Reviews: Circle of Doubt & The Wrong Family

 

Hi everyone!  It’s Sharon, so you know what that means… Thriller Thursday!  This week I have the psychological thriller, Circle of Doubt, and the domestic thriller, The Wrong Family.   Both of these books kept me fully engrossed and had twists I did not see coming.

 

Reviews: Circle of Doubt & The Wrong FamilyCircle of Doubt Goodreads

Author: Tracy Buchanan

Publication Date: January 5, 2021

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Emma and Dele adopted Isla 9 years ago when she was almost 2 years old.  Emma, Dele and Isla live in a small town called Forest Grove, just outside of London.  Emma has always been shy, so she really has no friends in their community. The one person she can turn to when she needs support or advice is her sister, Harriet. And Harriet is the only person (aside from their father) who knows the terrible secret that Emma has been hiding for years.

One day while dropping Isla off at school Emma runs into her new neighbors, Tatjana and Lawrence. Emma cannot believe how much Tatjana looks just like Jade, Isla’s birth mother. Emma tries to tell herself there is no way she can be Jade.  Jade was a 17-year-old drug addict, and this woman is beautiful and sophisticated and nothing like the troubled teen Emma remembers.  But when Tatjana takes too much of an interest in Isla, Emma’s suspicions start to grow. Then strange things start happening to Emma that make her look and feel like a bad parent.  She receives an email saying the deadline to pay for a school trip was pushed out when it wasn’t. Then she starts missing school notices (including one saying it was dress down day, so Isla went to school in her uniform). Someone also starts rumors about Emma and the husband of her only friend, and a dead crow is placed in the front grill of Emma’s car.  Who is behind all of this? Could Jade really be back to try and take Isla away? And will the awful secret that Emma has been hiding come back to haunt her?  Emma is not going to give up her daughter without a fight, so with the help of her sister Harriet, Emma tries to find out if Jade and Tatjana are one in the same and if she is behind everything that has been happening.

The book is told through the POV of Emma and also through chapters that are letters “written” to Isla from an unknown source. The letters explain the plan to unravel Emma and why this person is doing what they are doing. I liked how the story was presented this way. Even though we find out about halfway through the book who is behind everything, the tension and suspense still ramped up as we are reading everything that is happening to Emma and what she was going though. And knowing who was writing the letters just added to the tension.

I really liked how Emma faced everything that was happening head on. And even though at times she thought she was not being a good mother, she really was. When things got tough, she would not let it show to her daughter. She put on a brave face for Isla no matter what she was feeling. And when push finally came to shove, her momma bear claws came out.

I will say the book started off a bit slow for me, but the tension and suspense took off the more I got into it.  And there was one twist near the end that totally got me and made my mouth drop open.   3 ½ stars

 

Reviews: Circle of Doubt & The Wrong FamilyThe Wrong Family Goodreads

Author: Tarryn Fisher

Publication Date: December 29, 2020

Publisher: Graydon House

Tarryn Fisher’s mystery thriller The Wrong Family is full of flawed characters that kept me turning the pages and made me realize not everything is as it seems. What you see on the outside is not necessarily what is on the inside.

Juno is a sixty-seven former therapist who is originally from New Mexico. After a 2-year stint in prison due to unethical misconduct, which cost Winnie her family and practice, she moved to Seattle and is living with the Crouch family (Winnie, Nigel, and their son Sam). Juno has been diagnosed with lupus and is dying. One night she overhears a fight between Winnie and Nigel and she discovers that they are hiding a dark secret. Winnie doesn’t want to get involved; she just wants to live out her final days in peace. But the therapist in her just won’t let her sit back and let this secret destroy Sam, whom she has become close to. So she sets out to expose Winnie and Nigel’s secret and right the wrongs she believes they have done.

Winnie seems to have the perfect life on the outside, but on the inside it is falling apart. She used to be a counselor to the homeless but quit her job thirteen years ago. It was also thirteen years ago that

the dark secret that Juno overheard happened.  Without giving anything away, Winnie committed a horrible act that Nigel helped her cover up. Now, thanks to Juno, the details are starting to come to light and the cracks in Winnie and Nigel’s marriage are getting larger. Winnie is trying to hold things together for the sake of their son. But when her twin brother Dakota, who is an unhinged alcoholic and drug addict, comes to stay with them after his wife threw him out and then a stranger shows up on their doorstep claiming to know Winnie’s secret, all hell breaks loose.

I really cannot say too much more about this book, because anything I say would be a spoiler and I think it is best to go into this book blind.  What I can say is that this book is told in alternative POV’s from Winnie and Juno. They were both very complex and flawed characters. I flipped back and forth between liking and not liking them as different things were revealed as the story progressed.

I liked Juno as I was reading her chapters. While I may not have agreed with everything she did, I liked how she came across as the grandmotherly type with Sam. But then when I was reading Winnie’s views and what she was going though, I found myself having sympathy for her and I would get aggravated at Juno for what she was doing.  I like how Tarryn Fisher could make my views on these women change so much.

While this was not an edge of my seat thriller, the tension did ramp up at the end of the book and then I couldn’t read fast enough to find out how it was all going to play out. I also loved how the author wrapped up the story, nothing felt rushed.    3 ½ stars

Reviews: DO NO HARM & THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELL

 

Another new week means it’s time for more reviews.  This weekend was so cold and miserable that all I really did was hibernate and read the entire time.  I got into a groove reading Christina McDonald’s domestic suspense novels and have a new release as well as one from her backlist to share today.  I’m still working on my goal of reading more of the books I already own, so I was kind of proud of myself for grabbing the older book rather than just reaching for the next ARC, haha.  Anyway, back to these books.  One thing that really intrigued me about them was that they share a basic theme: How far will a mother go for her children?

 

Reviews:  DO NO HARM & THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELLDo No Harm Goodreads

Author: Christina McDonald

Publication Date: February 16, 2021

Publisher:  Gallery Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary audio copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Do No Harm is Christina McDonald’s latest novel and if you’re into stories that ask big questions, like how far will a mother go to save her family, then Do No Harm will be a must-read for you.  As a mom, I was glued to this book from  cover to cover, but I don’t think you need to be a parent to relate to the impossible situation main character, Emma Sweeney, finds herself trapped in.

