Monica’s Musings: Death-Cast Series

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

“I wasted all those yesterdays and am completely out of tomorrows.”
― Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End

Summary: On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo and Rufus to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but for different reasons, they are both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.

My thoughts: Going into a book titled They Both Die At The End, you don’t really expect it to happen. The whole concept of this book is heartbreaking. Imagine knowing you will die within the next 24 hours. You may not even get the entire 24 hours. You just know you’ll die by the end of the day. That’s terrifying and morbid, and honestly gives me the chills.

Despite how morbid I realize it is, I am entertained by the whole idea. I couldn’t stop reading. Adam Silvera manages to craft a word I would hate to live in and a world that has made me realize we all should take more chances.

The First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera

“I would’ve loved that. I feel robbed.”
“You were robbed.”
― Adam Silvera, The First to Die at the End

Summary: In this prequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling phenomenon They Both Die at the End, two new strangers spend a life-changing day together after Death-Cast first makes their fateful calls.

It’s the night before Death-Cast goes live, and there’s one question on everyone’s mind: Can Death-Cast actually predict when someone will die, or is it just an elaborate hoax?

Orion Pagan has waited years for someone to tell him that he’s going to die. He has a serious heart condition, and he signed up for Death-Cast so he could know what’s coming.

Valentino Prince is restarting his life in New York. He has a long and promising future ahead and he only registered for Death-Cast after his twin sister nearly died in a car accident.

Orion and Valentino cross paths in Times Square and immediately feel a deep connection. But when the first round of End Day calls goes out, their lives are changed forever—one of them receives a call, and the other doesn’t. Though neither boy is certain how the day will end, they know they want to spend it together…even if that means their goodbye will be heartbreaking.

My Thoughts: What I love so much about the Death-Cast stories is that they take an idea that is so outlandish and somehow make it seem real. The world-building is amazing, and I loved seeing the differences in the world between this book and They Both Die at the End. It is well thought out, and you can see its growth as it changes, as something like this would if it existed in our world. But, amongst this dystopian-esque world are human stories. This is one of the many compelling factors in these books, we follow the human experiences of these people, the world is only their backdrop, and the focus is them.

Since this is the prequel there was a lot needed to explain the start of Death-Cast. I enjoyed each of the character’s stories, but it did feel a bit long-winded. However, I struggle to keep my focus with any books longer than 300 pages so that is probably just a me thing! Overall, this series ranked very highly for me, and I would definitely recommend this to fans of young adult dystopian novels.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Funny Story

Funny Story by Emily Henry

First line: Some people are natural storytellers.

Summary: Daphne believes she has the perfect life. She is engaged to a wonderful man, has the job of her dreams (a children’s librarian) and lives in the beautiful town of Waning Bay, Wisconsin. But it all comes crashing down when her fiancé, Peter, realizes that he is in love with his best friend, Petra. In a spur of the moment decision, Daphne accepts the offer to move in with Petra’s ex, Miles.

While most days are spent avoiding each other, one night they form a bond over their shared heartache leading Daphne to accidentally insinuate to Peter that her and Miles are now a couple. As the two spend more time together and just happen to post photos of the two of them, Daphne starts to wonder if her friendship with Miles may become more than either of them expected. Maybe their fake relationship has become more real than pretend?

My Thoughts: I absolutely adored this book! It is definitely my favorite of Emily Henry’s rom-com books so far. She writes interesting characters (ones that all seem to be a part of the book world), who are witty and people that are easy to cheer for.

I loved the relationship between Daphne and Miles. The unlikely pairing who perfectly complement each other. She is the tight laced librarian and he is the free spirit bartender. We have all seen this movie or read this book. It is predictable but fun! But Henry adds backstories to each that make their relationships with everyone around them more complicated. And then there is the wonderful cast of supporting characters who add wisecracks as well as insight into the main characters. I wanted to live in this book.

If you are looking for a book to take on vacation, read by the pool or add to your Summer Reading Program TBR, then I would highly recommend this! However, I would also recommend any other books as well. They all pair well with the summer vibes that are nearly here.

