New Adult Romance, Paranormal, Romance, YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1): by Kerri Maniscalco

Publish Date: October 27th, 2020
Number of Pages: 372 Pages
Publisher: JIMMY Patterson
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, New Adult Romance, YA Romance, Paranormal Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Pages

There are victors and victims. Decide who you want to be. Or the choice will be made for you, witch. And I doubt you’ll like it.

I threw my head back and groaned. ‘It’s a game of scopa, not a battle between life and death. Are you always this dramatic?'”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

Kingdom of the Wicked was a slow burn of a book for me; the beginning started off like any other YA Fantasy title, but once you get further into the story and discover more and more myth and lore in the world that the author of the Stalking Jack The Ripper series has created, I can really say that the book takes off with a jolt in some witchy delight!

This is actually my first novel by Kerri Maniscalco, and after reading it I can say I’m definitely more and more interested in reading her other series I mentioned above because there are still some familiar themes of murder, mystery, romance, and historical settings to make the reader engaged and wanting to stay up late to see what happens next. What I’m noticing with this newer series, however, is that the author seems to have more room for fun and creativity to take her story even further!

The romance was a huge draw for me, and for the most part, it certainly didn’t disappoint! I easily got into the chemistry that oozed between the two main characters, Emilia and Wrath, and loved their whole dynamic; I never get tired of an enemies-to-lovers dynamic. While both characters weren’t anything brand new or entirely unique to the genre, I can say they’re still fun to read as they argue and (attempt) to ignore their growing attractions for each other as they work together to solve a murder mystery.

It wasn’t a perfect read; The the overall pacing with the chapters and how they’re set up was a little strange for my liking, and some of the ending needs to be clarified for me—or I need to go back and reread it for myself and make sure I pay more attention!

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Two sisters…

One brutal murder…

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance…

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe—witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin… desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked Princes of Hell that she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…

‘One day you might beg me to kiss you.’ He stepped close enough for me to stab him.”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

What I Liked:

  1. The Many Food Descriptions! Several other reviewers pointed this one out, but there are some seriously delicious italian dishes that get mentioned in this book since the main character’s family owns and operates a restaurant. Cannoli’s are amazing, and I had some major cravings for some once I arrived to that part within the story…yum!
  2. The Romance Between Wrath and Emilia! This book is a great addition to the enemies-to-lovers romance trope as Wrath and Emilia have some immediate sexual tension that builds and builds between them as they reluctantly work together to solve the murder of her twin sister. They irritate each other and start verbal lashings from each other, but underneath it all is an obvious attraction that neither can ignore the closer they become. Their dynamic also grew rather realistically as they slowly begin to trust each other—at least until certain things happen—and rely on each other’s strength into a begrudging respect for one another.
  3. The Worldbuilding! I actually liked the class systems of demons the author presented us, there are also the seven demon princes of hell representing the seven deadly sins, the witches living amongst the normal folks and the witch hunters who are secretly members of the church, even werewolves; it’s all mixed together to create an interesting world that may or make this series an incredibly memorable one!
  4. The “Whodunnit” Murder Mystery! I always love a good mystery where the main character is on the hunt for a killer who leaves a bloody trail of bodies behind.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Beginning Felt Very Generic…This book was pretty boring at first and felt like any general YA Fantasy title out there, but once Emilia and Wrath run into each other and meet for the first time, that was when things really begin to take off!
  2. Not Enough Steam…I know this is a YA Fantasy book so the sexual content (a.k.a. smut) is supposed to be very limited, but really do feel like this story would be even better if there were more steamy scenes. I mean like let’s see truly how “wicked” Prince Wrath can be *wink*wink.* Maybe there’ll be more scenes like this in later books, but again, I know it can only go so far within the YA reading level.
  3. The Ending…Okay, so this one may be on me because I maybe wasn’t fully paying close enough attention and missed something, but part of the ending kind of went over my head. For most of the book, it felt like a pretty light read that didn’t require my entire attention, but then all of a sudden SO MUCH was happening at the end and I blinked and missed some vital information I think…if someone sees this review and wants to message me to fully explain it all to me, you’d officially be my favorite person!!
  4. The Short Chapters…Some chapters were only like a page and a half long, and I was wondering to myself why a single conversation was sometimes three whole chapters when it could’ve been just one? It was weird pacing to me and kind of annoying at times…

Conclusion:

This is my first Kerri Maniscalco novel, and this book really does make me interested in reading her Stalking Jack The Ripper series that put her name on the map!