Emma seems to have it all.  She’s a well-respected physician, she’s happily married to the love of her life, and she has a beautiful son named Josh, who she loves with her whole heart.  Emma’s seemingly perfect life spins out of control, however, when Josh falls ill and is diagnosed with a rare and often fatal form of leukemia.  The only treatment that has thus far shown any signs of success is an experimental one that is only partially covered by insurance and is astronomical in cost.  Even on a doctor’s salary, Emma and her husband can’t afford it.   There’s no way Emma is just going to sit back and watch her baby die though.  She’s willing to risk everything to save him – her job, her marriage, even her own life — so she takes matters into her own hands and starts her own drug ring selling opioids to fund her son’s treatment.

I have to tell you guys that Do No Harm blew me away on so many levels.  I was so impressed that McDonald creates in Emma such a complex character that I alternated between wanting her to succeed and save her son and wanting her to be caught and arrested because what she was doing was so morally repugnant.  I had tremendous sympathy for Emma because she’s in an impossible situation and I don’t know what I would do if I was in her shoes.  I kept asking myself over and over:  how far is too far when it comes to saving your kids?  Much of the book is told from Emma’s perspective and she is wrestling with that same question and trying to justify it to herself by saying the ends are worth the means.  She is especially conflicted since as a doctor, she has taken an oath to do no harm and her actions are clearly violating that oath.

Aside from the moral and ethical issues involved, which added so much depth to the overall story, I was also just fascinated by how adeptly Emma puts together the whole drug ring.  Even though I was horrified by what she was doing, I still had to tip my hat to her because she’s a clever lady and she puts together a pretty impressive operation. I was especially impressed by her ability to elude the police, particularly since her own husband is the lead detective investigating opioid-related crimes in the area.  Talk about a tense and suspenseful game of cat and mouse when the cop and the criminal live under the same roof!

I don’t want to give away anything else so you’ll just have to pick up a copy of Do No Harm if you want to see how it turns out!  4.5 STARS

 

Reviews:  DO NO HARM & THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELLThe Night Olivia Fell Goodreads

Author: Christina McDonald

Publication Date: February 5, 2019

Publisher:  Gallery Books

I loved Christina McDonald’s new novel, Do No Harm, so much that I went to my shelves to see if I had other books of hers I hadn’t read yet.  I discovered I had a copy of The Night Olivia Fell, dove in and immediately found myself captivated by the opening scene.  Abi Knight gets a late-night phone call informing her that her teenage daughter, Olivia, has been in a serious accident and has fallen off a bridge. Abi heads to the hospital right away and, upon her arrival, is given the devastating news that Olivia is brain dead and will not be waking up, but is also pregnant and because of state laws, must be kept on life support until the baby is born.  Abi is in utter shock and disbelief. 1) She can’t believe her baby is gone, and 2) she had no idea her baby was pregnant.  Upon viewing her daughter’s body, Abi sees angry bruises around Olivia’s wrists. When the police unexpectedly rules Olivia’s death an accident, Abi isn’t having it and sets out to figure out what really happened to Olivia and who’s responsible.

This was such a heartbreaking and emotional read for me.  The story is presented in alternating chapters from both Abi and Olivia’s points of view and you could just see how close mom and daughter were. I loved both characters so much and I felt so bad for Abi and couldn’t even imagine what she must be going through.  Losing a child that way would be hard enough but add to it the frustration of feeling like the police aren’t doing their jobs and it’s even worse.  McDonald really drew me into the story and had me fully invested in Abi’s quest for the truth. I also liked the balance between Abi’s emotional journey as she grieves for her daughter and her steely determination to play detective and do what the police won’t.

I was also a big fan of how the story was presented too.  The present-day chapters follow Abi from the moment she learns of Olivia’s death to the moment she finally discovers the truth about what happened that night. Abi’s chapters are alternated with Olivia’s, which start a few months prior to her death and gradually lead up to that night, revealing several potential suspects and motives, along with a number of deliciously dark secrets and lies, along the way.  I liked the way the two POVs mirrored each other and I also liked how the author slowly ramped up the suspense and kept me guessing about who was responsible for Olivia’s death all the way to the very end.

The Night Olivia Fell is both a riveting mystery and a tragic, heartbreaking story of loss and grief.  Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys a good story of domestic suspense.  4 STARS.

Reviews: THE INITIAL INSULT & DESTINATION ANYWHERE

 

Happy Friday!  I hope you’ve all had a great week.  Mine was pretty good, just swamped at work as our busy season gets fully underway.  I still managed to get some reading done this week though, so I have two new ARC reviews to share today.  On the surface these are two books that are very different from one another, one with a dark vibe and one with a more uplifting vibe.  The theme that they both share, however, is friendship — friendships lost and friendships found.

 

Reviews:  THE INITIAL INSULT & DESTINATION ANYWHEREThe Initial Insult (The Initial Insult, #1) Goodreads

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Publication Date: February 23, 2021

Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary audio copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Even though I haven’t really been in the mood for dark reads lately, I couldn’t resist Mindy McGinnis’ new novel, The Initial Insult.  First because I’m a big fan of McGinnis’ writing, and second, because The Initial Insult is a modern day retelling of the classic Edgar Allan Poe short story, The Cask of Amontillado.  I love Edgar Allan Poe and The Cask of Amontillado is a favorite of mine, so this was a must read.  You don’t have to have read the classic Poe tale to understand and appreciate McGinnis’ version though so don’t let not having read the original deter you.  While it somewhat mirrors Poe’s classic tale of revenge, The Initial Insult is at its core a story about a friendship that has fallen apart and all of the residual hurt feelings that still linger between the two former friends.