Monica’s Musings: One Italian Summer

One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle

“I cannot yet conceive of a world without her, what that will look like, who I am in her absence.”
― Rebecca Serle, One Italian Summer

Summary: When Katy’s mother dies, she is left reeling. Carol wasn’t just Katy’s mom, but her best friend and first phone call. She had all the answers and now, when Katy needs her the most, she is gone. To make matters worse, their planned mother-daughter trip of a lifetime looms: two weeks in Positano, the magical town Carol spent the summer right before she met Katy’s father. Katy has been waiting years for Carol to take her, and now she is faced with embarking on the adventure alone.

But as soon as she steps foot on the Amalfi Coast, Katy begins to feel her mother’s spirit. Buoyed by the stunning waters, beautiful cliff sides, delightful residents, and, of course, delectable food, Katy feels herself coming back to life.

And then Carol appears—in the flesh, healthy, sun-tanned, and thirty years old. Katy doesn’t understand what is happening, or how—all she can focus on is that she has somehow, impossibly, gotten her mother back. Over the course of one Italian summer, Katy gets to know Carol, not as her mother, but as the young woman before her. She is not exactly who Katy imagined she might be, however, and soon Katy must reconcile the mother who knew everything with the young woman who does not yet have a clue.

My thoughts: Katy strikes me as a little too codependent and a bit too invested in her mother’s life choices, however, the pain of her loss resonated with me. Katy chooses to still go on the mother-daughter vacation she had planned, leaving her husband Eric at home. She plans to use this time to rediscover her life without her mother around.

I enjoyed this one quite a bit. It did remind me of Serle’s first novel, In Five Years. The magical time-jumping aspects of her books are fun, and I find that I enjoy them because they are more fictional than most of my reads.

I really liked the concept of Katy meeting and spending time with Carol as a 30 year old. I’ve thought so many times, “what I would do to be a fly on the wall in the past lives of my parents”, just to know and see what they were like before I came along. It’s one thing to see pictures and hear stories, but it would be another thing entirely to experience it. That aspect of this novel was fascinating.

Where I falter on this one is the romance aspect. *A few spoilers in the paragraph directly below*

Continue reading “Monica’s Musings: One Italian Summer”

What’s Ashley Reading?: Remarkably Bright Creatures

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

First line: Darkness suits me.

Summary: Tova Sullivan has spent her nights cleaning at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. It has helped her cope with the quietness of her life after the death of her husband. Over time she has developed a friendship with the aquarium’s octopus, Marcellus. Then when Tova has to take a leave of absence from her job, she befriends and teaches the young man who is her temporary replacement. As they interact, Marcellus starts to notice that there is a bond between the two and he has to reveal what he knows before it is too late.

My Thoughts: If you are looking for a feel good book to end your 2023 reading challenge then this is the book for you. This very much reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman in the way I felt reading it. There is little to no romance, great friendships are made and at the end a secret is revealed that leaves the reader feeling all the feels.

I loved each chapter narrated by Marcellus the octopus. He plays such an important part to the story but is mostly an observer. His haughtiness about the humans around him was always funny to read.

Even though reading something like this it is pretty obvious how the story resolves it still feels right when it happens. It is like putting a puzzle together and the final piece being added. I would highly recommend listening to the audiobook because the narration is well done and the Marcellus’s voice is perfectly cast.

Monica’s Musings: Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six

Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six by Lisa Unger

“What is it that they say? That thing about happy and unhappy families? That happiness is all the same, but misery is unique?”― Lisa Unger, Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six

Summary: Three couples rent a luxury cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway to die for in this chilling locked-room thriller.

What could be more restful than a weekend getaway with family and friends? An isolated luxury cabin in the woods with spectacular views, a hot tub, and a personal chef. Hannah’s generous brother found the listing online. The reviews are stellar. It’ll be three couples on this trip with good food, good company, and lots of R&R. But the dreamy weekend is about to turn into a nightmare.

