Member Reviews

Laura McHugh is officially on my radar. I devoured “The Wolf Wants In” and her new book “Safe and Sound” kept me on edge to the very end. Laura writes in a style that is deeply creepy but full of emotion and kindred spirits. It’s easy to feel close to her characters (or at least the ones we like!)
Meet sisters Amelia and Kylee, who will soon graduate high school and hopefully get out of the sad little town they’ve grown up in. The hollow loss of their favorite cousin Grace when they were younger doesn’t make them any fonder of this town full of secrets.
Bones are found in the woods which reignite the sisters’ hope that they’ll finally know what happened to Grace. The more they question, the more walls they hit. It seems that others in the town want to keep Grace where she is, and would like for these nosy sisters to take it down a notch, get married, have kids, and work in the meatpacking plant.
Amelia and Kylee have other plans, but their blind luck and bad choices put them in so much more danger than they ever conceived. Well written with likable characters living in a miserable little town that makes the perfect stage for Laura’s newest best seller.
Thanks so much to Random house Publishing Group for an ARC in exchange for my honest review. The publishing date is April 23, 2024.

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Amelia and Kylee are sisters who can’t wait to move away from their small Missouri town when Kylee graduates from high school. As the story begins, they are attending their cousin Grace’s sixth year anniversary of the day she went missing. Grace had been babysitting Amelia and Kylee on the night she disappeared without a trace leaving only a large amount of blood behind. Amelia and Kylee want to find Grace before they leave town.

The characters in the story are believable. The story is divided into character sections with Amelia talking in first person and Grace talking in third person. I do enjoy books that are set up this way.

The story kept my interest throughout. A few people could have been involved in Grace’s disappearance. I couldn’t decide who was involved, if anyone (did Grace leave on her own?), until I was almost at the end of the story. This is great because I don’t normally enjoy books where I can tell right away what happened.

The only thing I would have liked the author to do differently is extend the ending to make it more conclusive. This didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. I will recommend this book to family and friends.

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3.5 stars

Main Characters:
-- Amelia – graduated high school early, works full-time as a waitress at a Waffle House, trying to save up money to leave the small town of Beaumont, Missouri, once her sister graduates high school
-- Kylee – Amelia’s younger sister, not as invested in leaving Beaumont as Amelia
== Grace – Amelia and Kylee’s older cousin, disappeared six years ago, she was babysitting Amelia and Kylee who were sleeping upstairs, and there was blood splattered all over the kitchen
-- Shannon – Amelia and Kylee’s mother, works as a dancer at a local strip club
-- Elsie – Grace’s mother, holds a vigil every year on the anniversary of Grace’s disappearance
-- Levi – Grace’s boyfriend at the time of her disappearance, the current year is the first vigil he has missed
-- Tyson – Levi’s older brother
== Jimmy – Elsie’s live-in boyfriend, 20 years younger than she is, only a few years older than Grace

Trigger Warning: child sexual abuse

Grace Crow intended to leave Beaumont, Missouri, for good when she went missing. Already offered a full scholarship to college, she regularly told Amelia and Kylee to stick together and to get out before it was too late. Grace disappeared before she got the chance to leave, so Amelia takes her advice seriously. She graduated high school early so she could start working to save money. She regularly reminds Kylee to keep her grades up and focus on school so they can leave as soon as she graduates and, as Grace always told them, never look back.

When human bones turn up at a construction site, everyone’s minds immediately turn to Grace. Has she finally been found? It’s pretty early in the book that we find out the bones are not Grace’s, so not a spoiler, but they seem to be the impetus for Amelia to start digging into who the bones belong to, are they related to Grace, what really happened the night Grace went missing.

This story moves pretty slowly, and I don’t think that’s a positive here. A high school senior vanishes, blood all over the kitchen, no one saw or heard anything, and no clues to her whereabouts remain. Boyfriends, teachers, neighbors, her aunt’s strip club clientele…literally anyone could be a suspect. And the ending comes with a great unexpected twist. I certainly never came close to guessing what happened. But the police don’t seem to be investigating the case after all these years, and honestly, I have to believe they could have solved this if they had tried even just a little bit.

Based on the twist and the subject matter, I would have expected this to be categorized as suspense or a thriller. It’s general fiction, however, and I agree with that categorization. The narration is dry up until the end. Amelia spends so much time talking about how Grace always told them to get out while they can and that’s been her focus. I feel like there was potential for this to be so much better, but it fell flat…until the twisty part at the end, which got so convoluted that you wish the reveal came sooner so the rest of the book would have been a little more exciting.

I toyed with a lower star rating, but this DID really surprise me. Also, an epilogue would have been ideal for this one. There are so many things that require resolution (see spoilers), but sadly, we are left hanging.


So I can’t really lay out why this book falls short of a better rating without spoilers, so here they are.

Three women/girls have gone missing in this small town, and there seems to be zero sense of urgency to solve the crimes. First was a young girl who Shannon and Elsie’s brother Norman took a liking to. The man is a serial pedophile and Elsie’s current boyfriend has pictures to prove he was abusing Grace when she was younger. Instead of telling Elsie, he hides the pictures in a desk…I guess because Elsie was so devoted to her brother that it would be devastating to her. More devastating than the fact that her daughter is gone?!

Turns out, Norman had also abused a girl named Annalise before Grace. He has her name tattooed near his privates, which is how Grace figures it out. Annelise’s uncle suspected Norman but could never prove anything. And at some point Norman had killed her and then buried her in the concrete of Elsie’s pool that he put in while she was gone one weekend.

So Norman is a suspect in Grace’s disappearance, but we find out later that Grace actually killed him by accident in an effort to protect Amelia and Kylee from his abuse. Tyson helped her dispose of his body and belongings, and everyone just assumed he had left town because that’s what he did pretty regularly. He’d leave for months or years at a time, didn’t carry a cell phone because he didn’t want people to be able to reach him, and he would blow back into town to stay with Elsie who doted on him, oblivious to the fact that he was abusing her daughter.

The bones found at the very beginning of the book are from a stripper who had worked with Shannon and just disappeared one day. It was assumed that she left town so never investigated, but I would think once the other two went missing, people might start to get suspicious.

Alan manages the Waffle House where Amelia works, which is also where Grace worked. He’s a total creep, and his cook Javi knows it, but Javi does nothing about it because Alan regularly threatens to have him deported for using a fake ID to get his job. Alan steals meat from the deep freezer and sells it as a side hustle, so he has loads of cash in his home freezer, but apparently he is neither a kidnapper nor a killer. He’s just a creep who never gets his comeuppance.

I suspected both Alan and Javi at one point, but they’re just distractions.

Then we also have to look at Levi and Tyson. Both are pretty heavy drinkers. Levi is quiet, while Tyson is more outgoing. What we come to find out is that Tyson loved Grace as well. Jealous but protective of his brother, after he helps Grace get rid of Norman’s body, he tells her that if she leaves Beaumont (and Levi), he’s going to tell everyone that she killed Norman. They argue, he’s drunk with a knife in his hand, and he accidentally slices her arm open right along an artery.

Since the hospital is too far away, he takes her to their family cabin. His mother Velda had worked previously as an ER nurse, and he figures she can help. Grace is fragile and drifts into a coma. She gets progressively weaker, and Velda decides that it’s too late to go to the police. But just when Velda thinks Grace is about to die, Grace opens her eyes. So for the past six years, Velda has been taking care of the practically comatose Grace at their cabin. How the police never went to the cabin since Grace and Levi were a couple, and how they never discovered her is a mystery to me. All Kylee had to do was look in a window.

