3 star, YA

Review: Nine Liars by Maureen Johnson

Senior year at Ellingham Academy for Stevie Bell isn’t going well. Her boyfriend, David, is studying in London. Her friends are obsessed with college applications. With the cold case of the century solved, Stevie is adrift. There is nothing to distract her from the questions pinging around her brain—questions about college, love, and life in general.

Relief comes when David invites Stevie and her friends to join him for study abroad, and his new friend Izzy introduces her to a double-murder cold case. In 1995, nine friends from Cambridge University went to a country house and played a drunken game of hide-and-seek. Two were found in the woodshed the next day, murdered with an ax.

The case was assumed to be a burglary gone wrong, but one of the remaining seven saw something she can’t explain. This was no break-in. Someone’s lying about what happened in the woodshed.

Seven suspects. Two murders. One killer still playing a deadly game.



Overall Recommendation:

Nine Liars continues to demonstrate the beauty of a stand-alone mystery in this series following amateur detective Stevie Bell. A bit of fun sightseeing in London plus a cast of 9 adults who are all suspect of the mysterious deaths among their own group makes for an entertaining read. Slow at times but it picks up in places that propel me to continue. A solid mystery concept but with a subpar romance at the heart.

Continue reading “Review: Nine Liars by Maureen Johnson”
4 star, YA

ARC Review: Spells for Lost Things by Jenna Evans Welch

Willow has never felt like she belonged anywhere and is convinced that the only way to find a true home is to travel the world. But her plans to act on her dream are put on hold when her aloof and often absent mother drags Willow to Salem, Massachusetts, to wrap up the affairs of an aunt Willow didn’t even know she had. An aunt who may or may not have been a witch.

There, she meets Mason, a loner who’s always felt out of place and has been in and out of foster homes his entire life. He’s been classified as one of the runaways, constantly searching for ways to make it back to his mom; even if she can’t take care of him, it’s his job to try and take care of her. Isn’t it?

Naturally pulled to one another, Willow and Mason set out across Salem to discover the secret past of Willow’s mother, her aunt, and the ambiguous history of her family. During all of this, the two can’t help but act on their natural connection. But with the amount of baggage between them—and Willow’s growing conviction her family might be cursed—can they manage to hold onto each other?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Love & Gelato comes a poignant and romantic novel about two teens trying to find their place in the world after being unceremoniously dragged to Salem, Massachusetts, for the summer.



**Spells for Lost Things comes out September 27, 2022**

Thank you Simon & Schuster for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

In Jenna’s latest novel that is separate from her renown Love & Gelato series, I found her usual whimsical storytelling with likable protagonists set in a location that becomes as much of a character as anyone. Spells for Lost Things is a heartfelt novel about two individuals who don’t know where they belong in this world, but perhaps could find what they’re each searching for with one another’s help.

Yes, this is a dual POV story and I was totally here for it. I loved how both Mason and Willow have such distinctive voices right from the start and it totally adds to the story by knowing their deepest thoughts and struggles both so intimately.

Mason is an astronomy lover, and the little geeky stargazer that I am was super ecstatic with all the star facts just splayed across this story. Also, he keeps a star log and I absolutely need to do that over a traditional journal. Being a foster kid in search of his mom’s whereabouts, immediately we get the sense of his struggles as she had always been the anchor to Earth, the gravity that kept him moving from home to home because they’d be reunited one day when she was ready. I don’t have firsthand intimate knowledge of what the foster system is like, but I did think his actions and behaviour felt genuine when placed in his new foster home. He wasn’t always happy or outwardly grateful but my heart couldn’t help but love him for what he had gone through and was still working out.

Willow brought some more of the lightness to the story, although her own struggles with her workaholic mom was prevalent. Her mom’s secrets and distant behaviour left Willow in search for home, that sense of feeling that she belonged and fitted somewhere. Like Mason, she too was unmoored and had a wanderlust that drove her restless to see all that was out there in the world.

That being said, while it could’ve been a really serious and dark book, the balance of fun and lightheartedness worked out well in the context of Willow’s search for her witchy ancestry. With the help of Mason by her side to decode her aunt’s clues left for her and her mom to follow surrounding a mystery in their ancestor’s past in Salem, their struggles and individual losses were brought to light that felt natural. The chemistry between the two teens were present right away. While I loved both characters individually for who they were – a grand feat as YA romances sometimes define their protagonists based on their interactions with one another and not as separate individuals – I am glad their interaction as a unit was just as beautiful.

I mentioned earlier that the location is just as big of a presence as any person in the story. Like Jenna’s previous books, Salem gets brought to life on page before us. For someone like me who hasn’t travelled extensively to such locations, I felt like I was walking down the streets with them, seeing ghost tours, feeling the 365-day year round Halloween spirit that still had room to be amplified more in October. The witch aspect of the story wasn’t super developed like other books, so don’t expect a whole system described about how spells work or their specific beliefs. This might’ve been something that would bother me in another story, but it worked in this one. Being witches is not the main focus, although Willow’s eccentric great-aunts were such wonderful gems that brought the comic relief. But I will warn that may be something certain readers would want to see more, so unfortunately I’m letting you know now it may not be as expected.

Overall, Jenna Evans Welch displayed she can write a fun contemporary story even within a more local setting while focusing on character development that made her protagonists shine brightly. Spells for Lost Things is a perfect read for contemporary romance lovers and comes at the perfect time to snuggle up with a blanket on a cold October evening.

Overall Recommendation:

Spells for Lost Things follows 2 protagonists, Mason and Willow, on their individual journeys to seek what they feel is missing in their lives. It brings them on a crash course collision in Salem, home of magic and whimsical longing. Salem was beautifully described, almost like a character itself, and it made me want to take a visit there some time. The seriousness of both protagonists’ struggles with feeling lost was balanced with the lightness that came with Willow’s quest to discover her family’s past, including the fact that she is a descendant of a line of witches. I really enjoyed the character development most in this book for each character, and their romance was sweet and perfect for any who loves a good ending. Overall, a solid read and continues to show off Jenna Evans Welch’s writing in this genre.

5 star, adult

ARC Review: Breathless by Amy McCulloch

A high-altitude thriller that will take your breath away–Cecily Wong is on her most dangerous climb yet, miles above sea level. But the elements are nothing compared to one chilling truth: There’s a killer on the mountain.

Journalist Cecily Wong is in over her head. She’s come to Manaslu, the eighth-highest peak in the world, to interview internationally famous mountaineer Charles McVeigh on the last leg of a record-breaking series of summits. She’s given up everything for this story–her boyfriend, her life savings, the peace she’s made with her climbing failures in the past–but it’s a career-making opportunity. It could finally put her life back on track.

But when one climber dies in what everyone else assumes is a freak accident, she fears their expedition is in danger. And by the time a second climber dies, it’s too late to turn back. Stranded on a mountain in one of the most remote regions of the world, she’ll have to battle more than the elements in a harrowing fight for survival against a killer who is picking them off one by one.



**Breathless comes out May 3, 2022**

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

‘There’s a murderer on the mountain. Run.’

Breathless quite literally lives up to its name in this spellbinding story that had me gripped from the moment. Equal parts exhilarating and knowledge seeking, I was thrilled with the tension and mystery as the author intended, but I also learned so much about mountain climbing that I lived these experiences almost vicariously through these characters.

Cecily Wong is part of an exclusive team assembled to climb the last of the 14 mountains greater than eight-thousand-metres above sea level, Manaslu, alongside the legendary mountaineer Charles McVeigh. Unfortunately, she feels she has so much to prove to him (and the rest of the very experienced team) because she’s known as the girl who could NOT summit even a smaller mountain. But getting to exclusively interview Charles on the condition she summits is the chance of a lifetime and everyone plus their mother knows that.

I love Cecily’s perspective throughout this whole book. She’s a rather newbie climber so the logistics and extensive training that comes with mountain climbing is explained in the book for us who have no idea what this world is like. However, I don’t feel it’s too technical and boring at these parts because it’s so ingrained into what is happening in the story. The team requires acclimatization at higher altitudes before they can climb so high so of course, we follow that journey with them. It’s never an overload of information and everything is potentially relevant.

Besides the newbie perspective, Cecily is an empathetic protagonist because she sees people with a less detached attitude. Perhaps it’s because she’s yet to really experience the life and death moments in a place literally called “the death zone” like her fellow experienced climbers. But in this way, her heart and journalistic instinct leads her down a path that may be hold more secrets than she’s prepared to find.

Most importantly, the pacing was fantastic! I never felt bored as the team moved their way up the mountain. The first death occurs not too far into the book so it really sets the tone – is there something more to this death or is it her paranoia? In low oxygen atmospheres, it’s even a possibility hallucinations run rampant so we’re left questioning Cecily’s (and our) judgment of what’s really happening.

I will say this book balanced thriller and mystery very well. There’s the whodunnit if these deaths really were attributed to homicides instead of accidents, but also that tense feeling that something’s not right in the most remote landscape on Earth.

To end off this review, I can’t emphasize enough how much I loved the experience of reading this book. It’s like McCulloch took us on this journey to Manaslu’s summit with the amount of details and descriptions.

The peak stood out, its enormous bulk an ominous black mass against the sparkling night sky. It dominated the horizon, stretching up into the heavens, and the summit wore the stars like a crown.

It’s truly an adventure in a book but also a reminder to sometimes take a breath and admire this world and our tiny place in it. When faced against the elements found at such high altitudes, we may appreciate more what life entails when death may be just a breath away.

Note: all quotes are subject to change upon final publication

Overall Recommendation:

Breathless takes you on the most amazing journey that mankind can partake in – climbing one of the tallest mountains in the world. The prose is so immersive I truly felt like I was there with our protagonist, Cecily, facing the unknowns and her fears. Unfortunately, there’s also something else afoot on the mountain but we may not be able to trust our judgment when the high altitude sickness comes in. This is the best kind of thriller/mystery and Amy McCulloch did it so well. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed if you pick this up.