What’s Ashley Reading?: The Children on the Hill

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon

First line: Her smell sends me tumbling back through time to before.

Summary: In 1978, Dr. Hildreth lives on the property of a state of the art psych ward with her grandchildren, Violet and Eric. One day she brings home a young patient, Iris, in the hopes that time with other kids will help her start talking and progressing on her mental health journey. The children bond during play but especially with their love of monsters. As they overhear whispers at the hospital they start to question what their grandmother is doing with patients like Iris.

In 2019, Lizzy Shelley has created a name for herself through blogs, TED Talks and TV appearances on her monster hunting. However, when she hears about a mysterious disappearance of a young girl in Maine, she is drawn to this location. Is it the monster she has spent years avoiding and also hunting too?

My Thoughts: I really enjoy dual timelines. They make for interesting story lines and make the twists even more fun. I did hear a small spoiler while reading the book so some of the twists did not shock me as much as they might have but there was one part that was really not what I was expecting. I literally gasped when I read it.

However, I did find the story rather longer than it needed to be. It seemed to drag in the middle and seemed almost repetitive. But other than that I found the story to be enjoyable. It has a paranormal hint with still being a contemporary thriller.

FYI: Mental illness and monsters.

Monica’s Musings: The Guest List

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

“Life is messy. We all know this. Terrible things happen, I learned that while I was still a child. But no matter what happens, life is only a series of days. You can’t control more than a single day. But you can control one of them. Twenty-four hours can be curated.”

― Lucy Foley, The Guest List

Summary:

The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body

Guests gather on a secluded island to celebrate a beautiful wedding. The groom is a handsome and charming rising television star. The bride is smart, ambitious, and a magazine publisher. It is a high-profile and luxurious wedding.

Soon after arriving, all of the guests can feel the dark energy of the island. As the champagne popped and the festivities began, resentments and petty jealousies mingled with the reminiscences and well wishes.

And then someone turns up dead.

My thoughts:

I was very impressed with this book. As the reader, you get to know each character very well, and every detail of their story is important. There is constant drama between the guests, and I was never sure what would happen next. It was full of scandals and secrets.

I was suspicious of each guest while reading. At one point or another, I thought each one of them could have killed another person on the island. The vibe of the island was dark and mysterious. I could imagine the fear of each person while they each experienced the strange feeling of death in the air. Finding a body was almost expected.

Nothing was clear until the very end. All of the dark secrets came out, and everything made sense then. I did not see the ending coming at all, and I am more than satisfied with how the author wrapped up the loose ends!

What’s Ashley Reading?: An Honest Lie

An Honest Lie by Tarryn Fisher

First line: At the end of the highway sat an old town, not completely dead, but on its last breath.

Summary: Rainy has recently moved in with her boyfriend in Washington. In an effort to get to know his friends she has started attending their weekly get together but has never really felt a part of the group. When she is guilted into attending a girl’s weekend in Las Vegas she knows that it is going to bring back all the painful memories she has spent years trying to hide.

My Thoughts: My first introduction to Tarryn Fisher was The Wives. It was full of crazy twists and a thrilling read. And at the beginning of this one I felt like we were going to be going through another wild ride. It has a charismatic cult leader, the excitement of Las Vegas and a group of women who seemed determined to learn more about this new addition to their group. As a reader I expected many secrets to come out as they always do. But it happened in a strange way. I cannot describe it without giving away much of the plot but it was just not what I was expecting. That may be a good thing but it was not as satisfying as I would have liked. I did enjoy the book. It was quick and had an interesting plot but it lacked something that I cannot place.

FYI: Definitely read The Wives for a crazy story that will keep you guessing!

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?: 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?: The Night She Disappeared

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

First line: The baby is starting to grumble.

Summary: 2017: Tallulah Murray, a nineteen year old mother, goes out with her boyfriend to the neighborhood pub for dinner. The next morning her mother, Kim, finds that neither one of them have come home. Kim knows that Tallulah would never abandon her baby son. As she talks with Tallulah’s friends she find out that they were last seen at a party at Dark Place, a manor house outside the small village.

2018: Sophie Beck has just moved into a little cottage on the grounds of a private boarding school. Her partner is the new head teacher while Sophie is a mystery novelist. As Sophie explores her new home she finds a sign in their garden with the words, “DIG HERE”, written on it. As she digs she uncovers a missing link in the mystery of the disappearance of Tallulah Murray.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book from the beginning until the end. Normally the time jumps can be confusing but since each time had a different narrator that made it easier to follow. The end was excellent. I was on the edge of my seat, trying to finish it as fast as I could. And of course, that’s when my dog decided he needed to go outside!

I liked the characters of Tallulah and her mother Kim. Sophie felt like more of a filler character to help solve the mystery. She was the like her characters in her book which the comparison is drawn in the books as well. Her part felt more cozy. But I think Jewell did a great job of bringing Kim’s pain and Tallulah’s struggles out. They were relatable and I could sympathize with them as their lives changed through the story. After Jewell’s last book I was hoping that this one would be much more entertaining. Thank goodness it was!

FYI: Audio book was read by Joanne Froggat (Anna Bates from Downton Abbey).

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?: 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.

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.

Teen Volunteer Book Review: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

This review was written by Kiryn Spicer-Preedy.

Kiryn is fourteen years old, and a 2021 Summer Teen Volunteer.

First Line: “It was dusk – winter dusk.”

Summary: This book follows the story of a little girl named Bonnie Green. Bonnie’s mother is ill, and must go away on a voyage to sea with her father, leaving her under the care of Miss Slighcarp, a governess who is very rude and mean to the servants and to Bonnie. What Bonnie thinks will be an enjoyable time spent running about and playing with her cousin Silvia, who has come to stay with them at Willoughby Chase, quickly turns into a nightmare of the very bad sort. As soon as Bonnie’s parents leave, Miss Slighcarp sets her evil plan in motion. She dismisses all of the servants and sells the furniture. When Bonnie protests against her doing these things, Miss Slighcarp shuts her up in a closet, with only Silvia on the other side of the doors for comfort. But they discover a secret tunnel in the walls to help them avoid Miss Slighcarp and listen to her plot. When Miss Slighcarp has sold everything of value that once belonged to Bonnie’s family, she sends Bonnie and Sylvia to her friend, Mrs. Brisket’s prison-like orphan school, where the children are forced to work day in and day out until they drop from exhaustion.

They are fed very little and hardly get to sleep, working in harsh environments with only rags for clothing. Bonnie and Sylvia have to learn to work for hours and hours on little food and little sleep, in the harsh cold. When the children behave badly, they are thrown into the coal pit for up to days without food. Except for Mrs. Brisket’s own daughter of course, who gets to boss the other girls around and lives a life of luxury while the other girls are forced to suffer. But one day when Bonnie spots her old friend Simon coming along, driving his geese to town to sell them, she tells him about their predicament and he helps them escape. They run from Mrs. Brisket’s prison-school to London to try to get Sylvia’s great aunt Jane to help them. But Sylvia has fallen ill from the harsh work at Mrs. Brisket’s orphanage. A friendly farmer gives them shelter for a few nights, but then they must travel on. Will they make it to Aunt Jane’s in time? And if they do, how will they stop Miss Slighcarp’s evil plan to turn their home into a school run by herself and the horrible Mrs. Brisket? 

Highlights: Watching Bonnie and Sylvia work together to get through they’re hardships and learn to think for themselves and figure out how to escape from their captors. 

Lowlights: For it being called The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, there aren’t a lot of wolves in it. There’s a few at the beginning, but if you’re looking for a story about a thrilling chase fleeing from a pack of bloodthirsty wolves, this isn’t it. 

FYI: This book is good for children of all ages. Other than harsh punishments from the adults in this story, it is perfectly fine for younger children.