A deadly storm is brewing. The rental host seems just a little too present. The personal chef reveals that their beautiful house has a spine-tingling history. And the friends have their own complicated pasts, with secrets that run blood deep. How well does Hannah know her brother, her own husband? Can she trust her best friend? Meanwhile, someone is determined to ruin the weekend, looking to exact payback for deeds long buried. Who is the stranger among them?

My Thoughts: There are so many POVs in this, which is a bit daunting. Adding to the confusion, the characters do not seem to mesh with the main narrative of the luxury vacation. Plus, the prologue included a tense Christmas dinner involving the mysterious gift of DNA tests where no one claimed to be the gift provider. Simply put, there is a lot to grasp in this story.

Once the three couples get to the cabin, the cabin owner proves to be disturbing. Bad things start happening. Who is doing it? To what end?

I listened to the audio and enjoyed the story, but it might be better to read it instead. I had to rewind a few times, thinking I missed a thread. It is one of those thrillers that allows many open threads that ultimately come together to knit a nice ending!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Mothered

Mothered by Zoje Stage

First line: Silas loved a good puzzle, especially if it involved the interlocking pieces of science and soul, the known and the unknown.

Summary: Grace had just bought her first home when the COVID pandemic hit, she lost her job as a hairstylist and now her mother wants to move in with her. They never had a great relationship and the hours spent together start to strain their nerves. Grace starts having nightmares about her twin who died when they were young and struggles to differentiate between what is real and what is a dream. And then her mother reveals a dark secret from their past but Grace cannot believe her. There is no way that things happened the way her mother claims. Is her mother trying to drive her mad? Who and what can Grace believe anymore if she cannot trust her own mother?

My Thoughts: This book was STRANGE! It was a fever dream almost literally. Grace tilts back and forth between moments of sanity and bouts of fear and nightmares. She is a very unreliable narrator. But really it is more like the book who is unreliable. So many chapters are dream sequences filled with Grace’s fears and memories. Everything seemed just so wild until I realized that it was another dream.

Neither of the main characters was very likeable but Jackie, Grace’s mother, was awful. She seems like the ideal mother who cooks, cleans and is sweet to your friends but she can quickly use guilt and manipulation. I kept waiting for her to crack and cause some harm to Grace or the cat.

The setting of isolation during the pandemic set the perfect atmosphere for the downward spiral of these two women. Luckily I was still able to work at times during the pandemic because I can see how it easy it would be to lose touch with reality being home bound for long periods of time. The beginning of the story dragged on a little after a catchy first chapter and then it picked up at the end as tensions finally reached a climax. This is not as a good as Baby Teeth but still a chilling WTF book.

Monica’s Musings: You Shouldn’t Have Come Here

You Shouldn’t Have Come Here by Jeneva Rose

“It’s easy to be fooled by pretty things. We look at them and think something special went into creating them, like extra time was spent, like they are good because of their beauty. I rarely trust beautiful things.”
― Jeneva Rose, You Shouldn’t Have Come Here

Summary: Grace Evans, an overworked New Yorker looking for a total escape from her busy life, books an Air BnB on a ranch in the middle of Wyoming. When she arrives, she’s pleasantly surprised to find that the owner is a handsome man by the name of Calvin Wells. But there are things Grace discovers that she’s not too pleased about; such as the lack of cell phone service, a missing woman, and a feeling that something isn’t right with the town.

Despite her uneasiness and misgivings from Calvin’s friends and family, the two grow close and start to fall for one another. However, as her departure date nears, things between them start to change for the worse. Grace grows wary of Calvin as his infatuation for her seems to turn into obsession. Calvin fears that Grace is hiding something from him.

Told from dual points of view, You Shouldn’t Have Come Here is a thrill ride and a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when you open up your house and your heart to a total stranger.

My Thoughts:  My head is still spinning at that crazy and out of nowhere ending, and I am unsure how I feel about. I thought I had it figured out, but I was so far off it was not even funny.

The first half of the book felt like a romance novel. A city girl heads to a ranch in Wyoming for a 10-day escape. The owner is good-looking, and suddenly, a love story is happening. After the halfway point, then we had a thriller. Just when you think you have it figured out, who and why, you haven’t. I think my favorite aspect of this story is the overwhelming sense of foreboding that starts at the beginning and doesn’t stop until the end.

