What’s Ashley Reading?: Murder Road

Murder Road by Simone St. James

First line: That July night seemed full of possibility, with the empty highway stretching out before us.

Summary: April and Eddie have just gotten married and are headed to a resort town for a blissful honeymoon until they pass a hitchhiker along a deserted road. Like any Good Samaritan, they stop to help the young woman only to find that she has been fatally stabbed. After reaching a hospital where the hitchhiker dies, April and Eddie give a description of the mysterious truck they saw following them along the dark road.

After years of murders along Atticus Road the police finally have witnesses. But could these witnesses also be suspects? In an attempt to clear their names the young couple dig into the history of what has happened along this particular stretch of road. But with each new discovery it appears that something more paranormal is behind the deaths along Atticus Road.

My Thoughts: I think I have found my new favorite Simone St. James book. This book was creepy, twisty and completely addicting. The supernatural element was perfectly blended into the contemporary mystery of the murders along Atticus Road. This is one of St. James’ most intense books in my opinion. There are ghostly sightings, angry townspeople and a murderer on the loose. I found myself gripping my iPad as I read, constantly worrying about the characters. Even the supporting characters were well rounded giving the story more substance.

Near the end is a twist which I found rather predictable but it did not spoil my love for this book. But the last interaction between our heroes and the detective was excellent as the truth comes out. I never once considered this twist but it made me question all that had happened between our characters up until this point. Once you read it you will understand!

**Release date is March 5 ,2024.**

Monica’s Musings: The Heiress

The Heiress by Rachel Hawkins

“A haunted house where the ghosts hadn’t had the courtesy to die yet.”
― Rachel Hawkins, The Heiress

Summary: When Ruby dies, she’s not only North Carolina’s richest woman, she’s also its most notorious. The victim of a famous kidnapping as a child and a widow four times over, Ruby ruled the tiny town of Tavistock from Ashby House, her family’s estate. In the aftermath of her death, that estate—along with a nine-figure fortune —pass to her adopted son, Camden.

But to everyone’s surprise, Cam wants little to do with the house or the money and even less to do with the surviving McTavishes. Instead, he rejects his inheritance, settling into a normal life in Colorado and with his wife Jules.

Ten years later, a summons in the wake of his uncle’s death brings him and Jules back into the family fold at Ashby House. Its views are just as stunning as ever, its rooms just as elegant, but coming home reminds Cam why he was so quick to leave in the first place. Soon, Jules and Cam realize that an inheritance can entail far more than what’s written in a will—and that the bonds of family stretch far beyond the grave.

My thoughts: Honestly, this book was not my cup of tea. I felt it was trying to do too much, and the different points of view made me lose interest. Showing us Ruby, Jules, and Camden’s points of view killed the flow. I got tired of going back and forth between all of them. And since I saw the reveals coming, it just made for a boring read.

We follow Ruby’s story as she writes letters to someone all about her younger life and how she came to meet the many men she marries. In between that, the book shows us the perspective of her adopted son, Camden, and his wife, Jules. The book has many twists and turns related to the family residing in the Ashby house, and soon it is clear things are not as they seem. The family has a wicked nature, and Camden and Jules are not safe staying at the Ashby House.

The ending was a meh moment that felt tossed at readers to wrap up the story, which solidified this as a two-star book for me. Overall, this was not my favorite Rachel Hawkins book, so I would suggest picking up any of her prior works instead!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Seven Year Slip

The Seven Year Slip by Ashley Poston

First line: “This apartment is magical,” Aunt Analea once said, sitting in her wingback chair the color of a robin’s egg, her hair twisted up with a silver dagger hairpin.

Summary: Clementine has many fond memories of her aunt. She loved adventure and told the most fantastic stories including the one about her magical apartment. But after her aunt dies, Clementine inherits the apartment which she is unsure she can live in because of all the memories associated with it. Until one day she returns home from work to find a man in her apartment. He claims to have been allowed to stay for the summer but the summer in question is seven years in the past. It appears that her aunt’s stories were true. How will these temporary roommates coexist in different times and not fall for each other? Only time will tell.

My Thoughts: Another rom-com author has sucked me into their fandom. This was a cute magical romance. However, below the romance was a young woman struggling with her grief at the loss of her aunt. It gives extra depth to the story and character. The romance was sweet yet complicated. Each of the characters are trying to find themselves in bustling New York City but they magically stumble upon the person they were meant to be with but at the wrong time. Sounds like the perfect formula for romance!

Even though some aspects were rather predictable (which rom-coms aren’t) I found this enjoyable and worth the hype. For fans of Emily Henry this is a perfect read. I just purchased a copy of Poston’s other popular romance, The Dead Romantics, which I am very much looking forward to diving into.

