What’s Ashley Reading?: Daughters of a Dead Empire

Daughters of a Dead Empire by Carolyn Tara O’Neil

First line: I saw the fire first.

Summary: In this alternate history about the Russian Revolution, Anastasia Romanov has escaped the Bolsheviks and is running for her life. She stumbles into a village where she meets a young Bolshevik girl, Evgenia, who grudgingly helps this mysterious aristocratic girl. As the two girls with very different views of the world try to survive they learn that the world is not as black and white as they originally thought.

My Thoughts: Ever since high school I have been fascinated by Anastasia Romanov. The thought that this young girl escaped a tragic death is a mystery that has boggled many for years. Unfortunately, Anastasia did not escape but I still enjoy reading fiction about what her life after escaping death would have been like.

At the beginning I was very annoyed with both of the girls but I think that was what the author was intending. Each of them were stubbornly only believing what they knew rather than considering other points of view. But as the story progressed each one was faced with the realities of the Revolution and destroying the beliefs they held so dear.

I enjoyed the growing relationship between the girls. There was no romance in the book. It centered on friendship and the internal battle between conscience/ideologies and love.

As well as being entertaining it was informative too. I learned about the involvement of Czech soldiers in the Russian Revolution. They had their own battalion and were promised independence for the Czech people if the Imperial Army won the Revolution.

Since this took place during the Russian Revolution there was lots of violence. However, the violence was not always focused on the armies but much of it hurt the peasants they were fighting for. It is easy to forget that many civilian deaths happened alongside soldier deaths. It was hard to read but it was real and needs to be remembered.

FYI: Lots of death, violence and torture.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Book of Cold Cases

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

First line: The Greer mansion sat high on a hill, overlooking the town and the ocean.

Summary: It’s 1977 in Claire Lake, Oregon. The city is reeling with the murders of two family men on lonely roads at night. With the bodies, a note written by a woman asking to be caught. When the police and the town decide that it is none other than the richest girl in town. Beth Greer lives in the exclusive part of town, seems unfriendly and is seen leaving one of the crime scenes. However, the courts are unable to convict her. For the next forty years she lives quietly in her mansion until a blogger happens to meet her looking for answers.

It’s 2017 in Claire Lake, Oregon. Shea Collins is working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office but at night she runs a blog where she discusses cold cases. Most prominent on the blog is the Lady Killer case which took place in Claire Lake in 1977. Many theories circulate on who actually committed the murders and when Shea gets the chance to interview the main suspect, Beth Greer, she pushes down her fears from childhood to finally get some answers.

My Thoughts: This sounds like your normal thriller with a killer and a secret. But with St. James, that is never the case. She brings in the creep factor that I had to put the book down one night, hoping that I would be able to sleep. And it was not an overly scary scene but it was written perfectly to scare with little detail. Even with the scary bits I could not put this down. I had a third of the book left to read and I decided to just sit down and read till it was done. I had to find out the ending and what twist the author was going to throw at us. It did not disappoint. It was scary, exciting and fulfilling for the characters and the reader. I just finished this and I already want her next book!

FYI: A little scary and some violence against children.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Nine Lives

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson

First line: Jonathan Grant, unless he let her know ahead of time that he couldn’t make it, always visited on Wednesday evening.

Summary: Nine people have received a letter in the mail with no return postmark and inside is a list of nine names. None of the names seem familiar to the people on the list. Many of them assume that it is some technical error until one of them is found murdered. Coincidence? Maybe. Until another of the people on the list is found shot in the back while out on his morning run. Detective Winslow is also on the list and she is determined to find out what the connection is and who is hunting them.

My Thoughts: I love Peter Swanson’s books. This is my third one but I need to go back and read his older stuff soon too. The way he incorporates classic mysteries into his stories also give me more books to read but adds an extra layer of intrigue into the plot. In this one he uses the similarities with And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

Each of the chapters were really short and they were organized into how many people are left on the list. As it counted down the suspense continued to build as I waited for the next death or a big reveal. And just before Swanson gave the reader a big hint of who was behind the deaths, I figured it out. It was genius. As a reader, and one that has read a lot of Agatha Christie lately, I can see he enjoys her work and draws inspiration from it too.

But I think my favorite part of Swanson’s newest book was the relationships in it. The characters that lived longer into the story were given interesting storylines that made me want to read just for their interactions. It made their impending doom much more heartbreaking.

FYI: Lots of death.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The A.B.C. Murders

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie

First line: It was June of 1935 that I came home from my ranch in South America for a stay of about six months.

Summary: Alice Asher is found murdered in Andover with a copy of the ABC Railway Guide near her body. Next comes Betty Bernard in Bexhill. As the murders progress the famed detective, Hercule Poirot, is being taunted by the killer. Why can’t Poirot figure out who is killing these people even when he has fair warning? How many letters in the alphabet before Poirot finds his killer?

My Thoughts: I’ve been on an Agatha Christie kick lately. I was hoping to read them in order but I decided that when taking a trip with my mom to Kansas City we should listen to one of Christie’s best known stories during the drive. We both have really enjoyed the other Poirot stories and this one was no different.

As the story went along Christie kept giving us peeks into the murderer’s whereabouts. Or did she? She is the master of crime novels because as a reader you never know what is real or what is a distraction from the truth. It is masterfully done. I never once considered who the killer was until it was revealed at the end.

Plus the writing is fun. I love when Poirot talks about “the little grey cells”. If you have not picked up an Agatha Christie novel then I would highly recommend you did. Especially her Hercule Poirot series. They are always entertaining. And then watch the movies based on the novels, Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. Beautifully done!

FYI: Perfect reads for anyone who likes a good story and one that has stood the tests of time.

What’s Ashley Reading?: You’ll Be the Death of Me

You’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus

First line: I respect a good checklist, but I’m beginning to think my mother went overboard.

Summary: Ivy lost the student council election for senior class president to the class clown, Brian “Boney” Mahoney. She is desperate not to go to school after her loss. And when she runs into two of her friends from middle school, Mateo and Cal, they reminisce over the best day of their lives. The day that they skipped school together and became friends.

With the bright idea of trying to rekindle that day, the three decide to head into Boston. But as visit an unfamiliar neighborhood they spot none other than Boney Mahoney. Ivy, angered that he would skip the assembly for his election, she decides to confront him. As they follow him into an empty building they suddenly find him dead on the floor in an upstairs room. Before they can decide what to do the sound of sirens comes to their ears. Rather than being caught with the dead body, they flee the building.

However, as more information about Boney’s death emerges they find that they may have stumbled into something that will be very hard to get out of.

My Thoughts: As with McManus’ other books, this one takes the reader on a wild ride. I enjoyed all the twists and turns throughout the story. It gave me a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off vibe mixed with Pretty Little Liars. It was a quick read and/or listen. I flew through the story, needing to know what happened next. Part of me guessed at the ending but I felt it was a reach so I did not consider it too strongly. But when it was revealed it made lots of sense.

I don’t know about anybody else but the donut shop that Cal takes the group to sounds delightful. It reminds me the Voodoo Doughnut with their quirky combinations and experiments with flavor. If you haven’t experienced Voodoo then definitely add it to your list of places to eat before you die!

FYI: Trigger warnings: death and drug use.

What’s Ashley Reading?: 1922

1922 by Stephen King

First line: TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: My name is Wilfred Leland James, and this is my confession.

Summary: In a short story by Stephen King we get a dark tale of murder on the Nebraska plains. Wilfred James lives on a farm in Nebraska with this wife and son. When his wife suggests that they sell the 100 acres she owns but it angers Wilfred. He does not want the land to be used as a pig farm. As his anger with her grows he starts to conceive of a plan to make his wife disappear.

My Thoughts: 1922 was the perfect start to my October TBR and Dia de los Muertos read-a-thon list. It was spooky and quick. I have driven many times through the farmland of Nebraska. The old farmhouses with acres of land as far as the eye can see. I could easily imagine Wilfred living on his farm, killing his wife and burying her in the well. And no one else around to even notice. Especially in 1922.

But then his wife begins to haunt him with her decaying body and the rats that are slowly eating away at her. Rats are terrifying on their own but imagining them eating a human body is a nightmare come to life. King does a great job bringing the eeriness to the story without out making it outlandish. The visions, smells and memories just add to the suspense.

Then mixed in with the terror that Wilfred is experiencing is the guilt and changes happening to his son. I was surprised with the way his story changed from the beginning till the end. It was heartbreaking to see but it definitely added another level to this short story.

FYI: This is originally part of Full Dark, No Stars, a collection of King’s short stories. It has also been made into a Netflix movie which I plan to watch real soon!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Rizzio

Rizzio by Denise Mina

First line: Lord Ruthven wanted him killed during this tennis match but Darnley said no.

Summary: On the night of March 9, 1566, the personal secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots was murdered by assassins in the Queen’s apartments at Holyrood Palace. David Rizzio was dragged out and stabbed fifty six times while the pregnant queen was restrained by her husband, Lord Darnley.

My Thoughts: I remember the first time I learned about David Rizzio. It was a in a book by Jane Yolen, The Queen’s Own Fool, that I stumbled upon in a book sale. It seems like such a fantastical story but it is actually history. Mina’s book is a quick story about these events, the people involved and the reasons behind them.

