Tag Archives: mystery

ARC: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Escape Room debuts July 30th.

Escape rooms—barely a thing five years ago, it turns out that friends and families really like to feel like they’re participating in a warm, friendly, Saw-like experience. (I kid—escape rooms are pretty awesome.) So it makes sense that having swept like wildfire across the globe, escape rooms have also infiltrated the subscription box business, graced the silver screen, and, at last, crawled their way into publishing.

The premise of the book is great—a bunch of investment bankers are lured to an elevator escape room, only to find out that the corporate team-building exercise they were promised is not what it appears to be. Yet great premises don’t necessarily make great books. A skillful writer could do a lot here, but the writing got in the way of the story at every turn. Each page was filled with wooden language and plodding narration. This is a real “I did X. Then I did Y. Then I did Z” experience, to the extent that there are actually a surprisingly small amount of detailed scenes in the book, given how zoomed-out our literary camera lens is. And when we do get some details, they always seem like the wrong thing. I don’t know how many descriptions of expensive investment banker wardrobes there were in this book, but it had to be… ten? Twenty? Fifty? Meanwhile, all you want is more cool escape room details, but it felt like there were only five clues to the whole room. For the vast majority of their time in the escape room the bankers just sit there, waiting to be let out.

I will say that I appreciated the back-and-forth POV chapter switches from first to third. The third person sections follow the entrapped bankers, while the first person sections track a rookie investment banker’s experience a few years prior. This variety of POV switching is a bold narrative choice, and with a more honed and experienced voice this could have worked beautifully—but because of the distant point of view, stiff language, constant head-hopping, and lack of escape room intrigue, I found myself dreading the third-person sections.

So I appreciate what this book wanted to be, and I’ll eagerly read a different thriller with an escape room premise. But Goldin’s take on escape rooms unfortunately missed the mark, so I have a difficult time recommending it.

ARC: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Thank you to NetGalley and Dutton for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Lock Every Door debuts July 2nd.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager was a binge-it-in-two-days type of read. This is the book you should have in your tote to read on the beach—an addictive and thrilling read that kept my nose glued to the page right up until the end. It’s also a rare specimen of book that advertises itself as having potential paranormal elements and manages to keep you guessing on that front far into the book. There are tons of books where the main character thinks, hmm, this place might be haunted, but it’s obvious to readers that that’s not the case. Not so here. (And I’m not giving anything away! Are there ghosts afoot in the MC’s bizarro apartment building or is everything rooted in the real world? You’ll have to read and see!)

The premise of the book is that a woman down on her luck (laid off, cheating boyfriend, finances in a downward spiral) manages to snag a gig where she gets paid to live in a ritzy, vacant NYC apartment. But, of course, everything is not as it seems, and things get spooky real quick. I was getting serious Rosemary’s Baby vibes throughout, due to the creepy New York apartment high-rise coupled with the young female MC.

I do feel obligated to mention that I picked up on two reveals far before they came. However, the full nature of the overarching plot reveal took me very much by surprise, while at the same time being very satisfying—the surprise is just that, surprising, while still managing to preserve suspension of disbelief. I highly recommend Lock Every Door, and I’m looking forward to reading more books by the author.


A small aside—if you haven’t seen the book trailer for Specter yet, check it out! Specter debuts July 7th, and the paperback and ebook are available for preorder at all major retailers and from Hidden Bower Press.

ARC: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon Pulse/Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Serious Moonlight debuts April 16th.

You know when you see a perfect cover, and you think to yourself, well, the book can’t possibly live up to THAT, could it? They’re compensating for something, right? Well, banish those fears—Serious Moonlight is a cozy contemporary that pairs an adorable romance with memorable characters and a Pacific Northwest setting. In my opinion, this book is exactly what new adult should be: kids post-high school taking their first steps into “adulting,” with sex present, but not in an erotic way. It has a YA contemporary voice, but the MCs are just a tad bit older. I also truly appreciated how Bennett placed her characters in a non-school setting. I’ve heard so many calls from people in publishing asking for manuscripts featuring MCs navigating college, and I’m just… not really interested in that?

