What’s Ashley Reading?: Death In Her Hands

Death In Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

First line: Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.

Summary: Vesta, a seventy-two year old lady, is walking her dog through the woods when she finds a note about Magda. She is dead. But there is no body. Vesta is intrigued by the note. She is sure that she is smart enough to figure out who killed Magda.

My Thoughts: I immediately wanted to read this with the description and the cover. It seemed like something I would absolutely love. As soon as I started it I was confused and wasn’t sure how to feel. It was just intriguing enough to keep reading but I never knew what was truly going on.

Vesta is a solitary old woman who decides to solve a mystery. She knows no one in the area so she just makes up names and characteristics of the suspects. Everything plays out in her head. And over time things start to change. Her remembrances change. Her views on reality change. I just do not know what I just read. It did keep me reading until the end but I was disappointed in its ending.

FYI: It was a 3 star book until the ending.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Playing Nice

Playing Nice by J. P. Delaney

First line: It was just an ordinary day.

Summary: Pete is a stay-at-home dad while his partner, Maddie, works. One day after arriving home from dropping his son, Theo, off at the daycare he gets a visit from a man who tells him that Theo is his son. It is a lot to take in. Miles tells him that there was a mix-up at the NICU when Theo was born. It seems that Pete and Maddie’s son was switched with Miles’ son. They have each been raising the others’ child for the last two years.

As the couples meet and discuss the situation they feel like they got lucky that each is so amendable. They are getting along well and working out the details. But can they trust this other couple with their son? As time goes by they see that things going on in the Lambert’s house is not as they seem.

My Thoughts: I think this is Delaney’s best book so far! It was really fast and had a good story. It’s terrifying but a real worry that sometimes mistakes like this may happen. With understaffed hospitals and so many children to be taken care of, it could easily happen.

I knew from the beginning when everything was going so well that there was going to be a lot of drama hitting Pete and Maddie soon! It kept me guessing and shaking my head as more craziness continued to appear. I was so shocked with the way every little interaction was spun and twisted to fit the needs of the Lamberts.

And I loved the ending. It wasn’t exactly mind-blowing but it was satisfactory and gave perfect closure. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants a book they can easily finish in a weekend. It is easy to lose yourself in the drama and need to find out what happens next.

FYI: Check out J.P. Delaney’s other books for more great reads!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Lions of Fifth Avenue

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

First line: She had to tell Jack.

Summary: Laura Lyons and her family had recently moved into the superintendent’s apartment in the New York City Public Library. It seemed like a dream come true to be surrounded by so much history and knowledge. But even with everything seeming so perfect she knows something is missing. She takes a chance and applies to Columbia Journalism School. When she is accepted she doesn’t realize how much her life will now change.

Eighty years later, Sadie, Laura’s granddaughter is working in the same library. She has been preparing an exhibit when books, very valuable books, begin to disappear. As she helps search for them she worries that the blame may be put on her because of her family’s past. It seems that the past is repeating itself.

My Thoughts: I am so happy that Davis went back to her old style of writing. I love her stories that have intertwining stories from different time periods. She does them so well. I was really disappointed in the Chelsea Girls when she diverged from this format. It did not have the same magic as her other books have had.

The author does a wonderful job of bringing the landmarks she writes about to life. They almost become a character in the story as well. These buildings have so much history. I would love to one day be able to visit them. And the fact that there are all these secrets or unknown parts of each building are fascinating. Who knew that there were apartments in the New York library? I for sure didn’t. It would be a dream to live in such an iconic location.

I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a gentle read with a little mystery thrown in. The history and story are easy to get lost in.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Rhys Bowen and Beatriz Williams.

What’s Ashley Reading?: He Started It

He Started It by Samantha Downing

First line: You want a heroine.

Summary: When their grandfather dies, he leaves a dying wish. He wants his grandchildren to recreate and follow the same road trip they took together 20 years before. He wants his ashes taken with them and scattered in the desert where their trip ended.

Family road trips can be stressful. But made even more stressful when everyone is hiding a secret. However, in order to earn their inheritance, they must complete his request. Money is a motivator. So even with all the fighting and secrets they know they must finish the road trip at all costs.

My Thoughts: This book was messed up! It was one crazy twist after another. When you think you’ve seen it all you are proven wrong. At the end I kept flipping the page over because I couldn’t believe the book ended as it did. It was a wild ride. I did not like any of the characters. They treat each other terribly and most of the people they meet. It’s like watching a train wreck and you can’t look away. I had to know what was going to happen next. The one critique I had was the cigarette situation. It seemed so petty but that may have been the point. It made me dislike the characters even more.

I did like though that the sites they visit are real. Take a look. They are pretty neat actually. I would even add them to my next road trip.

FYI: Very dark, crazy read.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The First Actress

The First Actress by C. W. Gortner

First line: If great talent can arise from adversity, mine must have been forged in the cauldron of my childhood.

Summary: The most famous actress of her time, Sarah Bernhardt, rose from obscurity to stardom in France. She was the daughter of a high-class courtesan. She is raised in a convent until her mother decides to start her in the family trade even though Sarah has hopes of being an actress. With the help of influential men like Alexandre Dumas she gets her chance to shine of on the stage and become a worldwide superstar. But even with stardom comes tragedy too.

My Thoughts: Before reading this I had never heard of Sarah Bernhardt but after finishing it I want to know even more. Her life had so many ups and downs. She achieved so much in a time when women still had very little power. She used her skills and strong will to rise. She may have had help but she knew who she was and what she wanted and took it. And she used her influence to help others like during the Franco-Prussian War, another event that I knew very little about.

Unfortunately, most of Sarah’s work was on the stage and before motion pictures and sound but there are a few examples from early recordings that can be found on Youtube. Even though her acting would be out of date in the present at the time it was revolutionary. She changed the way actors spoke to the audience and portrayed the characters on stage. We are lucky to have any piece of her and her skills available for us to see.

Gortner is a phenomenal historical fiction author. He really makes the story gripping. He brings the women he writes about to life. I learn more about the time period then I have ever known while being entertained by the story.

FYI: I highly recommend Gortner’s last book, The Romanov Empress, about the mother of Czar Nicholas II of Russia.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Dilemma

The Dilemma by B.A. Paris

First line: It’s the cooling bathwater that wakes me.

Summary: Livia has been planning her fortieth birthday party for twenty years. She wants it to be perfect. Everything is in place and it looks like it is going to be a beautiful day. She does not want anything to spoil it. But she has a secret she has been keeping from her husband. She knows she should tell him but she doesn’t want to ruin the day. So she decides to wait until after the party.

Adam, Livia’s husband, wants Livia to have a great birthday especially since she has been planning it for so long. He has a big surprise for her but when he learns something that may ruin her life he has a dilemma on whether to tell her or wait until after the party.

My Thoughts: This wasn’t a thriller in the traditional sense. No one is murdered. It is just lots of miscommunication and secrets that cause problems throughout the plot. I really enjoyed it. I was very anxious about how it would end. I made myself not look at the end so I didn’t find out what happened. It was hard not to. I needed to know. This is a book that I really had to put down so I could sleep. Even after that I kept thinking about it. So immediately I had to finish it in the morning.

I did get a little annoyed with the characters and their misunderstandings. So many secrets involved in this. Lots of messed up relationships. But it gave the book a lot of shock factors. I know I gasped a few times. B. A. Paris is a really good author for a fast paced thrill ride. Give her books a try if you haven’t already!

FYI: My favorite so far has been Behind Closed Doors.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Katheryn Howard, the Scandalous Queen

Katheryn Howard, the Scandalous Queen by Alison Weir

First line: Katheryn was seven when her mother died.

Summary: Katheryn Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, lead a very scandalous life before her marriage. She grew up as a charity case, living off of the kindness of family. However, she got the great chance of living with her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. While there she meets several men who she falls quickly in and out of love with. And then one day she earns a place among Queen Anna of Kleves household which puts her in the path of the King. She is delighted but when the King sets his sights on her she begins to worry that her past will catch up with her.

My Thoughts: I have enjoyed all of Weir’s Six Wives books. I think she did a great job bringing Katheryn’s story to life. Unfortunately the girl made some terrible mistakes and had to pay for them so dearly. I learned more about her earlier life. I was fairly familiar with her time in the Duchess’ household and in Henry’s court but before that was a mystery to me.

It’s sad that she was pushed around from house to house. It makes it easy for me to see why she was constantly looking for someone to love and love her back. Out of all the women I think her story is the saddest. She was so young. She was being maneuvered by her family into the King’s life. She had very little choice over her life. I am looking forward to the final novel about Katherine Parr.

FYI: There are several intimate scenes throughout her story.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Half Sister

The Half Sister by Sandie Jones

First line: Kate sees the familiar nameplate on Dr. Williams’ office door and feels a knot in her stomach.

Summary: Kate and Lauren are sisters who recently lost their dad but each of them has a different idea of who the man actually was. Kate idolized him. Lauren’s relationship was more distant. Then one night at a family dinner a woman shows up who claims to be their father’s daughter. Everyone is shocked by the revelation but none more than Kate. She is determined to prove that Jess is a liar. Lauren is more accepting of her which leads to even more discord in the family. As Kate looks deeper into Jess’s story she finds that not everything is as simple as Jess claims.

My Thoughts: This book kept me reading! I kept telling myself just one more chapter. One more chapter. I loved the different viewpoints. I liked that each woman was completely different from each other. It made the story more interesting because of the conflict. Little clues and hints appeared throughout. Some were red herrings. Others were not. I flew through this book with my heart pounding waiting for the ending.

I do have to say though that some of the stuff seemed a little farfetched. There were some overreactions and wild theories from the characters. I rolled my eyes a few times because it got a little dramatic but it did not stop me from reading it. I was pleased with the ending. I would highly recommend this for fans of thrillers and fast paced novels.

FYI: Great for fans of Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Queen’s Secret

The Queen’s Secret by Karen Harper

First line: After all the grand celebrations leading to my one hundredth birthday, I had feared dreadfully that the calendar day itself would be a disappointment.

Summary: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, also known as the Queen Mother, took on an important role during the Second World War. Hitler even called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe” because of her popularity and determination to stop the Nazi threat. Using her position she helped Londoners get through the hard years of bombings and rationing. Her support of her husband and Winston Churchill made her a force to be reckoned with. She knew and participated in the most important plans of the war. But even as she was keeping the countries secrets she was hiding a few of her own.

My Thoughts: I am not a 100% sure how I feel about this book. As a story it was a nice easy read. I learned somethings about the time period and the role of the royals during it. It was interesting to see what life was like for them. Elizabeth sounds like a fascinating woman. She lived to be over 100 years old. She saw the world change drastically. I really would love to read a good biography on her someday.

But I had a hard time believing some of the secrets she dealt with from her past. When searching for any confirmation on them I only found one source which was a tell-all book from a member of the aristocracy. I don’t know how accurate it is but it made for an interesting story plot. And since the queen mother is gone it will not be able to be truly known.

I immediately wanted to watch The King’s Speech and The Crown after finishing this!

FYI: This is perfect for fans of The Crown!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

First line: Every house has a story to tell and a secret to share.

Summary: Maggie Holt has lived in the shadow of the book, House of Horrors, written by her father about the time they spent living at Baneberry House. She has no memories of their time there and cannot get answers about what really occurred there twenty-five years earlier. When she learns that she has inherited the house from her father she decides to go back, against the dying wish of her father, and try to find some answers.

My Thoughts: I think this is one of my favorite books by Riley Sager. He does a phenomenal job of creating a tense and thrilling story. I find it interesting that he always writes women but he does it so well.

From the very beginning I was hooked on Maggie’s story. I needed to know what happened just as much as she did. I could not turn the pages fast enough. I liked how the chapters alternated between “the Book” and Maggie in present day. The parallels made me want to keep reading with all the foreshadowing. There were several scenes where I had to set the book down and breathe a little bit to get past it.

This definitely has a The Haunting of Hill House vibe to it. A big scary house where a family it tormented. What could be better? But Sager does a great job of making this story his own. He has his classic twists and turns. I could not recommend this enough to anyone who loves a good thriller/ghost story.

FYI: Perfect for fans of The Haunting of Hill House, the Netflix show and book.