ARC Review: EVEN IF WE BREAK by Marieke Nijkamp (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Year Release: September 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read a NetGalley eARC
Content warnings: Addiction, violence, transphobia

In this cabin-in-the-woods thriller, five friends reunite to play one last session of an RPG. Things take a turn for the worst as one of them goes missing and their game’s story beats turn deadly and real life.

There are 5 POVs: Finn (trans rep), Ever (nonbinary rep), Maddy (autistic rep), Liva, and Carter. Everyone has their secrets, and Nijkamp does a great job weaving the details of their RPG with letting the reader in, while also ramping up the tension. The problems these teens face feel more realistic than some of the trials I’ve read about in the back story portion of these thrillers. Two of them have to deal with being queer in high school, one has excessive pressure to succeed, another has to support their family. It’s very thoughtfully handled and presented, especially the darker aspects.

One of the delights that made this read almost-cute were two things:

  1. The friends-to-lovers romance
  2. The RPG itself

Gonfalon works really well as the string keeping the friends together both narratively and metaphorically. I thought it would be just a gimmick to get everyone in the same place, so I was pleasantly surprised that it threaded all the way to the end. There were interludes told from the point of view of a GM as well which worked as a meta-narrative.

Even If We Break reminded me a lot of the game Until Dawn, but with no supernatural elements. If that’s your thing, please give it a read when it hits shelves on 9/15/2020.

August 2020 Reading Recap


Summer is coming to an end, I guess. The autumn equinox doesn’t hit until September 22nd, but we can already get pumpkin spice lattes, so I’m saying summer is over. A few more books read this month. No interviews, but I have so much excitement coming in September. Continue reading

Review: THE SUN DOWN MOTEL by Simone St. James (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Supernatural Thriller
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library audiobook

Content warnings: Stalking, violence against women, murder

The book’s dedication is to muderinos, and it truly feels like it was written by and for a true crime junkie. In Fell, New York, the Sun Down Motel has a checkered past, which include mysterious murders and hauntings. Viv Delaney ran away from home and settled in upstate New York in 1982. Thirty-five years later, her 20-year-old niece, Carly, searches for the truth behind her disappearance.

The pacing is impeccable. I had such a hard time putting this one down. Reveals and scares were perfectly balanced against each other. What St. James does so well in this one is also bringing attention to more everyday fears and considerations, like being wary of walking by yourself at night and the unsettlement of men getting too close.

One of the main highlights for me were the friendships between all the women. The balance between genuine care, tough love, and no-nonsense approaches to the terrors of Fell, New York felt authentic. Everyone had a sense of a life beyond the immediate problems. Carly felt a little flat, but she also had been through much grief before we meet her in this story (her mother recently died and she had no leads on who her aunt was). That being said, there were some wonderful male supporting characters.

It’s a true crime, small town spin on “1408” by Stephen King, with driven female characters, eerie hauntings, and a satisfying mystery.


Review: THE SHADOWS by Alex North (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Thriller
Year Release: 2020
Source: Book of the Month Club

Trigger warnings: Child murder, suicide, blood, dementia

I had really enjoyed Alex North’s The Whisper Man. So, when I saw that another book was out by him, I had to jump on it. In this thriller, a man named Paul Adams returns home 25 years after a tragedy involving the death of a classmate, lucid dreaming, and a disappearance. A copy cat murder takes place and detective Amanda Beck returns to tie the connections linking the two crimes.

North has such a knack for write dual timelines and multi-POV. The details and the clever drops of certain details lead to excellent pacing and characterization. The twist in this book had my jaw on the floor, and scrambling to figure out how I had missed the clues. The realization is heartbreaking, but provides the proper impetus to race through the end, where secrets and truths are revealed, and the mystery is solved.

The use of lucid dreaming and a scary folkloric figure like Red Hands reminded me of the 2014 Wisconsin Slenderman stabbing, but there are enough differences that this book is definitely not a retelling.

Unsettling with an awesome twist, this thriller hits all the notes with a creepy mystery and a satisfying resolution.

July 2020 Reading Recap


I hit my goal of reading 100 books in July! Which sounds absurd, but between Animal Crossing, unemployment, and ongoing lockdowns, there is so much reading to be done (television, for whatever reason, cannot hold my attention).

This month, I did two blog interviews:

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Review: THE GUEST LIST by Lucy Foley (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Thriller
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warnings: self-harm, emetophobia, revenge porn (mentions), suicide, blood, drug use

Weddings bring people together who haven’t talked in a while. It can also bring together people who have unexpected connections. And then a murder happens and anyone could be a suspect.

I really enjoyed the tight web of connections Foley had woven together, from the bride to the wedding planner to the plus one to the best man to the bridesmaid. If you’re a fan of the subgenre of rich people shenanigans and intricate family drama, this book hits all those buttons. As it went on, the tension became less about who got murdered and why, to “wow, I hope all those involved find the help and healing they need.”

The ending is super satisfying and makes the suggestion of healing for many of the character. The sense of catharsis was incredible and really lifted my spirits, despite the harrowing road to get there.

A must-read a fan for murder mysteries, taking justice into your own hands, and tensions reminiscent of HBO’s Succession.


June 2020 Reading Recap


June was my birthday! I wound up reading a whole bunch of ARCs, a few new favorites, and even interviewed K.A. Doore to celebrate the release of the Chronicles of Ghadid finale, The Unconquered City.

In addition the blog, you will now be able to find my reviews on The StoryGraph, in addition to Goodreads. My handle is JoReadsBooks

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ARC Review: THE REDPOINT CRUX by Morgan Shamy (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Year Release: June 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Read a NetGalley eARC
Trigger warning: Suicide, mental illness episodes, murder, blood

Phantom of the Opera was one of my major fascinations when I was a child and it’s exciting to find a book that’s a beat-for-beat retelling with a bit of a different focus. In this tale, Megan Van Helsburg has been running from her theatrical past until her mountaineering career tanks and she finds herself back at a theater once terrorized by the Bridegroom Killer. The murders have started again and a mysterious stranger has taken a liking to her.

I really enjoyed how Shamy incorporated her expertise in ballet throughout the narrative. It felt very organic to the story. The new additions, like the mountaineering, also folded in very well, both from a character growth perspective and from a way that different types of physical activities build on each other. In addition, the book takes a Black Swan angle when it comes to the depiction of mental illness. It worked for me, but this might not be true for other readers. I appreciated the nuance of there being no cure and that sometimes “love” becomes mistakenly coupled with cruelty and this is challenged throughout.

The romance between Bellamy and Megan also worked, but what really struck out to me was how much there was a focus of friendship between Megan and Jane and Megan and Luke. In the original narrative, these side characters did not get much of a spotlight. Luke gets his own POV, and I really liked Jane’s arc.

A darkly romantic, twisted tale of legacy and the things people will do for the people they love, all taking place in a ballet theater.

May 2020 Reading Recap


May featured the Nebulas and continued work on myself during this unemployed time.

No special posts this month, but definitely an interview with K.A. Doore coming your way in June.

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April 2020 Reading Recap


Good-bye April, the shortest month this year. I have gone through a lot of sudden changes, but there are always more books to read. I even discovered two new favorites this month, which feels exciting.

This month, I also interviewed Aleksandra Ross to celebrate the release of her debut novel, Don’t Call the Wolf and I had outlined a plan to improve my craft. I will be saving the craft reads for their own post.

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