Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor

Family and friends above all!

The prologue pulled me right in! Two sisters are trying to get an interview for jobs at the Hotel Magnifique. Jani watches over her younger sister Zosa, since she’s the only family she has left. Their mother died several years ago. Jani wants to go back to their homeland and they need money to travel there. Hotel Magnifique is stopping close by and Jani talks Zosa into interviewing for a job. Secrets surround the hotel and once they’re part of the workforce, they’re separated. Jani is desperate to find her sister and when she does, she’s horrified at how Zosa is being treated. Jani also digs for the truth about how the hotel is run and who’s in charge. Alistair is the lead magician but he’s hiding much and will do anything to protect what he’s gained. Danger builds and mysteries are cracked wide open as Jani tries to save her sister and eventually everyone that’s been used by Alistair for his greedy goals. Family and friends above all, 4 stars!

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

A truly touching story with many life lessons!

Lily finds a random rooftop in Boston so she can reflect on the eulogy she gave at her father’s funeral. She misses solitude since she has moved to Boston and has a not quiet roommate. While on this rooftop, she meets Ryle, a neurosurgeon resident. Ryle is adamantly against relationships in his life but he enjoys flirting with Lily. Through coincidental circumstances, Lily sees Ryle here and there throughout the next year. They eventually become involved in a relationship and his family absolutely loves her. She doesn’t about his temper until he hurts her and then she’s left wondering if it was accidental. In the meantime, Lily grows closer to her mother and she runs into Atlas, her first boyfriend. We learn about her past with Atlas and how much they both helped each other when they were teenagers. I read this book quickly because it’s completely engrossing and I fell right into the story! The characters are authentic and I grew to love them, with their humor and quirks and through their struggles. The author’s notes share the author’s perspective as she created this story and I admire how well she dealt with the delicate issues and the choices of the main characters. A truly touching story with several life lessons, 5 stars!

Pretend She’s Here by Luanne Rice

Suspenseful, crazy, thought provoking;
5 stars!

Emily lost her best friend Lizzie and now she’s been kidnapped by Lizzie’s family to be her replacement. Lizzie’s mother has gone insane with grief. She’s tried to turn their younger daughter Chloe into Lizzie but that didn’t work because they’re still missing a child and have an empty seat at the kitchen table. Chloe is used as bait to get Emily to the van and convince her to go for a ride. They drug her and kidnap her. Emily is taken from everything she knows and loves and she sees that Lizzie’s mom is twisted in justifying the kidnapping. Emily’s hair is dyed black and she’s forced to wear contacts the colors of Lizzie’s eyes. Little by little, Emily is allowed tiny freedoms and eventually can attend school, if she agrees to send an email to her parents telling them that she ran away. She only agrees to send the email because her mother’s life is threatened if she doesn’t. Trauma, abuse and manipulation are parts of Emily’s daily life now and to keep her family safe, she agrees to be Lizzie.
Suspenseful, crazy, thought provoking; 5 stars!

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Morbidly fascinating!

Weird. Psychologically twisted. Wow… This story is a mystery in itself because of the narrators. As I read, I was unsure if I could trust any of the narrators. They all seem unreliable in some way. Ted, the man with extremely odd behavior and lifestyle, Olivia, Ted’s cat, and Dee, a woman who moved into Ted’s neighborhood who’s secretly looking for her younger sister that’s been missing for years. Ted supposedly has a daughter, Lauren. It’s difficult to decipher her age and maturity. Also, it seems that Ted’s mother handicapped Lauren so she’s unable to walk. It took me a few chapters to get into the story but then I needed to finish it to figure it all out. By the time, I read the entire book, I was fascinated, albeit a bit morbidly. I completely appreciate the author’s notes at the end of the book, explaining everything and making sense of it all and her spoiler alert at the beginning of her notes. So, don’t read her notes until after you’ve finished reading the book. She shares her research also, which is impressive! I want to read more of Catriona Ward’s books now. She wrote an intricate and complicated story, The Last House on Needless Street, showing the fragility and capabilities we all have within us. 5 stars!

This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi

Reads like an old-fashioned fairytale!

Alizeh is alone in the world, hiding her true identity and living as an overworked servant. She’s Jinn and has ice in her veins. She’ll be in danger if anyone discovers who she is because she’ll be seen as a threat to the human king. Kamran, the young prince, sees Alizeh help a homeless thief and is intrigued by her actions. The more he observes her, the more curious he becomes. The king, Kamran’s grandfather, sees that the prince is interested in the girl so he explains that their kingdom’s peace is at stake if they let her live. He orders Kamran to put her to death and then be ready to attend the planned ball the next evening and choose a wife. Alizeh works as a seamstress after her servant hours are finished for the day. She’s helping Miss Huda with several gowns. Alizeh is exhausted and after she leaves Miss Huda, she’s attacked by six men. She warns them but they laugh at her so she subdues them with the only weapons she has available, seamstress needles and scissors. Afterwards, she’s approached by a man who has been searching for her and wanting to protect her from harm. He sees the attack and knows she can protect herself. He offers her assistance and safety. He will take her away at the ball the following night. He also gives her a nosta, a rare orb that warms in your hand when the truth is told and chills like ice when a lie appears. This man’s identity is a surprising twist to the story! Huzzah!!!
The action takes over and another twist is revealed, ending the book with a bang! I can hardly stand to wait for the next book! Elegant storytelling, 5 stars!

Wish You Were Gone by Kieran Scott

Told in several points of view by Emma and her friends. The story opens with a crash in her home, late at night. Her son, Hunter, rushes into Emma’s room to ask her about the noise. The two venture through the house and find her husband and Hunter’s father dead in his car, that’s been crashed through the garage. James had been known to drink and drive, so that’s what everyone assumes happened to cause the crash. Little things come to Emma’s attention that don’t add up to James causing the crash on his own. The landscaper finds James’ necktie in the bushes and Emma finds his briefcase behind baskets of fruit from well-wishers. He would have had his tie on and his briefcase in the car with him. His phone is also missing and when Emma calls it, a young woman answers. The story grows more complex as it is told, with more variables coming to light. This was truly an unpredictable story for me and a very satisfying mystery! 5 stars!

Seven Dirty Secrets by Natalie Richards

A fun, fantastic horror story!

Cleo gets done showering and sees a gift- wrapped package on the bathroom sink that wasn’t there before she got in the shower. She assumes it’s from a family member or friend but when she asks about it, no one has any idea about the package. This freaks Cleo out so she calls the police and the cop is respectful and helps her realize that she did the right thing by calling. No victim shaming. Her best friend Hope shows up in the meantime. The officer finds a few windows unlocked in her house but nothing else. After the officer leaves, the two friends find another box containing a scavenger hunt clue like the first package. The hunt grows creepier as the clues dredge up memories that Cleo would like to forget. This mystery gets more interesting as the creep factor cranks up! A fun, fantastic horror story, 5 stars!

Thriving After Sexual Abuse by Denise Bossarte

True help for the healing process!

The author bravely shares what happened to her. She then details her healing journey.
I appreciate the honesty of her past therapy experiences. It’s good to have permission to find a therapist that you’re personally comfortable with. The definition of incest from SIA (Survivors of Incest Group) was an eye-opener because it includes more than just blood relatives. It’s anyone who betrays the child’s innocence or trust. When she mentions that it was difficult for her to understand other kids growing up and how they felt and lived emotionally, that rang a bell with me. I remember thinking that what I was going through must be normal until my friends were complaining about their lives and I realized that I couldn’t relate to their experiences at all.
This book is chock-full of helpful resources, from meditation to art therapy. The explanation of forgiveness states to forgive yourself for any misplaced beliefs that you are to blame for any abuse that has happened to you. I appreciate this explanation which clarifies that you’re not forgiving the abuser. The resources shared in the book are listed at the end and include even more! True help for the healing! You don’t have to deal with it on your own. 5 stars!

Agnes at the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams

Completely Riveting!

Agnes resides within a cult at Red Creek but she doesn’t realize that she’s part of a cult. She’s the eldest of several siblings and is responsible for taking care of their family because their mother is severely depressed. Agnes sneaks to the Outside once a month to retrieve insulin for her younger brother Ezekiel, even though she knows it’s against the rules. Her sister Beth, the next eldest sibling, is a rebel and doesn’t like the rules. When Beth is caught kissing a boy, she’s disgraced by their father and the community. Agnes has been betrothed as a sixth wife to a middle-aged man and before she gets married, she has to teach Beth everything so she can then become the family caretaker. The middle-aged man decides to marry Beth instead of Agnes to straighten Beth out. In the meantime, a ferocious virus is spreading throughout the world and eventually arrives at Red Creek. The Prophet releases an infected dog during a church meeting and, after a few people are bitten, he tells them about his revelation; the Rapture has arrived and everyone must move into the underground bunker. Agnes escapes with Ezekiel and is heartbroken that she’s left the rest of her siblings behind. She knows that the bunker would be a death sentence for Ezekiel because there’s no insulin for him. This is a riveting story about cults, self-worth, self-importance, bravery, love, loyalty, and sacrifice. The author’s note explains the cult background information being from a nonfiction book of a survivor who escaped a true cult. A wonderfully written and all-encompassing story about love, sacrifice, and different faiths, 5 stars!

Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee by Mary G. Thompson

Intense, suspenseful and genre-bending!
Amy returns home after six horrible years with her kidnapper. She was kidnapped along with her cousin Dee. A man obsessed with dolls, Kyle stalked twelve-year-old Dee and took the opportunity to grab her the first chance he got. He, Kyle, took Amy also, so he wouldn’t leave behind a witness. After Amy returns home, she struggles deeply with guilt, blackout episodes and trusting anyone enough to tell what happened during the six years she was away. This heartrending story mixes mystery, realistic fiction and horror together well to create a tale of brutality, psychopathic tendencies and coping skills. 5 stars for an intense read!