Review - 'The Night Shift' by Alex Finlay

Sometimes I feel a bit jaded with thrillers. They're a dime a dozen and most hardly even cause me to blink, let alone thrill me. But then something like The Night Shift comes along and I remember again how much fun this genre can be.

It's New Year's Eve 1999, and the teenagers who work at a Blockbuster in Linden, New Jersey, are excited to close up and welcome in Y2K. But before the night is over, all but one are dead, and the remaining survivor has never forgotten the horror of what happened. Fifteen years later, an eerily similar attack happens in an ice cream shop in town, again with only one survivor. Will the investigation this time finally lead to the truth of what happened all those years ago?

This story drew me in immediately. The taut pacing and short chapters works wonderfully to keep me turning the pages. The narrative is compact, without extra fillers or psychological ruminations that slow down a lot of other thrillers. It feels like every chapter in here was necessary, and it creates this satisfying experience where I'm always making progress with every chapter I read.

The narrative switches between a few different points of view, and each feels equally compelling. For such an action-driven story, I thought Finlay created some interesting and likable characters. They really pop off the pages and keep me invested in the story. In particular, Agent Sarah Keller from Alex Finlay's previous book makes another appearance, and she's such a badass that I can't help but love her.

Regarding the reveals, there are some fun ones in here. Did they totally surprise me though? Eh, not really. I've read enough of this genre that very few books manage to completely catch me off guard. But there was enough of the unforeseen to keep me entertained. And honestly, this was worth the read even without being completely surprised.

As a self-proclaimed thriller-cynic, I'm as amazed as you that I'm now two for two with Alex Finlay. He is definitely on my must-read list, and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Readaroo Rating: 4 stars

Review - 'Under One Roof' by Ali Hazelwood

There's something about Ali Hazelwood's writing that just makes me so happy. All I want to do is smile and laugh, and then my cheeks are sore by the time I'm a few chapters in. Good thing this was a novella.

While Under One Roof doesn't exactly break the mold in terms of the story itself, I still had so much fun with it. It's because it has all the hallmarks I've come to associate with Hazelwood: slightly outrageous premise, two main characters who are loveable if a bit clueless, and endless snarky banter that has me in stitches.

With regards to the banter, Hazelwood really is my queen. Just like there are certain people you meet and instantly click with, that's exactly how I feel about her banter. It's witty, funny, slightly zany, and utterly delightful. It's exactly to my style and I just want to soak it all up.

I love Hazelwood's focus on STEM females, and Mara was a feisty one. She's an environmental engineer, which makes it all the more funny when she finds out that her hottie roommate is a big-shot corporate lawyer for an oil company. You can see how they would butt heads, to rather hilarious results.

I don't read a lot of novellas because I'm always afraid the shorter page length will leave me wanting more. And that's definitely the case here. Even though I enjoyed the story, there's something a little unsatisfying about how short it is. What can I say? I want more of Mara and Liam! But I guess it's a good thing when a story leaves you wanting more.

Now excuse me while I go wipe that silly smile off my face and do some cheek-relaxing exercises.

Readaroo Rating: 4 stars

Review - 'The Inheritance Games' by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Traps upon traps . . . and riddles upon riddles.
Yes! Except, no. The thing is, if you're going to promise me puzzles and riddles, you'd better deliver. And The Inheritance Games fell way short.

Avery is your standard teenager trying to get through high school when she receives news that billionaire Tobias Hawthorne has died and left her almost his entire fortune. The only stipulation is that she must move into his mansion and live there for one year. When she arrives, she meets the enigmatic family, including his four handsome grandsons. But it's all rather awkward since the old devil disinherited them all. Soon though, she realizes that he's got one more trick up his sleeve and it's up to her to figure it out.

At first, this story reminded me of Knives Out, probably my favorite whodunnit film of all time. They both have the wealthy old man kicking the bucket and leaving his fortune to an outsider, along with a mystery/puzzle to solve. But that's where the similarities between the two end, and unfortunately, so did my enjoyment.