The pitch is that the MC, Birdie, hooked up with a cute guy in his car, then totally freaked out and literally ran away from him. She’s doing her best to forget all this… but then said cute guy, Daniel, happens to work at her new job. Gotta be fate, right? But both Birdie and Daniel are going to have to work through a lot of things before they can get their happily ever after. Oh, and there’s a “mystery” in the book as well… I use quotes here because the mystery aspect really isn’t that big of a focus; we’re all just here for the developing romance between Birdie and Daniel. It’s cute, they’re cute, the setting’s cute, everything’s cute, cute, cute! Love it.

All this isn’t to say that the book is perfect. Daniel is a bit too much of a “nice guy” for my taste; he treats Birdie like gold at every opportunity, giving her all possible outs from their relationship. That didn’t come across as caring to me so much as unsexy; I was hoping he’d grow a spine. But Daniel did grow on me in time, especially as he plans one awesome date after the next. The one with a Clue focus? (Trying not to give anything away.) I was Googling if anything like that existed in my area. (Unfortunately looks like I’d have to travel to Boston, so… meh.) There was also some cringey, wooden dialogue—I could have done without the “skedaddling” scene. But these are just small quibbles; the setting, the characters, the “found family” aspect, the pitch-perfect new adult feel all added up to a thoroughly enjoyable read, so I will definitely be checking out Bennett’s other books.

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

Last year’s Truly Devious wasn’t just fantastic in its own right, but also introduced me to Maureen Johnson. I read two more of her books in short order, then was left to ache for the Truly Devious sequel. Well, Stevie, our lovable, smart, anxiety-suffering protagonist is back and better than ever for the 384 pages we’re allowed with her. The book is great, as can only be expected, but heed my warning: The Vanishing Stair is only a temporary cure for Truly Devious-itis, since Johnson leaves readers with another massive cliffhanger at the end.

First things first, massive thanks to Johnson for the way she seeded the introductory chapters of the book with character and plot details from its predecessor. Before I started reading, I searched online for a full book synopsis for Truly Devious to get up to speed, but came up with nothing, so I ended up just throwing my hands up and diving right in. If you are in the same boat, fear not; you won’t feel lost if you read the first book last year.

I do want to touch on one thing which I… honestly hesitate to bring up, but what the hell, here goes nothing. I read books to get away from the world. The best kinds of books are transportive—there’s a real kind of magic to words that guide you to conjure characters, places, and scenes in your mind. In my opinion, this is what distinguishes books from other forms of media like TV and movies, which feed you pictures and audio filtered through a director’s lens. With books, the author lays all the groundwork, but the reader is ultimately the director.

That’s why I hate when things drag me out of an engrossing story—things like clunky verbiage, out-of-character decision-making, and preposterous plot twists. The Vanishing Stair suffers from none of the aforementioned literary crimes, but there are definitely a few instances when Johnson includes some politically-tinged language that instantly rocketed me out of the book. (And please understand that I am NOT bringing this up in regards to the Edward King politician character, since he’s an integral part of the story.) For better or worse,  we live in a time where it feels like politics consume all, and it is exhausting and annoying to be reading and reach a sentence that randomly throws in something about “the patriarchy.” One of many reasons I love reading is that books get me away from all that.

She was second in command to Charles, which seemed unlikely, until you remembered that Charles was a guy. Even at Ellingham, the patriarchy reared its shaggy head.

This book is binge-worthy, but unnecessary political language like the above quote keep it from being a five-star read—NOT because of the author’s political beliefs, but simply because the book shouldn’t need to get political at all, as this is not Twitter, but rather a YA whodunnit. I don’t care whether the author is on the left or right side of the aisle—unless your book has a specific political thread (political thriller, MC is a political activist, etc.) understand that you are potentially alienating a potential audience, dating your book, and, worst of all, weakening the story. What need is there for politically-tinged details in a cozy mystery? None, as far as I’m concerned.

But the above complaint aside, this was a very enjoyable read, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys boarding school stories, the perfect amount of witty dialogue, and a twisting, well-constructed mystery.