Firewatching (Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler #1) by Russ Thomas

Firewatching (Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler #1) by Russ Thomas
Publisher/Year: Putnam, 2020
Format: ARC – paperback
Pages: 358
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


A taut and ambitious police procedural debut introducing Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler, a cold-case reviewer who lands a high-profile murder investigation, only to find the main suspect is a recent one-night stand…

When financier Gerald Cartwright disappeared from his home six years ago, it was assumed he’d gone on the run from his creditors. But then a skeleton is found bricked up in the cellar of Cartwright’s mansion, and it becomes clear Gerald never left alive.

As the sole representative of South Yorkshire’s Cold Case Review Unit, Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler is not expected to get results, but he knows this is the case that might finally kick-start his floundering career. Luckily, he already has a suspect. Unluckily, that suspect is Cartwright’s son, the man Tyler slept with the night before. To further complicate matters, tied up in his investigation are an elderly woman with dementia who’s receiving mysterious threats referencing a past she can’t remember, and am ambitious young Muslim constable seeking to prove herself on a force of good old boys.

Someone in the city knows exactly what happened to Gerald. Someone who is watching from the shadows. Someone who has an unhealthy affinity with fire…

What I thought

Thank you to Putnam for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Hello, reader friends! Today I’m bringing to your attention an excellent debut novel and a solid addition to the crime fiction genre.

I want to start out by saying that I haven’t read much crime fiction, but I have always wanted to read a detective series from the beginning because there’s nothing I love more than getting to know and becoming attached to a character over time. After having finished this book, I can already tell that this is going to be the case with DS Tyler. His character was my favorite part of this book! This is going to be a weird comparison, but if you know, you know–Adam’s personality reminded me of Geralt from The Witcher. And I love me a gruff lone wolf with a sarcastic, begrudging sense of humor!

As for the mystery, I’m never good at figuring them out, but the reveal at the end took me TOTALLY by surprise. I think I had suspected nearly every character but that one. I do want to point out that the pacing of this one is sort of slow (at least until the end), but I think that is more to do with me–one of the last books I read was a psychological thriller, which flew by. Firewatching is not so much a thriller, but rather a crime fiction/police procedural/mystery. These stories tend to progress a little slower, but they’re just as good. I’m merely pointing out that the juxtaposition of the two different genres made the pacing a little jarring for me, but I soon settled in and found myself absorbed.

Overall, I really enjoyed this read, and I think crime fiction junkies will, too. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next installment!

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
Publisher/Year: Random House, 2020
Format: Hardcover (B&N Bookclub Edition)
Pages: 410
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


A mother and daughter with a shared talent for healing–and conjuring curses–are at the heart of this dazzling first novel.

Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning generations, it explores the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healer; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsepts as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women come to a head at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear, spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.

Richly imagined, brilliantly researched, magnificently written, Conjure Women moves back and forth in time to tell the haunting story of Rue, Varina, and May Belle, their passions and friendships, and how far they will go to save themselves and those they love.

What I thought

This novel was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020, so I was so excited when Barnes & Noble picked it as a book club selection. And I was not disappointed! As a debut novel, Conjure Women blew me away with its brilliance, and I have to admit, I am bummed to not have been able to meet and discuss this with my usual crew. There were so many layers to this story and so much to take away from it that this is one of those books where I feel like it’s almost necessary to read it again and again to truly grasp it all. And I absolutely could do that. Afia Atakora’s writing was so stunning and atmospheric that I was transported as I read. This was my ideal historical fiction read.

I could go on and dive into all the layers of this book, but I feel like I’d just end up rambling about how much I loved this book. I just cannot get over the fact that Conjure Women is a debut novel. If her first novel was any indication, I am immensely looking forward to whatever Afia Atakora writes next. Fans of historical fiction–get your hands on this one!

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
Publisher/Year: St. Martin’s Press, 2016
Format: E-book
Pages: 344
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


“‘They think I am still a little girl who is not capable of being a Queen.’ Lord Melbourne turned to look at Victoria. ‘They are mistaken. I have not known you long, but I observe in you a natural dignity that cannot be learnt. To me, ma’am, you are every inch a Queen.'”

In 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria–sheltered, small in stature, and female became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Many thought it was preposterous: Alexandrina–Drina to her family–had always been tightly controlled by her mother and her household, and was surely too unprepossessing to hold the throne. Yet from the moment William IV died, the young Queen startled everyone: abandoning her hated first name in favor of Victoria; insisting, for the first time in her life, on sleeping in a room apart from her mother; resolute about meeting with her ministers alone.

One of those ministers, Lord Melbourne, became Victoria’s private secretary. Perhaps he might have become more than that, except everyone argued she was destined to marry her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. But Victoria had met Albert as a child and found him stiff and critical: surely the last man she would want for a husband.

Drawing on Victoria’s diaries as well as her own brilliant gifts for history and drama, Daisy Goodwin, author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter as well as creator and screenwriter of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria, brings the young queen even more richly to life in this magnificent novel.

What I thought

Ahh, there’s simply nothing like a good historical fiction. It’s like a balm to my weary soul. And I really liked this one! I consider myself an Anglophile, but I will admit, I’ve never read anything about Queen Victoria before. Historical fiction is my preferred jumping off point before I pull out the big biography guns, and this book perfectly fit the bill.

I loved how Queen Victoria was portrayed here, and now I’m certainly starting to see why she has so many fans. The way Daisy Goodwin wrote her character makes her seem so genuine and personable–and such a spitfire! I also really enjoyed how the secondary characters came to life and didn’t fall in the shadow of the Queen. I think my favorite part of this book, besides Queen Victoria herself, would have to be all the feelings for Lord Melbourne and Albert. Even while knowing how it would turn out, my heart still broke for Lord M even as much as it swooned for Albert.

I really enjoyed Daisy Goodwin’s writing, and I’m looking forward to her other books. I’m especially excited to dive into the PBS show! I think the only thing that kept this from being a 5-star read for me is that while I enjoyed my visit to Victorian England, I didn’t feel quite transported there.

All in all, between a wonderful story, an inspiring heroine, and beautiful writing, this is must-read historical fiction–and one I must add to my shelves!

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica
Publisher/Year: Park Row Books, 2020
Format: ARC – paperback
Pages: 359
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


She tried to run, but she can’t escape the other Mrs.

Sadie and Will Foust have only just moved their family from bustling Chicago to small-town Maine when their neighbor Morgan Baines is found dead in her home. The murder rocks their tiny coastal island, but no one is more shaken than Sadie.

But it’s not just Morgan’s death that has Sadie on edge. It’s the eerie and decrepit old home they inherited. It’s Will’s disturbed teenage niece, Imogen, with her threatening presence. And it’s the troubling past that continues to wear at the seams of their family.

As the eyes of suspicion turn toward the new family in town, Sadie is drawn deeper into the mystery of Morgan’s death. But Sadie must be careful, for the more she discovers about Mrs. Baines, the more she begins to realize just how much she has to lose if the truth ever comes to light.

What I thought

Thank you to Park Row Books for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

This book STRESSED ME OUT in the best way, and to me, that is a sure sign of an excellent domestic thriller! This was the first book I’ve read from Mary Kubica, and I really enjoyed it. I know where to turn now when I’m in the mood for a thriller!

I want to keep this very short because it’s better to go into this knowing next to nothing. The unsettling atmosphere and the unreliable narrators instantly drew me into this story and kept the pages turning. Mary Kubica has such an easy writing style–simple, yet effective without being overdone. Honestly the only thing that kept this from five stars was the considerable amount of suspension of disbelief required from the reader. That isn’t something that bothers me exactly, it’s just that it takes me out of the story. I will also say that despite several theories, I never saw the “twist” coming–I love when authors can keep the suspense going!

All in all, kudos to Mary Kubica for writing one helluva thriller! It kept me up at night, flipping the pages, and I cannot think of a better recommendation than that.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
Publisher/Year: Canongate, 2015
Format: E-book (Nook)
Pages: 179
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Aged 24, Matt Haig’s world caved in. He could see no way to go on living. This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again.

A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.

“I wrote this book because the oldest clichés remain the truest. Time heals. The bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view. The tunnel does have light at the end of it, even if we haven’t been able to see it…Words, just sometimes, really can set you free.”

What I thought

What an important and thought-provoking book! I wish I could put this book into everyone’s hands.

This wasn’t necessarily my favorite book (I couldn’t always relate–although I will say I do empathize), but that isn’t the point here. What Matt Haig attempts (and succeeds) to do is simply open the conversation to mental health. It’s something we desperately need to become more aware of in this country (especially now). I think one of my favorite things about this book was that he gives readers hope for a better tomorrow, but he doesn’t sugarcoat it–mental illness is a bitch.

I don’t personally have depression, so I really don’t feel right weighing in on that aspect of the book, but as someone with anxiety, I will tell you that it feels good to be seen. There is A LOT we don’t understand about the mind and Haig makes no pretense about that. He simply relates his own story and lets you know that even though this might look different for everyone, you are not alone.

*I do want to add that I read this book in little chunks because, as with everyone, I’m having good and bad mental health days (hell, hours and minutes, too) and this topic can be a bit triggering if you’re not in the right headspace.

Anyway, I thought this was well-worth the read!

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
Publisher/Year: Celadon Books, 2020
Format: ARC – paperback
Pages: 343
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


Hailed as a “marvel of a book” and “brilliant and unflinching,” Alexis Schaitkin’s stunning debut, Saint X, is a haunting portrait of grief, obsession, and the bond between two sisters never truly given the chance to know one another.

Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister, Alison disappears on the last night of their family vacation at a resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. Several days later, Alison’s body is found in a remote spot on a nearby cay, and two local men–employees at the resort–are arrested. But the evidence is slim, the timeline against it, and the men are soon released. The story turns into national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved. For Claire and her parents, there is only the return home to broken lives.

Years later, Claire is living and working in New York City when a brief but fateful encounter brings her together with Clive Richardson, one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. It is a moment that sets Claire on an obsessive pursuit of the truth–not only to find out what happened the night of Alison’s death but also to answer the elusive question: Who exactly was her sister? At seven, Claire had been barely old enough to know her: a beautiful, changeable, provocative girl of eighteen at a turbulent moment of identity formation.

As Claire doggedly shadows Clive, hoping to gain his trust, waiting for the slip that will reveal the truth, an unlikely attachment develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by the same tragedy.

For readers of Emma Cline’s The Girls and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, Saint X is a flawlessly drawn and deeply moving story the culminates in an emotionally powerful ending.

What I thought

Thank you to Celadon Books for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

You guys. I LOVED this book. I’m talking LOVED like every time I (reluctantly) put it down, I felt like I was coming up out of a trance kind of LOVED. I was 100% sucked into this book, and I’m legitimately sad that it’s over. Not only that, but I am completely blown away by the fact that this was a DEBUT novel.

So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I went into this book VERY hesitantly, fully expecting a “meh” read. I had seen SO many mediocre review of this, and even though I’m one to keep an open mind, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy as I went into this one. So, imagine my surprise as I fell in love with this book–was I even reading the same book as everyone else? And now that I’ve finished, I think I understand. Obviously, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and not everyone’s going to enjoy the same books–that’s what makes reading so great. However, I went into this knowing not to expect a fast-paced, murder mystery, thriller–and I truly think that made all the difference.

Saint X is, instead, a deep and riveting character study that looks at all of the ripples created by tragedy and how it affects those closest to it, as well as those on its periphery. Alexis Schaitkin has some serious writing chops like I haven’t seen in some time. The settings and especially the characters felt so real and vivid to me that this book hardly felt like fiction. And there was so much to delve into, I think any book club discussion could go on for days.

If you enjoy reading about real (and flawed) characters, if you enjoy contemplating how we all have an effect on others we encounter, and especially if you have ever pondered a question like, “I wonder how it would have all turned out if I had turned left instead of right?”–get your hands on this book. So, so good!