Book Review: The Spirit Engineer by A. J. West

The Spirit Engineer book on iPad surrounded by red and black books, a black skull, a red rose, a ouija planchette, a red candle, and a crystal ball

The Spirit EngineerTitle: The Spirit Engineer
Author: A. J. West
Genre: Thriller, Historical Fiction, Horror
Date of Publication: October 7, 2021
Publisher: Duckworth Books


Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism in the form of seances that attempt to contact the spirits of loved ones lost at sea.

William is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sat around the circle something happens that places doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?

This early 20th century gothic set in Northern Ireland contains all the mystery and intrigue one might expect from a Sarah Waters novel. Deftly plotted with echoes of The Woman in Black, readers will be thrilled to discover West’s chilling prose.

Based on the true story of William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters that include Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunting tale that will keep readers guessing until the very end.


My Thoughts

While this is a historical fiction, it’s easy to read with a flowing, lyrical writing style that captures the essence of the time, but isn’t hard to follow. In the beginning, the narrative reflects a dry humor which is exacerbated by William’s curmudgeonly attitude. He seems like an old man with the way that he’s constantly searching for his pipe and how little he can relate to his children. If it were modern times, he would be the guy standing on his porch, shrieking at the neighbourhood children to “get off my lawn!” Then, it’s revealed that he’s thirty-four. I laughed out loud at that point, and while I realize that people aged a little faster back then, he is definitely an old soul.

This humour didn’t detract from the tension prevalent from the very first pages. There are quite a few surprising turns of events in the storyline, and I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen. One thing that disappointed me slightly was the fact that Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, while mentioned on the back of the book, don’t show up until very far into the book. I understand that their names were likely a selling point for the novel, and eeeverything is about marketing these days (groan) but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that they didn’t play a larger role in the plot. That in no way affects my rating or my review, because I understand that the author and his story has nothing to do with this. It’s just the publishers and their marketing of the book! Continue reading “Book Review: The Spirit Engineer by A. J. West”

Book Review: Petrified Women by Jeremy Ray

Photo of Petrified Women book surrounded by dark roses, bones, and two eerily glowing candles.

Petrified Women book coverTitle: Petrified Women
Author: Jeremy Ray
Genre: Horror, Novella
Date of Publication: May 14, 2021
Publisher: Infinite Ray Publishing 


Some pranks go too far. This one could be deadly.

Harley has the perfect boyfriend. Why can’t her best friend see that? He’s nothing like the others, especially the one who still haunts her memories. She’s finally picked a “keeper” with Aiden.

Sure, he’s a bit eccentric. His wood carving hobby is a little odd. His need for isolation while he carves his life-size female figurines is strange. And maybe his obsession with pranks, or “scares” on Harley goes a little too far. But what do you expect? Aiden’s an artist.

Harley has finally picked the perfect boyfriend. That’s why this year, Harley ignores all her best friend’s warnings. She has the ultimate surprise planned for Aiden’s birthday, one that’s going to help her get even in their battle to out-prank each other.

She hides in his apartment, excitedly waiting to pull off the scare of a lifetime…

But then he comes home, and Harley witnesses a different side of her boyfriend. The side that exists behind closed doors when he doesn’t know anyone’s watching.

Is this just one of his scares? Or is there something more sinister lurking behind his playful nature? Harley’s about to find out.

Sexual Assault
Body Horror
Strong Language

Reader discretion advised


My Thoughts

Petrified Women is a gripping and original novella that packs a lot of horror in its 92 pages. 

The story starts off as unsettling as we’re introduced to the protagonist, Harley. She’s dating a man who loves playing pranks–in fact, he calls this his love language. This, in itself, doesn’t seem too disturbing, until she starts to outline the pranks that he’s played on her over the course of their time together. They seem to be designed to petrify her, and her PTSD from a previous abusive relationship doesn’t help matters. This PTSD is viscerally depicted in a realistic and gut-wrenching way that adds another level of horror to this multi-layered story. 