Monica’s Musings: The House in the Pines

The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes

“You think I wanted to kill her? I didn’t. But she figured it out. Can you believe it?”
The House in the Pines, Ana Reyes

Summary: Maya was a high school senior when her best friend, Aubrey, mysteriously dropped dead in front of the enigmatic man named Frank whom they’d been spending time with all summer.

Seven years later, Maya lives in Boston with a loving boyfriend and is kicking the secret addiction that has allowed her to cope with what happened years ago, the gaps in her memories, and the lost time that she can’t account for. But her past comes rushing back when she comes across a recent YouTube video in which a young woman suddenly keels over and dies in a diner while sitting across from none other than Frank. Plunged into the trauma that has defined her life, Maya heads to her Berkshires hometown to relive that fateful summer–the influence Frank once had on her and the obsessive jealousy that nearly destroyed her friendship with Aubrey.

At her mother’s house, she excavates fragments of her past and notices hidden messages in her deceased father’s book that didn’t stand out to her earlier. To save herself, she must understand a story written before she was born, but time keeps running out, and soon, all roads are leading back to Frank’s cabin….

My Opinion: This book was definitely entertaining, and I enjoyed the overall premise. The first half of the book was intriguing, but the plot wrapped up without a satisfying ending in my opinion. It was vague and relied on imagination. In some ways, it felt like the author wanted to do something different by not providing a shocking culmination.

The author portrayed the narrator as unreliable, which I struggle with, especially when their perspective is the only one we get. From the start, I agreed with Maya’s conclusions and was not surprised by the “twist”. Some parts that lost me were the chapters would occasionally go between past and present, but you didn’t know which timeline you were in. All in all, it was an okay book, and I’m glad I finished it since it was a different type of psychological thriller.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Only Say Good Things

Only Say Good Things by Crystal Hefner

First line: Last night I dreamed about the mansion again.

Summary: Crystal Hefner, the widow of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, finally opens up about her time at the mansion and life within the Playboy world. She spent her youth only seeing value in her looks and the attention she received from those around her. Through her memoir she describes how she survived her time in the fantasy world of Playboy and came out the other side with a new view on her own self-worth.

My Thoughts: I had no idea this book was coming out until I was putting it in the library’s catalog. I remember watching The Girls Next Door on E! but I was never really interested in the season with Crystal and the twins. However, I have spent the last year listening to the Girls Next Level podcast where Holly and Bridget, previous girlfriends, speculate on Hef’s last years. So when I saw Crystal was writing about life with Hef after the show, I immediately placed myself on hold to learn more about Crystal’s time as Mrs. Hefner.

I listened to the audiobook which Crystal reads herself and found it heartbreaking and fascinating. She rushed into this lifestyle after some personal hardships and became stuck in this new life for years. I remember hearing about her runaway bride and eventual marriage to Hef but she never really interested me too much. However, after reading this I find myself liking her more than I did before. It was very interesting to listen to and I applaud her for being willing to tell her story no matter how hard it probably was for her.

FYI: Contains abuse (verbal and sexual).

Monica’s Musings: Crying in H Mart

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

“In fact, she was both my first and second words: Umma, then Mom. I called to her in two languages. Even then I must have known that no one would ever love me as much as she would.” ― Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Summary: A memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.

Michelle Zauner tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.

As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, performing gigs with her fledgling band—and meeting the man who would become her husband—her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.

My thoughts: Michelle was only 25 when she lost her mother to cancer. Michelle and her mother had many ups and downs, especially in her adolescence and early adulthood. This emotionally intense memoir reflects the complex nature of the mother-and-daughter relationship while representing Korean culture, traditions, rituals, and hierarchical patterns.

Michelle finally attempts to see things from her mother’s perspective and realizes the importance of her life lessons. It is impossible not to be shaken to the core or not to feel the intense pain Michelle had as she said goodbye to her mother. This book is great for anyone who would like to relate to grief or who wants to understand it more. Losing family is something no one fully prepares for. I would rate this highly for the author’s ability to portray such a drastic life event in a way readers can emotionally understand.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Guncle

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

First line: All right, here goes nothing.

Summary: Patrick loves spending time with his niece and nephew. But only for short times. He isn’t prepared when their mother dies and their father has his own health problems to deal with, leaving him to take care of Maisie and Grant. Implementing his “Guncle rules” he learns that taking care of the kids is more than treats and fun. As he helps them cope with their grief he comes to terms with the loss of his partner from years before.

My Thoughts: I have wanted to read this since it was released and finally picked it up for my recovery time after surgery. The cover is beyond cute and the premise really reminds me of Mame starring Lucille Ball. I listened to the audiobook which was read by the author who brings the character of Patrick to life. He has the sass and the hilarious Guncle vibes making the book even more enjoyable.

