January 2024 Reading Wrap-Up: Part 1

Welcome, book friends!

If you’d prefer to listen to these reviews, you can check out the full episode on The Bookmarks ‘n Blankets Podcast on your favorite podcast platform or listen below. 

I’d love to know your thoughts on any of these books if you’ve read them. I invite you to hop over to my Instagram or X (aka Twitter), where you can comment.


We are already through our first month of the new year. I hope you’ve been well, staying warm if you live somewhere cold.

I had an incredible start to my reading journey this year. I read a total of 18 books, which include seven ARCs from NetGalley. So there will be a second episode coming soon, where I discuss all of those books because some of those books were part of my 5-star reads of the month.

I was actually surprised by how many books I was able to get to in January. If you don’t know or haven’t heard in past episodes, my husband and I are moving this year, in April, so we are in the middle of packing up our house. Every single room looks like a tornado hit. We have boxes everywhere. It’s a mess, but it’s happening and I’m so excited to finally get back to Colorado, which feels more like home to me than my home state of Ohio. But I will admit that my husband has been doing most of the work so far. I’ll be honest, I haven’t even begun packing my things up yet. I’ve packed one box of books…so yeah, I have a lot to do these next two months. So I’ll see how all of this extra work will affect my reading schedule.

But for January, I got a lot in and had some fantastic reads. I had a wide variety of genres:

  • 5 mystery & thriller
  • 2 historical
  • 2 fantasy (romantasy)
  • 1 contemporary
  • 1 sci-fi
  • 3 middle grade
  • 1 short story
  • 3 picture books
  • No graphic novels

January Reading Wrap-Up

Did Not Finish (DNF) Books

A Fragile Enchantment by Allison Saft

GR Description: Niamh Ó Conchobhair has never let herself long for more. The magic in her blood that lets her stitch emotions and memories into fabric is the same magic that will eventually kill her. Determined to spend the little time she has left guaranteeing a better life for her family, Niamh jumps at the chance to design the wardrobe for a royal wedding in the neighboring kingdom of Avaland.

But Avaland is far from the fairytale that she imagined. While young nobles attend candlelit balls and elegant garden parties, unrest brews amid the working class. The groom himself, Kit Carmine, is prickly, abrasive, and begrudgingly being dragged to the altar as a political pawn. But when Niamh and Kit grow closer, an unlikely friendship blossoms into something more—until an anonymous columnist starts buzzing about their chemistry, promising to leave them alone only if Niamh helps to uncover the royal family’s secrets. The rot at the heart of Avaland runs deep, but exposing it could risk a future she never let herself dream of, and a love she never thought possible.

Transporting readers to a Regency England-inspired fantasy world, A Fragile Enchantment is a sweeping romance threaded with intrigue, unforgettable characters, and a love story for the ages.

Why I Stopped Reading: I need to do better research before requesting ARCs on NetGalley. I didn’t realize this was a queer/LGBT+-focused story, and there are explicit sex scenes. I prefer not to read these types of books. So once I realized what it was, I did not finish it.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

GR Description: It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House—and themselves.

Why I Stopped Reading: I listened to the audiobook, and I really didn’t like the narrator. He reminded me of a news anchor or car salesman. I didn’t like his delivery of the story. I also had a hard time visualizing everything, and it was pretty boring. There wasn’t much going on, and a lot of characters were being introduced, which got a little confusing. I’d like to try again and read either a physical copy or a digital version. So I stopped at around 25%, but want to try again in another format; therefore, I consider this a soft DNF.

Middle Grade Books

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden

My GR Rating: 4
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Renee Dorian
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Read more on GoodReads.

GR Description: Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire.

Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the smiling man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE.

With Mr. Voland’s help, Ollie, Coco, and Brian reach out to the dead voices at Mount Hemlock. Maybe the ghosts need their help–or maybe not all ghosts can or should be trusted.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this sequel, possibly more than the first book because it involves the paranormal, specifically ghosts, which are my favorite type of supernatural story. I thought this second book had a very creative concept. It felt like The Shining meets Alice in Wonderland. There are many creepy and eerie moments, which I loved. It’s perfect for a winter read since they are snowed in, which is another horror/thriller element that I really enjoy reading about. 

I enjoyed being back with the friend trio. Ollie was the leader of this group in the first book. She recently lost her mother in a plane crash, so it’s just her and her dad now. She’s strong, resilient, and a fierce leader. Then there’s Coco, who is the runt of the group. She’s very small and petite, a bit on the meek and timid side. She lives with her mother and is a bit underestimated by her friends. Then there’s Brian, the boy in the group, who is pretty popular at school. His parents are from Jamaica, and he’s viewed as the “cool kid.” 

They all became friends in book one when their bus broke down during a class field trip and their teacher went to get help but never returned. They searched for him in the woods and met some creatures and the Smiling Man, whom they were able to escape from, so they all have this shared experience.  

In this story, the smiling man returns and there are some things from book one that pop back up in this one, so I wouldn’t suggest reading these books out of order. I guess you could read each one as a standalone, but you may be a little lost or feel like you’re missing some elements.

Unlike how the first book centers around Ollie as she deals with the grief of her mother, this book focuses more on Coco as she begins to come out of her shell more and show everyone that she’s more than just a nerdy, timid, little girl. I enjoyed watching her develop more and embrace the strength that she finds within herself. I had a bit more fun following her than I did Ollie’s story in Small Spaces. Ultimately, she must save everyone. 

I thought the pacing was perfect. It’s a short audiobook at around 5 hours. Again, it’s a bit creepier and more haunting. It kept my attention more, and I loved the aspect of winter and how it played a role in the story. Highly recommend it if you’re a fan of the first book!

Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

My GR Rating: 4 (4.5)
Format: eBook
Genre: Cozy Middle Grade Fantasy
Read more on GoodReads.

GR Description: Snow and Rose didn’t know they were in a fairy tale. People never do…

Once, they lived in a big house with spectacular gardens and an army of servants.

Once, they had a father and mother who loved them more than the sun and moon.

But that was before their father disappeared into the woods and their mother disappeared into sorrow.

This is the story of two sisters and the enchanted woods that have been waiting for them to break a set of terrible spells.

My Review:

This is a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red, which I have not read, so I didn’t have anything to compare this story to, but I really enjoyed it. I loved the sister dynamic and how well they complemented each other. The older sister was always looking out for the younger one. And the younger girl was a bit sassy and became a little whiny, but she had spunk and brought some humor to a rather serious story. 

It read like a classic fairytale. It felt enchanting, whimsical, and magical, especially when they ventured into the enchanted woods. Even though it was predictable and I figured out the big reveal ahead of being told, I enjoyed the mystery the sisters were trying to solve about what happened to their dad. 

The sisters meet a new friend who knows a lot about mushrooms. He was a nice addition to the cast of characters. I also really loved the unique, magical library set in the middle of the woods. Overall, I thought the story was very creative, full of whimsy, and heartfelt emotions. 

It felt very cozy. It’s perfect for winter. If you like “quiet” books that are slower-paced, then you may really like this one. Even though this is considered a middle grade book, it’s captivating for people of all ages. It’s a modern fairytale told in a classic fairytale tone that captures the imagination and leaves a lasting impression. 

I highly recommend reading the physical book or digital ebook to admire the artwork. It includes gorgeous illustrations that are aesthetically pleasing and help to tell the story. Or if you decide to listen to the audiobook, be sure to also read along with the book to take advantage of the beautiful pictures and images. It’s a very easy read that you could get through quickly. It only took me three days to read, but you could easily read it in one or two days. Highly recommend!!

Sci-Fi Book

All Systems Red (The MurderBot Diaries) by Martha Wells

My GR Rating: 3
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Kevin R. Free
Genre: Science Fiction | Novella & Short Stories
Read more on GoodReads.

GR Description: In a corporate-dominated space-faring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. For their own safety, exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists is conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid–a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, Murderbot wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is, but when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and Murderbot to get to the truth.

My Review:

This was my very first science fiction book, so you can take my review with a grain of salt since I am not well-versed or a seasoned reader of this genre. 

This story was just mediocre for me. I think the biggest strength the story had was Murderbot itself and its highly entertaining personality. It is witty, sarcastic, cynical, pessimistic, funny with dry humor, and also a bit self-deprecating. When it gets irritable, we see it complain, which are some very funny scenes. So we begin to form this perception of this robot, at least on the surface, but then we dive a little deeper and begin to see how it gets attached to its humans that it’s trying to keep safe. It does hint at something darker and nefarious in its past while charming us and keeping the reader attached to it. We begin to experience what it experiences, which became incredibly relatable and fun to follow along. I also loved how Murderbot just wanted to lounge and binge-watch TV shows. I thought that was hysterical. 

However, the bigger story as a whole was a disappointment. It was pretty slow, so I got bored with it. It was a bit too technical and “sciency” for my liking, and I got confused at times. Then, nothing really happens until the last quarter of the story, which wasn’t even that interesting. The plot didn’t seem important to the story. It was more character-driven; however, I didn’t really care about any of the side characters. They had no depth and felt very one-dimensional. I couldn’t relate or connect to any of them, so ultimately, I didn’t care about any of them. 

Because it’s a novella, the world-building was extremely lacking. I really wished we explored this world more; maybe that would’ve piqued my interest more. Plus, the characters were underdeveloped, which was unfortunate. 

With all that said though, I enjoyed the ending of the book and would like to read book two to see if I want to continue in this series. I listened to the audiobook, which the narrator did a great job and was enjoyable to listen to, so it was nice that it was a super short book. It was a little over three hours, so I didn’t feel like I wasted too much time on it. I will listen to the next audiobook at some point. 

If you’re really into science fiction stories without a lot of plot that is more character-driven, and you like sassy robots with attitudes, then you may really enjoy this one.

Contemporary Fiction Book

The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer

My GR Rating: 4 (4.5)
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Jennifer Pickens
Genre: Contemporary Fiction | Romance
Read more on GoodReads.

GR Description: What’s the point of giving someone a beautiful death if you can’t give yourself a beautiful life?

From the day she watched her kindergarten teacher drop dead during a dramatic telling of Peter Rabbit, Clover Brooks has felt a stronger connection with the dying than she has with the living. After the beloved grandfather who raised her dies alone while she is traveling, Clover becomes a death doula in New York City, dedicating her life to ushering people peacefully through their end-of-life process.

Clover spends so much time with the dying that she has no life of her own, until the final wishes of a feisty old woman send Clover on a trip across the country to uncover a forgotten love story––and perhaps, her own happy ending. As she finds herself struggling to navigate the uncharted roads of romance and friendship, Clover is forced to examine what she really wants, and whether she’ll have the courage to go after it.

My Review:

This was a beautiful story about death. It’s such a taboo subject, but we need more books like this out in the world. People need to talk about death and learn how to cope with it and deal with the huge emotion of grief. I think it could be extremely beneficial to society.

Back to the story – I really enjoyed this book. It brought a meaningful look and insight into this extremely taboo subject that not many people want to think about, let alone talk about. I loved the positive messages surrounding death, one being that it’s not something we need to be afraid of but can embrace it and see the beauty in it. Because this is such a thought-provoking book, I think it would make for very interesting conversations at a book club or buddy read.

I had never heard of a “death doula,” but came to find out that it’s a real-life profession. These are people who help others pass away with dignity and a sense of peace. Many people die alone, but with a death doula by their side, they don’t have to be alone in their final moments. I found this very comforting. People are also able to share their final words – regrets, life lessons, favorite moments, etc. I’d also never heard of “death cafes,” and they are real as well. I thought the whole concept was very, very interesting and intriguing.

I enjoyed Clover as a character. For a woman in her mid-thirties, she’s pretty innocent and naive. She was sheltered for most of her life, so we can see how much growing up she still needs to do, and even she knows it. In many ways, it felt like she was emotionally stunted and was still learning the ways of the world. It was entertaining to watch her go through life, figuring things out.

Clover keeps notebooks of regrets from the dying and in this story, she begins to look back at what people previously spoke about. So then, she uses their advice to improve her own life and take their wisdom and live by it so she won’t have many (or any) regrets when she dies. As she goes through her journey, we see her open herself up to friendships and even take a romantic interest in a guy she meets. There is a romance as a subplot. It’s not prominent, but it was a nice touch, and it was adorable and satisfying.

As I went through this story with Clover, I felt like I learned a lot from her and how she approached the dying. She had a lot of great tips and advice, not just about how to speak and interact with the dying person but also how to deal with their friends and families. There are a lot of wonderful life lessons to take away.

I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the narrator. I thought she did a wonderful job. Now I would like to buy a physical copy to reread and annotate. There are lots of great quotes and passages. And speaking of the audio, if you listened to it, don’t miss a bonus clip at the end. There is about a 30-minute conversation between the narrator and the author. It was very insightful to learn more about how this story came about and why the author wrote it. You also learn more about the narrator and her job as well. I really enjoyed hearing more tidbits of info about the process of how this story came to life.

However, one thing that I didn’t like: it leaned toward progressive/liberal thinking, and there were some messages that I didn’t agree with. Also, note that there is a side character who is bisexual and in a poly relationship with a “straight” couple.

But overall, I loved this book and the messages about death and dying people. There is so much to learn from this story. I was also impressed that this is the author’s debut novel. I would enjoy reading more from her in the future. Highly recommend!!

Historical Christian Romance Book

A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

My GR Rating: 4
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Ann Marie Gideon
Genre: Historical/Regency Christian Romance
Read more on GoodReads.

GR Description: Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Entering her fourth Season and approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother’s old school friend, a duke–with no intention of ever sending these private thoughts to a man she’s heard stories about but never met. Meanwhile, she also finds herself intrigued by Marcus, her brother’s new valet, and although she may wish to break free of the strictures that bind her, falling in love with a servant is more of a rebellion than she planned.

When Marcus accidentally discovers and mails one of the letters to her unwitting confidant, Miranda is beyond mortified. And even more shocked when the duke returns her note with one of his own that initiates a courtship-by-mail. Insecurity about her lack of suitors shifts into confusion at her growing feelings for two men–one she’s never met but whose words deeply resonate with her heart, and one she has come to depend on but whose behavior is more and more suspicious. When it becomes apparent state secrets are at risk and Marcus is right in the thick of the conflict, one thing is certain: Miranda’s heart is far from all that’s at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this Regency romance. It wasn’t what I initially thought it would be, but was pleasantly surprised by how much drama went on and how complex the story became. I thought it was very well-written and highly entertaining. I loved the time period and felt transported back in time. I will always love Regency romances that take place during the London Season. I love the balls and parties, costumes, fancy dresses, drama, and scandalous shenanigans that can happen at these events. I had such a great time!

This is a dual-POV story told by Miranda and the duke, so we get some interesting angles from both characters. Miranda was a fun character and probably my favorite one. She was witty, clever, and snarky. She wanted to live by her own rules, not society’s, which I respected. I was rooting for her the entire time. Then, the duke was mysterious but a really good guy. He grew on me over the course of the story. I always wanted to know what he was up to because he was so secretive. I loved the two of them interacting together. The witty banter was great, and I really felt their chemistry. 

There was a lot of humor in this story, which made it feel light-hearted, but there it’s definitely not a “fluffy” read. I also loved the “You’ve Got Mail” vibes in it when Miranda would write letters to her brother’s friend.

The faith element was very light, almost a little too light. I would’ve liked a bit more, but they do talk about God and praying. 

One downside for me was listening to it on audiobook. While I enjoyed the narrator and thought she did a wonderful job, I got a little lost with the story. A lot was happening and it was hard to keep up with all the drama and plot twists. I will absolutely continue in this series, but will probably change the format and read the physical book or digital ebook instead. 

If you like some mystery and excitement mixed with romance in your Regency romances, then pick up this cute, funny, and wildly entertaining book. It’s also clean with no spice or language. I was highly engaged with the story and characters and fully immersed in this time period. I loved it!! Highly recommend!!

*NOTE: I read this book as part of the #ReadChristianRomance Reading Challenge that one of my favorite BookTubers is hosting. If you want to learn more and join in the fun, you can watch her video announcement here.

Fantasy Books

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

My GR Rating: 2
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: January LaVoy
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Read more on GoodReads.

GR Description: In the summer of 1901, at the age of seven, January Scaller found a Door. You know the kind of door–they lead to Faerie, to Valhalla, to Atlantis, to all the places never found on a map.

Years later, January has forgotten her brief glimpse of Elsewhere. Her life is quiet and lonely but safe on her guardian’s estate, until one day she stumbles across a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds in its pages, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure, and danger. A book that might lead her back to the half-remembered door of her childhood.

But, as January gets answers to questions she never imagined, shadows creep closer. There are truths about the world that should never be revealed.

My Review:

Unfortunately, I did not like this book. I know this is a loved book that got some hype around it, but I couldn’t see what others saw in it. It took me two tries to actually get through the whole thing. The first time, I tried reading the physical paperback but only made it through the first three chapters. Then I set it aside for a few months and then tried again via audiobook. For me, changing the format seemed to help, but I still didn’t like it, so I increased the speed just to finish it. 

It’s extremely slow-paced; therefore, I became very, very bored with it. It barely kept my attention. There is not much plot or action, and it felt sooo long and drawn out for not much payoff by the end. It all just fell flat for me and couldn’t keep me interested. I only finished it because it was a buddy read. 

At times, the story was confusing and hard to visualize. I did not like the story within a story concept at all. Those chapters when January would read from her book felt jarring and took me out of the overall story. I preferred to learn more about January than the characters in her book. Of course everything eventually connects, but I really didn’t like those portions of the book. 

I couldn’t relate or connect to any of the characters, so ultimately, I didn’t care about what happened to them. Relationships felt weak, there wasn’t much dialogue, too much description, and again, nothing really happened. But I did like the narrator’s voices for each of the characters. She did a great job. 

This book had beautiful lush, lyrical prose, which usually I love. However, it was way, way overdone in this instance. It was highly distracting and felt pretentious and heavy-handed. It was a bunch of fluff that took away from the actual story. This book could’ve been a lot shorter without all the fancy descriptions and exposition. 

Overall, I feel like this could’ve been an entertaining fantasy story but completely missed the mark. There were so many more interesting paths this story could’ve gone down, so it’s unfortunate that it didn’t go down any of them. It was not what I was expecting at all and sounded better when I read the summary. The execution was done poorly. 

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend this book. I do not feel like this author is for me, so I will not be reading any more of her works.

The Hundred Loves of Juliet by Evelyn Skye

My GR Rating: 4 (4.5)
Format: Audiobook – Narrators: Aspen Vincent, Joe Arden, and Evelyn Skye
Genre: Fantasy Romance (Romantasy)
Read more on GoodReads.

GR Description: After a bad breakup, Helene Janssen runs away to Alaska to find some peace and quiet. She’s been dreaming up bits and pieces of a novel for years and hopes to finally have time to write it.

On her first night there, Helene meets Sebastien Montague, a gruff fisherman who looks exactly like the hero in the book she’s working on. But how is that even possible? 

Sebastien seems to recognize Helene, too, but he lies about it and brushes her off, even though their chemistry is like a live wire—immediate and undeniable.

It turns out that she’s Juliet, reincarnated, and he’s Romeo, lost in time. And if Helene can convince Sebastien to give her a chance, maybe this time they can rewrite the ending of their story and find a true happily ever after.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this love story. It was so creative and sweet and heartwarming. I listened to the audiobook, which has two narrators since it’s dual-POV, one for Helene and one for Sebastien (Seb). They both did a great job, and I really enjoyed listening to them. 

There is some language but no spice. There are a few bedroom scenes but no details. I would rate it PG. I would consider this a clean or close-door romance. 

This book would be perfect for a winter romance theme. The majority of the story is set in snowy Alaska, so you get that cold, wintry feeling. It’s perfect for reading from December – February.

I thought this story concept was very interesting and imaginative. At times, it reminded me of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and The Time Traveler’s Wife. There are past/present timelines, which give us more backstory about the couple. It also helped me connect to the main couple even more. I really enjoyed both characters and thought they had great chemistry together. This is more of a romance drama than a romantic comedy. It’s very swoon-worthy and romantic. It was easy to like this couple together, and I found myself rooting for them the entire time. I really, really wanted them to end up together. I did get emotional at some parts, so have the tissues handy because this is a bit of a tear-jerker.

Helene and Seb complement each other so well. Helene is a funny, witty, strong-willed, confident, and independent woman. She’s optimistic and tries to see the good in the situation. She doesn’t see sadness or tragedy but instead, indestructible love. She thinks it’s just a circumstance of chance. Whereas, Seb is extremely guarded and pessimistic, and holds his heart close to him. Since he’s immortal, he’s been scarred by all the times his Juliets have died, so he sees it as a curse. He’s stuck in the past and stuck in this pattern that continues and perpetuates all these tragedies. Therefore, he’s grappling with his own misery, guilt, and remorse. But he doesn’t want to be afraid anymore. He wants to stop blaming himself for all the past deaths of Juliet. He wants it to be different with Helene. He wants to finally break free from his curse. 

This book also does a wonderful job of looking at loss, grief, and death. There are lots of great quotes. Now I want to buy a physical copy so I can reread it and annotate it and remember all the gems inside. I loved all the universal messages within this romance story. We need to live in the present, not regretting the past or being fearful of the future. No one’s destiny is certain. No one’s future is foretold. Anything can happen to anyone at any moment. And, we must make the most of today and live for love now. It’s so beautiful!! 

Overall, I loved this story and highly recommend it, especially the audiobook. I would also encourage listeners to listen to the author’s note at the end because she explains how she came up with the concept of this story. It comes from her own life and her own realization that tomorrow is not promised. Her husband suffers from a medical condition that could take his life at any time. So she came up with the question: how do you love someone when you know their time is short? I loved listening to her talk about her story and why she wrote this book. I would definitely read more by this author.

Mystery & Thriller Books

Ankle Snatcher by Grady Hendrix

My GR Rating: 3
Format: ebook – free on Amazon Prime
Genre: Mystery & Thriller | Horror | Novella & Short Stories
Read more on GoodReads.

GR Description: Obey the rules. It’s the only way to survive the night in a short story about what hides in the dark by the New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. Marcus grew up believing his father killed his mother—then blamed it on the boogeyman under the bed. Always leave the lights on, his father warned, or the boogeyman will get you. Marcus still heeds the superstition, especially when he invites his new girlfriend over.

Is Marcus haunted by a creature or has he just inherited his father’s murderous delusions? The night will tell.

My Review:

This short story is part of Creature Feature, a collection of horror short stories on Amazon Prime.

I thought this was an intriguing concept, but ultimately, it fell short for me. It definitely needed to be expanded upon to feel like a fully realized story. I needed (and wanted) a lot more. It felt rushed and sloppy. 

I enjoyed the first half of the story and was curious where it would go, but then it took a turn that I didn’t care for. I didn’t like the new direction it took, and I didn’t like the ending. It was also too ambiguous and open-ended for me. I usually don’t like those types of stories. 

But in true Grady Hendrix fashion, there were enough horror elements to make it feel like a creepy, horror short story. There wasn’t anything over-the-top grotesque, but some descriptions were a bit gross and graphic to read. 

I don’t know if I would recommend this short story, but if you’re a fan of the author’s, then you may enjoy it. It was super quick to read. I think it only took me about 20 minutes to read. It will also make you think twice about stepping out of bed at night without the lights on after you finish reading it. 😉

First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston

My GR Rating: 4
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Genre: Mystery & Thriller
Read more on GoodReads.

GR Description: The identity comes first: Evie Porter. Once she’s given a name and location by her mysterious boss Mr. Smith, she learns everything there is to know about the town and the people in it. Then the mark: Ryan Sumner. The last piece of the puzzle is the job.

Evie isn’t privy to Mr. Smith’s real identity, but she knows this job will be different. Ryan has gotten under her skin, and she’s starting to envision a different sort of life for herself. But Evie can’t make any mistakes–especially after what happened last time.

Because the one thing she’s worked her entire life to keep clean, the one identity she could always go back to—her real identity—just walked right into this town. Evie Porter must stay one step ahead of her past while making sure there’s still a future in front of her. The stakes couldn’t be higher–but then, Evie has always liked a challenge…

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book. I listened to the audiobook and thought the narrator did an excellent job. This is the author’s adult novel debut. I haven’t read any of her YA books, but I never would’ve guessed this is her first adult book. It’s very well-written. I went into it almost blind so I was pleasantly surprised that it’s as good as it is.

This is my first con-woman book, and it was such a fun game of cat-and-mouse while we tried to figure out this mystery. I would say it leans more toward mystery than thriller. Though there are some thriller/action sequences that were a lot of fun as well.

Because Evie’s boss is just a mysterious voice that she receives assignments from via her phone, it gave me Charlie’s Angels vibes but a lot more sinister. This story was very intriguing and kept me guessing the whole time. It’s very bingeable, and I had to know what was going to happen next the entire time. It’s not super twisty but did have some nice twists and turns throughout the story. At times, I didn’t know who to trust or what to believe. It weaved in clues seamlessly and had nice pacing. I also appreciate that the reveals were spread out and didn’t feel like one big dump at the end.

There is some language but it’s not too bad. There is also a romance subplot with just a tiny bit of spice, but it was very tolerable for me.

Evie is a likable character. I was rooting for her the entire time. She had a rough past that we learn about through past timelines. She’s a survivor and a strong female lead. She’s also intelligent, smart, clever, resourceful, and independent. We also see how bold and guarded she is, but also wants to let someone in. She holds her own like a pro, even when the mysterious Mr. Smith plays mind games with her.

What kept me from giving five stars is that it didn’t quite pull me in and resonate with me like some other mystery thrillers that I read in the same month. It didn’t blow my mind, but I still really, really enjoyed it.

I would absolutely read more adult books from this author. Highly recommend!!

Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

My GR Rating: 4
Format: Audiobook – Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Genre: Mystery & Thriller | Horror
Read more on GoodReads.

GR Description: West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.

Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this horror/mystery & thriller book. I went into it pretty blind and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. I knew it was horror but didn’t know there would be supernatural elements to it, which I loved. Give me a good ghost story any day!

This book is perfect for winter or colder months. It’s very atmospheric with a cold, snowy setting. Perfect when you want to curl up with a blanket and a hot drink while you read.

I enjoyed the setting of the story. We’re in a town but some of the story takes place at a farmhouse a little outside of town, so it feels like an isolated area, which I really enjoy in my mystery & thriller books. It was spooky, eerie, and creepy, but not so scary that I couldn’t read this at night. It didn’t give me nightmares or anything. It is a little strange or weird but in a good way, I’ve read weirder books.

There are past/present timelines, which got a bit muddled at times for me. I felt like there were a lot of characters to keep track of. I listened to the audiobook and that may have been my challenge because, at times, it got a bit confusing. There are multiple POVs and jumping back and forth from the past to the present. Maybe this would’ve been a better experience if I had read the book instead of listening to the audio.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I preferred the past storyline more than the present storyline. It was a little jarring constantly jumping back and forth through the timelines. It disconnected me a bit from the book.

But overall, I thought this was a very interesting and addicting story. It was creative and creepy, and I loved the feelings I got from listening to it. It was unsettling but in the best way possible! This was my first book by this author, and I’m excited to read more by her. Highly recommend!!

The Only One Left by Riley Sager

My GR Rating: 5
Format: Audiobook – Narrators: Dawn Harvey and Christine Lakin
Genre: Mystery & Thriller
Read more on GoodReads.

GR Description: At seventeen, Lenora Hope

Hung her sister with a rope

Now reduced to a schoolyard chant, the Hope family murders shocked the Maine coast one bloody night in 1929. While most people assume seventeen-year-old Lenora was responsible, the police were never able to prove it. Other than her denial after the killings, she has never spoken publicly about that night, nor has she set foot outside Hope’s End, the cliffside mansion where the massacre occurred.

Stabbed her father with a knife

Took her mother’s happy life

It’s now 1983, and home-health aide Kit McDeere arrives at a decaying Hope’s End to care for Lenora after her previous nurse fled in the middle of the night. In her seventies and confined to a wheelchair, Lenora was rendered mute by a series of strokes and can only communicate with Kit by tapping out sentences on an old typewriter. One night, Lenora uses it to make a tantalizing offer—I want to tell you everything.

“It wasn’t me,” Lenora said

But she’s the only one not dead

As Kit helps Lenora write about the events leading to the Hope family massacre, it becomes clear there’s more to the tale than people know. But when new details about her predecessor’s departure come to light, Kit starts to suspect Lenora might not be telling the complete truth—and that the seemingly harmless woman in her care could be far more dangerous than she first thought.

My Review:

I LOVED this book! I know the reviews are mixed, but this one absolutely hits the mark for me. It was also my first Riley Sager book. I had been DYING to read one of his books, so I was giddy when it became available on my library app. I listened to the audiobook and thought it was a phenomenal experience. Both of the narrators were superb, and I highly recommend listening to this book.

I also think readers should go in as blind as possible, so I won’t say too much about it. What I will say is it’s very atmospheric and felt gothic-esque. I thought the pacing was on point and the story grabbed me from the very beginning. I was highly addicted to this story and finished it in just a few days. It’s very bingeable and kept me guessing the whole time. I thought about it when I was not listening to it.

It does a great job of dropping the breadcrumbs along the way as we try to figure out this murder mystery. Like many others, I would compare this story to the real-life Lizzie Borden case. I had so much fun with this story and trying to figure it out! There are SOOO many twists and turns. It bordered on too much and definitely felt over the top, which I know people criticized it for that, but I loved it. I was all here for it and loved the wild ride we went on. I got whiplash multiple times and wanted more!

I thought it had interesting characters; I loved the atmosphere; it was a bit eerie and creepy; the mansion also felt like a character. I also enjoyed the dynamics between Kit and Lenora. I could go on but don’t want to reveal too much or spoil anything.

Read this book if you like: tons of family secrets, forbidden love, a good murder mystery, a gothic-type setting with a spooky mansion, eerie atmosphere, lots of tension, shocking twists, and big reveals. It has it all! I would love to see this adapted into a movie. I can’t wait to read more by this author!!

Highly recommend, especially the audiobook!!

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