September 30, 2023

Novel Lives

Book Publicity, Reviews, Author Interviews, and Discussion Posts by Susan Crosby

Best Recently Read Books of 200- Part 1 Round-Up

Best Recently Read Books Of 200- Part 1 Round-Up

Best Recently Read Books Of 200- Part 1 Round-Up

  1. This is not in any particular order
  2. This does not include:
    1. Books I will be writing full reviews of
      1. *There will be one exception- Martha Brockenbrough’s Into the Bloodred Woods, which will publish with her interview.*
    2. Cult Books (It will have a separate list)
    3. Series that I plan on covering
  3. Some “Hot Takes” will be longer than others. This doesn’t equate with my love of the book, necessarily.
    1. A lot of this is from Goodreads (not all but a lot). **Grammatical mistakes should be expected* Some of these books came out years ago. And I know you can relate when I say they are incredible but off the top of my head? I got nothing. 150 books in a year will do that to you.
  4. Don’t forget to look for part two on March 19th!-now linked


The Missing Hours by Julia Dahl

Summary: From a distance, Claudia Castro has it all: a famous family, a trust fund, thousands of Instagram followers, and a spot in NYU’s freshman class. But look closer, and things are messier: her parents are separating, she’s just been humiliated by a sleazy documentary, and her sister is about to have a baby with a man she barely knows.

Claudia starts the school year resolved to find a path toward something positive, maybe even meaningful – and then one drunken night everything changes. Reeling, her memory hazy, Claudia cuts herself off from her family, seeking solace in a new friendship. But when the rest of the school comes back from spring break, Claudia is missing.

Suddenly, the whole city is trying to piece together the hours of that terrible night.

From the critically acclaimed author of Invisible City and Conviction, The Missing Hours is a novel about obsession, privilege, and the explosive consequences of one violent act.

Release Date: September 14, 2021

Publisher: Minotaur

Hot Take: Like Take It Back by Kia Abdullah, this ups the ante on stories aiming to tell the story of victims of rape. This centers on campus rape and revenge porn.

It also does something I don’t think I’ve seen before in pitting one rich screwed-up family against another. So all the poor vs rich issues are null and void, leaving the rape issues front and center. The powerful and sick vs the powerful and sick. And in the end, that plays out in very interesting ways.

You wonder if that washes out to just male vs female power dynamics at that point or if one family has more morals than the other. And without spoiling anything… there were very big surprises and some that shouldn’t have been but sadly, were

The only poor/middle-class kid was the friend caught in the middle. And how he is caught up in the middle and how everyone treats him … again not spoiling anything but it is all just … damn. But also. He made his choices, too.

The ending was a little quick. And there was one angle that had me shake my head (initially thinking it was irresponsible and unrealistic) but that was very biased of me.

Of course, it isn’t unrealistic and I’m sure it happens often. Second? Even if it doesn’t happen? I imagine women think about it all the time.


The Photographer by Mary Dixie Carter


Mary Dixie Carter’s The Photographer is a slyly observed, suspenseful story of envy and obsession, told in the mesmerizing, irresistible voice of a character who will make you doubt that seeing is ever believing.

As a photographer, Delta Dawn observes the seemingly perfect lives of New York City’s elite: snapping photos of their children’s birthday parties, transforming images of stiff hugs and tearstained faces into visions of pure joy, and creating moments these parents long for.

But when Delta is hired for Natalie Straub’s eleventh birthday, she finds herself wishing she wasn’t behind the lens but a part of the scene―in the Straub family’s gorgeous home and elegant life.

That’s when Delta puts her plan in place, by babysitting for Natalie; befriending her mother, Amelia; finding chances to listen to her father, Fritz. Soon she’s bathing in the master bathtub, drinking their expensive wine, and eyeing the beautifully finished garden apartment in their townhouse. It seems she can never get close enough until she discovers that photos aren’t all she can manipulate.

Release Date: May 25, 2021

Publisher: Minotaur

Hot Take: This will be a divisive book. It won’t be for everyone. This isn’t a typical thriller beach read. And don’t get me wrong. This isn’t me judging anyone. I love those. I’m trash for them. This book?

There is some thinking involved. Your moral compass will be tested, maybe permanently shifted. Told from the first person narrative- from Delta- the “antagonist.” But good luck liking any of the characters.  Morally gray characters? Try a morally gray book. Delta’s a mess but no one is innocent. Except for Natalie.

It is easy to describe her as the villain, and peg her as dangerous and the single white female type. And I’m not arguing the typecast. BUT to just stop there and not delve deeper into the sacrifices she makes for the Straubs, and how they used her? Mistake.

The Pact by Sharon Bolton

On a side note- if you haven’t read Sharon Bolton’s The Split? Check out my review.


A golden summer and six talented friends are looking forward to the brightest of futures – until a daredevil game goes horribly wrong, and a woman and two children are killed.

18-year-old Megan takes the blame, leaving the others free to get on with their lives. In return, they each agree to a ‘favor’, payable on her release from prison.

Twenty years later Megan is free.
Let the games begin . . .

Release Date: May 27, 2021

Publisher: Trapeze

Hot Take: My exact quote from Goodreads? “Son of a bitch. She’s done it again.” Definitely check out my review of The Split.

Into The Blood Red Woods by Martha Brockenbrough


This is Martha Brockenbrough’s feminist twisting of the Brother Grimms’ stories, Game of Thrones-style.

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom and a forest that liked to eat men and a girl who would change everything, but not alone . . .


There’s no such thing as once upon a time.

In a faraway land, populated by were beasts and surrounded by a powerful forest, lies a kingdom about to be sent into chaos. On his deathbed, King Tyran divides his land, leaving half to each of his two children so they’ll rule together. However, his son, Albrecht, is not satisfied with half a kingdom.

And even though his sister, Ursula, is the firstborn, he decides that as a girl and were bear, she is unfit to rule. So he invades her land, slaughtering her people and most of the were beasts and claims it for himself. As King Albrecht builds his iron rule and an army of beasts to defend his reign, Ursula is gathering the survivors and makes plans to take back the kingdom. Not just her half-the whole thing. Because Albrecht should have never been allowed to sit on the throne, and Ursula is going to take his crown. And if he’s not careful, he might not get to keep his head either.

Release Date: November 2, 2021

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Hot Take: I dangerously live-tweeted my listening of Into The Blood Red Woods to Martha Brockenbrough. Yes, that was me if you cursed me between Colorado and St. Louis. This book was a blast. A ton of unlikeable characters with a Game Of Thrones- anything can happen to anyone- kind of feel. And for this dark heart reader? I drooled over every grim moment, not happily ever after.

Also, kudos to Brockenbrough for knowing that dead is dead, permanent, and not to be undone. Bless her for dragging my heart through the mud and then stomping on my soul. It is brave, bold, and more fun than a group of kittens.

All The Dirty Secrets by Aggie Blum Thomas


One warm summer night twenty-five years ago, Liza Gold and her friends celebrated their high school graduation with a party on the beach. It should have been the best night of their lives, but only, one of them never came back out of the ocean.

The tragedy haunted Liza Gold for years. Now, Liza is a recently divorced working mom struggling to connect with her standoffish teenage daughter Zoe when history repeats itself. Another young woman has drowned at Beach Week, and this time the victim is Zoe’s secret best friend.

Liza begins to suspect that the two deaths are somehow related, which causes her to face hard truths and take an unflinching look at the people she’s called her closest friends for the past two decades. She must discover what really happened to both women before it’s too late.

Set in the upscale DC private school scene, where silence can easily be bought, All the Dirty Secrets asks how far you would go to protect your status and your family, and if some secrets should ever be revealed.

Release Date: July 12, 2022

Publisher: Forge Books

Hot Take: Two incredible books in a row. This one is even better than her debut, I Don’t Forgive You. All The Dirty Secrets featured my favorite structure for unraveling plots. I was trying desperately to put the pieces together in my head. I knew I was so close. And I even had a couple of pieces. But damn. There was so much that was perfectly laid out. It was all right there. I just didn’t see it. Damn.

Both narrators did a brilliant job. One of them is an all-star favorite, Hillary Huber. Lastly, as for the structure of the audiobook? The POVs and flashbacks were labeled perfectly.


Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand


Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep. He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets, and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.

Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.

Release Date: October 2, 2018

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Hot Take: Ok. Don’t at me. I know I’m late to this party. Although, I think someone should have let me know to go read it after I reviewed Wilder Girls (I KNOW I KNOW but that was before everything hit). Having said that, if you loved the aforementioned book, you will love Sawkill Girls. Books like these are so rare. If there are others, please let me know.

The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan


For fans of the compulsive psychological suspense of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a mother-daughter story—one running from a horrible truth, and the other fighting to reveal it—that twists and turns in shocking ways, from the internationally bestselling author of The Scholar and The Ruin.

First Rule: Make them like you.

Second Rule: Make them need you.

Third Rule: Make them pay.

They think I’m a young, idealistic law student, that I’m passionate about reforming a corrupt and brutal system.

That I’m working hard to impress them and here to save an innocent man on death row.

They’re wrong. I’m going to bury him…

Release Date: May 10, 2022

Publisher: William Morrow

Hot Take: You need some buy-in because. How do you pay someone to make you look like a UVA law student?

But. This read like John Grisham when he actually was John Grisham. Real young idealistic lawyers, suspenseful, loaded secrets..  leading up to YOU CANT HANDLE THE TRUTH? And really good.

Thing is? I thought I had the predictability of the plot bagged from the beginning. I had it so wrong. And again. I completely blame Sharon Bolton for my reading patterns. God love that woman.

Also. I very carefully select 2-3 books a year to recommend to the boy. I’m careful because I know he’ll read them. This was one of those books.

The Anatomy of Desire by L.R. Dorn


A modern tale of American striving, social media stardom, a fatal love triangle, and a young woman on trial for murder—a mesmerizing reimagining of Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel of crime and punishment, An American Tragedy.

Claire Griffith seems to have it all, a thriving career, a gorgeous, successful boyfriend, and a glamorous circle of friends. She always knew she was destined for more than the life her deeply conservative parents preached to her. Arriving in Los Angeles as a flat-broke teenager, she has risen to become a popular fitness coach and social media influencer. Having rebranded herself as Cleo Ray, she stands on the threshold of achieving her most cherished dreams.

One summer day, Cleo and a young woman named Beck Alden set off in a canoe on a quiet, picture-perfect mountain lake. An hour later, Beck is found dead in the water, her face cut and bruised, and Cleo is missing. Authorities suspect foul play and news about Cleo’s involvement goes viral. Who was Beck and what was the nature of her and Cleo’s relationship? Was Beck an infatuated follower who took things too far? If Cleo is innocent, why did she run? Was it an accident? Or was it murder?

As evidence of Cleo’s secret life surfaces, the world begins to see just how hard she strived to get to the top— and how fast and far the fall is from celebrity to infamy.

L. R. Dorn’s reimagining of Theodore Dreiser’s novel told in the form of a true crime docuseries a la Serial and The Jinx—with characters speaking through the “transcripts” of recorded interviews—The Anatomy of Desire exposes the ambition, sexual passion, and dark side of success that readers will find as achingly poignant as they did a century ago.

Release Date: May 11, 2021

Publisher: William Morrow

Hot Take: Here is where Desire succeeds whereas other podcast thrillers don’t. And this is speaking to the audiobook- don’t know if the hardcover structure plays out the same

It is literally a podcast episodes with a full cast. It isn’t a main character with a podcast and that leads them to XYZ and the podcast becomes the background. The whole story is told through 9ish episodes of a podcast.

Kind of like an audiobook version of only murders in the building (but not funny like it) but same structure.

Well done.

This is a good place to mention Episode 13 as an honorary mention- the structure of the audiobook is similar but the content is very different.

The Maid by Nita Prose


Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had united with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?

Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.

Release Date: January 4, 2022

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Hot Take: This book and these characters deserve everything. Nita Prose deserves everything. The humor, the message. I had so much fun reading this book and rooting for these characters that I forgot it was a thriller and got leveled in the last couple of chapters. In the best of ways.

FFS this might be the 2021 version of Fate of the Fallen since I read it this year. AKA: A book I figured I’d like but still busted me upside the head with how impossibly astonishing it was.

Molly and Finlay Donovan would have a blast together if they didn’t get themselves put away by accidentally assassinating someone first.

Also, if you love Finlay Donovan and/or The Maid? Put Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice to Murders on your next best read list- review linked.

Best Books


The Things We Do To Our Friends By Heather Darwent


She’s an outsider desperate to belong, but the cost of entry might be her darkest secret in this intoxicating debut of literary suspense following a clique of dangerously ambitious students at the University of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh, Scotland: a moody city of labyrinthine alleyways, oppressive fog, and buried history; the ultimate destination for someone with something to hide. Perfect for Clare, then, who arrives utterly alone and yearning to reinvent herself. And what better place to conceal the dark secrets of her past than at the university in the heart of the fabled, cobblestoned Old Town?

When Clare meets Tabitha, a charismatic, beautiful, and intimidatingly rich girl from her art history class, she knows she’s destined to be friends with her and her exclusive circle: raffish Samuel; shrewd Ava; and pragmatic Imogen. Clare is immediately drawn into their libertine world of sophisticated dinner parties and summers in France. The new life she always envisioned for herself has seemingly begun.

And then Tabitha reveals a little project she’s been working on, one that she needs Clare’s help with. Even though it goes against everything Clare has tried to repent for. Even though their intimacy begins to darken into codependence. But as Clare starts to realize just what her friends are capable of, it’s already too late. Because they’ve taken the plunge. They’re so close to attaining the things they want. And there’s no going back.

What is the cost of an extraordinary life if others have to pay? Reimagining the classic themes of obsession and striving with an original and sinister edge, The Things We Do to Our Friends is a seductive thriller about the toxic battle between those who have, and those who covet–between the desire to truly belong, and the danger of being truly known.

Release Date: January 10, 2023

Publisher: Bantam Books

Hot Take: Let me make this simple. If you aren’t a dark heart reader who loves well-written unlikeable, morally empty characters doing horrible things? Then run. If you are a reader like me? Who lives for these qualities? READ THE DAMN BOOK.

The Shadow House by Anna Downes


Extraordinarily tense and deliciously mysterious, Anna Downes’s The Shadow House follows one woman’s desperate journey to protect her children at any cost, in a remote place where not everything is as it seems.



Alex, a single mother of two, is determined to make a fresh start for herself and her children. To escape her troubled past, she seeks refuge in a rural community. Pine Ridge is idyllic; the surrounding forests are beautiful and the locals welcoming. Mostly.

But Alex finds that she may have disturbed barely hidden secrets in her new home. As a chain of bizarre events is set off, events eerily familiar to those who have lived there for years, Alex realizes that she and her family might be in greater danger than ever before. And that the only way to protect them all is to confront the shadows lurking in Pine Ridge.

Release Date: April 5, 2022

Publisher: Minotaur

Hot Take: First- I could have put this in the Cult list I mentioned at the top of the post. But it is kinda on the line between a whack job community and an actual cult. So I’m putting it here.  I LOVED Anna Downe’s debut, The Safe Place. However, the main character in The Shadow House makes her sophomore book an absolute stunner. Alex is more grounded, rational & aware, in a world that certainly isn’t making sense & events that are terrifying.

Also, Downes’ ability to nail dark humor would win a gold medal at the Olympics, if dark humor was an event.

If you haven’t read my review of The Safe Place, please check it out. Both books are must-reads.

Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney


The New York Times bestselling Queen of Twists returns…with a family reunion that leads to murder.

After years of avoiding each other, Daisy Darker’s entire family is assembling for Nana’s 80th birthday party in Nana’s crumbling gothic house on a tiny tidal island. Finally, back together one last time, when the tide comes in, they will be cut off from the rest of the world for eight hours.

The family arrives, each of them harboring secrets. Then at the stroke of midnight, as a storm rages, Nana is found dead. And an hour later, the next family member follows…

Trapped on an island where someone is killing them one by one, the Darkers must reckon with their present mystery as well as their past secrets, before the tide comes in and all is revealed.

With a wicked wink to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were NoneDaisy Darker’s unforgettable twists will leave readers reeling.

Release Date: August 30, 2022

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Hot Take: I don’t think it is any secret that I am an Alice Feeney super-fan. Just check out my review of His & Hers. But trust me when I tell you that you won’t ever read nursery rhymes or any rhymes really, the same, again.

I’m not sure why I’m shocked that Alice Feeny keeps topping herself. Holy hell, what a book. Sometimes you think you know what a title means but in this case… there are many meanings.

Oh and that agent note… Shut the front door. And the setting is so brilliant it is another character… Just holy crap.

Lucy Foley should take note. This is how it is done (opinions are my own).

One Of Us Is Dead


The highly anticipated new thriller from the bestselling author of The Perfect Marriage.

Opulence. Sex. Betrayal … Sometimes friendship can be deadly.

Meet the women of Buckhead—a place of expensive cars, huge houses, and competitive friendships.

Shannon was once the queen bee of Buckhead. But she’s been unceremoniously dumped by Bryce, her politician husband. When Bryce replaces her with a much younger woman, Shannon sets out to take revenge …

Crystal has stepped into Shannon’s old shoes. A young, innocent Texan girl, she simply has no idea what she’s up against …

Olivia has waited years to take Shannon’s crown as the unofficial queen of Buckhead. Finally, her moment has come. But to take her rightful place, she will need to use every backstabbing, manipulative, underhand trick in the book …

Jenny owns Glow, the most exclusive salon in town. Jenny knows all her clients’ secrets and darkest desires. But will she ever tell?

Who amongst these women will be clever enough to survive Buckhead—and who will wind up dead? They say that friendships can be complex, but no one said it could ever be this deadly.

Release Date: April 26, 2022

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing

Hot Take: I can’t even begin to exude my love for this book. This is the best I’ve got.

This book tho. I’d rather watch this as a movie than anything Bravo is putting out. The characters are over the top. AND. I love that the husbands were just as in on it as the women… they were not just plot ploys. And Oliva? Bless her heart. Jeneva Rose wrote so bravely with that character. It would have been easy to just let her learn and grow…. but bahahaha

As for the audiobook structure? It is the cherry on the parfait that only Crystal would eat. From Jenny’s present-day narrative to the past pov’s? What a wild ride. Blackstone gets the assignment.

The Lying Club by Annie Ward


A tangled web of lies draws together three women in this explosive thriller of revenge, murder, and shocking secrets

At an elite private school nestled in the Colorado mountains, Natalie, an office assistant, dreams of having a life like the school moms she deals with every day. Women like Brooke—a gorgeous heiress, ferociously loving mother, and serial cheater—and Asha, an overprotective mom who suspects her husband of having an affair. Their fates are bound by the handsome assistant athletic director Nicholas, whom Natalie loves, Brooke wants and Asha needs.

But when two bodies are carried out of the school one morning, it seems the tension between mothers and daughters, rival lovers, and the haves and have-nots has shattered the surface of this isolated, affluent town—where people stop at nothing to get what they want.

Release Date: March 22, 2022

Publisher: Park Row

Hot Take: It is perfectly fitting that One Of Us Is Dead and The Lying Club are right next to each other. If you like one, you’ll love the other. They are both a festival of deceit, dark humor, and straight-up no fuck bucks to give female characters. As I said on Goodreads, just give her all your money, buy her books, and don’t make any plans.

City On Fire by Don Winslow (Danny Ryan #1)


Two criminal empires together control all of New England.

Until a beautiful woman comes between the Irish and the Italians, launching a war that will see them kill each other, destroy an alliance, and set a city on fire.

Danny Ryan yearns for a more “legit” life and a place in the sun. But as the bloody conflict stacks body on body and brother turns against brother, Danny has to rise above himself. To save the friends he loves like family and the family he has sworn to protect, he becomes a leader, a ruthless strategist, and a master of a treacherous game in which the winners live and the losers die.

From the gritty streets of Providence to the glittering screens of Hollywood to the golden casinos of Las Vegas, two rival crime families ignite a war that will leave only one standing. The winner will forge a dynasty.

Exploring the classic themes of loyalty, betrayal, and honor, City on Fire is a contemporary masterpiece in the tradition of The Godfather, Casino, and Goodfellas—a thrilling saga from Don Winslow, “America’s greatest living crime writer” (Jon Land, Providence Journal).

Release Date: October 21, 2021

Publisher: William Morrow

Hot Take: Truthfully?  I’m not even sure why I read it. Well, maybe because it was a hot ARC and I had one. Damn was that the best decision EVER. This book slammed me against the wall and wouldn’t let me breathe. Yes, I’m Brooklyn Italian. So, some of the family (family not FAMILY) traditions resonated with me. However, Don Winslow takes City On Fire to places you never see coming and it never lets up.

The Weight Of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson


Author Tiffany D. Jackson ramps up the horror and tackles America’s history and legacy of racism in this YA novel following a biracial teenager as her Georgia high school hosts its first integrated prom.

When Springville residents—at least the ones still alive—are questioned about what happened on prom night, they all have the same explanation… Maddy did it.

An outcast at her small-town Georgia high school, Madison Washington has always been a teasing target for bullies. And she’s dealt with it because she has more pressing problems to manage. Until the morning a surprise rainstorm reveals her most closely kept secret: Maddy is biracial. She has been passing for white her entire life at the behest of her fanatical white father, Thomas Washington.

After a viral bullying video pulls back the curtain on Springville High’s racist roots, student leaders come up with a plan to change their image: host the school’s first integrated prom as a show of unity. The popular white class president convinces her Black superstar quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to be his date, leaving Maddy wondering if it’s possible to have a normal life.

But some of her classmates aren’t done with her just yet. And what they don’t know is that Maddy still has another secret… one that will cost them all their lives.

Release Date: September 6, 2022

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Hot Take: I know you didn’t think you were getting out of this round-up without Tiffany Jackson because that would be foolish.

If I’ve quoted Jeff Zenter once I’ve quoted him a million times. Reading Tiffany Jackson is like eating vegetables, but you could swear it was ice cream.

No one should be this talented, and yet here we are. I know the quick thing to say is that this is a retelling of Stephen King’s Carrie. And while that isn’t untrue, it completely underserves how brilliant The Weight Of Blood is. It is brutally honest, brutally entertaining, and searing. To top it off? The audiobook is very creative and well-produced.


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