Like the romance between the two main characters in this book, the story was a slow burn that definitely left me interested to keep reading on once the next book arrives later on! It wasn’t the next binge-worthy series for me to become obsessed with, but this book shows that the series has a whole lot of potential to become a huge fan favorite among the many other incredibly popular YA Fantasy series most of us readers know and love!

A reckoning awoke in me. The more I gave, the more he returned. We traded kisses like blows. And if this were a fight, I wouldn’t know who was winning. I understood why some thought kissing one of the Wicked was addictive. Each time his tongue touched mine, it felt as if the ground beneath me quaked. Like we were a cataclysmic event that shouldn’t be.”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

I recommend this book to those that really enjoyed other titles like Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin or the Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black; the dynamic between Wrath and Emilia for sure gave me some impressions of Jude and Cardan with the whole enemies-to-lovers, then back to enemies dynamic!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller

My Review: The Woman in the Window: by A.J. Finn

Publish Date: January 2nd, 2018
Number of Pages: 429 Pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre(s): Mystery, Suspense/Thriller

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

I can always appreciate a work of literature that pays homage to something I actually care about, which in this case is classical crime films like the popular titles by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. The book moves in a similar pace, and creates a nice parallel to whatever movie the main character is watching compared to what they’re experiencing in real life. It also pays homage to the more recent popular thriller trope of a woman in something (a window, a train, cabin 10, being gone, etc) and the question of whether or not she’s actually sane. They’re the narrator and they’re unreliable and part of the thrill is their murky memory of past events or what’s happening right then in the story, and alcohol is usually involved too.

The book itself is nothing too groundbreaking or revolutionary, but is still an entertaining read nonetheless. It’s pretty impressive for a debut novel from the author; if it’s their first published book, it’s only going to be uphill for them! For me, it was a little slow towards the middle and felt like it really dragged, maybe because it brought too much of the main characters outside problems into play and I just couldn’t connect with it all that much, but I can appreciate the subtle buildup the author produced by the hazy memories and the play with sanity with our MC as they continue to drink and watch some film noir in their apartment, absolutely terrified to go outside due to their extreme case of agoraphobia.

It’s also impressive to note that this book is already being turned into a movie that will star Amy Adams, who seems to be the go-to for these woman-centered thrillers. She was in Sharp Objects, an HBO mini-series based on the suspense/thriller novel by Gillian Flynn, so I guess it makes sense for her to be in the flick for this title as well. She’s a great actress and I know she’ll do an amazing job.

What It’s About:

The story is about a woman named Anna Foxx. She lives by herself in a New York townhouse, and suffers from an extreme case of agoraphobia, which is the the fear of places or situations that cause stress, fear, embarrassment and/or helplessness. She’s going through her normal routine of being a reclusive psychologist, while also spying on her neighbors through the lens of her Nikon when a family moves in across the parkway. Soon she meets the mother and son on separate occasions and they seem like any friendly, normal family.

Anna likes them immediately, and continues her spying of the neighbors like she normally does.

Until something happens.

Something happens that Anna wasn’t supposed to see…

Suddenly, Anna’s world begins to unravel and she loses stability of what’s real and what’s all in her head, all the while tryin to figure out exactly what happened in that house across the street. 

What I Liked:

  1. The Twisty Climax! Like any good mystery should have, there is a surprise twist that widens your eyes, and when the big reveal occurs, it reveals all the little clues that you missed, but also makes you appreciate the author’s cleverness of conspicuously sliding them in under your nose. After reading it, I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t see it coming.
  2. Mental Illness Used To Create Conflict! One aspect of a good mystery is a believable way to isolate either the main character, or the whole cast so they can’t just walk away, and I liked that the author chose to go the agoraphobic way. It made it feel more currently relevant because there is a bigger understanding for mental health issues in society today. It was well done to add to the story because Anna is basically trapped within her own home; she has nowhere to go because she is absolutely terrified to even step foot outside, which gives such a great inner conflict. 

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Was Just So Lackluster…The story was just a really slow burn for me, to be honest. Yes, the set up is interesting enough, but the book really died down through the midpoint up until the climax. I think it also drags when a big realization happens at about the 75% mark into the book, the reveal behind the cause of her mental state, and you find yourself wondering if Anna is as reliable of a narrator as you thought. She does drink a large amount of wine while being heavily medicated, watches a lot of classic Hitchcock-era movies while drunk on said wine…what if she really is actually crazy? 

Conclusion:

It wasn’t a bad read at all; I enjoyed it enough I guess, but it just wasn’t anything especially brilliant, spectacular or breathtaking. It is a pretty decent debut for the author, and it did raise some questions to make the reader think: what goes on behind closed doors? Are people really who they say they are? Do we really see what happens around us? What’s real and what is just a figment of our mind playing tricks on us? It also offers commentary on families and the lengths they will go to perpetuate that picture-perfect image, when in reality things couldn’t be any more screwed up beneath the surface.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Horror, Mystery/Thriller, Writing/Articles

October Reads and Reviews: Prepare to be Scared!

It is now October, the month of many different things: the leaves turning into majestic shades of reds, oranges and yellows, the air becomes crisp and cool, Hot Apple Cider and Pumpkin Spice, Sweater Weather, and the sky becomes darker earlier which may or may not bring me to my next example: Halloween.

People love to be creeped out this time of the year and go all out for the candy-crazed holiday: there’s costumes to be made or bought, trick or treating, maybe a halloween themed party, and enjoy a horror movie marathon or two. I personally will do doing pretty much all that, plus reading some creepy, thrilling stories that might make me need a flashlight when I go to bed. In honor of October and Halloween, the only reviews will be about books that have things that go bump in the night! I plan on reading some new titles as well, which will be some amazing fun!

I will admit, I’ve never read “Pet Semetary” by Stephen King or “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, but wanted to save both of these horror classics for the festivities. Below will be the titles to look for during the next couple of weeks that I’ll post reviews about:

Ninth House (Alex Stern #1): by Leigh Bardugo

A young woman is given a miraculous chance of attending an Ivy league school to investigate it’s secret societies, but is in for a shock at the sinister plans she may discover…

Project 17: by Laurie Faria Stolarz

A group of kids break into an old, abandoned insane asylum in order to record a short video for a film contest, but things take a turn for the worse when they realize they’re not alone…

The Woman in the Window: by A.J. Finn

A woman with a passion for classic film noir, and suffers from agoraphobia, suddenly feels like she’s in her own Hitchcock movie when she see’s a neighbor murdered within their house, but no one believes her…Was it a lie? Was it all fake, or is that just what a killer wants her to think?

Two Can Keep A Secret: by Karen McManus

Sometimes we have secrets that we’d rather keep buried. In a luxurious small town with a mysterious history of disappearances and secrets, a young girl and her friends must find a missing person and stop a murderous tradition that her family is oh so familiar with…

Vicious (Villains #1): by V.E. Schwab

Former college roommates and best friends Eli and Victor made a terrible discovery during their senior thesis science experiment. Years later, Victor breaks out of prison in order to exact his revenge; who will still be alive when the dust has cleared?…

Dracula: by Bram Stoker (with Ben Templesmith’s Illustrations)

An OG horror story for the ages; a man is sent to a looming castle in Transylvania and comes face to face with the Count himself, and must save his wife before the King of vampires can carry out his sinister plans…

Pet Semetary: by Stephen King

A man moves to a rural home in Maine with his family and pet cat, but with an indian burial ground near the cemetery filled with people’s pets of the past, some things don’t like to stay buried…

There you go, it sounds like some pretty fun titles are coming your way! Which ones sound better to you? Are there other titles you’d recommend? What are your favorite horror or thriller books to read? Let me know, I love to hear other people’s recommendations!

While I have you here, be sure to check out some book reviews I already have posted below! Why not look into some more creepy, twisted tales?

Click HERE to see my book review for Stephen King’s “IT”

Click HERE for my book review of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”

Click HERE for my book review of Riley Sager’s “The Last Time I Lied.”

Click HERE for my book review of Taylor Adams’ “No Exit.”

Click HERE for my book review of Claire Legrand’s “Sawkill Girls.”

Click HERE for my book review of Shari Lapena’s “An Unwanted Guest.”

Click HERE for my book review of Colleen Hoover’s “Verity.”

Thanks for Reading!

–Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller

My Review: An Unwanted Guest: by Shari Lapena

Publish Date: July 26th 2018
Number of Pages: 290 Pages
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Genre(s): Mystery

Total Star Rating: 2.75 Stars

While it’s nothing exactly new to the Mystery/Thriller genre, this book is still an entertaining addition that I think a lot of readers can enjoy. I’d say it’s become a bit of a mystery trope for a small cast of strangers to come together, and for someone to begin to murder them one by one (The Agatha Christie trope perhaps?). Figuring out the secrets of all the characters, along with their motives if they were to be exposed as the killer is something that I consider so much fun about mysteries; it’s amazing to see how it still works even all these years later, even when Agatha Christie’s work was first published in 1920. You guys…that’s almost a an entire century as I type this, so I find that absolutely amazing!

What It’s About:

The story takes place entirely at a small, beautiful, remote hotel in the middle of the woods in upstate New York. Cell Service is limited, and there’s no wifi, its the perfect place for people to go to literally escape the hustle and bustle of their lives, relax, and truly enjoy themselves. It’s the middle of an incredibly cold and dreary winter, and a deadly blizzard just over the horizon as 11 guests all converge there for the weekend, not knowing the horror they are about to experience…

The blizzard hits and the power goes out with absolutely no way to contact anyone for help, so all the guests bunker in and expect to patiently wait it out. People had all arrived for different reasons: to escape, to have their own writing retreat, a romantic couples weekend; everyone just wanted to enjoy the soothing, rustic experience that the hotel usually offers.

When the first body shows up at the foot of the grand staircase, everyone assumes its an accident, well, almost everyone. When the second body appears later that afternoon, panic begins to set in, but then a third body shows up and all hell breaks loose. Someone there is slowly killing the guests trapped in the hotel one-by-one, and it’s either someone who’s snuck in, or it’s possibly one of them, but who? They’ll need to band together and find out before the storm wears off and they’re all dead by the end of the weekend…

What I Liked:

  1. Homage to the Queen of Mystery! This book is a classic “whodunnit” style murder mystery, and felt very much like an Agatha Christie novel. The Original Queen of Mystery always wrote her mysteries in a similar fashion; bring a cast of characters together, have them become isolated from the outside world somehow, let them all have dirty secrets that they don’t want exposed, and let one of them be a murderer, and keep the mystery short.
  2. The Buildup! The suspense steadily and purposefully rose in excellent fashion as the story developed. I love a good “whodunnit” style mystery, and it’s always so much fun to try and figure out who the killer is, and try to decipher any clues you might think pop up that the author reveals. I’d say the story is also character driven, and the paranoia and unrest that escalates the suspense was done so well, your curiosity will get the best of you!
  3. The Little Surprise Included in the Ending! Not to give much away, but it’s something that the author had hinted at several times in the book, and I found the whole thing amusing, as amusing as a fictional murder twist can get.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Lack of Details…For me, this is specifically for the characters. There’s such little descriptions of them and what they look like, I found myself frustrated with trying to remember all of them and what they may appear as with so little given for me to work with. I’m a face person, not a name person!
  2. Disappointed in the Climax…The buildup was actually impressively done, but then you get to the climax, the killer is revealed…and I found myself put out by it. I was a little disappointed, plus the reveal was something no one could have figured out because the author didn’t give any of the information to help you figure it out until afterwards. I get that some mystery authors do that on purpose, Agatha did it too, but this one just really fell flat for me. I wished the author maybe thought of something a little more clever about how to tie it all together.

Conclusion:

A fun, thrilling, quick mystery for anyone to enjoy; it’s not too graphic or gory detailed, and the characters become an interesting bunch. The buildup is probably what was done best, and you yourself start to feel the paranoia at how little is revealed until it is almost too late. Personally, I was very disappointed in the ending and found it underwhelming compared to the rest of the book, but that’s just me. Perfect for fans looking for an Agatha Christie-esque mystery; this books is fun, modern, but not nearly as impressive of a take on the style that made the OG Queen of Mystery so iconic.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller

My Review: The Last Time I Lied: by Riley Sager

Publish Date: July 3rd 2018
Number of Pages: 371 Pages
Publisher: Dutton Books
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

Who else went to sleepaway camp when they were younger? Imagine it for yourself: the old, weathered, paint-chipped wooden buildings throughout the area, the tiny bunk bed cabins, the massive fire pit that overlooked the lake in the woods , the latrines for the communal showers that everyone fought over before the water went cold, the cobwebs in just about every corner of any given space, the massive mosquitos, the early morning roll calls that ended up in the cafeteria with the long tables with benches, and that hot, older camp counselor that all the girls (and me) had a crush on? His name was probably Trevor, Jake, Luke or Josh? God, I love nostalgia.

This book was a great reminder of my younger summer years spent at a camp with everything included above; it brought back the amazing weeks that I truly didn’t appreciate when I was younger. I still remember dreading it on the long bus ride to Amery, WI, but was sad to go by the end of the week.

I am happy to say that no one ever went mysteriously missing or possibly brutally murdered in any of my trips, thank god…but that does bring me more into the book and what it’s about.

With the setting of a seemingly innocent summer camp grounds, Riley Sager managed to cast a shadow upon it and give it an eery edge as he wrote this story. His prose caused a certain level of unease and anxiousness as the mystery developed and more questions stirred along the way; whether the author reveals yet another secret that the camp kept hidden, or with the flashback scenes provided to gain some sort of perspective on it all. It read like a creepy as hell ghost story told around a campfire, causing goosebumps and absolutely no sleep to anyone who listened in.

What It’s About?

15 years prior to the current day events in this story, Emma Davis goes to Camp Nightingale for the first time ever. The camp was an elite, all girls site that catered to only the wealthy and privileged. Emma is not thrilled at all to gather around the campfire and sing some songs, as she’s a couple years younger than the majority of the other campers. She meets her cabin-mates Vivian, Allison, and Natalie. Vivian, who is Regina George level HBIC, takes a liking to Emma and takes her under her wing, to which Emma is thrilled with . Who wouldn’t want the prettiest, most popular girl at camp to befriend her?

The night of the Fourth of July, Emma is woken up in her cabin to witness the three girls sneaking out; Vivian even doing the Pretty Little Liars-esque pointer finger to her lips motion with a mischievous wink as she closes the door behind her.

Emma had no idea that she would never see any of them ever again.