Continue reading “Book Review: Petrified Women by Jeremy Ray”

Book Review: Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Payback's a Witch Title: Payback’s a Witch
Author: Lana Harper
Series: The Witches of Thistle Grove #1
Genre: Romance, Fantasy, LGBT+
Date of Publication: October 5, 2021
Publisher: Berkley


Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word in this fresh, sizzling rom-com by Lana Harper.

Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn’t been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoore, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams.

But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She’s determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Linden Thorn; and get back to her real life in Chicago.

On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov—an all-around badass adept in the darker magical arts—who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoore. Talia had let herself be charmed, only to discover that Gareth was also seeing Linden—unbeknownst to either of them. And now she and Linden want revenge. Only one question stands: Is Emmy in?

But most concerning of all: Why can’t she stop thinking about the terrifyingly competent, devastatingly gorgeous, wickedly charming Talia Avramov?


My Thoughts

Payback’s a Witch is a romantic fantasy with delightful worldbuilding of the ethereal quality. The novel follows Emmy as she returns home and comes to terms with who she is and where she comes from. Emmy is an intriguing, multi-layered character, who at times is quite frustrating, but she remains relatable throughout. 

The writing style is the primary focal point of this novel. The book is chock-full of clever lines and insightful remarks about the world that the author has created. The prose is heavily laden with worldbuilding and imagery. The book uses flowery, at times old-fashioned syntax, but it’s nicely paired with modern expressions, such as “nasty woman” and talks of being “chaotically neutral”. Unfortunately, Emmy’s witty internal observations and beautifully implemented flashbacks do come at the expense of pacing, and the read is quite slow and heavy with description. This book is definitely for those who read for language and setting.

Continue reading “Book Review: Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper”

Book Review: Unperfect by Susie Tate

Picture of the book Unperfect on top of an open book, with a stack of grey books on the top right, a burning blue candle on the top left, and two white roses

58868872._SY475_Title: Unperfect
Author: Susie Tate
Genre: Romance
Date of Publication: October 15, 2021
Publisher: Self-published


When Mia shows up for the interview at a well-known architecture firm, she only has 27p, a squashed loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter to her name. She needs this job. Even if she is scared to death of the owner of the company.

Max has made a name for himself as “that grumpy northern architect off Grand Designs”, after he told Kevin McCloud that designing affordable, environmentally friendly homes “wasn’t rocket science” and that most of the other projects featured on the programme were for “reight poncy bastads who want to spend a grand on a shite tap.” It turned out that the whole gorgeous-but-rough-around-the-edges-Yorkshire-man vibe was just what the country was looking for – the episode had gone viral and Max was the new, extremely reluctant, pin-up of the building industry.

But to Mia, huge, grumpy men weren’t sexy, they were simply terrifying. She knows from experience that even men of average size can be dangerous. If she wasn’t so desperate, she’d run. She’s used to running. Running away is Mia’s special talent, together with invisibility – survival techniques she’s perfected over the years. So, she’ll put up with Max and his moods, ignore him calling her a teen emo freak (he’s not to know that her black hair used to be honey blonde or her heavy eyeliner isn’t by choice) and just bloody well jog on. Just try to survive. Try to hide.

It’s easy to hide when nobody really sees you. But what happens when Max finally opens his eyes?

Unperfect a full-length contemporary, enemies to lovers, office romance.

Please be aware – occasional swearing and trigger warning for domestic violence. 


My Thoughts

Unperfect is the classic story of a woman on the run who falls in love, which just so happens to be up there as my number one favourite romance genre trope. I’ve read as many books with this trope as I can find, and I was so excited to see this brand new novel on Netgalley featuring this trope prominently as the main plotline. Be still my heart!

