Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins – Review

Published: January 4, 2022

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Series: Standalone

Genre: Thriller

Pages: 320 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Wife Upstairs comes a deliciously wicked gothic suspense, set on an isolated Pacific island with a dark history, for fans of Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware.

When Lux McAllister and her boyfriend, Nico, are hired to sail two women to a remote island in the South Pacific, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. Stuck in a dead-end job in Hawaii, and longing to travel the world after a family tragedy, Lux is eager to climb on board The Susannah and set out on an adventure. She’s also quick to bond with their passengers, college best friends Brittany and Amma. The two women say they want to travel off the beaten path. But like Lux, they may have other reasons to be seeking an escape.

Shimmering on the horizon after days at sea, Meroe Island is every bit the paradise the foursome expects, despite a mysterious history of shipwrecks, cannibalism, and even rumors of murder. But what they don’t expect is to discover another boat already anchored off Meroe’s sandy beaches. The owners of the Azure Sky, Jake and Eliza, are a true golden couple: gorgeous, laidback, and if their sleek catamaran and well-stocked bar are any indication, rich. Now a party of six, the new friends settle in to experience life on an exotic island, and the serenity of being completely off the grid. Lux hasn’t felt like she truly belonged anywhere in years, yet here on Meroe, with these fellow free spirits, she finally has a sense of peace.

But with the arrival of a skeevy stranger sailing alone in pursuit of a darker kind of good time, the balance of the group is disrupted. Soon, cracks begin to emerge: it seems that Brittany and Amma haven’t been completely honest with Lux about their pasts––and perhaps not even with each other. And though Jake and Eliza seem like the perfect pair, the rocky history of their relationship begins to resurface, and their reasons for sailing to Meroe might not be as innocent as they first appeared.

When it becomes clear that the group is even more cut off from civilization than they initially thought, it starts to feel like the island itself is closing in on them. And when one person goes missing, and another turns up dead, Lux begins to wonder if any of them are going to make it off the island alive.


It’s always fun to change things up a little and check out a thriller, particularly if it’s set in a lovely locale. Reckless Girls starts off in Hawaii where Lux is living with her boyfriend Nico until they save enough money to repair Nico’s boat and go sailing off into the sunset. When two travelling college girls approach Nico about chartering his boat to an uninhabited island called Meroe, he jumps at the opportunity. Lux isn’t quite as keen at first, being somewhat mistrustful by nature, but she too sees the opportunity this provides – these girls are paying for their boat to be repaired and then they can begin their travels.

I initially put this book down at about the 15% mark because I this was going to turn into a weird sex-fueled murder party in paradise. I wasn’t exactly wrong about that, but when I picked this back up I was in a better frame of mind to read a  potentially weird thriller story where strangers hang out on an uninhabited island. Yes, there were several points when I rolled my eyes but the mix of flashback scenes for the different characters and the little tidbits of info kept me intrigued. I ended up finishing this book super quickly once I picked it back up and I’m of the opinion that it would make a perfect beach read if you want to wait for summer, but it did provide a nice break from the dreary greyness of winter. 

I feel like this isn’t anything revolutionary in terms of thrillers, though I haven’t read a ton of them. I also ended up not being overly surprised by the ending because I had started to become suspicious of certain characters part way through the book and once a particular character appeared in a flashback scene I had pretty much figured out what was going on. Not surprising, but it was rather thrilling to see how things ultimately played out! A little bit of murder in paradise keeps things exciting!

Overall, a fun read with a lovely setting despite the dark themes. I liked the story even though I did have to return to it when I was more in the mood for this type of book. Oddly enough, it had an empowering amount of women supporting one another… until they didn’t. Also, kudos to the cover designer because that’s what made me click on this book in the first place! It’s so bright and fun that you can’t help but to notice it and it fits the tropical theme.

Powder & Page’s Best Books of 2021

I’ve enjoyed looking through everyone else’s Best Of lists and decided I’d do my own version this year! The books below are listed in the order I read them and are primarily books I’ve rated 5 stars throughout the year, with a small handful of my favorite 4.5 star reads thrown in to round out the number. If you’d like to check out my full reviews, they’re all linked below!

 

The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly
Political intrigue, witches and wizards, totally unputdownable!

The Councillor by E.J. Beaton
Epic amounts of political intrigue, murder mystery, amazing main and secondary characters

Odin’s Child by Siri Pettersen
Inspired by Norse mythology, translated from Norwegian, incredible world-building, subverted my expectations

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Inspired by the civilizations of Pre-Columbian Americas, brutal first chapter, really cool magic

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne
Viking inspired fantasy, bad-ass characters, surprisingly heartwarming found families trope

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
First contact with aliens, surprisingly heartwarming, humorous, must save humanity!

The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu
A girl who can speak to the dead, an occult library, vibrant characters, and disturbing Lovecraftian monsters

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman
Snarky, memorable main character, excellent audio narration, horrific goblins, and an uncanny blind cat

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
Satisfies those  dark academia cravings, awkward romance, epic heroism, and the threat of the graduation gauntlet full of terrifying monsters

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley
Epic scenery, scary beasties, bad-ass characters, builds super well on the previous books set in the same world

 

Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne
Edge of your seat thriller, awesome introduction to Jessica Blackwood, borders on the supernatural

The Forever King by Ben Galley
Seriously deep lore, ultra cool magic (the mages have magical books inked onto their skin!), classic epic fantasy themes, tons of cool magical races

The Bone Ship’s Wake by RJ Barker
Incredible series finale, emotional gut punch ending, and sea dragons

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
Fun spin on the Sleeping Beauty story, incredible friendship, and girls refusing to accept ‘fate’ without a fight

Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff
The moody, goth vampire tome I’ve been waiting my whole life for, solid world-building, such dramatic characters

The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick
Secret societies, vigilante heroes, TWO awesome magic systems, and the fashion is to die for. Also, PEABODY.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
Compelling mystery that feels lighthearted despite the murder, elderly folks solving murders, surprisingly humorous, excellent audiobook narration

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody
Extra dark riff on the magical tournament trope, grimdark for young adults, explores what people will do in order to survive, so much drama!

Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier
Incredible standalone low fantasy book, jaw-dropping plot twists, one of the best YA books I’ve ever read

Engines of Empire by R.S. Ford
January 2022 release, fantastic world building, semi-industrialized world, political intrigue. Full review coming soon!

Name of the Devil by Andrew Mayne – Review

Published: July 7, 2015

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

Series: Jessica Blackwood #2

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Pages: 432 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

Synopsis:
In this electrifying sequel to the crowd-pleasing thriller Angel Killer, magician-turned-FBI agent Jessica Blackwood must once again draw on her past to go up against a brutal murderer desperate for revenge at any price


After playing a pivotal role in the capture of the Warlock, a seemingly supernatural serial killer—and saving the FBI’s reputation in the process—agent Jessica Blackwood can no longer ignore the world she left behind. Formerly a prodigy in a family dynasty of illusionists, her talent and experience endow her with a unique understanding of the power and potential of deception, as well as a knack for knowing when things are not always as they appear to be.

When a church congregation vanishes under mysterious circumstances in rural Appalachia, the bizarre trail of carnage indicates the Devil’s hand at work. But Satan can’t be the suspect, so FBI consultant Dr. Ailes and Jessica’s boss on the Warlock case, Agent Knoll, turn to the ace up their sleeve: Jessica. She’s convinced that an old cassette tape holds the key to the mystery, and unraveling the recorded events reveals a troubling act with far-reaching implications. The evil at work is human, and Jessica must follow the trail from West Virginia to Mexico, Miami, and even the hallowed halls of the Vatican.

Can she stop a cold-blooded killer obsessed by a mortal sin—or will she become the next target in a twisted, diabolical game of hunter and prey…?


Like many a  book nerd, when presented with a completed series that’s completely addictive, I binge read. I picked up Name of the Devil right after finishing Angel Killer just to see what sort of horrible case Jessica Blackwood would be involved with next.

This time the case is in West Virginia, where some members of a church congregation go missing and their church explodes. This is yet another instance in which the mystery toes the line between mundane and supernatural, which I personally love. The town Sheriff is involved and perhaps not in the way you would expect – he bites a hunk out of some guy’s neck and runs off into the night like some kind of werewolf. Welcome to wild and wonderful West Virginia, folks! The whole situation is strange, even though the FBI would love to write it off as a church bombing and leave it at that. Jessica Blackwood, several months out from the Warlock case, can’t wait to get back into the field even if it’s just to assist a local field office. With her on the job, things quickly escalate, leading Jessica to Mexico and Miami to search out clues and eventually even the Vatican gets involved.

It’s truly a wild ride from start to finish and I was kept guessing at every turn! Name of the Devil is just as good as Angel Killer, though it feels quite different. The main bad guy (who remains a mystery for most of the book) doesn’t have the feel of a puppet master orchestrating everything that the Warlock did. This is a crime of revenge rather than done purely for attention. There are definitely strong religious overtones to the whole case, and before it becomes clear once again that the case is not supernatural, it’s easy to believe there might be something demonic at work.

I can’t recommend this series enough, and I say that having read all three books at this point (I’m so behind on reviews!). They’re pure fun, with high stakes and plenty of action to keep you entertained. I would actually love to see this series adapted for either a mini series or a few movies because it’s the perfect FBI drama for something like that! 

Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne – Review

Published: September 23, 2014

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

Series: Jessica Blackwood #1

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Pages: 368 (Paperback)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

Synopsis:
FBI agent Jessica Blackwood believes she’s left her complicated life as a gifted magician behind her . . . until a killer with seemingly supernatural powers puts her talents to the ultimate test.

A hacker who identifies himself only as “Warlock” brings down the FBI’s website and posts a code in its place that leads to a Michigan cemetery, where a dead girl is discovered rising from the ground . . . as if she tried to crawl out of her own grave.

Born into a dynasty of illusionists, Jessica Blackwood is destined to become its next star—until she turns her back on her troubled family to begin a new life in law enforcement. But FBI consultant Dr. Jeffrey Ailes’s discovery of an old magic magazine will turn Jessica’s world upside down. Faced with a crime that appears beyond explanation, Ailes has nothing to lose—and everything to gain—by taking a chance on an agent raised in a world devoted to achieving the seemingly impossible.

The body in the cemetery is only the first in the Warlock’s series of dark miracles. Thrust into the media spotlight, with time ticking away until the next crime, can Jessica confront her past to stop a depraved killer? If she can’t, she may become his next victim.


Soooo, its been probably a month and a half since I actually finished this up. That’s what happens when I prioritize review copy write ups over the books I pick up for funnies. Fortunately this is a memorable series opener and I haven’t forgotten too much! I’m back tracking a little with this series, since my first intro to Jessica Blackwood was in Mastermind, where she teams up with Theo Cray. I loved it and knew I had to go back and see where Jessica’s story began.

Jessica Blackwood is from a family of famous stage magicians, and having had her fill of the limelight, she went off to college, became a police officer, and then joined the FBI. It’s clear from the start that she takes her work very seriously and that a work-life balance is sort of non-existent. When she’s pulled into a special team headed up by Dr. Robert Ailes, a brilliant mathematician known for thinking outside the box, it becomes clear that Jessica is in for a unique challenge. There’s an individual known only as the Warlock who is performing what appear to be miracles, though clearly something sinister is afoot. The first “miracle” is a girl who died years past clawing her way from her grave, seemingly only just deceased. It really had me intrigued from the start, especially since each time I started to form a guess about how it was done, it would be wrong! There are three “miracles ” in total with each being more sensational than the last.

I have to say, this was really over the top and I loved every page of it! Jessica is easy to root for, and I like that she acknowledges when something is outside her realm of knowledge. Her background as a stage magician is uniquely suited to unraveling the mystery of the Warlocks miracles and showing what they really are – smoke and mirrors. The Warlock himself remains an unknown figure until the end of the book, but his influence continues throughout the series and beyond into Mastermind. 

I think it almost goes without saying at this point, but I’d highly recommend Angel Killer, particularly if you’ve enjoyed Andrew Mayne’s other series. This book is ultimately a satisfying set up for not only the next two books in this series, but also a crossover series starring Jessica Blackwood and Theo Cray. This is a fun, fast paced read where the mysteries lean perilously close to the supernatural while remaining firmly rooted in the natural. The science and techniques behind it are pretty far-out, but it’s extremely fun if you can suspend disbelief for the sake of some brilliant entertainment. 

Stacking the Shelves: 10/16/21

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly (or in my case monthly) meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews and it’s all about sharing the books you’ve added to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. You can include books you buy in a physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts, and of course ebooks!


Received for Review:

Orbit kindly provided me with finished copies of Blood of the Chosen by Django Wexler and The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess by Andy Marino. 

An Unintended Voyage by Marshall Ryan Maresca
I’m excited to see where voyages outside of Maradaine take Corrie Welling! I’m betting it’s going to be a thrilling story if the first few chapters are anything to go by! Thanks to DAW for the eARC.

The Rot by Siri Pettersen
I’ve already finished this up and will be posting a review soon! It’s an excellent story and it makes me want to get my hands on even more translated works. Thanks to Arctis for the eARC.

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart
Aren’t we all just reading this book for more Mephi? Thanks to Orbit for feeding my animal companion addiction!

Edgewood by Kristen Ciccarelli
Family curses, dark forests, and fae. A trio too good to resist. Many thanks to Wednesday Books for the eARC.

The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick
I really want to check this one out soon (AKA before the actual release date). I also really want that mask on the cover – SO gorgeous! Thanks to Orbit for the eARC.

A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari
This is a wayyyy early copy – it doesn’t come out until June 2022! A research assistant must clear her mentor’s name in the poisoning death of another professor’s wife. Thanks to Crooked Lane Books for the eARC.

Saint Death’s Daughter by C.S.E. Cooney
A royal assassin who is allergic to violence and accidentally brings the dead back to life?? Yes!!! Much thanks to Solaris for the eARC.

Absynthe by Brendan Bellecourt
A WWI veteran must hone his latent telepathic abilities to stop the President’s nefarious plans. GOOD LORD, WHAT A SUMMARY. Can’t wait to check out this unusual book from DAW!

My Purchases:

I hate stickers on book covers 😦

I always go wander around bookstores on vacation, even if it is just a Barnes & Noble and this time I could actually buy stuff because we didn’t fly!! I picked up the rad 10th anniversary edition of Leviathan Wakes, the special edition of Empire of the Vampire, and American Cider. Vespertine arrived in the mail just before I started working on this post – it was so good I had to buy a physical copy. 

I’ve had quite the audiobook binge lately! I finished up the Jessica Blackwood trilogy with Name of the Devil and Black Fall. Empire of the Vampire was a great book with excellent narration, as was The Man Who Died Twice. I just picked up Heavy Lies the Crown and I’m expecting good things from this one too!

Currently Reading: 8/23/21

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
Amazon keeps sticking this in my recommendations and I have to admit… that cover is really appealing. It’s cool, minimalist occult symbols and dark color scheme are fabulous. It’s also about a society of magical scholars who hold the keys to vast knowledge. What’s not to like??

Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne
Now that I’ve finished Mastermind, I decided it was the perfect time to go back and read the Jessica Blackwood series! 

Mastermind by Andrew Mayne – Review

Published: September 7, 2021

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Series: Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood #1

Genre: Thriller

Pages: 332 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

Dr. Theo Cray and FBI agent Jessica Blackwood confront a cataclysmic conspiracy in a pulse-quickening thriller by the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Naturalist.

A mysterious electrical storm plunges Manhattan into darkness. As a strange, smothering fog rolls in, all communication crashes. In the blink of an eye, the island seems to vanish into a void.

FBI special agent Jessica Blackwood and brilliant scientist Dr. Theo Cray know this isn’t a freak accident. It’s a sinister sleight of hand. Their greatest adversary, a serial killer and cultist known as the Warlock, has escaped during a prison transfer in New York. A depraved master of manipulation, he promised the end of days. He’s making good on it.

One by one, cities across the globe are erupting in chaos as they disappear into the same black holes. Even for two ingenious trackers like Jessica and Theo, there’s still so much to learn about the pattern to the Warlock’s madness. The voids are just a warm-up for something bigger. To discover it—to stop it—Jessica and Theo must descend into the darkest of shadows—and minds.


Oh boy, was I ever excited to see a new series co-starring Theo Cray! After the ending of the Naturalist series, I suspected there were great and exciting things in store for Cray, but one never really knows. This new series also stars Jessica Blackwood, a character from another of Andrew Mayne’s thrilling books series that I haven’t yet picked up. That will be changing soon because she was an awesome counterpart to Theo Cray!

Mastermind begins with a bang – what appears to have been a terrorist attack has isolated a section of New York City – and then segues into a quick intro to Jessica Blackwood, agent extraordinaire. As I mentioned, I haven’t read the Jessica Blackwood trilogy yet, but that didn’t stop me from diving headlong into this story. The quick intro we get, plus the fairly seamless summary of what she’s been involved with helped me get up to speed. The short of it is as follows: an unknown terrorist organization used some sort of organic EMP to knock out a large section of NYC’s power and communications and the resulting black smoke thoroughly obfuscated the city and anyone inside the area that might have been involved in the attack. The joint government agencies slapped together a list of possible culprits, and none other than one Theo Cray was on it.

Cut to Theo, up to his eyeballs in shit, in the custody of some folks he’s been routinely killing off like a vigilante Rambo. Jessica Blackwood shows up in the nick of time to smuggle him out of the country (and out of the custody of a suspicious new US government agency). They bounce through multiple countries, creepy secret labs, and even more exciting places before the story concludes.

I’ve got to say, this might be the most exciting story I’ve read from Andre Mayne yet. I totally loved the dynamic between Cray and Blackwood and this story picked up right from the get go and the action was intense! While this does seem to heavily relate to the Jessica Blackwood series plot, I didn’t feel like I had missed too much by having not read it yet. It’s a really fun mash up of secret agent meets mad scientist and there is definitely some suspension of disbelief required, but it’s SO AWESOME.  

I can’t wait for the next book in the series, but in the meantime, I have plenty of Mayne’s other books to check out.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley – Review

Published: June 2, 2020

Publisher: William Morrow

Series: Standalone

Genre: Mystery

Pages: 330 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0 

Synopsis:

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

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?


Could a more flawed cast of character have been assembled? Barely. Just because a book has terribly flawed and largely unlikable characters doesn’t make it a bad book. In fact, I really liked The Guest List because so many characters could have been the murderer (or the person murdered). I kept changing who I thought died and who I thought could have committed the crime, which was actually really fun.

On a remote island off the Irish coast, the lovely, ambitious publisher Julia Keegan is about to marry the darkly handsome tv-star Will Slater. They’ve gathered those nearest and dearest to them to help them celebrate the big day – Will’s group of private school friends, Julia’s best (male) friend, and their dysfunctional families. As the story progresses the reader begins to see the rifts between the characters. Will’s private school friends are a bunch of drunk rich boys and his best mate Johnno is only his best mate because they share a dark secret. Julia’s best guy friend may not have always been just a friend and his wife doesn’t know. Julia’s sister has something going on – they think she’s just crazy and struggling over a recent breakup but there’s way more to it than that. Not everyone is quite what they seem at first glance.

The story begins a day or two prior to the wedding and the bridal party is arriving. They do all the usual things to prepare for a wedding – make sure suits and dresses are ready, have a rehearsal dinner, catch up, play a few innocent pranks, and have creepy cult-like drinking games with latin chanting. Just chillin’ with the boys, no big deal. By the end of the book I only felt sympathy for the ladies, all of them having had to deal with a tremendous bunch of jerks (understatement). The story does flip between the time leading up to the wedding and the point during the wedding festivities when the unnamed body is discovered. The two timelines converge at the end, leaving you with all the answers and then some. 

I totally enjoyed this and was fairly satisfied with how things ended. There was a semblance of justice, though I would have been pretty thrilled if someone else (or several someones) had been the murderer. I’d like to check out some of Lucy Foley’s other mysteries sometime – if you’ve read any others, let me know which one I should check out!