What’s Ashley Reading?: Not a Happy Family

Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena

First line: There are many expensive houses here in Brecken Hill, an enclave on the edge of Aylesford, in the Hudson Valley.

Summary: In the rich neighborhood of Brecken Hill live the Mercer’s. They have lived here for years where they raised their family, grown a business and been the envy of all. But one Easter weekend after a family dinner the Mercer parents are found brutally murdered in their home. It appears to be a robbery but with all the secrets in the Mercer family the police are sure that one of the adult children has something to do with it. As they dig deeper they find that there are more secrets than anyone originally thought.

My Thoughts: This was a solid book. Lots of suspense. Red herrings around every corner. Lots of backstabbing, threats and secrets. I finished it in just a few days. It kept me interested throughout but I feel like it has been done before like so many thrillers lately. All the characters were awful people. Not one was likeable. There were some loose ends that I felt were not dealt with and characters that seemed a little nonessential. But did I have fun reading it? Yes. Will I recommend it? Yes. It was fun for a quick summer read.

FYI: Perfect for fans of B. A. Paris and J. P. Delaney.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Mother May I

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

Summary: Bree Cabbat has the perfect life; a loving husband, beautiful children and a nice home. But one night she sees a witch at her window and the following day her baby son is stolen from her car with a mysterious message containing instructions on how to get her little boy back. As she follows “the mother’s” instructions she finds that there is more to this diabolical plan than she first thought. Racing against the clock Bree tries to find the secrets that could lead them to her son and “the mother”.

My Thoughts: This is my first book my Joshilyn Jackson. I really enjoyed it. It started off with a bang and continued to have the same high drama throughout which can be hard to maintain. As the story progressed I didn’t know how the author was going to continue because the end seemed so imminent but then whole new mystery appeared. As more layers were added the suspense got even higher until the last chapter. I will finally read her other thriller, Never Have I Ever, which I have checked out numerous times but never read yet.

Listening to the audio book I was a little annoyed at the readers voice. It was rather whiny but that could be because of the playback on the app. I liked the reader’s interpretation of “the mother’s” voice. It was witchy and creepy. And you need to stay focused while listening or you may miss something.

FYI: Great thriller!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Wrong Family

The Wrong Family by Tarryn Fisher

First line: Juno was hungry.

Summary: Juno, a retired therapist is living with the seemingly perfect Crouch family. She wants to spend the rest of her days here but then one day she overhears Winnie and Nigel discussing a matter that is hard for her to ignore. She tries to remind herself that she should not get involved but the therapist in her wants to help fix the situation. As she digs deeper into the family secret she worries that she will have to reveal it. But Juno has her own secrets as well.

My Thoughts: Tarryn Fisher’s book, The Wives, was one of my favorite reads from last year. I loved the big reveal that completely changed how the beginning of the book was read. It was inventive. I think Fisher does it again in The Wrong Family. I love that the story is once again set in the Pacific Northwest, in a beautiful house in Seattle.

I liked Juno. Her history and life were sad but most likely common for many people in the world. Winnie was whiny. She had a lot going for her but she seemed entitled. This shows the differences in society and people’s views on life.

The ending of this book was wild. But first the beginning was a little predictable but with several plot twists that really derailed what I thought would happen. I love how the author created this dual story line which leaves the reader oblivious to what is revealed. I raced through the ending as everything came to a head. I was really worried for both our narrators but the last chapter was a perfect ending. I had to go back and reread a few pages to make sure I picked up the final twist. It was worth every minute!

FYI: Very violent at the end. Drug and alcohol use.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Cousins

The Cousins by Karen McManus

First line: I’m late for dinner again, but this time it’s not my fault.

Summary: On a resort island lives the Story family. They have lived there for generations. But one day the Story children are disinherited by their mother. The only clue is a note that reads…You know what you did. For over twenty years the four siblings had no contact with their mother or even returned to the island.

Then one day a letter arrives for the next generation of Storys. It is inviting them to the island for a job at the family owned resort and to get to know their grandmother. Everyone is shocked by this change of events but each grandchild is willing to see if they can get a chance to earn back their grandmother’s approval.

My Thoughts: Once again McManus writes a fun and twisty mystery. There are mysterious people, family secrets and ominous warnings. Everything you could want from a good story. Each of the characters if very different. We even get a peak into what happened on the island before the Story kids were disinherited.

I liked the characters. I loved the drama. I was constantly trying to think of what the big reveal would be. And I have to say that it was not what I thought it would be. Maybe my thoughts were a little too wild but sometimes authors do those things. This book, especially near the end, gave me all the Rebecca vibes. Hopefully that doesn’t give too much away! I like that YA authors are writing books for teens that are just as good as the ones for adults.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Megan Miranda and Sara Shepard.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Best of Me

The Best of Me by David Sedaris

First line: I’m not the sort of person who goes around feeling good about himself.

Summary: A collection of previously published essays and stories from David Sedaris. He covers everything from short stories, family drama and the loss of a sibling. His stories range from serious to hilarious.

My Thoughts: Several years ago I fell in love with David Sedaris and his work. I have read all his books, listened to his holiday collection multiple times, and spent hours waiting to see him at Watermark. Ninety percent of these stories were ones I had previously read but I was pleasantly surprised to find a few that I had not experienced yet.

It was great to rediscover some of his early stories that I had forgotten about. I laughed just as hard this time around as I did the first time. Even though Sedaris is considered a humorist he also brings a lot of heart to his work. The way he talks about his family makes one appreciate my own family. Everyone has quirks and life can be crazy but we all love each other and will be there for one another.

I think that this was exactly what I needed at the end of 2020. Focusing has been difficult this year. A book of short stories and essays are perfect for my attention span lately. And the laughs help as well! Thank you Mr. Sedaris!

FYI: All stories are previously published.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Invisible Girl

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

First line: I duck down and pull my hoodie close around my face.

Summary: Owen Pick, a college teacher, has just lost his job after a student accuses him of inappropriate actions. He doesn’t remember the incident and he tries to be very professional in all things. When he goes looking for advice he finds “incel” forums. Through the chatrooms he meets other men who have had similar experiences but are much more radical in their beliefs.

The Fours family live across the street from Owen. He has always seemed a little odd. When a teenage girl goes missing in their area they believe that it may have something to do with the creepy single man who lives on their street. And maybe he has something to do with the other sexual assaults happening in the area too?

My Thoughts: This is the first book by Lisa Jewell that I was not really impressed with. I liked it. It kept me reading till the end but it just didn’t have the same magic. I would almost say that it is mix of thriller and chick lit. It had more of a drama feel rather than suspense.

I liked the characters but most of them fell flat. I think they needed more developing. Everything seemed so obvious. I kept hoping for something shocking. Even at the end. But the last chapter was exactly what I expected. I felt very let down by this book.

FYI: Not as good as her previous book, The Family Upstairs.

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 Borgia Confessions

The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo

First line: The day I learned of my father’s plans for me, I was but nine years old.

Summary: In the summer of 1492 in Rome Cesare Borgia sees his father rise to the become the newest pope. Cesare has been forced to follow his father into the church but he knows that he is destined for something more. He has a strong military mind and passion to rule. However, his father is blinded by his ambitions to consider what Cesare wants.

Maddalena Moretti has come from the country to work in the Vatican. As a servant she sees into the world of powerful men who rule Europe. When she catches the eye of the handsome cardinal, Cesare Borgia, their lives become entwined as Rome and the rest of Italy fight the changes that are coming for them all.

My Thoughts: I love Alyssa Palombo. She is such a talented writer. She brings her stories to life and makes the characters believable. Even though many of the characters in this story are not likeable she does a fantastic job of getting the reader to at least understand them. I have been fascinated by the Borgia’s since picking up The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis. I was very excited when I saw that Alyssa Palombo’s newest book would be centered on this notorious family.

I love the intrigue and drama of the Borgia family. They were people who schemed for everything they got but were at the center of religious power in Europe. I am very familiar with their story so there was not much that surprised me in the narrative but I loved the naughty bits which were more prominent in this novel compared to her other ones. I liked seeing the world from the eyes of a servant. At the end the author discussed how she wanted to look at the events from someone of power and someone without power. I agree it makes it much more interesting to see both sides.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last House Guest

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

First line: I almost went back for her.

Summary: Littleport, Maine is a small coastal town that spends half the year catering to the wealthy visitors on summer vacation. The Loman family is the richest and most prominent family in the area. One summer the Loman’s daughter, Sadie develops a friendship with a local girl. They become inseparable. As their friendship grows, Avery is brought on to manage the family’s local rental properties and other business ventures in town. Then one summer everything changes. Sadie is found dead. The police rule it as a suicide but Avery feels like things do not add up. Who could want to hurt Sadie and why?

My Thoughts: This is a perfect read for summer vacations. It is set on a coastal town with beaches, bungalows and bistros. While reading it I desperately wanted to be sitting outside with a cold drink.

Miranda does a great job a spinning a tangled web. The story jumps back and forth between the summer Sadie died and the next one without her. But at the same time we get glimpses farther back into Avery’s past as well. There seemed to be so many possibilities for the ending. I was shocked by the big reveal at the end. The last 50 pages fly by so fast. It was hard to put down.

FYI: My favorite Megan Miranda books is All The Missing Girls. It is fantastic. The story is told in reverse. You would think it would give away so much but it does not. Both of these books are perfect for your summer reading list!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy

I love to hold a paper book.  There is something about feeling the pages in my hands.  However, sometimes I find I like the convenience of a digital copy.  I can take it with me where ever I am using an app on my phone.  How cool is that?  Plus, we have such a great selection of books available on our Sunflower eLibrary.  The app used to be called Overdrive but is slowly migrating over to Libby by Overdrive.  It is a fantastic upgrade.  Definitely check it out if you enjoy ebooks and audio books.

*This review will be a little different because the library does not own a physical copy but only a digital one that is available on Sunflower eLibrary.*

  Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy by Elizabeth Chadwick

1. The Summer Queen

2. The Winter Crown

3. The Autumn Throne

First line: Alienor woke at dawn.

Summary: This is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine (or Alienor as she is called in the book).  She was married to two kings, one of France and one of England.  She was the mother of kings.  However, she was a duchess in her own right and a very strong and determined woman.  She traveled to the Holy Lands on a crusade.  Through her the Plantagenet dynasty began.  Her life was not all easy, she faced imprisonment, war and death but managed to achieve greatness in the face of it all.

Highlights: I loved this trilogy.  This was my first interaction with Elizabeth Chadwick’s work and I was very impressed.  Chadwick brings Eleanor to life.  She shows what a strong woman she was.  I loved seeing her take on kings and prove that a woman is just as powerful.  The writing is superb.  I will definitely be reading more of her books.

I had heard very little about Eleanor before picking up these books.  As I read I learned so much about her and life in the 12th century.  Her family life was very erratic and messy.  I find it hard to believe how dysfunctional her family was.  Her sons were constantly fighting with one another and their father.  She had to be the peace keeper but also an instigator once in a while.  But I found her fascinating!  I think after Anne Boleyn, Eleanor is my favorite female historical figure.  She did so much, lived a long life and is still remembered nearly 900 years later.

 FYI: This is perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory!