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February 23, 2024

Novel Lives

Book Publicity, Book Reviews, And Author Interviews

Best Recent Reads Out Of 200 Books- Round Up Part Two

Best Recently Read Books Of 200- Part 2 Round-Up

Best Recently Read Books Of 200- Part 2 Round-Up (see part one)

  1. This is not in any particular order
  2. This does not include:
    1. Books I will be writing full reviews of
      1. *OK there will be one exception: Kendare Blake’s All These Bodies, which will post with an interviews!* 
    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). **That means this is not gramatically sound.** 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. Link To Part 1 Of The Best Recently Read Books of 200 

Band Of Sisters By Lauren Willig

Summary:

A group of young women from Smith College risk their lives in France at the height of World War I in this sweeping novel based on a true story—a skillful blend of Call the Midwife and The Alice Network—from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig.

A scholarship girl from Brooklyn, Kate Moran thought she found a place among Smith’s Mayflower descendants, only to have her illusions dashed the summer after graduation. When charismatic alumna Betsy Rutherford delivers a rousing speech at the Smith College Club in April of 1917, looking for volunteers to help French civilians decimated by the German war machine, Kate is too busy earning her living to even think of taking up the call. But when her former best friend Emmeline Van Alden reaches out and begs her to take the place of a girl who had to drop out, Kate reluctantly agrees to join the new Smith College Relief Unit.

Four months later, Kate and seventeen other Smithies, including two trailblazing female doctors, set sail for France. The volunteers are armed with money, supplies, and good intentions—all of which immediately go astray. The chateau that was to be their headquarters is a half-burnt ruin. The villagers they meet are in desperate straits: women and children huddling in damp cellars, their crops destroyed and their wells poisoned.

Despite constant shelling from the Germans, French bureaucracy, and the threat of being ousted by the British army, the Smith volunteers bring welcome aid—and hope—to the region. But can they survive their own differences? As they cope with the hardships and terrors of the war, Kate and her colleagues find themselves navigating old rivalries and new betrayals which threaten the very existence of the Unit.

With the Germans threatening to break through the lines, can the Smith Unit pull together and be truly a band of sisters?

Release Date: March 16, 2021

Publisher: William Morrow

Hot Take: Band of Sisters- a thread blast bc I need a sec. I’m about 75% through @laurenwillig‘s Band Of Sisters and look @WmMorrowBooksdid right bc they said Call the Midwife & I said YES THX BYE. WM sent an advanced final & audio Holy double whammy because first, the characters, the story? It is just beautiful. You can all shut up I know I don’t read this genre but William Morrow knows how to pitch a girl. These girls… courageous, from different backgrounds, complex and dynamic as individuals, in their interactions, and it bleeds into their lens of this tremendous undertaking… and the brutality of war… the aftermath of people left behind to live but not live… omg the writing. You know that trite- it makes you laugh, makes you cry? This isn’t trite. It just is.

Julia Whelan is an award-nominated and uber-well-known so I’m late to her party but MY GOD. I have this brilliant blazing novel in front of me and this talented voice bringing each character, event, and emotion to life… just burning the pages up and catapulting it right off the page to life.

No Pietro, No I didn’t not.

 

Hour Of The Witch By Chris Bohjalian

Summary:

A young Puritan woman–faithful, resourceful, but afraid of the demons that dog her soul–plots her escape from a violent marriage in this riveting and propulsive historical thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant.

Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four years old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England, she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary’s hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life. But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary–a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony–soon finds herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary’s garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows. A twisting, tightly plotted thriller from one of our greatest storytellers, Hour of the Witch is a timely and terrifying novel of socially sanctioned brutality and the original American witch hunt.

Release Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher: Doubleday Book

Hot Take: 1) I have never had so much fun yelling, “THEY ARE FORKS NOT THE DEVIL’S TOOL,” in my life. The puritan world…. what would they ever make of a fucking can opener? 2) Brilliant ending. 3) “Weak” women will always bully the “strong.” Lastly, yes this is puritan and a lot of what went on around the Salem Witch Trials. Women being accused. Innocent women. What is essential is how far Chris goes to not make this the typical puritan/witch story. From the structure of the book to the layered characters, twists and turns, this is not your everyday oppressed women witch book.

Lastly- I’ve now read about 85% of his back catalog (including The Lioness), and have never been disappointed.

 

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

Summary:

With the startling twists of Gone Girl and the haunting emotional power of Room, Mirrorland is a thrilling work of psychological suspense about twin sisters, the man they both love, and the dark childhood they can’t leave behind.

Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues in almost every room: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…

A twisty, dark, and brilliantly crafted thriller about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom.

Release Date: April 20, 2021

Publisher: Scribner

Hot Take: Mirrorland is a genre all onto itself. This provocative, and heart-wrenching book. It looks at how the mind blurs fantasy with reality to protect us from trauma. It creeps up the roller coaster to drop your feelings straight off the first drop.

ETA: I’ve seen people mention some of the serious and sensitive themes in the book being treated lightly or without due weight.

IMO I just have to say I believe it is the exact opposite and part of what sets Mirrorland up to be one of the best books of the year. It isn’t treating it offbeat or insensitivity. It dives into how far our minds go to protect us from trauma. How it will fracture and blur fantasy and reality to keep us from facing that which we cannot bear.

 

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Summary:

The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times-bestselling King of Scars Duology.

The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible.

The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.

King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.

Release Date: March 30, 2021

Publisher: Imprint

Hot Take: I was absolutely loving this book the whole time. Then chapter 27 hit and I lost my mind. Then chapter 30 hit and I was choked by sobs. Then the ending came and….Don’t do this Leigh. Don’t give me hope. April 1st I am still damaged.

Ambush of Widows By Jeff Abbott

Summary:

In New York Times bestselling author Jeff Abbott’s latest novel of riveting psychological suspense, an uneasy alliance forms as two widows delve into their husbands’ deadly and dangerous secrets—as they try to protect their own.

Henry North is a down-on-his-luck cybersecurity expert from New Orleans. Adam Zhang is the co-founder of one of Austin’s most successful venture capitalist firms. These two men didn’t know each other. They had never met. Yet they died together, violently, in a place neither had any business being.

When Henry doesn’t return from a business trip, his wife, Kirsten, panics—and then gets an anonymous phone call: “Your husband is dead in Austin.”

Flora Zhang knew her husband was keeping secrets. She suspected an affair, but she had decided she could forgive him for his weakness—until her husband ended up dead. And with no explanation for her husband’s murder, the police begin to suspect her.

Together, these two widows will face a powerful foe determined to write a false narrative about the murders. In doing so, neither Flora nor Kirsten will remain the women the world thought they were.

Release Date: July 6, 2021

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Hot Take: A group of widows is actually called an ambush, which is fantastic. This book and the ending are dark and whip-snapping. The ending also lends itself to a sequel. I can only pray.

 

All These Bodies By Kendare Blake

Summary:

Summer 1958—a string of murders plagues the Midwest. The victims are found in their cars and in their homes—even in their beds—their bodies drained, but with no blood anywhere.

September 19- the Carlson family is slaughtered in their Minnesota farmhouse, and the case gets its first lead: 15-year-old Marie Catherine Hale is found at the scene. She is covered in blood from head to toe, and at first, she’s mistaken for a survivor. But not a drop of the blood is hers.

Michael Jensen, son of the local sheriff, yearns to become a journalist and escape his small town. He never imagined that the biggest story in the country would fall into his lap, or that he would be pulled into the investigation when Marie decides that he is the only one she will confess to.

As Marie recounts her version of the story, it falls to Michael to find the truth: What really happened the night that the Carlsons were killed? And how did one girl wind up in the middle of all these bodies?

Release Date: September 21, 2021

Publisher: Quill Tree Books

Hot Take: I don’t know what possessed me to read a fictional account of a murder spree throughout the Midwest days before I’m driving from Colorado to St. Louis but here I am. Kendare Blake just loves bloody murdering everything… queens… sprees… my love for Three Dark Crowns now makes complete sense. This is Catherine Hale’s story… victim? Murderess? Liar? Delusional? Psychopath? The reader has choices to make on what to believe. Blake spins Catherine as a character and her story in a way that will keep you between empathy, disgust, fear, and always unease. And even when you think you’ve figured it all out? One last bomb explodes to blow your carefully pieced puzzle apart.

Queen Mirabella Approves

 

The Bandit Queens By Parini Shroff

Summary:

Geeta’s no-good husband disappeared five years ago. She didn’t kill him, but everyone thinks she did–no matter how much she protests.
But she soon discovers that being known as a “self-made” widow has some surprising perks. No one messes with her, no one threatens her, and no one tries to control (ahem, marry) her. It’s even been good for her business; no one wants to risk getting on her bad side by not buying her jewelry.

Freedom must look good on Geeta because other women in the village have started asking for her help to get rid of their own no-good husbands…but not all of them are asking nicely.

Now that Geeta’s fearsome reputation has become a double-edged sword, she must decide how far to go to protect it, along with the life she’s built. Because even the best-laid plans of would-be widows tend to go awry.

Release Date: January 3, 2023

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Hot Take: Look. I fell hard for this book. Like On A Quiet Street (See Review) hard. The female cast is just about flawless. They are strong, witty, and vulnerable, in a time and place hell Bent on taking their rights. It laughs out loud funny, and heartfelt. And the thriller piece? Bravo

Please see Becky’s review for a full and worthy review.

The Husbands By Chandler Baker

Summary:

Chandler Baker, the New York Times bestselling author of Whisper Network, is back with The Husbands, a novel that asks: to what lengths will a woman go for a little more help from her husband?

Nora Spangler is a successful attorney but when it comes to domestic life, she packs the lunches, schedules the doctor appointments, knows where the extra paper towel rolls are, and designs and orders the holiday cards. Her husband works hard, too… but why does it seem like she is always working so much harder?

When the Spanglers go house hunting in Dynasty Ranch, an exclusive suburban neighborhood, Nora meets a group of high-powered women–a tech CEO, a neurosurgeon, an award-winning therapist, and a bestselling author–with enviably supportive husbands. When she agrees to help with a resident’s wrongful death case, she is pulled into the lives of the women there. She finds the air is different in Dynasty Ranch. The women aren’t hanging on by a thread.

But as the case unravels, Nora uncovers a plot that may explain the secret to having-it-all. One that’s worth killing for. Calling to mind a Stepford Wives gender swap, The Husbands imagines a world where the burden of the “second shift” is equally shared–and what it may take to get there.

Release Date: August 3, 2021

Publisher: Flatiron Book

Hot Take: First, there was Girls With Sharp Sticks (review of series), then there were the Hierarchies, and now… The Husbands.

EXCEPT. In The Husbands, it is the women in control… I can’t finish that sentence without spoilers but if you’ve read the above you will have an idea of where I’m going. But that still won’t spoil the spin of Baker’s take with the women in charge, in The Husbands.

Additionally, it is brilliant, insightful, and brave to take on the hard truth that women would get killed for speaking aloud regarding women’s rights. Note that when women went to work, men didn’t pitch in. They just assumed women would do everything they did before AND Now work, too. But as the author noted women, women can do anything, women can’t do everything.

note it has been a long time since I’ve read a book with a 3rd person POV. 1) It is written brilliantly- witty, dark, and on point. Two, the narrator NAILS IT.

Find Me By Alafair Burke

Summary:

The disappearance of a young woman leaves her closest friend reeling and an NYPD homicide detective digging into her own past in this thrilling mystery full of twists from the New York Times bestselling author of The Better Sister and The Wife.

Some pasts won’t stay forgotten . . .

She calls herself Hope Miller, but she has no idea who she actually is. Fifteen years ago, she was found in a small New Jersey town thrown from an overturned vehicle, with no clue to her identity. Doctors assumed her amnesia was a temporary side effect of her injuries, but she never regained her memory. Hope eventually started a new life with a new name in a new town that welcomed her, yet always wondered what she may have left behind—or been running from. Now, fifteen years later, she’s leaving New Jersey to start over once again.

Manhattan defense lawyer Lindsay Kelly, Hope’s best friend and the one who found her after the accident, understands why Hope wants a new beginning. But she worries how her friend will fare in her new East Hampton home, far away from everything familiar. Lindsay’s worst fears are confirmed when she discovers Hope has vanished without a trace—the only lead a drop of blood found where she was last seen. Even more ominously, the blood matches a DNA sample with a connection to a notorious Kansas murderer.

In pursuit of answers, the women search for the truth beneath long-buried secrets. And when their searches converge, what they find will upend everything they’ve ever known.

Release Date: January 11, 2022

Publisher: Harper Books

Hot Take: There are so many decadent layers and characters brilliantly strung together that you could make a Taco Dip, and Bean Dip and have enough left over for a Seven Layer Cake.

PS I had no idea this was a series until after I finished, in case anyone wanted to know if you needed to read anything else

 

Book Reviews

 

Small Favors By Erin A. Craig

Summary:

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.

A HOUSE WITH DEADLY SECRETS.

A MOTHER WHO’LL RISK EVERYTHING TO BRING THEM TO LIGHT.

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: July 27, 2021

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Hot Take:

HOLY CRAP ERIN CRAIG WENT THERE

NEEDFUL THINGS MEET FAE… I loved House of Salt and Sorrow but this tops it by far.

If I’m going to nitpick, maybe starts a little slow, and maybe one storyline is left unanswered. But I’m really nitpicking

Otherwise, this book is everything I expected and so much more. During most of the second half and definitely the last 1/4 I ate Flys from having my mouth open so much.

Of Manners and Murder By Anastasia Hastings (Dear Miss Hermione Mystery #1)

Summary:

Of Manners and Murder is the first in the delightful new Dear Miss Hermione mystery series from Anastasia Hastings.

“Evokes the shocking revelations of Wilkie Collins, the social acuity of Jane Austen and the comic melodrama of Oscar Wilde.”—Wall Street Journal

1885: London, England. When Violet’s Aunt Adelia decides to abscond with her newest paramour, she leaves behind her role as the most popular Agony Aunt in London, “Miss Hermione,” in Violet’s hands.

And of course, the first letter Violet receives is full, not of prissy pondering, but of portent. Ivy Armstrong is in need of help and fears for her life. But when Violet visits the village where the letters were posted, she finds that Ivy is already dead.

She’ll quickly discover that when you represent the best-loved Agony Aunt in Britain, both marauding husbands, and murder are par for the course.

Release Date: February 7, 2023

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Hot Take: This is absolutely delightful book. I LOVED it. The characters are wonderful. I might say it slows down a little in parts but I get why. It is setting up a whole series so the deep dive into characters that might be too much in some parts, is just fine in this situation. Just a delightful romp!

Mother May I By Joshlyn Jackson

Summary:

A novel of domestic suspense in which a mother must decide how far she is willing to go to protect her child and the life she loves — a tale of power, privilege, lies, revenge, and the choices we make, ones that transform our lives in unforeseen ways.

Revenge doesn’t wait for permission.

Growing up poor in rural Georgia, Bree Cabbat was warned that the world was a dark and scary place. Bree rejected that fearful outlook, and life has proved her right. Having married into a family with wealth, power, and connections, Bree now has all a woman could ever dream of.

Until the day she awakens and sees someone peering into her bedroom window–an old gray-haired woman dressed all in black who vanishes as quickly as she appears. It must be a play of the early morning light or the remnant of a waking dream, Bree tells herself, shaking off the bad feeling that overcomes her.

Later that day though, she spies the old woman again, in the parking lot of her daughter’s private school . . . just minutes before Bree’s infant son, asleep in his car seat only a few feet away, vanishes. It happened so quickly–Bree looked away only for a second. There is a note left in his place, warning her that she is being watched; if she wants her baby back, she must not call the police or deviate in any way from the instructions that will follow.

The mysterious woman makes contact, and Bree learns she, too, is a mother. Why would another mother do this? What does she want? And why has she targeted Bree? Of course Bree will pay anything, do anything. It’s her child.

To get her baby back, Bree must complete one small–but critical–task. It seems harmless enough, but her action comes with a devastating price.

Bree will do whatever it takes to protect her family–but what if the cost tears their world apart?

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher: William Morrow

Hot Take: Hell hath no fury as a mother scorned. Mind was blown.

The Stolen Heir By Holly Black

Summary:

A runaway queen. A reluctant prince. And a quest that may destroy them both.

Eight years have passed since the Battle of the Serpent. But in the icy north, Lady Nore of the Court of Teeth has reclaimed the Ice Needle Citadel. There, she is using an ancient relic to create monsters of stick and snow who will do her bidding and exact her revenge.

Suren, child queen of the Court of Teeth, and the one person with power over her mother, fled to the human world. There, she lives feral in the woods. Lonely, and still haunted by the merciless torments she endured in the Court of Teeth, she bides her time by releasing mortals from foolish bargains. She believes herself forgotten until the storm hag, Bogdana chases her through the night streets. Suren is saved by none other than Prince Oak, heir to Elfhame, to whom she was once promised in marriage and who she has resented for years.

Now seventeen, Oak is charming, beautiful, and manipulative. He’s on a mission that will lead him into the north, and he wants Suren’s help. But if she agrees, it will mean guarding her heart against the boy she once knew and a prince she cannot trust, as well as confronting all the horrors she thought she left behind.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Holly Black returns to the opulent world of Elfhame in the first book in a thrilling new duology, following Jude’s brother Oak, and the changeling queen, Suren.

Release Date: January 3, 2023

Publisher: Little Brown Books

Hot Take: Fun Fact- The Wicked King was the second ARC I was ever granted. The first was Mirage.

God. What to say? Look. First off, I loved Queen of Nothing until the last 75ish pages and the epilogue. But the book and the series on the whole were magnificent. I love the Stolen Heir and wish it was more than a duology. The throwbacks/Easter eggs to the Folk of the Air, the new characters, and everything The Stolen Heir sets up is magnificent. The fantasy writing we know and love is only bettered by the twists and shockers thrown. Holly Black came back with no fuck bucks to give for any soft heart and as a dark heart reader? I ain’t mad about it.

 

The House Guest By Hank Phillipi Ryan

Summary:

The House Guest is another diabolical cat-and-mouse thriller from Hank Phillippi Ryan—but which character is the cat, and which character is the mouse?

After every divorce, one spouse gets all the friends. What does the other one get? If they’re smart, they get the benefits. Alyssa Macallan is terrified when she’s dumped by her wealthy and powerful husband. With a devastating divorce looming, she begins to suspect her toxic and manipulative soon-to-be-ex is scheming to ruin her—leaving her alone and penniless. And when the FBI shows up at her door, Alyssa knows she really needs a friend.

And then she gets one. A seductive new friend, one who’s running from a dangerous relationship of her own. Alyssa offers Bree Lorrance the safety of her guest house, and the two become confidantes. Then Bree makes a heart-stoppingly tempting offer. Maybe Alyssa and Bree can solve each others’ problems.

But no one is what they seem. And the fates and fortunes of these two women twist and turn until the shocking truth emerges: You can’t always get what you want. But sometimes you get what you deserve.

Release Date: February 7, 2023

Publisher: Forge

Hot Take: Look. The first book by Hank Phillipi Ryan that I read was The First to Lie. If you go to my website Novellives.com, you can see the review. I LOVED that book

This book is brilliant in its themes of Patriarchy, wealth and grief… not over death but another ending- without beating the dead horse.

Now. The psychological thriller part? In spades. I am telling you. For those that read this genre regularly? There may be a few things that you pick up on. It doesn’t even matter.

Where Ryan takes you is from what you might have guessed to another planet.

Drink it up like you were in a desert.

 

Stay Awake By Megan Goldin

Summary:

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.

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