Monica’s Musings: The Locked Door

The Locked Door by Frieda McFadden

“Dad always says that if you’re going to do something wrong, at least be smart enough not to let anybody see you do it.”
― Freida McFadden, The Locked Door

Summary: Some doors are locked for a reason…

While eleven-year-old Nora Davis was up in her bedroom doing homework, she had no idea her father was killing women in the basement. Until the day the police arrived at their front door.

Decades later, Nora’s father is spending his life behind bars, and Nora is a successful surgeon with a quiet, solitary existence. Nobody knows her father was a notorious serial killer. And she intends to keep it that way.

Then Nora discovers one of her young female patients has been murdered. In the same unique and horrific manner that her father used to kill his victims.

Somebody knows who Nora is. Somebody wants her to take the fall for this unthinkable crime. But she’s not a killer like her father. The police can’t pin anything on her.

As long as they don’t look in her basement.

My Thoughts: Freida McFadden is an author who is becoming increasingly popular on BookTok. It is exciting to give trendy authors a try to see what all the fuss is about! This was the audiobook my husband and I chose to listen to on our way to Denver. We both found the story very interesting, and it made the time go by!

It was fun to pause and discuss our theories of “whodunnit”. It was fast-paced and hard to put down. Lots of red herrings to throw you off track and keep you guessing until the final twist. We finished this just as we were pulling into Denver, and neither of us guessed correctly how it would end! Although, I would say that the story wrapped up a little abruptly. It would have been better if the plot did not have so many storylines and if we could delve into more details, especially on Nora’s childhood.

*Available on Libby

What’s Ashley Reading?: A Twisted Love Story

A Twisted Love Story by Samantha Downing

First line: Wes can’t get the song out of his head.

Summary: Wes and Ivy have a deep relationship. They love each other beyond words. But at times they also hate each other with a fierce passion. In their on-again off-again relationship they have damaged property, taken revenge and called the cops. But during one of their breakups they did something that they refuse to discuss. However, a police detective is digging into their past and it may lead to the darkest night of their lives. Can they stay together through everything? Or will this finally destroy them?

My Thoughts: The characters and their relationship was a disaster in this book! I could not believe how these people acted towards each other. No one was likeable. There is not someone to really cheer for. It is just a big train wreck. But I did think that some of the petty things were pretty ingenious.

I don’t know how to feel about this book. It is a domestic thriller dealing more with personal relationships than anything else. There are flashes back to times during Wes and Ivy’s past relationships that gives us a look at their troubled history which leads to the night that changed everything. Much of the reasons behind the drama was spurred on by them. If they hadn’t been vengeful then it would not have led to other events. It just seemed to be a cycle and became repetitive. But then the story just comes to an end. I didn’t feel like there was a real conclusion. I just did not like it as much as some of Downing’s other books.

FYI: Abuse, assault and violence.

Monica’s Musings: The Woman in the Library

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

“I am a bricklayer without drawings, laying words in sentences, sentences into paragraphs, allowing my walls to twist and turn on a whim…”

― Sulari Gentill, The Woman in the Library

Summary: In every person’s story, there is something to hide…

The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet until the tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who’d happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation, and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.

Award-winning author Sulari Gentill delivers a sharply thrilling read with The Woman in the Library, an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship and shows us that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.

My Thoughts: I loved the idea of this clever mystery within a mystery.

The main character Freddie is an author who is writing a fictional story about what is happening in real life. The way reality played alongside the fictional story in a unique format had me intrigued from the start. There is a lot to unpack in this book. Murder at the library, people bonded by a scream, another murder or two, a manuscript, and many interesting turns!

The whole time it had me double guessing myself and swaying my opinion of the murderer’s identity. I found myself wanting to read more to find out who it was! It was fun to guess along with the characters as they tossed around theories. Overall I enjoyed this one, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes a murder mystery to solve as the story develops.