Book Reviews

Book Review: The Boy in the Photo by Nicole Trope

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: The Boy in the Photo by Nicole TropeThe Boy in the Photo by Nicole Trope
Published on June 28th, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Suspense
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 334
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

Megan waits at the school gates for her six-year-old son, Daniel As children come and go, the playground emptying, panic bubbles inside her. Daniel is nowhere to be found.

According to his teacher, Daniel’s father, Greg, has picked up his son. Except Greg and Megan are no longer together. After years of being controlled by her cruel husband, Megan has finally found the courage to divorce him. Hands trembling, she dials his number, but the line is dead.

Six years later, Megan is feeding baby daughter, Evie, when she gets the call she has dreamt about for years. Daniel has walked into a police station in a remote town just a few miles away. Her son is alive – and he’s coming home.

But their joyful family reunion does not go to plan. His room may have been frozen in time, with his Cookie Monster poster and stack of Lego under the bed, but Daniel is no longer the sweet little boy Megan remembers.

Imagine your child going missing for six years. That is the heart-stopping horror Megan must face when her abusive ex-husband decides to abduct their son, Daniel, from her and take him far, far away.

I’m not a mother, so I can’t say I’m able to 100% understand how Megan felt, but Trope is an astonishing writer. Regardless of whether or not you have children you’ll want to hug someone tight after reading this story. Grab your cat, if you must.

See, after six long years, years in which Megan was torn between wondering if her son was even still alive annd trying desperately to find him either way, Daniel returns home. But their reunion is not the happy ending you might anticipate. Daniel arrives as the product of years of turmoil, bitterness, and lies. Megan realizes that when praying for her son for all that time, she never anticipated what might happen if he came back completely different than the boy he was when he was taken.

In the time it took for Daniel to return, Megan moved on with her life, as best as she could. She remarried and had a second child. Daniel’s sudden reappearance in her life, while a blessing, causes an unprecedented upheaval of the stability she worked so hard to rebuild. Especially when she comes to realize that her son, her baby boy, may be harboring a dark secret that could threaten to destroy everything she’s struggled so hard for in the worst years of her life.

Even though the inevitable twist is somewhat predictable, it doesn’t detract from the moving, yet thrilling, nature of this story.

Should you read The Boy in the Photo?

Yes! Unlike other thrillers, this is a story with a heartfelt emotional core. It’s still a page-turner, but one that will leave you more satisfied and moved than the average one. I haven’t read Nicole Trope’s other books before but I’ll definitely check them out now!

Book Reviews

Book Review: Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Dear Wife by Kimberly BelleDear Wife by Kimberly Belle
Published on June 25, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Thriller
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 336
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

For nearly a year, Beth has been planning for this day. A day some people might call any other Wednesday, but Beth prefers to see it as her new beginning--one with a new look, new name and new city. Beth has given her plan significant thought, because one small slip and her violent husband will find her.

A couple hundred miles away, Jeffrey returns home from a work trip to find his wife, Sabine, is missing. Wherever she is, she's taken almost nothing with her. Her abandoned car is the only evidence the police have, and all signs point to foul play.

As the police search for leads, the case becomes more and more convoluted. Sabine's carefully laid plans for her future indicate trouble at home, and a husband who would be better off with her gone. The detective on the case will stop at nothing to find out what happened and bring this missing woman home. Where is Sabine? And who is Beth? The only thing that's certain is that someone is lying and the truth won't stay buried for long.

When I first started reading Dear Wife I immediately got sucked into it. Kimberly Belle is a great writer and she knows how to weave a taut thriller. I didn’t want to put it down! For a while, at least.

The story centers around the disappearance of a woman named Sabine. Her husband, Jeffrey, is desperate to find her. He and Sabine’s twin sister, Ingrid, do their best to track her down. Eventually a detective named Marcus is assigned to her case.

I don’t want to reveal much else and risk giving away the novel’s twist because it was fairly well done.

But around the halfway mark, the plot sort of fizzled out. It was around the time a church was introduced that I began to feel my desire to continue reading waning. The story began to drag and there were side characters added I didn’t care about.

Even that, though, is not my biggest issue with Dear Wife. No, my biggest issue with this novel is that it is rife with racist and transphobic descriptions. I mean some of the moments were so bad, so glaring, I can hardly believe a publisher approved it. Mind you, I was sent an ARC so it’s possible that some of these moments could be fixed before the novel is published but it’s worth mentioning.

I haven’t read Belle’s other novels but I understand she is highly praised in the book community. I’m not sure if this is a common trend in her books.

Literally every non-white character in this book is reduced to a racialized stereotype. It’s not subtle either.

Should you read Dear Wife?

In terms of thrillers, it is one of the best I’ve read this year, even if I felt disappointed by the second half of the story, I can still recognize its strengths. I understand why it is so highly praised by the book community. If you’re a big thriller fan, odds are you’ll pick this up. But personally, I’d rather recommend a book without such outdated and callous remarks about minorities.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Thirteen Across by Dan Grant

I received this book for free from Meryl Moss Media in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Thirteen Across by Dan GrantThirteen Across by Dan Grant
Published on May 6, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Fiction
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 411
Format: ARC

Source: Meryl Moss Media

Seven stops. Seven sets of clues. A race against time. Covert medical research. Will FBI Special Agent Kate Morgan survive it? It starts with an unfolding puzzle and Thirteen Across.

Kate Morgan is on an Orange line train when it is bombed. Phillip Barnes has made his attacks on the nation’s capital personal. Thirteen Across is an ominous sign of the events to come. Kate finds herself thrust into the center of a grander conspiracy.

Thirteen Across is a book for fans of Dan Brown and intense action thrillers. Put yourself in the shoes of FBI Special Agent Kate Morgan, a woman trying to puzzle out a crossword on her way to an urgent hearing only to have her day (literally) derailed by a bomb.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Kate Morgan has fallen into the crosshairs of an evil, potentially sociopathic, mastermind named Philip Barnes. He doesn’t just want Kate dead; he wants to play with her first and has a very elaborate plan to do so. Thirteen Across is a thriller unlike any I’ve read in how it introduces clever clues and puzzles right into the fabric of the text. It allows readers to take the journey alongside Kate. You can experience every grisly turn for yourself if you don’t parse out the clues in time.

Barnes is meticulous in his scheming. Each stop to save the seven victims gives way to a new secret.

Should you read Thirteen Across?

Yes, especially if you’re looking for a thriller a little more unique than what you’ve been reading lately. Thirteen Across is a novel that mostly flew under the radar, and it deserves more attention. Grant is an excellent writer and while Kate Morgan makes a compelling heroine, Philip Barnes is a fascinating study into psychopathy.

In some ways, he reminds me a little of Jigsaw except in a spy-thriller sort of way instead of abject horror. The great thing about this book is that it’s a fast read. The chapters are short and to the point. You won’t want to be put it down because the format of the novel lends itself to propulsive reading.


Quick Thoughts: The Doctor by Lisa Stone

  • Preorder The Doctor today on Amazon.
  • Thank you to NetGalley and Avon Books UK for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Synopsis: When Emily and Ben move in next door to Dr Burman and his wife Anita, they are keen to get to know their new neighbours. Outgoing and sociable, Emily tries to befriend the doctor’s wife, but Anita is strangely subdued, barely leaving the house, and terrified of answering the phone.

When Emily goes missing a few weeks later, Ben is plunged into a panic. His wife has left him a note, but can she really have abandoned him for another man? Or has Emily’s curiosity about the couple next door led her straight into danger?

A gripping, sinister thriller with a twist you won’t see coming from the international bestseller Lisa Stone.

Full review and rating will be posted on June 19th.