The Initial Insult follows Tress Montor, whose parents disappeared without a trace seven years ago.  The last person to see them alive?  Tress’ then best friend, Felicity Turnado.  Tress’ life has pretty much fallen apart since her parents disappeared, while Felicity has become the social climbing belle of the ball, so to speak. As their lives have moved in such opposite directions, so has their friendship until they basically become more enemies than friends.  It drives Tress crazy that Felicity can offer no insight into what happened to her parents, so she devises a dark and twisted plan to force Felicity to confess everything she remembers about that night because Tress is convinced she has been lying for all of these years.  Tress’ plan involves bricks, mortar, manacles, and a party with lots of distractions so that no one will notice she and Felicity have gone missing. Sounds sinister, right?  Because it totally is!

I don’t want to give away anything else about the story, but it’s definitely a wild ride and a dark and twisted one at that.  I do have to say that I wasn’t a huge fan of either girl, although I did sympathize with them both as we learn more and more about their friendship and about some other secrets they are each hiding.  They are both tragic characters in their own way, and Tress is definitely one of the more interesting and complex morally gray characters I’ve come across.

I do want to forewarn anyone who is sensitive when it comes to animals being harmed in books, there is a pretty devastating incident involving a family pet.  I hope that’s not a spoiler, but I wish I had known it was coming when I started reading so I could mentally prepare myself for it.

The Initial Insult is a dark and heartbreaking read that ends on a jaw dropping note.  I didn’t realize until I got to the end that it’s actually the first book in a duology, so I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book, which is apparently named The Last Laugh4 STARS

 

Reviews:  THE INITIAL INSULT & DESTINATION ANYWHEREDestination Anywhere Goodreads

Author: Sara Barnard

Publication Date: February 23, 2021

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Sara Barnard writes some of the most relatable stories I’ve ever read.  The struggles her characters face are struggles that I almost always identify with and that is definitely the case with her new novel, Destination AnywhereDestination Anywhere follows Peyton King, a seventeen-year-old college student who has struggled her entire life to make friends.  As if having no friends wasn’t bad enough, she was also the target of relentless bullying for most of her school career.  Desperate to make friends once she arrives at college, she falls in with the wrong crowd and ends up in a world of trouble.  Between that and the fact that she’s miserable at college because her parents are forcing her to study something she’s not interested in, Peyton takes matters into her own hands.  She packs a bag and her sketchbook, buys a one-way plane ticket from England to Canada, and sets out to find herself and her own path in life.

Peyton’s journey is presented in present day chapters, alternated with chapters from her past, and I have to say that those past chapters were truly heartbreaking.  I felt so bad for her as I was reading the feelings of self-doubt that Peyton expresses as she is rejected by classmate after classmate and then bullied by them on top of it.  Those thoughts of “What is wrong with me?”  or when she does finally find a potential friend and then overthinking it to the point where she’s trying too hard and makes things awkward.  While I always had a core group of friends when I was in school, I was painfully shy and could relate to some of Peyton’s inner monologue.

While those past chapters were somewhat painful to read, however, the present chapters were pretty amazing.  I loved watching Peyton’s confidence start to grow as she learned from past mistakes and challenged herself to get out there, pursue her passion, and find like-minded people.  I was especially impressed with the way she stands her ground when it comes to her parents.  That can be a hard thing to do.

I don’t want to give away any details of Peyton’s journey, but one of the highlights of her trip for me was the friend group she meets when she checks in to the hostel in Canada.  It’s a group of young travelers from all around the globe and they practically adopt her as their little sister and make it their mission to ensure she gets the most out of her trip and finds whatever it is she’s looking for.  Their mission even turns into a road trip at one point and I’m all about a good road trip, so I especially loved those adventures and of course the gorgeous Canadian scenery.

Destination Anywhere is a lovely and heartwarming story about finding yourself and about finding your people.  It’s one of those wonderful reads that engaged all of my emotions. I went from being heartbroken for Peyton to absolutely elated for her, and pretty much everything in between.  And don’t even get me started on the ending, which left me crying happy tears.  Such an all around satisfying read.  4.5 STARS

Romance Reviews: FIRST COMES LIKE & THE WEDDING GAME

 

If you saw my Top Ten Tuesday post last week, you’ll remember that I shared ten rom-coms I’m excited to read this year.  Well, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I got a jump on reading them this past week and have reviews to share for the first two I read, First Comes Like by Alisha Rai and The Wedding Game by Meghan Quinn.

 

Romance Reviews: FIRST COMES LIKE & THE WEDDING GAMEFirst Comes Like (Modern Love, #3) Goodreads

Author: Alisha Rai

Publication Date: February 16, 2021

Publisher:  Avon

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Even though I’m only reviewing First Comes Like, the latest book in Alisha Rai’s Modern Love series, I actually binge-read all three books in the series last month.  Usually I’m terrible at keeping up with series, but once I started this one, I just couldn’t stop reading.  What hooked me on Modern Love is the way Rai writes her main characters.  I love the mix of strength and vulnerability she infuses them with and of course, the chemistry is always off the charts. I also love that, as the title of the series implies, all of the books are modern and focus on where many people turn these days when they are looking for love, social media.

First Comes Like follows Jia Ahmed, who is a very popular beauty influencer on social media. She’s busy making connections and trying to build her brand and has no time for men, although she’s willing to make an exception for Dev Dixit, a sexy Bollywood soap opera star, who has recently slid into her DMs and started flirting with her. Jia decides to score an invite to a party for his new film so that she can finally meet Dev in person.  All is going swimmingly until she meets Dev face to face and he says he has no idea who she is.  Awkward!  It quickly becomes clear that someone has used Dev’s social media account to catfish Jia; the question is who. Things between them take an even more awkward turn when paparazzi photos of Dev and Jia embracing become public. Even though the photos are in actuality way more innocent than they seem, the public and both of their families flip out and that’s where things got really fun.

I had so much fun with this book.  I loved the chemistry between Jia and Dev, especially watching their relationship evolve from her wanting to kill him at that first party to the two of them working together to concoct a plan on how best to deal their families. I also really loved the focus on their beliefs and culture, in particular the respect Jia and Dev each gave to the other’s beliefs as their relationship grows.  I also thought it was wonderful that Dev was so respectful of Jia’s career.  He didn’t think it was silly or shallow at all and even watched all of her videos and even helped her film and take photos.  The two of them were just really sweet together and I was of course rooting for them to continue to grow closer.

I wouldn’t call this a hot and steamy romance, but it’s definitely a sweet, slow burn and I enjoyed every page of it.  4 STARS.

 

 

Romance Reviews: FIRST COMES LIKE & THE WEDDING GAMEThe Wedding Game Goodreads

Author: Meghan Quinn

Publication Date: March 1, 2021

Publisher:  Montlake

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Amazon First Reads.  All opinions are my own.

Meghan Quinn’s new novel, The Wedding Game is one of the most charming and entertaining romances I’ve read in a long time.  I laughed, I cried, and I honestly loved every single character in the book. Okay, well two of them I loved to hate, but you know what I mean!

Set in New York City, the story follows Luna Rossi, a self-professed jack of all trades when it comes to crafting. There’s pretty much nothing Luna can’t do when it comes to crafts and she even has her own very popular social media accounts where she offers tips and tricks to others who share her passion for all things crafty.  About the only thing Luna loves more than crafts is her brother, Cohen, so when she learns that a DIY reality TV contest called The Wedding Game is coming to NYC and is seeking contestants, she takes it upon herself to sign her brother and his fiancé up.  Luna lives to make sure the people she loves are happy and so can’t resist the idea of giving her brother and the love of his life a perfect wedding day. Plus the grand prize of a NYC penthouse apartment for whoever designs the best wedding doesn’t hurt either.  With the Queen of Crafts in their corner, how can they lose?

The Wedding Game also follows Alec, an attorney who, like Luna, has a brother, Thad, who is about to get married.  Unlike Luna though, Alec is not especially close to his brother and has no interest in his wedding plans.  Alec and Thad used to be incredibly close, but have drifted apart in recent years.  Thad sees the ad for The Wedding Game and begs Alec to do it with him and his fiancé.  For Thad, it’s a great opportunity to get his family started off on the right foot, but even better, it’s a chance for he and Alec to reconnect. Alec reluctantly agrees and it’s off to the races.

The bulk of the story focuses on the contest itself and an unexpectedly fierce rivalry that develops between Luna and Alec.  Oh my goodness, you guys!  I don’t want to give away any spoilers but these two have such intense chemistry from their very first hostile encounter.  It was hard to tell if they were going to kill each other or rip each other’s clothes off, haha! I thoroughly enjoyed every scene they had together and some of their banter truly had me laughing out loud.  The evolution of their relationship had me captivated more and more with each turn of the page and before long, I was rooting for them to have a happy ending of their own.

It wasn’t even just the relationship between Luna and Alec that had me so invested in The Wedding Game either. Honestly it was all of the relationships. Yes, this is a sexy, steamy enemies-to-lovers romance with a hilarious reality TV show as its backdrop, but it’s also a beautiful and heartwarming story about love, family, and forgiveness that left me with a big smile on my face.  4.5 STARS 

 

Reviews: Pretty Little Wife and Three Single Wives

 

Happy Valentine’s weekend everyone! It’s Sharon here again. What better way to kick off Valentine’s Day than with a couple of reviews that the themes are wives killing their husbands LOL! And that is just what I have for this week’s Thriller Thursday.  This week’s reviews are domestic thrillers:  Pretty Little Wife and Three Single Wives.  When I picked these two books to read for Thriller Thursday, I did not even make the connection about murdered husbands and Valentine’s day until Suzanne mentioned what a fun theme for Valentine’s weekend 🙂

 

Reviews: Pretty Little Wife and Three Single WivesPretty Little Wife Goodreads

Author: Darby Kane

Publication Date: December 29, 2020

Publisher: William Morrow

 

Pretty Little Wife is Darby Kane’s debut thriller novel and what a debut it was! It follows Lila Ridgefield and her husband Aaron Payne who live in a small town in New York. They seem to have a great life together.  Lila is a real estate broker who works mostly from home, while Aaron is a beloved High School teacher and coach.  He has never missed a day of school so when he does not show up one day, everyone is concerned and worried. Lila is concerned and worried as well, but for very different reasons.

When the book opens, Lila discovers some disturbing videos of her husband and some of the teen girls he coaches. Aaron lies and makes it seems like Lila is in the wrong for blowing this out of proportion when she confronts him, so she decides to take matters into her own hands to stop Aaron from hurting anymore children.  She kills Aaron and leaves him in his car at the school. If he’s now missing, where did his car and his body go? If he’s not really dead like she thought he was, then he’ll be coming for Lila and she needs to be prepared.

The book then jumps ahead to where the investigation starts. Not only the police investigation, but also Lila’s.  And not only do we have the mystery of what happened to Aaron, but there are also excerpts of a podcast that is investigating the disappearance of 3 college women from the surrounding Ithaca area.  Coincidence or are they somehow related? As the investigation into Aaron’s disappearance continues, the police uncover more than they ever thought they would.  The lead detective on the case is Ginny Davis, and she is sure that Lila is responsible for whatever happened to her husband. But trying to prove it is harder than she thinks. Lila is smart and has covered her tracks, well except for the missing dead body (lol).  I loved the game of cat and mouse between these two women. They are both smart and determined and neither is going to be outsmarted by the other.

This book had so many twists and turns that I was on the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, Darby Kane threw in a curve ball and took it in another direction.  By the time I got to the end I was like “Whoa! Wait! What?! Holy Crap!”

I also thought the author did an excellent job in writing and fleshing out the characters in this book, especially Lila. She was such a complex character. Yes, she killed her husband, but I still had a lot of sympathy for her and wanted everything to work out for her in the end.   4 Stars

 

Reviews: Pretty Little Wife and Three Single WivesThree Single Wives Goodreads

Author: Gina LaManna

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

 

I have never read anything by Gina LaManna before, but when I saw the synopsis of Three Single Wives, where it states: a book club, wine, and murder, I knew I had to read it. And I am glad I did. This was a fast read that kept me guessing until the very end.

Eliza Tate has started her own Public Relations firm and her one big client is Marguerite Hill, a self -help guru and author of the bestselling book “Take Charge” and soon to be released sequel “Be Free”. On February 13th, Eliza hosts a book club with two of her friends, Anne Wilkes, and Penny Sands, to discuss Marguerite’s new book “Be Free”, but then the discussion moves to cheating husbands and revenge and how they would kill their husband if given the chance. But they don’t really mean it, it’s just the wine talking. Or is it? On February 14th one of their husbands is found murdered. And so, the mystery begins, who took their discussion seriously?

The book is told from the POV of Eliza, Anne, and Penny, with transcripts of the trial in between. When the story opens it is the day of the book club, then it jumps back 9 months and we get to learn more about these women and the circumstances that lead up to the night in question. We do find out pretty early in the book which husband is dead, but we don’t find out until the very end who killed him. I was all over the place on who I thought the killer was.

With each chapter we learn more about Anne, Eliza, and Penny. And let me just say these women have some serious issues. They are all so flawed and they all have secrets and oh the lies they tell. But even though none of them were very likable, I did enjoy getting to learn more about them and their secrets. And the more I learned about them, the more I suspected them all.

In addition to the mystery that surrounded the whodunnit, this book also had some make- me-chuckle moments. Especially on the transcript portion. Man, even on the witness stand these women were being snarky and, in some cases, cocky.

A few of some of the funny moments from the transcripts:

“Who’s the son of a bitch that spilled the beans?” – Anne’s response when the defense told her they had evidence she was being blackmailed.

“Then it’s my word against his, and he’s dead. I guess that means I win by default.” – Penny’s response when the defense said the victim called her a psychopath in his restraining order.

“Is it really a book club without wine?” – Eliza’s response when the prosecution asked if she served wine at the book club.

“I wouldn’t say it’s stealing. It’s adopting certain items that other people no longer need.”- Penny’s response to the prosecution asking about her “little hobby” of stealing things from others.

I don’t want to say too much and spoil anything, but I was happy with the ending and in no way did I figure it out.    3 ½ stars

Historical Fiction Review: THE PARIS LIBRARY by Janet Skeslien Charles

Historical Fiction Review:  THE PARIS LIBRARY by Janet Skeslien CharlesThe Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on February 9, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a huge fan of WWII historical fiction and I’ve read a lot of it over the years. For that reason, I’m always on the lookout for books that bring a fresh perspective or a story that I haven’t heard yet, and that it exactly what Janet Skeslien Charles does with her new novel, The Paris Library.  Based on a true story, The Paris Library shines a light on a part of the French Resistance movement that I was not familiar with, that of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris (ALP).  While the Nazis occupied and terrorized their city, the men and women of the ALP risked everything to keep the library open at all costs, even sneaking books across Paris to their beloved Jewish patrons who were barred from entering the building.  For these librarians and their book loving patrons, books were both an escape and a symbol of hope and so the librarians wanted to do their part to keep hope alive no matter how dark life seemed.

One of the things I enjoyed most about The Paris Library was how the story unfolded.  We are presented with a dual timeline, one in the 1980s that follows Lily, an awkward and lonely high school student living in a small town in Montana.  Lily becomes intrigued by her neighbor, an elderly woman named Odile who keeps to herself and has an air of mystery about her.  All anyone really knows about her is that she’s originally from France.  Lily decides she wants to get to know Odile better and so, under the guise that she’s doing a school project on Paris, she approaches Odile and requests to interview her.  A lovely friendship develops over time between Lily and Odile, and it is through this interview that we are introduced to Odile and the second timeline, which reveals that as a young woman, Odile worked as a librarian at the ALP and was a very active member of the Resistance.

While I loved watching the relationship blossom between Lily and Odile because Odile becomes almost like a second mom to Lily, I was of course most drawn to the incredible story that takes place during WWII.  The author had me fully invested in the lives of Odile and her fellow librarians.  I loved how committed they were to their cause, as well as how devoted they were to each other and to their patrons.  I never would have guessed that there was an actual Resistance movement within the walls of a library and was glued to the pages each time the librarians faced danger or the risk of betrayal since one never knew who might be a Nazi collaborator.  Even though the WWII timeline was the most engaging of the two, the author still manages to make the 1980s timeline compelling in the sense that there is some mystery surrounding Odile and why she keeps to herself and why she has never returned to Paris, not even once, after all these years.  I loved the scrappy and determined Odile of WWII so much that I really wanted to know what had happened to send her to live in isolation in Montana of all places.

The Paris Library is a beautiful story of friendship, family, resistance, and resilience.  If you’re looking for a WWII historical fiction that brings something new to the table, I highly recommend The Paris Library.

four-stars

About Janet Skeslien Charles

Janet Skeslien Charles is the award-winning author of Moonlight in Odessa and The Paris Library. Her shorter work has appeared in revues such as Slice and Montana Noir. She learned about the history of the American Library in Paris while working there as the programs manager. She divides her time between Montana and Paris.

Reviews: THE PROJECT and THE UNWILLING

 

I know I said last week that we would be trying to do Thriller Thursday a couple of times a month, but even though I’ve had hardly any thriller review books for the past few months, somehow I ended up with two of them with February 2nd publication dates.  So I’ll be sharing those two ARC reviews today and Sharon will be back next week to share even more thrillers with you.  Thanks so much to all who gave her such a warm welcome last week. It was much appreciated. 🙂

 

Reviews:  THE PROJECT and THE UNWILLINGThe Project Goodreads

Author:  Courtney Summers

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Nineteen year old Lo Denham has been alone for most of her life.  Her parents died in a car accident when she was younger and her older sister, Bea, chose to abandon Lo to become a member of a special group called the Unity Project, a group known for their religious background and for their community outreach efforts.  Lo is suspicious about the Project.  Why would joining such a group make her sister choose to cut all ties with the only family she has left?  Lo becomes obsessed with learning as much as she can about the Project. As an aspiring writer, it is Lo’s goal to write an exposé on what she thinks the Project is…a cult.  When she meets and interviews the members of the Project and the founder, however, Lo gets way more than she bargained for and it becomes clear she’s in over her head in her pursuit of the truth.

I don’t really want to say anything else about the plot itself because I think following Lo’s journey and seeing it unfold without spoilers is the best way to fully appreciate it.  The Project is also hard to classify but it’s not exactly what I would consider a thriller.  There is definitely an element of mystery to it, but by and large, the story is an exploration of just how easy it is to get lured in by a cult.  It explores how a persuasive cult leader can get under your skin, by giving you precisely what you need emotionally and by making you feel seen.  This aspect of the book hit me hard because it’s so relevant today with groups like Q Anon.  You wonder how in the world someone can fall for something like that, but with The Project, Courtney Summers shows just how vulnerable we all can be.  The Project is a dark read and a sad, heartbreaking one at times, but a powerful read just the same.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  THE PROJECT and THE UNWILLINGThe Unwilling Goodreads

Author: John Hart

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

I’m a huge fan of John Hart’s novels.  I love them because even though they’re thrillers, they’re always so much more than that.  The Unwilling is the sixth book I’ve read from Hart, and yes, it’s a thriller, but it’s also a coming of age story, as well as a story about a family torn apart by war.

Set during the Vietnam War, The Unwilling follows the French family.  They’ve lost two sons to the war, Robert, who was actually killed in action and Jason, who turned to heroin and ended up in prison.  Their youngest son, Gibby, is all Mr. and Mrs. French have left, and they are terrified of losing him too.  When Jason gets out of prison, they’re determined to keep him away from Gibby.  Gibby can’t resist the allure of hanging out with his big brother though and so he sneaks out to see Jason and to meet up with some girls.  When one of the girls turned up dead soon after and Jason is named as the prime suspect, both Gibby and Jason find themselves knee deep in a bad situation that could cost them both their lives.

I loved so many things about this book!  First, I just became so attached to the French family.  It was so heartbreaking to think of all the losses they have suffered and their grief is just so palpable throughout the story.  I was especially heartbroken for the father.  As a police detective, he’s in an impossible spot. He wants to believe his son is innocent but has to admit that he’s not sure, primarily because of his son’s past misdeeds.  He loves Jason but he is also desperate to protect what’s left of his family.

I also really adored Gibby.  Much of the story comes to us from Gibby’s perspective and it is through him that we get the coming of age element in the story.  Gibby is torn between not wanting to upset his parents and wanting to break free from this sheltered bubble they have him living in.  He wants to have a relationship with his brother, he wants to date girls, he just wants to grow up and is frustrated at every turn by his parents.  I was really rooting for Gibby to come into his own and was really impressed by his growth as the story progressed, especially when he decides he’s going to prove his brother is innocent. I admired his determination, loyalty, and bravery.

The thriller aspect of the story as it relates to the murder is amazing too. I don’t want to give anything away with respect to that, but wow, what a dark and twisted tale it is.  Also, be forewarned that Hart’s descriptions of the violent acts in the novel are vivid and gruesome.  I know I won’t be forgetting the images I read about anytime soon!

If you’re interested in a riveting thriller as well as a heartbreaking story about the effects of war on a family, definitely check out John Hart’s The Unwilling. 4.5 STARS.

Reviews: MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU & MAKE UP BREAK UP

 

My love for rom-coms has continued into 2021 and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you on two new ones that will hit bookstores tomorrow, Samantha Young’s Much Ado About You and Lily Menon’s Make Up Break Up.

 

Reviews: MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU & MAKE UP BREAK UPMuch Ado About You Goodreads

Author: Samantha Young

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Publishing Group

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Much Ado About You by Samantha Young is one of the most delightful rom-coms I’ve ever read.  From its Shakespeare-loving heroine to its sexy farmer love interest to its quaint English village setting, this book captivated me from cover to cover.

The story follows 33-year-old Evie Starling, who just feels like her life is going nowhere.  Her love life is not great to say the least, and when she is passed over for a big promotion at work that she fully expected to get, Evie decides it’s time for a change.  That change comes in the form of a last minute holiday package to England.  As part of the package deal, she will live in an apartment above a charming little bookstore called Much Ado About Books, which she will also temporarily manage. How perfect does that sound?!  Evie’s plan is to take four weeks to lick her wounds, regroup, and come up with a new game plan for her life.  She wants no distractions from this plan and for Evie, that especially means no men.

Let me just say how much I adored Evie from the opening chapter.  I was cheering her on from the moment she told her boss off and quit her job.  I admired her courage and her determination and I especially loved that she didn’t just wallow, but instead came up with this great plan to recharge and reset her life.  It was so much fun watching her travel to this little village and immediately start fitting in with them like she belonged there.

I knew Evie was doomed though as soon as we meet my second favorite character in Much Ado About You, the sexy English farmer, Roane Robson. Roane is the most eligible bachelor in town and all the ladies swoon over him. He’s not a player though and is heart-set on finding that special someone to share his life with.  Roane is kind, soft, and as soon as he meets Evie, he knows he wants to get to know her better.  Needless to say, I was eager for Roane to find a way to wear down Evie’s defenses and her “No Men” rule because he was practically perfect.  We’re talking serious book boyfriend material here! Not only that, but the chemistry between Evie and Roane is off the charts.

I devoured this book in just a couple of sittings because I was so invested in these characters and whether or not they would take their growing friendship to the next level.  What I also loved is that the townspeople were clearly right there with me, trying to play matchmaker whenever possible.  And speaking of the townspeople, the novel also features a delightful cast of secondary characters, including Roane’s cousin Caro, who becomes like a little sister to Evie, as well as Roane’s gigantic and fabulous dog, Shadow, who can be credited with Evie and Roane’s meet-cute when Evie runs into the street to keep him from being hit by a car.

Much Ado About You does pack some emotional weight to it as well as the fun and romance.  There are some town rivalries and fractured relationships floating about, a touch of deception, and Evie has some drama with her mom and with her best friend from home. All of these elements added just the right touch of drama and made me love Much Ado About You all the more.  4.5 STARS

 

Reviews: MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU & MAKE UP BREAK UPMake Up Break Up Goodreads

Author: Lily Menon

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Griffin

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

I’m a sucker for a good enemies-to-lovers story as well as a second chance romance, so I was eager to read Lily Menon’s new novel Make Up Break Up as soon as I heard it featured both.  It also features an inside look at dating apps and start up companies, and I’m drawn to books that feel timely when it comes to technology so in many ways, this book was a great fit for me.

I found myself very invested in the main character, Annika, primarily because she’s a female business owner in the tech industry.  I found myself rooting for her company’s success, especially when it became clear that not only were they the underdogs of the story, but it appears that Annika’s chief rival, Hudson Craft, is rising to fame on what appears to be an idea about a dating app that he stole from her when they met over the summer at a conference in Las Vegas.  The fact that Annika’s company is struggling while Hudson’s is clearly taking off makes matters all the worse.

I really wanted to hate Hudson on Annika’s behalf but I have to admit that he won me over pretty quickly because even though he could be totally obnoxious around Annika, he seemed like a nice guy otherwise.  The story takes an awkward but entertaining turn when Hudson moves into Annika’s office building so that now she has to see him every day.  In spite of her seeming animosity toward Hudson, it becomes clear pretty quickly that the two of them have major chemistry.  It’s hard to tell from one moment to the next if they’re going to kill each other or end up making out.

Even though I enjoyed their interactions overall and most of their scenes were a lot of fun, there were a few times where it just felt like they were acting pretty juvenile and I wanted to yell at them to grow up and behave like adults.  I also found myself a little torn when it came to the actual app development and business side of Annika’s life though. While it was really interesting at times, there were other moments when I wanted less tech talk and more relationship talk.

In spite of those issues, however, I still really enjoyed Make Up Break Up overall and look forward to reading more from Lily Menon in the future.  3.5 STARS

Reviews: THE NATURE OF FRAGILE THINGS and A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN

I’m going to start off by saying the reason you’re getting two Susan Meissner reviews today is that I loved her latest, The Nature of Fragile Things, so much that I immediately ran to my shelf to see what other books of hers I owned but hadn’t read yet and found A Bridge Across the Ocean.

Reviews: THE NATURE OF FRAGILE THINGS and A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEANThe Nature of Fragile Things Goodreads

Author: Susan Meissner

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Publishing Group

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

The Nature of Fragile Things is set primarily in San Francisco around the time of the Great Earthquake of 1906.  It follows a young Irish immigrant named Sophie Whalen who has come to America looking for a better life.  Instead of a better life, however, she has found herself living in a dirty, overcrowded slum in New York.   Desperately searching for something better, Sophie answers a newspaper ad posted by a widow who is looking for a woman to marry him and help care for his 5-year-old daughter and run his household.  The two of them come to an agreement and Sophie travels to San Francisco to get married and begin her new life.

Married life isn’t quite what she expects it to be, however.  Her husband, Martin, is aloof and secretive, takes minimal interest in Sophie or his daughter, and stays away, supposedly for his job, for days at a time.  When another woman shows up on their doorstep claiming ties to Martin, it becomes clear that Martin has been keeping secrets from Sophie.  While Sophie is in the midst of confronting Martin about his deception, their lives literally and figuratively crumble around them when a devastating earthquake strikes the city. Will they make it out alive?  If so, where do they go from here now that trust has been broken?

I absolutely fell in love with Sophie as I was reading this book.  She’s just such a complex and well-drawn character. She’s definitely not without flaws and has a few secrets of her own, but I really admired her determination to keep pushing for the kind of life she’s looking for.  I also adored the relationship she cultivates with Martin’s young daughter.  She truly became a mom for that little girl and it was just so touching to watch the two of them together.  Where I loved Sophie though, I totally loathed her husband.   At first I just thought he was a little odd, but the more I saw of him, the more I grew to think of him as a monster who has lied his way through life.

In addition to crafting these incredibly vivid characters who made me feel so much, both good and bad, Meissner also does a wonderful job making me feel like I really was in San Francisco and that I was actually there when the earthquake struck.  Her descriptions are so vivid and terrifying that my heart felt like it was in my throat the entire time I was reading those scenes.

If you enjoy historical fiction that tells a story of deception, betrayal, and heartbreak but also of sisterhood, found families, hope and second chances, The Nature of Fragile Things is a must-read for you. 5 STARS

 

Reviews: THE NATURE OF FRAGILE THINGS and A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEANA Bridge Across the Ocean Goodreads

Author: Susan Meissner

Publication Date: March 14, 2017

Publisher:  Berkley Publishing Group

As anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows, I’m a huge fan of WWII historical fiction.  I’ve actually not read much about war brides though so I was intrigued to see that Susan Meissner’s novel, A Bridge Across the Ocean, focuses on them.

A Bridge Across the Ocean also features one of my favorite elements in historical fiction, a dual timeline, one in present day and the other in 1946 right after WWII.  The present timeline follows Brette Caslake, a young woman who can see and communicate with ghosts.  It can be overwhelming at times because the spirits tend to follow her around once they realize she can see and speak to them, but when Brette visits the RMS Queen Mary, a famous haunted ship that once transported war brides from England to the U.S., she meets a spirit with a tale she cannot ignore.  It sets her on a course to try and solve a 70-year old mystery surrounding a passenger who somehow fell overboard and drowned while the ship was crossing the Atlantic.  Brette knows if she can find out the truth about what happened, she can give this spirit the closure it so desperately desires.

The second timeline takes us back 70 years to follow the journey of two women who end up aboard the RMS Queen Mary on that fateful trip. Simone Deveraux is a young French woman whose father and brother, part of the French Resistance, were murdered by Nazis right in front of her. Desperate and alone, Simone runs for her life and ends up hiding in a basement for months waiting for France to be liberated. Annaliese Lange is a German ballerina who catches the eye of a Nazi officer and is soon married off to him, at her parents’ insistence because they thought it would keep her safe.  Unfortunately, that was not the case and Annaliese suffers greatly at the hands of this horrible man. After the war, Simone and Annaliese end up as roommates on the RMS Queen Mary headed to America for a fresh start.  When their ship docks in New York, however, only one of them disembarks and she is the only one who knows what happened to the other woman. Thus, the mystery that Brette is trying to solve.

I found the war brides’ timeline to be the more compelling of the two.  I was so invested in both Simone and Annaliese surviving the awful circumstances they found themselves in and was really rooting for them both to get that fresh start they so richly deserved.  Even though I wasn’t quite as invested in the present day timeline with the ghost, I still loved the way Meissner pulled all of the intricate threads of both timelines together as Brette followed the clues and found her way to the truth about what really happened on that ship.

A Bridge Across the Ocean is a captivating story of tragedy and heartbreak, love and loss, and of survival and resilience.  If you’re in the mood for a haunting mystery, you can’t go wrong with this book. 4 STARS

Reviews: The Ghost Tree and You are Invited

 

Happy Thursday!  For those who read my 2021 goals post a couple of weeks ago, you may remember that I mentioned wanting to bring in a guest blogger.  Well, today is the day that goal is becoming a reality.  Sharon is one of my long-time best friends and she also happens to be an avid reader, particularly in the mystery/thriller genre.  Since I don’t review many thrillers, I thought it would be fun to have Sharon share some of the thrillers she has been reading and, in the process, start a new feature on the blog, Thriller Thursday.  We’re aiming for her to share reviews every other Thursday, but we’ll play it by ear depending on how busy her schedule is.  Anyway, please give Sharon a warm welcome and I hope you’ll find some new reads to add to your TBRs. 🙂

 

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Hi everyone! My name is Sharon and I would like to thank Suzanne for the opportunity to share some of my reviews on her blog. I like to read a bunch of different genres, thrillers, mysteries, YA, fantasy. But my go to are the mystery/thriller type books. And today I would like to share a couple of thriller/supernatural books I have just read. The Ghost Tree and You Are Invited.

 

Reviews: The Ghost Tree and You are InvitedThe Ghost Tree Goodreads

Author: Christina Henry

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Publisher: Berkley Books

 

I really cannot say too much about The Ghost Tree because pretty much anything I say will spoil it. But I will say this was awesome. It is filled with witches, curses and haunted woods. It is a bit graphic at times when describing the murder scenes, so be forewarned.

Smiths Hollow is a small town and something evil lives in the woods and only comes out once a year. Or so everyone thought… But then Lauren’s father was found murdered in the woods and his heart was torn out. And then 6 months later the mutilated bodies of 2 girls were found. What is the evil that lives in the woods and why the sudden change in its pattern?

Even though her father was murdered in the woods, Lauren has never been afraid to go there. She has been going there with her BFF Miranda since they were little. Lauren also knows that the police won’t find the killer of the girls because they never found out who killed her father. In fact, they surprisingly never really did much of an investigation and everyone has seemed to moved on. Then Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging those girls through the woods and killing them. She knows that she cannot let it go and have them forgotten (as all the others before them have been), so she goes into the woods to find evidence to help the police find the killer. But she finds more than that, Lauren discovers that their small town is cursed, and it is up to her to fix it.

The book is told from many POV’s and has a lot of things going on besides the murders, but it never got confusing. Everything just flowed so well and all the characters meshed so well together. While the book had multiple POV’s, Lauren was the main focal character and I just loved her. I loved how she cared about her younger brother David (who is such a little sweetie). Even though she is 14 and he is only 4 she took the time to spend time with him, be it playing a board game or going to the local fair. I also loved the growth Lauren had. She goes from a 14 ½ year old who is still a child, to a teenager on the edge of womanhood. She learns a lot about the town’s history as well as her own and she faces them both head on.

The book takes place in 1985 and I loved all the 80’s references (it was like going down memory lane)

And even though we find out early on in the book what is wrong with the town, it does not take anything away from the story; in fact, it actually adds to the tension. And boy does the tension ramp up as the book goes on! By the end I was on the edge of my seat.    4 Stars

 

Reviews: The Ghost Tree and You are InvitedYou Are Invited Goodreads

Author: Sarah A. Denzil

Publication Date: September 11, 2020

Publisher: Self Published

 

Cath Fenwick is an author of fantasy books. She has a large following on social media, but Cath has always been a loner. She has no real friends, except from her social media followers and she suffers from schizophrenia but can keep the voices at bay with the help of her medication. When Cath gets an invitation from Irene Jobert to take part in The Event, a retreat of sorts for social media influencers, she jumps at the chance. Irene is the most famous influencer in the world and Cath will get to spend a month with her and 3 others (Jules, a famous blogger; Nathan, a gamer; and Daniel, a fitness guru) in an old Transylvanian Monastery. They will be live streamed to millions of people around the world and the subscribers can donate money to their favorite influencer.

On her way to The Event, Cath’s taxi driver tells her the story of the nuns that were murdered at the monastery years ago “There are those who claim the ghosts walking the corridors of Sfântul Mihail are not ghosts at all.”  And that may be true.  As the group is roaming around parts of the Monastery, their viewers notice a dark shape lurking in a corner.  Strange things start happening too.  There are wolves in the woods, there is a snowstorm coming, and one of the viewers keeps offering them one million dollars to kill one of the group.  Cath’s inner voices are also back.  Add all of that up and you have a group that is beginning to crack and become paranoid, all while being live streamed.

The book is told from the POV of Cath and she was not a very reliable narrator, which just added to the mystery and suspense of the book.

I loved the eerie gothic setting. I think the author did a great job of making the scenery jump off the pages. The beginning of the book had the most eerie/supernatural feel to it, gave me chills a few times. The eerie feel tapered off midway through the book when a couple of twists were added that took the book in a new direction.

The ending did feel a bit rushed to me, and there were a few things that were left unanswered.

Other than that, I really enjoyed the supernatural/mystery feel of the book. And also the live stream and followers interaction aspect of the book.   3 ½ stars