What makes this book really special is the characters. I absolutely love when the hero and the heroine aren’t automatically attracted to each other. There’s no insta love for Max and Mia! On the contrary. Because Mia has dyed her hair black and has been living on the run, she’s lost a lot of weight and resembles a goth (which, in this case, is a bad thing). Max, true to his blunt and harsh personality, rudely points this out in front of her. Despite a rocky start, their romance is incredibly sweet and gradual–a true slow-burn with all the feels. Mia is fragile, yet resilient. Max is gruff on the outside with a soft and gooey interior. It’s clear that they’re perfect for each other, and I loved watching their story unfold.

Continue reading “Book Review: Unperfect by Susie Tate”

Book Review: Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

Well Matched Book photo - picture of the book surrounded by princess bride funko pops, yellow flowers, and a yellow book

cover222764-mediumTitle: Well Matched
Author: Jen DeLuca
Series: Well Met #3
Genre: Romance, Chick Lit
Date of Publication: October 19, 2021
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group


An accidentally in-love rom-com filled with Renaissance Faire flower crowns, kilts, corsets, and sword fights.

Single mother April Parker has lived in Willow Creek for twelve years with a wall around her heart. On the verge of being an empty nester, she’s decided to move on from her quaint little town, and asks her friend Mitch for his help with some home improvement projects to get her house ready to sell.

Mitch Malone is known for being the life of every party, but mostly for the attire he wears to the local Renaissance Faire–a kilt (and not much else) that shows off his muscled form to perfection. While he agrees to help April, he needs a favor too: she’ll pretend to be his girlfriend at an upcoming family dinner, so that he can avoid the lectures about settling down and having a more “serious” career than high school coach and gym teacher. April reluctantly agrees, but when dinner turns into a weekend trip, it becomes hard to tell what’s real and what’s been just for show. But when the weekend ends, so must their fake relationship.

As summer begins, Faire returns to Willow Creek, and April volunteers for the first time. When Mitch’s family shows up unexpectedly, April pretends to be Mitch’s girlfriend again…something that doesn’t feel so fake anymore. Despite their obvious connection, April insists they’ve just been putting on an act. But when there’s the chance for something real, she has to decide whether to change her plans–and open her heart–for the kilt-wearing hunk who might just be the love of her life.


My Thoughts

This book is marketed as a rom com, but it’s much closer to women’s fiction, (but with that expected Happy Ever After that we expect in romance novels). While the book is broadly about April finding love, she’s also finding a renewed purpose in life and figuring out who she really is in the process. While the pacing of this book is quite slow, the introspection gives us the opportunity to really get into April’s head and dive into the life she’s built for herself in Willow Creek. Her daughter is graduating from high school, and then she’ll be going off to university. April should be ecstatic–she’s wanted nothing more than to sell her house and leave this town behind. But this summer, she’s forced to confront what she really wants, and the true reason why Willow Creek has never truly felt like home, which has nothing to do with the town or its residents and everything to do with her and her outlook on life. 

The atmosphere of this book is tinged with melancholy. April is a forty-year-old divorcee. She broke up with her husband shortly after her eighteen-year-old daughter, Caitlin, was born, and she hasn’t had any serious relationships since. They moved to Willow Creek, but April resisted setting down roots. She has her book club, and her sister recently moved to town (Read Well Met for that epic tale!), but she doesn’t have much else tying her to this location. Even Mitch, who was delightful and cheery in the previous two books, seems a lot more subdued in this novel. He’s still got charisma, but it isn’t enough to make the contents of the book match its cheery blue cover.

Like the previous two books in this series, DeLuca has taken a common trope as the basis for this story. Mitch Malone asks April to be his fake girlfriend for a family gathering, and a lot of the expected clichés come out of it (sharing a bedroom–and a bed, etc.). My favourite part of the previous two books in this series–and subsequently this book–is the parts set at the Renaissance Faire. Unfortunately, the first half of this book is set before the faire rolls into town, and those chapters lacked the colour and flavour that I have come to love–and expect–in this series. Once the Faire does start, it’s still not quite the same, because the book is from April’s point of view, and she’s never been a huge fan of the Faire (or anything requiring any kind of participation or fun). DeLuca does make up for this later on in the book, but I was hoping for more than a few chapters set at the Renaissance Faire. It’s what makes this series truly unique, and it otherwise is just a rehashing of old tropes without a fresh new take on them.  Honestly, the scenes with Captain Blackthorne (the first book’s hero’s alter ego), made me nostalgic for the fun and renaissance faire-filled goodness from the first instalment in the series.

All in all, this is a quick read for fans of the fake girlfriend trope, but don’t go into it expecting the usual Willow Creek Renaissance Faire shenanigans.

Well Matched Book photo - picture of the book surrounded by princess bride funko pops, yellow flowers, and a yellow book

*Thank you to the publisher, Netgalley, and the author for the ebook to review*

Three stars

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Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: The Last Legacy by Adrienne Young

The Last Legacy book surrounded by quills, books, and flowers

The Last Legacy webTitle: The Last Legacy
Author: Adrienne Young
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: September 7, 2021
Publisher: Wednesday Books


New York Times bestselling author Adrienne Young returns with The Last Legacy, a captivating standalone about family and blood ties, reinventing yourself, and controlling your own destiny.

When a letter from her uncle Henrik arrives on Bryn Roth’s eighteenth birthday, summoning her back to Bastian, Bryn is eager to prove herself and finally take her place in her long-lost family.

Henrik has plans for Bryn, but she must win everyone’s trust if she wants to hold any power in the delicate architecture of the family. It doesn’t take long for her to see that the Roths are entangled in shadows. Despite their growing influence in upscale Bastian, their hands are still in the kind of dirty business that got Bryn’s parents killed years ago. With a forbidden romance to contend with and dangerous work ahead, the cost of being accepted into the Roths may be more than Bryn can pay. 


My Thoughts

In The Last Legacy we’re whisked back to the imaginative and fantastical world of Fable and Namesake

Readers don’t need to have read the Fable duology in order to enjoy this book. Yes, some characters cross over, but Young has done a wonderful job of making this book stand on its own. The worldbuilding is far from skeletal, and if I hadn’t immediately recognized the names of cities and some of the peripheral characters from Fable, I wouldn’t have realized that this book was written after that duology.

The Last Legacy has an intriguing plot that’s not at all predictable. I jumped into this book without reading the description, since Young has quickly become a “read without questioning anything” author for me. As usual, Young has made good use of her lyrical writing style, immediately capturing my attention. That said, the plot isn’t quite as gripping as the plot in her other books, and it took me a little while to get into the swing of what was going on. The atmosphere  is foreboding and mysterious, and for the first forty percent of the story, I wasn’t sure where the story was going, or even what type of story it was going to be.

Young has created characters that are incredibly compelling. I love the protagonist, Bryn. She’s a strong–albeit quite ordinary–young woman. I absolutely love books set in magical settings where the protagonist is seemingly ordinary, and she has to use her wits and other strengths to persevere against whatever life or the book’s antagonist throws in her direction. Bryn seems to be the picture of etiquette and what a proper young lady should be–which she should, since she was brought up to be that way. But it quickly becomes obvious that there’s much more to Bryn than meets the eye. Other characters are just as interesting, especially her family members and the mysterious Ezra.

I recommend this book to those who love a mystical young adult mystery set in a dynamic fantasy world. 

The Last Legacy book surrounded by quills, books, and flowers

*Thank you to the publisher, Netgalley, and the author for the ebook to review*

Five stars

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Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

The Last House on Needless Street book surrounded by black leaves, a black skull, and a little black raven

cover218770-mediumTitle: The Last House on Needless Street
Author: Catriona Ward
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Tor Nightfire


Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street is a shocking and immersive read perfect for fans of Gone Girl and The Haunting of Hill House.

In a boarded-up house on a dead-end street at the edge of the wild Washington woods lives a family of three.

A teenage girl who isn’t allowed outside, not after last time.
A man who drinks alone in front of his TV, trying to ignore the gaps in his memory.
And a house cat who loves napping and reading the Bible.