At that point, Velda tells Tyson they can’t ever let Amelia and Kylee leave. Tyson starts to choke Kylee, Levi shows up, and shoots Tyson with a crossbow, and then says he’ll bring Grace out so that Amelia and Kylee can leave with her. So for six years he has said nothing, but once they discover her, he kills his brother to let all three of them leave?

And where do Amelia, Kylee, and Grace end up? We have no idea!! The last chapter is them driving out of town after leaving Velda’s cabin. So Grace is alive, several people are dead, and Amelia and Kylee aren’t even talking about where they will go to get Grace some medical help…or how they’ll explain everything that happened. They’re just driving out of town.

A few answers would be appreciated here.

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The mystery of a vanished cousin mixed with the creepy small town vibes where everyone seemed to be hiding something was gripping. The atmosphere was quite tense and the build up in suspense was good but I feel like it dragged a bit and kinda fell off in the end. The ending was quite rushed and anticlimactic and left some loose ends untied.

At times this was also a bit difficult to read due to some triggering themes but overall this was a quick, decent thriller read.

3.5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley for the arc!

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Sisters Amelia and Kylie were asleep when their cousin and babysitter, Grace, went missing leaving traces of her blood behind. Now older teenagers, Amelia and Kylie are determined to do two things, find out what happened to Grace and leave their small, dead-end town. They start uncovering clues, but there the story is more complicated than it once seemed. This mystery will keep readers guessing!

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Laura does it again! Another who done it that kept me guessing till the last chapter. So many twists and turns and possible suspects. I enjoyed the characters with surprising developments throughout the book. You never truly know someone….

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This was a dark, dark story. Bad people doing bad things that are because of their situation in life.
Two sisters in a poor Missouri town try to find out what happened to the cousin who raised them and disappeared one night. I liked the sisters drive to try and rise above their poverty and get a better life for themselves. But of course there is always someone trying to derail the plans.
Fast paced, twisting and well written.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the advanced copy in exchange for a honest opinion.4⭐️

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"Safe and sound" follows two sisters, Amelia and Kylee, as they unravel the mystery behind their cousin Grace's disappearance six years ago. The use of dual povs from Amelia/Kylee and Grace gave us more insight to the story, allowing us to see the events leading up to the disappearance.

The author did a great job at creating a tense and eerie atmosphere in the small town of Beaumont, where everyone seemed to be hiding something. The build up was great and with each new character introduced, the suspense built up steadily.

But I think the storylines of some of these characters were drawn out too long. I understand what the author was trying to do but after all the suspenseful build up behind the characters, majority of them added up to nothing and instead left some loose ends untied.

The ending also felt very rushed and anticlimactic. It was still a gripping read but I was hoping for a more satisfying resolution.

3.25 stars ⭐

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for the eArc!

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Six years prior, Grace Crow was a bright-eyed high school student on the brink of graduating and going off to college out-of-state. However, she disappeared in the dead of night while babysitting her sleeping cousins, Amelia and Kylee, and left blood all over the kitchen. Her case was never solved.

Flash forward to the present where Amelia and Kylee were on the verge of graduating high school themselves. A confession from a former teacher and a set of human remains found nearby spurred the girls to investigate Grace’s disappearance themselves.

Safe and Sound was such a sensational dark and gritty thriller! I found this book to be certifiably unputdownable and finished it in record time. I loved all three of the female main characters, however, I felt most connected to Grace. Prior to her disappearance, she served as a much-needed Mother figure for her young cousins. I also really admired her strength and resilience throughout the story. This book covers some pretty heavy subject matter, so please be aware of that going into it. With that being said, I loved this one and would highly recommend picking up a copy once it’s released!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for the opportunity to read this ARC!

A copy of this review will be shared to my Instagram account (whats.amy.reading) the week of March 25.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advanced copy.

I love Laura McHugh. She's from Missouri, she writes mystery thrillers. She had a Gillian Flynn vibe when I first started reading her. The Weight of Blood and What's Done in Darkness were both good reads for me. I knew she would be an author I would always read. And even though Safe and Sound wasn't my favorite, I will still continue reading what she writes. I like her too much to stop.

BUT. And there is a big but. This book bugged the crap out of me. Amelia and Kylee (especially Kylee) were hard to like. The entire Crow family was less than pleasant. I know they were obviously written this way for a purpose. There was so much repetition. "Mama will cook for uncle Norman," "no one ever leaves this town," "mama's breaking her body to work," and "how can you even think about leaving this town?" These and more were shoved down our throats in almost every chapter. (Okay, maybe not every chapter, but it was A LOT!). Grace's narrations were well written and the most intense out of everything. I was genuinely nervous whenever she'd start her narration. But storylines were drawn out way too long, or they weren't continued and should have been. What about Javi? What about Jimmy? And for the love of all that is holy, why have the character of Alan and not give us anything in the end?

And the end. Oh, my friends. I've been disappointed in a lot of endings (The Maidens, Girl on the Train, Exiles), but this one was especially sad. I wanted and needed so much more. It was weirdly anticlimatic. It made NO sense. All of a sudden there was just this new character that was thrown in. And not even a good character or a character that made sense to the rest of the story. I know what McHugh was trying to do, but there was this sense of urgency to just end the story and it's so disappointing when authors do that.

I'm so sad.

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I've read every book by Laura Hugh, and this is a good one. It has a lot of the same elements we see in her other books - female lead, family issues, poor people in a poor town, people wanting to get out of town. But at the heart of it is a story of two sisters who will do anything to leave and love each other fiercely. They miss their cousin, who went missing when she was baby-sitting, and want to figure out what happened to her. There are a lot of twists and turns, and I could not have anticipated the ending at all, and if anyone says they did, they are total liars in my opinion, but I can't decide how I feel about it. It seems a little too...convenient? Fantastical? I don't know but I was overall really happy with the book. I think it must be incredibly difficult to write a story where the reader doesn't see everything coming, and I always appreciate that. When I think of Laura McHugh, I don't think of a flashy writer - I feel like she's more of a solid, reliable writer. I enjoy her books, I never try to guess the ending but I don't think I could if I tried, and she comes out with new books regularly, which I appreciate.

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Cousins Amelia and Kylee were just little kids six years ago when their older cousin Grace disappeared while babysitting them. She was never found. But her legacy lives on through Amelia and Kylee, who aim to follow her last wish and get out of Beaumont, the dead-end small town they live in where nothing is ever expected of anyone. When a young woman’s body is found, the girls vow to find out once and for all what happened to Grace before they graduate high school and leave Beaumont behind. But the person responsible for her abduction is most likely closer to home than they ever imagined.

The story is told from two POVs: Amelia and Kylees in the present; and Graces in the past telling her life story and leading up to her disappearance.

Laura McHugh is a genius at telling a haunting, engrossing story that just pulls you in and keeps you turning pages late into the night. It’s so engrossing and realistic I almost hesitate to recommend it to people who grew up in a one-industry rural town, like I did, and like the one depicted in the story, because MAN did she nail it. It was eerie.

The central mystery was amazing and multifaceted. There’s a lot of moving parts, so there’s plenty of twists, turns, and suspects that keep you guessing. I know some other reviews didn’t like the semi-ambiguous ending, but I felt was complete enough that we understood what would happen next. Of course I can’t tell you any of that, but the author lays out the terms fairly clearly, and we can extrapolate from there. That’s not always my choice for an ending either, but it is what it is in this case.

This was such a great book and brilliant addition to McHugh’s already excellent literary canon of work. I highly recommend it, and then suggest checking out her other work.

You won’t be disappointed!

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This is a dual timeline story about girls the same family in the same small town trying to escape. One disappears and the others set out to find out what happened to her. I enjoyed reading this book. The story is compelling but a little uneven. Laura McHugh is a reliably good author.

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Safe and Sound (Hardcover)
by Laura McHugh
The story of cyclical struggles of poverty, small towns and social experiences. The lives of three cousins born in separate decades us only the beginning. The oldest cousin has a horrific childhood. She does everything to protect her younger cousins. She babysits, and cares for them all her life. Yet they are the ones who give her the greatest protection. Safe and sound shows that our intentions affect the things we do. When we look out for others we find the strength to go against the worst odds. Although a dark story it shows the resilience of human nature. That we can break the chains of poverty, abuse, and neglect. Its our choice to stay in a negative cycle, and our choice to risk leaving it.

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Thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Random House for the copy of Safe And Sound by Laura McHugh. The story started out great, and I liked the character development. As the book went on, there were so many characters and so much going on, it got overwhelming for me. The big reveal was shocking, but it came out of nowhere, so I wish there had been more clues. This was still a good read, and I think readers will love the big reveal! 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

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This was another excellent mystery/thriller/family drama from Laura McHugh. I loved the dual timelines of Grace in the past and Kylee & Amelia in the present, trying to figure out what happened to her. Some of Grace's chapters were very hard to read - the abuse she suffered was so awful. I would have liked an epilogue to give some closure to the characters. Thanks to NetGalley for the digital ARC.

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Laura McHugh's "Safe and Sound" swept me away into its deep, emotional currents from the very start, leaving an indelible mark on my soul. It weaves a gripping narrative that's as shadowy and intense as it is emotionally resonant.

Set against the backdrop of a decaying town, Beaumont, Missouri, the story captures the essence of despair and the yearning for escape. Here, life's cyclical nature—birth, toil, and death at predetermined checkpoints—paints a grim picture of existence. Amidst this bleakness, sisters Amelia and Kylee, alongside their cousin Grace, become beacons of hope and resilience. Raised in the shadow of poverty by their pole-dancing mother, the sisters' bond is tested and strengthened in the crucible of adversity, particularly after a traumatic home invasion that saw them saved by Grace's brave actions.

The mystery of Grace's disappearance six years prior hangs over them like a shroud, compelling Amelia and Kylee to delve into the murky depths of their town's and family's secrets before they can carve out a path to freedom. Their investigation reveals not just external dangers but also the shocking truths that lie within their closest circles, challenging their perceptions of trust and safety.

The narrative, skillfully entwined through the perspectives of Amelia, Kylee, and Grace, is compelling and rich with complexity. Each character, distinct in their resilience and vulnerability, draws you closer into the fabric of the story. Amelia's idealism, Kylee's resourcefulness, and Grace's determination paint a vivid portrait of courage in the face of despair.

"Safe and Sound" is a masterful tale that not only captivates with its suspenseful plot but also leaves a lasting impression with its deep emotional resonance and the poignant exploration of its characters' inner lives. McHugh has crafted a world that's as haunting as it is unforgettable, securing her place on my list of must-read authors. The story concludes on a satisfying and reflective note, ensuring it remains with you long after the final page is turned.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for the opportunity to read an advance review copy of Safe and Sound. This book is a testament to McHugh's incredible talent, and I wholeheartedly give it a well-deserved five-star rating.

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Safe and Sound is more than a mystery/thriller. It's a story of strong family relationships, of people stuck in a fading town, of folks stuck in generational poverty with an inability to move up in life. The story opens with a vigil for Grace, who's disappeared years ago. She was the one girl who was determined to make more of herself and leave her small town when she went missing. She was very protective of her two young cousin, who are now teenagers and also determined to escape the life they've been dealt. The characters are really well-developed and Laura McHugh paints a vivid picture of the fading town. There are some shocking moments in the book. The characters are more than the mystery.

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A dark, twisting tale of a young woman's disappearance and her young cousins' attempts to learn what happened to her. Great for fans of Riley Sager, Liz Moore and William Landay.

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I received a free copy from NetGalley. More drama than true mystery, it does have a twist. Characters are well developed and moves at a decent pace.

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