I loved seeing Patrick grow throughout the story. He was thrown into this situation but he changed and dealt with his own demons. It is just a heartwarming story of family and resilience with a sharp witted Guncle in the starring role. If you need something to read on vacation, a feel good story or a good belly laugh then I highly recommend picking this book up! And Guncle will return in May 2024!

Monica’s Musings: After I Do

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Why do we do this? Why do we undervalue things when we have them? Why is it only on the verge of losing something that we see how much we need it?”
― Taylor Jenkins Reid, After I Do

Summary: When Lauren and Ryan’s marriage reaches the breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan. They decide to take a year off in the hopes of finding a way to fall in love again. One year apart, and only one rule: they cannot contact each other. Aside from that, anything goes.

Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery, quickly finding that her friends and family have their own ideas about the meaning of marriage. These influences, as well as her own healing process and the challenges of living apart from Ryan, begin to change Lauren’s ideas about monogamy and marriage. She starts to question: When you can have romance without loyalty and commitment without marriage, when love and lust are no longer tied together, what do you value? What are you willing to fight for?

My thoughts: While the summary was intriguing, I do not think that I really knew where the plot would take me until I truly got into it. What a controversial idea on how to save a marriage. What an interesting way of navigating love and all the different ideas surrounding it.

Taylor Jenkins Reid writes flawed and clueless characters, which helps make the book feel relatable. The character development was so wholesome and satisfying to read in this one particularly. While we only see from Lauren’s point of view, I must say all the characters were fleshed out. I truly enjoyed each one and their journey!

My only complaint is that the ending wrapped up a little too neatly for my liking. I felt that there were some parts of how Lauren and Ryan handled their separation that were not realistic at all. The ending was too fictional for me, but I still rate it highly!

What’s Ashley Reading?: A Year in Review

This was a busy year for reading! I completed 142 books in 2023 but there were a few standouts that I would highly recommend. Below are my top 10 books I read in 2023!

  1. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
  2. Starter Villain by John Scalzi
  3. None Of This Is True by Lisa Jewell
  4. Where Are The Children by Mary Higgins Clark
  5. The Last Devil To Die by Richard Osman
  6. An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good by Helene Tursten
  7. Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I by Tracy Borman
  8. The Only One Left by Riley Sager
  9. The Drift by C. J. Tudor
  10. The Temple of Fortuna by Elodie Harper

And I know that next year will have some great books for my TBR list. Here are the ones I am most looking forward too!

  1. End of Story by A. J. Finn (02/20/2024)
  2. The Guest by B. A. Paris (02/20/2024)
  3. Normal Women by Philippa Gregory (02/27/2024)
  4. Murder Road by Simone St. James (03/05/2024)
  5. The Prisoner’s Throne by Holly Black (03/05/2024)
  6. The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo (04/09/2024)
  7. The Gathering by C. J. Tudor (04/09/2024)
  8. A Talent For Murder by Peter Swanson (06/11/2024)
  9. Middle of the Night by Riley Sager (06/18/2024)
  10. The Darkness Within Us by Tricia Levenseller (07/09/2024)

What were your favorite reads of 2023? And what are you looking forward to the most in 2024? Leave us a comment!

Monica’s Musings: Daughters of the New Year

Daughters of the New Year by E.M. Tran

“Even after forty-one years here, she wore American citizenship with discomfort, like a pair of shoes half a size too small.”
― E.M. Tran, Daughters of the New Year

Summary: In present day New Orleans, Xuan Trung, former beauty queen turned refugee after the Fall of Saigon, is obsessed with divining her daughters’ fates through their Vietnamese zodiac signs. But Trac, Nhi and Trieu diverge completely from their immigrant parents’ expectations. Successful lawyer Trac hides her sexuality from her family; Nhi competes as the only woman of color on a Bachelor-esque reality TV show; and Trieu, a budding writer, is determined to learn more about her familial and cultural past.

As the three sisters begin to encounter strange glimpses of long-buried secrets from the ancestors they never knew, the story of the Trung women unfurls to reveal the dramatic events that brought them to America. Moving backwards in time, E.M. Tran takes us into the high school classrooms of New Orleans, to Saigon beauty pageants, to twentieth century rubber plantations, traversing a century as the Trungs are both estranged and united by the ghosts of their tumultuous history.

My thoughts: The beginning of the book explores the relationships between Xuan and her three daughters, Trieu, Nhi, and Trac. The history of Xuan is essential to understanding her attitude toward moving to the US and her attitude towards her husband and daughters. I wouldn’t call her a cold mother, but I would definitely consider her emotionally absent with her daughters. Her history of fleeing with her own parents and her unhappy move to the States provided some explanation for that.

The final part of the story delves into the family’s ancestors and how they came to own a rubber plantation during the final years of French colonial rule in Vietnam. The exploration of Xuan and her daughters felt like it was left unfinished before it switched timelines back to the history of the family. I wanted to know so much more about them! Overall I found this story very intriguing and I would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction.