Book Review: All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers

Suspenseful, twisted, and incredibly dark.

Ashley is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of audiochuck, the award-winning, independent media and podcast production company known for its standout content and storytelling across different genres, including true crime, fiction, comedy, and more. As CEO, she works with her team to create an overarching content strategy and vision for the network of shows and company growth. She also hosts several audiochuck shows, including top-rated podcasts like Crime Junkie, Red Ball, Full Body Chills, and The Deck. Ashley was born and raised in Indiana, where she continues to live with her husband, daughter, and their beloved dog, Chuck. She received a Bachelor of Science in Biological Services from Arizona State University. All Good People Here is her debut novel

Once I learned Ashley Flowers was the founder of true crime podcast, Crime Junkie, I was even more compelled to read her debut novel, All Good People Here, and curious as to how her professional background would influence her writing. I’m pleased to report I was very impressed with this novel! Not only are the characters relatable and well fleshed out, but the use of dual timelines is extremely effective at creating suspense and revealing their backgrounds and relationships. I enjoyed the steady pace, multiple twists, and shifting narratives, but the second to last scene was definitely the most exciting. Flowers has a natural gift for storytelling and I can’t wait to read what she publishes next.

My favorite scene was when Margot notices a photograph revealing a subtle clue she recalls from a previous conversation. The intensity immediately ramps up to an unexpected climax leaving me stunned and partly satisfied after learning who the true killer was. A shocking cliffhanger that left me wanting more.

4/5 ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy dual timelines and small-town suspense.

PUBLISHED AUGUST 16TH, 2022

Synopsis:

You can’t ever know for sure what happens behind closed doors.

Everyone from Wakarusa, Indiana, remembers the infamous case of January Jacobs, who was discovered in a ditch hours after her family awoke to find her gone. Margot Davies was six at the time, the same age as January—and they were next-door neighbors. In the twenty years since, Margot has grown up, moved away, and become a big-city journalist. But she’s always been haunted by the feeling that it could’ve been her. And the worst part is, January’s killer has never been brought to justice.

When Margot returns home to help care for her uncle after he is diagnosed with early-onset dementia, she feels like she’s walked into a time capsule. Wakarusa is exactly how she remembers—genial, stifled, secretive. Then news breaks about five-year-old Natalie Clark from the next town over, who’s gone missing under circumstances eerily similar to January’s. With all the old feelings rushing back, Margot vows to find Natalie and to solve January’s murder once and for all.

But the police, Natalie’s family, the townspeople—they all seem to be hiding something. And the deeper Margot digs into Natalie’s disappearance, the more resistance she encounters, and the colder January’s case feels. Could January’s killer still be out there? Is it the same person who took Natalie? And what will it cost to finally discover what truly happened that night twenty years ago?

Twisty, chilling, and intense, All Good People Here is a searing tale that asks: What are your neighbors capable of when they think no one is watching?

Book Review: NSFW: a novel by Isabel Kaplan

Gut-wrenching, clever, and undeniably 😉 honest.

Isabel Kaplan graduated from Harvard and holds an MFA in creative writing from NYU. She is the author of the national bestselling young adult novel Hancock Park and a co-founder of Project 100, an organization launched after the 2016 election to support progressive women running for Congress. She previously worked in TV drama development at Fox Broadcasting Company. Isabel was born and raised in Los Angeles.

I love how real this book, NSFW (Not Safe For Work) felt. Having personally experienced a somewhat similar environment as the book’s anonymous protagonist, it was easy for me to picture the day-to-day rat race—bullshit bureaucracy, toxicity, and harassment—in the office setting, which is so effortlessly described throughout. If you’ve worked in corporate America, you’ve probably experienced or at least witnessed some level of coercion and/or complicity. And for such a serious subject matter, Kaplan lifted the tension with moments of dark humor, allowing the reader to take a much-needed breath. One of the most disturbing relationships in the book was between the protagonist and her mother. A toxic bond filled with emotional manipulation, invalidation, and gaslighting—something that affected the core of the MC. Keeping her mother happy is a full-time job, one that at times, overshadows her own sense of self-awareness, and fogs her ability to advocate for what she truly wants.

I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve personally connected to over the last two years, and NSFW is now one of them. I rank it alongside two of my favorites: Luster by Raven Leilani and Animal by Lisa Taddeo—two of my auto-buy authors.

So many scenes stick out but one that touched my heart describes the MC searching through boxes in her father’s garage when she comes across old home videos. She watches one of herself as a child in which her mother teaches her how to mount a plastic blue rocking horse to show her Nana “what a great rider” she is. She stumbles around the toy, timid at first until her mother successfully coaxes her on. After which she’s rocking back and forth saying, “See! I didn’t break anything! I’m not breaking anything!” I found this scene so symbolic and indicative of a child raised in the clutches of a narcissistic parent. A child who walks on eggshells and quickly learns to sacrifice her own needs in order to keep the peace. (A theme echoed in every chapter of NSFW.) But in order to retain a sense of her own moral principles, she must decide if silence is worth success, or if speaking the truth will break recurring toxic patterns and finally set her free.

5/5 ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend to readers who enjoy dark subjects in a corporate setting, compelling female protagonists, electrifying prose, and psychological themes.

Published July 5th, 2022

Synopsis:

From the outside, the unnamed protagonist in NSFW appears to be the vision of success. She has landed an entry-level position at a leading TV network that thousands of college grads would kill for. And sure, she has much to learn. The daughter of a prominent feminist attorney, she grew up outside the industry. But she’s resourceful and hardworking. What could go wrong?

At first, the high adrenaline work environment motivates her. Yet as she climbs the ranks, she confronts the reality of creating change from the inside. Her points only get attention when echoed by male colleagues; she hears whispers of abuse and sexual misconduct. Her mother says to keep her head down until she’s the one in charge―a scenario that seems idealistic at best, morally questionable at worst. When her personal and professional lives collide, threatening both the network and her future, she must decide what to protect: the career she’s given everything for or the empowered woman she claims to be.

Fusing page-turning prose with dark humor and riveting commentary on the truths of starting out professionally, Isabel Kaplan’s NSFW is an unflinching exploration of the gray area between empowerment and complicity. The result is a stunning portrait of what success costs in today’s patriarchal world, asking us: Is it ever worth it?

Book Review: The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda

Suspenseful, eerie, and full of twists.

Megan Miranda is the New York Times bestselling author of ALL THE MISSING GIRLS, THE PERFECT STRANGER, and THE LAST HOUSE GUEST, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick. She has also written several books for young adults, including COME FIND ME, FRAGMENTS OF THE LOST, and THE SAFEST LIES. She grew up in New Jersey, graduated from MIT, and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children.

I loved the atmospheric setting in this novel. It was so isolated and creepy. But when coupled with the mysterious history—labeled by the national press as “the most dangerous town in North Carolina”—it definitely gave it a darker edge. The descriptions were rich throughout and I could clearly picture the Passage Inn and the mountains surrounding Cutter’s Pass. The same detail applied to the cast of characters who were easy to read and tell apart. Although I enjoy a faster pace, given the amount of detail in this novel, it definitely needed time to build. The misdirection and plot twists were well executed, including the end reveal which I did not see coming.

This was the first Megan Miranda book I’ve read and I loved it! I’m always excited to discover new authors and in this case, I can’t wait to read everything else she’s published so far, including her YA novels. She’s definitely on my radar and I’m so excited to see what she publishes next!

4/5 ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend to readers who enjoy a deeply atmospheric setting with a creepy history, twisty plots, and a fearless female protagonist.

Published July 26th, 2022

Synopsis:

Ten years ago, Abigail Lovett fell into a job she loves, managing The Passage Inn, a cozy, upscale resort nestled in the North Carolina mountain town of Cutter’s Pass. Cutter’s Pass is best known for its outdoor offerings—rafting and hiking, with access to the Appalachian trail by way of a gorgeous waterfall—and its mysterious history. As the book begins, the string of unsolved disappearances that has haunted the town is once again thrust into the spotlight when journalist Landon West, who was staying at the inn to investigate the story of the vanishing trail, then disappears himself.

Abby has sometimes felt like an outsider within the community, but she’s come to view Cutter’s Pass as her home. When Landon’s brother Trey shows up looking for answers, Abby can’t help but feel the town closing ranks. And she’s still on the outside. When she finds incriminating evidence that may bring them closer to the truth, Abby soon discovers how little she knows about her coworkers, neighbors, and even those closest to her.

Book Review: Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier

Twisted, clever, and utterly satisfying!

Paris Peralta is suspected of killing her celebrity husband, and her long-hidden past now threatens to destroy her future.

I was lucky to receive early access to Jennifer Hillier’s latest psychological thriller, THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK, published July 19th, 2022. After catching numerous rave reviews online I started reading and couldn’t put it down. The novel is skilled at covering extremely dark themes and managed to keep me satisfied with an in-depth backstory and intriguing plot.

JENNIFER HILLIER is the author of the bestselling Little Secrets (finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Anthony Award), and Jar of Hearts (winner, ITW Thriller Award, and finalist for the Anthony and Macavity Awards). A Filipino-Canadian born and raised in Toronto, she spent several years in Seattle before returning home to Canada. She currently lives in Oakville, Ontario with her family.

There are so many scenes that still haunt me but one, in particular, is when Joey is sent to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother is incarcerated. The image of her lying in bed as the shadow of a figure looms in the doorway watching her sleep is so beyond creepy. And when the truth is revealed behind this encounter, and she finally gets revenge it had me racing through the chapters to the end.

I loved the skilled use of dual timelines to create depth of character and suspense. When the main reveal happened midway, everything leading up to that point felt worth it, and the pieces fell into place for me. I love clever use of structure in suspense novels, and when done correctly, it gives a novel so much more than just a story—TWDITD accomplished that and I felt like I was piecing together a puzzle. The cast of characters is diverse in this story and each one is so unique, that I was invested in every single outcome. The way Hillier shifted my feelings for Paris with each twist and turn was masterful, eventually leading me to a satisfying ending I was definitely ready for. I loved that there was more than one mystery to this story too. It kept my attention and the pages turning.

This was the first Jennifer Hillier book I’ve read and did not disappoint. I’m so excited to have discovered a new author who’s not afraid to write about the disturbing things that keep us awake at night. She’s definitely one to watch going forward and I can’t wait to read what she publishes next!

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend to readers who enjoy complex psychological suspense, family drama, and compelling female characters.

PUBLISHED JULY 19TH, 2022

Synopsis:

When Paris Peralta is arrested in her own bathroom—covered in blood, holding a straight razor, her celebrity husband dead in the bathtub behind her—she knows she’ll be charged with murder. But as bad as this looks, it’s not what worries her the most. With the unwanted media attention now surrounding her, it’s only a matter of time before someone from her long-hidden past recognizes her and destroys the new life she’s worked so hard to build, along with any chance of a future.

Twenty-five years earlier, Ruby Reyes, known as the Ice Queen, was convicted of a similar murder in a trial that riveted Canada in the early nineties. Reyes knows who Paris really is, and when she’s unexpectedly released from prison, she threatens to expose all of Paris’s secrets. Left with no other choice, Paris must finally confront the dark past she escaped, once and for all.

Because the only thing worse than a murder charge are two murder charges.

Book Review: The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark

The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark is a twisty, fierce domestic thriller.

The story follows two complicated women, fueled by revenge as they navigate the glitzy Los Angeles landscape in search of those who wronged them. I always enjoy domestic thrillers with strong female protagonists and this book checked all the boxes. Clark has created two very compelling characters with unique backgrounds that kept me frantically turning the pages. I found both Meg and Kat believable and likable (in their own ways), as the story gripped me throughout, carrying me to a satisfying end.

One of my favorite scenes described a TV in the background, broadcasting images of women marching in the street and holding up signs displaying the MeToo hashtag as both protagonists confided in each other regarding past experiences. It was a powerful tool to use, highlighting themes of sexual trauma that drive the plot. I found the pace steady, naturally ramping up toward the end. Clark’s writing style is vivid and impactful, her voice extremely compelling, pulling me inside the character’s minds where I found myself rooting for each of them.

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a steady pace with strong female protagonists, and a highly entertaining thriller that isn’t too dark.

Synopsis:

Meg Williams. Maggie Littleton. Melody Wilde. Different names for the same person, depending on the town, depending on the job. She’s a con artist who erases herself to become whoever you need her to be—a college student. A life coach. A real estate agent. Nothing about her is real. She slides alongside you and tells you exactly what you need to hear, and by the time she’s done, you’ve likely lost everything.

Kat Roberts has been waiting ten years for the woman who upended her life to return. And now that she has, Kat is determined to be the one to expose her. But as the two women grow closer, Kat’s long-held assumptions begin to crumble, leaving Kat to wonder who Meg’s true target is.

Book Review: Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

Lightning-fast and whip smart. A fresh take on the genre.

Never Saw Me Coming is Vera Kurian’s debut novel, published September 7th, 2021, by Park Row Books. Kurian is a scientist first, novelist second. Per her bio, she’s spent time on both US coasts but now lives in her hometown of DC, which mirrors the setting of her novel.

I was immediately drawn in by the premise of the book: eighteen-year-old Chloe Sevre earns a full scholarship to Adams college when she agrees to participate in a clinical study on psychopaths. It’s new, it’s interesting, and I love unreliable female narrators. Once first introductions were over, the story hits the ground running and drops a couple of bombs in the first 50 pages (my favorite) including, the fact that Chloe is on a revenge mission to kill a childhood ‘friend’, and if that’s not shocking enough, one of the other students in the study is found murdered. After that, the pace continues full speed and we see Chloe teaming up with two other students—Andre and Charles, also participants in the psychopathy study—as they try to figure out the motive behind who is targeting them and why.

But can you really trust a psychopath?

For a debut, Never Saw Me Coming is long in length (389 pages) but since the chapters are relatively short it never slows in pace. I found myself racing through each new chapter as the POV alternated between Chloe (18 year-old hot girl next door), Charles (privileged, handsome, rich kid), and Andre (a student with a troubled past hiding a big secret). Each character is interesting, unique, and complex, bringing their own personal set of traits to the table. Kurian did an amazing job at displaying the nonchalant and calculative tendencies psychopaths are described to exhibit in textbooks to the page, specifically in chapter 47 where I found myself gliding through a particularly gruesome scene with ease, narrated by Chloe, in which I had to pause and go back, shocked at how cold and detached she was. The tone was executed perfectly and it sent shivers down my spine!

One of the things I love the most about this book is how fresh the story idea is. I have read and enjoyed numerous books featuring unreliable narrators for one reason or another, whether it’s addiction, trauma, or straight-up deceit, but it’s not often I read about a diagnosed psychopath who is not only unashamed but openly proud to admit it. And the fact that she’s not the only one makes for a very suspenseful read with an even more interesting cast of characters. The only downside is that sometimes I found it a little hard to follow all of them, nevertheless it’s an expertly plotted novel.

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy psychological thrillers, dark academia with a wide cast of characters, lightning-fast pace, and unreliable narrators.

Published October 17th, 2018

Synopsis:

You should never trust a psychopath. But what if you had no choice?

It would be easy to underestimate Chloe Sevre… She’s a freshman honor student, a legging-wearing hot girl next door, who also happens to be a psychopath. She spends her time on yogalates, frat parties, and plotting to kill Will Bachman, a childhood friend who grievously wronged her. 

Chloe is one of seven students at her DC-based college who are part of an unusual clinical study of psychopaths—students like herself who lack empathy and can’t comprehend emotions like fear or guilt. The study, led by a renowned psychologist, requires them to wear smartwatches that track their moods and movements.

When one of the students in the study is found murdered in the psychology building, a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins, and Chloe goes from hunter to prey. As she races to identify the killer and put her own plan for revenge into action, she’ll be forced to decide if she can trust any of her fellow psychopaths—and everybody knows you should never trust a psychopath.

Book Review: Survive the Night by Riley Sager

Riley Sager’s fifth thriller—Survive the Night—is a must-read for anyone who loves nineties-era-nostalgia. From grungy music and classic horror movies to muscle cars and dingy roadside diners; this book brought the thrills of the big screen alive on the page for me. Charlie Jordan—college student and movie buff—accepts a ride from a stranger she meets at the ride board at school. After her best friend was brutally murdered, Charlie’s desperate to leave college and get back to Ohio, leaving the mess of traumatic memories behind her. But not long into the journey, Charlie starts to suspect her driver, Josh, isn’t who he says he is. Could she really be riding alongside “The Campus Killer”?

I’m a huge fan of anything nineties but particularly love the films created in that era. A few of my favorite examples are Silence of the Lambs, Cape Fear, Seven, Misery, The Bone Collector, Kiss the Girls. After reading a LOT of books based on serial killers, when I read the premise of Sager’s fifth thriller I was definitely intrigued. So many authors have covered the same theme so I wanted to know what could possibly be different this time. I can confirm one thing Sager does extremely well is turn a simple story idea into something genuinely original. I was pleasantly surprised with the story of Charlie Jordan and her mysterious driver, Josh Baxter, who set off on a page-turning journey into the night that made me stay up past midnight racing to the end just to find out what happened.

The plot was fast-paced and kept me glued to the page. I loved the cast of characters, especially the independent protagonist Charlie, who is courageous, smart, and has a passion for horror movies. I felt like I was sitting in the passenger seat along for the ride the entire time, as if the book was a movie playing out in my mind (similar to the story’s protagonist). And with the plot advancing at break-neck speed, I was kept guessing at the end of each chapter. One of my favorite scenes sees Charlie and Josh stop at a diner along the way, set in a remote location miles from the campus where they left from. It’s one of the most pivotal moments in the book without the reader realizing it. All the details of the scene, from the greasy food to the dirty restrooms, were so vivid and the suspense between the characters was palpable. I caught myself holding my breath in many of the scenes, waiting for the truth to reveal itself.

One of my favorite things about Sager’s books is that they’re all completely different from one another. There is no correct book to start with so just dive into the one that speaks to you first.

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend Survive the Night to readers who enjoy everything nineties, movie references, strong female protagonists, and twisty, slow-building suspense.

Published June 29th, 2021

Synopsis:

It’s November 1991. Nirvana’s in the tape deck, George H. W. Bush is in the White House, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the shocking murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father—or so he says.

The longer she sits in the passenger seat, the more Charlie notices there’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t want her to see inside the trunk. As they travel an empty, twisty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly anxious Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s jittery mistrust merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?

One thing is certain—Charlie has nowhere to run and no way to call for help. Trapped in a terrifying game of cat and mouse played out on pitch-black roads and in neon-lit parking lots, Charlie knows the only way to win is to survive the night.