An unspeakable secret binds them together, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, what is buried out among the birch trees may come back to haunt them all.


My Thoughts

This book is a literary masterpiece. The writing is quite phenomenal. First, we’re introduced to Tim, a strange man who lives in a strange house. It’s almost immediately apparent that he’s not quite right in the head. The way that he describes people and the world around him and what he’s doing seems a little… off. And then he refers to his “mommy”, and that seals the deal. There’s something quite odd about this man–but is he dangerous? Is he a killer? 

The other characters in this book are just as fascinating, but I fell in love with Olivia, the cat, almost instantaneously. Having the point of view of a cat is so unique, and I loved her attitude and the way that she, too, saw the world in a unique perspective that is reflected in her language and the way that she communicates to the reader.

The author is the master of the show-don’t-tell plot device. We’re shown how odd Ted is, rather than told it. We experience the same disorientation that he feels at certain parts in the story. 

Continue reading “Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward”

Book Review: Beneath the Marigolds by Emily C. Whitson

Beneath the Marigolds photo

Beneath the Marigolds cover webTitle: Beneath the Marigolds
Author: Emily C. Whitson
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: September 21, 2021
Publisher: CamCat Books


When her best friend, Reese Marigold, goes missing after attending Last Chance, an exclusive singles’ retreat on a remote island off the coast of Hawaii, no-nonsense lawyer Ann Stone infiltrates the retreat.

Ann quickly realizes there’s more to Last Chance than meets the eye. The extravagant clothes, never-ending interviews, and bizarre dates hint that the retreat is a front for a reality dating show. Could Reese be safe, keeping a low profile until the premier, or did something sinister occur after all?

Torn between the need to uncover the truth and her desperate desire to get off the island, Ann partakes in the unusual routines of the “journey to true love” and investigates the other attendees who all have something to hide. In a final attempt to find Reese on the compound, she realizes that she herself may never get off the island alive. 


My Thoughts

Beneath the Marigolds is a fast-paced psychological thriller that mashes up the reality series The Bachelor with Gone Girl.

Told in three parts, the story alternates between the points of view of Ann and Reese. Ann is heading to Phaux Island under the guise of finding love, but she’s really searching for Reese, her close friend who went missing a month earlier. Reese’s point of view scenes begin when she first came to the island, eager to find her soulmate.

There’s a distinct writing style change between the two heroines’ points of view, which made it incredibly easy to recognize whose chapter I was reading.  Reese is a flighty, immature-for-her-age, hopeless romantic, and her chapters read as such. Ann, on the other hand, is far more reserved. She’s a realist. She’s a lawyer, who, like her best friend, is unlucky in love. Her chapters have a far more analytical style, and even the way she views what’s happening at the retreat is coloured by her experiences and her profession. 

Both Reese and Ann are recovering alcoholics, and this is a theme throughout the novel. Because they’re at a romantic retreat, of course they’re constantly being tempted with alcohol, almost to the point where it seems like the people running the resort want them off the wagon. There’s something sinister going on, and Ann is determined to get to the bottom of it, not just so she can find her friend, but so she can get out of there unscathed. 

There are many exhilarating twists and turns in the plot. There were a few developments that sent me reeling, and then I was back to hungrily devouring the book. The final reveal was quite shocking, and it nicely wrapped up a cohesive and entertaining story.

Beneath the Marigolds photo

*Thank you to CamCat Books, Edelweiss, and the author for the ebook to review*

Five stars

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Book Review: The Haunting of Leigh Harker by Darcy Coates

The Haunting of Leigh Harker book photo

The Haunting ofTitle: The Haunting of Leigh Harker
Author: Darcy Coates 
Genre: Horror, thriller
Date of Publication: September 7, 2021
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press


Sometimes the dead reach back…

Leigh Harker’s quiet suburban home was her sanctuary for more than a decade, until things abruptly changed. Curtains open by themselves. Radios turn off and on. And a dark figure looms in the shadows of her bedroom door at night, watching her, waiting for her to finally let down her guard enough to fall asleep.

Pushed to her limits but unwilling to abandon her home, Leigh struggles to find answers. But each step forces her towards something more terrifying than she ever imagined.

A poisonous shadow seeps from the locked door beneath the stairs. The handle rattles through the night and fingernails scratch at the wood. Her home harbours dangerous secrets, and now that Leigh is trapped within its walls, she fears she may never escape.

Do you think you’re safe?

You’re wrong.


My Thoughts

This novel gripped me with horror from the very first sentence. Coates combines metaphors and grotesque imagery in a way that immediately sets the reader on edge. 

The haunting of Leigh Harker is creepy in part because of its uniqueness. The strange occurrences that are happening in Leigh’s house are unlike your typical haunting. I can’t go into specifics without spoilers, but the way that the “something” that appears in her doorway looks and acts is all so peculiar, and because of that, there’s a fresh level of terror associated with it.

All this said, the terror grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. It’s one horrifying scene after another, and there came a point where I became a little numb to it all. I started to notice not-so-minor plot holes. But then, there was the twist. 

I can’t say much about the twist without spoiling everything. But it’s a twist that simultaneously slowed the horror and added a new level of horror. The twist explained away the plot holes that I’d been rigorously making note of. A novel that was once just straight up chills and thrills without much depth beyond that became much more intriguing, the twist adding a layer of mystery to the plot.

Unfortunately, the very final twist wasn’t as good as the twist that happened fairly early on in the novel. It came somewhat out of left field, and wasn’t as well supported by the rest of the storyline. 

All this said, this is a creepy and beautifully written novel, worth reading for the immersive writing style and that first massive, jaw-dropping reveal that forced me to stay up all night reading until I reached the last page. 

The Haunting of Leigh Harker Book Photo

*Thank you to the publisher, Netgalley, and the author for the ebook to review*

Find the book:

Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: The Necklace by Matt Witten

The Necklace book photo

The Necklace book cover

Title: The Necklace
Author: Matt Witten
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: September 7, 2021
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing


The clock ticks down in a heart-pounding crusade for justice

Susan Lentigo’s daughter was murdered twenty years ago—and now, at long last, this small-town waitress sets out on a road trip all the way from Upstate New York to North Dakota to witness the killer’s execution.

On her journey she discovers shocking new evidence that leads her to suspect the condemned man is innocent—and the real killer is still free. Even worse, her prime suspect has a young daughter who’s at terrible risk. With no money and no time to spare, Susan sets out to uncover the truth before an innocent man gets executed and another little girl is killed.

But the FBI refuses to reopen the case. They—and Susan’s own mother—believe she’s just having an emotional breakdown. Reaching deep, Susan finds an inner strength she never knew she had. With the help of two unlikely allies—a cynical, defiant teenage girl and the retired cop who made the original arrest—Susan battles the FBI to put the real killer behind bars. Will she win justice for the condemned man—and her daughter—at last?


My Thoughts

The Necklace is a fast-paced thriller that you won’t be able to put down. The story is told from the point of view of Susan, a woman whose seven-year-old daughter was brutally murdered twenty years ago. We get two timelines–one set twenty years ago, when the horrible crime occurred. The second timeline is present day, when the man put behind bars for killing her child is just days away from being executed. Susan has scrounged up just enough money to travel to the execution. This is the day that she’s waited for for twenty years. She should be ecstatic. She should be happy to finally be getting the closure she craves. But a simple piece of evidence sends her reeling. Is it possible that the man who’s being executed in mere days is not guilty?

This story is incredibly fast paced. I could easily tell that the author is ordinarily a writer for TV. The writing style is very direct–with little flowery language or description to bog down the prose. I’m a fast reader, but I can say that any other reader would also be compelled to finish this in one sitting. The novel reads a little like a James Patterson novel–you can’t help but think “One more chapter!” and before you know it, you’re at the climax of the book and there’s no way you’re stopping now. Continue reading “Book Review: The Necklace by Matt Witten”