The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

Shea is a receptionist in a doctor’s office and makes a crime podcast in the evenings. She wants to interview a woman accused of but acquitted of murdering two men forty years ago, Beth Greer. Beth is a rich heiress who lives alone in the family mansion after her father was shot and her mother died in a car accident. Mystery surrounds Beth. She reaches out to Shea to talk about what happened forty years ago. Little by little, Shea is exposed to Beth’s life and secrets and the further she digs the more dangerous it all becomes. 5 stars for this well-written haunted mystery!

Daughters of Nri by Reni K. Amayo

Twins, stolen and separated!

Naala gets reprimanded for getting dirt all over her wedding gown that Gini designed and sewed. Sinai is trying to avoid a bully. These two young women are twins separated soon after they were born and they have no idea that the other one exists. Twins are forbidden and usually killed because the leader has heard a prophecy that twins will be his undoing. The girls’ parents were royalty, also unknown to them. Their mother died after giving birth to them and their father planned on keeping them safe afterwards but the girls were stolen and their father died of a broken heart. Now Naala and Sinai are living separate lives and know nothing about each other, their parents or the prophecy. Naala has just escaped the slaying of her village and is living on the run with other survivors of Eze’s army. Sinai has made a pact with a magical older lady and now she’s supposed to be spying on Eze. The mythology was all new to me since I didn’t have much background knowledge of the specific culture and I enjoyed learning about that. I would have liked more action and development of the characters but still a good read, 4 stars!

Dead End Girls by Wendy Heard

Fast-paced mystery!

Maude has a plan to completely leave her current life. She’s not wanted at her Dad’s or her Mom’s and they tend to forget when it’s their custody week. Maude has saved and planned for years to make this work and she seizes the opportunity to leave when her Mom’s in-laws book a Hawaiian vacation. She hasn’t planned on her step-cousin to discover her passports or want to join her because her life is miserable too, but Frankie goes along with the plan. They fake their drowning and run. Things become chaotic, dangerous and crazy after that. Their lives are endangered, they’re chased by the authorities and they discover more about their families than they wanted to know. A fast-paced mystery, 4 stars!

Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong

Political intrigue in 1930’s Orient with a mix of historical fiction and fantasy!

The prologue tells of a painful scientific experiment on a person that has been strapped down. Then the story starts as Rosalind is trapping a criminal who is a member of the group responsible for the death of her cousin Juliette during a past act gone awry. She’s exacting revenge on those who were part of it. Political intrigue, spies, agents, Communists and Nationalists describe the characters in this book. Her handler pairs her with another agent, Orion, who has family issues as well. The two of them have to pretend to be married so they can infiltrate the newspaper company and try to discover information on the serial killer murdering people with a toxic liquid in syringes. What they discover turns their lives around and, unbeknownst to Orion and Rosalind, the reader is given the true identity of a mysterious agent, Priest. The author’s notes on Oriental history during the 1930’s are fascinating. Well-written, complex, beloved characters build a fun historical fiction fantasy. 5 stars!

Likes/dislikes:
I enjoyed learning about the history of 1930’s Orient. The author’s notes give readers a glimpse into her research and what’s based on facts and what’s completely fiction in this story. Rosalind and Orion are characters with depth and I had fun getting to know them.
Swearing: PG for three swears, no f-bombs
Mature content: PG for lgbtq transgender character mentioned
Violence: PG-13 for killing by poison, shooting, bloody shooting, stabbing, bloody stabbing

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

A powerful, authentic read!

Starr lives in a rough part of town and after one of her best friends gets shot in a drive by shooting when they’re ten, Starr’s parents have her attend a private school that’s safer. Now Starr is sixteen and she witnesses her other childhood friend getting fatally shot by a police officer. Her friend did nothing to provoke the shooting. This is a powerful novel about much more than racism. It’s also about choices, bravery, integrity and helping others. This book has a lot of swearing which is authentic to the lifestyle of the character’s surroundings but the message of empowerment makes it a must read. 5 stars for a novel that will stick with me.

Likes/dislikes:
I liked how the author shows reality and brings her characters to life to make the readers care about them. I like that two different worlds are brought together by two teens living in both and experiencing the stark differences in each. Character development is abundant and bravery and integrity are a huge factor in the main character’s life and family. I love how the main character’s family is open to discussing everything instead of keeping secrets from each other.
Mature content: PG-13
Underage drinking, marijuana use
Page 81 foreplay (boyfriend touching of girlfriend’s pubic region)
Page 376 arousal (the boyfriend had a bulge in his pants when he kissed his girlfriend)
Violence: PG-13
Fatal Shooting at a party. Police brutality and fatal shooting of a teen male. Riots, gang beatings, starting fires.
Language: R for 100+ swears and 54 f-bombs

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-hate-u-give

The Luminaries by Susan Dennard

A supernatural mystery!

Luminaries are hunters of nightmares. Winnie, sixteen, is about to start the trials that lead to becoming a hunter. She lives with her mother and brother. After her father was exposed as a spy, their family lost everything, including him. Now they struggle to make ends meet. Winnie is bullied by classmates that call her traitor because of her father. She is excited to become a hunter and draws every creature she sees with her wonderful artistic skills. On her first trial, Winnie accidentally stumbles onto a banshee that’s immediately beheaded by someone or something else. She carries the banshee head back to headquarters, completely in shock the whole time. As soon as other hunters see her holding the banshee head, they assume she hunted and killed it. Super impressed, the hunters don’t let Winnie get a word in and she’s finding it hard to speak anyway. After that, she and her family are celebrated and treated much better. Winnie is able to attend hunter school and her brother Darian is promoted. In the meantime, Winnie asks Jay to train her because she feels extremely behind since she hasn’t had access to teaching or coaching for the last four years. Jay agrees but Winnie has difficulty reading him. He’s aloof, strong, and oblivious to the attention and flirting of Winnie’s peers. Jay’s training helps Winnie with the trials but she keeps seeing the Whisperer that no other hunter has seen. As Winnie builds her skills, she discovers a coded message from her father and the book ends with the shocking deciphered note he left for her. A sequel to look forward to! Supernatural mystery, 4 stars!

Likes/dislikes:
I like the following:
-The quote from Grandpa Frank, “That’s why we’re called the Luminaries, Winnie, we are lanterns the forest can never snuff out”.
-The mystery of the Whisperer and the discovery of another mystery that leads into a sequel.
-I enjoyed the writing and that Winnie is an artist.
-I like Jay and the mystery surrounding his life.
Language Content: PG-13 for 16 swears, no f-bombs
Mature Content: PG-13 for underage drinking, mentions marijuana; LGBT side character
Violence: PG-13 for dead, ripped apart bodies, beheading

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Tremendously honest, heartbreaking and soul healing!

Kya lives in the marshlands of North Carolina with her poverty stricken family. Her father is abusive and, one by one, her siblings leave and, eventually, so does her mother. Her father stays and he seems better for a time, even kind. Then he falls back into his old ways again and ends up leaving too. Kya tries school for a day but after being bullied, she doesn’t return. She makes it completely on her own and digs mussels to sell to the local store to bring in money for food. Tate, a boy a few years older than Kya, loves to explore the marsh. They become friends and he teaches her to read. With reading, she discovers and teaches herself to be literate and all about the marshlands and its nature. She illustrates and collects samples of everything she finds in her marsh area. Tate leaves to attend college and becomes a biologist and works in the marsh. He submits Kya’s illustrations and notes to a publisher and she becomes a published author several times over. She adds comforts to her house and lives well by her own wealth. She lives simply but she gets electricity and running water and other basic comforts that she’s never had. When Tate went away to college, he realized that his life would be difficult for Kya. So, he doesn’t visit her for years. While he’s away, the local and popular Chase moves in on Kya. He tricks her into thinking he’s going to marry her, all the while dating other women. Kya eventually sees his engagement article in the local newspaper and ends it with him. Later, he attacks her, trying to rape her and he beats her up. She fights back and escapes. His body is found later and it looks like he fell from the fire tower in the marsh. Since he was a local celebrity, the police are pushed to investigate for foul play. Kya is arrested and faced with a murder trial. The whole time I’m reading the part after Chase attacks Kya, I’m hoping she killed him but I also don’t want her to be found guilty. The suspense builds to intensity and I couldn’t put the book down! Tremendously honest, heartbreaking and soul healing! 5 stars!

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

The perfect spooky thriller!

As a child, Maggie lived at Baneberry Hall with her parents for twenty days before leaving for good under the claim that the house is haunted. Her father wrote a book about their experiences and Maggie is still recognized for the book, even though she’s now an adult. Her father left her the house in his will and he recently passed away. Her parents never would talk about the house or book even though Maggie had many questions. Her parents divorced soon after the book was written. Now that she’s inherited the house, she’s planning on restoring it to sell because that’s what she does for a living. Maggie has no idea what’s in store for her once she returns to Baneberry Hall. She finds old Polaroid pictures and hears odd noises. A record player randomly plays a song from The Sound of Music and then skeletal remains fall from the kitchen ceiling. Maggie talks to town residents, reads articles about the house’s past and even talks to Marta Carver who lost her husband and daughter in Baneberry Hall when they were living there as a family. Every time I thought I had it all figured out, something else happened to reveal more secrets. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book!
A perfect spooky thriller, 5 stars!

Gone Dark by Amanda Panitch

Her survival skills might keep her alive!

Zara’s father is a survivalist that lives on a compound. Zara and her mother used to live on the compound too, until seven years ago. Now she lives with her mother and attends public school far away from her father’s compound. Her father’s survival lessons are drilled into Zara’s head and she replays them often. When there’s a widespread blackout, Zara uses her survival knowledge to get away from a strange man chasing her, to find her mother and to help her friends. As they travel looking for safety and to reach her father’s compound for protection, they come across a lot of danger and strange, sometimes creepy situations, cult communities, religious communities, families stealing supplies from them and people that will do anything for self preservation. Interesting, unique dystopian story, 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!