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.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Maidens

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

First line: Edward Fosca was a murderer.

Summary: Mariana recently lost her husband. She has been struggling to come to terms with his death and helping her patients. But when she receives a call from her niece she finds something to focus her energy on. There has been a murder in Cambridge and the dead girl is her niece’s best friend. It has shocked the town and the college.

When Mariana arrives she immediately believes that the murderer is Zoe’s professor, Edward Fosca. As the investigation continues she dives deeper into the secrets of a group called the Maidens. How is Mariana going to protect her niece and find the killer?

My Thoughts: This book was such a mess. There were unnecessary characters that were intentionally there to distract the reader. Some were just thrown in the give her a hint of something which could have happened in other ways. Mariana felt like she was in a cozy mystery. She was trying to include herself into a mystery and solve it.

I loved the location. This was something I was really excited about in this book. Ten years ago I visited Cambridge for a week and fell in love with this university town. I felt completely safe wandering the town by myself. I visited little shops, farmer’s markets and the colleges. If you ever get a chance to visit Cambridge, do it! It is picture perfect and just a 2 hour train ride from London.

FYI: Read The Silent Patient.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Therapist

The Therapist by B. A. Paris

First line: My office is small, perfect and minimalist.

Summary: When Alice and Leo move into their new home in an exclusive gated community in London they see this as the perfect beginning to their life together. But as Alice meets her neighbors, she learns about the dark history of her new home. After this discovery, Alice becomes obsessed with finding out what happened and who was involved.

My Thoughts: B. A. Paris always writes a fun, twisty thriller. They are always very fast reads. Something that will keep you reading until you finish the book late at night. This one kept me wondering throughout. Everyone is a suspect. Even with a headache I finished this book because I had to know how it ended. There is lots of misdirection to throw the reader off.

I admit that it was nothing groundbreaking or original. It was just plain fun to read! I have been in a slump with lots of 2 star reviews so it was nice to find something that kept me interested and wanting to read. If you want a quick summer read then this would be it.

FYI: Violence.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Survive the Night

Survive the Night by Riley Sager

First line: Fade in.

Summary: Two months earlier, Charlie’s best friend, Maddy was murdered by the Campus Killer. But what makes things even worse is that Charlie could have done something to stop it from happening. She blames herself. And the only way she feels that she can move on from this tragedy is to leave school and go home to try and heal.

At the university ride board she meets a young man who offers to drive her home since it is on his way. Charlie is so desperate to leave Olyphant that she accepts. But as soon as she gets into his car she starts to wonder if she has made a terrible choice. Little things start to happen which makes Charlie wonder if Josh is not what he seems. Will she survive the long night time drive?

My Thoughts: I had so much fun reading this book! I kept having to tell myself to relax. I was caught up in the tension and fear. It immediately sucked me in. And Charlie is a very unreliable narrator since she has a disorder that takes her out of reality if things become too much for her. As I read I never knew what to believe and what is one of the movies in her head.

Riley Sager’s books always have the feel of an eighties horror movie. That may be one of the reasons I love them so much. They can be cheesy at times but that is how I want an eighties movie to be. There was lots of twists and turns. I did not expect the ending at all. Some things seemed a little obvious but I was very shocked by big reveal. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants a fast and fun thriller for the summer. It hits the spot perfectly.

FYI: Violence, murder, and some language.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Dream Girl

Dream Girl by Laura Lippman

First line: Gerry dreams.

Summary: After an accident that leaves author Gerry Anderson immobilized strange things begin to happen. He keeps getting calls from his fictional character, Audrey, from his bestselling book Dream Girl. Even though he knows he is talking to someone neither his nurse nor his personal assistant have heard the phone ring or heard the mysterious woman on the other end. Then one night he wakes up from his drug addled sleep to find a body on the floor by his bed. What is happening? Is he starting to lose touch with reality like his mother?

My Thoughts: I felt like this book had a lot of promise. Lippman has written some really great thrillers but this one was boring. It took nearly half the book to reach the point where the body appears. There is lots of time hops and characters. Everything seemed to drag on and on. I kept waiting for some crazy reveal or big shock but when something finally happened at the end I was underwhelmed. It was a big letdown for me. And none of the characters were likeable. I got really annoyed with the main character, Gerry. He was constantly trying to worry about how he is perceived in the new “woke” society and #MeToo movement. It got old.

FYI: Check out Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman. Much more fun.