4 star, YA

ARC Review: These Deadly Games by Diana Urban

Let’s play a game.

You have 24 hours to win. If you break my rules, she dies. If you call the police, she dies. If you tell your parents or anyone else, she dies.

Are you ready?

When Crystal Donavan gets a message on a mysterious app with a video of her little sister gagged and bound, she agrees to play the kidnapper’s game. At first, they make her complete bizarre tasks: steal a test and stuff it in a locker, bake brownies, make a prank call.

But then Crystal realizes each task is meant to hurt—and kill—her friends, one by one. But if she refuses to play, the kidnapper will kill her sister. Is someone trying to take her team out of the running for a gaming tournament? Or have they uncovered a secret from their past, and wants them to pay for what they did…

As Crystal makes the impossible choices between her friends and her sister, she must uncover the truth and find a way to outplay the kidnapper… before it’s too late.

Author of All Your Twisted Secrets, Diana Urban’s explosive sophomore novel, These Deadly Games, will keep you riveted until the final twist is revealed.

**These Deadly Games comes out February 1, 2022**

Thank you Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

Fast paced, exhilarating and full of twisted games, These Deadly Games had me on the edge of my seat the whole time as we race with Crystal against the clock to save her sister.

This is Diana Urban’s second novel and I fell in love with this one even more than the first. Written in the same storytelling method I have come to expect from her, we are not given too much information about certain aspects of the protagonist and friends’ past that only slowly unfolds as we move forward in the present time. How this impacts the present day characterization of the main group of friends we are following is brilliant as it shaped who they each are.

Besides characterization, the mystery flows super well that it’s very hard to put down. Right from the get go, we know Crystal’s group is up for a gaming tournament with high chances of winning the team component. Is someone hunting them down one by one so they wouldn’t qualify for it? There are plenty of motives and suspects who may not want to see any of them succeed. Guessing who the culprit(s) may be was fun, though I will admit I had a sneaking suspicion who it was around the 50% mark, but that didn’t lessen how much fun it was to see it all being pieced together.

This book is also aptly named because, oh boy, those sure were some DEADLY games this unknown entity put Crystal through. What seemed like innocent enough gestures alone soon became separate ways that were hurting people she loved. And if the “truth” of these deadly acts came to light, all the evidence would point to Crystal alone, wouldn’t it? It was such a brilliantly devised plan and this evil mastermind had me applauding their, well, genius the whole way. They were so creative, and I have to praise Urban for devising up such things.

There was a lot to love about this book. I felt the secondary characters, all of Crystal’s gaming group, were unique enough although we don’t get to spend a lot of time with each since we really are just following Crystal during this 24 hour period. It also explored some of Crystal’s family life and the feelings she had about the dysfunction present there, along with her instinct to put her little sister above all else. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite give it a 5 star rating. I felt like it was just missing a “wow” factor, but that really could only be me since I might’ve guessed whodunnit rather early on.

However, how the ending wrapped up was pretty solid and amazing. I can’t give away much, but let me just say it made a lot of sense and still had me gripping my seat until the very last page. I think Urban couldn’t have written a better ending for this story with the perfect amount of allure and openness. It was definitely far better than the dumpster wreck ending of her debut.

I would definitely recommend you pick this one up when it comes out if you’re looking for a fast read that takes some turns you may not expect. These Deadly Games is sure to thrill and have you flipping through the pages to find out how it would all resolve.

Overall Recommendation:

These Deadly Games is a wonderful mystery/thriller that features a cunning mastermind tormenting Crystal and her friends on the weekend eve of a big gaming tournament they’re posed to win. Its fast-paced storytelling set in a 24 hour period as Crystal races against the clock to save her kidnapped sister had me rushing to get to the bottom of it. I enjoyed the characterizations of Crystal’s friend group, but particularly learning who Crystal was and the lengths she’d go to juggle the hardest decision she’d ever have to make: save her friends or her sister. The ending was spectacularly handled, although I kind of guessed who the mastermind was some time earlier. Overall this was a solid mystery but may have missed a little wow factor for me to reach 5-star. Diana Urban’s sophomore novel definitely set the bar and I look forward to seeing where she goes next because it’s only getting better!

3.5 star

Review: False Witness by Karin Slaughter


Leigh Coulton has worked hard to build what looks like a normal life. She has a good job as a defence attorney, a daughter doing well in school, and even her divorce is relatively civilised – her life is just as unremarkable as she’d always hoped it would be.


But Leigh’s ordinary life masks a childhood which was far from average… a childhood tarnished by secrets, broken by betrayal, and finally torn apart by a devastating act of violence.


Then a case lands on her desk – defending a wealthy man accused of rape. It’s the highest profile case she’s ever been given – a case which could transform her career, if she wins. But when she meets the accused, she realises that it’s no coincidence that he’s chosen her as his attorney. She knows him. And he knows her. More to the point, he knows what happened twenty years ago, and why Leigh has spent two decades running.


If she can’t get him acquitted, she’ll lose much more than the case. The only person who can help her is her younger, estranged sister Callie, the last person Leigh would ever want to ask for help. But suddenly she has no choice…

Ahhh, so many mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’d say that overall the book was quite well-written. There were many themes that recurred and were used in different ways to continue the theme of suspense. On the other hand, the material is just so graphic and horrifying, I did have a hard time getting through it, emotionally.

I’ve actually read one of the author’s other books, which left me feeling the same way. I had read it a while back, and if I had realized this book was the same author, I think I would have just put it down. Not because it’s a bad book, but sometimes the content is just too much for me to handle. So a warning to all those who are sensitive to such topics.

False Witness revolves around two sisters who share a dark past. One has risen through the ranks while the other has sunken into the shadows. When one day, Leigh gets suddenly put onto an all-too-familiar case, things start to unravel. Just how much of the past stays hidden in the past, and how will these ghosts affect both Leigh and her sister’s futures?

Continue reading “Review: False Witness by Karin Slaughter”
5 star

Review: The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

We all have stories we never tell.
Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her.

Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.

I heard that there was some hype around this book, and indeed the waitlist in the library was quite lengthy on this one. That being said I didn’t know much about it going in aside from its synopsis, so I still count it as one that I just “picked off the shelf.” Maybe I’m just coming off a streak of not-so-great reads, so this one just suddenly felt amazing to me. But mostly I think I just related to the themes and therefore enjoyed it a lot.

The Last Thing He Told Me is a mystery-type novel with suspense elements. A vague descriptor I know. But essentially our protagonist, Hannah, a lowly woodturner from New York, meets her husband Owen and starts a new life with him and his daughter Bailey in California. In the face of a crisis at Owen’s work, he mysteriously disappears and leaves behind a few cryptic messages for the family that he has left behind. As more and more mysteries pile up in Hannah’s pursuit of her husband, more secrets threaten to unravel her life as she knows it.

This novel is quite short, and a very fast-paced read too. The storyline mostly takes place in the present, with a few chapters sequentially further back in time, giving more backstory on her relationship with Owen. I found the pacing of the book enjoyable, and the way the flashbacks give sequentially more information was really well executed.

The book also felt really well planned out in terms of the way the events play out and the way information was given. I didn’t really have trouble remembering any details given to me, yet there was also enough to be shrouded in mystery so I didn’t see things coming from a mile away. The foreshadowing was also great in this book, and the ominous feeling of foreboding was well incorporated.

The mystery/thriller part of the novel is a little bit less by-the-book. It wasn’t really the most thrilling, nor the most mysterious. So if you’re the type of reader looking for that, I wouldn’t really get too wrapped up in this one. I’ve heard it said that this book also wasn’t the most realistic. I didn’t really have a problem with it—I thought it was reasonably realistic, and didn’t feel that it was ridiculously unbelievable.

What struck me the most was the themes of family that were in this book. That’s always a theme that I like seeing explored, and it was interesting how the ending wasn’t what I expected at all. This was a good example of a satisfying ending that didn’t feel too out of the blue nor irrelevant to the main story. It almost sat as kind of an inevitable ending, which really brought me on an emotional journey that I enjoyed.

I’m giving it the full five points here because overall the pacing was great and the suspense elements were just enough to keep me reading ahead. I also enjoyed the themes and the way the author wove in the present and past plots together to come up with a coherent ending. There’s even some Easter eggs in the book if you’re observant enough! I definitely recommend this one.

Overall Recommendations

The Last Thing He Told Me is about our protagonist, Hannah, living her new life in Sausalito with her new husband and his daughter, when everything goes south. Her husband’s company gets in trouble, and her husband disappears. As she searches for him, more and more secrets from the past begin to be revealed. Why exactly did her husband run? Find out in this exciting fast-paced thriller/mystery, filled with many themes of family and difficult choices, and how it will all culminate together at the end. If you enjoy emotional journeys (with slight thrills), this will be the book for you!