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Lil Red’s Book Club: Our Missing Hearts By Celeste Ng Edition

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Lil Red’s Book Club: Our Missing Hearts By Celeste Ng Edition

Hello everyone and welcome to a brand new edition of Lil Red’s Book Club! Today, we will be discussing one of the best books that I have read in a good long while called Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng. And, as always, no spoilers will be given away! Before we begin, I will be placing a trigger warning for violence, assault, hate crimes, and disturbing content. Now, let’s get to it:

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Bird is a twelve year old, Chinese American boy who lives with his father in a shabby dorm room on the college campus where his dad works in the library. Things didn’t always used to be like that, though. Bird and his parents used to live in a wonderful home when his dad was teaching at Harvard. Everything went upside down when Bird’s mom left several years ago, seemingly with no reason whatsoever.

Bird lives in a strange time and was born after The Crisis. This period refers to a time in America where everything was plunged into despair: Financial ruin, sickness plaguing the country, and protests, bombings, and attacks happening daily. It wasn’t long for America to find a scapegoat and the blame for the country’s demise fell on the Chinese. Once fingers began to point, the solution was to form PACT or the Protection of American Culture and Traditions.

PACT let it be known that it wasn’t a crime to be of a different race. However, if you were displaying any type of “unpatriotic” behavior (speaking a foreign language, for example) or criticizing PACT, it was grounds to have your children removed from the home or being thrown in jail. Neighbors were encouraged to report any of these unAmerican acts and anyone who looked different knew it was best to keep their head down or risk being battered on the streets.

Some people were brave enough to speak out against PACT and their inspiration drew from an unlikely source. A line from a poem written by Bird’s mom. Her book of poetry had all but been forgotten, but the line of “our missing hearts” reverberated with the families whose children were taken away. Soon, clever displays of protest began to appear everywhere featuring the phrase “our missing hearts”: trees wrapped in red yard with dolls that looked like children hanging from it, ice sculptures of children melting in the sun, and an entire street painted red. Did Bird’s mom leave the family to begin this revolution?

After receiving a letter from his mom with nothing but a drawing of cats, Bird can’t stop thinking about her. And, eventually, he figures out the clue of the drawing to lead him back to his mom in New York City. Bird learns that his mom has been laying low in an abandoned house and she has something big planned. Thanks to her network of librarians, parents, and trusted strangers, Bird’s mom has spent every minute since she left home tracking down the missing hearts. And, with her grand finale, she hopes that everyone will listen to their stories and remember them in their own hearts. Will Bird’s family finally be reunited? Will the world of PACT crumble and fall? Read Our Missing Hearts to find out!

Reading Our Missing Hearts was equal parts heartwarming, moving, and terrifying. Obviously, The Crisis drew inspirations from the Covid-19 pandemic and it was all but too easy to imagine the world that Celeste Ng created once The Crisis had passed. I can think of several examples of hatred that mimics PACT closely in America right off the top of my head. And, how many cases of missing children are we all aware about? Too many to count. It was scary to read about this world that felt so relatable and close, but the hope that Ng instilled in every page kept me rooting for better days ahead for Bird and everyone in this world.

Our Missing Hearts moved me so deeply and Celeste Ng has such an amazing way with words. I could tell that she selected her words and phrases with so much care and it was almost like reading poetry on every page. Each character in this book was cultivated with love and they were beautiful; Bird’s studious father who breaks down words to their original roots, his fiery, passionate mother, and Bird himself – curious and strong despite living in a world that hates people who look like him. It was impossible to not fall in love with all of them and it made every setback feel like a stab in the heart.

I truly could not put Our Missing Hearts down to save my own life and now that I am done with it, I want to read it again! Things have sucked in my world due to personal reasons and this book reminded me to continue to be brave. It encouraged me to be strong like Bird and his family. And it offered the push that everyone can use every now and then to continue to be a voice for those on the side of injustice. Our Missing Hearts showcased the power of words and every single one of us has that power to use our voice to help the silenced. In Our Missing Hearts’ case, all it took was one simple phrase.

I cannot recommend Our Missing Hearts enough and will be awarding it with the coveted ten out of ten stars. It was absolutely perfect and I guess I have to read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng ASAP!

What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah

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Lil Red’s Book Club: The Club By Ellery Lloyd Edition

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Lil Red’s Book Club: The Club By Ellery Lloyd Edition

Hello everyone and welcome to a brand new edition of Lil Red’s Book Club! Without giving any spoilers away, as always, we will be discussing a thriller by Ellery Lloyd called The Club. I have been nursing this book for a while because I haven’t had much free time to read and I was very happy to be done with it; Partially because it took so long and partially because it wasn’t my favorite book in the world. It definitely fell under the “pretty good” but not great category! Before we begin, I will be placing a big fat trigger warning on The Club for murder, violence, and rape. Now, let’s get to it:

Screenshot 2023-04-12 at 06-48-24 Sarah Mushenheim (@lifewithlilred94) • Instagram photos and videos

The Home clubs are a celebrity’s playground with ultra lux resorts in locations ranging from London to Italy and Manhattan. There is an insanely high membership fee and with that comes the privilege of privacy. No cell phones are allowed on Home properties so the members have no fear of paparazzi or unflattering photos and have the freedom to do what they want when they want. The Home clubs have been in the Groom family for a long time and was passed down to the eldest, Ned, after his grandpa’s death. After a fire burned down the original location, Ned began expanding his empire to what it is today and did it almost all by himself with minimal help from his younger brother, Adam.

Now, Ned is preparing to launch the most ambitious Home club yet; Island Home. Yeah, he bought an entire island for his new resort and the caveat is that it can only be accessed when low tide reveals a causeway from the mainland to the island. Ned is a loud, brash man that can be difficult on a good day to work with, but his staff remains ever faithful. To assist him, there is his loyal PA named Nikki and the Hospitality Manager, Annie. A new staff member named Jess has also been welcomed aboard as the Head of Housekeeping. Before the weekend long launch party begins, it is anarchy on the island as everyone works diligently to turn Island Home into the best one ever.

By the time the rich and famous arrive on the island, it is perfect with huge cabins, a spa, gym, underwater restaurant, and private screening room just to name a couple of the many accommodations. Before a big launch, Ned likes to invite his chosen few to a feast to catch up, eat, drink, and be merry. The night, however, takes a drastic turn when Ned announces that there will eventually be a package waiting in the room of four of his most wealthy, celebrated guests. The packages will arrive at different times and each member is very anxious to find out what it could be. And, what it is is something that they would never expect.

The first package delivered is to a Jackson Crane – well known actor and husband to model and humanitarian, Georgia. After the dinner party, Jackson returns to his cabin to find a memory stick and a demand for an exorbitant amount of money for his yearly membership fee. And, one by one, the other three of the chosen receive their “gift” too. These memory sticks reveal the deepest, darkest, career destroying secrets of each member and all of the recordings were done in their rooms of various Home resorts. The asking fee to keep their secrets at bay is astronomical and even with all of their wealth combined, eventually the well would run dry. Essentially, Ned now owns them.

Other than Ned, Annie, Adam, and the chosen, no one on the island knows that they are constantly being recorded and continue to go about their weekend at Island Home. And why would they suspect anything, anyways? The whole point of Home clubs is to not be constantly recorded. As the celebrities enjoy and the staff caters to their every need, plots of murder begin to form and not just from the guests being blackmailed. It turns out that high ranking members in the Home hierarchy have secrets too. Nikki, Annie, and Jess all have a past that directly correlates themselves with guests on the island and have vengeance on the mind as well.

The grand finale of the Island Home launch party is an immersive theater event that will take the members around the island and back to the Manor to party. To keep everyone’s identity a secret as they wander the grounds and for the name of theater, everyone is required to wear a cloak and mask. It is the ideal scenario for revenge to be exacted and as the night plays out, several people meet their demise. What will become of the blackmailed guests of Island Home and the man who grew wealthy from their secrets? Read The Club to find out!

There were several things about The Club that I enjoyed. I thought that the plot was very interesting and loved the idea of these “private” places where celebrities could let their hair down for good or bad. I admit that I am a sucker for all things lux so I also really liked to read about all of the clothes, accommodations, and locations being described in the book. However, there was something about The Club that just didn’t connect with me no matter how hard I tried to make it happen.

The Club is told from the perspective of Jess, Nikki, Annie, and Adam and you all know I love a multiple narrator book. The problem was that I couldn’t stand any of them! Literally none of the key or supporting players in The Club were likeable in the slightest and it made for a very dry and stilted read. For the most part, I liked the ideas of each individual chapter but I couldn’t get into the characters as they spoke their piece. Not only that, but this book’s grand reveal left a lot to be desired and each twist and turn could be easily guessed before it happened. While nothing pleases me more than getting reveals right, I like to be surprised even more than that.

I feel very torn about The Club because the idea of the book was a winner but the execution just wasn’t there for me. Overall, I am going to give it a four out of ten stars. If this review sounds interesting to you, give it a try because it was still kind of fun. If not, you can most definitely skip on this book!

What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah

Lil Red’s Book Club: We Were Never Here By Andrea Bartz Edition

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Lil Red’s Book Club: We Were Never Here By Andrea Bartz Edition

Hello everyone and welcome to a brand new edition of Lil Red’s Book Club! Without giving any spoilers away, as always, we will be discussing a thriller by Andrea Bartz called We Were Never Here. Was it the best book I ever read? No. But it was pretty good and a nice change of pace after reading the sweetly sentimental A Man Called Ove. Before we begin, I will be placing a trigger warning on We Were Never Here for violence and murder, sexual assault, abuse in all forms, and harm to an animal. Now, let’s get to it:

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Kristen and Emily. Emily and Kristen. Kremily for short. They have been inseparable besties since college and are still going strong over a decade later. While Emily resides in Wisconsin, Kristen moved to Australia for work but they talk all day every day and take a best friends trip once a year. During their travels, they explore locations that are outside of the norm of Paris and London. They much prefer locations like Uganda, Vietnam, and Laos to name a few.

Every trip that they have had left Kristen and Emily giddy and the travel bug continued to bite, until something bad happened in Cambodia last year. What should have been an awesome one night stand for Emily with a handsome stranger went horribly wrong and ended in his murder when Kristen arrived on scene. Panicked and in a foreign country, the best friends put their heads together to dispose of the body, get back to their respective homes, and put the whole thing behind them.

It took a lot of work for Emily to get back to a good place and where she is still isn’t great but better. In fact, she has even got back into the dating scene by going out with the adorable Aaron. She had Kristen to thank for getting her through the toughest time of her life and being strong for the both of them. And, finally, the fear of being caught dwindled into an annoying thought that would sometimes pop up in the back of her head.

Despite what happened in Cambodia, the girls still take their annual best friends trip and find themselves in Chile. The getaway has been amazing and Emily truly believes that her and Kristen are closer than ever and completely made it through their shared horrors. Until the last night of their vacation. In a terrible instance of lightening striking twice, they find themselves in an eerily similar situation to Cambodia. This time, Kristen was the victim and her attacker was dead well before Emily burst through the door.

Emily and Kristen were on a massive time crunch before returning to their homes and had to hastily bury the body in a shallow grave in a remote farming community. Understandably, Emily is freaking out because there is no way they are going to be able to get away with murder twice. Kristen, on the other hand, is acting strange. Really strange. As if nothing happened at all and that everything is A-okay.

Unsettled by her friend’s far from normal reaction, Emily begins to pull away from Kristen and, for once, the distance between them feels like a good thing. Emily continues to avoid until it becomes impossible because Kristen shows up at her front door, claiming to be “over” Australia. Once Kristen is home, she begins popping up everywhere to the point of being stalkery; Emily’s favorite yoga studio, brunch with her boyfriend, even her therapist’s office.

Desperate to get away from Kristen but afraid to say so, Emily agrees to a birthday weekend at the lake house belonging to Kristen’s grandparents. Still wary, Emily decides to do some good old fashioned snooping and is shocked from her findings; Kristen’s childhood best friend committed suicide two weeks after Kristen’s parents died in a house fire. Is Kristen literally the most unlucky person on planet Earth or were three deaths in one month the result of something more sinister?

The walls are closing in on Emily from all sides because the backpacker they disposed of in Chile has been found and a handsome reward is offered for information. She no longer trusts Kristen and for good reason – five people are dead and they might all be at her hands. All Emily knows is that she is not safe and neither is her new beau. Will Emily get to the bottom of Kristen’s dark past once and for all? And will the girls get away with murder twice? Read We Were Never Here to find out!

As I said, We Were Never Here definitely fell into the “just okay” category for me. It was good, but not great. It was also incredibly easy to figure out every major twist and turn, which is both a blessing and a curse. I like the feeling of being right, but I like being surprised by grand reveals much more! Despite consistently knowing where this book was going, I still considered it to be unputdownable and finished it in a matter of four sittings. Perhaps not so much for the plot as much as Andrea Bartz’s writing style being very similar to Rachel Hawkins, an author who I really enjoy.

As far as characters go, I honestly didn’t care much for Emily, Kristen, or any of the supporting characters for that matter. Kristen and Emily were truly Yin and Yang. Kristen was bubbly, vivacious, and strong. Emily was anxious, fumbling, and weak in comparison. Both of the girls remained the same throughout the duration of the book and it bored me. There was no real character development and that was another reason why it was easy to figure We Were Never Here out; Nothing Emily or Kristen did surprised me.

I’ll be the first to admit that the plot of this story is one of the more far fetched ones that I have read and that’s fine. The crazy plot wasn’t supported with major shocks, though, and I never felt like there was a definite climax or resolution. We Were Never Here fired on all cylinders until it was over and it made the read less fulfilling. I wouldn’t recommend this book unless it was a palette cleanser read, but I would read more by Andrea Bartz because she does show promise as an author I could get into.

Overall, I am going to rate We Were Never Here with a four and a half out of ten stars. This is a book that you can definitely skip on if you are looking for something better than just “pretty good”!

What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah

Lil Red’s Book Club: A Man Called Ove By Fredrik Backman Edition

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Lil Red’s Book Club: A Man Called Ove By Fredrik Backman Edition

Hello everyone and welcome to a brand new edition of Lil Red’s Book Club! Without giving any spoilers away, as per ushe, we will be discussing Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. I am genuinely unsure as to why I haven’t read this book until now and am kicking myself in the butt for it because it was SO good. This bittersweet tale made me laugh, cry, and fall in love with the old curmudgeon and the people who consistently bothered him. Before we begin, I will be placing a trigger warning for terminal illness, suicide attempts, and miscarriages. Now, let’s get started:

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Widower Ove lives in a tidy development of row houses and is convinced that he is surrounded by idiots. There is a right and wrong way to do things and rules to follow, according to Ove, and if you can’t do that… Well, you’re the one in the wrong. Ove lived a life of hardship and tragedy and losing his beloved wife, Sonja, was the final straw. Forced into retirement with not even his job to keep him occupied and an empty house, Ove is ready to die and be reunited with the only person who he loved and who saw him fully and completely. If only his neighbors would leave him in peace, he would have been with Sonja days ago.

The disturbances begin with the arrival of Ove’s new neighbors “The Pregnant One” and “The Lanky One” or Parvaneh and Patrick, respectively. With two little girls in tow, they moved into the development with a bang by destroying Ove’s flowerbeds and mail box. Every suicide attempt is foiled by Parvaneh’s impeccable timing with requests to borrow tools, needing a ride, or delivering a meal to his doorstep. It’s not like Ove hates the new family, but he doesn’t like them very much. However, the new couple and their little girls take a shine to him.

Every day, Ove prepares himself to die and every day he holds off because of a new way that he has been bothered. There’s the mangy cat he begrudgingly became the owner of, his neighborhood that he closely monitors, his annoying neighbors, and an evil man who drives a Skoda. And, of course, Parvaneh and her family won’t leave him alone to the point where the unthinkable happens; He begins to grow fond of them too.

Bold, sweet, pregnant Parvaneh is quite possibly the only person in the world who refuses to let Ove speak out of line and scolds him when he is being rude. She quickly becomes friends with other people in the neighborhood and before you know it, Ove’s house feels like a hotel with people and the cat coming in and out. Parvaneh fills Ove’s life with new people and projects and he doesn’t have the time to die anymore… There is a war coming.

Anita and Rune were Ove and Sonja’s best friends and neighbors. Anita and Sonja got on like two peas in a pod and Rune and Ove enjoyed tinkering in the shed together in silence. No one knows exactly how the feud between Rune and Ove began, but two close friends turned into bitter rivals seemingly over night. It’s a mystery the last time Ove spoke to Rune and he had no idea until Anita knocked on his door that he has Alzheimer’s. It turns out the evil man in the Skoda who can’t follow rules is there to take Rune into a home claiming that Anita no longer can care for him herself.

Ove knows what must be done and him and his new friends form a task force to keep Rune at home. He even finds it somewhere in his heart to forgive. Ove is not the same man who was ready and willing to die every day because he finally found other people to live for. What will become of Ove and his companions who brought him back to life? Read A Man Called Ove to find out!

Saying that I loved A Man Called Ove is a severe understatement and I think that every single person should read this book. There were no twists and turns in A Man Called Ove and it was very easy to see where the story was going. This was just fine with me because the book was about the journey more than the ending. The journey of a man who was ready to die that learned how to smile again thanks to people who he used to find bothersome.

There were plenty of parts in A Man Called Ove that made me incredibly sad, but so many more that were absolutely joyous. Maybe not in as boisterous of a way as the darling Parvaneh – just in a way that was simply Ove. This book was like a textbook of how Ove became who he is and you learn that he is not a bitter old man like people believe. He is a man who bad things happened to, a man who likes things just so, and a man who still has some fight in him yet.

Other than the evil man in the Skoda, you will be enamored with the zany cast of players who weave their way into Ove’s life. People who he never would have associated with before he began seeing the world differently. Each person sees Ove so very differently than he sees himself and through their infernal pestering, he learns to accept company from someone who isn’t Sonja. Ove still misses his beloved more than words can say, but his new friends and perspective gave him a new lease on life, which he rolled his eyes and took.

I couldn’t imagine awarding A Man Called Ove with anything less than ten out of ten stars. If you are late to the party on reading this book like I was, READ IT IMMEDIATELY. Now, I am all set to see A Man Called Otto with America’s sweetheart, Tom Hanks! 😀

What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah

Lil Red’s Book Club: All The Blood We Share By Camilla Bruce Edition

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Lil Red’s Book Club: All The Blood We Share By Camilla Bruce Edition

Hello everyone and welcome to a brand new edition of Lil Red’s Book Club! The last book that I read was a massive dud and I was desperate for something good to read. I am so happy that I found it in Camilla Bruce’s All The Blood We Share because it was excellent. All The Blood We Share is a novel about the Bloody Bender family in Kansas. While it is loosely based on some facts and legends, it is a work of fiction retelling the story of America’s first serial killer family. Obviously, before we begin our no spoilers review, I will be placing a huge trigger warning on this book for gruesome violence and highly disturbing content. Think you can handle it? Then, let’s get to it:

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All The Blood We Share takes place in the 1870s and we begin our tale with Ma Bender and her daughter, Kate, westward bound to meet Pa and step sibling, John, in Kansas. This wasn’t for a change of scenery, but to flee from crimes that they may or may not have committed in Pennsylvania and Indiana. Pa and John arrived in Kansas first to begin building a small home that would double as a roadside inn and grocery store. Of course, Ma and Kate weren’t expecting to arrive to their new digs and be in the lap of luxury, but they were certainly taken aback when their new property was little more than a shack.

At first, the Benders are keen on laying low where they settled and want to portray themselves as upstanding citizens. They form a partnership at the town’s trading post to stock their grocery store and their inn is open for business for weary travelers to have a meal and rest. For a while, things are going well despite their meager earnings and their confidence grows that no one would suspect the Bender family of crimes done across the country. As far as they are concerned, they are home free and with that new sense of freedom comes restlessness.

In this retelling, Kate is described as the ringleader of the Bender Circus with an unquenchable blood lust. She is a beautiful young woman who is bold and brash and has her sights set on the stage for her fraudulent performance as a medium. Kate describes the urge to shed blood as the “darkness” and it wasn’t long before it began to rear its ugly head. After being confined to a shack with her elderly parents and jealous stepbrother in Kansas’s extreme temperatures, the darkness occupies her mind at full force and a plan begins to form.

All of the Benders are eager to make more money and would like to see themselves out of Kansas even though they only recently arrived. However, their earnings from the inn and Kate’s work as a hotel maid would hardly allow them to travel and purchase property. While they are poor, the men traveling the road and looking for a place to stay might not be. Kate claims that the angels she is in touch with will mark the men with full pockets and it is those men whose lives they will claim. After all, the road is a dangerous place and it is not uncommon for people to meet a terrible fate. A murder at an inn was unheard of, but going missing while traveling was plausible if not probable and it gave the Benders the perfect cover.

Within the next year and change, the Benders would continue to run their business and kill and rob marked men. The first bodies the Bender men disposed of were off of their property and when they were found, it sent the whole town into a tizzy. Clever Kate used her work as a medium to steer people in a different direction and when she would “speak” to the dead men, she would say that their lives were taken by a stranger to the land. This reassured the villagers and with all eyes off of the Benders, they felt safe enough to continue killing. They would be more careful with the bodies, though, and they were buried in the orchard on their land.

As their spree went on, Pa and Ma Bender would become poorly and John would go into fits of rage when Kate was with another man. They were desperate to get out of Kansas and Pa was convinced that “one more man” would give them the money they needed to leave. The last man was the wrong one. One of their final kills in Kansas was a doctor whose brother was a colonel. After not hearing word from his brother for some time, the colonel began a search party which would result in all of the properties being looked over with a fine toothed comb. 

The decision for the search party came from a town hall meeting, where it was suggested that the killer might be one of their own. All of the property owners were there, including Pa and John. Knowing that they didn’t have long before the law would begin snooping, they rushed home and made a hasty getaway. By the time their property was searched, the Benders were long gone when the bodies were found. Legend says that they never got caught. Others say that they were taken care of via pioneer justice. No one knows. What do you think became of the Bloody Bender family? Read All The Blood We Share and draw your own conclusions!

When you read about the Bloody Bender family, there are few stone cold facts and a lot of rumors. What every story does agree on is the way that the people were killed and how they were disposed. There were so many unknowns, though. There were claims of witchcraft, claims of affairs between Kate and village men, and claims that John wasn’t her stepbrother at all but husband. What every person who reads about them can all agree on is that they were messed up!

Although All The Blood We Share was a fictional work about the Bender family, it was a fascinating read nonetheless. The story was told from the perspective of Kate, Ma Bender, and a village boy named Hanson in alternating chapters. Between the three interweaving tales, a clear picture is painted of not only the Bender family but the way they instilled fear across the whole town. The Benders were a cunning bunch and while they might not have been everyone’s cup of tea, it took a long time before they were even suspected. In this retelling, Kate was much to thank for that through her beauty, charm, and having the spirits on her side.

All The Blood We Share did start out a bit slow to set the stage of the grisly murders, but when it picked up it skyrocketed. Within fifty pages of the 370 page book, I could not put it down to save my own life and finished it in four sittings. What made this book special was the fact that there are hardly any facts about the Benders. Camilla Bruce was able to take these legends and lore and turn it into an actual story. As I read, I had to keep reminding myself that it was a fictional work but who’s to say that Bruce didn’t get some parts right? You just don’t know! It was a thought provoking read and when I finished it, all I wanted was to know the truth. You won’t get answers from All The Blood We Share, but you will get a highly entertaining read that any true crime fan will enjoy.

I am going to award All The Blood We Share with an eight out of ten stars. I am a huge fan of Camilla Bruce’s creative writing and imagination and would very much like to read her acclaimed In the Garden of Spite soon!

What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah

 

 

 

Lil Red’s Book Club: All Hallows By Christopher Golden Edition

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Lil Red’s Book Club: All Hallows By Christopher Golden Edition

Hello everyone and welcome to a brand new edition of Lil Red’s Book Club! Without giving any spoilers away, we will be discussing the horror/thriller called All Hallows by Christopher Golden. In my humble opinion, this book was an epic flop despite how much I liked a majority of the characters in it. It is a shining example of the dumbest story line I have ever read. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it until I was halfway done and you know that I refuse to not finish a book that I have started! Before we begin, I will be placing a trigger warning on All Hallows for gruesome violence, domestic abuse, harm to children, and stupidity. Now, let’s get to it:

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Tony and his daughter, Chloe, are Halloween fanatics and create a Haunted Woods attraction for charity every year in the vast woods behind their home. Sadly, it will be the last year for their fright fest fun as Tony, his wife Alice, Chloe, and son Rick will be selling the property because they are flat broke. Tony and Chloe wanted their final run with the Haunted Woods to be a wild success and reveled in the chance to hear their neighbors scream. Unfortunately, their well meant spooks aren’t the only terror happening in the woods on Halloween night.

Throughout the neighborhood, families and children plan their Halloween activities and split up accordingly. After all, there is much to do; trick or treating, a neighborhood block party, and the Haunted Woods. Tony’s son, Rick, will be trick or treating with his best friend Billie. Neighborhood teens, Steve, Vanessa, and Julia will be at the party. Meanwhile, the sad children of the Sweeney family, Charlie and Brian, would be waiting up for their dad who had left the family earlier in the day.

During Rick and Billie’s trick or treating rounds, they witnessed their supposed pedophile neighbors bringing a small boy that neither of them recognized into their home. Convinced that evil was afoot, Rick and Billie burst through the home of Zack and Ruth to rescue the boy from their clutches. His name is Leonard and he is a slight boy with a strange story. All he could tell his new companions was that he was hiding from the Cunning Man and needed their help – just until midnight.

After Charlie’s drunk, adulterous father left the family for good on Halloween afternoon, he needed an escape. He decided to go to his favorite cluster of bushes – a secret spot that you could crawl through and hide in when you don’t want to be found. There, he met little Sarah Jane, frightened and dirty in an old clown costume. She told Charlie that she was hiding from someone too, but darted away when his big brother, Brian, came to bring him home. Later, she would show up at their doorstep with her own tale of the Cunning Man and the protection she needed until midnight. Concerned for the little girl, the boys’ mom agreed to let her stay.

In similar fashion, two more peculiar children let themselves be known. One was Arthur, a boy dressed up as a scarecrow who insisted upon the help of Vanessa and Julia. The other, a little girl named Delilah, who Tony took under his wing when she showed up wandering through the Haunted Woods alone. Each child was equally as terrified of the Cunning Man and their fear convinced whomever they approached to keep them close.

While the elected “guardians” of the children waited around until midnight, they began growing suspicious. None of the missing kids were saying anything that made sense and the elders among them thought it was a prank or pointless. Either way, they weren’t hanging around. As the guardians began to head back to their own homes and plans, the children would proceed to freak out violently, with strength impossible for a kid. They needed them – rather, the Cunning Man and his witch bride did. Will the people who intended to help these children live to tell their own story of the Cunning Man? Read All Hallows to find out!

When I first started reading All Hallows, I enjoyed it immensely. As a former haunted house actor, my heart swelled over Tony and his daughter making their own haunted attraction and I could relate to how much they loved it. I liked punk rock, sharp witted Vanessa, felt terribly for the mother of Brian and Charlie, and felt fiercely protective over Rick and Billie. The chapters were all told from a different point of view, which you know I love, and I was excited to see how all of their stories would intertwine. I just didn’t expect the reason that they did to be so dumb lol.

As the missing children began to reveal themselves, I was still very much on board with All Hallows. I mean, it’s creepy right? Little ones all alone on Halloween night, it was easy to feel bad for them. Then, the nonsense of the Cunning Man got brought up and I was like “Oh. This is what’s happening?”. It was literally just a Slenderman knockoff and not a good one. You know the deal, a kid kills someone to win the favor of a terrifying, shadowy creature. It was just that and nothing more.

As I read about the Cunning Man, I still felt the urge to give the book a chance because the drama between the characters was interesting and it might get better. But, obviously, that didn’t happen. Regardless of whatever Christopher Golden did to paint a different light on the Cunning Man didn’t change the fact that it was still the exact same thing as the urban myth that spread like wildfire in my teen years. In fact, the ridiculous changes that were made just made the book even more stupid; as if the author could cover up where the inspiration for the Cunning Man came from just by altering its appearance. Well, Mr. Golden – you didn’t fool this girl!

I rarely do this. This is only the second time in Lil Red’s Book Club history that I will be giving out negative stars, but All Hallows deserves it. A negative ten out of ten stars seems appropriate and I wouldn’t recommend this book to my worst enemy. Definitely skip on it!

What are you reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah

Lil Red’s Book Club: The Villa By Rachel Hawkins Edition

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Lil Red’s Book Club: The Villa By Rachel Hawkins Edition

Hello!! The last book that I read was called Verity and it sucked EGGS. It was quite possibly the worst thing that I have ever read and I thought I would go insane if I didn’t read something else to eliminate the bad taste from my mouth. To remedy this, I cracked open the brand new Rachel Hawkins novel called The Villa and finished it in a matter of days. I have read a few books by Hawkins before and have always enjoyed them and The Villa was just right for what I needed: A palette cleanser. Was it my favorite book by her? No. But it served its purpose well. 

Before we begin our spoiler free review, I will be placing a trigger warning on The Villa for murder, violence, and the loss of a child. Now, let’s get to it:

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Emily and Chess have been besties since grade school and are still thick as thieves into their mid-thirties. Well… Sort of. While Emily found moderate success in writing cozy murder mysteries, Chess soared to fame as a self-help guru making their communication sporadic but still wonderful when it happens. As Chess enjoyed her newfound wealth and guest starred on Oprah, Emily was riding the struggle bus. A mystery illness left Emily incapacitated for months, which triggered her husband leaving her and insisting on a significant chunk of her earnings as an author.

At one of their few yearly meetings, Chess can sense Emily’s stress over lunch and comes up with a solution: A best friends summer in Italy. There, they can soak up the sun, have fun, and finish the books that they both have due. With nothing tying her to the home she once shared with her husband, Emily agrees and hops on a plane to meet Chess at the gorgeous Villa Aestas. The villa is tucked away in scenic Orvieto and it seems like the perfect place to enjoy each other’s company and work when they felt like it! Oh yeah, it was also the perfect place for murder.

In the 1970s, Villa Aestas was called the Villa Rosato and it housed a group of artists for the summer. Noel Gordon, an infamous rock star invited his faithful drug dealer, Johnnie, as well as the up and coming musician Pierce Sheldon and his girlfriend Mari and her stepsister named Lara to the villa. What promised to be a summer of Pierce taking his talent to the next level was anything but. Drugs and booze limited the amount of music Noel and Pierce made and the girls ended up with the fame. That summer, Mari wrote her first horror novel, Lilith Rising, and Lara made her first album, Aestas. Their holiday ended with Mari and Lara completing their masterpieces while Pierce ended up six feet under at the hands of Johnnie.

Staying in a “murder house” doesn’t particularly thrill Emily but the villa is beautiful and she is excited to be with Chess. During a low key day, Emily looks for something to read and cracks open Lilith Rising. As she reads, she noticed striking similarities between the book and the summer that the author spent at the same villa. She even finds references from the book in the house itself, like an etching on the glass by Mari’s desk. Was Lilith Rising something Mari made up off of the top of her head, or was it an autobiography of what truly happened at Villa Rosato that summer almost fifty years ago?

As Emily begins researching and writing about the Villa Rosato murder, she becomes increasingly paranoid of Chess. Emily wants this book and the success she knows it will achieve to herself. Chess, however, has other plans as well as secrets that Emily couldn’t conjure up in her wildest dreams. What will become of the best friends staying in a home that the locals call “cursed” all summer? Read The Villa to find out!

The Villa was, in my opinion, not Rachel Hawkins’ best but it was still a decent read. I can imagine that her books are perfect for reading by a pool – they’re not especially gruesome, intriguing enough, and peppered with humor that makes me lol. Not groundbreaking by any means, but pretty fun! I enjoyed the way The Villa was set up as it went back and forth between Emily in present day and Mari in 1970. Articles and scripts of podcasts discussing the Rosato murder were interspersed for good measure as well, which is also something I always like.

The characters in The Villa were just alright. I found Emily to be kind of bland while Chess was fairly annoying with her new age BS about the “powered path”. I definitely enjoyed reading what was going on in the 70s more than the present day. It was a much darker tale and I felt so sorry for Mari and Lara as they navigated their summer with these boys who didn’t seem to care about them one way or the other. I would have liked to root for Mari more, however, the flamboyant and sarcastic Noel was my primary focus. He sounded hot AF and I think we can all agree that he was inspired by the incomparable Noel Fielding!

Although there were a lot of interesting points to the general plot of The Villa, it still felt like something that I had heard before. There were no twists and turns that left me shook and I didn’t feel a sense of companionship with any of the key players. It certainly cleansed my palette from the last book I read and for that I am grateful. It just didn’t hit as hard as The Wife Upstairs or Reckless Girls, which left me feeling disappointed overall.

I am going to award The Villa with a five and a half out of ten stars. Rachel Hawkins is much better than this book and I would recommend skipping this one in lieu of one of her other novels!

What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah

 

Lil Red’s Book Club: Verity By Colleen Hoover Edition

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Lil Red’s Book Club: Verity By Colleen Hoover Edition

Hi!! It has been over a month since the last edition of Lil Red’s Book Club and that is because I have been insanely busy! I was so excited to have some extra time to read recently and started Verity by Colleen Hoover last week. At first, I was really into it. However, this ended up being the worst and *pardon my French* most fucked up thing I have ever read in a long time. Before we get started, I am going to be placing a big fat trigger warning on Verity for so many reasons – murder, infanticide, child abuse, highly disturbing content, and that’s just naming a few. Now, let’s get to it:

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Lowen is a struggling author who hasn’t left the home in weeks as she cares for her ailing mom. However, she must step foot outside today because she has a meeting for a potential new offer that must be conducted in person. As she waits to cross the busy streets of Manhattan, she witnesses a man get hit by a car and is standing close enough to get her clothes bloodied. A handsome stranger literally gives Lowen the shirt off of his back in a chance encounter and she arrives at her meeting in a men’s shirt thinking she will never see this guy again. WRONG!

The stranger is named Jeremy and the meeting Lowen is attending is being held on his wife’s behalf. The highly successful author, Verity Crawford, is Jeremy’s wife and is unable to complete her contract after a car accident that left her with no cognitive function. Verity is the author of a series told from the villain’s perspective and has three more books to be written. Cue: Lowen to take over.

After rejecting initially, Lowen agrees because the paycheck is insane and she is essentially homeless. Because Verity cannot collaborate with Lowen in a traditional sense, Jeremy opens the doors of his wife’s home office so she can begin looking for notes and drafts to assist in her new gig. Of course, Lowen would never go to a complete stranger’s home without doing her due diligence and researching the Crawford family. She learns that the Crawfords had twin girls that died exactly six months apart from each other, a son who remains, and a mother who can no longer interact with him or her husband.

Knowing so much already about the family’s tragedies makes Lowen feel uneasy and she spends the majority of her first days at the family home barricaded in the office. Although she can find no notes of any use for the books she must write, she finds so much more: a manuscript for Verity’s unpublished autobiography. Lowen justifies cracking it open to get a better glimpse of Verity as a person and ends up learning so much more than she bargained for.

Verity’s autobiography paints a brutally honest picture of herself as a psychopath. She is madly in love with Jeremy to the point of obsession and was not happy to find out she was pregnant with twin girls – two girls that would take Jeremy away from her. In her own words, Verity describes her monstrous acts of the abuse she doled out to her daughters and her manipulation to cover it up. Her autobiography begs the question of if the death of the twins was accidental or completely intentional.

It’s not only Verity’s manuscript that makes Lowen uneasy, it is Verity herself, who is at home and being cared for around the clock by a nurse. Verity needs people to move her body for her, so why does Lowen keep hearing the pattering of feet at night? Or how is the TV in Verity’s room turning off on its own when the remote is out of her reach?

The more time Lowen spends in the Crawford home, the more paranoid she becomes that Verity’s injuries might not be real. And, as Lowen begins crushing on Jeremy and caring for his son, the more convinced she is that they are all in danger. Is Verity actually hurt? And what is the truth behind her damning manuscript? Read Verity to find out!

I have SO much to say about Verity lol. It’s funny because as I was writing the synopsis, I am sure you can all agree that this sounds like a book that I would love. However, I ended up absolutely hating this book. I honestly didn’t know what I was reading and it felt like so many story lines being added together haphazardly. Part of Verity read like soft core porn, some of it was like reading a soap opera, and gruesome content seemed like it was added in purely for shock value.

All of you know that I am a huge thriller, horror, true crime fan and, I shit you not, this was probably one of the most disturbing books I have ever read. Reading Verity’s autobiography was so infuriating to me that I almost stopped reading it completely. It is that bad and I think that is saying a lot coming from me. I finished the book solely because I refuse to not read something in its entirety once I have started it and was unable to find any redeeming qualities.

It wasn’t the content of Verity alone that made it such a flop but it was the way it was written too. I found Colleen Hoover’s writing style to be juvenile at best. The characters were incredibly shallow and despite knowing the bad things that happened to them, you didn’t really know them at all. Lowen, for example, was such a lackluster heroine and Hoover built up her past to make her seem tragic when all she really suffered from was sleepwalking and a poor relationship with her mom. Jeremy was pretty much only there as man candy. And, Verity was plain awful but you never learned the “why” behind it. All this book did was leave me with expletives and question marks.

This doesn’t happen often, but I am going to rate Verity with a negative infinity out of ten stars and wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy. This book straight up sucked and I will never read anything else by Colleen Hoover. Epic, epic failure.

What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah

Spoil Yourself With These Home Enhancing Projects

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Spoil Yourself With These Home Enhancing Projects

What would your dream home feature? A movie or game room? A swimming pool or sauna? A home office? Spoiling yourself doesn’t always mean spending time at the salon or on a shopping spree – sometimes it means turning the dream features for your house into a reality! Turn 2023 into the year of renovations to make chez vous the ultimate place to be. Let’s explore some dream worthy options to get started on:

Home Office:

Since the pandemic, working from home is no longer just an option for the lucky few. Almost any job can be completed from a distance! If you have been working from home for the past few years and are still doing your job from the kitchen table, then you most definitely deserve your own office. If you don’t have the space for an entire room dedicated to your work, there are still ways to incorporate an office vibe. Set up a spacious desk and computer chair by a window and deck it out in adorable office supplies or pictures of your kids. It’s not so much as having an entire room for an office as much as it is having a dedicated place to work every day.

Gazebo Goals:

A gazebo will make a big difference for your backyard and a gorgeous enhancement. Gazebos are the perfect addition to your backyard for family photos, coffee and drinks with friends, and weather and bird watching. From fresh out of a fairy tale with curves and greenery to sleek lines and a strong presence, there is a gazebo for every taste and style. Spring and summer will never be the same!

Entertainment Center:

Turning a finished basement into an entertainment center is an extremely popular project and will provide endless hours of family fun. Whether you’re splurging on plush furnishings for the comfiest movie watching experience or are installing a pool table, it will be so nice to have a space in your home solely dedicated to chilling. Complete your entertainment room with accessories like a mini fridge with drinks, snacks, movie posters, or a record player to keep the good times rolling.

Book Nook:

A book nook is an amazing way to build a space in your home for quiet time for yourself or children. Choose an area of your home that gets a lot of natural lighting, install some shelves, and add a squishy armchair to curl up in. Don’t forget a small table and coasters for your tea and coffee! Stuff your shelves with all of your favorite literature and if you don’t have enough books to fill them – spoil yourself with a trip to the bookstore. 😀

Creating designated spaces in your home for specific purposes is a great project to take on in the new year. By 2024 you will be spoiled in what feels like a brand new home!

Lil Red’s Book Club: Joyland By Stephen King Edition

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Lil Red’s Book Club: Joyland By Stephen King Edition

Hello everyone and welcome to a brand new edition of Lil Red’s Book Club! Today, we are going to be discussing a super fun read by Stephen King called Joyland – without giving any spoilers away, of course. Set at the old fashioned amusement park, Joyland, in Heaven’s Bay, North Carolina, this book was completely charming. And, yes, I realize that Stephen King’s books don’t get described as that often but Joyland was such a far cry from his usual full fledged horror writing and I couldn’t put it down! Before we begin, I will be putting a trigger warning on Joyland for violence and murder. Now, let’s get to it:

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Summertime is approaching for twenty-one year old college student, Devin Jones, and he is in desperate need of a job. He is utterly heartbroken from his previous relationship, broke, and wants to be anywhere but cleaning up in the dining hall. On a whim, he decides to apply at Joyland as a general employee after seeing an ad in the classifieds. During his trip to the park in Heaven’s Bay, North Carolina for his interview, Devin decides that there are worse places to spend his summer and accepts the gig.

During his tour, Devin learns that Joyland is an old school amusement park with carny flare. There are a few big rides but the majority of attractions offered are for the entire family, making it an ideal summer destination. The games, rides, and vending stands are all ran by year round “carny from carny” folks, which is The Talk for a family of carnival workers. Don’t worry, you’ll get familiar with The Talk (Joyland’s secret lingo) soon enough! Joyland is in the business of selling fun but there is one ride that even the bravest employees don’t like to be around – the Horror House. A young woman, Linda Gray, was murdered on the ride and it is believed to be haunted. Oh yeah, and the murderer is still at large.

After a few short weeks, it’s time for Devin’s summertime job to begin and he enjoys it immensely. Kind employees like Lane, Fred, and Pop take him under their wings and show him the ropes about everything from operating rides to “wearing the fur”. AKA dressing up as the park’s mascot: Howie The Happy Hound. He has even managed to make a few friends, Tom and Erin, who live in the same boarding house as him and also work the park. Devin spends his days working hard and is eager to get a glimpse of the Horror House ghost and maybe even solve the mystery of her death.

As summer continues on, Devin becomes a staple in the lives of Annie and Mike Ross who live in a beautiful beach home that he walks by every day to and from work. Annie is a young mom and her son, Mike, has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy which confines them to their home. And, let’s just say that Annie makes it a bit easier for Devin to forget his ex girlfriend! In fact, Devin decides to stay on as a full time employee at Joyland – half for the Rosses and half for Linda Gray.

Thanks to some research from Erin, who is now back at school, her findings show a pattern of other young ladies killed in a similar fashion. Linda Gray’s killer has murdered several girls and Devin is nowhere closer to solving the crime. But, there’s something about the photos that Erin shows him that bothers him. The pictures of the killer at the park with Linda has a familiarity to them that he can’t put his finger on. Perhaps, the killer has been under everyone’s noses the entire time. Will Devin be able to bring the killer forward and put Linda Gray’s ghost to rest? Read Joyland to find out!

I seriously loved everything about Joyland and my only regret is that it wasn’t longer. After I read the last page, I told Johnny that I wished there was more or that a TV series was made about it. It was just so good and, honestly, really cute. And, once again, it feels weird to me to describe a Stephen King book as such! King’s writing made you feel like you were walking along the Joyland boardwalks with Devin and the carny Talk that the employees used further enhanced the old time park vibes. It was such a fun read that I wanted to take a ride on the Carolina Spin and Delirium Shaker myself!

While this book was based around solving a murder, it was really not as gruesome as you could imagine for a King book. It almost seemed like an afterthought to the story of Devin growing into an adult. It was exciting to read about the unsolved crime but it was even better to read about Devin’s sweet relationship with Mike and the other characters that made Heaven’s Bay special. I enjoyed how character rather than plot driven Joyland was and I wanted to be friends with all of the people who graced the pages.

I will say that the grand reveal was very easy to solve and that’s okay. I think anything too convoluted would have taken away from the overall simplicity of the story. I actually wouldn’t mind reading it again from the perspective of knowing who the killer is because certain parts immediately popped out at me and I’d like to find more. If you like to play detective like me, just keep in mind that everyone puts on a mask when they are in the business of selling fun.

I am going to award Joyland with the coveted ten out of ten stars. Stephen King might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I think that everyone will be able to find something that they like about this book. I highly recommend it and plan on reading it again in the future!

What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah