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!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

First line: Louis Creed, who had lost his father at three and who had never known a grandfather, never expected to find a father as he entered his middle age, but that is exactly what happened…although he called this man a friend, as a grown man must do when he finds the man who should have been his father relatively late in life.

Summary: Dr. Louis Creed takes a job as the resident physician at a college in Maine. He moves his family from their home in Chicago to a farm house in the country. Upon their first day there they are warned about the trucks that drive too fast down the road. As strange things start to happen that may be connected to the Pet Sematary located behind their house, Louis begins to wonder if he made a mistake bringing his family to Ludlow, Maine.

My Thoughts: I have been on a big Stephen King kick lately. It is all I want to read. Before October I had only read two of his novels. Both were good, Joyland and The Shining, but neither gave me the urge to read more. However, for the Forbidden Forest Read-a-thon at the library I picked Carrie for my horror novel. I am so glad I did. It was fantastic! I watched the movie after and really enjoyed it as well.

Pet Sematary was even more chilling. The way King describes everything makes them seem so real. I can see why the movies have not been able to do this novel justice. There is no way to convey the eeriness of the Church or the spooky trek through the woods to the burial ground. I did find the beginning slow as he was laying the groundwork for the second half. But as you come to the end you understand why he had to spend so much time on the backstory. I had nightmares while reading this but it did not stop me from buying a copy of Doctor Sleep and Misery the next time I was at a used bookstore. If you want something that will give you chills then King is definitely your guy!

FYI: I tried the new movie but I did not make it very far before I decided I did not want to mess with the version in my head.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Ninth House

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

First line: By the time Alex managed to get the blood out of her good wool coat, it was too warm to wear it.

Summary: Galaxy “Alex” stern is a freshman at Yale. She grew up in California but got in with a rough crowd as a teenager. She dropped out of school, took drugs and lived with her drug dealing boyfriend. Until one night everyone in her apartment is found dead except for her. She is approached during her hospital stay with the offer of a lifetime, a full ride scholarship to Yale.

However, when she arrives at the prestigious college she learns that her role here is not just academic. Alex is now a part of a society that is tasked with monitoring the activities of the universities secret societies. With her ability to see ghosts she is charged with helping keep the spirits and the rituals in order.

When a local girl is found murdered around the campus Alex believes that the societies may have something to do with it. As she continues to search for more clues to the mysterious death her she finds herself being attacked by the ghosts the walk the town of New Haven.

My Thoughts: I have been looking forward to reading this book ever since I heard about it. I really enjoyed her young adult series. Bardugo is a master at world building and wit. But as the release day got closer I saw several reviewers I follow giving it low ratings or not finishing the book at all. This started to scare me. Even though there were these negative reviews with lots of trigger warnings I decided to ignore them and judge it for myself. And I am so glad I did!

I started the book as an audio. I liked it and continued listening to it but alternating between it and the physical book. However, I wish that I had read the first few chapters where much of the world building information was. There are eight secret societies with different rituals. There are lots of characters and also time jumps between characters. This got a little confusing. Once I started to read more it smoothed out and got to be quite enjoyable. I found it hard to put down. Alex gives us a glimpse back into her life before Yale and what led her to this point. Darlington shows us what the first few months are like with Alex as the new Virgil.

I believe that my favorite part was when Alex interacted with the ghosts. Some are very listless but others can be very malevolent. I hope that Bardugo gives us more of this in the upcoming books. Even though the main mystery was who killed Tara there is an underlying and more interesting mystery. What happened to Darlington?! Is he alive? Where did he go? Is he coming back? We get left with quite a cliffhanger so I really hope that the next book is not several years in the future!

FYI: This is Bardugo’s adult debut. Her young adult series are The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, The Dregs Duology, and the Nikolai Duology.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Family Upstairs

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

First line: It would be inaccurate to say that my childhood was normal before they came.

Summary: When Libby Jones turned twenty-five she receives and envelope telling her that she has inherited a house from the estate of her dead parents. She never knew who she was or where she came from but the answers are finally being revealed.

Twenty-four years before the police were summoned to a mansion along the Thames. Inside were the three dead bodies and a baby girl in a crib. It appears to be a suicide pact as part of a cult ritual. But neighbors reported seeing older children in the house but none are found on the night in question. What happened at 16 Cheyne Walk that fateful night?

My Thoughts: I love Lisa Jewell! Every book I have read by her has been a lot of fun. This one is no exception. I really considered giving it a 5 star rating. It flipped between three characters. Libby, the baby, who recently inherited the house. Henry, who is telling the story of what happened in the house. And Lucy, who is struggling to keep her family afloat while living abroad in France.

Henry was by far my favorite chapters because we got to see how life at 16 Cheyne Walk changed over time. His story is told chronologically from the beginning to the end. It fills in the gaps that Libby is trying to uncover. But his narrative is much darker and more sinister than the others.

I struggled to understand that point behind Lucy’s chapters. It seemed like they were filler or a separate story. She lives in France with her children and is trying to find a way to get back to England. It just did not seem to fit with everything else.

But the ending. It literally gave me goosebumps and sent a chill down my spine. What a way to close a book. Great job again Ms. Jewell!

FYI: Perfect for fans of Shari Lapena and Gillian Flynn.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Wolf Wants In

The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh

First line: A bitter wind sheared through the darkness, biting into my exposed flesh and lashing my hair across my face.

Summary: Sadie Keller is determined to find out what happened to her brother on the night he died. She does not believe the story told to her by his wife, Crystle. But the police do not believe that there is enough evidence to allow them to look deeper into the events.

Henley is hoping to escape from her small Kansas town. Her family are involved in some dangerous activities and she wants to leave before she is sucked into them.

My Thoughts: I loved the author’s previous book Arrowood. It was thrilling. This was sold to be a thriller but it really fell flat. I was hoping for more but it took almost 60% of the book to get to the more interesting pieces. The beginning was about the town, its people and the life in small town Kansas. This made it easy to connect with at least, as a girl from a small town in Kansas.

I liked the characters but they needed something more. We got glimpses into Sadie’s past with her brother. I would have liked more of that. Henley seemed like a filler character. She did reveal some information that lead to big reveal but her story was blah.

FYI: Read Arrowood!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Perfect Wife

The Perfect Wife by J. P. Delaney

First line: You’re having that dream again, the one where you and Tim are in Jaipur for Diwali.

Summary: When Abbie wakes up in a hospital bed she has no memory of how she got there. There is a man who tells her she is his wife and that something terrible happened to her five years before. And through his determination and technological advancements he was able to bring her back. She is the prototype for a new technology called CoBots.

As Abbie acclimates to her new life she starts to wonder what happen to the real Abbie. Using Abbie’s memories, old text messages and the built in intuition she follows the clues to find out how and why Abbie disappeared.

My Thoughts: This was a lot of fun. It was modern day science fiction thriller. At the beginning there is a separate narrative by an unknown character who gives us a look into the past and the real Abbie. I was constantly trying to figure out who it was and I never would have guessed. I like the idea of being able to “bring back” someone who has died but it is also a little sad. I know that there is one person I would love to “see” again but this may make it harder too.

So many different scenarios were flying through my head while trying to figure out the ending. There were lots of twists and turns which make it a great psychological thriller.

FYI: Check out Delaney’s other books Believe Me and The Girl Before.