The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

Author Erin Sterling, who also writes under the name Rachel Hawkins, has written the most charming, funny, entertaining and witchy book of 2021.

Vivienne Jones, a young witch has just broken up with her college boyfriend of three months. It does not help that the town in which she lives, Graves Glen, Georgia was founded by his ancestors. Drunk, and in a bathtub, Vivienne decides to curse this ex-boyfriend, Rhys Penhallow. Not very good at witchcraft and spell-casting she thinks nothing of the words she has just spoken.

But nine years later, those words would not only come back to haunt her, but the whole town! Rhys has descended on the town, begrudgingly by his demanding father to show support for the town for their Founder’s Day celebration. Vivienne, who is now a teacher at the college they attended, is not thrilled that he has come back. Even more disgusting are the feelings she gets when she sees him. She is very dismayed at herself for the lust this gorgeously horrible man can make her feel.

When Rhys asks her to come the caves to ley lines, or recharge the magic of the town, her curiosity of how this is accomplished gets the better of her and she agrees. But what ends up happening when Vivienne and Rhys come together to the caves is nothing but a total disaster! For some reason the town’s witchcraft goes awry causing animals to begin talking, spells to backfire, and a very unhappy, unfriendly ghost from the past to appear who would like nothing better but to banish Rhys Penhallow for eternity.

Now Vivienne, Rhys and Vivienne’s aunt and cousin must somehow work together to try and fix the town’s ley lines so the magic can go back to normal, as well as reverse the curse on Rhys before the end of Halloween day or he will die.

As they begin to spend time together, they realize perhaps what happened between them years before could possibly be causing their current problems. Will time run out before they are able to fix not only the town, but Rhys’ malediction before they are able to admit how they feel about each other?

One thing is for sure, once you begin this adorable tale, you will feel as is a spell was cast on you as you won’t want to put it down until you have finished.

The Secret Next Door by Rebecca Taylor

When Alyson, her husband Justin and their young son Andrew move into the exclusive neighborhood known as The Enclave, she thinks they have finally made it! Although a bit out of their price range, she finally convinced her skeptical husband that it would be well worth the cost. Andrew would be getting the best education in the safest neighborhood with wonderful friendly and affluent neighbors.

But as so many know, no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors. The outside can sometimes be the facade needed to cover-up the inside strain and turmoil. Nearby residence can be jealous of what others have. Both monetarily, emotionally and physically.

Take Bonnie Sloan. She is running for political office. She has one son who will be going off to Yale, another son in middle school and a daughter in kindergarten. They are the family everyone looks up to. But quietly, behind closed doors their lives are falling apart. Her husband, who took over his family’s business has basically bankrupted them by making poor business decisions. Their two boys do not get along at all and have horrible physical altercations. And now the only hope for the Sloan family to financially survive is if a new development is built next to their beautiful neighborhood. This has divided residence.

So when Alyson gets invited to attend the exclusive neighborhood book club she jumps at the chance. Her new friend Gabby has been able to wrangle the invitation. Once there, as the women gossip about all the neighbors including her, she begins to drink too much. Alyson wakes up the next morning in her bathroom unable to recall anything from the previous night. Her husband who is under great pressure to figure out how to pay for this house they can’t afford has had enough. He begins to distance himself from his wife. That’s when Alyson’s life truly begins to fall apart.

That morning as Alyson is nursing a hangover, a neighborhood child was found on the road killed the night before. Her husband begins to sleep in his man cave which was her selling point to him when they bought the house. He also locks its door. Her son who she has perhaps pampered a bit too much suddenly has developed issues at school. He can’t keep up with the work in class and has been shown to anger easily.

As the neighborhood speculates on who killed the child, they begin to deliberate whether Alyson’s family is perhaps too unrefined for the beloved community. Alyson is grateful she has Gabby to lean on as her marriage begins to falls apart and her son is ostracized. She is sure once they figure out what happened to the dead child everything else will return to normal. But she is stunned at the contempt her neighbors suddenly have for her family.

But people with too many secrets, including her own husband, always try to find someone else worse than them, don’t they? What will normal ever look like? And the shocking ending will send ripples around the neighborhood with lives changed forever. Who will recover from their secrets? More importantly, who will not?

A palpitating page turner!

Thank you #NetGalley #SourcebooksLandmark #RebeccaTaylor #TheSecretNextDoor for the advanced copy.

The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu

Jasmine Tran has just graduated from college. While her friends are moving into adult life, finding a job or career, or as her best friend is doing, going to law school, Jas has come back home to help her parents in their donut shop. She has every intention of trying to find a job, once she figures out exactly what she wants to do, but unfortunately she finds her parents have become too dependent on her at their shop. So while people she went to college and high school with have moved on, she finds herself in a depressing rut. Working long hours at the shop, going home eating dinner and then either watching television or reading, depending on the day. She feels trapped in her life, trying to please everyone, except for herself.

All her mother really wants for her daughter is to get a boyfriend, get married and work at the shop. Her mother is always trying to fix her up (with distant cousins) or giving her tips on ways she can make herself more appealing (to boys). She wishes she was her brother, the apple of the Tran’s eye who can do no wrong and already has a career path but is away at school. He is difficult to be compared to.

Then Jas gets worse news. The landlord of The Donut Shop has decided to raise the rent. Her parents, never business savvy, have not raised their prices in years. Jasmine now must somehow come up with a plan to save the business, on top of trying to find a job she will finally be able to call her own.

But, one day, something happens which will change her life. Jasmine is accidentally reintroduced to a guy she had a chance encounter with when she was at college. She named him “window guy” back then. Hi real name is Alex Lai and he is perfect in every way. He is also Chinese which makes her parents very happy. But for Jas, nothing ever seems to go right. A disastrous dinner ensues where her parents meet Alex’s mother, and no one is happy about anyone. Jas begins to see and feel as if Alex is not quite as perfect as she once thought.

What do you do when you want to grow up and don’t want to hurt the most important people in your life? Well, lie of course!

So comedy and drama arises as we find Jas trying to navigate life and Alex, an old high school flame her parents never knew about, while trying to get her stubborn parents to agree to some new changes she feels will make the shop more popular. All the while secretly trying to find a job without hurting her parent’s and trying to figure out her own feelings for Alex. And a visit home by her brother does not help the situation.

The Donut Trap is a wonderful funny and thoughtful story of family, love and respect. It deals with the inevitability of coming of age and growing up and making adult decisions, trying to not hurt anyone’s feelings, realizing the importance of loved ones and compromise but recognizing the importance of oneself.

Thank you #NetGalley #Avon #TheDonutTrap #JulieTieu for the advanced copy. The Donut Trap will be out November 9th.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

When Maggie Holt’s family bought Baneberry Hall, an old Victorian house in rural Vermont when she was just five, they all thought they had hit the jackpot! Sure, the house came with a a touch of sordid history, a murder-suicide by the previous seller, and even an accusation of murder against the original owner. His daughter was poisoned and he was charged. But this was the past. Maggie’s family was very stabile.

Until three weeks later when the family bolted from the home in the middle of the night never to return. Unfortunately, Maggie has never been able to remember her time at the house. Now thirty, her only inkling of what happened back then was from a best-selling book her father wrote after the fact about their time at the house and what inevitably led to them leaving suddenly. Her parents would never discuss their time at the house no matter how Maggie tried to illicit information from them. She took what her father wrote with a grain of salt, figuring he needed to make a living and this book would help her family, much to the chagrin of the people who lived in the town and had to endure all the ghoulish tourists. His story was weaved with superstition, ghostly visits, lights and music turning on by themselves and past residents who seemed to be able to communicate all of which came to a head the night they fled.

Maggie had always been embarrassed by the book her father had written and tried her whole life to distance herself from his words. But with her father’s recent passing, she soon discovers that he had never sold Baneberry Hall. It now belonged to her. As a matter of fact, he still went there once a year and stayed overnight. He always went on the date of their last day in the house. So against her mother’s implicit wishes, as well as her father’s last words to her which were for her never to go back there, Maggie decides to fix the property up and sell. And while she’s there look around and see if anything jogs her memory.

Maggie neither believes in ghosts, spirits or hauntings. But what Maggie discovers is startling. She begins to experience similar events which her father had documented in his book. She feels as if the house has been waiting for her return for all these years. Could what he wrote actually have been true?

As we read about Maggie’s experiences in one chapter, we are also able to read her father’s book, “House of Horror” in the next. As the similar experiences begin to add up, Maggie cannot help but feel she had been wrong for all these years. What other secrets did her father take to his grave? Why did he make her promise never to return? Is it possible the house is alive and has been patiently waiting for her return? If so what does it want from her.

What she discovers, and finally remembers will overshadow her father’s book. It will frighten her more than any spirit or ghost. Can Maggie survive the house which seems to have taken so many before her?

Home Before Dark is a scary, haunting, ghost story, which should be read with all the the lights on, pure and simple, the way it seems Riley Sager wants.