At the very least, I expected the majority of this book to be about the puzzle that Avery is supposed to solve. But that was such a small part, and it was unnecessarily convoluted. Reading about her searching through every book and desk and tree on the property doesn't really quicken my pulse with excitement. And the end result is so lame, I forgot it almost as soon as I read it.

Instead, the majority of this book is spent on very immature interpersonal drama between Avery and the ten other teenagers in here (the four brothers, her sister and her sister's ex, her only friend, and three other girls). If that sounds like a lot of people, I assure you, it was.

None of the characters have real personalities, so I had a hard time keeping straight who was who. Especially among the four brothers, it felt like they were all approximately the same person, just slightly apart in age. They all spoke in the same ostentatious way and all seemed to have varying degrees of crushes on Avery.

In fact, the romances in here really confused me. It seems like every teenager was in some sort of romantic entanglement/flirtation with every other teenager. There were so many implied love triangles and quadrangles, I really just didn't get it. Why is all this in here, other than to fluff out the pages?

The other thing that really got on my nerves is the dialogue. It's somehow both bland and pretentious. It's basic as can be, but presented as if it's some sort of witty repartee worth savoring. Then to further rub salt in the wound, random dull sentences are treated like epiphanies, italicized and repeated over and over, just so the reader wouldn't miss it when they come across it for the tenth time.

Unfortunately, this was a case of overpromising and underdelivering. The best part of the book was the premise and initial pages. As I read on, the mind-numbing dialogue and YA melodrama/romance between all the characters really grated on me. Add to that the underwhelming conclusion, and I'm sorry to say that this is really not for me. Maybe if I were still a teenager, I would enjoy this more. But that's too many decades in the past for me to remember now.

As an aside, if you've never seen Knives Out, I totally recommend it. It's absolutely fabulous and actually lives up to the premise. Imagine that.

Readaroo Rating: 2 stars

Review - 'The Younger Wife' by Sally Hepworth

Ah, this is another dysfunctional family drama marketed as a mystery/thriller. I feel like I'm getting better at sussing them out now.

Stephen is about to marry his much younger fiancรฉe, Heather. But his adult daughters Tully and Rachel aren't too thrilled with the prospect of a stepmother their own age. Not to mention Stephen's ex-wife is still in the picture, Tully and Rachel are tangled up in their own issues at the moment, and Heather isn't sure she can trust herself. And on top of all that, everyone's keeping secrets from each other.

For some reason, I just can't get enough of dysfunctional family dramas, and this was a fun and intriguing one. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and thought Hepworth crafted some fascinating ones. Their personalities and secrets are unique and compelling, drawing me in from pretty much the first page. Along with the short chapters and the teasers about what really happened at the wedding, and I was turning the pages as fast as I could.

Maybe I just love reading about dysfunctional families because it feels like something we can all relate to. No matter how messed up our own families are, reading about a fictional one has a way of making me feel better about my own. And this family is guaranteed to deliver the craziness.

As for the reveals, they're interesting enough, but to call them twists ร  la mystery/thriller is probably exaggerating a bit. They work to move the story along and keep me engaged, which is exactly what I'm looking for.

I do have to mention the ending because everyone's talking about it. As I understand it—and I'm mostly piecing this together, so please don't quote me—the original ARC had a slightly different ending that left a lot of discombobulation in its wake. I didn't read that version; I read the finished one. And I didn't find any such issues in my copy. In fact, I enjoyed the ending and thought it was a fitting one for the story.

If there indeed was a change made between the ARC release and the final version, it might be one of the only times I know of where early reader feedback actually made an impact. So thanks to all the early readers out there who helped make this a more enjoyable story in the end.

Readaroo Rating: 4 stars

My heartfelt thanks for the copy that was provided for my honest and unbiased review.

Review - 'Ugly Love' by Colleen Hoover

If you're a fan of this book, please don't read this review. It's going to upset you, and then you're going to hate me and leave mean comments, and then we can't be friends anymore. It'll be awkward all around. So yeah, best avoid.

Seriously, last chance to turn away.

Okay, now that I'm among like-minded readers (all three of us who didn't like this book), what the heck was this? Was Colleen Hoover blackmailed into putting her name on a book written by a hormonal teenager? Because I can't comprehend any other explanation for the hot mess that was this book.

Gosh, where to even start? How about with Tate and Miles, our main couple. So they meet and it's lust at first sight. But Miles can't do relationships because some unexplained thing has hurt him in the past. So now he can only have no-strings-attached sex. (Cue eye roll.) Of course, Tate can't say no to such an amazing offer, so she jumps right in. (Another eye roll.)

Sure, the premise is a bit wack, but not all hope is lost. The characters must at least be likable, right? Well, no. Miles doesn't talk or smile, which is mentioned at least once on every single page. In fact, he smiles so rarely that Tate composed a poem on the one occasion he did:
Miles smiles
For no one else
Miles only smiles
For me.
If you're wondering how anyone could possibly fall for a nonverbal, expressionless man-child, your guess is as good as mine.

Then we come to Tate, the world's biggest pushover, letting Miles walk all over her and treat her like a sex doormat. Yet she keeps going back for more, reeking of desperation and utterly devoid of self-respect. Lest you think this makes for an exciting story, I assure you there's a reason why silent/clingy has not taken off as a popular romance trope.
I want to plaster those four words on a billboard and require myself to pass it on my drive to work every day.
You'd think he promised her the moon and the stars, but no, he just said, "You look pretty, Tate." I kid you not.

We also have interweaved the story from Miles's younger years, the one that explains his pain. He and Rachel are young and in love, but things keep getting in their way. It definitely makes for very angsty (shudder) drama. But that isn't my biggest issue. My biggest problem is that it's written like this:
Rachel is happy.
I make Rachel happy.
I make Rachel's life better.
Her life is better with me in it.
"Rachel," I whisper.
Is this a joke? And here's another example:
We go to the beach.
Rachel wants to sunbathe while she reads.
I want to watch Rachel sunbathe while she reads.
In case you think I cherrypicked the most ludicrous examples, those are actually from the same page. In fact, every page written about Miles and Rachel reads like this. And it has the most ridiculous formatting, with line breaks galore, everything center-aligned, and random italics thrown in for emphasis.

Why is the writing so juvenile when Miles is supposedly 18 years old? Why is every scene between the two couples so cringeworthy? And why isn't this book called "Idiot Love" instead? I don't have any answers, just questions.

As I was reading this, I kept feeling like I was on some hidden camera show, and any moment, someone would jump out of the bushes and yell, "Gotcha!" Then they would hand me the real book written by Colleen Hoover, and we'd all have a good laugh over how thoroughly they got me. But sadly, that didn't happen.

I have a love/hate relationship with Colleen Hoover, and this one unfortunately falls squarely in the hate category. Since I've read most of her recent books, I thought I'd catch up on some of her older ones. But that was clearly the wrong decision. Maybe she's one of those authors who gets better and better as they go, and this is just too far back from her current style to resemble even a little of what I love about her writing.

And one last closing thought: if you're a young woman (or young man) reading this, and you think this is the way love is supposed to be, just no. You can have spark and sizzle and lust, and still be treated with kindness and respect. Don't ever let someone walk all over you and don't ever settle for less than you deserve. Tate should've kicked Miles to the curb a long time ago. If she had, this would've been a story worth reading.

Readaroo Rating: 1 star

Review - 'House of Hollow' by Krystal Sutherland

"You shouldn't be afraid of the truth. It'll set you free, right?"
Calling all fans of dark fairy tales. Have I got a book for you!

When Iris Hollow was seven years old, she and her sisters disappeared for a month, only to reappear with no memories of where they've been or what had happened to them. Now 10 years later, Iris just wants to leave it all behind and move on with her life. But when her oldest sister disappears again, it's as if history is repeating itself. And to save her, Iris must revisit her childhood and figure out what really happened all those years ago.

Right from the get-go, this story drew me in. I feel like so many books advertise as atmospheric, yet hardly any of them actually deliver. But this book elicited all the reactions. The hairs on my arms stood up. My spine was tingling like crazy. And I kept breaking out in goosebumps. I haven't had this much fun with a creepy read in a long time.

I should clarify—when I'm looking for a creepy read, I'm not aiming to have the bejeezus scared out of me. Nor am I hoping to be so freaked out that I won't sleep for a week and have to check every dark corner for fear of monsters. Rather, I want that perfect balance where a story is actually chilling, but it's also so much fun that I just want more. And this book hits it right on the nose.

I've been a bit biased lately against books labeled as magical realism. I think it's because I keep getting burned by the genre. The last few books I've read have been so flat and dull, almost as if the authors themselves don't even buy into the magical world they've created. But this book fully embraces the magic, and it totally works. I felt transported and I couldn't look away.

I loved the way the story unfolded, with lots of little clues and happenings, all building up to a spectacular set of twists and turns. I definitely did not see them coming, and it was great fun to partake in the journey and be thoroughly surprised.

I somehow missed this book when it first came out, but I'm so glad I found it now. I'm not sure what I expected going in, but it sure wasn't this. With its lush darkness and evocative imagery that was both beautiful and grotesque, this story feels like a fairy tale that's all grown up. 

Readaroo Rating: 4 stars

Review - 'The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo' by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This right here. This is why I read. For the joy and privilege of coming across an exquisite story like this and being swept up in its magic.

Could The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo really be fiction, dreamt up entirely in Taylor Jenkins Reid's mind? Every moment felt so real, so tangible. When I reached the end, it was hard to let go, hard to return to a world where this was nothing more than a figment of the imagination.

Evelyn Hugo, revered Hollywood actress and icon, is finally ready to tell the story of her life. But she wants to make sure that whatever comes out is authentic to who she is. So she contacts Monique Grant, a mostly unknown writer, to be her scribe. Everyone is surprised by the choice, no one more so than Monique herself. But to be given the chance to write Evelyn's memoir and to understand the person behind the legend is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that Monique can't pass up.

When I first started this, I thought I was in for a fluffy, gossipy romance set in the golden Hollywood era. After all, why would anyone need so many husbands unless one was in it for a good time? But this turned out to be so much more. At its heart, it's a stunning and brutally honest portrayal of love in all its different forms. It shows not just the joy of love, but also its sacrifices and heartbreaks.

I was blown away by how complex of a character Evelyn Hugo is. She is the heart and soul of this story, and her character shines so bright, it's hard to look away. She feels real, coming off the pages wholly formed. She's not perfect. In fact, her flaws and numerous questionable actions make her human, and it's easy to relate to her and cheer for her.

The book is written in alternative viewpoints, a little bit from Monique's perspective as she interviews Evelyn and a lot from Evelyn's perspective as she shares the story of her life. When a book has two different viewpoints, there's always a fear that one is more interesting than the other. But not here. I can honestly say that every moment of this book was equally riveting.

I adored Reid's writing style. It's filled with so much charm that it just oozes off the pages. The story obviously tackles serious issues, but the writing never takes itself too seriously. It's witty and funny, drawing me in and making me feel every emotion. It manages to convey so much nuance without ever slowing down the pacing or seeming long-winded. I'm in awe.

You guys know I'm a romantic through and through. And this story is all about finding and holding on to that great love of your life, no matter what it takes. I mean, how could I not be drawn to that? I'm also a realist and I know that love takes so much sacrifice. So this story spoke to my heart and my mind.

I never really had a chance. This book had me good and hooked, right from the first page. It's the sort of story I know I'll come back to again and again, savoring it anew every time.

Readaroo Rating: 5 stars!

This was a pick for my Book of the Month box. Get your first book for $5 here.

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