Book Review: A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

It is not often you come across a thriller where every scene and detail are relevant to the story and evenly paced. Furthermore, it is not often when a book is plotted so well that it leaves you with no holes in a dissatisfied manner. A Flicker in the Dark is without a doubt one of the best thrillers I have read and I was impressed to learn early on that this story is Stacy Willingham debut novel. Her craft of story-telling is marvelous and if I hadn’t known this was her debut, I would have thought her a seasoned published author.

I must add that Willingham creates a brilliant cast of characters and her development of their personalities are flawless. Everyone is suspect and when you believe you have who the killer is, there is a twist leaving you blindsided.

I was fully engaged in this story and before I knew it, I found myself reading late into the night and early morning.

This book is getting a five-star rating from me and I am grateful for receiving an ARC from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review. It’s funny really, that often times, it’s harder for me to find the words to express my delight in discovering stories that grab my attention in such a way.

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Description:

Expected publication: January 11th 2022 by Minotaur Books

When Chloe Davis was twelve, six teenage girls went missing in her small Louisiana town. By the end of the summer, Chloe’s father had been arrested as a serial killer and promptly put in prison. Chloe and the rest of her family were left to grapple with the truth and try to move forward while dealing with the aftermath.

Now 20 years later, Chloe is a psychologist in private practice in Baton Rouge and getting ready for her wedding. She finally has a fragile grasp on the happiness she’s worked so hard to get. Sometimes, though, she feels as out of control of her own life as the troubled teens who are her patients. And then a local teenage girl goes missing, and then another, and that terrifying summer comes crashing back. Is she paranoid, and seeing parallels that aren’t really there, or for the second time in her life, is she about to unmask a killer?

Book Review: A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

Hardcover, 368 pages

Expected publication: December 7th 2021 by Atria Books

Travis Wren has an unusual talent for locating missing people. Hired by families as a last resort, he requires only a single object to find the person who has vanished. When he takes on the case of Maggie St. James—a well-known author of dark, macabre children’s books—he’s led to a place many believed to be only a legend.

Called Pastoral, this reclusive community was founded in the 1970s by like-minded people searching for a simpler way of life. By all accounts, the commune shouldn’t exist anymore and soon after Travis stumbles upon it…he disappears. Just like Maggie St. James.

Years later, Theo, a lifelong member of Pastoral, discovers Travis’s abandoned truck beyond the border of the community. No one is allowed in or out, not when there’s a risk of bringing a disease—rot—into Pastoral. Unraveling the mystery of what happened reveals secrets that Theo, his wife, Calla, and her sister, Bee, keep from one another. Secrets that prove their perfect, isolated world isn’t as safe as they believed—and that darkness takes many forms.

My thoughts:

Pastoral, once a peaceful and reclusive community, with calm order and purpose, becomes sinister and takes “reclusive” to a whole other level. Yes, please! When I came across this book on NetGalley, I had a feeling about it and my thoughts were right on the money.

These days, it is hard to disconnect in more ways than one. Everything is fast-paced and mental illness is on the rise. It is no wonder many people dream about a simpler life. In History of Wild Places, the people seeking this life get more than they are asking for.

One of the main important elements of a story is connecting with the characters. You don’t get that in this story, perhaps because you aren’t given a lot of backstory. That said, there is a reason why and readers will begin to understand that based on the theme of the story.

Ernshaw employs artistic composition in a unique and refreshing way that has you hanging on to every word. Her ability to articulate any situation or surrounding in the story is outstanding. Ernshaw had me hooked with the first line!

As the story unfolded, I began to see clearly how prolonged isolation can be used to manipulate people of the tightknit community and the mind-distorting effects it creates.

I found myself fully immersed in unraveling, along with Theo, Calla and Bee, the dark secrets that keep them locked within the commune.

One aspect I would have liked to have been more developed was the characters’ daily lives and their relationships with each other. It would have made the plot more profound. In regards to the relationships, Bee’s and Levi’s were the only relationship fleshed out. I cannot say much more than that without giving any spoilers.  

A great mystery about the disappearance of people, manipulation, a reclusive community brilliantly weaved with atmospheric woods, survival and spooky elements.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Cover Crush: A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari

A Saffron Everleigh Mystery

Pub Date Jun 7, 2022

About the Cover: This cover is really pleasing to the eye. The vibrant colors of the background, bottle and flowers add that extra spark to the overall layout. Often times, artists describe vibrant art as meaning pure, energetic and radiant. Quite the contrast to this novels premise. Though, I dare say, the most beautiful objects can be deadly.

About the Book: I love a good period mystery and what a great premise for a story! Imagine yourself alongside Saffron Everleigh, working to uncover the murderer and in the throes of intrigue and mystery.

Stephanie Hopkins

Description

London, 1923.  Newly minted research assistant Saffron Everleigh attends a dinner party for the University College of London. While she expects to engage in conversations about the university’s large expedition to the Amazon, she doesn’t expect Mrs. Henry, one of the professors’ wives to drop to the floor, poisoned by an unknown toxin.
 
Dr. Maxwell, Saffron’s mentor, is the main suspect, having had an explosive argument with Dr. Henry a few days prior. As evidence mounts against Dr. Maxwell and the expedition’s departure draws nearer, Saffron realizes if she wants her mentor’s name cleared, she’ll have to do it herself.

Joined by enigmatic Alexander Ashton, a fellow researcher, Saffron uses her knowledge of botany as she explores steamy greenhouses, dark gardens, and deadly poisons. Will she be able to uncover the truth or will her investigation land her on the murderer’s list? 

Cover Crush: The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain

St. Martin’s Press

Mystery & Thrillers | Women’s Fiction

Pub Date 11 Jan 2022

About the cover: The blues and greens of this cover caught my eye. I use these hues often in my art. The position of the wrought iron fence, house, tree and the people walking towards the house, along with the colors, shows mystery and intrigue. Nicely executed.

About the book: I love a good mystery and a historical one at that. This story is a dual time line and takes place in North Carolina in the present and past. Or I should say, the year 2010. Yes please!

Description

A community’s past sins rise to the surface in New York Times bestselling author Diane Chamberlain’s The Last House on the Street when two women, a generation apart, find themselves bound by tragedy and an unsolved, decades-old mystery.

1965

Growing up in the well-to-do town of Round Hill, North Carolina, Ellie Hockley was raised to be a certain type of proper Southern lady. Enrolled in college and all but engaged to a bank manager, Ellie isn’t as committed to her expected future as her family believes. She’s chosen to spend her summer break as a volunteer helping to register black voters. But as Ellie follows her ideals fighting for the civil rights of the marginalized, her scandalized parents scorn her efforts, and her neighbors reveal their prejudices. And when she loses her heart to a fellow volunteer, Ellie discovers the frightening true nature of the people living in Round Hill.

2010

Architect Kayla Carter and her husband designed a beautiful house for themselves in Round Hill’s new development, Shadow Ridge Estates. It was supposed to be a home where they could raise their three-year-old daughter and grow old together. Instead, it’s the place where Kayla’s husband died in an accident—a fact known to a mysterious woman who warns Kayla against moving in. The woods and lake behind the property are reputed to be haunted, and the new home has been targeted by vandals leaving threatening notes. And Kayla’s neighbor Ellie Hockley is harboring long buried secrets about the dark history of the land where her house was built.

Two women. Two stories. Both on a collision course with the truth–no matter what that truth may bring to light–in Diane Chamberlain’s riveting, powerful novel about the search for justice.

Book Review: The Family Plot by Megan Collins

Expected publication: August 17th 2021 by Atria Books

About the book:

At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse has a lot to learn when it comes to the real world. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she has spent the last several years living on her own, but unable to move beyond her past—especially the disappearance of her twin brother Andy when they were sixteen.

With her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house she has avoided for years. But as the rest of the Lighthouse family arrives for the memorial, a gruesome discovery is made: buried in the reserved plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Each member of the family handles the revelation in unusual ways. Her brother Charlie pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister Tate forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic façade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.

My thoughts:

Most true crime novels, that I have read, pretty much delves in every facet of the human experience you can think of and at times, you don’t necessarily want to explore too much. Or do you? The criminal mind is shocking and heinous and does not limit itself to one shape, color or size.

What of the people who are obsessed with those stories? The ones who investigate, write those books or portray them in some form of medium? How do they live their lives? Like in The Family Plot, dioramas portraying crime scenes. Author Megan Collins gives her readers a chilling story of one family’s life centered around their own obsession of true crime. Not only that, but strange events and a horrible and unspeakable crim quickly becomes uncovered at their own door.

The Lighthouse family is certainly strange, twisted and creepy, wrapped up in their own secrets, lies, pain and eccentricity. Their odd behavior and unorthodox ways, has the local town leery of them to say the least!

Dahila Lighthouse seems to be the only one with a touch of reality as she ventures to uncover the crime that is discovered among them. Her siblings and mother are out of touch or basically wanting to stay in their bubble. It is safe there for them, or so they think. Though, who can really fault them? Especially the brothers…Imagine a lie, like a seed, being planted and taking root so deep, that one feels they can never unbury the truth. It is too ugly and disturbing. Imagine having to live with that lie in fear and pain growing up as a kid. No child should ever go through what the Lighthouse brothers did. Or what anyone of them had to for that matter.

I must say that I have never read a story quite like this one and I am absolutely delighted I chose to read this book. The story build-up was strong, great scenes, complex and frightening characters, and a solid plot. Though, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed with the ending. That said, I highly recommend this book to people who love reading about crime, family secrets and mystery.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy from the Publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Book Review: The Thin Place by C.D. Major

Published April 15th 2021

The Thin Place is told in three points of views with their stories told in different time periods and they become interwoven with its supernatural elements.

Marion, a woman newly married, moved to her husband’s estate to only be neglected by him, used and dealt with repeated miscarriages.

Constance, a young sad, sickly girl who was basically kept locked away by her mother. Her need to please her mother became wrought in anguish and bitterness. There was an interesting, yet disturbing theme about the mother daughter relationship that helps drive the plot.

Ava, a female journalist, pregnant, lives in a small town, encounters Overtoun Estate and decides to investigates its tragic history. In doing so, she becomes obsessed with the place and its mystery, puts her life in jeopardy.

The Thin Place is described as a place where two worlds joined. To some, it can be a place of an abyss of sorts or heaven- if you will. Confusing, yes? It is widely known that many people feel these places when they come close to them. Especially, in England and Ireland. Though I can imagine these experiences happen everywhere and people just don’t understand them. Apparently, the more you experience these places, the more your sense of them are intensified. This theme is interwoven in the story and I’m still undecided if it worked or not. I have to admit, I felt as if I was told about this place rather than shown. I felt disconnected to Ava, Marion and Constance’s experience with the area, and their plight with Overtoun House.

Ava is the leading character and I have to admit I disliked her. Which is a problem for me because I’m usually cheering for the protagonist. I found her to be self-absorbed and often absent of feelings, neglectful and unkind to family and friends. Was it because she had become obsessed with the Overtoun House? So much so, that it consumed her to the point that she wasn’t even thinking about others and the baby’s well-being growing inside her? I’m not convinced despite the final conclusion of the story.

The only person I felt sympathy for was Constance and even then, I felt her story needed to be fleshed out a bit more and for The Thin Place to be more convincing. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling the supernatural and creep vibe as I thought I would be entering into the story.

That said, the premise is a good one and I enjoyed parts of the author’s descriptions of things, the premise, setting and the history of Overtoun House. Overall, I’m happy I chose to read this story.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a galley copy of The Thin Place from the publisher through Netgalley, for an honest review.

July: Book Round-Up

I can’t get over how fast this year is flying and there are still many books to be read! How is your reading going this year? Are you reading more or less books?

This month I’ve read two printed books from my own bookshelf, two NetGalley ebooks and listened to three audio books. Not bad considering how busy have been with other projects. I no longer consider myself an official book reviewer but I am still working on getting through my galley reads. I went a little crazy when I first joined a few years ago. That happens to newbies on NetGalley.

A couple of the books, I’ve read before and wanted to re-visit them. Can you believe I’m still undecided on how I would rate them? I don’t like the five-star rating system we have in place. Not all parts of a story are equal and the system needs to be changed. The two books I re-read are The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti and Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott. Have you read those two books? I noticed a contradiction in Abbott’s book right off the bat. Even minor details are important not to miss. I’m surprised the editor missed it.

Tomorrow I’m blogging about three books I thinking about reading next! Be sure to check out my 2021 Books Read and follow Layered Pages by email to keep up with the latest. -Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: Brilliant Disguise by Mary Anne Edwards

(The Charlie McClung Mysteries #1)

Published November 2020 by Sellem Books

Mystery & Thrillers | True Crime | Women’s Fiction

Are you sure you could tell the difference between murder and suicide?

Having had more than enough of the big city, Detective Charlie McClung moves to a small town looking for a simpler life. Turns out his first case is the most complicated of his career.

A young woman is found shot and while everyone is telling him suicide, his gut, and the dead woman’s beautiful neighbor, are telling him something quite different.

How far can he dig before he uncovers secrets never meant to be unearthed? Throw in a shady police chief and an unexpected love interest and McClung quickly finds himself with more trouble than he ever imagined.

My Thoughts:

I love a good mystery and while it’s not often I read cozy ones, I enjoyed Brilliant Disguise. Discovering that the story takes place in Georgia made it all the better!

The story began with a death by a gun shot and Marion the next-door neighbor, doesn’t believe it was a subside. Marion knows her friend Dianne would never commit such a travesty as taking her own life. Soon after the heart-breaking indecent, McClung interviewed Marion and they hit it off pretty quickly. They soon joined forces to find out what happened to Dianne and they uncover a cover up that took them into the heart of the very police force he works for.

The story flowed well and there was enough intrigue and suspense to keep you me invested. I have to admit, there were only two characters in the story I cared about and surprisingly neither of them was Marion. Strange that seeing that she is the star of the show, along with McClung. That said, since McClung likes her, maybe she will grow on me. I did, however, want to walk in her garden and try one of her freshly baked cookies and sit with her and talk about books.

Brilliant Disguise is one of the better cozy mysteries I’ve read. I look forward to reading the next book in this series!

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Cover Crush: The North Water by Ian McGuire

About the cover: Let me start by saying that I believe whale hunting is horrific and it is extremely hard for me to read novels about the subject. Anyhow, I’m totally feeling the summer vibes with this cover. Yes, the wale is in deep ocean but it still makes be long for the beach! I thought it clever to add the image of the whaling ship on the tail. I love the colors and the dramatic imagery of the ocean.

There is a better image of the book on IG @eatingtheirwords

Thoughts about the story: This looks like a story worth reading and the period the story is set in, is my favorite! I’m guessing it’s focused more on an evil person on board that is confronted? Hmm… I refuse to read any reviews on this book. I want an unbiased opinion. -Stephanie Hopkins

About the Book:

A 19th-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.

Behold the man. Stinking, drunk, brutal and bloodthirsty, Henry Drax is a harpooner on the ‘Volunteer’, a Yorkshire whaling ship that is due to set sail for the rich hunting waters of the Arctic Circle. Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money and no better option than to embark as ship’s medic on this violent, filthy, ill-fated voyage.

In India during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which a man can stoop and imagined he’d find temporary respite on the ‘Volunteer’, but now, trapped in the wooden belly of the ship with Drax, he encounters pure evil and is forced to act. As the true purposes of the expedition become clear, the confrontation between the two men plays out in the freezing darkness of an arctic winter.

Cover Crush: You Will Remember Me by Hannah Mary McKinnon

About the cover: I love when a layout shows the persons face! The rain and colors of grey and to lighter colors on the bottom of the layout, really makes it stand out. That said, it is a simple cover but nonetheless, the cover made me want to find out more about the story.

About the book: I discovered this book from Margaret with Just One More Chapter. She had posted about it on social media and discussed a little about how it went with a theme for her latest Kindle read. You Will Remember Me is mystery thriller and with the cover and premise combined, it looks like a great book to curl up with on a stormy night! -Stephanie Hopkins

Book Description:

Forget the truth.

Remember the lies.

He wakes up on a deserted beach in Maryland with a gash on his head and wearing only swim trunks. He can’t remember who he is. Everything–his identity, his life, his loved ones–has been replaced by a dizzying fog of uncertainty. But returning to his Maine hometown in search of the truth uncovers more questions than answers.

Lily Reid thinks she knows her boyfriend, Jack. Until he goes missing one night, and her frantic search reveals that he’s been lying to her since they met, desperate to escape a dark past he’d purposely left behind.

Maya Scott has been trying to find her estranged stepbrother, Asher, since he disappeared without a trace. Having him back, missing memory and all, feels like a miracle. But with a mutual history full of devastating secrets, how far will Maya go to ensure she alone takes them to the grave?

Shared fates intertwine in a twisty, explosive novel of suspense, where unearthing the past might just mean being buried beneath it.