Even though I liked the story I found the writing style strange. I didn’t feel like it flowed well. This was my first book by Denise Mina, so maybe this is her normal style but it’s not one that I found appealing.

Mary had such a tragic life. But I think that is why so many people, including myself, find her interesting. She was a woman with power in an age when many women had no power. And she is constantly being compared to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. If you have never heard about this event in Mary’s life or need a short book (118 pages) to complete your reading challenge then I would recommend picking this one up!

FYI: Very bloody. He was stabbed 56 times!

What’s Ashley Reading?: A Slow Fire Burning

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

First line: Blood-sodden, the girl staggers into the black.

Summary: A young man is found murdered in his houseboat in Regent’s Canal. As the police look into what happened they focus on three women. The young woman with whom he had a one night stand, the grief stricken aunt and the nosy neighbor. Each one has their own dark pasts with lots of mistakes. And their own reasons to kill.

My Thoughts: This book started great! It felt like it was going to be an exciting story with lots of twists. And it was fun but so much of it seemed to not matter to the whole storyline. Miriam especially seemed like she was just an addition to get the book to a certain page count. Plus there was lots of characters at the beginning. Keeping track of them while listening to the audio version made it hard to keep track of the plot.

I did enjoy the relationship between Irene and Laura. Seeing two women who are lonely and very different be friends and support each other is heartwarming in a murder mystery. I felt bad for both of them throughout the book because of the prejudices against them by society.

I was not surprised by who the killer was. It seemed rather obvious from the beginning as we learn the women’s backstories. With each one we see the connections and can figure out how the story will play out. Especially if you have read other thrillers. But I will say I still had fun reading it and would recommend it.

FYI: From the author of The Girl on the Train.

What’s Ashley Reading?: For Your Own Good

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

First line: Entitlement has a particular stench.

Summary: Belmont Academy is the best school in town. It churns out smart and well connected students to Ivy League universities. Teddy Crutcher, an English teacher, has just won Teacher of the Year. It is a high honor, especially for someone who did not attend Belmont as a student. And as a teacher he has high hopes for his students. He wants the ones who deserve to do well to achieve great things but he must teach the students who are entitled to learn a lesson. For their own good of course. When a parent dies at a school function the Belmont community is thrown into chaos. But then another murder happens. What is going on in this prestigious school?

My Thoughts: This is fine. I liked it. The characters were mostly terrible people. They each had such strong opinions about everyone else around them and were not afraid to act on their urges. Teddy was definitely scary in a calm methodical way. He could always justify his actions. But he also seemed to make sense in some of the things he thought which is even scarier.

I felt like the book was aimed more for young adult readers. And this may be because several of the main characters were teenagers. It felt like it was missing something that her other novels had which led me to give them a higher rating.

There were plenty of little twists but the reader knows from the very beginning who is killing. It was fun to read. And the ending was satisfying. Perfect for the story and the characters involved.

FYI: Death.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Final Girl Support Group

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

First line: final girl (n.) – the last and sole survivor of a horror movie

Summary: Lynnette is a final girl. She has spent years keeping herself safe from the monsters that are out in the world. Part of her recovery and routine is the Final Girl Support Group. Once a month she has been meeting with a therapist and other final girls to try to deal with the trauma that has defined their lives. But one day things change and it seems the monsters are back and coming for all the final girls. Lynnette goes on the run. She is determined to survive but also keep her final girl sisters alive too. With each passing moment she sees that they are in more danger than ever before.

My Thoughts: I tried reading a Grady Hendrix book years ago and was just not impressed. I did not finish it even though it seemed to have everything I liked. So when my friend told was telling me about his most recent book I decided to give him another try. I am very glad I did. It was a wild ride. It reminded me of Riley Sager, another author who brings eighties horror movie tropes to his readers in thrilling stories that will keep you reading deep into the night.

Even though I really liked this book, I really did not like the main character. She was so depressing, whiney and crazy. I was constantly rolling my eyes at her thoughts and actions. It is like when you watch a horror movie and the dumb teenager goes into the dark basement rather than the running car. However, this is supposed to be like those campy horror movies making it perfect for the story. One of the best parts were the little additions like police reports, newspaper articles and interviews after each chapter that shows us the pasts of these women or people’s views on them.

There were lots of crazy twists and turns. Characters that seem reliable aren’t and vice versa. I was always expecting a “monster” to jump out at any moment like in the movies. And even when they are “dead” the bad guy comes back for one last scare. But the ending was wonderful. I did not see it coming. It was a great way to wrap up the novel.

I guess I will have to go back and try to read other Grady Hendrix novels now.

FYI: Perfect for fans of the movies Scream and Halloween.