What’s Ashley Reading?: The Project

The Project by Courtney Summers

First line: She’s at Mrs. Ruthie’s house, eating one of Mrs. Ruthie’s peanut butter cookies, staring out Mrs. Ruthie’s living room window and waiting for her parents to come home.

Summary: After the death of her parents, Lo Denham, has spent years trying to find and reconnect with her sister Bea. As Lo was recovering from the accident Bea left and joined The Unity Project. The group preaches love, does charity work and helps out the community. They have slowly been growing but Lo has always been suspicious of them. Then one day a man comes into the office of the magazine she works for. He claims that The Project killed his son. Lo sees this as her chance to expose the group and finally find her sister.

My Thoughts: I wasn’t so sure about this book when I first started it. It has dual timelines with different narrators and time periods. It was a little confusing as the story set out and took a little time to get going. But as Lo learns more about The Project the story gets more twisted. Things start to reveal themselves but like most thrillers, not everything you hear and see is true.

Cults are scary things. As I read, I could easily see how people are drawn into them. They are looking for something or someone to guide them. They want a community. Someone to understand them. But then there is always the dark underside. And the author delivered all this.

I had a hard time rating this book. I struggled at the start but enjoyed the ending. It was worth a read and kept me invested until the end.

FYI: Language, abuse and cults.

Kristy’s Reviews: The Perfect Father

The Perfect Father by John Glatt

First sentence: Christopher Lee Watts was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina on May 16, 1985, the second child to Ronnie and Cindy Watts.

Summary: In the early morning hours of August 13th, 2018, Shanann Watts was dropped off at home by a colleague after returning from a business trip. It was the last time anyone would see her alive. By the next day, Shanann and her two young daughters, Bella and Celeste, had been reported missing, and her husband, Chris Watts, was appearing on the local news, pleading for his family’s safe return. (from www.amazon.com)

My thoughts: Not everything is as it seems. Looking at the life of Shanann Watts seemed to be the most perfect life, a beautiful home with a family, a loving husband and 2 beautiful little girls and a baby boy on the way. But behind closed doors is a whole other story. A demon was in the making and before you know it took everything away from so many family and friends in the sad stories of this unbelievable set of events. While not everything or everyday or everyone is perfect, this didn’t need to happen to a family.

*This can be found only on Hoopla or thru interlibrary loan.*

What’s Ashley Reading?: In the Garden of Spite

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

First line: PERSONAL – comely widow who owns a large farm in one of the finest districts in LaPorte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes. No replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with personal visit. Triflers need not apply.

Summary: Belle Gunness, a Norwegian immigrant, has learned some hard lessons early on. Upon her arrival in Chicago she married with the hopes of achieving the American dream. But the life she dreamed of did not come true. She was disappointed in her husband, home and lifestyle. She must make her own way in the world by any means necessary. Mysterious deaths, house fires and heated arguments the legend of the Black Widow of LaPorte begins to take hold.

My Thoughts: Before finding this book on Netgalley I had never heard of Belle Gunness. She was a female serial killer. She killed an estimated fourteen people but may be linked to many more. I was really intrigued by the premise, the story and the character of Belle. It was very disturbing to be inside her head. She rationalized everything she did. But even a book about a serial killer I found much of it to be drawn out. There was long periods of time passing and very little happening. I think that much of this could have been taken out and the story would have felt more thrilling.

After finishing I visited www.newpapers.com via the library’s learning databases. I wanted to see what the newspapers of the time were reporting about this woman. Many had the same headline or story. Then there was a resurgence of sightings and murders that some believed were connected to her. There is still lots of mystery around this century old murderer. It’s crazy how reality can be even stranger than fiction.

FYI: Very gruesome at parts.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Children’s Blizzard

The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

First line: The air was on fire.

Summary: On January 12, 1888 a blizzard swept across the Plains so suddenly it caught many settlers unawares. Over 200 people died during and as a result of the storm but a majority of them were children, which gave this storm its name, The Children’s Blizzard.

Young schoolteachers, Gerda and Raina, were teaching in their one room schoolhouses when the storm appeared. Unsure what to do with the frightened children they had to make a decision, stay in the cold building or brave the storm to find their ways home. The decisions of these young women lead to consequences they never even imagined.

My Thoughts: This book was more intense than I was ready for. I felt the tension and fear of the settlers as the storm swept over them. We are lucky to have weather forecasts that gives us some warning on what is coming. These people had nothing. And the amount of snow, temperatures and the white out conditions are terrifying.

I loved the different viewpoints that gave a look at the storm from several angles such as a young girl in the storm, the teachers, a newspaper man and a father who braved the storm to rescue his children. I cannot imagine the choices that these young girls had to make and the fear they would have felt. What sixteen year old with very little schooling could make a decision this big? That is a lot of pressure. Then the author spent time after the storm to see the aftermath on the land and the people. Many lives were lost due to carelessness or bad luck. People died just feet from their homes because they could not see where they were going through the snow.

From the Omaha Daily Bee on January 13, 1888.

After finishing the novel I visited www.newspapers.com, a library database with historical newspapers from all over the country. My ancestors spent years living on the Nebraska prairie. I wondered if there was any coverage of the storm near their hometown. I found nothing directly connected to them or their town but I read numerous stories in other papers that told the story of this tragic event.

FYI: The aftermath can be harsh for some readers especially hearing about the frostbite and amputations.

Rachel’s Recommendations: This Is Where It Ends

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

First Line: The starter gun shatters the silence, releasing the runners from their blocks.

Summary: At 10:05 am gunshots ring out. Within a span of 54 minutes four students must come face to face with the possibility of death; their hopes and dreams could be over in a single second. Anything can happen. Anyone can live and anyone can die. Who would do this? Why would they do this? And who will survive the next 54 minutes?

My Thoughts: I have mixed reviews about this books. While it does offer some intense scenery, I felt like the author didn’t really dive deep into the psychology as to why this student felt the need to commit such a violent act. Yes, there was some reasoning explained, but I felt like as a whole there could’ve been more offered to the character of Tyler, the shooter.

There were certain parts of the book that kept me reading due the intense nature of a school shooter and the desire to know why, but there were other parts where I became frustrated with the characters who were trying to survive the dangerous situation that they were forced upon. School shootings are such a deep and tragic event that you have to bring the right amount emotion writing about it in a fiction setting.

I wish that the author would’ve dedicated a little more time with the character development as well. I lacked a certain amount of emotion with the characters and didn’t really feel as bonded to them. I would give this book a 3 out of 5.

Trigger Warnings: mass shootings, violence, death, sexual assault, and some language

What’s Ashley Reading?: Hamnet

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

First line: A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.

Summary: In 1580, in England, a young tutor named William Shakespeare meets the daughter of his employers. She is a strange girl who wanders the fields with her falcon on her arm. Against the wishes of their families they marry. Agnes has a reputation as a healer. People flock to her for cures. However, when their son, Hamnet, falls ill to the bubonic plague there is little she can do for the boy. With the heartache and loss Shakespeare writes one of his most epic plays.

My Thoughts: This book was beautifully written. It was almost poetic in its writing and style. I listened to most of this and the reader was so soothing. I think this would be a perfect book for book clubs, fans of historical fiction or literary fiction.

This brings to life a major part of Shakespeare’s life, his family. Very little is written or talked about since his most famous times were in London and on the stage. I loved learning about Agnes (or Anne) and their children. Life was so simple back then but also very tragic as well. I knew very little even though I have read several of his plays and watched many documentaries and movies of his life. The fact that we can still see some of the places he lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon is astounding since over 400 years have passed.

My favorite chapter, and the one that will most likely stick with me, was the one about the flea. O’Farrell spends a whole chapter on the flea that brought the plague to the home of William Shakespeare and eventually killed his only son. It is hard to imagine how something that started thousands of miles away could affect so many. The tale was fascinating. Who would ever consider writing about the flea?! It is genius.

FYI: Winner of Women’s Prize for Fiction.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Look-Alike

The Look-Alike by Erica Spindler

First line: Sienna Scott nearly tripped over the body.

Summary: Sienna Scott finds the body of a young woman while walking home in a snowstorm from a study session. As she looks at the victim she realizes that the girl has a resemblance to her. Was she the intended victim? Or is she seeing things that are not there, like her mother? Her father decides to send her away to London to get her away from her mother’s delusions and the aftermath of the murder.

When she returns home she finds that life in Tranquility Bluffs has changed since she last lived here. But she is more shocked by the state her mother is in. With Sienna’s return her mother spirals as she worries that with her being home “they” will come for her. It does not help that the police have reopened the case of the murder that Sienna stumbled upon. Then strange calls and white unidentified vans driving by lead Sienna to believe that the killer is back and try to finish what they started years earlier.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed Spindler’s newest thriller. It has several twists that throw the reader off but also hint at the ending. I had several different theories as I read but nothing that I was absolutely sure about. I liked Sienna’s mother. Having a character with paranoia is a good tool to change the reader’s perceptions as the story progresses. It definitely did affect mine.

This is not an overly complicated book or something mind blowing but it was just a lot of fun! I have recommended Spindler to readers who enjoy thrillers and mysteries. They do not disappoint and make for a fast read.

FYI: Check out The Other Girl by Erica Spindler as well.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Scythe

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

First line: We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill.

Summary: Society has finally learned to conquer death. The world is no longer starving, dying from disease or dying in general. However, one small problem remains. Overpopulation. The solution is the Scythedom. Scythes are people who are chosen and trained to take human lives in order to keep the population of Earth to a manageable level.

When Citra and Rowan are chosen by Honorable Scythe Faraday as his apprentices they are less than thrilled. Life as a scythe is one of isolation and loneliness not to mention death. As their training commences they learn that there is more to the Scythedom than they originally knew including some darker secrets at its core.

My Thoughts: I absolutely loved and devoured this book! It was recommended to me by one of the booksellers at Watermark Books. I finally bought myself a copy because I could not wait for the library one to come back in. I am so happy that I did. It was fast, fun and crazy. So many different twists and turns. I loved the characters. The world is fascinating. Shusterman did a great job of creating a real Utopia but also bringing in some very dark themes as well. As soon as I finished it I immediately downloaded the digital copy from Sunflower eLibrary. If you need something to suck you in from the very beginning then this is that book!

FYI: Lots of death and violence but I don’t think it is over the top. It would be hard to avoid this topic in a book all about bringers of death.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Shadows Between Us

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

First line: They’ve never found the body of the first and only boy who broke my heart.

Summary: Alessandra is the youngest daughter of an earl. She has spent her life sequestered from the world until her sister marries but she has a plan to gain ultimate power for herself. First she is going to get the attention of the Shadow King. Second she will make him fall in love with her and marry her. And finally she is going to kill the king and take over his kingdom.

My Thoughts: Ever since reading Tricia Levenseller’s first book, Daughter of the Pirate King, I have been hooked. It was a fast read and lots of fun! Each book since has been the same. I highly anticipate each new release. When I saw that Netgalley had an ARC of The Shadows Between Us I requested it immediately.

This is my favorite book of her so far. This is being called a Slytherin romance and that 100% describes it. I loved each of the main characters. They were both not good people but they are unashamed of it too. They know it and do not apologize for their faults. From the very first page the story takes off. Alessandra is wickedly charming and cunning. Kallias is dark, moody and brutal. But there are characters with lighter sides that add a little fluff which is refreshing too.

I loved the whole premise of the Shadow King. The magic and the way it works is brilliant. This author has a wonderful imagination and can bring her worlds to life. I could easily picture Kallias and his shadows. The details of the outfits were stunning. I wish I could read this again for the first time. I am so sad I have to wait another year for a new book by Levenseller.

FYI: This is a standalone young adult novel.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Sun Down Motel

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

First line: The night it all ended, Vivian was alone.

Summary: In 1982 Viv Delaney is hitchhiking through New York when she is dropped off at the Sun Down Motel. That night she is offered the job of the night clerk for the motel. On her first nights she learns that not everything is as it seems at the Sun Down. The strong smell of cigarettes, doors opening and closing on their own and ghostly voices around every corner. Then one night in November Viv disappears without a trace.

Flash forward to 2017, Carly Kirk travels to the town of Fell, New York to find out what really happened to her aunt who disappeared from the Sun Down Motel in 1982.

My Thoughts: This was so much fun!! I read it in just 2 days. I loved the old motel, the people and the mystery. I always drive by old motels and wonder who actually stops there. This answered it for me. St. James’ descriptions of the place are just eerie. It is a place stuck in a time bubble. I can easily imagine the smell of the old smoke, the dirty carpets and the old bedspreads. Add to the creepy hotel a few ghosts and you have the recipe for a perfect story. The first time that Viv sees the woman it gave me chills.

FYI: If you love a good ghost story than this is for you!