrapping paper, hoping the one piece of tape holds the entire thing together.  Well, that was this ending. 

Have any of your recent reads not lived up to their potential?

 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A Bone to Pick with #BoxyCharm (Subscription Box Review/Rant)


I have been a fan of BoxyCharm since they came out with their revamp years ago. I’m often posting their praises when I share my boxes on here but, sadly, they’re starting to let me down.

October 2021 they announced they were raising their Premium Boxes from $35 to $39.99 (plus tax) but their Base Boxes were going to remain the same. Fast forward to January 2022 and they announced that Base was increasing from $25 to $27.99 plus tax but we were going to be receiving the hottest new brands and new-to-Boxy brands.

I decided to cancel my Premium box because 1—I didn’t want to pay over $40 for a box that had not been the best over the last few months and 2—I’ve been trying to cut down on the amount of makeup/beauty items I’m bringing in because I need to use up the hoard of makeup/beauty items that I have here. Even with the price increase, which is now the second increase, I decided to stick with the Base Box.

This year hasn’t kicked off with the best boxes. Nothing matches my profile and I’ve received several duplicate items. Then March’s Base Box arrived and I was excited. For my choice pick, I selected the Charm Your Cheeks Blush Palette from Ofra and it was confirmed via email after I made my selection.

 


Well, I open my box and pulled out the card, which happened to be the card for Boxy Flourish—this month’s Boxy Charm Theme is Boxy Game Changer. Boxy Flourish was the box from May 2021 (the card is coded C2105127-BA-GWP, which means it was the base box for May 2021 and I received variation 127). I started looking through the products and this is what I received.

 


1-Murad City Skin Overnight Detox Moisturizer

2-KAM Cosmetics Day + Night Eyeshadow Palette

3-Lavish Essential Eye Collection (bush set)

4-Ciate London Bamboo Bronzer

5-Sophia + Marbelle Hydrating Hybird lip balm

I also received the Breakfast in Bed Eyeshadow Palette from Beauty Bakerie (not listed on the card)

This box was the exact same box I received in May 2021—the only thing that changed was the Sophia + Mabelle Hydrating Hybrid Lipstick is a different shade and they threw in a Beauty Bakerie eyeshadow palette, which I’ve received numerous times in Boxy Base.

I paid $30.93 in March 2022 for the same box I paid a little over $26  for in May of 2021 yet, the price increase was supposed to bring *new* products to your box. I email the company basically saying, ‘hey, I received a past box instead of the current box and I’m not happy about it’. This was the reply I received…

 


Basically, it was a brush off. I decided to have a little snoop around their Drop Shop Sale (it’s where Boxy members can shop items at a discount). Not only did they have everything for sale that my mother received in her March box, they had every single item that two of my friends received as well as items that the majority of people on Insta and Youtube received.  

If they had the stock to sale, they had the stock to make sure I received a current box. I have a feeling that they were trying to get rid of their backstock and I’m not okay with that or the fact that I paid more for a box I already received. I’m wondering how many people Boxy Charm did this to this month.

Boxy Charm is turning going downhill rather quickly. This box fiasco was just the icing on the cake. For months there has been issues with choice not opening when it was supposed to—normally it’s been opening half-an-hour to an hour (sometimes longer) after it’s scheduled to open, which makes it challenging for those who scheduled things around the time they announced. Then there’s their ‘oops, we made a mistake and somehow sent out old emails and we have no idea how it occurred’ situation, which is occurring rather frequently .

There’s also been a lot of mistakes with their boxes lately. Not only has some of the products come swatched, there’s been several times when I receive a different product than the one listed on the product card, or a product has been expired. And, sadly, the value just hasn’t been there with some of the past few boxes.

I’m on the fence about Boxy Charm. A big part of me wants to cancel my subscription—I’m just not please with it—but I also want to stay for their members-only Mega Sale and Drop Shop because they offer amazing discounts for products I love but don’t want to pay the insane MSRP for. 


Do you receive Boxy Charm?

If so, have you ever received a past box?

What would you do if this happened to you?