It became the mystery of the summer; three rich girls disappear without a trace, lost in the woods or taken by the lake. The police get involved, volunteer search parties are formed, but no one is able to find any trace of them except for a hoodie found on the opposite side of the lake. With no luck towards their whereabouts, the camp is closed down, and everyone is sent home with their lingering fears and questions that would never be answered…

15 years later…Emma Davis has become an up and coming artist that is making her name amongst the New York art scene with the gallery opening of her large canvas paintings that were inspired by that summer; girls in white dresses lost in the woods, being buried behind dark, elongated and warped branches that were as black as a midnight sky. It had been her way of grieving her loss, but she never expected to come face to face with Camp Nightingale’s owner, Francesca Harris-White, to show up at her gallery and invite her back to the reopening of the camp, but this time as a counselor. She too wants to be able to move forward, and maybe all this time later having one last summer away would help them get a sense of closure on the terrors that still haunt them. Reluctant at first, Emma can’t help but be drawn by the answers that she seeks, so she agrees to return.

She sets foot back on the campgrounds, and all the memories of that summer 15 years ago comes rushing back, including Francesca’s oldest son, Theo. Theo, the counselor that all the girls, including Emma, had a crush on, but also the man who Emma accused the disappearances on and had listed as a prime suspect. That’s not even the weirdest thing though; Emma discovers a hidden security camera looking in on her cabin one night, watching whoever comes and goes. From then on, strange things begin to happen to her, and she believes that someone, or some supernatural force, is threatening her and stopping her from digging any further…

What I liked:

  1. The Writing Style! Like I said earlier, I really connected with the author’s prose and how he told the story. He wrote in such a way that puts you at unease, adding more and more tension into the story as it escalated, expertly building the anticipation like a horror movie; viewers anxiously waiting for something to pop out at them, all the while dread builds in the pit of their stomachs. It was chilling to see a place as innocent as a summer campground become dark, ominous, and sinister as more secrets are dug up, revealing more going on behind closed doors than you ever thought imaginable.
  2. The Switch from Present to Past! Normally, I’m not a fan of flashback scenes because of how they usually can disrupt the pace of the story. It may just be me, but I do know for sure that they’re not my cup of tea. This story is an exception, because the scenes are at least consistent, and gives you an answer to the question that the previous chapter from current day presents you. They also gave you just enough information to help you make your own connections , like pieces of a puzzle, but not make it super obvious, thus allowing you to find everything out with the main character.
  3. No One Can Be Trusted! The author created a great cast of characters in the sense that they all are incredibly questionable when you meet them throughout the story. Some are more warm and welcoming than others, but you get the sense that everyone is keeping secrets, and you don’t know who’s as innocent as you initially thought, and wonder how much everyone actually knows.
  4. The Ending! HOLY SHIT…the last chapter, or actually, the very last three pages just add such an over the top, shocking reveal that was equally heart-pounding as it was unexpected and made me hope for a sequel that will never happen, but could seriously become a whole new thriller on its own. I didn’t see it coming at all; I had to reread it several times in order to absorb what happened as the shock slowly wore off.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Lesser Developed Characters…While they certainly add to the many mysteries that sprout up like weeds in the story, the characters fall flat in terms of feeling fleshed out and well developed. I wish the author put more time into them, but you could possibly overlook this with the overwhelming thrills that the plot gives to the overall story.
  2. Untrustworthy Narrator…Emma, of course, is the narrator of the story, but it became frustrating at times because she withheld valuable information until the very last moment, and also just seeming judgemental of the other female characters when she described them, only focusing on the negative aspects. It’s obvious that she still suspects Theo may have had something to do with the girls disappearance, it also becomes apparent that the other characters may in fact actually suspect her, and with you getting an inside look into her mind and how it operates, you yourself even wonder at some points…

Conclusion:

This book is a chilling thriller that is perfect for anyone wanting to find a fun summer read. It can transport you back in time and remind yourself of the camp you went to when you were younger, or paint a vivid and realistic picture of what it was like for those that didn’t share that experience. The story may not be for everyone who considers themselves a mystery/thriller fan, but the author does a great job of driving the story forward with his prose, making it a fast, easy read that may make you stay safe inside as things go bump in the night.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell