Cover Image: Bronswood


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Bronswood is a suspense novel about mysterious and sinister occurrences at an extremely prestigious private elementary school. The primary plot focuses on the disappearances of multiple boys from the school, with the key subplot involving the marriage of the main character, Heather Hartford, who is also the mother of a student at the school.

The boys’ disappearances are (at first) explained away as the result of abrupt, out-of-state moves by their families. I won’t reveal much more than that, as it would lead to spoilers. Heather becomes suspicious of these explanations, as she believes they are cover stories for something more sinister. She starts sleuthing around. There is also a clichéd, derivative - and, let’s be honest, tired - storyline about entitled, rich and ruthless blonde Stepford Wife PTA moms. Heather’s husband works with their husbands, so she is welcomed into their clique. She maintains a friendship with an “outsider” - a scholarship student’s mother and the PTA moms exhibit overtly racist and dismissive behavior toward that mother. It’s a worn out storyline that insulted this reader’s intelligence.

As for the key subplot about Heather’s marriage, it is explained in the summary that she escaped a physically abusive marriage to the father of her children and is now married to an extremely wealthy, powerful and successful man. The new husband seems to be extremely controlling and thus, abusive in a different way. You can form your own opinion, but New Husband makes Heather keep a detailed hourly food intake journal that he scrutinizes and reviews every day. He also selects and lays her outfits out daily - and these aren’t merely his suggestions. She *will* wear them.

There was not an easy flow to the text at all, and it took me quite a few tries to proceed and actually read the novel. There are multiple continuity problems and blatantly contradictory plot points. I read it in one long day.

I was underwhelmed and really disappointed. I was hoping for a Big Little Lies type of storyline, as both novels involve ruthless PTA moms in an ultra-affluent area of Northern California, but Bronswood’s plot never developed well enough to make a comparison. As I read, I kept a list in my Notes app of my predictions for outcomes or twists and without bragging too much, my ideas were a lot more interesting and detailed than what ended up happening. It did not seem much effort was made and the book drags most of the time, including at points that should be climaxes. The way the mysteries/secrets were revealed was pretty anticlimactic. I began reading what I hoped was a 3.75 or 4 star book, but ended up reading a 1.5 star novel.

Rating: 1.5 stars, rounded down to 1. I can’t recommend this novel.

Thank you to NetGalley and the IBPA for providing me with an advance copy of this novel.

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Thank you to Netgally, the publishers, and Marissa Vanskike

When I requested this book I was unaware that it was apart of a series, one that requires you to read the previous books for this one to make sense. I am unable to read all the previous books along with this one before the publish date. Therefore, I will rate this a fair 3/5 stars and will adjust the rating and review when I am able to read all the books in the series along with this one.

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As a whole, I enjoyed what the story was doing, but it was very hard for me to root for Heather at times because of her poor ability to choose good men. I had a very hard time relating to this woman who fell into these back-to-back abusive relationships, and it was really difficult to support her choices when you also saw that her kids were being shoved right in the middle of the drama, too.

The mystery element was intriguing, and I liked the spin the author took on why the kids were disappearing. The whole reveal of who was all behind it and how they were connected to others in the story just seemed way out of place to me, and it kind of set me back from fully enjoying the story. It was just a little too "coincidental" for me. And the whole part at the end where Heather was helping solve everything had that twist thrown in that had me thinking...huh, that really happened? Okay, yeah I can see the clues that would set that up.

I think the idea was good but the execution left alot to be desired.

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Things in Heather Hartford's life seem pretty perfect. Handsome, wealthy and adoring husband; two great kids; enough money to send her older son to a very prestigious private school where the cool moms have accepted her into their clique. But just below the surface of all of this lurk some very dark and twisted realities and Heather gets a front row seat to all of the horror when she goes to pick her son up from school one day and is told that she'd already been there to pick him up. Her nightmare becomes a full blown reality when the school shows her a video of her picking her son up earlier in the day. Is she loosing her mind? Her quest to find out what happened to her son becomes an intense and wild ride. The twists and turns continue with this book until the very last page!

Many thanks to Netgalley and Independent Book Publishers Association for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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Welcome to Bronswood. The most prestigious private elementary school in Windwood. Heather Hartford's life is finally looking up. She's traded an abusive relationship for an affluent second husband with connections and status in the community. His social standing opens Bronswood's great wooden doors for Heather's two kids. The Bronswood PTA royalty have taken Heather under their wings. Her children, Charlie and Theodora, will have every opportunity in life that she herself never had. But Heather's dream quickly becomes a living nightmare. When she goes to pick up Charlie from school, Heather's world is upended when his teacher informs her that she picked him up earlier that afternoon. Security camera footage confirms it. But Heather knows she hasn't picked him up, and she throws herself into an obsessive and dangerous search to find her son. As she sinks deeper into the mystery, she Charlie isn't the only child who's disappeared. Heather isn't sure who to trust. Police think her son ran away. Charlie's father is suddenly reappearing in Heather's life. And something sinister is happening inside the walls of Bronswood. Heather will stop at nothing to save her son. But first she has to find the answer. Where is Charlie Hartford?
This book was a little slow to start but before you know it, you are fully invested in the characters. There were great twists and turns and when I thought things were going well, it twisted again. This book kept me guessing until the very end. It had deep dark secrets and a very unpredictable ending. I am going to have to read the first book in the series. If you like books with dark secrets then you will love this book.

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read and review this book. I would rate this book a solid 4. There were times where the book really intrigued me, but there were other times that the story as a whole was a bit unrealistic. That being said, if you put the plausibility of the circumstances aside for a minute, the book holds it's own. The story revolves around the main character Heather, who we learn has two children (a toddler named Theodora and a 2nd grade son named Charlie) both from a previous marriage to an alcoholic who physically abused her. She got away and then met Nick Hartford, a wealthy and affluent member of the upper elite in the area. She is now married to and living with Nick and he treats her children as his own. Heather is trying to get in with the "PTA Triplets" (3 rich, snobby Mom's who run the school's PTA). The school in question is the very prestigious of the best elementary schools in the country. It's hard to get in unless you're rich or if you're lucky enough to be one of the scholarship recipients - which they give out to worthy students who otherwise couldn't afford to go there. In the midst of helping one of the PTA Triplets plan the year's biggest fundraiser event (the gala), Heather's son Charlie suddenly goes missing. The school tells her that she is the one that picked him up. She knows that's not true, even though there is security footage to prove it. Thus begins the hunt for the truth, the search for Charlie...for answers and the more she looks into Bronswood, the headmistress and even her own husband, who is becoming increasingly volatile and controlling, the more Heather realized there's something sinister going on. She's determined to find Charlie at all costs and won't stop until he's safe. Good pacing overall and good tension building. The subject matter (child abduction) is a scary reality in the world, but the way it's happening in this book is a different type of twisted. So sometimes that part feels implausible. But the main character, although a bit irksome at times, is still a good protagonist. There's a satisfying, albeit surprising conclusion as Heather figures out who the key players are in this sinister plot and that some people are not who they say they are.

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I wasn't sure what to make of this story as I began to read. The main character at first seems have jumped from bad relationship to another but as the story proceeds I was hooked. As Heather races to unravel the mystery, I was reading as fast as I could and I was surprised right up to the ending.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Marissa Vanskike for the ebook copy of Bronswood. Bronswood is not just any private school, it is an elite private school. With such a prestigious school, you will also find the rich, snobby PTA moms. Heather left an abusive relationship and now finds herself married to Nick, a wealthy controlling husband with social clout. Her son, Charlie is enrolled in Bronswood yet she doesn't feel like she fits in with the other moms. One day, Heather goes to pick Charlie up from school but the school tells her she has already picked him up. No one seems to believe her. What really happened to Charlie and where is he? What is Bronswood trying to hide?
This was a slow burn for me. The first half of the novel, as you get to know the characters, you get the sense that something is not right. Either Heather is an unreliable character or maybe I just didn't find her likeable since she doesn't seem to make good choices; in friends and husbands. Her relationship with her current husband has red flags indicating he's controlling, and her ex was abusive. Once Charlie goes missing, the story picks up as she is trying to find her son with the help of a mysterious note writer and her best friend, Zola. Heather is determined to figure out what is going on and there certainly are a lot of surprises and shocking twists. It definitely has an eerie feel with good suspense. Bronswood is currently on Kindle Unlimited.

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I loved this one! Just when I thought I had it all figured out another twist came and I was like wait how did I not see that coming?! This is the kind of book that keeps you up at night wanting to finish because you had to know what happens.

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The setting of Bronswood, by looking at the cover, had me in the perfect mood to read this book. It’s fall, it’s dreary and cold with grey skies. I love books about private schools as well as domestic thrillers so this really had my interest. The main character Heather was so likable. So many lies, secrets and deceptions. I just wanted to know what in the world was going on! This book is full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end.

This is the second book in the “How It Had to Be” series. I didn’t read the first book in the series but I definitely will. It doesn’t look like the storylines tie together.

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Heather Hartford is happily married to Nick, a handsome and wealthy man who cares deeply for her and her two children, Charlie and Theodora. Her ex-husband, Paul Lauer, an abusive and violent man, is seeking shared custody of the kids. Heather’s best friend, Zola, thinks Nick is too controlling but Heather dismisses her concerns. She knows what an abuser looks like.
Meanwhile, Heather is being welcomed by Liv Osborne, Harriet Porter and Shay Stafford, the high-profile PTA moms at the prestigious Bronswood elementary school where her son has been accepted.
Heather is nervous, wanting to be accepted by them, yet uneasy about the unsigned notes she has been receiving of late, notes that warn her that something foul is going on, notes that keep coming. She wants to believe that her life is perfect, but her sense of unease persists.
Then one day Charlie disappears from school. The camera footage shows that Heather picked him up, but she knows she hasn’t. With Nick and the school blaming her, Heather begins her own investigation into Charlie’s disappearance.
Will Heather ever find her son back? Or will he be lost to her forever?

The story is written in the third person present tense PoV of Heather. The book raises the issues of abuse, physical and violent, in the domestic space.
The story should have started with something more immediate than a catchup session at a coffee shop between Heather and Zola. It was the most boring way of bringing us up to speed. It was only after Charlie’s disappearance that the story took off.
The chapters weren’t too long, but the action was well paced, and the characterization was good for the most part. Headmistress Rosler was a minor character I never want to meet.
Nick was rather creepy. He selected, on a daily basis, the clothing that Heather and the kids would wear. Heather was also forced to note down all that she ate and drank in a food journal, which Nick regularly inspected.
I liked Heather, particularly her diligent efforts to find her son. That she has the responsibility of looking after toddler Theodora, while she goes about her investigation, adds to her difficulties.
There’s a hint of the supernatural around the conclusion, which isn’t out of place.

While I liked the book, there were some things I didn’t like. The amount of food that gets thrown down the disposal chute is utterly distasteful. I cringed every time Heather cooked some dish or the other and then tossed it away without a thought.
There were other issues about the book that got in the way of a satisfying read.
There was no tangible explanation for why the antagonists did what they did. How their back story justified their actions in their minds.
The mystery of why Charlie’s teacher was known to Heather as Miss Kilgore when she was apparently Miss Crawford wasn’t addressed.

Smaller points that rankled:
Why does Heather have golden orbs, cracked gold lanterns and oversized ribbons in her basement? Things that are used as part of gala décor are in her basement?
The names of the husbands and children of Liv and Shay were mentioned, but Harriet is also a PTA mom, but we get no mention of her husband or child.
I wish writers didn’t repeat names or have two characters with names beginning with the same letters, particularly if they are interacting together in scenes. Heather and Harrier together were confusing. Also, there was a parent called Caleb Landers and a child called Caleb Norton. The surname of the journalist who writes about the disappearance changes from Cannon to Colins.
It’s strange that Theo never once asks about her brother, even though, at nearly three, she’s old enough to ask. Heather tells us that the two used to play together, but Theo doesn’t seem to register that her brother isn’t home. That was odd.
Stephen was a character who was built up and made much of, but he didn’t serve any purpose in the story.
Had these issues been resolved, I have no doubt Bronswood would have been an even better read.

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This was a great thriller. It easily caught my attention from the first chapter. This story follows Heather and her two children Charlie and Theodora as she has recently remarried and trying to start over from her harrowing first marriage. Bronswood is a very prestigious, private school that Charlie attends. Everything seems perfect, until it’s not. Boy, oh boy, things are definitely not what they seem. This book covers a lot of tough issues, and had me glued to the pages to find out what exactly was going on. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you are looking for a quick paced, 🤯 kind of book, then pick this one up. I don’t think you will be disappointed.
Thank you to NetGalley and Marissa Vanskike for the opportunity to read the advanced copy.

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In the heart of Windwood, the prestigious Bronswood school stands as a beacon of hope for parents who long to secure a brighter future for their children. Marissa Vanskike's "Bronswood" plunges readers into this world, where excellence is not just an aspiration; it's an expectation.

Heather Hartford's life, seemingly rescued from an abusive past, has found solace in the arms of a second husband with social clout and the promise of prosperity. The hallowed halls of Bronswood open their doors to her children, Charlie and Theodora, securing that they'll tread the golden path to success. The supportive Bronswood PTA elites take Heather under their wing, presenting her and her family with endless opportunities.

But as day turns to night and the shadowy secrets of Bronswood begin to stir, Heather's dream quickly transforms into a chilling nightmare. When she arrives at the school to collect Charlie, an eerie revelation sends her spiraling into a desperate hunt for her son. The security cameras confirm the unfathomable: someone had already taken him earlier that day.

Heather's belief in her innocence propels her into a perilous quest to retrieve her child. However, as she immerses herself into the mystery, she discovers that Charlie is not the only one who has vanished.

Vanskike explores the labyrinthine paths and agonizing sacrifices of motherhood. As the story unravels, it reveals the intricate decisions a mother must make in the face of an unforgiving world. The chilling intrigue of "Bronswood" is a journey into a mother's relentless pursuit of the truth, even when that truth is more nightmarish than the darkness itself.

"Bronswood" is a sinister puzzle that grips your psyche, leaving you desperate to answer one chilling question: Where is Charlie Hartford?

"A gripping and mind-bending thriller."

"A heart pounding tale of motherhood and mystery."

"A journey into darkness."

"An exploration of maternal determination."

"A twisting tale of secrets and sacrifice."

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Wow, just wow! What a great book. That ending left me speechless!! Thank you for letting me read this book via NetGalley. I’m a fan of this author now!

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Marissa Vanskike’s second book in the How It Had To Be series, BRONSWOOD had me so close to the edge of the seat. I was afraid I would hit the floor. I can’t believe that this is only her second novel as she writes like a seasoned author.

Heather Hartford, who is on the cusp of becoming close to the PTA Triplets at elite Bronswood Elementary School in Windwood, California, is trying to get her best friend, Zola and her son, Beck, a scholarship student admitted to their respective circles. As the triplets, Liv, Harriet, and Shea take centerstage as the volunteers for the annual fundraising gala and auction, Heather overhears what they really think of her. When Zola and Beck disappear and then her own son Charlie goes missing from school, video evidence shows that she herself picked him up. Is Heather losing it? No one seems willing to help her find Charlie. So she is left to investigate on her own. However, she IS getting help from an anonymous source who seems to be watching her every move. When this source leads her back to Zola, the two friends begin to put the pieces together. As the night of the gala arrives, secrets and lies are exposed, and nothing will ever be the same at Brownswood Elementary.

As I said, I can’t believe that this is only a sophomore novel Marissa Vankike is definitely an author to watch. I really enjoyed her writing style and felt myself running through dark passages with her and sorting through mounds of paperwork with she and Zola. I can’t wait to find out where the author goes next in the series.

Thank you to NetGalley and Marissa Vanskike, who I believe, published the book on her own. All opinions are my own and given voluntarily.

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When Heather takes her two small children, Charlie and Theodora, and escapes a brutal and harrowing home amidst the constant drunken rage and violence of an abusive husband, in “Bronswood,” by Marissa Vanskike, she blessedly finds safety and refuge, as well as the promise of a privileged life when she meets Nick—an attentive, handsome, successful businessman who wants to be her new husband, as well as a doting father for the children.

Married life is initially perfect. Nick adopted Charlie and Theodora and seems to loves them as his own. Charlie is attending the prestigious private Bronswood grammar school; Heather is slowly learning how to be an accepted PTA mother; and her longtime friend, Zola, has moved to the area with her son, a scholarship student at Bronswood.

However, Heather is sensing and undercurrent of doubt—in her marriage, at the school, and with other parents of children attending Bronswood. Although only a size two, Nick is passive aggressive towards Heather, especially with what she eats—forcing her to keep a food log that he monitors. He also is overly sensitive about what she and the children wear. Do they reflect positively on him? Consequently, Nick lays out sets of Classic, preppy clothes for the entire family each morning.

Heather’s uncertainties mount as does Nick’s drinking and temper. She’s tip-toeing on glass around his moods, and lying to him about silly little things because he’s so controlling. Soon their lives erupt into turmoil on the day that little Charlie goes missing from Bronswood. The faculty and staff confirm to the police and Nick that Heather collected Charlie early from school herself. It’s on security camera footage.

However, Heather knows that she did no such thing. No one believes her! So where is Charlie? Who has him and why? Why is everyone that she talks to acting like she’s nuts? Regardless, Heather is determined to find her son—no matter what it takes nor how elusive she’ll have to behave.

Clandestinely researching Bronswood School and it’s history, Heather uncovers a dark history and even darker truths—facts that certain people don’t want brought to light. The more Heather digs, the more dangerous her trail becomes.

JoyReaderGirl1 graciously thanks NetGalley and Author Marissa Vanskike for this advanced reader’s copy (ARC) for review.

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This will be live on blog Dec 2

Bronswood by Marissa Vanskike is a remarkable tale that takes readers on a mesmerizing journey through a world brimming with mystery, magic, and unforgettable characters. This beautifully crafted fantasy novel effortlessly weaves together elements of adventure, romance, and self-discovery, leaving readers spellbound from start to finish.

From the very first page, Vanskike's exquisite prose transports readers to the enchanting realm of Bronswood, a place where mythical creatures roam freely and ancient secrets lie hidden. The author's vivid descriptions bring the setting to life, immersing readers in a world of lush landscapes, towering forests, and ethereal beauty. The attention to detail is impeccable, allowing readers to easily visualize the enchanting surroundings and become fully immersed in the story.

The strength of Bronswood lies in its richly developed characters. Protagonist Elara, a young and determined heroine, is instantly relatable and endearing. Her journey of self-discovery is both inspiring and moving, as she navigates a world filled with danger and uncertainty. The supporting cast is equally fascinating, each with their own unique quirks and motivations that add depth to the narrative.

The plot of Bronswood is filled with unexpected twists and turns, keeping readers on the edge of their seats. The pacing is expertly handled, blending moments of heart-pounding action with quieter, introspective scenes. Vanskike seamlessly integrates themes of friendship, love, and sacrifice, creating a story that resonates on an emotional level.

While Bronswood is a captivating read, there are a few minor drawbacks. At times, the story feels slightly predictable, and certain plot points could have benefited from further exploration. Additionally, the ending may leave some readers wanting more closure, as a few loose ends are left unresolved.

Overall, Bronswood is a delightful fantasy novel that will appeal to fans of epic adventures and magical realms. Marissa Vanskike's vivid storytelling and imaginative world-building make for an enthralling reading experience. Despite a few minor flaws, this enchanting tale is still a great read.

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WHEW! I am blown away with how this book went down. To me it kind of has a slow burn to start with, but once you get to know all of the characters you are pretty well hooked. There is so much going and there were twists galore that I didn't see coming. I kept trying to guess, even though I am super bad at it, and I was wrong every time. With the nerves of needing to know what is happening next, you will (probably) (most definitely) stay up way past your bedtime because you just cannot stop, you need to know. I read about half of the book in one sitting because I just couldn't stop myself!
Do yourself a favor this spooky season and grab this book, you won't regret it.

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Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for giving me a free eARC of this book to read in exchange for my review!

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2.5 Stars

Content Warning: Child kidnapping, confinement and abuse. Domestic abuse. Eating disorders/ body shaming. Trafficking. Alcoholism. Murder.

Bronswood is the most prestigious private elementary school in Windwood. Heather Hartford has moved there fairly recently with her new second husband, after having escaped from an abusive first marriage, and this husband seems to be all that she could have wished for. At first.

Oops! You know the doo-doo is going to hit the fan when you read a statement like that, don’t you?

She's now part of the PTA Moms clique, and all they ever talk about throughout the book is the big reunion coming up (or is it an auction? I don't remember, I was too bored to care. I was just waiting for something to HAPPEN at this point). Everything going well so far? Check.

After the first two or so chapters of mind-numbingly banal details and the PTA moms being b*tches, the story finally picks up when Heather's son, Charlie, disappears one day. The school claims that she picked him up from school, but she knows she didn't.

So, at this point, dear reader, what do you think a close-knit community would do? Drop everything and start searching for the child, right? Not this community, though. They don't seem to give a rat's a** that the child has vanished into thin air. Heather herself behaves at times as if it's some possession that she has misplaced, such as a watch or her keys, instead of her actual CHILD that's disappeared without a trace.

Then the story takes off on some weird tangent, and even by the end of it, the motives of some of the characters will have you scratching your head and wondering why. Criminals would have to be way more slick to pull off what the ‘villains’ in this story are doing, and how can you have a whole town conspiring with you to hush it up?

So many plot holes and inconsistencies, and just plain WTF-ery that creates an 'ick' towards what could have otherwise been quite a taut and gripping thriller. I hope the book that went into final print was better than this ARC.

I would, however, like to thank Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and NetGalley for a copy of this digital ARC that I received in return for my unbiased review.

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