Oh my god this book…was wild. This my expression when I actually started to get into the plot and realized it wasn’t gonna be your typical domestic thriller:

Me during the third act though because I got so annoyed and frustrated:

ALSO THE FINAL TWIST? I’m not sure how I felt about it but I think I dig it. Definitely leaves the door open for more but I wish there was a tad more explanation behind it.

This reminded me of an old-school R.L. Stine book, which I loved. I do feel it’s a little more horror than a straight thriller, also a compliment.

The Doctor will be published on June 24th!

TV Reviews

Thoughts on Black Mirror S5 E3; Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too

via Netflix

Spoilers ahead.

After finishing this episode, I initially felt underwhelmed. Then I sat and thought about it for a while and realized it is my favorite episode of what I believe was a stellar season. I think Black Mirror benefits from only having three episodes max.

The thing that got to me most about this episode was its disturbing parallels to Miley Cyrus’s own life. She talked about drawing from her own experiences as Hannah Montana on Disney Channel in a recent interview. It’s horrific to realize how capitalism will choke the life out of teen pop idols and, in turn, their young and impressionable fanbases without batting an eye.

The same can be said for how this episode dissects empowerment feminism. “Girl power” as a phrase has become so asinine and meaningless. What does that mean? It is supposed to be about strength, but the point is that it only goes skin-deep. Distract the masses by making feminism palatable and male-friendly. Make it harmless and marketable, so the real issues like racism, pervasive sexism, trans rights, and abortion are not in focus.

It’s easy for corporations to slap shallow messages of inspiration on t-shirts and sell it as them being “part of the change” when in reality they’re doing nothing but milking a cash cow, a fad. Wherein women will continue to suffer all over the world because this shallow form of empowerment is virtually meaningless.

As an episode, I liked the way this episode unfolded quite a bit, but I admit I still felt some aspects of it fell flat. I’m pretty confused about the entire sub-plot regarding their dad and the pest control. It seemed superfluous. I mean if it was just about their dad being a pest guy and having the truck, fine, but why add the extra scenes?

It’s a small gripe though, in an otherwise exceptional hour of television.

Also not to be a total hypocrite but can they please release all the Ashley Too songs in this… I need them.


Thoughts on Black Mirror S5 E2; Smithereens

via Netflix

Spoilers ahead!

The fact the writers chose not to show us the ending of this episode because in real life if the same incident happened we would all clear the notification and go on with our days because there’s nothing we can do as a society we’ve all become extraordinarily desensitized to violence, particularly gun violence, that it’s pretty sickening and people get into car crashes on the regular because they’re selfish assholes who can’t go 20 minutes without looking at their phones?

OH AND, I loved the touch of social media conglomerates and tech industries having instant access to people at the expense of everyone’s privacy – more so than the police.

It’s wild out here. But catch me still telling Alexa to play white noise to lull me to sleep.

Also you know what else, food for thought, something I keep thinking about is that the real-life counterparts of Billy Bauer would never take such a humanistic approach to a hostage situation like this. And I’m not saying they should because it’s fucked up and what Chris did is beyond any level of an acceptable manner of grief (also let’s talk about the entitled straight white guy thing too right?)

But it reminds me of why I avoid Facebook. At the end of the day, Mark Zuckerberg sees us all as numbers on a page and in his bank account. What does he care about how his tech influences the masses so long as he makes his bottom dollar? I mean he’s proven it by the amount of privatized data he’s sold.

I don’t want to sound all “old man yells at clouds,” because technology is amazing and I use it every day. Yet that doesn’t mean the corporations behind it are altruistic. It doesn’t mean we can, or should, be complacent to letting it eat away our minds and I think that tends to be the general moral code of Black Mirror, beneath all the cynicism.

Also I don’t agree with the take I’ve seen on here that this episode is just “social media is bad!” I didn’t get that vibe at all? I think that’s a fairly superficial reading of the episode. To me, it struck a balance. By showing how fast the Smithereen tech team were able to get Andrew’s information the episode was saying, “hey not everything is bad out here look at how useful these tools can be when in the right hands.” It’s terrifying to know how fast and extensive people can dig into your history, faster even, than the people supposedly trying to protect us, but it’s also like the writers are saying, “see, we can do good stuff too.”

No, it’s not a wholly original idea and yes, Black Mirror has tackled this concept before (but if all you get out of any episode of Black Mirror is that the show is preaching to you tech is bad I don’t know why you’re watching?). But I appreciated the grounded feeling to this scenario. I appreciated them tackling this from a different, quieter approach.

Yeah, this ep was a punch in the gut. And also, Andrew Scott is a phenomenal actor, I’ve never seen him in anything else but I am obsessed with low-key scenes and episodes where an actor can carry extended lengths of the film on their own bearing it’s impressive.

Quick Book Thoughts

Quick Thoughts: The Guilty Friend by Joanne Sefton

The Guilty Friend via Avon Books UK
via Avon Books UK
  • Preorder The Guilty Friend today on Amazon.
  • Thank you to NetGalley and Avon Books UK for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Synopsis: Cambridge, 1986. Alex, Karen, and Misty are an inseparable trio at Cambridge University – one can never be found far from the others. But when Alex dies suddenly, the remaining two friends can’t look one another in the eye – knowing they both had a part to play in her death.

Present day. Misty and Karen haven’t spoken in years, but, convinced she has seen a picture of Alex alive, Karen doesn’t know who else to turn to. She soon becomes obsessed with a past she thought she’d left behind her… and her life begins to spiral out of control.

Because, when you’re living in the past, who is keeping an eye on the present?

Full review and rating will be posted on June 20th.

For starters, this book is not your average thriller! I’m not sure I would even consider it a thriller. I understand what the author’s intentions were in creating an unconventional thriller where the antagonist is different than what you would anticipate but not sure it plays out exactly as is expected.

Also a warning that this book deals heavily with the topic of eating disorders, specifically anorexia. I felt it was tastefully done but it is definitely difficult to read at times.

Despite feeling mislead by the book synopsis and genre category, I found The Guilty Friend to be an emotionally compelling read, even if it wasn’t always as engaging as I wanted it to be.

The Guilty Friend will be published on June 24th!

Film Reviews

Film Review: Ma (2019)

Ma and her teenage captives Ma (2019)
via Blumhouse
  • Director: Tate Taylor
  • Starring: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans
  • Rating: B

I’ve waited eagerly for Ma since I saw the first trailer months ago. Finally, I saw the film today, and it didn’t disappoint. Although I am going to take a second here to complain about trailers. They do give too much away. I’m making it a priority to not watch them anymore. It sucks because I do enjoy a good movie preview but not at the cost of suspense and surprise.

While it wasn’t as ludicrous and campy as I was hoping it would be, Octavia Spencer is a national treasure who could elevate a Taco Bell menu reading on-screen. You have to work hard not to enjoy yourself when she’s chewing the scenery as Ma. Her genuine enjoyment of the role froths into the audience. Octavia Spencer is infectiously gleeful about playing someone so wicked.

Had any other actor played the role of Sue Ann, I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun. I can admit there were some strange plot elements (Gypsy Blanchard called, she wants her life story back), some underutilized characters (Alison Janney, of all people, is a glorified extra for some reason), and less outright horror than I would have liked, but Ma heartily embraces its faults.

It asks you not to overthink and to let the sheer absurdity entertain you instead. No, I don’t know why Ma had it out for some of the teenagers. Some of whom appeared to get roped in by association alone. Yes, there were plenty of plot holes. But at the end of the day, I wanted to see a movie where Octavia Spencer terrorized a group of idiot teenagers and runs over Missi Pyle with a car. And that is damn well what I got! Ma is utter insanity and never wanted it to stop.

Ma is now playing in theaters.


Book Reviews

Storm and Fury by Jennifer L. Armentrout Review

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Storm and Fury by Jennifer L. Armentrout ReviewStorm and Fury (The Harbinger, #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Series: The Harbinger #1
Published on June 11, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 512
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

Eighteen-year-old Trinity Marrow may be going blind, but she can see and communicate with ghosts and spirits. Her unique gift is part of a secret so dangerous that she’s been in hiding for years in an isolated compound fiercely guarded by Wardens—gargoyle shape-shifters who protect humankind from demons. If the demons discover the truth about Trinity, they’ll devour her, flesh and bone, to enhance their own powers.

When Wardens from another clan arrive with disturbing reports that something out there is killing both demons and Wardens, Trinity’s safe world implodes. Not the least because one of the outsiders is the most annoying and fascinating person she’s ever met. Zayne has secrets of his own that will upend her world yet again—but working together becomes imperative once demons breach the compound and Trinity’s secret comes to light. To save her family and maybe the world, she’ll have to put her trust in Zayne. But all bets are off as a supernatural war is unleashed…

Book Review

Let me preface this review by stating that I don’t know anything about Jennifer Armentrout’s other books or stories. I decided to give Storm and Fury a try because the plot appealed to me. Gargoyles and demons? Okay, I’m listening.

However, ultimately, this book fell short for me. While I do enjoy reading young adult fiction, Storm and Fury harkened back to the early 2000s. I felt like I took a time machine a few years ago. How many times did I read the phrase “crap on a cracker” or a myriad of other cringe-worthy phrases that no real teenager would ever utter?

How do you do fellow kids meme - Storm and Fury reaction

The most substantial component of this book was the romance. Armentrout knows how to write sexual tension. Looking at her pedigree of romance novels, I can see why. The intimate scenes made me feel more than anything else in the story.

My main caveat with the story is it feels as if the mythos and worldbuilding came secondary to the romance. A great deal of exposition came from the protagonist info-dumping. That’s fine if you’re writing a romance novel, but this is meant to be a sweeping fantasy, and I didn’t feel like it was fleshed out enough.

There is nothing wrong with romance. I have my issues with the YA cliches, but I was okay with the one in this book. If only it didn’t overshadow everything else.

All that said, I did find something oddly compelling about the story, after all, I did finish it. The twists during the climax shocked me. But I wish they felt more earned. Vast swaths of this story meandered into nothingness. There wasn’t enough action, or there was too much talking. Regardless, this needs another round of editing.

Should you read Storm and Fury?

Honestly, I’m going to say no. You can find better written YA fantasy novels. Many of the plot points in here are retreads of those found in The Mortal Instruments. While there are some new and exciting concepts, they don’t get nearly enough time to shine, and therefore the storyline falls flat.

But, as I said, I’m not familiar with the world. Perhaps if I had read the other books surrounding this one first, I might feel more in touch with Storm and Fury. People who are already a fan of hers may find themselves enjoying this much more than I did.


Film Reviews

Film Review: 20th Century Women (2016)

via Annapurna PIctures
  • Director: Mike Mills
  • Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann, and Billy Crudup
  • Rating: A+
  • Streaming on Amazon Prime | Buy or Rent on iTunes

All it took was a few minutes of this film for me to recognize it as a new favorite. There is something so innately refreshing about 20th Century Women. Each woman is emblematic of some facet of my maturation. I can only hope my time to be as graceful and effortlessly efficacious as Annette Bening is coming down the pipeline.

Wondering if you’re happy is a great shortcut to just being depressed.

From Greta Gerwig’s raw, emotional turn as Abbie to Elle Fanning’s sensual and exploratory chase towards womanhood, I felt myself become seen and also hopeful of what could become of my life. The smallest beats ripple through like a warm embrace.

I know I’ll rewatch this multiple times in the future. I feel like the magic of this film is in stumbling upon it. It’s a gentle surprise, like running into a dear old friend, someone who knows all your secrets and all your secret shames and yet never thinks any less of you.